During the last number of days, the discernment that this COVID-19 pandemic has come as no surprise to God has been shared and affirmed multiple times. God is sovereign. He is in control and has permitted this pandemic, at this time, for his purposes. But the question still stands, why now?
The virus, though it has been in the news since December of last year, has gripped the world’s attention in the last couple of weeks, especially as the world has moved into the new reality of social distancing and now lockdown.
In the Hebrew calendar, all of the recent activity has taken place in the month of Adar. However, on the evening of Wednesday, March 25, the new month of Nissan begins. Nissan is the first month of the Hebrew calendar, and it starts the time of preparation for the feast of Pesach (Passover).
As part of the preparations for the celebration of Pesach and the feast of unleavened bread which directly follows it, Jews spend time thoroughly cleaning their houses and getting rid of every speck of leaven or yeast that is present there.
The symbolism of leaven in the Bible is generally not favourable. In the grain offerings, Moses instructed the Israelites to bring bread without leaven (Leviticus 2). Jesus, in a rare positive use for the symbol of leaven, describes the Kingdom of God as being like leaven that spreads through all the dough when it is used (Matthew 13:33). At the same time, Jesus warned his disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod (Mark 8:15).
Symbolically the removal of yeast represents the work of confession and repentance. This repentance is necessary personally and corporately. Many intercessors have recognized this theme as being important right now. Personal repentance is important. As is repentance of the church, for the ways it has fallen short, as is the repentance of our nations. The passages from 2 Chronicles 7:13-15 and Daniel 9 have been widely shared:
13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.2 Chronicles 7:13-15 (NIV)
This current pandemic is seen as a wakeup call from God for individuals, churches and nations to get themselves right with the Lord. It is time to repent. It is time to remove the leaven!
First Fruits and Shavuot
Intercessors are also seeing this as a time of opportunity for the body of Messiah to step up and step out in bold witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fields are ripe for harvest (John 4:35), and space has been created in people’s lives right now. With the potential of disease overshadowing people, questions about faith begin to bubble up to the surface.
Following the feast of unleavened bread is the festival of first fruits (Easter Sunday) and then a seven-week period in which the Israelites are commanded to count the omer before they celebrate the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost). This process of counting the fifty days between the festival of the first fruits and the festival of Shavuot counts off the days of the harvest. First fruits celebrates the beginning of the grain harvest and Shavuot celebrates the harvest itself. It is a time of celebrating the ingathering.
At the same time, it is also a time that represents refining. There is a Jewish understanding that there are 49 drives and traits of the human heart which are refined during these 49 days, the time it took the Israelites to leave Egypt and reach the Mountain of God where they received the Law.
It seems that the timing of this pandemic, the space being made clear for people and the opportunities for outreach by the body of Messiah fit well with the schedule of these spring festivals in the Hebrew calendar.
A Strategy for Prayer?
So in these days leading up to Easter and Passover, there needs to be a focus upon repentance. Repentance is the first thing that needs to happen. The leaven must be removed, and the body made ready to celebrate the death and resurrection of the Passover lamb, Yeshua – Jesus. We need to pray that congregations will be prepared for a new season of ministry where ministry happens without programs or buildings. It is also a great time to pray that this virus would literally pass over and be gone!
But as we continue to pray for repentance, we need to build upon our prayers. We must add prayers for the outreach of the believers and for the harvest to come in. We need to pray for a daily increase in the harvest. We need to pray for the refinement and maturity of the body of Messiah, as she watches how the Lord brings in this harvest. It’s a time to pray for the Lord to send out the harvesters!
Building on these prayers, even more, we must pray for Pentecost, for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon each part of this process, for it is the empowering work of the Holy Spirit that makes all this happen.