Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Purification of the leper, after his recovery from his disease. As leprosy, regarded as a decomposition of the vital juices, and as putrefaction in a living body, was an image of death, and like this introduced the same dissolution and destruction of life into the corporeal sphere which sin introduced into the spiritual; and as the leper for this very reason as not only excluded from the fellowship of the sanctuary, but cut off from intercourse with the covenant nation which was called to sanctification: the man, when recovered from leprosy, was first of all to be received into the fellowship of the covenant nation by a significant rite of purification, and then again to be still further inducted into living fellowship with Jehovah in His sanctuary. Hence the purification prescribed was divided into two acts, separated from one another by an interval of seven days.
The first act (Lev 14:2-8) set forth the restoration of the man, who had been regarded as dead, into the fellowship of the living members of the covenant nation, and was therefore performed by the priest outside the camp.
On the day of his purification the priest was to examine the leper outside the camp; and if he found the leprosy cured and gone (מן נרפּא, const. praegnans, healed away from, i.e., healed and gone away from), he was to send for (lit., order them to fetch or bring) two living (חיּות, with all the fulness of their vital power) birds (without any precise direction as to the kind, not merely sparrows), and (a piece of) cedar-wood and coccus (probably scarlet wool, or a little piece of scarlet cloth), and hyssop (see at Exo 12:22).
The priest was to have one of the birds killed into an earthen vessel upon fresh water (water drawn from a fountain or brook, Lev 15:13; Gen 26:19), that is to say, slain in such a manner that its blood should flow into the fresh water which was in a vessel, and should mix with it. He was then to take the (other) live bird, together with the cedar-wood, scarlet, and hyssop, and dip them (these accompaniments) along with the bird into the blood of the one which had been killed over the water. With this the person cured of leprosy was to be sprinkled seven times (see Lev 4:6) and purified; after which the living bird was to be "let loose upon the face of the field," i.e., to be allowed to fly away into the open country. The two birds were symbols of the person to be cleansed. The one let loose into the open country is regarded by all the commentators as a symbolical representation of the fact, that the former leper was now imbued with new vital energy, and released from the fetters of his disease, and could now return in liberty again into the fellowship of his countrymen. But if this is established, the other must also be a symbol of the leper; and just as in the second the essential point in the symbol was its escape to the open country, in the first the main point must have been its death. Not, however, in this sense, that it was a figurative representation of the previous condition of the leper; but that, although it was no true sacrifice, since there was no sprinkling of blood in connection with it, its bloody death was intended to show that the leper would necessarily have suffered death on account of his uncleanness, which reached to the very foundation of his life, if the mercy of God had not delivered him from this punishment of sin, and restored to him the full power and vigour of life again. The restitution of this full and vigorous life was secured to him symbolically, by his being sprinkled with the blood of the bird which was killed in is stead. But because his liability to death had assumed a bodily form in the uncleanness of leprosy, he was sprinkled not only with blood, but with the flowing water of purification into which the blood had flowed, and was thus purified from his mortal uncleanness. Whereas one of the birds, however, had to lay down its life, and shed its blood for the person to be cleansed, the other was made into a symbol of the person to be cleansed by being bathed in the mixture of blood and water; and its release, to return to its fellows and into its nest, represented his deliverance from the ban of death which rested upon leprosy, and his return to the fellowship of his own nation. This signification of the rite serves to explain not only the appointment of birds for the purpose, since free unfettered movement in all directions could not be more fittingly represented by anything than by birds, which are distinguished from all other animals by their freedom and rapidity of motion, but also the necessity for their being alive and clean, viz., to set forth the renewal of life and purification; also the addition of cedar-wood, scarlet wool, and hyssop, by which the life-giving power of the blood mixed with living (spring) water was to be still further strengthened. The cedar-wood, on account of its antiseptic qualities (ἔχει ἄσηπτον ἡ κέδρος, Theodor. on Eze 17:22), was a symbol of the continuance of life; the coccus colour, a symbol of freshness of life, or fulness of vital energy; and the hyssop (βοτάνη ῥυπτική, herba humilis, medicinalis, purgandis pulmonibus apta: August. on Ps 51), a symbol of purification from the corruption of death. The sprinkling was performed seven times, because it referred to a readmission into the covenant, the stamp of which was seven; and it was made with a mixture of blood and fresh water, the blood signifying life, the water purification.
After this symbolical purification from the mortal ban of leprosy, the person cleansed had to purify himself bodily, by washing his clothes, shaving off all his hair - i.e., not merely the hair of his head and beard, but that of his whole body (cf. Lev 14:9), - and bathing in water; and he could then enter into the camp. But he had still to remain outside his tent for seven days, not only because he did not yet feel himself at home in the congregation, or because he was still to retain the consciousness that something else was wanting before he could be fully restored, but, as the Chaldee has explained it by adding the clause, et non accedat ad latus uxoris suae, that he might not defile himself again by conjugal rights, and so interrupt his preparation for readmission into fellowship with Jehovah.
The second act (Lev 14:9-20) effected his restoration to fellowship with Jehovah, and his admission to the sanctuary. It commenced on the seventh day after the first with a fresh purification; viz., shaving off all the hair from the head, the beard, the eyebrows - in fact, the whole body, - washing the clothes, and bathing the body. On the eighth day there followed a sacrificial expiation; and for this the person to be expiated was to bring two sheep without blemish, a ewe-lamb of a year old, three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a meat-offering, and a log (or one-twelfth of a hin, i.e., as much as six hens' eggs, or 1562 Rhenish cubic inches) of oil; and the priest was to present him, together with these gifts, before Jehovah, i.e., before the altar of burnt-offering. The one lamb was then offered by the priest as a trespass-offering, together with the log of oil; and both of these were waves by him. By the waving, which did not take place on other occasions in connection with sin-offerings and trespass-offerings, the lamb and oil were transferred symbolically to the Lord; and by the fat that these sacrificial gifts represented the offerer, the person to be consecrated to the Lord by means of them was dedicated to His service again, just as the Levites were dedicated to the Lord by the ceremony of waving (Num 8:11, Num 8:15). But a trespass-offering was required as the consecration-offering, because the consecration itself served as a restoration to all the rights of the priestly covenant nation, which had been lost by the mortal ban of leprosy.
(Note: Others, e.g., Riehm and Oehler, regard this trespass-offering also as a kind of mulcta, or satisfaction rendered for the fact, that during the whole period of his sickness, and so long as he was excluded from the congregation, the leper had failed to perform his theocratical duties, and Jehovah had been injured in consequence. But if this was the idea upon which the trespass-offering was founded, the law would necessarily have required that trespass-offerings should be presented on the recovery of persons who had been affected with diseased secretions; for during the continuance of their disease, which often lasted a long time, even as much as 12 years (Luk 8:43), they were precluded from visiting the sanctuary or serving the Lord with sacrifices, because they were unclean, and therefore could not perform their theocratical duties.)
After the slaying of the lamb in the holy place, as the trespass-offering, like the sin-offering, was most holy and belonged to the priest (see at Lev 7:6), the priest put some of its blood upon the tip of the right ear, the right thumb, and the great toe of the right foot of the person to be consecrated, in order that the organ of hearing, with which he hearkened to the word of the Lord, and those used in acting and walking according to His commandments, might thereby be sanctified through the power of the atoning blood of the sacrifice; just as in the dedication of the priests (Lev 8:24).
The priest then poured some oil out of the log into the hollow of his left hand, and dipping the finger of his right hand in the oil, sprinkled it seven times before Jehovah, i.e., before the altar of burnt-offering, to consecrate the oil to God, and sanctify it for further use. With the rest of the oil he smeared the same organs of the person to be consecrated which he had already smeared with blood, placing it, in fact, "upon the blood of the trespass-offering," i.e., upon the spots already touched with blood; he then poured the remainder upon the head of the person to be consecrated, and so made atonement for him before Jehovah. The priests were also anointed at their consecration, not only by the pouring of oil upon their head, but by the sprinkling of oil upon their garments (Lev 8:12, Lev 8:30). But in their case the anointing of their head preceded the consecration-offering, and holy anointing oil was used for the purpose. Here, on the contrary, it was ordinary oil, which the person to be consecrated had offered as a sacrificial gift; and this was first of all sanctified, therefore, by being sprinkled and poured upon the organs with which he was to serve the Lord, and then upon the head, which represented his personality. Just as the anointing oil, prepared according to divine directions, shadowed forth the power and gifts of the Spirit, with which God endowed the priests for their peculiar office in His kingdom; so the oil, which the leper about to be consecrated presented as a sacrifice out of his own resources, represented the spirit of life which he had received from God, and now possessed as his own. This property of his spirit was presented to the Lord by the priestly waving and sprinkling of the oil before Jehovah, to be pervaded and revived by His spirit of grace, and when so strengthened, to be not only applied to those organs of the person to be consecrated, with which he fulfilled the duties of his vocation as a member of the priestly nation of God, but also poured upon his head, to be fully appropriated to his person. And just as in the sacrifice the blood was the symbol of the soul, so in the anointing the oil was the symbol of the spirit. If, therefore, the soul was established in gracious fellowship with the Lord by being sprinkled with the atoning blood of sacrifice, the anointing with oil had reference to the spirit, which gives life to soul and body, and which was thereby endowed with the power of the Spirit of God. In this way the man cleansed from leprosy was reconciled to Jehovah, and reinstated in the covenant privileges and covenant grace.
It was not till all this had been done, that the priest could proceed to make expiation for him with the sin-offering, for which the ewe-lamb was brought, "on account of his uncleanness," i.e., on account of the sin which still adhered to him as well as to all the other members of the covenant nation, and which had come outwardly to light in the uncleanness of his leprosy; after which he presented his burnt-offering and meat-offering, which embodied the sanctification of all his members to the service of the Lord, and the performance of works well-pleasing to Him. The sin-offering, burnt-offering, and meat-offering were therefore presented according to the general instructions, with this exception, that, as a representation of diligence in good works, a larger quantity of meal and oil was brought than the later law in Num 15:4 prescribed for the burnt-offering.
In cases of poverty on the part of the person to be consecrated, the burnt-offering and sin-offering were reduced to a pair of turtle-doves or young pigeons, and the meat-offering to a tenth of an ephah of meal and oil; but no diminution was allowed in the trespass-offering as the consecration-offering, since this was the conditio sine qua non of reinstatement in full covenant rights. On account of the importance of all the details of this law, every point is repeated a second time in Lev 14:21-32.
The law concerning the leprosy of houses was made known to Moses and Aaron, as intended for the time when Israel should have taken possession of Canaan and dwell in houses. As it was Jehovah who gave His people the land for a possession, so "putting the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of their possession" is also ascribed to Him (Lev 14:34), inasmuch as He held it over them, to remind the inhabitants of the house that they owed not only their bodies but also their dwelling-places to the Lord, and that they were to sanctify these to Him. By this expression, "I put," the view which Knobel still regards as probable, viz., that the house-leprosy was only the transmission of human leprosy to the walls of the houses, is completely overthrown; not to mention the fact, that throughout the whole description there is not the slightest hint of any such transmission, but the inhabitants, on the contrary, are spoken of as clean, i.e., free from leprosy, and only those who went into the house, or slept in the house after it had been shut up as suspicious, are pronounced unclean (Lev 14:46, Lev 14:47), though even they are not said to have been affected with leprosy. The only thing that can be gathered from the signs mentioned in Lev 14:37 is, that the house-leprosy was an evil which calls to mind "the vegetable formations and braid-like structures that are found on mouldering walls and decaying walls, and which eat into them so as to produce a slight depression in the surface."
(Note: Cf. Sommer (p. 220), who says, "The crust of many of these lichens is so marvellously thin, that they simply appear as coloured spots, for the most part circular, which gradually spread in a concentric form, and can be rubbed off like dust. Some species have a striking resemblance to eruptions upon the skin. There is one genus called spiloma (spots); and another very numerous genus bears the name of lepraria.")
When the evil showed itself in a house, the owner was to send this message to the priest, "A leprous evil has appeared in my house," and the priest, before entering to examine it, was to have the house cleared, lest everything in it should become unclean. Consequently, as what was in the house became unclean only when the priest had declared the house affected with leprosy, the reason for the defilement is not to be sought for in physical infection, but must have been of an ideal or symbolical kind.
If the leprous spot appeared in "greenish or reddish depressions, which looked deeper than the wall," the priest was to shut up the house for seven days. If after that time he found that the mole had spread on the walls, he was to break out the stones upon which it appeared, and remove them to an unclean place outside the town, and to scrape the house all round inside, and throw the dust that was scraped off into an unclean place outside the town. He was then to put other stones in their place, and plaster the house with fresh mortar.
If the mole broke out again after this had taken place, it was a malicious leprosy, and the house was to be pulled down as unclean, whilst the stones, the wood, and the mortar were to be taken to an unclean place outside the town.
Whoever went into the house during the time that it was closed, became unclean till the evening and had to wash himself; but whoever slept or ate therein during this time, was to wash his clothes, and of course was unclean till the evening. אתו הסגּיר (Lev 14:46) may be a perfect tense, and a relative clause dependent upon ימי, or it may be an infinitive for הסגּיר as in Lev 14:43.
If the priest should find, however, that after the fresh plastering the mole had not appeared again, or spread (to other places), he was to pronounce the house clean, because the evil was cured, and (Lev 14:49-53) to perform the same rite of purification as was prescribed for the restoration of a man, who had been cured of leprosy, to the national community (Lev 14:4-7). The purpose was also the same, namely, to cleanse (חטּא cleanse from sin) and make atonement for the house, i.e., to purify it from the uncleanness of sin which had appeared in the leprosy. For, although it is primarily in the human body that sin manifests itself, it spreads from man to the things which he touches, uses, inhabits, though without our being able to represent this spread as a physical contagion.
Lev 14:54-57 contain the concluding formula to ch. 13 and 14. The law of leprosy was given "to teach in the day of the unclean and the clean," i.e., to give directions for the time when they would have to do with the clean and unclean.