Divine Meaning In Disaster
Greetings world. Shalom Aleichem. I am addressing the subject of divine meaning in disaster in this episode.
Yesterday I happened to be within earshot of the loudly magnified public address system of a church that had resumed gathering in its building since the ban on church gatherings had been lifted by the Governor. Not surprisingly, the speaker went to town on Covid-19. He established a link between Noah’s flood and the Coronavirus pandemic. This was another of the many pronouncements I have heard from persons attempting to make sense of the microscopic organism that had thrown the world into a lurch. Some have outrightly indicated that God sent the virus to punish the rampant wickedness in the world. I have no such revelation from God, perhaps they do… Others have indicated that God has allowed it to, among other things get the attention of the human race. Many have simply taken it as the sign that we are in the last of the last days of earth.
One thing is clear, we struggle as humans to make sense of disaster and there is always likely to be the search for divine meaning in such times. The discipline of Biblical Interpreation that I am committed to leaves me with far less manouvering space than some seem to have. So walk with me through the selected text as we seek to determine the mind of God through His word regarding divine meaning in disaster. Our text is 2 Sam. 24 from which I will read selected verses. For the purpose of your further study, the parallel passage is found in 1 Chron. 21.
2 Sam 24: 1 Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”
2 So the king said to Joab and the army commanders[a] with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.” 3 But Joab replied to the king, “May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?” 4 The king’s word, however, overruled Joab and the army commanders; so they left the presence of the king to enroll the fighting men of Israel… 8 After they had gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.
10 David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” 11 Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer: 12 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’” 15 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 1 25 David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.
Our text presents us with a familiar death toll. In one day 70000 died across the length and breadth of David’s kingdom, with the exception of the capital city, Jerusalem. This pass week the death toll from Covid-19 in the United States of America was said to have scaled 100,000. I shudder to even try to wrap my mind around that because the population of Grenada, where I grew up, is just about 100,000.
This story in the life of King David offers us some useful considerations about divine meaning in the midst of disaster. The unmistakeable hand of God is evident throughout the text. This is where it all must begin. When all is said and done, we will end up chasing shadows if we seek to have such a reflection without a basic presuppopsition. That is, that God is fully in control of and involved actively in the affairs of earth. Unlike the tenet of deism that there is a supernatural creator but that creator has set the creation in its place and left it to run on its own. The Bible is clear that the God who created the cosmos intervenes in its affairs and is actively holding it together by the same powerful word that brought it into existence. The implication of this is that there is nothing random, haphazard or buck up about world events. There is divine master builder, engineer if you will behind it.
This is not just a concept for intellectual banter philosophical romanticizing but one which matters at a deeply personal level. The choices you make will reflect where you sit and stand on this matter. Your response to life’s events, including and especially disaster will largely depend of where your conviction lies on this matter.
Three perspectives on divine meaning in disaster are offered to us by the text. The first is that human choice is not set aside by the reality of Divine purpose.
It is possible to approach the text and be actually shocked at the drastic actions taken by God against David for simply conducting a census. It was David’s choice wholly and soley at the end of that day. Notice that he owns that choice and takes full responsibilty for it.
This is important to state because much has been made about what appears to be a glaring contradiction between the account in 2 Samuel and that of 1 Chronicles 21. The former says that God incited David against Israel, while the latter says Satan incited David. Detractors of the Bible try to ride this to the moon and back. A harmony of the incident resolves the apparent ’error’’quite easily. David was tempted to rely on his own military prowess than on God’s deliverance by Satan and God allowed it for the mandate of God’s greater purposes.
The personal culpability of David is made more glaring by the fact that Joab, his right hand army general if you will clearly points out the foolishness of his desire to take a census. Joab says to him, “May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?” Isn’t that just like you and I? How many times have we gotten it into us to pursue a course of action and we are told in no uncertain terms, ’a foolishness dat’ [that’s foolishness] yet we insist on doing our own thing, having it our way, getttig what we want to get.
In God’s ultimate knowledge and purposes God allowed it to happen so as to bring about a far greater and long lasting purpose. Again let me reiterate that God’s purpose is ultimate and that includes God’s dealings in the affairs of earth.
At no point in the text does David blame God or Satan for his actions.
In the present pandemic extent irrespective of the extent to which human actions have been involved directly or indirectly one of the things that is undeniable is that we are witnessing the consequences of choices that were made in places that some of us struggle to pronounce and choices that were made by persons in high and low places. Then there are the choices that we each have made that have established structures of inequity that leave certain persons far more vulnerable than others in times of pandemic. The ugly effigies of human conduct that have been exposed and highlighted in the last three months were the creation of persons whose choices were self servient and driven by the double headed dragon of wealth and power. To seek to lay blame for such realites on God is disingenious. We have sown to the wind and are reaping the whirlwind.
The second perspective on divine meaning in disaster that our text offers us is God’s merciful intervention. We encounter this clearly from David’s declaration of the rationale for his choice of accountability for choosing to trust statistics over God and from God’s own action of ordering an end to the plague before it reaches Jerusalem. After David recognizes the folly of his choice he gets a visit from the prophet named Gad. Gad came to David and informed him that because of this the Almighty will send one of three possible punishments: (1) famine for seven years, (2) David’s enemies chasing him for three months, or (3) a plague of pestilence against Israel. David chooses the third punishment because he prefers such punishment from a merciful God, rather than from the hands of humanity. Wow! did you see that? David is absolutely right! Even a punishment from God is better because it is filled with mercy. Punishment from human beings knows no bounds. It is in our nature to engage in overkill.
Obviously David had by this grown in his relationship with God to know and understand that God’s essential nature is merciful. The death angel had swooped through the land from one border to the other, and had Jerusalem in his sight. God gave the cease and desist order. v. 16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.”
The Bible uses language that we can relate to, thus we meet the word relent, one which occurs multiple times in describing God bringing an act of judgment to an early end. This too, has to be taken and understood in light of God’s control and direction over our affairs. God is good, all the time, and all the time is a chant popularized across continents. How about the chant God is merciful. David sang about it when he evoked your loving kindness is better than life. and when he went to town with the refrain his mercies endureth forever in Psalm 136. He waxed warm about it in Psalm 103, saying for example he will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever, he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. Aren’t you glad for the cross where the price has been paid for our sins. Hear me very well, there is absolutely nothing you could have done that is too bad for God’s mercy to release you of. Nothing! Not a thing! The prayer of confession is the prayer that activates God’s forgiveness. 25David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.
Our text presents us with a third persective on divine meaning in disaster. It is its indication that out of disaster can arise a spring of blessing. The very verse we just used to indicate God’s merciful response to the prayer of penitence holds a spatial clue. You see friends that same plot of land which David purchased at great cost later becomes the very place that God would direct Solom to build the temple upon. The very spot where God paused the plague and David built his altar became the location that God later chose for his permanent dwelling place in Israel. Isn’t it ironic that David’s lack of faith and the resultant plague lead to this remarkable edifice whose dedication was marked by a visible manifestation of the presence of God that would be burned into the consciousness of history.
In the aftermath of the Asian tsunami humans who once were arched enemies worked together to rescue and offer medical assistance and food and clothing and shelter to each other. The interruption in every facet of life that the Coronavirus has illicited has sparked conversations that were once drowned out by the noise of the opening of Wall Street and the jet engines over the airline hubs. Perhaps we have become so filled with the cacaphony of the sounds of life as we know it that it takes disaster for us to hear the divine breathings. Oh how silly we humans can be amidst our boasting labelling of the animals as dumb.
As we seek to figure out how now shall we live I ask that we ponder deeply the perspectives on divine meaning in disaster. May our choices align with rather than fly in the face of God’s Kingdom purposes. If and when we set in motion a cascade of hurtful consequences may we spare no cost to throw ourselves upon God’s mercy and may our eyes be open to see the tremendous doors of opportunity for greatness and human nourishing that are available to us even in disaster.
Think on these things. Let’s talk on them. Please leave a comment in the section provided below. Do use the social sharing buttons to share this with your friends. To listen to the audio of this message visit my Podcast