Hebrew: tsara'ath, a “smiting,” a “stroke,” because the disease was regarded as a direct providential infliction.

This name is from the Greek lepra, by which the Greek physicians designated the disease from its scaliness. We have the description of the disease, as well as the regulations connected with it, in Leviticus 13; 14; Numbers 12:10-15, etc.

There were reckoned six different circumstances under which it might develop itself,

  1. without any apparent cause (Leviticus 13:2-8)
  2. its reappearance (9-17
  3. from an inflammation (18-28)
  4. on the head or chin (29-37
  5. in white polished spots (38-39
  6. at the back or in the front of the head (40-44)

Lepers were required to live outside the camp or city (Numbers 5:1-4; 12:10-15, etc.). This disease was regarded as an awful punishment from the Lord (2 Kings 5:7; 2 Chronicles 26:20). (See MIRIAM; GEHAZI; UZZIAH.)

Leprosy is an infection called “Hansen Disease.” It is caused by the microorganism Mycobacterium leprae (an obligate intracellular parasite) scientifically identified in 1874. The disease has two common forms, tuberculoid and lepromatous. Both produce skin lesions and decreased sensation to pain, touch and heat, but lepromatous is the most severe and produces large disfiguring nodules. Leprosy causes severe nerve damage in the extremities and the eventual loss of hands, feet and more. Today, leper colonies are no longer considered necessary, since the disease can be treated by medications. A drug-resistant variety has emerged.

The primary drug used to treat leprosy is Rifampicin. Also used are Dapsone (diaminodiphenylsulfone), Clofazimine, and Thalidomide.

This disease “begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward to the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal.”

“In Christ's day no leper could live in a walled town, though he might in an open village. But wherever he was he was required to have his outer garment rent as a sign of deep grief, to go bareheaded, and to cover his beard with his mantle, as if in lamentation at his own virtual death. He had further to warn passers-by to keep away from him, by calling out, ‘Unclean! unclean!’ nor could he speak to any one, or receive or return a salutation, since in the East this involves an embrace.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),

“Although the mode of transmission of Hansen's disease remains uncertain, most investigators think that M. leprae is usually spread from person to person in respiratory droplets.”

Our Lord cured lepers (Matthew 8:2-3; Mark 1:40-42). This divine power so manifested illustrates his gracious dealings with men in curing the leprosy of the soul, the fatal taint of sin.

Author: Matthew G. Easton and Paul S. Taylor

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