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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Leviticus 13-14: The Laws Relating to Leprosy
The leprosy is the most terrible of all the disorders to which the body of man is subject. There is no disease in which hope of recovery is so nearly extinguished. From a commencement slight in appearance, with but little pain or inconvenience, often in its earlier stage insidiously disappearing and reappearing, it goes on in its strong but sluggish course, generally in defiance of the efforts of medical skill, until it reduces the patient to a mutilated cripple with dulled or obliterated senses, the voice turned to a croak, and with features of ghastly deformity. When it reaches some vital part it generally occasions what seem like the symptoms of a distinct disease (most often dysentery), and so puts an end to the life of the sufferer.
It was an all but universal impression that the leprosy, above all other diseases, came upon man as an irresistible stroke of superhuman power, either in the way of punishment for personal sin or of an affliction with some definite purpose. This natural suggestion was confirmed and realized upon several occasions in the history of the Israelites. A stroke of leprosy was the mark of the divine displeasure at the slow faith of Moses Exodus 4:6, at the contumacy of Miriam Numbers 12:10, at the dishonesty of Gehazi 2 Kings 5:27, and at the impious presumption of Uzziah 2 Chronicles 26:19-20. One of the denunciations against Joab, on account of the death of Abner, was that his children should be lepers 2 Samuel 3:29.
It is now considered by all the best authorities that the Hebrew word for the disease does not denote the disease which is more properly called the leprosy (see Leviticus 13:12), but that which is known to physicians as the elephantiasis: the origin of which is ascribed to an animal poison generated in or received into the blood, and accumulated therein probably by a process analogous to fermentation. This poison primarily affects either the skin, or the nerves and nervous centers. In this way, two forms of elephantiasis are distinguished, the "Tuberculated," and the "anaesthetic" or "non-tuberculated," of which the former is the more common.
Medical skill appears to have been more completely foiled by elephantiasis than by any other malady. The anaesthetic form alone seems to be in some degree amenable to remedies and regimen.
The question as to whether elephantiasis is contagious or not, is one of most unique interests in connection with the Levitical law. Many facts tend to prove that, as a rule, it was not; but that under certain circumstances (e. g. when the ulcers are running) contagion might be developed.
1And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying,
2When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests:
The skin of his flesh - An expression found nowhere but in this chapter. It probably denotes the cuticle or scarf skin, as distinguished from the curls or true skin.
Rising ... scab ... bright spot - The Hebrew words are the technical names applied to the common external signs of incipient elephantiasis.
Like the plague of leprosy - Like a stroke of leprosy.
3And the priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh: and when the hair in the plague is turned white, and the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a plague of leprosy: and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean.
The hair in the plague is turned white - The sparing growth of very fine whitish hair on leprous spots in the place of the natural hair, appears to have been always regarded as a characteristic symptom.
the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh - Rather The stroke appears to be deeper than the scarf skin. The bright spot changed to a brownish color with a metallic or oily luster, and with a clearly-defined edge. This symptom, along with the whitish hair, at once decided the case to be one of leprosy.
4If the bright spot be white in the skin of his flesh, and in sight be not deeper than the skin, and the hair thereof be not turned white; then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague seven days:
5And the priest shall look on him the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague in his sight be at a stay, and the plague spread not in the skin; then the priest shall shut him up seven days more:
And the plague spread not - Rather, advance not, so as to show that the disease is under the cuticle and assuming the symptoms of Leviticus 13:3.
6And the priest shall look on him again the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague be somewhat dark, and the plague spread not in the skin, the priest shall pronounce him clean: it is but a scab: and he shall wash his clothes, and be clean.
Somewhat dark - Rather, somewhat dim: that is, if the spot is dying away.
7But if the scab spread much abroad in the skin, after that he hath been seen of the priest for his cleansing, he shall be seen of the priest again:
Seen of the priest for his cleansing - The purport of these words is doubtful. They probably mean "seen by the priest and pronounced clean," and refer to the visit of the suspected leper to the priest at the end of the second week. But some have taken the words to mean "seen by the priest with a view to be pronounced clean," and regard the sentence of the priest as provisional, holding good only until the symptoms may appear to resume their progress. Compare Leviticus 13:35.
8And if the priest see that, behold, the scab spreadeth in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a leprosy.
9When the plague of leprosy is in a man, then he shall be brought unto the priest;
10And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the rising be white in the skin, and it have turned the hair white, and there be quick raw flesh in the rising;
If the rising be white - Or, If there be a white rising. The term very probably denotes the white Bulla or patch of Anaesthetic elephantiasis when it has re-appeared.
Quick raw flesh in the rising - The margin gives the literal rendering. The symptom here noted exhibits a more advanced stage of the disease. The expression might denote an ulcer or open sore with "proud flesh" appearing in it.
11It is an old leprosy in the skin of his flesh, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean, and shall not shut him up: for he is unclean.
12And if a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh;
The disease here indicated appears to be that now known as Lepra commonis, the common White Leprosy, or Dry Tetter. It first shows itself in reddish pimples, the surface of which becomes white and scaly, spreading in a circular form until they meet each other and cover large patches of the body. It scarcely affects the general health, and for the most part disappears of itself, though it often lasts for years.
From his head even to his foot, wheresoever. the priest looketh - The first appearance of the Lepra Commonis may take place in any part of the body, especially, however, at the larger joints of the limbs; but the spots of elephantiasis are almost always first seen, on those parts which are habitually exposed, the face, ears and hands.
13Then the priest shall consider: and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean.
14But when raw flesh appeareth in him, he shall be unclean.
Raw flesh - See Leviticus 13:10.
15And the priest shall see the raw flesh, and pronounce him to be unclean: for the raw flesh is unclean: it is a leprosy.
Boil - Probably ulcer. In Job 2:7, and Deuteronomy 28:27, Deuteronomy 28:35, it would seem highly probable that the word expresses the ulcers of elephantiasis.
16Or if the raw flesh turn again, and be changed unto white, he shall come unto the priest;
17And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the plague be turned into white; then the priest shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: he is clean.
18The flesh also, in which, even in the skin thereof, was a boil, and is healed,
19And in the place of the boil there be a white rising, or a bright spot, white, and somewhat reddish, and it be shewed to the priest;
20And if, when the priest seeth it, behold, it be in sight lower than the skin, and the hair thereof be turned white; the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a plague of leprosy broken out of the boil.
Lower than the skin - Rather, reaching below the scarf skin.
21But if the priest look on it, and, behold, there be no white hairs therein, and if it be not lower than the skin, but be somewhat dark; then the priest shall shut him up seven days:
22And if it spread much abroad in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a plague.
23But if the bright spot stay in his place, and spread not, it is a burning boil; and the priest shall pronounce him clean.
A burning boil - Rather, the scar of the ulcer; literally, "the burn of the ulcer."
24Or if there be any flesh, in the skin whereof there is a hot burning, and the quick flesh that burneth have a white bright spot, somewhat reddish, or white;
The sense of this verse is: "Or if there be flesh of which the skin has been affected by severe inflammation, and the sore of the inflammation has become a glossy spot, somewhat reddish or white."
25Then the priest shall look upon it: and, behold, if the hair in the bright spot be turned white, and it be in sight deeper than the skin; it is a leprosy broken out of the burning: wherefore the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is the plague of leprosy.
26But if the priest look on it, and, behold, there be no white hair in the bright spot, and it be no lower than the other skin, but be somewhat dark; then the priest shall shut him up seven days:
27And the priest shall look upon him the seventh day: and if it be spread much abroad in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is the plague of leprosy.
28And if the bright spot stay in his place, and spread not in the skin, but it be somewhat dark; it is a rising of the burning, and the priest shall pronounce him clean: for it is an inflammation of the burning.
"And if the glossy spot continues unchanged and makes no advance in the skin, and is rather indistinct" (see the note at Leviticus 13:6), "it is the mark of the inflammation, and the priest shall pronounce him clean, for it is the (mere) hurt of inflammation."
29If a man or woman have a plague upon the head or the beard;
30Then the priest shall see the plague: and, behold, if it be in sight deeper than the skin; and there be in it a yellow thin hair; then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a dry scall, even a leprosy upon the head or beard.
Scall - As this is the name for another disease not allied to the leprosy, it would have been better to retain the original word נתק netheq. It is a true elephantiasis, and is recognized by modern writers under the name of the Fox mange.
31And if the priest look on the plague of the scall, and, behold, it be not in sight deeper than the skin, and that there is no black hair in it; then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague of the scall seven days:
There is no black hair in it More probably, there is no yellow hair in it.
32And in the seventh day the priest shall look on the plague: and, behold, if the scall spread not, and there be in it no yellow hair, and the scall be not in sight deeper than the skin;
33He shall be shaven, but the scall shall he not shave; and the priest shall shut up him that hath the scall seven days more:
34And in the seventh day the priest shall look on the scall: and, behold, if the scall be not spread in the skin, nor be in sight deeper than the skin; then the priest shall pronounce him clean: and he shall wash his clothes, and be clean.
35But if the scall spread much in the skin after his cleansing;
36Then the priest shall look on him: and, behold, if the scall be spread in the skin, the priest shall not seek for yellow hair; he is unclean.
37But if the scall be in his sight at a stay, and that there is black hair grown up therein; the scall is healed, he is clean: and the priest shall pronounce him clean.
Be in his sight at a stay - Or, Does not alter in appearance.
38If a man also or a woman have in the skin of their flesh bright spots, even white bright spots;
39Then the priest shall look: and, behold, if the bright spots in the skin of their flesh be darkish white; it is a freckled spot that groweth in the skin; he is clean.
Freckled spot - If Leviticus 13:12 refers to the Lepra commonis, the Hebrew בהק bôhaq here may denote some kind of eczema, a skin disease of a somewhat similar external character.
Leviticus 13:38, Leviticus 13:39 would seem more in their natural place between Leviticus 13:17-18.
40And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald; yet is he clean.
41And he that hath his hair fallen off from the part of his head toward his face, he is forehead bald: yet is he clean.
42And if there be in the bald head, or bald forehead, a white reddish sore; it is a leprosy sprung up in his bald head, or his bald forehead.
Sore - Rather, stroke. It is the same word which elsewhere in this and the next chapter is rendered plague.
43Then the priest shall look upon it: and, behold, if the rising of the sore be white reddish in his bald head, or in his bald forehead, as the leprosy appeareth in the skin of the flesh;
44He is a leprous man, he is unclean: the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean; his plague is in his head.
45And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean.
The leper was to carry about with him the usual signs of mourning for the dead. Compare Leviticus 10:6 and margin reference.
The leper was a living parable in the world of the sin of which death was the wages; not the less so because his suffering might have been in no degree due to his own personal deserts: he bore about with him at once the deadly fruit and the symbol of the sin of his race. Exodus 20:5. As his body slowly perished, first the skin, then the flesh, then the bone, fell to pieces while yet the animal life survived; he was a terrible picture of the gradual corruption of the spirit worked by sin.
His head bare - Rather, "his head neglected." See Leviticus 10:6 note.
Unclean, unclean - Compare the margin reference.
46All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.
Dwell alone - More properly, dwell apart; that is, separated from the people.
Though thus excluded from general contact with society, it is not likely that lepers ceased to be objects of sympathy and kindness, such as they now are in those Christian and Moslem countries in which the leprosy prevails. That they associated together in the holy land, as they do at present, is evident from 2 Kings 7:3; Luke 17:12. It has been conjectured that a habitation was provided for them outside Jerusalem, on the hill Gareb (Bezetha), which is mentioned only in Jeremiah 31:39.
Without the camp - Compare the margin reference. A leper polluted everything in the house which he entered. A separate space used to be provided for lepers in the synagogues.
47The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment;
The garment - Rather, The clothing, referring to the ordinary dress of the Israelites in the wilderness; namely,, a linen tunic with a fringe Numbers 15:38 and a woolen cloak or blanket thrown on in colder weather.
48Whether it be in the warp, or woof; of linen, or of woollen; whether in a skin, or in any thing made of skin;
Rather, "And the clothing in which there is a stroke of leprosy, whether the stroke is in clothing of wool or in clothing of linen; or in yarn for warp or in yarn for woof, either for linen clothing or for woolen clothing; or in a skin of leather or in any article made of leather."
49And if the plague be greenish or reddish in the garment, or in the skin, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin; it is a plague of leprosy, and shall be shewed unto the priest:
50And the priest shall look upon the plague, and shut up it that hath the plague seven days:
51And he shall look on the plague on the seventh day: if the plague be spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in a skin, or in any work that is made of skin; the plague is a fretting leprosy; it is unclean.
A fretting leprosy - i. e. a malignant or corroding leprosy. What was the nature of the leprosy in clothing, which produced greenish or reddish spots, cannot be precisely determined. It was most likely destructive mildew, perhaps of more than one kind.
52He shall therefore burn that garment, whether warp or woof, in woollen or in linen, or any thing of skin, wherein the plague is: for it is a fretting leprosy; it shall be burnt in the fire.
53And if the priest shall look, and, behold, the plague be not spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin;
54Then the priest shall command that they wash the thing wherein the plague is, and he shall shut it up seven days more:
55And the priest shall look on the plague, after that it is washed: and, behold, if the plague have not changed his colour, and the plague be not spread; it is unclean; thou shalt burn it in the fire; it is fret inward, whether it be bare within or without.
56And if the priest look, and, behold, the plague be somewhat dark after the washing of it; then he shall rend it out of the garment, or out of the skin, or out of the warp, or out of the woof:
Somewhat dark - Rather, somewhat faint. Compare Leviticus 13:6.
57And if it appear still in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin; it is a spreading plague: thou shalt burn that wherein the plague is with fire.
Either - in these verses, should be or. See Leviticus 13:47, Leviticus 13:49.
It should be noticed that no religious or symbolic rite is prescribed for leprosy in clothing. The priest had only to decide whether the process of decay was at work in the article presented to him and to pronounce accordingly. Compare the leprosy in houses, Leviticus 14:33-53.
58And the garment, either warp, or woof, or whatsoever thing of skin it be, which thou shalt wash, if the plague be departed from them, then it shall be washed the second time, and shall be clean.
59This is the law of the plague of leprosy in a garment of woollen or linen, either in the warp, or woof, or any thing of skins, to pronounce it clean, or to pronounce it unclean.