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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 14

 

 

Verses 1-32

THE CEREMONIAL CLEANSING OF THE LEPER, Leviticus 14:1-32.

Our position that the treatment of the leprosy was founded on ceremonial, rather than sanitary, grounds, is confirmed by the minute ritual required for the cleansing of the leper after he has been healed, together with the total absence of any medicinal prescriptions for his cure. By what natural means this was ever effected we are not informed in the Scriptures. The only cures which are detailed are miraculous, as Miriam, in answer to the prayer of Moses, Numbers 12:13-15; Naaman, at the command of Elisha, 2 Kings 5:14; and the instances of healing by Jesus Christ, Matthew 8:3; Luke 17:14. In his sermon to his indignant towns-men on the universality of the divine regards, Jesus gives two very valuable historical items: 1. That in the long and eventful life of Elisha not an Israelite leper was healed; and 2. That “many lepers were in Israel” at that time. Luke 4:27. We infer, therefore, that the perfect healing of the leprosy was a rare exertion of supernatural power, and that the cases provided for in this chapter are either instances of miraculous healing, or, more probably, cases in which the disease had reached the stage of complete whiteness, when the patient has become clean, (Leviticus 13:13, note,) and may be constructively called healed.


Verse 2

2. He shall be brought unto the priest — Here is intimated the intervention of a third party, a mediator, to bring the case unto the knowledge of the priest. The Holy Spirit draws penitent sinners to Jesus, the cleansing Priest. When he healed lepers in his earthly ministry he sent them to the priests, that their office might be honoured, their sacrificial perquisites secured to them, and the cure be authenticated by their endorsement.

The priest shall go forth — The leper was forbidden to come into the camp until he had been officially pronounced cleansed. Jesus descended from a holy heaven to cleanse and lead once leprous souls from earth to glory.


Verse 3

3. Healed — See introductory remarks.


Verse 4

4. Command to take for him — Literally, the priest shall command, and he (the leper) shall take for him, cleansing himself. The leper was not to be perfectly passive in his being cleansed, but he was enjoined to co-operate with the priest. Thus the sinner is to present by faith the blood of Christ with which he is to be purified.

Two birds — Of any kind, provided they be clean, that is, fit for food. Leviticus 11:13-28. The Vulgate says passeres, sparrows. If limited to these the word “clean” would be out of place, since individuals would be clean if their species were so. The Seventy use a diminutive form, “little birds.” Tradition adds that they must not be reared in a cage, but wild birds.

Cedar wood — The piece, according to Jewish law, was to be long enough to constitute a handle. The oxyderus, or Phenician juniper, which abounds in the Sinaitic Peninsula, is doubtless intended. Vitruvius speaks of the antiseptic properties of the oil of juniper. It may well typify the keeping power of divine grace. 1 Peter 1:5.

Scarlet — Here is an attribute without a substance, which must be supplied — wool, the Seventy, “spun wool.” The colour is properly crimson obtained from the coccus insect found on the boughs of the ilex. Furst suggests that the proper translation in this place is, a crimson piece of cloth, in which to enfold the hyssop and cedar wood.

This colour sometimes symbolizes mortal sins. Isaiah 1:18. It may here typify the blood of the Lamb, faith in which makes sinners whiter than snow. Revelation 7:14.

Hyssop — Hebrew ezob. See Exodus 12:22, note. Later researches identify it with the origanum maru, a plant of a highly aromatic odour, many stalks growing from one root so that the hand could easily gather in a single grasp a bunch all ready for use. It grows on the walls of all the terraces in Syria and Palestine. But Stanley and Tristram argue for the caper, or asaf, as the same as the ezob.


Verse 5

5. The priest shall command — The person commanded is the leper. The offerer killed his own sacrifice, (Leviticus 1:5, note,) for it is a true sacrifice though the altar is absent and the burning does not take place, for the priest, the sprinkling, and the atonement (Leviticus 14:53) are the essential elements.

An earthen vessel — This takes the place of the altar. It symbolizes the human body, weak, frail, and decaying. 2 Corinthians 4:7.

Over running water — The English translators have made a needless difficulty here, making a running brook necessary to the rite of cleansing. The Hebrew reads living water, in the vessel with which the blood of the bird is to mingle. Blood and water, the emblems of expiation and sanctification, are here blended together as they flowed from the pierced side of Jesus, and as they influence the experience of the believer. John 19:34; 1 John 5:6; Hebrews 10:22, and Leviticus 8:30, note.


Verse 6-7

6, 7. The living bird — This was tied to the end of the cedar wood or juniper in such a way that the tips of its wings and of its tail, bound with the crimson fillet cord or cloth, might be dipped with the hyssop into the vessel of blood and water. Then the whole was used as a brush with which to sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, thereby indicating the perfectness of the first cleansing. Leviticus 4:6, note. The cedar, crimson, and hyssop are symbols of the instrumental cause of spiritual cleansing, faith, by which the Spirit applies the blood and the water for our justification and entire sanctification. Both are necessary. Hebrews 12:14.

Pronounce him clean — Next in value to the purification is the divine authentication to the consciousness of the sanctified soul cleansed from the root of all depravity, the leprosy of inbred sin. 1 Corinthians 2:12.

Let the living bird loose — With blood-stained wings he mounts the skies warbling in gladness at his release from the cedar wood to which he was painfully bound, and from the blood and water into which he had been plunged. It was not released until after the death of its companion; “for the two birds typify one Christ in two stages of his atoning work — death and resurrection.” Since, under the reign of natural law the dead bird could not be restored to life, the living bird, reddened with the blood, the life of its sacrificed fellow, per-sonates him, winging its upward way a living witness of the leper’s cleansing through blood. But our Sacrifice, having power to lay down his life and to take it again, needs no one to personate his continued life, for “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.”

“Thy offering still continues new;

Thy vesture keeps its crimson hue;

Thou art the ever-slaughtered Lamb,

Thy priesthood still remains the same.”

The Targum of Palestine adds, “And it will be that if that man is again to be stricken with leprosy, the living bird will come back to his house on that day, and may be held fit to be eaten.” The same is said of the bird let loose for the cleansing of a house. See Leviticus 14:53.


Verse 8

8. Wash his clothes — Before his cleansing all the efforts of the leper to purify himself by improving his externals were vain, because these would only be put out of harmony with his inward self. But since his purification such efforts are demanded in order that the “outside of the cup and platter” may correspond with the purity within. Good works as means of regeneration are futile, but as fruits of that divine change they are well pleasing unto God. Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2; Titus 2:14; Titus 3:8; Titus 3:14. Washed clothes represent changed habits.

Shave off all his hair — As much as possible of his former self he was to leave behind, in order that he might enter into communion with holy people among whom Jehovah abode.

Tarry abroad out of his tent — This is an euphemism for abstinence from marital rights, viewed as an uncleanness by the ceremonial law. Exodus 19:15; chap. Leviticus 15:18. His cleansing has been initiated but not completed, and hence he is not yet invested with all his personal rights, especially those which prefigure the most intimate communion with God and his people.


Verse 9

9. He shall wash… and be clean — Although he has been pronounced clean there remains the completion of the process begun seven days before. God’s works are as perfect as the human conditions and limitations will allow. The soul is as perfectly cleansed when born again as the faith of that soul will admit. Subsequent discovery of inward impurity, and stronger apprehension of the power of the blood of Christ, constitute the perfect conditions of the completed work of sanctification. Yet nothing is more common than the superficial remark that perfect cleansing takes place in regeneration. All the good works of the cleansed leper, after God in the person of the priest took him in hand, are steps of progress toward the final and complete purification.


Verse 10

10. Eighth day — See Leviticus 9:1, note.

Two lambs — The Hebrew term applies to young sheep till three years old. If it be of the first year the fact is expressly stated.

Without blemish — See Leviticus 1:3, note.

Three tenth deals — Three omers, about nine quarts: R.V., “three tenth parts of an ephah.” See Leviticus 23:13, note.

Meat offering — See chap. ii, notes.

One log of oil — The term “log” is transferred from the Hebrew. It contained the twelfth part of a hin, or six egg-shells=.833 of a pint. This olive oil was to be applied to the person of the cleansed leper. Whilst other requisites for the final cleansing varied, according to his ability, this was invariable, because of its typical significance — the unction of the Holy Ghost.


Verse 11

11. Maketh clean… made clean — The superiority of the Hebrew to the English is seen in this verse in its employment of the reflexive voice, in the Hiphel form of the verb, declaring the activity of the leper in the cleansing process. “The priest that maketh him clean shall present the man who is making himself clean.” The divine efficiency blends with the human. This is the synergism of our Arminian theology.

Door of the tabernacle — See Leviticus 1:3, note. It was a great privilege to stand there. The purification without the camp was necessary to the attainment of this right. There are promises which are made only to the regenerate. The Comforter and Sanctifier are sent only to those who already love Christ. John 14:15-16.


Verse 12

12. Trespass offering — R.V., “guilt offering.” See chap. v, Introductory, also Leviticus 14:6, note. This offering was required, not as a payment of debts to Jehovah accumulated during the sickness, (Riem, Oehler, and Murphy,) but rather as a consecration offering, because this served as a restoration to all the rights of the priestly covenant nation, which had been suspended by the mortal ban of leprosy. This is shown by the fact that the asham, or trespass offering, was to be waved for a wave offering, an unusual ceremony in connexion with the asham, but used when persons are to be dedicated to the Lord, as were the Levites in Numbers 8:11-15, after their sin offering. For the manner and meaning of waving see Leviticus 7:30, note.

Most holy Leviticus 2:3, note.


Verse 14

14. Right ear — The organ which may have been a willing channel for folly, impurity, or slander must be cleansed by the blood of sprinkling.

Hand — This instrument of the wicked will need the purifying blood, while the foot, which has often run in the way of sin, must be purged as an offending member. This mode of purification in detail is almost exactly like the order for the consecration of the priests. Leviticus 8:24, note.


Verse 15

15. The priest shall take… oil — The administration of the oil to various parts of the person, ending with pouring it upon the head, is the last act in the process of cleansing. Its spiritual significance is no enigma. Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Jesus, as the Messiah, or the Christ, was anointed of the Holy Spirit. Zechariah 4:2-12; Acts 10:38; Hebrews 1:9. Believers endowed with the fulness of the Spirit are said to be anointed. 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27. All genuine Christians are etymologically the oiled ones. The restoration of the leper involved two parts — the negative, the removal of the impurity by the blood sprinkled; and the positive, the reinvestment with all lost privileges, especially communion with God’s people, and favour with him and the right of access to him. The positive work is typified by the anointing. Entire sanctification consists not only of a death unto sin, but of life unto God. There must be a destructive and a constructive process. The old man must be slain and the new man must be created in righteousness and true holiness.


Verse 16

16. Sprinkle of the oil — Since it is ordinary oil, and not “the holy anointing” oil, (Exodus 30:23-25,) the sevenfold sprinkling is its perfect consecration unto Jehovah.


Verse 17

17. Upon the blood — As the oil was put upon the blood of the asham, or trespass offering, so is the blood of Christ our asham, (Isaiah 53:10,) the divine basis of the operations of the Holy Ghost. Hence he was not given till after Christ had been glorified by the crucifixion, (John 7:39; John 12:23; John 17:1,) nor in Christian experience is his peculiar office of the sanctifier fulfilled until after justification through the blood of Christ. The divine order of these blessings, prefigured by the oil upon the blood, should be carefully observed, inasmuch as all legalists are forever falling into the mistake of making sanctification the ground of justification. Whereas we are cleansed by the blood of sprinkling, and then the chief work of consecration, symbolized by the oil applied, takes place. Hence we do not consecrate to God our evil things, but our good things; we abandon our evil habits and consecrate our cleansed selves unto the Lord. Says Dean Alford, “The gift of the Spirit at and since the day of Pentecost was and is something totally distinct from any thing before that time. The first reception of him must not be illogically put in place of all his indwelling and working, which are intended,” in John 7:39. Thus we find here strong confirmation of the Wesleyan view of entire sanctification as a distinct work, an instantaneous “change immensely greater than that wrought when the believer was justified, and infinitely greater than any before, and than any one can conceive till he experiences it.” — J. Wesley.


Verse 18

18. Pour upon the head — This symbolized the endowment of the whole man with the gift of the Holy Ghost. The believer is not only to be cleansed from the leprosy of hereditary and inbred depravity, but to be “filled with all the fulness of God.” Ephesians 3:19.


Verse 19

19. Atonement — See Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 4:20, notes.

Burnt offering — See Leviticus 1:3; Leviticus 6:9, notes.


Verse 21

21. Cannot get so much — Literally, if his hand reach not. Thus the divine requirement mercifully adjusts itself to human ability. “God never omitted the sacrifice; however poor was the worshipper, some degree or form of sacrifice he was bound to supply. This shows that the true sacrifice is in the spirit rather than in the offering which is made by the hand.” — Joseph Parker. See Leviticus 12:8, note. The reduced requirement diminishes the meat offering two thirds, and substitutes two doves for the two sheep which are used for the sin offering and the burnt offering. But the offerings which are more especially consecratory, typifying positive blessings, are not diminished, namely, the trespass offering and the anointing oil. This may teach, that while penitents may be pardoned when faith in Christ is very imperfect, by simply looking toward him, believers receive cleansing and the fulness of the Holy Spirit only when they exercise a perfect faith in the great atonement.


Verses 33-45

SIGNS OF LEPROSY IN A HOUSE, Leviticus 14:33-45.

The nature of house leprosy is a great mystery. If it proceeded from a natural cause we should expect to find the same cause productive of a like effect in modern Palestine. But travellers report no instances. The most prevalent theory, having a slight scriptural basis (see Leviticus 14:34, note) is, that it was a supernatural plague. This is the opinion of Patrick, Aberbanel, and many rabbins. The author of Sepher Cosri says, “God inflicted the plague of leprosy upon houses and garments as a punishment for lesser sins, and when the parties continued to multiply transgressions, it invaded their bodies.” Maimonides specifies the sin of which this is the punishment to be an evil tongue. The Targum of Palestine says that the plague was because the house was “built by rapine.” Michaelis has suggested, as a natural cause, a nitrous efflorescence produced by saltpetre, or rather an acid containing it, and issuing in red spots. He cites the case of a house in Lubeck. But this does not counterbalance the absence of such phenomena in the Holy Land in modern times. Says Dr. W.M. Thomson, “I have suspected that this disease is caused by living and self-propagating animalculae; and thus I can conceive it possible that these might fasten on a wall, especially if the cement were mixed with sizing, as is now done, or other gelatinous or animal glues. Still, the most cursory reference to the best of medical works shows how little is known about the whole subject of contagion, and its propagation by fomites. One finds in them abundant and incontestable instances of the propagation of many terrible constitutional maladies, in the most inexplicable manner, by garments, leather, wood, and other things, the materies morbi meantime eluding the most persevering and vigilant search, aided by every appliance of modern science, chemical or optical.”


Verse 34

34. Land of Canaan — Since tents were not exposed to this form of uncleanness this legislation looks forward to Palestine, where the people would abide in the cities built by the Amorites. Joshua 24:13. It has been suggested, but with no show of proof, that treasures had been hidden in certain houses by the Canaanites, and that the leprosy was sent to these in order that the gold and silver hidden in them might be revealed when they were demolished. “The people were far enough from Canaan at this moment, yet a law of regulation was laid down for their conduct when they came into possession of the land. This is another revelation of the method of divine government. Laws are made in advance.” — Joseph Parker.

I put the plague of leprosy — This expression is the ground of the opinion that the house leprosy was a supernatural infliction. But in the Hebrew idiom God is often said to do acts which he permits others to do, (Exodus 7:13,) or which occur through physical laws.


Verse 35

35. Tell the priest — This obligation, laid upon every householder, would tend to a scrupulous care of the house and be promotive of health. It also tended to magnify the office of the priest.


Verse 36

36. Empty the house — Literally, prepare the house for inspection, by the removal of its contents, as a safeguard against ceremonial defilement.


Verse 37

37. Hollow streaks — The Hebrew for both these words is depression, or sunken place. This is the first test of the leprosy; the second was the greenish or reddish colour.

Lower than the wall — This is the depression just mentioned.

Shut up — This was a safeguard against the ceremonial defilement of the family. It also removed all human agency from contributing to the further spreading of the spots.


Verse 39

39. Be spread — This was the third and decisive test.


Verse 40

40. Take away the stones — Here is a prediction that the people will live in houses of stone, and not of wood or brick. The stones were to be digged out of the wall and cast without the city. Here is a prophecy that the houses will not be scattered through the country, but will be compact, and surrounded by some definite limits. This was true of ancient Jewish houses. For protection the inhabitants of modern Palestine live chiefly in cities.


Verse 41

41. Scraped — As a preventive the entire interior of the house was scraped, and the dust (R.V., “mortar”) carefully removed.


Verse 42

42. Other mortar — This implies that the scraping removed the entire inner plastering.


Verse 44

44. Fretting leprosy — See Leviticus 13:51. The whole mode of the diagnosis is strikingly like that of the leprosy in man, while there is probably no connexion between the two plagues.


Verse 45

45. He shall break down… carry… out — The priest, according to the literalism of Colenso, would have a vast work to do single-handed. But common sense assures us that he may be said to perform labour which he directs. The damage done by such a house to the ceremonial purity and health of its occupants was of far more consequence in the estimation of the lawgiver than the building itself. “Those to whom this appears strange, and who lament the fate of a house pulled down by legal authority, probably think of large and magnificent houses like ours, of many stories high, which cost a great deal of money,” whereas the houses of those days were usually rude, low, and cheap.


Verse 46

46. He that goeth into the house… unclean — The house defiles the occupant, and not the occupant the house. This is a sufficient answer to Knobel, who assumes that the house leprosy is a contagion taken from the leprous inhabitant.


Verses 46-57

THE CLEANSING OF A HOUSE SUSPECTED OF LEPROSY, Leviticus 14:46-57.

The same ceremony is to be performed for the house suspected of leprosy as takes place without the camp in the case of a man cured of this disease. The reason for this is not stated, but it is evident that after public attention had been directed toward the house by the priestly examination, and it had been pronounced clean, some formal and impressive notification of the priest’s verdict should be given in order to protect the house from depreciation in its value, and to assure its inhabitants against needless apprehensions. Hence Jehovah may, for this purpose, have selected the ritual which initiates the ceremonial cleansing of the leper.


Verse 53

53. Atonement for the house — The Hebrew verb kipper should here be translated purge, as it is in Ezekiel 43:20; Ezekiel 43:26. It should be so rendered whenever it has a thing for its object, as in Leviticus 16:33, and Deuteronomy 32:43, where the tabernacle, altar, and land are atoned.

The generic notion of freeing from impurity inheres in its use everywhere — moral impurity, or guilt, in persons, and ceremonial impurity in things. The impurity of the healed leper is not atoned till he has performed the requirements of the altar ritual at the door of the tabernacle. This ritual was impossible in the case of the house.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 14:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/leviticus-14.html. 1874-1909.

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