"When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a contamination of mildew into a house in that land,
exceedingly remarkable. Nothing could possibly impress the Hebrew mine[ more powerfully with the idea that "the face of the Lord was against' that spiritual evil of which leprosy was the chosen type. How direct the argument and forcible the conclusion that, if not only every remotest particle of leprosy itself was to be ruthlessly put away but also anything which to the bodily eye had even a near resemblance to it, and was thus suggestive of it, - how offensive, how intolerable, in the sight of God must that evil thing itself be held! Here are -
I. THREE MAIN PRINCIPLES ON THE SUBJECT OF CORRUPTION. In God's view, as we gain it from his Word,
1. Corruption (impurity) may attach to the "house" or community as well as to the individual. We read of "the iniquity of the house of Israel," and of "the iniquity of the house of Judah" (Ezekiel 4:5, 6); of "the house of Israel dealing treacherously with God" (Jeremiah 3:20), etc.
2. That earnest effort should be made to cleanse it from corruption. The leprous house of stone was to be cleansed: the stones in which the plague was were to be taken away (verse 40); the house was to be scraped round about, and its unclean dust cast out of the camp (verse 41); other stones were to be placed and other mortar used instead (verse 42): the leprous part was to be removed and the house renovated. So must the contaminated community purify itself, removing that from it which is evil and corrupting its Achan, its Ananias and Sapphira, its Simon the sorcerer, its guilty member (1 Corinthians 5), etc.
3. That, all efforts failing, the house will be destroyed. "He shall break down the house, the stones of it," etc. (verse 45). A community of any kind that is incurably corrupt
(1) had better be broken up deliberately by the hand of man; but if no
(2) will certainly be dissolved in time by the hand of God. The history of the world abounds in proofs that moral and spiritual corruption lead on to feebleness, decay, dissolution.
II. THREE MAIN APPLICATIONS OF THE PRINCIPLES. To any leprous "house," to any community into which seeds of corruption have been introduced, these principles will apply. They may with peculiar appropriateness be referred to:
1. The nation. The "house of Judah" and the "house of Israel" were continually warned that they had erred from the ways of the Lord and become corrupt, that they must cleanse themselves from their impurities, or that they would be abandoned by God to their doom. Assyria, Judaea, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Ottoman Empire, provide striking and eloquent illustrations.
2. The family. The "house of Eli" and the "house of Saul" illustrate the principles of the text; so also many a "house" in Christian times that has risen to honour and influence, that has grown leprous (corrupt), that has not heeded the warnings of the Word of God to put away the evil of its doings, and that has fallen into decay and has disappeared.
3. The Church. This is the "house of God" on earth (1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:20; Ephesians 2:19; Hebrews 3:6). This house may show signs of leprosy; and in individual Churches corruption may break out - in doctrine (Galatia), in public worship (Corinth), in morals (Pergamos, Thyatira), in spiritual life (Ephesus, Sardis, Laodicea). The corrupt Church must be cleansed, or it will be disowned of the Divine Lord, and it will perish in his high displeasure (Revelation 2:5, 16, 23, 27; Revelation 3:3, 17-19). - C.
Habakkuk 2:11). It came like a great domestic affliction, saying, "This is not your rest, because it is polluted." It was the hand of God upon the forgetters of His law. It was "the curse of the Lord, in the house of the wicked." Its typical significance will at once suggest itself. It plainly points to the fact that not only man, and his surroundings in life, but his very dwelling-place — the earth itself — is infected. The whole surface and framework of the world bespeaks infection, disobedience, and disorder. We must tear it with instruments of iron, and mix its mould with tears and sweat, before it will yield us bread. Walls and houses must be built to shelter us from its angry blasts. And with all that we can do, the sea will now and then engulf the proudest navies, and the hailstones blast the budding harvests, and famine and pestilence cut down the strength of empires, and earthquakes bury up great cities in a common tomb, and the sun and the moon flash down death in their rays, and the very winds come laden with destruction. And even in a moral aspect, the material world, though meant for spiritual as well as other good, has often been to man a source of defilement. Creation is a standing miracle to show us eternal power and Godhead. Every ray of light is an electric cord. let down from the unknown heavens to lift our hearts into communion with "the Father of light." Every night puts us into the midst of a sublime temple in which the tapers burn around the everlasting altar, and through which rolls the vesper anthem of the heavenly spheres, to inspire us with adoration. And the innumerable changes that pass before our eyes are but so many letters to spell out to us the name of the unknown God, in whom we live and have our being. But, how often have these very things tended to establish men in unbelief, and tempted them from the ways of piety and peace? How often have persons looked up into the starry sky, and reasoned, until they were led to say the gospel is a forgery? — or dug into the earth, and insisted that Moses was mistaken in its age? — or cut among the arteries and tissues of organic life, and denied man's immortality? — or watched the uniformity of God's common laws, and pronounced a miracle impossible? — or dipped a little into physical science, and controverted the very existence of a deity? How often have earth's products proven to be mere baits and lures to unguarded souls to lead them down to death? How have its wines tempted men to intemperance, and its beautiful groves to the licentiousness of the idolater? How frequently the very gold or silver of its rocks have taken the place of God Himself, and fastened everlasting condemnation on the worshipper? And what scene of beauty contained in this world, but has served to draw the heart of some one from the Lord? But it shall not always be so. The leprosy in our dwelling-place may pass away as well as leprosy in our persons, or in our clothing. God has appointed rites for its cleansing. The time is coming when "there shall be no more curse." But it is to be the last thing cleansed. Regeneration begins first in the spirit. From the spirit it extends to the outward life, then to the redemption of the body. And after that comes the grand deliverance, when "the creature (or creation) itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God." Not only our personal nature is to be renewed, but the very world in which we live. And it is only upon the theory of the ultimate and complete recovery of the world from all damage of sin, that the prescriptions now before us can be explained. The first thing to be done to a house found to be leprous, was to have the affected stones removed, the walls scraped, and the plastering renewed. This done, all parties were to wait to see what the effect would be upon the disorder. This evidently recalls the flood, and God's dealings with the earth at that time. It was then that He broke up the old and tainted foundations, swept away the scum of its surface, and overcast it with a new order of things. All is therefore in waiting now, till our great High Priest and Judge shall come forth again to inspect the earth. After the lapse of an appropriate time of trial, which is left indefinite in the record, the priest was again to examine the house that had been thus dealt with; and if the plague had broken out again, and had spread in the house, he was to break it down, "the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house, and carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place." If the leprous symptoms were not stayed, it was to be completely and for ever demolished. There was no further hope for it. It perished in its uncleanness. I take this as a type, not of what is to befall the world, but of what would have befallen it without the redemption that has come in to stay its corruption and save it from ruin. How, then, was a leprous house to be cleansed? We have seen what was to be done to it upon the first appearance of the plague. We accordingly read that, after the lapse of a suitable time to test whether the infection was stayed, "the priest shall come in," &c. (vers. 48-53). All this refers us back to the blood-shedding, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and holds forth the great fact that the world is made clean to us now, and will be entirely cleansed hereafter, by virtue of the redemptive work of our great High Priest. Because Jesus was slain, and has redeemed us to God by His blood, the saints may take it as their song, "We shall reign on the earth." Some suppose that this dwelling-place of man is some day to fall to pieces, and pass away, and be no more. Had Christ not died, or having died, not risen again, it might be so; but now a light of glory rises upon its futurity. It shall not die, but live. Great changes may yet pass upon it, but it shall survive unharmed. This world was Heaven's gift to man. It was his patrimonial estate. It was his sin that blighted it. And just so far as he is redeemed, he shall get his own again, and hold it by a charter written in his Saviour's blood.
Leprosy in a house.Leviticus 13:49): — Few subjects have proved more perplexing to the student of Scripture than this. That human dwellings and garments should exhibit a similar disease to that which infects the human body seems at first sight to be highly improbable. We are indebted to the recent discoveries of the microscope for the first intimation of the true nature of the leprosy of house and garments. A careful examination of the Levitical narrative in the light of modern science leaves no room to doubt that the conclusions of Sommer, Kmtz, and other recent authors, who attribute a vegetable origin to this plague, are correct. 'The characteristics mentioned are such as can belong only to plants. There are some species of fungi which could have produced all the effects described, and whose form and colour answer admirably to the appearances presented by the leprosy. We are therefore safe in believing that the phenomena in question were caused by fungi. The language of Moses is evidently popular, not scientific, and may therefore be supposed to include not only different species, but even different genera and orders of fungi as concerned in the production of the effects described. The leprosy of the house consisted of reddish and greenish patches. The reddish patches on the wall were in all likelihood caused by the presence of a fungus well known under the common name of dry-rot, and called by botanists Merulius lachrymans. Builders have often painful evidence of the virulent and destructive nature of this scourge. It is frequent all the year round, being in this respect different from other fungi, which are usually confined to the season of decay. If once established dry-rot spreads with amazing rapidity, destroying the best houses in a very short time. The law regarding it in Leviticus is founded upon this property; seven days only were allowed for its development, so that its true nature might be placed beyond doubt. The precautions here adopted are in entire accordance with the nature and habits of fungi. By emptying the house of its furniture, shutting the doors and windows, and excluding the air and light, the very conditions were provided in which the dry-rot would luxuriate and come to maturity. If the walls were completely impregnated with its seed and spawn, this short period of trial would amply suffice to show the fact, and the building might then safely be condemned to undergo a process of purification. There are no means of restoring rotten timber to a sound condition, and the dry-rot can only be eradicated by removing the decayed and affected parts, clearing away all the spawn and destroying the germs with which the plaster and the other materials of the walls may have been impregnated. For this purpose the process of kyanising and burnetising have been recommended — that is, washing the walls or the woodwork with a strong solution of corrosive sublimate or chloride of zinc. If the dry-rot is not fairly established in a house it may be removed with tolerable ease by these processes; should the disease, however, have become widespread and deep-seated, no means of dealing with the evil can be depended upon, except that of removing altogether the corrupted and contagious matter and admitting a free circulation of air. This was exactly what the Jewish priest was commanded to do (vers. 40-42). It often happens, however, that even this severe operation proves ineffectual; and after repeated repairs of the same nature, it is found that the building is so hopelessly ruined that it must be abandoned and dismantled (vers. 43-45). Dr. Thomson, in "The Land and the Book," mentions that the upper rooms of the houses in Palestine, if not constantly ventilated, become quickly covered with mould and are unfit to live in. In many cases the roofs of the houses are little better than earth rolled hard, and it is by no means uncommon to see grass springing into a short-lived existence upon them. Such habitations must be damp and peculiarly subject to the infection of fungi. During the months of November and December especially, fungi make their appearance in the wretched ephemeral abodes of the poorer classes; and in the walls of many a dwelling at the present day may be seen the same leprous appearances described by Moses three thousand years ago. When the Israelites entered Palestine they occupied the dwellings of the dispossessed aboriginal inhabitants instead of building new houses for themselves. And in these dwellings, as the Canaanites lived in the midst of moral and physical impurity, and were, moreover, ignorant of all sanitary conditions, the plague of leprosy would be very apt to manifest itself. The Bible speaks of it as sent expressly by God Himself: "When ye be come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession." It was so sent in mercy and not in judgment, to show to them, by a palpable proof appealing to the eye, what could not be so well revealed by other evidence. It was the visible manifestation of a hidden insidious unwholesomeness — the breaking out, as it were, of an internal and universal disease. It directed attention to the unhealthy character of the house, and stimulated inquiry as to how it could be remedied. Whereas if no such abnormal appearance presented itself, the inhabitants might remain unconsciously in the midst of conditions which would slowly but. surely undermine their health, and in the end prove fatal. In the Levitical narrative we read that in the walls of the affected houses there were greenish as well as reddish streaks. These greenish streaks were caused by a much humbler kind of fungus than the tile Merulius lachrymans, or dry-rot, concerned in the production of tim reddish streaks. Every one is familiar with the common green mould, or Penicillium glaucum, of botanists. This fungus is extremely abundant everywhere, and seems to have been no less general in the ancient world, for we find traces of it pretty frequently in amber, mixed with fragments of lichens and mosses. It grows on all kinds of decaying substances, and is very protean in its appearance, assuming different forms according to the nature of the body or situation which it affects. Common mould grows on every substance, whether animal or vegetable, in a state of decay. It grows even upon the human body when it is in an enfeebled or disordered condition; and many diseases of the skin are owing to its efforts to develop and spread itself. The thrush in children, the muscardine so destructive to silkworms, the fungoid growth which so often causes the death of the common house-fly in autumn, are all different forms of the common mould. Its germs or spores are constantly floating in the air or swimming in the water in incalculable myriads, so that it is difficult to conceive how any place can be free from their presence. The atmosphere of our houses is loaded with them; and were we endowed with microscopic vision, we should see them dancing about in the draughts and currents of our rooms, or shining among the motes in the pencilled rays of sunshine. The ubiquity of mould has given rise to the theory of spontaneous generation, still held by a certain class of naturalists; but the immense profusion of its seeds, and their wonderful powers of adaptability under varying circumstances, and of entering through the finest conceivable apertures, will easily account for its presence in every situation, without being under the necessity of admitting what has never yet been proved — that substances in a particular state of decay can, without seeds or germs of any kind, generate low forms of life. Many medical men are of opinion that various zymotic diseases, if not originated, are increased by the presence of these minute cellules in the blood, and by their deleterious action in developing themselves. The injuries inflicted by fungi are indeed incalculable. But we have nevertheless a grand compensation in the benefits which they confer in accelerating, by their unparalleled rapidity of growth, the process of decay, and removing frown the atmosphere into their own tissues, where they arc innocuous, the putrescent effluvia of dead substances. They also economise the stock of organised material which has been slowly and tediously gained from the earth, air, and water, by preventing it from going back through decomposition to the mineral state, and preserving it in an organic form to be at once made available for the purposes of higher animal and plant life. Mould, for these reasons, is not so much an evil in itself as an indication of evil conditions in the World, and by minimising these it renders an all-important service in the economy of nature. Its great purpose is purely benevolent; but, like the storm intended to purify the atmosphere, it sometimes oversteps its limits, and proves injurious in particular cases. The minute regulations for inspecting and cleansing those houses where symptoms of leprosy appeared, indicate how complete was the sanitary system under which the ancient Israelites lived. God considered no part of their domestic and social economy, however humble, beneath His notice. Cleanliness in person, in dress, in dwellings, and in all outward appointments, was enforced by statutes of a peculiarly solemn character. All these ceremonial enactments were in the first instance intended for sanitary purposes. God had respect to the physical health and well-being of His people. He wished them to be patterns of purity, models of beauty, their bodies to be perfectly developed in the midst of the most favourable circumstances; and therefore the most admirable arrangements were made for securing cleanly, orderly, and healthy habitations. But not for purely physical purposes alone were the Levitical laws regarding the leprosy of the house enforced. They had also a spiritual significance. All experience tells us of the mysterious connection, founded upon the constitution of our twofold nature, between physical and moral evil — between external and internal impurity. The proverb, "Cleanliness is next to godliness," is truer even than it is admitted to be. Physical filth has in innumerable instances been the means of turning away the Lord from the homes of those who endure it. For want of a little more room and a little more purity in their dwellings, the sublimest truths fall dead upon the ears of thousands. The salvation of the poor, though to them the gospel is preached, is in very many cases rendered impossible, humanly speaking, on account of the degrading conditions amid which they live, and the deadening, hardening influence which familiarity with noxious sights and smells produces. How often are the spiritual instructions of the district visitor thrown away on account of the unhallowed effects of filthy surroundings! Sad it is to think of the leprosy of the house being the type of the leprosy of sin which infects the earthly tabernacle of this body. We bear about with us this plague in all our members. From the crown of the head to the sole of the foot there is no soundness in us. Be it ours to put our natures entirely under the purifying power of God's Spirit, so that they may be cleansed from all impure desires, &c. So much for the leprosy of the house. The leprosy of garments may have been caused by the same fungi. Precisely the same appearances manifested themselves in the one case as in the other. I am disposed to attribute the greenish streaks on the garments to the common green mould; for, as I have observed, it is ubiquitous, and grows as readily on clothes as on house walls, when left in damp, ill-ventilated, ill-lighted places. The reddish patches, however, seem to me to have been produced by the growth of the Sporendonema, or red mould, very common on cheese; or of the Palmella prodigiosa. This last-mentioned plant is occasionally found on damp walls in shady places, and on various articles of dress and food, sometimes extending itself over a considerable area. It is usually a gelatinous mass of the colour and general appearance of coagulated blood, whence it has received the famous name of Gory-dew. Though formerly ranked with the algae, or seaweed family, it is now ascertained by more accurate physiological researches to be a species of mould; so that, under whatever names we may class them, the plants which occasioned the strange appearances on houses and garments belong to the same tribe. Instances of reddish patches suddenly investing linen and woollen clothes are by no means confined to the Levitical narrative. A whole volume might be filled with similar examples. Along with other marvellous prodigies they abound in the mediaeval chronicles; and were they not authenticated by the most trustworthy evidence, we should hesitate — from their very extraordinary character — to accept them as true. It was by no means rare to find, in the Middle Ages, consecrated wafers and priestly vestments sprinkled with a minute red substance like blood. Such abnormal appearances were called Signacula, as tokens of the Saviour's living body; and pilgrimages were not unfrequently made to witness them. In several cases the Jews were suspected, on account of their abhorrence of Christianity, of having caused sacramental hosts to bleed, and were, therefore, ruthlessly tormented and put to death in large numbers. Upwards of ten thousand were slaughtered at Rotil, near Frankfort, in 1296, for this reason. The bleeding of the host, produced in consequence of the scepticism of the officiating priest, gave rise to the miracle of Bolsena in 1264; the priest's garment stained with this bloody-looking substance being preserved until recent times as a relic. This gave rise to the festival of the Corpus Christi founded by Urban
IV. Before the potato-blight broke out in 1846, red mould spots appeared on wet linen surfaces exposed to the air in bleaching-greens, as well as on household linen kept in damp places, in Ireland. In September, 1848, Dr. Eckard, of Berlin, while attending a cholera patient, observed the same production on a plate of potatoes which had been placed in a cupboard in the patient's house. All these instances-and hundreds more might be enumerated — though somewhat exaggerated by the dilated eye of fear, were found by microscopic investigation to be caused by the extraordinary development in abnormal circumstances of the red mould. Occurring, as most of them did, before the outbreak of epidemics, which they were supposed to herald, they obviously point to the conclusion that they were developed by unhealthy conditions of the atmosphere. In ordinary times but few of the fungi which caused these alarming appearances are produced, and then only in obscure and isolated localities; but their seeds lie around us in immense profusion, waiting but the recurrence of similar atmospheric conditions as existed in former times, to exhibit as extraordinary a development. "O Lord, how manifold are Thy works; in wisdom hast Thou made them all!" is the thought that arises in the devout soul at the contemplation of the wonderful structure and history of these minute existences, which live and die unknown to the great majority of mankind. Even a mould, requiring the highest powers of the microscope for its examination, can become in His hands a mighty scourge or a transcendent benefit.
(H. Macmillan, D. D.)
(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
I. THE KIND OF PLAGUE THE TEXT SPEAKS ABOUT WAS A STRANGE ONE. It first appeared in a little green or reddish spot, growing on the wall of the house. When that was noticed, the person who lived in the house had to go to the priest and say to him, "It seemeth to me there is as it were a plague in the house." Then the priest came and looked at the spot, and ordered the house to be locked up for a week. At the end of that time, if the spot had not grown any larger, it was simply cut out, and the house was declared to be quite safe to dwell in. But if the spot had increased, then they knew that it was the plague, and all the stones round about it were taken out and new ones put in their places, and the old ones were carried away to a distance. But if, after all this care had been taken, the spot appeared again, then they knew it was no use trying further that way. This was a "fretting leprosy," as it was called; so the house was ordered to be pulled down, and all its stones carried far away, and a new house built in its stead with entirely new stones.
II. HAVEN'T WE PLAGUES IN THE HOUSE NOW, SOMETHING DIFFERENT FROM THAT PERHAPS, AND YET SOMETHING LIKE TOO?
1. There is a bad temper. What a plague that is in the house! There is a sulky temper and a quick temper. The sulky one is when a boy or girl goes moping, moping, and won't speak or do anything cheerfully. It is a very hurtful plague in the house. Then there is the quick temper, up in a moment, over in a moment! Perhaps this is better than the other, if we are to make any distinction; but better be rid of bad temper altogether.
2. Selfishness is another plague in the house.
3. Disobedience is another plague in the house. No boy or girl ever yet came to good who did not try to obey father and mother.
III. WHERE THE PLAGUE BREAKS OUT.
1. Where ventilation is bad. Now what fresh air is to the body, God's Spirit is to the soul — that which keeps it fresh and free from plague. Maintain that Spirit in the house, prayer and love for God, and — striving to obey Him — no plague shall come nigh thy dwelling.
2. The plague also breaks out where sunshine never comes. What a healing thing is the sunshine! How glorious it can make even the dingiest street! The plague never comes where the sunshine is, and cheerfulness is the sunshine of the home. There was a great scholar once, Dr. Dwight, a big man with a great broad chest. Once when the students in the college were not getting on well, he said to them, "Gentlemen, I see there is something wrong; you are becoming too melancholy. You must learn to laugh, that's the way to cure the plague." So he broadened his own chest, took a big breath, and burst into such a hearty laugh that all the others laughed too. "That's very good," he said, "very good for a beginning; but see that you keep it up!" And it is good practice in the house to have a hearty laugh. Keep cheerfulness there, and the plague won't trouble you.
(J. Reid Howatt.)
(J. Cumming, D. D.).
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