Book of Leviticus Chapter
Thirteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
In this chapter on Leprosy, keep in mind—there is more to you than just a body. As you can note in places like 1 Thessalonians 5:23, the real you includes a "spirit, soul and body." And I have sad news: All in humanity have been infected with leprosy of the soul. In Verses 1-2, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 'When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or a scab or a bright spot, and it becomes an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.'" Leprosy was the most feared disease of the time, and in Luke 17:11-19, we find the account of Jesus, telling a group of ten lepers: "Go, show yourselves to the priests," as in the Book of Leviticus.
The account in Luke continues, "And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed." In all the time between these verses in Leviticus and the time of Jesus, few if any lepers actually showed up at the tent or temple or sent word to the priests, "I'm clean." If they did, here is what the priest was supposed to do, beginning in Verses 3-6: "The priest shall look at the mark on the skin of the body, and if the hair in the infection has turned white and the infection appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is an infection of leprosy; when the priest has looked at him, he shall pronounce him unclean. 4 But if the bright spot is white on the skin of his body, and it does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and the hair on it has not turned white, then the priest shall isolate him who has the infection for seven days. 5 The priest shall look at him on the seventh day, and if in his eyes the infection has not changed and the infection has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall isolate him for seven more days. 6 The priest shall look at him again on the seventh day, and if the infection has faded and the mark has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only a scab. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean." Can you imagine? Leprosy is contagious and the priests were just as afraid of it as everybody else, but God told them to closely and carefully examine lepers who might or might not be healed.
Leprosy is disfiguring and its effects are difficult to look upon, but that's what the priest was supposed to do, as in Verses 7-13: "But if the scab spreads farther on the skin after he has shown himself to the priest for his cleansing, he shall appear again to the priest. 8 The priest shall look, and if the scab has spread on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is leprosy. 9 When the infection of leprosy is on a man, then he shall be brought to the priest. 10 The priest shall then look, and if there is a white swelling in the skin, and it has turned the hair white, and there is quick raw flesh in the swelling, 11 it is a chronic leprosy on the skin of his body, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean; he shall not isolate him, for he is unclean. 12 If the leprosy breaks out farther on the skin, and the leprosy covers all the skin of him who has the infection from his head even to his feet, as far as the priest can see, 13 then the priest shall look, and behold, if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce clean him who has the infection; it has all turned white and he is clean." I've had years of prison ministry, in which prisoners have confessed sins to God, with me as the human instrument. I can tell you this: There really is such a thing as leprosy of the soul. But I also know that the Lord heals and we can be clean.
In Exodus 4:6-7, the Lord suddenly caused caused Moses' hand to be leprous, and then "it was restored like his other flesh." God is sovereign over leprosy and all other diseases, whether of the body or the soul. Just like Moses, the events we experience shape us and there is an important agent in our recovery...our faith. Jesus, in Luke 17:11-19, told the former leper who returned to give thanks: "Your faith has made you well." Not all are clean. In Verses 14-15 of this chapter, "But whenever raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean. 15 The priest shall look at the raw flesh, and he shall pronounce him unclean; the raw flesh is unclean, it is leprosy." We are to come to God the Son, just like the lepers were to visit the priests. The grace of God, operative through faith in the Lord, can and will heal.
There are no guarantees as to whether our outward condition will be restored in this life, but faith in the Lord adds an infinite dimension of healing that changes everything. In Verses 16-17, "Or if the raw flesh turns again and is changed to white, then he shall come to the priest, 17 and the priest shall look at him, and behold, if the infection has turned to white, then the priest shall pronounce clean him who has the infection; he is clean." Jesus Christ is our High Priest and He is the One who can and will make us "clean." Do you want the Lord? Tell Him so. Healing will begin, deep in your soul.
There are several different diseases that have historically been called "leprosy," just as what we call "sin" takes a variety of forms. As indicated, it would have been emotionally difficult for the priest to come into contact with these diseases, and it is noted that for a priest to receive a healed leper was a rare to non-existant event in ancient Israel. Verses 18-23 portray the priest's intimate contact with the afflicted person: "When the body has a boil on its skin and it is healed, 19 and in the place of the boil there is a white swelling or a reddish-white, bright spot, then it shall be shown to the priest; 20 and the priest shall look, and behold, if it appears to be lower than the skin, and the hair on it has turned white, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is the infection of leprosy, it has broken out in the boil. 21 But if the priest looks at it, and behold, there are no white hairs in it and it is not lower than the skin and is faded, then the priest shall isolate him for seven days; 22 and if it spreads farther on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is an infection. 23 But if the bright spot remains in its place and does not spread, it is only the scar of the boil; and the priest shall pronounce him clean." Can you imagine? The leper would have been ashamed by his or her condition and embarrassed by the priest's examination. The priest would not only be afraid of personal infection, but also overwhelmed by the enormity of his decision, which meant life or death for the unclean person. On the cross, Jesus Christ experienced every sin, each leprous thought and act of every person who has ever lived. Time is not only linear, but also subjective and for Him, that cross was an incredibly long and personal look at everything about us. He really knows you and me. He knows if we are clean, and if not, He is the Healer who makes us clean.
Verses 24-28: "Or if the body sustains in its skin a burn by fire, and the raw flesh of the burn becomes a bright spot, reddish-white, or white, 25 then the priest shall look at it. And if the hair in the bright spot has turned white and it appears to be deeper than the skin, it is leprosy; it has broken out in the burn. Therefore, the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is an infection of leprosy. 26 But if the priest looks at it, and indeed, there is no white hair in the bright spot and it is no deeper than the skin, but is dim, then the priest shall isolate him for seven days; 27 and the priest shall look at him on the seventh day. If it spreads farther in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is an infection of leprosy. 28 But if the bright spot remains in its place and has not spread in the skin, but is dim, it is the swelling from the burn; and the priest shall pronounce him clean, for it is only the scar of the burn." This is a recognition that an open wound, such as a burn, can allow infection into the body. It's the same with sin. An injury received, such as a personal loss or an unkind word, may cause the injured one to react with behavior that God calls "sin." Jesus died for our injuries and for our sin.
Considering that our worst disfigurement is non-physical in nature, notice the utter care of the priest as he examines the infected person in Verses 29-34: "Now if a man or woman has an infection on the head or on the beard, 30 then the priest shall look at the infection, and if it appears to be deeper than the skin and there is thin yellowish hair in it, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a scale, it is leprosy of the head or of the beard. 31 But if the priest looks at the infection of the scale, and indeed, it appears to be no deeper than the skin and there is no black hair in it, then the priest shall isolate the person with the scaly infection for seven days. 32 On the seventh day the priest shall look at the infection, and if the scale has not spread and no yellowish hair has grown in it, and the appearance of the scale is no deeper than the skin, 33 then he shall shave himself, but he shall not shave the scale; and the priest shall isolate the person with the scale seven more days. 34 Then on the seventh day the priest shall look at the scale, and if the scale has not spread in the skin and it appears to be no deeper than the skin, the priest shall pronounce him clean; and he shall wash his clothes and be clean." The priest is just the human instrument of the God who knows everything about us. God the Son saw our leprous condition, entered into the contagion of humanity and suffered for us: "He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows...He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities..." (Isaiah 53:4-5). He washes sinners, making us clean.
Jesus became our High Priest, our Healer, and He is the One who tenderly raised us from our sickbed and took our place in it. The examination continues in Verses 35-37: "But if the scale spreads farther in the skin after his cleansing, 36 then the priest shall look at him, and if the scale has spread in the skin, the priest need not seek for the yellowish hair; he is unclean. 37 If in his sight the scale has remained, however, and black hair has grown in it, the scale has healed, he is clean; and the priest shall pronounce him clean." Notice that God is sovereign in all things. He has the right to decide what we should do, say and where we are to go. In these verses, the Lord, as pictured by this "priest," is the One who decides if we are clean or not, and our future depends on His decision. A leper came to Jesus in Matthew 8:1-3, and said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Jesus replied, "I am willing. Be cleansed." Notice that the former leper merely had faith that the Lord could do it. Our bad circumstances are designed to bring us to faith that He can and will restore us.
Life is often painful. We might find a surgeon who can correct our lack, but we would not expect that Someone could receive the surgery Himself and it would result in our healing. Isaiah 53:5 observed, "By His stripes we are healed," and we should keep those words in mind as we read this chapter. Verses 38-39: "When a man or a woman has bright spots on the skin of the body, even white bright spots, 39 then the priest shall look, and if the bright spots on the skin of their bodies are a faint white, it is eczema that has broken out on the skin; he is clean." The priest in these verses was given information that could free a person from shame and exile. The Lord is God, He knows our need, and "By His stripes we are healed," inside and out.
The comedian Bill Cosby observed the problem that our hair gets "confused" as we grow older, forgetting how to grow on top of our heads and instead it grows out of our ears and nose. Verses 40-41 instruct: "Now if a man loses the hair of his head, he is bald; he is clean. 41 If his head becomes bald at the front and sides, he is bald on the forehead; he is clean." Elisha the prophet, in 2 Kings 2:23, was mocked by young men who shouted at him, "You baldhead," in a time when baldness could result in a person being excluded from society, as in Verses 42-46: "But if on the bald head or the bald forehead, there occurs a reddish-white infection, it is leprosy breaking out on his bald head or on his bald forehead. 43 Then the priest shall look at him; and if the swelling of the infection is reddish-white on his bald head or on his bald forehead, like the appearance of leprosy in the skin of the body, 44 he is a leprous man, he is unclean. The priest shall surely pronounce him unclean; his infection is on his head. 45 As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp." If you feel isolated and alone, consider Jesus, "that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate" (Hebrews 13:12). He became your Friend and Savior, taking your loneliness, your exile, your leprous condition, upon Himself.
What message are you sending to the world based on your clothing choices? Your appearance does send a message about who you are, which can seem leprous to others. Verses 47-52: "When a garment has a mark of leprosy in it, whether it is a wool garment or a linen garment, 48 whether in warp or woof, of linen or of wool, whether in leather or in any article made of leather, 49 if the mark is greenish or reddish in the garment or in the leather, or in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, it is a leprous mark and shall be shown to the priest. 50 Then the priest shall look at the mark and shall quarantine the article with the mark for seven days. 51 He shall then look at the mark on the seventh day; if the mark has spread in the garment, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in the leather, whatever the purpose for which the leather is used, the mark is a leprous malignancy, it is unclean. 52 So he shall burn the garment, whether the warp or the woof, in wool or in linen, or any article of leather in which the mark occurs, for it is a leprous malignancy; it shall be burned in the fire." Prayerfully consider what you're wearing, and if it sends a leprous message, change through faith into the "garment" of righteousness that only God can give.
God asks for love and we respond with selfishness. The imagery of the following verses, which sounds like an old work shirt of mine, is God's perspective on humanity. We are dressed in filthy garments, unfit for God's kingdom. He does not compare us with one another, but with Himself, and each of us is "a (person) of unclean lips, and (we) dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). God is our Healer.
Verses 53-59: "But if the priest shall look, and indeed the mark has not spread in the garment, either in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, 54 then the priest shall order them to wash the thing in which the mark occurs and he shall quarantine it for seven more days. 55 After the article with the mark has been washed, the priest shall again look, and if the mark has not changed its appearance, even though the mark has not spread, it is unclean; you shall burn it in the fire, whether an eating away has produced bareness on the top or on the front of it. 56 Then if the priest looks, and if the mark has faded after it has been washed, then he shall tear it out of the garment or out of the leather, whether from the warp or from the woof; 57 and if it appears again in the garment, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, it is an outbreak; the article with the mark shall be burned in the fire. 58 The garment, whether the warp or the woof, or any article of leather from which the mark has departed when you washed it, it shall then be washed a second time and will be clean. 59 This is the law for the mark of leprosy in a garment of wool or linen, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, for pronouncing it clean or unclean." Let your old ways go—our God makes all things new.
Has sin spread like leprosy in your soul? Did you do something for fun, and it caught you in its grip? Do you have guilt and don't know what to do about it? Somebody caused pain and you can't forgive? Look to the Lord, for "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7). Change your garments—trust in the Lord.
Lord, I feel like I have leprosy of the soul. I have touched what I should not touch, done what I should not do, and I come to You, my Healer, Restorer and King. I trust in You. Please heal me, Lord. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.