Since an assembly is a house of God, 1 Tim. 3. 15; 1 Pet. 2. 5; 1 Cor. 3. 17, we may expect to learn some useful lessons from the case dealt with in Leviticus 14. In the preceding chapter is found the well-known illustration of the total depravity of man and the longsuffering of God, depicted by the leper and the priest. In the first part of chapter 14 the type is of God’s sovereign remedy, cleansing by the death and resurrection of Christ set forth in the two birds, one of which was killed and the other liberated in the open field.
Leprosy in the House
The lesson concerns sin in the assembly (or house of God), and a holy God’s way of dealing with it. It cannot, of course, be over-emphasized that the assembly is a place which should be characterized by humility, friendliness and love, but if those desirable features constitute the sum total of its commendation, then it might barely exceed the condition of a good social club. The fact is that the local church is a house of God and ‘holiness becometh thy house’. The leprous house of Leviticus 14 envisages a time when Israel would come into the land which the Lord would give them for a possession, v. 34. Our thoughts naturally turn to the corresponding portion for the church in Ephesians 2. 6, where we read that ‘He hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places (the heavenlies) in Christ Jesus’. The disturbing fact, however, is that even in ‘the land’ there is a suspected case of leprosy in the house, and we would do well to note the procedure.
Those who are able to detect the signs of danger are to tell the priest. So, those in the assembly who ‘have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil’, Heb. 5. 14, should make a point of FIRST telling their High Priest of any sin they have suspected in the house of God. Perhaps we shall never know until the judgement scat of Christ how much God’s people have owed to the intercession of godly souls who, being genuinely burdened with conditions, have brought the matter before the Lord.
Unhurried, but Firm Action
In the suspected case of house leprosy, the house is shut up seven days (so there is no hasty judgement) but if stones are found to be leprous, the priest commands that the people put away the stones and deposit them without in an unclean place. There is a solemn example of the spiritual counterpart of this in the house of God at Corinth, 1 Cor. 5. There was a leprous stone in the house, and Paul’s instruction to the believers there was, v. 13, ‘Put away from among you that wicked person’. Paul describes this as ‘delivering him to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus’. This resulted in blessing to the individual concerned and to the church. The result of failure to carry out the Word of God in this respect would be ‘a little leaven leavening the lump’. Sin, like leprosy, is contagious. To fail to recognize and guard the holiness of the assembly is not humility but pride (v. 2 – puffed up) not grace but sentimentality.
The True State Revealed
The next step is ‘he shall cause the house to be scraped’, thus removing all that was superficial and exposing the true state of affairs beneath the plaster. Paul did just that in the opening chapters of his first epistle to the Corinthians. He denounced pride of sect, contrasted worldly wisdom with the preaching of the cross, which is foolishness to men but the power of God. He reprimanded them for their glorying in man and for their stunted growth in spiritual things. He exhorted them not to judge one another’s motives, seeing that ‘the Lord … will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the hidden counsels of the hearts’, and yet in the next chapter described them as puffed up for failing to judge sinful deeds. Paul certainly scraped the walls at Corinth, an exercise which, alas, in modern times, would not please those who require that ministry should always be comforting.
The next act in Leviticus 14 ordered by the priest was that they should take other stones and mortar, not as at man-built Babel where they substituted brick for stone and slime for mortar. Converts produced by the will of man, or the will of the flesh, John 1. 13, are not stones but bricks, and if organization unauthorized by the Word of God, but devised by the mere wisdom of man, is used to hold the people together instead of the mortar of Spirit-empowered ministry operating in genuine love, the result will be confusion, as at Babel.
The words in verse 43 ‘if the plague come again’ visualize a sad possibility. The diseased stones although removed, have left irreparable contamination and now the house has to be destroyed. It is to be noticed that this extreme action is attributed to the priest himself. It is the Lord’s prerogative to close down a testimony; it is not ours even to pass judgement as to its closing down. Some organizations claim authority to excommunicate whole companies, regardless of the fact that it is the One in the midst of the lampstands, of whom we read in Revelation 2, who alone can say ‘I will remove thy lampstand’.
From verse 48 onwards we have the pronouncing of the house clean, but only on the basis of that which represents the death and resurrection of Christ, i.e., the death of one bird and the liberation of the other. If an assembly is in the happy position of not having to remove any stones it is only by grace, and there is not room for pride or odious comparisons with others. To God be the glory.
The Divine Presence
The reason for emphasizing the holiness of a temple of God is that God Himself dwells within, whatever form that temple may take. ‘Know ye not that ye arc the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are’, 1 Cor. 3. 16, 17. At the giving of the law to Israel, Exod. 20. 20, we read ‘God is come to prove you, that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not’. At the inauguration of the law, when responsibility was accepted by Israel, sin resulted in the death of three thousand people. Similarly in those early days of the church, the deception, lying and irresponsibility of Ananias and Sapphira resulted in swift judgement and death, young men acting as their bearers, Acts 5. 1-10. The effect of this was that:
1. Great fear came upon all the church.
2. Of the rest durst no man join himself to them.
The holiness of the church was the predominating lesson of those early days. We might ask ourselves why young men were employed and not the elders. In these last days, youth is treated as a special class demanding preferential treatment, with emphasis on what will appeal, but in the early days these young men were brought face to face with the consequences of despising the holiness of God and of His temple. There can be little doubt that in later years the memory of this solemn occasion would remain and induce them to warn others.
Clean Hands and Hearts
The oft-quoted words of James in chapter 4 of his epistle are almost invariably half-quoted. ‘Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you’ is only part of the injunction. Continuing we read ‘cleanse your hands ye sinners, and purify your hearts ye double minded. Be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness; humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up’. More of the fear of God and less of man would create among the saints a greater reverence for God’s Word, and less inclination to lean to our own understanding in private and assembly matters. Indeed if it were true today that ‘Of the rest durst no man join himself to them’ it might well be an indication of a standard of holiness becoming a house of God, a holy temple.
Tolerance of evil and failure to maintain discipline in any household will not only re-act upon the head but upon the family.
In sin affecting the life and witness of the Church the alternatives would appear to be:
a. Self judgement; or
b. Judgement by the church; or
c. Judgement by the Lord, resulting in sickness and even
The standard of holiness must not be lowered to accommodate modern thought or practices. It must be maintained firstly, for the glory of God; secondly, for the testimony of the assembly; and thirdly, for the blessing of the individual believer.
The attitude of the believers to the house of God, against the background of God’s holiness will determine whether ‘Ichabod’ (the glory is departed) or ‘Jehovah Shammah’ (the Lord is there) shall be written over the door.