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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 7

A commentary on the seventh speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 24-26. The book of Deuteronomy is a series of 12 speeches that Moses gave just before his death at the end of Israel's wilderness journey.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 4

Leprosy and Mortality

Moses says in Deuteronomy 24:8, 9,

8 Be careful against an infection of leprosy, that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests shall teach you; as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. 9 Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt.

The laws regarding leprosy are recorded fully in Leviticus 13 and 14. They are too extensive for Moses to explain in this speech, so he instructs Israel just to follow the priestly instructions.

Healing and Cleansing Lepers

Leprosy is a biblical type of mortality. Mortality is a slow death. Under Adam, life is the process of dying. Adam’s sin infected us all with this fatal disease, rendering our very bodies unclean. The laws regarding leprosy not only define mortality and its effect upon us, but also shows us the path to the cure, so that we might come into immortality.

The main law revealing this is found in the first half of Leviticus 14, where we see the cleansing ceremony that a healed leper was to undergo. Verses 2 and 3 read,

2 This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing. Now he shall be brought to the priest, 3 and the priest shall go out to the outside of the camp. Thus the priest shall look, and if the infection of leprosy has been healed in the leper

The ceremony was to be done only if the leper had already been divinely healed. In other words, if the leper believed himself to be healed, he was to send word to the temple to send forth an inspector who could verify his healing. The leper had to wait “outside of the camp,” even if he were truly healed.

And so when Jesus healed the leper, He did not tell them to bypass the ceremony. Matt. 8:4 says,

4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and present the offering [two birds] that Moses commanded for a testimony [marturion, “a witness”] to them.”

God provided the healing, the leper provided the first earthly witness, and the priest provided the double witness to establish his healing legally. In Luke 17:4, when Jesus healed a band of ten lepers, He again sent them to the temple for priestly inspection. In this case we learn that “your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19).

In other words, faith is the basis of healing, but the function of the priest was to bear witness to that healing. If he indeed bore witness, then the ceremony proceeded. It was completed on the morning of the eighth day when he was fully cleansed. Only then was the ex-leper able to come into fellowship with the kahal, that is, “the congregation.”

The initial ceremony (on the first day) is given in Lev. 14:4-7,

4 then the priest shall give orders to take two live clean birds and cedar wood and a scarlet string [tola, “scarlet worm”] and hyssop for the one who is to be cleansed. 5 The priest shall also give orders to slay the one bird in an earthenware vessel over running water. 6 As for the living bird, he shall take it, together with the cedar wood and the scarlet string and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was slain over the running water. 7 He shall then sprinkle seven times the one who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the live bird go free over the open field.

The healed leper was required to provide the two birds, along with two plants—cedar wood and hyssop—and a scarlet “string” representing a worm from which men extracted red dye.

The two plants symbolized all men from the highest to the lowest, for in those days cedar wood was said to represent royalty, while hyssop was the most humble. In other words, mortality has afflicted all men equally, regardless of their station in life. Hence, all men are healed and cleansed in the same manner.

The scarlet string (tola) is also the scarlet worm, known scientifically as the coccus ilicis. Of this we read,

"When the female of the scarlet worm species was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs deposited beneath her body were thus protected until the larvae were hatched and able to enter their own life cycle. As the mother died, the crimson fluid stained her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted. What a picture this gives of Christ, dying on the tree, shedding his precious blood that he might 'bring many sons unto glory' (Hbr 2:10)! He died for us, that we might live through him! Psa 22:6 describes such a worm and gives us this picture of Christ. (cf. Isa 1:18)" (Henry Morris. Biblical Basis for Modern Science, Baker Book House, 1985, p. 73)

Thus, the scarlet string represents Christ, who shed His blood on the “tree” for the remission of sin and who died that we might have life. Furthermore, because red dye was extracted from these worms and used to dye royal garments, this prophesies of royal position given to the sons of God, who are called to reign with Christ. We may then connect this to the cedar wood, noting that the blood of Christ has produced both citizens (hyssop) and rulers (cedar).

But what of the two birds? The first bird was to be killed in an earthen vessel over running water, or, as the text reads, “living water.” The second was to be released alive into the open field.

Both birds prophesy of Jesus Christ. The first prophesies of His first coming, for we know that He came the first time to die. He was dedicated to that death by John the Baptist, who ceremonially “killed” Him through baptism “over running water.” The heavens were then opened, and the Spirit of God descended as the second dove—the living bird.

The theme of death and life runs through the entire ceremony. The bird was killed over living water. The two birds themselves represented death and life. Likewise, in our own Christian lives, we are to die daily, while yet being raised to newness of life—all of which is pictured in the baptismal ceremony. Rom. 6:4 says,

4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism unto death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

The old Adamic man must die in order for the New Man to be raised up in his place. And yet baptism is seen in Leviticus 14 to be an earthly, priestly witness to the healing that has already taken place through faith. In this we see the role of baptism, not as the cause of our justification, but as its earthly witness, or “testimony.” The priest was not called upon to baptize the leper in order to heal him from his disease. In fact, the priest was not allowed to start the ceremony unless the leper had already been healed.

Baptizing the Healed Leper

This brings us to the next element of the ceremony in Lev. 14:7, “He shall then sprinkle seven times the one who is to be cleansed from leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean.” This is what Heb. 9:10 calls “various washings,” or more literally, “baptisms” (baptismos). The various types of baptisms were instituted by Moses, not by John the Baptist. As a priest, John merely followed the law that had been prescribed by Moses. His distinction was primarily in the fact that he baptized at the Jordan, rather than at the laver in the temple, and that he applied it to all men as a baptism of repentance.

It is not our purpose here to argue for any particular mode of baptism, for we are content, knowing that we were “healed” by faith prior to being “cleansed” by baptism. Even so, the ceremony in the law is instructive and prophetic. Its manner of application should be understood in order to gain insight into the move from mortal to immortal life.

The law in Lev. 14:7 prescribed that the ex-leper should be sprinkled seven times with water. That was his baptism. He was not immersed in water. Hence, it is unlikely that John, as a priest, baptized anyone by immersion. The ex-lepers were to be sprinkled, even as the first bird itself was to be killed “over running water.” Since the bird prophesied of Christ, this tells us that Jesus was baptized in accordance with the law. He stepped into the water, and John scooped water from the Jordan and poured or sprinkled Him seven times.

This is also referenced in the case of Naaman, the Syrian, who came to the prophet to be healed of leprosy. So we read in 2 Kings 5:10,

10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash [rachats] in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you and you shall be clean.”

The term rachats is a general term that does not tell us precisely how it was done. However, we know that the prophet was familiar with the law of lepers, for he instructed Naaman according to the divine prescription in Leviticus 14. The law itself is more specific, telling us that the man was to be “sprinkled seven times.” Naaman himself was not well instructed in the law of God, so it is conceivable that he may have dipped himself in the Jordan. We read in 2 Kings 5:14, “he went down and dipped [tabal] himself seven times in the Jordan.”

Naaman was healed on account of his faith, demonstrated by his obedience. While the mode is instructive, the crucial requirement for baptism is faith. Naaman’s example is also a significant proof that baptism was practiced in the Old Testament as part of the law of lepers.

Prophecies in the Law

Although an ex-leper was pronounced clean on the first day of his cleansing, he was again pronounced clean on the eighth day (Leviticus 14:11). Was the leper not cleansed the first day? This gets into the prophetic side of the law. Prophecy involves timing when it is fulfilled historically. The personal applications are more immediate, but the historic fulfillment requires time.

Cleansing requires a full seven days, not only for lepers but also for those who touch a dead body (Num. 19:11). That law, too, prophesies of mankind’s time of mortality. Prophetically speaking, this seven-day period suggests a 7,000 year cycle of history leading to the Great White Throne judgment at the beginning of the eighth “day.” The general resurrection of “the dead, the great and the small” ends death itself, for at that point even death (mortality) is eradicated, as it is cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).

There were also two birds used in the cleansing ceremony for lepers. We have shown that the first bird prophesied of Christ, who came the first time to die. The second bird, however, was not to be killed, but set free alive into the open field. Matthew 13:38 tells us that “the field is the world.” Thus, He must be released into the world a second time in order to complete the divine plan. The second bird was to be dipped in the blood of the first before being released. And so, we read in Rev. 19:13, “He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood.”

This identifying mark in Christ’s second appearance is linked to Joseph (Gen. 37:31), whose robe was dipped in blood, and to the second bird in Lev. 14:7. Its link with Joseph speaks of the second work of Christ, which is to secure Joseph’s Birthright. Its link with the second bird is to picture immortal life that has been secured through the death of the first bird. In other words, the Birthright which we are inheriting is immortality, and all other blessings flow from that single source—the life of God manifested in us.

This is why Moses told Israel to be careful to observe the laws regarding the cleansing of lepers. Those laws reveal the path to immortality that is prophesied in the law, showing that it takes two works of Christ in us (death and life) to cleanse fully those who have been healed of mortality by their faith in Christ.

On a historical level, it takes two comings of Christ to cleanse the earth. At the Great White Throne, at the beginning of the eighth “day,” every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Him as Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10, 11).