John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 18

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 18

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The Black Leprosy


Having received an extension of power over Job—over all short of his very life, Satan hastened to make use of it. He “smote Job with sore boils, from the sole of his foot unto his crown.” As his object was to abase and ulcerate the very soul of Job, through his body, we may be sure that the disease he made choice of for this purpose was not only painful, but most humbling and loathsome. The Hebrew word translated “boils,” signifies an ulcer, a burning or inflamed ulcer. It is the same word which is used in Exo_9:10, where it is said that the Lord smote the Egyptians and their magicians with boils. It was, then, one of the plagues of Egypt that was inflicted upon Job. This alone would suffice to show that this was a most virulent disease, a most painful sore, for it is added in the text just cited, that “the magicians could not stand before Moses, because of the boils.” But it is not only such a boil that Job was smitten with, but such in the most intense degree; for it was not only a boil, but a “sore boil.” There are many sorts of boils, some less painful than the others. There is, for instance, the so-called Aleppo button, or Mal d’Alep, which afflicts and disfigures the inhabitants of, and visitors to, the towns of Upper Syria and Mesopotamia, but is not, we apprehend, known in Palestine. It attacks the faces of children and the joints of adults, and is incurable, but heals of itself in nine months. We have suffered from it for that time in Turkish Arabia; but it gave but little pain after it began to suppurate, although it ate to the very bone, and laid bare the arteries and veins. But Job’s boil was not of this sort; for it was a sore boil. He who has known the pain which even one inflamed boil will give, may conceive the miserable case of the afflicted patriarch, who had not merely one such boil here and another there, but was covered with such boils from head to foot. His pain was the most intensive, for the boil which afflicted him was of the very worst kind; and it was most extensive, for his whole body was covered with them—there was no part free.

It may be desirable, however, to realize a more distinct notion of the disease with which Job was afflicted. The opinion entertained by the best scholars and physicians is, that it was the elephantiasis or black leprosy, so called to distinguish it from the white leprosy, which was that most frequently indicated in the laws of Moses bearing on the subject; Note: See Leviticus 13, passim. and which was also the kind with which Miriam and Gehazi were smitten, for they are described as having become “white as snow.” Note: Num_12:10; 2Ki_5:27. The opinion that Job’s disease was the black leprosy, is also of most ancient date. It is founded on the indications which the book contains, and which are found to answer to the black leprosy. These indications are afforded in the fact of his skin being so covered from head to foot, that he took a potsherd to scrape himself; Note: Job_2:8. in its being covered with putrefactions and crusts of earth, and being at one time stiff and hard, while at another it cracked and discharged fluid; Note: Job_7:5. in the offensive breath, which drove away the kindness of his attendants; Note: Job_19:17. in the restless nights, which were either sleepless or seared with frightful dreams; Note: Job_7:13-14; Job_30:17. in general emaciation of the body; Note: Job_16:8. and in so intense a loathing of the burden of life, that strangling and death were preferable to it. Note: Job_7:15.

The black leprosy, which has been described as “a universal ulcer,” is by some supposed to have received its current medical name of “elephantiasis” from the Greeks, on account of its rendering the skin like that of the elephant, scabrous and dark-colored, and furrowed all over with tubercles; but others rather trace the name to the resemblance which may be found in the patient’s foot to that of the elephant, after the toes have been lost, the hollow of the foot filled up, and the ankle enlarged. Those who have seen persons thus diseased, will probably incline to the latter opinion, as this comparison arises spontaneously to the mind of those who have ever seen an elephant. There is a description of this disease, by a learned and accomplished physician, in the Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature (art. Leprosy), of which we avail ourselves, adding our personal testimony that the description answers quite exactly to the cases of this disease which we have bad occasion to witness in the East.

“Elephantiasis first of all makes its appearance by spots of a reddish, yellowish, or livid hue, irregularly disseminated over the skin, and slightly raised above the surface. The spots are glossy, and appear oily, as if they were covered with varnish. After they have remained in this way for a longer or shorter time, they are succeeded by an eruption of tubercles. These are soft, roundish tumors, varying in size from that of a pea to that of an olive, and of a reddish or livid color. They are principally developed in the face and ears, but in the course of years extend over the whole body. The face becomes frightfully deformed; the forehead is traversed with deep lines, and covered with numerous tubercles; the eyelids become bald, swelled, furrowed by oblique lines, and covered with nipple-like elevations; the eyelashes fall out, and the eyes assume a fixed and staring look; the lips are enormously thickened and shining; the beard falls out; the chin and ears are enlarged and beset with tubercles; the lobe and alae of the nose are frightfully enlarged and deformed; the nostrils are irregularly dilated, internally constricted, and excoriated; the voice is hoarse and nasal; and the breath intolerably fetid. After some time, generally after some years, many of the tubercles ulcerate, and the matter which exudes from them dries to crusts of a brownish or blackish color; but this process seldom terminates in cicatrisation. The extremities are affected in the same way as the face. The hollow of the foot is swelled out, so that the sole becomes flat; the sensibility of the skin is greatly impaired, and in the hands and feet often entirely lost; the joints of the toes ulcerate and fall off, one after the other; insupportable fetor exhales from the whole body. The patient’s general health is not affected for a considerable time, and his sufferings are not always of the same intensity as his external deformity. Often, however, his nights are sleepless, or disturbed by frightful dreams; he becomes morose and melancholy; he shuns the sight of the healthy, because he feels what an object of disgust he is to them, and life becomes a loathsome burden to him; or else he falls into a state of apathy, and after many years of such an existence, he sinks either from exhaustion or from the supervention of internal disease.”

The mere description of these symptoms will suffice to show with what infernal malice and skill such a disease was selected, by one who well knew the influence of the body upon the mind. It was chosen as the fittest of any to bring the patriarch into that state of mind which Satan’s purposes, or rather his argument, required; and if the reader studies the utterances of Job attentively, he will be enabled without difficulty to trace the progressive influences of the disease upon his mind, and to measure the degrees by which his soul succumbed to its power.