In the first 46 verses of chapter 13 God institutes a detailed set of procedures for how the priests were to identify a leprous infection in an individual. The remainder of the chapter then focuses on how the people were to address an outbreak in a person’s clothing (“linen and leather”). And then, in Leviticus 14:33-57 God lists out the protocols for what was to be done if leprosy was ultimately discovered in a physical dwelling — namely the home.
While I don’t want to spend to much time recapping our previous study, for our purposes this morning there are a few points I do need to reiterate. First, because Jesus told the men He cleansed of leprosy in Mark 1 and Luke 15 to go and present themselves to the priests for the procedures we’re going to examine this morning, we can say with 100% certainty leprosy in the New Testament was the same disease being described here in Leviticus.
Secondly, there are undeniable similarities between Biblical leprosy and what we refer to today as Hansen’s Disease. They both manifest as a scaly skin disease — which we understand to be an outer symptom of a much deeper ailment. Both were incurable and considered death sentences. In both, the infection was painfully slow moving and would yield devastating effects in a person’s physical frame. Finally, in both situations the infected party would be quarantined away from the rest of society.
Thirdly, there is no question leprosy presents for us a profound picture of sin. Like leprosy, sin will kill you — It’s a death sentence with no human remedy. Like leprosy, sin might manifest physically, but it’s always evidence of a much deeper problem. Like leprosy, sin will destroy relationships, limit genuine community, and separate you from God.
And yet, the case can be made that what the Bible describes as leprosy isn’t actually Hansen’s Disease and is much more than a mere picture of sin. In fact, the word tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath) means to strike! The only reason this Hebrew word was translated as lepra in the Septuagint is because there wasn’t an equivalent in the Greek. For the reasons we’ve already discussed this was a “linguistic blooper” that has yielded confusion.
Case in point, whatever is being described in Leviticus 13-14 was not limited to human biology like Hansen’s! Tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath) could infect fabric as well as the stone and plaster in the walls of a home. Furthermore, in every instance tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath) turned the skin “white” — which isn’t a physical characteristic associated with modern leprosy.
In fact, in the only four examples we have of a person contracting tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath), there is no skirting the reality the disease possessed a spiritual pathology in addition to a biological one. Every example we have of a person contracting “leprosy” they do so because they were intentionally struck by God as a judgment for sin! Because of this, in ancient Israel, the Rabbi’s went so far as to call the disease “The finger of God!”
Understand, as God is establishing these codes defining what it meant to be “holy as He was holy” He formalizes this specific judgment in order to illustrate the seriousness of sin. If tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath) was observed and the evidence of God’s judgment undeniable in person’s life, they were swiftly expelled from the camp not because they were contagious, but to be an example that God took a failure to obey His commandments seriously.
This perspective clarifies a lot… It explains why leprosy could be found in clothing or a home — It was God’s way of warning the would be sinner how severe the consequences would be. It explains why the person was instructed to present themselves to a priest at the “tent of meeting” and not a doctor. Additionally, it explains why the priest was nothing more than an observer with the Word of God ultimately pronouncing the devastating diagnosis.
In the end I find this perspective more consistent with who we know God to be… You see if tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath) was only a type of sin and not an actual judgment, the punishment would be unjust and oddly disproportional. If not a divine judgment how terrible that a person ends up cut off from God and His people for no other reason than they got sick!
Finally, viewing leprosy as an actual judgment of God on account of sin only deepens the grace we discover in Leviticus 14. How incredible that God creates a procedure for what was to happen when a person was cleansed from an incurable disease!
In order for us to fully understand the significance of Leviticus 14:1-32 it’s important we first spend some time in the Gospel of Mark. According to Matthew 8 Jesus has just finished His Sermon on the Mount when… Mark 1:40, “A leper came to Jesus, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’”
Mark opens this scene with “a leper coming to Jesus.” Because tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath) undoubtedly followed a similar physical pathology as Hansen’s Disease, I want us to take a few minutes and imagine what this man’s general experience had likely been.
After a few weeks of abnormal fatigue and aching joints, this man woke up to a red, itchy rash. As the rash continued to fester over the next few days it slowly turns scaly and white. Deep within the man’s soul a sinking feeling emerges. He knew he hadn’t been living in accordance with God’s law. He knew he’d been living in sin and rebellion. Could this be…
With time the rash begins to spread producing festering sores. It’s been said on account of these open wounds you could smell a leper from up to 150 paces. At this juncture the man knows he needs to go to the Temple and present himself to the priest for inspection.
We have no idea if the diagnosis was immediate or whether the seven or fourteen day quarantine was necessary. Either way, he gets the bad news. In line with Leviticus 13 the priest reaches the conclusion he’s been struck by God with leprosy as a judgment for sin.
At this point his life would never be the same! Leviticus 13:45-46 explains that upon hearing the diagnosis he would tear his clothing in grief and shave his head as an expression of shame. Everyone would know he was a leper. Then, instead of returning home, the man would be escorted out into the wilderness in order to live out his days. As a dead man walking he’d watch from afar as his family and friends have his funeral.
According to Luke 5 by the time the man approaches Jesus he was “full of leprosy.” Because of the slow moving nature of the disease we can surmise he’d likely spent years in isolation. Aside from this, in order to insure no one inadvertently came into contact with him, every time he approached a populated area he “covered his mouth” and cried out “Unclean, Unclean!” As Bible Scholar Sandy Adams rightly pointed out, “Imagine the psychological effect of replacing in your vocabulary the word ‘hello’ with the word ‘unclean’.”
With time his physical condition steadily deteriorated… Aside from the festering sores, his hair would fall out along with his finger and toe nails. His gums decayed causing his teeth to rot. Over time the tendons in his hands and feet would stretch twisting them into a claw-like shape. Once the disease finally moved into his central nervous system a severe spinal deformation would take place making it difficult for him to walk or move.
Because of the neurological damage, by the time he comes to Jesus, this poor man had likely lost the ability to experience a human touch or sense a searing pain. One of the misconceptions of leprosy is that a person’s limbs rot and fall off. Instead, the disfigurement associated with leprosy often happens as a direct result of their inability to feel. What did this man physically look like when he comes and falls at the feet of Jesus?
As terrible as all this seems, the worst part of leprosy was the isolation. Not only had his sin and judgment alienated him from God, but it destroyed his relationships. This man had been forced to watch his wife and kids move on with their lives. Additionally, he has zero hope that his future would included anything other than a lonely, horrific death.
And yet, in spite of all this, we’re told this Leper “came to Jesus!” According to Mark the man approaches Jesus and “imploring Him, kneeling down to Him, says to Him, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.” The picture painted in the Greek is one of a deep desperation, respect, and faith. The verb tense indicates this man was repeating this request over and over as He approaches Jesus. “If you are willing… If you are willing…”
Please notice the man’s request indicated correct priorities. It’s been said, “This leper came not asking what Jesus could give him, but rather who Jesus could make him.” At this point the only thing that matter to him was a cleansing he rightly understood was improbable.
It’s also important to point out the man’s request demonstrated an incredible faith in Jesus. He declares, “You CAN make me clean!” What makes his belief that Jesus had the power to cleanse him so radicle is that up until this point in His earthly ministry Jesus has never healed a leper! For unknown reasons the man concluded Jesus was more than able!
And while this man approached Jesus in faith with the right priorities in mind, his request also reveals the saddest of all realities. Though the man never questions Jesus’ ability to cleanse Him, he does have serious doubts as to Jesus’ willingness... “If you are willing!”
Don’t forget the Jews viewed leprosy — tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath) — as the judgment of God on account of sin! This man had gone to the priests at the Temple and received his death sentence. The Word of God had made the diagnosis! As such it would appear this leper knew forgiveness of sin would have to come before he could be cleansed of leprosy.
While this man believed Jesus could heal him, it would appear from his appeal that he wasn’t sure Jesus was willing to forgive him. It’s as though, in his appeal, he’s saying, “Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I know this is the rightful judgment because of my poor decisions. And though I know you can heal me, I honestly don’t know if you are willing!” Isn’t it true that so many people, experiencing the real effects of sin, have the same doubts concerning Jesus? It’s not His ability to save, but His willingness!
I love what happens next… Mark 1:41-42, “Then Jesus, moved with compassion (literally emotionally stirred to act), stretched out His hand and touched him (in this moment everyone would have gasped), and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ As soon as Jesus had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.”
For years this man had been experiencing the tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath) of God. Because of sin he was experiencing the judgment of God. He knew it was just. God’s Word had declared his sentence. And still this sinner humbly comes to Jesus with a simple appeal. He makes no excuses for his condition. He knows there was no human remedy for a divine judgment. And yet, he believes the same finger that judges was also more than able to cleanse!
Notice what happens… “Jesus said!” The same Word that declared him to be unclean now pronounced him cleansed! In fact, Mark tells us that “immediately the leprosy left him.” The judgment of God was instantly lifted. Most incredibly, this word “cleansed” not only implies the disease left, but that Jesus also reversed the full effects leprosy had on his body. I’m convinced his physical frame was suddenly restored to what it had been.
Because of the compassion of Jesus this man experiences a complete and total healing. His relationship with God and access to the Temple was reinstated. For the first time in years he would be allowed to return to his family and friends. An encounter with Jesus gave him life when he only expected death, hope when he only knew despair, joy in place of pain, admittance in the family of God, love when he only knew revulsion.
If you carefully examine the order of events something significant emerges… The Leper comes to Jesus. He sees his condition and is moved with compassion. Jesus reaches out and touches the man. Then He says to him, “I am willing, be cleansed.” And it’s at this point Mark records how the leprosy leaves the man and he was cleansed.
The fact Jesus touched the leper BEFORE the leprosy left indicates the miracle involved Jesus taking the man’s leprosy upon Himself in order to cleanse him. You see in order to lift off of the sinner the judgment of God on account of his sin Jesus willing took upon Himself the judgment. How interesting we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Friend, this amazing story illustrates a most glorious truth — You don’t have to clean yourself up before coming to Jesus. In fact, you are invited to come to Him as you are knowing Jesus is not only willing to forgive, but He demonstrated His willingness by taking upon Himself the consequences of your sin! In 1 John 1:9 we read, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
In the Gospel of John you’ll discover seven “I am” statements made by Jesus: “I am the Bread of Life, I am the light of the world, I am the gate, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, I am the True Vine.”
But you know I believed there is an eighth “I am” statement that might carry with it the most radical presentation of the heart of Jesus towards the sinner. Imagine the impact those three words carried with them when they rang in the ears of this Leper... “I am willing!” What a moment when a man numbed by his sin felt the loving touch of His Savior!
Mark 1:43-45, “And Jesus strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.”
One of the things that makes Jesus’ instructions here so fascinating is that never before in the recorded history of Israel had a Hebrew man been cleansed of his leprosy. While it’s safe to assume Leviticus 13 had been employed on numerous occasions, imagine the surprise of the priests when this man shows up wanting to be declared cleansed!
Not sure what to do they pull out Leviticus turn to the 14th chapter and read the following procedure… Leviticus 14:1-32, “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest. And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop.”
Verse 5, “And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field.”
Verse 8, “He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days. But on the seventh day he shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows — all his hair he shall shave off. He shall wash his clothes and wash his body in water, and he shall be clean.”
Verse 10, “And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and one log of oil. Then the priest who makes him clean shall present the man who is to be made clean, and those things, before the LORD, at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.”
Verse 12, “And the priest shall take one male lamb and offer it as a trespass offering, and the log of oil, and wave them as a wave offering before the LORD. Then he shall kill the lamb in the place where he kills the sin offering and the burnt offering, in a holy place; for as the sin offering is the priest’s, so is the trespass offering. It is most holy.”
Verse 14, “The priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. And the priest shall take some of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand. Then the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle some of the oil with his finger seven times before the LORD.”
Verse 17, “And of the rest of the oil in his hand, the priest shall put some on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the blood of the trespass offering. The rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed. So the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD.”
Verse 19, “Then the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. So the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.”
Verse 21, “But if he is poor and cannot afford it, then he shall take one male lamb as a trespass offering to be waved, to make atonement for him, one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, a log of oil, and two turtledoves or two young pigeons, such as he is able to afford: one shall be a sin offering and the other a burnt offering. He shall bring them to the priest on the eighth day for his cleansing, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, before the LORD.”
Verse 24, “And the priest shall take the lamb of the trespass offering and the log of oil, and the priest shall wave them as a wave offering before the LORD. Then he shall kill the lamb of the trespass offering, and the priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering and put it on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot.”
Verse 26, “And the priest shall pour some of the oil into the palm of his own left hand. Then the priest shall sprinkle with his right finger some of the oil that is in his left hand seven times before the LORD. And the priest shall put some of the oil that is in his hand on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of the right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the place of the blood of the trespass offering. The rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed, to make atonement for him before the LORD.”
Verse 30, “And he shall offer one of the turtledoves or young pigeons, such as he can afford — such as he is able to afford, the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, with the grain offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him who is to be cleansed before the LORD. This is the law for one who had a leprous sore, who cannot afford the usual cleansing.”
Within this passage we have two incredible realities illustrated… The mechanism for the cleansing of sin and what results in our lives once this miracle has taken place! In a way we have a blueprint for our salvation and process for our sanctification.
Let’s first look at the mechanism for cleansing… Notice how this entire section begins in verse 1-2, “Then the LORD spoke to Moses saying, ‘This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing.’” The way this is presented implies this specific “cleansing” would occur independent of the leper himself. Again, as we’ve mentioned, only an intentional act of God could reverse the direct judgment of God. Leprosy had no human, natural cure.
Once the impossible had taken place “the law” then stipulated the man go and present himself to the priest for an “examination.” When Jesus instructs the leper to do this He’s doing so in line with this specific mandate. If indeed “the leprosy was healed” — made evidence by the fact leprosy no longer existed — the following procedure was in place…
For starters, the priest would take the man “outside of the camp” bringing with him the following items: “two living and clean birds” (likely either a pigeon or a dove), “an earthen vessel” (clay pot), a “hyssop” branch, stick of “cedar wood”, and a “scarlet” thread.
According to verse 5 the priest would kill one of the birds in the earthen vessel specifically “over running water” — which would be a river or spring of some kind. The priest would then take the living bird, hyssop, cedar, and scarlet thread and dip them in the earthen vessel containing the blood of the first bird (now dead) mixed with the living water.
At this point the priest would carefully take the hyssop branch, cedar stick, and scarlet thread dripping with the blood and water and use them to “sprinkle” this concoction “seven times on him who is to be cleansed from leprosy.” After completing this task the priest “shall pronounce him clean.” To commemorate this miracle the “living bird” that had also been dipped into the blood and water of the first would be let “loose in an open field.”
In 1 Peter 2:24 the Apostle writes that Jesus “bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed (quoting Isaiah 53:5).” Consider in this bizarre procedure declaring someone set free from the judgment of sin the picture we have of Jesus and His death on the cross…
First, the entire scene takes place “outside the camp.” We know that Jesus was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem at a place known as Golgotha. An “earthen vessel” filled with “living water” describes for us the blending of the human and divine natures within Jesus.
Continuing the typology the “cedar wood” reminds us of the cross of cedar in which Jesus was nailed. The crimson “scarlet” a picture of His blood. And the “hyssop” branch that was dipped in sour wine so that Jesus could boldly declare for the world to hear, “It is finished!”
Lastly, not only do “birds” represent the poor man’s offering (that Christ’s work is made available to all men irrespective of class or status), but the freeing of the second bird covered in the blood of the first presents a powerful symbol of salvation through Christ’s sacrifice. Not only was it through Jesus’ death that we’ve been set free from the burden of sin, but the two birds symbolizes the crucifixion death and resurrection life of Christ!
But this is not the only glorious reality our passage illustrates… Aside from the mechanism of cleansing being ultimately found in a work of Jesus on the cross of Calvary, we also see a beautiful picture of what results once we’ve been declared clean!
Notice the interesting flow of events following the declaration of cleansing… According to verse 8, after this procedure was finished, “He shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean.” The man is then allowed to “come back into the camp,” but had to remain “outside his tent seven days.” Once the seven days are completed he’s instructed to repeat the process of shaving and washing in water.
Then, verse 10, “on the eighth day” this individual will make his first public appearance at the tabernacle as a cleansed man and proceed to go through a lengthy process of making all the necessary offerings. How incredible the man is presented “on the eighth day!”
Not only does this signify a fresh start and a new beginning, but we find an interesting picture of new birth in this imagine of the man shaving himself as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Because of Jesus’ work and the washing and cleansing of our sin we have all become new creations — as Jesus said to Nicodemus we’re “born again!”
After the appropriate sacrifices are made on behalf of the priest and the former leper, something else really unique happens… In verse 14 we read, “The priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and shall put it on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot.”
Then in verses 17-18, after sprinkling the oil before the Lord, we’re told, “The rest of the oil the priest shall put on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the blood of the trespass offering. The rest of the oil in the priest's hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed.”
As to the deep significance of these things let me again refer to a point that surfaces in Pastor Sandy Adams commentary, “In ancient Israel there were only four groups of people who were anointed with oil on the head. Kings – those who ruled. Prophets – those who spoke for God. Priests – those who stood before God on behalf of the people. But there was a fourth group anointed with oil… lepers. Can you believe it? People eaten up by sin were also anointed with oil. Here is a testimony of God’s grace… He not only anoints and uses prophets, priests, and kings… He can also take a humble leper and use him for His glory.”
In the macro what is being articulated is that anyone cleansed of sin by Jesus should live a life of consecration. The image of anointing the “ear, hand, and foot” of this former leper with the blood is powerful. As we saw in the ordination of the priesthood, the reason for this was to emphasize how their lives were to be ordered from head to toe for His purposes.
They were to have an ear to hear the voice of God, hands to do the work of God, and feet to walk in His will. Again, this is the calling of every follower of Jesus who’s experienced His cleansing touch… We are all called to reflect the divine well — in all we hear, do, and go. Our very lives are to be the divine on display for all to see!
Never forget your life has been redeemed by Jesus for a purpose — to accomplish His will to His glory! But there is another component… While we’ve been consecrated by the blood, we’ve also been empowered by the Holy Spirit (symbolized by the oil)! It’s not an accident the oil was placed on top of the blood. You see the power of the Holy Spirit is only made available to those who’ve first been covered by the blood of Jesus.
When Jesus instructs this man in Mark 1 to present himself to the priests this would have been the process that would have been followed. Like this man you and I have only been cleansed from the judgment of sin because Jesus was willing to take our sin and the judgment it demanded upon Himself. His sacrifice affords us a fresh start at living!
And yet, as this man would have known, we’ve been set free — liberated — not to live as we want. Our lives have been consecrated by the blood of Christ. We’ve been saved from the effects of sin in order to be witnesses of a better way in a world filled with sinners heading towards destruction. Gloriously, on the blood we’ve also been anointed with oil!
In closing, the interesting thing about Leviticus 14 is that once codified in the law it had never been used until Jesus sent the leper to present himself to the priests in Mark 1! The testimony as to the power of Jesus’ ministry was to be crystal clear… For the first time in Jewish history lepers were being cleansed! There was finally a remedy for sin — A Savior from the judgment of God — tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath)! By definition they should have known in this moment that the “Word of God had been made flesh and was dwelling among them!”
Friend, if you’re looking for the evidence that Jesus is God and that He’s more than willing to cleanse you of your sin no matter how ugly it might be, I encourage you to look no further than the fact that today lepers are still being cleansed!
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