Introduction to the Series. This is the first of a series of articles concerned with the attributes of God as revealed in Scripture. By way of introduction to the series, three points should be noted:
(i) No pretence is made to completeness. Not only, in its depth, is the character of God unfathomable to the finite mind, but it is impossible within the constraints of the present series even to mention some of the divine attributes. The material given is to be regarded, therefore, as selective and not exhaustive.
(ii) The articles do no more than provide brief outlines of several major facets of God’s character. They consist only of bare “skeletons” of the truths under consideration, and aim to encourage readers to a more detailed study for themselves.
(iii) A knowledge of God is an intensely practical thing. Each of the articles attempts, therefore, to focus upon a few of the practical implications of the relevant divine attributes.
1. THE GOD OF INFINITE KNOWLEDGE
Hannah, the mother of Samuel, reinforced her warning against arrogancy and pride with the statement, “the Lord is a God of knowledge, (lit. "knowledges”, the plural indicating emphasis and intensity), and by him actions are weighed”, 1 Sam. 2. 3. In this article we will consider:
1. God’s Knowledge of the Big and the Small. The author of Psalm 37 claimed, “He telleth (i.e., counts) the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names (cf. Isa. 40. 26). Great is the Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite”, w. 4-5. The two Hebrew words here translated “infinite” are literally “without number”; they are so translated elsewhere, e.g. in Gen. 41. 49; Jud. 6. 5; 7. 12; 2 Chron. 12. 3; Psa. 105. 34, etc.
The psalmist confronts us with two great propositions about God’s knowledge: (i) it extends to the numbering of the stars, and (ii) it defies measurement-it is limitless. As far as men are concerned, the number of stars is practically infinite. It has been estimated that, if we could count up to three million in just one second, it would take us 100 million years to count the number of known stars! Yet every one is known to God, and that by name.
At the other end of the scale, there is nothing too small or insignificant for God to notice. He knows, for example, the number of the clouds. Job 38. 37. “From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth … he considereth all their works”, Psa. 33. 14-15. We have the Lord’s word for the fact that “the very hairs” of our heads are numbered, Matt. 10. 30. Not one little bird “is forgotten before God”, Luke 12. 6, even though worth so little among men that one was given away free when four others were purchased, Matt. 10. 29 with Luke 12. 6. God takes note of each one which falls upon the ground; cf. Psa. 50. 11.
2. God’s Knowledge of the Future and the Past. God’s knowledge extends through all time-and, indeed, beyond it. He knows the future. There is none like Him, “declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done”, Isa. 46. 10. The Lord exposed the folly of trusting in idols by issuing the challenge, “Let them … show us what shall happen … or declare us things for to come”, 41. 22. “Show the things that are to come hereafter”, He demanded of the idols, “that we may know that ye are gods”, v. 23.
With the words, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world (lit. from eternity)”, James explained that God’s reception of the Gentiles into blessing-both in the present and in the future-is no afterthought on His part, Acts 15. 18.
Because God knows the future, He is able to prepare us in advance for temptation and trial. This can be illustrated from one experience of Abram, Gen. 14. 17-24. Having defeated a four-king confederacy, w. 1-16, Abram was going to need God’s help to overcome the fifth king, Bera, the king of Sodom. Bera was coming to meet the patriarch, and was armed, not with sword or spear, but with a most attractive offer, v, 21. Having faced, so to speak, the lion, Abram was soon to face the serpent! But God prepared His servant in advance through the ministry of Melchizedek. The priest-king blessed Abram in the name of the “possessor of heaven and earth”, v. 19; with such a God as his, Abram did not need the goods of Sodom to enrich him! Again, Melchizedek blessed, in Abram’s hearing, the God who had delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand, v. 20; Abram did not, therefore, merit the proffered rewards of Bera. Forearmed in this way, Abram scorned to take as much as a thread or shoelatchet from the king of Sodom!
God not only regulates carefully those temptations which He allows, 1 Cor. 10. 13; He not only knows how to deliver us out of them, 2 Pet. 2. 9, but because He is the God of knowledge, He knows all our trials and temptations beforehand and equips us to meet them.
God knows the past also. Time rapidly erases things from our memories. God, however, suffers from no such failing. He does not forget, for instance, our former love for Him. Some 850 years after the exodus, God told His people, “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness … “, Jer. 2. 1. The Lord recalls our “first love” for Him, Rev. 2. 4.
God does not forget our past service for Him. He “is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love … “, Heb. 6. 10. How soul-stirring to realize that the One who does not remember our sins, 10. 17, does not forget our service! It is “not in vain”, 1 Cor. 15. 58.
3. God’s Knowledge of that which only might have been. God knows how people would have acted if circumstances had been different to what they were. He knew, for instance, that the “men (i.e., the governing body) of Keilah” would have delivered David up to Saul if David had remained in their city, 1 Sam. 23. 10-12. David decided not to give them the opportunity, v. 13. God knew that Benhadad would have recovered from his illness, if Hazael had not first suffocated him and snatched his throne, 2 Kings 8. 9-15. The Lord Jesus knew that the acts of power which He had performed in the villages and towns of Galilee would have brought Tyre, Sidon and even Sodom to then-knees in repentance, Matt. 11. 20-24.
God’s allocation of rewards to His servants will be fair and just. He knows how each of us would have acted if our situation had been different. He will take full account of all our circumstances and opportunities.
4. God’s Knowledge of me. Without a doubt, the great biblical passage on the subject of God’s knowledge is Psalm 139. The extent and range of that knowledge filled David with a tremendous sense of awe; it was altogether “too wonderful” for him, v. 6. Just as God’s thoughts were too “deep” to fathom, Psa. 92. 5, so His knowledge was too “high” to scale, Psa. 139. 6.
One of the most striking features of the psalm is that, in it, David shows no interest in the subject of God’s knowledge for its own sake. His concern lay in the fact that God knew him. By the words “I”, “me”, “my” and “mine”, he refers to himself no less than 48 times in the 24 verses of the psalm. The thing that we need to realize desperately is that God knows each of us as individuals.
David was aware that God was acquainted with all his ways, v. 3. The Lord Jesus, with eyes as a flame of fire, introduced Himself to each of the seven churches which He addressed in Asia Minor with the words, “I know your works”, Rev. 2 & 3. Achan discovered that God knew all that he did in his tent, Josh. 7. 21-22. The secret idolatry of Israel’s leaders was not hidden from the Lord, Ezek. 8. 7-12.
David acknowledged also that there was not a word in his tongue but that God knew it fully, Psa. 139. 4. He heard the lies which Gahazi told Namaan, 2 Kings 5. 21, and which Ananias and Saphphira told the apostles, Acts 5. 3-4. He heard the harsh criticism voiced by Miriam and Aaron against Moses on account of his position and wife, Num. 12. 2. We have it on good authority that everything spoken in private and secret “shall be proclaimed upon the housetops”, Luke 12. 3.
David knew also that God understood even his “thought afar off, Psa. 139. 2. By way of title, He is addressed as the “Lord, which knowest the hearts of all”, Acts 1. 24. By way of claim, He asserts, “I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them*’, Ezek. 11. 5. By way of sole prerogative, Solomon confessed, “Thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men”, 2 Chron. 6. 30. God knew all about Sarah’s laughter, even though it was only “within herself” when she listened to the Lord’s conversation with her husband on the other side of the tent flap, Gen. 18. 10-15. The Lord knew the thoughts of His foes and disciples alike, Luke 5. 22; 6. 8; 9. 47; 11. 17.
The writer to the Hebrews assures us that nothing is hidden from God’s sight “but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do”, 4. 13. The word translated “opened” indicates the head being thrown back so as to expose the neck. Everything about us is exposed and open to God’s inspection; nothing escapes His scrutiny!
5. God’s Knowledge-a Ground of Encouragement. We rejoice that the Lord knows the things which we need, even before we ask Him to supply them, Matt. 6. 8, 32. He knows the sorrows, trials and afflictions of His people; “I know”, He says, Exod. 3. 7: cf. Psa. 102. 19-20. He knows our longings and ambitions; “Lord, all my desire is before thee”, Psa. 38. 9; cf. 1 Sam. 1. 9-17. He knows all our disappointments and frustrations, 1 Kings 19. 4-8. He knows our inner fears and misgivings, Jud. 7. 9-11; cf. Exod. 14. 15.
Have no fear for His cause and kingdom-He knows all the schemes and tactics of His enemies, 2 Kings 6. 8-12; 19. 27. No counsel can prove effective against the Lord, Prov. 21. 30.
6. God’s Knowledge-a Source of Challenge. An awareness of God’s infinite knowledge carries with it many practical implications for us. We realize, for example, that all forms of pretence and hypocrisy are futile. God’s searching gaze penetrates all disguises, as Jeroboam’s wife discovered, 1 Kings 14. 1-6. We can fool our brethren into believing that we are more spiritual than we really are-but we cannot fool God, Acts 4. 36 to 5. 10. Men look only on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart, 1 Sam. 16. 7; cf. Ezek. 33. 31.
Our prayers and praises must be marked by reality. Mere words are not sufficient, Matt. 5. 7. Take care, then, when singing hymns, that you make “melody in your heart to the Lord”, Eph. 5. 19. Remember that sin nursed in the heart invalidates our prayers, Psa. 66. 18.
Our thought life needs to be carefully guarded. God knows the inmost workings of our minds. All our emotions, passions and phantasies are fully known to Him. Scripture makes it clear that such things are important in His sight; the Lord regards lust as adultery and hatred as murder, Matt. 5. 28; 1 John 3. 15. “How long”, He asks, “shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?”, Jer. 4. 14.
Our motives are also of great importance in His eyes. When the Lord comes, He will “make manifest the counsels of the heart”, and then everyone will receive their own due praise from God, 1 Cor. 4. 5. The all-knowing Lord takes full account of our motives, 1 Kings 8. 18, and looks for us to serve Him out of love for Him, John 21. 15-17.