PANDEMICS, QUARANTINE, AND THE BIBLE

Guest article by Brad Harrub

SOME MONTHS IT feels like the protocols change weekly. Go to the hospital. Don’t go to the hospital. Don’t wear masks. Wear masks. Quarantine. Don’t quarantine. Shut down businesses. Open up businesses. Listen to the CDC and WHO, they are health professionals. Don’t listen to the CDC and WHO, they are politicizing this whole thing. Sometimes it feels like this virus has turned us into a dog chasing its tail—going one direction for a while, and then swiftly going the other.

The Bible dealt with disease wisely.

What most individuals do not realize is that the majority of solid information we are getting actually originated from the Bible. Prescriptions like hand washing and quarantining can be traced back to the Old Testament—written long before we even knew that bacteria and viruses existed.

A Bit of History

We look at things like hand-washing today as basic. But it certainly has not always been that way. Consider for a moment the tragic case of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweiss. This Austrian obstetrician was deeply troubled. His passion was delivering healthy babies. But many of the women who came to see him were dying. In fact, one out of six women in delivery beds ended up in the morgue. Every morning Semmelweiss was faced with the daunting task of performing autopsies on all the pregnant women who had died the day before.

“Labor Fever” was killing women in Europe by the thousands. Their bodies would be cut open only to reveal bodies full of pus. Imagine doctors having their hands inside infected corpses and then walking upstairs to perform pelvic exams on healthy pregnant women without truly washing their hands.

Semmelweiss had one of those “light bulb” moments one after in May 1847. On that occasion, he stopped the students from performing exams and instructed them to immediately wash their hands. In fact, he asked them to wash in heavily chlorinated water. His theory was correct. Three months later the death rate had fallen from 18% of his patients to just 1%. He then instituted that the students should wash between patients—something that seems very basic today. The death rate continued to fall.

However, instead of celebrating his success, the students and other physicians began to complain. They didn’t want to wash that often. They complained that the frequency in washing was chapping their hands. Eventually, Semmelweiss’ boss had him demoted and even fired. They threw out the wash pans—and the death rates shot back up. One would think that upon seeing death rates spike back up the physicians would realize their error. However, their pride and arrogance was too strong and so women continued to die.

The Bible Had Already Prescribed It

While Semmelweiss’s advice seems trivial today, realize it would be a couple more decades before men like Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, and Robert Koch put into place what would become known formerly as the Germ Theory for Disease. People did not realize that bacteria and viruses could cause disease and death.

And yet, thousands of years earlier we find God’s Word giving medical advice that we would not understand for hundreds of years to come. Look at Numbers 19:17-19, “‘And for an unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin, and [e]running water shall be put on them in a vessel. A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, sprinkle it on the tent, on all the vessels, on the persons who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, the slain, the dead, or a grave. The clean person shall sprinkle the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, wash his clothes, and bathe in water; and at evening he shall be clean.” While we might be tempted to write this off as just an Old Testament ritual, look more closely at what God prescribed:

Hand Washing—While Semmelweiss was correct in asking his students to wash their hands, they would often use a common bowl of standing water (see None of These Diseases, S.I. McMillen, 2005, pg. 25). The coronavirus has left no doubt about how to wash hands. In fact, many individuals have songs they sing to time how long their hands have been under running water. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) gives five steps to hand washing. The first step is putting your hands under running water to rinse off any germs that might be present. Notice the Bible talks about running water and being sprinkled/showered from a hyssop.

Notice also the Bible gives a recipe for an antibacterial soap. Lye is extracted from the ashes. Hyssop we know today has antiseptic and antifungal properties. It contains the antiseptic thymol. Notice also the Bible prescribes washing clothes and bathing. So years before Semmelweiss made his discovery, and long before the world knew what the Coronavirus was, God’s Word had already given instructions on washing your hands.

Quarantining—The Smith Papyrus was written back around the time of Moses by Egyptian physicians. In it, there was a prescription for protection against epidemics. According to S.I. McMillen, “It was to be chanted while a person had two vulture feathers held over him.” It says it part:

… O Seizer-of-the-Great-One, son of Sekhmet, mightiest of the mighty, son of the Disease-Demon…flooder of the streams; when thou voyagest in the Celestial Ocean, when thou sailest in the morning barque, thou hast saved me from every sickness. (See None of These Diseases, 2005, p. 14).

Needless to say, this Egyptian recipe did not always work. In Leviticus 13 we find God’s prescription against those who are sick. “But if the bright spot is white on the skin of his body, and does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and its hair has not turned white, then the priest shall isolate the one who has the sore seven days. And the priest shall examine him on the seventh day; and indeed if the sore appears to be as it was, and the sore has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall isolate him another seven days.” (Leviticus 13:4-5). We know today that leprosy is a long-term infection caused by Mycobaterium leprae. It is mentioned frequently in God’s Word. Leviticus 13, gives the laws concerning leprosy. In the New Testament, we read of an occasion where Jesus healed an individual suffering from this dreaded disease (Matthew 8:1-3).

Notice there were no vulture feathers or chants. Those who were found to be sick were isolated. Notice the end of that chapter records,“Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’  He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46, emp. added).

In the late 1700s Norway was struggling with a leprosy epidemic of unprecedented magnitude. Entire families and communities found themselves suffering from a slow and mutilating death. However, by the early 1800s the epidemic was under control. What had happened to stem the spread of this contagious disease? The people had finally listened to religious leaders who were pointing out the Biblical prescription of quarantine. In Leviticus 13 Moses gave the prescription of how to identify leprosy and commanded that those infected be isolated. It would not be until 1873, when Dr. Armauer Hansen identified red bacteria as the causative agent for leprosy. It was discovered that millions of these bacteria could live in the nose of someone suffering from leprosy and could be passed to a healthy relative through a single sneeze. But long before this discovery, God’s Word had already given advice regarding bacteria and the necessity of a medical quarantine (see also Numbers 5:1-4).

In the Old Testament, it was leprosy. In the 1300s, it was the Black Death, an epidemic of the bubonic plague. Today, it is coronavirus. Different organisms—but very similar prescription. Isolate and quarantine. The word quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days. In the 14th century people who were coming into coastal cities in Italy were quarantined 40 days (often on ships) to make sure they did not have Yellow Fever.

At the same time Semmelweis was trying to clean up labor and delivery floors in Vienna, Edwin Chadwick was trying to prevent cholera and “Black Plague” from sweeping across England. Chadwick recognized many sewers were not draining and were actually cesspools of filth. He realized to prevent cholera from invading these cesspools needed to be drained and fixed. He also discovered that the working sewers were discharging sewage into the Thames River upstream from where their drinking water was collected. Parliament recognized that poor neighborhoods were normally struck first with these diseases. It was in these poor neighborhoods that often dozens of individuals were sharing the same living quarters without any means to get rid of human waste. Parliament believed maybe if they fed the poor the problem would go away—but Chadwick urged “sewers, not sandwiches!”

Consider what God’s Word says regarding human waste:

Also you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse. For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and give your enemies over to you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may see no unclean thing among you, and turn away from you (Deuteronomy 23:12-14).

Moses instructed the Israelites always to bury human waste products. Today, of course, with centuries of experience behind us, this is a common sanitary hygienic practice, although in most places we bury it in our sewer or septic systems. But the common course of action in Moses’ day, and for centuries to follow, was to dump waste products in any convenient place. History has recorded the folly of this kind of action.

One interesting side note, notice in the Bible God called on those who were sick to be quarantined. Today, we find officials and politicians encouraging everyone to quarantine. One might ask why healthy individuals would be quarantined and are we now going to do this for every sickness that spreads through the human population like the seasonal flu or H1N1?

One would think that Semmelweiss and Chadwick would have been hailed as medical saviors—and yet they were laughed at and ignored. Semmelweiss ended up dying in a mental institution after having a breakdown brought about from individuals ridiculing his hand-washing theory. It would only be years later that the wisdom of these two men was fully understood. Likewise, for nearly two thousand years the Bible has been trying to save men—providing a means for redemption, and yet sadly people often laugh and ignore the wisdom therein. Again, time will prove the folly of ignoring the Truths therein. Brad Harrub

“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike

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