Getting to Know God Meditations: 4. God of Intervention
Gen 12:1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
Enter Abram? We are swimming around in the waters of the early books of the Bible seeking to catch sight of God, but unlike whale watching where you can spend a day out in a boat and see nothing, the early chapters of the Bible are full of ‘God-sightings.’ It is certainly about human lives – and from Genesis, chapter 12 on it becomes very personal – but it is also very much about God. In the previous study I said that the idea of a God who stands back and just watches this world is alien to the Bible, this God interacts with human beings. There is much of that in the first twelve chapters of that first book of the Bible, but I want to take the Patriarchs, remember, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to see this God of intervention. In our verse above, somehow God spoke to Abram and somehow Abram ‘heard’ God. We aren’t told how. At the end of chapter 11 of Genesis we are introduced to Abram, a man married to Sarai, and a man who is childless. Then God tells him to go to what turns out to be Canaan and He promises him, “I will make you into a great nation,” (Gen 12:2) which is pretty amazing as we’ve been told Sarai is barren.
The story rolls out: What is amazing, and perhaps we believers take this for granted, is that the story of Abram, who God renames Abraham, rolls out over a lot of chapters and the unique thing about these chapters is that they are all about Abram interacting with God. Eventually, when he is a hundred years old, Abraham becomes a father and Isaac is born. More chapters and we see something of Isaac who eventually gets married but for twenty years remains childless. He prays and God answers and his wife Rebekah conceives and has twins, Jacob and Esau. God tells her that the younger, Jacob, will be the superior, and a real soap opera drama ensues, the end of which has Jacob as a rich, prosperous head of a large household with twelve sons and one daughter. Cutting a very long story short, one of the twelve sons, Joseph, gets prophetic dreams from God that show him lording it over the rest of the family. The soap opera drama continues and to cut another long story short Joseph ends up as Prime Minister to the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and sees them through a difficult famine period. The result of this is that Israel and his whole family end up living in Egypt, saved from the famine by Joseph’s presence there, that had been orchestrated by God. It is an amazing story that takes up the majority of the book of Genesis.
Big Event Time: Four hundred years pass, (and we are now in the second book of the Bible, Exodus,) the family has grown into a nation within Egypt but in so doing became a threat to Egypt and are made their slaves. This has been told in outline to Abraham by God four hundred years before! Enter Moses who we’ve met before at the burning bush, who God now uses as His mouthpiece to the current pharaoh, a despot of the worst kind. An amazing story in the first twelve chapters of Exodus. Again cutting another long story short, what follows is ‘The Exodus’ the first great event in the life of this nation, Israel. They are led by God out of Egypt, up through the area we today call Saudi Arabia or the Sinai Peninsula, and eventually occupy the land called Canaan (later Palestine, later Israel) after God drives out most of the previous pagan occupants, but that’s another story altogether we find in the fifth book of the Bible, Joshua.
Nationhood: God has now got Israel in Canaan and the chapters and books that unfold tell the story of how initially they were led by judges (hence the book by that name, the sixth book in the Bible which leads on into 1 Samuel), ask for a king of their own, and are given their first king, Saul, a man head and shoulders above the rest, a great looking leader – but who messes up. God then raises up David as the next king who becomes one of Israel’s national heroes. He has a son, Solomon, who starts off very wise but, again, ends up messing up. The result is a divided kingdom, ten tribes in the north referred to as Israel and two tribes in the south, based on Jerusalem, called for shorthand, Judah. The north are a pretty rubbish bunch and go through 19 kings and last 208 years before being overrun by Assyria from the north. The south were marginally better with 20 kings and lasted 343 years, eventually being taken into Exile by king Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army. After some 40 years of what is the second major event of Israel’s early history, ‘The Exile’, quite amazingly king Cyrus of Persia, now the number one ruler, sends some of them back to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and indeed restore Jerusalem itself. For some four hundred or so years, little is reported of them in the Biblical record. The books of Nehemiah and Ezra record the return and there are some so-called minor prophets, but otherwise there is silence for some four hundred years, before the coming of Christ and a whole new ball game starts!
God Activity: Now the whole point of recounting this brief overview of Old Testament history is to say this is the human background for God’s activity. In later studies we will seek to discern God’s purposes behind all this human activity within this unique group of people, but for now I simply want to make the point that in all this, the handprints of God, if we may put like this, are blatantly obvious in the 39 books that comprise the Old Testament (and even more so in the 27 books that comprise the New Testament.) Consider what we’ve mentioned so far, and some of the things that are the primary features of Genesis 12 on:
God calls Abram, guides him, gets him out of more than one minor mess he gets into, reveals the future to him, enables his aging wife to conceive, helps guide to get a wife for Isaac, warns about the twins to be born, has dealings with Jacob, gives Joseph prophetic dreams that guide his future, watches over him while navigating the difficult path that leads him to become a statesman, reassures Jacob about going to Egypt, watches over and calls Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt, brings plagues on Egypt to extract Israel free from their grip, guide them and provide for them through the ensuing years until they take the Promised Land, Canaan, gives Joshua victories, provides judges for them to deliver them from their enemies, gives them Saul, raises up David and blesses his leadership, gives wisdom to Solomon and speaks to the nation(s) again and again through prophets in the coming centuries. Yes, this is all about people but it is all about the God who intervenes.
But one penultimate point, He does not intervene randomly. In the following studies we will go on to consider the nature of the way He reveals all these thing. Everything that happens here is according to a divine purpose – but it is gradual. And so to a final point which is important to see. Mankind has been given free will and although God interacts with that, He rarely overrides it. Thus the history of the Old Testament is certainly a history with the prints of God all over it, but it is nevertheless the story of the free will of mankind being worked out under the microscope, if you like, of the life of Israel, and that says much about us, but that we will leave until later studies.