Question: Does God, by His angels and/or through His Spirit, operate on  people’s minds to direct or influence a thought?

We know that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Dan 4:17,25,32). So God actively engages in the affairs of nations to advance His purpose. Christ declared “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). So God is actively engaged in our ecclesial life too. And we have generally understood that this involves the work of the angels: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb 1:14). David, in Psalm 34, spoke of Yahweh’s deliverance when he was in need but clearly understood that this help, both for himself and others involved the work of the angels: “The angel of Yahweh encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them” (Psa 34:7). So in worldly affairs, in ecclesial circumstances, and in our individual lives, we understand that God’s providence is at work as the angels direct circumstances exercising Spirit power to advance God’s purpose and to fulfil His will.

Generally, we do not attempt to understand too closely the ‘mechanics’, to put it crudely, of how this is done. We are wise to be reticent in this area of divine activity. We do not wish to tread clumsily on holy ground, and in large measure we accept that the ‘how’ of angelic activity is beyond our human understanding. On the other hand it is right for us to want to understand God’s ways, within the limits of what has been scripturally revealed. Brother Robert Roberts reviewed these issues in his book, The Ways of Providence. Brother Tony Benson in Stormy Wind Fulfilling His Word illustrated, as an aspect of providence, “the place of weather and earthquakes in fulfilling prophecy”.

The Syrians fled

We want to consider briefly some of those passages of Scripture that seem to indicate occasions where providence involved the directing in some manner of human thought in ways that led to the fulfilment of the divine purpose. Can God direct the human mind or a human thought? Undoubtedly He can. Has He done so? Certainly. In the days of Elisha the prophet we read of the occasion when the men of Israel “were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, (and) behold, there was no man there. For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host…”; and so they fled (2 Kings 7:5–6). There was no host, horses or chariots! It was all in the mind. God had directly operated on the minds of all the Syrian army so that simultaneously they heard the sound of a non-existent army. Well this was an overtly miraculous event, but it does emphasise the point that God can and has operated directly on the minds of men to effect His purpose.

Sarah and Abimelech

When Sarah was taken into the household of Abimelech, God kept Abimelech from sin and declared as much to him: “And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her” (Gen 20:1–6). How did God do that? Robert Roberts suggests: “From day to day, domestic events and his own mood would simply take that turn, apparently in the ordinary course, which would keep him from the course that seemed open and desirable to him. God was withholding him and he did not know it.” The very strong implication of the record is that the thoughts and inclinations of Abimelech towards Sarah were restrained by direct divine control. There was no such reticence where the other women of Abimelech’s court are concerned, only as regards Sarah (Gen 20:17–18).

Eliezer and Rebekah

When godly Eliezer at the instruction of his master Abraham sought a wife for Isaac, he prayed for providential guidance to direct him to the damsel divinely appointed for Isaac (Gen 24:14). Before his prayer was concluded, “behold, Rebekah came out” and spoke to him in the very terms that he had asked God might be his evidence that she was indeed the chosen wife for Isaac (Gen 24:15–19). God, through His angel, had placed those thoughts and words in her mind and the providential links came together.

At Emmaus and Philippi

When Paul was at Philippi he encountered Lydia “whose heart, the Lord, fully opened, to be giving heed unto the things being spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14 Roth). The rare term “fully opened” is used of Jesus in Luke 24 in the context of the two on the road to Emmaus whose eyes were “opened” (v31). Their minds were directly affected, first to inhibit recognition of Jesus (“their eyes were holden that they should not know him” v16) and then to permit that recognition. Christ “opened” the Scriptures to these two and subsequently “opened” the understanding or mind (Grk nous) of the apostles that they might understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:44–45). The same unique language being used in the case of Lydia suggests that here is a special situation and there is an opening of Lydia’s mind to make her more ready to hearken to the apostle’s teaching. Note, too, that Lydia is not receiving the Spirit; there is no in-dwelling of the Spirit, she has no control over what is happening, is most likely not aware of it, but there is a specific, limited divine action taking place revealed by inspiration for our learning.

The Psalmist

Scripture uses expressions which suggest it is legitimate to ask for understanding. Consider Psalm 119: “Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes” (v12); “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (v18); “Make me to understand the way of thy precepts” (v27); “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law” (v34); “Make me to go in the path of thy commandments” (v35); “give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments” (v73); “Order my steps in thy word” (v133). The psalmist is by no means a dilatory individual seeking knowledge without effort. The psalm also speaks copiously of a diligent, untiring student of God’s Word: “Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word” (v148). But it is quite clear that the writer thought it quite legitimate to pray for divine influence in his life and thinking to make him amenable to the things of God.

Ahab, Micaiah and the false prophets

Scripture also suggests that in the large sphere of world events the hand of providence or “the signs of the times” are not only influenced by angelic control of natural phenomena, but that some direct influence on the minds of men by the angels has been involved, and likely still is. The example of the council in heaven outlined by the prophet Micaiah to Ahab the king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, is a case in point. Ahab had asked his prophets “Shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for God will deliver it into the king’s hand”( 2 Chron 18:5). Jehoshaphat, who should never have been anywhere near this unholy alliance, at least had the gumption to ask: “Is there not here a prophet of Yahweh besides, that we might enquire of him” (v6)?

After at first sarcastically repeating the false words of the false prophets, Micaiah reveals to the two kings what had been revealed to him. God indeed wanted Ahab to go up to Ramoth-gilead, but it was not for victory. His defeat and death was God’s punishment that awaited him there. In verses 18–22 the prophet outlines the heavenly council where an angel suggests that he will deceive Ahab by being “a spirit of falsehood” (Roth) in Ahab’s prophets. This surely involved some degree of influencing and directing their thoughts to the end desired. The work of the angel re-inforced inclinations in both the false prophets and in Ahab which were already there. Another commentator has written: “The [angelic] spirit which here wrought the evil did but foster the false notions which a long course of previous warnings had had no effect in driving away. Now therefore Ahab is given up to them. God sends him ‘a strong delusion, that he should believe a lie’ (2Thess 2:11).”

Some have suggested that these verses are just a parable whereby Micaiah is graphically representing the lying attitude of Ahab’s prophets. This is very hard to believe. Why use such expressions to merely suggest that Ahab and his lying prophets are directing events? The whole point is to demonstrate to both kings that God is totally in control, that he is the most High, ruling in the kingdoms of men, and that He has a purpose which will be fulfilled, namely that Ahab go to Ramoth-gilead to his death.

Daniel and the Prince of Persia

A similar lesson emerges from the expressions used by the angel to Daniel in Daniel10:13. The angel worked hard for twenty-one days to bring the prince of Persia around. Even Michael was involved. The “prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me”, the angel declared. Here is an intriguing insight into the angelic work. Some rulers may be readily moved in a particular direction by re-inforcing an attitude or intention already present. Others involve more difficult tasks, turning men in a direction they would not normally wish to go. We would be bold indeed to assume we had any deep understanding of these processes, which seem to involve the influencing of circumstances, of moods, of thoughts, by processes direct and indirect that we will only perceive when we, too, possess divine nature.

What about free-will?

Some might suggest that for God to work so directly with individuals involves an over-riding of the principle of free-will. But it rather seems to be that God works within the bounds of the essential character of the individuals involved. Rebekah was a kindly person and hence her offer to provide water for both Eliezer and his camels was in accord with her character. So, too, with Ahab’s prophets. They were always liars, so encouraging that lying spirit to cause Ahab to act as God willed did not involve anything that was out of character for them.

What about today?

In noting that God can and has directed or influenced the thinking of individuals to further His purpose with people and nations, we must tread carefully indeed. Some might foolishly imagine that they have access to God’s Spirit when we know this is not true. Our Statement of Faith, Doctrines to be Rejected, is helpful: No 25 “That a man cannot believe without possessing the Spirit of God”; and No 37 “That the Holy Spirit gifts are available today.” Our own personal access to the things of the Spirit is through God’s Word and our approach to Him in prayer.

When our Lord returns we will discover, perhaps to our astonishment, how actively the angels have worked in our lives. Perhaps to our chagrin we will discover there were times we withstood their work as the prince of Persia did. Perhaps we will discover in thankfulness that there were occasions, when utterly unknown to us, a thought was influenced to put us back on the right path. Let Brother Roberts have the last word: “angelic operations in ordinary life are not distinguishable from the effects of nature, the results induced appearing natural. We cannot discover their hand, and need not make the attempt. Our part is to fear God, keep the commandments, and go forth with courage and trust, believing the assurance that all things work together for good for those who love God.”