The cleansing of sin as illustrated in the cleansing of the leper.
cf. 2 Kings 5:1-27 ; Matthew 8:1-4 ; Luke 5:12-15 . We have seen the possibility of a cure of leprosy in the directions for its diagnosis given to the priests. The cured leper had also to be cleansed before admitted to the society of the faithful. In this chapter we have the cleansing of the leper detailed. In this we are to discern the cleansing of sin.
Naaman's case is instructive upon this point. He was cured by Divine power. But be was not ceremonially cleansed or received into the fellowship of the Church of God. In his case the two elements of cure and cleansing were separated. But when our Lord directed the cured leper to go and offer for his cleansing, the gift that Moses commanded for a testimony unto them, the elements were united. In the case of the cure of the leprosy of sin and its concomitant, the cleansing, the Great Physician who cures and the Priest who cleanses are one. It is our Divine Saviour who accomplishes both.
I. WE MUST NOT CONFOUND THE CURE WITH THE CLEANSING OF SIN . The cure of sin is the sanctification of the inward nature, the imparting of the principle of righteousness, the regeneration of the once unholy nature. This is quite distinct from the cleansing which proceeds from the blood of Jesus Christ. In the latter case there is a justification through faith in his blood, so that we are accepted as well as pardoned on the ground of his merits. The one is a work of God in us, the other is a work of God on us. We are not accepted because we are regenerated; we are accepted "in the Beloved." The leper was not accepted on the ground of his cure, but on the ground of his sacrifice. The ritual of the leper is, therefore, admirably adapted to keep the two ideas distinct of justification and sanctification.
II. THE RESTORATION OF THE LEPER EMBRACED TWO STAGES , WHICH HAVE THEIR COUNTERPART IN THE EXPERIENCE OF THE SINNER . These stages are first, the restoration of the leper to the society of the living, and, secondly, his restoration to the society of the saints.
1. Restoration to the society of the living. The priest was directed to go to the leper outside the camp, and if he was satisfied about his cure, then he was to receive on the leper's behalf "two live birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop," One of these is to be killed in an earthen vessel over running water, and its blood mingled with the water in the vessel. Of the cedar wood, scarlet wool, and hyssop the priest is to make a brush, in which he is temporarily to tie the remaining live bird, and having dipped them in the blood and water, he is to sprinkle therewith the leper seven times, pronouncing him clean, and then let the live bird free, The leper is then to wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, wash himself carefully, and come into the camp, waiting, however, a week before taking up his permanent abode in his own tent.
Now, it seems clear that in this first stage of the leper's restoration the live bird, baptized with water and blood, and then let loose to join its mates in the open fields, was a symbol of the healed leper, now to be restored to the fellowship of men. It has been, indeed, said that the live bird here is parallel to the live goat on the Day of Atonement, and should rather be supposed to carry the leper's sin away. But, inasmuch as the live bird here receives a similar baptism to the leper himself, the first interpretation is preferable. Living water and blood, therefore, are the elements of the leper's purification—symbols of the Spirit and the blood of Jesus Christ. The brush of hyssop was the means by which these were applied to the leper, and might fittingly represent the Word of God, immortal like the cedar, humiliating like the hyssop, and invigorating like the "coccus-wool," by which the atonement and Spirit of Christ are applied to the sinful soul. It is thus by the blood of Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus that the soul, dead through the leprosy of sin, is restored to the society of the living. "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins" ( Ephesians 2:1 ).
2. Restoration to the society of the saints. After seven days' sojourn in the camp, but not in his own tent, the leper was allowed to approach the tabernacle with two he-lambs without blemish, one ewe-lamb without blemish of the first year, and three tenth-deals of fine flour for a moat offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil. These were to be used as a trespass offering, a sin offering, and a burnt offering. These suggest respectively a sense of unprofitableness or shortcoming, atonement, and personal consecration. The blood of the trespass offering is to be applied to the right ear, thumb of right hand, and great toe of the right foot, and the oil of consecration to be added thereto. This corresponds exactly to the consecration of the priests ( Luke 8:1-56 ). It suggests that it is out ode a sense of past unprofitableness that future consecration comes (cf. Luke 17:5-10 ). It is when we realize how we have wronged our Lord that we are prepared to live, not unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us, as our atoning Sacrifice, and rose again ( 2 Corinthians 5:14 , 2 Corinthians 5:15 ). In case of the poverty of the leper, he is instructed to bring one lamb for the trespass offering, with turtle-doves or young pigeons, in place of two additional lambs, for the sin offering and burnt offering, and a smaller meat offering, But the emphasis being laid on the trespass offering is surely to show that a sinner, when quickened by the Lord, is to sincerely lament the profitless, isolated life he lived, and to resolve to dedicate himself with full purpose of heart to the service of the Saviour whose blood has taken away his sin. The saints are those who begin in a sense of trespass a life of grateful devotion.
III. MAN 'S HOME IS TO BE CLEANSED AND RESTORED IN THE SAME SPIRIT AS HIMSELF . The priest is directed to investigate a plagued house, and if by the use of prompt measures the plague is stayed and extirpated, then the first part of the ritual is to be carried out. One live bird is to be killed over the running water, and the house sprinkled with the blood and water as before, and then the other live bird liberated. Thus was the restoration of the house to the society of its mates, so to speak, symbolized. We have already taken this to indicate the careful purification of our environment, and there is no more important duty attaching to the religious man. Atonement is due, not only for the sin as it affects the person, but for sin in its ravages in the world. This blighted world of ours has need of atoning blood, and purification even by fire, before it can be restored to the favour of God. Christ has consecrated it through his blood, and his providence and Spirit will yet make the requisite arrangement for its complete purification and restoration to the holy.—R.M.E.
The ceremony of cleansing the house is as similar to that of cleansing the leper as circumstances will permit. In case there is no reappearance of the mischief after the new stones and plastering have been put in, the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed. First, the priest assures himself that the plague is healed, then he pronounces the house clean, and still after that the cleansing is to take place (cf. Leviticus 14:3 , Leviticus 14:7 , Leviticus 14:8 ). The cleansing is effected by the same ceremony as that of the leper himself, by the two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop. The use of this ceremony in the cleansing of a house shows that, in the case of the leper, the symbolical meaning of letting go the living bird out of the city into the open fields cannot be, as has been maintained, the restoration of the cleansed man to his natural movements of liberty in the camp. If a bird's flight represents the freedom of a man going hither and thither as he will, it certainly does not represent any action that a house could take.
On uncleanness in houses.
There are two metaphors commonly used in Holy Scripture for designating God's covenant people. They are
I. GOD 'S HOUSEHOLD . As the household of God the Father," of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" ( Ephesians 3:15 ), they are the members of that august brotherhood gathered together in Christ, of which God himself is the spiritual Father, into which all that are adopted in Christ are incorporated, ceasing to be "strangers and foreigners," and becoming "fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God" ( Ephesians 2:19 ).
II. GOD 'S HORSE . The representation that God's people form his house is of a more singular character, and less capable of bring immediately grasped. It is even more commonly employed than the other. In the Epistle to the Corinthians, we read of Christians, that is, the collective body of Christians, being "God's temple" ( 1 Corinthians 3:16 ); "for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" ( 2 Corinthians 6:16 ). In the Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul dwells at length on the idea of the Christian Church being built up of living stones into a temple for God's Spirit: "Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being himself the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" ( Ephesians 2:20-22 ). And in the Epistle to Timothy, he speaks of "the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" ( 1 Timothy 3:15 ). Similarly, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, having described Christ" as a Son over his own house," continues, "whose house are we" ( Hebrews 3:6 ); and St. Peter writes, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house" ( 1 Peter 2:3 ). Just as God's Spirit dwells within the heart of each individual Christian, so, and in a more special manner, he dwells within the Church, his house not being made by hands, or constituted of wood and stone, but of the spirits of those who form the Church.
III. GOD 'S HOUSE MAY NEVER BE DESTROYED , BUT IT MAY BE DEFILED . "Upon this rock" (that is, upon himself as confessed by St. Peter), "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" ( Matthew 16:18 ). But though not destructible by the power of evil, it may yet be defiled. "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" ( 1 Corinthians 3:17 ). That which defiles God's house is unrighteousness and falsehood, just as physical and ceremonial uncleanness defiles the camp ( Deuteronomy 23:12 ). If the latter be allowed to continue in the carol, God will symbolically "turn away" from it; "for the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of the camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee" ( Deuteronomy 23:14 ). If the former be found, "the Holy Spirit of God" will be "grieved" ( Ephesians 4:30 ), and "vexed," so that God is turned into an "enemy" ( Isaiah 63:10 ).
IV. THE CLEANSING OF GOD 'S HOUSE . As soon as there is a prima facie appearance of immorality, or irreligiousness, or superstition in a National Church, a diligent examination should be made by those placed in authority by God. Perhaps it is only an appearance, which will die away of itself. If it does so, no further measures are needed. But "if the plague spread in the walls of the house; then the priest shall command that they take away the stones in which the plague is, and they shall cast them into an unclean place without the city: and he shall cause the house to be scraped within round about, and they shall pour out the dust that they scrape off without the city into an unclean place." Those whose office it is, must not shrink from removing the stones in which the mischief is found, that is, of casting out those who are incurably affected with irreligion, immorality, or superstition. "And they shall take other stones, and put them in the place of those stones; and he shall take other morter, and shall plaister the house." D iscipline must be exercised by substituting sound teachers and members of the flock for those that have become unsound. This is the work of reformation. This is what was done for the Jewish Church by Joash, when he "was minded to repair the house of the Lord So the workmen wrought, and the work was perfected by them, and they set the house of God in his state, and strengthened it" ( 2 Chronicles 24:4-13 ); and by Hezekiah, when he said unto the Levites, "Sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place. For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken him And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord, to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord into the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron" ( 2 Chronicles 29:5-16 ); and by Josiah, when "he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem … when he had purged the land and the house he sent … to repair the house Of the Lord his God … and they gave the money to the workmen that wrought in the house of the Lord, to repair and amend the house: even to the artificers and builders gave they it, to buy hewn stone, and timber for couplings, and to floor the houses which the kings of Judah had destroyed" ( 2 Chronicles 34:3-11 ). And this is what was done for the greater part of the Christian Church in the West in the sixteenth century. But if these measures prove ineffective, "if the plague come again, and break out in the house, after that he hath taken away the stones, and after he hath scraped the house and after it is plaistered; then the priest shall come and look, and, behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a fretting leprosy in the house: it is unclean. And he shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the morter of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place." So it was with the Jewish Church. The reformations of Joash, of Hezekiah, of Josiah, were ineffectual, and the Babylonian captivity followed. And so it will be with the various National Churches of Christendom: any one of them to which the taint of impurity in life or doctrine obstinately adheres, will be destroyed utterly when God's forbearance shall have at length come to an end.
V. WARNING . "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" ( Revelation 2:5 ). "Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" ( Revelation 2:16 ). "Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee" ( Revelation 3:3 ). "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" ( Revelation 3:19 , Revelation 3:20 ).
Cleansing the corrupt house.
That the Divine Lawgiver should, in this tabernacle period of Israel's history, anticipate a time when their future houses would be affected by some disorder similar to leprosy in the human skin, and that he should direct a treatment of such houses closely corresponding with that of the human leper, is exceedingly remarkable. Nothing could possibly impress the Hebrew mine[ more powerfully with the idea that "the face of the Lord was against' that spiritual evil of which leprosy was the chosen type. How direct the argument and forcible the conclusion that, if not only every remotest particle of leprosy itself was to be ruthlessly put away but also anything which to the bodily eye had even a near resemblance to it, and was thus suggestive of it,—how offensive, how intolerable, in the sight of God must that evil thing itself be held! Here are—
I. THREE MAIN PRINCIPLES ON THE SUBJECT OF CORRUPTION . In God's view, as we gain it from his Word,
1 . Corruption (impurity) may attach to the "house" or community as well as to the individual. We read of "the iniquity of the house of Israel," and of "the iniquity of the house of Judah" ( Ezekiel 4:5 , Ezekiel 4:6 ); of "the house of Israel dealing treacherously with God" ( Jeremiah 3:20 ), etc.
2 . That earnest effort should be made to cleanse it from corruption. The leprous house of stone was to be cleansed: the stones in which the plague was were to be taken away ( Leviticus 14:40 ); the house was to be scraped round about, and its unclean dust cast out of the camp ( Leviticus 14:41 ); other stones were to be placed and other mortar used instead ( Leviticus 14:42 ): the leprous part was to be removed and the house renovated. So must the contaminated community purify itself, removing that from it which is evil and corrupting its Achan, its Ananias and Sapphira, its Simon the sorcerer, its guilty member ( 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 ), etc.
3 . That, all efforts failing, the house will be destroyed. "He shall break down the house, the stones of it," etc. ( Leviticus 14:45 ). A community of any kind that is incurably corrupt
II. THREE MAIN APPLICATIONS OF THE PRINCIPLES . To any leprous "house," to any community into which seeds of corruption have been introduced, these principles will apply. They may with peculiar appropriateness be referred to:
1 . The nation. The "house of Judah" and the "house of Israel" were continually warned that they had erred from the ways of the Lord and become corrupt, that they must cleanse themselves from their impurities, or that they would be abandoned by God to their doom. Assyria, Judaea, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Ottoman Empire, provide striking and eloquent illustrations.
2 . The family. The "house of Eli" and the "house of Saul" illustrate the principles of the text; so also many a "house" in Christian times that has risen to honour and influence, that has grown leprous (corrupt), that has not heeded the warnings of the Word of God to put away the evil of its doings, and that has fallen into decay and has disappeared.
3 . The Church. This is the "house of God" on earth ( 1 Timothy 3:15 ; 2 Timothy 2:20 ; Ephesians 2:19 ; Hebrews 3:6 ). This house may show signs of leprosy; and in individual Churches corruption may break out—in doctrine (Galatia), in public worship (Corinth), in morals (Pergamos, Thyatira), in spiritual life (Ephesus, Sardis, Laodicea). The corrupt Church must be cleansed, or it will be disowned of the Divine Lord, and it will perish in his high displeasure ( Revelation 2:5 , Revelation 2:16 , Revelation 2:23 , Revelation 2:27 ; Revelation 3:3 , Revelation 3:17-19 ).—C.
Leprosy in a house.
From the first of these verses it is concluded that leprosy was not an ordinary disease, but a plague inflicted immediately by a judgment from God. That it was so inflicted in some instances upon persons cannot be disputed (see Numbers 12:10 ; 2 Kings 5:27 ; 2 Kings 15:5 ), and God threatens to curse the house of the wicked with such a plague ( Zechariah 5:4 ). The Jews view it in this light, and consequently regard leprosy as incurable except by the hand of God. But in Scripture, what God permits is often represented as his doing; and evils that Satan inflicts may require the power of God to remove.
I. WHAT ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND BY THE HOUSE ?
1 . There is the obvious literal meaning. It is an ordinary habitation (differing, indeed, from the tents in which the Israelites sojourned in the wilderness), composed of stones, and mortar, and wood, and plaster.
2 . It must also have a moral interpretation.
3 . It should be taken to represent a community.
4 . A leprous house is a demoralized community.
II. WHAT TREATMENT SHOULD IT RECEIVE ?
1 . The leprosy should be reported to the priest ( Leviticus 14:34 , Leviticus 14:35 ).
2 . Warning should be given to those concerned.
3 . It will be duty inspected.
4 . It will be shut up for seven days.
5 . Efforts towards a reformation should be made.
6 . The sequel.