PESTILENCE (pĕs'tĭlĕns, Heb. dever, Gr. loimos). In the OT (kjv 47 vv.; niv 4 vv.), any fatal epidemic, often the result of divine judgment (Exod.5.3 kjv, mlb, mof, nasb, neb, rsv; plague(s) jb, niv); NT usage is only by Jesus (Matt.24.7; Luke.21.11).

PESTILENCE (דֶּ֫בֶר, H1822; λοιμός, G3369, plague). The Heb. word דֶּ֫בֶר, H1822, usually tr. “pestilence,” is found forty-nine times in the OT. It occurs in company with such words as famine, blood, wild beasts and death.

The first occurrence of the term is in connection with the plagues on Egypt (Exod 5:3, etc.). Later it was threatened on Israel if they disobeyed God (Lev 26:25, etc.).

In David’s day, a pestilence was sent on Israel for three days as a result of David’s sin in the numbering of the people. In that short time it claimed the lives of 70,000 people. David had chosen this judgment over war or famine, desiring to be at God’s mercy. This would indicate that pestilence was always understood as an affliction coming directly from the hand of God (2 Sam 24:13, 15).

Pestilence was so feared by the people that Solomon prayed for relief from it before it should come on Israel (1 Kings 8:37). Relief could come only when the people repented, humbled themselves, and sought God’s face (2 Chron 7:13, 14). This would indicate that pestilence came as a punishment on Israel for her disobedience and rebellion against God (cf. Hab 3:5).

In the prophecy of Jeremiah, the word occurs seventeen times and in Ezekiel, twelve times, as a punishment threatened on Israel and Judah for their sin against God. Repeatedly in these texts, it is referred to as a punishment from God for their rebellion. Jeremiah declares that those of Jerusalem who did not go into captivity would die by the pestilence.

The other word for pestilence in the NT is λοιμός, G3369, a word used by Jesus to foretell the events and occurrences before His return to the earth in the last days (Matt 24:7; Luke 21:11).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The Latin word pestilentia is connected with pestis, "the plague," but pestilence is used of any visitation and is not the name of any special disease; debher is applied to diseases of cattle and is translated "murrain."

In the New Testament pestilence is mentioned in our Lord’s eschatological discourse (Mt 24:7 the King James Version; Lu 21:11) coupled with famine. The assonance of loimos and limos in these passages (loimos is omitted in the Revised Version (British and American) passage for Mt) occurs in several classical passages, e.g. Herodotus vii.171. The pestilence is said to walk in darkness (Ps 91:6) on account of its sudden onset out of obscurity not associated with any apparent cause.