On the issue of clean and unclean God moves on to the condition of leprosy. This condition was more than skin deep and was contagious.
First off, can I say I never knew clothing could be “leprous”? Apparently it can by our reading. I wonder if this is akin to mold or mildew that gets into fabrics. I could easily understand that. At one point I purchased some fabric from the store that had been in an area with flooding and I found mildew developing in it. It had damaged the fabric threads, not just the look of it. I brought this piece back to the store for a refund.
Ok. Let’s move on to people and the issue of leprosy. I’m wondering if skin diseases were a big problem that God felt it necessary to include it in His Law. Apparently everyone knew what it looked like because when Moses performed the sing with it the elders recognized it right away. I also wonder if what they termed as leprosy was the same thing we do. Today, we call leprosy Hansen’s Disease in honor of the doctor who found its cause; the microbe. It is also curable now.
I feel for the people who developed this disease or were even suspected of having it. The investigation process could take up to two weeks to determine if you were “clean” or “unclean.” Then if you were found to be “unclean” your whole life changed. You were put outside the camp and not allowed to associate with anyone else who wasn’t also unclean. You were required to announce your presence and you state wherever you went. I don’t know how they managed to survive!
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Mark was a hardworking man. He learned his trade at his father’s side as a young boy and he was passing these skills on to his sons. They were becoming quite skilled themselves but still needed his guidance for the finer works they created. His family was known as the best craftsmen of furniture in the whole tribe of Judah; maybe even in all of Israel. People came to him every day for his skill in creating new pieces and also in mending old ones.
A couple of weeks ago Mark noticed a spot on his arm. It was small but itched a LOT. He tried ignoring it but he couldn’t. After two days of scratching he decided to try a poultice. His wife made one for him that worked quite well but it didn’t take the spot away. In fact it was growing larger. He wasn’t too concerned about it though. He figured that he must have gotten some of the stains on his arm and had a reaction to them. It had happened before and had always gone away with a little time and care.
By the end of the first week he was no longer itching so he quit using the poultices. But he also noticed that the spot had spread and was now numb to the touch. He was afraid what it might mean. He kept telling himself that it was nothing but deep down he knew better. He had never seen leprosy before but he feared it looked a lot like what was on his arm.
Mark was the provider for his family. Without him how would they survive? Without them how would he survive? Leprosy would separate him from his family in the worst way. He couldn’t afford to let that happen. And besides, surely this wasn’t really leprosy.
Mark took great pains to hide his arm during his day. He also began insisting on sleeping alone so as not to infect his wife if this was something serious. He didn’t want to harm his family with whatever this was but neither did he want to lose them. He was torn with worry and guilt.
Today Michael came to Mark’s tent to see about commissioning a new chest for his wife. He wants to give her a special gift for their anniversary. It will be used to store all her cooking pieces. They talk at length about what Michael wants included in this piece. It will have shelves that lift out to reveal storage spaces below and scroll work on the exterior. Michael also wants it inscribed with his family’s name. It is to be the centerpiece to their home.
As Michael and Mark work out the details of this special gift Mark shows Michael some of his other work and asked if he would like features similar to theirs. While Mark is reaching into one chest to demonstrate the depth, the sleeve of his robe and the bandage on his arm shifts. It exposed the growing skin condition he had been hiding.
Michael’s eyes are immediately drawn to the whiteness of Mark’s arm. “What’s that on your arm” Michael says with some alarm.
Michael quickly rearranges his clothing and bandage to cover his arm again. “It’s nothing. I just spilled a solvent on my arm. I’m tending to it.”
“It doesn’t look like ‘nothing’. You need to get it checked out. Samuel is a good healer. Maybe he can help you with it.”
“I appreciate the advice but I can take care of it myself.”
“I really think you need to get it looked at. It doesn’t look good at all. I’m worried about you.”
“I said I can handle it so can we just drop it?”
Both men are silent for a moment. Michael can’t get the sight of Mark’s arm out of his mind. “What if it’s something more serious? I can’t take the chance of bringing disease into my home” he thinks.
“I want to talk to my wife about some of the features you showed me before I decide on my cabinet. I will get back to you when we have decided exactly what we want.” Michael quickly leaves with intentions to seek advice. He will stop by Samuel’s tent and discuss this with him.
Mark watches Michael leave. Fear grips his heart. “Michael isn’t going to let this go. At the very least he may tell people to be wary of me and I will lose business.” Mark closes up the cabinets he had been showing Michael and goes in search of his wife. “It’s time I let her know what is going on before someone else does.”
Mark finds his wife hard at work by the stream doing the family’s laundry. “Eliza, I need to talk with you.”
“Can it wait? I’m almost finished here.”
“No. Leave it with the girls. It’s important.”
Eliza rinses her hands and instructs her two daughters to finish the washing and then bring it back to the tent to hang. As she stands up she dries her hands on her apron then unties it and hands it to her eldest daughter.
Mark leads Eliza away from the stream to a place where they can be alone. He is silent during their entire journey. Eliza patiently waits for her husband to explain what is troubling him. She has known for a while that something was on his mind but she is a patient wife and believes that when he is ready he will share with her his heart.
Finally Mark speaks. “Do you remember when I asked you to make a poultice for my arm because it was itching?”
“Yes. Do you need me to make another one? Has the itch returned?”
“No. The itch has not returned but the skin where the itch was is not as it should be. It is white and dead feeling.”
“What do you mean? Can I see it please?”
Mark pushes the sleeve of his robe higher and removes the bandage he has been wearing. Eliza gasps and her eyes become large. “Oh Mark! How long has it been this way? What can I do to help you? How long has it been like this?”
“It started as a small bump about two weeks ago and I thought I had spilled something on my arm. The poultice you gave me took the itch out of it but did nothing to reduce it. It has been getting bigger until it now covers half of my forearm. I don’t know what to do.
“Have you seen one of the doctors? Maybe they can help you.”
“I’m afraid to tell anyone lest they think it is leprosy.”
“But what if it is leprosy? You know the Lord told us that we must bring such things to the priests. It is for our own protection.”
“I have been trying to protect you and the children from it by separating myself in the home but I need to be able to provide for our family. How am I to do that if I am put out of the camp?”
“I don’t know but I trust the Lord to look after us when we obey His word.”
“You are right. I’m just afraid; for you and the children and myself.”
“I will stand by you husband, no matter the outcome.”
“The Lord blessed me more than I ever deserve when He brought you to me. Let’s go see the priest together. I think this is long overdue. Maybe he will be able to heal it.”
Together Mark and Eliza walk to the Tabernacle in the center of the camp. Both pray silently in their hearts for the outcome. As they near their destination they encounter Michael.
“May I speak with you for a moment Michael” asks Mark.
“I haven’t decided on the chest for my wife if that is what you want to discuss.”
“No. I need to ask your forgiveness for being short with you. You are right. I need to address this issue with my arm. We are on our way to see the priest now.”
“That’s a wise idea but why don’t you speak to Samuel first. Maybe he has something he can give you to clear it up and you won’t need to see the priest after all.”
“I fear it may be too late for Samuel’s intervention but I will do as you suggest.”
Mark and Eliza detour to the tent of Samuel. He is known throughout the camp for his healing potions. Maybe he can do something for Mark. Maybe this is how the Lord is going to care for Mark’s family.
As they approach they see Samuel sitting outside his tent tending to a cut on the leg of a child. “There you go. Good as new. Now don’t get that bandage wet. Have your mother change it each day to keep it clean too. Come back and see me again in three days and we will see how it is healing.” Mother and child thank Samuel profusely and head back to their tent. They can be heard discussing the child’s antics that brought about this latest injury as they leave.
Samuel looks up and sees Mark and Eliza watching him. “And what can I do for you this fine day my friends?”
“Michael told me that you might be able to help me with a problem I’m having with my arm.”
“What seems to be the trouble? Come over here and let me look at it.”
Mark slowly approaches. “It started as a small spot on my arm that was itching. I thought I spilled something on it. I used a poultice to get it to stop itching but the spot has grown considerably since then and it feels dead to the touch.” Mark pushes his sleeve up and removes the bandage completely so Samuel can see the extent of his condition.
“This looks serious. How long ago did this start?”
“About two weeks ago, but it was much smaller then.”
“I’m sorry to tell you that I may not be of any use to you. I will do what I can to help you but you should bring this to the priest. It looks to be an infectious skin disease and the Lord told us how to handle these.”
Mark drops his head to his chest in defeat then raises his eyes to Eliza. “I suppose we had better be on our way then. Thank you Samuel for your assistance and advice.”
“I’m sorry my friend. I will prepare some salves for you anyway that you can use to assist with your condition. Hopefully we will be able to clear it up, in time.”
Mark and Eliza make their way to the Tabernacle. At the entrance to the courtyard Mark asks to see the priest. Eliza waits outside as Mark is taken into the courtyard and brought before Aaron.
“How may I be of service to you my son?”
“I have come to present myself to you as commanded by the Lord in the case of a skin condition.”
“Please show me the affected area and I will evaluate it according to the decrees of the Lord.”
Mark moves his sleeve back to expose his forearm.
“Is this the only place this appears on your body?”
“It appears to be quite large. On its appearance, did it cover this entire area or has it grown over time?”
“It started small and has grown over the last two weeks.”
“I am sorry to hear that. Judging by the color of your skin, the fact that it has grown and the white hairs contained within it, I have no doubt that it is leprosy. I must pronounce you unclean. You must leave the camp immediately. We must separate you so that it does not spread to others. The Lord has commanded that you live alone outside the camp. That your clothes are to be torn. That your hair is to hang loose and you are to cover your lip. You will be required to cry out “Unclean” any time you come near a person or a person comes near you in order to prevent the spread of the disease.”
“Is there nothing else that can be done? What of my family? Who will care for them?”
“If your condition remits I will examine you again. I will pray for you. Moses will see that arrangements are made with your wife and your extended family to care for your family while you are unable to attend them. Also, since it has been two weeks that you have been suffering from this disease I must examine your family to ensure they too have not contracted this disease.”
“I have been careful to isolate myself from them to protect them.”
“I’m sure they appreciate that but I must be certain for myself. I will send word for your wife to bring them here. You will not be able to return to your home until you are pronounced clean again. Go with this young man over here and he will show you to where you are to live.”
Mark’s heart is broken. If only he had gone to Samuel earlier. If only he had come to the priest earlier. Then his family wouldn’t have to endure this inspection. Would they have to go through the isolation period the Lord had ordered? Had any of them contracted this disease from him? He prayed not but he would have no way to know because he wouldn’t even be allowed to see them to say good-bye. Oh how selfish he had been. Could they ever forgive him? Would he ever see his family again? He prayed he would but NOT in the leper camp!
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months as Mark is separated from his family. His wife remains true to her word. She comes to the edge of the camp each week to see him. They can only speak from a distance. She also brings him gifts she and the children have made for him. Sometimes it is something special to eat and other times it is just a trinket to remind him of them. Samuel has also continued to send different potions for Mark to try. This is costly for Eliza but she refuses to give up. She KNOWS in her heart that the Lord hears her prayers for her husband and she will do whatever she can to help the Lord help Mark.
In the beginning Mark was depressed and angry over his fate. He was mad at the Lord for letting this happen to his family. He blamed the Lord for His “arbitrary” and “cruel” laws. But as time went on Mark began to seek to understand the Lord’s laws instead. He recognized his own selfishness and how that selfishness could have hurt his own family. As each week progressed without one of his family members joining him in his fate, he grew more and more grateful. The Lord wasn’t being cruel but protecting His children as any good father would. This disease was not something he wished on anyone.
Mark is not truly alone. There are others who are suffering his same fate. Many of them do not have families who care for them any longer. Some have gotten better and returned to camp but others have been in this “in between” space for years. Finally, Mark came to a place where he began to pray for those who shared his affliction. He also began sharing the gifts Eliza brought, and the potions Samuel sent, with those who received nothing from their families.
It has been nine months since Mark left the camp. Samuel’s last potion seems to be having an effect on Mark’s diseased skin. He had pleaded with Eliza to stop seeking Samuel’s help because of the cost. She had spent far too much on him already and nothing was helping. Now Mark was glad that Eliza and Samuel had not given up on him. Two other men whom Mark shared Samuel’s potions with began to have positive results. The lesions on their bodies began to fade. Within the week Mark’s own lesion had shrunk to half the size it was a month before. When Eliza came at the end of that week he told her the good news and asked her to obtain more of that same potion from Samuel.
Eliza was overjoyed to hear Mark’s good news but she was also heartsick. She had spent the last of what she had to obtain this last potion. She had nothing left to give Samuel for more medicine. She couldn’t tell Mark this though. This was the first hope he had had in a LONG time.
After parting from Mark Eliza could barely see her way back to her tent for the tears clouding her eyes. She had managed to hide this despair from Mark throughout their visit and until she was certain she was out of his sight. Now though he heart was so heavy she could barely lift her feet. To have finally found a cure for Mark only to have it ripped away from her because she had nothing left to give for it.
As Eliza plodded blindly through the camp Michael noticed her passing. He admired her for her dedication to her husband. He loved his wife but wondered if she too would have shown that much dedication to him if he were in Mark’s place. Michael could see that something was different today in the way Eliza moved and it concerned him. But being a married man and her a married woman he couldn’t approach her without damaging both their reputations. Her behavior concerned him so much though that he knew he had to do something to find out what was wrong.
Michael went into his wife to discuss the situation. “I can see in her posture that something heavy is troubling her. Their family has had such a blow dealt to them. I want to see if there is any way we can help.”
“You are a good man my husband and you have a kind heart. What if I were to go to her and ask what is troubling her.”
“That would give me great relief. You are such a loving person. I’m sure she would confide in you. Then we can discuss how we can assist them without damaging their pride.”
Elaina, Michael’s wife, follows Eliza from a distance. She waits to approach her until after she reaches her tent. “Michael is right. Something VERY heavy is on Eliza’s shoulders” muses Elaina. Elaina lets ten more minutes go by before approaching Eliza.
Elaina finally approaches Eliza. “May I sit with you?”
“I’m afraid I’m not very good company today.”
“That’s all right. I just want to offer a shoulder to lean on. You look like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. You know a burden shared is a good thing. It can help lighten your load.”
“I don’t think anything short of a miracle can lighten my load.”
“Please tell me. Maybe we can look for a miracle together.”
Eliza shares with Elaina about the struggle she and her family have been going through. She shares the changes in Mark’s attitude over the long separation and how he has gotten closer to the Lord during this ordeal. She also shares how she has used every penny she had, including selling all of the pieces Mark had made, to pay Samuel for treatments for Mark. “And now that I have nothing left to give, the treatment Samuel provided is working. But Mark needs more of it. He is so kind that he shared what he had with the others, hoping it would work for one of them. He does this all the time but just this once I wish he would have kept it all for himself. I have no way to get him any more.”
“Oh my sister! I’m so sorry. I feel your pain.” Elaina wraps Eliza in a hug and Eliza finally lets lose the tears she has been holding back. After a few minutes Eliza dries her eyes. She has many more tears to shed but she feels exposed sitting in front of her tent.
“I’m sorry. I’m being a terrible hostess. Please come in and let me make you some tea.”
“I would love a cup of tea but why don’t you let me make you some instead. Just show me where you keep your cups and I will fix us both a cup.”
“All right. That would be nice.”
The women both step into the tent and Eliza points out her chest that holds her dishes. She also indicates a second chest that holds her food stores. Elaina quickly retrieves the supplies and pours water into the bowl for the tea to soak. She runs her hand over the surface of the chest holding Eliza’s dishes.
“This is beautiful! Where did you get it?”
“Mark made it for me. He is great with his hands. He put so many special features into it that I feel like a queen.” She then begins to show Elaina all the unique features her husband had crafted just for her.
“I wish I had something like this. It is both beautiful and functional.”
“This one and that one over there are the only pieces I have left of what Mark has made. I had to sell everything else to pay Samuel.”
“Eliza, I’m not trying to be insensitive but would you consider selling me this piece? I know it is special to you but I’m certain my husband would pay a very fair price for it and he was looking to have Mark make a chest for me right before he got sick.”
“But it’s used and has wear and tear on it. Are you sure you would want it?”
“I would love it and treasure it!”
“I hate to part with it but if it could get Mark the medicine he needs to come home…” Eliza runs her hand over the surface of the chest bringing back so many memories.
“Let me go get my husband. We will be right back.”
Elaina hurries from the tent to find Michael. She is not surprised to find him waiting nearby in anticipation of news. She quickly tells him of Eliza’s difficulty and the possibility she has found to help her without hurting her pride. “It really is a beautiful chest and has so many unique features. It would be a perfect solution to her problem.”
“I think another part of that solution would be to have a word with Samuel about how he has taken advantage of her desperation. I will be sure she has enough money to purchase medication for all three men Mark says are improving, even if I have to pay for it myself.”
“You are a good man Michael. I praise the Lord for bringing you to me.”
Elaina leads Michael back to Eliza and Mark’s tent. “Eliza. Could you come out and speak with my husband about your chest. He is very interested in purchasing it for me.”
Eliza steps out of her tent and offers to allow both Elaina and Michael to inspect the chest to be certain. Both duck into the tent and the sounds of Elaina explaining all the features to Michael can be heard. Michael’s voice is heard giving exclamations of wonder at Elaina’s word. Finally the two emerge from the tent with smiles on their faces. “Eliza, your husband is a genius! That chest is everything I want for my wife and more. Please tell me you are willing to consider my offer.”
“It has many years of wear on it but it is still in good condition. Mark builds things to last.”
“Indeed he does!”
Eliza names a price but Michael insists it is worth three times that much. After a bit of arguing back and forth, the price Eliza accepts is double her original. She will have more than enough to purchase Mark’s medicine.
Early evening finds Eliza standing outside the camp calling out to Mark. Samuel has accompanied her because he wants to see Mark’s progress himself. He also has medicine to give to the two men who Mark said were also improving.
Two weeks later Mark appears before the Aaron for inspection of his skin. He and his friends are all restored to health and pronounced clean. They are to perform the required sacrifices, including taking a bath, before formally returning to the camp. They would each be required also to come before the priests if ANY skin lesion appeared again.
The happiest moment for Mark was holding his wife again. He would never take even one hug, caress, or kiss for granted. He would also never forget those who remained outside the camp. Eliza and Mark made it a weekly mission for the rest of their lives to bring whatever they could to those who had to do without as they waited for their miracle.
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Father God, thank You for personalizing this story for me. You know my struggle with this book. Thank You for listening when I cried out over my inability to connect to Your words. Continue to speak to me through Your words, no matter how hard I struggle with the concepts.
Thank You that even in what is hard You still show Your love. You didn’t cut these people off forever. You also didn’t do it because they were worth less than anyone else. You did it to protect Your children. But You also cared for these people too; You children too. Thank You that no matter how “unclean” I am I’m NEVER abandoned. You are ALWAYS with me, even in the toughest times.