by Pastor David Groendyk
As we continue in Leviticus through various cleanliness laws, the next two chapters discuss the disease of leprosy. Chapter 13 gives general rules for handling lepers while chapter 14 gives the rules for actually being cleansed from leprosy. The term “leprosy” used in these chapters included many different kinds of skin diseases, not just what we understand today as modern leprosy. The priests of God in ancient days were not doctors, per se, but God gave them quite an extensive protocol for how to handle people with these diseases in reference to their ability to come to the temple for worship.
So many of the details in this chapter are hard to understand, but the overall point is clear: God demands holiness. And, as Gordon Wenham states, “Holiness in Leviticus is symbolized by wholeness.” Notice that the animals that were sacrificed were supposed to be whole, unblemished, uninjured. (Notice this is one of the things God indicts Israel for in Malachi 1, which we read yesterday in the service.) The same goes for people. Priests had to be whole in order to serve, and even common people had to be whole as well. All of these requirements reinforced the importance of the people being holy and pure before God. If the laws seem a little harsh to us, it’s because we perhaps aren’t taking God’s holiness seriously enough. Again, Gordon Wenham explains helpfully, “Individual discomfort was not allowed to jeopardize the spiritual welfare of the nation, for God’s abiding presence with his people depended on uncleanness being excluded from their midst.” God cannot dwell with unholy people. As Christians, we must take this seriously as well. Not the physical requirements—God doesn’t exclude us from worship because of physical deformity or illness anymore—but the spiritual ones. If we want God to dwell with us as a body of believers, then that means every single individual must take the call to holiness seriously. Your holiness (or lack thereof) will affect other people in the congregation, just like a physical disease could spread and infect others. Even as the priests are called to carefully examine and discern a leper’s physical health, so each one of us should be careful to examine one another’s spiritual health.
But there is good news in this chapter too. There is a way to be clean! When Jesus comes on the scene in the Gospels, one thing he will do to shock the world is actually reach out to and touch lepers. Look at verses 45–46. Do you notice how shameful and lonely it would have been to be a leper? Having to make your appearance look ragged, crying out “Unclean, unclean” wherever you went, living outside the camp, living alone. No one would be allowed to touch or associate themselves with lepers. Yet Jesus goes out to the lepers and cleanses them. Rather than avoiding them for fear of becoming unclean, he goes to them and makes them clean. I heard a speaker at a conference once put it something like this: “When we touch sin, sin makes us dirty. When Jesus touches sin, he takes it away.” There is a message of hope for anyone whose guilt plagues them, for anyone who feels so unclean that they can never be clean again, for anyone who has lived “outside the camp” for too long: you can be forgiven and cleansed in Jesus! He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins when he place our trust in him alone for salvation. Go to him for forgiveness, and you will find a perfect and sure Savior.