The Divine Dermatologist
A Pocket Paper
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest. And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him, and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, then the priest shall command to take for him who is cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. (Leviticus 14:1-7).
Here in Nashville, the highways all seem to be under construction at once. Briley Parkway, the major artery leading to our church, is under construction. They’re building an eight-lane highway right to our church, and it will be wonderful when it is finished. But for right now, you can be cruising down the highway at a good rate of speed, and suddenly you have to put on your brakes and the next thing you know, you’re crawling along at ten miles an hour.
The book of Leviticus is sort of like a construction zone. When we start down the Route 66 of Scripture, we cruise along at a pleasant clip through Genesis and Exodus, but the pavement breaks up, as it were, in Leviticus, and we slow down to a crawl. But in preparing this series of messages from Leviticus, I’ve had two presuppositions.
First, Leviticus isn’t meant to be read, but studied. We don’t get a lot out of this book if all we do is read through it. Oh, here and there we find a good verse, and it is still a worthwhile project; but Leviticus yields its best secrets to those who study it.
Second, when we do study Leviticus, we find it full of information about Jesus Christ, the coming Messiah. I’ve realized that Leviticus is one of the most Christ-centered and Messianic books of the Old Testament. It is packed with pictures and prophecies about the Lord Jesus Christ. We primarily see this in three ways: First, the sacrifices on the Tabernacle altars speak of Christ. Second, the office and duties of the priests speaks of Christ. And third, the feasts and festivals of ancient Israel teach us various aspects of our Lord’s person and work.
For the last couple of Sundays and again today we are focusing on the subject of the priesthood of Israel. What can we learn about Jesus Christ by studying the instructions given to Aaron and his sons, the priests of Israel?
This may sound boring and recondite, but it’s really a very important topic—so important that the major theme of the New Testament book of Hebrews is devoted to explaining how wonderfully Jesus Christ fulfilled the type of the Old Testament priesthood.
Let’s thumb through this section of Leviticus and I’ll survey it for you in that way; and then we’ll narrow down our study to our passage today. As we’ve already learned in this series, chapters 1-7 describe the five types of sacrifices and offerings that served as the heart and core of the worship of ancient Israel.
Now look at Leviticus 8. My Bible has headings at the top of the chapter supplied by the editor, and at the top of chapter 8, it says: “Aaron and His Sons Consecrated.” This chapter and the next tell of the inauguration of the high priesthood of Israel and of the installation of Aaron and his four sons as priests of Israel.
Chapter 10, as we saw last week, describes one of the greatest tragedies in Israeli history. On the very day that the priesthood was inaugurated and the priests were installed in office, two of them—the two oldest sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu—offer profane fire before the Lord and are struck by a bolt of fire from heaven.
Now today I would like to deal with chapters 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15. These five chapters give us the duties of the priesthood in the mundane everyday affairs of ancient Israel. It’s very easy to outline, and even though these chapters are rather tedious to read, there is nothing so very difficult about this.
· Chapter 11 is devoted to dietary regulations – the foods that the Israelites could and could not eat.
· Chapter 12 is devoted to issues of childbirth.
· Chapters 13-14 are devoted to infectious skin diseases.
· Chapter 15 is devoted to various discharges from the body relating to sexual activity.
As I have studied these five chapters, three wonderful truths came to me rather forcibly. I just took a little walk, mulling over these chapters, and it seemed to clarify in my mind with great simplicity and meaning. What do these five chapters in the Bible tell us?
God Wants Us to Be Healthy
First, God wants us to be healthy. I’ll admit that these chapters are rather tedious to read, but there is one thing that intrigues me very much about them, and it is this—the regulations given here display a knowledge of science that is many, many centuries ahead of its time. In some cases, we’ve only learned in the last hundred or two hundred years how scientifically advanced these regulations are. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Chapter 11 deals with dietary requirements. Look at the way it begins: Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth…’”
Eating is obviously a very important aspect of life. There’s an old adage that is absolutely true: You are what you eat. It’s remarkable how prone we are to fuel our body on fast food and junk food, and here in chapter 11 of Leviticus, God is warning the Israelites against a diet of junk food. There’s the famous prohibition, for example, forbidding the Israelites from eating pork. Why? What’s wrong with pork chops? In that day and age, without refrigeration and modern food preservation techniques, pork was more prone than other meats to harbor bacteria and transmit disease.
Chapter 12 is devoted to the matter of childbirth. Notice verse 3 regarding the birth of little boys: And on the eighty day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. The Old Testament prescribed circumcision for male babies on the eighth day. We now know that in a primitive, nomadic society like that of the Old Testament, circumcision prevents infection. In fact, even in our modern United States, circumcision prevents more than ten thousand infant urinary tract infections a year. In our more advanced society, circumcision is optional, but when God gave the ancient command to the Israelis, no one knew about antibiotics, so these infections would have been far more serious.
But when to circumcise? It was not until 1900 that scientists began to understand the chemistry of blood clotting. The human body needs vitamin K to make clotting proteins. Newborn babies don’t start making vitamin K until they are five days old. Three days later, on the eighth day, one clotting protein jumps up to 110% of the adult level. Doctors now know that the eighth day is the safest day for circumcision in a baby’s life.
Chapters 13 and 14 are devoted to infectious disease, especially to skin diseases like leprosy. Look at 14:46: He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
In the Middle Ages, leprosy killed countless millions of people in Europe. Dr. George Rosen, a Columbia University professor, wrote, “Leprosy cast the greatest blight that threw its shadow over the daily life of medieval humanity. Fear of all other diseases taken together can hardly be compared to the terror spread by leprosy. Not even the Black Death in the fourteenth century or the appearance of syphilis toward the end of the fifteenth century produced a similar state of fright. Early in the Middle Ages, during the sixth and seventh centuries, it began to spread more widely in Europe and became a serious social and health problem. It was endemic particularly among the poor and reached a terrifying peak in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.”
The medical professionals of that age were powerless to stop the spread of the disease, and finally they gave up and turned to the medieval church. The leaders of the church searched the Scriptures for the answer and they found this passage of Scripture in Leviticus in which God told the Israelites to isolate and quarantine the infected person.
In other words, the book of Leviticus introduced the medical necessity known as the quarantine. As soon as the European nations rediscovered the biblical insights about the quarantine, they brought leprosy under control, and they later applied the same principle to the Black Death, with the result of saving thousands and, I suppose, millions of lives.
S. I. McMillen wrote, “If the lethal plagues had continued unabated, many celebrities of the Renaissance might never have been born, or they might have died untimely deaths. Thus, European history was greatly influenced because men began to practice the words of God to the Israelites.”
It was not until 1873, just over 100 years ago, that Dr. Armauer Hansen looked through a microscope at a slide from a leprosy patient and discovered leprosy bacteria. Finally we realized that leprosy was an infection spread from person to person. We now know that millions of leprosy bacteria can live in the nose of one person infected with the disease, and a single sneeze can infect many others.
In the earliest books of the Old Testament, Moses told the Israelites that leprosy was an infectious disease that could be controlled by something we now call the quarantine.
So chapter 11 deals with dietary regulations. Chapter 12 to childbirth. Chapters 13-14 to infectious diseases. And chapter 15 is devoted to… well, the heading at the top of the chapter in my Bible says, “Laws Concerning Bodily Discharges.” I’m not going any further than that; but suffice to say that these five chapters have to do with issues relating to the health of the body and the soul. God gave to the Israelites laws for their own good, and we now know that these laws presupposed medical knowledge many centuries in advance.
I remember seeing an old book on the bookshelf of our home as I was growing up, and I remember my father mentioning how intrigued he had been in reading it. It was entitled, None of These Diseases by Dr. S. I. McMillen. I don’t know what happened to my dad’s copy, but I recently came across that same book in a used bookstore, and I’ve been as intrigued in reading it as my father was. I’ve also read the updated version, and today I’d like to bring a message based, in part, on this old book entitled, None of These Diseases.
Here is the premise of my message: How do we know that God’s Word is true? How can we be reassured of the reliability of His promises to us? Well, there are many ways; the Bible offers many evidences of its authenticity. But among them are the amazing examples of what sometimes we call “prescience.”
By prescience, we mean the occurrence in Scripture of accurate statements reflecting an in-depth knowledge of scientific concepts far before mankind had laid the technological base for such things to be known.
The priests were to be the spiritual leaders of Israel as well as the dietitians and the medical health experts of the ancient nation; and these regulations were given to keep the children of Israel healthy.
God Wants Us to Be Holy
But there’s another, deeper, richer underlying truth here as well. God wants us to be healthy but even more, He wants us to be holy. As we’ve already seen, the grand theme of Leviticus is the holiness of God; and holiness is to infiltrate everything we do. We’re to be holy in our diet and lifestyle. We’re to be holy in childbirth and family living. We’re to be holy in our hygiene and physical habits. We’re to be holy in the way we deal with illness, and we’re to be holy in the area of our sexuality.
This is borne out all through these passages. For example, look at Leviticus 11:44 having to do with a prohibition against eating certain creepy-crawlies: For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. This is the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.
Now, let me say that we as Christians are not under the exact same dietary regulations that controlled ancient Israel. The book of Acts makes that clear. But the principle is the same. Even down to dietary matters, God wants us to be healthy and holy.
Now remember that the word for “holy” in both the Old and New Testaments primarily means “different” or “separate.” Here’s the way one commentary put it: “God is supremely holy because God is totally different from all else in creation and is always to be regarded as separate from every aspect of the created order. The Sabbath is called holy because it is different from the other six days, and it is to be treated separately as a special day. The temple was holy because it was different from all other buildings and was used only for special and separate functions. A sacrificial animal was regarded as holy because it was different from all of the others and was separated from them.”
The Lord wants us and me to be holy, to be different and separate from every other group of people on earth. We’re to be distinctive. The Bible says, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.”
When someone at school or work watches your life, how long does it take them to realize that you are different, separate, and distinctively a Christian?
God Wants Us to Be Happy in Jesus
The third lesson in these chapters is that God wants us to be happy in Jesus. These chapters are full of little predictors as well as big predictors of the person and work of Jesus Christ. For example, let’s go back to our initial Scripture reading at the beginning of Leviticus 14. Here is a man with leprosy. He’s condemned. He’s diseased. He’s been forced to leave his wife and children and grandchildren. He’s been driven outside the camp. He is quarantined and isolated, sick and suffering. He is a picture of a poor sinner, lost and sick and diseased of soul.
But there is healing, and when the healing occurs a little ceremony takes place there, outside the camp. Two birds are brought out by the priest. One bird is killed in a clay pot over running water, and the other bird is dipped in that bloody water and set free to fly into the heavens and to make his home in the fresh thin air.
It’s a beautiful picture of you and me. We’re diseased of soul with the leprosy of sin, outside the camp of God, without hope, lonely in the world. But Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, died for us and we are washed in His blood. Our souls are set free to soar in life, to mount up with wings like eagles, to run and not be weary, to walk and not be faint.
The 2004 Summer Olympic Games are underway now in Athens, and one of America’s brightest young athletes is diver Kimiko Soldati. She had originally wanted to be a gymnast, but a serious knee injury in the ninth grade ended that dream. Her dad suggested she change over to diving, and now she’s on the Olympic Team.
In a recent interview, she said that, looking back, she is so thankful for that knee injury, because otherwise she would not have gone into diving; and if she had not gone into diving, she would not have met the other divers on the American team, a remarkable number of which are Christians.
As she began working with these American divers, she noticed that she was tense and prone toward depression; but the Christians on the team were more relaxed and seemed to be much happier. Here’s what she said:
“My anxiety level was off the charts. Then when I suffered shoulder injuries and had multiple surgeries a few years ago, I was an absolute mess. This was before I became a Christian and diving wasn’t just something I did. It was who I was. When the injuries took diving away from me for awhile, I went into a tailspin and suffered deep depression. When I recovered and began training with my new Christian teammates, who seemed peaceful no matter what, I took notice. I wanted that kind of peace. I needed that kind of peace. And they said it came from knowing Jesus.”
Gradually she began wanting what they had. Gradually she began attending church. And eventually she and her husband asked Jesus Christ to become their Lord and Savior.
Now, Kimiko says that winning a gold medal is still very, very important; but it is not the most important thing about diving. “I used to think I was in this sport to win a gold medal,” she said, “but I don’t believe that anymore. I believe there’s a reason why I have these abilities—to be able to travel across the world for diving competitions and share my faith. The Bible tells us to go to the nations with the Good News. At our competitions, the nations are there. What an opportunity!”
God wants us to be healthy. He wants us to be holy. And He wants us to be happy in Jesus. Do you need to give your life to Him today?
 Gary Demarest, Mastering the Old Testament: Leviticus (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990), p. 114.
2 “Taking the Plunge” by Cameron Courtney at www.christianitytoday.com/tcw/2004/004/1.30.html.
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