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The Sovereignty of God

God holds earth in His hands

by Dennis Pollock

God’s sovereignty used to be preached about far more than it is today. This is a shame, since this doctrine is absolutely central to understanding the God of the Bible. God's sovereignty may be defined as God’s kingly authority and power to do whatever He wants, and to exercise ultimate control over all things in heaven and earth, without asking counsel or being accountable to anyone but Himself. In Christian theology, this is one of the fundamental attributes of God, with a mountain of confirming evidence from Genesis to Revelation. As with most Bible truths, it is possible to overemphasize this doctrine, but today almost nobody does.

Let us consider the awesome control our holy Creator exercises over His creation. First we shall consider God's control over nature. Deism would have us believe that nature runs by laws alone; there is no God pulling strings or making anything happen. He may have initially started the ball rolling, but now the world and all things in it operate on their own. The Bible tells us just the opposite! Jesus says, "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them" (Matthew 6:26). This may seem strange to many. After all, we have all seen birds looking for worms, or perhaps snacking on some dropped hamburger bun on a McDonald's parking lot. We know how birds eat – they forage for it.

But Jesus tells us it is more than that. There is a God in heaven who provides for the birds, as well as all the rest of the animals. In Psalms we read, "These all wait for You, that You may give them their food in due season" (Psalm 104:27). It is more than luck or skill that ensures the animals and people inhabiting the earth have enough to eat. God actively and generously provides for us all.

When Deer Have Babies

God controls the seasons of nature. Again in Psalms we read, "The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth…" (Psalm 29:9). The gestation cycle of a deer is well known. They conceive, they carry their unborn fawns, and at the proper time certain hormones are released in the bloodstream and the mama deer lies down and gives birth. Surely this process is on "automatic." Not so, the Bible says. Beyond the various scientific facts that we can observe is a mysterious voice. It is the voice of God commanding those hormones to be released and commanding that baby to come forth. "The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth."

Does the sun rise and set because it has been programmed or because God is commanding it to do so? Do the seasons come and go as a result of natural law or by commands that come from God's mouth? The Bible tells us that the God who spoke the worlds into existence is still upholding all things by the word of His power. He directs all activities on our planet from the death of sparrows to the fall of nations. G. K. Chesterton wrote:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

We have meteorologists who tell us the current weather conditions and predict with fairly consistent accuracy what things will be like tomorrow. They can tell us why rain falls. They talk about wind currents, moisture laden air, El Nino, and other factors. But behind all of these things is the One who made the water and the air and who directs the winds according to His good pleasure. Jeremiah proclaims, "Are there any among the idols of the nations that can cause rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are You not He, O LORD our God? Therefore we will wait for You, since You have made all these (Jeremiah 14:22). No it is not the heavens that give showers; it is the One who in the beginning made the heavens and the earth.

Directing the Nations

It is God who controls the movements of the nations and decides who will lead them. This seems to be reasonable as long as we are talking about godly nations where people are free and the leaders pray and study the Scriptures before making important decisions. But what about those rogue nations led by cruel dictators, where Christians are persecuted and even killed? Surely God doesn't have any control over them! That may sound reasonable but it's wrong. In truth God is every bit as much in control over the evil empires as those nations that are democratic and free.

When Jacob and his family entered Egypt at Joseph's request, they became guests in a strange land. At first things went well. Joseph made sure they were treated well, and they enjoyed the favor of the palace. But after Joseph's death things changed. In time the Egyptians "set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens." By the time Moses came along the Israelites were full-fledged slaves. Moses is sent to be their deliverer. It's a great story and while we are quick to praise the Lord for delivering Israel, we sometimes fail to see that every step of this process was orchestrated by the sovereign hand of God – even the Egyptians' harsh treatment of the people of Israel! In Psalms we read, "He increased His people greatly, and made them stronger than their enemies. He turned their (Egypt's) heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants" (Psalm 105:24,25). It was not mere bad luck that led to Israel becoming slaves in Egypt; it was the result of very precise and intricate planning long beforehand in the counsels of heaven.

Job declares of God, "He makes nations great and destroys them" (Job 12:23). Isaiah writes, "He brings the princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth useless" (Isaiah 40:23). In Psalms we read, "For exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south. But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another" (Psalm 75:6,7). Paul writes, "There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God" (Romans 13:1). After his seven years of madness, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had learned his lesson well. He knew that God alone directed the affairs of the earth, declaring, "All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth…" (Daniel 4:35).

The Small Stuff

Yes, God is sovereign over the nations, but we err greatly when we only see God's sovereignty in connection with national and international affairs. The God who rules nations also controls the mating of mice and the lifespans of butterflies. Nothing is unimportant to Him. Jesus declares, "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31). Why this talk about sparrows? And what does it matter whether our hairs are numbered or forgotten? Jesus is making a very significant point here, one that we would do well to never forget. He is telling us God is completely aware of and totally involved in all that goes on in our lives. So often, when were are discouraged and things aren't going very well, we are tempted to think God has either forgotten us, or else we are of such little significance in the world that He doesn't have time to consider our little needs. But Jesus tells us not so! The same God who controls the precise time each sparrow dies is watching over our lives. He knows us intimately, far better than we know ourselves, and best of all, He loves us! He wants good for us! Not only is God totally aware and totally involved – He cares.

Even in the matter of our salvation God refuses to yield His sovereignty. No one is born again by accident. Jesus tells us over and over that God must be involved in this process or it will never happen. He says, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." In another place He declares, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me." And He tells His disciples, "You have not chosen Me but I have chosen you." It was no accident that Jesus came across Peter and John in the boat and called them to follow Him. It was not a spur of the moment impulse that caused the Master to call Matthew to leave his tax collector's booth and become a disciple. Jesus was going around Galilee enlisting men chosen from the foundation of the world. Paul was keenly aware of the divine mystery and sovereignty of his calling, saying, "when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace…" (Galatians 1:15). But it wasn't just famous apostles who were separated from the womb and called through His grace; it was department store clerks, school teachers, truck drivers, insurance salesmen, and computer operators as well.

The Point

There is such a preponderance of Scriptures reinforcing this doctrine of the sovereignty of God that it can hardly be opposed. But some may say, "What's the point? Why must we think on these things?" The short answer is that anything we find in the word of God, especially those truths which are expressed through scores and scores of verses and passages, must be significant. But it is not hard to see why God wants us to recognize His sovereign control over all things. A healthy appreciation of God's sovereignty produces a very real humility, and that is no small deal! We are told more than once in Scripture that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

When King Belshazzar called Daniel to come and interpret the angelic handwriting on the wall, the old prophet had these words of rebuke for the king: "You have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified" (Daniel 5:23). This lewd, immoral king dared get drunk and offer toasts to his idol gods using cups once set apart for temple service in Jerusalem, a brazen act of defiance. Daniel wondered how anyone could be so incredibly stupid as to mock the God of Israel, who gave this king his every breath, and without whose upholding power he would instantly collapse.

What should be our response to the sovereign majesty of our great Creator? Psalms gives us the answer: "Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand…" (Psalm 95:6). We must humble ourselves in reverence before our all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God who works irresistibly in heaven and on earth according to His own good pleasure. He takes counsel from none, doing as He pleases, when He pleases, and in the way He pleases. As King Nebuchadnezzar learned, "No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'"

So it was with the sending of Jesus Christ to earth. There was no vote taken among the angels in heaven. Out of His own great love for the sons and daughters of men the Father sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins, and then raised Him from the dead on the third day. And He has decreed that the way, the one and only way by which men and women may be saved from the consequences of their sins, is to believe on His Son Jesus Christ and receive the free gift of eternal life.


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