‘When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel’, Deut. 32. 8 NKJV.
God has a plan to place a man in authority over the universe. That man is Jesus Christ. But the plan will not be realized until God has demonstrated that no other man, and no other management system, is sufficient for the task.
After Adam’s failure as God’s appointed steward and world ruler, each individual was directly accountable to God, and was judged against his own conscience. God Himself took responsibility for dispensing justice and did not involve man in this, Gen. 4. 15. But man did not live according to his conscience and became so wicked that worldwide judgement ensued.
After the Flood, God introduced a new administrative system for mankind. Although people still had consciences to discern right from wrong, God divided them into families which grew into nations. Each nation had a ruler who was to be God’s representative to the people, and the people’s representative to God.
The power of judgement was delegated to these rulers, 9. 5, 6, a principle which remains operative to this day, Rom. 13. 1-4. Bible teachers sometimes call this administrative system the ‘dispensation of government’. God ‘dispenses’ His authority to human governments.
We know of only one ruler who served faithfully under this arrangement. Melchizedek was both king of Salem and priest of God Most High, Gen. 14. 18. Most rulers, rather than facilitating true worship instituted idolatry. They disregarded the geographical boundaries God had allocated to them, making war on each other. Instead of judging righteously, they perverted justice for personal gain. One man, Nimrod, even tried to make himself world ruler, 10. 10.
Very quickly, the world was in a mess again, especially in the area of religion. So, God modified the terms under which He would deal with mankind. Although kings retained their political authority, God withdrew their right to function as priestly intermediaries between Himself and their subjects.
Instead, He chose Abraham to be His sole religious representative on the earth. From that time on, if someone wanted to worship God, they must come through Abraham. We see an example in Genesis chapter 20. When King Abimelech sinned unwittingly, even though he was a God-fearing man, he was only granted forgiveness when Abraham prayed for him. God’s relationship with the world was conducted through Abraham, and afterward through Abraham’s family.
God made great promises to Abraham, and the stewardship God gave to him is often termed the ‘dispensation of promise’. The promises were unconditional. God bound Himself to a covenant with Abraham in Genesis chapter 15, demanding nothing in return. He had reserved Abraham an area of land, Deut. 32. 8, temporarily tenanted by the Canaanites. He promised Abraham many descendants and promised to bless the world through those descendants. In fact, it would be through one particular descendant that God would bring to pass His great plan for the consummation of all things. God had a special friendship with Abraham and enjoyed close personal fellowship with him. This unique relationship was marked by the sign of circumcision.
But with privilege comes responsibility. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons must conduct themselves in a way which honoured God in the eyes of the nations. Sometimes they did this, e.g., Gen. 41. 38, but frequently they dishonoured the Lord, e.g., 34. 30. In consequence, they often failed to enjoy the blessings God had lavished on them, ultimately ending up in slavery in Egypt and worshipping Egyptian gods, Ezek. 20. 8. Their spiritual condition was so bad that, initially, they did not even recognize the saviour God raised up for them, Exod. 2. 14.
But despite the failure of the chosen family, God had not forgotten His promises. However, in order for His people to enjoy the blessing, it was necessary for God to introduce an addition to the promises, something which would regulate His relationship with the chosen nation much more strictly. We will consider this extra stewardship which God gave exclusively to Israel in our next study.