The Pattern of God in the Old Testament
From the beginning of time God has worked through human agency. In all His endeavors He seems to genuinely enjoy having people work in partnership with Him. In the beginning chapters of the book of Genesis we see God has just finished creating the most complex, beautiful creation that we know of today—the planet earth. God’s will is that this magnificent planet be governed by his highest creation. Man is given the commission to tend God’s creation. Adam is instructed to take dominion over the earth and subdue it.
A few chapters later the wickedness of man presents itself to the Lord and He decides to destroy the entire earth except for a remnant. How does God save the remnant? He uses a man, Noah, to proclaim God’s coming judgment. It was Noah who spent 120 long years preparing an ark that would have taken the Lord God about 1/10th of a second to create. And yet it was God who wanted it to be that way. God’s pattern is this: He always accomplishes His purposes through people.
We continue on to Genesis, chapter 12, and we discover God’s plan to reveal Himself to all the earth. He does not cause a massive earthquake and then thunder His voice from the heavens roaring, “I am Jehovah, I am full of truth and righteousness, come to me ye blessed creation.” God decided to reveal Himself through a man, Abraham. Abraham was to be the patriarch of a special people who would act as God’s voice to the nations of the world. This special people, the nation of Israel, were to be, “a light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
Later as the Old Testament continues to chronicle the chosen people of God we see that there was much opposition when Israel began to take possession of the Promised Land. The indigenous peoples were not going to give up their ancestral lands without a fight.
So how did the Lord ensure that His people would in fact take possession of the land? He used the human instrument of the Israelite army. As Joshua discovered, the Lord was indeed the captain of the army, but God’s plan to take the land was by using the armies of Israel. Only their first city, Jericho, was delivered to them by supernatural means. The other cities and tribes were defeated as the children of Israel trusted God to work through them. Again, God worked through human agency.
That special covenant people, Israel, had the awesome privilege of building God a tabernacle so that His glory and presence could dwell among His people. In the thirty-first chapter of Exodus we read about the specifications God required for the building of the Tabernacle. There were to be made: tables of acacia wood, lamp stands of pure gold, garments for the priests-vestments spun in purple and scarlet, gold braided chains, and sapphires and emeralds. Also to be built was the Ark of the Covenant, designed and carved with angelic statuettes and overlayed in gold.
An interesting observation is made as the narrative continues throughout chapter 31. It is recorded that to enable the people of God to carry out the work of God, the Spirit of God specifically gifted two men, Bezalel and Oholiab. The Spirit of God gave them abilities to make beautiful artistic designs with gold, silver, and bronze. They were also given the ability to correctly cut and set precious stones. God also gave these men skills in carpentry, enabling them to work with wood and in all types of craftsmanship. The Lord wanted a place to dwell with His people so He gifted two men to construct Him a Tabernacle.
Perhaps the greatest example of God using a man for a great purpose was Moses. When God called Moses to lead His people out of the land of Egypt, it was a daunting task to say the least. Egypt was a world power with the mightiest army in the land. Moses was instructed by God to go before Pharaoh and tell him that he was about to lose two million slave laborers because God had called them to pack their bags and head out of town. Moses immediately responded to God and said, “Lord, I am not an eloquent speaker, I am a man of slow speech and I have a slow tongue.”
Moses may not have been much of a public speaker, but the man could do wonders with rocks and staffs! God endowed him with the gift of miracles. His miracles authenticated to the Pharaoh and the Israelites that he was indeed the prophet of the Lord.
To carry out the task that God had for him, Moses was also gifted with the spirit of wisdom. It is interesting to note that even though Moses had the wisdom to lead the Israelites, it was still too much of a job for any one man to handle. Moses, among other things, had the onus of hearing all the matters of judgment that the Israelites brought before him. Can you imagine trying to act as the justice of the peace for over two million people?
Scripture records in Exodus 18:13 that Moses listened to the people’s disputes “from the morning until the evening.” Moses cries out in Numbers chapter 11 for God to send him some help in overseeing the spiritual and emotional needs of the people. God responds by commanding Moses to bring seventy elders of the tribes of Israel up to the Tabernacle. There around the Tabernacle the Bible records in verse 25, “The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him (Moses) and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And it came about that when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.” Again we see the Spirit of God at work in the Old Testament filling His people to carry out the work that they are called to do.
The examples are numerous throughout the Old Testament of God placing His Spirit upon His servants and gifting them with unique abilities to accomplish His will on the earth. Whether it was through the prophetic words of Isaiah and Jeremiah or the miracles and healing through Elijah and Elisha, God was busy throughout the Old Testament accomplishing His will through His human subjects.
When we get to the New Testament, it gets more exciting for all of us. Why? Because in the Old Testament God seems to have given His Spirit in limited ways to certain people for particular tasks. For instance, in the book of Judges we see God sending His Spirit upon the different judges at select moments to empower them to overcome their enemies. After their power encounters, the Spirit of God would ascend back into heaven.
We notice that throughout Israel’s history there were never more than three or four prophets in any century. The gifting of God was always present when He worked through people, but it was sporadic and limited to only a few. The prophet Joel prophesied that a latter day was coming in which “I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29). I have some good news friends; you are living in those days.
In Old Testament times the Spirit of God came upon people, but in New Testament times the Spirit of God indwells people. The apostle Peter reports in the book of Acts that this “latter day” is now come at the advent of the church on the Day of Pentecost. We are now in the age when God will not just deposit His Spirit upon a few prophets and kings, but upon all who are His children.
The greatest example in the New Testament that God still works through His people is to consider God’s plan of salvation. Think about it. God had a plan to redeem His people and it included using His human subjects to carry it out. God did not deliver Jesus to the earth by a loud explosion wherewith He suddenly appeared at the city gates of Jerusalem. The arrival of His dear Son came through a sixteen-year-old girl.1 The context God chose for the death of His Son was through a trial court composed of men. God even sent His Son in the flesh to live among us as a man!
What is God’s plan to get this message out about Jesus? The means is by accepting the gospel message through faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God. Hearing the Word of God comes about as one preaches the Word of God, which is to no surprise accomplished through man. Evangelism is not accomplished by angels. It’s done through us.
Throughout the gospels we observe that Jesus spent quite a bit of time dealing with demonic spirits that harassed and afflicted the people. He would heal those of diseases that were caused by spirits. He would cast spirits out of individuals who were tormented by them. And Jesus also gave that authority to His apostles and to the rest of the church because He wanted that vital ministry to continue. We read in Mark 16:17 that one of the signs that will accompany “those who have believed” is the ability to cast out demons.
We see throughout the New Testament that God poured out His Spirit and continued His pattern of gifting His people for particular tasks. During the early days of the church God used a prophet named Agabus several times to warn the church of future events that could be dangerous.
It was Agabus who warned the church “by the Spirit” (Acts 11:28) that a famine was soon to come upon the land. With this valuable warning the church prepared for the famine ahead of time to ensure that everyone would be all right. Later Agabus again warned the church by confronting the apostle Paul and telling him that the authorities would arrest him if he went to Jerusalem. Paul went anyway, feeling it to be the Lord’s will, and was arrested as Agabus warned. The Lord protects His church by instructing and warning her through His human subjects.
In the New Testament, God was actively working, not just in Agabus and the apostles, but in ordinary Christians like you and me. Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 contain lists of the gifts that God has given to the general body of Christ. God gifts some Christians with the ability to discover the principles and truths of the Word of God. They gather these truths and then share them with the rest of the body of Christ for everyone’s mutual edification. These Christians have the gift of teaching.
God gifts some with the gift of evangelism. They seem to know when a person is ripe for harvesting and are very successful in bringing in souls to the kingdom of God. The gifts God has given to the church are varied because there are many different tasks that the Lord wants accomplished in the world. As we will soon explore, God gave a variety of gifts and abilities to the early believers so that they could accomplish His will for the church.
It is exciting to know that God’s plans and purposes for His church today are just as important to Him as His plans once were for ancient Israel or the early believers in New Testament times. God is still active today and is moving to have His sovereign plan carried out in our world. To accomplish His plans He continues to do all things through His people. His representative today is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, made up of all who have been bought with the precious blood of Christ and have given their lives to Him.
We in the church are referred to as the body of Christ. Jesus has ascended into heaven and we are left behind to carry on His works until He returns. We then are the hands, eyes, and heart of God. We are called to represent Him to a world that does not know Him. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us.”
Does Jesus tell others about Himself? No, we tell others about Him. Does Jesus lay hands on sick children today to heal them? No, we lay hands on sick children, through His power, to see them healed. Does Jesus teach people to love God and read their Bible to learn about His love? No, we teach people that it is important and valuable to study God’s Word. Jesus physically left this earth 2,000 years ago, and now we are the “body of Christ.”
By examining the explicit teachings in the New Testament we are going to see that the pattern of God does indeed continue today. He is still looking for willing men and women who seek to do His will. In chapters 6-9 we are going to look at some powerful testimonies that prove this to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The people who receive ministry today will be determined by the obedience or disobedience of God’s servants. God desires that the widows, the fatherless, and the castaways of society be loved and ministered to. But God’s will for that particular situation will only be carried out if the church in that community gets to work. God’s will is for the people in your community to know about His love and His plan for their lives. If no one evangelizes that community, however, God’s work will not get done. Remember, God works through us to accomplish His will on the earth. Some of the problems we have in the world today are a direct consequence of the church’s failure to carry out God’s will.
Let me clear one matter up right here, however. God is sovereign and does not need man to do anything to get His will accomplished. A dangerous teaching in the church today states that God cannot act apart from man’s free will. Some who espouse this view even go as far as to say that God can only act in proportion to our faith and must cooperate with us to get anything done. He wills that His kingdom be a partnership between Himself and His creation, but He is never bound by our failure to carry out any particular task.
He wills that we praise Him. If we decide not to, He can make stones cry out to Him (Luke 19:40). God wills that we evangelize the entire earth. If we decide not to evangelize the remote villages of Africa or Asia, it cannot thwart His plan. He may decide to let the inhabitants die without a witness, as was the case with the early Native Americans before Columbus arrived. Romans 2:11-16 states that some will die without ever hearing the law of God. The Lord will judge them differently based upon what revelation they did receive, however little.
The Lord may appear personally to some native tribes and witness of Himself. Missionaries today are reporting that this is happening in many parts of the world. God may call you to go to the remote villages of Africa. If you refuse, God will just send someone else and you’ll answer to Him one day for disobeying Him. If no one will go, God can sovereignly help them change their mind and then they will suddenly decide that they would love to go to Tanzania! Remember, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1).
I signed up long ago for the “I don’t understand all of God’s ways club.” I know this, though. There are times when God will allow certain tasks to remain unfulfilled. There are times when God will help you change your mind to get on with what He told you to do. The prophet Jonah found that out. There are also times when God will simply pass you over and get someone else to do what you refused to do.
The point is this: Can God accomplish His highest purposes without us? Yes. Would He prefer to? No. The body of Christ, then, needs to be getting about the Master’s business. Our pithy review of the previous Scriptures makes it clear that God seeks to empower His people with gifts and abilities to carry out His will. We as Christians can no longer plead ignorance and stand before the Lord one day saying, “What, Lord? You expected me to minister to all those around me? Why, how could I? Little old me, what abilities did I have?”
A popular cartoon from the 1980s ended each episode teaching children an enlightening safety or life lesson. The character would end the program by saying, “And now you know, and knowing is half the battle.” The problem we have in regard to spiritual gifts in the church today is that half of us still don’t really understand spiritual gifts and the other half only understand half as much as they should!
Today, thirty years after teaching on spiritual gifts became popularized, the body of Christ is still woefully ignorant as Christian researcher George Barna pointed out in a recent poll. Of Christians polled, 21 percent said they had heard of spiritual gifts but didn’t think God had given them one. Out of those who did respond, only 30 percent named gifts listed in the Bible. Others listed as their spiritual gifts among other things: a sense of humor, being likeable, drawing, and believe it or not, going to church! Barna correctly concludes from his findings, “If more believers understood the nature and potential of [God’s] special empowerment, the global impact of the Christian body would be multiplied substantially.”2
Knowing is half the battle, but the other half is doing. The apostle James reminds us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. It is my prayer that if you do not know your unique spiritual gifts yet that you will by the time you’ve finished this book, or at least that you will be on the path to discovery. The time is short, the fields are ripe for harvest, and the laborers are few. The Christian church cannot afford to have only half of our body mobilized; we need 100 percent participation out of each and every child of God. That means all children of God must discover their gifts and start using them.
As you read the following chapters and continue down the road to spiritual-gifts discovery, I challenge you to ask yourself some important questions. They are: What will you be doing when our Lord returns? Have you discovered your place in God’s kingdom? Have you discovered your unique calling and spiritual gifts? And most importantly, are you actively engaging in them for the advancement of His kingdom?