Mark says Christ strictly warned the healed leper: "Say nothing to anyone." He was to show himself to the priest and offer the prescribed gift as a witness of what Jesus had done. By showing himself to the priest, the healed leper fulfilled the requirement of the law as to his fitness to return to social life (Leviticus 13:17). As far as we know, this was the first case of an Israelite leper being cleansed since the instructions given nearly 1,500 years before (Leviticus 13:34). The appearance of a cleansed leper at the altar with his gift in his hand testified that God had come to His people and totally satisfied priestly requirements and ordinances.
Yet, this man allowed his zeal to overrule good judgment and obedience to his Healer's command. In fact, his self-absorption in broadcasting his healing seriously impeded Christ's work. Due to the leper's spreading of his news, large numbers of lepers in the region pursued Jesus relentlessly for healing. Thus, "Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction" (Mark 1:45; Luke 5:15-16). However, it was not His purpose to heal all of Israel then but to reveal the Father and His relationship with Him. Being sensational does not mean we make a better testimony for Christ. Rather, this incident illustrates that, generally, the obedient person whom only a few know about makes the better-quality witness.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Leper (Part Three)
In addition to His command for the leper to be cleansed, Jesus gives the now-healed man specific instructions to tell no one, but to go and show himself to the priest. He is also to "offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." On Matthew 8:4, The Expositor's Bible Commentary suggests that Jesus' command for the leper to keep silent shows that He "was not presenting Himself as a mere wonder worker." He was following the simple adage, "Actions speak louder than words." What this man was to do would be seen as testimony, a reminder to us that our obedience to God's commands is perhaps our strongest witness, in which we do not have to say a word.
Before giving the gift that Moses commanded, something else had to occur about a week in advance, beginning outside the camp. First, the leper had to be inspected by the priest, who would confirm that he had been healed. Leviticus 14:4-8 continues the instructions:
[T]hen the priest shall command to take for him who is cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days.
Commenting on these verses, Barnes writes:
The details of a restoration to health and freedom appear to be well expressed in the whole ceremony. Each of the birds represented the leper. . . . The death-like state of the leper during his exclusion from the camp was expressed by killing one of the birds. The living bird was identified with the slain one by being dipped in his blood mixed with the spring water that figured the process of purification, while the cured leper was identified with the rite by having the same water and blood sprinkled over him. The bird then liberated was a sign that the leper left behind him all the symbols of the death disease and of the remedies associated with it, and was free to enjoy health and social freedom with his kind.
Barnes further comments that the cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop were commonly used in purification rites. The resin, or turpentine, of the cedar was a preservative against decay, and it was also used in medicines to treat skin diseases. The color of the twice-dyed scarlet band of wool—with which the living bird, the hyssop, and cedar wood were tied together—reflected the rosy complexion associated with health and energy. Hyssop, too, was thought to have cleansing virtues.
The ceremony of the two birds pictures the change in a healed leper's life: death to the old way that leads to death, and life and freedom to live a new way. Dying to the old self combined with living life anew in Christ is a concept repeated throughout the New Testament (see Romans 6:4-13).
After the ceremony with the two birds, the leper was to wash himself and his clothes, and shave off all his hair, but he was not yet completely clean. However, he was allowed back into the camp, though he had to remain outside his tent seven days. On the seventh day, the man was to wash and shave a second time before going to the Tabernacle or Temple on the eighth day (Leviticus 14:8-9). This continuing procedure is comparable to Paul's instruction in II Corinthians 7:1, that we "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
Finally, on the eighth day, the former leper and the priest offered the regime of offerings ordained in Leviticus 14:10-32. These offerings consisted of a wave offering and a trespass offering with a log of oil, a sin offering, and a burnt offering with its grain offering. An unusual thing was done with the blood of the trespass offering and the log of oil. Leviticus 14:14-17 records that blood from the trespass offering and then oil were to be placed on the tips of the right ear, right thumb, and right big toe. Interestingly, a similar procedure was done only when priests were consecrated (Leviticus 8).
These body parts represent areas of a person's life, and they are all meant to work together so that he may function effectively. The blood and oil, then, cleanse and anoint his hearing (the ear), his works (the thumb), and his walk or way of life (the big toe). His hearing affects his ability to work, and his works affect the way that he lives. Without hearing, a person cannot discern truth, and the ear is also the organ of balance. The hands, symbolic of works, are almost useless without a thumb (for a possible connection to Christ, see John 15:5). Without a big toe, a person walks clumsily and haltingly; it is hard for him to remain upright. To the leper, restored to wholeness, were returned the tools to hear and apply knowledge that could lead to an abundant life.
What a person hears affects what he does, what a person does affects how he lives, and how a person lives greatly affects both his health and his relationship with God and fellow man. The blood, used in cleansing almost all things (Hebrews 9:22), ultimately represents the blood of Christ shed for our sins. The oil symbolizes God's Holy Spirit, so when we are cleansed from all unrighteousness through the blood of Christ, we are able to live a new life in Christ by His Spirit.
After the ritual of the blood and oil, and the offering of a sin offering, burnt and grain offerings were given, signifying the former leper's restoration to God and his fellow man. As a leper, the man had been cut off from society and thus unable to serve God or his neighbor, and incapable of walking in godly love. In the type, then, leprosy, the effect of sin, prevented a true keeping of God's commandments.
The effects of sin, as leprosy, progress slowly. They are undetectable at first but deeply rooted, leading to spiritual dismemberment, a diseased mind, and death. The only possible redemption from both leprosy and sin, and their consequence, is through Jesus Christ, the Eternal-Who-Heals. He cleanses us through the washing of water by the word (Ephesians 5:26), since He paid the price for our healing. We cannot heal ourselves, nor change our nature without His intervention (Jeremiah 13:23).
After God acts to restore us to Himself, we bear an increasing responsibility to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness in cooperation with Him. Doing our part in cleansing ourselves—overcoming—helps prepare us for complete reconciliation and fellowship with the Father, but it is through Christ's shed blood that we have access to Him. We are exhorted in Hebrews 10:19-22:
Therefore, brethren, having boldness [confidence] to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
The Bible records no examples of the gift that Moses commanded ever being offered before Matthew 8. Yet, imagine the exhilaration the former leper must have felt as he began his fresh start. Jesus Christ provides us an example of God as Healer, as He took on our infirmities and cleansed us from all unrighteousness. The gift, which Moses commanded by order of the One who later became Jesus Christ, is really to us, that we might believe, have hope, and draw near to Him. The testimony, the witness, is to us.
The Gift of a Leper
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 8:4: