Beliefs of our Fathers: God (Chapter 1)
November 1, 2018
This continues a study on the beliefs of our forefathers, based largely on the Dordrecht Confession of Faith from 1632. This section tells about theology, or the study of God.
To read other chapters in this series on the Beliefs of our Forefathers, click below:
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things. (1 Cor. 8:5–6)
I am the LORD and there is none else, there is no God beside me (Isaiah 45:5).
I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images (Isaiah 42:8).
Have you ever tried to describe God to someone? God is so far beyond description that our human language seems inadequate to give a proper portrayal of Him, yet He has given us a Book in which He describes Himself in a way that we can comprehend and come to know Him, the high and holy God.
Some see God as the Almighty Judge—harsh, almost slow to forgive, and quick to administer punishment to all who disobey the rules. Others see Him as the all-inclusive God of love—tenderhearted, slow to anger, and quick to forgive. Is it possible that both are true?
We often form our viewpoint of God from those who preach the Word of God to us. Even though they mean well and their motive is right, they tend to portray God according to their own thoughts. The blending of God’s judgment and grace is an age-old battle in Christendom. Those who dwell on God’s holiness vs. man’s sinfulness will focus on man’s behavior—continually judging and warning people of God’s certain punishment. On the other hand, those who dwell on God’s love and forgiveness will claim that God could never condemn anyone to an eternal punishment—focusing on man’s efforts in spite of his continued falling into sin.
Both views are misleading. Those who hold to only one side have swerved away from the center of God’s teachings because they have failed to thoroughly study God’s Word with a teachable heart. If we work to balance judgment and love and carefully and consistently study the Scriptures, we are able to come to a right understanding of who God is and realize that He makes it possible for us to know Him in a very personal way.
What the Anabaptists Teach
The Dordrecht Confession of Faith does not have a specific section on who God is, but it does give us an idea of what the early Anabaptists believed about God.
“God is a rewarder of them that seek Him . . . eternal, almighty, and incomprehensible God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” (Hebrews 11:6; Genesis 17:1; 1 John 5:7). He is the only God, “before whom no God was made or existed nor shall exist after Him: for from Him, through Him, and in Him, are all things.” He is eternal, receiving “praise and honor forever and ever” (Romans 11:36). He is a creative and powerful God. He “created, made, and prepared, heaven and earth, and the sea and all that in them is” (Acts 14:15). He is all knowing. “He still governs and upholds the same [the universe] . . . through His wisdom, might, and the word of His power.” He created all things good and upright, according to His pleasure; thus, He is righteous and holy (Genesis 1–2).
As a holy God, He does not tolerate sin, but judges man for his sin. Man’s disobedience “brought upon themselves the wrath of God, and condemnation” (Romans 5:12, 18).
God is loving and kind. God was “not willing to cast them off entirely, or to let them be forever lost.” He provided a means of restoration and reconciliation (making peace) for the human race. He is a merciful and gracious God (1 Peter 1:19–20; 1 John 2:1).
God is faithful; He kept his promise for the coming Messiah (John 4:25).
God wants to have “unity and fellowship” with mankind. He is a personable God (Acts 2:42, 46).
God is a living God—the giver of life; He will raise up the dead at the last day. God is a judgmental God; He will judge the works of man in the last day (Matthew 22:30–32; John 5:28; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 15; Revelation 20:12).
The Apostles’ Creed also attests to the belief in an all-powerful Creator God who is the Trinity, the eternal Judge, and a forgiving God.
A more detailed description of God is found in the Second Confession of Faith, drawn up in Amsterdam in 1630 and published in the Martyrs Mirror. It states:
“We believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth, that there is one only, eternal, incomprehensible [not able to be fully understood], spiritual Being, which, in Scripture, is called God; to whom alone is ascribed [credited] omnipotence [all-powerful], mercy, righteousness, perfection, wisdom, all goodness, and omniscience [all-knowing], and who is called a fountain of life, and the source of all good, the Creator of all things; and the Preserver of the same; who in the Old Testament bears various appellations [titles]—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God Schadai [Shaddai], the God Jehovah, the God of Israel, I am that I am, the Alpha and Omega, etc.; but who in the New Testament is called by three distinct names—God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, whom we confess to differ thus far, namely, that the Father, as far as He is Father, is another than the Son; and the Son, as far as He is Son, is another than the Father, and the Holy Ghost, as far as He is a true Holy Ghost, is another than the Father and the Son, and that they, although differing in name, are nevertheless in their divine nature and attributes, one only, undivided God, according to the testimony of the apostle: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one (1 John 5:7).”
What the Bible Teaches
Many people say they worship God— Mormons, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Amish, Mennonites, Muslims, Catholics, Native Americans, etc.—but do they all worship the same God? Since we have chosen to believe that the God of the Holy Bible is the one true God, we need to know how to answer this question. Many religious people base their knowledge of God only on their own imagination of what they think God should be. Let’s take a look at how God describes Himself in the Scriptures.
Our first introduction to God is in Genesis 1:1: In the beginning God. In the Hebrew language, the word for God is Elohim, which can be a general term for things or beings that are worshipped. In Genesis 2:4, God introduces Himself as LORD God. The English word “LORD,” in all capital letters, stands for the Hebrew word Yahweh, or Jehovah. Jehovah was the only God that existed in Genesis 1:1, and He is the only God existing today.
The word Elohim is plural, meaning more than one. If God is the only God, then why would He use a plural word for Himself, as He did in Genesis 1:26? Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. As we read the Bible, we see that God is three persons in one God—a Trinity made up of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit. They are usually mentioned separately throughout the Old Testament, but are often mentioned together in the New Testament, as in Matthew 28:19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. They are equal in their attributes (qualities), but different in their functions (what they do). For example, God the Father created the universe by His will (Genesis 1), through His Son (John 1:3), and by the power of His Spirit (Genesis 1:2). We do not need to understand it to believe it. God does not lie (Titus 1:2).
Because God is so great and mighty, we find it difficult to describe Him in only a few words. In the Old Testament, however, as the Jewish people had needs, God provided for those needs and then introduced Himself by the name that expressed His quality that was shown in that provision. In this way, the people came to know God.
As we learn His names, we can know Him, too. He helped us by describing Himself in this way throughout the Bible. Although most of the names of God are translated into English, we will also look at the Hebrew names, remembering that the Hebrew word El is the singular form of Elohim, meaning “God the Father.”
In Genesis 21:33, Abraham called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God. The Hebrew word is El-Olam, meaning Jehovah God is eternal. The same word is used in Psalm 90:2 where we read, Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. He has no beginning, nor will He have an end.
When God was sending Moses to Pharaoh to bring His people out of Egypt, Moses wanted to know who he should say sent him. God told Moses, I AM THAT I AM: Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel. I AM hath sent me unto you (Exodus 3:14). This name of God comes from the Hebrew word hayah, which means “exists.” In the statement to Moses, He is saying He wants to be known as the “God who is the one God.” The Egyptians had many gods, so God was telling them that He was the only God. God does not need anyone or anything to exist, and He is independent of anyone else’s power and knowledge.
In Romans 11:33–34 we read, O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? God is omniscient, which means He is all-knowing. All knowledge, whether ancient or modern, comes from God, and it is man who uses it for either good or evil. David understood the extent of God’s knowledge when he said:
O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Thou compassest [takes care of] my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. (Psalm 139:1-6)
As Abram returned from the battle of the kings in Genesis 14, Melchizedek, a priest of the most high God, came out to meet him, and he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand (Genesis 14:19-20). Abram went out with only 318 of his servants and defeated the kings who had taken Lot captive. This name of God, the most high God, comes from the Hebrew word Elyon. It pictures God as king over all. He rules the earth and the universe from heaven. He is sovereign, the highest authority, and the supreme ruler. God has every right to rule over us and tell us how to live and act, for He created us.
And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect (Genesis 17:1). The Hebrew name El-Shaddai is translated as the all-sufficient, the all-powerful, and the all-mighty God. God appeared to Abram in order to make a covenant with him, and He promised to make him a father of many nations. Considering his age, Abram knew this feat would take God Almighty to accomplish it. Later, God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them (Exodus 6:3).
Name by name, God was making Himself known to the Israelites. The writer of Psalm 91 said, He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1). No one, not even Satan, is more powerful than God. He created the universe out of nothing, simply by His spoken word. He is all-powerful and all-mighty. Many of us strive to live as self-sufficiently as we can because we know others will fail us, but we were not made to live independently. We were created to depend on El-Shaddai for all our needs.
Ezekiel described the city of Jerusalem at the end of his book. He told where the tribes were to be located, where the borders were, and where the suburbs were. He gave measurements of each side and labeled the gates by the tribes. In the end, he said it was round about eighteen thousand measures: and the name of the city from that day shall be, The LORD is there, or Jehovah-shamah (Ezekiel 48:35). He is omnipresent—in all places at the same time. Psalm 139:7 says, Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? Jeremiah 23:24 says, Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? We are never alone. There is nowhere we can go without God being there.
Neither are we ever out of range of God’s seeing eye. In Genesis, when Hagar fled from Sarai, she hid by a fountain in the wilderness, but God found her. Even in her distress, Hagar called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? (Genesis 16:13). This God who sees is El-Roi, a name that is given to help us understand that He sees everything. This fact can be either comforting or daunting, depending on our relationship with Him.
Malachi 3:6 gives us another characteristic that can comfort us. It says, I am the LORD, I change not. Another word for this is “immutable.” If God the Father never changes, neither does His Son nor His Spirit. Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. Thus, the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament. His law still remains the standard of His perfection, but God has now entered into a New Covenant with us through His Son. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises (Hebrews 8:6).
Yes, God does change His mind at times, depending on our response to Him. For example, He said that the people of Nineveh had forty days until their destruction. Then, because they repented, He changed His mind. And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. . . . And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not (Jonah 3:4–5, 10). God may sometimes change His mind, but His character, the way He is, never changes.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The LORD Our Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5–6). This is Jehovah Tsidkenu. At the time of this prophecy, the kingdom of Judah was about to fall because of their idolatry, oppression, and violence. This name means that God will always do what is right.
Psalm 48:10 says, According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness. God is right all the time. He is never wrong. His holiness demands perfection from His creation. When His created ones disobeyed His one command, His holiness could not tolerate their error. To tolerate sin, any sin, and not separate it from Himself would only stain His holiness. Because of His righteousness, God had to judge Israel and Judah. We would not be loving parents if we allowed our children to cheat, lie, and steal, because we would only be training them to live lives of sin. Likewise, it is God’s love and righteousness that made Him judge and punish sin.
When David went to fight Goliath, he was much smaller than Goliath and wore no armor. Goliath made fun of David. Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied (1 Samuel 17:45). David trusted in the armies of God. This LORD of hosts was Jehovah-Sabaoth—the Lord of hosts.
Who is the King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory (Psalm 24:10). David was a warrior king, and he depended on the LORD of hosts to fight for him and protect him.
Even with all this, if this was all that we knew of God, we would be a people most miserable. Many people have spent their whole lives trying to please God with their sacrificial living in order to gain His favor. These people have failed to notice that Jeremiah 23:6 says, The LORD Our Righteousness.
Why would we need His righteousness? Aren’t we acceptable people in spite of our sin as long as we regularly ask forgiveness for our sins? Paul quoted the Old Testament in his letter to the Romans. He said, There is none righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10). All of us are condemned to eternal punishment unless we are clothed in God’s righteousness, like Abraham. Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. . . . His faith is counted for righteousness (Romans 4:3, 5). God chooses to make us right with Him by faith in His Son, even though there is nothing in us to offer to God (Romans 3:22). We must be rightly clothed to come into His presence. I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).
Exodus 17:15 tells us that Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi. This name means the LORD is my banner, or the LORD is conqueror. He is a God of war. He goes to battle against our enemies and against sin, Satan, and eternal death. Through God the Son, this victory was won at the cross. First Corinthians 15:57 says, But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has set us free from the power of sin, the control of Satan, and eternal punishment in hell, and He will continue to defend us to the end. He is our Banner, our Conqueror.
Moses told the people that if they would hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God and do all that He commanded them, He would keep the Egyptian diseases from them, because I am the LORD that healeth thee (Exodus 15:26). He was Jehovah-Rapha. Just as God chose to heal the Israelites from their snakebites by faith, He has chosen to heal our hearts from Satan’s bite by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. John tells us that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:14–15). Jehovah-Rapha is not only the God who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases, but He also healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds (Psalm 103:3; 147:3).
In Genesis 22, we find the account of the time God told Abraham to offer up his son Isaac. They traveled to Mt. Moriah, and when he was about to slay his son, God stopped him. Then Abraham saw a ram in the brush, and he offered it to God. Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen (Genesis 22:14). This name is translated The Lord Who Will See To It. In other words, He will see when we have a need and He will provide for us, so the name has come to mean the LORD will provide. God provided water, manna, and quail for the Israelites in the desert. He provided bread and meat for Elijah when he was hiding, and Jesus provided wine at the wedding and bread and fish for the multitude. But the loving Judge knew that mankind could never meet His standard of perfection that would enable him to renew a relationship with his Creator. Instead, He provided not only His own righteousness in place of man’s, but also His own good works to be done through man by God the Spirit. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8–10).
One of the greatest qualities of God is that He is love. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. . . . Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [payment] for our sins (1 John 4:8, 10). Jeremiah tells us that God said, I have loved thee with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). How could anything be better than that?
Within the first three commandments of Exodus 20, God declared that He is the only true God, and we are commanded to worship no other god but Him. Then in the New Testament, He stated that the greatest commandment is Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind (Matthew 22:37). Our obedience should be born out of our love for God, not out of duty to a set of rules. Without love, our obedience is for nothing. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4:20). First Corinthians 13:4–7 gives us a picture of this love:
Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth [boasts] not itself, is not puffed up [proud], doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
In addition to being a God of love, God is faithful. Lamentations 3:22–23 says, It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. God is a faithful God. Even though God may change His earthly plans for us depending on our response to Him, He will always keep His covenantal promises. He has always done what He said He will do, and He can be trusted to keep His word. Long ago, Moses told us, Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9). In Revelation, John says, I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war (Revelation 19:11).
In this brief overview of God’s names, we have learned that God is harsh toward those who sin, but incredibly loving, merciful, and gracious toward those who fear Him. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). It should make us run to Him, not away from Him. To fear God is to honor and love Him because of who He is. Our respect and love for God brings glory to His name, and He will only reveal Himself to those who love Him enough to seek Him.
I hope the names of God encourage you to study more about Him through the Scriptures. God desires to communicate with you through His written Word. Why not dedicate your life to increase your knowledge of Him? Over and over in the Bible, God says to increase your learning of Him, for only fools hate knowledge (for example, see Proverbs 1:5, 29).
Holy Father in heaven, as You tell us in Jeremiah 9:23–24, let us not be like the wise man who glories in his wisdom. Neither let us be like the mighty man who glories in his might, nor like the rich man who glories in his riches; but if we are going to glory in anything, let us glory in the fact that we understand and know You, that You are the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth, for we were created to bring glory to Your name.
Do your beliefs line up with our Anabaptist forefathers?
In this 160-page book, What Do the Amish Believe?, nine authors took the time to go back and study the original beliefs of our forefathers and compare what they believed to what many of us believe today.
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To read other chapters in this series on the Beliefs of our Forefathers, click below:
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