An Infection of Leprosy
"When a garment has an infection of leprosy in it, whether it is a wool garment or a linen garment, whether in warp or woof, of linen or of wool, whether in leather or in any article made of leather, if the infection is greenish or reddish in the garment or in the leather, or in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, it is a leprous infection and shall be shown to the priest. Then the priest shall look at the infection, and shall quarantine the article with the infection for seven days. He shall then look at the infection on the seventh day; if the infection has spread in the garment, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in the leather, whatever the purpose for which the leather is used, the infection is a malignant leprosy, it is unclean. So he shall burn the garment, whether the warp or the woof, in wool or in linen, or any article of leather in which the infection occurs, for it is a malignant leprosy; it shall be burned in the fire. But if the priest shall look, and indeed, the infection has not spread in the garment, either in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, then the priest shall order them to wash the thing in which the infection occurs, and he shall quarantine it for seven more days. After the article with the infection has been washed, the priest shall again look, and if the infection has not changed its appearance, even though the infection has not spread, it is unclean; you shall burn it in the fire, whether an eating away has produced bareness on the top or on the front of it. Then if the priest shall look, and if the infection has faded after it has been washed, then he shall tear it out of the garment or out of the leather, whether from the warp or from the woof; and if it appears again in the garment, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, it is an outbreak; the article with the infection shall be burned in the fire. And the garment, whether the warp or the woof, or any article of leather from which the infection has departed when you washed it, it shall then be washed a second time and shall be clean. This is the law for the infection of leprosy in a garment of wool or linen, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, for pronouncing it clean or unclean." (Lev.13: 47-59).
Under the ceremonial ordinances of the Mosaic code, there were a great deal of purification rites one of which was this ordinance which dealt with that which the Scriptures term an infection of leprosy in a garment. The modern reader will perhaps be tempted to gloss over the account given of this entire proceeding as something that is completely irrelevant having only to do with sanitation matters within the camp of the Israelites. As such, they might argue, this does not speak to them at all since it is hopelessly outdated due to modern innovations in both sanitation and advancements in medicine. This would be tragic indeed for to view this ordinance solely in this fashion would be to miss the very heart of what the Lord God was teaching His people.
The reader should understand that contained within many of the Old Covenant ordinances and statutes are rich veins of spiritual truths that when mined yield wondrous instruction for the Christian. Yet oftentimes, these truths are expressed in terms that seem unrelated to the spiritual kingdom inhabited by the child of God. For instance, an Old Testament statute reads, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing" (Deut 25:4). In an agrarian society such as was Israel’s, this was pretty straightforward. The ox, a beast of burden and servitude, was to be allowed to eat some of the produce of his own labors. To have refused to allow the poor animal to nourish itself while it continued its toiling would have been an act of cruelty and demonstrated an utter disregard for its welfare that was inconsistent with a people who made profession of serving the gracious Jehovah. Yet the apostle Paul thinks nothing of taking this very same Scripture and using it to teach God’s method of providing for his gospel ministers under the New Covenant.
"Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the law also saw these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? (1Cor 9: 7-11).
Notice how the inspired apostle shows the true method for correctly understanding the Old Testament ordinances and statutes. Simply put, there is a spiritual principal that is "locked" in these Scriptures that under the light of the Holy Spirit is readily discerned.
As a further example of this principle, consider the Old Covenant ordinance concerning the feast of Passover. God clearly commanded the children of Israel to observe it once a year. Prior to the actual day in which the feast was celebrated there was a period of six days during which no unleavened bread could be eaten by an Israelite. All vestiges of leaven had to be removed from their houses. Not a trace of it could be left but all had to be thoroughly purged and swept out (Deut 16: 3-8). Again, this is all very straightforward and unambiguous. Yet Paul thinks nothing of referring to this preparation of ridding the house of leaven and applying it directly to the church in that same letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5. Here he tells us what the Holy Spirit was really saying by His use of the leaven image in this feast.
"Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor 5: 6-8).
So even though the feast and all the elements comprising it were clearly ordained by God and occupied such a prominent place under the Mosaic economy, it had a higher and richer spiritual meaning that the Holy Spirit intended it to portray. The inspired pen of the apostle records for us that the leaven was representative of "malice and wickedness". The unblemished lamb pointed to the true "Lamb of God" who would take away the sin of the world.
There is nothing stretched in interpreting it in this fashion. The Spirit of the Lord, who is the author of Scripture, has clearly revealed that indeed this is the only true and proper method for understanding these Old Covenant statues and ordinances. To do otherwise is to disregard the apostolic pattern altogether and set up another of our own contrivance. It is indeed true that many diseases of that day were liable to be spread through contact with clothing that had been contaminated by those who were smitten by certain diseases such as leprosy or small pox. Hence there was a genuine need to take precautions such as burning infected garments to prevent the spread of the sickness from one person to another. Yet, there is far more here than simply meets the eye. Perhaps we can now approach our chosen text and glean from it those nuggets of truth which the Lord would have His people to understand.
Clearly, the priest was solemnly charged with an extremely precise series of steps that he was to follow. The garment must be observed and the mark or infection noted. Then it had to be quarantined for a week after which it was examined again. If it had spread, the entire garment would be burned with fire. If it had not spread, the garment would then be washed in water followed by another quarantine period of seven days. After this, if the mark had not changed its original appearance, the garment was burned. If the mark had completely disappeared, the garment was washed a second time in water and then pronounced clean. If however, the mark had instead faded only slightly, the section of clothing that contained it would be ripped out of the fabric and disposed of. However, if an eruption occurred at a later date in the same article of clothing, the entire garment was burned with fire. There were to be no exceptions to this rule. The question then is "What does all this mean to us today?"
First, it is imperative that the reader understand that in the same manner as was previously demonstrated, the Old Covenant usage of leprosy is almost always to represent sin or the effects of sin upon human nature. Due to its terribly disfiguring effects, it is a perfect representation of the manner in which sin disfigures or ruins the "normal" image of man which was once in the image and likeness of God. Could we but truly see how evil a thing is sin and how devastating its results are upon human nature and all that it comes into contact with, we would be far less prone to embrace or practice it and would instead avoid it as the evil plague that it genuinely is. With that point settled we are ready to proceed.
The appearance of leprosy then in the garment is a picture of the moral evil of sin as it becomes visible in the fabric of either an individual’s or a group of individuals’ lives.
What we are seeing portrayed in this ordinance therefore gives us an insight into the method that God would have His people to employ in dealing with sin that becomes evident in His household. Additionally, it also reveals the manner in which He deals with sin among both individuals and peoples or nations. It is therefore pregnant with instruction for those "upon whom the ends of the ages have come".
In dealing with the first of these, let us consider carefully that the priest did not have the liberty to simply ignore the infection or mark that might appear in a particular piece of clothing. To have done so would have been a complete dereliction of his sacerdotal office. Indeed, the future failure of the priests to do so was cause for Jehovah to level His indictment against them through the prophet Ezekiel:
"Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean…" (Ezekiel 22: 26).
Clearly then there is no justification whatsoever for ignoring sin either in our own lives or in the lives of our assemblies. Imagine a priest of Israel pretending as if the plague of leprosy did not exist in the garment before him and threw it to the side not wanting to be bothered with this "tedious" procedure that he was charged with. The article of clothing would be breeding and festering further disease and pestilence as it lay in some out-of-the-way corner. Thus, the contagion would soon spread beyond itself and infect more and more of its surroundings and all those who would come into contact with it.
But to proceed. Once the mark of leprosy became visible and duly noted, the priest would quarantine it for the period of one week. This is highly significant as it speaks of avoiding a rush to premature judgment. Is this a case of an outbreak that is something serious or is it merely an occasional "flare-up" that is due to other causes and is not life-threatening? In other words, not all signs of sin are symptoms of a particular deep-rooted, seriously entrenched, evil lust in an individual or body of believers. It may be simply a matter of an eruption of sin due to a particularly fierce, unexpected temptation which temporarily overpowered the person or group of persons. It is not something which they regularly do nor would they approve of. Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot are perfect examples of the differences involved among such a "mark" of leprosy.
While the sins of both men where indeed grievous horrible things of which they both had sufficient reason to be ashamed, Simon Peter’s sin was different from Judas’ in that it was not planned or premeditated like Judas’ betrayal of the Lord Jesus was. Sin "erupted" in Peter’s life but only as a result of him not knowing his own weakness and overestimating his own strength and resolve in following Christ. Judas’ sin or "leprosy" was something planned, something deliberate, something, "deep-seated" within him that no amount of "washing" or time would remove. His "eruption" clearly was due to something malignant and terribly diseased within him. The "leprosy" within Judas was incurable and thus there only awaited him the fires of God’s wrath. Peter on the other hand, was heartbroken and contrite and filled with sorrow over his "betrayal" of the One whom He deeply loved. Thus it is with all true Christians. They may have an occasional mark of leprosy in their life that breaks out from time to time, but it will "fade" after being quarantined. It fades as they come and cast themselves afresh on the grace and mercy of their Lord seeking forgiveness and cleansing from their iniquity with a broken and contrite heart. Such a one is a true child of God. The other whose deep-seated love of evil remains intact is a child of the devil no matter how much he or she may protest to the contrary! There is something malignant in the hearts of those who think little or nothing of sinning against the Most High.
This is not to say however, that the sins of the child of God should not be taken seriously. The text teaches us quite clearly that even these "seemingly" harmless eruptions should be taken very seriously. Even if the mark of leprosy did not further spread, it still had to be washed and then quarantined for another period of one week at the end of which it was examined once again. In other words, there is always the danger of being lulled into a false sense of security in regard to our many weaknesses and thereby failing to detect the signs of a rotten and corrupt heart.
All sin contains within itself the seeds of death and if it is not zealously watched for and guarded against is liable to break out and erupt all over again. The habitual practice of any know sin by anyone professing allegiance to Christ is completely and utterly contradictory with the impartation of the divine nature that takes place at the new birth. A child of God may and does occasionally sin, but he or she does not habitually practice or wallow in it! "Wallowing in the mire" is a term that Peter uses to describe the apostate, not the son or daughter of God. Many lull themselves to sleep thinking that their "outbreaks" of sin are merely signs of their weakness when they are rather the symptoms of an evil heart of unbelief that is a stranger to the power of the gospel. They are ready to admit wrongdoing but lack the inner sense of defilement that accompanies true repentance and sorrow for sin. Consequently, confession of sin is an easy and light thing for them to do. It becomes somewhat a mechanical series of steps that they can follow almost without thinking. They sin, confess - sin, confess – sin, confess, and thus convince themselves that all is therefore well with their souls simply because they have muttered a few, "I’m sorry God’s". Possessing a form of godliness, they rest in that and instead deny its power to completely renovate and cleanse the human heart from the love of sin and evil.
The point in all this is that it takes time to clearly distinguish a pattern of repeated evil-doing in particular individuals or even in our own lives. We must never relax our guard for our hearts are "deceitful above all else" and we are ever prone to being flattered by it into having a better opinion of ourselves than we ought. Sin must be unsparingly brought to light, judged, and condemned without hesitation if we are to avoid becoming its victims. Yet, in so doing, we must make certain that our judgment is a correct one and that we do not either unnecessarily condemn ourselves or our fellow saints by acting impulsively and rashly. We must be thorough, deliberate and prayerful in all that we do; seeking the wisdom that our great High Priest can bestow whose eyes alone can detect the true nature of the infection that erupts in our lives. This is the path of safety and failure to abide therein will result in our own ruin.
The same careful diligence should be applied in dealing with sin in our assemblies. This duty is especially incumbent upon all who all charged with oversight of the flock of God. Sin cannot be allowed to break forth in our assemblies and thus to spread like a plague. It must be checked if we are to be a holy people. "Holiness befits Thy house O Lord", said the Psalmist, and such must be the case if we are to be counted among those churches which the Lord of heaven will own as His own.
This is perhaps one of the main reasons for the gross carnality that is evident in so much of American Christendom. The "infection" or mark of sin has been simply ignored altogether. Nothing but evil has come of this tragic failure among the ministry who seem far more intent on pleasing their hearers than pleasing their God. The result has been a spreading plague of worldliness, compromise, and licentiousness among professing Christians that has left little or no difference whatsoever between their lives and the lives of those outside the pale of organized religion. This has given rise to the formalism which dominates so much of the contemporary church scene and led to the Laodicean lukewarmness which hangs over much of the American church like a pall of thick, dark smoke. Indeed, it seems to this writer that attendance at churches of this nature poses far more spiritual risk to those who unwittingly enter them than would be the case if they had simply avoided them altogether and stayed at home! It is simply impossible for any of the unfortunate souls who get their "Christianity" from these places to understand anything of the true nature of holiness or of the great evil inherent in sin. Thus, the half-hearted brand of Christianity perpetuates itself and continues to "speak peace to those who walk in the stubbornness of their own hearts" and flatter them into a false sense of security that is reminiscent of those of the prophet Amos’ day, "Woe to those that are at ease in Zion and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria". (Amos 6:1).
Having thus dealt with the application of this text to the individual and to the congregation, we now turn our attention to the other great truth revealed by this Mosaic ordinance; notably, the manner in which the Most High deals with peoples and nations. It should be observed that God is not unmindful of the wickedness of nations. He does not ignore an outbreak of "leprosy" whether it occurs in individuals or in nations. He is slow to anger and longsuffering even towards His enemies (Romans 9:22) and yet how often is His longsuffering taken as a sign of indifference or even weakness on His part. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Notice once again the quarantine period. The priest was forbidden to act hastily or impulsively. Rather, everything was to be done slowly and methodically. Time had to be given in order to ascertain whether or not the infection was an incurable one. There had to be absolute certainty that the infection was chronic and not just a benign outbreak. This speaks of the divine longsuffering which was so clearly demonstrated prior to the flood of Noah’s day. It is also reminiscent of Sodom in Lot’s day in which prior to its destruction God is said to have visited Abraham and spoke to him as follows:
"And the Lord said, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know." (Gen 18: 20-21).
Obviously, the Sovereign Lord of the universe knows all things as the Scriptures speak clearly "that His eyes are in every place beholding the good and the evil." (Prov 15:3). His knowledge is not constrained by geographical location, as He is the Father of spirits. This is simply a Scriptural figure which is know as an anthropomorphism under which God speaks to us in the same manner as if He were merely human. What it is attempting to convey is the careful scrutiny that the Deity makes before He inflicts His fiery judgments upon any society. He is not reckless or impulsive, but very meticulous and detailed and His response to their sin is a measured and appropriate one. It is perfect justice that is on display.
Thus the longsuffering nature of the God of all grace provides men ample time to repent of their sins. As was clearly demonstrated in the case of the ancient city of Nineveh during the days of the prophet Jonah, the Lord provided them a "quarantine period" of forty days before He would strike. The plague of leprosy could be put away with by their turning from iniquity as they gave heed to the prophet’s warning. This is exactly what occurred and God spared the city from ruin. Yet, this was not the end of the story. Sadly, the infection of leprosy was "washed" only to reappear approximately 130 years later more virulent then ever. Even the "tearing out" of the infection through their national repentance could not change its malignancy. It had proven to be an ‘outbreak" after all.
When evil becomes so deep-rooted in a people that there can be no effectual "tearing of it out"; when it becomes so ingrained in the very fabric of a society that no means for its removal can be found, judgment lies at the door of that people or nation. Just prior to the divine retribution that fell upon Nineveh, Nahum the prophet solemnly warned:
"There is no relief for your breakdown, your wound is incurable" (Nahum 3: 19).
The plague of leprosy in this Assyrian city had only one remedy left for its cure – the fire.
"The gates of your land are open wide to your enemies; fire consumes your gate bars. Draw for yourself water for the siege! Strengthen your fortifications! Go into the clay and tread the mortar! Take hold of the brick mold! There fire will consume you, … it will consume you as the locust does." (Nahum 3: 14-15).
No amount of human ingenuity or cleverness could avert the threatened ruin upon this city which God stated that He would "set up as a spectacle" (Nahum 3:6). Its walls, its fortresses, its ramparts, all that it relied upon for its protection would be useless for there is "no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord" (Proverbs 21:30). The fire did indeed fall as threatened but it came in the form of an invasion by the Babylonian army which decimated the city and crushed the empire of the haughty Assyrian kings. It was reduced to rubble and never recovered any of its former greatness. To this day it remains a mere exclamation mark on the pages of human history.
The object lesson should be quite clear. Eventually the "quarantine period" for a people or a nation will end. The diseased fabric of their society will be brought under the divine inspection. If there is no improvement, the garment will be given over to the fire to do its awful work. Then that people will learn the truth that godly King David proclaimed:
"The nations have sunk down in the pit which they have made; in the net which they hid, their own foot has been caught. The Lord has made Himself known; He has executed judgment… Arise, O Lord, do not let man prevail; let the nations be judged before Thee. Put them in fear, O Lord; let the nations know that they are but men." (Psalm 9: 15-16, 19-20).
How this truth should strike us with an overwhelming sense of both the kindness and the severity of God. How slow He is to act and yet when He does, how devastating is that action as His hand is stretched out upon the transgressors.
One wonders just exactly where our nation of America is in regards to the divine longsuffering. This writer cannot help but sensing more each day that the infection in this land of ours is indeed a malignant and incurable one. It seems as if no amount of washing can rid this land of the fresh springs of perversion that seem to break forth daily. America is literally drowning in an ocean of iniquity and lawlessness. The once great American spirit of ingenuity and innovation has been perverted into producing novel methods of evil and lawlessness. Daily, evil is pumped into our homes through the satellites and cable wires and the new technologies that the cleverness of man has brought us. So many of our political leaders are men of loose and wanton character who live only for the moment and who have become a law unto themselves. Their scandalous lives instead of being met with disapproval and rejection are instead held up as comedic entertainment to be laughed at and pass the hours. Indeed, like the plague of old, a corruption in this land is spreading and infecting all who come in contact with it.
The symptoms of this dreaded leprosy are an increasing inability to distinguish between right and wrong. It results in one calling "evil good, and good evil; darkness light and light darkness; bitter sweet and sweet bitter."(Isaiah 5: 20). Tolerance for evil becomes "broadmindedness and compassion" while intolerance of perversion becomes "narrow-mindedness and bigotry". Criticism of righteousness becomes "the courage of one’s convictions" while criticism of evil and lawlessness becomes "judgmentalism". Up is now down, black is now white, hot is now cold, in is now out. Wake up child of God for as the prophet Micah has said, "this is no place of rest because of the uncleanness that brings on destruction, a painful destruction" (Micah 2: 10).
The warnings of those few ministers of Christ who remain faithful to His truth have gone completely unheeded and are instead scoffed at and ridiculed while their persons are held in contempt. The notion that a land of such wealth, power and prosperity could ever be brought low is met with the disdainful mocking of those whose consciences have become completely and hopelessly seared. The only cure for it all will be the fire of God’s wrath as it descends in judgments upon the land. Indeed, even now the divine displeasure can be seen by those whose eyes are anointed by His Spirit. Unlike those of Isaiah’s day upon whom "His hand is lifted up but they do not see it", this group of saints trembles as they lie upon their beds at night reflecting upon the moral rot and contagion that is rapidly proliferating in the land. They "sigh and grown over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst" (Ezek 9: 4) and are like righteous Lot who was "oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds." (2Peter 2: 7-8).
May all who read this be counted in that blessed group of God’s children who are truly, "the apple of His eye".
"Keep yourself unspotted from the world" (James 1: 27).
Yours in Christ Jesus,
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