The Sovereignty of Man
God formed man out of the dirt of the ground, and He created woman from the flesh of man’s side. We might not appreciate how personal that is. God merely speaks and worlds flash into being. God doesn’t have to form things using physical hands that mold and shape. In His immense authority over all that is, He simply speaks and the universe comes into existence. Yet, the Lord took time to form human beings, fashioning us in His image and breathing into us the breath of life.
The Bible teaches us that God is all-powerful and there is nothing He can’t do. His arm is not too short to save us. Psalm 147:4 tells us God knows the number of the stars, and He even calls them by name. Think of giants like VY Canis Majoris, a red supergiant with a radius 1400 times larger than the radius of our Sun. Think of the multitude of stars, the billions upon billions of them stretching deep into the universe. God can do anything He likes. Yet, when He made humankind in His image, He did something special with us. He created beings who, like God Himself, have the ability to think, imagine and create.
“Thy will be done,” Jesus taught His disciples to pray. How strange. Isn’t God’s will always done? We tend to think, “Of course it is. He’s God!” Yet, there are verses in the Bible that suggest that the God of Eternity does not always get His way. That might seem a bizarre thought, but it’s also true. We don’t have to pray for the water cycle to take place or for the Earth to keep swirling around the Sun. Day and night, summer and winter will continue to the end of time, whether we like it or not. Those are done deals. However, we know there are cases in which God wants something He doesn’t get.
Consider this verse:
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
— 2 Peter 3:9
Why does God have to be longsuffering? God shouldn’t have to suffer at all, yet He waits with patience for those who will come to Him to be saved. Do all come to repentance? We know they don’t. John 3:16 tells us Jesus died for the sins of the world, yet there will be human beings needlessly punished with Satan and his angels. Our sins were paid for, but some people do not repent of their sins.
Isn’t that God’s will? Isn’t that what He wants? The answer is positively, No! He pleaded with Israel through Ezekiel long ago:
Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
— Ezekiel 18:23
Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
— Ezekiel 33:11
We all know about the sovereignty of God. God has the right and the power to do whatever He wants. However, we find a strange thing about God’s creation; He has purposely made beings with the ability to make decisions that are contrary to His will. That’s astonishing to think about, but the Bible clearly holds us responsible for whether or not we obey Him. When God made Adam and Eve in His image, He gave them sovereignty of their own.
We find a strange paradox in Scripture. On the one hand, we know that those of us that are in Jesus Christ were chosen and called by God. Yet, we also are told we have a choice to walk through His door or not:
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
— Ephesians 1:4–5
I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
— John 10:9
God has declared in detail the responsibilities He desires of His people, and the Bible lays out just how He is to be worshiped. I see books written about the sovereignty of God. I think the troublesome problem isn’t the sovereignty of God. Even in our relatively naïve horizons, we can grant His authority and power. The real dilemma we wrestle with is the sovereignty of humankind. We find a basic paradox that seems to have gone on from the beginning — predestination versus free will.
The children have a riddle. Where does the gorilla sleep in the forest? The answer is: Anywhere he wants to. Like that gorilla, God can do whatever He desires. In His sovereignty He has chosen to give us autonomy, and He doesn’t appear to take that from us. Our spirits are subject to us.
How do we resolve this paradox? God has given us one of His greatest treasures, namely His Word. As jealous as He is of His name, He values His Word even above His name.
The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
— Deuteronomy 29:29
In this little book, we’re going to explore what the Bible says about this paradox. We’re going to hunt down answers to the fundamental questions about salvation and our own particular part in the process.
The Case of Yitzhak Rabin
Chapter 15 of Genesis contains an interesting hidden treasure that helps us begin to put things in perspective. That treasure concerns Yitzhak Rabin, but we need the context of the chapter first, as well as some history.
Genesis 15 is the chapter in which God first commits the land of Canaan to Abram, two chapters even before He gave Abram his new name of Abraham. God explains that Abram’s descendants will be slaves in Egypt for 400 years, but He will bring them out and give them the land of Canaan:
But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
— Genesis 15:16–18
Notice that the eastern border of the land is not the Jordan River, but the Euphrates. When people talk about the West Bank, they should ask, “of which river?”
Here in Genesis 15, God makes a unilateral covenant with Abraham, a commitment that is unconditional because it requires nothing from Abraham’s side of the bargain. We learn two chapters later in Genesis 17:8 that God’s covenant with Abraham is everlasting. This contract is confirmed consistently by the prophets, who repeatedly portray the future people of Israel as happily settled in the land after a time of exile. Even when the people of Judah were sent off to Babylon as a result of their sins, the land was still unconditionally promised to them until the end of time.
Of course, in A.D. 70, the Romans destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem as forewarned in Daniel 9:26, and before long Israel had lost its national identity. Israel became a trampled backwash part of the Middle East, ruled by the Romans and then by a variety of Islamic powers. During these years, Bible readers started to allegorize the promises made to Israel for the simple reason that the country had ceased to exist. They were wrong to do this, however, because even the desolation of the Holy Land was according to Scripture. Jesus warned His disciples about it in Luke 21:24, saying, “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” That world “until” is extremely important.
The Jewish State
For nearly two millennia the Holy Land was passed back and forth between different hands, trampled and abused and neglected. Then, in 1948 the Jews once again came to possess the land of Israel. Since its 1948 Declaration of Independence, Israel has faced constant danger from its enemies on all sides, but Israel has also won every war thrown at it. Time and again, the surrounding nations have attempted to conquer the tiny country and have failed. From a backwash part of the Ottoman Empire, Israel has risen to become one of the most significant countries on earth. Well did Zechariah prophesy that Jerusalem would be a cup of trembling for the world:
Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.
— Zechariah 12:2–3
Here we see the sovereignty of God. Nearly 4000 years ago, God promised to give the land to the descendants of Abraham. God said long in advance that He would make Jerusalem a source of consternation for the whole world. We can anticipate that one day the people of Israel will have charge of all the land promised by God – all the way to the Euphrates. It may not happen until the Messiah rules, but we know God keeps His promises.
It doesn’t even make sense that Jerusalem would be as important as it is. It has no harbor, no rivers. It’s not on any trade routes. Israel has no natural resources of consequence. Why is Jerusalem significant? It’s significant for religious reasons, because the Jews are interested in it. The Muslims let it go to rubble when they had charge of it, but now that the Jews want it, Jerusalem is suddenly the most important city in the world in terms of global stability in the name of seeking world peace. Zechariah’s prophecy might not make sense, yet, in every major capital of the world, people are working overtime to develop their policies and positions on Jerusalem. As Nebuchadnezzar learned so painfully, God is sovereign over nations.
…and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of Heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.
— Daniel 4:25
As I write these words, Israel has just celebrated its 69th anniversary. For nearly 70 years, God has protected Israel, and the Jewish state continues to grow stronger. Today Israel is at peace with Egypt and Jordan. Syria and Syrian forces in Lebanon are still at enmity with Israel and Hamas threatens from the Gaza Strip. Despite its rivals, Israel continues to be stable and prosperous. Israel has proved willing to remain peaceful with any country that is also willing to be at peace, but it has proved a great danger to any country that opposes it.
The “peace process” is no farther along now than it has ever been. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded on May 28, 1964 with the “liberation of Palestine” as its goal. Remember, Israel did not take control of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem until the Six Day War in June of 1964. The PLO was not formed to take back the territories that Israel captured in the Six Day War but to destroy the State of Israel altogether. The decisions made by PLO leaders have consistently demonstrated a lack of interest in compromise or in true peace with Israel; this is because peace isn’t the Palestinians’ purpose. Their purpose is the ultimate extermination of Israel, but every effort to harm Israel has only turned its destruction on the heads of the PLO’s own people.
In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Israel unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip, removing thousands of Israeli settlers from their homes. This did nothing to bring stability to the region. In fact, Arabs saw the withdrawal as their own victory, and factions within Gaza immediately began bombing Israel. The result has been more than a decade of civil war within the Gaza Strip, four wars with Israel, and devastation to the people of Gaza. Sharon, long a lion in his fight for Israel’s freedom and sovereignty over the Holy Land, was incapacitated by a stroke in January 2006, a few months after the withdrawal. He never recovered, and he finally passed away in 2014.
Israel’s enemies care more about fighting Israel than about peaceful coexistence, and many people regard Sharon’s stroke as God’s own judgment for betraying Israel’s right to the land.
Israel needs its extended borders for its own security. Cutting Israel away to its pre–1964 borders leaves it exposed and vulnerable to attack. No matter how any side feels about Israel, it’s insane to leave Israel vulnerable and to thus destabilize the Middle East even more than it already is. It’s possible that a nuclear confrontation will set the whole area on fire, and that’s something nobody wants.
Zechariah promises that those who trouble themselves against Jerusalem are destined to be cut to pieces. That’s a ridiculous prophecy for Zechariah to make, even in his own time. Why would the world bother itself over this remote relic of the past? Yet, we know today the central position that Israel holds in world politics and international relations.
All these things touch on Genesis 15 and God’s ancient promise to Abraham. God is still sovereign over the nations of the world, and God can give the Holy Land to whomever He wishes. We see in Israel God’s hand at work, even 4000 years after Abraham.
Beyond these things, we’re going to see something else in Genesis 15 that really spotlights the central issue we’re exploring in this book.
Hidden Codes and Rabin
On September 28, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo II interim peace accords with Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton. The interim accords continued a process of giving more governing power to the PLO as part of a plan to create a Palestinian state down the road. That all got interrupted on November 4, 1995, when a 25 year-old Israeli named Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzhak Rabin with two pistol shots. Amir confessed saying, “What do you want, for them to bury us in our own state? Rabin wants to give our country to the Arabs.”
This is where it gets interesting. In Genesis 15 God promises the land to Abraham. When we do an equidistant letter sequence (ELS) analysis of that passage, we find Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination coded there.
For those unfamiliar with ELS codes, the rabbis discovered that by skipping letters, they would find words and phrases hidden in the Hebrew Scriptures. They might count every third letter or every fifth letter and they would find hidden words. Today in the age of computers, we are able to search far more quickly and accurately than the tedious method of manually counting Hebrew letters. These ELS codes cannot be used to tell the future, but they do show God’s fingerprints on the very words and letters of the Bible. For example, we can find eleven of the original twelve disciples’ names coded into the text of Isaiah 53. We find Mary coded there three times, and James twice, because there were three Marys and two James, yet Judas is missing.
So, what was written about Yitzhak Rabin’s death? Coded into Genesis 15 we find in Hebrew: “Evil fire, fire into Rabin, God decreed.”
It gets even more astonishing. The Jewish community has a reading program worldwide. From Rosh Hashanah to the end of the year, they read the Torah together, and most of the synagogues and devout Jews follow this reading program. Not only is Rabin’s murder coded into the Bible, it is coded into the very passage in which God promises the Holy Land to Israel. What’s more, November 4, 1995 was a Sabbath, and Genesis 15 was being read around the world when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated with two gunshots. That makes me catch my breath.
Yigal Amir, the assassin, took the position that he was fighting a war. He regarded Yitzhak Rabin as an enemy of the state, but the reality is that Amir shot down an unarmed man. While a majority of Israelis regarded Rabin as a traitor, his cold-blooded assassination still shocked the people of Israel. Except for a few extremists, the people did not condone murder and neither should we. Despite these things, we find here, thousands of years in advance, a hidden message that God decreed the assassination of an Israeli leader who was willing to create a Palestinian State in the land of ancient Israel.
Thus, we see the paradox of the Scriptures.
If God decreed that Rabin be killed, should Yigal Amir have been held responsible for shooting him? Wasn’t the Prime Minister’s death predestined? If God decreed it, apparently because of Rabin’s rejection of God’s promises to Abraham, then is the young man who shot Rabin guilty? Amir considered the assassination his own idea, done of his own initiative. Who is responsible for Rabin’s death — Amir or God?
We encounter this puzzle again and again in the Scripture. From time to time we just slide over it, but at other times it hits us right between the eyes.
Was Judas Guilty?
God is sovereign over all things. James 1:13 tells us that God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt any man. Yet, we are told in 1 Peter 1:20 and Revelation 13:8 that God decreed from the beginning of the world that His Son would die for our sins. Jesus did not deserve to die. We deserved to die, yet God arranged from before Creation that Jesus would be sacrificed. This means that somebody had to do the brutal job of slaying Him, the very King of Glory. Are they guilty who put Jesus to death, when God had already foreordained it would be done?
What about Judas? In Psalm 41:9–10 we read:
Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me. But thou, O LORD, be merciful unto me, and raise me up, that I may requite them.
This verse is widely recognized as a prophecy of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas. It was prophesied that Jesus would be betrayed and would be made a sacrifice for sins, but Jesus says in Luke 22:22, “woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed.” In John 13:27 Jesus tells Judas to go quickly to do what he had planned to do, but it was Judas who had purposed in his heart to betray his friend and Lord.
How do we handle this issue correctly?
Here’s a question. Where is Judas today? He is in Hell. It’s in the Scripture. Jesus calls him the “son of perdition” in John 17:12. Judas’ betrayal was foretold, but Judas himself made the decision to give Satan a handhold in his life and to betray the Messiah.
We have libraries filled with discourses on the sovereignty of God the Creator. We don’t really have a problem with God’s power and control over the world. The thing that gives us trouble is a different one — it’s the sovereignty of man. I haven’t read any good books on the sovereignty of man, which is why I am addressing it here. God has given us an amazing gift in the form of our free will, but the level of responsibility is actually quite frightening.
Judas had a choice. He didn’t have to betray Jesus Christ. We can speculate that if he didn’t do it, somebody else would have. However, perhaps the prophecy would not have existed in the first place if Judas wasn’t going to commit the betrayal. Either way, Judas had a choice, and he made it. His final decision was prophesied in advance, but Judas was held accountable.
Moses versus Abraham
The Waters of Meribah
Moses gives us an interesting perspective in this discussion. In Numbers 20, we read about Moses and the waters of Meribah. The Israelites have gathered against Moses and Aaron because there was no water to drink. This is not a trivial problem. They have more than a million people and there is no water. Moses and Aaron fall on their faces before God over the matter, and the LORD tells Moses to go and speak to the rock so that water would come out for the people. This is slightly different than the previous time God had Moses bring water out of a rock. At Horeb in Exodus 17:6, God told Moses to strike the rock. This time, God tells Moses to simply speak:
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
— Numbers 20:7–8
This seems simple enough, but we see in the next few verses that Moses disobeys God’s order. Moses is frustrated, and he has great crowds of people haggling him and wailing about what they don’t have, still not trusting God after all this time. He is upset and not a little irritated, and he apparently doesn’t think that words are good enough. Instead of speaking as God said, Moses strikes the rock two times with his rod. Water comes gushing out.
Moses has had forty years in Egypt and forty years herding sheep in Midian. He led the Israelites through the plagues and the Exodus. He’s acted as their leader through the better part of forty years in the wilderness. He’s tired. He’s frustrated at the continuous complaining from the children of Israel. Instead of speaking to the rock, he whacks it a couple of times. It’s understandable, but God has some words for Moses:
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
— Numbers 20:12
We think this isn’t such a big transgression. We can understand Moses’ frustrations, and it seems like God is overreacting. Moses has been faithful to God with this massive responsibility on his shoulders. He’s led these troublesome people for decades, and he makes one screw up and he’s in the penalty box. Because of this incident, Moses is denied entry into the land of promise. He’s allowed to see it from a mountaintop, but he’s not allowed to go in. He dies before they go to possess the land, and Joshua takes over the leadership.
This seemingly small act of disobedience is quite a big deal for a lot of reasons. We can make an entire study of it. There is a whole list of subtleties involved here, and I won’t go through them all because we have a different purpose here. However, a few things stand out.
First, Moses misrepresented God to the people of Israel. He gave the impression that God was upset, and God wasn’t upset. That alone should give us pause. How many of us have been guilty of misrepresenting God? How many of us have failed to speak up when we should have, or have treated people roughly when God would have been gentle? The Third Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain;” is all about representing God well. We’ve taken His name and we’ve stood under His banner. The challenge of our lives is to live by His Spirit, and by His Spirit to bear good fruits. The challenge is to reflect Him.
We also see in Numbers 20 that Moses took some credit for the water, saying in verse 10, “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” Wait a minute. Who is fetching the water? Moses and Aaron aren’t. God is the One providing the water for the people.
I appreciate it when people offer encouragement to our ministry and let us know they’ve been blessed by it. However, there are times it makes me nervous. It’s vital we remember that any fruit from this ministry is produced by the Spirit of God. We work hard, but it’s God who does the real work that has lasting importance. We can do a lot of damage if we think we’re the reason for any of it.