PLAGUES – HISTORY, THEOLOGY AND PRACTICALITY
Let’s look at the Bible, history and Christian writings – old and new.
The Bible has a lot to say about plagues. Most have heard of the terrible series of plagues which afflicted Egypt when Pharaoh refused to let God’s people go free from their life of horrendous slavery.
Those same people, once free, suffered a plague after making a golden calf as an idol and again when they complained about no meat to eat.
Another plague struck 10 of the 12 spies when they returned from investigating the promised land and gave a negative faithless report, discouraging the people from entering it. Joshua and Caleb, who reported the truth, were spared.
14,700 people died in a plague after grumbling against Moses, but God provided Aaron a way of intervening – and the plague ended.
24,000 died in a plague when the Israelites broke God’s commands about sexual purity.
In Moses’ farewell speech to the people he made it clear that terrible plagues would occur if the people turned to disobedience rather than obedience to God.
A plague struck the Philistines when they captured and held onto the Ark of the Covenant.
When Solomon had built the temple, his inaugural dedication prayer included the request that when humble repentant prayer was offered in the context of a plague, God would hear and mercifully deliver those whose hearts were contrite toward him.
The prophets spoke a lot about plagues. It seems that God cared so much about people’s spiritual and relational health that he was willing for some to suffer physically in order that they would turn away from their lifestyle of destructive moral gangrene.
It is interesting, in this context, that Jesus never reiterated such threats. He was realistic about extremely hard times ahead in which many would love themselves rather than their Creator, but never made a threat that God would use plagues as a way of bringing people to their senses.
It is not until the intense imagery in the book of Revelation that the New Testament uses the word plague. There we see dramatic plagues as a manifestation of God bringing sinful rebellion to conclusion. When the temple gets filled with the glory of God no-one is able to enter until the seven terrible plagues are completed.
A final warning in the last words of the Bible remind us to not mess around with God’s Holy Scriptures, as plague would be added to anyone who tried to add to his Word.
History is dotted with plagues. There have been devastating outbreaks of Cholera, Bubonic Plague, Influenza, Typhus fever, Smallpox and other terrible diseases. The Black Death in 1334 killed nearly 60% of the European population. Spanish Flu killed around 30 million people, more than WW1.
More recently we have had HIV, Mad Cow Disease, Avian and Swine Influenza, Ebola, SARS, MERS and now COVID-19.
What can we learn from how Christians have handled plagues over history? This question is answered well in Lyman Stone’s article “Christianity Has Been Handling Epidemics for 2000 Years” at https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/13/christianity-epidemics-2000-years-should-i-still-go-to-church-coronavirus/
Marshall Segal’s article “What Courage will Coronavirus Unleash?” is also useful at https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-courage-might-corona-unleash
In addition to John Piper’s Letter “Coronavirus and Christ – Behold the Kindness and Severity of God” there are a number of useful resources at https://www.desiringgod.org/coronavirus
A particularly helpful response is Mirjam Schilling, Joel and Nathan Gamble’s ” Fear not, sneer not: A healthy Christian response to COVID-19″ at https://www.abc.net.au/religion/coronavirus-a-healthy-christian-response-to-covid-19/12063556
Launceston-based GP Graham Poole has written a useful article at https://www.examiner.com.au/story/6708929/covid-19-fear-and-the-national-soul/
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