Leviticus 13 to 14 - The law of the leper

The passage

The law of the leper is found in Lev 13 and 14. Here is an extract.

(Lev 13:1-3 NIV)  The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, {2} "When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin that may become an infectious skin disease, he must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. {3} The priest is to examine the sore on his skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is an infectious skin disease. When the priest examines him, he shall pronounce him ceremonially unclean.

Verse after verse talks about the diagnosis of leprosy and how to deal with it. Most of us today are not concerned about catching leprosy. So how do we apply the ancient truths into our daily life?

We can draw important analogies between leprosy and sin. In those days, leprosy was a symbol of spiritual uncleanliness.

(Lev 13:3 NIV)  The priest is to examine the sore on his skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is an infectious skin disease. When the priest examines him, he shall pronounce him ceremonially unclean.

Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary, “The plague of leprosy was an uncleanness, rather than a disease. Christ is said to cleanse lepers, not to cure them. It was a plague often inflicted immediately by the hand of God. Miriam's leprosy, and Gehazi's, and king Uzziah's, were punishments of particular sins. The judgment of it was referred to the priests.”

Sin is difficult to diagnose

There seem to be an inordinate amount of space devoted to the proper diagnosis of the disease. The diagnosis took up 46 verses of Lev 13. Is the disease really so hard to diagnose?

The priests tried to look for outward signs of the disease. This is so difficult. But spiritual disease can be even harder to diagnose. There may be no outward sign at all.

We can have lust and yet disguise it so well, practicing the lust only in our heart.

(Mat 5:27-28 NIV)  "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' {28} But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not everyone will express his anger through killing someone. Yet the anger can lurk within us and be invisible to people around us. Jesus says that the anger is just as dangerous.

(Mat 5:21-22 NIV)  "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' {22} But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Sometimes the sin is not only invisible to others; it is invisible to ourselves. The Psalmist knew that it is difficult for one to discern his own errors.

(Psa 19:12 NIV)  Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.

He asked God to be shine His search light on him so that any sin can be brought to his attention and be dealt with.

(Psa 139:23-24 NIV)  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. {24} See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Much effort is spent before a person is declared unclean

The priests went through a long and elaborate process of checking before they would conclude that a person is unclean. They took time to understand the physical condition of that person.

The word examine appears more than 20 times in Lev 13 alone. This shows how much effort is spent before we brand someone as physically unclean.

Do we also take time to understand the spiritual condition of others? Are we quick to brand a person as having sinned without taking the time to know more?

We know as a fact that children who had been physically abused grow up to abuse others as well. A person who has been betrayed emotionally finds it hard to love others. A person who had been criticized repeatedly as a child grows up to be a critical person as a defense mechanism to his own insecurity.

Let’s make an effort to understand a person’s spiritual condition before we are quick to pass judgment.

The tendency for sin to reoccur

(Lev 13:18-19 NIV)  "When someone has a boil on his skin and it heals, {19} and in the place where the boil was, a white swelling or reddish-white spot appears, he must present himself to the priest.

The priest is told what judgment to make, if there were any appearance of a leprosy in old sores; and such is the danger of those who having escaped the pollutions of the world are again entangled therein. (Source: Matthew Henry)

All of us have our own weak areas. We may have sinned in a certain area in the past and even when we are delivered, temptation continues to be strong in this area. That is why we have to be most careful about areas of our past sins. We must be mindful that these represent our weak areas and take special effort to pray for protection and avoid situations that can lead to a recurrence of those sins.

We cannot tolerate the fellowship of sin

(Lev 13:1-4 NIV)  The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, {2} "When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin that may become an infectious skin disease, he must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. {3} The priest is to examine the sore on his skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is an infectious skin disease. When the priest examines him, he shall pronounce him ceremonially unclean. {4} If the spot on his skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to put the infected person in isolation for seven days.

When a person is unclean he has to be isolated from the rest. The reason: the disease he has may become infectious and affect the rest of the community.

This is also true in the spiritual sense. A person who has committed serious sins, which is contagious, must be isolated from Christian fellowship.

(2 Th 3:14-15 NIV)  If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. {15} Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

I struggle with this issue. What if our sinning brother leaves the faith altogether if we isolate him? Obviously the danger of contaminating the Christian community is greater than the danger of that brother leaving the faith. This is because if the brother drops out we lose one person. However, if that brother contaminates the church, many more will be lost.

I believe the rationale for isolating a Christian brother has to be the prevention of widespread contamination. Therefore, we are not talking about trivial matters. Everyone sins to a certain extent, even daily. We need to discern what are sins that have the potential to contaminate and therefore need to be dealt with through isolation. The sins listed above are serious sins and not trivial ones.

Read more about church discipline.

Sin spreads to other areas of our life

(Lev 13:7 NIV)  But if the rash does spread in his skin after he has shown himself to the priest to be pronounced clean, he must appear before the priest again.

The rash mentioned in Lev 13 has the tendency to spread to other areas of the body. Likewise sin also has the tendency to spread to other areas of our life.

(Eph 4:26-27 NIV)  "In your anger do not sin" : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, {27} and do not give the devil a foothold.

When a military force secures a foothold, we know that that is not the only place it wants to conquer. From that foothold, it will launch out attacks with the intention to conquer a much larger area.

The Bible says that anger will give the devil a foothold. Satan will use the bitterness in a person to create all kinds of other sins.

If a person is laxed in one area in his life and gives the devil a foothold, it is almost certain that sin will spread in his life. It is like the foot-in-the-door theory. Once sin gets its ugly foot in our door, very soon the whole person comes in.

Do not think that we can compartmentalize our lives; we cannot. Let’s be sure to ask God to cleanse us totally of all known sins.