How many of you have had spots on your skin before? Rashes, pimples, burns, etc. This passage might be of interest to you for it tells you how you can tell an unclean spot from a clean one. In fact, the passage has so many different types of spots that it is almost certain you could at least be suspected to be unclean.
(A) Unclean by Leprosy: Outside the camp, apart from God (Lev 13:1-59)
The passage starts with “The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron” (13:1), once again signalling to us another set of laws for the people of Israel. This is God speaking to his covenant people, and so we are here to listen. It is so easy to brush off verses like these, because it doesn't seem to be relevant to us. We are often tempted to reason God’s word out of your head, but this verse reminds us that it is not anyone who is speaking. It is God.
In this set of instructions, Moses is to inform the people that when one has a swelling, eruption or spot, and it turns into a case of a leprous disease, he or she will need to go see a priest (13:1-3). This is different from modern day leprosy, but is a term for several skin diseases. We also notice here that it is a priest’s job to examine the diseased area.The priest has no easy job. In the first 11 chapters, we read of how the priests had to minister all the offerings, and it was bad enough that they have to get bloody every day. Now they also have to examine the people’s diseased skin, and we all know how bad skin diseases can turn out. The rest of the passage will help us see how so many people could actually be declared unclean, so imagine the number of people that the priests would have to see!
Verses 3 to 8 detail for us the process for identifying a case of leprous disease.
- Leprous disease was in the case when the hair turned white and diseased and appears deeper than the skin. This person would be unclean (Lev 13:3).
- If the spot is white in the skin of his body and appears no deeper than the skin, and the hair in it has not turned white, he is shut up for 7 days, and examined after that. If the disease is checked and has not spread, he is shut up for another 7 days before another examination, where the priest will decide if he is clean or unclean.
How would you describe this process of checking for a leprous disease? This is a thorough process, and it is one that does not take chances. Much thought has gone into determining cleanness and uncleanness. Why? An unclean person cannot be with a holy God, and this is a God who is extremely detailed in making sure we are identified to be clean or unclean. In the same way, this law was meant to teach the people that they needed to make sure that a clean person was definitely clean, and there was no doubt about it. It is no small matter. There was no uncertainty about it.
We also note the depth of the disease is extremely important. What does this tell us? God is one who is interested in things deeper than the skin. When the priests examine the outside, they are only finding signs of things underneath the skin. This is a God who looks at the heart., and does not merely look at the surface. Christianity, when answering life’s biggest questions does not look at one’s behaviour. Uncleanness, the inability to approach God, much like how sin prevents us from dwelling with God, is on the inside. Do you think your life as a Christian as behavioural change?
The next set of verses (13:9-44) map out for us different cases of leprous diseases in people.
|Case||Conditions under which it is unclean|
|Chronic leprous disease (13:9-17)|
Head or Beard (13:29-37)
From these, we realise that it is really hard to be declared clean! In fact, it seems easier to be declared unclean, because the extent of these regulations make it hard for one to escape.
Once a person is diagnose with leprosy, this person wears torn clothes, lets the hair hang loose, covers his upper lip, cries out "unclean unclean" and he lives alone, outside the camp (13:45-46). This is similar to the practices for mourning, and this is a picture of a dead person. He is wearing grave clothes. He is crying out “unclean unclean” to warn others of his uncleanness, so that they would touch him and in turn be declared unclean. He is isolated outside the camp so that he will not make anyone unclean. He is essentially treated as dead, because only things that are unwanted and undesirable are sent outside the camp. Can you imagine how that feels? Remember that the Israelites are in the wilderness, and so outside their camp is probably no nice place. This person has no security and no community, and all because of something as small as a burn. Is there any hope for them?
Verses 47 to 59 detail for us the laws for garments, and the consequences. Once again these laws are extremely detailed, thorough and careful. Just look at how many times they would shut up the garment for. They would quarantine it again and again just to ensure that it is really clean. Cleanness even in what the Israelites wore were important to God. The consequence for a garment with leprous disease is that it will be burned with fire, effectively destroying and killing it. This is in some way the same as the leprous person who is in isolation, outside of the camp. This person is considered dead as well.
When an Israelite goes outside the camp, do you realise that he is living apart from the presence of God? They live apart from community and security and have no hope. In the same way, do you see life apart from God as death? How often have we treasured our lives outside of the realms of God’s reach? Do you have parts of your life which you do apart from God?
(B) Cleansing Lepers: Christ, the Priest who brings us back in (14:1-57)
Chapter 14 introduces for us a law of cleansing leprous diseases. Do you see how this is a God who is also gracious, merciful, loving, faithful, present that he provides a way for lepers to be cleansed. There is also a clear process to bring you from uncleanness to be declared clean. There is hope now for the lonely people, who are rejected outside of the camp.
Verses 1b to 32 details for us how these people are brought back:
|Outside the Camp||The priest goes out of the camp to look at the leprous person. This is part of the job of the priest! This is an amazing picture. Can you imagine how gross it could be outside the camp, this is where everything unclean goes!|
Continuing outside the camp, there is the case of two clean live birds, cedarwood, scarlet yarn and hyssop where one bird dies over freshwater, with the other bird dipped in its blood. Then the leper is sprinkled 7 times with the blood. Then the live bird is let go.
The leper then washes his clothes, and shaves off all his hair, and bathe himself. Then he can come into the camp.
Notice that the leper cannot declare himself clean, and initiate the purification process. The priest has to go out and complete these.
|In the camp, outside his tent|| He lives outside his tent for 7 days, and repeat the shaving, washing of clothes, and bathing |
|In the camp, at the Tabernacle||The Leprous person offers three offerings, the grain offering, sin offering and burnt offering. Can anyone recall what are the offerings for? |
The passage ends off with the laws for cleansing a house, and it is much the same as the process for a person (Lev 14:33-57). However, this section starts with “when you come into the land of Canaan”. Remember that the Israelites are in the wilderness and they have not arrived at Canaan, the promised land. This is God coming to give them a law of how they should live once they have arrived. In fact, God is one who speaks confidently of their arrival, as he does not use an “if”, but a “when”. This is a promise-keeping God.
But way before and beyond this promise of Canaan, God gave us a greater promise. There was one who did not become unclean as a leper touched him for he was full of cleanness. In fact, when a leper touched him, the leper became clean! This is none other than Jesus Christ. This is the God of Mark 1. This same Jesus was also the one who went out of the camp like a priest, out of the eternal relationship within the Trinity, to come to us, the lepers, the sinners. But unlike the other priests, he makes the unclean clean just by a touch. And their uncleanness does not affect Him! The people who are dying inside, who are away from God, who have no relationship with God, who are mourning, to bring us back in the camp.
And when we have arrived in the camp, he cleanses us. How? Not by killing other animals, but by giving himself up for us on that cross. When Jesus died on that cross, he was dying for disgusting lepers, who have given up on life, thinking that life was in the wilderness away from God. But He chose to go out of the camp anyway. This is the Jesus Christ, who fulfils this entire law in Himself, he is the Priest, the bird who dies at the cleansing, and the perfect sacrifice at the tabernacle. He gets us our cleansing all by himself. Nothing that we do.
Lev 13-14 shows us the gospel. We can see in this passage that almost everyone is unclean or suspected to be unclean. In fact, you will realise that it is almost impossible to be “clean” all the time. But God is the one, through his Priest who goes out to take us, Lepers, back into the camp, back at his dwelling place. This passage is rich in the gospel as it is Christ who left his dwelling with the Father and the Spirit to come as our perfect priest, who dies in our place to cleanse us of all uncleanness and sin. This is the gospel.
So what should our response be? Well looking at the offerings of an ancient Israelite, we ought to be thankful, we ought to worship this God of ours. We too, are like the lepers. We were once outside the camp, destined to die without community and without security, but now brought into the camp and made clean again, because of the spilt blood of the Lamb. And now, in the camp, in the dwelling of the Lord, we too ought to worship Him. This has practical implications! When we're stressed or discouraged in life, we live as people that have hope! He who brought us into the camp will bring us to the Promised Land.