Sword, Famine, and Coronavirus, O My

Read the 19 Bible passages below and tell me that the way of the world is not sword, famine, and pestilence? Christianity and Christians, historically, have stood out in times of pestilence. We were not the man who dressed like a woman to board the lifeboat on the Titanic which were for women and children first. One of the two films from the 50s did a good job depicting this real life event. It made me wonder at the time, circa 1967, would I be that “man”?.

Well here we are. I don’t really think we should be using the phrase “possible pandemic.” It’s only world-wide instant communication that give us this oxymoronic statement. In times past, you only knew you were in a pandemic once you were “knee deep in the Big Muddy” of the sick, dying, and dead. But say this is the big one. Like the legendary quake all Californians talk of, the specter of a pandemic has been raised on and off, in my recollection every 10 or so years. I remember something in the 60s that ravished our Lutheran school. I remember being vaccinated for the Swine Flu in the Army in 1976, and I remember since then an ever ratcheting up of the rhetoric: “It’s not a matter of if but when.” “Jet travel makes a pandemic inevitable.” “Terrorists are right now working on weaponizing a virus.” From where I sit, the media is doing a pretty good job of that all on their own.

In any event, in times of pestilence, Christians have shined. “According to Dionysius, the Christians undertook the burial of the dead, a task that the pagans refused for fear of contagion.” Christians did this service all day long according to Eusebius when the plague ravaged the Eastern Empire in 312. “By 302 grave diggers had come to be organized as a minor ecclesiastical order in North Africa, where the church at Cireta employed six. The patriarch of Antioch maintained a similar group know as lecticarii [litter-bearer], who buried the bodies of the poor, while in Rome the bishop employed fossores [diggers] to tunnel our the rock beneath the city to bury the Christian dead in the catacombs..” Julian the Apostate singled out Christian’s hospitality, purity, and proper burial of the dead as the factors that led to the empire becoming Christian (Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity, 119).

George Washington, Stonewall Jackson, George Custer, Douglas MacArthur, and George Patton were renowned for exposing themselves to enemy fire with aplomb. Perhaps it takes fides heroica to do that. I have always found great comfort in Paul’s conclusion: “so whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.” Or should I take this secular comfort. The sweet spot for dying from this disease according to this source is 61. (https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/03/who-is-getting-sick-and-how-sick-a-breakdown-of-coronavirus-risk-by-demographic-factors/). Ha, I’m 62; I’m golden.

List of passages mentioning sword, pestilence and famine:

  1. 1 Chronicles 21:12
    either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the LORD, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now, therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.”
  2. 2 Chronicles 20:9
    ‘ Should evil come upon us, the sword, or judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You (for Your name is in this house) and cry to You in our distress, and You will hear and deliver us.’
  3. Jeremiah 14:12
    When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the swordfamine and pestilence.”
  4. Jeremiah 21:7
    Then afterwards,” declares the LORD, “ I will give over Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people, even those who survive in this city from thepestilence, the sword and the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon
  5. Jeremiah 21:9
    He who dwells in this city will die by the sword and by famine and by pestilence; but he who goes out and falls away to the Chaldeans who are besieging you will live, and he will have his own life as booty.
  6. Jeremiah 24:10
    I will send the sword, the famine and the pestilence upon them until they are destroyed from the land which I gave to them and their forefathers.’”
  7. Jeremiah 27:8
    “It will be, that the nation or the kingdom which will not serve him, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and which will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine and with pestilence,” declares the LORD, “until I have destroyed it by his hand.
  8. Jeremiah 27:13
    Why will you die, you and your people, by the swordfamine and pestilence, as the LORD has spoken to that nation which will not serve the king of Babylon?
  9. Jeremiah 29:17
    thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Behold, I am sending upon them the swordfamine and pestilence, and I will make them like split-open figs that cannot be eaten due to rottenness.
  10. Jeremiah 29:18
    I will pursue them with the sword, with famine and with pestilence; and I will make them a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse and a horror and a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them,
  11. Jeremiah 32:24
    Behold, the siege ramps have reached the city to take it; and the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword, the famine and the pestilence; and what You have spoken has come to pass; and behold, You see it.
  12. Jeremiah 32:36
    “Now therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine and by pestilence.’
  13. Jeremiah 34:17
    “Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming release each man to his brother and each man to his neighbor. Behold, I am proclaiming a release to you,’ declares the LORD, ‘to the sword, to the pestilence and to the famine; and I will make you a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth.
  14. Jeremiah 38:2
    “Thus says the LORD, ‘He who stays in this city will die by the sword and by famine and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans will live and have his own life as booty and stay alive.’
  15. Jeremiah 42:17
    So all the men who set their mind to go to Egypt to reside there will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence; and they will have no survivors or refugees from the calamity that I am going to bring on them.”’”
  16. Jeremiah 42:22
    Therefore you should now clearly understand that you will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence, in the place where you wish to go to reside.
  17. Jeremiah 44:13
    And I will punish those who live in the land of Egypt, as I have punished Jerusalem, with the sword, with famine and with pestilence.
  18. Ezekiel 12:16
    But I will spare a few of them from the sword, the famine and the pestilence that they may tell all their abominations among the nations where they go, and may know that I am the LORD.”
  19. Revelation 6:8
    I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.



About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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