Pandemic, Plague and Promise

A pandemic like COVID-19 should cause us to step back and consider our lives, our loved ones, and our futures–as they relate to God and His message to us in the Holy Scriptures. While God is not the author of evil, He does design or allow everything for a purpose. This article aims to consider (in brief) a few of the many things that God would like us to learn from a situation like this, as well as verses we can turn to for instruction and hope.

Israel’s Plague

During a situation like this, I am reminded of 1 Chronicles 21 and the plague that killed 70,000 people of Israel in just three days. In verse 1, we are told that Satan provoked David to count the number of men in Israel’s army/reserves. That is to say, God allowed Satan to prey on David’s tendency for pride. It would seem that David wanted to take the census out of pride to see how many people were “under” him, and to determine how strong (in human terms) their nation was. Though we are not told explicitly, I would suggest that David’s attitude of pride and self-reliance was representative of Israel’s attitude as a nation. What we are told is that the LORD’s anger burned against Israel, which resulted in Him allowing Satan to tempt David to sin (2 Samuel 24:1). Thus, the results of David’s sin were felt throughout the whole nation.

What were the results of that sin of pride? God gave David three choices–three options for discipline. David responded, “I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the LORD for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.” Thus, the destroying angel of God was sent to bring a plague upon Israel in response to their sin.

How was the plague stopped? God commanded David to offer a sacrifice, and when David offered the sacrifice, the LORD commanded the destroying angel to sheath his sword (verse 26-27). The Scriptures make a point of saying that this sacrifice was costly to David. He would not offer to God a “sacrifice” that cost him nothing.

Lessons to Ponder

God has given us Old Testament examples so that we can learn from them (Romans 15:4). What can we learn from this event in David’s life?

  1. God is working behind the scenes, and He is in control. Though we do not always understand the reason behind current circumstances, we can be assured that God has allowed it for a reason, and that He is in control.
  2. We are dependent upon God. Pride says I can do it myself. It displaces God. Humility and faith recognize that every living thing is created and sustained by our Almighty God. The glory belongs to Him. Without God and Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).
  3. God is not the author of evil. Satan was the one who provoked David to sin, not God. James 1:13-14 (NASB) tells us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
  4. God is merciful. God administered the discipline, and though severe, it was administered with mercy and compassion (1 Chron. 21:15). The severity of the discipline was meant to teach us how very awful our sin and pride appears before a holy God. While God’s discipline seems sometimes to be harsh, He always disciplines in love, with a purpose for our good and to teach us something we need to know. Hebrews 12:5-6 (ESV) says, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” It is sometimes necessary for God to go to extreme measures in order to get our attention. In His mercy He speaks to us and is interested in us.
  5. The way in which we respond to God’s discipline is important. David responded with repentance, acknowledging the seriousness of his sin, willingly accepting its consequences even if it meant his own death, praying for those under his care and leadership, and obeying God’s command to offer a sacrifice.
  6. Sin has consequences. God cannot overlook our sin. Sin breaks our fellowship with God and goes against His holy character.
  7. God’s answer for sin and its consequence is a sacrifice. David offered an animal sacrifice, because Christ had not yet come to be our final and sufficient once-for-all sacrifice. But God’s remedy for the consequences of sin has always been through sacrifice, made effectual to us through repentance and faith. Hebrews 9:27-28 (NKJV) says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” Christ, at tremendous cost, “by Himself” has already made purification for our sins, fully satisfying God’s requirements for their removal, without any input from mankind (Hebrews 1:3). What God requires of us is our acknowledgement that we are wrong and then the placing of our faith in what the Lord Jesus, His divine Son, has done for us. How wonderful it is that we have a righteous God who is also a merciful and loving God, who desires fellowship with us and also makes that fellowship possible through personal sacrifice!

One word of clarification

While we are told that God was angry with Israel, we are not told that all of those affected were affected as a direct result of their own sin. While we do know that sickness and sorrow in life are a result of the curse that came through Adam’s sin, just because I become sick or something “bad” happens to me does not necessarily mean that it is directly due to my personal sin. Nor can I point to an event in the life of someone else and say it is because of something they have done wrong. Sometimes we are called upon to suffer for the cause of Christ. Sometimes the way we respond to trials can be God’s way of sending a message of hope and assurance to others. God’s ways are “past finding out” and we must trust His character of love and grace, regardless of the circumstance or trial.

Scriptures of Promise and Hope

  • Nahum 1:7 (NKJV) “The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.”
  • Isaiah 55:6-7 (NLT) “Seek the LORD while you can find Him. Call on Him now while He is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that He may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for He will forgive generously.”
  • Psalm 9:7-12, 17, 20 (NKJV) “But the LORD shall endure forever; He has prepared His throne for judgment. He shall judge the world in righteousness, And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness. The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You. Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people. When He avenges blood, He remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the humble…. The wicked shall be turned into hell, And all the nations that forget God…. Put them in fear, O LORD, That the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah”
  • Psalm 118:8 (NKJV) “It is better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in man.”
  • John 11:25-26 (NKJV) “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV) “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
  • Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  • 1 John 4:7-10 (NKJV) “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves [e.g. persistently loves, with a love like God’s for God and His people, v20-21] is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested [demonstrated] toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Closing Thoughts

Consider my life

  • Is there anything in my life that needs to be confessed as sin and forsaken?
  • Am I living my life wastefully for this moment, or prayerfully for the life hereafter?
  • Am I depending on God, or myself? Is Jesus my Lord and is God my Trust every day, or just in “emergencies”?
  • The Lord Jesus told us that we can (and should) go directly to God the Father, in His name, with our needs (John 16:23-24). The Father loves to bless those who trust in His Son. (See also Hebrews 10:19-22.)

Consider my neighbor

  • Do I care more about others than myself?
  • Am I willing to sacrifice for the good of others, as Jesus did?

Consider my future

  • Am I right with God? Do I have a loving relationship with God as my heavenly Father? Are my sins forgiven? If they are, Jesus says, “Do not let your heart be troubled” (John 14:1).

 

God has not forgotten us. He knows, and He cares. May we not forget Him.

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