A BRIEF HISTORY OF GOD - What God Communicated During the Formation of the Hebrew People

This page contains some of the detailed discussions of the things God has communicated to humankind since we started. I have tried to include here those things that are valid over all time and cultures. Different things were communicated in different epochs of human history, but even the earliest lessons are still valid today. This page discusses those things that God communicated to us at the time of the formation of the Hebrew people, that is from around 1800 to 1500 BC. The other times are: the early days, the time of the patriachs, the time of settled Hebrew society, the time of the prophets, the life of the Messiah, the time since Messiah returned, to the present day.

You can read this through, since often one taught point leads on to another than qualifies it. But for an overview, see the list of what God has taught and for the context in which he taught each thing, see the beginnings and the history. Click here for home page.

Things We Learn from Early Israel

The descendants of Israel became a people rather than just a family, so we enter a new phase in God's relating to humanity and the unfolding of his purposes, and in his communications to us. Here are lessons we can learn from their stay in Egypt, their deliverance and their wandering.

God Works via Selected People

(==== maybe this duplicates bhg1? but i think we need something of this in what God communicated as well as in how he communicated it.)

Perhaps the most obvious lesson we learn, so obvious that it is either forgotten or taken for granted, is that God seems to work in this world by means of a selected people. He chose Abraham's descendants through which to work out his purposes. I believe that the chosen descendants are those called Israel, though many claim that they are those via Abraham's first sone, Ishmael. For the purposes of this lesson it does not matter which people is the chosen one; what matters is that God does seem to choose.

Why does he do this? We don't know all God's reasons, but one is obvious in retrospect: it provides a visible contrast. God wants to communicate this to us, and he can best do this by choosing one group with and through whom he works. These people will then, over a long course of time, demonstrate the difference he makes. He does this because he does not wish to suppress people's free will or dignity. The contrast is not absolute, but there is, over the long time, a correlation, a statistical indication that doing things God's way brings success, that God is like this rather than that, and so on. So he decided to work by choosing out a people. It seems he has done this twice: the first was Israel, the second was the (true) Christians.

Being chosen by God is a privilege. But it is not just a privilege we enjoy; it is an awesome responsibility. We are to be a model society, and we will be judged more harshly than others because of this responsibility. As indicated by the hyperlinks there, we have much more to learn later, especially during Israel's settled state.

God is Holy

Right at the start of Israel as a separate nation, we find Moses approaching a burning bush. Not an uncommon sight in the hot desert, but this burning bush was not consumed, and that was uncommon. As Moses approached to investigate, a voice commanded him to take off his sandals because he was on "holy ground". He was in the special presence of God, and God is holy. This was one of the first lessons Moses learned about God: his holiness.

That God is holy occurs frequently throughout Scripture. In the modern world, the world in which God does not seem to figure, nobody speaks of holiness. It is one of the few words that applies only with reference to God. So what does it mean? What 'holy' means can be grasped intuitively, after a while, but it is difficult to define since it encompasses several things - utter separateness, utter purity, utter moral uprightness, and (to those who are themselves holy) utter thrill. But these are not four distinct components of holiness; rather, holiness is a total unity which, when viewed from different directions, appears similar to these four, and some other things. Notice the word that is common to all: 'utter', meaning extreme though lacking the connotation of unbalanced that that word has, absolute, though lacking the static connotations of that word, infinite, though lacking the mathematical and metric connotations of that word.

The theme of holiness permeates God's relationship with his people before they arrived in the land in which they settled, and as expressed in the law he gave about rituals (see later). God's holiness was given physical manifestation by the need for cleanliness in ritual. God's people learned that his separateness from his people was different from that of the pagan deities of the time; his was based on purity and had a 'clean' feel, while the difference of many pagan deities was based on power, status or fear, and often had a stifling feel.

(Notice also: in Canaanite pagan thought, the deity of the tribe could be approached by the tribe (though in fear), and not by outsiders. But God's holiness means that he is unapproachable both by his chosen people and also by outsiders.)

At the other end of Scripture, in John's vision in the time of the Roman Empire, the throne of God at the end of time is surrounded by a "sea of glass, clear as crystal". In those days, clear glass was rare, and only small pieces could be produced; to have a sea of it was astounding. It speaks of two things: utter separation and utter purity. Nobody can approach God of their own right or power or being.

In between, we find God's holiness cropping up again and again. The prophet Isaiah experienced it, in terms of moral uprightness and purity; when face to face with (a vision of) God he, a generally upright person himself, felt himself utterly unclean and contaminated. The prophet Ezekiel experienced visions that made him fall on his face in a kind of total unworthiness. The writer of the New Testament lette, Hebrews, talks about God being a "consuming fire" - the fire that purifies.

But what is our response to God's holiness? Holiness is something to which the proper response is total reverence (though not trepidation), total removal of covering, sham or artefact (hence the removal of Moses' shoes), total attention and awareness, total engagement, and total cleanliness - in short, taking God seriously. Holiness may perhaps be likened to the very best wines. Holiness is thrilling. It is what we are made for, and our beings unknowingly yearn for.

The notion of holiness is tied up with the relationship between Creator and Creation. At the risk of thinning down the concept, making it one-dimensional, we can link it with the philosophical question of the transcendence of God. Tackling it via philosophy is not wrong, but the danger is that the sense of purity and thrill is lost.

What makes God's holiness anything other than thrilling is our own unholiness. That is tied in with our sin, with our pride. While holiness speaks of the separation between transcendent God and his creation, pride brings about another separation, a rift between God and ourselves. While the first will always occur, and is thrilling, the second is anything but, and will eventually be overcome.

God is 'Earthy'

God is holy. But that does not mean he is stuffy. Alongside the revelation of his holiness runs another, surprising one: God is what we might call 'earthy'. He calls a spade a spade. He gives dignity to material things. God's instructions about worship meant that all senses were to be engaged during worship of the true God - sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. This was not to be the orgiastic rituals of the Canaanite religions, but something that involved all senses but based on purity. God's laws include not only rules and principles about ritual, but also about farming, land, food, health, etc. - all very 'earthy' concerns. It has been said that Judaism is the world's most materialistic religion. And Jewish humour has an earthy quality that endears itself to almost all human beings. These are no coincidences.

This is very unlike the Greek notion, that developed around the time of Plato, in which matter is considered lesser than spirit, and even a hindrance to the highest forms of human life. Unfortunately, it is the Greek notion that has permeated most of Western thought, including Western Christianity.

One area where this is important to us today is in the area of human sexuality. Western Christianity has tended to view sexuality as rather 'dirty' in itself, an unfortunate necessity. But in Scripture human sexuality is seen as good as long as it is between husband and wife - only in marriage does it have its real meaning. That suggests that our rules about what may be shown in film etc. (based on age, and types of activity) are misplaced; perhaps the only real criterion should be: are the participants married to each other? More to be written on this ====, and much to be discussed.

God does Wonders

To be written. In delivering his people from Egypt, God showed himself as one who does wonders, and these continued over decades as he led them to the land he had promised them. His reputation among the surrounding nations was enormous. These wonders have happened all through human history. In performing his wonders, sometimes God activates things, sometimes he tweaks or speeds up things, and sometimes the wonder lies in his timing. An example of perfect timing is when a landslide caused the Jordan river to stop flowing at just the time the people of Israel were to cross it.

Though we humans think much of reputation, God is more practical. Most of his wonders are not for the purpose to wowing people, but to achieve certain things. God has everything in control. An example of this is to be found in the record, in Esther 5:14-6:10, of one man's plan being completely turned round by what happens.

God trounces other gods

To be written. God showed that he gains victory over all other local or non-local gods, such as the gods of Egypt (the ten plagues were demonstrating his power against the ten top Egyptian gods), and those of the Canaanite nations. That God communicates this during early Israel: it was then that he started publicly differentiating himself from the rest of the panoply of gods, and indeed that was one of the main purposes in his separating one people from the rest.

The fact that he trounces other gods is clear from the early days of Israel, but the reason he does so did not become fully clear until later. At first, people might be forgiven for thinking it was just part of the inter-tribal warfare based on inter-god competition, which seems to have been the prevalent idea among pagan peoples of the time, but later it becomes clear that, instead, it is because the other gods are false gods and worship of them harms people and land. So, later we learn, that idolatry is serious but that false gods are no threat to the Living God.

Dependence on God

(From Second communication - God's actions.)

Throughout this early time, and also from then to now, one pattern and message has been very plain for all to see who stand back from the detail: God responds to those who depend on him. The people of Israel learned both the need for, and the advantages of, depending on God. They found during their trek through the wilderness that he was reliable, and would meet their needs (though not always their desires). They also found that not only was he dependable, but he gave them significant advantages over the other peoples. But they found that when they started placing their dependence elsewhere things started going wrong.

This dependence works itself out in many forms. We depend on God for life itself. We depend on him for sustenance throughout that life; hence the institution of harvest festivals among God's people - they were not just hangovers from pagan cultures. We depend on him for meaning in life. We depend on him for strength and ability. We depend on him for knowledge, especially of what is right and wrong. We depend on him for rescue. We depend on him for justice. We depend on him for salvation. We depend on him to make us what we should be. (More of these proactive facets of God later on.)

But this lesson of dependence on God was not just learned during their trek, but also once they had become settled - and we find the same lessons today. The dependence on God is not the kind of dependency syndrome we find today, but a much richer, more active kind. It involves active, loving dependence on our side and a kind of amplified response on God's side. It is the dependence that says "I am not complete in myself, and need You. And what I see of You I love and will act on."

There is a corollary. If the Created Order reflects the nature and glory of God, then not only does God respond when we depend on him, but God is pleased when we depend on each other in a healthy, responsive way.

Everything is Interconnected

This dependence on God and each other is much richer than we might at first think. It does not mean only that we must rely on each other, but it underlines the relational nature of all Created reality, in a way that shows that pagan and Eastern views are wide of the mark.

Traditional Western thought, based on Greek ideas, emphasises the entity, as independent in its existence. Eastern thought denies entity, wishing to see everything like a drop in an ocean with no separate existence. Hebrew thought, as fashioned by God's revelation in the Bible emphasises relationships and interconnectedness. It acknowledges (some kinds of) entities as separate beings, but emphasises their dependence rather than their independence.

Western Eastern Biblical
Independent entities Denial of entities Entities in relationship
Competition Inactivity Responsible action

The ultimate dependence is on God, the Creator who is also Lover and Redeemer, and it is fundamental. It is so fundamental that God wrote it into the fabric of his Creation as inter-dependence or, as many now call it, interconnectedness. We are all caught up in the web of Meaning that is the modal aspects in which function. We do not just exist; we relate, and we do so responsibly.

(From Third communication - verbal.)

===== What is the opposite of this pride? Not modesty nor putting-down-of-self. But loving dependence. As C.S. Lewis has aptly pointed out, "The [attitude] of Hell is the independence of objects." (Screwtape Letters) [====to find right wording].

God has Pity for the Oppressed

More to be written. While in Egypt the Israelites were enslaved for 80 years. During that time, though there was little direct revelation from God that we know of, we do know that he had pity on them, not just because they were a special people but because of the oppression they were undergoing. This is the start of a great theme that runs throughout the whole Bible, but which those in power often forget.

When God was giving the law to his people, after he had delivered them, he told them several times "You are to be kind to the oppressed and the alien; remember how you were aliens in Egypt." The mother of the Messiah had it right when she said, millennia later, "God raises the poor from the ash heap, but the rich he sends empty away."

Later, this theme develops, so that it becomes clear that those with power should use that power for the good of the powerless and not for their own benefit. So, it is not just that God himself will rescue the oppressed, but that humankind has the privilege of working with God in this.

Justice and society

(From Third communication - verbal.)

We learned a lot earlier that God is judge, and rightfully so. But what his justice is, and why it is that, could not be properly communicated without a society of God's people in which his justice could be worked out and demonstrated, and also be supported with institutional form via laws, legal systems, legal enforcement measures etc. Otherwise, it would have just been a load of abstract theory, and humankind could have rightly rejected it on the grounds that it had never been tried.

So God gave the law, and by it showed what sort of justice he was talking about. We discuss the law elsewhere, but here let us consider why it is that God's justice is the way it is.

Though we might only be able to say so in retrospect, God's justice comes out of his love. Because God is love, he wants no part of his creation to be oppressed or to suffer. He wants right relationships maintained throughout. Interconnectedness is the order of things. This is what is meant by the Hebrew word for both justice and righteousness, tsedeq.

So much of his verbal communication comprises laws for individual and corporate life as a people. Some of it was not then relevant, but awaited their settling; see below. And there was more revelation to come, later.

About God judging

(From Sixth Communication - The prophets.)

Later on, we gain an even more refined picture about God's justice and judgement. But the clear exposing of the nature of God's judgement had to come in various stages, including via the prophets and even via God's messiah. However, for our convenience, while we are on the topic of God's justice, let us list some characteristics of God's justice, judgement and even his wrath:

Importance of Law

Even a cursory look at the Bible will show that God gave Law, and that he considered Law important. The second, third, fourth and fifth books all contain laws and instructions that he gave, and in fact it was considered so important that he asked Moses to give it a second time.

We are not here too concerned with what the content of the Law was, but rather with the fact that Law is important. The Christian philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd came to the conclusion that Law is the gift that God gave to his Creation in order to ensure both its diversity and its coherence. The Psalmist (119) spent 176 verses eulogising God's Law.

But why is Law important? The Jews originally believed it was to prevent evil and ensure good, but is proved too weak for that. The importance of Law led them to the evil of legalism. It was not until 1500 years later that the real purpose of Law was revealed. Until that time, we should just bear in mind that Law is important.

See also Understanding the Laws of Moses: Some Principles to Help Us.

The Seriousness of Wrong-doing

To be written. Maybe it should be in a different order, with sacrifice and law.

What became clear at this period was the seriousness of wrong-doing. This was not so much wrong against God, insulting his deity, but wrong-doing against others, people and even animals. Briefly (until properly written):

Sacrifice for Sin

(From Third communication - verbal.)

While many primitive peoples have the idea of a sacrifice, God's verbal communication, backed up by his other means of communication, gave a different slant to it. In the surrounding cultures, sacrifice was seen as something of a gift to the deity, something that would appease it - maybe in the hope of having a good harvest - and the ultimate was to sacrifice one's own children. (But this was abhorrent to God, who loves little ones.) Sacrifice was seen as a kind of religious ritual.

On the contrary, the reason why God required a sacrifice was not as an appeasement but for repentance. A sacrifice of life was needed to maintain the relationship with God. It was a kind of payment, but not an actual payment, more as a token or symbol of payment. (As we now know, but as the Israelites of the time would not realise, this token was to be a symbol of the ultimate Payment that God himself would make centuries later.) Moreover, as a token of payment it also communicated the seriousness of the break in the relationship with God (which is sometimes called 'sin').

Sacrifice as Cathartic

However, there is a general truth here, that evil requires sacrifice before it can be completely removed. In communities or nations where evil has become dominant, mere economics or politics or education cannot truly deal with it; it seems that only when people in that community take upon themselves some sacrifice can the hold of evil be broken.

Sacrifice is cathartic and effective in a mysterious way. But it seems that this is the way God planned the laws of his creation. "The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church" said one writer; in Western management thinking it makes no sense at all to lose one's best and most capable people; but God's world works in the reverse way, of sacrifice.

God's Law is Not Absolute

Though wrong-doing is serious, we find in the Scriptural story what seems to be an anomaly - God sometimes seems to break his own laws, and God sometimes seems to overlook wrong-doing. For example, Jacob cheated, Samson disobeyed and went after women God had said not to, David lied and killed, and yet God blessed them. How come when "You are of purer eyes than to even look upon evil"? There is an obvious link with what we learn from an earlier era, that God sometimes uses unworthy people.

But we can learn something deeper about this, if we think about it: the laws revealed in the Bible are not absolute, only God himself is absolute. His law, as revealed in Scripture, are linguistic expressions of his character and requirements, but only that. God himself is the real reality, and he is beyond even his law. In a later era, David asked the priest to let him and his men have the holy food that only priests should eat, and it was allowed. Later still, the Messiah used this very incident to argue that those keen on law should be merciful and flexible.

So what is the purpose of God's law? We do not learn that until much later. But, in the light of what we do know, we can at least ask how we should live in the light of this? A good rule of thumb would seem to be:

It would seem - as we take account of much that was to be revealed later - that the real thing that God looks at it our attitude, our pride. A proud person with presume either of both of the above, a humble person will never presume either. This brings us to begin to understand the nature of the rift between God and humankind (though the importance of attitude became much clearer later on.)

See also Understanding the Laws of Moses: Some Principles to Help Us.

The nature of the rift: Pride

(From Third communication - verbal.)

What is the nature of this rift in the relationship with God? Some might suggest that it is at root our finiteness and physicality. No: God related quite well with finite Adam, and also with people like Abraham. Is it that we keep getting things wrong, or doing things wrong? No: as we saw above, God related with Jacob, the cheat. Is it essentially a religious matter, such as having the wrong beliefs or creed, or even heresy? No, God seems to have used people with flawed creeds (later on).

It is pride. It is to do with our state of independence from him and our heart-orientation away from him. This is not obvious to human thinking, of any culture, and moreover is something that we, in our pride, do not wish to admit, so God has to stress it in his communication with us. So we find this theme occurs repeatedly throughout the whole scriptures, for instance (including later things):

Yet we are so slow to get the message. Especially we who are in God's community believe and assume that what God is chiefly concerned with correct actions and/or correct religious ritual and/or correct belief. Yet these are just symptoms of wrong orientation of heart. And when we meet these symptoms, we should not address them so much as address the cause. One of God's antidotes to this, that he sometimes throws in just to remind us of how upside down our thinking is, is that he sometimes uses or blesses very deficient people.

Usefulness of Symbols

Some of the laws God gave to early Israel seemed to revolve around the usefulness of symbols and reminders in their daily life. Some were holidays and festivals at fixed dates in the calendar, such as harvest and passover. Others were found in ordinary life, such as the circumcision of male children, and the law that forbade making garments from some mixtures of fabrics. The sabbath law had some symbolic purpose, showing that these were God's special people, even though the law also had other purposes.

It seems that symbols embedded in the life of people were an important means of remembering the more important facts. And people came to love them, even when they were a bit irksome. (Some, of course, came to hate them, but maybe they already had a propensity to turn away from the realities that they stood for.) To Christians the most important symbols are, of course, the cross as a visible symbol and the Eucharist or Communion or Lord's Supper, as a life-embedded symbol.

What I have just called visible symbols (symbols that are linguistic in nature, and not embedded in the lives of people) seem less important in the early days of Israel (except perhaps the snake raised on a pole by Moses, though that was possibly more than mere symbol). And other symbolic things such as lucky numbers are completely absent.

It seems that the symbols had no value on their own, apart from the reality that they expressed. In later ages God clearly said he hated the symbolic festivals and feasts of the Israeli people, because the reality had been separated from them, or rather some important parts of the sum total of God's reality that they were part of. That symbols have no value on their own would align with the absence of such things as lucky numbers; lucky numbers are pure symbol with no reality (except that they are 'lucky' or 'unlucky') to point to.

Therefore, we might learn, that symbols are important as useful reminders, especially if they are symbols embedded in the lives of people, but can easily lead us astray. We should beware lest we give more importance to the symbol than to the reality of which it speaks. This has often happened, to some extent, with the Eucharist or Lord's Supper, and also with the visible symbol of the Cross.

God gives Victory and Success when we Obey

To be written. This refers to the experience of Israel as they entered the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. They learned that God gives victory when we obey, but when we take him for granted (as in Ai) he withdraws his support and we fail. God has both the power and authority to achieve this. Importance of obedience. This develops an earlier theme of Authority and Obedience.

God lets us Choose

If God is the one who gives success or failure because he has authority and power to do so, then it is tempting to see God as Power. This is one common pagan view of God that is common today. God being Power implies that whatever God desires, he gets, even if it means trampling on the dignity, or even the needs, of people.

Because God is infinitely greater than us, then his slightest preferences weigh much more heavily than even our very deepest and most important needs. This is an extreme version of the "Your wish is my command" that expresses some hierarchical status. Therefore, there should be almost no room for us to make choices, because God must surely have even a slight preference about the choice we make. That's the pagan view - and yet all too common in Christian, Jewish and Islamic circles today.

But the Bible shows a very different God. Though God has power and authority, he does let us choose. Even if we choose what he knows to be wrong or harmful. Not only does he let us choose, but he ratifies the results of our choices, even if they are inconvenient to him and deeply hurt or disappoint his love for us, and often even when they dishonour his name. We see it first, before the Fall, when God let the Man choose the (real) names for all the animals. But in the wanderings of Israel there is a major example of this freedom that God gives us. The Israeli people come to Kadesh, on the edge of the land to which they were heading, and discover it is a wonderfully fertile land, and yet filled with strong people who are well organised socially and militarily. They decide to turn away from this land, rather than trust God to deliver it to them. God is angry with their decision, and has previously considered destroying these rebellious people (and starting a new people through Moses). But he is true to his promises to Moses and Abraham, and does not destroy them. Instead, he turns them around to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. And yet, all that time, he looks after them, feeding them and keeping their clothing from wearing out, and giving them military victory. God had ratified their choice; he had let them choose.

More positively, if God gives people the dignity of choosing, then so should we. This is demonstrated by Abraham who let Lot make the choice of where to settle. Elijah invited the prophets of Baal to choose the bull.

This ties in closely with the theme that we discuss elsewhere of God being humble, and with how we should use power for others. But God ratifying our choices would seem inconsistent with God determining victory or success according to our obedience. Western reason cannot but see these as inconsistent, but the Scriptures show a different story. The harmony between the two themes depends on two other themes, that power should be used for others rather than for self, and one that the coming Messiah was to emphasise later, The Importance of Attitude. Those with a humble attitude could have their choices ratified, even if they were wrong, while the proud would be resisted by God.

Relevance to us

First, we do not need to be too scared about making the wrong choice - though that is no excuse for selfish carelessness. Second, if God gives people the dignity of choosing, then so should we. This is part of the basis for a courtesy that is nevertheless sensible in its judgements.

See also Understanding the Laws of Moses: Some Principles to Help Us.

God is dependable

(From Fourth communication - Experience in a Settled Society.)

====maybe merge with dependence? but need this as intro to 'no slot machine' We started to learn above about depending on God. God was dependable during the trek of the Israelites, but in a particularly rich, involved way. They found the same once they had become settled.

While God cannot be predictable, as we shall see below, nevertheless he is found utterly reliable. Because of his love for us, he makes sure that those who depend on him in the right way will find solace and deep goodness, and will not regret it.

The problem we have today, at least in the West, is that we assume that deterministic physical laws are reliable while people are not. So we have difficulty in fully accepting that God is utterly reliable. (I say "fully accepting" it because while we might hold it as a matter of doctrine that God is reliable, most of us have yet to have this tested in our personal experience to any great extent.)

However, God is creative (using our terminology) and no two times are the same. [[====need example]] Therefore he is not predictable. God is a person, and even less predictable, less bound, than we are. He is no slave, even to what he has revealed of himself.

The basis of his reliability, therefore, is not determinism, nor is it that God is subject to various immutable laws, as the philosopher, Aristotle believed. Rather, the Living God is one who humbly binds himself to us, keeping covenant with us far beyond what is our due.

The covenant keeping nature of God was stressed time and again during the Old Testament. God kept covenant with his people, and keeps covenant with us, not because they or we are worthy of it, but simply because of his own innate nature. This became developed into the idea of the grace of God in later times.

CC: God is no slot machine

(From Fourth Communication - Experience in a settled society.)

(From Sixth communication - Demonstrator society.)

The human religious mind - and the non-religious one too - has a tendency to see God as a kind of slot machine. If we fulfil his stated demands then he is bound to fulfil his promises. While there is some truth in that, in that God will bless those who humbly align themselves with him, it ignores the fact that God is not only a free agent (e.g. able to bring the universe to an end at any time) but also a free agent in his dealings with us.

This was learned several times during their nomadic existence, but more strongly during their settled state.

====to be written. mention idols. mention example.

CC: God of surprises

(From Fourth Communication - Experience in a settled society.)

Since God is a person, not a slot machine, he will often do other than we expect. But we go further: what he does will often surprise us. Because God is so radically different from us, our expectations are not just different, they are on a completely different plane. We can come to learn God's ways to some extent, but we will still have the element of surprise. Sometimes the surprise is enlightening, sometimes corrective, and sometimes just plain notable. There are two main reasons for surprise. One is, as we have said, God is a person, not a slot machine. The other, which comes out more clearly below, is that we so often misunderstand his ways.

One surprise he often gave was the choice of those whom the people assumed to be of little importance. There was a childless woman who gave birth to the first prophet, Samuel. There as a widow, chosen to hide Elijah. There was the choice of the youngest son in David.

Therefore, today, we should not surprised by anything God does. Even though he is utterly reliable to those who trust him, he is a free agent. The Christian church - as well as many others - has a tendency to assume that God will do for us what he did for our parents. Too often people of one church assume that God will do with them what he has done elsewhere. In Britain at the moment, there are several models of success in churches, such as Holy Trinity Brompton (Toronto Blessing and Alpha Groups) and Altrincham Baptist Church (Seeker Services), and many are the churches that are adopting these things. Perhaps there is a tendency to forget that God sometimes surprises us.

Also, God will often challenge us, and in ways that surprise us. We mightthink that because God is love he will tend to make things smooth for us; instead, he often puts his finger on the very thing that we hate or find uncomfortable, and especially the thing that impacts our pride. Naaman, the Syrian general, went to the Hebrew prophet, Elisha, for healing, and was submitted to two insults. One was to demean himself with a small task (dipping himself in a river seven times). The other was even more suprising: the prophet did not come out to meet him, but stayed inside and sent a message via his servant. Yet Naaman proved capable of responding to this test of his heart by God.

God to get the Credit

During their time wandering and then entering the land God had promised them, as well as during the long centuries afterwards, the people Israel experienced many incidents of what we would think of as miraculous victories, deliverances, etc. The first major one was, of course, their deliverance from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, in which the timing had been so right that all the Israeli people escaped through the sea that stood up for them, but the Egyptians had been drowned when the waters collapsed back into their normal courses. They had been fed during 40 years wandering, and their clothes and shoes had not worn out. They had a few minor military victories. Then came the crossing of the Jordan, through which, like the Red Sea, they walked on firm land as the River stopped flowing. Then they defeated the city of Jericho, overcoming its massive defensive walls merely by walking around it, blowing their trumpets and shouting. Then they captured and occupied nearly all of the 33 walled cities in Canaan, in spite of the size, strength and good organisation of the inhabitants.

One factor was common to most of these tremendously effective and high profile episodes: they would have been impossible if God had not acted. Who should, therefore, get the credit for them? Answer: God alone.

Such episodes continued throughout the next 400 years, when Israel was in a settled state. Deborah, Barak, Jephthah, Gideon, Samson and others were used by God to bring deliverance to his people when they got into a sticky state. And in almost all these cases, the odds were so heavily stacked against the deliverer that it could only be by God's action that it was carried through to success. Gideon, for example, defeated the whole Midianite army with only 300 men.

We find many examples of this type of amazing action or deliverance today. ==== some examples here.

By right, and by simple logic, the credit for such effective and amazing action belongs to God.

God is Humble

The credit for amazing things belongs to God. So we might expect him to be like the kings and emperors of the time, and like the high profile people of today who enjoy adulation. After all, we can reasonably argue, God deserves adulation.

But we learn an interesting fact from around the time of early Israel: God does not desire adulation, at least not for its own sake. In fact, what we learn is astounding: God is humble, by his very nature.

We can find it in, for example, Zechariah 9:9 ("Rejoice Daughter of Zion: your king comes with salvation ... meek and lowly ...", and also in the Christ, who was "meek and lowly in heart" Matt 11:28) but long before that prophecy, we find God acting in humble ways. "There has never been a day like it, before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man" says Joshua 10:14. Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still - and it did. Likewise, we find God listening to Abraham, to Moses, and to many others, and changing his mind in response to their arguments or requests. No wonder the Psalmist exclaimed, "Lo! Your God comes humble." This is a growing theme today, e.g. in Clark Pinnock's books on the 'openness' of God.

God does not seek adulation and praise, if it is brought about by fear or a wow-factor. (What he does enjoy is thanks and praise and worship that is a love-response; but that is different; it seems that it is the love-response that thrills him, not the praise.) We misunderstand God on this point because we are so deeply tainted with pride, the kind of pride that makes up enjoy adulation for its own sake, and the kind of pride that makes us inflexible to others, the kind of pride that will brook no contradiction.

In a way it is perfectly logical that God does not seek our adulation for its own sake. He is so far above us that even the best adulation offered by the best human agent is not worthy of him. In fact, when we praise God we are not honouring him; rather he is honouring us by allowing us feeble and filthy humans to offer him praise. Or we might almost think of him as impervious to our praises. Is that why he doesn't want them? The logic of God's otherness could lead us to the idea that God is supremely proud, too proud to be affected in the slightest by our praises. But maybe there is another reason why he does not seek adulation: that God is simply humble by nature.

Likewise there are two explanations why God wants us human beings to be humble. We might explain this by God wanting no rivals; he is concerned to maintain his status, so calls upon us to be humble and submissive. Though that is logical, there is another possible reason for his wish: that he himself is humble by nature.

Which reason is the valid one? Both are logical, and it is likely that we could never work it out for ourselves. So God has to tell us which it is, by revealing his nature. He starts to do so from the time of the Patriarchs onwards, right through to the present day. We find that God allows people to contradict him - such as Abraham did. We find that he changes his mind in response to people's requests - such as Moses did. We find that he acquiesces to people's inane requests (Gideon's fleece) that are based on unbelief and fear, and that would annoy us considerably - especially when the person making the request is a wimp. Earlier we saw that God lets people make real choices, and ratifies their choice and even though it is a bad choice that hurts and angers him he will still care for them. These are not the responses of someone who is proud, arrogant, concerned about what people (or angels) think of him.

The revelation, later on, that God has regard to 'little people' and treats them with dignity, aligns closely with God's humble nature. If he were of a proud nature, this would almost certainly be reflected in a preference for the important people of the world rather than the little ones.

Much later, God's Messiah claims to be "meek and lowly in heart" so that "you will find rest for your souls". What the Messiah says about himself shows what God is like. (We learn later that the Messiah is God Himself, but even if he were just a super-agent of God he would bear God's character.) And what he says about meekness (humility) and rest makes sense, if our ultimate destiny is to be with God, in the fullest meaning of the word 'with': in the presence of a proud person we are always on guard lest we upset them in some way; in the presence of God we can be supremely comfortable and can enjoy complete rest.

If we do accept that the Messiah is God Himself, then we can see that the low profile nature of his work accords very well with the humility of God. So does his desire to afford human beings their dignity and allow them to affect him.

But probably the most 'humble' thing God has done, the action of his that is most devoid of pride and the desire for adulation, is when he took the action to clear up our mess for us, rather than demanding that we clear it up ourselves. But that comes much later.

So, what do we mean when we say that God is humble? Another biblical word for it is 'meek'. First, it does NOT mean 'weak', though it may look like weakness on the outside. Second, it does not mean that God dislikes himself or puts himself down. Third, it does not mean that God thinks badly of himself. Rather, we can see it as

In the last sense, humility is very much tied in with love, self-giving love. We can see what humility is when we think how pride works in us. Of course, pride makes us think more of ourselves than we really are. Humility does not make us think less of ourselves than we really are, but makes us see ourselves as we really are. (Millennia later Paul wrote ==== "sober judgement, not puffed up".) Richard Wurmbrand's priest ====.

But pride does more, at a deeper level than our thinking; it affects the assumptions that lie at the very roots of our lives. It is pride that makes us push in front of someone in a queue. It is pride that makes us try to obtain some easy advantage for ourselves over others. It is pride that is offended when someone points out our weaknesses or faults. It is pride that makes us unwilling to really listen to others. It is pride that, after we have done something good, makes us stubbornly wait for the other person to reciprocate before we will do the next good thing. (I write this as the Unionists in Northern Ireland are hurting and feel let down because they 'jumped first' on the hope that the others will follow, and they did not follow. The hurt at broken trust is understandable; but it is so easy to let pride have the influence, masquerading as hurt.)

Humility is likewise, but the opposite. It not only affects how we think about ourselves, but it goes far deeper than our thinking. It is humility that recognises that the other person in the queue has as much right to be there as we have, and love that gives them our place. It is humility that makes us sensitive to others. It is humility that agrees with those who point out our faults. It is humility that refuses to seek easy advantage, and love that seeks to give the easy advantage to the other. It is humility that encourages us to keep on doing good, even when others have not done their part. Perhaps the most difficult of these is to say sorry for the second time, when the other person has not reciprocated the first.

God is like this (though he has no faults, and does not need to say sorry). But notice something more; love goes even further than humility in some of these. As we find a lot later on, God reveals himself as love. But love that lacks humility is a different love from the one God has.

Why Does God Judge Actions?

(An added note 2 May 2004. God knows the heart of people. So why does he judge our actions on the day of judgement? Why not just judge the heart, judge 'who we are inside' rather than our actions? It might be as follows. His knowledge of heart is privileged knowledge. So if he judged on that basis, everyone would just have to take his word that his judgement is Right. But what we do is public knowledge ("The books were opened."). I believe God limits himself to judging on the basis of what is public knowledge because then everyone would see the Rightness of the judgement. N.B. This 'public knowledge' on the Day of Judgement is when our eyes will be opened and we will see things as they really are, shorn of our personal power-distorted beliefs. There was once when God judged by the heart - when he chose David - and also maybe when Jesus chose Nathaniel - but those were times when God wanted to achieve something positive rather than negative.)

God is Patient: "Slow to Chide, Swift to Bless"

As we might expect from his humility, God is supremely patient. A fairly old hymn often sung in the U.K. says that God is "Slow to chide, and swift to bless". Some scriptures say that God is "slow to anger". In the law that God gave early Israel he proclaims himself as showing love to thousands of generations of those that love him, yet not dismissing the guilt of guilty.

Through the ages people who understand God find that he is not symmetric in his blessing and anger: it seems he desires to bless rather than chide, he doesn't like getting angry, and it takes a lot to make God angry. This is so very unlike some of the touchy pagan gods, who seemed to delight in showing anger and messing things up for puny humanity. It is also unlike our Western idea of balance and fairness, which would expect God to be even-handed and almost symmetrical in his desires chide and bless. No! God is asymmetrical: he is quick and eager to bless, slow and reluctant to get angry.

This, of course, aligns very well with his humility and his love. It also ties in God using flawed people. God was patient with Elijah when, after the spectacular victory over the prophets of Baal, he turned in on himself in fear and self-pity (I Kings 18, 19).

Relevance to us

Frist, God's patience gives us hope. Second, obviously, we too should be slow to anger. But, more creatively, as I once heard Dick Dowsett urge: broken people need to be trusted with work, not written off.
This is part of the A Brief History of God website.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2000. Comments and queries are very welcome.

Last updated: 16 July 2000 corrected links. 23 July 2000 added 'God works via selected people'. 15 October 2000 added imptce.of.law. 10 December 2000 new contacts pointer. 7 April 2001 corrected. 31 May 2001 added 'Seriousness of wrong-doing'; rearranged sections a bit s.t. justice, law came before it. 17 February 2002 added God's law not absolute; Added re. God in control, Esther; humble God seen in Joshua 10; links to messiah#attitude. 2 August 2002 link to new section On Right Use of Power. 3 August 2002 lets.choose has lot more, incl a relevance; Victory moved to before lets.choose and filled out a bit; slow.anger filled out a bit and given a relevance. 6 August 2002 some rewrite of God trounces. 1 September 2002 God is Holy (new section); God is earthy written; others reordered. 22 September 2002 label justice.cos.love. 10 October 2002 refce to Pinnock. 2 May 2004 Why God judges actions r.t. what we are. 17 December 2006 Zech 9:9 hymble. 3 February 2007 u net. 10 October 2010 error nhgl corrected. 17 September 2014 links to law.of.moses.