God created a beautiful world in a wonderful universe. Evil came (we do not know how) and messed it up. The following took hold on the earth.
- barren ground
- animal corruption
- distorted universe
- earthly disasters
- political power
- evil spirits
- sickness and disease
Jesus died and was raised to life. He paid penalty for sin and destroyed evil. He then sent the Holy Spirit to clean up the mess. This leads to an important Question. Why did God take so long to send Jesus to earth? Why did he not send Jesus straight after the fall? Why did he muck round with Israel, if he knew it could not do the job?
The answer to these questions is authority. God could not send Jesus straight after the fall, because he did not have authority to intervene on earth. To understand how his authority was lost and how he organised for Jesus to get it back again, we must understand the history of authority on earth
God created heaven and earth. As creator, he had authority over everything.
The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth;
you founded the world and all that is in it.
You created the north and the south;
Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name.
Your arm is endued with power;
your hand is strong, your right hand exalted (Psalm 89:11-13).
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters (Psalm 24:1-2).
God the Father had authority over all creation. He shared that authority with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
After God had created the earth, he said something really amazing.
Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,
and let them rule
over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air,
over the livestock,
over all the earth,
and over all the creatures that move along the ground (Gen 1:26)
God gave mankind authority over all the earth and everything living upon it. He delegated all his authority on earth to the people created in his image. This was an amazing gift. Creating a wonderful and beautiful world and giving authority over it to someone weaker was a risky decision, because this bold act transferred authority over the earth from God to man. The earth became our domain and sphere of control. This is confirmed in Psalm 115:16:
The highest heavens belong to the LORD,
but the earth he has given to man.
God still had full control over the heavens. The angels do his bidding in the spiritual realms without resistance. He has given authority over the earth to us.
Giving humans dominion over the earth was a big call, because once dominion and authority are given, they cannot be taken back. God understood the risk, because he said that if they rebelled, “they would be as gods” (Gen 2:5). They would not just have the power to decide good and evil, but would be “gods” controlling a world that had previously been created by God.
Authority Creates Responsibility
Authority and responsibility go together. When God gave Adam and Eve authority over the created world, he also gave them responsibility to care for it. God gave them freedom to use their authority as they chose, but they would have to bear the consequences of their decisions. They would be accountable for everything that happened on earth. That was a serious responsibility.
Adam and Eve could hear God’s voice, so his wisdom was available to assist them in exercising authority. His wisdom is perfect, so obeying the Holy Spirit was the best option. However, they could reject his advice, so their authority was not constrained. By imparting his authority to them and giving them freedom as well, God gave humans permission to reject his authority. However, if things went wrong, they would not be able to blame God, because their authority made them accountable.
God gave humans authority over the earth without recourse, so he could not take it back, even if they abused their authority. He could not demand his authority be returned, even if it were handed to the devil. One reason that Jesus had to come as a man was that authority on earth belongs to humans in perpetuity. Only a human could hold that authority, so if it was lost, only a human could take it back.
When Jesus went to the cross, he was doing what his Father had done before him. He was making himself helpless in the hand of men who had the power to harm him. That is what the father did when he gave dominion and authority over the earth that he created to humans. He made himself vulnerable to humans who had the freedom to rebel against him. He was committing himself to sustaining the creation, even if his creatures shut him out of it. He made them free to be atheists, while living the life that he created. This was cross behaviour. The Father made him powerless before with the people he had created.
Humans gained responsibility for everything that would happen on earth, but they lost the right to blame God for evil that occurs as the consequence of their decisions.
Adam and Eve rejected God’s authority and chose to act independently of God. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents human ability to define good and evil. They thought they were gaining true freedom, but they soon realised that they had just replaced the authority of God with the authority of Satan.Sin destroyed their relationship with God, but that was not the only consequence. Their fall caused a dramatic shift in authority.
When Adam and Eve submitted to the devil, all the authority that God had given to them passed into his hands. Sin made them slaves of unrighteousness (Rom 6:20), so their authority now served the father of unrighteousness. To understand the seriousness of this action, we need to understand an important principle.
When we agree with someone,
we give them influence in our lives.
When we submit to another person,
we give them authority over our life.
By agreeing with Satan’s lies about the tree, Adam and Eve gave him influence in over them (Gen 3:6). When Adam and Eve submitted to Satan’s advice, they gave him authority over their lives.
All the authority that humans would exercise in the future was lost at the same time. The potential authority in institutions yet to be established was lost. Instead of being exercised according to God’s will, this authority was available for evil. The fall changed the shape of authority in every institution on the earth. Authority that should have been exercised by humans submitted to God passed into the control of his arch-enemy. The fall was a transition of authority from the Kingdom of God to the Kingdom of darkness (Col 1:13).
The kingdom of darkness has a spiritual dimension and an institutional dimension. When Satan was testing Jesus, he showed him the “institutions of the world” and gloated,
I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to (Luke 4:4-6).
Although he is a liar, especially when boasting, in this case he was close to the truth. He had authority over the kingdoms of the world,.
Satan is usually a liar, but this time he was gloating, so he spoke the truth. He has authority over all the institutions of the world, because it has been given to him by those who had been given authority by God. This is why the history of the earth has been dominated by evil. Most authority in the institutions of the world has been given to the devil.
This transition dramatically changed the authority situation on the earth. God had given control to humans. The representatives of humanity had given authority over the lives to the devil. This gave the forces of evil significant control over the earth. From that day forward, humans only had partial authority, because the spiritual powers of wickedness have usurped substantial authority.
This transfer of authority created a huge problem on earth and explains why evil has often been rampant on earth. It also created a huge dilemma. God had the power to put things right, but he did not have authority to act, because he had given authority on earth to humans. God is trustworthy and faithful, so he does not change his mind or go back on his decisions. He does not say one thing and do another. His promises are irrevocable, so despite humans making a mess with their authority over the earth, God could not just take it back and intervene on earth.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they handed authority over the earth to the spiritual forces of evil. This was a huge disaster, because it left God powerless on earth. He still had authority in the spiritual world, but his authority on earth was gone. This was painful for him, as he was committed to sustaining the earth every day, but had lost authority to get involved in the world that he loved. It would take all his wisdom and power to turn this situation round.
Once God was squeezed out of his universe, the powers of evil got to work and really messed it up. Such a big fall needs a big salvation, which is exactly what God achieved through Jesus. However, he would eventually achieve this through Jesus, but he had a lot of patient work to do, before he could bring it to pass.
Jesus could not be sent into the world immediately after the fall, because God did not have authority to send him and protect him. Evil would have destroyed Jesus, before he had begun his ministry. God had to slowly start rolling back evil and putting in place a long-term strategy to constrain evil and restore authority to good people. He could not act on earth, unless a human called out and asked for help. He can only act through humans, so he needed loyal people and a place to work.
- God needed people on earth to give him authority to act.
- He needs place free from evil, where is free to move.
- He needs people to carry the Holy Spirit
God put in place a long-term strategy to put the things he needs in place. The first few thousand years were a hard struggle. During this period, God only received a few small opportunities to gain an influence on earth. He used each of these very wisely, but was not able to make much progress. He was only able to make real ground when Noah came on the scene.
After God had sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, a cherubim with a fiery sword began to guard the tree of life.
He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24).
We assume that God put a guard round the tree of life, but the translation of this verse is not certain. The word translated flashing back and forth is “haphak”. The primary meaning of this word is overturn or pervert. The message of this verse may be that “perverted” cherubim had seized control of the tree of life, because God no longer had authority on earth.
The common view is that when Adam and Eve were sent out into the world, he expected them to do what they had failed to do in the Garden of Eden. That was not possible. They were still on the path leading away from God. Adam lived for nearly a thousand years, but there is no indication in the scriptures that he ever did anything to help God get a foothold back on earth. God continued to be shut out of the earth. He needed a strategy that would restore his influence on earth, but that would take time to achieve.
God could not act on earth, unless a human person called out and asked for help. Eve had called on God when her Cain was born.
She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man (Gen 4:1).
We do not know how long she lived after Seth was born, but this was the last record of her praying to God. It seems that prayer stopped once Cain was born.
When we look at Genesis 5 and see the genealogies and the ages of the people, we try to work out the age of the earth. This misses the point. The chapter is explaining what life was like on earth in the centuries after the fall. For nearly a thousand years, nothing of spiritual importance happened on earth. God was shut out of his creation, so he could not hold back the forces of evil. He had no choice but to leave the people of the earth to their own devices.
During this period, thousands of people died without any opportunity to hear the gospel or receive salvation. This was not God’s fault, although he is often blamed for it. Humans created the situation where these people were shut out from salvation.
This barren period of history begins with the final verse of the previous chapter.
At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD (Gen 4:26).
The English translations put a positive spin on these words, but that is a bit misleading. The word translated “began” is “chalal”. Begin is a secondary meaning. The primary meaning is “pierce” or “profane”. A more realistic translation of the verse follows:
Men called out the name of the Lord as a profanity.
The barren period gets underway when men begin to curse God.
For the first few thousand years, earth was controlled by evil. Evil spirits had a free hand. Everyone ignored or hated God, so he received no invitations to act on earth. With no one praying, the Holy Spirit was entirely shut out of the earth. Under these conditions, evil advanced in a terrible way. All human developments were twisted for evil purposes.
The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time (Gen 6:5).
Many Christians are expecting a time of great evil on earth in the future. They do not realise that this has already occurred, and that God is not going to let things go Back to that again. He has a strategy that is moving towards a goal: the restoration of all things.
The first sign of life on earth was Enoch. Towards the end of his life, he began to walk with God, but it seems that the situation of earth was so terrible, that a man walking with God was not safe. God had to take him out, because he was not safe on earth.
Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him (Gen 5:24).
Before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God (Heb 11:5).
Enoch did something pivotal before he left the earth.
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones (Jude 1:14).
Enoch was the first person in the scriptures to be called a prophet. He was speaking about the people living on earth during his time and warning that God would send thousands and thousands of angels to bring judgment against them. This prophecy was a pivotal, because it gave God authority to intervene on earth for the first time in a very long time. Nearly a thousand years had gone by since Adam and Eve rebelled, shutting him out of the world.
This spiritual powers of evil did not want God getting involved on earth, so they would have been really annoyed by this prophecy. They would have attacked Enoch with a vengeance, because he was the first person in a thousand years who had betrayed their cause and turned to God. This is why God had to take him out for his own protection.
Noah was born just a few years after Enoch had prophesied. He was the first step in the fulfilment of Enoch’s prophecy. Enoch’s grandson Lamech was Noah’s father. He carried on the influence of Enoch and prophesied at Noah’s birth.
He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed” (Gen 5:29).
This prophecy seems trivial, but it released Noah into a prophetic ministry. It set Noah on track to fulfil the role that God had for him.
By the time of Noah was an adult, the situation on earth was abysmal.
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways (Gen 6:11-12).
The Hebrew word translated “corrupt” is “shachath”. This word is used through the record of Noah’s covenant. It means “destroy” or “ruin”. God looked upon the earth and saw that it was being ruined by the evil in human hearts.
Noah was also a prophet. Peter called him a preacher of righteousness, which is the same thing (2 Pet 2:5). His actions to build a boat were a prophecy of the flood, even when he did not speak. Noah had a family to protect him. Because he was building a crazy boat miles from the water, people did not harm him.
The Flood was the first judgement that God was able to send against the evil that had become rampant on earth. God was able to send this judgment because Enoch and Noah had prophesied to release his power.
God had given authority over the earth to humans. They had authority on earth and over the earth, but they did not have authority over the depths of the earth and the structure of the planet. God retained that for himself. At the time of the flood, some of the spiritual powers attacked the depths of the earth and broke up the deaths.
On that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up (Gen 7:11).
When these spiritual powers of evil attacked the great depths of the earth, they moved away from the place where they had authority upon the earth. God was able to send a host of angels and take them captive, so that they could not work on earth any more. God had authority to do this, because they had moved to a place where they did not have authority, and he did.
The Flood was a huge victory over evil. Evil spirits do not seem to be very mobile, and when their hosts were drowned, millions seemed to get trapped in one place. They were probably hiding together in a dark place. God sent his hosts of angels and they were able to lock them up and take them out of action on earth. We do not know how he achieved this, but the results are confirmed in the New Testament. God shut them away where they could do no harm on earth (1 Peter 3:19; 2 Pet 2:4-5). This was a significant change, as it dramatically reduced the number of evil spirits working on earth. The capture of evil spirits and the rainbow covenant were a huge advance for God strategic plan.
God used Noah to put in place this important tool for dealing with evil. The covenant that God made with Noah allows him to bring protective judgments on earth, during times of serious evil, without getting permission from a prophet. This allows God to act against evil in a season when there are no prophets.
This rainbow covenant is different from other covenants, because it was not exclusive, but applies to all people and animals on the earth.
Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth (Gen 9:16).
The rainbow reminds us of covenant with all people forever. The rainbow covenant is unconditional. No conditions are specified for fulfilling the covenant. No consequences were specified for failure to keep the covenant. The covenant with Noah is and unconditional promise to all the people of the earth through all time.
The common understanding is that God was promising not to destroy the earth by another flood. This does not seem very likely anyway, so this view makes the covenant seem irrelevant. We do not see a rainbow and think, “Wow, I am glad that God is keeping his covenant”. Christians assume we have a better covenant and do not need this old one, but we have missed the significance of God’s promise. God was not promising there would never be another flood. He was actually promising that he would not need to send another flood, because he would never let conditions get so bad on earth that it needed to be destroyed. God promised to prevent evil from getting so strong that it has potential to destroy the entire earth.
God was able to make this promise, because the covenant with Noah increased God’s authority on earth. God had given authority over the earth to man, so he could not intervene on earth without getting permission. The Rainbow Covenant God gave him permission to intervene on earth when evil was getting out of hand. This covenant was a serious crack in the wall of the defence that the powers of evil had placed round the world. They had shut God out of his creation, and stuffed it up. Noah opened the door a chink, and let God back in.
Noah was the father of all who would live on earth after him, so his covenant binds everyone on earth. Speaking on behalf of his descendants, Noah gave God permission to intervene when evil is rampant. The Covenant of the Rainbow gave God long-term permission to act on earth, if things got really bad. This was not much of a constraint on human authority on earth, because it does not apply most of the time, but it gives God authority to act on earth when evil gets strong and destructive. This permission still applies several thousand years later.
The rainbow covenant was a huge step in the battle against evil. Until the time of Noah, God was shut out of the world and could do nothing to prevent evil from destroying the world. The rainbow covenant did not give God a free hand on earth. Most of the time, it does not apply, because the situation is not bad enough. However, it does give God permission to intervene on earth when evil gets really bad. This is a great improvement over the situation that existed before the Flood.
The Old Testament records a number of situations where God sent a protective judgment to prevent the advance of evil in fulfilment of the rainbow covenant. In each of these situations, a powerful forceful for evil was emerging in the world. If these had been left to grow, they could have produced tremendous evil. God cut them down before they got big enough to ruin the earth. God has been faithful to the promise of the rainbow. Evil has never been able to take control of earth as it did before the flood, because God’s judgements have kept evil in check.
Noah helped God to acheive a wonderful victory. He demonstrated great faith, and God completed an amazing work through him. However, his life had a very disappointing end. Noah got drunk and cursed one of his sons.
If we understood the nature of spiritual warfare, the reason for Noah’s failure isobvious.
Where were the spiritual powers of evil before the flood?
They were spread out across the world causing the people to sin and do evil.
Where were they after the flood?
Some had been captured and were bound, but the remaining millions joined together to attack Noah. Under such a staunch spiritual attack, he did not stand a chance, as he was totally outnumbered. We should not judge him for his failure.
The Tower of Babel was a terrible threat to the purposes of God. We read about some crazy people building a huge tower and think they were stupid, but something more serious was going on (Gen 11:4). Some people on earth had got together with the spiritual forces of evil in an attempt to wrest control of the heavenly realms from God. A gang of evil spirits that had been thrown down on earth, planned to use evil people on earth to regain their position in heaven. This was serious stuff. God sent a Protective Judgment to put the forces of evil back in their place. The evil was constrained by sending confusion of language that made combining for a common purpose more difficult. No prophet existed to give God permission, but conditions had got so bad, that the permission of the Rainbow covenant applied.
Abraham was the first person to live by faith. He believed the promise and obeyed God’s call to move to Palestine, which would become the playground of empires (Gen 12:1). This was an important step in God’s strategy, because it gave him a place from which to challenge empires.
Abraham was the first military commander. The resources of his family were sufficient that he could defend his family from attack (Gen 14:15-16). Abraham and his family could serve God without being overcome by the evil forces around them. God now had a group of people on earth that he could work through. This was a major step in his strategy.
Abraham was a prophet (Deut 34:10). The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was a protective judgment. Abraham was the prophet who released God to achieve this result. It prevented a malicious evil from emerging in this important region.
While God was advancing his cause by making a covenant with one faithful man, the devil was developing a much bolder strategy. Before the flood, the forces of evil number were sufficiently numerous to attack every person on earth. The flood reduced their numbers, limiting the effectiveness of this strategy, so they needed a new way of working. To leverage their power, they began working through political empires where hierarchies of power with an emperor at the top expanded the influence and power of evil. The forces of evil could concentrate their efforts on controlling the emperor and the entire empire would fall into their hands. This gave them the huge control, using a fraction of their resources.
Many empires emerged. The first was Egypt. It was followed by Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and the ultimate empire Rome. The hierarchy of an empire allows a few demonic powers to control large numbers of people. This is why the Bible warns Christians about principalities and powers. These are evil spirits that control cities and empires through human hierarchies. The growth of large empires massively amplified the power of the enemy. By operating as principalities and powers controlling empires, the demonic powers could get more bang for their buck.
Empires needed armies to fight their battles. The best young men were conscripted to serve in the army and attractive women were taken to serve in the place, which undermined family life. Daniel and Ester are examples. The Emperor controlled all land, so most farmers were serfs and had to hand over at least half of what they produced for the support of the empire. Life was miserable for everyone except the elite friends of the emperor.
Jacob saw angels coming down to earth and going back up again.
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD (Ex 28:12-13).
The reason the angels had to return to heaven was that there was no place for them on earth, because God has lost authority there. God promised the land to Jacob’s descendants, so that Jacob would prophesy it to give God authority to make it happen.
Slaves in Egypt
Joseph and his family were sent in to the empire of Egypt. This was a sneaky move by God. When Satan saw Abraham’s faith, he knew that God was up to something, so he wanted to nip it in the bud. He carried Jacob and his family into Egypt, so he could keep them under control and stamp them out if they got out of hand. God allowed this to happen, because he knew the people of Israel would eventually cry out to him when they became slave and give him authority to rescue them. This authority gave freedom set his plan of redemption in place.
The bonus was that that Moses learned the wisdom of Egypt and the children of Israel gained access to the latest agricultural and communications technology. Moses knew how to read and write, yet he was not corrupted by it (Acts 7:22).
God sent the children of Israel into slavery to cleanse them from evil. Evil spirits are not interested in slaves, because they have no authority. They always move towards the masters and rulers to gain more power. When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, they were evil-spirit free, because most of the evil spirits would have stayed with the Egyptians. They were not interested in slaves, because they had no influence. This could be why Moses had to spend forty years in the wilderness. Living in the household of Pharaoh, he would have picked up some of the spirits that dwelt in that house (one was a spirit of anger). These spirits would have got of sick of watching sheep and wandered off to find someone more important to influence.
Making the Israelites slave in Egypt was a serious mistake for the forces of evil, because it brought the power of empire up against God’s covenant with Abraham. When the people out the covenant cried out to God for mercy, this gave God authority to bring judgement against the Egyptian empires. He was able to cripple Pharaoh by destroying his army in the Red Sea. This was a serious setback for evil.
The Exodus was the first big rescue executed by God. The Israelite slaves were all descendants of Abraham, so they knew about God, even if they did not always obey him. They cried out to him for deliverance, which gave him authority to act on their behalf. I presume God let Joseph and Jacob go to Egypt, so this would happen. The people of Canaan had filled up their sins, so God had authority under the rainbow covenant to remove them from the land. Establishing the children of Israel in the land of Canaan was a really important step forward in God’s plan. For the first time in history, God had authority over a piece of the earth on which he was free to operate. Humans could not take it off him. He also had a people he could sometimes count on to release his power on earth. With some land and a people, he could now start some serious work on earth. His goal was to expand from Canaan into the rest of the earth.
The covenant God made with Moses on Mt Sinai marked a big change in authority on earth. God had rescued the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt and brought them into a new land. He promised to protect them and bless them in the future. In return for these blessings, they agreed to submit to God’s authority. This was a big change. Under the covenant with Adam and Eve, humans had absolute authority on earth. They could boot God out of the world if they chose. The covenant with Moses offered similar blessings, but human authority was significantly constrained. The terms of the covenant with Moses meant that he Israelites could no longer reject God’s authority and push him out of the world. The covenant provided that if they rebelled against God, they would be ejected from the land, not God.
God had worked away for more than 2000 years to get a foothold of authority on earth. He now had a piece of land where he was free to operate and a people to work through. This was not perfect. God could not be certain that his people would obey him. He knew they would eventually rebel. He also knew that if he exiled the chosen people from the land, he could lose control of it. Other people would move in who did not have a covenant with him. They could exclude him again, if he were not careful. God had to be sure that he had a way to bring his people back from exile at the right time. Cyrus was critical for that reason. Daniel was important too, because he had sufficient authority in Babylon to pray the Return to the land into being. Nehemiah had a key role too. God had to raise the right people up and make sure that they are there at the right time.
Moses was a prophet. God gave the law through Moses to restrain personal and social evil. God intended that other nations would copy Israel and get a similar reduction in personal and social evil by applying God’s law. The law should have constrained personal evil in Israel and throughout the world. Unfortunately, Israel chose to copy the nations and have a king, so they never demonstrated the benefits of God’s law to the nations.
Moses also released the ministry of the judge. These judges recognised for wisdom by their families and tribes applied God’s law to social and community disputes. They functioned within their local communities. This was an important step in God’s strategy, because it provided a way for larger communities to live in peace with each other. The law could not eliminate sins, but it provided a way for removing the worst effects of sin.
The Jubilee laws proved a tool for ensuring that the income distribution was fair. Concentration of wealth was prevented.
Aaron was the first priest. He dealt with sin by offering sacrifices. This was not a permanent solution to sin, as only Jesus could do that, but it did free the people from the burden of sin, which protected them from demonic attack. The tabernacle sacrifices were the first form of spiritual protection, because it reduced their vulnerability to evil spirit. A person had made a sacrifice for their sins, reduced their vulnerability to demonic attacks.
The tabernacle was God’s first dwelling place on earth. This gave him a place that belonged to him alone. Moses and Aaron had given him permission to be there. Nothing evil was allowed in. This gave God his first small zone of control on earth. He hoped the people would see his glory and allow him to expand this zone of control out into all the land of Canaan.
The Levites were given responsibility for teaching the people about God and how to live under the law. This was God’s first mass education program on earth.
God commanded Israel to drive the people of Canaan out of the land and destroy their idols and temples (Deut 7:1). If Israel had obeyed God, the Canaanites would have carried all their evil spirits out of the land with them. If they had destroyed the shrines and idols, the evil spirits working in them would have fled to the people who had created them. God’s plan was to bring an evil-spirit-free people into an evil-spirit-free land. Unfortunately, Joshua disobeyed God and killed many of the Canaanites instead of driving them out. When the Israelites killed the Canaanites, the evil spirits moved to the people doing the slaying, as their fear and anger made them vulnerable. Contrary to God’s plan, the Israelites allowed a host of evil spirits to remain in the land. This was an immediate setBack to God’s plan to re-gain more authority on earth.
During the period of the Judges the people frequently did evil in the sight of the Lord. This shows that the laws and judges cannot bring peace, if the people continue to ignore God. God lost ground on earth during this time.
Hannah had a really important role in bringing God’s authority back to earth. At first she cried out for a son, but without success. Eventually, she switched to praying for a son who would be under the authority of God. Hannah took her commitment seriously, and when her son Samuel was weaned, she took him to live at the temple, so he could learn to serve under the authority of God. Her prayer was a prophetic declaration of God’s victory on earth (1 Sam 2).
When God spoke to Samuel, he said, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:10). This set him on the path to a ministry as a prophet.
The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground (1 Sam 3:19).
Samuel was the first big-time prophet since the time of Moses. He was followed by a succession of powerful prophets. I presume that each prophet prayed for the raising up of his successor. Hannah’s dedications and prayer opened the way for this long sequence of powerful prophets, who would release God to work on earth.
God planted Israel in the middle of the playground of empires of the world to provide himself with a prophetic voice to announce protective judgments against emerging evil in the surrounding empires and nations. The strategic position of Israel in the Middle East meant that any emerging empire would eventually pass through it on the way to do battle with its enemies. The rampaging of the empires gave the prophets of Israel authority to speak God’s protective judgments against them. God was able to use this authority to work out his purposes in many nations.
Samuel knew that God wanted to be King of Israel, so he was reluctant to give Israel a king when the people demanded it (1 Sam 8). They wanted to be like the surrounding the nations with a human king. God opposed this move, because a human king would most likely reject his authority. Temporary military commanders were a much safer option. The kingship did not advance God’s strategy on earth.
The kingship was a failure right from the start. David was the best person to be king. He had a man with a good heart and he had a great relationship with God, yet he fell into adultery and then committed murder to cover it up. Worse still, he failed totally in providing justice. His own son was able to generate a revolt by providing justice for people who had been disappointed by the King (1 Sam 15:1-8).
David did finish the job that Joshua had begun. He drove out the last of the Canaanites. This was far too late, because they had already corrupted the Israelites. Unfortunately, David allowed many of the Canaanites to remain as forced labour, so the evil spirits stayed too, and quickly jumped over to the people in control.
Solomon made the same mistake when he chose several foreign wives. They brought hundreds of evil spirits back into Israel. Once this happened, the kingship was doomed. The kings led their people on various militaristic adventures that ended with them being dominated by their powerful neighbours.
When the empires took people from Israel into captivity, they bought prophets into their midst and gave them authority, which strengthened the power of the prophetic voice. Daniel was a prophet who ended up with immense authority within the empires that God planned to destroy. Protective judgments and the prophets continued to constrain political evil on earth.
The exile into Babylon was another attempt to cleanse the land. The evil spirits moved to the Babylon with the important and influential people. Once there, they looked for people with greater influence. The people allowed to stay in Israel were the poor and helpless. The forces of evil were not interested in them. The exile cleansed the land for the second time.
When the Israelites returned to the land, Nehemiah established protection. Ezra restored the law and the temple sacrifices. Ezra got rid of marriage to foreign wives, which excluded the evil spirits they would have carried into the Land (Ezra 9,10).
The exile in Babylon was another encounter between the people of the covenant and the powers of darkness. When the people called out for mercy after their period of judgment had ended, their cry gave God authority to bring judgment against the Babylonian empire.
While the kings and priests of Israel were failing, the prophets were getting on with God’s work. They were laying out all that God would do through Jesus and in the seasons after. Isaiah prophesied the suffering servant in exact detail. Jeremiah promises the coming of the Kingdom of God. Ezekiel prophesied the times when Israel would come to faith in Jesus. Daniel described the emergence of the Beast and the collapse of the kingdom of man. This prophetic ministry reached a climax with John the Baptist.
Getting the prophets to understand all this stuff in detail and put it down in writing was a huge task for the Holy Spirit. He had to use many prophets over hundreds of years to complete the task. A prophet like Isaiah does not emerge very often. Once all the prophetic work was in place, God just needed to raise up intercessors to pray it into being, so God was building a strategy to execute his plans.
God sent Jesus to earth when everything on earth was ready.
- People like Anna and Simeon were praying for Messiah. This gave God authority to send his son.
- Mary and Joseph were ready to be his parents.
- The Roman Empire was ruling most of the earth. The ultimate empire was in place ready to be destroyed by the advance of the Kingdom of God.
- Roman law had produced a relative peace in Israel. This allowed Jesus to move around freely.
- Israel was divided into three provinces with the Romans ruling Judea directly through a procurator. The sons of Herod ruled the other two provinces. This allowed Jesus to operate below the Roman radar, by undertaking most of his ministry in the region of Galilee. He could move across the Jordan, whenever he needs a place of safety.
- Messianic expectation was at a high level. People were longing for the peace and justice of God.
- The Jewish establishment controlled the temple in Jerusalem. They were ready for confrontation with Jesus.
- John the Baptist was getting ready to announce the messiah.
- Peter was being toughened up, ready for when he would get the church going in Jerusalem.
- Paul was being trained up ready for when he would take the gospel to the gentiles and write his letters.
- John was ready to begin a journey that would end with him writing the book of Revelation when he had completed his ministry. This prophetic work would give God authority to act long into the future.
God took a huge risk in sending Jesus into the world as a baby, at a time when his authority on earth was still precarious. He was counting on various people being willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and do God’s will.
- Mary had to be willing to care for a baby. This was a huge burden for a young woman.
- Joseph had to listen to his dreams and be willing to obey them. He had to be willing to flee to Egypt for safety, which was scary for a Jewish family.
- Anna and Simeon had to be ready to pray and prophesy as required.
- The wise men had to come and provide the Mary and Joseph with economic security. They did not give Jesus toys for his play. They provided his parents with commodities that could be sold in any economy at any time. They understood that precious metals or commodities are essential for survival in troubled times.
If any of these people had failed to fulfil their calling, God’s plan would have turned to custard. The devil could have come in and killed Jesus, and removed the son of God from the earth. The wise men nearly set the cat among the pigeons when they went to Herod to find the king, instead of following the star to Bethlehem.
Most Christians assume that God is all-powerful and can do whatever he chooses. In one sense, this is true. He created all things, so he is sovereign over all his creation. However, another important fact must be taken into account. God freely gave dominion over the earth to humans.
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth (Gen 1:27-28).
That gift was unconditional. God is faithful and true, so he does not go back on his word. When humans sinned, he did not take back the dominion that he had given.
God’s glory was not reduced by handing over this authority. His wisdom and power is so great, he knew he could eventually achieve his purposes on earth, even if humans misused their authority and invited evil into the world. God had a plan to establish his authority on earth, by allowing his son to die, and then sending his Spirit to build his Kingdom. Giving dominion over the earth to humans would not prevent him from fulfilling his plans, even if they turned against him.
Many Christians assume that God can intervene on earth whenever he chooses. If that were true, God could have gone to work and put things right as soon as sin came into the world. Things were not that simple. Even though humans had sinned, God still recognised them as the legitimate authority on earth. Therefore, he could not intervene whenever he chose. He had to wait until he was invited by a person with authority on earth. This is why prayer is so important. It gives God the authority that he needs to accomplish his purposes on earth.
God was not slow to send Jesus. He sent him as soon as he was able. During the thousand years that had gone by since humans sinned, he was not just sitting around twiddling his thumbs. He was waiting for people with authority on earth to give him permission to act. Because most humans had given their authority over the devil, this permission was quite difficult to get. When God did get permission to act, it was usually limited in scope and time, and was often taken back soon after it was given.
When everything was in place, God sent Jesus to defeat evil and free humans from sin. He achieved an amazing victory, but the change on the ground was much slower coming. Humans still have domino on the earth. That means that the Holy Spirit can only act to build the Kingdom when humans give him permission. Unfortunately, most humans are still handing their authority over to the forces of evil, even though they could be free. Worse still, many of those who have been set free by believing in Jesus continue to believe the lie that the world belongs to the devil, so instead of releasing the Holy Spirit, they continue to rejoice in the works of the devil, because they believe that it brings Jesus return closer.
The Kingdom of God will come, when Christians understand the significance of what God did when he gave dominion over the earth to humans and release the Holy Spirit to do his work on earth.