IN PREVIOUS STUDIES we have consistently stressed the vanity of human endeavor; and in contrast to this must stand the all-sufficiency of God, which we would now like to examine in more detail. What do we understand by the "all-sufficiency of God?"
It is a theme seldom given the importance it deserves. We suppose that, if pressed, we would all admit that God is all-sufficient in Himself and needs no help whatever from any source outside of Himself. But how many of us have turned such an admission into a strong conviction that will govern our actions and our lives? Yet this is what God would have us all do, and what He is gradually training us all to believe. And as this belief grows, so too does the parallel conviction, namely that we, as distinct from God, are neither self-sufficient nor all-sufficient. Rather we do need a source outside of ourselves to be constantly sustaining us.
God is all-sufficient in Himself to accomplish everything that He desires. If He invites our cooperation or engages our services in the furtherance of His designs, it is by favor only, and not because we have something to offer that otherwise He would have to do without. He first puts into us what He requires from us. Thus we are tools or instruments in His hands, fashioned by Him for the use for which He requires us.
There comes a time in our lives when we are called upon to make an adjustment to our beliefs. This adjustment can be concisely stated in a few lines of verse, which are quoted simply because they make absolutely clear the meaning of the message we desire to pass on to you.
Once I esteemed myself, and proudly thought
Not merely His the method and the choice, but all the doing, too! He is not only the Architect, the Designer, but the Builder also - the Craftsman, the Potter, molding each of His creatures into a vessel to display, not its own glory, but the glory and the grace of the One Who is molding it.
This, then, is our theme - the all-sufficiency of God, and we begin by asking, "Where is the first mention of this in the Scriptures?" Where in His Word does God first reveal Himself to humanity as the All-sufficient One?
Before we try to answer this question, let us make it a little easier. In the King James (Authorized) Version, the Hebrew word that means "All-sufficient" is invariably translated "Almighty," and every time we find the word "Almighty" in the Old Testament, it is the Hebrew Shaddai, meaning All-sufficient. "I am the Almighty God," means, "I am the God Who suffices." Our question, therefore, comes down to this: "Where, in the Old Testament, do we find the first use of the word Almighty?" When we find that, we shall discover that a completely new truth is being brought to our notice.
Altogether, the word is used 48 times, but these are not spread at all evenly through the Hebrew Scriptures. In only two books does the word occur more than twice, namely Genesis where it occurs six times, and Job where significantly it occurs no less than thirty-one times. Yes, it is to Job, in all his afflictions and sufferings, that God is most often presented as the One Who is all-sufficient. Does not this teach us that afflictions and sufferings are pressed upon us in order that God, in all His sufficiency, may be fully appreciated? And that we, in all our distresses, may fully turn to Him, and like Paul may come to learn that His grace is sufficient for us? Are not all the experiences of this life granted to us in order that we may grow into a deeper appreciation of God? That like Job we may come to say, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee?" This was the culmination of Job's experience, and the result was that he came to abhor himself and repented in dust and ashes, whereupon God blessed him by giving him twice as much as he had before.
But now let us go right back to the first occurrence of the word Almighty (Shaddai). It occurs in Genesis 17:1, where God appears to Abram and says, "I am the Almighty God. Walk thou before Me, and be thou perfect." ("I am the Al-Who-Suffices. Walk before Me and become flawless" - CV).
This is a remarkable statement, especially when we realize that humanity had been on this earth well over 3,000 years before God took one of their number aside and introduced Himself for the first time as "the One Who Suffices." (This figure of over 3000 years is based on the ages of the patriarchs as given in the Septuagint Version of Genesis 5 and Genesis 11, and as carried forward into the CV).
Let us then look at some of the circumstances around the life of Abram and see why God chose this particular moment to introduce Himself to humanity in this way.
Abram, or Abraham, is one of the really great characters of the Scriptures; yet not great because of anything that he himself was able to do to achieve greatness, but great because God made him so.
He it was to whom God said, "And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, and you must become a blessing" (Gen.12:2, CV). Again, he it was of whom the Scriptures declare that he believed God, and God reckoned it to him for righteousness (Gen.15:6).
So important is this last truth that it is carried over into three separate places in the Greek Scriptures, being brought to our notice twice by Paul and once by James. Paul introduces it into both his Roman and Galatian epistles, and in each of these two cases it is made clear that it was not written just for Abraham alone, but that also, in some strange way, it has an application to others (including ourselves) if they have the same kind of faith that Abraham had.
The relevant passages are Romans 4:16-25 and Galatians 3:5-9. In Romans it is stated that "it was not written because of him [Abraham] only, but because of us also," while in Galatians it is affirmed that "those of faith are being blessed together with believing Abraham."
To see what these statements mean, we must examine some of Abraham's experiences, particularly those relating to his faith in God. We shall then learn why God reveals Himself to him as the One-Who-Suffices, and thus see how this applies to us also. So let us not hesitate to delve into the Hebrew Scriptures and see what they have to tell us about Abraham.
I could help God, His purpose to fulfill --
That He had need of me to speak His will,
Or He might lose the very ones He sought.
But through my many failures I was taught
That He is all-sufficient to instill
His thoughts in men without my puny skill --
That He, in fact, is all, and I am naught.
And in this revelation I rejoice;
A fresh perspective in my life unfolds,
As in my thinking God takes rightful place.
Not merely His the method and the choice,
But all the doing, too, as each He molds
Into a vessel to display His grace.
We find him very early in the scriptural narrative, between the eleventh and twenty-fifth chapters of the first book, Genesis. We first meet him at the age of 75, and he, dies at the age of 175. Thus, that part of his life which is portrayed in Scripture is exactly 100 years, and of that 100 years, the first 25 are undoubtedly the most momentous, as laying the foundation of all that followed.
When we are first introduced to him, he is called Abram and is living in the ancient city of Ur in Chaldea or Mesopotamia. About that time, Ur was the most magnificent city in all the world, a center of manufacture, farming and shipping in a land of immense fertility and wealth. But it was also a heathen city with many gods and goddesses. The principal deity of Ur was Sin, the moon-god, whose wife Ningal or Nina, was the one after whom the city of Nineveh was named.
Thus we have the background of Abraham's early life and upbringing, a city of wealth and prosperity allied to that which always goes with worldly fortune, namely false worship. That Abraham himself was affected by it can scarcely be in doubt, for Joshua tells us that "even Terah, the father of Abraham...served other gods" (Josh.24:2). Even after Abraham had been called away from Ur, his relatives in the east continued to worship idols, for in the time of his great-nephew Laban, we find Rachel, Laban's daughter, causing trouble by stealing and hiding her father's gods (Gen.31:30-35).
It may come as a shock to realize that the direct line of descent from Adam, which had been kept flawless up to the time of Noah (Gen.6:9), had now become contaminated by idolatry. Was there any righteous, God-fearing man in the world at this time? Might it not then have been true, as the Psalmist wrote many years afterwards, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Psa.14:1-3). This passage was later quoted by Paul in his Roman epistle as his summing up of the general sinfulness of mankind and the consequent vanity and ineffectiveness of human endeavor. Might it not have been particularly true in Abram's time?
It had earlier been said of Noah that he was a just man, flawless in his generations and that he walked with God. Alone of all humanity, he was the only one of whom this could be said at that time; it was true of none else, for all but he and his family were destroyed because of their wickedness. But what had been said of Noah could not be said of Terah, Abram's father; and if it could not be said of him, where was there a man who was not touched by idolatry?
The plain fact is that humanity, when not indwelt by the vivifying Spirit of God, soon becomes exceedingly sinful because of the domination of the flesh. "The disposition of the flesh is enmity to God," says Paul, "for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither is it, able. Now those who are in the flesh are not able to please God" (Rom.8:7,8). He is aware that good is not making its home in him, that is, in his flesh (Rom.7:18). Jeremiah tells us that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer.17:9).
The tendency of humanity is naturally toward wickedness, for death reigns over all. After the race had been in existence for more than 2,000 years (according to the Septuagint Version), and had had plenty of opportunity to prove itself, God saw that the wickedness of men was so great and the thoughts of their hearts so evil that He decided to bring the eon to an end with a deluge that would destroy all except the one family of Noah. Noah and his sons were preserved to continue the race, not because the race deserved a second chance, but because God's purpose still needed humanity as the vehicle in which His Son should come to give His life for the universe. No, far from humanity deserving a second chance, the deluge was God's judgment upon it. Here He plainly showed that all the efforts of men led only to vanity and destruction; indeed, so wicked was humanity that the preaching of Noah could make no converts. In the midst of a world of iniquity Noah was a heralder of righteousness.