We can hardly turn on our TV, look at our phones, talk to a friend, or engage in any other forms of news or social media without someone talking about the pandemic caused by the coronavirus. I’m sure that you and I share concern for our neighbors, for our nation, and for the world community at large. Our hearts break to hear the stories of shortages within the health care systems and of lives being lost to this virus. I know that I am daily praying for the government leaders to have discernment, for the researchers to be given understanding, and for those present on the front lines to be granted grace. I’m confident that you are praying those same prayers. May God have mercy and give us Divine assistance during these difficult days.
By God’s design and by my training, I am a forever Bible student and teacher. Because of this ingrained disposition, I have been meditating upon God’s Word to consider what scripture has to say about a wide-spread pandemic. Pandemic is our currently-applied term. Scripture uses the word plague. Plagues are found throughout recorded biblical history including their causes and their cures. I decided to pen my thoughts. Hopefully, as I discuss God’s precepts, I can help us find a sound footing for our faith and our prayers as we ask God to deliver us from this plague.
Everything began in the condition of good. You remember the Genesis story. God made everything that was created and declared His creation to be “good.” The ground was good; the animals were good; man was good. All things remained in that state until Adam sinned. After man’s transgression, God returned to assess the situation and placed an evaluation upon the status that resulted because of man’s mishandling of that which was under his stewardship and man’s manipulation of the creation over which God had given him charge. Man changed the “good” condition, and God declared that the maltreatment caused things to be cursed. God, as judge, announced the resultant condition or the state of affairs. God’s announcement did not cause the curse. Man’s trespass caused the curse. Remember that Adam and Eve were naked. God did not strip them of their glory. Their actions negated their glory. Their flesh was already exposed. God evaluated and declared the results of man’s actions.God’s judgment enforced the sanctions that man’s actions merited.
From that first narrative, the scriptures proceed on the basic axiom that obeying God and working in the earth from the reality of God’s Word causes the earth to be “good” or blessed. Juxtaposed to that is the reality that Adam discovered: working in the earth from a reality contrary to God’s Word causes the earth to be damaged or cursed. This axiom is reinforced many places within the scriptures, including Proverbs 26:2, which states “the curse causeless shall not come.” That cause is man’s disregard of the operational manual, which is God’s Word. God created everything so God knows the nature, purpose, and design of all He made. God gave to man the information man would need to work with the created order without introducing disorder, abuse, and destruction. Probably one of the most well-known and often-quoted passages on the subject of blessing and cursing is found in Deuteronomy 28 where scripture makes clear that obedience to God’s word is distinctively connected to the releasing of “good” and blessings and that disobedience is specifically tied to discharging of the injurious and curses.
One of the curses outlined in the Deuteronomy 28:58-62 is the plague, describing a wide-spread disease or a contagious sickness that affects many people. The Hebrew word for plague is naga, which literally means to touch and can be translated smite, strike, or violently touch. The transmittable nature of a plague is communicated by the choice of the word naga. Several stories in scripture reveal how non-biblical actions were directly connected to the release of a plague.
One prominent story is found when Israel was crossing the dessert on her way to the Promised Land. Numbers 22-25 tell of a time when Balak, the king of Moab, hired a prophet named to Balaam to pronounce a curse upon Israel. This tale is famous for the talking donkey who tried to stop the prophet. Much to the anger of the king, the prophet was not able to curse. In Numbers 23:8, Balaam states, “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed?” Apart from actions done in contradiction to God’s Word, the “curse causeless shall not come.” Balaam’s word could not release the curse. Only Israel’s disobedience could.
When Balaam failed to merit the promised wage, he departed; but Israel pitched camp near the Moabites and “began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab” (25:1). Then “Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel” (25:3). A plague broke out among the people and 24,000 died of the plague. The curse of a plague was released thought the rebellious acts of the people. A priest named Phinehas, who was the son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the high priest, took action in behalf of the people to make atonement for the sins.
Earlier in Israel’s history, the people rebelled against Moses and Aaron. Numbers 16 tells that story. The murmurings released a plague that took the lives of 14,700. In this story, Aaron arose and took a censer and fire from the altar and released incense. Verse 47 states that Arron made an atonement for the people. In the Balaam story and in this story, the plague was stopped because someone fulfilled a priestly duty to make atonement. We can see a pattern emerge.
Another famous story is found in 2 Samuel 24 and is also recorded in 1 Chronicles 21. King David had disobeyed God’s Word. Again, a plague was released that resulted in the deaths of 10,000. The outbreak had spread from Dan to Beersheba and was at Jerusalem. Over the threshing floor of a man named Araunah, the Lord stopped the spread. King David was instructed by the prophet Gad to raise up an altar to the Lord at that spot. David bought the land from Araunah and bought the animals for the sacrifice. David made atonement. The land, which was on Mt. Moriah, became the site where Solomon later built his temple. Interestingly, the site was also the spot where Abraham was willing to offer his son in sacrifice. The altar of Abraham, the altar of David, and the altar of Solomon were altars of atonement.
The principle becomes apparent: atonement stops the spread of the plague. Remember Passover where the blood of the atoning lamb stayed the death angel. Recall when Moses lifted up the brazen serpent on the poll (Numbers 21) to stay the plague. Note that Jesus stated in John 3:14-15 that His destiny was to be the fulfillment of Moses’ actions. He was to be lifted up on a pole or on a cross to stay the plague of death, to atone for the sins of a people, to stand between life and death. The Apostle Paul confirms the effectiveness of Christ’s atoning work in Galatians 3:13, which states, “Christ redeemed us from the curse …”.
People sin. All people disobey God’s Word at one point or another. People groups sin. Nations disobey. Mishandling of the earth distorts it, destroys it, damages it. Application of other principles contrary to God’s “good” principles releases curses not blessings. Plagues testify that earth managers have failed in their assignment to release heaven’s reality into earthly labors. But there is an answer. When a man who will function in his priestly capacity is willing to activate the principle of atonement, the plague can be stayed. The ultimate priest is Christ, and the definitive atonement is the cross.
As New Testament believers, we are called to be a nation of priests (I Peter 2:9); and we have the authority to apply Christ’s atoning blood to stay the plague (Mt. 16:19). Therefore, we do acknowledge that our nation and all nations have sinned and released perversions and destructions into our earth. We recognize that sin releases the curse and results in death. We offer repentance as we identify with our land and the other inhabitants of our land. We proclaim that Christ’s atonement is sufficient to stay the plague. What Phinehas, Moses, and Aaron did in their day, we activate through Christ and His atoning sacrifice in our day. May the plague be turned back! May the hearts of men be turned to God! “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron.7:14). Amen and amen!
“Let’s use your car for the airport run; it has more trunk space,” my husband said. The idea seemed good.We climbed into the car, buckled up, backed out of the garage, and headed out of the neighborhood. Scarcely had we gone a block when my husband questioned, “How long has this light been on?”
“Light, what light?” I responded.
“This dashboard warning that says it’s time to change the oil,” he replied.
“Why, I have no idea,” I spoke naively, “perhaps the warning light has just now showed up!”
Now I must pause here to inject that we both have cars. I drive my car. He drives his car. Therefore, unless I inform him that there is a thump-thump or a funny-sounding whine, he assumes that all is well in Patti’s-car-world. Actually, I have never verbally assured him that he could place such confidence in my perceptiveness. Probably he made an assumption. I suppose he considered that my age and the number of years that I have been driving had qualified me to be able to read automobile warning lights. Guess Not!
Anyway – back to the story…“perhaps the warning light has just now showed up,” I replied. He leaned forward and looked at the sticker on the front windshield – you know – the one that recounts the mileage at the last oil change.
“Patti, the car is over 1,000 miles past due,” he stated with a slight edgy tone of his voice. “So,” I said sheepishly, “you’re telling me that there is a good chance that I have been ignoring the light for a long time now?”
Warning Lights! They certainly can’t help me when I pay no attention to them. Caution Signs! Their wisdom is useless unless it is heeded. Alert notifications! The advice they herald is wasted if it is ignored. This little car incident caused me to realize that I am usually ambivalent to warning signs that are all around me in my regular life routines. I never read the label on merchandise that I use all the time. I don’t scrutinize the recommendations or inspect the ingredients of a product that is a household regular. Familiar makes me less attentive to the warning signs in life.
As important as the package labels and dashboard lights are, other warnings in life are just as predominant and are just as easily ignored. Anger, jealousy, greed, lust, and hatred all serve as cautionary signals. They indicate that something requires attention. They designate that prudence is mandated. They specify that care is needed. However, if allowed to remain unattended too long, these beacons of warning blend into the ordinary routine and lose their ability to grab my attention.
While custody of the car is imperative, guardianship of my soul ranks paramount. When irritation turns into hatred or anger, there is a good chance that I have been ignoring the light for a long time. When an unchecked or unmet longing gives birth to greed or jealousy, I can’t feign innocence by declaring that the warning light has just showed up. There is more danger in me dulling the voice of my conscience than turning a blind eye to a dashboard.
The Apostle Paul warns me to not let the sun go down while I am still angry (Ephesians 4:26). In other words, take the soul in for an oil change before I park it for the evening. Take out the contaminated oil and replace it with forgiveness, mercy, and love. How will I know when the exchange is complete? All I need to do is pay attention to the warning signs.
There I was in Lansing, Michigan sitting at breakfast with three ladies who were registered at the same convention as I. Conversation began slowly. “Hello, my name is Patti; what is yours?” I asked, attempting to break the awkward silence and begin some form of connecting. After we made the rounds with names and cities from which we came, the dialogue began to flow more freely. One lady told of their family’s imminent move to a new city due to a job change. Immediately following, the lady just to my right made a comment about her pet iguana, which caught the attention of all at the table and which subsequently occupied the remainder of our breakfast-time fellowship.
Nine years ago, this woman’s daughter had returned home from a trip to the mall with a six-inch lizard. Well, who could resist the smiling face of their little girl enamored by a small, non-aggressive new pet? (Actually, I think I could have resisted if it meant living with a reptile!) This mother, however, succumbed to her daughter’s charm. Nine years later, the family found themselves co-inhabiting a home in northern Michigan with a five-foot iguana whose native habitat is, by the way, the hot tropical climate of South America. What an unlikely connection!
I sat fascinated as I listened to the attachment this woman had formed with the family pet. She told us of the lizard’s diet and habits. Her eyes twinkled as she explained how the pet licked chocolate from her finger. (Think about that – a chocoholic iguana!) The family bird regularly chirped taunts at it; the 12-year-old cat barely tolerated it; the dog tried to herd it; but the lizard was the dominate household pet.
Captivating me more than her tales was her obvious affection for the iguana. I found myself musing over what could cause anyone other than a paleontologist, zoologist, veterinarian, or some little girl’s younger brother to be infatuated with an animal of this kind. The question actually occupied my thoughts throughout the entire weekend (which is not a commentary on the quality of the conference since I was the main speaker). I tried to insert myself into the picture and imagine the whole experience up close and personal. That really didn’t work. I tried to delete the whole conversation from my thoughts as just non-essential details. That didn’t work either. Finally, I did the thing that I usually come back to, I thought on the scriptures.
The Bible tells us that God created man and then gave man rule over all the rest of His creation. The land, the seas, and even the animals were given for us to tend and to enjoy. Conservationists acknowledge man’s responsibility to care for the earth; sportsman love to challenge and conquer every element of nature; and scientists search to uncover every secret woven into the design of creation. We belong here and we have a God-connection with nature. And, at that, creation is so vast and diverse that individual tastes, particular preferences, and even personal quirks can all be catered to as we each select the areas that delight or interest us.
One man thrills at a sunset while another scales the steep slopes of the mountain. Someone may pick a dog for a pet while someone else prefers a cat. However varied our interests, we hold this in common – we are drawn to nature in all its various forms, genus, or species. Everything in creation is God’s gift to us – even the iguana.
This long, cold winter has produced some interesting obstacles to my travel schedule. One of those challenges occurred on a recent trip to Roseburg, Oregon. My flight itinerary routed me from St. Louis through Phoenix to Eugene. The first leg would take three hours; the layover was to be an hour; the second leg would again last three hours; and the final car ride from Eugene to Roseburg would require an hour and a half. Total travel time from leaving my home and arriving at my final destination added up to eleven hours, which –by the way – is more time than a non-stop flight to Europe! However, every time I book one of those travel-twice-as-far-for-half-the-money tickets, I remind myself that flying is far superior to a car, bus, or other slower modes of transportation.
I boarded the plane with reading materials in hand; I was mentally prepared for the long travel day – or so I thought! The boarding procedure began on time. With only half the passengers loaded on the fully-booked flight, the attendants announced that all the overhead compartments were full and that all passengers’ carry-on luggage must either fit under the seat or be checked. That created a heightened state of confusion and delay. Forty minutes after the scheduled departure time, flight attendants were still carrying luggage off the plane and people were still trying to settle into assigned seats.
Late departure meant late arrival. Before we landed in Phoenix, many passengers became aware that making connections to their next plane would be questionable. Those going to Eugene had about ten minutes. The race was on! One man in our newly formed pack of six-travelers-desperate-to-make-the-Eugene-flight hailed a motor-driven cart. We hopped on, and the driver radioed ahead to the gate for the flight to wait for us. From the far end of concourse B to the other end of concourse C we sped only to be greeted by the words, “You missed your flight.”
The plane had just pulled away from the gate – three minutes ahead of schedule! After a short time of everyone talking at once, we were directed to the service counter where we would be re-routed and re-booked. Tempers began to flare. One man threw his coat and briefcase to the floor. One woman cried and said that she had not seen her children for a week. The stories and troubles were diverse; attitudes were negative; accusations and complaints were flying. And there, across the counter from all the disgruntled customers, was a ticket agent. She smiled, apologized, sympathized, smiled more, and tried to offer solutions.
As I had not yet had my turn to be waited on, I was observing the interactions between the frustrated customers and the accommodating airline representative. She did not return self-defense for accusation. She did not combat anger with anger. She did not retaliate in any way. Instead, she responded to each disturbed customer with a soft answer. My mind reflected upon the proverb that states a gentle answer turns away wrath but harsh words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1). She may have been just responding out of her customer service training, but she was a living Bible lesson to me.
I wondered how often I had successfully turned away wrath when someone near me had heard the words, “You have missed your flight” (metaphorically speaking). In the midst of someone’s missed opportunities, blocked goals, unavoidable obstacles, or frustrating moments, had I smiled and offered customer service? As I stood in line, I whispered a little prayer of repentance for any of my past retaliatory harsh words. I prayed for the agent, for my fellow travelers, and for my own responses. I asked God for the grace to return a gentle answer.
Within seconds, I had an opportunity to practice my prayer. I would be placed into a hotel for the night without my luggage, clothes, cosmetics, or toiletries – which had miraculously caught the flight to Eugene. I would fly out the next morning and arrive at my destination twenty-six hours from the time I left home. I smiled and offered a gentle ‘thank you’ to the service agent. I walked away with a memory and a life lesson that may be helpful in ordering my responses the next time I am face to face with someone who has had a “You have missed your flight” moment in life.