Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Does God Place Stumbling Blocks Before People?

Does God Place Stumbling Blocks Before People?

Troy J. Edwards

In our weekly Bible studies at our church we have been dealing with the subject of evangelism. Particularly, we have been looking at excuses used by sinners to reject Jesus as their Lord and Savior. While gathering together the passages of Scripture to help our students evangelize self-righteous people (or “I’m a good person” person) I ran across the following passage:

Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. (Ezekiel 3:20)

I have read this passage a number of times. Its declaration on the fact that when a “righteous” person sins all his previous righteousness will be forgotten was a good fit for dealing with the self-righteous sinner. Yet, it also demonstrates how superficially we all read Scripture. In all of these years I had never noticed the portion about God laying a stumbling block before the person in order to bring about his demise.

Of course, the extreme Calvinist is right at home with such a passage. The Calvinist’s deity is one who sovereignly controls every single event and ensures that it comes to pass. The extreme Calvinist believes that God is the cause of each person’s sin (though he holds the sinner responsible for the act that the sinner committed). However, this is troubling for the Bible-believing Christian who is not committed to a theologically deranged idea about God’s sovereignty and believes that God is truly good, kind, and holy.

After reading how God Himself claims to put a stumbling block before the sinner I put the evangelistic Bible study aside for a moment to investigate this further (After all, one area of my ministry is to vindicate God against the false charges of being arbitrary, vindictive, and cruel).

One of the first things I did was to compare the King James Version to other translations. Sadly, some of them made God appear to be even worse than the KJV translators depict Him. For example, the Easy to Read Version says, “If good people stop being good and begin to do evil, and I send something that makes them stumble and sin, they will die because they sinned.” This rendering makes it appear as if God sends things just to cause people to sin.

If that isn’t clear enough the International Children’s Bible reads, “He may do evil. If I caused him to sin, he will die. Because you have not warned him, he will die because of his sin.” Now when our children sin they can point to this passage and say that God caused them to do it because He wanted them dead. That’s enough to make even an atheist blush.

The Good News Translation does slightly better: “If someone truly good starts doing evil and I put him in a dangerous situation, he will die if you do not warn him.” Well, at least it does not render the passage in a way that makes God the active cause of a person sinning. It only turns God into a killer by having him place people into dangerous situations. While the idea of God directly punishing a sinner by personally placing him in danger is more acceptable to the majority of Christians, it does not fit with the overall picture of the God presented to us by Jesus the Messiah.

Yet, Ezekiel 3:20 is the inspired Word of God and it cannot be ignored. But, one can get a better understanding of such passages than the ones presented by the majority of English Bible translations. For instance, a better interpretation is found in the Amplified Bible which attributes personal responsibility to the one who has fallen into sin:

Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness (right doing and right standing with God) and some gift or providence which I lay before him he perverts into an occasion to sin and he commits iniquity, he shall die; because you have not given him warning, he shall die in his sin and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood will I require at your hand. (Amplified Bible)

I like this interpretation of Ezekiel 3:20. It fits well with the rest of Scripture’s understanding of how God mercifully reacts to the sinner. God attempts to bless the sinner but it is the sinner who perverts this blessing, thereby, bringing about his own demise (James 1:13-15; 1 John 2:15-16).

Nonetheless, I am not an expert in original Bible languages and cannot confidently affirm that the Amplified Bible’s rendering is the most accurate one. Its accuracy is only affirmed by its consistency with God’s character as revealed in other portions of Scripture. While this is sufficient for my comfort and understanding of my loving Heavenly Father, others may need, what they believe to be, more concrete evidence.

To provide this evidence we only need to look to the permissive sense. J. B. Rotherham’s literally translated The Emphasized Bible has very often been helpful in demonstrating the truth of this principle. Note his rendering of Ezekiel 3:20:

And when a righteous man hath turned from his righteousness, and committed perversity, and I have suffered a stumbling- block to be laid before him he shall die, —though thou hast not warned him, in his sin I shall he die, neither shall be remembered his righteous deeds which he hath done, but his blood, at thy hand will I require.

In Rotherham’s literal translation we are told that God suffered a stumbling block. The word “suffered” is an archaic word meaning “allowed” or “permitted”. In the Old Testament God is often said to have done that which He allowed or permitted (or did not use His divine power to prevent from happening) by virtue of the fact that a person has removed himself or herself from under God’s protective presence. This permissive sense application of Ezekiel 3:20 is backed by a few Bible commentators and scholars:

“A stumbling block, leaving him to his own lusts, and suffering him to fall thereby.”
Cobbin, Ingram Condensed Commentary and Family Exposition of the Holy Bible (London: Thomas Ward and Company, 1837), p. 853

“Every man in the last hour of his life trips over a stumbling-block—which God sees, and permits to remain—and falls into the grave.”
Cobern, Camden M. Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 8 (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1901), p. 61

“That is, I permit him to be tried, and he fall in the trial. God is repeatedly represented as doing things which he only permits to be done. He lays a stumbling-block, i.e., he permits one to be laid.”
Clarke, Adam The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments (New York: Lane & Scott for the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1850), p. 434

I lay a stumbling-block--not that God tempts to sin (Jas 1:13, 14), but God gives men over to judicial blindness, and to their own corruptions (Ps 9:16, 17; 94:23) when they “like not to retain God in their knowledge” (Ro 1:24, 26); just as, on the contrary, God makes “the way of the righteous plain” (Pr 4:11, 12; 15:19), so that they do “not stumble.”
Jamieson, Robert, D.D. “Commentary on Ezekiel 3”. “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/jfb/view.cgi?book=eze&chapter=003>. 1871.

This settles the problem, does it not? God does not literally put stumbling blocks (temptations to sin or dangers as punishment for sin) but simply ceases to protect the sinner when he or she persists in his or her sin.

This should settle the issue. But, while doing my Bible cross references for Ezekiel 3:20 I ran across Jeremiah 6:21 where again God claims to personally lay stumbling blocks: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will lay stumblingblocks before this people, and the fathers and the sons together shall fall upon them; the neighbour and his friend shall perish.” I have no doubt that my critics would use this passage as one of their, “Ah ha, Gotcha” moments if I do not deal with it.

We must always keep in mind that these stumbling blocks that are said to be laid by God are really those of man’s own making. As James Burton Coffman says in his commentary on the passage:

“There was nothing capricious or vindictive on God's part who is represented here as placing ‘stumbling blocks’ in the way of Israel. ‘The stumbling blocks confronting the people were of their own making,’ when they had deliberately refused to walk in the good way (v. 17).”
Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Jeremiah 6”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=jer&chapter=006>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999. 

If Coffman’s understanding is accepted then, like Ezekiel 3:20, we can understand Jeremiah 6:21 from the permissive sense as well. Dr. Jack Blanco offers us this paraphrase of Jeremiah 6:21 in his book, “The Clear Word:”

“The Lord said, ‘I will let such troubles come on my people that both parents and children will stumble and fall, and neighbors and friends will perish” (emphasis are mine)

The permissive sense is the best sense in which to approach such passages in the light of God’s loving and merciful character by which He does not personally act to harm the sinner. Finally, the insight from an older book is very helpful in this regard:

“‘Behold, I will lay stumbling-blocks before this people, and . . . they shall perish’ (Jer. vi. 21), it should be understood that these evils, though affirmed of God (because they exist by His permission), are really ‘the fruit of man's own thoughts,’ through not hearkening to, but rejecting, God's words, statutes, and judgments, which thus become stumblingblocks and a curse, in place of the blessing for which they were intended; for God recompenseth not evil for evil, but good for evil, ‘making His sun to rise on the evil and on the good.’ In like manner, when we read of God, that “He that made them will not have mercy upon them, and He that formed them will show them no favour' (Isaiah xxvii. 11), it should be understood that this unmercifulness arises not out of God’s, but out of man’s will, who closes the door to God’s mercy and forgiveness by opposing God’s laws, and so deprives himself of the blessing they are designed to fulfil. Man will not ‘take hold of God’s strength that he may receive pardon and peace (5), for the moment he did so, he would find that in place of a God of wrath, He was a God of peace; ‘a God that pardoneth iniquity . . . that retaineth not his anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy’ (Micah vii. 18); and blotteth out as a thick cloud transgression and sin (Isaiah xliv. 22). These, and all similar passages, are to be understood as solely bearing reference to man’s reciprocation—perverse reciprocation—of the life of God, and not to the life and will of God Himself.”
Jennet, E. The Man: the Mighty God. Outlines of Thought (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1871), pp. 210, 211

Ezekiel 3:20 and Jeremiah 6:21 can be understood in the light of God’s love and mercy for the sinner. Unless one prefers to hold to a false theological perspective that makes God the divine dispenser of sin and disasters, one should have no problems seeing that such passages are to be understood as God respecting man’s freedom to choose against His wishes and reluctantly permitting him to suffer the consequences of that rebellion.



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Friday, September 7, 2018

How Does God Punish? (Meme)

“How does God smite, wound, or ‘punish’? He does it by the removal of His protective presence. When His presence is gone then the sinner is left at the ‘mercy’ of the forces that seek to destroy him or her.” (pp. 95, 96)

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Lord Took My ______________ (Name Your Relative)

The Lord Took My ______________ (Name Your Relative)

Troy J. Edwards

Often on Saturday our evangelism team goes to the street to share. One woman that we had the privilege of ministering to on one of those Saturdays has remained on my heart. She and her lesbian lover were very attentive and willing to receive the truth about the sacrifice of Christ on their behalf. However, her homosexuality is not the reason she remains on my heart. What has kept me thinking more about her than others we shared with that day is due to something painful she expressed to us.

This poor lady told us at one point that she was still angry with God. She told us that God took her mother through cancer and that she felt empty inside due to this. I have no doubt that it is painful ideas about God such as this that leads people into these types of relationships. The team members made some attempts to explain the love of God to her and how God never kills people through cancer.

Nevertheless, it was after she finally allowed us to pray for her that things began to change. We asked that God would give her an overwhelming sense of His love and presence. God touched her so powerfully and supernaturally that she began to be filled with His joy.

While we intend to follow up with this precious lady and her lover and hope to keep sharing the love of Jesus (and eventually see them free from their sin), it is a reminder of how monstrous lies spread about God from Christian pulpits, books, and other media has a tendency to drive people away from Him. I have attended (and performed) a number of funerals over the years. Very seldom have I been to a funeral where God is not blamed for having “taken” the person lying in the casket. The last funeral I attended several months ago was a cancer victim. Guess who was blamed for her death? You guessed it—God was blamed.

Like this precious woman we ministered to last week, I would not want to serve a “god” who takes people through long drawn out painful diseases such as cancer. People have a right to be angry with such a “god” if he exists.

A quick internet search shows us that there are numerous causes for cancer. Some of these causes include (but are not limited to) smoking, excessive alcohol drinking, bad diet, over exposure to the sun, lack of exercise, and being overweight. Can God be blamed when I smoke, get drunk, eat poorly, become lazy, and fail to watch my weight? I suppose one can blame God for these choices if one rejects the fact that God gives His creatures the freedom to make their own decisions (and many so-called Christians actually do reject what is called “free-will” due to twisted ideas about God’s sovereignty).

Nonetheless, from a Biblical standpoint, God is not in the business of taking anyone through horrible diseases and sicknesses, especially cancer. On the contrary, whenever we are told in Scripture that God “took” anyone it was never through sickness and death. For example, in Genesis 5:24 we are told, “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” If this is not clear enough then note what the divine record says in the book of Hebrews:

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5)

Note that when God “took” Enoch, it was through translation and not death. When God “takes” someone then that someone does not experience sickness or death. Keeping in mind that death and sickness are twins (Compare Deut. 28:60-61 with 30:15, 19. See also Jeremiah 21:8-9), it should be further noted that cancer is not God’s method for “taking” anyone. This is also confirmed in 2 Kings 2 where we read:

And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. (2 Kings 2:1)

In verses 2 and 5 of this same chapter the prophets told Elisha concerning Elijah, “Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head to day?” Further in this chapter we read:

9 And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
10 And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.
11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. (1 Kings 2:9-11)

Like Enoch, Elijah was certainly taken by God but there was no sickness that culminated in his death. Elijah experienced no death at all. Therefore, unless a person went straight to heaven while still in good health and experienced no cessation of life, one should never say that a person who dies a tragic death (sickness, car accident, etc.) was taken by God.

No doubt someone will object and say, “Ah, but Job 1:21 specifically states that the Lord ‘takes’ people through tragic deaths. That is how He took Job’s servants, children and livestock.” Let us look at this passage:

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. (Job 1:21)

Apart from context we could certainly draw such conclusions. This passage is so frequently misquoted at funerals that most people believe this way without ever fully studying it in its entirety. It would defeat our primary purposes to do a full exposition of Job’s tragedies, but I believe that touching on it briefly here will help the sincere seeker of truth who can look at our other materials later in which we give more detailed explanations of Job’s trials. Verse 12 tells us exactly who took away Job’s children and servants through death:

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.

Centuries later Jesus would contrast the difference between His role and Satan’s role in such tragic events when He said:

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

This being the case then why did Job say that God had taken his family and servants through a horrible tragedy and why would it be wrong for us to say it? During Job’s time Jesus had not completed the redemptive work that would legally free us from Satan’s kingdom. In our time Jesus has defeated Satan and now He says, “I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19). Satan can only go so far as we, God’s people, let him.

In contrast, Job knew absolutely nothing about Satan’s existence. During the dispensation in which Job lived, God had to take responsibility for all of Satan’s acts until His people had the capacity to receive more revelation of Satan without worshipping him as though he were another god (contrast 2 Samuel 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1 which comments on the same incident though it was written several centuries later).

Unlike us, Job could not read Job 1 and see who was really behind His troubles. Therefore, He did that which was common in His day and found in most portions of Scripture: He credited God with the event. Yet, the New Covenant believer should be more Biblically literate in his or her understanding. God did not take any of Job’s family through tragedy. This was done by Satan.

In conclusion, when faced with the death of a loved one, never, ever use that awful phrase, “God took him/her.” Instead, say as the householder said when He found tares among His wheat, “An enemy hath done this” (Matt. 13:28a).


To get a better understanding of God’s place in relation to death and killing, we highly recommend our book, “Is the God of the Bible Literally a KILLER?”

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Blaming God for Natural Disasters (Meme)

Even today insurance companies are quick to call natural disasters “an act of God.” Things have not changed much over the centuries. God is still blamed for things that He did not do. p. 33

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sin Opens the Door to Satan and Sickness

Sin Opens the Door to Satan and Sickness

Troy J. Edwards

And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. (John 5:13-14)

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)

The interconnectedness of the Bible and its ability to interpret itself is astounding. When we allow the Bible to define its own terminology and act as its own commentary then we will become less reluctant to accuse God of doing things for which He is not the least bit guilty. We will learn to point the finger where it actually belongs – at ourselves first and then at the devil secondly.

John 5:13-14 tells us that it is sin that caused the man that our Lord Jesus healed to be sick in the first place. Jesus told him to stop doing it or he could possible open himself up to something worse. It should be no wonder to us that forgiveness of sin and divine healing go together (Psalm 103:1-5; Mark 2:1-12; James 5:14-16). It is sin that brought death in the world (Rom. 5:12-14) and sin continues to lead to this result (Rom. 6:23; James 1:12-15). Death and sickness are twins (Compare Deut. 28:60-61 with 30:15, 19. See also Jeremiah 21:8-9).

This is by no means intended to accuse all who are sick of sinning. Some are sick by no personal fault of their own. Nonetheless, sin is at the root of all sickness whether or not the sick one is personally responsible. The primary point here is that God is not the author of sin and, therefore, is not the author of sin’s consequences. 1 John 3:8 tells us that Satan is the author of sin. A similar passage found in Hebrews 2:14-15 also points to this malignant being as the author of death.

Sin leads to death and Satan is the author of both. God is the author of neither. On the contrary, He is the deliverer from both (Psalm 107:17-21). In Acts 10:38 we are told that our Messiah and Lord Jesus was able to heal and set men free from Satan because God the Father was with Him. Jesus came to undo the destructive work of Satan (John 10:10). The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that sickness is Satan’s work (Matt. 12:22-28; Luke 13:11-17; 1 Cor. 5:5). Though Scripture sometimes attributes sickness to God a simple comparison of such passages shows that He was merely taking responsibility for what He did not prevent Satan from doing (For example, compare Job 2:3 and 42:11 with Job 2:7).

The fact is that in most cases, especially in the Old Testament, when God’s people choose to rebel against Him then His only part in sickness is to remove His protective presence that usually restrains the attack of sickness and disease. As the Lord told Moses, “I won’t protect them, and they’ll be eaten alive. They’ll be in so much trouble and distress then that they’ll say, ‘We must be in all this trouble because our God isn’t with us anymore!’” (Deut. 31:17b; The VOICE Translation). A paraphrase by Dr. Jack Blanco in “The Clear Word” gives even more clarity to this:

“When they do this, I will have to withdraw my protection from them and leave them at the mercy of their enemies. Many terrible things will happen to them, and they’ll say to themselves, ‘All these disasters and sicknesses have come on us because we have turned against the Lord our God, so He’s not with us any more.” (p. 236)

Therefore, sin is not something to be taken lightly. When we sin we open ourselves up to assaults from Satan upon our bodies because we remove ourselves from God protection and place ourselves in satanic territory. The good news is that God will manifest His miraculous healing power in our bodies when we repent and turn from sin. Nonetheless, it is better to avoid sin. This keeps us out of Satan’s territory and prevents attacks of sickness upon our bodies.

However, should we choose to sin and suffer the inevitable consequences, let us at least have enough integrity not to blame God for that which we actually did to ourselves.

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