Posted in Commandments, Divine will, Sovereignty, Uncategorized

Axe or the Hand? The Wielder or the Wielded?

Let’s be honest what I have been saying is hard to swallow and few will want to accept it (cf. John 6.60).

People get nervous when you speak of “ought to do and ought not to do” (the Law of God).  People become uneasy when you tell them that God is full of wrath and hates sin and will judge them for it in this life and the life to come (i.e. negative sanctions, eternal consequences).  People want to cry foul when they are confronted with the idea that they are ultimately left to the whims and desires of the Creator of all things (i.e. God is Sovereign and does as He pleases).  And so, the resultant thought process is this: God’s love is unconditional; His Goodness is equally distributed to all and He never commands (or wills) that which is detrimental to any human being.  God wouldn’t do that because He values human life too much. He’d never force anyone to do anything against their will, our freedom is too precious.

I was once challenged by a fellow minister in an apologetic’s course in grad school for believing the early chapters of the Bible.  The man told me “people like you are the reason why we don’t get a fair hearing in the world. Your belief in the Flood or the Tower of Babel hinders apologetic ministry.” 

What was the problem?  I took God’s Word at face value.1 If the Bible teaches it, I fully accept it.  When I come to passages that assault my sensitivities I am left with either humbling myself (acknowledging my personal limitations) to its precepts or denying them looking for a humanistic rational; either explaining it away or flat out denying that it is original to the canon.

Sometimes, I think the knee jerk reaction to steer clear of the type of things I’ve said is due to ignorance.  No, I’m not “name” calling here.  Being ignorant just means that you don’t know.  That’s O.K. there are many things that we are all ignorant of.  For example, I’m ignorant of quantum physics.  It sounds cool, but I have no idea what it entails. Therefore if someone were to call me ignorant I would hope that I have the wherewithal to say, “Yeah, I am” without getting defensive because my feelings were hurt.

The fact is a lot of professing believers are biblically illiterate.  Who has time to study (let alone read) the Bible when your life’s schedule is full of obligations? We get up early and work all day (or night). If we have kids, then we are probably running to and fro from this activity to the next. Then by the time we get home, what do we want to do?  We want to relax, that’s what.  We want to unwind, and so pulling out our Bibles (or touching the app on our phones, tablets, etc.) is probably not high on the list.

I get it.  I’ve been there. But, let’s be honest with ourselves…that’s really not a good excuse. What ends up happening because of our normal weekly routine is we are left ignorant of what the Bible teaches.  Oh, we may squeeze in some quiet time here and there, but we merely scratch the surface.

Thus, when we hear something unfamiliar about biblical teaching we are naturally a bit skeptical.  I’m not denying being skeptical can be a good thing, but not when our skepticism is rooted in ignorance.  We should be skeptical as the Bereans were when Paul came to them, and then check the Scriptures to see where or not those things are true (Acts 17.11).

Does God ever command (will) bad things to come to pass?

After the reign of Solomon, king of Israel, the kingdom was split. The Northern ten tribes retained the name Israel (and at times Ephraim), whereas the Southern kingdom took the name Judah in reference to the tribe who stayed there.  In time, because of covenantal unfaithfulness both kingdoms fell.  The North to Assyria, the South to Babylon.

Israel fell to the Assyrians in approx. 721 B.C. The Assyrians were known for their prowess in battle and their brutality.  Who commanded Assyria to conquer? Who gave them the authority and power to do so? God did.

  • “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger, the staff in their hands is My wrath. I will send him against a godless nation; I will command him to go against a people destined for My rage, to take spoils, to plunder, and to trample them down like clay in the streets” (Isa 10.5-6).2

Here Isaiah the prophet explains why Assyria was able to conquer, who sent them and why they were sent.  God commanded (willed) that they should go, and so they went.  Regardless of how athletic you are, you are unable to remove God of responsibility for sending them and using them as an instrument of His Holy wrath, by doing hermeneutical gymnastics.

God desired for Assyria to carry out His wrath, which was His purpose (cf. Prov 21.1).  The Divine command (will/purpose) is not the same as man’s.  While, God was motivated by righteousness, the king Assyria was motivated by a sinfully proud heart/mind.

  • “But this is not what he [Assyria] intends; this is not what he [Assyria] plans. It is his [Assyria’s] ]intent to destroy and to cut off many nations…For he [Assyria] said: I have done this by my own strength and wisdom, for I am clever.  I abolish the borders of nations and plundered their treasures; like a mighty warrior, I subjugated the inhabitants.  My hand has reached out, as if into a nest, to seize the wealth of the nations. Like one gathering eggs, I gathered the whole earth. No wing fluttered; no beak opened or chirped.” (Isa 10.7, 13-14).

This, the king of Assyria thought and said in his own heart, one that God reveals is full of arrogance (Isa 10.12). God commanded (willed; divine decree) that he should go.  God gave him the power and authority to accomplish victory, and even gave him the right of the spoils.  However, God did not command the king of Assyria to sin, to boast in his own strength, to wickedly desire the destruction of all in his path…that came from his own heart/nature.

The temptation is to remove God from the equation of what the Assyrian king did.  The argument often goes “if God hates evil, then He’d never command (will for) evil to take place.  If God hates sin, then He’d never be party to one whose actions are sinful.” The problem lies in our inability to separate categories between divine commands and human commands, divine will and human will, divine purpose and human purpose, etc.

God did not just allow or give permission for the Assyrian king to act; God was involved in the activity.  God wielded the Assyrian king for His purpose and then judged the man on the grounds of his own sinful heart.  The Assyrian king could do nothing outside the divine decree:

  • “Does an ax exalt itself above the one who chops with it? Does a saw magnify itself above the one who saws with it? It would be like a staff waving the one who lifts it! It would be like a rod lifting a man who isn’t wood!” (Isa 10.15).

Axes do not wield themselves, neither do saws saw through wood on their own, nor does a staff cause itself to be lifted into the air.  These are all tools wielded by the wielder.  It is the hand that wields the tool by the power of His strong arm that brings about what comes to pass not the other way around. In other words, God is the wielder and man is the tool that He wields for His glory.

The Assyrian king was judged not for what he did, because it was God who sent him in to conquer (kill) and enjoy the benefits of his enemy’s wealth (plunder), but for the motivations of his heart (Jer 17.10).  He, though moved by God, was unwilling to acknowledge God in his life.  Like Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon after him, the king of Assyria exalted himself as the builder of his own domain, as the reason for his dominion (cf. Dan 4) and as a result was rightfully judged.

There is one last lesson I want to draw upon, but not today, after which I plan on moving to another subject of interest.  For now, chew on this…



1 I tend to shy away from using the word “literally” because not everybody defines the usage of this term the same.  Some take a “wooden-sense” which puts the stress on the meaning according to the presuppositions of the reader, without any consideration to literary genre.  And so, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth….” takes on the meaning of plucking out someone’s eye or pulling out their tooth as a form of punishment/justice/retribution.  Literal means “according to the letter” that is to say the natural reading of the text based on contextual clues; or, how the writer intended it to be meant (interpreted).  Therefore, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…” is understood as equitable justice—i.e. the punishment meted out fits the crime/offense in question.  Justice in this understanding is balanced in the scales of righteousness.  If someone steals from me it would be unjust for them to lose a hand (or their life), but it would be just (eye for an eye) by making them pay restitution for what they had stolen.

2 Unless otherwise noted all Scripture shall be of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

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Posted in Commandments, Election

God Commands Good for Those whom He Loves

Here’s a text that many Christians are familiar with and rightfully cherish:

  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Rom 8.28a; italics added).

Unfortunately, this text is abused a bit either because of traditions or lazy reading.  For instance, when something tragic happens a person might conclude in reference to this verse, “Everything happens for a reason…God will bring some good out of it.”  While there is a hint of truth in the statement itself, all things do happen for a reason, God does not bring out of the situation good things.  Let alone bringing good for all people.  The text limits the “all things work[ing] together for good” for those 1) who love God and 2) are “called according to his purpose” (Rom 8.28b).  Those are specific individuals who are being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8.29)—Jesus Christ.

Similarly, an error occurs when one suggests that God only commands that which is good for all people.  As you hopefully saw (learned perhaps?) in the last article I posted (Big Bad God or are We Looking at Past Events Wrong?; God does not always command for the good of all.  The reality that we want to skate by is that God chooses to whom He shall do good to.  I’m not sure why we are surprised to hear this, since we continually choose who we want to do “good” to in our daily lives.  I don’t buy other children gifts, but I buy my own children gifts.  Would it be a good thing for me to buy other kids gifts? I’m sure it would, but I choose not to because I share a special relationship with my own children that I do not share with another person’s child. (I am not speaking of charity here, as I do give those sorts of gifts when spiritually motivated.)

Whose benefit was the Command of God for?

Looking back at the Canaanites, we should be able to see that what God commanded regarding them was not for their benefit.  The benefit instead went to the people He had chosen to establish His Name in the earth, and the people through whom the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) would come.  It was to the children of Israel (Jacob) that the “land of milk and honey” was to go.

  • “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on your and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut 7.7-8)
  • “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut 9.5).

Ultimately, the reason God chose Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is His own.  He does not share the reason, but only shares what He has done.  Likewise, it is on the basis of God keeping His Word (promise) to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that He chose to love and redeem their descendants from slavery; giving them a land that they did not work for, homes that they did not build, wells that they did not dig, fruit trees and vineyards that they did not plant (Deut 6.10-11).  What we ought to remember is that creation is God’s and He does with it—the whole of it—as He sees fit, and He answers to no one.  God specifically chose to love (to elect) the Israelite’s and to demonstrate His awesome power not only in Canaan, but in Egypt and any other rebel who raised their ugly heads.

God did not love those nations (i.e. groups of people or people groups) in the same fashion that He did Israel, and He did not have too.  Throughout biblical history we see that God drew to Himself any He chose, and sometimes it was not Israel that He chose to love (see the book of Jonah).  This is something Jesus pointed out early on in His ministry and the people attempted to murder Him for it (cf. Luke 4.24-30).

God specifically commanded Pharaoh (through Moses His prophet), “Let my people go…” (Exod 5.1); and yet, this command was not given for Pharaoh’s good, but for God’s own.  For God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and purposefully would not let Pharaoh obey the command of the Lord:

  • “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” (Exod 4.21).
  • “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh will not listen to you” (Exod 7.3-4a).
  • “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Exod 9.12; cf. 10.1, 20).

God prevented Pharaoh from obeying a command He had given.  How did He do that, if God does not sin?  I think we need to be reminded what sin actually is, how it is biblically defined.

To sin is act lawlessly, to act rebelliously, to miss the mark.  What law? Rebel against what? Miss whose mark? In a nutshell, to sin is to disregard the voice of God.  To go against what He has spoken.

God commanded Pharaoh to let His people go, but Pharaoh would not.  When we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we should not assume that Pharaoh’s heart was soft beforehand.  To have a soft heart (a heart of flesh, rather than stone) means that one is malleable to God’s Law—what He has spoken—but that is not what Scripture says of those in Adam.

  • “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…” (Rom 8.5a)

Question: Did Pharaoh have his mind set on fleshly things (carnal/sinful things) before God confronted him? What was Pharaoh’s state of being (his natural disposition) before God spoke to him?

Answer: Pharaoh’s mind was set on fleshly things.  He was carnal and self-serving, and the love of God was far from him.  He worship created things rather than his Creator, things made by the imaginations of mankind.  Moreover, Pharaoh saw himself as deity—a god/man king—as many pagan kings before and after him were fond of doing.

  • “For to set the mind on the flesh is death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.6a, 7-8).

Question: Was Pharaoh hostile to God before or after God revealed himself? Was Pharaoh’s life pleasing to God before God spoke to Him through Moses?

Answer: Pharaoh’s mind was set on fleshly things.  He was a rebel before God came and spoke to Him through Moses.  His hostility was already existent, although the presentation of God’s commandment provoked his heart further (cf. Rom 7.7-9).

In other words, all that God had to do to harden Pharaoh’s heart was present Himself before Pharaoh.  By speaking to Pharaoh, the sinful disposition (bent/nature) reared its ugly head “seizing an opportunity through the commandment” (Rom 7.8) to show itself.  The more God spoke to Pharaoh, the more Pharaoh hardened his heart (i.e. rebelled; was obstinate).  God did not make Pharaoh sin, for Pharaoh did that all on His own.  Shine the light in the dark and all those who hate the light shield their eyes and run from it.  That is the natural reaction of mankind aside from grace.

Why would God do such a thing?

The answer is simple: 1) To glorify Himself, and 2) To save (deliver) His people.  This is seen immediately after God’s declaration of hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

  • “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn2 son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son’” (Exod 4.22-23; italics added).
  • “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you [Pharaoh] up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod 9-15-16; emphasis added; cf. Rom 9.17, 22).
  • “So Moses said, ‘Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there never has been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either to man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt’” (Exod 11.4-9; italics added).

God had predetermined His plan beforehand in the life of Pharaoh, in the land of Egypt (cf. Eph 1.11).  This was foretold to Abraham (Gen 15.14), revealed to Moses, and then demonstrated to all in and around Egypt. For the gods of Egypt could not deliver the Egyptians from the mighty hand of God (cf. Exod 12.12).

In the end, we find the following to be true:

God commands that which is good for His people, a people called according to His purpose and design.  He keeps His Word. He never breaks His promises, and to those in Christ those promises are fulfilled (cf. 2Cor 1.20; Gal 3.16).  There are several such examples in Scripture where we see that God commands, but the only ones intended to reap the benefit are Him and His people that He has chosen to love.  This choice is not dependent upon the people as we saw with Israel, and then find to be true in the writings of N.T. (e.g. 1Cor 1.18-31), but the glorious God, Creator of Heaven and Earth.



1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2 Firstborn signifies preeminence here as it does in the N.T.  Christ Jesus is called the firstborn of creation, not because He was the first thing created—the Living Eternal Word was not created for He was in the beginning with God, was God, and all things were made through Him, by Him and for Him—but because He has preeminence over all things (superiority). Cf. John 1.1-3; Col 1.15-20.  God holds His elect in special favor as they will inherit the earth and eternal life (Psa 37.11; Matt 5.5; Luke 18.30).

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