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He Who has the Plague is Clean
“And if a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh; Then the priest shall consider: and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean. But when raw flesh appeareth in him, he shall be unclean. And the priest shall see the raw flesh, and pronounce him to be unclean: for the raw flesh is unclean: it is a leprosy. Or if the raw flesh turn again, and be changed unto white, he shall come unto the priest; And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the plague be turned into white; then the priest shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: he is clean.” (Leviticus 13:12-17)
What a paradox this passage seems to present! Here we are given the law of God regarding leprosy. Throughout this chapter, the person who had some symptom, or many symptoms, of leprosy was pronounced unclean. But that person whose flesh was completely covered with the plague was pronounced clean. — “The priest shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: he is clean!” The Lord God declares that he who has the plague is clean.
Leprosy was a very common disease in the Old Testament, from the time that Israel came into the land of Canaan. It was still common during the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry.
However, unless I am mistaken, the leprosy described in this chapter, the leprosy we see mentioned so often in the Scriptures, is unknown in modern times. I know that leprosy (Hansen’s Disease), though rare, is still found among men, even in our own society. It is a horrible, loathsome disease, with symptoms somewhat like the leprosy described in Leviticus 13 and 14. But the leprosy observed among men today (Hansen’s Disease) is in many ways distinct from that which is described in this chapter. The leprosy described in Leviticus 13 and 14 was specifically given to Israel in the land of their possession, in the land of Canaan (Leviticus 14:34).
Real and Typical
While the leprosy described in Leviticus 13 was a real disease, it was also typical. In fact, it seems to have been sent into the world by God as a type and picture of sin. The characteristics of the disease are vivid pictures of sin. Leprosy is held before us in Scripture as a shocking picture of that horrid plague, sin, with which we are infected from the soles of our feet to the crown of our heads (Isaiah 1:6).
It is evident that leprosy (as it is set forth in the Book of God) was intended by God to be a picture of sin, if we consider just these two things.
1. All the ceremonial purifications given in chapter 14, by which the stain of leprosy was removed from a man, by which the defiled leper was made clean, refer to our Lord Jesus Christ. The disease of leprosy was cleansed and removed not by medicine, but by blood atonement. This leprosy was a medically incurable malady. Its only cure was by blood and grace.
A careful reading of Leviticus 13 and 14 will make something else manifest. — Leprosy is a picture not only of the universal sin of our race, but also of the conviction of sin by God the Holy Spirit. The leper pronounced clean by God’s high priest is held before us as a picture of a sinner convinced of his sin by God the Holy Ghost and made clean by the miracle of God’s saving grace.
The Fear of Leprosy
This 13th chapter of Leviticus sets before us the fear of leprosy. We have here several examples of people who would come to the high priest, fearful that they might have leprosy, seeking relief from a disease they never had. They had the appearance of leprosy, but not leprosy. You might call them spurious lepers.
“When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests.” (v. 2)
That is a picture of spurious sinners, spurious Christians, and spurious disciples. They have “a rising,” some stirring of the emotions, some feeling of remorse, some sense of danger, or some fear of death. They may have “a scab,” an old scar on the conscience, a sense of guilt about something long ago, or a scar from other old risings of religious wounds. They might have “a bright spot,” a boil of self-righteousness, or a pimple of religious zeal. For most people, that is all their religion amounts to: a rising, a scab, or a bright spot. It is all superficial foam and froth. There is nothing to it deeper than the skin. — Nothing deeper than the flesh.
They have been told by others that they are lepers. And they tell themselves they are lepers. They have pronounced themselves lepers, and therefore presume that they are clean. They use the language of lepers, wear sackcloth and ashes, and tear their clothes, crying, “Unclean! Unclean!” Therefore, they vainly think themselves clean.
But the disease does not spread. After seven days of being shut up, there is no spreading of the corruption. Another seven days and still no corruption. The hair of the sore has not turned white. Their beauty has not withered. Everything is at a stand. Week after week, month after month, year after year, they are the same. They have no deeper awareness of sin than they had twenty years ago. They are no more acquainted with themselves or with Christ than they were in the beginning. Their religion is like water in a tank. It knows neither ebb nor flow. It is always the same. — Always stagnant.
The Gift of Leprosy
Now, look at verses 12 and 13. Here we see the gift of leprosy. Yes, I said, “the gift of leprosy.” Blessed is that man whom God has made to be a leper! Blessed is that woman to whom God has given this gift!
In the 34th verse of chapter 14, we are told that it was the Lord God who made men and women lepers. It was God who put the plague of leprosy in a house. And he put the plague in the house only after the children of Israel had come into the land of Canaan, the land of their promised possession, the land God gave them as the fulfilment of his covenant with Abraham.
“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; 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.” (Leviticus 14:34-35)
Blessed is that person whom God has made to be a leper, whom God the Holy Ghost has made a sinner. As Joseph Hart wrote…
“What comfort can a Savior bring
To those who never felt their woe?
A sinner is a sacred thing;
The Holy Ghost hath made him so.”
That is what we have portrayed in Leviticus 13:12-13.
“And if a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh; Then the priest shall consider: and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean.”
God specifically gave the high priest in Israel four distinct marks by which he was to determine whether the plague of leprosy was really in a person.
1. If the leprosy was real, the disease was deeper than the skin (v. 3). It was something more than an outward, superficial sore.
2. The hair over the sore turned white. In other words, it died at the root. In the Scriptures hair represents beauty and glory. Long hair is a woman’s glory (1 Corinthians 11:15). Absalom’s great attractiveness was his long, thick, heavy hair. Samson’s strength was in his hair. The growth of the hair is spoken of as an emblem of beauty and excellence in a woman (Ezekiel 16:7). The Bride in the Song of Solomon speaks of Christ’s great beauty, saying, “Thy locks are bushy and black as a raven.” — The true leper is one whose beauty, comeliness, strength, and glory have withered before God. It is all dead at the roots (Psalm 39:11; Daniel 10:8).
3. If the leprosy was true leprosy, the disease never stopped, but constantly worsened, ever spreading until it “covered all his flesh” (Isaiah 1:6; 64:6; Romans 7:18).
4. If the leprosy was true leprosy, there was raw flesh in the leper. — “When the raw flesh appeareth in him, he shall be unclean” (vv. 14-15).
So it is with the experience of grace in the soul. Those who are made sinners before God, lepers before the Most High, know what it is to have raw flesh, a tender, bleeding conscience, a conscience that cannot bear being touched. Yes, when a person is made guilty before God, he cannot bear the thought of his touch, but cries and screams against it, until the touch comes.
Then all is well. Once the raw flesh was, as it were, crusted over and turned white, the leper was clean. Once the Lord God touches the sinner, that person whose screaming conscience has tormented his soul is suddenly freed from condemnation because he is clean. He is freed from sin. The conscience is silenced with the blessed peace of purity before the holy Lord God. The flesh is no longer raw (Isaiah 6:1-7).
The Humiliation of Leprosy
Here is the humiliation of leprosy.
“He is a leprous man, he is unclean: the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean; his plague is in his head. And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.” (vv. 44-46)
“The leper in whom the plague is” is the leper indeed. Our plague is an inward thing. — “In whom,” not upon whom. Sin is part of us. It is in us. It rises with us every morning. It goes with us every step of the day. It travels in every thought of our minds. It lies down with us every night. It is a plague in every living soul.
The leper’s clothes were to be rent. That was a sign of humiliation and mourning. We see it in Eli’s behavior when the ark was taken, and in Jacob’s behavior when Joseph was gone. The leper in Israel was not allowed to mend his garments. He had to wear rent clothes all his days. So it is with God’s people and our sin. It is a matter of relentless grief (1 John 1:7-10). The rending of his clothes was also a sign of abhorrence, self-loathing, and contrition (2 Kings 22:11; Isaiah 66:1-2).
And the leper had no covering for his head. Blessed be God, there is a helmet of salvation, but not until the cleansing of grace is granted. The leper, like the sinner under conviction, bows naked, exposed before God. Thereby, he says, “I have neither refuge, nor excuse, nor hope.”
He had no covering for his head; but he was required to cover his upper lip, like one covering an open grave, to keep infection in, displaying utter humility because of his corruption. The leper was compelled to cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” — So it is with God’s people in this world. Spiritual lepers we are! We are compelled from within, so long as we live in this body of flesh, to go through the world crying, “Unclean! Unclean!”
Perhaps you are thinking, “I know I am a sinner; but I’m not that bad. I read my Bible. I go to Church. I pray. I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination; but I do the best I can. And I am not so bad that I need to cover my mouth and constantly cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” — I know you are not that bad. But I am not describing you. All you have is a little scab on the flesh, a little redness here and there, maybe an old leprosy, but you’re not a leper.
Go ahead, my brother leper, cry out to the Great Physician, “Unclean! Unclean!” You need not tell anyone else about your plague. No one else can help. But you can tell him; and he can help (Matthew 8:1-3).
The leper, because he was a leper, all unclean, from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, was required to dwell alone. — “He shall dwell alone.” — That man or woman who knows his or her uncleanness before God chooses and delights to dwell alone with God. Blessed is the soul Christ gets alone with him (Hosea 2:14; John 8:1-11; Lamentations 3:26-32). J. C. Philpot rightly observed, “What we get alone weighs heaviest, wears best, and lasts longest.”
“Without the camp shall his habitation be.” — Without question, this refers to the leper’s ceremonial separation from the tabernacle, the worship of God, and the privileges of citizenship in the nation of Israel. The leper, full of the disease, knowing his uncleanness, dare not come into the camp of Israel. Until the priest came and pronounced him clean, he was not allowed, and felt himself utterly unworthy to come into the company of God’s saints in his house.
This I say to you, until God’s High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of his Spirit, pronounces you clean, you dare not come to the waters of baptism, or into the Church of God, or to the Lord’s Table. Go, show yourself to God’s Priest. And once the Priest, Christ Jesus, pronounces you clean, you are worthy, because you are clean through his worthiness which he has made yours!
The Cleansing of the Leper
Are you a leper, a poor soul sitting off at a distance, fearful that someone might get too close to you, fearful because you know yourself thoroughly unclean, covered with the leprosy from the top of your head to the soles of your feet, unclean in heart, unclean in soul, unclean in mind? Does your soul cry out, “How can I be made clean?” I have good news for you. — The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s High Priest, can make you clean. Read verses 12 and 13 again. Here we see the cleansing of the leper.
“And if a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh; Then the priest shall consider: and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean.” (vv. 12-13)
The priest made him clean (14:1-33), by blood atonement (righteousness imputed) and holy oil (the new birth – righteousness imparted). The priest pronounced him clean. The priest presented him clean before the Lord (14:11). And the priest presented him clean before the congregation. The Lord Jesus Christ makes lepers clean by himself alone. Christ made his people clean by the blood he shed at Calvary. And the Lord Jesus makes his people clean by the blessed pronouncement of grace when he speaks peace to the heart by his Spirit.
In chapter 14, we are told about the leper being made clean, though he was still a leper, full of leprosy. There is no mention of him being healed, only of him being pronounced clean by God’s priest. Why? Because in the new birth, we are not healed of our leprosy. That comes in resurrection glory. Believing on Christ, we simply hear the pronouncement of the law by the mouth of God’s High Priest speaking in grace, “He is clean.” And when God’s Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ, pronounces a leper clean, the Lord God declares, “He is clean!” The Son of God presents us clean before God. The Lord Jesus presents us clean before the congregation of his saints. Once the man was completely covered with leprosy, once the plague was turned white, he was still a leper; but he was no longer corrupting. He was no longer dangerous. — “He is clean,” clean before the law, clean in his conscience, because he is clean before God! Oh, may God give you faith in Christ and pronounce you clean in your own heart and conscience, as he did Enoch of old (Hebrews 11:5-6).