Chapter fourteen of Leviticus describes the purification process for a person afflicted with skin disease. When a person has been healed from skin disease, he or she would begin an elaborate purification process over a period of eight days. As the ritual progresses over those eight days, the person is moved closer and closer toward full purity so that he or she can be re-established into the community of the Lord’s people.
The process was long and elaborate. And it had several stages.
When a person believed that the skin condition had gone away, that person would call the priest to come to them outside the camp to make an inspection. Having been banished outside the community of God, they could not enter in and thus need others to come outside to them. If the priest determined that the person’s disease has been healed, the priest would preside over a “nonsacrificial elimination ritual” that employs two birds, found in Leviticus 14:4-7.
In this ritual, one bird is slaughtered over live water, or water flowing from a live source such as a spring. The priest takes the other bird, still alive, along with cedar wood, crimson yard, and hyssop, and dips them all in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered that has mixed with the water from the living source, or “living water.” The priest would then sprinkle that blood-water mixture seven times on the person who was seeking reinstatement and purification and then set the living bird free into the open country. Old Testament scholar Roy Gane says that in this, “the ritual impurity is transferred from the person to the living bird via the blood of the slain bird, and the living bird carries the impurity away into oblivion.”
After this, the candidate would launder their clothes, shave off all their hair, and bathe in water. At that point, the person becomes ritually pure, where pure here means “pure enough for this stage.” This allows the person to enter into the camp once again. He or she is restored into the community faith. However, because some impurity still remains, the person must stay outside his or her tent. Another week of rituals have to take place before they are completely re-instated.
On the seventh day, there is another shaving, including the eyebrows, laundering, and bath, after which the person is even more pure. Another layer of purity is washed away. This level of purity allows the person to now come to the sanctuary, the final part of the ritual that occurs on the eighth day. This part of the ritual requires the person to offer a group of sacrifices at the sanctuary (14:10). It is an expensive ritual, requiring three animals, though allowances are made for those who are poor. When this part of the ritual is over, the person is completely restored and completely pure.
Why would the Lord do this? Why would he require a purification process instead of just purifying the person immediately? Let’s look at Mark 8:22-25 and the healing of a blind man to get a little clarity.
22 When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. 23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?” 24 The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.” 25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. (NLT)
Jesus had in the past and will in the future heal completely. But on this occasion, he does it in two stages. Why? It was not that He didn’t have the power. By allowing the blind man to experience healing as a process, Jesus demonstrated the enormity of the healing the man experienced.
David Garland, in his NIV Application commentary on Mark says of this miracle:
The miracle shows Jesus’ power to heal even the most difficult cases. The Markan context, which portrays Jesus’ struggle to get his disciples to see anything, gives this unusual two-stage healing added significance. The blind man’s healing occurs between two examples of the disciple’s blindness (8:14-21; 8:31-33). This physical healing of blindness serves as a paradigm for the spiritual healing of the disciple’s sight, which also comes gradually and with difficulty.
So it was with the restoration from skin disease. By establishing the complexity of this ritual, God was showing the people the magnitude of the fall from purity that had occurred. The enormity of the fall meant that restoration and purity was a long journey back. Our restoration “home” from the impact of our fall because of sin is long because we have departed so far from God. The process of being completely healed and re-integrated into God’s holy universe has spanned several thousand years and required the sacrifice of God the Son, Jesus Christ. So by providing us with a phased journey to wholeness, we are able to see how far away from God we were and realize the greatness of His grace, the magnitude of His love, and the steps He went through to redeem us from the sin that de-humanized us.
In addition, our restoration involves moral purification, which includes being restored in our ability to make right choices. God cannot heal our moral nature in one grand instance without destroying our free will, “the ability of human nature that makes it possible for us to love Him. If he were to transform all of us instantly into obedient robots who automatically go to church on time, give offerings and tithes, treat others well, abstain from harmful substances, and say, ‘God we love you,’ he would thereby annihilate the human race because we would no longer be human.”
It’s not the outcome, it’s the journey. Unfortunately, it’s the journey that we detest because the process is expensive and sometimes painful. But in the end, the journey allows a full restoration into His presence and full freedom to live as a follower of Christ.
You think about that…