Leviticus 13
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Leviticus 13
cf. 2 Kings 5: Psalm 88; Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-15. The preceding chapter brings forward sin as an inheritance through ordinary generation. No thorough sense or treatment of sin can be reached unless it is recognized as a nature. But God went further in his education of his people. He took one disease with unmistakable characteristics; he legislated about it, doomed the possessor of it to a certain treatment, and so made plain to all his attitude towards sin. The case of Naaman (2 Kings 5) demonstrates that leprosy was not treated in Syria as it was among the Jews. Though a leper, he could enjoy the society of his family, wait upon his king, and command the spray. The disease entailed no penalties at Damascus such as existed in Samaria. No sanitary solution, therefore, of this Mosaic law will satisfy the conditions; we must look to moral and spiritual considerations for the solution. Hence we are constrained to start with the canon of interpretation that leprosy was a disease selected for treatment among the Jews to illustrate the treatment of sin.

I. AS SOON AS THE DISEASE IS SUSPECTED, THE PERSON IS TO GO, OR BE BROUGHT, NOT TO A PHYSICIAN, BUT TO ONE OF THE PRIESTS. This took it out of the category of diseases curable by ordinary means. Hence the term for "leprosy" (צָרָעַת, from צָרַע, to strike down) signifies "the stroke of God." It was deemed a Divine infliction, which, if not divinely cured, would terminate fatally, and, though not disseminated by contact, was transmissible from parent to child. In handing it over in such circumstances for religious treatment, there was afforded one of the most striking illustrations of the nature of sin. Sin is a disease which none but the Divine Physician can cure. All effort at self-cure, all effort after merely human cure, is unavailing. Of course, sinners are induced to believe in the curability of the incurable, else there would be no sale for many a "patent medicine," and no opening for many a spiritual imposture. But God has made it sufficiently plain, by statement and illustration, that sin is a disease with which only he himself can deal. Hence he handed its symbol, the leprosy, to a priest, and not to a physician.

II. THE PRIEST, IN INVESTIGATING THE DISEASE, IS TO ASCERTAIN. WHETHER IT IS SUPERFICIAL OR VITAL. It may be only a "scab" or a "burning boil," a mere superficial eruption, in which case the priest is to comfort the patient with the assurance that he is clean. But if the disease is seen to go down into the vitals of the patient, to be deep and hidden, then the priest is to pronounce him unclean. For sin is no superficial matter, but a vital and fatal evil. It eats below the appearances into the very vitals of the being, and, unless divinely checked, must run its fatal course,

III. THE PENALTY OF PRONOUNCED LEPROSY, IS A LIVING DEATH, AND A CONSEQUENT EXCLUSION FROM THE CAMP OF GOD. "The leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be" (verses 45, 46). It is instructive to analyze this sentence. And -

1. The leper was to regard himself as virtually a dead man. This is implied by the rent clothes and the bare head, the signs of Oriental mourning, He was to be his own chief mourner. The same idea was carried out in the Middle Ages, when the mass for the dead was said over the leper. Longfellow refers to this in his 'Golden Legend,' when he says of Prince Henry -

"Why, in Saint Rochus
They made him stand, and wait his doom:
And, as if he were condemned to the tomb,
Began to mutter their hocus-pocus.
First, the mass for the dead they chanted,
Then three times laid upon his head
A shovelful of churchyard clay,
Saying to him, as he stood undaunted.
This is a sign that thou art dead;
So in thy heart be penitent! '
And forth from the chapel door he went
Into disgrace and banishment,
Clothed in a cloak of hodden gray,
And bearing a wallet, and a bell,
Whose sound should be a perpetual knell
To keep all travellers away." In the leper we have, therefore, the finest possible illustration of what spiritual death is. It is not a state of unconsciousness, but a state of consciousness. A sense of hopeless doom goes to make up this living death. Here have we vividly presented what "dead in trespasses and sins" must mean.

2. The leper was to cry out as he met a passenger, "Unclean, unclean!" That is, he was to encourage the consciousness of personal uncleanness. In no way could a penitent spirit be more powerfully, illustrated. A perpetual humiliation was thus kept up, a sense of vileness and uncleanness, which is wholesome for the soul. Doubtless the sense of uncleanness might be impenitent; the poor leper might regard himself as a victim of providence instead of one deserving the stroke. But his cry is a very vivid representation of what humiliation for sin should be.

3. The leper must isolate himself from the society of the pure, and dwell without the camp. Isolation is what the leper is required to enter, and what we may be sure he does enter willingly. To a doomed man like him, contact with the clean and pure would be painful. Isolation would be easier to bear than society. So is it with sin. It is an isolating, repellent power. The sinner would not choose the society of the holy. Heaven would be a more painful place for a sinful soul than Gehenna itself. Hence we find in Roy. 21. that while the new Jerusalem is to have nothing that defileth within it, no precaution to ensure this is needed; the gates remain open, for sinners would not, even if they could, court the society of the holy. The isolating power of sin may be illustrated from the case of Byron. Two quotations are worth giving in this connection.

"I loved - but those I loved are gone;
Had friends - my early friends are fled.
How cheerless feels the heart alone,
When all its former hopes are dead!
Though gay companions e'er the bowl
Dispel awhile the sense of ill;
Though pleasure stirs the maddening soul,
The heart - the heart - is lonely still." And again in the stanzas written at Missolonghi when he was thirty-six -

"My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone:
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!
"The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze -
A funeral pile." Was it not to taste the full consequences of human sin that our Lord had to enter the desolation which constrained the cry on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

IV. ON THE OTHER HAND, THE PRIEST IS DIRECTED HOW HE MAY ASCERTAIN WHEN THE LEPROSY HAS BEEN CURED. For this direction contemplates cases of cure, where "the stroke of God" in the leprosy has been followed up by the mercy of God in removing it, Now, one general principle runs through the cases of cure. If the priest has evidence that the disease has all come to the surface, then he is to pronounce the leper clean. The spiritual counterpart of this is not far to seek. If sin be hidden, if the sinner, like the Psalmist, keep silence about it, then his bones wax old through his roaring all the day long, and his moisture is turned into the drought of summer (Psalm 32:3, 4). But if the sinner confesses his sin, acknowledges all he knows, and that there is much besides known only to the Lord - in a word, if the sinner makes "a clean breast" of everything, then is the cure of God in process of accomplishment. The lesson here is consequently the great desirability of a full and heartfelt confession of sin. There is hope of a man when he hides nothing from the Lord.

V. MAN SHOULD BE AS CAREFUL ABOUT HIS ENVIRONMENT AS ABOUT HIMSELF. It is evident from the possibility of leprosy infecting garments, and even houses, that the disease was contemplated as having a much wider range than the person of the leper. The directions given to the priest, moreover, contemplate the purification of man's surroundings. Every effort is to be made to stamp out the plague. The pure or purified are to be surrounded by the pure, Now, this conveys the spiritual lesson surely of man taking the utmost pains to have a pure atmosphere, so to speak, in which to cultivate purity of life. Wherever sin is allowed free play, it will extend its ravages to man's environment. The world itself is a different world through man's sin. The duty of God's people in this case is plain. "The very appearance of evil" must be avoided (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We must carefully keep ourselves unspotted from the world (James 1:27). Whenever we find sin tempting us, we must, if possible, have it removed and consumed. Does it meet us in literature? let us avoid it, and, if possible, destroy it. And even the ravages of sin in the world itself must be contemplated in the hope of having them one day completely removed. Let sin be slain in the light of day is the great practical lesson of this chapter. - R.M.E.

That leprosy is a type of sin is evident from David's allusion in confessing his own horrible offenses (see Psalm 51:7)? This also appears from the words of Jesus to the only leper, out of the ten cleansed by him, who returned to give glory to God: "Thy faith hath saved thee" (see Luke 17:11-19). The others had faith which availed them to remove the leprosy of the body; but this man's faith availed to remove the leprosy of the soul. Hence this plague often came as a judgment from Heaven upon sin (see Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:27; 2 Chronicles 26:19), from which circumstance, perhaps, it had its name (צרעת), tsaraath, from (צרע), tsaro, to smite. As there is no disease whose description engages so much space in Scripture, leprosy must be regarded as a very special type of sin.


1. So it is described.

(1) According to Scripture it appeared in a "rising," or "scab," or "bright spot" (verse 2). From one or more of these centers it "spread" (verses 8, 12, 22, 36), exhibiting "quick raw flesh" (verses 10, 15), and this as it dried turned to a white scurf (verse 13). Job is, by some, supposed to have been afflicted with leprosy (see Job 7:5).

(2) Travellers give frightful accounts of it. Maundrell describes it as he witnessed it in Palestine, and states it to be "the utmost corruption of the human body at this side the grave."

2. Is not this a true picture of sin?

(1) View it in the haunts of the "criminal classes." What spectacles are witnessed in police courts! what distortion of features, what mutilations, the humanity almost battered out of them through the violences of dissipation!

(2) No less loathsome to the eye of God are the hearts of many who outwardly seem respectable (Jeremiah 17:9). Sin is called "corruption," and seducers to sin "corrupters" (Ephesians 4:22; 2 Peter 2:19). Learn to loathe sin.


1. Surface evils may be mistaken for sin.

(1) When symptoms go no deeper than the skin, they are no proof of leprosy (verses 4, 34). Errors of judgment sometimes arc mistaken for sins. Sincere Christians should be careful not to condemn themselves when God does not condemn them.

(2) Surface evils may be very painful, There were "burning boils," which did not compromise the cleanness of the sufferer (verses 23, 28). So may we smart under reproaches and scandals raised by the malignity of enemies, and perhaps sometimes through our own unwisdom, which God will not impute to us for sin.

2. When the evil is in the flesh there is uncleanness.

(1) This was a capital test of leprosy (verses 3, 20, 30). This disease may be handed down from father to son (see 2 Kings 5:27). So sin is "that which cometh out of the heart" (Matthew 15:18-20; 1 Corinthians 8:7; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 12:15, 16), Like its type, sin also is hereditary (Romans 5:12).

(2) Mental rebellion against God is of the worse kind. Hence the emphasis with which the uncleanness of the leper is pronounced whose leprosy is in his head (see verses 43, 44). Satan is intellect without God. Keep a pure faith and it will keep you.


1. Such was the figure.

(1) Leprosy works secretly at first, and for years may be concealed. Its early appearance may be limited to a pimple; but so rapidly does it spread that "seven days" may be sufficient for it to become pronounced (verses 22, 27, 36),

(2) It may pass from the leper to his neighbor. Robinson says, "That it was contagious, all histories, sacred and profane, agree" ('Theological Dictionary'). It was therefore necessary to provide that lepers should dwell apart (verse 46; Numbers 12:15; 2 Chronicles 27:21).

(3) Property as well as persons caught the plague. Garments had to be destroyed for it (verse 52). Houses also (chapter 14:45).

2. The reality answers to the figure,

(1) Sin in the individual gathers strength by habit, and infects the faculties until the heart is sick, the head faint, and the whole man is a mass of moral putrescence (Isaiah 1:6).

(2) By precept and example he demoralizes his neighbours, and brings down the judgments of Heaven upon them (Joshua 7:1, 11, 12; Ecclesiastes 9:18).

(3) The plague of sin affects the material prosperity of individuals and of nations. No wonder the leper should be accounted ceremonially unclean, and the sinner avoided by the holy universe. - J.A.M.

We have considered the plague of leprosy as an emblem of sin; the adjudication upon it will suggest thoughts concerning the treatment of sin. In this business the principal actor was the priest, who must be viewed as the type of Christ. The judgment in this case will be disciplinary rather than final; for when Messiah will come to judge the world at the last day, he will appear not as a priest but as a king. We are now concerned with the functions of the priest.


1. In this he proceeded according to the Law.

(1) He had his rules for determining the presence of the plague.

(2) So by the Word of God is our moral cleanness or uncleanness to be determined (Romans 2:13; Romans 3:20; 1 Corinthians 14:24, 25; James 1:22-25; James 2:9).

(3) Conviction is carried home by the Spirit of Christ.

2. When the case was dubious judgment was deferred.

(1) Meanwhile the suspected person was "shut up" (verses 4, 21, 31) that opportunity might be given for the manifestation of the symptoms. So are sinners "shut up" by the Law to the faith of the gospel (see Romans 11:32, margin; Galatians 3:23).

(2) At the end of "seven days" judgment was given; or, if the symptoms were not then sufficiently manifest, a second period of seven days was allowed, which was the final term. Could these periods refer to the dispensations of our probation? In this case the leper must be taken to personate a class of sinner according to the type of his disease, whether proceeding from the "rising," or the "boil," or the "scab." In any case, a sufficient probation is given us in this world for the manifestation of our real character, which probation we should be careful to improve.

3. A leprous garment was treated as representing its owner.

(1) It had to be inspected by the priest for his judgment and sentence, as though it had been a person. In case the plague in it were not pronounced, it had to be "shut up" and examined again after the same intervals of" seven days" (verses 50, 54). The expense and trouble of this, particularly if it had to be brought from a distance, would be as much as the garment was worth, so that the Law is unaccountable unless it was intended to serve a typical purpose.

(2) Agabus the prophet made Paul's girdle emblematically to represent that apostle (Acts 21:11). The "owner" of a leprous house, obviously for the same reason, had to "come and tell the priest" (Leviticus 14:35).

(3) The washing of the garment in this case suggests the washing of regeneration.


1. In some cases the verdict was an acquittal.

(1) If the suspected leprosy proved to be but a surface evil, the subject was pronounced clean (verse 6). Jesus does not mark as sins infirmities which spring not from an evil nature. The person acquitted, however, had to wash his clothes (verse 34). There is no person so faultless as not to need the laver of regeneration.

(2) If a leper be "white all over," no proud flesh, no ichor, being visible, he is pronounced clean (verse 13). The virulence of the disease is over; God's mercy has reached him; the sinner is forgiven. But the marks of an old dissipation often remain after forgiveness. Though now clean, there can be no question that he had been a leper.

(3) Another case is given. A leper, supposing his disease gone, presents himself to the priest for his cleansing; but the priest, discovering "raw flesh," sends him away unclean; in time, however, he becomes cured, returns to the priest, and on the second application is pronounced clean (verse 17). This case is like that of the sinner whose repentance is not perfect, and at the altar he discovers that until he is reconciled to a brother whom he had wronged his gift cannot be accepted; the reconciliation made, he returns and finds the favour of God (Matthew 5:23, 24).

2. In other cases the judgment was "Unclean."

(1) When the plague is pronounced, as in cases of "old leprosy," deliberation was unnecessary; judgment came speedily (verses 10, 11). So with the openly wicked (Psalm 9:16; Proverbs 5:22; Proverbs 11:5).

(2) In all cases evidence must be clear. Time, therefore, was given for the plague to pronounce itself. So, before judgment could overtake the Amorites, their iniquity must be full (Genesis 15:16; see also Daniel 8:23; Matthew 23:32, 33; 1 Thessalonians 2:16).

(3) Jesus is unerring in his judgments. He is the faithful as well as merciful High Priest.

3. The sentence.

(1) The leper has to dwell without the camp (verse 46). So must the open sinner be put out of the Church (see 1 Corinthians 5:11-13). Hypocrites and unbelievers, though in the Church in the visible part, are not recognized by God as members of the Church in the spiritual part.

(2) The leper has to behave as an excommunicate seeking for the mercy of God. His clothes are rent to express extreme grief and sorrow. His head is bare, turbanless, to express deep humiliation. He put a covering upon his upper lip; had his jaw tied up with a linen cloth as a corpse, to express his state as that of a living death (see 2 Kings 5:7; Ezekiel 24:17), and he was to cry "Unclean!" (verse 45). When we confess that we are dead in trespasses and sins, and sorrow to repentance, there is hope for us in God.

(3) But as the garment that remains unclean after two washings, to save it from destruction must have the leprous piece rent from it; so if a "right hand" or "right eye" prevent us from realizing the benefits of redemption, they must be separated (verse 56). But if all efforts to save the garment fail, then its doom is to be burnt (see Matthew 5:29, 30; Matthew 18:8, 9). - J.A.M.

The chosen type of sin - its individual aspect. The conjecture that leprosy was contracted by the children of Israel in the hot and dusty brick-fields of Egypt is probable enough. The definition that it was "any severe disease spreading on the surface of the body in the way described in the chapter, and so shocking of aspect... that public feeling called for separation," is near enough for our purpose, There can be no question that it was the divinely chosen type of sin. All disease is pictorial of sin. It is to our bodily frame the very thing that sin is to our soul. Sin is the derangement or disorder of the soul, as sickness is of the body. It is an inward disorder, showing itself in some outward manifestation of a displeasing or painful character. It is something wrong within - some faculty (organ) not doing what it was made to do, or doing what it was not meant to do, causing disturbance and distress, But leprosy was selected by the Divine Ruler of Israel as a disease which should be regarded by his people as specially typical and suggestive of sin. It was admirably fitted so to be, whether looked at in its individual or in its social aspect, We will take the former first,

I. THE OBSCURITY OF ITS ORIGIN. By what sad and strange process came it to pass that man's bodily frame - fashioned by the Divine Creator, made clean and pure, wholesome and fair - has become the seat of such a foul disorder? How can it be that the little child whose flesh is beautiful and spotless, the very picture of all that is clean and sweet, grows up into a man who is "full of leprosy," covered from head to foot with revolting sores? And whence came sin into the soul and life of man? How came it here to blot and mar God's fair creation? How comes it to pass that into the heart of the innocent and lovely child there enters the very vilest spirit, showing itself in the most shocking words and the most revolting deeds, in later life?

II. ITS STUBBORNNESS. When, after seven days, the Hebrew priest could see no signs of true leprosy, he did not pronounce the patient clean: he shut him up other seven days (verse 5), and examined him again. Leprosy was a tenacious and stubborn disease, disappearing and reappearing, After a long interval it might, under exciting cause, come once again to the surface. How like the affliction of the soul - sin! How tenacious is its hold on the human heart! It disappears and we are grateful, congratulatory, triumphant. But the inducing circumstances, the favourable conditions arise and conspire, and behold there is its hateful face again. We "would do good," we resolve to do good, but, alas! "evil is present with us" once more (Romans 7:21).

III. ITS DEATHFULNESS. The outward appearance was due to inward derangement; the springs of health were poisoned; the internal processes necessary to health were stayed; and the consequence was that feature after feature, limb after limb, decayed and fell away. The man was in a constant process of dissolution. It was death above the ground - death in a living form! Sin is death. The soul that lives in sin is "dead while it lives." It is not that which it was created to be, does not that which it was created to do. Its spiritual faculties (the organs and members of the soul) are in a state of continual dissolution, becoming feebler and feebler, till they are wholly lost. It is a living death.

IV. ITS UNCURABLENESS BY MAN. The Jews did not bring the physician to the leper; they regarded leprosy as a visitation from God, and considered it incurable by human art. Sin is incurable by mere human methods. Rules for the regulation of human conduct; pledges or vows of abstinence from particular temptations; parental, magisterial, social vigilance; penalties inflicted by ourself or by others for disobedience; - these are well enough in their way. They are sometimes desirable, sometimes necessary; but they do not cure. Nothing human will cure the soul's disorder; only the Almighty Hand can minister to the "mind diseased." When Jesus Christ would prove to John that he was indeed the "One that should come," and that there was no need to "look for another," he added to the recital of his benefactions, "the lepers are cleansed" (Matthew 11:5). It was a true mark of the Messiah. The coming Saviour was he who had power to cure the incurable, to touch the foulest of the foul with the finger of the Divine mercy and sovereign power, and to make even him whole and pure. To that Divine Physician the man fullest of the leprosy of sin may go and say, "Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean" (Luke 5:12). - C.

And the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean. In the Hebrew commonwealth:

1. There were those who were reasonably suspected of leprosy, i.e., of "uncleanness."

2. It was a matter of the gravest consequence to know whether these suspicions were well founded or not. For ascertained leprosy meant unfitness to approach God in worship, exclusion from the fellowship of his people, etc.

3. It was the function of the priest to decide positively in the matter. The priest was to "look on him, and pronounce him unclean," or, on the other hand, to rule that he was clean (verse 6). In every commonwealth today, in the whole human world -

I. THERE ARE THOSE REASONABLY SUSPECTED OF SIN. These are not the few exceptions; they are the multitude without exception (Psalm 14:23).


(1) unlikeness to God;

(2) separation from God;

(3) condemnation by God, both here and hereafter;

(4) exclusion from the home of the holy. Hence we must ask -

III. WHO ARE THEY ON WHOM THIS GREAT DECISION IS DEVOLVED. It rests with no human priest to decide on our state before God. Our own heart must condemn us if we are to have that conviction of sift which leads to contrition for sin and to "repentance and remission of sin."

1. God will be our Divine Helper. He helps us to a right conclusion by his informing Word and by his illuminating Spirit.

2. Our fellow-men will be human helpers; they will guide us to an understanding of the Word of the Lord, and, directed by their own experience, will lead us to judge truly concerning our spiritual condition. Their aid will be ministerial, not authoritative.

3. We ourselves must decide in the last resort. This is one of those grave matters in which "every man must bear his own burden." We must recognize, with the eyes of our own soul, the signs and tokens of guilt in our heart and life. It must be the deliberate utterance of our own judgment, as well as the sigh of our own spirit, and the cry of our own lips, "I have sinned against the Lord ;" "Unclean, unclean!" When we look at our inner selves as well as outer life; when we consider what we have left undone of all our obligations, as well as what we have done that has been forbidden; when we contrast our hearts and lives with the precepts of God's holy Law and the ideal of human perfection in the example of our sinless Saviour; we shall have no hesitation in concluding that we are "utterly unclean," that we deserve exclusion from the friendship of God and the fellowship of the holy, and that it is our heavenly wisdom to seek at once his blessed presence who will say to us, "Wilt thou be made whole?" and to gain at once the touch of his mighty hand who, in answer to our earnest prayer, will respond by saying, I will; be thou clean." - C.

We have seen (vide previous Homily) how true a picture is leprosy of sin in its individual aspect; we now regard the subject in its more social aspect. What this terrible disease was to a man as a member of the Hebrew commonwealth, that is sin to a man as a member of society today.

I. ITS LOATHSOMENESS. It is quite possible that the leprosy from which the Israelites suffered was a contagious disorder. It is also possible that the dread of contagion, though there was no actual danger (as in cholera), may have had its influence in the matter. But there is no convincing evidence that it was contagious. There are indications that it was not (action of the priests, etc.); and the exclusion of the leper from the camp is fully accounted for in another way. The loathsomeness of the disease is a sufficient explanation. Whoever has seen any one suffering acutely from a kindred malady will perfectly understand and appreciate this legislation on that ground alone. It is difficult, if not impossible, to recover altogether from the mental effect of so shocking and so repulsive a spectacle. The vision haunts the memory for years. In this aspect leprosy is a striking picture of sin; for that is a thing odious and abominable in the last degree - loathsome to the Holy One of Israel, hateful to all holy souls. In its viler forms it is a thing which we - even with our imperfect purity - cannot "look upon" (Hebrews 1:13); holy much more horrible and hateful must it be in his sight whose thoughts of holiness as well as of mercy are as much higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth (Isaiah 55:9)!

II. ITS DIFFUSIVENESS. Though not, probably, contagious, leprosy was diffusive and communicable from parent to child. It was one of the crucial tests in the case that it spread over the skin (verses 7, 8), that it "spread much abroad" (verses 22, 27). As this typical disease spread from one part of the body to another, from one limb and organ to another, until it sometimes covered the entire frame, so sin, of which it was the divinely chosen type, is a thing that spreads. It is an emphatically diffusive, a communicable thing. It spreads:

1. From faculty to faculty of the same human spirit; one sin leads on to another, as theft to violence, or drunkenness to falsehood, or impurity to deception.

2. From parent to child.

3. From man to man, through the whole "body politic." It spreads much abroad through any and every body, civil or ecclesiastical, into which it enters.

III. ITS SEPARATING EFFECT. "He shall dwell alone: without the camp shall his habitation be" (verse 46). Leprosy separated between husband and wife, parent and children, friend and friend; it sundered one human life from that of the commonwealth, and was a source of sad and, so far as the preciousness of life was concerned, a fatal loneliness. Sin is the separating power.

1. It comes between man and God (Isaiah 59:2). It places him outside the gates of the spiritual kingdom; it deprives a man of all fellowship with the heavenly Father; it leads him out into a "far country" of alienation, of dread, of dissimilarity.

2. It comes between man and man. It is the endless and bitter source of estrangement, animosity, war; it makes lonely the life that should be full of sweet and elevating fellowship.

IV. ITS PITIFULNESS. Who could see the poor leper, with rent clothes, with bare head, with covered lip, passing through the camp, crying, "Unclean, unclean!" on his way to a dreary and, it might be, life-long solitude and not be affected with a tender pity? He might be "unclean," but he was miserable, he was lost; the light of his life had gone out. Sin is not more condemnable than it is pitiable. Blame the erring, reproach the faulty, remonstrate with the foolish and the mischievous (1 Timothy 5:20), but pity those whom sin is shutting out from all that is best below, and will exclude from all that is bright and blessed above. Remember the "great love (of pity) wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins" (Ephesians 2:4, 5), and pity with a profound compassion and help with an uplifting hand those who are still down in the mire of sin, still far from the kingdom of God. - C.

We learn lessons concerning -

I. THE BLEMISH OF MENTAL PECULIARITY. (Verse 40.) Evidently baldness was an unusual and an unsightly thing among the Israelites. Otherwise it would not have excited notice and could not have created derision (2 Kings 2:23; Isaiah 3:24; Ezekiel 7:18). It was regarded as an unbecoming peculiarity. Affecting the head, we may regard it as a type of mental peculiarity which does not amount to a serious sin, but is yet unusual and unbecoming. Many men who are substantially sound in heart and life, loving that which is highest and doing that which is just and right, are yet affected and afflicted by mental peculiarities - oddities, crotchets, fancies, awkwardness or crookedness of mental habit; things which are not formidably had, but which, because they are superficial, strike the eye, provoke general remark, and stand in the way of effective service.

1. It is right that those who observe them in others should remember that they are only blemishes, and nothing more; detracting in some degree from "the beauty of holiness," but not inconsistent with real and even admirable excellence. "He is bald, yet he is clean" (verse 40).

2. It is right that those who possess them should reflect, and act on the reflection, that these things, though only blemishes, may importantly diminish the power of the possessor to influence, guide, and win other people. The candle (character) is of much more importance than the candlestick (mental habit), but if character be obscured by some darkening "bushel," and not put on the candlestick of pleasant and agreeable habits, it will not "give light to all that are in the house" (Matthew 5:15).

II. THE EVIL OF ERROR. There might come on the bald head a spot, a sore; this might be a "white reddish sore" - leprous (verses 42, 43). But it might not; it might be nothing but a boil or some cutaneous disorder, which was not leprosy. In that case the patient Would be treated as described in verses 2-6. There would be something wrong, but it was not the unclean thing, leprosy. There is a mental disease which is something more serious than peculiarity and something less serious than guilty perversity. It is error; the arrival at wrong conclusions. There may be but small faultiness in coming to convictions which are not correct, but there may be positive disaster resulting therefrom. A man may innocently take the wrong road, but his innocency will not save him from walking into the bog or over the precipice to which it leads. Error is not the worst thing in the world, but it is a seriously bad and dangerous thing. When we are earnestly warned, by obviously thoughtful and godly men, that we are wrong in our judgments, it becomes us to listen patiently and consider well whether we are in the right track, or whether we have mistaken a false path for the "path of life."

III. THE SIN OF MENTAL PERVERSITY. (Verses 43, 44.) There is great significance in the sentence "the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean." The man who had leprosy in the head was accounted unclean in an especial degree: he was utterly unclean. Sin, of which this malady was so striking a type, never assumes so dangerous a phase as when it appears in the form of a perverted judgment or a darkened conscience. When, by sinning, a man has blunted his spiritual perceptions so that he "calls evil good, and good evil," he is in the last stage of moral decline; death is near at hand. If" our eye be evil" (if our judgment be perverted, our faculty of spiritual perception be diseased), our "whole body is full of darkness;" if "the light that is in,, us" (our own mental and spiritual faculty) be darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 5:23). Witness the Pharisees in their treatment of our Lord. We may well be actively on our guard against, and may well be earnest in prayer that God will deliver us from, that of which leprosy in the head is the painful picture, - a guilty, blinding, ruinous perversity of mind. - C.

The stringent rules for the treatment of the leper are not sufficiently explained by sanitary considerations. The Jews saw in the leper a symbol of the sinner visited with the displeasure of God. His was a stroke of smiting ("plague of leprosy") from the hand of Jehovah, which made him "utterly unclean" (verse 44). The instructions of this chapter may convey to us important truth respecting the sinner's condition. To behold it thus forcibly depicted may administer a wholesome warning.

I. THE CORRUPTION EFFECTED BY SIN. Cannot but shudder at:

1. Its loathsomeness, destroying man's appearance, making him offensive to the sight. How abominable is wickedness to the pure eyes of God, and if our moral sense were keener, what constant shocks should we receive from the wicked conduct of men! What want of taste to indulge in sin! what disharmony of relationship it introduces!

2. Note its tendency to spread until it becomes total. The commission of one crime often leads to another which still more impairs the soul; the inordinate gratification of appetite in one direction is provocative of intemperance in another; to lose modesty is often to lose natural affection. At last the whole constitution betrays the effects of sin, body, mind, and spirit are alike unpleasant to contemplate.

3. Its destruction of vital power. It was termed by the Jews a "living death." Of its worst form, where the limbs mortify and drop off, no special mention is made in the Law; indeed, the supposition is that, after the expiration of a certain time, the disease will have so spread as to become harmless, and the man may be termed "clean" (verse 17). The disease appears to have become more malignant in subsequent ages, and thus to typify even more accurately the waste of strength produced by evil habits. The mental and moral faculties are enervated by sin, the sinner is led captive by the devil at his will. To understand a principle we must push its application to extreme consequences, and if we would entertain fitting conceptions of sin we must regard it not when most refined, not when in its commencement, but in its gross final results. To dread fire, think of the conflagration that visits a town with disorder and ruin!

II. THE EXCLUSION IT ENTAILS FROM HOLY PRIVILEGES, The leper was separate from the people and the sanctuary.

1. Contact with the sinner defiles, except in appointed cases, where the servant of God in fulfillment of duty (as the priest in examination) seeks out the moral h per. If men mingle with sinners, having Christ's end in view, to do them good, the association is pardoned. Otherwise "one sinner destroyeth much good," "evil communications corrupt good manners." Men should naturally shun the company of the debased as they would the presence of those afflicted with an infectious disease.

2. The semblance of sin must be guarded against. All that appears like it (verses 5, 6) needs suspicious treatment. Better to err on the safe side, not pronouncing at first decidedly, but watching the operation of a plan, or society, or principle, and ere long its true character wilt be manifested by development.

3. Continuance in sin means separation from the Church and the fellowship of right-minded people. The leper must "dwell alone, without the camp." Our Lord and his apostles insisted on the maintenance of discipline in Christian bodies. The persistent sinner will find himself eventually cut off from intercourse with his former friends, for ungodliness is an effectual barrier, creating uncongeniality of sentiment and behaviour.

4. Dismission from the presence of God is the worst penalty of sin. The Psalmist might lament his enforced absence from the tabernacle where he had seen the power and glory of God; but how much more the man who was so near the hill of Zion, and yet so far off by reason of symbolical impurity! Sin kept God and man asunder, and to remove it came the Lord Jesus Christ. The awful sentence finally pronounced upon the unrighteous is "Depart from me!" What absence of joy and peace and love is contained in the words, "the outer darkness"!


1. Grief. The leper wore the garb of mourning. There needs the godly sorrow that worketh repentance. Reflect not simply upon the sad consequences of sin, estrangement from God, deprivation of his favour, but upon their source, and learn to hate sin as an abomination.

2. Humiliation. The uncovered head attested the leper's shame. "I abhor myself" is fitting language for polluted lips.

3. Acknowledgment of guilt. Listen to the cry, "Unclean!" The upper lip was shrouded in a covering that enjoined general silence, except on the approach of a stranger, who might be thereby defiled. "We are all as an unclean thing." When sin lies heavily upon the conscience, it is felt to be no time for ordinary conversation, much less for frivolous gossip, though under such a veil anxiety is often hid.

CONCLUSION. By the Law was the knowledge of sin, but by the gospel is proclaimed its remedy, forgiveness and. sanctification through Christ. The priest was not dependent upon his own judgment, but was guided by fixed rules in deciding upon leprous cases. Yet he did not heal; the sufferer was left to nature's care, and to indulge the vague hope of recovery. The gospel bids all sinners lay aside their fears and rejoice in a panacea that never fails. The interposition of God by prophets which resulted in miraculous cures of leprosy prepared the way for the marvelous works of the Redeemer, who evinced by his restoring the body to health his power also to heal the soul. Thus what was faintly foreshadowed under the old dispensation has been brightly revealed in the new. The enumeration of the feelings appropriate to the sinner is incomplete, therefore, without adding to them hope, in the sense not of wishful longing, but of certain anticipation of salvation. - S.R.A.

He shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be. The right of expulsion from the Jewish camp would be founded, in the mind of Moses, on the Divine commandment (text; Numbers 5:2, etc.). That was all-sufficient for the great legislator. We may, however, "justify the ways of God to men" to our mind by the considerations:

1. That if the disease were not positively contagious, the dread of contagion would be most harmful to the community.

2. That the exceeding repulsiveness of the leper was ample reason for his being kept from the sight of men, women, and children.

3. That the most important and salutary lesson concerning sin was thereby vividly enforced, viz. that the sinner is, through his iniquity, separated from all that is purest and best. Unquestionably, with this and other clear commandments from Jehovah, it was both the right and the duty of the Hebrew commonwealth to expel the leper from the camp. Excommunication from human society is a sad and severe measure; but it is, in many cases, lawful and even obligatory. The foul and the "unclean" must be separated sometimes, even now and here, from the holy and the pure. Excommunication may be -


1. The nation has a right to transport or imprison those of its members who have committed crime, and who have shown that their presence "in the camp" is noxious and dangerous to the rest.

2. The nation is bound to exclude from town and city those who endanger its morals. The opium-seller, as such, is righteously excluded; the man who would sell poisons without restriction is disallowed; and an unlimited number of dramshops, with their terrible enticements, is (or, surely; should be) prohibited. A community has the right to say, "We will not allow any man, for the sake of gain, seriously to imperil the morals, the health, and the lives of the people; if you want to practice these things, you must go 'without the camp.'"


1. We ought not to admit to our intimacy any "unclean" human spirit. We should fence our social circles so that no man sits down to our table or our hearth to infect and poison our own minds.

2. But it is, in an especial degree, both cur right and our duty, as parents, to guard the family circle from the intrusion of "the unclean." What untold evils, what unimaginable sorrows, have befallen family life, because parents have not, with holy vigilance, saved their sons and daughters from the companionship of the corrupt! Of every "unclean" soul let the human father say, with sternest inflexibility, "Without the camp shall his habitation be."

III. THE RIGHT AND DUTY OF THE CHURCH. There can be no doubt of this.

1. It is the divinely appointed way. It was instituted by our Lord himself (Matthew 18:17, 18). It was enjoined by the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 5:2, 5, 11; Titus 3:10); it was also practiced by him (1 Timothy 1:20).

2. It is the legitimate and becoming method. Any interference by a Christian Church with civil rights goes beyond the Word of the Lord, brings the Church into conflict with the secular power, and is likely to lead to confusion and trouble. Exclusion from its own fellowship is a natural and incontestable right.

3. It is sometimes the only course that is open. It is needful for the purity of the Church itself; the leaven must not injure the whole lump. It is needful also for the offender. And it is well to remember these two things in such a sad necessity: viz.

(1) that excommunication was resorted to in apostolic times with a distinct view to the benefit of the offender (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20); and

(2) that of two cases reported in Scripture, one relates the restoration of the excommunicated member (2 Corinthians 2:6-8). Let the Church make paramount the preservation of its own purity, but let it encourage, expect, and welcome penitence. - C.


Our garments are our immediate surroundings, and there may be in them as well as in ourselves that which is offensive and "unclean." There was an impurity in the garment as well as in the human body against which the Law provided. The classing of clothes and houses with the human skin as leprous, "has moved the mirth of some and the wonder of others... but the analogy between the insect which frets the human skin and that which frets the garment that covers it, between the fungous growth that lines the crevices of the epidermis and that which creeps in the interstices of masonry, is close enough for the purposes of ceremonial law." The legal provision here made for the leprous garment suggests to us -


1. Depraved tastes and cravings in our body (for the body is the immediate clothing of the spirit).

2. Unholy companionships.

3. Corrupt political associations.

4. Impure, demoralizing books (or any form of hurtful literature).

5. Injurious occupation - that which wounds the conscience or enfeebles the inner life.

6. A deadening Church - a religious society where the form without the power of godliness is left.

II. THE DIVINELY SUGGESTED TREATMENT OF THEM. We gather from these verses that we should:

1. Exercise vigilance in detecting. With the same carefulness with which the priest made himself sure in the matter of the leprous garment (verses 50-57), we must make certain whether there be in any of our surroundings - or of those for whom we are responsible - the plague which will work spiritual mischief in the heart and ultimate ruin to the character.

2. Make serious effort to cleanse. If, after seven days, there had been no spreading of the plague, the priest was to wash the garment (verse 54), and if the plague departed, it was to be washed a second time, and then it was clean (verse 58). All that was salvable was to be saved. If by vigorous and repeated washing any spotted garment could be preserved, it was not to be destroyed. All that is reformable in our institutions and surroundings must be reformed. We must cleanse where we can make pure and where it is unnecessary to destroy. But sometimes we must:

3. Unscrupulously destroy. When unmistakable signs of leprosy appeared, the priest was to "burn that garment;" it was to "be burnt in the fire" (verse 52). When we find in anything that surrounds us and that is exerting an influence upon us, that which is really hurtful to us - that which would lead us astray from God, we must sacrifice it altogether, at whatever cost (see Mark 9:43-47). Our belongings must be put into the fire rather than be permitted to stain our soul. - C.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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