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Robert P. Swierenga, "God's Plan in (Biblical) History"

Adult Bible Study, Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church, January 2008

1.God has a plan for the ages.

Is 46:10 "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please."

2. God discloses his purposes in sacred or redemptive history.

The Bible has at least four historical narratives: (1) mankind from creation to flood (2) covenant nation Israel (3) Jesus life and ministry, and (4) the early church. The Bible is the inspired record of these histories and the inspired interpretation of God's purposes in these events.

3. Believers in God always try to "read" (interprete) events in terms of his timetable.

--The Children of Israel wondered how and when God would give them the promised land, and then when the Messiah would come. It was "in the fullness of time."

--Jesus disciples asked him when God would destroy the Third Temple (built under King Herod), which Jesus predicted would be demolished. They asked Jesus to tell them the signs of the times when this would happen and the end would come. "Only the Father knows," he said. "It is not for you to know the times and seasons." In other words, don't get caught up in trying to predict the end times.

--The Thessalonian believers were overly concerned about the coming Day of the Lord. The Apostle Paul warned them in his second letter not to lose their heads and become alarmed when they heard prophetic utterances and announcements about that Day.

4. There is good reason why Christian believers are interested in God's plan for history. Apart from human pride and self-interest, Christian may look for evidences of God's hand in history precisely because they know that God is at work directing all things according to his purposes. The Bible gives us the general outline, the big picture, the "macro-view."

5. Christians look at history differently than non-Christians. Christians alone can understand the overall meaning of history. They know God created time itself and set its boundaries. He made all things, governs all things, and will end all things when the last one of his sheep is saved. After Noah and his family entered the ark, "God shut the door " (Gen. 7:16). And Jesus declared that society will be corrupt, as in the days of Noah, when he comes again. Then God will "shut the door" forever.

--Christians must always keep the Apostle Paul's doxology in mind: "Who has known the mind of God, his paths are beyond finding out" (Rom. 11: 33-34). Sinful humans are subject to "confusion of mind" (Duet. 28:28-29).

6. God reveals his hand in biblical history many times, if we have eyes to see it.

Specific examples:

--From recent sermons: Joseph understood God's plan in his enslavement and imprisonment, and he explained it to his brothers in Egypt. "It was to save many lives that God sent me ahead of you" (Gen. 45:5). Ruth, "as it turned out" (Ruth 2:3), went to glean in the field of Boaz and thereby became the grandmother of King David.

--God hardened hearts: Pharoah (Gen. 7:3-4, 14) and many other verses. Why? So that the Egyptians will know that I am God" (v.5), the king of Sihon (Duet. 2:30), Canaanite tribes (Joshua 11:19-20), Eli's wicked sons (1 Sam. 2:22-26)

--Joshua aks God to make the sun stand still. "There was never a day like it before or since when the Lord listened to a man" (Joshua 10:12-14).

--Lord thundered against the Philistines and routed them (1 Sam. 7:10-12)

--God chose David (least likely) to replace King Saul, and after Samuel anointed him, God sent Saul a tormenting spirit that could only be soothed by a harp, and this brought the shepherd harpist into the royal palace. (1 Sam. 16:13-16).

--Absolom, Ahithophel, and Hushai. "It was the Lord's purpose to frustrate Ahithophel's good advice and so to bring disaster upon Absolom" (2 Sam. 17:14)

--Solomon and Hadad; Rehoboam (Solomon's son) and Jeroboam (Solomon's official) (1 Kings 11:14, 12:15). "For this turn of events was from the Lord."

--Pagan kings: Cyrus, "God's anointed." He lets the Israelites return home from exile in Babylon (Is. 45:1), Nebuchadnezzer "my servant." God designed him to punish the tribe of Judah and take the people into exile for 70 years (Jer. 25:8-9).

--The Lord hid Jesus' divinity from the Pharisees' eyes (Luke 18:43)

--Believers' prayer regarding God's power over Jewish leaders and Pontius Pilate. "They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen" (Acts 4:28).

Conclusion: All of history fulfills the sovereign purposes of God. Nations, families, and individuals rise and fall as he wills. A personal God is actively shaping and directing historical outcomes so that his kingdom will ultimately triumph.


"History through Christian glasses"

1. Since Christians know that God is guiding and directing history from start to finish, should Christians historians try to explain the meaning of major events, such as the American revolution in 1776, the rise of George Washington as the father of our country in the 1790s, or the creation of the nation of Israel in 1948?

2. Some Christian historians believe that history must be studied from a purely secular point of view. The history of the Civil War is the same whether written by a Christian or an atheist. To write with Christian glasses, they say, will distort the story and will be biased. Of course, everyone has glasses ("presuppositions") that filter what they see and understand. Christian glasses are the appropriate ones for believers.

3. I believe Christians must view the past through a biblical perspective. We must have the "mind of Christ" (Phil. 2:5) and "take every thought captive to the mind of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). A biblical interpretation is essential for a Christian historian. It is the only true interpretation. Marxism is a false religion and Marxist history is false, for example. So is any other non-Christian perspective--atheism, socialism, naturalism, Buddhism, or Confucianism.

4. Christians can know something, rather than nothing, about the meaning of history.

The Bible gives us general principles of interpretation of history:

a. history is finite, with and beginning, mid-point, and ending.

b. history is linear because fallen human nature has not improved. Some Christians are pessimists (pre-millinarians) who believe everything is getting worse. Others are optimists (post-millenarians) who believe everything is getting better. Calvinsts are a-millenarian. Human nature was as flawed and human society was as wicked in Noah's day as in ours. In the very first family, Cain killed Abel.

c. history is directional, focused basically optimistic, leading to Christ's second coming. God is in control; evil will not triumph. Satan is already defeated; his doom is sure. We look forward to the new heavens and new earth. Eastern religions view time as cyclical, circular, going nowhere. That's why they believe in reincarnation. Atheists see human life and history as random occurrences and meaningless.

d. history is about people created in God's image. "Red and yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight." No pecking order of human worth. And the first humans were created as a family living in community. History should focus on communities more than Great Men. e. history is ambiguous. "We see through a glass darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12). We walk by faith, not by sight. Apart from specific instances in Scripture where the writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, peels the curtain back and tells us directly that a particular event happened because God willed it so, we Christians must be provisional and tentative in interpreting specific events as God's doings. Redemptive history is different from secular history.

C.S. Lewis: "I do not dispute that History is a story written by the finger of God. But have we the text?" I say, yes, we have the text, even if it's not the whole text. We know the broad outlines, because Scripture tells the meaning and purpose of history. But we can't be specific.