Ezekiel 26:1–27:36, Revelation 13:1–10, Job 36:13–23
A quick search tells me that the ancient city of Tyre still exists. It has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, but most of the photos are of ruins. In the early days of this city’s prosperity, the people described it as “perfect in beauty.” This coastal city was a dealer in merchandise such as metals, ivory, linen, wines, spices, coral, and a very expensive purple dye. However, its people made a terrible mistake; they intended to plunder Jerusalem, the city of God.
For this, God said: “Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. And she shall become plunder for the nations, and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 26:3–6)
At this, some would accuse God of wrong-doing. His people were also guilty and part of His judgment against them was that they would be plundered, so why not use the people of Tyre to do it? Obviously they would cooperate.
I’m not totally certain, but it seems to me that when God is going to use anyone to do His will in judgment, whoever it is doesn’t plan this strategy or see themselves as weapons in His hand. For anyone to assume that they are a tool of God to bring disaster on the disobedient is also disobedience. This supposition is not only the stuff of villains in movies, it is also indicative of historical despots.
While everyone should know evil from good, there is nothing in the Bible that gives me the right to judge the wicked AND take revenge on them. However, in Elihu’s long speech against Job, he accused this righteous man of doing just that. He said, “But you are full of the judgment on the wicked; judgment and justice seize you. Beware lest wrath entice you into scoffing, and let not the greatness of the ransom turn you aside. Will your cry for help avail to keep you from distress, or all the force of your strength? Do not long for the night, when peoples vanish in their place. Take care; do not turn to iniquity, for this you have chosen rather than affliction. Behold, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed for him his way, or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’?” (Job 36:17–23)
Elihu is right in saying that no one can tell God how to do things, nor can we correct Him. But he was wrong in accusing Job of scoffing the wicked or trying to take the place of God to judge them. How many of my prayers have been filled with ‘advice’ for God? Shame on me.
The book of Revelation tells of a dragon and a beast, likely symbolic representations of Satan and his evil powers. People will worship the dragon who gives his authority to the beast, and worship the beast saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
The beast will utter haughty and blasphemous words, and be allowed to exercise authority for a time, even to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name those who dwell in heaven. This beast will be allowed to make war on God’s people and conquer them. It will have authority “over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”
The end of the passage describes the fate of those taken captive or slain with the sword using terms that indicate this also is controlled by God. No wonder it adds, “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” (Revelation 13:4–10)
Again it is clear; sometimes the painful situations of life are God’s judgments. Sometimes they are His way of proving our faith. So what do I do when someone is suffering? It seems wise to err on the side of mercy, mainly because God gives warnings when He is going to act in wrath. That is, anyone suffering from the consequences of sin usually knows it, even if they don’t say it.
Oddly enough, those who are experiencing a test of their faith often have no clue what is going on and need to be encouraged. Giving encouragement and urging trust in God for anyone who is suffering, no matter the reason, seems always a good idea — because when God pulls my rug out from under me, I still need to trust Him.