The Creator’s relationship with Israel and the Church


This is Part 3 of a three-part series. See Part 1: David the Young-Earth Creationist and Part 2: Praising the Creator in the Psalms.

commons.wikimedia.org Israelites-leaving-Egypt

As we saw in Parts 1 and 2, Israel’s understanding of Yahweh as the Creator of the universe was foundational for their understanding of who He is and fundamental to how they worshipped Him, and this is the case even when explicit creation references are not present. But it is also important for how they saw their covenant relationship with Him.

Israel’s worship of Yahweh cannot be understood apart from the special covenant relationship He initiated with them. Yahweh was not simply the Creator; He was their God. This was not because Israel was superior to any other nation (in fact, other nations seem to have displayed a lot more loyalty toward their false gods than Israel did to their true God!). Rather, it was simply God’s choice to use them as the instruments through which He would work salvation by bringing about the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

There were many benefits to Israel’s special relationship to the Creator, and the Psalmists emphasize this.

The Exodus

The paradigmatic example of the Creator’s special care for Israel was the Exodus. The Creator showed His special care for Israel by miraculously defeating Egypt and their gods. Each of the plagues was a supernatural miracle to crush and humiliate Egypt’s gods, culminating with Pharaoh himself, who was thought to be a god. Psalm 78 is the longest Exodus psalm, lamenting the fact that Israel has forgotten the mighty works of Yahweh and so have turned away from Him:

They did not remember his power
or the day when he redeemed them from the foe,
when he performed his signs in Egypt
and his marvels in Zoan.
He turned their rivers to blood,
so that they could not drink of their streams (78:42–44).

Each of the plagues was a miraculous and physical display of superiority over an Egyptian god. The Nile was a critically-important source of water, and their harvest cycle depended on the flooding of the Nile. “The Egyptians personified and deified the river Nile as the god Hapi, to whom offerings were made at the time of inundation. The flooding itself was regarded as a manifestation of the god Osiris.”1 It is also notable that the plague was blood in the river in which the Jewish baby boys were killed; so it may have also been a form of retribution for the great sin which Pharaoh perpetrated against the Jewish people.

He sent among them swarms of flies,
which devoured them,
and frogs which destroyed them (78:45).

The psalmist does not stick to the narrative order of the plagues: in the Exodus narrative, the plague of frogs is the second plague. This shows one of the important differences between poetry, which can be arranged thematically, and narrative, which follows the order of events. “It is possible that this plague, like the first one, was regarded as a judgment on Egyptian polytheism, for a frog-headed goddess named Heqt was the consort of the god Khnum, who was credited with having fashioned man out of clay. She was associated with fertility and was thought to assist women at childbirth. Hence, the plague may have been taken as retribution for the decree ordering the midwives to kill the newborn males at birth.”2

The psalmist goes on to the plague of flies. The Septuagint and Philo identify the flies specifically as dog flies, bloodsucking insects. These normally infest cattle, but the plague is directed against Pharaoh’s servants and the people of Egypt. However, the land was also said to be ruined. Uatchit was a fly god who may have been targeted.3

He gave their crops to the destroying locust
and the fruit of their labor to the locust (78:46).

The locust was a feared pest who could destroy crops and cause famines. Today we have pesticides to control insects, but in that day, the locust plague would have been not only a severe economic hardship to the entire country of Egypt but resulted in death. And again, Egypt’s gods were unable to prevent this plague.

He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamores with frost.
He gave over their cattle to the hail
and their flocks to thunderbolts (78:47–48).

The hail might have been targeted at the Egyptian god Set, who was thought to be manifested in storms.4 Frost is not mentioned in the Exodus account, but may have been chosen as an appropriate parallel to hail.

He let loose on them his burning anger,
wrath, indignation, and distress,
a company of destroying angels.
He made a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death,
but gave their lives over to the plague.
He struck down every firstborn in Egypt,
the firstfruits of their strength in the tent of Ham (78:48–51).

The death of the firstborn was a direct strike against the deity of Pharaoh, and perhaps also Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead. 5

Then he led out his people like sheep
and guided them in the wilderness like a flock (78:52; see also 105:26–38).

Yahweh was not randomly picking a fight with the Egyptian pantheon; He was specifically acting in behalf of His people, to free them from Egypt. This supernatural care extended throughout their entire time wandering in the wilderness.

The parting of the Red Sea

Because Yahweh is Creator, He alone is free to do miracles that affect the natural world. God worked many and one of the greatest examples of this protection is when He parted the Red Sea so Israel could cross on dry land, but drowned the Egyptian army when they attempted to follow (see also Psalm 106:7–12).

In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all the night with a fiery light.
He split rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock
and caused waters to flow down like rivers (78:12–16).

He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid,
but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
And he brought them to his holy land,
to the mountain which his right hand had won.
He drove out nations before them;
he apportioned them for a possession
and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents (78:53–55).

Some try to connect the parting of the Red Sea to a natural phenomenon where winds would create a temporary land bridge in the Red Sea. However, there is no way that a purely natural phenomenon would open up a corridor wide enough that the entire Israelite nation could cross overnight on dry land. And the Scriptures present it as one of the greatest miracles Yahweh did on behalf of His people Israel, so much so that He repeated it in crossing the Jordan river on dry land for the next generation which entered into the land.

Psalm 136 explicitly connects this miracle to God’s work in creation:

Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever (136:1–3).

The psalm begins with a call to give thanks to Yahweh for His miraculous acts of protection and asserts His superiority over all other gods and earthly authorities. And the refrain that will be repeated throughout the Psalm: “for his steadfast love endures forever”, points to the fact that God is not a malevolent god, or a god who might stop loving His people and change His mind, but a God whose love is unchanging. And the psalmist will go on to recount specific examples of God’s acts of creation and His love to His chosen people, Israel.

to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever (136:4–9);

This Psalm continues the exhortation to ‘Give thanks’. So we should read “[Give thanks] to him who alone does wonders”, and so on. Every aspect of God’s creative work deserves our praise and thanks, because we all benefit from it. And as with the psalms we looked at in Part 1, the psalmist is clearly drawing his language from the Genesis account of creation, though he is free to present it in poetic form.

to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures forever (136:10–15);

It is significant that the psalmist transitions directly from creation to God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel in the Exodus, because it shows that the psalmist believes that Genesis is history, just as much as he would view the Exodus as historical.

There are many other psalms that recount God’s mighty works in the Exodus and conquest of Canaan (see 44:1–3, 66:5–7; 68:7–10), and each time, even if it isn’t brought out explicitly, the reason God was able to give Israel victory over their enemies and settle them in the land is that He is the Creator who is more powerful than any of the idolatrous Canaanite gods.

Yahweh and Israel’s King

When God gave Israel a king, he was supposed to enforce God’s law in Israel, and have a special relationship with Him. Unfortunately, many of the kings turned to idolatry and trusted in powerful political allies rather than in Yahweh. But David was called “a man after God’s own heart”, despite his many failings, and his Psalms show the special relationship that the king had with Yahweh.

Psalm 2, speaking of a king in David’s dynasty, states:

“Yahweh said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potters vessel” (2:7–9).

Yahweh claims the absolute ability to give the Davidic king what He promises. Again, this sovereign authority only makes sense if Yahweh is the Creator, and Baal, Moloch, etc, are not. “Since God is the Ruler of the world, he authorizes the Davidic king to extend his kingdom to ‘the ends of the earth.’”6

David’s psalms are full of expressions of his love and trust for Yahweh. Even in his lamenting psalms, he expresses hope that the all-powerful Creator Yahweh will help and restore him.

Jesus, the son of David

The purpose of Yahweh’s relationship with David was to bring a Davidic king who would establish a universal rule. David himself wrote in Psalm 110:

Yahweh says to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Yahweh sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
your youth will be yours.
Yahweh has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

There are similarities with Psalm 2, but this is more clearly speaking of a messianic figure. This is because David says, “Yahweh says to my Lord”. David as the king of Israel had no human Lord; he could have only been referring to God.

In fact, Jesus argued that this pointed to the divine identity of the Messiah, because that is the only way that David could call his son ‘Lord’. And this single passage is applied to Jesus more often in the New Testament than any other (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 20, Acts 2, Hebrews 1).

Worshipping Jesus the Creator

The Psalms were the hymnbook of the New Testament, so it should not surprise us that the few examples of hymns from the New Testament era we have resemble the Psalms in the terms they use to refer to Jesus.

In a few places, it is possible that Paul was quoting from or referring to hymns or early creedal statements in his letters. One of these instances is in Colossians 1:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:15–19).

This is a prime example of the high Christology of the early church, because Paul is attributing exactly the same things to Jesus that the Psalms attribute to Yahweh. When Paul calls Jesus “the firstborn of all creation” he isn’t saying that Jesus was the first created being; he is rather saying that Jesus has the authority of a firstborn son over creation. In fact, Paul goes on to say “by him all things were created”—a statement that would make no sense if Jesus Himself were a created being. The Bible never attributes creation to anyone but God. So this is a strong statement of Jesus’ deity. Not only is Jesus the Creator, but He is also the Sustainer of creation—“in him all things hold together”.

Jesus’ status as the creator and the firstborn of all creation is directly tied to His relationship to the Church. Just as He created all things “in heaven and on earth”, through Him the Father was pleased “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven”. Jesus’ role in creation is linked directly to His role in salvation, just as Yahweh’s role in creation is linked to His role in the salvation of Israel in the Psalms.

Just as significantly, heavenly worship is depicted as centering on God’s role as Creator:

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

So even in heavenly worship, the fact that God is Creator is a key reason He is worshipped.

Worshipping the Creator

Both the Old Testament and New Testament present a clear doctrine of God as the Creator of the world, and the entire rest of Scripture affirms the account in the first chapters of Genesis. This is not only important as a matter of doctrinal orthodoxy, but even as a matter of correct worship. If all the biblical worship we see in Scripture centers around God as the Creator and the Son, who became incarnate in the Person of Jesus, as the agent of that creation, can we worship God correctly or fully without a correct understanding of creation?

The more we delve into what Scripture teaches, the more we see that a correct view of creation is absolutely foundational to our understanding of who God is, what He has done in the world, and why Jesus is uniquely qualified to be our Saviour. And as Christians who love and follow Jesus, we should want to have the fullest, most accurate knowledge of what Scripture reveals about His work.

However, the doctrine of creation emphasized in the Old and New Testaments is not only a matter of intellectual knowledge; it should be the foundation of our worship. It should inform our prayers to and our praise of the Creator, just as it did for David, Israel and the early church.

Published: 31 March 2016

References and notes

  1. Sarna, N.M., Exodus, JPS Torah Commentary, p. 39, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1991. Return to text
  2. Sarna, N.M., ref. 1, p. 39. Return to text
  3. The 10 Plagues—Jehovah versus the gods of Egypt, accessed 18 January 2016, biblecharts.org. Return to text
  4. Biblical Archaeology Society Staff, Exodus in the Bible and Egyptian Plagues, 1 March 2015, biblicalarchaeology.org. Return to text
  5. Ref. 4. Return to text
  6. VanGemeren, W.A., Psalms, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 70, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1991. Return to text

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