They Knew God
They Knew God
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteous of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:18-22).
One of the modern myths which we face in our time is the idea that human history extends back for millions of years into the vast unknown, God has had very little contact with the vast majority of the human race and that it is just unreasonable to expect people to know there is a God, to know His standards and to embrace Christianity. One of the objections that Romans chapters 1 and 2effectively answers is the claim that it is unfair on the part of God to hold the entire human race as being accountable to His will. Far from being ignorant, Paul makes it clear that the human race has received tremendous evidence concerning the existence and power of God since the creation and that the sinful actions of mankind are not a manifestation of "they don’t know any better", but rather are deliberate attempts to block God out of their consciousness.
The very fact that Luke could trace back Jesus’ family tree from the First Century to Adam using only 76 names (Luke 3:23-38), proves that human history doesn’t extend back into some million year black hole. Adam and Eve knew all about God and so did their children, including the rebellious Cain (Genesis 4:1,6-15,26). Even though mankind is extremely evil prior to the flood, such evil is willful, for during this time Jesus was preaching to these people through Noah (2 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 3:18-20). Prior to this time, other prophets had existed, men like Enoch (Jude 14-15).
Post-flood: Noah, his sons and their wives certainly knew about God and we know they told their descendants all about this event, for every ancient culture had some sort of "flood story". Remember, from Noah’s three sons arose all the ancient nations (Genesis 10).Religious historians have noted that as a general rule, the nearer to their source we can trace religions, the purer we find them. In most cases a tendency to degradation and not to progressive improvement manifests itself as time goes on. The farther back you go into the religion of a culture, the nearer you will come to the concept of the one true God. In South Africa, Australia, and elsewhere, among the native tribes, traditions still linger of a Creator of all things, but His worship has been entirely laid aside in favor of lower and more evil deities. (See: "Comparative Religion", The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, the old version, pp. 691-694). In the same volume, the following comments are found: "These masters in the field of comparative religion tell us that the earliest forms of religion among primitive peoples such as the Africans, the Battacks of Sumatra, the ancient Indians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, and other people of the past were not crude and degraded, but that they were pure and high, and that in each case there was a degeneration into grosser and lower forms. In Greece, for example, Max Mueller and others have made clear that there was a pure monotheism long before the later polytheism…It follows that monotheism historically preceded polytheism and that the latter is a corruption of the former. It is impossible to explain the facts away. Taken together, they show that, as the Bible asserts, man at the very beginning of history knew the one true God. This implies a revelation of some sort, and traces of that revelation are still found in many ancient faiths" (p. 1048). The post-flood generation was eventually divided at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), for their rebellion and by the time of Abraham, mankind had once again abandoned God (Joshua 24:14).
Abraham: In calling Abraham, think of all the nations that started with a knowledge of the truth. From Abraham’s nephew Lot arose the Moabites and Ammonites, from Abraham’s son Ishmael, come the various Arabian tribes (Genesis 25:12-18), added to this the various children borne to him by Keturah (25:1-4). Abraham’s grandson Esau, was the founder of the Edomite nation.
Moses: The Exodus will end 430 years of Israelite settlement in Egypt (Exodus 12:40). Within this world superpower, there was the knowledge of the true God. The plagues will prove that the religious system of the Egyptians is completely vain and that the God of Israel is the true God. Such a lesson was impressed upon the surrounding nations as they gradually heard the news of what had happened in Egypt. Remember, ambassadors, merchants, sailors, and travelers from all the surrounding nations would come to Egypt to do business. As a result, the known world heard about God’s mighty acts (Exodus 9:16; Joshua 2:9-11).
Joshua: Added to the dramatic events of the Exodus, the additional drama of a nation disappearing into the desert and suddenly emerging some 40 years later, clearly caught the attention of world leaders like Balak (Numbers 22:3). The Israelite nation in some seven years will completely destroy every major Canaanite fortress in Palestine. Once again, remember, many other nations, from India to the east and points west would hear about all these events.
Solomon: During the time of Solomon, everyone wanted to do business with Israel, and world leaders such as the Queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom that God had given him (1 Kings 10:1-9).
The Prophets: Jonah was sent by God to preach to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, in fact the Bible is filled with God’s messengers being at the very heart of world empires. Joseph and Moses in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, and interacting with both Babylonian and Persian kings, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther among the Persians, John the Baptist and Herod, Paul before Festus, Felix, and Caesar, and of course, Jesus before Pilate.
The New Testament: Before King Agrippa, Paul noted that the events which composed the Gospel message had not happened in some obscure place, "For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner" (Acts 26:26). The following observations simply confirm the truthfulness of that statement. 1. The Roman government and the Jewish leadership had been told that the Messiah had been born(Matthew 2:1-2). 2. John the Baptist drew great crowds (Matthew 3:5), interacted with the Jewish leadership and confronted Herod about his immorality. 3. Jesus was followed and questioned by the Jewish leadership, and stood before Pilate. 4. The apostles spread the gospel into every nook and cranny of the Roman Empire (Colossians 1:23), to such an extent that even the personal bodyguards of the Emperor had heard the gospel message (Philippians 1:13). Paul makes it clear that in Rome, the capital city and heart of the Empire, the facts concerning Christianity were fully known. In addition, even the educational experts among the Greeks were informed about the true God and His Son Jesus Christ (Acts 17:18ff).
"And, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them" (Romans 1:32). "For when Gentiles who do not have the Law (of Moses) do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternatively accusing or else defending them" (Romans 2:14-15).
Even though the Law of Moses was given to Israel, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world was ignorant about right and wrong. Far from simply "not knowing any better", God makes it clear that we understand that all these nations did know better.
- Bible morality isn’t some strange, unheard of, quirky moral standard. Many writers have noted that the Code of Hammurabi and many other ancient law codes resembled in many ways the Law of Moses. The resemblance is so close that some writers mistakenly think that Moses actually copied from the Babylonian law system. The truth of the matter is that Bible morality is so "common sense", that all cultures have similar laws. Where is the culture that has abandoned all sense of morality, where stealing, rape, murder, and so on are acceptable? Bible morality is so convicting, so right, and so logical that our culture has engraved such sections of Scripture as the Ten Commandments on various governmental buildings.
In Our Own time
Besides the wonders still seen in the physical creation (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20), and which have only been intensified by such inventions as the microscope, telescope, photography and other scientific advances, consider all the "testimony" that is available to the people who live on our planet today. Just think of all the reminders as to God’s existence.
- Y2K Millennium Fever: Even though we don’t know when Jesus will come again (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3), all the hype about the end of the world with the dawn of the year 2000 has only made people more aware of the fact that the Bible does say that Jesus is one day coming back to judge mankind (Matthew 25:31; Acts 17:30-31). Even the secular media has been drawn into reporting upon this story.
- Christmas/Easter: Two of the biggest holidays not only in our culture, but across the globe are both reminders of the fact that Jesus actually lived, died and arose again. On the judgment day, if someone tries to say, "but God, I never knew", He can quickly respond, "What do you mean you never knew? You celebrated the birth of My Son (although I did not command it), every year of your life".
- Movies: Hollywood did a horrible job this year of recreating the account of Noah’s Ark, but even when truth is twisted, and garbled, still people are reminded that the event actually did happen. When Hollywood produces such movies as The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Prince of Egypt, and Ben Hur, these producers must read the Bible.
- Music: Even secular music is filled with references to God, Jesus and the Bible. This time of year we are overwhelmed with Christmas songs, but even these songs remind people that Jesus was actually born, that He was born of a virgin, that He wasn’t simply a religious leader, but rather that He is the King, Immanuel, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. In addition, how many nativity scenes have you seen? Truly, even to our society, God could say, "For even though they knew God"(Romans 1:21).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/ (503) 644-9017