The “Why” of Pestilence

With all of the news regarding the Covid-19 virus, the reports swirling about us have been regarding the “what” of the virus. However, I haven’t really heard anyone writing or talking about the “why.”

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With all of the news regarding the Covid-19 virus, the reports swirling about us have been regarding the “what” of the virus. However, I haven’t really heard anyone writing or talking about the “why.”

Recently, our moshav/neighborhood of Neve Ativ gave me permission to post verses from the Hebrew Scriptures, what we commonly refer to as the Old Testament. As I have been reading, searching and studying, looking for appropriate scripture to post each day, I have come to a very uncomfortable conclusion. The release of pestilence is directly related to sin, especially the sins of a people or a nation.

As Christians, we all love to quote the following verses…

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14


“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

…where we naturally tend to focus on the blessings.

But did you know that both of these scriptures are accompanied by verses detailing pestilence as one of the punishments from which Israel can be delivered, if they repent?

And it’s not just these two verses. Every reference that I can find to pestilence in the Bible is related to its being a punishment for sin.

As a church body, we love to apply 2 Chronicles 7:14 to ourselves, as a “people called by” the Lord’s name. I personally believe that we can metaphorically apply ourselves in this way without replacing Israel, as long as we understand that the core meaning was, and still is, specifically referring to the nation of Israel. “Christians” truly are a people called by the name of the Lord Jesus. Since we have generally decided that it is appropriate to make this connection, we need to be willing to apply other aspects of the text to ourselves. While we readily accept the blessings in these verses, we rarely speak of the punishments on the other side of the same coin, or we only speak vaguely of the sins from which we should repent, both personally and corporately.

In keeping with just these two references, let me show you just a portion of the punishments—sent directly by the LORD himself—to which these verses of blessing are referring:

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people…

2 Chronicles 7:13

Thus says the LORD of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten.

Jeremiah 29:17

These two passages also speak of other punishments such as drought, locusts, war and famine. As does nearly every other reference to pestilence in the Bible. Pestilence is but one of the judgments God uses to get the attention of the nations. Is He getting our nation’s attention? Is He getting your personal attention? He’s definitely getting my attention.

Not until we—as both a nation AND as “those who are called by His name”—start confessing and repenting of our sins, do I believe that the Lord will stay the hand of this pestilence(¹).

Let us begin repentance now, today. Individually. As families. As Christians. As a nation. Lives are at stake. Let us call upon the name of the LORD together, both in repentance AND in pleading with Almighty God to forgive our sin and heal our land.

“The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.” – Deuteronomy 28:22

¹ David sinned by ordering a census of Israel to be conducted. David was given three options for punishment. He chose to be chastised under the hand of God. Here is the climax of the text: So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men. And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.”  – 2 Samuel 24:15-16a