FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 19, number 51, December 17, 2020
“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and . . .” –2 Chronicles 7:12,13
As of December 14, the CDC reports 298,266 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States. Why is this happening? We can certainly blame the Chinese Communists for wittingly or unwittingly releasing it upon the world. There is, however, a more vital and basic reason for the pandemic. Consider this word from God Almighty, “The Lord will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from the land,” (Deuteronomy 28:21).
The coronavirus, or what we have been calling COVID-19, quickly moved last February from being an epidemic (two Greek words epi, meaning upon and demos, meaning people, literally upon the people) to a pandemic (pan is the Greek word meaning all, all the people). Rarely has one event captured the attention of the entire world, but this one certainly has. So, is COVID-19 a judgment from Almighty God?
Of course to answer that question we must look to the Scriptures. As Israel was soon to enter the Promised Land, after their wanderings in the wilderness for forty years due to their disobedience and unbelief, Moses gathered God’s covenant people together and gave them a wonderful promise in Deuteronomy 28:1-14. He declared that if they were diligent to obey the commandments of God then He would bestow blessing after blessing on them. They would be blessed in the city and they would be blessed in the country. They would supremely prosper. John Currid points out that the Hebrew structure of these blessings and curses follow the Near-Eastern Suzerainty/Vassal treaty formula. That is, it was common in that day for the conquering king (the Suzerain) to enter a treaty with those whom he was subjugating to himself (the Vassals). The Suzerain began by proclaiming who he was and what he had done, and from there promised certain blessings if the Vassals submitted to him. He then promised certain curses or judgments if they refused to submit to him.
Moses then gave Yahweh’s people a severe word of warning, listing one sordid detail after another, verses 15-68, of what they could expect if they failed to obey all the commandments and ordinances which He gave them. They would be cursed in the city and they would be cursed in the country. In verse 20 he said that Yahweh would send upon them curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all they undertook to do, until they were destroyed and until they perished quickly because of their evil deeds, because they had forsaken Him. Then Moses said that Yahweh would make the pestilence cling to them until they were consumed from the land. Our word “pestilence” comes from the Latin word pestilentia or pestis which means plague. The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 28:21 is deber which means pestilence, plague, or murrain. I counted forty-seven uses of deber in the Old Testament. Seventeen of them are found in Jeremiah’s prophecy and ten are found in the prophecy of Ezekiel.As only one example, Jeremiah is preaching to King Zedekiah, saying that the Chaldeans who have besieged the city of Jerusalem, will be gathered by Yahweh, and that He Himself, not merely the Chaldeans, will war against them with an outstretched hand and will strike them down and they will die of a great pestilence.
Without question pestilence in the Bible (the death of many people at one time through disease) is portrayed as a judgment of God on rebellious, idolatrous, recalcitrant, and unrepentant people. Does this mean that COVID-19 is a judgment sent from God? We can certainly say that disease and death are a result of the fall into sin (Gen, 3:17-19, Rom. 5:12-14). We can also say that due to idolatry, clearly stated in Romans 1:19-32, the wrath of God is constantly being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (v.18). In other words, every death, every disease, every catastrophe is a judgment of God on the general unbelief and ungodliness of every nation in the world. This is not to say, however, that when something “bad” happens to someone that he is necessarily guilty of some specific sin and that God is bringing retribution upon that specific individual. In Luke 13 a few people were bringing to Jesus the story of some unfortunate Galileans who were killed by Pilate who, in turn, had their blood mingled in his sacrifices to his false gods. Jesus raised the question if they thought these Galileans were more wicked that other Galileans who did not suffer that way. He says, “No.” But then Jesus brought it practically home to those questioning Him and this is instructive for us as well, “. . . unless you repent you will likewise perish.” In other words, every time we see a tragedy, which ultimately God ordains (Is.45:6,7, Amos 3:6), we should realize that it is a “wakeup call” to everyone who sees it or reads about it.
COVID-19 is no different. COVID-19 is a pestilence and according to the teaching of the Old Testament it clearly is a judgment from God upon a wicked people. In this case, the whole world qualifies as wicked.
But consider this. By 1979 Uganda, the country Winston Churchill called the “Pearl of Africa” because of its beauty and natural resources (temperate climate, rich soil, two growing seasons), was in complete disarray. A wicked ruler, Idi Amin, had come to power in February, 1971 and ran the country into devastation and starvation, as well as murdering at least 500,000 of the 10.7 million people in the country. Amin was run from power in 1979 and Milton Obote took his place and murdered another 500,000 people. In other words one in ten were murdered by Amin or Obote. On top of that, many international health workers believe the AIDS epidemic started in Uganda in the early 1980’s and in one year alone, 1997, 160,000 people in that nation died from AIDS. Yet a renewal of the East African revival, which began in the 1940’s, has recently come to this beautiful country where I have traveled and preached well over thirty times since 1988. Today, peace has returned to Uganda. Massive oil reserves have been discovered, AIDS has all but been eradicated, there is a growing middle class, many in Parliament are believers and Christian pastors and politicians recently held a rally of over 20,000 people, praying all night, promising to keep covenant with God, that He may continue to renew their country. They even play baseball there now and a few years ago their Little League team made it to Williamsport for the Little League World Series!
Why has Uganda prospered, even in the midst of untold suffering? What can we learn from this East African country? Many of the people of Uganda knew they were destitute. They were desperate. They came to understand that their people were consumed by darkness and the devil. They humbled themselves and began to pray and God eventually brought revival. There is no other explanation. There is peace, purity of life, restoration of families, prosperity, and transformation of government from corruption to principled leadership.
What is the solution to the manifestation of God’s wrath upon our nation through COVID-19? It is not a Coronavirus vaccine. It not “social distancing” and masks. It is not quarantining the healthy. These are all like putting a bandaid on a massive abdominal wound from a shotgun blast. What is the first, necessary ingredient which will move us to seek God for a mighty revival, as He is doing in Uganda?
Please note the often overlooked context of God’s amazing promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14. Solomon has just completed the construction of the temple in Jerusalem. After the dedication of the temple, after the prayers of thanksgiving were offered to Yahweh, the glory of the Lord (the Shekinah glory) fell on God’s covenant people and they humbled themselves, bowing down to the ground, and praising Him saying, “Truly He is good, truly His lovingkindness is everlasting,” (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). Sacrifices were then offered on the altar and the magnificent feast of dedication was offered to the Lord. After all of this, Yahweh then appeared to Solomon and said to him, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.”
However, Yahweh then said that the lack of rain would be a sign of judgment to them, as would the visitation of the locust, as would the devastation of pestilence which would kill many people. Yahweh was making clear to Solomon that so called natural calamities were not happenstance. COVID-19 is not bad luck. It is not just “one of those things.” Yahweh declares that He is the one who brings devastation and calamity. He says the same thing in Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6, and Daniel 9:12-14.
Revival, my friends, the healing of our land, the forgiveness of our sins, the promise of the return of the glory of the Lord upon a family, community, or nation must begin by looking at the so-called natural disasters, and the crime, wickedness, injustice, and corruption which visit nations. The wrath of God is being poured out against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18).
When calamity strikes you, when it strikes our nation, whether it be a massive hurricane, economic ruin, or a COVID-19 pandemic which kills hundreds of thousands of people, the first place we must look is not chance, not the devil, but God. He brings calamity. Why? So that He may gain our attention and move us to seek Him earnestly in revival prayer. Judgment begins with the household of God. The covenant people of God must repent.
Before we ever get to the place of genuine, revival prayer we need to see the source of our calamity. “I am the Lord and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well being and creating calamity. I am the Lord who does all these,” (Isaiah 45:7). “If a trumpet is blown in the city, will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?” (Amos 3:6).
1 <covid.cdc.gov> December 14, 2020
2 A Study Commentary on Deuteronomy, John Currid, Evangelical Press, page 421
3 Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, page 29, appendix