A Biblical Perspective on Pandemics
How are you holding up during this global pandemic? For many of us we are staying inside as much as possible and practicing social distancing when we are in public. You might be scared or feeling lonely and we want you to know, God is there! “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-3).
We welcome our Executive Director Jim Showers and our North American Ministries Director Steve Herzig to the program. Some of you may have been wondering if the Bible has any hint of a global pandemic like COVID-19 or what it might mean. Are we in the End Times? Are these the birth pangs Scripture talks about? Chris, Jim, and Steve answer those questions and leave all of us with something we need today: HOPE! Don’t miss this important episode.
Steve Conover: Welcome to the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover and with me, as always, is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. Today in the studio, we are joined by Friends of Israel's executive director, Dr. Jim Showers and North American Ministries' director, Steve Herzig.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, Jim and Steve recently did Prophecy Up Close Conferences, one in Milwaukee and one down in Florida, and they both came back telling me about the questions that the people in the audience had and it mostly had to do with, is coronavirus in the Bible? Is coronavirus something that God's prophetic word talks about? How is Israel dealing with coronavirus?
So I thought it would be great to have Jim and Steve in the studio to talk about these issues, to look at this from a real biblical perspective and really ask the question, what can the church be doing during this time? I think it's going to be a very fascinating and enlightening episode.
Steve Conover: Yeah, stay with us for that. But first in the news, to halt the spread of the coronavirus domestically, Israel has instructed its people not to go to parks, playgrounds, the beach, pools, libraries, museums, or other public places.
It has also banned gatherings of over 10 people, including religious purposes, and it's required those participating in any activity to maintain a distance of at least six feet.
Finally, the Israeli government has called on the public not to leave home unless necessary. Currently, police are not enforcing these instructions, but the public is expected to obey them. The government has instructed law enforcement bodies to prepare for the option of an eventual full lockdown.
Chris Katulka: This is pretty serious. Look, unlike most countries, Israel is extremely small. It's only the size of New Jersey. I've said that in the past. Let me tell you about Israeli people. Israeli people are very social people. They talk to one another, they embrace one another. They're very excited people and so it's very difficult for them, I'm sure to remain in isolation during this time. But see, the coronavirus could spread quickly in Israel if the government doesn't act swiftly. So my friends, please continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Steve, Jim, welcome into the studio.
Jim Showers: Well thank you, Chris. It's a pleasure to be here today.
Steve Herzig: Thanks, Chris.
Chris Katulka: This is going to be an interesting discussion. You both were just talking to me about a week ago. You were in two different parts of the country at our PUCs, our Prophecy Up Close Conferences. Jim, you were in Milwaukee in the Wisconsin area and then, Steve, you're down in Florida.
The thing that was interesting is you both came back from two different parts of the country and you both received very similar questions from our audience about coronavirus. Is it in the Bible? What's God doing? What's Israel doing in response to the coronavirus? And so, I thought this would be a great episode to kind of invite people into what the Friends of Israel is doing, talking about coronavirus, whether or not it's in the Scriptures, looking at it from a biblical perspective. And really, I'm hoping bring some peace to maybe some people who are, might be living in fear right now.
And so, since coronavirus is on everyone's mind and it's coming at them from every angle, whether it's their health, the health of their family, their kids, their grandkids and even the global economy people are concerned about that.
First of all, coronavirus isn't the first pandemic that we've ever dealt with in this world, so let's talk about this concept of disease in Scriptures and what are some of the instances in the Scriptures where this concept of pestilence comes into play?
Jim Showers: That's a great question, Chris because pestilence is really where you go to when you turn to the Bible to understand a little bit of what's going on. Pestilence is never portrayed as a random or naturally occurring phenomenon in the Bible. What we see in the Bible is it is always seen as a judgment or a punishment by God designed to turn people back to God, okay.
So when we come to the word pestilence, and that's used many, many times in the Bible, it literally, the word itself literally means destruction. By definition, it is a contagious epidemic disease of devastating proportions that leads to a high mortality rate and widespread panic.
Chris Katulka: I like what you said there. This is something that's designed to draw people back to God. Steve, do you see that as well in the Scriptures? I know that you had some verses that you were thinking about when it comes to pestilence and disease in the Scriptures.
Steve Herzig: Well, the first thing that came into my mind was plagues. Coming from the background I have and Passover not very far away, and plagues are things that came from God. Pestilence is a thing that comes as well, in fact, often seen as God's judgment. There are a number passages in the Scripture that talk about God bringing wrath and He brought the sword, He brought pestilence, He brings famine and yes, all that's designed for repentance. And in fact, later on, I think we'll talk about the context of what that means in the future as well. So pestilence engulfs a whole community.
Jim Showers: Chris, God warned Israel that that is one of the tools He would use to bring judgment upon them if they fail to obey Him. In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, both places, He says to Israel, one of the judgments that they will receive for disobedience was pestilence. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel frequently announced pestilence upon Israel is God's judgment for their disobedience.
But I love too, the Bible balances that with Psalm 91 where the psalmist declares that those who are faithful to God will be protected from pestilence. So it's a blessing, cursing kind of concept. It's blessed by God and you'll be protected from pestilence. But if you are cursed by God, pestilence is one of the ways that God will judge.
But, it's also interesting to know in Scriptures that pestilences weren't restricted just to Israel and God also judged other nations.
For example, we have the occasion where the Philistines, at 1 Samuel 5, they captured the Ark of God and they took it back to Ashdod and God brought upon them a pestilence. It was something to do with tumors that caused the disease and death. And so eventually, the Philistines gave it back to Israel and the community has settled in, initially Beit Shemesh.
Unfortunately, we read there that because they opened the lid and peeked inside 50,070 men, God brought upon them the same disease and death. So there are examples where pestilence, God doesn't limit it just to Israel, but also brings it upon other nations and other people.
Chris Katulka: So let me ask you this then, because we understand what's happening in the Bible. There is a history of pestilence, disease, God using it for judgment, but I know some of the questions that you got is this, is from our listeners in our conferences is, is this connected to God's prophetic Word at all? Is God judging us, essentially? I'd like to throw it out there and see what you all think about that.
Steve Herzig: Well, Chris, there is a number of places in history where there has been terrible diseases. The black plague, the Spanish flu, Ebola, all these kinds of things have happened before and we're still here. Jesus Christ hasn't returned. The rapture hasn't taken place yet.
But, some of the things described in the Scriptures as it relates to Jesus are found in what you and I would call the tribulation period in Matthew chapter 24 and in Luke chapter 21. Those are things specifically when you look in Revelation chapter 6, all pestilence is one of them, but they come in a context that's different even than the time we're living in right now.
Chris Katulka: Jim.
Jim Showers: Yeah, and If I could pick up on that for a minute, Chris. I agree with Steve 100% and what we see, we see pestilence a lot in the Old Testament. In the New Testament when we see pestilence, it tends to be connected to a sign, right? So, as Steve said in Matthew 24, the Olivet discourse, Jesus said that was one of the signs of His soon coming. And again, in Revelation we read about pestilence during that time.
So the appropriate response to pestilence in the Bible is not to try to deal with the cause of it, not to try to come up with a solution to get rid of it, but rather to turn to God in repentance and call out upon Him for mercy and for relief.
I'll give you an example of that. We see that in Israel when the Israelites spoke against God and Moses, you remember God sent fiery serpents, that's in Numbers 21, sent fiery serpents that bit the people and they were dying. They didn't try to kill the snakes. They went to Moses and admitted that they had sinned against him and against God and asked Moses to pray to God to repent, that they were repenting. That God would forgive them and that He would relieve them of the pestilence.
So we do see that there is a connection to pestilence and what God does here on earth to God warning men that they need to repent and they need to turn to Him.
Chris Katulka: So there is an aspect of the sign component that this is a sign of, really the birth pangs of something that's coming that's greater, the rapture, the church, the tribulation period, but at the same time, it's calling God. God is calling us back to Him.
Jim Showers: Yes.
Chris Katulka: Giving us an opportunity to return to Him.
Jim Showers: Let's be clear, the coronavirus is not the sign Jesus talked about or that Revelation speaks of, that John wrote about in Revelation. It may be a lead up to that. It may be God setting the table or preparing the stage, if you will, for what's coming. But consistently in Scripture, we can say pestilence was designed by God to get people's attention to repentance, so that He could forgive them.
Steve Herzig: That's exactly what I was going to say. We ought to be paying attention. We just recently had a call to prayer by the president, and without being political here, prayer is not political. We ought to be praying because of this.
Chris Katulka: When we come back though, Jim, I want you to answer a question I think is very interesting about God's judgment and relationship to the recent peace plan that's come out for Israel. That you've gotten that great question.
When we come back after the break, we're going to continue our discussion with Jim and Steve and look at what Israel is doing in response to the coronavirus, how they're really spearheading maybe some vaccines that could be helping us in the future when it comes to coronavirus and also, what in the world should the church be doing during this crisis? So my friends, my listeners, please be sure to stick around.
At the Friends of Israel, we're not shutting down during this time here as we're all dealing with the coronavirus. We're actually pushing forward with ministry. This is an opportune time for Friends of Israel to continue to minister to our Jewish friends, especially our elderly Jewish friends.
I know of some of our workers on the field that I have a great privilege of leading, they are already active in connecting with the Jewish community as Christians connecting with the Jewish community, reaching out and even providing food, groceries, and prayer for them. So we want you to know here at the Friends of Israel, we're not shutting down. We are advancing the gospel. We're advancing the ministry of the Friends of Israel. And we would love for you to continue to participate in what we're doing.
By simply going to foiradio.org, you can give to help continue to minister to our Jewish friends even now during this time of crisis. So again, that's foiradio.O-R-G, foiradio.O-R-G. You can give to help continue and advance the work of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.
Welcome back, everyone. We have executive director, Dr. Jim Showers of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry in studio as well as Steve Herzig, the North American Ministries' director, our outreach component at the Friends of Israel as well.
Here in studio, we're talking about coronavirus. Is it in the Bible? Does it matter? How is God using coronavirus to welcome people, really back, to turn to Him, to repent, to come to Him. We're also looking at what Israel is doing in response to coronavirus.
And so, Jim, someone asked you a question, which I thought was great that you sent to me and it was this, is the coronavirus a judgment from God on the United States because of the recently announced Israel Arab peace plan by President Trump? Are we being punished for dividing Israel since all the land belongs to Israel? Jim, I think this is a very fascinating question and I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.
Jim Showers: Well, it is a great question and I think it's on the mind of certainly a lot of people. My response to that question is simply this, if we think about the coronavirus, it is a worldwide epidemic that began in China and really has spread around the world. And so, it seems unlikely it's a judgment against the United States if God has really brought it upon the whole world. So I do not see it as a judgment against the United States.
Again, all that our administration has done is propose a plan that would bring both parties to the table to negotiate. They haven't forced Israel to do anything with the land at this point. It's all a concept right now. I think we just need to keep in mind that God has bigger things He's doing on earth than just the United States and this is certainly one of them.
Chris Katulka: Now, what Israel is doing with coronavirus has actually had a direct effect on us here at the Friends of Israel. First of all, we are just today welcoming back one of our very own colleagues who has been stuck in Israel because of the coronavirus situation. He's going to be landing today in the United States and we're praising God for that.
We also had another colleague in New Zealand who is just getting back. Our March trip, Jim, that you were leading was canceled because of coronavirus. Israel seemed to have taken steps pretty early on to help try to thwart this COVID-19. Can you talk about some of the things that Israel is doing today?
Jim Showers: Yes. Well, Israel initially began quarantining anybody that they determined had the virus. And then they took the next step, which was anybody coming back from a region of the country where the virus was active, they required an in-home 14 day quarantine.
Just a week and a half before we were to leave on our spring tour, then Israel announced that they were going to require anybody who entered the country to quarantine in a home for 14 days, which effectively meant that international travelers couldn't enter Israel unless they had an apartment or a home where they could go and quarantine. And for a tour, which lasts about a week and a half, it meant that it shut down the tourism business.
Israel followed right after that with a request that all current tourists in the land leave as soon as it was reasonably possible. I'm pretty sure by now all of the tour groups are out of Israel. The tour sites are shutdown. It's having a tremendous negative impact on the tourism business in Israel.
Chris Katulka: That's a big part of their economy as well.
Jim Showers: It's a huge part of their economy. It just gives you an understanding to how seriously Israel takes this threat. And so, they have been the most aggressive country that I know of in trying to control this, but they are also working very aggressively on treatments and on vaccines that will help address this. And so, it's yet to be seen exactly all that Israel is going to do to help with this crisis. But, they are one of the countries that is out front.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, leading the way. Steve, I wanted to ask you, I've been reading in the news that there are certain laboratories in Israel that are really spearheading the, a vaccine for coronavirus. I saw it right away. The moment coronavirus started growing in China and moving its way into Europe, I saw that Israel was already on the move to create a vaccine. What update can you give us on that?
Steve Herzig: Well, I could give you a couple, one from The Jewish Press and one from the Jerusalem Post. Actually, there was a vaccine for avian coronavirus, infectious bronchitis virus. I'm glad they put letters to that. It's called I-B-V, I-B as in boy-V. Because of their research in that particular corona, this one MIGAL, which is Galilee Research Institute, which has 80 PhDs, 260 researchers and 53 labs, this is in Little Israel in New Jersey, has been working on it.
Now, I'm real skeptical, Chris, because people are writing about this all the time. But The Jerusalem Post reported that, they say within 90 days they will have tested it and it could be out. As I'm on the radio, I caution people. We're so excited about this. You looked, I'm sure you and a million other people looked, so I'd caution people. Check the internet, look it up, but it is MIGAL Galilee Research Institute. Maybe you could check it out yourself. And as time goes on, we might get updates on this. But yeah, they're taking action and that's an encouragement to us.
Chris Katulka: Yeah. I think we even did a news spot on this in the past where we were reading about the fact that the coronavirus isn't something that's absolutely brand new. There were already number 19 coronavirus. So they actually already have vaccines in place for these, but it's manipulating it to the human genome essentially, and what we're dealing with as we contact one another. Israel is actually taking the steps of manipulating those vaccines that they already have for us and what we're dealing with right now, which is just fascinating.
Jim Showers: One of the reasons I think that's worthy of paying attention to, Chris is because we know Israel is leading the world today in innovation. Per capita, they have more innovation occurring than any other country in the world. Medical science and biological science are two areas that they have some of the top minds in the world that are working on innovative things. So if anybody is going to solve this, it wouldn't surprise me at all if it's Israel.
Chris Katulka: It's true, Jim. Actually, per capita PhDs as well in the world that Israel leads that. I think we should be looking to them for what, how the next vaccine that comes out, which I'm very, very glad that God is using them not only to bless the world by giving us the Messiah, but He's using Israel to bless the world through innovation and technology.
But, talking about the idea of blessing the world, in the early church period, I found this fascinating, in the early church period, Rodney Starks who wrote this book called, The Rise of Christianity, he actually tracked the rates of Pagans becoming Christians in the early church in three different plagues, one that happened in the second century, one that happened in the third century and one that happened in the sixth century A.D.
It was that, in early Christianity, elderly slaves would just be left to die during a plague. Widows would just be left to die. People wouldn't help them. But, Christians actually stood up during this time, risked their own lives and would feed and be with and pray for these people. During this time of plague, Christianity saw a rise during these plagues, Christianity saw a rise in numbers because people saw the compassion that was coming from Christians in the early church. What should the church be doing today to impact our communities during this time of crisis?
Jim Showers: Well, I think there is many things. There is the fact that churches may not be able to hold services doesn't mean that the needs, and-
Chris Katulka: That's right.
Jim Showers: ... people have tremendous needs. I heard this week about a church that in their community was offering daycare for health care workers who may have children in daycare that's been closed. And so, they're offering to come to the home and care for, send somebody to the home to care for the children, so that the parents can go to work and help those who are sick. Also, churches who are taking necessary supplies to the elderly. There are so many things we can be doing.
But I think we need to remember too, in order for the church to reach so many people during a crisis like this, the church has to be preaching the gospel. And so, if this is a sign from God or a message from God that the world needs to repent, we have to be preaching that message.
I love what Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 55 when he said, "Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call upon Him while He is near." Because Jesus warned us to be watching for the end to come. And so, this is an opportunity for those of us who understand what the Scriptures teach about the end to be warning people that they need to set their house in order with the Lord because nobody knows the day or hour when it'll be too late and the Lord will no longer be near.
Chris Katulka: This is a great opportunity for the church to be in action. This is a great opportunity for us as believers to really set forth a presence of peace. The peace that we have in Christ, the peace that we have in the gospel and through our actions and works that we show out of the love that we have for Christ and the proclamation of the gospel we, I think can really be a great testimony to a world that's looking for some comfort during this time.
I want to thank Dr. Jim Showers for being in the studio with us and Steve Herzig. Thank you so much, gentlemen for your wisdom and your insight during this difficult time.
Jim Showers: Thank you, Chris.
Steve Herzig: Thank you.
Steve Conover: Thank you for being with us today and a special thanks to Dr. Jim Showers and Steve Herzig for being our guests. Chris, any closing thoughts?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, I want to continue to remind our listeners that we're not shutting down here at the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are continuing to advance the work that the Lord has given us to minister to our Jewish friends. Were still ministering in Israel. We're still ministering all around the world.
The church thrives in crisis and here is the reason why, because in the middle of crisis, we have a peace, a peace that passes all understanding in Christ. And so, when we can present that peace through the work that we do to minister to others, I really think people gravitate to see who is this person and why are they acting this way? It's Christ in us.
And so, I want to encourage you to go to foiradio.org to help us continue to advance what the Friends of Israel is doing by prayerfully giving to the work of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry at foiradio.O-R-G.
Steve Conover: Thank you, Chris. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong and I'm Steve Conover, executive producer.
The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
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On the minds of many Christians today is how does the COVID-19 pandemic relate to the End-times. Read our Executive Director, Jim Shower’s thoughts on what Scripture has to say.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.