Leviticus 14:4
Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop:
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(4) Then shall the priest command to take.—Literally, And the priest shall command, and he shall take, that is, the leper shall take. To avoid the ambiguity as to the person, the translators of the Authorised Version adopted the rendering in the text. As the relatives of the cured leper procured the things prescribed for the purification, some of the ancient versions render it, And they shall take.

Two birds alive and clean.—These were either sparrows, doves, turtledoves, or any other birds, provided they belonged to the clean species described in Leviticus 11. According to the canons which obtained during the second Temple, the birds had to be sparrows, and the reason assigned for it was that as leprosy was regarded as a Divine punishment for calumny, such birds were selected as were proverbial for their constant twitter. Hence the rendering of sparrow in the Latin Vulgate, and in the Margin of the Authorised Version.

And cedar wood.—This had to be a foot and a half long, and a quarter of the foot of the bed in thickness. Though this wood was primarily chosen for its antiseptic properties, which made it peculiarly suitable for the occasion, still, belonging to the loftiest of trees (Pss. 2:13, Pss. 27:24; Amos 2:9), it also was designed to symbolise the haughtiness of mind which called down the affliction of leprosy.

And scarlet.—This was probably a band of scarlet wool with which the cedar and the hyssop were tied together. In later times the woollen band had to be the weight of a shekel, or weighing thirty-two grains of barley. It was taken to symbolise the purified and now healthy blood.

And hyssop.—This, according to the canons which obtained in the time of Christ, had at least to be a handbreadth in size. It could not be the so-called Greek, or the ornamental, or Roman, or wild hyssop, or any other hyssop which was distinguished by the name of the place where it grew, but had to be the common hyssop which grew in gardens. Though, like the cedar wood, it was primarily used on these occasions for its aromatic properties, yet this diminutive shrub was also most probably designed to symbolise the humility of the cured leper. Hence ancient tradition tells us, “Cedar wood and hyssop, the highest and the lowest, give the leper purity. Why these? Because pride was the cause of the distemper, which cannot be cured till man becomes humble, and keeps himself as low as hyssop.” Cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet were also burnt with the red heifer (Numbers 19:6), and were generally employed in purifications (Hebrews 9:19). Hence the Psalmist prays, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psalm 51:17).

Leviticus 14:4. Two birds — The one to represent Christ as dying for his sins, the other to represent him as rising again for his purification or justification. Alive and clean — Allowed for food and for sacrifice. Cedar-wood — A stick of cedar, to which the hyssop and one of the birds were tied by the scarlet thread. Cedar seems to be chosen, to denote that the leper was now freed from that corruption which his leprosy had brought upon him, that kind of wood being in a manner incorruptible. Scarlet — A thread of wool of a scarlet colour, to represent both the leper’s sinfulness, and the blood of Christ, and the happy change of the leper’s colour and complexion, which before was wan and loathsome, now sprightly and beautiful. Hyssop — The fragrant smell of which signified the cure of the leper’s ill scent.14:1-9 The priests could not cleanse the lepers; but when the Lord removed the plague, various rules were to be observed in admitting them again to the ordinances of God, and the society of his people. They represent many duties and exercises of truly repenting sinners, and the duties of ministers respecting them. If we apply this to the spiritual leprosy of sin, it intimates that when we withdraw from those who walk disorderly, we must not count them as enemies, but admonish them as brethren. And also that when God by his grace has brought to repentance, they ought with tenderness and joy, and sincere affection, to be received again. Care should always be taken that sinners may not be encouraged, nor penitents discouraged. If it were found that the leprosy was healed, the priest must declare it with the particular solemnities here described. The two birds, one killed, and the other dipped in the blood of the bird that was killed, and then let loose, may signify Christ shedding his blood for sinners, and rising and ascending into heaven. The priest having pronounced the leper clean from the disease, he must make himself clean from all remains of it. Thus those who have comfort of the remission of their sins, must with care and caution cleanse themselves from sins; for every one that has this hope in him, will be concerned to purify himself.These birds were provided by the priest for the man. They were not, like the offerings for the altar, brought by the man himself (compare Leviticus 14:4 with Leviticus 14:10), they were not presented nor brought near the sanctuary, nor was any portion of them offered on the altar.

Cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop - These three substances were used as the common materials in rites of purification (compare Exodus 12:22; Numbers 19:8; Psalm 51:7; Hebrews 9:19): the "cedar", or juniper, the resin or turpentine of which was a preservative against decay, and employed in medicines for elephantiasis and other skin diseases: the "scarlet", a "tongue," or band, of twice-dyed scarlet wool, with which the living bird, the hyssop, and the cedar wood were tied together when they were dipped into the blood and water: the color expressing the rosiness associated with health and vital energy: and the "hyssop" (see Exodus 12:22), probably the Caper plant, whose cleansing virtues as a medicine, and use in the treatment of ulcers and diseases of the skin allied to leprosy, were known to the ancients. It has been conjectured that the scarlet band was used to tie the hyssop upon the cedar, so as to make a sort of brush, such as would be convenient for sprinkling.

4. two birds—literally, "sparrows." The Septuagint, however, renders the expression "little birds"; and it is evident that it is to be taken in this generic sense from their being specified as "clean"—a condition which would have been altogether superfluous to mention in reference to sparrows. In all the offerings prescribed in the law, Moses ordered only common and accessible birds; and hence we may presume that he points here to such birds as sparrows or pigeons, as in the desert it might have been very difficult to procure wild birds alive.

cedar-wood, and scarlet, and hyssop—The cedar here meant was certainly not the famous tree of Lebanon, and it is generally supposed to have been the juniper, as several varieties of that shrub are found growing abundantly in the clefts and crevices of the Sinaitic mountains. A stick of this shrub was bound to a bunch of hyssop by a scarlet ribbon, and the living bird was to be so attached to it, that when they dipped the branches in the water, the tail of the bird might also be moistened, but not the head nor the wings, that it might not be impeded in its flight when let loose.

Two birds; the one to represent Christ as dying for his sins, the other to represent him as rising again for his purification or justification.

Clean; allowed for food and for sacrifice.

Cedar wood; a stick of cedar, to which the hyssop and one of the birds was tied by the scarlet thread. Cedar seems to be chosen, to note that the leper was now freed from that putrefaction or corruption which his leprosy had brought upon him, that kind of wood being in a manner incorruptible.

Scarlet; a thread of wool of a scarlet colour, Hebrews 9:19, to represent both the leper’s sinfulness, Isaiah 1:18, and the blood of Christ, and the happy change of the leper’s colour and complexion, which before was wan and loathsome, now sprightly and beautiful.

Hyssop, chosen partly for its fragrant smell, which signified the cure of the leper’s ill scent, and partly for conveniency in the use of sprinkling. See Exodus 12:22. Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed,.... The command is by the priest, the taking is by any man, as Ben Gersom observes; anyone whom he shall command, the leper himself, or his friends. Aben Ezra interprets it, the priest shall take of his own; but he adds, there are some that explain it, the leper shall give them to him, namely, what follows:

two birds alive, and clean; any sort of birds, to whom this description agrees; for not any particular sort are pointed out, as "sparrows" (w), as some render the word, or any other; because either they must be clean or unclean; if unclean, then not to be used; if clean, then this descriptive character is used in vain. These were to be alive, taken alive with the hand, and not shot dead; and this also excepts such as were torn, as Jarchi, or any ways maimed and unsound, and not likely to live; and they were to be "clean", such as were so according to a law given in a preceding chapter; they were to be none of those unclean birds there mentioned; and, according to the Misnah (x), they were to be alike in sight and height, and in price and value, and to be taken together; and, by the same tradition, they were to be two birds of liberty, that is, not such as were kept tame in cages, but such as fly abroad in the fields, These birds may be considered as a type of Christ, who compares himself to a hen, Matthew 23:37; and "birds" may denote his swiftness and readiness to help his people, his tenderness and compassion towards them in distress, and his weakness and frailty in human nature, and his meanness and despicableness in the eyes of men; and these being "alive", the character well agrees with him, who is the living God, the living. Redeemer, the Mediator that has life in himself, and for his people; and as man, now lives, and will live for evermore, and is the author and giver of life, natural, spiritual, and eternal. And the birds being clean, may denote the purity and holiness of Christ, and so his fitness to be a sacrifice, and his suitableness as food for his people: and the number two may signify either his two natures, divine and human, in both which he lives, and is pure and holy; or his two estates of humiliation and exaltation; or his death by the slain bird, and his resurrection by the living bard, of which more hereafter:

and the cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop; a stick of cedar, as Jarchi; it was proper it should be of such a size, as to be known to be cedar wood, but was not to be too heavy for the priest to sprinkle with it, as Ben Gersom; and the same writer observes, it ought to have a leaf on the top of it, that it might appear to be cedar: according to the Misnah (y), it was to be a cubit long, and the fourth part of a bed's foot thick: "scarlet" was either wool dyed of that colour, or crimson, so Jarchi; or a scarlet thread or line with which the hyssop was bound and fastened to the cedar wood; and, according to the above tradition (z), the "hyssop" was to be neither counterfeit nor wild, nor Greek, nor Roman, nor any that had any epithet to it, but common simple hyssop; and, as Gersom says, there was not to be less than an handful of it. The signification of these is variously conjectured; according to Abarbinel, they have respect to the nature of the leprosy, and as opposite to it; that as the two live birds signified restoration to his former state, when he had been like one dead, so the cedar wood, being incorruptible and durable, showed that the putrefaction of humours was cured; the scarlet, that the blood was purged, and hence the true colour of the face returned again, and a ruddy and florid countenance as before; and the hyssop being of a savoury smell, that the disagreeable scent and stench were gone: but others think there is a moral meaning in them, that the cedar being the highest of trees, and the scarlet colour coming from a worm, and the hyssop the lowest of plants, see 1 Kings 4:33; the "cedar wood" may denote the pride and haughtiness of spirit the leprosy is the punishment of, as in Miriam, Gehazi, Uzziah, and the family of Joab: and the worm that gives the scarlet colour, and the hyssop, may signify that humility that becomes a leper that is cleansed, so Jarchi: but they will bear a more evangelical sense, and may have respect either to Christ; the cedar wood may be an emblem of the incorruption of Christ, and of the durable efficacy of his death; the scarlet, of his bloody sufferings, his flaming love to his people, expressed thereby, and the nature of those sins and sinners being of a scarlet die, for whom he suffered; and the hyssop, of the purgative nature of his blood, which cleanses from all sin: or else to the graces of his Spirit; faith may be signified by the cedar wood, which is in some strong, and in all precious and durable; love by scarlet, of a flaming colour, as strong love is like coals of fire, that give a most vehement flame; and hope by hyssop, which is but a lowly, yet lively grace; or faith may be set forth by them all, by the cedar wood for its continuance, by scarlet for its working by love, and by hyssop for its purifying use, as it deals with the blood of Christ.

(w) "duos passeres", V. L. (x) Negaim, c. 14. sect. 5. (y) Negaim, c. 14. sect. 6. (z) Ibid.

Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and {b} clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop:

(b) Of birds which were permitted to be eaten.

4–7. The priest was to see that two living clean birds were brought. The Heb. word is ẓippôr, which is used of the birds of Abraham’s sacrifice (Genesis 15:10) and of clean birds generally (Deuteronomy 14:11). In Psalm 84:3 [Hebrews 4], Psalm 102:7 [Hebrews 8] it is translated ‘sparrow,’ and A.V. mg. of Leviticus 14:4 has ‘sparrows,’ following the traditional interpretation, and Vulg. These birds were employed in a ceremony which was without the camp, and the blood was not brought to the altar.

cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop] The cedar and hyssop were bound together by a scarlet band of wool. From 1 Kings 4:33 it appears that cedar and hyssop were regarded as two extremes in respect of size among trees: the cedar is a symbol of health and vigour (Psalm 92:12); it is used figuratively of the great ones of the earth (Jdg 9:15; Isaiah 14:8; Isaiah 37:24), not without reference to the haughtiness of those occupying such high positions (Isaiah 2:13; Ezekiel 31:3; Ezekiel 31:10). Hence some Jewish writers have seen in the cedar a figure of pride punished by a visitation of leprosy, while the hyssop signified that humility which was necessary to obtain forgiveness, and the removal of the stroke.

The cedar is noted for its durability, and the oil of the cedar was employed as a preservative; the Egyptians used it for embalming. This power of arresting decay may be regarded as akin to that shewn in restoring the tainted flesh of the leper. The scarlet colour has been generally taken as representing the blood, or the life which has been bestowed on one who was regarded as dead (Numbers 12:12). The hyssop seems to have been chosen for the purpose of sprinkling (Leviticus 14:7, cp. Exodus 12:22). The Mishna orders that the cedar wood should be a cubit in length, and that the hyssop shall not be Greek or Roman hyssop, or desert hyssop, or any hyssop with a distinctive name (Tal. Bab. Neg. xiv. § 6).Verse 4. - 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 REFERENCE_WORK:Keil & DelitzschExodus 12:21). The Psalmist's cry, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be chart" (Psalm 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. But if the mole appeared again in any such garment or cloth, i.e., if it appeared again after this, it was a leprosy bursting forth afresh, and the thing affected with it was to be burned. Leprosy in linen and woollen fabrics or clothes, and in leather, consisted in all probability in nothing but so-called mildew, which commonly arises from damp and want of air, and consists, in the case of linen, of round, partially coloured spots, which spread, and gradually eat up the fabric, until it falls to pieces like mould. In leather the mildew consists most strictly of "holes eaten in," and is of a "greenish, reddish, or whitish colour, according to the species of the delicate cryptogami by which it has been formed."
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