Jews were promised health if they obeyed God’s laws (Exodus 15:26), and they were given a number of health laws (regular rest and relaxation, suit able food, avoidance of contaminated water, marriage regulations, cleanliness, separation from contagious disease), which when followed led to a high level of good health. If the laws were disobeyed, disease resulted (Deuteronomy 28:60-61). There was no call for doctors, and anyone who resorted to them came under criticism for going against the will of God. This
happened to Kings Asa in 2 Chronicles 16:12. The correct procedure in illness was regarded to be prayer to God (Numbers 21:7; 2 Kings 20; 2 Chronicles 6:28-30; Psalm 6; 107:17-21). But there was a different attitude in other countries. In Egypt and Babylon, disease was looked upon as the result of evil spirit activity, and doctors were required to counteract this. Although medical work was sometimes at the level of magic, it also brought about surgery, and the development of medicine through herbs. There were even laws that controlled the work of doctors. The Hammurabi Law Code said that if a man operated on another man’s eye using a copper lancet, and that man lost his eye, then the doctor’s eye was also to be put out with a copper lancet.
The Egyptians were skilled brain surgery. They bored holes into the skull “to let the evil spirit out;” in so doing they relieved the pressure within, which sometimes led to cures; this was also done in Lachish. The Egyptians also practised dentistry and some Phoenicians had gold teeth. Despite the theological attitude of the Jews, much of the attitude of the surrounding nations seems to have rubbed off on them. At the popular level people seem to have worn charms to ward off evil spirits, and doctors were around, as King Asa knew. Exodus 21:9 seems to indicate the use of a crutch when a limb was broken and Hezekiah made a poultice to treat his boil (2 Kings 20:7). By the time the book of Job was written, attitudes were changing, because one of the important points of the book is that Job’s sickness was not the result of sin. In the second century before Christ, Ecclesiasticus says that although God is the creator, he gives gifts of healing. Isaiah said that Judah’s condition needed cleansing, bandaging, and ointment (Isaiah 1:6); wine mixed with myrrh was used as a painkiller (Matthew 27:34); mandrake roots were believed to aid conception (Genesis 30) and midwifery was practised throughout Bible times (Exodus 1:15; Ezekiel 16:4).
God gave the Jewish people a number of commandments, and their medical significance has been appreciated only in recent years. Deuteronomy 23:13 ensured that the soldier carried a spade so that all human excrement could be buried. Leviticus 13 ensured isolation for people who had leprosy. It had been suggested that the insistence on circumcision has led to a very low incidence of cancer of the cervix among Jewish women, and that the forbidden degrees of marriage were given to control a number of hereditary diseases.