16 October 2007

Leviticus 14:33-53

"When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, 'There seems to me to be some sort of disease in my house'". (v.34-35)


The book of Leviticus contains regulations for worship and religious ceremonies in ancient Israel. In particular it sets out the responsibilities of the priests.

The main theme is the holiness of God and the ways in which the people could maintain their relationship with God - both through worship and daily living.

This passage is about the purification of 'leprous' houses. Because of their external resemblance to human skin disease, certain forms of fungus (such as moss or mildew) on buildings were believed to have made them 'leprous'.

"If I put a leprous disease in a house" (v.4) - this phrase reflects the Hebrew attitude of attributing all things to God as the ultimate cause.

Uncleanness was present only when the fungus was active, a factor determined by the priest's inspection (v.33-36). If the growth seemed to be in the wall or if it seemed to be spreading, a seven-day quarantine was imposed to allow time for greater certainty on the matter. To enter the house during the quarantine made a person unclean for the day.

If the fungus was still active at the end of the seven days, the affected stones were removed and the plaster scraped off the walls. The house could be repaired but if the fungus reappeared the house had to be demolished. If the fungus did not re-occur then the house was declared clean.

A building was purified in the same way as a leprous person (seeLeviticus 14:1-9). A priest had authority in many everyday matters that do not seem to us to have anything to do with religion.

To Ponder

What does the phrase 'cleanliness is next to godliness' mean to you both in relation to your home and to you as a person?

In what way may this ritual be relevant today - bearing in mind the recent outbreak of 'Foot and Mouth' disease?

Bible notes author

Revd Anne Brown

Revd Anne Brown is Chair of the Beds, Essex and Herts District. She has served as a Methodist minister in Lancashire and Yorkshire before becoming Chair of the former London North West District..