Partial Revelations (Exodus 6).
I was looking up at the sky tonight. Half the sky was clear and star-studded, but half was obscured by a bank of cloud like someone had tugged a blanket over the heavens. It got me thinking: we only ever have partial revelations. Spiritually and theologically, as well as physically.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know God completely? Wouldn’t it be great if He explained absolutely everything, answered all our questions and showed us the complete picture? That’s something we can look forward to in eternity perhaps, but for now we have to make do with a partial revelation. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us, but it is only partial. It doesn’t answer every question or make everything clear.
This concept of partial revelations really crystallised in my mind after reading Exodus 6. Verse 3 seems like an insignificant aside within the great escape and redemption narrative of Exodus, but it’s actually a fascinating hint of how God’s relationship with us is a continual journey of ever-increasing revelation and intimacy. Looking back on the days of the Patriarchs in Genesis, God tells Moses:
“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them.” (Exodus 6:3)
It’d be easy to miss and not appreciate what a big step that first sentence is. Ever since the watershed moment of the burning bush God has referred to Himself as ‘the Lord’. The English for this is woefully pitiful in conveying the grace, majesty, intimacy and eternal nature of the Hebrew Yahweh. It means literally ‘I Am Who I Am’. It speaks of an eternal and unchanging nature but is also forever associated with the God who stepped into human history and redeemed His chosen people. The Hebrew for God Almighty is El Shaddai – and this is how God was referred to in Genesis. It was a title. Now suddenly He has revealed His name. It’s time to get personal because He’s about to rescue His people.
The great men of faith of Genesis only had a partial revelation of God. He showed them some aspects of His character but not all. They knew God as an almighty deity, as the one true God, as a promise-giver, as guide, as provider and as a covenant-maker. He was with them and blessed them, but they never knew His name. Did you know that God’s name isn’t ‘God’? It’s Yahweh. God is a noun; Yahweh is a personality. But God didn’t reveal this until Exodus. Now Moses is in the know, and has a glimpse of God as a personal redeemer and the rescuer of His people.
But Moses doesn’t learn everything, the revelation is still only partial. He and the Israelites will see more of God’s power and glory during the Exodus than was displayed during Genesis, from the Ten Plagues to the parting of the Red Sea to the burning cloud atop Mt. Sinai, but they don’t see it all. Through the giving of the Law they’ll learn of God’s standards and expectations and something of His immeasurable holiness, but they don’t learn it all.
Only later in the Bible does God speak through various prophets (especially Isaiah) to promise a greater rescue and a greater deliverance than that from Egypt. Thus the Messiah hoves into view on the spiritual horizon, a concept the Israelites in Egypt would not have recognised. That Messiah will not only restore God’s people but also extend God’s blessings to the Gentiles as well. We’ve had hints, but now the picture is becoming clearer.
The life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus fulfils these prophecies and demonstrates more of God’s love and nature than ever before. He brought revelation of grace, of sins forgiven, of the imminent Kingdom of God. Jesus was the ultimate expression of God, but only a limited number of people met Him or were around to see it. It took the apostles, especially Paul, to write it down and unpack this truth for the benefit of all people. Now, with the Bible in our hands, people everywhere can access God’s truth and revelation.
But it doesn’t end there. We still don’t have the full picture. Even someone with such profound spiritual insight as the apostle Paul was forced to admit that “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12). If even the man who almost single-handedly worked out New Testament theology could say this then how much more ourselves?
The greatest revelation of all – a complete no-holes-barred unveiling – will come when Jesus returns to judge the world and usher in the New Heaven and the New Earth (Revelation 21). On that day everything will be made clear, every wrong righted and every question answered. Until then we have to make do with what has been revealed so far.
That doesn’t mean that God is sneaky or begrudges us full insight. He’s not dishonest and He doesn’t keep changing His mind. There’s only ever been Plan A – it’s just that there’s several phases to it and we’re on a need-to-know basis until the latest phase is unveiled. Why? I’m not sure I know, but I believe it has to do with trusting God and remaining reliant on Him. We’d be unable and unwilling to do either if we knew it all. That’s kind of what the whole Fall was about – us trying to be like God by knowing it all and going it alone. If we knew it all, in our arrogance we’d think ourselves His equal. Such sin could never be dealt with. A perfect relationship could not exist in that scenario. So I think it is God’s love and knowledge of what’s best for us that withholds certain knowledge. He’s told us everything we need for now, enough for each step as we take it. Keep learning, step by step, keep trusting, and look forward to that day when all will be revealed.
To take away:
If God reveals your path to you bit by bit, what next step is He asking you to take?