The Sovereignty of God
By Arthur Pink
The Sovereignty of God in
material world little needs now be said. In previous chapters we have shown that inanimate matter and all irrational creatures are absolutely subject to their Creator's pleasure. While we freely admit that the material world appears to be governed by laws that are stable and more or less uniform in their operations, yet Scripture, history, and observation, compel us to recognize the fact that God suspends these laws and acts apart from them, whenever it pleases Him to do so. In sending His blessings or judgments upon His creatures, He may cause the sun itself to stand still, and the stars in their courses to fight for His people (Judges 5:20) He may send or withhold "the early and the latter rains" according to the dictates of His own infinite wisdom. He may smite with illness or bless with health; in short, being God, being absolute Sovereign, He is bound and tied by no laws of Nature—but governs the material world as seems Him best to Him!
"For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things! To Him be glory forever. Amen!" Romans 11:36
Has God foreordained everything that comes to pass? Has He decreed that what is—was to have been? In the final analysis, this is only another way of asking, Is God now governing the world and everyone and everything in it? If God is governing the world, then is He governing it according to a definite purpose, or aimlessly and at random? If He is governing it according to some purpose, then when was that purpose made? Is God continually changing His purpose and making a new one every day—or was His purpose formed from the beginning? Are God's actions, like ours, regulated by the change of circumstances, or are they the outcome of His eternal purpose? If God formed a purpose before man was created, then is that purpose going to be executed according to His original designs—and is He now working toward that end? What do the Scriptures say? They declare that God "works all things after the counsel of His own will!" (Ephesians 1:11)
Few who read this book are likely to call into question the statement that God knows and foreknows all things—but perhaps many would hesitate to go further than this. Yet is it not self-evident that if God foreknows all things—that He has also fore-ordained all things? Is it not clear that God foreknows what will be—because He has decreed what shall be? God's foreknowledge is not the cause of events, rather are events the effects of His eternal purpose. When God has decreed a thing shall be—He knows it will be. There cannot be anything known as what shall be—unless it is certain to be, and there is nothing certain to be—unless God has ordained it shall be.
Take the Crucifixion as an illustration. On this point the teaching of Scripture is as clear as a sunbeam. Christ as the Lamb whose blood was to be shed, was "foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20). Having then "ordained" the slaying of the Lamb, God knew He would be "led to the slaughter", and therefore made it known accordingly through Isaiah the prophet. The Lord Jesus was not "delivered" up by God merely fore-knowing it before it took place—but by His fixed counsel and fore-ordination (Acts 2:23). Fore-knowledge of future events then—is founded upon God's decrees, hence if God foreknows everything that is to be, it is because He has determined in Himself from all eternity everything which will be, "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18), which shows that God has a plan, that God did not begin His work at random or without a knowledge of how His plan would succeed.
God created all things. This truth no one, who bows to the testimony of Holy Writ, will question; nor would any such be prepared to argue that the work of creation was an accidental work. God first formed the purpose to create—and then put forth the creative act in fulfillment of that purpose. All real Christians will readily adopt the words of the Psalmist and say, "O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom have You made them all." Will any who endorse what we have just said, deny that God purposed to govern the world which He created? Surely the creation of the world was not the end of God's purpose concerning it. Surely He did not determine simply to create the world and place man in it. and then leave both to their fortunes. It must be apparent, that God has some great end or ends in view, worthy of His infinite perfections, and that He is now governing the world so as to accomplish these ends, "The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation." (Psalm 33:11).
"I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will!" (Isaiah 46:9, 10). Many other passages might be adduced to show that God has many plans and counsels concerning this world and concerning man, and that all these counsels will most surely be realized.
It is only when they are thus regarded, that we can intelligently appreciate the prophecies of Scripture. In prophecy, the mighty God has condescended to take us into the secret chamber of His eternal counsels, and make known to us what He has purposed to do in the future. The hundreds of prophecies which are found in the Old and New Testaments are not so much predictions of what will come to pass, as they are revelations to us of what God has purposed shall come to pass. Do we know from prophecy that this present age, like all preceding ones, is to end with a full demonstration of man's failure; do we know that there is to be a universal turning away from the truth, a general apostasy? Do we know that the Antichrist is to be manifested, and that he will succeed in deceiving the whole world? Do we know that Antichrist's career will be cut short, and an end made of man's miserable attempts to govern himself, by the return of God's Son? Then it is all because these and a hundred other things are included among God's eternal decrees, now made known to us in the sure Word of Prophecy, and because it is infallibly certain that all God has purposed "must shortly come to pass" (Revelation 1:1).
What then was the great purpose for which this world and the human race were created? The answer of Scripture is, "The Lord has made all things for Himself" (Proverbs 16:4). And again, "You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created" (Revelation 4:11). The great end of creation was the manifestation of God's glory. The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. But it was by man, originally made in His own image and likeness, that God designed chiefly to manifest His glory. But how was the great Creator to be glorified by man? Before his creation, God foresaw the fall of Adam and the consequent ruin of his race, therefore He could not have designed that man should glorify Him by continuing in a state of innocency. Accordingly, we are taught that Christ was "fore-ordained before the foundation of the world" to be the Savior of fallen men. The redemption of sinners by Christ was no mere after-thought of God—it was no expediency to meet an unlooked-for calamity. No! it was a Divine provision, and therefore when man fell—he found God's mercy walking hand in hand with His justice.
From all eternity, God designed that our world should be the stage on which He would display His manifold grace and wisdom, in the redemption of lost sinners: "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord!" (Ephesians 3:11). For the accomplishment of this glorious design, God has governed the world from the beginning, and will continue it to the end. It has been well said, "We can never understand the providence of God over our world, unless we regard it as a complicated machine having ten thousand parts, directed in all its operations to one glorious end—the display of the manifold wisdom of God in the salvation of the Church," that is, the "called out" ones. Everything else in God's universe is subordinated to this central purpose. It was the apprehension of this basic truth that the apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, was led to write, "Wherefore I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2 Timothy 2:10). What we would now contemplate, is the operation of God's sovereignty in the government of this world.
In regard to the operation of God's government over the
But what of God's government of thehuman family? What does Scripture reveal in regard to the operations of His governmental administration over mankind? To what extent and by what influences, does God control PEOPLE? We shall divide our answer to this question into two parts, and consider first God's method of dealing with the righteous, His elect; and then His method of dealing with the wicked.
God's Method of Dealing with the RIGHTEOUS:
1. God exerts a QUICKENING influence or power upon His own elect.
By nature they are spiritually dead, dead in trespasses and sins, and their first need is spiritual life, for "Except a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). In the new birth God brings us from death unto life (John 5:24). He imparts to us His own nature (2 Peter 1:4). He delivers us from the power of darkness and translates us into the kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). Now, manifestly, we could not do this ourselves, for we were "without strength" (Romans 5:6), hence it is written, "we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:10).
In the new birth we are made partakers of the Divine nature—a principle, a "seed," a life, is communicated to us. This seed is "born of the Spirit," and therefore "is spirit." This seed is born of the Holy Spirit, and therefore is holy. Apart from this Divine and holy nature which is imparted to us at the new birth—it is utterly impossible for any man to generate a spiritual impulse, form a spiritual concept, think a spiritual thought, understand spiritual things, still less engage in spiritual works. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord," but the natural man has no desire for holiness, and he does not want the provision which God has made. Will then a man pray for, seek for, strive after—that which he dislikes? Surely not! If then a man does "follow after" that which by nature he cordially dislikes, if he does now love the One he once hated—it is because a miraculous change has taken place within him; a power outside of himself has operated upon him, a nature entirely different from his old one has been imparted to him, and hence it is written, "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation! Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Such an one as we have just described has passed from death unto life, has been turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18). In no other way can the great change be accounted for.
The new birth is very, very much more than simply shedding a few tears because of a temporary remorse over sin. It is far more than changing our course of life, the leaving off of bad habits and the substituting of good ones. It is something different from the mere cherishing and practicing of noble ideals. It goes infinitely deeper than coming forward to take some popular evangelist by the hand, signing a pledge-card, or "joining the church." The new birth is no mere turning over a new leaf—but is the inception and reception of a new life. It is no mere reformation but a complete transformation. In short, the new birth is a miracle, the result of the supernatural operation of God. It is radical, revolutionary, lasting.
Here then is the first thing, in time, which God does in His own elect. He lays hold of those who are spiritually dead—and quickens them into newness of life. He takes up one who was shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin—and conforms him to the image of His Son! He seizes a captive of the Devil—and makes him a member of His holy family! He picks up a beggar—and makes him joint-heir with Christ. He comes to one who is full of enmity against Him—and gives him a new heart that is full of love for Him. He stoops to one who by nature is a rebel—and works in him both to will and to do of His good pleasure. By His irresistible power—He transforms a sinner—into a saint; an enemy—into His friend, a slave of the Devil—into His child! Surely then we are moved to say,
"When all Your mercies O my God
My wondering soul surveys,
Transported with the view I'm lost
In wonder, love and praise!"
2. God exerts an ENERGIZING influence or power upon His own elect.
The apostle prayed to God for the Ephesian saints that the eyes of their understanding might be enlightened in order that, among other things, they might know "what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us who believe" (Ephesians 1:18), and that they might be "strengthened with might "by His Spirit in the inner man" (3:16). It is thus that the children of God are enabled to fight the good fight of faith, and battle with the adverse forces which constantly war against them. In themselves they have no strength—they are but "sheep," and sheep are one of the most defenseless animals there is! But the promise is sure, "He gives power to the faint, and to those who have no might—He increases strength" (Isaiah 40:29).
It is this energizing power that God exerts upon and within the righteous, which enables them to serve Him acceptably. Said the prophet of old, "But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord" (Micah 3:8). And our Lord said to His apostles, "You shall receive power, after the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8). And thus it proved, for of these same men we read subsequently, "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33). So it was, too, with the apostle Paul, "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom—but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Corinthians 2:4).
But the scope of this power is not confined to service, for we read in 2 Peter 1:3, "According as His Divine power, He has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us to glory and virtue." Hence it is that the various graces of the Christian character, "love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," are ascribed directly to God Himself, being denominated "the fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22). Compare Ephesians 5:9.
3. God exerts a DIRECTING influence or power upon His own elect.
Of old He led His people across the wilderness, and
directing their steps by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by
night; and today He still directs His saints, though now from within
rather than from without. "This God is our God forever and ever! He
will be our Guide even unto death!" (Psalm 48:14). He "guides" us by working
in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. That He does so guide us,
is clear from the words of the apostle in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are His
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before
ordained that we should walk in them." Thus all ground for boasting is
removed, and God gets all the glory, for with the prophet we have to say,
"Lord, You will ordain peace for us: for You also have wrought all our works
in us" (Isaiah 26:12). How true then, that "In his heart a man plans his
course, but the Lord determines his steps" (Proverbs 16:9)! Compare Psalm
65:4, Ezekiel 36:27.
4. God exerts a PRESERVING influence or power upon His own elect.
Many are the scriptures which set forth this blessed truth. "He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked" (Psalm 97:10). "For the Lord loves judgment, and forsakes not His saints; they are preserved forever—but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off" (Psalm 37:28). "The Lord preserves all those who love Him—but all the wicked will He destroy" (Psalm 145:20). It is needless to multiply texts or to raise an argument at this point respecting the believer's responsibility and faithfulness—we can no more "persevere" without God preserving us, than we can breathe when God ceases to give us breath; we are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:5). Compare 1 Chronicles 18:6. It remains for us now to consider,
God's Method of Dealing with the WICKED:
In contemplating God's governmental dealings with the non-elect, we find that He exerts upon them a fourfold influence or power. We adopt the clear-cut divisions suggested by another:
1. God exerts upon the wicked a restraining influence by which they are prevented from doing what they are naturally inclined to do.
A striking example of this is seen in Abimelech king of Gerar. Abraham came down to Gerar and fearful lest he might be slain on account of his wife, he instructed her to pose as his sister. Regarding her as an unmarried woman, Abimelech sent and took Sarah unto himself; and then we learn how God put forth His power to protect her honor, "And God said unto him in a dream, Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her" (Genesis 20:6). Had not God interposed, Abimelech would have grievously wronged Sarah—but the Lord restrained him and did not allow him to carry out the intentions of his heart.
A similar instance is found in connection with Joseph and his brethren's treatment of Him. Owing to Jacob's partiality for Joseph, his brethren "hated him," and when they thought that they had him in their power, "they conspired against him to slay him" (Genesis 37:18). But God did not allow them to carry out their evil designs. First He moved Reuben to deliver him out of their hands, and next he caused Judah to suggest that Joseph should be sold to the passing Ishmaelites, who carried him down into Egypt. That it was God who thus restrained them is clear from the words of Joseph himself, when some years later he made known himself to his brethren: said he, "So now it was not you that sent me here—but God!" (Genesis 45:8)
The restraining influence which God exerts upon the wicked was strikingly exemplified in the person of Balaam, the prophet hired by Balak to curse the Israelites. One cannot read the inspired narrative without discovering that, left to himself, Balaam would have readily and certainly accepted the offer of Balak. How evidently God restrained the impulses of his heart is seen from his own acknowledgment, "How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced? I have indeed received a command to bless; since He has blessed, I cannot change it" (Num. 23:8, 20).
Not only does God exert a restraining influence upon
wicked individuals—but He does so upon whole peoples as well. A
remarkable illustration of this is found in Exodus 34:24, "For I will drive
out nations before you and enlarge your territory. No one will covet your
land when you go up three times a year to appear before the Lord your
God." Three times every male Israelite, at the command of God, left his home
and inheritance and journeyed to Jerusalem to keep the Feasts of the Lord;
and in the above scripture we learn He promised them that, while they were
at Jerusalem, He would guard their unprotected homes by restraining the
covetous designs and desires of their heathen neighbors.
2. God exerts upon the wicked a softening influence disposing them contrary to their natural inclinations—to do that which will promote His cause.
Above, we referred to Joseph's history as an illustration of God exerting a restraining influence upon the wicked, let us note now his experiences in Egypt as exemplifying our assertion that God also exerts a softening influence upon the unrighteous. We are told that while he was in the house of Potiphar, "When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he did successful, Joseph found favor in his master's sight and became his personal attendant. Potiphar also put him in charge of his household and placed all that he owned under his authority" (Genesis 39:3, 4). Later, when Joseph was unjustly cast into prison, we are told, "But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison" (Genesis 39:21), and in consequence the prison-keeper showed him much kindness and honor. Finally, after his release from prison, we learn from Acts 7:10 that the Lord "gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house."
An equally striking evidence of God's power to melt the hearts of his enemies, was seen in Pharaoh's daughter's treatment of the infant Moses. The incident is well known. Pharaoh had issued an edict commanding the destruction of every male child of the Israelites. A certain Levite had a son born to him who for three months was kept hidden by his mother. No longer able to conceal the infant Moses, she placed him in an ark of bulrushes, and laid him by the river's brink. The ark was discovered by none less than the king's daughter, who had come down to the river to bathe—but instead of heeding her father's wicked decree and casting the child into the river, we are told that "she had compassion on him" (Exodus 2:6)! Accordingly, the young life was spared and later Moses became the adopted son of this princess!
God has access to the hearts of all men—and He softens or hardens them according to His sovereign purpose!
The profane Esau swore vengeance upon his brother for the deception which he had practiced upon his father—yet when next he met Jacob, instead of slaying him we are told that Esau "fell on his neck and kissed him" (Genesis 32:4)!
Ahab, the weak and wicked consort of Jezebel, was highly enraged against Elijah the prophet, at whose word the heavens had been shut up for three years and a half. So angry was he against the one whom he regarded as his enemy that, we are told he searched for him in every nation and kingdom, and when he could not be found "he took an oath" (1 Kings 18:10). Yet, when they met, instead of killing the prophet, Ahab meekly obeyed Elijah's behest and "sent unto all the children of Israel and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel" (v. 20).
Again, Esther the poor Jewess is about to enter the presence-chamber of the august Medo-Persian monarch which, said she, "is not according to the law" (Esther 4:16). She went in expecting to "perish," but we are told "She obtained favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter" (5:2).
Yet again, the boy Daniel is a captive in a foreign court. The king "appointed" a daily provision of food and drink for Daniel and his fellows. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the allotted portion, and accordingly made known his purpose to his master. What happened? His master was a heathen, and "feared" the king. Did he turn then upon Daniel and angrily demand that his orders be promptly carried out? No! for we read, "God had granted Daniel favor and compassion from the chief official!" (Daniel 1:9)
"A king's heart is a water channel in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses." (Proverbs 21:1) A remarkable illustration of this is seen in Cyrus, the heathen king of Persia. God's people were in captivity—but the predicted end of their captivity was almost reached. Meanwhile the Temple at Jerusalem lay in ruins, and, as we have said, the Jews were in bondage in a distant land. What hope was there then that the Lord's house would be re-built? Mark now what God did, "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah." (Ezra 1:1, 2). Cyrus, be it remembered, was a pagan, and as secular history bears witness, a very wicked man—yet the Lord moved him to issue this edict, that His Word through Jeremiah seventy years before might be fulfilled.
A similar and further illustration is found in Ezra 7:27,
where we find Ezra returning thanks for what God had caused king Artaxerxes
to do in completing and beautifying the house which Cyrus had commanded to
be erected, "Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers which has put such a
thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which
is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 7:27).
3. God exerts upon the wicked a directing influence so that good is made to result from their intended evil.
Once more we revert to the history of Joseph as a case in point. In selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites, his brethren were actuated by cruel and heartless motives. Their object was to make away with him, and the passing of these traveling traders furnished an easy way out for them. To them the act was nothing more than the enslaving of a noble youth for the sake of gain. But now observe how God was secretly working and over-ruling their wicked actions. God's Providence so ordered it that these Ishmaelites passed by just in time to prevent Joseph being murdered, for his brethren had already taken counsel together to put him to death. Further; these Ishmaelites were journeying to Egypt, which was the very country to which God had purposed to send Joseph, and He ordained they should purchase Joseph just when they did. That the hand of God was in this incident, that it was something more than a fortunate coincidence, is clear from the words of Joseph to his brethren at a later date, "God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance" (Genesis 45:7).
Another equally striking illustration of God directing the wicked is found in Isaiah 10:5-7, "Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of My anger, in whose hand is the club of My wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger Me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations!" Assyria's king had determined to be a world-conqueror, to "his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations!" But God directed and controlled his military lust and ambition, and caused him to confine his attention to the conquering of the insignificant nation of Israel. Such a task was not in the proud king's heart, "this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind"—but God gave him this charge—and he could do nothing but fulfill it. Compare also Judges 7:22, "When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords!"
The supreme example of the controlling, directing influence which God exerts upon the wicked, is the Cross of Christ with all its attending circumstances. If ever the superintending providence of God was witnessed, it was there. From all eternity God had predestined every detail of that event of all events. Nothing was left to chance or the caprice of man. God had decreed when and where and how His blessed Son was to die. Much of what He had purposed concerning the Crucifixion had been made known through the Old Testament prophets, and in the accurate and literal fulfillment of these prophecies we have clear proof, full demonstration, of the controlling and directing influence which God exerts upon the wicked. Not a thing occurred except as God had ordained, and all that He had ordained took place exactly as He purposed.
Had it been decreed (and made known in Scripture) that the Savior should be betrayed by one of His own disciples—by His "familiar friend"—see Psalm 41:9 and compare Matthew 26:50—then the apostle Judas is the one who sold Him. Had it been decreed that the betrayer should receive for his awful betrayal thirty pieces of silver, then are the chief priests moved to offer him this very sum. Had it been decreed that this betrayal sum should be put to a particular use, namely, purchase the potter's field, then the hand of God directs Judas to return the money to the chief priests and so guided their "counsel" (Matthew 27:7) that they did this very thing! Had it been decreed that there should be those who bore "false witness" against our Lord (Psalm 35:11), then accordingly such were raised up. Had it been decreed that the Lord of glory should be "spit upon and scourged" (Isaiah 50:6), then there were found those who were vile enough to do so. Had it been decreed that the Savior should be "numbered with the transgressors," then unknown to himself, Pilate, directed by God, gave orders for His crucifixion along with two thieves. Had it been decreed that vinegar and gall should be given Him to drink while He hung upon the Cross, then this decree of God was executed to the very letter. Had it been decreed that the heartless soldiers should gamble for His garments, then sure enough—they did this very thing! Had it been decreed that not a bone of His should be broken (Psalm 34:20), then the controlling hand of God which allowed the Roman soldier to break the legs of the thieves, prevented him from doing the same with our Lord. Ah! there were not enough soldiers in all the Roman legions, there were not sufficient demons in all the hierarchies of Satan, to break one bone in the body of Christ! And why? Because the Almighty Sovereign had decreed that not a bone should be broken!
Do we need to extend this paragraph any farther? Does not
the accurate and literal fulfillment of all that Scripture had predicted in
connection with the Crucifixion, demonstrate beyond all controversy that an
Almighty power was directing and superintending everything that was done on
that Day of days?
4. God also hardens the hearts of wicked men and blinds their minds.
Does God harden men's hearts? Does God blind men's minds? Yes, for so Scripture represents Him! In developing this theme of the sovereignty of God in Operation we recognize that we have now reached its most solemn aspect of all, and that here especially, we need to keep very close indeed to the words of Holy Writ. God forbid that we should go one fraction further than His Word goes; but may He give us grace to go as far as His Word goes. It is true that secret things belong unto the Lord—but it is also true that those things which are revealed in Scripture belong unto us and to our children.
"He turned their heart to hate His people—and to deal deceptively with His servants" (Psalm 105:25). The reference here is to the sojourn of the descendants of Jacob in the land of Egypt when, after the death of the Pharaoh who had welcomed the old patriarch and his family, there "arose up a new king who knew not Joseph;" and in his days the children of Israel had "increased greatly" so that they outnumbered the Egyptians; then it was that God "turned their heart to hate His people."
The consequence of the Egyptians' "hatred" is well known: they brought them into cruel bondage and placed them under merciless taskmasters, until their lot became unendurable. Helpless and wretched, the Israelites cried unto Jehovah, and in response, He appointed Moses to be their deliverer. God revealed Himself unto His chosen servant, gave him a number of miraculous signs which he was to exhibit at the Egyptian court, and then bade him go to Pharaoh, and demand that the Israelites should be allowed to go a three days journey into the wilderness, that they might worship the Lord. But before Moses started out on his journey God warned him concerning Pharaoh, "I will harden his heart—that he shall not let the people go" (Exodus 4:21). If it be asked, Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart? The answer furnished by Scripture itself is: In order that God might show forth His power in him. (Romans 9:17) In other words, it was so that the Lord might demonstrate that it was just as easy for Him to overthrow this haughty and powerful monarch—as it was for Him to crush a worm! If it should be pressed further, Why did God select such a method of displaying His power? Then the answer must be, that being sovereign, God reserves to Himself the right to act as He pleases.
Not only are we told that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he would not let the Israelites go—but after God had plagued his land so severely that he reluctantly gave a qualified permission, and after that the first-born of all the Egyptians had been slain, and Israel had actually left the land of bondage, God told Moses, "Behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them, and I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh, all his army, and his chariots and horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I receive glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen" (Exodus 14:17, 18).
The same thing happened subsequently in connection with Sihon king of Heshbon, through whose territory Israel had to pass on their way to the promised Land. When reviewing their history, Moses told the people, "But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us travel through his land, for the Lord your God made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to hand him over to you, as has now taken place!" (Deuteronomy 2:30)
The same thing also happened after Israel had entered Canaan. We read, "No one in this region made peace with the Israelites except the Hivites of Gibeon. All the others were defeated. For the Lord hardened their hearts and caused them to fight the Israelites instead of asking for peace. So they were completely and mercilessly destroyed, as the Lord had commanded Moses!" (Joshua 11:19, 20) From other scriptures we learn why God purposed to "destroy utterly" the Canaanites—it was because of their awful wickedness and corruption.
Nor is the revelation of this solemn truth confined to the Old Testament. In John 12:37-40 we read, "Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them." It needs to be carefully noted here that these whose eyes God "blinded" and whose heartS He "hardened," were men who had deliberately scorned the Light and rejected the testimony of God's own Son.
Similarly we read in 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12, "For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie—and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness!" The fulfillment of this scripture is yet future. What God did unto the Jews of old He is yet going to do unto Christendom. Just as the Jews of Christ's day despised His testimony, and in consequence, were "blinded," so a guilty Christendom which has rejected the Truth shall yet have sent them from God a "strong delusion" that they may believe a lie.
Is God really governing the world? Is He exercising rule over the human family? What is the mode of operation of His governmental administration over mankind? To what extent and by what means does He control men? How does God exercise an influence upon the wicked, seeing their hearts are at enmity against Him? These are some of the questions we have sought to answer from Scripture in the previous sections of this chapter.
Upon His own elect—God exerts a quickening, an energizing, a directing, and a preserving power. Upon the wicked—God exerts a restraining, softening, directing, and hardening and blinding power, according to the dictates of His own infinite wisdom and unto the outworking of His own eternal purpose. God's decrees are being executed. What He has ordained—is being accomplished. Man's wickedness is bounded. The limits of evil-doing and of evil-doers has been Divinely defined, and cannot be exceeded. Though many are in ignorance of it, all men, good and bad, are under the jurisdiction of, and are absolutely subject to, the administration of the Supreme Sovereign! "Alleluia! for the Lord God omnipotent reigns!" (Revelation 19:6) He reigns over all!