“Unclean! Unclean!” These are the words a person with certain skin diseases was to shout while walking around their community (Lev. 13:45). This scene from the ancient world seemed so foreign to us only a couple of months ago, but now we are told to keep our distance from others because they, or we, may be asymptomatic carriers of a virus. The ancient Israelites were not epidemiologists, but they did know that social distance was necessary to prevent the spread of certain diseases.
Some might argue that the Biblical text only calls for the ill to be distanced and that there is no need for us to all practice social distancing at this time. It is true that the Bible only calls for the ill to be distanced, but there is a critical difference that should be noted. The Israelites were on the lookout for a skin disease, something that typically is readily apparent. The afflicted were visible to the human eye. In our present circumstance, however, the illness is not that obvious – infected individuals may not show symptoms for days, and some apparently may not show symptoms at all. This leaves us in a situation with enormous unknowns and a fear that anyone could be a carrier of the virus.
Let me bring this back around. When it came to illness in the Biblical world, seen especially in the Old Testament, social distancing was the norm and not the exception. As an ordained minister it pains me to see churches shuttered while we get through this difficult time, but these are necessary steps to protect the health of everyone. So, if you are sitting at home and wondering why you can’t attend services this weekend with young and old and healthy and ill, remember that social distancing was the most effective means of preventing the spread of certain diseases in the Biblical world, and reflect on how some things do not change with the passage of time.