The novel coronavirus is only one in a series of recent signs, omens, and plagues that should have us wondering, “Is God trying to get our attention?”
Here is a rundown on recent prophetic signs of the times that indicate that we are in the birth pangs of Messiah. Yeshua described the Chevlei Mashiach (birth pangs of Messiah) as “wars and rumors of wars … nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom … famines and earthquakes in various places … pestilences … terrors and great signs from heaven.” We’ve had all of that in small measure in recent weeks and months.
The whole world has been reconsidering the possibility of an apocalypse. The week before Passover, even The New York Times published a piece on the meaning of apocalypse in various faiths, which collated some of the signs mentioned above as follows:
For people of many faiths, and even none at all, it can feel lately like the end of the world is near. Not only is there a plague, but hundreds of billions of locusts are swarming East Africa. Wildfires have ravaged Australia, killing an untold number of animals. A recent earthquake in Utah even shook the Salt Lake Temple to the top of its iconic spire, causing the golden trumpet to fall from the angel Moroni’s right hand.
Purim in Iran
Purim comes a month before Passover. It’s easy to forget that the US nearly went to war with Iran earlier this year. That seems like a long time ago, but we were on the brink of war, and we were already firing missiles into Iran. Then, during the Festival of Purim, the truth about Iran’s situation with the coronavirus became public. Officials had speculated that the virus might be spreading in Iran, but we did not know how badly. Even government officials began to die along with thousands of Iranians. This outbreak occurred at the height of a Muslim pilgrimage into the city of Qom, and pilgrims carried the virus home with them from Iran. Remember that Iran is Persia, the land of Queen Esther. The day before Purim, the extent of the disease in Iran became known. Iran was concealing the true numbers, but statisticians did the math and extrapolated the seriousness of the situation from the number of known cases, and this hit the media on Purim. The mass graves the Iranians dug to bury the dead were visible from outer space.
In mid-March, a few weeks before Passover, an unusually powerful storm struck the Middle East, unleashing torrential rain and destructive winds. It smashed through Egypt, with wind and lightning and deluges of rain and flash floods, tore across the desert, blowing up great sandstorms, and struck Israel with hail and wind and flooding. The storm was so large and powerful that it was dubbed “The Dragon Storm.”
You might not have heard about it because, at the same time, media attention was focused on the explosion of coronavirus in the United States and the lockdown in Israel. The Dragon Storm came on the heels of a winter of unusually severe weather in Israel and the Middle East, during which a deluge of rain brought an end to a record-setting drought. Heavy deluges of rain in Israel created such intense flash floods that people and cars were swept away in city streets.
The Easter Storm
Severe weather struck the United States, too. In early March and April, unusually deadly tornados hit North America. Storms ripped through Tennessee and struck Nashville, leaving twenty-four dead, and leaving neighborhoods in debris. During Passover, the Easter Storm struck as 137 tornadoes touched down in ten different states killing over thirty people: Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Maryland, and Florida. Three states recorded twenty or more tornadoes. It’s not unusual to have storms, but a person of faith should not overlook the significance of this monstrous series of tornadoes occurring during Passover and on Easter.
The Eleventh Hour
As I followed the signs of the times in the daily news, I was particularly impressed with the dramatic photograph of a church fire in Baltimore, Maryland. On March 28, the magnificent steeple atop the former St. James the Less Roman Catholic Church in East Baltimore (currently occupied by an evangelical church called Urban Bible Fellowship Church) was struck by lightning and set ablaze. At the critical moment, a photographer captured an image of the top of the burning steeple plummeting through the sky, the cross that sat perched atop it falling free. The picture went “viral,” as they say, amid virus-stricken America. I don’t think it’s a “sign” that a steeple is struck by lightning or that a church catches on fire. In isolation, that can happen. That’s not the sign. It’s a sign that it happened at this dramatic moment in history and just so happened to be caught on film and happened to be distributed around the country, inspiring introspection and wonder about the meaning of current events. A clock on the steeple records the time of the incident as 11:15 AM, or to state it in a more dramatic manner, “the eleventh hour.”
The Trumpet of Moroni
That stroke of lightning and the photograph needs to be juxtaposed against the remarkable sign that took place just ten days earlier. I also highlighted it in the previous blog in this series. On March 18, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit Salt Lake City, Utah. The earthquake so shook the iconic angel that stands atop the Mormon Temple that he dropped the trumpet that he had previously held poised to his lips since 1892. The photograph of the angel without the trumpet was circulated around the world, inspiring people to reflect on the meaning.
They say a picture is worth one thousand words. Those two pictures—the images of the angel without his trumpet and the tumbling cross and steeple—speak to two thousand years of waiting for the Messiah.
River of Blood
On March 24, just over a week before Passover, near the city of Mississauga, Ontario, residents were frightened to see that the local river had turned blood red. No joke. People immediately started talking about the passage in Revelation where it says, “The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood” (Revelation 16:4). The explanation turned out to be something more prosaic. A local factory had a mishap that involved the spill of 400 liters of red ink into the river, turning the river to an astonishing red color. One should ask, “How does that happen, now, at this time, and this moment, when the world is in this state, that a factory just happens, by coincidence, to dump red ink into the river two weeks before Passover, during the most serious plague to smite the earth since 1918?” Is that a coincidence?
If so, then you will also find it to be a complete coincidence that almost the same thing happened in Italy on March 4, 2020, in the Italian town of Castelvetro when a local winery lost 1,000 liters of wine into the city water supply, causing people’s faucets and showerheads to run with red wine. Think about the significance of this happening in Italy, where, at the time, the death toll for coronavirus was higher than anywhere else in the world, where medical systems were completely overwhelmed, and the mortality rate from COVID-19 was at nearly 10 percent, and there had been almost 30,000 deaths.
Several volcanoes have popped off in the last several weeks, blanketing cities in ash, including Mount Klyuchevskoy in Russia, Anak Krakatau in Indonesia, and Japan’s Sakurajima. Volcanic eruptions are ongoing and happening all the time. Still, when three high-profile eruptions in as many weeks are juxtaposed against the coronavirus and other dramatic signs, those enormous plumes look a little more apocalyptic.
The plagues on Egypt struck Pharaoh’s livestock dead in the fields with pestilence. Just before Passover, we learned that the coronavirus can be transmitted to some animals. The report I saw said that big cats, in particular, are suffering. Last week, whole herds of livestock and flocks of poultry were being euthanized because, with restaurant closures, the demand has fallen off sharply and the animals are not being processed. Worse yet, slaughterhouses have been crippled by the coronavirus, and many forced to shut down or slow down production, choking meat processing. Agri-producers have been forced to kill off mass amounts of livestock, as it says in the Torah, “Behold, the hand of the LORD will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks” (Exodus 9:3).
Swarms of Animals
In the story of the ten plagues in the English Standard Version of the Bible, it says, “There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants’ houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies” (Exodus 8:24), but that’s actually not what the Hebrew says. The Hebrew says, “arov,” which has traditionally been translated to mean swarms of wild animals, various types of wild animals, a mixture of animals. That’s exactly how it was interpreted in the days of the apostles. Also, in the book of Revelation, the pale rider brings famine, pestilence, and wild beasts, alluding to the swarms of wild beasts in Egypt.
As if a small token of that plague, in the week before Passover, the world watched rampaging swarms of wild beasts in Thailand, Spain, Japan, Wales, and elsewhere. Animals who had become accustomed to being fed by tourists and by people out and about found their regular food supply interrupted, and they turned nasty. The news reports featured pictures of gangs of starving rhesus monkeys swarming the streets, attacking residents, cars, buses, homes. From Spain, there was a video of flocks of hungry pigeons pursuing people through city streets. In Japan, deer left the wildlife reserves where they are no longer receiving the handouts of tourists and moving into population centers, appearing unexpectedly in urban environments and causing traffic accidents as they wander across highways. In Wales, with everyone locked inside and no one out on the streets to shoo them away, wild goats from the highlands have descended on urban areas. They have been filmed running amok, eating the shrubbery, stripping lawns. All over the world, as people stayed inside and traffic stopped, wild animals emerged.
Is it a coincidence that this occurred the week before Passover? Suddenly the world media featured swarms of wild animals running through residential cities.
Swarms of Locusts
In the weeks before Passover this year, when we remember the plagues on Egypt, we learned that East Africa is undergoing the worst locust plague that continent has seen in at least seventy years. Swarms of locusts have descended on Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, South Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania. The locusts are devastating already fragile economies and food supplies in Africa, devouring crops and leaving famine in their wake. Worse yet, the UN says that if we have conducive breeding conditions, we “could see the locusts multiply by 400 times this year.” These locusts move in great clouds, miles wide, that darken the sky. One square kilometer of locusts devours enough food in a single day to feed 35,000 people, and the locust swarms move 95 miles a day. In late February, unusually high winds carried swarms of the locusts into Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and southwest Iran.
On April 6, just days before Passover, Washington State University issued a declaration of war against the Asian Hornet. Washington State, coincidentally, is where coronavirus first blossomed in the United States. The Asian Hornet is an invasive species, first spotted in Washington in December. Only a few so far, but the State of Washington wants to make sure they do not spread. They devour honeybees, decapitating the bees and destroying whole colonies. The enormous hornets are more than two inches long, and they have huge yellow-orange faces that invoke the words of Revelation, “On their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men” (Revelation 9:7). Worse than their faces are their nasty stingers, which deliver an extremely painful and sometimes lethal sting, reminding one of the words of Revelation, “They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men (Revelation 9:10). The giant hornets are even worse than the locusts in Revelation. Whereas the locusts are not permitted to kill, the Asian Hornets killed forty-one people in the Chinese province of Shaanxi in the summer of 2013.
Are these events really signs of the times? Are we really in the birth pangs of Messiah? In the next blog in this series, I’ll consider the implications of a sign that eclipses all of these. Until then, take a tip from the New York Times: “Every year the celebration of Passover… recounts 10 plagues from the Book of Exodus, is a reminder of God’s redemption.” If so, how much more so when we see those plagues being dramatically replayed before our eyes.