18 “If there is in the skin of one’s body a boil and it heals, 19 and in the place of the boil there comes a white swelling or a reddish-white spot, then it shall be shown to the priest. 20 And the priest shall look, and if it appears deeper than the skin and its hair has turned white, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean. It is a case of leprous disease that has broken out in the boil. 21 But if the priest examines it and there is no white hair in it and it is not deeper than the skin, but has faded, then the priest shall shut him up seven days. 22 And if it spreads in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a disease. 23 But if the spot remains in one place and does not spread, it is the scar of the boil, and the priest shall pronounce him clean.
24 “Or, when the body has a burn on its skin and the raw flesh of the burn becomes a spot, reddish-white or white, 25 the priest shall examine it, and if the hair in the spot has turned white and it appears deeper than the skin, then it is a leprous disease. It has broken out in the burn, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a case of leprous disease. 26 But if the priest examines it and there is no white hair in the spot and it is no deeper than the skin, but has faded, the priest shall shut him up seven days, 27 and the priest shall examine him the seventh day. If it is spreading in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a case of leprous disease. 28 But if the spot remains in one place and does not spread in the skin, but has faded, it is a swelling from the burn, and the priest shall pronounce him clean, for it is the scar of the burn.
29 “When a man or woman has a disease on the head or the beard, 30 the priest shall examine the disease. And if it appears deeper than the skin, and the hair in it is yellow and thin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean. It is an itch, a leprous disease of the head or the beard. 31 And if the priest examines the itching disease and it appears no deeper than the skin and there is no black hair in it, then the priest shall shut up the person with the itching disease for seven days, 32 and on the seventh day the priest shall examine the disease. If the itch has not spread, and there is in it no yellow hair, and the itch appears to be no deeper than the skin, 33 then he shall shave himself, but the itch he shall not shave; and the priest shall shut up the person with the itching disease for another seven days. 34 And on the seventh day the priest shall examine the itch, and if the itch has not spread in the skin and it appears to be no deeper than the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean. 35 But if the itch spreads in the skin after his cleansing, 36 then the priest shall examine him, and if the itch has spread in the skin, the priest need not seek for the yellow hair; he is unclean. 37 But if in his eyes the itch is unchanged and black hair has grown in it, the itch is healed and he is clean, and the priest shall pronounce him clean.
38 “When a man or a woman has spots on the skin of the body, white spots, 39 the priest shall look, and if the spots on the skin of the body are of a dull white, it is leukoderma that has broken out in the skin; he is clean.” – Leviticus 13:18-39 ESV
The degree of specificity in these verses is somewhat staggering. Why does God go into such great detail when it comes to these various skin pathologies? What is His reasoning behind ordering the priests to closely examine each lesion, boil, and spot, carefully determining the color and texture of the hair and surrounding skin?
In attempting to answer these questions, it’s important to note that the priests were not physicians, and their examinations were not intended to determine a treatment plan that would restore physical health. They wrote no prescriptions and provided no expert medical advice. Yet, they were concerned with restoring the “patient’s” wholeness but their primary focus was that of holiness and purity.
God’s seeming obsession with dermatological disorders may appear somewhat heavyhanded. After all, there is no mention of internal diseases such as heart conditions, tumors, or cancer. He doesn’t deal with psychological or physiological disorders either. His emphasis is on the outward manifestations of diseases that affect the skin. Because of the visible nature of these conditions, they would have been readily apparent to others. And the overall focus of these verses appears to be on what might be best referred to as infectious skin diseases.
Each of the ailments described in these verses was to be closely examined in order to determine if it had the potential to spread and infect others. Its potential for contagion was to be a key factor in the priest’s diagnosis.
“If the priest examines it and finds it to be more than skin-deep, and if the hair in the affected area has turned white, the priest must pronounce the person ceremonially unclean. The boil has become a serious skin disease.” – Leviticus 13:20 NLT
Based on the priest’s examination and diagnosis, more serious diseases were to require isolation and quarantine. This does not necessarily mean that the disease itself was infectious, but that the individual with the malady was to be considered temporarily unclean. This forced isolation from the rest of the community was to prevent anyone else from becoming ceremonially impure by coming into contact with the “patient.”
The primary concern of the priest was to determine the patient’s potential for spreading uncleanness. The purity of the congregation was to be his highest priority so that there would be no break in their fellowship with God. His ongoing presence was tied to their holiness and their holiness was directly linked to their purity.
The presence of visible and abnormal skin conditions among the populous was to alert the spiritual leadership of Israel to implement immediate protocols to protect and preserve the purity of the congregation. And no lesion, boil, or rash was to be overlooked. As soon as the malady appeared, the priests were to get involved and make the proper diagnosis so that the integrity or wholeness of God’s people might be preserved.
When reading these verses, it is important to recognize that the presence of diseases is meant to be seen as a symptom of mankind’s alienation from God. Because of Adam and Eve’s act of rebellion in the garden, sin entered God’s creation and brought with it decay, disease, and, ultimately, death. From that moment to now, the sinless perfection of God’s creation had been marred by abnormalities of all kinds. Pain and suffering are now a normal and natural part of human life. And the skin disorders mentioned in these verses are intended to illustrate the pervasive and unavoidable reality of sin’s influence over God’s creative order.
The presence of disease does not void or invalidate the beauty of God’s creation. It simply illustrates the fallen nature of the world and its need for restoration and redemption. The Israelites had been set apart by God and commanded to live in a manner that illustrated their distinct status as His chosen people. Yet, they had to do so in the midst of a fallen and sin-saturated world. That’s why God gave Him his law, to guard and guide their actions as they attempted to navigate life in a far-from-friendly world. They would be constantly exposed to temptation, the threat of illness, the risk of compromise, and the very real possibility of falling away from God. Their journey from Egypt to Canaan had already been marked by suffering and their own susceptibility to sin and rebellion. They had displayed their own potential for disobedience when they worshiped the golden calf. They had experienced thirst and hunger and allowed those less-than-pleasant physical conditions to turn their hearts against God.
Now, God was letting them know that physical ailments would be a permanent part of their faith journey. They were not immune from disease, decay, and death. But they were not to allow these things to separate them from their God. When skin disorders showed up, and they would, the people of Israel were to recognize them as reminders of their fallen state. They were sin-prone people living in a sin-darkened land. But God provided a way of restoration. He did not completely cast out the infected individual and declare them to be persona non grata. But He did expect their malady to be recognized and dealt with appropriately.
The overall emphasis of these verses is purity and restoration. Sickness is a reminder of sin’s presence and its debilitating influence over God’s creation. But its impact is limited and far from final. Diseases can produce discomfort and even death, but they cannot sever the relationship between God and His people. The apostle Paul provides us with a powerful word of encouragement concerning the limited liability of sin’s hold on mankind.
For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.
Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,[j] this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:53-57 NLT
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.