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Part IV: The Omnipotence of God in
the Affairs of Men
The Omnipotence of God in the History of Israel
IF WE EXCLUDE
prophetic statements which are yet unfulfilled, the history of
Israel begins with and ends with very clear evidences of the
omnipotence of God. The choice of Jacob as opposed to Esau is
revealed in Romans (9:11-13) to have been based entirely upon
the will of God and not upon the worthiness or otherwise of the
individuals concerned. The history of Israel ends (with the above
proviso) with the rejection of their King, an act whereby they
committed national suicide, a state of "death" in which
they will remain as a nation until that future time arrives when
they shall be "born in a day" (Psalm 22:31; Isaiah
66:8). This suicidal act is stated in no uncertain terms to have
been according to the specific and deliberate will of God (Acts
1 of 10
Between these two events there
intervened some fifteen hundred years of history, of which about
one thousand years is outlined in some detail in Scripture. This
outline is for the most part a sorry tale, a record of great
resolution, great deliverances, repeated failure, and increasingly
catastrophic judgment. On the face of it, this history refers
back to a nation, but in experience it applies now to each one
of us personally -- the essential difference being that we are
helped daily by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, whereas
they were not. It is the experience of every child of God that
his life is as luminously full of divine interferences as Israel's
was. A study of the history of God's Chosen People has a direct
bearing upon the ways in which God deals with us. Such a study
reveals the surprising fact that God predetermined, not only
their triumphs, but many of their most critical failures.
When the time of their divinely
promised deliverance came, the only man who could sign the warrant
of release was persuaded not to do so, and God said, "It
was I who strengthened his vacillating will." When they
should have been united, they were divided, and
God said, "This
thing is of Me." When they should have possessed their possessions,
they were prevented from doing so, and God said, "This is
My will." When great leaders were sent to restore their
independence such men sometimes failed them miserably, and God
said, "I brought this about."
It seems strange that God should
encourage and discourage at the same time. Yet this is what Scripture
reveals, and the best way to learn to understand it is not to
deny it, but to study more carefully what Scripture says, for
the fact is undeniable. Indeed Isaiah may have had this in mind
when he refers to "His strange work" (Isaiah 28:21)
Let us examine briefly those points
in Israel's history which reflect this circumstance. As already
stated, the history of Israel begins with the election of Jacob
and the rejection of Esau. The Word of God says, "Jacob
have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Romans 9:13). This
is revealed to be a decision made by the Lord before either of
the two children was born. The decision was in fact a reversal
of the normal procedure, because Esau was technically the firstborn
(Genesis 25:25) but this circumstance was set aside through an
action on the part of Jacob that was utterly despicable, wherein
he tricked his aging father into giving him an irrevocable blessing
and thus became legally the firstborn (Genesis 27). It seems
strange indeed that the purposes of God should finally be fulfilled
by such a wicked device; yet as we shall see, the same pattern
of events appeared again at the end in the Crucifixion.
In the course of time, Jacob raised
a large family including twelve famous sons. When the ten oldest
of these sons grew up, they revealed something of their father's
disposition, showing little hesitation in taking advantage of
a situation even at the expense of a brother. An opportunity
presented itself for selling Joseph, whose essential goodness
was unfortunately not enhanced by any very great sense of modesty.
His high opinion of his own destiny challenged his brothers to
make sure that he would be quite wrong; to make certain that
he would never become master of them as he boasted he would (Genesis
37:2ff.), they sold him as a slave to some Midianites who were
on their way to Egypt (Genesis 37:27,28).
The rest of the story is
familiar enough, but what we may have overlooked is the fact
that all the essential attendant circumstances were divinely
inspired. In due course, famine brought Joseph's brothers into
Egypt, where he was now Prime Minister. After a series of incidents
which deeply stirred their consciences, Joseph revealed
himself to his brethren
and then made this observation when he saw their concern (Genesis
Now therefore be not grieved,
nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither, for God did
send me before you to preserve life. . . . And God sent me before
you to preserve you a posterity in the earth. . . . So now it
was not you that sent me hither, but God.
how specific Joseph is, reiterating three times very distinctly
that God had sent him. It is perfectly true that this was their
doing really, for they willed to do it; yet the deed exactly
fulfilled the purposes of God who thereby brought good out of
evil. Later on, Joseph made this clear when he said (Genesis
50:20), "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but
God meant it unto good . . . to save much people."
How often does that one little
phrase "but God" change the perplexing circumstances
of His children! Joseph has often been looked upon as the most
perfect type of the Lord, and it is significant therefore that
the Lord also was sacrificed -- a far, far greater evil -- which
nevertheless God meant "unto good . . . to save much people."
Nor is this all that Scripture
tells us about this event, for the famine itself was no accident.
Psalm 105:16,17 reveals that God not only foresaw but sent the
famine: "Moreover, He called for a famine upon the whole
land: He brake the whole staff of bread." There is something
very deliberate about this passage; the reiteration of the word
whole suggests that God left nothing to chance: there
simply was nowhere else to go for food.
Joseph passed on, but the Israelites
multiplied greatly in their new temporary home. Yet it was not
God's plan that they should remain there, and so as Psalm 105:25
points out, God raised up quite deliberately a spirit of anti-Semitism
in the land. It seems such a devilish form of nationalism that
one would hesitate to imagine that God could ever be responsible
for it. Yet it is written, "He turned their heart
to hate His people, to deal subtly with His servants."
And so God raised up Moses as their
great deliverer. After a display of His power, God directed Moses
to speak to Pharaoh to let His people go. In view of all the
preparations clearly blessed of God, it must have been no surprise
to Moses to find that Pharaoh was sufficiently impressed by the
judgments falling on the land to be only too willing to be rid
of these unpopular people. But what must have been his surprise
when again and again Pharaoh changed his mind, refused to let
them go, and added to their burdens!
Here is a strange paradox. This
Pharaoh was not a strong man,
but God did not intend
to take Israel out easily. In order to show His power, He strengthened
Pharaoh to resist His own will. This was the reason why Pharaoh
vacillated (Exodus 9:16). In the New Testament (Romans 9:17),
the reference back to this event makes it very clear that God
was behind Pharaoh's resistance -- not Pharaoh. In fact,
the Greek word translated "raised thee up" is more
specific and means "energized."
Although this Pharaoh received
his appointment to his high office according to God's plan, Romans
9:17 does not, I think, have reference to this aspect of the
situation, but rather to the circumstance of Pharaoh's repeated
change of mind. Pharaoh was quite unaware of this, presumably.
He merely found in the morning that a renewed confidence in his
own power had come with a new day and, rejoicing in it, he made
the most of it -- until once more frightened by the consequences.
One might say, "Did God have any right to punish him?"
The answer, I think, is that God did not punish his actions,
for he was not responsible for them, but He did punish his
motives. And so He brought Israel out with a great display
of power, after an experience which served in a very real way
to unite them and give them a sense of nationhood.
There followed the journey through
the wilderness, a wilderness wherein were fiery serpents and
scorpions and drought, a great and terrible wilderness indeed,
as experience was to prove. But why such tribulation, when after
all it was God who had brought them out? Deuteronomy 8:15,16
gives the answer: ". . . that He might humble thee, and
that He might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end."
Although it was their sinfulness that brought these evils upon
them, yet they came by God's design that He might do them good.
God is able to do good and evil at one and the same time (Isaiah
When Israel finally reached the
border of the Promised Land, one would have thought that He who
said, "I have brought thee out that I might bring thee in"
would have made the way clear for them to pass immediately over
Jordan into victory and rest. Instead we find their enemies strengthened
against them and their entry an occasion of great conflict. Even
the river they had to cross was in flood at the time (Joshua
3:15)! But Joshua 11:20 reveals why: "It was of the Lord
to harden their hearts [the hearts of these kings already in
the land], that they should come against Israel in battle, that
He might destroy them utterly." Is this fair? Is it justice
that they should have been encouraged to defy His purpose? We
must leave any attempt to answer this until the last chapter.
any rate, these kings found themselves strangely united and defiant
against what must have seemed to them a pretty large force, whose
reputation as warriors had gone before them.
But these kings were not there
merely to prove the faith of the Israelites. God had other purposes
also. While in Judges 2:20-23 it is revealed that some of these
kings were left unsubdued as a consequence of Israel's failure,
it is also clear that God had His own purposes in not giving
them total victory over their enemies: "I also will not
henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which
Joshua left when he died: that through them I may prove Israel.
. . ."
It is also revealed in Exodus 23:29,
however, that God had been concerned for Israel's welfare in
other ways. There was an unforeseen danger in any victory too
quickly achieved: "I will not drive them out from before
thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the
beasts of the field multiply against thee." This seems to
be reflected in many of God's dealings with us individually.
There are possessions which it is promised to us to possess in
His name, but we do not always have them when we feel we should
because of factors He foresees. Logically the children of Israel
might have questioned His goodness in not subduing all their
enemies for them when they had definitely been led to advance.
But understood in the light of subsequent history, these setbacks
turned out to be blessings.
Now when this people -- chosen
to glorify His name and to bear witness to the Oneness of the
Godhead in a world completely given up to the grossest forms
of polytheism -- finally did enter officially and victoriously
into the land wherein it was intended they should establish a
centre of pure worship, then we might surely have expected that
harmony among themselves would have been one of the most essential
things, and certainly according to the will of God.
But this is not what happened.
When a division occurred between the tribe of Benjamin and the
rest of their brethren, the people sought the Lord that He would
heal the breach somehow, and they were quite willing to do something
about it. As Judges 20:23 tells us, "The children of Israel
went up and wept before the LORD until even, and asked counsel of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up
again to battle against the children of Benjamin, my brother?
And the Lord said, Go up against him." Now these people
were humble, for they wept before the Lord: they were patient,
for evidently it was an all-day prayer meeting ("until even"):
their request was stated specifically, and they received a specific
answer in the affirmative. There was real oneness at this prayer
meeting because they said, "Shall I go up to
battle?" There was
also a genuine sense of concern for Benjamin, for they referred
to him as "my brother," unlike a certain New Testament
character who referred to his own brother as "this thy son"
So they went up against Benjamin
confident that having sought the leading of the Lord, nothing
could possibly go wrong. But it did -- they were thoroughly routed!
The Benjaminites were finally defeated,
of course, for as verse 35 points out, "The LORD smote Benjamin before Israel":
but only in His own good time. A breach at such a time must have
seemed like a most serious division within the church of God
at a critical period. Yet strange to say, this breach was of
God's making, not Israel's, for Judges 21:15 says, "The
people repented them for Benjamin, because that the Lord had
made a breach in the tribes of Israel." Whoever the
inspired scribe was who penned these words, he was not instructed
at the same time to say why. Evidently the Lord had a reason.
But by revelation He stated His responsibility. Of course, if
one does not believe that Scripture is to be taken seriously,
then one simply ignores this kind of problem. But half the delight
of studying the Word of God lies in finding answers to such problems
-- supplied in due time from some other part of Scripture.
Many are distressed over the disunity
in the ranks of evangelical Christianity. But very wisely His
Majesty King George VI in his 1946 Christmas broadcast remarked,
". . . Opinion striking against opinion provides the spark
which lights the lamp of truth." Though he was not referring
to the church specifically, his words are still applicable: it
may be a sign of vitality that we have these divisions, and it
is certainly a sign of genuine concern when we are willing to
refer to those who disagree with us as "my brother."
At any rate, under the Judges,
Israel struggled to achieve complete unity and nationhood. Some
periods were times of great advance, others of terrible retreat.
So much seems to have depended upon their leadership. One such
leader in particular seemed to promise much for the well-being
of the nation, if the circumstances of his birth were any indication.
This was Samson. Yet at that very point in his experience when
he might have provided the very leadership Israel so clearly
needed, he fell disastrously short of God's requirements of true
holiness. When Samson fell in love with a Philistine woman, he
was not merely proposing an alliance with an alien to the Covenant;
he was even contemplating an alliance with a member of one of
Israel's most persistent and powerful enemies.
Naturally Samson's parents, being
godly people, anxiously
sought to enlist the
Lord's help in preventing Samson's evil intentions from being
realized. Yet their good intentions were foredoomed: In Judges
14:4 it is revealed, "But his father and mother did not
know that it was of the LORD, that He sought an occasion against the Philistines."
The fact that Samson's actions turned out to be part of God's
will did not in the least lessen his punishment for what he did.
He was punished because he did not do it for the Lord's sake,
but entirely to please himself. Thus it turns out that a man
may be punished for doing the Lord's will.
We shall say more of this later. In the meantime, while Samson
suffered greatly for his choice, the evils which resulted turned
ultimately toward the fulfillment of God's own good purposes.
It was all part of God's plan.
Such insights into how the purposes
of God were fulfilled in the history of Israel are intended to
give us a better understanding of not only their history, but
also of the Lord's dealings with us, for these things are recorded
for our learning (Romans 15:4).
In due time, under Solomon nationhood
was achieved and a genuine measure of respect from the peoples
around. The Temple was built and the worship of the one true
God established in the midst of polytheism. This was Israel's
Golden Age. But it was short-lived. A new and much more serious
division -- evidently deep-seated -- between the northern and
southern sections of the kingdom came to a head, largely because
of lack of humility on the part of Rehoboam. In 2 Chronicles
10 the details of this man's folly are outlined. It seems possible
that the division between Israel and Judah might have been avoided,
or at least delayed, if the king had listened to the counsel
of the older and wiser men of the community. But he was too proud
and took their advice as a challenge to his authority. What is
chiefly important for our purposes is the statement of verse
15 which reads, "So the king hearkened not unto the people;
for the cause was of God, that the LORD might perform His word."
This seems a strange statement,
and as though God foresaw it, the circumstance is reaffirmed
in 2 Chronicles 11:3,4. Rehoboam was determined to re-establish
the unity which his father had achieved so gloriously and which
must have seemed so appropriate, for only in one place could
the Lord's testimony be maintained, and that was in Jerusalem.
The northern tribes must not be allowed to set up an independent
centre of worship. But God said, "Speak unto Rehoboam, the
son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all Israel in Judah and
Benjamin, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not go up nor fight against your brethren:
return every man to his house; for this thing is done of Me."
breach that resulted was never healed until both Judah and Israel
went into captivity. In exile the nation was once for all purged
of the slightest tendency toward polytheism or idolatry, and
in due time many of them returned to the Promised Land to wait
for their Messiah.
The Old Testament revelation was
now complete. A few centuries later the stage was set for the
coming of the Lord. Any number of coincident circumstances signalled
the appropriateness of the times. The philosophy of the Greek
world had proved the inadequacy of human intellect to give any
final answers; yet the Greek language itself had been sharpened
into a vehicle perfectly suited for a new revelation that was
to be written for all nations to read. In the Roman world, the
establishment of law and order had not preserved morality, thus
showing the inherent wickedness of man, wickedness which could
not be annulled merely by the restraints of a highly sophisticated
legal system. On the other hand, communications throughout the
Roman Empire prepared the way for the spread of the new, pending
There was an air of expectancy
in Israel. Surely God would at last speak to the nations through
the Chosen People, who longed for and expected the promised King
who would restore their independence and mission.
But the rejection of their
Messiah when He came was the equivalent of national suicide.
To those in Israel who were believers, it must have seemed for
a day or two as though two thousand years of history had suddenly
lost all meaning. Had God been forced to change His plans?
No, God had not changed His plans.
Although Peter could not possibly have foreseen the real significance
of his words, the Spirit of God directed him in his first exposition
to the children of Israel to make it quite clear that there had
been no mistakes and that God had not changed His mind. As Peter
said, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and
foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have
crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). Notice here that it was
by the predeterminate counsel, not merely the foreknowledge of
God; and notice also that in spite of this fact it was by "wicked"
hands that God's counsel was achieved. Peter attempted to make
this even clearer in Acts 4:27f., and he made the moral responsibility
more comprehensive and all-inclusive when he said:
For of a truth against Thy Holy
Child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius
Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered
together, for to do exactly what [so it means] Thy hand and Thy
counsel determined before to be done.
It is difficult to think how this could have been
any more explicitly stated. Even Peter's opening words,
"for of a truth," seem deliberately to underscore what
was to be revealed. So ended the first great era of the history
of the Chosen People.
What a dismal record of failure
the nation's history had been! Even the New Testament seemed
to recognize this aspect of it all (Acts 7, especially verse
51). Founded by an act of deception, well-nigh destroyed at the
first by a total lack of brotherly love, decimated in the wilderness
because of unbelief, halted on the very threshold of the Promised
Land because of cowardice, misguided in their campaigns against
the enemy through presumption, plagued by petty discord whenever
some real victory was in sight, sometimes failed in times of
special need by their most promising leaders, almost ruined by
civil war at the very moment the fulfillment of their calling
appeared to be in sight, and then carried away into a foreign
land in a captivity that seemed to end all their aspirations
as a people. But here purged of idolatry, and then united together
in a new way by years of Roman oppression, they succeeded only
in agreeing to crucify the very King for whom they had prepared
themselves over a thousand years. What a record of opportunity
ruined by faithlessness and misguided zeal it all seems to have
been. Yet, God was in it, working out His own good purposes
in His own good way and in His own good time.
The casting off of Israel was the
blessing of the Gentiles, and they are only cast off for a season.
As Romans 11:19 tells us, the original branches were broken off
in order that we might be grafted in; and in order that,
in the end, the blessing of the Gentiles might lead to the reconciling
of Israel bringing them into a new relationship which would not
otherwise have been possible. For Calvary was both a necessity
-- if sin was to be forgiven -- yet impossible but for that very
sin! Had it not been for their rejection of their own Messiah
by the Chosen People, there would have been no ground for forgiving
them (or us) for all the other deeds of wickedness and selfishness
and faithlessness. So inscrutable are the ways of God. As Paul
burst out in his wonderful conclusion to the eleventh chapter
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Oh the depth of the riches both
of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His
judgments, and His ways past finding out! For all things are
of Him, and through Him, and to Him, to whom be glory for ever.