By Vaunley Browne
It came as a whisper, quietly getting louder, and before long its voice had grown so loud that the entire world took notice. You see, they had to, for within months it had rewritten mantras of “Black lives matter”, and even “White lives matter”, to a collective response of, “All Lives Matter”.
The Holy Bible is the last place a secular world would look for answers, yet it is the first place the born again believer would, for in it contains the things pertaining to life [2 Pet 1:3]. Every experience, every hurt, every crisis and victory, every hopeless situation, and every reason for hope is contained in the pages of Holy Scriptures.
The narrative of the Bible, therefore, isn’t just to point humanity to a saviour, but rather it is all inclusive, all demonstrative of this God whose love, wisdom and sovereignty extends from the very beginning of time unto its very conclusion, and even beyond.
If God sees humanity in all the spectrum of its existence, what confidence can we then find in him during this corona virus pandemic? The Old Testament book of Leviticus was so named after the tribe of Levi, for from this family would come the priesthood. But they were much more than simply priests serving in spiritual matters, they were also, I propose, ancient medical practitioners and microbiologists.
Leviticus, chapter 13, is a medical discourse in which God as the instructor teaches the medical establishment in the persons of Moses and Aaron, who in turn will instruct the priesthood. The lecture at hand is the disease of leprosy, and God begins by telling his class what clinical signs to look for: 2When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh,he is to be examined. Upon examination if 3when the hair in the plague [infection] is turned white, and the plague is deeper than the skin of the flesh, it is leprosy. If however there is a 4bright spot in the skin of the flesh that is white, but not deep into the flesh, and the hair has not turned white, it is undetermined whether the condition is leprosy.
What God has just presented to Moses and Aaron, is the principle modern medicine calls, differential diagnosis, where there is the distinguishing of a particular disease or condition from others that present similar clinical features.
God continues by immediately introducing another modern medical concept, the practice of quarantine, as he instruct that the person whose skin condition remains undiagnosed or suspect, be 4”shut up” for a period of seven days. If at the end of the seven days, 5the plague does not spread into the skin, the person is quarantined for another seven days. At the end of the 14 days period, 6if the plague becomes dark and does not spread, it is considered to be only a scab; the person does not have leprosy. A thorough washing of everything is then commanded. But if, however, after the 14 days of quarantine, 8the scab on the skin spread, then the diagnosis is leprosy.
Following this, God goes on to give yet another concept well known in the medical profession. He tells Moses and Aaron how to determine an old infection from a new one. So far what have been described are new infections, where patients are examined, quarantined if needed, and given a diagnosis. This is now contrasted to what God says next; 10if the rising be white in the skin, and it have turned the hair white, and there be quick raw flesh in the rising; 11It is an old leprosy in the skin of his flesh. In presenting this contrast God has described the difference between what is known as chronic infection and an acute infection.
The scientific name of the bacteria that causes leprosy is mycobacterium lepae and according to Wikipedia it is almost impossible to culture in the laboratory. Although hard to culture, God, in ancient times, provided a primitive way to demonstrate the bacteria’s growth. In the same way modern microbiologists take samples from a patient, or the environment for culturing, so too God tells Moses to gather items of clothing belonging to the leper, for the same purpose. He immediately makes it clear that if the growth in the garment is 49greenish or reddish, it is leprosy.
Two pieces of information given here have already determined the presence of leprosy. The first comes from the fact that the garment belongs to someone with leprosy; therefore it would follow that any growth therein would be positive for leprosy. And second, God informs that the greenish or reddish growth also confirms leprosy. Having these conclusive findings, why was there still a need to further investigate? Further investigation was needed not to determine the presence of the bacteria, but to determine its virulence, or what type it is. The virulence tells of how pathogenic or harmful the form or type of leprosy is. This knowledge is centuries before modern discoveries show leprosy having different forms. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has two classifications for leprosy; Paucibaccillary leprosy and Multibacillary leprosy; the latter being more harmful than the former.
In determining the type of leprosy, God shows his chief medical officers, Moses and Aaron, what a microbiologist does. They are told to gather these garments that have the greenish or reddish growth and 50shut them in a room for seven days. In today’s method of culturing, a sample is placed in an incubator at a constant temperature for a specific time [usually about 37 degrees Celsius for 24 hours]. In biblical times there was no incubator to maintain a constant temperature for an entire day, so a seven days incubation period might have been the equivalence. If at the end of the seven days incubation the growth spreads, it is a fretting leprosy, and the garment is burned. If on the other hand the growth does not spread, the item is washed, and shut up again.
In other words it is re-incubated for another seven days. Modern microbiologists employ the same practice; if after the first day of incubation there is no growth, the culture plate is re-incubated for an additional day. If after this wash and re-incubation, there is still no colour change and the growth did not spread, it is considered a fretting leprosy, and the item is burnt with fire. However, if after washing there is a change in colour and the growth appears dark, it is rend [perhaps beaten or scraped] out of the garment. If it remains, it is a spreading plague and the item must be burnt with fire. But if when washed, the growth is washed out, it is washed again, and the garment is considered clean.
With this investigation, it is reasonable to conclude that God was demonstrating three different types of leprosy; a 51fretting leprosy, a 57spreading leprosy, and a type that can be 58washed away. “Fretting” seems to describe the most harmful type, while the “spreading” is lesser of the two, although they are both harmful as garments containing these are burned. The last type that is described can be washed out of the garment, and it is not burned. This indicates that this type is the least harmful of the three. Interestingly science has designated three types of leprosy; tuberculoid, lepromatus, and borderline.
In culturing bacteria, growth and colour change are two of the most important observations used in assessing identity, and it is interesting how these also played a vital role even back then. Additionally, we see that all garments used in the culturing procedure that were pathogenic were destroyed by fire. This too is a basic biosafety practice in the laboratory today, where culture materials are also destroyed.
Although in an elementary fashion, Leviticus, chapter 13, describes in striking contrast instructions and revelations into one of the most feared and ancient diseases, leprosy. We see God instructing the medical profession of ancient times how to conduct differential diagnosis, as well as when and how long to quarantine individuals [7 to 14 days]. We also see the importance of personal hygiene and the need for washing. Also presented is a template that mirrors today’s approach in conducting a medical investigation: A patient is presented with an unknown or suspect medical condition – Examined [differential diagnosis] – Quarantined if necessary – Samples taken for testing [culture or otherwise] – Continued treatment and examination of patient. Further to this we glean insight that different types of leprosy existed.
Only an all-knowing, all-sovereign God sees the end from the beginning. He instructs the health care officials to see to it that the leper cover his mouth when in public, and that he shouts “unclean – unclean”. By doing this people are warned of his approach and condition, and so create physical distancing. Social distancing was also enforced as lepers were told to stay 46without the camp. Now while COVID 19 is a virus and not bacteria as leprosy is, we nonetheless are encouraged and confident that the God of the ancient is the God of the present. That nothing catches him by surprise. We delight that he is not only the God of miracles, but the God of medicine; the one who gives all knowledge unto man. So while we pray for a miraculous intervention, we remain wise and thankful to the medical profession, knowing that God works in all things. We therefore go through this pandemic — even with its many threats and uncertainties — resolute, steadfast, fearless, and well anchored in our God, confident knowing that all things work together for our good and to His glory.