The 13th chapter of Leviticus gives instructions about leprosy. If someone had an unusual spot or swelling on his body he was to go to a priest who would examine the spot to determine if it was a sign of leprosy. If the person did have leprosy he had to live apart from other people and wherever he went he had to call out “Unclean, unclean” to warn others not to come near him.
(There is a disease called Hansen’s disease which is called leprosy. It is not the same as biblical leprosy. It can cause physical impairment or disfigurement. There is no indication that leprosy in the Bible did that. Leprosy wasn’t a disease; it was a skin condition that made a person ceremonially unclean. In Matthew 10:8 Jesus commanded his disciples, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”)
There is one statement that has puzzled me. Verses 12 and 13 say, “And if the leprous disease breaks out in the skin, so that the leprous disease covers all the skin of the diseased person from head to foot, so far as the priest can see, then the priest shall look, and if the leprous disease has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean of the disease; it has all turned white, and he is clean.” If a person is unclean because of spots on his body, how can he become clean if his whole body is affected?
There is something in the New Testament that believe explains this. In chapter 5 of 1 Corinthians Paul commanded the church to expel a member who was living in immorality. In verses 9 to 12 he said this:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?
Verse 5 explains the reason for not associating with Christians who live sinful lives. “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” This approach wouldn’t work for unsaved people because they are spiritually dead. We must tell them the gospel so they can be saved and we can’t do this if we refuse to associate with them.
A leper is a picture of a Christian who is living in sin. When the leprosy covers his entire body be becomes a sinner who makes no profession of being a Christian. We are commanded to love both kinds of people, but love requires that we do what is best for their welfare, and because they have different needs our actions in regard to each person must differ.
Leviticus 13 and 14 give God’s commands concerning leprosy. Leviticus 13:1-44 tells how it was diagnosed. A priest examined the skin of the person suspected of having leprosy and declared him clean or unclean on the basis of that examination. The next two verses describe how a person declared unclean was to live.
The leprous person 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 out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45,46)
He was isolated and forbidden to have contact with those without leprosy.
Today the term “leprosy” is given to a disease called Hansen’s disease. A comparison of Hansen’s disease and biblical leprosy shows that they are not the same. Here is how the National Institute of Health describes Hansen’s disease.
Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy) is a rare bacterial infection that affects the skin, nerves and mucous membranes. After exposure, it may take anywhere from 2 to 10 years to develop features of the condition. Once present, common signs and symptoms include skin lesions; muscle weakness or paralysis; eye problems that may lead to blindness; nosebleeds; severe pain; and/or numbness in the hands, feet, arms and legs.
Early in his preaching ministry Jesus cleansed a leper.
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”
And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.
And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
Jesus told him to go to the priest because the Mosaic law required that an offering be made by anyone who had been cleansed from leprosy.