Would You Please Explain Exodus 34:24?
To see the entire context of this passage, we are quoting God’s promise to ancient Israel in its entirety, as quoted in Exodus 34:22-24:
“(22) And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks of the firstfruits of wheat harvest [Pentecost], and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end [Feast of Tabernacles]. (23) Three times in a year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the LORD God of Israel [Three festival seasons—one in the spring, one in the summer and one in the autumn—are mentioned here, as one has to appear before God on every annual Holy Day: Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread as the first season in the spring; Pentecost as the second season in the summer; and the fall season, consisting of the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day]. (24) For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in a year.”
The Church of God has taught for a long time that this statement applies to us today as well, in that God grants us security when we observe God’s annual Holy Days by assembling at the Church’s designated Feast sites—especially during the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day. The Church’s understanding of this passage has been that God will protect our belongings, which we are leaving behind during this time, so that no one will covet them and break into our homes to rob us during our absence.
While in the overwhelming number of cases, the homes of members were not robbed while they were observing the Feast of Tabernacles, there have been a few incidents when thieves broke into the homes of members and prospective members during the time of God’s annual Holy Days. How can we explain this apparent inconsistency?
Let us look at some biblical examples in order to fully understand the nature of God’s promises.
Regarding physical healing in this life, God has promised that He will heal us, when we pray to the Father in faith and fulfill other biblical requirements such as understanding and accepting Christ’s Sacrifice and God’s limitless power; keeping God’s commandments; reconciling with others; and asking for the elders of the Church to anoint us with oil as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Still, some are not healed in this life. We state the following in our Q&A, “When we ask God for healing and are not healed, does this mean that we don’t have enough faith?”
“Scripture says that the prayer of faith will ‘save the sick,’ and God will ‘raise him up’… [But] we must understand that it may NOT be God’s Will to heal us right away, or completely, or at all, in this life. And there are reasons for that. To argue with and deny this, we are really ‘tempting’ God or better ‘testing Him severely,’ trying to force OUR Will on Him…
“… even if we had ‘perfect’ faith and lived a ‘perfect’ life and had brought about perfect reconciliation with our brother and sister, God might STILL NOT heal us in this life from a particular sickness. Why not? Because God might have in mind a superior purpose for us in this life which He deems much more important than our healing from temporary frailties… We… understand that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God’ (Romans 8:28)… We might not fully understand all the reasons why someone is not healed right away or at all… but we MUST have the absolute faith and conviction that God knows everything; that He can do everything; and that He will do everything that we ask… in His due time and subject to His Will.”
We also wrote this in our Q&A, “Unconditional Promise for Healing in this Life?”
“When we ask God for healing, we MUST believe that our request will be granted. When we ask God for healing, we must not doubt at the same time by thinking that perhaps it is not God’s Will to heal us. Such a prayer would show doubt (Matthew 21:21-22; Mark 11:23)…
“It really boils down to the question as to whether we have ‘unconditional love’ for God and His Way of Life–never willing to forsake that way if things don’t work out in the way which we want them to… Christ NEVER doubted that whatever the Father decided was best for Him and others… We must never lose this conviction that God knows best, and that whatever He decides is the very best for us. With that understanding, we will gladly accept God’s Will in our lives… whatever it may be.”
Applying this example to Exodus 34:24, we can likewise say that even though God’s promise might sound to be an unconditional promise, there might be overriding circumstances and a superior purpose prompting God in a particular case not to protect a member’s home during his absence for the Feast, and even though this might perhaps be hard to understand, God would have decided to act in such way for the best of the member.
David said in Psalm 37:25: “I have been young, and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread.” But still, for a very short time on the cross, God the Father had to forsake Christ, the righteous, because at that time, He was carrying the sins of all the people, and God does forsake us when we become unrighteous and forsake Him. Even though one could view David’s statement in Psalm 37:25 as a godly promise, there might be overriding circumstances in a particular case which would prompt God to decide in a different way. With each one of God’s promises, it is important to take all passages together and look at the entire picture.
Obedience to Parents and Tithing
Obedience to parents and tithing are examples of godly promises of long life and physical blessings, but we might find that some who apparently honored their parents might die at a young age or that some who might have tithed may not be blessed physically. We address both aspects in our Q&A: “Why do people die prematurely, even though they honor their parents? Doesn’t this contradict God’s promise of long life in Exodus 20:12?”
“To properly understand God’s promise of a long life to respectful children who honor their parents, we need to consider three different possibilities:
“(1) Even though some may appear to live righteously and to keep the Fifth Commandment, they really don’t–in God’s eyes… In addition, some who die, without having enjoyed long lives, might have kept the Fifth Commandment, in a general way, but they might have violated other commandments of God. But God’s law is a package, and can’t be looked upon in an isolated fashion. James tells us that when we violate one of God’s commandments, even though we keep the rest, we have still violated God’s entire law (James 2:8-13). When we do that, we cannot expect God’s protection in dangerous situations, or His intervention to save us from premature death.
“The same is true in respect to God’s promise in Malachi 3:10. God promises us physical blessings if we pay His tithe to His Church. We cannot expect being physically blessed by God, if we refuse to obey His commandment to tithe (verse 9). In other words, one is under a curse who refuses to pay God’s tithe to God’s Church… But even if a person tithes diligently–like the Pharisees did in Christ’s time–he still can’t expect that God will bless him financially, if he violates other laws of God. These could be laws regulating sound financial principles, as well as spiritual laws…
“(2)… in properly understanding Exodus 20:12, we must realize that God may decide to override His general promise of long physical life, under certain circumstances. It was preordained that Christ’s life on earth would be short–even though He kept all of God’s laws perfectly. Also, God may sometimes decide to let a righteous person die, to save him from the evil to come, as the righteous will be resurrected to eternal life within the next second of his consciousness (compare 1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
“(3) The fact that the righteous will inherit ETERNAL life provides a third way of looking at God’s promise in Exodus 20:12. When God resurrects a righteous person to eternal life, He will give him the land or the earth to possess forever (compare Matthew 5:5; Psalm 37:11; Isaiah 57:13; 60:21)… When we read in Exodus 20:12 that the one who honors his parents will be living long in the land, it can also be understood to mean that he will live long on the earth–as an immortal spirit being. The implication is, of course, that if we refuse to keep God’s commandments, and especially the one enjoining us to honor our parents, we will not obtain eternal life–we won’t live long on the earth or in the land which God has promised to Abraham and his spiritual descendants (compare Romans 4:13-25; Galatians 3:29).
“God has indeed promised long life to those who obey Him. A special blessing is expressed for those who honor their parents. It is not an unconditional promise in the physical realm, as God may deem fit to override His promise for special, individual reasons. Barring this, we can rely on God’s promise of long life in this flesh–and, more importantly, life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.”
Applying these examples to Exodus 34:24, some perhaps uncomfortable questions need to be asked:
Did the person who was robbed try to keep all of God’s commandments, or was he or she perhaps somewhat selective? Did God withhold His protection in a particular case, because physical possessions might have become too important in a person’s life? Without knowing the particular circumstances, we only speak in generalities without making any judgment call. But even though God promises us physical protection from robberies in a general way, we do read in Hebrews 10:32-34: “But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings… for you… joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven…”
Also, God’s physical promise of security and protection will most certainly become reality for all when the Kingdom of God rules on earth.
Violence and Protection
Not committing violence and trusting instead in God’s promise for our protection would be other related examples of godly promises. We state in our Q&A, “Do You Believe in and Teach Self-Defense?”:
“Do we believe in God and rely on Him for our protection, having the faith that it is GOD who is our protecting shield, or do we think that we must have additional security in the form of a handgun or some sort of firearm? Do we think that God is incapable of helping us in certain circumstances?… When man places his trust and confidence in God, God will protect man. Ultimately though, no matter the consequences, we must be living a life pleasing to God…
“We must always have the attitude that Daniel’s three friends had when they were asked to violate God’s laws by worshipping an idol, and in case of refusal, were threatened with being thrown into a fiery furnace… We read their answer in Daniel 3:17-18: ‘ … our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.’
“… we must always look at God’s overall Will for us and our great potential and destiny for our lives, as Christ expressed in Matthew 10:28-31: ‘And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground APART FROM YOUR FATHER’S WILL. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.’”
Again, applying these principles to Exodus 34:24, we might ask whether God allowed a robbery during the Feast to test us whether we would be willing to continue to obey Him, even in circumstances which, at least for a while, might be hard to comprehend (compare Romans 11:33; Job 5:9; Ecclesiastes 3:11; 8:17).
Looking again at God’s promise in Exodus 34:24, we should ask ourselves the following questions regarding the subject of a robbery during the Feast:
How righteous and subject to all of God’s commandments were we at the time of the robbery?
Did we do whatever we could do, from a physical standpoint, such as locking our home and preventing that everyone could see right away that no one was at home?
Did we pray to God for protection of our home before leaving and while at the Feast, and did we have the faith that God would hear us?
Did God allow that our home might be robbed during the Feast of Tabernacles in order to impress on us and all of God’s people the need to always look to Him for help, without taking it for granted? Sometimes, we may have to suffer so that others can learn from it.
Did God allow this incident to test our faith? Would our faith weaken? Would we lose confidence in God? Or would we react in the same way as Daniel’s three friends, declaring that they would continue to have faith in God and not begin to disobey Him, even if He decided not to save them from the fiery furnace? God had promised to Abraham that through his son Isaac, his offspring would be blessed, but then God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, which was a pagan practice and completely in violation of God’s Word. This was of course only a test, and God never intended that Abraham had to kill his own son, but Abraham did not know this, and what questions might have crossed his mind at the time? But he did not weaken in his faith, and he did not cease obeying God. And so, we must also continue believing God, even though we might not always understand as to why certain things happen.
In conclusion, God cannot lie. Whatever He promises, He will do. But a particular physical promise may not always be an unconditional promise, so that it can be overridden by extraordinary circumstances, for the spiritual best of the persons involved. As it is true for healing, tithing, physical blessing and protection, God’s particular promises are ALWAYS subject to God’s Will and His judgment as to what is best for us and others. We don’t always know why God might choose not to intervene in a particular circumstance.
This Q&A only gives some possibilities of explanation and understanding. What is important for us is to realize that we may not have all the answers as to why God allows certain things to happen, but we must never lose the conviction that God knows what He is doing (even though we sometimes may not fully understand), and that whatever He does is for our very best.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link