In the previous study we looked at how sin, disease and death entered the world, right after God’s creation of an initially perfect and harmonious universe. All seemed lost.
But God’s plans never fail. In Genesis 12:1-3, God spoke to Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and blessing , as Vaughan Roberts puts it in his book, God’s Big Picture . Here we catch a glimpse of how God will renew His fallen creation, but more about that later.
The book of Leviticus speaks a lot about hygiene and cleanliness. The Israelites have been freed from their slavery in Egypt and were on their way to the promised land of Genesis 12. They had grown into a mighty nation – according to Exodus 12:37, “about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” exited Egypt. It is therefore understandable that certain illnesses might have developed within the large gathering of people who were in close proximity to one another, not to mention traveling to a new country.
One of these illnesses was leprosy. Two whole chapters (13 and 14) in Leviticus are devoted to the laws regarding “any case of leprous disease: for an itch, for leprous disease in a garment or in a house, and for a swelling or an eruption or a spot, to show when it is unclean and when it is clean” (14:54 – 57 ESV).
One important thing to note is that leprosy in that time was not the same illness that we call leprosy today. According to the Holmon Bible Dictionary, it was “a generic term applied to a variety of skin disorders” with symptoms ranging “from white patches on the skin to running sores to the loss of digits on the fingers and toes.”
They didn’t have hand-sanitizer, antiseptic soap, face masks or latex gloves in those days. God gave them specific instructions on how to deal with the disease. Any suspected cases had to be examined by a priest and he would determine the severity of it. If “the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body,” (Leviticus 13:3 ESV) it was declared leprous disease and the priest pronounced the person unclean. If the spots appeared no deeper han the skin, the “diseased person” was isolated for seven days before the priest would examine the person again.
This would be the desolate fate of a leprous person: he “shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46). On the surface, it would seem like drastic measures, but it makes more sense when we understand what leprosy was a symbol of.
If you would carefully study the book of Leviticus, you would realise that “sin” and being “unclean” were very closely related. For example, God said the following about sexual immorality: “For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God” (18:29 – 30 ESV). Sin makes people unclean.
This does not mean that all diseases are in fact a consequence of a specific sin that a person committed, but rather a general consequence of the fallen nature of man, just like falling is a consequence of gravity.
Leprosy, in particular, could be seen as a metaphor for sin. The New Bible Commentary describes it like this: “leprosy is dealt with so elaborately…that this particularly loathsome and intractable disease is to be regarded as a type of that indwelling sin in which all the afflictions and ills of mankind have their cause and origin. If death is the curse pronounced by God upon sin, and contact with death is defiling, then disease which undermines health and is a stepping-stone to death carries with it a certain defilement whether it be infectious in the medical sense or not.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, most nations are under lockdown and a lot of people are separated from family and friends. Do you know that there is something much worse? Being eternally separated from God through our sin. The Coronavirus may give us a fever and affect our lungs, but sin defiles the whole being of a person. The Coronavirus might bring death, but unrepentant sin ends in eternal suffering and desolation in Hell. God, the great physician, is offering the cure, his perfect Son’s blood shed on the cross – will you accept it?
For those of us who are already Christians and rely on Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, this might be a time to reflect on our own sin as we are in self-isolation. Are we as quick to repent of sin as we are when running away from someone who is coughing? At several places in the Bible, God calls us to literally “flee” from sin. Are we taking as much time studying God’s Word than we are reading news updates? Let’s hold firmly to the Word of God in these trying times, clothed in the whole armour of God, so that we “may be able to withstand in the evil day, having done all, to stand firm.”