Part 3 of 11
For my first year of college I went to a small school in El Cajon, CA called Christian Heritage College; I lived in the dorms. My roommate had quite a collection of Christian music that we listened to often. And even though that was many years ago I still remember a portion of a song by David Meece entitled “All Is God’s Creation.” Here is a portion of the lyrics from that song:
I see ten
thousand wars fought on a distant shore
In a baby’s toy
I see hunger and thirst but the last shall be first
So I sing for joy
All is God’s creation
Fashioned by one hand
Satan and salvation
Under one command
I see a poet in a cell in a cold wintry Hell
That has no voice
Though he’s tortured and weak he turns the other cheek
And says rejoice, rejoice
For all is God’s creation
Fashioned by one hand
A day of celebration
Is coming to this land
All is God’s creation
All is in His hands
A day of celebration
Is coming to this land
Those words: “Satan and salvation under one command” caught my attention. I had not thought about that before I heard the song, and I have not forgotten those words since. Indeed, “the Lord has made everything for His purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Proverbs 16:4).
In the previous post (part two) I began the difficult task of examining the Sovereignty-of-God, responsibility-of-man paradox. Today, we will take some time in the Word examining what the Spirit has to say to us concerning this. Remember the title of our class: Made in God’s image: building a biblical framework for human activity. It is important that our understanding of the sovereignty of God be formed as we are led by the torch of the Word.
Following is a collection of verses; as I read through them please think on what they are saying.
The first is in the context of a request by Moses to see God’s glory. In response to this request God replies: “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19). The very name of the Lord is tied to a statement concerning His freedom to show grace and mercy to whomever He chooses. As you know, these words are quoted by Paul in the ninth chapter of Romans as he discusses the choosing of Jacob and the rejection of Esau.
King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, upon regaining his sanity and his position of kingship after being made to dwell in the wilderness and eat grass like an ox said this of the Lord: “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored Him who lives forever, for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34, 35).
This theme of God’s freedom to act is also shown to us in the book of Isaiah concerning His statement of judgment upon Assyria: “For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27).
Please also consider God’s words about Cyrus, the king of Persia, in Isaiah chapter 45, concerning the return of exiles and his proclamation that the temple be rebuilt. “Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: ‘I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name; I name you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, “What are you making?” or “Your work has no handles”? Woe to him who says to a father, “What are you begetting?” or to a woman, “With what are you in labor?”’ Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: ‘Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands? I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 45:1-13).
Did you notice the phrases “I name you, though you do not know me” in verse four, and “I equip you, though you do not know me” in verse five? What are the purpose statements given for doing this in those same verses?
“For the sake of my servant Jacob and my chosen Israel” (verse 4) and “that the people may know…that there is none besides me” (verse 6).
Up to this point we have seen, in these four examples, statements of God’s freedom to act as He interacts with the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth. There is a section in the book of Jeremiah that addresses this again, but also highlights the responsibility of nations to respond to God’s call for righteousness.
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.’ Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds’” (Jeremiah 18:1-11).
So here we see God stating that destruction will come upon a nation unless it turns from it’s evil, and conversely, that a nation planned for establishment in good, if it turns from that good and does evil before the Lord, He will cease from the good He planned for it. Also we see this relationship of sovereignty and responsibility in the book of Isaiah and the 64th chapter.
“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people” (Isaiah 64:4-9).
Truly, the Lord meets with those who joyfully work righteousness and those who remember His ways.
Again, the words of Proverbs chapter 16 remind us of God’s sovereignty over all things: from the words of our tongue to the toss of the dice. But they also address the responsibility of man – and this in the context of blessing for righteousness and judgment for sin.
“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished. By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil. When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice. The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps…The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD…There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death…Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16).
As I said in our last class, God has not revealed to us how true fault is fixed upon those who are bound to sin. So we rest in humility in what God has revealed and say with John Calvin that when the Lord closes his lips, we will desist from inquiry. We must be careful not to move too far away from the reality of man’s responsibility. This will place us in the unbiblical realm of necessatarianism or fatalism where there is no room for the impact of human activity and God becomes the cause of all things and, ultimately, the author of sin. We must also be careful not to move too far from the reality of God’s sovereignty. This will put us in the unbiblical realm of libertarianism where God is divested of His sovereign control and man becomes the free one – the one who is the primary cause of events.
Now, I hope that as we study this we never loose site of our glorious Lord and his merciful character, please remember the words of Paul in First Corinthians: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,but have not love, I gain nothing” (I Corinthians 1:1-4).
Please consider the words of Isaiah 55 in closing:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 55:1-13).