When God Uses Evil for Good

Bible stories are less black and white than we imagine.

The Bible verse might as well have read, “And God used the bad guy to save His people.”

I blinked a few times, shook my head, and read it and the previous verse again to make sure I understood correctly. “For the Lord saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel. The Lord did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash” (2 Kings 14:26-27).

 

The verse had said what I thought it did, and it flew in the face of everything I thought I knew about God. Up to that point, after all, Scripture had nothing good to say about anyone named Jeroboam.

In 1 and 2 Kings, the name Jeroboam son of Nebat appears repeatedly, like a leitmotif in a grand opera. With each mention of his name, I began to imagine something like the sharp, stabbing strings in Bernard Herrmann’s score for the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

One needs only to look at a verse like 2 Kings 13:11 to see an example of how Scripture associates the name of Jeroboam with evil: “He did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not turn away from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, with which he made Israel sin.” In these books, a wicked king is not simply evil—he is evil like Jeroboam, son of Nebat.

God used crooked Jeroboam II to straighten out His people’s problems.

The verse above describes King Joash, who decided to name his successor after the ruler who set the golden standard for sinfulness in Israel. Not surprisingly, Jeroboam II followed in the footsteps of his namesake.

Nevertheless, God used crooked Jeroboam II to straighten out His people’s problems. Why would God use such a man for His purposes? I could understand the Creator using someone like David—a deeply flawed man, yes, but one that Scripture describes as being a “man after (God’s) own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). I could even appreciate that the Lord would use a broken brute like Samson. Faults aside, he was one of the good guys—or at least that’s what my Sunday school teachers had said. Scripture describes Jeroboam II, on the other hand, as evil. Could God really use evil for good?

As I thought more about this perplexing passage, I remembered something Joseph said in the book of Genesis. Despite being sold into slavery by his brothers, in Egypt he eventually assumed a position of power that enabled him to help his people. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,” Joseph said to his brothers, “in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).

That God could be essentially good—perfect even—but use existing evil in the world for His purposes without being contaminated by it is a bit of a marvel to me.

God could be essentially good—perfect even—but use existing evil in the world for His purposes without being contaminated by it.

As I heard the leitmotif of “Jeroboam son of Nebat” again and again in 1 and 2 Kings, I suppose I came to think of his twisted song as a dominant force in Scripture’s score. I had forgotten that the Great Composer, Yahweh, is capable of transforming even the most dissonant melodies into ones that harmonize with His purposes. In Scripture, all songs seem to be swallowed by God’s song, which began long before either of the Jeroboams entered the world, and continued long after they left it.

Those of us who call ourselves Christians believe that song continues to play—and that we might hear it if only we will listen for its presence in our lives. So we can take heart that the One who used someone as evil as Jeroboam II for good has the power to do the same today, too. This means we must not mistake the evil we find in ourselves and others as something that is immune to God’s influence. Instead, we would do well to think of the darkest corners of our hearts as potential sites of transformation where the Lord might work to repurpose our fallenness for His glory.

If God can use the bad guy to save His people, after all, how much more will He use flawed followers of Christ—people who love Him and long to please Him—for His purposes?

 

Illustration by Jeff Gregory

Click to read more articles in the “Wholly Scripture” series.

Related Topics:  Sovereignty

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What happens to my notes

26 For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel.

27 The LORD did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.

11 He did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not turn away from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, with which he made Israel sin, but he walked in them.

14 But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you."

20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

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