This section deals with various times in the Bible when God struck down people in judgment. Understanding the context and why God did what He did leads us to respect His holiness and His purpose for creating and maintaining a holy people. We often focus so much on God's love, we often avoid discussions of His wrath. His holiness and righteousness demand that evil be judged. We often forget that sin is serious and the penalty is death. If His wrath and judgement were not so serious, there would have been no need for God to come Himself in the person of Jesus and die in our place. He drank the cup of God's wrath in our place. If we accept what Jesus did, we will be exempt from His wrath. If we don't accept what Jesus did for us, then we ourselves will be subject to God's wrath in due time. In the meantime, we are given opportunity after opportunity to repent and turn to Him. His wrath meets His love at the cross.
Problem: At one time, when God became particularly disgusted with the sin of man, He killed every living thing (including children and unborn children) on the planet (except those few residing on the ark). (Gen. 6:5-7:22)
Response: Regarding Gen. 6-7 and the Flood—this was already discussed. To recap, God gave mankind 120 years to repent (Gen. 6:3). He gave Noah the plans to build an ark large enough to handle every kind of animal, food and provisions for a year and more than enough space for anyone who wanted to escape the Flood to live.
Gen. 6:5-22 The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth — men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air — for I am grieved that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
9 This is the account of Noah.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. 16 Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark — you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them."
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
1 Peter 3:18-20For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water.
2 Peter 2:5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others.
As we noted previously, God gave them 120 years while Noah and sons built the Ark to repent. The Ark was large enough to carry representatives of every species of land dwelling, air breathing animal, food for a year and sufficient space for anyone who wanted to come. We cannot rage at God for not stamping out evil and then complain when He does. We must remember that God will punish sin. God is just and will dispense justice on the world. He rescues the righteous and punishes the wicked. He does not let it continue forever. He gives warning after warning, but one day His judgment will come. We may not know the day or the hour, but we can see the signs and know that it is coming, and coming soon. Do not for one moment think that the people of the earth did not know what Noah was doing or why. Don’t think that they did not have time to come to the ark. Noah preached the truth to them while he spent 120 years building the ark with his sons (2 Pet. 2:5; Gen. 6:3). Nobody had to perish; they could have taken refuge in the ark. And the 1 Peter passage also indicates, that after Jesus was crucified, he preached to their spirits in Sheol, the place of the dead, and gave them one more opportunity to be saved. How long should He delay? How many opportunities should He give?
Problem: Because the people in Sodom and Gomorrah engaged in homosexual acts, God killed every single living thing in the communities. (Gen. 19:24-25)
Response: Homosexuality wasn’t the only reason God destroyed them. Let’s get some background.
Gen. 18:20-32Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know."
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
26 The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."
27 Then Abraham spoke up again: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?"
"If I find forty-five there," he said, "I will not destroy it."
29 Once again he spoke to him, "What if only forty are found there?"
He said, "For the sake of forty, I will not do it."
30 Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?"
He answered, "I will not do it if I find thirty there."
31 Abraham said, "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?"
He said, "For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it."
32 Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?"
He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."
Gen. 19:4-5 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."
Gen 19:12-22 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it."
14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the LORD is about to destroy the city!" But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.
15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished."
16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!"
18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! 19 Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can't flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I'll die. 20 Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn't it? Then my life will be spared."
21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it."
Gen. 19:24-26 Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Let’s look a little more closely at the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. First, people had been crying out to God to do something about Sodom and Gomorrah because their sin was so grievous (Gen. 18:20; 2 Pet. 2:6-8). Second, Abraham pleaded on behalf of the cities that if God found 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 or even 10 righteous people He would not destroy the cities and God agreed (Gen. 18:22-32). The angels tried to save 6 people (Lot, his wife, 2 daughters & 2 sons-in-law), but in the end only 3 would leave the cities behind before their destruction. Third, He sent angels down to investigate fully (18:21). Homosexuality (19:4) and lack of hospitality to strangers and guests (19:8) were just 2 of the sins of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah—they may even have been the most blatant, but it is unlikely they were the only sins: Gen. 13:13: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.” The reaction of Lot’s daughters’ fiancés to God’s judgment is telling in that they laughed off the coming destruction by God—they refused to believe and be saved (19:14). Fourth, when 10 righteous people could not be found [remember, all the men of the city were implicated (19:4)], the angels got Lot and his family out before the destruction (19:12-13). Lot had been living in that city long enough to become one of the elders that sit at the city gate judging cases brought to him (19:1)—as judge he would have let them know right from wrong and pointed them back to God (2 Pet. 2:6-7), yet they did not listen. Once again, we see the consistency of the Bible. The consequence of sin is death, God gives every chance to turn from sin and be saved, but there comes a point when He says this far and no farther, and those who refuse His offer to repent and be saved suffer judgment.
Problem: Pharaoh, alone, made the decision to imprison the Israelites. For this, God: killed every firstborn child in Egypt(including the firstborn of people imprisoned and the firstborn of the cattle), struck them with hail, and struck every single Egyptian with boils. (Ex. 9:11, 22-25; 12:29)
Response: Yes, those are some of the 10 plagues God visited on the Egyptians for their part in enslaving Israel for centuries and their complicity in the mandatory genocide of the male babies at the time Moses was born. The complete series of plagues can be found in chapters 7-12 of the book of Exodus. To summarize: 1) the waters of the Nile turned to blood (Ex. 7:14-25); 2) plague of frogs (Ex. 8:1-15); 3) dust of the ground becomes gnats (Ex. 8:16-19); 4) swarms of flies, but not in Goshen (Ex. 8:20-32); 5) plague on Egyptians’ livestock (Ex. 9:1-7); 6) soot becomes boils on the Egyptians and their animals (Ex. 9:8-12); 7) hail on men and animals (Ex. 9:13-35); 8) plague of locusts (Ex. 10:1-20); 9) darkness that could be felt (Ex. 10:21-29); and 10) death of the firstborn, from the son of Pharaoh to the son of the slave woman and of the cattle (Ex. 11:1-12:36). Note the reasons God gives for why He did it in the following:
Ex. 7:1-5 Then the Lord said to Moses, "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it."
Ex. 7:16-18 Then say to him, 'The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. But until now you have not listened. 17 This is what the Lord says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. 18 The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.'"
Ex. 8:19 The magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." But Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said.
Ex. 8:22-23 "'But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. 23 I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This miraculous sign will occur tomorrow.'"
Ex. 9:13-17 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
Ex. 9:19-21 Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.'"
20 Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. 21 But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field.
Ex. 9:29-30 Moses replied, "When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the Lord's. 30 But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord God."
Ex. 10:1-2 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them 2 that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord."
Ex. 11:9-10 The Lord had said to Moses, "Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you — so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt." 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.
Ex. 12:12 "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.
Ex. 12:40-42 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord's divisions left Egypt. 42 Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.
Gen. 15:13-14 Then the Lord said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.
Pharaoh's actions had repercussions on all of the Israelites not just Moses. Pharaoh also spoke for all the Egyptian people; therefore, his actions affected all the Egyptians, as well as, all the Israelite slaves in the land. That's one of the reasons sin is so bad because it affects other people, including "innocents," not just the sinner himself. God did not limit his punishment to Pharaoh only, because the Egyptians were also guilty in their condoning of the slavery of the Israelites. They had blindly followed their leader when he had tried to commit genocide against the Jews (Ex. 1:15-22). First, he tried to get the midwives to kill the male children, but they refused and for that God blessed the midwives, then he ordered all the babies be killed by throwing them in the Nile[Remember Moses in the basket (Ex. 2)?]. The Egyptians themselves would have had to play in active part in the persecution and genocide of the Jews as slave masters (Ex. 1:11), and soldiers to supervise the murder of the male children, etc. Therefore, they all experienced the judgment of God.
Plus, it is important to realize that each of the 10 plagues on Egypt struck at one of Egypt’s “gods”—for example, the Nile, the sun, and finally Pharaoh himself, who was considered divine by the Egyptian people. The 10 Plagues were a show of God’s power over all the other so-called ‘gods’ of Egypt. They demonstrated that the people should not fear or worship the ‘gods’ of Egypt, who were powerless to prevent the plagues, but the One True God of Israel only.
This was part of demonstrating the vanity of those idols in which the Egyptians trusted. “Against all the gods of Egypt," said the Lord to Moses, “I will execute judgment: I am Jehovah" (Ex. 12:12). On these idols God would pour contempt; and in connection with this it is noticeable, that nearly every miracle performed by Moses had relation to some object of idolatrous worship among the Egyptians. The devouring of the serpents by the serpent into which the rod of Moses had been turned was directed against the serpent-worship of Egypt; the turning of the water into blood was an assault on their sacred river the Nile; the plague of the frogs, the gnats, the flies or scarabei, all tended to bring objects of idolatrous worship among the Egyptians into contempt; the murrain on the cattle was directed against their Apis-worship; the plague of boils, brought on by the casting of ashes from the altar into the air, a rite which they followed to arrest evil, showed how God could reverse their omens, and make what they used for good to turn to evil; the hail and storm plague was directed against their worship of the elements, or of deities supposed to preside over them; the plague of locusts showed that this great scourge which they were accustomed to trace to the wrath of their deities was entirely in the power of Jehovah; the plague of darkness poured contempt on their worship of the sun-god; and the death of the first-born wound up this terrible series by showing that in the hand of Jehovah alone was the life of all his creatures. A mighty and memorable lesson was thus read out before both Egyptians and Israelites, which could not but have its effect in weakening among the former the attachment of many to their idols, and confirming the latter in their reverence for Jehovah as the only true God.
(from Plagues of Egypt, McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 2000 by Biblesoft)
Also, Moses gave enough warning to the Egyptians about the hail, that they were able to bring their flocks and herds and servants inside for protection (Ex. 9:19-21)—nobody who heeded the warning died. Pharaoh kept waffling on his promises to let the Israelites go. He would seem to relent, Moses would ask God to stop the plague and then Pharaoh would change his mind, over and over again. The significant thing to realize is that only after the death of all the firstborn, do Pharaoh’s officials step in and ask for Moses and the Israelites to leave (Ex. 11:8; 12:31-33), which argues for their ability to step in earlier and override Pharaoh’s obstinacy. You must realize the Egyptians were also benefiting from the slave labor of the Israelites; they would not want to give up millions of laborers until it no longer benefited them—think of the Civil War, the South did not want to give up its slave labor because their economy was based on the labor of slaves. It wasn’t just the leader of the nation that wanted to continue the slave labor, it was also the people who depended upon it and wanted to maintain the status quo who needed to be convinced otherwise. But more than this, they needed to know that their ‘gods’ were false 'gods,' they were powerless before the True God and that He alone is worthy of worship, obedience and allegiance.
Problem: After God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, they killed 3,000 of their own people at God’s behest for declining to give God his due. (Ex. 32:26-28)
Response: Ex. 32:26-29 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him.
27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the cam p from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'" 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day."
The context of this passage is the golden calf. God has brought the people out of Egypt defeating all the Egyptian false gods. He’s given them the Ten Commandments — told them not to make idols, not to engage in sexual immorality, and to follow Him, to which they agreed (Ex. 24:3-8). But instead they turn their backs on God and indulge in blatant sin by worshipping the golden calf (made in the image of the Egyptian bull 'god' Apis whom He had just defeated during the 10 plagues). Those who opted to stand with God were commissioned to purge the evil elements from among the camp. The Levites accepted the challenge and because of their zeal for the LORD were granted the priesthood—they would become the spiritual leaders of the people. Once again, the point is that God is attempting to create a holy people to bear His Name. He needs to make very sure the people do not go back to worshipping idols and false 'gods' and forget about Him. He is creating a holy people who will be responsible for keeping knowledge of the True God alive, passing down His word and His Law and being the godly remnant through which the Messiah would come. If they do not start well, they will not finish well.
Problem: God killed 23,000 people in one day for having premarital sex. (1 Cor. 10:8)
Response: The premarital sex wasn’t the reason; it was the idolatry that went with it as seen when we look at the full context of the verse referenced above.
1 Cor. 10:6-10 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did-and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did-and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did-and were killed by the destroying angel.
This passage refers back to specific times in Israel’s trip from Egypt to the Promised Land under Moses. Verse 7 is referring to the golden calf incident of Ex. 32. Verse 8 refers to the time the Moabite women enticed the Israelite men into sexual immorality and the worship of Ba'al thereby in Num. 25. Verse 9 refers to Num. 21:4-9 where the people were accusing Moses and God of bringing them out to the desert to die for lack of food and water. And, verse 10 refers to the incident in Num. 14 when the people rebelled against entering Canaan and God said that He heard their complaints and would do to them the very things they feared because they wouldn't accept His promised blessings, which resulted in them wandering in the desert for 40 years until everyone over 20 died (Num. 14:27-37).
In all of these instances the Israelites were clearly rebelling against what God had told them regarding worshipping idols, foreign gods, sexual immorality, His provision for them (after He’d already proven Himself by rescuing them from Egypt), and entering the Promised Land. God was attempting to create a holy people, totally set apart from the nations around them who would faithfully proclaim the truth about God throughout history and serve as the physical line of the Messiah. His desire was that the people who bore His Name would be holy—righteous and set apart to be His. He often took what we would consider drastic measures, especially at first, to get them to understand how serious sin and its consequences are, as well as, how important it was that as His people they needed to be holy because He is holy. “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Lev. 20:26). (See also Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16.)
God gave them the choice and they made a covenant agreement with Him that they would follow Him exclusively. This was emphasized to the Israelites over and over again.
Ex. 24:3-8 When Moses went and told the people all the Lord's words and laws, they responded with one voice, "Everything the Lord has said we will do." 4 Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.
He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey."
8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words."
Deut. 4:5-8 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
And again just before he died Moses reminded them:
Deut. 29:9-15 “Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. 10 All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God — your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, 11 together with your children and your wives, and the aliens living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. 12 You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, 13 to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you 15 who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God but also with those who are not here today.”
They were told upfront what the blessings would be for following as well as what the punishment for disobedience would be, “When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings , and on Mount Ebal the curses” (Deut. 11:29; see Dt. 27 & 28 for the full list) which the entire community quoted to each other (Josh. 8:33). “Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law — the blessings and the curses — just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them.” (Josh. 8:34-35)
Moses also told them why God would do this:
Deut. 29:22-28 “Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it. 23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur — nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger. 24 All the nations will ask: "Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?"
25 And the answer will be: "It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord's anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now."
Near the end of his life, Joshua also reminded the people:
Josh. 24:19-27 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you."
21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the LORD."
22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD."
“Yes, we are witnesses," they replied.
23 “Now then," said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."
24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him."
25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the LORD.
27 “See!" he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the LORD has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God."
However, even when God is about to pour out His judgment and wrath, He still gives warnings so that the people can come back to Him before He sends His judgment. He also promises to forgive, restore and heal those He has punished when they come back to Him.
Isa. 57:15-21 For this is what the high and lofty One says—He who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. 16 I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me—the breath of man that I have created. 17 I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways. 18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, 19 creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near," says the LORD. “And I will heal them." 20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. 21 “There is no peace," says my God, “for the wicked."
Problem: God slaughtered 14,700 people (plus 250 he burned to death with fire) because they had the audacity to question the judgment of Moses and Aaron. (Num. 16:44-49; Num. 16:35)
Response: Oh, they weren’t questioning the judgment of Moses and Aaron; they were questioning God’s judgment in choosing them as the leaders of the Israelite nation. Additionally, these men were trying to grab more power for themselves. Read it for yourself:
Num. 16:1-11 Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent 2 and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. 3 They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD's assembly?"
4 When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. 5 Then he said to Korah and all his followers: "In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. 6 You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers 7 and tomorrow put fire and incense in them before the LORD. The man the LORD chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!"
8 Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! 9 Isn't it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the LORD's tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? 10 He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. 11 It is against the LORD that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?"
Num. 16:28-30 Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt."
Num. 16:35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.
Num. 16:39-41 So Eleazar the priest collected the bronze censers brought by those who had been burned up, and he had them hammered out to overlay the altar, 40 as the LORD directed him through Moses. This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the LORD, or he would become like Korah and his followers.
41 The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. "You have killed the LORD's people," they said.
Num. 16:46-50 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with fire from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started." 47 So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. 48 He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. 49 But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah. 50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, for the plague had stopped.
Num. 26:9-10 and the sons of Eliab were Nemuel, Dathan and Abiram. The same Dathan and Abiram were the community officials who rebelled against Moses and Aaron and were among Korah's followers when they rebelled against the LORD.
Num. 27:3-4 Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah's followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons.
Look at who is opposing Moses’ leadership—this was Korah, a Levite of the tribe of Kohath (v. 1)—which means he was part of the tribe God had chosen to become priests and minister in the tabernacle to take care of the most holy things [remember the discussion on the Ark of the Covenant, only the Kohathites were permitted to carry it and the holy things from the tabernacle]; and who else—250 well known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council (v. 2). The Scripture says they became insolent and started questioning Moses’ authority as if he had made himself dictator over them (vs. 1-2). They became prideful about their leadership positions, but wanted more than they were given. It wasn’t enough that they sat on the council or that the Kohathites carried the holy things, they wanted to be priests like Aaron and make the laws like Moses did. They were showing contempt for God (v. 30) and His divine prerogative to choose whom He wanted as leaders and priests (vs. 9-11). They were power hungry and they were rebelling against God by not accepting His right to choose the men who would serve Him as leader, priests, and deacons—to use a word better understood by modern people. These are the same leaders of the community who had previously rejected direct communication with God and asked Moses to be the intermediary, a role he did not chose:
Ex. 20:18-21 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die."
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning."
21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
Deut. 4:10-14 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children." 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. 12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. 14 And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.
Deut. 5:23-27 When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leading men of your tribes and your elders came to me. 24 And you said, “The LORD our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him. 25 But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer. 26 For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? 27 Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey."
Now about the 14,700 who were killed by plague. These are the same people who said that they would listen to what God said through Moses (Ex. 20:19). These are the same people who witnessed the day before God standing up for His servant, Moses, by causing the earth to swallow up Korah and fire burn up his rebellious followers, who were left where they died as witness that they were wrong. Yet these same people—the whole community—accused Moses of murdering those rebellious leaders (Num. 16:41). You’d think they’d have learned their lesson by what God did to the leaders of the rebellion. Sometimes it takes more drastic measures to teach important lessons—remember the 2-by-4 illustration. If this matter hadn’t been dealt with promptly and decisively, it could have led to civil war, during which many thousands more would have died.
Problem: To punish the whore-committing, non-believers in a manner that will reduce God’s otherwise unrelenting wrath, kill them and hang their heads against the sun for God to view. (Numbers 25:1-4)
Response: Num. 25:1-4 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger burned against them.
4 The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel."
First, these are not non-believers; they are men of Israel, leaders of the community, who had voluntarily entered into a covenant relationship with God promising to worship Him only. They had been given the 10 commandments and knew they were not to worship any other 'gods' except the LORD (Ex. 24:3-8). Second, the reason that God’s anger burned against them was not primarily because they were indulging in sexual immorality but because they were worshipping other 'gods' after all He had done for them in rescuing them from Egypt and its false 'gods,' and then making a covenant with them. Third, it was only the leaders of the rebellious people who were killed and put on display before God and the rest of the Israelites as a warning not to follow them in their idolatrous behavior. This was to show God that they were zealous for Him and to remind the people how serious a sin it is in God’s eyes to worship false gods.
We find out later that this incident was the counsel of Balaam after God had prevented him from cursing the Israelites in Numbers 22, (see Num. 31:16; Mic. 6:5; Rev. 2:14). He was able to get God to act on His warnings by corrupting the people to worship a false 'god' and, thus, remove His blessing on the people.
Problem: God slaughtered 24,000 Israelites in a plague for whoring around. (Num. 25:5-9)
Response: Num. 25:5-9 So Moses said to Israel's judges, "Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor."
6 Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them — through the Israelite and into the woman's body. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; 9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
Again, these are not non-believers; they are men of Israel who had voluntarily entered into a covenant relationship with God promising to worship Him only. They had been given the 10 commandments and knew they were not to worship any other 'gods' except the LORD (Ex. 24:3-8). Second, the reason that God’s anger burned against them was not primarily because they were indulging in sexual immorality but because they were worshipping other 'gods' after all He had done for them in rescuing them from Egypt and its false 'gods.' Third, despite the warning presented by the execution and display of the leaders of the rebellious people (see vv. 1-4), the people continued to engage in idolatry and sexual immorality. One man went so far as to do this before God and everybody while they were still weeping over their sin and its consequences. When Phinehas executed the offenders, the plague stopped. Someday we will realize that sooner or later sin always leads to death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12-14; 6:23; 7:13; 1Co. 15:56; Jas. 1:15). In this case, it was sooner.
Problem: God killed 10,000 Canaanites and Perizzites and 10,000 Moabites because He favored the Israelites and was prejudiced against the other tribes. (Jdg. 1:4; 3:28-29)
Response: To understand why, we need to go back to Genesis and the covenant promise God made with Abraham. We also need to understand why God did not fulfill His promise immediately.
Gen. 15:13-21Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure."
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites."
Jdg. 1:4 When Judah attacked, the LORD gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek.
Jdg. 3:28-30 “Follow me," he ordered, “for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands." So they followed him down and, taking possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab, they allowed no one to cross over. 29 At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not a man escaped. 30 That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.
The point I want to make here is that God was fulfilling His covenant promise to Abraham. God in His omniscience knew that the peoples who inhabited the Promised Land would become so wicked that they would need to be stopped. He told Abraham however, that it would be over 400 yrs. before his descendants would get the land because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16). Below I have several excerpts regarding various worship practices of the Canaanites, to demonstrate how depraved and horrible they were. History indicates that whenever a culture becomes so wicked and depraved that they not only celebrate all forms of sexual perversions, but also practice child sacrifices, they fall—both from within through moral decay and from without by invaders—in the above cases God brought it about by the Israelites. It as if God says, “This far and no further.”
The special enticements to idolatry as offered by these various cults were found in their deification of natural forces and their appeal to primitive human desires, especially the sexual; also through associations produced by intermarriage and through the appeal to patriotism, when the help of some cruel deity was sought in time of war. Baal and Astarte worship, which was especially attractive, was closely associated with fornication and drunkenness (Amos 2:7-8; compare 1 Kings 14:23 f), and also appealed greatly to magic and soothsaying (e.g. Isa 2:6; 3:2; 8:19).
The immoral rites with which the worship of Istar in Babylonia was accompanied were transferred to Canaan (Deut. 23:18) and formed part of the idolatrous practices which the Israelites were called upon to extirpate.
The chief seat of the worship of Istar in Babylonia was Erech, where prostitution was practiced in her name, and she was served with immoral rites by bands of men and women. In Assyria, where the warlike side of the goddess was predominant, no such rites seem to have been practiced, and, instead, prophetesses were attached to her temples to whom she delivered oracles.
The harlot represented more than a social peril and problem. She was a qedheshah, one of a consecrated class, and as such was the concrete expression and agent of the most insidious and powerful influence and system menacing the purity and permanence of the religion of Yahweh. This system deified the reproductive organs and forces of Nature and its devotees worshipped their idol symbols in grossly licentious rites and orgies. The temple prostitute was invested with sanctity as a member of the religious caste, as she is today in India. Men and women thus prostituted themselves in the service of their gods. The Canaanite sanctuaries were gigantic brothels, legalized under the sanctions of religion. For a time, therefore, the supreme religious question was whether such a cult should be established and allowed to naturalize itself in Israel, as it had done in Babylon (Herodotus i.199) and in Greece (Strabo viii.6). That the appeal thus made to the baser passions of the Israelites was all too successful is sadly clear (Amos 2:7; Hos. 4:13 ff). The prophets give vivid pictures of the syncretizing of the worship of Baal and Astarte with that of Yahweh and the extent to which the local sanctuaries were given over to this form of corruption. They denounced it as the height of impiety and as sure to provoke Divine judgments. Asa and Jehoshaphat undertook to purge the land of such vile abominations (1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46). The Deuteronomic code required that all such “paramours" be banished, and forbade the use of their unholy gains as temple revenue (Deut. 23:17-18. Driver's note). The Levitical law forbade a priest to take a harlot to wife (Lev. 21:7). and commanded that the daughter of a priest who played the harlot should be burned (21:9).
As the Sun-god, Ba'al was worshipped under two aspects, beneficent and destructive. On the one hand he gave light and warmth to his worshippers; on the other hand the fierce heats of summer destroyed the vegetation he had himself brought into being. Hence, human victims were sacrificed to him in order to appease his anger in time of plague or other trouble, the victim being usually the first-born of the sacrificer and being burnt alive. In the Old Testament this is euphemistically termed "passing" the victim “through the fire" (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6).
The ordinary offering made to the god consisted of incense (Jer. 7:9) and burnt sacrifices; on extraordinary occasions the victim was human (Jer. 19:5). At times the priests worked themselves into a state of ecstasy, and dancing round the altar slashed themselves with knives (1 Kings 18:26,28), like certain dervish orders in modern Islam.
But human sacrifice, and more especially the sacrifice of the firstborn son, of which we find few traces in Babylonia, continued to be practiced with undiminished frequency until, as we learn from the excavations, the Israelitish conquest brought about its suppression.
The king of Israel then allied himself with the kings of Judah and Edom, and marching against Moab by the way of the Red Sea, inflicted upon Mesha a defeat so decisive that the wrath of his god, Chemosh, could be appeased only by the sacrifice of his son (2 Kings 3:6 ff)
“Chemosh," says W. Baudissin, “is indeed the ruler of his people whom he protects as Yahweh the Israelites, whom he chastises in his indignation, and from whom he accepts horrible propitiatory gifts. But of a God of grace whose long-suffering leads back even the erring to Himself, of a Holy God to whom the offering of a pure and obedient heart is more acceptable than bloody sacrifices, of such a God as is depicted in Israel's prophets and sweet singers there is no trace in the Moabite picture of Chemosh. While Mesha is represented as offering up his own son in accordance with the stern requirements of his religion, Old Testament law-givers and prophets from the beginning condemned human sacrifice"
The image of Moloch was a human figure with a bull's head and outstretched arms, ready to receive the children destined for sacrifice. The image of metal was heated red hot by a fire kindled within, and the children laid on its arms rolled off into the fiery pit below. In order to drown the cries of the victims, flutes were played, and drums were beaten; and mothers stood by without tears or sobs, to give the impression of the voluntary character of the offering.
In the Levitical ordinances delivered to the Israelites by Moses there are stern prohibitions of Molech-worship (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5). Parallel to these prohibitions, although the name of the 'god' is not mentioned, are those of the Deuteronomic Code where the abominations of the Canaanites are forbidden, and the burning of their sons and daughters in the fire (to Molech) is condemned as the climax of their wickedness (Deut. 12:31; 18:10-13).
The chief site of this worship, of which Ahaz and Manasseh were the promoters, was Topheth in the Valley of Hinnom, or, as it is also called, the Valley of the Children, or of the Son of Hinnom, lying to the Southwest of Jerusalem (see GEHENNA). Of Josiah's reformation it is said that “he defiled Topheth .... that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech" (2 Kings 23:10).
In the New Testament (King James Version margin) Gehenna occurs in Matt 5:22,29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6. In all of these it designates the place of eternal punishment of the wicked, generally in connection with the final judgment. It is associated with fire as the source of torment. Both body and soul are cast into it. This is not to be explained on the principle that the New Testament speaks metaphorically of the state after death in terms of the body; it presupposes the resurrection. In the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) Gehenna is rendered by “hell" (see ESCHATOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT). That “the valley of Hinnom" became the technical designation for the place of final punishment was due to two causes. In the first place the valley had been the seat of the idolatrous worship of Molech, to whom children were immolated by fire (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). Secondly, on account of these practices the place was defiled by King Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), and became in consequence associated in prophecy with the judgment to be visited upon the people (Jer. 7:32). The fact, also, that the city's offal was collected there may have helped to render the name synonymous with extreme defilement.
The laws of Moses give no uncertain sound concerning them. The Decalogue begins: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Whatever may be the exact meaning of this, it is perfectly clear that Israel was to have nothing to do with any God but Yahweh (Ex 20:3; Deut 5:7). No images shall be made of them (Ex 20:4,23; 34:17; Lev 19:4; Deut 5:8 f). No mention shall be made of them (Ex 23:13; Josh 23:7). They are not to be worshipped but destroyed (Ex 23:24). They are to make no covenant with the people or their gods would be a snare to them (Ex 23:32; Deut 6:14; 7:4,25). A curse will follow any defection from Yahweh to them (Deut 11:28; 28:14 ff; 12:3,30; 13:7; 20:18; 29:17). These gods are an abomination to Yahweh (Deut 12:31; 20:18; 29:17; 32:37; Ezek 7:20; 1 Kings 11:5; 2 Kings 23:13). They are to be as foreign gods to Israel(1 Sam 7:3 f; Josh 24:20,23; Judg 10:16; 2 Chron 14:3; 33:15).
(above excerpts from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft)
Problem: When a man kept the Ark of the Covenant from falling off its cart and being damaged, God smote him dead. (2 Sam. 6:6-7; 1 Chron. 13:9-10)
Response: Some background on the Ark of the Covenant is necessary to understand why the LORD did what He did.
2 Sam. 6:6-8When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 Then David was angry because the LORD's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.
1 Chron. 13:6 David and all the Israelites with him went to Baalah of Judah (Kiriath Jearim) to bring up from there the ark of God the LORD, who is enthroned between the cherubim-the ark that is called by the Name.
1 Chron. 13:9-10When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. 10 The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.
First, the Ark was where God met with Moses and the High Priests of the Israelites, His very presence was considered to be enthroned between the golden cherubim on the cover (Ex. 25:22; Num. 7:89). God is a holy God Who cannot abide the presence of sin (Lev. 10:3). Each year on the Day of Atonement the High Priest had to sacrifice a blood offering for himself and for the people before he could enter the Holy of Holies and approach the Ark of God’s presence (Lev. 16; Heb. 9:11-14). Only after purifying himself and offering the sacrifices could he approach, and that only once a year (Heb. 9:7). Thus touching the Ark was like touching God, and since sin cannot be in the presence of God and Uzzah was a sinful human being, the holiness of God killed him.
Lest you think the Israelites would not have known better, there are frequent references in Scripture to people expecting to die if they saw God (Gen. 32:30; Ex 33:20; Jdg. 6:22-23; 13:21-22) or touched His holy mountain (Ex. 19:20-24; Deut. 5:23-27), or touched the Ark (1 Sam. 6:19-20). God also gave specific instructions and warnings regarding the handling of the holy things:
Num. 4:5-6, 15, 20 When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. 6 Then they are to cover this with hides of sea cows, spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place. . . 15 After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the Tent of Meeting. . . 20 But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die.
Second, it is important to understand some Israelite history. During the times of the judges, the Israelites had forsaken God and started worshipping the false 'gods' of the peoples around them. Because of this, God had allowed the Philistines to conquer and oppress them. At one point, they even managed to capture and carry off the Ark of the Covenant which they put in the temple of their god Dagon, but his idol kept falling down prostrate before the Ark (see 1 Sam. 5:1-5). A plague of tumors also broke out on the people of each Philistine city where the Ark was housed. The people not wanting to admit that the LORD might really be behind it decided to conduct a test. They put the Ark on a cart and put 2 cows who had never been harnessed and who had just given birth. in a harness to pull it, and then took their babies away from them. They knew that for these cows to ignore their natural instinct to look for their babies and head in the opposite direction God would have to intervene, which He did, as the cows pulled the cart straight back into Israelite territory (see 1 Sam. 6). Now fast forward 20 years (1 Sam. 7:2), the Ark is still sitting in Kiriath Jearim, David decides he wants to move it closer to the capitol (2 Sam. 6); instead of having the priests carry the Ark with poles through the rings in the corners as God had instructed Moses (Ex. 37:3-5; Num. 4:4-6; Deut. 10:8), David used the method of the Philistines and attempted to move it by means of a cart which resulted in Uzzah reaching out to keep it from falling off the cart. If they had done it God’s way from the beginning, there would not have been a problem, only after the death of Uzzah did David ask how to get the Ark to him and do it God‘s way (2 Sam. 6:9, 13). You see God’s way of having the priests carry the Ark with poles kept anyone from touching the Ark and it kept it steady over rough roads so that there was no danger of it falling to the ground—think 4-wheel drive. Considering God’s warnings and His previous instructions, was He really unjust here?
Problem: God killed 70,000 people through pestilence to punish David for counting the Israelites. (1 Chron. 21:1-14)
Response: 1 Chron 21:1-27 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are."
3 But Joab replied, “May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord's subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?"
4 The king's word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. 5 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.
6 But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king's command was repulsive to him. 7 This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.
8 Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing."
9 The LORD said to Gad, David's seer, 10 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.'"
11 So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Take your choice: 12 three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the LORD-days of plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel.' Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me."
13 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men."
14 So the LORD sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. 15 And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
16 David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.
17 David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? O LORD my God, let your hand fall upon me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people."
18 Then the angel of the LORD ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 19 So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the LORD.
20 While Araunah was threshing wheat, he turned and saw the angel; his four sons who were with him hid themselves. 21 Then David approached, and when Araunah looked and saw him, he left the threshing floor and bowed down before David with his face to the ground.
22 David said to him, “Let me have the site of your threshing floor so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped. Sell it to me at the full price."
23 Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this."
24 But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing."
25 So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site. 26 David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.
27 Then the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.
True, 70,000 people died by the angel of the LORD to punish King David for counting the fighting men of Israel after had been warned against it. Let’s consider why it was sinful for David to do that. David had been victorious in battle against overwhelming odds since the time he killed Goliath by relying solely on God for the victory. However, in counting the number of fighting men he had under his command, King David was taking his focus off God’s ability to defend Israel and looking at the strength they possessed in numbers. He was becoming bigheaded and prideful over the victories “he” was winning against Israel’s enemies. It’s even possible that he was looking toward conquest and was trying to determine if he had enough troops to do it.
This displeased God because He wants us to trust in Him only—not in our own strength. It is very true when it says that pride goes before the fall. God allowed David to choose his punishment—3 years of famine, 3 months of being overrun by their enemies, or 3 days of plague while the angel of the LORD cut down his people. The reason the people were targeted for death was because David was taking pride in how many there were, so God reduced their numbers. [By the way, if he had gone to war with 1.57 million troops (v.5) under his command, how many more would have died?] David threw himself on God’s mercy and it worked because it says that God was grieved, had the angel of the LORD quit early (v. 15) and allowed David to offer a burnt offering to atone for his sin. When a leader sins his people often suffer for it. This was a case where the sin of another affects innocent people. We need to get away from the idea that our personal sins don’t affect others, sometimes our sins have great consequences for others. Sin always has consequences—the main one being death. If we did not experience the consequences of our actions, how would we know why God tells us “NO” and learn that sin is to be avoided at all costs?
Problem: God threatened to kill 90% of the population of each community of Israelites when the tribe abandoned Him. (Amos 5:1-3)
Response: Amos 5:1-6 Hear this word, O house of Israel, this lament I take up concerning you:
2 “Fallen is Virgin Israel, never to rise again, deserted in her own land, with no one to lift her up."
3 This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
“The city that marches out a thousand strong for Israel will have only a hundred left; the town that marches out a hundred strong will have only ten left."
4 This is what the LORD says to the house of Israel:
“Seek me and live; 5 do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing."
6 Seek the LORD and live, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire; it will devour, and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
This is one of the prophetic warnings God gave Israel before He brought the Assyrians in to conquer and take the people captive. God always gives plenty of warning and chances to repent before He pours out judgment. Once again, we are back to the covenant agreement between God and Israel. Let’s not forget these people had been in total rebellion against God; per the covenant, they deserved to be totally annihilated. It is because of God’s grace and His faithfulness to His covenant promises to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, that He left a faithful remnant of the people. God promised wonderful blessings if the people obeyed and followed Him (Deut. 28:1-14), but also warned them of the consequent curses if they forsook Him (Deut. 28:15-68). Some of the curses promised against Israel should they break faith with the LORD their God are enumerated below. And yet before God carries out those curses on them, He sends His prophets to warn them and plead with them: “Seek the LORD and live” (vs. 4 & 6). The people went into the covenant knowing the consequences of breaking the agreement. They were warned repeatedly to turn from their wicked ways. God had sent some judgments on them already to try to deter them from continued pursuit of the false gods of the lands around them, but still they would not listen to His pleas and turn back to Him.
Amos was one of the last prophets sent to warn them, thus the judgment he proclaims is one of the more severe—only a 10% remnant would be left. This is one of the last before God sent the ultimate judgment—scattering them throughout all the nations where they would be persecuted and not find rest (Deut. 28:64-66) which He did in A.D. 70 after they rejected their Messiah. God always keeps His word. What He says, He will do. We may not like it, but God does not forget the promises He makes to us nor does He forget the promises we make to Him.
Deut. 28:25The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth.
Deut. 28:36-37The LORD will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your fathers. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. 37 You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule to all the nations where the LORD will drive you.
Deut. 28:45-52 All these curses will come upon you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the LORD your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. 46 They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. 47 Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, 48 therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the LORD sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.
49 The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. 51 They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined. 52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Problem: God killed 185,000 Assyrians after their king and his servants made fun of God. (Isa. 37:1-36)
Response: Let’s not forget that these 185,000 troops were part of an invading army which was at that moment besieging Jerusalem. [Remember that the Assyrians had defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel just 7 years earlier in 722 BC.] God has consistently promised that He would defend both His cause and His people (Gen. 12:3; 2 Th. 1:6-9). With this in mind read the passage in question:
Isa. 36:18-20 “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘The LORD will deliver us.' Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? 20 Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?"
Isa. 37:1 When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD.
Isa. 37:4-7 “It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives."
5 When King Hezekiah's officials came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Listen! I am going to put a spirit in him so that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.'"
Isa. 37:9-20 Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the Cushite king of Egypt, was marching out to fight against him. When he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: 10 “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.' 11 Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? 12 Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them--the gods of Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, or of Hena or Ivvah?"
14 Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: 16 “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.
18 “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20 Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God."
Isa. 37:21-24 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word the LORD has spoken against him:
“The Virgin Daughter of Zion despises and mocks you. The Daughter of Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee. 23 Who is it you have insulted and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! 24 By your messengers you have heaped insults on the Lord. And you have said, 'With my many chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains, the utmost heights of Lebanon. I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of its pines. I have reached its remotest heights, the finest of its forests.
Isa. 37:36-37 Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! 37 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.
What you need to see in this passage is that Sennacherib and his field
commander weren’t just ridiculing God, they were issuing a direct challenge to God. They were saying that their “gods” were stronger than the God of Israel because their “gods” had helped them defeat all the other nations and other “gods” which they had gone up against. Back then if you won battles over another people group it was thought that your “gods” were stronger than their “gods” and the only smart thing to do was to abandon the defeated “gods” and start worshipping the “gods” of your conquerors. Because such a direct challenge to God’s power and right to be considered the One True God had been issued, God showed them that not only was He more powerful than all the Assyrian "gods," He didn't even need to use the military strength of the Judeans to defeat the armies of Assyria.
Please don’t forget that this was also a wartime situation and that the Assyrians were the aggressors. It was expected that thousands of soldiers would die in battle. In addition, King Hezekiah took the matter to the LORD and asked for His help. To make sure His point was not missed, God wiped out 185,000 troops in the Assyrian army, which was at that moment laying siege to His Holy City of Jerusalem, in 1 night. He did it to protect His people and His city, not just His reputation. Can you blame Him for taking up the gauntlet the Assyrians had thrown down? Do you have a problem with God defending His people from attack? Shouldn't God answer our prayers for help? Isn’t His protection and defense exactly what you want from Him? Do you think they, and all the peoples around, had any doubt that the God of Israel was more powerful than any other so-called "god" when He showed He was able to eliminate an entire army in 1 night?
Angel of the Lord striking down Assyrian troops after Hezekiah's prayer for God's deliverance.
Problem: When people have no knowledge of God, God punishes them by making their crops not produce and their animals not reproduce. (2 Kings 17:26)
Response: 2 Kings 17:24-28 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. 25 When they first lived there, they did not worship the LORD; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. 26 It was reported to the king of Assyria: “The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires."
27 Then the king of Assyria gave this order: “Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires." 28 So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD.
This passage says nothing about God punishing the ignorance of the people by not making crops grow or keeping crops from reproducing. It does indicate the pagans assumed lions that were killing some people were doing so because the pagans who had been resettled in the Promised Land of the Jews did not worship God or know what God required of them. The result was that the king of Assyria sent back a priest of God to instruct them so that they would no longer be ignorant. In this way, God provided these foreigners instruction in worship of the true God and a way of salvation. It may seem a bit extreme to kill off some people for not following a God they did not know, but sometimes it takes extreme measures for people to stand up and take notice of what God wants to do for them. I call it the 2-by-4 method, when all else fails God will hit you with something to get your attention—like being hit upside the head with a 2-by-4. Think back to the previous question and the 10 Plagues, God started out with a relatively mild plague and they gradually increased in severity until Pharaoh and his officials finally gave in. In this case, God chose not to drag it out, but to quickly get their attention so the problem could be fixed a.s.a.p.
Problem: Jesus struck people dead when they did not sell all their possessions and give every dime to the Lord. (Acts 5:1-10)
Response: As always we must look at the entire passage in context before we draw any conclusions.
Acts 5:1-10Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
3 Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?"
"Yes," she said, "that is the price."
9 Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
It wasn’t that they kept part of the money for themselves that was the problem. The problem was that they lied about it to make it look like they were giving all the money. They lied to make themselves look better in front of others. The money was theirs to do with what they wanted. They were not required to give all of the money. They actually weren’t required to give anything, it was a voluntary action. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7). But, because of the attention and praise lavished on others who had given large sums to support the church (Acts 4:32-35), they decided to fake it. They weren’t giving out of love for God and His people, but for the praise of men. We tend to think that lying isn’t considered as serious a sin with God as murder or adultery, but in God’s eyes sin is sin. If you break one law you are guilty of breaking all the laws (Jas. 2:10). The penalty for sin is death—there is no getting around that. As the saying goes, “nothing in this life is assured, but death and taxes.” Only by accepting Jesus death in our place can we be spared the ultimate death—the 2nd Death in the Lake of Fire. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)