The hand that intervenes…
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Throughout history, the providential hand of God has moved to guide His people and to fulfill His purposes in the execution of the plan of salvation. Incredible as it may seem, even the life and death of Jesus was part of that plan, as attested to by Peter in his sermon at Pentecost when he said, “Him [Jesus], being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23).
The interesting portion of this statement is that Christ’s being “taken by lawless hands, … crucified, and put to death” was done “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.”
It is doubtful that anyone living today will suffer crucifixion, although no one knows what might happen to God’s faithful during the time of trouble. However, it is undeniable that God’s hand has sometimes moved in a manner that is puzzling at the least and absolutely mysterious and even sometimes painful—mentally if not physically—at the most. It often happened in the lives of God’s faithful servants historically; it happened in Jesus’ life; it happens in our lives today.
Think of the thorough education Moses received in the courts of Egypt. “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. He received an education in the providence of God …” Although much of that education was used in shepherding the children of Israel through the wilderness, “… a large part of that education had to be unlearned, and accounted as foolishness.” Fundamentals of Christian Education, 360. Moses’ learning as well as his “unlearning” were all within God’s plan, not only His plan for Moses, but for the children of Israel as well.
Think also of Joseph’s having been sold into slavery to save God’s people and spread the truth in Egypt. “In the providence of God, even this experience was to be a blessing to him. He had learned in a few hours that which years might not otherwise have taught him.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 213.
One of the things Joseph learned in those first few hours of his “captivity,” was to have a deeper trust in the providential and protecting hand of God—a lesson that it would be well for us to learn today.
Joseph’s acknowledgment that he had learned this deeper trust is revealed by what he said as recorded in Genesis 45:4–8: “And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please come near to me.’ So they came near. Then he said: ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.’ ”
It is interesting that even after five years of famine during which Joseph, as a result of the providential moving of God’s hand in his life, was able to sustain his family in Goshen of Egypt, and not only his family but the entire nation of Egypt, his brothers still failed to recognize that God was leading throughout their experiences.
After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers expected him to exact due vengeance upon them for the cruelty of their deed, many years previously. Even though Joseph had explained to them years earlier that God’s providence had brought him to Egypt, they nevertheless expected that Joseph would extract revenge, once Jacob had died.
“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.’ So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, ‘Before your father died he commanded, saying, “Thus you shall say to Joseph: ‘I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you. Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.’ ” ’ And Joseph wept when they [the messengers] spoke to him. Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive’ ”(Genesis 50:15–20).
The witness of Daniel and the other three Hebrew worthies in the courts of Babylon provides another example of the hand of God moving to shed light in a dark world and fulfill His plan for the salvation of the human race.
In writing about God’s faithful witnesses through time, Inspiration, in remarking about Joseph in Egypt and Daniel and his fellows in Babylon, notes that “In the providence of God these men were taken captive, that they might carry to heathen nations the knowledge of the true God. They were to be representatives of God in our world. They were to make no compromise with the idolatrous nations with which they were brought in contact, but were to stand loyal to their faith, bearing as a special honor the name of worshipers of the God who created the heavens and the earth.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 153.
Another example of God’s hand moving behind the scenes to execute His will occurred when Esther was made a queen of the Medo-Persian kingdom, again through the providential moving of God’s hand to save His people.
We know the story of Haman’s rage at Mordecai because Mordecai would not bow down to Haman’s authority to acknowledge his superior position in the government of the Medo-Persian kingdom. The spurious reasoning Haman gave to the king to do away with Mordecai is recorded in Esther 3:8: “Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain.’ ”
Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in: “… their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain.”
In other words, these “certain people” keep the law of God rather than the law of man. Therefore, they should be exterminated. Inspiration tells us that the same reasoning will be used at the end of time as Satan makes one final effort to rid the earth of God’s faithful people.
We know what happened next in the story of Esther: “Misled by the false statements of Haman, Xerxes was induced to issue a decree providing for the massacre of all the Jews ‘scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces’ (Esther 3:8) of the Medo-Persian kingdom. A certain day was appointed on which the Jews were to be destroyed and their property confiscated. Little did the king realize the far-reaching results that would have accompanied the complete carrying out of this decree. Satan himself, the hidden instigator of the scheme, was trying to rid the earth of those who preserved the knowledge of the true God. …
“But the plots of the enemy were defeated by a Power that reigns among the children of men. In the providence of God, Esther, a Jewess who feared the Most High, had been made queen of the Medo-Persian kingdom. Mordecai was a near relative of hers. In their extremity they decided to appeal to Xerxes in behalf of their people. Esther was to venture into his presence as an intercessor. ‘Who knoweth,’ said Mordecai, ‘whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ (Esther 4:14, last part, KJV).” Prophets and Kings, 600, 601.
The end was that Haman was trapped in his own plot. He was the one who ended up being executed, while the object of his designs—God’s commandment-keeping people—were spared. However, the salvation of God’s people certainly was not in anyone’s thoughts when Esther was made the queen—another example of the moving of the providential hand of God.
Let’s move forward to the time of Christ. Although His entire incarnation and the events that occurred during His brief time on earth were all providential, let us focus on the final hours of that incarnation, to the time when Christ was lifted up on the cross.
In the providence of God, Pilate was moved to write an inscription in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin and place it on the cross above the head of Jesus.
“It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews’ (John 19:19). …
“A higher power than Pilate or the Jews had directed the placing of that inscription above the head of Jesus. In the providence of God it was to awaken thought, and investigation of the Scriptures. The place where Christ was crucified was near to the city. Thousands of people from all lands were then at Jerusalem, and the inscription declaring Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah would come to their notice. It was a living truth, transcribed by a hand that God had guided.” The Desire of Ages, 745, 746.
Decades after the crucifixion, God continued to thwart the unconsecrated purposes of man to accomplish His purposes. After failed attempts to silence the last surviving apostle, John, the soon-to-be Revelator, was banished to a lonely, remote, and rocky island.
“But the Lord’s hand was moving unseen in the darkness. In the providence of God, John was placed where Christ could give him a wonderful revelation of Himself and of divine truth for the enlightenment of the churches.
“In exiling John, the enemies of truth had hoped to silence forever the voice of God’s faithful witness; but on Patmos the disciple received a message, the influence of which was to continue to strengthen the church till the end of time. Though not released from the responsibility of their wrong act, those who banished John became instruments in the hands of God to carry out Heaven’s purpose; and the very effort to extinguish the light placed the truth in bold relief.” The Acts of the Apostles, 581.
Let’s move forward another 1400 years or so to the time of Martin Luther.
According to Inspiration, even after he had found and studied the Bible and had begun to discern the errors of the teachings of the Catholic church, “Luther was still a true son of the papal church and had no thought that he would ever be anything else. In the providence of God he was led to visit Rome. He pursued his journey on foot, lodging at the monasteries on the way. At a convent in Italy he was filled with wonder at the wealth, magnificence, and luxury that he witnessed. Endowed with a princely revenue, the monks dwelt in splendid apartments, attired themselves in the richest and most costly robes, and feasted at a sumptuous table. With painful misgivings Luther contrasted this scene with the self-denial and hardship of his own life. His mind was becoming perplexed.” The Great Controversy, 124.
The ultimate outcome of that providential visit was that Luther learned that neither he nor anyone else could “earn” salvation and that the just shall live—that is, be granted eternal life—by faith and faith alone.
Let us move up now another three centuries or so to relatively more modern times. The story of the tragedy that occurred when Ellen White was nine years old is a familiar one. The mental and physical anguish that she endured as the Lord was preparing her for His service is a puzzlement to us, at the least. After recurring doubt and much resistance to the obvious will of God, she received a detailed vision of the work that the Lord wanted her to do. Following that vision, she confided in her mother, who suggested that she relate her perplexity to Elder Stockman, who was preaching the Advent doctrine in Portland, Maine, at the time.
She recorded later, “I had great confidence in him, for he was a devoted servant of Christ. Upon hearing my story, he placed his hands affectionately upon my head, saying with tears in his eyes: ‘Ellen, you are only a child. Yours is a most singular experience for one of your tender age. Jesus must be preparing you for some special work.’
“He then told me that even if I were a person of mature years and thus harassed by doubt and despair, he should tell me that he knew there was hope for me, through the love of Jesus. …
“He spoke of my early misfortune, and said it was indeed a grievous one, but he bade me believe that the hand of a loving Father had not been withdrawn from me; that in the future life, when the mist that then darkened my mind had vanished, I would discern the wisdom of the providence which had seemed so cruel and mysterious. Jesus said to His disciples: ‘What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter’ (John 13:7). In the great future we should no longer see as through a glass darkly, but come face to face with the great beauties of divine love.” Life Sketches of James and Ellen G. White, 1880, 157, 158.
After the beginning work that eventually led to the establishment of the Seventh-day Adventist church, another great source of doubt occurred that resulted in a purifying shaking among the early professed second advent believers: the great disappointment of 1844.
In speaking of that disappointment, Inspiration noted: “They knew that God had led them by His unerring providence. Though, like the first disciples, they themselves had failed to understand the message which they bore, yet it had been in every respect correct. …” The hour of judgment had indeed come. “… In proclaiming it they had fulfilled the purpose of God, and their labor had not been in vain in the Lord. Begotten ‘again unto a lively hope,’ they rejoiced ‘with joy unspeakable and full of glory’ (1 Peter 1:3, 8).” The Great Controversy, 423.
There are many, many instances in the early development of the Adventist church in which the providential hand of God moved undeniably. Taking the time to review them is a great faith-builder. For an inspiring review of many instances in which God’s hand moved then, read Life Sketches of James and Ellen White. The first 250 pages or so were written by Ellen White and relate the trials and successes that led to the establishment of our church. To review each one here is beyond the scope of this article. So let us look at just one more: the providential manner in which the church’s property at Loma Linda was acquired.
In speaking of the property at Loma Linda, Inspiration wrote: “In the providence of God, this property has passed into our hands. The securing of this sanitarium, thoroughly equipped and furnished, is one of the most wonderful providences that the Lord has opened before us. It is difficult to comprehend all that this transaction means to us.” Loma Linda Messages, 129, 130.
A short review of a few of the details of this acquisition is quite inspirational.
“The large main building is furnished in an expensive manner. There are also five cottages, one having nine rooms, the others four each. In some of these, the verandas are so arranged that beds can be rolled out from the rooms. The grounds are beautifully laid out. There are concrete walks between all the buildings. These walks are bordered with flowers. There is a good orchard, and ample grounds for garden. There are many eucalyptus, pepper trees, and many other varieties of ornamental trees and shrubbery. Meetings can be held in the open air on the beautiful lawns. There is also another building that has been used as a bowling alley and billiard hall. This can be utilized as a meeting-house.” Ibid., 130.
The full story is given in more amazing and uplifting detail in the pamphlet Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 3b, entitled Letters from Ellen G. White to Sanitarium Workers in Southern California – b. This particular letter is headed simply, “The Loma Linda Sanitarium.” It is abbreviated SpTB03b and runs from pages 12–15 of that pamphlet.
A company had developed the property in the first decade of the 20th century at a cost of $140,000 in hopes of making it a sanitarium. When that effort failed, they tried to promote it as a worldly resort, but those efforts proved unsuccessful as well. Following these failed attempts, the Adventist church was able to acquire the property in 1906 for $40,000, paid out over several years. Truly the hand of God was guiding this entire situation.
Sometimes things happen that we cannot understand and are beyond our comprehension and even seem to be detrimental to our Christian walk. Be mindful of this promise from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
God’s hand moves mysteriously—sometimes in a way that pleasantly surprises, but sometimes in a way that is decidedly unpleasant. He helps the tree bear fruit both by supplying sunshine and rain, but also by an occasional pruning. Often we long for understanding that never comes. That is when we must remember the promise of Romans 8:28. Following are a couple of passages from Inspiration that give hope and courage as we deal with life’s daily challenges.
“Long have we waited for our Saviour’s return. But none the less sure is the promise. Soon we shall be in our promised home. There Jesus will lead us beside the living stream flowing from the throne of God, and will explain to us the dark providences through which He led us in order to perfect our characters.” The Review and Herald, September 3, 1903.
“The mysterious providence which permits the righteous to suffer persecution at the hand of the wicked has been a cause of great perplexity to many who are weak in faith. Some are even ready to cast away their confidence in God because He suffers the basest of men to prosper, while the best and purest are afflicted and tormented by their cruel power. How, it is asked, can One who is just and merciful, and who is also infinite in power, tolerate such injustice and oppression? This is a question with which we have nothing to do. God has given us sufficient evidence of His love, and we are not to doubt His goodness because we cannot understand the workings of His providence. Said the Saviour to His disciples, foreseeing the doubts that would press upon their souls in days of trial and darkness: ‘Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you’ (John 15:20). Jesus suffered for us more than any of His followers can be made to suffer through the cruelty of wicked men. Those who are called to endure torture and martyrdom are but following in the steps of God’s dear Son.” The Great Controversy, 47.
Describing the Loma Linda property, Ellen White wrote,
“I wish to present before our people the blessing that the Lord has placed within our reach by enabling us to obtain possession of the beautiful sanitarium property known as Loma Linda. This property lies sixty miles east of Los Angeles, on the main line of the Southern Pacific Railway. Its name, Loma Linda—beautiful hill—describes the place. Of the sixty acres comprised in the property, about thirty-five form a beautiful hill, which rises one hundred and twenty-five feet above the valley. Upon this hill the sanitarium building is situated.
“The main building is a well-planned structure of sixty-four rooms, having three stories and a basement. It is completely furnished, heated by steam, and lighted by electricity. It is surrounded with large pepper trees and other shade trees.
“About ten rods away and on the highest part of the hill there is a group of fine cottages. The central cottage has nine beautiful living rooms and two bath rooms. In the basement is a heating plant for the five cottages.
“Prettily grouped around this larger cottage are four smaller ones, having four rooms each, with bath and toilet. An interesting feature of three of these cottages is that each room has its veranda, with broad windows running to the floor, so that the beds can be wheeled right out onto the veranda, and the patients can sleep in the open air.
“Between these cottages and the main building there is a recreation building, which can be used as a gymnasium, and for class rooms and meetings.
“In all, there are ninety rooms. The buildings are furnished throughout and are ready for use.
“There is a post-office in the main building, and most of the trains stop at the railway station, about forty rods from the sanitarium.
“The seventy-six acres of hill and valley land is well cultivated, and will furnish much fruit and many vegetables for the institution. Fifteen acres of the valley land is in alfalfa hay. Eight acres of the hill are in apricots, plums, and almonds. Ten acres are in good bearing orange orchard. Many acres of land round the cottages and the main building are laid out in lawns, drives, and walks.
“There are horses and carriages, cows and poultry, farming implements and wagons. The buildings and grounds are abundantly supplied with excellent water.
“This property is now in our possession. It cost the company from whom we purchased it about $140,000. They erected the buildings, and ran the place for a time as a sanitarium. Then they tried to operate it as a tourist hotel. But this plan did not succeed, and they decided to sell. It was closed last April, and as the stockholders became more anxious to sell, it was offered to us for $40,000, and for this amount our brethren have purchased it.” Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 3b, 13.
All Bible quotes New King James unless otherwise noted.
John R. Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.