Archives for posts with tag: God’s sovereignty

I’m on Day 31 of my trip through the NLT Chronological Bible reading it as I would a novel.  Today we are in the years 730 BC to 680 BC.  The prophets Micah and Isaiah are active and Judah under King Hezekiah receives very unwelcome visitors.

I had a couple of takeaways from the portion of Isaiah that I read listened to today:

  1. Yahweh is God of ALL the Nations. In today’s reading we see God addressing prophecies to many nations: Ethiopia, Egypt, Babylon, Edom, Arabia, and Tyre, in addition to Israel and Judah.  Yahweh is God of all the nations and he acts as if he is in control of events even in nations that do not know him, nor care about him.
  2. We begin to see that Judah appears as if it will follow in the steps of Israel. Idolatry in Judah raises its ugly head and the reader begins to be concerned that Judah has not learned from the object lesson of what happened to her sister kingdom, Israel at all. “Though you are such wicked rebels, my people, come and return to the Lord.” (Isaiah 31:6, NLT)

Micah, who lives during the time that Israel is carried into exile in Assyria is a prophet to both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. We read the same message in Micah that we see in Isaiah: Israel’s leaders are not faithful to Yahweh, the people are oppressed by the wealthy, the people are being drawn into idolatry, and judgment is coming.

The startling thing that we find in both Isaiah and Micah is that God repeatedly stops in the middle of warnings and prophecies about coming judgment to remind the people that he has not and will not abandon them:

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.” (Isaiah 35:10, NLT)

Meanwhile, Assyria–superpower of the day–invades Judah and even threatens the capital city of Jerusalem.  King Hezekiah is in deep, deep trouble, indeed it appears as if his goose is cooked.  What will become of Judah?  We won’t find out until tomorrow.  However, the prophet Isaiah has been busy.  Here is what he prophesies about this great superpower, Assyria:

What sorrow awaits you Assyrians, who have destroyed others but have never been destroyed yourselves. You betray others, but you have never been betrayed. When you are done destroying, you will be destroyed. When you are done betraying, you will be betrayed. (Isaiah 33:1, NLT)

God acts as if he is more powerful than the most powerful country of the day.  Is he?  We will soon find out.

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“But go, act, be strong for the battle. Why should you suppose that God will cast you down before the enemy? For God has power to help or to cast down.”” (2 Chr. 25.8, ESV)

A “man of God” to King Amaziah of Judah, just before he dismisses 100,000 mercenaries from Israel, and then attacks Seir with only soldiers from Judah.

Amaziah’s problem was that the enemy (Seir) seemed mightier than God, at least in a practical sense.  I’m sure Amaziah would have theoretically believed that God had power to help or cast down, his problem was that he produced an insurance policy to help God out. He was hedging his bets.  His formula was basically God + some extra mercenaries = certain victory.  The man of God reminds him that God + nothing = victory.

Isn’t this how we often operate?  We give lip service to God’s sovereignty, to his providence, but when it comes to acting on that belief we like to hedge our bets, to help God out a little, to trust in God + our own actions, assuming that this formula will give us the best chance of success.  I’ve been guilty of this dozens and dozens of times, so I can hardly throw stones at Amaziah.

The result?  God gives Amaziah a mighty victory over Seir.  Great story, right?  It would be if Amaziah hadn’t immediately fallen into idolatry:

After Amaziah came from striking down the Edomites, he brought the gods of the men of Seir and set them up as his gods and worshiped them, making offerings to them. (2 Chr. 25.14, ESV)

Spiritual victory is no guarantee of future faithfulness.

So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. And Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel.” (1 Samuel 7:9–10, ESV)

The Philistines take the occasion of Samuel offering a burnt offering to attack Israel.  Samuel’s correct and faith-filled response was to cry out to the Lord…and the Lord answered him.  The result was the first [and perhaps only] time when the Lord defends his people by thunder.

One can only imagine what kind of thunder this was to send the Philistines retreating in confusion and fear.  It must have been terrifying.

As we saw yesterday, God uses animals to accomplish his sovereign will.  Today we find that he also uses natural events; he harnesses them to bring about his design.  In this case, his plan was to fight for Israel using thunder to defeat the Philistines.  Needless to say, God succeeded.

Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” (Job 40:9, ESV) God asks Job this question towards the end of the book of Job.  The answers to these questions are: no, and no. Only God can thunder like God.

We cannot say it enough, God is sovereign over all things and bends everything: animals, nature, time, people, events, to the control of his will.  Everything serves our sovereign God.  Everything.

And they put the ark of the Lord on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh. (1 Sam 6.11-12, ESV)

What strikes me about this story is that the writer of Samuel wants the reader to see what happened and feel what happened and understand what happened in the march of the milk cows.

The Philistines have captured the Ark of the Covenant and it has been a disaster and the Philistines know it. Whatever city into which the ark is placed, the population begins to experience terrible things. Very soon, they want nothing more than to be rid of the ark. After some hemming and hawing the Philistine leaders decide to send the ark back…if the milk cows will take the ark back of their own accord. Our verses record what happened. The milk cows go back straight down the main highway to Beth-Shemesh turning "neither to the right nor to the left."

The Philistine leaders do not become followers of Yahweh, but they understand that Yahweh would have his ark back, and he got it back.

Here is the faith lesson in these verses. God is sovereign over milk cows. They are nothing but dumb animals, but they must obey God's command just like everything else in this universe, and so they do obey his command and take the ark straight back to Israel, because even dumb animals are servants of Yahweh. He is sovereign over them.

If this is true for milk cows, then it's true for us as well. God is sovereign over our ways and the course of our life (Ps. 139.1-6).

What can the righteous accomplish
When truth’s pillars are destroyed and law and order collapse?
Yet the Eternal One is never shaken–
He is still found in his temple of holiness
Reigning as Lord and King over all.
He is closely watching everything that happens.
And with a glance, his eyes examine every heart.
For his heavenly rule will prevail over all. Psalms 11:3-4 (Passion Translation)

There is something chilling in these verses and something hopeful.

  • Chilling – David makes the correct observation that when truth’s pillars are destroyed and law and order collapse then there is not much that the righteous can do.  There are times when evil runs amok and never more so than when truth is stifled and every man does what is right in his own eyes.  I think we are seeing the beginning of this today.  Society cannot long survive without truth.
  • Hopeful – David reminds us that, even in a time when truth’s pillars are destroyed we can have hope because the Eternal One is never shaken. God is not moved, nor worried, nor anxious when men reject truth.  This is no more threatening to him than an ant threatens an elephant.  David knows that God’s heavenly rule will prevail over all.

The upshot for we who take in David’s words?  In a time when truth is denied and denigrated, when evil seems to have the upper hand more and more, when mankind seems to become ever more blind by the minute; God still reigns.  He is still in control. He will still accomplish his ends and ultimately all will be well.

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace; being built up, and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in number.” (Acts 9:31)

There is an interesting juxtaposition in Acts 8 an 9.  At the beginning the fledgling church is under threat by Saul of Tarsus:

“But Saul was making havoc of the church; entering every house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.Now those who were scattered went from place to place preaching the word” (Acts 8:3–4)

While Saul was rabidly persecuting the church, the church was under pressure and so Christians fled away from Jerusalem to various parts of Israel and even beyond.  Then Saul got radically saved while on the way to Damascus to continue his oppression of Christians there.  He suddenly began preaching for faith in Christ!

The result is listed in our verse.  Paul was no longer in pursuit of Christians and so the broader church was at peace and then: It increased in number.

When the church was under pressure it was increasing in number due to Christians being spread out and preaching the word.  When it was at peace it was also increasing in number.  This is something that only the Lord could bring about in his sovereignty.  It should also make us think twice about our assumptions of how and where the Word of God will bear fruit.

“But right away Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid.”” (Matthew 14:27)

In the Greek when Jesus speaks he says just five words.  They look like this: θαρσεῖτε, ἐγώ εἰμι· μὴ φοβεῖσθε, which is to say Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid. [I realize Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but all we have is what the gospel writers gave us, so bear with me here for a minute].

The disciples rightly believed that they were in existential danger in the middle of the night in an open boat when a nasty storm suddenly bore down on them in the middle of the Sea of Galilee [the Sea is known for such storms even to this day].  There is nothing quite so dark and liable to bring one’s fears than a stormy night at sea.

Jesus comes along walking along the water and he speaks as if he doesn’t have a concern in the world [which he certainly did not].  He says five words.  Just five.  “Courage men.  It is me.  Don’t be afraid any more.” [Because I understand that you certainly are afraid]  Jesus gets into the boat.  The wind and waves calm down immediately.  The disciples realize that they are in the presence of someone who is not a normal person. Truly you are the son of God, they say. [And of course, he was and is]

Five words and men are saved from mortal danger.  Five words and the wind and waves calm down.  Five words and Jesus has upended our understanding of the world for all time.  Danger is a handmaiden to Our Sovereign God.  It can go just as far as He who holds danger in his hand, but not one millimeter further.  The wind and waves can blow, but only within his sovereign will and completely subject to his word.

I’m not a rocket scientist, but I’m willing to bet that every other force of nature is just as likely to respond to Jesus’ words as the wind and waves.  Indeed, I know that not only natural forces, but the spiritual forces of darkness, are just as subject to the command of Jesus as storms are.  Nothing.  Not. A. Thing. Is outside of and independent of Our God.

Oh…Paul agrees with me:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV)