A recent question on similarities between Zeus and the Christian God, and it occurred to me God striking down sinners with lightning is a trope, but, offhand, I can't think of stories from the bible that feature this. By contrast, Zeus was famous for the offensive power of his thunderbolts, with which he smote mighty Typhon.

This is not to suggest that lightning is not in the domain of the Lord of Hosts — the Old Testament makes it clear it is, and lightning does come up in the verses numerous times — just that I can't find any stories about him striking anyone down with it.

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    Please don't post answers in comments @Gibet. Comments are not meant for answers, they don't offer the proper facilities for the community to evaluate and curate the content (i.e. editing & downvoting), and of course, there are also space and formatting concerns. If you feel you can answer the question, please post an actual answer.
    – yannis
    Mar 1, 2018 at 9:23
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    DukeZhou, unless "Lord of Hosts" has some specific, myth-related meaning and isn't just a nickname, I've edited your title to make it clearer and get better SEO. Mar 2, 2018 at 12:17
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    @LaurenIpsum It was an intentional reference to an Old Testament epithet connoting reciprocity. You're probably right that the title needs a more well known term. I've re-edited the title based on your suggestion--thanks for the input!
    – DukeZhou
    Mar 2, 2018 at 17:34
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    After the title edit, the Question seems to be about Judaism & Christianity as well as Islam... but are you asking only specifically for references from the canon of ancient Hebrew writings now known as the Tanakh or "Old Testament"? Or are both options (as I've listed them) a misinterpretation of what you're after?
    – Adinkra
    Mar 7, 2018 at 5:57
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    @Tom great point. It wouldn't be the accepted answer, since I'm looking for direct smiting (i.e. is this image of the lord smiting with lightning apocryphal to the Judeo/Christian tradition), but useful info, and I would definitely upvote a well referenced answer.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 23, 2019 at 19:18

2 Answers 2


Apparently, yes.

In the Bible there are several instances of fire raining down from the sky or "coming from the presence of" God and falling upon people. Some interpret these as lightning-strikes. For the majority of these, however, I have my doubts as to whether they are actually intended to be occurrences of lightning. More on that below.

A few statements in the Qur’an make the answer to the Question a lot less ambiguous than it is in the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. Perhaps the most explicit comes from Surah (Chapter) 13, entitled Ar-Raʿd, "The Thunder," whose English translations by both Arthur John Arberry and M.H. Shakir even use your word of choice: smite. In the Shakir version of v. 13:

the thunder declares His glory with His praise, and the angels too for awe of Him;
and He sends the thunderbolts and smites with them whom He pleases,
yet they dispute concerning Allah, and He is mighty in prowess.

Like the Greek κεραυνός, keraunós, (which I discuss further in the next section "Possibilities" below), the Arabic word الصَّوَاعِقَ, ṣawaʿiq, translated here as "thunderbolts," refers to objects containing both thunder and lightning.

Regarding actual events in which such "smiting" takes place, there is at least one story in the Qur’an in which there appears to occur the obliteration of people by the use of lightning in the precise sense in question here. For that, see the last section below.


As you have observed, in the Bible, YHWH Sabaoth, commonly translated "the LORD of Hosts," is closely associated with lightning and its imagery. In those texts, however, there is no especially vivid picture of him using it as a missile akin to the manner of Zeus or similar Eurasian sky-deities. I shall proceed, nonetheless, to examine to what extent I might be wrong about that as follows.

1 ⚡︎

There are a few Bible stories involving the use of the word "fire," which make for scenarios fairly open to interpretation as far as the question at hand is concerned. Before we get to those, let's start off with Psalm 144.5-7, the clearest reference that I could find:

Bend your heavens, O YHWH, and come down:
Touch the mountains, and they will smoke.
Cast forth lightning, and scatter them:
Shoot out your arrows, and destroy them.
Send forth your hand from on high,
Free me, and deliver me from many waters,
From the hand of the sons of a foreigner.

This is not related to an event nor is it about anyone specific. It is also in the same vein of references to God using lightning and thunder to inspire dread or awe. For example, after the Israelites arrive at Mt Sinai after having been emancipated from slavery in Egypt, God enshrouds himself on the summit of the mountain in a cloud of darkness accompanied by thunder and lightning in order to prevent the people from encroaching upon holy ground.

Nonetheless the psalm here could relatively easily be read as a group of individuals being blasted with lightning, and that this is what scatters them. Is the lightning the same thing as the destroying arrows in v. 6? The Contemporary English Bible apparently thinks so, translating the line as:

Use your lightning as arrows to scatter my enemies and make them run away.

To me, though, it is likelier that it simply means people freaking out and dispersing after a scary electrical event in the sky. It appears to be of a piece with the descriptions of YHWH as a celestial warrior riding, or enthroned upon, the storm and its clouds (see 2 Samuel 22.15, Psalm 144.6, Wisdom 5.22 & Zechariah 9.14 [& cf. Revelation 4.5]).

2 ⚡︎⚡︎

According to the English Standard Version of Isaiah 30.33-34:

the LORD will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen,
In furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with a cloudburst and storm and hailstones.
The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the LORD, when he strikes with his rod.

That is based primarily on the Hebrew text of this passage. The Ancient Greek translation thereof, from what is commonly called the Septuagint (or LXX) seems to suggest that God will strike the Assyrians with lightning, via the use of a keraunós. Here is a translation rendered from the Greek:

[T]he Lord will cause the glory of his voice to be heard and the wrath of his arm he will display with rage and fury.
And, as a devouring flame, keraunósei {he shall strike with a thunderbolt} violently, even as water and hail being carried together by force.
For, by the voice of the Lord, the Assyrians shall be vanquished, even by the calamity in which he should strike them.

Even in the Septuagint, however, this looks as though, like with Psalm 144, it could simply refer to Israel's enemies being frightened by the weather, at God's behest.

3 ⚡︎⚡︎⚡︎

In Psalm 78.46-51 we're getting a little warmer, wherein there are animate objects which do get zapped by a fire-like substance, but these are not human beings. Referring to the plagues visited upon Egypt before the Israelite emancipation, it says that God

also gave their crops to the caterpillar,
And their labour to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail,
And their sycamore trees with frost.
He also gave up their cattle to the hail,
And their flocks to fiery lightning.

He cast on them the fierceness of his anger,
Wrath, indignation, and trouble,
By sending messengers of destruction.
He made a path for his anger;
He did not spare their soul from death,
But gave their beasts over to the plague,
And destroyed all the firstborn in Egypt,
The first of their strength in the tents of Kham.

The New English Translation makes v. 48 here much more explicit with:

He rained hail down on their cattle, and hurled lightning bolts down on their livestock.

Similarly the Good News Bible has: "He killed their cattle with hail and their flocks with lightning." The expression yasgêr, referring to what he did with the cattle, is more passive than that, meaning that he surrendered these animals to the mercy of the storm's elements. So the New Living Translation is more like it, with: "He abandoned their cattle to the hail, their livestock to bolts of lightning" (emphasis mine).

Variations of the same expression are observable in how the crops are yittên, "handed over," to the caterpillar and the locust in v. 46, and lives or beasts are hisgîr, "given up," to the pestilence in v. 50. Going with the passage's context, it is rendered as more of a behind-the-scenes look at how God is the ultimate power within the forces of nature, whether via extreme weather or massively destructive pests.

Nonetheless, as we have seen, at least one English Bible translation envisions the scene vividly enough to literally have God hurling down "lightning bolts" upon the Egyptian livestock. That verse is alluding to the seventh of the ten plagues upon Egypt: the plague of hail; and specifically in Exodus 9.23-24:

Then Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, and YHWH sent thunder and hail, and fire ran along the ground. And YHWH rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very grievous, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.

About half of English Bibles translate the word אֵ֖שׁ, ’eish, as "lightning," such as in the International Standard Version, "and lightning struck the earth". But the other half go with the word's literal meaning, "fire" (πῦρ, pýr, in the LXX), as in the New American Standard Bible: "and fire ran down to the earth." The author of Psalm 78 does indeed seem to think that the "fire" of this plague is lightning.

"The Seventh Plague," by John Martin (1823)


The Cities of the Plain

In the ancient writings commonly known as the Old Testament, there are at least three stories which interpretations especially favour as lightning-strikes where the text is describing fire descending violently from the sky.

It is only in the first of these stories that God is explicitly mentioned as the direct cause of the devastation: the incineration of the ‘ārey hak-kik'kār, the "cities of the plain" (or "cities of the valley," depending on your translation), in Genesis 19. The most famous of these cities are Sodom and Gomorrah (Admah and Zeboiim being listed together with them in Deuteronomy 29.25). According to Genesis 19.24-25,

YHWH rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from YHWH out of the heavens. So he overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

Writing about the means of this region's devastation, the Jewish Roman writer Josephus (1st century AD) uses the Greek word for "thunderbolt." According to William Whitson's translation of The Wars of the Jews 4.8 (with my own translation note):

It is related how, for the impiety of its inhabitants, it was burnt by lightning [keraunoïs kataphlêgonai]. In consequence of which there are still the remainders of that Divine fire, and the traces [or shadows] of the five cities are still to be seen: as well as the ashes growing in their fruits.

In the Qur’an's account of the story, God himself narrates the story, saying (in Ahmed Ali's translation of 11.82) that he "turned the habitations upside down, and rained upon them stones of hardened lava in quick succession". The word sijjīlin, which Ali translates here as "hardened lava" is rendered in most other English translations as "baked clay".

Pillar of Salt

In 2018 there was a lot of buzz about a story which Evan Gough of Universe Today reported as: "A meteor may have exploded in the air 3,700 years ago, obliterating communities near the Dead Sea" (December 5th). Writing for Forbes, Eric Mack's title was: "New Science Suggests Biblical City of Sodom was Smote [sic] by an Exploding Meteor" (December 4th). Other publications like The Times of Israel, ScienceNews.org, and Newsweek also ran the story, which is about how this information was presented at a science conference by an archaeologist named Phillip J. Silvia, of Trinity Southwest University, who had at that point been excavating in the Dead Sea region for the preceding 13 years.

Written a century and a half before this reportage, William Smith's Bible Dictionary article "Sodom" says:

We may suppose... that the actual agent in the ignition and destruction of the cities had been of the nature of a tremendous thunder-storm accompanied by a discharge of meteoric stones, (and that these set on fire the bitumen with which the soil was saturated, and which was used in building the city...).

Job's Workmen (and Flocks)

The Book of Job makes for an interesting challenge to this Question when considering the diverging Jewish and Christian interpretations thereof, particularly when it comes to the character of Satan.

From a more Christian perspective, whether there is or is not lightning in Job 1 might be a moot point for your Question, since it is the archfiend enemy of God rather than God himself who is employing the use of this celestial electricity.

From a more Jewish perspective, Satan, a member of the divine king's court, is merely performing his official function as God's royal court prosecutor. Zealous for God's honour such as he is, he wishes to ensure than Job doesn't revere God merely on account of all the wealth, in family and possessions, with which he has been showered.

God gives Satan the go-ahead to perform this test on his devotee, and, all in one day, Satan wipes out almost all of Job's family while Job also loses almost all his property, livestock and servants. The relevant loss for the question at hand is in Job 1.16, wherein a messenger rushes to report to Job that:

"Fire of God has fallen from the sky, and burned up the flock, and devoured the (shepherd-)lads likewise, and I having escaped alone have come to tell you."

I looked this verse up in a few different languages and they all uniformly translate אֵשׁ אֱלֹהִים, ’eish ’ĕlōhîm, using its literal meaning: "(the) fire of God" (or, as it were, "moto wa Mungu"; "fuego de Dios"; "[le] feu de Dieu"; "[das] Feuer Gottes", etc.).

The very few glaring exceptions were all in English, with the HCSB and the International Standard Version each having "A lightning storm", the Good News Bible saying simply "Lightning", and Eugene Peterson's The Message going so far as "Bolts of lightning".

This inclination is followed by a couple of commentators. In Charles Ellicott's 1897 An Old Testament Commentary for English Readers he claims that "it can hardly mean anything else than lightning". Agreeing that this is "undoubtedly" what the fire is, the Pulpit Commentary urges comparison with Numbers 11.1-3, wherein אֵשׁ יְהוָה, ’eish yhwh, the "fire of YHWH," is mentioned:

Now when the people complained, it displeased YHWH; for YHWH heard it, and his anger was aroused. So the fire of YHWH burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to YHWH, the fire was quenched. So he called the name of the place Taberah, because the fire of YHWH had burned among them.

Ellicott links Job 1.16 to the devastation in Genesis 19 and both he and the Pulpit Commentary connect the same Job verse with the story "Ahaziah's Soldiers" (as below in the next section).

Whether Satan is God's obedient agent in the Book of Job, or he's just rebelling as far as he can within the bounds of God's permission, and whether he kills Job's herds and men using lightning or something other, God himself is not portrayed as directly inflicting the harm.

Satan's choice of words in Job 1.11, shortly before he attacks, is potentially interesting, though, as he seems to interpret what happens next as God stretching forth his own hand to "touch all that he [Job] has". And indeed, lo, and behold, in the next scene it is God's own fire in use.

Ahaziah's Soldiers

According to 2 Kings 1, King Ahaziah of Israel once sent a band of fifty of his men, together with their captain, to apprehend the prophet Elijah, who was sitting atop a hill. When the captain ordered him to descend, the prophet summoned fire from the sky to consume the captain and all fifty of his men, whereupon "fire of God" fell upon these soldiers, killing them all.

A second captain with his fifty men was sent and they fared just as badly. A third captain with his fifty soldiers then went out to Elijah and begged the prophet to spare their lives. An angel then instructed Elijah to go along with the soldiers to meet with the king.

As mentioned in the previous section, Charles Ellicott believes that the "fire of God" is lightning. Incidentally, every Bible I've come across is content to translate every reference to ’eish in this story as simply "fire." Ironically for me, the description here makes for much easier pickings in terms of references to fire falling from the sky which could plausibly and easily be seen as lightning.



Most of the Biblical texts collectively known as the New Testament are attributed to the Apostle Paul, who, prior to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, was a persecutor of Jesus' disciples. In the Acts of the Apostles 9, he is on a mission to arrest "any who were [followers] of the Way" and when "he came near Damascus... suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground" (vv. 3-4) and a few days later his sight was restored and he himself eventually became one of the most prominent apostles of Christ.

According to TVTropes.org, "Some modern Biblical scholars believe that what Paul experienced on the Road to Damascus (which sparked his conversion to Christianity) was a lightning strike." J.D. Bullock of the Wright State University School of Medicine's Department of Ophthalmology, Dayton, OH, in the 1994 article "Was Saint Paul struck blind and converted by lightning?", says: "Numerous theories have been proposed to account for this event which has been the subject of interest of theologians, philosophers, artists, and physicians. A lightning strike could explain all of the features of this episode."

According to Paul's later recollection of the event in Acts 26.12-14, the light was brighter than the midday sun, and after he and his companions had seen it, they all fell to the ground. He is the only one who appears to have been blinded, though, which seems bizarrely selective of a flash of lightning, and which I personally doubt is what is intended in this story.


As it happens, however, there is a story in the Acts of Philip, one of the numerous apocryphal books of the Acts of the Apostles, in which an enemy of the apostles is explicitly blinded by lightning. The lightning-strike is, however, not upon any humans. As is typical even in the canonical scriptures, the event is not explicitly attributed to God, although the inference of his being responsible for it is fairly obvious.

According to the summary of the Acts of Philip (by the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature [NASSCAL]), Jesus, after his resurrection and ascension to heaven, once sent Philip "to Opheorymos where the people worship the Viper, the mother of the serpents." These were Ophites, a snake-worshipping Christian sect often defined as Gnostic, and in the story Philip is being sent to refute them.

While in Opheorymos, in Ch. 9, "the group are confronted by a dragon attended by serpents. Philip tells his companions to [sprinkle] their cups with water and sprinkle the air with the sign of the cross. The dragon and all the serpents are blinded, they dry up, and their eggs are destroyed."

The chapter's last line says that after the sign of the cross was made,

there was as a flash of lightning which blinded the dragon and its brood; and they were withered up; and the rays of the sun entered the holes and broke the eggs. But the apostles closed their eyes, unable to face the lightning, and remained unhurt.

Earlier in the same book there is a scene quite reminiscent of Paul's misadventure on his way to Damascus, with a hint of Elijah's encounter with Ahaziah's men. According to the NASSCAL summary, in Ch. 2, while Philip is in Athens, the Jewish high priest Ananias

comes to Athens with 500 strong men to capture Philip and bring him back to Jerusalem where their king Archelaus could kill him. The high priest tries to strike Philip but his hand withers and he is blinded. The 500 men also are blinded. At Philip’s prayer, Jesus reveals himself and the idols and demons in Athens flee. Philip heals Ananias but he refuses to believe, so the ground swallows him up to his neck. The 500 men, however, repent and their sight is restored. Ananias remains stubborn and sinks into the abyss.

The blinding that occurs here is connected with lightning, as the text itself says that:

Jesus appeared coming down in most excellent glory, and in lightning; and His face was shining sevenfold more than the sun, and His garments were whiter than snow, so that also all the idols of Athens fell suddenly to the ground.

If this is inspired by Jesus' appearance to Paul on the Damascus Road, perhaps the Acts of Philip represents an early understanding of the light in Paul's encounter as lightning.

In another apocryphal Acts book, it is a demon who threatens a lightning-strike, and maybe this could be based on Satan's devastation of Job's household. In The Acts and Marytrdom of St Matthew the Apostle, the demon Asmodaeus (addressed in the same text as "Asmodaeus Beelzebul Satan") is forced by an angel to say to King Fulvanus of Myrna, “the city of the man-eaters,” that if he seeks to persecute Matthew,

“we shall go, even seven unclean demons, and immediately make away with thee and thy whole camp, and destroy all the city with lightning, except those naming that awful and holy name of Christ; for wherever a footstep of theirs has come, thence, pursued, we flee.”

Acording to TVTropes.org, "more than one persecutor of Christian saints and martyrs was" struck by lightning. "The most famous example is Saint Barbara's father, Dioscorus; he had his own daughter tortured and executed for converting to Christianity despite him locking her away from the world, then he was killed by a lightning bolt later that day."

Unlike Dioscorus, who is supposed to have lived about 200 years after the time of the apostles, the sufferers of lightning-strikes in the New Testament, whether canonical (if we count Paul as one) or apocryphal, merely experience the effect of its light rather than being incinerated by its heat.

If blinding by lightning doesn't count as getting "smitten," then we perhaps have zero instances in any of the New Testament (inside or outside the canon) of a yes to your Question.


In the same way that the cities of the plain are frequently used in the Bible as one of the ultimate cautionary tales of entire peoples who disobeyed God and were wiped out for it, so it is in the Qur’an with ʿĀd and Thamūd, whose names are variously interpreted as belonging to cities or tribes or a combination of such.

صَاعِقَةِ, ṣaʿiqah, "thunderbolt," the singular form of ṣawaʿiq, is used in Surah 41. Muhammad Muhsin Khan's translation merely transliterates this word in v. 17, providing an expansion of definitions for it:

And as for Thamud, We showed and made clear to them the Path of Truth (Islamic Monotheism) through Our Messenger, (i.e. showed them the way of success), but they preferred blindness to guidance, so the Saʿiqah (a destructive awful cry, torment, hit, a thunderbolt) of disgracing torment seized them, because of what they used to earn.

Madain Saleh, by Sammy Six Madain Saleh photo by Sammy Six (January 15, 2012)

In the Sahih International version of 51.44:

But they were insolent toward the command of their Lord,
So the thunderbolt seized them while they were looking on.

Ahmed Ali's rendition of the same reads:

But they disobeyed the command of their Lord;
so they were destroyed by a thunderbolt,
and they could only gape.

For both example verses, however, there are translators who, seeming to take the cue from Khan, evidently do not understand the "thunderbolt(s)" as literal, preferring instead to read it/them as things like "disgrace", "stunning Punishment", "rumbling", or, going by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, "the stunning noise (of an earthquake)".

An earthquake is indeed said to have destroyed Thamūd in 7.78. Other elements are mentioned as the means by which these peoples and/or places were swept away. In Surah 69, ʿĀd is destroyed by a "furious cold blast of wind" which blows for seven nights & eight days. It also “turned everything it touched to ashes” (51.41-42) and "snatched away men as though they were palm trees pulled out by the roots" (54.19-20).

Some kind of overpowering blast is said to have destroyed Thamūd in 69.5, which Ahmed Ali calls "a storm of thunder and lightning". In all these references, it is stated a passive event that these extreme weather phenomena obliterated the people/places rather than it necessarily being the intended action of a particular agent.

Contextually, however, it has to mean that it was God who did it, but it also doesn't sound much different from saying that God controls the weather in general (see 2.19-20, 13.12 & 30.24) or causes babies to grow in their mothers' wombs and such. The one doubtlessly clear mention of the sort of thing your Question asks is noted in the first section above (q.v.).


For this answer to work you will need the entire story of Job and his struggles, which is why I have included all of Job 1. I like it because it is the first poetic book in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.

Basically God and Satan had a bet, as told in the story this man got everything in life he needed/wanted. God was bragging about his servant Job to Satan. Satan told God that if Job where to be unhappy and have everything taken away from him he would lose faith in God.

To prove a point God told Satan to take everything away from Job but Satan was not allowed to hurt Job. In the end of the story Satan is proven wrong as Job still retains his faith in God and said: The lord has given, and the lord has taken.

However although by proxy God is indirectly responsible for the deaths of shepherds and their flock for proving a point to Satan.

While this messenger was still speaking, another came and announced, “A lightning storm struck and incinerated the flock and the servants while they were eating. I alone escaped to tell you!” Job 1:16

Job’s Faithfulness

There once was a man in the land of Uz named Job. The man was blameless as well as upright. He feared God and kept away from evil.

Seven sons and three daughters had been born to him.

His livestock included 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and many servants. Indeed, the man’s stature greatly exceeded that of many people who lived in the East.

His sons used to travel to each other’s houses in turn on a regular schedule and hold festivals, inviting their three sisters to celebrate with them.

When their time of feasting had concluded, Job would rise early in the morning to send for them and consecrate them to God. He would offer a burnt offering for each one, because Job thought, “Perhaps my children sinned by cursing God in their hearts.” Job did this time and again. Job 1

Satan’s First Attack on Job

One day, divine beings presented themselves to the LORD, and Satan accompanied them.

The LORD asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” In response, Satan answered the LORD, “From wandering all over the earth and walking back and forth throughout it.”

Then the LORD asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on earth. The man is blameless as well as upright. He fears God and keeps away from evil.”

But in response, Satan asked the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing?

Haven’t you surrounded him with a fence on all sides, around his house, and around all that he owns? You have blessed everything he puts his hands on and you have increased his livestock in the land.

However, stretch out your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will curse you to your face.”

Then the LORD told Satan, “Very well then, everything he owns is under your control, only you may not extend your hand against him.” So Satan left the LORD’s presence.

Some time later, when his children were celebrating in their oldest brother’s house, a messenger approached Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the female donkeys were grazing nearby when the Sabeans attacked, captured the servants, and killed them with swords. I alone escaped to tell you!”

While this messenger was still speaking, another came and announced, “A lightning storm struck and incinerated the flock and the servants while they were eating. I alone escaped to tell you!”

While this messenger was still speaking, another came and announced, “The Chaldeans formed three companies, raided the camels, captured the servants, and killed them with swords. Only I alone escaped to tell you.”

While this messenger was still speaking, another came and announced, “Your children were celebrating in their oldest brother’s house. when a strong wind came straight out of the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on the young people, and they died. I alone escaped to tell you!” International Standard Version Job 1

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