Sovereignty of God 8 (A tale of two kings)
What do you do these days if you want to find out about something? – you Google it! [P] Even at work, if we come across something obscure and want to find out about it, we say, “Ask Dr. Google.” The internet has the answer to everything! Right? It is omniscient! Or so we seem to regard it. It doesn’t matter how obscure, you do your search and in 0.26 seconds you have 13,653,984 hits! I have a bit of a concern that we treat it like god, the definitive answer to everything. The internet gives us instant access to an incredibly vast amount of information – all the knowledge of man, pooled and available at the type of a few keys. A vastly huge amount of information – but, you know? It is woefully inadequate and lacking. All the knowledge of man available, but sadly lacking – no revelation, no spiritual understanding or insight! For instance: I sit at my computer and type in “Neo-Babylonian empire” this is what Wikipedia tells me: “The Neo-Babylonian Empire was a period of Mesopotamian history which began in 626 BC and ended in 539 BC. During the preceding three centuries, Babylonia had been ruled by their northern neighbours, Assyria. Yet, a year after the death of the last strong Assyrian ruler Assurbanipal in 627 BC, Babylonia rebelled under Nabopolassar the Chaldean. His son, Nebuchadnezzar ruled after his death. The city of Nineveh was sacked in 612 BC, and the seat of empire was again transferred to Babylonia. This period witnessed a general improvement in economic life and agricultural production, and a great flourishing of architectural projects, the arts and science. The Neo-Babylonian period ended in 539 BC; to the east, the Persians had been growing in strength, and eventually Cyrus the Great established his domination over Babylon.” I can even get lovely pictures [P]; and maps [P] of the vast extent of this empire. I can read about archaeological discoveries, history, the interplay of politics and military might, the motives and aspirations of men; and find out about this great, but now vanished, empire. But it is all looking at the tail of the coin! [P] From man’s perspective, human motives and interplay. It is, in fact, a very incomplete and distorted picture. Far more was going on than the aspirations of Nablopolassar and his son Nebuchadnezzar. We need to look at the head’s side of the coin [P] – from the perspective of the Sovereign. We can only get God’s perspective, from God; from His Word. [P] I want us to turn from looking at things from the human perspective, from the answers you get from Google; and look at things from the Divine perspective, from God’s point of view, from the true perspective. Not interpretation and analysis; but the truth. What does God say? What does the Word of God say? Are we going to view things from man’s perspective or from God’s? [P] And when we look at what the Bible says we get a completely different point-of-view. Did this empire arise, exist and vanish merely out of political, military and economic considerations, from the aspirations of man? Was it simply man’s ambitions and plans or is it God in control of all things? There is a Sovereign who is on the throne! [P] Hallelujah! Directing and ordering events. There were a couple of kings that Wikipedia mentioned, that the Bible has quite a bit to say about: their names were Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus – men! In previous talks I have shown how the Bible tells us that God is sovereign over: inanimate things: [P] things on earth: land, sea and air. That He is sovereign over the heavens, the unimaginably vast, but also over the inconceivably small detail, down to seemingly random quantum events. That is fine; that God controls things that have no will, but what about living things? I showed that the Bible is sovereign over living things; [P] both plants and animals. Last time I showed that the Bible also tells us that God is also sovereign over the spiritual realm: [P] angels, demons, even satan himself. But what about man?! [P] Is he the only thing excluded?! Yes, יְהוָה is sovereign even over man! This is what God’s Word says: [Psalm 33:8-15 Let all the earth fear יְהוָה; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. יְהוָה nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of יְהוָה stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation. Blessed is the nation whose God is יְהוָה, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance. יְהוָה looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from His dwelling place He looks out On all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works.] יְהוָה frustrates man’s plans, but His plans stand. He fashions their hearts. He looks, He understands, He knows what’s going on. In looking at יְהוָה’s sovereignty over man, let’s begin with some important and powerful men – kings, in fact, emperors – they ruled over many nations, over a huge empire. They are big enough and important enough for God to be concerned with. I mean, what they did affected the whole world. They were powerful men, kings, but what does the Bible say?: [P] [Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of יְהוָה; he turns it wherever he will.] If you were with me at the start of the series this may seem familiar, both the picture and the verse. In fact, in my introductory message in this series I spoke of three kings: Sennacherib, Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar. Today I want to talk just about the last two – a “Tale of Two Kings”. [P] I don’t want to repeat the same stuff – but now, as we look of the sovereignty of God over man, it is interesting to see God’s perspective on these two rulers, in contrast to the picture you will get from Dr. Google, from man’s perspective. The Bible gives us the head’s perspective, not that image of the tail. Scripture gives us history from God’s point-of-view, from the view of the Sovereign on the throne who is in control of all, directing everything according to His will, plan and purpose. It has precious little to do with man’s plans, power and will. The Bible reveals the Divine dramatist. We have no problem with an author writing a book; creating characters, some bad, some good, having them do the actions he has determined in order to make his story – well “history” is “His story”! Nor do we object to a playwright; devising a drama with characters of his own design, natures that he has determined, performing the drama that conveys his message. Cannot יְהוָה do so with the real live characters that He has created? Always God’s sovereignty stems back to His creation – He can do as He chooses with what He has made. So what does the Bible tell us about Nebuchadnezzar: [P] History tells us that Nebuchadnezzar extended the neo-Babylonian world, conquering nation after nation. He had this ambition to extend his rule, power and dominion. But what does the Bible say: [P] [Jeremiah 28:14 ‘For thus says יְהוָה of armies, the God of Israel, “I have put a yoke of iron on the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and they will serve him. And I have also given him the beasts of the field.” ’ ”] How come these nations were defeated by Nebuchadnezzar? Was it his military might, his army, his strategy, his ambition and campaigns? No! “I put a yoke on the neck of these nations that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar.” They were serving Nebuchadnezzar because it was יְהוָה’s will and He put them into servitude. It was יְהוָה’s plan and purpose. Google doesn’t mention that! Of course although יְהוָה controls all the nations and determines what happens to them, but His purpose centres around His own special people, Israel. Judah had not heeded His warnings, they had embraced idolatry and rejected Him; so, just as He had promised in His Word, יְהוָה sent them into exile into a foreign land. Babylon was His instrument to discipline His people: [P] [Jeremiah 25:9 Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ declares יְהוָה, ‘and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land (“this land” being the land of Judah) and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.] Who sent Nebuchadnezzar? O.K., the armies of Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the land and the people, but what does the Scripture say? “I will utterly destroy them”! We may be keen to defend God and show that He is loving and merciful and would not do such a mean thing; but יְהוָה Himself, is quite prepared to take responsibility for what He does and say that it is He who destroys them. Not Nebuchadnezzar, but יְהוָה. Nebuchadnezzar was just the instrument that He used – יְהוָה calls him “My servant” – he just did according as his Master directed. We say that Hitler killed 6 million Jews, but of course he didn’t personally execute them. Nevertheless he did it because it was at his instigation, he was responsible, he made it happen. So too, יְהוָה is the one who was the one who destroyed them; and He has no qualms about owning to it. So He says in: [P] [Jeremiah 25:27 “You shall say to them, ‘Thus says יְהוָה of armies, the God of Israel, “Drink, be drunk, vomit, fall and rise no more because of the sword which I will send among you.”] Who sent the sword that killed them? יְהוָה! He is sovereign. יְהוָה was using Nebuchadnezzar to discipline His people, to punish them: [P] [Isaiah 42:24-25 Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers? Was it not יְהוָה, against whom we have sinned, and in whose ways they were not willing to walk, and whose law they did not obey? So He poured out on him the heat of His anger and the fierceness of battle; and it set him aflame all around, yet he did not recognize it;(that is our trouble, we don’t recognize the sovereignty of God – that it is He who has done it. It is not circumstances, political movements and ambitions – God is in control!) and it burned him, but he paid no attention.] That is the tragedy of man! He pays no attention to what יְהוָה is doing – attributes it to merely natural causes. It is יְהוָה’s plan and purpose that is being carried out – yes in and over the affairs of man. He is in control, not Nebuchadnezzar or any other man! [P] [Jeremiah 30:23-24 Behold, the tempest of יְהוָה! Wrath has gone forth, a sweeping tempest; it will burst on the head of the wicked. The fierce anger of יְהוָה will not turn back until He has performed and until He has accomplished the intent of His heart; in the latter days you will understand this.] We read in Jeremiah 25:9 that יְהוָה said: “Nebuchadnezzar is “My servant”” – he just carries out His will, His orders. So Nebuchadnezzar is יְהוָה’s servant – he is not aware of it, probably knows very little of יְהוָה; but he goes out with his army, not with any intention of carrying out יְהוָה’s will, then he faces a decision as to which way he will go next in his campaign: [P] [Ezekiel 21:21-22 For the king of Babylon (that is Nebuchadnezzar) stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination; he shakes the arrows, he consults the household idols, he looks at the liver. (Is he seeking יְהוָה, seeking His will? Is he praying to Him? No, he is a pagan and an idolater. He is following his own religion, practicing divination. This is the work of the devil, demonic! But it is as I said last time – יְהוָה is sovereign over the spiritual realm. יְהוָה directs this demonic activity to give the answer that He determines in order that Nebuchadnezzar will do His will!) Into his right hand came the divination, ‘Jerusalem,’ to set battering rams, to open the mouth for slaughter, to lift up the voice with a battle cry, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up ramps, to build a siege wall.] יְהוָה is sovereign! Hallelujah! Even directing the divination so that Nebuchadnezzar does His will. Nebuchadnezzar has not a clue! He thinks his own gods are directing him – but in actual fact it is יְהוָה. So Nebuchadnezzar went out with his army and conquered much territory, took many nations – a mighty conqueror who followed his ambitions. He thought that he had conquered the world by his own might and by his own initiative. But what does God say: [P] [Jeremiah 27:4-7 Command them to go to their masters, saying, ‘Thus says יְהוָה of armies, the God of Israel, thus you shall say to your masters, “I have made the earth, the men and the beasts which are on the face of the earth by My great power and by My outstretched arm,(again, יְהוָה’s sovereignty stems from Him being Creator, making all things) and I will give it to the one who is pleasing in My sight. (יְהוָה is sovereign, He gives the earth to the One He chooses, the one that it pleases Him to give it. He doesn’t have to give account. He decides, acts according to His good pleasure. Why Nebuchadnezzar? Simply because He wanted to!) Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, (who gave them these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar?) My servant, (was Nebuchadnezzar determining what took place, was he king? No, he was “My servant”!) and I have given him also the wild animals of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings will make him their servant.”] Again it says “I have given” – he has power over these things because יְהוָה gave it. Not only gave it but did so for a set length of time which He states beforehand – it would be for three generations only – these nations would serve him, his son and his grandson. He had his time of ascendancy, used to punish the nations; then his time would come. He too would be judged – he who had subjugated many, would himself be subjugated, he would be made the servant. So indeed, Nebuchadnezzar’s time came to an end. The Neo-Babylonian empire ended its brief rule. Again יְהוָה foretold it and caused it to come about. He is sovereign over man – He caused Babylon to rise and He also caused it to fall: [P] [Jeremiah 51:52-53 “Therefore behold, the days are coming,” declares יְהוָה, “When I will punish her idols, (who will punish?) and the mortally wounded will groan throughout her land. Though Babylon should ascend to the heavens, and though she should fortify her lofty stronghold, from Me destroyers will come to her,” declares יְהוָה.] Who punishes? Who do the destroyers come from? יְהוָה takes responsibility for it all. It is not the “rise of Medo-Persia” – it is יְהוָה! He is sovereign! [P] [Jeremiah 51:1-2 Thus says יְהוָה: “Behold, I am going to arouse against Babylon and against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai the spirit of a destroyer. (who arouses the destroyer against Babylon?) I will dispatch foreigners to Babylon that they may winnow her and may devastate her land; (who dispatches them?) for on every side they will be opposed to her in the day of her calamity.” [P] Jeremiah 51:44 I will punish Bel in Babylon, and I will make what he has swallowed come out of his mouth; and the nations will no longer stream to him. Even the wall of Babylon has fallen down! (who punishes?) [P] Jeremiah 51:47 Therefore behold, days are coming when I will punish the idols of Babylon; and her whole land will be put to shame and all her slain will fall in her midst.] So Nebuchadnezzar had his day because יְהוָה raised him up to perform His purpose. When that was finished, יְהוָה in turn punished Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. Again, He did so using a man of His own choosing. It was יְהוָה who raised up the Medes against Babylon. And He announced this long before the event, while Nebuchadnezzar was still in his ascendency: [P] [Jeremiah 51:10-12 יְהוָה has brought about our vindication; come and let us recount in Zion the work of יְהוָה our God! Sharpen the arrows, fill the quivers! יְהוָה has aroused the spirit of the kings of the Medes, (who aroused the Medes? Why?) because His purpose is against Babylon to destroy it; for it is the vengeance of יְהוָה, vengeance for His temple. Lift up a signal against the walls of Babylon; post a strong guard, station sentries; place men in ambush! For יְהוָה has both purposed and performed what He spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon.] It was יְהוָה’s purpose – He both purposed and performed it – did what He said He would. No man could prevent it – He announced it beforehand and just as He said so He did. He even mentions by name the one He is going to use, before that person has even been born! A man called: [P] Cyrus: As יְהוָה had said, so it came about: the destroyers came to Babylon. Neo-Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians. Wikipedia told us that: “eventually Cyrus the Great established his domination over Babylon.” How did he do that? How did that come about? Let us look at the tale of the second king: [P] [Isaiah 41:2-4 “Who has aroused one from the east whom He calls in righteousness to His feet? (do you want to have a guess?) He delivers up nations before him and subdues kings. He makes them like dust with his sword, as the wind-driven chaff with his bow. He pursues them, passing on in safety, by a way he had not been traversing with his feet.(it wasn’t the way he had been headed) Who has performed and accomplished it, calling forth the generations from the beginning?(Who?) ‘I, יְהוָה, am the first, and with the last. I am He.’ ”] It is יְהוָה who did it! That is who did it; what about why it happened?: [P] [Isaiah 46:10-11 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, (because it was יְהוָה’s purpose, that is why. What He purposes comes to pass! He is sovereign!) and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; (it is His good pleasure – He does as He pleases. He doesn’t have to consult anyone, He is sovereign!) calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. (here he is, the man of “My purpose” the one יְהוָה chose to carry out His purpose, Cyrus by name). Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. (Who brings it to pass? יְהוָה brings to pass what He has spoken – He is true, faithful – what He says, He does!) I have planned it, (who planned it?) surely I will do it.] Who will do it? He has spoken and it comes about. יְהוָה’s purpose under Nebuchadnezzar was to take His people Israel captive; His purpose under Cyrus was to let them go and return them back to His land. Here was this interplay of mighty empires – but God was directing it – the whole purpose centred around יְהוָה’s people: [P] [Isaiah 43:6-7 “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, (that is the motivation behind all God’s purpose: His glory!) whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”] It is all יְהוָה – and His sovereignty stems from Him being Creator. [P] [Isaiah 43:11-13 “I, even I, am יְהוָה and there is no saviour besides Me. (it is יְהוָה who saves – He alone, there is no other saviour! What does Acts say?: [Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that is given among people by which we must be saved.”] That is the name of Jesus – “whoever calls on the name of יְהוָה will be saved!”) It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange god among you; so you are My witnesses,” declares יְהוָה, “And I am God. Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?”] He is sovereign! Now these prophecies are in Isaiah who lived up until the time of king Hezekiah, who died 100 years before Judah went into exile, they returned 70 years later. This was way before Cyrus was even a twinkle in his mother’s eye. Isaiah prophesied around 700 BC; Cyrus wasn’t born until 576 BC. His mother wasn’t even born yet so she hadn’t started thinking up names. But יְהוָה already knew! He calls Him by name! [P] [Isaiah 45:1-7/ Thus says יְהוָה to Cyrus His anointed, (whose anointed? Cyrus was the one whom יְהוָה had ordained as king, ruler, to administer on His behalf and carry out His rule) whom I have taken by the right hand, (who took him by the right hand?) to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: “I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; (who goes before?) I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars (who shatters the doors?). I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places (who gives?), so that you may know that it is I, יְהוָה, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. (יְהוָה calls him by name, by the name “Cyrus”; over 100 years before he is born! Why?) For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honour though you have not known Me. I am יְהוָה, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. (there is no other sovereign! Hallelujah! Glory to His Name!) I will gird you, though you have not known Me;(Cyrus doesn’t know יְהוָה, he is oblivious, thinks that he is doing his own thing – but, in fact, it is יְהוָה that girds him) that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am יְהוָה, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am יְהוָה who does all these.] Who does these things? Cyrus? The Medes? No! יְהוָה! He is the One who does all these things! He is sovereign! Again speaking of Cyrus יְהוָה said: [P] [Isaiah 45:13 “I have aroused him in righteousness and I will make all his ways smooth; he will build My city and will let My exiles go free, without any payment or reward,” says יְהוָה of armies.] Who aroused him? Who made all his ways smooth? [P] [Isaiah 44:24-28 Thus says יְהוָה, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, יְהוָה, am the Maker of all things, (it all stems from Him being Creator) stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out the earth all alone, causing the omens of boasters to fail, making fools out of diviners, causing wise men to draw back and turning their knowledge into foolishness, confirming the word of His servant and performing the purpose of His messengers. It is I who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited!’ And of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built.’ (who declares that Jerusalem will be restored?) And I will raise up her ruins again. (who raises her up?) It is I who says to the depth of the sea, ‘Be dried up!’ And I will make your rivers dry. It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ (and Cyrus is the one that He is going to use to do it) And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’ ”] Cyrus was יְהוָה's shepherd, shepherding His sheep for Him. A tool that יְהוָה used for His purposes: [P] [Jeremiah 51:20-22 He says, “You are My war-club, My weapon of war; (whose weapon of war was Cyrus?) and with you I shatter nations, and with you I destroy kingdoms. With you I shatter the horse and his rider, and with you I shatter the chariot and its rider, and with you I shatter man and woman, and with you I shatter old man and youth, and with you I shatter young man and virgin,] Five times יְהוָה says “I shatter”! Not Cyrus, but יְהוָה! Cyrus was a tool in יְהוָה’s hand – a club which He used to shatter Babylon There was another earlier emperor who boasted of his deeds – he said: [Isaiah 10:13-15“By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this, for I have understanding; and I removed the boundaries of the peoples and plundered their treasures, and like a mighty man I brought down their inhabitants, and my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, and as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; and there was not one that flapped its wing or opened its beak or chirped.” (but this was what יְהוָה said:) Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, Or like a rod lifting him who is not wood.] These kings, emperors, mighty men, were merely implements in the hand of יְהוָה; tools that He used to carry out his purposes. He is sovereign, He directs the course of man to accomplish His purpose. יְהוָה has a plan and a purpose: [Isaiah 14:27 “For יְהוָה of armies has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?”] We look around us at the events taking place in the world, it can appear pretty chaotic; various people and powers striving for ascendancy – but יְהוָה is in control! Hallelujah! He is directing all according to His purpose. The mighty kings, the presidents of the superpowers, He directs them as He wills, just like directing brooks of water. Things are not out of control, יְהוָה is sovereign, He is on the throne, He is in control! The mighty are totally under His control, He directs them as He wills – but what about, the not so mighty, the little people, insignificant people like me? Yes, יְהוָה’s sovereignty is over all, not just the powerful. A wise king of the past realised this – he viewed things from God’s perspective, not from that of human power and motives, he said: [P] [1 Chronicles 29:11 “Yours, O יְהוָה, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, (all is יְהוָה’s – all belongs to Him, people included, He does with them as He wills) indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O יְהוָה, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.] When you view things from the divine perspective, the fear, the worry, dissipates; God is in control. Instead of concern you are left staggering! In awe and worship of One who is so mighty, so powerful, controlling and directing all, working out His perfect will. See יְהוָה in His sovereignty and you will worship. To see His sovereignty is to see His glory! All the while we look from our human perspective we fail to see His glory – we are robbing יְהוָה of the glory that is rightfully due to His Name because we deny His sovereignty. [Psalm 95:6-7 Come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before יְהוָה, our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.] – His sheep that He leads and directs as He so desires.