In our modern society we take for granted the existence of invisible germs and how they can cause illness. What many don’t realize is that the Bible writings show anticipation of this modern discovery many centuries before the rest of the world caught on.
The Law of Moses, the Torah, comprises the first five books of the Bible. This law was written soon after Israel had been captive in Egypt, where they were exposed to Egyptian technology, including their medical methods. If you look at Egyptian medicine, they were very advanced in some ways, but primitive in others.The treatment methods they used were sometimes more deadly than the illness they were meant to treat. They would sometimes treat an infected wound with remedies such as worm’s blood and donkey dung! They did not seem to have an awareness of things such as invisible germs that could infect someone.
The Lord made a powerful and revealing promise to the Jews: “ If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” (Exodus 15:26)
Germs in cooking utensils: In Leviticus 6:28 there is a command to scour and rinse metal cooking vessels in water after using them , which would have disinfected them. How could Moses have known about dangerous germs in cooking pots?
In Leviticus 11:35 animal carcasses were declared unclean, and anything that touched them was unclean. This protected the Israelites from invisible, deadly germs.
People had trouble believing in invisible germs even up to the late 1800s. Jeffrey describes how in 1845 a Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, was disturbed by the high death rate of women giving birth in Vienna hospitals, about fifteen to thirty percent. The doctors in the hospital did not wash their hands between patients, a practice which to us now seems abhorrent. But Dr. Semmelweis instructed the doctors who were now under his supervision to wash their hands well in water and chlorinated lime between expectant mothers they saw, and the death rate fell to less than two percent.
“Centuries before Semmelweis, God had already detailed the most effective method of washing. To prevent the spread of disease, modern science has merely rediscovered the biblical method.”
None of These Diseases, Drs. McMillen and Stern, 25
Yet the Bible reveals knowledge of washings and other sanitary practices millennia earlier. Medical doctors McMillen and Stern comment:“Centuries before Semmelweis, God had already detailed the most effective method of washing. To prevent the spread of disease, modern science has merely rediscovered the biblical method.”
Running water: Leviticus 15:13 talks about using running water to wash when dealing with infectious diseases. Jeffrey describes how until the last century most doctors, when they washed, washed their hands in a stagnant bowl of water, allowing the germs to remain.
Quarantine: If the rules for dealing with leprosy in Leviticus 14 are examined we can see that they are very similar to medical quarantine orders today. In the fourteenth century the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, killed more than sixty million people in Europe. Doctors had no knowledge of how to treat the patients. The plague was finally defeated in Vienna, when the church fathers in Vienna took a look at Leviticus 13:46: “All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.” Those that were infected with the Black Death were placed outside the city in quarantine and buried outside the city when they died, and the progress of the Black Death was soon halted there.
Other biblical practices preventing infection: According to Jeffrey, instructions are given on the incineration of animal waste and decaying flesh in Leviticus 4:11-12, instructing them to burn these items outside the camp. The water of purification used for the red heifer sacrifice in Numbers 19 contained ashes with cedar and hyssop. Hyssop happens to be a very effective antibacterial agent which is still used today in hyssop oil. In Numbers 31:23 materials were disinfected after being captured from an enemy. Then there was the problem of human waste. As cities grew, untreated waste became a huge problem and resulted in many diseases such as typhoid and cholera, due to unsanitary conditions. Deuteronomy 23:12-13 instructed the Israelites to bury their waste, rather than leave it exposed.
All of these instructions are truly amazing when we realize the discovery of invisible germs was more than 3,500 years in the future. It is unlikely that these advanced medical and sanitation practices would have been thought of by Moses as a result of his upbringing in Egyptian culture or even exposure to earlier cultures. Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that the divine physician gave the Israelites “inside information” to ensure their protection and well-being?