Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said, “Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians talk, saying, ‘With evil motives He brought them out, to kill them on the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and relent of doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your [g]descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your [h]descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So God repented of the harm which He said He would do to His people (Exodus32:11-14)
In this series of posts, I am working sequentially through the Scriptures to complement what I have set out in my book regarding divine providence, identifying passages that I have been shown (by the Spirit I believe) have traditionally been misinterpreted or dismissed as “difficult texts” and their significance consequently eluded. This post may not directly fall into that category, but it reinforces what has been emphasized in the series concerning God’s condescending and compassionate nature towards mankind. More than that, it should encourage those of us who have already been reconciled to God through a personal knowledge of his Son to take the subject of PRAYER very seriously indeed.
The background is the extraordinary sin of the children of Israel who had prostituted themselves to idols in Moses’ absence (Ex32) as a result of which their leader was informed that Yahweh intended to destroy them and fulfil His promises through Moses alone (v10). Yet that great leader interceded for his people; he dared to reason with His God (vv11-13) and HE PREVAILED! God relented, or as the KJV translates verse 14 “God repented”. In this context the word can have nothing to do with sin but indicates a change of mind or heart or the act of being moved to compassion so as to relent; the Hebrew “nacham” (H5162) affirms as much. At least this is how the matter is presented in Scripture: the Spirit as Editor-in-chief clearly intends us to understand that God hears our prayers and is willing to respond positively to our requests providing our motives are right, as Moses’ assuredly were – (see also Gen6:7, Gen18:21,26; 1Sam15:11,35; Mt2:19-22 concerning Gods willingness to review His own actions). As I am constantly endeavouring to assert, Yahweh is no remote, deistic divinity, concerning whom human reason may not be applied (such notions oppose the ministry and teaching of Christ Himself – cf. Lk11). Yahweh had said to man “Come let us reason together” (Is1:18) and as we see with the example of Moses (and earlier with Abraham regarding Lot in Sodom) He takes our petitions seriously and is prepared to act upon them. He truly does regard His chosen and faithful people as His own friends (Ex33:11) and we are privileged to approach Him as such.
These posts are promoting my latest book. Like its predecessor “Fellowship of the Secret”  it concerns divine providence which I believe to be the subject of THE Little Book referred to in Revelation chapter ten.
“I AM who I am: the God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy, maintaining my faithful love to thousands, forgiving fault crime and sin, yet letting nothing go unchecked, punishing the parent’s fault in the children and in the grandchildren unto the third and fourth generation” (Exodus34:6-7NJB).
It is possible that the very servants of Satan may be transformed into ministers of righteousness and become greatly revered amongst the righteous (cf. 2Cor11:14,15). But there is a benchmark that can be applied if they happen to be theologians or spiritual teachers in the Church and it is God’s depiction of His own character quoted above. Such is God’s self-declared nature; these are His judgements which are evidently right and just and in accordance with human reason, by which I mean they are exactly how one would expect a loving and just God to behave in judgement. One might call it divine theology, for there surely can be no better theologian than God Himself, so if anyone has presented a markedly different picture or if they declare God’s nature to be quite incomprehensible or inexplicable to man, he is no theologian at all however revered he may be [reliefis at hand – cf. Rev10:7-10). Whilst one may be mystified by God’s ways at times, this is a Being that we as human beings can genuinely love and adore as well as fear; not merely for the grace and mercy we believe He has shown to us but because He is genuinely good from the perspective of those created after His own likeness.
Yahweh is forgiving, tender and compassionate just as a saintly human is uniformly tender and compassionate, only more so. Like a good parent He will have a special affection for His own (or His Son’s) immediate family but will show generosity and kindness to all, for that is God’s self-declared nature. As such He makes full allowance for the human weakness unavoidably inherited at birth; toleration being a vital ingredient of love as any parent will know, yet He will come crashing down on those who wickedly offend those He loves. He will take vengeance on behalf of His people (cf. 2Thes1:6); being all who fear Him and seek to do justice in accordance with the measure of revelation they have received from Him. I say again with the Psalmist:“We shall praise you with uprightness of heart WHEN we learn your righteous judgements” (Ps119:7).
How God’s self-declared nature and munificent providence are to be reconciled with biblical theology as a whole is set out in The Little Book of Providence:
Review or Purchase paperback or kinder e-book from Amazon.uk HERE or Amazon.com HERE
“I shall make your
(Isaac)’s descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and I shall give them
all these countries- and all nations shall bless themselves by your descendants’
Isaac’s father had effectively become the father of covenantal
faith, but it was never faith alone:
shall do this) as a result of Abraham’s obedience; for he
kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes and my laws” (following
The Apostle Paul writing to Christians in Galatia said that they, like Isaac, were the children of promise (Gal4:28). But as outlined in an earlier post, Isaac’s half-brother Ishmael was also blessed by God yet excluded from the Abrahamic covenant. That is one of many indicators of the broader benign providence being outlined in “The Little Book of Providence”, a free PDF of which is available HERE
Wherever in scripture punishment for human sin is quantified, it is typically specified at double the offence. This principle is applied quite literally in the Law of Moses for all manner of theft (e.g. Ex22:4,7,9). Likewise in the Prophets, God’s rebellious people are said to pay double for their sins (Is40:2, Jer16:18) as at the universal level do the wicked (Jer17:18, Rev18:6). “Double” need not be taken literally in the latter cases but it is indicating that punishment in God’s eyes is proportional and finite, for nX≠∞ (where n is the multiple and X is the offence). Confusion has arisen in view of how references to post-mortem punishment in the New Testament are usually translated from the Greek (“aeonian” referring to an age or a prolonged period of time, not usually eternity). Even so, thinking back through human history and applying such a principle it is no surprise that Jesus said of a few: “it had been better for them if they had never been born”, especially those who through megalomania or merciless psychopathy have brought untold misery to numerous lives, for they will pay a heavy price.
Such souls will not suffer because of any deficiency or “limit” to Christ’s atonement; nor is final punishment presented in the gospels in terms of offences against God but against humanity (Mt25:41-46). Why? – because God makes full allowance for ignorance – man’s knowledge of the Divine Glory is at the very best incomplete, especially for the majority who have not received a faithful account of the Gospel. But there is less excuse with regard to dealings with our fellow man, for the requirement to be caring and compassionate is intuitive (Mt25 again), being discerned through the faculty of conscience. To the astonishment of some Christians Paul asserts that many without the Law do, however feebly, the one thing required to fulfil its purpose – namely, LOVE:
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal5:14)
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law (Rom13:8)
Love does no harm to a neighbour therefore love is the fulfilment of the law (Rom13:10)
And one can take it from Jesus Christ that human sin will be punished in accordance with the criteria stipulated by Himself, applying standards that are perfectly intelligible (Mt6:14; 7:2). Thankfully for us there will also be forgiveness a plenty, but retributive post-mortem punishment resulting in exclusion from the blessings of God’s future Kingdom for some is a biblically inescapable reality. It will be seen to be right and just and indeed necessary once a new heaven and earth is established under Christ with His saints, in which righteousness shall dwell (2Pet3:13).
And when Rebekah’s days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob. And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. (Gen25:24-30)
I am in the process of working through the Old Testament and highlighting the areas where God’s broader providence is indicated but not generally perceived. In doing so I must not fall into the typical proof-texting trap of being selective – drawing on the passages that support the emphasis I am endeavoring to put across whilst ignoring narratives that might appear to contradict the fundamental principles I wish to impart, being that God is Love personified and is impartial and fair to all. In Paul’s language, when it comes to judgement, God is “no respecter of persons” in spite of what he might appear to be writing in Romans 9 with regard to Isaac and Rebecca’s twin boys, in particular that Esau was hated by God. Frankly, the apostle’s own proof-texting in verse 13 is somewhat inventive – he is taking Malachi slightly out of context. [If the apostle actually understood himself to be “composing scripture” rather than preparing pastoral letters, no doubt he would have given more consideration to how his words were likely to be interpreted centuries later]. In Romans 9, Paul had quoted from Malachi where God speaking through the prophet declares that although Esau, patriarch of Edom was Isaac (Israel’s) brother. Esau was hated by God because He was indignant at the nation of Edom’s wickedness (1:4). But Paul uses that quote to imply that Esau was hated by God even before the hairy little infant in Rebekah’s womb was born. That indeed may have been the case in view of God’s foreknowledge of his character, but the context of Malachi was actually the wickedness of the nation that would be Esau’s inheritance as the prophet makes clear. The point Paul wished to impart was that God’s choice, i.e. His elective grace was not based on a person’s virtuous standing or otherwise but His own sovereign will. That is absolutely the case, but as I say that was not the aspect that God wished to get across to His people through His prophet in Malachi 1.
Reflecting on Jacob and Esau, the undeniable principle of election by grace alone does not in the least impugn God’s impartiality or equity providing the nature and purpose of such election is properly understood. God’s choice is not referring to who is arbitrarily to be delivered from eternal punishment (which as His Son makes quite clear is determined by faith evinced by works of compassion – Mt25); election or predestination pertains to who in Jacob and Esau’s case should be the chosen seed, nation and royal priesthood for the world, the faithful of whom are destined for corporate betrothal to the Son of God, no less (Rev19:7). Confusion also arises from Paul’s references in this context to God “showing mercy” to whom He so chooses. Again, that is not referring to final judgement (the same general criteria will apply to all albeit allowance is made for ignorance and incapacity); rather the mercy refers to deliverance in the present from “the body of this death” which the Christian alone can experience through the purging of his sin, empowerment to live a holy life and a restored relationship with His Creator that provides joy and hope for the future. That is mercy indeed and it is quite underserved on the recipient’s part. It also can pertain (as in Paul’s example of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Romans 9) to how God chooses to deal with the profoundly wicked or seriously misguided (Saul of Tarsus had been the latter). He may show mercy as in Paul’s case or harden the heart further as with the Pharaoh. But even here, Paul makes the point that God had shown mercy towards him because he did what he did in ignorance (1Tim1:13).
Reviewing the lives and destinies of Jacob and Esau as individuals, the former was something of a crafty, cheating deceiver whilst the latter had despised his birth-right and gone on to choose Canaanite brides in defiance of his parents’ wishes. Yet these two flawed brothers are finally depicted together (illustration) showing an extraordinary degree of mutual respect and deference to each other and later to their father Isaac (who actually favoured Esau), attending to his burial together as Isaac and Ishmael had done with their father Abraham. These matters are considered in detail in The Little Book of Providence:
“The Church having received this preaching and this faith although scattered throughout the whole world. Yet as if occupying one house carefully preserves it. She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had one soul and one and the same heart. She proclaims and teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she only possessed one mouth. For the churches in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different. Nor do those in Spain or Gaul. But as the sun, that creature of God is one and the same throughout the whole world; so the preaching of the truth shines everywhere enlightening all men willing to come to a knowledge of the truth”
Who was Irenaeus?
So wrote Irenaeus (AD130-202), the major theologian of the 2nd century Church. He had been instructed by Polycarp a disciple of John the Evangelist. His depiction of universal doctrinal uniformity may be exaggerated but equally it could not have been the case that the essential doctrines concerning the nature of faith and salvation could have uniformly been in error given that each of the churches he refers to could trace its origins just two or three generations back to the apostles.
They cannot ALL have interpreted Paul’s teaching wrongly. Yet their surviving writings bear little resemblance to the Protestant Reformers’ distinctive teachings or indeed the distinctive teachings of Augustine, who, particularly following his disputation with Pelagius came to reject any positive role for natural law in terms of innate spiritual faculties. Yet it is clear from their writing that such principles were understood by Irenaeus himself and fellow second century spiritual masters including Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr, later affirmed by the testimony of 3rd century Church historian Eusebius [note 1].
Not reliant on Scripture alone
It is not that all the churches of this period will have come to agreement through a sublimity of biblical exegesis. It is because the great apostle to the Gentiles himself or his direct appointees had founded and superintended a good number of these assemblies. These leaders understood Paul’s writings because they or their leaders hadheard him and talked to him. They did not rely entirely upon his pastoral epistles that even his fellow apostle Peter observed were difficult and misunderstood by many (2Pet3:16).
Such an historical affirmation with the earliest Church Fathers cannot be provided for all the assertions in my book. For as (third century) Origen later observed, the Church would come to explore and resolve certain mysteries over the course of the Church’s pilgrimage. But such progressive revelation cannot apply to the means of obtaining eternal life through Jesus Christ. That was clear from the start and has always been adequately set forth within the Apostolic Church. For Scripture makes clear enough that God wishes to heal all redeemable humanity and bring them to a knowledge of the Truth. To that end He has chosen a people to form a messianic community. Informed by divine teaching and empowered by His Spirit they are to bring light, healing and salvation to the world that He loves. In Paul’s words:
“The grace of God has appeared FOR THE SALVATION OF THE HUMAN RACE teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts to live sensibly, righteously and devoutly in the current age, anticipating the blessed hope and Shekinah of our Great God and the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sake so that we should be delivered from lawlessness and be purified as a SPECIALLY CHOSEN PEOPLE FOR HIMSELF burning with zeal to do good works. This is what you (Titus) are to say, rebuking with authority; let no man despise you” (Paul’s letter to Titus ch2:11-15)
God’s reconciliatory purposes
That “specially chosen people” is the Church – but my book  systematically demonstrates from Scripture that it is God’s intention to reconcile humanity as a whole to Himself, not just the proportional few who are soul-healed (“saved”) in the present, being the elect of God. Natural law (so-called) plays an essential part in the broader reconciliatory process. The term can be misleading for “natural law” in the anthropological context is not antithetical to divine grace. It pertains to God-given innate moral/spiritual faculties. That is evident in the functioning of the conscience, and is a form of common grace.
Such provides fallen humanity with a moral compass, a measure of restraint and crucially the ability to show compassion to others (which according to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapter 25 determines where the soul is heading after death). However, these innate spiritual faculties are incapable of saving the soul such that a person can relate to and serve the Creator whilst embodied within what Paul refers to as “the body of this death” inherited from our parents, ultimately from Adam.
The context of Christian salvation
Such are born again through “the exceedingly abundant grace which is in Christ Jesus”. It is given to those “predestined to be conformed to Christ’s image“. That is so that they might serve as God’s royal priesthood whilst on earth and reign with Christ through eternity. This is worked out in some detail in my book  and, crucially, reconciled with the whole of Scripture.
 2nd century Church theologian, Irenaeus recognised that God in His providence is present with all “who attend to moral discipline, paying heed to the natural precepts of the law by which man can be justified“. [“Irenaeus against heresies” Book IV chap 13 para 1]. Justin Martyr spoke of God’s benevolence towards those who walk uprightly and in accordance with right reason. We have “a God who accepts those who imitate His own qualities of temperance, fairness and philanthropy and who exercise their free will in choosing what is pleasing to Him“. [First apology of Justin chaps. 43 & 46].
The witness of Eusebius (AD260-340) affirms such a perspective on free will and the role of natural law. Known as the Father of Church History, Eusebius documented the succession of the apostolic sees in East and West. He commented on the faithfulness (or otherwise) of some of their bishops. It provided an invaluable perspective on the doctrinal understanding of his time. In view of his own perspective on the matter, Eusebius indicates that the early Church subsumed a positive role for natural law within their theological/anthropological perspective when he wrote as follows:
The role of natural law
“The Creator HAS IMPRESSED A NATURAL LAW UPON THE SOUL as an assistant and ally in his conduct. It points out to him the right way by this law; butendowed by a free liberty,man makes the choice of what is best worthy of praise and acceptance; because he has acted rightly from HIS OWN FREE-WILL, when he had it in his power to act otherwise.
“As, again, making him who chooses what is worst, deserving of blame and punishment. By his own motion he had NEGLECTED NATURAL LAW; becoming the origin and fountain of wickedness, and misusing himself. And not from any extraneous necessity, but from free will and judgment. The fault is in him who chooses, not in God. For GOD HAS NOT MADE NATURE OR THE SUBSTANCE OF THE SOUL BAD; for he who is good can make nothing but what is good”.
[Quotation from “The Christian Examiner”, Volume One – my highlighting]
 “The Little Book of Providence” – free PDF of e-book HERE
The physical descendants of Abraham and Sarah’s union were intended to be the “holy nation” that God called to be His priesthood for the world. They would learn the ways of Yahweh and thus be equipped to become Israel, the light of nations. His exclusive covenant with Israel had been as follows:
So now, if you are really prepared to obey me and keep my covenant, you (Israelites) out of all peoples shall be my personal possession, for the whole world is mine. For Me you shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. (Ex19:5,6)
So in due course He gave them the Decalogue along with more detailed requirements concerning how they were to conduct themselves, set out in the Torah of Moses or Pentateuch which scripture generally refers to as “the Law”. It was to be their schoolmaster up until Christ, for contrary to the teaching of many, justification by faith in a Saviour was not disclosed even to God’s chosen people before His coming, as a careful reading of Gal3:23-27 (Greek interlinear) affirms. When Paul asserts in that passage that justification on the basis of the faithfulness of Christ for those who had exercised faith had “not yet been disclosed” (v23 Greek) he was not saying it had not availed for those Jews who had been faithful, but their instruction had always been to “keep Torah” not to “acknowledge their moral impotence and trust in God’s mercy or the merits of a coming Saviour” or suchlike as Augustine and later the Reformers asserted. At the same Paul was making it clear that no one had ever been justified on the basis of a perfect fulfilment of the Law (v21); it had always been on the basis of Christ’s faithfulness availing for those with “faith”. Yet once that was disclosed, the Torah as schoolmaster would be filled out by the teaching of Christ, and with the enabling that would be provided through an interior participation with Him and the Spirit, the children of God would come to obey what James referred to as the “royal law” of love for God and neighbour (cf. Jam2:8) and would do so “in spirit and in truth” rather than the deadness of the letter. In the meantime, it is quite clear from the above quote from Exodus that the chosen nation were to be obedient to their covenant with Yahweh if they were to occupy a land that He had promised to Abraham. The occupants to be displaced were the polluted seed pool of Canaan, the accursed son of Ham that we considered earlier. Their supplanters were to become a divinely disciplined and holy nation to act as a salvific bridgehead to the rest of creation (Dt4:5,6NJB): Israel, the light of nations. It had never been intended that the whole world “become Jewish” but neither was it destined for the cosmic waste-paper basket; many in the world would be enlightened by the Jews and come to revere Yahweh.
The context of the above within Scripture as a whole is set out in The Little Book of Providence:
Review or Purchase paperback or kinder e-book from Amazon.uk HERE or Amazon.com HERE
Moving on to Exodus, Moses and the Law, and once again the broader providential perspective has been eluded by the many, who, following the pattern set by Augustine have adopted a highly allegorised approach to interpreting the Old Testament, endeavouring to read Christ and the “Pauline gospel” (as they have understood it) into too many narratives, failing to pay due care and attention to the ancient text within its own context. As a result, God’s plan for Israel has itself been misconceived by many who understand Isaac’s seed that prefigures the Church to be the sole beneficiaries of God’s benign providential care. In the words of Augustine of Hippo commenting on the cosmic horror story he had set out in Book 21 of his “City of God”: “Many more people are to be left under punishment than are delivered from it, in order that it may thus be shown what was due to all (mankind)”.
It is the purpose of my book** and this series of posts to expose that sentiment for what it is – a travesty of the Good News concerning God’s plan for Israel, the Church and all people created in His image. To be fair, the Creator’s magnanimity and merciful compassion were always prone to be obscured or misunderstood as a result of the extraordinary scheme He has devised for humanity. For He has determined that the re-embodied souls of His earthly children currently contained within morally disordered intellectual vessels (cf. Rom7:24; 1Thes4:4) should attain to a glorious destiny in association with His Son, to Whom He has assigned universal authority (Mt28:18).
All this is not to say that Israel and the Church are not favoured and exclusive groupings, they assuredly are. But they were brought into being to be the first fruits of God’s creation (James1:18) and the means by which the Creator would work from within to restore His fallen world through His own sanctified, divinely tutored people. The true “Israel of God” (of which the Church has become a part) is privileged indeed, and as Scripture makes clear (e.g. Jn6:44; 2Tim1:9, Jn1:13) its participants’ calling and election was not on the basis of merit, either actual or anticipated, but free grace. Yet God is no respecter of persons and has been fair (indeed generous) to all.
Under the Old Covenant, God’s plan for Israel was that they should act as God’s suffering Servant in the world. Those who were unfaithful to that calling would pay a heavier price than the Gentile nations who acted in ignorance. Paul’s sermon to the Athenian pagans: “Truly these times of ignorance God HAS OVERLOOKED but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts17:30 NKJV). Whereas note the Lord’s address to His chosen nation of Israel: “You alone have I intimately known of the families of the earth. That is why I shall punish you for all your wrongdoings” (Amos3:2NJB). In the starkest contrast to Augustine’s fatalistic determinism, God is fair and magnanimous towards all. For, like Israel, God’s elect of the New Covenant have been called to a life of self-discipline and endurance. In Christ’s own words His followers must lose their own lives in order to find Life. In Paul’s words those who are to reign with Christ in the future must be ready to suffer with Him in the present (2Tim2:12 – note tenses). Whilst those who have been chosen by God’s grace to be intimately associated with His Son are especially dear to the Father, He desires the wellbeing of every soul created in His image for that is His nature. Truly, we shall come to praise God with uprightness of heart once we have understood His righteous judgements” (cf. Ps119:7)
** Review or Purchase paperback or kinder e-book from Amazon.uk HERE or Amazon.com HERE
Then God brought Abraham outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” (Gen15:5)
For now, we are the children of God and it has not been manifested what we shall be, but we know when He is manifested, we shall be like Him” (1Jn3:2)
“I know a man who fourteen years ago (in the body or out of it I’m not sure) who was caught up into the third heaven. He heard words THAT CANNOT AND MAY NOT BE SPOKEN OF BY ANY MAN” (cf.2Cor12:1-4)
“He that overcomes and keeps my works to the end, to him I will give power over the nations. ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’ — just as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, LET HIM HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT IS SAYING TO THE CHURCHES.’ (Rev2:26-29)
Count the stars, Abraham.
What’s this all about? – “The Little Book of Providence” elucidates:
Review or Purchase paperback or kinder e-book from Amazon.uk HERE or Amazon.com HERE