The Cleansing of the Leper

In the Books of Moses there are specific instructions given by God regarding the disease of leprosy. In Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 we read of the various forms that leprosy could take, and how these were assessed and dealt with.

It appears that many forms of skin eruption or scaling were called leprosy, and these were regarded with much apprehension, even dread. This was no doubt brought about by the severe methods of dealing with leprosy, as much as the pain and discomfort such an infection caused.

Any such malady was viewed as being highly contagious, and we can see the great wisdom of isolating anyone suspected of being a leper.

If ever there was proof of the Divine origin of the Mosaic writings it is in the elaborate instructions God gave regarding hygiene, diet and the quarantine system, especially regarding leprosy. These are all the more remarkable when we remember that Moses was educated and trained in the royal household of Egypt where, although the Egyptians showed considerable talent in other directions, such things were unknown.

One Egyptian method for treating a wound or sore was to plaster it with animal dung! It is only in the last two hundred years or so that we have realized the value of simple hygiene such as the washing of hands in clean water as God instructed Moses three thousand five hundred years ago.

Possibly leprosy was one of the diseases of Egypt from which the Lord promised relief: "If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God . . . I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians . . .

"And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and will afflict you with none of the diseases of Egypt which you have known . . . " (Exodus 15:26; Deuteronomy 7:15).

Leprosy was usually regarded as the judgement of God on sin (transgression of the Law), and such an attitude naturally resulted in the additional social stigma being added to the already drastic methods of isolation from the rest of Israel for the leper. This stigma has persisted, and among Gentiles nations as well.

Because of its association with sin, the task of diagnosing leprosy was a matter for the priest rather than for the physician. The person suspected of having a leprous condition was to be brought to the priest, and in Leviticus 13:2 we read: "The priest shall look at the sore on the skin of the body . . . and pronounce him unclean."

The diagnosis had followed a very careful and precise procedure–care was taken to rule correctly–but once the 'unclean' verdict was given the leper came into tragic circumstances indeed. Although alive he was considered as one dead. He was to rend his garments as a sign of mourning, his hair was to be left unkempt, his head bare, his mouth covered with a cloth as with a corpse, and he was not to come near 'clean' people. He was even to cry out 'Unclean! Unclean!'

He was to remove himself outside the camp, to have no contact with his family, and his only companions were other lepers. It was not what the leper had done, but what he had become, that he was considered no longer fit to dwell with the 'clean'.

Sin is the leprosy of the soul. It is spiritual death in physical life, and its remedy is the theme of the Bible from cover to cover. Just as a person can become leprous without being aware of it, as leprosy often destroys the sense of feeling, and its beginnings are often unnoticeable, so it is with sin.

The person affected may realize his condition and be able to hide it for a time, but this would never be able to effect a cure. So a leper is unable to hide his condition for long, nor to decide or diagnose for himself, but even if reluctant had to be brought to the priest.

We are all guilty of transgression. The Law of God is perfect; it reveals the righteousness of God, a standard impossible for man to equal. So according to the Law we are all spiritually unclean. The priest looks upon us and sees our sin, not just what we have done, but what we have become.

"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" David cried in Psalm 51:5. He did not mean that childbirth and conception were sinful, but that he was a sinner from the beginning of his life, because he was a child of Adam, and so inherited his sin nature.

And this does not mean that if we are inherent sinners we are not responsible for our sin. David did not think so. "Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight–that you may be found just when you speak, and blameless when you judge," (Psalm 51:4).

David was admitting his guilt, and he clearly understood that God could not lower His standards for him. He had been brought to the 'Priest' by Nathan, his 'uncleanness' had been revealed, and he now had no recourse but to cast himself on the mercy of God with "a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart" (Psalm 51:17). Only then would his sacrificial offerings be accepted.

The Levitical Procedure

As we consider "the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing" as recorded in Leviticus 14, we see that a person previously 'unclean' could recover, and a special ritual had then to be carried out. He was brought to the priest, but as he could not enter the camp the priest must go out to him.

Once again the involvement of another person was required to do the priest's command: "to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop . . . 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 . . . 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."

When one who realizes that he has the 'leprosy' of sin comes to God with a "broken and contrite heart" he can be cleansed from his sin because out heavenly High Priest, Messiah Jesus, has come "out of the camp" of Heaven to meet our need.

Death is God's judgement on sin, so only death can atone. The bird, a creature of the heavens, is slain in an earthen vessel, so the Son of God takes an 'earthen vessel', a human body, and dies in it, bound to a piece of wood. The live bird, bearing the signs of death, is released, indicating the Messiah's resurrection, His glorified body still bearing the marks of His suffering.

The ex-leper, sprinkled with the blood-water mixture, the repentant sinner is likewise 'sprinkled' with the sacrificial blood of the Messiah. "Without shedding of blood there is no remission" (Letter to the Hebrews 9:22).

The cleansing was done without the aid of the one being cleansed, so we cannot add to the work of the Messiah on the cross. Although at this stage the cleansed leper may not have looked any different, he knew that he was cleansed because the priest said so, and the Word of God said so.

"'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the LORD, 'though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool'" (Isaiah 1:18).

God has left no obstacle in the way of our cleansing. We need only come to Him in repentance and accept the sacrifice that we, like the leper, could not provide for ourselves. "Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile" (Psalm 32:2).