on Matthew 8 :2
And, behold, there came a leper - The leprosy λεπρα, from λεπις, a scale, was an inveterate cutaneous disease, appearing in dry, thin, white scurfy scales or scabs, either on the whole body, or on some part of it, usually attended with violent itching, and often with great pain. The eastern leprosy was a distemper of the most loathsome kind, highly contagious, so as to infect garments, (Leviticus 13:47, etc)., and houses, (Leviticus 14:34, etc)., and was deemed incurable by any human means. Among the Jews, God alone was applied to for its removal; and the cure was ever attributed to his sovereign power.
The various symptoms of this dreadful disorder, which was a striking emblem of sin, may be seen in Leviticus 13:14 :, where also may be read the legal ordinances concerning it; which, as on the one hand, they set forth how odious sin is to God, so, on the other, they represent the cleansing of our pollutions by the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, by the sprinkling and application of his blood, and by the sanctifying and healing influences of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek name λεπρα, seems to have been given to this distemper, on account of the thin, white Scales (λεπιδες) with which the bodies of the leprous were sometimes so covered as to give them the appearance of snow, Exodus 4:6; Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:27.
Herodotus, lib. 1, mentions this disorder as existing, in his time, among the Persians. He calls it λευκην, the white scab; and says, that those who were affected with it were prohibited from mingling with the other citizens; and so dreadful was this malady esteemed among them that they considered it a punishment on the person, from their great god, the sun, for some evil committed against him. Dr. Mead mentions a remarkable case of this kind which came under his own observation. "A countryman whose whole body was so miserably seized with it that his skin was shining as covered with flakes of snow, and as the furfuraceous or bran-like scales were daily rubbed off, the flesh appeared quick or raw underneath." See the doctor's Medica Sacra, chap. 2. It was probably on account of its tendency to produce this disorder, in that warm climate, that God forbade the use of swine's flesh to the Jews. Feeding on this crude aliment, in union with the intemperate use of ardent spirits, is, in all likelihood, the grand cause of the scurvy, which is so common in the British nations, and which would probably assume the form and virulence of a leprosy, were our climate as hot as that of Judea. See the notes on Exodus 4:6, and on Leviticus 13 (note) and Leviticus 14 (note).
Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean - As this leper may be considered as a fit emblem of the corruption of man by sin; so may his cure, of the redemption of the soul by Christ. A sinner, truly penitent, seeks God with a respectful faith; approaches him in the spirit of adoration; humbles himself under his mighty hand, acknowledging the greatness of his fall, and the vileness of his sin; his prayer, like that of the leper, should be humble, plain, and full of confidence in that God who can do all things, and of dependence upon his will or mercy, from which all good must be derived. It is peculiar to God that he need only will what he intends to perform. His power is his will. The ability of God to do what is necessary to be done, and his willingness to make his creatures happy, should be deeply considered by all those who approach him in prayer. The leper had no doubt of the former, but he was far from being equally satisfied in respect of the latter.
on Matthew 8 :2
There came a leper - No disease with which the human family has been afflicted has been more dreadful than that which is often mentioned in the Bible "as the leprosy." It first exhibits itself on the surface of the skin. The appearance is not always the same, but it commonly resembles the spot made by the puncture of a pin or the pustules of a ringworm. The spots generally make their appearance very suddenly. Perhaps its appearance might be hastened by any sudden passion, as fear or anger. See Numbers 12:10; 2 Chronicles 26:19. The spots commonly exhibit themselves at first on the face, about the nose and eyes, and increase in size a number of years, until they become as large as a pea or a bean.
There are three kinds of leprosy, distinguished by the appearance of the spots - the white, the black, and the red leprosy. These spots, though few at first, gradually spread until they cover the whole body.
But, though the "appearance" of the disease is at first in the skin, yet it is deeply seated in the bones, and marrow, and joints of the body. We have reason to suppose that in children it is concealed in the system for a number of years until they arrive at the age of puberty; and in adults for three or four years, until at last it gives fearful indications on the skin of its having gained a well-rooted and permanent existence. A leprous person may live twenty, or thirty, or even fifty years, if he received the disease at his birth, but they will be years of indescribable misery. The bones and marrow are pervaded with the disease. The malady advances from one stage to another with slow and certain ruin. "Life still lingers amid the desolation;" the joints, and hands, and feet lose their power; and the body "collapses," or falls together in a form hideous and awful. There is a form of the disease in which it commences at the extremities: the joints separate; the fingers, toes, and other members one by one fall off; and the malady thus gradually approaches the seat of life. The wretched victim is thus doomed to see himself dying "piecemeal," assured that no human power can arrest for a moment the silent and steady march of this foe to the seat of life.
This disease is contagious and hereditary. It is easily communicated from one to another, and is transmitted to the third and fourth generation. The last generation that is afflicted with it commonly exhibits the symptoms by decayed teeth, by a fetid breath, and by a diseased complexion.
Moses gave particular directions by which the real leprosy was to be distinguished from other diseases. See Leviticus 13. The leprous person was, in order to avoid contagion, very properly separated from the congregation. The inspection of the disease was committed to the priest; and a declaration on his part that the person was healed, was sufficient evidence to restore the afflicted man to the congregation. It was required, also, that the leprous person should bring an offering to the priest of two birds, probably "sparrows" (see Leviticus 14:4 's margin), one of which was slain and the other dismissed, Leviticus 14:5-7. In compliance with the laws of the land, Jesus directed the man that he had healed to make the customary offering, and to obtain the testimony of the priest that he was healed. The leprosy has once, and but once, appeared in America. This loathsome and most painful disease has in all other instances been confined to the Old World, and chiefly to the Eastern nations.
It is matter of profound gratitude to a benignant God that this scourge has been permitted but once to visit the New World. That awful calamity was on the island of Guadeloupe, in the West Indies, about the year 1730, and is thus described by an eye-witness: "Its commencement is imperceptible. There appear only some few white spots on the skin. At first they are attended with no pain or inconvenience, but no means whatever will remove them. The disease imperceptibly increases for many years. The spots become larger, and spread over the whole body. When the disease advances, the upper part of the nose swells, the nostrils become enlarged, and the nose itself grows soft. Tumors appear on the jaws; the eyebrows swell; the ears become thick; the points of the fingers, as also the feet and the toes, swell; the nails become scaly; the joints of the hands and feet separate and drop off. In the last stage of the disease the patient becomes a hideous spectacle, and falls to pieces.
Worshipped him - Bowed down before him, to show him respect. See the notes at Matthew 2:2.
If thou wilt - This was an exhibition of great faith, and also an acknowledgment of his dependence on the will of Jesus, in order to be healed. So every sinner must come. He must feel that Jesus "can" save him. He must also feel that he has no claim on him; that it depends on his sovereign will; and must cast himself at his feet with the feelings of the leper:
"I can but perish if Igo;
I am resolved to try;
For if I stay away, Iknow
I shall forever die."
on Matthew 8 :2
8:2 A leper came - Leprosies in those countries were seldom curable by natural means, any more than palsies or lunacy. Probably this leper, though he might not mix with the people, had heard our Lord at a distance. Mark 1:40; Luke 5:12.