In the mid-1800’s throughout Europe maternity clinics were set up to help combat infanticide of illegitimate children. The clinics were offered free to care for the infant, in exchange that the mothers and babies would be the “practice patients” of aspiring doctors and nurses.
In Vienna there were two particular clinics set up that both practiced exactly the same medicine. Yet there was a horrifying outcome of one of the clinics–the mortality rate for the mothers was at an agonizing 10%, sometimes even 15%. While the second clinic had a mortality rate of lower than 4%. Mothers begged on their knees to go to the second clinic, sometimes even preferring to give birth on the streets rather than go to the first clinic.
The overseeing doctor agonized over what was going on. He said the issue made him so miserable “that life seemed worthless.” He made both clinics perform exactly the same processes and yet nothing changed.
It wasn’t until his friend passed away that the light bulb went on. While performing an autopsy, one of his students doing the autopsy accidentally gouged the deceased man with a scalpal. Semmelweis, the chief doctor, saw that his pathology was the same as the deceased mothers. He then made the connection that the only difference between the first clinic was that they were doctoral students who handled dead bodies. While the second clinic was midwives who didn’t touch dead bodies.
It was at this point he instituted hand washing in a chlorinated lime. From that point on mortality rates dropped eventually down to less than 1% and even zero at times.
Semmelweis was to be mocked and ridiculed for his belief that hand washing of medical professionals could make a difference. He had no “proof” other than results. He was shunned in the medical community.
People thought he was crazy and his wife eventually put him into an insane asylum. While there he was beaten by the guards and acquired a wound. The wound turned gangrene and took his life in 1865. He was still ridiculed after his death until Luis Pasteur also began to discover germ theory shortly after Semmelweis’ death.
The germ theory, infectious disease and viral spread of some disease is now commonplace. While it was heralded as world-changing discovery, the Jewish people were shaking their heads. They’ve had this instruction all along. It wasn’t called germ theory. But it was purification after touching a dead body, bone, grave or a person who had been killed.
Jewish Practice as Instructed by God
The Jews were commanded first of all to take a red cow that had no defect, with red cedar wood, with hyssop usually dipped in red, and crimson red yard and throw them into a fire to be burned. The ashes were to be preserved as a sin offering, and for when a person needed to touch a corpse to move them.
That person was to be unclean for seven days. On the third and seventh day, someone who was clean was to take hyssop branch and dip the branch into the ashes mixed with water. Then that mixture was to be sprinkled on everything that had been defiled by the corpse–the tent, all the furnishing, and the people who were there. On the seventh day, the unclean person then had to wash his clothes and bathe in water.
It’s interest to note that while it seems strange that ash water was sprinkled on furnishings and people, but for centuries wood ashes have been used to make soap. So here we see ashes being made from a red cow, cedar wood, hyssop (used in herbal medicine) and yarn.
Much like Semmelweis was mocked, I’m sure the Jews thousands of years before were also mocked for their “clean/unclean” rituals surrounding a dead person. And yet, the wisdom of God is right there only “discovered” in the latter 1800’s. How many more of the ways of God will be “discovered” as true in later times?
God desires for us to walk in physical health. He gave us ways to do that. That meant eating clean food, walking in sexual holiness, washing our bodies regularly, and quarantining when there is a communicable disease. Yet even today some of these are rejected. We don’t know for sure but perhaps the coronavirus orginated in a bat, an unclean food. Sexual holiness is raged against, and things like washing our bodies and being protected from germs is a “new” discovery. And quarantining “outside the camp” is still a challenge across the world as people ignore the calls from governing authorities.
Our choices are given to us as free will from the Lord, but the consequences of our choices will effect if not us, many others. And for me that means I need to step up my game in the quarantine. Making sure I wear masks and gloves when I go out and being careful in this journey.
Because even in this, God cares.