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Q & A - Idiom of Permission

Question: So many times in the Old Testament I read how the Lord killed people. I thought God was all love and light—how do you explain His hurting people?

Answer: There are many apparent contradictions in the Old Testament concerning the general theme of God killing or hurting someone. The flood of Noah, the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the plagues upon Egypt all fall into this category, along with many others. These incidents seem to contradict what we know from the New Testament about our heavenly Father, of whom 1 John 4 declares is love.

To understand these records and verses, one must understand the figure of speech, idiom. An idiom is a usage of words in a culture that has a meaning other than their strict dictionary definition. For example, in American vernacular if someone says, “Mr. Jones kicked the bucket last week,” that is an idiomatic way of saying, “Mr. Jones died last week.” Likewise, in the Old Testament, there is an idiom in which a verb is used in a permissive usage. What is written as the Lord “smote Uzzah” actually means the Lord “allowed Uzzah to be smitten.”

God established both the spiritual and physical laws and man can break himself on them if he so desires. For example, God set up the law of gravity, but no thinking person would accuse Him of killing a man who jumped off a ten-story building because he violated God’s law of gravity. So, the true picture in the Scripture is that the Adversary kills, hurts and harms. Man allows this to happen as he attempts to break God’s laws.

God used the idiom of permission for several reasons—first and foremost so as not to glorify the Adversary. Imagine how the Old Testament would read if everything the Adversary did was attributed to him. We would read about the Adversary on every page! This would be clearly out of harmony with God’s commandment in Exodus 23:13 and would not be a blessing to God’s people to study.

Exodus 23:13
13  And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth

Furthermore, the majority of people in the Old Testament were not fully aware of the Adversary’s tactics, so writing about him would have only built confusion and unbelief. The Adversary was not fully comprehended until Jesus Christ revealed and defeated him. Even today many people (even Christians) do not believe in the Adversary. The fact that the people of the Old Testament did not know much about spiritual activities going on or around them explains 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 1:21 and other similar verses.

1 Samuel 2:6
6 The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.

Job 1:20-22
20 Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, 
21  And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return thither: The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.

22  In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

In many examples of this idiom in the Old Testament, the people being hurt were the enemies of God. The question has arisen as to why the Adversary would hinder people who oppose God. People who oppose God set themselves against the law of God and break themselves on it. The Word shows us that the Devil is as much hate as God is love. The Adversary kills his own people on occasion.

Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille

Topic: Q&A
Format: pdf
Publication Date: 1982