A person afflicted with leprosy. As it now exists, leprosy is a scaly disease of the skin, occurring in several distinct forms and with many degrees of severity; beginning with slight reddish eruptions, followed by scales of a greyish white color, sometimes in circles an inch or two in diameter, and at other times much larger; in many cases attacking only the knees and elbows, in others the whole body; usually not affecting the general health, but considered impossible of cure. It is said not to be infectious; but is communicated from father to son for several generations, gradually becoming less noticeable. It corresponds in the main with the disease the symptoms and treatment of which are so fully described in Le 13:14. There is little doubt, however, that the ancient leprosy, in its more aggravated form, is to be regarded as a plague or judgment from God, De 24:8. It was peculiarly dreaded among the Jews as unclean and infectious; and also as being a special infliction from Jehovah, as we know it to have been in the cases of Miriam, Nu 12:10, Gehazi, 2Ki 5:27, and Uzziah, 2Ch 26:16-23. No remedies were effectual. The suffered was commended to the priest, not to the physician; and was separated from many of the privileges of society. We find that lepers associated chiefly with each other, 2Ki 7:8; Lu 17:12. The term, "the plague of leprosy," is applied not only to this disease in men, but to a similar infection sometimes sent into houses and garments, Le 14. The exact nature of this latter cannot be ascertained; but it bears the marks of a special aggravation, as a judgment from God, of some evil not unknown in that climate. It illustrates the awful result of moral corruption in society, uncounteracted by the grace of God. The disease in all its forms is a lively emblem of sin. This malady of the soul is also all pervading, unclean, contagious, and incurable; it separates its victim from God and heaven; it proves its existence by its increasing sway and its fatal termination. But the Savior has shown his power to heal the worst maladies of the soul by curing the leprosy with a word, Lu 17:12-19, and to admit the restored soul to all the privileges of the sons of God.
ELEPHANTIASIS, supposed by some to have been the disease of Job, and the "botch" or ulcer of Egypt, De 28:27,35, is a tuberculous malady somewhat akin to the leprosy, but more dreadful. Its name is derived from the dark, hard, and rough appearance of the skin; and from the form of the feet, swollen, and despoiled of the toes. This horrid malady infects the whole system; ulcers and dark scales cover the body; and the hair, beard, fingers, and all the extremities drop off. It is still met with in tropical countries, and was introduced into Europe by the crusaders; but after occasioning dreadful navoc, and the building of thousands of "hospitals for lepers," it disappeared or changed its form.
Heat, drought, and toil amid dry powdery substances, tend to generate skin disease, especially in absence of nourishing diet and personal cleanliness. These predisposing causes all exist in Syria and Egypt. Elephantiasis especially prevailed in Egypt, "the parent of such taints" (Lucr. 6:1112). Israel's long stay there exposed them to the malady, as is implied in the legend (Died. Sic. ii., Tacitus, Hist. 5:3-4; Justin 36:2; Josephus Ant. 3:2, section 4; Chaeremon and Manetho in Jos. c. Apion 1:26,32-34) that the king of Egypt drove out a multitude of impure people and lepers, Jews and Egyptians, the lepers among whom the king's soldiers wrapped in sheets of lead and drowned in the sea (compare Ex 15:10), and that Moses a sacred scribe was the leader of the rest through the wilderness into Judaea (compare the "mixed multitude," Ex 12:38).
Leprosy, beginning with little pain, goes on in its sluggish but sure course, until it mutilates the body, deforms the features turns the voice into a croak, and makes the patient a hopeless wreck. It has left the Israelites for other races in modern times. Nega'tsara'ath means a plague or stroke of leprosy (Septuagint), rather elephantiasis. An animal poison in the blood ferments there and affects the skin, depositing an albuminous substance, and destroying the sensation of the nerves. The tuberculated form is the common one, inflaming the skin, distorting the face and joints, causing the hair of the head or eyebrows to fall off or else turn white (Le 13:3-6), and encrusting the person with ulcerous tubercles with livid patches of surface between. The anesthetic elephantiasis begins in the forehead (2Ch 26:19-21) with shining white patches which burst; bone by bone drops off; the skin is mummy-like; the lips hang down exposing the teeth and gums. Tuberculated patients live (on the average) for only ten years more; anesthetic for 20.
The latter is called "white leprosy," but is distinct from the common white leprosy which covers the whole person, or freckles it with white bright spots, and which did not make ceremonially unclean (Le 13:12-39). Sometimes one limb alone is affected with a dead pearl-like whiteness (compare Ex 4:6, "Moses' hand was leprous as snow;" 12/10'>Nu 12:10,12, "as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb;" 2Ki 5:27). Job was affected with acute tuberculous elephantiasis, rapidly ulcerating his body (2Ki 2:7-8). The tuberculated form was in Israelite times medically incurable. Swine's flesh and scaleless and finless fish, used as food, tend to generate the disease; one reason of the prohibition (Le 11:7,9-12). Separation of lepers from society has been common in all countries, partly from the dread of contagion, and also among the Israelites from the conviction that it was the special visitation of God.
It was generally hereditary (compare 2Sa 3:29, "let there not fail from the house of Joab ... a leper".) Lepers associated together without the camp, as they still do (2Ki 7:3; Lu 17:12). A habitation was provided for them outside Jerusalem, upon the hill Gareb, as the name implies "the hill of scraping" or leprosy (Jer 31:40; Job 2:8); it (more recently called Bezetha), Goath (the hill of the dead), and Tophet (the valley of corpses) were the three defiled spots which Jeremiah foretold should be included in the restored city. Segregation wisely checked extension of leprosy, by preventing intermarriage of lepers with the sound. It was less a trial to the leper than intercourse with his fellow men, who loathed his presence, would have been. Spiritually, leprosy typified sin, and its treatment represented the separation which sin makes between sinners and saints.
The law is the inspired interpreter of nature's truths. The leper was a "walking tomb," "a parable of death," and of sin "the wages of which is death." Hence he had to wear the badges of mourning, a covering upon his upper lip, and was regarded "as one dead" (Le 13:45; Nu 12:12). He was to cry, "Unclean, unclean", to warn all not to defile themselves by approaching him. So the ten stood afar off, lifting up their voices (Lu 17:13). The malady was often due to inherited taint, as is sin (Ex 20:5). The gradual decay of the body, first of the skin, then the bone, then the flesh, life still surviving, vividly represented the sure and deadly process of man's ruin by sin. In Isa 53:4, Jerome's Vulgate translated, "we thought Him to be a leper smitten of God," leprosy being God's direct judgment for sin. God alone could teal alike the leper and the sinner. The minister of God was publicly to witness to the leper's cure by performing certain prescribed rites and so admitting him to communion again with his fellows (Le 14:9-20).
Christ proved His divine mission by healing lepers, and at the same time commanded them to go to the priest to "offer for cleansing those things which Moses commanded for a testimony unto them" (Mt 11:5; Mr 1:44). The leper was excluded from both the sanctuary and the camp. The ceremony of restoration was therefore twofold. That performed outside the camp restored him to intercourse with the people (Le 14:3-9), that performed in the tabernacle court seven days after the former restored him to all spiritual privileges of Jehovah's worshippers (Le 14:10-32). Two birds were taken for him, provided by the priest not the man; one was killed over running water, the other set free; accompanied with cedar wood (Juniper oxycedar, whose smoke was disinfectant), scarlet (representing rosy health and vigour), and hyssop (the caper plant, medicinally cleansing ulcers and skin diseases).
The cedar and hyssop were tied to the living bird by the scarlet band; the whole was dipped in the blood of the killed bird and running water. The seven sprinklings renewed to him the covenant, symbolized by that number. The dead bird represented his past deadness, the freed living bird his restored life and freedom. The two, as in the case of the two goats on the Day of Atonement, form one joint type. (See DAY of ATONEMENT.) The leper brought two young rams (Hebrew, Le 14:10), one as a trespass offering, another as a burnt offering, and a ewe lamb as a sin offering; these bore witness that disease and death and the defilements of both are the wages of man's sin. The similarity to the rites in consecrating a priest marked the priestly character of Israel (Ex 19:6). The leper was restored to his standing as member of the royal priest-nation with priestly ceremonial.
First, he was restored to a right footing with the general congregation. Then only was he in a condition to offer, as member of the priestly nation, the offerings for himself. The oil symbolized the Spirit's grace. Its application to the ear, hand, and foot marked that every organ was now consecrated to God, the ear to hear and obey, the hand to perform God's will, and the foot to run upon God's errands. Leprosy in the house, a fungous growth on the walls, symbolized the corruption which taints all creation and which is the effect of the fall. Man's body and man's earthly home must be dissolved, that a heavenly body and a new earth untainted with sin may succeed. Jg 1:23, "hating the garment spotted by the flesh," i.e. avoiding all contact with pollution, answers to Le 13:52-57; 15:4-17. Any touching a leprosy-tainted garment was excluded from communion with God's people. Christians, who at baptism received the white garment, must shrink from what would defile it.
When the leprosy was spread over the whole person from head to foot (Le 13:12-13) with none of the proper symptoms of elephantiasis the man was clean, his disease was the common white leprosy or dry tetter, red pimples with scaly surface spreading until it covers the body, not much affecting the health and disappearing of itself. This was rather a relief to the body than a disease, the whole diseased matter being brought to the surface and so passing off. Sin is least fatal and nearest removal when brought to the surface by hearty confession to God, then our Highpriest Jesus completely cleanses us (1Jo 1:8-9). Leprosy was polluting, spreading as to the patient, transmissive, and then humanly incuable; i