Leviticus 14:1-32 ~ 20160904 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
09/04 Leviticus 14:1-32; Cleansed!; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160904_leviticus-13_1-32.mp3
Completely Leprous and Clean (13:12-13)
Last week we looked at Leviticus 13, a chapter that describes in gross detail different kinds of skin disease, and how to identify if it is the kind of disease that makes one unclean and cuts one off from the community. Common characteristics of skin conditions that were considered unclean were those that appeared to be deeper than the skin, symptoms of a deeper problem, and those that spread, that didn't go away or continued to get worse over time. One curious case that we didn't look at in detail is in Leviticus 13:12-13.
How is it that when the disease breaks out and covers every inch of his flesh, he is clean? Isn't that a clear case of 'unclean'? Is that a typo? If a person cannot point to even one patch of healthy skin, that would seem to make him wholly unclean, but rather the verdict is 'clean' and he is welcomed into the community and into the sanctuary. This seems “a complete paradox to all save those who understand God's mode of dealing with sinners” [CHM p.363]. C.H.Spurgeon said:
Andrew Bonar writes “Is it not when a soul is fully sensible of entire corruption, ...that salvation is nearest? A complete Saviour for a complete sinner?” [Bonar, p.234].
Consequences of Leprous Skin Diseases
Remember, the consequences of being pronounced unclean.
And remember, there was little hope for the one pronounced unclean. The procedure for making that declaration was not hasty or subjective, but when it happened, it was devastating. Separation from family, from friends, from society, from the worshiping community. It was a living death. That makes it so surprising when we get to chapter 14
Leviticus 14 gives instructions for the day of his cleansing, when he is healed. Wait, what? We skipped a chapter. How did the leper get healed? What did he do? What treatments did he undergo? What medication did he take? Last chapter he is kicked out of the community, forced to live alone, to wear the label and declare himself unclean to anyone who would come near. Now he is healed. Did I miss something? If you are the one being declared unclean, don't you want to know what you have to do to get healed? Don't tell me what kind of ceremony I go through after I get healed, I want to know how I get healed. Leviticus has no cure. Leviticus identifies the problem. There is in fact nothing proscribed for the leprous person to do. The only thing a leper can accomplish on his own is making everything he touches unclean. In this passage describing the ceremony for pronouncing the leper clean, he is not the doer. Things are being done to and for him. He shall be brought to the priest. The priest shall go out of the camp. Notice, the diseased person has been excluded from the community, and is not permitted to seek out the priest himself. He is not permitted to enter the camp. The priest must go out to him. Remember, we are Christians, looking for glimpses of Jesus in Leviticus, because it is all about Jesus! Jesus our great High Priest does not remain in glory waiting for us to make our way to him. He comes to us when we are outsiders.
This is one of the most elaborate rituals in the Old Testament. It has some similarities to Numbers 19, where we find rituals for cleansing those who have come in contact with a grave or a dead body. That ceremony also uses cedarwood, scarlet yarn, hyssop, and living water. This connection to another ritual that purifies from contact with death makes sense, because the diseased person who is declared unclean is living in a state of separation as if he were dead. Why these things?
Possibly cedarwood because it is durable and long lasting. King Solomon “spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall” (1 Ki.4:33) as a way to refer inclusively to all plants from the greatest to the least.
A scarlet cord marked out Rahab and her house for deliverance in the destruction of Jericho. Scarlet yarn was used extensively in the construction of the tabernacle, and the uniforms for the priests, so it would be a connection with the sanctuary.
Hyssop was a plant used in the Passover to paint blood on the doorposts of the Hebrew homes. It was used in the covenant making ceremony at the foot of Mt. Sinai to sprinkle the people with blood (Ex.24; cf. Heb.9:19). In David's prayer of confession in Psalm 51 he prays:
Hyssop was used as a sponge to extend the sour wine to Jesus on the cross (Jn.19:29).
Fresh water, literally living water was water that had not been stagnant. Jesus referred to himself as the source of living water (Jn.4:10-11, 7:38).
The earthenware vessel, or clay pot was an ordinary container, basically made out of dirt. 2 Corinthians 4:7 speaks of holding a treasure in jars of clay as a way to describe the dust to dust frailty of our human existence.
I find this ceremony a bit funny. It reminds me a bit of some of the things my brother did to me when I was younger. “hey Rodney, hold these two wires... Stand right here on this X and pull this string... Hold this while I light the fuse”. Something tells me this is not going to end well. So you take these two live birds, and some red string, and a piece of wood, and a plant, and a bucked of water. And you kill one of the birds over the bucket and don't forget to hold on to the live bird. Have you ever killed a bird? That's messy! But don't let go of the live bird. Now dip all the stuff in the bloody water. Yes, the live bird too. It'll be fine. Now use the plant to sprinkle blood all over the guy, but keep holding on to the live bird that you dipped in the blood. Now take the live bird, make sure it's really wet and bloody and let it go...
But even in this strange ritual we can see a picture of Jesus. Living water in a clay pot. Two birds; one clearly representing death, the other possibly picturing resurrection? Blood applied to a diseased person to declare him whole. Remember, all this is done to for the leper, and to the leper. He is not doing anything. He is passive. At the end of this he is pronounced clean.
Washing and Shaving
After he is declared clean, the person being cleansed becomes more involved in the ceremony. Up to this point he could do nothing. Now that he is declared clean he becomes an active participant in the ceremony.
There is a seven day process that includes laundry, shaving and bathing, and returning to the camp, but not going home yet. Shaving is often a sign of mourning or humiliation. Have you ever seen someone who shaved – all their hair – even their eyebrows? This would be especially shocking in a culture that is not to trim the corners of your beard. A man who shaved his beard and every bit of hair off his body would look a little like a newborn baby. Could this be a picture of new life after death, a new birth of sorts? Jesus said 'you must be born again.'
The Eighth Day
The eighth day is a day is a day of new beginnings. The former leper is now welcomed back in the camp, but not yet into his own home. First he must come before the Lord. The former leper who was excluded from the community is now brought in before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. The first sacrifice is a guilt offering, which we learned from Leviticus 5 makes restitution for an unintentional sin against the holy things of the Lord. We were created to bear the image of God and declare his glory, but the leprous skin disease has distorted the image of God in him. He must offer first a guilt offering. But this guilt offering is unique.
This is similar to the ordination offering for the priests, from which some of the blood was applied to different body parts to cleanse their ears from listening to lies and slander, to cleanse their hands from doing wrong, to cleanse their feet from walking away from the Lord. The former leper was then anointed with oil on these same body parts, to set apart his ears to hear the words of the Lord, to do what he commands, to walk in his ways. He was anointed with the oil of gladness, free again to enjoy God's presence.
These are the regular offerings made in the tabernacle or temple. The final 12 verses repeat the eighth day ritual for a leper who cannot afford three lambs. He can substitute pigeons or doves for two of the lambs, but the guilt offering must still be a lamb. The former leper is now fully welcomed back into fellowship with God and with other members of the community. He now no longer carries the stigma of unclean. Atonement has been made and he is clean.
Jesus and Leprosy
Jesus' interaction with a leper is recorded in Matthew 8, Mark 1 and Luke 5.
Remember, the priests had the responsibility to inspect and determine if a person was clean or unclean. They had no power to heal. This leper, full of leprosy, knowing his desperate need, entered a city to find Jesus. He recognized in Jesus something more than the priests. Jesus could heal. Jesus touched this diseased man, and with a word he immediately healed him. A man full of leprosy was transformed instantly. And then Jesus commands him to go get Leviticus 14 done. Go show yourself to the priests make the offering for your cleansing as a proof to them. As a witness, as a testimony to the unbelieving priests. I can just imagine a priest coming back from this encounter. 'Where have you been, and what happened to you?' He's completely splattered in blood, and has a bit of a stunned look on his face. 'You know that Leviticus 14 thing? Oh, you mean with the birds and the string and the wood and the water? Yeah... Wait, that's for cleansing a leper... Yeah...' They may have never used Leviticus 14 before. What is this a testimony of? When John sent disciples to ask Jesus 'are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?'
Cleansing of lepers was a sign that God had come down and the messianic age was unfolding. The system that could merely identify problems without offering any cure was coming to an end. The one who could get to the root of the problem and heal was now on the scene. Jesus is both all-powerful and full of compassion. He is both able and willing to heal. If you will come to Jesus acknowledging that 'in me, that is, in my flesh dwells no good thing' (Romans 7:18)
If you will repent of your dead works and believe in Jesus (Heb.6:1), if you will fall on your face and beg him 'Lord, only you can make me clean', Jesus will stretch out his hand and touch you right where you are, as you are, in all your filth and uncleanness, and even today, based on his finished work, he will say 'I will, be clean'.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org