Faith: Of plague and pestilence


The cholera epidemic of 1848 in England had a personal impact.

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My great-great grandfather, Joseph Bailey, a pipemaker by trade, died of it in the town of Kingston-upon-Hull, which saw over 1200 casualties.

His widow was pregnant with my great-grandfather at the time and named him Joseph, after his father.

She later remarried a music seller by the name of William Kempling and little Joseph took his stepfather’s surname.

So, my family name comes about because of the impact of a deadly epidemic.

There have been many contagions throughout human history and many of them were far worse than the COVID-19 pandemic we are facing.

Some estimate up to 90 per cent of First Nations in North America were wiped out by smallpox and other diseases for which they had no natural resistance.

The bubonic plague of the 14th century killed about one-third of the population of Europe.

In fact, the word “quarantine” comes from that time. In 1448, the Doge of Venice decreed that all incoming ships had to remain at anchor in the harbour for 40 days (quaranta means 40 in Italian) before crews could come ashore.

There are instances in scripture where plague and pestilence are mentioned — and some are definitely judgments of God.

The first example is the series of 10 plagues inflicted on the Egyptian people to force Pharaoh to let Moses and the Israelites go free from slavery.

These included a plague on livestock, a plague of boils and a deadly plague that killed all the firstborn children of the Egyptians. Only after this final plague did Pharaoh allow Moses and the Israelites to leave.

But the Israelites weren’t immune from God’s judgment, either. While Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites reverted to idolatry. They made a calf out of gold and began to worship it.

God told Moses to return to the camp and deal with the rebellious Israelites, telling him He would be punishing them for their sin.

“And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.”

Another example of God’s judgment in the form of a plague was when the Assyrian army of King Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

The situation was dire and King Hezekiah prayed fervently to God, saying, “Deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.”

God answers Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah, saying “He will not enter this city, declares the Lord. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”

The next verse states that the angel of the Lord went out and put 185,000 Assyrian soldiers to death, breaking the siege.

Secular historians also record that the siege failed and some have suggested it was due to septicemic plague, a virulent, fast-acting version spread by flea-infested mice. Indeed, the Greek historian Herodotus records that the Assyrian army was overrun by a plague of mice during their campaign.

In the book of Revelation, the last days prior to Judgment Day include a dreadful ordeal of seven “plagues,” each delivered by an angel.

The first angel’s plague causes “ugly and painful sores” to break out on the people who have accepted the mark of the beast (666).

It is not a happy time for most of mankind, at least those who refuse to honour the living God.

Certainly, God gives reassuring promises to his faithful ones. Psalm 91 says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty … rely he will save you from the …deadly pestilence .. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”

This does not mean Christians are safe from all disease.

Obviously, believers die like anyone else from infectious diseases.

What this passage is saying is that when God’s specific judgment falls upon evil-doers in the form of pestilence, God’s people will be spared that fate.

Nevertheless, I pray that everyone will remain safe from COVID-19 and that those who are ill recover quickly. Amen.

KTW welcomes submissions to its Faith page. Columns should be between 600 and 800 words in length and can be emailed to Please include a very short

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