(This article was originally published a month ago. Some of the data may therefore be out of date.)
In just a few short weeks, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak has wreaked havoc on our way of life worldwide. Governments across the globe have mobilized to stop the spread of this World Health Organization-level pandemic. Thousands of people have died and hundreds of thousands have been infected. The world continues to reel from the effects the virus.
Disruptions on this scale were hard to imagine a month ago. Since the virus entered the US, businesses have closed, airplanes have stopped flying, the financial markets have crashed, and grocery stores have emptied due to government efforts to contain the virus. Things are bad.
But the question is, “Does it reach the level of a biblical plague?” In this overview, I aim to explore what a plague is from the Bible, some principles we can glean from biblical plagues, and ultimately answer whether the COVID-19 virus should be considered a plague from God.
Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines a plague as “a stroke of affliction, or disease. Sent as a divine chastisement.” The term plague comes from several words in the original biblical languages.
One Hebrew word for plague is daber (דָּ֑בֶר). It is often translated as “plague” or “pestilence.” Another word for plague is makkah (מַכָּה). The term makkah sometimes connotes other concepts besides what we understand as plagues. In the Old Testament, a plague often appears to have a natural cause as in a “pestilence after the manner of Egypt” (Amos 4:10). At other times, a translated word for plague appears to be more like a direct strike from God as in “nega” (נֶגַע) where Exodus 11:1 (ESV) says, “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt.”