How Much Does God Shape History?
What could be more interesting than human history? What could be a more educational or more useful tool for human beings today than an accurate record of the human beings of yesterday? Our past is full of fascinating lives, amazing stories, profitable knowledge, horrific warnings and worlds of information, and it flows right into the present.
Yet most people ignore history. Why?
One of the main reasons we are ignorant of our own past is that we do not understand the flow of history or the purpose of history. Educated people, even historians themselves, reject and fight against the idea that there is a flow or purpose at all.
But the past—and the present—does have a purpose, and it is not only possible to understand, it is important to understand.
Most people don’t understand history because they have rejected the earliest record of human history and what it reveals about the Creator of human beings, the Observer of all human history, the Revealer of human purpose.
The Creator is deeply involved in what mankind has done and is doing. This is proved by biblical history, secular history and the pulsating present.
Start at the Beginning
People think that the unknowable mists of time have enshrouded the beginning of human history, and that we cannot know that beginning, much less learn much if anything from it. But there is no such thing as human “prehistory.” The most important aspects of history are recorded in the world’s oldest history book. In fact, it reveals the fundamental choice on which human civilization has been built.
Herbert W. Armstrong summarized the Bible record of humanity’s origin in his book Mystery of the Ages. The chapter “Mystery of Civilization” recounts that the human race was founded on the decision of the first human beings to rebel against their Maker. The Bible records that He then blocked them and their descendants from their original home and from having a relationship with Him, in effect sentencing mankind to 6,000 years of being cut off from Him and His Spirit. In Mr. Armstrong’s words, “God said, in effect: … ‘Go, therefore, Adam, and all your progeny that shall form the world, produce your own fund of knowledge. Decide for yourself what is good and what is evil. Produce your own educational systems and means of disseminating knowledge, as your god Satan shall mislead you. … In all this Satan will deceive your world with his attitude of self-centeredness—with vanity, lust and greed, jealousy and envy, competition and strife and violence and wars, rebellion against me and my law of love. … During this 6,000 years, when I myself shall cut them off from me, they shall not be eternally judged. Only, as they sow during their lifetimes, they shall reap.’” This reality informs a true comprehension of human history.
Yet note too this foundational truth revealed in Scripture: that God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”; He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). God wants to save all men—yet He cut all men off from Himself! This is an apparent paradox. Resolving it is fundamental to understanding human history.
As human history has shown and is showing, human beings are definitely cut off from God, and we are reaping the horrible fruits of what we have sown. We are following a different god altogether and heaping up mountains of suffering for ourselves and our children.
But God has not simply surrendered and abandoned mankind. He is still working out His plan for all men. There are many fascinating proofs that He is not completely “hands off” regarding events in this world. In fact, God is deeply involved in history! He has been and is still shaping events to bring about His purposes.
History is the history of individuals, and there are plenty of examples of God intervening in some individuals’ lives to alter the course of history.
To take one example, consider George Washington. For his role as a general in the American Revolution and as the nation’s first president, he is called “the indispensible man” in America’s founding. Yet several life-threatening dangers nearly erased him from history before he could take his place in it.
Washington once traveled through 500 miles of forest held by Indians to negotiate with them. At one point, an Indian guide who was leading his team ran ahead about 15 paces, turned and aimed a gun at him. The gun discharged, but even at that close range, the bullet missed.
Not long after, Washington was serving as a British Army officer when his unit was ambushed by Indians. “The officers on their horses were perfect targets. One after another they went down,” James Thomas Flexner wrote in The Indispensable Man. “Washington’s horse was shot from under him. He leapt on another. Bullets tore his coat. … Washington’s second horse crumpled; his hat was shot off.”
How often has God ensured a particular outcome by causing a marksman to miss his target or his weapon to misfire? How many times has He ordered his angels to invisibly intervene?
Of combat, Washington once remarked, “I heard the bullets whistle, and believe me, there is something charming in the sound.” How different would American history be if any one of those bullets had been an inch closer?
Washington went on to change the course of America, which changed the course of the world. And we should indeed believe him when he said, “I’ve been left in the land of the living thanks to … the miraculous care of Providence, that protected me beyond all human expectation.”
Study history, and you see “the miraculous care of Providence” literally everywhere.
Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has said that Winston Churchill, even as a child, was the subject of God’s intervention. His trials as a child and youth were necessary to prepare him for Britain’s most trying hour—as was his protection from drowning, a long fall, pneumonia, three car crashes, two plane crashes, a house fire, a prison escape, dozens of combat situations across five wars, not to mention political irrelevance and the “black dog” of depression.
Biographer William Manchester wrote in The Last Lion that Churchill “felt shielded by mysterious intervention, believing that ‘Chance, Fortune, Luck, Destiny, Fate, Providence seem to me only different ways of expressing the same thing, to wit, that a man’s own contribution to his life story is continually dominated by an external superior power.’”
Churchill, like billions of others, did not know the true God, but the true God knew him. And Churchill’s feat of saving Western civilization was a clear example of God’s intervention in history. (Ezekiel 33 prophesied the role Churchill played in World War ii. Request your free copy of Winston S. Churchill: The Watchman.) If that external superior power was dominating the life of this man from the time he was a young boy in the 1880s, how many human lives is the Creator of human life involved in? Was He also considering other boys for that role? It is impossible to know the myriad ways God worked just in that life, let alone all other human lives.
This same man would later address the United States Congress on Dec. 26, 1941, with these words: “I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants.”
God has the power of wounding and healing, of life and of death (Deuteronomy 32:39). If He wants someone to live, to prosper, to rule—or to fall, to be shoved aside from history, to die and be forgotten—He can do that. God clearly uses this power to shape history as He wishes, for His reasons.
When you comprehend what you are looking at, human history becomes a wondrous study of what God is achieving.
Does God Have a Favorite?
The Genesis record skims about 2,000 years of early human history in just a few chapters. In chapter 12, it abruptly stops and dwells, in detail, on the life of one man, Abraham. Then, the entire rest of the Bible is primarily the history of this man’s descendants and the nation that came from him, Israel.
Israel is at the heart of the Bible. Did you realize that the Bible is essentially the history of this one people? Though God cut mankind off from Himself, He made a special exception for one nation, a nation that descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To that nation, He revealed Himself and gave His law. Why? Why would God treat Israel differently?
Understanding what God did with Israel unlocks the knowledge of everything God is doing with the rest of humanity throughout history (e.g. Romans 9:3-5).
God chose that nation for a purpose: for the benefit of other nations. Israel was not God’s “favorite” at all (Deuteronomy 7:6-10); in fact, God repeatedly points out Israel’s many shortcomings and sins. It was called to be an example nation to other nations, with greater opportunities and therefore greater accountability (Deuteronomy 4:5-9). Sadly, the Israelite nations have failed profoundly, much as Adam and Eve did. Yet God is still enacting plans to reach other nations—and rebellious physical Israel as well. God is love, and He really does love all men! He expresses that love in so many ways, and when you know what to look for in history, you can recognize it.
Biblical and secular history show that God has clearly shaped historical events for the descendants of the Israelites. But what about the rest of the nations, which have never had a history with God? Does He intervene in their history? The answer is a resounding yes.
For one thing, the Israelites have interacted with other nations. God has shaped events within these nations, hindering or empowering them for the purpose of exalting or punishing the Israelites. For example, He raised the Assyrian Empire to take captive rebellious Israel (e.g. Isaiah 10:5-6).
There are also many times when God has worked in other nations more directly, apart from Israel. For example, He has sent messengers to give them key understanding, if they will accept it. Consider the story of God warning the Ninevites through the Prophet Jonah, and, upon their repentance, withholding punishment against them.
God truly does want all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Everything He has done and continues to do in the affairs of human history is entirely consistent with this goal. The history of humankind is the history of God preparing to solve the tragic mistake human beings have been making since the Garden of Eden—to restore His government to Earth and to help all men be saved.
God’s Gift to All Nations
At the end of his life, Moses gave a parting song that shows God’s deep involvement with the nation of Israel—and something more. Recorded in Deuteronomy 32, this song emphasizes knowing history, because truly knowing history means knowing God.
This chapter reveals that God not only gave the Israelites their Promised Land but also “divided to the nations their inheritance” (verse 8). Inheritance is the word God used regarding Israel’s Promised Land—but this says God gave land as an inheritance to all nations. He has a plan for all peoples—not just Israel. Verses 20-21 refer to Israel failing in its responsibility and God offering salvation to the Gentiles. (The word Gentiles simply means “the nations.”)
Much later, the Apostle Paul referenced these words of Moses in Romans 10. Paul was writing soon after the Church had been established by Jesus Christ, into which God has called people from many nations. Paul traveled throughout Greece: Berea, Macedonia, Thessalonica. In fact, he and others were writing the New Testament in the Greek language. God also sent Paul to Athens—the capital of philosophy, bustling with sophisticated men who believed in many different gods—and Paul told them about the true God (Acts 17). He reasoned with these pagans in a way they could understand to reach them with the truth.
Paul explained how the God of the Hebrew Bible “made the world and all things therein” (verse 24), witnessed all human history, and “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (verse 26). Though God worked with Israel in a special way, He did not leave the rest of the world alone. Verse 27 says, “God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps [or in the hope that] reach out for Him and find Him …” (Berean Standard Bible). Yes, God cut man off at the Garden of Eden—but He also has plans for when people seek Him! He truly hopes that they will find Him.
Paul boldly informed these people that God is “not far from every one of us.” God’s presence is all over Earth (2 Chronicles 16:9; Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 23:23-24). Paul knew the Greek poets and even quoted from them (Epimenides and Aratus), saying that “we are [God’s] offspring” (Acts 17:28). He said their graven idols were false and that it was time for them to repent (verses 29-31). What a message for these pagans! And some of these Greeks believed (verse 34).
What does it tell you about God that He sent Paul to Athens, of all places, with this message?
Mankind has rejected God from the very first. God did cut off mankind from Himself at the Garden of Eden, including all the generations and nations since. But He cut them off for a purpose. He wants them to learn and to come to know Him, whether in this life or in the resurrection, and He knows when people are seeking after Him and when is the best time to open that relationship up to them.
How many seeds has God been planting throughout 6,000 years of human history, across the ages, across the continents, across the races, anticipating the day that He will resurrect these individuals? (Ezekiel 37; Revelation 20). God is not far from anyone in this world—if they would just open their eyes.
Nebuchadnezzar Proves God’s Love
Nebuchadnezzar ii (or Nebuchadrezzar) was the most prestigious king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. “[H]e became the most powerful ruler of his time in the Near East, and the greatest warrior, statesman and builder in all the succession of Babylonian kings,” wrote historian Will Durant. “Palestine and Syria then fell easily under his sway …” (The Story of Civilization).
That one clause, “Palestine … fell easily under his sway,” includes the conquest of the kingdom of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. God exalted the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar and used it to correct His unruly people Judah. God was deeply involved in the rise of Babylon and the reign of Nebuchadnezzar specifically. He guided this king to seize some of the Jewish people he had conquered and use them as his servants.
Nebuchadnezzar worshiped Marduk, god-in-chief of Babylon. Yet God did something extraordinary with this proud, pompous, pagan king. He gave him a troubling, mysterious dream. Then, to one of those Jewish captives, Daniel, God revealed the meaning of this dream. You can read this history in Daniel 2.
In doing so, Daniel told the king—and He tells us—that not Marduk but the true God is the one who removes and establishes kings—and not just the kings of Israel. This is a specific way in which God has guided human history.
Daniel then spoke about what God had revealed: The king had seen a great metallic figure, and that figure portrayed four world-ruling Gentile empires that would dominate Earth, from the rulership of Nebuchadnezzar to just prior to the rulership of Jesus Christ.
Imagine the effect of Daniel’s words on this mighty ruler. All his advisers, priests and magicians couldn’t tell him one thing about this disturbing dream. Yet a Jewish slave boy told him exactly what he had dreamed in his own mind—and precisely what it meant! Nebuchadnezzar recognized that his own religion was fake and that Daniel’s was real. He appointed Daniel and his friends to the highest government offices in the Babylonian Empire.
As impressive as that was, however, it is nothing compared to the fact that God then brought that dream to life.
Over the next 25 centuries, God shaped world events, raised kings, removed kings, influenced decisions and actions of countless men, directed the flow of resources and wealth, determined the outcomes of battles and wars. The Babylonian-Chaldean “head of gold” of the statue was indeed overtaken by the Persian breast and arms of silver, which was conquered by the Greco-Macedonian belly and thighs of brass, which was overcome by Rome, split in two legs of iron representing its capitals at Rome and Constantinople, and ending with 10 toes representing 10 kings in the modern age.
This dream depicted the greatest overview of human history in all of literature.
God had wanted the kingdom of Israel, then the kingdom of Judah, to become the dominant power in the world. But the people rebelled, so God raised up Assyria to conquer Israel, then Babylon to conquer Judah—the first in a series of Gentile empires that would dominate the world in Israel’s stead.
God has great power to forecast enormous events in great detail, to deeply involve Himself in human history, and to bring His prophecies to pass.
The Greatest Lesson We Can Learn
“That image teaches the greatest lesson mankind could possibly learn,” Mr. Flurry writes in his booklet Daniel Unlocks Revelation. What is that lesson? It is encapsulated in Daniel 4:17: “This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.” Mr. Flurry explains, “God has given man 6,000 years to rule his own way, but He still makes certain that all events are shaped by His master plan. He forces events to shape the Daniel 2 image and work out His plan—He rules in the kingdom of men today” (ibid; emphasis added throughout).
Mr. Flurry continues: “We shouldn’t be too impressed by leaders of this world. God rules them and sets up whomever He will in order to fulfill His master plan. Sometimes even the basest of men rule, because God put them there or allowed them to be there in order to fulfill His purpose. He allows all kinds of things to happen, but everything occurs in the context of His master plan. The Daniel 2 image didn’t just evolve! How did these great world-ruling kingdoms from the time of Nebuchadnezzar down to the time we now live in take shape like that image? The only way that is possible is if God shaped and molded it—to prove that He rules in the kingdom of men! … God is teaching men even as they rebel.”
That is an extraordinary package of lessons taught by history. In a world cut off from God and rebelling against Him, God is still involved and is teaching mankind, even if they don’t understand the lesson today. One day they will! “They are learning that man cannot rule himself—only God can bring men peace, prosperity, happiness and joy,” Mr. Flurry continues.
Then, notice this statement: “God gave us that Daniel 2 image to humble people and help them fulfill their potential.” What an awesome purpose! This truth should humble us. Nebuchadnezzar forgot about this great God and he later glorified himself. God responded by making his mind like that of a beast for a time (Daniel 4). He was again teaching him to be humble and who really guides world events.
“God the Father wants a family. He loves the people of this world deeply. He wants to give them life—but they won’t accept it! God knows that, for most of them, it will take a lot of correction before they’ll recognize His plan for them and accept an invitation into His Family.” That correction will come in the Great Tribulation, a time of unparalleled suffering that is about to swallow the nations. Most people will not accept God’s rule before experiencing that suffering.
Study the overview of history provided in the Bible and you will see the flow of events and the purpose behind them. You will see the hand of God in the epic movements of history and even in the quieter details. You will be inspired to recognize how all these events are leading to the grand fulfillment of God’s master plan. Soon mankind will no longer be cut off from Him. With the painful lessons learned from a history apart from God, for the first time since the Garden of Eden God will bring all men to the knowledge of the truth and lead them to repentance. The climax of human history is about to occur: when God will open up salvation to all nations!