I love Passover. It is my favorite Jewish holiday and by far the most delicious. The array of traditional Passover dishes is magnificent. I wish you could have tasted my grandmother’s chicken and matzah ball soup—not to mention her homemade gefilte (stuffed) fish. (By the way, do not ever ask a Jewish person what parts of the fish they used! That would be a big mistake.)
As a Messianic Jew, I have found Passover more meaningful now than I did before coming to know the Lord. As you know, the Lord’s Supper—one of our most cherished spiritual ceremonies—grew out of the Passover Seder. You can find all the intricate details by going to our website and reading further or buying one of our Passover books listed on the back of this newsletter. Each book includes a Messianic Passover Haggadah (Passover guide) with Jesus at the center of the service—and some wonderful recipes.
If you want to observe the Passover as fulfilled in Jesus, the Lamb of God, you can this year! Passover lasts an entire week. Though we usually celebrate the Seder on the first two nights, any night during that week will do. I know it would be a wonderful experience for you, your children, Sunday school class, or small group.
It will also further prepare your hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Day, especially since the first night of Passover and Good Friday coincide this year!
Each year at this time, I try to address a Passover-related topic in detail. This year, it will not surprise you that I would like to help us better understand the role that plagues play in the plan of God, especially during Passover.
THE TEN PASSOVER PLAGUES
The recitation of the ten plagues is a central part of the Passover Seder and one of the most memorable moments during the Seder for Jewish children. Traditionally, we dip our little finger or a spoon into a glass of red wine and put the drop of liquid onto our plates while loudly reciting the name of each plague. We call out the plagues in English and Hebrew: blood (dam), frogs (ts’fardei’a), vermin (kinim), flies (arov), pestilence (dever), boils, (sh’chin), hail (barad), locusts (arbe), darkness (choshech), and death of the firstborn (makat bechorot).
The recitation of the plagues is not an isolated moment in the Seder. It is part of the overall recounting of the story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. There are two reasons why we drop the wine on our plates. One reason is that it more dramatically portrays the plagues as judgments falling upon the Egyptian slavemasters. The other is because Jewish tradition tells us to reduce our joy (symbolized by the sweet wine) by one drop for each plague that fell upon the Egyptians.
The lesson here is clear: even though the Egyptians enslaved us, we recognize they are fellow human beings and God’s creation. Therefore, our rabbis teach us we should not rejoice in their judgment but rather remember God’s love for all peoples and nations.
We will now look briefly at the three primary purposes for the plagues. First, God uses plagues to bring judgment upon the ungodly. Through the plagues, He also reveals His power and character. Lastly, they fulfill prophetic events.
The great German theologians and early twentieth-century biblical scholars Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch coined the term “penal miracles” in their well-read commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, there were plagues, or miracles, that also served as judgments and punishments upon the disobedient.
Each plague brought judgment upon the Egyptians, who were otherwise unwilling to allow the Jewish people to leave Egypt and worship the one true God. This chastisement is an excellent reminder that God is loving but also righteous and holy and takes offense at human sin. At times, He brings about temporal judgment upon humanity. He did so with the flood, the plagues, and even the captivity of the Jewish people by pagan nations.
Jewish people understand that God brought the plagues upon the Egyptians as divine judgments designed to move both the Egyptians and Jewish people into action. Biblical plagues are purposeful. While they bring terrible consequences upon the disobedient and rebellious, God often mysteriously uses them for purposes beyond punishment.
Take note of Uzziah, Naaman, and even Miriam, Moses’ sister. God struck each of them with leprosy to accomplish His divine purposes. Like the healing of the blind man in John chapter nine, plagues fell upon individuals for the glory of God and the good of mankind. “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).
God used the plagues to judge the Egyptians and reveal His power, holiness, and presence in human history. Still, God’s will and works are always for repentance and a turning away from sin to the one true God.
Exodus 7:1–7 shows Moses speaking of plagues as signs and wonders. Throughout the Scriptures, signs and wonders usually describe the miraculous, but in Exodus 7, the words are interchangeable with the word for judgment:
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.” So Moses and Aaron did it; as the Lord commanded them, thus they did. Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh. (Exod 7:1–7, emphasis added)
FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECY
God sometimes uses plagues to fulfill prophecy, as when He promised to deliver the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and return them to their land of promise. “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” (Exodus 7:5, emphasis added).
Ezekiel 36:23 parallels Exodus 7:5 and refers to another 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’” (Ezek 36:23).
Both passages show that one of God’s great purposes in bringing the Jewish people out of captivity and back to the land of promise was for them to be a sign to the nations testifying that the God of Israel is true and all-powerful. In effect, the Jewish people’s deliverance through the ten plagues and their return to the land of Israel reveals the prophetic fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant found in Genesis 12:1–3. Moses predicted this result in chapter six of the book of Exodus:
Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.” (Exodus 6:6–8)
We must view the exodus, including the plagues, as one means by which God fulfilled His promises to Israel and, as we later see in the book of Revelation, His future judgment upon mankind.
WHERE DOES THE PANDEMIC FIT IN GOD’S PLAN?
It would be appropriate at this moment to compare COVID-19 to the plagues and try to understand where this pandemic might fit in with the purposes of God. I am not suggesting that God directly imposed COVID-19. There have been many terrible plagues throughout history that have devastated humanity. Although the coronavirus was exceptionally destructive, we have no reason to believe that the spread of this virus is the result of God’s direct judgment.
We must tether our understanding of the divine purpose of plagues, world wars, and the greatest tragedies of human history to Scripture. But, of course, the Bible does not speak about the coronavirus, the Black Plague, or the Spanish Flu. Therefore, the adage, “Where the Bible is silent, so am I,” is appropriate here. We must avoid conjecture and not speak for God before He has spoken to us.
On the other hand, we cannot deny that God used plagues as judgments and will do so again in the future. COVID-19 has awakened us to the possibility that plagues, along with other signs, will take place in the end times before the second coming of the Messiah. This view of plagues is also traditional Jewish teaching. Bible-believing Christians, Messianic Jews, and religious Jewish people would agree that “pestilence” or plagues are signs of the coming of the Messiah and will take place in the “last days.” The Messiah Himself declared this to be true during the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:10–11): “Then He 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.’”
Hopefully, one day, we will look back and see the good our heavenly Father accomplished through this global trial. We pray that somehow blessings will come for all through this time of pain and suffering (Romans 8:28). We also pray that we will remember in the light the lessons we learned in the darkness. Perhaps these lessons will even prepare us in some way for the future.
Let us pray the Lord will use the experiences and losses of the last few years to shape our character, reorder our priorities, and draw us closer to Him. May the pandemic remind us all that the Lord is coming soon and that we need to prepare. And what better way to get ready for His return than to continue doing what He told us to do by committing ourselves to evangelism, discipleship, and training a new generation of disciples until He returns! (Matthew 28:19–20).
Stay faithful, vigilant, and filled with His Spirit. The Lord is coming soon—Maranatha!