This blog gains its name from the book Steele's Answers published in 1912. It began as an effort to blog through that book, posting each of the Questions and Answers in the book in the order in which they appeared. I started this on Dec. 10, 2011. I completed blogging from that book on July 11, 2015. Along the way, I began to also post snippets from Dr. Steele's other writings — and from some other holiness writers of his times. Since then, I have begun adding material from his Bible commentaries. I also re-blog many of the old posts.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Leviticus 13:47-59 & Concluding Notes (Part 4)

"47 The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment; 48 Whether it be in the warp, or woof; of linen, or of woollen; whether in a skin, or in any thing made of skin; 49 And if the plague be greenish or reddish in the garment, or in the skin, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin; it is a plague of leprosy, and shall be shewed unto the priest: 50 And the priest shall look upon the plague, and shut up it that hath the plague seven days: 51 And he shall look on the plague on the seventh day: if the plague be spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in a skin, or in any work that is made of skin; the plague is a fretting leprosy; it is unclean. 52 He shall therefore burn that garment, whether warp or woof, in woollen or in linen, or any thing of skin, wherein the plague is: for it is a fretting leprosy; it shall be burnt in the fire. 53 And if the priest shall look, and, behold, the plague be not spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin; 54 Then the priest shall command that they wash the thing wherein the plague is, and he shall shut it up seven days more: 55 And the priest shall look on the plague, after that it is washed: and, behold, if the plague have not changed his colour, and the plague be not spread; it is unclean; thou shalt burn it in the fire; it is fret inward, whether it be bare within or without. 56 And if the priest look, and, behold, the plague be somewhat dark after the washing of it; then he shall rend it out of the garment, or out of the skin, or out of the warp, or out of the woof: 57 And if it appear still in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin; it is a spreading plague: thou shalt burn that wherein the plague is with fire. 58 And the garment, either warp, or woof, or whatsoever thing of skin it be, which thou shalt wash, if the plague be departed from them, then it shall be washed the second time, and shall be clean. 59 This is the law of the plague of leprosy in a garment of woollen or linen, either in the warp, or woof, or any thing of skins, to pronounce it clean, or to pronounce it unclean." — Leviticus 13:47-59 KJV.


Moses proceeds to describe a leprous garment in the very words used to describe the leprosy in a man — plague or stroke of leprosy. This has moved the mirth of some and the wonder of others. For it is evident that the garments of the leper are not intended. 1.) The method of purifying these is described in Leviticus 14:8. 2.) The infection is described as visibly spreading in the garment. This is totally unlike “the garment spotted with the flesh.” 3.) It is subject to priestly inspection and condemnation before it is to be destroyed. 4.) No connexion of the leprous garment with a leprous wearer is hinted at. There must therefore be possible in garments something analogous to the loathsome leprosy in mankind. Here modern science comes to our aid in vindication of the accuracy of the Mosaic account. It is well known that there are some skin-diseases which originate in a genus of small spiders called acarus, embracing the mites and ticks, and other cutaneous disorders proceeding from a fungus. The analogy between the insect which frets the human skin and that which frets the garment is close enough for the proposes of the ceremonial law.

47. Woollen… or linen — Garments composed of the wool of sheep or of flax were, according to Jewish canons, exposed to this ceremonial impurity. Silk, hemp, camel’s hair, and other substances are not liable to the plague. But mixed fabrics in which wool or flax predominates are capable of contracting this impurity.

48. Anything made of skin — Dyed skins and garments are not rendered unclean by leprosy. Warp or woof — The vermin or animalculae may eat the threads of either, leaving the other untouched. Michaelis in his researches upon this subject found an intelligent woollen manufacturer in Germany who testified that when dead wool, or the wool of sheep which have died of disease, is used for either the warp or the woof, vermin are apt to establish themselves in it, particularly when it is worn close to the body and warmed thereby. The cloth woven of such wool not only becomes very soon bare, but first full of little depressions and then holes. The Jews, from want of linen and from poverty, always wore woollen next the skin; hence their flesh was specially exposed to pollution from these infinitesimal insects of the moth genus. It has been suggested that the leprosy in linen is mildew, which spreads in partially coloured spots, till it gradually eats up the garment. In leather a delicate fungus or cryptogam eats holes under certain circumstances.

49. Greenish or reddish — Moths by eating away the nap produce a slight discoloration, but mildew and rust cause spots of these colours.

51. A fretting leprosy — Properly an inveterate or exasperated leprosy or corrosion.

55. It is unclean — Here we observe that the spreading of the spot is not a required indication of uncleanness, but simply the continuance of the stain after washing and drying. Indelible rust or mildew would therefore render a garment unclean. Fret inward — Literally, it is a hollow in its back-baldness or in its front-baldness — a depression of the front or back side of the cloth, caused by eating off the nap. This scrupulous care of garments was a part of that process by which the idea of spiritual purity was to be developed through physical purity. First, the natural, afterward the spiritual. 1 Corinthians 15:46.


(1.) There is much disagreement among biblical scholars respecting the nature of the leprosy and the grounds of its treatment in the law of Moses. Some strongly insist that the term leprosy is a misnomer introduced by the Greek translators, and that the real disease is the elephantiasis, because the skin resembles the elephant’s in colour, roughness, and insensibility, or because the foot, after the loss of the toes and enlargement of the ankle, resembles the foot of that animal. But it is essentially different from the leprosy, as will be seen by a study of recent medical reports from fifty places on the shores of the Mediterranean, in India, China, Africa, and the West Indies, in answer to a series of questions relating to this subject. The answers returned give a good description of the ulcers which afflicted Job, but they are not by any means so accurate a description of the Mosaic leprosy as we could desire. Hence we have not adopted the theory which identifies the elephantiasis with the leprosy described in this chapter.

(2.) Was the Levitical leprosy contagious, and was this the ground of the cautious treatment enjoined by Moses? Modern biblical scholars are inclined to answer in the negative, though not unanimously. “There are in England, now, hospitals built for lepers, so ancient that their origin is unknown, such as the St. Bartholomew Hospital at Gloucester, and others. It is known that there were at least nine thousand hospitals in Europe for leprosy alone. Louis VII. of France left legacies to over two thousand hospitals for lepers in his country. Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury, held a synod at Westminster, in the year 1200, to carry out the decree of the Council of Lateran, (1172,) to build a number of churches solely for leprous people, for they had long been expelled from all parish churches. They were to have priests, officers, and graveyards exclusively for themselves. They were released at the same time from all claims for tithes for their land or cattle. So careful and determined were our ancestors to remove from sight and smell every leper, that a law was early in existence to enforce their removal out of towns and villages ‘to a solitary place.’ At the city of Bath, a bath, with physicians and attendants, was endowed — exclusively for lepers — and the endowments are still paid.” — Joseph Parker.

The following facts would justify the conclusion of biblical scholars: 1.) No precautions are prescribed to the priests who are brought into constant and close contact with this disease. 2.) The priests did not become leprous more than the laity. 3.) The wholly leprous person was pronounced clean. 4.) The leprous garment is not treated as contagious, since washing would develop the infection. 5.) According to Jewish law a minor, a heathen, a proselyte, a leprous garment, and a leprous house of a non-Israelite, do not render unclean, nor does a bridegroom seized with leprosy defile any one during the first seven days of his marriage. 6.) Naaman, a leper, commanded the armies of Syria; Gehazi conversed with the king of Israel; and the leper in later times was not shut out from the synagogue nor from the Christian churches. We conclude, therefore, that the treatment of the leprosy prescribed by Moses was not sanitary, but ceremonial, like the separation and uncleanness of menstruous women, and other defilements under the Mosaic law as touching the dead, and having an issue, (Numbers 5:2,) the treatment of which had a far deeper reason than sanitary caution.

(3.) This view suggests the important question, Of what is the leprosy the type? It is not surprising that the Holy Scriptures, especially the New Testament, affords no direct answer, for there are some types, like some parables, whose spiritual import is so obvious that they need no further explanation. All minds instantly appreciate the intended moral lesson. It is enough for us to know that the principle is laid down in the Epistle to the Hebrews that the whole of the Jewish dispensation was typical — a shadow of good things to come in the Gospel. Hence we are not to expect that every type in the Levitical ritual will be explained in detail, and that its antitype be indicated in express terms by the spirit of inspiration. The leprosy, the only disease which rendered a person unclean, is an impressive type of the great moral malady, sin. This plague corrupts and destroys the soul, excludes from the society of the holy, and banishes the incurable to the eternal pest-house of hell. For this the only cleansing is the blood of Jesus Christ, as typically set forth in the cleansing of the leper in the next chapter. Says Hengstenberg, “Every leper was a living sermon, a loud admonition to keep unspotted from the world. The exclusion of lepers from the camp, from the holy city, conveyed figuratively the same lesson as is done in the New Testament passages. See notes on Matthew 6:24; Colossians 3:5; Revelation 21:27; Ephesians 5:5. It is only when we take this view of the leprosy that we account for the fact that just this disease so frequently occurs as the theocratic punishment of sin. The image of sin is best suited for reflecting it; he who is a sinner before God is represented as a sinner in the eyes of man also by the circumstance that he must exhibit before men the image of sin. God took care that the image and the thing itself were perfectly coincident, although, no doubt, there were exceptions.”

Leprosy is a living death, poisoning all the springs and corrupting all the humours of life, dissolving little by little the whole body, so that limb actually falls away from limb through decay. Hence the leper is the type of one dead in sin; the emblems of his misery are the same as those of mourning for the dead; and the means of cleansing him are the same as those prescribed for one who has touched a corpse, and which were never used except on these two occasions. The penitent cry of David, after his deadly sins, “Purge me with hyssop,” (Psalm 51:7,) indicates a sense of utter spiritual defilement, faintly symbolized by the loathsome leprosy which was ceremonially cleansed with hyssop.

As the new-born children of leprous parents are often as pretty and as healthy in appearance as any others before the workings of the disease become visible in some of the signs described in this chapter, so the leprosy is a striking type of original or inborn depravity. If the sin principle in the sweetest babe is left unchecked by power divine he may unfold into a Nero, a Cesar Borgia, or a Robespierre.


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