Leviticus 14: Rules for cleansing from infectious skin diseases and mildew
At this point, I think it might be time to completely take back all that I said about uncleanness and sin, in my commentary for previous chapters. I’ve been maintaining that uncleanness isn’t necessarily something that has to be atoned for; however, based on the rules given in this chapter, for cleansing from infectious skin diseases, I’m no longer sure of that position.
But let’s take a look at the rules…
- When a person was healed of an infectious skin disease, and came back to the priest for examination, the examination was to happen outside of the camp.
- If it was determined that the person was healed, the priest was to have two live, clean birds, some cedar wood, some scarlet yarn, and some hyssop brought to the person who was being cleansed.
- One of the birds was to be killed over a clay pot, holding fresh water. It says that “the priest shall order that one of the birds be killed” (verse 4, emphasis added), meaning that the priest wasn’t to do it himself.
- The priest was then to dip the live bird, the wood, the yarn, and the hyssop in the blood of the killed bird. He was then to sprinkle the person being cleansed seven times, and pronounce him clean.
- At this point, the live bird was to be released “in the open fields” (verse 7).
- After this ceremony, the person who had been healed of the infectious skin disease was to wash his clothes, shave off all of his hair, and bathe with water.
- At this point, he would be considered ceremonially clean.
- He would be allowed back into the camp, at this point, but he still wasn’t allowed to enter his tent, for seven days. On the seventh day, he was to shave off all of his hair—all of it, including his beard, his eyebrows, and everything else—and wash his clothes and bathe himself with water again.
- On the eighth day he was to bring two male lambs and a ewe lamb, all a year old and all without defect, 6.5 litres of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, and about 0.3 litres of oil. The priest was to present the man and his offerings before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
- The priest was to offer one of the male lambs, along with the oil, as a guilt offering. It mentions that the offering belonged to the priest, just as with any other guilt offering.
- The priest was to take some of the blood from the guilt offering and put it on the man’s right earlobe, right thumb, and the big toe on his right foot. The priest was then to take some of the oil and pour it on his palm, and then dip his finger into it, and sprinkle it before the LORD seven times. He would then put some of the remaining oil on the man’s right earlobe, right thumb, and the big toe on his right foot. The rest of the oil was to be put on the head of the man being cleansed, to “make atonement for him before the LORD” (verse 18).
- The priest was then to sacrifice the sin offering, and then the burnt offering and grain offering.
- If the man was unable to afford two male lambs and a ewe lamb, he was to bring instead one male lamb, 2 litres of fine flour mixed with oil, 0.3 litres of oil, and two doves or two young pigeons. The ceremony would be the same as outlined above, except that the two doves or two pigeons would be used for the sin offering and burnt offering.
And this is how the person was to be cleansed from his uncleanness, from the infectious skin disease.
Next, the chapter gives rules for cleansing from mildew. However, in this instance, the LORD is explicitly taking ownership of any mildew that is found:
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mildew in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like mildew in my house.’” (verses 33–35)
What I find interesting about this is that the LORD makes it explicit, in terms of mildew, but not in terms of the infectious skin disease. Since God is the one who is in control of everything, He could just as easily have said the same thing before talking about the skin diseases, but He didn’t.
In any event, here are the instructions the priests were to follow:
- Before the priest entered a house, to inspect it for mildew, he was to order it to be emptied out. That way, if he pronounced the house unclean, none of the items in the house would have to be declared unclean with it.
- When the priest examined the mildew on the walls, he was to look to see if it had “greenish or reddish depressions that [appeared] to be deeper than the surface of the wall” (verse 39). If so, he was to order the house to be closed up for seven days.
- If anyone entered such a house, while it was supposed to be closed up, that person would be unclean until evening. He would also have to wash his clothes, before he could be clean again.
- On the seventh day, the priest was to return and inspect the house again. If the mildew had spread, he was to order the contaminated stones to be removed from the wall, and the inside walls of the house were to be scraped. All of the material which was scraped off, along with the stones from the wall, were to be dumped in an unclean place outside of the Israelites’ camp. They would then replace the stones which had been removed, and re-clay and re-plaster the house.
- If the mildew ever reappeared in the house, the priest was to examine it again. If he concurred, that the mildew had reappeared, he was to pronounce it a “destructive mildew” (verse 44), and order that the entire house be torn down, and taken out of town to be dumped in an unclean place.
- If, when the priest re-examined the house, the mildew had not spread, the house would be pronounced clean. The priest was to get two birds, some cedar wood, some scarlet yarn, and some hyssop. He was to kill one of the birds over a clay pot, with some water in it, and then dip the live bird in the blood. He was then to sprinkle the house seven times, purifying the house with the blood, water, wood, yarn, and hyssop. He was then to release the bird in the open fields outside of the Israelites’ camp.
One thing that I should have mentioned in the previous chapter, and forgot, was how intimately involved the priests are in determining infectious skin diseases—and, as we see here, atoning for them—and dealing with mildew. A priest’s job wasn’t just to say in the Tabernacle all day, slaughtering sheep and oxen; he was also required to get right up close and personal with people suspected of having infectious skin diseases.
Anyway, with regards to my question about whether uncleanness has to be atoned for, in the same way that sin does, I’m on the fence. It’s possible that the offerings being presented in this chapter are being offered to atone for sins the man committed while he was exiled outside of the camp, in his uncleanness; since he wouldn’t have been able to atone for any sins he committed, during that period, they would be building up, until he was pronounced clean again, and able to atone for them. However, the instructions given in this chapter make it sound like the uncleanness is also being atoned for, so I don’t think this theory completely holds water.