In Old Testament times, medical care took second priority to the keeping of ceremonial law in this case, the interest of the law was in a broad category of ritual impurity called “uncleanness.” Uncleanness in the presence of the Lord was to be avoided at all cost. The modern rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” which many governments today consider inviolable, were far down a list topped by ceremonial purification in several forms. Again, the main concern was to reflect God’s holiness.

In this text the form concerned sexual purification. A woman’s menstrual cycle, linked to childbearing and thus to Eve’s judgment. was a token of the impure, and thus had to be dealt with. Corpses were also considered unclean, as were diseases of the skin, often labeled leprosy. One can see in these religious rituals the beginnings of concern over public health, long before modern science defined the physical basis of disease. In the absence of effective medial procedures and faced with the requirements of ritual law, the people treated these sufferers with relative kindness. Even today, when treatment of disease is impossible, we quarantine the ill so that healthy people may conduct business as usual.

NUMBERS 5:1, 4 – And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

And the children of Israel did so, and put them out without the camp: as the Lord spake unto Moses, so did the children of Israel.

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