I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.
With these closing comments, Solomon begins his account of an investigation he undertook to discover why man does what he does and why things on earth happen to him the way they do. What, for instance, is the purpose of work, pleasure, greatness, wisdom, foolishness, religion, evil and death? Why does the sun rise, why does it set? What is the meaning of life? Why do you and I exist?
The conclusion Solomon comes to after finishing his investigation is depressing. He surmises that nothing serves a purpose. That is, everything done upon the earth is a meaningless, empty, chasing after the wind. He cannot even make sense out of why evil exists or why anyone should suffer and then die.
But let us not be too disappointed with Solomon’s conclusion, because there is something God is showing us in Solomon’s investigation. Notice where Solomon’s theology begins. Not above the heavens where God dwells, but rather under the heavens where man dwells.
Notice also how he goes about his search. Not by God’s Spirit, leaning upon every word of God for explanation, but instead upon the philosopher’s tool – his own wisdom. Solomon is going to attempt to use his own God-given wisdom to unearth the meaning behind and purpose for all that is done upon the earth. No wonder then that he comes away empty. His wisdom has failed him.
What is God showing us in this? What is His purpose in showing us the miserable, depressing conclusion of human wisdom? He is showing us that we can make no sense of who He is and why He does what He does by studying and observing everything done upon the earth.
Isaiah 45:15 Truly, You are a God who hides Himself.
God does not reveal Himself in pain, in pleasure, in toil, in rest, in evil or in suffering. And God does not reveal Himself in these, because He has chosen to reveal Himself in His Son.
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Apart from Christ Jesus, we cannot know who God is, nor can we see His purpose for all the things done upon the earth.
If Solomon confuses you then consider Job’s three friends. Job had no idea why he was being made to suffer. We know, because we have the advantage of hearing the conversation between God and Satan. But Job did not have this advantage. He did not know why he was suffering.
His three friends were sure they knew though. They were certain Job was suffering, because he had sinned. And no matter how many times he insisted this was not the case, they would have none of it.
What Solomon is doing here in Ecclesiastes is he is taking on those people who are like Job’s friends. He is challenging their assumptions. You think you know God is? Well let me tell you, you don’t.
Just look at the way the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, Solomon says. God does not behave the way we might think He should. He instead appears to be capricious and arbitrary. One man spends his whole life trying to be wise and to do good, and what happens? He suffers in this life and then dies. Another man wastes his whole life in foolishness doing nothing but evil continually and what happens? He lives a long and prosperous life without any troubles. Where is the justice in that?
Solomon insists we recognize evil exists and that life is not beautiful. Nature is instead ugly and twisted and mean. And to top it all off it is God who has ordained it to be this way. Solomon’s problem, like Job, is that he cannot figure out why God has ordained it to be this way.
Why would God ordain a world so cruel and mean that it would be better no one were born? And Solomon does say this. Better is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. And remember, God inspired him to say this.
It is in response to Solomon’s observations that we stumble across the so called “problem of evil”. Solomon’s answer to his question, why does God ordain evil, was to shrug. He could not explain why. His advice for people in the face of his ignorance was to fear God and obey His commandments because this is the whole duty of man.
The natural man’s advice though is to rage at God and reject both Him and His commandments. And by natural man, I mean the man who is not in Christ. The unrighteous man, the unjust man, the unbeliever; the natural man in contrast to the spiritual man.
From the natural man’s perspective evil cannot be reconciled with a God who is both all powerful and also all good. If you have read any books written by Atheists, Agnostics and worldly minded philosophers then you will know how the argument well.
If God exists then He is omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good. But if God were omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good, then the world would not contain evil. The world does contain evil though. Therefore, God does not exist.
The irony here is the argument sounds similar to the one Job’s three friends presented to him.
God is omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good, Job. And since He is omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good, then it must be true that people who have not sinned do not suffer. But you are suffering, and so it’s obvious to us that you have committed some great sin.
The argument’s basic premise is that we’ve got God all figured out, you see. That’s what Job’s friends are telling him, and that’s what the natural man is telling us. We’ve got God all figured out. We have searched out and studied everything done under the sun and we have discovered what God is really all about.
Consider the argument a little more closely though, and we can see just how vapid it really is.
If God exists then He is omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good.
Really? That’s it? He is only omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good? Those are His only attributes?
What about God is just, righteous, holy? What about He is also merciful, compassionate, kind? What about He is vengeful, angry, a God of wrath who is angry with the sinner every day?
The fact is, that of all His attributes revealed to us in the pages of the Bible His holiness is the only one singled out for triple repetition, marking it as the most important of His attributes.
The Bible does not say God is good, good, good or God is sovereign, sovereign, sovereign or God is love, love, love.
No. The Bible tells us, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.” And right there in the text is the word almighty, meaning omnipotent, in the text but present only once, standing in the shadow of His holiness.
This means every one of His attributes are clothed in His holiness. It’s not that God is just simply love. No. Rather, His love is a holy love. His omnipotence is a holy omnipotence. His grace is a holy grace.
This also means that none of His other attributes will violate His holiness. He cannot love to the detriment of His holiness. He cannot and will not show compassion to the detriment of His justice.
This makes the natural man nervous and for good reason, because the moment we start talking about a God who is holy, then we are talking about a God who makes demands of us, who commands us and who imposes punishment on us when we disobey.
The fact is, the natural man is fine with a God who is good. He can live with a God who is good, because in his view goodness means each man getting to do what is right in his own eyes without ever experiencing any repercussions or accepting any responsibility for what he does.
Goodness to the natural man is each man getting to decide for himself what is good and evil, and God being unable to interfere with that decision.
But a God who is also holy? No, that is a God who makes demands upon my life. That is a God who demands I obey Him or else suffer the consequences. A God like that makes the natural man very, very nervous.
The natural man doesn’t want to consider a God who is holy and righteous, because like the toddler throwing a tantrum, calling mommy mean after she demands he go to bed, the natural man finds a holy God meddlesome and cruel and mean.
It keeps coming back to those first three chapters in Genesis, you see. The lie the serpent told in the garden of Eden.
God has forbidden you to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, has He? He has told you that in the day you eat of it, dying you shall die? Well let me tell you, that’s a lie. The truth is He doesn’t want you to discover who you really are. He doesn’t want you to learn that you have the power to become as He is. He doesn’t want you to know that you can be your own standard of good and evil, true and false, right and wrong and that He will have to honor your decision if He is good.
But the lie was a lie even though the natural man still thinks it was true.
And so the natural man shakes his little fist at God in a tantrum and he shouts, “You’re mean. You’re cruel. You don’t exist. We need to be ride of You.”
The tragedy is that we are told in the first three chapters of God’s book that man did, in fact, live in a world without pain and suffering and death, but that this was not perfectly good enough for the man, because what the man wanted instead was the right to be sovereign over that little part of the universe he calls his life.
Man wanted the right to call all the shots, to do as he pleases, to decide for himself what is right and wrong, good and evil, true and false. And man wanted it all without ever experiencing the consequences of disobeying God.
God had said, in the day you eat of it dying you shall die. God would be a liar if this had not happened. But God is not a liar and we are all here today dying and shall one day die.
The natural man scours the earth, searching and studying everything done under the sun. And the only thing he finds for all his searching is only evil continually.
And so rather than thinking to himself, well, what did you expect, little man? After all, this is what you get for disobeying God. Rather than thinking that though, the natural man instead thinks to himself there is no God, because I can’t find one who will let me do what I want and get away with it.
What is God’s answer to all this?
Turn with me in your Bibles if you will to Romans chapter 9. We’re going to read the whole chapter so we can get a feel for what’s going on here, but our text is going to start at verse 6 and run to verse 23. I’m reading from the English Standard Version.
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?25 As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel[c] be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”29 And as Isaiah predicted,
“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”
The apostle begins this chapter by expressing his grief over the fact that many of his Jewish kinsmen have been excluded from God’s plan of salvation. And he finds this all the more heartbreaking by the fact that it was through them, through their race that Christ came. It was to their forefathers that God made the promise to, and it was to them that God gave His law, and from them that He established a nation.
But the apostle then quickly adds that this does not mean the word of God has failed. That is, even though most Jews have been excluded from God’s plan of salvation, this does not mean God’s plan of salvation has failed or even has changed.
And the reason why it has not failed, is because God’s plan of salvation never included most Jews. The plan was never about nations, but rather about individuals.
This is why it will not help anyone to be born of one nation and not another. Because the promise is not by genealogy. The promise is instead by faith. God’s plan for salvation was for individuals, not nations.
The apostle then gives us an example from the Old Testament to prove his point. Starting in verse 9.
9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so; that is, this wasn’t the only promise; but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
He shows us right there in his example that God’s plan of salvation included a predestined election. In other words, God chose from before the foundation of the world to create a certain number of individuals whom He would love and a certain number of other individuals whom He would hate.
This choice He made had absolutely nothing to do with us, because if you will note here what the text says, it says, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls.
This means He did not choose anyone based upon something they would do at some point in the future after they were born. Nor does it mean He chose based upon some foresight He had about any choices they would make after they were born.
No, His choice had absolutely nothing to do with them. Rather, He chose of His own good pleasure and will whom He would love and whom He would hate. Those whom He loves and hates had no choice in the matter.
And keep in mind His choice has nothing to do with nations, because the promise is not by genealogy or birth. It will not help anyone to be born of one nation or another, because the promise is by faith rather than by blood.
The apostle continues. Starting with verse 14.
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
In other words, after hearing this truth about God’s sovereignty in election someone is bound to ask, well doesn’t this mean God is unjust? After all, He is going to hate some people before they’ve even had a chance to earn that hate?
The apostle answers, Absolutely not! There is no injustice on God’s part. His freedom to choose whom He will have mercy on and whom He won’t does not make Him unjust. He is the Creator. He has the right to create whomever He wants for whatever purpose He wants.
Think of it like this, God knew what Satan would do before God created him, right? Right. And yet He still created him anyway. Why?
I’d say there is only one answer we can give to that question that will be consistent with the Scriptures. God wanted Satan to do what Satan did. He had purposed Satan to do what Satan to do. It was why God had created him.
You see, false religion has given people the idea that God and the Devil are duking it out like Rocky and Drago and that in the end God is going to come out on top, but boy oh boy is it going to be a battle of blows back and forth until then.
No, that is not Biblical. There is no battle of blows going on. God is completely in control and always has been.
Look at Job, the first chapter of that book. Who is it that starts the line of questioning? God. “Have you considered My servant Job, devil?” And what does Satan say to God? “Stretch out Your hand, God, against him and he will curse You to Your face.”
God doesn’t say, now just wait a minute there, devil. What do you mean by stretch out My hand? No, instead God says, okay devil, you can do this much to him, but no further. And after Satan takes everything away from Job, what does Job say? Does he say, that darned Satan, he’s afflicted me? No. He says, the LORD gives and the LORD takes away. And the Bible says in everything Job did not sin against the Lord with his mouth. Satan, it turns out, is just an extension of God’s hand. He is God’s convenient executioner.
Why would God stretch out His hand though? Why would He even ordain evil to begin with?
Here again, put it like this, if God truly is the most magnificent and wonderful Being in all the universe, then He must, by the very nature of this fact, be concerned first and foremost with glorifying His own magnificence, because if He were first and foremost concerned with anything else, then whatever else He would be first and foremost concerned with would itself be more magnificent than He.
God is not only perfectly good, omniscient and omnipotent. He is also merciful and kind, and He is holy and righteous. If He is to glorify Himself then, then He must glorify not only His mercy and grace by saving some people, but also His holiness and justice by condemning others.
But how is He going to get those people He has predestined to save into the position where they need to be saved? And how is He going to get those people He predestined to condemn into the position where He can justly condemn them?
Enter Satan. He opens the gates of the garden to a friendly little snake who was a liar from the beginning. And in that garden that friendly little snake is going to encourage the first man to disobey God by telling that first man a lie about God.
And God is right to have predestined this, for He truly is worthy to be glorified. He is worthy to glorify Himself and to receive all glory and honor and respect.
And see, it’s this right here that angers the natural man, because the natural man thinks he should be more than just a bit player on God’s stage. He thinks he should be the playwright. He thinks he should be who the play is about.
And so the natural man buries his head in his science and philosophy thinking that in these he will escape God’s control by shoving God out of His own universe. He doesn’t realize though, that his scientific theories and philosophical monkery have all been ordained for him from eternity as a means to keep him deceived.
I mean, look at it. Look at what Peter told us in his second epistle. “scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
Ever hear of Uniformitarianism? This is the theory that says the same natural laws and processes which operate in the universe now have always operated as they do now. In other words, things are continuing now just as they were from the beginning of creation. Darwin and Wallace built their theories of evolution upon this principle. Evolution is that theory based on the principle that the diversity seen in the Earth’s species can be explained by the “uniform” modification of genetic traits over long periods of time.
They have said, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing just as they were from the beginning of creation.”
So you see, right there we see it has been ordained for them to believe this. Evolution, Uniformitarianism, it was ordained for them in order to keep them deceived and blinded. And we could keep going into all the sciences and philosophies. Not that science and philosophy is inherently deceptive or bad. No, there is such a thing as good science and good philosophy. The apostle Paul asks us in 1 Corinthians, “where is the wise man? Where is the philosopher of this age?” But these things can also be used to keep blind those whom God hates.
And so God has not lied about any of this, His sovereignty. Right here it is before us in plain black and white, written in the pages of His word.
Here in our text in Romans 9 the apostle draws a conclusion about His sovereignty in predestination and election. Beginning with verse 16.
16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.
Remember Pharaoh back in the book of Exodus? How many times do the Scriptures tell us time and again that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let the people go?
The Scriptures even record for us that God told Moses at the burning bush, long before Moses even spoke to Pharaoh, that He was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart.
And I know modern American Churchianity has tried so hard to make these texts NOT say what they say, but none of their attempts make sense. The texts do not say Pharaoh first hardened his heart and then the Lord found Pharaoh’s heart hardened and so He said, well, I guess I can now harden this guy’s heartsome more for some reason even though it’s already hardened.
No. Verse 18 in our text here in Romans 9 says, “He hardens whomever He will.”
God had determined beforehand that Pharaoh was not going to let the Hebrews go. And so one of the ways He brought His determined plan about was by hardening Pharaoh’s heart. And He was right to have done this, because as the text tells us, it was for this reason that God had raised Pharaoh up that God might proclaim through Pharaoh His power over all the earth.
This idea born from false religion that says man has a free will, it’s nonsense. Man does not have a free will. Man is born dead in his trespasses and sins. He is a slave to his sin. He wills to disobey. He cannot help but to disobey. He makes choices, but every choice he makes is in accordance with his desire for sin.
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Psalm 53:3-4 God looks down from heaven
on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all fallen away;
together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
Luther rightly pointed out in his classic debate with Erasmus that the mere presence of a commandment in Scriptures does not imply ability. In other words, the commandments tell us what we ought to do, and not instead what we can do.
Romans 8:7 The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
Man has an intellect, emotions and a will. His intellect allows him to think rationally, rather than by instinct like the beasts. His emotions enable him to feel and experience. And his will enables him to make choices that have moral consequences.
But in addition to this he also has a nature. He has a nature that is different from the nature of that which is shared by plants and that which is shared by animals. Trees have one kind of nature, lions have another kind, and man still another.
And what man’s nature is, is sin. Disobedience is as natural to him as mud is to a pig. Ask any parent who has raised a toddler. Man is born ready to disobey. Sin to him is what green is to grass. It colors his intellect, his emotions, his will. He wills to commit only evil continually.
Someone says, but Dave, what about folks like Mother Theresa? Don’t they do good things?
No, they do not, for here again their charitable deeds are done in disobedience. They are the charitable deeds of darkness. Rather than submitting to Christ’s righteousness and then afterward seeking to show their gratitude to Him by filling the food bowls of many hungry children, they instead sought to establish their own righteousness by filling the food bowls of many hungry children.
Have I done enough to prove to You God just how righteous I am? Have I filled enough bowls yet?
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
In his unfallen state, man was good. But the fall into disobedience has twisted every part of man’s nature. Man in his fallen state is darkened in his intellect and incapable of understanding the things of the Spirit of God. His emotions now deceive him, and his will, his ability to choose good over evil and right over wrong is bound to his desire for self righteousness.
And now I’m told by the natural man that there is supposed to be no consequence for this? Everything is just supposed to continue along all hunky-dory? No, you see, that would not be a good God, because that would not be a holy God.
God must punish man for his disobedience. This world and the death which follows is exactly what man deserves for his disobedience. Death and suffering and meanness is what man deserves as punishment for his evil.
And let no one think that the suffering and evil which man experiences is a punishment too big to fit the crime, for if God’s holiness is of such an absolute nature that He required the very death of His own Son to atone for the crime on behalf of His elect, then the punishment is every bit fit for the crime.
Here back in our text in Romans, having laid out the details concerning God’s sovereignty in election, the apostle next here in our text in Romans 9 anticipates a question. Verse 19.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
That is, why does God then still hold men accountable for their sins if He is the one who has determined beforehand that they would commit them?
The apostle’s answer is sharp and to the point. Verse 20.
20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory
In other words, what right do you have to challenge the Creator to justify Himself? Does He not have the right as the Creator to make His creation in whatever way He sees fit? If the artist can choose what to paint, then how is the Painter of the Universe at the very least not right to do the same?
Has the Creator no right to make some people for salvation and others for condemnation? Has He no right to justify those He has made for salvation by sending His Son to die for their sins? Has He no right to form a person for the purpose of disobeying Him so that He might condemn him for that disobedience? And do these two choices to save one and condemn another, do they not glorify all of His attributes rather than only three?
Of course they do. And of course He has this right. He is not unjust to have created some for salvation and others for destruction. He would only be unjust had He lied about this, but He didn’t.
This is not American Jesus, meek and mild. No, this God is frightening. He is fierce in His justice and terrible in His anger. This God terrifies man, because He is completely outside of man’s control. We cannot manipulate Him. We cannot frustrate Him. We cannot even choose Him unless He first chooses us.
In his book, “The Sovereignty of God”, Arthur Pink writes:
“How different is the God of the Bible from the God of modern Christendom! The conception of Deity which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of the Truth. The God of the twentieth century is a helpless, effeminate being who commands the respect of no really thoughtful man. The God of the popular mind is the creation of maudlin sentimentality. The God of many a present-day pulpit is an object of pity rather than of awe-inspiring reverence.”
5 I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: 6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. 7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.
“‘See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand.
Outside of Christ it is not difficult to see why evil exists. Rather, outside of Christ, it is impossible to see why evil exists. Outside of Christ, the natural man will always keep coming to the same knuckleheaded conclusions about why evil exists.
God also purposes evil for the good of His elect . . .
Genesis 50, verses 19 and 20. Years after Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery, they find themselves at his mercy seated on an Egyptian throne. They beg him to spare their lives for the evil they had committed all those years ago.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, 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.
Joseph’s brother had meant it for evil, but God had meant it for good. God had a purpose for this evil. Get Joseph into Egypt where He could then install him on a throne as second in command of all Egypt, and then from there direct him to begin storing food in preparation for a severe famine that He intended to bring upon the land.
And for what purpose? To glorify His name by preparing the fulfillment of the promise He made to Abraham.
But God does not only purpose evil for the good of His elect, nor does this good always immediately appear the way we might think it should. He also purposes evil for the destruction of those He hates, but here again this does not always look the way we might think it should.
It did not look good for Joseph to be thrown into a pit and then later carried by slave traders weeping and terrified into Egypt. And it looked even worse after he was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit.
But we find at the end that everyone of those evil things that occurred in Joseph’s life were actually stepping stones taking him eventually to the very foot of the throne of Egypt.
Now, contrast this evil which He purposes for the destruction of those He hates.
Truly God is good to Israel,
To such as are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
My steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For there are no pangs in their death,
But their strength is firm.
5 They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.
6 Therefore pride serves as their necklace;
Violence covers them like a garment.
7 Their eyes bulge with abundance;
They have more than heart could wish.
8 They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression;
They speak loftily.
Skipping down to verse 16.
16 When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me—
17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
Then I understood their end.
18 Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
19 Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!
They are utterly consumed with terrors.
20 As a dream when one awakes,
So, Lord, when You awake,
You shall despise their image.
The evil here which God purposes for those He hates appears from the outside to look like a blessing. The wicked prosper. They have no troubles. They have no worries. They laugh and mock and abuse with impunity. I’m sure Job’s friends would have believed them righteous.
God warns in 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, speaking of those who refuse to love the truth.
2 Thessalonians 2:11-12
11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
God sends upon those He hates a strong delusion to make them believe a lie. And that strong delusion is very often prosperity, comfort and long life. Just look at Trinity Broadcasting Network for an example today.
These people think they’re righteous. They think God has blessed them. After all, look how prosperous they are, look how comfortable their lives and how healthy they are. Surely they have received of God’s grace, right?
This isn’t to say there is anything necessarily wrong with wealth or health or a comfortable lifestyle. Job had a comfortable life style. He had wealth and health. It’s just to say that God does at times use wealth and comfort to keep people deceived.
God often uses religion to do the same. From how many multiplex churches or towering Cathedrals have you heard the gospel of God’s sovereign grace preached? I have yet to hear it preached even once.
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?
Here God had raised up Assyria for the purpose of punishing the nations for their idolatry, as well as Jerusalem for its own disobedience. He wielded Assyria like a staff, bringing it down upon the idolatrous nations in fierce and holy anger, treading down these idolatrous peoples like mire in the street.
But Assyria didn’t see it that way. Assyria believed it had gotten where it was by the strength and determination of its own might. It paid no honor and no respect to the God who had raised it up for His purposes.
And so when the time approached to punish Israel, Assyria did not tremble at so terrible the responsibility. No, instead it mocked Israel and its God and it said to itself, that nation is just like any other. We will wipe away the God of Israel and His people just as we did all the other nations’ idols.
Assyria was deceived though. Their successes in war had lured them into thinking they were the cause of their success and were therefore invincible. How wrong they were.
There is no problem of evil. At least not in the way the natural man means it. It’s not evil that the natural man has a problem with. It’s God that he has a problem with. It’s the God who is holy and righteous and who demands that man obey Him, and who punishes man for his disobedience. That’s who the natural man has a problem with. And apart from Christ mankind will always reason that God is mean and selfish and unjust for being holy.