What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The clear implication of Leviticus 13:47-59 is that some, though not all, leprous garments became clean. Peter's vision of "all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air" (Acts 10:12) speaks to this point. God made it clear that He was capable of cleansing the Gentiles, but never said He had cleansed all of them at this time. Notice His admonition to Peter: "What God has cleansed you must not call common" (verse 15). Peter got the picture when he met Cornelius shortly after, telling the Roman centurion: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (verses 34, 35). While God calls from "every nation," only some, those who fear and obey, are acceptable to Him.
In verse 36, Peter interjects a vital idea: Christ "is Lord of all." Verse 45 records that the "Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also." The "apostles and brethren who were in Judea" (Acts 11:1) came to understand that "God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life" (verse 18).
The Mixed Multitude
I Peter 1:16 says, ". . . because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy,'" which is precisely the lesson contained within Leviticus 22:1-7. Our holy God is clearly saying, "Those who serve Me must also be holy." Holy essentially means "set apart," but it also carries with it the sense of "different," which helps explain why a person or thing is set apart. Certain factors or characteristics distinguish the set-apart one or thing, making it different from persons or things of the same kind.
Holy also has the sense of cleanliness or of being undefiled. God can just as easily be saying to the priests and their children, "I am a clean God, and I want those who serve Me to be clean." In this case, His transcendent purity of intent and character sets Him apart from others or things that people may consider to be god. He is therefore completely undefiled.
The Leviticus passage mentions leprosy, a corpse, and semen. We must not forget that, when this was written, God was addressing a carnal people. Thus, the instruction is couched in physical terms, but we must look for spiritual meaning within the physical instruction.
The Tabernacle, altar, priesthood, furniture, vessels, and all of the rites have spiritual significance, and Paul writes that they are "shadow[s] of good things to come" (Hebrews 10:1). Leprosy is a horrible, dreadful disease, thus it is a type of a spiritual disease. It is externally visible in its disfigurement of its victim's body. At times, there can be running sores. It probably does not parallel any one spiritual disease, but rather it symbolizes any number of sins that disfigure a person's character and/or attitude.
Both a corpse and semen possibly represent carriers of disease. Something causes a person to die, and all too frequently, it is an invisible, internal disease, of which infections and cancers are examples. The widespread AIDS virus is a good example. It can be carried within a man's semen into a woman's body. The carrier may look healthy externally, but a deadly disease is present. Only the carrier may know of its existence within him. A corpse and semen represent sins that are not easily perceived. Withdrawal from participation in the fellowship requires the sinner to exercise discipline, as he may be the only one aware of his problem. Creeping things are also defilements from sins that are less obvious. Perhaps in this case, it might be problems with one's attitudes like resentment, bitterness, envy, jealousy, and lusting.
Regardless of what rendered a person unclean, he was not allowed to participate until he cleaned himself by washing in water, a type of the Holy Spirit. Even then, he was still considered unclean until evening of that same day. This process was a form of excommunication. The unclean person was symbolically excluded from communion with God and held unfit to eat of the holy food of the altar, symbolizing the Word of God, until he had cleaned up his act. Verse 7 distinctly says he was free to eat of the holy things only after the sun went down. Even given this permission, he was still eating in the dark! Though accepted back into fellowship, he was still somewhat removed from full exposure to the light of God's throne until the next day, when complete communication with God was restored.
Taking steps to rid ourselves of uncleanness has awesome ramifications when we grasp how burdened we are with the potential for sin. The apostle Paul labels himself as a wretched man who greatly needed deliverance (Romans 7:24-25). Despite what we can do on our own—and God requires us to strive to do so—complete deliverance can only come through the work of Jesus Christ. It is essential that we know this, yet it is perhaps beyond our full understanding and appreciation that God is so merciful and full of grace to provide the sin offering that precedes us! If it were not for these elements—because we are so full of spiritual creeping things and spiritual leprosy—we would never be permitted to eat from the Lord's table.
I and II Corinthians offers us great comfort by showing that, though one may be cut off from the body, he can return once he has cleaned himself through repentance. It shows that even though he is denied close communion with God because of some spiritual uncleanness, he still remains tied to God through the New Testament priesthood. Disfellowshipping is intended to be a temporary, corrective tool.
I Corinthians 5:4-5 says, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." The purpose of excommunication is to save the person from his uncleanness that is destroying his communion with God and others in the fellowship. Therefore, if he can still be saved, that person is not completely cut off from God.
II Corinthians 6:14-17 adds more information to this subject. Paul asks four questions that provide comparisons that clearly urge us to avoid or depart from what is unclean so that we can be at peace and in communion with God. Fellowship with God and being allowed to eat spiritual food from His table are clearly conditioned upon our not falling into uncleanness but instead striving to maintain the purity provided by Christ's sacrifice.
Our part in striving to maintain the purity is to follow Christ's example of thorough dedication in fulfilling the requirements of the burnt and meal offerings. Doing so in no way earns us the fellowshipping privileges expressed in the peace offering, but it does show God our understanding of faith, love, sacrifice, thanksgiving, and the links between total devotion to Him, Jesus Christ, our fellow man, and His wonderful purpose. God has invested a great deal to provide this for us. The least we can do is give back to Him full devotion in our life as a living sacrifice.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
2 Chronicles 26:16-21
What is God's reaction to presumptuous sin? There is no mercy! He immediately struck Uzziah with leprosy, and the man was cut off. It sounds like he was cut off from just about everything for the rest of his life. He pretty much lost his crown—lost everything. He certainly lost his health, all because he sinned presumptuously.
Ambition is not a trait that impresses God—certainly not presumptuous ambition. He is looking for a humble man who will stay where God has put him and do what God tells him to do. Uzziah was king over God's people Israel. Was that enough? No! To Uzziah, he wanted to be a priest as well.
It was his strength (verse 16), his pride, that drove him to do this presumptuous act. His heart was lifted up within him to make him think that he was worthy of more than what God had given him. He became discontent with his place. He was dissatisfied with what God had given him (his position as king); and he took to himself a position that was somebody else's.
God would never give him the authority to be a priest: He was a Jew, and the law says that only a son of Aaron could be a priest—a Levite. Uzziah knew that! But in spite of all the warnings, all of what God says, and in spite of what the priests themselves told him—he did it anyway.
Is it not interesting that he was struck with leprosy in his forehead? That should tell us something. What does leprosy stand for? What is it a symbol of? Defilement! It is a symbol of uncleanness—of being impure. Remember in the Pentateuch, all those rules about if somebody had a spot then they were to remain outside the camp? And they were to wash and do all various things. What they were looking for was leprosy. All the things that they had to do—all the washings, all the inspections, and everything else—were to certify whether the person was clean or unclean.
God put this uncleanness—this mark of defilement—right on Uzziah's forehead, where he could not hide it. What is right behind the forehead? The mind is the seat of intellect, as well as the seat of our character. The mind is where it is all being stored. That is where we think. God put this mark on this man's forehead to show that his character had been defiled—by presumptuousness, by this overweening pride that he was greater than what God had made him.
This is why presumptuousness is such a terrible, damnable sin—because it defiles character that has been built. It ruins it, to the point that God cannot work with it any more. He says that person shall be cut off from His people. There is no sacrifice for this kind of sin. That is how serious presumptuousness is.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
After relating the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew brings the reader back into the story flow by reiterating how great multitudes followed Jesus. Verse 2 begins, "And behold a leper came. . . ." This statement becomes significant when we consider that no man can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). That the leper came to Christ - amongst a great multitude, no less - was in itself an act of faith in response to what he heard (Romans 10:17). For him to come to Christ as he did, God had to have revealed to him that Christ was the only One who could truly cleanse him and provide him the fresh start he so desired (Matthew 16:15-17). Notice, too, the humility the leper portrays in expressing his understanding of Christ's abilities.
What makes this encounter so interesting is that, under Old Testament law, the leper was completely defiled in his uncleanness. He was to live alone and warn any who would venture near of possible contamination (Leviticus 13:44-46). Albert Barnes, commenting on Leviticus 13:45, notes, "The leper was to carry about with him the usual signs of mourning for the dead. . . . The leper was a living parable in the world of sin of which death was the wages."
In fact, all disease and degeneration are ultimately products of sin and neglect, but none is so gruesomely picturesque of the effect sin has on a person and a community as leprosy. The disease progresses slowly at first, deeply seated in the bones and joints, essentially undetectable until spots appear on the skin. Gradually, these spots grow to cover the entire body. They give the appearance of foul wounds, sore and festering as the body slowly wastes away in a ruinous heap. Parts of the body actually begin falling off, leading eventually to the individual's death.
A leper can live up to fifty years in indescribable misery, as he watches himself die bit by bit, falling to pieces as a hideous spectacle. For the leper of Matthew 8, it was a hopeless predicament; nothing could be done, apart from God's miraculous intervention (Isaiah 1:4-6; Jeremiah 13:23).
The Gift of a Leper
The three accounts tell us that a leper "came and worshipped Him" (Matthew 8:2), "imploring Him, kneeling down to Him" (Mark 1:40), and "fell on his face and implored Him" (Luke 5:12). That the leper "came" and "implored" shows his sincerity in seeking and pleading with Christ. He earnestly determined to reach Him, despite the obstacle of the crowd and the spectacle of his horrid disease. Coming before Christ was the great challenge of his life, so he did what was necessary to overcome his disadvantages.
"Implored" suggests the leper's sincerity in pleading with Him, implying that he pled earnestly, desperate for a resolution to his condition. Sadly, few of us can see the true devastation that sin has caused in our lives and how much we need spiritual healing.
All three Gospels record the leper's reverence for Christ, though each reports it a bit differently: Matthew says that the leper "worshipped Him" (Matthew 8:2); Mark, that he came "kneeling down to Him" (Mark 1:40); and Luke, that he "fell on his face" (Luke 5:12) before Him. Each account describes him bowing down before Him—even Matthew's worshipped means "prostrated before." The leper's humble approach conspicuously honored Him, for, unlike many today, the leper did not hide his respect for Christ out of fear of other's opinions.
In contrast, the arrogant will not gain His favor. This society dishonors Christ at every turn with its repeated profanity, its banning of God from public venues, and its rejection of truth and acceptance of the flawed reasonings of men. Such dishonoring of Christ is bringing on our nations an avalanche of curses rather than blessings, and it will not stop until the people repent.
The leper says, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean" (Matthew 8:2), indicating confidence and trust in Christ. True faith always honors both Christ's power and person. Never doubting His power to heal, the leper submits himself to His will. Some prayers we know God will answer positively, as when we ask in faith for forgiveness. However, when we ask for healing or other physical needs, we must faithfully respect God's decision, whatever it may be. By faith, we must acknowledge His superior wisdom in granting our request or not. The leper, in his humility and faith, would never demand God's healing, as though God owed him. It is not our right to be healed, and truly, we deserve death as the penalty for our sins (Romans 6:23). Yet, God heals us according to His mercy and will. A faithful person realizes that reverence should not stop him from asking God for blessings, but he submits to the wise will of God.
The leper does not downplay his condition, making it sound less offensive or serious than it was. He is truthful about his case, confessing his uncleanness, as the Bible considers leprosy (Leviticus 13:45). Interestingly, the leper asks to be cleansed, not to be healed. Of course, the cleansing is a healing, but "cleansing" is the more proper term. Christ makes the distinction between cleansing and healing when commissioning the apostles: "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers" (Matthew 10:8).
The filthiness of sin can be removed only by the cleansing blood of Christ (I John 1:7). Isaiah writes, "We are all as an unclean thing" (Isaiah 64:6), and David, recognizing that his immorality and murder had polluted him, prays, "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10). We all must be cleansed of sin. Even so, until we are truthful about our sinfulness, shown in sincere repentance, we will not be cleansed.
Mark 1:40 refers to Christ six times: "Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, 'If You are willing, You can make me clean.'" The leper wisely chose the right Person to go to for help, for Christ was the only One who could cleanse him. Proverbs 1:5 says, "A wise man will hear and increase learning," and the leper, hearing what Jesus taught and learning what He could do, made a wise choice.
Similarly, Christ is the only One who can cleanse us from sin and lead us to salvation. Peter says in Acts 4:12, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Paul writes, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 3:11). If anyone comes to Christ for salvation, he is acting wisely. Seeking it from anyone or anything else is foolish because no one else can truly deliver us.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Leper (Part Two)
Knowing the gruesome details of leprosy, one can easily imagine the crowd hastily parting as this man worked his way toward Jesus. Yet, He, in contrast, reaches out to touch the leper, signaling His willingness and power to heal. In Exodus 15:25-26, God reveals Himself as Yahweh Ropheka, or "the Eternal-Who-Heals," at the incident at Marah. Nathan Stone writes in his book, Names of God,that this name means "to restore, to heal, to cure . . . not only in the physical sense but in the moral and spiritual sense also" (p. 72). Dying to sin and living for righteousness are a kind of healing through Jesus Christ.
Ordinarily, uncleanness is transferred among men, but holiness is not (Haggai 2:10-14). This scene of the leper coming to Christ pictures divine reconciliation, since what is holy and what is profane usually do not mix. This is overcome through the work of our Savior. Jesus stretches out His hand and commands the leper to be cleansed, showing God in action as the Eternal-Who-Heals. This is why the leper's uncleanness does not transfer to Jesus - at first.
Later, however, the death penalty for sin was transferred to Jesus. A price had to be paid for the leper's cleansing. "Clean" has a sense of purity and holiness, so to be cleansed was to be made pure. Proverbs 20:9 says, "Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin'?" The leper could no more pronounce himself clean than we can pronounce ourselves sinless (I John 1:10). Proverbs 20:30 adds, "Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart." Comparing these two verses from Proverbs suggests that a certain chastening is required for cleansing.
Isaiah 53:4-5 adds another piece to the picture:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
These verses place the emphasis of our cleansing from spiritual impurity on Christ: He paid the price to heal us and restore us to fellowship with God.
Thus, when Jesus Christ became sin for us, on Him was transferred all uncleanness. For those who have repented and accepted His sacrifice, there is increasingly more responsibility to continue this cleansing process in cooperation with and submission to Him. Peter summarizes this idea in I Peter 2:24, "[He] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed."
The Gift of a Leper
Christ was met by the unclean men coming out of the tombs. These rock-hewn tombs were repulsive to the Jews and to dwell in them was deemed a sign of insanity. Because of the remains of the dead they contained, they were shunned by the Jews as unclean (Matthew 23:27). Under the Old Covenant, one could be physically defiled by touching a dead body. Even when a person died in a tent, the whole tent was regarded as unclean (Numbers 19:11, 14).
Unclean in Scripture means "to be defiled, polluted, unhealthy, or unfit," and refers to foods that are unfit, defilement of religious character, and moral or spiritual impurity. The word "defilement" describes a sinful and unfit condition (Isaiah 6:5). The Old Testament distinguishes between what is clean and helpful and what is unclean and unacceptable (Leviticus 10:10). The New Testament deals more with the spiritual application and lists uncleanness or moral defilement along with fornication and other sins as "works of the flesh" (Galatians 5:19-21).
In the gospels, "unclean" describes those who are possessed by demonic spirits through constant submission to evil. Uncleanness represents sin, and sin separates man from God. Because of sin, "we are all like an unclean thing" (Isaiah 64:6). Believers are not called to uncleanness but to live in holiness (I Thessalonians 4:7). We are not to yield our members to uncleanness but to righteousness and holiness (Romans 6:19).
The teaching about uncleanness springs from the concept of God's holiness (Leviticus 11:44-45). It is a miracle in itself that freedom from uncleanness and guilt is possible through God's grace. Holiness within, purity of heart, is possible through the exercise of faith in Christ's redemptive work and obedience to His truth.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Two-Demon Possessed Men Healed (Part Two)
Paul cites an example of the kind of conduct that was either directly part of halakha or what it produced. It connects to Peter's experience in Acts 10:28:
And [Peter] said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
The first part of verse 28 has a direct tie to halakha. God had given Peter a vision, recorded earlier in the chapter, in order to instruct him that his perception, his interpretation, was wrong. He was not supposed to call any man common or unclean simply because he had been born to some other racial group or ethnic family other than Jewish.
God's law commanded Israelites to do no such thing as refuse to eat with the Gentiles or even keep company with them. This is a practice derived from Judaism. Even though Peter knew this, he still became carried away into gross hypocrisy when the conditions were right, thus giving us an opportunity to learn that, when Paul is condemning law in the book of Galatians, he is not condemning God's law, but laws men added, thinking they were doing God service.
Here is what happened. Peter came to Antioch for some unstated reason. The church in the town of Antioch was predominately a Gentile church, and while he was there, he circulated freely with the Gentiles. A bit later, though, some Jews arrived, claiming they were from James. Their presence, and possibly their arguments, influenced Peter to withdraw from the Gentiles. So strong was this influence that even Barnabas, Paul's traveling companion on so many of his journeys, was affected so that he withdrew too.
What these Jews—and the apostles caught in it—were doing was effectively driving the church apart! Their teachings and actions were erecting a wall between Jew and Gentile. They were influencing Jews to think they were better than Gentiles, and the Gentiles, that they were inferior unless they submitted to the Jews' standard. The Gentiles wanted to do the right thing, and in their childish ignorance, they began to be led astray. All this was dividing the church.
The standard these Jews taught came neither from God's law nor from the gospel, and the fruit it was producing was class distinction and respect of persons. It came from halakha, part of the Oral Law that frequently had nothing in harmony with God's law.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Five)
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