Does this verse mean Christians are exempt from Coronavirus?
With everyone talking about the Coronavirus, many Christians have been appealing to this particular passage. In some translations it says that ‘no plague will come near you’. Are they right to basically ‘name and claim’ this passage? Does this verse promise all Christians today that they will not get the Coronavirus – or any other plague for that matter?
First let me offer the verse in various English translations, including the preceding verse to make it a complete sentence. Here is how four different versions run with it:
Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. (KJV)
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent. (NIV)
Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your habitation,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent. (RSV)
As can be seen, the Hebrew word in question can be translated in different ways. Other renderings of the Hebrew term include “hurt” or “affliction” or “destruction”. So the term may be broader than just referring to illness and the like. But even if that is the primary meaning here, more needs to be said.
With many believers posting this verse on the social media with the implication that they will be protected from this new virus, we need to do a bit of biblical spade work, beginning with the context. While the 16-verse psalm speaks much of God’s provision and protection, it is conditioned on the opening verses.
These promises are for those who ‘dwell in the shelter of the Most High’ (v. 1) and for those who say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress’ (v. 2). Thus these promises are not for everyone; and not even for all who claim to be believers, but for those who fully trust in and rely upon the Lord.
But all of Scripture is the context for any individual text. The promises made here go right back to the covenant Yahweh made between Israel and himself. We find this spelled out in detail in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. Have a look at each chapter: note how verses on the blessings for obedience are far fewer than the verses on curses for disobedience.
While both chapters talk about general protections from God for an obedient people, protection from plagues or diseases is not particularly mentioned. However, we do read about these things in terms of disobedience. Deuteronomy 28:20-22 for example says this:
The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.
Or as we read in Leviticus 26:23-25:
If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. And I will bring the sword on you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands.
Several things can be said about these passages. First, while plenty of Christians are quite happy to claim the promises about blessings, I seldom see any of them claim the promises about curses. But it is a package deal. If we want to appropriate the covenant conditions God made with ancient Israel, we must appropriate them all, and not be selective.
And that leads to my second point: this was indeed a covenant made with Israel. If you read them you will see how closely they are all connected with the land. Obedience will bring safety in the land, protection from enemies, good crops, large herds, and so on.
Disobedience will bring the opposite. In other words, it is all tied in with the promised land God wanted to give to Israel. Christians today are not connected to any piece of geography in the Middle East, and Paul says our blessings are in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1:3).
I realise that those into the Health and Wealth Gospel are quite keen to latch onto these blessing verses of the Old Testament chapters, but they are mistaken for various reasons, including what I just mentioned. But for much more detail on all this, see this piece: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/01/03/misappropriating-old-testament-blessings-and-curses/
The last two paragraphs of that article are worth offering again here:
New Testament believers therefore need to be careful in how they appropriate Old Testament covenant theology. While some, like dispensationalists, may go too far in making a clear distinction between Israel and the church, we need to nonetheless remember the unique role and calling of Israel.
The very material and earthly set of rewards and punishments for Israel seem to find little resonance in the New Testament. Indeed, given that the majority of consequences for covenantal obedience and disobedience seem to revolve around the land, we can hardly expect to see them in the New Testament, which makes almost no mention of the land.
And for those who will want to insist that full and complete physical healing for believers today is found in the atonement, see this piece: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/29/is-physical-healing-in-the-atonement/
Much more can be said about all this. This article is in fact my 84th discussion on the HWG and related matters. Those wanting to see more on these issues are invited to check them out here: billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/the-health-and-wealth-gospel/
The truth is, we are living between the ages. While we can experience partial healing and partial prosperity now, we await the Lord’s return to get the full blessings of God. In this life we will sometimes get sick, sometimes get infected with a virus, and sometimes die of some disease: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/01/28/living-between-the-ages/
Sure, we can and should pray for God’s protection and for God’s healing, but perfect health is not guaranteed in the New Testament. Both in Scripture and in church history we read about many great saints of God who were ill, who suffered various infirmities and sicknesses, and who may have even died quite young because of their illnesses.
Most of them certainly were not living in sin or lacking in faith as the HWG folks would have us believe, but were living in a fallen world and subject to the same realities that this brings as anyone else. Yes, by all means we can pray and seek God and ask him to protect us from things like the Coronavirus.
But at the same time, we must take wise and sensible steps and precautions to help ensure that we do not come into contact with it. Believers are not to be reckless, foolish or presumptuous. We are to use God-given common sense, as well as exercise our faith and trust in God.
We should all praise God that he is a healer. But we should also praise God that he is sovereign, and that we can trust him for whatever he allows us to go through and experience.