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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


Part IV: The Omnipotence of God in the Affairs of Men

Chapter 3

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 2:23; 4:27,28).
     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

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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 

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himself to his brethren and then made this observation when he saw their concern (Genesis 45:5,7,8):

     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.

     Notice particularly 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, 

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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 41:23).
     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.

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     At 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 L
ORD 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

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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" (Luke 15:30).
     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 L
ORD 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

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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 L
ORD 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 L
ORD, Ye shall not go up nor fight against your brethren: return every man to his house; for this thing is done of Me."

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     The 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 revelation.
     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.

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     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 of Romans:

     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. Amen.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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