There’s an interesting story in 1 Samuel chapter 5. The Philistines, Israel’s enemy, had captured the Ark of God (v.1). The Ark was a symbol of God’s presence. It housed the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed (Ex. 40:20), along with a jar of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded (Heb. 9:4; Ex. 16:33). Sometime later the jar and rod were removed, because when the Ark was moved into the temple we find that they were absent (1 Kgs. 8:9).
Now what’s intriguing about this text is the Lord’s response. According to Samuel, “The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory.” (1 Sa. 5:6) Under duress they moved the Ark to Gath – same story. From Gath it was transported to Ekron, but the people there also cried out due to the Lord’s oppression. Finally, the Philistines said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” (1 Sa. 5:11)
Throughout the Old Testament, and occasionally in the New Testament (Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5:5, 10; Herod – Acts 12:23; the Corinthians – 1 Co. 11:30), we see God causing physical pain in the lives of people. Also, there’s the principle of chastening found in Hebrews 12. I’d suggest at we look at the Gospels and the life of Jesus that such cases are rare. And when it does happen it’s typically punitive. Clearly, it’s theexception rather than the rule. When Jesus (who is the full-expression of God – Jn. 1:1-2, 14, 18; Heb. 1:3) came He consistently viewed pain and suffering as an assault of the devil – not from the hand of God (Lk. 4:40-43; Mt. 12:22-29).
Now back to the “hand of the Lord” being heavy in someone’s life. Remember in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus how that prior to such he was living, although sincere (Acts 23:1), a life of rebellion. Not surprisingly, the Lord said to him in one of the three accounts of his conversion, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14). A “goad” is something that is used to prod cattle – they can kick against it, but it’s painfully consequential. Saul saw that a life within God’s will was far better than to live in opposition to it, thus he pivoted his life spiritually.
Think about all of this in regard to our contemporary lives. Posturing your existence in opposition to your Creator is like riding your bike against the wind – physically speaking, it’s hard, taxing, but it can be done. However, if you choose to turn your life to God, it’s like taking that bike and heading it in the opposite direction. That wind that once opposed you now serves as a tailwind – it empowers you and helps you on the path. Friends, that’s “repentance.” That’s one of the differences of a life with God as opposed to a life without God.
So today evil, pain and suffering certainly exist. And such can all be traced back, whether directly or indirectly, to Satan. Jesus’ life manifested how that God neither finds joy in our pain, nor is disinterested in it. Rather, His will generally speaking is to alleviate such in the lives of His people. However, if one opts for a life of stubborn, persistent, impenitent rebellion, buyer beware – don’t be surprised to find “the hand of the Lord heavy against you.”
You are loved!