March 2020: the whole world is in quarantine. What the pandemic of Coronavirus did was to isolate us. Some of us, especially the elderly, are alone just by themselves.
People of faith that get encouragement from company of other believer, cannot meet, cannot talk, cannot hug.
In Psalms 42, this situation is described very will:
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, “Where is your God?”
4 When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance.
6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me”
The psalmist yearns to take part in a pilgrimage with the multitudes to the House of the Lord in Jerusalem.
But he cannot. And he is distressed and in despair.
May be he was cast out from Jerusalem? Or maybe sent to exile by enemy?
We do not know what happened to him. But we can certainly identify with him in this situation, when we are alone and yearning to worship together with fellow believers.
And then he saw a deer. A beautiful animal that came to the water to drink. He did not see the beauty of the animal. He saw its thirst. he saw its weakness. He saw its neediness.
Where is Psalm 42 located?
The psalmist told us where he wrote psalm 42:
“Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.”
If you’ve been to Israel. You know where this is. In the Hula valley, where the springs that come from Mount Hermon forming the Jordan river with cold water and waterfalls. This area is considered by many the most beautiful area in the land of Israel.
And being here, surrounding by all this beauty, the man does not enjoy any of it. His heart is empty. All the beauty of this world cannot fill your heart when you are away from God.
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God“
The extinction of deers from Israel
Can we see deers today coming to drink water of the Jordan river?
The answer is NO.
Deers appear several times in the Bible. They were very common in ancient times.
“He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He causes me to stand on the heights.”
“As a loving deer and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love.”
“Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert”
In the 20th century, deers were completely extinct from Israel. Mostly because of hunting. The last deer was hunted in Mount Carmel in 1912.
In the last 40 years there is an initiative to reintroduce deers back to the nature. This project is quite successful. But they are still very rare and are only in a few small reserves.
Coronavirus pandemic is spreading all over the world unlike any other disease that was known before.
In ancient times, people did not know about bacteria or viruses. They looked at epidemic diseases as judgement from their gods. Even the Israelites understood that diseases come as judgement from the God of Israel.
Today we understand the biology of viruses, we know how to prepare vaccines against most diseases. We have antibiotics against many bacteria.
But once in a while we get a surprising reminder that we are not in control.
What is new about the epidemic of Coronavirus is that it is ubiquitous: It is everywhere. This is something that was never seen in the past (even the Black Death in the 14th century was limited to Europe and the Middle East). But in fact, this was foreseen in prophecies, and I will get to this later on.
In the Bible, there are many stories of plagues, and they are generally appear as a result to disobedience.
I want to focus here on two examples. One is a story that happened in the past, and one is a prophecy of a plague still to come.
What was Davis’s sin?
In the last chapter of 2 Samuel, chapter 24, we read a story about David, that was “incited” to count the people of Israel. The same story is repeated in 1 Chronicles chapter 21.
In 1 Samuel, it was the “anger of the Lord” that incited David, while in 1 Chronicles it is said that it was ‘Satan’ who stood up against Israel.
(Those two different versions may lead us to ask a question and to answer it: Where does Satan gets his power from?)
The story is simple, but the moral is not so clear:
David counted the people of Israel, and as a result of this sin, he had to be punished. Now the punishment is not on David himself, but on all the nation on behalf of David. And David got the freedom to choose which punishment to take.
Gad the prophet was the messenger:
13 So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”
2 Samuel 24:13
What was the sin that David committed? This sin is not mentioned in the Torah (the law) or anywhere else in the Bible. Isn’t the king allowed to count his people?
In fact, there are so many places in the Bible where people are counted . And one place where the Lord Himself ordered to take a census:
The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said: 2 “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. 3 You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. …. 45 All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. 46 The total number was 603,550.
Numbers 1:1-3, 45-46
As there is no such sin mentioned in the Torah that prevents from counting people, it is even more intriguing to see what Joab answered David after hearing the command to count the people:
3 And Joab said to the king, “Now may the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times more than there are, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king desire this thing?”
2 Samuel 24:3
Joab gave us a hint on what was the problem here: Don’t you trust the Lord to add more people to the nation? Why count? do you want to show off with how many men you have in your army?
There is some more explanation in the Bible itself about this.
In 2 Chronicles 23-27, after citing all the numbers of the different divisions in Israel: Levites and priests, musicians and gatekeepers, treasuries, military divisions and leaders of the tribes,
We read this:
23 But David did not take the number of those twenty years old and under, because the Lord had said He would multiply Israel like the stars of the heavens. 24 Joab the son of Zeruiah began a census, but he did not finish, for wrath came upon Israel because of this census; nor was the number recorded in the account of the chronicles of King David.
What is the problem with a king counting his people?
The Lord said to Abraham:
blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.
When David counted the people, His sin was unfaithfulness to the Lord who promised that Israel will be countless!
The judgement (that turned into blessing)
Gad the prophet told David to choose one punishment from three options. Not every day we can choose our judgement from God. The options were:
Three years of famine
Three months of fleeing from the enemies
Three days of plague
David chose the last one, because, as he said: “let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
How did the plague end? After David built an altar and offered sacrifice to the Lord. David submitted himself obediently to the Lord and made atonement. “And the plague was withdrawn from Israel”
And not only that: David bought the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place that later became the place of the Temple.
How amazing is our God the turns even our sins into blessing!
Plague in prophecy
We read in Zechariah 14:
And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem:
Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, Their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, And their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths.
13 It shall come to pass in that day That a great panic from the Lord will be among them. Everyone will seize the hand of his neighbor, And raise his hand against his neighbor’s hand; 14 Judah also will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations Shall be gathered together: Gold, silver, and apparel in great abundance.
15 Such also shall be the plague On the horse and the mule, On the camel and the donkey, And on all the cattle that will be in those camps. So shall this plague be.
And what comes after that?
And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
The plague in this prophecy is about to strike all the nations who fight against Jerusalem. Who are those nations? It is easier to ask – who are NOT those nations.
So, after the disaster, comes a great blessing. and feast of Tabernacles is the time of celebration.