Leviticus 13-14, Luke 8
The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. – Leviticus 13:45-46 ESV
These two chapters in Leviticus are a difficult read. They deal with a strange topic that seems totally non-applicable to our modern culture. All the descriptions of and discussions about these diseases of the skin are somewhat disgusting to think about. But the thing we can’t afford to overlook is the emphasis on uncleanliness and cleanness, purity and impurity, acceptance and rejection. This whole section in the book of Leviticus takes the requirements of God to a whole new level. The purity God was looking for went way beyond just the moral dimension. His people were to be pure physically. There was a direct correlation between sin and sickness in the Hebrew mind. These passages are not teaching that these diseases and abnormalities of the skin are the direct result of sin. They are simply using the contagious qualities of these diseases to illustrate the danger of sin among the people of God. A contagious skin disorder, if left unnoticed and unchecked, would quickly spread among the people, bringing death and destruction. Sin can do the same thing. God was teaching His people the serious nature of sin in the midst of the camp. It was to be compared with leprosy. And while the term leprosy most likely does not refer to the modern disease of the same name, it carries the same impact. What we have described in these chapters of Leviticus are a wide range of infectious skin diseases and disorders. And while we could simply characterize them as having nothing to do with our modern context, we must never fail to recognize the spiritual significance the represent.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God cared about His people. He desired that their lives be characterized by blessing, holiness, healing and health. Disease, like sin, was not part of God’s plan for man. It showed up on the scene as a result of the fall. The rebellion of Adam and Eve resulted in a shattering of the perfect environment of Eden. Death and disease showed up as unpleasant companions to sin. Disease was an everyday reality in the world by this time. Illness was a common concern for the people of God, just like it was for all mankind. Knowledge regarding infections and the spread of disease was minimal at best. Man was as ignorant of the dangers of sickness as he was of sin. But God knew that contagious disease could be just as devastating to a community as unchecked sin. So He instituted rules and regulations to control the spread of diseased among His people. Like the moral laws He provided to manage their personal relationships, God provided laws to manage their personal hygiene. Like any of the commandments, if these laws were ignored, the consequences would be devastating. God loved His people enough to provide them with a means for determining the exact nature of a disease and appropriately treating it. Ignorance could be deadly.
What does this passage reveal about man?
What should jump out at us in this passage is the devastating nature of these various skin diseases and disorders. Once the people understood their potential for spreading sickness among themselves, they were naturally prone to separate themselves from those who suffered from the diseases. Those who were sick were quickly ostracized. They were shunned and isolated from the rest of the camp. Like sin, sickness had devastating consequences of fellowship and acceptance. Imagine what it would have been like to be diagnosed with one of these diseases. Your world was rocked. You were required to wear torn clothes and walk around with unkempt hair – visual billboards of your condition – and cry out for all to hear, “Unclean, unclean!” You were forced to declare your sorry state to the world. Everyone would give you wide berth, shunning contact with you for fear of contracting whatever it was you had. On top of that, you were required to live in absolute isolation, outside the camp, alone. What an incredible picture of the devastating impact of sin on the life of an individual. You were unclean, impure, unacceptable. You were an outcast, unwanted and unable to do anything about your condition. But God provided a means to be restored. He commissioned His priests to act as mediators, providing a personal touch in these individual’s greatest times of need. They offered atonement, cleansing, and a way to be restored to fellowship with God and His people. These diseased individuals could not heal themselves. They could change their condition. They were completely dependent on the help of the priest and the healing of God. Their cleansing was completely outside of their control. Think of the parallels to our former condition as sinners prior to coming to Christ. Paul reminds us, “even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:25 NLT). He told the believers in Colossae the same thing: “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins” (Colossians 2:13 NLT). It was Jesus who said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT).
It’s interesting to note that when Jesus was ministering here on Earth, He regularly healed those who were sick. Not only that, He was willing to touch those who would have been considered unclean and impure. In chapter eight of the book of Luke, we have the story of the woman with the discharge of blood. Her illness would have classified her as unclean, and yet the text emphasizes multiple times that she touched Jesus. “She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment” (Luke 8:44 ESV). Jesus immediately responded, “Who was it that touched me?” (Luke 8:45 ESV). Again, He declared out loud, for all the crowd to hear Him, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me” (Luke 8:46 ESV). The woman, mortified, fell at Jesus feet and “declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him” (Luke 8:47 ESV). In essence, she declared her guilt. She had knowingly contaminated another person with her uncleanness. But rather than scold her, Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48 ESV). Later in this same chapter, we read of Jesus knowingly touching the body of a young girl who had just died. To do so would have made him ceremonially unclean. And yet, Luke makes it clear that Jesus willingly took that risk. “But taking her by the hand he called, saying, ‘Child, arise'” (Luke 8:54 ESV).
Earlier in this same book, Luke records the words of Jesus as He read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:17-18 ESV). Jesus came to heal the spiritually captive, blind, sick, and oppressed. He came to bring release from the deadly disease of sin. He came to stop the spread of sin’s contagion and put an end to its inevitable outcome of death.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Paul reminds me to, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13 ESV). I was once like one of those poor individuals who found themselves outside the camp, alone, and separated from God and His people. My sin sickness made me unacceptable to God and unable to come into His presence. But God sent His priest, His Son, into my life to provide the cleansing I could never have found on my own. I have been declared clean and pure, sinless and whole. What an incredible feeling it must have been for a formerly unclean person to be declared clean and acceptable again. What joy they must have felt. What gratefulness they must have expressed to God. I should feel that same way. I have been healed and made whole by God.
Father, thank You for providing my healing. I am no longer barred from Your presence because of the sickness of my sin. Your Son has provided my healing and restored me to a right relationship with You. And I can’t express my gratitude often enough. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men