Week of March 22

Calamity, Coronavirus, and God’s Covenant

Read: Joshua 7-8; Psalm 69; 1 Corinthians 5

“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings.’”
Joshua 7:10-11, ESV


There always seems to be a human tendency, when bad things occur, to draw a moral straight line from a national catastrophe to God’s judgment. What is the relationship between national and/or individual sin and some calamity? I’ll address this tendency to leap too soon to moral conclusions in a bit, but we first need to examine God’s mercies in this story of Achan’s sin and how it related to the nation of Israel.

A Biblical Lens

Israel was viewed as a whole faith community, so the entire nation failed when Achan’s covetousness resulted in the breaking of God’s covenant (6:18-19; 7:1, 11, “Israel has sinned”; cf. “saw,” “coveted,” and “took,” 7:21). Theirs was a theocracy under specific national and spiritual requirements from God. Nevertheless, we learn that sin, no matter how large or small, is always serious business. Let me direct our attention to one other thought.

Israel’s folly became apparent when it failed to follow God’s prescription for engaging their enemy (7:1-6). The people got ahead of God and, when they did, their military mission failed. It was then that Israel’s greater sin was exposed (cf. Joshua 5:13-6:7 with 7:2-3). The spiritual dynamic is palpable because they were moving to claim God’s promise, which he would indeed honor, but they failed to keep their promise to Him along the way! (e.g. Joshua 1:16). Yes, Canaan would be theirs, but only by His hand and not their own.

A Moral Pathway

We need to be extraordinarily careful when assigning God’s moral judgment directly to a national calamity like COVID-19. There, I have pointed to the elephant in the room! (I’m smiling). There are Christian voices who seem to be ever-poised to pronounce God’s judgment anytime some catastrophe strikes. One Christian pastor declared the coronavirus to be God’s “death angel.” I also recall, for example, a Christian pastor’s declaration of God’s judgment upon New Orleans soon after Hurricane Katrina struck that area.

Hastiness to speak for God or to draw ethical conclusions about events too soon strikes me as being morally presumptuous and often even hurtful (cf. Joshua 7:6-9). An even more egregious wrong occurs, in my mind, when some people rush to profit from these disasters (e.g. publish religious books within days following a crisis).

Additionally, Joshua 7 is not directly linked to a global health crisis. In Ashlock speak, “We need to be careful when we try to leap over such hermeneutical fences because we will often trip and hurt others with our Bible application.” Our focal passage here is trained on ancient Israel’s national sin. At the same time, knowing this should not cause us to dismiss any underlying moral similarity when we also fall into rebellion and sin (cf. Genesis 3:6 and James 1:14-15).

Our passage today teaches us that God had a hard, but grace-filled, message to share with his people through His appointed messenger, Joshua. I know that He is gracious because this Holy God spoke to his rebellious people, despite their sin! His covenant love was verified by His word, and it showed His severe mercy (7:11, 26).

The moral pathway? Let’s exercise moral caution when we address calamities. Yes, we should keep in mind that bad things can and do happen in our fallen world, but God’s Son has given us a clear word of hope (cf. Luke 13:1-4; “redemptive” motif), and we should be diligent in seeking to live purely before Him.

For Your Journaling

1. Search your heart to ask God if there is any similarity between the specific rebellion in Israel’s day that may be applied to your own life today? (e.g. Achan’s covetousness). Seek God’s forgiveness.

2. While I believe that it is too soon to assign God’s judgment to COVID-19, I do believe that it is always right to seek God’s help and healing – for ourselves and others. Pray earnestly for healthcare workers who are caring for the ill and others who are seeking an effective vaccine. Seek God’s help to stem the advance of this illness. And pray for families who have been affected across the world. God’s mercies are new every morning.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock