Physical blindness in the biblical period was very common. The suffering of the blind person was made worse by the common belief that the affliction was due to sin (John 9:1-3).
Because of their severe handicap, blind persons had little opportunity to earn a living. A blind man was even ineligible to become a priest (Leviticus 21:18). Frequently, the blind became beggars (Mark 10:46).
The possibility of a blind person being mistreated was recognized and forbidden by God. The law prohibited the giving of misleading directions (Deuteronomy 27:18) or doing anything to cause the blind to stumble (Leviticus 19:14).
Physical Cause Many things caused blindness in ancient times. One could be born blind (John 9:1) due to some developmental defect or as a result of infection prior to birth. Usually, however, blindness began later. The most common cause was infection. Trachoma, a painful infection of the eye, is a common cause of blindness today and was probably prevalent in ancient times. Leprosy can also cause blindness. In old age, vision may be severely impaired in some persons (Genesis 27:1). Some develop cataracts. Some have a gradual atrophy of portions of the eye.
Ancient people used salves of various types to treat disorders of the eye. Simple surgical procedures such as the lancing of boils near the eye and the extraction of inverted eyelashes were also employed.
In reality, almost no effective treatment was available to those who suffered from diseases of the eye and blindness. There were no antibiotics, no effective surgical procedures for most problems, and no eyeglasses. Miraculous healing was often sought (John 5:2-3).
Jesus frequently healed blind persons (Matthew 9:27-31;
John 9:1-7). Perhaps there is no greater evidence of His compassion and power than that seen in His willingness and ability to heal those who lived in darkness and hopelessness.
Spiritual blindness The Bible addresses spiritual blindness as the great human problem. Israel was supposed to be God's servant (Isaiah 42:19) but was blind to the role God wanted them to fill. Called to be watchmen protecting the nation, they instead blindly preyed on the people (Isaiah 56:10). As the Pharisees gained leadership, they became blind leaders of the blind (Matthew 15:14;
Matthew 23:16-26). Jesus came to reverse the situation, making it clear who had spiritual sight and who was spiritually blind (John 9:39-41). Peter listed the qualities a person must have to have spiritual sight. Without these, a person is blind (2 Peter 1:5-9). The problem is that the spiritually blind do not know they are blind (Revelation 3:17). They are blinded by the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). They walk in darkness, eventually being blinded by the moral darkness of hatred (1 John 2:11).