The Bible clearly teaches that God is omnipresent. But what does that mean? Is He physically present in every atom of the universe? Does He inhabit every rock, tree and creature? Pantheism is the belief that God, or a group of gods, is identical with the whole natural world. In fact, the word “pantheism” comes from Greek roots meaning “belief that everything is a god.” While this is a popular view in some religious circles, it is contrary to the Word of God.
When Scripture speaks of God as everywhere present (Psalm 139 for example) it is not claiming that He is materially distributed across time and space, but that He is “simultaneously present (with all His fullness) to every part of creation,” according to Hank Hanegraaff. “Thus Scripture communicates God’s creative and sustaining relationship to the cosmos rather than His physical location in the cosmos.”
The Bible tells us that God exists outside of time and space (Isa. 57:15). He also is a triune God, with the second person of the Trinity (Jesus) becoming flesh and taking up residence with us (John 1:14). In His incarnation, Jesus did not lay aside His deity, but added to it sinless humanity. Because Jesus walked the earth, some rush to the false conclusion that God is a material being. He is not. He is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
The oracle in chapter 17 describes the fall of Damascus and the fortified cities of Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel). The events described in this chapter belong to the period of the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.), when Judah’s king Ahaz asks the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III to rescue him from the attacks of Syria and Ephraim.
Isa. 17:10a For you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and you have failed to remember the rock of your strength.
J. Vernon McGee writes: “Because of the confederacy between Syria and Israel (often for the purpose of coming against Judah), Israel is linked with the judgments pronounced on Syria. Partners in crime means partners in judgment” (Isaiah Volume 1, p.137).
Despite harsh words and a bleak outlook for Israel, the Lord reminds His people of His purpose in judgment – so they will “look to their Maker and will turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. They will not look to the altars they made with their hands or to the Asherahs and incense alters they made with their fingers” (Isa. 17:7b-8).
Prophecy Against Damascus (Isa. 17:1-3)
The northern kingdom of Israel (also called Ephraim) and Damascus, the capital of Syria (or Aram), have joined forces against Judah. For this they will suffer together. Both will be besieged and deported by Assyria (see 2 Kings 15:29; 17:6). The Assyrians conquer Aram in 732 B.C. and, according to their custom, deport many of the citizens, leaving the cities deserted and the land untended. They also likely burn the houses and demolish the fortifications, leaving the capital city a “ruined heap” (v. 1).
Isaiah also says the cities of Aroer, a Syrian province, are forsaken. “God is righteous in causing those cities to spue out their inhabitants, who by their wickedness had made themselves vile; it is better that flocks should lie down there than that they should harbour such as are in open rebellion against God and virtue” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 17:1).
The Syrians are the ringleaders in the confederacy against Judah, so they are punished first and most harshly. The glory of Israel will be no comfort to the Syrian survivors.
Judgment Against Israel (Isa. 17:4-11)
Now Isaiah turns his attention to Syria’s ally, Ephraim. He uses several graphic images to describe the northern kingdom’s imminent downfall: the fading splendor of Jacob (v. 4a); the emaciation of a sick person (v. 4b); the gleaning of a small harvest (vv. 5-6); the abandonment of woods and mountain peaks (v. 9); and the sudden decay of a garden (v. 11). On that day the people will come to their senses and realize that their idols cannot save them. They will turn to their Maker, but it will be too late (v. 7; see also Prov. 1:20-33). In 722 B.C., Assyria sweeps into the northern kingdom, and she is no more.
Warren Wiersbe comments:
The emphasis in this section is on the God of Israel. He is the Lord of hosts (the Lord Almighty), who controls the armies of heaven and earth (Isa. 17:3). He is the Lord God of Israel (v. 6), who called and blessed Israel and warned her of her sins. He is our Maker, the Holy One of Israel (v. 7); He is the God of our salvation and our Rock (v. 10). How foolish of the Israelites to trust their man-made idols instead of trusting the living God (v. 8; 1 Kings 12:25-33). But like Israel of old, people today trust the gods they have made, instead of the God who made them; these include the false gods of pleasure, wealth, military might, scientific achievement, and even “religious experience” (Be Comforted, S. Is 17:1).
Isaiah’s words are echoed in Paul’s letter to the Romans more than 700 years later. Though the Asherah poles used to worship the Canaanite fertility goddess are no longer standing, the first-century world still clung to idols: “For though they knew God, they did not glorify
Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles” (Rom. 1:21-23).
Judgment Against the Nations (Isa. 17:12-14)
These verses spell out the consequences for those who plunder the people of God. Even though God uses surrounding nations to judge Israel, he holds them accountable for their actions and brings them to justice. This passage seems especially to take aim at Assyria, which, after aligning itself with Judah, invades it unsuccessfully. As Matthew Henry writes, “If the Assyrians and Israelites invade and plunder Judah, if the Assyrian army take God’s people captive and lay their country waste, let them know that ruin will be their lot and portion” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary, S. Is 17:12).
The Assyrian army is diverse, made up of many nations. What’s more, its soldiers are noisy and boastful, “like the roaring of the seas … like the raging of mighty waters” (v. 12). They make boisterous threats in order to frighten their enemies into submission and prevent surrounding nations from coming to their enemies’ defense. But God will punish them, scattering them “like chaff on the hills, and like dead thistles before a gale” (v. 13). “How appropriate that though Assyria brought terror in the evening, the enemy would be gone before morning, for such was the case with the Assyrian army (37:36-37). Though the Assyrian soldiers had plundered many cities of Judah, 185,000 soldiers were slaughtered over night” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1065).
Matthew Henry comments: “It was in the night that the angel routed the Assyrian army. God can in a moment break the power of his church’s enemies, even when it appears most formidable; and this is written for the encouragement of the people of God in all ages, when they find themselves an unequal match for their enemies; for this is the portion of those that spoil us, they shall themselves be spoiled. God will plead his church’s cause, and those that meddle do it to their own hurt” (S. Is 17:12).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
This is the first in a nine-part series of articles offering sound reasons to believe the Bible is the Word of God.
In Systematic Theology (Vol. I), Dr. Norman Geisler presents many lines of evidence supporting claims for the Bible as the Word of God. In unique fashion, he labels each line of evidence with a word beginning with the letter “S,” making his arguments relatively easy to follow and remember. This article borrows his headings and then incorporates some of Geisler’s research with other sources, all of which are cited.
Reason 1: The testimony of science
Much in the Bible demonstrates advanced scientific knowledge – that is, God revealed through human scribes information that only He knew long before scientists discovered these truths. For example:
- The exact order of events in the origin of all things. “In a day when the ancient polytheistic myths of origin prevailed, the author of Genesis declared that the universe came into being out of nothing by the act of a theistic God in the exact order that modern science discovered a millennium and a half later,” writes Geisler. “The universe came first (Gen. 1:1a), then the earth (1:1b), then the land and sea (1:10). After this came life in the sea (1:21), then land animals (1:24-25), and finally … human beings (1:27). This too supports the view that the author of Genesis had access to some intelligence as to how the Creator made the universe” (p. 545).
- Reproduction after each creature’s own kind. This scientific fact runs contrary to many ancient and even early modern views. Observation and the fossil record demonstrate that each type of life produces its own kind.
- The earth as the raw material of human bodies. Many ancient polytheistic beliefs claim that people cam from the gods; the Koran teaches that human beings were made from a blood clot (Sura 23:14); but the Bible explains that God made Adam from the earth (Gen. 2:7).
- Rain water returning to its source (Eccl.. 1:7). Perhaps without even understanding it, the writer recorded the process of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation long before scientists figured it out.
- The shape of the world as it hangs in space. Job (26:7) and Isaiah (40:22) make remarkable statements contrary to the ancient belief that the earth was flat, or square. Some myths held that the earth rested on the back of Hercules or on pillars, but the Bible states otherwise.
- Life is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), a fact declared in scripture more than 3,000 years ago and only fairly recently attested to in science.
- The sea’s paths and boundaries (Ps. 8:8; Prov. 8:29). The continental shelf that makes this possible is a fairly recent scientific discovery.
- The laws of sanitation (Lev. 12-15). Long before there was scientific knowledge of bacteria and germs, God instructed His people through laws of sanitation to protect themselves from diseases spread by unseen organisms.
Next – Reason 2: The testimony of the scrolls
Objection 6: The Bible can’t be true because it depicts a different God in the Old and New Testaments.
Critics argue that the God of the Old Testament is distant, vengeful, and harsh, engaging in genocide and punishing the innocent. Meanwhile, they say, the God of the New Testament is a God of love. Further, His Son Jesus is a gentle, meek, selfless and all-too-human being who speaks in adoring terms of His Father in Heaven. Complicating things further, the God of the Old Testament is described as one (Deut. 6:4) while the New Testament hints at a triune Godhead consisting of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can the Gods of the Old and New Testaments be reconciled as one?
First, it’s important to note that this objection reveals a basic misunderstanding of what the Old and New Testaments reveal about the nature of God. The writers of www.gotquestions.org put it very well: “The fact that the Bible is God’s progressive revelation of Himself to us through historical events and through His relationship with people throughout history might contribute to people’s misconceptions about what God is like in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. However, when one reads both the Old and the New Testaments it quickly becomes evident that God is not different from one Testament to another and that God’s wrath and His love are revealed in both Testaments.”
For example, the Old Testament in many places describes God as “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (Ex.34:6; see also Num. 14:18; Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:5, 15; 108:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13). In the New Testament, God’s love for mankind is manifested more fully in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). Or, consider that in the Old Testament, God deals with the Israelites much as a loving father deals with His children, punishing them for their idolatry but delivering them when they repented of their sin. In much the same way, the New Testament tells us God chastens Christians for their own good. Hebrews 12:6 says, “[f]or the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punished every son whom He receives.”
But what about God’s wrath – and jealousy? Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that God delivers judgment on the unrepentant. He orders the Jews to completely destroy a number of people groups living in Canaan, but only after allowing them hundreds of years to repent (see, for example, Gen. 15:17). In addition, God’s order to destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites and others has a divine purpose: “so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20:18). When the Old Testament describes God as “jealous” (see Deut. 4:24, for example), the word translated “jealous” (qanna) also means “zealous.” God’s jealousy “is an expression of His intense love and care for His people and His demand that they honor His unique and incomparable nature” (Apologetics Study Bible, p. 273). In the New Testament, Paul tells us that “God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Jesus Himself often had harsh words for hypocrites (see Matt. 23) and even acted violently against them (John 2:15). He spoke more about hell than heaven, and He is depicted as an angry and wrathful judge in verses foretelling His return (Rev. 19:11-16). Put simply, a God who loves what is good must necessarily hate what is evil.
Throughout the Bible we see a God who patiently and lovingly calls people into a relationship with Him. The entire human race is wrecked by sin, resulting in spiritual and physical death and separation from our Creator (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23; Eph. 2:1). Paul wrote that the whole world groans beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). But from the moment Adam and Eve rebelled against God, He provided a way for that broken fellowship to be restored. He began with a promise of a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15); instituted a sacrificial system in which an innocent and spotless animal would shed its blood to atone for – or temporarily cover – man’s sin; and then sent His Son, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29; 3:16). When one reads the entire Bible, it becomes abundantly clear that the God of the Old and New Testaments does not change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8).
Finally, what about the one God of the Old Testament and the triune God of the New Testament? There is no contradiction here. While the Bible emphatically declares that there is one true and living God (Deut. 6:4; James 2:19), the Old Testament hints at the triune Godhead, and the New Testament more fully reveals one God in three persons (see Gen. 1:1-2, 26; 3:22; 11:17; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; John 1:1, 14; 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; Col. 1:16; 2:9; Heb. 1:8; 1 Peter 1:2). An ancient saying sums up the difficulty of comprehending the Trinity, but the necessity of believing in the Godhead: “He who would try to understand the Trinity would lose his mind, and he who would deny the Trinity would lose his soul.”
Next — Objection 7: There are so many translations of the Bible today, it’s impossible to know which translation is the right one.
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips