There are many incidents recorded in the Old Testament that make God not look too good. Some people don’t even like to read the Old Testament because of these. Many of those stories read as though God personally did some pretty horrendous things. Is God really like that? Or is there another way to look at many of those events? Either He does many things that most people would say are not consistent with love or there is something else going on. Please read the page Love Takes Responsibility for a discussion of why God would so often claim responsibility for such events and why this can be seen as a principle in the Bible.
Below are examples in which the wording seems to indicate that He was responsible for certain events or for the actions of others even when other verses indicate that He was not directly involved. In a number of these examples, there are either serious contradictions or there must be another way to understand this.
So let’s take a look at some passages where God takes responsibility (the blame) for or, in some cases, the credit for the works of others. Also, there are some cases where others credit Him with the responsibility for the actions of others indicating that people have long understood this principle.
Following is a list of the passages looked at on this page or, if given as a link, in another post.
- The Flood
- Sodom and Gomorrah
- The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart
- The Death of the Firstborn
- God Visiting Iniquity on Children
- The Fiery Serpents
- King Saul’s Death
- David Numbering Israel
- The Lord Set Ambushments
- God Creates Evil
Now I am not suggesting that God did not create but this event relates to this topic. The following verse, when examined in context, is speaking of the Father Who, the verse says, “created all things.”
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev 4:11)
Now here is a verse speaking of the Son Who is said to have created all things:
“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:” (Col 1:16)
So who created? This verse helps to understand:
“And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:” (Eph 3:9)
It seems to be saying here that the Father, acting through His Son created. It could be understood like the Producer and Director of a film where the Producer is perhaps the one who had the idea to make a documentary about a particular subject, who initiated the project and began to find people to help accomplish the task. Perhaps he had no personal experience in making a film and so hires a director who does have the right experience to see that the actors, film crew etc do the right things.
Creation has been well expressed (especially by Adrian Ebens) also in terms such as the Source (God the Father, in this case) and the Channel (the Son) who is delegated with the actual work of creation.
The question is whether or not this occurs elsewhere in scripture. We are looking for cases where God takes credit for or assumes responsibility for the actions of another or claims to have done something He is not directly responsible for.
“And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.” (Gen 6:17)
“Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden? Which were cut down out of time, whose foundation was overflown with a flood: Which said unto God, Depart from us: and what can the Almighty do for them?” (Job 22:15-17)
What can God do for them, on their behalf, to protect them when they want Him to leave? Many people pretty much just ignore God; here is a case where they actually requested that God depart from them. So God, honoring their free will, left.
It seems that God anticipated the flood:
“And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Gen 6:13)
Could the end of all flesh indicate that man had become so sinful and violent that they were threatening to wipe themselves out? Don’t rule it out.
God did all He could to make provision for saving them from the flood including directing Noah to build the ark and preach to them for 120 years. And God was also actively working:
“And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” (Gen 6:3)
The clue here is that the LORD would strive or plead with man to change their ways and at the limit of 120 years He would no longer strive with them but would leave them alone. It was, essentially, a period of probation.
The flood is a difficult event to consider in this way. We might ask “Who but God Himself could bring about such a large-scale event?” Well there are hints that something more is going on.
Sodom and Gomorrah
“Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;” (Gen 19:24)
Sure sounds like God did it. There is a little clue however in the book of Hosea:
“And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him. 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? 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 11:7-9)
In this passage, God is speaking of giving up or delivering Ephraim and Israel and He is drawing a parallel to Admah and Zeboim, two cities that were destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah. All four cities were given up in the same manner:
“And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath:” (Deut 29:23)
“Also Edom shall be a desolation: every one that goeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss at all the plagues thereof. As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the LORD, no man shall abide there, neither shall a son of man dwell in it.” (Jer 49:17-18)
“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7)
Give them up/deliver them to who or what? It is a rhetorical question. He is saying He can’t do it – can’t deal with them as He did with Admah and Zeboim by giving them up. The cities of the plain were given up in the sense that God withdrew His protection from them and they were then subject to forces of nature from which God had previously been protecting them.
The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart
Exodus says in a number of verses that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.” (Exo 7:3)
Yet there are other verses that say that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
“And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.” (Exo 9:34)
How are we to understand this? Is it a matter of counting how many verses say God hardened Pharaoh’s and how many verses say Pharaoh hardened his own heart and see who gets the most verses? It seems quite clear that hardening the heart, in this case, means refusing to heed the request to let Israel go and, rather, to keep them in slavery. Did God do it or did Pharaoh do it? In the most direct sense, it can’t be both.
What reasoning can there be that God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart?
- To do so would be interfering with Pharaoh’s free will. “Choose you this day” refers to Pharaoh also.
- In a later book, it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
“Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?” (1 Sam 6:6)
- “The Lord is … not willing that any should perish.” (2 Pet 3:9)
So what was God’s part? God set up the circumstances (Moses requesting the release of Israel) that caused Pharaoh to have to make a decision. It was the presentation of truth that caused Pharaoh to have to make a decision in his mind (heart) in regards to the request and Pharaoh, of his own free will, decided one way and not the other.
It could be said that God initiated the circumstances but it was not meant to in any way harm Pharaoh and Egypt but rather to be a blessing to them. He presented truth to Pharaoh as it is only by accepting truth that sinners can be set free (John 8:32). God wanted even Pharaoh to be saved and would not deny him the opportunity.
The Death of the Firstborn
God spoke as though He personally was going to smite the firstborn:
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.’ (Exo 12:12)
We are told later in the same chapter again that the Lord was going to do the smiting yet there is a clue in that verse that someone else was involved:
“For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.” (Exo 12:23)
God would have a role, no doubt. Perhaps it was much like what Revelation says will happen when God gives the command to the four angels to release the four winds; to stop protecting the earth (Rev 7:1). When God stops protecting, Satan starts destroying because that is what he is – a destroyer.
The Fiery Serpents
The account of the travels of Israel through the wilderness includes this incident:
“And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” (Num 21:4-6)
It could be understood as through God purposely sent the serpents perhaps as punishment for their continual complaining. However, another passage reveals that, in fact, He was shielding them from serpents that were common in the wilderness all along.
“Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;” (Deut 8:15)
Consistent with this message of God’s character and loving protection, He protected them as He always wants to protect us from danger. It is when we rebel and don’t want His involvement that He backs off.
King Saul’s Death
Without the Lord’s protective presence (“the LORD departed”) Satan had “permission” to trouble Saul.
The death of King Saul is described in one account as an act of God:
“So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it; And enquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.” (1Chr 10:13,14)
In another account, quite a different version of His death is reported:
“And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him, and he was wounded of the archers. Then said Saul to his Armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. So Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.” (1Chr 10:3,4)
The effect of God removing His protection from King Saul was His death. God did not kill him, rather He honored Saul’s free will to be independent of God and even consult a medium instead. It is specifically stated that the Lord had departed from Saul:
“But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.” (1 Sam 16:14)
David Numbering Israel
“And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people.” (2 Sam 24:1-2)
It is interesting that the margin of the KJV says “Satan” for “he.” Another version suggests it more strongly in the text:
“And the anger of Jehovah addeth to burn against Israel, and an adversary moveth David about them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.'” (2 Sam 24:1, Young’s Literal Translation)
However, most versions say the Lord did it. Either this is a hopeless contradiction or there is something like a principle at work whereby God would acknowledge some responsibility for it. Everything else we read about the incident suggests that God had no active part in it. The parallel passage in Chronicles says:
“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?” (1 Chron 21:1-3)
Notice that Joab recognized that there was a problem with David’s order. And, after the numbering was complete, David acknowledged that what he had done was wrong:
“And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.” (2 Sam 24:10)
The account in Chronicles even says that God was displeased. Was He displeased with His own suggestion?
“And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel. And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.” (1 Chron 21:7-8)
In the book of Job, everyone seemed to think that the calamities that fell upon Job were from God:
“Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold.” (Job 42:11)
Surprisingly, even God seems to go along with this understanding:
“And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.” (Job 2:3)
However, when we look at the details, a different picture emerges:
“And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:12)
One of the disasters to come into Job’s life was ascribed specifically to God:
“While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” (Job 1:16)
But notice who said “the fire of God is fallen from heaven.” It wasn’t God Himself but one of the messengers who interpreted the event as coming from God.
In the second round, the same pattern emerges. Satan proposes that God hurt Job but again God only gives Satan permission and Satan inflicts the suffering:
“But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.” (Job 2:5-7)
This all makes me wonder – consider when Satan first proposed this test:
“Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.” (Job 1:10-11)
Is it possible that Satan even understood that God would not do such things and normally protected Job? In reality, Satan asked for permission to test Job as God’s response indicates when He gave permission but with limits.
So, in the story of Job we see God accepting or, at least, not denying responsibility for Job’s misfortunes. Of course, God could have prevented it.
There is evidence that the book of Job was actually the earliest book of the Bible written. Is it possible that it was written first to give an understanding of what was going on behind the scenes? It showed that Satan was the accuser and how God was not directly involved.
God Creates Evil
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isa 45:7)
This is not speaking of moral evil but of evil in terms of bad events.
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:” (James 1:13)
How could God be the one to “create darkness?” By withdrawing His light – His truth. How is God the creator of war or evil? By withdrawing His peace – His Presence.
The absence of light creates darkness like the absence of heat results in cold. It is impossible to make darkness or cold but light or warmth can be withdrawn and darkness and cold result. (Darkness, by definition, is the absence of light; cold, by definition, is the absence of heat.) The absence of life is death. The absence of goodness creates evil. When the God of light, life and goodness departs, the result is darkness, death and evil.
“When I looked for good, then evil came unto me: and when I waited for light, there came darkness.” (Job 30:26)
Darkness “came” when the light left. Likewise, evil came when goodness left. God, to allow Satan an opportunity to prove his claims regarding Job and Job’s allegiance to God, withdrew (by degrees) His hedge (Job 1:10) of protection from Job allowing whatever was Job’s for a time to be in Satan’s hand (Job 1:12).
So that is how we can understand God “creating evil” and verses such as the following:
“Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6)
God does everything in the sense that He allows it – because He could always prevent it but to do so would interfere with the free will of His created beings.
So there are a number of examples of God taking the blame (or credit) for the actions of others. There are many more (others will be added here).
Actually, it turns out that there is a common and long-recognized idiomatic way of expressing a person personally doing something when they have merely allowed or permitted it. This is frequently used in scripture. That students of scripture and language understand this is well-documented but many today have neglected this leading to serious theological errors.