The Cleansing of the Leper
January 19th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM
THE CLEANSING OF THE LEPER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-19-58 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the early morning services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message, which has developed into a series. I began speaking two Sundays ago on God’s Sevenfold Provision for Cleansing, and it was to be encompassed in that Sunday morning sermon. It has developed into two sermons, and this morning three sermons, and then there is one at least yet to come. The sevenfold provision of God for cleansing: the Day of Atonement, the sin offering, the trespass offering, the ashes of a red heifer, the cleansing of the leper, the laver, and the golden plate on the miter, the headdress, on the forehead of the high priest. The seven things here in the Mosaic law that God provided for the cleansing of His people; now, all of these are types, figures, similes, pictures, adumbrations of a great spiritual truth that was to be revealed. As the author of Hebrews said, the blood of bulls and of goats, and of the ashes of a heifer, could never suffice for the forgiveness of sins [Hebrews 9:13-14]; they could never actually wash our sins away. So these things that we read in the Levitical law, and these incidents that happened in the Old Testament are types, they are figures, they are pictures of God’s great and final truth in the revelation of Jesus Christ. Now, you will find that remarkably true once again in the ritual for the cleansing of the leper. And that is the subject of our message this morning: The Cleansing of the Leper.
Now, you can easily follow the message at this hour by turning to the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the Book of Leviticus. So take your Book of Leviticus, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, the third book of the Bible, turn to Leviticus; and the thirteenth and the fourteenth chapters, and leave your Bible open at that place. We shall speak of the cleansing of the leper. Leviticus 13, 14, now to begin.
Leprosy evidently makes a tremendous impression upon all humanity, little children, adults, everyone who’s ever heard the word or ever heard it mentioned, leprosy. In the last Junior banquet held down here at the church, they had a contest with a group of boys on one side and a group of girls on the other side, and the master of ceremonies was asking biblical questions. And if a boy knew the answer, he ran up there from his side and rang a bell. If the girl knew the answer, she ran from her side and rang the bell. And whoever rang the bell first and got the answer right made a point for his side. Well, the master of ceremonies down there asked the question, "What is the most famous sea in the Bible?" And like a shot out of a box, one of those little girls ran up there to the front, banged on the bell, said she knew. And the master of ceremonies asked the little girl, "What is the most famous sea in the Bible?" And she answered promptly, "Leprosy." It made an impression upon her. It does upon everyone. You hardly know why. I would dare say there are not a handful of people in this congregation and there is hardly a handful of people who listen on this radio who have ever seen leprosy. And yet, all of us are so familiar with it and conversant with it, you would think we had known it and had seen it and had watched it all of our lives. The reason for that is God had a purpose in choosing this disease as a type, a figure of sin, and the cleansing of the leper as a type of the atoning blood and grace that restores us to the community of God and the fellowship of the redeemed.
In the ancient world in the Old Testament times, leprosy was a peculiarly loathsome and intractable and incurable disease, small and slight in its beginning, sure and tenacious in its hold, certain in its power to spread, and finally, awful and horrible in its ultimate end. It was chosen of God as a type of sin. It is an ancient disease. You will read of it in the literature of the ancient Egyptians, in the literature of the ancient Indians, the Asian Indians, in the literature of the Japanese. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, a Greek physician who lived several hundred years before Christ, described it: he called it "the phoen disease," "p-h-o-e-n." I did my best to find what he meant by that, and thus far I have not been able to find what he meant. He called it "the phoen disease." Galen, the second great famous ancient physician, who wrote so extensively and learnedly, and who lived after Christ, Galen called it "elephantiasis." All through the literature of the Western world, after the soldiers of Pompey, in 61 BC, returning from their Syrian campaign, introduced it to Europe, all through the centuries that follow, you will find it mentioned.
I read this week a description of a famous painting in Europe. And the painting is of a woman giving bread to lepers. And those lepers were described: "It was the scourge and the most terrible of all of the diseases of Europe in the Middle Ages." It was Dr. Hansen, a Norwegian physician, in 1871, who discovered the microbe that causes it. And since then, in places where you would want to be nice, it is called "Hansen’s disease" – leprosy.
When we turn to the Old Testament, it took a peculiarly terrible and vicious form. The first time that you have it mentioned in the Old Testament is in the fourth chapter of Exodus. And it is given there as a sign to Moses. "How will they know that God hath sent me when I go down to Egypt and tell them, I Am that I Am, hath sent me?" [Exodus 3:13-14, 4:1]. And God gave Moses signs: throw his rod down, it will come into a serpent; catch it, it will go back to a rod [Exodus 4:2-5]. Then this one, and this is the first time leprosy is mentioned: "Thrust thy hand into thy bosom." He did so. When he withdrew it, his hand was white as snow, leprosy. Then repeating, it was clean and whole again [Exodus 4:6-7]. The second time you have leprosy mentioned is in the case of Miriam. Because of her recalcitrant attitude toward Moses [Numbers 12:1-2], the Lord struck her with leprosy; and there it is minutely described [Numbers 12:10]. You have it mentioned again in the story of Naaman that we read together in the Scriptures [2 Kings 5:1-14]. Then you have the story again of the transference of leprosy from Naaman to Gehazi, [Elisha’s] servant, because of his greed and avarice [2 Kings 5:20-27]. That’s a miraculous transference because it takes long to incubate the disease; and when Gehazi immediately was covered with leprosy, that was a judgment of God. You have it mentioned a fifth time, in the story of King Uzziah, who, because he assumed unwarrantedly the offices of the priest he was struck by the Lord with leprosy and was so until he died [2 Chronicles 26:16-21].
In the New Testament, one of the signs of the authenticity, one of the authentications of the ministry of our Lord was that He would cleanse the leper. Now doubtless He cleansed many, but we have only two instances in the story of the life of our Lord. One, of the ten lepers who came; He cleansed them, He sent them to Moses to do according to what is written in the law, and only one of them came back to thank Him, a Samaritan [Luke 17:11-19]. You remember that. And the other instance is immediately following the Sermon on the Mount; the leper that Jesus touches and he is immediately made whole [Matthew 8:2-3]. Those are the references to the disease in the [New] Testament.
Now, we’re going to look at Leviticus 13 and 14 and see here God’s ritual for the cleansing of the leper. Now the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Leviticus is nothing but a series of tokens by which a priest could discern true leprosy. When a man appeared to have the plague, he must immediately be taken to the priest [Leviticus 13:1-2]. Now, the third verse, "And the priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh: and when the hair in the plague is turned white, and the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh," it’s subcutaneous, down there in the flesh [Leviticus 13:3]. Now look in the eighth verse, "And the scab spreadeth in the skin" [Leviticus 13:8], now look at the last of the tenth verse, "and there be quick raw flesh in the rising" [Leviticus 13:10], these are all signs by which the priest could discern whether it was true leprosy or not. For many times it turned out to be not real leprosy. Look at the twelfth and thirteenth verses: and if it looks to be leprosy, and then all of it comes to the surface, and the plague be from his head even to his foot, if the leprosy hath covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean" [Leviticus 13:12-13]. He just had to wash his clothes, and he was all right; that was not true leprosy. So you have here in the thirteenth chapter the signs by which they could tell the plague.
Now, the forty-fifth verse: if one was discovered to have the plague, the hair turned white, the spots were deep in the flesh, it spread, which was the main test, and there was quick raw flesh in the rising, then in the forty-fifth verse, this is what the leper had to do, and look how terrible: "And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, his head bare, he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean, unclean. And he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be" [Leviticus 13:45-46]. Oh, how terrible, how terrible: "Unclean, unclean, unclean!" wherever anyone might approach or see or hear, to cover his upper lip and cry, "Unclean!"
Well, of course, a part of that was a protection for the people; because leprosy is contagious. It is not easily acquired upon contact, but it can be acquired; it is contagious. You get it from contact. One of the saddest things – it’s sad to read of it here – one of the saddest things you could ever look upon in your life are those leper colonies that our Southern Baptist missionaries have established in places like Africa. And when I think of a leper, I always thought of an adult; but little children have it. And Dr. Goldie said to me, he said, "This is one way that we know that it is contagious: if a mother has leprosy, by and by, if the child stays with her, the child will have it too." Not easily taken, but it is contracted upon close intimate contact; and these little children that you’ll find in those leper colonies have received it from their fathers and mothers.
All of this is taken as a type. It is a figure, and how dramatic is it: that sin is contagious; that it may be ever so slight in its beginning, but it grows and it grows, and it defiles. And the law of the leper was a picture of the defilement, and the separation, and the loathsomeness of sin in the sight of God.
Now, that is a terrible picture; and to leave it there would be of all things most helpless and most hopeless. But we turn now to the next chapter, the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Leviticus. And you will find here the most beautifully meaningful ritual that you will ever find in the Bible. This is what God did in order to cleanse the leper. This is the ceremony. We’re going to speak of the actual healing in a moment, but this is the ceremony. And look how meaningful it is. The fourteenth of Leviticus:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought unto the priest:
And the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper;
Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop:
And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water:
As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water:
And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field;
where it soars upward to God in heaven, with the blood on its wings.
Then comes the ritual for the restoration into the community of God: "And it shall be on the seventh day, after this first ceremony, he that is clean still stays outside, and on the seventh day he shall shave his head, wash his clothes [Leviticus 14:8-9]; and on the eighth day," the first day of the week, this is the tenth verse, "he shall take," then it gives there the trespass offering, the lamb that is offered before the Lord [Leviticus 14:10-13]. Then in the fourteenth verse, "And the priest shall take of the blood of the trespass offering and shall put it on the tip of the right ear, upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot" [Leviticus 14:14]. Now the seventeenth verse: "An anointing with oil, he shall touch with oil the tip of his right ear, and the thumb of his right hand, and the great toe of his right foot [Leviticus 14:17]. And the remnant of the oil shall be poured upon his head [Leviticus 14:18]. And then he is restored to the community of God." He is washed and clean [Leviticus 14:19-20].
Now just to read that is to reveal without expatiation or exegesis the wonderful symbol, the type, the figure of this cleansing of the leper. Why did God do all this? Oh, that’s just written back there. No, no. When God did this, a most unusual ritual, God had in mind an in-figure, a great spiritual truth that we must never forget. You see, for the leper to be cleansed, he has to be washed in blood. "It is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul" [Leviticus 17:11]. "Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin" [Hebrews 9:22]. When a man comes preaching a theology that Jesus was a great example, that He was a fine moral leader, but He was a great hero and martyr; when a man comes preaching a theology that we are saved by emulating the pristine and worthy and noble life of our Lord, he does not know, nor does he preach the revelation of the truth of God in His Son. For the Bible says, and the Book reveals, and there is no deviation from it, from the beginning, when God shed the blood of an innocent animal in Eden to cover the nakedness of our first parents [Genesis 3:21], through the story of Abel, who brought of the firstlings of his flock, and shed the blood of a lamb, and offered it instead of his own life unto God [Genesis 4:4], through the "Lamb, that taketh away the sin of the world" [John 1:29], through the day when we see on the throne of heaven [Revelation 22:3-4], Him who was slain for our trespasses [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21], there is no deviation in the Word of God: we are cleansed, we are washed by the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 1:5]. "In the shedding of blood is the remission of sins" [Leviticus 17:11; Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22].
"I have given it to you for an atonement on the altar; for the life is in the blood, and it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul" [Leviticus 17:11]. So in the cleansing of a leper, there are two birds: one is slain over an earthen vessel [Leviticus 14:4-5]. "For we have this truth in earthen vessels," says the apostle Paul [2 Corinthians 4:7], referring to the humanity of our Lord, "in an earthen vessel over running water" [Leviticus 14:5], the cleansing and washing of the word [Ephesians 5:26] by the Spirit of God. And then, that’s not enough. For us to be cleansed, to be washed, is not enough. If I am cleansed and washed and forgiven, but still outside the camp, outside the company of the redeemed, outside the fellowship and communion of saints, I’m still miserable; I must be brought back, restored, taken into the family of God. And that is figured in this second bird: bathed in blood, flying up toward God with its wings dipped in blood, a picture of our Lord’s ascension into heaven with blood of atonement [Leviticus 14:7]. It’s a picture of the resurrection of our Lord [Matthew 28:1-7], the ascension of our Lord [Acts 1:9-10]. And that, said Paul, was for our justification [Romans 4:24-25]. Justifieth the ungodly, raised for our justification. Justification means "declared righteous, accepted back." If the leper is cleansed and forgiven, and left outside the camp, still miserable and alone, but the resurrection of our Lord was for the justification of the ungodly, it was for the restoration of God’s forgiven people back into the company and fellowship of the saints [Romans 4:25]. All of it pictured here [Leviticus 14:1-18].
Then you have in that second ceremony, in the trespass offering, you have the dedication of the cleansed man to God. Here you have the blood on the tip of his ear, on the thumb of his right hand, on the big toe of his right foot; that symbolizes that the whole man is now consecrated unto God; all of him, all of him [Leviticus 14:14-17]. The ear to hear the Word of God, the hand to do the work of God, and the foot to walk in the way of God; all of it a beautiful ritual for the cleansing of the leper.
All right, now, I have in a few minutes that are left a discussion of another thing that you don’t realize when you read just this passage. Who heals the leper? You have the ritual here for his cleansing, a type of our forgiveness and our restoration to the community of God. But who heals him? Who heals leprosy? Does the priest? No. Does the prophet? No. Does anyone heal leprosy? Here in the Old Testament and in this New Testament and in biblical times, do you ever read of this ceremony being employed, do you? Can you think of any instance? I know of just one, just one. It’s a strange thing. With all of this ritual for the cleansing and the restoration of the leper, I never hear of it being employed but one time. And that was when Jesus healed the leper and told him to go to Moses and offer these things according to the word of the law [Mark 1:40-44]. Well, what’s the matter? Well, this is the matter: only God can heal, only God. That’s the reason that Jehoram, the king of Israel, cried aloud in the Scripture that we read this morning, when the king of Syria sent word to the king of Israel saying, "I have sent now here with Naaman to thee, that thou cure him of his leprosy," that the king of Israel cried, saying, "Am I God? Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man should send him unto me to be cleansed of his leprosy?" [2 Kings 5:5-7]. No man could heal but God. There was a miracle that had to take place between this leper described in the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus, who has to rend his clothes and bare his head and cover his upper lip, crying, "Unclean," and dwell alone outside the camp [Leviticus 13:44-46]; and then here in the fourteenth chapter, in the ceremony of the cleansing, a miracle had to take place. God had to cleanse him, and God had to heal him [Leviticus 14:1-20].
May I parenthesize here to say something about this modern day of science? You listen to me. There’s no doctor in this world that heals anybody. He may cut, he may operate, but it takes the invisible hands of God to sew and to put back and to heal that wound. He may administer drugs and medicines, but it is only God that can heal. Now I want you to know it is blasphemous and vain and empty presumption for the scientist who is trained in chemistry or in surgery to lift up his self and say, "See, I healed the human body." Only God can heal. Only God could put a wound back together again. Life and death, health and strength are in the hands of God. And the Lord may have put down here a herb, a chemical, God may have given genius to a hand to help, but it is only the Great Physician that can heal. Just like it is here in the Bible. Only God can heal.
And the healing of the leper, only one we know of outside of Naaman, who being a Gentile did not know about this law, consequently did not observe it [2 Kings 5:1-14]; the only one that ever observed that law that we know of, was under the commandment of our Lord, when He healed the leper and sent him to the priest to do according to what is written in the law of Moses [Mark 1:40-44].
Now the healing of our Lord was also type, how the Lord undoes the force and the power of sin. Why didn’t Jesus heal all those people at the pool of Bethesda? [John 5:1-9]. Why didn’t the Lord heal all the cripples in the world? His healing was also a type of the undoing of sin. There were three times when He raised the dead [Matthew 9:18, 23; Luke 7:11-15; John 11:43-44], a picture, a type, a figure of the power of our Lord to raise out of spiritual and out of natural death, resurrect our souls and resurrect our bodies from the dominion of Satan and the power of sin. When He healed palsy [Mark 2:2-12], a picture of the enfeeblement of sin; when He healed the fever [Luke 4:38-39], a picture of the burning and restlessness of sin; when He healed those demonically possessed [Matthew 8:28-32], a picture of the enmity and driving of sin; when He healed the woman bowed down with infirmity [Luke 13:11-13], a picture of the heaviness and the weight of sin; when He healed the blind [Matthew 9:27-30], the ignorance of sin; when He healed the deaf [Mark 7:31-35], unable to hear the Word of God, the stoppage of sin; when He healed those that were dumb [Matthew 9:32-33], they, like a witness in sin; when He healed the man with a withered arm [Mark 3:1-5], the lack of service in sin; when He healed the impotent man who couldn’t walk [Luke 5:18-25], the lack of the ableness to walk before the Lord in sin: all of those are pictures of the undoing, of the devastating bonds of Satan. Who can do it? Nobody but God.
Here in the fifty-first Psalm, you have the cry of David as he cast himself upon the mercies of God [Psalm 51:1-19]. And in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Luke you have the publican who beats on his breast and cries, "O God, have mercy upon me, a sinner" [Luke 18:13]. All of that is the preachment of the Word. It is God and He alone that can forgive sins [Mark 2:7-10]. And in our sins, we cast ourselves upon the mercies of God. And God, for Jesus’ sake, forgives the repentant sinner [Ephesians 4:32]. "When I see the blood, I will pass over you" [Exodus 12:13]; that in Him we might have the washing of our robes [Revelation 7:14], the cleansing of our souls, the healing of our hearts, the forgiveness of sin" [1 John 1:9; Revelation 1:5].
Now we sing our song. Somebody you, to give your heart in trust to Jesus; somebody, a family you, to put your life in the church; while we sing the song and make appeal, as God shall open the door and lead the way, would you come and stand by me? While all of us stand and sing together.
GOD’S SEVENFOLD PROVISION FOR CLEANSING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1. makes a deep impression on everyone who has ever seen it
2. Represents our condition of sin
3. Worse disease in ancient days
4. Highly contagious
II. Cleansing of leprosy
1. Beautiful ceremony
2. Two birds, one for a sacrifice, one for return to fellowship
3. At the end, the former leper is washed, clean, and reinstated into the community
III. Only God has healed leprosy