Sovereignty of God.
At the tender age of six, not having long been in this country, we went down south. Dad was speaking at a Vic Hudson camp at Gunn’s Bush. After the camp, seeing we hadn’t seen much of New Zealand yet, we did a little bit of a tour around and stayed at Duntroon, right next the mighty Waitaki. The locals said you must see the dams, because they are in flood. Avimore dam had not long been completed. We saw Benmore dam with the water rushing down the spillway and shooting high into the air – a spectacular sight! Ever since then I thought that is the way they were, and was most disappointed to see them later. But I think it was there that was initiated a life-long fascination with dams. If ever we are at a river, I will get down and start building a dam [P] – that is the Waipara, at Stringer’s Bridge. But that is what man does; he diverts a river and channels it to his own use, he CONTROLS it. It says in [Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of יְהוָה; He turns it wherever He wishes.] If you travel south of Ashburton towards the Rangitata you see this irrigation channel running alongside the road – all the farmer has to do is lift a gate and the water runs from the channel and into his paddock. It is not that difficult. We can direct water wherever we want – and God can just as easily direct the heart of the most powerful ruler just wherever He wants. He is in control – He is SOVEREIGN! [P] And I would like to have a look at this most fundamental aspect of the nature of God. Derek Prince stated God’s sovereignty like this: [P] “God does what He pleases, when He pleases, how He pleases; and He doesn’t have to ask your opinion!” The dictionary definition has three parts to it: “a/: supreme power; b/ freedom from external control; c/ controlling influence.” Here is what the Bible says: [P] [Psalm 115:2-3 Why should the nations say, “Where, now, is their God?” But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.] I have a friend who went to be with the LORD recently – her favourite saying was: “God is GOD!” As God He is in absolute control over all things, He does just as He chooses and is subject to none. Sovereignty, for some peculiar reason, tends to be contentious – the idea of God being in absolute control makes people uneasy – they like to think that they are in control, that they have a free will and God directing things makes them seem like mere pawns with no say. It offends our pride and sense of self importance and self actualising: “It is my life and I am in control of it.” God being sovereign seems to contradict the notion of free will. The Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. But to us it seems like a paradox. It causes great debates and division, as men try to comprehend with their rational mind – and I have no wish to be contentious. Rather, I want to have a look at the sovereignty of God because it gives Him glory, shows Him in His surpassing greatness, causes us to stand in awe of Him and prompt us to praise Him as is His due. He takes His rightful place, His Name is hallowed. So let’s have a look at sovereignty – here is a sovereign, [P] a gold sovereign, and a fairly recent one – it’s worth about $500. And there is a picture of our sovereign on it – not that she exercises much sovereignty, the monarch has become more of a figurehead than an actual ruler; but it used to be that the King ruled, what he said, went! But this is a picture of a gold sovereign, it is not the real thing – and there is a big difference between it and the real thing – with the picture you can see the sovereign, the “heads”; and also see the reverse side, St George fighting the dragon, the “tails” – and you can’t do that with the real coin – unless you use a mirror. You may not have a gold sovereign but try it with a 20 cent piece – you cannot see the head of the coin and the tail at the same time [P]. Both sides of coin exist but you can only see one side at a time – and that is how it is with man's choice, his free-will and God's sovereignty. Both exist but you cannot see them both at the same time. It all depends upon your point of view. If you look from man’s point of view, from here on earth, you see man’s choice, his free will; but if you look from God’s perspective, from a heavenly spiritual perspective all you see is God’s sovereignty. The Bible is a spiritual book, God wrote it, it is from His perspective, so it is little wonder that when you read it you see shot through all of it the sovereignty of God. But it does depend upon how you read it. Last time I spoke, I attempted to alert to the danger of taking a mere rational, intellectual approach to God’s Word. What you get from God’s Word depends upon your point of view. There are men who know God’s Word a lot more thoroughly than any of us here, who have made it their life-long study – but they don’t know God, they have not come to faith. You can look at God’s Word from a human perspective or from a spiritual perspective. Let’s take an example, a story we all know well, that of Joseph. I have seen people who have analysed the story of Joseph, treating it as a story of family conflict – there is a favoured spoiled son. They analyse it psychologically: Joseph being favoured makes his brothers jealous. Joseph is up-himself and proud, immature and unwise. He brags about his dreams, rubs his brothers’ noses in the dirt. The jealousy festers, so that they hate Joseph and maltreat him. The whole thing is looked at in human terms. There is competent Joseph, a neglected wife vents her fury when she is spurned –it’s just plain psychology. The husband wants to keep peace with his wife and so has Joseph imprisoned – all the way it is humans carrying out their agendas. It makes the story out to be mean and nasty; and I think they miss the whole point. If you flip the coin and look at the other side – God is in control right the way through, directing every step. He was in control – there was going to be a famine, He had covenanted to preserve His people – He arranged for Joseph to be in Egypt, the only place with food, and to be in control of the entire grain-stock. When the famine hits and his brothers come to Egypt what does Joseph say when he reveals himself to his brothers?: [Genesis 45:5 “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. In verse 7 it Joseph says: [Genesis 45:7 “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.] and in [Genesis 45:8 “Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt] And seventeen years later, time to get perspective on what took place, after Jacob died and the brothers were worried that Joseph might retaliate, Joseph said: [Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, (that is the “tails” – the human perspective) but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (that is the “heads” – God is in control)] There are the two sides of the coin [P] – the human side: “you meant evil against me” – that was man doing his thing; but God is sovereign! Hallelujah! He is in control! He is working out His plan and purpose; even working the evil of man to accomplish His purpose: “but God, (Hallelujah!) meant it for good, in order to bring about this present result (His plan and purpose), to preserve many people alive.” Praise His Name! Man was intent on destroying life; God was intent on preserving it! Hallelujah! And what was the end result? Was life destroyed or saved? God’s sovereign purpose was accomplished. It is totally amazing – He used the brothers’ intention to destroy life to be the means of preserving life; not only that of the Joseph who they sought to kill, but also their own lives, those seeking to destroy life! Amazing grace, wonderful sovereignty! Praise God that He is in control! That He is sovereign even when we intend evil. You see the same thing with Judas – satan actually possessed him, intent on destroying the Messiah, ruining God’s plan forever. But God is sovereign, and by that evil, He brought about His eternal plan of redemption! Doesn’t it leave you amazed and the power, wisdom, the absolute control of God, as He exercises His sovereignty over all that takes place?! It all depends upon which side of the coin you are looking at. You can do the same with any Bible story: God is not even mentioned in the book of Esther but He is in complete control of all that takes place right throughout the whole course of what takes place. I have seen people do this: they analyse Bible stories from human perspective, look at the cultural and historical setting, analyse the politics, the customs, the context, the psychology of what was going on but they miss the whole point! They need to turn the coin over! Now both sides of the coin exist – but we look so much from the human perspective, because that is what we are; we forget that “our lives are hidden in God with Christ Jesus” [Colossians 3:1-3 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.]. Because we tend to look at the “tails” rather than the “heads”, I have chosen to attempt redress that balance a bit and look at from God's perspective – to look at the sovereignty of God [P], deliberately overlooking the human side – and it is going to take a few sessions. We read from Proverbs: [Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of יְהוָה; He turns it wherever He wishes.], so let’s look at יְהוָה directing the hearts of a few kings. I want to take a quick look at three kings this morning [P] – they were mighty kings, in fact they were more than kings, they were really emperors: they ruled over entire empires, controlling the majority of the world as it was then known to them. Let’s start with a king we heard about a couple of weeks back – he was ruler of the Medo-Persian empire – his name was Cyrus [P] – he was probably called king, or emperor, your highness – but do you know what God called him?: “My servant” – you know, one who does your bidding. You tell your servant what to do and he does it. And that is what יְהוָה did. Let’s read [Ezra 1:1-2 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of יְהוָה (that is His predetermined plan and purpose which He had stated) by the mouth of Jeremiah, יְהוָה stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘יְהוָה, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.] Now we heard it said that Cyrus read the prophecy about the return to Jerusalem and obeyed God’s word. Now that may well have been what happened – I don’t know what translation you have, but that is not what my Bible says! What does it say? “יְהוָה stirred up the spirit of Cyrus!” He may have done that through Scripture – we don’t know, that is supposition. But that is the motivation from the human perspective (the “tails”) – and the Bible doesn’t give us that point of view. It gives us the ‘heads” perspective. It was a spiritual work – יְהוָה stirred his spirit! Who stirred his spirit? Who gave him all the kingdoms of the earth? Who appointed him to build יְהוָה a house in Jerusalem? It is all יְהוָה! He is directing His servant to do His sovereign will. And it wasn’t just the king. We were told how some of the Jews “chose” to return and others “chose” to remain in the comfort of Babylon. Again, that may have been the case – but what does the Bible say? “Some chose to go”? – No, read [Ezra 1:5 Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of יְהוָה which is in Jerusalem.] My Bible says “everyone”, not “some”. Of course not all the Jews returned – from the “tails” perspective, from the human perspective, they may have chosen – but that is not what my Bible says – it says: “everyone whose spirit God had stirred”! יְהוָה did a spiritual work in people’s hearts and there was 100%b response rate – everyone He stirred spiritually, responded. The Bible gives you the “heads” perspective. God stirred their spirits, just as He did Cyrus’s – it was spiritual work, it was יְהוָהdoing. How often we bring it down to the purely human level – we fail to discern the spiritual! And everyone whose spirit יְהוָה stirred; went – He did a work in their spirits and it had its effect. יְהוָה directed those who returned – יְהוָה is in control. The Bible gives you the “heads” perspective. You know, we can get so bogged down in the business of living, we lose perspective. יְהוָה is in control – He is directing events. It is not chaos or out of control – He knows what He is doing! From His perspective, He is directing it all. The second king ruled over the empire of Assyria [P] – the empire that took the northern kingdom of Israel into exile. And they continued their advance south – they pressed into the kingdom of Judah and came right up to the walls of Jerusalem. None could stand before mighty Assyria, they were cruel, vicious, bloodthirsty – an irresistible military machine. Nation after nation had fallen. The king was bent on conquest. He made his plans to take over the world and was mighty proud of his conquests. He came to Jerusalem and, in his pride, mocked that city and its residents in a masterful piece of psychological warfare. He was bent on making them capitulate before the battle started. He mocked the King, he mocked their military ability, he mocked יְהוָה, he boasted of his conquests – listed all who had fallen before him. But listen to what יְהוָה says: [2 Kings 19:22-28 ‘Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice, and haughtily lifted up your eyes? (and the “tails” perspective is one of pride, what I do) Against the Holy One of Israel! ‘Through your messengers you have reproached יְהוָה, and you have said, “With my many chariots I came up to the heights of the mountains, to the remotest parts of Lebanon; and I cut down its tall cedars and its choice cypresses. And I entered its farthest lodging place, its thickest forest. I dug wells and drank foreign waters, and with the sole of my feet I dried up all the rivers of Egypt.” (from the “tails” perspective – he had planned and executed conquest – but now listen to the “heads” perspective:) ‘Have you not heard? Long ago I did it; from ancient times I planned it. Now I have brought it to pass, that you should turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps. ‘Therefore their inhabitants were short of strength, they were dismayed and put to shame; they were as the vegetation of the field and as the green herb, as grass on the housetops is scorched before it is grown up. ‘But I know your sitting down, and your going out and your coming in, and your raging against Me. ‘Because of your raging against Me, and because your arrogance has come up to My ears, therefore I will put My hook in your nose, and My bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back by the way which you came. ] And that is what יְהוָה did – Sennacherib returned to his land and was killed by his own sons. As for his army, 185,000 of them were killed overnight by the angel of יְהוָה. Sennacherib thought that he was ruling; but the truth was otherwise. The last king was emperor over the mighty Babylonian empire that took Judah into exile in the first place. His name was Nebuchadnezzar [P] – and a mighty king he was. He was confronted with this issue of God’s sovereignty and had his whole perspective changed – his viewpoint was turned around from “tails”, to “heads”. He had conquered vast stretches of land; he was now at ease in his palace, flourishing, lord of all he surveyed. Like Sennacherib he had determined to conquer, be number one; and he had done it. Then one night he had a dream – he’d had them before. Perhaps it was too much rich food before bed time – no, this was a dream from God. That is His sovereignty; He was putting thoughts into the mind of this king as he slept – in control of his mind. In His dream he saw a massive tree – it was beautiful, with abundant fruit. Birds lived in it, animals took shelter under it. Then, in the dream, an angel descended [Daniel 4:14-17 ‘He shouted out and spoke as follows: “Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit; let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. “Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field; and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth. “Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let a beast’s mind be given to him, and let seven periods of time pass over him. “This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers and the decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men.” ] The king didn’t know what the dream meant; so he called in his wise men and counsellors, and they couldn’t explain it but Daniel could. Daniel told him the shocking truth that he, Nebuchadnezzar, was the tree: [Daniel 4:22 it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth.] He had become great, like the tree. He was over all the earth, claimed sovereignty for himself – but God had decreed: [Daniel 4:24-27 this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: that you be driven away from mankind and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes. And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules. (Nebuchadnezzar thought that he was sovereign, that he ruled – that was the “tails” view; but he needed to recognize and acknowledge that it was Heaven, יְהוָה that ruled – that is the “heads” viewpoint) Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.’ ] יְהוָה spoke to him; Daniel gave the interpretation and gave him advice as to the appropriate response. But Nebuchadnezzar paid no notice. So a year later, what the Sovereign LORD decreed, came to pass: [Daniel 4:28-37 “All this happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king. “Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. “The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ (again, see the pride in the “tails” perspective) “While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, (he was sovereign, but it was not by his own doing, it had been given to him, and now it would be taken away from him) and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’ (he is not sovereign, יְהוָה is!) “Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. “But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven (heaven’s perspective, not man’s) and my reason returned to me, (he had gone crazy – powerful but mad – that is not unknown, even in our own time. Sanity is found when you raise your eyes toward heaven – see thing from the “heads” perspective not the “tails”) and I blessed the Most High and praised and honoured Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. (Who was king? Who was sovereign? Not Nebuchadnezzar, but יְהוָה!) “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ (there is as good a definition of “sovereignty” as you will find) “At that time my reason returned to me. (you acknowledge the sovereignty of יְהוָה, see things from the “heads” view-point and then your thinking become balanced) And my majesty and splendour were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counsellors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was re-established in my sovereignty, (once he bowed to the sovereignty of God, sovereignty was again entrusted to him) and surpassing greatness was added to me. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honour the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”] יְהוָה is SOVEREIGN! Three kings: the first, was in fact יְהוָה’s servant, directed by Him, יְהוָה stirred his spirit to do His will; the second thought He was conquering the world – in fact he was carrying out יְהוָה’s purpose; the third thought that he was sovereign but he was forced to bow the knee and acknowledge that in fact יְהוָה is sovereign. Who is on the throne [P]; the king or יְהוָה? [Psalm 103:19 יְהוָה has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.] But I am not a king, nor are you. We don’t rule an empire, not even a country; but maybe a business, maybe a home; or at least “my life”. Are you on the throne – even over a tiny realm? There is only one Sovereign! I am not urging you to toss a coin but to turn it over! To cease from viewing things from a human perspective, from the “tails” view-point; and look from the true perspective, a spiritual view-point, from the “heads” point-of view. Man is not on the throne. Things are not out-of-control, random chance events. Things don’t just happen. There is a Sovereign who is on the throne, who is in control. He knows what He is doing. He has all power and wisdom; His will is good, acceptable and perfect – and He will bring it to pass. There is safety, security and peace with Him in control. You can trust Him – he knows what He is doing and is in control. What a weight off of our shoulders! Let us look from His view-point and entrust ourselves to the care and control of the Sovereign LORD. God willing, we will go on to take a closer look to see just how much He is in control, the extent of His sovereignty. [P] [1 Chronicles 29:11 “Yours, O יְהוָה, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O יְהוָה, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.] Lay aside pride in you own determination; don’t fight the sovereignty of God; that is futility. Rather embrace it for there is great comfort knowing He is in control. Bow the knee and give יְהוָה glory as sovereign over all, the supreme One who is in control of all!