CHAPTER VI THE SELF-EXISTING HOLY GOD, CREATOR AND PRESERVER OF ALL
I. THE SELF-EXISTENCE OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL
In Chapter I we saw that the data throughout the material universe demand our believing that there is a personal God. In Chapters II, III, and IV we have seen the evidence that the God, of whose being we have already learned, exists in the form of a Holy Trinity. The statement, found in the Athanasian Creed, is accurate and correct: "The catholic (universal) faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the person: nor dividing the substance (essence). For there is one person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal." In Chapter V we saw the three divine personalities constituting the Godhead upon the stage, working out man's salvation. In the present chapter we shall now address ourselves to the study of God as the creator and controller of the universe.
As is well known, the Bible nowhere pretends to argue the existence of God. It assumes this knowledge on the part of all rational thinking beings. The evidence, as we have seen in Chapter I, is indisputable to the person who is open to the truth. Hence the Scriptures begin with this majestic statement: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." As noted before, the plural word God is used with a verb in the singular number. This idiomatic expression is an echo of the plurality of divine personalities subsisting in the one divine essence and is at the same time an indication of their unity.
To Abraham, the friend of God, He revealed Himself as El Shaddai, God Almighty, but when the time arrived for Him to deliver His oppressed people from Egyptian bondage and slavery, He made a further revelation of Himself to Moses, the record of which is found in Exodus, chapter 3. In this account we see that "the angel of Jehovah" appeared to him in a flame of fire in the midst of a bush which was burning and which was not consumed. This angel, who is called Jehovah, saw that Moses turned aside to see this unusual sight. We are then told (vs. 4) that God called to him out of the bush. Thus we see that this angel of Jehovah, Jehovah himself, is designated as God, who declared that He was "... the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." He spoke to Moses concerning the affliction of the children of Israel and His intention, in coming to earth (vs. 8), to deliver His people from their servitude and to bring them into the land which was flowing with milk and honey--the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Then Moses wanted to know who, he should tell his brethren, sent him. Moreover, he requested to know His name. In reply the Lord revealed to him this name: "I AM THAT I AM." This sentence is variously translated as "I AM BECAUSE I AM"; "I AM WHO I AM"; and, "I WILL BE THAT I WILL BE." Which of these renderings, the reader may ask, is the correct one? Grammatically, they are all correct. Which then is to be preferred? In reply, my answer is, "I do not know." Should I express a preference, it would be in favor of "I AM WHO I AM." Each of the renderings, however, has underlying it the same general conception and varies only a trifle from the meaning of the others.
Obviously, the fundamental thought is that the one who was speaking to Moses is the absolute, the self-existing, the unchangeable one, the Uncaused Cause of everything, the Creator of the universe, in whom we live, move, and have our continual being.
Continuing His instructions to Moses, the Lord commanded him to say to Israel, "I AM hath sent me unto you." This abbreviated name seems to sum up what is expressed in the longer form. When we look at it, we see that the fundamental idea of the name is that the one who bears it is the ever-present one, the one who inhabits eternity, whose name is "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite" (Isa. 57:15).
In this passage eternity is thought of as a building in which the Almighty resides. Thus He is the ever-present, self-existing one--throughout the eternity of the past, during time, and into all the ceaseless ages of the future. The same thoughts are expressed in Psalm 139. The omniscience of God is set forth in the first six verses, and His omnipresence is presented in verses 7-12. God the Almighty is cognizant of all things, both in time and in eternity, and is present, filling all space--but not in the pantheistic conception of things. He is, as we have seen in Chapter I, a personal being, a spiritual personality. He is the creator of all things, the one who brought the human family into existence. When the elements out of which our physical bodies are constructed were in the lower parts of the earth, He framed our unformed substance and wrote all the days of our lives in His book. Each individual is precious in His sight. His thoughts concerning us are more numerous than the sands beside the sea.
II. THE GOD OF ISRAEL THE CREATOR AND CONTROLLER OF THE UNIVERSE
A. The Creator
As suggested in the preceding section, this self-existing one is the creator of the universe and all things therein.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In that part of eternity which antedates creation, the triune God existed. Although the Godhead alone was in the eternity of the past, He was perfectly happy, contented, and complacent--apart from all material creation. Holiness seems to be the dominant characteristic of His being. Love flowed out from each of the divine personalities in reciprocal relations. Each of these personalities or distinctions in the Divine Being was the object of the affection and love of the others. Likewise they were the intellectual objects of each other. Thus every personal attribute in each one was satisfied by the corresponding immanent perfections of the others. [For a discussion of the immanent attributes of the Almighty, see chap. iii of my volume, What Men Must Believe.] There was, consequently, no necessity for the creation of the universe. Nevertheless, according to their good will and pleasure, they did bring it into existence.B. The Controller
At the time decided upon, the eternal God spoke the universe into being. It was thus created. To create is to bring into being that which had neither form nor substance prior to this act. As the material universe was thus brought into existence by a fiat of the omnipotent Godhead, thus it shall pass away--into nothingness--by His unchangeable decree and power (Ps. 102:23-28).
In creating the universe, the Almighty had a plan and a purpose. He therefore selected a definite place for His throne, which from the standpoint of the earth, is in a northern position. (For proof of this position see Isa. 14:12-14; Ps. 75:6,7; and Ezek. 1:4-28.) From it His rule extends throughout all spheres. Under Him are an innumerable host of angels--of every rank and file--whom He has created in order that they might carry on a well-organized government throughout His vast domains.* (For proof that there is such a throne in the universe, see Ps. 103:19-22.) 1. In the material sphere
The psalmist sets forth the facts relating to God's being the controller of the entire universe and of His activity among the nations of the world. Hear Him.
- For I know that Jehovah is great,
And that our Lord is above all gods.
- Whatsoever Jehovah pleased, that hath he done,
In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps;
- Who causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;
Who maketh lightnings for the rain;
Who bringeth forth the wind out of his treasuries;
- Who smote the first-born of Egypt,
Both of man and beast;
- Who sent signs and wonders into the midst of thee, 0 Egypt,
Upon Pharaoh, and upon all his servants;
- Who smote many nations,
And slew mighty kings,
- Sihon king of the Amorites,
And Og king of Bashan,
And all the kingdoms of Canaan,
- And gave their land for a heritage,
A heritage unto Israel his people.
- Thy name, 0 Jehovah, endureth for ever;
Thy memorial name, 0 Jehovah, throughout all generations.
- For Jehovah will judge his people,
And repent himself concerning his servants (Ps. 135:5-14).
The Prophet Amos, in a matchless passage, sets forth God as guiding the heavenly bodies--spinning forward in their orbits with exactness and precision--as controlling the earth, and as overruling in human affairs. Listen to his message.2. Among the nations
4 For thus saith Jehovah unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live; 5 but seek not Beth-el, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beer-sheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Beth-el shall come to nought. 6 Seek Jehovah, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, and there be none to quench it in Beth-el. Ye who turn justice to wormwood, and cast down righteousness to the earth, 8 seek him that maketh the Pleiades and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night; that calleth for the waters of the sea and poureth them out upon the face of the earth (Jehovah is his, name); 9 that bringeth sudden destruction upon the strong, so that destruction cometh upon the fortress (Amos 5:4-9).
Once more, read his description of God's control in the material universe.
5 For the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, is he that toucheth the land and it melteth, and all that dwell therein shall mourn; and it shall rise up wholly like the River and shall sink again, like the River of Egypt; 6 it is he that buildeth his chambers in the heavens, and hath founded his vault upon the earth; he that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth; Jehovah is his name. 7 Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto me, 0 children of Israel? saith Jehovah. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir? 8 Behold, the eyes of the Lord Jehovah are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; save that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith Jehovah. 9 For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, like as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least kernel fall upon the earth (Amos 9:5-9).
In his message concerning Ninevah, the capital of the world empire of his day, Nahum, after referring to God's character and attitudes, spoke of His control of all nature in the following passage.
4 He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel; and the flower of Lebanon languisheth 5 The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt; and the earth is upheaved at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. 6 Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken assunder by him (Nahum 1:4-6).
These, and many other quotations from the Word of God, show that He is the absolute sovereign in the physical realm.
It is proper for us at this juncture to consider what the Scriptures say concerning God's control of the nations. A very luminous passage is found in Isaiah 10:5-12.III. THE CHARACTER OF GOD
5 Ho Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, the staff in whose hand is mine indignation! 6 I will send him against a profane nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. 7 Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few. 8 For he saith, Are not my princes all of them kings? 9 Is not Calno as Carchemish? Is not Hamath as Arpad? is not Samaria as Damascus? 10 As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria; 11 shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols? 12 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that, when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.
The Assyrian whom the prophet here addressed is none other than Sennacherib. In this quotation the prophet spoke of him as the rod of God's anger, the one in whose hand was His indignation. He also declared that He was sending the Assyrian with his army against a profane nation--Israel--in order that he might take the spoil and the prey and tread the country down like the mire of the streets. According to these statements this proud monarch with his mighty empire was simply being used of God to carry out His divine plan in punishing Israel for her sins. At the same time we see from this passage that Sennacherib would be unaware of the fact that he was being used of God to carry out the divine program. Moreover, according to this prediction, God would punish this cruel king after He accomplished His purpose with him.
Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, likewise spoke of God's overruling in the affairs of the nations. In vision he saw the time when God will assemble many nations against Jerusalem, that will say, "Let her be denied, and let our eyes see our desire upon Zion" (Micah 4:11b). Although God gathers them, they will think that they are carrying out their own plans and purposes and acting independently of divine providence. Nevertheless, according to the next verse, "... they know not the thoughts of Jehovah, neither understand they his counsel; for he hath gathered them as the sheaves to the threshing-floor" (Micah 4:12). Seeing these nations thus gathered against Jerusalem, Micah addressed the Hebrew people in the following language: "Arise and thresh, 0 daughter of Zion; for I will make thy horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass; and thou shalt beat in pieces many peoples: and I will devote their gain unto Jehovah, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth" (Micah 4:13).
In the same strain the Prophet Habakkuk gave us the following marvelous description of God's overruling providence in using Babylon, the world empire in his day, to punish His Chosen People.
5 Behold ye among the nations, and look, and wonder marvellously; for I am working a work in your days, which ye will not believe though it be told you. 6 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, that march through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling-places that are not theirs. 7 They are terrible and dreadful; their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves. 8 Their horses also are swifter than leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves; and their horsemen press proudly on: yea, their horsemen come from far; they fly as an eagle that hasteth to devour. 9 They come all of them for violence; the set of their faces is forwards; and they gather captives as the sand. 10 Yea, he scoffeth at kings, and princes are a derision unto him; he derideth every stronghold; for he heapeth up dust, and taketh it. 11 Then shall he sweep by as a wind, and shall pass over, and be guilty, even he whose might is his god (Hab. 1:5-11).
According to verse 5 God calls upon the people of the nations of Nebuchadnezzar's day to look and "wonder marvellously"; for declared He, "I am working a work in your days, which ye will not believe though it be told you."
Zephaniah, who engaged in his ministry in the days of Josiah, king of Judah, foretold the time when God will carry out His determination in gathering all nations and all the kingdoms of the world together in order that He might pour out upon them His indignation, even His fierce anger. Here is the prediction: "Therefore wait ye for me, saith Jehovah, until the day that I rise up to the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger; for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy" (Zeph. 3:8).
Jeremiah, whose ministry probably overlapped that of Zephaniah presented God's control of the nations in a most dramatic manner. In chapter 25 he represented the kings of earth as being seated at a banquet table. The prophet was the cupbearer, who served on this occasion. Visualize him as he passed the cup of the wrath of God to each of the guests and made them drink it to the very dregs.
15 For thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, unto me: Take this cup of the wine of wrath at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it. 16 And they shall drink, and reel to and fro, and be mad, because of the sword that I will send among them. 17 Then took I the cup at Jehovah's hand, and made all the nations to drink, unto whom Jehovah had sent me: 18 to wit, Jerusalem, and the cities of Judah, and the kings thereof, and the princes thereof, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, a hissing, and a curse, as it is this day; 19 Pharaoh king of Egypt, and his servants, and his princes, and all his people; 20 and all the mingled people, and all the kings of the land of Uz, and all the kings of the land of the Philistines, and Ashkelon, and Gaza, and Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod; 21 Edom, and Moab, and the children of Ammon; 22 and all the kings of Tyre, and all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the isle which is beyond the sea; 23 Dedan, and Tema, and Buz, and all that have the corners of their hair cut off; 24 and all the kings of Arabia, and all the kings of the mingled people that dwell in the wilderness; 25 and all the kings of Zimri, and all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of the Medes; 26 and all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another; and all the kingdoms of the world, which are upon the face of the earth: and the king of Sheshach shall drink after them (Jer. 25:15-26).
In this passage we see that Jeremiah makes these kings drink of the wine of the wrath of God. In connection with his services as cupbearer the prophet was to say: "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink ye, and be drunken, and spew, and fall, and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you" (vs. 27). Moreover, he was instructed that, should any refuse to drink the cup, he was to say to him, "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Ye shall surely drink. For, lo, I begin to work evil at the city which is called by my name; and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished; for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith Jehovah of hosts" (vss. 28,29). After giving these instructions the prophet described a vision of the havoc that will be wrought at that time. The slain of Jehovah shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end. They shall not be buried, but their bodies will decompose and constitute fertilizer for the soil (vss. 32,33).
As a final passage dealing with God's control of the nations, I wish to call attention to the following statement: "Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are accounted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. 16 And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt-offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before him; they are accounted by him as less than nothing, and vanity" (Isa. 40:15-17). From this passage we learn that in the hands of the Lord the nations are no more than the small dust of the balances. Yea, they are as nothing before Him--even less than nothing, and vanity. According to verses 23 and 24 He brings their princes to naught and makes the judges of the earth as vanity. The nations should ponder these great declarations which show God's unlimited power and His absolute control of the peoples of earth. Though He allows them certain liberties within prescribed limits--for they have been given the power of free choice--the Almighty overrules all their actions and makes even the wrath of men to praise Him (Ps. 76:10).
A. As Revealed at the Burning Bush and in the Ten Commandments
In the preceding section we have learned something about God as the creator and controller of the universe--that He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. At the same time we see that He is overruling in the affairs of men and is providentially steering the course of history toward a grand consummation, when the glory of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. We now wish to learn something of His character.
When the Lord called Moses and commissioned him to deliver Israel, appearing to him in the burning bush, He declared that He had seen the distress of His people and that He was come down to deliver them. This act showed, stronger than words could express, the compassionate love that overflows the heart of God and His desire to care for His people. In the Ten Commandments, which give the fundamentals of all laws regulating man's relationship to his Maker and to his fellow-beings, are reflected the dominant characteristics or attributes of the Almighty. Each command and each prohibition throbs and pulsates with a compassionate love for His creatures, which flows out of a heart predominantly characterized by holiness.
In giving the second command, the Lord declared that He visits the "iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing lovingkindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments (Ex. 20:5,6). It is to be noted that God in dealing with men does so upon the basis of their attitude toward Him--"them that hate me ... them that love me and keep my commandments." Furthermore, the expressions show in a general way, all things being equal, that men's attitudes and actions determine, to a great extent, God's treatment of them.
At the same time one learns from a careful study of each of these commandments that God is righteous and that He demands strict obedience. There is no such thing as sinning with impunity.
B. As Revealed to Moses in Jehovah's Proclaiming His Name
In Exodus 23:20,21 we have the promise made to Israel that an angel would go before her to keep her in the way and to bring her into the place which God had prepared for her. But He warned the people that they should take heed to themselves and hearken to the voice of this angel: "Provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgression: for my name is in him." The word "name" here, as generally throughout the Old Testament when it is applied to God, indicates His nature. Hence this promise is an affirmation that God's nature would be in this angel messenger and that he would have both the power and the authority to forgive sins, but would not forgive Israel's transgressions--under the conditions then existing. The punishment for those who rebelled was not executed immediately, but eventually was administered as we see from Exodus 32:33: "Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book."
When the children of Israel made the golden calf (Ex., chap. 32), the Lord would have exterminated the race if Moses had not entered into the breach and interceded for them (Ex. 32:31,32; Ps. 106:23). Thereupon the Lord promised to spare the nation. He then instructed Moses to lead the people to the Promised Land, assuring him that His angel would go before him (vs. 34). According to 33:1 Moses was instructed to "go up hence, thou and the people that thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt...." According to verse 2 the Lord promised to send "an angel" before him. Humanly speaking, one would judge that, since Israel sinned in the matter of the golden calf, God would send an angel, a created being, to assist in guiding the people to the Land of Promise. In an interview Moses stated to the Lord, "... thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found favor in my sight" (vs. 12). Then the Lord reassured him that he had found favor in His sight. "And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest (vs. 14). In order to be doubly assured of God's presence with him, Moses said, "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence" (vs. 15). Moses insisted that the proof of his having found favor in the Lord's sight was seen in the further fact that the Lord himself would go with him. According to 33:17 the Lord again reassured him that He would personally accompany him. Moses then became emboldened to ask that he might see His glory. In reply the Lord promised to cause all His goodness to pass before him and to proclaim "the name of Jehovah"; for, said He "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.... Thou canst not see my face; for man shall not see me and live..." (vss. 19, 20).
What is meant by the "goodness" of Jehovah, which the Lord was going to cause to pass before Moses? In His causing it to pass before him, He at the same time would proclaim His name. In preparation for making His goodness pass before Moses, the Lord declared that mortals could not see His face, but that there was a place at hand where he was to stand while His glory--His goodness-passed by. This place was a cleft in the rock into which Moses was to step and there stand while Jehovah passed by. As He was approaching and as He passed by, the Lord covered Moses and thus protected Him from the glory of His face. After He passed, Moses was allowed to see His back.
The Lord also instructed him to hew two tables of stone like the first ones and to be ready the next morning to come up alone to the top of the mountain, at which time He would make His goodness pass before him. At the designated time Moses ascended the mountain and took his place in the cleft of the rock, and the Lord descended in a cloud and proclaimed the name of Jehovah. In doing this He gave a sevenfold statement of His character found in Exodus 34:6,7.
6 And Jehovah passed by before him, and proclaimed, Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth; 7 keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.
Let us notice particularly each of these items. The Lord is (1) merciful and gracious; (2) slow to anger; (3) abundant in loving-kindness and truth; (4) keeping loving-kindness for thousands; (5) forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; (6) that will by no means clear the guilty; and, (7) visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon the children's children, and upon the third and upon the fourth generation.
These statements express the essential nature of the Lord's character in His dealing with His creatures.
* According to Ezek., chapter 28, the anointed cherub--the highest possible creature whom God could bring into existence--led a revolt against the Almighty, which proved abortive. The ringleader of the rebellion is known as Satan or the devil who has organized these hostile spirits into the kingdom of darkness. Though he and his cohorts are under the authority of God; yet, since the Lord created them with the power of choice, they still have a certain amount of freedom of action--within prescribed limitations. This fact accounts for the irregularities, abnormalities, and disturbances throughout the realm of nature and in the human sphere.