The Bible is filled with miracles, from dramatic events involving thousands to interventions for individuals. What can we learn from the miracles of God?
The rising sun was a welcome sight to the Israelites as they reached the eastern shore of the Red Sea. They had spent an uneasy night crossing the dry seabed, walls of water on both sides, as the most powerful army in the known world pursued them.
Once all of the people of Israel had reached the eastern shore, the wind stopped and the enormous walls of water collapsed on the Egyptian army, tossing soldiers and horses and chariots around until all disappeared under the turbulent waves (Exodus 14:27-28).
It was a momentous event in the history of Israel. This was one of the miracles of God repeatedly acclaimed throughout the Bible. But there were more—many more!
Counting the miracles of God
Determining the exact number of miracles found in Scripture is a challenge, requiring us to consider what constitutes a miracle of God. Were the 10 plagues (Exodus 7:14–12:30) one miracle or 10? Was the creation of the physical universe (Genesis 1-2) one miracle or countless miracles?
Due to such difficulties, estimates regarding the number of miracles vary considerably. Some count 111, 120, 164 or more miracles of God in the Bible. Clearly, the pages of Scripture are filled with these accounts.
This article will examine some of the most significant Old Testament miracles. (See “Miracles of Jesus” to read about miracles in the Gospels.)
What can we learn about God through them?
1. God is sovereign
The parting of the Red Sea may well be the most often mentioned miracle of the Old Testament. Not only does this dramatic miracle take up an entire chapter in Exodus (chapter 14), but most of the following chapter is a song celebrating the victory of God (chapter 15).
On top of that, biblical writers refer to this astounding miracle over and over again. Many of the psalms recount the dramatic story of Israel crossing the Red Sea. Psalm 66, for example, exhorts people to “come and see the works of God” before describing both the parting of the Red Sea and the parting of the Jordan River 40 years later (verses 5-6). Psalm 106 specifies that God’s purpose for the former miracle was to “make His mighty power known” (verse 8).
The prophet Isaiah twice wrote about God displaying His awesome power through this miracle, each time using the imagery of God’s arm to represent His power.
In the first instance, Isaiah cried out to God to “put on strength, O arm of the LORD!” before asking, “Are You not the One who dried up the sea?” (Isaiah 51:9-10). In the second, Isaiah described God “with His glorious arm, dividing the water before” Israel (Isaiah 63:12).
God’s victory over evil
More than that, however, the prophet Isaiah portrayed this miracle in terms of God’s defeat of evil. Isaiah also asked, “Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart?” (Isaiah 51:9). Rahab here is not the heroine of the book of Joshua, but the name of a mythical sea monster, representing both Satan and Egypt.
Clearly, this miracle depicts God’s sovereign power. His power was more than enough to destroy the Egyptian army, the greatest in the ancient world, and it is more than enough to defeat the demonic forces of evil (Rahab).
God’s miracles demonstrate His power and sovereignty. They also point to the identity of the true God.
This second purpose is dramatically illustrated in an astounding miracle of God performed at the request of His prophet Elijah.
2. God is the true God
Elijah served God under difficult circumstances. He prophesied during the reign of evil King Ahab and his foreign-born queen, the wicked and vicious Jezebel. Under their rule, Baal worship had permeated every corner of the kingdom, and Jezebel persecuted the true servants of God (1 Kings 18:4).
This struggle between the faithful and the idolaters culminated in a confrontation between the lone Elijah and 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (verses 20-22). As the people of Israel watched, Elijah challenged the idolatrous prophets to a contest. Each side would prepare an offering by placing a bull on a stack of wood.
Rather than lighting the fires themselves, the Baal worshippers were to call on their god to ignite the offering, while Elijah would call on the true God of Israel (verse 24). Elijah allowed the false prophets to call on their god first. They spent the entire morning pleading with Baal, but there was no response (verses 25-26).
Elijah mocked them, suggesting that Baal was sleeping or traveling. The idolaters worked harder to elicit the sympathy of Baal, cutting themselves and crying out to him all afternoon, but again, they did so to no avail (verses 27-29).
Fire from heaven
Finally, Elijah took his turn. The onlookers were undoubtedly shocked when Elijah first soaked the wood and the offering with water. He did this three times, and he also filled a surrounding trench with water, presumably making the offering impossible to light on fire.
Only then did he petition the true God with a short, two-sentence prayer. In that prayer, he asked God to respond so “that this people may know that You are the LORD God” (verse 37).
At that moment, fire from heaven consumed not only the soaking wet wood and bull carcass, but the stones Elijah had set up, as well as some of the dust and all of the water in the trenches. This astonishing miracle of God left no doubt as to His identity!
It’s important to remember, though, that even false prophets, with demonic assistance, can perform what seem like miracles. Isaiah warned God’s faithful to compare a prophet’s teachings “to the law and to the testimony” to determine the credibility of such an individual (Isaiah 8:19-20; see also Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
3. God is holy
Years before the tribes of Israel entered the Promised Land, two of the four sons of Aaron died when “fire went out from the LORD and devoured them” (Leviticus 10:1-2). This miracle was a shock to the chosen people, and particularly to Aaron.
When we read about the miracles of God in Scripture, we should do more than marvel. We should also think about the power behind them and how these miracles of God define His character.The priests had just begun to serve. Shortly before the death of Aaron’s two sons, God had displayed His glory to the people, sending out a fire that “consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar” (Leviticus 9:24). The whole nation had witnessed that great miracle.
Why did the same sort of fire demonstrate God’s pleasure one moment, but displeasure shortly afterward? The account tells us that Nadab and Abihu “offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1).
They had failed to follow God’s explicit instructions. They had not treated God with the deference and respect due Him. Moses explained this to his grieving brother Aaron, saying that God must be regarded as holy (verse 3), and this is particularly true for anyone near Him or serving in a priestly role.
Steadying the ark
Another similar miracle of God occurred in the time of David. He had sent 30,000 men of Israel to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant from Kirjath Jearim (2 Samuel 6:1-2). The jubilant mood of the people changed to shock and confusion when Uzzah was killed. He had tried to steady the ark after the oxen pulling the cart stumbled (verses 5-7).
Like Nadab and Abihu, Uzzah was guilty of failing to treat the holy God with proper deference and respect. David’s men, including the Levites, had not followed the scriptural instructions for handling the holy things of the tabernacle.
The Ark of the Covenant never should have been on an ox cart. It was fitted with poles so that it could be carried by men (Exodus 25:10-16). But not just any men—only Levites of the Kohath family were to handle this special task (Numbers 4:4-6, 15).
4. God provides for His people
One of the most significant and memorable miracles of God lasted 40 years. It began as Israel entered the forbidding and barren desert wilderness on the heels of the Red Sea crossing. In this parched landscape the people grew hungry, and so they complained to Moses (Exodus 16:2-3).
God then promised to “rain bread from heaven” (verse 4). Not knowing what to call this mysterious substance that tasted “like wafers made with honey” (verse 31), the Israelites asked each other, “What is it?” (verse 15). They then called this heaven-sent bread “manna,” which means “What?” (verse 31).
Each week this bread appeared every morning for six days, but it did not appear on the Sabbath. Instead, a double portion appeared on the sixth day of the week (verses 4-5, 22-26). Manna rained down in this fashion for 40 years, not ceasing until Israel had crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land and had eaten produce from this land flowing with milk and honey (Joshua 5:12).
Our daily bread
God was providing for His people, but at the same time, He was teaching the nation. One obvious lesson from Exodus 16 is that God expects His people to observe the seventh-day Sabbath. However, that is not the only lesson associated with this prolonged miracle.
We can also learn from the nature of this miracle of God. He provided manna six days a week for 40 years, supplying His people with precisely what they needed when they needed it, but no more. Some Israelites gathered more than others, but “he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack” (verse 18).
Throughout these decades, the people of Israel didn’t go hungry. At the same time, no one could hoard a supply of manna in anticipation of future lean times.
Planning for the future and wisely conserving our resources are not wrong. In this instance, however, God was teaching His people that He was the source of all they needed. And so, some 1,500 years later, Jesus told us to pray for “our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) and called Himself “the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32).
5. God protects and delivers His people
Since the time when Cain rose up to kill his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8), this world has been a dangerous place, and particularly for the people of God. Fortunately, many of God’s miracles showcase His desire to protect and deliver the people who faithfully serve Him.
One spectacular case involved the aggressive Assyrian army, which began to threaten the kingdom of Judah not long after taking the kingdom of Israel into captivity. The people of Israel had long before abandoned the true God, choosing to put their trust in pagan gods. This was not true for the kingdom of Judah under the leadership of the faithful Hezekiah.
An emissary from the Assyrian king, speaking so the common people could understand him, sought to discourage all who heard him. After listing all the pagan gods of the lands that Assyria had already conquered, he asked, “Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (2 Kings 18:35).
Reaching out to God
Upon hearing of this exchange, Hezekiah went straight to the temple to pray for God’s protection and deliverance (2 Kings 19:1). He also sent messengers to the prophet Isaiah, asking for his prayers as well (verses 2-4). This is the response of a godly man.
After another exchange with the Assyrian emissary, and a prophecy from Isaiah, Hezekiah and the people of Judah saw the stunning result of God’s intervention on their behalf. In one night, 185,000 Assyrian soldiers died (verses 35-36).
We don’t know for sure how many men Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, had left to accompany him on his journey back home, but we do know that God had broken his power.
Many of the miracles of God tell us more than one truth.
In one sense, they all show His sovereign power, and they all identify Him as the true God, for only the true God can perform the wonders He has accomplished. Many of these miracles also point to the fact that God is holy, that He provides for His children, and that He protects them.
God uses miracles for many other reasons, from fulfilling prophecies to building the faith of His children, and from setting apart a special people to rendering judgment on others. When we read about the miracles of God in Scripture, we should do more than marvel. We should also think about the power behind them and how these miracles of God define His character.