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  • THE TEMPLE - CH. 18 - C

    But where, in the Divine mercy, one really leprous had been restored, the law (Lev 14) defined what was to be done for his 'purification.' The rites are, in fact, twofold--the first (Lev 14:1-9), to restore him to fellowship with the congregation; the other to introduce him anew to communion with God (Lev 14:10-20). In both respects he had been dead, and was alive again; and the new life, so consecrated, was one higher than the old could ever have been.

    The Mishnah

    This will appear from an attentive study of the ceremonial of purification, as described in the Mishnah (Negaim, xiii.). The priest having pronounced the former leper clean, a quarter of a log (the log rather less than a pint) of 'living water' was poured into an earthenware dish. Then two 'clean birds' were taken--the Rabbis say two sparrows * --of whom one was killed over 'the living water,' so that the blood might drop into it, after which the carcass was buried.

    * May not our Savior refer to this when He speaks of 'sparrows' as of marketable value: 'Are not two sparrows sold for one farthing' (Matt 10:29)?

    Next, cedar-wood, hyssop, and scarlet wool were taken and tied together (as at the burning of the red heifer), and dipped, along with the living bird, which was seized by the tips of his wings and of his tail, into the blood-stained water, when the person to be purified was sprinkled seven times on the back of his hand, or, according to others, on his forehead. Upon this the living bird was set free, neither towards the sea, nor towards the city, nor towards the wilderness, but towards the fields. Finally, the leper had all the hair on his body shorn with a razor, after which he washed his clothes, and bathed, when he was clean, though still interdicted his house * for seven days.

    * The Mishnah and all commentators apply this to conjugal intercourse.

    The Second Stage

    The first stage of purification had now been completed, and the seven days' seclusion served as preparation for the second stage. The former might take place anywhere, but the latter required the attendance of the purified leper in the sanctuary. It began on the seventh day itself, when the purified leper had again all his hair shorn, as at the first, washed his clothes, and bathed. The Mishnah remarks (Negaim, xiv. 4) that three classes required this legal tonsure of all hair--lepers, Nazarites, and the Levites at their consecration--a parallel this between the purified lepers and the Levites, which appears even more clearly in their being anointed on the head with oil (Lev 14:29), and which was intended to mark that their new life was higher than the old, and that, like Levi, they were to be specially dedicated to God. *

    * The significance of anointing the head with oil is sufficiently known.

    Though not of any special importance, we may add that, according to the Mishnah, as in the analogous case of the two goats for the Day of Atonement, the two birds for the leper were to be of precisely the same color, size, and value, and, if possible, bought on the same day--to mark that the two formed integral parts of one and the same service; the cedar-wood was to be one cubit long and 'the quarter of a bedpost' thick; the hyssop of the common kind, that is, not such as had any other bye-name, as Grecian, Roman, ornamental, or wild; while the scarlet wool was to be a shekel's weight. The rest of the ceremonial we give in the words of the Mishnah itself (Negaim, xiv. 7, etc.):--'On the eighth day the leper brings three sacrifices--a sin-, a trespass-, and a burnt-offering, and the poor brings a sin- and a burnt-offering of a bird. He stands before the trespass-offering, lays his hands upon it, and kills it. Two priests catch up the blood--one in a vessel, the other in his hand. He who catches it up in the vessel goes and throws it on the side of the altar, and he who catches it in his hand goes and stands before the leper. And the leper, who had previously bathed in the court of the lepers, goes and stands in the gate of Nicanor. Rabbi Jehudah says:--He needs not to bathe. He thrusts in his head (viz. into the great court which he may not yet enter), and the priest puts of the blood upon the tip of his ear; he thrusts in his hand, and he puts it upon the thumb of his hand; he thrusts in his foot, and he puts it upon the great toe of his foot. Rabbi Jehudah says:--He thrusts in the three at the same time. If he have lost his thumb, great toe, or right ear, he cannot ever be cleansed. Rabbi Eliezer says:--The priest puts in on the spot where it had been. Rabbi Simeon says:--If it be applied on the corresponding left side of the leper's body, it sufficeth. The priest now takes from the log of oil and pours it into the palm of his colleague--though if he poured it into his own it were valid. He dips his finger and sprinkles seven times towards the Holy of Holies, dipping each time he sprinkles. He goes before the leper; and on the spot where he had put the blood he puts the oil, as it is written, "upon the blood of the trespass-offering." And the remnant of the oil that is in the priest's hand, he pours on the head of him that is to be cleansed, for an atonement; if he so puts it, he is atoned for, but if not, he is not atoned for. So Rabbi Akiba. Rabbi Jochanan, the son of Nuri, saith:--This is only the remnant of the ordinance--whether it is done or not, the atonement is made; but they impute it to him (the priest?) as if he had not made atonement.'

    Purification from Suspicion of Adultery

    3. It still remains to describe the peculiar ceremonial connected with the purification of a wife from the suspicion of adultery. Strictly speaking, there was no real offering connected with this. The rites (Num 5:11-31) consisted of two parts, in the first of which the woman in her wave-offering solemnly commended her ways to the Holy Lord God of Israel, thus professing innocence: while in the second, she intimated her readiness to abide the consequences of her profession and appeal to God. Both acts were symbolical, nor did either of them imply anything like an ordeal. The meat-offering which she brought in her hand symbolised her works, the fruit of her life. But owing to the fact that her life was open to suspicion, it was brought, not of wheat, as on other occasions, but of barley-flour, which constituted the poorest fare, while, for the same reason, the customary addition of oil and frankincense was omitted. Before this offering was waved and part of it burned on the altar, the priest had to warn the woman of the terrible consequences of a false profession before the Lord, and to exhibit what he spoke in a symbolical act. He wrote the words of the curse upon a roll; then, taking water out of the laver, in which the daily impurities of the priests were, so to speak, symbolically cleansed, and putting into it dust of the sanctuary, he washed in this mixture the writing of the curses, which were denounced upon the special sin of which she was suspected. And the woman, having by a repeated Amen testified that she had quite apprehended the meaning of the whole, and that she made her solemn appeal to God, was then in a symbolical act to do two things. First, she presented in her meat-offering, which the priest waved, her life to the heart-searching God, and then, prepared for the consequences of her appeal, she drank the bitter mixture of the threatened curses, assured that it could do no harm to her who was innocent, whereas, if guilty, she had appealed to God, judgment would certainly at some time overtake her, and that in a manner corresponding to the sin which she had committed.

    Regulations as Given in the Mishnah

    According to the Mishnah, which devotes to this subject a special tractate (Sotah), a wife could not be brought to this solemn trial unless her husband have previously warned her, in presence of two witnesses, against intercourse with one whom he suspected, and also two witnesses had reported that she had contravened his injunction. The Rabbis, moreover, insist that the command must have been express, that it only applied to intercourse out of reach of public view, and that the husband's charge to his wife before witnesses should be preceded by private and loving admonition. *

    * The tractate Sotah enters into every possible detail, with prurient casuistry--the tendency, as always in Jewish criminal law, being in favor of the accused.

    But if, after all this, she had left such warning unheeded, her husband had first to bring her before the Sanhedrim of his own place, who would dispatch two of their scholars with the couple to Jerusalem, where they were to appear before the Great Sanhedrim. The first endeavor of that tribunal was to bring the accused by any means to make confession. If she did so, she only lost what her husband had settled upon her, but retaind her own portion. *

    * According to Rabbinical law adulteresses only suffered death if they persisted in the actual crime after having been warned of the consequences by two witnesses. It is evident that this canon must have rendered the infliction of the death penalty the rarest exception--indeed, almost inconceivable.

    If she persisted in her innocence, she was brought through the eastern gate of the Temple, and placed at the gate of Nicanor, where the priest tore off her dress to her bosom, and dishevelled her hair. If she wore a white dress, she was covered with black; if she had ornaments, they were taken from her, and a rope put round her neck. Thus she stood, exposed to the gaze of all, except her own parents. all this to symbolise the Scriptural warning (Isa 65:7): 'Therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom'; for in what had been her pride and her temptation she was now exposed to shame. The priest was to write, in ink, Numbers 5:19-22, of course leaving out the introductory clauses in verses 19 and 21, and the concluding 'Amen.' The woman's double response of Amen bore reference first to her innocence, and secondly to the threatened curse.

    The waving of the woman's offering was done in the usual manner, but opinions differ whether she had to drink 'the bitter water' before or after part of her offering had been burned on the altar. If before the writing was washed into the water she refused to take the test, her offering was scattered among the ashes; similarly, if she confessed herself guilty. But if she insisted on her innocence after the writing was washed, she was forced to drink the water. The Divine judgment was supposed to overtake the guilty sooner or later, as some thought, according to their other works. The wave-offering belonged to the priest, except where the suspected woman was the wife of a priest, in which case the offering was burned. If a husband were deaf or insane, or in prison, the civil officers of the place would act in his stead in insisting on a woman clearing herself of just suspicion. An adulteress was prohibited from living with her seducer. It is beside our purpose further to enter into the various legal determinations of the Mishnah. But it is stated that, with the decline of morals in Palestine, the trial by the 'water of jealousy' gradually ceased (in accordance with what we read in Hosea 4:14), till it was finally abolished by Rabbi Jochanan, the son of Zacchai, some time after the death of our Lord. While recording this fact the Mishnah (Sotah, ix. 9-15) traces, in bitter language, the decay and loss of what had been good and precious to Israel in their worship, Temple, wisdom, and virtues, pointing forward to the yet greater sorrow of 'the last day,' 'shortly before the coming of Messiah,' when all authority, obedience, and fear of God would decline in the earth, and 'our only hope and trust' could spring from looking up to our Heavenly Father. Yet beyond it stands out, in the closing words of this tractate in the Mishnah, the final hope of a revival, of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and of the blessed resurrection, all connected with the long-expected ministry of Elijah!


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