Deadly Pestilence

March 8, 2020

When calamity comes, how we wish that we can find a place where we can take temporary shelter. It is particularly so when it comes to natural calamities like typhoons, tornados, earthquakes and the like. But how about the spread of viruses and all kinds of diseases? Where in the world can we take refuge? In his Psalm, Moses said, “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence” (Psalm 91:2-3). Indeed, no one else but God can fully protect us from viruses and other deadly pestilences. Even with modern technology and science, men are unable to fully contain these diseases, especially if airborne.

When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, some of the most dreaded diseases were those caused by viruses. At that time, viruses were feared most as they could cause pestilence. Even today, a virus is most feared because it is vicious. It can cause a lot of discomfort, such as coughing and symptoms related to the common cold, but it can also be cruel as in the case of tuberculosis. It is also infectious. It can easily be transmitted through person-to-person contact, or it can be airborne. It reproduces fast and infects as many as it can reach. It is not easy to contain as it is unseen. We know that it is coming and has come but we cannot see it. In fact, some symptoms appear only after a few days. But the reason why it is most dreaded is that it stings. Unless fully treated, it can cause death.

In spite of the deadly pestilences that the Israelites faced, Moses, during his time, saw hope in the Lord. He said, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked” (Psalm 91:7-8). Especially in those days where there was no cure nor immunization available, all they had was faith in God. And God was faithful to them as he covered them with his loving care and protected them from the deadly pestilence. Moses further gave an encouraging word, saying, “If you make the Most High your dwelling- even the Lord, who is my refuge- then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent” (Psalm 91:10).

But how were the Israelites able to shield themselves from the deadly pestilence? As they looked unto the Lord as their refuge and fortress, God gave them laws and regulations to observe in order to stop the spread of deadly and infectious diseases. Some of these were:

Observance of proper sanitation. With around two million of them wandering in the desert, staying in one place for only a day or two at times, it was not practical or even possible for them to build toilets. Therefore, God commanded the Israelites, saying, “Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement” (Deut. 23:12-13). This is not only to make their camp clean but to avoid the spread of diseases.

Self-quarantine. When any one of them became afflicted with a contagious disease, they had to go outside the camp and stay there until they were healed. The Lord commanded, "The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-46). This process prevented the spread of contagious diseases and proved to be effective that even today, it is being practiced.

Washing and bathing. Since viruses can be transmitted through droplets and surfaces, those who touched or had contact with people that were sick were required to wash their hands, clothes and take a bath. The Lord commanded, “Any bed the man with a discharge lies on will be unclean, and anything he sits on will be unclean. Anyone who touches his bed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whoever sits on anything that the man with a discharge sat on must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening” (Lev. 15:4-6). Again, this was intended to prevent the spread of viruses. Even with deadly viruses like the coronavirus, we can certainly protect ourselves and contain the spread of the virus by observing the above God-ordained practices. Amen.