So, let me pull out this little pin, here, and lob out some OT passages and see what happens. You, uh, might want to plug your ears, the comments on this thing could get a little noisy.
The priest shall shut up him that hath the plague seven days:Lev. 13:4, 31, 33, 50
And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.Num. 12:15
My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore [plague]; and my kinsmen stand afar off.Psa. 38:11
Then the LORD struck the king, so that he was a leper until the day of his death; so he dwelt in an isolated house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the royal house, judging the people of the land.2 Kings 15:5 NKJV
Three other instances are worth including here, as we simply survey the pertinent texts. First, when Aaron interceded for Israel after Korah’s rebellion, we are told that “he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed (Num. 16:48).” Phinehas similarly interceded (with a bit more force) when he killed the fornicators in Numbers 25:8, and we are told, “So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.” Third, the Lord sent judgement on judgement Israel for King David taking a census; when David sees the destroying Angel (and the accompanying pestilence) he runs to the place, purchases it from the Jebusite, and offers sacrifices: “David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel (2Sa 24:25).”
Now For Some Combustible Material
What we see from all this is a clear principle of separating sick from healthy, the dead/dying from the living. There is also a principle that decisive action on the part of the the priests or king is appropriate. But note this: the healthy are not quarantined. Separation is the key throughout the Levitical law, and in the case of infectious diseases this hold true. The clear distinction, typologically, is between what is clean and unclean, holy and unholy. Of course, the main goal of these texts is to reveal Christ, and theologians have generally interpreted the leprosy laws in Leviticus 13-14 as a grave reminder of the insidious and spreading nature of sin within the individual and community.
Viruses are real life parables of what sin does morally.
Think of what Jesus said when He rebuked the Pharisees, reminding them that it isn’t the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick (Mt. 9:12). See what Jesus did there? He took the common sense (we might better call it natural revelation) principle, and applied it morally. Of course morally-speaking, all of us are not merely sick, we are dead. Only Christ can make us alive by giving us repentant faith. Which is the Lord’s main point.
The Gospel is at the heart of both these OT & NT texts. And because the Gospel is like yeast in a lump of dough it can’t help but apply to everything and effect everything. Christ separates the sinner from his sin, by taking our infirmities down to the grave and rising again to give us eternal life.
And because He is now the universal King we should also note that to think that we get to make up our own principles and laws now would be to miss the pith of the Gospel: Christ, by His death, resurrection, and ascension is the lawful Lord of planet Earth.
Breaking the Eighth Commandment to Keep the Sixth
In the current COVID-craze, we have effectively done the opposite of a general equity application of these texts. We have not isolated the sick, nor even a step further by isolating the vulnerable. We have told those that are whole to hole up, hunker down, and mind your manners until “wiser-heads” give us permission to come out again. The staggering thing in this is that in an effort to preserve life (i.e. keeping the sixth commandment’s principle of preserving––not taking––life) we have driven a snow-plow right through the eighth commandment’s prohibition against theft.
We have weighed models of loss of life to the virus, and considered that stealing the livelihoods of millions of people across the nation and globe are worth the price of saving projected lives. Essentially, this is instituting an arbitrary hierarchy within God’s moral law. Stealing is better than killing, theft is better than murder.
Despots delight to deal in such rigid either/or’s. God’s law, on the other hand, is perfect, converting the soul. It tells us to preserve life, and not take a man’s life by stealing his millstone (Deu. 24:6). It tells us to take compassion on the healthy community by sending the leper outside the camp; or, in modern terms, quarantine those who are infectious. God’s law harmonizes perfectly. Man’s law is like the time that a bassist I played with was playing a B♭instead of a Bm…the result was what you might call discordant.
There is no Biblical basis for quarantining a healthy population. We’ve been told we must all “stay home to stay safe” in order to love our neighbor. But this once again inverts how God’s law specifies the way in which we are to love our neighbor in the midst of an outbreak of an infectious disease. Further it is a violation of God’s law to steal livelihoods, life-savings, and stable households. This whole pandemic episode is a fresh demonstration that when man thinks he knows better than God, he makes a tangle worse than that box of old computer cables in the attic.
In all of this, we should mark that God has been exceedingly kind to us. This virus, this economic collapse, this societal unease is God’s goodness towards us. He is reminding us––like the stunning flash and bang of a hand-grenade––of the fragility of our health, our finances, our society, our empire. He does this so that we might repent of our self-assurance and self-confidence and then build our lives and society on the sure Cornerstone of our brother who once bore all our infirmities, but who now sits at God’s right hand.