Leviticus 12–15: Dishing and spreading the dirt is easy; preventing its spread is hard

In this study of Leviticus 12–15, we will be taking a step up and a step back the topics discussed. Some of it is unsettling, and it is easy to lose ourselves in some of the more distasteful details, while forgetting the important life lessons the Holy One of Yisra’el is communicating to us.

Why would God want newborns and their mothers to be purified shortly after birth? Why is God so concerned about leprosy amid instructions for living life differently from the rest of the world? If we stick with appearances, our understanding the heart of God will be only skin deep. That’s what’s between the lines of the Torah reading תזריע Tazria (“she will conceive,” Leviticus 12–13).

The lesson about childbirth goes back to the beginning of the world and stretches to our time. The teaching on leprosy is more about what’s going on inside a person.

A house with toxic mold can be a hidden chronic health hazard. And an unsightly discoloration of the skin could be the harbinger of a creeping killer, if not diagnosed properly and quickly. The physical necessities of dealing with such “leprosy” in body and stuff illustrate well the cancers of character that grow and consume, if left untreated.

The Torah reading מְּצֹרָע Metzora (“leper,” Leviticus 14–15) reveals how entering the Presence of the Creator of Heaven and Earth requires cleanliness that’s more than skin-deep. That cleanup job is described in Yom haKippurim (Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16) and reaches its reality in the death and resurrection of Yeshua the Mashiakh (Jesus the Christ).

Isolation, in a time when there are no powerful drugs, antibiotics, etc., is a best tool available to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Even if you have modern hazmat bunny suits, you have to be very careful when you are around an infectious disease.

This instruction is a great gift to humanity, that when you see something you don’t understand, it’s best to proceed to extreme caution and to avoid it as much as possible. The Jewish people followed these instructions and this is probably why they avoided exposure to the Black Plague during the middle ages.

It’s an interesting connection that the rituals of priestly ordination and the cleansing of the leper are strikingly similar. There’s also an interesting connection between the leper’s cleansing ritual and Yom Kippur. The placement of these readings is not accidental.

Just because the physical tabernacle/temple and priesthood are no longer with us, doesn’t mean the spiritual realities that are expressed mean nothing. The spiritual meanings are still there, waiting for us to learn and apply them.

All of the Feasts are appointments with God, not to be connected to a building. They connect us to historical events, such as the Exodus.

Recap of important concepts

Let’s take a brief look at some of the vocabulary that is relevant to this discussion. We have reviewed this before but it bears repeating:

  • holy = קֹדֶשׁ qodesh (Strong’s lexicon No. H6944)
    • Meanings: “apartness, sacredness”1; ‏‎”an original verb קדשׁ, which can only with difficulty be traced back to a root ‏קד‎ ‘to cut’; if this is the case the basic meaning of ‏קדשׁ would be ‘to set apart’”2
  • clean = טָהוֹר tahor (Strong’s lexicon No. H2889)
    • Tahor doesn’t make one holy ― set apart by God ― but it does keep one holy.
    • Tahor doesn’t block entry toward the Presence.
  • unclean = טָמֵא tamé (Strong’s lexicon No. H2931)
    • Tamé doesn’t make one sinful or wicked. It makes one unfit to enter the Tabernacle to approach the Presence.

One can think of “clean” vs. “unclean” as “fit” vs. “unfit” for entering the Tabernacle/Temple. As we read through today’s parashot, you will find that many of the things that make one temporarily unclean are natural events, such as conceiving a child, emitting semen, etc. In our modern world, these bodily functions are not as mysterious as they were to those who lived in ancient times.

When we eat something, there are all sorts of chemical processes that we know interact to nourish us and keep us alive, but we do not think about them as they are occurring.

Leviticus 12: Are newborns and new mothers sinful?

When David laments in Psalm 51 that his mother conceived him in sin, we have to take a look at how mankind came into existence and how far they have moved from God. When God created mankind, he said mankind was “good” or tov, but sin came into the world and now what was tov has been tainted by sin.

Everyone who is born will die, that is sin. It is not good that we die. Sin happens as we head towards death but that is now how God wants things to go. Sadly that is the way things go right now but that is not the end of the story.

Childbirth is icky, but life and the march towards death is also icky. But the point of this reading is not to leave us in the “icky” but God is calling us to leave the “icky” and desire to approach Him. The physical world is “icky” but the Creator plants Himself in the physical world and entreats us to follow Him.

The distinctions drawn between clean and unclean is simply an acknowledgement that the physical world has moved away from it’s Creator.

There’s a reason that much of the imagery of Revelation looks like the beginning of Genesis. it’s because God wants to move the world from where it is now, back to the way it was in the beginning.

God is calling His children to, “Get cleaned up so you can come home.” We can’t clean ourselves up without God’s instruction and help. We need the High Priest to come in and teach us how to clean things up and prepare us to enter God’s presence.

Covering people with blood and oil never did anything, it’s simply an acknowledgement that God took someone who was far away and moved them closer to Himself.

Leviticus 13–15: Diagnosing and cleansing ‘leprosy’

In Leviticus 13, we learn about leprosy. What is נֶגַע־הַצָּרַעַת negaʿ-hassāraʿat, translated as mark of leprosy?

  • leprosy = צָרַעַת tzaraʿat (H6883)
    • people (Leviticus 13–14)
    • mildew or mold in clothing (Lev. 13:47–52)
    • houses (Lev. 14:34–53)

A metzorah, or a leper, is someone humbled by a skin condition. What brings teenagers low, due to hormonal changes, is acne. It can knock them down a peg and is very stressful. Having acne doesn’t make one evil. The skin is the biggest organ in the human body.

In Leviticus 16, we will see that the LORD wanted all of Israel to “humble themselves” on Yom haKippurim (Day of Atonement). That’s all they were required to do. They are specifically commanded not to do any work.

When you see something repeated, God is telling you to pay attention to something. People who are struck with leprosy have certainly been brought low or “humbled.”

Some of the cleansing ritual for metzorot detailed in Leviticus 14 (Instructions for Lepers) is mirrored in Leviticus 16 (Day of Atonement).

As we read the instructions of dealing with leprosy are the numbers seven and eight. The metzorah had to live outside the community, and that person’s presence was treated like a corpse, causing Tabernacle-unfitness from being in the same room or by touch. But if they were healed, they were brought fully back into the community, almost like being brought back from the dead.

The ritual of putting blood and oil on the right ear, right thumb and right toe of the former leper is similar to the ritual of ordaining priest and the symbolism is similar on purpose.

The right ear is about hearing when God speaks, the right thumb is about doing what God wants you to do to and the right toe is about walking the way God teaches you to walk.

The leper was “dead” and brought back to life. It’s all about redemption, a form of resurrection.

The High Priest serves and accepts the gifts from the people and bring them to God. The High Priest, in a sense, takes people from death (outside God’s presence) to life (into God’s presence). That’s an exciting message.

The “gods” of the world despise the physical word and hold human beings in contempt and disdain.

We are blessed we have a Creator who cares about and is interested in the physical world, He doesn’t want to avoid it. Our Creator loves us.

Although there are many cases of “leprosy” that are brought on solely by hormones, disease, etc. we do have several people recorded in scripture who were given leprosy and brought low by God as a judgement for their sins. Which leads us to ask is biblical leprosy a spiritual condition?

3 stories of leprous hearts

There are three key examples of leprosy as a judgment point to a connection between the spiritual and physical:

  • 2Kings 5: God gave Gehazi the leprosy that Namaan had, but why?
  • 2Chronicles 26:16-21: King Uzziah of Judah wan’t happy enough just being king. He wanted to be a priest, too. He presumed to offer incense in God’s Temple, which was something only the High Priest was allowed to do. Why didn’t God strike him dead as he had done to Aaron’s two oldest sons who had committed a similar offense?
  • Numbers 12:1-10: Miriam and Aaron. They spoke against God’s servant Moses. Miriam got the brunt of the punishment but both were guilty. Strictly speaking, what Miriam said about Moshe’s Cushite wife was true, so why was God so upset? Rather than being grateful for the work God gave them, they didn’t really appreciate what God was doing through Moshe. When Miriam questioned Moshe’s authority, she was lowering God by presuming she was a better HR manager than the Lord.

As Hallel Fellowship teacher Daniel said in last year’s Tazria study (“Leviticus 12-13: Profanity Makes One a Leper,” Hallel Fellowship, April 9, 2016):

“Gehazi, Uzziah and Miriam profaned God’s name in the eyes of someone else. They misrepresented God in a profound way. All of them thought they were at a higher level but they were really trying to bring God down to their level.”

Profanity is not merely “talking a blue streak,” but taking something special and making it common. Miriam’s sin was the sin of “murmuring.” She was trying to knock Moshe down and lift herself up.

Tzaraʿat and lashon ha-ra (bad tongue)

Yeshua the Messiah took up the matter of “clean” and “unclean” foods in Mark 7, but not in the way many commentators and translations portray.

How do we define lashon ha-ra? (pp. 465–469) One of the best descriptions and diagnosis of lashon ha-ra was written by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838–1933), aka Chofetz Chaim (“Seeker of Life”):

  • Derogatory information
    • Describing a person’s negative characteristics
  • Potentially harmful information
    • Embarrassing
    • Garnering ill-will

These can lead down the road of tearing people down. One might not think it does any harm at the beginning but slight nudges against a person’s character can lead to devastating consequences.

When talking about what is lashon ha-ra, many quickly retort “yes, but…” and bring up Matthew 18. After all, one can’t ignore some type of evil act in a congregation.

What lashon ha-ra isn’t:

  • Helping the person in question.
  • Discussing with a trustworthy person ― not a tale-bearer ― whether correction is needed and how to do it.
  • Helping a victim or prevent victimization.
  • Resolving a major dispute: peacemaking.

It’s so natural to dishing the dirt about people when their “dirt” is frustrating us so much. “Venting” often times doesn’t calm one down, but frustrates one even more. The question becomes who really has the issue, the other person or me.

When looking at Leviticus 13-15, the theme of inspection and re-inspection pops up a lot. It seems to be merely in regards to guarding against infectious disease. In regards to leprosy, it is the High Priest who goes out to the leprous person or leprous home. He inspects, diagnoses and makes the declaration.

It’s about bringing those who are far off near, and those who have been excluded are brought back to Him and given a new beginning.

It’s easy to diagnose physical ailments but spiritual ailments are often ignored and undiagnosed. Our language, culture, grasp on knowledge and understanding has gone downhill, even with our advances in technology. If you stumbled on an 8th grade graduation test from the late 1800’s, you will find that you are truly dumber than an 8th grader.

God wants us to come closer to Him but our culture is moving ever further from Him.

Summary: Tammy. 

Banner image: A closeup view of Mycobacterium leprae bacteria inside human body. The bacteria causes Hansen’s disease, aka leprosy. (COMPOSITE OF FREEIMAGES.COM/ANDRZEJ POBIEDZIŃSKI & RDMAG.COM/AP)

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