In the many centuries before the rise of modern allopathic medicine, quarantine was often the only tool available to slow the spread of contagious diseases. Long before science discovered the germ theory, God gave instructions that formed the basis of this practice.
In Leviticus 13 the priests were given the responsibility of isolating those suspected of the dreaded plague of leprosy. Up to 14 days would be required to ensure the skin abnormality was not due to this disease, after which the patient would be allowed to rejoin society.
But the word “quarantine” did not originate with this biblical practice, nor from the 14-day period of isolation which is often still used effectively. Quarantine includes a root from the Latin word “quadraginta,” meaning 40. In the 17th century, ships in Europe were kept isolated in harbor for 40 days after their arrival to ensure the sailors and/or passengers were disease-free before disembarking.
There was a system of maritime flags developed to communicate the status of ships, and communicate whether there was an outbreak or whether they were ready for boarding and inspection. The “yellow jack” flags became so prominently used during yellow fever outbreaks that the disease itself began to be referred to by the flags’ name.
History records that this world has seen horrifying pandemics that took millions of lives. As costly and calloused as extended quarantines were, their use was justified by the fear and real danger these diseases presented. Often contraction of the plague meant almost certain death, and a miserable and isolated one at that.
As terrible as these diseases were (and the current coronavirus is), there’s an even more dreadful condition I want to remind you of today. The prophet Isaiah described it, and at first glance it sounds very much like he’s talking about the worst plague of his day, leprosy.
“From head to foot there is not a healthy spot on your body. You are covered with bruises and sores and open wounds. Your wounds have not been cleaned or bandaged. No medicine has been put on them.” (Isaiah 1:6, Good News Translation) This was the condition of many lepers, isolated from society with no one to care for their wounds or dress their injuries and infections.
But it was not leprosy that Isaiah was referring to. He was only using this physical analogy to illustrate the greater — and just as fatal — disease of sin.
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
Sin, like leprosy, has fatal results. It really is much worse, however, because the wages of sin is eternal, hopeless, isolated death. Sin destroys relationships, squelches happiness and destroys the image of God in humanity. There is no more dreadful condition known to mankind.
Sin, however, has become normalized in this fallen world. Like asymptomatic virus carriers, earthlings operate mostly unconscious of their fatal condition. The enemy of our souls, beginning with our first parents, has even convinced us that sin is not only normal but attractive and desirable. Thus the longest quarantine in history has isolated this planet from the rest of God’s creation. No longer able to walk and talk face to face with God, and separated from the un-fallen worlds and creatures that presumably exist, this Earth has been ravaged by the infection of selfishness and rebellion.
But there is good news! God so loved this sin-sick world that he gave his only son. Jesus came to this quarantined Earth to pay the eternal penalty for our sins. His spotless life of loving, selfless service demonstrated what healthy and normal really is. His death on the cross — separated from the love of the Father, and bearing the guilt of your sins and mine — illustrates the true nature and cost of this deadly disease. But best of all, Jesus guarantees the full recovery of all who are willing to trust in him: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
One day this galactic quarantine will be ended.
“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new Earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13)
“And I saw a new heaven and a new Earth: for the first heaven and the first Earth were passed away ... And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
I can’t wait for this pandemic to be officially over!
Both of them.
Chester Clark III is pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dalton. Contact him at email@example.com. His column appears on the third Friday of the month.