The God of Israel is a God who reveals himself to man. We can be thankful for this fact. Were it not so, we would all be hard pressed to find him. Many theologians feel that God has revealed himself in two distinct manners. Let us briefly consider these two manners of revelation.
GOD’S REVELATION IN CREATION
First of all, God has revealed himself in the creation that he has made. The theologians call this General Revelation. It is clearly portrayed in several passages of scripture, the most outstanding probably being Psalm 19:1-4, where the Psalmist says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
The New Testament also speaks of this in a similar fashion in Romans 1:20, where it is said: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
It is amazing to think that after all Satan has done to destroy the creation around us, the world still declares God’s glory! To realize this afresh, we have only to spend some time out in the natural world. Have we ever wondered why it is so refreshing to be out in the woods or beside the lake? The answer is simple. Everything in nature is doing exactly what the Father has commanded. The birds are building nests and migrating just as they were instructed. All nature is straining to bring forth fruit and to accomplish its other God-given functions.
When we consider man, we begin to realize the true dimensions of the fall recorded in Genesis chapter three. We find that man, unlike the animals, the birds, and all the rest of the created order, is not responding according to the divine program. He is, in fact, “doing his own thing.” What if the birds or animals chose such a course? What if the birds simply said, “This year we refuse to fly those thousands of miles in order to migrate.” The answer would be obvious. They would all freeze to death in the north-country, or perish for
lack of food.
Man in his folly desires to be “free as a bird,” not realizing that birds are not free. They are in complete submission to the divine decrees relating to them. The ancient author, Job, chides man concerning this with these words: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you” (Job 12:7-8).
Quite simply, nature didn’t fall. It was man who fell. It is true that the ground was cursed for man’s sake, probably in order that the thorns and thistles could put some redemptive pressure on sinful man, forcing him to cry out to God. We also read in Genesis that the serpent was cursed. We learn from scripture that the created order was then subjected to frustration and decay. In Romans 8:20-21, we see that it was subjected in hope, that one day the creation would be liberated from bondage and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s redeemed children. We are told that all creation waits in eager anticipation for the manifestation of God’s children. On that day quite literally, “all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isa. 55:12).
But how is fallen man to gain such redemption? How would God be able to communicate with fallen man? Could he accomplish this by revealing himself in the creation alone?
GOD’S REVELATION IN HISTORY
No, God has gone further, to reveal himself in history. The theologians call this Special Revelation. There are simply some things we cannot know about God through General Revelation. We cannot know for sure that God is a person, that he has a plan for our lives, and that he loves us just as a father loves his children.
A big part of this Special Revelation is God’s revelation of himself in the historical process. God has revealed himself as the Lord of history. No other “god” has done such a thing. We might ask, did Baal reveal himself in history, or work in history? No, we can now positively say that history worked on Baal. It placed his images in the garbage heaps and covered them with dust and ashes.
How different is the God of Israel. This God actually talks to men. He talked to Adam, Enoch, and Noah. He is a God who talks. All through history he has spoken to people, to kings and to nations. He talked to Pharaoh through Moses and Aaron; he talked to Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus and Dairus. It is said in Proverbs 21:1 that, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”
GOD’S REVELATION THROUGH ISRAEL
While it is true that God has revealed himself throughout history to men and even to kings, we must go on to make clear that God has primarily revealed himself to Abraham and to Israel. This is an important part of his special revelation. The scripture is clear that God didn’t just reveal himself indiscriminately to all people. It might be said that God had to build an infrastructure of salvation, with plenty of types, patterns, pictures, stories, commandments, statutes, judgments, etc. This work took centuries and God knew that only Abraham and his seed, Israel, would be able to carefully preserve this record of salvation (Gen. 18:19). The scripture says: “He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws….” (Ps. 147:19-20).
So it was God’s eternal and unchanging plan to reveal himself to and through Israel. God’s plan revolves around Israel, even to this day. His plan will always focus on Israel. As Christians, we are grafted into the house of Israel and into this ancient and timeless plan of God (Rom. 11:17).
When I was younger I used to think that God chose people, and if they didn’t work out, he simply discarded them and chose other people. Yet, God is all-knowing. He knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:9-10). He certainly does not make mistakes in his choices. Did we ever wonder why Israel has so much trouble? It is because God is working out his revelation and salvation through that nation even to this present moment. That revelation and salvation will ultimately benefit all nations. The enemy of God knows this and thus continues his age-old campaign to destroy Israel.
The Bible on our bookshelves is a record of this great revelation given through history and through Israel. It is primarily through the diligent efforts of the Jewish people that this precious book has come down to us. In every generation the Devil has tried to destroy and obliterate it. The Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem, exemplifies this struggle. With its architectural contrasts in colors of white and black, it seeks to emphasize the eternal battle of light and darkness. Clearly its focus is related to the transmission and preservation of the Bible. Amazingly, in the Gulf War of 1991, the priceless Dead Sea Scrolls housed there were carried down into “safe” rooms far below the museum. This had to be done in order to protect God’s word from the missile attacks of Saddam Hussein.
GOD’S REVELATION IN HIS SON
Yes, God has revealed himself in creation, in history, in Israel, and in the Bible. However, we Christians believe that God has revealed himself in yet another way – in his Son. We believe that God has a Son, as incredible and impossible as this may seem. We believe that the Son’s mysterious presence was manifested on many occasions in the Bible. We believe that he probably appeared to Abraham in a human or angelic form (Gen. 18:16-22); he may have appeared to Joshua as “commander of the army of the LORD” (Josh. 5:14); he no doubt appeared to Manoah as the one whose name was called “wonderful” (Jud. 13:18). We believe that David spoke of him when he made the strange statement recorded in Psalm 110:1, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”
Jewish people do not generally accept the idea that God has a Son. Actually, Christians have had a rather difficult time with this doctrine. Although it is central to the Christian faith, Christians have probably disagreed more over the doctrine of the Son of God than any other doctrine. For hundreds of years the church debated and sometimes actually fought over his exact nature. Some said he was like God; while others said he was God -of one substance with God. The church creeds were hammered out over the centuries and it was finally determined that the Son was truly God and truly man – the full and complete revelation of God to man, manifested in flesh and blood on the earth. As the scripture says, he is “Immanuel,” – God with us (Isa. 7:14).
So after almost two thousand years, the Christian Church is still left with the incomprehensible mystery of the Son of God. He is the last and final word, the Living Word, spoken by the God who reveals himself to man. As Christians, we believe that this mystery, so intriguing and so baffling to the mind of man, could only have its origins in the mind of the Creator himself.
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem (original publication date, 1991).
Picture credits Wikimedia Commons, M51 Hst-Gendler 800R Spiral Nebula