Those who have leprosy might as well be dead. Never mind that the disease we call leprosy today may or may not be one of the skin diseases meant by the Hebrew word tzara’at (צָרַעַת). The fact is, whoever had it was cut off from the community:
Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” 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. (Leviticus 13:45-46 NKJV)
Think about that for a moment. Lepers could not go home. They could not have any kind of normal relationship with their family members, friends, business associates, or anyone else with whom they interacted before the cursed condition fell upon them. It did not matter what station of life the leper occupied; whether peasant or king, the disease cut them off from the life of the nation. Even mighty King Uzziah of Judah learned that. Although he reigned for 52 years in Jerusalem, the leprosy he contracted in the midst of his reign meant that he was king in name only:
King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death. He dwelt in an isolated house, because he was a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord. Then Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land. (II Chronicles 26:21 NKJV)
How can a person shepherd the people of God when he is cut off from the House of God? Is there any hope for him, or for the people he is anointed to lead?
Yes, there is hope. That is why the Torah portion Metzora (The Leper; Leviticus 14:1-15:33) provides elaborate detail on the procedures for cleansing lepers. Once healed, the priests help them through this process to restore them to their place in society. In a certain sense, this is a resurrection from a type of death, and thus it is a symbol of what Messiah will do.
We know this because YHVH gave this sign to Moses when He met with him at the burning bush. Moses received three specific signs that would be his credentials from YHVH – proof that the Almighty had indeed sent him to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt. The first sign was his staff transforming into a serpent and then back into a staff. The third sign was turning the water of the Nile into blood. Then there is the sign he would demonstrate in between the two:
Furthermore the Lord said to him, “Now put your hand in your bosom.” And he put his hand in his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, like snow. And He said, “Put your hand in your bosom again.” So he put his hand in his bosom again, and drew it out of his bosom, and behold, it was restored like his other flesh. “Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign. (Exodus 4:6-8 NKJV)
Imagine that. Moses stands in the midst of the people, a perfectly healthy man, but after putting his hand into his bosom and drawing it out he is instantly transformed into the walking dead. Yet before the people can run from him, he returns his hand to his bosom and draws it out again in perfect health. The dead is transformed again into the living before their eyes. How can they doubt that God Himself had done this thing?
The reasonable person should have had no trouble believing the sign. After all, there were only three recorded healings from leprosy in the Tanakh (Old Testament): Moses, his sister Miriam (Numbers 12), and Naaman the Syrian (II Kings 5). Thus we conclude that healing people from leprosy must be a sign of the Messiah. After all, the Messiah would be the Prophet like Moses whom YHVH would send to Israel (Deuteronomy 18:15-19), so we expect that he would perform the same signs as Moses. Thus, if leprosy is a symbol of death, then Messiah would be the one to bring life from the dead.
Which is exactly what Yeshua said of himself.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Luke 7:22-23 NKJV)
Yeshua said something similar to this earlier in his ministry. In fact, on the day when he officially announced his mission to fulfill the provisions of Isaiah 61, he explained his statement with these words:
He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’” Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:23-27 NKJV)
Yeshua links his messianic announcement with the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. Note first that those two prophets – the greatest wonder-working prophets in Israeli history – did not minister in the faithful kingdom of Judah, but in the apostate northern kingdom of Israel. Then consider the example of Naaman, the Syrian general who had inflicted great defeats on Israel. Of all the lepers on the planet, why was he healed?
Perhaps it has something to do with the connection of leprosy with death. He was the instrument of death to Israel, acting as a tool of judgment in the hands of the Righteous Judge, YHVH. Yet in his strength he was stricken down as one dead. Unlike haughty Israel, however, he humbled himself and obeyed the prophet’s instructions. That is what secured his restoration to full life, even though he was a foreigner.
But what of that apostate Israelite kingdom? Did they ever learn the lesson of humility? Sadly, not in the days of Elisha. Soon after the account of Naaman’s healing, we read that the Syrians again invaded Israel and subjected the capital city of Samaria to a grievous siege. At the height of the siege we read this interesting account:
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,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore, come, let us surrender to the army of the Syrians. If they keep us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall only die.” And they rose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians; and when they had come to the outskirts of the Syrian camp, to their surprise no one was there. For the Lord had caused the army of the Syrians to hear the noise of chariots and the noise of horses—the noise of a great army; so they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians to attack us!” Therefore they arose and fled at twilight, and left the camp intact—their tents, their horses, and their donkeys—and they fled for their lives. And when these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they went into one tent and ate and drank, and carried from it silver and gold and clothing, and went and hid them; then they came back and entered another tent, and carried some from there also, and went and hid it.
Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” So they went and called to the gatekeepers of the city, and told them, saying, “We went to the Syrian camp, and surprisingly no one was there, not a human sound—only horses and donkeys tied, and the tents intact.” And the gatekeepers called out, and they told it to the king’s household inside.
So the king arose in the night and said to his servants, “Let me now tell you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we are hungry; therefore they have gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, ‘When they come out of the city, we shall catch them alive, and get into the city.’”
And one of his servants answered and said, “Please, let several men take five of the remaining horses which are left in the city. Look, they may either become like all the multitude of Israel that are left in it; or indeed, I say, they may become like all the multitude of Israel left from those who are consumed; so let us send them and see.” Therefore they took two chariots with horses; and the king sent them in the direction of the Syrian army, saying, “Go and see.” And they went after them to the Jordan; and indeed all the road was full of garments and weapons which the Syrians had thrown away in their haste. So the messengers returned and told the king. Then the people went out and plundered the tents of the Syrians. So a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord.
Now the king had appointed the officer on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate. But the people trampled him in the gate, and he died, just as the man of God had said, who spoke when the king came down to him. So it happened just as the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, “Two seahs of barley for a shekel, and a seah of fine flour for a shekel, shall be sold tomorrow about this time in the gate of Samaria.”
Then that officer had answered the man of God, and said, “Now look, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, could such a thing be?”
And he had said, “In fact, you shall see it with your eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” And so it happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gate, and he died. (II Kings 7:3-20 NKJV)
This is the Haftarah (selection from the prophets) linked to the Torah portion Metzora. The prominence of four lepers in the story explains why the Jewish sages connected it to Metzora, but there are deeper meanings, of course. One of those is that this passage relates a story of death and resurrection. In this case, it is the imminent death of the Northern Kingdom, which is suspended by YHVH’s redemption and restoration of them against all hope.
This incident happened in the days of Jehoram, son of Ahab, who was king over the House of Israel – the northern kingdom led by the tribe of Ephraim. These are the non-Jewish Israelites (Judah being the Jewish Israelite kingdom). Since Ephraim is Joseph’s oldest son, and since he inherited the birthright and the family name, Scripture calls this people the House of Israel, House of Joseph, and House of Ephraim (Genesis 48:8-22; Isaiah 7:1-17). The Bible says much about their destiny. Specifically, these people are the ones cut out of the covenant YHVH made with Israel. Consider Hosea, the prophet to the House of Ephraim, whom both Peter and Paul quote:
The word of the Lord that came to Hosea the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. Then the Lord said to him: “Call his name Jezreel [God sows; God scatters], for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. It shall come to pass in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”
And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him: “Call her name Lo-Ruhamah [No Mercy], for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away. Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen.”
Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi [Not My People], for you are not My people, and I will not be your God. Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel! (Hosea 1:1-11 NKJV)
Notice that YHVH makes a distinction between the House of Ephraim (Israel) and the House of Judah. Ephraim will experience death, meaning not only an end of their existence as a political entity, but of their national existence as a people. They will forget who they are and be scattered to the four corners of the earth. Judah will experience YHVH’s judgment as well, and will lose their political existence, but will always retain their memory of who they are as Israelites. That is the measure of mercy He will have on them. And yet, one day, both Houses will be restored in the day of YHVH’s sowing (Jezreel). This gives a whole new meaning to the Parable of the Sower, which Yeshua said was the one parable we need to understand if we are going to understand all the parables (Mark 4:3-20).
The other prophets amplify this theme. Jeremiah, for example, ties it to the New Covenant, found in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Earlier in that chapter, Jeremiah says this:
Thus says the Lord: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation andbitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
Thus says the Lord: “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded”, says the Lord, “and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future”, says the Lord, “that your children shall come back to their own border.
“I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself: ‘You have chastised me, and I was chastised, like an untrained bull; restore me, and I will return, for You are the Lord my God. Surely, after my turning, I repented; and after I was instructed, I struck myself on the thigh; I was ashamed, yes, even humiliated, because I bore the reproach of my youth.’
“Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him”, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:15-20 NKJV)
You will remember this prophecy about Rachel weeping for her children from Matthew 2:16-18, the account of King Herod slaughtering the infants in Bethlehem after Yeshua’s birth. Who would have guessed that the prophecy referred not only to Messiah’s narrow escape from death, but also to the redemption of Ephraim from national death? After all, that is why Rachel is weeping. Her children are Joseph and Benjamin, and Ephraim and his brother Manasseh are her grandchildren. She weeps because they have been slaughtered, both in a physical sense as multitudes of slain people (this reminds us of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37), and in a national sense because they ceased to be a people.
And yet YHVH promises to bring them back. He says so not only here, but in the Psalms. Here are some excerpts worthy of thought:
The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. They did not keep the covenant of God; they refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them.
Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a mighty man who shouts because of wine. And He beat back His enemies; He put them to a perpetual reproach. Moreover He rejected the tent of Joseph, and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved. (Psalm 78:9-11, 65-68 NKJV)
Again we see here the distinction between the Two Houses – the rejection of Ephraim, but the mercy on Judah. Yet mercy does in time extend to Ephraim:
Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah
And I said, “This is my anguish; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds. Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; Who is so great a God as our God? You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples. You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah (Psalm 77:7-15 NKJV)
Notice the redemption mentioned in this case is extended to all the sons of Jacob, which means all parts of Israel (Jews and non-Jews), but it is specifically extended to the sons of Joseph. That means to the House of Ephraim, the one cut off from the nation and cast into the four corners of the earth. We see this again in Psalm 80:
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth! Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, stir up Your strength, and come and save us! Restore us, O God; cause Your face to shine, and we shall be saved!
O Lord God of hosts, how long will You be angry against the prayer of Your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in great measure. You have made us a strife to our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; cause Your face to shine, and we shall be saved! (Psalm 80:1-7 NKJV)
This psalm of redemption comes from Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh – the children of Rachel. They are the ones who implore YHVH to come save them. Another way to say that is, “Hosanna!”, the same cry that the children of Judah called out to Yeshua as He entered the Holy City in the days before His atoning death on the execution stake (Matthew 21:9-16; Mark 11:9-10; John 12:12-13).
The theme continues in Psalm 81:
Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute.
Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob. This He established in Joseph as a testimony, when He went throughout the land of Egypt, where I heard a language I did not understand.
“I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were freed from the baskets. You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah.” Selah
“Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me! There shall be no foreign god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god. I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
“But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels.
“Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the Lord would pretend submission to Him, but their fate would endure forever. He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you.” (Psalm 81:1-16 NKJV)
Although all of Israel is guilty of turning away from YHVH, in this passage He once again specifically addresses Joseph, or Ephraim. YHVH calls out to the prodigal of Ephraim to listen to Him so that He might save them.
Brethren, this is the Gospel of the Kingdom. We have known for two thousand years that Yeshua our Messiah came to redeem all humanity back to His Father, and we have preached a gospel of individual salvation, but there is more to it that He is now uncovering in this day. Now we understand better the last question which Yeshua’s apostles asked Him just before He returned to His Father:
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8 NKJV)
We who grew up in the church have understood this to be a political question: Jews asking Jesus when He would free them from Roman domination. Perhaps that was a component of the question, but in the larger context, they were asking, “Lord, Scripture says Messiah is to bring back the Lost Tribes of Ephraim, reunite them with Judah, and restored the throne of David so that the Torah (Law, Commandments, Instruction) of YHVH could be proclaimed throughout the earth and all the nations would come under His dominion again. Is this the time You are going to do all that?”
Yeshua did not rebuke them, but instead clarified their focus. Their task was to proclaim this Gospel of the Kingdom in all the world and continue His work of gathering the scattered exiles of Israel and all who would join with them. The Holy Spirit would be given to them for that purpose, and at the appropriate time – which the Father had already determined – the Kingdom would be restored.
This is what the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the Ephesians:
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13 NKJV)
Do you see the connection here? Israel as a united, holy, covenant nation was broken when the Ten Tribes led by Ephraim rebelled and separated from the Two Tribes ruled by Judah (I Kings 12). Both halves of the nation came under great judgment for turning away from YHVH, but Judah remained intact as a people while Ephraim suffered national death. Like a leprous multitude, the House of Ephraim was cut off from the rest of the people and scattered into every nation. And yet they retained a memory of their connection with Almighty God, which is why Ezekiel prophesies of them:
Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Although I have cast them far off among the Gentiles, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.” (Ezekiel 11:16 NKJV)
Understand the dynamic here: both Houses of Israel rejected YHVH and His Covenant, and both Houses of Israel are redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb of God. Yet each House has a different mission in the fulfillment of YHVH’s redemptive Kingdom purpose. Judah remained intact as the visible part of the nation of Israel, as testimony of YHVH’s faithfulness to keep His promises. They have maintained the Torah, the Covenant commandments of righteousness which have never changed. Joseph, or Ephraim, on the other hand, has fulfilled the mission of carrying the testimony of YHVH to the ends of the earth, and then responding to His message of redemption, not only for Israel, but for all nations through the atoning work of Messiah Yeshua.
And now, at the end of the age, we begin to see the beauty of YHVH’s mysterious plan. Yes, He has accomplished the means of redemption through Messiah’s first coming, and now He has gathered to Himself multitudes who are ready for the consummation of that redemption. That is why Messiah had to go away for two thousand years, and then return to answer the Apostles’ last question. That answer, in fact, is a point the Apostle Paul makes in his letter to Rome:
For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:11-13 NKJV)
Who was cast away? All Israel, of course. In the church we learned that this passage applies to the Jews, because we thought Israel was only the Jewish people. Now we know that Israel is both Jewish and non-Jewish, and that Paul was actually referring to both Houses of Israel in his letters. In this case, he helps us bring this Torah teaching to completion. Leprosy is death, and the healing of the leper is a picture of life from the dead. If Ephraim was dead – cut off as a leprous infection of the Body – then what is his acceptance back into the nation? As Paul says, “Life from the dead.”
We are on the threshold of seeing this fulfilled in our lifetime.