Somethings can be counted on. You can count on Pat Robertson to speak out when he should keep quiet. You can count on the Anti-Defamation League to call his remarks “un-Christian and a pervsersion of religion.” You can also count on Americans United for Separation of Church and State to take Robertson to task and accuse him of having a political agenda. And you can count on the media to faithfully report the potshots taken by all sides.

For a Christian, the obvious question is: Is Robertson right? Is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s brain hemorrage a divine punishment for carving up the Promised Land? Those who are not Christians don’t need to bother about this point.

It’s not always easy to answer questions about God’s purposes and designs. For one thing, he doesn’t consider himself accountable to anyone else, so he has a disconcerting habit of not explaining himself. Biblical examples of God taking out a political leader come to mind. When Herod let people proclaim him a god (Acts 12:20-23), the Bible says, “Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Moreover, there is Robertson’s passage in Joel 3 to consider, where God makes it clear that he is bringing judgment for “dividing the land.”

Herod’s sin was pride, usurping God’s glory, the oldest and most grievous sin. He was not stricken because he traded land for peace. Robertson called Sharon a “very tender-hearted man.” I doubt anyone would have so described Herod. In fact, it doesn’t look like there are any significant parallels between the account of Herod and what we know of Ariel Sharon. So although God might bring judgment on a political leader—and there are no doubt occasions when we wish he would—it doesn’t look like he has done so in this case.

But what about Robertson’s quote from Joel? The relevant passage is Joel 3, which is clearly set in an apocalyptic time of judgment. Those being judged are not the leaders of Israel but the foreign nations who have raided her and carried off her people into exile. “They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine that they might drink.” It doesn’t say that they provided land for a nation of outcasts and gave homes to the homeless. Robertson has pulled a mere phrase out of context and used it declare God’s judgment on Ariel Sharon. I would say to him, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7).