Leviticus chapters 12 through 15 are some of the most distasteful and difficult to explain in the whole Bible, much less to relate to and to apply to our lives. After all, who wants to talk about diseases, disgusting molds and mildews, and bodily discharges? And who can relate to leprosy? Yuk!
Yet the Torah contains these subjects for a reason. Yes, sanitation, cleanliness and our physical good health is important to our Creator for obvious reasons, but lurking behind this distasteful and, at times, even revulsive subject is a much deeper issue: the disease of sin. When we view sin in terms of a contagious spiritual disease, suddenly we gain a new and deeper understanding of its destructive nature.
Even though the old adage, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is not in the Bible, it is a biblical truism. Our cleanliness at all levels, body, soul (mind, will and emotions) and spirit are vital to a right relationship with Elohim. He is holy or set-apart (i.e. from the pollution, filth and defilement of this world), and without holiness, no one can see Elohim (Heb 12:14). In essence, holiness is nothing more than spiritual cleanliness. This is the deeper meaning behind Leviticus chapters 12 through 15.
Overview of Parshiot Tazria-Metzora (Lev 12–13 and 14–15)
Often these two parshiot (the plural of parashah meaning “Torah portion” in Hebrew) are combined in the yearly Torah reading cycle depending on how the biblical calendar falls for the year. Their combining is likely due to the fact that each is relatively short and deals with related subjects: namely, the ritual purity laws.
As we shall see, the causes of ritual impurity involve sin issues. As a remedy to this problem, the Torah prescribes procedures that the afflicted person had to follow in order to be deemed cleansed and thus be readmitted into the camp of Israel after having been temporarily expelled because of ritual impurity. All the ritual cleansing laws prophetically pointed to Yeshua’s atoning death on the cross.
These two parshiot dealing with diseased and unclean persons immediately come after the laws concerning clean and unclean meats (Lev 11). What the Israelites ate as well as the state of their physical bodies was an important aspect of holiness in the eyes of YHVH.
From these two parshiot, we learn that an unclean person could only become clean through the atoning blood of a sacrificed animal or through ritual cleansing of water by which he was reconciled to Elohim and brought back into the camp of Israel.
What can we learn from the juxtapositioning of these subjects (i.e. the laws pertaining to unclean meats and unclean people) in the Torah? Simply this. Man can easily become impure and defiled because of his innately depraved, crooked, and wicked heart that is at enmity with the laws of Elohim (Jer 17:9; Rom 8:7).
Since the fall of Adam, man has been in a state of impurity from Elohim. Thus, sin separates him from the presence of Elohim and from his fellow Israelites. Only the sin-atoning blood of Yeshua can bring the sinner to a place of purity where he can be reconciled to the Kadosh (Holy) One of Israel, and become part of the camp (i.e. the congregation of the saints or kadosh ones) of YHVH.
Leviticus 12:1–8 deals with the purification of women after childbirth. Adam Clarke in his commentary states that when a woman has to bring a sacrifice after the birth of her child, Elohim maintained the remembrance of the fact that through woman sin entered the world. He also required the memorial of a sacrifice to show that the state of a sinner, howsoever deplorable, is not hopeless. In every ceremony, we may see both the justice and the mercy of Elohim. Hence, while we have the knowledge of our spiritual impurity, we have also the knowledge of our cure—the sacrifice of an innocent animal, which always points to Yeshua who once and for all, in his sacrificial death, cleansed us from sin’s impurity.
Leviticus 13–14 deals with the disease of tzara. The noun tzaarath means “disease” or “skin disease” and is from the root tzara meaning “to be stricken, strike down, to smite heavily.” This is another disease that pictures the ravages of sin.
It was up to the priests to diligently inspect each diseased person—based on YHVH’s instructions and criteria—to determine whether one was unclean or not, and whether one was fit to remain in the camp of Israel. The priests were not to be hasty in their judgments, but were to make determinations based on diligent inquiry and to follow the exact protocols as outlined in the Torah. This teaches us that YHVH is exacting as to how sinners can be cleansed spiritually from sin and thus become part of the spiritual camp of the righteous redeemed. The Torah is the standard of righteousness that will judge all men. It also defines sin (1 John 3:4), and will determine one’s rewards in YHVH’s eternal kingdom (Matt 5:19).
Today, from time to time, those involved in gross sin must be put out of the congregation of the righteous. This is the duty of the leaders who must inspect individuals and make righteous decisions. Yeshua discusses this in Matthew 18:15–19 where he instructs leaders on how to deal with sin in the camp.
In ancient Israel, when disease or sin entered into the camp, it had be dealt with, so that the plague wouldn’t spread. It was the priests’ job to keep the camp clean physically and spiritually. For the children of Israel, the focus was on ritual, physical and moral purity. In the Testimony of Yeshua (and in our times) the focus is on spiritual and moral purity, and in protecting the congregation of the righteous from that which could harm or defile it spiritually. The apostles in their letters were constantly dealing with spiritual issues such as heretics, false teachings and philosophies that threatened to harm the body of believers. Even as the human body has defense mechanisms by which it can protect itself against disease pathogens, so the priest of old protected Israel from the spiritual disease of sin. Today, spiritual leaders such as pastors must protect the body of Yeshua the contagions of sin. Our Master talks about the good shepherd who is willing to defend the flock even if it costs him his life (John 10:7–14).
How did the apostolic leaders deal with the disease of grievous wolves who, like disease pathogens, threatened YHVH’s flock? To answer this question let us simply allow the truth of the Scriptures to speak to us. Very little commentary is needed here to make the point:
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark [to look at, observe, direct one’s attention to] them which cause divisions [sedition (incitement or rebellion against lawful authority), dissension] and offences [a stumbling block, an occasion to fall] contrary to the doctrine [teaching or instruction] which ye have learned; and avoid [turn aside or shun] them. For they that are such serve not our Master Yeshua the Messiah, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. (Rom 16:17–18)
From this simple expanded version of the text based on the meaning of the Greek words, is it not clear what is to be done with such individuals as described above? We are to be aware of what they are doing and then to have no contact with such individuals. There can be no place in the local flock or assembly for spiritual pathogens. Paul continues:
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Master Yeshua the Messiah, that ye withdraw [remove depart, abstain from familiar intercourse] yourselves, from every brother that walketh disorderly [out of ranks (as with a soldier), deviating from the prescribed order or rule], and not after the tradition [precept, teaching or instruction] which he received of us. (2 Thess 3:6)
Be not deceived: evil companionship corrupts virtuous character. (1 Cor 15:33)
And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note [to mark, distinguish by marking] that man, and have no company [intimate friendship] with him, that he may be ashamed. (2 Thess 3:14)
But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. (2 Cor 5:1)
A man that is an heretic [schismatic, factious, a follower of a false doctrine] after the first and second admonition [exhortation] reject [avoid, refuse]. (Tit 3:10)
Who should make the determination whether someone in the congregation is a grievous wolf, is causing sedition or offense, bringing in false teachings and resisting lawful authority? What is the role of the shepherd if not to protect the sheep of his flock? Who should pick up the rod and defend the sheep against the individuals involved in the activities listed above? Who should be the one to warn the offending party, urge them to repent and if they refuse to remove them from the flock? Biblically, this is the role of the shepherd overseeing the flock. In following the example of Yeshua the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, the under-shepherds of Yeshua (the spiritual elders in a local congregation) are to do the same, if necessary, in protecting the flock from wolves (John 10:10–14).
In ancient Israel when a person was deemed to be unclean, he was cut off from Israel. This effectively put a stop to his secular business and cut him off from his friends and relations. It was almost like a death sentence. In order to be pronounced clean and to be let back into the camp, the metzora (the diseased and impure person) had to accept humbly the verdict of the priests, and accept his punishment. In being put out of the camp of Israel, the unclean person was effectively cut off not only from communion with YHVH’s people, but from YHVH’s himself whose Presence resided in the tabernacle.
How the Torah mandates that the metzora be dealt with teaches us much about the contagious and evil nature of sin. It must be put out of our individual lives and out of the congregation of the righteous redeemed, so that it won’t contaminate others.
The skin diseases described in Leviticus 13 and 14 not only defiled the individual, but threatened to contaminate the individual’s house and possessions as well. From this we learn that sin not only defiles the sinner’s conscience, but it brings stain upon his family, possessions and home.
The priests couldn’t cleanse the sinner; he had to cleanse himself (Lev 13–14). A defiled person cleansed himself through right living and washing with water. When cleansed, the priests simply examined the person to determine if the disease was gone. They then officiated at his cleansing rituals, determined whether he was clean or not, and whether he could be readmitted into the camp of Israel. These cleansing rituals prophetically pointed to Yeshua’s atoning death on the cross (as discussed below).
When a person was deemed to be free of their skin disease and had been pronounced clean by the examining priests, they were welcomed back into the camp of Israel. By comparing physical skin diseases to sin, we can deduce that when we withdraw from those who walk disorderly, when they repent, they must be welcomed back into our midsts with tenderness and joy, and sincere affection. Care should always be taken to insure that sinners not be encouraged, nor penitents discouraged. We see the example of this in Paul’s dealing with the sinning man in the congregation in Corinth. He was put out of the congregation, and upon repentance was brought back in again (1 Cor 5:1–12 cp. 2 Cor 2:3–11).
Parshiot Tazria-Metzora teaches us that the “leprosy” of sin ruins families and churches. Sin is pernicious and pervasive and can easily be interwoven into the fabric of human society and relationships. This is why those in positions of spiritual responsibility and authority (heads of families, ministries and congregations) must diligently protect those under their charge from the pervasive influences of the leavening of sin.
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, in our day, and may already be occurring.
What steps are you taking to sanctify your tongue, to break any bad habits that you may have in this regard that may bring curses on you or sow seeds of discord among the brethren thereby bringing a curse upon the assembly? May YHVH’s Spirit help us all to not sin with our tongue, and may we hold ourselves accountable and responsible to walk in the fear of Elohim at all times.
The time for playing fast and loose with our mouths and other members of our bodies is finished. We are all being called to account by Elohim. Be hot or cold spiritually. Not in-between! Yeshua is not coming back for a Babylonian (half- world and half-Word-orientated lifestyle), sin-spotted bride—but one who is without spot and wrinkle. Where are you at spiritually in this regard?