What’s the meaning of this odd ritual? (Leviticus 14:4–7) 4 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. 5 And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. 6 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. 7 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. (KJ21)
Leviticus 14:1 - 15:33
ESV - 1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying. 2 This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest.
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In my opinion, the elements employed in this ritual were chosen for depicting multiple levels of symbolism or foreshadowing. For example, in the same way that Christ compared His relationship to Israel as that of a hen to her chicks (Matthew 23:37), the birds (one of which is killed and one of which is alive) were symbolic of His future death and resurrection, which would redeem humanity from the spiritual "leprosy" of sin. Also, the plants mentioned were referenced elsewhere (either medicinally or figuratively) in connection with healing or cleansing (as David did in Psalms 51:7), and thus of the forgiveness of sins that Christ made possible. They were also symbolic (as in the case of the lofty cedar) of pride as the root cause of sin and affliction, and (as far as the hyssop) with humility (as also noted in Psalms 51:7). The use of scarlet represented the blood of purification that restored the leper to health. And the number seven denoted completeness or perfection (as it did in the days of creation), but in this case with regard to the person's cleansing.
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