Getting to Know God Meditations: 5. God of Gradual Revelation
Gen 14:19,20 “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Gradual? There is something about the history within the Bible that many people don’t think about. It is what is sometimes called ‘the doctrine of divine accommodation’ which can be expressed as ‘God’s communications with humans are always limited to their current capacity to comprehend’. Together with this we should note that,
a) Mankind has developed or evolved in knowledge, understanding and ability to where we are today (a slow and gradual process only accelerated in the past century) and,
b) God has always existed, and is unchanging, (and the Bible says He knows and has always known everything) but has only gradually revealed Himself to the human race, in line with our ability to comprehend.
We live in an age of incredible knowledge and, for instance, science and technology are built on that knowledge, but that knowledge had to be gained gradually, as the history of scientific development clearly shows. There is nothing surprising about it, but when it comes to the Bible we hear silly things being said, but they are said because of not having thought about these things we’ve just noted. The point we need to make is that there is change, progress, and development, and to understand what is being said in scripture requires us to understand the historical context, i.e. where people had got to, if you like.
Examples: We have already seen how God communicated with Moses and declared of Himself that He was the God of the Patriarchs but also could be known as ‘I AM’. Now we like to tie every detail down neatly, defining whatever we can but definition is not crucial to relationship with God. So we have cited Abram as the first person in the Bible with whom God establishes a long-term relationship and we saw that it was with the purpose of establishing a family line and eventually a nation who would know and experience God, and that came into being in Moses’ time. But what is missing from the records involving Abraham is definition. God does not explain to him who He is, He does not explain His nature, He does not pour out in one go all the knowledge that we now have with the complete Bible. Why? Because that is not what relationship is all about. When you make friends with someone you don’t usually ask them, “Tell me everything about you.” No, instead as the relationship develops so your knowledge of them develops, and the same is true of God in the Bible.
Revelation from Another: Now what is fascinating is seeing how knowledge comes in different ways. Our verse above comes in an incident involving Abraham. He has grown in prosperity and influence and got involved in a conflict in Canaan. On his way back to his home he passes Jerusalem, known at that time as Salem, and we read, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram,” (Gen 14:18,19) and the blessing is our two verses above. Now what is strange about this is that we have no idea who Melchizedek was beyond this brief description, that he was a priest-king and claimed to worship “God Most High” and this God is “Creator of heaven and earth.” Now up until that point Abram doesn’t seem to have been bothered about the character or nature of this One who has been speaking to him, but now he acknowledges this fresh revelation as truth as he explains why he will not take benefit from simply having helped out in the conflict: “Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you.” (Gen 14:22,23)
Of course we have the early chapters of Genesis but the book had not been written then (it is believed that Moses compiled and wrote it from a combination of the accounts that had been passed down through the generations and the revelation he received from God in the many hours he spent in God’s presence in the forty years of his leading Israel to the Promised land) and so the thought that the One who had been speaking to him, calling him and guiding him, was no other than the Creator of all things. That is the claim of the Bible and it comes up again and again, that this world is NOT the product of total random chance and random evolution and thus with no possibility of meaning and purpose beyond basic survival, but is the result of the purposeful working of God who has designed humanity to work in specific ways that avoid self-harm and bring only goodness and blessing. (We’ll see in a later study why we don’t experience life like that most of the time).
Revelation by Experience: When it comes to observing the life of Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Israel as a people, much of our revelation about God is gleaned from the ways He interacted with these people and what He said to them. It is revelation by relationship and it is gradual. When we read, for example, the accounts of God’s dealings with Abraham, I suggest the following things come out about Him:
- God sees and knows and understands everything there is to know about us.
- He has a purpose for the earth which stretches far into the future.
- He persists with our slowness to understand, yet He continues to communicate with us.
- He is a God who can intervene in His material world and bring (from our perspective) miraculous changes.
Those are just some of the things we can learn about Him through His relationship with Abraham, but they are profound and they can be seen again and again throughout the Bible.
Recap: So in this study we have suggested the following:
– God reveals Himself through Scripture only gradually, in accordance with the ability of the people at their particular time in history could understand.
– God is more concerned not to reveal Himself by definition but through relationships.
– there are times of specific additional revelation but they are rare.
– mostly the revelation about God is gleaned from observing how He interacted with individuals or with the nation of Israel.
To this we must suggest that for the fullest revelation we can have of God in the Bible, we must include that which comes from the New Testament. What appears hidden in the Old Testament becomes obvious in the New. But before we can see that in its fullness, we need to take a step back and look again at the how the purposes of God that are revealed in His activity throughout the Bible, are weaved into the activities of mankind. That we will start to do in the next study