Chaos and Conflict
1. Introduction and Old Testament



This particular teaching has taken a lot of effort, the scope of the biblical material will be obvious, but its foundations include various prophetic words and pictures, some coming in the early hours of the morning. In the article I want to move beyond the human visible world to the invisible world of God and evil spiritual powers. I see this writing as “programmatic”, laying down principles that can be utilised in prayer and ministry again and again. Those familiar with my teaching will discern the usual pattern of Christ – centeredness, a cross focus and the call for the restoration of gospel power.


In ongoing economic confusion we are still being inundated by a host of claims as to exactly what God is doing on the earth[1]. Generally, people are correct in seeing this chaos as a divinely sent opportunity for the church to get its act together. Nevertheless, relatively few articles connect the economic turmoil in the world with the deep inner purposes of God.

This article seeks to move away from a popular perception of chaos as something like a cancer that needs to be cut out or miraculously healed. What is needed to inspire boundless hope in the midst of suffering[2] is a Christ –centred view of how God uses evil in a deeply penetrating and creative way to fulfill his kingdom purposes on the earth. Much is at stake here. Let me use a few examples that come to mind.

Pentecostal healing revivals from the mid- twentieth century [3] to the movements associated with Toronto, Pensacola and Lakelands failed to see significant community transformation. It was as if things outside the walls of churches were too dysfunctional to deal with; healings abounded[4] but to turn sinners into saints who were able to “disciple nations” (Matt 28:19) was beyond these movements. Here in Perth I continue to encounter episodes of immorality and deceit amongst the people of God that seem beyond the reach of the “word” that is being proclaimed in many churches[5]. Since past moves of God have actually changed the complexion of nations[6], it is evident something is missing at the heart of the message of much of the church in these troubled times. A scan of scripture will reveal a clear pattern of God’s response to chaos in all its forms.

Chaos and the Old Testament

From the time of creation God has mastered forces that threaten his order for the world. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form (tohuand void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Gen 1:1 – 3)

There has been much discussion about the formless void of Genesis 1:2, but the vocabulary of Deuteronomy 32:10- 11 is particularly relevant. ““He found him (Israel) in a desert land, and in the howling waste (tohu)of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. 11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters [7]over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions” In this later context, the “waste” is a threatening environment full of wild beasts and demons[8]. These passages they teach, at least symbolically, that God faced opposition on a cosmic level when he created the world.

This perspective is conformed by poetic language of a battle between Yahweh and sea monsters, e.g. “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. 14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan[9]; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.” (Ps 74:13 – 14). Even though the context is about the defeat of Pharaoh, the verses immediately following talk of God’s work as creator (Ps. 74.15-17). Primeval conflict language has been appropriated to a threatening historical situation, the Exodus. This is a pattern found elsewhere in the Old Testament[10].

Biblical authors are in no doubt that Yahweh can handle these cosmic foes[11]. Yet, his victory is considered praiseworthy precisely because these forces are real and formidable. What is important for our purposes is how God wins his victory over chaos forces. He wins his victory as the cloud of glory overshadows evil and the Word penetrates the chaos to destroy it. The Spirit in the glory cloud takes the Word into the threatening wilderness/emptiness/chaos (at creation and Exodus) to destroy it and fill all things with order and life.

This is the pattern wherever cosmic foes threaten the divine order. For example, in Daniel 7, “the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts came up out of the sea” (vv. 2 – 3). Once again the imagery is of terrible forces that emerge from the chaos waters and represent powers of disorder on a global scale. Whilst in historical context the reference is to the rise of human empires at the time of the Babylonian exile, the symbolism of the divine warrior and his victory remains the same; “with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,” (vv 13 -14). The clouds represent the glory of God and the son of man figure[12] who overthrows the beasts in the power of the Word of God.

These themes continue at the microcosmic level. Poetic texts use imagery of the individual being engulfed by the chaos waters and being carried down to Sheol (the place of the dead). E.g. “Your wrath lies heavy upon me and you overwhelm me with all your waves.” (Ps 88:7)[13]. Death in Hebrew thought involved a movement from the created realm to the realm of uncreation, or chaos[14].

Precisely because death could be seen as a victory for chaos over God’s creatures, later apocalyptic texts which envisioned the perfection or renewal of creation believed that God would ultimately overcome chaos in the form of death. This necessarily involves the LORD’s supernatural power. A clear example is Isaiah 25:8, God “will swallow up death forever … he will wipe away the tears from all faces”.

Unsurprisingly, the resurrection texts of the Old Testament emerge in the midst of chaos and despair. The harassed Job awaits his resurrection as a vindication event[15]. Surrounded by enemies the psalmist anticipates a vision of God after death[16]. Most clearly, ““At …a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time…many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake”.” (Dan 12:1 – 2)

The pattern is clear at every level: whenever the created order, the elect nation of Israel, or the pious believer is attacked by forces of chaos God the Warrior triumphs by the glory of his Word and Spirit with demonstration after demonstration of supernatural delivering power. This arrangement finds perfect definition in the person of Jesus.


[1] Those from the northern hemisphere seem to be the most narrowly focused on their own nations. This is characteristic of mainstream American prophets, but those in Europe show similar trends.

[2] “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:3 – 5)

[3] Associated with names like William Branham, Oral Roberts, Tommy Hicks, T.L. Osborn etc.

[4] My point here is not to pass comment on the origin of this power.

[5] My personal exposure to repeated scandal, which is often hidden from the majority in a congregation, has become a repeated and burdensome pattern. It is not an occasional thing!

[6] The Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century in theUnited Kingdom bore fruit in the abolition of slavery and child labour.

[7] The verb translated “flutter” is the same as the one used in Genesis 1:2, “the Spirit of God was hovering”. Since God covered Israel in the wilderness with the shekinah glory cloud (Ex13:21; Num14:14 etc.), it becomes clear that the Spirit at creation was present in the cloud of glory.

[8] Deut 32:17; Isa 43:20; Jer 50:39; Ezek 29:5; Zeph 2:15.

[9] A mythical seven headed sea monster that inhabited the deep and sought cosmic kingship in opposition to the Canaanite god Baal.

[10] “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. 10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. 11 The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.” (Ps 89:9 -11). Rahab is the name of a chaos monster in ancient near east myth. In this passage the imagery of chaos conquered at creation is once again transferred to God’s mastery of the (Red/reed) sea and other opposing forces in the Exodus event. Cf. Job 26:12.

[11] I am not suggesting the writers of the Old Testament actually believed in literal sea monsters etc., but they appropriated ancient divine warrior language to make a forceful point about the true and living God.

[12] Identified in the New Testament with Jesus e.g. Mark8:38; 14:62; Acts7:56.

[13] See also Jonah 2:3-6; Psalm 42:8; 69:2-3,15-16)

[14] In later Old Testament writings the afterlife expectation becomes more complex.

[15] “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,” (Job19:25 -26)

[16] “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” (Ps 17:15)

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