Water supply and waste disposal


The Bible guide to water supplies and waste disposal


a) The Bible guide to water supplies

The law of Moses shows the care that had to be taken to ensure that water supplies were pure. If a dead animal was found in a container, the water could not be used. After listing the animals that could not be eaten, the law said:

Anything on which any of them falls, when they are dead shall be unclean … Any earthen vessel into which any of them falls you shall break; and whatever is in it shall be unclean… any drink that may be drunk from it becomes unclean … Nevertheless a spring or a cistern, in which there is plenty of water, shall be clean, but whatever touches any such carcass becomes unclean.
Leviticus 11 v 32 to 36

This would mean that, if a dead animal was found in a container of drinking water, the container should be either washed or destroyed. But notice that this does not apply to flowing water in a river or spring, where the risk of disease is much less than in stagnant water. The water may be used, but anything touching the carcass was regarded as unclean.

There is another interesting fact to note from this verse. It says that an earthen drinking vessel must be smashed when a dead animal is found in it. This would mean that they were not to drink from a clay pot which had a dead creature in it. There is no mention, however, of destroying vessels made of wood in similar circumstances. Scientists now know that wood has anti-bacterial properties, so it only needs to be rinsed to make it safe after being in contact with a dead animal. We shall see more of this contrast between earthen and wooden pots in "The Bible guide to disease control" section. This is another example where we can see that the law given to Moses was ahead of its time.

The Bible was right when it said:

 Stagnant water containing dead animals must not be drunk

Drinking water could be taken from a flowing stream containing a dead animal

Earthen pots were to be destroyed after contact with a dead animal

– no similar restriction on wooden  pots


b) The Bible guide to sewage disposal

The Bible is right up to date on this subject as well.

We build treatment works like the one in the picture to process our sewage and make it safe. Before such works had been developed, it was wise to follow the advice of the law of Moses and bury sewage away from habitation:

Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement.
Deuteronomy 23 v 12 and 13 (NIV)

Typhoid fever and dysentery have been the downfall of many armies in the field because this advice was not heeded. It was not until the 1914 – 1918 war that it was realised that sewage left lying around in the camp affected the water supply. It also attracted flies which then infected food. By contrast, the Talmud, which was the Jewish civil law based on the law of Moses, upheld modern standards of public hygiene back in the first century. The Talmud would not allow rubbish heaps and dunghills inside cities like Jerusalem. Fires were kept burning in the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem as a kind of public incinerator. This was by far the best way of controlling fly-borne infections, and was of great value to public health.

The Bible gave good advice when it recommended that sewage must be buried away from habitation


The challenge

How did Moses come up with such a remarkable law giving knowledge of good community health practice thousands of years ago.

The Bible good food guide

The Bible guide to disease control

A civil law ahead of its time


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