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.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Levitius 14:1-9 The Cleansing of the Leper (Part 1)

"1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought unto the priest: 3 And the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper; 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: 5 And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water: 6 As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water: 7 And he shall sprinkle upon 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. 8 And he that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp, and shall tarry abroad out of his tent seven days. 9 But it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off: and he shall wash his clothes, also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean." Leviticus 14:1-9 KJV. 

The first section of this chapter is addressed to Moses alone, and relates to the ritual for cleansing the leper and restoring to full communion with Israel. Verses 1-32. The second section, addressed to Moses and Aaron, describes the leprosy in a house, and prescribes the mode of its treatment. Verses 33-57.


Our position that the treatment of the leprosy was founded on ceremonial, rather than sanitary, grounds, is confirmed by the minute ritual required for the cleansing of the leper after he has been healed, together with the total absence of any medicinal prescriptions for his cure. By what natural means this was ever effected we are not informed in the Scriptures. The only cures which are detailed are miraculous, as Miriam, in answer to the prayer of Moses, Numbers 12:13-15; Naaman, at the command of Elisha, 2 Kings 5:14; and the instances of healing by Jesus Christ, Matthew 8:3; Luke 17:14. In his sermon to his indignant towns-men on the universality of the divine regards, Jesus gives two very valuable historical items: 1. That in the long and eventful life of Elisha not an Israelite leper was healed; and 2. That “many lepers were in Israel” at that time. Luke 4:27. We infer, therefore, that the perfect healing of the leprosy was a rare exertion of supernatural power, and that the cases provided for in this chapter are either instances of miraculous healing, or, more probably, cases in which the disease had reached the stage of complete whiteness, when the patient has become clean, (Leviticus 13:13, note,) and may be constructively called healed.

2. He shall be brought unto the priest — Here is intimated the intervention of a third party, a mediator, to bring the case unto the knowledge of the priest. The Holy Spirit draws penitent sinners to Jesus, the cleansing Priest. When he healed lepers in his earthly ministry he sent them to the priests, that their office might be honoured, their sacrificial perquisites secured to them, and the cure be authenticated by their endorsement. The priest shall go forth — The leper was forbidden to come into the camp until he had been officially pronounced cleansed. Jesus descended from a holy heaven to cleanse and lead once leprous souls from earth to glory.

3. Healed — See introductory remarks.

4. Command to take for him — Literally, the priest shall command, and he (the leper) shall take for him, cleansing himself. The leper was not to be perfectly passive in his being cleansed, but he was enjoined to co-operate with the priest. Thus the sinner is to present by faith the blood of Christ with which he is to be purified. Two birds — Of any kind, provided they be clean, that is, fit for food. Leviticus 11:13-28. The Vulgate says passeres, sparrows. If limited to these the word “clean” would be out of place, since individuals would be clean if their species were so. The Seventy use a diminutive form, “little birds.” Tradition adds that they must not be reared in a cage, but wild birds. Cedar wood — The piece, according to Jewish law, was to be long enough to constitute a handle. The oxyderus, or Phenician juniper, which abounds in the Sinaitic Peninsula, is doubtless intended. Vitruvius speaks of the antiseptic properties of the oil of juniper. It may well typify the keeping power of divine grace. 1 Peter 1:5. Scarlet — Here is an attribute without a substance, which must be supplied — wool, the Seventy, “spun wool.” The colour is properly crimson obtained from the coccus insect found on the boughs of the ilex. Furst suggests that the proper translation in this place is, a crimson piece of cloth, in which to enfold the hyssop and cedar wood. This colour sometimes symbolizes mortal sins. Isaiah 1:18. It may here typify the blood of the Lamb, faith in which makes sinners whiter than snow. Revelation 7:14. Hyssop — Hebrew אֵזֹֽב. See Exodus 12:22, note. Later researches identify it with the origanum maru, a plant of a highly aromatic odour, many stalks growing from one root so that the hand could easily gather in a single grasp a bunch all ready for use. It grows on the walls of all the terraces in Syria and Palestine. But Stanley and Tristram argue for the caper, or asaf, as the same as the אֵזֹֽב.

5. The priest shall command — The person commanded is the leper. The offerer killed his own sacrifice, (Leviticus 1:5, note,) for it is a true sacrifice though the altar is absent and the burning does not take place, for the priest, the sprinkling, and the atonement (verse 53) are the essential elements. An earthen vessel — This takes the place of the altar. It symbolizes the human body, weak, frail, and decaying. 2 Corinthians 4:7. Over running water — The English translators have made a needless difficulty here, making a running brook necessary to the rite of cleansing. The Hebrew reads living water, in the vessel with which the blood of the bird is to mingle. Blood and water, the emblems of expiation and sanctification, are here blended together as they flowed from the pierced side of Jesus, and as they influence the experience of the believer. John 19:34; 1 John 5:6; Hebrews 10:22, and Leviticus 8:30, note.

6, 7. The living bird — This was tied to the end of the cedar wood or juniper in such a way that the tips of its wings and of its tail, bound with the crimson fillet cord or cloth, might be dipped with the hyssop into the vessel of blood and water. Then the whole was used as a brush with which to sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, thereby indicating the perfectness of the first cleansing. Leviticus 4:6, note. The cedar, crimson, and hyssop are symbols of the instrumental cause of spiritual cleansing, faith, by which the Spirit applies the blood and the water for our justification and entire sanctification. Both are necessary. Hebrews 12:14. Pronounce him clean — Next in value to the purification is the divine authentication to the consciousness of the sanctified soul cleansed from the root of all depravity, the leprosy of inbred sin. 1 Corinthians 2:12. Let the living bird loose — With blood-stained wings he mounts the skies warbling in gladness at his release from the cedar wood to which he was painfully bound, and from the blood and water into which he had been plunged. It was not released until after the death of its companion; “for the two birds typify one Christ in two stages of his atoning work — death and resurrection.” Since, under the reign of natural law the dead bird could not be restored to life, the living bird, reddened with the blood, the life of its sacrificed fellow, personates him, winging its upward way a living witness of the leper’s cleansing through blood. But our Sacrifice, having power to lay down his life and to take it again, needs no one to personate his continued life, for “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” 

“Thy offering still continues new;
Thy vesture keeps its crimson hue;
Thou art the ever-slaughtered Lamb,
Thy priesthood still remains the same.”

 The Targum of Palestine adds, “And it will be that if that man is again to be stricken with leprosy, the living bird will come back to his house on that day, and may be held fit to be eaten.” The same is said of the bird let loose for the cleansing of a house. See verse 53.

8. Wash his clothes — Before his cleansing all the efforts of the leper to purify himself by improving his externals were vain, because these would only be put out of harmony with his inward self. But since his purification such efforts are demanded in order that the “outside of the cup and platter” may correspond with the purity within. Good works as means of regeneration are futile, but as fruits of that divine change they are well pleasing unto God. Galatians 2:16; 3:2; Titus 2:14; 3:8, 14. Washed clothes represent changed habits. Shave off all his hair — As much as possible of his former self he was to leave behind, in order that he might enter into communion with holy people among whom Jehovah abode. Tarry abroad out of his tent — This is an euphemism for abstinence from marital rights, viewed as an uncleanness by the ceremonial law. Exodus 19:15; chap. 15:18. His cleansing has been initiated but not completed, and hence he is not yet invested with all his personal rights, especially those which prefigure the most intimate communion with God and his people.

9. He shall wash… and be clean —
Although he has been pronounced clean there remains the completion of the process begun seven days before. God’s works are as perfect as the human conditions and limitations will allow. The soul is as perfectly cleansed when born again as the faith of that soul will admit. Subsequent discovery of inward impurity, and stronger apprehension of the power of the blood of Christ, constitute the perfect conditions of the completed work of sanctification. Yet nothing is more common than the superficial remark that perfect cleansing takes place in regeneration. All the good works of the cleansed leper, after God in the person of the priest took him in hand, are steps of progress toward the final and complete purification.

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