The Lesson of the Leper - Leviticus 13 & 14 - by Keith Petersen
It should be of considerable interest to every inquiring Christian to understand God’s estimate of sin.
The first necessity is to understand the Biblical definition of sin. This is of all importance. We can not properly proceed up the Christian path here until this is understood. If we do not properly recognize the nature of sin we can not effectively implement God’s judgment of sin and thus we will render an incomplete testimony as to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
John writes in the 3rd chapter of his 1st epistle that “sin is lawlessness” and this is the literal translation of the original Greek. Some translations – including the KJV which is in most ways a substantially solid translation – state that “sin is the transgression of the law.” However, as has been pointed out, sin was in the world – and, death as a result – before the law was given, and this fact renders that translation inaccurate. It may be considered that the two translations listed above amount to the same result; however, this is avowedly not so since then it could be argued from the 2nd translation above that any who lived before the law was given to Moses would have that as a basis to excuse themselves from the guilt of sin – and this cannot be so since Romans 5 shows that “by one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death; and thus death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”.
Reflexively, the proper definition of sin must be vital to the understanding of the nature – and, in result, the activity – of sin. Thus, the Bible translator shows that the Greek phrase “sin is lawlessness” (which is, also, a reciprocal statement – i.e., “lawlessness is sin”) is “the absence of the principle of law (not the law), or, in other words, of the control of God over the soul. I ought to have no [independency of] will of my own, but be in obedience.”
Another commentator says the same thing a bit differently: “What, then, is lawlessness? It is simply the refusal of all rule, the throwing off of all divine restraint. The assertion of man's will in defiance of God's. Sin is just that. Such was the course to which Adam committed himself in eating the forbidden fruit. How bitter the results!”
(Here is a link is to a straightforward paper on the nature of sins and sin as they are treated in the Bible: http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/hole/Truth/Sin.html)
The full import of what is set out above must lead immediately to the Cross of Christ – which shows God’s grace in saving us through faith (“ye are saved by grace, through faith” – Ephesians 2:8). It is vital, also, to understand that this faith is provided to us by God Himself and this is clearly set out in John 1:12,13 - “as many as received him, to them gave he [the] right to be children of God, to those that believe on his name; who have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh's will, nor of man's will, but of God.”
We can see, then, that the entire work of salvation is God’s work. As has been well said, we have no part in the Cross of Christ (by which Cross all men can be reconciled to God – John 3:16!) except for our sins. On the merit of our natural estate we are lost – “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This realization, of course, highlights God’s wonderful love and grace in providing to us “so great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3 and see Isaiah 61:10). Should this not affect our hearts and minds to the result that we are decided to fully implement the judgment that God levied against sin at the Cross of Christ? “Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us.” Should we linger in sin after the blessed Lord sold all to obtain the pearl of great price? Paul writes as to this in Romans 6:1, and the Lord said in John 14, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Where could we draw the line as to this? Would it be righteous to keep some commandments and yet not keep other commandments that we might consider to be less important?
It is necessary to pause here for a moment to highlight one of the greatest and most vital truths of Scripture – which is that God has capacitated us to walk here not only as overcomers; but, as able to fulfill righteousness under the power of the Holy Spirit. Our nature by birth is entirely resistant to and diverse from the will of God (see Romans 8:7,8 – “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; for neither indeed can it be: and they that are in flesh cannot please God.”). There is with many a vague misapprehension that we’re “bad” but that God makes us “better”. Nothing could be further from the truth – God is not working at all with man after the flesh (He is working to save him, of course) – he is setting up man anew (through new birth) in a spiritual realm – see Matthew 9:17.
In this light Jude writes, “But to him that is able to keep you without stumbling, and to set [you] with exultation blameless before his glory.” This statement applies to our path here – obviously, there will be no occasion of stumbling in Heaven. More distinctly, John writes “Whoever has been begotten of God does not practise sin, because his seed abides in him, and he cannot sin, because he has been begotten of God.” Our comprehension of this is vital to our Christian pathway, as it highlights to us that Christianity is not attainment; but, rather it is endowment. This is to say that God introduces in new birth a nature that is sinless in every way. Our part is to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit to maintain this character – “But I say, walk in [the] Spirit, and ye shall no way fulfil flesh's lust” (Galatians 5:16).
This brings us to the main thrust of this paper – which is to consider the case of the leper as the Holy Spirit has set it out for us in Leviticus. The Scripture always identifies leprosy as the expression of what is morally unclean. In this regard, all men are lepers morally before God (“all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” – Romans 3). Leprosy is the uncontrolled activity of the flesh – and it is this that morally marks our natural estate (i.e., the activity of our natural minds independent from the proper control of God).
It would be obvious, wouldn’t it, if a person was leprous from head to toe. The Bible uses language in this respect to show that gross leprosy was immediately and fully recognizable. It says in Numbers 12:10 that, due to her subtle rebellion against Moses and God that the Lord brought leprosy upon Miriam and that “Miriam was leprous as snow.” In 2nd Kings 5 Gehazi “the servant of Elisha the man of God” thought to deceive God and Elisha, and God fastened leprosy upon him and “he went out from his presence leprous, as snow.”
Of interest in this respect is also what is set out for us in Exodus 4. The Lord told Moses to cast his staff on the ground and, when he did so, it became a serpent. The teaching: we cannot rely on natural helps here – the influences of the serpent are a present reality. He was then told to take the serpent by the tail, and it again became his staff – we see that under God’s hand and direction we can manage the circumstances of life here. Moses was then instructed to put his hand into his own bosom, and, when withdrawn, it was “leprous, as snow”. Our natural hearts are untrustworthy. It says in Proverbs 4 “Keep thy heart more than anything that is guarded; for out of it are the issues of life” and Jeremiah says that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurable; who can know it?” However, under God’s control there was then restoration – Moses’ hand/heart was restored – God writes “not with ink, but [the] Spirit of [the] living God; not on stone tables, but on fleshy tables of [the] heart.”
When we come to Leviticus 13 and 14 there are a number of features in regard to leprosy that are immediately instructive. The overriding thrust is that God has a judgment against leprosy/sin in every instance and in every degree in which it is shown – i.e., God doesn’t excuse leprosy/sin in an instance just because it is minute – it is to be discerned and judged.
We see that the priest is the one who stands in for God in regard to these necessary judgments. Who are the priests today? Each and every Christian has this office (see Revelation 5:10) and, as importantly, we are to fulfill the office – if God’s people in whom dwells the Holy Spirit cannot effectuate proper judgments according to the mind of God, who then can? Thus, John 7:24 says, “Judge righteous judgment.” There is a prevalent notion that Christians are not to judge (one another); but, this is so totally foreign to Scripture as to be deplorable. It, perhaps, largely stems from the misapplication of several scriptures, as follows:
Matthew 7 says, “Judge not, that ye may not be judged; for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.” The application of this scripture has nothing to do with judging right and wrong; but, has everything to do with passing judgment – i.e, the “krima” or sentence that is handed down. The language alone of the quotation above shows this – since it speaks of the measure in which a judgment is “meted”. As well, the Lord continues by saying, “Hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine eye, and then thou wilt see clearly to cast out the mote out of the eye of thy brother.” This language fully incorporates judgment – it simply says that to judge (others) we need to be self-judged first. How true!
Another misapplied scripture is in Romans 14 – “Let us no longer therefore judge one another”. On the surface it might seem that this scripture simply shows that we are not to “judge one another”. However, this cannot be so – the entirety of scripture from the very 1st chapter of Genesis to the Cross of Christ and beyond breathes necessary and righteous judgments. We are to make judgments as to what is right, and judgments as to what is wrong. “And God said, Let there be light. And there was light. And God saw the light that it was good.” This is a judgment of God – He judged that the light was good. We assuredly must share in this particular – as well as all other – judgments of God.
If we scrutinize it thoughtfully, we can see that this section in Romans 14 has to do solely with considerations as to eating, drinking and various days according to individual predilection. This is born out by the statement effectively closing the section – “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in [the] Holy Spirit.” It is not – it could not be – a general admonition not to judge.
It is apparent that, to move through this scene here in a righteous way, we must constantly be making judgments, and they should be in alignment with the principles set out by the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture. God makes judgments every moment of every day. Do any think He does not? For us to do any less would be to diminish our place testimonially as God’s sons (“Do ye not then know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy of [the] smallest judgments? Do ye not know that we shall judge angels? and not then matters of this life? If then ye have judgments as to things of this life, set those [to judge] who are little esteemed in the assembly. I speak to you [to put you] to shame.”).
Most importantly, the notion that we as Christians are to relinquish or reduce righteous judgment is a major delusion. God immediately gave man something by which to effectuate a proper judgment in the Garden of Eden – that is, His statement not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan then raised with the woman the question as to the righteousness and validity of God’s judgment as to this tree, and he is endlessly raising in principle the same consideration today – i.e., no need to follow and implement God’s judgments as set out in scripture. Satan really is whispering that judgment according to divine precepts is not a strict requirement. But, as the Lord said, Satan is a liar and its father.
We have in the Gospels in the New Testament the ten commandments and, being commandments, they cover the range of what should be proper human conduct and identify, at the same time, the range of misconduct. The biblical teaching as to leprosy in Leviticus deals more specifically with the identification of sin – of course, as seen in the evidence of leprosy – and, shows to us God’s mind in judging and dealing with this sin. The Holy Spirit never records any scripture haphazardly, reverently speaking, and this section in Leviticus shows how God estimates sin – and, reflexively, how we are to appropriate the same concerns.
At the end of this section of scripture – at the end of Leviticus 14 – we have several verses that encapsulate God’s teaching as to leprosy – “This is the law for every sore of leprosy, and for the scall, and for the leprosy of garments, and of houses, and for the rising, and for the scab, and for the bright spot, to teach when there is uncleanness, and when it is purified: this is the law of leprosy.” God has a complete evaluation of sin as seen in a variety of ways.
There are several elements contained in this section in Leviticus 13 and 14 that are of paramount interest. The first – as already mentioned – is that only one of priestly character is considered as being capable in adjudicating in the matter of sin – “Brethren, if even a man be taken in some fault, ye who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). The priest is shown to be aware of the nature and import of sin, and, by implication, is in the realization of the self-same infirmities and predispositions. There is a well-known account of two Christians about to visit a third as to a scriptural transgression (Matthew 18:16), and the first Christian asked the accompanying Christian whether he might ever transgress the way the third Christian had transgressed. “Oh no,” was the answer to which the first Christian replied, “Then, you are not the proper person to visit the errant Christian.”
Thus, we must understand that the backdrop to dealing with sin in ourselves and in others is that there is a focus on proper discernment and valuation of the sin. However, this is not the desired end in itself; but, rather, the sin is identified in view of recovery. What is the point of condemning man in the flesh for sin if there is no recovery in view? and, thus, we understand God’s entire viewpoint as to the Cross of Christ. The sin cannot be allowed to remain since it is disruptive to – destructive to, really – the relationship; so, it must be identified and properly met. The Cross of Christ is exactly that – the sins of man are atoned for at the Cross – there is a provision for washing them away in the blood of the Lamb. The nature of sin is not forgiven – it is condemned and removed – and God starts afresh on the basis of new creation – “So if any one [be] in Christ, [there is] a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new”.
The leper is examined by the priest, and if the leprosy is evident such is pronounced leprous and unclean. If there is any uncertainty, the next step is that, until the matter is properly resolved, he is to be “shut up”. This language shows to us that God is not casual as to sin – it is a serious matter (after all, Christ had to die to provide redemption as to it) and care is to be taken. As Leviticus 13 unfolds we see this process repeated – i.e., if it is an evident leprosy it is so pronounced, if there is no leprosy and that fact is immediately evident the person is pronounced “clean”, and, if there is any uncertainty, the person is shut up – if necessary, repetitively.
There is an associated reality to the above. If the person in question is indeed leprous, he/she is to pronounce the matter – they are to cry “unclean”. Why is this? It is full agreement with the judgment of the priest. Oneself can understand the clearly untenable position taken if a person truly leprous denied that it were so. It would definitively demonstrate the activity of the natural will in refusing what was so clearly the truth. Yet, if we bridle at some aspect of God’s truth as it is delineated in Scripture we are doing the exact same thing. Let us be sure we acquiesce with the truths of scripture! And, if we are unaware of a particular truth and another brings it before us – let us be thankful that there is a concern voiced and let us be amenable to this. If we rebel against the truth we are rebelling against the Lord since He “is the way, the truth and the life.”
The case of the leper as set out in Leviticus is succinct. There can be no mistake as to God’s attitude towards identifying and adjudicating the leprosy and the leper. When we come to the New Testament the principle remains the same. God’s principles are always the same – “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to-day, and to the ages [to come].” Our immediate provision for dealing with sin as highlighted in the case of the leper is set out in Matthew 18 – and it is important enough that it does us well to quote it here:
“But if thy brother sin against thee, go, reprove him between thee and him alone. If he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he do not hear [thee], take with thee one or two besides, that every matter may stand upon the word of two witnesses or of three. But if he will not listen to them, tell it to the assembly; and if also he will not listen to the assembly, let him be to thee as one of the nations and a tax-gatherer. Verily I say to you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on the earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on the earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you shall agree on the earth concerning any matter, whatsoever it may be that they shall ask, it shall come to them from my Father who is in [the] heavens. For where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
This language utilizes the exact same principles as shown in Leviticus 13 and 14. First, identify (sin); second, confront it (skill, of course is needed – the apostle Paul took four chapters before he approached the Corinthians in the 5th chapter as to the sin of the incestuous man); third, confirm it is resolved and, if not, take further steps according the sequence set out in Matthew’s writing in this chapter. We must note that, if the sin is unresolved (i.e., the leper refuses the reality of the leprosy), such is considered in Matthew 18 to be unfit for proper Christian fellowship until such time and place that he/she is repentant.
The evident corollary is that the house of God (“whose house are we” – Hebrews 3:6) is to be kept holy (see the OT pertaining to the need for “doorkeepers”). The only way to do this is to consciously exclude sin – keeping in mind that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us [our] sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
In this light, the section closes “For where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It is vital to recognize that God is intent on securing conditions that are morally in agreement with the Name of Christ. We cannot idly utter the name of the Lord. Mere mention of His Name is not sufficient – we are to be gathered together unto (the moral worth and import of) His Name.
The simple teaching everywhere in the Bible is that God is excluding sin as a precursor to a proper relationship with Himself. He is not in any way considering sin to be acceptable in whatever form or degree it may take. The fact that we are yet in a “mixed condition” – i.e., as the apostle James writes, “We all often offend” – in no way is an allowance for sin to continue. God is infinitely gracious with us; yet, it is necessary to see that, as with a parent yet loving a naughty child but not condoning their naughty actions, God is longsuffering with us; however, the Holy Spirit says in Romans 6 “What then? should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Far be the thought.”
The reality is that Christianity involves a relationship on the highest level between God and ourselves as His sons, between ourselves and other Christians, and testimonially in relation to men in general. In Genesis 17 the Lord said to Abraham “ I [am] the Almighty God: walk before my face, and be perfect”, and He enlarged upon this in Matthew 5 by saying “Be ye therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That is the sum of the matter there.
In the degree in which we are casual or indifferent to our responsibilities in any relationship is the degree in which the relationship is affected or languishes. It is certainly the same and more in our relationship with Divine Persons, and the teaching throughout Scripture is that what is sinful is to be removed. May it be a primary focus and desire with all Christians!