General Revelation Part Three
In the previous two articles, we studied the biblical teaching concerning God’s uncovering of knowledge to all mankind through nature. This article examines His use of history and the human conscience as two other means of general revelation.
Events that will become historic, in both big and small ways, occur every day, around all human beings, everywhere on Earth. Every person has been exposed to history through the simple fact of life, and God can use it to reveal truth about Himself to all mankind.
We shall examine several biblical passages, noting that God uses history to expose knowledge.
First, in Exodus 7:4–5, God indicated that through His judgments, which He would bring upon Egypt in conjunction with Israel’s Exodus from that land, He would reveal truth about Himself to the Egyptians. The statements of Rahab, the Jericho harlot, in Joshua 2:9–11 demonstrate that God used His judgment of Egypt to uncover knowledge concerning Himself even to the Canaanites.
Second, in Isaiah, God called the nation Israel—“Israel, my glory” (46:13)—stating that He created Israel for His glory (43:7) and that He glorified Himself in Israel (44:23). These statements indicate that through Israel God manifests impressive truths about Himself to the rest of the world.
God uncovers these truths through His historic dealings with Israel. In Deuteronomy 28, the Lord mapped out His future dealings with Israel from Moses’ time to the Second Coming of the Messiah. In verses 1–14, God promised that if Israel would heed His Word and obey Him, He would bless it more than any other nation. It would be the head nation above all others, not the tail nation.
By contrast, in verses 15–68, God wanted that if the nation rejected His Word and disobeyed Him, they would be overtaken with many curses. He would bring oppressive enemies against them and scatter them among all the nations. There they would have no permanent rest, would be gripped with fear and sorrow, and would have no assurance of life from day to day.
In verse 10, God stated the reason He would bless Israel above all nations if it would heed and obey His Word: “All people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ.” In verse 37, He explained why Israel would experience many curses if it rejected and disobeyed His Word: “Thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations to which the Lᴏʀᴅ shall lead thee.” These statements indicate that God uses His historic dealings with Israel as a means of impressing the world with two significant truths about Himself. First, He blesses those people who heed and obey His Word. Second, He curses those who reject and disobey His Word.
In light of this twofold revelational purpose of God’s historic dealings with Israel and the intended worldwide audience of that revelation, it is no accident that God placed that nation in the most strategic geographical location on earth, both in ancient times and again in the 20th century. It is the crossroads of three of the world’s great continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. It also is no accident that, in the course of current events, the attention of the world is repeatedly drawn back to that nation.
Third, Daniel 4 records God’s humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, the most powerful man of his day. Because of this ruler’s arrogant pride, God inflicted him with mental illness that made him act like an animal. God’s ultimate purpose for this historic happening was “to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (v. 17). In this instance, God used history to reveal that He is the one who is in sovereign control of human affairs in this world.
God has used happenings of history since Bible times to reveal to mankind His sovereign rule over human affairs. Two specific extra-biblical examples are proposed for consideration by the reader.
First, during the 16th century, the pope tried to force Protestant England back into the Roman Catholic Church through several means. He finally appealed to King Philip II of Spain to do the job for him by invading and conquering England. Spain was the greatest power in Europe and much of the world at that time.
Philip agreed to attack England. In the summer of 1588, the mighty Spanish Armada set sail from Spain with 131 ships and approximately 25,000 men. In several battles during one week, due to their expert seamanship and faster, more maneuverable ships, the English inflicted severe damage on the Spanish fleet but did not sink many of their ships. In a later battle, they disabled or sank six Spanish ships and inflicted the loss of 4,000 men.*
The combination of fear and a strong wind drove the rest of the Armada north into the North Sea. The English fleet chased the Spanish until Queen Elizabeth ordered the navy home because of a storm.*
Because of the storm, the major part of the Armada escaped further damage by the English. “The storm, however, finished what the fleet had begun.* The Spaniards hoped to return home by rounding the north end of Scotland, but the storm shattered many of the ships on the rocky coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Thousands of sailors drowned. Many of those who reached shore were massacred. Less than half of the ships and about one-third of the men of the original Armada made it back to Spain.*
It was the storm, not the English, that inflicted the major damage to the Spanish naval power and thereby caused changes of major consequence. This was the beginning of the end for Roman Catholic Spain as a great world power. It “established England as the champion of Protestantism in Europe and blasted the pope’s last hope of regaining England for the Roman church.”* It was a decisive blow to the militant thrusts of the Catholic Counter-Reformation against Protestantism and a tremendous boost to the Protestant cause in several European countries. It determined that Protestant England, not Roman Catholic Spain, would colonize most of North America and that colonial North America would be primarily Protestant rather than Catholic in faith.*
In light of these changes, and the fact that God ultimately controls the natural elements, I believe that the hand of God was moving through that storm to accomplish His purposes and thereby reveal to mankind His sovereignty over human affairs.
Another example of God’s sovereign power was displayed when France fell to Hitler’s forces in June 1940. Great Britain was “in a desperate situation. The internal defenses against a possible German invasion by sea were inadequate, there were not enough trained soldiers under arms and the supply of weapons was not sufficient.”* It is estimated that, had Hitler given the command for his forces to invade England, that nation would have fallen in a week.* But, “at the very moment when Hitler stood at the zenith of his military power, with most of the European Continent at his feet … he had no idea how to go on and bring the war to a victorious conclusion … Hitler and his captains hesitated. They had not thought out the next step and how it was to be carried through. This fateful neglect would prove to be one of the great turning points of the war and indeed of the short life of the Third Reich and of the meteoric career of Adolf Hitler.”* Hitler never commanded the invasion of England.
In May 1941, if he had followed the advice of several of his military leaders to take control of Egypt, the Suez, and the Middle East, “Hitler, with the use of only a fraction of his forces, could have dealt the British Empire a crushing blow, perhaps a fatal one.”* But Hitler decided that he had to destroy the Soviet Union first. Shirer called this decision “a staggering blunder.”*
In March 1941, Hitler made an emotional decision to postpone the Soviet invasion until after his forces had crushed Yugoslavia and Greece.* As a result, the attack against the Soviet Union was not launched until five weeks after the original planned date.* This delay caused his forces to be devastated by the severe Russian winter. Shirer declared that this “was probably the most catastrophic single decision in Hitler’s career.”*
Who or what prompted Hitler to be indecisive and make disastrous decisions at critical times? I am convinced that the hand of God was moving behind the scenes to destroy this tyrant and his evil system and thereby determine the outcome of World War II and reveal yet again His sovereign rule over mankind.
God gives revelation through history, but the effect of that revelation is limited by people in at least two ways. First, many people, including Christians, do not like history, so they ignore it or try to change it. As a result, the lessons or truths that God wants them to learn from history are lost to them. Second, the unsaved mind is so corrupted by sin that some people believe that other principles, such as fate, the survival of the fittest, or wealth, rather than God, are the ultimate determinants of historic events.
The Human Conscience
Paul referred to the human conscience in Romans 2:14–15. Every human is born with a conscience; therefore, God can use the conscience to reveal truths to all mankind. Through the conscience, God reveals that right and wrong actually exist and that humans are responsible for what they do and don’t do. The conscience gives people a sense of guilt when they do something wrong, and peace when they act in accordance with what they believe is right.
God’s revelation through the conscience can be limited in two ways. First, by doing the same wrong repeatedly, people can sear their consciences, making them so insensitive to the wrong that they no longer bother them (1 Tim. 4:2). Second, people’s culture educates their consciences concerning the specifics of right and wrong. If their culture has taught them concepts of right and wrong contrary to God’s standards, then their consciences will not be an accurate guide in every instance. In light of this, when people become saved, they may have to reeducate their consciences to bring their specific concepts of right and wrong into conformity with God’s standards (Rom. 12:1–2; Eph. 4:17–6:9).
Thus far in our study of divine revelation, we have seen that God uses three means of revealing knowledge to all mankind in general—nature, history, and the human conscience. The next article will examine the significance of general revelation.