In their book, None of These Diseases, physicians S.I. McMillen and David Stern discussed why the hygienic rules laid out by God for the children of Israel were so effective, and why they still are applicable. To illustrate their point, they related the story of a man by the name of Edwin Chadwick.
Chadwick had accepted a seat on the Board of Health in London, where he and his comrades faced a deadly dilemma. The year before, in 1846, a cholera epidemic had swept England’s capital city and killed more than 16,000 people. This year, 1847, things were looking much worse. How could cholera infiltrate such an advanced city? Why could the premier doctors of the day do nothing to combat the spread of the deadly disease? And how many more people would die before the epidemic could be stopped? Questions with no answers wafted from the lips of the city’s inhabitants as the chill of death continued to sweep over its streets.
Death first visited the houses of the poor. Chadwick, who had been studying diseases in England for the past 14 years, had determined that the rich could expect to live to the ripe old age of 43, while the poor could expect to live to be around 22. Why were the poor the first to endure the carnage of cholera? Chadwick thought he had the answer.
The poor lived in basements. But why would living in a basement cause so many poor people to die? The city of London had a serious problem with sewage disposal. Its drainage system was inadequate, the money allotted to the problem was insufficient, and to make matters worse, very few people even recognized the magnitude of the problem. The streets were filled with raw sewage that people dumped indiscriminately from second and third story windows. When rain fell in sufficient quantities to run through the streets, the then-tainted water naturally settled in the lowest places it could find—basements.
In one orphans’ home that housed 1,400 children, 300 of them contracted the deadly disease, and 180 of those died. When Chadwick inspected the facility, he found that the basement was a cesspool into which the sewage drained. Sadly, many of the children slept in the filth night after night. And Chadwick found that the same situation could be found in basement areas all over London. No wonder so many poor people were dying!
Chadwick identified the problem and implemented a new drainage system that eventually saved many lives, and could have saved many more had people not refused to believe that sewage was the cause of such an epidemic. They resented the idea of someone telling them how they needed to configure pipes and drains in their own homes. Therefore, they ignored Chadwick’s sound advice, balked, and neglected to install proper drainage systems—a course of action that cost thousands of lives over the next several years.
Raw sewage carries disease. If only the people of London had turned in their Bibles to Deuteronomy 23:12: “Also, you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse.” More than 3300 years before London’s epidemic, the Lord, through his servant Moses, implemented a plan to stop such epidemics before they started. Such tragedies as those that befell London could have been prevented if people simply had accepted God’s Word on the matter and observed the kind of hygiene that the Israelites had practiced so many years before. How did Moses know to instruct the Israelites in such public health practices, when the nation from which he came, and the nations surrounding the Israelites, knew no such practices? Just a lucky guess—or by inspiration of God?