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.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Leviticus 14:33-57 Leprosy in a House

"33 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, 34 When ye be come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession; 35 And he that owneth the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, It seemeth to me there is as it were a plague in the house: 36 Then the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest go into it to see the plague, that all that is in the house be not made unclean: and afterward the priest shall go in to see the house: 37 And he shall look on the plague, and, behold, if the plague be in the walls of the house with hollow strakes, greenish or reddish, which in sight are lower than the wall; 38 Then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days: 39 And the priest shall come again the seventh day, and shall look: and, behold, if the plague be spread in the walls of the house; 40 Then the priest shall command that they take away the stones in which the plague is, and they shall cast them into an unclean place without the city: 41 And he shall cause the house to be scraped within round about, and they shall pour out the dust that they scrape off without the city into an unclean place: 42 And they shall take other stones, and put them in the place of those stones; and he shall take other morter, and shall plaister the house. 43 And if the plague come again, and break out in the house, after that he hath taken away the stones, and after he hath scraped the house, and after it is plaistered; 44 Then the priest shall come and look, and, behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a fretting leprosy in the house: it is unclean. 45 And he shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the morter of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place. 46 Moreover he that goeth into the house all the while that it is shut up shall be unclean until the even. 47 And he that lieth in the house shall wash his clothes; and he that eateth in the house shall wash his clothes. 48 And if the priest shall come in, and look upon it, and, behold, the plague hath not spread in the house, after the house was plaistered: then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed. 49 And he shall take to cleanse the house two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: 50 And he shall kill the one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water: 51 And he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times: 52 And he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedar wood, and with the hyssop, and with the scarlet: 53 But he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open fields, and make an atonement for the house: and it shall be clean. 54 This is the law for all manner of plague of leprosy, and scall, 55 And for the leprosy of a garment, and of a house, 56 And for a rising, and for a scab, and for a bright spot: 57 To teach when it is unclean, and when it is clean: this is the law of leprosy." — Leviticus 14:33-57 KJV.


The nature of house leprosy is a great mystery. If it proceeded from a natural cause we should expect to find the same cause productive of a like effect in modern Palestine. But travellers report no instances. The most prevalent theory, having a slight scriptural basis (see verse 34, note) is, that it was a supernatural plague. This is the opinion of Patrick, Aberbanel, and many rabbins. The author of Sepher Cosri says, “God inflicted the plague of leprosy upon houses and garments as a punishment for lesser sins, and when the parties continued to multiply transgressions, it invaded their bodies.” Maimonides specifies the sin of which this is the punishment to be an evil tongue. The Targum of Palestine says that the plague was because the house was “built by rapine.” Michaelis has suggested, as a natural cause, a nitrous efflorescence produced by saltpetre, or rather an acid containing it, and issuing in red spots. He cites the case of a house in Lubeck. But this does not counterbalance the absence of such phenomena in the Holy Land in modern times. Says Dr. W.M. Thomson, “I have suspected that this disease is caused by living and self-propagating animalculae; and thus I can conceive it possible that these might fasten on a wall, especially if the cement were mixed with sizing, as is now done, or other gelatinous or animal glues. Still, the most cursory reference to the best of medical works shows how little is known about the whole subject of contagion, and its propagation by fomites. One finds in them abundant and incontestable instances of the propagation of many terrible constitutional maladies, in the most inexplicable manner, by garments, leather, wood, and other things, the materies morbi meantime eluding the most persevering and vigilant search, aided by every appliance of modern science, chemical or optical.”

34. Land of Canaan — Since tents were not exposed to this form of uncleanness this legislation looks forward to Palestine, where the people would abide in the cities built by the Amorites. Joshua 24:13. It has been suggested, but with no show of proof, that treasures had been hidden in certain houses by the Canaanites, and that the leprosy was sent to these in order that the gold and silver hidden in them might be revealed when they were demolished. “The people were far enough from Canaan at this moment, yet a law of regulation was laid down for their conduct when they came into possession of the land. This is another revelation of the method of divine government. Laws are made in advance.” — Joseph Parker. I put the plague of leprosy — This expression is the ground of the opinion that the house leprosy was a supernatural infliction. But in the Hebrew idiom God is often said to do acts which he permits others to do, (Exodus 7:13,) or which occur through physical laws. 35. Tell the priest — This obligation, laid upon every householder, would tend to a scrupulous care of the house and be promotive of health. It also tended to magnify the office of the priest.

36. Empty the house — Literally, prepare the house for inspection, by the removal of its contents, as a safeguard against ceremonial defilement.

37. Hollow streaks — The Hebrew for both these words is depression, or sunken place. This is the first test of the leprosy; the second was the greenish or reddish colour. Lower than the wall — This is the depression just mentioned. Shut up — This was a safeguard against the ceremonial defilement of the family. It also removed all human agency from contributing to the further spreading of the spots.

39. Be spread —
This was the third and decisive test.

40. Take away the stones — Here is a prediction that the people will live in houses of stone, and not of wood or brick. The stones were to be digged out of the wall and cast without the city. Here is a prophecy that the houses will not be scattered through the country, but will be compact, and surrounded by some definite limits. This was true of ancient Jewish houses. For protection the inhabitants of modern Palestine live chiefly in cities.

41. Scraped — As a preventive the entire interior of the house was scraped, and the dust (R.V., “mortar”) carefully removed.

42. Other mortar — This implies that the scraping removed the entire inner plastering.

44. Fretting leprosy — See Leviticus 13:51. The whole mode of the diagnosis is strikingly like that of the leprosy in man, while there is probably no connexion between the two plagues.

45. He shall break down… carry… out — The priest, according to the literalism of Colenso, would have a vast work to do single-handed. But common sense assures us that he may be said to perform labour which he directs. The damage done by such a house to the ceremonial purity and health of its occupants was of far more consequence in the estimation of the lawgiver than the building itself. “Those to whom this appears strange, and who lament the fate of a house pulled down by legal authority, probably think of large and magnificent houses like ours, of many stories high, which cost a great deal of money,” whereas the houses of those days were usually rude, low, and cheap.


The same ceremony is to be performed for the house suspected of leprosy as takes place without the camp in the case of a man cured of this disease. The reason for this is not stated, but it is evident that after public attention had been directed toward the house by the priestly examination, and it had been pronounced clean, some formal and impressive notification of the priest’s verdict should be given in order to protect the house from depreciation in its value, and to assure its inhabitants against needless apprehensions. Hence Jehovah may, for this purpose, have selected the ritual which initiates the ceremonial cleansing of the leper.

46. He that goeth into the house… unclean — The house defiles the occupant, and not the occupant the house. This is a sufficient answer to Knobel, who assumes that the house leprosy is a contagion taken from the leprous inhabitant.

53. Atonement for the house — The Hebrew verb כִפֶּ֥ר should here be translated purge, as it is in Ezekiel 43:20, 26. It should be so rendered whenever it has a thing for its object, as in Leviticus 16:33, and Deuteronomy 32:43, where the tabernacle, altar, and land are atoned. The generic notion of freeing from impurity inheres in its use everywhere — moral impurity, or guilt, in persons, and ceremonial impurity in things. The impurity of the healed leper is not atoned till he has performed the requirements of the altar ritual at the door of the tabernacle. This ritual was impossible in the case of the house.


We would not very confidently announce the symbolism of the leprous house, but we would suggest that it prefigures our duty when associated in church relations. In St. Paul’s epistles, the house is the favourite simile of the Christian community, each member being a spiritual stone. 1 Corinthians 3:9-16; Ephesians 2:20-22. In the Corinthian Church the sleepless eye of the apostle discovered a leprous stone. 1 Corinthians 5:1. The whole temple was in imminent peril till that defilement was removed by the uprising of the whole membership in their “vehement desire” to approve themselves “to be clear in this matter.” It is not enough that we be individually blameless; we are, in an important sense, responsible for the aggregate of the Christian Church, and for each member thereof. Hence Jesus, the Head of the Church, assumes a judicial attitude toward his house at Pergamos, and threatens to fight against them “with the sword of his mouth,” because of a few who held doctrines subversive of Christian morality. Revelation 2:12-16. If reproof and warning should prove unavailing, judgment must come at last, and that leprous house, once the abode of some who “hold fast [Christ’s] name,” must be razed to the ground, and its very foundations destroyed. Church membership involves momentous responsibilities, and an isolated Christian life tremendous perils. God has no use for a Church which consciously fosters impurity. Let it repent or be destroyed.


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