[ 6 minutes to read ]
Just not himself[O]n March 14, 1985, Michael Jordan was 65 games into his rookie NBA season. That night they played one of the worst teams in the league and lost by nine points. He didn’t have a great game as he shot 28% from the field and and 55% from the line. He scored less than 20. One year later in his second season, Jordan had a four game stretch where he averaged about 14 points a game when he was usually getting close to 30. In his third season, he had what was possibly the worst game of his career.
On January 15, 1987, he scored 43 points against the Houston Rockets. 43 points was above his average, so how could that be his worst game? It was the game where he missed more shots than any other game he played as a pro. He missed 26 shots out of the 43 he took that night, shooting 39.5% from the floor. To compare, in his very next game he scored 47 points and shot 50% from the floor.
If you look at Jordan’s performance over his career, it’s easy to see these are some of his worst games. These were games where he was a little off, or had bad nights. It’s common for athletes to have off games where they’re just not themselves, or their performance is below their own standard average. But having an off night is not only for athletes. Musicians, singers, painters, secretaries, drivers, and more all have off nights. Even preachers have off nights where they just don’t preach as well as they normally do.
My point is not to delve into why off nights happen, or why there are times when we can’t do something as well or as easily as we normally do. My point is to pose this question: Does God ever have off nights? Are there times when God is not quite himself? Before we answer too quickly, let’s think about this question and whether we might be saying this unintentionally.
Isaac and Ishmael
The question we are considering is: Does God ever have off nights? In other words, are there ever times when God is not quite himself, or is out of character? Can God speak sometimes less truthfully, less powerfully, less authoritatively, less faithfully, or less accurately than his own perfect standard? It’s hard to take anything for granted today, but I think no professed Christian would answer affirmatively that God is sometimes less than God. However, many professed Christians do unintentionally affirm that at times.
God chose and called Abraham to separate from his own family, land, and nation because God would make a covenant with Abraham to give him a family, a new land, and to make a new nation from him that did not exist before. God continued to affirm his promises to Abraham and to progressively reveal more to him, like the fact that the promised seed would come from his own body (Genesis 15:4). Abraham and Sarah responded to that promise by using Sarah’s maid Hagar as a surrogate mother. She had a son that was from Abraham and he was named Ishmael. After a bit of a bumpy start, Abraham and Sarah lived peacefully with Hagar and Ishmael for 13 years, believing this son from Abraham to be the promised seed.
Abraham was at peace with his choices and thought the issue resolved until God appeared to him after 13 years when he was 99 years old. God told Abraham that Sarah would have a son with Abraham and he was the promised seed and heir of the covenant (Genesis 17:16, 19, 21). But what about Ishmael who was Abraham’s son and thought to be the heir for 13 years? God said he would bless Ishmael for Abraham’s sake and multiply him to make a great nation of him, though not the covenant nation of Israel he promised to make of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 17:20).
About a year later, according to God’s word, Abraham and Sarah had a son he named Isaac (Genesis 21:1-5). After a time, Sarah wanted the slave Hagar and her son Ishmael put out of the house to prevent any confusion of the inheritance God promised to Isaac (Genesis 21:10). This was very difficult for Abraham (Genesis 21:11), but God spoke to him to confirm that Hagar and Ishmael should be sent away and gave him two assurances. 1) Isaac was indeed the promised seed and the one through whom God would fulfill his covenant with Abraham (Genesis 21:12). 2) God had already spoken to Abraham concerning Ishmael and he would keep his word to bless him (Genesis 21:13).
Hagar and Ishmael were sent away with a few supplies, which were soon spent. They were in a barren desert wilderness with no resources and no help, so Hagar despaired of life and left Ishmael out of sight so she wouldn’t have to see him die (Genesis 21:14-16). However, for the second time in her life, God spoke to her and assured her Ishmael wouldn’t die because he had spoken concerning Ishmael and it wasn’t possible he would die before God’s word was fulfilled (Genesis 16:10-11; 21:18).
What was at stake in the wilderness of Beersheba? The obvious answer was Ishmael’s life because his own mother gave him up to die. However, God’s word was truly at stake, and, therefore, his faithfulness. God had spoken concerning Ishmael to both Abraham and Hagar, making promises that Ishmael would have children and descendants that would become a mighty nation. This would not happen if Ishmael died as a boy in the wilderness, obviously having no children. Ishmael’s life was on the line, but even more than this, God’s word and God’s name was on the line. Ishmael didn’t die and couldn’t die in the wilderness because of what God had spoken concerning him.
But, why was Ishmael in the wilderness in danger of dying in the first place? He was there and his life on the line because he had been put out of Abraham’s house. He was put out because Isaac was the only seed of promise and sole heir of the covenant. If we compare the promises God spoke concerning both sons of Abraham, we conclude the promises concerning Isaac were the more important. Ishmael is little noticed in the Bible record, but Isaac’s importance is throughout the scripture. His birth, life, and descendants were central and crucial to the promises God made to Abraham. So, we might say God’s word concerning Ishmael was a lesser word since the covenant was to be perpetuated through Isaac. But the point made in Genesis 21 is that God’s word concerning Ishmael was no less true, no less sure, no less faithful, no less authoritative, and no less in any way than the word spoken concerning Isaac. If God’s word spoken of Ishmael failed, then God would be less than God. In fact, he would be no God at all.
Claims of God speaking today, whether by dreams, visions, audible voice, internal voice, promptings, nudgings, impressions, thoughts, feelings, ideas inserted into the brain, or any other means, are claims of lesser words from God. Only the most extreme Charismatic heretics claim their words from the Lord are on par with Scripture, while others claiming God speaking today say it is less than Scripture. How can this be? How is it possible for God to speak, regardless of the means of the communication, in a way less authoritative, true, accurate, prophetic, or revelatory than how he spoke to Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, or Paul? If God speaks, he speaks, and it is qualitatively the same as John 14:6. It cannot be otherwise.
The Bible teaches us that God spoke in various ways to the prophets of Israel in the earlier age, but that he has spoken finally in his Son in this age (Hebrews 1:1-2). The writer of Hebrews is not saying the latter revelation is more authoritative than the former, but that the latter is the completion of the former. Hence, no more revelation is coming than what came through Jesus Christ and was written down by his Apostles, or through them. The claims many make of God speaking today are claims of lesser speaking, which can only mean that God is less than God to speak in such a way. It has to mean that God is off his game in these latter days. Anybody remember Jordan playing his last seasons with the Washington Wizards? Not the same at all.