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The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 3: Implementing plans

This is the third in a series of posts about unnecessary repetition in the Bible.

When characters are telling each other what they’re planning to do, and everything then goes according to plan, a good book will tend to skip telling you the plan, and will just tell you what happened when the plan was carried out. A bad book, like the Bible, will instead tell you all the details of what’s going to happen, and then tell you all the same details again when it gets to the part where it happens.

The Bible says God told Noah he was planning to flood the world. He told him to make an ark to save some people and animals before it rained for 40 days. Then it says Noah did that, some people and animals entered the ark, and it rained for 40 days as God flooded the world. After the flood was over, God told Noah to come out of the ark with his family and all the animals. Then it says Noah came out with his family and all the animals.

God told Abraham to circumcise all the males in his household. Then it says Abraham circumcised all the males in his household.

After Joseph and his family were reunited in Egypt, he said he would go tell Pharaoh his family had come and that they were shepherds, and then Pharaoh would let them live in Goshen. Then it says Joseph went and told Pharaoh that his family had come and that they were shepherds, and Pharaoh said he would let them live in the best part of the land in Goshen. And then it says Joseph’s family went to live in the best part of the land. Later, Jacob told his sons to bury him in Canaan in the cave Abraham had bought. Then after Jacob died, it says his sons buried him in Canaan in the cave Abraham had bought.

Moses said God was going to kill all the firstborn males in Egypt, whether they were royalty, captives, or animals, and there would be loud wailing. Then it says God killed all the firstborn males in Egypt, whether they were royalty, captives, or animals, and there was loud wailing.

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The Story of the Levite’s Concubine
The Most Pointlessly Evil Story in the Bible

A Levite man’s girlfriend broke up with him and went back to live with her parents. But then he followed her to her parents’ house and took her back. On the way back to the man’s home, they stopped for the night in Gibeah, a city of the tribe of Benjamin, and stayed in an old man’s house.

Some of the Benjamite men from that city came and surrounded the house. They told the old man to send the Levite man out so they could have sex with him. The old man said he couldn’t let them have sex with his guest, because that would be outrageous and vile. So he offered to let them rape his daughter and his guest’s girlfriend instead.

The Levite man thought that was a good idea, so he sent his girlfriend outside. The men of Gibeah spent the whole night gang-raping her to death. Then the man went home, and he chopped up his girlfriend into a dozen pieces and had them distributed all over the country.

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The Most Pointlessly Evil Story in the Bible
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The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 2: Similar passages

This is the second in a series of posts about unnecessary repetition in the Bible. This time, I’ll be looking at passages that aren’t saying exactly the same thing as other passages, but are still awfully similar.

Why does the Bible have so many strangely similar stories? In some cases, it’s because the writers had this weird idea that history systematically repeats itself. So if they didn’t know enough about the life of Jesus or whoever they were writing about, they figured they could just look at stories about similar people in the earlier scriptures, and assume Jesus must have done the same things.

In both of the first two chapters of Job, Satan goes to see God along with the angels, God asks him where he’s been, Satan says he’s been roaming the earth, God asks him what he thinks of righteous Job, Satan says Job’s love of God is not unconditional, he tells God what he would have to do to get Job to curse God, God agrees to let Satan do that to Job, and Satan goes off to do it.

There are three different stories in Genesis where a man claims his wife is his sister so no one will kill him over her, then a king tries to take her for himself, and when the king finds out he’s being tricked into doing something wrong, he doesn’t get angry and punish anyone for some reason, but just lets the couple go on their way. This supposedly happened to Abraham twice, and then also to his son Isaac.

The books of Genesis and Judges both have stories where a mob surrounds a man’s house and tries to get him to let them rape his male guest(s), and the man doesn’t think that would be right, so he offers to let them rape his daughter(s) instead.

The Bible says Abraham and Isaac both had disputes over the ownership of wells in Gerar. Wives for Isaac, Jacob, and Moses were all found at wells. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had wives who were infertile at first, until God intervened. Abraham and Jacob both used a workaround where they had children with their wives’ servants.

In Genesis 28, God appears to Jacob and tells him he will have a huge number of descendants who will inherit the land he’s in. Jacob sets up a stone pillar, pours oil on it, and names the place Bethel. Then in Genesis 35, all that happens again. In Genesis 32, God gives Jacob a new name and claims that Jacob won’t be called Jacob anymore. Then three chapters later, he does it again.

Once in Genesis and twice in Daniel, a king has a troubling, cryptic dream about the future. His magicians can’t tell him what it means. But one man of Israelite descent who had been forcibly brought to the king’s country is able to interpret the dream with God’s help. So the king makes that man a ruler of the land. Then after this has already happened twice in Daniel, in the next chapter of Daniel, a king has a troubling vision of a hand writing cryptic messages about the future. His magicians can’t tell him what it means. But one man of Israelite descent who had been forcibly brought to the king’s country is able to interpret the writing with God’s help. So the king makes that man a ruler of the land.

In Genesis, Jacob pronounces blessings on each of his sons, and in Deuteronomy, Moses pronounces blessings on each of the tribes descended from Jacob’s sons.

Post-exodus parallels

Moses’s father-in-law praised God, who rescued Moses from the hand of the Egyptians, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians.

In both Exodus and Numbers, there’s a story where God gets angry at his people for idolatry and wants to kill them all, some Levites help him kill some Israelites, and God rewards all the murderers’ descendants with a special status.

God had both Moses and Elijah stand in a certain place so he could show himself to them. It happened to Elijah after God asked him what he was doing there in a cave. Elijah explained his situation, and God told him to go out and stand where God was about to appear. After three similar sentences about where the omnipresent God wasn’t present, Elijah went where God was. God asked him what he was doing there at the mouth of the cave, as if he wasn’t the one who had just told him to go there, and Elijah explained his situation to God again. And then God told Elijah to go somewhere else.

Exodus 40 says “as the Lord commanded him” eight times after describing what part of the Tabernacle Moses was working on. Leviticus, 1 Samuel, and 2 Chronicles all have stories where God decides to punish people for making offerings to him.

Each of the first two chapters of Numbers has a long list of tribal leaders. Numbers 7 repeats 12 times in a row almost exactly the same description of an offering a leader brought. The only difference is what day it was, who brought the offering, and what tribe he was from. Then it repeats the same description of what they all brought yet again.

The daughters of Zelophehad asked Moses how the law should be applied to their unusual situation, and Moses consulted God and gave them an answer. But apparently God didn’t think of everything, because nine chapters later they had to come back and ask for further clarification.

The books of Joshua and 2 Samuel both have stories where a woman hides two spies from the men sent by the king who the spies’ boss is plotting to overthrow.

A later passage in Joshua gives monotonous descriptions of what Joshua did to the nations that lived in the land the Israelites wanted. Later, in Judges 2, God decides he’s not going to help them drive out the nations anymore, which is strange because earlier in the same chapter he mentions that he had already decided that. (Referring to what he said back here in Joshua, perhaps?)

When 1 Chronicles describes the territory the Kohathites got, it says something like “From the tribe of [tribe] they received [towns] together with their pasturelands” nine times.

Post-settlement parallels

Judges has two different stories where the Ephraimites get excessively offended because somebody didn’t ask them for help fighting his enemies. In another story in Judges, a man keeps repeatedly persuading his visiting son-in-law to stay a little longer, which goes on for several days.

The Bible describes Samuel and Jesus growing up in pretty much the same way. As a child, Samuel heard someone calling him at night, went and said “Here I am, you called me,” and was told to go back to bed, and then all that happened two more times before anyone figured out what was going on.

When Saul and David were enemies, someone pointed out that Saul was vulnerable, but David refused to harm him. He just stole something from Saul, and showed it to him to prove that he wasn’t trying to kill him. And Saul decided to stop trying to kill David. Then two chapters later, the same thing happened again.

When describing how some people were assigned duties, 1 Chronicles says “The [Nth] (lot fell) to [Name], his sons and relatives: 12” 24 times. There are more efficient ways they could have expressed that. Then two chapters later, when it’s listing some people who served David, it says “In charge of the [Nth] division for the [Nth] month was the commander [Name]. There were 24,000 men in his division” 12 times.

1 Kings and 2 Chronicles both conclude the story of Solomon in the same way, except the books they tell you to refer to for more information are different. Same with Rehoboam, and Abijah.

Post-split parallels

Two consecutive kings of Judah are introduced by saying they became king during the reign of Jeroboam of Israel and were descended from a woman named Maakah. Meanwhile, Jeroboam and one of his successors are both told by prophets that God chose them when they were commoners and made them kings, but since God’s chosen kings didn’t turn out to be good ones, God is now going to slaughter their whole families.

Elijah and Elisha both did the same kind of food-multiplying miracles to help poor widows, and they both brought a dead boy back to life in the same weird way. Elisha also did the same kind of food-multiplying miracle to feed a crowd that Jesus did twice.

In both First and Second Kings, there are stories where Jehoshaphat the good king of Judah is strangely willing to be an ally to one of the evil kings of Israel, but he insists that the evil king find a prophet of God to consult. In between those two events, another evil king of Israel sends a captain with 50 men to summon another prophet of God, but the prophet gets God to kill all those men with fire, just because he can. Then that happens again, and then it almost happens again.

Three times, Elijah told his apprentice Elisha to stay where he was, and Elisha refused to leave him. And the first two of those times, some other prophets asked the annoyed Elisha if he knew that God was about to take Elijah away from him.

Mass-murdering maniac Jehu somehow repeatedly convinced his enemy’s messengers to join him, while accusing his enemy of not being peaceful enough.

Sennacherib king of Assyria sent a message to the people of Judah saying they shouldn’t depend on their God to save them, because no other nation’s gods had ever saved them from Assyria. Then in the next chapter, he sent a message to the king of Judah saying the same thing. (And this same repetitive story that was told in 2 Kings is later told again, in Isaiah.)

Later, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged and captured Jerusalem, took the king prisoner, raided the temple, exiled all but the poorest people, and appointed a new king over those who were left. Then in the next chapter, Nebuchadnezzar besieged and captured Jerusalem, took the king prisoner, raided and destroyed the temple, exiled all but the poorest people, and appointed a new governor over those who were left. (This is after the king of Assyria besieged and captured the capital of Israel, took the king prisoner, and took the people into exile.)

Post-exile parallels

In both the third and the sixth chapter of Daniel, Jewish exiles living in Babylon refuse to obey the king’s decree for religious reasons, and are sentenced to death, but then saved by an angel.

In the first six chapters of Ezra, Cyrus king of Persia sends some exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, which they manage despite opposition. Then in the first six chapters of Nehemiah, Artaxerxes king of Persia sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, which he and his people manage despite opposition. Nehemiah 3 describes the people rebuilding the wall pretty repetitively: Next to him, half-district, made repairs, near his house, bolts and bars, blah blah blah. Ezra and Nehemiah also both got really mad at their people for intermarrying with other nations.

Luke and John both have stories where Jesus makes Simon Peter’s fishing efforts successful. Apparently those are supposed to be two different events, since Lukes’s story is when Jesus first met Peter, and John’s story is after the resurrection.

Jesus told two parables back-to-back that were about basically the same thing: Somebody sells everything he owns so he can buy something even more valuable that he just found.1

When Jesus went to see Lazarus’s family after knowingly delaying his visit long enough for his friend Lazarus to die, Lazarus’s sister Martha told him Lazarus wouldn’t have died if Jesus had been there. Then Lazarus’s sister Mary said the same thing.

Continue reading The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 2: Similar passages
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The Story of Jephthah’s Sacrifice
The Stupidest Story in the Bible

The people of Israel angered their God again by serving other gods. So God let the Ammonites take over Israel, and he said he would never save his people again. But his people insisted on being saved, so the never-changing God, who never listens to sinners, changed his mind and appointed a new judge to save Israel: Jephthah, the leader of a gang of scoundrels.

Jephthah asked the Ammonite king why he was attacking Israel. The king explained that the Israelites had stolen the Ammonites’ land, and the Ammonites wanted it back. Jephthah was like, that never happened, what would you know about that? The king ignored him.

So Jephthah went to attack the Ammonites, which God had forbidden the Israelites to do. He promised that if God helped him disobey God in this way, he would give God whatever met him at the door when he came home, as a burnt offering. The all-knowing God knew what would happen if he did this, but he wanted that burnt offering. So he helped Jephthah destroy twenty Ammonite towns, and he didn’t warn Jephthah’s family to stay indoors.

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The Stupidest Story in the Bible
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The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 1

In the beginning, God said: Let there be lights in the vault of the sky… and let them be lights in the vault of the sky. God created us in his image, and in his image he created us. And that’s the story of the heavens and earth when they were created, when God created the earth and heavens.

That sounded awfully unnecessarily repetitive, didn’t it? Well, that’s pretty much how those parts, and a whole lot more, are written in the Bible. Unnecessarily repetitively. Imagine how much shorter the Bible would be without all that pointless repetition…

After God is done talking to Job, he speaks to the people who have been claiming that God is just, and he tells them that unlike Job, they have not spoken the truth about him. Then he says the same thing again.

The Bible says Ephron the Hittite sold Abraham a field with a cave in Machpelah near Mamre, and then Abraham buried his wife in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre. And then it says Abraham bought the field and the cave. For the purpose of burial. Later, Jacob told his sons to bury him in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, which was the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre that Abraham had bought with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite and buried his wife. Then he says the field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.

It tells you that the master of the cupbearer and baker of the king of Egypt was the king of Egypt. It says he put those two people, who were the cupbearer and baker, in custody. And then it tells you what happened to each of those two people (who were the cupbearer and baker of the king of Egypt, who were in prison) after they had been in custody.

God says he’s seen how the Egyptians are treating the Israelites, and he has heard their cry. And then he says it again. God tells Moses he’s the Lord, and to tell the Israelites that he’s the Lord, and that he’ll free them from Egypt. Because then they’ll know that he’s the Lord, who freed them from Egypt. Also, he’s the Lord. (And that’s just in one chapter; there’s plenty more of the same later.)

When a cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of God filled the tabernacle, Moses couldn’t enter the tabernacle because a cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of God filled the tabernacle. It says Moses sprinkled some oil and blood on Aaron and his garments, and on Aaron’s sons and their garments. And that’s how he consecrated Aaron, and his sons, and their garments.

Near the end of Leviticus, the Lord decides he needs to tell everybody that he’s the Lord a couple more times. When some Israelites were challenging Moses’s authority, Moses said God would have whoever really belonged to him come near him, and the man he chose he would cause to come near him.

When the priests and soldiers were marching around Jericho for seven days, it says on the seventh day they marched around the city seven times, the same way they had on the previous days, except this time they circled the city seven times. Then when Israel attacked the city of Ai, it says they left no survivors or fugitives. That’s redundant, because in that situation anyone who was one of those things would also have to be the other.

Post-settlement stories

In a story in Judges, six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate, and five men went in and took the idol, the ephod, and the household gods that somebody had in his house, while the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate.

The story of Ruth begins by telling us about a man from Bethlehem in Judah who took his family to live in Moab. Then it mentions that they were from Bethlehem, Judah, and that they went to Moab, and lived there. Later, it says that man’s wife had a relative from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. And then it says the wife’s daughter-in-law went to work in the fields of Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

David told Jonathan that tomorrow would be the New Moon feast. Then after they discussed what they would do tomorrow, Jonathan told David that tomorrow would be the New Moon feast.

After Jonathan died, David asked if there were any relatives left for him to show kindness to. Whoever he was talking to summoned a servant, and then David asked the servant the exact same question. Was it really necessary for the story to include that first part, where he doesn’t get an answer? The servant then tells David about Jonathan’s son, and mentions that the son is lame in both feet. Ten verses later, the narration mentions that Jonathan’s son was lame in both feet.

Rehoboam was advised to be a servant to his people and serve them, so that they would always be his servants. There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam.

When the king of Assyria removed the Israelites from their land and replaced them with foreigners, he was told that the people didn’t know what the god of that country required. And he was told that that god had sent lions after them, because the people didn’t know what the god of that country required.

When the king of Babylon removed the people of Judah from their land, he carried off all the fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans. He also deported the entire force of fighting men, and a thousand skilled workers and artisans.

Jesus (who was God, who was all-knowing) informed God that his disciples were “not of the world” any more than he was, and then he said it again, in case he hadn’t heard himself. According to John, when Judas came to betray Jesus, Jesus betrayed himself instead. And then when nobody arrested him, he did it again. Three times in a row, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, Peter said he did, and Jesus told him to feed his sheep.

In three different chapters in the book of Acts, Peter tells people that when God sent Jesus to them, they had him killed, and then God brought him back to life.

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The Story of the Plague of Quail
God Solves a Problem by Creating a Worse Problem

The Israelites were getting tired of eating nothing but bread from heaven, so they asked for some meat. Moses didn’t know where to get meat, even though God had already given them meat when they had asked before. So Moses asked God to kill him.

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God Solves a Problem by Creating a Worse Problem
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The Story of the Golden Calf
Moses Receives the Commandments

On the mountain, or wherever

Moses climbed up Mount Sinai to meet God, who told him that his people needed to keep his covenant. Moses went back down and told the Israelites, and they said they would keep it. So Moses went back up the mountain and told God what they said. Then God said he was going to come and talk to Moses. Then Moses told God what the people had said, again.

God told Moses how the people should prepare for God to talk to Moses, and how Moses should keep the people away from the holy mountain while God was there. Then Moses went down and told the people what God had said. He also told them not to have sex during the visit from God, which God had not said anything about.

Moses stood at the foot of the mountain with the people and talked with God. Then Moses went up to the top of the mountain so God could talk to him. God told Moses to go and warn the people not to get too close to the mountain. Moses reminded the all-knowing God that they had already put limits around the mountain to keep people away, because God had told them to.

Then God told Moses to go down and get his brother Aaron. So he went down and told the people to stay away from the mountain, again. While Moses was down there with the people, God told them the Ten Commandments. But God was too scary, so the Israelites told Moses not to let God speak to them directly. So Moses went back up the mountain, and God gave him some more laws for Israel, so they would have more opportunities to sin. God thought that would help save people’s lives, but somehow it didn’t work.

Then God told Moses to come up the mountain with Aaron and some others. So Moses went down the mountain and told the people about all those laws. The people said they would obey them. Moses wrote down the laws, and then he came up the mountain with Aaron and some others. Then God told Moses to come up the mountain so he could give him the law. So Moses went up the mountain with his assistant, Joshua, leaving Aaron with the people. A week later, God started talking to Moses and giving him more instructions.

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Moses Receives the Commandments
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The Story of the Ten Plagues
The Exodus from Egypt

Mass infanticide

The Israelites (the descendants of Jacob) were getting so numerous that the new Pharaoh was afraid of them. So he decided to enslave them and have all their baby boys thrown into the Nile River.

Jacob’s great-grandson Amram and his aunt Jochebed had a baby boy, so they put the baby in the Nile… inside a waterproof basket, with their daughter watching over it. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby in the basket while she was bathing in the Nile. She adopted the baby, named him Moses, and hired his mother to nurse him for her.

After Moses grew up, he was watching his fellow Hebrews working, when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. So Moses killed the Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard about that, he tried to kill Moses. The other Hebrews weren’t happy with what Moses had done, either. So Moses ran away from Egypt and lived in Midian until that Pharaoh died.

The Israelites were still slaves under the next Pharaoh. So when Moses was 80, God spoke to him from a burning bush and told him to go tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. On the way back to Egypt, the all-good God tried to murder Moses for some reason. But Moses’s wife touched his feet with their son’s foreskin, which convinced the never-changing God not to kill him.

Moses and his brother Aaron told Pharaoh that the God of Israel wanted his people to go out into the wilderness for a festival. But Pharaoh didn’t know that god, so he refused to let them do that.

God could have instantly overcome that obstacle in a peaceful way, like by making Pharaoh no longer want to keep his slaves, or by teleporting the people out of Egypt. But God cared more about showing off than about the freedom of his people and the wellbeing of all the innocent people of Egypt. So instead, God decided to cause a lot of unnecessary death and suffering, and to let his people continue to be mistreated in the meantime.

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The Exodus from Egypt
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The Story of Joseph and his Brothers
The Interpreter of Dreams

How God got Joseph into Egypt

Jacob made a fancy robe for his favorite son, Joseph. This made Joseph’s brothers jealous. Then Joseph started having dreams about his family bowing down to him. This made his brothers hate him. So Joseph’s brothers stole his robe and dipped it in goat blood, so their father would think Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. They sold Joseph to some merchants, who took him away to Egypt and sold him as a slave to Potiphar, the captain of the guard.

Inmate interprets increasingly insane imaginings

Potiphar’s wife kept trying to get Joseph to sleep with her, but he refused. Then she accused him of trying to rape her, so Potiphar put him in prison. Two other prisoners, who had been Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, got Joseph to interpret their dreams for them. Pharaoh’s cupbearer had dreamed about bearing Pharaoh’s cup, which Joseph said meant he would become Pharaoh’s cupbearer again. And it was so. Pharaoh’s baker had dreamed about birds eating Pharaoh’s bread out of a basket on the baker’s head, which Joseph said meant the baker would be executed. And it was so.

Later, Pharaoh had a dream about seven skinny cows eating seven fat cows, and a dream about seven thin heads of grain eating seven full heads of grain. None of his magicians and wise men could tell him what his dreams meant, so his cupbearer suggested asking Joseph. Joseph said both dreams meant that there would be seven years of abundance, and then seven years of famine. Pharaoh was so impressed by this claim that he put Joseph in charge of all of Egypt, without even bothering to wait and see if Joseph’s prediction was accurate.

Do not worry about tomorrow

During the seven years of abundance, Joseph took away all the grain that was grown in Egypt and stored it up, so the people could starve sooner rather than later. Then during the seven years of famine, he sold grain to everyone who needed it in Egypt and Canaan. Joseph gave the Egyptians food (that he had stolen from them) in exchange for all their money, all their livestock, all their land, and their slave labor. He also made them give a fifth of the food they were able to grow to Pharaoh, so that they could have food.

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The Interpreter of Dreams
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The Story of the Torture of Job
The Truth About God

God makes a deal with the devil

One day, Satan went up to see God, and they talked about a man named Job,1 who God said was the most righteous and godly person in the world. Satan was of the opinion that Job only seemed so good to God because God was so good to Job. He said if God would curse Job, then Job would curse God. The all-knowing God wanted to find out if Satan was right, so he gave Satan permission to do whatever he wanted to Job, as long as he didn’t physically harm him.

So Satan sent raiders to steal Job’s 500 donkeys, 1000 oxen, and 3000 camels. God helped him by sending fire from heaven to burn up Job’s 7000 sheep. Satan also sent a strong wind to knock down a house and kill Job’s ten children, and he got most of Job’s many servants killed too. Then God made everyone else Job knew shun him. Job responded by tearing his clothes off and worshiping God. Righteous Job didn’t think God had done anything wrong by letting Satan murder his children.

When Satan came to see God again, God pointed out that Job still loved him, even after Satan had convinced God to destroy nearly everything Job had for no reason. Satan explained that Job was too selfish to care about his children and servants dying. But if God attacked Job personally, that would be enough to make him curse God. The all-good God decided to see if Satan was right, so he gave Satan permission to do whatever he wanted to Job, as long as he didn’t kill him.

So Satan covered Job with painful sores. God helped him by giving Job horrible nightmares, and sending wicked people to beat him up, spit at him, and laugh at him. Job got a fever, and his skin started changing color and peeling off. His wife advised him to curse God for ruining his life, so God would put him out of his misery. Job admitted that God was the cause of his trouble, but he didn’t see why his all-good God should be expected to do only good things all the time.

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The Truth About God
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