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Tuesday, December 5th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 15

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and RevelationSeiss' Lectures

Verses 1-33

7; Leviticus 15:1-33

The Poor.—Modifications for their benefit—More demanded of the Rich. House Leprosy.—The Earth infected—Its ultimate cleansing. Secret Uncleanness.—Involuntary corruption—A good moral and spiritual discipline.

I have commented upon the fourteenth chapter as far as the twenty-first verse. At this point commence certain modifications of the law for the cleansing of lepers, to adapt it to the peculiar circumstances of the poor. In all ordinary cases, the man to be cleansed was to present three lambs, and three tenth-deals of flour. But God here says, "If he be poor, and cannot get so much, then he shall take one lamb for a trespass-offering to be waved, to make an atonement for him, and one tenth-deal of fine flour, and two turtle-doves or young pigeons, such as he is able to get." Similar exceptions were made in favor of the poor, in the first, second, and fifth chapters.

The poor man is often overlooked. There is always a strong tendency in the more favored classes to pass him by, and to forget, if not to despise him. But God does not forget him. The directions for his particular case are just as special and authoritative as any contained in this ritual. The Lord would thus assure him of his care—that he feels for him the same deep interest as for others, and brings atonement equally within his reach. There is a common level in the divine administrations, upon which "the rich and poor meet together, and the Lord is the Maker of them all." The poor are his children, as well as the rich. He anointed his Son Jesus, to preach the Gospel to them. And the most neglected and down-trodden child of want has just as good a right to cleansing and heaven, and may count as much upon the sympathy and grace of God as his wealthy neighbor. If he cannot get three lambs, he is just as welcome and acceptable with one lamb and two doves. The poor widow’s mite cast into the treasury of the Lord, receives a higher commendation than all the costly donations of the wealthy. Mary, with her two young pigeons, is just as completely cleansed, as she who could add thereto a lamb of a year old.

But, although the law favored the leper who was poor, it did not exempt him. It accommodated the burden to his strength, but it did not remove it. If he could not bring three lambs, he was still bound to bring one lamb and two doves. If he could not get three deals of flour, one deal had to be forthcoming. There are some people who make poverty a virtue, and claim exemption from everything because they are poor. But God’s commands are upon the poor, as well as upon those more favored in earthly possessions. He does not excuse them because they are indigent. They are sinners as well as other men, and must be cleansed by the same processes. There is no more merit in being poor than in being rich. Poverty cannot save a man. Beggars may go down to eternal death as well as millionaires. There is often as much crime in rags, as in purple and fine linen. All classes are infected; and all classes must have recourse to the blood of the Lamb, and receive upon them the same "blood of sprinkling," and the same consecrating oil of the Spirit. Without this, no one can be cleansed, he he rich as Solomon, or indigent as Lazarus. "God commandeth all men everywhere to repent." All can come to Christ, and all must come to Christ. There is no other way of salvation. And no matter what may he an individual’s earthly estate, there is no hope but in that High-priest whom God hath set over his house, to whom we must "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."

A larger expression, however, is required from the rich than from the poor. In God’s account, three lambs, and three tenth-deals of flour, are necessary on the part of the man of means, to equal the one lamb, and the one tenth-deal, on the part of the poor man. Religion levies upon every man, but those levies are always graduated according to our several ability. If we are able to give much, God holds us bound to give much, and we are unfaithful to our obligations if we do not give much; and if we are not able to give much, we must still give something, and the little that we are able to give, if we give it with a believing heart, is the same in the eye of God as if we had given as much as the richest. If we have received freely, we must give freely. "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." God has inserted this in his law and in his Gospel; and no man is at liberty to disregard it.

With these remarks, I will now proceed to another subject, beginning with the thirty-third verse, and occupying the remainder of the chapter. Here we have the leprosy as it affected dwellings. The particular nature of this affection I cannot very certainty determine. Michaelis thinks it was a sort of mural efflorescence, which often appears in damp situations, cellars, and ground-floors, and so corrodes walls and plastering as to affect and damage everything near it, and sometimes quite destroying the entire building. Calmet thinks it was a disorder caused by animalculæ which eroded the walls, and finally destroyed them, if left undisturbed. But perhaps we cannot do better than to agree with the Rabbins and early Christian Fathers, who believed that this leprosy was not natural, but sent of God as an extraordinary judgment, to compel men to the public acknowledgment and expiation of some undetected negligence or crime. It was the stone crying out of the wall against the sinner, and the beam out of the timber answering it. (Habakkuk 2:11.) It came like a great domestic affliction, saying, "This is not your rest, because it is polluted." It was the hand of God upon the forgetters of his law. It was "the curse of the Lord, in the house of the wicked."

Its typical significance will at once suggest itself. It plainly points to the fact, that, not only man, and his surroundings in life, but his very dwelling-place—the earth itself—is infected. There is disorder attaching to the very rocks and ground on which we tread. Going back to God’s reckoning with Adam, we there find it written, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." From that moment a cloud settled upon the glory in which the world was made. Nature itself is a sufferer for the sin of man. "The creature was made subject to vanity." "The whole creation groaneth, and travaileth in pain together until now." A blur has come upon the beauty of the world, and a corroding leprosy into all its elements, and discord into its pristine harmony. Tempests, floods, and fires; volcanoes, earthquakes, siroccos, and deserts; inclement seasons, pestilential malaria, dangerous exhalations, and a thousand things of disharmony, pain and death, combine to form the sad echoes of the sentence pronounced in Eden. The whole surface and framework of the world bespeaks infection, disobedience, and disorder. We must tear it with instruments of iron, and mix its mould with tears and sweat, before it will yield us bread. Walls and houses must be built to shelter us from its angry blasts. And with all that we can do, the sea will now and then engulph the proudest navies, and the hailstones blast the budding harvests, and famine and pestilence cut down the strength of empires, and earthquakes bury up great cities in a common tomb, and the sun and the moon flash down death in their rays, and the very winds come laden with destruction.

And even in a moral aspect, the material world, though meant for spiritual as well as other good, has often been to man a source of defilement. Creation is a standing miracle to show us Eternal Power and Godhead. Every ray of light is an electric cord, let down from the unknown heavens to lift our hearts into communion with "the Father of light." Every night puts us into the midst of a sublime temple in which the tapers burn around the everlasting altar, and through which rolls the vesper anthem of the heavenly spheres, to inspire us with adoration. And the innumerable changes that pass before our eyes, are but so many letters to spell out to us the name of the Unknown God, in whom we live and have our being. But, how often have these very things tended to establish men in unbelief, and tempted them from the ways of piety and peace? How often have persons looked up into the starry sky, and reasoned, until they were led to say, the Gospel is a forgery?—or dug into the earth, and insisted that Moses was mistaken in its age?—or cut among the arteries and tissues of organic life, and denied man’s immortality?—or watched the uniformity of God’s common laws, and pronounced a miracle impossible?—or dipped a little into physical science, and controverted the very existence of a Deity? How often have earth’s products proven to be mere baits and lures to unguarded souls to lead them down to death? How have its wines tempted men to intemperance, and its beautiful groves to the licentiousness of the idolater? How frequently the very gold or silver of its rocks have taken the place of God himself, and fastened everlasting condemnation on the worshipper? And what scene of beauty contained in this world, but has served to draw the heart of some one from the Lord? Aye, "the earth is defiled under the inhabitants thereof. Because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, broken the everlasting covenant; therefore hath the curse devoured the earth."

Nature now is a crippled thing. She no longer does her work, for body or for soul, with the efficiency which was originally intended. She is leprous. Everywhere, there are signs of some corroding ailment. "When I stand all alone at night in open nature," says Goethe, "I feel as though it were a spirit, and begged redemption of me. Often have I had the feeling as if nature, in wailing sadness, entreated something of me, so that not to understand what she longed for cut through my very heart." What the sentimentalist thus saw and felt, the book of God explains. Yea, "the earth mourneth"—"the world languisheth"—"the whole creation groaneth"—the stroke of the Lord is in our house.

But it shall not always be so. The leprosy in our dwelling-place may pass away as well as leprosy in our persons, or in our clothing. God has appointed rites for its cleansing. The time is coming when "there shall be no more curse." But it is to be the last thing cleansed. Regeneration begins first in the spirit. From the spirit it extends to the outward life, then to the redemption of the body. And after that comes the grand deliverance, when "the creature (or creation) itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God." Not only our personal nature is to be renewed, but the very world in which we live. For "we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."

"Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle-tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." Christ took earth’s thorns upon his head, and he will yet bear them quite away. He has mingled his tears and blood with its very dust, and its final sanctification is certain. He has knelt upon its mountains, walked on its seas, and gone down into the heart of its rocks and set it apart to be his—the theatre of his mediatorial triumphs, and the home of his saints. And it is only upon the theory of the ultimate and complete recovery of the world from all damage of sin, that the prescriptions now before us can be explained.

The first thing to be done to a house found to be leprous, was, to have the affected stones removed, the walls scraped, and the plastering renewed. This done, all parties were to wait to see what the effect would be upon the disorder. This evidently recalls the flood, and God’s dealings with the earth at that time. It was then that he broke up the old and tainted foundations, swept away the scum of its surface, and overcast it with a new order of things. It is impossible to say how great were the changes made in the structure and investiture of the earth by the deluge; but we may suppose that they were very great. The occurrence is spoken of in the book of Job as a breaking down and overturning of the earth. What was uppermost, went down; and what was at the bottom of the sea was lifted into mountains. Rocks fresh from their deep quarries were put into the places of the old. A new arrangement of rivers and hills appeared. The old crust was broken and scraped off, and a fresh coating was put upon the face of the world. God did to it as he here orders for a leprous house, and said, "I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; neither will I again smite any more every living thing as I have done." All is therefore in waiting now, till our great High-priest and Judge shall come forth again to inspect the earth.

After the lapse of an appropriate time of trial, which is left indefinite in the record, the priest was again to examine the house that had been thus dealt with; and if the plague had broken out again, and had spread in the house, he was to break it down, "the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house, and carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place." If the leprous symptoms were not stayed, it was to be completely and forever demolished. There was no further hope for it. It perished in its uncleanness. Bonar, in his commentary on this book, considers this as a picture of the fate of this world. He thinks that the present earth is to be quite undone—"dissolved"—"burnt up"—and that out of its rubbish is to come the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. This does great violence to the type. A house thus demolished was never to be rebuilt. It was unclean and undone for ever. No new fabric ever came out of it. It was only when a dwelling was past hope of cure that this end awaited it. The earth is not past hope. It is to be reclaimed. It is to be cleansed. It is not to perish for ever. I therefore take this direction as a type, not of what is to befall the world, but of what would have befallen it without the redemption that has come in to stay its corruption and save it from ruin. To take this demolition of the incurable house as a type of what this world is to come to, is to say that the curse has broken out afresh since the flood, and spread more thoroughly through the earth than at first; which is not the fact. It is no more an infected place now than in the days of the antedeluvians. We may say the plague is stayed. The effects of it are still present. It needs the cleansing ceremonies that are to restore it to its pristine purity and sweetness. But the plague is stayed. There is no spreading of it—no sign of a new outbreak. It has grown no worse since the time of Noah. Like the recovered but still uncleansed leper, the earth may be regarded as lingering on the outskirts of the camp, calling for the Priest, and uttering its mournful prayers for his forthcoming. "The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God." It is subjected to the same in hope. It is therefore the proper subject of those cleansing rites which yet remain to be considered.

How, then, was a leprous house to be cleansed? We have seen what was to be done to it upon the first appearance of the plague. We accordingly read, that, after the lapse of a suitable time to test whether the infection was stayed, "the priest shall come in and look upon it, and behold if the plague hath not spread in the house after it was plastered, then he shall take to cleanse the house two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop; and he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water; and he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times; but he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open fields, and make an atonement for the house, and it shall be clean." All this refers us back to the blood-shedding, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and holds forth the great fact that the world is made clean to us now, and will be entirely cleansed hereafter, by virtue of the redemptive work of our great High-priest. It is "the blood of sprinkling," and "the washing of regeneration" in Christ Jesus, that does the business. It is part of Christ’s pur chase on Calvary, and a part of the efficacy of his resurrection and ascension, to cleanse the infected dwelling-place of man. He took the whole curse of earth upon him, and by his stripes everything is healed. The blood and water that fell from his cross upon the earth shall bless it. It has blessed it already. It speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. All its utterances are full of hope. Its words are promises. It says to every believer, "Thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation and shalt not sin." It is God’s seal to the assurance that "the righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein forever." Because Jesus was slain, and has redeemed us to God by his blood, the saints may take it as their song, "We shall reign on the earth."

Some suppose that this dwelling-place of man is some day to fall to pieces, and pass away, and be no more. Had Christ not died, or having died, not risen again, it might be so; but now a light of glory rises upon its futurity. It shall not die, but live. Great changes may yet pass upon it, but it shall survive unharmed. The theatre of the Savior’s mighty deeds of love shall not be blotted out. The rocks on which he knelt, the dust he wore upon him self, the waters that he consecrated, shall never become trophies of hell, or the prey of destruction. This wide world shall yet become an Eden, where none shall shiver amid arctic frosts, or wither under tropic heat, or lie down and perish with disease. These fields of snow and arid sands shall all blossom yet with roses. And whatever may be the pangs of that new birth, when he that sitteth on the throne shall make all things new, these very hills shall clap their hands, and these valleys lift up their voices, and this whole down-trodden earth rejoice in a finished redemption, when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." This world was heaven’s gift to man. It was his patrimonial estate. It was his sin that blighted it. And just so far as he is redeemed, he shall get his own again, and hold it by a charter written in his Savior’s blood. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

We pass now to the fifteenth chapter. It is not necessary that I should read it. It is a collection of types of the secret flow of sin. All the uncleannesses here enumerated, are such as were, for the most part, unknown except to the individual alone. They must therefore refer to sins of solitude and secresy. The lesson is here taught, that we may be great sinners without anybody else knowing anything about it. There may be no word spoken, no act done, no voluntary motion put forth, and we still be unclean by a silent and unintentional oozing out of a carnal heart. There may be a very correct exterior life, and yet a secret cherishing of pride, and lust, and unbelief, and a secret painting of the walls with imagery, as much unfitting us for the society of the pure and good, as any open and outbreaking wickedness.

"The lively imagination of a gay poetic mind is not less sinful when it scatters forth its luscious images, than the dull brutal feelings of the stupid, ignorant boor." "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he." Even the quiet and involuntary exudations of natural feeling are often to be numbered with the uncleanest things.

It is amazing how deep-seated the contaminations of sin are. A man may be truly penitent. He may be a true believer. He may be set to be a good servant of God. The empire of sin may be dethroned in his heart. And yet, every now and then, he will find the disgusting uncleanness of sin quietly and unintentionally escaping from him, contaminating himself and those who come in contact with him, or touch what he has touched. His whole nature is yet 30 full of remaining corruption, that the least agitation causes it to trickle over. He lies down to sleep, and presently he finds it in his dreams. He puts forth his hand to welcome a friend, and the very touch sometimes awakes wrong echoes in the soul. He is accidentally thrown into the mere neighborhood of sin, and the very atmosphere about him seems at times to be laden with excitations of impurity. His depravity cleaves to him like an old sore. It defiles his solitude with unclean thoughts. It taints his repose with the outflowings of evil. It springs uncleanness upon him in his holiest associations. And even in his looks towards heaven, it interposes suggestions which come like impure birds between him and the sky. In all situations, towards all persons, at all seasons, this remaining filthiness of the secret soul will occasionally obtrude itself. "I find a law," says Paul, "that when I would do good, evil is present with me." There is no escape in this world from the workings of inborn evil. "If a man have an ill neighbor," says the distinguished but quaint Boston, "he may remove; if he have an ill servant, he may put him away at the term; if he have a bad yokefellow, he may sometimes leave the house, and be free of molestation in that way; but should the saint go into a wilderness, or set up his tent in some remote rock in the sea, where never foot of man, beast, nor fowl had touched, there it will be with him. Should he be, with Paul, caught up to the third heavens, it will come back with him. It follows him as the shadow does the body; it makes a blot in the fairest line he can draw. It is like the fig-tree in the wall, which, how nearly soever it was cut, yet still grew till the wall was thrown down." "I know," says Paul, "that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.... O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

Nor are these secret and involuntary outflowings of corruption mere trifles, unworthy of notice. They are here set forth under images and types among the most offensive and disgusting. They are too loathsome for public recital—too hideous, even for the mind to dwell upon. God intends thus to signify his deep abhorrence of our inherent corruptions. He means to intimate to us that we have reason to be ashamed and confounded at the secret disorder which still works in us. Nay, he yet adds to these defilements a judicial sentence. They were uncleannesses which excluded from the sanctuary, and everything holy. They brought condemnation with them. And some of them were so bad as to need atonement by blood. The unclean thoughts, desires, and imaginations which casually rise unbidden in the heart, even the unholy dreams that flit over us when we sleep, and the blushes of passion which flash upon us in a moment, are things offensive to the pure eye of God, and would ruin us for ever, were it not for the ever efficacious blood of Christ, and the clean flood of grace that comes in ever and anon to wash out after these filthy intruders. We need, therefore, to be on our guard against the beginnings of evil. We have reason to take alarm at the most silent wish, and at the most quiet complacence in the contemplation of sin. These are usually the germs of transgression—the floating seeds which drop into the heart, ready at any moment to strike root and spring up into deadly iniquity. We should regard them as the hiss and rattle of the serpent admonishing us of the presence of danger. Yielding to them in the least, we take a viper to our breasts which may sting us unto death.

It is indeed melancholy, my brethren, that we, as Christians, still have so much impurity cleaving to us—that with all our efforts so much evil still works in us—that with all our penitence, prayers and resolves, there yet is this frequent oozing out of contamination—that with all the doings of God to cleanse us, we still have so much cause to hang our heads in shame, and humble ourselves in dust and ashes—that not one of us but would blush and be mortified almost to death to have all our thoughts and feelings suddenly laid open to the inspection of those around us. But still it is not without its good effects. We need something to keep us humble, to drive us continually to the throne of grace, and to keep us ever mindful of our dependence upon the mercy of God. If we were not troubled with these secret flows of sin, we would be in great danger of growing spiritually proud, negligent, and over-confident. But this keeps us down at the foot of the cross, and ever prompts to more earnest prayer, and keeps the soul from stagnation. It makes us feel the presence and power of the foe, that we may be stirred up to ever-renewed zeal, and be strengthened the more by our trying encounters with the enemy. It helps to soften us towards the failings of others, and to make us charitable in our judgments of offenders. Though it is painful, and keeps us in constant peril of making shipwreck of our faith, I do not know whether I would have it otherwise if I could. I fear that we should be too much at rest and satisfied in this present world, if we were not thus made to feel the inconvenience of living in the flesh. It helps greatly to reconcile us to the idea of dying. It contributes to make our dying day, a blessed day; because it will put an everlasting end to these vexations. Then we shall be delivered "from the body of this death."

Sweet is the scene where Christians die,

Where holy souls retire to rest;

and all the more sweet, because it ends the strife with corruption, and lands the soul beyond the reach of earth’s temptations. Farewell then to the languor that now comes in to load our hearts with miry clay, and to the unstable thoughts that wander off when we bow the knee before our Maker. Farewell then to those base imaginings which come in in spite of us to mar our devotions and disturb our peace, and to all those hidden flows of sin whose uncleanness comes upon us when we sleep and when we wake. We may not be clean till evening comes; but with its balmy shades and starry glories, the yoke shall drop from our necks, and we shall lie down under the eyes of watchful angels, and be for ever at rest. Egypt may pursue us to the sea, and its men of war go with us into the waves, but there shall the oppressor cease. From that flood he shall never rise again. He shall never reach the other shore, or set foot in heaven. God shall there take off his chariot-wheels, and he shall pursue and oppress us no more. Oh, happy, happy day! that thus lays all our tormentors for ever with the dead.

And then, again, this constant consciousness of sin assists in endearing to us the cross and righteousness of Jesus. Though evil ever works within us, we have a remedy. We have an Advocate in heaven ever interceding for us. Though uncleanness clings to us, life and purity flows down through him to cover our unrighteousness and to help our infirmities. With all our weaknesses, in him we are strong. Let faith hut touch the hem of his garment, and healing is at hand. Let the poor sinner but press to him, and all these disgusting issues shall be as though they were not. Blessed Physician, that God hath sent to us from the heavens! How precious the virtue that goeth out from him! He healeth all our diseases. His blood cleanseth from all sin.

Allow me, then, my dear friends, to commend this Savior to you. He is what you need; and he is ready to become everything to you that is necessary to complete your peace. You may find yourself full of sin; but he is able to cleanse you. You may be poor and friendless; but he sympathizes with you, and proposes to you eternal riches. In more than angelic meekness, he spreads out his hands to you, and says, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are Heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Only accept that call, and you shall be blessed forever.

Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Leviticus 15". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sei/leviticus-15.html.
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