David Chapter 12: The History of Plagues

David wasn’t writing in vacuo, as lawyers will say. He didn’t write in a vacuum or isolation. Much like we blog today he was writing about real circumstances, stuff going on in his life and around him. If we study those blogs – what we call Psalms, we can discern what was going on in the world at that time. If we can combine the information with official history of the kings of Israel we get a vivid picture of the challenges the world faced at that time. Through those materials for example we come to realize plagues have always been a part of human history. Pandemics are not proprietary to the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries.

According to history.com the earliest recorded pandemic happened during the Peloponnesian War. That’s a war among Greeks. Let’s call that plague Athenian plague. It was as far back as 430 BC. The disease passed through Africa – Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt. It crossed over into Athens when Spartans laid siege on Athens. Two-thirds of the Athenian population died from the plague. Also in 224 BC a plague infection was recorded in China. Then there was the Antonine plague in 165 AD. It began with the Huns. Bulgarians are descendants of Huns. The Huns infected the Germans, who passed it to the Romans. Retuning Roman troops then spread it throughout the Roman Empire. It’s suspected to be smallpox. The symptoms included fever, sore throat, diarrhea and yuk – pus-filled sores. That’s if the patient lived long enough. That plague claimed a head of state – the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. As at the writing of this blog coronavirus hasn’t claimed any head of state.

Then there was the Cyprian plague of 250 AD. It was particularly terrible. City dwellers fled to the villages to avoid infection. The pattern of spread was very much like what we have today. It started in Ethiopia, passed through Northern Africa into Rome, then to Egypt. Symptoms included diarrhea, vomiting, throat ulcers and gangrenous hands and feet. What that means is that there was a lot of amputation. It’s the only way to stop gangrene. The plague was actually named after the Bishop of Carthage. He was the first known victim. In a fit of demoniacal taciturnity it kept recurring over the next three centuries. In 444 AD it hit Britain hard.

Then came the Justinian Plague of 541 AD. It was brutal. It first appeared in Egypt, spread through Palestine, the Byzantine Empire and throughout the Mediterranean. It destroyed the economy of Rome, spurred an apocalyptic atmosphere. Everyone was afraid. They were certain it was the end times and for that reason Christianity spread rapidly. Funny how man suddenly remembers God when it comes to plagues. There were recurrences over the next two centuries. That plague killed about 50 million people. It gruesomely wiped out 26% of the world population. A whole quarter of human population! That’s a huge number. It is believed to be the first major appearance of bubonic plague. Bubonic plague is carried by rats but spread by fleas. But the Black Death was more devastating. That was the plague of 1350 AD. It killed one-third of the world population. It was the second large outbreak of bubonic plague. It started in Asia, moved west in caravans, much like coronavirus spread internationally through flights. It entered Sicily and spread through Europe. Dead bodies were so many they were left to rot in the streets. There was a massive stench in cities.

Plagues always have economic consequences and the Black Death exacted economic vengeance. It destroyed the feudal system in Britain. It had changed economic circumstances and demographics. We could go on and on about plagues. Leprosy at a time was a pandemic in Europe. Some believed it was punishment from God that ran in families. We’re always trying to figure out the God angle when it comes to plagues.

But long before most of these pandemics David experienced a plague. David was born around 1000 BC. There was the Census Plague. It’s recorded in 2 Samuel 24. By the time that plague was done 70,000 people had died. And that was the statistic for just one day! 4 to 5% of the population of Israel was wiped out in one day! But here’s where it gets complicated, and weird. The historian who recorded that plague wrote about a character called the Angel of Death, as a real character. We’re told David saw the guy. 2 Samuel 24:17 – “But when David saw the angel who was striking down the people…” He was real. As the angel was preparing to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented and said to the death angel, “Stop! That is enough!” 2 Samuel 24:16. It was God’s intervention that stopped that plague.

Not counting the Book of Revelation, perhaps the only other time we come across the Angel of Death in the Bible is in the account of the liberation struggle in Egypt. Exodus 12:23 CEV. If you recall, Charlton Heston led the Israelites out of Egypt, sorry Moses. In one last hurray God decided to wipe out the firstborns of Egypt, human and cattle! (He had already destroyed the economy through a succession of plagues). The protocol used was non-discriminatory. The Angel of Death didn’t use a register. He used exclusionary identification markers. Houses with a mark of blood were spared. The others were afflicted. God said he was executing judgement against the gods of Egypt – the Fantastic Ten in particular – Isis, Osiris, Horus, Amun, Ra, Hathor, Bastet, Thoth, Anubis, and Ptah. These were the state deities. “I will go through the land of Egypt on this night and strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, whether human or animal, and bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am God. The blood will serve as a sign on the houses where you live. When I see the blood, I will pass over you – no disaster will touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.” Exodus 12:12-13. David will later quote those words in Psalm 91, but obviously very scary stuff went down in Egypt that night. It was gruesome. There were howls of anguish everywhere. It broke Pharaoh.

In Psalm 91 David wrote about a pandemic. He was specific about it, it wasn’t metaphorical. He referred to the pandemic with a definitive article, “the” – “the deadly pestilence.” That pandemic enacted terror – “You will not be afraid of the terror of night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor of the destruction (sudden death) that lays waste at noon.” Psalm 91:3-6. People were dropping dead like on a battlefield with flying arrows. There was palpable fear. Likely a virus breakout. They were dealing with an invisible enemy hence the expression – “the pestilence that stalks in darkness.” No one knew who was next. Death was random. David wrote about people dying in thousands and then ten thousands – “Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you but danger will not touch you.” That plague was frightful. But we can’t ascertain whether he was writing about the Census Plague or another plague.

With regard to the Antichrist the Book of Revelation mentions seven plagues. The plagues are precisely measured out, in bowls. Revelation 16. The first plague is skin cancer. The second plague is environmental degradation, the ecosystem of seas destroyed. The third is also environmental – pollution of fresh waters. The fourth is a heat wave caused by eruption of the sun’s plasma. The fifth is air pollution – heavy smog. The sixth is war – nations forming alliances for a World War. That’s the famous Battle of Armageddon. The seventh plague is destruction of cities through seismic shocks and asteroid strike. Asteroids break up when they enter the earth’s atmosphere but 35kg chunks will still manage to get through. That will lead to nuclear winter. You can see there’s an expanded definition of plague. But all that is in the future. The truth however is, it may be closer than we imagine.

If you’ll like to give your life to Christ please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”

© Leke Alder | talk2me@lekealder.com.

Plagues always have economic consequences. #Illuminare Click To Tweet We’re always trying to figure out the God angle when it comes to plagues. #Illuminare Click To Tweet It was God’s intervention that stopped that plague. #Illuminare Click To Tweet