Peniel: The Only Potentate
Manna 83: Spring

KC Tsai—Toronto, Canada

 

 

 

"My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."(2 Cor 12:9b).

 

 

GRACE WITHIN THE THORN

 

The apostle Paul, a loyal servant of the Lord, was troubled by a thorn in the flesh. He called it a “messenger of Satan.” It is possible that this was a health condition (2 Cor 12:9), or a metaphor for “deceitful workers,” who disguised themselves as apostles of Christ to attack and confuse the gospel that Paul preached (2 Cor 11:3–15). Paul pleaded with God three times to remove the thorn, but the Lord answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9b). Paul then realized that the thorn was actually God’s grace, to prevent him, as one who had received many spiritual revelations from God, from becoming proud. Although Satan had an evil purpose to disrupt the gospel through this affliction, God masterfully turned this deceitful scheme to benefit His servant. Through the thorn, Paul was guarded against pride.

 

In fact, God does not need Satan’s help to cultivate those whom He loves. With or without Satan’s attack on Paul’s ministry, God reigns over all things. God is the only Potentate (1 Tim 6:15). He is the Source of all things, the Manager of all proceedings, and the Master of all endings. “[T]here is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13).

 

Therefore, it is necessary to pray for the mercy of God when we suffer and are in need. Through our sufferings, we learn to search for God’s good purpose, and introspectively seek for improvement. When we are faced with brethren whose actions do not align with the teachings of the Bible, we ought to correct them with sincerity. Beyond that, we need not strive with them or be overly worried on behalf of God. God is the Potentate who needs no assistance or consolation. We can entrust the outcome into His almighty hands.

 

From the many events recorded in the Bible, we see that, through man’s mistakes and failures, God can manifest His wonderful will.

 

 

GRACE IN SLAVERY

 

Joseph was an innocent young man sold into slavery in Egypt. On one hand, his fate was the result of his brothers’ wrongdoing, but on the other, it was God’s arrangement to enable Joseph to become a ruler in a foreign land, where he could save his family and all of Egypt (Gen 45:8). God’s purpose did not stop there. He nurtured the spirituality of Joseph to such a point that the material splendors of Egypt meant little to him. On his deathbed, Joseph sought assurance that his bones would depart with the children of Israel to the land that God had promised to his fathers (Gen 50:22–25). In the beginning, Joseph’s brothers had meant to harm him, but God’s will prevailed and could not be hindered by man’s sin.

 

God also does not need the sin of man for His will to be executed. In fact, He is on top of all things, irrespective of how obedient man is. All things work together to fulfill His purpose. For instance, through His unfathomable love, God allowed the children of Israel to be enslaved and to suffer in Egypt. But at the appointed time, after 430 years, the armies of the Lord departed from the land (Ex 12:41). God had foretold of this event, confiding in Abraham long before it transpired (Gen 15:13–14). God knew that Pharaoh would enslave His people, but He would dramatically deliver them from Pharaoh’s dominion.

 

 

IN YOU ALL NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED

 

The promise God gave to Abraham when He called him out of his home country could be summed up in one sentence: “[I]n you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3b). The message is clear: the blessing of God will extend to all nations. Although this message was repeated in the Old Testament prophecies, the chosen people, the physical descendants of Abraham, failed to understand it. Before the downpour of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, all non-Jews were called the “uncircumcision” and were regarded as outsiders of the commonwealth of Israel—strangers to the covenant of promise.

 

After Cornelius’ household had accepted the gospel and received the promised Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter returned to Jerusalem to report that God’s salvation grace had reached the Gentiles. The reaction of the Jewish believers was harsh: "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!" (Acts 11:3). According to the understanding of the chosen people in the Old Testament, God’s love was exclusively reserved for them. Throughout history, there was an irreconcilable barrier between the Jews and others. How could God’s promise of extending His saving grace to all nations be fulfilled? Before the promised Holy Spirit descended to dwell with His church, this mystery of Christ was hidden in God Himself (Eph 3:5–10).

 

 

WITNESS OF GOD AGAINST HIS PEOPLE

 

Shortly before Moses died, God instructed him to write a song and to teach it to the children of Israel (see Deut 32:1–43). It would serve as God’s witness against His people, of how they would turn away from Him after entering the promised land. Prior to this, God had warned of the consequences of disobedience. The people would be “tossed to and fro among the kingdoms of the earth” (Deut 28:25, ASV), be uprooted and exiled (Deut 29:28).

 

But who could have imagined that Israel’s breaking of the covenant would lead to the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, that in him all nations would be blessed? When the Lord Jesus came to establish the new covenant through His blood, the song composed by Moses long ago had all along witnessed that it would be the chosen people who would break the old covenant. And God had foretold of their failure.

 

 

EXILE TO FOREIGN LANDS

 

In 722 b.c., the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians. Many were captured and taken to Assyria, where they were placed in Halah, by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. This was the consequence of the Israelites worshipping the golden calves in Bethel and Dan, and serving other Canaanite idols.

 

In 586 b.c., the southern kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians, who burned the temple of God and the houses in Jerusalem. They also destroyed the city walls, and captured and exiled the inhabitants of the city.

 

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
 We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget its skill!
If I do not remember you,
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy. (Ps 137:1–6)

 

Only when they became captives did the Israelites realize how precious the status of being God’s people was. They remembered God’s temple in Jerusalem, the place where God chose to dwell (2 Chr 6:4–6). Now they desired to serve Him. However, the Pentateuch dictated that they could only worship God and offer burnt offerings at the place where God chose to put His name (Deut 12:5, 13–14). How could they do these things in a foreign land? In their state of physical and spiritual exile, the people of God had turned into the dry bones depicted in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek 37:1–10).

 

 

WORSHIP IN FOREIGN LANDS: THE SYNAGOGUE

 

“When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to a land far or near; yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of their captivity, saying, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong, and have committed wickedness’; and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, where they have been carried captive, and pray toward their land which You gave to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and toward the temple which I have built for Your name: then hear from heaven Your dwelling place their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You.” (2 Chr 6:36–39)

 

It is intriguing that King Solomon included the above supplication in a prayer offered at a time when his kingdom enjoyed peace and prosperity. He asked that, in the event of the people sinning and being exiled, God be gracious to forgive them when they turned their hearts back to Him and prayed toward Jerusalem. God accepted Solomon’s prayer (2 Chr 7:14–16). Later, when the people were indeed exiled, they remembered to worship God in the foreign lands. In 2 b.c., the Jews built the first synagogues where they could listen to the Scriptures and sing praises to God. It was in these synagogues that the apostles, such as Barnabas and Paul, would later evangelize and debate with the worshippers.

 

 

A COMMON LANGUAGE

 

Alexander the Great rose to power in 336 b.c. By 323 b.c., he had conquered a vast area, including southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia. He launched his famous strategy of Hellenization—imposing the adoption of Greek culture and language in the lands he had conquered. When Barnabas and Paul preached, they did so using the Greek language, and were able to reach out to people of different ethnic backgrounds.

 

The Jewish exiles realized the impact that ignorance of God’s word was having on the younger generations, who, over time, had lost their mother tongue. Therefore, the rabbis decided to translate the Pentateuch into the Greek language so that the children of Israel could learn the teaching of the Scriptures. The Greek Bible, the Septuagint, was completed in 132 b.c. Subsequently, Gentile believers were able to listen to God’s words in Greek, in the synagogues on Sabbaths (Acts 15:19–21). Paul wrote his epistles in Greek and cited the Greek Bible to encourage the members and reveal the mystery of the truth to the church.

 

 

SOVEREIGNTY OVER ALL

 

Before Paul was sent out to preach the gospel of Christ, God had silently prepared everything Paul would need to accomplish his mission. The scale of the preparation was immeasurable—encompassing the exile of God’s people, the establishment of synagogues, the emergence of a Macedonian king, and the translation of the Scriptures into the Greek language. All these had come about because of the failures of the chosen people. But man’s failure cannot hinder God’s will. All these had happened to fulfill the promise God gave to Abraham, that all nations would be blessed through him. 

 

The Lord our God is the only Potentate. His strength is made perfect in man’s weakness. He can make use of human history to execute His will and perform wonders. Nothing is surprising or impossible for Him (Jer 32:17). When it comes to accomplishing God’s plan, all we need to do is put our complete trust in Him, and He will guide and lead the way.

 

 

Date
Jul. 13, 2017
Author
KC Tsai
Publisher
True Jesus Church
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