God and the Nations Today
by Homer Hailey
The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 4, February 1952.
As a thinking Christian reads his newspaper and magazines he cannot but reflect upon the question, "What part does God have in the nations of today; or, does He have any part?" I believe this question is definitely answered in the Prophets of the Old Covenant and confirmed by the apostles of the New. This conclusion rests on the following premise: God is immutable, He changes not; the principles on which He acts flow from Himself. Therefore, the principles followed by Him in ancient times are as immutable as the character of God from Whom they flow. If this premise be true, then as one looks for the principles followed by Jehovah in times gone by, he can determine the policies God follows today, for they will rest upon the same immutable character of the unchangeable God. Therefore, we look not for specific nations of today to be mentioned or referred to in the Prophets, but we look for the principles upon which God acted then toward the nations of that day, and applying the same principles today we can determine His action and part in the affairs of nations today.
Objections to this may be raised by some on the ground that the covenant has been changed: we are no longer under the covenant in which the principles are revealed. This is readily conceded. We are not under the Old Covenant nor any part of it, nor have we been. But the fact that God took away the national covenant and made a covenant pertaining to the individual, a spiritual covenant, under Christ -- does this, I say, invalidate the principle upon which God dealt with nations, or mean that God has now abandoned the nations to their own way with absolutely no interferences or over-ruling on His part? This we believe not. The fact tht God rules in His kingdom through Christ does not necessarily mean that He has no part in the other. But this is the point we seek to establish in this article.
God's Use of Assyria
In the ninth and eighth centuries (B.C.), Assyria reached the zenith of her power and sway over the world. In the latter half of the eighth, under Tiglath-Pileser, she began the invasion of Syria and Palestine which resulted in the overthrow and captivity of Samaria by Shalmaneser (727-722) and Sargon (722-705). This invasion was a threat to Judah and Jerusalem as well as Samaria. Isaiah (740-690) was the great prophet of the hour, and it was only by the intervention of Jehovah that Jerusalem was spared. The task of this prophet was to champion Jehovah's cause and power, and to hold a remnant true to Him. Through his labors (and of course, the providence of God), the captivity of the Southern Kingdom was averted for another 135 years.
But what was God's attitude toward Assyria? One phase of the prophet's message was that Jehovah's sway is universal: He ruled in the destiny of Assyria. Assyria, in all of its power and dominion, was merely an instrument in the hand of God. "Ho Assyria, the rod of mine indignation! I will send him against a profane nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets" (Isaiah 10:5,6). A rod or staff in the hands of Jehovah, executing His wrath and accomplishing His purpose! But was there any such intention in the heart of the Assyrians? Not at all! "Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few" (Isaiah 10:7). Since it was in the Assyrian's heart to follow such a course, God would simply use him to do His work.
In the minds of some this should have left the Assyrians guiltless in what he did, but such is not the case. "Wherefore it shall come to pass, that, when the Lord hath performed His whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. For he hath said, by the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I have understanding...I...I" etc. (Isaiah 10:12-14). It was "I, I, I." The Assyrian had absolutely no consciousness of God or of His hand in his work. To this God replied, "Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that weeldeth it? as if a rod should wield them that lift it up, or as if a staff should lift up himthat is not wood. Therefore will the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory there shall be kindled a burning like the burning of a fire" (Isaiah 10:15,16).
Because of His hand in the destiny of Assyria, Jehovah's exhortation to His people that dwelt in Zion was, "Be not afraid of the Assyrian, though he smite thee with the rod, and lift up his staff against thee after the manner of Egypt. For yet a very little while, and the indignation against thee shall be accomplished, and Mine anger shall be directed to his destruction" (Isaiah 10:24). Some few years later God delivered Judah from the hand of Sennacherib by the miraculous slaying of 185,000 of his men (II Kings 19:35-37), however it is not with this that we are immediately concerned, but with the overall and ultimate end of Assyria through natural, but providentially directed means.
About a century after Isaiah's prophecy concerning Assyria, Zephaniah (639-608) predicted the ultimate end of Ninevah the capital of Assyria: and Nahum discribed its fall sometime prior to the actual fall, 609-606. Someone has described the book of Zephaniah by saying, "No hotter book lies in all the Old Testament. Neither dew nor grass nor tree nor any blossom lives in it, but it is everywhere fire, smoke and darkness, drifting chaff, ruins, nettles, saltpits, and owls and ravens looking from the windows of desolate palaces" (George Adam Smith, Book of the Twelve Prophets, Vol. II, p. 48). Of Assyria the prophet declared, "And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria, and will make Ninevah a desolation, and dry like the wilderness. And herds shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the pelican and the porcupine shall lodge in the capitals thereof; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds...how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wage his hand" (Zephaniah 2:12-15). While in another place God said, "I will make thy grave, for thou art vile" (Nahum 1:14). For centuries its grave has been beneath the sands and dust of two and a half millenniums. Only in recent years has its site been identified and has it been the object of excavations of the archaeologists. When its purpose was served, God laid it low.
God and Babylon
Babylon of the Chaldees was the city and nation used of Jehovah to overthrow the Assyrians. Under the rule of Nabopolasser (626-604), the Chaldeans overthrew the rule of Assyria, and destroyed Nineveh in 607 or 606. This monarch was followed by his illustrious son, Nebuchadnezzar (604-562). Some time before 600, Habakkuk came to Jehovah with the question of wickedness and iniquity in Judah, declaring that "destruction and violence are before me and there is strife, and contention riseth up. Therefore the law is slacked, and justice doth compass about the righteous; therefore justice goeth forth perverted" (Habakkuk 1:3,4). To this God made reply by pointing to the rising Chaldean nation as the instrument in His hand by which He would punish the wickedness of Judah. "Behold ye among the nations, and look, and wonder marvelously; for I am working a work in your days, which ye will not believe though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, that march through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs" (Habakkuk 1:5,6). It was Jehovah working the work; it was Jehovah raising up the Chaldeans to do the work. This would raise the question again, If God raises up and uses a nation for such a work is that nation guilty of what it has done? At this point God leaves no doubt: "Then shall he sweep by as a wind, and shall pass over, and be guilty, even he whose might is his god" (Habakkuk 1:11).
This reply of Jehovah left the prophet more perplexed than before. Would Jehovah, the God of righteousness, use a man and nation like the Babylonian king and his people for a work upon Judah? (Habakkuk 1:12-17). Then God makes clear what shall be the ultimate end of such a character as the Chaldean king. This is declared in chapter two, where God pronounces five woes upon such a one:
"Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!... Because thou hast plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder thee, because of men's blood, and for the violence done to the land, to the city and to all that dwell therein" (Habakkuk 2:6,8).
"Woe to him that getteth an evil gain for his house, that he may be delivered from the hand of evil!" (Habakkuk 2:9).
"Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and establisheth a city by iniquity!" Such labor only for the fire of destruction (Habakkuk 2:12,13).
"Woe to him that giveth his neighbor drink, to thee that addest thy venom, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!" (Habakkuk 2:15); as he had meted to others so shall it be meted to him (Habakkuk 2:16,17).
Then finally, Woe unto the idolater, the one who trusts in the teacher of lies! (Habakkuk 2:18,19).
The Chaldean was the special object of these woes, yet as God pronounces them to the prophet, He speaks generally of a character -- any character -- who may follow such a course of action. In this chapter God is laying down principles; the woes declare the end of all such as follow a like pattern. The end of such men is determined by Jehovah: "But Jehovah is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20).
The Chaldeans came, and in 587 and 586 Judah was carried away into Babylonian captivity. Among those carried away was a lad of the royal seed, named Daniel. The story of his life and rise to prominence at the court of Nebuchadnezzar is familiar to all, but one of the special lessons of the book is often overlooked. While encouraging the children of the captivity, assuring them that God would so overrule as to establish His kingdom at the appointed time, he also taught the heathen king that He -- Jehovah -- rules in the kingdoms of men.
When Nebuchadnezzar had his dream, which none of his soothsayers or magicians could interpret or declare, God revealed it to Daniel. Upon receiving the revelation in a vision of the night, Daniel praised God, saying, "And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings" (Daniel 2:21). Later, in interpreting another dream for the king, Daniel declared to him, "The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones; 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 lowest of men" (Daniel 4:17). The dream was fulfilled; Nebuchadnezzar was driven from the presence of men and ate grass as the oxen till the "seven times" had passed over him. Years later, when Nabonidas was king, and his son, Belshazzar was ruling in Babylon in the absence of his father, Daniel was called upon to interpret the writing on the wall. In interpreting the writing, Daniel related the matter of Nebuchadnezzar's greatness and pride, and of his having been driven from the presence of men and eating grass as the oxen, with the conclusion, "until he knew that the Most High God ruleth in the kingdom of men, and that he setteth up over it whomsoever he will" (Daniel 5:21). This is one of the important points of the book. The question becomes, Does God rule in the kingdoms of men today and set up rulers as He did then?
When the time came for Babylon to be overthrown, having served Jehovah's purpose, God said, "Make sharp the arrows hold firm the shields: Jehovah hath stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes; because his purpose is against Babylon, to destroy it: for it is the vengeance of Jehovah, the vengeance of his temple" (Jeremiah 51:11). Of Cyrus, whom God raised to do this work, He had said by Isaiah, nearly two hundred years earlier, "Thus saith Jehovah to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and I will loose the loins of Kings and the gates shall not be shut... I will gird thee, though thou hast not known me" (Isaiah 45:1,5). The foretelling of this so long before was to the end that when fulfilled, men might know that it had been spoken by Jehovah, and that besides him there is no God.
Confirmation of the Principle in the New Testament
From these passages it is made clear that God raised up the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Medes for a purpose. Also it is made clear that none of them knew they were being used of Jehovah, and that when used they were guilty of their crimes. Of the Assyrian and Chaldean, God speaks specifically, and of Cyrus He says, "calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man of My counsel from a far country...I have purposed, I will also do it" (Isaiah 46:11). It is further made clear in the prophets that God rules in the kingdoms of men, setting up over each whomsoever He will, even to the basest of men if such will best serve His purpose; and that He rules in such affairs according to definite principles, harmonious with His own character. On the ground that God is immutable and that principles do not change, it is my firm conviction that God continues today, as then, to rule in the kingdoms of men. But the finality of such a conclusion will rest on what the New Testament may say upon the subject.
While standing before Him, Pilate said to Jesus, "Knowest thou not that I have power to release thee, and have power to crucify thee?" (John 19:10). To which claim Jesus made reply, "Thou wouldest have no power against Me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:11). The issue had to be clarified. Jesus had been delivered to Pilate by Caiphas, the representative of the religious power. Both powers were delegated and from God. Caiphas was misusing his, therefore sinning; Pilate was also misusing his, therefore both were guilty, though Jesus says of Caiphas, "he that delivered Me unto thee hath greater sin." Paul affirms "there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1). Therefore all the power Pilate exercised, or any government today, is by the providence of God.
Upon His resurrection from the dead Jesus declared, "All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18); and John said of Him, "Who is...the Ruler of the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1:5). It is further declared, "For He is Lord of lords, and King of kings" (Revelation 17:14); "And He hath on His garment and on His thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords" (Revelation 19:16). As such a King, with such authority, the use and destiny of kings and nations are in His hand.
Jesus said, in describing the destruction of Jerusalem, "For as the lightening cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west; so shall be the coming of the Son of man. Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together" (Matthew 24:27,28). Following this He said, "But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven: and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:29-31; cf. Mark 13:24-27). In this He was appealing to figures from the prophets which describe the destruction of a city or people in which Jehovah was coming with the invading army to do His work. He was not speaking of his "second coming."
In the oracle concerning Egypt, the prophet had said, "Behold, Jehovah rideth upon a swift cloud, and cometh unto Egypt...And I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight...city against city, and kingdom against kingdom" (Isaiah 19:1,2). Jehovah's coming on the cloud was His coming on the cloud of battle and judgment. In speaking against Babylon, the prophet said, "For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in its going forth, and the moon shall not cause its light to shine" (Isaiah 13:11; see Jeremiah 4:19,20,23; and Ezekiel 32:7,8). As God had used the nations in the execution of His wrath, so Christ would come with the Romans in the destruction of the enemies of His kingdom. He was using the language of prophecy.
Further, the apostle Paul teaches that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness fo men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:5-6). The apostle also declares that "in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through Him and unto Him" (Colossians 1:16). If all things have been created "unto Him," and He is "the Ruler of the kings of the earth," then it follows logically that these powers are under His dominion, to be used as instruments of His wrath, in the accomplishing of His purpose. Such a doctrine gives hope, courage and confidence to the Christian in the midst of a crumbling and decaying world order, for he can know tht Christ's rule is absolute, and that the destiny of nations rests upon definitely fixed princples -- principles as immutable and right as the character of God Himself.