Meditations in the Law : No.36 : Health & Infections
Lev 13:1-3 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2″When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin that may become an infectious skin disease, he must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. 3The priest is to examine the sore on his skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is an infectious skin disease. When the priest examines him, he shall pronounce him ceremonially unclean.
Now this is really going to separate out the adults from the children! If you turn away from this meditation, I understand! If rules about childbirth seemed a bit off track, ones about skin diseases seem even worse. But hold on, if, just for a moment we believe Paul’s declaration that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,” (2 Tim 3:16) and just for a moment we assume that the Jewish scholars and elders got it right in including this in the canon of the Old Testament, then we ought to have a look at it. One of my own underlying feelings about the Law of Moses, and a reason for writing these particular meditations is that within them we see the wisdom and knowledge and care of God for His people as He gives them very practical laws for living. One of the main premises behind this writing is the certainty that there is nothing freaky or weird about these laws, and they reveal much to us about the life of Israel and the wisdom of God.
Chapter 13 is a massive chapter on health care. God’s rules for life were not (and are not) all spiritual; they are practical and they helped Israel live in this Fallen World and cope when things went wrong. The earlier laws that we considered restrained sin and then dealt with it when it happened. These laws are health laws that seek to restrain infections. We don’t need to go into every detail but it will be helpful to observe the overall principles that are laid out.
Interestingly this starts out, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron…” (v.1) as was the case with unclean animals (11:1). Some things He appeared to share just with Moses and others it appears He gave to them both together. Perhaps the latter are to be considered bigger issues that would affect all of Israel. The first instruction here is about “a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin that may become an infectious skin disease,” (v.2) i.e. when the first signs of something that may potentially become infectious are seen, then action needs to be taken. The action: “he must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest.” (v.2b) You will see a note in your Bible that ‘sons’ may also mean descendents, i.e. all subsequent priests. The priests were to learn to act as doctors.
What we then find is guidance for a clinical procedure. This wasn’t left to haphazard approaches; this was a process laid down. The priest was to examine it and assess its nature (v.3). If, by its nature, he determines that it is an infection the man is put in the ‘ceremonially unclean’ group which, as we’ve suggested before, is as likely to mean that he’s excused religious duties as much as it says anything about his spiritual state. It may be that the priest needs to carry on observing it and in that case (v.4) he puts the person in isolation for seven days to observe whether it is getting worse. On the seventh day he carries out a further inspection and makes a determination. If it is unclear then he stays in isolation for a further seven days (v.5). There is then a further inspection and makes a determination that either it is nothing to worry about or that it is infectious (v.6).
Now we have here a very simple and obvious process for checking health and preventing outbreaks of infection. These guidance rules then move on to when it is determined that it is a real infectious skin infection (v.9 on). The crucial issue becomes whether there is ‘raw flesh’ or an open sore (v.10,14-16)). This is the sign of something serious (v.11). If the skin infection just goes white that is a sign of it clearing up and he is all right (v.12,13,16,17).
The Law then continues on to cover boils (v.18-23), burns (v.23-28), sores, spots and rashes (v.29-44). When there is a clear, serious, infectious disease the person concerned is to live outside the camp in isolation (v.45,46). In such a way the disease will be limited. The remainder of the chapter covers mildew that may carry infections and how to assess it and deal with it (v.47-59). Chapter 14 goes on to describe the offerings to be brought after someone is healed of one of these diseases, rather in the same way and, I suggest, for the same reasons, as the instructions for a woman after childbirth.
Of course what the Law doesn’t cover is the question of Healing. When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt He declared, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.” (Ex 15:26) i.e. obedience brings the blessing of health and healing from the Lord. At Mount Sinai He declared, “Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.” (Ex 23:25,26) i.e. again a promise of health with the relationship.
We see the Lord’s healing in operation in the Old Testament specifically in the case of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-). Similarly we see Hezekiah becoming ill, calling on the Lord and being healed (Isa 38). The Law, as we have said previously, covered situations where things went wrong, and this chapter, seen in the light of the verses about health and healing, becomes a chapter about grace – God’s provision of how to cope when they have not been in a good relationship with Him and sickness has invaded their lives. He was always there for them to call upon to bring healing, but healing requires faith!