Heart and Home

33 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 34 “When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a case of leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, 35 then he who owns the house shall come and tell the priest, ‘There seems to me to be some case of disease in my house.’ 36 Then the priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease, lest all that is in the house be declared unclean. And afterward the priest shall go in to see the house. 37 And he shall examine the disease. And if the disease is in the walls of the house with greenish or reddish spots, and if it appears to be deeper than the surface, 38 then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house and shut up the house seven days. 39 And the priest shall come again on the seventh day, and look. If the disease has spread in the walls of the house, 40 then the priest shall command that they take out the stones in which is the disease and throw them into an unclean place outside the city. 41 And he shall have the inside of the house scraped all around, and the plaster that they scrape off they shall pour out in an unclean place outside the city. 42 Then they shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and he shall take other plaster and plaster the house.

43 “If the disease breaks out again in the house, after he has taken out the stones and scraped the house and plastered it, 44 then the priest shall go and look. And if the disease has spread in the house, it is a persistent leprous disease in the house; it is unclean. 45 And he shall break down the house, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and he shall carry them out of the city to an unclean place. 46 Moreover, whoever enters the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening, 47 and whoever sleeps in the house shall wash his clothes, and whoever eats in the house shall wash his clothes.

48 “But if the priest comes and looks, and if the disease has not spread in the house after the house was plastered, then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, for the disease is healed. 49 And for the cleansing of the house he shall take two small birds, with cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop, 50 and shall kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water 51 and shall take the cedarwood and the hyssop and the scarlet yarn, along with the live bird, and dip them in the blood of the bird that was killed and in the fresh water and sprinkle the house seven times. 52 Thus he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird and with the fresh water and with the live bird and with the cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn. 53 And he shall let the live bird go out of the city into the open country. So he shall make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean.”

54 This is the law for any case of leprous disease: for an itch, 55 for leprous disease in a garment or in a house, 56 and for a swelling or an eruption or a spot, 57 to show when it is unclean and when it is clean. This is the law for leprous disease. – Leviticus 14:33-57 ESV

These verses appear to anticipate the Israelite’s occupation of the land of Canaan. In preparation for the day when they would enter and occupy the land promised to them by God, the Israelites were provided with laws concerning the contamination of permanent dwelling places. Up until this point, they had been living in tents but the day was coming when God would allow them to occupy houses built of stone. And one of the significant features of their new homes would be the fact that they would inherit them from the land’s current occupants.

“The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. – Deuteronomy 6:10-13 NLT

This entire section of Leviticus is concerned with the holiness of God. The emphasis on cleanness and uncleanness is meant to illustrate how the fallen nature of the world and everything in it can negatively impact the Israelite’s relationship with God. Impurity of any kind could place a barrier between Yahweh and His chosen people. And when the Israelites finally arrived in Canaan and began conquering the nations that had settled there, the land would need to be purified. Even the houses in which they settled, which would be given to them by God, would be prone to disease and contamination.

And in these verses, God provides detailed instructions for dealing with mold and mildew that appear in a home. What sets this section apart is verse 34. In it, God seems to indicate that this mold infestation will be from His hand.

“When you arrive in Canaan, the land I am giving you as your own possession, I may contaminate some of the houses in your land with mildew. – Leviticus 14:34 NLT

Does this suggest that God will inflict certain homes with mold and mildew as some kind of punishment for a sin committed by the occupant? The text doesn’t elaborate. While it seems that God is claiming responsibility for the presence of the contamination, it could simply be a reference to His sovereignty over all things. The mold or mildew was not the result of contamination, but instead, it was “put” there by God, and its presence made the home unclean and non-occupiable. As soon as the problem was apparent, the Israelite owner of the home was required to notify the priest. This instigated an extensive inspection and purification process designed to render the contaminated home clean and acceptable to God.

“The settlement had to be free of pollution and corruption and anything that might cause disease. In the wilderness it was easy to burn tents. But when the people settled in the land, the law had to be brought forward and made relevant to their present situation.” – Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus

God demanded purity among His people. As a holy God, He expected His people to reflect His nature. And these verses indicate that His concern for their holiness included every aspect of their lives, including the homes in which they lived. This comprehensive regard for holiness was intended to teach the Israelites about the ever-present and pervasive problem of sin within the camp. Decay, disease, and death were everywhere and their impact was unavoidable. Even the annoying presence of mold and mildew was a reminder that the fall had caused sin to seep into every nook and cranny of human life.

So, when a home was found to have mold or mildew, the priest was to place it under a seven-day quarantine. No one was allowed to enter the home during that time. When the seven days were up, the priest was to reexamine the house. If the contamination had spread, the affected stones were to be removed and cast outside the city. Then a process of remediation was begun, requiring all the plaster to be removed from the walls and discarded along with the infected stone. If this drastic remedy was unsuccessful and the mildew reappeared, the home was to be condemned and destroyed, with every scrap of wood and stone hauled out of the city.

God made it clear that the presence of mildew or mold made the house unclean. So, anyone who ventured into the house while the contamination remained was to be declared unclean and in need of purification.

“Those who enter the house during the period of quarantine will be ceremonially unclean until evening, and all who sleep or eat in the house must wash their clothing.” – Leviticus 14:46-47 NLT

This command does not seem to deal with actual physical contamination, but instead, it points out the reality of ceremonial uncleanness. Since the home was deemed unclean, anyone who came into contact with it was deemed unclean as well. Even if the mold or mildew was no threat to humans, any contact with that which God had deemed unclean put them at spiritual risk. Purity was a fragile thing and needed to be protected at all costs.

If after purging the home, all traces of mold and mildew disappeared, the home was to be declared clean. But before it could be reoccupied, a purification ceremony must be performed. This is the same rite performed for a person healed of a skin disease. It involved the sacrifice of two birds.

“To purify the house the priest must take two birds, a stick of cedar, some scarlet yarn, and a hyssop branch. He will slaughter one of the birds over a clay pot filled with fresh water. He will take the cedar stick, the hyssop branch, the scarlet yarn, and the live bird, and dip them into the blood of the slaughtered bird and into the fresh water. Then he will sprinkle the house seven times. – Leviticus 14:49-51 NLT

The second bird was then released into the wilderness, signifying that the death of the first bird had resulted in restoration and life. The formerly infected home was now cleansed and ready for occupation. Life could go on. Meals could be eaten. Children could be born. Rest could be attained. And the blessings of God could be enjoyed.

God’s greatest concern was the holiness of His people. He knew they would struggle with purity and would constantly battle the damaging side effects of sin. Especially in the land of Canaan, they would find themselves surrounded by pagan nations. They would live in cities and homes built by these very same people. The contamination of sin would be everywhere, both physically and spiritually, and God wanted His people to know and understand the difference between that which is “ceremonially clean or unclean” (Leviticus 14:57 NLT).

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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