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A Biblical View of Vomit

Does God get sick of the whole world? At first glance, it seems like indeed there is a link between events in the world and the anthropomorphic description of God getting ill. On one particularly slow Sunday in church (confession here: I do sometimes take notes on the sermon and when the sermon doesn’t lend itself to notetaking, then I still write some things down anyway) and so I began to think to myself, ‘is there really something that makes God sick to the point of actually vomit?’ And, to my surprise, I actually found out that there is a whole bunch of verses on vomiting in the Scriptures. In fact, there are 13 separate occasions in which the act, what we call throwing up—getting seriously ill to the stomach, whatever you’re comfortable with, is not only mentioned, but actually references God on more than one occasion. Which leads me to conclude that yes, God gets sick at times.I won’t recount all 13 passages. They are graphic to say the least, particularly the one in Job 20:15 that has Zophar speaking and talking about the treatment of the poor. Ok…never mind, I will share it and it goes like this:

4 Do you not know this from of old,
since man was placed on earth,
5 that the exulting of the wicked is short,
and the joy of the godless but for a moment?
6 Though his height mount up to the heavens,
and his head reach to the clouds,
7 he will perish forever like his own dung;
those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’
8 He will fly away like a dream and not be found;
he will be chased away like a vision of the night.
9 The eye that saw him will see him no more,
nor will his place any more behold him.
10 His children will seek the favor of the poor,
and his hands will give back his wealth.
11 His bones are full of his youthful vigor,
but it will lie down with him in the dust.
12 “Though evil is sweet in his mouth,
though he hides it under his tongue,
13 though he is loath to let it go
and holds it in his mouth,
14 yet his food is turned in his stomach;
it is the venom of cobras within him.
15 He swallows down riches and vomits them up again;
God casts them out of his belly.
16 He will suck the poison of cobras;
the tongue of a viper will kill him.
17 He will not look upon the rivers,
the streams flowing with honey and curds.
18 He will give back the fruit of his toil
and will not swallow it down;
from the profit of his trading
he will get no enjoyment.
19 For he has crushed and abandoned the poor;
he has seized a house that he did not build.

Despite the myriad of t-shirts and campaigns advocating for the poor, this verse, for obvious reasons, has yet to make it on the shirt or bumper sticker. 

The most famous vomit text is probably in Jonah where the fish vomits Jonah onto dry land, at the direction of God himself. In the case of the fish, God wasn’t sick, but definitely made the fish sick and the text literally says that the LORD spoke to the fish which lead to Jonah being spit out. There is only one passage of Scripture on vomit (stomach infection) that is in both the Old Testament and New Testament. And since it’s rare that there’s a passage fully repeated in both testaments, let alone one that concerns vomit, it’s worth setting them side by side.

“Like a dog that returns to his vomit
is a fool who repeats his folly.”
(Proverbs 26:11)

“The dog returns to its own vomit,
and the sow, after washing herself,
returns to wallow in the mire.”
(2 Peter 2:22)

A few reflections on this repeated passage are worth noting.

5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
6 Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool
cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
7 Like a lame man's legs, which hang useless,
is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
8 Like one who binds the stone in the sling
is one who gives honor to a fool.
9 Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard
is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
10 Like an archer who wounds everyone
is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard.
11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit
is a fool who repeats his folly.
12 Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

People who are wise in their own eyes, meaning this: they do not seek the wisdom of God, have certain characteristics. These traits are explained in vv. 6-11, ending with the phrase that Peter repeats in the New Testament.

In some health projects around the world, a friend of mine tries to measure the following three things in terms of impact in a village, community, or city. These three are 1) knowledge, 2) attitude, 3) practices.

What knowledge needs to be disseminated? What attitude is prevalent and could be a barrier to growth? What are the practices that need correcting? Now, let’s do a KAP assessment of our own interaction with the world and the pressing global issues of our time like poverty, AIDS, peace/conflict, malaria, and so forth. Would people know that we sought God, knew our Bibles, practiced repentance, etc….?? To return to the same mistakes over and over—without making some changes, is something some writers have called insanity. The Bible calls it returning to our own vomit.Which leads me to the most striking point of spitting up in all of Scripture….

14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: "The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. 15 I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

And here we see, in Revelation 3, the very same issue that Proverbs and Peter each refer to….what makes God sick and what makes God want to vomit, is ‘self reliance’. Reliance upon our own performance, our own good works, will not only create apathy (lukewarm—neither hot nor cold), but self reliance will separate us from God. If God blessed each of us with a 10 million dollar check tomorrow, we would have to still fight self reliance. Are we wise in our own eyes? Do we rely on our own good gifting? Are we truly wise enough to do life without God’s input?

The great irony is this: what often makes God sick is what makes our culture tick. We want to rely on ourselves. It’s the fine line we tread when we advocate for the poor and the needy around the world—they lack self-reliance and know it. And when we show them Christ, we show them not a path to self-reliance, but a path to God reliance. It’s a subtle, but powerful difference. God reliance is long-term, messy, and takes the acknowledgement of sin and selfishness. Self-reliance is faster, easier, and short-term in scope. And this is difficult because we have yet to decide in our own culture, ‘when do we say enough?’ in regard to food, entertainment, and clothing. When are we content? When are filled up?

In recent months, people living in rural villages and in poverty around the world have also taught me much about God-reliance and have encouraged me to fight against self-reliance. Is it possible, then, to end poverty through relationships? Do we have the will to eradicate preventable disease like malaria in our lifetime? I have much to learn, but I pray that along the way I won’t remain a fool who returns to folly like a dog returns to, you guessed it, his vomit. There’s got to be a better way than that.



This is usually the problem of the believers whose faith is always tested by trial and challenges in life. - Reputation

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.