The late Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
By way of introduction, we may point out that it is certainly impossible to have a proper conception of either history in general or sacred history apart from the idea of God’s providence and God’s counsel. But we hasten to add that the purely formal idea that history is the working out of God’s counsel, or that all history takes place according to the sovereign government of the Most High, is not adequate. For one thing, we may never separate in our minds the providence of God from the facts of sin and grace. Closely related to this is the fact that there is no operation of God’s providence next to and apart from that of grace and the curse, favor and wrath, love and hatred, election and reprobation. The merely formal fact that all history takes place according to the sovereign counsel of God, or that all history takes place as God in His providence sovereignly executes His own counsel, is of no aid as such in gaining a proper conception either of history in general or of what is called sacred history. We will not go into detail on this score, but refer the reader to the discussion of God’s providence found in Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 227-244. We do, however, wish to quote two significant sections from this chapter in connection with the present discussion. The first is found on pages 240, 241:
Hence, we may never separate in our minds the providence of God from the facts of sin and grace. There is no operation of God’s providence next to and apart from that of grace and the curse, love and wrath, election and reprobation. The government of God is exactly of such a nature that it guides the organic whole of creation unto the final glory of the new heavens and the new earth, to the glory of God’s covenant and to His eternal tabernacle which shall be with men, while through the same government of the Most High the reprobate element falls away and becomes ripe for eternal desolation. For it is God’s positive purpose to unite all things in Christ as the new Head of all creation, to preserve and perfect His covenant and His everlasting kingdom. Unto this end all things in heaven and on earth are directed; and the Most High so governs all things that they must infallibly lead unto that end. All things under God’s providence cooperate unto that end. All things in heaven and on earth and in hell, angels and devils, righteous and wicked, the curse, death, and all the suffering of this present time, sin and grace, fruitful and barren years, rain and drought, war and peace, sickness and pestilence-all things work together to the glorification of all things when the tabernacle of God will be with men. Of course, the devils and the ungodly cooperate unto that end in a different way from that of the angels and righteous. Hence, the former gather unto themselves treasures of wrath, while they nevertheless cooperate in the execution of God’s counsel; and the latter receive the eternal reward of grace. There is no dualism; all work together unto the realization of the counsel of the Lord. God’s government is motivated by electing and redeeming and glorifying grace, on the one hand, and by reprobating wrath on the other.
The second passage from the same chapter to which we would call attention is found on pages 243, 244:
A wonder belongs entirely as to its idea in the sphere of grace. In general we would circumscribe a wonder as that act of God whereby He raises the whole of His creation, fallen in sin and under the curse, into the glory of His eternal kingdom and everlasting covenant. As we have said, the final purpose, the final destination of all things lies in the glorification of God’s everlasting covenant. Creation, which at present lies under sin and under the curse, must not merely be restored, in order to be brought back to her former state, but must be exalted into heavenly glory. That act of God whereby He raises the work of His hands through the deep way of sin and the curse from its misery into the glory of God’s everlasting kingdom is the wonder, the wonder of grace. It has its centrum in the incarnation of the Word of God, the Wonder of wonders, the central wonder, from which flow all the separate miracles, or, of which they are types and shadows. It has its final realization in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, when the very elements of this present world shall bum and perish, in order to prepare a new heavens and a new earth, in which the tabernacle of God shall be with men. And wherever the power of that wonder breaks through in creation, which lies under the curse, you have a wonder in the proper sense of the word. Understood in this sense, the whole of God’s providential government in this world is really a wonder: for by His almighty hand He directs all things unto that end. His providence is motivated by His grace over His people in Christ Jesus. And whenever this power of grace comes to manifestation in any domain of creation, we have what Scripture calls a sign that the God of the covenant in Christ Jesus redeems His people and presently makes all things new. Wonders, therefore, are also signs that point to the complete redemption of the church. When Israel passes through the Red Sea, the great question is not whether this is a natural or supernatural act of God, stillness whether in that act God works mediately or immediately; but in that act the Almighty reveals the great power of His grace, whereby He makes a path for His people through the sea and redeems them from the bondage of Egypt in order to lead them to the haven of rest. When God brings forth water from the rock, when He causes the manna to descend upon the desert, when He breaks down the walls of Jericho, when He causes the sun and the moon to stand still, when He causes great hail to rain upon the heads of the enemies of His people, the main question is not whether or not we can interpret these events; but the chief idea is that under God’s providence all things must serve to redeem and to save the people of His covenant and to lead them into the eternal inheritance. And when Immanuel comes into the world, He is the Wonder par excellence. He is the Lord out of heaven in our flesh, God with us, the central realization of the covenant of God with His people. When He comes into the world, He performs many wonders. He stands, as it were, in the midst of the accursed creation and shows by the wonderworks of His hand that He is the One who should come, in order to raise all things from the misery of the curse into the glory of God’s eternal kingdom. He causes the deaf to hear and the blind to see. He removes all our sicknesses and pains, and He raises the dead. All these miracles were only shadows and signs of the reality, manifestations of His divine power to redeem all things. Presently He rises from the dead to enter into the glory of the heavenly life as the head of His people, ascends into the highest heavens, and sits at the right hand of God the Father, pours out His Spirit in the midst of His church, regenerates His people through the wonder of grace, calls light out of darkness, and recreates a people that is given to Him, in order that it should be an everlasting revelation of the wonder of His grace in the midst of the world. Presently He leads them through death into life and raises their bodies from the sleep of death, glorifies and unites all things in Himself, in order to cause the tabernacle of God to be with men everlastingly. Through the wonder of grace the government of God reaches its final destination, according to His eternal counsel, to the glory of Him of whom and through whom and unto whom are all things.
When we understand this idea of the wonder, we can understand, too, the meaning and significance of history in general. Understood in this light, all of history from the bereshith (“beginning”) of Genesis 1 to the omega (“goal”) of the parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ is one. And, in that deepest sense of the word, all of history is sacred. It is that organic complex of events which involves the whole of the human race and the whole of the creation whereby God leads all things, in the way of sin and grace, unto the glory of His eternal kingdom and everlasting covenant in Christ Jesus.
In this light, in the second place, we can understand the meaning and significance of sacred history. Sacred history is not a different history from the history in general. There are not two histories – a general and a sacred history. But what we designate as sacred history is that aspect of history which is directly concerned with the revelation of the wonder of grace and with the establishment, maintenance, and realization of God’s eternal kingdom and everlasting covenant. In this light, too, we can understand the relation between sacred history and Scripture. We can understand why sacred history is sometimes referred to as Bible history. For the account, the record, of that sacred history is found in the infallible and inspired Scriptures. But we must remember that there is an organic connection between sacred history and history in general. They are not essentially different. They are not to be separated, though they may be distinguished. They are organically one. And the stream of sacred history may be said to run-in the riverbed of history in general.
Then, too, we can understand the relationship between general history and sacred history. That relationship is fourfold. In the first place it is organic. And it is organic in such a way that what is included in sacred history constitutes the core, the centrum, the central meaning and significance of all history.
This already implies, in the second place, that there is a relationship of subservience between the rest of history and that particular aspect of history which is called sacred history. All the rest of history stands in such a relation to that which is included in sacred history that it stands in its service. Sometimes, indeed, that relationship of subservience maybe difficult to discern. This is true especially when general history deals with nations and with aspects of their history which are peripheral. At other times that relationship is very clearly discernible. And there are, of course, many points in sacred history at which the history of the nations in general touches it and very plainly serves it, so that the history of the powers of this world is intertwined with that of God’s people and is recorded in Scripture. But always, even when we cannot clearly discern it, that relationship is one of subservience.
In the third place, the relation between the two is antithetical. We must be careful, however, not to confuse antithesis with dualism. There are not two forces in history battling against one another in such a way that the outcome is in doubt, or even in such a way that the light finally triumphs over the darkness and in spite of the darkness. The relationship between the light and the darkness is certainly such that in the ethical sense of the word they stand diametrically opposed to one another. Yet we must understand that the light is not merely revealed over against the darkness, and life is not merely revealed over against death. But all the forces of sin and death and darkness are, according to the purpose and counsel of the Almighty, in subservience to the light. God accomplishes His purpose along the way of sin and grace, bringing light out of the darkness, the new out of the old, life out of death.
And so, finally, we can understand also that that relationship is soteriological. But again, it is soteriological, never in the sense that the world as a whole goes lost, while God the Lord manages to salvage something out of it. Rather is it soteriological in the sense that God saves the world, His world, according to His eternal counsel. It is soteriological in the sense that God saves the race, the elect race, the church. The organism is saved through the way of sin and grace, while some reprobate branches are cut off and destroyed.
The Divisions of Sacred History
Traditionally, sacred history has been divided, first of all, into biblical history and church history. The encyclopedic place of the former, then, is in the bibliological branches, while the encyclopedic place of the latter is in the historiological department. This is correct, provided that we remember that church history is an integral part of sacred history, not something new and different and added. The distinction lies, of course, in the fact that church history is not recorded in Scripture as history. And it is legitimate to recognize this distinction. We must remember, however, that essentially church history is the continuation of the line of sacred history after the death of the last apostle and after the completion of the canon. And, secondly, we must bear in mind that principally church history is still concerned with the things which Jesus continued to say and to do after His exaltation. Thirdly, while it is true that church history cannot appeal to any historical record of Holy Scripture for its source, we must nevertheless bear in mind that prophetically, particularly in the Book of Revelation, all of church history is also set forth in the Scriptures. For as we know, in the Book of Revelation are written the “things which must shortly come to pass” and “the things which must be hereafter.”
The division of biblical history is usually threefold: Old Testament history, the history of the intertestamentary period, and New Testament history. Also this division may be accepted, provided we bear in mind that it is basically a division of convenience, rather than a division of principle. For we must remember that Old Testament history, that is, the history recorded in the Old Testament, does not include all of the history of the old dispensation; secondly, the history of the intertestamentary period (the history of the 400 years) is not recorded in Scripture at all; and the history recorded in the New Testament includes part of the history of the old dispensation and of the transition from the old to the new dispensation. Nevertheless, to maintain an orderly and balanced treatment of sacred history, these divisions may be observed and followed.
The Division of Old Testament History
Most schemes of division which have been suggested with respect to Old Testament history have been characterized by the fact that they are divisions of convenience, and therefore rather arbitrary, rather than by proceeding according to a certain principle of division. Thus, for example, you can conveniently speak of the prediluvian period, the postdiluvian world, the period of the patriarchs, the period of the bondage and exodus, the period of the wilderness wanderings, the period of the conquest of Canaan, the period of the Judges, the period of the kings, the period of the captivity, and the post-captivity period. This may be convenient, and even helpful, but it does not pay attention to the significance of Old Testament history and of its various aspects. And to that extent it also detracts from one’s conception of the unity of Old Testament history. It tends to view history in terms of bits and pieces, rather than to offer a unified conception.
We propose that all of Old Testament history may be divided into various epochs of salvation. Each of these epochs is. characterized by the fact that it represents a victory of the seed of the woman, a fulfillment of the protevangel of Genesis 3:15. Yet, in the second place, each of these epochs is characterized by the fact that the specific victory of the seed of the woman in that period is not the final victory, but a typical representation of it. It is not the wonder of grace, but u wonder of grace that is revealed in each period. And, in the third place, each of these periods is characterized by the fact that while it is in itself a typical revelation of the wonder of grace, it represents an advance over the preceding period, and an advance toward the full revelation of the wonder of grace in the fullness of time, when the Seed of the woman, our Lord Jesus Christ, accomplishes the victory over the seed of the serpent. This already implies that we wish to view all of Old Testament history in terms of the protevangel of Genesis 3:15, that is, in terms of the battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent throughout the ages, and in terms of the victory, through the wonder of grace, of the seed of the woman over- the seed of the serpent. And this, in turn, implies that the very first period of Old Testament history which we would distinguish is that which includes creation, the fall, and the announcement of the promise, the protevangel. This period is introductory to all of Old Testament history in the sense that it represents the setting of the stage for the rest of that history as it ends in the fullness of time. We may remark further that during the various main periods which may be distinguished there may also be discemed at many times various sub-periods in which the same motif noted above may be distinguished.
In this light, we would make the following divisions:
1) The introductory period of creation, the fall, and the protevangel of Genesis 3:15.
2) From the protevangel to the victory of the seed of the woman in the Flood.
3) From the Flood, through the bondage and exodus, to the victory of the seed of the woman in the inheritance of the land of Canaan under Joshua.
4) From the inheritance of Canaan through the period of the Judges and Saul to the victory of the seed of the woman under David- Solomon.
5) From Solomon through the Babylonian captivity to the victory of the seed of the woman in the return from captivity and restoration of Jerusalem.
6) From the return to the fullness of time and the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.