God Ordained Disaster

Here’s a thought-provoking question, submitted to me recently:

What does it mean when the Bible it says that “God does evil”? This seems to occur more in the context of God judging Israel’s sin (e.g. Ezekiel 6:10). Is this another figure of speech meaning that God punished Israel for their disobedience? It cannot mean the same thing as when people do evil, because that would imply that God commits sin. Also, why does this concept of punishment (or the phrase at least) not occur in the New Testament?

What does it mean when the Bible says that “God does evil”?

Other examples similar to Ezekiel 6:10 occur in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 31:2, 45:7, 47:11, Lam. 3:38, Mic. 1:12 and Amos 3:6. And it appears that all clear instances refer to some aspect of God’s judgment on the nation of Israel.

The word evil in Ezekiel 6:10 is the English translation of a Hebrew word, רָעָה rā·ʿā(h), which conveys a broad range of meaning and appears 315 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. To translate this word into English, the KJV chooses the words evil or wickedness as the translation 241 times, or 77% of the time. By comparison, the NKJV chooses evil or wickedness only 156 times, or only 50% of the time.

What do these statistics tell us? First, the word evil was a more general word a few hundred years ago, with a broader range of meaning than today. So the KJV translators used it frequently, allowing the context of each occurrence to reveal the specific meaning. When you study Ezekiel 6:10, for instance, you discover that evil in that context refers to disastrous events, not to wicked behavior.

By comparison, the NKJV translates this word as evil less frequently, because modern English associates the word evil with a smaller range of meaning, describing something that is bad in a sinful or moral sense. In cases like Ezekiel 6:10, it translates the word as disaster or calamity, which is exactly the meaning in that context. Here is a look at how the NKJV translates this word throughout the Old Testament, using a broader range of words to reflect the meaning accurately, based upon context.

NKJV ENGLISH TRANSLATIONNUMBER OF OCCURENCES
Evil106
Wickedness50
Disaster30
Calamity25
Harm19
Trouble17
Adversity13
Doom11
Hurt8
Affliction4
Catastrophe4

So whether you examine the context of Ezekiel 6:10 in the KJV or refer to a modern equivalent like the NKJV, you will discover that this word does not always mean sinful or wicked behavior. The truth remains that no sinful or wicked behavior or circumstances ever originate with God (Gen. 1:31, 1 Cor. 14:33, Jam. 1:13, 1 John 1:5).

God does, however, initiate some natural disasters and trying circumstances, as in the verses I’ve mentioned. He does this for legitimate disciplinary and judgment purposes. Even so, not all natural disasters and trying circumstances come from God, as in the case of Job (Job 1:12) and Peter (Lk. 22:31). But in such cases where God does not originate the calamity, He permits it to occur. No disaster that occurs ever violates God’s ultimate, sovereign control over all things.

Why does this concept of punishment (or the phrase at least) not occur in the New Testament?

The statement that “God does evil” does not appear in the New Testament, to my knowledge. A major reason for this would be that the New Testament was written in the Greek language, not Hebrew. And the Greek words for evil do not function entirely the same way as the Hebrew word, refers at times to disaster or calamity. The Greek word(s) for evil do not have this function.

Nevertheless, examples of God causing disasters and calamities as judgment on Israel and on the nations of the world does appear. The book of Revelation provides the clearest example of this, being filled with many examples of God’s judgment and wrath through various national disasters and more.

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