"plagues, infectious diseases occurring naturally or in punishment for sin, other calamities sent by God, or the ten plagues of Egypt." Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Paul J. Achtemeir, 1996.
A plague is not limited to infectious diseases however, but more broadly and metaphorically includes both earth-based and cosmic events that threaten and change the natural earthly order and challenge humankind to follow God's word.
maggephah (Hebrew for plague) mark left by a blow. The idea is to be stricken by something evil, and then marked by it. The New World Dictionary Concordance To The NAB (World, 537, 1982?)
Sample Of New Testament Scriptures Regarding Plagues
"And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads." Revelation9,3-4
"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." Ephesians4,30
"I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues..." Revelation 15,1
"And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed."
"Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues;" Revelation18,4
"Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her..." Revelation18,8
A Plague Is A Prejudgment Clash Between God And Man
If you have ever sued, or been sued, you might have heard of a "pre-judgment remedy."
If your case looks good sometimes even before you file your case, you can quickly attach or garnish assets of the other side.
A pre-judgment remedy is a type of civil punishment.
While a defendant still has a chance to contest such a remedy, and plead his case, it is a real game-changer (you might have recently read about the IRS increasingly using this remedy).
A plague, if it comes from God, the first and last Plaintiff, is one of God's many pre-judgment remedies. It's a type of punishment, short of a final one.
All biblical punishment has to do with three principal things- man's sin, God's wrath (satisfied by Jesus' blood), and God's just judgment (Dufour).
Bible scholar Xavier Leon Dufour brillaintly teaches that punishment isn't just a sign of sin, and the fruit of sin, but the revelation of God: "In its internal logic, punishment reveals God: it is like a theophony to the sinner. He who does not accept the grace of the divine visit clashes with the holiness and encounters God himself (Luke19,41-44)." Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Xavier Leon Dufour, Paulist, 1995, 476.
Jacob didn't know the holiness and strength of God, or his mercy, until he had his pre-judgment wrestling match with Him, until he was plagued with a limp. He was still favored, still connected but corrected per Psalm99,8: "Thou answerest them [Moses, Aaron, Samuel v. 6] O Lord our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them [Moses, Aaron, Samuel] though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions."
Punishment in the form of a plague, reveals how much God still cares, how jealous he is about his people, (sometimes captives to Satan, 2Timothy2,25), and his word, and his honor.
God's punishment such as a plague doesn't separate anyone from God, only our unrepentant sin does (Ibid Dufour 476).
It is worth noting that biblical plagues attack both God's chosen (Israel) and the enemies of God's people (ie back in the day, the Egyptians), and the environment, and the cosmos, and the natural order.
In every case whoever is subject to a God-caused plague is expected to recognize His word and will, ie Pharoah was supposed to let Israel go before the full ten plagues led up to the killing of the first born sons of Egypt.
Sometimes the images that surround plagues are hard to figure, and we don't know whether to take them literally or figuratively, but that doesn't mean they are without meaning.
Four Distinct Aspects of Biblical Plagues
1. They sometimes come in a series, of increasing severity, until God executes judgment.
The four most famous series of plagues are:
A. Plagues on Egypt which began with fresh water turned to blood (from life to judgment) and ended with the death of Egyptian firstborn (Exodus7-12);
B. Day of Lord (Joel 1-3) whereby plagues such as fire and locust and final war are mixed in with the great grace of God's Spirit being poured out on his people Israel, and His subsequent reign from there, from Zion.
C. Seven Trumpets (Revelation8-11) highlighted by the third trump whereby a blazing star falls from space into the fresh waters of earth causing them to be bitter, and the fifth trump whereby "smoke" from the abyss (opened by a "star"?) rises. Then these "locusts", with the power of scorpions, fall out of this smoke on to the earth.
D. Seven Last Plagues (Revelation15-16) which includes number two whereby the entire sea turns to blood and everything in the sea dies (God is an enviromentalist), and number 6 whereby the Euphrates river dries up, paving the way for the kings from the East and the battle of Armageddon.
(What does the bible say about: Plagues, Famines & Earthquakes, www.bibleplus.org/plagues/.htm is)
2. They happen because of disobedience to God's word.
All God's Covenants are conditional, that is, based on humankind's ongoing and obedient faith:
"But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, 15 and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will bring upon uoi sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life." Leviticus26,14-16.
Such faith in the Hebrew scriptures was epitomized by faithful and dutiful sacrifices (Numbers8,18), and in the New Testament by faithfully offering 'spiritual sacrifces', that is living by faith, as commanded in the word, picking up our cross, serving and following the Lord and his gospel, 1Peter 2,5.
3. Their deathly effects happen fast while prompt intercession surely helps.
The ambitious sons of Korah turned the people in the desert against Moses and Aaron and their priestly rule. At Numbers16,45ff God tells Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the community so God can execute judgment at once. As quick as humanly possible, Moses and Aaron start to intercede:
46 "Then Moses said to Aaron, "take your censer and put incense in it, along with fire from the altar, and hurry to the assmbly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come from the Lord; the plague has started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. 48 He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. 49 But 14,700 people died from the plague..."
Likewise, the sin and plague of Baal Peor, Numbers25,1-3, had similar deathly effects. Here just before they crossed into Canaan, many soon fell into sexual immorality with Moabite women:
"While Israel was staying in Shittim [just before they crossed the Jordan], the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices of their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord's anger burned against them."
God's punishment is swift and a bit surprising- all the leaders of Israel must be killed, not just the men who have joined the false worship. This would quickly teach the whole people the lesson of the exclusivity and holiness of God, good and final perparation for the promised land. (cf Bob Deffinbaugh, bible.org/seriespages/balaam-part-iii-numbers-251-18)
We notice in these two instances that when the bible speaks of plagues and judgments everything is speeded up.
So along comes the zealous Phineas, son of Aaron, who beats even God to the execution of His judgment! He sees an Israelite bringing a Midianite woman into his family, back into the camp, bringing the false worship 'home." And immediatly Phineas drives his spear between this Zimri and the Midianite woman.
So, the plague had a quick begining and a quick end. Still, a surprisingly costly number of lives were quickly lost:"Then the plague against the Israelites stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000." Numbers25,8
The point here is that with plagues, and man's noble and faithful attempt to stop them, the deathly effects come very fast. It is worth noting again that God welcomes appropriate human remedies, according to the time and place, but this doesn't necessarily wipe out the deadly effects of a plague.
Isaiah 29,5-6 also captures the essential suddeness of plagues and God's judgments in general. Yes God is slow to anger, and rich in mercy, to all who call upon his NAME, praise Jesus. But the bible teaches that once He begins to act in any sort of punishment-judgment, that act has immediate negative consequences:
"But your many enemies will become like fine dust, the ruthless hordes like blown chaff. Suddenly, in an instant 6 the Lord will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of devouring fire..."
Revelation18,8: sums up this idea of the suddeness of plagues: "in one day her plagues will overtake her."
4. Baptism in the Spirit Is the remedy for avoiding plagues (Revelation 9,4 and Ephesians4,30 above).
While there is disagreement as to when and how baptism in the Spirit happens to Christians, this talk of plagues surely renews our focus on its signifignance for salvation:
"repent and be baptized every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children [Israel] and for all who are far off- for all whom our Lord will call [all the nations and peoples of the world].' (Acts2,38-39).
This baptism is the seal of God's protection on our foreheads (Revelation9,3-4, Ephesians4,30).
Plagues Are God's Way Of Reminding Us
A Plague is one of God's prejudgment remedies, his way of powerfully reminding us how much He wants to save us all.
Another way to look at them: they are a sobering glimpse at what measure would measured back to each of us, if we choose not to trust Jesus and his grace for our salvation, Mark4,24
We remember that "maggephah" means to be suddenly stricken and marked, and that in the last days many in the church will be tempted to take a mark of the beast.
This subject is a bit grim.
But take heart, have courage, those in the church and outside it, if we live by faith, sooner or later, we can't help but be baptized in the Spirit, our protection from all evil, first fruit of the blood of Calvary.
Oh, dear children of God, if we only knew the heart of Jesus, that each of us would be filled with His Spirit, and protected from all evil.
What does the Bible say about: Plagues, Famines & Earthquakes, bibleplus.org/plagues/plagues.htm The BiblePlus/ The Bible Research Company, 1992-2003.
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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...