Leviticus 12–13 Explained
These chapters are perhaps some of the most difficult of the Torah for modern people to understand much less to ascertain the relevance of, so often we pass over them without much thought. However, when we view them from a more drash or allegorical level of biblical interpretation, suddenly they take on a whole new meaning and are packed full of deep revelations pertaining to our perennial internal struggle against sin as well as with sin in the world around us we explain in the discussion below. Sin is not a popular subject to discuss, but if we are to rise to the spiritual level for which Elohim created us—to be in some sense like him (1 John 3:1-3).
The Hebrew Terms Relating to This Passage Defined
- Tzaraas: a skin disease (improperly translated as “leprosy” in some Bibles). This Hebrew word means “to be struck with leprosy” (BDB) or “to smite heavily, to strike, or scourged of Elohim” since the leprosy was viewed as a special divine infliction (Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies, pp. 248–249) against such sins as jealousy (cf. Miriam, anger, lack of full compliance with Elohim’s commands (cf. King Uzziah), and covetousness (cf. TWOT, p. 777).
- Niddah: this refers to someone who is separated or menstruous.
- Tumah: this refers to spiritual impurity.
- Metzora: one with a skin disease; Metzora is a contraction of the Hebrew word motzi and ra meaning “one who speaks slander.”
The Issues Explained
Leviticus chapters 12 and 13 deal with the subject of human contamination and delineates what could seem to be a lot of irrelevant and archaic, if not arcane, regulations relating to childbirth and skin diseases. Why is YHVH so concerned about “human contamination”? What is the larger picture here to help us gain understanding into the Father’s intent and heart behind these Torah-laws? The Jewish sages teach that man must not forget that even the gnats and earthworms preceded him in the creation. This is to teach man humility. But conversely, each stage of Elohim’s creation added something to that which had been created previously and that man was the final, crowning touch that would pull all the creation together to fulfill its purpose of spirituality in the performance of Elohim’s will. Man is therefore the last of the creatures to be created, but the first in significance because he is the purpose of it all and that if man is not worthy of his calling, then he has added nothing of substance to YHVH’s handiwork (The ArtScroll Tanach Series Vayikra, p. 184).
All this is to say that YHVH has a plan to redeem man from his sinful or depraved (animalistic) state. Man can choose to be elevated to this higher spiritual plane or to remain in a state no better than that of a gnat or a worm having added nothing to the creation’s spiritual betterment.
The Jewish sages also teach, and I think we can all agree, that the creation of human life is the most sublime phenomenon in the universe. Man is the only creature whom YHVH made in his own image. What’s more, when a husband and wife have children, they become partners with Elohim in creation (ibid., p. 185). But this is a mixed blessing, for it creates a blessing and a problem. While one new person is created in the image of Elohim, one new sinner is in need of redemption from his fallen or separated state from Elohim (a result of Adam and Eve’s sin). This new life is created in a state of spiritual impurity (or fallenness) and the fact of life itself is not sufficient to raise man above the level of the gnat or worm, or to better the world spiritually. The sin issue must be dealt with at the beginning, and hence we find the laws of ritual purification as outlined in the following chapters of the Torah. Offering of atonement must be made for the past sins while one dedicates oneself to live in a state of spiritual purity in the future (ibid.).
To the specific themes of Leviticus 12 and 13, these chapters discuss various skin disorders. The KJV says leprosy, but this is a mistranslation. The Jewish sages teach, as does Matthew Henry in his commentary, that these skin disorders “[were] a plague often inflicted immediately by the hand of God” (Matthew Henry Concise Commentary, p. 111). Before you react by saying that Elohim doesn’t do this (we will cite some biblical examples of this below), consider for a moment that perhaps sickness is an act of the loving hand of Elohim, a judgment-unto-repentance, to bring you, his child, out of sin and back to him. Next time you have an ailment, a trial, a setback, or some other problem in life, before ascribing its occurrence simply to time and chance, you might ask yourself several hard questions. Is there unconfessed sin in your life? Is Elohim trying to get your attention? Perhaps you are ill because of wrong living (e.g. an unhealthy diet, not following the biblical dietary laws, or not caring for your body by depriving it of necessary exercise). Sickness as a form of a cause-and-effect judgment can also come on a person because of the sins of witchcraft, rebellion, pride, gossip, slander, bitterness, unforgiveness or anger. Perhaps poor health is the result of smoking, excessive alcoholic consumption, gluttony, wrong diet, an unhealthy lifestyle, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity or violating some of YHVH’s Torah commands that you know you should be keeping.
The Jewish sages (and Christian commentator Matthew Henry) teach that the skin disorder mentioned in this Torah portion is a result of sins of the mouth such as slander, gossip, murder with the mouth, false oaths and pride as well as sexual immorality, robbery, and selfishness. [T]zaraas is not a bodily disease, but the physical manifestation of a spiritual malaise, a punishment designed to show the malefactor that he must mend his ways. The primary cause of tzaraas is the sin of slander” (The ArtScroll Tanach Series Vayikra, p. 190). For proof of this, the Jewish sages cite the similarity between the Hebrew word for skin disorder (m’tzora) and the word one who spreads slander (motzeyra). They say that these skin disorders are “[d]ivine retribution for the offender’s failure to feel the needs and share the hurt of others. YHVH rebukes this antisocial behavior by isolating him from society, so that he can experience the pain he has imposed on others—and heal himself through repentance” (The ArtScroll Chumash, page 610). They then cite the examples of Miriam’s skin turning white when she slandered Moses and as well as the examples of Gehazi and King Uzziah.
It would be well for us to pause at this moment and to consider our own behavior with respect to our tongue. Thankfully, we’re under the grace of Elohim. But in the book of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira found out what happens when one sins with one’s mouth and Elohim pulls back his hand of grace. They were instantly struck dead!
As we get closer to the end of this present age and to the return of Messiah, it is likely that Elohim will begin to require greater spiritual accountability of his people, especially of leaders in the areas we are discussing. He wants to instill within people the true fear of YHVH-Elohim and a repentant and contrite heart, and to turn people away from spiritual lukewarmness (Rev 3:14–21). It is likely that such rapid judgments as happened to Miriam, Korah and his company of malefactors, Gehazi, Ananias and Sapphira and others in the Scriptures will begin to occur soon,