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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Leper

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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 Exodus 15:10), and that Moses a sacred scribe was the leader of the rest through the wilderness into Judaea (compare the "mixed multitude," Exodus 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. Νega'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 (Leviticus 13:3-6), and encrusting the person with ulcerous tubercles with livid patches of surface between. The anesthetic elephantiasis begins in the forehead (2 Chronicles 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 (Leviticus 13:12-38-39). Sometimes one limb alone is affected with a dead pearl-like whiteness (compare Exodus 4:6, "Moses' hand was leprous as snow;" Numbers 12:10; Numbers 12:12, "as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb;" 2 Kings 5:27). Job was affected with acute tuberculous elephantiasis, rapidly ulcerating his body (2 Kings 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 (Leviticus 11:7; Leviticus 11:9-12). 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 2 Samuel 3:29, "let there not fail from the house of Joab ... a leper".) Lepers associated together without the camp, as they still do (2 Kings 7:3; Luke 17:12). A habitation was provided for them outside Jerusalem, upon the hill Gareb, as the name implies "the hill of scraping" or leprosy (Jeremiah 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" (Leviticus 13:45; Numbers 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 (Luke 17:13). The malady was often due to inherited taint, as is sin (Exodus 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 Isaiah 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 (Leviticus 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" (Matthew 11:5; Mark 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 (Leviticus 14:3-9), that performed in the tabernacle court seven days after the former restored him to all spiritual privileges of Jehovah's worshippers (Leviticus 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, Leviticus 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 (Exodus 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. Judges 1:23, "hating the garment spotted by the flesh," i.e. avoiding all contact with pollution, answers to Leviticus 13:52-57; Leviticus 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 (Leviticus 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 (1 John 1:8-9). Leprosy was polluting, spreading as to the patient, transmissive, and then humanly incuable; in all these points typical of sin. The death spots soon after death appearing on a corpse, and spreading until the whole is decomposed, answer to the leprosy spots. Every leper thus was a living sermon that Israel should keep themselves unspotted from the world (Revelation 21:27; Ephesians 5:5).

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Leper'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/fbd/l/leper.html. 1949.

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