The Cleansing of the Leper — Restoration

"He shall be clean." Lev. 14:20.

God only could cure the leper. When he was thus healed, he had to be pronounced clean by the priest, and also to cleanse himself in a way suited to divine holiness. The man that is to be cleansed could only be restored to the privileges of the people of Israel in the way marked out in holy Scripture.

We have seen that the greatest care was manifested, and the most diligent and clear investigation made, before a man was pronounced unclean, and put outside the camp. We shall also find that there was no less diligence and care bestowed in restoring him, so that the man himself might be happy, and that no doubt should remain in the minds of any as to his being clean, and entitled again to all the blessings and advantages of God's favoured people. The man, too, would know that he had step by step gone over the whole question of his personal uncleanness, and had bowed submissively to the will of God as to the way of his restoration.

Sin is no trifle. Those who have walked according to fleshly lusts, so as to necessitate the severe discipline of being "put away," ought solemnly to feel the dreadful character of sin and uncleanness in the sight of God; and such, under divine teaching, will find relief in confessing to God, and acknowledging to others, that their own judgment of themselves, and of their ways, has been according to the truth. "He that doeth truth cometh to the light."

To the heathen it would appear foolish and needless to be offering sacrifices, washing, cutting off the hair, etc., before he could be properly restored to the camp of Israel and why? Because such have no sense of its being the place of God's presence. And so now, those who have no true idea of God's people being "the habitation of God through the Spirit," cannot enter into the deep exercises of soul, and long continued process of sorrow and humiliation, which many who have been "put away" are called to pass through, before the hand of those who are spiritual can be cordially stretched out to welcome them back. We have long been persuaded that some have much to learn on this subject of great practical moment; and may then discover why so many of those who have been brought back to the Lord's table have turned out so unsatisfactorily. The long experience of humiliation and sorrow which the remnant of Jews will yet have to pass through, before, like Thomas, they will be able to look upon the face of Jesus, and say, "My Lord and my God," is another remarkable illustration that with God sin is a most serious matter. The book of Psalms, and the testimony of other prophets, plainly teach this. The tried remnant will find out that they were rightly put outside the camp, for the dreadful leprosy manifested in hating Jesus without a cause; and they will then thankfully bow to the will of God as to every step of His discipline, even in going through the great tribulation. They will afterward look on Him whom they pierced, and wail because of Him, before they are restored to them own land, and enjoy the promised peace and blessing under Messiah's rule, when every man shall sit under His own vine and fig tree, and the true David shall "reign before His ancients gloriously." It is in the remnant of Israel, now leprous, and by-and-by to be pronounced clean, that this ordinance will have its complete fulfilment.

In the cleansing of the leper, he is first set before us as conscious, that, by the power of God, the foul and spreading disease has been healed, and he is standing before the priest, in order that he may be pronounced clean by him. He realizes that His discerning eye views him all over. And is it not the first point in the history of a restored soul, that the plague of sin is stopped, that he has ceased to do evil? He may be like a man white all over the skin of his flesh, the wilful activities of fleshly lusts having all come out; but they are past, the plague of leprosy is. stayed. Then must we not think of such an one, that the next step in soul-restoration must bring him before our precious Lord Jesus, to be searched and known thoroughly by Him who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification? And what will he learn when consciously before Him? What can one in such a state of soul learn, but that Christ loved him, and gave Himself for him? This he apprehends now in a deeper and truer way than he ever knew before. The man is before the Priest. He sees the two birds alive and clean brought out. His eye rests upon the earthen vessel and running water. He stands still. He beholds with intense interest all that passes. He looks at every movement of the priest. He sees one of the clean birds, that had just before been soaring on wing of flight toward heaven, now cruelly put to death, and its blood shed. He notices that it was killed in an earthen vessel, over running water. What does all this mean? The priest is thus setting forth the foundation truth of the gospel, that God's only way of atonement for sin is by the death of Another; and as this bird was killed in an earthen vessel over running water, so did Jesus, who died for our sins, offer Himself, by the Eternal Spirit, "without spot to God," to purge our consciences by His own blood. There stood the man looking fixedly on the dead bird and its shed blood, and knew that it was all for himself. Still he stands motionless before the priest. He next saw the priest take up the living bird, and a piece of cedar wood, a little scarlet, and a bunch of hyssop, and dip them in the blood of the dead bird. The priest then sprinkled him thus with the blood seven times, and pronounced him clean. Nor is this all; for the living bird (marked with the blood of the dead bird) flew away, while the man was thus pronounced clean. Now nothing, as it seems to us, could possibly portray the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus with greater simplicity, and clearness, than this ordinance; and it is here set forth because every restored soul has to learn afresh, as it were, what Jesus did for him, when He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. He has to grasp the precious fact, that all our blessings are founded on this work. Two birds are used, because one creature could not illustrate both the death and resurrection of our precious Saviour. But the living one is so identified with the dead bird by being dipped in its blood, that, when it was let loose in the open field, it flew away marked with the blood of the dead bird; thus strikingly reminding us of Him who entered into heaven itself by His own blood. The cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop also set forth His personal excellencies of incorruptibility, royalty, and lowliness. Thus we behold the infinite perfections of Him who said, almost under the shadow of the cross, "Now, O Father, glorify thou Me with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." (John 17:5.) In this way, the man, who had been put out of the camp for leprosy, had to learn more thoroughly than he had ever done before, that all remission, cleansing, and title to be in the presence of God, is founded on the one sacrifice for sins. It is here a fresh sacrifice, because in the economy of the law there were many sacrifices, and therefore there was a remembrance of sins instead of remission, no sacrifice being more than of twelve months' efficacy; but with us there is but one sacrifice for sins, and only once offered, because by it we are perfected for ever, and our sins are remembered no more. The instruction is not to us now, as is improperly said, "a fresh sprinkling of the blood;" but while the person is consciously a returning one to the assembly, such learn from the Lord, by His holy Word and Spirit, in this time of deep exercise of conscience, the everlasting value of His death and blood-shedding as cleansing from all sin, and His resurrection justifying us from all things, as well as giving us, by Him, who is gone into heaven itself by His own blood, liberty and title to be there. This we judge is the divinely-taught lesson that all learn, who are really restored to fellowship according to the teaching of the Spirit of God. Not that he did not know the preciousness of the blood before, but he now learns from the Lord, in His own presence, its purification of his conscience, and justification from all things in a deeply solemn way; for He only can "pronounce him clean." It is easy to put people away from the fellowship of "the Lord's table;" but the question is, Has it been done according to the Lord's mind? If so, He will confirm the act of discipline; and how very solemn this is "Whatsoever ye" (two or three gathered together in My name) "shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 18:18-20.) It is easy also to bring persons back to the Lord's table; but the question is, Have they ceased to do evil? Do they judge that, by the power of God, they have received healing? Have they learned of the Lord, and in His presence, what He did for them by His death and resurrection? and have they on this ground been pronounced clean by Him? But if so, he is not restored yet; for the next words which follow are, "And he that is to be cleansed." Though pronounced clean, he has now to cleanse himself. Such have to observe the word, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit." This is indeed a very solemn ordeal, but a point of great importance, and never to be overlooked. (2 Cor. 7:1.) "And he that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp, and shall tarry abroad out of his tent seven days." (Lev. 14:8.) After having thus cleansed himself, he might go into the camp; but he must keep out of his tent for seven days. He has thus gained a step in the way of restoration, though not yet restored; and this is important to keep in remembrance. No doubt this sets before us a further step in soul-restoration for communion, though, as we have said, he is not restored. To us we judge the washing of his clothes and himself in water is putting ourselves, and our personal surroundings, under the searching, cleansing power of the word of God — "the washing of water by the Word." And what exercise of soul, what thorough self-examination, what searching investigation of our near surroundings and circumstances, and unsparing self-judgment, does this involve! But how can a soul that has been letting out the sinful workings of the flesh to the Lord's open dishonour be restored in any other way? How else could he be really self-judged before God? How could there be, without this, that "godly sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of"? Thus every step reminds us that sin is no trifle. But this is not all; for he loathes himself. His comeliness, like Daniel's, in the presence of "a certain Man clothed in linen," is turned in him into corruption. (Dan. 10.) He will not allow he has any comeliness or strength, for he shaves off all his hair, and for seven days walks about the camp, but knows he cannot yet enter into his tent, and there take his place as heretofore as if nothing had happened. For a full period this goes on; for seven days and nights he tarries abroad out of his tent, and on the seventh day the process of self-loathing becomes deepened. Like another, he might say, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." It is not merely self-examination and self-judgment, but self-abhorrence. Woe is me! for I am undone, I am unclean. "It shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head, and his beard, and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off: and he shall wash his clothes, also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean." (v. 9.) Thus all his comeliness and strength, all natural beauty and energy, are totally disallowed; and both himself and his near associations are again brought under the searching and cleansing power of the Word. The soul taught of God not only hates his sin, but loathes himself. He learns, not only that he has sinned, but that in him (that is, in his flesh), dwelleth no good thing. This is wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost, who would teach us not only that Christ bore our sins, but that we were by nature so undone, unclean, and incurably bad, as to be totally unfit for the presence of God, or to be used in His service; only fit for divine judgment. For seven days the man, though conscious of partial restoration, was exercised as to his full restoration. How every step reminds us of the exceeding sinfulness of sin!

What a complete (seven days) time of self-judgment and humiliation this must have been. Let us not fail to observe, that it begins with a deep sense in the soul, reamed in the presence of the Lord, the Priest, of the value of His own work for us, when He was "delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." There is no true soul restoration that does not begin from the light and power of the marvellous grace of God to us in Christ. Then he cleanses his surroundings and himself by the Word. But when he abhors himself, he goes down to the root of the matter, traces all the wilfulness and wickedness of the flesh to a corrupt and evil nature. This marked the repentance of David, and this he wrote in a book, so that his confession and self-abasement may be seen to this day in the word of God, and for the glory of God. He not only said, "I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me;" but he added, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Thus, when he has first judged his sins in their evil fruit, and then traced them to their corrupt and evil source, he cries out, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." (Ps. 51:3-9.) In this, too, we doubtless have the repentant utterances of the Jewish remnant by-and-by prophetically recorded, while it marks, in principle, the path of the Spirit in soul-restoration from an evil course. How forcibly do all these Scriptures show that sin is no trifle, as well as teach us what a serious matter it is to have to do with Him about it who is holy and true.

But the eighth day arrives. It is the beginning of a new order of things. "The man that is to be made clean" draws nearer still; for, with unblemished lambs, and meat-offering, and a log of oil, he is now presented by the priest at the door of the tabernacle — the place of having to do with God. One he-lamb is offered for him for a trespass-offering. Thus his sin is confessed, and judged; yea, the lamb is slain in the place where he shall kill the sin-offering and burnt-offering. He knows it is for him, and it shows that his sin is forgiven by it, so that in this way he can approach the sanctuary of God. "And on the eighth day he shall take two he-lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, and three tenth deals of fine flour for a meat-offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil. And the priest that maketh him clean shall present the man that is to be made clean, and those things, before the Lord, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the priest shall take one he-lamb, and offer him for a trespass-offering, and the log of oil, and wave them for a wave-offering before the Lord: and he shall slay the lamb in the place where he shall kill the sin-offering and the burnt-offering, in the holy place: for as the sin-offering is the priest's, so is the trespass-offering: it is most holy." After the flesh has been broken down, and self-loathing has well occupied the heart, how precious then the work of Jesus becomes to the soul Not only do such realize the great truth that "Christ once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust;" but they perceive that their very trespasses against God were actually judged on the Lord Himself, as our trespass-offering on the cross. While the humbled one is thus gazing on the slain lamb, he cannot but say:
"In His spotless soul's distress
I perceive my guiltiness;
Oh, how vile my lost estate,
Since my ransom was so great!"

Nor is this all. Having before learnt the cleansing power of the blood of Christ, he has now to learn its sanctifying power. He is to know not only that he is cleansed by that blood, but set apart for God by it; that he is himself sprinkled with the blood of the trespass offering, "that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God." (1 Peter 4:2.) "And the priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass-offering, and the priest shall put it upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot." (Lev. 14:14.) He is now to be thoroughly alive to the fact that he is consecrated to the service of God; the ear to hearken to His word, the hand to minister in His service, and the foot to walk in His ways. The ear, and thumb, and toe, are also anointed with oil, to still further show the entire consecration to God, which becomes those who are purchased by the blood of Christ, and are anointed by the Holy Ghost. Thus we are not only set apart for God by the blood of Jesus, but anointed and strengthened for His service by the anointing of the Holy Ghost. We can readily perceive what progress there is in all this in restoration to communion. It is well, moreover, to observe that the order in the cleansing of the leper is the same as in the consecration of the priests; firstly, washed with water — clean through the Word; secondly, sprinkled with blood — cleansed and sanctified; and thirdly, anointed with oil the anointing of the Holy Ghost. This is also the order at conversion, and seems to be gone over and learnt in a more thorough way in the restoration of a soul to the enjoyment again of the presence of God. But there is a further point to be noticed here. The remainder of the oil is poured upon the head of him that is to be cleansed on the eighth day. This day is, as we have said, the beginning of a new era. Typically, we are on new-creation ground here. The man who has, under the deep sense of having been leprous, honoured God in coming back again to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation in His way, in obedience to His own word, is now honoured of God. "Them that honour me, I will honour" is His truth. The priest had been anointed, the prophet also, and the king; and now the returning one, who had been loathsome and leprous, is to be anointed also. He who had for seven days been loathing himself is now comforted and honoured by Jehovah. He who had laid aside all thought of His own comeliness can now say, "Thou anointest my head with oil." "The remnant of the oil that is in the priest's hand, he shall pour upon the head of him that is to be cleansed and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord." (v. 18; also compare 16:32; 1 Kings 19:16.) Thus the leper in the day of his cleansing has really more honour and blessing than he had before; he is ranked with the prophet, priest, and king of Israel. How truly we prove this to be the way of our God with us! He not only restores, but He honours. "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." How often has His gracious blessing surprised us! How many times, when we have been writing bitter things against ourselves, and thought our conduct so base that He might justly spurn us from His sight, and have been seeking to hide ourselves in the dust, has His own hand been most markedly seen in bringing in fresh blessings, and unthought of honour!

How little did Peter think, when the Lord's look had so melted him, and his base conduct had so overpowered him, that he would ever again be honoured by the Lord! What a look of faithful love that must have been to have made him weep; yea, weep so bitterly! Oh, how bitterly did it make him weep! How little could he have thought that not many weeks would pass before he would be able to say, "Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over!" How impossible that any human mind could conjecture that the man, who, in the heat and pride of self-confidence, had boasted of his superior attachment to Jesus, and when tested had denied, even with an oath and a curse, that he knew Him, would have been put by Him in the place of distinguished honour and blessing on the following Pentecost. But in the meantime Peter had been before the Lord. The leprous spots had been under His all-seeing eye. He had keenly felt the indescribable look of Him whom he had so lately offended. What deep exercise of soul it must have given him I He also "remembered the word of the Lord." The angel's message had reached him. He had had a private audience with his risen Lord. What took place at that favoured interview we ate not told; but we do read, "He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve." One thing, as a result, is certain, that his desponding soul was begotten again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This he tells us, and for this he blesses God. (1 Peter 1:3.) As we have observed, in the cleansing of the leper, all true restoration must begin here. Again we see Peter in this solemn interval gird his fisher's coat unto him, and cast himself into the sea to go to Jesus; for he must be in His presence; he must be near Himself. He was Peter's Priest in the day of his cleansing, as well as his gracious Master. What a Priest! What a Master! Again, Peter saw His mighty power over the fish of the sea; while the fish, and fire, and coals, and the tender utterance, "Come and dine," affected his inmost soul. Nor was this all; for he who had three times denied his Saviour, must now, in the presence of his brethren, have the opportunity given him of confessing his true affection for Him. Peter was now so conscious that he was under the scrutiny of His all-piercing eye, and that every secret of his heart, and every turn of his crooked ways, were naked and open before Him, that he at last exclaimed," Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee!" He is then reinstated in service; he is entrusted with the care of His lambs and sheep, though prior to this he was only a fisher of men; and with the sentence of death in himself, he is restored to the privilege of following his gracious Master — "Follow thou me." (John 21.) Thus, whether it be a leper in Israel in the day of his cleansing, or a fallen apostle in the way of his restoration, the principles are the same as to the only way back according to that which suits the presence of God. And it is most blessed to see, that when any have sinned away their privileges on earth, and in faithful discipline are put away from association with God's people, yet, even then, a path is still left open to faith in which they can honour God, and be honoured of God. How wonderful is the grace and goodness of God! Happy they who really weigh sin in the sanctuary, in the just balance of divine truth, so as to bring themselves, and their near associations, under the searching and cleansing action of the infallible word of God.

To return to our chapter. The man that is to be cleansed is still with the priest; as we saw Peter was much in the Lord's presence. Without this, there cannot possibly be true restoration. The man "that is to be cleansed from his uncleanness" is still with his sacrifices "at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation;" for how could he possibly be there without a sacrifice? The sin-offering, burnt-offering, and meat-offering are all offered upon the altar. To us the instruction evidently is, that the only ground of our really being in the presence of God is the atoning work of Christ, and acceptance in Him who is risen and ascended. He now apprehends the precious truth of the righteousness of God. This gives the heart undisturbed repose in His presence. The soul that perceives in the work of Jesus on the cross that God is just, and that His justice has been fully satisfied on account of our sin in that sin-offering, can also see that God is just in justifying him that believeth in Jesus. The sin-offering reminds us, that after Jesus had offered one sacrifice for sins, He sat down for ever, or continuously, on the right hand of God. But, in the burnt-offering, the man is taught that he is accepted in all the acceptability of that sweet-savour offering. With it the meat-offering is also offered, because it sets forth the infinite acceptability of Jesus in life, that blessed and perfect One, who always did those things that pleased the Father, whose meat was to do the will of Him that sent Him, and to finish His work. The man is accepted in all the sweet savour of the burnt-offering; and he is now therefore pronounced clean. Every question as to his leprosy and uncleanness has been fully settled; all has been gone over between himself and Jehovah in the presence of the priest, the evil traced to its origin, and found to rise from a fallen and corrupt nature. Self-examination only led to self-judgment, and then to self - loathing. But on the eighth day — new creation ground — he learns, through the sacrifices offered, how righteously God now forgives sin to every one that believeth, and he enters into the divine statute: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." He is now clean.

As we have said before, we have here also a picture of Israel's present leprous state, and, in Jehovah's governmental displeasure, put away from their privileges as a people, but by-and-by to know full restoration. After they have gone through deep exercise of soul, a nation will be born at once, and forgiven their iniquity; for "there shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob."