Divine Guidance: Normative in Scripture

Now that I have set forth the primary propositions of the model of guidance for which I will argue, I want to begin to lay the theological foundation which supports it. First, it seems befitting to examine the Biblical narrative and show that God’s Word is constant and consistent in presenting the fact of divine guidance. 

Answering Possible Objections to Examples

Lack of Systematic Teaching about Divine Guidance
The easiest way to see the pattern of divine guidance is to examine the narrative, rather than didactic portions of Scripture. One might complain at the lack of direct teaching examples; however, we should keep in mind that a doctrine need not be expounded in systematic format in order to be true, or even essential (such as the Trinity). Although the Bible does not give explicit discourses on divine guidance (though some, like Psalm 25 & 143, may refer to it), the constant examples in Biblical narrative display a normative pattern of its occurrence.

Broad Purpose/Effect of Divine Guidance
In some examples, the guidance given by God had a much broader purpose of impact than a singular person. One might reason that such examples are not properly in the category of divine guidance because the guidance was meant to affect a large group or nation, rather than an individual. While I will not include examples which served to impart universal, canonical revelation (like Moses on Mt. Sinai or John on the isle of Patmos), I find no reason to avoid examples which served to impact a community or people group rather than only the person to whom the guidance was given.

Relationship of Miracles to Divine Guidance
Some might object to certain examples because the guidance given had a special connection to a miracle of God. One might argue that divine guidance was given particularly to facilitate special miracles, and so the cessation of such miracles also means cessation of divine guidance. I would respond that no required connection between divine guidance and miracles exist. We find miracles occurring without divine guidance, and we find divine guidance occurring without miracles. Furthermore, we find miracles occurring by normal means, like prayer (Elijah on Mt. Carmel, for instance) or noble acts of faith and obedience (such as Daniel’s friends in the furnace), etcetera. The fact that God often used divine guidance in the facilitation of miracles in no way limits His guidance only to miraculous events, but rather shows that God is often pleased to personally involve His servants in the demonstration of His power.

Incomplete Revelation as a Necessitating Factor for Divine Guidance
Perhaps others might argue that divine guidance was necessary in former epochs because the canon of Scripture was incomplete. Such guidance served to prop up earlier saints in their ignorance, whereas upon the completion of the canon, it would then cease. To this argument, I offer a simple test. Choose from among any example, however early or late in dispensation it may have occurred, and give the saint in question the benefit of the entire revealed Word of God. Can you reasonably deduce that with a complete Biblical canon, the person in question could have come to a knowledge of the same particular divine guidance by using wise application of universal commands and principles? I believe you’ll find that this quick test will serve to quell this argument in virtually every case.

 

Old Testament Examples

 

Noah and the Ark (Genesis 6:13-7:5)

Although one might be able to push back instances of personal divine guidance as early as interactions with Adam and Eve, depending on how you classify it, we certainly have a clear example by the time we encounter God speaking to Noah in Genesis 6. Here we find God giving Noah specific, detailed and personal instructions about the construction of the ark and the gathering of animals and food. It would be preposterous to suggest that Noah (even though he was in a favorable position before God – Gen. 6:8) could have determined such a course of action only by applying wisdom principles and making his own decision. It could not even have entered his mind! Note that Noah is commended for his obedience to “all that God commanded him”, which refers to that which came by God’s special guidance.

Going out from the Ark (Genesis 8:6-19)

Another instructive example follows immediately after as we find an interesting relationship between wisdom principles and divine guidance. In the earlier part of the text, Noah very practically sends a raven and dove out of the ark to determine the continued extent of the flood conditions upon the earth. Later he opens a covering to view the conditions and finds the surface of the earth dry. However, even though he gained insight from these common sense measures, he waited inside the ark (almost two months!) until he received divine guidance to depart. This establishes a principle for divine guidance that one ought to stay where God has led you until He moves you (not merely until you deem it wise or needful to move). We will see numerous other examples of this principle throughout Scripture.

Abram Going to Canaan (Genesis 12:1-4)

A familiar example is God’s calling of Abram into the land of Canaan. It was upon this instruction and promise of blessing given by divine guidance (repeated and expanded in Genesis 15 and 17) that Abram left his father’s land and became a sojourner in Canaan. His trust in all of God’s promises later becomes a prime example of righteousness coming by faith, not of works (Rom. 4:3, Gal. 3:6, Heb. 11:8-10).

Abraham Offering Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14)

Here is surely a crystal clear example of divine guidance leading a Godly individual to do something which was not based on general wisdom principles! This is surely not Abraham choosing whatever he desired! Abraham’s willingness to obey such an incredible command underscores again the righteousness he had by faith (Jas. 2:21-23), as well as providing a vivid foreshadowing of Christ’s substitutionary atonement.

Moses’ Entire Ministry

The examples in the life of Moses are simply too numerous to list individually. For reference, note God’s personal call of Moses to ministry in Exodus 3, His call to Aaron to help his brother (Exod. 4:27), His particular instruction about what to say to Israel and Pharoah (Exod. 6:1-13; 7:1-6, 8-10, 14-20, 8:1-5, 16-17; 9:1-5, 8-10, 13-23; 10:1-6, 12-13, 21-22; 11:1-2), His incredible command to camp in an enclosed area by the Red Sea (Exod. 14:1-4), followed by instruction for deliverance through the sea (Exod. 14:15-18, 26-27), His guidance for miraculous provision in the wilderness (Exod. 15:24-25; 16:4-6; 17:4-7; Num. 20:7-9), specific instructions for being saved from God’s plague (Num. 21:8-9), and on and on throughout the narrative.

In examining such profuse demonstrations of God’s divine guidance, we should not fail to recognize that Moses was both a type of the mediatorship of Jesus, and a foreshadowing of the communion we have with God under the new covenant. See Deut. 18:15-18 as well as Exod. 33:11 and II Cor. 3:7-18).

The Sign of the Cloud and Pillar of Fire (Exodus 40:34-38; Numbers 9:15-23)

This visible sign of God’s presence was given, not as a means of knowing God’s universal, prescriptive will (that was surely revealed in the moral law given on the mountain), nor of understanding the will of God for the covenant nation of Israel (civil laws and regulations concerning feasts, etc.), nor even the will of God for activities demonstrating Gospel truths (laws of sacrifices, cleansing rituals). Rather, the cloud was a visible sign of God’s specific guidance in leading the people through the wilderness. The pillar was a reminder of God’s presence (and therefore, His protection and blessing). If the people were to safely navigate the wilderness, they needed to constantly be watching for God’s specific direction, and be ready to set out and camp at His command. This sign provides a vivid example of the reality, purpose and importance of divine guidance.

The Fall of Jericho (Joshua 6:1-5)

God appeared to Joshua and gave him unique instructions for defeating the Canaanite stronghold. God could certainly have chosen to simply bless Joshua and the Israelites by making a plan of their own succeed, but here He chose to vividly demonstrate that victory comes from His hand, not from military might and clever strategies.

The Battle Against the Tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20:18-28)

In addition to being another clear instance of divine guidance, this passage also serves as a good example of the interaction between universal commands/principles and the discrete will of God for particular circumstances. By the time we reach this passage, the other 11 tribes of Israel have already acted appropriately in response to the treacherous act which took place in a city of Benjamin. There was no need to seek divine guidance on whether immediate, unified action was needed (Judg. 20:8-17).  They acted based upon God’s revealed law and practical wisdom. However, when it came to the particulars of their situation, in an area where there was no universal guiding principle, they sought divine guidance.

David’s Battle Against the Philistines at Keilah (I Samuel 23:1-5)

Here we find David, constantly on the run to escape King Saul, hearing of the Philistines attacking an outlying town in Judah. Being unsure of the wisdom of engaging one enemy while being pursued by another, David seeks counsel of the Lord. God gives guidance to David to proceed and save the city. However, when his men hear of the plan, they question the wisdom of such a bold action. So David seeks God a second time, in which God responds with an affirmation and assurance of their success. The only sure means to discern between courage and recklessness was to seek and act upon divine guidance.

David Returning to Judah after Saul’s Death (II Samuel 2:1-4)

After Saul was killed in battle, David inquires of the Lord if he should now return to any of the cities of Judah. When God answers affirmatively, David inquires even more specifically as to which city he should go. God reveals this as well. As a result, David returns safely with his family and is subsequently anointed as king.

Elijah Fleeing to the Brook and then to the Widow (I Kings 17:1-16)

Another prime example of God’s guidance taking us places we would never go without it. Elijah certainly had no expectation of being fed by ravens from revealed commands or principles. Furthermore, he had no reason to remain at the brook even after it had dried up, except that God had guided him there and had given no instruction to move. Yet, when God gave him further guidance, Elijah obeyed purely on faith. The least likely source of provision during an extraordinary drought was a destitute widow. Yet, by faith in God’s guidance as revealed by His Word, Elijah, the widow, and her son were miraculously sustained.

Ahaziah Seeking Guidance from False Gods (II Kings 1:2-4)

In this passage, Ahab’s son and successor Ahaziah sought divine guidance regarding his health – but from Baal, rather than from God! God’s response via Elijah is instructive. He rebukes and curses Ahaziah, both for turning to false gods and for failing to seek divine guidance from the one true God. Here we may soundly deduce by implication that seeking personal guidance from God was both expected and good.

Jehoshaphat’s Singing Army (II Chron. 20:1-30)

When a huge confederation from Moab, Ammon and Mount Seir came against Judah to destroy it, Jehoshaphat assembles the nation and prays to God for help. God answers through a prophet (vss. 14-17) and instructs them where to find the invading army. However, they are not to fight, but simply stand at a distance and watch God’s deliverance! Jehoshaphat acts in faith in response to the divine guidance and appoints singers to go ahead of the army, leading the people in praise to God. They simply watch as their enemies turn on one another, and leave all their spoils for them to plunder.

Jonah’s Flight from his Calling (Jonah 1:1-3ff)

In a classic negative example, Jonah receives divine guidance and commissioning from God to preach to Nineveh. Remove divine personal guidance from the equation and Jonah did nothing explicitly wrong in boarding passage for Tarshish. However, God held Jonah accountable for the calling he had received! Jonah was certainly not free to choose whatever seemed best or whatever he wanted.

Didactic Passages for Consideration

I am including some OT teaching passages here for further reflection and consideration. These are passages that speak of God’s guidance. While this guidance may come in the form of commands and principles of Scripture, there may also be a direct or indirect view to a personal guidance as well. I will leave it to the reader to consider these passages in light of the context of the passages and the broader testimony from the narrative examples.

  • Psalm 25
  • Psalm 32:8
  • Psalm 143
  • Proverbs 3:5-6
  • Isaiah 8:16-20
  • Isaiah 30:18-21
  • Jeremiah 10:21-23

 

New Testament Examples

 

 Pre-Ministry Examples

In the opening narrative of the New Testament which gives account of the birth of John the Baptist and the pre-ministry years of Jesus, we have numerous examples of divine guidance. These include the angel’s appearance to Zechariah (Luke 1:11-17), Mary (Luke 1:26-33), and Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25), the shepherd’s being told of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8-14), several instances with the Magi from the east (Matthew 2:1-12), several instances again with the flight and return from Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23), and Simeon in the temple (Luke 2:25-32).

The Entirety of Jesus’ Ministry

The incarnation presents a unique historical circumstance such that whenever Jesus gives personal, non-universal instruction to a disciple, it qualifies as divine guidance. I will not attempt to belabor specific examples, but simply call the reader’s attention to this fact. Every time Jesus told disciples to do particular things like set out on the sea, cast out their nets, divide food among the people, tell no one who He was, preach in every city, go up to Jerusalem, or prepare the passover, He was giving them divine guidance. If the disciples wondered what they should do, they could simply ask.

While I acknowledge the special blessing of literally “walking and talking” with our Lord Jesus Christ, I believe I can demonstrate (in subsequent entries) that as Christians who are joined with Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we have no less Spiritual blessing or advantage (and therefore should expect no less guidance) than if He were physically standing beside us.

Casting Lots for Matthias (Acts 1:15-26)

This is an interesting example in which the disciples rely upon casting lots (alongside Scripture and prayer) to determine God’s will for who should replace Judas as an apostle. This last attestation to the use of lots is also the only specific event recorded between Christ’s ascension and the Holy Spirit’s arrival on the day of Pentecost. I believe this implies that some of the Old Covenant means of determining God’s will are replaced by the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart of the believer.

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-29)

In this instance, an angel tells Philip to proceed from Jerusalem into the desert toward Gaza and then the Spirit directs him specifically to the eunuch’s chariot. By these particular instructions, not only is the salvation of the eunuch accomplished, but the gospel is spread quickly into distant regions.

Cornelius and Peter (Acts 10:1-23)

Again we see the spreading of the gospel, in effect to the entirety of the Gentile nations, but particularly beginning with Cornelius and his household. God uses two instances of divine guidance (Acts 10:5-6, 19-20), as well as specific teaching in a vision (Acts 10:10-16) in order to draw Peter to Cornelius for the gospel to be preached and the Spirit to be poured out upon him and his household.

The Commissioning of Saul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2-3)

The particular calling of Paul and Barnabas into their ministry to the Gentiles occurred as a result of God granting divine guidance through His Spirit to the church in Antioch.

God’s Direction of Paul’s Gospel Preaching (Acts 16:6-10)

In the space of a few short verses, we have several examples of special divine intervention into Paul’s plans for preaching the gospel. Paul (along with Silas and Timothy) kept wanting to proceed eastward and northward in his journey, and God kept directing him southward and westward. First, it appears that Paul would have gone to Asia, but was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” from doing so. Then they tried to go north to Bithynia, and were prevented from doing that also. Finally, Paul receives a vision of a Macedonian man asking for help, and deduces that God was calling Him there. All these instances of divine intervention countermand the idea of merely choosing whatever seems best (as we presume Paul had been doing all along). It was by obedience to divine guidance that Paul took the gospel where God desired it to go and was blessed in his ministry.

God’s Direction of Paul’s Trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-23; 21:10-14)

In much the same way that God directed Paul toward Macedonia in Acts 16, He now directs Paul to Jerusalem. We find note of this first in Acts 19:21, where through some undisclosed means, the Spirit had directed Paul towards Jerusalem with the knowledge that it would lead to Rome. In Acts 20:22-23, Paul testifies that the Spirit is calling him to go to Jerusalem, and although he is unaware of the specifics, he understands that it will probably result in his imprisonment. Then in chapter 21 it seems as if God is testing Paul’s resolve, as numerous Christians are warning Paul about his trip (Acts 21:4, 10-12). Nevertheless, Paul having received this divine guidance continues on, knowing that he will be imprisoned. Those warning him ultimately understood that in this particular circumstance, such was the will of God (Acts 21:13-14). While it was normative for Paul to escape imprisonment or physical danger where possible (Acts 9:23-25; 14:5-7; 17:10, 14;; 20:3), yet because of God’s guidance, here Paul readily accepts it.

Paul’s Acceptance of His Thorn in the Flesh (II Corinthians 12:7-9)

Paul had been afflicted in the flesh by God for his own good, but not understanding that it was not God’s will for him to be healed, he kept asking for the affliction to be removed. However, in response to prayer, God revealed His specific will for Paul’s circumstance; namely that Paul would remain humble and rely fully on God’s grace. Because of this personal guidance, Paul peacefully accepted his condition and rejoiced in it.

 

Significance of The Consistent Witness

 

Although many other examples of divine guidance could be elicited from the pages of Scripture, these numerous specific examples from virtually every epoch of Biblical history should be more than sufficient to demonstrate the consistent pattern of its occurrence. Whatever uneasiness may arise in the mind of readers concerning this issue, the strong testimony of Scripture absolutely cannot be discounted.

If the “closed” or “wisdom” approach, which asserts that no personal divine guidance occurs today is to stand, it must supply sufficient Biblical argumentation to countermand or undercut this broad pattern we find throughout Scripture. I would simply challenge the reader to consider what amount and type of evidence would qualify to meet this requirement. Then ask yourself if the wisdom approach has or even can supply such Scriptural evidence.

While I must answer such a query negatively, the normative pattern of Scripture does not stand alone in arguing for divine guidance. I believe there is an equally strong case to be made for both why and how divine guidance occurs. In the next entry, I will begin to positively examine the theological purpose (or the “why”) for God’s personal direction of His children — not only in ages past, but in in the current age as well.

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