sovereignty

2 Chronicles 10, Zephaniah 2

Today’s readings from the Old Testament are from 2 Chronicles 10 and Zephaniah 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 10.

We’ve read before about the foolish decision of Rehoboam to treat God’s people harshly rather than lighten the burden that Solomon put on them. What is interesting in this passage is the statement, “this turn of events was from God” (v. 15b). That phrase indicates that God willed that Rehoboam would “not listen to the people” (v. 15a). In other words, although Rehoboam made the choice, using his “free” will to make a foolish decision, his foolish decision was part of God’s foreordained will.

The reason God willed this was described in the next phrase of verse 15, “, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.” That phrase reminds us that, while Solomon was still alive, God handed down judgment on him because of his idolatry. The judgment God handed down on him was a divided kingdom which was prophesied to Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s officials. You can read about all of this in 1 Kings 11-12.

So God ordained Rehoboam’s response in order to make his prophecy to Jeroboam come true. But how is that foreordination consistent with the idea of Rehoboam’s free will? Did Rehoboam really have a choice? If not, how could he be held accountable for the choice God made for him?

The answer to that question is that Rehoboam did have a choice and he made a choice to follow his sinful nature. The advice of his friends to be a difficult dictator (vv. 8-11) appealed to his pride and greed. He chose the decision he made because he was a sinner. His choice was consistent with his sinful nature.

God’s role in this was simply to allow him to do what he wanted to do. God could have been gracious to Rehoboam. He could have softened the king’s heart to listen to the wisdom of Solomon’s advisors (vv. 6-7) but, as the Sovereign Lord “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11), God let Rehoboam decide and act according to his sin nature. That decision accomplished the plan of God to divide the nation. It meant that God’s prophecy would be fulfilled by the free choice of King Rehoboam.

Free will does not mean “free” in the absolute sense. I can choose to try to flap my arms and fly like a bird but my choice to try that did not change my nature. I don’t have the capacity to carry out the choice. Free will, then, means that I am free to choose according to my nature. As sinners, we choose what is selfish and wrong and destructive because of our sin nature. The choice was ours, it was freely made, so we are accountable for it.

What happens when we make good choices is that God is gracious to us. He brings wisdom or circumstances that change our thinking and he softens our hearts to receive that wisdom. The choice is still freely made but it is because of God’s grace.

So God’s sovereignty does not violate free will. Instead, God--according to his plan and purpose--either lets us choose according to our nature or he enlightens us by grace so that we make a better choice. This is how God accomplishes his will while still letting us exercise our wills. It is also why we are held accountable for the choices we make even though they were foreordained by God. Rehoboam did what he wanted; God just stood back and let him do it so that his sovereign plan would be accomplished.

The point for us is to ask for God’s grace to make good, wise, godly choices in life. Don’t let me do what I want to do, Lord! Instead, give me the grace to do what is right in your sight. This is the prayer of a godly person who wants to use God’s gift of free will in a godly way.

1 Kings 17, Ezekiel 47

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are 1 Kings 17 and Ezekiel 47.

Yesterday in 1 Kings 16 we saw that Ahab was sold out to evil like no king Israel ever had before (1 Ki 16:30). Based on that description of Ahab, we might expect that Ahab’s reign in Israel was a dark time for the Northern Kingdom spiritually and morally. Our expectation is correct; the Northern Kingdom was always far from God both spiritually and morally. It was born in rebellion to God’s Davidic king, worshipped idols from the very beginning of its separation from Judah, and was led by 20 kings who all did evil in the sight of God. In response to Israel’s sinful ways—particularly the evil leadership of king Ahab, God sent his prophet Elijah to proclaim judgment on Israel. Verse 1 told us that Elijah’s message was, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” This drought would naturally lead to famine which would ravage Israel’s farm-based economy and cause many people to suffer and die.

What’s interesting about today’s passage is that the focus is not on the devastation God brought on Israel, but on the provision God brought to his servant Elijah. At a time when food and water were scarce, Elijah just had to hang out near a water source and God miraculously brought him food carried by ravens (vv. 2-6). Then, when the drought caused the brook he depended on for water to dry up, God sent him to a person who could take care of him. But she was a very unlikely caretaker. Instead of sending him to a godly man of wealthy means, God sent him to a widow. This widow lived outside the land of Israel; verse 9 told us that he was sent to “Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” This town was located near the Mediterranean Sea and was a good distance north of the most northern tribes of Israel. Widows, typically, struggled to survive themselves, having no husband to work and provide for the family in an age and economy where everyone in the family had to work hard for the family merely to survive. God told Elijah, “I have directed a widow there to supply you with food” (v. 9b) which suggests that she knew Elijah was coming beforehand. Yet when he arrived and asked her for food, she said, “As surely as the Lord your God lives… I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die” (v. 12). Not exactly an ancient version of Costco, was she? Yet Elijah believed the Lord’s word; he comforted her by telling her not to be afraid (v. 13a) but to do trust the Lord’s provision by making food for Elijah first, then for herself and her son (v. 13b-c). This command was based on God’s promise in verse 14: “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” Amazingly, she believed the Lord’s promise and God provided for her, her son, AND Elijah day after day after day (vv. 15-16).

Then, as if her daily test of faith were not enough, it was tested again when her son died (vv. 17-19). She reacted as anyone would in this kind of tragedy. Why would God keep her son alive day after day from starvation only to see him die prematurely from illness? But God listened to Elijah’s prayer and restored his life (vv. 20-23). The purpose of these miracles was to authenticate the message of Elijah: “Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.’” The point of this story was to show how God provided for those who trusted in him, even in a dark time spiritually for the nation of Israel. His provision required constant faith, but he never failed to live up to his promise. And, like he did with Elijah, God calls us to trust him and live according to his word and his promises even when times look bleak spiritually and economically.

Every time we elect a new president here in the United States, the side that loses believes that the end is near. Let’s consider that: What if someday we elect the most ungodly person to ever occupy the oval office, someone determined to stamp out biblical Christianity? Can God provide for us if we are ruled and even persecuted by unsaved and ungodly people? Of course he can but we have to look to him in faith. Think about the possible anxiety Elijah might have faced. What if the ravens don’t show up with any food today? What if this is the day that the widow’s flour and oil run out? Each day was a test of faith for these people, but God was faithful. May we have the grace to trust him no matter what kind of trial of faith we face in the days ahead.

Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, Psalm 144

Today’s OT18 daily readings are Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, and Psalm 144.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 3.

God is gracious and forgiving; he has told us this over and over again. God judges sin with absolute justice but he is also merciful, particularly to the repentant.

There are limits, however, to God’s mercy as Moses learned here in Deuteronomy 3. Angry with the people for their grumbling and unbelief, Moses struck a rock twice with his staff when God had commanded him to speak to the rock in Numbers 20. God was gracious and provided the water they needed despite Moses’s disobedience; however, he told Moses that Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:12).

Here in Deuteronomy 3, Moses continued his sermon describing God’s works for Israel. In verse 23 he told the people that he “pleaded” with the Lord to reverse his judgment and allow Moses to enter the land. God told him in verse 26 to quit praying for that; instead, Moses would be given a look from a mountain nearby before he died but he would not enter the land himself (vv. 26-27). It did not matter that Moses was sorry for what he had done and was repentant. Although God is merciful, this was one instance in which he would not show grace to Moses.

This seems harsh, doesn’t is. Moses put up with a lot of nonsense and rebellion during his many years as Israel’s leader. Which of us wouldn’t have lost his temper at least once? Although Moses shifted the blame a bit (v. 26a), he was genuinely repentant; otherwise, God would not have let him continue leading for the previous 40 years. Why, then, wouldn’t God show Moses mercy in this instance? There are three reasons.

First, Moses’s sin was not just an expression of anger; it was an expression of unbelief and a violation of God’s holiness. Back in Numbers 20 where this incident happened, Moses said, “Must WE bring you water out of this rock?” (v. 10). When he said that, he put himself in a place of equality with God. God’s judgment on him, then, was for breaking the Creator-creature distinction. As he told Moses in Numbers 20:10, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Moses’s sin, then, was very serious because it violated God’s most elevated attribute, his holiness. It wasn’t just that he struck the rock when God said speak to it (though, that was disobedience); it was the unholy attitude that Moses displayed in his disobedience.

Second, Moses had greater accountability because he was Israel’s leader and teacher. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point but the Bible tells us that teachers of God’s truth bear more responsibility than everyone else. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Third, God is Sovereign. Moses said this in verse 24 when he called him, “Sovereign Lord.” God had his own purpose for letting judgment fall on Moses and for sticking by that judgment despite Moses’s repentance and pleading. Although God is gracious and merciful, he does not have to be. Nobody has a right to God’s mercy; he has every right to extend and withhold it at will.

Have you ever been frustrated by unanswered prayer? Does it bother you when God shows favor to others that he doesn’t show to you? Let Moses’s example here inform your praying. God is merciful, loving, and gracious, but he is sovereign over those characteristics. He has the right to do what he wills to do, whether we like it or not. As his servants, discipleship calls us to accept his will--even when it is bitter--and follow him obediently.

Genesis 50, Job 16-17, Psalm 48

Today’s readings are Genesis 50, Job 16-17, and Psalm 48.

This devotional is about Genesis 50.

Nothing ever prevented Joseph from exacting revenge on his brothers. From the time they first appeared in his presence to the day Jacob died, Joseph could have enslaved them or killed them if he had wanted to do that. Joseph was accountable to only one man, Pharaoh, and he was unlikely to care what Joseph did to a group of non-Egyptians.

According to verse 15, however, Joseph’s brothers had a hard time accepting Joseph’s forgiveness as genuine. They feared that Joseph was not merciful but merely long-suffering; that is, Joseph respected his father Jacob so much that he was willing to wait for Jacob’s death to pay back justice to his brothers. So they added a little something to Jacob’s last will and testament (vv. 16-17) as if Jacob himself had requested full and final forgiveness from Joseph for his other sons. They also volunteered to be Joseph’s slaves (v. 18) in hopes of staying alive.

Other than the grace of God in Joseph’s life, developing godly character in him, what led Joseph to be able to completely forgive his brothers with no hard feelings whatsoever, much less a desire for revenge? The answers are in verses 19-10 and there are two of them.

First, Joseph had a genuine sense of his accountability to God. “Am I in the place of God?” he asked rhetorically in verse 19. Humanly speaking, almost anyone could answer yes. Joseph had nearly absolute power so he was unlikely to be questioned, second-guessed, or condemned in this life no matter what he did to his brothers. Yet Joseph himself knew that God would judge him if he saw his brothers’s repentance and refused to forgive. Joseph knew that the power he had was delegated to him by God; therefore, he understood that he would be held accountable by God for how he treated his brothers.

Second, Joseph could see how the sins of his brothers and all the other painful experiences of his life had led him to this point. In verse 20 he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” What happened to Joseph happened by God’s sovereign will. Although it was painful and stressful for years of his life, it was ultimately for Joseph’s good and for the good of his family, God’s covenant people. Since it was God’s will for Joseph to suffer first and then be exalted, how could he remain bitter? The outcome was good and the course he took to that outcome was ordained by God.

May this give you hope in the hard struggles of your life. God is sovereign over all things, so whatever happened in your life was allowed by him. Ultimately, he will work it out for your good, which may mean simply helping you learn to trust him in all circumstances, but may mean much more than that. Believing that God is sovereign will help you accept the things that have happened to you and give you grace to forgive anyone who sinned against you but is repentant.

Judges 12, Acts 16, Jeremiah 25, Mark 11

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 12, Acts 16, Jeremiah 25, Mark 11. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Jeremiah 25.

People sometimes talk about God’s will and the will of humanity as if they are in conflict with each other. In the moral sense, they are. Morally, God’s will for humanity is to obey his commands but in our fallenness our human wills choose to disobey him. But I am referring to God’s will and the human will in a different sense here. I am talking about what God has willed to happen on earth in terms of human events—the rise of nations, political rulers, the winners of war, and so on. The Bible teaches that God has decided what world history will look like. He chooses who becomes the president, who wins wars, which nations become powerful and prosperous, and which nations wither and die. Since God has decided all of this in advance, people sometimes wonder if we have any free will at all. Are we mere puppets manipulated by God to do his will in human history? Or is humanity ultimately in control of all things and, if so, are God’s prophesies about what will happen merely him guessing really well or being able to see in advance what will happen?

The Bible’s teaching on this is that God has decided what will happen and he controls the outcome of all things, but that his will is carried out by humans who are acting according to their own will and desire. In other words, God is sovereign over history, making his will happen but humanity cooperates with God’s will, often without realizing it, by doing what comes naturally to humans. Even our sins and the evil acts of emperors are in some way accounted for within the overall will of God.

As created beings, it is impossible for us to fully understand how this is true. The most important thing for us to know, however, is that God’s will works on a different plane than our wills do. Because God is the Creator and we are the creation, we should not assume that God’s will and our wills are on the same continuum, the same spectrum. We are not on one end of a rope and God on the other end in a cosmic game of tug-of-war. No, as Creator, God can accomplish his will without sharing any guilt for our sins or without violating human will. We are not robots; we do not act because we have been controlled or coerced by God in some way. God wills in a completely different way than we do, which is how His will is accomplished even while he allows us to follow our own desires, even the wicked ones.

Today’s passage contains language that suggests all of what I have written in the preceding paragraphs. As you know, Jeremiah had been prophesying for over twenty years (see verse 3) that God would judge Judah for their sins and idolatry. God’s method for bringing this punishment would be a foreign nation, just as the curses of Moses’ law had declared. In this case, it would be a foreign nation called Babylon, led by a king named Nebuchadnezzar. Because it was God’s will for Judah to be punished in this way, Jeremiah’s prophecy was, “Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: ‘Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.’” Did you catch how he described Nebuchadnezzar as “my servant” in verse 9? This indicates that Nebuchadnezzar’s success against Israel was due to God’s will to punish his people. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were agents for carrying out the will of God in human history.

And yet, although it was God’s decree that Nebuchadnezzar be the agent of discipline for God’s people, what Nebuchadnezzar did was still sinful in the eyes of God. Verse 12 put it this way: “‘But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will make it desolate forever.’” In verse 9, Nebuchadnezzar was described as God’s servant, carrying out the will of God in his attack on Judah. In verse 12, however, God promised to punish Babylon for attacking Judah, suggesting that their attack was sinful by using the word “guilt.” This shows that Nebuchadnezzar was acting out of his sinful nature, attacking all these other nations, including Judah, for his own selfish reasons. But God used his sinful attacks to chasten his people, so Nebuchadnezzar was also God’s “servant” in that he was accomplishing the will of God, bringing the covenant curse that God had warned Judah about. If Judah had repented or had been faithful to God all along, God would have prevented Nebuchadnezzar from defeating Judah. But, given their disobedience, God instead used Babylon to accomplish his will.

This shows us that we do not need to fear the things that happen in our world. Wars, evil rulers, corrupt politicians, injustice, and even persecutions all happen under the sovereign will of God. God is not surprised at who is running for President right now nor will he be surprised at who wins. Since neither major party candidate is a genuine follower of Christ (as I see it, at least), neither one of them is serving God from the heart. Yet, whichever one wins will be serving God in the sense that their decisions—unjust, cruel, corrupt, flawed, or good—will be used by God to accomplish his will. 

We ought to stand for what is morally right and to do whatever we can to bring about righteous results in our nation. But we must also remember that God is acting at a whole different level than we can comprehend and that he will accomplish his will as he promised it in his time. So whether your candidate gets elected or not, God will accomplish his purposes in this world. Whether the next President is good or bad for America, God will accomplish his purposes in this world. Take comfort in this; let it encourage you. God is in control.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Deuteronomy 18, Psalm 105, Isaiah 45, Revelation 15

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 18, Psalm 105, Isaiah 45, Revelation 15. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Isaiah 45.

Long before Cyrus became the king of Persia, Isaiah wrote about him by name (vv. 1, 3d, 4c). In Isaiah’s prophecy, God called Cyrus “his anointed,” meaning that he was a man chosen to do the Lord’s will. In this case the Lord’s will was to return Israel to the promised land (v. 4a-b, 13c-d). Remarkably, God would use Cyrus to do this “though you do not acknowledge me” (v. 4e, 5d) and, as a result of what Cyrus would do, “…people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.”

In verses 9ff, the Lord anticipated an objection to this plan to use Cyrus. The unstated objection was, “How can God use a heathen king who does not serve the Lord to do his will? Why would God do that?” The answer was stated in verses 9-11 and could be summarized as, “None of your business.” Because God is the creator (v. 12), he has the right to do whatever he wants with his creation. If we dislike what God does, we have no right to judge him or question him. He is the potter, we are the clay (v. 9), he is the parent, we are the child (v. 10). We have no more right to question what God does, how he does it, or why he does it than a coffee cup has the right to question its maker or a child has to question his or her parents. 

This is difficult for us to accept! Our perverse sin nature wants to put God on the same level as we are. We want a God we can understand, one we can control by telling him that his actions are unjust. We want God to be subject to a standard just as we are so that we can accuse him of failing to meet the objective standard. But God cannot be measured by an objective standard; he IS the standard. Because he is God, he has the right to do whatever he wants because whatever he wants and whatever he does will be perfectly consistent with his holy nature and character.

If you find yourself questioning God for something he allowed that you do not understand, or something he did that you found difficult to accept, you need a change of perspective. We may want God to explain himself to us, but he is under know obligation to do so. Since his wisdom is higher than ours, his understanding is perfect, and his ways are beyond our comprehension, the best thing we can do is trust him no matter what he does. Since God will never do anything that is unjust, we can be confident that what he does will be best—at least, in the long run of eternity it will be best. God will be glorified and that is the only thing that matters.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 31, Psalms 75–76, Isaiah 23, 1 John 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 31, Psalms 75–76, Isaiah 23, 1 John 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Psalms 75-76.

It is interesting how some of these readings intersect with each other at times. Numbers 31 described how God ordered Moses to attack and defeat the Midianites as the just penalty for seducing the Israelites back in Numbers 25. Isaiah 23 records God’s prophecy against Tyre, declaring to them the judgment they will receive for their sins (vv. 17-18). In between those two readings, we read Psalm 75-76 which sing praises to God for his sovereign justice. As his chosen people Israel praised God for his favor to them (75:1). In verses 2-10 the Psalmist explains that God’s justice happens in his time (v. 2) and that those he judges are powerless to avoid the judgment he brings (vv. 3-8). In the middle of Psalm 75, the Psalmist sings, “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (vv. 6-7). We think that military might or political success are matters of human strength and ingenuity; this Psalm mocks our foolish assumptions and tells us that God sovereignly and precisely rules over the affairs of humanity. No one can become powerful unless God allows them to become powerful (vv. 6-7); no one can hold on to power if God determines to take it away (vv. 3-5). While obedience to God should cause us to do all we can to bring righteousness and justice in our world, God has his own plans and those plans sometimes involve exalting the wicked so that his will can be done. But justice will be executed in God’s time. 

Given all this, does it make sense to worry so much about who will be elected President this fall? Yes, we want righteous leaders who will make righteous laws and enforce them justly, so we should vote biblically and conscientiously. But what if God allows a wicked man or woman to be elected because of his own purpose? If that happens, can you join the Psalmist in singing, “As for me, I will declare this forever; I will sing praise to the God of Jacob, who says, ‘I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.’” Can we trust God—and praise him—even when we don’t understand why he allows troubling things to happen? Can we wait for him to do justice according to his will in the time that he chooses?

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.