Leviticus 13:6-7

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Delivered 18 April 2015

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NOTE: The Scripture text is taken from Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version, 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.


"6 The kohen is to examine him again on the seventh day, and behold, if the plague has faded and has not spread in the skin, then the kohen should pronounce him clean. It is a scab. He is to wash his clothes, and be clean. 7 But if the scab spreads on the skin, after he has shown himself to the kohen for his cleansing, he is to show himself to the kohen once again." (Lev 13:6-7 TLV)


In the Torah God required priests to be able to distinguish between the holy and the common and the clean and the unclean. Priests were responsible to insure that the unclean did not mix with the clean, but by the same token they were to help the unclean to become clean and the clean to become holy. In Leviticus 13 God directs priests to examine persons with skin problems and determine whether the person had tzara'at, a very serious skin disease, which most Bibles inaccurately translate as "leprosy." Tzara'at was not the terrible affliction of Hansen's Disease. The chapter describes five scenarios with the same process in each. There is a description of symptoms, as many as two weeks of isolation, and as many as three examinations by the priest after which, if the condition had worsened, the person would be declared unclean and separated from the camp. In this situation "unclean" does not imply a moral or hygienic category. Uncleanness is simply the opposite of a normal healthy condition. There is no certainty as to what the actual disease was and Bible scholars have made a number of suggestions based on the list of symptoms.

We should note what the Torah does not say:

1. First, The text does not say that tzara'at is contagious in a clinical sense, so the separation was not for public health. Separation had the goal of eventual healing and restoration, which is covered in chapter 14. Thus, separation was an acted-out parable that the unclean can only approach the holy God as mediated by a priest.

2. Second, The priest is not warned against touching the afflicted person. There were other types of uncleanness for which touching is prohibited, but for the one with skin disease the priest was required to look closely at the problem to determine its seriousness and prescribe appropriate action. So, when Yeshua touched a man with this skin disease and healed him Yeshua did not violate the Torah nor did he become unclean.

3. Third, the priest is not told to confront the person about sin. In the Talmud tzara'at is attributed to sins of the tongue, such as false oaths, slander, and gossip. However, there is no indication in this chapter that the disease is divine payback for some offense. Disease may result from a variety of causes, whether of natural origin, human action, Satan's action or God's action. The priest's role was not to make assumptions but simply to examine and determine the appropriate action for the well-being of the individual and preserving the holiness of the sanctuary.

4. Fourth, there is no evidence that tzara'at was a widespread occurrence in ancient Israel. In fact, in the Tanakh there are only five named people identified with this disease: Moses, his sister Miriam, Naaman, Gehazi and King Uzziah. There were also four unnamed men who suffered from the disease during the time of Elisha (2Kgs 7:3). Job could possibly be added to the list because of the boils he suffered over his entire body.

If skin disease was caused by sin one would think that the many occasions of Israel rebelling against God would have resulted in widespread and frequent plagues of skin disease. Yet, there is only a small number of reported cases. It could be that the instruction of Leviticus 13 was really intended as a portent of the ministry of the Messiah and his disciples.

Yeshua responded to those considered unclean by others with healing grace, including those afflicted with skin disease. In each case of healing tzara'at Yeshua told the person to go to the priest and present the required offering for cleansing. When Yeshua sent out the twelve in Matthew 10, part of the commission was to "cleanse those with skin disease" (Matt 10:8), and yet in the Torah this was a role assigned to priests.

Spiritual Application

So, what application might we draw from this Torah instruction? First, it was God's will that his people be a kingdom of priests. Second, we as priests can only help people if we take time to see them as they really are and not turn away from their suffering. Third, determining the nature of a problem and its cause depends on gathering facts and evidence. This is the only kind of judging that God permits us to make, because only He can see the heart. Fourth, Yeshua expanded the role of the priest from simply being a clinical examiner to being a burden-bearer. Even more important than any physical disease is disease of the soul, which can separate a person from God. As priests in the house of the Lord let us be the hands of Yeshua to bring his healing touch to those in need.

Copyright 2015 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.