We’re using the word “disaster” to describe any massive loss of life, whether God directly or indirectly causes it, and whether it’s a natural disaster, military calamity, or something else entirely. The Old Testament is filled with instances of vast numbers of people meeting a sudden and strange end, and here are ten of the most bizarre. Of course, we could probably list the plagues of Egypt and call it today, but we’re looking for more obscure disasters, so we’ll only include one of those.
1. The Earth swallows men whole
A group within the Israelites begins to rebel against Moses. Moses claims that both to punish them and to prove his God-appointed status, the ground will open up beneath them and swallow them. As he finishes speaking, a hole opens beneath them, consuming the people and their possessions (homes included). Then, the earth closes again.
2. Gorged on quail
A common theme in Numbers is that the Israelites are typically unsatisfied with God. In Numbers 11, they complain that all they’ve been given to eat is manna, and they’d like a better variety of food. God sends a multitude of quail, providing far more meat than they can eat, but as they gorge themselves on it they are struck by a plague.
3. Shamgar’s ox goad
Shamgar is one of the Israelite rulers, mentioned only in passing in the book of Judges. He gets surprisingly little attention for his one notable achievement: slaying 600 enemies with an ox goad. A goad is a traditional farming tool used to herd animals.
4. Serpents of fire
Again in Numbers, the Israelites speak ill of God, and to punish them God sends snakes made of fire into their midst, killing many.
5. Tumors on the “secret parts”
In Samuel 1, The Philistines make the fatal mistake of stealing the Ark of the Covenant. While it’s in their camp, numerous tragedies befall them, the most bizarre being that they’re afflicted with tumors (sometimes translated as hemorrhoids) “on their secret parts”.
6. An Angel of Death
When the Assyrians attempt to invade the territory of the Godly king Hezekiah, God defends it. In the night, an angel passes through the Assyrian camp, killing 185,000 men.
7. Don’t marry Midianites
The Israelites begin fraternizing with the Midianites, even going so far as to participate in pagan religious rituals. One marries a Midianite woman, bringing her back to the Israelite camp. As a result, they’re struck with a plague that ravages 24,000 people, ending only when someone takes up a spear and executes the couple.
8. Sodom and Gomorrah
The Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were havens of sinful behavior. Two angels are sent there, where they are taken in by Lot. The townspeople ask Lot to send the angels out so they can have intercourse with them, but Lot offers them his daughters instead. Strangely, this is seen as an act of kindness, and the angels help Lot escape when God rains fire and brimstone down onto the cities, completely destroying them.
Our token Egyptian plague, and arguably the most bizarre. God passes through Egypt, killing all of the firstborn children except those of the Israelites, who use blood to make a sign on their door so that God can recognize their homes.
10. Mauled by bears
When bald prophet Elisha is traveling, a group of children meet him on the road, mocking his bald head. He curses them in the name of the Lord, and two female bears appear from the forest, killing 42 of them.
The Bible is such a vast and rich text that examples of both fabulous miracles and horrible tragedies abound, but these stand out as some of the strangest and most bizarre ways that masses of people have come to an untimely end.