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Old Testament Proof Texts for Disaster

April 4, 2009

1117894069_1394School is over!  And I am officially no longer an English teacher!  🙂  😦  Yes, this makes me happy and sad.  Happy because I don’t want to teach English anymore, but sad because I’m leaving some incredible students behind.

I’m actually in Cambodia right now visiting a friend, and while I would like to do some posts on that soon, I need to wrap up this little series of blogs on judgment in the Old Testament and natural disasters.  I said that I would discuss some of the verses that I quoted from a popular preacher/theologian and so I’ll do that now.  This will be brief and honestly while I try to use mainly my own thoughts in blogging, I will heavily use Greg Boyd’s understanding of these particular verses.  I’m indebted to him for a great deal of my understanding on the character of God.

1.  Amos 3:6, “If a trumpet is blown in the city, will not the people tremble?  If a calamity occurs in the city, will not the Lord have done it?

Amos is talking about a coming judgment and he proceeds to warn the people that He “will punish [them] for all [their] iniquities” (v. 2).  He then gives a number of analogies that at first somewhat strange and vague.  Here they are in bullets for your convenience:

  • “Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?” (v. 3)
  • “Does a lion roar in the forest when He has no prey?” (v.4)
  • “Does a young lion growl in his den unless he has captured something?” (v.4)
  • “Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground when there is no bait in it?” (v.5)
  • Does a trap spring from the earth when it captures nothing at all?” (v. 5)

Then we get to the famous text:  “…If calamity occurs in the city, will not the Lord have done it?”  Now it seems to me that verses 3-5 are analogies that verse 6 explains.  So let’s look at them.  It would be unusual for two men to walk together (obviously planning or discussing?) without a prior appointment.  In the same way, we would not expect to hear a lion roar in the forest if he hasn’t found any prey.  The same goes for the young lion and the trap springing to catch nothing.  In other words, there are reasons (!!) for all of these things happening.  Their are prior events that spark the meeting, roaring, springing.  Then God makes the connection:  If there is a calamity in the city, it won’t be for no reason!  I will have done it! Why?  Because in verse 2, he said he would judge their iniquities.  Verse six is not a timeless metaphysical reality!  It’s a historical and contextual announcement of judgment.  He wants Israel to make sure they understand that what happens next is because of their iniquities.  There is no reason to assume that this is a timeless truth.

That’s why verse 7 is crucial to the understanding of chapter 3.  In this verse Amos says emphatically, “SURELY the Lord does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets.”

In other words, God would not bring judgment without establishing a prior “appointment.”  He would not roar unless he had prey first (those guilty with iniquity).  He would not spring up, unless something had already been caught in it.  In summary, God would warn those whom He is about to bring disaster on for the iniquity that they had committed.

How does this fit with modern disasters like tornadoes and tsunamis?  Where are the prophets sent to warn and offer repentance?

2.  “I form light and create darkness, I make well being and create calamity, I am the Lord who does all of these things.” (Isaiah 45: 7)

I’ll be honest, this verse tossed around without an attempt to explain it contextually really gets under my skin.  When this verse is read alone, it creates duplicity in the character of God that is completely unnecessary.  After all, doesn’t John say that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all?” (I John 1:5).  They can’t both be true at the same time.

So maybe there are historical and contextual considerations based on the fact that Isaiah is prophesying to a people to deal with a specific situation.  And of course there are.  Greg Boyd’s thoughts are useful here:

Fortunately, when read in context, neither text supports the view that God is morally ambiguous. The Isaiah passage is addressing the future deliverance of the children of Israel out of Babylon (Isa. 45:1–6). As a number of scholars have argued, the “light” and “darkness” of this passages refers to “liberation” and “captivity” (as in Isa. 9:1; Lam. 3:2). The “weal” and “woe,” or “prosperity” and “disaster,” refer to Yahweh’s plans to bless Israel and to curse Babylon. In the words of Terrence Fretheim, this language:

“is not cosmic in orientation, but language typical in the prophets for specific (historical) divine  judgments….God’s “creating” here is not ex nihilo, but action which gives specific shape to a situation of historical judgment.”

Hence he concludes, “no claims are made that God is the all-determinative actor in this (or any other) situation.”

(http://www.gregboyd.org/qa/predestination-free-will/scriptures-dealing-with-determinism/isaiah-457lamentations-337%E2%80%9338/)

Can this verse be applied to natural disasters of today?  I don’t think so.  God is addressing the captivity and deliverance of Israel based on their constant rebellion.  God “making well-being and calamity” cannot and should not be taken as timeless truths about God’s character.  They are rather in connection with God’s dealing with Israel.  This with the lack of warning that would be given (because of the lack of Old Testament style Prophets), make this a bad proof text to use for God’s bring natural disasters in order to judge.  My thoughts on Amos and my previous post on this should answer why.

In the end, I feel that it is safe to say that God does not operate by bringing terrible plagues without some kind of warning and offer of repentance.  These warnings would not have been possible in  the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, or more recently the monsoon that wrecked Myanmar.

The scriptures and Jesus do warn that as creation heads towards its end, there would be more disasters and problems with the earth.  But this is not so much a question of God’s workings as it is human sin taking it’s toll cosmically, the “prince of the power of the air” seeking to wreak havok in his final days, and the instability of the earth as it cries out for redemption (see Romans 8).

That’s all I’ve got.

Blessings.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Bohlman permalink
    April 15, 2009 9:18

    John! This was really great! In fact I’m going to use it in my class for next unit and I’m also going to add it to my “Response to Hard Questions” folder. The following were my favorite comments:

    “Then God makes the connection: If there is a calamity in the city, it won’t be for no reason! I will have done it! Why? Because in verse 2, he said he would judge their iniquities. Verse six is not a timeless metaphysical reality! It’s a historical and contextual announcement of judgment…They are rather in connection with God’s dealing with Israel. This with the lack of warning that would be given (because of the lack of Old Testament style Prophets), make this a bad proof text to use for God’s bring natural disasters in order to judge…The scriptures and Jesus do warn that as creation heads towards its end, there would be more disasters and problems with the earth. But this is not so much a question of God’s workings as it is human sin taking it’s toll cosmically, the “prince of the power of the air” seeking to wreak havok in his final days, and the instability of the earth as it cries out for redemption (see Romans 8).”

    I liked it a lot.

  2. Matt Bohlman permalink
    April 15, 2009 11:16

    Hey Jon, I read this tonight and thought it reflected your topic somewhat on natural disasters. I wonder at times if natural disasters are a combination of God pulling away and the enemy filling the void. This quote comes out of a section I am reading on Atonement found at: http://www.godscharacter.com/mediagallery/media.php?f=0&sort=0&s=20080429075611461

    “Repeatedly in the Old Testament, God tried to give evidence as to what happens when his children completely reject him to the point that he can do no more. When we are completely hardened and unwilling to listen to God in any way, this is described as the experience of God’s anger or wrath.

    Let me just give a few examples of this. It goes all the way back to the book of Deuteronomy.“ My anger will flame up like fire and burn everything on earth. It will reach to the world below and consume the roots of the mountains. I will bring on them endless disasters and use all my arrows against them.” (Deuteronomy 32:22,23 – GN)

    What does God’s anger look like? How does God use His arrows against us? Keep reading! “They fail to see why they were defeated; they cannot understand what happened. Why were a thousand defeated by one, and ten thousand by only two? The Lord, their God, had abandoned them; their mighty God had given them up” (Deuteronomy 32:29,30 – GN)

    The next time you read through the Old Testament, look for this relationship between God’s wrath and his “giving up” or “abandoning” his children. It is redundant and present on dozens of occasions. For a more detailed description of this, click here, GodsCharacter.com, and listen to the talk entitled “The Wrath of the Lamb”.

    Just as one more example, before the Assyrian captivity when the 10 northern tribes were lost forever, this is the description in Hosea:“I will attack the people of Israel and Judah like a lion. I myself will tear them to pieces and then leave them. When I drag them off, no one will be able to save them. (How does God attack his children? We read on for clarification) I will abandon my people until they have suffered enough for their sins and come looking for me. Perhaps in their suffering they will try to find me.” (Hosea 5:14,15 – GN)”

  3. April 15, 2009 11:27

    Ok…wow…here was some thought provoking stuff I just read! I really want to chew on this for awhile and maybe write a short pamphlet on it…if in fact I conclude that it hits the mark:

    God is not vindictive in this, it’s just that if we are completely hardened to the love of God – if even God’s shouting and thundering does not reach us – then God really has one of 2 choices: He can either take away our freedom to rebel and become a puppet master, or He can give us up to our own foolish choice. Real love requires freedom and so God does the most loving thing for His children – He gives them up.

    Finally, in the book of Romans, Paul very clearly synthesizes the OT concept of God’s wrath, and Romans 1 is the clearest place in the Bible as to what this is:
    “God’s anger is revealedfrom heaven against all the sin and evil of the people whose evil ways prevent the truth from being known. God punishes them, because what can be known about God is plain to them, for God himself made it plain.” (Romans 1:18,19 – GN)

    So, Paul is going to describe for us precisely what God’s wrath is. The subject is “How does God punish?”

    “They say they are wise, but they are fools; instead of worshiping the immortal God, they worship images made to look like mortals or birds or animals or reptiles. And so God has given those people over to do the filthy things their hearts desire, and they do shameful things with each other. They exchange the truth about God for a lie; they worship and serve what God has created instead of the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever! Because they do this, God has given them overto shameful passions….Because those people refuse to keep in mind the true knowledge about God, he has to corrupted minds, so that they do the things that they should not do.” (Romans 1:22-26,28 – GN)

    Three times, Paul would reinforce this concept. God doesn’t have to actively punish people who leave his side. Why? When we fully separate from the loving arms of our God, there is chaos, destruction and death – as a natural consequence – not at the hands of our God.

    And, Paul would go on to explain the cross in this same way:

    “Because of our sins he was given over to die…” (Romans 4:25 – GN)
    It is critical that we understand that sin, which separates us from the loving and protecting arms of our God, is intrinsically destructive. Sin, ultimately, pays the wage, not God.

    And so it is very significant that the anguish and sorrow of Jesus, which began really in the garden of Gethsemane, would climax with these words:
    “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

    “Why have you given me up? Why have you handed me over? Why have you abandoned me?”

    These are the very same words we associate again and again with the separation of God from his rebellious children. The Father did not kill his Son at the Cross. No, at the cross we see the full result of separation that sin causes between us and our God. It’s true that the wages of sin is death – but sin is ultimately what pays the wage. The Cross proves this to be true.

    Jesus Christ, who lived every moment in loving harmony with His Father, experienced the withdrawal of His Father’s love, acceptance and protection. Satan was allowed to wring the heart of Jesus with fierce temptations and finally, cruel men were allowed to crucify the Son of God.

    In the book of Acts, it is described this way:

    “In accordance with his own plan God had already decided that Jesus would be handed over to you; and you killed him by letting sinful men crucify him.” (Acts 2:23 – GN)

    We could correctly say that the wrath of God fell upon Christ if we understand that the Biblical concept of God’s wrath is not to be punished by God, but rather to be forsaken, abandoned, given up.

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