One year ago, a global pandemic—the likes of most of us have not seen in our lifetime—shattered the status quo, completely reshaping life on our planet. COVID-19 has given new meaning to the term “plague” and has shown just how quickly life as we know it can change. From a spiritual perspective, we know that plagues are nothing new. In fact, the Bible refers to “plague” or “plagues” more than 100 times. As we look forward to Passover this month, I’m thinking a lot about the biblical theology of plagues and what it means for us now and in the future.
There may be scientific explanations for how some of these plagues have occurred, but God is more interested in showing us why they occur.
Medically speaking, plagues are infectious diseases that can destroy people as well as animals. In the Bible, plagues are not limited to disease. Besides widespread and devastating diseases, plagues often include apocalyptic derailing of nature, such as the sun becoming darkened, water turning to blood, or a devastating infestation of vermin, such as locusts. There may be scientific explanations for how some of these plagues have occurred, but God is more interested in showing us why they occur.
The World Is Broken
Plagues are a disruption of the natural order God gave to the world He created. But since God is sovereign over His creation, plagues are under the authority of His divine purpose. From a biblical worldview, they demonstrate the consequences of an event known as “the Fall.”
God created the world in perfect order, balance, and harmony. Human sin assaulted God’s order, resulting in brokenness, not only in humanity’s relationship with God, but throughout every aspect of life in this world. The curse of sin was brought on by people, but its effects have run rampant throughout the earth—and plagues are a supreme example. While plagues are a result of human sin, we shouldn’t conclude that they confound the purposes of God’s righteousness. Let’s focus on three ways that He sometimes uses plagues, as seen in the Scriptures.
God Uses Plagues to Warn People
The first reference to the word “plague” comes when Abraham and Sarah sojourn to Egypt. Abraham, fearing for his life should Pharaoh desire to take Sarah as his wife, persuades her to back his story that she is only his sister. When Pharaoh does take Sarah to make her his wife, “The LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife” (Genesis 12:17). Duly warned, Pharaoh releases Sarah back to Abraham with an admonishment, and the plague passes. At times, a plague can prompt people to take corrective action.
God Uses Plagues to Instruct People as Part of His Redemptive Purposes
When Moses repeats God’s command to let Israel go, and Pharaoh refuses, God promises plagues with a purpose: “that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth” (Exodus 9:14). Given Egypt’s polytheistic culture, Pharaoh and his people needed to understand there was no one like the Lord. If they could understand that, they would let Israel go and maybe even come to a knowledge of the one true God themselves.
I’ll never forget the scene from the movie The Ten Commandments where Yul Brynner, playing Pharaoh, declares, “Moses’ god is God!” Sadly, Pharaoh foolishly tossed that knowledge aside at the last minute. Yet, in the divine purposes of God, Israel was set free as a result of the escalating plagues God sent—and the redemptive story of the Passover was accomplished. It is a bit eerie to think that later this month, we will be celebrating the outcome of those tragic plagues.
Sometimes Plagues are Flat Out Judgment from God
It is important to remember that God is a judge, and He has every right to carry out His judgments in whatever ways He sees fit. As Abraham said, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). From the ten plagues of Passover to the seven bowls of wrath in Revelation 16, God is just in all His ways—including when He sends plagues. “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments” (Revelation 16:5).
A year ago, when the coronavirus hit our world, people asked me, “Is this God’s judgment upon the earth?” I learned pretty quickly that the best way to answer that question was with another question: “Can you think of a reason why God wouldn’t choose to judge the earth right now?” All around us we see evidence of sin and a gross disregard of our loving Creator. Perhaps the whole world has been experiencing a warning from God to get our attention and prompt us to take corrective action before something worse happens. As believers, we know that God has judged our sin at Calvary, yet in this mortal life, the consequences of the Fall still affect the redeemed as well as those who have yet to be redeemed.
God’s Heart Is for Redeeming His People
Throughout 2020, we prayed that God would capture the attention of many people in order to bring them salvation through faith in Jesus. Our teams certainly noticed a greater openness and spiritual interest among many as a result of the fear and uncertainty caused by this pandemic. You, our partners, made it possible for us to find ways to reach Jewish people for Jesus throughout the shelter in place restrictions. Thank you!
Will the vaccinations (for which we thank God!) make this pandemic a distant memory, an event that future generations will barely know about, if at all? That’s certainly possible. Or this plague could be part of what Yeshua called “the beginning of birth pangs” leading to tribulation such as the world has never seen (Matthew 24:8, 21 NASB).
Whatever the case, we who know that “there is no one like the Lord” have real and lasting hope. Thank God, He is at work to bring about His good and redemptive purposes. Ultimately, those plans for redemption will be fulfilled on the earth. Meanwhile, He gives you, me, and all who love Him opportunities to trust Him and to invite others to experience His faithful love through the Messiah, Jesus.
Did You Know
The holiday referred to as Passover is actually a two-in-one holiday. First there is Passover, the Feast of Redemption. Traditionally, the Seder (ceremonial meal recounting how God delivered the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt) occurs on Passover, which begins this year at sundown on March 27. Some people have their Seder the following night. But right on the heels of Passover comes the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which continues the Passover mandate to abstain from anything containing leaven. Why are all eight days referred to as Passover? Who would buy a “Happy Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread” card? But seriously, sending a nice Passover card the week before and during the holiday(s) would be a great way to affirm your Jewish friends. And if anyone you know, Jewish or not, would be interested in knowing the connection between Jesus and Passover, please invite them to one of our Passover presentations. For more information go to: j4j.co/passoverlivestreams, and also check j4j.co/events for possible in-person events.