Most of us don't have problems with the idea of God as our heavenly Father. We imagine him watching over us, working things out, and perhaps even sending an angel to save us from sudden danger.
The interventions of the Holy Spirit are harder to picture. Some deny them altogether, and others say they ended with the Bible. There are also cranks who are obsessed with spectacular manifestations, and they are easily tempted to manipulate such situations.
But the idea of the Messianic interventions of the second Person of the Trinity often seems equally strange to both Jews and Christians. Believers agree that the Messiah will some day appear, but they assume it is not now in our every day life and nation.
There is first of all a problem of language. A description of something previously unexpected needs metaphor. Even the word revolution suggests a great wheel beginning to turn. Renewal, revival, awakening, renaissance, and post-mod are all imprecise and metaphorical terms. In our own generation we talked about the cold war and the iron curtain. In each case we must avoid mindless literalism, but also avoid the equally mindless denial of the huge importance of the events.
Similarly with the Bible. For Christians, the Messiah who appeared nearly 2,000 years ago was already intervening in the Old Testament period. Jews called him the Lord, or Yahweh, or preferred not to give him a name at all. But we can all agree that in the Bible there are divine interventions in the normal order of life. God is described as coming and going. And in each case a major change is signaled.
"The Lord said to Abram, go from your country . . . and I will make of you a great nation" (Genesis 12:1-2).
In giving the covenant of circumcision, which is common to all the Arab children of Ishmael and all the Jewish children of Israel, "the Lord appeared to Abram" (Genesis 17:1). And after explaining what was required "God went up from Abraham" (Genesis 17:22).
"The Lord appeared to Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre" to announce the birth of Isaac (18:1; see also the appearances in 26:2, 24; 28:13; 32:30; compare Isaiah 6:1 and the intervention to convert Paul in Acts 9:3-6). In each case we need to recognize the metaphorical language of the Lord's coming and going without downplaying the changes that took place in the lives of the people concerned.
Similarly, the Old Testament is full of interventions among the nations, and these can also use the language of coming and going: "The Lord came down to see the city and the tower" (Genesis 11:7). Such interventions result in a huge upheaval, and the change that occurs is often called a "day of the Lord."
A rough count yielded over thirty day of the Lord interventions in the first thirty-four chapters of Isaiah. In some cases three or four day of the Lord interventions occur in one chapter (chapters 7, 19, 22). Joel announced the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians with "All the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near" (Joel 2:1). But Isaiah predicted that the turn of Babylon would come, and its day of the Lord came seventy years later (Isaiah 13:6).
It is interesting that both in the fall of Jerusalem and the toppling of Babylon there were portents in the sun, moon, and the powers of heaven (Joel 2:10-11, 30-31; Isaiah 13:10, 13). Exactly the same portents are used by Jesus when he spoke of the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem (Mark 13:24-26; Matthew 24:29-30).
Some take these portents literally. It seems more likely that in the case of the destruction of Babylon and the two destructions of Jerusalem the portents are metaphorical of the end of a great city. The sun is the glory of a nation, the moon represents its reflected glory, and the shaking of the powers of heaven suggest the cataclysmic changes that will occur.
As with the personal experiences of the Lord's interventions, we should learn to use the metaphorical language. The language is not literal, but the events are momentous and sometimes cataclysmic.
Abraham's call, and the rite of circumcision, still dominate the Middle East after 3,700 years. The fall of Babylon marked the greatest revolution in human history. The priestcrafts of the ancient world were challenged by seven new religions in fifty years (Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Vedanta, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism).
All Jews are marked indelibly by the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile, and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the eventual return after the holocaust. And it does not take much imagination to use similar metaphorical language for the advance of Islam into Europe, the Reformation, the French and American revolutions, the end of the third Reich, the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the cold war.
As these events occur some think the Lord is doing nothing till one day he will finally return. I prefer to use biblical language and see Him reigning in days of the Lord among the nations. He also comes to churches (Revelation 2:5, 16, 25; 3:3, 11, 20). But what I notice most are His coming and going in the little, but to me rather important events of my own family.