Last time I described the important concept that the Bible frequently describes God as doing what he instead allows to occur. But yet, there are times when God has actively intervened and in rather dramatic fashion. I’ve noticed though that we have a tendency to associate these desperate interventions, such as the flood or Sodom and Gomorrah and to say, “God is punishing them. God is punishing sin.” I think that we need to be very clear that God’s sad but necessary interventions are never for the purpose of punishment, but only for the greater good of healing the restoration and I will try to show several examples of this. In addition, we cannot accuse God of using the methods of “the ends justifies the means” since God will resurrect all of these people, each with the same train of thought, same character, and same “possibility” of responding to a God of gentleness and humility.
First, let’s briefly discuss the flood. And again, our question is “is this a punishment sent by God?” Let’s just look very briefly at a few details from this story.
“Noah had no faults and was the only good man of his time. He lived in fellowship with God, but everyone else was evil in God’s sight, and violence had spread everywhere. God looked at the world and saw that it was evil, for the people were all living evil lives.” (Genesis 6:9-12 – GN)
And a few verses later:
“The LORD said to Noah, ‘Go into the boat with your whole family; I have found that you are the only one in all the world who does what is right.” (Genesis 7:1 – GN)
The Bible says that Noah was the only good man of his generation. Noah was the only man in the world with a true knowledge of God. God was down to one good man! Do you think that the Bible is accurate in this statement? Is this an exaggeration? One man? Well, how many got on the boat? If God had known that he had 10,000 friends during this time, wouldn’t he have had Noah build hundreds of boats? But God knew that the entire world was evil and that no one would respond.
So, what does God do? In mercy, he has Noah preach a message to plead with the people over a very long period of time. Anyone could have gotten on that boat and God patiently called out to that generation, but no one responded.
Now, imagine what would have happened had God not sent the flood. The last man with a real trusting relationship with God would have died and the knowledge of God on the earth would have been extinguished. Planet earth would have lost contact with God and Satan would have won the great controversy. In fact, is it not true that we would not even be here today if God had not sent the flood. All of the evidence that we have today about what kind of a person God is – primarily based on his life and death on earth – had not yet been given. God had to rescue the last man, the last family, in order to preserve contact with planet earth and to win the great controversy.
God’s act of sending the flood is not an example of God needing to punish sin. The whole point of these articles is to conclude that sin does a sufficient job of punishing all on its own. God doesn’t need to add to the pain to satisfy “justice”. I think that we should view the flood as a rescue mission to save the last man with a true knowledge of God, rather than as a mission of punishment or destruction. In fact, I think we could view every other drastic intervention of God in this same light, but let’s look at some other examples.
On several occasions, when there was a new movement (especially with an immature people) and it was critical that things start out right, God has had to command respect by display of power. For example, with great power God sent the plagues on Egypt to show all that he really was a powerful God, despite the evidence to the contrary – that his people were weak and in slavery. Yet he still was not able to convince Pharaoh. As another example, God shook Mount Sinai for a similar effect.
I would also see the story of Achan in this same light. God was trying to hold the respect of a rebellious and hardened people who were trying to fight their way into Canaan and who were so easily seduced into the violent worship of foreign gods with their cult prostitutes and demand for human sacrifice. I think that God would much rather have treated Achan as He did the woman caught in adultery (“I do not condemn you”), but the seeds of Achan’s sin would have quickly diffused throughout the nation resulting in distrust, rebellion, and a falling away from God who would then have been unable to protect them as they entered the Promised Land. And for a time, rebellion was delayed by this severe action. It was not an act to “punish sin” but rather to preserve a very fragile contact with a very weak and frail nation.
Elisha and the she-bears
The story of Elisha is another place, where we might wonder if God is punishing. If you recall, Elijah had just been translated in chariots of fire and this is what happened next to his successor, Elisha:
“…some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the Lord. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.” (2 Kings 2:23,24 – NKJV)
Did God feel that those youths crossed the line and needed to be punished?
Again, what was the setting? If you go back to the beginning of 2 Kings, you find that the king of Israel, the one who was should have been a spiritual leader to the people, had fallen off his balcony, and in his pain he consulted not the God of Israel, but rather the god of Ekron to see if he would survive. Even the king was worshiping other god’s.
And so, in this setting, these youths were apparently aware of Elijah’s spectacular translation, but yet it apparently made no impression on them and they mocked his successor, “hey, you go up too, baldy!”
So, what is God supposed to do? Again, I would not see this as an example of God needing to punish because these youths went too far. As with so many cases, because of the emergent nature of the situation, God intervened with authority (in this case 2 female bears) so that his prophet would be given just a little respect and you’ll notice that Elisha was never threatened again. He was given a measure of respect, even by those who disagreed with him.
And, I need to mention how the story of Elisha ends! After his death, a funeral procession is taking place near the tomb of Elisha:
“Elisha died and was buried. Every year bands of Moabites used to invade the land of Israel. One time during a funeral, one of those bands was seen, and the people threw the corpse into Elisha’s tomb and ran off. As soon as the body came into contact with Elisha’s bones, the man came back to life and stood up.” (2 Kings 13:20-21 – GN)
Now, just imagine that that you are in a funeral procession and you turn around to see Moabites running after. And so, in a panic you dump the body in Elisha’s tomb and run for your life. And as you’re running you turn around to see not only the Moabites, but the dead man you were trying to bury, running after you as well!
Why did this happen? It’s really the same reason that God sent the she-bears. God is trying to get a little attention and respect during a time when no one was interested. And perhaps because of this man springing to life upon touching the bones of Elisha that maybe just a few people said, “Hey, maybe we should have taken that guy more seriously.” This is the same message people should have taken away from the story of the she-bears: “We should take Elisha (and ultimately God) more seriously!”
Uzzah touching the ark
Did Uzzah die because of the severity of the sin that required a punishment? Was his mistake of reaching out to steady the ark greater than that of a mass murderer? Obviously not! Uzzah did not die because of the severity of the sin! Once again, we see God needing to intervene, but not for the sake of punishment. In this example, God desperately needed to get an important message to David. And, as you read on in the story, it worked – David got the message. Whether Uzzah will arise in the “right” resurrection is up to God, but no where in the Bible does it say that Uzzah will not be in heaven, just as we cannot assume that Job’s children or the first born sons of Egypt will not be in heaven. This world is a dangerous place – a literal battle ground and with cosmic forces at war and with real casualties. Uzzah was one of the sad casualties.
Ananias and Sapphira
Examples of God trying to restore reverence by extreme measures are found in the New Testament as well. In the early days of the Christian church, there was great unity.
“The group of believers was one in mind and heart. None of them said that any of their belongings were their own, but they all shared with one another everything they had…Those who owned fields or houses would sell them, bring the money received from the sale, and turn it over to the apostles and the money was distributed according to the needs of the people.”
But Ananias and Sapphira were not completely committed to this powerful movement, yet by their actions they were trying to gain entrance to the inner circle of believers.
Once again, God acted with great power to ensure that the beginnings of this important movement, which was to spread the Good News about God to the entire world, were done in the right way, and that those involved were completely committed to the spread of the gospel. As a result, “even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both” (Acts 5:13,14, The Message).
During a remarkable time when signs and wonders were demonstrated as evidence that these early Christians represented Jesus, respect and reverence for God was again seen as foundational to their success. Speaking of the early church, Luke writes, “Through the help of the Holy Spirit it was strengthened and grew in numbers, as it lived in reverence for the Lord” (Acts 9:31).
With reflection, the people could recall that the God they were momentarily terrified of was none other than the humble and gentle One they had walked with just a short time earlier and they were not afraid of him then, though he possessed all power. And, just as with the story of Uzzah, we could not take the position that they were punished for the severity of the sin! If God put Ananias the Sapphira to sleep because of the outrageous nature of their sin, then would not Hitler and millions of other cruel individuals in human also deserve such treatment?
These stories are difficult, and I have only provided superficial explanations, but the point again is that these are rare and extreme examples of God’s intervention, not for the sake of punishment or retribution, but because of the desperate and emergency nature of the situation.