‘Lockdown’ is a word that has become familiar nowadays, in connection with the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic crisis faced by the world. We find this word everywhere: on the radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and social media. The word ‘lockdown’ has the definition: ‘an emergency measure or condition in which people are temporarily prevented from entering or leaving a restricted area or building (such as schools) during a threat of danger.’ These restrictions now apply to social places of entertainment or exercise.
Many countries apply lockdown and social distancing rules to stop the spread of COVID19, (you don’t need me to remind you of these), rules that have caused many problems in society. They paralyse economic activity, many people have lost their jobs, schools are closed, (except for certain instances i.e., children of key workers etc), many people are starving because it is difficult to get food. Many non-essential shops are closed, and other difficulties have arisen because of this problem. Even as God's people, we do worry about every situation we experience, including this coronavirus crisis. Instead of focusing on each difficulty and sinking in fear, let's look at the positive side of this crisis.
The pandemic is an opportunity to test our faith, to be genuine before God. The Apostle James says ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ (James 1:2-4 NIV).
There are many Bible stories that can relate to lockdown, such as Noah in the ark and Paul in his prison cell. We can also learn from the experience of the prophet Ezekiel when he faced God's command of lockdown and social distancing in Ezekiel chapters 3 and 4.
Although Ezekiel’s visions and prophecies were clear and vivid, very little is known about his personal life. He was being trained for the priesthood until, along with thousands of other young men, he was deported from Judah to Babylon. God called Ezekiel to be his prophet during one of Israel’s darkest times. From this story we can see the trials, or tests, that faced Ezekiel, how he got through them, and why these tests can help us to become God's people with genuine faith in this crisis. From the many tests Ezekiel experienced in these two chapters, let's take the 3 biggest tests.
The first test faced by Ezekiel was the test of obedience (Ezekiel 4:1-3). When the Government gives directions for lockdowns at home and to maintain social distancing, do we comply? There are still many people who don't want to obey that direction, especially when the Government suggested churches had to be closed. But we have to remember that the Government is a servant of God (Romans 13), a God who acts for the welfare of His people and in this case, the Government's recommendations are very good for protecting our bodies which are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3: 16-17).
Oswald Chambers, the early-twentieth-century Scottish Baptist evangelist and teacher, wrote ‘The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience – and obedience must be the character of God's people’. Jesus said that when we obey His commands, that is proof that we love Him, "If you love me, keep my commands." (John 14:15). He also said about the blessing of obedience, "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love" (John 15:10).
The second test, faced by Ezekiel, is the test of loyalty (Ezekiel 4:4-8). The best test for loyalty is time. Ezekiel was faithful to God's commands. As God's people who are carrying out God's work, let us faithfully do it, ‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.’ (Luke 16:10 KJV). When our work on this earth has been completed, we will be the winner with Jesus.
The third test is a test of humility (Ezekiel 4:9-17; 5:1-3). Ezekiel obeyed all that God commanded, he humbled himself before God. The COVID-19 crisis teaches us we must have a humble character that will give us success in spiritual matters and in all things. Paul exhorted the Philippians to be as humble as our Saviour: ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!’ (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV).
Ezekiel, when facing God's command to lockdown, did not have thoughts like, ‘these sinners are the people of Israel and Judah, so why do I have to have all these tests?’ or maybe you think, ‘I have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, so why do I have to be tested by coronavirus? Why do I have to lose my job?’: and so on. Instead of asking questions like that, let us learn from Ezekiel's example: He continued to do what God commanded him. He remained as God's agent ‘from his home’.
Ezekiel taught the exiles that God expected personal obedience and worship from each of them. As in Ezekiel’s day, it is easy for us today to forget that God has a personal interest in each of one of us. We may feel that we are insignificant when we look at world events but knowing that God is ultimately in control and that he cares can bring a new sense of purpose to our lives. Let us make this COVID-19 crisis an opportunity to make our faith genuine before God. Let it make us more obedient, more loyal, and more humble before Him.