Could you please explain Isaiah 45:7? In what way does God create evil?


In the Authorized Version, Isaiah 45:7 reads as follows:

“I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I the LORD do all these things.”

First, let us briefly focus on the word, “create.” It is “bara” in Hebrew and means, “bringing something into existence which did not exist before.” The word is used in Genesis 1:1, revealing that God created the heavens and the earth. Hebrews 11:3 elaborates that the worlds (the universe as well as the earth) “were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”

The Hebrew word for “evil” is “ra” and can have several meanings. In the Authorized Version, it is translated over 400 times as “evil,” but it is also rendered, among others, as “adversity” (Ecclesiastes 7:14; Psalm 94:13); “affliction” (Psalm 34:19; 107:39; Obadiah 13); “calamity” (Psalm 141:5); “distress” (Nehemiah 2:17); “grief” (Jonah 4:6); “harm” (Genesis 31:52; Numbers 35:23; Proverbs 3:30; Jeremiah 39:12); “hurt” (Genesis 26:29; 31:29; Psalm 38:12; 70:2; 71:13, 24; Ecclesiasts 8:9; Jeremiah 7:6; 24:9; 25:7; 38:4); “mischief” (Exodus 32:22; Nehemiah 6:2; Hosea 7:15); and “trouble” (Psalm 27:5; 41:1; Jeremiah 2:27-28; 11:12, 14; Lamentations 1;21).

Before explaining in detail how the word “ra” is to be understood in Isaiah 45:7, we need to consider the following:

We read that God created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but He ordered man not to eat from it. He wants man to follow and believe Him as to what He tells man regarding good and evil; rather than man deciding for himself what, in his mind, is good and evil (compare Isaiah 5:20). God wants man to reject evil, but if man refuses, He will bring “evil” (Authorized Version) or “disaster” (New King James Bible) upon him (Jeremiah 4:6).

God did not create man as an evil being; instead, we read that after He had created man, He said that His entire work was very good (Genesis 1:31). We also read, however, that man has chosen evil “schemes” over good and upright behavior (compare Ecclesiastes 7:29), and that man’s heart is evil “from his youth” and “deceitful” (Genesis 8:21; compare also Jeremiah 7:24 and Jeremiah 17:9). This is largely due to Satan’s influence (2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Timothy 2:26; Ephesians 2:2). Satan, though, was not created as an evil personage either. He was created as a perfect being, called Lucifer–a bright shining being, a light-bringer or morning star–in whom was no evil and no sin (Ezekiel 28:14-15).  But both Lucifer and all angels, as well as Adam and Eve, were created with free moral agency. They could choose to follow good, or to reject it and follow evil. Lucifer and one third of all angels chose to become evil, and man, following Satan’s influence, chose likewise to follow the way of evil, leading to pain, suffering and death, rather than the way of good, leading to happiness, prosperity and, ultimately, to eternal life.

When God created angels and men as free moral agents, He knew of course that they might choose to reject good and follow evil. God is interested in character development—the free choice to reject evil and adopt and apply what is good. But He does not force anyone to do so. In giving free choice to Lucifer and the other angels, as well as men, He allowed for the possibility that they would turn to evil.

But God is ultimately in charge. Although God permits Satan to stay on the throne of the earth until his successor—Jesus Christ—returns to replace him, Satan and his angels—known today as devils and demons—can only do what God allows them to do. The book of Job shows us that Satan can only operate within the parameters which are granted to him by God. That made God ultimately responsible for the “evil” (Authorized Version) or “adversity” (New King James Bible) that Satan brought upon Job (Job 2:10, first two sentences). When Job said that he was receiving “evil” or “adversity” from God, he told the truth and did not lie (Job 2:10, last sentence). God allowed Satan to afflict Job so that Job could finally recognize his self-righteousness and his wrong feelings of superiority, and that he could realize instead his inferiority and inabilities in comparison with the almighty God.

God wants man to choose good over evil, but when man makes the wrong choice, he will have to live with the “evil” consequences, since God has set in motion laws that regulate the results of good and of evil conduct. Sometimes, in order to drive lessons home, God Himself brings “evil” upon man for man’s ultimate good, either directly, or by allowing Satan and his demons to afflict man with “evil.” God does this, so that man can better understand how and what he is and that he has to repent and change, allowing God to replace man’s evil heart of stone with a heart of flesh that is upright and good.

The question remains, what kind of “evil” is it that God may bring upon man, and which is referred to in Isaiah 45:7?

The New King James Bible renders the word as “calamity,” and most translations use similar wording. In Joshua 23:15, we read that God will bring “evil” (Authorized Version) or “harmful things” (New King James Bible) on those who do not repent.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says, in regard to Isaiah 45:7:

“There is no God beside Jehovah. There is nothing done without him. He makes peace, put here for all good; and creates evil, not the evil of sin, but the evil of punishment. He is the Author of all that is true, holy, good, or happy; and evil, error, and misery, came into the world by his permission, through the… apostacy of his creatures… We must not expect salvation without righteousness…”

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible adds:

“‘I make peace, and create evil’; peace between God and men… ‘evil’ is also from him; not the evil of sin… this is of men, though suffered by the Lord… but the evil of punishment for sin, God’s sore judgments, famine, pestilence, evil beasts, and the sword, or war, which latter may more especially be intended, as it is opposed to peace; this usually is the effect of sin [and] permitted by God; moreover, all afflictions, adversities, and calamities, come under this name, and are of God; see Job 2:10…”

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary states:

“Isaiah refers also to the Oriental belief in two coexistent, eternal principles, ever struggling with each other, light or good, and darkness or evil, Oromasden and Ahrimanen. God, here, in opposition, asserts His sovereignty over both… create evil—not moral evil (James 1:13), but in contrast to ‘peace’ in the parallel clause, war, disaster (compare […Amos 3:6]).”

This is an interesting comment in light of the fact that there is really no war going on between God and Satan, as if they were both of equal power; rather, God is most powerful, and Satan can only do what God especially allows.

The Amplified Bible writes:

“I make peace [national wellbeing. Moral evil proceeds from the will of men, but physical evil proceeds from the will of God], and I create [physical] evil…”

The distinction between physical evil and moral evil is further emphasized by Dummelow who writes in “The One Volume Bible Commentary”:

“Evil… not moral evil, but misfortune or calamity, the opposite of peace.” The Soncino Commentary agrees with this evaluation.

The new Scoffield Reference Edition says:

“God is not the author of sin [Habakkuk 1:13; 2.Timothy 2:13; Titus 1:2; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5]. One of the meanings of the Hebrew word ‘ra’ carries the idea of ‘adversity’ or ‘calamity,’ and it is evidently so employed here. God has made sorrow and wretchedness to be the sure fruits of sin.”

The Life Application Bible summarizes the essence of the meaning of Isaiah 45:7 in this way:

“God is the ruler over light and darkness, over good times and bad times. Our lives are sprinkled with both types of experiences, and both are needed for us to grow spiritually. When good times come, thank God and use your prosperity for him. When bad times come, don’t resent him, but ask what you can learn from this refining experience to make you a better servant of God.”

Indeed, as God said to Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7, New King James Bible).

And Moses was inspired to communicate God’s words to the nation of Israel, as follows (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19-20, New King James Bible):

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply… I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live, that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days…”

But Moses also said this in Deuteronomy 29:4 and 31:29 (New King James Bible): “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day… For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger through the works of your hands.”

May God give so that you do not belong to those people who are sowing and doing “evil” and reaping “evil” in return.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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