Various dispensations have been traced in the development of God's dealings with mankind.
(1) The dispensation of innocence in Eden.
(2) The Adamic dispensation of promise (Ge 3:15) after the fall, down to the flood; the remembrance of the promise being kept alive by sacrifice.
(3) The dispensation of Noah, like that of Adam, requiring, besides the duties of the light of nature, repentance for sin, faith in God's mercy, hope of the promised Savior, kept up by sacrifices; to which were added the prohibition to shed blood of man on penalty of death, and to eat animals' blood, and the permission to eat flesh (Genesis 9); extending from the flood to Abraham.
(5) The law, which was parenthetically introduced to be the schoolmaster until Christ, the end of the promise and the law, should come. It is made an objection to the Jewish dispensation that it was restricted to one nation; but its influence extended beyond Israel to the adjoining nations, Egypt famed for wisdom, the Canaanites for war, Phoenicia for commerce, and ultimately to Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Compare Ex 9:16; Nu 14:20-21; Jer 39:12; 40:2. (See DANIEL) (Da 4:37; 6:25-27; Ezr 1:1, etc.) Zoroaster was probably contemporary with Daniel, and drew from the Hebrew Scriptures the principles on which he reformed the Persian religion which had become corrupted by the worship of fire, and of an evil principle as well as a good.
Judea's position at the head of the Mediterranean, near Phoenicia, Egypt, Assyria, and Greece, adapted it for a worldwide influence. The Divine Lawgiver from the very time of instituting the Law (Deuteronomy 18) looked forward to (De 18:6) the Christian dispensation, which was to embody its spirit while superseding its letter (2Co 3:6-18). The gospel dispensation is the last, and is called "the world to come" (Heb 2:5), "the ends of the world" (1Co 10:11), "these last days" (Heb 1:2), "the kingdom of God" or "of the heavens" (Mt 4:17). It has successive stages:
(i.) the present, "the ministration of the Spirit" (2Co 3:8), "the times of the Gentiles" (Lu 21:24), the period during which "the kingdom of God cometh not with observation" (Lu 17:20);
(ii.) the epiphany of the glory of the great God and Savior (Tit 2:13), the manifested kingdom when He "will restore it to Israel" (Ac 1:6-7; Eze 21:27), and Himself shall "take His great power and reign" with His transfigured saints for a thousand years over the nations in the flesh, and Israel at their head (Zechariah 14; Isaiah 2; 65; 66; Re 11:15,17; 5:10,14);
DISPENSATIONS, DIVINE. These are otherwise called "the ways of God," and denote those schemes or methods which are devised and pursued by the wisdom and goodness of God, in order to manifest his perfections and will to mankind, for the purpose of their instruction, discipline, reformation, and advancement in rectitude of temper and conduct, in order to promote their happiness. These are the grand ends of the divine dispensations; and in their aptitude to promote these ends consist their excellence and glory. The works or constitutions of nature are, in a general sense, divine dispensations, by which God condescends to display to us his being and attributes, and thus to lead us to the acknowledgment, adoration, and love, of our Creator Father, and Benefactor. The sacred Scriptures reveal and record other dispensations of divine providence, which have been directed to the promotion of the religious principles, moral conduct, and true happiness of mankind. These have varied in several ages of the world, and have been adapted by the wisdom and goodness of God to the circumstances of his intelligent and accountable creatures. In this sense the various revelations which God has communicated to mankind at different periods, and the means he has used, as occasion has required, for their discipline and improvement, have been justly denominated divine dispensations. Accordingly, we read in the works of theological writers of the various dispensations of religion; that of the patriarchs, that of Moses, and that of Christ, called the dispensation of grace, the perfection and ultimate object of every other. All these were adapted to the conditions of the human race at these several periods; all, in regular succession, were mutually connected and rendered preparatory one to the other; and all were subservient to the design of saving the world, and promoting the perfection and happiness of its rational and moral inhabitants. See COVENANT.