By Christine Darg
In the film classic “Ben Hur” starring Charlton Heston, my favorite scene is when Ben Hur returns to Jerusalem and searches for his mother and sister “in the Valley of the Lepers.” He finds them and takes them to see Jesus, but Jesus’s trial before Pontius Pilate has already begun. Ben-Hur witnesses the crucifixion, and from a distance his mother and sister are miraculously healed as the Lord’s sacred blood flows toward them during a rainstorm.
Although Ben Hur is historic fiction, have you noticed how God used lepers throughout the Bible to preach the Gospel?
One of the great miracles in the New Testament concerns ten lepers who were all healed in one go. From a distance they cried to Jesus for mercy. He said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” and as they went, they were cleansed, but only one returned to thank him.
One of the greatest faith-building healing narratives is recorded in Mark Chapter 1. A man full of leprosy came to Jesus and begged on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Verse 41 says Jesus was indignant. Of course he’s willing! Saving sinners and healing people is what Jesus is all about!
And I believe God is still indignant today because people continue to question the Lord’s willingness to heal….. but I assure you the Lord is a willing healer. From the Torah all the way through to the Book of Revelation, God is a healer! Jesus sent the man away with a strong warning: “don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” But instead the leper went out and told everybody and the crowds got so large that it was difficult at times for Jesus to function! This account in the Gospel of Mark forever erases the question mark about whether or not it’s God’s will to heal, because Jesus, Yeshua is his hebrew name, is willing to heal…. when we ask in faith.
Perhaps the greatest prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning Messiah as both Redeemer and Healer is found in Isaiah 53. Verse 5 prophesied, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah specifically prophesied that the Lord’s visage would be astonishingly marred more than any man. This leper-like condition, if you will, was described in Isaiah 53,
“He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”
In this famous 500-year-old European altarpiece of Messiah, Jesus looks loathesome like a leper. This piece of art was made for a hospital where people suffered from skin diseases. The Messiah is pitted with plague-type sores to show the patients that Jesus also suffered for them.
In my book on divine healing, “Speak to the Mountain,” I mentioned the fact that an ancient rabbinic commentary actually compared the Messiah to a leper. In the commentary, God asks the Messiah, “Wilt thou bear chastisements in order to remove the iniquities of the children of God, as it’s written in Isaiah, ‘surely he hath borne our griefs?’” And the Messiah replied, “I will bear them with JOY!” Although the rabbinic commentary is extra-biblical, it nevertheless accurately described Jesus’s attitude as stated in Hebrews 12:2, because of “the JOY that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and now he’s presently seated at the right hand of God’s throne.” The rabbinic analogy of Messiah to a leper is fascinating because leprosy is such a disfiguring disease. Certainly, when bearing the sins of the people, Messiah was disfigured.
Throughout the Bible, leprosy is also an idiom to represent sin; wherever lepers went, they were outcasts; they had to warn others by covering their faces and shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” Sin is like that. It’s humiliating, it’s defiling, it screams and makes us unclean in God’s sight. Today preachers have forgotten to preach against sin, and they’ve failed to preach about the necessity of repentance. But the Bible teaches that it was necessary for Jesus, who never sinned, to become the sin-bearer on our behalf to free us from the defilement of sin. When we repent, we are washed by faith by his cleansing blood. In God’s plan, Jesus literally became despised and rejected like a leper in order to bear our sins so we can be free from the contamination of sin! Lepers in the Bible also represent a state of uncleanness in general. Lepers weren’t allowed to mingle with healthy people. Jesus said he didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance because it’s not the healthy but the sick who need a physician.
Whenever Jesus healed lepers, he commanded them to give their testimony to the priests, who were like the doctors of the day. The Law of Moses prescribed both the quarantine of unclean lepers and the purification of cleansed lepers. Quarantine is a picture of how sin isolates us from God and separates us from God’s people. Whether we like it or not, the Bible teaches that every human being by nature is a leper; there’s not one person except Jesus born righteous; we’re all by nature loathesome and incapable of fellowship with God and his people; we’re banned from God’s presence and from interaction with God’s people until we’re cured of our sin. The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus’s Atonement exonerated us and his blood cleanses us and grants us access into the presence of God and his people.
Now….I want to take you to an amazing verse about the condition of total leprosy. Leviticus 13: 13 says that “when the priest examines the affected person, if the disease has covered all the skin from head to toe, the priest shall pronounce the person to be clean. How can that be? How in the world does that work? But the leper covered from head to toe with the disease will help you to understand the Gospel! This is a great Gospel picture concealed in the Torah! ONLY when we realize that we’re 100 per cent unclean in God’s sight can we be set free free from the contamination of sin. We have to be 100 per cent convinced that we’re sinners without any goodness within ourselves and that we cannot save ourselves by our own good works. You see. . . While you’re something, Jesus can be nothing to you—but when we’re nothing, Jesus the Messiah becomes everything to us! Only when we realize that we’re helpless to save ourselves can the Saviour truly step in and save us. We must by faith allow him to carry all our sins to the Cross. We must admit that our hearts are desperately wicked and that there’s no health within ourselves. Then God can grant us the double cure for both our sins and our sicknesses.
I remember as a child being scared by a horror movie, the “Picture of Dorian Gray,” based on a novel by Oscar Wilde. In the movie Dorian Gray was a handsome but vain, morally corrupt young man who had his portrait done. Dorian Gray wished that his portrait could age instead of him. And as the years passed, he didn’t age, but evidence of his increasing sins showed up on the portrait making it grotesque! He had to hide it in the attic! The picture grew more grotesque with each transgression. When I watched the film as a child, I was shocked to see how hideous the portrait had become. But the Bible truth is that we’re all as repugnant as a leper until our hearts are changed and until we’re born again. No matter what our outward appearance is, no matter how much we try to deceive ourselves or others, the Lord looks upon our hearts, our inner condition. The Good News is that God will give us a new heart and a new loving nature by the power of his Holy Spirit when we put our trust in the finished work of the Saviour.
Think about this for a moment: lepers contaminated everything they touched! They needed to be cleansed from the defilement of the disease. Submission to this Bible truth is absolutely necessary to receive salvation! It’s not my purpose to to condemn any person, but 1 John Chapter 1 assures us that “the blood of Jesus God’s Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make God a liar and His word is not in us.”
Now, let’s move on to these fascinating instructions in Leviticus 14:
The priest’s instructions were to venture outside the camp to examine the lepers. If, upon examination, a leper had been healed, there was a prescribed method for his purification. It involved assembling two live clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop. One of the birds was to be killed over fresh water contained in a clay pot. Next, the priest dipped the live bird, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet wool and the hyssop, into the blood of the sacrificed bird over the fresh water. I want to stop here for a moment to point out that cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop are symbols of Atonement elsewhere in the Bible. Recently we did a TV program on the seach for the red heifer, an animal that’s needed to make a sacrifice in order for the Third Temple to be re-built and for temple sacrifices to be re-instituted. God specified that three prophetic items were to be added to the sacrificial fire of the red heifer: cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet wool. The ashes of the red heifer, the cedar wood, the hyssop and scarlet yarn were to be collected and placed in a vessel containing living spring water. Each of these elements is a powerful Bible picture of purification and atonement. In Exodus 15, a tree, which was a type of the cross, was thrown by Moses into the bitter water to make it sweet for the people to drink. So cedar wood was a foreshadowing of the cross. Hyssop was used to sprinkle blood in ceremonial purifications and hyssop was the “pole” used to serve the sponge of vinegar for Jesus to drink during the crucifixion. Some scholars suggest the scarlet wool was a foreshadowing of the Lord’s scarlet robe. Also scarlet wool is a powerful picture of Isaiah 1:18, where God said, “Come now, let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Now all these elements were also used as atonement pictures in the cleansing of lepers.
Let’s return to Leviticus 14 . . After one of the birds was sacrificed over the spring water, the priest sprinkled the person to be cleansed 7 times– 7 being the number of completion in the Bible — and then the priest pronounced the person to be clean of the defiling disease. Next, the live bird that had been dipped in the sacrificial blood was released into the open field. These are powerful pictures of sacrifice and resurrection. Afterwards the former leper must wash his clothes. So let’s review what we’ve said so far. One of the birds was taken, and his blood was shed in a vessel full of “living water.” When Jesus was put to death, blood and water flowed from His pierced side to be “of sin, a double cure,” so in the earthen vessel there was first, the “living water,” and then the blood of the sacrifice. In the Bible, sin is always put away by blood sacrifice. Bible commentators also point out that the leper couldn’t save himself….all he could do was humbly receive the benefits of the priest’s work and the sacrifice. Both the priest and the sacrifice are pictures of Jesus. The second bird was dipped into the blood until all its feathers were red. The bird’s wings were tied to the stick (a type of the cross), and these were dipped in the blood of the slain bird seven times for completion then the living bird was allowed to fly away. This was all a foreshadowing of Messiah, of his blood sacrifice, his cross and his resurrection, when he arose above the clouds to return to his Father’s throne.
As the purification process continued in Leviticus 14, we’re at the point of washing the leper’s clothes. This is also a Gospel foreshadowing. Jesus is the One who makes us holy and enabes us to walk clothed in white. Next in this process, and remember this is all a picture of the cleansing of sinners, a lamb was to be sacrificed. And we know according to John 1:29, the lamb is a picture of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Here’s such an important picture in Leviticus 14: 14 says, “The priest is to take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of the right foot.” All sins are cleansed with blood—sins of hearing, sins of wrong-doing with our hands, and sins of walking in the wrong paths –all those sins were put away by blood!
Next, in order to become God’s consecrated servant, the former leper is anointed with holy oil. This is a picture of the work of sanctification by the Holy Spirit in our lives! The priest anointed the lobe of the person’s right ear, symbolic of receiving and listening to the Word of God. Oil was put upon the thumb of his right hand as a picture of consecrated service. And the big toe of his right foot was anointed as a picture of consecrated feet… running with the Gospel of peace. Remember, the former leper couldn’t do any of this for himself– it was all done for him by the priest, a foreshadowing of Jesus our High priest! At this present time Jesus is our High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us. When we put our trust in him, we are cleansed and pardoned, and he intercedes for us before the throne of God as our personal advocate! No charge!
“Well, Christine,” you might say, “Jesus died nearly 2,000 years ago, so how am I to know in the 21st Century that he died for me?” You’ll never know it until you’re willing to stand in the leper’s place! If we can humble ourselves and admit that we’re sinners; and that in our flesh, there dwells no good thing, THEN it’s written that Messiah died for our sins, according to the Scriptures—not according to our feelings, but according to the Scriptures! Isn’t this marvellous? Trust the Saviour! Trust THE Book! The Good News of the Gospel is that Messiah has already shed His innocent blood; He’s risen up on high as our advocate, and our salvation is a finished work, according to the Scriptures. I hope with all of my heart that you’re not too skeptical or too proud to be saved by the blood of Jesus, because his blood IS the final remedy that God has prescribed! The choice is simple– either you’re saved by keeping the whole Law, which is impossible to do, or you humble yourself—and receive the Lord’s atonement without price. That means your guilt will be put away by his blood—and God will accept you on his terms as a pardoned sinner, as a cleansed leper! You’ll become without spot, or wrinkle, and you’ll be presented faultless to the Father.
Amen! Well, as I’ve studied this week I’ve been reminded that the Gospel was demonstrated through lepers in other books of the Bible. For example, in 2 Kings Chapters 6 and 7, there was a great famine in Samaria. And among those suffering in the famine were four lepers. They discussed their plight together, and they came to the conclusion, Why should we sit here and die? In desperation they decided to surrender to the Syrians. But to their utter amazement, they discovered that the Syrian camp was abandoned! Well, they hooped and hollared and reveled in their discoveries, but upon reflection, they knew they needed to tell others about the food and all the riches they’d found. The four lepers in a way represent the four Gospels. They said, “This day is a day of good news…” and we can’t keep it to ourselves! Amen! So they rushed back and told the Good News to their city.
There are important parallels between these four lepers and ourselves! We also mustn’t keep silent –there’s good news to share. This is still a day of good news, although the Gospel era will soon close. There’s an urgency to repent and to get right with God. Jesus is coming very soon. You know that, don’t you?
The lepers in 2 Kings were experiencing famine, and in our situation today, we’re experiencing a famine of God’s word. While millions die of spiritual starvation, many believers are hoarding the Gospel! We would do well to learn from these unselfish lepers. They came to themselves and admitted, “We’re not doing the right thing! This day is a day of good news, and we’re remaining silent.” They said: “If we wait until morning light, we’ll be punished.”
My question is– what punishment will befall us if we don’t share the Gospel that Jesus died for us and salvation is a free gift by faith? What eternal rewards will we forfeit? Let’s not fail to fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus charged His disciples to observe ALL his commandments and one of those commandments, “Go into all the world and to make disciples.” And, just as God appointed the prophet Ezekiel to be “a watchman for the house of Israel,” Ezekiel was commanded to warn the wicked – Ezekiel had to tell people that sin has consequences. And if Ezekiel failed to warn the wicked, he would also be held accountable!
Today, the church is God’s “watchman” to the world! We’ll be held accountable if we don’t warn people that sin has consequences! We’re also commanded to pray for the peace of Jerusalem! We’re commanded not to keep silent until God makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth! Amen!
So I hope as a result of reading this article, you’ll do two things without delay: first of all, if you’ve never received Jesus as your Saviour, I invite you to receive Him now by faith. Remember, Jesus died for you and was raised from the dead, acccording to the Scriptures, not according to your feelings. You must put your trust in God’s Word that Jesus is the Saviour of the world and he’s your personal Saviour. Secondly, appropriate the healing power that’s available in the Gospel. Remember, you’re not healed because you feel like it, but you’re healed because God sent his word and healed you by the atoning stripes and wounds of Jesus the Messiah! Hallelu-Yah!
This message is available as a video at this link.
I have often wondered why cedar, scarlet, and hyssop were used in the Old Testament. Today, as I finally did some research, I found this article to be enlightening. This evening we will be going to observe Passover with friends, what a great time to mention this article to others. Thank you for helping me to see Leviticus doesn’t have to be a a “dry” book.