Leprosy: Symbolic of Sin

It is true, said one leper.  The first appendage lost is the worst.  Dreams shattered in a bundle of gauze and lost tissue.  Perhaps a greater loss is that of your family…your friends, your employers, your neighbors, strangers, even you own self-respect and dignity.  Leprosy is still found in the world today.

Leviticus 13:44-45 reveals just how disenfranchised the leper was in the Old and New Testament, “The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, `Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.”

Leprosy is representative of sin since sin is a plague but only Jesus can heal this, not only in a physical sense but in the spiritual sense too as with sin.  “And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back [a symbol or repentance, since repent means turn around the other way], praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”  Luke 17: 12-19

“When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshipped Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean. ‘Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him [a great taboo in this day for no one ever touched a leper for fear of contracting it], saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, ‘See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’” Matthew 8:1-4 The Expositor's Bible Commentary suggests that Jesus' command for the leper to keep silent shows that He was not presenting Himself as a mere wonder worker.  He was following the simple adage that actions speak louder than words. What this man was to do would be seen as testimony, a reminder to us that our obedience to God's commands is perhaps our strongest witness, in which we do not have to say a word.

“And behold a leper came. . . .” This statement becomes significant when we consider that no man can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44).  That the leper came to Christ—amongst a great multitude, no less—was in itself an act of.  For him to come to Christ as he did, God had to have revealed to him that Christ was the only One who could truly cleanse him and provide him the fresh start he so desired.  Notice, too, the humility the leper portrays in expressing his understanding of Christ's abilities.
In 2 Kings 5, Naaman, the commander of the army of Syria discovered that he had the dreaded disease of leprosy.  His slave girl from Israel told him to go see the prophet Elisha.  But Naaman disobeyed and instead of going to a man of God, he went to a king of men.  He relied on man instead of on God.  Naaman went first to the king of Israel with a large gift. Like works were going to purge him.   The king was unable to help and worried that Naaman was looking for an excuse to attack him.

Elisha heard about the king’s problem and called for Naaman.  Elisha sent Naaman to the Jordan River to wash seven times.  Naaman was angry and was about to go back to Syria when his servants persuaded him to obey Elisha’s word.  Obedience to God always comes before understanding.  After obeying, Naaman was healed.

Naaman returned to Elisha’s house and offered payment which he refused. Jesus paid it all, no works can purge us.  Elisha told Naaman to worship the LORD instead of the false gods of Syria. Giving thanks to God and not to men or by giving thanks by works (gifts).

After Naaman started for home, Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, followed Naaman and asked for payment without telling Elisha what he was doing.  Gehazi hid the gift of silver and clothing and returned to his master Elisha.  Elisha accused Gehazi of disobeying his word. “Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and your descendants forever.”  The servant left Elisha infected with Naaman’s disease. The lesson for Gehazi and us is that God will not share His glory with another.

“I am hungry for the work, I am not afraid of the disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned lepers,” said Mother Marianne in response to a request to serve in Hawaii, in 1883. Mother Marianne spent the last thirty years of her life in Kalaupapa, Hawaii, taking care of exiled lepers there, never having a chance to return to her home in New York before dying of natural causes.  This saintly woman of faith assured that none of the others sisters will contract Hansen’s disease. And nobody has. That in itself is a miracle.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is still active today in our modern world. It is a chronic infection caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. Skin lesions appear on the body, arms, legs, and face. Many of these lesions produce damage to the sensory nerves, which makes the skin numb in these areas, just as sin numbs us to our condition and hardens our heart. As the disease progresses, tissues are destroyed, and the lack of pain sensation leads to traumatic injuries to the hands and feet. Open sores are a pathway to infections, which are the cause of death in many cases. Our sins lead to death but Jesus touched us and has healed us.  

Persons with leprosy cannot hide their disease like we can not hide our sin before God. It is visible on their faces and bodies. Try to imagine the fear they experienced in those years before modern medical treatment could arrest and cure the disease. How frightening it must have been to know the inevitable future which those first lesions predicted!

This physical quarantine was twisted into a moral judgment is not clear, but by Jesus' time it was evident that lepers were society's despised outcasts. They were driven from their homes and had to live outside the city. When a “normal” person approached, they had to shout a warning, “Unclean!” while keeping the mouth covered to prevent contagion.

Worldwide, two to three million people are estimated to be permanently disabled because of leprosy.  India has the greatest number of cases, with Brazil second and Burma third.
In 1999, the world incidence of Hansen's disease was estimated to be 640,000. In 2000, 738,284 cases were identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) listed 91 countries in which Hansen’s disease is endemic. India, Burma, and Nepal contained 70% of cases. India reports over 50% of the world's leprosy cases. In 2002, 763,917 new cases were detected worldwide, and in that year the WHO listed Brazil, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Nepal as having 90% of Hansen's disease cases.

Leviticus 14:1-4  “And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, ‘This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought unto the priest:  And the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper;  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.’“   

In Psalm 51:7: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”  Here, David again refers to the spiritual washing required for his cleansing. He makes a deliberate request of God to wash Him, knowing that only the cleansing power of Almighty God can make a man clean and pure. Though his sins have covered him in filth and stained him to the very roots of his being, the washing power of God makes a man whiter than snow.  In our understanding of the symbolism of colors, “snow-white” is considered the ultimate in white, the whitest of white, as pure and unsullied a white as possible.  Hyssop has long been considered an aromatic and medicinal herb, anciently indigenous to western Asia and northern Africa, including regions of the Middle East

Sin is like the disease of leprosy.  It numbs us, destroys us, and leaves us in a state of hopelessness and cut off.  Be the Great Physician has healed us by His wounds and bore our iniquities that have separated us from God (Isaiah 53).  Thanks be to God that through Jesus Christ He has cleansed us with hyssop using His own blood.  And we truly are “white as snow” after this because His righteousness is accounted to us. 

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