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Natural Disasters and the Will of God 09: The Ten Plagues of Egypt

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And the Lord said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.  For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth.  For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence and thou shall be cut off from the earth (Exodus 9.13-15)

God tells Egypt that He will send His plagues to them.  So therefore at face value, people will say God sent the ten plagues, God smote Egypt with pestilence and disease, God causes natural disasters, God causes diseases.  However, as we have said previously over and over, God is not the destroyer, God is not the originator of evil, God looks just like Jesus.  Jesus never once sent a plague of flies to the Roman empire, Jesus never cursed a tax collector with boils, He never took the firstborn of the Pharisees.  Jesus is love and if you have seen Him you have seen the Father.  So, how do we deal with apparent contradiction in Scripture?

Some people say God did the plagues in the Old Covenant, but in the New Covenant He does not any more.  Others will say God did it but it was a curse, and God cursed them, and we are free from the curse so at least God will not do it for us.  I am sympathetic to those ideas, and at least they preserve us from accepting that God could smite anyone with anything at anytime, but in my opinion they do not tell the full story.

I believe the Bible is always true, and when Exodus 9 says “I will smite thee” that this is what it says.  I am not denying the Scripture, but we have to be aware the Scriptures were not originally written in English but Hebrew.  In Hebrew, using causative language like this does not mean I directly caused something, but that I permitted it to happen.  If I lent my car to someone and gave them the keys, then they got in the car and crashed it into a wall, in English you would be wrong to say “I crashed the car”, but in Hebrew that would be perfectly fine language to use because the car was yours and you gave the keys.  When God gave the Egyptians the land of Egypt – all nations are gifts from God – and they then crashed it into a wall of death through their incredible amount of wickedness, God, in Hebrew can say “I did the plagues” without anyone needing to assume He was behind the wheel driving it into the wall Himself.

We have learned in previous blog posts over and over that God does not actively destroy because God is not the destroyer.  What God does is remove His personal protection, and letting people walk into the sin and death that they have chosen.  God always lets people to choose life or choose death.  If they choose death and choose to reject God, God will always allow people to live in the light of their choices.  We also have learned that sin actually makes the land sick.  I think we have now idea how much and how often God’s angels and God’s grace protect us from the consequences of our sin.

In Exodus 9.14 where God is said to “send” the plagues, the Hebrew word is shalach.  Shalach is defined as relax, loosen, let go, stop detaining, and give over to something.  God did not send the plague in that He invented the plague, decided it would really hurt people and cause them trouble, and then posted the plagues to Egypt.  No – He simply loosed the consequences of their sin on them.  He simply stepped back from protecting them.  The New American Standard Bible actually translates this verse as “I will unleash”, rather than “I will send”, a far more accurate rendering of the Hebrew.

Now if you believe that God can send plagues on Egypt and you interpret shalach as actively send in Exodus 9.14, you have to deal with Amos 9.10 in which God tells the Israelites “I sent a plague on you like the one I sent on Egypt” (Good New Bible).  This is the same word shalach, and leaves you having to argue that God is actively sending plagues on His covenant people, or you realize that God has never sent a plague on anyone in His entire eternal existence.  God is not the one behind plagues.

God was restraining the wages of sin from the Egyptians, but as they continued to sin, continued to hate His people and keep them slaves, as the land continued to get more and more defiled, as the Egyptians continually turned to false gods and idols, God had to turn them over to the consequences of their own choices.

If we do not realize that shalach is best understood as “unleashed” we will be very confused as we read through the Hebrew Scriptures.  There is an example in Numbers, that I preach from a great deal, that it says God “sent” (shalach) fiery serpents among the people (Numbers 21.5).  But if you read the New Covenant, written in Greek, it is clear that God did not send these serpents, but satan did (1 Cor. 10.8-10, cf. Hebrews 2.14-15).  In Hebrew it is acceptable to say God “sent” the serpents, in Greek it has to be made clear that God did not actively send them at all, satan sent them.  God just allowed it to happen because the people pushed Him away and chose death, and God let them have what they chose, because God is love and God will not override our choices and become a monster, even when those choices are for snakes!

God is said to have “sent” the serpents in Hebrew because He removed His protection from the Israelites, His constant protection from snakes and other creatures, which the Israelites never saw, never appreciated, never thanked God for.  But the people who then complained and then rejected God, and then the snakes came.  God did not sit in heaven and think, well asps will kill them in a day, and it will be a painful, horrific death, especially for the elderly and the infants, so I will send snakes.  Jesus never took a snake and threw them at people who grumbled and complained, He never hid poisonous snakes in Judas’s bed to get him to repent.  That is not the nature of God, that is not the nature of the Father.  One Hebrew scholar from the 18th century, Edward Bird said it like this:

God is said in the Hebrew Scripture to send what he can but doth not hinder from being sent.

In Deut. 28, we have the blessings and the curses of the law of Moses.  And it says “The Lord shall send (shalach) upon thee cursing, vexation and rebuke in all you set your hand to do… because thou hast forsaken me.” (Deut. 28.20).

Again here shalach does not mean to actively send.  It means the people have forsaken God, walked away from God, not chosen life and chosen death, and therefore end up walking in to the middle of curses and death.  If you forsake God, you forsake His protective grace and presence, and that is not God actively sending curses and being satan for a day, it is God stepping back out of love and respect for the choices that humans make.  There is no reason Biblically to insult God and make Him the author of plagues of flies and locusts and the murderer of young children.  God does not send the diseases of Egypt to people, God does not bring plagues on people.  Things come as consequences to disobedience, things come when you forsake God.  When you sin, sin comes with its own death.

So when we read in the ten plagues that God smites, or sends death or disease or disaster, it is from the perspective of God allowing it to happen, not God actively causing it.  God releases His protection of people who run away from Him, and the resulting death can be devastating and even supernatural.

John Dowie, the healing evangelist and planter of Zion City, tells us that:

The will of God, you see, was for the Egyptians to not suffer at all.  He sent His servant Moses to demand that His people be set free.  Pharaoh hardened His heart, and all God did was simply withdraw His protective hand that the Egyptians should simply reap what they sow: plague after plague.  The one who has the power of death is the devil.  God simply allowed the devil to have his way by allowing him to bring plague after plague on the land.  God simply permitted the devil to do certain things.  The question of permission is always a difficult question, it is clear in God’s work that God never is the cause of evil.  He however may permit man to reap the consequences of sin.

There is no doubt that the plagues that Egypt encountered are the consequences of slavery, of mistreating people, of constantly murdering Jewish babies.  God would not be unjust to bring them, but it seems far more accurate to the character of God and the nature of God that God’s actions were the removal of His protection and holding back of the death, He did not send the plagues.

It is so important for faith that we realize that God does not send sickness to people.  God does not inflict people with sickness, He is not the source of sickness, He is the healer.  Now, the truth is that in ancient history, Egypt was a very sick nation, and was seen as a centre of disease.  There was disease in ancient Egypt, and there was a proverb in the ancient world “the diseases of Egypt” – and it is used that way in the Bible.  Why was it so full of disease – because it was a wicked, idolatrous, slave-keeping, baby-murdering nation!  Seeing that Egypt was already full of disease, it becomes a lot easier to realize God was holding back some things and His release of the plagues was entirely passive and not active.

God is the Healer, that is His name.  He tells the Israelites: “I will put none of the diseases upon you, which I have put upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Exodus 15.26).  If you do not understand how to interpret Scriptures, then this verse will look like a total contradiction to you – God puts sickness on some people, and God then is the Healer?  Which is it?  It is similar to Job 42.11, where the Lord “comforted him over all the evil the Lord had brought on Him”.  We know from the book of Job that the Lord never once brought evil on Job, but it was satan, but here in Job 42.11, it says in the Hebrew God brought it, because that is how the Hebrew language works.

Understanding this simple difference between Hebrew (actually most Middle Eastern languages) and English will help you realize God is not the doer of what the Scriptures in English appear to say He is doing.   In Job 42.11, we see clearly that the Hebrew can say God did something that He merely permitted to happen by standing back.  That is the nature of the Hebrew language.  I believe that Exodus 15.26 is exactly the same, God did not actively make the Egyptians sick, did not actively send the plagues, He just let them happen.  God is not the direct cause of sickness and disease.

In the Dake’s Reference Bible, Dake commentating on Exodus 15.26 says this:

God is only responsible for disease in the sense that He created a world where you reap what you sow, that sin has penalties built into it, and permitting evil agencies the power to curse humans.  If people stopped sinning there would be no curse.  When Christ reigns on earth, there is no sickness.  When God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, there is no curse and no sickness.

God built a world where sin causes a harvest.  God does not bring sickness, He brings health. God is the health-bringer.  There is disease all over this planet, through the work of sin and satan without us blaming God for supernaturally making sicknesses and plagues to inflict us to curse us.  Not now, and not then.

Next post: we will look at individual plagues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natural Disasters and God’s Will 08: Sodom and Gomorrah

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This is part 8 of a series which will help you more if you begin at the beginning.  Otherwise enjoy!

And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well-watered everywhere, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thous comest unto Zoar (Genesis 13.10)

Surely Sodom and Gomorrah is an incident is a clear example of God causing a natural disaster? Well, let’s look at this in the light of everything we have learned so far, without doing anything other than seeking to take the Bible literally and as God’s Word.

The wonderful thing about the Word of God is that it often gives us clues on interpretation, at times it explicitly interprets itself.  So, when we see God seemingly in a destructive mood and raining fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, we have to hold this up in the light of everything we have said previously about God is not the destroyer.  He is not behind destruction.

But people will say look at Genesis 13.10, it clearly says God did this.  Genesis 19.24 tells us that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed by “fire from the Lord” and that God destroyed the cities by raining fire from heaven.

So we need to look deeper at this.  Let us start by looking at what was the reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah:

Behold, this as the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters… they were haughty and committed abomination before me, therefore I took them away as I saw good (Ezekiel 16.49-50)

Among other things, we find out that Sodom committed abomination before the Lord, and the main abomination – or at least the most famous of them in the case of Sodom – was homosexuality.  Read what the New Testament has to say about Sodom:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7, NIV)

The sin of homosexuality was so strong in Sodom, they were ready to actually rape two angels (Genesis 19.1-12), and we know from previous blog posts on this subject that abominations cause the entire land to react and get sick (Leviticus 20.13) and that when the land gets sick, it actually starts to vomit out the inhabitants of the land (Leviticus 22.22, Leviticus 18.24-25).  It is not God judging the land or destroying the land – He is not the destroyer.  What is happening is that the sin of the land is causing the land to react negatively.  The earth was on the most basic level just not created to endure that kind of sin.  When the land becomes sick, it becomes violent, and natural disasters occur.

The geography of Sodom is also an interesting factor in this account.   Sodom as a city was surrounded by pits full of slime (Genesis 14.10).  This fact I believe is recorded for a specific purpose – to let you know that these slime pits were there.  Slime pits are essentially full of bitumen, and therefore full of the gases that come from petroleum products.   This was the same bitumen that Noah’s ark was covered in, and later on Moses’ ark too.  It is very similar to crude oil, and therefore all the petroleum gases would have been there.  These pits were one spark away from exploding at any time, and I believe that it was God protecting the cities from those explosions (see Revelation 7.1-3).  God is a good God, and He protects people, He is not the destroyer.  All He does is bring life and life in abundance.

The whole area of the Dead Sea, where Sodom and Gomorrah were, is still an oil district today and still full of oil and gas, and it is all flammable.   Remember the land will vomit out its inhabitants if their sin is too great – and this is what appears to have happened.

The fire from the beavens that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah was referred to as fire and brimstone, it was burning debris from bitumen.  Bitumen is mainly oil but it also contains a high concentration of sulphur.  Burning bitumen creates fire and brimstone.  If a fault line developed that could force the bitumen into the air and ignite it, it would be an explosion that resulted in the “rain” of fire and brimstone.

So, we can see that God did not create fire and brimstone in heaven and then fire it deliberately at Sodom and Gomorrah.  We can see that when the Hebrew says “God did it”, that this is actually in the Hebrew passive language.  God allowed it to happen because the people rejected Him, but the truth is that the land vomited, made sick by the repetitive sin and abominations of Sodom and Gomorrah.

You have to realize that sin takes us to a place where we are no longer until the protection of God.  God is upholding all things by the power of His Word (Hebrews 1.3) so God was holding the slime and the bitumen and the explosive gases together, and lovingly protecting the people.  But as the people continued to reject God and reject life and turn their back on God and sin in more and more wicked ways, eventually the land had reached its capacity and started to vomit the inhabitants out.  The land literally started to vomit out the petroleum gases in the pits, similar to a volcano going off, and the explosion reached so high, the fire and brimstone fell on Sodom and Gomorrah and wiped them out forever.  Because God stopped holding this explosion back, and stopped holding everything together, in Hebrew it is legitimate and appropriate to say “God did this”, but in the English sense of that phrase, God definitely did not do this.  God does not and has never destroyed a city.  God loves people and wants them to live, thrive and survive!

God removed His protection as He was forced out of Sodom, and through the natural consequences of defiling the land, the people were destroyed by the land, actually by their own sin.  The wages of sin is, and will always be, death.  The death of Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of these two cities is not supernatural, but that it took so long was!  God was protecting them.  Hosea uses this kind of language to discuss God destroying cities:

How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?  How shall I deliver thee, Israel?  How shall I make thee as Admah and set thee as Zeboin… I will not return to destroy Ephraim for I am God and not man (Hosea 11.8-9, KJV)

God didn’t destroy Admah and Zeboin (these are towns between Sodom and Gommorah connected both geographically and with the same sins, Genesis 10.19, 14.2, 14.8, Deut 29.23).  He delivered them.  He let go off them, they pushed Him out of their lives and their communities and their cities and He just let them do it because of His great love for them.  God was not actively destroying them – He is not the destroyer.  God’s heart is to protect and love – and He tells Ephraim He is not going to destroy them because He is God – He is love, He is light, He is not satan, He is not the destroyer.

God has removed His hand of protection and let the city face the consequences of their sin and receive the wages of sin from sin.  Sodom and Gomorrah faced the consequences of consistent rebellion.  They pushed God away, and then were destroyed by the land they had defiled.  In Deut. 29.23-25 Moses tells us that Sodom was destroyed because they turned their back on the covenant they had made with God, they turned their back on God.  2 Chr. 15.2 says if you turn your back on God, He will turn His back on you – not out of hatred or rage, but because He will give you what you want because He honours and protects your power to choose.

Now we have established that God is not the destroyer, but within this account of Sodom’s destruction we find out that angels are involved, which brings about the very important question of whether angels are destroyers, and did angels have any role in the destruction of Sodom?

Now in Revelation, verses we looked at in a previous post, we find out that there are angels in the future holding the four winds of the earth so the wind should not blow on the earth and cause destruction (Rev. 7.1-3), so we can see that angels do not cause destruction, they prevent it.  If they are hurting the earth, it is not because of their great might and power being used for destruction, it is because they – like God – stop holding the wind back.  I see the destruction of Sodom the same way, that somehow the angels were holding back the explosive gases in the surrounding areas, and protecting the city from destruction.

In Daniel 4, Daniel is informing the King Nebuchadnezzar that an angel is watching him and the angel tells the other angels guarding the king “let his heart be changed… and let a beast’s heart be given to him and let it pass over him seven times” (Daniel 4.16).  This is language of permission not causation.  The harvest of the king’s rebellion was coming, and the angels were told – let it come.  Angels are not destroyers they are protectors and servants and allies.   The angels might have let their protective holding back stop and the gaseous build up turned into an explosion that destroyed the cities.

The truth is that Sodom and Gomorrah reaped what they sowed.  That is just how the universe works – it is not you sin, God hates you for sinning, God comes and smashes you in and destroys your city, breaks your washing machine, floods your planet and gives you the coronavirus, you suffer.  That is not the cycle.  The cycle is you sin – you push God out of your life, you sow death when you sin and you eventually reap that death, the wages of that sin.  It has nothing to do with God – He is not the destroyer, He is the God of love, the redeemer, the rescuer, the helper.

Isa. 3.9 says that Sodom rewarded evil to themselves.  The destruction of Sodom was caused by Sodom!  Sodom was destroyed by sowing and reaping, cause and effect.  Sin destroys the land, and the land then vomits the people out.  Yes, the Hebrew says God destroyed Sodom, but that is how the Hebrew language works.

Look at when Israel murmured and complained in the wilderness.  It says the anger of the Lord was kindled and the fire of the Lord burned them (this is in Numbers 11.1), now if you take that at face value in English, you would assume God is not like Jesus, He is not the healer, but rather a vicious destroyer of His own covenant people.  But the Hebrew simply means He allowed the people to push Him out of their lives and the fire is actually the death of sin.  But, if you read the same account in 1 Corinthians, written in Greek, we find out “some of them also murmured and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Cor. 10.10).  God did not destroy His people – the destroyer, satan, did.

We can affirm from this that God can remove His hand of protection if we push it away hard enough, and satan loves those sorts of situations.  When the Old Testament Scriptures talk about God destroying things, that is not Him actively using His god-like powers to wipe out cities and cause plagues.  God does not do that, what God does is to stop protecting people who push Him away.  When Sodom did not repent and change, God had no choice but to release His protection because He will not violate the choices of people, even those who choose death.

If people, a community, a city pushes God right out of the door, we cannot and must not blame God for the trouble that they then experience!

Next post will address the ten plagues of Egypt.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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