What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Despite this vivid chapter's impressively detailed description of God's personal involvement, does it not appear that, because the world is so evil, Satan has far more to do with affairs on earth than God? Countering that, though, is that God's Word shows Satan has a tight-enough leash on him that he can do only what God permits. The reality is that, despite appearances, God is in complete control.
How can we know this for certain? It depends on whether we are walking by faith or by sight. What does walking by faith signify? It means that our thoughts about life's events and the circumstances they create and our conduct are regulated and carried out based on the Word of God. It is literally and truly our guide.
News reports indicate that the pillars of our culture are crumbling and are clearly out of joint (Psalm 11:3). We know from Bible prophecy that living conditions are going to get worse. With that witness so apparent before our eyes, whom do we believe is regulating affairs on this earth—God or the Devil?
Consider an example that is especially close to many of us. As our former church fellowship blew apart, many said Satan did it. Did he? No, he did not. Saying that Satan did it is nothing more than an easy escape from the reality that we may have had a part in causing its breakup. It is more likely that our Father in heaven took us to the woodshed.
Our perspective on this might simply be ignorance of biblical reality. To anyone who understands what the Bible says, only one Person could do such a thing, and that is our sovereign God. Who scattered Israel? Did Satan? The Bible barely mentions him in this context. God boldly takes credit for scattering Israel directly and the church in symbol in Lamentations 2 and many other places.
A cursory reading of these verses might give a person the impression that God was just sitting on His throne, twiddling His fingers, and waiting for Israel to do something. But God had already begun to act. He had ensured that Moses would live through the slaughter of the Israelite children. He had directed the little ark into the hands of the Pharaoh's daughter. He had ensured that Moses would receive the benefit of a tremendous education, the best kind of secular education that one could receive at that time. He had put thoughts in Moses' mind that he could be Israel's deliverer. He had spared Moses' life when the Pharaoh tried to take it. He had prompted Moses to flee the land and led him into the wilderness to the family of Jethro. He had given Moses the time and the opportunity to continue his preparation for leading His people out of Egypt.
Who initiated all this? Certainly not the children of Israel! God did! We find all the way back in the book of Genesis that God had already prophesied that in about 400 years, He would move to bring the children of Abraham out of a captivity, which He also arranged.
Could God - who does not change, who sets patterns in His Word so that we will understand - ensure, long before we were born, that there would be a church for His people at the end time and that someone would be prepared by Him to get the doctrines they would need to understand at the end time? We know very well He could - and did.
How did Israel get out of Egypt? Not through any rebellion, revolution, intelligence, or negotiations on their part. They got out because God wanted them out. It was part of His purpose.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unleavened Bread and Pentecost
Here is a summary of the lessons in this amazing psalm:
Verse 1: Do I really recognize God's right to me? Do I respond to His management?
Verse 2: Sheep must be free from tension within the flock, fear from the outside (e.g., pests, predators), and not hungry.
Verse 3: Though we may become cast down, our Shepherd will seek us out to save us from ourselves.
- Instead of loving myself most, I am willing to love Christ best and others at least as much as myself.
- Instead of being one of the crowd, I am willing to be singled out and set apart from it.
- Instead of insisting on my own rights, I am willing to forgo them in favor of others.
- Instead of being boss, I am willing to be at the bottom of the heap and to eliminate the drive for self-assertion, self-determination, and self-pleasing.
- Instead of finding fault with life and always asking why, I am willing to accept every circumstance in life in an attitude of gratitude.
- Instead of asserting my will, I am willing to learn to cooperate with God's wishes.
Verse 5: The only way to the tablelands (our goal) is through testing and trial, but we learn through these that He is with us. His rod denotes correction and His staff denotes guidance.
Verse 6: He has gone on before us to prepare the tableland. He thoroughly identifies with us and ensures that we can make it. He anoints us, cares for us continually, and promises that we will be in His flock.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part 3)
What if a ruler, the one to whom we are to submit, is an oppressive person? What if he is just incompetent or stupid, and we know better how to do the job that he is supposed to be doing? What if the person is sexually immoral or financially greedy? Does God still want us to submit? What protection do we have in these kinds of circumstances?
Abomination that it is, those in authority often do evil. They might have serious character flaws that catch their victims in the effects of their flaws. What is so maddening is that they justify their ways—seeing them as good—and they will turn around and blame the innocent for the evils that occur.
For example, the proverb says that "all the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes." The incompetent man does not think to himself, "I'm really dumb, stupid, idiotic, and shouldn't even have this job." The sexually immoral person does not see himself as perverse. Most prostitutes will say, "Yes, I'm doing wrong according to the law, but I am providing a needed and wanted service. If it weren't I would have no customers." They justify themselves; they are pure in their own eyes.
Consider the enemies of Jesus. They felt justified in taking His life on the grounds that He was stirring up the people. No one on earth has ever been more innocent, yet they justified what they were doing because the people were being stirred up by Him. They accused Him of being a revolutionary, a threat to community stability.
If we are in a position like this—under an oppressive ruler who justifies the way he is doing things, and we are suffering the effects of his actions—we feel like powerless pawns being taken advantage of. We feel that he is denying us the liberty to do what we want. Should we submit or rebel?
To know what to do, we must look at what Jesus did in a similar circumstance. This is not an occasion in which the authority figure demands submission, and in submitting, we must break the law of God. The situation does not involve being forced to sin, but simply submitting to one who is unreasonable and oppressive.
John 19:10 is part of Jesus' trial for His very life before Pilate, and occurs after He was scourged: "Then Pilate said to Him, 'Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?'" He could choose to do either. Pilate was a corrupt official. His record, according to secular history, was not at all good. The Jews despised him for his harsh ways.
"Jesus answered, 'You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin'" (John 19:11). His response is very meaningful. It clearly shows His attitude, His approach, to every circumstance of His life.
To be in the same frame of mind, we must ask ourselves, "Do we see God?" Is He really a part of our lives? Is He really running this creation? Is He really sitting at the controls of things? Is He really aware of us as individuals? Does He have every hair on our heads numbered? Are we really the apple of His eye? Are our lives really in His hands? Have we really given them to Him, or are we holding part of ourselves in reserve?
"You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above." Jesus saw life very clearly and simply: that God was in complete control of everything going on in the universe. Not that everything was being directed by Him in the sense that He was causing it to occur, but that Jesus believed with every fiber of His being that God was with Him all the time, everywhere, and at every moment. He knew that His life was in His Father's hands and that Pilate could do nothing against Him unless God allowed it.
Would God have us submit, or be faced with submitting, to somebody who was cruel, hard-hearted, incompetent, sexually unbalanced, perverted, stupid, or financially greedy? Would He have us live and work under such a person? He put His own Son in that position! Everything at Jesus' trial and crucifixion looked as though it was totally stacked against Him. Carnally, it seems as if He had every right to rebel. He could have replied, "Do you not know to whom you are doing this?" Instead, He says, in paraphrase, "You would not have the power to do anything except that My Father passed on this. And He is now looking at Me to see how I am going to respond. Will I submit to the authority that He has permitted to be over Me right now?"
Do we see God in our lives like this? We have to begin to look at ourselves differently than the way people in the world look at themselves. We must decide whether we are in God's hand or not. Do we have the faith to trust that we are, and that these constituted authorities are also in His hand? Do we believe that He is aware of what is going on and that He deeply cares about what we will do in each situation? As He did with Abraham, He must know what kind of witness we are going to make (see Genesis 22).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)
God keeps the "natural" cycles recurring (in the weather, for instance, as well as other cyclical events mentioned in chapter 1). There is security in knowing that a steady Hand rests on the helm—one that can be absolutely relied upon. It is likely that Paul derived the major part of the principle in Romans 8:28—that all things work together for good—in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Life, then, is not out of control. Do we believe this? We have a desire to know the future but cannot know it—not completely. God has not given anyone that much insight into what is happening. Thus, Solomon's conclusion is that we should make the most we can of our life right now. (He is not talking about being imbalanced or hedonistic. He means doing things properly, successfully, with dedication.) We can give it our all knowing that there is a steady Hand at the helm and things are not out of control. Our part in this is to trust God. Are we willing to do that?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)
How can God be in control when the world contains so much evil? How can God be in control with the evil prospering in their sins and the righteous suffering in their obedience? Does that not seem backward from the way that we would think of God operating things? How should a Christian react to this?
Certainly, Solomon was not the first to ask this question. As much as we might dislike having to deal with this, it is nonetheless a reality. In His wisdom, God chose to deal with humanity in this way, and perhaps most especially, to allow His own children to face these same circumstances.
Solomon was comforted by two godly realities that we should also understand and use. First, he assures us that God will judge. The timing of His judgment is in God's capable hands. Therefore, we must remember that nobody among humanity will get away with the evil that he does. The wages of sin—death—is a reality (Romans 6:23). We cannot allow ourselves to forget that God is judging. It is a continuous process, and in many cases, we simply are not aware of present, unseen penalties that the evil person may already be paying.
Second, human nature naturally thinks that the way God handles things is unfair, a judgment that is the work of the spirit of this world (Ephesians 2:2-3). However, God's perception of timing and judgment is a much broader and more specific picture regarding each person than we can see. We are not walking in others' shoes, nor are we aware of what God is planning for them to experience. Therefore, what we must know and properly utilize is the fact that, in a major way, other people are none of our business. That is God's concern, and He will take care of things in His time.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts
In Jeremiah 43, the prophet Jeremiah provides an excellent example of the level of control God maintains in an apparently chaotic situation. The context is the prophecy that Nebuchadnezzar will conquer Egypt.
[Nebuchadnezzar] will defeat Egypt. He will bring death to those who are supposed to die. He will capture those who are supposed to be captured. He will kill in battle those who are supposed to be killed in battle. (Jeremiah 43:11, God's Word Translation)
Other translations use verbals such as doomed or destined, as “those who are destined to die,” or “those doomed for captivity.” In the thick of battle, with confusion everywhere, God will remain in control. He knows precisely whom He wants to live and whom He wants to die. Nebuchadnezzar did not have that knowledge; his generals did not; and certainly, his foot soldiers did not. If they had known it, they could not reliably have implemented God's will in the heat of battle.
God, though, knew His plans for each individual and controlled the situation precisely to bring about His planned end. That is why God can be so specific in Ezekiel 5:1-2, using the fraction “one-third.” God will maintain control to ensure that one-third will be burned in the fire, another third scattered in the wind, and so on.
A second witness of this concept, using similar rhetoric, appears at Jeremiah 15:2:
And when they ask you, “Where shall we go?” you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord:
Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence,
and those who are for the sword, to the sword;
those who are for famine, to famine,
and those who are for captivity, to captivity.”
(English Standard Version)
An echo of this concept of control sounds in Christ's words, recorded at Revelation 13:10:
If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain. [ESV]
Interestingly, this verse ends with a call for patience and faith during extremely rough times: “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” The horrific events of the Day of the Lord might well cause God's elect to question His level of control—perhaps even His beneficence. This will be a year requiring consummate faith and patience on the part of God's people. They must truly know that God's actions during that Day will not be chaotic or haphazard in any way, but highly orchestrated by Him.
What a Difference a Day Makes
This verse ought to make us consider how deeply God is involved in our lives. We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that this principle does not apply to us because we are insignificant. It applies to all men, high or low, rich or poor, slave or freeman, Gentile or Israelite, converted or unconverted. It is deeply moving to consider that the breath on which our life depends, itself such a frail thing, is in the "hand" of an invisible Being over whom we can have no control. He can stop our breath at any time. We continue living only at His pleasure! There is perhaps nothing more absolute than the power God holds over us, yet we do not seem disposed to acknowledge it.
In addition, He claims to have the power to control all our ways. We can go nowhere without his permission; once we leave, we cannot return home without His allowance. We like to think we have faith, but do we really live our lives considering His nearness to us? How little we recognize this! Yet it is what the apostle Paul means when he tells the Athenians, "[I]n Him we live and move and have our being." Solomon reiterates this thought in Proverbs 19:21, "There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the LORD 's counsel—that will stand." Again he writes in Proverbs 16:9, "A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps," and in chapter 21:1 it says, "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes." The Living Bible paraphrases this last verse, "Just as water is turned into irrigation ditches, so the Lord directs the king's thoughts. He turns them wherever He wants to."
If the king's heart is in God's hand, and He is influencing his decisions, is it not clear that all governors of men are completely beneath the governmental control of the Almighty? What ruler can resist Him? This does not mean He is inspiring the evil things they decide to enact as policy, but He oversees and thus allows them, or they would never be able to implement them. Belshazzar seemingly had a free hand until God dramatically intervened to bring about His will. We should consider this in light of the "sovereign citizenship" movement gathering grassroots support among certain elements in America. It presents a growing danger to some church members who are being deceived into ignorantly opposing the very governance of God!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five
Two miracles of Jesus Christ recorded in Scripture tell of Him calming storms on the Sea of Galilee. The first miracle of this type appears in Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; and Luke 8:22-25. For Jesus, this is a day of both significant teaching, including the seven parables of Matthew 13, and considerable testing. He is sought by concerned friends, His mother, and half-brothers, and is accused of being demon-possessed by some who think that He is not in His right mind.
These things, along with performing this miracle, leave Jesus physically and mentally tired. Mark indicates that He shows signs of fatigue from incessant interruptions and distractions by the people pursuing Him. Yet, He unselfishly gives Himself to serve others. Because of the large crowds still gathering around Him, He tells His disciples to take Him in their small boat to the quieter region of Perea across the Sea of Galilee.
Once on board, Jesus falls asleep on a pillow, an item normally found among the sparse furnishings of that type of boat. A storm rises suddenly, terrifying the disciples. Mark describes the waves beating into the boat and filling it. Luke expresses the disciples' urgency by repeating the Greek word epistates, which means "Master, Master!" or "Rabbi, Rabbi!" However, because of His complete trust in His Almighty Father's care and protection, and His knowledge that He had God-given power over the winds and the sea, Jesus remains peacefully asleep.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Stilling a Storm
Verse 7 presents a challenging proposition regarding prophecy and God's active involvement in the governance of His creation. Jesus can say this only if God will use His powers purposely to increase the number and intensity of these plagues in a variety of places, even where they are not normally experienced. No study has ever shown that these things increase or decrease according to uniform law, especially in widely divergent places. Jesus intimates that they will increase unusually and rather suddenly.
Psalm 147:15-20 shows God actively exercises His sovereignty daily in good times and bad. His involvement is not limited to the big disasters we call "acts of God," though they are certainly included:
He sends out His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes; He casts out His hail like morsels; who can stand before His cold? He sends out His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow, and the waters flow. He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them. Praise the LORD.
Regarding "acts of God," Amos 4:6-9, 13 provides arresting insight into why God uses them to intervene in the affairs of men:
"Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; 'Yet you have not returned to Me,'" says the LORD. "I also withheld rain from you, when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, and where it did not rain the part withered. So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, but they were not satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, your vineyards, your fig trees, and your olive trees, the locust devoured them; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD . . . . For behold, He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, who treads the high places of the earth—the LORD God of hosts is His name.
Is God involved? Certainly! He does these things to grab people's attention and turn them back to Him!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four
In Acts 15:14-18, the apostle James makes an astounding series of statements following Peter's address to the assembled elders. Notice how clearly God states that He initiates His works through men. Acts 10 relates the story of the conversion of Cornelius and his house. Neither Peter, whom God sent, nor Cornelius, who received him, knew of the other's existence. God, working in both men, opened the door and brought them together.
God Himself pledges to rebuild the tabernacle of David. Certainly, He works through men, who, on the surface, appear to observers to be doing the work. Nevertheless, it is the invisible God who initiates and enables the rebuilding by determining when it will begin, who among men will work on it, and how completely they will finish it. He also gives gifts to those concerned to bring it about. Surely, God activates, sustains, and completes.
The Living Bible renders verse 18 as, "That is what the Lord says, who reveals His plans made from the beginning." How carefully crafted are His plans? How detailed are they? Has anything been left to chance? One thing is clear: He is a Creator who knows where He is going and has known from the outset of the project. He made His plans, and they proceed as and when He planned. When we begin to think of what James says here in terms of all the nations of the earth as well as the church, we are considering events of tremendous magnitude involving billions of people and millennia of time.
But we need to make this more personal.
Paul writes in Ephesians 1:4-5, ". . . just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. . . ." Predestined means "marked out in advance" or "appointed beforehand." Verse 4 indisputably says this occurred "before the foundation of the world." When we combine this with Acts 15:18, this event must have occurred some time before what happens in Genesis 1:2-26.
Is this a generality that predestines only the existence of a church and not the individuals who would comprise it? The overall impression of the context in combination with other passages suggests an answer of "No," but it is not certain. It can be taken as a generality, which is indeed a safe conclusion. Regardless, Paul's words describe a Creator who is not only actively working toward an ultimate end, but also toward specific intermediate accomplishments, such as the church. He is the One in control, moving things in whatever direction they need to go. It begins to become clear that events relating directly to God's purpose of reproducing Himself do not happen randomly. One should not have the impression that God sits at the controls in heaven constantly making adjustments to accommodate for what He did not foresee we would do down here.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part One)
With such positive statements about our salvation, why should we be hopeless and fearfully doubt that God will supply all our needs? Does He ever fail to succeed in whatever He undertakes? These verses flatly and dogmatically state that, if we want to cooperate in faith to bring God's purpose for us to its intended conclusion, we must, I repeat, must, believe that His watchfulness over us involves every circumstance of our lives.
Verses 31 and 32 put a cap on this issue: "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?"
In verse 30, note that the term "sanctified" is missing from the list of the general stages of God's purpose. Sanctification is the only part of the salvation process in which our cooperation plays a major, consistent, and daily role. Why does Paul exclude it? This was not an oversight; he deliberately leaves "sanctified" out because he wants, for the remainder of this section of this epistle, to focus entirely on the absolute certainty of God's providence, not on any works we may perform in cooperation with Him during the sanctification process.
Paul is not saying that God will always do what we might want Him to do; he is reminding us that He will always do what is right according to His purpose. God has the necessary powers to do as He sees fit for His purpose and us. He is watching, which is even more reason for us to draw on that power.
Nobody can successfully stand in the way of His completing that purpose in each of us, but based on our knowledge of those powers, are we willing to accept His providence? Do we accept what He provides in any given circumstance, even though what He provides might not be what we would like to have?
All of the things Paul writes here are wonderful, but the key to this particular subject is the answer to the question he asks in verse 31: "If God be for us who can be against us?" God has the power and the will, and He does not make mistakes or empty promises. Paul then lists what God has already done for all concerned. Our responsibility is to choose to put these facts to work in our specific circumstances.
The handwriting on the wall for us is this: Terribly difficult times are coming, and they will affect all of us to varying degrees. The only successful way to complete our minute part in God's purpose is to choose to draw on His power. We must begin at once to cultivate the habit of cooperating by faith, accepting whatever He chooses to provide in our circumstances. If this habit is in place through long practice, we will be ready when the pressure really mounts.
Because He is the Source of our deliverance in every circumstance, it is crucial for us to know God as well as we can. Our relationship with Him through Jesus Christ is the key that gives us access to the deliverance He provides. He has the power, and it is His will to meet our every need. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to use our time now to build on our present relationship with Him, making it stronger and more intimate.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part Two)
2 Timothy 3:1
Sufficient pressure comes from the world, so that, if we are lackadaisical in carrying out our Christian responsibilities, we can easily allow ourselves to follow Satan's arrangement of things, as shown in the world. There is much out there that is attractive to human nature and to true Christians, and we can see, despite two thousand years of preaching by the church, the overwhelming majority is still following the broad way.
The world makes it seem as though Christianity is an abject failure—an altruistic experience that has gone awry. The world gives every impression that God has either gone far off, and that His whole creation is nothing more than a kind of cosmic joke. Some believe God never really did care, and the creation is a mere plaything of His with no positive, beneficial purpose in mind.
Thus, with that kind of approach, if we are lackadaisical, the world can be very persuasive. When viewing the expanse of Christian history, it is not difficult for a carnal person to reach the conclusion that God has good intentions, but that He is frequently disappointed because Satan outwits Him or man thwarts Him. God, then, is frustrated in everything that He tries to do. It is as if He says that He wants to bless men, but they will not let Him.
Who with that perspective could take God seriously? It makes it easy to think—and thus to live—as though God really is not sovereign in His creation. We must take these thoughts and questions seriously, yet considering them directly, as we are doing now, we are likely to say that we do not think that way.
We think that God is in complete and total control, ruling His creation. We hope and believe that is true. Even so, experience shows that, though we confess this, we sometimes—perhaps often—live and talk as the world does. Who will not think or live that way? Those who really live by faith.
What does "walk by faith" mean? It means that we are allowing our thoughts to be formed, and therefore our conduct guided, by God's Word, because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by means of the word of God (Romans 10:17). The most frequently repeated command, charge, or exhortation of Jesus Christ during His ministry can be reduced to one word: "listen"! What did He mean? "Listen to the message!"—because this is the very thing that mankind has not done. Faith comes by hearing.
Faith comes by means of listening to the Word of God. How much faith is being displayed on earth today? Not very much! There is so little, that Jesus wondered, "When the Son of man comes, will He find any faith on earth?" He will not find much because not very many people think God is the Sovereign Ruler of His creation. It is that simple! They may think they believe it, but their lives do not show it. If their lives showed it, it would prove that they really were listening to the Word of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God (Part One)
We have generally understood this verse to mean that the material creation, which we can clearly see, was produced from invisible spirit. It is certainly a possible meaning, but it is probably not its primary one. In his book, Great Cloud of Witnesses (pp. 12-14), E. W. Bullinger provides an alternative that appears more accurate and fitting within the context of Hebrews 11.
The word "worlds" is translated from the Greek aion, meaning "age," in the sense of a period of time or a dispensation. It derives from a root that means "continued," and it is used as "world" only when "world" gives a better sense of a period of time, not the physical creation. It could be used if one said "the world that then was" or "the world to come."
"Framed" also appears in Hebrews 10:5, where it is more clearly and accurately translated "prepared." It means "to complete thoroughly," "to rule" (even "overrule"), or "to order" (by God in this case). "Word" is not logos but rhema, meaning "revealed words." Finally, "made" is ginomai, which means "to generate," "to cause to be," "to happen," or "to come to pass." It is not the word normally used to indicate God is creating.
Using these definitions, we could translate the verse as, "By faith we perceive by the revealed words of God that the ages were prepared, so that the things we see come to pass not from things that appear." Those of us who walk by faith know that a great Unseen Hand guides, indeed overrules, events on this earth. This verse means that the historical events we read of in God's Word were not chance occurrences, but God was working behind the scenes to bring His purpose to the conclusion He has foreordained. In short, it says, "God controls the march of history." The great men and women listed in Hebrews 11 lived their lives firmly knowing this truth. That is why they could live in faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Promises Are Sure!
We need to understand three words here. The first is "worlds," which is the Greek aion meaning "ages," "periods of time," or "dispensations." The author is not referring at all to the created world—the earth. He means periods of time.
The second word is "framed," which gives the impression of a person building something, but that is not the author's intent. The same word appears in Hebrews 10:5, "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared." This translation points to a different connotation.
The third word is "word." Normally, a Bible student would probably immediately think of logos as being the Greek for "word," but such is not the case here. It is instead the Greek word rhema, which means "the revealed word."
A good paraphrase of verse 3, then, would be: "By faith we understand that the ages were prepared by the revealed word of God." This verse is telling us that there is an unseen hand somewhere that is guiding the course of the periods through which mankind has lived! In other words, God is working out a purpose! People with faith look to the purpose He is working out and what He has revealed, and they see His hand guiding the destiny of nations as well as individuals.
This is an interesting, encouraging, faith-building concept because God is never far from the thoughts of a faithful person. Such a person, because he has had the mystery of God revealed to him—the purpose He is working out—begins to see God in everything that is happening because God is his companion. He has a relationship with Him. Because of his fellowship with God, he tries to see everything through God's eyes, as it were.
When God calls, one of the miracles He works in us by His Spirit gives us insight into His movements in the history of man. The Christian begins to see God in his environment, the earth—and discovers that it is all under God's control.
We can see where God says, "I raise up kings. I put down kings." Sometimes these are "the basest of men," but because we are beginning to think like God, we understand why He does such things. In Romans 13:1-2, we find out that all governments are ordained of God. He at least permits them to govern, and sometimes He directly installs them.
God is guiding and controlling events. Men think they are in control of what is happening, and some even think Satan is in control. No, God is in control. He is working out a purpose, and Satan is subject to Him and can only do what He allows him to do.
The psalmist says that God is not in all of the ungodly man's thoughts (Psalm 10:4). Andre Maurois, a French philosopher and writer, once said, "The universe is indifferent. Who created it? Why are we here on this puny mud heap, spinning in an infinite space? I have not the slightest idea, and I am quite convinced that no one has the least idea." This is the way man looks at things, but Christians had better not look at them like this because they will not operate by faith. If we are operating by faith, we can begin to see events and circumstances in their fuller scope, as well as how they fit and how important they are to the purpose God is working out.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Salvation
This concept reveals the solid base of faith toward God: that He is Creator and Ruler. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" God Himself demanded of Job. The answer to this question is why we can understand the existence of things by faith.
E.W. Bullinger has an additional thought on this verse that is worth considering. He takes this beyond creation, as the word translated "worlds" is literally aiones or "ages." Thus, the verse is literally stating that God framed or put into order the ages. Zodhiates agrees that aiones indicates ages or times, in contrast with kosmos, often translated as "world," which indicates people as a society. Bullinger shows that God, unseen and sovereign, is not only Creator, but also actively shapes events within the expanses of time. As Jesus says in John 5:17, God is always working, directing the movement of history to bring about His desired ends. Bullinger's approach is to be preferred as more appropriate to the entire epistle.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Three)
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