Part of what the leprosy laws proclaim to us is that the central, highest calling of man is to worship his maker. Worship is central. Worship moves the world. When God restores men and women to worship, He is restoring their humanity, which in turn, by His grace, restores the world. Christ is saving the world by drawing the world to worship.
“This shall the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought unto the priest…” (Lev. 13-14)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
A number of skin diseases and blemishes are described, requiring the priests to examine and reexamine over time to determine whether an Israelite was clean or unclean (13:1-44). If the person is determined to be unclean in an ongoing way, he was declared “utterly unclean,” and he was required to be quarantined outside the camp (13:44-46). Garments could also be infected by plague, and these needed to be examined and tested (13:47-59). For cleansing, two living birds were chosen: one was killed in an earthen vessel over water, the other was dipped together with cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop in the blood of the bird that was killed; it would be sprinkled on the one being cleansed and then the living bird would be released (13:1-7). The cleansed leper was completely shaved and washed and brought back into the camp, but waited for seven days, before being shaved and washed again (13:8-10). On the eighth day, three lambs were chosen, one for a trespass offering, one for a sin offering, and one for an ascension offering: some of the blood of the trespass offering was put on the right ear, the right hand, and the right big toe of the one being cleansed (14:11-14). And the same thing was done with oil (14:15-20). Finally, provisions were made for those who could not afford the lambs (14:21-32).
CLEANSING FOR WORSHIP
Remember that the designations for “clean/unclean” primarily designate who could draw near to God in worship. The clearest indication of this is the fact that the cleansing of the lepers almost exactly mirrors the ordination of the priests (cf. Lev. 8), particularly the seven days and the blood on the earlobes, thumbs, and big toes (Lev. 14:14). God was certainly using this ceremonial code to teach Israel about basic hygiene and health, but the primary point was that God is the source of all life and health and blessing. “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases” (Psa. 103:3). This means we ought rather to obey God than do what seems right to us. Remember Naaman the Syrian leper who was initially offended by the prophet’s instruction to bathe in a dirty Jordan River seven times (2 Kgs. 5:10). If we live in a land full of idolatry and perversion, failing to worship the Living God in the beauty of holiness, how can we be surprised if we are struck with diseases (cf. Dt. 28:60)? If Jesus says we ought be baptized, then we ought to be baptized. If He tells us to sing the Psalms, we ought to sing the Psalms. If He tells us to share bread and wine with joy, we ought to obey Him. Worship and its efficacy are God’s prerogative, not ours.
JESUS REVERSES THE CURSE
One of the great lessons of the purity codes of Israel was that under the Old Covenant, the curse of sin was infectious. In the New Covenant, sin can still be very deadly (2 Cor. 6:17); bitterness still defiles many (Heb. 12:15). But because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, grace and healing have become more infectious. Where sin had abounded, grace abounds still more (Rom. 5:20). This is demonstrated when Jesus touches lepers or is touched by the unclean, and instead of Jesus becoming unclean, the unclean are cleansed: “And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, ‘I will; be thou clean’” (Mk. 1:41, cf. Mk. 3:10). Remember the woman with the flow of blood who touched Jesus, but instead of making Him (or his garment) unclean, power went out from Him and cleansed her (Mk. 5:28-30). This is because Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5).
Quarantines for the sick are biblical, but quarantines for the healthy are wicked. We see in these texts that God made the world such that there are visible indicators of infection and disease. The scientific ramifications for Leviticus 13 are tremendous. While there is much that we still do not understand, and there will no doubt be deep mysteries into the resurrection, the world is rational and knowable because God is rational and knowable, not random or capricious.
The heart of true worship is gratitude. Remember the Samaritan leper who was cleansed and came back and worshiped Jesus (Lk. 17:16). Our reasons for gratitude are manifold: gratitude for health and medicine, all of creation and beauty, answered prayers and our families, and every detail that points to our cleansing and redemption in the blood of Jesus. Jesus died that we might be sprinkled and set free. Jesus died that we might be sprinkled and drawn near to the Living God with His blessing on our lives, so that all things might be made new.