We read in the Scriptures that we are to “rejoice” at the Feast as we “learn to fear the Lord” (Deuteronomy 14:23–26). However, as we celebrate the festival, sitting in services, meeting with friends, eating delicious food, and talking into the night, it is not uncommon to wind up not feeling well, or actually getting sick at the Feast—because in the excitement of the moment we forget to do what is required to stay healthy. In this time when so many are mindful of their health and the health of their loved ones, doing what we can to live more healthful lives has the potential not only to help us have a wonderful Feast this year, but also to bring blessings that will last us far beyond the Feast.
Taking Responsibility for Our Health
Bible prophecies reveal that pestilence and disease will be widespread as we approach the end of the age (Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:10–11), and that Israelite nations, as well as others, will suffer from these plagues because they have violated the laws of God (Deuteronomy 28:15, 21–22, 27). While God promised He would protect His people from disease, He also stated that protection would come with a condition: “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes” (Exodus 15:26). This and other scriptures indicate that there are things we need to do if we hope for God’s protection from disease, and they highlight that God may allow us to reap what we sow (Jeremiah 2:17–19; Hosea 8:7). God wants His people to learn how to live so they can show others how to avoid a multitude of problems that afflict human societies (Deuteronomy 4:1–10; Matthew 5:14–16).
Today, millions of people around the world are suffering from both chronic and infectious diseases, including the COVID-19 pandemic that has prompted governments to all but shut down the world. We hear much about the importance of washing our hands, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing to avoid catching this new plague. However, little is said about other vital practices that can and should be done to strengthen the immune system—one of the most important systems of our marvelously designed bodies. A robust immune system can help defend us from the coronavirus, as well as many other diseases. The amazing bodies God has given us operate on principles that let them respond in remarkable ways to avoid illness and enjoy good health—if we follow those principles. In the book of Proverbs, Solomon advised that we should learn from what happens around us (Proverbs 1:20–22) and that a wise person sees trouble ahead and seeks to avoid it (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12).
Let’s look at a number of important actions we can take today to maintain our health and avoid the plagues that are afflicting so many. And much of this is advice we can take during the Feast, as well!
Don’t Ignore Your Diet
One of the biggest contributing factors to both chronic and infectious disease involves food choices that we make every day. Of course, God’s people are blessed to understand the laws of clean and unclean animals, which help protect us from the diseases that plague those who consume unclean meat. But pursuing a diet that promotes health goes beyond those commands, alone. In the developed world, the typical “Western diet” has been widely identified as a primary reason for deaths from high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung and kidney diseases, various types of cancer, obesity, and many other chronic conditions. Most hospital admissions and deaths linked to the coronavirus involve people who already have serious underlying conditions involving pathologies that are largely brought on by our modern diet and lifestyle.
Gluttony is condemned in the Bible right alongside drunkenness (e.g., Proverbs 23:21), but eating without regard to the bigger picture is regrettably a cornerstone of the Western diet. That diet often includes the overconsumption of refined sugar and refined carbohydrates in breads, pastries, soft drinks, desserts, and other products; too much fried, processed, and packaged foods; too little fiber (from complex carbohydrates in whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables); and too many calories. As the saying goes, we appear to be digging our own graves with a fork and spoon. Such dietary habits also cause serious damage to the immune system, diminishing its ability to protect us from infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
With just a little effort, many people can make immediate dietary changes to protect against both chronic and infectious diseases. By reducing or eliminating refined sugars, starches, and unhealthy fats, and by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, leaner meats, fish, and nuts, seeds, beans, and fiber-rich lentils, we take in essential vitamins, minerals, and other essential micronutrients. These dietary improvements help our immune system to function at an optimal level in the manner God designed, producing white blood cells that attack invading pathogens, and manufacturing antibodies to ward off infections. Foods that contain vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and minerals like zinc, selenium, copper, chromium, and iron, are believed to contribute to building stronger bodies and strengthen the immune system. Conversely, deficiencies in these vital nutrients make us more susceptible to various diseases. Multivitamin or mineral supplements can sometimes be helpful in this regard, but the best way to obtain these nutrients is by eating a variety of whole foods, which avoids overdosing on any specific nutrient, as that can create other problems.
Get Up and Move!
However, choosing a more healthful diet is not the only thing you can do to avoid serious chronic and infectious diseases. There are other important steps you can take to prevent disease and strengthen your immune system, such as making time for regular exercise, getting enough sleep, learning to manage anxiety and stress, reducing alcohol consumption, and maintaining a healthy body weight. A considerable number of people suffering serious complications from the coronavirus are overweight or obese—a condition that both reduces the number and effectiveness of white blood cells and increases the time of recovery when one does become sick.
God designed our body to move, and regular exercise is a vital factor in maintaining a healthy body, a healthy weight, and a strong immune system. For those able to do so, engaging in physical activity for 15 to 30 minutes every day provides a number of important benefits. Studies have demonstrated that people deprived of physical activity are more prone to bacterial and viral infections. However, people who are physically active are less prone to infections, have less severe symptoms when infected, recover sooner, and may spread fewer viruses to others (Richard J. Simpson, Ph.D., “Exercise, Immunity and the COVID-19 Pandemic,” ACSM.org, March 30, 2020).
Daily physical activity also reduces anxiety and stress, contributes to better sleep, and burns off calories that contribute to weight gain. Going for a walk either outside or in your home, climbing stairs, stretching and bending, lifting even a book several times, working in a garden, running a vacuum cleaner, or playing a sport can do wonders for your attitude and your body. The bodies God gave us need to move to stay healthy. In our modern, couch-potato world that suffers from an epidemic of inactivity, we need to consciously focus on getting more physical activity every day so we can maintain a healthy body and a strong immune system capable of fighting off infectious diseases.
In addition to physical activity, keeping regular hours of waking and sleeping contribute to healthful, natural, and refreshing sleep. And when we sleep, our body restores its natural defense mechanisms that fight infections.
A God Who Cares for Our Health
In the ongoing battle with disease, we need to remember that God is our Healer and a merciful Father who knows our weaknesses (Exodus 15:26; 34:6–7; Psalm 103:13–14). However, it is also good to notice that along with the biblical instruction to call the ministry for prayer and anointing in times of sickness, we are also told to confess our sins—to recognize what we may be doing that has contributed to the problem—and begin to change those behaviors (James 5:14–16).
We are told to “glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). This involves learning to take care of our bodies and use them wisely, so we can “prosper… and be in health” (3 John 2). It is interesting today that many people of all faiths “feel that God is telling humanity to change how it lives” (“Poll: U.S. believers see message of change from God in virus,” Associated Press, May 15, 2020). That is good advice for all of us to consider when it comes to improving our health and defending against disease. For more information on this vital subject, take time to read and study our newest booklet, Biblical Principles of Heath, so you can prepare to show others how to enjoy a more vibrant and fulfilling life.
In the meantime, beginning to practice these principles today will not only make a difference for your overall health, but also make a positive impact on your Feast! Having some extra money to spend in the form of second tithe is a blessing, to be sure—and we should enjoy it! Enjoying our tithe, both as we spend it on ourselves and as we serve others with it, is a part of God’s design for the Festival. Yet, as we do so, we can continue to seek to honor God with our approach to diet, find time for physical activity, and ensure that we get good sleep each night. Such choices will help prevent the mid-Feast illnesses too many of God’s people suffer so unnecessarily each year. God wants you to enjoy this Feast of Tabernacles! And taking the initiative to begin practicing new, lifelong habits during the Feast will bring benefits that will last long after the Feast is over.