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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Leviticus 13

 

 

Verses 1-46

THE UNCLEANNESS OF LEPROSY

Leviticus 13:1-46

THE interpretation of this chapter presents no little difficulty. The description of the diseases with which the law here deals is not given in a scientific form; the point of view, as the purpose of all, is strictly practical. As for the Hebrew word rendered "leprosy," it does not itself give any light as to the nature of the disease thus designated. The word simply means "a stroke," as also does the generic term used in Leviticus 13:2 and elsewhere, and translated "plague." Inasmuch as the Septuagint translators rendered the former term by the Greek word "lepra" (whence our word "leprosy"), and as, it is said, the old Greek physicians comprehended under that term only such scaly cutaneous eruptions as are now known as psoriasis (vulg., "saltrheum"), and for what is now known as leprosy reserved the term "elephantiasis," it has been therefore urged by high authority that in these chapters is no reference to the leprosy of modern speech, but only to some disease or diseases much less serious, either psoriasis or some other, consisting, like that, of a scaly eruption on the skin. To the above argument it is also added that the signs which are given for the recognition of the disease intended, are not such as we should expect if it were the modern leprosy; as, for example, there is no mention of the insensibility of the skin, which is so characteristic a feature of the disease, at least, in a very common variety; moreover, we find in this chapter no allusion to the hideous mutilation which so commonly results from leprosy.

When the use of the Hebrew term rendered "leprosy" is examined, in this law and elsewhere, it certainly seems to be used with great definiteness to describe a disease which had as a very characteristic feature a whitening of the skin throughout, together with other marks common to the early stages of leprosy as given in this chapter. Only in Leviticus 13:12 does the Hebrew word appear to be applied to a disease of a different character, though also marked by the whitening of the skin. As for the symptoms indicated, the undoubted absence of many conspicuous marks of leprosy may be accounted for by the following considerations. In the first place, with a single exception (Leviticus 13:9-11), the earliest stages of the disease are described; and, secondly, it may reasonably be assumed that, through the desire to ensure the earliest possible separation of a leprous man from the congregation, signs were to be noted and acted upon, which might also be found in other forms of skin disease. The aim of the law is that, if possible, the man shall be removed from the camp before the disease has assumed its most unambiguous and revolting form. As for the omission to mention the insensibility of the skin of the leper, this seems to be sufficiently explained when we remember that this symptom is characteristic of only one, and that not the most fatal, variety of the disease.

But, it has also been urged, that elsewhere in the Scripture the so-called lepers appear as mingling with other people-as, for example, in the case of Naaman and Gehazi-in a way which shows that the disease was not regarded as contagious; whence it is inferred, again, that the leprosy of which we read in the Bible cannot be the same with the disease which is so called in our time. But, in reply to this objection, it may be answered that even modern medical opinion has been by no means as confident of the contagiousness of the disease-at least, until quite recently-as were people in the middle ages; nor, moreover, can we assume that the prevention of contagion must have been the chief reason for the segregation of the leper, according to the Levitical law, seeing that a like separation was enjoined in many other cases of ceremonial uncleanness where any thought of contagion or infection was quite impossible.

In further support of the more common opinion, which identifies the disease chiefly referred to in this chapter with the leprosy of modern times, the following considerations appear to be of no little weight. In the first place, the words themselves which are applied to the disease in these chapters and elsewhere, -tsara’ath and nega’, both meaning, etymologically, "a stroke," i.e., a stroke in some eminent sense, -while peculiarly fitting if the disease be that which we now know as leprosy, seem very strangely chosen if, as Sir Risdon Bennett thinks, they only designate varieties of a disease of so little seriousness as psoriasis. Then, again, the words used by Aaron to Moses, {Numbers 12:12} referring to the leprosy of Miriam, deserve great weight here: "Let her not, I pray, be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed." These words sufficiently answer the allegation that there is no certain reference in Scripture to the mutilation which is so characteristic of the later stages of the disease. It would not be easy to describe in more accurate language the condition of the leper as the plague advances; while, on the other hand, if the leprosy of the Bible be only such a light affection as "salt-rheum," these words and the evident horror which they express, are so exaggerated as to be quite unaccountable.

Then, again, we cannot lose sight of the place which the disease known in Scripture language as leprosy holds in the sight of the law. As a matter of fact, it is singled out from a multitude of diseases as the object of the most stringent and severe regulations, and the most elaborate ceremonial, known to the law. Now, if the disease intended be indeed the awful elephantiasis Graecorum of modern medical science, popularly known as leprosy, this is most natural and reasonable; but if, on the other hand, only some such nonmalignant disease as psoriasis be intended, this fact is inexplicable. Further, the tenour of all references to the disease in the Scripture implies that it was deemed so incurable that its removal in any case was regarded as a special sign of the exercise of Divine power. The reference of the Hebrew maid of Naaman to the prophet of God, {2 Kings 5:3} as one who could cure him, instead of proving that it was thought curable-as has been strangely urged-by ordinary means, surely proves the exact opposite. Naaman, no doubt, had exhausted medical resources; and the hope of the maid for him is not based on the medical skill of Elisha, but on the fact that he was a prophet of God, and therefore able to draw on Divine power. To the same effect is the word of the King of Israel, when he received the letter of Naaman: {2 Kings 5:7} "Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?" In full accord with this is the appeal of our Lord {Matthew 11:5} to His cleansing of the lepers, as a sign of His Messiahship which He ranks for convincing power along with the raising of the dead.

Nor is it a fatal objection to the usual understanding of this matter, that because the Levitical law prescribes a ritual for the ceremonial cleansing of the leper in case of his cure, therefore the disease so called could not be one of the gravity and supposed incurability of the true leprosy. For it is to be noted, in the first place, that there is no intimation that recovery from the leprosy was a common occurrence, or even that it was to be expected at all, apart from the direct power of God; and, in the second place, that the Scriptural narrative represents God as now and then-though very rarely - interposing for the cure of the leper. And it may perhaps be added, that while a recent authority writes, and with truth, that "medical skill appears to have been more completely foiled by this than by any other malady," it is yet remarked that, when of the anaesthetic variety, "some spontaneous cures are recorded."

The chapter before us calls for little detailed exposition. The diagnosis of the disease by the priest is treated under four different heads:

(1) the case of a leprosy rising spontaneously (vv. 1-17, 38, 39);

(2) leprosy rising out of a boil (vv. 18-24);

(3) rising out of a burn (vv. 24-28);

(4) leprosy on the head or beard (vv. 29-37, 40-44).

The indications which are to be noted are described (Leviticus 13:2-3, Leviticus 13:24-27, etc.) as a rising of the surface, a scab (or scale), or a bright spot (very characteristic), the presence in the spot of hair turned white, the disease apparently deeper than the outer or scarf skin, a reddish-white colour of the surface, and a tendency to spread. The presence of raw flesh is mentioned (Leviticus 13:10) as an indication of a leprosy already somewhat advanced, "an old leprosy." In cases of doubt, the suspected case is to be isolated for a period of seven or, if need be, fourteen days, at the expiration of which the priest’s verdict is to be given, as the symptoms may then indicate.

Two cases are mentioned which the priest is not to regard as leprosy. The first (Leviticus 13:12-13) is that in which the plague "covers all the skin of him that hath the plagues from his head even to his feet, as far as appeareth to the priest," so that he "is all turned white." At first thought, this seems quite unaccountablet seeing that leprosy finally affects the whole body. But the solution of the difficulty is not far to seek. For the next verse provides that, in such a case, if "raw flesh" appear, he shall be held to be unclean. The explanation of this provision of Leviticus 13:12 is therefore apparently this: that if an eruption had so spread as to cover the whole body, turning it white, and yet no raw flesh had appeared in any place, the disease could not be true leprosy as, if it were, then, by the time that it had so extended, "raw flesh" would certainly have appeared somewhere. The disease indicated by this exception was indeed well known to the ancients, as it is also to the moderns as the "dry tetter"; which, although an affection often of long duration, frequently disappears spontaneously, and is never malignant.

The second case which is specified as not to be mistaken for leprosy is mentioned in Leviticus 13:38-39, where it is described as marked by bright spots of a dull whiteness, but without the white hair, and other characteristic signs of leprosy. The Hebrew word by which it is designated is rendered in the Revised Version "tetter"; and the disease, a nonmalignant tetter or eczema, is still known in the East under the same name (bohak) which is here used.

Leviticus 13:45-46 give the law for him who has been by the priest adjudged to be a leper. He must go with clothes rent, with his hair neglected, his lip covered, crying, "Unclean! unclean!" without the camp, and there abide alone for so long as he continues to be afflicted with the disease. In other words, he is to assume all the ordinary signs of mourning for the dead; he is to regard himself, and all others are to regard him, as a dead man. As it were, he is a continual mourner at his own funeral.

Wherein lay the reason for this law? One might answer, in general, that the extreme loathsomeness of the disease, which made the presence of those who had it to be abhorrent, even to their nearest friends, would of itself make it only fitting, however distressing might be the necessity, that such persons should be excluded from every possibility of appearing, in their revolting corruption, in the sacred and pure precincts of the tabernacle of the holy God, as also from mingling with His people. Many, however, have seen in the regulation only a wise law of public hygiene. That a sanitary intent may very probably have been included in the purpose of this law, we are by no means inclined to deny. In earlier times, and all through the middle ages, the disease was regarded as contagious; and lepers were accordingly segregated, as far as practicable, from the people. In modern times, the weight of opinion until recent years has been against this older view; but the tendency of medical authority now appears to be to reaffirm the older belief. The alarming increase of this horrible disease in all parts of the world, of late, following upon a general relaxation of those precautions against contagion which were formerly thought necessary, certainly supports this judgment; and it may thus be easily believed that there was just sanitary ground for the rigid regulations of the Mosaic code. And just here it may be remarked, that if indeed there be any degree of contagiousness, however small, in this plague, no one who has ever seen the disease, or understands anything of its incomparable horror and loathsomeness, will feel that there is any force in the objections which have been taken to this part of the Mosaic law as of inhuman harshness toward the sufferers. Even were the risk of contagion but small, as it probably is, still, so terrible is the disease that one would more justly say that the only inhumanity were to allow those afflicted with it unrestricted intercourse with their fellow men. The truth is, that the Mosaic law concerning the treatment of the leper, when compared with regulations touching lepers which have prevailed among other nations, stands contrasted with them by its comparative leniency. The Hindoo law, as is well known, even insists that the leper ought to put himself out of existence, requiring that he shall be buried alive.

But if there be included in these regulations a sanitary intent, this certainly does not exhaust their significance. Rather, if this be admitted, it only furnishes the basis, as in the case of the laws concerning clean and unclean meats, for still more profound spiritual teaching. For, as remarked before, it is one of the fundamental thoughts of the Mosaic law, that death, as being the extreme visible manifestation of the presence of sin in the race, and a sign of the consequent holy wrath of God against sinful man, is inseparably connected with legal uncleanness. But all disease is a forerunner of death, an incipient dying; and is thus, no less really than actual death, a visible manifestation of the presence and power of sin working in the body through death. And yet it is easy to see that it would have been quite impracticable to carry out a law that therefore all disease should render the sick person ceremonially unclean; while, on the other hand, it was of consequence that Israel, and we as well, should be kept in remembrance of this connection between sin and disease, as death beginning. What could have been more fitting, then, than this, that the one disease which, without exaggeration, is of all diseases the most loathsome, which is most manifestly a visible representation of that which is in a measure true of all disease, that it is death working in life, that disease which is, not in a merely rhetorical sense, but in fact, a living image of death, -should be selected from all others for the illustration of this principle: to be to Israel and to us, a visible, perpetual, and very awful parable of the nature and the working of sin?

And this is precisely what has been done. This explains, as sanitary considerations alone do not, not merely the separation of the leper from the holy people, but also the solemn symbolism which required him to assume the appearance of one mourning for the dead; as also the symbolism of his cleansing, which, in like manner, corresponded very closely with that of the ritual of cleansing from defilement by the dead. Hence, while all sickness, in a general way, is regarded in the Holy Scriptures as a fitting symbol of sin, it has always been recognised that, among all diseases, leprosy is this in an exceptional and preeeminent sense. This thought seems to have been in the mind of David, when, after his murder of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba, bewailing his iniquity, {Psalms 51:7} he prayed, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." For the only use of the hyssop in the law, which could be alluded to in these words is that which is enjoined {Leviticus 14:4-7} in the law for the cleansing of the leper, by the sprinkling of the man to be cleansed with blood and water with a hyssop branch.

And thus we find that, again, this elaborate ceremonial contains, not merely an instructive lesson in public sanitation, and practical suggestions in hygiene for our modern times; but also lessons, far more profound and momentous, concerning that spiritual malady with which the whole human race is burdened, -lessons therefore of the gravest personal consequence for every one of us.

From among all diseases, leprosy has been selected by the Holy Ghost to stand in the law as the supreme type of sin, as seen by God! This is the very solemn fact which is brought before us in this chapter. Let us well consider it and see that we receive the lesson, however humiliating and painful, in the spirit of meekness and penitence. Let us so study it that we shall with great earnestness and true faith resort to the true and heavenly High Priest, who alone can cleanse us of this sore malady. And in order to this, we must carefully consider what is involved in this type.

In the first place, leprosy is undoubtedly selected to be a special type of sin, on account of its extreme loathsomeness. Beginning, indeed, as an insignificant spot, "a bright place," a mere scale on the skin, it goes on spreading, progressing ever from worse to worse, till at last limb drops from limb, and only the hideous mutilated remnant of what was once a man is left. A vivid picture of the horrible reality has been given by that veteran missionary and very accurate observer, the Rev. William Thomson, D.D., who writes thus: "As I was approaching Jerusalem, I was startled by the sudden apparition of a crowd of beggars, sans eyes, sans nose, sans hair, sans everything They held up their handless arms, unearthly sounds gurgled through throats without palates, -in a word, I was horrified." Too horrible is this to be repeated or thought of? Yes! But then all the more solemnly instructive is it that the Holy Spirit should have chosen this disease, the most loathsome of all, as the most fatal of all, to symbolise to us the true nature of that spiritual malady which affects us all, as it is seen by the omniscient and most holy God.

But it will very naturally be rejoined by some: Surely it were gross exaggeration to apply this horrible symbolism to the case of many who, although indeed sinners, unbelievers also in Christ, yet certainly exhibit truly lovely and attractive characters. That this is true regarding many who, according to the Scriptures, are yet unsaved, cannot be denied. We read of one such in the Gospel, -a young man, unsaved, who yet was such that "Jesus looking upon him loved him." {Mark 10:20} But this fact only makes the leprosy the more fitting symbol of sin. For another characteristic of the disease is its insignificant and often even imperceptible beginning. We are told that in the case of those who inherit the taint, it frequently remains quite dormant in early life, only gradually appearing in later years.

How perfectly the type, in this respect, then, symbolises sin! And surely any thoughtful man will confess that this fact makes the presence of the infection not less alarming, but more so. No comfort then can be rightly had from any complacent comparison of our own characters with those of many, perhaps professing more, who are much worse than we, as the manner of some is. No one who knew that from his parents he had inherited the leprous taint, or in whom the leprosy as yet appeared as only an insignificant bright spot, would comfort himself greatly by the observation that other lepers were much worse; and that he was, as yet, fair and goodly to look upon. Though the leprosy were in him but just begun, that would be enough to fill him with dismay and consternation. So should it be with regard to sin.

And it would so affect such a man the more surely, when he knew that the disease, however slight in its beginnings, was certainly progressive. This is one of the unfailing marks of the disease. It may progress slowly, but it progresses surely. To quote again the vivid and truthful description of the above-named writer,

"It comes on by degrees in different parts of the body: the hair fails from the head and eyebrows; the nails loosen, decay, and drop off; joint after joint of the fingers and toes shrinks up and slowly falls away; the gums are absorbed, and the teeth disappear; the nose, the eyes, the tongue, and the palate are slowly consumed; and, finally, the wretched victim sinks into the earth and disappears."

In this respect again the fitness of the disease to stand as an eminent type of sin is undeniable. No man can morally stand still. No one has ever retained the innocence of childhood. Except as counteracted by the efficient grace of the Holy Spirit in the heart, the Word {2 Timothy 3:13} is ever visibly fulfilled, "evil men wax worse and worse." Sin may not develop in all with equal rapidity, but it does progress in every natural man, outwardly or inwardly, with equal certainty.

It is another mark of leprosy that sooner or later it affects the whole man; and in this, again, appears the sad fitness of the disease to stand as a symbol of sin. For sin is not a partial disorder, affecting only one class of faculties, or one part of our nature. It disorders the judgment; it obscures our moral perceptions; it either perverts the affections, or unduly stimulates them in one direction, while it deadens them in another; it hardens and quickens the will for evil, while it paralyses its power for the volition of that which is holy. And not only the Holy Scripture, but observation itself, teaches us that sin, in many cases, also affects the body of man, weakening its powers, and bringing in, by an inexorable taw, pain, disease, and death. Sooner or later, then, sin affects the whole man. And for that reason, again, is leprosy set forth as its preeeminent symbol.

It is another remarkable feature of the disease that, as it progresses from bad to worse, the victim becomes more and more insensible. This numbness or insensibility of the spots affected-in one most common variety at least-is a constant feature. In some cases it becomes so extreme that a knife may be thrust into the affected limb, or the diseased flesh may be burnt with fire, and yet the leper feels no pain. Nor is the insensibility confined to the body, but, as the leprosy extends, the mind is affected in an analogous manner. A recent writer says: "Though a mass of bodily corruption, at last unable to leave his bed, the leper seems happy and contented with his sad condition." Is anything more characteristic than this of the malady of sin? The sin which, when first committed, costs a keen pang, afterward, when frequently repeated, hurts not the conscience at all. Judgments and mercies, which in earlier life affected one with profound emotion, in later life leave the impenitent sinner as unmoved as they found him. Hence we all recognise the fitness of the common expression, "a seared conscience," as also of the Apostle’s description of advanced sinners as men who are "past feeling". {Ephesians 4:19} Of this moral insensibility which sin produces, then, we are impressively reminded when the Holy Spirit in the Word holds before us leprosy as a type of sin.

Another element of the solemn fitness of the type is found in the persistently hereditary nature of leprosy. It may indeed sometimes arise of itself, even as did sin in the case of certain of the holy angels, and with our first parents; but when once it is introduced, in the case of any person, the terrible infection descends with unfailing certainty to all his descendants; and while, by suitable hygiene, it is possible to alleviate its violence, and retard its development, it is not possible to escape the terrible inheritance. Is anything more uniformly characteristic of sin? We may raise no end of metaphysical difficulties about the matter, and put unanswerable questions about freedom and responsibility; but there is no denying the hard fact that since sin first entered the race, in our first parents, not a child of man, of human father begotten, has escaped the taint. If various external influences, as in the case of leprosy, may, in some instances, modify its manifestations, yet no individual, in any class or condition of mankind, escapes the taint. The most cultivated and the most barbarous alike, come into the world so constituted that, quite antecedent to any act of free choice on their part, we know that it is not more certain that they will eat than that, when they begin to exercise freedom, they will, each and every one, use their moral freedom wrongly, -in a word, will sin. No doubt, then, when such prominence is given to leprosy among diseases, in the Mosaic symbolism and elsewhere, it is with intent, among other truths, to keep before the mind this very solemn and awful fact with regard to the sin which it so fitly symbolises.

And, again, we find yet another analogy in the fact that, among the ancient Hebrews, the disease was regarded as incurable by human means; and, notwithstanding occasional announcements in our day that a remedy has been discovered for the plague, this seems to be the verdict of the best authorities in medical science still. That in this respect leprosy perfectly represents the sorer malady of the soul, everyone is witness. No possible effort of will or fixedness of determination has ever availed to free a man from sin. Even the saintliest Christian has often to confess with the Apostle, {Romans 7:19} "The evil which I would not, that I practise." Neither is culture, whether intellectual or religious, of any more avail. To this all human history testifies. In our day despite the sad lessons of long experience, many are hoping for much from improved government, education, and such like means; but vainly, and in the face of the most patent facts. Legislation may indeed impose restrictions on the more flagrant forms of sin, even as it may be of service in restricting the devastations of leprosy, and ameliorating the condition of lepers. But to do away with sin, and abolish crime by any conceivable legislation, is a dream as vain as were the hope of curing leprosy by a good law or an imperial proclamation. Even the perfect law of God has proved inadequate for this end; the Apostle {Romans 8:3} reminds us that in this it has failed, and could not but fail, "in that it was weak through the flesh." Nothing can well be of more importance than that We should be keenly alive to this fact; that so we may not, through our present apparently tolerable condition, or by temporary alleviations of the trouble, be thrown off our guard, and hope for ourselves or for the world, upon grounds which afford no just reason for hope.

Last of all, the law of leprosy, as given in this chapter, teaches the supreme lesson, that as with the symbolic disease of the body so with that of the soul, sin shuts out from God and from the fellowship of the holy. As the leper was excluded from the camp of Israel and from the tabernacle of Jehovah, so must the sinner, except cleansed, be shut out of the Holy City, and from the glory of the heavenly temple. What a solemnly significant parable is this exclusion of the leper from the camp! He is thrust forth from the congregation of Israel, wearing the insignia of mourning for the dead! Within the camp, the multitude of them that go to the sanctuary of God, and that joyfully keep holy day; without, the leper dwelling alone, in his incurable corruption and never-ending mourning! And so, while we do not indeed deny a sanitary intention in these regulations of the law, but are rather inclined to affirm it; yet of far more consequence is it that we heed the spiritual truth which this solemn symbolism teaches. It is that which is written in the Apocalypse {Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:15} concerning the New Jerusalem: "There shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean. Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and everyone that loveth and maketh a lie."

In view of all these correspondences, one need not wonder that in the symbolism of the law leprosy holds the place which it does. For what other disease can be named which combines in itself, as a physical malady, so many of the most characteristic marks of the malady of the soul? In its intrinsic loathsomeness, its insignificant beginnings, its slow but inevitable progress, in the extent of its effects, in the insensibility which accompanies it, in its hereditary character, in its incurability, and, finally, in the fact that according to the law it involved the banishment of the leper from the camp of Israel, -in all these respects, it stands alone as a perfect type of sin; it is sin, as it were, made visible in the flesh.

This is indeed a dark picture of man’s natural state, and very many are exceedingly loth to believe that sin can be such a very serious matter. Indeed, the fundamental postulate of much of our nineteenth-century thought, in matters both of politics and religion, denies the truth of this representation, and insists, on the contrary, that man is naturally not bad, but good; and that, on the whole, as the ages go by, he is gradually becoming better and better. But it is imperative that our views of sin and of humanity shall agree with the representations held before us in the Word of God. When that Word, not only in type, as in this chapter, but in plain language, {Jeremiah 17:9, R.V} declares that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and it is desperately sick, " it must be a very perilous thing to deny this.

It is a profoundly instructive circumstance that, according to this typical law, the case of the supposed leper was to be judged by the priest (Leviticus 13:2-3, et passim). All turned for him upon the priest’s verdict. If he declared him clean, it was well; but if he pronounced him unclean, it made no difference that the man did not believe it, or that his friends did not believe it; or that he or they thought better in any respect of his case than the priest, -out of the camp he must go. He might plead that he was certainly not nearly in so bad a case as some of the poor, mutilated, dying creatures outside the camp; but that would have no weight, however true. For still he, no less really than they, was a leper; and, until made whole, into the fellowship of lepers he must go and abide. Even so for us all; everything turns, not on our own opinion of ourselves, or on what other men may think of us; but solely on the verdict of the heavenly Priest.

The picture thus set before us in the symbolism of this chapter is sad enough; but it would be far more sad did the law not now carry forward the symbolism into the region of redemption, in making provision for the cleansing of the leper, and his readmission into the fellowship of the holy people. To this our attention is called in the next chapter.


Verses 47-59

OF LEPROSY IN A GARMENT OR HOUSE

Leviticus 13:47-59;, Leviticus 14:33-53

"The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment; whether it be in warp, or woof; of linen, or of woollen; whether in a skin, or in any thing made of skin; if the plague be greenish or reddish in the garment, or in the skin, or in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin; it is the plague of leprosy, and shall be shewed unto the priest: and the priest shall look upon the plague, and shut up that which hath the plague seven days: and he shall look on the plague on the seventh day: if the plague be spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in the skin, whatever service skin is used for; the plague is a fretting leprosy; it is unclean. And he shall burn the garment, whether the warp or the woof, in woollen or in linen, or any thing of skin, wherein the plague is: for it is a fretting leprosy; it shall be burnt in the fire. And if the priest shall look, and, behold, the plague be not spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin then the priest shall command that they wash the thing wherein the plague is, and he shall shut it tip seven days more: and the priest shall look, after that the plague is washed: and, behold, if the plague have not changed its colour, and the plague be not spread, it is unclean thou shalt burn it in the fire; it is a fret, whether the bareness be with n or without. And if the priest look, and, behold, the plague be dim after the washing thereof, then he shall rend it out of the garment, or out of the skin, or out of the warp, or out of the woof: and if it appear still in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin, it is breaking out: thou shalt burn that wherein the plague is with fire. And the garment, either the warp, or the woof, or whatsoever thing of skin it he, which thou shalt wash, if the plague be departed from them, then it shall be washed the second time, and shall be clean. This is the law of the plague of leprosy in a garment of woollen or linen, either in the warp, or the woof, or any thing of skin, to pronounce it clean, or to pronounce it unclean And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When ye be come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession; then he that owneth the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, There seemeth to me to be as it were a plague in the house: and the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest go in to see the plague, that all that is in the house be not made unclean: and afterward the priest shall go in to see the house: and he shall look on the plague, and, behold, if the plague be in the walls of the house with hollow strakes, greenish or reddish, and the appearance thereof be lower than the wall; then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days: and the priest shall come again the seventh day, and shall look: and, behold, if the plague be spread in the walls of the house; then the priest shall command that they take out the stones in which the plague is, and cast them into an unclean place without the city: and he shall cause the house to be scraped within round about, and they shall pour out the mortar that they serape off without the city into an unclean place: and they shall take other stones, and put them in the place of those stones; and he shall take other mortar and shall plaister the house. And if the plague come again, and break out in the house, after that he hath taken out the stones, and after he hath scraped the house, and after it is plaistered; then the priest shall come in and look, and, behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a fretting leprosy in the house: it is unclean. And he shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place. Moreover he that goeth into the house all the while that it is shut up shall be unclean until the even. And he that lieth in the house shall wash his clothes; and he that eateth in the house shall wash his clothes. And if the priest shall come in, and look, and, behold, the plague hath not spread in the house, after the house was plaistered; then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed. And he shall take to cleanse the house two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: and he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water: and he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times: and he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedar wood, and with the hyssop, and with the scarlet: but he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open field: so shall he make atonement for the house: and it shall be clean."

There has been much debate as to what we are to understand by the leprosy in the garment or in a house. Was it an affection identical in nature with the leprosy of the body? or was it merely so called from a certain external similarity to that plague?

However extraordinary the former supposition might once have seemed, in the present state of medical science we are at least able to say that there is nothing inconceivable in it. We have abundant experimental evidence that a large number of diseases, and, not improbably, leprosy among them, are caused by minute parasitic forms of vegetable life; and, also, that in many cases these forms of life may, and do, exist and multiply in various other suitable media besides the fluids and tissues of the human body. If, as is quite likely, leprosy be caused by some such parasitic life in the human body, it is then evidently possible that such parasites, under favourable conditions of heat, moisture, etc., should exist and propagate themselves, as in other analogous cases, outside the body; as, for instance, in cloth, or leather, or in the plaster of a house; in which case it is plain that such garments or household implements, or such dwellings, as might be thus infected, would be certainly unwholesome, and presumably capable of communicating the leprosy to the human subject. But we have not yet sufficient scientific observation to settle the question whether this is really so; we can, however, safely say that, in any case, the description which is here given indicates a growth in the affected garment or house of some kind of mould or mildew; which, as we know, is a form of life produced under conditions which always imply an unwholesome state of the article or house in which it appears. We also know that if such growths be allowed to go on unchecked, they involve more or less rapid processes of decomposition in that which is affected. Thus, even from a merely natural point of view, one can see the high wisdom of the Divine King of Israel in ordering that, in all such cases, the man whose garment or house was thus affected should at once notify the priest, who was to come and decide whether the appearance was of a noxious and unclean kind or not, and then take action accordingly.

Whether the suspicious spot were in a house or in some article it contained, the article or house (the latter having been previously emptied) was first shut up for seven days. {Leviticus 13:50, Leviticus 14:38} If in the garment or other article affected it was found then to have spread, it was without any further ceremony to be burnt. {Leviticus 13:51-52} If it had not spread, it was to be washed and shut up seven days more, at the end of which time, even though it had not spread, if the greenish or reddish colour remained unchanged, it was still to be adjudged unclean, and to be burned. {Leviticus 13:55} If, on the other hand, the colour had somewhat "dimmed," the part affected was to he cut out; when, if it spread no further, it was to be washed a second time and be pronounced clean. {Leviticus 13:58} If, however, after the excision of the affected part, the spot appeared again, the article, without further delay, was to be burned. {Leviticus 13:57}

The law, in the case of the appearing of a leprosy in a house, {Leviticus 14:33-53} was much more elaborate. As in the former case, when the occupant of the house suspects, "as it were a plague in the house," he is to go and tell the priest; who is, first of all, to order the emptying of the house before he goes in, lest that which is in the house, should it prove to be the plague, be made unclean (Leviticus 14:36). The diagnosis reminds us of that of the leprosy in the body; greenish or reddish streaks, in appearance "lower than the wall," i.e., deep seated (Leviticus 14:37). Where this is observed, the empty house is to be shut up for seven days (Leviticus 14:38-39); and at the end of that time, if the spot has spread, "the stones in which the plague is" are to be taken out, the plaster scraped off the walls of the house, and all carried out into an unclean place outside of the city, and new stones and new plaster put in the place of the old (Leviticus 14:40-42). If, after this, the plague yet reappear, the house is to be adjudged unclean, and is to be wholly torn down, and all the material carried into an unclean place without the city (Leviticus 14:44-45). If, on the other hand, after this renewal of the interior of the house, the spots do not reappear, the priest "shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed" (Leviticus 14:48). But, unlike the case of the leprous garment, this does not end the ceremonial. It is ordered that the priest shall take to cleanse (lit. "to purge the house from sin") (Leviticus 14:49) two birds, scarlet, cedar, and hyssop, which are then used precisely as in the case of the purgation of the leprous man; and at the end, "he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open field: so shall he make atonement for the house: and it shall be clean" (Leviticus 14:50-53).

For the time then present, one can hardly fail to see in this ceremonial, first, a merciful sanitary intent. By the observance of these regulations not only was Israel to be saved from many sicknesses and various evils, but was to be constantly reminded that Israel’s God, like a wise and kind Father, had a care for everything that pertained to their welfare; not only for their persons, but also for their dwellings, and even all the various articles of daily use. The lesson is always in force, for God has not changed. He is not a God who cares for the souls of men only, but for their bodies also, and everything around them. His servants do well to remember this, and in this imitate Him, as happily many are doing more and more. Bibles and tracts are good, and religious exhortation; but we have here left us a Divine warrant not to content ourselves with these things alone, but to have a care for the clothing and the homes of those we would reach with the Gospel. In all the large cities of Christendom it must be confessed that the principle which underlies these laws concerning houses and garments, is often terribly neglected. Whether the veritable plague of leprosy be in the walls of many of our tenement houses or not, there can be no doubt that it could not be much worse if it were; and Christian philanthropy and legislation could scarcely do better in many cases than vigorously to enforce the Levitical law, tear down, replaster, or, in many cases, destroy from the foundation, tenement houses which could, with little exaggeration, be justly described as leprous throughout.

But all which is in this law cannot be thus explained. Even the Israelite must have looked beyond this for the meaning of the ordinance of the two birds, the cedar, scarlet, and hyssop, and the "atonement" for the house. He would have easily perceived that not only leprosy in the body, but this leprosy in the garment and the house, was a sign that both the man himself, and his whole environment as well, was subject to death and decay; that, as already he would have learned from the Book of Genesis, even nature was under a curse because of man’s sin; and that, as in the Divine plan, sacrificial cleansing was required for the deliverance of man, so also it was somehow mysteriously required for the cleansing of his earthly abode and surroundings, in default of which purgation they must be destroyed.

And from this to the antitypical truth prefigured by these laws it is but a step; and a step which we take with full New Testament light to guide us. For if the leprosy in the body visibly typified the working of sin and death in the soul of man, then, as clearly, the leprosy in the house must in this law be intended to symbolise the working of sin in the material earthly creation, which is man’s abode. The type thus brings before us the truth which is set forth by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:20-22, where we are taught in express words that, not man alone, but the whole creation also, because of sin, has come under a "bondage of corruption." "The creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." This is one truth which is shadowed forth in this type.

But the type also shows us how, as Scripture elsewhere clearly teaches, if after such partial purgation as was effected by means of the deluge the bondage of corruption still persist, then the abode of man must itself be destroyed; "the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up." {2 Peter 3:10} Nothing less than fire will suffice to put an end to the working in material nature of this mysterious curse. And yet beyond the fire is redemption. For the atonement shall avail not only for the leprous man, but for the purifying of the leprous abode. The sprinkling of sacrificial blood and water by means of the cedar, and hyssop, and scarlet, and the living bird, which effected the deliverance of the leper, are used also in the same way and for the same end, for the leprous house. And so "according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness"; {2 Peter 3:13} and it shall be brought in through the virtue of atonement made by a Saviour slain, and applied by a Saviour alive from the dead; so that, as the free bird flies away in token of the full completion of deliverance from the curse, so "the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God". {Romans 8:21}

But there was also a leprosy of the garment. If the leprosy in the body typified the effect of sin in the soul, and the leprosy in the house, the effect of sin in the earthly creation, which is man’s home; the leprosy of the garment can scarcely typify anything else than the presence and effects of sin in those various relations in life which constitute our present environment. Whenever, in any of these, we suspect the working of sin, first of all we are to lay the case before the heavenly Priest. And then, if He with the "eyes like a flame of fire" {Revelation 1:14; Revelation 2:16} declare anything unclean, then that in which the stain is found must be without hesitation cut out and thrown away. And if still, after this, we find the evil reappearing, then the whole garment must go, fair and good though the most of it may still appear. In other words, those relations and engagements in which, despite all possible care and precaution, we find manifest sin persistently reappearing, as if there were in them, however inexplicably, an ineradicable tendency to evil, -these we must resolutely put away, "hating even the garment spotted by the flesh."

The leprous garment must be burnt. For its restoration or purification the law made no provision. For here, in the antitype, we are dealing with earthly relationships, which have only to do with the present life and order. "The fashion of this world passeth away". {1 Corinthians 7:31} There shall be "new heavens and a new earth," but in that new creation the old environment shall be found no longer. The old garments, even such as were best, shall be no longer used. The redeemed shall walk with the King and Redeemer, clothed in the white robes which He shall give. No more leprosy then in person, house, or garment! For we shall be set before the presence of the Father’s glory, without blemish, in exceeding joy, "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." Wherefore "to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and power, before all time, and now, and forevermore. Amen."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Leviticus 13:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/leviticus-13.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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