Tzaraat - The Plague of Sin
Ha-Foke Bah Hebrew
Ha-Foke Bah Hebrew
Keep an eye on the well-being of the community.
Intro to the series this is a story of God’s unrelenting love to recreate a “good world” for very sinful people.
Because of God’s unrelenting love, after the storm a good world can be co-created.
We are in our series through Leviticus, We are calling this series “After the Storm” because after the storm it is still possible to recreate a “good world” because of God’s unrelenting love.
Remember, we said God’s love is highlighted because in the background of Leviticus is the golden calf
and in the foreground is the strange fire. Despite the horrible failure that both these two events represents, God continues to move forward with a Redeemed People.
And, His unrelenting love is more punctuated by his choice of Aaron to serve as High Priest. Aaron the guy who made the golden calf and then switched sides and said, “kill everyone who worshiped the golden calf” is chosen to lead God’s brand new religious system. That is unrelenting, unconditional love that believes even the worst of sinners can still have a great purpose on planet earth.
If you prioritize happiness over holiness you will get one hot mess.
Remember, last week we said that a good world means a world where you are happy. But, you can’t prioritize happiness over holiness. You can’t prioritize anything over holiness.
I said the greatest threat to your happiness is not holiness but sin.
Now this week’s Torah portion is a big, big deal. The portion is called “Tzaa’rat.”
Most of the English translations translate this Hebrew word as “Leprosy” because of the Greek LXX that translates it as λέπρα lepra or leprosy. This is unfortunate because most scholars and medical doctors agree that the Tzaraat described in Leviticus 13-14 does not fit what we know as “Hansen’s Disease” or “Leprosy.”
Jacob Milgrom, renowned Jewish scholar, hired one of the best dermatologist in our country to investigate Leviticus 13-14 to determine if it is in fact leprosy, Hansen’s disease. He stated his conclusions without any hesitation: “the symptoms described in Leviticus 13 do not correspond to any known skin disease.” His main difficulty, surprisingly, was not the diagnosis but the treatment. Chronic skin diseases, he claimed, such as psoriasis, favus, and vitiligo, will not disappear or even change appreciably within one or two weeks. He said, “The safest statement that can be made about these diseases is that they share one feature in common: they produce scales.”
Connection - Tzaraat and Sin
If Tzaraat is not leprosy, what is it? Most Jewish and Christian scholars agree, it is some kind of skin infection that’s cause is rooted in evil not biology. Most Jewish thinkers point back to Miriam who was struck with leprosy for slandering her brother. And Uzziah, the prideful King of Judah, who tried to act as a Priest and the Lord struck him with leprosy.
As He entered a certain village, ten men with tzara’at came toward Him. They stood some distance away and raised their voices, saying, “Yeshua, Master, have mercy on us!”
And in Luke 17 the Ten Lepers do not ask Yeshua for a “healing” that ask him for “mercy,” have “mercy on us” they say to Him and when the one comes back Yeshua says, “your faith has saved you.” The Lepers faith was that Yeshua’s living word of mercy countermanded the effects of leprosy and sin. I generally ask a doctor for medicine not mercy.
Tzaraat acts just like Sin
It’s Origins is Secret and Private
It Initial Effect Seems Harmless
It is Painless in the First Stages
It Spread Slowly at First and Then Rapidly
It Takes Over the Person
It Creates Death in the Person
It Contaminates Other People
Tzaraat stood for the forces of sin that created death.
Alfred Ederesheim correctly points out in his commentary that the Rabbis considered the one with tzaraat as a walking corpse. The laws in Leviticus relating to them are the same as that of a dead body. They are as toxic as a dead body in that they can contaminate anything and everyone that comes in contact with their home or even clothes.
The only thing in Leviticus, all of the Scriptures, that can countermand the effects of Tzaraat and sin is the life-giving grace of God. Only God can reverse the effects of Tzaraat and sin. He uses the same means, sacrifice, we will see this next week.
In our text in Tzaraat, the focus is on the priest watching out for the well-being of the community by identifying those with Tzaraat. Sixty-nine times in Leviticus 13-14 the same phrase occurs: wera'ah hakkohen 'eth-hannega' וְרָאָ֣ה הַכֹּהֵ֣ן אֶת־הַנֶּ֣גַע which translates “and the Priest shall inspect the plague.” He is to be concerned about Tzaraat because it is more than just a medical condition, it is an evil that is in the camp that if not quarantined could spread.
The phrase wera'ah hakkohen 'eth-hannega caught my attention. Because that word “ha’nega” in Hebrew is the word used to describe being stricken by God with “plagues” or discipline in relationship to sin (Ge 12:7; Ex 11:1; 1 Ki 8:37; Ps 91:10; 2 Sa 7:14; Is 53:8).
You may think, “But that is ancient thinking, no one thinks like that anymore.”
Today, Infectious diseases and especially those to which a sexual fault is attached always inspire fears of easy contagion and bizarre fantasies of transmission by non-venereal means in public places. The removal of door knobs and instillation of swinging doors on U.S. Navy ships and the disappearance of the metal drinking cups affixed to public water fountains in the United States in the first decade of the twentieth century were the early consequences of the “discovery of syphilis”—“instantly transmitted infection.” The warning to generations of middle-class children always to interpose paper between bare bottom and public toilet seats is another trace of the once rife horror stories about the germs of syphilis being passed to the innocent by the dirty. Even Bob Newhart did a humorous skit where the punch of the joke was that it is okay to be obsessed with washing your hands but not with being buried alive in the box. The joke was that you have just as high a likely of dying because you did not wash your hands as of being buried alive in a box.
It caught my attention because I thought, “Okay, to recreate a good world we have to watch for sin’s threat against the well-being of God’s people.”
But my second thought was, “ we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.” Who has the right to make these kinds of judgments. And, what happens when the wrong religious people stall calling everyone else “sinner” or “heretic.”
There is a church in our area that gives there members bumpers stickers that say, “No perfect people allowed.” Whenever I see it I think to myself, “My struggle is not that I think I am perfect.” No, my struggle is that I don’t think my “minor flaws are major sins.” I would rather have a bumper sticker that says, “Only people who know their minor flaws are major sins are allowed here.”
Here is where the whole thing gets real sticky for me. I don’t really like the idea of anybody, priest or otherwise, poking around in my Tzaraat because I don’t know what is really motivating them or what they are going to do with that information.
There is this case in the Gospel of John of Tzaraat. Not skin disease per-say but sin disease called adultery. Like Tzaraat, the relationship started privately and probably seemed harmless but we all know it had devastating consequences. And, some local religious leaders discovered the “Tzaraat” and decided to deal with it.
Context in this passage is everything. First, this is a rare cause where Yeshua is being put in the position of a Religious Leader with Buck Stopping Power. He is like the High Priest who is going to determine the fate of this woman caught in adultery.
“At dawn, He came again into the Temple. All the people were coming to Him, and He sat down and began to teach them.” (John 8:1–2, TLV)
But Yeshua went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn, He came again into the Temple. All the people were coming to Him, and He sat down and began to teach them.
We know Yeshua is in the Temple. Here is a modern picture of the Temple Mount. Here is the Golden Dome Mosque, the Al Aqsar Mosque but
before any of this was here this 30 acre sight housed God’s Temple. And around the temple were all these gates to enter and courts were designated for certain people. Courts for Gentiles, for women, for lepers. Here are the southern steps. These could be called the steps to heaven because when you ascended these stairs you entered into the presence of God. You climbed the stairs to get atonement, to worship, to find mercy and then to return with the blessing of God. This is the place lepers would be inspected and declared clean or unclean.
The sun is barely up. The first morning sacrifices are being offered, the continual sacrifices are going up. The sound of animal slaughter is in the background. But there is the sound of crowds coming to Yeshua. People are taking their seats and Yeshua is teaching them. By the way, don’t miss the allusion to Yeshua being a High Priest fulfilling his calling to teach Israel about matters of clean, unclean, holy and unholy (cf. Lev 10:10-11). This is the big picture. The story goes on.
“The Torah scholars and Pharisees bring in a woman who had been caught in adultery. After putting her in the middle, they said to Him,” (John 8:3, TLV)
The Torah scholars and Pharisees bring in a woman who had been caught in adultery. After putting her in the middle,
Don’t miss this. The question we need to ask is, “What were these guys and this gal all night?” This story is taking place early in the morning. The answer to the question is that when this woman was caught in adultery they did not care that they had discovered Tzaraat they thought let’s find a way to use this against Yeshua. Exploit the sin of this woman for the sake of trapping Yeshua. They caught this woman at night and held her all night. They did not care about curing the problem, fixing the problem, solving the problem or healing the problem. Their eye was not on the well-being of the community but on trapping the only one who could cure their community.
Imagine this. They kept her all night. Drug her from a bed as we will see. Held her under lock and key. Marched to the Temple. Forced her up these stairs that should lead mercy, healing and atonement but they want death. The death of Yeshua and who cares what happens to her. This is religion gone a muck.
The TLV does not do a good job here. You see where it says “in the middle.” That is not what it says. The text is giving us a geographical location. Literally, it says, “the center of the court.” This is the location of the outer court area the place where the women worshiped. This is a public shaming and execution. This will be a public spectacle on purpose. They have an agenda and it is not the well-being of the woman but the destruction of Yeshua.
They say to Yeshua
“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of committing adultery.” (John 8:4, TLV)
they say to Yeshua, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of committing adultery.
As in Exodus ““Do not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14, TLV). This is not some peripheral law. This is not a law that just makes you unclean until evening. This is one of the big ten. In fact, this is one of the one of the top ten that people remember. Thou shalt not lie and don’t commit adultery is all people remember.
“Do not commit adultery.
They caught her doing this. They have saved her for this moment. She is “unclean.” She is Tzaraat. They dragged her here to make a spectacle out of her in front of all the other women gathered to worship. This is humiliating. She is the kind of woman every married woman hates: home-wrecker, husband stealer, family killer, unholy, defiler of God’s Law. Can you imagine the scorn, the shame, the humiliation. These people don’t care about her. They don’t care about her Tzaraat. They see a bigger leper, Yeshua.
“In the Torah, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?”” (John 8:5, TLV)
In the Torah, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?”
Now they are going to teach Yeshua the Torah. “in the Torah” pause. By the way Yeshua, we know the Torah. And you better watch what you say. We know the Law, we know the Torah. We can take you to the original tablets. Be careful what you say.
I am going to tell you it got so quiet the only thing you could hear was the shuffling of the disciples feet away from Yeshua. I am going to bet even the disciples were like, “o crap, this is going to get ugly.” Peter was like, “I would not touch this.”
Yeshua could have said, “stone her.” Why did you drag her all the way here? You caught her, if you think what is best for the well-being of Israel is exterminate Tzaraat you could have done the deed.
If Yeshua would have had my sense of humor. He might have said, “Hey God squad. The Law actually says,
““The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife…both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10, TLV)
Here we see what we all fear. Sacred men, with a sacred text doing a sacred interpretation for their own sake. They don’t care about the well being of the community, the care about themselves. They just use religion to manipulate people.
John tells us what we know:
“Now they were saying this to trap Him, so that they would have grounds to accuse Him. But Yeshua knelt down and started writing in the dirt with His finger.” (John 8:6, TLV)
Now they were saying this to trap Him, so that they would have grounds to accuse Him. But Yeshua knelt down and started writing in the dirt with His finger.
This whole thing was just a show and a trap. They don’t care about curing Tzaraat they are simply jealous. And they do what all jealous religious people do, use religion as means to harm rather than heal. They examined the case not to heal Israel but to destroy another human being by humiliation of a woman.
Now on trial is Yeshua vs. Moses, Yeshua vs. the Religious Leaders, Yeshua vs. the Family, Yeshua vs. Tzaraat.
So Yeshua, are you greater than Moses? Do you really care about Tzaraat? Yeshua are you for the family or for home wreckers like her.
He knows there is a lot at stake. Yeshua could be tried and fried in the court of opinion, in the court of the women.
Do you see the picture. They are there on the Temple Mount. He stoops down and writes down on the ground. I could be accused of reading to much in to this but I see here a powerful comparison: the finger of God writing the Law and the finger of Yeshua writing his verdict. In Israel, it was believed that the Torah was written by the finger of God on stone. Yeshua is writing in the dirt where this unclean, unholy, woman with Tzaraat festering stood. The very dirt she stood on was unclean and Yeshua puts his finger on it, bare skin to unclean ground.
“When they kept asking Him, He stood up and said, “The sinless one among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”” (John 8:7, TLV)
When they kept asking Him, He stood up and said, “The sinless one among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
They keep asking and asking and asking. He is not ignoring them. He is allowing them to expose themselves. It is amazing how religious people will push you, push you to say something but silence does more to expose the hearts then words. They are exposing themselves here.
Yeshua stands up and says anyone here who does not have sin let rocks fly. Anyone here who does not think for a second that you have Tzaraat festering under your skin. Anyone here who does not think your minor flaws are major sins let rocks fly.
Oh Yeah and remember where we are. This is the Temple an elaboration of the Tabernacle that was built with the golden calf in the background and strange fire in the foreground and God’s unrelenting love chasing us down. Don’t forget how many times you came up these stairs looking for forgiveness, looking for mercy. How many times have you climbed the stairway to heaven burdened by guilt and freed by mercy, you who never had to do this let rocks fly!
The Temple is the place where our failure is highlighted and grace is magnified. Don’t miss this, Yeshua is acting as a Priest-Teacher to Israel. He is teaching them to distinguish clean from unclean, holy from unholy. And he is saying, “Who is more dangerous to Israel? A woman’s who’s Tzaraa/Sin is exposed or a group of men riddled with leprosy and trying to hide it?”
Who is more dangerous? The person who does not think minor flaws are major sins? Or, the person whose major sins cannot be hidden?
Then it says,
“Then He knelt down again and continued writing on the ground.” (John 8:8, TLV)
Then He knelt down again and continued writing on the ground.
Preachers, pastors, theologians and lay people alike have wondered what he was writing. Based on research that I did on Wikipedia, I grabbed this picture, “Takes One to Know One.” Just kidding, maybe not.
Text goes on to say, “Now when they heard, they began to leave, one by one, the oldest ones first, until Yeshua was left alone with the woman in the middle.” (John 8:9, TLV)
Now when they heard, they began to leave, one by one, the oldest ones first, until Yeshua was left alone with the woman in the middle.
When the context of the situation dawned on them. When the gravity of this finally dawned on them. When they looked out on that crowd and saw women who were not looking in scorn but looking for mercy, looking for someone to free them from the shackles of rabbinic interpretations of the law that humiliated and shamed them. When they realized that some of those women knew that these were less than sacred me. When the gravity of their imperfection hit them. When they realized their minor flaws were major sins. When their self-righteousness was exposed for what it was: tzaraat.
When they realized they were really as leperous, tzaraat as this woman, they dropped rocks and walked out of the Temple. They exited out of the gate. The ones that had made the most sins, the oldest, go first, then the youngest.
The woman is left in the center of the court. The accusers are gone now and the only people left are Yeshua, his disciples and the women, gentiles and lepers who were watching this all go down.
“Straightening up, Yeshua said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”” (John 8:10, TLV)
Straightening up, Yeshua said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”
I think he is smiling. Then he asks her a question, “Did no one condemn you?” What he means is, “is there no one here to force you to pay for what you have done?” Her answer is amazing. For some of you, this is going to be great news.
Because every single one of us at some point has tried to pay for our own sins. I remember once getting in so much trouble at school and I came home and I made my momma’s house look like a German Cleaning Crew on Steroids had come through. It was spotless.
For me this is the hardest thing in the world to hear. It is the most unbelievable. Here is what Yeshua says,
““No one, Sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Yeshua said. “Go, and sin no more.”” (John 8:11, TLV)
“No one, Sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Yeshua said. “Go, and sin no more.”
I do not condemn you either. I will not make you pay for what you have done. I will not treat you as a Metzora, leper. I will not make you live in exile, in shame shouting out “Unclean, Unclean, Unclean.” I will not send you out of the camp. I will not make you pay down your sin.
Don’t miss it: Yeshua has his eye on the well-being of everyone in Israel and wants them to live and not walk in death. Yeshua is doing something very important here. He is the prophet who is greater than Moses. He is the High Priest of Israel who has the power of life and death in his tongue. He doesn’t seek to condemn but to set free. But he gives the command,
Yeshua said. “Go, and sin no more.”” (John 8:11, TLV)
“No one, Sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Yeshua said. “Go, and sin no more.”
Your Tzaraat is cleansed. This is the tone of our High Priest Yeshua. On the one hand, “Your sin places a death sentence on you.”
“Your sin debt is eliminated by Yeshua’s grace”
“Stay Away From Sin or it will kill you”
Compare this to something that might get said here in the great state of Texas:
That snakebite threatened to kill you.
The snakebite vaccine has eliminated the threat.
Stop playing where snakes are living or you could die.
In this moment, Yeshua exposes his heart as our High Priest. He says the plague that has stricken us. The sin that threatens us. He does not want our death or condemnation. He wants our well-being. He wants us cured from our Tzaraat. Yeshua knows at the bottom line here is what our Torah portion is telling us, “Every sin comes prepackaged with a penalty.” Please don’t hear me wrong. I am not saying that if someone has a physical, emotional or mental problem it is because of some sin in their life. It might be the case but that is not always the case. I know plenty of people from my former life who were very active sexually and now they have a physical disease that will not leave them. Others, did so much LCD their mind is gone and they will spend the rest of their lives in a hospital. I know some who got drunk, got behind the wheel of a car.. you know the rest.
Every sin comes prepackaged with a penalty. Every time you sin it brings death. Tzaraat is just walking death. That is the picture of sin. You and I know the impact of sin on you. It kills your conscience. It kills your most important relationships. It killed your ability to get promoted. It kills. That is what Tzaraat is death.
The priest was to inspect this slow death but he was constantly supposed to look for the healing. There was an expectation that Tzaraat, sin would be countermanded by God’s Word of Grace. The laws around Tzaraat that involve destroying almost everything the Metzora has touched are severe. There is a reason why and it is the same reason Yeshua told this woman, “Go and sin no more.”
Because, the consequences of sin are deadly so stay far away from it. Under the Law the High Priest could look at Tzaraat and declare the person “unclean” or “made clean.” Under Yeshua our High Priest he can declare “Be made well and stay away from sin.”
The consequences of sin/Tzaraat is the reason why the Torah and Yeshua urges you to stay far away from it.
Next week, I am going to show you how the sacrifice for the Metzora/Leper points us in the direction of Yeshua’s sacrifice. Points us in the direction of one whose innocence and righteousness would be transferred to us and at the exact same time our sinfulness and unrighteousness would be placed upon him.
Don’t treat minor blemishes as non-threatening. Treat minor flaws as major sins. Not because God is going to get you but because Tzaraat will kill you. Sin will kill you. Why would you continue in anything that will kill you.
Today, the High Priest Yeshua is saying to you, you have Tzaraat in your life. You have sin. You know what it is. He knows what it is. He does not want get you, make you pay it down. He wants you to leave that sin. Stop calling it a minor flaw, it is a major disease. It is killing you. Sure, right now you have been keeping it under wraps. Maybe it just is barely above the surface and a couple of people have noticed that you look a little scale skillned, a little Tzaraat.
Yeshua is not going to condemn you, he wants to cure you by setting you free and keeping you free. What is killing you, condemning you is not God it is sin. Your life of sin is killing you. It is killing the relationship you really need, you really want.
Interestingly, the gates that led to the place where leprosy was once investigated and declared clean or unclean, the step that use to lead to the Temple, the place of atonement are walled up. They are shut. But, because something happened just a few steps from here. You don’t have to go up to Jerusalem to be declared clean, free of tzaraat, your High Priest declares it to you right here.