Traditional Legal Model: For the good of the universe and to end their misery God destroys the lost in His “strange act.”
Biblical Healing Model: As in the examples included in the verse where it is mentioned (Isa 28:21), God, not being a God of force or coercion, honors man’s free will choices. It is a strange act for Him to do it, but He allows man to receive the even-hurtful natural consequences of his decisions.
We sometimes hear of “God’s strange act.” Here is the verse where it is referred to:
“For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” (Isa 28:21)
A Google search for “God’s strange act” brought up this example:
Three major final events will affect the wicked:
- The plagues
- The millennium
- The final judgment
“These events fulfil ‘God’s strange act,’ an act which appears contradictory to His love and mercy. For the safeguard of the whole universe God acts wisely and justly in the destruction of sin and sinners.”
That website reflects the understanding of many Christian groups about the meaning of God’s strange act. The basic idea is they’ve been warned, God doesn’t like to have to do it but, for the good of the universe and to put sinners out of their misery, God will destroy them. So “God’s strange act” is often used in connection with the common understanding of especially this verse:
“And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:15)
This quote describes the thinking of many:
“One way that people have tried to resolve the tension between a loving and a vengeful God is to suggest that God is typically loving in nature, but in very extreme circumstances He will change for a brief moment in order to restore harmony to the Universe. This is referred to as His strange work.” (Adrian Ebens, God’s Strange Act, p7)
Why would that be a problem?
- It has God using death as the final solution
- It contradicts an ever-merciful God
- It goes against how God describes His own emotions
“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.” (Hosea 11:8)
That verse has God expressing how hard it is for Him to do what? – To destroy those cities (along with Sodom and Gomorrah)? No. Rather, to give them up, to deliver them to destruction from another source.
Why are people thinking God’s strange act refers to Him carrying out destruction? Preconceived ideas are, no doubt, involved but also because they are simply not reading what scripture says. It says “as in” two other situations. So how was it in mount Perazim and the valley of Gibeon?
“As in Mount Perazim”
God’s strange work in Isaiah is compared to what He did on Mount Perazim. Why? Logically, because God’s predicted strange act would occur in a similar way. At Mount Perazim, there was a battle between David and the Philistines:
“But when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines came up to seek David; and David heard of it, and went down to the hold. The Philistines also came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. And David enquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up to the Philistines? wilt thou deliver them into mine hand? And the LORD said unto David, Go up: for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into thine hand. And David came to Baalperazim, and David smote them there, and said, The LORD hath broken forth upon mine enemies before me, as the breach of waters. Therefore he called the name of that place Baalperazim.” (2 Sam 5:17-20)
“Baalperazim” has the meaning of “Baal (or Lord) of breakings forth” or “possessor of breaches” (Biblehub.com). What happened there was that God allowed the Philistines to fall into the hand of David and his army. While God did nothing to protect the Philistines, He did not personally fight against them. “Perazim” is from the plural form of the Hebrew word “perets” which is most commonly translated as “breach.” A good way to think of it is as a breach in the wall of God’s protection of the Philistines. The word “deliver” in verse 19 is from the Hebrew word “nathan.” See the definition for that word here.
We should not think that a God of love only cared about the nation of Israel. He loves and cares for all but when people reject Him, He honors their decision to withdraw from Him. This can be understood as creating a breach in the protection and care God has for every person. It can be illustrated like this and is explained further in regard to the law of God.
“As in the Valley of Gibeon”
The people of Gibeon made peace with Israel and were threatened by other nations for doing so. They asked Joshua to come and save them and the Lord reassured Joshua:
“And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear them not: for I have delivered [nathan] them [the kings of the Amorites who were threatening Gibeon] into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.” (Joshua 10:8)
The promise to Joshua was that the kings of the Amorites would be delivered into his hand. The “into thine hand” indicating that Joshua and the Israelites would deal with them. The Hebrew word “nathan” is frequently used with that meaning in scripture. The following verses do present a challenge to the idea that God gave the Amorites over to Israel to deal with:
“And the LORD discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Bethhoron, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah. And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the LORD cast down [shalach] great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.” (Joshua 10:10-11)
A challenge because of phrases that read like God personally took direct aggressive action:
- “the LORD discomfited them”
- “and slew them with a great slaughter”
- “and smote them to Azekah”
- “the LORD cast down great stones”
However, aside from clues already mentioned, there is more evidence that God did not literally kill the Amorites in the following verses:
“Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up [nathan] the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.” (Josh 10:12)
“Delivered up the Amorites” amounts to allowing Israel to deal with them.
“And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” (Josh 10:13)
“The people had avenged themselves” – they did it. The Hebrew verb is in the active (Qal) form.
In summary, there are several clues in the story:
- The meaning of “nathan” (“delivered”) (v8, 12)
- The meaning of “discomfited” (v10) (watch for a future definition page)
- The meaning of “shalach” (“cast down”) (v11)
- “The people (Israel) had avenged themselves” (v13)
More importantly than making a decision based on the number of points for each position within just that story, is to look at the bigger picture. While God is at times described as taking certain actions, there are enough linguistic and other factors involved that should cause us to dig deeper. We need to compare with principles such as “… God is love” (1 John 4:8) and other verses telling about God and His ways such as:
“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,” (Luke 6:27)
“And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.” (Mark 3:4)
In that verse, Jesus equates to kill with to do evil.
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;” (Heb 2:14)
The “through death” there is referring to Jesus’ own death. He does not administer death to others to further His cause. In fact, death is referred to as an enemy:
“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:26)
That God would personally use death to destroy death makes no sense.
By Beholding We Are Changed
Lastly, we become like the concept we have of God’s character:
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18)