Leviticus 14 – Rituals on the Cleansing of a Leper
A. The first seven days of the ritual performed upon the cleansing of a leper.
1. (1-3) The examination of the leper.
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,
a. The priest shall go out of the camp: When it was believed that someone was healed of leprosy, arrangements were made for the priest to examine the afflicted person. The leper did not come to the tabernacle; the priest went out of the camp to the community of lepers to make the examination.
i. It should be remembered that the Old Testament word translated leprosy includes the modern diagnosed disease of leprosy (Hansen’s Disease), but also many other skin diseases.
b. The priest shall examine him: The priest made the examination according to the principles explained in chapter 13. The leper was declared to be clean or unclean based on those principles.
2. (4-7) The two birds: one sacrificed, one set free.
Then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. 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.
a. Two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop: These were the items used in this part of the ritual upon the cleansing of the leper. This ritual was not done in the hope of healing the leper; it was done when the leper was healed. They used two birds, clean for either eating or sacrifice, a stick or piece of cedar wood, a piece of scarlet yarn or thread, and a hyssop branch.
i. Since the priest went outside the camp (verse 3) to meet the cleansed leper, and there is no mention of the tabernacle until a second ritual in verses 10 and 11, this unusual ceremony did not take place at the tabernacle. It happened at the community of lepers, outside the camp.
ii. Cedar wood: Cedar is extremely resistant to disease and rot, and these qualities may be the reason for including it here.
iii. Most commentators believe that the scarlet here is yarn, not cloth itself. “This material was used for making the curtains and the veil of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:4; 26:1, 31; 28:5). Its color may have symbolized blood.” (Rooker)
iv. Hyssop branches were used for the sprinkling of blood or water (Exodus 12:22, Numbers 19:18). When David said purge me with hyssop in Psalm 51:7, he admitted that he was as bad as a leper – but a cleansed leper.
b. One of the birds be killed: In the ritual, the first bird was killed in a clay bowl (an earthen vessel) that also contained water from a spring, creek, or river (running water). The blood of this sacrificed bird was collected together with the water in the clay bowl in which the bird was killed.
i. “The Hebrew preposition implies that the action is rather to be performed over the clay pot so that the blood of the bird falls into the pot and is mixed with the spring water.” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. Running water is literally, “living water.” It refers to water that comes from a flowing source, such as a spring, river, or creek. It did not come from a well or a cistern. It was thought to be pure, fresh water.
c. Dip them and the living bird in the blood: Then, the second bird (still alive), together with the piece of cedar wood, the scarlet yarn, and the hyssop branch, were dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird.
i. “The cedar-wood served for the handle, the hyssop and living bird were attached to it by means of the scarlet wool or crimson fillet. The bird was so bound to this handle as that its tail should be downwards, in order to be dipped into the blood of the bird that had been killed. The whole of this made an instrument for the sprinkling of this blood.” (Clarke)
d. Sprinkle it seven times: Apparently, as the priest held the blood-dipped living bird, the wood, the yarn, and the branch together, he waved it at or towards the cleansed leper, sprinkling the sacrificed bird’s blood on the leper seven times.
e. Let the living bird loose in the open field: After declaring the leper clean (based on the previous examination, verse 3), the priest let the blood-stained, living bird fly away.
i. “This [living bird] might as well be called the scape-bird; as the goat, in chapter 16, is called the scape-goat. The rites are similar in both cases, and probably had nearly the same meaning.” (Clarke)
ii. This unusual ritual can be summarized with these points:
· This happened outside the camp, away from the normal conduct of the system of sacrifice.
· There, a living thing of the heavens was sacrificed in an earthen vessel.
· Even as the bird was killed, it was cleansed (by the running water).
· This death, associated with water and blood, was applied to the leper, and applied perfectly (seven times) in connection with a living bird.
· The sacrificial blood was also applied to scarlet yarn and a piece of wood, together with hyssop.
· Bearing the mark of sacrifice, the living bird flew away, ascending to the heavens and out of sight.
iii. In a remarkable way, this unusual ritual points to the future work of the Messiah, who would cleanse those stained with the leprosy of sin.
· Jesus was sacrificed outside the camp (Hebrews 13:11-13).
· Jesus was the Man from heaven (John 3:13, 6:38).
· Jesus remained cleansed and holy (Acts 2:27) even in His death, becoming sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) without becoming a sinner.
· Jesus came by water and blood (1 John 5:6) and died in association with blood and water (John 19:34-35).
· Jesus died in association with scarlet cloth (Matthew 27:28).
· Jesus died in association with wood (John 19:17-18).
· Jesus died in association with hyssop (John 19:29).
· Jesus lived, bearing the marks of His death (John 20:27).
· Jesus ascended to heaven, out of human sight (Acts 1:9).
iv. There is a sense in which the living bird set free points to the resurrected Jesus. But it also points to the one healed and free from their leprosy, including the leprosy of sin; they are resurrected and free in the resurrected Jesus Christ.
3. (8-9) The cleansing of the leper’s body.
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.
a. Shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water: After the ritual with the two birds, the recovered leper was to completely cleanse himself. Then he could come into the camp of Israel, and spend a week living in public view (stay outside his tent).
i. That the recovered leper could not live his first week in his own tent was uncomfortable, but the public nature of it proved to the whole community that he really was healed and should be accepted and restored to the community.
ii. “Shave off all his hair; partly, to discover his perfect soundness; partly, to preserve him from relapse through any seeds or relics of it which might remain in his hair, or in his clothes; and partly, to teach him to put off his old lusts, and become a new man.” (Poole)
b. He shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows: At the end of the week outside his tent, he was to shave and wash completely again. This shaving was to include even his beard and eyebrows. The recovered leper would start all over again as if he was a newborn baby – as if he was born again.
B. The eighth day ritual upon the cleansing of a leper.
1. (10-11) Presentation at the tabernacle.
“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.
a. Two male lambs without blemish: On the eighth day from the start of the rituals upon the cleansing of a leper, the leper brought three lambs (two male and one female), along with flour and oil for sacrifice.
i. This was a considerable expense, and since most lepers were not prosperous (the disease was isolating from the community and normally lasted a long time), provision was made for the poor leper (14:21-32).
ii. The amount three-tenths of an ephah is given as anywhere between five pounds (2.25 kilos) and 20 pounds (9 kilos).
iii. One log of oil is given as being about 10 ounces or one-third of a liter.
b. The priest who makes him clean: It was the priest who declared a leper clean or unclean (as in 13:3, 13:6, 13:8, 13:11, 13:13, 13:17, 13:20 and so on). It is in this sense that the priest “made” a leper clean; by judging his condition in light of God’s revealed word.
i. Even so, a priest, minister, bishop, pastor, or any other such person cannot make another person either righteous or unrighteous before God. They can, on the basis of God’s revealed word, judging the condition of another (their professed faith and conduct of life), declare them to be righteous or unrighteous.
c. Shall present the man who is to be made clean: Even though this leper had been declared clean, there was still cleansing to be done. Lepers still had to follow the sacrifices and rituals (which pointed to the perfect work of the Messiah to come) and they would be made clean.
d. Before the LORD, at the door of the tabernacle of meeting: The unusual ceremony of 14:1-7 took place outside the camp. The washing of 14:8-9 took place at the leper’s normal living place. This sacrifice took place at the tabernacle.
i. “The movement of the cleansed man from outside the camp (14:3), to the camp (14:8), to the Tent of Meeting (14:11) is another way of describing the cleansed man’s full restoration.” (Rooker)
2. (12-14) One male lamb as a trespass offering; the application of the blood.
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. 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.
a. The priest shall take one male lamb and offer it as a trespass offering: The first male lamb was offered according to the instructions in chapter 5 and chapter 7:1-10. The meat from this offering belonged to the priest, not to the restored leper.
b. The priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering: Here was a dramatic break from the normal trespass offering. In the case of the restored leper, the priest took some of the blood of the first sacrificed lamb, and applied it to the right ear, the right thumb, and the right big toe, to sanctify and consecrate the cleansed leper. This was the same action that was used in the consecration of priests (Leviticus 8:22-24).
i. The blood on the right ear said, “this one should hear God first.” The blood on the right thumb said, “this one should put his hand to do God’s will first.” The blood on the big toe of the right foot said, “this one should follow God’s path first.”
ii. Therefore, a cleansed leper had a special calling and a special anointing – just as the priests did. This ritual affirmed and declared the radical change of life that happened to the restored leper. He was a new person, born again as it were and his life belonged to God in a special way.
iii. “To signify that all Christ’s sanctified ones have a hearing ear, an active hand, a nimble foot to walk in the way that is called holy.” (Trapp)
iv. Since leprosy is a picture of sin, we see how this ritual has spiritual application to every sinner that Jesus cleanses, restores, and sets free. We are bought with a price and should therefore glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20).
3. (15-18) The application of the oil.
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. 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.
a. The priest shall dip his right finger in the oil: After the application of the blood, then the priest sprinkled oil with his finger seven times before the LORD (not upon the restored leper). Then, the priest applied the rest of the oil to the right ear, right thumb, and right big toe of the restored leper.
i. Oil has a consistent association with the Holy Spirit in the Bible (such as in Zechariah 4:1-7). Olive oil was essential and valued in Biblical culture and was a worthy representation of the Holy Spirit.
· Oil heals and was used as a medicinal treatment in Biblical times (Luke 10:34) – the Spirit of God brings healing and restoration.
· Oil lights when it is burned in a lamp – where the Spirit of God is there is light.
· Oil warms when it is used as fuel for a flame – where the Spirit of God is there is warmth and comfort.
· Oil invigorates when used to massage – the Holy Spirit invigorates us for His service.
· Oil adorns when applied as a perfume – the Holy Spirit adorns us and makes us more pleasant to be around.
· Oil polishes when used to shine metal – the Holy Spirit wipes away our grime, smoothing out our rough edges.
· Oil lubricates when used for that purpose – there is little friction and wear among those who truly walk in the Spirit.
ii. Significantly, the oil was applied on the blood of the trespass offering. The anointing of the Holy Spirit could not come unless it was upon the work of a blood sacrifice.
iii. This was unique; in the priestly consecration, ritual blood was applied to the ear, thumb, and big toe – but not oil. This was a powerful way to say that all that the restored leper heard, all he did with the work of his hands, and every path he walked should be under the anointing and influence of the Holy Spirit.
iv. This has special relevance as a picture of what God does for those restored from their leprous-like sin in the New Covenant. One of the significant promises of the New Covenant is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all those who take part in the covenant (Ezekiel 36:27).
b. The rest of the oil…he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed: After the application of the oil upon the ear, thumb, and toe of the restored leper, it was the applied in a more customary way, anointing the head of the restored leper in the same manner that priests and kings were anointed.
i. This dramatic act said to the leper, “There is a sense in which God regards you as a king and a priest.”
ii. The repetition of the phrase, him who is to be cleansed reminds us that there was a sense in which the leper was already cleansed, and another sense in which he was still to be cleansed.
4. (19-20) The remaining sin offering, burnt offering, and grain offering.
“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.
a. Then the priest shall offer the sin offering: The second of the three lambs was offered as a sin offering. This sacrifice is described in Leviticus 4 and 6:24-30.
b. The priest shall offer the burnt offering: The priest offered the third of the three lambs as a burnt offering. This sacrifice is described in Leviticus 1 and 6:8-13.
c. And the grain offering: The priest offered the fine flour (14:10). This offering is described in Leviticus 2 and 6:14-23.
i. “The sin offering would put an individual in good standing with God, while the burnt offering and grain offering symbolized the renewed dedication of the worshiper and of his devotion to God.” (Rooker)
d. So the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean: These remarkable sacrifices were rarely used. In fact, there is no record in the Old Testament of an Israelite leper being restored, apart from Miriam (Numbers 12).
i. “The despair that resulted when one suspected that he may have contracted an infectious disease must have been intense. By contrast the joy of being declared clean was unspeakable.” (Rooker)
ii. When Jesus restored a leper and commanded him to go to the temple priests and make the appropriate offerings (Luke 5:12-14), it must have gained much attention and provided a striking testimony.
C. Provisions for the poor to fulfill the ritual for a cleansed leper.
1. (21-23) Provisions for the poor to fulfill the ritual for a cleansed leper.
“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.
a. But if he is poor and cannot afford it: Because a diagnosis of leprosy separated the leper from the community, and because diseases diagnosed as leprosy often lasted a long time, we can suppose that many lepers were poor and could not afford the three lambs for sacrifice called for in the ritual described in verses 1-20. God graciously made provision for those who were poor and could not afford it.
b. He shall take one male lamb…and two turtledoves or two young pigeons, such as he is able to afford: Instead of requiring three sacrificial lambs, God required only one. The other two lambs could be replaced with two birds, either turtledoves or pigeons.
c. To the door of the tabernacle of meeting, before the LORD: The poor man brought his offering to the same place, in the same manner, and to the same priests as the richer man who could afford a more substantial offering.
2. (24-25) The application of the blood of the trespass offering.
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.
a. The priest shall take the lamb of the trespass offering: The offering of the lamb for the trespass offering for the poor man and the application of the sacrificial blood was the same as described in verses 12-14.
3. (26-29) The application of the oil in the ritual.
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.
a. The priest shall pour some of the oil: The application of the oil in the ritual for the poor was the same as was described in verses 15-18.
4. (30-32) The presentation of the sin offering, burnt offering, and grain offering.
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.”
a. He shall offer one of the turtledoves or young pigeons: The carrying out of the sin offering and the burnt offering was the same as described in verses 19-20 except that birds were substituted for lambs. The presentation of the grain offering was the same as mentioned in verse 20.
D. Mold, mildew, fungus in a house.
1. (33-35) Suspected leprous plague (mold, mildew, fungus) in a house.
And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “When you have come into the land of Canaan, which I give you as a possession, and I put the leprous plague in a house in the land of your possession, and he who owns the house comes and tells the priest, saying, ‘It seems to me that there is some plague in the house,’
a. When you have come into the land of Canaan: The following section deals with leprous plague on the walls of a structure. It did not apply to the tents that Israel lived in during their wilderness years on the way to Canaan. Outbreaks of what was broadly termed leprosy on the fabric or leather walls of a tent was dealt with in Leviticus 13:47-58.
b. I put the leprous plague in the house of the land of your possession: The Israelites inherited the land and property of the Canaanites when they came into the land. The idea here seems to be that some of that property would have been under the judgment of God, and therefore it could be said that God put the plague there. Or, this may simply be a Hebraic way of expressing the truth that in an ultimate sense God directs or allows all things.
i. “It is well known that in Scripture God is frequently represented as doing what, in the course of his providence, he only permits or suffers to be done.” (Clarke)
c. It seems to me that there is some plague in the house: Just as with the instructions regarding leprosy in garments in Leviticus 13, the idea of the leprous plague or simply plague in this context covers a broad range of things. In that broad range, mold, mildew, and fungus can be included.
i. “From the modern scientific point of view, mildew and skin disease have little in common, but they do both affect the surface of various objects.” (Peter-Contesse)
2. (36-38) The initial examination of the house.
Then the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest goes into it to examine the plague, that all that is in the house may not be made unclean; and afterward the priest shall go in to examine the house. And he shall examine the plague; and indeed if the plague is on the walls of the house with ingrained streaks, greenish or reddish, which appear to be deep in the wall, then the priest shall go out of the house, to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days.
a. The priest shall command that they empty the house: Many molds, mildews, or fungi can be dangerous if touched or breathed in. This was a sound, sanitary practice and promoted the health of the community of Israel.
i. “It reveals the interest of God in the physical wellbeing of His people and His unceasing antagonism to everything likely to harm them…teaching us among other things that it is impossible for men to be loyal to God and careless in any measure concerning the laws of sanitation.” (Morgan)
b. The priest shall go in to examine the house: With the house cleared, the priest would examine the walls and the plague, noting the color and nature of the mold, mildew, or fungus. If he determined it was severe enough, the house would be shut up for seven days.
3. (39-42) The remedy for the plague that remains on the walls.
And the priest shall come again on the seventh day and look; and indeed if the plague has spread on the walls of the house, then the priest shall command that they take away the stones in which is the plague, and they shall cast them into an unclean place outside the city. And he shall cause the house to be scraped inside, all around, and the dust that they scrape off they shall pour out in an unclean place outside the city. Then they shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and he shall take other mortar and plaster the house.
a. If the plague has spread on the walls of the house: If the mold, mildew, or fungus had become worse, the priest commanded that they take away the stones in which is the plague. They would be removed from the house.
i. The fact that only stones are mentioned (and not wood or other building materials) indicates what archaeologists confirm: that ancient homes in that part of the world were largely built from stone.
ii. Jude wrote that believers should be hating even the garment defiled by the flesh (Jude 1:23). “Whatever in our life has been associated with and contaminated by the leprosy of past sin, it is good to destroy without compromise or pity.” (Morgan)
b. He shall cause the house to be scraped inside: The interior stone of a home would commonly be coated with some kind of plaster. This would be scraped and disposed of. The house would then receive new mortar and plaster.
4. (43-47) Dealing with a chronic infestation in a house.
“Now if the plague comes back and breaks out in the house, after he has taken away the stones, after he has scraped the house, and after it is plastered, then the priest shall come and look; and indeed if the plague has spread in the house, it is an active leprosy in the house. It is unclean. And he shall break down the house, its stones, its timber, and all the plaster of the house, and he shall carry them outside the city to an unclean place. Moreover he who goes into the house at all while it is shut up shall be unclean until evening. And he who lies down in the house shall wash his clothes, and he who eats in the house shall wash his clothes.
a. If the plague comes back and breaks out in the house: If the infestation of mold, mildew, or fungus is chronic, the priest declared the house unclean and the house would be broken down and the remains carried out of the city to an unclean place.
i. An active leprosy: “The whole expression in this context means something like ‘it is fungus that cannot be eliminated.’” (Peter-Contesse)
b. He who goes into the house at all while it is shut up shall be unclean: If someone went into a house that was quarantined, they were unclean and had to take the appropriate measures.
i. By spiritual analogy, we can say that our homes can be infected with sin. When this is the case, we should not just continue to live as before; radical changes must be made. Things may need to be removed and discarded. Furthermore, the work of the crucified and resurrected Christ in all its dimensions must be applied to the home, with a sense of repentance and renewed dedication.
5. (48-53) What to do when a house was cleansed from plague of mold, mildew, or fungus.
“But if the priest comes in and examines it, and indeed the plague has not spread in the house after the house was plastered, then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed. And he shall take, to cleanse the house, two birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. Then he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water; and he shall take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times. And he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird and the running water and the living bird, with the cedar wood, the hyssop, and the scarlet. Then he shall let the living bird loose outside the city in the open field, and make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean.
a. Indeed the plague has not spread in the house: If the priest determined that the plague was healed, the house was pronounced clean.
b. Two birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop: The same ritual described in verses 4-7 upon the cleansing of a leper was also to be performed when a house was declared clean from a plague of mold, mildew, or fungus.
6. (54-57) Summation of the laws of leprosy.
“This is the law for any leprous sore and scale, for the leprosy of a garment and of a house, for a swelling and a scab and a bright spot, to teach when it is unclean and when it is clean. This is the law of leprosy.”
a. This is the law: This summary statement concludes the section of chapters 13 and 14 dealing with skin diseases, other diseases, mold, mildew, and fungus categorized as leprosy for the people of Israel.
b. To teach when it is unclean and when it is clean: These laws were given to make the distinction between unclean and clean; to protect the health and strength of Israel.
i. “To teach; to direct the priest when to pronounce a person or house clean or unclean. So it was not left to the priest’s power or will, but they were tied to plain rules, such as the people might discern no less than the priest.” (Poole)