The Knowledge of God
The Doctrine of God
Isaiah 40-48, “The Trial of the False Gods”
“The Scriptures are abundantly clear that the knowledge of God is the goal of salvation (John 17:3) and the Christian life (Philippians 3:8-10). Indeed, the failure to know God will be the basis of divine judgment when Christ returns in glory (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). Thus if we fail in our lifetime to come to a saving knowledge of the one true God who has revealed Himself in Scripture, we will forever be cut off from that knowledge.”1
The fountain of every man’s worldview, the lens through which a man views himself, others, and the universe itself, is his view of “Being.” That is, what is ultimate reality? What is it that binds the universe together and gives it order? Is it the material universe itself? Is it the eternal principles of chaos and order? Is it a pantheon of deities? Or perhaps only two who are at odds with one another? Is it the realm of eternal Forms which orders the chaos of matter? Maybe it is an impersonal ‘it’? Or, is it the Triune God of Scripture?
One’s view of ultimate reality has overriding implications for his/her “epistemology,” that is, one’s theory of knowledge, how one can come to “know” something is true. So, before we can ask the questions: how do I know that God exists, how do I know that the Bible is true, how do I know that Jesus was the Son of God, how do I know that He rose from the dead, am I a sinner on my path to destruction, and if so, how can I be saved?, we must first start with the issue of ultimate reality.
For the Christian, the Triune God revealed in Scripture is that eternal, ultimate reality. In order to delve further into an evaluation of worldviews, we must find out who God is, what He is like, and His relationship to the material universe. The last topic will be discussed in more detail in the next lesson, but for now, let us consult the very words of God spoken through the Prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 40-48: The Trial of the False Gods
The book of Isaiah was written by Isaiah ben Amoz who lived during the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Manasseh and was the contemporary of the Prophets Amos, Hosea, and Micah. Though Isaiah starts off by condemning the morals of the people of Jerusalem (chs. 1-5), the first half of the book (chs.1-39) is mostly concerned with what was causing great anxiety at that time, the rise and expansion of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians used a more trained and organized army, an ingenious novelty at the time, to decimate their opponents in battle. They were unstoppable, or at least, that is what the kings of Judah believed. With this unbelief in God’s providential shield, the kings made alliances with Assyria for protection, and the people sought out idolatry and sorcery in hopes of getting as much divine favor on their side as possible. As a result, Israel and Judah both incurred God’s displeasure.
The first 39 chapters end with the destruction and exile of the northern kingdom, Israel, and Assyria’s failed siege of Jerusalem:
“Hezekiah prayed to the LORD saying, “O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to all the words of Sennacherib, who sent them to reproach the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated all the countries and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God”…Then the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead.” (Isaiah 37:15-20, 36)
Afterward, dignitaries are sent from the Babylonian king, Merodach-baladan, and King Hezekiah shows them the gold in his palace, an event that will not be forgotten by the kings of Babylon in the coming years (39:1-4). Isaiah then gives word from the LORD of the coming exile of Judah by the Babylonians (39:5-8).
However, chapters 40-66 are of a more positive attitude beginning with “Comfort, O comfort My people” (40:1). Though Judah will be taken into exile for her sins, God promises to return the believing remnant to Zion, bringing to remembrance His covenant faithfulness. In the process of doing this, He tells them of the folly of their idolatrous ways (which resulted in their punishment) by reminding them of who He is and comparing Himself with the gods of the heathen nations. It is in this context that we start our study of the doctrine of God.
Isaiah 43:8-13: The Unity, Eternality, and Aseity of God
“Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, and the deaf, even though they have ears. All the nations have gathered together so that the peoples may be assembled. Who among them can declare this and proclaim to us the former things? Let them present their witnesses that they may be justified, or let them hear and say, “It is true.” ” (Isaiah 43:8-9)
God calls out both the people of Israel (i.e. those who are spiritually blind and deaf to God’s Word) and the heathen nations to assemble before God for judgment. God is about to bring charges against them for their idolatry, and He tells them to bring forth witnesses that will testify to the accuracy of the predictions of pagan oracles so that the idolaters might be declared “not guilty” of worshipping false gods.
“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange god among you; so you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God. Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:10-12)
God, acting as Prosecutor, calls Israel as a witness to His power over those who trust in pagan gods (Exodus 7-14, Isaiah 37:14-38, etc.). In reality, God informs us, there are no other gods. There was no being that came before Him (because He has eternally existed and nothing existed other than Himself prior to creation) and there will be no deity after Him (because nothing comes into being apart from Him). In other words, unlike the gods of the gentiles who are “formed,” created, came into being, or standing in genealogical relationship to one another, He alone is eternal and has no beginning.
There is another aspect of this passage relating to His unity and eternity that should not be missed. Notice the language that God uses for Himself: “I am He.” This phrase is used multiple times throughout Isaiah and found three times here counting the phrase “I, even I, am the LORD.” This harkens us back to Exodus 3:14.
Short Excursus on Exodus 3:13-15
“Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.” (Exodus 3:13-15)
This was when God spoke to Moses at the burning bush and commissioned him as His prophet to lead Israel out of Egypt. When Moses asks for God’s name, God replies, “I AM WHO I AM” or just “I AM” and tells Moses to say that “The LORD” (Hebrew: Yahweh) sent him. The translation for Yahweh is “HE IS.” Thus, when God speaks of Himself, He says, “I AM,” but when we speak of Him, we say, “HE IS.”
This short name is full of significance given ancient near-east culture. In our Western society, a name doesn’t mean that much; it is simply an identifier of your person. But in the ancient near-east, a person’s name spoke much about him and/or his origin (e.g. Genesis 25:24-26, Matthew 1:21). To quote Greg Bahnsen:
“1. ‘I am Who I am’ is the verb ‘to be’ found in the imperfect tense in Hebrew. The imperfect tense indicates uncompleted action, thus involving an ongoing reality. When names are formed from this tense they are distinguishing a constantly manifested quality. The name speaks of God’s self-existence: God is. He did not come to be…He exists of Himself without prior cause or present dependence: He always is. We might understand it as signifying: ‘I am simply because I am,’ or ‘I am being that I am being.’
2. The name speaks of God’s unlimited duration: He is the eternal ‘I Am.’ The repetition of the verb (‘I am/ I am’ in ‘I am that I am’) emphasizes uninterrupted continuance and boundless duration. When biblical characters give their names, they generally relate themselves to their father who gave them being (e.g., Hag. 1:1; Zech. 1:7; Matt. 4:21)…But God always is, and of Himself. He has no beginning…
3. The name speaks of His sovereign self-determination. God determines from within His own being. ‘I am that I am.’ As the Absolute One, He operates with unfettered liberty. He is not moved by outward circumstances nor resisted by countervailing forces. Consequently, this name speaks of God’s absolute and unchangeable constancy. He is not subject to change in character or determination, because He is not subject to change in Himself as the Absolute One.”2
Thus, God is “a se,” Latin for “of oneself.” God’s attribute of aseity means that He self-exists. He is the only eternally uncaused Being in contrast to everything else which is part of the created order. He is without beginning and has “life in Himself” (John 5:26) in contrast to the pagan gods who (although they don’t actually exist) were formed from and have their being in the chaotic cosmos. Take the gods of the Babylonians for example:
“The gods were frightened by the Flood,
and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.
The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer wall.
Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth…
The sea calmed, fell still, the whirlwind (and) flood stopped up.
I looked around all day long--quiet had set in
and all the human beings had turned to clay!
The terrain was as flat as a roof…
I offered incense in front of the mountain-ziggurat.
Seven and seven cult vessels I put in place,
and (into the fire) underneath I poured
reeds, cedar, and myrtle.
The gods smelled the savor,
the gods smelled the sweet savor,
and collected like flies over a (sheep) sacrifice…
[A god speaking] ‘The gods may come to the incense offering,
but Enlil may not come to the incense offering,
because without considering he brought about the Flood
and consigned my people to annihilation.’ ”
-The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet XI3
Comparing the Flood account in Genesis with that of Gilgamesh, Raymond Dillard and Tremper Longman note:
“The contrasts are equally compelling, however, most notably in the conflict between the gods and also their own fear when the flood waters rise. Indeed, the whole idea of a flood turns out to be a bad idea for the gods since they depend on the sacrifices of human beings for food. When Utnapishtim offers his sacrifice, the text says they gather around ‘like flies.’ ”4
The false gods of the heathen were dependent upon the universe for their existence and man’s worship for their sustenance. In stark contrast, our God depends upon nothing but Himself for His continuing existence and does not need the praise and sacrifices of men.
God’s Unity, Eternality, and Aseity in the Rest of Scripture
The rest of the Scriptures agree together with one voice declaring that God is the only eternally self-existing Being:
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4)
“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5)
(1 Kings 8:60, Isaiah 45:5, 14, 21-22, Jeremiah 10:10, John 5:44, Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:5-6, 1 Timothy 2:5, James 2:19, etc.)
“The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms; and He drove out the enemy from before you, and said, ‘Destroy!’ ” (Deuteronomy 33:27)5
“Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” (Psalm 90:2)
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)
(Genesis 21:33, Job 11:7, Psalm 41:13, 106:48, Romans 1:20, 16:26, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:12, 7:3 (applied to Christ), Revelation 1:8, 22:12-13 (applied to Christ) etc.)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:1-3)
“For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself;” (John 5:26)
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;” (Acts 17:24-25)
“…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)
(Exodus 3:13-15, Isaiah 41:4, 44:6-7, 48:12, John 8:58 (where Christ applies the “I am” saying of Yahweh in Isaiah to himself), Colossians 1:16-17, etc.)
God’s unity, eternality, and aseity are perhaps the most important of God’s attributes since all of His other attributes flow from them, and it is this aspect of God that greatly differentiates Christianity from all the other religions of the world.
1 Dr. Robert Morey, Exploring the Attributes of God (World Bible Publishers: Iowa Falls, IA, 1989), p.1.
2 Greg L. Bahnsen, Pushing the Antithesis (American Vision: Powder Springs, GA, 2007), p.69.
4 Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2006), p.52.
5 By calling God “the eternal God” in contrast with the gods of the pagans, he is not simply saying that God cannot die since the gods of the pagans were immortal as well. Instead, the only contrast that could be made in calling God “eternal” as opposed to the pagan gods who weren’t would be not to contrast the future but the past. In contrast to the gods of the pagans that had a beginning, God had none.