Quarantine is a state or place where someone who has come from elsewhere and is exposed to an uncontrollable infectious disease is kept, away from the rest of the members of the society. Quarantine aims to prevent the spread of that disease to the larger community. At the same time, the quarantined person is put in isolation for his monitoring and recovery.
Quarantine also provides an excellent environment to study and gather as much information as possible about the infection, information like how it is spread, how it affects the body, how long it takes to become lethal, e.t.c. With this information, medics can help society to combat infections properly. People can be put in a special location provided for by the authorities or stay isolated in their homes. Covid 19 has given us a perspective on what quarantine is all about. We may have had family, friends, or even ourselves quarantined. In years past, we have seen diseases like Ebola, black plague, swine flu, and many others that forced people to be quarantined.
History of Quarantine
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the practice of quarantine began in the 14th century in Italy. Ships that came to Venice from plague-infested areas were not allowed to disembark but to stay anchored for forty days, thus the name Quaranta giorni, which means forty days in Italian. The English word quarantine was thus coined from these Italian words. During this medieval Italy, they were battling the Bubonic epidemic that started around 1348 and continued for a few hundred years.
During this period, we have Martin Luther, who wrote in 1527 to encourage Christians during the pandemic. He is famously quoted for discouraging unnecessary movement and adherence to the then pandemic protocols. Martin Luther wrote, “Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. Finally, I shall avoid persons and places where my presence is not needed to avoid becoming contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. … See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” From this statement, we can infer that Martin Luther would easily accept being quarantined if that was the logical and wise thing to do.
The Bible on Quarantine
In the book of Leviticus 13-15, God, through Moses, instructs the priests on how to detect leprosy and other uncleanness and when to quarantine someone. The instructions to the Levites, who were the priests, begin with these words “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron….” (Leviticus 13:1;14:1;33;15:1). This means that these were direct instructions from God to Moses, their leader, and Aaron, the priest, on how they should handle cases of leprosy or anyone with a discharge. Worth noting is that these instructions were coming from God himself. On their way from Egypt, the Israelites were under God’s direct leadership and authority. There was no government, so God was the only power; thus, his word was law.
Leprosy was a dreaded disease. It would eat up your nerves causing loss of some body parts. People with leprosy also had weathered skin. To keep the members of the larger society safe from this disease, the individual exposed to it had to be examined by the priest (Leviticus 13:9-17;29-30). The priest would then pronounce such a person as either clean or unclean, depending on how far the disease had affected him. Like today, you might have some Covid 19 symptoms, which get you suspecting that you have the virus. However, instead of going to the priest today, you are required to go to a doctor who will perform tests to ascertain whether you have the virus or not.
Leprosy & Quarantine
In cases where the disease had not infected the individual as much, the priest would “shut up the person”. In Leviticus 13:31, the words shut up the person for seven days can be safely translated to quarantining the person. After that, the priest would examine them again to determine whether they were clean or still unclean, depending on how much they had recovered. If they were declared clean, they were to wash themselves clean, their clothes, and even the room in which they were quarantined (Leviticus 13:34). Today, when one is under quarantine, they need to be examined by a doctor after some time. For example, if found healed from Covid 19, one is expected to clean up before rejoining society.
In extreme cases, when the disease was not healing, the people with the disease were supposed to wear torn clothes, and when they moved around, they were to cry out “unclean, unclean”. This was the only way other people could identify them to avoid getting in contact with them and getting sick. They would live alone and outside the camp until they were healed of the disease (Leviticus 13:14). These measures were reasonable then and may not apply today. The bottom line is that they were done because God directed it and, secondly, for the protection of others.
The Bible speaks about quarantine, and the people of Israel respected and joyfully obeyed the laws God gave them (Psalms 1:1-2). So we should not view quarantine from a negative perspective. It is temporal isolation for both the good of the sick and that of society.
How then should we View Quarantine?
Firstly, Christians should view quarantine positively. God has put Government and people in power so that they may help us live in harmony here on earth (Romans 13:1). Therefore, whenever we are given instructions by those in authority, as long as that instruction does not go against the will of God, we are bound to obey it. Keeping our conduct honourable (following the laws) is evangelistic since we do so for the Lord’s sake (1 Peter 2:12-13). When we honour the emperor (government), we show the fear of God (1 Peter 2:17). Therefore, we will only honour and keep laws from human institutions in light of the fear of God.
Secondly, Christians must be moved with love for neighbours. Jesus said that the second commandment is to love your neighbour as you love yourself (Mark 12:21). No one goes out to get himself sick. Everyone enjoys good health. Therefore, whenever you are examined and are positive, quarantining yourself as directed is the most loving thing you can do for your neighbour. If the first person(s) who contacted Covid-19 knew they had it and quarantined themselves, we certainly would not have the world as it is today. Negligence has catastrophic results, and we should care for one another, especially in these perilous times.
“Love for neighbour is the ultimate criterion that Christians must use as they choose what to think and plan to do-not only during the pandemic but in all times, in all aspects of their lives” Handel.
Thirdly, exercise wisdom. If you are in quarantine, use your time there effectively. Develop healthy habits. Read a book, try out a new recipe, work out, learn a new language if you can, and always contact the outside world. Take advantage of your time at home. God doesn’t condemn staying at home. God condemns staying at home and being lazy because God created us to work (Genesis 2:15). You can do some work from home if you are employed or run a business that does not need you to be there physically. If you do not work, you should not eat (1 Timothy 5:8).
Instead of being negative concerning quarantine, may we seek to honour God, whether in quarantine, through how we spend our time there, or by carefully serving those in quarantine.