Why do some people think that God gets enjoyment out of prophetic punishments? Does God have a fundamentally cruel streak that He randomly satisfies, targeting people who can't defend themselves?
Historically, writers of apocalyptic literature promote this satanic notion, as Dante Alighieri did in his Divine Comedy. Why would anyone perpetuate this concept? Your Bible makes clear that there are purposes for prophecy; and those purposes, contrary to conventional wisdom, serve us.
Defining prophecy and classic examples
Prophecy is a divinely inspired prediction of the future, and there are many examples of fulfilled prophecy in Scripture.
A classic example is when God promised a revival of His true religion under a king named Josiah (1 Kings 13:2). This amazing prophecy was fulfilled 300 years later when God restored the rebellious kingdom of Judah by installing young Josiah as king (2 Kings 22:1). Josiah's grandfather was the infamous evil King Manasseh who ruled Judah for 55 years.
Josiah had a different heart, and God used him to turn the nation around. It worked, but not for long. God also predicted that Judah would go into captivity for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:8-12), which He fulfilled to the letter.
After Josiah's premature death, Judah went right back into following false religious practices and, as God had prophesied, the nation went into captivity under the king of Babylon (2 Kings 24).
While the Bible records prophecies that have been fulfilled, it also lists prophecies yet to be fulfilled. A classic case is that of the coming Beast and False Prophet who are predicted to rise to power in the future (Revelation 13; 17). Today, significant signs show this prophecy will come to pass by the rising power of the European Union, the coming king of the North, and the rising power of a great Muslim confederation power, the coming king of the South (Daniel 11:40).
Let's look at some purposes for prophecy.
Cause and effect
One purpose of prophecy is to teach mankind that terrible consequences result from disobeying God. This is a great key to understanding prophecy. Most view prophecy as God sitting around contemplating how He can make the lives of human beings miserable. Instead, humans incur their own prophetic punishments through disobedience to God's law and through their own poor conduct (Deuteronomy 30:19).
God's laws are automatic (Romans 2:11-12); that is to say, they are designed so that our good actions eventually lead to good results and our evil actions lead to bad results. God's spiritual laws are like His physical laws. For example, when we throw an object into the air, we know it must eventually fall back down to the ground. We depend on those laws every single day.
God's automatic laws directly affect human life. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 reveal the cause and effect of either obeying or disobeying Him. Obey God and be blessed. Disobey and bring curses on yourself. These polar opposites help determine the effects of prophecy. Indeed, they embody prophecy.
A good example of doing good and being blessed for it can be found in the prophecy regarding the New Testament Church, in part, at the very end time. There will be relatively few who keep God's commandments, honor Christ as the Head of the Church and endure to the very end (Revelation 3:8, 10).
God prophesies to them that they will escape the Great Tribulation, "I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world" (verse 10). This is a blessing, a direct application of choosing to do what's right and being blessed for obeying God's laws.
God allows human beings free moral agency, to choose and make decisions to receive an abundant life now and live forever later, or to choose and make decisions to curse themselves now and to die (Deuteronomy 30:19). Clearly mankind determines his own destiny, either for bad or for good.
God is in control
A second purpose of prophecy is to show that God controls events throughout history for the purpose of fulfilling His plan. Ultimately, God will see His plan through, no matter what people do.
There are prophecies that turn out for good even though humans are ignorant of them. For instance, God said He would bless Israel and the world at Christ's return based on His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). In this case, good for modern Israel comes through a promise God made to Abraham thousands of years ago.
God highlights this kind of prophecy to those who are ignorant in Ezekiel 36:22-24. At the time of the end, modern Israel will be in captivity, scattered among the nations, as God prophesied. When Christ returns, He will free Israel from captivity and bring them again to the Holy Land.
Here's a case of prophetic blessings to an ignorant Israel, which happen in spite of, not because of, anything Israel did. The key to this prophecy is that God is doing this for Himself, not Israel. They profaned His name, and He will restore His good name through them:
"Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD," says the Lord GOD, "when I am hallowed in you before their eyes"'" (Ezekiel 36:22-23).
In a sense, the initial fulfillment of this prophecy eclipses choice. Once freed and restored to the Promised Land, Israel will then have to choose to do what's right in God's eyes.
Interloper behind prophecies of punishment
Prophecy is also directly tied to the great interloper. Christ's spirit-led disciples know this, but the world doesn't. America and the Christian West have willingly closed their eyes to God's revealed truth.
"And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them'" (Matthew 13:14-15).
Behind this willing blindness, there lurks Satan the devil whose avowed purpose is to dupe people into doing his dirty work. He strives to motivate mankind to destroy itself, for God won't allow Satan to do this evil deed directly.
Human beings are Satan's competition. He knows that we will one day judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3) and constantly tries to tell God that His redemptive plan to save mankind is a lost cause (Revelation 12:10).
The interloper, Satan the devil, the god of this world, affects how prophecy works in the worst of ways. Isaiah writes about the heinous cruelty of Satan, who "made the world as a wilderness and destroyed its cities, who did not open the house of his prisoners" (Isaiah 14:17).
This verse summarizes Satan's wicked rule on this earth and over mankind. From the time of Adam to Christ's second coming, he has and will continue to peddle, traffic and merchandise his lies, which is precisely how he changed himself from Lucifer to Satan the devil (Ezekiel 28:15-19).
Prophecy warns, punishes and blesses
Prophecy is a prediction of the future under divine inspiration. It shows us that human beings cause their own troubles.
Prophecy regarding punishment shows us that God simply predicts how uncontrolled human nature reaps its own sown seeds of destruction (Galatians 6:7-8).
Prophecy regarding encouragement and blessings shows us how faithfully obeying God brings on blessings in this life and the blessing of life eternal. For prophetic blessings to come about, we must keep God's laws of love (1 John 5:3).
Prophecy also shows God's ultimate control over history as He completes His plan of salvation for everyone.
These are the purposes of prophecy, which contrast the false notion that God is cruel or that He sits in heaven all day figuring out novel ways to make humankind experience fear and suffering. This type of behavior describes the god of this world, as depicted in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Satan is the one that influences the world and well-meaning Christians with such aberrations.
Prophecy is a helpful, encouraging and merciful tool in the hands of an all-loving Savior, given for the good of mankind. We should use it wisely. WNP