God Speaks in the Events of History

Dr. Brian Allison

The United States, at present (February 1998), is endeavouring to maneuver its military muscle, and orchestrate strategic international support for its political cause against Iraq, as it poises itself to level a military assault against that country. In January of 1991, the Allied Forces, spearheaded by the U.S., engaged Iraq in the Gulf War, and devastated and defeated that country. Now, I ask you, "Was Iraq's defeat, and disgrace, the 'hand of God'; was God 'speaking' in the historical events of seven years ago?" On February 15th, 1898, the United States sent the battleship Maine on a goodwill mission to the city of Havana. In entering the harbour, that battleship hit a Spanish mine and sank, killing 252 people. That particular incident ignited the Spanish-American War. Later on that year, December 10th, a peace treaty was signed between Spain and the U.S. As part of the settlement, Spain had to cede Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the States for a cost of $20,000,000.00. May those historical events be interpreted as the 'hand of God'? Was God 'speaking' at that time?

God reigns sovereignly over the nations

Isaiah 30:30,31 reads, "And the LORD will cause His voice of authority to be heard. And the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger, and in the flame of a consuming fire, in cloudburst, downpour, and hailstones. For at the voice of the LORD Assyria will be terrified, when He strikes with the rod." God speaks in different ways. God speaks creationally, that is, God speaks in and through His creation. God also speaks historically; that is, God speaks in the very events of history.

History is the detailed script of the plan and purposes of God. For instance, Isaiah 46:9-11 reads, "Remember the former things long past, for I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure; [for instance] calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.'" Thus, metaphorically speaking, yet speaking most certainly, the events of history comprise the speaking of God. For example, President Clinton authorized that U.S. carriers be sent to the Persian Gulf and that U.S. troops be deployed against Suddam Hussein. Metaphorically speaking, those carriers and troops 'speak loud and clear' to Suddam Hussein.

Isaiah 30:30,31 present us with a very clear and specific example of the truth of God speaking in the events of history. The prophet Isaiah herein predicts the imminent downfall of Assyria, a one-time great empire. And we do well to remind ourselves that the past great empires of the world appeared and disappeared, not by chance, nor by impersonal forces, but by a divine decree. Thus, we read in Acts 17:26, "And He [God] made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation." It is God Who determines when nations will come into existence, and it is He Who determines when nations will cease to exist.

God Himself 'speaks' nations into being, and He 'speaks' nations out of being, by the fact that He orders the course or events of history. He is on the throne of the universe and He reigns sovereignly over the nations. Therefore, we need not worry, my Christian brothers and sisters. Are you concerned about how world affairs will unfold as you consider the various precarious developments in the world; as you, for instance, think about what is happening in the Middle East and other parts of the world? As you think about national tensions in Canada, both political and economical, are you worried? Remember, God is on the throne; He is reigning. He is ordering the events of history. God establishes governments, and God annihilates them. The Neros come and go; the Hitlers come and go; the despots come and go. The most formidable of political strongholds do crumble. Think, for instance, of the coup d'etat in the Soviet Union, executed on August 19th, 1991. That coup d'etat marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union as a political edifice. The astonishing thing is that the Soviet Union seemingly was irreparably dissolved within a ten day period – within a time period less than it takes to complete the Winter Olympics. Incredible, isn't it? And God did it (and He did not even need ten days).

God sovereignly destroys nations

So, here in Isaiah 30, we have this ominous prediction concerning the demise of the Assyrian empire. Assyria became a dominant political power in the late 8th century and early 7th century BC In 721 BC, Assyria took Israel, the Northern Kingdom, into captivity. Israel, as a political power, was irrecoverably destroyed. God was pleased to raise up the Assyrian nation to be an instrument of judgement in order to execute His anger against His people who had sinned and who had forsaken Him. It was clearly God Who purposed the demise, and the extinction, of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

God is free to do whatever He wants with His own. It was God who redeemed Israel; it was God who brought Israel out of Egypt, the land of bondage; it was God Who gave Israel His law and established them as His covenant people; and it was God Who utterly destroyed them. He is the Potter and we are the clay; and we ought never to forget that. He can raise us one day, and smash us down the next, because He is God; and He is neither answerable to you nor to me. We are not to question Him, nor are we to complain. If He is pleased to take absolutely everything from us, His holy name is still to be blessed.

Remember, for instance, the tragic account of the prophet Ezekiel. God addressed Ezekiel one day with unexpected news. We read in Ezekiel 24:15-18, "And the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Son of man, behold, I am about to take from you the desire of your eyes [i.e., your wife] with a blow; but you shall not mourn, and you shall not weep, and your tears shall not come. Groan silently; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet, and do not cover your mustache, and do not eat the bread of men'. So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. And in the morning I did as I was commanded." Similarly, our response should also be one of submission and compliance. Again, God can do whatever He wants with His own; and we cannot say to Him, "What are You doing?"

So, Assyria was the ordained means to fulfil the divine purpose of bringing judgement upon Israel. Isaiah 10:1-6 reads, "WOE to those [of Israel] who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, in order that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help [once God has purposed to destroy]? And where will you leave your wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among the slain. In spite of all this His anger does not turn away [it will be satisfied], and His hand is still stretched out. Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger [I will come and beat you, Israel, through the power of the nation of Assyria] and the staff in whose hands is my indignation, I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets."

And yet, after the Assyrians were to be used by the Lord as an instrument of judgement, God planned to judge Assyria. Isaiah 10:24-27 reads, "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, 'O My people who dwell in Zion, do not fear the Assyrian who strikes you with the rod and lifts up his staff against you, the way Egypt did. For in a very little while my indignation against you will be spent, and My anger will be directed to their destruction. And the LORD of hosts will arouse a scourge against him like the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; and His staff will be over the sea, and He will lift it up the way He did in Egypt. So it will be in that day, that his burden will be removed from your shoulders and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be broken because of fatness.'" These particular verses are a commentary on the verses of Isaiah 30:30,31.

God speaks with undeniable authority

So, again, we read in Isaiah 30:30, "And the LORD will cause His voice of authority to be heard." Notice that this verse underscores the truth of divine initiative – 'God causes'. Further, the term 'voice of authority', in the original language, literally means 'the majesty of His voice'. Here we are given the extraordinary character of the voice of God – it is a voice of sublime note; it is a voice of grand proportions; it is a voice of inestimable quality. This language again points to God's unrestricted sovereignty.

'Majesty' suggests superior excellence, supreme loftiness. God's voice is one that thunders and demands a response and capitulation. More particularly, God is pleased to thunder in judgement. That is the language of Psalm 18. We read, "Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken because He was angry...He bowed the heavens also, and came down with thick darkness under his feet...The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered His voice, [namely,] hailstones and coals of fire [notice that this language is similar to that of Isaiah 30]...And He sent out His arrows, and scattered them, and lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them. Then the channels of water appeared, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at Thy rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils" (vv. 7,9,13-15).

So, the Lord speaks with authority, and will cause that speaking to be heard – that is, He will make known His will, and establish it. His ordained awesome purposes will be realized. And, of course, often those purposes involve judgement; and that is what our text is emphasizing. History, my brothers and sisters, is judgement history. That is the testimony of the Scriptures (see Revelation 6). The famines in the world, and throughout history, are the voice of God; the earthquakes in the world, and throughout history, are the voice of God; the pestilences that plague various countries in the world, and throughout history, are the voice of God. Now, that may disturb you, but that is what the Scriptures teach. That is one way that God is pleased to speak to the nations, 'loud and clear'; and yet, for all that, the nations fail to hear. But we are to fear such a God Who speaks thus.

Further, notice the parallel thought to the truth of 'God speaking with the voice of authority' – "And the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger." Again, the image and idea conveyed here are that of judgement. The term 'arm', of course, points to the notion of power. For example, Isaiah 51:9 reads, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not Thou who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?" Verse 5 of this same chapter reads, "My righteousness is near, my salvation has gone forth, and My arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands will wait for Me, and for My arm they will wait expectantly."

The 'descending of God's arm in fierce anger' is a terrifying picture. A homely illustration is that of a table set nicely and neatly with delicate china on it; and a mighty arm, with clenched fist, that comes crashing down, smashing the table and sending the china settings flying in every direction, and causing them to break into a million little pieces. The judging of God in righteous anger is witnessed through powerfully crushing, devastatingly breaking, totally destroying, completely annihilating; and we could multiply the terms. My brothers and sisters, God gets angry, and He gets angry often. Sometimes we do not like to talk that way about God, or even mention that kind of language in describing relationships. Some complain, "Don't talk to me about the wrath of God; don't talk to me about the anger of God." But listen, God, by nature, is a wrathful God because He, by nature, is a holy God. He gets angry against sin, against rebellion, against unrighteousness, against ungodliness, against unholiness, and against disobedience. He becomes angry with His people, and He became angry with Israel; and, as a result, He destroyed it as an ancient nation. As the Scriptures teach, judgement begins at the household of God (see 1 Pe. 4:17). If we would think more about that truth, then we, no doubt, would live more circumspectly – we would be more concerned about how we live, what we say, and how we think. Tell me, is your mind a cesspool of filth? That gets God angry.

God speaks with terrible destruction

We read further in Isaiah 30:30, "And in the flame of a consuming fire, in cloudburst, downpour, and hailstones." What graphic language. God's wrath, as it were, is poured down from heaven. He rains down judgement in torrential proportions. As you read the Biblical accounts, this literally happened on a number of occasions. For instance, consider the account of Sodom and Gomorrah – "Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground" (Gen. 19:24,25). Here we have a concrete example of God's holiness breaking out against the sin of human beings. Also, we read the account of Joshua warring against the five Amorite kings, "And it came about as they [the kings] fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, that the LORD threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword" (Josh. 10:11).

Metaphorically speaking, God is pleased to rain down hailstones, fire and brimstone, not only upon the nations, but sometimes upon our individual lives, because of our sin, rebellion, and disobedience; because we are covenant breakers. Indeed, the utterance of the voice of God is often the destruction of the nations, and of individuals. As Isaiah 30:31 confirms, "For at the voice of the LORD Assyria will be terrified, when He strikes with the rod." These two ideas – of God's speaking and God's rod [i.e., source of judgement] – coalesce in Isaiah 11:4. We read, "But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked."

So, the very historical events of destruction are synonymous with the divine voice of uttering punishment. These two realities are virtually indistinguishable (consider also Joel 2:11; 3:16). Simply put, the (devastating) acting of God is the (terrible) speaking of God; and, in this sense, God is always speaking in the events of history. Do you 'hear' God speaking in the history of the human race? Do you see Him as the sovereign One, orchestrating the course of human events? History is not some haphazard, random collection and combination of events, like objects flying aimlessly off into space. No, the events of history are the acts of God; the events of history is the story of God. God Himself is writing the script, regardless of how senseless and chaotic it may seem, or how incredible and incomprehensible it may seem; or regardless of the dark character of those events, whether they be famines or pestilence or war. How does this presentation of God match with your view of God? Is the above presentation your view of God? Personally, I find great comfort in this view and understanding of God. God is in control, acting and moving in history. That gives me great peace as a child of this God.

Even the most stupendous, the most horrific, event of history, namely, the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus was the speaking of God. In the event of Calvary, God spoke His anger against sin, against the rebellion of a lost humanity. At Calvary, God spoke His love for a dying humanity. At Calvary, God spoke the necessity for faith and repentance unto salvation. At Calvary, God was speaking, for even the event of Calvary was an expression of the divine will and purpose of God. The apostle Peter proclaimed, in Acts 2:22,23, "Men of Israel, listen to these words [on the day of Pentecost]: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." That graphic, solemn picture of Calvary, that stupendous, horrific event of history, was the speaking of God – "But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief" (Isa. 53:10a). Our God is indeed a God of judgement. Do you hear Him speaking through Calvary?

My non-Christian friend, He is speaking 'loud and clear'. He speaks to you: His anger against sin and His love for sinners; and having spoken, and continuing to speak, through that awful event of Calvary, He now speaks to you, and He commands you, to repent and believe the Gospel. If you do not hear Him speaking on this side of glory, you will definitely hear Him on that side. Yet, you will not hear Him speak peace there, but rather eternal damnation. He will indeed cause, one way or another, the voice of His authority to be heard.