Death and life do not go together. An Israelite marked by signs of death could not enter into the holy presence of God.
One tendency is to look at this chapter and say, “How cruel of God to deny people access to him when they were sick – or happened to have mildew on their clothing. It’s not their fault!”
But nowhere in this text is the person with a skin problem, or the person with mildew, being chastised for sin. Rather, this text is simply dealing in facts. Skin problems were a sign that the world is wasting away. Mildew is a mark of our world’s fallenness and the way that decay spreads and infiltrates otherwise good things.
One had to be whole to go into God’s presence.
So what about those who were barred from the activities at the tabernacle – or worse yet, barred from life in the community altogether? What were they to do?
First, these folks still could worship God from wherever they were located. They still could give him praise. They still could lift up their prayers to him. Yes, it was not as good as being able to join in with the community to worship at the tabernacle. But they weren’t entirely cut off from God. They could cry out to him.
Second, and most importantly, these folks could find their hope in the resurrection. Their hope lay in the future fulfillment of all of God’s promises. They couldn’t settle into their easy chairs in the evening and know everything was great in their lives right now and they had everything they needed or wanted. Their eyes had to be on the future, hoping in the redemption of God.
Did you know that in some mysterious way, we are living in both places at once – clean and unclean? And it is good for us to recognize this as we read this chapter.
On the one hand, we have full access to God through the blood of Christ. We are washed clean of our sins and can stand confidently in the presence of God (3:11-12). Not only can we come to God because of Christ, but he comes to us. We are now, as the church, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Christians dwell with God in close communion because of Christ.
But at the same time, we must be looking forward in hope. Like the person quarantined with a skin disease – by the way, not everything written about in Leviticus 13 is actual “leprosy” – we have not yet come into the closest possible communion with our Creator. The apostle Paul wrote about this:
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).
The laws about skin disease and garment mildew were reminders to the Israelites that death still reigned on earth, and contamination of body and possessions remained a threat. We still live in a world marked by sin and death.
We’ve overcome this through Christ. The hope of eternal life is now ours. In the meantime, we faithfully live out our lives in our perishable bodies – bodies marked by the sting of death until Christ returns and grants us the full transformation that comes with resurrection. (See 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 8).
So how are we to think about a text like Leviticus 13 today?
If you’ve ever been sick, you know about how frail we are as humans. You know about the brokenness of this world. You know something about decay and death.
And if you’ve ever had a possession that was destroyed or food that rotted or mold in your house, you know the self-destructive nature of our fallen world.
None of that has any part with God. Jesus came to remedy things for those who would believe.
This is a call for hope. We should hope not in the material things around us – all of which are marked for destruction, including our own bodies. Rather, we should hope in Christ and his resurrection, when he makes us fit for eternity.
There’s more to life than what you see around you.