Chapter 13 begins to detail the regulations for and cleansing of infectious skin diseases, rashes, and household mold and mildew.
Again we go back in time to imagine no modern medicine and means of ridding rashes with over the counter ointments and creams or visits to the dermatologist. These chapters specifically often evoke from modern day readers the notion that God had a way of promoting health long before medical science.
While this may be true, it often obscures the vital separation between clean and unclean, the real issue being addressed. In order to keep the image of God and remain a holy people who live and walk in his shadow and image, they must obey these regulations to keep their bodies and homes pure. The more we emphasize this one pragmatic modern explanation, the more it may sidetrack us from the deeper theological understanding of why God does what He does.
When a rash appeared on the skin, Israelites were to show it to Aaron or one of his sons, the priests. Moses and Aaron are instructed on several kinds of skin problems: rashes, boils, burns, itching, leprosy, and infectious diseases. Yes Leviticus often sounds redundant, but read these chapters compared to many medical textbooks and find poetry and rhythm in place of bland prose! Read quickly, it feels more like singing, “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza” than something boring. It has a beautiful rhythm and drives toward the importance of Israelites keeping their skin intact and pure. Compare this to songs we teach children in our country and others to learn good hygiene.
The conclusion of each rhythmic portion is that priests may pronounce a person unclean and put them in a period of isolation, check them again after seven days, then pronounce them clean or put them back in isolation as the priest deems appropriate. A leprous person remains outside the camp and cries “Unclean! Unclean!” presumably when in the presence of someone who may not know that fact. Clothes may also serve as non-verbal clue for others that the person is suffering from a skin disease that may be thought communicable.
When an article of clothing or leather was contaminated with mildew, the priest was to deem it clean or unclean. After the article was washed and isolated for seven days, it was either pronounced clean by the priest. Or, if it was the same or worse, the article of clothing was burned. We get a sense again of the bottom line for Israel in the summary to the regulations on mildew in Leviticus 13:59 (The Message): “These are the instructions regarding a spot of serious fungus in clothing of wool or linen, woven or knitted material, or any article of leather, for pronouncing them clean or unclean.”
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg’s wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.