Leviticus 13:45–46 (HCSB)
45 “The person afflicted with an infectious skin disease is to have his clothes torn and his hair hanging loose, and he must cover his mouth and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ 46 He will remain unclean as long as he has the infection; he is unclean. He must live alone in a place outside the camp.
Skin disease is the topic of this pericope. I am used to this being referred to as leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease. In reading about this though, I found that it is doubtful that the text is speaking about leprosy, or if it is, it is only included within the larger group of skin infections or diseases, but certainly is not the focal condition.
Further, according to one commentary I read, it may be that the entire passage, along with further text, is the result of ritual customs, not any pathological treatment, and it is the conditions of the disease, that act as a reminder of death, that lead to the ritual observations recorded here. I’m not sure I am totally convinced with this treatment of the text, but it does present an interesting interpretation, and I think does provide a valid point in that the skin diseases do result in a reminder of death. And judging by Leviticus 13:45-46, there is some assumption that the disease is infectious, spread through contact, or even airborne due to the requirement of covering one’s mouth.
This portion of the text is mostly concerned with the identification of the disease. The initial response when something appears on the skin is to quarantine the person, and wait for a period of seven days, and then examine the person again. Depending on if there has been a worsening, or spreading, the priest will declare the person clean or unclean. Note that this is pronouncement is done based on the appearance of the skin disease. This is what is appealing in the idea that this is all ritual and related to the appearance of death. If “death” spreads it must be separated from the community, if it has been checked, and stopped, it is defeated and the person is clean.
Obviously, in modern times, we have different methods of approaching skin diseases. But, we can learn from some of the spiritual implications of this pericope: the separation of that which is dying, and it’s contagious nature, from the rest of the body. Great caution should be taken when we surround ourselves with that which is “of death”, or even has the appearance of it, for we can be influenced by it.
Lord, thank You for guidance to separate ourselves from that which might infect us. I don’t mean this in a physiological way, but in a spiritual sense. We are so susceptible to the lure of sin and death, help us to be guarded and avoid such temptation. And when we do succumb, help us to repent and return to You, the only One who can purify us. Amen.