Slideshow image

Year 1, Week 13, Day 5

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Leviticus 13.

Today’s reading continues the instructions that Israel was given to distinguish between what is clean and unclean. Leviticus 12-15 explore matters of clean and unclean in relationship to the human body. Leviticus 13 pertains to skin diseases: “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body…When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean.” (Leviticus 13:1-3). Today’s reading provides the process by which an unclean skin disease was diagnosed along with the immediate actions that would need to be taken.

What struck me in today’s reading is what it continues revealing about God’s concern for purity: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12). The catalog of issues that consisted of ritual purity (being unclean and thus unsafe to approach the LORD’s presence for worship), was meant to help Israel better understand their need for moral purity: “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.” (Leviticus 15:31).

Being unclean by virtue of a skin disease does not necessarily imply that the person with the skin disease was guilty of sin. In fact, there is nothing in today’s reading that explains the cause of the skin disease. It certainly could have come as discipline for sin, but the skin disease could have come to a person irrespective of sin (see Job). This point is important to state because, while these matters of uncleanness symbolize sin, uncleanness itself, isn’t automatically the result of sin. And yet, the reason that the LORD wanted Israel to concern themselves with these matters of ritual uncleanness was related to helping Israel to realize how surrounded they were with both ritual and moral impurity. Israel lived in a world of sin and death, and thus, they were constantly subject to being contaminated by it. The continual challenges of uncleanness in the ritual areas was to assist Israel to be mindful of the prevalence of moral uncleanness. While details have shifted in the covenant arrangements that believers today live in before the world, we are still called to be mindful of the world’s moral contamination: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this…to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27).

For whatever reason behind the skin disease, the result was isolation from the community and the presence of the LORD: “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). The person unclean with a skin disease would remain outside the camp. While isolation certainly had implications to reduce further transmission of the disease, it was also to prevent defiling the Tabernacle. While the skin disease was present, the person was cut off from the Tabernacle: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night…These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” (Psalm 42:1-4). There were significant spiritual and social implications with having a skin disease. However, the isolation due to the skin disease did not prevent seeking the LORD personally for help and healing: “O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me…You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:2,11-12).

The arrival of Jesus began a marked change in how skin diseases would be viewed: “And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Mark 1:40-44). Jesus healed, cleansed, and even touched the one with the skin disease showing both His power over the disease and His compassion for the diseased. 

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe