From Jim O'Brien
March 27, 2020


Hi Friend,

In the past few months the world has become more familiar with the word "quarantine" than anyone ever wanted. It comes from the Italian "quaranta giorni" meaning "a space of forty days."

Every major pandemic has needed a carrier to break out of the local point of origin so it could spread to the rest of the world. Commercial trading has been the vehicle.

In 1347 when the Black Plague was carried from China to the rest of the world it was carried by ship to major ports. Rats made their homes in harbors and ports and migrated on to shipping vessels, where fleas transferred diseases from the rats to humans. In those days voyages could take several weeks, giving the fleas plenty of time to infect sailors confined in close quarters.

Sailors unloaded merchandise, connecting with local longshoremen and then looked for social life in town after being on ship for an extended period of time. This contact spread the contagion to resident citizens. Many of the sailors were sick on arrival and some had died in passage. Eventually local governments recognized the source of the disease and took action to protect themselves.

The first round of the Black Plague lasted from 1347 through 1352. Word spread of the deadly disease being brought to town by ships, so port cities required ships from suspect countries to remain off shore in isolation for a period of forty days, a quaranta giorni, to see if they were carrying the disease, before allowing them to dock on shore.

Quarantine has a long history in America as well as in the Bible. When the yellow fever hit Philadelphia in 1793, sailors were quarantined in a hospital outside the city. When typhus struck New York City in 1892 more than 70 people were quarantined on a nearby island. Thirty thousand people were quarantined in Toronto, Canada in 2003 to prevent the spread of SARS.

Why forty days? Quarantine is biblical and even the period of forty days is significant. When a person had a leprous sore, he was to remain outside the camp and even to call out to others if he entered a street.

Hospitals in Venice were known as "lazarettos" (from Lazarus) and were intentionally constructed outside the city center.

There are many biblical references to forty days, including the time Moses spent on Mt. Sinai as well as the Jesus' fast in the desert.

Maybe the most striking reference to quarantine can be traced to an important Holy Day called the Day of Atonement. On this day two goats were brought before the High Priest. One goat was offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the congregation, an act strongly associated with the sacrifice of the Messiah. But there was a second goat on which the priest laid hands and drove away into the wilderness. This goat is highly suggestive of the adversary, Satan, and the day itself is prophetic of the time when he will be quarantined from mankind so that his influence will be eliminated.

The influence of this second goat is so pernicious that even the priest who laid hands on it was required to wash his hands after coming in contact with him. (Lev. 16:26-28)

The narrative continues, "because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a day of Sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance." (verses 30-31)

Maybe America is going through a type of Day of Atonement. A lot of Americans have taken a rest from work; in fact it's been refreshing to see families walking in the neighborhoods. Most of us need more time with the spouse and kids. We've isolated ourselves from an adversarial disease to become clean. We all could benefit from being isolated from influences that diminish our lives.

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien