THE OMNIPOTENT GOD
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament showeth his handiwork (Ps. 19:1).
O Jehovah, our Lord,
How excellent is thy name in all the earth,
Who has set thy glory upon the heavens! (Ps. 8:1).
I. HIS STATURE ANTHROPOMORPHICALLY¹ SPEAKING
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness; 19 because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse: 21 because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened" (Rom. 1:18-21). Anyone who is unbiased can look into the heavens and see behind the thin veil of the physical universe the existence of the omnipotent God in whom we live and move and have our continual being, and to whom we are all responsible. "Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man. 30 The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: 31 inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:29-31).
The God of the universe is omnipotent. This statement means that God has all power. He is the source from which all creatures and beings draw their life and strength. His is underived; theirs is derived. He is the Uncaused Cause of all things; they are caused, that is, they live, move, and have their being in Him: "... for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring" (Acts 17:28).
He is omnipresent. Throughout the great universal distances of space God is present. This scriptural teaching is known as the doctrine of God's immanence. Nothing can transpire in any portion of the universe without His absolute knowledge. The omnipresence and omniscience of God are beautifully set forth in Psalm 139:1-18:²
God is omniscient. He knows everything. He declares "the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done ..." (Isa. 46:10). In this passage the prophet was not talking of eternity, for it had no beginning and will not have any ending. Evidently since he was discoursing about things that take place in human affairs, he was speaking of that segment of eternity which we call time, and during which the material universe is in existence. In this passage, therefore, the prophet was simply telling us that, during time, there has nothing occurred in any places of universal space which God does not know and declare. Thus there can be no surprise developments of which He is unaware. He knows everything throughout the universe that transpires during time.
His stature therefore, figuratively speaking, is measured by omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.
II. HIS CHARACTER
"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" (Exod. 34:6,7). In this passage we have God's own statement relative to His character. If these verses are analyzed, it is seen that He has given a sevenfold statement relative to Himself. Should one emphasize the love of God and neglect to present the other characteristics of His nature, such a one would be misrepresenting Him. An examination of God's presentation of His people, even the best, reveals the fact that He portrays their vices as well as their virtues. As examples of this principle, look at Abraham and David, with their glaring failures and sins, that were however overshadowed largely by their virtues. God is a God of truth. He desires truth in the inward parts. Since He has presented the true character of His people, it stands to reason that He has represented Himself correctly. Those who proclaim His truth should be very careful to present this sevenfold statement of His nature and being.
III. HIS DOMINANT CHARACTERISTICS
Having seen God's sevenfold statement of His character, we, in the light of various statements found here and there in the Scriptures, come to the conclusion that there are three principal characteristics of the Almighty, which are His truth, love, and holiness.
What is truth? It has been defined by one theologian as that "attribute of the divine nature in virtue of which God's being and God's knowledge eternally conform to each other." This is what is called immanent truth, not transitive truth. God stands behind all things. He brought everything into existence. He is directing all things. He has a certain nature. He sees the end from the beginning. Then immanent truth within the divine nature is that characteristic of the Almighty whereby His own nature and essence correspond eternally with His knowledge, in that all things develop and occur exactly as He has foreseen.
The second great characteristic of the Almighty is His love. We cannot magnify this attribute too much. He being the Triune God that He is, His love is ever flowing out to others--to each person of the Godhead and to all His creatures. His love would bring all of His creatures into the closest fellowship and communion with Himself and would pour out the riches of His grace upon them. It has sometimes been spoken of as the movement within the Divine Being that flows out to others. If God were only love, all men would be saved and blessed eternally, irrespective of their spiritual condition--and their wills.
The dominant characteristic of the Almighty's nature is His holiness. Holiness is not simply absence of, or freedom from, evil or sin, which is the negative side of the proposition. But God's holiness is positively and aggressively set and fixed upon purity. His holiness will not countenance evil in the least. If therefore holiness were the only characteristic of the Almighty, His wrath would be stirred, and He would deal drastically with the sinner. But His love is a check upon His holiness. We therefore praise God for the fact that He is what He is.
We have already seen that God is great above all gods, the gods of the heathen. "For Jehovah is a great God, And a great King above all gods" (Ps. 95:3). He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Moreover, we have learned that holiness is His dominant characteristic. He can neither countenance, nor tolerate sin. Though all of these statements are true, He has permitted sin to arise in His great kingdom and has seemingly tolerated it for centuries and millenniums and ages.
Before God called the universe into existence--even when He was creating the anointed cherub--He knew at that very time that this one, the highest type of being which He could create, would eventually pit his will against divine authority, and that, by his acting thus, he would corrupt his own nature. Moreover, He was aware that Satan, this anointed cherub in his fallen state, would lead other beings into rebellion against His authority. God also knew that, when He would create man (Gen. 1:26ff), the latter would likewise rebel against Him and would fall, bringing untold misery, sin, and suffering upon all his descendants. Although the Almighty foresaw--crystal clear--Satan's original rebellion and all subsequent acts of disobedience (and their consequences) on the part of both angels and men, and although His holiness cannot tolerate sin in any form, yet He called into being these creatures, whose willful acts have brought the curse upon the material universe. The reason for this situation will become clear as we proceed further in our study.
IV. HIS TRIPARTITE³ NATURE
The heavens, as we have seen, declare in clear ringing tones the existence of a Supreme Being. But how are we to think of Him--as a single personality or as a tripartite Being? From the evidence in nature we learn only of His existence. As to His personality we cannot determine anything from the material universe. We must turn to revelation for the answer to our question.V. From Idols To Serve The Living God
The word in our English Versions of the Scriptures translated God is אֱלֹהִים--Elohim--a noun in the plural number. Occasionally this word אֵל--El--in the singular referring to the Almighty occurs--evidently for some special reason. Why also the use of this plural noun? There must be a reason. Israel's Great Confession (Deut. 6:4) is thus stated: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד׃ "Hear, O Israel! Jehovah, our Gods, is Jehovah, a unity" (lit. trans.). This passage--spoken by Moses, the great lawgiver of Israel--is a plain declaration that the omnipotent God is not simply a creature with a single personality, as is often supposed, but is a being who constitutionally exists as a plurality of personalities. As to how many there are of them, we must learn from other passages. In early Hebrew, nouns appeared in the singular, the dual, and the plural numbers. Of course the dual was used only when two persons or things were in the speaker's mind.⁴ The use of the plural indicated at least three. As time passed, however, the dual, as in Greek and other languages, gradually fell into disuse. Yet it did linger on and appears in a number of words that inherently connote duality. But the very fact that the word for God survives in the Hebrew Scriptures predominantly, from earliest times to the close of the canon of the Old Testament, in the plural and also often in the singular is positive evidence that the Hebrews recognized a plurality of divine personalities who constitute the one Supreme Being.⁵ Of course they were given this doctrine by divine revelation, for they could not learn it from nature.
When we consider this question in the light of various data, here and there in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially in the light of such passages as Isaiah 48:16 and 63:8-10 in their contexts, we see that three divine personalities, and only three, appear in the record. "Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me, and his Spirit" (Isa. 48:16). "For he said, Surely, they are my people, children that will not deal falsely: so he was their Saviour. 9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. 10 But they rebelled, and grieved his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them" (Isa. 63:8-10). The appearance of three divine personalities in these quotations is in perfect harmony with all the data appearing throughout all the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. We therefore conclude that there are three divine personalities subsisting in the one divine nature. (For a thorough study of this phase of truth see my volume, The God of Israel.)
When we understand the scriptural truth regarding the three personalities of the Godhead, we are, to a great extent, prepared to see the reasonableness of the biblical doctrine regarding the atonement. As we shall see, it was necessary for one of the divine personalities--the second person of the Godhead--to lay aside His glory and to limit Himself by entering the human sphere by miraculous conception and virgin birth. To show the pertinency of this doctrine, let us consider a pure monotheism, the belief that there is but one personality subsisting in the one divine essence. To be more specific, a pure monotheistic faith is a belief in one God, who is one in the absolute sense of the word as opposed to the doctrine of a unity of personalities in the one divine nature. To the monotheist the scriptural teaching--of both the Old Testament and the New--that the Almighty would thus enter the human realm by becoming a helpless little baby and growing to manhood to lay down His life for man's redemption is absolutely unthinkable. It is a recognized fact that the omnipotent God must be at the helm of the universe every moment directing it and keeping it under His control. It would be impossible for Him to limit Himself by becoming incarnate and to run the universe at the same time. To the monotheist therefore the incarnation is an impossibility and even an absurdity.
When anyone accepts the biblical teaching regarding the Holy Trinity, there is perfect harmony between its various elements. Only one of the personalities, He who is called the Son, thus limited Himself temporarily by coming into the human realm to suffer for our salvation. While He was thus incarnate, the other personalities of the Godhead could and did run the universe.
(In my presenting here the scriptural teaching on this point, I am anticipating that which properly comes later in a logical unfolding of the doctrine of the atonement. The proper understanding of the subject of the Trinity at this point of the discussion is my justification for bringing it in here.)
Why, then, did God create both angels and men with the power of free choice and the possibility of rebellion against His holiness? Since they have revolted and brought sin into the universe, why has He not completely annihilated these fallen incorrigible spirits? Why did He allow Adam in his fallen state to propagate his species? Why does He still tolerate all this evil in the universe? The origin and the continuation of evil, wickedness, and suffering are questions with which the philosophers and the theologians have grappled from times immemorial. These problems are the subjects of discussion in Job, a most important revelation. Obviously the appearance of evil was no surprise to God. The problems which have arisen because of these different revolts against divine authority could have been solved by the Almighty himself, if they had been simply matters of His wisdom and power to deal with each situation. Since He has allowed these to appear, and since He has not dealt drastically with the rebels in His government, evidently there is a good and sufficient reason for His tolerating this situation. We shall approach nearer to the proper understanding of the sin question and its consequences by studying God's moral government.
From recent archaeological discoveries in Babylon the late Dr. Langdon of Oxford University came to the conclusion that the evidence unearthed proves positively that primitive man was a monotheist; that is, he was a believer in only one God, whom he worshiped. Men soon drifted from the moorings of their original convictions into polytheism, a belief in many gods. Hence they soon began to make images of the gods of their own creation and bowed down to them. Since this early departure from the recognition of the one God, they have created and multiplied gods according to their own liking. Of course, they have been sincere in doing this. The wrecks of temples erected for the worship of the various gods of men are to be found throughout the entire world. At the present time, innumerable are both temples and gods that are found among the nations of earth.A. The Testimony of the Statesman-Prophet Isaiah
It is illogical for men to build temples and to manufacture gods of stocks and stones, to which they bow down in adoration and worship.
9 They that fashion a graven image are all of them vanity; and the things that they delight in shall not profit; and their own witnesses see not, nor know: that they may be put to shame. 10 Who hath fashioned a god, or molten an image that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his fellows shall be put to shame; and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; they shall fear, they shall be put to shame together.B. Idols in So-called Christian Countries
12 The smith maketh an axe, and worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with his strong arm: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth; he drinketh no water, and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretcheth out a line; he marketh it out with a pencil; he shapeth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compasses, and shapeth it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the holm-tree and the oak, and strengtheneth for himself one among the trees of the forest: he planteth a fir-tree, and the rain doth nourish it. 15 Then shall it be for a man to burn; and he taketh thereof, and warmeth himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread: yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. 16 He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied; yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire. 17 And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image; he falleth down unto it and worshippeth, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.
18 They know not, neither do they consider: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. 19 And none calleth to mind, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree? 20 He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside; and he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? (Isa. 44:9-20).
The message and logic of this prophet of God are so very clear and incisive that nothing is needed in further explanation of the condemnation of idolatry. The idol made from the trunk of a tree is material and physical, but what about the idols made of molten metal? They are simply material substances without life, intellect, and power; but all idols, regardless of the material out of which they are made, are correctly spoken of as "dumb idols."
The nations that manufacture literal gods and worship them are not the only idolaters in the world. In so-called Christian lands there are many people worshiping the gods of their own making, just as those in other lands that are bowing down to material stocks and stones do. There are many people in all walks and callings of life who, having rejected the idea of a personal, omnipotent God, have in their own imagination created modern gods to which they offer the devotion of their souls and the loyalty of their hearts. As an example, I wish to call attention to many who are in educational and scientific circles. They, governed and controlled by rationalism, deny the existence of a personal God and henceforth give the allegiance of their souls, which is due to the true and living God in whom they have their being, to their own gods. They may regularly attend church and, as the Apostle Paul declared, hold a form of godliness but deny the power thereof--deny both God and Christ, reject the biblical teaching of inspiration and miracles, and create by their own imaginations idols before which they, figuratively speaking, bow the knee in worship. Countless multitudes are worshiping at the human shrines of modern scholarship and of ever-changing materialistic science, bringing the votive offerings of their souls to the gods of various philosophical systems, political ideologies, economic theories--yes, and all too frequently, to the goddess of fleshly and lustful pleasures and bestial desires and practices.C. To an Unknown God
These ideas and ideals which develop and take form in the minds and hearts of men, which are elevated to the places of passionate devotion, to which they all too frequently commit everything, and in which they repose implicit faith and confidence are, in the spiritual realm, as real and potent as if they had a material existence. They may therefore be recognized in their true character as idols and those who are dominated by them as idolaters.
To men in all lands who are worshiping man-made gods--either of a material or psychological nature--I appeal as did the Apostle Paul to the great men of Athens. As he walked through the streets of that metropolis of culture, art, and intellectual activity, he saw many temples and countless idols. He discovered an altar, however, with this inscription: "To an Unknown God." This inspired herald of the cross, when he was brought to Mars Hill before the leading thinkers of the nation, declared that this one God who was unknown to them, and to whom they had erected this altar, was the true and the living One in whom they lived, moved, and had their being. He therefore pleaded with them to turn to Him in worship and praise. He did this in his immortal message recorded in Acts 17:22b-31:
Ye men of Athens, in all things I perceive that ye are very religious. 23 For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, To AN UNKNOWN GOD. What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this I set forth unto you. 24 The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; 25 neither is he served by men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; 26 and he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; 27 that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: 28 for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. 29 Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man. 30 The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: 31 inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
My appeal to one and all is that they turn from idols to serve the true and living God who manifested Himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Hebrew Messiah and Saviour of the world. He shed His blood for our redemption at His first coming and will return in glory for His people and take them to Himself: "Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:1-3).
¹ Anthropomorphism: "Representation or conception of God, or of a god, under a human form, or with human attributes and affections."--Webster's New International Dictionary.
² 139 O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me.
2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising;
Thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 Thou searchest out my path and my lying down,
And art acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue,
But, lo, O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou hast beset me behind and before,
And laid thy hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain unto it.
7 Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there:
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there shall thy hand lead me,
And thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall overwhelm me,
And the light about me shall be night;
12 Even the darkness hideth not from thee,
But the night shineth as the day:
The darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
13 For thou didst form my inward parts:
Thou didst cover me in my mother's womb.
14 I will give thanks unto thee;
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made:
Wonderful are thy works;
And that my soul knoweth right well.
15 My frame was not hidden from thee,
When I was made in secret,
And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance;
And in thy book they were all written,
Even the days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: When I awake, I am still with thee (Ps. 139:1-18).
³ Tripartite--Something divided or made in three parts. Made between or involving three parties.
⁴ Some have suggested that the use of the plural noun for God is to be understood as certain English words, which are plural in form but singular in meaning as "scissors," "molasses," "news," etc. This explanation is incorrect. A survey of the use of the word אֱלֹהִים 'elohim, gods, shows that often it was used to refer to the many gods of the heathen. Obviously in such cases it can have but one connotation, namely, the plural significance. If it has this meaning in such instances, it has this basic significance when referring to the true God--unless evidence from the context or related passages can be produced showing a departure from the fundamental meaning of the plural form. Since such is lacking, we must accept the regular meaning of plurality of this word when it refers to the one Supreme Being.
Others have seen an analogy between the varied uses of אֱלֹהִים gods, and such nouns as sheep, which form is both singular and plural. But the supposed parallelism breaks down by a study of the facts of each case. In my volume, The God of Israel, I have shown by many infallible proofs that this word is plural in form and meaning. In a few instances it has been supposed to be plural in form, but singular in meaning. For example, Exodus 7:1 is thought to prove this point: "And Jehovah said unto Moses, See, I have made thee as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet." According to this statement Moses would be to Pharaoh as אֱלֹהִים, Gods, and Aaron would be as his prophet. How could Moses, a single individual, be to Pharaoh as Gods? From numerous passages we know that there are three personalities subsisting in the one divine substance or essence, who constitute the Godhead. Jehovah declared that Moses should be to Pharaoh as the Godhead, that is, he should represent the Godhead to Pharaoh, and Aaron should be his prophet. Put differently, Moses would be the one from whom Aaron would receive his oracles which he delivered to Pharaoh. In the light of these facts we see that Exodus 7:1 does not change nor modify the meaning of אֱלֹהִים Gods.
Another effort to prove that our term, though plural in form, is singular in meaning is seen by a forced and false translation of Gen. 23:6. The words in question are rendered: "thou [Abraham] art a mighty [אֱלֹהִים] prince among us" (King James Version). But the correct grammatical translation is: "thou art a prince of God among us ..." (R.V.).
A forced unnatural meaning should never be placed upon any passage. Only the grammatical, historical meaning should be accepted.
⁵ The ancient Hebrew had three numbers: singular, dual, and plural. Of course, the smallest plural was the number three. Finally, the dual number gradually kept falling into disuse until the plural all but assumed its original function in indicating the number two. The word rendered God is in the plural number and comes from the earliest times; it therefore originally connoted plurality. From this conclusion there can be no escape. There cannot therefore be less than three personalities indicated in the word Elohim--God.
There is much proof supporting this conclusion. See chapter II of my volume, The God of Israel.