Parashat Tazria (She Conceives) & Metzora (Leprosy)
Vayikra (Leviticus) 12:1–13:8 & 14:1–15:33
Haftarah: 2 Kings 7:3–20
This week's Parasha contains some very interesting precepts that God gave to the children of Israel regarding that which is holy and unholy. In the center of those precepts are guidelines regarding leprosy.
When studying the biblical texts concerning leprosy, I find it interesting that what we see today as a disease, was actually more of a sign from God to demonstrate His power in biblical times. For example, in Exodus 4:6–7 we read that leprosy was one of the signs that God gave to Moses:
The LORD furthermore said to him, “Now put your hand inside the fold of your robe.” So he put his hand inside the fold, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then He said, “Put your hand inside the fold of your robe again.” So he put his hand into the fold again, and when he took it out of the fold, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh.”
We also find that leprosy was used as a sign from God as a form of judgment or affliction. For example, after Miriam used what we call the "evil tongue" against her brother, Moses, when he married the Cushite woman, we read of God’s judgment over her in the form of leprosy:
But when the cloud had withdrawn from above the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous.
It is also important to note that the impurity of the leprosy meant the afflicted person would be cast out from the community in order to not infect everyone else. In Leviticus 13:44–46 we read of the obvious signs that would mark someone whom the Priest would identify as a leprous man:
…he is a leprous man, he is unclean. The priest must pronounce him unclean; his infection is on his head. As for the person who has the leprous infection, his clothes shall be torn and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; he shall live outside the camp.
This brings me to the account in our Haftarah portion from 2 Kings 7:3–20. In this well-known story we read:
Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ then the famine is in the city and we will die there; but if we sit here, we will also die. Now then come, and let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we will live; and if they kill us, then we will die.”
2 Kings 7:3–4
Due to the fact that the city was under siege by the Arameans, there was no food and therefore, the four men had nothing to lose since they were probably good as dead anyway. However, as I mentioned before, leprosy in the biblical times was more of a sign from God than anything. We see this as we continue to read from 2 Kings 7:5–9:
So they got up at twilight to go to the camp of the Arameans; when they came to the outskirts of the camp of the Arameans, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had made the army of the Arameans hear a sound of chariots, a sound of horses, that is, the sound of a great army; and they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians against us, to attack us!” So they got up and fled at twilight, and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys—indeed the camp itself, just as it was; and they fled for their lives. When these men with leprosy came to the outskirts of the camp, they entered one tent and ate and drank, and carried from there silver, gold, and clothes, and they went and hid them; then they returned and entered another tent, and carried valuables from there also, and went and hid them. Then they said to one another, “We are not doing the right thing. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent about it; if we wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now then come, let’s go and inform the king’s household.”
There is speculation in various commentaries on this passage that these men were lepers because of their sin. While that may be true, I think the important part of this story is the fact that God had grace on them despite them being outcasts. The four men, who were cast outside the city walls because of their leprosy, saw an opportunity to take care of their own needs, but instead decided to share the good news with the king. Isn't this a wonderful example of God's character? He chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27) and uses the least of all men to bring good news!
My dear brothers and sisters, let's be provoked to honor God the way these lepers did in the end. We always have an option in any given situation to choose to do what is right in the eyes of the LORD.
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