Law of the Leper’s Cleansing

leper

This is a bit of a long one but I’m hoping that you’ll think it’s worth it.
 
The other evening at Church a question was asked on how we know that God’s Word is true. Now I can give you a lot of the facts why I believe God’s Word is true, touching on how the Bible was passed down to us, how it’s accuracy was safeguarded and verified through the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the thousands of manuscripts we have to employ textual criticism for the New Testament etc and while all of these facts are true, there is still so much more.
In essence, the whole Bible is about Jesus. The Old Testament is the foundation upon which Jesus, the Son of God, who walked this earth, is revealed. We see inferences and fore pictures to the coming redeeming Messiah just about everywhere, through the different people who God used to reveal Himself to mankind, in the events that took place, like Noah and the flood, the exodus from Egypt, the Tabernacle and the various festivals and sacrifices and also the Law, that God gave to Moses to pass onto Israel, and of course, the Prophets and the Psalms.
 
When we read through the Old Testament it can be very easy to just read the words and see it as an ongoing narrative, without digging a little deeper. The remembrance of the Passover becomes a ritualized ceremony for believers in Judaism. The Tabernacle becomes the formation of a structure no longer used, and the giving of the Law and all that it entails, can become just words that spell out the do’s and don’ts. And in each and every case, if that’s all you see, you would be totally wrong.
 
And the reason for that is, woven within those words, almost always, is another story, a picture if you will, of God’s character and man’s character, the unfolding of a process and the means whereby the objective is revealed and achieved, namely salvation, the redemption of those who strive to know and walk with God.
This post is going to briefly look at just one of these “pictures” that lays just below the surface.
 
Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do.—Deuteronomy 24:8
 
Leprosy appears to be recognized almost universally by students of the Bible as a symbol of sin and sinfulness. Special instruction is provided in the Law of Moses for man’s “cleansing” from this uncleanliness. These details are given in Leviticus chapters 13 and 14. The diagnosis (chapter 13) and cleansing (chapter 14) of the leper was a responsibility of the priests.
 
The Symptoms of Leprosy
 
“And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying” (Leviticus 13:1). The author of salvation is Jehovah God, our heavenly Father. It is Jehovah’s words that we are considering. “When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests” (Leviticus 13:2).
Notice what must be done upon the first sign of leprous symptoms: “He shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests.”
When any sign of sin—leprosy—begins to manifest itself, the one in whom it is seen might say, “I don’t consider this rising, scab or bright spot to be a problem. In my opinion it’s of no importance.” But the individual’s opinion about what is sin or leprosy does not take precedence. What does the priest say? Note the text says “he shall be brought” unto the priest for inspection.
 
Diagnosis and Treatment
 
“The priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh: and when the hair in the plague is turned white, and the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a plague of leprosy: and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean.” Leviticus 13:3
 
In this case the sin of the individual is unmistakable. The plague turned the hair white and progressed deeper than the skin. The degrading effect of sin has gone beyond mistake and begun to poison the individual. The priest cannot allow this infection to spread within the camp of God’s chosen people. The man is pronounced “unclean.”
 
And what does it mean if a man is declared “unclean”? When Israel was in the wilderness, the leper was cast out of the camp and had to remain in quarantine until there was a change in his condition.
 
Total Leprosy
 
In Leviticus 13:12,13 we find a most extraordinary statement: “If a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh, then the priest shall consider and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean.”
 
If just a few months or years before, he was brought to the priest with only one tiny rising, scab or bright spot, the priest pronounced him unclean; he had to go outside the camp and live alone. Now he is completely covered and the priest says, “You are clean!” How can this be and what can this mean?
 
The perspective of the leper, or the individual typified by the leper, changed. He recognized his sinful, imperfect condition. This recognition allows him to receive the grace and cleansing the priests have to give. We have several examples in Scripture of the cleansing effect of such recognition.
 
“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Just four verses later we read: “And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.”
 
The recognition of one’s sin and need for cleansing is the initial step to receiving the cleansing. Similarly in the parable of the prodigal son: “The son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son” (Luke 15:21).
 
Again in Luke 18:13,14, “The publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified.”
 
All these examples show a recognition of one’s sinful condition and the need for cleansing. It is this attitude of mind and heart which allows the cleansing of the ransom to begin its work. This truth is revealed beautifully by Job: “He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light” (Job 33:27,28).
 
In Leviticus 13:14, 15 we read: “But when raw flesh appeareth in him, he shall be unclean. And the priest shall see the raw flesh, and pronounce him to be unclean: for the raw flesh is unclean: it is a leprosy.”
 
The “raw flesh” suggests a willfulness to sin that approaches the ultimate danger zone. There were those in Jesus’ time who knew right from wrong but pursued wrong even to plotting the murder of Jesus. Of these he said, “How will you escape the judgment of Gehenna?” (Matthew 23:33).
Yet even in this advanced condition there is still hope. Note verses 16 and 17: “If the raw flesh turn again, and be changed unto white, he shall come unto the priest; and the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the plague be turned into white; then the priest shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: he is clean.” White is an important colour throughout the Bible, you might want to do a study on that.
 
Utterly Unclean
 
A special uncleanness of leprosy is referred to in Leviticus 13:42-44: “If there be in the bald head, or bald forehead, a white reddish sore; it is a leprosy sprung up in his bald head, or his bald forehead. Then the priest shall look upon it: and, behold, if the rising of the sore be white reddish in his bald head, or in his bald forehead, as the leprosy appeareth in the skin of the flesh; he is a leprous man, he is unclean: the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean.”
 
This judgment is more severe than we have seen before. The priest pronounces the individual with leprosy in his forehead as “utterly unclean.” This distinction has important implications.
 
Leprosy striking in the forehead suggests inappropriate trust in the intellect and wisdom of man, the thinking of man. This thinking is diametrically opposed to the ways of God. It generates a proud heart that is dangerous to the individual and those that may listen to such prideful thinking.
 
We have a Scriptural example in 2 Chronicles 26:16-20 when King Uzziah’s thinking went awry: “But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the LORD, that were valiant men: And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou has trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the LORD God. Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar. And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the LORD had smitten him. And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD.”
 
The Cleansing
 
Leviticus 14 describes the cleansing processes showing the recovery of a man from sin: “The LORD spake unto Moses, saying, This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought unto the priest” (Leviticus 14:1,2).
The ancient and typical leper had been pronounced unclean; he had been banished from the camp. If he is approached by a stranger, he is obligated to cry out “unclean, unclean” in warning. But now, unexpectedly healed, he is brought to the priest.
 
“The priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper” (Leviticus 14:3). In ancient Israel it was necessary for the priest to “go forth” inasmuch as the leper was not allowed to enter the camp nor would the priest go into the leper colony.
 
The cleansing procedure is next.
 
“Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: and the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water” (Leviticus 14:4,5).
 
Note what the leper must do. The priest commands (orders) that two birds be provided. Obviously the poor leper does not have the resources to obtain the sacrifices so they are provided for him. This reminds us of Isaac’s question: “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham’s answer: “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis. 22:7,8). God understands the weakness of the human race and provides all that is necessary. All the recipients of his love must provide is a willing spirit.
 
The sacrificing of the first live bird in an earthen vessel over running water is a vivid image. The “earthen vessel” is suggestive of the human body of the man Jesus Christ. The use of the bird suggests the heavenly origin of our Redeemer. The water contained in the vessel represents the truth. The blood of the slain bird mixed with this water represents the redeeming merit of Jesus’ sacrifice.
 
This combination of water and blood reminds us of what came from Jesus’ body when a Roman soldier pierced it: “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). Truth and legal redemption come from Jesus—water and blood. John picks this up even further: “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood” (1John 5:6).
 
The cleansing continues: “As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water: and he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field.” Leviticus 14:6,7
 
In this type of cleansing, it appears that God would have man see the matter of redemption sequentially. The first bird conveys the perspective of God’s gift of His Son to man. God sent his son to earth to become the redeemer by his sacrificial death. John 3:16 plainly says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
 
The dipping of the living bird into the blood of the slain bird shows a connection between the two. How beautifully this sets forth sequentially the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. The release of the living bird into the field shows that death could not hold our faithful High Priest. The sprinkling of the blood upon the leper shows that the cleansing comes only from the merit of Jesus’ sacrificed life.
 
A cedar tree is an evergreen. The beautifully aromatic wood suggests the objective of cleansing.
 
Hyssop was used to sprinkle the leper. It is another symbol of cleansing or purging. Hyssop is a bushy, evergreen shrub of the mint family. It was used in ancient times as a medicine. The Israelites were told to put the blood from the Passover lamb on their doorposts and lintels with hyssop.
 
Scarlet reminds us of the sacrifice involved for cleansing to occur.
 
After this the leper is further instructed: “He that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp, and shall tarry abroad out of his tent seven days. But it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off: and he shall wash his clothes, also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean.” Leviticus 14:8,9
 
Note that the leper was pronounced clean in verse 7, yet in verse 8 he is described as “he that is to be cleansed.” This suggests that the sprinkling is just the beginning of the cleansing; that there is yet more to the process.
 
Which brings to mind Hebrews 10:14 NIV which reads: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The washing and shaving suggest a complete separation from the previous condition. The leper must seek to cleanse everything and bring all into conformity with the new, clean condition. Hair tends to retain odors and infections. These must be cut away. Washing with water suggests the role of truth in this process: purifying and sustaining the newly clean individual. The washing of clothes is consistent with the washing of the body. The entire focus of this cleansed leper will be for God’s righteousness, which is, of course, the objective of the Kingdom of God for all of God’s children.
 
Bear in mind, this is just but one of many “below the surface” expansions of God’s truth that are prevalent throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis through to Revelation.
 
And they all point to Jesus, which I think, is kind of amazing! So dig a little deeper and you’ll be amazed at the treasures you’ll find.
 
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!
 
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About

Disciple of Jesus, married to Peggy, with 5 grown up children, 7 grand children, ex-Canadian military and residing in beautiful Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. a.k.a. "Papa"

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Posted in Apologetics, Defending Christianity, Faith, Old Testament
2 comments on “Law of the Leper’s Cleansing
  1. Wow! Thank you for this, Bruce! What a beautiful picture and message for each of us in this!

    Liked by 1 person

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