God is not spontaneous

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There’s an old saying “Man plans and God laughs,” but recently I realized that, in the Bible, it’s God who does all the planning.
This is theologically surprising, but it also makes the Bible a less suspenseful read than it could otherwise be.

For example, the final plague in Egypt, the killing of the first born, is violent and dramatic. But it’s no surprise. It begins in last week’s Torah portion, in Exodus 12:29, but by then we’re already ready for it. God had told Moses about it in detail in Chapter 11.

In this week’s Torah portion, God performs His most famous miracle of all: the splitting of the Red Sea. In Exodus 14:21, Moses lifts his staff over the sea and a strong wind parts it. Shocking!

But not really, because God already mapped out what was going to happen a few verses earlier.

God’s need to tell us what He’s going to do before he does it, continues in the Bible. I began thinking about this divine tendency, when reading Joshua 6, where God informs Joshua how the walls of Jericho will fall down — a few verses before they actually fall.

So why does God do this? Well, many commentators have noted the ways in which God involves Moses and Aaron in the Ten Plagues — they are asked to take action (like Moses lifting up his staff) in order to initiate the plague. God wants to empower people — and his leaders in particular.

God also wants everyone to be very clear that it was Him who brought about these miracles, so He foretells the fantastical events before carrying them out.

Yet, while I understand these considerations, God’s aversion to spontaneity is a little disappointing. It means that many of the most dramatic Bible stories have spoilers.

In the end, God can wreak havoc and work miracles at will — but He’s got OCD when it comes to preparation.

Posted on January 18, 2008

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