This is our God - The God of Unlimited Power and Authority (1)
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
This is the first of two articles which deal with God's attributes of infinite power and absolute authority.
1. A Distinction. Although closely related, the ideas of power and authority are not identical. We begin, therefore, by explaining the distinction between them. God's "power" indicates His might, ability and strength. God's "authority" indicates His right and prerogative to do a certain thing-His right to purpose, to command, to act.
Authority and power are not the same thing. For example, it is possible to have a human monarch, who by reason of his position has great authority and yet who possesses little power in himself. When Josiah first came to the throne of Judah, he had full royal authority, yet, being but eight years of age, only little physical strength, 2 Chron. 34. 1.
God possesses both the authority to plan as He pleases and the power to implement and achieve all His plans. "The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand . . . the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it (i.e. frustrate it)? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?", Isa. 14. 24, 27. God's sovereign purpose is backed up by His mighty power; "He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say to him, What doest thou?", Dan. 4. 35. The word translated "stay" in this verse is literally "smite". The picture is that of a naughty child having his hand smacked to restrain him. The text asserts that none can either rebuke or cross question God concerning His actions!
2. Power without Limit. Apart from that which is contrary to His nature,
there is nothing that God cannot do.
According to scripture, there are things which God cannot do. For example, He does not lie, Num. 23. 19. Indeed, He cannot lie, Titus 1. 2; it is impossible for Him to do so, Heb. 6. 18. Again, God cannot be tempted with evil, James 1. 13 (cf. Job 34. 10), and He cannot deny Himself, 2 Tim. 2. 13. These "limitations" arise, however, only because of what God is-not because of any external constraints.
The truth of God's almighty power runs right through the Bible.
(i) Historical Books of the O.T. "Is any thing too hard for the Lord?", was God's rhetorical question to Abraham, Gen. 18. 14.
(ii) Poetical Books of the O.T. "I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee" Job acknowledged, Job 42. 2.
(iii) Prophetical Books of the O.T. "Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee", was Jeremiah's confidence, Jer. 32. 17; cf. v. 27.
(iv) The New Testament. The Synoptic Gospels contain three similar statements. The first was made by the angel Gabriel before the Lord's birth: "with God nothing shall be impossible", Luke 1. 37. The second came from the Lord Himself in the course of His public ministry: "with God all things are possible", Matt. 19. 26. The third came again from the Lord, shortly before His death: He prayed, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee", Mark 14. 36. The testimony of scripture is clear; to God, that only is impossible which is contrary to His own nature.
3. Power in Creation. The Bible makes much of God's power revealed in creation; see Rom. 1. 20. It associates His creatorial power: (i) with His arm: "I have made the earth ... by my great power and by my outstretched arm", Jer. 27. 5; (ii) with His fingers: "When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers", Psa. 8. 3; (iii) with His word: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made ... for he spake and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast", 33. 6, 9. God brought everything into being by merely speaking. Note the eight-fold "And God said, Let ..." of Genesis 1.
When Solomon built the temple, he employed a workforce of over 183,000 men. When God created the universe, He needed no workforce, tools, scaffolding or raw materials! "Thus saith the Lord ... I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretched forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself, Isa. 44. 24. "Mine hand also", He says, "hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens", 48. 13. The word rendered "spanned" refers to the "handbreadth", namely the distance across the palm, about three inches. The estimated diameter of the known universe exceeds 176 million, million, million miles, yet God measures it by the palm of His hand! He speaks of the heavens as "the firmament (that which is beaten or spread out, roughly equivalent to our modern term 'space') of his power", Psa. 150. 1.
4. Power in Providence. The Lord's power is demonstrated also in His upholding of all things and in His providing for all things. The mythological Atlas was believed to carry the world on his shoulders; the Lord Jesus upholds (bears, carries) "all things by the word of his power", Heb. 1. 3. We read that "all things (from the highest angel to the smallest worm) were created by him and for him: and he is before all things and by (in) him all things consist (are held together)", Col. 1. 16-17. David acknowledged, "O Lord, thou preservest man and beast", Psa. 36. 6.
Paul told the Athenian philosophers, "he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things", Acts 17. 25. Consider-you breathe 1,080 times an hour. That represents about 25,000 gifts from God every day! Well did the psalmist write, "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord", Psa. 150. 6. Paul later asserted, "in him we live, and move, and have our being", Acts 17. 28. There are things which exist (i.e. have "being") but which do not move, such as stones and metals. There are things which exist and which move but which do not have life, such as wind and water. We live as well as move and exist-and we owe it all to the mighty power of God.
God provides (i) for the beasts of the earth, both domestic-"He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle", Psa. 104. 14, and wild-"the young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God", v. 21. He provides (ii) for the birds of the air-"the fowls of the air ... sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them", Matt. 6. 26; cf. Job 38. 41. He provides (iii) for the fish of the sea (including great sea monsters)-"yonder is the great and wide sea: therein are moving innumerable, living creatures small and great. There go the ships; there that leviathan . . . These all look unto thee, that thou mayest give their food in its season . . . thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good", Psa. 104. 25-28 JND. And, of course, God provides (iv) for men-"he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness", Acts 14. 17.
5. Power in Salvation.Israel was taught to attribute its salvation from Egypt to the power of God; "he saved them for his name's sake, that he might make his mighty power to be known", Psa. 106. 8. When later generations enquired as to the meaning of the Passover festival, they were to be told, "By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage", Exod. 13. 14. In Israel's great salvation-event, God's right hand became "glorious in power", Exod. 15. 6.
We also trace our salvation to the working of God's power. Paul prayed that the Ephesians might know "what is the excelling greatness of his power . . . according to the working of the might of his strength, which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenlies . . . and you, being dead in your trespasses and sins", Eph. 1. 19 to 2. 1 lit. In this passage, we find a remarkable concentration of words to describe God's power. It is power beyond that in creation. It has taken a Man from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea to the throne of the universe! Grace had brought Him down; power took Him up. Such was our lost, sinful condition that it needed no less a power to deal with our situation and give us new life in Christ.
We were without strength, Rom. 5.6. The law was weak in that the material it had to work on was bad, 8.3. But, thank God, the gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes, 1. 16.
God's power is to work for us in the future also. "God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power", 1 Cor. 6. 14. We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is going to change our body of humiliation and conform it to His body of glory according to the power which enables Him to subject all things to Himself, Phil. 3. 20-21.
Meantime, we experience His power in the present. It is available to us for conflict; "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might", Eph. 6. 10. David's response to the hostility of Cush the Benjamite was to sing, "My shield is upon God", Psa. 7. 10 lit. He was confident that God was the "shield-bearer" of His people. It rested with God to defend him.
Among men, the power of a king lies in his people and army. He does not personally win battles. His people are his strength. For example, the statement that "Sennacherib king of Assyria came, and entered into Judah, and encamped against the fenced cities", 2 Chron. 32. 1, means that the forces led by Sennacherib did so. But in the spiritual realm, the power of God's people lies in Himself.
God's power is available to us for service; Paul toiled, striving (agonizing) according to God's working, which worked in him in power, Col. 1. 29. When all others later deserted the apostle, he could testify that "the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me", 2 Tim. 4. 17.
We are kept by the power of God, 1 Pet. 1.5. Small wonder that Paul confessed, "Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day", Acts 26. 22. Paul's "help" came from the same One who supplies ours-"the Lord, which made heaven and earth", Psa. 121. 2.
6. Power in Judgment.Both Old and New Testaments couple together statements about God's power and God's wrath. We read that "his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him", Ezra 8. 22. Again, that "God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering . . . ", Rom. 9. 22. Of the future fall of great Babylon, it is written, "strong is the Lord God who judgeth her", Rev. 18. 8.
How solemn and fearful are the words of Paul, "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven ... in flaming fire taking (inflicting) vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with ('who will pay the penalty of, lit) everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power", 2 Thess. 1. 7-9. What a spur to evangelism! "Through the greatness of thy power", the psalmist wrote, "shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee", Psa. 66. 3.
God's almighty power is such that none can deliver from His wrath. For this we have the testimony, (i) of Job, "there is none that can deliver out of thine hand", Job 10. 7; (ii) of Asaph, "Consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver", Psa. 50. 21; and (iii) of Isaiah, "There is none that can deliver out of my hand", Isa. 43. 13. With joy we contrast the words of the Lord Jesus concerning His "sheep", "they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck (seize, snatch) them out of my hand ... no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand", John 10. 28-29. No one can deliver from the hand of His fierce wrath; no one can pluck from the hand of His safe keeping! The same power which is able to reserve the unjust in punishment for the day of judgment is able also to preserve the godly and deliver them out of their trials, 2 Pet. 2. 9.
7. Weak Things Chosen.To prove the greatness of His power, God often deliberately uses weak and unlikely means to accomplish His will. Paul stated the principle clearly, "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world ... the weak things of the world . . . and base things of the world, and things which are despised . . . and things which are not... that no flesh should glory in his presence", 1 Cor. 1. 27-29. That is, such a method is intended to deprive God's servants of any ground for boasting in their own strength or ability.
In accordance with this general principle, "the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me", Jud. 7. 2. Do not forget that, at that time, Israel faced an enemy which came as "grasshoppers for multitude", 6. 5; 7. 12. Gideon's forces were already outnumbered over four to one by the combined strength of the Midianites, the Amalekites and "the children of the east", 7. 3 with 8. 10. The paring down of Israel's army would ensure that the glory would be God's alone. "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord", 1 Cor. 1. 31.
Consider just some of the strange weapons which God has employed to defeat His foes. In the days of Moses, He used a shepherd's staff to overthrow the might of the Egyptian army, Exod. 14. 16-17, 26-28. In the days of Joshua, He used trumpets made from rams' horns to bring down the great walls of Jericho, Josh. 6. 5. In the days of Gideon, He used earthenware vessels and firebrands to defeat the invading Midianites, Jud. 7. 16-20. In the days of Samson, He used the jawbone of an ass to slay a thousand Philistines, 15. 15. In the days of David, He used a smooth stone from a brook to lay low the formidable Philistine champion, 1 Sam. 17. 40, 49-50.
On one occasion, God caused His enemies to rush headlong to their defeat at the sight of blood which was not there, 2 Kings 3. 22-24. On another occasion, He caused His enemies to run away in defeat at the sound of a great army which was not there, 7. 6-7. With good cause, therefore, did Paul claim that God had even chosen "things which are not, to bring to nought things that are", 1 Cor. 1. 28.
In New Testament days, the supreme court of the Jews were astonished to find that laymen such as Peter and John, unversed in the learning of the Jewish schools, could boldly hold their own in a theological debate with them, Acts 4. 13. But then, had not God chosen such?
Of his own ministry in the gospel, Paul said, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us", 2 Cor. 4. 7. (to be concluded)