Why Does the God of the Bible Hide Himself?

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The question “Why does God hide Himself?” is asked at times, not only by the atheist or agnostic seeking to cast doubt on God’s existence, but also by believers seeking a personal experience of God. It is therefore related to further questions. The doubter or skeptic may ask, “Is there a God?” or “If God exists, how can we know that He exists, and why doesn’t He reveal Himself more clearly?” The anxious seeker may ask, “Is God in control of the universe?” and “Is God concerned about my life and problems?” In times of trouble many wonder if God is there and if He cares. And finally the doubter, seeker, and follower alike may ask, “How can I know God?”

A biblical perspective on God’s hiddenness encourages us not to become overly anxious. God does, in fact, reveal Himself but perhaps not in the way some demand. In one sense God is indeed hidden because He is Spirit and cannot be seen physically (Jn 4:24). The demand for certain types of physical evidence of God will leave us wanting, and may be misplaced, as it diminishes the need for faith. Further, God may deliberately hide Himself in order to expose people’s hearts, drawing closer those who believe, while turning away from those who turn from Him (Dt 31:17; Is 59:2).

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Yet the Bible encourages us with the promise that if we seek God faithfully, we will find Him (Jr 29:13). While God is hidden in some sense, yet He is knowable, so we may ask God to show Himself to us (Pr 8:17; Jr 29:13; Mt 7:7–8). We may also look for and acknowledge the ways that God has already chosen to reveal Himself. First, God has revealed Himself to us in His Word (Ex 3:14; Heb 1:1; cp. Lk 24:27). Second, God has revealed Himself decisively in His Son, Jesus Christ (Jn 1:1, 14; 14:8–9; Col 2:9; Heb 1:1–3). Third, God has revealed Himself and His power through creation (Ps 19:1–2; Rm 1:20). Fourth, God reveals Himself through the power and the indwelling of His Spirit (Jn 14:16–17; 1 Jn 5:6–12). Finally, God reveals Himself through the witness of believers (Acts 1:8; 2:1–4; 1 Jn 1:1–4).

Judges 13:22 Despite seeing God (“the Angel of the Lord”), Samson’s parents did not die; God allowed them to live in order to produce and raise a special child who would “begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines” (v. 5). On the Angel of the Lord, see notes on Jos 5:13–15; Jdg 2:1; 6:22–23.

Judges 13:24 God blessed the young Samson, though when grown he failed to live a righteous life. God’s blessing of an individual is based on His grace, as suits His purposes, and is not a direct consequence of the individual’s behavior. He can bless anyone at any time, irrespective of a person’s actions. However, God’s blessing of Samson appears to be limited to his earlier years; it is not mentioned as being extended to him later on, when he committed the various sins ascribed to him.

Judges 14:1–4 Did the Lord approve of Samson’s marriage to the Philistine woman of Timnah? Samson’s desire to marry “was from the Lord,” the text indicates, despite the fact that He had expressly forbidden His people to intermarry with the other inhabitants of Canaan because of their false religions (Ex 34:12–16; Dt 7:1–5). Scripture suggests that God can turn human wrongdoing to his praise (Ps 76:10), and to a degree Samson’s career illustrates of this truth. To the very end of his life (Jdg 16:28), he consistently acted on the basis his own physical desires, with little regard for what the Lord wanted. Scripture does not condemn attraction to a beautiful person of the opposite sex under normal conditions (Gn 12:11, 14; 26:7; 29:17–18; Dt 21:10–13). But if that person is already married (2 Sm 11:2) or, as with the Philistine woman, that person does not serve the one true God (2 Co 6:14), such attraction must be resisted.

Judges 14:5–6 Under conditions of extreme anxiety or terror, people have been known to exhibit what might be called superhuman strength (e.g., being able to lift an automobile off an injured person). Samson may have been terrified by the lion, but the passage implies he experienced more than a rush of adrenaline; the Lord empowered him to overcome the attacking animal.

Selective Skepticism When It Comes to God and the Bible

Judges 14:12–13 Just because God used Samson’s desires and actions to accomplish His ends did not mean He approved of all Samson’s actions, including his “gambling” over the Philistine garments. The casting of lots to determine the will of God in a given matter (Jos 18:6–10; Pr 16:33) is not gambling in the usual sense; no exchange of money or items of value is involved. The lot was cast “before the Lord” to determine the right course of action in situations not covered by scriptural guidelines or where human wisdom lacked sufficient insight. There is no record of the casting of lots for such a purpose after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to indwell the people of God. Biblical references to the casting of lots for one’s personal gain (Job 6:27; Ps 22:18; Jl 3:3; Nah 3:10; Mt 27:35) present the practice in a less than positive light.

Judges 14:19 The Philistines Samson slew in a seemingly wanton slaughter had already been condemned to death by God (Ex 23:31–32; Dt 7:1–2). Samson was simply God’s enforcer of justice, apparently without his even realizing it (Jdg 15:3; see note on 5:1).

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Judges 15:1–2 That a father would give away and take back his daughters at whim (14:20) does not align itself with today’s widely accepted sense of justice. Samson’s reactions reveal he, too, regarded his father-in-law’s actions as unjust. The narrator records the father’s actions without approving them. But the father’s responsibility for arranging his daughter’s marriage did not, from the biblical viewpoint, imply a degradation of the status of women (1:11–15).

Judges 15:3–8 Whatever Samson did, he did it in a big way. He killed 30 men to get their clothes, traveling 50 miles round trip to do so (14:19). He used 300 foxes to burn the Philistine fields and vineyards (15:4–5). He overwhelmed the Philistines with a great slaughter (v. 8). He killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (v. 15). But his career is, in general, an example of the squandering of God’s endowment of strength on self-centered pursuits.

Skepticism, Ambiguity, and Uncertainty Versus Ascertained Certainty and Faith

Judges 15:10 On the coming of the Spirit of the Lord upon a person, see note on 3:10.

Judges 15:19 God may have miraculously created water here, or He may have used a naturally occurring water source to provide for Samson.

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Judges 16:1 The narrative does not imply that Samson was moved by the Spirit of the Lord in the action recorded here. Clearly, he was not, for God expressly condemns prostitution (Pr 7:24–27; 1 Co 6:15–20; cp. Jdg 3:10; 11:29–31).

Judges 16:3 The author did not record Samson’s motivation for ripping out the gates of the city and carrying them 40 miles from Gaza to Hebron. Neither did he mention the Lord in connection with this incident, suggesting that Samson acted on his own initiative.

Judges 16:6–20 Samson had numerous failed interpersonal relationships because he paid no attention to God’s guidelines, especially those involving the opposite sex. Samson chose intimate relations with unbelievers (14:3) or with those to whom he was not married (16:1). He also lied and deceived (16:7, 11, 13).

Judges 16:17–20 Samson’s strength came from the Lord, not from his hair. He was in a covenant relationship with the Lord based on his Nazirite vow (13:7). Despite his sins he, up to this point, had apparently not broken the requirements of that vow (Nm 6:1–21). By allowing his hair to be cut Samson disregarded his vow and thus severed his covenant with God. As a consequence, God finally withdrew his superhuman strength.

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Judges 16:27–30 Ancient Philistine temples were of two types. One was a closed building which only a select few were permitted to enter. The other was a significantly larger building with an open center courtyard; people gathered on the roof could observe the worship practices being conducted. An example of such an open-style temple was excavated at Tel Beth Shean (similar temples were found at Tel Qasile and Tel Migne). Approximately one-third of the courtyard was covered by a ceiling supported by two wooden pillars set on stone bases. Pulling down those pillars would have greatly damaged the entire temple, killing or injuring anyone who happened to be on the roof at the time. Samson’s feat is entirely in accord with archaeological evidence, but betrays the fact that he already knew (since he had been blinded) about the structure of a pagan place of worship.

Judges 17:2 In ancient times, people considered curses to be inviolable and unalterable. Micah’s mother must have been terrified to find that she had unknowingly placed a curse on her own son. Her only recourse was to pronounce an equally binding blessing on him to counteract the curse. Clearly, neither Micah nor his mother was acting in accordance with God’s law. Regarding curses, see note on 9:56–57.

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Judges 17:3 Despite dedicating the silver to the Lord (17:3), Micah sinned in fashioning an idol to Him, since God strictly forbade the making or worshiping of such images (Ex 20:4; Lv 19:4; 26:1; Dt 5:8; 27:15; 32:21). Micah and his mother discovered that their sincerity was no guarantee that God was pleased with their supposed acts of worship. God had established His guidelines for worship, and expected Israel to follow those guidelines wholeheartedly (Is 29:13–14).

Judges 17:6 This statement, repeated at the end of the book, is the “motto” of the book of Judges. The absence of recognized spiritual authority leads to social chaos; the narrative of Judges lays out the consequence when a people ignores its responsibility to honor, and observe, the Lord’s directives for the conduct of human life.

Judges 18:1 The first 16 chapters of the book of Judges generally follow a chronological order. Chapters 17–21, however, present events that occurred during the early part of the time of the judges. These concluding chapters appear to have been intentionally placed out of chronological sequence to reveal the extent of Israel’s degradation and to emphasize the justification for a monarchy to rule God’s people (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Thus, 18:1 does not contradict 2:6 in declaring that the Danites had not been allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.

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Judges 18:5–6 Despite what the priest had concluded, there was no certainty he had truly ascertained the Lord’s will. This priest had been functioning outside of the Lord’s revealed will. His quick response to the Danites suggests he had not even thought to consult the Lord (cp. 2 Sm 7:1–7).

Judges 18:30 Some translations identify the priest as Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh. Other translations, however, indicate that the priest was Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses; thus, the idolatrous priest was none other than the grandson of Moses. Some scholars believe that the original Hebrew was altered by later scribes to protect Moses’ reputation so that his name would not be linked in any way with the idolatry of the tribe of Dan. According to those scholars, the Hebrew text was changed from “Moses” to “Manasseh” (the name of an apostate king of Judah) by the insertion of the Hebrew letter “nun” (“n,” in English) as a superscription above the other consonants.

Judges 19:1 Scripture offers certain guidelines regarding whom priests were allowed to marry (Lv 21:14–15), but says nothing about priests having concubines. On concubines, see note on Jdg 8:30–31.

Judges 19:2–30 This passage, with its gory outcome, reveals the degraded condition into which Israelite life had fallen during this period. The Levite’s speaking tenderly to his concubine might suggest that he truly cared for her, but his actions belied his words. First, he waited four months after her abrupt departure before he sought to bring her home (vv. 2–3). Second, he delivered her to the sexual ravages of a mob to protect himself and others (v. 25). Third, the morning after the rape when he found her lying at the doorstep of the house, he treated her without compassion, demanding she rise and leave with him. The narrator does not gloss over the horror of these events, but records them as they happened and does not try to reconcile the attitudes and actions of the people about whom he wrote. The inspiration of Scripture does not require that only comforting and edifying material be presented in historical narrative; inspiration requires that the true picture be laid out, even when events are disgusting.

Judges 20:16 In biblical times, slings for hurling stones were not the Y-shaped slingshots typically used today, which usually depend on some elastic material. The sling was a patch of leather to which strings were attached; by twirling the sling and skillfully releasing a string, a warrior could hurl the stone with great speed and accuracy. A practiced warrior could sling a stone at upwards of 150 miles per hour. The stones that were used were approximately the size of a small fist, so the degree of accuracy did not need to be as great as it would have been had the stone been merely the size of a small pebble. The significance of Benjamin’s left-handed slingers lies in the fact the ramp up to a city gate typically sloped to the right, as one faces the gate from outside. A left-handed warrior could hurl his shot while advancing up the ramp close to the wall, risking less exposure to the defenders on the ramparts above him.

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Judges 20:21, 25, 39 At least three reasons may be advanced for God’s allowing more than 40,000 of the nation’s forces to be killed (vv. 21, 25, 39). First, the nation as a whole, and not merely the tribe of Benjamin, had to be judged for its sins (21:25; “everyone did whatever he wanted”). Second, the nation as a whole needed to learn to trust God fully, even in the midst of defeat, so they would learn not to trust in superiority of numbers or of battle skills (20:2, 10, 15–17). Third, God did not promise victory to the nation of Israel before either of the first two battles. Only before the third battle did He actually guarantee success (v. 28).

Judges 20:46–48 Initially, only a few Benjaminites deserved to be punished for the despicable gang rape and murder of the Levite’s concubine (19:22–28). The entire tribe of Benjamin became guilty of complicity, however, when they refused to hand over the perpetrators to the rest of the Israelites (20:13).

Judges 21:1–24 Having decimated the tribe of Benjamin because of its immoral behavior, the Israelites realized that one of the 12 tribes was in danger of extinction (v. 3). Only 600 warriors remained; all other men, women and children had been lost in the destruction of the Benjaminite towns. The number 12 needed to be preserved because it represented the fullness of the covenant with the Lord (hence Jesus chose 12 apostles, emblematic of the renewal of Israel). In their anger, however, the other tribes vowed not to permit their daughters to marry into the tribe of Benjamin (vv. 1, 7). The “solution” was to let the Benjaminites seize wives from Jabesh-gilead, which had not participated in the battle against them. All the people of Jabesh-gilead were slain except the 400 virgins allocated to the men of Benjamin. Israel justified the slaughter on the grounds that Jabesh-gilead had tacitly agreed with the Benjaminites’ sinful actions (vv. 8–12). It was the worst of times in Israel (17:6; 21:25).

CATEGORY: SPIRITUAL GROWTH Dozens of Articles on Strengthening Your Faith, Growing Spiritually

By Kenneth T. Magnuson

The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007).

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