Matthew 8:2
And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
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(2) A leper.—The discussion of leprosy, as to its nature, symptoms, and causes, would be at once long and difficult. The word, which is Greek and not Hebrew in its origin, has probably been used with varying extent of meaning, sometimes including elephantiasis, or even cancer. Even in its narrower meaning, as used by Hippocrates, leprosy was subdivided into three kinds: (1) the mealy, (2) the white, (3) the black, according to the appearance presented by the portions of diseased flesh. Confining ourselves to the Biblical form of the disease, we note (1) its probable origin in the squalor and wretchedness of the Egyptian bondage. It was the “botch,” or plague “of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 28:27). In the Egyptian legends of the Exodus, indeed, the Israelites were said to have been expelled because they were lepers. (2) Its main features were the appearance of a bright spot on the flesh, whiter than the rest, spreading, in flaming, cracking; an ichorous humour oozing from the cracks, the skin becoming hard, scaly, “as white as snow” (Exodus 4:6; 2Kings 5:27). One so affected was regarded as unclean; his touch brought defilement (Leviticus 13:3; Leviticus 13:11; Leviticus 13:15). He was looked upon as smitten with a divine plague, and cases like those of Miriam and Gehazi gave strength to the belief. He had to live apart from his fellows, to wear on his brow the outward sign of separation, to cry out the words of warning, “Unclean, unclean” (Leviticus 13:45). The idea which lay at the bottom of this separation seems to have been one of abhorrence rather than precaution. The disease was loathsome, but there is no evidence that it was contagious, or even believed to be contagious. At the stage in which it reached its height, and the whole body was covered with the botch and scabs, the man was, by a strange contrast, declared to be ceremonially clean (Leviticus 13:13), and in this state, therefore, the leper might return to his kindred, and take his place among the worshippers of the synagogue. In the case now before us, the man would appear to have been as yet in the intermediate stage. St. Luke describes him, however, as “full of leprosy.”

Worshipped himi.e., as in St. Mark, “falling on his knees,” or in St. Luke, “falling on his face,” in the highest form of Eastern homage. The act gave to the word “Lord” the emphasis of one, at least, of its higher meanings.

If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.—The words imply either that he had seen or heard of our Lord’s works of healing, or that His words had impressed him with the belief that the Teacher must have a power extending to acts also. There does not appear to have been any previous case of leprosy miraculously cleansed. The words of the man involve a singular mingling of faith and distrust. He believes in the power, he does not as yet believe in the will. Can it stoop to one so foul as he? If he shared the common feeling that leprosy was the punishment of sin, he might ask: himself, Will He pity and relieve one so sinful?

8:2-4 In these verses we have an account of Christ's cleansing a leper, who came and worshipped him, as one clothed with Divine power. This cleansing directs us, not only to apply to Christ, who has power over bodily diseases, for the cure of them, but it also teaches us in what manner to apply to him. When we cannot be sure of God's will, we may be sure of his wisdom and mercy. No guilt is so great, but there is that in Christ's blood which atones for it; no corruption so strong, but there is that in his grace which can subdue it. To be made clean we must commend ourselves to his pity; we cannot demand it as a debt, but we must humbly request it as a favour. Those who by faith apply to Christ for mercy and grace, may be sure that he is freely willing to give them the mercy and grace they thus seek. And those afflictions are blessed that bring us to know Christ, and cause us to seek help and salvation from him. Let those who are cleansed from their spiritual leprosy, go to Christ's ministers and open their case, that they may advise, comfort, and pray for them.There came a leper - No disease with which the human family has been afflicted has been more dreadful than that which is often mentioned in the Bible "as the leprosy." It first exhibits itself on the surface of the skin. The appearance is not always the same, but it commonly resembles the spot made by the puncture of a pin or the pustules of a ringworm. The spots generally make their appearance very suddenly. Perhaps its appearance might be hastened by any sudden passion, as fear or anger. See Numbers 12:10; 2 Chronicles 26:19. The spots commonly exhibit themselves at first on the face, about the nose and eyes, and increase in size a number of years, until they become as large as a pea or a bean.

There are three kinds of leprosy, distinguished by the appearance of the spots - the white, the black, and the red leprosy. These spots, though few at first, gradually spread until they cover the whole body.

But, though the "appearance" of the disease is at first in the skin, yet it is deeply seated in the bones, and marrow, and joints of the body. We have reason to suppose that in children it is concealed in the system for a number of years until they arrive at the age of puberty; and in adults for three or four years, until at last it gives fearful indications on the skin of its having gained a well-rooted and permanent existence. A leprous person may live twenty, or thirty, or even fifty years, if he received the disease at his birth, but they will be years of indescribable misery. The bones and marrow are pervaded with the disease. The malady advances from one stage to another with slow and certain ruin. "Life still lingers amid the desolation;" the joints, and hands, and feet lose their power; and the body "collapses," or falls together in a form hideous and awful. There is a form of the disease in which it commences at the extremities: the joints separate; the fingers, toes, and other members one by one fall off; and the malady thus gradually approaches the seat of life. The wretched victim is thus doomed to see himself dying "piecemeal," assured that no human power can arrest for a moment the silent and steady march of this foe to the seat of life.

This disease is contagious and hereditary. It is easily communicated from one to another, and is transmitted to the third and fourth generation. The last generation that is afflicted with it commonly exhibits the symptoms by decayed teeth, by a fetid breath, and by a diseased complexion.

Moses gave particular directions by which the real leprosy was to be distinguished from other diseases. See Leviticus 13. The leprous person was, in order to avoid contagion, very properly separated from the congregation. The inspection of the disease was committed to the priest; and a declaration on his part that the person was healed, was sufficient evidence to restore the afflicted man to the congregation. It was required, also, that the leprous person should bring an offering to the priest of two birds, probably "sparrows" (see Leviticus 14:4 's margin), one of which was slain and the other dismissed, Leviticus 14:5-7. In compliance with the laws of the land, Jesus directed the man that he had healed to make the customary offering, and to obtain the testimony of the priest that he was healed. The leprosy has once, and but once, appeared in America. This loathsome and most painful disease has in all other instances been confined to the Old World, and chiefly to the Eastern nations.

It is matter of profound gratitude to a benignant God that this scourge has been permitted but once to visit the New World. That awful calamity was on the island of Guadeloupe, in the West Indies, about the year 1730, and is thus described by an eye-witness: "Its commencement is imperceptible. There appear only some few white spots on the skin. At first they are attended with no pain or inconvenience, but no means whatever will remove them. The disease imperceptibly increases for many years. The spots become larger, and spread over the whole body. When the disease advances, the upper part of the nose swells, the nostrils become enlarged, and the nose itself grows soft. Tumors appear on the jaws; the eyebrows swell; the ears become thick; the points of the fingers, as also the feet and the toes, swell; the nails become scaly; the joints of the hands and feet separate and drop off. In the last stage of the disease the patient becomes a hideous spectacle, and falls to pieces.

Worshipped him - Bowed down before him, to show him respect. See the notes at Matthew 2:2.

If thou wilt - This was an exhibition of great faith, and also an acknowledgment of his dependence on the will of Jesus, in order to be healed. So every sinner must come. He must feel that Jesus "can" save him. He must also feel that he has no claim on him; that it depends on his sovereign will; and must cast himself at his feet with the feelings of the leper:

"I can but perish if Igo;

I am resolved to try;

For if I stay away, Iknow

I shall forever die."


2. And, behold, there came a leper—"a man full of leprosy," says Lu 5:12. Much has been written on this disease of leprosy, but certain points remain still doubtful. All that needs be said here is that it was a cutaneous disease, of a loathsome, diffusive, and, there is reason to believe, when thoroughly pronounced, incurable character; that though in its distinctive features it is still found in several countries—as Arabia, Egypt, and South Africa—it prevailed, in the form of what is called white leprosy, to an unusual extent, and from a very early period, among the Hebrews; and that it thus furnished to the whole nation a familiar and affecting symbol of SIN, considered as (1) loathsome, (2) spreading, (3) incurable. And while the ceremonial ordinances for detection and cleansing prescribed in this case by the law of Moses (Le 13:1-14:57) held forth a coming remedy "for sin and for uncleanness" (Ps 51:7; 2Ki 5:1, 7, 10, 13, 14), the numerous cases of leprosy with which our Lord came in contact, and the glorious cures of them which He wrought, were a fitting manifestation of the work which He came to accomplish. In this view, it deserves to be noticed that the first of our Lord's miracles of healing recorded by Matthew is this cure of a leper.

and worshipped him—in what sense we shall presently see. Mark says (Mr 1:40), he came, "beseeching and kneeling to Him," and Luke says (Lu 5:12), "he fell on his face."

saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean—As this is the only cure of leprosy recorded by all the three first Evangelists, it was probably the first case of the kind; and if so, this leper's faith in the power of Christ must have been formed in him by what he had heard of His other cures. And how striking a faith is it! He does not say he believed Him able, but with a brevity expressive of a confidence that knew no doubt, he says simply, "Thou canst." But of Christ's willingness to heal him he was not so sure. It needed more knowledge of Jesus than he could be supposed to have to assure him of that. But one thing he was sure of, that He had but to "will" it. This shows with what "worship" of Christ this leper fell on his face before Him. Clear theological knowledge of the Person of Christ was not then possessed even by those who were most with Him and nearest to Him. Much less could full insight into all that we know of the Only-begotten of the Father be expected of this leper. But he who at that moment felt and owned that to heal an incurable disease needed but the fiat of the Person who stood before him, had assuredly that very faith in the germ which now casts its crown before Him that loved us, and would at any time die for His blessed name.

Ver. 1,2. We heard of Christ’s going up into the mountain, Matthew 6:1; and of great multitudes that followed him from Decapolis, and from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from beyond Jordan: whether the same multitude, or others, followed him upon his coming down, is not said. But behold, ( saith the evangelist),

there came a leper: both Mark and Luke have the same story, or one very like to it, Mark 1:40 Luke 5:12. Of the plague, or leprosy, we read much in the books of Moses. It was a white scab in the flesh, which gradually consumed the body, and was contagious. The leper, and he who touched him, or any thing he came near, was legally unclean: thrice we read of it inflicted as a severe punishment; upon Gehazi, for lying and taking bribes, and upon king Uzziah, for offering sacrifice. It was a disease of very difficult cure. This leper comes and worshippeth Christ. Mark saith that he kneeled down to him: whether he only kneeled down, or prostrated himself, is not much material, for either of them might be done according to the fashion of those countries, in token either of a civil respect, paid to him as a great and eminent prophet, or a piece of religious homage (if he had so early a revelation that he was the Son of God, which some doubt).

Saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. The term Lord will not conclude his recognizing Christ as the Son of God, being a term used by Sarah to Abraham, and afterwards to Elijah. The words import his desire, though they be not a form of prayer, but an acknowledgment of the power of Christ. The leper acknowledging Christ’s power, submits himself to his will, and so with the same breath declareth his faith and modesty. He indeed declareth no faith in the will of God, nor can any person exercise any such faith as to any temporal mercy, any further than as God shall judge it for our good.

And behold there came a leper,.... As soon as he came down from the mountain, and whilst he was in the way; though Luke says, Luke 5:12 "when he was in a certain city"; in one of the cities of Galilee; one of their large towns, or unwalled cities, into which a leper might come: he might not come into walled (b) towns, at least they might turn him out, though without punishment: for the canon runs thus (c),

"a leper that enters into Jerusalem is to be beaten; but if he enters into any of the other walled towns, though he has no right, as it is said, "he sitteth alone", he is not to be beaten.''

Besides, this leper, as Luke says, was "full of leprosy", Luke 5:12 see the note there; and he might be pronounced clean by the priest, though not healed, and so might go into any city or synagogue: the law concerning such an one, in Leviticus 13:1 is a very surprising one; that if only there were some risings and appearances of the leprosy here and there, the man was unclean; but if "the leprosy covered all his flesh", then he was pronounced clean; and such was this man: he was a very lively emblem of a poor vile sinner, full of sin and iniquity, who is brought to see himself all over covered with sin, when he comes to Christ for pardon and cleansing; and is so considered by Christ the high priest, when he applies his justifying righteousness and sin purging blood to his conscience. A leper, by the Jews (d), is called "a wicked" man; for they suppose leprosy comes upon him for evil speaking. This account is ushered in with a "behold", as a note of admiration and attention, expressing the wonderfulness of the miracle wrought, and the seasonableness of it to confirm the doctrines Christ had been preaching to the multitude. This man came of his own accord, having heard of the fame of Christ;

and worshipped him in a civil and respectful way, showing great reverence to him as a man; which he did by falling down on his knees, and on his face; prostrating himself before him, in a very humble and submissive manner, as the other evangelists relate: for that he worshipped him as God, is not so manifest; though it is certain he had an high opinion of him, and great faith in him; which he very modestly expresses,

saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean: he was fully assured of his power, that he could make him clean, entirely rid him of his leprosy, which the priest could not do; who could only, according to the law, pronounce him clean, so that he might be admitted to company, but could not heal him of his disease: this the poor man was persuaded Christ could do for him, and humbly submits it to his will; of which, as yet, he had no intimation from him. And thus it is with poor sensible sinners under first awakenings; they can believe in the ability of Christ to justify them by his righteousness, cleanse them by his blood; and save them by his grace to the uttermost: but they stick at, and hesitate about his willingness, by reason of their own vileness and unworthiness.

(b) Misn. Celim. c. 1. sect. 7. (c) Maimon. Biath Hamikdash, c. 3. sect. 8. & in Misn. Celim. c. 1. sect. 8. (d) Maimon. in Misn. Negaim, c. 12. sect. 5. & Bartenora in ib. sect. 6.

{1} And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

(1) Christ in healing the leprous with the touch of his hand, shows that he abhors no sinners that come unto him, be they ever so unclean.

Matthew 8:2. Λεπρός] λέπρα, צָרַעַת, a most dangerous, contagious disease, descending to the fourth generation, which lacerated the body with scales, tetter, and sores; Trusen, bibl. Krankh. p. 103 ff.; Kurtz in Herzog’s Encykl. I. p. 626 ff.; Furer in Schenkel’s Bibellex. I. p. 317 ff.; Saalschutz, M. R. p. 223 ff.

κύριε] To express the reverence that is founded on the recognition of higher power.

ἐὰν θέλῃς] entire resignation to the mighty will of Jesus.

καθαρίσαι] from the disease that was polluting the body; Plut. Mor. p. 134 D.

ἐκαθαρίσθη αὐτοῦ ἡ λέπρα] and immediately his leprosy was cleansed (John 11:32), Matthew 13:25, Matthew 22:13, Matthew 25:41. The leprosy is spoken of as cleansed, according to the idea that the disease experiences the healing—that the disease is healed (Matthew 4:23). Differently and more correctly expressed in Mark 1:42.

On θέλω, Bengel aptly observes: “echo prompta ad fidem leprosi maturam.” In answer to Paulus, who understands the cleansing in the sense of pronouncing clean,—as also Schenkel, Keim,—see Strauss, II. p. 48 ff., and Bleek.

2. a leper] St Luke has “full of leprosy,” a term implying the gravity of the disease,—not that it covered the whole body, in which case the leper was pronounced clean, Leviticus 13:12-13; Leviticus 13:16-17. See Our Lord’s Miracles of Healing, ch. 4 (Belcher). Leprosy is to be regarded as especially symbolic of sin: the beginning of the disease is almost unnoticed, it is contagious (this point is disputed, but see in confirmation of the note Belcher, Our Lord’s Miracles of Healing, ch. 4, also Meyer ad loc. who takes the same view), in its worst form it is incurable except by the touch of Christ; it separated a man and classed him with the dead.

worshipped him] The imperfect in the original marks that persistency in prayer, which Jesus had just promised should win acceptance; while the leper’s words imply a faith which is another condition of acceptance.

Matthew 8:2. Λεπρὸς, a leper) The most grievous diseases were leprosy (cf. with this passage 2 Kings 5:7), paralysis (cf. Mark 2:3 with Matthew 8:6) and fever (see Matthew 8:14). It is probable that the leper[355] had listened to our Lord’s discourse from a distance.—ἘᾺΝ, Κ.Τ.Λ., if, etc.) the leper does not doubt our Lord’s power, but he humbly rests the event upon His will alone. Faith exclaims, if Thou wilt, not, if Thou canst; see Mark 9:22.—δύνασαι, Thou canst) At the commencement of His ministry, the chief object of Faith was the omnipotence of Jesus. This faith the leper might have conceived from His discourse.

[355] Whose cure Matthew places, in the correct order, between the Sermon on the Mount and the cure of the centurion’s servant.—Harm., p. 252.

Verse 2. - And, behold. In this case the unexpected (Matthew 1:20, note) was the near approach (προσελθών), the "worship," and the prayer of an outcast. There came a leper. Loathsome physically and typically. The other passages which speak of the healing of lepers by our Lord or the apostles are

(1) Matthew 10:8;

(2) Matthew 11:5; parallel passage, Luke 7:22;

(3) Luke 17:12;

(4) perhaps Matthew 26:6; parallel passage, Mark 14:3. And worshipped him (Matthew 4:9, note). From the parallel passages we may see that the word here refers more to the posture of his body than to the nature of his thoughts. Saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. Leprosy stood in so peculiar and solemn a relation to the Israelites that it would hardly be included under the terms, "all manner of disease, and all manner of sickness," in Matthew 4:23, 24; we have therefore no evidence that up to this time any leper had been healed by our Lord. The man's utterance marks, therefore, a distinct advance in faith. None like him, the object of the Divine "stroke," had been healed; but from lesser examples of Jesus' power he argues to the greater. Sure of Jesus' power, he appeals to his heart. Make me clean (καθαρίσαι). Not merely "heal me;" for a leper could not but think of healing and its consequences - restoration to social and religious privileges (vide infra). Matthew 8:2
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