GOD’S ABIDING PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE DEPENDS ON A PROCESS OF CLEANSING AND RESTORATION IN SITUATIONS WHERE THERE HAVE BEEN SIGNIFICANT BLEMISHES ON SKIN OR HOUSES
Kenneth Mathews: Chapter 14 continues the discussion of dealing with skin and garment abnormalities. The rituals described in this chapter were purification rites that provided ceremonial cleansing, restoring the affected person or item to ceremonial normalcy. It is important to observe that the ritual was not a therapeutic remedy for the disease. The ritual always followed after the diseased person or item had experienced “healing.” The priest was not a doctor who prescribed a medical procedure. Any healing that occurred was the result of God’s activity. The ritual only enabled the once unclean person or item to undergo a ceremonial reinstatement so the person could once again enter the sanctuary or the restored piece of clothing could be used again.
Jacob Milgrom: Thus the entire purification process is nothing but a symbolic ritual, a rite of passage, marking the transition from death to life. As the celebrants move from the realm of impurity outside the camp, and are first restored to their community, then to their home, and finally to their sanctuary, they have passed from impurity to holiness, from death to life. In so moving, they are reinstated with their families and are reconciled with their God.
Allen Ross: If Lev. 13 is bleak, speaking of separation from the holy presence, Lev. 14 is full of hope, for in it the sufferer is restored to the covenant community. The Israelite learned even more about the nature of the holy God through these provisions for restoration to fellowship in the community. . .
To reinstate the worshiper who was declared clean by the priest, two elaborate sets of ritual were followed: in the first part, the worshiper brought two live birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop so that the priest could sprinkle the worshiper with blood from one bird and release the other and thus allow the worshiper to reenter the camp; in the second, the worshiper brought one ewe lamb, two lambs (or birds), fine flour, and oil so that the priest could anoint the worshiper and offer the sacrifices appropriate for atonement. . .
God requires that anything that has been defiled be cleansed and then reconsecrated to its full use based on the prescribed ritual of the faith.
I. (:1-32) RESTORATION FROM SKIN BLEMISHES
A. (:1-9) Admission of Unclean Back Into Camp
1. (:1-7) Re-examination and Cleansing Ritual
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 ‘This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing. Now he shall be brought to the priest, 3 and the priest shall go out to the outside of the camp. Thus the priest shall look, and if the infection of leprosy has been healed in the leper, 4 then the priest shall give orders to take two live clean birds and cedar wood and a scarlet string and hyssop for the one who is to be cleansed. 5 The priest shall also give orders to slay the one bird in an earthenware vessel over running water. 6 As for the live bird, he shall take it, together with the cedar wood and the scarlet string and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was slain over the running water. 7 He shall then sprinkle seven times the one who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the live bird go free over the open field.’”
Jacob Milgrom: The birds had to be wild, else the ever-present fear would remain that the live bird dispatched to the open country would return to the settlement and bring back the very impurity it was supposed to eliminate. Birds are chosen not because they are favored by chthonic deities or even by celestial deities. They are chosen because they transport the assumed freight of impurity upward and outward, to far-off distances whence the impurity cannot return. That the function of the birds is to carry off the impurity as far as possible is graphically depicted by the two women who “had wings like those of a stork” (Zech 5:9*) for the purpose of carrying the tub of wickedness to far-off Babylonia (Zech 5:5–11*).
R. K. Harrison: The fact that the former ‘leper’ was now free of his disease was announced to the priest, who then went outside the camp to verify the situation by conducting his own examination. Nothing must be allowed to compromise the ceremonial purity of the congregation; hence the first stages of the ceremony take place at some distance from the community proper. Once the priest was satisfied that the disease had in fact been cured, he could then order the purification rituals to be initiated. The ceremony lasted for eight days, and involved elements of the four principal forms of Hebrew sacrifice as well as symbolic procedures reminiscent of the consecration of priests and of the annual day of atonement ceremony. . .
At the end of this part of the ceremony the other living bird was released into the open countryside, presumably so that it could return to its nest. This has been seen as symbolic of the new life which the cured ‘leper’ would now experience, and which would enable him to resume his former existence. Some interpreters have also understood the ritual in the less arcane sense of release and cleansing. Other authors have drawn a parallel between the release of the bird and that of the scapegoat in the day of atonement ceremonies (Lev. 16:21–22). The latter carried in a token fashion the national sins of inadvertence and omission away from the people to the outside world, and thus preserved the purity and integrity of the encampment. At the very least it points to the removal of a disability, and to the consequent new beginnings.
Constable: “Cedar wood” had antiseptic qualities, and was slow to decay, so it probably represented the continuance of life. Some interpreters have compared it to the humanity of Christ. The “scarlet” color of the thread looked like blood, and symbolized sacrificial blood. The “hyssop” represented purification from the corruption of death, since the priests used this spongy plant for purification in Israel’s rituals. The “blood-water” (“blood of the bird that was slain over the running water”), that was used to sprinkle the leper being cleansed, probably signified life and purification. Washing his clothes, shaving his hair, and bathing in water (v. 8) all could have been done at the same time.
2. (:8-9) Washing and Shaving
“The one to be cleansed shall then wash his clothes and shave off all his hair, and bathe in water and be clean. Now afterward, he may enter the camp, but he shall stay outside his tent for seven days. 9 And it will be on the seventh day that he shall shave off all his hair: he shall shave his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair. He shall then wash his clothes and bathe his body in water and be clean.”
R. K. Harrison: Before the former sufferer can be declared clean, he must wash all his clothes so as to remove any lingering traces of infection, shave off all his hair, and wash his body. If shaving involved the removal of all bodily hair and any accompanying lice, the person awaiting a declaration of cleanness would be comparable to a newborn baby, ready to enter upon a fresh phase of existence. Once these procedures, which resemble modern pre-operative preparations, had been followed, the person concerned was permitted to enter the camp, but could not go directly to his dwelling for another week. At the end of this period all the hair had to be removed from the head, while the person’s clothes and body were washed once more. The shaving and washing were undertaken as preliminaries to the consecration ritual, and this was comparable to the shaving which the Levites underwent prior to their ministry at the tent of meeting (Num. 8:7).
Perry Yoder: The person now enters the camp but cannot go home. They must sit outside their house for seven days. The person is in a liminal state—in between classifications. They are no longer unclean but are not yet fully purified and integrated into the community. Being shaved shows that the person belongs to a group that is easily identified as “outsider” in the process of transformation to full membership within the camp. The end of this seven-day transition period echoes its beginning. Again the person shaves their hair, but in a very scrupulous fashion: they must shave all their hair, including beard and eyebrows. Once again they are clean. The person has now completed their in-between state and are ready to finish the ceremony of purification and be restored to full membership in the community.
Wiersbe: Why wash when the priest had already pronounced him clean? Because he had to apply personally what God said was true positionally. The man was ceremonially clean and had the right to live in the camp, but he needed to be made personally and practically clean so he would be fit to live in the camp. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean” (Isa. 1:17, NKJV). “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). Perhaps Paul had Leviticus 14 in mind when he compared the new life in Christ to a change of clothes (Col. 3:1-14).
B. (:10-20) Purification Offering for Cleansed Skin Infection
1. (:10-11) Presentation of the Man with His Offerings
“Now on the eighth day he is to take two male lambs without defect, and a yearling ewe lamb without defect, and three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, and one log of oil; 11 and the priest who pronounces him clean shall present the man to be cleansed and the aforesaid before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting.”
2. (:12-18) Offering of the First Male Lamb
“Then the priest shall take the one male lamb and bring it for a guilt offering, with the log of oil, and present them as a wave offering before the LORD. 13 Next he shall slaughter the male lamb in the place where they slaughter the sin offering and the burnt offering, at the place of the sanctuary– for the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest; it is most holy. 14 The priest shall then take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. 15 The priest shall also take some of the log of oil, and pour it into his left palm; 16 the priest shall then dip his right-hand finger into the oil that is in his left palm, and with his finger sprinkle some of the oil seven times before the LORD. 17 And of the remaining oil which is in his palm, the priest shall put some on the right ear lobe of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the blood of the guilt offering; 18 while the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s palm, he shall put on the head of the one to be cleansed. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf before the LORD.”
3. (:19-20) Offering of the Second Male Lamb
“The priest shall next offer the sin offering and make atonement for the one to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Then afterward, he shall slaughter the burnt offering. 20 And the priest shall offer up the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.”
Jacob Milgrom: The battery of all four expiatory sacrifices—reparation, purification, burnt, and cereal offerings—thereby assures the scale-diseased person that all possible inadvertent misdemeanors have been covered. The wrong is expiated; the disease will not return.
C. (:21-32) Purification Offering of the Impoverished
1. (:21-23) Presentation of the Poor Man with His Offerings
“But if he is poor, and his means are insufficient, then he is to take one male lamb for a guilt offering as a wave offering to make atonement for him, and one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, and a log of oil, 22 and two turtledoves or two young pigeons which are within his means, the one shall be a sin offering and the other a burnt offering. 23 Then the eighth day he shall bring them for his cleansing to the priest, at the doorway of the tent of meeting, before the LORD.”
Roy Gane: Since the eighth-day sacrificial process involves three animals—two male lambs and a yearling ewe—it is expensive. Thus, for those who cannot afford it, 14:21–32 outline a parallel procedure with two birds substituted for the purification and burnt offering animals. There is no substitute for the male lamb of the reparation offering, which is the first and most important sacrifice on this occasion.
2. (:24-29) Offering of the Lamb
“And the priest shall take the lamb of the guilt offering, and the log of oil, and the priest shall offer them for a wave offering before the LORD. 25 Next he shall slaughter the lamb of the guilt offering; and the priest is to take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. 26 The priest shall also pour some of the oil into his left palm; 27 and with his right-hand finger the priest shall sprinkle some of the oil that is in his left palm seven times before the LORD. 28 The priest shall then put some of the oil that is in his palm on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the place of the blood of the guilt offering. 29 Moreover, the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s palm he shall put on the head of the one to be cleansed, to make atonement on his behalf before the LORD.”
3. (:30-32) Offering of the Bird
“He shall then offer one of the turtledoves or young pigeons, which are within his means. 31 “He shall offer what he can afford, the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, together with the grain offering. So the priest shall make atonement before the LORD on behalf of the one to be cleansed. 32 This is the law for him in whom there is an infection of leprosy, whose means are limited for his cleansing.”
Allen Ross: Christians do not have such a ritual, but they can learn something from the principle. Any time they are healed and restored to full participation in life and worship, it is appropriate to offer the sacrifice of praise, even a thank offering (Heb. 13:15). They should at least acknowledge that it is God who has given them life and they will not now die (Ps. 118:17), that they have been restored to life for the purpose of serving and praising God (Isa. 38:9-20), that their restoration from sickness is a foretaste of how in some glorious future day they will be set free like a bird from all physical diseases and distress when the curse is lifted, and that all this was made possible through the shed blood of Christ.
II. (:33-53) RESTORATION FROM HOUSE BLEMISHES (MILDEW)
A. (:33-42) Restoration of a House with Mildew
1. (:33-35) Identification of a House with Mildew
“The LORD further spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 34 ‘When you enter the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a mark of leprosy on a house in the land of your possession, 35 then the one who owns the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, Something like a mark of leprosy has become visible to me in the house.’”
Allen Ross: The laws of scaly skin disease and contamination of tents and fabrics are now expanded to include houses, an emphasis that certainly looked forward to the sedentary occupation in the land. It thus forms a separate unit in applying the original laws to those circumstances. Because this passage forms part of the wider unit of Lev. 13–14, the same point should be made here: corruption and contamination of this present world necessitated cleansing and sanctification if worshipers wanted full participation in God’s service. . .
When signs of mildew in a dwelling were reported, the priest determined by inspection or quarantine if it was unclean mildew, prescribed its remedy through the replacement of contaminated materials or the total destruction of the house, and reconsecrated the purified place to service by the sprinkling of the blood of a slain bird and the release of a live bird (signifying the removal of uncleanness).
2. (:36-38) Inspection by the Priest and Seven Day Quarantine
“The priest shall then order that they empty the house before the priest goes in to look at the mark, so that everything in the house need not become unclean; and afterward the priest shall go in to look at the house. 37 So he shall look at the mark, and if the mark on the walls of the house has greenish or reddish depressions, and appears deeper than the surface; 38 then the priest shall come out of the house, to the doorway, and quarantine the house for seven days.”
Jacob Milgrom: There are a number of significant presuppositions ensconced in this verse.
(1) Impurity of “scale-diseased” houses, like that of scale-diseased persons, contaminates by overhang, for if even a single stone be certified by the priest as “leprous,” then everything within the house is contaminated.
(2) The impurity is not retroactive. Only those objects found in the house when the priest condemns it are declared impure, but if these same objects are removed before the priest arrives they are considered pure.
(3) Those persons who were in the house before the priest declares the quarantine are also pure, including the investigating priest! Thus there can be no lingering doubt that this impurity is wholly symbolic.
To be sure, formal laws and procedures must be followed: the impurity is transmitted by overhang and it must be eliminated by the same bird rite employed for persons. But, in reality, the impurity of the infected stone has not been transmitted to the persons and objects in the house. Transmission occurs only if and when the priest so declares.
3. (:39-42) Re-inspection by the Priest and Remediation
“And the priest shall return on the seventh day and make an inspection. If the mark has indeed spread in the walls of the house, 40 then the priest shall order them to tear out the stones with the mark in them and throw them away at an unclean place outside the city. 41 And he shall have the house scraped all around inside, and they shall dump the plaster that they scrape off at an unclean place outside the city. 42 Then they shall take other stones and replace those stones; and he shall take other plaster and replaster the house.”
Kenneth Mathews: The priest employed the same measurement for determining the severity of skin disease—discoloration of the stone and the depth of the patch below the surface of the stone (vv. 35–38). As in the case of the skin disease, examinations at seven-day intervals revealed to what extent the affliction had spread in the walls of the house. In the most severe case, the whole structure was dismantled and carried outside the camp. The residents washed themselves and their clothing (vv. 39–47). The best outcome was the cessation of the outbreak, which would be repaired by replacing stones and plaster. After the repair of the structure, the priest performed the same elaborate ritual of the two birds called for in the case of a person healed of skin disease (vv. 48–53). The same result too occurred; the priest made “atonement” for the house (v. 53), meaning that the ritual uncleanness had been removed and the house had been restored to its full acceptance in the community. The ritual for the house differed from the case of a diseased person at one significant point—the absence of animal sacrifices at the sanctuary’s altar. This was because a house did not have a covenant relationship with God. What was it about mildew that could be so important to the community? The scaly discoloration of the stonework indicated that the house was deteriorating, which meant the house was in decay. Because the people as members of a holy community lived in these dwellings, they could be ritually contaminated by the mildew, making them unfit to enter the Lord’s sanctuary.
B. (:43-53) Dealing with Reoccurrence of Mildew
1. (:43-45) Destruction of the Re-infected House and Removal of its Ruins
“If, however, the mark breaks out again in the house, after he has torn out the stones and scraped the house, and after it has been replastered, 44 then the priest shall come in and make an inspection. If he sees that the mark has indeed spread in the house, it is a malignant mark in the house; it is unclean. 45 He shall therefore tear down the house, its stones, and its timbers, and all the plaster of the house, and he shall take them outside the city to an unclean place.”
R. K. Harrison: Just as the remission of symptoms in the unclean person could be followed by a resurgence of the disease (Lev. 13:7–8), so the possibility of a fresh outbreak of scaly incrustations on previously affected property had to be recognized, and appropriate procedures prescribed. When such an eventuality occurred, the house was declared unclean. Since previous measures had obviously proved ineffective, the priest had no alternative but to order the demolition of the property. In the case of termite infestation or the presence of dry rot, the premises would pose the danger of collapse at points where the infestation was well advanced. The entire fabric of the dwelling had then to be taken to an unclean place, from which the materials would not be salvaged and re-used, thereby spreading the particular condition. The uncleanness of the house extended under such conditions to people who had entered it while it was closed. Anyone who had taken up residence in it had to wash his clothes (47), which were also defiled by contact, and be unclean until the evening.
2. (:46-47) Purification of the Inhabitants
“Moreover, whoever goes into the house during the time that he has quarantined it, becomes unclean until evening. 47 Likewise, whoever lies down in the house shall wash his clothes, and whoever eats in the house shall wash his clothes.”
Perry Yoder: But what about people who enter a quarantined house? If they merely enter a sealed house, they are unclean until the evening. Waiting is enough for this level of impurity. If, however, they sleep or eat in the house, they must launder their clothes as well.
3. (:48-53) Cleansing of the Healed House
“If, on the other hand, the priest comes in and makes an inspection, and the mark has not indeed spread in the house after the house has been replastered, then the priest shall pronounce the house clean because the mark has not reappeared. 49 To cleanse the house then, he shall take two birds and cedar wood and a scarlet string and hyssop, 50 and he shall slaughter the one bird in an earthenware vessel over running water. 51 Then he shall take the cedar wood and the hyssop and the scarlet string, with the live bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, as well as in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times. 52 He shall thus cleanse the house with the blood of the bird and with the running water, along with the live bird and with the cedar wood and with the hyssop and with the scarlet string. 53 However, he shall let the live bird go free outside the city into the open field. So he shall make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean.”
“This is the law for any mark of leprosy– even for a scale, 55 and for the leprous garment or house, 56 and for a swelling, and for a scab, and for a bright spot– 57 to teach when they are unclean, and when they are clean. This is the law of leprosy.”
R. K. Harrison: The repetition of the title in this section (‘this shall be the law of the leper’) recapitulates the entire body of material (Lev. 13:1–14:53) relating to unnatural exterior conditions of people’s bodies, their clothing, and their dwelling-places. A distinct legislative unit is thus indicated, which is dignified by the designation of tôrâ or law. The regulations governing the subject of the section are thus authoritative because they have been revealed by God. There is not one element of the enactments that is even remotely connected with folklore, magic, or any form of paganism. The diagnostic procedures are thoroughly rational, and suited to the conditions under which the nation would be living. The instructions were not of an esoteric order, known only to the priests, but were the property of the people, as all of God’s law was. The clinical situations involved were described in such a manner that the priest-physician would have no ultimate doubt about the diagnosis.
Richard Hess: These verses conclude the two chapters that address manifest infections in a person, clothing, and houses. This review of these areas serves to signal the end of the discussion and to emphasize that everything relevant to issues of cleanness in these matters has now been considered. The description of infections in garments and houses was considered in 13:47–59 and 14:33–53. The use of the threefold description of skin infections in v.56 (“a swelling, a rash or a bright spot”) recalls the same description at the beginning of the discussion in 13:2. It thus forms an inclusio for all the material in the two chapters.
Furthermore, the common word tôrâ (GK 9368), here translated as “regulations,” has already occurred three times in these two chapters (13:59; 14:2, 32), both at summaries and at introductions to the legislation. Here it occurs twice (vv.54 and 57), again tying the whole summary together by appearing in its first and last verses. In addition the same root (yrh, GK 3723) forms the basis for the verb “to determine” (lehôrōt) in the last verse. Thereby the author reveals the true nature of these chapters and the “regulations.” It is “to determine” or to discover the uncleanness and to understand what recognizes it as clean.