Cleansing the Lepers

May 22
Jesus heals the man with leprosy

In ancient Israel, they had very specific procedures to pronounce a leper clean. The symbolism is amazing.

Last week I shared a bit about the symbolism of the purification period after a woman has a child or any individual has a sore that won’t heal.

This week I want to share the amazing symbolism used when a priest pronounced someone clean from leprosy. This was explained by Jared Halverson in his Unshaken podcast (which you can access inside of Scripture Notes to take notes and search the scriptures while you watch).

Testing and Cleansing for Leprosy

The rules governing this disease are found in Leviticus 13 and 14. Chapter 13 covers the process of testing if a sore is going to heal or not, and what to do with clothing and housing to keep everything free of disease. It’s the original sanitation procedure and if it had been followed by people since that time, far fewer deaths would have occurred in history. The Lord revealed procedures that man didn’t understand till germ theory was a thing. Doctors have treated dying and diseased patients and then moved to another patient and spread the infection. These chapters taught Israel how to prevent that.

Chapter 14 though is the gem. This is what happens when a leper is cleansed. After the priest verifies the leprosy is gone, there is a ritual involving 2 turtle doves, and then an offering of sacrifices.

It is the ritual we want to examine.

Leviticus 14

  1. Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop:
  2. And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water:
  3. As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water:
  4. And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field.


So we have two birds and one is going to die while the other one lives. Who do the birds represent?

The one that dies is pretty obvious. It’s Christ’s sacrifice. The bird is killed in an earthen vessel. A piece of pottery made of clay. This could be the reason King Benjamin says Jesus will take upon himself a tabernacle of clay (Mosiah 3:5). The running water is living water.

The bird that lives is associated with several symbolic items which are dipped into the mixture of blood and water in the earthen vessel, including the living bird. I’m not sure exactly how this looked when it was done but I just envision these as small items held together and then dipped and sprinkled on the leper.

Cedar wood: This was a common wood the Roman’s made crosses from. They also used cypress and olive wood.

Scarlet: Symbolic of blood and sacrifice. This was probably just a dyed piece of cloth or a ribbon.

Hyssop: This is a medicinal herb, apparently used for various internal issues like digestion, infection, and circulation, as well as skin problems. It is also the plant that the children of Israel were commanded to use to spread lamb’s blood on their door posts and lintel the night the angel of death would move through Egypt killing the firstborns (Exo. 12:22) so it is a reminder of the Passover. It is also the plant used to raise a sponge filled with vinegar to Jesus when he was on the cross.

These objects, including the bird, were dipped in the mixture and then sprinkled 7 times upon the leper to symbolically show he was completely covered in the blood of the dead bird. Then he was pronounced clean and the bird was set free, just as the now clean former leper was.

His next step was to offer sacrifice and prepare for 7 days. On the 8th day he would completely wash himself and shave his head and could then return to live with a normal life again.


Spiritually, we are all lepers, unclean before God. We are powerless, and we deserve nothing but death, yet one bird dies for us, that we may go free. Does the living bird see and understand its companion was killed while it was spared?

In Matthew 8, we have this incredible healing story.

  1. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
  2. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
  3. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.

It was literally a testimony to the priests and lepers, that one would die for them in order that they might live.

In Luke 17, 10 lepers begged Jesus for mercy upon them and he cleansed them. As they went to show themselves to the priests, they were healed. One turned back to thank Jesus and he was a Samaritan.

The question for us is, are we constantly returning with thanks to God every time we are cleansed by the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ? Repentance is a gift. Gratitude should be our primary response not just for the sacrifice that brought repentance to us, but every time we feel the spirit cleanse us and make us whole, or holy. In that moment, we should give thanks that one died to make it possible for us to fly free.


(Featured image by rudall30 @


About the Author

Oak Norton - Just trying to share a love of the scriptures with others.