LEVITICUS 14: WHAT IS THE DANGER OF MILDEW?
Mold or mildew is a homeowner’s scourge both then and now. Today mold is considered to cause allergies and asthma and is not welcomed in a home, and inspectors even warn buyers of homes when mold is present. Mold was not welcomed in ancient Israelite homes either. There’s a curious wording in Leviticus 14:34, “When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mildew in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like mildew in my house.’”
By the phrase, “I put a spreading mildew in a house in that land” does the Lord mean he intends to uproot certain people? While we might anguish over the presence of mildew in our homes, would we ever consider that God put it there?
The priest examined the house with mildew and locks it without inhabitants for seven days. If the mildew remains, they were to scrape the walls and even tear out contaminated stones and re-plaster. If this doesn’t work and the mildew comes back, the entire house—stones, timbers, plaster—were to be torn down and taken outside the camp to the “unclean place.” A home cleansing ceremony similar to the skin cleansing ritual is detailed in Leviticus 14:49-53.
Rather than avoiding such passages or considering them “gross,” consider the implications of this passage. First, Moses, Aaron, and the sons of Aaron—the Levites—were responsible for keeping the people of Israel ritually pure before the Lord in order for his presence to remain among them. The danger of contamination from the unclean is God withdrawing from them.
One way that we might identify most profoundly with the process of cleansing from infectious diseases is from our familiarity with David’s exclamation in Psalm 51: “cleanse me with hyssop!” Hyssop is a small shrub normally about two feet tall with small white flowers in bunches and was used in Israel to apply blood to doorposts during the Exodus (Exodus 12:22) and to cleanse those dubbed unclean by the priest (Leviticus 14:4, 6, 49, 51-52). Moses used hyssop to sprinkle Israel with blood (Hebrews 9:19).
When a person has been banished outside the camp, the priest goes outside to the camp to check on him or her. This is a powerful reminder that though the person is “alone” outside the camp, they are not forgotten nor are they left unattended. A ceremony of cleansing for one who has healed is described in chapter 14.
Two birds are brought and one is killed over a bowl of fresh water in a clay pot. Hyssop, scarlet yarn, cedar wood, and a second live bird are all dipped in the pot and the priest sprinkles seven times the mixture of water and blood on the person to be cleansed. The priest then pronounces the person “clean!”
The person to be cleansed washes his or her clothes, shaves “all his hair” and bathes. In this way a person becomes ceremonially clean. The person can return to camp but must stay at the entrance of the family’s tent for seven more days then repeat shaving the whole body, even eyebrows “and the rest of the hair” are mentioned, and he or she will be clean. On the eighth day the newly cleansed person is instructed to bring two male lambs, a ewe lamb, grain and oil as guilt and burnt offerings.
Along with an atoning sin offering and the sweet smelling aroma to the Lord of a burnt offering, the priests did something that mirrors their own ordination. They placed drops of blood on the earlobe and right thumb and big toe of the one being cleansed. Then they did the same with oil and finished by anointing them with oil on their heads, another act that mirrors the priestly ordination. The live bird is to be set free in “the open fields.” Provision is again made for the poor, who could bring one—not three lambs—and two doves or pigeons.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.