Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 14

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-9

The first act took place outside the camp and restored the formerly unclean person to the fellowship of the other Israelites from whom he had experienced separation because of his skin disease.

Clean animals, including clean birds, represented Israel. [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 208.] Both of the birds used in this ritual evidently symbolized the Israelite who was about to reenter the covenant community. The bird killed probably represented the formerly unclean person whose fate was death but for God’s mercy. The bird released stood for the same person cleansed, released from the bondage of his disease, endowed with new life, and at liberty to enter the covenant fellowship again. These two birds served a symbolic function similar to that of the two goats on the Day of Atonement (ch. 16). [Note: D. J. Davies, "An Interpretation of Sacrifice in Leviticus," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 89 (1977):397; and J. R. Porter, Leviticus, p. 108.]

Cedar wood had antiseptic qualities and was slow to decay, so it probably represented the continuance of life. The scarlet color of the thread looked like blood and symbolized sacrificial blood. The hyssop represented purification from the corruption of death since the priests used this spongy plant for purification in Israel’s rituals. The blood-water used to sprinkle the individual probably signified life and purification.

Verses 1-32

The ritual cleansing of abnormalities in human skin 14:1-32

"If Leviticus 13 is bleak, speaking of separation from the holy presence, Leviticus 14 is full of hope, for in it the sufferer is restored to the covenant community. The Israelite learned even more about the nature of the holy God through these provisions for restoration to fellowship in the community." [Note: Ibid., p. 285.]

The procedures described here were not curative but ritual. God prescribed no treatment for the cure of "leprosy" here, but He explained how the priests and the Israelites could recognize healed skin so formerly afflicted individuals could resume worship in the community. Anthropologists refer to such rites as "rites of aggregation," ceremonies in which people in abnormal social conditions experience reintegration into ordinary society. Shaving, washing, and offering sacrifices are regular parts of such rites. [Note: See E. R. Leach, Culture and Communication, pp. 78-79.] The ritual involved two acts separated by an interval of seven days.

Verses 10-32

The second act of cleansing took place before the altar of burnt offerings and restored the former leper to fellowship with the sanctuary and God. First the leper was to offer a trespass offering (Leviticus 14:12). This offering compensated God for all the sacrifices, tithes, and firstfruits that the afflicted person could not present during his uncleanness. [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 210.] Another view is that the law prescribed a trespass offering because some sickness resulted from sin (cf. Numbers 12:9-15; 2 Kings 5:27; 2 Chronicles 26:17-21). [Note: Milgrom, Cult and . . ., p. 80.] The priest then applied blood from this sacrifice to the ear, hand, and foot of the former leper symbolizing the sanctification of his hearing, serving, and walking by the atoning blood. The priest then consecrated the oil to God by sprinkling it seven times before the Lord. He next applied it to the leper’s ear, hand, foot, and head representing his anointing with the power and gifts of God’s Spirit. Then the priest made sin, burnt, and meal offerings. The sin offering cleansed the sanctuary, the burnt offering brought reconciliation and represented rededication, and the meal offering was a pledge of allegiance.

"The priests were the public health officers, but they served in their priestly capacity. Israel was a holy nation, and even her cleansing from sickness was done with religious ceremony. Sickness was symbolic of sin, and even now it should not be forgotten that sickness and death are part of God’s curse on the sin of Adam and his race. Therefore, cleansing the diseased person required sacrifices (cf. Luke 5:12-15)." [Note: Harris, p. 582.]

"The LORD provided the way for someone restored to health to enter full participation in the covenant community through the ritual of sacrificial atonement. . . .

"Christians do not have such a ritual, but they can learn something from the principle. Any time they are healed and restored to full participation in life and worship, it is appropriate to offer the sacrifice of praise, even a thank offering (Hebrews 13:15). They should at least acknowledge that it is God who has given them life and they will not now die (Psalms 118:17), that they have been restored to life for the purpose of serving and praising God (Isaiah 38:9-20), that their restoration from sickness is a foretaste of how in some glorious future day they will be set free like a bird from all physical diseases and distress when the curse is lifted, and that all this was made possible through the shed blood of Christ." [Note: Ross, pp. 291-92.]

Verses 33-53

The ritual cleansing of abnormalities in houses 14:33-53

The fact that certain abnormal conditions afflicted houses as well as persons reminded the Israelites that their dwelling places as well as their bodies needed to be holy. This law anticipated life in Canaan when the Israelites would live in houses rather than tents. God would "put" the abnormal condition on a house as He did on a person. It did not just pass from person to dwelling by contagion (Leviticus 14:34). God prescribed the same rite of purification for a house as for a person (Leviticus 14:49-53). He did not require sacrifices because buildings simply have to be clean.

". . . although it is primarily in the human body that sin manifests itself, it spreads from man to the things which he touches, uses, inhabits, though without our being able to represent this spread as a physical contagion." [Note: Bush, 2:391.]

Wholeness and holiness are not the same, but wholeness reflects holiness.

Verses 54-57

Summary of these ordinances 14:54-57

The final four verses of this section draw the instructions concerning abnormalities in skin and other coverings (chs. 13-14) to a conclusion by summarizing them and explaining the purpose of the collection. The emphasis in this whole section is on God’s provision for cleansing so that something corrupt could be consecrated to use again.

"God requires that anything that has been defiled be cleansed and then reconsecrated to its full use based on the prescribed ritual of the faith." [Note: Ross, p. 302.]

"As the Flood was once necessary to cleanse God’s good creation from the evil that had contaminated it, so the ritual washings were a necessary part of checking the spread of sin and its results in the covenant community." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 338.]

". . . with the coming of Christ, God himself sought out the ’lepers’ and healed them. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. His outreach to the lepers was on a par with his ministry to other sick people and social outcasts, such as tax-collectors and prostitutes. . . . Jesus’ ministry and that of his disciples (Matthew 10:8) was one which brought reconciliation between God and man. Therefore the old laws isolating men because of their unsightly appearance had become inappropriate and out of date." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., pp. 213-14.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 14". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.