Leviticus (Lesson Five: Clean and Unclean – Part Two [Chapters 13-14])
1. The Outstanding Example of Uncleanness: Leprosy
Leprosy in a person
“Leprosy” was a broad term denoting one of any number of malignant diseases that spread in the skin and visibly disfigured and destroyed the body. Because of its destructive, growing, and visible nature, it was the perfect condition expressive of the abstract concept of uncleanness.
The person pronounced leprous by the priest had to live outside the camp, tear his clothes, let his hair hang loose, cover his upper lip, and cry out, “Unclean!”. Tearing one’s clothes, loose hair and a covered lip were signs of mourning over the death of a loved one (e.g. Gen. 37:33-34; Ezek. 24:17); hence, the picture is that of a person mourning his own death because of his uncleanness. This “death” is separation from the people of God and the place where God has chosen to dwell. Thus, Adam died when he was put out of the Garden of Eden, and the second death will be a place where people cry out in anguish forever because their sinful impurity has separated them from God’s presence.
Leprosy in inanimate objects
Not just people, but garments, leather, houses, etc., could contract a spreading, destroying disease (mold? mildew?) that was classified as leprosy. This shows that, not only are we impure sinners, but everything we touch becomes unclean as well, and must be destroyed or cleansed. If God would dwell among us, he must purify not just us, but also the place we dwell. The priests therefore sprinkled the holy places and holy things with purifying blood to cleanse them. Creation is groaning to be finally released from the curse that our impurity has brought upon it (Rom. 8:19-23).
The leprosy in houses may indicate the nature of sin to spread in familial avenues, from one generation to the next. When the apostles began preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, it is interesting that households were customarily cleansed by baptism (e.g. Acts 16:15, 31-33). Application: we must labor to keep our houses pure and free of hidden sins.
2. The Purification of Lepers
The sacrificial ceremonies
A bird was killed over running water, another living bird, cedar, scarlet yarn, and hyssop were dipped into its blood, the living bird was let loose and the cleansed leper was sprinkled seven times. So Christ shed his blood [scarlet yarn] on the cross [sweet-smelling cedar wood] to provide us with cleansing [hyssop, cf. Ps. 51:7], which he applies by his Spirit [living water, cf. John 7:37-39]. The living bird let loose symbolically carried away the leprosy; thus, both birds were types of Christ, who shed his blood for our cleansing and carried our filthiness beyond the grave (cf. the two goats on the Day of Atonement [Lev. 16]).
On the seventh day, the leper would shave entirely and wash his body, signifying the utter removal of everything associated with the old disease (cf. Christ’s utterly removing sin after his death on the cross). So too, we have died to our sins on the cross with him (Rom. 6:1-14; Gal. 2:20). Afterwards, on the eighth day (cf. the new beginning brought about by the resurrection of Christ on the eighth day), guilt, sin, burnt, and grain offerings were offered (with provisions included for poverty, once again), and the cleansed leper was anointed on the right earlobe, thumb, and great toe with blood and oil, signifying the need to be wholly set apart to God, entirely consecrated by the redemptive work of Christ [the blood] and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit [the oil].
Finally, the filthy outcast is restored to the community where God dwells. The great goal of all redemptive history is dwelling in purity with God, our Immanuel (see Rev. 21:1-4).
Similarities to the sacrifice of the red heifer
The waters of purification that provided cleansing for all the lesser uncleannesses came from the sacrifice of the red heifer (see Numbers 19), which was burned with the same items we have seen here: scarlet yarn, hyssop, and cedar. All of our impurities, no matter whether they are as big as leprosy or relatively more minor, can only be healed by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the effects of which are applied by the life-giving Spirit (as living water conveyed the ashes of the sacrificed heifer to the defiled person for cleansing).
3. Leprosy and Jesus
Touching a leper!
The one outstanding social regulation concerning lepers was that they could not be touched, or their defilement would spread to anyone in contact with them. When a leper came to Jesus for healing, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus did not just speak to heal him, but he reached out his hand and touched him (Mat. 8:1-4), and then he was cleansed. When we come to Jesus in our impurity, beseeching his salvation, he removes all our filth, taking it upon himself instead, so that we might be clean. Ultimately, touching us lepers would cost Jesus his life, as he suffered the effects of our uncleanness on the cross; but his wounded side flowed forth not just with blood, to redeem us from our objective guilt, but likewise with water, showing that his death was also effective to cleanse us from our spiritual corruption (Jn. 19:34-35).
If the sacrifice of the red heifer and the blood of the bird killed over running water could purify the defilement of the physical body, how much more can the one sacrifice of the eternal Son of God cleanse our hearts from an evil conscience so that we might serve the living God (see Heb. 9:13-14, 19)?
Christ bore our impurity in his physical body, so that we might be clean; it is now our reasonable response to give of ourselves to prevent any corruption from defiling his mystical body, the Church. Heresy in the Church is like a spiritual gangrene, a leprosy of an insidious nature, and it always spreads from doctrinal error to practical sins of every kind, whether of prideful, ascetic will-religion or debauched self-gratification (See 2 Tim. 2:16-19). Therefore, the errant talk must be cut out (doctrinal purity) so that the Church might be enabled to depart from iniquity (practical purity).
Praise God that he is able to keep us spotless (Jude 24-25), and that Jesus has taken it upon himself to cleanse us by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present us to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:25-27)!