Leprous Ones Tazria-Metzora (“She gives birth” and “Concerning lepers”) Leviticus 12:1-15:33
Our parashot for this Shabbat (there are two) are entitled Tazria, meaning “(when) she gives birth” and Metzora, meaning “concerning lepers”. These readings cover Leviticus chapters twelve through fifteen. The common theme running through these chapters is cleanness and uncleanness and maintaining a divide between the two. It has nothing to do with valuing one human being above another. Rather, the separation of those who, for various reasons, were unclean had to do with the presence of a Holy God in the midst of the camp of Israel.
Those regarded as unclean included a woman after giving birth. Her time of impurity would last seven days if she gave birth to a boy, and fourteen days if she gave birth to a girl. The time for her purification would be thirty-three days if she bore a boy and sixty-six if she bore a girl. Lest anybody think this means boys were more valuable than girls, it doesn’t. It has only to do with the time of purification. The intrinsic worth of both boy and girl was evident in that when the days of her purification were completed, she was to present an offering at the tent of meeting, and it was the same for a boy or a girl: a one-year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering.
Most of this week’s parasha concerns leprosy and how it was distinguished from lesser blemishes and what the laws were governing the isolating of people with leprosy from the rest of the camp. Even articles of clothing and the fabric of tents could have what was referred to as leprosy. Even the walls of a house could be leprous! It was a chronic imperfection, which is why leprosy was likened to sin, and explains why isolation from the community of God’s people was necessary. We have already seen the principle of separation in several forms in Leviticus. That’s what holiness is – sacredness – things and people marked out by God for special purposes. That’s what Israel was: a holy people, to whom a holy God gave a holy way of life by means of a holy Book!
Rather than focus on all the details about tests for and cleansing from leprosy, let me instead turn our attention to a few individuals in the Scripture who had to deal with leprosy. Some were struck with leprosy as divine punishment, others were healed from leprosy in divine grace.
Miriam (Numbers 12)
Miriam and Aaron began grumbling about Moses when Moses married a Cushite woman. Cush was the ancient biblical name for Ethiopia. Was Moses’ marrying an Ethiopian woman really so scandalous (I think not), or was something else at work? I am not the first to ask this question. Many biblical commentators suggest that Aaron and Miriam had long been harboring resentment over their brother’s greater stature. It isn’t unusual for resentment to develop when one sibling’s accomplishments surpass those of the others. Nevertheless, whether it was on account of the Ethiopian bride or something else, their actions were inexcusable. God summoned the three of them out to the Tent of Meeting.
God had Aaron and Miriam step forward, and said to them,
Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream.Not so, with My servant Moses, he is faithful in all My household;With him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?
God struck Miriam with leprosy. Aaron urged Moses to pray and intercede for her, which Moses did. God’s response was that she should be isolated outside the camp for seven days. Mercifully, that was the extent of her leprosy. Had not Moses interceded, she might have spent the rest of her days as a leper! Why only Miriam and not Aaron also? Most likely because she appears to have been the instigator. In a very unusual biblical construction, her name appears before Aaron’s, which lends support to this supposition. But the lesson is clear: don’t murmur against God’s man.
Na’aman/Gehazi (2 Kings 5)
In the days of Israel’s divided monarchy, during the reign of Yoram in the north and during the ministry of the prophet Elisha, tensions were high between Israel and Syria. Syria was making frequent incursions into Israel. In 2 Kings 5 we are introduced to a leading Syrian military captain named Na’aman. In paradoxical contrast to the king of Israel, who is regarded by the biblical writer as unworthy, Na’aman is described in illustrious terms. But we’re told he was a leper.
During one of Syria’s many invasions, they captured a little Israeli girl, and she became a servant in Na’aman’s household. At one point she tells them that the prophet in Israel could cure Na’aman of his leprosy. Na’aman, who’d probably prayed numerous prayers and offered countless sacrifices to the false gods of Syria, takes the girl’s words to heart, and goes to Israel to seek healing. Eventually he comes to Elisha, who instructs him to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River. Though he initially balks at such a suggestion, Na’aman obeys the word of the prophet, dips himself seven times in the Jordan, and is instantaneously and marvelously healed, and his skin, we’re told, became like that of a young child! He returns to Elisha to express thanks, and declares that for the rest of his life he will worship only the God of Israel. He returned to Syria a changed man (all, by the way, thanks to a little Israeli girl who was able to love her enemy!)
But as Na’aman was departing, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, went up to him and concocted a lie about Elisha needing some money and fresh clothes for visitors who had come. Na’aman gladly gives him money and clothes. When Gehazi returns, Elisha questions him, and Gehazi lies again, and is struck with the leprosy that had been Na’aman’s, and Gehazi remained a leper the rest of his life. The lesson is clear: don’t lie to God’s man.
King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26)
One of the signs of a good king in ancient Israel was the length of his reign. Stability was regarded as a sign of divine favor. Usually the wicked kings did not rule long. There were frequent conspiracies and assassinations in the northern kingdom, Israel. Things were somewhat better in Judah, and good King Uzziah’s fifty-two year reign was evidence of that. The Scriptures tell us he sought God diligently during the days of the prophet Zechariah, and Uzziah grew powerful and his fame was widespread. He successfully subdued the Philistines and the Ammonites. He fortified the walls of Jerusalem, and improved conditions throughout the country. His army was huge, and well-equipped.
But pride got the better of him. One day Uzziah decided to go into the Temple, bypass the priests and offer incense on the altar himself. He may have been a powerful king, but he wasn’t a priest. He failed to reverence God. That priesthood was a boundary God Himself set up, and that line was not to be crossed. God was angry with Uzziah, striking him on the forehead with leprosy. The priests hurried him out of the Temple, and he himself hurried to get out of there. King Uzziah had to live out the rest of his days in isolation as a leper, his son Jotham reigning in his father’s stead. The lesson is clear: don’t cross God-given boundaries of holiness.
Leprosy was considered a living death! To be a leper meant to be isolated from the community. Sometimes our people were hasty in presuming that anybody with leprosy (or other physical malady) was under divine disfavor. We should be careful not to fall into that same kind of presumption. Sickness and disease is a fact of a fallen world, not necessarily a sign of some hidden sin or “generational curse”.
You know, people went out of their way to avoid lepers in those days. Lepers, in fact, were required to call out “Unclean! Unclean!” as they walked, so that people would not find themselves downwind from them and become unclean too. It is important to bear this in mind when you consider that in Matthew, chapter 8, Yeshua cleansed a leper. We’re told he actually reached out and touched that leper. He needn’t have done that. Yeshua could just as easily have spoken a word and brought a miracle to pass. But He intentionally touched the man. Had it been anyone else, the act of touching a leper would have made them unclean. But when Yeshua touched lepers, instead of His becoming unclean, they became clean! That’s divine power at work!
In Luke chapter 17 a group of ten lepers cried out for Yeshua to have mercy on them. He granted their request, and told them to go show themselves to the priest (according to the Torah). As they went (obedience to Messiah is always a good idea), they were all instantaneously healed of their leprosy! Nine of them kept on going. One – just one of them – came back and fell at Yeshua’s feet in gratitude, glorifying God. That one man wasn’t even Jewish but a Samaritan. Yeshua marveled at the thanklessness of the nine.
Isaiah wrote, He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, for which reason one of the names the rabbis assigned the Messiah was “the Leprous One.” And just as lepers, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Are you willing to be identified with Him who was despised by the nation? Are you willing to be despised along with Him? Are you willing to be treated like a leper on account of your loyalty to Messiah Yeshua? If so, your reward in Heaven will be great.