Fixing a Broken World (Leviticus 14:1-32)

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Over our last few studies we have begun to appreciate the reality that the world is broken as the result of sin. When sin entered the world it did not do so alone; it was attended by death (Romans 5:12). It is this which is behind the disease, defilement, destruction, disorder and despair in our world. As we saw previously, God wanted to drive this home into the hearts of His people. God wanted them to come to the realisation that they lived in a broken world. It was not only in Egypt that they had seen this, and it was not only in the wilderness where for forty years they would encounter this. Even Canaan, the Promised Land, would be broken (14:34). This brokenness is in the very “warp and woof” of fallen creation. Brokenness is in the fibre of our fallen world. It is inescapable.

It was essential that the children of Israel face the reality that the world was broken if they would worship God in spirit and in truth. If they would have a mature and maturing faith, they needed to face the reality of living in a broken world. They needed to learn to trust God for the way to respond to such brokenness. And they also needed to trust God to fix their broken world. No doubt, all of this was an underlying purpose for God’s law of leprosy. Perhaps I should take some time to prove this.

First, leprosy by its nature is metaphorical of the brokenness that plagues the world. It is in the “fibre” of creation. It is under the skin, in the “warp and woof” of clothes and in the plaster of houses. In this sense, it is inescapable.

Second, leprosy came by the hand of God. This is specifically stated in various places in Scripture. For example, “When you have come into the land of Canaan, which I give you as a possession, and I put a leprous plague in a house” (14:34). Miriam was struck with leprosy by God (Numbers 12:9-12). Second Kings 5:25-27 says the same about Gehazi, and it is repeated concerning Uzziah in 2 Kings 15:1-5. Leprosy was, therefore purposeful—like sin in our world (Romans 8:18-23).

Third, leprosy could only be healed by God. That which could not be healed was either banished to a life of a “living death” or to destruction (see 13:47-59; 14:33-53). It was considered to be a condition that was hopeless apart from divine intervention.

Fourth, leprosy is mentioned right in the middle of God’s worship manual; specifically, in the context of ceremonial cleanliness with reference to the tabernacle. Clearly there was more than a concern for hygiene behind these laws.

Fifth, leprosy (in a person) was considered an illness and Jesus came to heal His people with His “stripes” (Isaiah 53:5; cf. Matthew 8:17; 1 Peter 2:24).

Finally, related to the above, when Jesus came to earth and began His ministry He healed the sick, including those with leprosy. In fact, Jesus gave this as a sign to John the Baptist of His Messiahship (Matthew 11:15).

While it is true that the primary metaphorical picture of a sinner in Scripture is that of being dead in trespasses and sins, this is not the only metaphor. Philip Eveson points out that leprosy also was a metaphor of man’s sinful condition. He writes with reference to leprosy:

The prophets followed Moses in using visible wounds and sores to speak metaphorically of the sin problem:

From the sole of the foot even to the head,
There is no soundness in it,
But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores.

(Isa. 1:6; cf. Jer. 30:12-15)

It was natural, then, that cleansing from these conditions became symbolic of the removal of sin and its effects.1

It is for this reason that the new covenant people of God also need to pay attention to the law of leprosy: so that we might be better equipped as we live in a broken world. But further, we must also be encouraged by the truth that God will fix this broken world. This we will learn in Leviticus 14:1-32.

Just briefly, let us remind ourselves of how pervasive this brokenness is. It affects people, it affects the environment, and it affects every piece of God’s creation. And as the hymn writer said, the solution reaches “far as the curse is found.”

As you read these chapters revealing the “law of leprosy” (14:56) it is clear that the leprosy might be detected in human skin, in animal skin, in linen and in plaster. In other words, the leprosy might break out in both animate and inanimate things. All creation is subject to decay. And all of it can be cured. All of it can be fixed. And all of it one day will be fixed. In this study, I want to focus on the “fixing” of people. In a subsequent study, God willing, we will examine how God is and will ultimately fix all things.

We should understand that humanity—all humanity—is what is wrong with this world. When G. K. Chesterton once read an article titled, “What’s Wrong with the World?” he replied in a letter to the author: “Dear sir: Regarding your article, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am.” Chesterton understood what we all desperately need to understand: that human sin is what has infected the rest of God’s creation.

So what is the solution for the world? Jesus is! Brokenness is a fact of life. But it is not the only fact of life. God will fix a broken world. And this is the issue that I wish for us to begin to focus on in this study.

Let me share an aside to highlight this point. I opened our previous study with a reference to some time in a coffee shop at a hospital in our city. I found myself at the same place recently, waiting while my wife underwent some more tests. Previously, the subject of brokenness was on my heart as I sat in the coffee shop; this time, the subject on my heart was fixing that which is broken.

As I sat in the hospital once again, I again observed a lot people who were obviously there as patients. Some were being admitted and others were there for doctor’s appointments. But this time I noticed something that I had not seen much of before: physicians, sisters and other medical personnel. There were lots of people who were broken, but there also seemed to be lots of people keen on fixing them. It occurred to me that, one day, like me, these people will be unemployed. There is coming a day when no one will be broken and no one will need to be fixed.

In 14:1-32 we have the divinely-ordained prescription to readmit someone to the fellowship of the nation and to the worship at the tabernacle. In other words, after 59 verses informing us of the reality of living in a broken world, God now gave hope that brokenness need not have the last word. Corrupt skin can be replaced with new skin. One can be, as it were, born again. The believer anticipates the day when all of creation will be clothed with new skin.

We will look at these verses under the theme of hopefulness for healing.

Hopeful for a Cure

In the opening verses we learn that leprosy need not be permanent. It was possible for someone, by divine intervention, to be cleansed of leprosy.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest.”

(Leviticus 14:1-2)

The Extinguishing of the Brokenness

We saw previously that brokenness is inevitable and therefore inescapable; it is not irrational; and we need to be careful that we are not irresponsible when confronted by it. But if this is all that we have then we might find ourselves inconsolable, even hopeless. But thanks be to God that brokenness is neither irremediable nor irreversible. Brokenness exists so that it can be fixed. It should be noted that, humanly, this brokenness is irremediable. There is no human solution for brokenness. By God’s grace we can control the spread of brokenness (e.g. medicines, therapies, laws, structures, etc.) but we cannot cure the brokenness.

But thanks be to God that this brokenness is not irreversible, for God has promised to do just this. And these opening verses point us to such a hope.

We are introduced to “the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing.” In other words, there is an assumption here that a leper might in fact be healed; his broken skin might be healed.

We should observe that God’s law, though often slandered as harshly and hopelessly restrictive, is here seen in a very positive light. Not only does God reveal laws of prohibitions concerning leprosy, but He also reveals His law with reference to permitting one to be readmitted to society. God’s law is always good.

Hopeful Indications

Imagine one who had been banished due to the confirmation by the physician priest that he had leprosy. But one day, perhaps after several weeks or even months, he notices what appears to be pinkish new skin developing. The sores seem to be fading and he notes that the annoying itch has disappeared. He feels a glimmer of hope. Perhaps the leprosy is being healed. Perhaps God has heard his pleas in his prayers. His flesh, it seems, is becoming whiter than snow. After several more days it is undeniable, he has been cured. Hallelujah! To God be the glory, great things He has done!

The former leper sends word to the priests that he has been cured. This is an important point; for the priests could not heal anyone, but could only examine the evidence regarding the claim of a healing. Eveson notes, “The ritual did not bring healing. Israel’s pagan neighbours engaged in all kinds of magical rites to obtain cures, but that was not the purpose of these regulations. Their sole design was to readmit into the holy community those whose unclean skin diseases had already completely healed.”2 And Wenham helpfully adds, “To use a modern analogy, the priest in ancient Israel was more like a public health inspector than a physician. He determined whether a person was infected; he did not attempt to cure him.”3

A Hope-Filled Ceremony

Having notified the priest of his potential healing, the former leper now had to undergo a particular ritual cleansing ceremony.

He shall be brought to the priest. And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days. But on the seventh day he shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows—all his hair he shall shave off. He shall wash his clothes and wash his body in water, and he shall be clean.

And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and one log of oil. Then the priest who makes him clean shall present the man who is to be made clean, and those things, before the LORD, at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And the priest shall take one male lamb and offer it as a trespass offering, and the log of oil, and wave them as a wave offering before the LORD. Then he shall kill the lamb in the place where he kills the sin offering and the burnt offering, in a holy place; for as the sin offering is the priest’s, so is the trespass offering. It is most holy. The priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. And the priest shall take some of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand. Then the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle some of the oil with his finger seven times before the LORD. And of the rest of the oil in his hand, the priest shall put some on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the blood of the trespass offering. The rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed. So the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD.

Then the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. So the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.

(Leviticus 14:2-20)

Hopeful Examination

We should heed these words: “The occasion on which a person was cured from a malignant form of [leprosy] was of considerable significance. It marked his unexpected restoration to fellowship with his family and the community as a whole, and brought him back into a relationship with God’s sanctuary. The outcast was now able to pick up the threads of his earlier existence, having been admitted formally to the congregation of Israel. The seriousness of the disease and the marvel of the healing were reflected in the cleansing ceremonies, which were elaborate and of a deeply spiritual nature.”4

As the priests received the word of the healing of a leper, one was dispatched to meet the individual. This priest would go outside the camp to meet with the leper. This was a courageous act of compassion. The priests were entrusted with the responsibility to interact with those who thought that God had cured them. Courage indeed would be required. By answering the call to come and see if the evidence confirmed a “conversion” the priest was potentially taking a huge risk. Joseph Parker helpfully notes, “The priest must enter the house where small-pox is, or leprosy, or cholera; let others cry fear if they will—the priest resigns his priesthood when he resigns his courage.”5

The priest came to the place of banishment hoping, no doubt, for the best. He was hoping that he would return with a healed sheep—just as did our High Priest.

As I Have Done Unto You

God is in the work of fixing the broken and it is the church’s work to be available to take the risk of being a part of the process.

Consider the examples of Ananias and Barnabas. When Saul was converted, there was tremendous fear in the church. No one knew for sure whether he was a genuine convert or was merely pretending so as to gain the necessary intel to up the persecution. Only Ananias and Barnabas we initially willing to embrace him as a genuine brother and minister to him. It was their compassionate ministry that eventually led to his acceptance in the church at large.

Prove All Things

When the priest arrived he examined the individual to see if the claims of having been cured were legitimate. Ronald Reagan use to say with reference to making treaties, “Trust, but verify.” The same seems to have been the practice here. The priest, if he was truly a faithful shepherd, would have been hoping for the best, but he needed to examine the patient to verify that all was indeed well.

The priests, of course, were not doctors. As noted, they were entrusted by God with the role of “public health inspectors.” It was vital to the health of the larger community that lepers be isolated and that they not be readmitted to the wider community unless it was safe to do so. It was for this reason that they could not merely take the word of the patient. No doubt, some reports of cure were premature and so there were times when the priests would have had the solemn and sad duty of saying, “I am sorry my brother, but the leprosy is still there; you are not cured—you are still unclean.”

Sometimes we too must courageously declare, with a broken heart, that all is still not well in a believer’s life. And sometimes we also are called upon to speak the truth that, in fact, one who claims to be a Christian is not giving any credible evidence that they are. We need to be committed to giving judgements of charity, and yet at the same time we must be cautious of giving false assurance. Better to keep a spiritual leper at arm’s length from the fellowship than declaring, “Peace, peace,” or, “Health, health,” when judgement and spiritual death are just around the corner. Remember, Jesus said quite clearly that not everyone who professes to be Christian is, in fact, Christian (Matthew 7:21-23).

Church discipline is ordained for precisely this reason. Jesus said that biblically-informed decisions made in the process of church discipline are bound or loosed in heaven. He was not suggesting that the church is infallible when it makes a call as to someone’s spiritual state, but when the process has been carried out biblically, it has been done with divine authority. In the same way that the priests had divine authority to admit or ban someone from the community of Israel, so the church has divine authority to admit or ban someone from its fellowship. And as it was done in Israel for the community’s greater good, so it is with church discipline.

While there was always a possibility of the leper prematurely proclaiming a healing, there was also the very real possibility that a genuine cleansing might have taken place. After a thorough examination, if the priest could verify that a healing had taken place, a particular process—a ceremonial ritual cleansing—took place.

An Act of Substitution

The first step in the ritual cleansing ceremony was an act of substitution (vv. 4-7).

The priest was to command that two living clean birds be taken for the patient. Presumably a family member or friend supplied these. One of the birds was killed in a vessel as water flowed over it. Presumably this was so that there could be sufficient liquid to perform the rest of the ritual.

The priest would then dip the hyssop (perhaps bound with the scarlet material) and the living bird into the mixture of blood and water. The priest would then use the hyssop to sprinkle the cured person seven times with the bloody mixture and then the blood-soaked living bird would be set free in an open field. Presumably this was to signify a return to normality, a freedom from incarceration at the expense of another. As Calvin observed, “Two birds were placed before their eyes; the liberty of one was purchased by the blood of the other.”6 Leprosy could be cured, and the former leper could be reconciled and restored, but not without a cost. Brokenness could be fixed, but something had to die.

There is perhaps something of a spiritual parable here to Jesus’ lesson on the fruitful grain of wheat.

Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour.”

(John 12:20-26)

An Act of Purification

The second step in the ritual was an act of purification (vv. 8-9). The cured individual would wash his clothes and himself after apparently being shaven from head to toe. This, of course, would have a hygienic concern. Filth and contagion would be washed from the clothes and the priest could more fully see if there were any remaining sores on the body. But it also no doubt served a symbolic purpose as well: The person had, as it were, been “born again.” He was publicly declaring that, by the grace and power of God, he had a new existence.

It is important to note that these actions did not purify the individual; rather, they were for the purpose of publicly declaring that the individual had been cured and thus was “clean.”

Once this has been accomplished, the individual was permitted inside the camp, but he still must live outside his home for another seven days. I would surmise that the purpose for this delay was to further ensure that he had truly been cured. This was a “testing” period to secure further evidence that the profession of “new skin” was genuine.

After this further waiting period, the man was to once again shave any new hair from his head as and face (including eyebrows). I would assume, in fact, that he was once again called to shave all bodily hair. He then washed himself and his clothes again. Having done this, the cured individual was finally pronounced “clean.” I appreciate the way that Eveson puts this: “The washing and shaving emphasized that the disease was gone completely. The person had no hair but appeared clean and white like a new-born baby.”7 Again, he had, as it were, been born again.

An Act of Consecration

The third step in this ritual cleansing ceremony was an act of consecration (vv. 10-20).

Upon being pronounced “clean,” the individual was “presented before the LORD” at the tabernacle. You will note that this occurred on the eighth day—the day of new beginnings; the day of new creation. And a new beginning it certainly was!

Four sacrificial offerings were required for one to be reconciled after being banished from the tabernacle; namely, the trespass, sin, grain and burnt offerings. Those who had experienced a “living death” needed to be reconciled both to God and man.

Before I explain these sacrifices, let it be noted that this individual’s reconciliation was a very public affair. Being fixed is a corporate affair. The body heals itself.

Compensation

The first offering that was called for was the trespass offering.

And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and one log of oil. Then the priest who makes him clean shall present the man who is to be made clean, and those things, before the LORD, at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And the priest shall take one male lamb and offer it as a trespass offering, and the log of oil, and wave them as a wave offering before the LORD. Then he shall kill the lamb in the place where he kills the sin offering and the burnt offering, in a holy place; for as the sin offering is the priest’s, so is the trespass offering. It is most holy. The priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. And the priest shall take some of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand. Then the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle some of the oil with his finger seven times before the LORD. And of the rest of the oil in his hand, the priest shall put some on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the blood of the trespass offering. The rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed. So the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD.

(Leviticus 14:10-18)

Here, the cleansed leper was required to offer a trespass offering. The question as to why a trespass offering was required has puzzled commentators because, according to chapters 5 and 6, this offering was for violations against the holy place and/or against the holy people. But if the leper had been cut off from the tabernacle for the duration of his banishment outside the camp, how could he be guilty of trespassing against the holy place? There are many suggestions, but I think that the best, and the simplest, is that this sacrifice of compensation was for the purpose of compensating God for the leper’s loss of services to Him. Tidball suggests that “the guilt [trespass] offering is required, not because the illness was caused by sin, but because the illness resulted in sin, especially the sin of not giving God his due.”8

Once this offering had been sacrificed, the priest took some of its blood, placed it in his left hand, and with his right finger applied some of it to the right ear lobe, the right thumb and the right big toe. The priest then repeated this procedure with the oil. What should strike a student of Leviticus is that this was the same ceremony that marked the ordination of one to the priesthood (see chapter 8). This is very significant.

It is vitally important that that which was broken was fixed. It was, of course, especially important that God’s people be fixed. “The whole nation was in a sense a priestly nation, and the restoration of the lapsed member to his rights was therefore a quasi-consecration. . . . This corresponds exactly to the consecration of the priests. It suggests that it is our sense of a past un-profitableness that future consecration comes.9

You will remember that, according to Exodus 19:5-6, the nation of Israel in its entirety was intended by God to be a nation of priests. Israel, collectively, was responsible to mediate between God and the world. Therefore, when a leper experienced banishment, the whole nation suffered. There was one less candle to shine the light of the glory of God before the nations. In other words, when one was broken, the whole suffered. It was therefore very important that the broken be fixed, and when one broken was fixed, it was time for celebration.

Let us learn from this that, when a broken saint is restored to fellowship, we all benefit. We should therefore do all that we can to help in the fixing of the broken.

We should also learn to appreciate how important each member of the community of faith is and pray for the healing of those who are afflicted and absent from the body. The bottom line is that the new covenant community is a kingdom of priests. We must take this seriously.

Reconciliation

Again, the matter of the former leper being readmitted to the community cannot be overstated. Vasholz writes, “While it is essential that all kinds of impurity be kept out of the camp, it is equally crucial that there be means of restoration. . . . Restoration of a leper is a kind of redemption that refurbishes the community.”10

In the final verses of this section we are told of the final three sacrifices (sin, grain and burnt) to be offered (vv.19-20). The sin offering would speak to the issues of unintentional sins committed by the leper during his banishment; the burnt offering would address the matter of the cured individual being once again consecrated to God (cf. Romans 12:1-2); and the grain offering would remind him that being restored to God meant that, in all of life, he was to live for God’s glory. No doubt one who had experienced such a rebirth would be greatly motivated to live for the One who had so graciously “fixed” him.

The operative word in this passage is “atonement.” This word speaks of one being reconciled to God and of being restored to a right relationship with God. It speaks, quite literally, of one becoming at one with God.11

Again, as indicated several times in our studies, leprosy was not necessarily the lot of particularly “bad” sinners. It was, in the majority of cases, simply the fallout of living in a fallen world. Because of sin, disease happens. And yet God used this example of real brokenness as an object lesson to drive home to the children of Israel that He is holy and thus those who will be in His blessed presence must be whole. And therefore atonement was absolutely necessary.

We need to see that this prescribed ritual, including these sacrifices, were never intended to shame the person who had experienced leprosy; rather, all of this was designed by God to affirm the covenant member in the eyes of the community. They were a means of ministering reassurance to those who were once viewed as outcasts. Since the whole nation was considered to be a priesthood, it was to be celebrated when a once-broken Hebrew was fixed. The nation was the better for it. In the words of Tidball, these rituals “were about restoring broken individuals to their place among those who were busy in the service of God. These rites took once wounded, now healed, solders, re-commissioned them to active service, and sent them back to the front to engage once more in battle.”12

May I say that, when it comes to our local churches, it is equally vital that we be fixed when we can be. I think not only of physical brokenness and the usefulness that attends those who are whole in body (for example, sick pastors can’t preach!) but we also need spiritual, emotional and mental healing. Perhaps God will not fix your broken body, but if that is His plan for you then no doubt His plan is to use your brokenness for a greater healing.

God wants to fix us from our sins; He wants to sanctify us. And the community of faith is one of God’s major ordained means for doing so. Harrison hits the proverbial nail on the head when he writes, “Restoration to fellowship with God must be based upon a sense of need for cleansing from all defilement. . . . The act of worship by which the ‘leper’ was declared clean was a communal one. The believer is not meant to live in spiritual isolation, for it is within the fellowship of Christ’s body, the church, that faith grows and individuals mature spiritually.”13

There is only one hope for a broken world and that is the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The cure for the leprosy of the world is the cross of Christ. I read the other day that some fifteen million people a year are cured of leprosy worldwide. That is a large number of people. But may I remind you that many millions more are cured each year worldwide of their spiritual leprosy of being separated from God. Yes, many millions each year find themselves reconciled to God, atoned for by the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. And one day the entire universe will find itself cured; cured and converted because of the same cross.

A Hopeful Concession

In the closing section of our passage we read of God’s compassion to lepers of any and all social standing. God not only cured the wealthy also the poor. And the poor were enabled to be fully readmitted to the community by God’s condescension.

But if he is poor and cannot afford so much, then he shall take one male lamb for a guilt offering to be waved, to make atonement for him, and a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, and a log of oil; also two turtledoves or two pigeons, whichever he can afford. The one shall be a sin offering and the other a burnt offering. And on the eighth day he shall bring them for his cleansing to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, before the Lord. And the priest shall take the lamb of the guilt offering and the log of oil, and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. And he shall kill the lamb of the guilt offering. And the priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. And the priest shall pour some of the oil into the palm of his own left hand, and shall sprinkle with his right finger some of the oil that is in his left hand seven times before the Lord. And the priest shall put some of the oil that is in his hand on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, in the place where the blood of the guilt offering was put. And the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed, to make atonement for him before the Lord. And he shall offer, of the turtledoves or pigeons, whichever he can afford, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, along with a grain offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for him who is being cleansed. This is the law for him in whom is a case of leprous disease, who cannot afford the offerings for his cleansing.

(Leviticus 14:21-32)

These verses make it very clear that the poor of the community could offer sacrifices of birds in the place of lambs, and the required amount of oil was reduced by two-thirds. God made a concession for those who (no doubt through their leprosy-imposed banishment) would be somewhat impoverished. One’s economic position was no necessary barrier to one’s cure from their condition. God is gracious to all kinds of men!

A Hopeful Confrontation

As we draw this study to a close, it will prove helpful, I trust, to briefly consider a New Testament example of this law in action. Bear in mind as you read the account below that, while it is recorded in the New Testament, the leper in this account lived under the old covenant and therefore everything that we read in these chapters applied directly to him.

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

(Mark 1:40-45)

Indescribable

Again, it must be emphasised that those who experienced such physical (followed by emotional, relational and spiritual) brokenness had one hope of being cured, and that hope was God. The priests were not physicians; all they were authorised to do was to pronounce a person clean or unclean, based on God’s prescribed indicators. If the individual was indeed healed then he would soon be readmitted to the tabernacle and to the fellowship of the saints. Can you even imagine the joy that one would experience? The living dead was now treated as reborn!

Rooker catches something of this when he writes, “The despair that resulted when one suspected that he may have contracted an infectious disease must have been intense. By contrast, the joy of being declared clean was unspeakable.”14

It is strange how postmodern man differs from ancient man. Today, people seem to work for the sake of taking a break and getting away from it all. We labour for leisure, and a huge part of leisure is focused on escaping. But this was not the case with ancient man. That is why to be an outcast was such a tragedy. To be cut off from the community was a terrible experience. To be disconnected was a punishment rather than a pleasure.

Be Careful

Though we have recently focused on the very painful reality of living in a broken world we need to be aware of emphasizing this in an unhealthy, and in the end in an unhelpful, way. What I mean is that, while it is very true that we are broken, we must keep before us that it is the purpose of the gospel to fix what is broken–both personally (individually) and holistically.

According to Paul, as recorded in Romans 8, all things are broken because of sin, but the day is coming when all will be fixed. We should live in the light of this reality.

The whole creation has been stricken by God and the One who strikes is the One alone who can deliver. This clearly was the purpose of God’s laws for leprosy.

As we have seen this morning, there is hope for the broken. Just as the leper, though existing as the living dead, had the prospect of being of being healed, “reborn” and thus readmitted to the communion of the saints, so do believing sinners have the hope of being fixed. In fact, we have the very sure hope of the entire broken universe being one day fixed. Yes, brokenness, though inevitable, is not irreversible. God can make the broken whole.

A better day is coming. One day the Lord Jesus Christ will descend from heaven with the shout of the archangel and the dead in Christ will rise, and all believers will meet the Lord as He descends. The Lord Jesus will glorify His own as well as the entire creation as He lifts the curse fully and finally. He will offer up the kingdom to His Father and He Himself will submit to Him. Brokenness in every shape and form will be completely a thing of the past. And forever we will live in wholeness compatible with God’s holiness (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 50-57; Revelation 21:1-5a).

Though we do not now see all things new, we do enjoy glimpses of this glory. In fact, the earthly ministry of Jesus foreshadowed something of the new skin that He would bring to pass one day. He bound Satan and proved His authority to fix brokenness by casting out demons (Matthew 12:22-30). The power of Jesus to heal was another evidence of His power to bind the broken. The resurrection itself was a foreshadowing of our future glory (Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 15:20). But perhaps it was in Jesus’ interactions with lepers that we detect the most significant promise of what one day will be. And having now come to a better understanding of this issue of leprosy we can better appreciate the marvel of Jesus’ healing of such.

There are a few examples of Jesus healing those afflicted with leprosy (e.g. Luke 17:12-19; Mark 1:40-43) and these records give us hope. In fact, when John the Baptist asked for proof of Jesus’ Messiahship, one evidence Jesus gave was that He healed lepers (Matthew 11:5).

Hope for the Broken

When the leper confronted Jesus in Mark 1, he was both hopeless and hopeful. He was humanly hopeless with reference to anyone on earth curing him, and yet he was hopeful that the man from heaven could do so. His only concern was, would He?

Think about this scene. John tells us that, in the incarnation, Jesus quite literally tabernacled with man (John 1:14). And here we see a leper—one cut off from the tabernacle (or, in that time, the temple)—coming directly face-to-face with the Tabernacle. This man, for whatever reason, was of the conviction that Jesus could heal him. He believed that Jesus could give him new skin. He knew that he needed such a healing and he boldly asked for it. Jesus responded that He was indeed willing to cure him, and cure him He did. “The leper came with confidence because he believed Jesus was compassionate, with reverence because he believed Jesus was God, with humility because he believed Jesus was sovereign, and with faith because he believed Jesus had the power to heal him.”15

Once the leper was cured and pronounced clean by the High Priest, Jesus instructed him to go to the priests, show them that he was clean and offer those things commanded by Moses; that is, that which was commanded in Leviticus 14. The purpose was to be a testimony to the person and work of Christ, for, of course, the law points to Christ.

Imagine the surprise as he went to the priests and they diagnosed him as clean—and probably cleaner than any former leper they had ever encountered! This man, who had been broken, was now whole. This is one example that points us to the truth that, though things are not as they should be, nevertheless Jesus will one day make all things as they should be. In fact, the Scriptures reveal that He is presently making all things new. Brokenness will not last forever.

Believer, brokenness will not last forever—at least for those who know whom they have believed and who are persuaded that He is able to keep that which has been committed unto Him until that day (2 Timothy 1:12). Does that describe you? It can. It must if you want to escape the inevitably of eternal brokenness.

If you think that this life is hell then you have absolutely no concept of the brokenness that awaits those who die without hope and without God. They will experience eternal “leprosy.” They will be eternally cut off from the presence, the pleasures and the pardon of God.

But if you want to be cleansed, if you want one day to be delivered from eternal brokenness, then look to Christ alone. Look to the one who became an outcast so that you would not have to be. He proved that He was the acceptable outcast for all who will believe on Him when He was raised from the dead for the justification of all those who believe. Confess to God today that you are unclean, and then cry to Him, “Cleanse me, O God!” If you do so, you will find yourself forgiven, washed in the blood of the Lamb, and robed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Then you will one day hear, “Enter into the joy of your Lord!”

May you who know something of your spiritual brokenness come to Christ and begin to be fixed—today.

Show 15 footnotes

  1. Philip H. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007), 187.
  2. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness, 182.
  3. Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 207.
  4. R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 148.
  5. Joseph Parker, The People’s Bible: Discourses Upon Holy Scripture, 27 vols. (London: Hazel, Watson, and Viney, n.d.), 116.
  6. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 2.2:26.
  7. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness, 189.
  8. Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to Be Holy (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 180.
  9. F. Meyrick in Rousas John Rushdoony, Leviticus: Commentaries on the Pentateuch (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2005), 143-44.
  10. Robert I. Vasholz, Leviticus: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007), 161.
  11. Someone has defined the word “atonement” as “at one ment.”
  12. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 181.
  13. Harrison, Leviticus, 153.
  14. Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 196.
  15. John MacArthur, Matthew: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 4 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 1:9.