Behold Your God
Fred T. Wright
must be anticipated that He would say, “I destroyed Jerusalem and killed those murderers.” This is just how He did describe that terrible destruction.
In Matthew 22, there is a parable which, in its initial application, sets out the two final calls given to the Jewish people and their rejections of those calls. When the second call is complete and as completely rejected, the king’s reaction is described in these words:
“But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Matthew 22:7.
This verse is couched in symbolic language. God the Father was the king; the armies were the Romans under Titus; the murderers were the Jews who crucified Christ; and the city was Jerusalem. The fulfillment of this fearful prophecy came in A.D. 70 as verified in Christ’s Object Lessons, 309, where this verse is quoted, followed by the words: “The judgment pronounced came upon the Jews in the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the nation.”
If we substitute for the symbolic words, the things symbolized, the verse must read as follows: “But when God heard thereof, God was wroth: and God sent forth His armies, the Romans, and God destroyed the Jews and God burned up Jerusalem.”
If these words are interpreted according to normal dictionary definitions the only possible picture of God would be identical to earthly despots. But, the inspired word quoted from The Great Controversy, confirms that an altogether different understanding is to be obtained from these verses. Therefore, the position adopted depends directly on the way in which the words are understood. The choice lies between accepting a meaning according to human or Scriptural language [private interpretation versus God’s interpretation. rb]. The former is acquired by reference to a standard dictionary, the latter by the Scriptures themselves.
As in the case of King Saul so in this second witness; the same type of description is explained in an identical way. God is said to destroy the sinner when He accepts the sinner’s demands that he be left to himself. The fate which befalls him is not by either God’s election or administration. It is the inevitable outworking of the transgressor’s course.
The two witnesses already given are in perfect harmony. They support each other and go a long way toward confirming the truth of God’s Word. However, we will not rest with only two.
The third witness will also be drawn from Israel’s history. There was the occasion when the Israelites were travelling through the wilderness and once again murmured about God and Moses. Unknown to them, they were travelling through an area infested with deadly serpents and other terrors. Because of God’s protecting care, they had passed through this area unharmed until that time when they drove away His protection through their own ingratitude and sinfulness. The shield removed, there was nothing to hold back the invasion of those reptiles with the result that many of the people died a terrible death.
Here is the description of what happened and of what God did. It needs but little comment after the two already studied, for, once again it will be seen that the Lord simply left them to what they wanted. He did not decree the particular punishment. It was lurking there all the time only awaiting the opportunity to destroy them. Notice the consistent way in which God related Himself to the sinner in each case. In all three illustrations given, God is revealed as One with Whom there is no variableness neither shadow of turning.
“As the Israelites indulged the spirit of discontent, they were disposed to find fault even with their blessings. ‘And the people spake against God and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.’
“Moses faithfully set before the people their great sin. It was God’s power alone that had preserved them in ‘that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water.’ Every day of their travels they had been kept by a miracle of divine mercy. In all the way of God’s leading, they had found water to refresh the thirsty, bread from heaven to satisfy their hunger, and peace
and safety under the shadowy cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Angels had ministered to them as they climbed the rocky heights or threaded the rugged paths of the wilderness. Notwithstanding the hardships they had endured, there was not a feeble one in all their ranks. Their feet had not swollen in their long journeys, neither had their clothes grown old. God had subdued before them the fierce beasts of prey and the venomous reptiles of the forest and the desert. If with all these tokens of His love the people still continued to complain, the Lord would withdraw His protection until they should be led to appreciate His merciful care, and return to Him with repentance and humiliation.
“Because they had been shielded by divine power, they had not realized the countless dangers by which they were continually surrounded. In their ingratitude and unbelief they had anticipated death, and now the Lord permitted death to come upon them. The poisonous serpents that infested the wilderness were called fiery serpents, on account of the terrible effects produced by their sting, it causing violent inflammation and speedy death. As the protecting hand of God was removed from Israel, great numbers of the people were attacked by these venomous creatures.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 428, 429.
As in the previous illustrations, a comparison will be made between what the Lord is described as doing, and His own statement of what he did. If God is consistent, and we know He is, then He will describe this in the same way as He spoke of the previous two. Again the consistency of God stands forth without variableness neither shadow of turning.
“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” Numbers 21:6.
For those who want still further confirmation of the truths revealed in this use of the Bible as its own dictionary, referral is made to the experience of the patriarch Job. Satan demanded the right to destroy him. God withdrew and left him to the power of the devil with one restriction—that he could not take his life. Everything that happened to Job was at the hands of Satan, not God. The picture of God’s behavior was the same as previously shown except for this difference. Whereas in each of the other cases, it was the sinfulness of the rejecters of His mercy which had driven God and His protection away, Job was “a perfect and an upright man.” Therefore, God’s withdrawal from him was not the result of Job’s sinfulness.
On what grounds, then, could the Lord leave Job to suffer at the devil’s hands? This is a good question which finds its answer in the following principle. Every true child of God has given his life into God’s hands to be sacrificed in His cause if thereby the work will be advanced. This is a privilege, and the Lord will never deny that privilege to any one of His children when the hour comes. The hour came for Job and the Lord did not stand in the way of his offering.
Thus there are two ways in which the Lord will remove from a person and leave him to the destroyer. One is by man’s sinfulness driving off the
Spirit of God and the other is by the individual offering himself as a sacrifice for the cause of truth, a thing which every child of God does.
When the Lord came down to personally describe what He had done to Job, He again used the same language as previously noted. “Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” Job 2:3.
Once again this is not the way we would use those words according to everyday usage. Our use of them would convey a meaning quite opposite from what God intended when He used those words.
It would be impossible to arrive at the meanings of the words, according to God’s usage of them, without the guidance of the Word of God. Only from there could such an interpretation be obtained. That is, it is the only dictionary which does give this definition of these words.
It may take some time to train our minds to carry these double definitions for the same words. Conscious effort must be made until it is just as natural to think of the new definition as of the old. It must become second nature to ascribe one meaning to the words when they describe divine conduct and another when they deal with the human. Here is a comparison between the two.
When man destroys, he moves toward the victim with deliberate intention to kill.
When God destroys, He moves away from the subject with no intention of killing.
When man destroys, he carries the weapons of death in his hands.
When God destroys, He carries no weapons but lays down control of the destructive powers.
When man destroys, he guides the sword on to its target.
When God destroys, there is no personal administration of punishment. Whatever comes upon the sinner is the outworking of the forces of death which he himself has set in motion.
At this point two questions are apt to arise. The first is: After all, what is the essential difference between the direct act of destroying, or that of departing to leave the person to die? In both cases it is God’s action which brings about the destruction and therefore, in each case, He is a destroyer.
This would be true if God’s withdrawal was His own act, but it is not. The fact is that He is driven away. Think of the way in which Christ went to Calvary. He was taken there forcibly. This shows in its clearest terms man’s reaction toward the loving appeals of God. Man drives God away, depriving Him of any possibility of remaining unless He forces His presence, which the Lord will never do.
For those who are prepared to believe that God never puts forth His hands to destroy, yet consider that His act of withdrawing in the full
knowledge of what that will mean, makes Him a destroyer just the same, the following illustration is given. This will show the distinct difference between merely withdrawing and being forced to withdraw. It will show that even in His withdrawing it is not God who is responsible for the disasters which follow.
Let us suppose that there is an atomic power plant located in the midst of a small township of two thousand people. The nature of this power plant is such that an operator must continually be in the control room to monitor the controls. Should this post be left unattended for several hours or more, the nuclear fission will run out of control and blossom into a holocaust of destruction.
The situation arises where every technician but one is taken away and the full responsibility rests upon this man. No one else in the whole area has the training, knowledge, or skill, to operate this volatile equipment.
This creates no special problem, for the man is healthy, very conscientious, and does his work with great faithfulness day and night. He is able to take sufficient rest between check times to enable him to carry on indefinitely.
But there enters the area an archenemy of the technician who determines to run him out of town. To accomplish this, he circulates lying reports until a hate complex is generated among the villagers. They begin to persecute the technician in every imaginable way with increasing intensity. For a very long time he patiently endures the attacks in the hope that they will subside and with the realization that if he does forsake his post it will be disastrous for the village.
Finally his patience runs out. “I have had enough of this,” he cries, “I have gone the second, and the third mile. These people have shown that they do not deserve to live. I am leaving.”
Whereupon he walks out of the control room and drives far away. Several hours elapse and he is safe beyond the reach of the explosion when it occurs. The village and all in it are utterly destroyed.
While it is true that in a certain sense the villagers destroyed themselves, it is equally true that this technician destroyed them for he left them knowing that his departure would bring those sure and certain results. This is the picture which many have of God.
The situation faced by this man is the same as that faced by God. He is the great “Technician” who is in charge of the power house of nature. When He lets go of those powers, there is no one else who can control them and keep them from exploding in a horror of destruction. An enemy has come in and a hate complex has been generated against God.
Many believe this truth and then see God coming to the end of His patience, as in our illustration, and voluntarily withdrawing to leave men to perish in the cataclysm of destruction which inevitably follows.
If this is the true picture of God, then, unquestionably, we would have to agree that He is, after all, a destroyer.
But it is not. God is a very different person from this.
Let us retell the story, as it would provide a true picture of God’s character.
Here is the same technician, the same control room, the same situation, the same village, and the same enemy stirring up trouble.
This time the technician never thinks of leaving. No matter what they do to him, all he can see is their situation. He knows that if he leaves them, they will all be dead men so he stays on. His patience is not in question for he is not thinking of himself at all.
But the persecution becomes more and more intense until the people begin to demand that he go. He protests that if he does, they will perish and for their sakes, not his own, he desires to stay. They, in their hateful blindness, being ignorant of their real danger and overconfident of their own ability to handle the control room anyway, laugh derisively at him and shout for his departure.
With deepest concern for them he holds on and fulfils his work as faithfully as ever. Every time he thinks of them, a pang of fear and pain sweeps through him, and he considers most earnestly how he can win their love and confidence so that he might preserve them alive. Not one thought is for himself—every thought is for them and their need.
But every day they become more hateful and violent until they invade the control room and angrily shout at him to leave. They jostle him out through the door and down to his car. They put him into it and direct him to drive away. There is no choice left. Slowly, he drives out of the village and mounts the first hill beyond. He stops the car, climbs out and looks back toward the angry knot of people gathered to witness that he is truly gone. He spreads his hands in one last loving appeal. The instant response is agitated signals conveying to him their unchanged demand that he go.
What more can he do?
Nothing! Every possible source open to him to save those people is exhausted, and with the heaviest of hearts he turns his car into the distance and is gone forever. Several hours pass and then the atomic fireball blasts the village and the villagers out of existence.
No one can say that this man is a destroyer. He acted out the character of a saviour only. He could not and did not save them because they would not let him. [If he as God, FORCED his way, he would violate their freedom of CHOICE, and He will never do this. Satan is the one who uses FORCE and takes away our power of choice. We see this manifested through the cruel dictators on the earth. rb]
This is the true picture of the character of God.
The truth of this is stated in a paragraph from Prophets and Kings, 176. “Christ will never abandon those for whom He has died. We may leave Him and be overwhelmed with temptation, but Christ can never turn from one for whom He has paid the ransom of His own life.”
In view of the fact that Christ died for all men, this statement is saying that it is impossible for Christ to turn away from anyone. Men turn away from God. God cannot turn away from men. That is impossible.
The second question is this: If God does not in fact destroy, then why does He use this word to describe His actions? Does this not tend to make the Scriptures confusing?
Again this is an excellent question, in answer to which it must be said that this is the right word to use in describing God’s actions, for there is a deep and important sense in which it is true that He does destroy.
As the evidences gathered here unfold, it will be seen that God comes to man in one role only, which is as a Saviour. But the effect of that effort is not always a saving one. With the majority, the effect is to harden them in rebellion and to cause them to withdraw themselves from the voice of loving entreaty. Thus, God destroys by trying to save. The more He exerts His saving power, the more men are driven by their rejection of it to destruction. It is in this sense that He destroys.
This principle of truth is spelled out with great clarity in the statement: “It is not God that blinds the eyes of men or hardens their hearts. He sends them light to correct their errors, and to lead them in safe paths; it is by the rejection of this light that the eyes are blinded and the heart hardened. Often the process is gradual, and almost imperceptible. Light comes to the soul through God’s word, through His servants, or by the direct agency of His Spirit; but when one ray of light is disregarded, there is a partial benumbing of the spiritual perceptions, and the second revealing of light is less clearly discerned. So the darkness increases, until it is night in the soul. Thus it had been with these Jewish leaders. They were convinced that a divine power attended Christ, but in order to resist the truth, they attributed the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. In doing this they deliberately chose deception; they yielded themselves to Satan, and henceforth they were controlled by his power.” The Desire of Ages, 322, 323.
“It is not God that puts the blinder before the eyes of men or makes their hears hard; it is the light which God sends to His people, to correct their errors, to lead them in safe paths, but which they refuse to accept,--it is this that blinds their minds and hardens their hearts.” Review and Herald, October 21, 1890.
The outstanding example of this outworking is the history of Pharaoh of Egypt. The Scripture says, “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 7:3.
To harden is to destroy. It is not physical destruction but spiritual. This spiritual destruction is the prelude to the physical which must inevitably follow. The Scriptures plainly say that it was God who did it and He did, but every reference which throws light on what God did, shows that His action was to send spiritual light, and loving appeals to Pharaoh. These were designed to soften and save, not to harden him, but that which was sent to save, destroyed him instead, because he rejected it. Note carefully that it was not the light, but his rejection of it that hardened and destroyed him.
“Pharaoh saw the mighty working of the Spirit of God; he saw the miracles which the Lord performed by His servant; but he refused obedience to God’s command. The rebellious king had proudly enquired, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? . . . (Exodus 5:2).’ And as the judgments of God fell more and more heavily upon him, he persisted in stubborn resistance. By rejecting light from heaven, he became hard and unimpressible. The providence of God was revealing His power, and these manifestations, unacknowledged, were the means of hardening Pharaoh’s heart against greater light. Those who exalt their own ideas above the plainly specified will of God, are saying as did Pharaoh ‘Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?’ Every rejection of light hardens the heart and darkens the understanding; and thus men find it more and more difficult to distinguish between right and wrong, and they become bolder in resisting the will of God.” SDA Bible Commentary, 1:1100.
“Every additional evidence of the power of God that the Egyptian monarch resisted, carried him on to a stranger and more persistent defiance of God. Thus the work went on, finite man warring against the expressed will of an infinite God. This case is a clear illustration of the sin against the Holy Ghost. ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’ Gradually the Lord withdrew His Spirit. Removing His restraining power, He gave the king into the hands of the worst of all tyrants.” The Review and Herald, July 27, 1897.
“The patience and long-suffering of God, which should soften and subdue the soul, has an altogether different influence upon the careless and sinful. It leads them to cast off restraint, and strengthens them in resistance.” The Review and Herald, August 14, 1900.
The truth laid out in these statements is a very important one. When it is truly appreciated, there will be no careless attitude toward the revelations which are brought to us. There will be a conscious fear that a terrible mistake could be made by rejecting light which, because it touches our flesh or some preconceived idea and opinion, we desire to reject. There will be the dread of having the heart hardened and the spiritual sense benumbed. “Let ministers and people remember that gospel truth ruins if it does not save. The soul that refuses to listen to the invitations of mercy from day to day can soon listen to the most urgent appeals without an emotion stirring his soul.” Testimonies 5:134.
We must clearly understand that the only effort God puts forth, is to save. That effort can and does produce two opposite effects. In the hearts and lives of those who accept God’s work, it achieves its intended result. It softens, changes, cleanses, and restores. It is unto life eternal.
But in the lives of those who reject that saving ministry, there is a terrible work of destruction going forward. It is a destroying work which firstly breaks down every spiritual response within, then hardens the heart in
rebellion, develops every sinful trait, and compels the Spirit of God to withdraw His presence and His protection. This leaves the individual to the choice he has made; to a position where there is no protection whatsoever from the destructive malice of Satan and sin.
God destroys, but not as man destroys. Every effort on God’s part is to save, but it has an altogether different result in the lives of those who reject that saving power. Therefore we can know that, in fact, God is a Saviour and a Saviour only. He destroys by trying to save so that the more His saving power is manifest in the world and that power is rejected, the more swiftly and terribly are the rejecters destroyed by the simple outworking of the forces involved.
This principle will come through with greater clarity and force as the individual cases of the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt, the crucifixion of Christ, the seven last plagues, and the final judgment are studied. These will be taken up progressively, For now it is sufficient to establish the principle that the way in which the Lord destroys is by seeking to save. Thus His way of destroying is entirely different from man’s way. Once this is clearly comprehended, it will be possible to view all God’s actions in a new and enlightened way. As a result, the whole of Scripture will emerge as one great harmonious truth.