“If the priest examines it, and indeed the plague has faded after washing it, then he shall tear it out of the garment, whether out of the warp or out of the woof, or out of the leather” (Leviticus 13:56 NKJV).
Most modern readers of the Bible avoid the book of Leviticus, arguing that it is only a list of obsolete rules that no longer pertain to us, and besides, who can understand all that strange language? Though I agree that much of the reading is tedious at best, I believe there is much of value to be gleaned from its regulations.
Sometimes we just have to have a change in perspective to appreciate a passage. If you have ever left clothes shut up in a hot apartment for months at a time in a tropical country the problem of a “plague” in clothing can hit very close to home.
Hot weather, high humidity, and no air moving is a perfect recipe for mildew and other fungal growths. I battle this regularly with items I leave in Bangladesh. One may dry clean or wash or brush all appearance of the mildew out of the fabric, but hang it in the wardrobe for a few days and it shows right back up.
Moses had the answer – tear it out. Remove the infection, patch with new cloth, and the garment may be saved. Otherwise, it is unusable and must be discarded or destroyed.
Fabric is not the only substance prone to contamination. One does not have to think very hard to see a very appropriate application to the spiritual realm. Sin is an infection. Once implanted in our lives, it roots itself deeply and spreads until it destroys the entire being.
Caught early enough, it may be cleansed and killed. Left to grow a little more, it must be cut out. But if one waits too long, all may be lost. The time may come when one will find “no place for repentance, though he [seeks] it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:17).
The process described in Leviticus for cleansing fabric could easily be considered a metaphor of repentance. Remove the infection (tear it out), then replace it with new material. When we acknowledge our sins (1 John 1:9; James 5:16), turn from them (Acts 3:19) and live new lives following the will of Christ (Romans 8:1; 12:1) we will be cleansed and made whole again.
Like mildew, sin is given opportunity by an infection occurring in an environment suitable for its growth. We live in a world extremely friendly to sin (Colossians 2:8) where we are presented constantly with temptation (James 1:14-15). Avoiding all contact and exposure is impossible (Romans 3:23).
But although we cannot prevent all contamination, we can limit the damage by creating an unfriendly environment for sin to flourish. We must be selective in our companions (1 Corinthians 15:33), guard against spiritually dangerous activities (Romans 12:9), and above all learn to control our desires (Matthew 6:33).
The laws given by Moses which governed secular matters in ancient Israel may still teach us valuable spiritual truths. Let us be good students.