Skin Disease and Mildew – Leviticus 13-14

I will continue to hit this every time: while we’re in Leviticus 11-15, the issue being presented is the issue of discernment. We are to discern the holy from the profane, and the clean from the unclean. Here in Leviticus 13:1-46, we find all sorts of regulations regarding skin diseases. Some of them make sense, others don’t. By the end of the chapter, most of us have lost our appetite, if we had one before reading, that is. After this, we read of some mildew, and how to tell if the vessel containing mildew is clean or unclean – whether it is a contaminating mildew. When we reach chapter 14, we’re again struck with this dialogue of skin diseases.

For those of you who are following me on this, and have read ahead, you probably read this chapter and thought, “Oh man… what is he going to do with this one?” The truth is, I was stumped for a while. In my mind, Leviticus is essentially chapters 1-11, and then 16 onward. Chapters 12-15, the discussion of clean and unclean, are somehow eluding my memory for the most part.

Once again, when we come to Leviticus, I expect that you can read the chapter and understand fairly simply the plain reading of the text. I’m not going to spend time addressing the “what”. It seems fairly obvious to “what” God is saying. The question is “why”. When we take up the why question, we’re no longer searching through words and looking up the Hebrew. Instead, we’re hoping that if God says something, He means it, and the reason He means it stems from why He said it.

In the case of Leviticus 13-14, it seems pretty obvious to me “why” God might have said such things. God cares about His people, and therefore gives them some sort of medical advice to take care of the general public. Yet, just like with Leviticus 12, we’re left scratching our heads and asking, “Is that it? Is that all this tells us about God?”

Let me give a few pointers before going into this too far. First, notice that all of the skin diseases and all of the mildew follows certain threads:

  • 1) They are visible
  • 2) They are not fatal
  • 3) They affect only a part of the body (or object)
  • 4) They are persistent, serious, contaminating, and/or contagious

Now, we see that all of these diseases and types of mold and mildew only affect a certain part of the body or object, but they are considered dangerous in that they will take over the whole host. So, we’re looking for that which is outwardly manifest, that which is not fatal, that which is secluded to one area (but might be spreading), and something that is to be taken seriously; it is dangerous. What else does this sound like?

Certainly we can take this as “synonymous” with sin, or even with listening to the lies of the devil. Sin will hold you captive and spread through the whole of the host. Indeed, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Yet, notice the context of when Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 5:6. The context is toward the whole community of Corinth. So it is with sin, that when the individual leaves it unchecked, and the community as a whole also ignores it, the sin will spread in one way or another to infect the whole community. Likewise, when someone is listening to the lies of the devil, whether it be that you aren’t good enough or that what you are doing isn’t really that bad (sinful), it ultimately will pervert the individual as well as the community. This is how you get doctrines of demons.

Let us with this understanding approach our text for further investigation. In Leviticus 13:2, it is said, and then required for the rest of the passage, that the priests are the ones who should investigate these cases. There is a very specific reason to why the priest is the one to investigate and proclaim the person clean or unclean. Though specific, the reasoning is not obvious. The priest is given this duty, because it is the priest who is to know God most concisely.

Why exactly does that matter?

When we read through Leviticus 13-14, and even when we then continue into chapter 15, what we are seeing is that God concern is first of all about His dwelling. While I’m sure that God is indeed concerned about the people, that is only secondarily. The reason for this will become abundantly clear momentarily.

When we read through Exodus, which I would assume the Israelites would have done before reaching Leviticus, we find in Exodus 29:45 these words: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.” The context of these words directly relates to Leviticus, because in the previous verse we read, “So I will consecrate the Tent of Meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests…” Notice that the consecration of Aaron and his sons took place only a few chapters ago. Both in Exodus 29:45 and in verse 46, God is very explicit. He does not dwell “in the Tabernacle”. No, God dwells “among the Israelites”, and again, “among them.”

Thus, God’s concern for His dwelling place is not a concern specifically for the Tabernacle, but for the people. It is among the people that God dwells.

Now, imagine the significance of this. When we come to these general laws regarding clean and unclean, the focus shifts from food to people rather quickly. When the people are clean, God’s dwelling is uncontaminated. Yet, when the people are unclean, suddenly God’s dwelling is in danger.

Why must the priest be the one to discern whether someone is clean or unclean? It is the priest who is given the task of serving God at His Tabernacle. They who are the closest to God, knowing even the most delicate intimations of His Spirit, are the ones who shall discern between who is clean and who is unclean. Only they will know the purity of God, and whether His dwelling would be contaminated through this or that illness. In all things, it is about the whole camp of Israel – which His people are the Temple, and not merely the earthly temple – and whether that House of Israel is clean before Him.

What happens when you bring that which is only pure into a vessel that is contaminated? Does the vessel suddenly become pure? Does that which cannot be impure get tainted? Neither; the vessel will break. This is why they who are found unclean are told to completely separate from the camp. They are to dwell on the outskirts, away from everyone else.

This is incredible when you think of it. First, we find the principle being laid out that God is in the midst of His people, therefore when His people are unclean before Him, He cannot dwell in their midst. This makes me think of Isaiah 59:2. Why does our sin separate us from God? Is it because God cannot dwell where there is sin? Does not the very Gospel tell us otherwise? No, our sin separates us from God because we willfully choose sin over God. Why doesn’t God inhabit His people when they are unclean? They have willfully chosen that which is unclean over that which is pure.

Secondly, look at Hebrews 13:12-13. “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.”

Did you catch that?

Jesus was considered unclean by the priests. This is the ultimate indictment against an entire people. When there is an entire religious system that is based upon separating the clean and the unclean, supposedly leading people to the pure God, and that selfsame religious system would reject the pure God, calling Him unclean, what else is there but judgment to come? Now, notice my wording. This isn’t to say that God has rejecting the Jewish people because of their rejection of Him. There is a remnant of Jews who believed in Jesus – even Pharisees! Rather, it is an entire system of religion, what Peter calls Babylon (1 Peter 5:13), that rejected Jesus and will suffer judgment.

The conclusion is then made in Hebrews: “Let us go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” Let us also leave the unclean thing, the religious Babylon system that rejects the true God. Let us not rely upon buildings and programs, but upon that which is true and eternal. Now, just like the apostles taught at Solomon’s porch, it isn’t necessarily wrong to attend the buildings, but it should always be in context of the fellowship of the saints.

What we see from Leviticus 13-14 is that only the unclean are cast outside of the camp. Yet, what we see in Hebrews is that Jesus was cast outside of the camp. What do you do when they who call themselves clean cast God out of their midst? Do you continue to follow them? No, rather we share in the disgrace that He bore, and we trust that we do not seek for a city on earth by which we might dwell, but a city in heaven that is to come. Our fellowship and dwelling, though we might be upon the earth, is not on the earth. Our fellowship and dwelling is within the New Jerusalem – Zion – the holy city of God.

It is from there that we find the true distinguishing of clean and unclean. How do I know that the person who I sup with is clean? It is only be the fellowship we share in Zion. If they have not yet come, which is to say, if they continue to choose their sin or demonic lies over freedom and truth, then our fellowship can never truly be whole. Yet, for they who have left all to come unto that City, any and all that I might break bread with in that City will have a perfect fellowship with me, untainted by doctrinal difference or practice. Those things just simply don’t matter when two come together in Zion.

Our discernment of what is clean and unclean is to be found in the true dwelling place of God. They who are cast out of this fellowship, and handed over to Satan that their flesh might be destroyed and their spirit saved on the day of the Lord, are merely unclean. The unclean might not have fellowship with the clean, but they don’t cease to be the people of God. They are still Israelite. When atonement comes, they will be made clean again – which is the whole point of Leviticus 14 – and will once again enter the gates with praise. To cast them off is not to cast them off forever. In casting them out of our midst, we are keeping God’s sanctuary pure, and we are pleading with God for their redemption that they might come back and enjoy fellowship with us again. It is about keeping holy that which is holy, and separating from it anything and everything that might be profane.

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