Two days ago, the CNN reported: “As the coronavirus outbreak continues spreading across Asia and the rest of the world, grief and anger are cutting through the noise, after the death of Chinese whistleblower-doctor Li Wenliang.” In Singapore, as of Friday (7th February 2020), about 33 people have been reported as having contracted this deadly virus. Channel News Asia reported on Friday, “Coronavirus outbreak: Singapore raises DORSCON level to orange; schools to suspend inter-school, external activities.” The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared the virus outbreak a global emergency.
As the fear of pestilence grips the people of our city-nation, we must be prepared to face whatever come our way. Yes, we must observe good hygiene practices as a precautionary measure. But even more importantly, let us also be spiritually ready as we face this time of emergency.
Pestilence in the Bible
What does the Bible say about “pestilence” or “plague”? The Hebrew and Greek words for “pestilences” (Heb. deḇer and Gk loimós) in the Bible refer to contagious epidemic disease. Pestilence is often associated with other calamities (e.g. Exod. 9:3–15; Leviticus 26:25; Habakkuk 3:5; Luke 21:11). It is recorded as a judgment or punishment sent by God, rather than a naturally occurring phenomenon.
In the Bible, pestilence (Heb. deḇer, māweṯ; Gk. thánatos) usually refers to divine intervention in human history in the form of human sickness to punish the rebellious conduct of people. God had pronounced that pestilence will be brought upon Israel for her neglect of her covenant obligations to God. In the case of His covenant people Israel, it served as a scourge to bring about repentance and obedient behaviour.
- Leviticus 26:25 – “And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.”
- Deuteronomy 28:21 – “The LORD shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land, whither thou goest to possess it.”
The Lord destroyed 70,000 Israelites after David’s census, which was out of prideful confidence in the number of their people (2 Samuel 24:13–15).
Certain prophets of Israel, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who proclaimed divine sentence on the rebellious Jews, almost always predicted pestilence as part of a list of scourges that would befall them: “the sword, the famine, and the pestilence” (Jeremiah 24:10, cf. 14:12, 27:8, etc.). The enemies of Israel could also be the objects of this form of judgment (Psalm 78:50; Ezekiel 28:23; 38:22).
As for ancient Israel, when pestilence was sent as a punishment for sin, it was not applied indiscriminately upon all. The one who remains faithful was promised divine protection from its effects.
- Psalm 91:1-3 – “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.”
Jesus mentioned “pestilences” as part of the signs of His coming. They will, according to the Book of Revelation, reach unprecedented proportions, causing great pain and distress upon the earth during the seven-year Tribulation prior to Jesus’ return to this earth.
- Matthew 24:7 – “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.”
- Luke 21:11 – “And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.”
In recent history, Singapore had encountered pandemics, such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, swine flu (H1N1) in 2009. According to the National Library Board’s Infopedia, an estimated 415,000 people were infected with H1N1 influenza in Singapore, and there were at least 18 fatalities. Now, we are facing another crisis.
How shall we prepare ourselves to face such an outbreak of diseases in our present times?
Firstly, let us pray for God’s mercy to protect us and heal those who are infected by this disease. Let us remember in our prayers doctors, nurses and all medical professionals who work hard to attend to the sick and also to prevent the spreading of the disease. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Let us act responsibly by taking all necessary precautions to avoid being infected and also to prevent the spreading of the disease. Please pay attention to put into practice the advice given by the government’s medical authorities as precautionary steps.
If any among us become afflicted, let us be comforted that the Lord is with all those who trust Him. Even in death, the Lord is with His people. So we can assuredly say, like David, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
If a believer dies due to this outbreak, he will certainly be with the Lord. “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). So, let us humbly seek and worship Him. Let us also labour for Him, “knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:24).