THE FORM OF PURIFICATION OF THE LEPER (Leviticus 14:1-32). This is the most minute of all the forms of purification, those for purification from contact with a dead body (Numbers 19:1-22) and for the cleansing of a defiled Nazarite (Numbers 6:1-27) being alone to be compared with it in this respect. Some purifications were accomplished, as we have seen, in a very summary manner: one who touched the carcass of a beast that had died a natural death had only to wash his clothes (Leviticus 11:40). The greater and more significative the defilement, the more careful and the more significative must be the cleansing. Leprous uncleanness excluded the leper both from the camp and from the sanctuary, from the rights both of citizen. ship and of Church-membership, with which the rights of the family were also associated; consequently there had to be a double form of restoration, each with its special ceremonies. The manner of the first reconciliation is detailed in Leviticus 14:1-8, of the second in Leviticus 14:9-32.
This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing. The ceremonies in the first stage of cleansing, which restored the outcast to the common life of his fellows, were the following:
1. The priest formally examined the leper outside the camp, and made up his mind that he was clean.
2. An earthen vessel was brought with fresh water, and one of two birds was killed, and its blood was allowed to run into this water.
3. The other bird was taken and dipped in the vessel, with a piece of cedar wood and hyssop, which had first been tied together by a band of scarlet wool; and the leper was sprinkled seven times with the blood and water dripping from the feathers of the living bird.
4. The priest pronounced the man clean.
5. The bird was let fly into the open field.
6. The man washed his clothes, shaved his whole body, and bathed.
7. He returned within the camp, but not yet to his tent.
The priest. The agent is stilt the priest, not the physician. The priest shall go forth out of the camp. "May we not (as Hesychius suggests) see a figure here of the compassion of our Great High Priest, who has gone forth out of heaven itself, the camp of angel hosts, and has come down to earth, not only to examine but to heal tile moral leprosy of sin, 'to seek and to save the lost' (Luke 19:10), and who carefully examines and scrutinizes all the secrets of all hearts (Hebrews 4:12)? And he was exempt from all contagion of sin while he lived and moved among sinners (Matthew 9:11; Luke 15:1), and was 'holy, harmless, and undefiled' (Hebrews 7:26)" (Wordsworth). And the priest shall look. In later times it was ordered that the examination was not to take place on the sabbath, nor in the early morning, nor in the late afternoon, nor inside a house, nor on a cloudy day, nor in the glare of midday, and that the priest must have good eyesight, and only determine one case at a time; nor was he allowed to pronounce judgment on his own kindred. And, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper. The plague of leprosy is healed before the ceremony of purification begins, but the leper is not pronounced clean until he has been sprinkled with the blood and water (Leviticus 14:7).
Cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop. "Cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet ' are also to be burnt with the red heifer for the ashes for the water of separation (Numbers 19:6), and they appear to have been commonly employed in purifications (Hebrews 9:19). The antiseptic properties of cedar made it peculiarly suitable for such occasions. The hyssop "was probably not the plant which we call hyssop, the Hyssopus officinalis. for it is uncertain whether this is to be found in Syria and Arabia, but a species of origanum resembling hyssop, the Arabian zater, either wild marjoram, or a kind of thyme" (Keil on Exodus 12:21). The Psalmist's cry, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be chart" (Psalms 51:7), shows the common use to which it was put. In the present case, the sweet smell both of the wood (one cubit's length of which was used) and of the herb would have still further adapted them for symbolizing the redemption of the leper's flesh from corruption and putrefaction. The scarlet was probably a band of scarlet wool with which the cedar and the hyssop were tied—not to the bird (for we have no account of their being after, wards removed), but (as in the burning of the red heifer) one to the other. The colour of the wool was appropriate, not only because it was about to be dipped in the blood and water, but also because it symbolized the purified and now healthy blood.
One of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. A small quantity of water was placed in an earthenware dish, and one of the birds was killed over the dish in such a way that the blood dripped into the water. The water was needed, as there would not have been sufficient blood in the bird for the seven sprinklings which were to be made. It was to be running, literally, living, water; that is, fresh water taken from a fountain or a running stream, in order that it might be as pure as possible. Symbolically, the cleansing power of water as well as of blood is indicated.
As for the living bird, he shall take it. The wings and tail of the bird were extended, and in this position it was dipped into the blood and water in the earthenware dish, and with it, the bunch made up of cedar, hyssop, and scarlet wool.
And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times. It is not certain whether the seven sprinklings were made upon the forehead of the person to be cleansed, or on the back of his hand. The feathers of the bird and the bunch of hyssop would be specially instrumental in the seven sprinklings. And shall pronounce him clean. Having assured himself that he was healed (Leviticus 14:3), the priest now pronounces him to be clean, he looses as well as binds. It had been his office to declare the man a leper, and thereby to shut him out from the people of the Lord (Leviticus 13:8, Leviticus 13:15, Leviticus 13:22, Leviticus 13:25, Leviticus 13:36, Leviticus 13:44, Leviticus 13:46). Now he pronounces him to be no leper, and therefore, after some further ceremonies, readmits him (Leviticus 14:8, Leviticus 14:20, Leviticus 14:31). And shall let the living bird loose into the open field. The symbolism of the two birds, which has been much misinterpreted, is essentially the same as that of the two goats on the day of atonement, though each ceremony has its distinctive features. The killing of the living bird was not a true sacrifice, as was the offering of the goat to Jehovah, but by its death it represented the state in which the leper had legally been, and to which he would have been physically reduced had not a remedy been found. The deathly and unclean state of the leper having been symbolically transferred from the dead bird to the living bird by the latter's being sprinkled in the former's blood, the living bird stands in the position of the scapegoat, on whom the sins of the people were laid. The bird is then let loose into the open field; literally, upon the face of the field; and it flies off, carrying with it the leper's uncleanness, and assuring him by every forward movement that it makes that the living death has passed from him, just as each step or' the scapegoat appeared to the Israelites to remove their sins from them. A large number of commentators, on the other hand, consider the released bird to symbolize the health and freedom now given back to the leper, and they dwell on the rapid and uncontrolled movement of birds as being peculiarly suitable for representing this recovered liberty. But this interpretation, to which there are many objections, appears to be altogether incompatible with the fact that the same ceremony is used in the cleansing of the leprous house, whereas the house could certainly not be represented as "recovered to unrestrained liberty" (Lunge). The common patristic view, that the two birds represent the two natures of the one Great Sacrifice offered to redeem man from sin, seems to be out of place here.
After the healed leper has washed his clothes, and shaved off all his hair, and washed himself with water, so as to leave no remnant of his former defilement that can be removed, the first stage of his purification is over. He is restored to the camp, but not yet to the sanctuary, nor to his position as head or member of his family. He has still to undergo another week's purgation, and until that time has elapsed he may not live in his tent.
The ceremonies in the second stage of cleansing, which restored the late outcast to his home and to his covenant-right, were the following;
1. At the end of seven days he repeated the process of washing, shaving, and bathing.
2. On the eighth day he brought a lamb for a trespass offering, a leg of oil, a meat offering, a sin offering, and a burnt offering.
3. The priest that officiated at the cleansing presented him and his offerings at the door of the tabernacle.
4. He offered the trespass offering and the log of oil for him.
5. He slew the trespass offering and put some of the blood of it on different parts of the man's body.
6. He poured some of the oil into his left hand, and having sprinkled some of it seven times before the Lord, he placed some of it on those parts of the man's body on which the blood had been placed, and poured the rest upon his head.
7. He offered the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the meat offering.
But it shall be on the seventh day. The pause for seven days, followed by placing the blood on the tip of the right ear, and on the thumb of the right hand, and on the great toe of the right foot, and the subsequent anointing with off, irresistibly call to mind the ceremonies of the consecration of priests (Leviticus 8:35, Leviticus 8:23, Leviticus 8:24, Leviticus 8:12, Leviticus 8:30), and no doubt they are intended to do so. The whole nation was in a sense a priestly nation, and the restoration of the lapsed member to his rights was therefore a quasi-consecration.
On the eighth day he shall take two he lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, and three tenth deals of fine flour. Every sacrifice is to be provided and offered by the restored leper, except the peace offering. It is certainly singular that the peace offering should be omitted, and that the trespass offering should be required. The former fact may be accounted for by the supposition that though the peace offering was not required, the late leper was, after his other sacrifices, put in a position where he might offer it when he would of his own free will. But the requirement of the trespass offering is more difficult to explain. What wrong had the leper done? and what satisfaction had he to make? The usual answer to this question is that he had wronged Jehovah in that, however involuntarily, he had failed to bring him the offerings and service which he would have brought had he not been excluded from the camp. But this is a very forced explanation, and it is incompatible with other parts of the Law. For the leper was not the only unclean person who, owing to his uncleanness, was prevented from offering his gifts and worship at the tabernacle or temple. The woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years (Luke 8:43) during that time would have been excluded from the sanctuary. But no trespass offering is required of those that have been unclean through issues. We must therefore, look for some other explanation of the requirement in the case of the cleansed leper. And a simpler one is at hand. Leprosy was the type of sin—or all sin whatsoever. When, therefore, the expiatory sacrifices were demanded, both kinds—the trespass offering and the sin offering—had to be offered, because expiation had to be made for the uncleanness which represented all unrighteousness—trespasses as well as sins. It might be that the man had not committed a trespass; he might also not hive committed sin; but he had been stricken with the foul disease which symbolized both one and the other, and therefore he had to offer on his cleansing the sacrifice appropriate to each. There is a difference in the ritual of the trespass offering in the present ease, intended perhaps to distinguish it from those trespass offerings which were made when a man had in his mind a certain wrong or injury which he had committed, and for which he wished to make compensation. On this occasion
The log of oil, amounting to something more than half a pint, is waved by the priest, together with the lamb for the trespass offering, as a wave offering before the Lord, in order that a special consecration may be given them. They thus become qualified for the purposes for which they are presently used.
And the priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed. The Mishna describes the ceremony as follows:—"The leper stands before the trespass offering, lays his hand upon it and kills it. Two priests catch up the blood one in a vessel, the other in his band. He who catches it up in the vessel goes and throws it on the side of the altar, and he who catches it in his hand goes and stands before the leper. And the leper who had previously bathed in the court of the lepers, goes and stands in the gate of Nicanor. Rabbi Jehudah says he needs not bathe. He thrusts in his head, and the priest puts of the blood upon the tip of his ear; he thrusts in his hand, and he puts it upon the thumb of his hand; he thrusts in his foot, and he puts it upon the great toe of his foot" ('Negaim,' 14.7, quoted by Edersheim, 'Temple Service,' Leviticus 18:1-30.). No doubt, the ear, the thumb, and the great toe are selected for the purpose of showing, as in the case of the consecration of the priest, that the senses and the active powers of the restored Israelite must be dedicated hence, forth to God.
And the priest shall take some of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand. This ceremony is altogether peculiar to this purification. The joint use of blood and oil is not singular (see Le Leviticus 8:30), but elsewhere there is no sprinkling of the oil … seven times before the Lord, and in the consecration of priests there was no anointing of the different members with oil as well as with blood. The Mishua (as before cited) continues the description of the ceremony as follows:—"The priest now takes from the log of oil and pours it into the palm of his colleague, though if he poured it into his own it were valid. He dips his finger and sprinkles seven times towards the holy of holies, dipping each time he sprinkles. He goes before the leper, and on the spot where he had put the blood he puts the oil, as it is written, 'Upon the blood of the trespass offering.' And the remnant of the oil that is in the priest's hand, he pours on the head of him that is cleansed, for an atonement; if he so puts it, he is atoned for, but if not, he is not atoned for. So Rabbi Akiba. Rabbi Jochanan, the son of Nuri, saith, This is only the remnant of the ordinance, whether it be done or not, the atonement is made; but they impute it to him (the priest), as if he had not made atonement." The double sprinkling with blood and oil betokened dedication as in the case of the priests, the blood specially denoting reconciliation, and the oil the strengthening power of God by which the new life was to be led.
Leviticus 14:19, Leviticus 14:20
The priest shall offer the sin offering. The sin offering is due, according to the regulation given in Leviticus 5:3, in consequence of the man having been in a state of uncleanness. It is followed by the burnt offering and the meat offering, and then the man is restored to his state of legal cleanness, and of communion with God as well as with his fellows
And if he be poor, and cannot get so much. The concession to poverty consists in the substitution of two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, for the two lambs required for the sin offering and the burnt offering, and one tenth-deal of flour for three tenth-deals of flour in the meat offering. But no difference is made as to the lamb required for the trespass offering, or the log of oil. These must be provided by the poor as well as by the rich, and the ceremonies used at their offering must be the same for poor and rich, as they are essential to the rite,
The cleansing of the leper represents the absolution of the sinner,
as his exclusion from the camp represented spiritual excommunication.
I. THE LAW OF CHRISTIAN EXCOMMUNICATION AND ABSOLUTION, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19). "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18). "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:23).
II. THE USE OF KEYS.
1. To admit.
2. To shut out.
3. To readmit.
1. The spiritual keys are used by God's ministers for the purpose of admission, whenever they introduce into Christ's kingdom, the Church, a new member by the use of the initiatory rite of baptism, which they are commissioned to employ for that end.
2. They are used for the purpose of exclusion, whenever the Church, or any duly constituted section of the Church, following the example of the Corinthian Church, as instructed and guided by St. Paul, shuts out from its fold one who has been guilty of gross immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-13) or of depraving the faith (1 Timothy 1:20), and continues obstinate in his sin.
3. They are used for the purpose of readmission, when the Church has become satisfied that the sinner whom she had excluded from her fold has ceased to be a sinner, and thereupon, like the Corinthian Church, once more under the direction of St. Paul, "forgives him and comforts him, lest such an one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow," and confirms its love towards him (2 Corinthians 2:7, 2 Corinthians 2:8).
III. THE FORMS FOR ADMISSION, EXCLUSION, AND READMISSION IN THE OLD AND NEW DISPENSATIONS. The form of admission into covenant with himself is, as we should expect, fixed by Divine authority in both dispensations. In the old dispensation it was circumcision. "Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations,… and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:10-13). In the New Testament it is baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. "Go ye therefore, and teach (make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19). "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26, Galatians 3:27). These forms are unchangeable by any human authority.
The form of exclusion from the covenant people was not so definitely fixed under the old as the new dispensation. In the former it is ordained that for various transgressions a soul shall be cut off. "The uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant' (Genesis 17:14). "If a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness, both of them shall be cut off from among their people" (Leviticus 20:18). But it is only in the case of leprosy that the method of exclusion is given in detail. There we have seen that it is to consist of a careful examination on the part of God's priest, and a pronunciation by him of the undoubted existence of the uncleanness in the person suspected, after which the latter is to exhibit all the signs of one mourning for himself as dead, to dwell alone, and" without the camp shall his habitation be" (Leviticus 13:45, Leviticus 13:46). So in the New Testament the power of "binding" as well as of "loosing," and of "retaining" bound as well as of "forgiving," is granted, and the obligation of exerting this power is involved in its grant; but no especial form by which it is to be done is given. It is only in the case of the incestuous Corinthian that we have an example of the way in which St. Paul judges that it shall be done. From thence it appears that the decision is to be passed by the chief Church officer, in the name of Jesus Christ, and promulgated by the assembled Church, the result being that the offender is translated from the kingdom of Christ to the outer world, the kingdom of Satan, "for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).
Nor is there any form definitely appointed either in the old or in the new dispensation for the readmission of those that had been cast out. No doubt in the old dispensation, it was always effected by the means of sacrifice, but we have a definite statement of the form adopted only in the case of reconciliation after leprosy. This form we have seen to be very elaborate and significative. Similarly in the new dispensation, we find no form authoritatively given for the restoration of the penitent; only we have, as before, the instance of the incestuous Corinthian, from which we learn that after sufficient punishment such a one is to be forgiven and taken back to the love of the brethren; and we have the general principle laid down elsewhere, "If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1).
The fact of a divinely authorized form being given for admission into covenant with God, but none for exclusion from it by excommunication or readmission to it by absolution, is significant. The first is under the new dispensation a sacrament ordained of Christ; the others are ecclesiastical rites, valuable for the well-being of the Church, but not appointed by its Founder as a necessary condition of its existence.
IV. THE OFFICE OF THE PRIEST IS CLEANSING,
1. He did not cure the leprosy.
"If the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper" (Leviticus 14:3), then the priest shall begin the cleansing ceremonies. The healing of the disease was the work of God.
2. The action of the priest is necessary for the cleansing. If the healing is the work of God, the cleansing is the work of the priest. It is a complex ceremonial act, the result of which is not to deliver from the leprosy, but to serve as an assurance to the man himself and to the whole community that he is delivered from it, and therefore fit to be reinstated, and by that act reinstated, in the position of full communion which he had lost. So with absolution; it is God alone that forgives and heals sin. But after this has been accomplished, still it is necessary that a solemn ecclesiastical ceremony should reinstate in the communion of the faithful one who has been formally severed from it. And where the formal act of severance has not taken place, but a man's distressed conscience tells him that he has separated himself from God, and can hardly allow him to believe in his forgiveness, the solemn declaration of that forgiveness by God's minister serves as an assurance to the trembling soul, and restores to him the sense of peace which was lost.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The cleansing of sin as illustrated in the cleansing of the leper.
cf. 2 Kings 5:1-27; Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-15. We have seen the possibility of a cure of leprosy in the directions for its diagnosis given to the priests. The cured leper had also to be cleansed before admitted to the society of the faithful. In this chapter we have the cleansing of the leper detailed. In this we are to discern the cleansing of sin.
Naaman's case is instructive upon this point. He was cured by Divine power. But be was not ceremonially cleansed or received into the fellowship of the Church of God. In his case the two elements of cure and cleansing were separated. But when our Lord directed the cured leper to go and offer for his cleansing, the gift that Moses commanded for a testimony unto them, the elements were united. In the case of the cure of the leprosy of sin and its concomitant, the cleansing, the Great Physician who cures and the Priest who cleanses are one. It is our Divine Saviour who accomplishes both.
I. WE MUST NOT CONFOUND THE CURE WITH THE CLEANSING OF SIN. The cure of sin is the sanctification of the inward nature, the imparting of the principle of righteousness, the regeneration of the once unholy nature. This is quite distinct from the cleansing which proceeds from the blood of Jesus Christ. In the latter case there is a justification through faith in his blood, so that we are accepted as well as pardoned on the ground of his merits. The one is a work of God in us, the other is a work of God on us. We are not accepted because we are regenerated; we are accepted "in the Beloved." The leper was not accepted on the ground of his cure, but on the ground of his sacrifice. The ritual of the leper is, therefore, admirably adapted to keep the two ideas distinct of justification and sanctification.
II. THE RESTORATION OF THE LEPER EMBRACED TWO STAGES, WHICH HAVE THEIR COUNTERPART IN THE EXPERIENCE OF THE SINNER. These stages are first, the restoration of the leper to the society of the living, and, secondly, his restoration to the society of the saints.
1. Restoration to the society of the living. The priest was directed to go to the leper outside the camp, and if he was satisfied about his cure, then he was to receive on the leper's behalf "two live birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop," One of these is to be killed in an earthen vessel over running water, and its blood mingled with the water in the vessel. Of the cedar wood, scarlet wool, and hyssop the priest is to make a brush, in which he is temporarily to tie the remaining live bird, and having dipped them in the blood and water, he is to sprinkle therewith the leper seven times, pronouncing him clean, and then let the live bird free, The leper is then to wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, wash himself carefully, and come into the camp, waiting, however, a week before taking up his permanent abode in his own tent.
Now, it seems clear that in this first stage of the leper's restoration the live bird, baptized with water and blood, and then let loose to join its mates in the open fields, was a symbol of the healed leper, now to be restored to the fellowship of men. It has been, indeed, said that the live bird here is parallel to the live goat on the Day of Atonement, and should rather be supposed to carry the leper's sin away. But, inasmuch as the live bird here receives a similar baptism to the leper himself, the first interpretation is preferable. Living water and blood, therefore, are the elements of the leper's purification—symbols of the Spirit and the blood of Jesus Christ. The brush of hyssop was the means by which these were applied to the leper, and might fittingly represent the Word of God, immortal like the cedar, humiliating like the hyssop, and invigorating like the "coccus-wool," by which the atonement and Spirit of Christ are applied to the sinful soul. It is thus by the blood of Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus that the soul, dead through the leprosy of sin, is restored to the society of the living. "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).
2. Restoration to the society of the saints. After seven days' sojourn in the camp, but not in his own tent, the leper was allowed to approach the tabernacle with two he-lambs without blemish, one ewe-lamb without blemish of the first year, and three tenth-deals of fine flour for a moat offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil. These were to be used as a trespass offering, a sin offering, and a burnt offering. These suggest respectively a sense of unprofitableness or shortcoming, atonement, and personal consecration. The blood of the trespass offering is to be applied to the right ear, thumb of right hand, and great toe of the right foot, and the oil of consecration to be added thereto. This corresponds exactly to the consecration of the priests (Luke 8:1-56). It suggests that it is out ode a sense of past unprofitableness that future consecration comes (cf. Luke 17:5-10). It is when we realize how we have wronged our Lord that we are prepared to live, not unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us, as our atoning Sacrifice, and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:14, 2 Corinthians 5:15). In case of the poverty of the leper, he is instructed to bring one lamb for the trespass offering, with turtle-doves or young pigeons, in place of two additional lambs, for the sin offering and burnt offering, and a smaller meat offering, But the emphasis being laid on the trespass offering is surely to show that a sinner, when quickened by the Lord, is to sincerely lament the profitless, isolated life he lived, and to resolve to dedicate himself with full purpose of heart to the service of the Saviour whose blood has taken away his sin. The saints are those who begin in a sense of trespass a life of grateful devotion.
III. MAN'S HOME IS TO BE CLEANSED AND RESTORED IN THE SAME SPIRIT AS HIMSELF. The priest is directed to investigate a plagued house, and if by the use of prompt measures the plague is stayed and extirpated, then the first part of the ritual is to be carried out. One live bird is to be killed over the running water, and the house sprinkled with the blood and water as before, and then the other live bird liberated. Thus was the restoration of the house to the society of its mates, so to speak, symbolized. We have already taken this to indicate the careful purification of our environment, and there is no more important duty attaching to the religious man. Atonement is due, not only for the sin as it affects the person, but for sin in its ravages in the world. This blighted world of ours has need of atoning blood, and purification even by fire, before it can be restored to the favour of God. Christ has consecrated it through his blood, and his providence and Spirit will yet make the requisite arrangement for its complete purification and restoration to the holy.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The ceremonies here enjoined in the event of leprosy being healed suggest four things.
I. AN INTERESTING PASSAGE IN THE LIFE OF OUR LORD. Our Saviour's experiences may be divided into:
Of these the last may be the least important, but they will never be unimportant. They will always remain one strong, convincing proof of his Godhead. And of these works the healing of leprosy—incurable by human art—was one of the most decisive. In this work of mercy, more vividly than in any other, we see him before us as the Divine Healer of the sin-smitten heart of man. Great interest belongs, therefore, to the incident related in Luke 5:12-15. And in the instruction given in Luke 5:14 we see our Divine Lord:
II. THE CONSIDERATION WE OWE TO OUR FELLOW-MEN. In virtue of the Divine precept the leper might not enter human society. But this was not the only ground of exclusion; by reason of the character of his malady he was wholly unfit to enter. Once exiled, therefore, he might not return until every guarantee had been given that he was "whole," until numerous and prolonged ceremonies of cleansing had removed all stigma from him, and made him likely to receive a cordial welcome back. Hence the elaborate ceremonial of the text:
When by any folly or guilt of ours we have incurred the distrust or dislike of our brethren, it is due to them that we should give them every possible guarantee of our "cleanness," our integrity of heart and life, before they abandon their suspicion and give us again their cordial confidence. Society has a right to require that the man whom it has necessarily shunned is pure of his moral and spiritual malady. We may be unable to gain any certificate of character, but we may, to regain confidence and readmission to human fellowship,
III. THE OBLIGATIONS OF OFFICE. Those who hold high office have sometimes uninviting duties to discharge. The priests of Israel held honourable rank in the nation; doubtless they received a large share of public deference, and were regarded as those who occupied an enviable position. But their duties embraced some offices from which the humblest in the land might shrink. They had to make a most careful examination of the man who believed himself healed of leprosy. Probably, in their eagerness to return to the camp, these afflicted ones often sought readmission when the disease was still upon them. But the priest must examine all who came, clean or unclean. Those who now hold honourable positions in society (the minister, the medical man, etc.) must hold themselves ready, not only to do those duties which are inviting and congenial, but those also which are unpleasant and even painful, whether to the flesh or to the spirit.
IV. THE OUTLOOK OF HUMAN MISERY. What was the prospect of the exiled leper? Human art had given him up as incurable, and human fellowship had cast him out as unworthy. What could he hope for? There were only two possible remedies—a Divine cure or the grave; the one blessed enough but sadly improbable, the other sad enough but a welcome certainty. If for a while we look at leprosy as the picture, not of human sin, but of human misery, we may be reminded that, for a Christian man, there are two remedies:
Admission (or readmission).
When leprosy had departed from the flesh, he who had been, but no longer remained, a leper was, in the sight of Jehovah and of his people, still ceremonially unclean. He was in a bodily condition which made him readmissible to Divine and human fellowship, but he must first "be cleansed" (Leviticus 14:4) before he would be readmitted. The ceremonies here prescribed give a picture of our readmission to the favour of God and the fellowship of his people.
I. SACRIFICE OF ANOTHER'S LIFE. As a "clean bird" (Leviticus 14:4) was taken and its blood was shed (Leviticus 14:5), as the life-blood of the pure and innocent creature was poured out that the leper might be clean and pure in the sight of God, so is the life-blood of the spotless Lamb shed for us. There must be for our acceptance and admission, or readmission after backsliding, a "sacrifice for sin."
II. PERSONAL APPLICATION OF THAT SACRIFICE. "He shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed … seven times" (Leviticus 14:7). "The living bird" was to be "dipped in the blood of the bird that was killed." Here is the truth that if the "blood of Christ" is to be effectual for our salvation, it must be applied to our individual conscience. We who seek to be cleansed from all iniquity and condemnation, must ourselves personally apply for mercy through the shed blood of the Redeemer. By an act of living faith we must bathe in the "fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness."
III. PERSONAL PUTTING AWAY OF DEFILEMENT, The leper was to "wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean." And again, after a week's interval, was to shave and to wash, removing all his hair, even to the eyebrows (Leviticus 14:9); everything about him that could in any possible way be defiled by the plague was to be carefully removed. So, if we are to be admitted (or readmitted) to God's favour and man's communion, we must deliberately put away from ourselves, from heart and life, every evil way, everything which is, or may be, tainted with iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19).
IV. DIVINE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF OUR INTEGRITY. Everything here pointed to the fact that the Divine Ruler of Israel was prepared to acknowledge the cleanness of the leper. The water was to be "running water" (Leviticus 14:5)—pure, as opposed to that which was stagnant and foul; "cedar wood" was to be used (Leviticus 14:6), type of that which is fragrant and healthful; the "scarlet" wool (Leviticus 14:6) hinted the red and healthy blood, which had been impure but was so no longer; "hyssop" (Leviticus 14:6) was suggestive of fragrance; but that which, above all, was indicative of God's acknowledgment of the wholeness of the leper was the action respecting the living bird: that was released, let "loose into the open field" (Leviticus 14:7). This either signified that the uncleanness of the leper was borne away on the wings of the bird, where it should never be found again (a similar institution to the scapegoat, Le Leviticus 16:22, Leviticus 16:23), or that the leper was thenceforth free to go whithersoever he pleased. Either way, it expressed symbolically the truth that there was reinstatement for the man who had been healed in the privileges he had forfeited. We have in the Scriptures every possible assurance that "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," are followed by fullness of Divine favour. The returned prodigal has the kiss of reconciliation, the ring and robe of honour, and the feast of joy. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God … and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:1, Romans 5:2). The soul that is healed of its sore disease is pronounced clean in the sight of God, and is free of its Father's house, to enter its many rooms and partake of its many joys.—C.
Final rites of readmission.
By the series of final rites of restoration recorded in these verses, the leper once more took his place as one of a holy nation admitted to the presence of God: he was "presented before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle," etc. (Leviticus 14:10). His formal acceptance at the house of the Lord, and entrance again on the privileges of the peculiar people, reminds us that our entrance, whether in the first instance or after backsliding and return, upon the fullness of sacred privilege must be—
I. ATTENDED WITH HUMILITY. The leper was to bring his sin offering, which must be slain in the holy place (Leviticus 14:13, Leviticus 14:19). Over the head of the animal he was to confess his sin, and then, with his guilt thus transferred, the blood of the sin offering atoned for past wrong. All approaches to God by the human spirit should be accompanied with a sense of unworthiness. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).
II. IS THE SPIRIT OF CONSECRATION. The leper was to bring his burnt offering as well as his sin offering (Leviticus 14:13, Leviticus 14:19, Leviticus 14:20). By this he symbolically presented himself wholly unto the Lord, laid himself on the altar of sacred service. When we turn, or return unto God it must be in the sprat' ' of full, unreserved dedication. We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, our reasonable (i.e. rational, spiritual) service" (Romans 12:1).
III. IN THE SPIRIT OF THANKFUL JOY. The leper was to bring "three tenth deals of line flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil" (Leviticus 14:10, Leviticus 14:20). This was a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, rendered under a sense of deep indebtedness for Divine bounty. It was certainly suitable enough in the case of the leper, whose malady had been removed by the healing hand of God. Nor is the consciousness of our deep indebtedness, the presentation of our utmost thanks, one whit less becoming, less demanded and required of God, when we come to his house, or to the table of the Lord, after months or years, or a life of absence, negligence, estrangement, it should be with hearts overflowing with holy gratitude and. sacred joy that we present ourselves before him.
IV. WITH A SENSE OF GOD'S FULL ACCEPTANCE OF OUR WHOLE HEART AND LIFE. There was one very significant ceremony through which the leper who was being cleansed had to pass: the priest was to put some of the blood of the trespass offering upon the tip of the right ear, and the thumb of the right hand, and the great toe of the right foot (Leviticus 14:14). Afterwards the priest did the same thing with the oil, pouring the remnant of the oil upon the leper's head (Leviticus 14:17, Leviticus 14:18). The application of the blood of atonement to these bodily extremities indicated God's acceptance of the leper throughout the entire man; every part of him was now holy unto the Lord; even every part of that bodily frame which had been the very picture and type of all uncleanness. The application of the oil denoted that the leper was thenceforth to regard himself as God's accepted servant in every sphere of human action; he was to be:
1. A reverent waiter and watcher before God, eagerly learning his will.
2. An active, industrious minister, doing his work in every way open to him.
3. A conscientious exemplar, walking in the ways of the Lord blameless. We, too, returning unto God, pleading the blood of the Lamb, offering ourselves unto him, reverently rejoicing in his mercy, are to understand and realize that
If there had been one parenthetical verso introduced or added intimating that Divine allowance would be made for the poor, we should have thought that sufficient for the purpose. But we have more than that here. We have legislation for the poor fully stated, and the whole body of injunctions restated for their especial benefit (Leviticus 14:21-32). This brings out into hold relief God's mindfulness of the peculiar necessities of men—his Divine considerateness. We see illustrations of this in—
I. SACRIFICES BROUGHT TO HIS ALTAR. Notably this kindly provision for the poor in the case of the healed leper; but not this alone (see Le Leviticus 5:7; Leviticus 12:8).
II. GIFTS BROUGHT TO HIS TREASURY. The widow with her two mites cast in more, weighed in the balances of heaven, than did the rich with their abundance (Mark 7:1-37 :41-44; see 2 Corinthians 8:12).
III. OUR POWERS IN CHRIST'S SERVICE. To him who having received two talents gained two others beside them, was accorded by the Lord, when he returned and reckoned with his servants, approval quite as cordial as that rendered to him who having received five talents gained five talents more (Matthew 25:19-23). Equally cordial would have been the welcome to him who had been entrusted with only one, if he had gained one talent beside that.
IV. OUR STRUGGLE WITH TEMPTATION. When the agonizing Master returned and found those he left to watch and pray "asleep, for their eyes were heavy," he gently rebuked them; but he considerately extenuated their fault by saying, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak "(Matthew 26:40, Matthew 26:41). "He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust."
V. OUR ENDURANCE OF EVIL. God sends us privation, sickness, disappointment, perplexity, loss,