I don’t know about you, but I’ve loved (and needed!) the scripture writing plan for this month on Whiter Than Snow. It’s been filled to the brim with wonderful reminders of God’s love and grace and the sacrifices of Jesus. We Christians NEED those frequent reminders and I hope this month’s theme – along with the free graphics – has been a blessing for you also. We’re closing out the month with Ashley’s lesson on this topic. Enjoy, sisters! I absolutely LOVE how she explains the problem (and cure!) of spiritual leprosy.
I feel confident saying that we all like to be clean. You might be an all natural girl or might like to add a little makeup in the mornings before you feel ready to face the world, but either way, cleanliness is standard. Sometimes we don’t have time, but we try to fake it with dry shampoo, a little spritz of perfume, and some fabric refresher. (As a mom of four little ones, this is me more than I care to admit!) I can remember actual instances of being somewhere important and realizing I had a stain on my shirt or my pants, and wishing I could run home and change. You’ve been there, too, right?
Can you imagine the shame you would feel if, as an Israelite, you were declared leprous? Cleanliness would be automatically out of reach. Not only were you legally unclean under the Law, but everywhere you traveled, you had to announce your arrival by shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” Apart from the shame of being unclean, your condition also forced you to be separated from your family and friends, as you would have to live apart from society, despised and rejected.
The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)
Thankfully, leprosy was not always a permanent condition. Under the Old Law, if you had any kind of boil, rash, break out, itch, or skin discoloration, you were subject to examination by the priest and thus, a potential “leper.” If the skin condition cleared up, the individual could re-enter the camp, but not before a very significant cleansing ritual performed by the priest. Let’s read about it and then examine the meaning behind this unusual practice.
The priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and let the living bird go into the open field.
Like so much of the Old Law, this presents a shadow of the perfect Law that was to come. The earthen vessel is Christ’s human body that was shed. From it, when pierced, came water and blood. The cedarwood represents the cross. The scarlet yarn is symbolic of the robe they placed around Jesus after His trial. The hyssop foretells of the hyssop pole used to serve Him a drink of vinegar during His crucifixion. The number seven represents completion in the Bible. Finally, the live bird that was dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird that is later released represents us, and the ultimate cleansing we receive when we come in contact with the redeeming blood of Christ.
The critical truth that we must humbly accept is that we are all lepers! We are all unclean. If we, alone, were to go before the Great High Priest and present ourselves for examination, we would be found diseased with the leprosy of sin. Our very nature separates us from God. We are outside the camp.
Like leprosy, our sinful uncleanliness does not have to be a permanent condition. Because Jesus became sin for our sakes, was despised and rejected for us, and ultimately gave himself up as the perfect sacrifice, we can come back inside the camp. We can be washed free of the shame and guilt of our sins. We can dwell with our Father forever.
David penned some of the most beautiful words of penitence in Psalm 51.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
David knew he had sinned, knew he was outside of the camp, and knew that was not where he wanted to remain. Perhaps David, being the man after God’s own heart, realized better than most that it was his heart that was leprous and in need of cleansing.
We all sin and fall short daily. We hope and trust that God’s grace and mercy will cover our accidental or absentminded mistakes and omissions. But when our hearts become calloused, distracted by the world, too focused on selfish pursuits, and no longer looking towards eternity, we are in need of a cleansing. Sometimes we try to fake it, just as we do with dry shampoo, and convince ourselves we aren’t that dirty. Rather than showing ourselves to the priest by searching God’s word for guidance on our cleanliness, we compare ourselves to the world around us.
David was blessed to have Nathan in his life to bring his very serious heart disease to his attention. You may not have a literal Nathan in your life, but every time you open your Bible, read a devotional, or listen to a sermon, God could be using that moment to get your attention! Jesus died so that all may have eternal life. His plan was to cleanse each and every soul, and there’s no sin stain that His blood cannot make whiter than snow. We must only compare ourselves to God’s perfect Son who took on flesh to realize that we are indeed unclean.
On the other hand, perhaps God needs you to be someone’s Nathan. As uncomfortable as it may be, we are called to admonish fellow brothers and sisters. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2
It isn’t easy or comfortable to confront a fellow Christian ensnared in sin. We fear their reaction. Will they be angry? Accuse me of judging? Will it ruin our relationship? God encourages us to speak with love to strengthen the body of the church. We must have faith that He will bless our efforts to rescue our fellow Christian. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head into Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
Whether you can identify with the David or the Israelite leper living alone outside the camp, or whether you feel that there is someone in your life who needs a gentle nudge back towards God, my prayer is that you will act on those feelings boldly! ~Ashley