Shalom and greetings in the Messiah.
I pray this newsletter finds you hopeful in the Lord. Although the coronavirus still plagues us, we patiently await God’s help and healing.
In the darkness, the Light of the World continues to shine brightly. As David wrote in Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” I cannot imagine a more comforting word in the entire Bible for these days.
I hope you have sensed the Lord’s presence with you even amid profound difficulties and loss. I have been reading the Sermon on the Mount in my quiet time, and the second beatitude has impacted me significantly, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). If you are mourning, may the Lord comfort you.
Passover Is Around the Corner
We will be observing Passover at the end of this month. Since plagues will be on the minds of Jewish people and Christians who study the Hebrew Scriptures, I thought I would share some thoughts about the ten plagues.
There are many sparkling gems of truth to be found in studying the plagues. Even the Hebrew terms for the various plagues are meaningful. Although the actual Hebrew word for “plague” is only found once in the book of Exodus, the variety of terms used helps us understand their nature.
A Brief Summary of the Terms for Plagues and their Meaning
The plagues narrative begins in Exodus 7:1–5. There are five different references to the coming plagues in this passage.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.”
The Bible refers to the miraculous and revelatory nature of the plagues along with their punitive purposes. Through the plagues, God revealed both His power and character to the Egyptians and the Hebrews.
Some of the terms, such as “signs” and “wonders,” are almost always associated in the Hebrew Bible with the release of God’s power designed to turn unbelievers toward Him in repentance and faith. Similarly, God used the plagues to reveal His holiness, justice, and love, especially toward His chosen people. Have you ever thought of the plagues themselves as evangelistic in nature?
Ezekiel 36, a prophecy we see partially fulfilled today as the Jewish people are back in the Land in unbelief, parallels Exodus 7:5. Moses predicts a future day of deliverance and restoration for Israel and the Jewish people: “‘I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land’” (Ezekiel 36:23–24).
Both passages make it clear that one of God’s purposes in bringing the Jewish people out of captivity to the Promised Land was to be a miraculous sign of God’s faithfulness. The regathering of the Jewish people to the Holy Land is an obvious miracle that should help the Gentile nations see what God has done and turn in faith to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The Ten Big Ones!
The recitation of the ten plagues is an integral part of the Passover Seder and one of the most memorable moments of the meal. As a child, I always looked forward to reciting the plagues. Traditionally, Jewish people dip their pinky finger into a glass of sweet red wine and place a drop of it onto their plates as they shout the name of each of the ten plagues.
The recalling of the plagues is a way to remember the story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. One traditional reason for why we drop the wine on our plates is that the drops represent the reduction of our joy, symbolized by the sweet wine—one drop for each plague that fell upon the Egyptians. Therefore, we do not rejoice in the judgment of the Egyptians, as Jewish tradition teaches mercy, but rather we should reduce our joy because of their suffering.
This unique part of the Seder reminds the Jewish people that God brought plagues upon others in mysterious harmony with His will. He used plagues to move both the Egyptians and Jewish people to action. Biblical plagues are purposeful, and, while causing terrible suffering, they are used by God for His divine purposes.
There are many biblical examples of plagues besides the ten in Exodus. God heaped affliction upon Job, the prophets, and many others. Sometimes, God caused the plagues, and other times He allowed them to happen for His divine purposes. For example, Naaman and Miriam (Moses’ sister) were both plagued with leprosy for God’s holy purposes and His glory.
Plagues, however, are not always punitive. “Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3). Like the healing of the blind man in John chapter nine, plagues and disease afford God opportunities to reveal His glory, goodness, and redemptive power.
COVID-19 and the Ten Plagues
Now, let us explore some ways we might better understand the role of the current COVID-19 pandemic in the plan of God. I am not suggesting that this virus was imposed directly by God as were the plagues in Exodus. Pharaoh hardened his heart, and God brought the ten plagues upon the Egyptians because of their leader’s misconduct. However, there is no reason to believe that the spread of the coronavirus is a divine punishment. The Bible never mentions the coronavirus, the Black Plague, or the Spanish Flu. Therefore, I believe the adage, “Where the Bible is silent, so am I.”
On the other hand, we cannot deny that God used plagues in biblical history as judgments and promises to do so in the future. Most believers would agree that plagues are signs of Jesus’ Second Coming. Luke wrote, “Then [Jesus] continued by saying to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven’” (Luke 21:10–11).
COVID-19 awakens us to the real possibility that plagues, along with other signs, will be part of a future season of endtime judgment before Jesus’ return. Plagues upon humanity are also part of the traditional Jewish view of the end times. This shared belief has caused some openness to Jesus on the part of ultra-religious Jewish people around the globe.
We can only hope and pray that our broken and sinful world might look beyond the suffering of today to see and believe that God longs to redeem us from the plagues of life. He is gracious and keeps His promises but is also serious about the judgment to come. While we need to proclaim the good news, we should not forget that there is also bad news for those who do not turn to the Messiah. Many Jewish people recognize this reality today, and we have, by His grace, seen quite a few Jewish people turn to Jesus during the pandemic.
Hopefully, we will look back one day and see more clearly the greater good our heavenly Father accomplished through this epidemiological trial. We pray that blessings will come for everyone throughout this time of pain and suffering (Romans 8:28) and that we will remember lessons learned in darkness when we return to the light.
I pray that the Lord will use this experience to shape our character, reorder our priorities, and draw us closer to Him.
Thank you for your love and prayers. I know you will enjoy reading about all the good the Lord has done in our midst during this difficult time. His miracles shine even brighter in dark times!
Blessings and Happy Passover,