The Leprosy of Garments
Leviticus 13:47-59
The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it be a woolen garment, or a linen garment;…

I do not suppose that this leprosy of garments and skins was just the same disease of that name which attacked the human system. It may have been; and one may have sometimes taken it from the other; but we are not required to take this view. It is enough to understand it to be some affection of woven fabrics bearing a general resemblance to a leprous affection of the living body. As the life and comeliness of the leper are fretted away by his disease, so clothes and skins are affected by dampness, mould, or the settling in them of animalculae, fretting away their strength and substance. Michaelis, who very thoroughly investigated this whole subject, speaks of dead wool, that is, the wool of sheep which have died by disease, as particularly liable to damage of this sort. His explanation is, that it loses its points and breeds impurity; and that when made into cloth and warmed by the natural heat of the wearer, it soon becomes bare and falls in holes, as if eaten by some invisible vermin. The unsoundness and unhealthiness of fabrics made of such materials were thought so serious by this learned investigator, that he strongly urges the interference of legal enactments to prohibit the use of such wool in the manufacture of cloths. It is evidently to some such affections that God refers in these laws concerning the leprosy of garments; not because they were so particularly noxious or dangerous, but for typical purposes. The proper vindication of all these ceremonial regulations is their lively signification of moral and religious ideas. We have seen that leprosy in the living body represents sin as it lives and works in man. Leprosy in clothing must therefore refer to disorder and contagion around man. There is disease breeding in everything about us, as well as in us. Jude speaks of "the garment spotted by the flesh." Christ commends a few names in Sardis because they had "not defiled their garments." The reference in these and like passages plainly is to the matter of external contact with the world, and to the liability of Christians to be tainted by their earthly surroundings. The phraseology, however, is borrowed from these ancient laws. It contemplates the associations of a man as his clothing. Morally speaking, the state of things in which we live is our garment. It is that which is put upon us when we come into life, which we continually wear while in the world, and which we put off when we die. It includes all the circumstances in which we are placed, the business in which we engage, the social systems under which we act, our comforts and associations in the world, and all the outward every-day occurrences which enter into and shape our external existence. You will notice that these laws do not prohibit, but rather enjoin, the use of clothing. Toil is good; and family relations are good; and society in all its complex and varied affairs is good. We cannot sever ourselves from anything which it imposes without interference with God and detriment to ourselves. But whilst all these natural surroundings are good, they are liable to disease, and may become the sources of infection and evil. They may become tainted, and so help to render us unclean. Society is as capable of corruption as the individual; and with this augmentation of mischief, that it reacts upon the individual, and may contaminate and deprave him still more than he would otherwise be. The fact is, that our social factors have introduced a great deal of dead wool into the fabrics which men in this world are compelled to wear. Take the subject of government. Civil rule is ordained of God. It is meant for good. And when framed upon principles of righteousness, earth knows no higher blessing. It is a defence for the weak, a restraint upon outbreaking passion, a handmaid to social dignity, the bulwark of freedom, the grand regulator of the outward world. And yet, how leprous has government often become! What curses has it inflicted upon man! It has been breeding leprosy and plague for six thousand years. And not the least among its dreadful contaminations has been its deleterious effects upon the virtue of mankind. An arbitrary and tyrannical government cripples and stunts morality in its very germ, by divesting goodness of its proper reward, and making justice yield to the bribes of power and gain. It makes outward authority or sordid passion, instead of inward conviction and moral principle, the rule of conduct. Take the domestic relations. God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone. He has set mankind in families. He has ordained the home, and made it the seat and centre of the mightiest influences that work in society. Yet, how often may we find the leprous plague fretting into the warp and woof of the domestic fabric, and forming a moral atmosphere about the plastic souls of infancy and childhood, more awful than upas shades and more desolating than Lybian siroccos! Take business. It is necessary to engage in it. God himself commands it. Virtue, and religion, and even earthly comfort, require it. But how liable to become corrupt, and a mere instrument of death. The commercial world is a very trying world upon the health of honour and honesty. Take education and literature. We must have schools and books. They are an indispensable part of the great machinery of human progress. But they are apt to become leprous, and to impart contagion. Oh, what a power of mischief has gone out upon the world from schools and books. How has Genius descended from the altars of Heaven, to light her torch at the flames below! Dead wool is in much of the cloth she wears. Take even the Church. By it redemption is conveyed to men; and outside of it man has no Saviour and no hope. And yet it is one of those garments around us which are liable to leprous taint. Instead of serving as a house of prayer, it has sometimes been a mere den of thieves. Instead of a nursery of faith, hope, and charity, it has often been a nest for pestilential superstition, narrow self-righteousness, and intolerant bigotry. But I need not enter further into specifications of this sort. You can see plainly that nothing around us in this world is so holy or so good but that it may be perverted to base uses, and rendered the instrument of contamination and exclusion from the camp of God's saints. And whilst we continue upon the earth, not one of us shall ever be able to escape liability to become leprous from the social influences which hang upon and beset us continually. Having thus looked at the disorder, let us now direct our attention to the prescriptions concerning it

1. The first thing I notice here is that God set every Israelite on the lookout for it. This must necessarily have been the direct effect of the announcement of these laws. Every article of clothing was at once thrown under suspicion. Now there is a kind of suspiciousness which I would not encourage. There is an affection arising from a bad conscience or a bad heart — a feeling closely akin to ugly jealousy, which mistrusts everything and everybody. It is just the contrary of that charity which "believeth all things, hopeth all things." And the farther any one can keep himself from it the better for his own comfort, and for the good of those around him. But there is a suspiciousness which is good. It mingles with the deepest piety and goes along with the greatest usefulness. But it is a suspicion of self rather than a suspicion of others. It is a jealousy for one's own purity — a holy fear of doing wrong or of being led into evil. It is a diligent watchfulness over self — a careful guarding against the contaminations of evil. It is a suspiciousness based upon the clear evidence that everything is liable to corruption, and that there is continual danger of falling into condemnation. It is a sacred dread of sin — the desire of a pure heart to "keep unspotted from the world." It sets a man upon the lookout for dangers in all his earthly surroundings.

2. A second particular in this law, to which I will call your attention, is, that whenever any symptoms appeared which might perhaps be leprous, the case was always to be immediately submitted to the judgment of the priest. The priest typified Christ; and his office, the office of Christ. And a great Christian lesson here comes to our view. Human judgment is weak. The wisest of men has said, "He that trusteth to his own heart is a fool." We need light from heaven. Jesus is the only reliable arbiter. There are many instances in which nothing can guide us safely but His own decisive Word. And this law pointed forward to the fact that Christ is our Teacher and Judge — that He is to be our authoritative Instructor — and that by His decision we are to know what is not pure.

3. A third particular in these laws relates to the treatment which a garment declared to be leprous was to receive. This varied somewhat with the nature of the symptoms. If the affection was active and rapid in its progress, the article was at once to be burned, "whether warp or woof, in woollen or in linen, or anything of skin." It mattered not how valuable the article was, or how great the inconvenience of its loss, it was to be destroyed by fire. We are bound, as Christians, at once to cut loose for ever from everything infected. If the affection, however, was not active and fretting, remedial measures were to be adopted, if possible, to cleanse and save the garment. The natural remedy for defilement was to be applied. And here comes in the whole subject of reform. This is the natural remedy for all manageable social disorders. I say all manageable ones; for as some garments were so badly affected as to be doomed at once to burning, so there are some infections in the surroundings of man in this world which never can be healed. Take, for instance, some of our popular amusements. That they are leprous none will deny. What hope is there of reforming them? Theirs is "a fret inward," and there is no help for them. No washing can get them clean. And the only alternative for Christians is to separate themselves from them entirely. These, and such like infected articles, are past cleansing. But there are others in which the taint is less malignant and less defiling. These are the legitimate subjects of Christian reform. There are many abuses in society which may be corrected. To this end, therefore, are our energies to be directed. But there is one very important peculiarity to be observed in all Christian reforms. The washing of the infected garment was to be done by direction of the priest. "The priest shall command that they wash the thing wherein the plague is." Christ's Word is to be our guide for getting rid of social disorders, as well as for the detection of them. He is our Priest, and we must conduct our cleansing efforts upon the basis of His gospel. Finally, along with the washing of a leprous garment, it was to be shut up seven days, after which the priest was to example it again; and if the bad symptoms had disappeared it was to be washed again, and it was clean; but if the symptoms had not disappeared, it was then to be finally torn or burned. A vivid picture, this, of God's plans with the social fabrics of this world. Some, in which the disorder was great, have already been quite destroyed. Others, in which the affection is less malignant, are undergoing the efforts of purification. They are shut up now until time shall complete its period. The great High Priest and Judge shall then come forth to give them the last inspection. And as things then are, so shall their eternal portion be.

(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment;

WEB: "The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it is a woolen garment, or a linen garment;

The Diffusiveness of Sin
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