Answering The Atheist
September 14, 2003 / Volume 3, Issue 37
THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Will God curse the earth? Malachi 4:6 indicates that God might, if He gets mad again, whereas Genesis 8:21 says that he will never do it again. Is there a contradiction?
It might first be noted, two separate and unrelated Hebrew words are rendered "curse" in the English translation here. In Malachi, it is the Hebrew word cherem, in reference to that which is accursed, banned, devoted or dedicated for utter destruction. In Genesis, the Hebrew word is qalal, meaning to be slight, be abated (of water), to be trifling, be of little account, insignificant (Online Bible Hebrew Lexicon). The fact that different words are used, conveying different ideas nullifies the idea of a contradiction here. However, let us investigate deeper.
In the Genesis text, the flood had just occurred, and now, Noah and his family are back on dry land, ready to replenish the earth (9:1). After Noah makes sacrifice, the Lord states that He "...will never again curse the ground for man's sake..." Never again would the Lord's wrath bring ruin to the ground and the animal life (21b) because of man's wickedness. If He were to curse the earth at every occasion of man's wickedness, the outpouring of destruction would never cease. Not many verses later, He repeats His promise in this way, "Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the floods; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." While the earth would remain, harvests, seasons and days would not cease (8:22). The earth will not experience such destruction again, until the day of judgment (2 Peter 3:1-11).
Is Malachi's writing saying that God will violate His promise to not afflict the land? Not once in the Old Testament is the Hebrew cherem used of God destroying the planet. It is used to describe things which are "devoted" to God, it is used to speak of people who should be utterly destroyed, it is used of items and even cities which were slated for destruction, but not once of the whole land. The word earth (Heb. erets) can be used of either the land or the inhabitants of the earth. Given the Lord's promise to Noah (Gen 8:21-22; 9:11-16; Isaiah 54:9; 2 Peter 3:5-7), it ought to be clear that He does not speak of the land here, but the inhabitants. If the people did not straighten their paths, then the Lord would bring destruction upon them. Such was the fate of the Jewish people as a whole, as the Lord used the Romans in 70 A.D. to punish Israel for their disobedience.
There is no contradiction.
This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible