And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,…
cf. 2 Kings 5: Psalm 88; Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-15. The preceding chapter brings forward sin as an inheritance through ordinary generation. No thorough sense or treatment of sin can be reached unless it is recognized as a nature. But God went further in his education of his people. He took one disease with unmistakable characteristics; he legislated about it, doomed the possessor of it to a certain treatment, and so made plain to all his attitude towards sin. The case of Naaman (2 Kings 5) demonstrates that leprosy was not treated in Syria as it was among the Jews. Though a leper, he could enjoy the society of his family, wait upon his king, and command the spray. The disease entailed no penalties at Damascus such as existed in Samaria. No sanitary solution, therefore, of this Mosaic law will satisfy the conditions; we must look to moral and spiritual considerations for the solution. Hence we are constrained to start with the canon of interpretation that leprosy was a disease selected for treatment among the Jews to illustrate the treatment of sin.
I. AS SOON AS THE DISEASE IS SUSPECTED, THE PERSON IS TO GO, OR BE BROUGHT, NOT TO A PHYSICIAN, BUT TO ONE OF THE PRIESTS. This took it out of the category of diseases curable by ordinary means. Hence the term for "leprosy" (צָרָעַת, from צָרַע, to strike down) signifies "the stroke of God." It was deemed a Divine infliction, which, if not divinely cured, would terminate fatally, and, though not disseminated by contact, was transmissible from parent to child. In handing it over in such circumstances for religious treatment, there was afforded one of the most striking illustrations of the nature of sin. Sin is a disease which none but the Divine Physician can cure. All effort at self-cure, all effort after merely human cure, is unavailing. Of course, sinners are induced to believe in the curability of the incurable, else there would be no sale for many a "patent medicine," and no opening for many a spiritual imposture. But God has made it sufficiently plain, by statement and illustration, that sin is a disease with which only he himself can deal. Hence he handed its symbol, the leprosy, to a priest, and not to a physician.
II. THE PRIEST, IN INVESTIGATING THE DISEASE, IS TO ASCERTAIN. WHETHER IT IS SUPERFICIAL OR VITAL. It may be only a "scab" or a "burning boil," a mere superficial eruption, in which case the priest is to comfort the patient with the assurance that he is clean. But if the disease is seen to go down into the vitals of the patient, to be deep and hidden, then the priest is to pronounce him unclean. For sin is no superficial matter, but a vital and fatal evil. It eats below the appearances into the very vitals of the being, and, unless divinely checked, must run its fatal course,
III. THE PENALTY OF PRONOUNCED LEPROSY, IS A LIVING DEATH, AND A CONSEQUENT EXCLUSION FROM THE CAMP OF GOD. "The leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be" (verses 45, 46). It is instructive to analyze this sentence. And -
1. The leper was to regard himself as virtually a dead man. This is implied by the rent clothes and the bare head, the signs of Oriental mourning, He was to be his own chief mourner. The same idea was carried out in the Middle Ages, when the mass for the dead was said over the leper. Longfellow refers to this in his 'Golden Legend,' when he says of Prince Henry -
"Why, in Saint Rochus
They made him stand, and wait his doom:
And, as if he were condemned to the tomb,
Began to mutter their hocus-pocus.
First, the mass for the dead they chanted,
Then three times laid upon his head
A shovelful of churchyard clay,
Saying to him, as he stood undaunted.
This is a sign that thou art dead;
So in thy heart be penitent! '
And forth from the chapel door he went
Into disgrace and banishment,
Clothed in a cloak of hodden gray,
And bearing a wallet, and a bell,
Whose sound should be a perpetual knell
To keep all travellers away." In the leper we have, therefore, the finest possible illustration of what spiritual death is. It is not a state of unconsciousness, but a state of consciousness. A sense of hopeless doom goes to make up this living death. Here have we vividly presented what "dead in trespasses and sins" must mean.
2. The leper was to cry out as he met a passenger, "Unclean, unclean!" That is, he was to encourage the consciousness of personal uncleanness. In no way could a penitent spirit be more powerfully, illustrated. A perpetual humiliation was thus kept up, a sense of vileness and uncleanness, which is wholesome for the soul. Doubtless the sense of uncleanness might be impenitent; the poor leper might regard himself as a victim of providence instead of one deserving the stroke. But his cry is a very vivid representation of what humiliation for sin should be.
3. The leper must isolate himself from the society of the pure, and dwell without the camp. Isolation is what the leper is required to enter, and what we may be sure he does enter willingly. To a doomed man like him, contact with the clean and pure would be painful. Isolation would be easier to bear than society. So is it with sin. It is an isolating, repellent power. The sinner would not choose the society of the holy. Heaven would be a more painful place for a sinful soul than Gehenna itself. Hence we find in Roy. 21. that while the new Jerusalem is to have nothing that defileth within it, no precaution to ensure this is needed; the gates remain open, for sinners would not, even if they could, court the society of the holy. The isolating power of sin may be illustrated from the case of Byron. Two quotations are worth giving in this connection.
"I loved - but those I loved are gone;
Had friends - my early friends are fled.
How cheerless feels the heart alone,
When all its former hopes are dead!
Though gay companions e'er the bowl
Dispel awhile the sense of ill;
Though pleasure stirs the maddening soul,
The heart - the heart - is lonely still." And again in the stanzas written at Missolonghi when he was thirty-six -
"My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone:
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!
"The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze -
A funeral pile." Was it not to taste the full consequences of human sin that our Lord had to enter the desolation which constrained the cry on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
IV. ON THE OTHER HAND, THE PRIEST IS DIRECTED HOW HE MAY ASCERTAIN WHEN THE LEPROSY HAS BEEN CURED. For this direction contemplates cases of cure, where "the stroke of God" in the leprosy has been followed up by the mercy of God in removing it, Now, one general principle runs through the cases of cure. If the priest has evidence that the disease has all come to the surface, then he is to pronounce the leper clean. The spiritual counterpart of this is not far to seek. If sin be hidden, if the sinner, like the Psalmist, keep silence about it, then his bones wax old through his roaring all the day long, and his moisture is turned into the drought of summer (Psalm 32:3, 4). But if the sinner confesses his sin, acknowledges all he knows, and that there is much besides known only to the Lord - in a word, if the sinner makes "a clean breast" of everything, then is the cure of God in process of accomplishment. The lesson here is consequently the great desirability of a full and heartfelt confession of sin. There is hope of a man when he hides nothing from the Lord.
V. MAN SHOULD BE AS CAREFUL ABOUT HIS ENVIRONMENT AS ABOUT HIMSELF. It is evident from the possibility of leprosy infecting garments, and even houses, that the disease was contemplated as having a much wider range than the person of the leper. The directions given to the priest, moreover, contemplate the purification of man's surroundings. Every effort is to be made to stamp out the plague. The pure or purified are to be surrounded by the pure, Now, this conveys the spiritual lesson surely of man taking the utmost pains to have a pure atmosphere, so to speak, in which to cultivate purity of life. Wherever sin is allowed free play, it will extend its ravages to man's environment. The world itself is a different world through man's sin. The duty of God's people in this case is plain. "The very appearance of evil" must be avoided (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We must carefully keep ourselves unspotted from the world (James 1:27). Whenever we find sin tempting us, we must, if possible, have it removed and consumed. Does it meet us in literature? let us avoid it, and, if possible, destroy it. And even the ravages of sin in the world itself must be contemplated in the hope of having them one day completely removed. Let sin be slain in the light of day is the great practical lesson of this chapter. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying,