Are the blessings and curses of the Old Testament applicable to us and the current pandemic?

The blessings and the curses of the covenant that the LORD made with Israel at Mount Sinai are unmistakably clear. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-30 are perhaps the best known and most detailed records of the particular blessings and curses of that covenant. The curses include drought, pestilence, disease, civil unrest, civil war, international war, and eventually exile. The occasion for the curses is specifically the national disobedience of Israel, and the occasion for the blessings is the national obedience of Israel. The rest of the Old Testament chronicles the times of success and trouble of the nation of Israel exactly as explained in the Blessings and Curses passages. Individuals might be faithful during a time of national disobedience (for example, Elijah and his faithful contemporaries during Ahab’s reign), or they might be disobedient during times of national obedience, and for each the Lord promised individual protection or punishment (Ezekiel 18), but the primary terms of the covenant were national.

The question is therefore if those blessings and curses are directly applicable to us in our current pandemic. Is COVID-19 some form of global, or at least national, punishment for the sins of the various nations? There is both a “Yes”, and a “No” part to the answer.

No, COVID-19 is not what the covenant at Sinai with Israel is about. That was a very specific customisation of God’s general ways of dealing with mankind. It was customised for the nation of Israel in the Promised Land. It was a national covenant conditional on the nation’s obedience. After it was breached so repeatedly and decisively by Israel, God considered it broken, left the nation, and sent them into exile, never again to restart that covenant.

Some of the key events that indicate the finality of that covenant is that God’s glory departed before the Exile and never returned to the Promised Land until Jesus was born. Also, the faithful believers in the Exile and after the Exile did not keep many of the the terms of the covenant but were still considered faithful—people like Daniel and Ezekiel fall in this time period. Also, a “New Covenant” was promised that would not be breakable like the first and would be better in every way—Jesus came as a better Israel, a better Moses, and a better sacrifice. The prophecies of some of the OT prophets (especially Jeremiah), the teaching of our Lord Jesus (especially the sermon on the mount), and the writings of the apostles (especially the book of Hebrews) all communicate that the covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai is broken and that God’s now deals His people through the New Covenant.

In other words, No, COVID-19 is not an expression of the curses of the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai.

But there is also a “Yes” part to the answer. Throughout the Old Testament God’s character and way of dealing with mankind is revealed. From the fellowship of Genesis 1-2, to the curse of Genesis 3, to the counsel of Genesis 4, to the protection of Noah, the choosing of Abram, the covenant with Israel, the life of Jesus, the building of the Church and the End of the World, God is revealing His glory for us to know, His will for us to obey, and His blessings and curses for us to recognise. If we worship Him and obey Him, He blesses us with spiritual and physical blessings. If we reject Him and disobey Him, He punishes us with spiritual and physical suffering. Sometimes the punishment takes the form of discipline bringing us back to Him, and sometimes the punishment takes the form of destruction, bringing justice to the sinfulness of mankind. Unlike the nation of Israel under their covenant with God from the time of Moses to the Exile, we do not have a hyper-customised version of God’s dealings with us as a nation. Instead we have the time-less Law of the LORD to love Him and love neighbour (Matt 22:36-40), and we have the providential individual blessings and trials of life to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom 8:28-30).

The current pandemic is not a specific judgment on specific nations for specific sins. But it is most certainly a Divine reminder that sin has marred this world (Rom 8:18-23), that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), that each of us will have to give an account to God (Rom 14:12), and that Jesus is coming again to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him (Heb 9:27-28).