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The world is a challenging place for most people. Life is filled with uncertainties, dangers, and eventually death. Injustices and atrocities are all too common.
Add to this the problem of what I call the intangibleness of God: while the world presses upon us - we hear it, see it, feel it -- God is invisible. God is present everywhere (often referred to as the omnipresence of God).1 He is, therefore, immediate, but seems distant -- so that the world often seems more real than God. This brings a spiritual need that can only be addressed by right thinking; by making “the Creator connection.”
Genesis is not just the first book of the Bible, it is the book that prepares us for everything else that Scripture has to say. It is also great literature. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .” (Genesis 1:1). When men first orbited the moon in Apollo 8, these words were read by the astronauts while a camera showed the moon’s surface passing beneath the spacecraft. It was a profound moment when the beauty of creation was coupled with the words of this great book. The theological importance of these words is underscored in The Revelation to John, the last book of the Bible to be authored. God is praised as Creator in chapter 4 before God is praised as Savior in chapter 5. This emphasizes that the truth that God is the Creator underlies all that Scripture teaches.
The issue of the tangibleness of the Creator comes to the forefront in the book of Job. There, the reader is told - although Job is unaware at the time -- that Job’s troubles result from a discussion between Satan and God, and that God’s desire is to demonstrate Job’s faith. Satan claims that Job is faithful to God only because Job has been blessed with the things of this world. In other words, Satan argues that if tangible sufferings are substituted for tangible blessings, Job will reject God. In the misfortune that follows, Job suffers greatly. The book of Job consists largely of the arguments of those who try to change Job’s perspective on life and suffering.
The final argument is presented by God Himself. God’s words are straightforward. God states that Job must trust God simply because God is the Creator. Job is not told about the discussion between God and Satan, nor of God’s desire to vindicate Job by a demonstration of Job’s faithfulness. Instead, God insists that Job recognize God’s greatness as Creator, and rebukes Job for lack of faith.
At first glance God’s answer may seem to avoid the entire issue. However, to take this point of view is to maintain that what God said has no real significance -- that God’s presence, because it is intangible, doesn’t matter. This is the position of an agnostic, not a person of faith; an agnostic being a person who believes that even if God does exist, it doesn’t matter. It is all too easy for us to slip into a kind of practical agnosticism even while we claim faith in God. In other words, to claim faith in God, but to live our lives as if God does not exist -- taking one point of view in religious activities and another as we go out to face the world.
When seeking the spiritual significance of God’s answer to Job it helps to remember that God revealed Himself to the Hebrews by the name Yahweh (rendered Jehovah in older works). This name was so sacred to the ancient Hebrews that many refused to say it out loud. It became common practice for the Hebrews to substitute Adonai, “Lord,” for Yahweh when reading the Scriptures aloud, a practice that Jews observe to this day.
While Yahweh is variously translated as “I Am,” “I Am that I Am,” “I Am Who I Am,” and so forth, it is well-accepted that the verb “to be” is basic to its meaning. Therefore, the significance of this name is that it points to the being, the self-existence of God.2 The correctness of understanding Yahweh as “I Am” is driven home in John’s Gospel. At one point, the Jews became enraged at Jesus because He told them “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). The Jews then tried to stone Jesus -- the punishment for blasphemy -- because He called Himself “I am” (in Greek ego eimi), thereby equating Himself with God, as John makes plain in 10:33.
Yahweh, the covenant name of God by which God revealed Himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14), thus emphasizes that God is self-existent and that all else is fully dependent upon Him, the Creator. It is because God is Yahweh that He is also known by the names Shaddai (in Greek ho pantokrator), “the Almighty” and Lord Sabaoth (Yahweh Sabaoth), “the Lord of Hosts.”
It is Lord Sabaoth that is used to identify God in Isaiah 6:3, in the exalted vision of a holy God when the seraphim cry out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” “Lord of hosts” is a way of identifying the transcendence and sovereignty of God and His ability to accomplish whatever He sets out to do - His omnipotence. Commenting on this expression in Isaiah 1:9, early Methodist theologian Adam Clarke wrote, “This title imports that JEHOVAH is the God or Lord of hosts or armies; as he is the Creator and Supreme Governor of all beings in heaven and earth, and disposeth and ruleth them all in their several orders and stations; the almighty, universal Lord.”3
Commenting on “the Lord of Hosts” in the same verse in his commentary on Isaiah, Dr. John Oswalt of Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi writes, “This appellation is a favorite phrase among the prophets, occurring in all but Ezekiel, Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah as an indication of God’s power in human affairs. He is the God who has numberless hosts to do his bidding in any affair at any moment (2 K. 6:15-18).”4
Indeed, not only in verses 1:9 and 6:3 but throughout the book of Isaiah there is the underlying truth that God as Creator is sovereign over all the earth and its affairs; and therefore history is in the hands of God. Early in Isaiah we learn that the Israelites looked to the tangible military power of Egypt to their south to rescue them from the tangible military threat of Assyria to their north. The Assyrians were brutal warriors. They are often given credit for inventing crucifixion, since they would impale their captives on vertical stakes and leave them there to die. With such a reputation for cruelty, it is small wonder that Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah (the capitol of Assyria) to preach!
Both Jonah and the Hebrews of Isaiah’s time, however, had ample reason to look beyond the realities that confronted them. At significant times before, God used the natural world to bring attention to the fact that He is the Creator, and on that basis to call His own to have more confidence in Him than in any creature. God used the regularity of times and seasons, and the rainbow, to assure Noah of God’s care for mankind (Genesis 8:21-22, 9:8-17). Some believe that God created the rainbow for the first time after the great Flood. But this need not be the case. In Jeremiah, God used the reliability of natural phenomena to indicate that He would be just as faithful with His promises to His people (Jeremiah 31:35-37; notice that just before these words God points to the New Covenant to be brought through Christ). God may have done the same with the rainbow, using the reliability of its appearance as an indication of the steadfastness of His promise. In any case, each of these call for faith on the basis that God is the Creator.
Likewise, when God wants to instill faith in Abraham, he calls Abraham to look up at the stars (Genesis 15:5-6). This would certainly have been much more impressive in Abraham’s time than for most of us today, for today the “light pollution” of electric lights tends to make the stars seem dimmer and less numerous. When Paul writes to the Romans that Abraham’s faith is to be an example for ours, he speaks of Abraham’s response to God’s demonstration of His trustworthiness demonstrated in creation.
Later, when Solomon dedicated the first permanent Temple building in Jerusalem, Solomon prayed, “But will God indeed dwell with mankind on earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built” (II Chronicles 6:18). Solomon refers to the God Who dwelt among the children of Israel as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day during the exodus from Egypt, Who delivered them from the power of Pharoh, sustained them in the wilderness, and Whose physical demonstrations of power through sounds and earthquakes terrified the Israelites in the wilderness; this is the God Whose glory inhabited the Temple in Isaiah’s Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:18-21, Exodus 13:21-22, 15:1-16:21, 19:1-25, 20:18-20).
When, during the time of Isaiah, Judah was rescued from the Assyrian army, it was by the supernatural intervention of God, not by the power of Egypt. But most of the people did not want to listen to Isaiah, nor remember their history, nor remember the promises of their God, the God Whose reality and power are constantly testified to by creation. Instead, just as Adam and Eve put faith in a creature (Satan) and in creation (the fruit of the tree that was forbidden to them) rather than in the Creator Who provided the Garden for them, the Hebrews chose to place their faith in creatures (the Egyptian military) and created things (idols).
To address this misplacement of trust, Isaiah constantly pointed out that those things that are part of the created order (idols) cannot be transcendent over it and rule it; whereas God, as Creator, is sovereign over all things, including history.5 In a manner similar to which Noah, Abraham, and Job were brought face-to-face with creation in a call to faith in the Creator, Isaiah confronts the idolators with creation in chapters 40-48 as he challenges the Hebrews to faith. And like Genesis and Job, we are presented not only with lofty truths but with lofty literature.
Speaking of Isaiah’s message, John Oswalt writes, “For Isaiah, the doctrine of creation is fundamental”6 This is as expected, for he later writes that “God’s transcendence is the most fundamental truth of OT (Old Testament) theology.”7 Further, commenting on verse 40:12 Dr. Oswalt writes, “This assertion implies several points that are at the heart of biblical religion: God is one, without any pantheon; he is the sole creator; he is beyond nature, not a part of it.”8 Isaiah learns this not by observing creation, but by taking seriously the message of His Creator about all things -- including creation.
God revealed Himself as Creator by word and deed throughout Old Testament history. The miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrian army demonstrated that this Creator is a mighty Savior (II Kings 19:20-36). The subsequent history of the Hebrews showed that many still did not respond with faith. But those who did could say with the psalmist,
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2
If it is true that in the Old Testament the Deliverer is the Creator, this is no less true in the New Testament.
Carefully compare Isaiah 54:5, “For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the Lord of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth” with Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” That this deliverance is through the blood of the cross of Jesus Christ is made clear in other verses in Ephesians. That Jesus is intimately involved in creation is not explicitly stated in Ephesians, but is stated clearly in Paul’s letters to the Colossians (1:16-17) and the Corinthians (I Corinthians 8:5-6), in Hebrews (1:2-3), and in John’s Gospel.
John writes in the prologue to his Gospel, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (1:3) -- a profound thought. The words that are translated “came (or 'has come') into being” three times in this passage are forms of the Greek word ginomai, a verb meaning “to become,” “to come into being,” or “to be born.” The noun form of this word, genesis, is easily recognizable as the word from which the Old Testament book “Genesis” derives its name in our English Bibles. This word refers not just to “birth” in reference to human beings, but to “a beginning” in terms of objects. It also helps us to relate the concepts of Creator and Savior in the work of Christ.
The New Testament word palingenesia, a combination of the word palin which means “again” and genesis, simply means to be “again-born,” or as we would say, “born-again.” Think about it for a little bit and the Greek influence is obvious in our word “regeneration” (“re-“ meaning “again,” “generation” meaning “born”) and you see where the word comes from that is the Christian “technical term” for being “born-again.” Palingenesia (“regenerate” or “born again”) is found in just two places in the New Testament. In Titus 3:5 Paul writes that we are saved by the “washing of regeneration” (substitute “new birth” for the word “regeneration” if you wish). In Matthew 19:28 Jesus speaks of His second coming as His sitting on His throne to rule in the regeneration. This is a little awkward to translate directly into English. The parallel passage, Luke 22:30, is somewhat helpful because the different wording helps illuminate the meaning. Even more helpful are Jesus’ words in Revelation 21:5, “And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” From this it is clear that it isn’t only people who may be “born again” or regenerate, all creation shall be regenerated, “remade,” “made new.” Redemption will eventually touch all creation. When we realize this it becomes clear that it is because God is its Maker that God can remake all creation.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead provides the most compelling evidence that it is God the Creator Who works through Jesus Christ to provide redemption. In Ephesians 1:15-21 Paul prayed that the Holy Spirit would enable the Christians in Ephesus to understand that the tremendous, recreative power that raised Jesus from the dead -- and made the risen Christ Lord of His church and of all creation - was at work among them even in this present age.
If the Ephesians required the help of the Holy Spirit to understand the power of God’s saving work through Jesus Christ, we surely need no less. However, that does not mean that the Holy Spirit does not use means to achieve this in our minds and lives. In the Old Testament, God directed the attention of His people to His power and reality as displayed in creation. In the New Testament, our attention is further directed to this through the bodily resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. These are truths the Holy Spirit can use to build our faith (Galatians 6:6-8).
However, these truths are important for more than personal spirituality. On Mars Hill, Paul made clear to the pagan philosophers that their Creator would also be the Judge of their souls (Acts 17:23-31). Indeed, as Creator not only does God have the right, as Creator no creature can resist God’s Judgment (II Chronicles 20:6, Philippians 2:9-11, Isaiah 45:18-23).
Today, as we face New Age pantheists (who believe that everything in creation is god), and philosophers who, after Alfred North Whitehead believe in panentheism (that all creation is a part of God), we must feel no less an obligation to solemnly warn of this truth. There is nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by failing to make the connection that the same God who seeks to provide us with saving grace through Jesus Christ is the God who created us for Himself. -SMD
1 Although God can also choose to manifest or withdraw His presence from any place or creature whenever He chooses to do so.
2 In technical, theological terminology, God’s self-existence is referred to as the aseity of God.
3 Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes: Designed as a Help to a Better Understanding of the Sacred Writings, Volume 4: Isaiah to Malachi (Nashville: Abingdon, from an edition first published in England in 1810, first published in the United States in 1824 by Abraham Paul for the New York branch of the Methodist Book Concern), 22.
4 Dr. John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, R. K. Harrison and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. gen. eds. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 92.
5 Ibid., 653.
6 Ibid., 536.
7 7 Dr. John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, R. K. Harrison and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. gen. eds. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 62.
8 8 Ibid., 58-59.
The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is an occasional publication of The American Night Watch Christian ministry in support of Scriptural Christianity and Scriptural holiness.
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This page was last updated January 28, 2006.