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Firstly, the biblehub interlinear translates Amos 3:6b as :

If there is a calamity in a city Yahweh not will have done (it)

This implies, to me, that Jehovah causes 'calamities' but the text does not specify the nature or the reason for the adverse occurrence. It could have been a righteous judgment on an evil deed.

Also, secondarily, the translations I have looked at all add in the word 'it'.

And, thirdly, I notice that the verb עָשָׂ֔ה, asah , appears to be similar to the Greek verb poieo in that both 'do' and 'make' are covered within the broad concept of the verb.

So can the words in Amos 3:6 be translated :

If there is a calamity in a city hath Jehovah not acted ?

Which would convey that if evil had been done, then Jehovah would react with a judgment. Whereas if good had been done, Jehovah would bless.

The previous six questions in Amos (two walk ; lion roars ; young lion cries ; bird falls ; snare taken up ; trumpet blown) all posit that an action results in a reaction. There is no thread of 'evil' running through the six. It is all about the expectation of a response.

Therefore I question the translation which implies that God does 'evil'.

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  • I'm tempted to write an answer, but it's one of those times I'd just go back to lexicons and then enjoy some of these really insightful answers from others. If עָשָׂ֔ה "calamity" doesn't necessarily always mean "evil", then I'd say it's just normal human curiosity leading us think that it would as we all try to sort out when "pain" indicates a real problem vs when "pain is gain". If you can accept an answer that concludes, "No, God doesn't do evil; the passage doesn't say so," then I would say a it's okay to base an answer just on a lexicon, unless you wanted a deeper dive into the herms.
    – Jesse
    Jan 10, 2023 at 0:15
  • ...I guess, if we were to go much past lexicons here, an answer would need to be somewhat systematic. This is a fun question, along with the answers. "Let's solve the Problem of Evil while limiting study to one word." This is our Hermeneutics site shining at what it is meant for.
    – Jesse
    Jan 10, 2023 at 0:32

7 Answers 7

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Evil is a valid translation for the word in question (ra'), but even in English we have multiple definitions of evil (from Merriam-Webster):

evil (noun)

1 a: the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing

b: a cosmic evil force

2: something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity

So we have the options, as many scholars distinguish, between moral evil(sinful or wicked acts) and natural evil(result of a fallen world/punishment). Based on the other definitions of both the word (ra') and the other translations, it is legitimate to understand Amos 3:6 as God causing natural evil in the sense of bringing "sorrow, distress or calamity" to the city, especially considering the larger context of Amos and his proclamations of judgment against the nations and Israel. But we can go a step further and evaluate if moral evil is an option for this definition and if not, then why.

The Bible reveals that acts of evil as we would consider them do not carry the same moral implications of sin if done by God.

Take for example human killing, which is forbidden in the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:5-6) to all creation. Killing a human is considered a sin and therefor evil, and then we see in Genesis 38:7 that God is credited with putting Judah's son to death. In 2 Chronicles 18:19-22 we also see the Lord sending a lying spirit to cause the fall of a king. The first chapter of Job describes God pointing out his servant and allowing the accuser to test Job through all kinds of awful things. Job himself declares “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” in Job 1:21.

There are many other examples of God performing actions that as humans we would consider evil or are against God's law for us to do. The key here is understand that moral evil comes from sin which is disobedience of God's laws, but the laws we see in the Bible only apply to man or creation. Not unlike the idea of parents setting rules for their children that they may not follow themselves, God's laws are for us because we are not perfect in justice as he is.

Because we know all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), if God were to kill or cause the death of an entire city even that is not unjust or evil.

It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice. Job 34:12

Thus even the translation of Amos 3:6 of God doing evil to a city, cannot be a moral evil because God is justified in all he does.

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  • Um very good answer over all, however, I think your comments on murder could be refined. If God murdered someone it would by definition be wrong since murder is unlawful killing, but it would also be impossible for God to murder anyone for there is no law against him taking a life. So there really isnt an analog to human murder and anything God can do. Not all human killing is murder. Some human killing is legally justified. All killing done by God is justified. I'm sure you know this. I just think your comments on this matter could be refined. Very good otherwise.
    – Austin
    Jan 8, 2023 at 22:24
  • @Austin Thanks, and yes I realize that murder by definition is an unlawful killing. Although my example is before we see the ten commandments, and the Noahic covenant does not elaborate on justified vs. unjustified killing. But that is just further to my point that God cannot murder because murder is unlawful killing and he is not under the law. Jan 9, 2023 at 4:22
  • the Noahic covenant does differentiate between unlawful killing and lawful killing in the sense that the man who kills without cause should be killed by man lawfully with cause.
    – Austin
    Jan 9, 2023 at 15:47
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    Genesis 9:6, ESV: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.... The implication is, in part, because man is made in God's image he should carryout the punishment against the man who takes the life of man. The first taking of life is unlawful while the second taking of life is lawful and with cause.
    – Austin
    Jan 9, 2023 at 22:34
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    The Bible reveals that acts of evil as we would consider them do not carry the same moral implications of sin if done by God. Yes! A human causing "calamity" would probably be evil; from God it may be Him ceasing to prevent the very calamity that we kept inviting. Oh, and welcome to Hermeneutics!
    – Jesse
    Jan 10, 2023 at 0:21
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To my understanding, the logic seems to be like that, it begins from Amos 3:2

2 “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.

To emphasize verse 2b a definite response from the Lord, the next six questions were being asked (two walk ; lion roars ; young lion cries ; bird falls ; snare taken up ; trumpet blown), that all six questions should yield the answer "Yes". Then led to the verse 6b

When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (NIV)

Again the answer should also be "Yes".

I may not be able to talk about the translation but from its context, the Lord was speaking He will definitely punish those who break the covenant, that verse 3 is the hint

Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?

In addition, I pay more attention to verse 7

Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.

It tells the Sovereign Lord will give warning in advance thru his servants (prophets) before His judgement, so that no one can make an excuse of their innocent.

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God does NOT do evil but brings calamity. That is, "evil" is valid but inappropriate choice for this Amos 3:6 - "calamity" or "disaster" would be better choices.

Amos 3 appears to be a thinly disguised prophecy about the impending doom of Israel because of their persistent sinfulness. Thus, the statement in Amos 3:6b is entirely understandable:

  • NIV: When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?
  • ESV: Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?
  • BSB: If calamity comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?
  • NKJV: If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?
  • NASB: If a disaster occurs in a city, has the LORD not brought it about?
  • LSB: If a calamity happens in a city has not Yahweh done it?

Probably, the contentious word here is רַע (ra') which can be translated as "bad", evil", "calamity", "disaster", etc. See BDB. The same word is used in Isa 45:7 with the same sense:

I form the light and create the darkness; I bring prosperity and create calamity. I, the LORD, do all these things.

Thus, Amos 3:6 appears to be predicting exactly what many other prophets predicted - that God would bring disaster and calamity upon Israel for their sinfulness as punishment. Generally, this was fulfilled when the northern kingdom was destroyed by Assyria in 722 BC; and Judah was carried into exile in 538 by Babylon.

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  • Forgive me if I have failed to grasp your answer, but are you saying it is right to translate Amos 3:6 that the LORD does evil?
    – Lesley
    Jan 8, 2023 at 17:27
  • @Lesley - I am suggesting that Amos and Isaiah are saying what many prophets have said that God would punish Israel for its sinfulness by bringing calamity on the nation as was the case historically.
    – Dottard
    Jan 8, 2023 at 20:15
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    @Lesley - that is, God brings not evil but calamity as a punishment for sin.
    – Dottard
    Jan 8, 2023 at 22:34
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We should distinguish the issue of whether God actually does evil and the question of how the particular passage should be translated. The word רָעָה֙ always means something very bad, and "evil" is an accurate translation. Of course it is also true that for most of us, God cannot actually do evil. However, in my opinion it is not up to translators to impose their theological views on the text.

We face a similar issue in contemporary translations such as NIV when they change traditional translations for the sake of gender-neutrality ("brothers and sisters" instead of "brothers" in NT letters for example). Translators who write for children can arguably justify this protect their readers from biblical language which might lead to wrong attitudes. But those who write for adults ought to stick to the text and supplement it with footnotes or parenthetical alternative translations as appropriate. The same is true here.

The theological implications of the word in question are important. But the word רָעָה֙ should be translated literally here. Readers need to be confronted by it, even if it produces cognitive dissonance. Footnotes and alternative translations, are appropriate; but the word should be translated as "evil" and the reader should be left to interpret it according to their own lights.

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OP states;

"Amos 3:6b as : If there is a calamity in a city Yahweh not will have done (it) This implies, to me, that Jehovah causes 'calamities"

We have to remember that It was God who planted the tree of good and evil, not the tree of good and calamity.

The people who Amos is talking to need to know that it is their true God that is bringing this evil upon them. He is warning and prophesying what will happen to them so they know that it is from His hand and why this will happen to them. After all He is sovereign and will not let their corruption in their city's go on anymore. It is being judged by God.

"Amos' mission is directed to his neighbor to the north, Israel. His messages of impending doom and captivity for the nation because of her sins are largely unpopular and unheeded.. Quote by Nelson on Got questions.

This is what the LORD says: 'For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. Because they have rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed.'" Amos 2:4

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets." Amos 3:7

Here is the reason for the adverse evil or calamity that's going to be brought on the surrounding nations as well as his own nation of Judah. It is God's judgment on them for their many sins of corruption

"Brief Summary: Amos can see that beneath Israel’s external prosperity and power, internally the nation is corrupt to the core. The sins for which Amos chastens the people are extensive: neglect of God’s Word, idolatry, pagan worship, greed, corrupted leadership, and oppression of the poor. Amos begins by pronouncing a judgment upon all the surrounding nations, then upon his own nation of Judah, and finally the harshest judgment is given to Israel. His visions from God reveal the same emphatic message: judgment is near." Quote by Nelson on Got questions .

In looking at the end of the book of Amos we see a restored nation which is showing that God's inflicting evil does not last but brings good.

The book ends with God’s promise to Amos of future restoration of the remnant.

I will bring my people Israel back from captivity, and they will rebuild the ruined cities, and inhabit them; and they will plant vineyards, and drink wine from them. They shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. I will plant them on their land, and they will no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them," says the LORD your God. Amos 9:14-16

Side note on Evil Inflicted by God.

Attributing evil to God is hard for the natural mind of man to accept. God's ways are higher than man's ways and this is a great example of the difference between mans use of evil and God's.

We can see by many translations that they never want to equate God with inflicting evil, so other words are used instead of translating ra' consistently.

  1. ra' ► רַע226 adjective bad, evil

Gods judgments are corrective and not vindictive like man's. His intent is always for the good when He uses evil for His purpose. Man's intent of evil is displayed in Joseph's brothers.

Genesis 45:1-15 Gives us a behind-the-scenes look of evil that was thrust upon Joseph by God.

We see the difference that man's heart meant it for evil but God meant it for good. Joseph experienced the evil that his brothers did to him when they sold him into Egypt:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, Genesis 50:20

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Isaiah 45:7

The greatest evil in the entire universe was when God orchestrated the slaying of His own perfect Son.

And yet He meant it for good. Only God's intention and use of evil can bring about good, because He alone is good and not evil. He never sins when using evil for His purpose.

OP's question; "Therefore I question the translation which implies that God does 'evil

I believe this translation is. accurate because it was the Lord was sounding the trumpet of the evil that would come about before it happened. His prophet was bringing to light why this would happen.

Shall a trumpet the blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in the city, And the Lord has not done it? The companion Bible

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  • 1
    So it is a judgment of God, a well deserved punishment due to prior evil behaviour ? But I would not call that 'doing evil' (in the English language. I would call it a just recompense.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 10, 2023 at 17:11
  • Yes, it is God's judgments going out to the whole house of Israel that He brought up from Egypt. He is visiting on them all their depravities. (2:2)How can He walk together with them as His people and not judge them?There are at least 40 transgressions mentioned in Amos that the people chosen by God are doing against him. Here are just a few mentioned. Because of their ripping up the pregnant ones of Gilead, | To enlarge their border,1:13 ..Because they spurned the instruction of the LORD, and did not keep his statutes; Because the lies which their ancestors followed have led them astray.
    – Sherrie
    Jan 10, 2023 at 18:29
  • They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.2:7. Of course they were doing evil in the sight of the Lord.
    – Sherrie
    Jan 10, 2023 at 18:29
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Rev 4:8

"Holy, holy, holy. is the Lord God Almighty,". ESV.

The four living creatures never cease saying this as it is always true.

Amos 3:6 Aramaic Bible in Plain English,

"or is there evil in the city that LORD JEHOVAH has not done". My emphasis.

I want in this answer to explore God having a holy reason for determining the evil acts of man. Context of Amos 3:6: "Can two walk together unless they are agreed". Principle being illustrated: There is a reason for everything. Ultimately God is the reason for everything: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" [Jesus]. [Matt 28:18 authority/exousia, ek/out from, derived authority. All lesser authorities get their authority from God].

God tested man in the garden,"you shall not" [Gen 3:17] and also by sending Jesus. Man failed both of these and other tests. Man ate the fruit and crucified Jesus. But it was for man's good that man should know man's inability to obey or honour Jesus ["in whom my soul delights", Isaiah 42:1]

Once man knows man's real situation then man understands man's need for forgiveness and the cross.

Acts 2:23

"this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and forknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men". ESV.

God's plan involved getting lawless [wicked] men to do an evil act, to crucify Jesus. God had a holy motive, or reason, for this. He is always holy.

Luke 22:22

"For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined..".

God determined the cross of Jesus and takes ultimate responsibility for what happened to the Son of Man.

1 John 4:14

"the Father sent the his Son to be the Savior of the world".

Here we see the holy authority of the Father "sending" and the holy obedience of the Son "obeying". A holy reason for sending Jesus was that God's holiness would be seen.

Luke 22:3

"Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot".

Satan does not have the authority ultimately to maintain his, Satan's existence. God "upholds the universe [panta/all] by the power of his word." Hebrews 1:3.

From Luke 22:6-7

"Pilate...sent him [Jesus] over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time." My bracket.

Jerusalem is the city where this determined plan took place. [Jerusalem a city. Luke 22:10, city/polin].

Unless God created [John 1:3] and sustained [Heb 1:3] the whole of creation there would be no city or the evil that went on in it, or the victory of Christ risen [1 Cor 15:20-28].

Amos 3:6 KJB

"shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?".

In any city but Jerusalem particularly comes to mind.

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Amos 3:6 expresses, I believe, the paradoxical relationship between the existence of evil against the reality of God’s goodness and omnipotence.

Following the OP’s lead, I began by considering Amos 3:6 from the perspective of action/stimulus and response and looking at the examples given in the preceding verses. The two men, the lion/prey and the bird/trap pairings, however, do not fit neatly into the categories of stimulus-response. The relationship between the bird and the trap is a case in point.

Will a bird fall into a snare on the earth, where there is no trap for it? Will a snare spring up from the earth, if it has caught nothing at all? – Amos 3:5 NKJV

The bird and the trap are independent of one another, yet the bird would not be caught but for the trap (See the commentary of Keil and Delitzsch). Conversely, the trap would not spring up but for the bird. Rather than a linear cause-effect or stimulus-response, this and the other examples lead me to consider the question of agency. The men act with planning and intention, the lions according to instinct, and the snare works according to the laws that govern natural phenomena. Each moves independently, yet the way the passage is laid out as a series of questions hints of something more. To me it is suggestive of the invisible hand of God’s providence that guides all according to His will.

The examples provide parallels for the case of evil, which is marked by its divergence/contradistinction from God (cf Ps 5:4). Though God does not will that which is evil, and one could argue that God by nature cannot will that which is evil, yet it is also true that nothing can exist/occur except by the will of God. Thus in Amos 3:6 we have the situation in which something exists that is contrary to God’s nature, and yet its very existence/action is dependent on God. But, ultimately, it is God who has the last say on evil (Amos 3:8, but really all of the book of Amos).

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