1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, 3 and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, 4 the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. 5 And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. 6 He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. 7 And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field. 8 And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days. 9 And on the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair from his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. He shall shave off all his hair, and then he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean.
10 “And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish, and a grain offering of three tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil. 11 And the priest who cleanses him shall set the man who is to be cleansed and these things before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 12 And the priest shall take one of the male lambs and offer it for a guilt offering, along with the log of oil, and wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. 13 And he shall kill the lamb in the place where they kill the sin offering and the burnt offering, in the place of the sanctuary. For the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest; it is most holy. 14 The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. 15 Then the priest shall take some of the log of oil and pour it into the palm of his own left hand 16 and dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand and sprinkle some oil with his finger seven times before the Lord. 17 And some of the oil that remains in his hand the priest shall put on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. 18 And the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed. Then the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord. 19 The priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. And afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. 20 And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.
21 “But if he is poor and cannot afford so much, then he shall take one male lamb for a guilt offering to be waved, to make atonement for him, and a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, and a log of oil; 22 also two turtledoves or two pigeons, whichever he can afford. The one shall be a sin offering and the other a burnt offering. 23 And on the eighth day he shall bring them for his cleansing to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, before the Lord. 24 And the priest shall take the lamb of the guilt offering and the log of oil, and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. 25 And he shall kill the lamb of the guilt offering. And the priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. 26 And the priest shall pour some of the oil into the palm of his own left hand, 27 and shall sprinkle with his right finger some of the oil that is in his left hand seven times before the Lord. 28 And the priest shall put some of the oil that is in his hand on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, in the place where the blood of the guilt offering was put. 29 And the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed, to make atonement for him before the Lord. 30 And he shall offer, of the turtledoves or pigeons, whichever he can afford, 31 one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, along with a grain offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for him who is being cleansed. 32 This is the law for him in whom is a case of leprous disease, who cannot afford the offerings for his cleansing.” – Leviticus 14:1-32 ESV
Chapter 13 paints a far-from-pleasant picture for all those who suffer from skin diseases.
“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
These unfortunate individuals were to be treated as outcasts, forced to live outside the camp, and treated as social pariahs. Not only were they forbidden to come into contact with their fellow Israelites, but they were also denied access to the Tabernacle and separated from the presence of Yahweh. In their infected state, they were forbidden to come anywhere near the house of God for fear that their ceremonial impurity would render the Tabernacle unclean and unfit for God’s presence. So, once they were diagnosed by the priest and declared to be “leprous,” they were forced to live outside the camp for a period of seven days.
“…the priest must quarantine the infected person for seven days. On the seventh day the priest must examine the person again.” – Leviticus 13:26-27 NLT
Chapter 14 picks up the story on the eighth day, “the day of his cleansing” (Leviticus 14:1 ESV). The priest was required to examine the individual one more time but this required the priest to visit the infected person outside the camp. Even on the eighth day, the “leprous” individual was denied re-entry to the community. Before he could return to camp, he had to be ceremonially cleansed. This involved two separate and highly elaborate sacrificial rites. The first was done outside the camp and required that the one wishing to be restored to fellowship bring “two live birds that are ceremonially clean, a stick of cedar, some scarlet yarn, and a hyssop branch” (Leviticus 14:4 NLT).
One of the birds was to be killed over a clay bowl containing fresh water, allowing its blood to mingle with the water. Then the priest was to take the remaining live bird, along with the cedar, scarlet yarn, and hyssop, and dip them into the mixture of water and blood. The contents of the bowl were then sprinkled seven times on the one who desired to be cleansed. At the end of this ceremony, the priest pronounced the individual to be clean and the live bird was released into the wilderness.
The next step involved physical cleansing, requiring the worshiper to “wash their clothes, shave off all their hair, and bathe themselves in water” (Leviticus 14:7 NLT). But even then, they were required to spend another seven days in isolation. At the end of this period of time, “they must again shave all the hair from their heads, including the hair of the beard and eyebrows. They must also wash their clothes and bathe themselves in water” (Leviticus 14:9 NLT).
Only after having completed all the required rituals would the worshiper be deemed ceremonially clean and free to return to the camp and to the Tabernacle. And his ability to return to the Tabernacle was vital because it was there that he would experience the second half of his cleansing. While the formerly leprous individual was officially clean, he needed atonement. This required that he offer a series of sacrifices that included reparation, purification, burnt, and meal offerings.
The point behind all of this was the restoration of the outcast. The one who had been as good as dead had been restored to life, and his healing had fostered his return to fellowship within the community. Now, it was time for him to be restored to fellowship with Yahweh.
This entire ceremony took place at the entrance to the Tabernacle, the house of God.
“…the officiating priest will present that person for purification, along with the offerings, before the Lord at the entrance of the Tabernacle.” – Leviticus 14:11 NLT
This must have been a time of great joy and excitement for the former outcast. Once considered a threat to the community, the cleansed congregant was welcomed back into fellowship and allowed to enter the house of God. The one who had spent weeks verbally declaring himself to be unclean was reinstated to the faith community and welcomed with open arms at the gates of the Tabernacle.
While the one seeking atonement had not contracted his skin disease as a result of sin, he still needed to make reparations and atonement because his condition had rendered him unclean and an offense to a holy God. His forced separation had kept him from offering sacrifices and even presenting his tithes to God. Now it was time to make things right.
The very fact that the affected person was standing in the courtyard of the Tabernacle was evidence that he had been accepted by the priest and the people. But it was essential that his cleansed state be approved by God. This required sacrifice and it is interesting to note the similarities between the rite for priestly ordination and the restoration process of the newly cleansed individual. The blood from the sacrificed animals was sprinkled on “the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot of the person being purified” (Leviticus 14:14 NLT). This same process was done to set apart Aaron and his sons for the priesthood.
“Then Moses took some of its blood and applied it to the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the big toe of his right foot. Next Moses presented Aaron’s sons and applied some of the blood to the lobes of their right ears, the thumbs of their right hands, and the big toes of their right feet.” – Leviticus 8:23-24 NLT
The formerly exiled worship was being reconsecrated to God and fully accepted into His presence and approved for service. The unclean outcast was now considered a purified child of God who was welcome in His house. His sacrifices were deemed worthy and acceptable to God.
A vital point to consider is that none of the rituals contained in chapter 14 were meant to provide healing. Everything was intended for purification and not for curative purposes. The healing of the individual was God’s doing. Even though the one affected by the disease was cast out from the community, God did not abandon them. Their physical restoration was provided for them by God. And their return to the faith community was also made possible by God.
God had told the Israelites, “I am the Lord, your healer” (Exodus 15:26 ESV). He would later reiterate that truth, declaring His sovereignty over life and death, sickness and healing.
“Look now; I myself am he!
There is no other god but me!
I am the one who kills and gives life;
I am the one who wounds and heals;
no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!” – Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT
All could receive renewed health and healing from God. Even the poorest among them could be restored because God made provision for their poverty. Verses 21-32 outline the alternate offerings that God deemed acceptable for any who were financially challenged. There was nothing to keep the penitent sinner from receiving full atonement from the Lord. Decay and disease had separated them from their God and their fellow Israelites, but God had made provision for their full restoration and redemption.
“Through this process, the priest will purify the person before the Lord.” – Leviticus 14:29 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.