14 July 2013

A Survey of the Old Testament Law--Circumcision, Purification, Leprosy

Leviticus 12:1-81 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled. 5 But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her customary impurity, and she shall continue in the blood of her purification sixty-six days. 6 When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 7 Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female. 8 And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.'"

That’s the whole chapter.

Eight verses.

When a male child was born, how long until anyone could be under the same roof with the woman? Seven days. How many days after that until she could come to the tabernacle? Thirty-three days. How many days total? Forty days. And here we have again another period of forty days. How many days did the skies open up and the fountains of the deep break forth for Noah? Forty days. How many days was Moses on the mountain getting the Law? How many days did Jonah warn the Ninevites until their city would be overthrown? Forty days. Forty days. How many days was Jesus fasting in the wilderness? Forty days. How many years did the people wander in the wilderness? Forty years. There is some symbolism to the number forty in God’s economy. In fact, one could not be beaten with more than forty stripes under the Law.

Now, let’s talk a little about the circumcision. We could talk at length about the Judaizers and their heretical belief that unless a Gentile was circumcised, they could not be counted as a Christian. But we won’t. Let me just point out a couple things here. This command for circumcision is not new to the Law. In fact, this was the outward symbol by which one was identified as a Jew. And when do we find the first circumcision? Genesis 17:9-139 And God said to Abraham: "As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant." God incorporates this outward sign into His Law, and commands that every male be circumcised on their eighth day out of the womb. Now remember, all the regulations contained in the old covenant pointed to Christ and the new covenant. That includes circumcision.

 Next, let’s look at the birth of our Lord. Luke 2:21-2421 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons." Even in His birth and circumcision He fulfilled the Law. He was circumcised the eighth day, His earthly parents brought the prescribed gift. And it also shows the lowly means He came from. What gift do they bring? "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons." They did not have the means to bring cattle, or a lamb, or a goat. The best they could do was a couple of pigeons. Point being, He was not rich, He was not (as John Avenzini so wrongly trumpets), “handling big money.” Where did He tell people He lived? Matthew 8:20“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests. But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians 8:9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor. He did not come and make Himself known to the rich and well-off. He did not hobnob with the rich and famous. He identified with the poor in material things, to show that we all are poor in spiritual things. And Mary, His mother, completed every command that was given to the childbearing woman in the Law.

But finally, let us talk about circumcision and the Christian. Are we, as Christians under the new covenant, still required and bound to be circumcised? No. It would be foolish to even try and argue that, since Paul writes at such great lengths—going so far as to even dedicate an entire letter to the church at Galatia—that no, we are not required to be circumcised. To say that one must be circumcised in order to be saved is to preach a different gospel. Galatians 1:6-96 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. In other words, if anyone tells you that in order to be saved you must do something in addition to what Christ did on the cross, then may God send that person to the fiery depths of Hell. Martin Luther, in his well-known commentary on this epistle, writes—

“Verse 8…Paul’s zeal for the Gospel becomes so fervent that it almost leads him to curse angels. ‘I would rather that I, my brethren, yes, the angels of heaven be anathematized than that my gospel be overthrown’…Paul maintains that there is no other gospel besides the one he had preached to the Galatians. He preached, not a gospel of his own invention, but the very same Gospel God had long ago prescribed in the Sacred Scriptures… Verse 9…Paul repeats the curse, directing it now upon other persons. Before, he cursed himself, his brethren, and an angel from heaven…Paul herewith curses and excommunicates all false teachers including his opponents. He is so worked up that he dares to curse all who pervert his Gospel. Would to God that this terrible pronouncement of the Apostle might strike fear into the hearts of all who pervert the Gospel of Paul.”

Later in that same letter, Paul unleashes this broadside against Law-keepers, Galatians 5:12I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!  Circumcision was for the time being, for the people who lived under the first covenant. It was done away with when Christ established His church. It is not what makes a person a Christian. Romans 2:28-2928 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. Now, I know what you may be asking. “But God tells Abraham that ‘My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.’ (Genesis 17:13). Doesn't that mean that circumcision is to be forever?” Yes—but with an explanation. Didn’t God establish the Passover as an “everlasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:17)? Yes. But is that “everlasting ordinance” continued in Christ, our Passover [who] was sacrificed for us? Absolutely. Likewise, circumcision—the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham—is kept by the circumcision of the heart, and we who are of faith are sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).

You see, the Law was all about outward purity. The gospel, however, is about an inward change that abhors sin before it can even be acted upon. Should we abstain from evil? Of course. The same God who abhorred murder and adultery under the old covenant is the same God who abhors such things under the new. Although we are under grace, that is not an excuse to live wantonly as the lost. Romans 6:15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Galatians 5:13For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh. So then, as with so many things contained in the Law, the physical has been fulfilled by the spiritual. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, He takes away the first that He may establish the second (Hebrews 10:9). Which is why, when a woman gives birth today, she need not be excluded form church service for forty days (80 if she has a daughter). Because it is no longer about the outward purification. It is no longer about the requirements of a Law that cannot impart life (Galatians 3:19) nor make one righteous.

OK, so, moving on to chapters 13 through 15. We’re gonna try to get through these rather quickly, because they concern just a couple areas: (1) leprous skin, discharges, garments and houses, and cleansing lepers; and (2) bodily discharges. Let’s begin by talking about leprosy.
Leviticus 13:1-81 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “2 When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. 3 The priest shall examine the sore on the skin of the body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore. Then the priest shall examine him, and pronounce him unclean. 4 But if the bright spot is white on the skin of his body, and does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and its hair has not turned white, then the priest shall isolate the one who has the sore seven days. 5 And the priest shall examine him on the seventh day; and indeed if the sore appears to be as it was, and the sore has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall isolate him another seven days. 6 Then the priest shall examine him again on the seventh day; and indeed if the sore has faded, and the sore has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only a scab, and he shall wash his clothes and be clean. 7 But if the scab should at all spread over the skin, after he has been seen by the priest for his cleansing, he shall be seen by the priest again. 8 And if the priest sees that the scab has indeed spread on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean. It is leprosy.”
Swelling, scab, bright spot—take him to the priest. If the hair inside it is white, and the sore is deeper than the skin—leprosy. If the hair isn't white and the sore is only skin deep—isolate for seven days, check him again. If the sore is gone, it’s all good. But if the scab has stayed the same, isolate him another seven days, examine him again. If the scab is fading, it’s all good—if it starts to spread—leprosy. When the Bible talks about “leprosy,” it is more than likely not talking about the leprosy we think of today, which is known by the term Hansen’s Disease. The Hebrew word translated “leprosy” is צָרַעַת (tsara’ath) which is, according to Brown-Driver-Briggs, “a) in people, malignant skin disease (Lev. 13-14); b) in clothing, a mildew or mould (Lev. 13:47-52); c) in buildings, a mildew or mould (Lev. 14:34-53).” Whereas צָרַעַת (tsara’ath) could be transmitted pretty much by simple contact, Hansen’s disease is only contagious in close quarters, and only after prolonged exposure. If that sounds like what is common for tuberculosis, it should—they are both forms of Mycobacterium. Thus, the incubation period for both TB and Hansen’s is quite long, and requires a long time and close contact for infection to manifest itself in others—like in a prison or a homeless shelter. With צָרַעַת (tsara’ath) you would not get the numbness, the deformity in limbs and phalanges, and the prominent lesions you find with Hansen’s. However, for the sake of simplicity, we will use the terms “leprosy” and “leprous” and “lepers” for our studies.

What you would have would be “subcutaneous nodules…scabs or cuticular crusts…and white shining spots appearing to be deeper than the skin…Other signs are (1) that the hairs of the affected part turn white and (2) that later there is a growth of “quick raw flesh” (ISBE). And as you go through and read all the details about what to look for, and about white skin and white hairs and black hairs and what to do with their clothing and their house and what to do if you examine one of these people and you see your own hairs changing colors and your own skin develops scaly patches and… Well, I think you can understand why the ruling classes came to see lepers (as they were called) as being so troublesome. Not that they were troublesome, but because the priests had to devote so much time to memorizing what was leprous and what was not leprous. And if they missed one of these details, they could wind up defiling themselves, their family, they could wind up being infected themselves and being considered unclean, and suffering the stigma of having to walk through the streets declaring themselves “Unclean! Unclean!” and being barred from performing their priestly duties for the required time.

Now, in verses 9-46 describe other warning signs of leprosy: boils, and scaly skin, and raw flesh, and scabs on the head or the beard, and hair falling out—no kidding, the priest had to learn to differentiate between leprosy and baldness. Leviticus 13:40-4440 As for the man whose hair has fallen from his head, he is bald, but he is clean. 41 He whose hair has fallen from his forehead, he is bald on the forehead, but he is clean. 42 And if there is on the bald head or bald forehead a reddish-white sore, it is leprosy breaking out on his bald head or his bald forehead. 43 Then the priest shall examine it; and indeed if the swelling of the sore is reddish-white on his bald head or on his bald forehead, as the appearance of leprosy on the skin of the body, 44 he is a leprous man. He is unclean. The priest shall surely pronounce him unclean; his sore is on his head.”

Now if the person was found to be leprous, they were unclean. They had to separate themselves from the rest of the camp. Leviticus 13:45-46“45 Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!' 46 He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” Just as God commanded the people to abstain from eating certain animals to teach them to differentiate between clean and unclean and between holy and profane, God used the exclusion of lepers to teach the people of Jesus’ day the inclusivity of the new covenant. Gentiles were excluded from the old covenant (unless they became Jews through circumcision). But when Jesus came, He came first “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). But then something happened. A Gentile woman whose daughter was gravely ill threw herself down before Him and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" But when He replied "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs," she pleaded even more, saying "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Thus, our Lord relented, and showed favor to us Gentiles, and has made both one, and broken down the middle wall of separation, and preached peace to you who were afar off.

Lepers were considered unclean, and had to go around trumpeting their uncleanness, enduring the scorn of the entire camp. By the time Jesus came to Jerusalem, lepers were hated perhaps even more than were Gentiles. And yet in the first chapter of Mark, a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." Knowing that Jesus is our High Priest, what should His response have been, according to the Law? He should have declared the man unclean and sent him out of the city. But not only does Jesus not do that, He actually touches the man! Mark 1:41 (KJV)And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And aren’t you glad He did that? Aren’t you glad He reached out and not only healed lepers, but made physical contact with them? If you're not, you should be. We are covered with something a whole lot worse than leprous scabs, scales, and white hairs. We are covered in sin. We need Jesus to touch us and make us clean—not from some physical deformity, but from the soul-damning effects of that spiritual death that our father Adam passed along to us. Of this, Charles Spurgeon once preached,

“You that feel as if you were possessed with evil spirits, and you that are leprous with sin, you are the persons in whom Jesus will find ample room and verge enough for the display of his holy skill. Of you I might say, as he once said of the man born blind: you are here that the works of God may be manifest in you. You, with your guilt and your depravity, you furnish the empty vessels into which his grace may be poured, the sick souls upon whom he may display his matchless power to bless and save. Be hopeful, then, ye sinful ones! Look up this morning for the Lord's approach, and expect that even in you he will work great marvels. This leper shall be a picture-yea, I hope a mirror- in whom you will see yourselves. I do pray that as I go over the details of this miracle many here may put themselves in the leper's place, and do just as the leper did, and receive, just as the leper received, cleansing from the hand of Christ. O Spirit of the living God, the thousands of our Israel now entreat thee to work, that Jesus, the Son of God, may be glorified here and now!”

Leprosy affected not only the skin of the infected person. It also found its way into their clothing. The condensed version of Leviticus 13:47-59“47 Also, if a garment has a leprous plague in it, whether it is a woolen garment or a linen garment, 48…whether in leather or in anything made of leather, 49 and if the plague is greenish or reddish in the garment or in the leather…it is a leprous plague and shall be shown to the priest. 50 The priest shall examine the plague and isolate that which has the plague seven days. 51 And he shall examine the plague on the seventh day. If the plague has spread in the garment…the plague is an active leprosy. It is unclean. 52 He shall therefore burn that garment in which is the plague…53 But if the priest examines it, and indeed the plague has not spread in the garment…54 then the priest shall command that they wash the thing in which is the plague; and he shall isolate it another seven days. 55 Then the priest shall examine the plague after it has been washed; and indeed if the plague has not changed its color, though the plague has not spread, it is unclean, and you shall burn it in the fire; it continues eating away, whether the damage is outside or inside. 56 If the priest examines it, and indeed the plague has faded after washing it, then he shall tear it out of the garment…57 But if it appears again in the garment…it is a spreading plague; you shall burn with fire that in which is the plague. 58 And if you wash the garment…if the plague has disappeared from it, then it shall be washed a second time, and shall be clean. 59 This is the law of the leprous plague in a garment of wool or linen, either in the warp or woof, or in anything made of leather, to pronounce it clean or to pronounce it unclean.”
Many times the Scriptures talk about being “clothed.” The covering a man puts on tells a lot about the man. And if his clothing is diseased, then it is likely that the man is also. The ordinances in the Law could not prevent a man from sinning. That is one thing we need to never forget. No amount of human laws, dealing with human situations, is ever going to stop crime. But what do we always hear, when some tragedy happens, we get people running around screaming “We need more laws! We need more laws!!” Or they will say something like “Oh, if we had only had a law against _____ this never would have happened!” Yes, it would have happened. Because laws do not prevent crime. In much the same way, this garment with the leprous discharge—was it just naturally leprous? Or was that the outward manifestation of the disease it covered? What we clothe ourselves in is the result of what we are inside. We don’t like a piece of clothing because we bought it—we bought it because we liked it.

And when we try to clothe ourselves in our own righteousness—when we seek to protect ourselves from God’s justice by surrounding ourselves with “good deeds” and “doing alms” and whatever else man might call “good”—we are like the leper whose disease is showing forth through his clothing. And when those people teach others that they too must somehow “earn” God’s favor, they take that leprous garment, they place it on that person’s shoulders, and they transfer the plague to the unsuspecting person. The central accusation Jesus made against the Pharisees was that they were seeking to clothe themselves in layer upon layer of vile human works—seeking to be beautiful outward while they were dead inside. Yet even their outward “beauty” (so-called) they had turned to ugliness:
Matthew 6:1-2, 5, 16“1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward…5 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward…16 Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”
Matthew 23:15, 25-28“15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves…25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence…27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
The leprosy of sin that dwelt within them had bled through and polluted their works. They did not do these works to display the glory of God—they performed these works to shame others, to lift up their own countenance above their countrymen and to exalt themselves over all others. Some more verses that talk about being clothed in shame. Job 8:22“Those who hate you will be clothed with shame.” Psalm 35:26“Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion who rejoice at my hurt; Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor who exalt themselves against me.” When we are born, we are born with a spirit within us that is always set on doing what we want to do—whether it pleases God or not. In fact, we don’t even give a whit about whether it pleases God, just so long as we please ourselves. And we are born thinking that the songwriter was absolutely correct in saying that “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” But loving one’s own flesh is not the greatest love of all—in fact, we don’t need to learn how to love ourselves because it just comes naturally to us. It is just as easy for the natural man to love himself as it is for him to breathe. And that love manifests itself in the works of the flesh. Galatians 5:19-2119 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
When the life of a man lives itself out in lust and evil and sin, that is a sign that the person has probably not been born from above. For if they had been born from above, they would abhor these things, they would, as Paul warned us, flee sexual immorality (1st Corinthians 6:18) and would put to death [their] members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). These are the things which defile a man—not what one eats. But the Pharisees had long ago lost that notion, and so rebuked our Lord for not washing His hands before He ate. But Christ, foreshadowing the words Paul would write, said Matthew 15:17-20“17  Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” We are clothed in this filthy rag we call flesh. But the skin and other tissues we are covered with are not evil of themselves. They are simply the covering, the vehicle, if you will, that the spirit inside us, called “the flesh”, moves and leads to commit our various acts of rebellion against God. Allow me to share a quote from Paul Washer—

“The greatest, most commendable deeds of men are nothing but a few filthy rags before God. One might clothe a leper in the finest, white silk to cover his sores, but immediately, the corruption of his flesh would bleed through the garment, leaving it as vile as the man it seeks to hide. So are the “good works” of men before God. They bear the corruption of the man who does them. When speaking about the moral corruption of man, special attention must be given to the heart. In the Scriptures, the heart refers to the seat of the will and the emotions. It represents the very core of one’s being. According to the Scriptures, the very heart of man is corrupt and from it flows every form of sin, rebellion, and perversity.”

However, when we trust in Christ, we are circumcised in our heart (as we saw earlier). And although we still walk around in these dingy bodies; even though we still have upon us this skin and muscle and tissues which the spirit called “the flesh” (which still resides within us) uses for its own ends from time to time, we are no longer covered in the filthy rags of our own vile human works. We have the very righteousness of Christ upon us. 2nd Corinthians 5:21For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And because we are the righteousness of God in Christ, we are justified in the sight of God. Psalm 132:9Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let Your saints shout for joy. We can say with Job, “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me” (Job 29:14). We can rejoice with the repentant sinner in Isaiah 61:10“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” We can thank God, as Paul did, that He has made us righteous and delivered us from the penalty we deserved for allowing our rebellious spirit to overwhelm our physical body and use it as a tool for our own desires. Romans 7:24-2524 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

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