God’s Four Sore Judgments: Pestilence

By Elizabeth Prata*

This is a study of one of the LORD'S 'Four Sore Judgments', plague.

The LORD has "Four Sore Judgments" to which He sends at times upon the earth. In other translations they are called the "LORD'S Four Severe Judgments." They're mentioned in Ezekiel 14:21:

For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast!

The four are Sword, Famine, Pestilence, and Beasts. Wesley's notes says, "How much more - If they could not be able to keep off one of the four, how much less would they be able to keep off all four, when I commission them all to go at once."

The Lord mentions three judgments together quite frequently, sword, famine, and pestilence. The judgment of beasts isn't mentioned as much but usually when it is it's with the other three, thus comprising the Lord's Four Sore Judgments quartet.

If they fast, I will not hear their cry of despair. If they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. Rather, I will finish them off by sword, famine, and plague. (Jeremiah 14:12).

See how the siege ramps are mounted against the city to capture it. And by sword, famine, and plague, the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. (Jeremiah 32:24).

But I will spare a few of them from the sword, famine, and plague, so that they can tell of all their abominations among the nations to which they go. Then they will know that I am the LORD." (Ezekiel 12:16).

Three of His judgments are usually enough to perform His will upon the people, as seen here in  Ezekiel 6:12,

The one who is far off will die by plague; the one who is near will fall by the sword; and the one who remains and is spared will die of famine. In this way I will exhaust my wrath on them.

Revelation 6:8 mentions the beasts as the added 4th:

And I looked, and there was a pale green horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following after him. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth.

Plague and pestilence are interchangeable terms. In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 1280–1281), we read:
PESTILENCE Devastating epidemic that OT writers understood to be sent by God (Exod. 9:15; Jer. 15:2; Hab. 3:5; Amos 4:10), sometimes by means of a destroying angel (2 Sam. 24:16; 1 Chron. 21:15). God sent pestilence as punishment for persistent unbelief (Num. 14:12) and failure to fulfill covenant obligations (Deut. 28:21) as well as to encourage repentance (Amos 4:10). God withheld pestilence from Egypt to allow for survivors to witness to His acts of liberation (Exod. 9:16). Earnest prayer averted pestilence (1 Kings 8:37); fasting and sacrifice without repentance did not (Jer. 14:12). Pestilence is often associated with war and siege conditions (Exod. 5:3; Lev. 26:25; Amos 4:10; Luke 21:11).
And this list of verses:
Plague or Pestilence, The
  Inflicted by God. Eze. 14:19. Hab. 3:5.
  One of God’s four sore judgments. Eze. 14:21.
  Described as noisome. Psa. 91:3.
  Israel threatened with, as a punishment for disobedience. Lev. 26:24, 25. Deu. 28:21.
  Desolating effects of. Psa. 91:7. Jer. 16:6, 7. Amos 6:9, 10.
  Equally fatal day and night. Psa. 91:5, 6.
  Fatal to man and beast. Psa. 78:50. (marg.) Jer. 21:6.
    The Egyptians. Exo. 12:29–30.
    Israel for making golden calf. Exo. 32:35.
    Israel for despising manna. Num. 11:33.
    Israel for murmuring at destruction of Korah. Num. 16:46–50.
    Israel for worshipping Baal-peor. Num. 25:18.
    David’s subjects for his numbering the people. 2 Sam. 24:15.
  Often broke out suddenly. Psa. 106:29.
  Often followed war and famine. Jer. 27:13. Jer. 28:8. Jer. 29:17, 18.
  Egypt often afflicted with. Jer. 42:17, with Amos 4:10.
  Specially fatal in cities. Lev. 26:25. Jer. 21:6, 9.
  Was attributed to a destroying angel. Exo. 12:23, with 2 Sam. 24:16.
  The Jews sought deliverance from, by prayer. 1 Kin. 8:37, 38. 2 Chr. 20:9.
  Predicted to happen before destruction of Jerusalem. Mat. 24:7. Luke 21:11. 
    God’s judgments upon the apostasy. Rev. 18:4, 8.
    The diseased state of man’s heart. 1 Kin. 8:38.
Source: Torrey, R. A. (1897). The New Topical Text Book: A Scripture Text Book for the Use of Ministers, Teachers, and All Christian Workers

It is a very dread situation when all four are unleashed. If you read Revelation 6, you will see that the four are unleashed all at once, or in very rapid succession. Jesus called it the worst time on earth there ever has been or ever will be. (Matthew 24:21). A quarter of the world will die when the seal is unsealed and these four sore judgments are commissioned to go all at once:

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8).

Sword is war, and war brings famine. Wars and revolutions interrupt supply lines, empty grocery stores, and ruin agricultural land. War makes food scarce, which depletes the body and opens it to more diseases due to compromised immune systems. War brings famine in that way.

The third sore judgment of the four that the LORD had linked in Ezekiel 14 is Pestilence. Pestilence has been present on earth for centuries and is is forecast for the people who dwell on the earth during the Tribulation in the future. (Revelation 6:8, Luke 8:11). According to the Greek word used in Luke 21, loimos, pestilence is a plague or a disease. Diseases are usually considered plagues when they are widespread and contain a high mortality rate. The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines pestilence as "A highly infectious, usually fatal, epidemic disease; a pestilence."

We see in this article of the outbreak of Influenza as WWI was concluding:
From 1917 to 1920, the virus infected one-third of the Earth’s population, which at the time was about 500 million people. If the same ratio of infections were to happen today, it would be the equivalent of 2.5 billion. That would roughly be the equivalent today of every man, woman, and child in Africa, Europe, and North America becoming infected.
The LORD promises to abolish the four judgments from the land someday,

And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. (Hosea 2:18)

What a day that will be!

I can't say definitively that the COVID-19 virus is a judgment from the LORD, because I don't know the Lord's mind. We see from scriptural history, however, that He does send plagues for various reasons, all of them negative.

He is the Light. He is shining in heaven, and in the faces of each of His sheep. Soon, His light will be seen not by faith but by sight. Praise Him for His love and His wrath, for He is HOLY.


*This essay was first published in July 2012 and was updated on 3/2020.


  1. Hi there. From several of your blog posts, could you explain the differences between Paul's usage of the word "wrath" in Romans 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, (Wrath IS being revealed - present tense)

    Romans 4:13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. (BRINGS present tense, John Calvin explained this as wrath = judgement.)

    I Thessalonians 2:16 In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (Wrath HAS COME - aorist tense, indicative, has happened)

    I Thessalonians 5:9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. (here Christians do not suffer wrath (judgement) but receive salvation - present tense)

    And then John the Baptist's words about Christ, John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (unbelievers already have the wrath of God on them)

    If I understand what you wrote, unbelievers do not yet have the wrath of God upon them because Christians are still here on earth, but Christians will be taken off the earth and then God's wrath will be poured out on those non-Christians still here? What about all of the non-Christians who have lived and died already - did they not suffer God's wrath? I'm confused by the way you've used the verse from I Thess. 5 in light of other verses in the Bible.

    And yes, I believe with all my heart and soul that Christ will return soon! Very soon! I am not questioning that at all!!

    1. Hi there,

      Good question. Thank you!!

      First, I am sorry for any misunderstanding. Unbelievers DO have the wrath of God on them already. The text is clear in Romans 1. The Holy Spirit’s restraining ministry of holding back sin is what will change when the rapture happens. Wrath of God on unbelievers is here today as it will be in the future.

      And you asked what about Christians who die...I am surmising you mean persecuted or the ones in trials. Man’s wrath is not God’s wrath. Sin happens. Men die, trials come. Jesus promised that. But Christians who die because of man’s wrath and sin are not destined for hell, having already escaped the eternal punishment of God’s wrath, in hell.

      In Romans verse you mentioned, He is presently revealing His wrath on “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). This means that God is judging men for their sin today, and very few even know it is happening. Unbelievers are unaware of God’s judgment. He is not judging us, though, because we have escaped His wrath, being forgiven of sins and pardoned.

      But are we affected by it? Yes. Bible,org has a wonderful essay on this question of wrath and the distinctions of the same, mirrored in the passage in Romans you cited. Here:

      “God’s wrath, according to Paul’s teaching, is both present (1:18-32) and future (2:1ff.). In addition to the factor of God’s timing in judgment, there are several other clear distinctions between God’s present wrath and His coming wrath:
      (1) While God’s present wrath is largely passive, His future wrath is active.
      (2) God’s present wrath allows sin to increase; God’s future wrath will put an end to sin, causing it to cease.
      (3) God’s present wrath is often not recognized as such, and Christians must believe it by faith; His future wrath cannot be missed.
      (4) God’s present wrath is reversible; His future wrath is not.
      “God’s present wrath is really a gracious gesture on God’s part. It is not permanent, and it is not irreversible. When God gives men over to sin, He is not giving up on men. Giving men over to sin is God’s way of encouraging men to forsake their sin and to be saved. While God’s future wrath, once in force, cannot be reversed or escaped, God’s present wrath can be reversed, and men can escape. The reason for this is that God has already poured out His “future wrath” on Jesus Christ. This is the good news of the gospel. ... Those who have trusted in Christ have already been punished, in Him.” source--

      Biblestudytools explains in their short essay Delivered from the Wrath to come: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/revelation/related-topics/delivered-from-the-wrath-to-come.html
      : “The wrath of God here [1Th. 1Th. 1:10] is future, and hence, cannot refer to the general wrath of God against sin which is a present reality. This wrath is future. While Hell and the Lake of Fire are also future, they cannot be what this passage is referring to. By virtue of salvation, the believer is already redeemed from Hell. . . . the wrath that the Church is being delivered from is the wrath of the Great Tribulation. He is coming for the specific purpose of delivering the Church from the wrath to come, namely, the Tribulation period”

      And finally from John MacArthur, a sermon you can listen to or read on the different kinds of wrath: eternal wrath, eschatological wrath, cataclysmic wrath, sowing and reaping wrath and wrath of abandonment.

      I hope these resources helps you as you go forward in exploring your very interesting question!


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