Leviticus 14:7
And he shall sprinkle on him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field.
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(7) And he shall sprinkle.—Having thus dipped the hyssop fastened to the cedar stick into the blood and water, the priest is to sprinkle with it the back of the hand and the forehead of the patient seven times. The seven times symbolised the complete cleansing. (See Leviticus 4:6.) Hence Naaman the leper washed himself seven times in the Jordan (2Kings 5:10; 2Kings 5:14).

And shall let the living bird loose.—Whereupon the priest not only pronounced the cured man clean and restored to his liberty, but at the same time liberated the bird also. The release of the bird symbolised the freedom restored to the patient, who, like the bird, was now at liberty to go where he liked without any restraint. Because it is here said that the bird is to be let loose “into the open field,” or, more literally, towards the face of the field, the ancient canons decreed that he who lets it loose must not turn his face towards the sea, wilderness, or city, but towards the field. The cedar wood, the crimson thread, and the hyssop, as well as the bird, if caught again, could be used again in the cleansing of other lepers.

Leviticus 14:7. Into the open field — The place of its former abode, signifying the taking off that restraint which was laid upon the leper, and that he was restored to free conversation with his neighbours.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.Seven times - The seal of the covenant, expressed in the number seven (compare Leviticus 14:9), was renewed in sprinkling him who, during his leprosy, had lived as an outcast. The details of a restoration to health and freedom appear to be well expressed in the whole ceremony. Each of the birds represented the leper. They were to be of a clean kind, because they stood for one of the chosen race. The death-like state of the leper during his exclusion from the camp was expressed by killing one of the birds. The living bird was identified with the slain one by being dipped in his blood mixed with the spring water that figured the process of purification, while the cured leper was identified with the rite by having the same water and blood sprinkled over him. The bird then liberated was a sign that the leper left behind him all the symbols of the death disease and of the remedies associated with it, and was free to enjoy health and social freedom with his kind. Compare Colossians 2:12. 5-9. the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed … over running water—As the blood of a single bird would not have been sufficient to immerse the body of another bird, it was mingled with spring water to increase the quantity necessary for the appointed sprinklings, which were to be repeated seven times, denoting a complete purification. (See 2Ki 5:10; Ps 51:2; Mt 8:4; Lu 5:14). The living bird being then set free, in token of the leper's release from quarantine, the priest pronounced him clean; and this official declaration was made with all solemnity, in order that the mind of the leper might be duly impressed with a sense of the divine goodness, and that others might be satisfied they might safely hold intercourse with him. Several other purifications had to be gone through during a series of seven days, and the whole process had to be repeated on the seventh, ere he was allowed to re-enter the camp. The circumstance of a priest being employed seems to imply that instruction suitable to the newly recovered leper would be given, and that the symbolical ceremonies used in the process of cleansing leprosy would be explained. How far they were then understood we cannot tell. But we can trace some instructive analogies between the leprosy and the disease of sin, and between the rites observed in the process of cleansing leprosy and the provisions of the Gospel. The chief of these analogies is that as it was only when a leper exhibited a certain change of state that orders were given by the priest for a sacrifice, so a sinner must be in the exercise of faith and penitence ere the benefits of the gospel remedy can be enjoyed by him. The slain bird and the bird let loose are supposed to typify, the one the death, and the other the resurrection of Christ; while the sprinklings on him that had been leprous typified the requirements which led a believer to cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and to perfect his holiness in the fear of the Lord. Seven times, to signify his perfect cleansing and restoration to all his former privileges. Compare Leviticus 4:17.

Into the open field, the place of its former abode, signifying the taking off that restraint which was laid upon the leper, and the liberty which the leper now had to return to his former habitation and conversation with other men. And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times,.... With the hyssop fastened to the cedar stick, with the scarlet wool or thread bound about it, dipped into the blood and water in the earthen vessel; to which the psalmist alludes, Psalm 51:7; the Egyptians had a great notion of "hyssop", as of a purifying nature, and therefore used to eat it with bread, to take off the strength of that (d): upon what part of the leper this sprinkling was made is not said; the Targum of Jonathan says, upon the house of his face, that is, upon the vail that was over his face: but in the Misnah (e) it is said to be on the back of his hand; and so Gersom, though some say it was on his forehead; and sprinkling was typical of Christ's blood of sprinkling, and of the application of it, and of sharing in all the blessings of it; and this was done seven times, to denote the thorough and perfect cleansing of him, and of every part, every faculty of the soul, and every member of the body, and that from all sin, and the frequent application of it: the last mentioned writer says, at every sprinkling there was a dipping, and that the sense is, that he should sprinkle and dip seven times, as Naaman the Syrian leper did in Jordan; but of the washing of the leper mention is afterwards made:

and shall pronounce him clean; from his leprosy, and so fit for civil and religious conversation, to come into the camp or city, and into the tabernacle:

and shall let the living bird loose into the open field; as a token of the freedom of the leper, and that he was at liberty to go where he pleased: the Misnic doctors say (f), when he came to let go the living bird, he did not turn its face neither to the sea, nor to the city, nor to the wilderness, as it is said, "but he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open field", as in Leviticus 14:53; the Targum of Jonathan here adds, if the man should be prepared to be smitten with the leprosy again, the live bird may return to his house the same day, and be fit to be eaten, but the slain bird he shall bury in the sight of the leper: some say, if the bird returned ever so many times, it was to be let go again: this may be a figure of the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and of his justification upon it, as the head and representative of his people, and of their free and full discharge from guilt, condemnation, and death, through him, and of his and their being received up into heaven, and whither their hearts should be directed, in affection and thankfulness for their great deliverance and salvation; see 1 Timothy 3:16.

(d) Chaeremon apud Porphyr. de Abstinentia, l. 4. sect. 6. (e) Ut supra. (Misn. Negaim, c. 11. sect. 4.) (f) Ib. sect. 2.

And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall {d} let the living bird loose into the open field.

(d) Signifying that he that was made clean was set free, and restored to the company of others.

7. seven times] As in Leviticus 14:27; Leviticus 14:51 and so in Leviticus 4:6; Leviticus 4:17, Leviticus 8:11, Leviticus 16:14; Leviticus 16:19; Numbers 19:4. Cp. 2 Kings 5:10 and Art. Number in HDB. iii. specially p. 565.

let go the living bird] The similarity between the two birds and the two goats brought on the Day of Atonement has been noted by Jewish and Christian commentators; it is necessary to point out the differences. On that Day the high priest officiated; the slain goat was a Sin-Offering, and on the goat that was sent away all the sins of the children of Israel were solemnly laid. The whole service was at the sanctuary, its inner shrine was entered on that day only; and there was no physical contact between the two goats. The two birds brought for the cleansing of the leper were respectively killed and set free outside the camp by an ordinary priest; the blood of the slain bird was not brought near the altar nor treated sacrificially, but applied to the living bird which was let go. The ritual is not markedly Hebraic, but antique in character, and similar to that followed by tribes whose ideas about the removal of impurity are in the most elementary stage. Some parts of it were probably in use among Semites before the age of Moses, as an inheritance from a distant past. The time when these rites were adopted into Israel’s cultus cannot be fixed with certainty; when they became part of that system which requires holiness from the worshippers of a holy God, their significance was spiritualized, and the superstitious beliefs of an earlier age were eliminated, though not entirely forgotten.

We find among primitive peoples that sicknesses are in many cases transferred to a bird or beast which thus becomes a kind of scapegoat (Frazer, G. B.2 iii. 15 f., 101 f.) or are sent away in boats (ib. 97 f. Cp. Rob.-Sm. Rel. Sem. 422, Berth. ad loc.).

The Heb. word for ‘cedar’ includes, besides the Lebanon variety, juniper and some sorts of pine; the Gk. κέδρος has a correspondingly broad significance. The ‘hyssop’ is supposed to be a kind of marjoram; the plant now known as hyssop does not grow in Egypt or Syria. For further details see Dillm. in loc. and Arts. Juniper, Cedar, in HDB. and Enc. Bib.

The cedar is regarded as a sacred tree. Instances of its use are given in Frazer, G. B.3 49 f., where it is described as Juniperus excelsa.Verse 7. - And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times. It is not certain whether the seven sprinklings were made upon the forehead of the person to be cleansed, or on the back of his hand. The feathers of the bird and the bunch of hyssop would be specially instrumental in the seven sprinklings. And shall pronounce him clean. Having assured himself that he was healed (verse 3), the priest now pronounces him to be clean, he looses as well as binds. It had been his office to declare the man a leper, and thereby to shut him out from the people of the Lord (Leviticus 13:8, 15, 22, 25, 36, 44, 46). Now he pronounces him to be no leper, and therefore, after some further ceremonies, readmits him (verses 8, 20, 31). And shall let the living bird loose into the open field. The symbolism of the two birds, which has been much misinterpreted, is essentially the same as that of the two goats on the day of atonement, though each ceremony has its distinctive features. The killing of the living bird was not a true sacrifice, as was the offering of the goat to Jehovah, but by its death it represented the state in which the leper had legally been, and to which he would have been physically reduced had not a remedy been found. The deathly and unclean state of the leper having been symbolically transferred from the dead bird to the living bird by the latter's being sprinkled in the former's blood, the living bird stands in the position of the scapegoat, on whom the sins of the people were laid. The bird is then let loose into the open field; literally, upon the face of the field; and it flies off, carrying with it the leper's uncleanness, and assuring him by every forward movement that it makes that the living death has passed from him, just as each step or' the scapegoat appeared to the Israelites to remove their sins from them. A large number of commentators, on the other hand, consider the released bird to symbolize the health and freedom now given back to the leper, and they dwell on the rapid and uncontrolled movement of birds as being peculiarly suitable for representing this recovered liberty. But this interpretation, to which there are many objections, appears to be altogether incompatible with the fact that the same ceremony is used in the cleansing of the leprous house, whereas the house could certainly not be represented as "recovered to unrestrained liberty" (Lunge). The common patristic view, that the two birds represent the two natures of the one Great Sacrifice offered to redeem man from sin, seems to be out of place here. Purification of the leper, after his recovery from his disease. As leprosy, regarded as a decomposition of the vital juices, and as putrefaction in a living body, was an image of death, and like this introduced the same dissolution and destruction of life into the corporeal sphere which sin introduced into the spiritual; and as the leper for this very reason as not only excluded from the fellowship of the sanctuary, but cut off from intercourse with the covenant nation which was called to sanctification: the man, when recovered from leprosy, was first of all to be received into the fellowship of the covenant nation by a significant rite of purification, and then again to be still further inducted into living fellowship with Jehovah in His sanctuary. Hence the purification prescribed was divided into two acts, separated from one another by an interval of seven days.
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