THE GLORY OF GOD IN GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
What does it mean that God is sovereign? It means God has decreed from eternity, from before the foundation of the world, to work and to dispose of all things according to the counsel of His own will to the glory of His own praise. It means that He has from eternity preordained every event, every action, every thought which has come to pass and will come to pass, from the smallest ripple of a wave in the ocean to the most profound of all human desires. Every action and every event has unfolded and will unfold according to God’s preplanned specification, according to His preplanned time, and nothing and no one can or will resist Him or bring Him to account.
Proverbs 16:33 The lot (dice) is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
It is easy to think of God controlling those things which humans know they cannot control.
Mark 4:41 Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the
end of the earth,
who makes lightnings for the rain
and brings forth the wind from His
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling His word!
But what of the desires of the human heart?
Acts 4:27-28 Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
Proverbs 20:24 A man’s steps are from the Lord, how then can man understand his way?
Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will.
Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.
God has decreed from eternity every decision every human being will make. This means every man will choose to think and to do what God has from eternity planned him to choose to think and to do.
Daniel 4:35 He does according to all His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to Him, “What are you doing?”
James 4:14-15 What is your life? For you are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
Let us not think though, this means God does the man’s choosing. Rather, it means instead man will choose what God has purposed for him to choose. The way God accomplishes this is by the use of means.
Means. Effects. Secondary causes. God ordains not only the end, but also the means. A butterfly beats its wings and in the process effects a gentle stir of wind. This, in effect, causes another effect, which causes another effect, which causes another effect and so on until half way around the world a tornado spirals down out of a blanket of storm clouds. This is but merely a fictional account, but it serves to demonstrate the effects of means.
Consider Job. The book of Job shows us God setting certain events in motion that would lead eventually to Job’s suffering. God never does the tormenting Himself though. Rather, Satan did the tormenting. At no point does God “robot” Satan like a puppet on strings. In fact, God did not even instruct Satan to torment Job! Yet it was God who did indeed preordain Job’s suffering.
The book of Job shows God asking Satan a series of questions that He knew would illicit a certain answer. This answer would in turn drag from Satan the suggestion that Job would curse God to His face if God but merely stretched out His hand against him. At this point, God is getting the exact outcome He has purposed from eternity, and He is getting it without committing any evil act Himself. This is what we mean by means.
Consider the account of Samson and the donkey’s jawbone. We are told that Samson used the jawbone of a donkey to strike down and kill a thousand Philistines. Did the donkey’s jawbone do the killing? No, of course not. Samson did. The donkey’s jawbone was simply the means by which Samson struck down the Philistines.
In similar fashion, God is not the author of evil, but He is indeed the first cause of it. Wait! Did you read that right? Did I really say God is the first cause of evil? I did indeed.
Deuteronomy 32:39 There is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
2 Samuel 12:15 Then the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, so that he was sick. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died.
Exodus 4:11 Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?
Amos 3:6 Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides Me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not
that people may know; from the rising of
and from the west, that there is none
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create evil,
I am the Lord who does all these
The Bible is clear from beginning to end that God is sovereign over all things both good and evil. There is nothing that happens which He has not from ages past ordained to happen exactly how and when it happens.
When that friendly little serpent cozied up next to Adam and his wife in the Garden of Eden in order to begin spinning a lie, it did exactly what God had preordained it to do in exactly the way God had preordained it to do it. And when Adam believed that serpent’s lie, and ate from the tree God had forbade Adam to eat from, he did exactly what God had preordained him to do in exactly the way God had preordained him to do it.
But why would God forbid Adam from doing what God had already from eternity decided Adam would do?
Recall what we have established thus far concerning God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty means God has decreed from eternity past to work and dispose of all things according to the counsel of His own will to the glory of His own praise. By necessity, this must include evil!
In other words, God is glorified by the destruction of evil. But evil cannot be destroyed unless evil exists! Therefore, evil must be made to exist in order that God might glorify Himself by destroying it. Think about that.
Some people have a problem with this. These people insist I am making God out to be a brute and a murderer, because mankind is made to suffer for a time, even if just long enough for God to glorify Himself by destroying evil. But these same people reject the truth that God must be concerned chiefly with His own glory above all else. They insist God should be more concerned with their own peace and comfort instead, because they believe their peace and comfort is at least as important as God’s glory. Why then should they be made to suffer when their peace and comfort is just as important as God’s glory?
It is upon the back of such self righteous thought that men invent absurd philosophies like free will. The philosophy of free will presents us with the idea of evil suddenly springing to existence within God’s universe at the serpent’s bequest, leaving God to cope with it. Such people have the serpent as God’s opposite, a near equal who made a “free will” choice to rebel against God’s authority, leaving God now to cope with the consequences of the serpent’s choice. But God has no opposites. He alone is uncreated. He alone is inherently eternal and immortal.
Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
Satan was not a good angel who later went bad after he freely chose to rebel against God. Satan does not freely choose to do anything. Rather, he chooses according to the nature God gave him.
1 Kings 22:19-23
And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And He said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.”
Notice in this passage that it is God who initiates the enticement. He asks, who will deceive Ahab so that Ahab will go to Ramoth-Gilead and be killed? At this question a spirit steps forward with a plan. The spirit reveals in answer to the question that he purposes to deceive Ahab by placing lies onto the tongues of Ahab’s prophets. Notice carefully the spirit is responding to God’s purpose. God has purposed that Ahab is to die at Ramoth-Gilead. How will God see that purpose fulfilled? He asks the spirits a question. Who will go entice Ahab to disobey Me and as a consequence go to Ramoth-Gilead to meet his death? One spirit in particular steps forward. I will do it, he says. By what means will you do it, God asks. The spirit answers, I will put lies in the mouths of his prophets.
Notice, no one here is a robot. No one has been forced to do anything. Rather, everyone is acting according to their nature. It is in this particular spirit’s nature to want to hurt and to kill and to lie. God knows this. To accomplish His purpose, He asks the spirit a question which He knows the spirit is going to answer a certain way.
We see something similar play out in the book of Job. In Job, it is God who asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant, Job?” What is Satan going to say? Gee, no, I guess I haven’t? Of course not! He is going to say, yes God, yes I have, because that is in my nature. Because it is his nature to murder, to torment and to lie, God knows that what Satan has considered about Job is not going to be good for Job. God knows this! It is why He asks the question!
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
Notice where Satan places the dominion. In God’s hands! “But stretch out YOUR hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse You to Your face.” Stretch out YOUR hand. Notice how God responds. He does not say, ho now, just wait a minute there, buddy, don’t call it My hand. No. Instead, He informs Satan that He has now stretched out His hand by placing Job is Satan’s hands! Satan has no power to do whatever he wants. Rather, Satan has the power to do only what God has purposed him to do.
Let’s read on a little further to see what happened to Job.
13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house,14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them,15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house,19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
After Job is informed that all his sons and all his daughters have been murdered, and after all his flocks and his pastures have been destroyed in a storm, Job then answers with the following.
Job 1:21 “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Notice Job did not attribute the cause of his suffering to Satan. That is, he does not respond by saying, that darned devil, he attacked me. No. He instead attributes the cause of these tragedies to God. But at no point did he accuse God of doing something evil or wrong. Rather, he acknowledged instead that it is perfectly within the Creator’s right to give and to take as He pleases. The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away.
Job 1:22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
When the self righteous man suffers, he accuses God of purposing the suffering for an evil reason. He even considers it evil for God to have ordained the suffering for the purpose of His own glory. He thinks it is evil of God to seek His own glory at the cost of the creature’s suffering.
Consider another example; that of Joseph.
Joseph was next to the youngest of twelve sons. He was the son of Jacob, whom God had renamed Israel. Jacob often doted on his son, Joseph. The Bible tells us that Jacob “loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he was the son of his old age.” (Genesis 37:3). This upset Joseph’s brothers and drove them into a jealous anger.
One day, overcome with jealousy, Joseph’s brothers seized him while he was yet in the field. They had meant to kill him, but one brother, coming to his senses (as God had purposed he do), suggested they sell him instead to some slave traders whom they had spotted from a distance. The slave traders carried Joseph all the way down to Egypt where they then sold him. His brothers, meanwhile, hurried to conceal their crime by making as if Joseph had been attacked and carried off by wild animals.
Many decades later a great famine swept the land. Having been forewarned of this in a dream from God, a young prince from Egypt managed to stow away all the food necessary to sustain the Egyptian people, as well as all the people living in the lands nearby.
Meanwhile, up north a little way in the land of Canaan, where Jacob and his remaining eleven remaining sons lived, the famine struck hard, leaving no one anything to eat. Hearing there was food in Egypt, Jacob sent his remaining sons to Egypt to see if they might purchase some grain for the family. Imagine their surprise, and none too small horror, when they discovered upon arriving in Egypt that the prince was none other than their brother, Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery years earlier. Writing about this very account, the Psalmist tells us it was God who had sent Jacob to Egypt.
When He summoned a famine on the
and broke all supply of bread.
He had sent a man ahead of them,
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
God had sent Jacob to Egypt? But I thought it was his brothers who had done this? They certainly did do it, but they did it because God had from eternity already foreordained they would do it. They did it, because He had ordained they would do it. But what they had meant from jealous, God had meant from good – that is, the preservation of many people by the hands of His servant, Joseph. This meant the brothers were responsible to God for the crime they had committed even though God had ordained it of them. Even Joseph himself tells us this.
4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
Later, when his brothers were still uncertain whether Joseph would try to enact revenge, they sought to guarantee their lives by begging him to make them his servants. Joseph would hear none of it though. He remained resolute in his decision to forgive them, for he recognized that it had been God’s decision to send him to Egypt. He told his brothers plainly, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).
Joseph recognized the truth of God’s sovereignty. He recognized that although God ordains evil, yet He does not purpose it from evil intent. The Bible tells us God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He is not a small boy taking delight in picking the wings off flies. Rather, His goodness must be glorified, and the way He has chosen to glorify His goodness is by overcoming that which would silence His goodness if it could. This necessitates the existence of evil.
We have many, many more examples of God’s sovereignty in the Bible. Since we have mentioned Joseph, consider then his descendants and their own subsequent slavery in Egypt. Speaking of this very incident, the Psalmist writes:
He turned their heart to hate His
to deal craftily with His servants.
He sent Moses, His servant,
and Aaron, whom He had chosen
They performed His signs among them
and miracles in the land of Ham.
He turned their heart to hate His people? That He did! God did! God turned the hearts of the Egyptians to hate His people for the intent that He would then glorify His goodness and His power by performing a multitude of stunning miracles and judgments.
Exodus 4:11 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.
Some people try to suppress this truth. Some who even call themselves Christian! They insist God did not really harden Pharaoh’s heart, but rather Pharaoh did it himself. But that is not what the text says, and it is not what the Bible in its entirety testifies to.
Consider another example, that of Assyria. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said of Assyria –
Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger;
the staff in their hands is my fury!
6 Against a godless nation I send him,
and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
7 But he does not so intend,
and his heart does not so think;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
and to cut off nations not a few;
8 for he says:
“Are not my commanders all kings?
9 Is not Calno like Carchemish?
Is not Hamath like Arpad?
Is not Samaria like Damascus?
10 As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
11 shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
as I have done to Samaria and her images?”
12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.13 For he says:
“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
and plunder their treasures;
like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.
14 My hand has found like a nest
the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing
or opened the mouth or chirped.”
15 Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
16 Therefore the Lord God of hosts
will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors,
and under his glory a burning will be kindled,
like the burning of fire.
17 The light of Israel will become a fire,
and his Holy One a flame,
and it will burn and devour
his thorns and briers in one day.
18 The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land
the Lord will destroy, both soul and body,
and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.
19 The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few
that a child can write them down.
Here we see God’s sovereignty directly at work. It is He who has raised Assyria to the height of its military power. It is He who has sent it against other nations to punish them for their godlessness. It is He who has sent it to take spoil and seize plunder and to trod the godless nations down like the mire of the streets. Yet Assyria does not see it this way. Assyria does not see itself as a nation sent by God to glorify God by destroying evil. Instead, Assyria simply lusts to destroy and to annihilate many nations. Nor does Assyria show gratitude to God for having raised it up to its heights of power, for it does not believe God is the one who has raised it. Instead, it believes it has reached its height by its own power. For this reason, God promised to “punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.” And this is exactly what God did when He sent His destroying angel against Assyria, and in a single night killed more than 100,000 Assyrian soldiers who stood outside Israel’s gates.
Consider what the people said concerning Christ:
Mark 1:27 He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.
This is not the god of American Churchianity. Rather, this is a frightening God who cannot and will not be controlled by men. This is a God who cares far less for your feelings than He does His own holiness. This is a God who will move against your feelings if it means He is glorified. This is a God who is terrifying in His anger. This is a God of wrath!
Yet, there is incredible comfort in this too, because I know now evil serves a purpose. Suffering and pain, death and disease are not random, purposeless events that make God cry and wish He could do something about them. Rather, the death of a child, the murder of a parent, these serve His purpose! It is self righteous men, men who insist they have the prerogative to decide what is right for them, who hate the purpose evil serves. Take heed, for it is God who has ordained these evil men to do exactly that.
But take heed also, for God’s sovereignty is only the first step on our way to the Cross.