The Leprosy of Sin
“’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel you will be devoured by the sword.’ Truly the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Most of us have been taught that through this passage the Lord is saying, “Even though you are a sinner, covered with scarlet sins, I will wash you clean and you will as white and pure as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18-20)
This passage is often used to illustrate that God can cleanse us from the “redness of our sin” through the saving work of Christ and present us to the Father as “white as snow”. Though this is certainly true, let us look at this passage from an angle.
Interestingly, the Hebrew rabbinical scholars have a whole different interpretation of this passage. They see it as a lesson concerning the nature of unchecked sin. The verse is seen as not a promise but a warning. God had sent His prophets time and time again to warn His people of the consequences of their rebellion.
In this passage leprosy is used to illustrate sin. In its very early stages, a leprous spot appears bright red – like scarlet. If the development of the disease is left unchecked the inflammation becomes snow white. The change from “scarlet red” to “snow white” indicates that the flesh is dying and will eventually disintegrate and fall off. As a type of sin, leprosy paints a very graphic picture. Most sin begins as a “minor inflammation,” nothing that seems too serious. But if sin is not dealt with it will progress and mature. Fully mature sin, like leprosy in its latter stages destroys the whole man and is potentially harmful to those around us.
The real thrust of this passage is that the Lord is seeking to reason with His people to see the seriousness of sin. Even though their sin may seem minor at first, if it is not taken care of, it will eventually destroy them. In other words, the little foxes become full-grown and ravenous.
Truly the key phrase here is, “If you consent and obey.” This is statement calling for repentance. It addresses the requirement of taking responsibility for our sin. Acceptance of personal responsibility is essential to receiving God’s grace for change. In apposition to that phrase we have the warning: “If you refuse and rebel.” Refusal to hear always precedes our rebellion against the law of God. Our refusal to yield to the voice of God’s Spirit, while sin is in its earliest stages inevitably results in the law of sin and death spiraling out of control (Rom. 8:2). Far too often we refuse to recognize the inflammation when it first appears.
Let us heed the early warning signs that God has us, lest the disease of our “spiritual leprosy” consume us.