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Volume 15, Issue 1: Doctrine 101

The Great Unknowns of History

Patch Blakey

Did you ever want to be someone great and famous? Someone whose name rang down the corridors of history, a name that stood for truth, righteousness and justice, a name that motivated men to self-sacrifice for millennia afterwards? We know of such men, and we marvel at how much they've impacted the course of our world for good. Some, of course, are biblical characters like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, and David. Others are historic such as Augustine, Athanasius, Hus, Luther, Calvin, Bradford, or Hudson Taylor. These men comprise only the slightest sampling from the annals of history, like the dim beam of light from a window in the early dawn of morning compared to the bright sun at high noon on a hot summer day. These men, and many others like them, are the great men of history. They are known and highly revered, and we would do well to follow their example.

However, have you ever stopped to consider that the number of the good and great men of history, which is significant if we were to enumerate them all, would pale in comparison to the vast number of unknown men of history? You may think that the unknowns are not known because they weren't so great. But is that really so? Does God only cause the truly great men of history to achieve lasting fame?
I've heard some speculate that there may have been as many as ten billion people on the earth at the time of the flood. What is significant is, that in the grace of God, Noah and his household were the only ones to survive the flood among all of mankind. Of the others who lived before the flood we know that there were righteous men, as well as unrighteous. But only a few of either ever had their names recorded in Scripture for posterity. Of the thousands, maybe millions, maybe even billions of others, we know nothing of them by name. What about after the flood?
Again, we know that there were many who have been blessed to have their names recorded in Scripture; these are men with whom God established His covenant. He would be their God, and they would be His people. If we were to start with Abraham, it's pretty easy to keep track of these folks over time. But after the exodus, the Bible says, "And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children" (Ex.12:37). We find a large number of those whom God delivered, but not many names. Of all of these that were delivered, we know that God was not pleased with most of them, because of their unbelief. But of those that were under twenty years old when they came out of Egypt, they and their posterity were to inherit the Promised Land. Who were these people, and how many were there?
In reading the Book of Numbers, we would learn that those that were included in the census after departing Egypt included every man twenty years and upwards who was able to go out to war. But only those who were the heads of their family's households were named (Num. 1:4). Again, at the end of the book, there is another numbering, using the same criteria as before, and again, only the heads of the households are mentioned (Num. 26). And then, at the beginning of Deuteronomy, Moses states, "The Lord your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude" (Deut. 1:10). This is indeed a great number! But as we read on, we learn that most of these people remain individually unknown to us.
In the book of 1 Kings, God rebukes Elijah with these words, "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him" (1 Kgs. 19:18). How many of these seven thousand faithful believers can we name today?
We could find many more examples in the Old Testament, but let's skip ahead to the day of Pentecost. Luke recorded for us, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). And we know that following Pentecost, those who came to the Lord through the preaching of the gospel were not limited to a small, paltry few, but the number grew to include many thousands in Asia Minor, Achaia, Macedonia, Rome, and beyond. This number is unknown, as are the vast majority of the individuals who comprise that number.
I could go on, but the point has already been made. Most of us will never have a name that is readily recognized and that stirs the hearts of men throughout the thousands of generations yet to come prior to the return of Christ. But that's not bad. We are in abundant good company if we consider the collective testimony and character of the myriads of faithful unknown men, women, and children throughout history who comprise that great throng gathered around the throne of the Lamb at the end of time. "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands" (Rev. 7:9). May God grant us grace to be found faithful even if known only to Him. "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Tim. 2:19).

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