The law deals with leprosy and other diseases of disorganization in a manner suggestive of their intended inclusion in the scheme of typology which has its fulfilment in things pertaining to Christ. These features of the law are not referred to by the apostles in a way that would enable us to identify their meanings in the explicit way that is possible with some of its significances. But, just as in the Apocalypse, everything is not explained, yet enough is explained to enable us to understand that which is not explained, so in the law, though all details are not expounded by the apostles, the details they do expound furnish a clue sufficiently clear to enable us to work out many things not expounded.
When we say diseases of disorganization, we mean diseases affecting structure rather than what might be called hygienic condition. Degeneracy of parts, such as takes place in leprosy and running issues, is made the subject of priestly recognition and of sacrificial purification when mere diseases (such as fevers, agues, distempers, choleraic affections, etc.) are passed over without note or provision, though mentioned once or twice as current experiences, in the addresses of Moses—which suggests that the treatment of leprosy was spiritual rather than hygienic in its object; while, like all the physical appointments of the law of Moses, it was of good hygienic tendency.
That leprosy and issue, as distinct from ordinary infirmity, should be treated with a spiritual meaning seems appropriate in view of the infectious and destructive nature of these diseases as compared with ordinary human ailments. Man, as the propagation of Adam’s condemned earthy nature, is by nature, a mortal and afflicted being: but there are degrees in the afflictedness. There is such a thing as a healthy mortal, and there is such a thing as a diseased mortal. The law of Moses deals with both—both literally and typically. For the healthy mortal, it prescribes circumcision and sacrifice; for the unhealthy, separation and special treatment. It is the spiritual or typical meaning we are concerned with at present. We have discerned this in its treatment of the healthy: the healthy, though mortally healthy, are recognized as “all under sin”, to use Paul’s expression (Rom. 3:9), because the decendants of the sinners of Eden, and the individual transgressors of the divine law, and are therefore held at arm’s length, as we might say, unless they humble themselves and confess and approach in the way appointed, and then they are received for blessing and ultimate healing. Their mere mortality is no bar when the divine conditions of reconciliation are complied with. But here are diseased mortals whose cases not only receive special treatment physically, but whose connection with special sacrifice appointed shows they have a special significance typically.
The distinction is a natural one physically, and it seems a natural one spiritually, for there is a great difference between human frailty by natural constitution, against which a man may be struggling in the way of righteousness, and human wickedness which a man may be following from taste and preference and wilful bent. The one, we may take it, is represented by healthy human nature under the ordinances of the law, and the other by diseased human nature in the same relation. The divine view of the two cases, as expressed in type, is not unuseful to us, who, though “not under the law but under grace”, must be desirous “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).
There were different forms of leprous affection, some curable and others not. The priests were taught how to distinguish between them, and to adopt their measures accordingly (Lev. 13). In general, those forms of leprosy that were “in sight deeper than the skin”, and affected the colour of the hair, were bad cases {verse 3). Those that were apparently in the skin only, were to be shut up for seven days, to see how they got on; and if, at the end of seven days the plague spot was no larger, the case was one for cure and healing. The great test of uncleanness was the spreading or not spreading—the affecting or not affecting of other parts. A whole chapter of 59 verses (Lev. 13) gives minute descriptions and directions for the guidance of the priests on those points. A man with “the plague in his head” was pronounced utterly unclean. A hopeless leper was to be put out of the camp (verse 46); a hopelessly infected garment was to be burnt (verse 52); a house to which plague returned after affected stones had been removed, and the rest of the house scraped, was to be “broken down” (verse 45).
We can scarcely err in understanding this to mean (what is otherwise testified) that wickedness is only fatal when persisted in: that “if the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and return unto the Lord, he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7); and that if the wicked will “turn from all the sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him” (Ezek. 18:21–22).
If this seem inconsistent with what John says—(“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God”—1 John 3:9)—it is only because the particular sense of John’s word is lost sight of through not attending to the contention of those he was confuting. “These things”, he says, “I write concerning them that seduce you.” These men, in the language of Jude, “turned the grace of our God into lasciviousness”: that is, made the fact of justification by grace through faith a reason for “continuing in sin that grace might abound” (Rom. 6:1). In contradistinction to those, John maintains that the man who holds the hope of seeing and being like Christ at his coming, “purifieth himself as he (Christ) is pure” (verse 3)—lives not in sin as other men do: cannot do so, for the seed of the word which brings forth fruit in harmony with itself, is in him and remains in him. It is morally impossible for a man believing the truth to live in rebellion against its demands. Such a man, begotten by the truth and changed by the truth, will necessarily love the truth and all things connected with the truth—the God of the truth, the sons of the truth, and the principles, obligations, and commandments of the truth. Such a man “cannot” live as the world lives, which is controlled in all ranks by “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”, The universal law of affinities will make him stand apart from a system so alien to all that he loves, admires, and hopes for. He cannot sin in the sense contended for by “the evil men and seducers” whom John was writing against.
But this cannot mean that the faithful servants and lovers of God have no fault to bemoan, no shortcomings to confess, no sins to ask forgiveness of: Paul’s wretchedness at the law of sin in his members, preventing him from doing what he would, and compelling him to do things that he would not (Rom. 7:18–23)—Peter’s denial of the Lord, and his dissimulation in the presence of the Jewish brethren (Gal. 2:12–14)—the post baptismal sins which the Corinthian brethren were to forgive (2 Cor. 2:7), and which “many” were called on to repent (2 Cor. 12:2), are all evidence to the contrary. But though burdened with what Paul calls “sin that dwelleth in me”, they were not servants of sin but the servants of righteousness—sinners forgiven—lepers healed.
There were professors of the truth in Peter’s day, of whom he says they “cannot cease from sin”, “their conscience is seared as with a hot iron”, This is a different class. These were the incurable lepers who were apostolically directed to be dealt with as the Mosaic type prescribes. Moses says, “Put them out of the camp”, Paul says, “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” “Keep no company with any man called a brother who is a fornicator, a covetous man, an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner.” But doubtless the final fulfilment of the type will not be seen till it is proclaimed concerning the New Jerusalem: “There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).
There was a possibility of a leprous man being cured of his malady. What then? Was he to resume his place in the congregation forthwith? Not so: a special process of atonement was provided for his case, as if to mark off with a special sense of reprobation the class of sin signified by leprosy, and to magnify the grace that extends reconciliation to such a class of offenders. It was more elaborate than all other individual atonements, and had some features not to be found in any other.
Two birds were to be brought, alive and clean, with accompaniments of cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop. One of the birds was to be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. The living bird was then to be dipped in the blood of the slain one, along with the adjuncts of cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop. The leper was also to be sprinkled with the blood of the slain bird, and the living bird was then to be let free into the open field. The leper was then to wash all his clothes, shave off all his hair, and bathe his body in the water, after which he was allowed to return into the camp, but not to take up his abode in his own tent. The process of re-instatement was only half accomplished. For seven days he remained in semi-exile in the midst of the camp.
Then, on the eighth day, he was to bring two he lambs, one ewe lamb, a liberal meal offering of fine flour, mixed with oil, and a log of oil (or if poor, he could omit two of the lambs and two-thirds of the meal offering). The priest was to offer the he lamb for a trespass offering, putting of the blood of it on the tip of the leper’s right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the great toe of his right foot. The priest was then to put some of the oil in his left hand, and with his right finger sprinkle of it seven times before the Lord, and then touch with it the right ear, right thumb, and right great toe of the leper, on the spots that had been touched with the blood. The rest of the oil he was to pour on the leper’s head. Then he was to offer one of the ewe lambs as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, on the altar—after which, the leper was pronounced clean, and at liberty to return to his own house.
These are the things to which Jesus referred when he said to the cleansed leper, “Show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them” (Matt. 8:4).
The meaning of this elaborate ceremonial has become, in some measure, manifest in previous chapters. Sin offering, trespass offering, burnt offering, have frequently come under our consideration. The allegory of the two birds is an extra feature. We are not told what it means. It differs from other sacrificial types, though having the same underlying implication—that God must be exalted before a sinner can be saved. It is the only instance (with the exception of the two goats) in which a creature is introduced to represent the redeemed purely and simply. All sacrifices typify the redeemer who redeems by death, but here is a creature that does not die, and is only associated with death, having the blood of the slain bird put upon it.
The general meaning is evident—redemption. No other meaning can conceivably attach to the ceremony. of a living bird being dipped in the blood of a dead bird, and being set free, especially in view of its connection with a healed leper about to be re-admitted into fellowship with the congregation.
But the mind seeks the connection between the process and the result. Orthodox preaching finds it in a moment: the first bird is the crucified Christ, and the second bird the poor sin-imprisoned soul, which soars to heaven on the magic touch of the first bird’s blood. There is a certain rough-and-ready completeness in this view that obtains for it an easy reception. But the simple way of a thing is not always the right way, as instanced in the case of those who would get rid of all difficulty in connection with the death of Christ by saying that “Christ died because he was killed”.
The objection to the orthodox view begins when we discover there is no soul such as it imagines, and no going to heaven for souls of any kind, and that death was not possible to the Christ of their theology, and that blood can have no relation to the condition of the supposed immortal soul of their belief. The difficulty increases when we discern that there is no conceivable principle in their system, upon which the death of a righteous man in the place of a wicked man, could be imagined an acceptable offering to a righteous God: neither any principle upon which the resurrection of said righteous man should be necessary to complete the redemption effected by his death.
Turning from the confusion inseparable from a false view of the nature of man, and a false view of the divine dealing with sin, we find a key in the teaching of the apostles, which we have often had to look at in the course of these chapters, and need not now repeat beyond the brief definition, that the death of Christ was the representative condemnation of sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3), for the declaration of the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:25), in the person of a righteous man possessing the very nature of the race condemned in Eden, with which condemnation repentant sinners might identify themselves (Rom. 6:4–6) with a view to their obtaining the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 13:38), through the intercession of this very man raised, because of his righteousness, for the justification of all who should come unto God by him (Rom. 8:33–34; Heb. 7:25).
This indubitable and most important view of the matter contains the key to all the Mosaic parables. We have been able to use the key successfully hitherto. How does it apply to the mystery of the two birds? It points to both birds as referring to Christ (and only to sinners in so far as they afterwards come unto him). Both were clean birds. Cleanness as foreshadowing character could only apply to Christ. Both were the natural denizens of the air, which earth-cleaving man is not, but which might in a sense be affirmable of him who said, “I am from above … . I came down from heaven to do the will of him that sent me”, This heavenly bird of the air was killed in an earthen vessel—the very flesh and blood of the fallen human race; over running water —that is, in juxtaposition with the Spirit of God, which inhabited him, which begat him, and fashioned him all his life long, as “righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption” for us “of God”, In the living bird, we have the same kind of bird, and therefore not the type of a sinner, but of the man represented by the first bird in the second phase of his redeeming work: resurrection, proclamation, and intercession. Why should the living bird be dipped in the blood of the dead bird on this view of matters? To represent the truth declared by Paul when he says that “by his own blood he obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12), and that it was through the blood of the everlasting covenant—his own shed blood—that he was brought again from the dead.
This is only a difficulty with those who do not realize the position occupied by Jesus while yet a mortal man. He was the Sin Bearer in every way in which such an expression can be under-stood—an expression which excludes by its very form all suggestion of his having been himself a sinner: a sinner could not be a sin-bearer in the sense of a taker-away of sin, for this required spotlessness—sinlessness—that resurrection might come after death had put the sin away. At the same time, it is an expression that involves this other idea, that there was something for him to be cleansed from. Three facts tell us what: he possessed our mortal nature, which is an heir of death because of sin: he came under the personal curse of the law in the mode of his death (Gal. 3:13). God had laid on him the iniquities of us all in the sense that He was going to deal with him as a representative of all, that He might forgive us for his sake, “that he might be just and the justifier” at the same time (Rom. 3:26).
That the second bird should be dipped in the blood of the first bird is, therefore, in harmony with what has since been revealed concerning Christ as the anti-typical sacrifice. He was cleansed by his own death from the stain of death to which he was subject in common with us, as a decendant of the first sinner, and as the appointed sufferer from it that he might take it away. When he rose, he was “the living bird let loose in the open field”—“made higher than the heavens”, “set far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Heb. 7:26; Eph. 1:21).
The cedar wood, the scarlet, and the hyssop associated with the living bird in its contact with the blood of the slain bird, typify the cleansing work which the risen Christ would perform among men through the apostles in the preaching of him as “a Prince and a Saviour, to grant repentance and remission of sins” —the high priest to make intercession for us—the only name given under heaven whereby we must be saved (Acts 5:31; Heb. 2:17; Acts 4:12).
Proximately, no doubt, the priest would understand the liberated bird to represent the restored leper. But there was a wider significance to the Mosaic parable which they did not discern. “The body (or substance) is of Christ.” Saved sinners are represented by the liberated bird in so far as they are saved in Christ and in Christ alone, who is made “sanctification and redemption” for all who shall at the last be found acceptably in him.
Not only a leper, but any man having a running issue out of his flesh, was to be regarded as unclean till he was cured—unclean in himself and defiling to others (Lev. 15). All contact with him in any way was forbidden. Everything he used or touched was to be considered as defiling, whether saddle, crockery ware, chair, or bed (verses 4–12); and any one touching any of these, was to be considered unclean for the whole day, and compelled to wash, both himself and clothing.
The advantage of such a law as a hygienic protection is self-manifest, but it is the spiritual significance we are in search of. There are moral lepers and men whose mouths are a fountain of uncleanness—men comparable only to running sores in the community. “Avoid them”, says Paul’ “turn away”—“Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” …Their company—their very touch—is defiling. Men of God may be thrown into contact with them, as the Mosaic type contemplates’ but they have a resort for cleansing, which is also figured in the type: they bathe themselves in the water of the living word, and wait with a sense of contracted uncleanness till the next day, when sleep and prayer will bring a return of the purity that is native to the mind in which God dwells.
It is a singular circumstance that the natural infirmity of woman should have the same ceremonial contamination attached to it (Lev. 15:19–27). We naturally wonder why this natural infirmity should be classed with diseases calling for sacrificial purification. As a mere process of nature—the mere humiliation of innnocence—it might be supposed exempt from the typical reprobations associated with loathsome disease. But a higher view reveals itself when we remember that the reproductive function on the part of woman was embraced in the sentence of woe which her part in the transgression brought upon her (Gen. 3:16).
Woman was primarily intended as a social and intellectual companion of man, and not as a breeder of species. It is part of the curse that this temporary function should have become so prominent—so afflictive to her, and so potent a cause of evil among men. From a subordinate faculty hidden away out of sight in modesty and purity, and destined to disappear altogether in the purposed perfection of the race upon earth, it has become the most powerful and degrading force among men, leading to “the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:4), even in decent society establishing “marrying and giving in marriage” as the one serious and characteristic business of life. It is, therefore, not so unnatural as at first sight it may appear, that this periodical weakness of woman, should be marked off by the law as one of the fruits of sin, calling for the tender treatment of holiness, and requiring the atonement of sacrifice for the re-instatement of the helpless sufferer.
It is noteworthy that this ordinance does for woman what circumcision does for man, as regards the repudiation of the flesh in the basis of acceptance. Both are the helpless subjects of vanity in the matter. Both are humbled and both are restored under the provisions of the law. If the woman after seven days of separation was invited to bring a sin offering and a burnt offering, so the man, after the first seven days of his life, was circumcised, and at his presentation to the Lord, had to have similar offerings made on his behalf. As “there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus”, so there is neither male nor female as any ground of boasting before the Lord. Both have sinned: both are mortal, unclean and erring: and both are eligible for reconciliation under the institutions of the Lord, if both, like Zacharias and Elisabeth, “walk in all the commandments of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6).