In the March 1960 CHRISTADELPHIAN a study of Leprosy from the medical point of view was contributed by Brother WC Fowler. The subject was considered from the physical and public health aspects, and did not touch on the spiritual and moral analogies which are equally important. These notes are an enquiry into these spiritual and moral analo­gies. Brother Roberts introduces these aspects of the subject in Law of Moses, chapter XXVII, under the heading “Disease”. Describing leprosy as a disease of disorganization “affecting structure rather than what might be called hygienic conditions”, Brother Roberts says that the fact that these are subject to priestly recognition and sacrificial purification sug­gests that the treatment of leprosy was spiritual in its object, while still good hygienic tendency. He then draws out the spiritual significances. Man, he says, is an affected being as a descendant of Adam, but there are degrees of affectedness. There is such a thing as a healthy mortal, and there is such a thing as a diseased mortal. The Law of Moses deals with both – both literally and typically. There is a difference between human frailty, against which a man may struggle in the way of righteousness, and human wickedness, which a man may be following from taste and prefer­ence and willful bent. One is healthy human nature and the other is diseased human nature.

There were different forms of leprous affection, some curable, some not. Some were only light, but others were deep-seated, the one curable and the other calling for separation of a man or destruction of a garment or a house. So there are analogies between the treatment of sin and of leprosy.

The idea that leprosy is a powerful and effective type of sin appears to have won the consent of all serious and devout expositors. We do not refer to modern writers of critical outlook whose very ap­proach to the Bible seems to preclude any spiritual discernment of the typology of scripture. But an older school of students who were ready to accept the pointers supplied by New Testament writers to hidden significances, were far better qualified by reason of senses exercised to discern further instruction in the Old Testament books beyond those simple lessons which are generally embodied in the record of historic fact. It is of some signifi­cance that there has been so widespread acceptance among spiritually minded students of the idea that leprosy represents sin. If this is so obvious to us, it is difficult to think that its meaning was lost on the devout Israelite. And if this is so, this same com­parison between leprosy and sin would naturally find expression in the Psalms and other writings of Scripture which more than any literature deal with sin. The very fact that the whole treatment of leprosy was in the hands of the priest and affected a man’s place in the congregation of God, presents a parallel with sin, the treatment of which under the Law is exclusively priestly.

If we find the references in the Psalms are al­lusive only, then it the more clearly shows that a man found in the language of Leviticus 13 and 14 suitable words whereby he described himself as a sinner.

The plague of leprosy had certain characteristics which marked it from other diseases. It was subtle and persistent and to the ancients, incurable. In a particular sense it was a complaint that appeared to have the marks of a divine infliction. There are cases where it was rightly and unquestionably understood to be a divine punishment as when Miriam and Uzziah were smitten. In fact this background would give those incidents an awe-inspiring character. And as it was God who smote, so the removal could only be by the exercise of divine power. This further fact also invests the typical connection with sin with an intense significance. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” is not just a derisive question from the lips of enemies. Apart from the Gospel the answer is as intractable as was the cure of leprosy to the ancients. The cure of the one has its lessons about the cure of the other.

There are many details of the law of the un­cleanness of leprosy which yield profitable spiritual lessons, but we wish here to deal more particularly with allusions in the Psalms, which also have some searching comments on sin. Leprosy was a loath­some disease; it progresses from a small beginning, it goes from bad to worse, till limb drops from limb and the human body is reduced to a mutilated rem­nant. Thomson in The Land and the Book describes a revolting sight of a group of lepers reduced to this state. At last the disease affects the whole man, and as it does so he becomes insensible both to the disease and the disgusting appearance to which it has reduced him.

At last the disease cuts a man off from the fel­lowship of God and of his fellows in covenant rela­tionship with God, for the affected man neglected his hair, covered his lip, crying “unclean”. He was in effect a mourner for the dead, but the dead man he mourned was himself.

We glance now at some Psalms. Psalms 38 and 39 might both be called leper-psalms. Psalm 38 is “to bring to remembrance” and is used in the synagogue on the day of Atonement, the name of the Psalm suggesting the frankincense of the meal offering (Lev 2:2). It is a psalm of penitence where the writer feels under the censure of divine displeasure:

“O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath:

Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.

For thine arrows stick fast in me,

And thy hand presseth me sore”

(verses 6 and 7).

And as in the case of Job, friends look on in troubled unhelpfulness, while enemies exult in the victim’s distress:

“My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore;

And my kinsmen stand afar off.

They also that seek after my life lay snares for me:

And they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things,

And imagine deceits all the day long”

(verses 11 and 12).

My sore is the word “stroke” used of leprosy, and this direct reference gives vivid literalness to the rather repulsive description of the sufferer’s bodily condition of verse 7:

“For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: “And there is no soundness in my flesh.”

The penitent throws himself upon God, ac­knowledging his offence to God. Psalm 39 contin­ues the theme. The sufferer refers to his bewildered silence while he struggled to avoid reproach:

“I was dumb with silence, I held my peace even from good;

And my sorrow was stirred.

My heart was hot within me,

While I was musing the fire burned. Then spake I with my tongue.”

So he confesses his frailty and limitations to God, and turning his thoughts God-ward finds his solace there. “And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee.” And the hope is twofold:

“Deliver me from all my transgressions:” (v8). “Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand” (v10).

The word stroke is a leper-word, and Rotherham does not hesitate to call Psalm 38 a leper-wail. Psalm 39 is the leper’s reflections and confes­sion, hence the use of the word stroke in verse 10. The question has indeed been raised with justice whether these leper Psalms do not involve that at some time the man after God’s own heart, like Job, was touched in the flesh, for some transgression. For ourselves it is a possible thought, for it would bring home to David’s sensitive mind the marring effect of sin, and help him feelingly to pen his prayers for pardon and healing.

There was one sin known only too well to David’s enemies, which marred his life. Out of the experience came the most penetrating of all David’s penitential writings. Using the three basic words for sin which the High Priest used in the confession of Israel’s sin on the Day of Atonement, David prays:

“. . . Blot out my transgressions.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity,

Cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1–2).

Psalm 32 is linked with Psalm 51 in subject matter and occasion of writing, and as a conse­quence there are several verbal links. The three words for man’s wrong doing, “transgression”, “sin” and “iniquity”, all occur together in the important Divine declaration in Exodus 34:7, and all three were used in the confession of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:21), and all three words are to be found in the two Psalms, which has probably influenced their selection for use on the Day of Atonement.

In Psalm 32 David describes his tortured misery before forgiveness came:

“When I kept silence, my bones waxed old Through my roaring all day long.

For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: My moisture is turned into the drought of sum­mer” (Psalm 32:3–4).

From these words it is evident that David’s own meditation had prepared him for the visit of Nathan. The soil was turned ready for the word spoken by the prophet to penetrate. David’s sin is forgiven and his tongue is loosed, and the two Psalms reveal his soul’s experience. God forgave him; and if He forgave David for those sins, then every godly man may pray in hope too:

“For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee, in a time when thou mayest be found” (verse 6).

The margin has “at a time of finding”, which changes the subject of the finding. It is not man find­ing God, but God finding man. “Be sure your sin will find you out”, said Moses to Israel (Num 32:23). A stricken Judah bewailed when he stood before Joseph, “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants” (Gen 44:16). So David had striven to hide his sin both from himself and from God – a vain effort to do either. Then came the time of finding, first of David himself, and then by confession to God by David, who “sought the Lord while he was to be found”.

The sin is confessed fully:

  1. as transgression: – “a breaking loose from the restraints of Divine law.”
  2. as sin – “a violation of the Eternal rule of Right.”
  3. as iniquity – “as the wrong inward state of the soul” – superimposed by sin.

Over against the three words for sin David uses three words:

  1. forgiven – borne away.
  2. covered – or hidden, cp Day of Atonement – of Covering.
  3. reckoned not – blotting out the record.

Psalm 51 uses also a number of words with a significance in this leper-sin relationship: verse 2: “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity.”

The word wash is from Lev 14:4, 7, 9, and refers to the treatment of a garment whose fibre is stained. So the fibres of David’s mind needed cleansing.

“Cleanse”, says Rotherham, has no English equivalent, and calls for something like “unsin” – a suggestion made by Edersheim. But who can un-sin, not only cancel the effects of sin, but put us back to the unsoiled innocence before sin entered and defiled?

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean”, are manifestly words with leprosy association. David desired to be the subject of the sprinkling with hys­sop which enabled the cleansed leper to resume his place in God’s congregation. But it is clear that he felt that his state as a sinner was comparable to that of a leper. The very figure denotes an abhorrence of sin and a recognition of its loathsomeness.

In the light of these references to leprosy in Psalms 38, 39, 32 and 51, there can be no hesitation in applying the type of Leviticus 13 and 14 to sin and its cleansing. For details of this the reader is referred to bro. Roberts’ chapter in the Law of Moses.

A few additional notes might be added. The depth of Isaiah’s sense of sinfulness is now seen when he said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of an unclean people.” Uzziah, the leprosy-smitten king, had that year died. But equally significant is the fact that the nation later esteemed the sinless arm of the Lord as like a leper: “We did esteem him stricken” – the word used of Uzziah (2 Kings 15:5), of a man suffering from the stroke of leprosy. But by a divine paradox, the Arm of the Lord cleanses us. “With his stripes we are healed”, as the leper pronounced clean by a priest is healed.

Under certain conditions a man was confined for a period for further inspection. He was “shut up seven days more”. Paul chooses this word to describe God’s dealings with sinners. God is allowing the race to reveal its inner maladies. God hath shut up them all in unbelief (Rom 11:32). “The scripture hath shut up together all under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus might be given to them that believe” (Gal 3:22). God has allowed the sinfulness of man to become apparent that the divine remedy in Christ might be more clearly revealed.

But it remains solemnly true that the lepers are excluded from the camp, and the Lord’s own last message tells us that “there shall in no wise enter into it (the city of God) anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie” (Rev 21:27). And this is the final edict against leprosy and sin.