THE REALITY OF MIRACLES
IN OUR day skepticism and doubt are to be observed on every hand. Men have become imbued with the scientific spirit and have become accustomed to acknowledge, at least theoretically, only that which they can see with their physical eyes or feel with the touch. Dealing with physical phenomena and becoming absorbed in the material side of our civilization, they have largely lost sight of the spiritual values. Since their attention is thus engrossed, and since they see that the physical realm in which they are laboring is governed and controlled by "the laws of nature," they have reached the conclusion, as a rule, that there cannot be anything that transcends the material order. Hence, to many of the scientific men of the age, miracles are not possible. They have without investigation accepted Hume's dictum that miracles are not possible, since no one, as he boldly asserted, has ever seen one. Of course, those who adopt this standard of viewing things simply from the standpoint of their own limited experiences and make such a pronouncement repudiate the scientific spirit. One would have to be omniscient and omnipresent in order to declare that miracles are not possible. No man is in a position to make and assertion of this character.
The subject of miracles covers such an extensive field that it will be impossible to go into a thorough discussion of it. I can only call attention to some outstanding facts and ask those who are especially interested in this phase of our subject to consult some standard work on miracles. May I say that there are a number of authentic scholarly treatises which deal with this subject most thoroughly, scientifically, and adequately.
I. THE DEFINITION OF A MIRACLE
Webster defines a miracle as: "An event or effect in the physical world beyond or out of the ordinary course of things, deviating from the known laws; and extraordinary, anomalous or abnormal event brought about by superhuman agency as the manifestations of his power, or for the purpose of revealing or manifesting spiritual force; signs." Of course, the word miracle comes from the Latin and indicates that which produces amazement or wonderment. Dr. Strong, in his Systematic Theology, gives a preliminary definition of miracles as follows: "A miracle is an event palpable to the senses, produced for a religious purpose by the immediate agency of God; an event therefore which, though not contravening any law of nature, the laws of nature, if fully known, would not without this agency of God be competent to explain." After discussing the various terms and shades of ideas set forth in this definition, Dr. Strong gives us another one which he prefers to the one just quoted, and which is: "A miracle is an event in nature, so extraordinary in itself and so coinciding with the prophecy or command of a religious teacher or leader, as fully to warrant the conviction, on the part to those who witness it, that God has wrought it with the design of certifying that this teacher or leader has been commissioned by Him." In this connection, may I present in my own words a definition which I formulated years ago, which has stood a severe testing by some keen analytical minds through the years, and which is: "A true miracle is a divine act which the Almighty ordinarily accomplishes in a quiet, unobserved manner through the operation of the laws of nature (secondary causes), but which He for a definite spiritual purpose or end works in an obvious and open manner, and which usually attests the divine call and commission of the one thus performing it as a teacher sent from God." When these different statements regarding a miracle are studied carefully, they will be seen not to clash but to be in agreement on the points common to them. A careful study of my statement will show that my definition covers the subject in the broadest sense possible.
A true miracle is an act of God. Whatever the Almighty does is beyond the realm of man. What we call the laws of nature is nothing more than the acts of God which He is constantly performing in a quiet, unobtrusive manner. This statement is true, though we consider the laws of nature as being imposed upon all matter by the direct volition and activity of the Almighty. There can be no laws, even in the physical realm, without a lawgiver. Hence the so-called laws of nature are simply secondary causes, whereas the omnipotent God is the primary agent. For instance, the Lord causes the sun to shine, the showers to fall, the grass to grow, and both the fruit and grain to ripen. In His doing this, He is providing food and sustenance for man and beast. Man can plant, cultivate, and water, but God alone gives the increase. At times He withholds the crops (Amos 4:6) for good and sufficient reasons. It is God, therefore, who is giving us our daily food. In doing this, He follows a certain method of process. Man cooperates with Him and receives his sustenance. Now for a concrete illustration: It is the Lord's method, in giving us grain, that we co-operate with Him by planting the seed, watering, and cultivating the plant. This little plant we may call the Lord's laboratory, in which He is working in our behalf. In it, or through it, He gathers elements from earth, air, and moisture and compounds them in the proper proportion, subjecting them to certain processes. After a given length of time He gives us the ripened grain. All the efforts that man might put forth cannot produce a grain of wheat or an ear of corn or any seed that can germinate and perpetuate the species, or any fruits or vegetables, which are most essential for man's sustenance.
There are emergencies arising at various times and under differing circumstances. Such a situation demands quick action. The Lord, instead of following His regular routine method of supplying the food for man, provides it with a rush order, humanly speaking. To illustrate this principal: In the Gospel Records we read of the Lord's feeding a company of five thousand men, besides women and children. They had only five loaves and two fishes. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus fed this vast multitude. See Matthew 14:13-21 and parallel passages. Instead of His waiting for the maturing of the grain as He ordinarily does in order to supply man's bread, He, because of the spiritual need which was before Him, by His mighty power gathered together from earth, air, and water the necessary elements and compounded them into bread for the vast hungry throng. In a similar way He did the same thing in regard to the fishes. This was a rush order. The multitudes had followed Jesus because they were hungry for spiritual food. They were in a desert place. Many of them would have fainted, if they had been forced to return to their homes without any food. The Lord therefore supplied their need in a miraculous manner. What He usually does over a period of eight or nine months in causing the grain to grow and mature, He did in a few seconds of time. There was a moral and spiritual crisis on hand. He was equal to the occasion and produced the physical food for their hungry bodies. By His doing this, those who had spiritual insight could recognize that He was the true bread of life, as He preached to the multitudes which followed to Capernaum (John, chap. 6). When we view the situation thus, we see that all the acts of God are miraculous--that is, superhuman. We become accustomed to the growing of grain, fruits, and vegetables and take it as a matter of course that we are the ones who are growing the crops and producing the food. We fail to see the presence of our great God and Saviour at work continually for our good. But when, as on the occasion of the feeding of the five thousand men beside women, or later the four thousand, we recognize the action and beneficent work of our Lord in miraculous power, we can properly evaluate His goodness to us in feeding us daily. Let us therefore, pray: "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11).
All the miracles of which one reads in the Holy Scriptures might be called rush orders performed to meet emergencies in order to forward spiritual plans and to reach holy objectives.
With this understanding of our subject we shall now proceed to a study of the evidence of five familiar miracles.
II. FIVE OUTSTANDING UNQUESTIONED MIRACLES
In Chapter I we studied some of the many evidences of the existence of the Supreme Being, the creator and preserver of the universe, the one in whom we live, move, and have our continual being. In our study of "Eternity or the Plan of the Ages," Chapter VI, we shall see positive proof that there was a time when God alone existed. Later He put forth the creative act which resulted in the bringing into existence of the material universe. This act of creation was a stupendous miracle that only the omnipotent God could perform.
We have already seen that God is a spiritual personality who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. The fool alone calls into question the existence of God Almighty (Psalms 14 and 53). Whenever anyone admits the existence of a Supreme Being, in order to be logical, he must also concede the possibility of miracles. To deny to such an omniscient, omnipotent Being the possibility of miracles is to manifest stupidity to the nth degree. The fact of God's existence and character argues for miracles, five of which we shall proceed to examine.
A. The Bible
In Chapter II we studied a few things about the revelation of God. There we saw that the Almighty has revealed Himself through the things that are made (Rom. 1:20). He likewise has shown Himself in and through the history of Israel, His Chosen People. But a clearer and a more definite revelation of Himself He has made known through Moses and the prophets. Finally, as we shall learn in the study of the atonement in Chapter XII, He revealed Himself in the fullest way through His Son Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Hebrew Messiah and Saviour of the world. A permanent record of this self-disclosure of the Almighty in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is contained in the record of the New Testament.
In the present study we shall look at the writings of both the Old and the New Testaments. Though, in Chapter II, in a general way, I discussed the Bible as the revelation of God, I shall again in this connection look at it.
The Scriptures contain sixty-six volumes--some large and some very small. This collection of books, humanly speaking, was written in three languages, if not in four, which are, the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. There is very strong evidence that Moses wrote in the cuneiform since that was the international language of his day and time. A careful study of certain literary phenomena appearing especially in the Book of Genesis leads one to this conclusion. (For a full discussion of this point see my volume, Messiah: His First Coming Scheduled ).
There were between forty and fifty authors of the Scriptures. This becomes immediately apparent to the one who will study carefully the evidence found in the Book of Genesis as to its authors and the rest of the books of the Bible. The question "Who wrote Genesis?" I have thoroughly discussed in the volume referred to above. Let me, in this connection, affirm that according to the Book of Genesis God used certain men of the ancient patriarchs to write different portions of that early revelation. They of course wrote as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit (II Pet. 1:19-21). When one studies Genesis carefully and cautiously, one is overwhelmed with the conviction that we have a record of those far-off events written by inspired men of God who were contemporary to the events which they recorded. Thus we have an authentic account written by inspired men who were eyewitnesses of those things about which they wrote. When these facts are taken into consideration and weighed, one sees that there were something like fifty authors of the Scriptures.
These men lived at different times--over a period of approximately four thousand years. This fact is clearly seen when one studies the chronological data which is found embedded in the text of the Old Testament and in the New.
These various authors had their own personal background and outlook upon life. Man interprets new data in terms of his former experiences. We are told by the poet that man is part of all he meets. This is psychologically true. All our experiences have an effect upon us, regardless of how little it may be. Each has his own personality and individuality. Everyone is the result of his own heredity and environment, coupled with his own individual will. No two of the biblical writers had the same background and experiences. The personal equation dominated in each and caused him to view everything from his own peculiar standpoint.
Life is changing constantly and is never exactly static--notwithstanding our current expression regarding the unchanging East. New factors arise new philosophies appear, new hopes are born, new fears spring forth--in a word, each generation and each civilization has its own individual problems.
These writers lived in different countries, each of which had its own civilization and culture, historical background, and political outlook. Notwithstanding this great diversity, there is perfect harmony and unity in the writings of all the biblical authors. One single theme runs throughout the Scriptures. Genesis 3:15 is the text of the Bible: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between they seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." The hope of the world's Redeemer, thus announced in this text, is the subject of discussion by most of the sacred authors. The same hope, the same high standard of ethics and morals, the same conception of the one true and living God, the same presentation of the plan of redemption, the same unfolding of the ages, and the same ultimate goal appear throughout the sixty-six books constituting the Sacred Volume. The fact that there is such unanimity and harmony amidst such unparalleled diversity is a miracle of miracles within itself.
If one doubts this assertion for a second, let him collect the writings of fifty authors who lived over the course of forty centuries, who wrote in at least four different languages, whose background and environments varied as did those of the biblical authors, and whose writings display the same unity of theme, plan, and purpose without contradiction; and let him compose out of them a single volume for the consideration of the world--one volume which displays unity and harmony as the Bible does. Until this is done, no one has a logical right to place the Bible upon the same low level with the works of men. Should one gather into a single volume the classical books from the ancient East, the writing of the philosophers of Greece and the orators and administrators of Rome, together with the productions of the Saracens of the Middle Ages, and add to the collection the outstanding classical writings of modern times, one would have a perfect literary hodgepodge. There would be nothing but discords, contradictions, error, superstition, mythology, and baffling philosophy, mixed with a sickening concoction of modern guessing and speculation.
The sixty-six books of the Bible unite and make one grand, glorious literary whole, which sets forth the only rational theology, the only sane philosophy, the highest system of ethics and morals, and the only satisfying worship and approach to Him in whom man lives, moves, and has his being.
As said before, the sixty-six books of the Bible fit together and form one literary unit just as the various parts of a jigsaw puzzle fit together and form one pattern.
In my affirming that the Bible is a literary unit free from contradictions and error, I am speaking of the original manuscripts and not of translations made by fallible men.
There is but one hypothesis which can reasonably and adequately explain the existence of this library of sixty-six volumes composed as they were. The only sane and reasonable explanation of this unique volume is that it was given by the inspiration of the Spirit of God and that its production was indeed a miracle. The Bible is the miracle book. The Bible lives!
B. The Jew
The Jew is a miracle. The Hebrew race began in a miracle; it has been sustained through the centuries by a miracle; and will be preserved and delivered in the future by a miracle--the direct intervention of God Almighty. These facts lead me to make the bold declaration that Jewish history is nothing short of a miracle.
Again, let me call attention to the fact that, when Abraham and Sarah were past the age of parenthood, the Lord performed a biological miracle upon their bodies which made possible the birth of Isaac. In doing this thing, the Lord injected new powers, potentialities, and capabilities--both spiritual and intellectual into the bloodstream of the Jewish nation. That this is true may be seen from Isaiah 43:1, which speaks of God's having created Jacob and formed Israel.
The history of the Chosen People is set forth in the most minute detail, from the deliverance out of Egyptian bondage, through the centuries, to the time when Israel will again be reinstated into the favor of the Lord and placed in her own land. This delineation of her checkered course through the centuries is found in such marvelous chapters as Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28, and in her national anthem Deuteronomy chapter 32.
Let us glance at Leviticus, chapter 26, the original prophecy which outlines her history through the centuries. In verses 1 and 2 God spoke of the relationship which existed between Him and Israel by virtue of the covenant into which He entered with her at Sinai.
Upon the basis of this covenant God promised to bless her in a special and unique manner--upon the condition that she would be faithful and true to Him. Had she met this condition, Palestine would have been Paradise regained, a modern Utopia. Abundant crops would have been the order of the day throughout all her history. Never would the tramp of armies or beat of drums have been heard in her land if she had been true to Him. He would have supplied all her needs and her kingdom would have been a model for all peoples.
On the other hand, God warned Israel that, if she would not be obedient to Him but would go in her own way, He would punish her with certain judgments. This statement is seen in Leviticus 26:14-26. In these verses appear a series of threats for continued disobedience with the penalty attached for such rebellion.
In the event of continued disobedience God warned her, verses 27-33, that He would root her out of the Land which He was giving to her and would scatter her among the nations.
Finally, in verses 40-45 God foretold that those remaining of Israel would confess the iniquity of their fathers and their own iniquity "in their trespass which they trespassed against me, and also that, because they walked contrary unto me, I also walked contrary unto them, and brought them into the land of their enemies ..." (vss. 40,41). This passage assumes that the Hebrews as a nation commit a crime against the Lord, as punishment of which they will be spewed out of the land of their fathers and will be scattered among the nations. The final generation of them sojourning among the Gentiles--"and they that are left of you" (vs. 39)--shall confess the national sin, stating that the fathers committed the crime when they were in the Land in their trespassing against God, and admitting their own participation in the crime, which was committed by their fathers. When, declared Moses, they accept of the punishment and are humbled, the Lord will remember His "covenant with Jacob; and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the Land" (vs. 42). This is therefore a prediction that the last generation of Israel scattered among the nations will learn of this sin and recognize it as committed by their fathers while they were still in the Land, and on account of which crime they were scattered among the nations; and they themselves will also confess their own participation in that national crime in that they assume the same attitude in the matter as did their fathers who committed the sin. When they make this confession, the Lord will remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and will gather them out of all lands and re-establish them in their own country, Palestine.
If one will look at Deuteronomy, chapter 28, one will see the same general outline of Israel's checkered history through the centuries. This chapter, however, gives a more detailed account of it. For instance, verses 36-46, studied in the light of history are seen to be a prediction of the Babylonian captivity and the results flowing there from. Then a thoughtful study of verses 47-57 shows that this portion was a definite prediction of the destruction of the Jewish state by the Romans and of Israel's world-wide dispersion.
Verses 58-68 speak of the scattered nation as she has wandered from land to land during her nineteen hundred years of exile from Palestine. Jewish history has followed this general pattern, as everyone who knows the facts of the case can testify.
Her annals have been written in blood. Suffering, disappointments, persecutions, and pogroms have characterized her history since her expulsion from Palestine. Never has a nation been maligned and ostracized as the Jews have been. Never have such diabolical schemes and methods of extermination been devised as have been brought into action against dispersed, scattered Israel. Why all this persecution? What is its source? The answer is that Israel is the nation of destiny, created for and chosen to be the channel of world-blessing. Satan knows this fact and has done his utmost to exterminate her in the past, is trying to do it at the present, and will yet make his supreme stroke in the future--but will fail. "Praise ye Jehovah."
It is my firm conviction that the people of Israel would have been exterminated and would be but a memory today if it had not been for the preserving power of Almighty God. Other nations rose played their part on the historic stage, and then passed into oblivion. But Israel, chosen of God, has survived through, the ages and remains one of the dominant races on earth today through her genius--although one of the minor peoples. On this point I wish to call attention to what Mark Twain said about the Jew: "He could be vain of himself and not be ashamed of it. Yes, he could be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian arose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff, and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up, and held the torch high for a time; but it burned out, and they sit in twilight, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert, aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?"
What is the answer to the question regarding the secret of Israel's immortality? Someone has said that man is immortal until his work is done. A great spiritual truth is expressed in this well known statement. What is true to the individual is also applicable to the nation of Israel. Her task is not done. In fact, very little of the work which God assigned to her has been accomplished. God has therefore preserved her in order that she may yet accomplish the task which He has given her. Isaiah, looking out into the future toward the Tribulation and the period following that time an speaking for God, declared: "Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen ..." (Isa. 43:10). God called this people to be the channel of world-blessing. She has only partially fulfilled her God-given mission. Her great contribution thus far to the world has come in the form of the Bible with its influence and blessing, and the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to purchase our redemption. Her returning to God and receiving the long-rejected Messiah will usher in the long-delayed Kingdom Age. "For if the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15). "As touching the gospel, they are enemies for your sake; but as touching the election they are beloved for the father's sake" --Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, et al., (Rom. 11:28). "For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of" (vs. 29). Moses declared that "Jehovah's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance" (Deut. 32:9). Concerning their being preserved and not perishing under the terrific persecutions which have been launched against them, Malachi, speaking for God, declared, "For I, Jehovah, change not; therefore Ye, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed" (Mal. 3:6).
By the Jew I mean the twelve tribes of Israel, the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. This nation in the early books of the Bible is called Israel or the children of Israel.
Upon the death of Solomon the ten northern tribes revolted against King Rehoboam and formed what was later known as the kingdom of Israel. It was sometimes called Ephraim--because the tribe of Ephraim was dominant in the newly-formed government. This kingdom continued for two hundred and sixty-four years and was finally overthrown by Sargon II of Assyria, who, according to his own account of the war against Samaria, declared that he took 27,290 of the leaders of the nation of Israel captive and then placed his own governor over the people whom he left in the land. He also sent certain Asiatics as colonists into Palestine in order to make the population heterogeneous and, by so doing to reduce the possibility of revolt to a minimum.
This account is in harmony with the biblical record. These heathen colonists are seen in II Kings 17:24-33. They continued to worship their own gods but added Jehovah to their pantheon when they were taught concerning Him by the priest whom Sargon sent to instruct them. "So they feared Jehovah, and made unto them from among themselves priests of the high places. They feared Jehovah, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away" (vss. 32,33).
On the other hand, the great masses of Israel who had been left in the land by Sargon are described in II Kings 17:34-40. "Unto this day they do after the former manner: they fear not Jehovah, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law or after the commandment which Jehovah commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel; 35 with whom Jehovah made a covenant, and charged them, saying, Ye shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them: 36 but Jehovah, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, him shall ye fear, and unto him shall ye bow yourselves, and to him shall ye sacrifice: 37 and the statutes and the ordinances, and the law and the commandment, which he wrote for you, ye shall observe to do for evermore; and ye shall not fear other gods: 38 and the covenant that I have made with you ye shall not forget; neither shall ye fear other gods: 39 but Jehovah your God shall ye fear: and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies. 40 Howbeit they did not hearken, but they did after their former manner."
The people described in this quotation continued to act after the overthrow of the kingdom as they had been doing "they fear not Jehovah, neither do they after their statutes ... Howbeit they did not hearken, but they did after their former manner." These people continued to disregard Jehovah entirely as they had been doing for the preceding two hundred and sixty-four years since the formation of the northern kingdom. They were none other than the Israelites left in the land by Sargon when he overthrew the government in Samaria and deported 27,290 of the leaders of Israel to Assyria.
The theory that the people of Israel were deported to Assyria later found their way across Europe, finally settled in the British Isles, and became the forebears of the Anglo-Saxon people is but a myth--with no factual basis whatsoever in either biblical or profane history.
Further proof of this proposition is seen in the fact that in the days of king Josiah (ninety-eight years after the fall of Samaria) the remnant of the children of Israel together with Judah were still in the land and made great donations for the temple services at Jerusalem. Read II Chronicles 34:8-13, especially verses 9-11.
After the fall of the kingdom of Israel the people of the northern tribes gradually gravitated, religiously speaking, back to Jerusalem and became merged in the kingdom of Judah.
From the days of Ahaz, king of Judah, the people of the southern kingdom were called by the names of Israel and Jews. (See II Kings 16:5,6.) This fact is seen throughout the writings of the prophets of that period.
In the post-Exilic Era the terms--Judah, Israel, and Jews--are used interchangeably in referring to the people descended from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. We see the same use of the names in the New Testament.
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