When God does a Work

“Who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water (1 Peter 3:20; NKJV).

“A few, that is, eight souls were saved…”

With our modern conception of how many people populate the earth, it’s hard to imagine God doing a work that only eight souls would respond to. And yet, that’s exactly the kind of pattern we find throughout the scriptures. The numbers usually aren’t as small as eight, but rarely exceed a few thousand.

With Joseph Smith’s inspired restoration of the text, we learn that Noah “called upon the children of men that they should repent” (Moses 8:20), but they would not. They responded, “we are the sons of God… And they hearkened not unto unto the words of Noah” (Moses 8:21). But God made a covenant with Noah. This ensured him land (his preservation through the flood), a family, and a connection with God. How many people noticed?

God called Abraham out of Ur. His household and all that followed him consisted of a little over 300 men (Genesis 14:14). Maybe 600 people or so in total. He was called to bear God’s name in a strange land (Abraham 2:6). God made a covenant with Abraham. What did He promise him? Land, a family, a connection with God. It’s easy to read back over the narrative in retrospect and observe God was with him. But how many people noticed?

God called Moses out of Egypt. As far as quantity of goes, this group was the largest, comprising 600,000 “men on foot” (Exodus 12:37). Although these numbers would suggest an exodus of about two million Israelites offhand, experts are unsure on the exact translation of the word “thousand,” and believe the total number was actually much smaller. There’s disagreement as to what the exact population might have been; I’ve seen people argue anywhere between about 5,000 and 200,000. In any case, when you consider how many of them were actually on board with what God wanted to do, you bring the number down to about 1: Moses.

The tradition of worshipping Jehovah continued down from generation to generation, but Israel never made any improvement. God sent prophets intermittently to warn Israel when they had strayed too far. In turn, they were almost always rejected and killed. The pattern holds: very few pay attention to what God is actually doing, although they always believe they have His divine favor.

Jesus’ silent birth in Bethlehem took as much notice as the rest of His life. Israel became so far removed from God that when He Himself came and lived among them, they ironically accused Him of blasphemy against God, and had him executed. How many people recognized the Messiah for who He was? Maybe 500? Maybe less? Even when God Himself lived among them, very few took notice. In the eyes of Israel, and the rest of the world, they were probably perceived as a cult-following.

After the resurrection, the gospel went beyond the bounds of the House of Israel. Greeks, Romans, and other Gentiles started to also believe in the God of Israel, and that Jesus was the Christ. The tradition of worshipping Him continued down from generation to generation, but the Gentiles brought their own set of traditions and beliefs to the table. Christianity was cross-contaminated by surrounding cultures. People became divided on what were and weren’t genuine teachings of Christ. Eventually, for political reasons, the Roman Empire decided what Christianity would be. It was debated and put to a vote in Nicea. If you didn’t agree, the punishment was death.

The reformation began to allow for differing opinions, but traditions were so ingrained that Christianity never fully recovered what was lost. Fortunately, it inspired an environment where religious freedom was permitted. The United Staes was born, and Christian division came in all shapes and sizes. Each sect believed they were the ones with God’s favor.

God called Joseph Smith. The Church started with only a handful of founding members in 1830. By the time of his death in 1844, that number reached about 20,000. Through him, God restored many lost truths to the Gentiles. They gathered together in hopes of building Zion. In all the world, how many people noticed? The pattern holds: very few pay attention to what God is actually doing, though they always believe they have His divine favor. They look down on God’s servants with some amount of disdain, thinking them imposters, deceivers, blasphemers, etc.

The test is always the same. It never changes. It appears in a different form from generation to generation, but when God does a work, the pattern is the same. It has always been the same. From the time of Adam, the roles have been filled by different people in different ages, but the conflict is perpetual. You can even lift the arguments that are made from one generation and put them into the next. When God does a work, mankind mocks, ridicules, and persecutes those involved. It’s only after thousands of years that their contribution to the work of God is acknowledged, and even then only superficially; those who accept the dead prophets but reject the living ones wouldn’t have recognized God’s voice anciently either.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets” (Matthew 23:29-31).

Paul warned those in his day, “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, although a man declare it unto you (Acts 13:40-41).

In order to avoid repeating the errors of the past, we must read the scriptures as though they find fault with us. Our standard for determining truth mustn’t disqualify Christ, if His first coming were in our day. He held no institutional authority. He had no great following. He was not sensational. He was not popular. Conversely, everyone hated Him. The Jews, who were divided into various denominations and had their disagreements, were all decidedly against Jesus.

While stigma alone does not guarantee something is God’s work, it almost always accompanies it. It is to be expected. As Peter wrote to Christians in his day, “ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9).

When God does a work, it’s our responsibility to be familiar enough with His voice to recognize it, no matter how few others do. Our skepticism and pride may sort us into the same category as those who have always rejected the prophets. Failure to soften our hearts and exercise faith isn’t just playing it safe; the stakes for accepting God’s work in your day are just as high as they were in Noah’s, Moses’, Jesus’. The test is always the same.

Jesus gave this comfort and counsel to those who accept God’s work in their day:

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me” (John 15:18-21).

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