Did The Lord Really Say He Didn’t Desire Sacrifices?

During the days of Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (kings of Judah), Isaiah the son of Amoz saw a vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  In order to understand this vision better, we need to know a little about these men.

According to 2 Chronicles 26:3-4, Uzziah was 16 years old when he began to reign in Jerusalem and he reigned for 52 years.  Uzziah did what was right in the Lord’s sight and sought God during the days of Zechariah.  Unfortunately, he became prideful and entered the temple in order to burn incense to the Lord on the golden altar .  He became furious when the priests prevented him from doing so.  The Lord struck him with tzara’at (leprosy), he was cut off from the house of the Lord, and dwelt in isolation until his death.

Azariah’s son, Jotham began to reign in his place when he was 25 years old.  Jotham reigned 16 years and did what was right in the Lord’s sight.  During that time, the people acted corruptly.  After Jotham died, his son, Ahaz reigned in his place. 

Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign as king of Judah in Jerusalem.  He reigned 16 years and was wicked like the kings of Israel.  Ahaz:

  • Made molded images of the Baals.
  • Burned incense in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom.
  • Burned his children in the fire.

Second Chronicles 28:4 says Ahaz sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.  Because of what Ahaz had done, the Lord his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria.  A great multitude of the Jews were carried away to Damascus at that time.  Ahaz also fought against Pekah, the king of Israel and was defeated.  One hundred twenty thousand people were killed in one day because they had forsaken the Lord God of their fathers and two hundred thousand women, sons, and daughters were captured and taken to Samaria.  In addition to that, the Israelites took a lot of spoil to Samaria.  Shortly after that, the Lord commanded Israel, through the prophet Oded, to return the captives of Judah.  Even so, the Lord continued to deal with Judah and King Ahaz because Ahaz encouraged moral decline in Judah and had been unfaithful to the Lord continually. 

With these first three men in mind, we can understand the first part of Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah chapter one.  Even though the Lord had brought the Jews up and nourished them, they rebelled against Him.  They didn’t know Him or think about Him as they should have.

Judah was a sinful nation at that time.  They were described as:

  • A people laden with iniquity.
  • A brood of evildoers.
  • Children who are corrupters.
  • Those who had forsaken the Lord.  In other words, they had committed apostasy by turning their backs on the Lord.

By their behavior, they had provoked the Lord and made the Holy One of Israel angry.

In Isaiah 1:5-6, the Lord says, “Why should you be stricken again?  You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, And the whole heart faints. 6 From the sole of the foot even to the head, There is no soundness in it, But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; They have not been closed or bound up, Or soothed with ointment.”

This sounds absolutely disgusting yet Judah had no idea that their true condition was almost like Sodom and Gomorrah.  The sins of the people of Judah were a major infection that had taken over the whole nation.  When someone is in that bad of condition, it would seem as if there is no hope for healing and that death would appear to be welcome relief.   

Judah was desolate and besieged.  Fortunately, the Lord of armies left a very small remnant because He desired to heal His people.  The Lord addressed them and told them to hear the law of God.  Right here are a few verses that are often taken out of context.  Isaiah 1:11-15 says, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? “Says the Lord.”I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats. 12 “When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.”

Now wait a minute.  Who had required sacrifices and incense from the people?  The Lord did. 

Is He saying He had never wanted sacrifices, incense, and His feasts to be celebrated?  No.  Again, the Lord commanded His people to do these things. 

If that’s the case, why was the Lord not pleased?  It was because these activities had become meaningless, false, useless, or vain.  

By saying these things, the Lord defined the disease that afflicted the Jews; the Jewish people were not bringing their offerings and incense in complete love and devotion to the Lord because their hearts were focused on lawlessness and not on Him.

Since the Lord truly wanted to heal His people, He told the Jews through the prophet Isaiah, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)  In other words, He was commanding His people to repent!

The Lord wanted His people to come to their senses.  He wanted to reason with them and cleanse them from their sins.  In Isaiah 1:19-20, the Lord reminded them of Deuteronomy 30 by giving them a choice between life and death, blessing and cursing:  “If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; 20 But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword”; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  By the time He said this, He should have had their attention!

What else did the Lord say?  How did He describe the city that had once been faithful? 

He said that had become a harlot!  Instead of justice and righteousness, murder was commonplace.  Their silver had become dross.  In other words, the people of Judah had become as mixed alloys or as mixed fibers of wool and linen; they had become common (unholy) by their association with wicked lawless people.  They had done what was forbidden and they weren’t pure anymore.  Their leaders were rebellious and friends of thieves.  They loved bribes and sought rewards.  They did not defend the orphan or take care of the widows.  At some point, they closed up the temple and stopped offering incense and offerings.

The cure for this horrible condition is found in the first chapter of Isaiah where the Lord revealed His plan for the future known as the last days.  This is the same plan that is hidden in the shadow of the Levitical offerings that had been vainly offered by His people. 

Isaiah 1:24-25 describes it like this:  “Therefore the Lord says, The Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, “Ah, I will rid Myself of My adversaries, And take vengeance on My enemies. 25 I will turn My hand against you, And thoroughly purge away your dross, And take away all your alloy.”  In other words, the Lord planned to cut out the worst part of the infection so He could heal the rest of the body.

It’s hard to say exactly when Isaiah spoke these words to God’s people but if you recall, there was one more man listed in Isaiah 1:1.  This man was Ahaz’ son, Hezekiah.  He was 25 years old when he began to reign and he reigned 29 years.  He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and carried out great reforms in Judah.  He commanded the Levites to sanctify themselves, sanctify the temple, and offer incense and sacrifices according to the commandments of the Lord.  Temple worship was restored, the feasts of the Lord were celebrated, and the people were encouraged to return to the Lord.  At one point Hezekiah became filled with pride and the Lord tested him to find out what was really in his heart.  Fortunately, Hezekiah humbled himself before the Lord and was honored at his death.

Prior to Hezekiah, the condition of Judah was the same as the harlot, Babylon the Great in Revelation 17.  In fact, the Lord said their sins were as scarlet.  The harlot, Babylon the Great, rode a scarlet beast and was dressed in purple and scarlet and glittered with gold, precious stones, and pearls.   Even though she seemed to possess great wealth, she was clothed in sin and associated with the beast.

The Lord is calling His people whose sins are as scarlet to come out of Babylon the Great today.  Those around us are deceived and are following leaders who are like King Ahaz who encouraged lawlessness.  Like Judah, we must forsake lawlessness and allow the Lord to cleanse us.  We must turn back to the commands of the Lord and choose life instead of death and blessing instead of cursing before the Day of the Lord, the day of Jesus’ return.  Just like Hezekiah encouraged Judah to return to the Lord, I am encouraging you to do the same.

After the Lord returns and destroys His enemies, do you know what He’s going to do?  The answer is found in Isaiah 1:26-28:  “I will restore your judges as at the first, And your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” 27 Zion shall be redeemed with justice, And her penitents with righteousness. 28 The destruction of transgressors and of sinners shall be together, And those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.”

This is similar to what the shadows of the Levitical offerings teach.  The righteous will be purified and made righteous in the refiner’s fire but the wicked will be burned in the lake of fire.

We must avoid such a fate.  We do not want to be like the terebinth (or oak) tree in verse 30 whose leaf fades as a garden that has no water.  We must desire to be like a tree planted by streams of water that bring forth fruit in its season.  This is similar to the Tree of Life.

Psalm 1:1-3 explains how to do that:  “Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season.”

When we walk with the path of sinners, we become like mixed metals or like those clothed in a mixture of linen and wool.  We are no longer pure and holy.  We must reject and separate ourselves from the lawlessness that surrounds us, have the testimony of Christ, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord by keeping the commandments of God. 

Remember, to choose life is to choose blessing and to choose death is to choose cursing.  Choose wisely.

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Transmission of Ritual Contamination

Leviticus 11 begins by describing the dietary laws (laws of kashrut):

  • Meat of animals that don’t chew the cud and/or those without split hooves are unclean.
  • Sea creatures without fins and scales are abominations.
  • Unclean birds are abominations.
  • Flying insects that do not have jointed legs and that creep on all four legs are abominations. 

Shortly after explaining the basic dietary laws for meat, fish, birds, and flying insects, Scripture discusses the transmission of tumah (ritual uncleanness).  Most people consider the idea that ritual uncleanness can be transmitted as being completely bogus but it’s not.  This should not surprise us because God’s people can contract various spiritual forms of uncleanness by associating with those who are wicked.  Let’s see how ritual contamination can really happen and what it represents.  Please remember not to cast aside the original commandments concerning literal situations and embrace only the spiritual application.

Leviticus 11:24-38 – Dead non-kosher creatures transmit contamination

“By these you shall become unclean; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until evening; 25 whoever carries part of the carcass of any of them shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening: 26 The carcass of any animal which divides the foot, but is not cloven-hoofed or does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Everyone who touches it shall be unclean. 27 And whatever goes on its paws, among all kinds of animals that go on all fours, those are unclean to you. Whoever touches any such carcass shall be unclean until evening. 28 Whoever carries any such carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. It is unclean to you. 29 ‘These also shall be unclean to you among the creeping things that creep on the earth: the mole, the mouse, and the large lizard after its kind; 30 the gecko, the monitor lizard, the sand reptile, the sand lizard, and the chameleon. 31 These are unclean to you among all that creep. Whoever touches them when they are dead shall be unclean until evening. 32  Anything on which any of them falls, when they are dead shall be unclean, whether it is any item of wood or clothing or skin or sack, whatever item it is, in which any work is done, it must be put in water. And it shall be unclean until evening; then it shall be clean. 33 Any earthen vessel into which any of them falls you shall break; and whatever is in it shall be unclean: 34 in such a vessel, any edible food upon which water falls becomes unclean, and any drink that may be drunk from it becomes unclean.   35 And everything on which a part of any such carcass falls shall be unclean; whether it is an oven or cooking stove, it shall be broken down; for they are unclean, and shall be unclean to you. 36 Nevertheless a spring or a cistern, in which there is plenty of water, shall be clean, but whatever touches any such carcass becomes unclean. 37 And if a part of any such carcass falls on any planting seed which is to be sown, it remains clean. 38 But if water is put on the seed, and if a part of any such carcass falls on it, it becomes unclean to you.”

Basically, if you physically touch the dead carcass of any non-kosher creatures you will be unclean until evening.  You must wash your clothes and be unclean until evening.  Touching a living non-kosher creature does not transmit uncleanness.  Dead creeping things transmit contamination to things in which any work is done when they fall and come in contact with those things.  Uncleanness can be removed from work related items such as wood, clothing, skins, or sacks by washing them with water and waiting for evening to come.   

When God’s people are in the workplace, they often work with ungodly people who can influence them to sin.  Fortunately, they can be cleansed by going to Jesus, the Living Water.

Earthen vessels such as pottery, ovens, and cooking stoves are an exception to ritually cleansable work related items and must be destroyed.  Any food or drink that is in them will become unclean.  These items must somehow retain an unclean condition to the point they are not cleansable. 

This kind of unclean condition might compare with someone like the Pharaoh who had no regard for Joseph.  His spiritual condition was so bad that God hardened his heart and set him aside for destruction.   He was so unclean, he was no longer cleansable.  Sometimes our work situation may be so bad that the only way we can escape the evil influences around us is to quit and find another job.  It’s better to do that than wake up one day to discover we are in the same condition as a broken clay pot.

As we thoroughly wash ourselves daily in the Word of God and fellowship with other believers, we can remain clean.  We just need to remember not to come in contact with that which is unclean.

A dry seed does not become clean if the carcass of a creeping thing falls on it but if it falls on a seed that is already wet, it becomes unclean.  What can we learn from this commandment other than its literal meaning?  A non-Christian (dry seed) doesn’t normally become a Christian (clean) when he associates with other non-Christians (dead creeping thing).  A Christian is someone who has been washed by Living Water yet by regularly and intimately associating with those who are non-Christians, he can be spiritually affected by it and become unclean.  He must confess his sin in order to be forgiven and cleansed of unrighteousness.

Leviticus 11:39-40 – Dead kosher animals transmit contamination

“And if any animal which you may eat dies, he who touches its carcass shall be unclean until evening. 40 He who eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. He also who carries its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.”

This commandment refers to contact with dead kosher animals that die by a means other than slaughter.  Note these animals do not transmit a more extensive rule of uncleanness.

Leviticus 11:41-47 – The point/goal of the laws of kashrut:

A  “And every creeping thing that creeps on the earth shall be an abomination.  It shall not be eaten. 42 Whatever crawls on its belly, whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet among all creeping things that creep on the earth — these you shall not eat, for they are an abomination.  43 You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps; nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, lest you be defiled by them.

B – 44 For I am the Lord your God.  You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy.

C – Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

B’– 45 For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God.  You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

A’ 46 ‘This is the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, 47 to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.’”

The Lord brought the children of Israel out of Egypt to be their God.  He intended for them to remain separate from the Canaanites in the Promised Land.  The command of what not to eat [labeled “C“ – “Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth” is repeatedly emphasized by being surrounded by the message [labeled “B” and “B’”] to be holy because He is holy.  This kind of literary structure is known as a chiasm or chiastic structure.  Statement “C” is the center and emphasis of this chiastic structure.  The Bible is full of these kinds of literary structures.  Chiasms can also be embedded within larger chiastic structures.  In this particular chiasm, God stressed the need for His people to distinguish between the clean and the unclean and between what could and couldn’t be eaten because those who are holy can become defiled by eating certain things.     

The idea that certain animals are unclean while others are clean is very strange to many of us but this is what God taught His people.  Another idea that seems strange to us is that certain animals and objects can receive and/or transmit tumah (ritual contamination).  This is not the same as transmitting disease caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses.  God was using these commandments to teach His people something very important. 

Let’s consider what the Lord said through Haggai to His people who had returned from the exile to see what that might be.  At this point in time, the Lord was commanding the remnant to build the second temple.

Haggai 2:10-20 says, “On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Now, ask the priests concerning the law, saying, 12 “If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?”’ “Then the priests answered and said, “No.” 13 And Haggai said, “If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?” So the priests answered and said, “It shall be unclean.”  14 Then Haggai answered and said, “’So is this people, and so is this nation before Me,’ says the Lord, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. 15 ‘And now, carefully consider from this day forward: from before stone was laid upon stone in the temple of the Lord —  16 since those days, when one came to a heap of twenty ephahs, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty baths from the press, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you with blight and mildew and hail in all the labors of your hands; yet you did not turn to Me,’ says the Lord. 18 ‘Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid — consider it: 19 Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you.’”

God’s people were supposed to be holy.  They had become unclean by their association with the people and gods of Canaan (Promised Land).  God’s people had not been able to transmit their holiness to the people who they were supposed to have eventually driven out of the land.  Instead they had become defiled.  Now that God’s people were back in the land, they wanted to make sure that they weren’t exiled again.  The remnant created many oral traditions during the second temple period in order to build a fence around the law to accomplish this goal.  Expecting everyone to obey all of the oral traditions eventually created a burden that was too great for the people to bear.

We need to stick to the basic laws that were originally given and just do what was commanded in the first place.  Paul reminds us what the Lord said in 2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1: Therefore “Come out from among them [unbelievers] And be separate, says the Lord.  Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.”  18 ‘I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.” 7 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

This verse commands us not to touch unclean things and indicates that there are things that can contaminate both body and spirit!  In today’s church communities we always emphasize keeping our spirits clean from things like greed, malice, jealousy, and bitterness but don’t bother to think much about keeping our physical bodies from becoming contaminated too.  We need to stop this and be vigilant about keeping both our bodies and spirits from becoming defiled with various abominations in order to be holy as the Lord desires.  As we do this, we will experience the blessing of the Lord instead of curses.

Tzara’at or Leprosy

We are about to discuss what many consider to be a complicated topic called tzara’at.  The main reason this can be hard for the average person to properly understand is because there are several Hebrew terms in the Biblical text that have no adequate English translation.  Do not be discouraged by these foreign terms.  Endure to the end, I’m sure you’ll be amazed.

Tzara’at is not leprosy [Hanson’s disease] as Bible translators have led us to believe.  Tzara’at is a Hebrew word in which there is no common suitable English equivalent although it is possible it is similar to a dermatological condition known as leukoderma or vitiligo when it affects a person’s skin; however, we must remember it can also affect physical objects which is why it’s also translated as mildew.

Tzara’at, contrary to popular belief, is not contagious like a communicable disease that requires isolation to prevent its spread.  This becomes evident if you carefully read the laws concerning tzara’at.  The isolation prescribed is not for medical purposes.  It was for spiritual purposes—to prevent a severe form of uncleanness from being transmitted to the temple and the people.

The Jewish Sages taught that tzara’at was primarily the result of the sin of slander because the Hebrew word metzora which is usually translated into English as leper is a contraction for the Hebrew word which means “one who spreads slander.”  This is why Moses’ sister, Miriam was briefly struck with tzara’at.  Tzara’at was also considered to be the result of other trespasses as well.  It’s fair to say that tzara’at is a physical condition of a spiritual problem.

Leviticus 13:1-4 says:   And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying:  “When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling [s’et], a scab [sapachas], or a bright spot [baheret], and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore [nega tzara’at], then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.  The priest shall examine the sore [nega] on the skin of the body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore. Then the priest shall examine him, and pronounce him unclean.

Note the three Hebrew words s’et, sapachas, and baheret.  Two of these words are exclusively used in reference to tzara’atsapachas and baheret.  The Jewish Sages describe s’et and baheret as colors (not a swelling or bright spot) – each having its own sapachas (secondary category)—not a scab.  Therefore there are four colors of tzara’at that a priest must compare to healthy colored skin.  In addition, the color of hair in the afflicted areas must be checked as well.  Nega which is translated as sore can also be translated as spot, infection, wound, or plague.  The person who has been declared to be afflicted with tzara’at is called a metzora. 

To see splotchy light colored places on someone who has a naturally darker skin tone is quite shocking and turns many heads in public places.  I would not know for sure if these areas of skin which may have been once normal and suddenly lacking in pigment are truly tzara’at or not but I suspect that they are.

The following portions of Scripture are straightforward; however, I will try to share some things I feel will enhance our understanding.

Baheres—Leviticus 13:4-8

The isolated person is automatically tamei (unclean) since he’s required to ritually immerse (wash) himself despite the fact he isn’t yet declared to be a metzora.  To be tzara’at, the skin and hair must be white and the affliction must appear to be deeper than the skin.  If it isn’t obvious, the person must be isolated for seven days to determine if the affliction is a healing sore or tzara’at.  This may require another seven days if the identification of the affliction still isn’t clear.

S’et – Leviticus 13:9-17

If the affliction of tzara’at completely covers the person from head to toe, he is declared taher (clean) but if he begins to heal, he is once again declared tamei (unclean).  This is one reason why tzara’at is not considered a true communicable disease.  

Tzara’at on Inflammations – Leviticus 13:18-23

Most translations use the term “boil” for the Hebrew word sh’chiyn.  This could also be translated as an inflammation.  No matter what caused the boil or inflammation, once the wound is healed, if it appears to have a white s’et or baheret, it needs to be evaluated for tzara’at.

Burns – Leviticus 13:24-28

Any burn that has healed and has a white baheret that is streaked red or is all white needs to be evaluated for tzara’at.

Tzara’at of head or face – Leviticus 13:29-39

An affliction of tzara’at of the head or beard is called a netek which is often translated into English as a scaly leprosy, an itch, a scale, a scall, or dry scall.  Again, we have a word in Hebrew that has no English equivalent.  If golden yellow hair grows in an area of the head or face where hair would normally grow, then it is considered tzara’at.   Other areas of flesh require white hair in order to be declared tzara’at.

Baldness at the front and back of the head –Leviticus 13:40-44

A person with normal baldness may be found to have a s’et affliction that is white with a red streak that needs to be evaluated for tzara’at.

Isolation of Metzora – Leviticus 13:45-46

“Everyone who has tzara‘at sores is to wear torn clothes and unbound hair, cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’  As long as he has sores, he will be unclean; since he is unclean, he must live in isolation; he must live outside the camp.”   (CJB)

God commands the unclean to declare their uncleanness and live separate from His people.  Isn’t it interesting how the wicked declare their sins to the world as if they aren’t doing anything wrong and live among us in order to get us to accept their lifestyles as normal.  Their lifestyles even affect the churches despite God’s command to remain separate.

Afflictions of Clothing – Leviticus 13:47-59

This is the law concerning infections of tzara‘at in a garment of wool or linen, or in the threads or the woven-in parts, or in any leather item — when to declare it clean and when to declare it unclean.”  (CJB)

As I mentioned before, tzara’at is not mildew as our English translations suggest.  Tara’at can occur in people, be on things, or afflict dwellings.  Remember, tzara’at does not have an English equivalent. 

Tzara’at seems to be a very mysterious affliction but hopefully this next section will give us a clue regarding its true nature.

The Purification Ritual for Cleansing A Healed Metzora – Leviticus 14:1-32

Leviticus 14:1-11 begins the law for the metzora’s day of cleansing:  “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest. 3 And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, 4 then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. 5 And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. 6 As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. 7 And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. 8 He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days. 9 But on the seventh day he shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows — all his hair he shall shave off. He shall wash his clothes and wash his body in water, and he shall be clean. 10 “And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and one log of oil. 11 Then the priest who makes him clean shall present the man who is to be made clean, and those things, before the Lord, at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.”

A metzora cannot simply perform the purification ritual for cleansing from tzara’at in order to be healed.  He must first be healed by God.  The priest must come to him outside the camp to see if he has truly been healed before the purification ritual can be performed.

The Hebrew word for “clean” throughout Leviticus 14:7-11 is taher.  The Greek Septuagint uses the word “katharizo” (verb) and “katharos” (noun).  The term “clean” is repeated several times for the various stages that occur over a period of 7 days.  The Jews understand that the healed metzora experiences various degrees of contamination during the purification process.

  • First — the healed metzora can enter the camp of the Israelites.
  • Second – the person’s head, beard, and eyebrows are shaved.
  • Third – the person brings offerings but still remains only at the entrance of the Tabernacle until the sacrifices are complete.  Then he may finally enter the Tabernacle.

Luke 17:11-19 is the account of the ten lepers Jesus cleansed:  “Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13 And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed [kathariso].  15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed [iaomai], returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. 17 So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed [kathariso]? But where are the nine?  18 Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”  19 And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

The Hebrew word for healed is raphah.  The Greek Septuagint uses the equivalent word iaomai for “healed” in Leviticus 14:3.  Remember, God must heal a metzora and the priest must verify that healing has taken place before he can perform the purification ritual to accomplish cleansing.

This passage in Luke 17:11-19 is really an incredible story.  The ten people with tzara’at asked Jesus for mercy so He told them to go and present themselves to the priest.  As they were on their way to do so, one of them noticed he had been healed (iaomai) and returned to give thanks to Jesus.  What’s amazing here is that verse 14 says they had been cleansed (katharizo).  That’s what they were supposed to go to the priest for.

This would be as impressive as Jesus telling a crippled man that his sins were forgiven and then making it possible for him to walk again.  In both instances, Jesus addressed both the spiritual and physical condition of men.

This was a great testimony of Jesus’ identity to the priests and others who had never seen a healed metzora.  In Luke 4:27, Jesus said that during the three years of famine during Elijah’s time, only Naaman the Syrian had been cleansed (katharizo) of tzara’at even though many others were afflicted with it during that time.  I don’t know of any record of others with tzara’at being healed or cleansed other than Moses’ sister, Miriam prior to Jesus’ ministry.  Certainly, the presentation of numerous people healed of tazria caused many priests to believe Jesus was the Messiah. 

The purification ritual for the healed metzora found in Leviticus 14:1-32 has similarities to the preparation of the ashes of a red heifer that are used to purify someone from sin when they’ve come in contact with a dead body which is found in Numbers 19:1-22:

  • They both are performed outside the camp.
  • Both have a 7 day purification period.  On the eighth day, a new creature emerges.
  • Both use cedar wood, hyssop, scarlet yarn, blood, and water as part of the purification ritual. 

If we compare these elements to Jesus, the cedar wood is a reminder of the wooden cross that Jesus died on and the scarlet yarn is a reminder of sin.  Hyssop is a reminder of how the blood was applied to the lintels and doorposts of the Hebrews’ houses prior to the Passover and a reminder of David saying, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)  Blood and water is a reminder of the birth of a baby and also a reminder of the blood and water that flowed out of Jesus’ side when He was pierced by a soldier after his death (John 19:34).  It also reminds me of Zechariah 13:1 which says, “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”  Hebrews 9:18-22 explains, “This is why the first covenant too was inaugurated with blood. After Moshe [Moses] had proclaimed every command of the Torah to all the people, he took the blood of the calves with some water and used scarlet wool and hyssop to sprinkle both the scroll itself and all the people; and he said, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has ordained for you.”   Likewise, he sprinkled with the blood both the Tent and all the things used in its ceremonies. In fact, according to the Torah, almost everything is purified with blood; indeed, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”  (CJB)    

The purification ritual for the healed metzora found in Leviticus 14:1-32 also has similarities with the person who has made a Nazirite vow but became defiled due to contact with a dead body:

  • Both have to shave hair off their heads on the seventh day—the day of their cleansing.
  • They both have to offer a sin offering, a burnt offering, and a trespass offering. 

The purification ritual for the healed metzora found in Leviticus 14:1-32 has similarities with the consecration of a priest described in Leviticus 8:19-21 because blood from the offering was applied to the right ear, right thumb, and right big toe.   This leads me to believe that as a metzora is cleansed, he is consecrated to God.

Being a metzora and contact with a dead body show us the most severe forms of uncleanness because they require a purification ritual that pictures death, rebirth, and/or resurrection.  All other less severe forms of uncleanness require immersion in a baptismal pool (mikveh=ritual bath) and time passing until evening.

Someone who has never trusted Jesus as their Savior is as spiritually dead as a metzora who still walks the earth.  They are defiled and unclean.  They need the atonement and forgiveness of sin that Jesus’ blood offers and they need their sins taken away.  They need to be cleansed by the blood and water of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Aren’t you glad 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us [katharizo]  from all unrighteousness”?  Once our sin is atoned and forgiven and once we are clean, we can be consecrated to the Lord for ministry!