April 13, 2005
“Why is this in the Bible? — Skin Diseases and Mildew
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
I’d invite you to turn with me to Leviticus 13. This
is a long chapter. Leviticus has some short chapters, and then it has some long
chapters. Leviticus 12 was just eight verses, but Leviticus 13 is 59 verses and
it’s very specific material, most of which deals with skin diseases and how the
priests are to distinguish between things which are not serious skin diseases
and things which are serious skin diseases which preclude you from being able to
come into the assembly of God’s people within the camp, and which preclude you
from coming into the tabernacle to worship the Lord. And so, again, the passage
that we are studying tonight is continuing this discussion of clean and unclean,
of ceremonial purity and holiness in Israel; and it’s doing that to make some
very important points.
Now, before we look at this passage, let me suggest
that we look at the outline provided. And you see that the introduction to this
passage comes in verse 1: “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying….” This
particular phrase indicates a new section that Moses in introducing you to in
this stage of the Book of Leviticus. You realize, of course, that when Moses
first wrote the book he didn’t give “chapter 13” or “chapter 14” or “chapter
15”; he gave other literary indications that he was getting ready to move on to
another section or part, or portion of the book, and this is the phrase that he
used to indicate a new section, a new treatment, within this larger passage of
Now, the rest of the chapter, from verse 2 to verse
59, deals with skin disease and with clothing contaminated by, presumably, skin
disease, and how that could contribute to a person’s being declared unclean; and
how persons who were not infected by serious skin diseases could be pronounced,
nevertheless, “clean” by the priests as they were examined.
The idea behind this, again, is that disease and
decay are incompatible with the blessing of the presence of God in the assembly
of His people. God is holy, and in contrast to that disease and decay remind
us that we live in a fallen world, and that we ourselves have the effects of the
fall exhibited in our bodies. It’s a picture…it’s a type, as it were, of sin.
And therefore these diseases (if they are accorded to be one of the serious
diseases in this passage, upon the inspection, the examination of the priests)
become things which exclude you from the assembly of God’s people in His
presence and worship.
Now, the rest of the chapter describes this in some
detail. Two parts you will note: verses 1-46 deals with skin diseases; verses
47-59, the second part of this section of the chapter, deals with the
contamination of clothing (again, presumably associated with skin diseases).
Let’s walk through the first part of the chapter
together. In verses 1-8 you have the instructions on whether a
person was going to be declared clean or unclean, but it’s on the basis of the
examination and diagnosis of the priests. Isn’t it interesting that the priest
is to carefully examine a person before that person is declared to be clean or
unclean? This isn’t supposed to be something that is done, as it were, through
impressions or instincts. The priest isn’t sort of supposed to ‘give it his best
shot’; he’s supposed to do specific examination, and if those particular
conditions which are specified in verses 1-8 are there, he is to make certain
Then in verses 9-17 we have specific
instances of people who would come to the priests with diseased flesh. It may
have been a raw or an open flesh wound, and in that case that person was
pronounced to be unclean, and restored to the status of ritual cleanness after
the healing of that particular wound. But if the wound remained, if there
continued to be an open wound, the person continued in the state of uncleanness.
In verses 18-28 there’s a third section of
this first part of the chapter, and it deals with whether the priest is to
pronounce you clean or unclean, based upon the types of skin infections you were
bringing to be examined: inflammations, boils, burns, things of this nature.
Then, if you flip over to the other side of the page
and look at Section IV, this section from 29-37 deals with whether the
priest was to declare someone ritually clean or unclean in relation to skin
disorders that impacted the hair or the beard.
Then in verses 38-39 we are told that there
are certain types of skin diseases which do not constitute uncleanness. You may
have these rashes, or these manifestations of eczema or something of this
nature, and these things are not disqualifying skin disorders. And so, he’s
sort of telling us that this is a false alarm. If someone comes in to the
priest and has this condition of eczema or something of that sort, then he’s not
to be pronounced unclean.
Then in verses 40-44, there’s a sixth section
of these instructions; and again, this has to do with whether the priest has to
declare clean or unclean someone who is bald or someone who has head
infections of various kinds. I’m happy to say that most bald people were not
declared unclean. I’m very happy to announce that!
Verses 45-46 give us the seventh and final
section of this first passage, and this passage reminds us that the one who is
declared unclean, during the entire time of his being in the state of ritual
uncleanness, is to dwell outside the camp in the mode of a mourner, and he is to
announce that he has been declared ritually unclean as he moves around, saying,
“Unclean! Unclean!” lest someone who is ritually clean come into contact with
him and be contaminated and declared ritually unclean himself or herself. And
so there is a loneliness for those who are in this situation of being ritually
That’s an outline of the passage, because it’s
pretty heavy sledding if you just kind of read through the passage without some
idea of the structure and where it’s going.
Now, quickly, the second part of the chapter, from
verses 47-59, which deals with clothing. First of all, in verses 47-48
explains (like in the beginning of the first half of the chapter) the
responsibility of examination and diagnosis of clothing. Clothing which had
been contaminated by these various diseases or decay was to be looked at; and
again the rationale is similar to that before: because God is holy, this decay
or this contamination must be removed from all the lives of God’s people. In
fact, later on there are going to be instructions in the Books of Moses
regarding to mildew in homes and what was to be done with that kind of decay.
At any rate, the principle is: these effects of the fall have to be dealt with
in order for the people of God to enjoy His presence.
In verses 50-58 it is basically specified
that there are two fundamental ways that you deal with these contaminated
clothes. You clean them, and if the cleaning works the clothes can be rescued;
and, if the cleaning doesn’t work, you cut out the part it didn’t work on. And
if that doesn’t work and the contamination returns, you burn the clothing. So
it’s a fairly radical approach to dealing with contaminated clothing, and you
see that in verses 50-58.
And then finally, in verse 59, we have a summary
statement for the whole chapter when Moses reminds us that this chapter
tells us as a whole how God wants us to deal with things which have been
infected–even clothing–by the contamination of disease and decay.
So with that brief outline, let’s turn to God’s word
and hear it read and proclaimed, and before we do, let’s pray.
Our Lord, we thank You for this passage. It’s
not a passage, we confess, that we think about the way we think about John 3 or
Romans 8, or Genesis 1, or Genesis 12, or Isaiah 53. There are hundreds of
passages, perhaps, that come to our minds which are special and dear to us, and
this one is strange and it’s a little bit obscure; but we gladly here tonight
acknowledge that this is the very word of God. You tell us through the Apostle
Paul that all Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for our
reproof and correction, and training in righteousness. And so, we pray in the
few minutes that we have to study this passage together tonight that You would
by Your Spirit make it profitable to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear God’s word. (
the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,
2“When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or a scab or a
bright spot, and it becomes an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body,
then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.
3“The priest shall look at the mark
on the skin of the body, and if the hair in the infection has turned white and
the infection appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is an infection
of leprosy; when the priest has looked at him, he shall pronounce him unclean.
4“But if the bright spot is white on the skin of his body, and it
does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and the hair on it has not turned
white, then the priest shall isolate him who has the infection for seven days.
5“The priest shall look at him on the seventh day, and if in his
eyes the infection has not changed and the infection has not spread on the skin,
then the priest shall isolate him for seven more days.
6“The priest shall look at him again on the seventh day, and if
the infection has faded and the mark has not spread on the skin, then the priest
shall pronounce him clean; it is only a scab. And he shall wash his clothes and
7“But if the scab spreads farther on the skin after he has shown
himself to the priest for his cleansing, he shall appear again to the priest.
8“The priest shall look, and if the scab has spread on the skin,
then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is leprosy.
9“When the infection of leprosy is on a man, then he shall be
brought to the priest.
10“The priest shall then look, and if there is a (C)white
swelling in the skin, and it has turned the hair white, and there is quick raw
flesh in the swelling,
11it is a chronic leprosy on the skin of his body, and the priest
shall pronounce him unclean; he shall not isolate him, for he is unclean.
12“If the leprosy breaks out farther on the skin, and the leprosy
covers all the skin of him who has the infection from his head even to his feet,
as far as the priest can see,
13then the priest shall look, and behold, if the leprosy has
covered all his body, he shall pronounce clean him who has the infection; it has
all turned white and he is clean.
14“But whenever raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean.
15“The priest shall look at the raw flesh, and he shall pronounce
him unclean; the raw flesh is unclean, it is leprosy.
16“Or if the raw flesh turns again and is changed to white, then
he shall come to the priest,
17and the priest shall look at him, and behold, if the infection
has turned to white, then the priest shall pronounce clean him who has the
infection; he is clean.
18“When the body has a boil on its skin and it is healed,
19and in the place of the boil there is a white swelling or a
reddish-white, bright spot, then it shall be shown to the priest;
20and the priest shall look, and behold, if it appears to be lower
than the skin, and the hair on it has turned white, then the priest shall
pronounce him unclean; it is the infection of leprosy, it has broken out in the
21“But if the priest looks at it, and behold, there are no white
hairs in it and it is not lower than the skin and is faded, then the priest
shall isolate him for seven days;
22and if it spreads farther on the skin, then the priest shall
pronounce him unclean; it is an infection.
23“But if the bright spot remains in its place and does not
spread, it is only the scar of the boil; and the priest shall pronounce him
24“Or if the body sustains in its skin a burn by fire, and the raw
flesh of the burn becomes a bright spot, reddish-white, or white,
25then the priest shall look at it. And if the hair in the bright
spot has (E)turned
white and it appears to be deeper than the skin, it is leprosy; it has broken
out in the burn. Therefore, the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is an
infection of leprosy.
26“But if the priest looks at it, and indeed, there is no white
hair in the bright spot and it is no deeper than the skin, but is dim, then the
priest shall isolate him for seven days;
27and the priest shall look at him on the seventh day. If it
spreads farther in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is
an infection of leprosy.
28“But if the bright spot remains in its place and has not spread
in the skin, but is dim, it is the swelling from the burn; and the priest shall
pronounce him clean, for it is only the scar of the burn.
29“Now if a man or woman has an infection on the head or on the
30then the priest shall look at the infection, and if it appears
to be deeper than the skin and there is thin yellowish hair in it, then the
priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a scale, it is leprosy of the head or
of the beard.
31“But if the priest looks at the infection of the scale, and
indeed, it appears to be no deeper than the skin and there is no black hair in
it, then the priest shall isolate the person with the scaly infection for seven
32“On the seventh day the priest shall look at the infection, and
if the scale has not spread and no yellowish hair has grown in it, and the
appearance of the scale is no deeper than the skin,
33then he shall shave himself, but he shall not shave the scale;
and the priest shall isolate the person with the scale seven more days.
34“Then on the seventh day the priest shall look at the scale, and
if the scale has not spread in the skin and it appears to be no deeper than the
skin, the priest shall pronounce him clean; and he shall wash his clothes and be
35“But if the scale spreads farther in the skin after his
36then the priest shall look at him, and if the scale has spread
in the skin, the priest need not seek for the yellowish hair; he is unclean.
37“If in his sight the scale has remained, however, and black hair
has grown in it, the scale has healed, he is clean; and the priest shall
pronounce him clean.
38“When a man or a woman has bright spots on the skin of the body,
even white bright spots,
39then the priest shall look, and if the bright spots on the skin
of their bodies are a faint white, it is eczema that has broken out on the skin;
he is clean.
40“Now if a man loses the hair of his head, he is bald; he is
41“If his head becomes bald at the front and sides, he is bald on
the forehead; he is clean.
42“But if on the bald head or the bald forehead, there occurs a
reddish-white infection, it is leprosy breaking out on his bald head or on his
43“Then the priest shall look at him; and if the swelling of the
infection is reddish-white on his bald head or on his bald forehead, like the
appearance of leprosy in the skin of the body,
44he is a leprous man, he is unclean. The priest shall surely
pronounce him unclean; his infection is on his head.
45“As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be
torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his
mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’
46“He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the
infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the
camp. 47“When a garment has a mark of leprosy in it, whether it is
a wool garment or a linen garment,
48whether in warp or woof, of linen or of wool, whether in leather
or in any article made of leather,
49if the mark is greenish or reddish in the garment or in the
leather, or in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, it is a
leprous mark and shall be shown to the priest.
50“Then the priest shall look at the mark and shall quarantine the
article with the mark for seven days.
51“He shall then look at the mark on the seventh day; if the mark
has spread in the garment, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in the
leather, whatever the purpose for which the leather is used, the mark is a
leprous malignancy, it is unclean.
52“So he shall burn the garment, whether the warp or the woof, in
wool or in linen, or any article of leather in which the mark occurs, for it is
a leprous malignancy; it shall be burned in the fire.
53“But if the priest shall look, and indeed the mark has not
spread in the garment, either in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of
54then the priest shall order them to wash the thing in which the
mark occurs and he shall quarantine it for seven more days.
55“After the article with the mark has been washed, the priest
shall again look, and if the mark has not changed its appearance, even though
the mark has not spread, it is unclean; you shall burn it in the fire, whether
an eating away has produced bareness on the top or on the front of it.
56“Then if the priest looks, and if the mark has faded after it
has been washed, then he shall tear it out of the garment or out of the leather,
whether from the warp or from the woof;
57and if it appears again in the garment, whether in the warp or
in the woof, or in any article of leather, it is an outbreak; the article with
the mark shall be burned in the fire.
58“The garment, whether the warp or the woof, or any article of
leather from which the mark has departed when you washed it, it shall then be
washed a second time and will be clean.”
59This is the law for the mark of leprosy in a garment of wool or
linen, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, for
pronouncing it clean or unclean.
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
It’s a long passage and it takes a long time to
read, so let me quickly take you through two or three points of application from
this passage. Leviticus 13 and 14, by the way, are a unit. They’re going to be
separated in our study by two weeks because our choirs are going to be leading
us next week–I think. Is it next week that they’re going to be leading in
singing? And then we’ll come back to Leviticus 14. But this is a unit, because
in Leviticus 14 we’re going to learn what you do when you’ve been declared
clean, having been first declared unclean. What do you do when the Lord has
cured you of these various diseases? And of course there’s much to say about
that in the New Testament, as well. But these are part of the focus here in
Leviticus 11-16 on the theme of purity and holiness before the Lord in every
aspect of life, including the physical life; including our health, including
even our clothing, in this case.
You see, skin disease and mildew are obvious,
visible signs of ceremonial impurity, and in the cases of diagnosis of
serious skin disease or contaminated clothing, they were visible manifestations
of the effects of the fall of man into sin, and of his consequent separation
from God. And so skin diseases and mildew of the variety here that cause you to
become unclean–skin disease and contamination of clothing here are viewed as
part of the contamination that has come from the sin of Adam; part of the
contamination of this fallen world. So the main interest here is to show that
purity and holiness is required for fellowship with God, and so the text walks
us through a variety of skin diseases and clothing contaminations. In verses
2-8 you learn about minor swellings and rashes and spots; in verses 9-17 you
learn about chronic skin diseases; in 18-23 you learn about diseases and scars;
in 24-28, burns; in 29-37, problems of the scalp; and then in verses 38-39, even
Now, the skin diseases here that are mentioned run
the whole gamut: all the way from less dangerous things (eczema) up to psoriasis
and leprosy, or Hansen’s disease. This description of various types of skin
diseases runs the whole gamut. Let me quickly say that in this chapter, though
the specific disease that we call leprosy, Hansen’s disease, is included within
the types of skin diseases that can make a person unclean; it is not the only
thing that is being spoken about when the word leprosy was being used.
Leprosy was the generic term that could refer to many different kinds of skin
diseases, so when you see leprosy there, don’t just think of a person who
has contracted Hansen’s disease. As you can tell, even if you’re not a
physician or a dermatologist, this passage refers to many more things other than
just Hansen’s disease.
But at any rate, the main interest here is not
primarily medical. The priest, though he may be a divine dermatologist
here, is primarily interested in these dermatological problems because of the
ritual or ceremonial significance. It’s ritual impurity that’s the concern. You
see, a scaly skin disease was a visible sign that something was physically wrong
with a person, and in some cases the physical problem was serious enough that it
caused the person to be declared ceremonially unclean, unable to come into the
presence of the Lord and His people.
And so the lesson, if you look at your outline
again, in the italic letters on the first page is very clear: disease and
decay–just like we saw last week, with certain bodily discharges–just as those
perhaps indicated a state of ill health, so also some of these skin diseases
indicate the state of a person less than whole, a disease, a contamination that
is incompatible with the presence of the Lord, and therefore the person was
declared ceremonially unclean.
So what do we do with this with regard to
application? Well, I want to remind you of two or three things very briefly
The first thing
is this: Think of it, my friends. If you had been a child of the Lord in
the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, and you had been declared
ceremonially unclean, not only would you have been isolated from your family,
but you would have been isolated from the worship of the saints, from the
assembly of God, from the people of God coming together into His presence to
worship. You would have been cut off.
And what function did that serve? Well, one thing
it would serve is that it would remind us that the most important thing in the
world and the greatest blessing in the world is to be with God’s people, in
God’s house, in the worship of the living God. If you had ever been declared
unclean and cut off for a time from the people of God in worship, one of the
things that you would have delighted in most was your restoration to the worship
with the people of God.
You remember what the psalmist says in Psalm 27:4 —
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the
house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and
to meditate in His temple.” Being declared unclean would cut you off from that
privilege. And doesn’t that beautifully remind us that the most important thing
in life is the glory of God, and the greatest blessing in life is enjoyment of
the glory of God? And so we, as the people of God who live in a generation who
does not believe that God is the greatest blessing of life, (they believe that
God is the means to getting whatever you think is the greatest blessing
of life)…this ceremonial code itself reminds us that the greatest hardship
that any believer in God could ever endure would be the inability to come into
His presence with His people and worship Him. It’s a foretaste of our union and
communion with Him in blessing and glory forever, and the ceremonial code would
have beautifully illustrated that great point. It wouldn’t matter what other
blessings you would be able to retain in your state of uncleanness: if you
couldn’t have the presence of God, it would have been a very, very miserable
experience. (And I leave aside the implications for your relationship with your
family and with your friends.)
say this: when we come to this passage, it’s a passage which reminds us of the
ravages of sin, and I immediately think of Matthew 8. You remember the passage
where the leper comes up to Jesus and bows down before Him, and says, “Lord, if
You are willing, You can make me clean.”
Now, that’s a very poignant passage, first of all
because you remember what Jesus does. Jesus reaches out and touches that
leper. You know, in Leviticus 14 we’re going to find out what the priests were
to do when a man was cleansed from leprosy. You know, there’s no passage in
Leviticus 14 to tell a priest how to cleanse a man from leprosy, and that
priest was never himself to touch a man who was infected, lest he be not only
contaminated but declared ceremonially unclean. But Jesus stretches out His hand
and He touches the man, and you remember His words: “I am willing. You are
clean.” And then what does He tell him to do? “Go, and offer the sacrifice
commanded by Moses.”
Well, that sacrifice is going to be commanded by
Moses in the very next chapter we study. But isn’t that a beautiful picture of
how Jesus is the only mediator between God and His people. No priest could cure
that man, but the Lord Jesus, with the stretch of a hand is able to transform
that man’s disease into wholeness, and that man’s uncleanness into cleanness.
Isn’t it a picture of union with Christ, as we trust in Jesus Christ alone for
salvation as He is offered in the gospel? He is able to cleanse us from the
There is one more thing
I want to call your attention to. I’d love to meditate on this passage with you
all night, but you know we have said that the ceremonial ritual uncleanness
of this passage ultimately points to…what? The problem of sin. And
thus moral uncleanness and cleanness is being illustrated in ritual or
ceremonial cleanness or uncleanness. And you remember what the psalmist
says in Psalm 24:3: “Who may ascend unto the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in
His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart; who has not lifted up
his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.”
What is that passage talking about?
It’s talking about our own state of sanctification and the enjoyment of the
presence of God, and that principle from Psalm 27 is illustrated in the
ceremonial code. Those who are covered in sin, who are contaminated by the
fall, cannot enjoy unhindered fellowship with God. They cannot enjoy
the blessing of the presence of God, and so, what has to happen? They have to
be declared clean.
Now, as I said, Matthew 8 points us to how God
creates that cleanness out of this ritual uncleanness, and we’ll dwell more on
that as we expound Leviticus 14 the next time we’re together in this book.
Let’s look to God in prayer.
Our Lord, we thank You for Your word, and we ask
that You would bless it to our spiritual nourishment as we contemplate the
blessing of fellowship with You in the midst of Your people; as we contemplate
the way our Lord Jesus Christ was able to heal that leper; and as we contemplate
that if we would come into Your hill, the hill of the Lord, and worship You in
Your holy place, we must do it with a heart which has been transformed by Your
regenerating, saving grace. We thank You for these truths. We ask that You would
bless them to our spiritual nourishment. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing.
Grace to you and peace, from God the Father and
our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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