Every year, especially during the “flu season,” millions of people come down with a host of preventable diseases like colds, influenza, and various respiratory infections. Most of these are considered “common” illnesses and are not as impactful as unusual outbreaks in years past of diseases like SARS and Swine Flu, not to mention the ongoing struggles with MRSA and at the time of this writing, the major pandemic of coronavirus—the latter of which continues to shape policy and global response.
However, from the common rhinovirus (colds) to COVID-19 (the current outbreak), most of these contagious afflictions have one thing in common—their spread can be controlled by several simple principles. Interestingly, these principles, though recommended worldwide by health organizations during outbreaks large or small, can be found in an ancient source of practical wisdom.
In the book of Leviticus, God instructed His people through Moses in the proper methods, at that time, for containing and controlling the spread of infections through the use of quarantine and isolation (Leviticus 13:3–8). Long before the study of epidemiology, not to mention the discovery of microorganisms and viruses as the agents of disease, God gave His chosen nation specific preventive guidelines while promising overall protection if they would respect and obey His laws.
Another principle was simply that of keeping good hygiene—including numerous admonitions for people to bury their waste, wash themselves after contact with bodily fluids, corpses, or other unavoidable sources of uncleanliness, and avoid specific foods listed as unclean. Again, these simple hygienic measures went a long way in creating a society with a proactive approach to public health.
Contrast that to today’s globalized world, where despite our vast medical knowledge and public awareness of disease, we struggle to contain the spread of contagion and cannot ensure that everyone will follow even the simplest measures. Jokes abound about how people only suddenly remember that soap exists during an epidemic! Though hyperbole, this kind of humor still shows just how aware we are of people’s lax hygiene!
Sometimes people don’t know any better; consider that although the exact cause remains unknown, the root of the current COVID-19 pandemic is strongly suspected to be the consumption of animals the Bible calls “unclean”—allowing a zoonotic pathogen to enter the human population that otherwise would have remained only in its animal hosts. And in many other cases, the economic pressure of modern life just gets in the way, as a commentary writer for Tomorrow’s World wrote years ago under similar circumstances:
Principles of health for the good of society are in the Bible. Some of them have been rediscovered by science in our day, but remain largely ignored. If a person has a cold or intestinal virus their employer—in many cases—expects them to come to work, even if they infect hundreds of customers (“How to Prevent a Lot of Sickness and Death,” Carl Ponder, March 15, 2007).
As world governments scramble to put out warnings, advisements, travel bans, and mass closings/quarantines, it seems as if mankind is locking the gates after the horse has fled the pasture.
But good hygiene and quarantine aside, what is a final, all-important principle of public health, one which actually forms the entire basis of the first two?
You can find that one in the Bible as well: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37–39).
How much we could benefit if this kind of selfless concern, rather than a mere need to protect or cure ourselves, was our guiding principle! Quite often, we see a world in confusion and ignorance, where once the “cat is out of the bag,” world populations panic and world health institutions struggle to keep up, fighting an uphill battle against a rapidly spreading microscopic enemy.
Disease will always be with us, even up to Jesus Christ's return, but if you practice a deep concern for your fellow man, as well as for your own health and well-being, the simplest principles can be that much easier to follow—and extremely effective.
God promised that pestilence would be a widespread issue at the end of the age (Luke 21:11)—but He also promised protection above and beyond any physical measures, no matter how wise or well-implemented (Exodus 15:26). Heed God’s word and seek His protection, even as you strive to safeguard your own health and that of your fellow man.