Leviticus 10:8 - 15:33

Frank Binford Hole

We notice that in verse 8 the Lord speaks directly to Aaron and not as previously to Moses. This is doubtless because the matter of which He spoke concerned only the priests, and was in view of the failure that had just supervened. To the priests ministering in the sanctuary wine and strong drink of any kind were forbidden, for such only excite the natural powers and feelings of men, to the point of clouding their memory and their judgment.

Now the priest was to draw near to God in strict conformity to the prescribed order and not as Nadab and Abihu had done. Moreover he was to put a difference between holy and unholy, between clean and unclean, as verse 10 says. He was also to teach the people all that God had ordained, and for this a clear mind was needed. The tendency of strong drink would be to disqualify him for all these things.

The application of this to ourselves is very clear. All who have come to the Lord, while He is still disallowed of men, are constituted priests, as we learn in 1 Peter 2: 3, 4, and all of us should be in right priestly condition. But the position is one thing; and the condition which answers to it, is another. Hence that important word, "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5: 18). When thus filled we can offer the sacrifice of praise, as the next verse indicates. The contrast is between what is fleshly and what is spiritual. We are to decline what excites the flesh that we may know the power of the Spirit.

The same thing of course is true not only of our praise but also as to our powers of spiritual discernment, and as to our ability to teach others that which we may have learned from God of His things.

The next paragraph (verses 12-15) shows how carefully Moses handed on to Aaron and his remaining sons the instructions as to their eating what remained of the meat and peace offerings. The last paragraph (verses 16-20) indicate that further failure supervened in the priestly family. Part of the sin offering was to be eaten by the priests but instead it had been burnt. This failure sprang out of human weakness and not out of human wilfulness, as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, and hence no summary judgment was executed. Herein lies a lesson for us.

The weakness of the Aaronic priesthood is twice stated in the Epistle to the Hebrews—Heb. 5: 2 and Heb. 7: 28—they were men "compassed with infirmity." Our High Priest is the Son of God, who has passed through the heavens, and though all-perfect and all-powerful, He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Hence the contrast, made so plain in Hebrews, since all the infirmities are ours and not His.

So we note how Moses, acting on God's behalf, was content with the confession of Aaron's weakness. We might summarize the chapter as, "Strange fire," which was judged. "Strong drink," which was forbidden. "Sin-offering mishandled," which was passed over, as being the result of human infirmity.

The whole of Leviticus 11 is occupied with regulations as to the food of the people, whether in relation to beasts, fishes, birds or creeping things. Through the priest the people were to be instructed in what was to be regarded as clean, and what unclean. Among animals those only were clean that possessed the two marks: chewing the cud and the cloven hoof. Animals that chew the cud are classified as "ruminants," and to "ruminate " has acquired "meditate" as a secondary meaning. The animals with cloven hoof are sure-footed and also in many cases light-footed. When Habakkuk wrote, "The Lord God . . . will make my feet like hinds' feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places," he seemed to indicate both these ideas. If the word of God is hid in our hearts by meditation, and if it affects our outward walk in this fashion, our way will be clean in the sight of God.

Similarly with the fishes; there had to be the scales, indicating protection from the waters without, and the fins that gave power of propulsion, and ability to swim against the stream. A spiritual application of this to ourselves is very obvious.

In general the creeping things were forbidden, though in verses 21 and 22 there are certain exceptions. So when John the Baptist made locusts his food he was strictly within the law.

The latter part of the chapter gives rules as to how unclean creatures might communicate defilement to other things or persons. Here we have foreshadowed what is plain in the New Testament. There is an infection or a contagion about what is evil, so that the Christian has to be on his guard as to his associations. Such scriptures as 1 Corinthians 5: 11; 1 Thessalonians 5: 22; 1 Timothy 5: 22; 2 Timothy 2: 19 are quite clear as to this.

One other thing we may remark in connection with this chapter: these distinctions were not made in Noah's day—see Genesis 9: 2, 3. This fact, we believe, lies behind Paul's statement, "there is nothing unclean of itself" (Rom. 14: 14); and again, "all things are lawful for me" (1 Cor. 10: 23). In Noah's day all men were in view. In Moses' day Israel only was in question, and these special laws were intended to impress them with the holiness of God, on the one hand, and to help to keep them distinct and separate from the nations, on the other. The first council in Jerusalem recognized this distinction, as we see in Acts 15: 19-21.

So, while we see some spiritual instruction in this chapter and gladly accept it, we know that we are living in a dispensation when we "should not call any man common or unclean" (Acts 10: 28), as far as the Gospel is concerned. This was the lesson conveyed to Peter by the vision of the great sheet let down from heaven, wherein were all manner of creatures. All were embraced in the sheet, and, cleansed by God all were taken up into heaven.

Leviticus 12 is short, but its theme shows that sin having entered into the world, its defiling power extends over the very beginnings of human life. Both child and mother were unclean and had to be purified. If a man-child, purification was complete by circumcision on the eighth day, and the New Testament significance of that rite is "putting off the body of the flesh," as it should read in Colossians 2: 11; that is, the refusal of the flesh as having been condemned in the cross of Christ. When a daughter was born the period of the mother's defilement was twice as long as when a son was born; a reminder of the fact that sin came in through Eve. But whether son or daughter the offerings for purification were the same—a burnt offering and a sin offering had to be brought. If there was poverty so small an offering as two young pigeons might be brought.

When we turn to the account of the birth of our Lord, as recounted in Luke 2, we note that Mary brought this smallest of offerings; a testimony to the poverty of Joseph and herself. We also note that our Lord was circumcised on the eighth day, according to the law, though there was no sinful flesh in Him to be "put off." This is in keeping with the fact of His baptism at the hands of John, thus fulfilling all righteousness, though He had no sins to confess, as had the people: in keeping also with the fact that He was carried down into Egypt, so that, retracing Israel's history, it might be said of Him, "Out of Egypt have I called My Son."

Leviticus 13 is lengthy in contrast with chapter 12. This is easily understood when we say that the one deals with the defilement that marks the very start of man's life, the other with the working and development of that defilement all through the days of his life, involving such a variety of detail. There can be no doubt that leprosy is as striking a type of sin as the Bible affords. The instructions of this chapter are given to Aaron as well as Moses, for the detection and treatment of leprosy was the peculiar province of the priest. Be it noted that leprosy, as a type, lays stress not on the guilt of sin so much as on its corrupting and defiling power.

A large part of the chapter is occupied with instructions to the priest, which would enable him to diagnose the case and determine whether the sufferer was afflicted with leprosy or not. If leprosy was indicated the man was to be declared unclean. If only some skin trouble or inflammation was discerned, then the man was to be pronounced clean.

One remarkable contingency is contemplated, as we see in verses 12 and 13, and again in verse 17, If the disease should come completely to the surface, so that the flesh is white and covered, and so further spreading became impossible, the man was to be pronounced clean. This may have seemed a remarkable ruling in Aaron's day, but its typical meaning for us is simple and striking. Sin defiles as long as it is working beneath the surface, but when it is brought completely to the surface by honest and thorough confession on the part of the sinner, it ceases to defile. In confession the sinner has judged himself and the spreading and defiling power of his sin is broken.

Apart from this exceptional case the poor leper had to dwell alone without the camp. He had to put a special mark upon himself and continually declare his uncleanness, so that others might not be defiled by him.

In the latter part of this chapter we find that leprosy might also be discovered in garments of wool or linen or skin, and if so, the article was to be destroyed by fire. So leprosy might affect the surroundings of men and not only their bodies. Again care was to be taken that the trouble really was leprosy. It might be defilement of a different nature, which should have different treatment so that the whole garment was not destroyed. The instructions we have in Jude 22 and 23, give us in New Testament terms what is a counterpart of this. Indeed it is possible that the last clause of verse 23 is an allusion to the verses we are considering. Under the Mosaic law the priests were to exercise care and discrimination in their dealings, and no less discrimination is demanded under grace. It would be much easier no doubt to have a rigid rule applicable in all cases, which would eliminate all exercise of mind as to how things should be dealt with, but such is not God's way.

It is to be noted that time was allowed for the diagnosis to be made by the priest. The garment was shut up for seven days, and if then there was no certain indication, it should be washed and again shut up seven days, and then the true nature of the trouble would be revealed. If the trouble was other than leprosy, then only the affected part was to be torn out; if leprosy, all was to be destroyed in the fire. In the New Testament garments are used figuratively to express our associations and surroundings—see, for instance, Revelation 3: 4; Revelation 7: 14; Revelation 16: 15—and this helps us to see an application of these instructions to ourselves.

The leprous garment was to be destroyed. The leprous man was to dwell without the camp, and he could only be readmitted if and when he was cleansed. His cleansing was an elaborate process and the whole of Leviticus 14 is occupied with it, until we come to verse 33, when a similar plague in a house is in question. The ceremonies connected with his cleansing divide into two parts: first, those which took place without the camp, detailed in verses 3 to 8; second, those which took place on the seventh and eighth days after he had entered it.

We must carefully note that the ceremonies did not cleanse the leper, they only began when it was quite clear that he was cleansed. The healing that is contemplated is an act of God, which took place while the leper was still outside the camp. The priest had to go forth outside the camp and inspect him, and if he was cleansed it was the responsibility of the priest to pronounce him clean, and having done so to carry out the prescribed ceremony, which typified the ground and basis of his cleansing. In the two birds, one killed and the other set free, we see the death and resurrection of Christ set forth.

It may seem a strange regulation that one of the birds had to be, "killed in an earthen vessel over running water;" but in the light of the New Testament use both of "earthen vessel," and "running" or "living water," we begin to discern the significance. Dimly foreshadowed we see incarnation indicated as the necessary preliminary for the blood-shedding of our Lord, and also the fact that the offering of Himself to God was in the power of the eternal Spirit.

Then the bird that was released was first dipped in the blood of the slain bird, and thus identified with it. Two birds were needed in the type to set forth Christ in death and in resurrection. As the released bird soared into the heavens it carried the blood not into the sanctuary but into the heavens. This was the basis of all that followed.

But the blood had not only to be shed, and then carried on high to God's heaven, it had also to be applied to the cleansed leper. Seven times was it sprinkled upon him; applied, that is, in a full and complete way. Then, and then only, was the cleansed leper pronounced to be clean. Here again we observe an important type, which agrees with what we saw in Exodus 12. The blood must be applied as well as shed. The precious blood of Jesus was indeed "shed at Calvary," but in order to share in the benefit thereof each of us has to be able to say, "shed for me."

Notice too, that into the blood of the slain bird were to be dipped the cedar wood, the scarlet and the hyssop. The cedar is the most majestic of trees, hyssop is the humblest of herbs, and scarlet bespeaks the glory of men. The death of Christ has stained the pride of all human glory and of all that is natural to this first creation from the greatest things to the least.

Brought into the camp, the cleansed leper had to remain outside his tent for seven days, and then he had to divest himself of the hair that naturally characterized him, and thoroughly wash himself and his clothes. Then on the eighth day he submitted to further ceremonies, very similar to those which inaugurated the priests. Offerings of all kinds—save the peace offering—were presented to God, and then the blood and also the oil were applied to the leper; to his right ear, his right hand, his right foot. The significance of thus we saw when reading Leviticus 8.

It seems to us remarkable that the cleansed leper should have been accorded treatment so similar to the priests, though he was not a priest. This type seems designed to "shew forth all longsuffering " to use Paul's expression from 1 Timothy 1: 16. There we have Paul lifted from the leprosy of being "a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious," into the exceeding abundance of "the grace of our Lord." Here we find a loathsome leper cleansed and brought into the camp almost as if he had been a priest.

From verse 33 to the end of the chapter we have the law concerning leprosy in a house, which would apply when they entered the land. Again we notice that great care is enjoined to make sure that the trouble is leprosy, and if the evil can be stayed by the removal of affected parts, well and good. If not, the whole house had to be broken down and the rubbish deposited in an unclean place without the city. If cleansed, the procedure was very similar to that in connection with persons.

There is no record in Scripture of leprosy occurring in a house, but these instructions stand in Scripture and have a warning voice for us. The church today is "the house of God," and in its external character may be corrupted. Hence we read, "that judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4: 17), and in Revelation 2 and 3 we find the churches of Asia scrutinized by the Lord, and in result the threat of a breaking down, and even a total repudiation.

Chapters 13 and 14 have been occupied with the worst form of defilement; one which usually was lifelong and entailed total exclusion from the camp of Israel, in the midst of which it was God's pleasure to dwell. Leviticus 15 is occupied with a variety of lesser defilements, which entailed a temporary separation and diligent washings before re-admission to the camp and its privileges was possible. These defilements sprang from the weakness of human nature and conditions as they exist today, as the result of the fall. Many of them were of an unavoidable nature but nevertheless they were to be recognized as being of a defiling nature and treated as such. Thus Israel was to be impressed with the holiness of their God and how everything of a defiling nature must be removed, if His presence was to be enjoyed.

We do well to remember that the fall has produced in us many a weakness affecting our spirits as well as our bodies. For instance, many of us have to say with sad feeling what a very true servant of God wrote in days gone by:

"Yet, Lord, alas! what weakness

Within myself I find,

No infant's changing pleasure

Is like my wandering mind."

It is because of this weakness, the more felt as the believer is marked by spirituality of mind, that defilement is so easily contracted, and consequently the "feet-washing," of which John 13 speaks, is so needed by us all.

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