I would be lying to say I have not wondered like many of you if the COVID-19 pandemic was the wrath of God come upon us. Like many of you, I read the news and wonder, “Is this the final cataclysm? Does this mark the immediate return of the Messiah?”
As Christians, we are pilgrims waiting to return home from exile. It feels very natural to wonder about these things as we eagerly await the return of Christ.
Christians have wondered about this type of thing many times in the midst of war, famine, and calamity.
With the current pandemic, Christians have clung to Christ through prayer and Scripture. This is wonderful! As people are reading through parts of Scripture they have long overlooked, verses about plague, wrath, and pestilence are starting to pop out to them.
One such passage is Isaiah 26:20-21.
“Come, my people, enter into your rooms and close your doors behind you; hide for a little while until indignation runs its course. For behold, the Lord is about to come out from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; and the earth will reveal her bloodshed and will no longer cover her slain.” (NASB)
At first blush, given our current circumstances, it is easy to see why someone would think that this is talking about our quarantine. It’s true that Isaiah 26 is part of a larger section of chapters in Isaiah that focuses on the second coming of Christ and the restoration of all things.
But is Isaiah 26:20-21 a prophecy about COVID-19 and our quarantine?
Let’s examine all of Isaiah 26 to find out.
The entire chapter of Isaiah 26 has a tremendous message of hope for circumstances just like this pandemic.
1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
“We have a strong city; He sets up walls and ramparts for security. 2 Open the gates, that the righteous nation may enter, the one that remains faithful. 3 The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. 4 Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock. 5 For He has brought low those who dwell on high, the unassailable city; He lays it low, He lays it low to the ground, He casts it to the dust. 6 The foot will trample it, the feet of the afflicted, the steps of the helpless.” (NASB)
In verses 1-6, Isaiah describes the city of God, the capitol of God’s Kingdom. The city is strong! It is secure. Open the gates so the righteous may enter. Who are the righteous? Those who remain faithful to God.
Hear the promise of verses 3-4. “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock.”
What a prayer for the people of God right now! I want all of this. I want a steadfast mind. I want perfect peace. I want my faithfulness to God to be exhibited in my trust in Him. I want this command to be my command.
Trust in the Lord forever!
Why? Because in the LORD God we have an everlasting Rock. This is the Rock that gave the life-giving spring of water to sustain Israel in the wilderness. This is the Rock of Peter’s confession: the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The Rock that is the foundation upon which Christ builds His church.
In verses 5-6, we have a contrast of two people. Those who dwell on high (i.e. those who are not faithful to God) will be laid low to the ground and cast to the dust. The foot will trample them as the foot of the Seed of Eve would crush the serpent who was laid low. The feet of the afflicted, the steps of the helpless will walk over the unfaithful as they enter the gates of God’s strong city. The people of God are these people: the afflicted, the helpless.
Additionally, we should see that Isaiah 26 begins with victory. The people of God are entering His city in victory. This chapter begins with the certainty of the victory of God and His provision of deliverance for His people.
The rest of the chapter takes a jump backwards to reveal the road to this victory.
7 The way of the righteous is smooth; O Upright One, make the path of the righteous level. 8 Indeed, while following the way of Your judgments, O Lord, we have waited for You eagerly; Your name, even Your memory, is the desire of our souls. 9 At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; for when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. 10 Though the wicked is shown favor, he does not learn righteousness; he deals unjustly in the land of uprightness, and does not perceive the majesty of the Lord. (NASB)
In verses 7-10, Isaiah discusses the path to God’s kingdom and further contrasts the unfaithful with the faithful. The way for the righteous or the faithful ones is smooth and level. The righteous people wait eagerly for the Lord’s return.
The language in verses 8-9 echoes loudly for me during the pandemic. We eagerly wait for God. Our souls long for Him. We seek Him diligently.
We experience judgment and we learn righteousness.
However, the wicked are shown favor and do not learn righteousness. The wicked deal unjustly with others. They do not perceive the majesty of God.
And here is a great contrast. The righteous are said to have a straight path and yet they experience judgement or discipline. What is the result of that? We learn righteousness.
This is contrasted with the wicked who are “shown favor.” They appear to have not been disciplined. They act deceitfully and seem to get ahead in life. Yet, they do not learn righteousness or perceive God’s presence.
Then the LORD comes close like during the plagues in Egypt. The Hand of God is present and lifted up.
Isaiah 26: 11-19
11 O Lord, Your hand is lifted up yet they do not see it. They see Your zeal for the people and are put to shame; indeed, fire will devour Your enemies. 12 Lord, You will establish peace for us, since You have also performed for us all our works. 13 O Lord our God, other masters besides You have ruled us; but through You alone we confess Your name. 14 The dead will not live, the departed spirits will not rise; therefore You have punished and destroyed them, and You have wiped out all remembrance of them. 15 You have increased the nation, O Lord, You have increased the nation, You are glorified; You have extended all the borders of the land. 16 O Lord, they sought You in distress; they could only whisper a prayer, Your chastening was upon them. 17 As the pregnant woman approaches the time to give birth, she writhes and cries out in her labor pains, thus were we before You, O Lord. 18 We were pregnant, we writhed in labor, we gave birth, as it seems, only to wind. We could not accomplish deliverance for the earth, nor were inhabitants of the world born. 19 Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. (NASB)
In verse 11, the Lord is present and the wicked do not see it. They don’t see God, but they see God’s zeal for His people just as the Egyptians saw the people of God in Goshen spared the calamities of the latter plagues when the Hand of God was present among them.
In verses 12-13, we see a response from the faithful. The LORD will establish peace for us. We are incapable of establishing this peace, this rest. Only the LORD can do it and the LORD does do it for us. Others have ruled over us, but through You alone we confess Your name. Yahweh Elohiym! The LORD our God!
In verse 14, judgment has come to the wicked and death touches them. Their dead will not live. God has punished and destroyed them. The memory of them is erased.
In verse 15, the faithful are contrasted with the wicked. The wicked are slain and not even remembered. The nation, the people of God, is increased and grows and God is glorified!
In verses 16-18, we see a desperate need for hope and deliverance.
Who is the “they” in verse 16?
The nation. “They” refers to the nation in verse 15.
Distress has hit them and they could only whisper a prayer.
I have been there during this season. When news of friends and loved ones having become sick, the uncertainty of life or death can be troubling. Even as faithful Christians, we experience sorrow and in this sorrow, we can often only whisper a prayer. Trouble has found us.
God’s chastening was upon them. This verse doesn’t mean that God sent COVID-19 as our punishment or source of chastening. God could have done that, but this verse doesn’t mean that.
Verse 16 is meant to remind us of verses 9 and 10. God’s judgement, discipline, or chastening allows to learn righteousness.
COVID-19 is not like the plague from the Hand of God sent upon a wicked Pharoah that destroys the faithless, but spares God’s people like in Exodus and the Passover narrative. COVID-19 falls upon the wicked and the just. COVID-19 is evidence that we live in a fallen and broken world. COVID-19 reminds us of the curses upon humanity, beasts, and the world.
It is natural for Christians to think eschatologically when tragedy strikes especially during momentous moments of global trauma like this pandemic. If we eagerly expect Christ’s return, we can’t help but think of the return of Christ in these moments. However, we have been living in the Last Days since the ascension of Christ. Even though each morning we are one day closer to Christ’s return, Christ will return like a thief in the night at a time we will neither guess nor know.
What we do know is that we live in a fallen and broken world that bares the mark of the curse described in Genesis 3.
In verse 17, Isaiah reminds us of the curse upon Eve. The pregnant women writhes in labor pains. In verse 18, the pregnancy image continues. We were pregnant but all our labor produced was wind. All our labor produced was nothing. No baby. No life. Nothing. Our labor, our unjust dealings our wickedness produced the wind.
We could not deliver the earth. Inhabitants of the world were not born. We failed.
That’s a message for us right now. For all we labored to acquire wealth, for all we labored to acquire health, for all we labored to acquire knowledge of science, medicine, politics, history, law, pleasure, and pain, for all we labored to accomplish these things, we failed. We failed to save the world. We could not perform our works. We could not establish peace.
Who can save the world? Who can establish peace? Who can give inhabitants for the world?
The LORD our God. Only the LORD can produce people who can live forevermore in the new heavens and new earth.
Look at how verse 19 contrasts with verse 14 and demonstrates who will live in the world.
Your dead will live, their corpses will rise.
Those who are dead in the LORD are promised physical resurrection. Like Adam, we lay in dust, but we awake and shout for joy! Our resurrection is the dew in the dawn of a new day. The earth (or the ground or the grave) gives birth to the dead. In Romans 8: 18-25, Paul looks back on this pregnancy language as the earth groans in labor pains eagerly awaiting the sons of God to be revealed. The earth gives birth to the children of God as the LORD resurrects His faithful ones to new life to dwell in His strong city.
This leads us back to verses 20-21.
Isaiah 26: 20-21
Come, my people, enter into your rooms and close your doors behind you; hide for a little while until indignation runs its course. For behold, the Lord is about to come out from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; and the earth will reveal her bloodshed and will no longer cover her slain. (NASB)
We are beckoned by the Lord. He calls to us, “Come! Enter into your rooms. Close your doors behind you and hide a little while.”
Is this our quarantine allowing us to escape COVID-19?
This seems to be the LORD calling us into the grave where we will be hidden during God’s wrath upon the wicked during the Last Day. The Lord is about to come out from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth. We are in our graves with the blood of Christ smeared upon us like the blood of the Passover lamb. The death of the wicked creates room for the new inhabitants of the earth who we just saw promised to spring forth from the grave into new life and entering the strong city of God.
Isaiah 26 is certainly eschatological. Isaiah 26 is about the Last Day, the return of Christ, and the resurrection of the dead.
Where does this leave us right now in 2020?
With great hope! With words of prayer and praise! We eagerly await the return of Christ. We eagerly await the resurrection. We eagerly await to dwell with the LORD and the faithful in the Kingdom of God. We have hope that death is not the end. We have hope that we are not simply promised to live in a spiritual state of being. As those faithful and loyal to the LORD, we are promised that His dead (us) will be born again into the world to inhabit it with Him.
So, is Isaiah 26:20-21 a prophecy of COVID-19 and our current quarantine? No.
Should we quarantine? Yes.
We should also practice social distancing, use of masks when warranted, wash our hands, and continue being the people of God.
We should strive to not act unjustly by profiteering at the expense of those in need or hoarding resources while people in our church and community need help. We should bare this current pandemic and the affliction it causes by clinging to Christ.
Look at some of the promises of God in Isaiah 26 again.
- Trust in the LORD our everlasting Rock. Be steadfast of mind to keep perfect peace.
- Lord, You will establish peace for us.
- Your dead will live. We who lie in dust, will awake and shout for joy.
These are the promises of God we hold on to with certainty.
Isaiah 26 begins with certainty of victory as the righteous nation of God enters into the city of God after their resurrection. We have certainty of victory in the face of death. We have certainty of victory in the face of wickedness. We have certainty of victory in the face of a pandemic.
Because of this certainty, we cling to the God’s commands and promises.
Trust in the Lord. Be steadfast of mind. Confess the LORD’s name alone.