As the number of global cases of COVID-19 rises daily and countries and cities find themselves on lockdown with shortages of supplies, many are turning to the Bible for answers.
Some look toward the plagues written in Revelation. Is COVID-19 one of those? Is it a judgment of God? It’s hard to speculate when we know little about the details of these plagues.
However, we can look backward toward another set of biblical plagues: The 10 Plagues of Egypt. Is COVID-19 a judgment upon us, just as the plagues were a judgment upon Egypt?
What Were the 10 Plagues?
The 10 Plagues are recorded in the book of Exodus.
God’s people, the Israelites, had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. However, God had a plan to rescue them. He sent His servant Moses to Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, to demand that Pharaoh let God’s people go.
Pharaoh, of course, didn’t listen. Thus, came about the first plague, that of water turning into blood:
Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river. Confront him on the bank of the Nile… Then say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now you have not listened. This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood (Exodus 7:13-17).
After this plague, God sent another, this one of frogs. This time, Pharaoh begged for the plague to cease and said he would let the Israelites go. However, once the plague was over, he changed his mind and refused once more to let them go.
This cycle continued. Moses delivered God’s warning. Pharaoh refused. God sent a plague. Pharaoh, often, supposedly repented. Then he refused once more. Another plague came.
Ultimately, 10 plagues occurred before Pharaoh finally let God’s people go. These plagues were:
(1) Blood (2) Frogs (3) Lice or Gnats (4) Flies (5) Death of Livestock (6) Boils (7) Hail (8) Locusts (9) Darkness (10) Death of Every Firstborn
What was God’s purpose in these plagues? He repeated it multiple times: “That you may know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 10:2). None of Egypt’s wealth, powers, or gods could stop the Lord.
Thus, He accomplished His purpose and rescued His people from Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land.
What Is COVID-19?
Rather than an event occurring thousands of years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic, as of this writing, is happening now.
COVID-19, colloquially known as “the coronavirus,” is one of many viruses in the coronavirus family. Its actual scientific name is SARS-CoV-2, but COVID-19 is used as shorthand for “coronavirus disease 2019.”
This strain originated in China, but it has quickly spread throughout the world with almost 500,000 confirmed cases as of this writing. Though the number of deaths, so far, from COVID-19 is relatively small compared to that of other infectious diseases at around 20,000, concern over COVID-19 stems from its rapid spread, infectious nature, and lack of a vaccine.
The panic, then, is not due to the current situation, but due to forecasts of exponential growth in cases and the potential to overwhelm medical staff, supplies, and facilities.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, experts have no solid predictions on when it will end.
Is COVID-19 Today’s Version of the 10 Plagues?
There are several key differences between COVID-19 and the 10 Plagues.
First, God specifically announced the plagues before they occurred and allowed Pharaoh a chance to repent. Today, COVID-19 seems to be taking the typical course of a pandemic — out of nowhere and unpredictable.
Second, the 10 Plagues only hit the Egyptians. Even the Israelites, their close neighbors, were kept safe (which is celebrated at Passover). COVID-19, on the other hand, has so far hit almost every country around the globe.
Third, the 10 Plagues came in a series of progressively worsening plagues. COVID-19 is a singular event, which, though occurring in tandem with other natural disasters, as is usually the case, has not yet been accompanied by any other maladies of more than the usual magnitude.
The heart of comparing COVID-19 to the 10 Plagues probably does not lie so much in the outward similarities but in the spiritual and emotional connotations.
When we ask whether COVID-19 is like the 10 Plagues, what we are asking, in essence, is this: Has God sent COVID-19 to punish us and turn us to repentance?
Did God Send COVID-19 to Punish Us?
The 10 Plagues of Egypt had an obvious goal: Get Pharaoh to let God’s people go. They were announced, they occurred, and they only affected the guilty party, the Egyptians.
COVID-19, on the other hand, came unannounced, at least in such a way as Moses publicly came to Pharaoh. Furthermore, the disease has hit believer and nonbeliever alike. And if it is indeed a judgment upon us, what does God demand? Of course, there is always something of which sinful man can repent.
However, in biblical times, such as during the 10 Plagues or when God threatened to destroy Nineveh (see the book of Jonah), He gave the people a warning of what He was going to do if they did not repent in a such-and-such way. As far as we know, God has not expressed anger over any specific thing for which we need to repent.
It’s also worth noting that though COVID-19 is earthshattering for us, such pandemics are nothing new in history. Not too long ago, the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 infected about a third of the world’s population and claimed over 50 million lives.
Other diseases, like smallpox and cholera, have also had their heyday; in fact, the WHO reports that cholera is still responsible for about 21,000-143,000 deaths worldwide every year. Even now, the WHO estimates that the seasonal flu regularly claims about 290,000 to 650,000 lives per year, about 15 to 30 times as many lives as COVID-19 has thus far claimed.
The worst pandemic in recent history, the bubonic plague or the Black Death of the 15th century, wiped out about 25-50 million people, taking out more than half (and as much as three quarters) of the population of Europe.
Population levels took around 200 years to return to their previous numbers. Medieval writing and art of the time reflected a great deal of morbidity and much speculation about the nearness of the end times.
The point here is, this pandemic is not a new occurrence, nor does it point to a specific judgment on us. Other pandemics ran their terrible course and the world eventually recovered. Assuming that God is punishing us through COVID-19 is not the most logical conclusion.
Why Is COVID-19 Happening?
We don’t know, but instead of despairing and chalking it up to God’s punishment, we should instead use this as a time to think and pray. What is most important? Is there anyone in our lives with whom we should reconcile? Is there anyone to whom we can show God’s love in these trying times? Is there anything in our own relationship with God that we’ve been putting off dealing with?
Times like these remind us how fragile life truly is, and how little control we have. They remind us of where eternal life is found, and Who is in control. We must put our trust in God and follow Him. God’s people have stood strong through many a storm; let this be a time that we shine His light to the rest of the world, offering hope in a time of panic.
God knows what is happening and what is going to happen, and He loves us enough to die for us. Let us rest in that.
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Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. Her passions for Biblical study and creativity collide in her writing. Her debut novel Wraithwood releases Nov. 7, 2020. She has had 150+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.