Why Does the Bible use the word “Punish”?
November 27, 2009 Blogs by: Tim Jennings, M.D.

I have read your three part blog entry on the question of punishment several times and am convinced of the truth of the message. I was discussing it with a friend and his main question was this: If God doesn’t actively punish the wicked, why does the Bible use the word “Punish”.

 I checked in my concordance and the word punish or a derivative is used over 70 times. Granted, all the 70+ times the word is used, it is not God saying He will punish whoever, but several are. I don’t want to answer by saying, “the translation is bad.” or “Don’t mind what is written, it is the meaning that counts.” or something like that. Can you help me with this point, please. Also, in relation to that, how would you go about telling a good Christian that what they have been taught and believed for years is wrong, especially about the character of God without offending them? I want my children to have the correct picture of a loving God, not a vengeful wrathful god to be afraid of.

I very much appreciate your SS class and you SS radio program. I have a two hour commute to and from work so they are great to listen to then. Please give my regards to the Come and Reason class.

In Christ, CM (from Japan)

Thanks for listening and your great questions. Why does God use such strong language like “punish”? Hosea gives us the answer, “The people of Israel are as stubborn as mules. How can I feed them like lambs in a meadow?” (4:16 GNT).

In our SS class last week we read the following:

“He who will abuse animals because he has them in his power is both a coward and a tyrant. A disposition to cause pain, whether to our fellow men or to the brute creation, is satanic. Many do not realize that their cruelty will ever be known, because the poor dumb animals cannot reveal it. But could the eyes of these men be opened, as were those of Balaam, they would see an angel of God standing as a witness, to testify against them in the courts above. A record goes up to heaven, and a day is coming when judgment will be pronounced against those who abuse God’s creatures.”— Patriarchs and Prophets, 443

How do you read the above passage? Will angels really be required to testify in the courts of heaven?

Which is more impactful to persuade you of someone’s guilt, hearing the personal testimony from a victim or witness, or watching the security video of the crime happening and hearing the perpetrator describe the crime with their own mouth?

When we get to heaven we will have an accurate recording of the lives of everyone who has ever lived in better than 3D video. Will we have even more – real time evidence of how each person acts when they see the reality of God’s presence. Each person themselves will confess their love or hatred for God and His methods.

Then why use such language as “angels will testify in the courts above”? What kind of people need to hear such a message? Those who are being cruel to animals! And what kind of minds do such people have? How tender are their consciences, how open to truth? How sensitive to the movements of the Holy Spirit? How much of God’s true nature do such individuals know and appreciate? What kind of message needs to be given to such hard hearted people to try and reach them and convict them of wrong? Wouldn’t it be a message that sounds harsh, a message that might even use the word “punish”?

When we consider God’s use of such language in scripture we need to consider what kind of people with whom God was dealing.

Korah, Dathan and Abirum incited a rebellion and challenged Moses. Moses said that if these three, and their families, were to die in a natural way then Moses was not God’s messenger and what He said wasn’t from God. But if they died an unnatural death and the earth opened up and swallowed them, then Moses was God’s messenger. The earth opened up and swallowed them. And not only that, fire came out from the Lord and consumed 250 others who were in on the rebellion. And what happened the next day? “The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. ‘You have killed the Lord’s people,’ they said.” Numbers 16:41. The people were still in rebellion and unwilling to listen. How is God to talk to such hardened people? Might God need to use strong language?

Do parents ever have to raise their voice, and even threaten, when their children are rebellious, out of control and in danger of hurting themselves or others?

So, as I understand it, the condition of the people is the determining factor in the way God communicates and how the Bible reads. To Moses God spoke face to face as a man speaks to His friend, but to others He had to speak with thunder and threats. God is constantly seeking to save and heal and as a loving parent will speak the words most likely to be redemptive to the people with whom He is dealing.

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Tim Jennings, M.D. Timothy R. Jennings, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist, master psychopharmacologist, Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Fellow of the Southern Psychiatric Association, and an international speaker. He served as president of the Southern and Tennessee Psychiatric Associations and is president and founder of Come and Reason Ministries. Dr. Jennings has authored many books, including The God-Shaped Brain, The God-Shaped Heart, and The Aging Brain.
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