“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil:
I the LORD do all these things.” (Isa 45:7)
The word “create” there in Hebrew is bara, the same word used in Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created [bara] the heaven and the earth.” The word for “evil” here is the same word used for “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9) There seems to be no way around it. God created evil; God is responsible for evil. Is this how we are to understand what is being said here?
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12)
Here it states that God will send a strong delusion. Does God invent the wrong ideas that man has, and then suggest them to wicked men? Do angels spread lies, or the Holy Spirit speak superstitutions in a “still small voice” to the human heart? And that God does this so they “all might be damned who believed not the truth?”
“Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again,
‘He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.’” (John 12:39-40)
Here Jesus is talking about the Jews rejecting Him. He says they cannot believe because God has “blinded their eyes and hardened their heart.” So do the Jews not have free will? How can they make a choice when God is blinding them? Did God want them to not believe, seeing that He has done this to them?
For it was of the Lord to harden their [Canaanites] hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:20)
Here it says that God hardened the Canaanites hearts so that they would want to battle with Israel. Why? So they would lose and then be utterly destroyed. Did the Canaanites make their own decision to go to war? Or did God somehow force/trick/inspire them to go to war with Israel?
This is a similar passage to God inspiring the Romans to destroy the Jews:
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, “Tell them which are bidden, ‘Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.’”
But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.
But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
Here the armies of Rome are said to belong to the king (God). He uses Rome’s armies to destroy the murderers of his servants and his son, and “burned up their city” – meaning Jerusalem. Did God plant the idea in mind of the Romans to destroy Jerusalem?
Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech: (Judges 9:23)
But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. (1 Samuel 16:13-14)
He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them. (Psalm 78:49)
Here are verses where it says plainly that God sent evils spirits and evil angels. Does God work together with evil angels? Does God tell them what to do? Is it God who thinks of the evil plan and then tells the demons, who merely obey Him? So good things God tells the good angels to do, and bad things God tells the demons to do?
What about the Lord’s prayer itself?
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matthew 6:13)
If we don’t pray this, does that mean God will directly tempt us to do evil? To unbelievers, does the Spirit of God come to lead them do to evil?
And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee. (Exodus 15:26)
If we disobey God, He will give us diseases? How? Does He send His angels to inject disease into us?
O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants' sake, the tribes of thine inheritance. (Isaiah 63:17)
Did God make/force people to error? This again makes it seem like we are not responsible for our actions, because God made us do it – He is responsible.
“And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” (Numbers 21:6)
Did God command the fiery serpents to bite and kill people? Are the snake bites that happen in the world because God sends them to bite people?
What is the explanation?
Because all power is God’s, He ultimately takes responsibility. But we should not understand these passages as being God directly doing it. In other places the same ideas above are expressed a different way. He allows men to reap the consequences.
Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord God. (Ezekiel 22:31)
For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. (Isaiah 34:2)
This next example is interesting, because both forms are used – that God directly did it and that God allowed it.
5 Then came Shemaiah the prophet to Rehoboam, and to the princes of Judah, that were gathered together to Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said unto them, Thus saith the Lord, “Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak.”
6 Whereupon the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves; and they said, “The Lord is righteous.”
7 And when the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the Lord came to Shemaiah, saying, “They have humbled themselves; therefore I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance; and my wrath shall not be poured out upon Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak.” (2 Chronicles 12:5-7)
This one too, both are used.
How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? [Admah and Zeboim are two other cities destroyed with Sodom and Gommorah] mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.
I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city. (Hosea 11:8-9)
God states later that the way God destroys is by letting Israel destroy itself.
9 O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.
10 I will be thy king: where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities? and thy judges of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes?
11 I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.
Did God give a king to Israel because He was angry? Was it God’s decision for Israel to have a king? No, it was Israel who demanded God give them a king (1 Samuel 8:6). God didn’t want to. God permitted Israel to have a king.
Then will I pluck them up by the roots out of my land which I have given them; and this house, which I have sanctified for my name, will I cast out of my sight, and will make it to be a proverb and a byword among all nations. (2 Chronicles 7:20)
Will God throw His temple out of His line of vision? This must be understood as a Hebrew expression. The Contemporary English Version renders it, “I will desert this temple where I said I would be worshiped” and the Good News Translation reads, “I will abandon this Temple that I have consecrated as the place where I am to be worshiped.”
I think you get the idea. Ellen White also explains this principle when she expands on God sending fiery serpents to bite and kill them.
The Lord had fed them with the bread of heaven, even with angels’ food; and yet they murmured against him. By his power he had held in check the wild beasts of the forests, and the reptiles of the wilderness, so that they had not hurt his people; but now he removed his restraining hand, and let the poisonous serpents do as they would have done all along the way had the Lord not restrained them. (ST April 2, 1894)
So how did God send the fiery serpents? By removing his hand and letting the serpents, which were already there in the wilderness, and do what they would have done if God wasn’t there to stop them.
Many Bible Scholars know this, so why are we ignorant?
Robert Young, who translated the Young’s Literal Version which many of us use, said this:
“…. agreeably to the well-known scripture idiom whereby what God allows he is said to do.” (Young, Robert, 1868, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, as Literally and Idiomatically Translated out of the Original Languages; New York: Fullarton, McNab & Co., p315)
Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13). But does God actually lead people into temptation? James tells us, “…. God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1:13). God’s Word never contradicts itself. Therefore, the only explanation is that our Lord taught using the idiomatic expressions of the Jews. As one scholar stated:
“Lead us not, in the Hebrew idiom, signifies ‘Suffer or abandon us not.’” (Davidson, David, 1848, The Comprehensive Pocket Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with Explanatory Notes by David Davidson; Edinburgh: James Brydone, p619)
“A Hebraism, according to which God is said to do that which he permits to be done. The meaning is, preserve us from temptation; permit us not to fall into temptation.” (Paige, Lucious Robinson, 1849, A Commentary on the New Testament, Volume 1; Boston: Benjamin B. Mussey p77)
A few more examples:
“When God is said to harden men’s hearts,-to deliver them up to a reprobate mind,-to send them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie, and the like;- it is infinitely far from being meant of an efficacious impulse in God Almighty. That all those verbs,- to harden, to blind, to deliver up, to send delusions, to deceive, and the like,-are by an ordinary Hebraism only permissive in signification, though active in sound, is placed without all controversy.” (Thomas Pierce, I, p23-24 edition of 1658 as quoted in Jackson, The Providence of God, p401)
Permissive means they only mean to allow, permit, reap the consequence of, etc.
“In the language of scripture, natural consequences are sometimes spoken of as though they were pre-ordained and irrevocable decrees. What happens solely through the permission of the Almighty, in the ordinary course of his Providence, is described as though it had taken place through some special and irresistible intervention of his hand. This is a mode of writing peculiar to the Hebrew idiom; an idiom which prevails everywhere throughout the New Testament, as well as the Old. Thus, when the sacred writers represent God as “blinding the eyes of men that they should not see, and hardening their hearts that they should not understand;” their meaning generally is that he does not powerfully interfere to prevent those evils which are the natural fruits of our own folly, perverseness , and impenitence.” (John Goodge Foyster, Sermons; London: Ibotson and Palmer, 1826, p90)
Shimei cursed David, and David’s soldiers wanted to kill Shimei. David said no, replying: “let him curse, because the LORD hath said unto him, ‘Curse David.’” Did the Lord tell Shimei to curse David? Does God tell anyone to curse anyone else? Didn’t Paul say, “Bless, and don’t curse?” (Romans 12:14). So why here is God telling Shimei to curse? Famous Biblical commmentator Adam Clarke explains:
“No man can suppose that ever God bade one man to curse another, much less that he commanded such a wretch as Shimei to curse such a man as David; but this is a peculiarity of the Hebrew language, which does not always distinguish between permission and commandment. Often the Scripture attributes to God what He only permits to be done; or what in the course of His providence He does not hinder. David, however, considers all this as being permitted of God for his chastisement and humiliation.” (Adam Clarke, 1831 Commentary on 2 Samuel 16:10-11)
How many more quotes do we need?
“Active verbs were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do.” (E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1968, 2008, p823)
“All this (the Spirit departing from Saul) happened by the permission of God rather than as a result of his direct will, for God cannot be the author of anything evil.” (Walter C. Kaiser Jr., (Old Testament scholar) Hard Sayings of the Bible, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1996, p212)
“That is, in the course of my providence I will permit this to be done. Such phrases in Scripture do not mean that God either does or can do evil himself; but only that he permits such evil to be done as he foresaw would be done, and which, had he pleased, he might have prevented.” (Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge by Canne, Browne, Blayney, Scott, and others about 1880, with introduction by R. A. Torrey.)
So how do we know whether the action is done by God directly or through His permission? Through the character that Christ revealed on this earth.
Special thanks to two articles by Ray Foucher and Troy Edwards.