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Bible verses about God's Sovereignty
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Who were the dignitaries the filthy dreamers spoke evil of in Jude? I John 1 suggests it was the first-century apostles, even as today some speak evil of those God uses to lead his end-time church. But it does not stop there. They say, "I'll never follow another man," as though following a man is inherently evil. Those people speak either from ignorance of God's Word or by design to get a following for themselves. They are forgetting, however, God's sovereignty over His creation. Is there any place in God's Word—except for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—when a man is not included in the mix between Him and men?

Though God has occasionally stooped to speak directly to one of His servants, He has always used men as messengers to and leaders of those He was working with, including all the prophets and apostles and even some of the kings. These men may have held high positions, being close to God and at times directly inspired by Him. Nonetheless, all of them built upon what they had learned from those who went before. Thus, they too followed men.

These people may also say, "I'm just as good as he is and more intelligent." They might also say: "I can read the same resources he uses." "I can learn apart from him." "Ordinations don't mean a thing." "I've been in the church longer than he has." "My marriage is better than his." All of these may be true, but they are not the issue. God's sovereignty is the issue! It is whether God put that person in the position to shepherd a flock! A shepherd leads, and the rest, the flock, follows. Obedience to this principle is why Paul repented so quickly after reviling the high priest: "Then Paul said, 'I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people'" (Acts 23:5).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Introduction


 

Most people agree that for salvation a Christian needs more than just a theoretical knowledge of God. Over the course of our lives, we increase our knowledge of Him through life's varied experiences. We also come to greater understanding by studying God's Word. In both areas we can be snared by a major problem that traps many religious people in this world: emphasizing one of His attributes at the expense of others.

God is not one dimensional. Though we should study each of His attributes and think on them separately, we should not separate them from the complete personality that God is. Why? It distorts the model we are to imitate and grow into, and it can radically alter our expectations of what He will do. If He does not do what we expect, we are liable to become grieved because God "let us down."

For instance, the Bible emphasizes that God is merciful and full of grace. We should be thankful that He is! But we should not allow that to overshadow the fact that He is also just. If we do, His mercy can become a justification for failure to overcome besetting sins. Neither God's mercy nor justice can be separated from all that He is. Both are harmoniously applied to each situation and person He judges.

The same can be said of His compassion. Some see God as so compassionate that He disregards the causes of horrible problems and circumstances. If God acted in this manner, flaws with painful results would go uncorrected.

Still others construe God's sovereignty so that it greatly diminishes His goodness and portrays Him as rigid and inflexible. This person lives a guilt-ridden, fearful, and discouraged life, thinking that he will never please Him.

Probably the most familiar of God's attributes is found in John's statement in I John 4:8: "God is love." John states a fact, not a definition of God's essential nature. If he had declared that love is what God is, we would be forced to conclude that God is what love is. Literally, if God is love, then literally, love is God, and we are obliged to worship love as the only true God. This would mean God and love are identical. Fortunately, the Bible reveals God is a multidimensional personality. If we eliminate the idea of God's complex personality, denying outright all His attributes save one, the remaining attribute becomes God, a very subtle form of idolatry. This is not the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wholeness of God


 

God's rulership over His creation, including us, reveals Him choosing to do or not to do on the basis of His own purpose and will. Frequently, the specific "whys" of His election to do or not to do some act escape us entirely so that we are left to speculate, hopefully on biblical precedent. For instance, God knocks down the walls of Jericho and never again repeats that miracle in Israel's behalf. He allows Stephen to be stoned to death, but lets John escape boiling oil unscathed and live to be nearly a hundred years old. He heals Hezekiah but not Paul. He chooses to heal a man who neither requested it nor expressed any faith in Him, yet He passes by everybody else.

The point is that He actively oversees the outworking of His purpose, selecting His spots to intervene and accomplish His ends. He has the power and the right to do as He pleases, when He pleases, with us or anyone else. We hope we are learning and putting our trust in the fact that nothing He does happens randomly. It may seem that way when we hear of hundreds being killed in an airplane crash; when natural disasters kill large numbers of people and devastate billions of dollars worth of property; or, as recently reported, when a man in Colombia, South America, is charged with killing around 150 children! We cannot help asking, "Where was God, the One who knows all that is going on and has the power to intervene but did not?"

The question for us is quite practical: Are we willing to live within this relationship with Him, though we will at times be somewhat mystified about why certain things do or do not occur because we do not fully understand the goodness and severity of God (Romans 11:22)? Are we willing to live our lives by faith, walking according to things not seen, aware of His great loving, intimate concern for us—though knowing that others He loved endured some horribly painful experiences because they had the same faith in Him (Hebrews 11:32-39)?

The answer to these questions will, to a great degree, decide the extent and enthusiasm of our cooperation with Him. In turn, this will affect how much we will grow and therefore whether we will really know God. Being a Christian, a slave bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, involves yielding our lives into the hands of the sovereign God. A slave is one whose life is determined by another, and a Christian has yielded control of his life through indebtedness to his Redeemer.

On the other hand, human nature is extremely self-concerned. It does not want to give up control and will fight with great tenacity to retain it. As its possessor, to whom will we give our loyalty? To the flattering persuasions of the Beast, who offers immediate fulfillment and/or relief, or the sometimes distant and mystifying will of the sovereign God?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Three


 

Many either take the sovereignty of God for granted or fail to understand it more thoroughly beyond the facts that God exists and is working to some degree in our lives. But we need to see how intimately and actively He is involved. He is more than casually involved in the operations of His creation, and this includes each of us personally and individually.

Humans can literally lose themselves in their work by devoting to it all their time and energy to the exclusion of everything else. We call these people "focused" or "single-minded," and this often leads to relationship problems. There is no telling how many marriages or friendships have been ruined by this intensity of purpose. God is deeply involved in operating His creation. Unlike a man, however, God will never "lose" Himself in what He is doing at any given moment because the capacity of His powers and the perfection of His nature prohibit such a thing. Is our concept of God "big" enough to include such a thought? Our understanding of God must be growing, otherwise our faith will be severely limited.

God expresses Himself with great diversity in both the animate and inanimate elements of creation. Nonetheless, the laws of nature operate and keep everything under control. Because we are so attuned to law, we are naturally and subtly persuaded to think that God made things and then stepped aside to let laws regulate them. Does God really need to manage or govern His creation actively?

Psalm 22:28 supplies the answer: "For the kingdom is the LORD'S, and He rules over the nations." Notice, "rules" is an active verb, and "nations" is plural! He manages, keeps under control, or directs everything according to His own purpose. God did not create then step away from what He made; He does not allow His creation to operate on its own. We are not subject to uniform, impersonal law but a sovereign God actively controlling the operations of His creation!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Is God sovereign over mankind in general? There are times when, from our perspective, it looks as if events are completely out of control. Is man a creature so perverse, powerful, and unruly that he is beyond God's control? Has sin so alienated us from God that we are outside the pale of His jurisdiction? Consider this: Either God rules or is ruled; either God has His way or man his. These are the alternatives. Is man entirely free to do as he pleases? Is he such a rebel against God's throne that God cannot fulfill His plan through him? Is God powerful enough to complete His purpose in spite of mankind's perversity?

It is clear from the incidents of the Flood and Tower of Babel that God can simply overrule what man does. Beyond this, however, God can work with and through a person to get him to carry out His will without his knowledge. Pharaoh of Egypt and Judas Iscariot are good examples. Was Judas, for instance, plotting from the moment of his calling to betray Jesus to the authorities? Scripture gives no indication of this, yet Jesus says He knew from the beginning who would betray Him. In John 6:69-70, He says Judas is a devil. Judas has no clue of this, but God nonetheless works out His purpose through him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

Despite this vivid chapter's impressively detailed description of God's personal involvement, does it not appear that, because the world is so evil, Satan has far more to do with affairs on earth than God? Countering that, though, is that God's Word shows Satan has a tight-enough leash on him that he can do only what God permits. The reality is that, despite appearances, God is in complete control.

How can we know this for certain? It depends on whether we are walking by faith or by sight. What does walking by faith signify? It means that our thoughts about life's events and the circumstances they create and our conduct are regulated and carried out based on the Word of God. It is literally and truly our guide.

News reports indicate that the pillars of our culture are crumbling and are clearly out of joint (Psalm 11:3). We know from Bible prophecy that living conditions are going to get worse. With that witness so apparent before our eyes, whom do we believe is regulating affairs on this earth—God or the Devil?

Consider an example that is especially close to many of us. As our former church fellowship blew apart, many said Satan did it. Did he? No, he did not. Saying that Satan did it is nothing more than an easy escape from the reality that we may have had a part in causing its breakup. It is more likely that our Father in heaven took us to the woodshed.

Our perspective on this might simply be ignorance of biblical reality. To anyone who understands what the Bible says, only one Person could do such a thing, and that is our sovereign God. Who scattered Israel? Did Satan? The Bible barely mentions him in this context. God boldly takes credit for scattering Israel directly and the church in symbol in Lamentations 2 and many other places.


 

God is aware of everything regarding our lives. Not even a thought can be hidden from Him regardless of where we are, regardless of what justifications we might give for what we decide to do. So, when it comes down to the issue of sovereignty, do we allow God to be sovereign in our lives? One of His names, Yahweh Shammah, means "The Lord Is There." Since we are His children, wherever we are, He is. If we allow ourselves to entertain ideas that He is unconcerned about us, we are gravely mistaken.

God's supremacy is so great that He can keep track of all that is happening across the entire expanse of what He has made. Therefore, He is allowing what is occurring in the world. He is permitting it to occur and even directly causing some of the calamitous events to happen. He is not detached from what is going on—in fact, everything is under control. He who sees every sparrow fall also has His eyes on us for our good.

Whatever we do, we must not allow Him to slip from our thoughts. Every thought of those who live by faith should begin with Him and His will.


 

Genesis 15:12-18

This prophecy is fulfilled exactly 430 years later (Exodus 12:40-41; Galatians 3:17) when Israel left Egypt as the sun set ending the 14th day of Abib and beginning the 15th. God says to us in Isaiah 46:10, "My counsel shall stand." This is why the prophecies ring with such positive assurance. No puny man or angel, no mighty army of angels, nor all nations of men can stop Him from acting exactly how, when, where, and in whom He purposes.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Exodus 4:21

God makes some people very difficult to deal with. "And the Lord said to Moses, 'When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go'" (Exodus 4:21). It was not mere happenstance that this Pharaoh was particularly hardheaded, nor was he merely reacting to circumstance. God caused him to be intractable. God did a similar thing to Ezekiel before Israel:

Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 3:8-9)

If God will do this for one of His servants, a prophet, why can He not do it to Pharaoh, who, though an enemy of His people, is also serving God's purpose?

Exodus says Pharaoh hardened his heart nineteen times, and of that total, ten say God hardened Pharaoh's heart and nine that Pharaoh hardened it. This shows a balance. Undoubtedly, Pharaoh had a proclivity toward stubbornness, but God helped him along whenever necessary.

This suggests that on occasion God will disregard free moral agency to suit the purpose He is working out. If life and our destiny to be in the Kingdom of God is all a matter of free moral agency, then free moral agency is supreme God, not the Creator God. But it is true, the Potter has power over the clay to do with it as He pleases (Romans 9:21). Ultimately, God's power of choice trumps man's.

This is further underscored on other occasions revealed in the Exodus events. The sovereign God's power, when combined with Pharaoh's God-aided stubbornness, produced a calamity of monumental proportions for Egypt and glory for the eternal God. God says in Exodus 7:3-5:

And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.

He was producing yet more because He makes a similar statement in Exodus 14:4, as Israel was about to be confronted with crossing the Red Sea with Pharaoh's army not far behind: "'Then I will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.' And they did so."

Where was the Egyptians' free moral agency throughout this entire affair? The Egyptians who died—in many cases, violent deaths during the destruction of Egypt's power—had little or no choice in the matter. In addition, they came to comprehend God's power only for a brief period of time, which did them no good and brought Him precious little honor. He may have received honor in the form of terror, and little or none in the form of grateful appreciation, admiration, and obedience from them. God, however, has a longer-range view: The time is coming when they will remember and give true honor to Him in thankfulness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part Two)


 

Exodus 8:16-19

The third plague, striking Egypt unannounced, hit the Egyptians in their religious ritual: They were a scrupulously clean people, believing that dirt and vermin made them impure and defiled. They bathed and shaved their bodies regularly to maintain their purity and superiority, but infected with lice, they could not worship in any temple. In addition, this plague struck the beasts also (verse 17), many of which were sacred animals kept in their sanctuaries. So, not only were the Egyptians defiled, but their gods and temples were defiled also.

Pharaoh's magicians could not duplicate this third plague in even a small way, so they admitted that Israel's God was greater than any of theirs (verse 19). God showed these pagan people that He controlled the creation and could do with it as He wished. The plagues on Egypt continued in this manner in sets of three, in which Moses and Aaron announced the first two and the third would descend unannounced.

Mike Ford
Animal Idolatry


 

Exodus 20:2-3

The first commandment presents God as the sovereign Creator and Ruler of His creation. He will not allow the worship and honor due to Him to be given to others because it would only result in misdirection of life's purpose, frustration, emotional and physical pain, and ultimately death to those who worship any but Him. It therefore deals with what we worship. Most of the time, the "god" who gets between the true God and us is the self. We are to worship the Creator, the Author of a way of life that will produce right relationships. This commandment demands that we make Him the source of our values and practices.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment


 

Leviticus 18:24-25

This brings together two factors: Sin and God's sovereignty. Because the earth requires maintenance and therefore dominion, and because God gave dominion to mankind, the rest of creation shares in the way mankind lives. Thus, when mankind sins, nature will be affected and react to some extent. In verse 25, God personifies the land as a living creature that violently rejects what it dislikes.

The context shows the iniquity to be spiritual and that God is personally involved in what happens when mankind sins. This confronts us again with whether God actively governs this world. Has He, as it appears in Leviticus 18, set limits on the evil mankind can do?

Suppose man is totally free to choose as he pleases, and it is impossible to compel or coerce him without destroying this freedom. If so, it follows that man is sovereign, doing as he pleases—the designer and architect of his destiny. Given man's history, we can have no assurance whatsoever that morality will not gradually disappear, and that anarchy, barbarism, and eventual genocide will not arise in its absence. It is absolutely imperative that God be sovereign to govern the antics of the very creatures He created! His reaction in the Flood and at the Tower of Babel is strong evidence of this.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Deuteronomy 6:4

God's mind is absolutely undivided. In practical application, this means that His sovereignty can never be separated from His love; His grace cannot be separated from His omniscience; His judgment cannot be separated from either His mercy or His wrath. God is absolutely constant because His faithful providence cannot be separated from any other of His attributes. God is whole and complete. Under every circumstance, He is never confused or uncertain about what to do. He is always headed in the same direction, which is to complete His purpose.

It is absolutely impossible for Him to do anything that is not wise and at the same time loving. It is He who tells us how to live and how to be like Him. What God is has awesome ramifications for us because we are so different, and He wants us to be like Him, to be one with Him, to be whole, to be complete, to be undivided in mind like Him.

There are problems here because becoming this way requires a measure of cooperation from us. Compared to God, our mind is all over the place, and thus we are so easily distracted from our focus.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Knowing God


 

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 16 contains a vital lesson regarding humility, our relationship with God and our ultimate destiny. Here God explains why we have our experiences on our pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God. He specifically mentions humbling and testing three times. They are ultimately the means by which He will achieve our birth into His Kingdom. Humility is essential to our character and the out-working of His purpose because humility motivates us to bow before God's sovereignty. Those who submit to God's will have their prayers answered and receive additional blessings from Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Nine


 

Deuteronomy 13:1-5

This is the earliest formal warning to God's people that attacks against their faith would take place within the fellowship of His children, and the pattern has occurred repeatedly. God raises up a prophet or minister to instruct His people. Opposition arises, usually in the form of ministers who see things differently, who force the people to choose which way they will follow. Understand, God is not passively watching. He actively tests His children's loyalties through such calamitous situations.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part Two)


 

Deuteronomy 28:7-12

Is God involved? He is anything but passive, constantly participating across the full spectrum of the life of His people specifically and the whole earth generally. The Bible certainly does not show nature automatically producing great benefits merely according to natural laws. If it did, then the Bible would have to show the uniform laws of nature as sovereign, not the Creator God. In addition, God would be guilty of at least gross generality when He claims He does this or that.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

Deuteronomy 32:7-8

Notice that in Deuteronomy the focus is Israel, but in Acts it is on the Gentiles. We almost automatically accept that God is working among the descendants of Abraham, but Acts 17 extends the concept far beyond that. The natural and correct conclusion from this is that God exercises His will and purpose among unconverted heathens. He may not call them to salvation at this time, but He is certainly manipulating events to His own ends in their world as well as ours.

Paul says that God determines their preappointed times as well as where they will live. This means that He has predestined when they will rise to power, prosperity, and dominance, and when they will fade into weakness, poverty, and subjection. Many more billions of Gentiles than Israelites have lived during the 6,000 years of man's history.

God, then, has overseen the mighty angelic kingdom, the demons, the Israelite nations, the Gentiles, and the church over millennia and has kept all of them moving toward the successful conclusion of His purpose! What kind of God is this we serve? How awesome His mind, purpose, wisdom, and love!

Man does not merely owe His life to God's creative acts, but his movements across time are to some extent programmed by our Sovereign God—even down to the personal, individual level, as He sees fit. Almighty God works in this manner to the end that all might seek and find Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

Judges 2:11-15

Forms of the situation described here appear frequently in the history of Israel's relationship with God. Several hundred years after this, God inspired Isaiah to write, "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation. I will send him against an ungodly nation, and against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, to seize the spoil, to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets" (Isaiah 10:5-6). This can only mean that God inspires and empowers the Assyrian nation to punish the nations of Israel for their flagrant disobediences.

Such punishment precipitated Israel being scattered, taken into captivity into foreign lands, and losing their homeland, to which they have never returned. God remarks in II Kings 17:18, after providing a long list of Israel's sins, "Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone."

However, the tribe of Judah was hardly better than Israel, as II Kings 17:19 states: "Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made." The result was similar to Israel's, for in II Kings 24:2-4 God carried out His threats of punishment against Judah too:

And the Lord sent against [Jehoiakim] raiding bands of Chaldeans, bands of Syrians, bands of Moabites, and bands of the people of Ammon; He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord which He had spoken by His servants the prophets. Surely at the commandment of the Lord this came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and because of the innocent blood that he had shed; for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the Lord would not pardon.

Much negative, indeed inflammatory commentary, arose in America's newspapers and radio and television programs when some suggested that we are not as innocent as we like to think we are and that we must consider the attacks of September 11 to be a judgment from God and repent. The fact remains that, long before the attacks occurred, critics of American morality—Americans themselves—have been calling upon their fellow citizens to change their immoral ways. The attacks and a wave of sympathy for the grief of those directly impacted by them, as well as a sudden spurt of patriotism, changed the way people heard these messages. Before, they just tuned them out. After all, the messages were not for them but for others because they considered themselves to be okay. Afterward, however, the sense of being innocent victims of a sneaky and undeserved attack made the hearers feel that the messages were demeaning and insulting. But were they true?

In addition to the undisputed fact of God's sovereignty over Israel, ample additional evidence exists to show that He exercises equal dominion over the other nations of the world. He determines their rise and fall and the times of dominance of every nation. Clearly, God judges the inhabitants of His creation, and His judgments are not limited to Israel or to "biblical times." God lives and He always rules and judges—just as surely today as He did thousands of years ago. Since the One who judged during Old Testament times is the same One who judges today, we can be certain that He uses the same standards now that He did then. His laws, which define His standards of morality, have not changed one iota. Jesus emphatically asserts in the Sermon on the Mount that we should not think that He came to destroy the law or the prophets (Matthew 5:17). Indeed, Malachi 3:6 proclaims, "I am the Lord, I do not change," while Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus "is the same yesterday, today, and forever."

Is God to blame because He exercises His authority, punishing to maintain order and to continue the advancement of His purpose in His creation? Who sins and brings upon themselves the necessity of punishment? God does not sin, men do. If God does not punish for sin, then righteousness loses all meaning. Life will soon become a violent free-for-all (Ecclesiastes 8:11). The Bible makes it clear that human nature is violently evil, and when left unchecked as it was before the Flood, it will reproduce similar conditions (Genesis 6:5). Indeed, God forecasts that exactly those conditions will face those living just before Christ's return (Matthew 24:37). Every indication is that we live during that time now.

The Bible prophesies scores of horrific punishments: epidemics of incurable diseases; wars; fires burning fields, forests, and homes; earthquakes; famines; floods from raging seas; violent weather patterns; and infestations of insects and wild animals. All of these occur as punishments for sin as God exacts His vengeance on "those who destroy the earth" (Revelation 11:18). "Earth" here represents all aspects of His creation—including man—which He created for man.

God is most certainly not to blame if He reacts in accordance with what He has told man He will do. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 establish that, if one does well, God will bless him. Conversely, God strongly warns that, if one does not do well, He will surely punish him. Though not to blame because His sins did not cause these tragedies, He is responsible for them because He at least allowed them to occur. He may even have inspired them to occur and oversaw events so that they would.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Is God to Blame?


 

Judges 9:22-24

In these verses, God balances the scales of justice a bit by using a demon to requite Abimelech for killing the seventy sons of Gideon, thus implying that even evil spirits are forced to submit to God, too.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

1 Samuel 8:7-9

Shortly after the marriage took place on Mount Sinai, even while they were yet in the wilderness, Israel was already deviating from faithfulness. Recorded here is an especially significant event following the marriage, and in it Israel formally rejected God as her ruler, thus taking a major step to being a worldly nation. This occurred somewhere between 1100 BC and 1000 BC, or roughly about 350 to 450 years after the making of the covenant. Except for brief periods when Israel had a judge or a king who did right in the eyes of God, the spiritual harlotry continued unabated, as God testifies here, until He divorced her (Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8) and sent Israel and Judah into captivity.

The truly important part of this is largely glossed over as we read through this, but it helps to point out the real problem in Israel's relationship with God. Having a king is not the real issue, because God had already anticipated Israel having a king (Genesis 17:7; Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Every organization needs or requires a leader. What he is called—what his title is, whether it be judge or king—is of virtually no importance.

God was planning that Israel would have a king, so He laid down regulations in Deuteronomy 17 to show how He expected that the king should conduct himself within the office. These regulations are designed to ensure that the king does not overly elevate himself above the people and rule as an autocratic despot. Instead, he is to be thoroughly familiar with and guided by the attitudes and laws of God. He must comprehensively know that his own nature is just like those he serves and be humbled.

But the key to understanding the significance of what Israel has done in I Samuel 8 is that they wanted a king just like the other nations, not that they should merely have a king. They wanted, not a king as God detailed in Deuteronomy 7, but an autocratic, despotic king like Babylon, Assyria, or Egypt. They thought that, with such a powerful man in control, everything would be great. This is why God has Samuel spell out what will happen as a result of having such a king: The sum and substance is that he would enslave them. What this of course does is confirm Israel's whorish behavior. They wanted to do things just like all the other nations, even to the point of having a ruler like them.

This occasion here in I Samuel 8 is, on Israel's part, a complete rejection of her marriage vow. She wants her benefactor and husband—God—to have no say in her life. She wants be in control (she thinks), and thus she has declared herself "free" of Him, completely and totally a nation of this world and no longer the type of the Kingdom of God on earth.

The issue between God and man is simply a matter of government. This is shown no later than Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve reject God's rule over them and choose Satan. Once God reveals Himself through His calling, this issue of government clearly comes to the fore in our life, and thus it is what we are confronting in decision-making. As the Bible has recorded in great detail, man has shown that he wants to retain this authority to himself. But the naked truth is that we cannot retain sovereignty to ourselves and still have what God offers: entrance into the spiritual Kingdom of God. We cannot have it both ways. Either we will be submissive to God and His will, or we will be submissive to our own fickle drives.

It is a simple thing. It is a matter of government. Who is going to rule: God or us? Israel rejected God's rule. God makes that very plain. Will we? That is the issue.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 7)


 

1 Chronicles 29:10-16

This is part of King David's final prayer of thanksgiving, a portion of his benediction preceding the building of the Temple, as he had made provision for it so that Solomon could begin construction with everything in order.

The words should be meaningful, coming to us from the heart of one we admire, of whom even God said was a man after His own heart. It schools us in how David felt about God. It touches on His greatness, power, glory, majesty, rulership, headship, and strength. How puny we are by comparison! We are nothing, aliens and pilgrims in a world that gives us no recognition. Compared to His, our days are but a shadow, and despite this, we are able to make an offering to Him because He has given us all we have.

Who is this One to whom we pray, calling Him "Father," "Lord," or "God"? Who is this One whom we refer to as our Creator, Healer, Savior, or Sustainer? Who is the One who is referred to as the Almighty Ruler, Life-giver, and Forgiver of our sins?

He is the sovereign Ruler of all that He has created. The term "sovereignty" first speaks of supremacy of authority, but with the exception of personal evil, God reveals Himself in His Word as supreme in every aspect of life. He is the Most High. To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and earth; none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will. Thus, Psalm 115:3 asserts, "But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases."

Can we accept this? Is this merely a listing of grandiose titles of One who is great in His being but distant and remote in the actual operations of our lives? Do we relate to Him merely as most people in this world do, or is His greatness truly personal to us, as it was to David, because we know Him personally?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part One)


 

2 Chronicles 20:3-6

Is God really actively ruling His creation? His sovereignty over His creation is something we frequently take for granted. This presents a potentially serious problem because it results in our failing to think through His sovereignty's practical aspects to our personal situations. Thus, we greatly discount His involvement in our lives and His willingness to intervene for those who live by faith, indicating we are really living by sight (II Corinthians 5:7).

Far too many of us have unknowingly bought into the thinking of materialistic science and atheistic philosophy, which have ushered God right out of His creation by teaching that impersonal laws regulate everything. Impersonal laws exist, but they do not regulate everything. We can choose between that approach or what Jehoshaphat says in his appeal for direct intervention for Judah's deliverance. If what is now part of Holy Scripture is not true, we may as well throw the Bible away because it cannot be trusted. God rules, not impersonal laws that merely react.

Besides overseeing the affairs of nations, the Creator and Ruler of the universe is directly and personally involved in His people's lives. He does not merely respond to those who trust Him—He creates circumstances and events, and/or He directly intervenes to make things happen. Science and atheistic philosophies have relegated God to nothing more than a distant spectator—a Being who cannot stop men from engaging in dreadful wars even though He longs to do it. Men believe that, since He has endowed humanity with free moral agency, He is obliged to let man make his own choices without interference because interfering would somehow destroy man's moral responsibility. However, this ignores God's own plan and purpose for His creation, so it cannot be a true concept.

If this were true, free moral agency, not God, is supreme. But God is ruling, not man's free moral agency! Notice these verses from just two books of the Bible:

  • I Chronicles 5:22: "Many fell dead, because the war was God's."

  • II Chronicles 11:4: "Thus says the LORD: 'You [men of Judah] shall not go up or fight against your brethren! Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from Me.'"

  • II Chronicles 24:24: "For the army of the Syrians came with a small company of men; but the LORD delivered a very great [Israelite] army into their hand, because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers."

This is not to say that God has brought about every war or every scattering or directly intervened to stop every threatened war that was averted during man's history. However, the Bible's record is clear: He acts when the occasion fits His will. God's direct activity regarding His purpose and plans must be considered because His Word declares that He is directly involved in the lives of His people. He makes events happen so He can form and shape His people into His image. God is not a mere spectator viewing our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven


 

Ezra 1:1

This says clearly that God was able to stir the spirit of Cyrus. There is no indication that Cyrus was aware that God was stirring him up. He just somehow was motivated to issue this proclamation. He may have thought the idea really came from him or from one of his advisors. But for some reason, all of a sudden, he had an inclination to give the Jews the opportunity to go back to their own homeland.

This verse also suggests that our spirit can be communicated with without our being aware of it happening. Understand, however, that we will not always be blind to this or insensitive to it. It is God's intention that we become very sensitive to the fact that something or someone is trying to communicate with us on a level that is not discernable by the eye or the ear. Nonetheless, our spirit can be stirred to go in a certain direction for good or for bad. We need to begin to realize that we may or may not be aware that our spirit is being communicated with.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 3)


 

Job 1:6-12

Notice that God Himself takes the initiative in setting this up, choosing the antagonist (Satan) and defining the parameters of what could be done. Can we say in the face of accounts like this that God only permits difficult trials to occur? Can we say He is not actively testing His children to see what is in them? Can we say He is not actively directing Satan to carry out the calamities He designs?

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part One)


 

Job 1:6-12

This clearly illustrates that, despite having far greater natural powers than a man, Satan can do nothing against any of God's children that God does not permit. God is overseeing our preparation for His Kingdom, and the Devil is, in reality, a dupe in God's hands to that end. Verse 10 shows that God puts, as it were, a protective wall around us, commanding Satan, "This far and no farther."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part Two)


 

Job 23:10-14

Many times, as we go about our lives, it seems as though this powerful Sovereign is nowhere around. Job 23:10-14; 24:1 records an interesting complaint of the perplexed Job, who represents anyone whom God has led through a trial.

On the one hand, Job perceives by faith that God is almighty and is involved in the events of his life. He is also confident that he is obedient to God. On the other hand, he cannot understand why God is being so hard on him, where He is, or how He can be persuaded to change His course of action. Job feels God is treating him unfairly. He also questions why those who know God still sin despite realizing He will judge those sins. The piper must be paid. We know that whatever a man sows, he reaps—and still we sin!

Many of us who have undergone a heavy trial have taken this course of thought. We may not use the same words, but they will have the same sense. We might say, "I am God's child, and I know I am not perfect, but I am not out there sinning a lot or terribly. Why is God so overbearing? Why does He seem so far away? Why does He not answer when I pray to Him? When am I ever going to get relief from this? Others seem to be doing things a great deal worse than I. Why are they getting away with it?"

It is humbling to grasp that we are not completely in control of our destinies. A great, overriding Power sees life and its purpose far differently and with much greater clarity than we can even grasp. His every thought is righteous, and as our Creator He has every right to move us about as He wills. He is in charge, and nobody keeps Him from carrying out His ultimate purpose, to create a Family in His image. Psalm 33:14-15 provides an interesting insight into His work among men: "From the place of His habitation He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works."

Isaiah 10:5-19 is on a much larger scale—involving an entire nation and millions of people. It predicts God's intention to use Assyria to punish Israel and His response when Assyria boasts of "its" accomplishment. This yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy is a clear example of how God intervenes in man's affairs to complete His purpose. In verse 7, He even prophesies that Assyria will not want to cooperate with Him, but He makes them. After Israel is punished (verses 12-15), Assyria takes undue credit, and God's judgment begins in verse 16. The lesson to all is that we are empowered to do only what God wills or permits. There is no room for pride when God enables us.

Like Job when he understood more fully, we as sons of God should be rightly humbled—and at the same time, greatly encouraged—by the awesome knowledge that His creative efforts focus on us (Job 42:1-6). Paul writes, "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (II Corinthians 4:6-7). God is doing something very special in us, but all the praise and glory belong to Him.

Even though His path for us may sometimes seem very rough, and He often appears distant and deaf, who is better in directing our lives toward a glorious end? Were we or some other human to choose our way, the result would surely be ignoble and shameful. To comprehend these truths and yield ourselves to searching for His path for us are among life's greatest accomplishments. Submitting to Him produces the abundant life Jesus so graciously wants us to have (John 10:10).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

Job 42:1-6

It is not the brilliant, luminous glory of God's appearance that humbles Job but God's power, intelligence, and wisdom revealed in the creation. This, combined with His right to do with it as He pleases, brings Job to understand how ignorant, puny, and base he is by comparison.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sovereignty and Its Fruit: Part Ten


 

Psalm 11:4-5

It is good to remember that, just because He makes something available to us—even things that might ordinarily be considered "good"—it does not mean it is good for us! God is continually testing us to see whether we understand how intimately He is working with us.

We are to be self-controlled people, our conduct motivated by faith, because we are a distinct people summoned by the great God for His purposes and His purposes only. God is drawing us into oneness with Him, which is why His Word so frequently stresses His one way.

A man was once asked why he risked life and limb to climb a mountain. He replied, "Because it was there." This illustration is supposed to indicate that he rose to the challenges of life and overcame them. What is not often explored is that he did not need to risk life and limb to climb the mountain. He took this risk, this gamble, on himself; God did not require it. His vanity drove him to do it so he could be personally satisfied and tell others he did it.

Exercising faith in God and His Word is not a gamble. Babylon's system is a way of life that promotes gambling, betting that one will be able to beat the odds. It began with Adam and Eve in the Garden and today contaminates virtually every area of life.

Despite our wealth of knowledge concerning nutrition, we gamble with our health in what and how much we choose to eat. How can smokers not know they are gambling with their health when statistics show that each cigarette takes about seven minutes from one's life? Consider the AIDS epidemic. In spite of all the information regarding the dangerous potential of this disease, people willfully continue in their hedonistic lifestyles, gambling that a cure will be found before it strikes them down.

We often gamble in the way we drive our automobiles. People sky dive from airplanes or bungee jump from high bridges spanning deep canyons. Men and women involve themselves in a whole host of life-threatening experiences, risking their survival for the sake of a thrill.

Many have gone heavily into debt wagering that the nation's economy, their employment, and their health will continue to be positive and that they can somehow manage to keep their noses above the financial waters. Yet, the nation's economy, which affects jobs, never stays the same for long. Various factors are in constant flux, making financial speculation risky business.

The solution to each of these gambles is to control ourselves through faith in God and His purpose. We must stop indulging ourselves and begin making whatever sacrifices are necessary to keep to the strait-and-narrow course God has placed before us. It is our responsibility to glorify Him, and we most certainly will not glorify Him by gambling on some other way of life!

But Israel does not want to sacrifice. She wants satisfaction—her way—which so frequently comes at the expense of godly conduct. We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged along in her self-centered depravity, as seen in her boast, "I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow" (Revelation 18:7).

Albert Einstein was once asked for his definition of insanity. He replied, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." This entire creation works according to laws, and those laws cannot work any other way than they do. They always bring the same results.

The solution is to quit disbelieving God and to begin obeying the laws He counsels us will produce the abundance, satisfaction, and peace we so desire. Israel would not and will not do this. It remains to be seen whether we, after being given the opportunity, will follow Israel's fickle example or that of the heroes of faith.

Israel's sin is driven by an overweening self-concern, which forgets that God is working out a purpose and plan that oversees everything in our lives. He bought and paid for us with Christ's sacrifice, and we vowed to submit to His authority when we gave Him our lives. God's track record is clear, and what He is providing is more than fair. He promises to supply our every need, but in Israel's fearful and fickle discontent, she did not seek Him to understand what He was doing. Instead, she sought for something different from the experiences He was providing to prepare her for His Kingdom.

Psalm 11:4 could be rendered, "His eyes behold the children of men; testing and proving the upright in heart." Israel failed when He tested her. What is He testing in us? As He tested Israel, God is testing our loyalty, our faithfulness to Him, to see if we will keep the covenant across a wide spectrum of situations. These tests never come at a convenient time, do they? Do they not always seem to hit when we are in a bind of some kind, making the choices all the more difficult? They make us decide who comes first in our life—God and faithfulness or our own nature and flesh?

What are we to do when the issue is whether to break the Sabbath by working or keep it by refusing? What should we do when we are in a financial bind and in debt—submit to men or pay God His tithes first? Can God, will God, provide our needs in such a tight financial situation? What will we do when we desire to cover a failure—brag and lie or tell the truth? What should we do when we are sexually enticed—flee or commit sexual immorality?

What will we do in any case when submitting and the glorification of God are at issue? Should we expect God to bless us when we choose to take sovereignty to ourselves? When we take sovereignty to ourselves, we introduce idolatry into the relationship.

Once we are no longer ignorant of the choices before us and choose to take sovereignty to ourselves, sin becomes exceedingly more serious in its consequences—we become our own idol because that is whom we are serving.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Seven): How Can Israel Be the Great Whore?


 

Psalm 62:11-12

When David says in Psalm 62:11, "God has spoken once, twice . . .," He is using a Hebrew idiom that means, "I have heard this repeatedly." Practically, it means God's will always decides the outcome of whatever is in dispute, whatever hangs in the balance. Who can resist Him?

We need to look more closely at the word "power," or as some translations read, "strength." Power is defined in The Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Word Finder as "having the ability to act, influence" and "a particular faculty of body or mind, capability." This usage opens another exciting avenue, taking the meaning of power from mere brute, overwhelming force into such qualities as the powers of love, intellect, wisdom, understanding, vision, logic, energy, eloquence, wealth, authority, privilege, prerogative, control, mastery, persuasion, forgiveness, and so on into every area of activity.

Is there any kind of need in which God is not superior to any alternate source we could seek out to provide help? In Psalm 62, David suggests that, when we need help in time of trouble, why not just go right to the top? Is not our Father willing to provide these things for us?

Then in verse 12, David adds yet another quality of our powerful God that we need to consider. God not only renders to every one according to his deeds, implying punishment, but He is also merciful - in fact, the very pinnacle of love! Even His sometimes-painful correction is an act of love.

The entire psalm briefly and generally explains why we should trust God: To those who believe, no one is more qualified and trustworthy. Broadly, David is saying that God's power and willingness to act according to His purpose is the very foundation of a believer's practical application of his faith in Him.

There is far more to God being the Source of the powers that we need to serve Him and become prepared for His Kingdom. He has made available many powers, ones that we may take for granted yet have nevertheless been provided for our benefit.

Recall that the Israelites sang in Exodus 15:2, "The Lord is my strength." In a poetic way, they meant that we do not have strength, but God does, and He uses it for our benefit. God has not called the wise of this world (I Corinthians 1:26), but on the other hand, Jesus Christ lives in us, and He is the power of God and the wisdom of God (I Corinthians 1:24). He is our High Priest, who has the responsibility before God to lead us prepared into the Kingdom.

The concept of strength or power has many facets that we have not yet explored. Deuteronomy 8:11, 14, 16-18 says:

Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today . . . when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; . . . who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end - then you say in your heart, "My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth." And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

That wealth is power is an easily recognized concept. "Wealth" is used in this context to represent all evidences of prosperity and well-being. We tend to think of wealth in terms of material things like the size and location of our home, the cost of our automobile, or the fashionableness of our clothing. However, there is more to prosperity than material goods.

The concept developed in this passage also includes qualities like good health, sound-mindedness, and the level and breadth of our education - elements common to prosperous cultures. It includes things such as understanding and having the opportunity to perceive what is happening in this world from a godly point of view. All of these and many more are powers available to us. In other words, "wealth" is not limited to material things. It includes our health, the disposition in which we live our lives, the liberties we enjoy, and the opportunities available to have those things whether or not we have actually taken advantage of them.

For example, Solomon said, "Of making many books there is no end" (Ecclesiastes 12:12). The tremendous volume of information available in books is beyond our comprehension. Of course, not all the power contained in this information is good, but God has made it available.

In addition, God can prosper us by giving us favor in the eyes of others. He opens doors to bring us goodwill because power belongs to Him, and He uses it as it pleases Him. No potential help is beyond His power!

In many cases, these things come to us as byproducts of His fulfillment of promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Are we using them, and if not, why not? God's fulfilling of His promises provides us with potentially valuable experiences, which are lavished on us simply because we live in an Israelitish nation. Each nation of modern Israel has its own peculiar wealth of beauty. Most of us have noticed and compared the barrenness of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq on television with the fruitfulness of our nations. This beauty, along with its productivity and liberties, are included in the concept of "wealth."

He provides these things and uses them to benefit us at all times because it pleases Him to do so. Powers are not always given because we please Him. Deuteronomy 8 is a warning against pride. We must humble ourselves, never forgetting that we are created and that we live by the gifts He provides. Remember, Jesus says, "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). This awesome statement is made by the One described by Paul as "upholding all things by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus means, in reference to God's purpose, that we could do nothing spiritually without what He adds to our labors. Yet, these verses also tell us where to go to receive the help that we perceive we need.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part One)


 

Psalm 78:40-42

Provoked means "rebelled against." Their disrespect and irreverence produced the fruit of limiting His willingness and power to provide for them in any situation. In their minds, they set boundaries upon what they thought He would or could do. The psalmist does not mean they literally hogtied God to keep Him from doing things, though the practical result of their relationship virtually amounted to that. However, in their lack of faith and fear of God and their failure to make practical use of His sovereignty over His creation and His willingness to help His people, they mentally drew lines, concluding that God could not or would not provide for them in their circumstance. Thus, they chose to arrive at their own solutions that resulted in sin and death. They were obviously not living by faith but by sight. Hebrews 4:1-2 confirms this was at the base of Israel's failure in the wilderness

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven


 

Psalm 103:1-22

This psalm praises God's sovereignty over all His creation, yet it also shows His awareness and care of us as individuals. To Him, we are not nameless, faceless blobs in an endless ocean of people. The world likes to claim the incredible promise of Romans 8:28 for itself, but it really applies only to us, "those who love God . . . those who are the called." This is something to be thankful for! Each one of us is in His capable hands! God requires us to give thanks because it is good for us. Those convinced that God rules have a distinct advantage over those who believe things happen randomly.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sovereignty and Its Fruit: Part Ten


 

Psalm 105:16-19

God's sovereignty and involvement with the details of Joseph in Egypt persist from beginning to end; everything happens when, where, and how God planned. Undoubtedly, God is already working in and through Joseph as a lad of 17. But between 17 and 30, Joseph's life is a veritable roller coaster ride from top to bottom and from bottom to top.

The story shows his faith in God; through it all he trusts Him, not fully understanding every detail until after it is over. But God works throughout those years and in all the details toward a purpose and a time He had determined in advance. The same is true regarding Abraham and Sarah's 25-year wait for Isaac.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Psalm 111:2

The psalmist uses sought out in the sense of "meditated upon" or "thought about." All of us ought to be searching out the works of the Lord—whether it be in history in what He did for His people or in salvation in the redemption of His people and how He supplies all the needs of His people.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 10)


 

Psalm 121:1-8

Once we recognize that the psalmist uses "hills" as an image of a problem to a pilgrim, we easily understand the rest of the psalm as an encouragement to those on a spiritual pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God. It certainly does not give the impression that God—at any time—lets His mind wander, unaware of what is happening in His children's lives. Not only is He ever on guard, He is also ready, willing, and able to intervene with strength. He is not a parent distracted by other concerns so that He neglects His children. We can be greatly encouraged that God is always alert to His responsibilities.

Because God is this way, all things work together for our good, even though there are times when we sin and nothing evil appears to have happened to us. Human nature easily deceives itself into thinking it has gotten away with something. This, however, is like saying we can defy the law of gravity, and nothing will happen! God does not let us get away with anything pertaining to His purpose, but He is never overbearing in thoroughly following through.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Nine


 

Psalm 135:3-6

Since God is God, who can dare challenge His prerogative? Who can dare call Him into account for the way in which He deals with us or those we feel close to? Do we, in our limited perception, frequently become critical or frustrated with the way God is handling affairs? When this happens, we are in reality leaving God out of the picture. Where is our faith in His character or His lovingkindness? To murmur against Him is rank rebellion. To question His ways in the wrong attitude is to impugn His power, wisdom, and rights. We should never forget what Isaiah 40:17-18 says of Him whom we serve: "All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless. To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?"

We can see that God has created all of nature with great diversity. The laws of nature, also set in motion by God, operate and keep everything under control. Is it really necessary for Him to manage or govern His creation actively? Psalm 22:28 reminds us, "For the kingdom is the LORD'S, and He rules over the nations." The King James version reads, "He is the governor over the nations," but rule is what a governor does. He rules, manages, keeps under control, or directs according to His own purpose.

Did God create all things and then step away from what He had made, allowing it to operate on its own? Are we now subject to uniform, impersonal law rather than a sovereign God actively controlling the operations of His creation? Everywhere the Bible confirms that God is actively involved in managing His creation—and no part of His creation receives more attention than the supreme, ongoing creation He is working in our lives, the creation of His image in us. This almighty, sovereign God has His attention focused on His church, and we can have faith in that. There is nothing in its existence of which He is not aware and that is not subject to His sovereign dictates.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Three


 

Psalm 145:18

The question is, "How near?" This question has to be asked because many times we feel that God has gone way off somewhere. But how near is He? We have to ask this because the Bible describes Him as a God who is both far and near; He is both at the same time.

He is far in recognition of His sovereignty and of His position in relation to the rest of the creation. He is far above us in that regard. He is over all and directs and controls everything, always with His overall purpose in mind.

If we desire to have a good relationship with God, we will have to take this last factor into consideration, because it affects our lives. He does everything with His overall purpose in mind. There are occasions when He may be "unable" to act in our behalf on one of our requests of Him, because other people's situations whose lives touch on ours must be resolved first. A clear example of this is the book of Job.

Job was totally unaware of what was being worked out through, around, and about him. Even Satan was having something proved to him by God, because He challenged him. In the vernacular of today, God said to the Devil, "Okay, Satan. See if you can break Job. I challenge you to see if you can break him."

Satan could not break Job. The man stood his ground, even though he got battered mightily in the process, not really understanding what was happening. He undoubtingly appealled to God, but He could not answer because other things were being worked out through, around, and about in Job, of which he was totally unaware.

Job was not privy to the conversation between God and Satan, nor to the fact that God was putting him through this in order that a book be written of his experiences, which could not be written until the episode had resolved. So Job had to go through a great deal of discomfort, pain, and emotional anguish while the whole situation played out. For a while, God was a God from afar.

Now that we have more understanding, and the Bible is complete, we realize that He was also a God who was near because He strengthened Job so that he could resist the temptations of the most powerful being to tempt mankind. Job stood up just fine.

Because this book has been written, and because Job endured this, we now have a clear picture why, at times, bad things happen to good people. We can also see that this book of Job shows that God has faith in us too. It does not work just one way. God was working from afar, with His overall picture in mind for mankind, and God was also working nearby.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 6)


 

Proverbs 3:5-8

These verses contain the first principle upon which all our work and hope depend. In every aspect of life, we must take God into account. We should seek His counsel regarding our home, community, work, and play. This is not an elective but an absolute necessity, so the relationship established through Jesus Christ influences our conduct to the point that it is according to His will. This requires humility, but if we remember that He made us, and we are dependent upon Him for everything, the proper attitude comes easier. If we do not do this, we are foolishly failing to acknowledge the One whose thoughts and ways are higher than heaven is above the earth. All of our ways are in the hand of this Almighty Sovereign; success and safety are of the Lord. We of all people do not want to end up fighting the Almighty when He causes changes in civil government or in the church. They may appear on the surface to be working against us, but who is ruling?

Recall some examples from the Old Testament: Nimrod attempts to build a tower and unite all of mankind under one government, but God sweeps it away by the simple expedient of making communication too difficult. Esau burns with anger against Jacob, but when next they meet, he weeps for joy at seeing his brother. Joseph goes into Egypt a slave and spends time in prison based on a false charge, but as a result of God's blessing, he ends his life reconciled and reunited with his family and second in command of all Egypt. Israel is a slave people in Egypt, the most powerful nation on earth at the time, but God devastates it through supernatural occurrences—Israel is freed without "firing a shot." Balaam is hired to curse Israel, but God compels him to bless. Haman builds a gallows for Mordecai, but is hanged from it himself. Jonah resists God's command to preach to the hated enemy, the Assyrians, but God prepares a great fish just for him!

Understanding this, David writes:

Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed saying, "Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure. . . . "You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." (Psalm 2:1-5, 9)

God is infinitely stronger than even the greatest of confederacies, and He will blow away the most extensive and vigorous efforts to overthrow His plans like so much dust. He laughs at man's puny attempts to rule without considering Him, their Creator, in whom they live and move and have their being. Will He who repulsed the attacks of Satan's mighty angelic host be put in fear of more limited men?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

Proverbs 16:9

Sometimes those steps move sideways, backwards, or perhaps over a circuitous detour. Sometimes God steers us away from horrendous unseen obstacles while we mistakenly think that He is thwarting us or not answering our prayers. Verse 25 suggests, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." Is it possible that, if we always received what we prayed for and set our minds upon, it would also lead to death? Jeremiah 10:23 affirms, "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps." He implies that, without God, man's plans always end in failure and ruin.

David F. Maas
The Spiritual Hard Hat Zone


 

Proverbs 19:21

Men plan what they are going to do and even take steps to fulfill them. Even so, behind the scenes, God is ruling and over-ruling from heaven above, fulfilling His eternal purpose, not only in spite of, but also by means of, His enemies.

On the plain of Shinar, men had a plan to make the world one under them. Pharaoh had a plan to keep his slaves. Balak had a plan to curse the Israelites. The Canaanites had a plan to prohibit Israel from settling the land. Saul had a plan to kill David. Jonah had a plan to avoid going to Nineveh. Nebuchadnezzar had a plan to throw three men in the fire. Herod had a plan to kill Jesus.

All failed. Who is sovereign, God or man?

II Chronicles 20:6 records a confident statement by King Jehoshaphat of Judah, one that each of us needs to live by:

O LORD God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?

This describes the God who created us, called us, converted us, brought us into His Family, and is preparing us for His Kingdom. He has assured us that He can save us. It is His will to do so, and who can resist His will? Nobody can, for He will accomplish it through Jesus Christ.

Our part is quite small compared to what Christ does, but it is important. We must willingly accept His sovereignty over us and yield in submission so that we will become like Him. God's promises are sure. There is but one realistic conclusion. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose except what is not in the image of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Four)


 

Proverbs 21:1

The Living Bible paraphrases Proverbs 21:1 as, "Just as water is turned into irrigation ditches, so the Lord directs the king's thoughts. He turns them wherever He wants to." This helps us to understand God's sovereignty and history as well. If the thoughts of a king - representing the highest and most influential person in the nation - are in God's hand, and He influences his decisions when it pleases Him, are not all governors of men completely under the Almighty's sovereign control? Clearly, the sovereign Lord of Creation is moving all history in the direction He desires it to go.

It is not hard to comprehend, then, how Paul formulated the concepts he expresses in Romans 13:1-2:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

This explains why Moses declares that the actions of Korah and his group were a rebellion against God Himself (Numbers 16:11). Nor is it hard to understand why Jesus says in Luke 10:16 that to reject an apostle, one sent by God bearing a message, is to reject Him, and to reject Him is to reject the Father who sent Him.

Government is the overriding issue in the Bible. Ultimately, a son of God need not be concerned if the government of his homeland is legal or illegal, or if it governs appropriately or inappropriately. What matters is that the Christian recognizes God's sovereignty, confident that in His oversight God never sleeps or looks the other way. He is fully aware of whatever happens. Because of the purpose He is working out, this One who knows every sparrow that falls has either passed on what occurs or directly caused it. That is all that matters. With this understanding, we can truly live by faith, knowing God is ruling His creation. That is what we are here to learn and trust.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

Proverbs 21:30-31

We of all people do not want to be fighting God when He brings about changes in economies or government. The changes may appear on the surface to be working against us, but who is ruling? Who can turn Him back? Who can stop Him from providing for us in spite of what is happening around us? Romans 8:32, 38-39 reminds us who is really in charge:

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?. . . For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Such constructive encouragement is a valuable bulwark against the stressful fear and depression that can arise when events seem to be spiraling out of control.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

Proverbs 29:2

What if a ruler, the one to whom we are to submit, is an oppressive person? What if he is just incompetent or stupid, and we know better how to do the job that he is supposed to be doing? What if the person is sexually immoral or financially greedy? Does God still want us to submit? What protection do we have in these kinds of circumstances?

Abomination that it is, those in authority often do evil. They might have serious character flaws that catch their victims in the effects of their flaws. What is so maddening is that they justify their ways—seeing them as good—and they will turn around and blame the innocent for the evils that occur.

For example, the proverb says that "all the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes." The incompetent man does not think to himself, "I'm really dumb, stupid, idiotic, and shouldn't even have this job." The sexually immoral person does not see himself as perverse. Most prostitutes will say, "Yes, I'm doing wrong according to the law, but I am providing a needed and wanted service. If it weren't I would have no customers." They justify themselves; they are pure in their own eyes.

Consider the enemies of Jesus. They felt justified in taking His life on the grounds that He was stirring up the people. No one on earth has ever been more innocent, yet they justified what they were doing because the people were being stirred up by Him. They accused Him of being a revolutionary, a threat to community stability.

If we are in a position like this—under an oppressive ruler who justifies the way he is doing things, and we are suffering the effects of his actions—we feel like powerless pawns being taken advantage of. We feel that he is denying us the liberty to do what we want. Should we submit or rebel?

To know what to do, we must look at what Jesus did in a similar circumstance. This is not an occasion in which the authority figure demands submission, and in submitting, we must break the law of God. The situation does not involve being forced to sin, but simply submitting to one who is unreasonable and oppressive.

John 19:10 is part of Jesus' trial for His very life before Pilate, and occurs after He was scourged: "Then Pilate said to Him, 'Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?'" He could choose to do either. Pilate was a corrupt official. His record, according to secular history, was not at all good. The Jews despised him for his harsh ways.

"Jesus answered, 'You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin'" (John 19:11). His response is very meaningful. It clearly shows His attitude, His approach, to every circumstance of His life.

To be in the same frame of mind, we must ask ourselves, "Do we see God?" Is He really a part of our lives? Is He really running this creation? Is He really sitting at the controls of things? Is He really aware of us as individuals? Does He have every hair on our heads numbered? Are we really the apple of His eye? Are our lives really in His hands? Have we really given them to Him, or are we holding part of ourselves in reserve?

"You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above." Jesus saw life very clearly and simply: that God was in complete control of everything going on in the universe. Not that everything was being directed by Him in the sense that He was causing it to occur, but that Jesus believed with every fiber of His being that God was with Him all the time, everywhere, and at every moment. He knew that His life was in His Father's hands and that Pilate could do nothing against Him unless God allowed it.

Would God have us submit, or be faced with submitting, to somebody who was cruel, hard-hearted, incompetent, sexually unbalanced, perverted, stupid, or financially greedy? Would He have us live and work under such a person? He put His own Son in that position! Everything at Jesus' trial and crucifixion looked as though it was totally stacked against Him. Carnally, it seems as if He had every right to rebel. He could have replied, "Do you not know to whom you are doing this?" Instead, He says, in paraphrase, "You would not have the power to do anything except that My Father passed on this. And He is now looking at Me to see how I am going to respond. Will I submit to the authority that He has permitted to be over Me right now?"

Do we see God in our lives like this? We have to begin to look at ourselves differently than the way people in the world look at themselves. We must decide whether we are in God's hand or not. Do we have the faith to trust that we are, and that these constituted authorities are also in His hand? Do we believe that He is aware of what is going on and that He deeply cares about what we will do in each situation? As He did with Abraham, He must know what kind of witness we are going to make (see Genesis 22).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)


 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-10

Because God is sovereign over time all the time, He will be overseeing and working to make the most and best of every situation for us. Time is important to us, but with God, it is not an overriding issue. There is time because He is involved and wants the most and best for us.

In listing the merisms (pairs of contrasting words used to express totality or completeness) in verses 2-8, Solomon is not saying everybody has to go through each of the fourteen pairs, though that would do us no harm. They do, however, give us an overview of major events of virtually every life. Once they are listed, verse 9 asks, “What is to be gained by experiencing these events?” The question is rhetorical at this point. Answers are to be gathered from what Solomon teaches within the larger context of the book.

By way of contrast, understanding verse 10 is quite important to our well-being. Solomon assures us that God is deeply involved in these issues and events of life. In fact, he writes that they are God-given, implying that God has assigned them as disciplines for our development as His children. The dominant fact here is not whether God personally put us in them, since we may have gotten ourselves into them through our choices. The important factor is that we are indeed in them, and God is involved in them with us because at the very least He allowed us to fall into them.

We must not allow ourselves to forget that He is our Creator (II Corinthians 5:17); we are not creating ourselves. Thus, we can be encouraged that He has most assuredly not abandoned us (Hebrews 13:5). Are we accepting and patiently rising to meet these challenges, or are we resisting them in despair and frustration?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Three): Time


 

Ecclesiastes 3:9-11

A beautiful flower blooms, but it is only beautiful for a little while, not always. Even though things are beautiful—and in an overall sense, he means life is beautiful—it is perplexing because we cannot figure out what God is doing. We have a deep desire to understand the beginning from the end. Everyone likes to know how things are going to work out! Everybody would like to know a little bit about what lies ahead in the future for him. But we cannot know, so life perplexes us.

Maybe we want insight into or a sense of something that transcends our immediate situation. But we are left without really knowing all we would wish to know about the future as it relates to the present and what we are experiencing. This has a beautiful purpose in it; God designed it so. He has not told us everything. Why?

It forces His children to live by faith: "The just shall live by faith." Those who trust God will be cognizant of the fact that they cannot control everything and that they must rely, not in their wisdom, abilities, intelligence, power, or money, but in Somebody who is really in control of these things.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)


 

Ecclesiastes 3:9-11

Men search for the answers to life's big questions. They are aware that there is a Creator God, as Romans 1 so clearly shows. We know from our own experiences that multitudes of the public believe that God exists, but how many of those know the purpose that God is working out? The closest they have been able to come is to believe people go off to heaven when they die. That is not the purpose God is working out. It is so much more majestic, so much more grand and glorious than that—there is no comparison between the truth and that which man has concocted!

In addition, people do not seem to understand the connection between God's purpose and our lives right now. What are we supposed to do with what we understand? They do not understand that God is on a character-building mission, and it requires our cooperation with Him. That is exactly what God through Solomon suggests here: that no one can find out the work that God does from the beginning. Why? Because they do not fear Him! The fear of God must be given; it must be instilled within a person—and it must be instilled by God!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fear of God


 

Ecclesiastes 3:10-15

Among the mysteries that everybody must face is “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” Another version of those questions is “Why was I born?” A partial but probably unsatisfying answer is that, unless God calls and reveals Himself to a person, he will never find the clear, detailed answer. Thus, Solomon states in verse 11, “No one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” So that the called, those to whom God has revealed Himself, are thoroughly convinced of the great gift God has given them, a fuller version of this declaration appears in Ecclesiastes 8:17:

Then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it.

God undoubtedly planned much of this blindness. This does not mean that people will never hear the answer to “Why was I born?” in their lifetimes. But unless God is directly involved in calling them for His purposes, their hearing the simple and plain truth of it will not have the life-changing impact needed to change the direction of their lives. A person must be gifted by His calling (Matthew 13:10-17).

God has given everyone a spirit and a sense of eternity, enabling people to think both backward and forward in time. Men innately know that there is more to life than what they experience physically. However, they do not grasp the precise connection between their awareness of eternity and their present physical lives. They do, however, vaguely grasp that somehow the immortality they envision has some connection with what they are experiencing in the present. However, this is greatly botched, and misunderstanding is universal. The most common assumption is that we already possess it. But, if linked with revealed truth as God intended, it greatly aids people in thinking about the past concerning God's creative powers, His purpose, His sovereignty over all things, and how the individual fits into the present and future.

God has given gifts to all humanity, but only those called by Him are given more detailed and true explanations that will build their faith, enabling them to live by it. Unless God gives the details, we are all much like terribly near-sighted people who more or less feel their way along. Until they are called, the grand design that God is working out escapes their fuller comprehension, making the answer about who we are elusive.

The instruction in Ecclesiastes 3:10-15 encourages us to be content and patient. It is a reflection on and a reminder of the importance of what He already said about gifts in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26. We should be thankful and rejoice in what we already have because what we have is wonderful. Without directly stating a clear “why,” Solomon gently implies that God will add understanding as we are able to make good use of it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

God keeps the "natural" cycles recurring (in the weather, for instance, as well as other cyclical events mentioned in chapter 1). There is security in knowing that a steady Hand rests on the helm—one that can be absolutely relied upon. It is likely that Paul derived the major part of the principle in Romans 8:28—that all things work together for good—in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Life, then, is not out of control. Do we believe this? We have a desire to know the future but cannot know it—not completely. God has not given anyone that much insight into what is happening. Thus, Solomon's conclusion is that we should make the most we can of our life right now. (He is not talking about being imbalanced or hedonistic. He means doing things properly, successfully, with dedication.) We can give it our all knowing that there is a steady Hand at the helm and things are not out of control. Our part in this is to trust God. Are we willing to do that?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)


 

Ecclesiastes 3:14

What God is doing will add to our awe of Him, and the fear of God is a great gift. There can be nothing negative about adding to our respect of God. Recall that Proverbs 1:7 states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” However, the fear of God is the also the beginning of wisdom, understanding, joy, peace, and much more because these all flow from God as gifts to us because of our contact with Him after being called.

God set the times for many significant events, for example, when Jesus was born, when the gospel began to be preached, when He would be crucified, how long He was in the grave, and when the Kingdom will be restored. Thus we must learn that the operations and times that God sets are thoroughly reasoned, permanent, and unchangeable. Whatever God does endures forever. He schedules and performs everything at exactly the right time. Thus we must grow in trusting God's timing on everything in our lives. It is that important to our spiritual well-being.

Despite what events working out in our lives might seem like to us from our position as very limited and impatient mortals, God is running a tight ship. We can expand this concept of running a tight ship to envelop the entire period of the past—to all His sovereign operations beginning with Adam and Eve, the calling of Abraham, Jacob having twelve sons, the formation of Israel, and so forth. Everything was done at the right time, and in a way, doing so emphasizes His sovereignty and well-organized purpose.

God wants to impress on those living by faith that He truly wants us to know what He has done and what He is now doing to the degree we can understand. For our good, though, He does not want us second-guessing Him because doing so is not beneficial to living by faith. When we do that, we tend to do foolish things.

Regarding timing within God's purposes as He works with us, we cannot add to or take anything away from the past. The past cannot be changed; it is over. By the same token, we cannot add to or take anything from the future either, as it has not yet occurred and because God has His purposes to work out. What God wants to do when He wants to do it will invariably be done.

No human by his sheer effort can hope to alter the course of things. To seek to do that is evidence of pride. This is a major reason God sets the times even of our trials. He desires to remove every aspect of any argument we might have that might lead us to choose some other way of doing things than His. Resisting Him produces no good fruit.

This leads to the most helpful conclusion: With God in control of time, we, through our experiences, gradually become aware of our sheer helplessness; we cannot manipulate time nor manage the times we live and operate in. This intense understanding of our helplessness helps us grasp more deeply how totally dependent we are on Him to work out His purposes in our lives. The humility produced by this awareness is of tremendous value.

We are involved in the ongoing spiritual creation, and the Creator God is the Potter, fashioning us into His desire. Humility before Him is an absolute necessity. Recall what Jesus says to His disciples in John 15:5, “For without Me you can do nothing.” That is, we can do nothing toward His purpose. Our responsibility is to yield to His purpose. The sovereign God can exercise control of all things in the lives of His children, not just time.

Notice how Jesus illustrates an aspect of this in Matthew 10:29-31:

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.

His two illustrations show how penetrating and complete is God's awareness of what is happening in His creation. Here is the practical point for us: If He is aware of a sparrow falling, and we are exceedingly more important than a mere bird, how can He not be aware of all that is occurring in our lives?

With this understanding, we can appreciate that we can move forward toward God's Kingdom only at the speed He deems is correct for us. This gives us far more reason to learn to be content because the speed that He moves us is perfectly good for us. God does nothing that is not in our best interests.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Ecclesiastes 3:16-17

How can God be in control when the world contains so much evil? How can God be in control with the evil prospering in their sins and the righteous suffering in their obedience? Does that not seem backward from the way that we would think of God operating things? How should a Christian react to this?

Certainly, Solomon was not the first to ask this question. As much as we might dislike having to deal with this, it is nonetheless a reality. In His wisdom, God chose to deal with humanity in this way, and perhaps most especially, to allow His own children to face these same circumstances.

Solomon was comforted by two godly realities that we should also understand and use. First, he assures us that God will judge. The timing of His judgment is in God's capable hands. Therefore, we must remember that nobody among humanity will get away with the evil that he does. The wages of sin—death—is a reality (Romans 6:23). We cannot allow ourselves to forget that God is judging. It is a continuous process, and in many cases, we simply are not aware of present, unseen penalties that the evil person may already be paying.

Second, human nature naturally thinks that the way God handles things is unfair, a judgment that is the work of the spirit of this world (Ephesians 2:2-3). However, God's perception of timing and judgment is a much broader and more specific picture regarding each person than we can see. We are not walking in others' shoes, nor are we aware of what God is planning for them to experience. Therefore, what we must know and properly utilize is the fact that, in a major way, other people are none of our business. That is God's concern, and He will take care of things in His time.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Ecclesiastes 7:8-10

In Luke 11:24-26, Jesus uses the illustration of an empty house, "swept and put in order," but what fills it makes a great deal of difference in terms of it "end." When we walk through an empty house, we may see possibilities for it, but because it is empty, it is not a warm, accepting, and welcoming place. Would not making the house a wonderful place to live be a fine project? However, such a project might also produce a number of potential pitfalls. Ecclesiastes 7:8-10 lists some of the reasons why a project, good at the beginning, might not be carried through to its finish.

The contexts of Jesus' parable in Luke 11:24-26 and Peter's counsel in II Peter 2:20-22 assume the individual in question is called, forgiven, and changing, which are good things. Jesus calls this being “swept clean”; Peter describes it as having “escaped the pollutions of the world.” But in their conclusions, the individual's vision, devotion, and discipline appear to be weak. The person regresses and becomes entangled again in his pre-conversion ways.

Thus, weak character prevents a good ending. Recall that Jesus curses the fig tree that produced no figs, and in the Parable of the Talents, the man who buried his money is rejected. In other words, they showed no positive use of their gifts.

Solomon names four possibilities as to why progress ceases. They are pride, impatience, anger, and discouragement. Pride is in reality the father—the generator—of the other three. A person who can control his willfulness, as expressed by the examples of impatience, anger, and discouragement, controls them because he sees a far greater benefit to himself in what he is being asked to endure. Because he, by faith, perceives God to be involved in his trials, a Christian concludes that they are positive preparation for the Kingdom of God.

We can sometimes learn from our children what we may be like in our relationships with God. This scenario has unfolded for many of us: As a long trip begins, the family piles into the car. Invariably, it is not long before one of the children asks in a whining voice, “Are we there yet?” “When will we get there?” “How much longer will it be?” They do this because young children have little or no concept of time and distance. Their mental clocks move much faster than those of older folks because they have not had the experience to teach them such things.

In our trials as Christians, our lack of experience may be working against us in relation to God and His purposes. That is why we must come to know God and see matters from His longer, broader perspective. These verses in Ecclesiastes 7, then, really compare patient endurance with pride and its fruits of impatience, hasty frustration, and discouragement.

This section, beginning in verse 7, contains a muted suggestion that the long way is frequently superior to the quick-and-easy way that the immature almost invariably seek. We often do things hurriedly just to get them done, without being all that concerned about how well those jobs are done.

In both Jesus' and Peter's illustrations, God is clearly not satisfied with the partial solutions the carnal mind so easily considers acceptable. God desires that we overcome the flaws in our character, not merely cover them. In the midst of our relationship trials with God, we must remember that He is the Creator, not us, and He knows what He wants to accomplish.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense


 

Ecclesiastes 7:10

The times we live in are indeed becoming steadily more difficult. Christian values are consistently being attacked. Under such circumstances, a person is apt to say what Solomon warns us against saying. It is easy to let ourselves become “down.” But we need to be careful because discouragement is a child of impatience. In difficult situations, we want the trouble to pass quickly. However, be aware that in such times it is easy to allow one's carnality to take the bribe of doing a “quick and dirty,” less-than-good job to make life less stressful and tiring.

Taking a quick-and-easy approach is understandable because conditions in this nation give no sign of positive change. Those governing us seem to be delivering us into the hands of the nation's enemies. Others who are illegally invading us appear to be dragging us into the gutter, and much of the nation's wealth is flowing into the hands of the few. Jobs are becoming scarcer.

These things are true to some degree, but we have to resist allowing this influence to get a firm grip on us, as it indicates that our focus is too much on carnal men and all their self-centered flaws rather than on what God is accomplishing to fulfill His promises. Yes, living is growing less comfortable, but He is telling us to focus on what He will accomplish in the future. God wants us to evaluate honestly what we have received by virtue of His calling.

Consider an interesting aspect of the mindset of father Abraham. Genesis 13:2 describes him as very rich in livestock, silver, and gold. Hebrews 11:10 reports that despite all that wealth, he looked for a city whose Builder is God. We know that Abraham was wealthy enough to put together an army of over 300 men, but in this way, God shows us what dominated his mind.

What lay in the future, not the present, motivated his life. Abraham bought no land to call his own, and Hebrews 11:9 records that this very wealthy man lived in tents. A tent is a symbol of temporariness, as well as lack of wealth and status. The wealthy live in solid homes; the poor live in tents because they can afford nothing better. Yet, Abraham was not merely wealthy but very wealthy.

Abraham was aware of the riches of the world around him. He came from Ur of the Chaldees, a prosperous city. He visited Egypt, the world's most powerful and wealthiest nation at the time. What Hebrews 11:9 does not say is that, all the while he lived in what appears to be a lowly status, he was heir of the world (Roman 4:13)! To a person of faith that means a great deal.

Some may mistakenly think that everybody lived in tents in Abraham's time, so the way he lived was the way every wealthy person lived. Thus, there is nothing unusual in the Bible pointing these things out. Not so. The way Abraham lived reflected where his heart was, a glimpse into his faith, vision, and humility. Archeologists have compiled a great deal of evidence about the time Abraham lived. The people of that day built fine houses and huge buildings. The cultures were highly developed, and their building projects were grand and extensive.

It has been said that the “good old days” are the result of bad memory and good imagination. Old folks are prone to declare, “The old was better.” That is true sometimes. Solomon's advises that, though we must look back to learn, the future must nonetheless dominate our minds. A person looking over his shoulder while trying to move forward at the same time is likely either to crash into something or to trip and fall over an impediment. Jesus cautions in Luke 9:62, “No one, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Solomon is urging us, the called, to move on with life and its problems by looking and working toward the future. In context, then, the “former days” refers to the time before we were converted, not some earlier time in the history of our culture. This makes this warning more individual and potent.

Being called creates new difficulties, but especially now because we are living in nations that are losing both their moral and economic powers. What we are experiencing can create feelings of despair that keep us focused on just merely making it. This kind of attitude is not good.

God warns us in verse 10 that it is not wise to hold a strong opinion that former days were better. He wants us to keep our minds on His sovereign power and purpose while accepting His governing judgment on the circumstances of our times. We do not want to be guilty of calling Him into account, but that is exactly what we would be doing. We must never forget that He rules—constantly!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense


 

Ecclesiastes 7:13

Even as man makes many things crooked (Ecclesiastes 1:15), God, too, wrests things out of our hands and twists our paths in a different direction—and we certainly cannot undo what He has done. He exercises His sovereign authority, and it turns things upside down. He upsets the natural order of the cosmos, and the normal course of events for mankind in general and for individuals. He subverts the cause of anyone He chooses, according to His goodness and what He knows is best.

Many people have a hard time with this aspect of God, preferring to shy away from it. Yet He says Himself that He creates calamity (Isaiah 45:7). What is calamity if not crookedness on a monumental scale? He caused the Flood that destroyed all of mankind save eight. He removed a hedge around Job, which resulted in a tremendous trial. He decimated the nation of Egypt. When His people were obedient, He annihilated the armies of those who came against them, but when His people were rebellious, He fought against them and spoiled their efforts. He sent Israel into captivity, scattering them so thoroughly that most of them do not even know who they are.

Closer to home, He scattered His own church because He judged that its course needed to be upset—because it was not good. The course needed to be wrenched in a different direction in order for each child of His to examine his own ways to see what crookedness needs to be straightened out. And as Solomon rhetorically asks, who can undo what the Creator has willed to occur? Only He can—and only when and how He ordains.

If it seems like our every endeavor turns sour, or similar events are conspiring against us, it is not necessarily because we are being punished for being the worst of sinners. Perhaps we are—but we have to remember that even if we have the very best spiritual walk, perfectly resembling Jesus Christ, we will always encounter things that are crooked because the world is crooked, because Satan is continuing to make things crooked, and because God, too, is making things crooked (at least according to human reckoning). The reality is that His actions are always good and will always produce good fruit in the end, but that does not change the fact that they may also turn our world upside down in a most uncomfortable way. And that is all before we add in the crookedness that we cause ourselves!

Even so, we should not despair. God makes things crooked, but He also makes things straight. He supplies what is lacking when we cannot. Recall the crooked hands and legs that He made straight during His earthly ministry and the healing He performs for us. Consider the resurrections that He performed and the crookedness that He straightened out in them. Ponder the food that He provided and the truth that He supplied when they were lacking. He came to a crooked world and began setting things straight.

He did not do it all at once, though He is nevertheless continuing to make straight the crookedness introduced into His creation some 6,000 years ago. The Father and the Son are always working (John 5:17), and they are working for our spiritual benefit. Part of Their work is making things straight for the firstfruits, intervening to bring us to a vastly different conclusion from the end we would reach on our own.

God, at times, grants His children favor in the eyes of others when the normal course would be for them to be despised. He gives peace, which can include straightening out an interpersonal conflict. He takes things that are out of kilter and wrests them to bring them into alignment. “Power belongs to God,” the psalmist says, and so it should be common sense to seek favor with Him, because then He is willing to upset the order of things in a way that will help us toward the Kingdom.

He does not make everything perfect all at once, but as we continue to walk with Him, He straightens out sections of our road that we cannot straighten. He does not take away all of the consequences of our crookedness, nor does He undo all of the world's crookedness that impinges on us. Nevertheless, He straightens enough so that we can continue making spiritual progress and even receive unexpected blessings along the way.

David C. Grabbe
Crookedness


 

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

The situation in verse 15 is a paradox, an irregularity from the way one would expect a thing to be. A paradox is an inconsistency in circumstance, statement, activity, or conduct contrary to what a person would consider normal. Here, the paradox is found within a relationship with God. The sinner prospers, but the righteous suffers all kinds of difficulty in life. Is it not more natural to think that the sinner would have difficulty and the righteous, a prosperous, smooth-running life?

A paradox, in turn, creates a conundrum, that is, a riddle or puzzle. A righteous individual may ask, “Why should such a situation exist?” “Where are the blessings God has promised?” “Where is God in this picture?” “Has God not promised prosperity and long life if we obey Him?” Yes, He has.

Solomon's paradox could spur a carnal person to assume that doing evil, because it can be profitable, is the better way. This especially seems so when the evil person lives to old age in relative peace, is honored in the world, and has more-than-enough wealth. In contrast, it is not rare for a righteous person to die early, perhaps following a time of difficult persecution.

One way of understanding these verses involves misjudging both God and the circumstance, which generally results in expounding on what we might consider “normal” self-righteousness. As Ecclesiastes teaches, God is sovereign and rules His creation all the time. So thorough is His care of His creation that His eye is even on sparrows (Matthew 10:29). Therefore, God is fully aware of any circumstance like that described in verse 15. In fact, He may have directly created it and is using it for His purposes.

The challenge for us, then, is whether we find fault with Him in allowing or arranging this sort of circumstance. Do we even think that God overlooks what any of His children might be going through? It is likely that He is directly involved, having caused the circumstance.

Could we be calling God into account, deciding—without knowing all the facts—that what He is overseeing is unfair? Understand, however, that even though He may or may not be directly involved in causing such a circumstance, He is not indifferent to human conduct and attitudes whenever or wherever they are. Our judgment must begin with knowing that His governance contains no complacency at any time. Though the righteous may die young, who knows God's entire judgment that lies beyond the grave for either the righteous or the wicked?

In addition, in this world prosperity is frequently associated with some level of evil. God Himself says that He sometimes sets the basest of men on thrones of great power, but He does not mean He favors them in terms of economic prosperity. We should understand those persons are in that position for some good reason, and God is fully aware. The wise person grasps and accepts that God is never out of the picture. He rules!

There is, therefore, a primary lesson about judgment here: Things are not always as they may appear to our narrow perspective. This verse teaches us to be cautious when making judgments about a person's spiritual standing before God and his morality as we might perceive them in his day-to-day surroundings.

This supplies insight into why Jesus cautions us about judging. The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man contains a clear example of the pitfalls in making these kinds of judgments. The rich man could easily have been judged as favored by God. But which man was truly favored by Him? It was Lazarus, the beggar, who was the better spiritually.

We should not allow ourselves to jump to self-righteous conclusions about people and to misjudgments about God's involvement. In either case, we are fully capable of raising ourselves spiritually above them. Thus, an overall lesson in these verses is that we must learn to be cautious about accusative thoughts that may arise within us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Ten): Paradox


 

Ecclesiastes 8:14

The righteous seem to receive all of the bad things, and the wicked seem to go through life unscathed, untouched. They have the big cars and the nice houses on the hill. They can take fancy vacations. Nothing bad ever seems to happen to them.

A main reason that I Peter 2:18-24 was written is to warn us that sometimes the innocent are caught in God's justice. They will have to suffer for something that they have not caused. The test for us is whether we will be able to accept God's justice, His judgment, and take it in the same spirit that Christ did. If anyone could ever cry out, "Unfair! Unfair!" Jesus Christ would have to be the One.

How about us? What trials have we gone through, in which we did not cause the trial but became caught in somebody else's sin? It is very easy in such cases to cry out to God, "Unfair! Unfair! God, why are You allowing this to happen to me?" The implication of our complaint is, "After all the good things that I've done for You, God, You treat me like this." We are, in effect, trying to vindicate ourselves. We become frustrated and accusative, never even stopping to think that, if we received truly fair treatment, we would get what happened to Nadab and Abihu and Ananias and Sapphira!

God wants to see if we have faith in His judgment, in Him as an absolutely perfect Judge. Do we trust Him, or do we only trust Him when the going is good?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Justice and Grace


 

Isaiah 6:1-5

Isaiah is overwhelmed by God's sovereignty displayed by radiant purity and a feeling of terrifying but controlled power. It makes him feel dirty beyond anything but simple expression, helplessly weak and feeling that he is doomed. Like Job, he is thoroughly humbled (Job 42:1-6).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sovereignty and Its Fruit: Part Ten


 

Isaiah 44:28

Ezra 1:1-2 states that Cyrus issued a decree to free the Jews in the first year of his reign over Babylon. Since Cyrus conquered Babylon on October 12, 539 BC, the first year of this reign was 539-538 BC. God through Isaiah, then, named him at least 143 years earlier. What God did through Cyrus also fulfills a prophecy made through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11-14) sometime during the century following Isaiah's death. Ezra distinctly says that God stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to perform this and that Cyrus claimed that God commanded him. Ezra 1:5 states that God also stirred the spirit of the Jews, Levites, and Benjamites to return to Jerusalem to build the Temple, confirming His sovereignty over the whole affair.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

Isaiah 45:3-7

God raised Cyrus up to do His bidding to prove to him and all the world who is the true God! God went before Cyrus (verse 2), paving the way for his victories and policies so that His will and His plan would move forward. We should be able to look back at history and see how God worked to bring all the necessary elements into place for His purpose to be fulfilled.

After God used Nebuchadnezzar to punish His people, He raised Cyrus to deliver them from their captivity in Babylon and return them to their land. For the real Christ to be born in Bethlehem as the prophecy states, Jews had to be living in Judea. He also inspired Cyrus to institute his conciliatory policy toward foreign religions so that a Temple could be built to which His Son could come. And among other points, Jerusalem had to be rebuilt so Jesus could die outside the city for our sins.

No other "god" can do these things! Only the Most High God, the Almighty Sovereign of the universe can work out events over such long periods of time. He can take sinful men who have never even desired a relationship with Him and cause them to do His will and bring about His purpose.

God is in control. Light, darkness, peace, or calamity—none of these things happen without His permission. "I, the LORD, do all these things," He says.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Cyrus: God's Anointed


 

Isaiah 45:4-6

Notice that God gives examples of things He does from behind the scenes that people are unaware He is doing. By this, He is revealing a principle. He is doing similar things all the time, and people are just as unaware today as the ancients. He is manipulating events to cause people to react. In these verses, God is speaking to Cyrus, who is totally unaware that God has made it possible for him to be in the position to carry out what God wants him to do. He also informs Cyrus that he will do this job for Jacob's benefit, in this case for the Jews living under the Persian Empire.

In addition, we discover in verse 6 that the Jews do not know this either. The time will come, however, when they will know that God worked these things for their benefit and His purpose, and they will give God glory as the one and only Almighty God. A small-scale fulfillment of this occurred under Ezra and Nehemiah, but the greater fulfillment will not take place until the Great White Throne Judgment. Isaiah 45 gives the impression He is actively working, but that we are aware of only a tiny portion of His activity even in our own lives. Yet, as His children, we should be intently looking for His hand in our affairs.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part One)


 

Isaiah 45:7

Until this point, the prophecy foretells a wonderful event, but verse 7 introduces a sobering side of God's work: He creates calamity! He links two contrasting sets of events: light and peace—representing constructive, hopeful, encouraging events—against darkness and calamity—representing destructive, fearful, discouraging circumstances. God creates both "good" and "bad" circumstances for His people and purpose.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part One)


 

Isaiah 55:1-3

While each of the terms in the first three verses is an important symbol with spiritual meaning, we will focus briefly on only one of them, the symbol of "ear" in verse 3. God adds to that term, "come to Me" and "hear, and . . . live." How important is this concept?

Paul writes in Romans 10:17, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." "So then" marks this statement as a conclusion. If we desire to be in God's Kingdom, hearing is essential. Such a person must live by faith. Salvation is by grace through faith, and faith comes by hearing. Faith is an absolute necessity, and hearing is equally necessary for having faith that saves.

Interestingly, virtually every modern translation of this verse now reads, "So then faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ," or the end may be, "the word concerning Christ." Why make this change? The entire context of the book of Romans presents us with the knowledge of the spiritual foundation for a life in Christ and living by faith. It teaches us how to have a living relationship with the Father and Son, and it focuses on understanding the preaching of Christ. The translation change brings Christ more sharply into focus.

Matthew 17:5 reads: "While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!'" The One who became Jesus Christ is the same One urging us in Isaiah 55 to seek Him, and a major element in seeking Him is to hear Him. Hearing Him is the path to increasing faith and being enabled to live by faith, thus pleasing God.

The first sentence of the first paragraph of the article, "Ear, Hearing," in The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery reads, "In the Bible the ear is synonymous with the heart and mind as an organ of cognition" (p. 223). The placement of this statement helps emphasize the importance of thoroughly understanding what Christ has said. The Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder Dictionary defines cognition as "knowing, perceiving, or conceiving as an act or faculty distinct from emotion and volition." "Understanding," "grasping," and "getting" are synonyms. To come to know Christ obviously requires effort. Biblically, then, the hearing involved in Isaiah 55:1-3 requires concentrated listening, comparing scripture with scripture, and meditated understanding. These lead to living faith and grasping the sovereignty of God over our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Two)


 

Isaiah 55:8-9

When we do not think like God, we are not in His image. We cannot say as Jesus did, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). God, in His wisdom, has willed that we grow in His image through exercising faith in what He says, buttressed by what He reveals of Himself in His creation.

The fundamental difference between the person of faith and the unbeliever is revealed by the way they judge things. The unbeliever, of the world, judges things by worldly standards, by his senses, and by time. The person learning to think like God brings God into everything, viewing things from His perspective, by His values. He ascertains how the activity, event, or thing looks in terms of eternity. He seriously meditates on God's sovereignty over all things. At times, doing this puts the screws to his trust because the Bible says that God's judgments are "unsearchable . . . and his ways past finding out" (Romans 11:33). Faith holds a person steady.

Because we often do not think like Him, and because we do not have His perfect perspective, we often do not exactly know what God is doing. Only in hindsight do we understand what is occurring in our personal life, to the church, or in the world in the outworking of prophecy. So we must trust Him, and in the meantime weigh what is happening and its possible outcome.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Introduction


 

Jeremiah 15:1-4

The church has been purposely scattered by God. Nothing of this magnitude occurs without His permission! If He has given Satan His permission to be the actual "instrument of scattering, it still would never have happened if God did not agree that it needed to be done. Some think, "Satan came up with this idea, got into the flock, and scattered it." Could Satan do anything like this without God giving His permission? Impossible! And, if God gave His permission, then it was His will that it occur. Satan became merely an instrument of God's sovereign judgment.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Avoiding Superficiality


 

Jeremiah 25:3-4

This passage, along with verses 8-9, gives a simple, clear, and graphic example of why hearing God's Word, believing it, and understanding God's sovereignty is important to practical applications in our life. This is why Jesus admonishes us to listen. The Jews certainly heard Jeremiah's voice proclaim God's warning, but it did not motivate them to act. They did not fear God's sovereignty over their lives. The direct result was disruption in society, the pain of warfare, and the captivity that followed. As almost any parent would say to his child in a similar situation, God is saying, "I told you not to do that. If you had listened to me, this would not have happened."

Why did they not listen? The words spoken by God's prophets carried no authority in their minds because they had no faith in God's sovereignty. If asked, these people would have asserted they believed in God. In reality, they had no faith that God was even anywhere around, that He had the power to do what He said, or that He cared enough for them to do it. They lacked living faith.

Why is it so important to listen to God's message? Because God's summons comes to those who listen to and believe the message, and through them His work is done. Notice John 6:29: "Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.'" God is working salvation in all the earth (Psalm 74:12), and He is doing it in and through those who believe the Son. Only those who believe the Son will willingly submit to God's sovereignty because they look to Him as their Ruler.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Introduction


 

Jeremiah 28:12-17

God charges Hananiah with causing the people to trust in a lie, as well as inciting rebellion against Him. His transgressions were so grievous that God killed Hananiah two months later—a month for each year in his false vision (Jeremiah 28:1-4).

Hananiah's prophecy urged rebellion against God in a couple of ways. First, Scripture is clear that God had installed Nebuchadnezzar in a position of power over this area of the world. Though not a godly man, he filled a position that God had given him, thus to resist his rule was to rebel against the God-ordained order. When Hananiah predicted deliverance in just two years, it encouraged Judeans to think that they did not have to submit to this foreign king. In this way, he encouraged them to disregard God-instituted authority.

Second, Hananiah's lie subtly altered the reason for their crisis. He redefined the foreign domination from something that God deliberately caused (as told by the prophets) into something that He merely allowed and would soon remedy. The false prophet shifted the explanation of their pitiful circumstances from something that God had orchestrated due to the sins of His people into a time-and-chance problem that He would reverse.

This removed any need for self-examination. It exonerated the nation and its leaders, removing any thought that the people had misbehaved themselves into this crisis by rejecting God. By eliminating any thought of cause-and-effect regarding sin, Hananiah was in fact encouraging them to continue in their disobedience. Without any apparent consequences for sin, the mind begins to reason that sin is not the problem. Hananiah told them everything would be fine, but God saw it as teaching His people to rebel.

Something similar is happening today in a small way. Some are promoting an idea that the world is actually getting better. It is not a widespread belief, but some have taken such a rose-colored view of God that they believe mankind's best days are just ahead. They are convinced that there will not be catastrophe and death leading up to Jesus Christ's return.

To arrive at such a notion, one must nullify the pattern of God's prophets, just as Hananiah did. One has to find new meaning even for the words of Jesus Himself in places like the Olivet Prophecy where He plainly says that "unless those days are shortened, no flesh would be saved [alive]" (Matthew 24:22). Under this view, the bulk of Old and New Testament prophecies become either merely symbolic or already fulfilled, including all of Revelation. And a person must really cherry-pick his evidence to maintain the belief that circumstances in the world are improving! Some are actually doing this for the sole purpose of giving hope. However, like Hananiah's prophecy, it is a false hope.

David C. Grabbe
Hananiah's Error


 

Jeremiah 51:11

God stirred up the spirit of quite a number of people to set the Medo-Persians at war against Babylon to take away its authority and destroy it. God is Sovereign in His creation. He has the last word, and in most every case, He had the first word as well. He does things on His own initiative, because He knows the exact direction for which He is heading, yet He seems to give nations a great deal of latitude within the purpose He is working out. There are times, though, that He needs to tweak events to return them to the purpose and timing in which He wants them to occur. He then stirs up the spirit of the man He chooses to make those changes. He interfaces with him, and he may not even be aware it is happening. The history books record that Cyrus said the same words about Marduk that he said about the true God of heaven, suggesting that he attributed his inspiration to his false god. Cyrus was not converted, so he probably did not know that God was stirring up his spirit to do this.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 3)


 

Ezekiel 11:19-20

We once said in our carnal ignorance, "I will not have this One to rule over me." We may not have uttered these exact words, but our conduct in breaking God's commandments and being conformed to this world spoke as if we were literally saying them. That has changed to some degree, has it not? If it happened to us, why can it not happen to anybody? It can, but only if God gives the same things to them as He has given to us. To understand and appreciate properly what He has given us, we must recall our lives before conversion and honestly recognize what we lacked compared to what we now have because of God's calling.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

Daniel 2:19

These verses show God's supremacy over the nations. Twice God states through Daniel that He, the supreme Creator and Ruler, gave Nebuchadnezzar his dominion over men.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part 2): War! (1997)


 

Daniel 4:17

God will give the Kingdom to the lowest of men and women. Similarly, Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:26, "For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called." The lesson is to know that God rules, which has been the issue from the very beginning.

Adam and Eve did not act as though they knew that God rules; they acted as though Satan or they ruled. They rejected the rule of God, and from that time on, God has concentrated on this very fact. Mankind will learn that God rules, and in order to do that, God is going to have to judge, to issue decrees, and to hand down sentences.

His sentences are going to be very stiff indeed, because Scripture shows that the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord will reduce the population of the earth to about 10% of all of mankind. The carnage that will result from God's judgments being handed out, so that mankind will know that God rules, will be bloody to an extreme. An awful lot of pain will result from the execution of this sentence. God judges, and it will begin at the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets.

To most people on earth—if God even exists in their thoughts—He is, at best, a rather remote personality who acted a long time ago but seems to have grown disinterested, as nothing has happened for quite a long time. However, the Bible shows Him to be a hands-on ruler. He is overseeing planet earth, and He is doing it for the purpose of fulfilling His purpose of establishing His Kingdom.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fall Feast Lessons


 

Daniel 4:35

The Bible declares quite clearly that God is not only well aware of what is taking place, but He also has the power, wisdom, and love to either stop it at any time or let it run its course. In fact, Scripture plainly shows God actively—indeed proactively, not merely permissively—involved in earthly matters. God has not gone "way off somewhere," letting things simply proceed naturally.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Is God to Blame?


 

Daniel 5:23

This verse ought to make us consider how deeply God is involved in our lives. We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that this principle does not apply to us because we are insignificant. It applies to all men, high or low, rich or poor, slave or freeman, Gentile or Israelite, converted or unconverted. It is deeply moving to consider that the breath on which our life depends, itself such a frail thing, is in the "hand" of an invisible Being over whom we can have no control. He can stop our breath at any time. We continue living only at His pleasure! There is perhaps nothing more absolute than the power God holds over us, yet we do not seem disposed to acknowledge it.

In addition, He claims to have the power to control all our ways. We can go nowhere without his permission; once we leave, we cannot return home without His allowance. We like to think we have faith, but do we really live our lives considering His nearness to us? How little we recognize this! Yet it is what the apostle Paul means when he tells the Athenians, "[I]n Him we live and move and have our being." Solomon reiterates this thought in Proverbs 19:21, "There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the LORD 's counsel—that will stand." Again he writes in Proverbs 16:9, "A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps," and in chapter 21:1 it says, "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes." The Living Bible paraphrases this last verse, "Just as water is turned into irrigation ditches, so the Lord directs the king's thoughts. He turns them wherever He wants to."

If the king's heart is in God's hand, and He is influencing his decisions, is it not clear that all governors of men are completely beneath the governmental control of the Almighty? What ruler can resist Him? This does not mean He is inspiring the evil things they decide to enact as policy, but He oversees and thus allows them, or they would never be able to implement them. Belshazzar seemingly had a free hand until God dramatically intervened to bring about His will. We should consider this in light of the "sovereign citizenship" movement gathering grassroots support among certain elements in America. It presents a growing danger to some church members who are being deceived into ignorantly opposing the very governance of God!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

Daniel 7:27

Daniel 7:27 promises rulership to the saints in God's government, which is why an essential decision in our lives revolves around government. Government is the overriding issue in the Bible. Who will rule in our lives, God or Satan? It is that simple.

Israel rejected God's rule. When Israel desired a king, it was because they did not want God to rule them (I Samuel 8:7). Will we do the same? That is the critical issue that must be resolved in our lives. How can we reject God's rule? By insisting on being our own general—by putting ourselves, not God, at the forefront of the battles we fight every day. We simply do not allow Him to be our King and Commander.

The examples of the first and second Adam prove how vital the subject of government is. In the Garden of Eden, the test that Adam and Eve failed was the test of government. To whose rule would they submit—God's or Satan's? The Devil's temptation of Christ (Matthew 4; Luke 4) was the same test: Would He submit to God's or Satan's government? Jesus passed the test, rejecting Satan's offers for personal gain. Because God neither changes nor varies, He is a God of patterns. We, then, have the same test to pass. To which government will we submit?

There is a direct connection between prayer and submission to God's government. When we pray, we are prostrating ourselves before Him, calling on His great name, and recognizing His power, omnipotence, omniscience, immutability, wisdom, mercy, and grace. Interestingly, Jesus called the Temple, in which God dwelt, "a house of prayer" (Luke 19:46). We now are temples of His Holy Spirit in which He dwells (I Corinthians 3:16), so we, too, should be houses of prayer.

Prayer is a spiritual blessing God gives to us as a major tool for growth. Prayer at any time is an exercise in humbling ourselves, as it forces us to admit our humanity, inadequacy, dependence, and need. It is an admission that we are not self-sufficient. Those who humble themselves before His sovereignty are those to whom He gives His attention (Isaiah 66:2).

We desperately need a vital relationship with God and all that He will give to us by His grace to achieve His purpose for us. His gifts flow to the humble because they will submit to His government and His will, and for that reason, God will withhold no good gift from them (Romans 8:32; Psalm 84:11). By prayer, and especially by striving to pray always, we are submitting every thought, word, and action to the scrutiny and governance of the great God.

The Israelites did not want God to rule their lives directly; they did not want to submit to His rule. If we are not striving to pray always, we are making the same mistake. Their decision put them in the position of having to fight their own battles. If we make the same mistake, we get the same results—but worse. Why would God want anyone in His eternal Family who demonstrates an unwillingness to submit to His governance on every occasion?

Pat Higgins
Praying Always (Part Six)


 

Daniel 9:14

Did this happen without God knowing what was happening? No. He was not only watching, but He engineered it!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Avoiding Superficiality


 

Daniel 11:32

The word translated "know" (Hebrew, yada; Greek, ginosko) is foundational when considering God's sovereignty. Yada appears in Daniel 11:32: "Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits." "Know" indicates a close, warm, and even passionate intimacy combined with head knowledge that produces an "edge" in a person's life. This enables us to trust God and, at the same time, to perceive what He is doing. It is this factor that makes God's Word authoritative to us.

This warm, close, and passionate relationship forms the very foundation of a true, working willingness to submit to His sovereignty. Do we really believe that, because God is holy, His anger burns against sin? That, because He is righteous, His judgments fall on those who rebel? That, because God is faithful, His promises of blessing or cursing are absolute? That, because God is omnipotent, nobody can resist Him? That, because God is omniscient, there is no problem He cannot master? "The people who know their God" do! Because God is what He is, we are seeing His prophecies of the end of this age being fulfilled in the world and in the church, and that translates into tumultuous, difficult, and sometimes scary and confusing times.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Introduction


 

Daniel 11:32

The circumstance prophesied in Daniel 11:32 is gradually taking shape on the horizon. Those who know Him and "see" Him are those who so respect and revere Him that they never want to be out of His presence nor disappoint Him. The Bible describes such people as "fearing Him." Fear is generally defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by exposure to danger or expectation of lack or pain. Its synonyms include "dread," "terror," "panic," "alarm," and "fright." Though it contains elements of these characteristics, the fear of God is most certainly not dominated by them. This particular quality of fear is not abject terror.

The fear of God centers on worshipful admiration and appreciation. It is a wonder, awe, delight, pleasure, and warm approval of all He is in His Person. It esteems Him above all others because of the awesome, loving mixture of His intelligence, creativity, generosity, wisdom, kindness, patience, and mercy, all within an aura of overwhelming and yet subdued power. These qualities are not ones that a person immediately recognizes, but rather ones that an individual comes to know as the result of experience with Him. His qualities draw a person to God rather than repel him in cringing terror.

Psalm 34:11, a psalm of David, a man after God's own heart, makes a telling statement regarding this fear: "Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD." This fear is not natural to man; it is not built into the carnal mind. Human nature will reject it because the carnal mind is enmity with God (Romans 8:7).

Godly fear is a quality of reverence and respect of God that must be learned, and only those whom God calls and converts can learn it, because doing so requires a relationship with Him to come to know Him. The unconverted do not have this relationship. Those who fear God will do great exploits regardless of their human status, great or small. To be in that position, we must make the best use of the relationship that He enables by His calling. We have to respond by seeking Him to remain in His spiritual presence, or we will never learn the fear of God nor have it as part of our characters.

The fear of the Lord is a necessary, foundational plank supporting a life lived in faith. It is a strong influence that drives us toward God and His way, not one that incites us to flee from Him. It is not only foundational to this way of life, but it is also a fruit of it, learned and strengthened in the character of those who pay the costs of living by faith. The sons of God live in the present yet always look to the future in the Kingdom of God, humbly accepting His judgments on their lives. They strive to make good, daily use of His Word. Such people will receive God's spiritual blessings and do exploits.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty, Part Three: The Fruits


 

Amos 4:6-11

God's people were very busy making money, accumulating things, and practicing their religion. But God was also very busy—sending famines, droughts, blights, locusts, epidemics, warfare, and possibly earthquakes in judgment for their unrighteousness (Amos 4:6-11). He hoped that they would heed these "minor" warnings before He sent the rod of His anger against them (Isaiah 10:5).

Rain fell on one part of the country and not on another. When it rained, it rained too much, causing floods. In other places just enough rain fell to deceive the people into feeling a sense of hope—that it was not so bad after all.

We see this in the United States. Natural disasters—insurance companies call them "acts of God"—are growing more frequent and more intense, killing many and causing billions of dollars in damage. Floods ravaged the Midwest in 1993, while drought killed crops in other areas. After a year or so of good rainfall, California fell back into drought conditions—only to suffer from floods a year later! Fires rage over thousands of acres after periods of drought, destroying forests and homes. Sudden earthquakes, storms, tornadoes, and extreme temperatures destroy homes, businesses, and lives.

It never seems to get quite bad enough to send the nation into a real tailspin, but it is just enough that, like the Egyptian Pharaoh of the Exodus (Exodus 7:13-14), we continue to harden our hearts. We fail to repent. If the unrepentant attitude continues, the "natural" disasters will intensify, bankrupting the nation economically. Since money seems to be the nation's foremost god, the true God will hit where it hurts most.

The vast majority of Americans have become so far removed from God that they lack the eyes to see and the ears to hear the warnings He sends. Educated in a system that fundamentally denies God, they lack understanding. They interpret God's warnings as natural events—just nature running her course. An earthquake or flood or drought is viewed as "nature doing her thing."

Rather than heed the warning and repent, Americans turn to their other false gods—science and technology—to bail them out. "Design better levies to protect us from floods," they cry. "Seed the clouds to produce more rain." "Engineer stronger buildings to withstand more powerful earthquakes." "Science will someday give us the ability to predict—even stop—earthquakes." Americans have eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear (Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:14-15).

In these disasters, God is saying something quite different—something vitally important. He is warning the people that they have a responsibility, and if they fail to live under their covenant with Him, He has the power to correct them so that they will repent. So, in fairness and mercy, God lays a simple choice before them: "Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" (Amos 4:12). Their choice is either to face their sins and repent, or face the wrath of a just God.

To bring about His purpose, God is active in His creation, especially among His people, whether physical or spiritual Israel. "If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?" (Amos 3:6). Is God involved in our lives? Do things happen by chance to the people of God? This world would have you believe that God really is not aware, that He does not care or even exist! But He says, "I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things" (Isaiah 45:7).

Is God involved? "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" (Matthew 10:29-30). Do we see God working in our lives? Events do not happen accidentally to God's people, of whom God is very aware. He is very concerned and thus very involved.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)


 

Habakkuk 1:1

This is a very simple introduction. He does not say, "In the tenth year, in the tenth month of the reign of a certain king, Habakkuk the prophet, from a certain town, who was a Levite and a priest, saw a vision." He simply says, "This is what the prophet Habakkuk saw." We begin to see immediately some of Habakkuk's character. He removes himself almost entirely from the book. He is not worried about himself or his pedigree. His book is just a narrative of his conversation with God.

All we know about Habakkuk is that he was the prophet at the time. He is an obscure character, not appearing anywhere else in Scripture. In effect, there is nothing to learn except from what he says; the Bible contains no extraneous details about him. It is possible to extrapolate a few things about him. He may have been a Levite, one of the singers or musicians in the Temple, perhaps one of the sons of Asaph, because he writes a very fine song in the third chapter.

Even his name is uncertain. It seems not even to be Hebrew but foreign, an Akkadian word. Moreover, its meaning is disputed, the best guess being that Habakkuk means "embracer," almost like "hugger"—one who wrestles. In a way, that is what he does throughout the whole book. He embraces God, wrestles Him, for an answer—similar to what Jacob did—and he does not let go because he wants God to answer his troubling questions.

The date of the book is also uncertain. We know a general time, that it was probably written within twenty-five years of Jerusalem's fall in Judah, somewhere between 610-585 BC. This was right after Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612, and about the time that Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Tyre and before he came against Jerusalem. His first attack on Jerusalem occurred in 604, so the general consensus is that Habakkuk was probably written sometime during Nebuchadnezzar's seige of Tyre.

The awesome might of the Chaldeans was just one country away, and Judah itself was sinking further into sin. Josiah, one of Judah's best kings, had died, and his sons had come to the throne, and they had failed to hold the country together morally. Judah was beginning to fear that they would be next in the domino of nations that were falling, and they were terrified because word had reached them of what the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, did to those they conquered. Judah's day of reckoning was near, and so Habakkuk's cry to God is only a natural response of a man who loved his people and his nation.

We can see that Habakkuk's situation fits current circumstances quite closely. The fall of Israel is not too far off. This land is sinking further into sin, and no one seems to want to stand up to stop it. It could go quickly, even though we are the world's superpower. Just one terrorist who says he has a briefcase-size nuclear bomb could hold this country hostage, because no President would want to give up Houston, Denver, Seattle, Chicago, or any city in the United States to call the bluff of some terrorist group or some nation who decides that America needs to be cut down to size.

Not only that, things are happening in the church itself that make people ask questions, even of God Himself. "Why are you doing this, God?" "Why is the church disintegrating?" "Who are these people that have come in and destroyed the doctrines of the church?" "Why have You allowed it to happen?" Many of us have asked questions like these. They are the same questions Habakkuk was contemplating. He did not know what to think because what was happening did not seem to follow what he knew of God. "Why would God work this way?"

Like Habakkuk, we want to reconcile what we know of God with what is happening because we understand that He is sovereign. However, sometimes with God, it seems that two and two do not quite equal four, but with God two and two always make four. Our perspective is just not the same as His. So, we must go to God for answers when things do not seem to be going the way we expect them to. In this is the real value of this little, obscure book: It helps to answer some of these kinds of questions.

Notice that Habakkuk calls his message, his prophecy, a "burden." This is a very important word. Sometimes God's ministers, especially the prophets, had to deliver messages that people really did not want to hear. Often, speaking God's words is a burden because they are not always sweetness and light. Sweetness and light seem to come only at the end of the message, as a quick conclusion to the matter. What is so burdensome are the heavy, depressing terrible things that are the main part of the message. In addition, we all know what often happens to the messenger who bears bad news—sometimes he gets his head cut off! People who hear bad news too often take their wrath, their disappointment, their frustration out on the messenger. So it is no wonder Habakkuk says this is a burden! He bears a heavy load: He must tell his people something that they will despise, and because he says it, they will despise him. Thus, as he begins, Habakkuk says, "All right, here goes. You will not like what I have to say here, but read on." And so he presents his "burden."

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Habakkuk


 

Habakkuk 2:18-20

Fifth Woe: Idolatry, particularly the second commandment, as God speaks mainly about graven images. Obviously, the first commandment also applies.

One can almost picture God pronouncing this woe with a shake of the head. How can any people be so stupid as to worship a gold- or silver-covered block of wood or stone? The idol is not even alive, much less can it give blessings or help in time of need! Yet, God is alive and active in the affairs of men. He is sovereign, sitting on His throne in heaven, and all everyone on earth should stand before Him in awed reverence. As Jesus says, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Habakkuk


 

Habakkuk 2:20

This is a very interesting way to conclude these five judgments. It reveals the proper attitude that we should have when God speaks. Perhaps, too, it was a little correction for Habakkuk. God seems to be saying, "There is no need to doubt Me, Habakkuk. I am still on My throne as the judge of all nations. Everyone will eventually submit to Me. Right now, you need to deal with the fact that Judah needs to be punished, and I will do it the way that is best. So keep silent when I make My decrees."

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Habakkuk


 

Habakkuk 3:17-19

The prophet's subject is famine, but he finds joy even in that! Does this not apply to today (Amos 8:11-12)? Though a famine of true Christianity stalks the land, though everything seems to be gone, we can rejoice in God. Though circumstances reach their lowest ebb, and things seem to be so out of kilter to the way that we think they should go, we can have joy because He has promised to save us—and He will. He has assured us many times, "Just endure this period of trial. Trust in Me."

Verse 19 returns to imagery of the herald, the runner. A deer is known for its fleetness of foot and its ability to bound over any obstacle in its way. For us, running the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1), God is our strength. He enables us to overcome. He helps us to climb the high hills, an image of our reward in the Kingdom of God. God is our strength. He enables us to run and to leap over our obstacles. He is the One that will bring us our reward.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Habakkuk


 

Zephaniah 2:1-3

Some in the church of God today teach that just because a person is part of a certain group, he will escape this wrath. However, the mention of fleeing implies a generality rather than a promise given as an absolute certainty. According to traditions retained from history, all of the apostles except for John suffered violent deaths from persecution.

Are we more deserving of safety than they were? Paul writes in Romans 14:12, "So then, each of us shall give account of himself to God." Revelation 2:23 confirms individual judgment during Christ's evaluation of the Thyatira church, without a doubt part of His church: "I will kill her children with death, and all the church shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works."

We must not allow ourselves to think presumptuously that we deserve to be hidden. God is the Master, and we are slaves bought at a price with Christ's blood. He is the Master Potter, forming and shaping us into the character image of Jesus Christ. If He determines that we need the shaping that Tribulation will bring, then He will not hesitate to set that path before us. If He believes we need to glorify Him before men, He will do the same.

Notice also Daniel 11:32: "Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits." Not only does this show that Christians will undergo intense persecution, but it also shows that they will be doing things to glorify God during that period of testing. God specifically chooses those who know Him to carry out these exploits before men.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty, Part Three: The Fruits


 

Zechariah 14:16-19

These verses give us a small window into the Millennium, showing that God will then be involved in actively blessing or cursing all nations, not just Israel. The Bible clearly shows that God is now exercising His sovereignty over His creation and will continue to do so beyond the return of Jesus Christ, even in the area of inanimate things like the weather and ground. Blessing or cursing is an act of His sovereignty conditioned to our response to Him. He is not merely passively paying attention and responding as He sees fit, but even more so initiating actions to bring His people to His desired end.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Matthew 10:29

This is an astounding statement, considering the size of the earth and the number and relative insignificance of birds! But God's exercising of His will in working out His magnificent purpose is far greater because in this He is not dealing with irrational creatures but rational men in His image. Unlike birds, men have free moral agency and sufficient powers to form conclusions and set their wills to go their own way.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

Matthew 10:29-30

God does everything perfectly and with wisdom and love. He did not carelessly call us. We are not nonentities swallowed up in the vastness of humanity. Matthew 10:29-30 assures us that God's sovereignty is not limited to just big issues; He superintends even the tiniest details. Each of us is so valuable He gave His Son for us. Thus, we need not fear that He will overlook us as we struggle with life. However, we do need to consider much more deeply how valuable our conduct and attitude are to the entirety of the church.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Little Things Count!


 

Matthew 10:29-30

God deemed this promise important enough to repeat in Luke 21:18, where the only difference is the context in which Jesus uses the illustration. There He promises that God will closely watch over us during periods of persecution. The scope of God's attentive care of His creation is so great that even an insignificant sparrow cannot die without Him being aware and approving that such a thing should happen. How awesome!

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part One)


 

Matthew 24:7

Verse 7 presents a challenging proposition regarding prophecy and God's active involvement in the governance of His creation. Jesus can say this only if God will use His powers purposely to increase the number and intensity of these plagues in a variety of places, even where they are not normally experienced. No study has ever shown that these things increase or decrease according to uniform law, especially in widely divergent places. Jesus intimates that they will increase unusually and rather suddenly.

Psalm 147:15-20 shows God actively exercises His sovereignty daily in good times and bad. His involvement is not limited to the big disasters we call "acts of God," though they are certainly included:

He sends out His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes; He casts out His hail like morsels; who can stand before His cold? He sends out His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow, and the waters flow. He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them. Praise the LORD.

Regarding "acts of God," Amos 4:6-9, 13 provides arresting insight into why God uses them to intervene in the affairs of men:

"Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; 'Yet you have not returned to Me,'" says the LORD. "I also withheld rain from you, when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, and where it did not rain the part withered. So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, but they were not satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, your vineyards, your fig trees, and your olive trees, the locust devoured them; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD . . . . For behold, He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, who treads the high places of the earth—the LORD God of hosts is His name.

Is God involved? Certainly! He does these things to grab people's attention and turn them back to Him!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Matthew 24:35-36

This suggests that we might be able to know of the year and month, yet it also gives the impression that God has already set the day and hour. It is this precise deadline—toward which He is constantly working—that we will never discover. We can relate to deadlines because we must frequently work against one. In this case, God has set this mark for Himself.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Mark 4:39-41

Jesus says in John 3:8, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." This verse brings out that man has no power over the wind. He cannot command the wind when, where, or how hard to blow; man has no control over it. But God does, and He uses it as it pleases Him. Notice the vivid contrast between impotent man and omnipotent God!

It is as if the wind and waves hear the voice of their Creator and immediately obey His sovereignty over them. At a word from Him, the fig tree perishes; at His touch or word, disease instantly flees. When He dies for us, it happens only because He gives men power to take His life, and as our Sovereign, He submits to our shameful treatment of Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Luke 5:6-9

A large school of fish miraculously appears alongside Peter's boat just when Jesus says, "Let down your nets." Some may not view this by itself as a miracle. Yet, David writes: "You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen—even . . . the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas" (Psalm 8:6-8). As Creator, Jesus knows where the fish are in the Lake of Gennesaret, a power Peter obviously lacks. Christ, as the sovereign Lord of the earth and its seas, could have commanded thousands of fish to leap onto shore, but He directs them into the man's net. The combination of the precise place, time, and mass of fish following Jesus' instructions qualifies this as a genuine miracle, one witnessed by many.

Note that this first miracle of fish (Luke 5:1-11) happens at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, and the second occurs near the end (John 21:3-11). Both miracles take place on the Sea of Galilee after a night of fruitless work.

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: The Great Catch of Fish


 

Luke 6:46

This verse poses a question that we need to answer correctly to make righteous use of our knowledge of God. A powerful influence works in us to justify why we do not conform to God's way more thoroughly, despite what we know. If we must learn any lesson in all of life, it is that God is God, and His Word is sure. Virtually everything in life on this earth is under the sway of Satan, working through carnal-minded men at enmity against God. The Devil's way is designed to influence men's thinking to believe that man is supreme, while simultaneously giving lip service to God as if they know Him.

What does the Bible reveal about this? Do men not have power, knowledge, and will? Of course! But what happens when they come into conflict with God's will? What happened when man tried to build the Tower of Babel? Or when Pharaoh attempted to keep Israel in slavery in Egypt? Or when Balaam sought to curse Israel? Could the Canaanites thwart Israel's invasion of the land? Did Saul manage to kill David? Could Jonah resist God's command to preach to Nineveh? Could Nebuchadnezzar execute Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Did Herod succeed in slaying the infant Jesus?

Proverbs 19:21 says, "There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the LORD's counsel—that will stand." Do we consult with God before we launch into pursuing our plans? Many times, we fail to do this because He is so far from our thinking in practical, everyday situations that we do not consider if He has any plans for us as part of His will.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven


 

Luke 7:10

Those who were sent to the house where the sick servant had been found him completely healed. The evidence of the servant's healing was abundant, excellent, and very visible; they did not need to look through a microscope to prove that he was healed. He had been paralyzed, in great pain, and near death, but now he was completely well. They needed no other proof to convince them that a genuine miracle had occurred.

Jesus provided many infallible proofs during his ministry that confirm his supernatural ability and divine purpose (Acts 1:3). The world makes every effort to discredit God the Father and Jesus Christ and their miraculous works, when the proof of their sovereignty and power are seen in everyday things. "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20-21, ESV). Do we see God at work in our lives?

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Centurion's Servant (Part Three)


 

Luke 10:30-31

The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was a steep, rocky, dangerous gorge, troubled by prowling robbers. Because of their high religious stature, thieves did not usually assault priests and Levites, but others were "fair game."

The word used here for "chance" means the coincidence of time and circumstance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 17; 9:11-12), indicating that the priest and the Levite traveled that road as a matter of habit. We see that it was also habitual for them to ignore the needs of others. However, it was by God's design that the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan came to the spot where the suffering man lay. God plans and orchestrates human events and knows how to send relief. Within the sovereignty of God, there is no such thing as pure chance for God's people (Romans 8:29-39; Ephesians 1:11).

Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Good Samaritan


 

Luke 14:26-27

A reason that a minister goes over these verses with a person seeking baptism is to affirm this very point. He must count the cost: to forsake all he has to bear his cross.

Baptism is a public declaration that we accept the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and have decided to be absolutely loyal to Him. Everything else is to be secondary; we have renounced our will, and everything we have is subordinate to His will. Will we be loyal in every situation as Jesus was, or will we be loyal only in the good times? If He chooses to send or allow poverty or sickness or even death, will we say with Abraham, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). Doing this will not be without struggle. We are, after all, human, and even Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane struggled with this before saying, "Your will be done."

Besides Jesus, a number of men met this crisis and, as far as we can see, passed it with flying colors. Notice Eli's reply to God's sentence against him and his sons in I Samuel 3:18: "It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him." Like most of us, Eli was a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. His latter lay in failing to restrain the excesses of his sons. When God pronounces His sentence, though Eli was likely in anguish, he does not justify himself or murmur of unfairness. He accepts it without reservation.

Eli certainly felt terribly for his sons, even though they were undoubtedly a great disappointment to him. Cut off by God's judgment, they were utterly unprepared for death. There seems no possibility they died in what we would call "in the Lord." It must have been a difficult burden for Eli to accept this shocking news.

Leviticus 10:1-7 reveals another example of a godly man humbly accepting God's shocking sentence. God strikes two of Aaron's sons to death, and at Moses' counsel, Aaron holds his peace. He counsels Aaron and his remaining sons to accept God's judgment before the people lest they bring reproach upon God—as though He were guilty of wrongdoing.

God praises Job highly, saying that no one on earth was like him, "a blameless and upright man" (Job 1:8). Surely, he has every right to expect God to bless him continually throughout his life. God indeed prospers him until he is the richest man in his area. Suddenly, however, devastating disasters obscure his bright future. In one day, Sabeans and Chaldeans raid his ranches and take everything, lightning destroys his crops, and a tornado kills his ten children! What is Job's response? "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (verse 21).

Job looks beyond these devastating events—truly mind-numbing realities—that could never have occurred without God's permission. Beyond them he sees the Creator, whose rule extends over all peoples and things—some of which He had allowed to devastate Job's life. Job clearly recognizes God's sovereignty, even managing to rejoice somewhat in it. No wonder God says no one on earth was like him!

Once we give ourselves over to Him in baptism, recognizing God's sovereignty causes us to subject our plans to His will. It makes us recognize that, as the Potter, He has absolute power over the clay, molding it according to His pleasure (James 4:13-15).

Overall, it is for Him to say where we live and in what condition: whether in poverty or wealth, sickness or health, cut down in the flower of youth or living three score and ten. To learn this lesson is to attain very high marks in God's school. Accepting His will in all things and in the right attitude is among the most difficult of all lessons in life. It is one that, when we think we have a handle on it, something comes up, and we discover we have to learn all over again!

On the other hand, unwillingness to accept God's will in all things produces in us a resistance to obey accompanied by complaining. If this resistance to accepting what God has dealt to us were not there, we would have no reason to complain. Murmuring and disobedience go together, and murmuring is sin.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sovereignty and Its Fruit: Part Ten


 

John 6:44

This drawing is totally beyond our control; it is entirely a sovereign act on the Father's part. Jesus intimates that even He has no say in selecting those drawn to Him to be His disciples.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

John 6:44

One does not find the true church on his own any more than one can find Christ and the Father on His own. A person is led to God and to the church, and he is added to it upon repentance, baptism, giving himself wholly to God, and receiving the Holy Spirit. We see not only that God's true church cannot be found without revelation, but also that it cannot be joined. What this reality begins to reveal to us is God's sovereignty over His creation and His purpose. Therefore, as Jesus clearly states, He built and continues to build His church.

Seekers badly misunderstand, thinking salvation is open to anybody at any time. However, Paul puts a damper on this notion, writing in Romans 9:16, "So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy."

Is it possible that people cannot find it partly because they do not know what to look for? Yes! This is true partly because of what God's church is. The Bible variously describes it as part of a Kingdom that issues citizenships (Colossians 1:13; Philippians 3:20); a building of which its members are materials (Ephesians 2:20-22); as the body of Jesus Christ of which its members are vital, living parts (Ephesians 1:22-23); and as a Family into which God's children are summoned (Ephesians 3:15). There is no more important and exclusive institution on earth. No volunteers are accepted. Each person becomes a part of it by God's design and His design only. He is sovereign!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Is There a True Church?


 

John 14:2

God has ways of causing us to yield so that He can mold and shape us into what He desires. Because of this, we will be ready for our "place" when the Kingdom comes. God not only has power, but He also always has alternatives to ensure that His will is done without taking our free moral agency from us. He has another option we may not want to consider: If we will not cooperate by using our free moral agency for right purposes, He can always replace us with somebody better. We are, after all, the weak of the world. We have every reason to be encouraged, however. He will use every means at His disposal to prepare and save those called into His purpose on schedule with the return of Jesus Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

John 19:10-11

History shows that the primary enemies of the church arise from humans influenced by Satan and his demons - and history continually repeats itself. The clearest examples of where these enemies lie are shown in the lives and ministries of Jesus Christ and the apostles. Did not the established religious and governmental leaders of their day, such as Caiaphas, the Pharisees and Sadducees, Pilate, the Herods, etc., willingly cooperate in persecuting them?

Searching into God's authority over these enemies will help us to see how complete and all-encompassing is His power over everything. Past events show that civil governments and false churches are always the true church's most dangerous adversaries.

Here, "power" refers to civil authority, and Jesus informs us that Pilate, a powerful Roman governor of Judea, who had authority over life and death, derived his authority from God. The authority would not be his if God had not given it to him directly. We can infer that Pilate was specifically given his particular civil authority. Why is this important for us to know and believe?

Proverbs 21:1 adds an important truth: "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes." The Living Bible paraphrases this as, "Just as water is turned into irrigation ditches, so the Lord directs the king's thoughts, He turns them wherever He wants to."

This fact helps us understand God's sovereignty and much of history too. If the thoughts of a king - representing the highest, most influential, and most powerful person in the nation - are in God's hand, and He has the power to influence his decisions toward the outcome that pleases Him, are not all human governors completely under the Almighty's sovereign control? Clearly, God has the power to move all history in the direction He wishes it to go. His desire will always be done. Romans 13:1-2 makes this deduction certain:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

Not only does God have the power to move those already in office, but He appointed them in the first place! Since Paul writes this directly to Christians, and Christians have lived throughout history and in virtually every place on earth, the wording suggests that this command has timeless, universal application. Thus, God reveals that, in the final analysis, all civil magistrates, from the emperor on down to the lower authorities - and religious authorities as well - owe to God their appointments and rights to govern.

In John 5:17, Jesus provides insight into God's activity throughout the millennia of this creation: "Jesus answered them, 'My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.'" God's labors are the continuous managing and ruling over the affairs of men. He has not gone "way off somewhere," but is actively involved in bringing His purpose to pass at all times. By His will and in His providence, authorities are appointed to maintain order, to encourage good conduct, and to punish wrongdoing.

Thus, anyone who believes God is confronted by a matter of biblical truth and clear logic. How will any of our enemies "get around," deflect, or nullify the real unseen Power who stands behind and above the visible powers that be? His will will stand. So, to whom do we turn in time of need?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part Two)


 

John 21:22

From this direct response of Jesus, we can see that God expects each person to take personal responsibility in responding to the events of his own life and not to look with envy, bitterness, or self-righteousness at what He requires of others. Each must learn to operate within his faith. God deals with each of us individually, preparing us for what He wants for His Kingdom. In a context that applies to the entire nation of Israel among all other peoples of the earth, Deuteronomy 8:18 contains an element of this same principle: "And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day."

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Two


 

Acts 13:48

Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch preaching the gospel to an audience of both Jews and Gentiles. After hearing them, the Jews leave the synagogue, but the Gentiles beseech them to return the following Sabbath so they could hear more. That Sabbath virtually the whole city turns out to hear the apostles. The Jews, jealous of the response Paul and Barnabas receive, make things difficult for them by contradicting the truth to the point of blasphemy. However, the Gentiles respond yet the more.

An interesting contrast arises between verse 27, where Paul says those who did not know Christ in Jerusalem put Him to death, and verse 48, where Luke, writing after the fact, relates that those who responded to the gospel in Antioch were appointed to eternal life. This is important in understanding our unique position relative to the rest of humanity and in fine-tuning our relationship with each other and most importantly with God.

Appointed is translated "ordained" in the King James Version. However, almost all modern versions render it "appointed." It also means to set, dispose, incline, devote, designate, institute, resolve, arrange, and even addict. The word never indicates an internal disposition or inclination arising within oneself, but always contains the notion of an ordering, arranging, setting, or appointing from without, that is, from a source other than the individual himself. In this case, Luke implies that the Gentiles who responded to Paul and Barnabas' preaching were inclined or disposed to believe the gospel and embrace eternal life by God through His Holy Spirit. In other words, their faith was not self-generated.

This explains, at least in part, why those in Jerusalem did not know Jesus. If God did not dispose them to know Him, they were operating entirely from their own minds dominated by human nature and very unlikely to recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior. Because God did not incline them to believe, Jesus appeared to them nothing like what He truly was. They most commonly judged Him as a mere man from Nazareth, a religious competitor, and pretender to the throne of David. Though He was popular with the people, they could easily brush Him aside and condemn Him to death for blasphemy.

Commentaries sometimes say verse 48 is controversial because it indicates predestination, but a measure of predestination is clearly involved in our calling! Paul writes in Ephesians 1:5, "[God] predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will." He is equally expressive in Romans 8:29-30:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

If we believe in justification and glorification, is there not also equal evidence for predestination? This does not mean that every act of a person's life is predestined, but that God predestines some to be summoned to salvation while not calling others. Do not the words "call," "invite," or the even stronger "summon" indicate separating one from several or many?

We can all relate to this simple illustration: If a child is playing outside with some other children, and his parent goes out to call or summon him, though the other children may hear the parent's voice, is not that calling specifically for his child? Does it not separate him from the group? Is not the child's mind disposed or inclined to respond to his parent's call? The other children may hear the call, but they do not respond in the same way because the summons is specific to the particular child.

When a parent calls his child, he does not do it without purpose; he calls the child for a specific reason. As the child responds and separates from the group, the parent begins to reveal to him why he was called: "Go wash your hands—we are going to eat dinner"; "Get ready for bed"; "Run this errand for me"; "Clean up your room"; or "I just wanted to see that you were all right."

In principle, this is similar to God's calling of us except for the purpose. By His Spirit He supernaturally disposes our minds through His summons and begins to separate us from those He is not calling. At the same time, He begins to reveal Himself and His way. He does not call everybody generally, just as the human parent predetermines which child he wants to call. Thus our calling is completely within the will of the sovereign God, who specifically appoints those He desires to understand at this time.

God must predispose us to respond because we are so deceived about what to look for that we would never find Him. In addition, we are so busy doing our own thing, like a child playing around, that we do not even care. Even though He reveals Himself, it still takes us a long time to come to know Him because we carry so many false concepts, and like children, we have short attention spans and are easily distracted.

One reason this is controversial, especially among the more naturally religious, is that human nature does not take pleasure in being humbled. It avoids admitting that salvation is far more an act of God than earned through our intelligence, goodness, wisdom, morality, purity, conviction, commitment to prayer and study, dedication to seeking Him, or love of God. Human nature is so perverse that even in this, in the face of so much biblical evidence, vanity wants to take credit for what it simply does not deserve.

Paul says in Romans 3:27-28: "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law." He adds in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Even the faith that starts us on the road to repentance and justification is God's gift!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven


 

Acts 15:14-18

In Acts 15:14-18, the apostle James makes an astounding series of statements following Peter's address to the assembled elders. Notice how clearly God states that He initiates His works through men. Acts 10 relates the story of the conversion of Cornelius and his house. Neither Peter, whom God sent, nor Cornelius, who received him, knew of the other's existence. God, working in both men, opened the door and brought them together.

God Himself pledges to rebuild the tabernacle of David. Certainly, He works through men, who, on the surface, appear to observers to be doing the work. Nevertheless, it is the invisible God who initiates and enables the rebuilding by determining when it will begin, who among men will work on it, and how completely they will finish it. He also gives gifts to those concerned to bring it about. Surely, God activates, sustains, and completes.

The Living Bible renders verse 18 as, "That is what the Lord says, who reveals His plans made from the beginning." How carefully crafted are His plans? How detailed are they? Has anything been left to chance? One thing is clear: He is a Creator who knows where He is going and has known from the outset of the project. He made His plans, and they proceed as and when He planned. When we begin to think of what James says here in terms of all the nations of the earth as well as the church, we are considering events of tremendous magnitude involving billions of people and millennia of time.

But we need to make this more personal.

Paul writes in Ephesians 1:4-5, ". . . just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. . . ." Predestined means "marked out in advance" or "appointed beforehand." Verse 4 indisputably says this occurred "before the foundation of the world." When we combine this with Acts 15:18, this event must have occurred some time before what happens in Genesis 1:2-26.

Is this a generality that predestines only the existence of a church and not the individuals who would comprise it? The overall impression of the context in combination with other passages suggests an answer of "No," but it is not certain. It can be taken as a generality, which is indeed a safe conclusion. Regardless, Paul's words describe a Creator who is not only actively working toward an ultimate end, but also toward specific intermediate accomplishments, such as the church. He is the One in control, moving things in whatever direction they need to go. It begins to become clear that events relating directly to God's purpose of reproducing Himself do not happen randomly. One should not have the impression that God sits at the controls in heaven constantly making adjustments to accommodate for what He did not foresee we would do down here.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part One)


 

Romans 5:20-21

Grace reigns supreme over law, sin, and death. Because God is gracious and the supreme sovereign over His creation, and because He is supreme over law as its Giver and can resurrect whom He chooses, grace is His to give freely as He pleases. Grace is supreme over the others because God has willed it so and gives it to whomsoever He chooses.

Because grace is a gift, it can neither be demanded nor earned (it can, however, be requested). Therefore salvation must be by grace. Because of this, even the greatest sinner is not beyond the reach of His mercy. Conversely, because salvation is by grace, all boasting is likewise excluded.

For example, Isaac receives grace, but Ishmael is cast out with his mother. Jacob receives the inheritance and blessing, but Esau is in reality cursed. God chooses to have Christ born in the tiny town of Bethlehem, not at the Temple or even in the capital city, Jerusalem. He could have sent angels to announce His Son's birth in every capital of every nation on earth, or at least to announce it to the religious leaders among the Jews. Instead, He chooses to invite common shepherds and foreign magi for that peculiar honor.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Three


 

Romans 8:7

The core of life for us is government. The issue is who we will allow to govern us. We can govern ourselves in deciding to kill, commit adultery, steal, or lie—that is, break the commandments—or we can submit to God who says, "No," to every one of these things. The decision as to what is moral has already been decided by God. Our only decision is whether we will submit to what He says to do.

What are we to do when the issue is whether to break the Sabbath by working or keep it by refusing? What are we to do when we are in a financial bind and in debt? Should we submit to God and pay His tithes first? Will God be trusted to provide our needs in a tight financial situation even though we tithe? What are we to do when we desire to cover ourselves: brag, lie, or tell the truth? What should we do when we are sexually enticed: flee or commit adultery or fornication? What are we to do in any case when submitting and glorifying God are the issue?

Should we expect God to bless us when we choose to take sovereignty and control—we think—to ourselves, that is, when we introduce idolatry into the mix of the relationship? Once we are no longer ignorant of the choices before us and choose to take sovereignty to ourselves, sin becomes exceedingly more serious in its consequences, and we become the idol, because that is who we are serving.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 7)


 

Romans 9:10-13

The way Paul explains this love-hate concept shows God displayed His "hatred" before either Esau or Jacob had ever done a thing, and that His choice of Jacob expressed His love.

No clearer illustration shows that works had nothing to do with God's choice of whom He would use for His purpose. God simply exercised His sovereign right as Creator God to do completely and totally according to His will. He decided to love one and not the other. What about the progeny of Esau, the Edomites? Who are they today, where do they live, and what is their history? God indeed blessed Esau, as Genesis 27:39-40 delineate:

Then Isaac his father answered and said to him: "Behold, your dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass, when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck."

Compare these blessings, however, with what God gave Jacob, or Israel. Who has God blessed superabundantly? Who lives in the fairest lands in all the earth? Who has been blessed with God's Word?

Did He do this because the progeny of Jacob is any better than Esau's or anyone else's? No, He did it because He is God. He exercised His sovereignty in our behalf. He loved our fathers and He loves us. Notice Deuteronomy 7:7-8:

The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

There it is, right in His Word. He seems to delight in choosing to pour out spiritual blessing upon those least esteemed and considered the weak (I Corinthians 1:26-31). Does this offend us, that He chooses one and not another? Are we disturbed that He distributes His blessings unequally, to one more, to another less?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Three


 

Romans 9:10-16

Jacob had God's election, selection, or calling, thus giving him a very decided advantage withheld from Esau by God, who did not choose to call him. God's election of Jacob and rejection of Esau had nothing to do with anything genetically inherent within them. It had nothing to do with what either of them had done. It had everything to do with what God chose to do and did: He gave Jacob the edge. Jacob eventually responded correctly, but the sovereign God exercised His right to make moves and use people as He designs. This is Paul's main point.

God's decisions—what He elects to do—are not matters of emotion but of will. Whether we think they are right or wrong, fair or unfair, means nothing. Isaiah 55 makes plain we do not think as He does. Our thinking on these issues does not matter because, first, God is Creator and can do as He pleases. Second, what He does is always right anyway. That we are not completely masters of our own destinies and that free moral agency has its limits are sometimes humbling and difficult to accept. God, of His own volition, can and does treat some with what we might deem as favoritism, as though some are better than others.

Notice John the Baptist's reaction to a situation in which something like this is involved:

And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!" John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. . . . He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:26-27, 30)

John had come to grips with this concept. He understood that his role in the vast scope of God's purpose was limited by the overruling wisdom of the Creator as He carried out His purpose. This is a reason why salvation is spoken of as "free"—because God is not bound to show mercy to anybody since all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All too often, we forget that the invisible God is working things out according to His purpose, not ours. God is free to do as He pleases. He owes no one anything.

I Corinthians 4:6-7 adds:

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

Do we have grounds for being puffed up or jealous? John the Baptist did not think so, and what he declared is truth. I Corinthians 12 makes clear that God places people in the church as it pleases Him, and He gives gifts to them so they can be responsible for a function. The gifts do not make them "better," just prepared by the Creator to serve in a specialized way.

At this juncture, we can draw a major lesson from the Parable of the Talents and fit it into this picture:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. . . . So he who had received five talents, came and brought five other talents, saying, "Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them." . . . He also who had received two talents came and said, "Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them." . . . Then he who had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed." (Matthew 25:14, 20, 22, 24)

Not all are expected to produce the same results, but all are expected to be equally faithful to the gifts God entrusted to them. Interestingly, the one who was unfaithful to what God gave him failed to produce based on his reasoning that God is unfair. Like so many people today, he felt victimized.

We see, then, that Jacob was not inherently a better person than Esau was. He was simply gifted in a way Esau was not. God probably chose to use twins to illustrate this vitally important lesson to draw attention to how He works and to His grace. In this way, God is never indebted to man.

What makes this so important to us? We have the same advantage over those not called as Jacob had over Esau. We also learn that those who judge themselves among themselves are not wise because not everyone is gifted in exactly the same way. Finally, we learn that each bears his own responsibility to edify the body according the measure of what God has given him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Two)


 

Romans 9:15

God is sovereign in His Creation. He can do anything He pleases! Who is going to call Him into question? Who will say, "God, You must account to me for this"?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 11)


 

Romans 9:18

God not only gives gifts to those He favors, but He also hardens and/or blinds (Romans 11:7) some so that they become enemies of those He favors. Witness what He did to and with Pharaoh when He redeemed Israel from Egypt. That God would actually harden someone's heart so that he would become an enemy of Himself or His people is sometimes even more difficult for us to comprehend than His bestowing of favor on one over another. Because God is invisible in exercising His sovereignty, people often put far too much weight on a person's works and far too little on God's grace toward us in the outworking of His plan.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Two)


 

Romans 9:18

Can we take what he says here by faith? We had better! We have no other choice. We must accept the fact that God is running His Creation, that He is holy, and that everything He does is in love, wisdom, and for the benefit of His purpose. He does everything so that the most will be produced in every person and His Kingdom will be the most greatly expanded.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 11)


 

Romans 9:19-24

The question Paul poses is natural for those who do not have the faith and thus have not really submitted to God. The far more important question for the converted is, "Does He not have the right to do as He pleases with us, since He is not only our Creator, but He has also purchased us from our spiritual bondage to sin through the payment of His sinless Son's lifeblood?" We therefore belong to Him, and He sees us now as both sons and slaves. God fully expects us to be slaves of righteousness even as we were once slaves to sin (Romans 6:15-23). A slave is one whose master makes his choices.

The majority of us have been born into cultures where literal, physical slavery is no longer practiced. We have no direct experience with it, though most of us have at least an intellectual understanding of some aspects of it. Consider, then, the relationship between master and slave. The apostles had a good reason to use the word that means "slave" (doulos). They wanted us to understand that in our relationship with God we not only experience the joys of freedom as His children but also the serious requirement to obey as His slaves.

Suppose the Master summons a slave to meet with him every seventh day for instruction and fellowship with Him and His other slaves, and the slave refuses, saying he has something more important to do. This "something more important" does not necessarily have to be working for pay. Perhaps his justification for staying away is, "I learn more studying by myself at home," or "So many 'unspiritual' people are there that I no longer feel comfortable." Suppose the Master says the slave is to pay back ten percent of his increase to Him, but the slave says, "I have other, more important things to do with my money."

Once we understand this, it becomes apparent where our parent church headed in regard to sovereignty. The leaders quickly changed many doctrines—and thus the theology of the entire institution—subtly turning the tables in the relationship. They made the slave the master by giving him the right to decide what is law and what is not, as well as permission to change established priorities. This is virtually the same ploy Satan used on Adam and Eve when he said, "You will be as God."

Who is the sovereign and who is the slave is one of the points Paul makes in Romans 9. Understanding that God is sovereign and we are the slaves and translating this into loving submission are essential to our relationship with Him. This absolutely requires trusting Him. Those without the faith cannot do this because they do not believe as God does. To have the faith of Christ, we must believe what Christ believes. Will anyone be in God's Kingdom who does not believe as God does?

As we have experienced this life, most of us at one time or another have considered whether God is fair. Our Creator has designed experiences to bring this question to mind so we might consider as many ramifications of it as possible. We usually glean most of our information from the disasters and tragedies of human life. What we often lack are His perspective and truth. As He gives these through the revelation of Himself, we begin to perceive His loving grace, abundant generosity, infinite patience, ready forgiveness, stable oversight, and unswerving commitment to concluding His wonderful purpose successfully.

Those who see Him as unfair are usually ignorant of what is really going on because they have not yet been given eyes to see that they are included in His plan. Mankind's disasters and tragedies have their roots in sin, but God did not will man to sin. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 7:29, "Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes." Mankind has chosen to bring disaster and tragedy upon himself. God is gradually removing the ignorance that holds mankind in thrall to choices that kill him. He has removed this ignorance from us already, and we are therefore free to choose life, as God commands in Deuteronomy 30:19.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

Romans 9:21

It is completely the sovereign God's choice whom He assigns to have the faith to be saved. Those He assigns to have faith, He calls. We have nothing to brag about before God or man regarding our position.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven


 

Romans 10:1-3

What we observe in the world around us confirms that end-time Israel is following the same spiritual pattern that our ancestors established anciently. Human nature does not change. These verses verify that some knowledge of God remains within the Israelitish nations.

However, theirs is not an enlightened, discerning, and intelligent zeal for God. Rather, God says in Hosea 4:6 that His people—in this case meaning ancient Israel—are destroyed for a lack of true knowledge. God then lays the greater blame on the teachers for their failure to teach truth. The Interpreter's Commentary says that "ignorant" in Romans 10:3 can correctly be translated as "ignoring," revealing a deliberate disregarding of God's righteousness.

The broader history of Old Testament Israel shows that God's Word was available, but the people did not access it to seek God. Thus, their ignorance was not completely the teacher's fault; the people should have studied the Bible on their own. Paul explains in Romans 1:18-21 that man is without excuse before Him because knowledge of God is available. The contrast Paul provides in Romans 10:1-3 indicates that the teaching the Israelites received produced at best a vague, superficial base of knowledge about God. This is not a foundation of true knowledge that will work to produce a good relationship between God and man.

We can see an example of this kind of teaching in our time. Most of us have seen what is happening in so many churches these days, most especially in the mega-churches. Their services come across as superficial entertainment that gives people an upbeat social experience that contains some religious instruction. They come up short in teaching high-quality biblical truths to enhance people's relationships with God. It has produced a people who believe that they are saved and going to heaven immediately after death, and who think God's laws are done away. They keep Christmas and Easter, which are obviously pagan holidays, and at the same time fail to keep the Sabbaths, which both Jesus and Paul clearly kept.

How can they be following Christ when they do not do what He did and in fact do what pagans do? Where is God in the minds of those who conduct their lives like this? In truth, what they think about Him is nowhere near the truth because neither they nor their teachers make the effort to know Him (John 17:3).

They know some things about Him, but they do not know Him. If they did, they would be seeking Him, and He would be revealing truth. Where should they be seeking Him? They must begin in the Scriptures. In them, two things are beyond dispute: first, that God is the Supreme Sovereign over His creation, His purpose for creating it, and His plan for fulfilling it; and second, that man is responsible to this awesome Creator.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Sovereignty


 

Romans 13:1-2

Under normal circumstances, we understand this perfectly. But what if obedience to human government would lead us to sin? Acts 5:29 clearly delineates our responsibility: "Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men.'" Comparing the principles involved leads us to conclude that we should obey God without qualification. If our obedience to God causes us to commit a crime against the state, our submission to the crime's penalty also constitutes submitting to human government.

God rules supreme over human government on every level, but as with individuals, He gives governments free-moral agency. They are thus free to reap what they sow. They are free to enact laws that are contrary to God. In such a situation, a Christian can find himself on the horns of a dilemma. Do we understand this and love God deeply enough to make the choices necessary to maintain our relationship with Him, despite being placed at a disadvantage?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part 2): War! (1997)


 

Romans 13:1-7

Once we understand God's sovereignty over the nations, it is not difficult to understand where Paul bases his instructions in these verses. Thus we can understand why Moses so quickly and surely considers the actions of Korah and his group as rebellion against God rather than merely against himself (Numbers 16). When Israel rejects Samuel as judge over them because they want a king, God reveals to the prophet that the people are really rejecting the rule of God Himself (I Samuel 8:7). It does not matter whether a Christian considers his nation's government to be unlawful. What matters is whether God permits it. If He permits it, this One, who is aware of even sparrows falling, has allowed it or has directly brought it to pass because of the purpose He is working out. That is all that matters. God is ruling His creation, and this is what we are here to learn and trust.

Jesus lived His entire life under an unlawful civil government. The Roman government ruled over Judea as a result of military conquest. Moreover, at times even the ecclesiastical government was not in the proper hands because corrupt Roman officials discovered that just-as-corrupt Jews were willing to pay bribes to "buy" the high priesthood. But the Scriptures repeatedly show Jesus subject to them, though He called both, especially the ecclesiastical one, into account. Matthew 17:24-27 is a clear example:

When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?" He said, "Yes." And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?" Peter said to Him, "From strangers." Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you."

The Temple tax was one-half shekel per year for every Jew over 20. Since Jesus Christ was Lord and Owner of the Temple, He and His "children" should have been free of taxation. Jesus orders Peter to pay it anyway for both of them to avoid a bitter and offensive debate on the merits of His claim. By doing this, Jesus sets the right example looking by faith beyond a legal technicality to the True Ruler, the Father. God likely brought this episode to pass for our instruction.

Perhaps a brief statement of Solomonic wisdom will summarize Christian understanding of God's sovereignty over the governments of men: "There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the LORD. The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the LORD " (Proverbs 21:30-31). His meaning becomes clearer in other translations. The Living Bible renders it, "No one, regardless of how shrewd or well-advised he is, can stand against the Lord. Go ahead and prepare for the conflict, but victory comes from God." The Revised English Bible translates it as, "Face to face with the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel avail nothing. A horse may be made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord."

It may seem a remote possibility, even strange, that we would fight against the Lord, yet because human nature remains in us, we do. The apostle Paul complains in Romans 7:14-23 that what he did not want to do he did anyway because a law of enmity against God worked within him. Proverbs 21:30-31 tells us that human wisdom, insight, and counsel must be in conformity with God's will to be successful. God's children must understand His sovereignty over everything and conduct their lives knowing that nothing avails against God and nothing without Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

1 Corinthians 10:10

Among the truly distinctive biblical terms describing the attitudes of those journeying through the wilderness are forms of the term "murmur." Such words are not used much today, as most would use a form of "complain," "gripe," "grumble," "protest," "criticize," or "whine." In referring to the children of Israel in the wilderness, the King James Version uses a form of "murmur" 24 times.

It is natural to complain against afflictions, losses, and hopeful expectations dashed. We seem to think that our possessions are ours unconditionally, especially those things on which we had set our hearts. We feel that, having worked diligently, we are entitled to success and deserve to enjoy and keep what we have accumulated. In the same way, when we are surrounded by a loving family, no one has a right to break into that circle and strike down a loved one.

We live our lives under the sovereignty of God, whose watchful oversight is on us constantly. How do we react to Him when things are not going well? It is easy to gripe without even thinking of the ever-watchful God who promises to supply our every need. We may find ourselves complaining to Him about our state of affairs, as if He is totally unaware. Have we forgotten that this One, who by His grace has called us into a relationship with Him, has neither afflicted us nor allowed us to be afflicted anywhere near what we truly deserve as the wages of our sinful lives?

Another benefit of fully accepting the sovereignty of God is one that is not always appreciated because its cause and solution are not always understood. Comprehending God's sovereignty brings resignation into our lives. In this day, being resigned to something almost seems like a position of defeat, as though at best we have to choose the lesser of two evils rather than forging ahead in confidence to grab life's brass ring.

The Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary defines resignation as "the quality of being submissive; unresisting acquiescence." The Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder defines it as "uncomplaining endurance of a sorrow or difficulty." The mention of endurance is noteworthy because of Jesus' statement in Matthew 24:13 for the need of endurance.

A major benefit of intelligently living by faith, seeking God through His Word, meditating on what we study, and relating everything in life to an awareness of God, looking for His hand in events, is that these activities will gradually produce a much deeper awareness of His loving nearness. It gives us a clearer sense that everything is under control. Recall Jesus' crossing the turbulent Sea of Galilee during a storm. There are huge waves and high winds. The disciples are terrified, but He is sleeping right through it. In fear, they wake Him. He arises and says to the wind and waves, "Peace, be still," and they immediately calm. He then asks His disciples, "Why are you so fearful; how is it that you have no faith?"

When we have a right and true recognition of God's sovereignty, the griping and fears that we are so prone to because human nature is so easily offended can diminish considerably. Understanding God's sovereignty better teaches us that we must know that our lives are in God's hands. He owns us body and soul, we are in His view at all times, and we must bow to His will. Therefore, regardless of circumstances, He can take care of us.

He never afflicts us with more than we deserve nor more than we can bear (I Corinthians 10:13). If He chooses poverty, poor health, or family problems for us, we must understand that He never piles more on us than we deserve. After all, we killed His Son, and besides that, He has great plans for us in His Kingdom for which we need to be prepared.

An upset woman once complained to her minister that church members had heaped much scorn on her and her family by saying derogatory things about them. She asked the minister if anybody else in his memory had had to endure such things. He replied, "Yes, Jesus Christ. All His disciples abandoned Him, and the government put Him, an innocent man, to death. He not only did not complain, He accepted God's will, and before He died, He forgave them all."

There are other examples: Job says, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away" (Job 1:21). God took away seven sons and three daughters, as well as his wealth and home. As a young boy, Samuel delivered God's judgments on Eli's two sons. That surely must have stung the old priest, but Eli responded, "Let [the LORD] do what seems good to Him" (I Samuel 3:18). Aaron accepted God's verdict of death on his two sons without a murmur (Leviticus 10:3).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty, Part Three: The Fruits


 

Galatians 4:13

The original Greek word translated "through" here would better be translated "because of": "Ye know that because of an infirmity of my flesh I preached . . ." (KJV). Some sort of physical ailment derailed his original plans, and due to being restrained or hindered, he preached the gospel to them. This appears to be another example of Proverbs 16:9: "A man's heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps." Paul's original teaching to the Galatians could seem "accidental" in that circumstances beyond Paul's control dictated his location and activity, but it is apparent that the sovereign God was in control, ensuring that the gospel would be preached to those He had chosen.

David C. Grabbe


 

Ephesians 1:5

What the Father is doing has nothing to do with the way we are or were. It has everything to do with His initiating and choosing us because He wants us, not because of anything that we may have done.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Salvation


 

Ephesians 1:5

He could have invited billions of other people, yet He did not—He invited us. This "adoption as sons" is another thing that He has invited us to.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 6): Ephesians 4 (C)


 

Ephesians 1:11

Notice Paul says God "works all things according to the counsel of His will." This thought comes in the midst of a paragraph in which some commentators believe Paul reflects on how God arranged every detail to bring Israel out of a seemingly impossible situation in Egypt and into the Promised Land. It is perhaps most directly tied to Deuteronomy 7:7-8.

Consider Israel's roots, geographic location and history. They were a slave people in a foreign land, freed without a revolution, taken on a 40-year journey during which their needs were supplied, led to a stronger people's land and given it when they should have been easily defeated. This land, situated between stronger and larger nations, was constantly fought over, yet Israel somehow survived. Even today, they continue to exist, though the world thinks they have virtually disappeared!

Did all of this happen more or less accidentally? Paul is saying indirectly that even as Israel's history is no accident, and since the church has succeeded Israel as God's inheritance, God has a far grander purpose that He will just as surely work out in His sovereignty. Who can withstand what He wills to do? It is no accident that we are in the church because God has been working toward these events from the beginning, and what God wills is done. God is sovereign over His creation in all things.

Stretch that "all things" generally into other areas of life. It makes this subject very interesting in light of Jesus' statement that a sparrow cannot fall without God taking notice (Matthew 10:29-31). Perhaps we could make a case for saying that some things occur out in the world that are of no significance to God's purpose, but what about in His church, the apple of His eye, the focus of His attention? This is Paul's theme in Ephesians 1. Is God so unaware, so unconcerned about His children that things happen without His notice, without His scrutiny and His judgment about what He should do?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Introduction


 

Ephesians 1:11-12

Do we get the significance of the truth that He works all things in our lives too, according to the counsel of His will? This truth does not apply to just the "big" things of His overall purpose but even to us! Do we really perceive our relationship to Him as being one of the Potter to the clay?

As He formed and shaped Adam and Eve, He is forming and shaping us, and it is our responsibility to accept and submit. Do we live our lives as though He truly is omnipotent, omniscient, and individually aware of us? Do we conduct our lives in such a manner that we fully understand that this awesome Being is actively and personally involved in what we do?

By viewing Him as Potter, do we grasp that He has every right to mold the clay into whatever form or state and make whatever use of it as He chooses? He can fashion from the same lump one person to honor and another to dishonor. He can determine our sex, race, ethnicity, level of wealth, or location. He is under no law or rule outside of His own nature and purpose. He is a law unto Himself, under no obligation to give an account of His actions to anybody else. He exercises His power as, where, and when He wills.

He is not merely overseeing our lives but actively participating in them, and He is ultimately responsible for what happens in them just as much as those national and worldwide occurrences that we hear in the news. The sovereignty of the Bible's God is absolute, irresistible, and infinite. Our trust is to be in Him.

God's purpose and plan has been and is being carried out as He purposed, and nobody can turn Him aside. Now His purpose and plan has reached out to include us just as He predestined when He declared the end from the beginning. Have we caught the vision?

Are we willing to completely turn our lives over to this Being who does not always act in a way that is pleasant to us? God immediately struck Aaron's sons and Uzzah dead, but He has allowed countless others who perhaps did far worse things to live long and seemingly full lives.

God permitted Methuselah to live almost a thousand years. He chose to endow Samson with strength as no other person ever had. Jesus went to the pool of Siloam and chose one man to heal, paying no attention to the others. Why did He allow the Morgans, Carnegies, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and many others to amass incredible wealth, while allowing perhaps billions of people around the world barely to scrape by in miserable poverty?

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the city of Jericho and its citizens stood barring their progress. God brought the walls down, and the city's defenses collapsed—the one and only time God did such a thing. Every other city had to be conquered by warfare, risking Israelite lives to take them.

Clearly, He treats and responds to individuals according to the counsel of His own mind, and He answers to no one. He does this even in the lives of His children. The apostle John lived to be around one hundred years old, yet Stephen was stoned to death, Peter crucified, and Paul beheaded.

Considering the witnesses of those great servants, what right do we have to complain about the discomforts He creates for us to endure and grow within? He could rescue everybody in every uncomfortable circumstance, but He does not. Have we fully accepted that He may choose difficult things for us?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part One)


 

Ephesians 2:10

If God, having foreordained us to be in His Kingdom, is not willing that any should perish and has thus called us, led us to repentance, and given us His Spirit, why should we be careful to "maintain good works" (Titus 3:8) or "exercise [ourselves] . . . to godliness" (I Timothy 4:7)? Why is such work necessary, since God is so determined to have us in His Kingdom?

The reason is both simple and profound. It is essential we understand it because it captures the essence of the issue of God's sovereignty. The reason is, simply, because it is His will that we do them. We must do them or we may destroy ourselves by refusing because we thus show Him that He is not really sovereign in our life. The works, of course, have other purposes as well. In fact, they have many purposes, for God rarely creates or commands anything for which He does not have multiple uses.

It should be enough for God's children to do as He wills simply because He has bidden us. Nowhere does Scripture teach or even encourage an attitude of fatalistic indifference to our circumstance. The Bible everywhere urges us not to be content with our present spiritual state. We have a long way to go to grow to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. This is a major reason why the "welfare mentality," dragged into the church from the world, is so damaging. It destroys human responsibility to God and each other, greatly hindering one's submission to God's will. Submitting to God's will entails some measure of work because human nature, Satan, and ingrained habits must be overcome.

In Philippians 3:14, Paul proclaims, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." God has summoned us to salvation. Salvation is the prize that goes to those who yield to His will, showing by their lives that God is indeed their sovereign. Jesus admonishes us to, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). God's Word exhorts us to proceed energetically and solve the problems of life according to His instructions.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven


 

Ephesians 5:20

For some, this is difficult, and indeed, we all often stumble over it. We can be very grateful to God when things go well. Perhaps, after returning safely from a trip, we are quick to thank God for our successful arrival, as if He were personally responsible for the operations of all who worked to get us home. Suppose, however, that the trip was not so successful. Maybe we were involved in an accident and injured or delayed so that we were late for a meeting, costing a large sale or the loss of a client? Or maybe lightning struck the house, an earthquake damaged it, or a burglar broke in and stole valuables?

Do we see God's hand in these circumstances as well? Is God involved only in the "good" things of life? For example, did Job bemoan his "bad luck" or murmur against God? He bowed before Him, even managing to bless Him (Job 1:13-22)! Is this just fatalistic acquiescence or blind credulity? No, in people who live by faith, it is neither of these because real faith always rejoices in the Lord, knowing He is involved in all aspects of life.

Paul's exhortation to the Philippian church (Philippians 4:4) is nothing short of a call to faith of those undergoing some sort of heavy trial. If a Christian believes that his life and all its circumstances are in the hands of the sovereign, wise, and loving God who is always working for his good, then he can truly rejoice always.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sovereignty and Its Fruit: Part Ten


 

Philippians 2:12-13

It is God who saves! God saved Israel from Egyptian slavery. Israel did not overcome Pharaoh and Egypt by either warfare or by dint of superior intelligence. Jesus Christ is our Savior, and we cannot save ourselves from sin's power. When we accept Him as Savior, it obligates us as His servants to obey Him.

In like manner, when God broke Egypt's power, enabling the Israelites to be free, it obligated them to walk out of Egypt if they wanted their liberty. If the Israelites wanted to save their skins and be totally free of Egypt when God parted the Red Sea, it obligated them to walk the path God made for them between the walls of water. When God said, "I am going to bring you into the land and provide for you along the way," if Israel wanted these things, they were obligated to walk all the way to Canaan. It is very clear that if Israel wanted what God said He would give, then Israel had to also cooperate by working in the form of walking to where God said He would lead or take them. "Walk" is a code word for living.

With this as a background, when Paul says to "work out your own salvation," it cannot possibly mean we are going to save ourselves. Rather, like what confronted the Israelites when God opened the way to their physical salvation from slavery in Egypt, we should be ready to make God's spiritual salvation practical and operational. Paul does not say we must work for salvation, but rather carry our salvation out to its conclusion. He uses "work out" in much the same sense as when a student is told to work out an arithmetic problem—to bring it to its conclusion. For us, the conclusion, the goal, to work toward is Christ-likeness. The salvation here is sanctification, victory over sin unto holiness.

To make it very plain, if we want to be one with Him, we must get moving in the direction He is pointing, and He points toward His standards of conduct and attitude. Each person's walk is not exactly the same because each person's experience and makeup are somewhat different. There is enough similarity among humans, though, to make the Bible always relevant.

One of the beautiful things about this is that each person's walk toward the image of God is exactly right for him. What is more, Philippians 2:13 also says God gives us both the will and power or energy to do it! The New Testament in Modern Speech renders it, "For it is God Himself whose power creates within you both the desire and the power to execute His gracious will." This work of God in us is another aspect of His grace, and without it, we could never be one with Him.

God Himself produces in us both the desire to live righteously and the effective energy to do so. He does not demand what we cannot do (I Corinthians 10:13). We see in Philippians 2:12 our responsibility and in verse 13 help to accomplish it.

We can see this working together with God in simple illustrations from physical life. We may launch a sailboat upon the water, but it takes what God supplies, wind, to make it move. We may plant vegetable seeds, but it is the power of God in nature that makes the plant grow and produce food. We may generate gigawatts of electricity in power plants, but God provides the wind, water, sunlight, coal, oil, or gas to turn the turbines. In each case, we add something to what God already supplied.

Our salvation is something already given because it is God's will, and He is sovereign. We, though, must do something to make it practical by applying ourselves to salvation's demands. Even in this, God enables us to do it!

We will never know where the dividing line is between what God supplies and what we are responsible to do because it is different for each according to God's purpose. This proportion must be different because each person is different, and He is preparing us for different responsibilities within His Family. This is sure, however: Our walk toward salvation will always be difficult enough to be challenging and edifying.

Even here the analogy of Israel in the wilderness comes to our aid. Where did Israel get the energy to walk across the wilderness to the Promised Land? Did it not come from the manna and water God supplied, as well as the vision and hope of the inheritance which He also provided? Still, Israel walked! They had to work, to cooperate.

The verb "work" in Philippians 2:12 is in a tense that indicates continuous working. Just as Israel did not leave Egypt and arrive in the Promised Land in one step, neither are our salvation and oneness with God accomplished at once. It, too, is a process; it is our life's work.

John W. Ritenbaugh
All in All


 

Philippians 2:14-15

Comprehending God's sovereignty should begin to produce another necessary yet difficult quality: complete resignation to God's will. We Israelites have gained quite a reputation with God for being unwilling to accept life without griping.

Human nature naturally complains when it feels it has been deprived of what it had its heart set on. We think that our possessions are ours unconditionally. We feel that we are entitled to success when we have done something well. We believe that, when we work hard and competently, we deserve to keep what we have accumulated. We hold that, when surrounded by our happy family, no power may enter our beloved circle and strike down a loved one. We can even think that we should be immune from bankruptcy because God must honor our obedience! However, understanding and accepting God's sovereignty includes His right to do or allow anything He wills.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sovereignty and Its Fruit: Part Ten


 

Philippians 4:10-12

Frustration and bitterness were not Paul's companions. He did not make what he considered to be his needs absolutes in order to determine his sense of well-being. By faith, he believed that God was watching over his life and would provide.

Paul followed the example of Jesus Christ, and this is the example that we too are to follow. We are to learn to be angry and not sin. We are to learn not to make frustration, bitterness, and hostility regular parts of our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Spiritual Mark of the Beast


 

1 Timothy 1:16

God overcame Paul and saved him. Certainly there have been sinners far worse than Paul, but the sense of his thought is that nobody is beyond the reach of God's power to convict of sin and affect dramatic changes of behavior.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

1 Timothy 6:15

With a description like this, we have only begun to scratch the surface of the sovereignty of God, especially in its importance to our Christian life and growth. Understanding even a tiny portion of God's glory, wisdom and power is much needed because the god of this world's "Christianity"—a miserable, blasphemous creature and a travesty of the truth—has given us a deceptive picture of Jesus Christ, causing us a great deal of misdirection. Some of the concepts of that false Christ, planted before conversion, remain in our minds, influencing our attitudes and choices.

He has presented a portrait of a helpless effeminate, a maudlin, hand-wringing sentimentalist who is desperately trying to save humanity. If He is as He is portrayed, then He must be constantly disappointed, dissatisfied, and discouraged! In His ineptitude He is being defeated by the very creatures He is supposed to have created and be greater than. Is God so weak that Satan and sin in recalcitrant man thwart His purpose for mankind at every turn?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Two


 

2 Timothy 2:10-13

The apostle gives this warning directly to God's children. Despite how we may personally relate to Him in how we live, God cannot deny what He truly is. We may be highly variable in our attitude and conduct because we are lackadaisical and tolerate human nature having its way. We may yield to this world's influence on us and backslide into the same careless way of life that dominated us before God called us into His church (Ephesians 2:3). Yet, our God and Savior is constant and faithful to what He is. His character and purpose never change. God loves, and because He does, He also judges. Does not Proverbs 13:24 instruct, "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly?" Our Savior will not overlook this need in us.

Sometimes His discipline can be very stressful (Hebrews 12:11), but that is the cost of following Him where He leads. He will act as He truly is regardless of what we personally think or fail to think or whether we allow Him to be closely or only marginally involved in how we live our lives.

This world's nominal Christianity has so wrongly overemphasized God's grace that it makes salvation assured if we will only accept Jesus Christ. However, it does so without equally teaching that we must meet the responsibilities that God also clearly reveals. We must faithfully walk to the Promised Land. To keep our part of the New Covenant, we must live His way of life to be prepared to live in the Promised Land.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part One)


 

2 Timothy 3:1

Sufficient pressure comes from the world, so that, if we are lackadaisical in carrying out our Christian responsibilities, we can easily allow ourselves to follow Satan's arrangement of things, as shown in the world. There is much out there that is attractive to human nature and to true Christians, and we can see, despite two thousand years of preaching by the church, the overwhelming majority is still following the broad way.

The world makes it seem as though Christianity is an abject failure—an altruistic experience that has gone awry. The world gives every impression that God has either gone far off, and that His whole creation is nothing more than a kind of cosmic joke. Some believe God never really did care, and the creation is a mere plaything of His with no positive, beneficial purpose in mind.

Thus, with that kind of approach, if we are lackadaisical, the world can be very persuasive. When viewing the expanse of Christian history, it is not difficult for a carnal person to reach the conclusion that God has good intentions, but that He is frequently disappointed because Satan outwits Him or man thwarts Him. God, then, is frustrated in everything that He tries to do. It is as if He says that He wants to bless men, but they will not let Him.

Who with that perspective could take God seriously? It makes it easy to think—and thus to live—as though God really is not sovereign in His creation. We must take these thoughts and questions seriously, yet considering them directly, as we are doing now, we are likely to say that we do not think that way.

We think that God is in complete and total control, ruling His creation. We hope and believe that is true. Even so, experience shows that, though we confess this, we sometimes—perhaps often—live and talk as the world does. Who will not think or live that way? Those who really live by faith.

What does "walk by faith" mean? It means that we are allowing our thoughts to be formed, and therefore our conduct guided, by God's Word, because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by means of the word of God (Romans 10:17). The most frequently repeated command, charge, or exhortation of Jesus Christ during His ministry can be reduced to one word: "listen"! It appears 18 times! What did He mean? "Listen to the message!"—because this is the very thing that mankind has not done. Faith comes by hearing.

Faith comes by means of listening to the Word of God. How much faith is being displayed on earth today? Not very much! There is so little, that Jesus wondered, "When the Son of man comes, will He find any faith on earth?" He will not find much because not very many people think God is the Sovereign Ruler of His creation. It's that simple! They may think they believe it, but their lives do not show it. If their lives showed it, it would prove that they really were listening to the Word of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God (Part 1)


 

Hebrews 1:3

Sometimes we might be misled not to give God His due by failing to comprehend what this verse is saying. "Upholding" just does not give the impact of the Greek, giving us the impression of God as a sort of Atlas figure or as a watchmaker who wound His creation up and then walked away. Wuest's Amplified New Testament translates this word as "sustaining," indicating an ongoing operation. Sustaining not only gives the impression of support but also of continuous maintenance and providence. The Amplified Bible also catches the essence by adding "maintaining, guiding and propelling."

What this statement illustrates is the continuous, minute-by-minute, year-by-year, century-by-century, eon-upon-eon generation of the enormous, awesome, prodigious amounts of power necessary to keep His creation operating. The very stability of the creation speaks of His continuing involvement. He did not just create and walk away with everything operating according to impersonal law.

Genesis 1:3 sets the pattern for the revelation of His governance: "Then God said, 'Let there be light;' and there was light.'" His sovereignty over the inanimate creation is stated very simply: He speaks and light appears. In verse 9, He speaks, and the waters are gathered into one place, revealing dry land. Since water seeks its own level, this passage indicates that God determined where He wanted the water to go, thus it shows Him shaping and managing His creation.

God says in Genesis 6:17, "And behold, I Myself am bringing the flood waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; and everything that is on the earth shall die." The Flood was not a natural occurrence. In Genesis 11:5-8, it was God who confused the languages and scattered the families of men over all the earth, and the early chapters of Exodus clearly reveal God's involvement in the plagues on Egypt. In the latter example, God even actively supervises who receives the plague and how they are affected (Exodus 9:22-26).

Exodus 10:21-23 confirms God's active involvement in the affairs of men and His use of the inanimate aspects of His creation to bring about His will:

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt." So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.

Thus the Bible clearly shows that God is now exercising His sovereignty over His creation and will continue to do so beyond the return of Jesus Christ, even in the area of inanimate things like the weather and ground. Blessing or cursing is an act of His sovereignty conditioned to our response to Him. He is not merely passively paying attention and responding as He sees fit, but even more so initiating actions to bring His people to His desired end.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Hebrews 1:14

Angel literally means "messenger." Hebrews 1:14 calls them "ministering [or serving] spirits," sent by God to aid the heirs of salvation. A messenger is one dispatched to carry out a responsibility in service to the sender, and in this case, in service to the recipients as well. God has created beings greater than we are to serve us! A key to understand why He has done this is in recognizing God's sovereignty in the words "sent forth." The greater (God) rules and utilizes the lesser (angels). The Bible shows God actively commanding and managing them to perform functions in His governance of Project Earth.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

Hebrews 3:12

We know the overall story of Israel's failure in the wilderness. Of all the people who began the journey, only a handful actually entered the Promised Land. This reality is intended to illustrate how much the personal relationship with God means to our salvation. By and large, the Israelites of old had no personal relationship with Him.

This is the broad answer as to why this great mass of people failed. They did not believe God. The author really drives this point home by emphasizing it as an "evil heart of unbelief." It was evil because it would not permit them to faithfully submit to Him; it caused a struggle within them and led them to disobey. Israel's failure, despite God's many works in their behalf, illustrates that just believing that God exists is not sufficient for salvation.

This weakness of faith is not unique to them. The extensive coverage given in the Bible to the Israelites' release from Egyptian slavery and their subsequent failure in the wilderness is fully intended for our learning. Their failure followed their symbolic calling from the world, baptism in the Red Sea, receipt of the law, and acceptance of the covenant at Mount Sinai.

Their failure occurred at a time equivalent to our doing so after conversion. They failed to grow, overcome, and remain faithful during their testing in the wilderness. Are we not now making our spiritual wilderness journey? Have we not had people who once fellowshipped with us stop walking with us spiritually?

I firmly believe that the current scattered condition of the church was deliberately caused and executed by God, not Satan. Why? To test and to build our faith. Being in a church with large congregations is deceivingly comfortable. Such a circumstance tends to produce complacency, as Christ's message to the Laodiceans shows. But over the past 15-20 years, the practical day-to-day faith of those in the church of God has been seriously challenged.

Many have departed from fellowshipping with their brethren. Consider the use of the term "departing" in Hebrews 3:12. As seen from God's point of view, this is a strong warning, since He considers their hearts to have been "evil." The translators smoothed over the Greek term, aphistemi, underlying "departing from." Strong's Concordance says that it means "remove," "instigate," "revolt," "desert." The historical context indicates a stronger wording, "rebelled against," more clearly seen when compared with the faithfulness of both Christ and Moses, as extolled in verses 1-3.

In The Daily Study Bible Series: The Letter to the Hebrews, commentator William Barclay translates this verse, "Have a care, brothers, lest an evil and disobedient heart be in any of you in a state of rebellion against the living God" (p. 32, emphasis ours). That is how God sees the destruction of their relationship with Him. When viewed within the context of the entire book of Hebrews, which extolls the greatness of Jesus Christ, our sovereign God, the rebellion that Paul is warning against is the turning away from a living, dynamic Person, not merely from some vague belief in a distant God.

It is very difficult to believe that the Israelites did not believe God exists after all the powerful witnesses they were given at the Red Sea and Mount Sinai. They had the same human nature that we do. Their problem was trusting Him, being faithful to Him in the daily activities of life, as one should be in a marriage. They had this problem because they really did not know Him, and they did not know Him because they did not seek Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Two)


 

Hebrews 3:15-18

In regard to faith, we must understand what the Bible means by its frequent admonitions to "hear." Paul writes in Hebrews 3:15, "Today, if you will hear His voice." He is not pressing us to hear the sound of His voice, but to understand what God wants us to learn through what Paul, the preacher, is expounding in his epistle. Paul is urging us to take the time now to "get" it, to "see" or "grasp" what God is teaching.

Hebrews 3:17-18; 4:2 will help us reach a conclusion about what God intends regarding hearing. Whether a person physically hears the actual voice of God Himself is of little importance. Whether "hearing" in our personal reading or "hearing" the preaching of a minister, what is critical is that we obey the godly instruction, because unless we actually obey, we have not yet truly heard. If a person continues to sin, he has not really heard, in the biblical sense, what God has taught.

Put in another way, if a person continues to sin because God's Word does not motivate him to obedience to what He teaches, then he, in a worst-case scenario, either does not believe God or at this point his belief is so weak that he cannot bring himself to trust Him. Such are the ones who died in the wilderness. The weakness is not that people do not believe that He exists, but that they do not trust what He says because, in reality, they do not know Him. Thus, in the biblical sense, they have not yet truly heard.

In Hebrews 4:2, Paul uses the Greek word pistis for the first time in his letter. He will use it 31 more times. Pistis is translated either as "faith" or as "faithfulness." I believe that "faithfulness" is better here because that is what the Israelites lacked. Faithfulness is trusting God in continuous fashion as shown by conduct. God has given us a great deal, but it is our responsibility to hold firmly to His instructions by living them. Living them engrains them into our characters as habits, and this is good. Through habitual use, they become so entrenched in our behavior that we do not even have to call them to mind.

The unbelief that Paul is speaking of here is that our weak trust results in weak Christian living because we do not know and "see" God with the clarity that we should have. It can be rectified, but that is not always easy and at times may seem costly.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Two)


 

Hebrews 11:3

We have generally understood this verse to mean that the material creation, which we can clearly see, was produced from invisible spirit. It is certainly a possible meaning, but it is probably not its primary one. In his book, Great Cloud of Witnesses (pp. 12-14), E. W. Bullinger provides an alternative that appears more accurate and fitting within the context of Hebrews 11.

The word "worlds" is translated from the Greek aion, meaning "age," in the sense of a period of time or a dispensation. It derives from a root that means "continued," and it is used as "world" only when "world" gives a better sense of a period of time, not the physical creation. It could be used if one said "the world that then was" or "the world to come."

"Framed" also appears in Hebrews 10:5, where it is more clearly and accurately translated "prepared." It means "to complete thoroughly," "to rule" (even "overrule"), or "to order" (by God in this case). "Word" is not logos but rhema, meaning "revealed words." Finally, "made" is ginomai, which means "to generate," "to cause to be," "to happen," or "to come to pass." It is not the word normally used to indicate God is creating.

Using these definitions, we could translate the verse as, "By faith we perceive by the revealed words of God that the ages were prepared, so that the things we see come to pass not from things that appear." Those of us who walk by faith know that a great Unseen Hand guides, indeed overrules, events on this earth. This verse means that the historical events we read of in God's Word were not chance occurrences, but God was working behind the scenes to bring His purpose to the conclusion He has foreordained. In short, it says, "God controls the march of history." The great men and women listed in Hebrews 11 lived their lives firmly knowing this truth. That is why they could live in faith.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Promises Are Sure!


 

Hebrews 11:3

This verse is rather difficult in most of our modern English translations. It literally says, "By faith we understand the ages to have been prepared by a saying of God, in regard to the things seen not having come out of things appearing" (Young's Literal Translation).

The key to understanding this verse is the word translated "worlds" in modern Bibles. In the Greek, it is aioonas, which primarily means "ages" or long periods of time whose sum is eternity. For modern translations to understand this to be "worlds" distorts what the author was trying to explain. He is not talking about physical creation of the earth or matter, which "worlds" implies, but about God's sovereignty over the ages of mankind's civilizations. "Framed" is the Greek kateertisthai, meaning prepared, arranged, constituted, set in order—generally, to put a thing in its proper condition.

The Bible speaks of three distinct ages: the time before the Flood, the present, and the age to come (see II Peter 3:6; Galatians 1:4; Matthew 12:32; Luke 18:30; etc.). Other periods of time can be divided into distinct ages: The Babylonian, the Persian, the Greek, the Roman, the Medieval, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Modern, the Postmodern, etc. The author is telling us that the word of God "prepares," "orders," or "arranges" the ages of mankind—in other words, God is sovereignly guiding the affairs of men to bring about His ultimate purpose. As is said to Daniel, "The Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whoever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men" (Daniel 4:17).

We know this by faith—that is, if we truly believe and trust God, that He is almighty, that He is bringing us to perfection, and that He has a purpose He is working out, we know that He is in control. We understand by what we read in His Word that He is working toward His ends, and what goes from His mouth (in terms of law, direction, and prophecy) will come to pass (Isaiah 55:10-11). When God speaks, things happen: It was by God speaking that the earth and everything in it was created (Genesis 1). The same is true of the migrations of nations, their rise and fall, the installation and removal of leaders, as well as the circumstances of His people in the church. God is on His throne, and He is governing His creation.

The last half of Hebrews 11:3 is our "proof": What we see going on in the world (during our age) has not been brought to pass by men but by the invisible God. Men think they are movers and shakers; they think they are in control. But God says here that events on this earth have their ultimate design in the invisible God; He rules over the kingdom of men.

There is an unseen hand manipulating events so that the person of faith can understand that history is not an endless cycle of repetition; it is going somewhere. God is drawing things to a conclusion. We are coming to the end of an age, and God is framing and manipulating events in preparation for this age to climax and end so a new and better age can begin. This verse tells us that we can see the hand of God working, not only in the big events of this world, but also in our lives if we are living by faith (II Corinthians 5:7).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh


 

Hebrews 11:3

We need to understand three words here. The first is "worlds," which is the Greek aion meaning "ages," "periods of time," or "dispensations." The author is not referring at all to the created world—the earth. He means periods of time.

The second word is "framed," which gives the impression of a person building something, but that is not the author's intent. The same word appears in Hebrews 10:5, "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared." This translation points to a different connotation.

The third word is "word." Normally, a Bible student would probably immediately think of logos as being the Greek for "word," but such is not the case here. It is instead the Greek word rhema, which means "the revealed word."

A good paraphrase of verse 3, then, would be: "By faith we understand that the ages were prepared by the revealed word of God." This verse is telling us that there is an unseen hand somewhere that is guiding the course of the periods through which mankind has lived! In other words, God is working out a purpose! People with faith look to the purpose He is working out and what He has revealed, and they see His hand guiding the destiny of nations as well as individuals.

This is an interesting, encouraging, faith-building concept because God is never far from the thoughts of a faithful person. Such a person, because he has had the mystery of God revealed to him—the purpose He is working out—begins to see God in everything that is happening because God is his companion. He has a relationship with Him. Because of his fellowship with God, he tries to see everything through God's eyes, as it were.

When God calls, one of the miracles He works in us by His Spirit gives us insight into His movements in the history of man. The Christian begins to see God in his environment, the earth—and discovers that it is all under God's control.

We can see where God says, "I raise up kings. I put down kings." Sometimes these are "the basest of men," but because we are beginning to think like God, we understand why He does such things. In Romans 13:1-2, we find out that all governments are ordained of God. He at least permits them to govern, and sometimes He directly installs them.

God is guiding and controlling events. Men think they are in control of what is happening, and some even think Satan is in control. No, God is in control. He is working out a purpose, and Satan is subject to Him and can only do what He allows him to do.

The psalmist says that God is not in all of the ungodly man's thoughts (Psalm 10:4). Andre Maurois, a French philosopher and writer, once said, "The universe is indifferent. Who created it? Why are we here on this puny mud heap, spinning in an infinite space? I have not the slightest idea, and I am quite convinced that no one has the least idea." This is the way man looks at things, but Christians had better not look at them like this because they will not operate by faith. If we are operating by faith, we can begin to see events and circumstances in their fuller scope, as well as how they fit and how important they are to the purpose God is working out.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Salvation


 

Hebrews 11:3

This concept reveals the solid base of faith toward God: that He is Creator and Ruler. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" God Himself demanded of Job. The answer to this question is why we can understand the existence of things by faith.

E.W. Bullinger has an additional thought on this verse that is worth considering. He takes this beyond creation, as the word translated "worlds" is literally aiones or "ages." Thus, the verse is literally stating that God framed or put into order the ages. Zodhiates agrees that aiones indicates ages or times, in contrast with kosmos, often translated as "world," which indicates people as a society. Bullinger shows that God, unseen and sovereign, is not only Creator, but also actively shapes events within the expanses of time. As Jesus says in John 5:17, God is always working, directing the movement of history to bring about His desired ends. Bullinger's approach is to be preferred as more appropriate to the entire epistle.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Three)


 

Hebrews 11:27

Why was Moses able to do what he did? He knew God. Because of this, he was strong and did great exploits. The prophesied events of the end time can only be seen, understood, and endured through the eyes of faith, and so we will continue to grow. Faith is always occupied with God. Faith will enable us to be strong, do exploits, and endure the disappointments in the mysteries of life because we know that because we are God's chosen people and God is who He is, He is involved and the Master of every situation.

Because we know His character—that He is too wise to make mistakes and too loving and concerned about the outcome of our lives—we know he will not allow us to be totally overwhelmed. And we know and believe that Romans 8:28 is still in the Book. Because He rules His creation—He is there—therefore we can live through these times and continue growing, with a peace that passes all understanding.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God (Part 1)


 

Hebrews 11:27

This succinct statement illustrates what made the difference between those who succeeded in living by faith and entered the Promised Land and those who left Egypt but died during the pilgrimage: Those who succeeded "saw" God.

This is perhaps the simplest and clearest explanation of the nature of faith in the entire Bible. Hebrews is written to a group of people undergoing severe trials, and the author encourages and counsels them to persevere through them and remain on track for the Kingdom of God. At this point, Moses is the specific illustration of living by faith. In his relationship with God, he is described as being sustained in perseverance as if he literally saw God with His bodily eyes.

Hebrews 11:1 explains, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The author is saying that faith is the confident conviction that, like the foundation of a building, stands under and supports a life lived by faith in the invisible God. This brings up an important question: How can a person live by faith if he does not have sufficient knowledge of the sovereign greatness, closeness, and awesome grace of God? In the mercy that He has already given, God has shown enough of Himself to allow us to begin a relationship with Him. Of course, we need more to come to know Him and fear Him as He desires.

A recent Barna poll reported that over 80% of Americans believe God exists. Yet, how is their level of knowledge about Him affecting their conduct? Clearly, it is not supporting moral living to any great extent. This fact triggers the thought that the great immorality of the American people reveals that they are not very concerned about being answerable to Him. They have heard of Him but do not know Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Two)


 

James 3:13-18

One way to begin taming our tongues is to speak in meekness. Meekness is not weakness. It is knowing at all times where we stand with God, fully realizing who He is and the nature of His power in contrast to ourselves, His creation. Joshua cried out in confidence for the army of Israel to go forward; His confidence was not in himself or his leadership but totally in his awareness of God's purpose in his life, God's law to live by, and God's sovereignty over him. He was, after all, clay in the Potter's hands. If we keep this in mind, we will never have cause to feel better, more righteous, more successful, or more honorable than another.

Meekness is the ability to esteem others better than ourselves and to allow God to use us as He wills. II Timothy 2:20 shows us that God will honor whom He will. To seek honor for ourselves or to feel worthy of honor is a dead end, and it will taint how we communicate to others. We will naturally look down on them, disrespect them, overlook them, and criticize them.

Test: If we have experienced dishonor, perhaps we need to look closely to see where we have dishonored others. We all stand guilty as charged.

Staff
Are You Sharp-Tongued? (Part Two)


 

1 Peter 1:2

Peter comments on God's operations in this sphere of His work. The King James Study Bible has an interesting note about the intent of this verse: "This is not merely advanced knowledge of, but when connected to 'before the foundation of the world,' [Ephesians 1:4] it means God determined in eternity past to bring certain ones of His creation into a special relationship with Him and each other at specific times" (emphasis added).

Consider the construction of a large building. As a new building is erected, the workers follow blueprints made by architects, engineers, designers, and draftsmen. Every detail of what is being built—where it sits on the property, perhaps ten thousand individual dimensions, water pipes, sewer lines, specifications of the foundation, composition of the flooring, steel columns, girders, electrical lines, conduit, brackets to support pipes, roofing materials, the color and composition of paints both inside and out, etc.—is determined, designed, and drafted on the plans before the actual construction began.

In principle, is this not a human form of God knowing the end from the beginning? Does this not compare to God appointing beforehand or predetermining when, where, and who does what? If men can do this on a small scale, why cannot God do this on an immensely more massive and complex scale with His vastly superior mind? Is not God's intellect of such magnitude that He can easily do this (Romans 11:33-36)? Does He not have sufficient time to plan, prepare, and bring these things to pass (Isaiah 57:15)? Dare we even think of Him as getting tired or wandering from the purpose He established for Himself (Psalm 121:3-4)?

Even so, do not get the impression that He does not react to how we use our free moral agency. If He did not react, chapters like Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 would not be necessary, for in these chapters He definitely says, "If you do this, I will do that." They obviously depict Him reacting to our choices. He contemplates and judges what we do. However, this in no way negates the fact that the Bible reveals Him as the Prime Mover in His creation, always in control even in what we consider bad circumstances that directly affect us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part One)


 

1 Peter 1:18-20

Our Savior Jesus Christ was appointed in advance, predestined before the foundation of the world to die for the sins of men. This strongly indicates that God had no doubt that men would sin, so He was prepared. After He created Adam and Eve, He put them in the Garden of Eden and instructed them. Shortly thereafter, Satan came along to make his pitch for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Persuaded, Adam and Eve snapped at the bait of immediate gratification, broke four commandments, and brought the death penalty on themselves. Thus, God set the stage that would create a monumental calamity that reverberates through the millennia, claiming even the life of God in the flesh.

Why did God not step in and stop the sins from occurring? Why did He not restrain Satan or speak out saying, "This is the way. Walk in it"? He could have at any time. He was not distracted elsewhere, and no one could restrain His hand. Further, we must understand that God did not make them sin or force them into it. He did allow them to do it if they so chose. He did nothing to stop them from being seduced by the temptation.

God's awareness of what is happening in His creation and His power over every aspect of it are so complete that, if something happens to us, He has willed it. This does not necessarily mean He plans every occurrence, but He does will it to happen simply by doing nothing to stop it. The actions of Satan, Adam, and Eve in no way caught God by surprise; He knew they were going to sin. There was no "Plan B." Because God is never surprised, He does not get frustrated. He always has things under control, so He does not get fearful and nervous as we do.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part Two)


 

2 Peter 2:9

Peter clearly understands that Satan is somewhere in the picture, and he wants us to be encouraged, to be filled with hope, because these ungodly people, though they appear to be gaining strength, are still under God's control. God knows how to deliver His people from their schemes—even as He delivered Noah, Lot, and others in the past from plots that were going on in their days.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 4)


 

2 Peter 3:1-6

II Peter 3:1-6 contains vivid illustrations of God ruling and overruling to bring His purpose to a successful conclusion in spite of men. Because the Creator God truly is sovereign, He is constantly moving His creation, including us, toward the conclusion of the purpose He determined from the beginning. All things do not continue as they were. God is working and intervening, making adjustments in the course of international, national, and personal events, as the incidents of the Flood and the Tower of Babel vividly illustrate. Peter could have added many more examples, such as freeing Israel from Egypt, guiding Israel to power and destroying it, and scattering the Israelites over the face of the earth. God has done this so completely that most have no idea where Israel is or that they themselves might be Israelites.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

1 John 4:8

Every thought, every word, every act of God is an expression of love. God is sovereign, and He has the right to do whatever He wants. This would be tyranny except for one simple fact: Everything God does, whether seemingly arbitrary or not, is motivated by love. Even our trials are supreme acts of love as Hebrews 12:5-11 and Job's experience show.

Herbert W. Armstrong once said about Job: "Job was one of the hardest men for God to ever bring down to repentance that has ever lived on the face of this earth." As terrible as the trial was, Job needed it for salvation. Psalm 84:11 says that God will withhold no good thing from us. To withhold that trial from Job would have been withholding a good thing, making God guilty of hating Job (Proverbs 13:24).

Only God is wise enough to allow us to go through a desperately needed trial while simultaneously using it to accomplish His other purposes as well. In the worsening times ahead, God will not use some of us as cannon fodder for His purposes, though He has the right to do it—He made us. Because of His love for us, He will allow us to face trials because we need them to perfect us. After all, "all things work together for good" to those called (Romans 8:28).

How will we survive spiritually if we are among those God chooses to be persecuted, possibly tortured, and killed? Only because we believe that God loves no one more than us, and for this reason, we will know that what we are enduring is for our good and will bring about His purpose.

As children, we were disciplined by our parents. As it happened, how often did we thank them for the love they were showing us? As parents, we have disciplined our children. How many times have they ever said, "Thank you"? Most likely, the answer to both is, "Never!"

Do we discipline our children out of love or hate? Love, of course. Then why do they not say, "Thank you"? At the moment it is happening, they cannot see—they do not believe—how much we love them. It is a hallmark of youth or immaturity to be blind to the big picture, to see only what is directly in front of them. Hopefully, in times of trial, we are not children in a spiritual sense.

Pat Higgins
Faith to Face Our Trials


 

1 John 4:18

If understanding how much God loves us and believing in it are so important, how can we tell where we stand in the strength of that belief? Verse 18 begins to answer that question. Fear and worry signal that we are not yet perfect in our belief in how much God loves us. If we believe that the God of infinite power and wisdom loves no one in the universe more than us, what do we have to fear or worry about?

What good parent does not use all the resources available to ensure the well being of his or her children? We are in the minute-by-minute care of the great God (Matthew 10:29-31). "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Similarly, Isaiah 43:13 (CEV) records an important promise from God: "I am God now and forever. No one can snatch you from me or stand in my way."

Nothing outside of us can stand in His way of accomplishing His purpose to save except ourselves (John 6:39-40; 10:28; Philippians 1:6). As difficult as Job was, God knew exactly what trial was necessary—in his case, a quite painful one—to get the right result. He knows the buttons to push and the pressures to apply to set each of us straight. Job 36:15 (Today's English Version) tells us, "But God teaches men through suffering and uses distress to open their eyes."

A second sign of our lack of faith in His love is how we respond to trials. If we believe in how much He loves us, then we know the trial is for our good. Because of His love, we should know that a trial is not just an arbitrary act without rhyme or reason. Because He is God, it cannot be an accidental circumstance happening without His awareness or concern. It definitely cannot be an act just to make our lives more difficult. These might be the thoughts of a child while receiving a spanking, but they should not be ours.

A third way to measure the strength of our faith is to list the things that would make our lives better yet seem to be out of reach. For some, it is money; others, a job; and still others, a mate. Psalm 84:11 is a verse we can use to get the right perspective: "No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly."

If we are walking uprightly, our lack of a desired thing is in itself a good indication that at this time it is not good for us, no matter what we might think to the contrary. Otherwise, this verse cannot be true. Getting what we want rather than what we need can be spiritually lethal (Revelation 3:17).

A final way to measure our faith is to examine if we ever feel we love ourselves more than God does. A person with this attitude begins to take things into his own hands because he cannot trust God to do it—he does not believe how good God is and how much He loves him. To doubt the depth of God's love for us is to deny God and the very essence of who He is—love.

This describes Satan's attitude, one that could be considered insanity. Human nature, which mimics Satan's spirit (Ephesians 2:2) is suicidal, wanting to sin even though it knows the result is death. Thus, because human nature contains this spirit of self-destruction, God always loves us more than we love ourselves.

It is vital that we build our faith in God's love for us and realize just how special we are to Him. He loves no one else in the universe more. I John 4:17 promises that perfecting our faith in God's love for us gives us the power we need to face our trials, our day of judgment, boldly. In doing so, we will be imitating the faith Jesus Christ exercised in facing His trails, showing absolute faith in God's love for us.

Pat Higgins
Faith to Face Our Trials


 

1 John 5:19-20

The very fact that we know these things—that we are of God, that Satan is the unseen ruler of this world, and that we know God and His Son Jesus Christ—is evidence that we have been given an understanding. This knowledge is not something we have determined on our own; the sovereign God has given it to us to fulfill His purpose in us. And in His sovereignty He has withheld it from others.

Other passages, in more specific areas of our profession, show the uniqueness of our calling to an even greater extent. For example, Paul writes in II Thessalonians 3:1-2, "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have [the] faith." From our own experiences we know his statement is true. Not everyone has faith. It is obvious that some believe and others do not. Even within the church we are at different stages of faith.

Acts 13:48 adds important ramifications to this subject of God's sovereignty, our calling, and faith: "Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." The implications of Luke's words are rather startling. Only those whom God appointed or predestined to eternal life believe the preaching of Paul and Barnabas! The rest, though they also hear the word of the Lord, persecute and expel them from the region. They do not believe what they hear, and it angers rather than converts them. We must conclude that God triggers something in the minds of those He calls, making the Lord's words agreeable, so they will believe what they are hearing.

This agrees perfectly with Ephesians 1:5—"[God] predestined us to adoption as sons by [through] Jesus Christ"—and Romans 8:29-30, which explicitly states the whole panorama of His purpose:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

God has the whole process planned out, and He is so confident of His ability to accomplish it that He perceives it as already done! He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

Jude 1:8-10

Dignitaries (New King James) or dignities (King James) literally means "glorious ones," and it refers to the apostles. However, the indignity does not end there because to disrespect them is to also disrespect the One who sent them, as Jesus reveals in Matthew 10:40.

This evil is covered in Exodus 22:28: "You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people." II Peter 3:3 alerts us "that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts." Today, the disrespect is boldly, openly, and directly aimed at God. These vile people not only disrespect God verbally, but they also do so in their public, influential conduct. Never has there been such a universal irreverence for our Creator since the period before the Flood. The worst offenders in this nation are those who are younger and who have been thoroughly schooled in liberalism's concepts.

On the surface, God's sovereignty appears to have been eclipsed, but we must not think this. God is in absolute and complete control. Though it may appear that Satan and his evil influences are in control, it is not the reality. We can be deceived if we allow this line of thinking to continue.

What does the Bible say to the mind of faith? I Timothy 6:15-16 proclaims who is God and who is in control! "[W]hich He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power." This is He about whom they speak evil and at whom they scoff. His time is coming, and we appear to be on its cusp.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Sovereignty


 

Revelation 4:11

The Living Bible renders this verse, "O Lord, you are worthy to receive the glory and the honor and the power, for you have created all things. They were created and called into being by your act of will." Kenneth Wuest, an eminent authority on the Greek language, translates the last phrase, "and because you willed it, they existed and were created."

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Three


 

Revelation 17:16-17

These verses contain an astonishing statement of God's unseen influence in earthly events and how personally involved He is in what is planned for these end times. God motivates both the destruction of the harlot by her fellow conspirators and the very drives for the union of nations into the Beast. He is working this very moment as men conspire to bring this to pass!

How could it be otherwise? If God makes prophecies about what He will do, He had better have the power to bring them to pass. He does this by influencing the thinking of those He has put into positions to fulfill them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven


 

 




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