Banished or Burned

40 “If a man’s hair falls out from his head, he is bald; he is clean. 41 And if a man’s hair falls out from his forehead, he has baldness of the forehead; he is clean. 42 But if there is on the bald head or the bald forehead a reddish-white diseased area, it is a leprous disease breaking out on his bald head or his bald forehead. 43 Then the priest shall examine him, and if the diseased swelling is reddish-white on his bald head or on his bald forehead, like the appearance of leprous disease in the skin of the body, 44 he is a leprous man, he is unclean. The priest must pronounce him unclean; his disease is on his head.

45 “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.’ 46 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.

47 “When there is a case of leprous disease in a garment, whether a woolen or a linen garment, 48 in warp or woof of linen or wool, or in a skin or in anything made of skin, 49 if the disease is greenish or reddish in the garment, or in the skin or in the warp or the woof or in any article made of skin, it is a case of leprous disease, and it shall be shown to the priest. 50 And the priest shall examine the disease and shut up that which has the disease for seven days. 51 Then he shall examine the disease on the seventh day. If the disease has spread in the garment, in the warp or the woof, or in the skin, whatever be the use of the skin, the disease is a persistent leprous disease; it is unclean. 52 And he shall burn the garment, or the warp or the woof, the wool or the linen, or any article made of skin that is diseased, for it is a persistent leprous disease. It shall be burned in the fire.

53 “And if the priest examines, and if the disease has not spread in the garment, in the warp or the woof or in any article made of skin, 54 then the priest shall command that they wash the thing in which is the disease, and he shall shut it up for another seven days. 55 And the priest shall examine the diseased thing after it has been washed. And if the appearance of the diseased area has not changed, though the disease has not spread, it is unclean. You shall burn it in the fire, whether the rot is on the back or on the front.

56 “But if the priest examines, and if the diseased area has faded after it has been washed, he shall tear it out of the garment or the skin or the warp or the woof. 57 Then if it appears again in the garment, in the warp or the woof, or in any article made of skin, it is spreading. You shall burn with fire whatever has the disease. 58 But the garment, or the warp or the woof, or any article made of skin from which the disease departs when you have washed it, shall then be washed a second time, and be clean.”

59 This is the law for a case of leprous disease in a garment of wool or linen, either in the warp or the woof, or in any article made of skin, to determine whether it is clean or unclean. – Leviticus 13:40-59 ESV

The presence of disease is not an indication that the ill person has sinned. But sin is the reason disease is present in the world. All illness is a direct result of the fall. Its very existence is tied to the original sin committed by Adam and Eve in the garden. Their fateful decision to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit doomed all their descendants to lives characterized by sin and cursed by death. The apostle Paul explains the grave implications of what the first couple did in the garden, but he lays all the blame at the feet of Adam – the one to whom God had given His order to stay away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

For Adam’s sin led to condemnation… – Romans 5:16 NLT

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. – Romans 5:17 NLT

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone… – Romans 5:18 NLT

Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. – Romans 5:19 NLT

Adam’s failure to adequately warn his wife about the dangers of the tree made her susceptible to the temptations of the enemy. And Adam’s decision to join his wife in her act of disobedience sealed their fate. Rather than reject the fruit she offered him, he was willingly complicit in her sin. And the rest, they say, is history.

Their sin led to condemnation. God’s holiness demanded action and it resulted in the immediate expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden. And when God cast them out, they were banned from His presence. No longer would they enjoy intimate and unbroken fellowship with their Creator. Their sin made them unclean and unworthy of basking in His glory and benefiting from His goodness. And, in time, the entire creation began to experience the effects of sin’s presence. Atrophy set in. Paul states that “death spread to everyone.”

But Adam and Eve did not die immediately. Instead, death took the form of decay, a slow-moving deterioration of all things. The first couple began to age. In time, disease entered the scene. The entire creation, once declared “very good” by God, was placed under a curse and doomed to the ravages of time and the dilatory effects of sin. Once again, the apostle Paul provides insightful commentary on the implications of sin’s entrance into the world.

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:20-22 NLT

Death and decay are everywhere and their effects are unavoidable. Chapter 13 of Leviticus emphasizes just a few of the symptoms of their presence, including a variety of unsightly and uncomfortable skin disorders.

As the Israelites made their way from Sinai to Canaan, they would experience many of these painful pathologies of the skin. It was inevitable and unavoidable. And these lesions, boils, sores, and skin disorders were not new to them. They had plenty of experience with these kinds of ailments, but now, God was informing them that these common conditions were cause for greater concern. Because the Israelites were God’s chosen people, the presence of these skin disorders could them unclean and impure before God. They would not be condemned to death for having a rash or a boil. But the presence of disease would result in their banishment from the community and their inability to enter God’s presence.

God wanted them to understand the seriousness of sin. Its entrance into the world had damaged God’s creation beyond repair. All that God had made was in a constant state of decline that would ultimately result in death. And this decay, disease, and death were antithetical to the will of the life-giving God of the universe. The one who gave life to all that is in the world stands opposed to the very idea of death. Yes, God sovereignly decreed death to be the penalty for man’s sin (Romans 6:23), but His original intent was for His creation to experience life in all its fullness.

then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 ESV

He himself gives life and breath to everything… – Acts 17:25 NLT

And His Son came to earth so that He might provide new life to all who were under the curse of death.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – John 10:10 ESV

God’s detailed instructions concerning everything from baldness to boils were intended to show the people of Israel the damaging influence of sin on their lives. They were surrounded by the effects of sin’s presence. It infected everything they touched, and it took the form of disease and decay. Hair fell from their heads, leaving them bald. Lesions appeared on their skin, causing discomfort and pain. Rashes and boils could show up without a moment’s notice or any explanation. And even their garments could become infected through contact with these disorders. And everything had to be closely examined and carefully cleansed so that the purity of the community could be maintained.

Any infection deemed unclean required immediate, yet temporary banishment.

“Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp. – Leviticus 13:45-46 NLT

But the goal was the eventual restoration of the banned individual. Their isolation was intended to protect the wholeness of the community. The disease and its treatment were intended to serve as a metaphor for sin and its influence on God’s people. Disease was not to be taken lightly, and neither was sin.

Even garments that had come into contact with any of these skin disorders were to be considered unclean and in need of purification. The presence of mildew or mold was to be taken seriously and dealt with immediately. All of these things would render the wearer of the garment unpure and unworthy of entering God’s presence. So, cleansing was mandatory. The infected item was to be closely examined and subjected to a stringent purification protocol.

“After examining the affected spot, the priest will put the article in quarantine for seven days. On the seventh day the priest must inspect it again. If the contaminated area has spread, the clothing or fabric or leather is clearly contaminated by a serious mildew and is ceremonially unclean.” – Leviticus 13:50-51 NLT

And if, after the garment was quarantined, the mildew, mold, or contamination remained, the garment was to be burned.

“It must be completely burned up, whether the contaminated spot is on the inside or outside.” – Leviticus 13:55 NLT

But if the spot disappeared, the garment was to be declared clean and restored to its former use. It was ceremonially pure. And that is the entire focus of the chapter. God was letting His people know that impurity would be a constant threat to their relationship with Him. Any form of impurity could render them unclean and unworthy of entering the presence of a holy, sinless God. They were not to offer blemished, diseased, or lame animals for sacrifice. They were not to come before God bearing any kind of skin disease or disorder. Their clothes were to be clean and free from mold and mildew. And all of these requirements were in keeping with God’s command concerning holiness.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” – Leviticus 19:2 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

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