Scriptures

Leviticus 13

Introduction

‘The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a shiny spot on their skin that may be a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. The priest is to examine the sore on the skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is a defiling skin disease. When the priest examines that person, he shall pronounce them ceremonially unclean. If the shiny spot on the skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to isolate the affected person for seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine them, and if he sees that the sore is unchanged and has not spread in the skin, he is to isolate them for another seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine them again, and if the sore has faded and has not spread in the skin, the priest shall pronounce them clean; it is only a rash. They must wash their clothes, and they will be clean. But if the rash does spread in their skin after they have shown themselves to the priest to be pronounced clean, they must appear before the priest again. The priest is to examine that person, and if the rash has spread in the skin, he shall pronounce them unclean; it is a defiling skin disease.’ Leviticus 13:1-8

Laws About Defiling Skin Diseases

The skin disease described here is leprosy and it shows itself in six different ways, a scab, Leviticus 13:2-8, a spot on the flesh after a boil, Leviticus 13:18-23, a burn, Leviticus 13:24-28, a rash in the hair or beard, Leviticus 13:29-37, spots on the skin, Leviticus 13:38-39, and a sore on a man’s bald head, Leviticus 13:42-44.

You will notice in Leviticus 13:1-28 four different cases of suspected leprosy are described, the first is described in Leviticus 13:1-8, the second is described in Leviticus 13:9-17, the third is described in Leviticus 13:18-23, and the fourth is described in Leviticus 13:24-28.

Leprosy

The term ‘leprosy’ which includes the words leper, lepers, leprosy, leprous occurs 68 times in the Bible, 55 times in the Old Testament, ‘tsara’ath’ and 13 times in the New Testament, ‘lepros’, ‘lepra’.

In the Old Testament, the instances of leprosy most likely meant a variety of infectious skin diseases, and even mould and mildew on clothing and walls. In the New Testament it seems to mean an infectious skin disease. The disease itself was considered by some as some kind of sin but not necessary a specific sin relating to the leper themselves.

It was the priest’s duty, acting on behalf of God, to determine if a person had leprosy or not. After any leper was cleansed of his disease, the law said they were to present themselves to a priest in order to receive confirmation that he was clean, Leviticus 13:1-6 / Leviticus 13:45- 49 / Leviticus 14:1-32 / Luke 5:14.

If the sore was pronounced leprous, then the individual was to be isolated for seven days but if the sore didn’t spread, then the individual was isolated for another seven days. If the sore again didn’t spread, then the individual was pronounced clean, they were to wash themselves and their clothes and would be announced clean, Mark 1:40-45.

‘When anyone has a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to the priest. The priest is to examine them, and if there is a white swelling in the skin that has turned the hair white and if there is raw flesh in the swelling, it is a chronic skin disease and the priest shall pronounce them unclean. He is not to isolate them, because they are already unclean. ‘If the disease breaks out all over their skin and, so far as the priest can see, it covers all the skin of the affected person from head to foot, the priest is to examine them, and if the disease has covered their whole body, he shall pronounce them clean. Since it has all turned white, they are clean. But whenever raw flesh appears on them, they will be unclean. When the priest sees the raw flesh, he shall pronounce them unclean. The raw flesh is unclean; they have a defiling disease. If the raw flesh changes and turns white, they must go to the priest. The priest is to examine them, and if the sores have turned white, the priest shall pronounce the affected person clean; then they will be clean. ‘When someone has a boil on their skin and it heals, and in the place where the boil was, a white swelling or reddish-white spot appears, they must present themselves to the priest. The priest is to examine it, and if it appears to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has turned white, the priest shall pronounce that person unclean. It is a defiling skin disease that has broken out where the boil was. But if, when the priest examines it, there is no white hair in it and it is not more than skin deep and has faded, then the priest is to isolate them for seven days. If it is spreading in the skin, the priest shall pronounce them unclean; it is a defiling disease. But if the spot is unchanged and has not spread, it is only a scar from the boil, and the priest shall pronounce them clean. ‘When someone has a burn on their skin and a reddish-white or white spot appears in the raw flesh of the burn, the priest is to examine the spot, and if the hair in it has turned white, and it appears to be more than skin deep, it is a defiling disease that has broken out in the burn. The priest shall pronounce them unclean; it is a defiling skin disease. But if the priest examines it and there is no white hair in the spot and if it is not more than skin deep and has faded, then the priest is to isolate them for seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine that person, and if it is spreading in the skin, the priest shall pronounce them unclean; it is a defiling skin disease. If, however, the spot is unchanged and has not spread in the skin but has faded, it is a swelling from the burn, and the priest shall pronounce them clean; it is only a scar from the burn.’ Leviticus 13:9-28

When we read these verses, they indicate that the main signs of leprosy, were white hairs in the affected area, raw flesh in the swelling and the obvious spreading of the disease throughout the body. Remember the priests weren’t doctors as we understand doctors today, but God gave them enough insight to recognise what leprosy looked like.

We can only imagine the fear which the Israelites must have felt every time a boil or burn appeared on their bodies. It must have been devastating for those who were declared unclean because they had to dress as mourners, Leviticus 10:6 / Leviticus 21:10 / Ezekiel 24:17 / Micah 3:7.

They also had to live outside the camp, isolated from their friends and family, 2 Kings 7:3 / 2 Kings 15:5 / Luke 17:12, they also had to cry out, ‘unclean! unclean!’ when anyone was passing by them, Leviticus 13:45.

‘If a man or woman has a sore on their head or chin, the priest is to examine the sore, and if it appears to be more than skin deep and the hair in it is yellow and thin, the priest shall pronounce them unclean; it is a defiling skin disease on the head or chin. But if, when the priest examines the sore, it does not seem to be more than skin deep and there is no black hair in it, then the priest is to isolate the affected person for seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine the sore, and if it has not spread and there is no yellow hair in it and it does not appear to be more than skin deep, then the man or woman must shave themselves, except for the affected area, and the priest is to keep them isolated another seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine the sore, and if it has not spread in the skin and appears to be no more than skin deep, the priest shall pronounce them clean. They must wash their clothes, and they will be clean. But if the sore does spread in the skin after they are pronounced clean, the priest is to examine them, and if he finds that the sore has spread in the skin, he does not need to look for yellow hair; they are unclean. If, however, the sore is unchanged so far as the priest can see, and if black hair has grown in it, the affected person is healed. They are clean, and the priest shall pronounce them clean. ‘When a man or woman has white spots on the skin, the priest is to examine them, and if the spots are dull white, it is a harmless rash that has broken out on the skin; they are clean. ‘A man who has lost his hair and is bald is clean. If he has lost his hair from the front of his scalp and has a bald forehead, he is clean. But if he has a reddish-white sore on his bald head or forehead, it is a defiling disease breaking out on his head or forehead. The priest is to examine him, and if the swollen sore on his head or forehead is reddish-white like a defiling skin disease, the man is diseased and is unclean. The priest shall pronounce him unclean because of the sore on his head.’ Leviticus 13:29-44

When we read these verses, we read that not all the usual signs of leprosy meant that the person actually had leprosy. Nevertheless, the person still had to present themselves to the priests for the final verdict.

The falling off of the hair, when the baldness commences in the back part of the head, is another symptom which creates a suspicion of leprosy but it was not of itself a decisive sign unless taken in connection with other signs, such as a ‘sore of a reddish white colour’.

‘Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease, they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.’ Leviticus 13:45-46

Notice again that if a person was judged to have leprosy, they were to be isolated form everyone else, their clothes were to be torn, their hair wasn’t allowed to grow long and their upper lip was to be covered. We can imagine that it wouldn’t be difficult to recognise someone who had leprosy in those days.

Not all leprosy was infectious, but this leprosy certainly was, hence why the leper had to cry out ‘unclean! unclean’ whenever anyone walked near them, this must have been humiliating on so many levels.

‘As for any fabric that is spoiled with a defiling mould—any woollen or linen clothing, any woven or knitted material of linen or wool, any leather or anything made of leather—if the affected area in the fabric, the leather, the woven or knitted material, or any leather article, is greenish or reddish, it is a defiling mould and must be shown to the priest. The priest is to examine the affected area and isolate the article for seven days. On the seventh day he is to examine it, and if the mould has spread in the fabric, the woven or knitted material, or the leather, whatever its use, it is a persistent defiling mould; the article is unclean. He must burn the fabric, the woven or knitted material of wool or linen, or any leather article that has been spoiled; because the defiling mould is persistent, the article must be burned. ‘But if, when the priest examines it, the mould has not spread in the fabric, the woven or knitted material, or the leather article, he shall order that the spoiled article be washed. Then he is to isolate it for another seven days. After the article has been washed, the priest is to examine it again, and if the mould has not changed its appearance, even though it has not spread, it is unclean. Burn it, no matter which side of the fabric has been spoiled. If, when the priest examines it, the mould has faded after the article has been washed, he is to tear the spoiled part out of the fabric, the leather, or the woven or knitted material. But if it reappears in the fabric, in the woven or knitted material, or in the leather article, it is a spreading mould; whatever has the mould must be burned. Any fabric, woven or knitted material, or any leather article that has been washed and is rid of the mould, must be washed again. Then it will be clean.’ Leviticus 13:47-59

Laws About Defiling Moulds

In Leviticus 13:45-46 we read if anyone had leprosy they were to go into isolation, they were to separate themselves from other in the community, in these verses we read about various kinds of clothing material.

What we’re reading about here is about the danger of infection from infected clothing. In our modern society where clothes are thrown away for any reason, we must remember that clothing was very valuable in Bible times, people weren’t as well off as we are today and they certainly didn’t have any bargain stores to go to and buy cheap clothes, they made their own.

Any item of material which had become contaminated with mould, had to be burned, Leviticus 13:52 / Leviticus 13:57. If the contamination of mould was in a house, the contaminated stones were first to be removed, Leviticus 14:40, but if this didn’t solve the problem, then the house itself was to be destroyed, Leviticus 14:45.

If any kind of mould was found in any of the listed garments, then the garment was to be removed and isolated for seven days. If the mould spread further on the garment, then it was unclean and to be burned but if the mould didn’t spread after the seven days, it was to be washed and put aside for another seven days.

If the infected areas didn’t change in colour, then only the affected areas were to be removed and burned. If the moulded area had changed colour, then those areas were to be cut from the garment, but if the moulded area had spread after the second seven days, then the whole garment was to be burned. If the mould disappeared after the garment was washed, then the garment was washed again and pronounced clean.

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