Filling Heaven and Earth
Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? 23:24 Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD. –Jeremiah 23:23,24
God’s Name is “I Am that I Am.” This means that He has life in Himself, that He is independent. He has no support system; there is nothing that He needs.
Because He is independent He cannot change. This is the second incommunicable attribute, for if He could change, He would be either not perfect now, or He would be imperfect after the change. There is not the slight of a hint of a change in Him, either in knowledge, will, or power. He is the Rock of Ages, and we may trust Him perfectly.
The third attribute of God is Eternity, which is one aspect of His Infinity. Infinity means that He has no limits. There is no beginning or ending in God. There are no boundaries, no limits. He has no beginning---nothing begins or starts in God, but all is an eternal present. There is no ending in God, for nothing in Him can ever come to an end. He cannot change His mind; He cannot change in knowledge, to forget or to remember.
Beyond our Understanding. We can only conceive of such a great a marvelous Being in a most dim and imperfect fashion. In fact, the incommunicable attributes can also be called the negative attributes, for they tell us more what God is NOT, than what He is. His independence tells us that He does not depend upon anything for His life, His power, His will, His knowledge, or His peace. His immutability tells us that He cannot change in His life, His power, His will, His knowledge, or His peace. His infinity tells us that there are no limits to His life, His power, His will, His knowledge, or His peace.
Jeremiah 23:23,24 the context will set the table for an understanding of these verses and the attribute of God which they reveal.
Jeremiah 23:16ff. “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD. 23:17 They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you. 23:18 For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it?”
Vs. 16-18: Against the false prophets. The prophets were speaking out of their own hearts. “I have dreamed; I have dreamed…” “It seemed to me. I think this and I think that.” They would contradict the very words of God Himself. They pretended to know the counsels of the Lord, apart from what He had said, for they consulted their own hearts rather than the words of God. They implied that they could tell you what He would have said if He could express Himself as well as they can. They pretended to say what God really meant, in distinction to what He said. They knew God’s secrets, and were privy to things that others do not know.
Verse 23:19 God’s Whirlwind
Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD shall not return, until he has executed, and till he has performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly. I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
There is an irony here. They pretended to know God’s thoughts, but God Himself would reveal His thoughts in a cataclysmic whirlwind of judgment. They will know the real intent of God’s mind: a whirlwind of judgment. They pretended to know the thoughts of God; He would perform the thoughts of His heart, and it would be nothing like what they imagined. It would be a whirlwind of wrath. Not just a childish sissyfit of a whirlwind; it was coming from Babylon upon Israel and would sweep everything before it. Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other prophets of the Lord had spoken in plainly, and were calling Israel to judgment.
The true prophets did not prophesy out of their own hearts, but they had received God’s own words. Israel would consider in the days to come how foolish they have been not to have listened to the words of God’s prophets, and would lament the fact that they had followed vain and foolish dreamers of dreams.
Not Sent by God. God had not sent these false and vain prophets, yet they presumed to run in His name and pretend that they spoke for the Lord of Hosts. It is a frightful and terrible thing to presume to be a minister of the gospel, no matter what your credentials, if you have not been called of God and appointed to the office. It is not that these men did not have proper credentialing from the proper authorities in Israel, for they did; but they did not speak the words of the Lord, and it was the destruction of both Israel and the prophets.
Standing in God’s Counsel: The Proof of the Ministry
Vs. 22. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.
The proof of the ministry is the work of righteousness: to call men to repentance for their ungodly deeds and their ungodly ideas. If they had heard the word of the Lord, they would have come to repentance: true preaching calls men to repentance. There is an implied confrontationalism in the preaching of the Gospel. A minister of God cannot speak to the ease and comfort of the people. He cannot sooth and quiet the conscience. The message of the Gospel does not come from focus groups and polls. Nor does the gospel arise from the opinions of men. The Gospel confronts men’s opinions. Its purpose is to change the mind, and to change the heart.
In a wicked and immoral age, this confrontation becomes sharper and more intense, for the difference between the wheat and tares is more acute. “Speak to us soothing things,” those with itching ears say. They want leaders who will gather up all their sinful desires and wicked beliefs, and unite them in common causes, whatever those things might be—common causes that have earthly goals and ends but leave men in their wicked unbelief and false ideas and ways. This is not the preaching of the gospel, but is wicked, devilish, and abominable in God’s eyes, ruinous to the people, and to the prophet alike.
A God at Hand?
Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD. I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal. The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?
The Vanity of Dreaming Vs. 23-29 The vanity of the dreams of the false prophets is refuted by the very nature of God himself. God is not to be trifled with, as if they could carry on their con job, without Him knowing and exposing them. God confronts their wickedness with an appeal to His own nature, to His incommunicable attributes, to His Divine omnipresence, or His immensity.
God is No Local Deity. The wicked designs of the false prophets could not succeed because God is not a local God who might be hidden from. Instead, He fills the heavens and the earth.
Jeremiah 23:23, 24: Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.
“Do you think that I am like the idols of the heathen that you enclose in a temple or shrine or grove of trees; that you carry from place to place? Am I someone that you can step away from and think that I will not see or hear you?”
Such can be done to men. Con men do this all the time. They say one thing to one person, and something else to someone else. The first person isn’t present when the con man speaks to the second, so doesn’t know what is said. Con men say one thing but think something else in their hearts. The person who hears their words does not know what the con man thinks in his heart, so they are taken in by the lie.
A God Who is Far Off. Is the Creator locked up in heaven, not seeing or hearing what takes place upon the earth? Is He confined to Heaven, or to some other place? No, no, no. He is “afar off.” This is in distinction to being local. If God were in space, a person might hide from Him. A person could hide behind a tree, or a fig leaf, as Adam did.
God is so different from the common conception of Him that there is an immense distance between Who He Is and what men conceive Him to be. He fills the heavens and the earth! But they themselves cannot contain Him. He is so distant that after He has filled the heavens and the earth with His presence, He occupies places that cannot be conceived by anything that He made, whether in heaven or in earth.
No Hiding Places. Where will we hide from such a God as this? Does man have his own private space? Is someplace where a man can be alone? Does man have his secret thoughts that he can nurse and keep private—can he really be alone in his thoughts? Is not God there? Can we really think that such thoughts and such places are hidden from God and will not be exposed in some day?
Jesus said that man needs a new heart. We need to have our hearts cleansed and made new, because there is nothing secret that shall not be made known. Everything will be revealed, if not on this earth, then in the last days. It is better for a man to open his heart now, and have the blood of Christ cleanse and make him new. Creatures have no secret places; no private ideas; no private agendas that will not be made open and plain.
Blinded by Sin. Are men so blinded by sin and wickedness that they think they can keep their plans hidden from God? As Charnock says: this passage “is an elegant expression of the omniscience of God, and a strong argument for it. [God] asserts, first, the universality of his knowledge; but let they should mistake, and confine his presence only to heaven, he adds, that he ‘fills heaven and earth.’ I do not see things so, as if I were in one place, and the things seen in another, as it is with man; but whatsoever I see, I see not without myself, because every corner of heaven and earth is filled by me. He that fills all, must needs see and know all….”
Where God is, He is there totally: in His essence and in knowledge, will, and power.
God Cannot Be Separated from Himself. He cannot be separated from Himself as if His power is somewhere, and His will and knowledge are somewhere else. He knows what He wills and wills what He knows. He knows His power and His power is in terms of His knowledge and will. He is not an observer of things external to Himself as we are, but knows all things because He knows Himself and what His will and power are. God’s knowledge is wise and his wisdom is in terms of knowledge, because God is One.
Affirming His Knowledge and Will, by His Eternal Presence. God affirms His knowledge and will by affirming His essential presence. He is powerful and knowledgeable throughout the heavens and the earth, because He is present throughout the world. He must fill the heavens and the earth, because He has no limits; He is infinite, and if there were some place where He were not, or only part of Him were there, then He would have limits. Therefore, “In Him we live and move and have our being,” as Paul says in Acts 17:28. He does not dwell in temples made with hands, for the heavens themselves cannot contain Him. (I Kings 8:27)
Judgment is Certain. Because God is everywhere, the false prophets cannot escape terrible judgment, and the words of the Lord’s true prophets will be revealed.
Jeremiah 23:25-29 I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal. The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?
Where to Stand. How will a man stand before such a God as this? He may deceive friends and neighbors. He may pretend to have a good heart. He may flatter himself and think that he is getting along quite well. But how will he deceive God? Where will he hide to concoct his schemes of deceit and hypocrisy? How can he escape the presence of God? He fills the heavens and the earth, which means that He fills all the physical places and He fills all the spiritual places. There is no way to escape from God.
Considerations. Scholars have illustrated this great and awesome truth in various ways:
God is Everywhere and Nowhere
God is in all space, but not enclosed in any space. God is the most perfect Being. His eternity is His perfection without beginning and ending. Immutability is His perfection without increase or decrease; immensity or omnipresence is His perfection without bounds or limits.
In All Time, and in No Time.
God is in all time, yet not enclosed in any time. Can you lock Him in time and space? Can God be enclosed in the 16th century? Can God be locked into Scotland? Can God be only to white men, or black men, or red men? What box will you put God in? Does the knowledge of God reside only in the mind of St. Augustine, or John Knox, or John Calvin? Will you put limits upon God?
Creation and Limits. The greatest things we see on the earth have limits. The sea has a limit, and God has set the sands as bounds for it, “Thus far you may go and no farther.” Astronomers now know that the universe is finite, that it has bounds. We hit boundaries everywhere; maximum speeds; absolute zero; etc. The study of limits in mathematics and science is essential; math and science are impossible if we assume that such limits do not exist.
The Deification of Man. To assume that man has no limits is to assume that He is God, a frightful blasphemy. Time itself has a beginning: “In the beginning, God created….” As far as time as an instrument of God’s redemptive purpose is concerned, it will come to an end, for Rev. 10 speaks of that mighty angel standing on the sea and on the land and declaring that “time will be no more.” This has the idea of time as delay—that is, God gives people no more time to repent and to believe. Their time is up; not that time itself will cease, because that would be to bring the universe to nothing; but time to repent is over, and the judgment of the world is come. “Your time is up,” is what that mighty angel seems to be saying to the world. Time and space are instruments of God to bring creatures to repentance, for He gives us both time and space to repent; but God has appointed the limits of these.
An Immense Difference. You are very foolish if you do not consider the immense difference there is between you and God, and do not take repentance very seriously. Please consider the following passages.
Psalm 90: Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. 90:3 Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. 90:4 For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. 90:5 Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. 90:6 In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. 90:7 For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. 90:8 Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. 90:9 For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. 90:10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. 90:11 Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. 90:12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
James 4:13ff Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: 4:14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. 4:15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. 4:16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
I Peter 1:18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 1:19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 1:20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, 1:21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. 1:22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 1:24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 1:25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
Ephesians 4: 4:22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 4:23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 4:24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. 4:25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.
We must repent: We must turn aside from our ungodly thoughts, deeds, and words. We must set our affections on things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Col. 3:1ff.