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Vayikra/Leviticus 13:14 And on the day living flesh appears in it, it shall be impure.
Ah - we're back in that middle section of the Torah where we have to deal with the tricky issue of tzara'at: the vaguely leprosy-like skin condition that isn't Hansen's disease. This particular verse comes in the second of a series of paragraphs all starting with the Hebrew word , 'if', that subdivide the different ways in which tzara'at might be manifested. The second section deals with scaly conditions, perhaps like psoriasis, in which the whole of the skin surface goes white and scaly. Our verse deals with the case where suddenly, on the day when it is inspected, non-white flesh has appeared in the middle of white skin. Looking at the phrase , translated "living flesh" above, Gordon Wenham suggests that "the exact meaning of 'living' flesh is hard to determine here. It may refer to the inflammation of the skin making it red, or tiny areas of bleeding where scales have been rubbed off."1
Let's remind ourselves of the role of the priest in these matters. Walter Kaiser comments that, "the role of Aharon and his sons in these matters is entirely ritualistic; there is no attempt at giving medical treatment or cures."2 Samuel Balentine agrees, pointing to the purpose for this role: "The priest functions not as a medical doctor who treats and cures a patient but as a cultic specialist who identifies impurities and administers rituals that enable the community to separate the 'unclean' from the 'clean.'"3 This is the role that Aharon and his sons are given for all generations, "you must distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean; and you must teach the Israelites all the laws which the LORD has imparted to them through Moshe" (Vayikra 10:10-11, NJPS). They are to make status judgements in all cases, and to teach the Israelites the Torah.
The grammar and vocabulary of the two chapters dealing with this subject, chapters 13 and 14, seem to make this emphasis on ritual clear; the focus is on being ritually clean and being ritually unclean. Kaiser points out that, "in these two chapters alone, variations of the root 'clean' appear thirty-six times, while forms of the root 'unclean' occur thirty times. Only four times does the word 'be healed' [from the root , 'to heal'] occur. Accordingly, we are involved in ritual questions here and not medical ones."4 Also significant in the vocabulary is the matter of time; chapter 13 is filled with time-significant phrases: after seven days, on the eighth day, another seven days. The process moves from one time marker to the next. Our text above refers to "the day" when a change takes place in the skin condition, but this has to be understood as referring to the day on which the priest makes his next inspection and observes that a change has taken place. On that day, it - that is, the condition - becomes impure when the priest sees it and declares it to be unclean.
Rashi wants to know what the test says "on the day" rather than simply "when" - wouldn't the latter have done? He answers, "to teach that there is a day on which you look [at afflictions], and a day on which you do not look." What does this mean? That question is answered by the Sages of the Talmud: "If a groom developed symptoms of leprosy they grant him [delay of inspection to the end of] the seven days of the [marriage] feast (see B'resheet 29:27-28), whether it be his person, or his house (Vayikra 14:35-38) or his garment (ibid. 13:47,50) [that is affected]; and likewise [if the symptoms developed] during a festival they grant him all (the Mishnah and Sifra read: all the days) the seven days of the festival." Pointing to the next chapter, where the Torah says that, "The priest shall order the house cleared before the priest enters to examine the plague, so that nothing in the house may become unclean" (Vayikra 14:26, NJPS), Rabbi Judah explains that "if [the inspection is] here delayed for his convenience, which is just an optional matter (to save the effects from being contaminated by the priest's declaration), may it not all the more be deferred for his [due observance of a] religious obligation" (b. Mo'ed Katan 7b Marriage is after all enjoined in B'resheet 1:22, 2:24; rejoicing at festivals is commanded in D'varim 14:26, 16:11,14-15. Rabbi Hirsch adds that, for the same reason, "on Shabbat too, inspections are not done and if the seventh day of isolation falls of a Shabbat, the examination is postponed until the following day (m. Nega'im 1:4)." Finally, the Sifsei Chachamim observes that "this applies to anyone, not just a bridegroom, so that the enjoyment/celebration of the festival not be spoiled."
The larger biblical text makes significant use of the phrase "on that day"; from the early "But on that day I will set apart the region of Goshen" (Shemot 8:18, NJPS), to the later "I will save you on that day" (Jeremiah 39:17, NJPS) and "On that day, He will set His feet on the Mount of Olives" (Zechariah 14:4, NJPS), and even "On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away" (Luke 17:31, ESV), it is used to point prophetically forward to a time when G-d will act. The time scale may be quite short or very long, but is always specific and - at the same time - indefinite: that is, it always refers to a real, actual day but it does not specify which day that will be except by the action taking place. In the same way as inspections for tzara'at are carried out on particular days, or at fixed intervals between days, so that there is a day when inspections happen and many days when they do not, the actions in "on that day" language will happen on a specific day or at a preset interval from other other days, and not on any other day no matter how many there are. "On that day" is exact and foreknown, although not disclosed: "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matthew 24:36, ESV). The Father has determined the exact date for Yeshua's return, but has not yet told anyone what that date is; nevertheless Yeshua will come not a day sooner nor a day later - He will come "on that day".
The phrase "on that day" is also used to talk about apocalyptic things. Rav Sha'ul is very clear that there will come a specific day when accounts will be settled: "For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of G-d ... then each one of us shall give account of himself to G-d" (Romans 14:10,12, NASB). On that day, reward and punishment will be dispensed: "those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Yeshua ... will pay the penalty of eternal destruction ... when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day" (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10, NASB) and "in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8, NASB). According to Peter, "the end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer" (1 Peter 4:7, NASB) and Yeshua warned the disciples that there would come a day when "there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops" (Luke 12:2-3, NASB).
Several of Yeshua's parables talk of things happening unexpectedly - the master who returns home when he is not expected. Will he find his servants carrying out their assigned duties and ready to greet him, or will he find them carousing and beating the other servants? Luke records Yeshua saying, "Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them" (Luke 12:37, NASB); that's a terrific reward and privilege. On the other hand, Luke goes on, if a servant thinks he can have a party while the master is away, "the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him, and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers" (v. 46, NASB); that's a fearful ending! Perhaps that's why Yeshua warns everyone to "be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come" (Mark 13:33, ESV).
The person with a skin condition is given some leeway to finish rejoicing or family obligations before the inspection by the priest that may declare him to be ritually unclean and lead to isolation outside the camp, but that day of judgement will come. We are given leeway to live our lives and - if possible - to get our affairs in order and find salvation and a relationship with G-d in Yeshua, but the day of judgement will come. The skin condition is inspected; the criteria for the adjudication are laid down in the Torah. It is an open and shut case. The criteria for membership of the kingdom of G-d are similarly well documented and Yeshua's eye misses nothing. Will you be ready for the inspection?
1. - Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), page 198.
2. - Walter C. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible CommentaryVol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 589.
3. - Samuel E. Balentine, Leviticus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), page 105.
4. - Kaiser, page 590.
Further Study: D'varim 25:1-2; Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Peter 4:7-11
Application: If this week were your last in this world, would you be ready for customs and immigration control on the other side of the Jordan? Pretend that you are in the departure lounge, waiting for your flight to be called and consider any last minute 'phone calls you might need to make or baggage you could leave behind.
05:33 10Apr19 Brian and Anne Nelson: Excellent commentary. I heard once that The Book of Leviticus is known as Almighty G-d's Love Letter to us! It is so very helpful to have clear understanding. Toda raba!UserComemnt(19:01 18May19, Ann Pangbourne, I really like your concluding thoughts about the coming of the Day)
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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