Troublesome Topic: The Treatment of Lepers Part two

Lesson 12 of 13

In the previous lesson we covered the first and most important lesson that was taught through the treatment of those who had been struck by God with a visible abnormality. That point, point #1, is that God does not tolerate rebellion or open disobedience, and repentance is a must.

However, starting with point #2, I will show that there are a few other spiritual lessons to be learned from those regulations.

2. Don’t jump to conclusions.

There were other things that looked similar to God’s supernatural judgment, but they were simply natural consequences.

The priests were given detailed instructions on how to discern the difference between a skin condition that was a supernatural punishment from God, and skin conditions that were natural. This would prevent people from jumping to conclusions.

We likewise need to guard against jumping to conclusions. We can ask, what is the supernatural punishment that God uses in our day? But answering that with any degree of certainty is very difficult. I would say that we should only call it direct and supernatural punishment from God if the sin was clear and extreme, and if the punishment is obviously supernatural. Also, all the cases of the condition in view must fit both of the above. That makes it almost impossible to call something like AIDS a supernatural punishment from God because it is possible to catch it through means that do not involve sin.

A proper example seems to be the sinking of the Titanic. It was referred to as the unsinkable ship. During boarding, a crew member who was asked if it was indeed unsinkable. His response was, “Even God himself cannot sink this ship.” Because of such arrogance, when it did sink, it is not unrealistic to call it a supernatural intervention. But, was everyone that drown that night guilty of horrendous sin? Was it a direct punish for all of them?  We cannot know for sure. My point here is that we should not be too quick to assume something fits the category of special punishment.

3. Stay away from that which is not the way God created you.

One of the characteristics of this skin disorder was that the color of the hair in the sore was different than what was normal for the people of that part of the world. Having white body hair and yellow hair on the head were not normal for them. The priest knew something was amiss because these characteristics did not fit the norm.

4. An obvious sinner may be the closest one to repentance.

Lev 13:12-13 says that if the entire body is covered in this condition, and has turned all white, the person should be pronounced clean. Some say that the disorder has run its course and has turned to scar tissue. That is a possibility, but we cannot be sure about the scar tissue. The part about it running its course and coming to a final conclusion (in a spiritual sense) seems to fit the rest of what we see. When someone has hit the bottom of the barrel, they are often the closest to changing the course of their life. This is true even if we cannot see the change yet or if they look like a total mess to us. But God sees the heart.

5. God demonstrates perfect balance.

To us it seems like God was being downright mean to people with those skin disorders. Even if it wasn’t “true leprosy” and even if it wasn’t permanent, expelling someone from the camp was a pretty strong consequence. 

God is both holy and loving at the same time, and there is no conflict in Him between the two. It seems to us at times that holiness and love are in opposition to each other. The problem, however, is with our perception; it is not an issue of inconsistency in God.

Solomon’s temple (and Zerubbabel’s temple) had a special room for people who had been struck with this visible abnormality. This may have been where they would come to be inspected by a priest and also where they waited during their time of quarantine. Therefore it may have a number of smaller chambers inside the larger one. However, there are people who believe the priest went outside the camp to where they were. In my mind the text of Lev 13 makes it sound like they went to the priest at the tabernacle or temple and shout “unclean, unclean” as they moved through the city. They could also enter the temple and worship without mingling with the other worshippers. There were several side entrances to the temple and Ray Vanderlaan thinks the chamber of lepers had its own entrance that was just for them. God made provision for these people to join in worship and in the sacrificial system while they were in the slow process of restoring their relationship with Him. He gave them a chance to take steps toward Him; He kept them in mind during the planning of the temple, and He ordered Solomon to make special provision for them.

On the other side of that coin is God’s holiness. It appears that God’s primary concern was to teach His people to be holy—to be separate from the rest of the world, unique, set apart for Him.

God’s treatment of true lepers who were being punished for rebellion demonstrated that His holiness and His compassion are perfectly balanced.

6. Lessons of holiness are not easily learned.

Lessons in holiness seem to be lessons that we learn more slowly and with more difficulty than some of the other lessons in life.

I consider two of the most prominent characteristics of God to be His holiness and His love. Of these two, the Bible speaks much more often of His holiness than of His love. In fact, the Bible uses the words “love, lover, loved, loving” etc. a total of 557 times, while it uses the words “holy, holiest, holiness, make holy,” etc. a total of 785 times. Obviously, a majority of the references to holiness are directly related to God or what He demands from His people, while a large number of the references to love refer to the love of a man for a woman, man’s love of the world or of material things etc. Simply looking at the numbers we can tell that the Bible emphasizes holiness more than love, although they are equally important. If they are equally important, why the lack of balance in the presentation of the two? This is because we learn quickly that God is love and what that means for us; we learn slowly that God is holy and what that means for us. Yet God’s love and His holiness go together. We could even say that in God, love and holiness are two parts of the same thing, rather than being different characteristics.

My inability to fully grasp the make-up of an atom does not change what the atom is made of. If I slam my fist into a concrete wall it is hard to believe that there is a great deal of “open space” in the atoms of that wall, yet it is true. Likewise, our inability to understand how God’s holiness and His love can be wrapped up in one big ball and can function together without the seeming conflicts that we observe, does not negate the fact that it is so.

God had to be harsh or the people would not have learned about holiness. Hard lessons are learned through tough situations. The harsh treatment of those with certain types of skin conditions was a stark reminder that God wants purity of heart.

7. Evil is contagious, but holiness takes self-discipline.

While the physical condition we are discussing was not contagious, the spiritual condition being punished was. Attitudes like rebellion, arrogance and self-centeredness are very contagious and we should not mimic people like that.

God wanted to show His people that, while sin looks good on the outside, it is actually a nasty, gross, ugly thing. Also, there are serious consequences for sin, so take sin seriously.

8. Sin is associated with death.

Here we need to go to the story of Miriam and Aaron who spoke ill of the leadership of Moses and were punished for it. Miriam must have been the instigator of it because she was the only one who was struck by “leprosy.”

Here are the ways that Numbers chapter 12 describes her condition.

Verse 10 says she was white as snow – her skin lacked the characteristic pink hue that comes from blood vessels just under the skin. When someone dies their skin loses its pinkness and looks ghastly white. So the first part of the description is that of one who lacks blood, or whose blood flow is far too low. The life of the body is in the blood, so a lack of blood will bring death to the cells that do not get blood.

Then in numbers 12:12 her condition is described as “like a dead one, when it comes from its mother’s womb with its flesh half consumed.” Here the picture is that of a baby that has died in the womb and has not been expelled from the womb in a timely fashion, rather the mother has continued to carry this dead child even while the process of putrefaction has been in motion. (In reality, if it were to go on as long as this verse describes, the mother’s life would be in grave danger as well.)

The lesson that the sin of rebellion is inseparably linked to death was clearly and powerfully communicated. Not only does sin cause spiritual death (i.e. separation from God), it also begins to eat away at our physical body as well, destroying any quality of life. The Barnes commentary on Numbers 12:12 says that leprosy was “nothing short of a living death.”  This should remind us of the words of Paul in Ephesians 2:1:

Ephesians 2:1


Now you, while being dead in your miss-steps

Go to footnote number

and your ethical failures,

Go to footnote number


Now then, even while you were a dead corpse, lacking life because

your wrong choices caused you to move away from God, and because your

moral failures made you no longer a part of [God’s chosen instruments] …

Why would someone choose such a condition? Why would someone choose to be rebellious against God if the result was a “living death?” Why would someone willfully risk self-destruction?

The next lesson in the full on Covenants is: “Leprosy” in a Garment.

The next lesson in Why Is That in the Bible? is: The Food Laws Taught Three Major Truths



“miss-steps” point to a “slip up, a side-slip, a miss-step, a false step, or a falling away.” Although it seems to be unintentional, the result is that it causes us to move further away from someone, after having been close to them. All this is wrapped up in one word–the action, the unintentional nature of the action and the resulting distance in the relationship. In the paraphrase I chose to relate the miss step as a wrong choice because it is about our will, not about our feet.


“ethical failures” means “to be at fault due to missing the mark, to fail ethically, and thus no longer be a part of, or belong to [something]” – what you are no longer a part of is not included in this word. In this case, what you no longer have a share in is not spelled out in the verse either. You are expected to assume correctly that it has to do with God. The consequence is the key part of this word because it comes from two words, one which means “not” and another which means “part of, or share.” Although a bit long, we could render this word as “you no longer have a share because you missed the mark with your ethical failures.”