GOD’S ABIDING PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE DEPENDS ON RESTRICTING CONTACT WITH SKIN OR GARMENTS WITH SIGNIFICANT BLEMISHES
Constable: Before proceeding, we need to note that by “treatment,” we do not mean that God medically prescribed a way by which people or objects afflicted with “leprosy” would necessarily recover. Rather, the “treatment” dealt with how people were to relate to God and the sanctuary in view of these problems. He was not dealing with them here as a Physician, but as a Public Health Inspector. God’s objective was not so much their physical recovery, in this legislation, but their proper participation in worship. Symbolically, sin kept them from fellowship with God. . .
Typically, in each case, we read four things:
(1) a preliminary statement of the symptoms,
(2) the priestly inspection,
(3) the basis of the priest’s diagnosis, and
(4) the diagnosis itself and the consequences.
Roy Gane: Because we are dealing here with the world of religious ritual rather than medicine, scientific identification of “scale disease” is not crucial for understanding the biblical message.
Richard Hess: Leviticus 13 and 14 discuss skin diseases. Ch. 13 describes symptoms that render a person diseased and therefore unclean. It also delineates evidence of change that can lead to the healing of the person and the pronouncement of him or her as clean. Ch. 14 discusses the offerings necessary for the full reentry into the holy community of Israel. Thus ch. 13 concerns the disease and ch. 14 considers the means of acceptance by God and Israel after recovery from the disease. There is no discussion of either a treatment or a cure of the skin disease. The biblical material does not advance human medical knowledge beyond what was known at the time.
Peter Pett: For the world having been affected by man’s fall, it was inevitable that disease would raise its head, and disease is regularly seen in the Old Testament as the punishment on the world due for sin. And certain special types of disease, as outlined in this chapter, were seen as marking the sinner off as outside the ‘perfection’ of God. The disease that resulted from sin was seen to have laid its visible mark on those involved. The diseases were a diminishing of the life that was in that person. They rendered him ‘unclean’. There were thus always going to be those whose sickness drew attention to the deserved consequence of the fall, to the fact that unwholeness excluded men from God. It may be that this was seen as illustrating the ‘mark of Cain’ (Genesis 4:15). Some have seen that as referring to some terrible skin disease. He was the one who was ‘cast out of the camp’ and then formed his own camp. . .
The central thought was not that they were infectious and might pass the disease on, although that was often true, it was that they in themselves came short of God’s required ‘perfection’, and were thus excluded from holy places, and in the worst cases from the holy camp. In this they were not being punished, or even treated medically, they were being judged religiously. Their presence would defile holiness. This brought home the terrible nature of the judgment it expressed. The sin that was responsible for such diseases excluded men from the presence of God.
David Thompson: IN ORDER FOR ONE TO WORSHIP GOD, HE MUST BE CLEAN AND THAT REQUIRES THAT GOD’S PRIESTS MAKE AN ACCURATE DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT OF ANY DISEASE.
Allen Ross: The first part provides the diagnosis and isolation of skin diseases (13:1–46); the second part does the same for mold and mildew (13:47–59); attention is then paid to restoration, first for skin diseases (14:1–32) and then for mold and mildew (14:33–57). . .
In Israel’s laws we have revelation of the pattern of perfection, the quintessential illustration of the required condition of all who come into the presence of the Holy One: they must be perfect. Believing Israelites could worship the LORD if they were sick or leprous—they simply could not go into the actual presence of the Holy One. To go into God’s presence one had to be whole. This necessarily meant that some never went in because of chronic disease; it was as if they belonged to the realm of the dead, cut off from the community in the sanctuary. Their hope lay in the world to come, in a future resurrected body without corruption, and so they are like some today who have chronic and contagious diseases and must remain separate from the congregation, mainly for practical reasons.
Kenneth Mathews: This passage describes human infirmities of two kinds: an individual’s skin disorders and moldy defects in garments and houses. Clothing and houses are the trappings of daily human existence. That these two kinds of irregularities should disqualify a person from worshipping at the Tent of Meeting is surprising to us since in our world today these are relatively benign problems that can be easily remedied. To understand the severity of the diseases, however, we must recognize the ceremonial significance of the conditions, not the hygienic aspect. The symptoms of skin decay and the discoloration of the garments and of stone walls were external signals of the inherent problem all of us face—the decay of human bodies and the decay of the things of this world.
I. (:1-46) UNCLEAN DUE TO BLEMISHES ON THE SKIN
A. (:1-8) Skin Eruptions
“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. 3 And 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 And 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 And 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. 7 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 And the priest shall look, and if the scab has spread on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is leprosy.’”
Richard Hess: in its form it represents something of a logical flow chart, with the response of the priest determining what happens next. At each step there are two possibilities, clean or unclean.
B. (:9-17) Chronic Skin Disease
“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 And 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. 14 But whenever raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean. 15 And the priest shall look at the raw flesh, and he shall pronounce him unclean; the raw flesh is unclean, it is leprosy. 16 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.”
C. (:18-23) Boils / Scars
“And 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.”
Mark Rooker: The affliction of boils was experienced by Job and also was one of the ten plagues upon Egypt (Job 2:7; Exod 9:9–11).
D. (:24-28) Burns
“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.”
E. (:29-37) Sores in Scalp or Beard
“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 And 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. 35 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.”
Richard Hess: Two reasons may exist for shaving the area around the wound but not the wound itself: (1) to enable identification of the color of the hair growing in the wound; and (2) to determine if the infection has grown to the area shaved.
F. (:38-39) Rashes
“And 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.”
G. (:40-44) Baldness
“Now if a man loses the hair of his head, he is bald; he is clean. 41 And if his head becomes bald at the front and sides, he is bald on the forehead; he is clean. 42 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.”
Mark Rooker: Although baldness in itself does not render anyone unclean (13:40–41), baldness that resulted from reddish-white sores rendered an individual unclean (13:42–44). Baldness was often associated with mourning in the Old Testament (Lev 21:5; Deut 14:1; Isa 3:24; 15:2; Jer 16:6; 47:5; 48:37; Ezek 7:18; 27:31; Amos 8:10; Mic 1:16).
(:45-46) Conclusion Regarding Skin Disorders
“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.”
Wenham: The holiest area, where one was closest to God, was the tabernacle. It was here that the holy men, the priests, worked. The tabernacle was surrounded by the camp where Israel the holy people of God lived. This in turn was encircled by the area outside the camp. which was populated by non-Jews, sinners, and the unclean. To live outside the camp was to be cut off from the blessings of the covenant. It is little wonder that when a man was diagnosed as unclean he had to go into mourning. He experienced a living death; his life as a member of God’s people experiencing God’s blessing came to an end. Gen. 3 presents a similar picture. … As Adam and Eve experienced a living death when they were expelled from Eden, so every man who was diagnosed as unclean suffered a similar fate.
Peter Pett: Theirs was a terrible fate, a terrible predicament. They could no longer enjoy the normal society of men, they could not enter the camp, and of course they had no opportunity to approach the tabernacle. Theirs was a living death.
Kenneth Mathews: The key to understanding the message of the passage is that disease made a person unfit to enter into the presence of God who was the God of life and of holy perfections. Since the earthly Tent of Meeting was a copy of the spiritual heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 8:5; 9:1; 10:1), it would be wrong to expose the symbols of death and decay in the place of worship. Although we live in a fallen world, the world for which Christians are destined, Heaven, will not have decay, disease, and death. Our place will be secure.
II. (:47-59) UNCLEAN DUE TO BLEMISHES ON GARMENTS = FUNGUS
“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.”
Constable: Material objects do not “contract” illnesses, or spread infections like people do, but they do occasionally become contaminated—and can transfer through bodily contact a skin disease or fungus—due to mold, mildew, or some other invasive agent. Mosaic law did not view these abnormalities to be as great a threat, for example, as a communicable disease or plague would be, to the health of the Israelites. They did, however, represent deviation from a proper condition. . .
A person’s clothing and housing represent the things closest to him, how he expresses himself, the things that he chooses to surround himself with. These things can be effected by and can manifest his sinful egocentric condition. If tainted by sin they too must be dealt with for fellowship with God and others to be intimate.
Allen Ross: Decay or corruption [in and of the environment] is incompatible with the holiness of the LORD and must be removed.
Milgrom: The discussion of mildew (vv.47–58) reveals that this infection symbolizes sin but does not contain sin. The fabric with mildew is not guilty of any sin. Thus the connection between sin and disease is severed.
“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 shall look, 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 And 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 shall be clean.”
(:59) Conclusion Regarding Clothing Blemishes
“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.”
Perry Yoder: Chapter 13 ends with a summary statement that applies only to blemished clothing (v. 59). This summary marks verses 47-59 as a self-contained unit that was attached to regulations concerning human blemishes. The insertion breaks the continuity of 13:1-46—the diagnosis of defiling blemishes—with chapter 14, which gives the purification rituals for those pronounced defiled in chapter 13.