"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Chapter 8



Chapter 8: "Realising Gradual Revelation"




Chapter 8 – Realising Gradual Revelation


“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1,2)



Chapter 8 Contents

8.1 Reviewing History: the ‘need' for Gradual Revelation

8.2 Two Keys: God doesn't change but man's understanding of Him does.

8.3 The Gradual Revelation of God in the Old Testament

8.4 Listing the things learnt about God so far

8.5 Moving into the New Testament Era

8.6 And So?




8.1 Reviewing History: the ‘need' for Gradual Revelation


Part way through the last chapter on the gradual development of human society, we noted that there are two very important and significant facts that are rarely thought about:

1. Mankind has developed or evolved in knowledge, understanding and ability to where we are today. Much of the previous chapter was given over to thinking about this. 


2. God who is all-knowing, has always existed, and is unchanging, but has only gradually revealed Himself to the human race. (The father in the analogies in the previsous chapter)


Now if we put these two together there are some natural outcomes, for example:

  •  man's understanding of God was initially very limited,
  •  God chose to reveal Himself to mankind, not by direct teaching, but by His interactions with individuals and peoples,
  •  thus the revelation of God through the Bible comes very largely from observing the way He dealt with or interacted with individuals or peoples (mostly Israel),
  •  man living three thousand years ago was very much more primitive and could only receive a limited understanding from God,
  •  i.e. God would not have said some things to them because they would not have understood it,
  •  similarly He also had to speak in certain ways to help them understand, ways that he might not have had to use with a more developed world,
  •  yet, as we'll soon see, that was the only realistic option open to Him.




When it comes to looking to archaeology for answers, we find we are limited. In his book,  “Is Religion Dangerous?” professor Keith Ward, an expert in this area, declares, “The truth is that we know virtually nothing about the first origins of religious belief.” He continues, “From a purely scientific point of view, all we have to go on are grave-goods and archaeological remains.”


If we hope to look at, say, masses of ancient parchments of the Old Testament of the Bible to help us, we again find ourselves disappointed. The reason for this was, as we noted in a previous chapter, that the Jews destroyed every old, damaged document once they had fastidiously copied it. Yes, there were lots of copies, but they don't go back some three or four thousand years.


We suggested in an earlier chapter that we can trust what we have in what we call the Old Testament in terms of accuracy of what has been conveyed through the centuries. Our work then becomes to understand what is written and ponder how it ‘fits' what else we know about the world.


You may wish to examine other ancient world religions, but our task here is to examine the Old Testament of the Bible, and God's revelation of Himself through the Hebrew people, and that is where we will start. Nevertheless, in passing, we can acknowledge that God is likely to have revealed truths about Himself to other parts of the world, not recorded in the Hebrew Bible.


For instance, in the book, “God's Promise to the Chinese”, writers Nelson, Broadberry and Chock point out that two thousand years before Christ there are indications, in ancient Chinese language, of belief in a Supreme God, the temptation and fall of a human couple, and a similar sacrificial system as used by the Hebrew people. That bears thinking about.


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8.2 Two Keys: God doesn't change but man's understanding of Him does.


To see the gradual revelation of God we need to start with two preliminary considerations, and then work our way through the history of the first two books of the Bible. These are things that many sceptics apparently rarely understand.


i) God doesn't develop


This first consideration needs to be said from the outset. We've said it before, but it needs repeating: unlike man, God didn't develop. He always was as He is and always will be. It defies our imagination and understanding but that's what the Bible says, and it makes sense for an ‘Ultimate Being'.


ii) Our Understanding does develop

Now for the second consideration: God may not develop but our understanding of Him does and that's what we see in the Bible. I'm not very bothered whether or not you accept the story of Adam and Eve, but it does explain a lot of things and makes a lot of sense and without it there are big questions over us as a human race.


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8.3 The Gradual Revelation of God in the Old Testament

In what follows we will consider what we find in the Bible, and note alongside that what it tells us (at that point) about God, and we will thus see a gradual development in the revelation of God or, if you like, our growing understanding of God.
Gradual revelation of God also means only gradual understanding of Him


We're going to use lots of bullet points to emphasise what is being said and, hopefully, to make it easier to read and take in. Yes, we will be recapping much of what we covered in the ‘World View' section of an earlier chapter, but now we'll be also include this new perspective of revelation about God being added.

In the Beginning


  •  Genesis chapters 2 & 3 show us these first two truly-human beings relating to God.
  •  Now we don't know how this happened but all we know is there was this communication-interaction which occurred daily. When they rejected that, this daily communication was broken.
  •  In the chapters that follow in the book of Genesis, in succeeding generations that could have been spread over a very long period, there is sporadic contact.
  •  It is not until we come to Abram, in chapter 12 of Genesis, that we see God taking the initiative to establish a long-term relationship with this particular man.
  • It is for that reason that we will use Abram as out starting point for learning about God as a personal God who interacts with human beings. There could, without doubt, be many more things that we could include in respect of things that these early chapters reveal about God, but we'll pick up some of the more obvious ones.
  •  As we do that we will highlight, by numbering them, some of the things that become obvious about God that are revealed at that point in history:




  • Serious thinkers might ponder this question. Why Abram? Why this childless nomad?
  • The answer, we suggest, is that God saw in him a man through whom He could reveal things about Himself, a man who would respond to the ‘mind-communications' of God speaking to him. 
  • The first revelation that is shown though this, I want to suggest, is that:

1. God sees and knows and understands everything there is to know about us.

  • God sees this man who has gone along with his father on a trek from Ur to Canaan but has settled in Haran.
  • He sees he is childless and sees that this is something through which He can reveal something of Himself. (The unfolding story indicates all this is true).


  • The second thing God shows is that:

2. He has a purpose for the earth which stretches far into the future.

  • He communicates with Abram and tells him that He has a land for him to settle in and He will make him great and He will give him many descendents, and that the whole world will be blessed through him.
  • For a childless nomad, this is an amazing promise. God is going to take him and use him to bless many people in the centuries to come.


  • The third thing that comes through about God is that:

3. He persists with our slowness to understand.

  • Remember Abram is the first man that God is going to really reveal Himself through.
  • This is a very embryonic relationship. Abram has nothing to go on beyond what he senses he is hearing. Difficult!
  • Yet God understands us and understands Abram and knows how difficult it is, so we find Him speaking again and again to him, reiterating His original first promises, that the  land  of  Canaan  will be his, and he will have many descendents.


  • Now after many years pass and no children arrive, Abram's wife Sarai suggests that perhaps Abram has misheard (I'm assuming) and in all those previous promises there was no mention of her, so why not take her maid and have the first of the children through her (culturally a common thing to do).
  • So this is what happens and Ishmael is born.
  • But God doesn't give up. His plan has to wait until both Abram and Sarai are beyond child-bearing age.
  • Some twelve years later He speaks to Abram again and tells him that a coming son is in fact to be born to Sarai.
  • Now the only trouble about this is that Sarai is also very old and well past the menopause and well beyond child-bearing capabilities.
  • By now, Abram has learnt that he can trust what he is hearing from God, so this lovely old couple try for a baby, and miracle of miracles, she conceives and Isaac is born.


  • So fourthly, through this incredible event, God reveals that He is:

4. A God who can intervene in His material world and bring miraculous changes

  • i.e. the things He can do, can go completely against what we call the course of nature, the way that God originally designed things to be.


Why Isaac and Jacob and....?    


  • So, as the book rolls on, we see Isaac growing up, getting a wife and eventually having twin boys, Esau and Jacob.
  • Isaac doesn't come over very well in some of this, but one thing that does become clear through him (if you read it) is that he has learnt that:

5. God knows the future and acts into it.


  • We then watch Jacob growing up, and he's a real little twister.
  • He's an opportunist who gets his older brother to sell him his birthright (culturally the older son became the leader and took over management of the farm) and later cons his father into promising him the goodness of taking the role of the older son, with all that went with that.
  • We watch him working his way through life as a schemer, working for his own selfish good. 
  • Now here's the tricky part: God has chosen him, even though he's the younger son, to become the leader and also to become a major figure in history.

6. God knows what He can do with individuals.


  • Thus Jacob encounters God, submits to Him and we gradually see some remarkable changes taking place, until eventually in old age (renamed as  Israel), he is a wise old man, patriarch of a family of twelve sons and one daughter, with a great understanding of God.


  • Following Jacob, we said, are twelve sons, but one of them, Joseph, is picked out by God.
  • He is given pictures of the future by God but then apparently everything goes wrong (it's a good story to read), except the end result of it all is that he ends up as Prime Minister of Egypt, one of the most powerful men in the world.
  • It is in this position that, with the wisdom God gives him, he acts as saviour of that whole part of the world, by making provision for seven years before a further seven year period of famine strikes.
  • We see behind Joseph, all the way through his tumultuous circumstances, the invisible hand of God at work, being there for him.
  • In this we come to realise that:

7. God works in and through and around us, as He works for His end goal for the good of mankind.


  • He is the God of destiny. He doesn't make us do things, but uses what we do for His long-term goals.
  • In other words, God who is Almighty, works for the good of mankind and uses those He sees will be open to Him, as He sees the future and knows what He wants to achieve in it.
  • He doesn't force them but calls them – despite their initial apparent negative, self-centred and godless attitudes.
  • Part of the process of revealing Himself, involves drawing the best out of men and women who will be open to Him.
  • With Jacob and Joseph in particular, it is the picture of a God of grace and mercy who tolerates their self-centredness because He knows their potential – the ability to develop into men of faith and goodness.


What about Moses & the Exodus?  


  • Remember this is all about God gradually revealing Himself to mankind .
  • At the end of Genesis we are left with Joseph and the rest of this family settled in Egypt.
  • In the book of Exodus, about four hundred years pass and with the passing of time two things have happened:
    • First, this family, now named Israel, has multiplied and may well have been in excess of a million people. Each son has essentially become a separate ‘tribe'.
    • The second thing is that their numbers have become a threat to the Egyptians, who have now made them slaves.
  • In the early chapters of Exodus we find a miraculous encounter of Moses with God (not visible, but a voice from a burning bush).
  • In the discussion that ensues, God instructs Moses to go to the Pharaoh or king and demand the release of the Israelites. This Moses does but Pharaoh refuses. (We'll see this in detail in a later chapter.)
  • Through a series of ten ‘plagues' of increasing severity we learn some more things about God.
  • Because He is Creator:

8. He is all powerful and can act into His world and change it with what we call acts of nature.


  • Next,

9. Where He does bring pressure to bear on individuals or a nation, He always gives a warning and options first.


  • But more than that, when He does bring such pressure to bear it is always with:

10. The intention of bringing such people through to a place of agreeing with Him, for their good and the good of His people.


  • Stubbornness and total refusal to respond means the death will ensue, i.e.

11. When all else fails, God will sometimes take that person or people off the planet,


  • yet it becomes very clear in Scripture that,

12. God does not delight in death but wants people to repent and live.


  • This part of Scripture reveals the shear folly of proud men who think they can outthink God, but it is also a chance to realise, as some modern counsellors have concluded, that ‘love must be tough' and it is not loving to let tyrants carry on beating up on people.
  • Why, we may ask, doesn't He do it with all tyrants, and the answer from this part of the Bible is that He only does it when He is able to speak into the lives of such tyrants and give them the option to repent.


  • For anyone carefully reading and thinking about the ‘plagues' that came upon Egypt, it becomes obvious that God could have wiped out the entire nation instantly from the beginning, yet the process that follows through chapters 4 to 12, amazingly gives ordinary individuals in Egypt, as well as the ruling class, the opportunity to come in line with God's wishes for all people, and to avoid the plagues.
  • Moreover, carefully observing the plagues shows that they gradually increased in intensity so that the message could gradually sink into to these obtuse people.
  • It was left to the prophet Ezekiel, many years later, to declare the truth from God which was obvious in this situation: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”  (Ezek 18:23) and “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”  (Ezek 18:32).


  • As became obvious many years later with  Israel  before the Exile, God warned again and again and again before He acted.
  • Some of us today might become exasperated with a father who kept on warning his wayward child and did nothing but warn, yet that is what we find again and again in the Old Testament.
  • Those who speak about God as a capricious, hasty or angry God simply reveal they have never read the Old Testament carefully!


What about the Law of Moses?  


  • Moses, at God's instigation, leads his people out of Egypt, and across the desert to Mount Sinai where they have a longer encounter, as a people, with God.
  • God conveys to Moses the Ten Commandments and then a number of other laws which might be divided into national, social, or ceremonial laws.
  • The national ones applied to them as a nation, the social ones were about relationships, and the ceremonial were all about how they, as individuals or as a people, should deal with their sins.
  • Within these we see two more important things about God.


  • The first one, which should not surprise us, if we accept that He is the Creator of the world, is that:

13. God knows best how we ‘work',


  • and therefore

14. Any laws He gave  Israel could perhaps be seen as His ‘design rules' for living'.


  • The second one is that,

15. God knows we are weak and will fail,


  • and so

16. He provides for a way for our guilt to be dealt with.


  • That comes out clearly in the provision of the ceremonial or sacrificial law.
  • This is all about how to deal with personal or corporate guilt.
  • God knows what many counsellors state today, that one of man's biggest problems is that of guilt.
  • So how did God deal with it?
  • He gave them a procedure whereby they would present an animal that would die in their place, and in presenting it they would become aware of the seriousness of their wrongs and seeing the animal die in their place, determine not to repeat that wrong.
  • Also, having gone through the procedure instituted by God, they knew that they had dealt with it according to His requirements, and therefore they also knew that they would not have an ongoing issue with God. It was sorted!


  • So many religions (or people) today try to appease God, for their guilty consciences, by their own striving to do good things to make up, but the trouble is you never know if you have done enough.
  • When God lays down a simple and specific procedure to deal with your guilt, when you have done it, you know it is dealt with and you can walk away from it without fear, and carry on with your life.
  • Are we advocating we all follow the sacrificial law of Moses? No, the teaching of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ came as our sacrifice and all we have to do is believe that.
  • When we do, and approach God on that basis, the New Testament says, we  ARE  forgiven.


  • In the midst of these laws comes the clear and stated revelation that,

17. He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  (Ex 34:6,7)


  • Can we see that everything God does here is to show us how we can live in peace and harmony with ourselves, with others and with Him?
  • The Law didn't only provide a ‘blueprint' for living for  Israel; it also made provision for when they failed.
  • This is a picture of God who seeks to work for our ‘success' in life!


  • This is a far cry from the callous, capricious, angry God that others try to make Him out to be.
  • We thus see that this God is more concerned to bring people into a place of peace and harmony than He is to tell off, chide or punish.


Unity in the Old Testament 


  • Those who struggle with the idea that God inspired people to write all these different books of the Old Testament also struggle to see (often because they won't read it) the incredible unity that there is throughout it.
  • These seventeen points that we have picked up purely from the first two books of the Bible, are seen again and again throughout the Old Testament.
  • There is no contradiction of these points throughout all those books.
  • We need to reiterate that these are just some of the things that come out, or are revealed, in God's dealings with mankind.


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8.4 Listing the things learnt about God so far


Let's pick out those points again that have come as gradual revelation, and put them all together:


1. God sees and knows and understands everything.

2. He has a purpose for the earth.

3. He persists with our slowness.

4. He can intervene in His world and bring changes.

5. God knows the future and acts into it.

6. God knows what He can do with us.

7. God works in and through and around us as He works for His end goal.

8. He is all powerful and can act into His world and change it in what we call acts of nature.

9. Where He brings pressure to bear on individuals, He always gives a warning and options first.

10. The intention is of bringing such people through to a place of agreeing with Him.

11. When all else fails, God will take that person or people off the planet.

12. God does not delight in death but wants people to repent and live.

13. God knows best how we ‘work'.

14. Any laws He gave  Israel  could perhaps be seen as His ‘design rules.

15. God knows we are weak and will fail.

16. He provides for a way for our guilt to be taken.

17. He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.


THIS is the revelation of God that is gradually shown through the first two books of the Bible, of a personal, all-powerful God who interacts with human beings, intervening in natural events sometimes on their behalf, knowing us and understanding us and being there for us. THAT is the type of God revealed in the whole of the Old Testament.


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8.5 Moving into the New Testament Era


The Coming of Jesus


  • Now, at the end of the Old Testament, we have a nation,  Israel, who have the role of revealing God.
  • By the beginning of the New Testament, history has moved on some four hundred years and they are now under the rule of Rome.
  • It is into this environment that Jesus Christ comes.
  • Although he is born as a little baby, his arrival is surrounded by supernatural events.


Jesus' Ministry


  • At the age of about thirty Jesus starts preaching, teaching, healing people and performing miracles.
  • He clearly has a power beyond anything known to mankind.
  • He reveals himself as the Son of God who has come from heaven.
  • After three years he is arrested, falsely tried and put to death by crucifixion.
  • It was clear that he knew this was going to happen; more than this he had predicted that he would come back from the dead after three days.
  • This happened, and in such manner he convinced his followers that he was who he said he was.


Jesus' Transforming Power


  • To all who believed in him he gave life transforming power and in the Acts of the Apostles, following the four Gospels, we see the power of God flowing through these followers of Jesus, who has now returned to heaven.
  • It is so staggering that it would be almost impossible to believe if the same life transforming process is not observed in every new follower of Jesus down to the present day.


Jesus reveals God


  • The New Testament teaches us that Jesus came to more fully reveal God, his Father.
  • Thus when we look at the life and character of Jesus we see this same love that the Old Testament spoke about, a love which accepts us exactly as we are, and yet which loves us so much that wants to help us change so that we can more fully enjoy being who God has designed us to be.


  • The work of Jesus on the Cross, for that was what it was, a purposeful ‘work of God', was to deal with our guilt in the same way that the sacrificial system in the Old Testament had helped the people of Israel.
  • That Old Testament sacrificial system, the New Testament teaches, was simply a picture of what the Son of God would come and do.
  • The end product is a people who can call themselves ‘children of God' who are not ‘religious' but who have been made whole or complete and able to live at peace and harmony with God.
  • There is nothing servile about this in the same way that a poor child adopted into a rich family does not have to be servile, only to enter into the fullness of a child of that family.


The Struggle of the Years of Church History 


Because there are, so often, criticisms of the Church, it is important that we continue our considerations about the revelation of God and His purposes for us, into the centuries that followed:

  • As we are still very much aware today, the ongoing history of the Church is an ongoing battle.
  • Those who do not want to submit to a sovereign God speak out and do all in their power to destroy Christianity.
  • In the early centuries of the life of the Church there was tremendous  persecution  that went on against the Church, which went on for the first three hundred years of its life.
  • In some measure that persecution has carried on throughout the whole period of Church History and in some parts of the world is just as terrible as ever.
  • The sceptic would do well to consider why such a pointless religion (as they see it) should evoke such terrible violence and horror against it.


  • There was also a battle against  heresies  throughout those early centuries, those teachings that sought to distort the historical truths of Christianity.


  • In the beginning of the 21st century we see a resurgence of many of those heresies.
  • What those who refuse to study these things fail to see, is that the traditional Christian beliefs are clear cut and free from the ‘weird and wonderful'.
  • The New Testament accounts and teaching is free from mystical or weird teaching.
  • It is very simple and straight forward and can be understood by anyone coming to God through Jesus Christ.
  • There is no ‘special' or ‘mystical' knowledge required, as the variety of heresies have demanded.
  • The testimony of John in his letter, that we have noted previously, is that this was all about the eternal Son of God who had come, and who they had seen, heard and touched.
  • This was as down to earth as is possible to get!


Internal Struggles

  • Possibly the biggest struggle that the church has had is within itself, with what the Bible calls ‘sin', that tendency to self-centredness and godlessness, that we mentioned in an earlier chapter.
  • So the further history moved on from the life of Jesus and the early apostles, the greater the distortions and variations and mishandling by men involved in leadership in the Church.
  • Thus we had one part of the Church growing up with a central focus at  Rome while the eastern part grew under the focus at Constantinople .
  • Eventually came what was referred to as the Great Schism where the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church split apart to go their separate ways.


Reformation & Revivals

  • Through the Dark Ages, abuses within the Church (which, as far as we in the West were concerned, was the Roman Catholic Church) eventually so upset one priest, Martin Luther, that we had the Protestant Reformation, the start of a return, away from tradition and abuses, back to Biblical Christianity.
  • At various times in Church History in various places around the world, different areas experienced ‘revival' where the sovereign working of God brought many people to know Him, often accompanied by signs and wonders, and a renewing of church life.


Renewal and Restoration


  • At the beginning of the twentieth century, while much of the Church was suffering the ravages of liberal theologians, God came by His Spirit in California with the start of the Pentecostal wing of the church, emphasising the use of the gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Cor 12), now a strong worldwide movement.
  •  In the latter part of the twentieth century came a fresh emphasis on the teaching that the Church is the body of Christ.
  • With this came charismatic renewal and the so-called restoration movement.
  • In each of these movements can be seen, by those with eyes to see, the ongoing revelation of God to and through His church, confirming and affirming all that is found in the New Testament.


The history of the Church has included:

  • a struggle by the early Church to arrive at the truth of what happened two thousand years ago, in and through the life of Jesus Christ, and its effects for us as his followers,
  • a diluting of that truth by the formation of human institutions and ideas of men, over the centuries, to ‘run' the Church,
  • a recovering of reliance on the Bible and on biblical truths through the Protestant Reformation,
  • a recovering of the biblical life of the Spirit, by a variety of moves of God over the past hundred years.

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8.6 And So


In this chapter we have seen the following:


8.1 Reviewing History: the ‘need' for gradual revelation

  •  we considered how it is logical for revelation of God to be gradual

8.2 Two Keys: God doesn't change but man's understanding of Him does.

  •  we identified these two needs for understanding

8.3 The Gradual Revelation of God in the Old Testament

  •  we saw how God gradually revealed Himself through Genesis and Exodus

8.4 Listing the things learnt about God so far

  •  we grouped those things all together

8.5 Moving into the New Testament Era .

  •  we briefly noted how the revelation continued in the New Testament and after


In these notes (and that is all they are) we have observed the gradual revelation of God through the first two books of the Bible which is echoed throughout the Old Testament.


We briefly considered the greater revelation of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the effects of that on mankind.


The ongoing battle is to hold onto the truth of the revelation of God through the Bible, and to counter the many distortions that we, the sinful human race, seem to manage to come up with about God, that are contrary to the Biblical revelation.


Now that leads us on to a further question mark. Surely, say some, all that you have said in this chapter has been about one little group of people, the Israelites? What about the rest of the world? This seems very parochial. Doesn't God care for the rest of the world as well? These will be the launching platforms of which we move out into the next chapter.


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