In the previous plague, there was the allusion to the sacred animals of Egypt – specifically the lambs. Now we find that the animals are plagued, receiving “pestilence”. We see that this plague comes from “the hand of the LORD”, in contrast with “the finger of God” (8:15). The hand is the symbol of power, and this is exactly the point. The plague is so severe that the Pharaoh must send to the Israelites to see if it reached them or not. This is obviously a sign of his lack in self-confidence at this point, but even so, he still is hardened and refuses to concede.
Within the plague upon Egypt, we have another parallel in the New Testament. Jesus Himself prophesied that at the end of the age there should be pestilence (Lk 21:11).
Again, though, I confess that I’m at a loss as to the deeper significance of pestilence. Just like with the frogs, when something is found toward the beginning and the end, I assume there is a greater significance. Why is the only mention of frogs in the whole Bible found in the plagues and in Revelation 16? Why, here with pestilence, is there such significance given of pestilence as a plague at the beginning and end?
It is not as though this word is uncommon, though. It occurs 49 times in the Old Testament, and every time it is something that is sent from God. This kind of ‘sickness’ or ‘disease’ is not brought about by improper living, like HIV or something. This disease comes from the hand of God, and from the hand of God alone. While HIV is transmitted even by birth, and so there are some who have the disease that are innocent, that is simply not the case with this ‘pestilence’. Over and over again, we find that God sends this as a judgment, first upon Egypt, and then as judgment upon Israel for her waywardness.
When Jesus speaks that there should be “pestilence”, the Greek word only shows up in one other place. We find it solely in Luke 21:11, and then again later (at least a derivative) in Acts 24:5. Paul is called a “pest”, or a “petulant man”, for stirring up against the Jews according to the sect of the Nazarene. This man Paul is being likened unto the pestilence that we would expect only saved for the most severe judgment of God against His people…
In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word chosen for “pestilence” is thanatos. Now, normally this word is translated as “death”. For example, in Revelation 6:8, we read that the fourth horseman will kill people with sword, famine, “death”, and wild beasts. It is the same Greek word. What is most likely is that John is pulling from the LXX in order to suggest that this fourth horseman is plaguing with pestilence, likening his vision with the story of the Exodus.
So, we’re still left with an impasse.
What are your thoughts? What is it about this ‘pestilence’ that has such deed significance?