In Bible times, leprosy was considered more of an uncleanness rather than a disease. Christ was said to cleanse lepers, not to cure them. Leprosy was a plague that seems to have been inflicted directly by the hand of God, usually (although perhaps not always) as a consequence of a particular sin – as in the cases of Miriam, Gehazi, and King Uzziah. It is no wonder, then, that great care was taken to distinguish it from a common ailment.
The judgment of cases of leprosy was referred to the priests. Leprosy was a picture of the moral pollutions of people’s minds by sin. The leprosy of the soul is defiling to the conscience, and Christ alone can cleanse us from it. The Jewish priest could only convict the leper of his uncleanness, just as the law shows us the knowledge of sin; but only Jesus can cure the sinner and take away sin! It is a work of great importance, but also of great difficulty, to judge our spiritual state. We all have reason to suspect ourselves of the leprosy of sin, for we are all conscious of sores and spots; but whether we are clean or unclean is the great question. Just as there were certain marks by which the priest would know it was leprosy, there are also marks whereby a person betrays the fact that their soul is in the gall of bitterness. But the fact that the priest was to take time in making his judgment teaches us to not be hasty in our censures. And if the person suspected of the plague was found to be clean after all, yet he still had to wash his clothes because there had been grounds for the suspicion. Truly, we all need to be washed in the blood of Christ from our spots, although they may not be spots of leprosy; for which one of us can say, “I am pure from sin”?
The Lord gave directions that would help the priest make his judgment in various cases. Sometimes there was an appearance of leprosy in old sores or boils (verses 2-23); this kind of leprosy represents the danger of those who have escaped the pollutions of the world, but become entangled in them again. At other times, a person might have reason to suspect leprosy breaking out in a place where his skin had been burned (verses 24- 28). The burning of strife and contention often gives an occasion for the breaking out of that great corruption which proves that we are unclean. Particular mention was made of the kind of leprosy that was on a person’s head (verses 29-44). If the leprosy of sin had seized the head – representing the corruption of the mind, and the embracing of wicked principles and practices – it was utter uncleanness. Soundness in the faith helps to guard us against leprosy in our heads.
When the priest had pronounced a leper unclean, it put a stop to his business in the world. It cut him off from all his friends and relatives, and it ruined all the comfort he could enjoy in the world. He had to humble himself under the mighty hand of God – not insisting upon his cleanness, when the priest had declared him unclean; but meekly accepting the priest’s pronouncement. In the same way, we must take to ourselves the shame that belongs to us. With broken hearts, we must call ourselves, “Unclean, unclean!” (verse 45) Our heart and life are unclean – unclean by original corruption, and unclean by actual transgressions. Therefore, we deserve to be forever shut out from communion with God, and from all hope of happiness in Him. And we would be truly lost and undone if the Lord’s infinite mercy did not interpose to save us from our sins!
A garment that was suspected to be tainted with leprosy was not to be burned immediately. The priest had to wait and see if it did have the plague; and if he found that there was indeed a leprous spot, then the garment – or at least that part of it – was to be burned. But if it proved to be free of the plague, it must be washed first, and then it could be used again. This picture sets forth the great evil there is in sin. It not only defiles the sinner’s conscience, but it also brings a stain upon all that he has and all that he does. However, the robes of Jesus’ righteousness which are given to us never take on a plague like this!
This chapter reminds us that in our natural state, our leprous souls are eternally loathsome, eternally dead and corrupt, eternally excluded from the fellowship of saints, and eternally hid from the face of God. And no one can or will offer help or sympathy to us. But behold! A High Priest passes through your country now, Who can deliver you from your disease! And you may freely come to Him, even though you have sat alone for many, many days! You may come to Him, although you have vainly looked everywhere else for abatement of your disease. Perhaps no other human being ever cared for your soul. Perhaps it is has been a long time now since your refuge failed you. But a High Priest is in the land, and He can deliver You! He takes you as you are. He pronounces you to be what you really are: “Unclean, unclean!” And then He stoops down and says, “Look unto me and be saved!” He is walking by the place where lepers are sitting. Call to Him, for He is near! He has blood that cleanses from all sin. His touch is healing, and His look is life!
Lord, we confess that it is our own sins have caused us to be surrounded by the troops of diseases that beset us on every side! When You bless us with good health, we are truly bound to glorify You with our bodies. But as we read this chapter, we pray that You would also teach us of the leprous state in which we were born. Cause us to see that nothing except the Fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, in Jesus’ blood, can cleanse our polluted souls. Lead us to Him, we pray, by the sweet influences of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.
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illustration by LUMO – The Gospels for the Visual Age | Lightstock.com