"He is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be." Lev. 13:46.
The hindrances to communion which we have been gathering from Scripture thus far, have been defilements contracted from without, by the influence of unclean things, or dead things. We have gone over several varieties, but they have all been from what is outside us; for the cleansing of which, God graciously made provision according to the nature of the cases, and suited to His presence who was dwelling among them. Thus a man who touched a dead dog, or even the carcase of a clean animal, or creeping thing, was unclean only till even, and needed only to wash his clothes; whereas, the man who touched "a bone of a man" was unclean for no less than seven days, and it necessitated his having the water of purification sprinkled upon him, both on the third day and on the seventh day. Moreover, on the seventh day it is said he shall "wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even." (Lev. 11:28; Num. 19:19.) Now why this difference? Because by man came sin, and death by sin.
To touch a dead body, or a bone of a man, therefore, is being brought into contact with death, which came by man's sin. It consequently needed that "the ashes of an heifer," typical of Christ's sacrifice, should be applied by "the water of separation" to the man, before he could possibly be clean. And this is why it is also said, if he does not purify himself, he would be "cut off." How terrible to be "cut off" by God. How impossible it is for Spirit-taught souls not to see the divine stamp on these wondrous Scriptures!
Besides our getting defiled by the influence of things without, there is the uncleanness which arises from within, and is of a far more serious character. Leprosy sets this forth. Two long chapters are devoted to it. It is looked at most gravely from different points of view; but wherever it was found, it imperatively called for immediate excision, as wholly insufferable in the place where God was dwelling. Ah, could we, as God's children, but have the abiding consciousness of His dwelling in us, and that the church is His habitation, with what holy fear and trembling should we speak and act! In all of these instances of uncleanness washing was indispensable for cleansing; washing thus typifying the washing of water by the Word. In some cases, particularly those connected with man in death, if only a touch of a bone of a man, it required the sprinkling of the ashes of the slain heifer to purify them, so as to restore such to God's presence. In cases of leprosy, however, whether in a man or in a house, it needed that the full typical value of the death and blood-shedding of the sacrifice, and that which set forth the resurrection of the Lord, as well as a personal sense of the value of the blood, and the anointing oil, should be known, and the whole case judged and dealt with in the presence of the Lord, before the one who had been defiled with leprosy could be fully restored. How blessed to trace these wondrous ways of God in restoring such as have become unclean! and how the instances we have considered admonish us to be watchful, not only as to what we have communion with, but even what we "touch!"
Leprosy is a loathsome disease. It is set before us in Scripture as an illustration of the workings of fleshly lusts; for it is "deeper than the skin." Like sin, its ravages are frightful; and it shows how unfit for communion, or the place of God's presence, those are in such uncleanness. In this way the instructions concerning leprosy become illustrative of that which affects "fellowship." Leprosy has been described by a popular writer as "a loathsome and infectious disease, still prevalent throughout all Syria, and corresponding in its general characteristics with that of former ages. It is called distinctively by some people, "The stroke or wound of the Lord." It commences internally, and often lies concealed for years, or is secretly spreading, before there is any outward indication of it; and after it breaks out, the sufferer often lingers for years before it reaches a crisis, and then years sometimes elapse before the leper is released by death. The bones and the marrow are pervaded with the disease, so that the joints of the hands and feet lose their power, the limbs of the body fall together, and the whole system assumes a most deformed and loathsome appearance." (Pop. Cyclop.) Mungo Park says: "It appears at the beginning in scurfy spots . . . at length, the ends of the fingers swell and ulcerate . . . the nails drop off, and the bones of the fingers become carious, and separate at the joints. In this manner the disease continues to spread, frequently until the patient loses all his fingers and toes. Even the hands and feet are sometimes destroyed by this inveterate malady."
It was because God was dwelling among a people on earth, whom He had chosen, and redeemed out of Egypt to Himself, that He would have them discern, and put a difference between clean and unclean, and be practically suited to His own presence. Leprosy was the most serious state in which an Israelite could be found; for until he was pronounced clean, and had cleansed himself, and offered certain offerings. he could never be fully restored. According to the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Leviticus, leprosy might be personal, affecting only an individual; or it might be "in a garment," affecting his personal surroundings and associations; or it might be "in a house," the place where several are located, which might possibly necessitate its being pulled down, and carried out of the city into an unclean place.
Leprosy serves to illustrate either bad doctrine, concerning which it is said, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (Gal. 5:9); or immoral practice, about which it is said, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." (1 Cor. 5:6.) Scripture is most decided in dealing with evil doctrine. Of those who were undermining the truth of justification by faith, the apostle says, "I would they were even cut off which trouble you." (Gal. 5:12.) Another apostle charges an "elect lady and her children," not to receive into her house, or even to salute, one who did not bring "the doctrine of Christ." (2 John 10.)
As to personal leprosy, a spot or swelling of some kind appears on the surface of the body. The question is, What is it? The God-fearing in Israel would be under considerable exercise of mind as to the real nature of the unpleasantness, because God in His word had given most solemn and decided instructions about such things. So now, looking at its spiritual significance, an unusual spot appears in a person's walk, or testimony. It is not surmise, not thinking or imagining evil against a brother, for that would be evil in God's sight; but it is a fact, that the spot has appeared. It is so manifest that the only question is, What is it? The spot or swelling having appeared, is it a temporary swelling, or red spot, like the case of one overtaken in a fault?. or is there such active working of fleshly evil, so dishonouring to God, that the person must be pronounced unclean, and put away? The whole question in Israel was, Is it leprosy? not how much, or how little; for if only a spot of leprosy, he is unclean. The command of God was, if a man be a leper, he must go outside the camp, for he is unclean. He must put a covering upon his upper lip, and with his clothes rent, and his head bare, cry, "Unclean, unclean! All the days wherein the plague shall be in him, he shall be defiled: he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be." (Chap. 13:45, 46.)
Then it is important to observe that a priest, either Aaron or one of his sons, was the only person in Israel competent to discern and pronounce a true judgment of clean or unclean in such cases. When there was any appearance of leprosy, the man was brought to the priest. This shows us that Christ should at once be our refuge until the case is clearly made manifest; and it also teaches us, as we have said before, that one who is a priest is alone able to discern the real character of such matters. The case must be unmistakeably proved to be leprosy before discipline could take place. When this was made sure, then the children of Israel were to put out of the camp every leper. (Num. 5:2, 3.) This was absolute and compulsory. No favour or affection was to be showed to anyone. The dearest friend or relative must be put out, if he is affected.
But this solemn acting was not to be from suspicion, however strong the grounds for it might be. The case must first be clearly manifested. If there were the least question about it, the priest was to shut the man up for seven days, and then look at him again the seventh day; if he is not then satisfied, he might shut him up for "seven days more," and the priest shall look on him again the seventh day, when he might expect the case to be made so clear as to be able to pronounce him clean or unclean. We find this principle of declining to act before sufficient and unquestionable evidence has been forthcoming, running through Scripture. On another matter we read: "Then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and behold if it be truth, and the thing certain." (Deut. 13:14.) We read also, both in the Old and New Testaments, the importance of having the assured testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1.) It need scarcely be added how important this principle of action is in dealing with cases in connection with the discipline of God's assembly. While diligent investigation and prayer to God to make manifest are to be commended, nothing can excuse haste in acting before the evil is most certainly made clear, rendering the person unfit for the assembly of God, until he shall be clean.
It was a priest only, as we have observed, who could discern such cases; and why? Because he was consecrated; the blood and anointing oil were upon him; and he was called and set apart for the service of the sanctuary. This, in a higher sense, every Christian is now; but every Christian is not consciously so; for some do not live on priestly food, nor do they take the place of priestly service, to which, through grace, they are entitled. And, further, as even Aaron and his sons would be unable to discern between clean and unclean, if they drank wine or strong drink, and would die if they washed not their hands and feet when they went into the service of the sanctuary, or came near the altar to minister; so now a Christian, if gratifying fleshly lusts which war against the soul, instead of abstaining from them, will not be spiritual, nor able to discern between holy and unholy. The spiritual not only acknowledge constantly that in them (that is, in their flesh), dwelleth no good thing, but are more exercised about their own souls being in communion with the Lord than anything else. As the priests had to feed on "those things, wherewith the atonement was made to sanctify and to consecrate them," so those only are competent to discern between clean and unclean, according to God, who really know the Lord as their Life-sustainer as well as their Life-giver. (Ex. 29:33.) Such can truly say, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." "He that is spiritual judgeth [discerneth] all things" (1 Cor. 2:15); and it is the "spiritual," (not Christians, who, like the Corinthians, the apostle could only speak of as "carnal"), whom the Holy Ghost would use to restore such among us as have got wrong. When the apostle was addressing those who had through false teachers got into a carnal state, he says, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." (Gal. 6:1.) For believers to be truly in the exercise of their priestly functions, they must know assuredly, like Aaron and his sons, that they have been chosen and called of God, and that they have been consecrated to the service of the sanctuary. Such know they have been washed with the water of the Word; they know that all their sins have been righteously judged, and put away by Jesus as their sin-offering; they know, too, that they are accepted in the Beloved, in all the sweet savour of Jesus as their burnt-offering; they have realized in their own souls what it is to be cleansed and set apart to God by the blood of Jesus, and to have the Holy Ghost dwelling in them. They know liberty to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, in rest and peace, and for communion and worship. And, in a far higher sense than priests of old, they have all-sufficient direction from God, in His holy word, for every question of clean and unclean that can possibly come before them. And should perplexities arise, and they wait on and for God patiently, He will assuredly make everything needful manifest. Cases may appear at first sight to be leprous which are afterward clearly seen not to be so; and cases of apparently trivial importance at first, become afterward confirmed as leprosy. We know who alone is sufficient for these things.
Now let us look at some of these cases. We read, "The Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying, When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising (swelling), a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy, then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests." (Lev. 13:1, 2.) A man, then, has a swelling in the skin of his flesh (v. 2); it is not mere suspicion, but it is a fact. There the swelling is, and it is for the priest, with God's directions in his hands, and the anointing oil upon him, to pronounce upon it. His sphere is limited to Israel; those among whom God dwelt. He had no instructions for cases among Gentiles; and so we have to judge them that are within; God judgeth them that are without.
The apostle speaks of "swellings" in a spiritual sense; of some who were "puffed up," and of others who were "vainly puffed up in their fleshly mind." Such things are sometimes seen. Self-love, self-exaltation, are at work. A person, hitherto in health of soul, becomes self-inflated, perhaps at some view he may have of a certain scripture. He speaks of it to others. His vanity about the discovery which he imagines he has made becomes manifest. However, after a little patience, and waiting on God in prayer for him, it soon subsides. It is not heresy, but a temporary rising of self-confident thoughts, and it has disappeared. It was not leprosy; he is clean.
Or it may be he is so "puffed up," like some at Corinth, as to exalt himself and look down upon others, because he had not committed the same flagrant sin as another. He ought rather to have "mourned." The word is brought to bear upon his conscience, and it disappears. It is only a rising, or swelling.
Take another case. "A scab" appears on one in fellowship. (v. 2.) He has been long sitting with others at the Lord's table, gathered to the name of Him who said, "There am I in the midst of them." The scab has such an unclean appearance that those who are spiritual are much exercised before the Lord about it. But what is it? It looks like leprosy, and if it be so, the person must be put out. But is it really leprosy? They bring him before the priest (the Lord), and wait on Him to make the matter clearly manifest. It is one who states what at first looks like unsound doctrine, and seems to favour laxity; but, after careful investigation, it is found that the brother only advanced something he had read in some book, without considering its serious importance; so that when he found the spiritual were seriously examining the scab, he was soon recovered. It was not leprosy. He is clean, though the scab be not yet healed. Or, another has been walking in ways apparently very unclean. He was seen in an idol's temple, where there is worship to demons. He was seen eating fruit there which had been offered to an idol. He says, having seen another, whom he knew to be a decided Christian, come out from the temple, he went in on that account; and, till it was pointed out to him, he did not see the dreadful wickedness the act appeared to involve. Thus he fell through the bad example of another. It is not leprosy. He is not to be so treated as unclean.
Look at another instance. "A bright spot" is seen on one who has hitherto been blameless. (v. 2.) It is only one "spot," but "bright" and distinct. He is excited about one point of doctrine of comparatively small moment. He has left the great truths and broad lines of Scripture concerning Christ, (always a sign of declension), and is quite excited about this one point. We once met with a Christian man, who earnestly contended that Scripture made an important distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost; and he did not seem willing to be convinced that in the original they were the same word. In another place, a preacher in one of the sects warmly contended with us that there was a great difference in Scripture between "eternal" and "everlasting." He would not easily yield to the fact that in the original they were the same word. These were spots — the garment spotted by the flesh — but not leprosy. They were not unclean so as to be put outside the camp. It may be that the "bright spot" has disappeared from each of them long ago. Or there may be a "bright spot" of moral delinquency. A brother expressed himself warmly and excitedly on a certain occasion; he had used too strong and unbecoming language; but on examination it was found to have been based on a misunderstanding, and when investigated, the matter was soon cleared up. It was not leprosy — not the leaven of malice and wickedness.
Another case was that of a boil in the skin of the flesh, a more serious thing than a spot, or a scab, or a mere swelling. (v. 23.) It is a work of time for a boil to go through its various stages, and at the end to prove itself to be only a foul and corrupt thing. To give examples of what seems to us to be its spiritual significance, a man exposes himself to the atmosphere of false doctrine, and not knowing his own proclivities, and the danger of such a position, he becomes somewhat infected by the poison before he is aware of it. He tries to convince himself and others that there is some truth, as he says, in the false doctrine; for he is ignorant of Satan's craft to mix a little truth with error so as to deceive, and forgets the divinely-written sentence that "no lie is of the truth." He thinks much over the subject, talks about it, writes to his friends respecting it, becomes increasingly excited on the point, and pained also at the lack of sympathy and even attention of others; but at last, by turning to God and His word only, in dependence on His Spirit, the real state of this spiritual disorder is manifest, the corruption is exposed, the boil discharges itself of its foul contents, and it ceases to be. He had not fully embraced the leprous doctrine, and he is now most thankful for his escape from the snare. Or, a person exposes himself to the tainting influence of an immoral association. He knows little of himself. He thinks, because he desires to walk uprightly as a child of God, that he is proof against such contagion. This is a serious mistake, as many have had painfully to prove! for "evil communications corrupt good manners."
The best may be damaged by evil associations. May we take heed to this, and watch with self-distrust, and faith in God! Where this is not the case, the corrupting influence may so work in us as to culminate in a boil, giving pain and distress, as well as drawing out from us such corruption, as self-examination can detect, and from which self-judgment and faith only can deliver us. How true it is that, "he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption."
"A scall" in the head, or beard, would require careful inspection to distinguish it from leprosy. (vv. 29-34.) The setting forth our comeliness, might hide it from view. So the comely and attractive features and behaviour of some, their amiable and winning ways, at times effectually hide the leaven they carry with them. It is well to be aware of this. We must never forget that leaven may hide itself under the most comely exterior.
Then there may be "white bright spots" manifesting nothing active, which are defects and weaknesses, and not leprosy. (vv. 38, 39.) "It is a freckled spot that groweth in the skin; he is clean."
There may also be a bald spot — a bald head, or bald forehead. (vv. 40, 41.) It is a lack of ordinary strength, and of natural comeliness manifested by one in Israel, yet is he clean. This strikingly shows us that God looks for comely ways — courteous and compassionate behaviour; and that rudeness in word or action is like manifesting a bald spot. But whether it be a red spot or a scab, a swelling or a boil, a scall or a bald spot, it is possible that leprosy may spring up in either of them; so that if we are unguarded, and begin to give way to the indulgences and weaknesses of the flesh, or the desires of the mind, it may easily go on to such wilful activities as call for the most serious dealing that God can exercise toward man on earth. Even in a bald spot leprosy may spring up. May we be watchful and prayerful, looking off unto Jesus, who is able to keep us from falling
On account of the variety of maladies, which, without careful discernment, might possibly be confounded with leprosy, God graciously gave these many details so as to enable the priest to distinguish between clean and unclean; and, as we have seen, they read to us many instructive lessons, and, among others, the need of patient investigation, and sure guidance, before arriving at a conclusion in such solemn matters. One thing is clear, that leprosy, when once manifested, must be imperatively and uncompromisingly dealt with, and on no account be tolerated in the place where God is pleased to dwell.
Leprosy in its nature stands alone. It is characterized by three things. It destroys, it defiles, and it spreads. Most carefully and diligently would the priest look to see "if the plague in sight be deeper than the skin" (v. 3); if so, it showed that there was a destructive process going on, that tissue had actually been consumed, that there was a deep hidden evil at work. It thus sets forth the hidden activities of sin. The workings of fleshly lusts war against the soul; and they destroy everything sacred, and Christlike, which comes under their influence. We are told, "If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." "Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died." We are warned against "foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction, and perdition." "Evil communications corrupt good manners." "If any man defile (destroy) the temple of God, him will God destroy." "One sinner destroyeth much good." The wilful activities of fleshly lusts, either of the mind, which come out in evil doctrine, or, through the members of the body, in evil ways, contrary to the revealed will of God, lie deeper than the surface, and war against the soul, thus eating out as "doth a canker" all spiritual comfort, godly purpose, and energy. With some who thus walk, it is to be feared that their "end is destruction."
Leprosy is defiling. The priest therefore gave deep and solemn attention to discover "if the hair in the plague had turned white;" that is, if it had been spoiled of its natural comeliness, and become defiled. Most persons know that sin is debasing. If those who have been refined addict themselves to sinful habits, how soon they lose even their natural comeliness and beauty, and become degraded! The activities of fleshly lusts soon turn the affections into an impure direction, and defile the mind and conscience. If false doctrine be the current of fleshly energy, the mind becomes dull and darkened, and the conscience bad towards God. If immoral walk be its line, then the mind and heart become occupied with the objects of lust, and thus get away from God. Whether it be bad doctrine, or bad practice (and they are often found together), it always defiles its victims. May we be kept abiding in our Lord Jesus, that, walking in the Spirit, we may not fulfil the lusts of the flesh!
Leprosy is spreading. Even "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." Some may be ready to say, that, because they cannot see its ravages it does not spread; but the character of leaven is that it works quietly and unobservedly, but most surely. The word of God assures us that leaven, even a little, leaveneth. The priest therefore carefully watched to see if the plague spread; and if it did, that would sometimes be sufficient evidence to decide the case. This would be a true sign of leprosy, whether in a man, a garment, or a house. (Chaps. 13:8, 57; 14:39.) If, however, the leprosy cover the man all over, have covered all his flesh, then it would show that the malady had fully spent itself, and though its effects were still manifest, yet it is all turned white, so that the priest would pronounce him clean. "If a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresover the priest looketh; then the priest shall consider: and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean." (vv. 12, 13.) But when a person is pronounced to be a leprous man, he must be put outside the camp; and then his cry will be, "Unclean, unclean!"
May He, who only is able to keep us from falling, preserve us from all evil, and from every association dishonouring to His name! What need has each to cry to our Lord Jesus, "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe?"
"Leave: oh, leave me not alone!
Still support and comfort me;
All my trust on Thee is stay'd,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of Thy wing."