We are now on day 8 of South Africa’s 21-day national lockdown. Basic things like public gatherings and other non-essential services are banned after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced this measure to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. His administration has invoked the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002. The act provides, among other things, for “an integrated and co-ordinated disaster management policy that focuses on preventing or reducing the risk of disasters, mitigating the severity of disasters, emergency preparedness, rapid and effective response to disasters and post-disaster recovery”.
Almost every other country has put in place its own set of restrictive measures. For instance, in the USA, President Donald Trump has invoked the Defence Production Act, compelling companies to prioritise government contracts and orders seen as necessary for national defence. In a blunt news conference on April 1st, Trump’s and his coronavirus task force has warned Americans to be prepared for between 100 000 to 200 000 fatalities in that country — and that with current mitigating efforts. This is up to 60 times the current death toll. Trump believes that millions more Americans could have died if his government had not intervened.
The coronavirus is an invisible enemy that can only be defeated by a much more powerful unseen force. This is why many Christians are now engaged in prayer and confessing Psalms 91. This psalm speaks of God’s protection from plagues and other calamities.
But is there anything more that Christians can do? We need to familiarise ourselves with how the Jews dealt with contagious diseases. In Leviticus chapters 13-15, we read of laws on dealing with leprosy. This was a highly infectious disease with symptoms such as swelling, scab, or bright spot (Lev 13:2). In the protocol dealing with it, there are five principles I want us to note.
Firstly, the person who was suspected of having leprosy was supposed to be examined by a competent official. This was an individual who had the necessary expertise to determine if the condition was leprous. It was a priest, and in our case, these are medical personnel and epidemiologists.
The second thing we see in the Bible is strict cooperation from those who might be infected. They were not allowed to hide their condition or obfuscate in any way. An infected person had to warn others of his status by crying “unclean” whenever someone was approaching.
Thirdly, a person’s garments could also have leprosy, and therefore even these had to be examined. The priest could be authorised for the clothing to be burned with fire or be reused after certain conditions were met. These conditions involved a process that could last up to 21 days (three sets of 7 days) (Leviticus 13:47-59). Today there is talk that the coronavirus could remain on surfaces, and this is why there is an insistence on hand-washing.
The fourth thing about leprosy is that it could be found in a house, leading to its occupants having to vacate it (Leviticus 14:33-57).
Fifthly, people with leprosy were quarantined. The isolation was necessary to prevent them from infecting others.
The measures put in place to deal with COVID-19 might be an inconvenience but are there to serve a greater good. For people with leprosy, things were far worse. Those who were free or healed still had to undergo ritual cleansing, where they brought certain animals to the priest and shaved all the hair on their body — including their eyebrows. So wearing a mask in public spaces and practising social distancing is the least you can do.
And to be clear, the protocols followed in dealing with leprosy, and the coronavirus are not merely a faith vs. fear issue. They are a recognition that spiritual laws exist side by side with natural laws. Notice as well that during Jesus’ time on earth, the same Old Testament protocol and measures in dealing with leprosy were observed.
When Jesus healed a man with leprosy, He instructed hi to: “Go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy” — Luke 5:14. So you see that Jesus did not come to usurp the authority of the priest but functioned alongside them.
To think of it, many of the highly contagious diseases in the world today are a result of subverting natural laws. We reneged on our mandate to be stewards over God’s creation at a high cost to us and future generations. Perhaps the current crisis with the coronavirus presents us with an opportunity to recover this mandate.
- During the lockdown period Afrika Mhlophe is sharing some thoughts via live video at 5pm daily on his Facebook page.