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Creation [3]

Category Articles
Date November 6, 2009

3. The Consistent Scripture Testimony1

In the Old Testament period, when God’s revelation was largely confined to the Jews, we might not expect many instances of them communicating the truth about their God to Gentiles. Yet we do have the example of Jonah when the seamen quizzed him about his background; he told them: ‘I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land’ (Jonah 1:9). This was a distinction, between their gods and Jonah’s God, which the seamen could appreciate. His God possessed supernatural power; he was the Creator; the evidence of his creative work was manifest. But other gods had not shown comparable power; indeed they had no real existence; they were only a figment of human imagination.

This sense of God’s creative power was part of the consciousness of believing Israelites as they thought of the contrast between him and idols. The Psalmist, for instance, sent forth a call to sing to the praise of God and to ‘declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people. For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods’ (Psa. 96:3,4). And where lay the distinction between Jehovah and the false gods of other peoples? The Psalmist answers in the following verse: ‘For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens’. He was the Creator – a thought which was fundamental to the thinking of everyone who believed the revelation they had received from God, even if, at that stage in history, that revelation did not extend much beyond the five books of Moses.

And everyone who looked up to the sky, by day or by night, ought to have recognised God’s Creatorship, for, as David sang: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork’ (Psa. 19:1) – which was true not only in primitive times, but also today. The enormous advances in scientific knowledge ought not fundamentally to change the way we look at the sky. It continues to declare the handiwork of God; it continues to tell us that there is a Creator. And, if we open the pages of the Bible, we discover, in all the testimony the Lord gives about himself, who the Creator is. That testimony, including what he reveals about himself as Creator, is to be received by faith; no one has any right to reject it.

Jeremiah prophesied during a time of widespread idolatry among the Jews. But he was directed to bring to them a message from the Lord forbidding them to learn ‘the way of the heathen’ or to be dismayed ‘at the signs of heaven’, although the heathen were influenced by them (Jer. 10:2). Where had the heathen gods come from? A workman had cut down a tree and fashioned it with his axe; then it was covered with silver and gold. But it could not move; it had to be carried everywhere. Such were, in Jeremiah’s words, ‘the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth’ and so ‘they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens’ (v. 11). But the true God, in total contrast, ‘hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion’ (v. 12). Thus, again and again, we find the same truth relied on to distinguish the true God – the living God – from all false gods: he is the Creator of everything.

Even in revealing himself to his own people, God often referred to himself as Creator – not least when speaking of his power. The people of Israel were conscious of their weakness in Isaiah’s time. For their encouragement they were told: ‘Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth’ (Isa. 40:26). To look at the sun, the moon and the stars should have brought to their minds immediately the thought of a Creator, and no being could have brought these objects into existence except the God who had revealed himself to Israel by his prophets and in other parts of Scripture. And as they continued to look up at the sky, they were further to deduce that their God, the Creator, was a God of infinite power; how else was it possible for any of the heavenly bodies to come into existence?

The questions accordingly followed: ‘Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?’ (v. 28). And they were to understand that the Being who had manifested such tremendous power in creating the sun, the moon and the stars was able to strengthen those who, however conscious of their weakness, were enabled to look to him by faith. He thus further revealed himself: ‘He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint (vv. 29-31). The point is that it is the Creator who gives this remarkable power to even the weakest of human beings, and accordingly they were to trust him however faint they might feel.

So when Hezekiah was besieged in his capital Jerusalem by the invading Assyrian armies, he prayed to the Lord for help and addressed him as Creator: ‘Thou hast made heaven and earth’ (2 Kings 19:15). He acknowledged the truth of the claims of the enemy general Rabshakeh, who boasted that he had destroyed the gods of other nations. Hezekiah realised clearly that ‘they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them’. Lacking an understanding of these things, Rabshakeh had included in his message the warning: ‘Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria’. But powerful though the Assyrian armies were, Hezekiah knew he could trust his God, for he was the true God. And this was confirmed to him by the fact that his God had created the heavens and the earth.

In Jeremiah’s time, Jerusalem was again besieged. It was indeed an unlikely time for him to be directed to buy his uncle’s field, for Judah and Jerusalem were, with total certainty, to be overrun by the Chaldeans. After all, he had just received a divine revelation to that effect, but it was a revelation which also contained the assurance that houses and fields and vineyards would yet be possessed in Judah. It was clearly difficult for Jeremiah to reconcile these matters in his mind, but he turned to the Lord in prayer and addressed him in these terms: ‘Ah Lord God, behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee’ (Jer. 32:17). Jeremiah had a Spirit-taught mind, and we can see the evidence of faith rising in his heart as he submits to the all-powerful Creator, who could bring about what would have been totally impossible in the hands of any lesser power.

Jeremiah’s faith was rewarded; he was granted a further revelation which began with the words: ‘Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?’ (Jer. 32:27). And the revelation went on to show how the Chaldeans were to be God’s instrument in bringing judgement on his people and, on the other hand, the captivity was to be followed by a return to their own land. Nothing could be too hard for the One whom Jeremiah viewed as the Creator of all things, for his power was clearly manifested in ‘God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good’.2

What were even the most powerful of rulers and generals, such as Nebuchadnezzar and Rabshakeh, in comparison with the Creator? The answer to this question was obvious and had been given in the poetic language of Isaiah’s prophecy. First he is described as ‘He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth . . . that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in’. What follows accordingly from the fact of his Creatorship is: it is he ‘that bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity’ (Isa. 40:22,23).

As Creator, sovereign over everything he has made, God claims the right to order the affairs of the world as he sees fit. In particular he will set over every part of it whatever ruler he wills to appoint – whether his purpose is one of judgement or of mercy. ‘I have made’, he declares, ‘the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me.’ So, at that particular time, it was God who, in judgement, was giving Nebuchadnezzar authority over a great part of the Middle East. Through Jeremiah his prophet, the Lord proclaimed: ‘And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come’ (Jer. 27:5-7).

Even God’s children could be intimidated by the thought of human power – and that, of course, is still the case – but let them look higher, to the One who made heaven and earth, and then they will see where real, effective power lies. So the Psalmist, very likely conscious that there was no possibility of receiving human help, made known his confidence that God would help him; he declared: ‘My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth’ (Psa. 121:2). In the words of David Dickson: ‘Nothing can satisfy faith except the all-sufficiency of God, who made heaven and earth out of nothing and can give help where there is no appearance of relief’.3 Many factors might have entered into the Psalmist’s thinking, but what particularly encouraged him was his sense of God’s unlimited power because he was the Creator. It may or may not have been the same Psalmist who, wishing others to receive real good, expressed the desire: ‘The Lord that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion’ (Psa. 134:3). But again, as we have seen in so many other places, the Psalmist’s sense of God’s power to bless is heightened by his knowledge of God’s power as Creator.

The fact that God is the Creator of the whole universe is not revealed to us merely for our information. He reminded his people of the fact: ‘I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded’ (Isa. 45:12), and he did so to encourage them to bring all their needs before him. This statement of his creatorship is intended to back up the remarkably strong language of this call: ‘Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me’. Matthew Henry emphasises that this is to be done, ‘not by way of prescription [to God], but by way of petition’. The people, Henry adds, were being told: ‘Be earnest in your requests and confident in your expectations, as far as both are guided by, and grounded upon, the promise’. And he closes his comments on verse 12 with the remark: ‘It is good news to God’s Israel that their God is the creator and governor of the world’.

And when the Lord speaks to sinners of his judgements and directs them: ‘Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel,’ he identifies himself as the Creator, as ‘he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind’ (Amos 4:12,13). Just as the Psalmist took comfort from the fact that his God was the Creator of all things, so ungodly Israelites, unprepared to meet their Maker, were also to consider his power to punish them, especially beyond death, and to seek preparation for meeting him. Matthew Henry comments: ‘If He be such a God as He is here described to be, it is folly to contend with Him, and our duty and interest to make our peace with Him’. This is still so, but this matter is very much not at the forefront of most people’s thinking. And this is a result of recent generations – in Britain, in particular – having lost sight of the fact that God is their Creator and that, consequently, he has authority over them and will at last demonstrate that authority, on the day of judgement.

From the New Testament, we may note how, following the arrest of the Apostles in the aftermath of the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful gate of the temple, and their subsequent release, they ‘lifted up their voice’ in prayer to God as the Creator: ‘Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is’. Then, thinking of the opposition of the rulers to the work of the gospel, they pled: ‘Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto yhy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus’ (Acts 4:24, 27-28). And, immediately afterwards, we are assured that their prayer was heard by the Creator in heaven, in whose power and grace they had put their trust.

The testimony of Scripture to the doctrine of Creation runs literally from Genesis to Revelation. And in this last book of the Bible we read of the worship addressed by the Church to God as the Creator: ‘The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’ (4:10, 11).

Notes

  1. The other three articles from this 2008 Theological Conference paper can be found on the Banner of Truth website:
    Part 1 – ‘Much of the Power and Wisdom of God’.
    Part 2 – ‘Through Faith We Understand’.
    Part 4 – ‘God Has Given Me All Things’.
  2. Shorter Catechism, Answer 9.
  3. A Commentary on the Psalms, Banner of Truth reprint, 1965, vol 2, p 413. [Out of print.]

Rev Kenneth D. Macleod is editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the October 2009 edition of which this article is reproduced with kind permission.

www.fpchurch.org.uk

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