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  • Writer's pictureDean Dwyer

COVID-19 or PSALM 91?

If you are a casual observer of Christian social media activity, you might have noticed a number of Christians and faith leaders claiming that Psalm 91 will shield them against COVID-19. So, what does Psalm 91 say and are these people rightly applying that portion of Scripture?

Psalm 91 speaks of the safety of abiding in the presence of God, which is why the reference to pestilence contained in the Psalm has piqued the interest of many Christians, particularly those seeking protection from COVID-19. In the Bible, pestilence is often a sign of God’s judgement on a nation or people group (see Deuteronomy 32:24; 1 Chronicles 21:12; Ezekiel 7:14-15). The God who protects and blesses is also the God who sends disaster and pestilence when it accomplishes His righteous purposes on Earth (Isaiah 45:7; Ezekiel 5:16-17; Amos 4:10). Pestilence is also promised as part of God’s final judgement on the world (Revelation 18:8).

The word translated “pestilence” is often translated as “plague” or “disaster” in new versions of the English Bible. However, because the word is often paired with both of those, it may imply a greater devastation than mere physical disease. Pestilence incorporates any and all forms of public and mass destruction and often accompanies famine (Ezekiel 7:15) or war (Jeremiah 21:9). Jesus forewarned of pestilence when He described the end times (Luke 21:11).

Among the various forms of judgement that God brings upon the unrighteous and rebellious is pestilence. Not every epidemic is the direct judgement of God, but the Bible indicates that some instances of pestilence in history have been a punishment for sin. For instance, God sent pestilence to punish the Israelites for their ongoing idolatry and disobedience (Deuteronomy 32:24; Jeremiah 42:22) and during the Tribulation Period He will send pestilence to punish the unrepentant (Revelation 16:2; Revelation 18:8; Matthew 24:7).

In Deuteronomy 28, God was outlining to Israel His blessings on obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and His curses on disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Verses 20-22 reads:- The Lord will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me. The Lord will make the plague cling to you until He has consumed you from the land which you are going to possess. The Lord will strike you with consumption, with fever, with inflammation, with severe burning fever, with the sword, with scorching, and with mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. Although the term translated “plague” refers to sickness in general, the allusion here, through use of a metaphor, is that the plague is expulsion from the land. Leviticus 26:23-25 reads:- And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.

What we understand from these passages is how closely Israel’s obedience was connected to their occupation of the land. Obedience would bring safety in the land, protection from enemies and prosperity. Disobedience would lead to expulsion. Yet, Christians in this age repeatedly make the mistake of trying to claim Israel’s promises. The church is not connected to any piece of land (Ephesians 1:3).

When those who push the health and wealth gospel start to see members failing with ill health or losing substantial amounts of money, they cannot understand or simply tell their members they are not exercising enough faith or giving enough money. Most certainly we should pray for God’s protection and for God’s healing, but perfect health is not guaranteed in the New Testament. Both in Scripture and in church history we read about many great saints of God who were ill, who suffered various infirmities and sicknesses and who may have even died quite young because of their illness. We live in a fallen world and in mortal bodies. If we do not take necessary and commonsense precautions, we are likely to become unwell. Yet, we must always exercise faith in God that He understands our circumstances and will ensure we have the necessary strength and faith to persevere.

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