COVID-19 has been called the “novel coronavirus,” but there is nothing novel about social distancing and quarantine. Societies historically have resorted to such measures for public safety. But what about biblical prophecy? Is this the end of the world? Are we in the tribulation period? Is Revelation 13 unfolding before us—a world in panic yielding authority to a ruler who will exercise massive control over the world’s populations?
Probably not. We may have the right chapter but the wrong book! Rather than this being a Revelation 13 moment, consider it more of a Leviticus 13 moment requiring Romans 13 compliance, prompted by 1 Corinthians 13 motivation.
Quarantine is biblical
Israel had a long history of self-isolation, beginning in Exodus. Moses, in a sense, was the first public health official, instructing the people in God’s protocols for community well-being. Though God’s people were designed for life together in proximity, sometimes, for health or safety purposes, separation was required.
Every year Jews around the world observe Passover, a commemoration of a stay-at-home order from God. The Lord confined the Hebrews to their homes as death passed them over (Ex. 12:23). The nation’s obedience readied them to leave Egypt for their new homeland.
While en route, God gave Israel laws for managing life together, including what can be read as personal hygiene regulations to ensure public sanitization—all predicated on the premise in the Torah of loving one’s neighbor as oneself (Lev. 19:18). Leviticus 13:1–8 lays out the law concerning leprosy (a large grouping of infectious skin diseases of varying severity). It consists of a 14-day quarantine, divided by two seven-day examinations to determine if the disease is a threat to the greater community. If someone tested positive, he or she had to publicly declare themselves unclean. Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?
In ancient Israel, though priests had clear, well-defined sacerdotal functions, they also operated as custodians of public health, assessing the threat level for the greater community (a fairly progressive policy for 1500 B.C.). Even King Uzziah had to live out his days in isolation once he was confirmed to have leprosy (2 Chron. 26:21).
God mandated these laws well before medical science could explain the reasons behind them. The Mishnah added rules for triaging cases of leprosy and STDs—how and when to quarantine, how to confirm positive cases, and how and when to declare someone clean and reintegrate them back into society.
Even in the New Testament, lepers practiced a form of “social distancing.” A group of ten “stood afar off” (Luke 17:12, KJV) as Jesus approached their village and cleansed them. No holy kisses (Rom. 16:16), embraces, or high fives could be exchanged (Matthew 8 excepted). However, Jesus’ approach signaled a way to mitigate an infectious disease. He had compassion on those who were suffering and insisted they go through the established health system of priestly examinations as outlined in Leviticus 13.
This is where 1 Corinthians 13 pertains. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way” (1 Cor. 13:4–5, NLT). Love is expressed in patience, kindness, forbearance, humility, courtesy, selflessness, empathy, and perseverance. It means giving up certain freedoms temporarily to ensure others can thrive. In this pandemic, rather than jumping to Revelation 13 conclusions, consider our Leviticus 13 obligations prompted by a 1 Corinthians 13 motivation.
Moreover, we have another 13th chapter for guidance. In Romans 13, we read that the governing authorities were “appointed by God” (v. 1, NKJV). One of the main responsibilities of government is the protection of its people. Though governments sometimes overstep their bounds, our general response as citizens is clear: “Let every soul be subject to governing authorities.” A good Christian should be a good citizen unless being a good citizen means being a bad Christian. God is honored when his earthly representatives are seen as preservers of peace (Matt. 5:9).
With the coronavirus, a simple equation applies: The flatter the rate of viral infection, the smaller the number of people who die. That doesn’t mean we can’t protest draconian governmental measures, nor does it mean we won’t disobey ungodly laws imposed by unrighteous leaders. But it does mean we should, to the best of our ability, live at peace with all people (Rom. 12:18).
Quarantine is beneficial too
Having more time and solitude on your hands isn’t a bad thing. Why not treat it as blessing? Church tradition has long encouraged the practice of certain spiritual disciplines, whether disciplines of engagement—prayer, study, and service—or disciplines of abstinence—fasting, chastity, and solitude. For those of us accustomed to the pedal-to-the-metalbusyness of everyday life—perhaps even addicted to it—solitude is challenging, even cumbersome. But it is desperately needed. Dallas Willard put it this way in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines: “Of all the disciplines of abstinence, solitude is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life, and it must be returned to again and again as that life develops.”
Solitude is the foundation of our “quiet times,” those periods when we get alone with God to hear his voice speaking to us and when we pour out our hearts to him. Maybe you’ve longed for such time, but your busy schedule interfered. Well, now’s your chance. Given our crowded quarters these days, you might very well end up in the closet—and that’s okay (Matt. 6:6)!
However, getting alone with God may force you into harsh self-assessment. “Solitude is a terrible trial,” writes Louis Bouyer in The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, “for it serves to crack open and burst apart the shell of our superficial securities. It opens out to us the unknown abyss that we all carry within us … [and] discloses the fact that these abysses are haunted.”
There are a host of benefits to being quarantined or sheltering in place:
- Physical restoration: When we are shut down, we are renewed (see Mark 6). God sometimes makes us lie down (Ps. 23:2).
- Spiritual edification: When in solitude, we can enjoy the presence of God more, getting into his word (Ps. 46:10; Mark 1:35; Lam. 3:25).
- Self-evaluation: When we are quiet before the Lord, we allow God to examine us without distractions or competition from others (Heb. 4:13; Ps. 139:1–3, 23–24; and Luke 6:12–13).
- Inner Consolation: You may be grieving the loss of a friend or relative due to the coronavirus. Perhaps you’re one of the millions who are unemployed. When you are alone, you can deal with grief at the deepest level (see Matt. 14:12–13 and Luke 22:39–43).
Take advantage of this strange season imposed on us all. The quarantined life has its challenges. But the Bible tells us that within every adversity lies an opportunity, a buried seed waiting for living water and light to bring it to fruition. Make yourself available to God and see what he does in these strange but potential-filled times.
Skip Heitzig, author of The Bible from 30,000 Feet, is pastor-teacher of Calvary Church and adjunct professor of Biblical Studies at Veritas International University.