Tag Archives: leprosy

God’s People, part 184: Lepers

Read Mark 1:40-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared.”  (Matthew 8:2-3, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Leper-HealingPart 184: Lepers. When we hear the word Leprosy or  Lepers, we think of people who have what is also known as Hansen’s Disease. According to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), leprosy is a bacterial infection that attacks the nerves, skin, eyes, and the inner lining of the nose. When attacking the nerves, the bacterial infection causes swelling and discoloration of the skin, which can also get flaky.

If left untreated, permanent nerve damage can be done leading also to paralysis of the hands and feet. A slow growing bacteria, it can take up to 20 years before one even shows symptoms of having it. This disease was once considered to be highly contagious; however, researchers have come to realize that it is not so easily spread, especially when it is treatable. People with leprosy, if properly treated, can go on to live normal and productive lives.

In the Bible, we read the word leprosy a number of times. Namaan, the Aramean General in 2 Kings 5, had leprosy. Leprosy is also mentioned a number of times in the Gospels, where Jesus lays hands on them and heals them. There’s a lot we don’t know about the disease that these lepers had; however, what we do know is that those afflicted with leprosy in Biblical times did not have what we know now as Hansen’s disease which was described above. The Hebrew word for leprosy is tzara’ath (צָרַעַת, pronounced tzaw-rah’-ath). This word was used for those who had a dermatological condition that caused the skin to scale.

Psoriasis, which can also lead to crippling psoriatic arthritis, seborrheic dermatitis, scabies, crusted scabies, syphilis, impetigo, scarlet fever, and other such diseases could be classified in the ancient world as tzara’ath or leprosy. In other words, any number of dermatological diseases could have been considered leprosy and anyone with that disease would be viewed as a leper.

Leprosy was viewed as a defiling disease, meaning that anyone with it would be deemed ritually and physically unclean. Such people were shunned and avoided at all costs. They were not allowed to live within the community, nor were they allowed to participate in the community’s religious life. They often lived in “colonies” of others with the disease.

According to the annotations found in The Jewish Study Bible, “The Bible does not view disease per se as defiling. Only those having “tzara’at” or abnormal genital fluxes are considered to be impure…Tzara’at, seen as a gradual erosion of the skin, was thought to culminate, unless the patient recovered, in the ultimate disintegration of the flesh, which was taken as a manifestation of the gradual escape of life. The person afflicted with it was looked upon as potentially dead, death itself having begun to consume his body.”[1]

If one even so much as came in contact with or touched a leper, they too would be seen as defiled. Thus, people avoided lepers like the plague. What’s more, many believed that leprosy was a divine punishment for the act of slander. Thus, those who had leprosy were not only shunned, but judged by society. Thus, we can see how scandalous it was for Jesus to lay hands on and heal lepers. Not only did he risk defiling himself, but he was also showing his power over sin.

When dealing with the healings that Jesus performed, I want us to focus more on society and on us as “the people of God”, for it is there that we see the true sin and missed opportunities in living up to being God’s people. The stories of Jesus healing the lepers ought to challenge us that God loves people equally, no matter what may or may not be afflicting them. When we shun such people because they are “gross”, or “disgusting”, or “we might catch what they have”, we are actually shunning God. When we refuse to help people because “they brought it upon themselves” we are actually putting ourselves above God.

While we should take precautions so as to not infect ourselves or spread infectious diseases, we should approach all people as children of God who deserve to be treated with love, compassion and diginty. We should work toward bringing healing to folks, rather than more harm through shunning and judging them. Let us open ourselves up to being God’s people rather than being people of the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are blessed that we might be a blessing to others. Shunning people is not blessing them.

PRAYER
Lord, help us to be compassionate to all who suffer no matter the cause, and steer us away from judgment. Amen.

[1] Schwartz, Baruch J. “Annotations for Leviticus 13.1-14.57” in The Jewish Study Bible, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999), 234.

God’s People, part 78: Uzziah

Read 2 Chronicles 26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram. Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.” (Matthew 1:8 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669; King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy (?)Part 78: Uzziah.  Uzziah, as he was known to the author of 2 Chronicles, or Azariah as he was known to the author of 2 Kings, was king in the ancient kingdom of Judah. He was 16 years old, if you can imagine that, when he became king. The first 24 years of his reign he shared as co-regent with his father, King Amaziah. The remaining 28 years following his father’s death he ruled as the sole king of Judah. Thus, King Uzziah was ruler of Judah for a total of 52 years. Quite a reign for a king in the ancient world.

Both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles state that Uzziah had ruled Judah well and that he had “what was right in the sight of the LORD.” The Chronicler (aka the person/people who wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles) wrote that the king followed the instruction of a spiritual menor named Zechariah, not to be confused with the prophet who wrote the eponymous book in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to the Chronicler, Zechariah imparted the visions and deep respect of the LORD to the king.

While this spiritual mentor lived, Uzziah sought the guidance of God through Zechariah. He declared war against the Philistines, the Arabs of Gur, and the Meunites. He was able to get the latter group to pay Judah an annual tribute in order to maintain peace. As a result of this, he had become a very powerful and influential king the his fame spread to even Egypt. His army was massive, his fortifications were improved upon, and Judah was a force to be reckoned with.

As a result, the king’s pride and ego grew with his power and fame. This should not be surprising for it is nothing new. His pride and his ego led to his ultimate downfall. He wrongfully entered the sanctuary of the LORD, where only the high priest was permitted to enter, and personally burned incense on God’s altar. The high priest, along with eighty other brave priests, called him out on his egotistical sin. They told him to get out of God’s sanctuary, but the king was furious and refused to listen.

As a result, he broke out with leprosy, an infectious skin disease that rendered him unfit to rule, unfit to live in the palace, and unclean (which would have banned him from the Temple altogether). His son, Jotham of Judah, took over as “co-regent”. Though his father was still seen as king to the end of his life, it was his son who really began to rule at that point onward. Uzziah’s pride got the best of him; however, he was still one of God’s chosen kings and one of God’s people. The proof of this would come approximately 738 years when, as Matthew records, Uzziah’s descendant was born. That descendant, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Let us learn a lesson from King Uzziah. We, who are God’s people, find ourselves empowered by the Holy Spirit when we are open to the guidance and the presence of the LORD. With that said, when we allow our pride and/or our egos to take the place of God, we can find ourselves facing unintended consequences for our corrupted hearts and actions. Those consequences are brought on by ourselves; however, they do not remove us from the grace, the love, and the ultimate mercy of our Lord and Savior. Let us be a people who, rather than go down the hard road of unintended consequences, keep our egos in check and remain fully dependent on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes [people] as angels.” – Saint Augustine

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may grow in my dependence in you and rely on your guidance to lead me to where you are calling. Amen.