Hello and welcome to Renaissance Woman! I am returning to my study of Isaiah 45:7 and, this week, am continuing to look at the words of the Lord where He says He makes peace “and creates evil.”
Simply reading those words causes a host of questions to raise in my mind. How can a God who creates evil still be called good? If He creates evil, how come there are passages like Psalm 34:16 which states “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil”? Or Psalm 5:4: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You”? If He creates evil, why did Jesus teach us to pray “deliver us from evil?”
These questions were based on my understanding that “create” meant “to make from nothing” and thus, whenever I read this passage, I understood it to be saying evil did not exist until God created it. I have proven to my own satisfaction that “create” does not hold that meaning. This study has led me to a more accurate definition of “to cause and purpose something new to come into being and grow to fulfill that purpose.” Unwieldy, I know but that definition is the only one that fits every occurrence of the Hebrew word bara (translated by the English “create”) in the Old Testament. As I looked up these occurrences, I saw that bara was oftentimes used in situations where the act of creating was done with material already in existence and so, there was no reason to think of God as the source of evil based on the word choice of bara/create.
I also looked up each occurrence of the Hebrew word ra translated as “evil” in my study passage. The preponderance of the scriptures were very clear that God was not the source of evil but rather evil was rooted in the heart of mankind and flowed into the world via their doings. And yet, every once in a while I would come across a verse like Amos 3:6: “If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity (ra-evil) in a city, will not the Lord have done it?” There was no denying God did evil as well as man.
And yet, there is a clear difference in the evil of mankind and the evil of God. Before I point it out, it’s important to take a moment and get the meaning of “evil” clear in our minds. What we think when we hear the word “evil” is not necessarily what the scripture intended to convey. The Hastings dictionary defines “evil” as: “…an older form of the word “ill”…the word almost invariably connotes what is either morally corrupt (see Sin) or injurious to life and happiness.” The Strong’s Concordance has “bad” as the first meaning of ra and continues to define ra with a list of words ranging from “adversity” to “wretchedness”. I see the same range of meaning in the New World Dictionary where “evil” is defined as “morally bad or wrong” to “causing pain or trouble” to “offensive or disgusting”. As I looked up the scriptures containing ra, I found reading around the specific passage and sometimes entire chapters necessary to understand which meaning ought to be applied.
The actions I-and I think most people-have in mind when they think of “evil” are the harmful and oftentimes horrendous actions human beings commit against each other: like murder. The Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 says, “the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like…”. If we keep this list in mind and take a long and honest look at the world around us, the “why” of the existence of the majority of evil in the word is clear.
What then is the evil done by God? As I looked up the various passages I found “injurious to life and happiness” to be the best definition. I also saw the truth of Amos 3:7 where the prophet declares, “Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” There was never an instance where God had an intention to take an action that would prove definitely injurious to life and/or happiness where He didn’t first declare it. He also held off performing the action for a long period of time giving His people a chance to turn from their evil ways and also promising, if they did so, He would turn from the evil He had determined to do.
I found the book of Jeremiah offered up the most complete picture of what I am relating. There are so many scriptures within this book that describe both the hearts and doings of the people of God as evil. God declared through His prophet, “Hear, O earth! Behold, I will certainly bring calamity (ra-evil) on this people-The fruit of their thoughts, because they have not heeded My words” (Jeremiah 6:19). There is a fascinating passage in Jeremiah 18:7-12:
“The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom to pluck up, to pull down and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it. Now, therefore speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, “Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now everyone from his evil way and make your ways and your doings good!” ‘“And they said, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.”
I would have thought that would be enough for God to throw up His hands but He continues to entreat His people through His prophet saying to Jeremiah: “Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord’s house, all the words that I command you to speak to them. Do not diminish a word. Perhaps everyone will listen and turn from his evil way, that I may relent concerning the calamity which I purpose to bring on them because of the evil of their doings” (Jeremiah 26:2-3).
This same chapter describes another man named Urijah who prophesied in the name of the Lord and issued the same warnings as Jeremiah. King Jehoiakim sought to put him to death and did so. Urijah fled to Egypt but was pursued, drug back to Jerusalem, killed with the sword, and his body was thrown into the graves of the common people. Jeremiah would have been killed as well but for the fact that he had the protection of man named Ahikam. The people of the Lord did not only want to walk according to their own plans, they were set on killing anyone who sought to persuade them otherwise.
Well, the record in scripture is clear. Despite His promises to relent, the word of the Lord was not heeded and God did bring destruction on Jerusalem and His people. And yet, He still issued promises and words of comfort to His people. Jeremiah writes a letter to the people carried away into captivity in Babylon and that letter contains one of the most quoted scriptures of all time: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The next chapters contain the promises that the captives would return and both Judah and Jerusalem would be restored.
The book of Jeremiah also records that beautiful promise of God: “They shall be my people and I will be their God, then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear (revere) Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good, but will put My fear (reverence) in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul” (Jeremiah 32:38-41).
I don’t see that the people were incapable of turning their hearts to God. Rather, I see that they would not. The book of Jeremiah also includes a story of the men of Judah who had fled to Egypt (despite their being warned not to do so! See Chapter 42). Even after they had seen the destruction of the city of God and heard God still promising to care for them in the land, their answer to the prophet was; “we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and put out drink offerings to her as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, for then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble. But since we have stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and famine” (Jeremiah 44: 17:18).
Could the people of God then have been so blind that they did not know evil had come upon them as a direct result of the evil of their own hearts and doings, their turning away from God, and their outright disobedience? Even so, God promises to give them one heart and one way. That prophecy is repeated and intensified through another prophet of the Lord, Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statues, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
We will continue to look at this next week…
Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures are quoted from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1982
Guralnik, David B., Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, William Collins + World Publishing Co., Inc., Cleveland •New York, 1972, 1974
Hastings, James, Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, Fifth Printing, Hendrickson Publishers, 2001, Page 247
Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D., The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990