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What Was Leprosy in the Bible?

Updated May 17, 2019
What Was Leprosy in the Bible?

The Terror of Leprosy

Leprosy was the scourge of the ancient world. Nothing evoked more fear, more dread, or more revulsion than the sight of these walking dead. That is what a leper was called, a walking dead man. The smell of his decaying flesh would announce his coming long before the tattered scraps of his clothing would be seen, or his raspy "Unclean! Unclean!" announcement he was required to declare, could be heard. The stumbling shuffle of toeless feet, the wandering of sightless eyes and the moan of a cheek less mouth, all pointed to Leprosy, this unseen attacker that slowly destroyed human bodies, and made the individual an untouchable to society.

Signs and Symptoms of Leprosy

The great Jewish culture scholar, Edersheim, says the disease which we today call leprosy generally begins with pain in certain areas of the body. Numbness follows. Soon the skin in such spots loses its original color. It gets to be thick, glossy, and scaly. ... As the sickness progresses, the thickened spots become dirty sores and ulcers due to poor blood supply. The skin, especially around the eyes and ears, begins to bunch, with deep furrows between the swellings, so that the face of the afflicted individual begins to resemble that of a lion. Fingers drop off or are absorbed; toes are affected similarly. His throat becomes hoarse, and you can now not only see, feel, and smell the leper, but you can hear his rasping voice. And if you stay with him for some time, you can even imagine a peculiar taste in your mouth, probably due to the odor.

Leprosy in the Bible

Leprosy is a vivid and graphic physical picture of the spiritual defilement of sin. Sin is ugly, loathsome, incurable, and contaminating; it separates men from God and makes them outcasts. The instructions given to the priests in Leviticus 13 help us understand the nature of sin: Sin is inside us, deeper than the skin (Leviticus 13:3); sin also spreads (Leviticus 13:8); sin always defiles and isolates (Leviticus 13:45-46); and just as leprous garments are fit only for the fire (Leviticus 13:52-57), so those who die clothed in sin will burn forever.

But then came Jesus [Mark 1:40-45]. When the untouchable is touched by Jesus (cf. Leviticus 13:42), "Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured."

Taken from "Touched By Jesus" by Discover the Book Ministries (used by permission).

Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Stevanovicigor


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