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.
3 thoughts on “Natural Disasters and the Will of God 09: The Ten Plagues of Egypt”
I understand that the Hebrew language (word: smite) is permissive rather than causative in the OT. What about in the Greek: Acts 12.23 where it says the Angel of the Lord struck Herod and he was eaten by worms and died. And please could you explain Ananias and Sapphira and why they dropped dead. Thanks
Maybe when I finish this series, but that is a great guestion