To wear a mask or not to wear a mask, that is the question.
The COVID–19 pandemic has lasted almost two years now, and as of today the Delta variant is making the pandemic worse. The Delta variant of COVID–19 originated in India. One of the characteristics of this variant is that it spreads more quickly than other variants. The Delta variant has devastated India and many of the deaths attributed to COVID–19 have been caused by the Delta variant.
Because the pandemic is not over yet and because the Delta variant is spreading and infecting many people, several states are reimposing the mask mandate and urging people to wear masks indoors, including people who have been fully vaccinated.
In an article published in the New Yorker Magazine titled “Mask Mandates Are Back – Even for the Vaccinated. Here’s What to Know,” Chas Danner writes,
The CDC on July 27 advised all Americans, including people who are fully vaccinated, to mask up indoors in public places again, anywhere in the country that is seeing significant spread of COVID-19. In addition, the agency also wound back its guidance on face masks in schools, and is now advising all students and staff to wear masks during in-person learning, regardless of their vaccination status. The CDC’s new guidance came as a direct result of the rapid U.S. spread of the Delta coronavirus variant, which has led to a surge of new cases in recent weeks, primarily among the unvaccinated.
The new CDC policy has prompted several states to reinstate universal indoor face mask mandates including Nevada Louisiana, Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Missouri, and some counties in California. However, the new mask mandate has not been universally welcomed by those who oppose the mask mandate.
Many people refuse to wear any kind of face covering. This refusal is a violation of mask mandates imposed by state and local officials. The refusal to wear masks can increase the spread of the virus. Some of the people who refuse to wear masks have been engaged in confrontations with those who have chosen to wear masks indoors.
The problem is that, as Danner writes, “the debate over face masks remains politically fraught, particularly since officials at the federal, state, and local level have been offering a range of conflicting guidance regarding the matter, not always informed by science, and often divided along partisan lines. Regardless, more mandates – and confusion – now seem likely.”
This brings us to an interesting question: is the mask mandate prophesied in the Bible? Rabbi Chananya Weissman, the founder of “End The Madness” believes that it is. He cites Isaiah 25:7 as evidence that the prophet speaks about people with masks. Isaiah 25:7 reads as follows, “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7).
The Hebrew word for “sheet” is massēkāh, a word that means “covering.” The golden calf that Aaron made for the people of Israel to worship in the desert is called “a calf massēkāh,” that is, a calf covered in gold. In modern Hebrew, the word massēkāh means “mask.” The GWN version translates the word massēkāh as “mask”: “On this mountain he will remove the veil of grief covering all people and the mask covering all nations” (Isaiah 25:7 GWN). It is for this reason that Rabbi Weissman identifies the mask with idolatry.
The mask is a sign of idolatry. Today, this idolatry could be a false belief in the media, experts, in politics. Idolatry is a belief that a power other than Hashem runs the world. It comes from a place of fear. At Mount Sinai, the Children of Israel made the Golden Calf because Moshe took so long that they were afraid. So they made an idol to stand in God’s stead, ascribing powers to it.
There may not be actual bowing down to idols today but people are setting up new idols out of fear of the virus. They wear the masks and ascribe powers to the mask that don’t exist. Even the politicians who mandate the mask don’t believe in it. They wear the same blue piece of paper that we all wear rather than a more effective mask that they can well afford. And as soon as they think the cameras are turned off, they remove the mask.
After citing Jewish scholars who discuss Isaiah’s view of the last days, Rabbi Weissman writes, “The prophet stated that one of the identifying characteristics of the forces that will go to war to prevent the arrival of the Messiah is that they will be wearing masks. This is the simple literary reading of the Book of Isaiah.”
The chapters in Isaiah 24–27 are known as the apocalyptic section of the book of Isaiah. This section contains prophecies that reveal God’s concern and his final purposes for the world which he created. Isaiah 25:7 has been interpreted in different ways by scholars.
Some scholars believe that the shroud refers to the shroud of death and that the prophet is referring to God’s victory over death. This is the position taken by the HCSB: “On this mountain He will destroy the burial shroud, the shroud over all the peoples, the sheet covering all the nations.” Other scholars believe that the shroud refers to the spiritual blindness of the nations which propel them into idolatry.
I believe that Isaiah 25:6 explains Isaiah 25:7: “On this mountain the LORD of Armies will prepare for all people a feast with the best foods, a banquet with aged wines, with the best foods and the finest wines. On this mountain he will remove the veil of grief covering all people and the mask covering all nations” (Isaiah 25:6–7 GWN).
Isaiah is declaring that in the last days the nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the word of the Lord, “In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2–3).
And when the nations come to Jerusalem the Lord will prepare for all these people a great feast with the best foods, a banquet with aged wines, with the best foods and the finest wines. On this mountain the Lord will remove their mask which caused their spiritual blindness and their veil of mourning in a great celebration in which the Lord “will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8).
Isaiah was not prophesying about COVID–19 and the mask mandate.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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