God rules the world

God rules the world

The latest question I tackled during theology class with my congregation is “why did a good God allow Adam and Eve to choose sin, when He knew it would lead to so much pain?” This is really a question about the doctrine of providence. Christians have always affirmed that our first parents had a choice to make; a willing, intelligent, volitional choice. But, how does that work, then?

It works by a version of divine providence known as compatibalism or (depending on who you read) as a concursive operation by which God works through primary, secondary, and tertiary means. I wrote the following two articles on this topic a while back. They explain the approach I’ll take here:

  1. “A Guy Named Sihon,” 03 September 2018.[1]
  2. “God and the Naughty Assyrians, 22 October 2018.[2]

As I said, the question about Adam and Eve and sin is really a question about providence―what is “providence?” Here it is: God ordering things to turn out like He decided. Thomas Watson has written, “God is not like the artificer that builds a house, and then leaves it, but like a pilot he steers the ship of the whole creation.”[3] Have you ever considered that, if God is not deliberately steering this world in His own way, then all prophesy is a lie?

Here are the best resources for you to think through this issue (in order of priority):

  1. Discussion from Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity.[4]
  2. 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith, Article 5 (esp. the scripture references which accompany the discussion).
  3. 1618 Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 13.
  4. Discussion from Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith.[5]

There are two basic models floating about in the Christian world:

  1. Divine chess: God is the grandmaster chess player, reacting to our moves, and He’ll always win. He “looks down the corridors of time … seeing the future.” This is popular, but unbiblical―scripture won’t support this view in any way, shape or form. It’s a philosophical construct that often avoids the implications of scripture. God sees the future, but He doesn’t determine or govern it. Does scripture show us God as a psychic who can tell the future, or the God who upholds and controls creation itself?
  2. God rules: He does what He wants, we do what we want, but His will is always done … somehow!

Here’s the basic case, in brief:

  1. God rules and governs as He sees fit,
  2. and so everything which happens is due to Him,
  3. and His decisions are always good, holy, wise and just,
  4. yet people make their own intelligent, willing decisions—we do what we want, when we want,
  5. and God operates in us and through us, and in and through other people and external circumstances,
  6. channeling our true desires (good or bad), their true desires (good or bad), and all circumstances (good or bad) for His purposes,
  7. often without us even being aware of it.

Perhaps the clearest, most beautiful expression of providence is from the 1618 Belgic Confession, Article 13. I’ve mentioned it before. Read what it says:

We believe that the same God, after he had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that he rules and governs them, according to his holy will,

He is in charge, He governs, and His will shall be done.

so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment;

God doesn’t “look down the corridors of time.” He determines time itself.

nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed.

The Church has always believed this, and God’s character demands this interpretation. We’ll talk more about this conundrum at a later date. The mental conundrum is due to our shortcoming―our perspective is too small to “get it”

For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that he orders and executes his work in the most excellent and just manner even when the devil and wicked men act unjustly.

God is at work, even when the devil and wicked men do what they want to do―and we don’t know how that works, except to say that it does work that way.

And as to what he doth surpassing human understanding we will not curiously inquire into it further than our capacity will admit of;

The mystery card is valid, as long as it’s never played too soon. Here, it’s time to play it.

but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God which are hid from us,

We accept His will, even if we don’t understand it. We acknowledge we don’t understand, can’t understand, and may not ever understand.

contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which he has revealed to us in his Word without transgressing these limits.

We don’t have the full story, and we accept that.

This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation,

All this isn’t frightening, but comforting―why?

since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father,

He watches over us, cares about us, loves us, and no matter what happens, it isn’t a situation out of His control. The alternative is chaos. Little children who see their parents terrified become terrified themselves. God is never terrified, or caught off guard by events. He controls events. He determines events.

who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under his power that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow, can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust;

Will we trust, or will go beyond what He’s revealed?

being persuaded that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies that, without his will and permission, they can not hurt us.

God commands Satan, who can only touch us if God allows it. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it,” (1 Cor 10:13).

Here are some (not all) controlling passages to “see” this version of providence from the scriptures. If you look them up, consider how our free decisions interplay with God’s decisions.

  1. Proverbs 16:33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”
  2. Revelation 17:17.
  3. Jeremiah 25:8-11 (cf. 25:12-14); 27:1-11.
  4. Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; 12:13-25; 42:11 (“all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him”).
  5. Habakkuk 1.
  6. Dan 4:34-35.

Here’s a short video of me presenting this during class:

[1] Retrieved from https://eccentricfundamentalist.com/2018/09/03/a-guy-named-sihon/.  

[2] Retrieved from https://eccentricfundamentalist.com/2018/10/22/god-and-the-naughty-assyrians/.  

[3] Thomas Watson, A Complete Body of Divinity: Sermons Upon the Westminster Shorter Catechism (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1878; reprint; Vestivia Hills: SGCB, 2016), p. 84.

[4] Watson, Body of Divinity, pp. 83-89.  

[5] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), pp. 350-372.  

A Guy Named Sihon

A Guy Named Sihon

Christians can get tangled up when they consider the knotty conundrums of God’s divine sovereignty and man’s free will. How do these things go together? Well, we’re not quite sure, because our perspective is a bit limited. But, both are true.[1]

God is in charge. He does what He wants, and everything He does flows from His character, which means it’s all holy, righteous and good, and nothing can happen without His permission and consent. People do make their own decisions and do what they want to do, and are rightly held accountable for them.

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us with the concept of compatibilism, which simply means that God uses means (like you and I) to do what He wants, and works in and through our own innate desires to accomplish His will. We see this in Scripture over and over again, if we look for it:

  • Why did Satan torture Job? Well, because Satan wanted to do it. But, Satan could only act because God gave him permission (Job 1:6-12). In fact, Job’s author bluntly stated Yahweh had brought all this upon Job (Job 42:11). That is, Satan was only the secondary agent.
  • Why was Jesus killed? Because the apostate Israelite leaders wanted Him dead, and they pressured a weak Roman governor into ordering the execution. But, Luke tells us Jesus was “delivered up by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,” (Acts 2:23).
  • Why did the Babylonians destroy the Kingdom of Judah? Well, because they wanted to! But, over and above even their own conscious understanding, God was directing and channeling their wickedness for His own purposes (see Habakkuk 1-2). God said He was raising up the Chaldeans, not the other way around (Hab 1:6). He did this work, not them (Hab 1:5).
  • Why do false teachers come? Moses says God sent them; “for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” (Deut 13:3). Yet, God still decrees that a false teacher dies “because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God,” (Deut 13:5). These false teachers did what they wanted to do, but over and above their own consciousness God had sent them to test and sift the people. Yet, they were still held morally personally responsible for their actions.

Many examples of compatibilism are not didactic; they’re often stated matter-of-factly, without fanfare. Consider what Moses wrote about an Amorite King, Sihon. Why wouldn’t Sihon let the Israelites pass through his land?

Well, Moses tells us why. The Lord had “hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate,” (Deut 2:30). God made it so Sihon wouldn’t listen. Why did God do this? Well, Moses wrote that God did this so “that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day,” (Deut 2:30). God made Sihon not listen, because God wanted the Israelites to destroy him. Simple.

Consider the covenant blessings and cursings; how could God carry them out if compatibilism wasn’t true?

  • How could He scatter them among the nations (Deut 28:64)? The historical books tell us God used the Assyrians and Babylonians to do this, and they certainly weren’t conscious agents!
  • How could Yahweh bring some of them back to Israel as slaves (Deut 28:68; see also 28:32) without employing unwitting, intermediate agents?
  • How else could the Lord “cause you to be defeated before your enemies?” (Deut 28:25)? The Israelites surely fought as best they could, but God gave their enemies the victory.
  • Who will bring men to oppress and rob the Israelites continually (Deut 28:29)? Are these robbers remorseless robots; droids programmed by God to plunder the Israelites against their will? Hardly!
  • Why will engaged young ladies be ravished by evil men (Deut 28:30)? Dare we assume those who commit these crimes aren’t also morally responsible for their wicked actions? Dare we lurch into the opposite ditch and assume God sat in heaven above as a helpless bystander?
  • How can God bring a foreign nation to oppress and destroy them (Deut 28:33-34, 36-37)?

I could go on. If you just read the Old Testament, you’ll see this doctrine of compatibilism all over its pages. It’s there in a matter of fact way. It’s everywhere. As John Calvin remarked:[2]

If we look at the administration of human affairs with the eye of sense, we will have no doubt that, so far, they are placed at man’s disposal; but if we lend an ear to the many passages of Scripture which proclaim that even in these matters the minds of men are ruled by God, they will compel us to place human choice in subordination to his special influence.

I agree. Look at what else Calvin says:

Who gave the Israelites such favour in the eyes of the Egyptians, that they lent them all their most valuable commodities? (Exod. 11:3.) They never would have been so inclined of their own accord. Their inclinations, therefore, were more overruled by God than regulated by themselves. And surely, had not Jacob been persuaded that God inspires men with divers affections as seemeth to him good, he would not have said of his son Joseph, (whom he thought to be some heathen Egyptian,) “God Almighty give you mercy before the man,” (Gen. 43:14.)

In like manner, the whole Church confesses that when the Lord was pleased to pity his people, he made them also to be pitied of all them that carried them captives, (Ps. 106:46.) In like manner, when his anger was kindled against Saul, so that he prepared himself for battle, the cause is stated to have been, that a spirit from God fell upon him, (1 Sam. 11:6.)

Who dissuaded Absalom from adopting the counsel of Ahithophel, which was wont to be regarded as an oracle? (2 Sam. 17:14.) Who disposed Rehoboam to adopt the counsel of the young men? (1 Kings 12:10.) Who caused the approach of the Israelites to strike terror into nations formerly distinguished for valour? Even the harlot Rahab recognised the hand of the Lord. Who, on the other hand, filled the hearts of the Israelites with fear and dread, (Lev. 26:36,) but He who threatened in the Law that he would give them a “trembling heart?” (Deut. 28:65.)

This concept of compatibilism looks like this:[3]


God works over and above our own personal will to accomplish what He wants. As the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith reads, “God, in his ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at his pleasure.”[4] You make free choices. I make free choices. We all make free choices. Yet, above our own consciousness, our holy and righteous God is working all things according to the counsel of His own will. As Solomon said, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will,” (Prov 21:1).

Our God is sovereign. Our God is in control. Our God can even channel His enemies’ thoughts, intentions, wills and desires for His own holy purposes. “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble,” (Prov 16:4). This ought to comfort everyone who confesses the name of Christ. It means you aren’t a pawn in a world spinning out of control, on its own. It means things do happen for a reason, even if you don’t understand them. It means you’re an adopted child of a God who made, controls and upholds creation itself. The 1618 Belgic Confession says it best:[5]

We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.

Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.

We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.

This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father.

In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.

Amen to all that.


[1] I you want to read a great book on this topic, you should pick up a copy of Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J.I. Packer. I reviewed the book here.

[2] The following excerpts are from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2012), 2.4.6.

[3] I adapted this graphic from Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 261.

[4] 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, 5.3.

[5]  1618 Belgic Confession, Article 13.

God Destroys His Enemies (Joshua 11:20)

josh 11(20).pngThe Bible says that God deliberately hardens evil men’s hearts so that they’ll be destroyed. He wants them to be destroyed. He decided to destroy them. He destroys them. Simple.

Here is one passage from the Book of Joshua, which chronicles the Israelite’s campaign to conquer the Promised Land which had been sworn to them so many years ago. This excerpt concerns Joshua and the Israel’s campaign in the south:

Joshua conquered the whole land, including the hill country, all the Negev, all the land of Goshen, the lowlands, the Arabah, the hill country of Israel and its lowlands, from Mount Halak on up to Seir, as far as Baal Gad in the Lebanon Valley below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and executed them. Joshua campaigned against these kings for quite some time. No city made peace with the Israelites (except the Hivites living in Gibeon); they had to conquer all of them, for the LORD determined to make them obstinate so they would attack Israel. He wanted Israel to annihilate them without mercy, as he had instructed Moses (Joshua 11:16-20, NET).

That last bit is very self-explanatory. Why did none of those cities make peace with the Israelites? Why did they not sense their own inevitable destruction, and opt for discretion and survival? As they saw the Israelite juggernaut coming their way, why didn’t they make an alliance and be done with it? Why did they fight and seal their own fate? The Bible tells us; “for the LORD determined to make them obstinate so they would attack Israel. He wanted Israel to annihilate them without mercy, as he had instructed Moses,” (Joshua 11:20).

God deliberately hardened their wicked hearts, ensuring they would stand and fight, so that they’d be defeated and utterly destroyed. He wanted them gone. He deliberately hardened their hearts. They fought and lost. They were destroyed. They were gone. The. End.

Of course, this issue often results in all sorts of hand-wringing in the pews and in the academic Bible commentaries. People worry this means men and women have no free will. They worry this makes us all into mindless puppets who dance to God’s capricious tune. They worry it makes God mean, wicked and evil. None of this is true, of course.

Men and women do indeed have free will. However, in a manner beyond our comprehension, God’s sovereign will operates through and above our own will and consciousness to achieve His perfect end. Joseph’s brothers were not forced to sell their brother into slavery; they wanted to. And yet, Joseph later told them, “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day,” (Genesis 50:20). The Roman soldiers, Jewish leaders and Roman politicians were not forced to have Jesus arrested, tortured and executed like a common criminal; they each acted according to their own sinful and selfish motives. And yet, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,” (Acts 2:23).

Men and women have free will, and often God channels and directs the innate wicked, evil and selfish motives, lusts and ambitions of sinful men to His own holy ends, for his own righteous and appropriate purposes. To return to our text in Joshua, God did not put evil in these people’s hearts. He did not make them hate the Israelites. He did not make them hate Him. They were already evil. They already despised the Israelites. They already hated Him and all the holiness, righteousness and justice He stands for.

God took sovereign hold of their inherent wickedness and channeled it for His own purpose. They wanted to kill the Israelites. They hated God. They met their earthly judgment on the field of battle, and were ushered into their just and appropriate eternal damnation immediately afterward.

It is disappointing to see commentaries tap-dance around the plain truth of the Scripture here. There is no need to tap-dance. There is no need to be apologetic. There is only a need to preach what the text says. It says they did not make peace, because the Lord hardened their hearts so they would be annihilated without mercy. That’s it.

These texts are horrifying to many Christians because we so often unconsciously downplay God’s holiness and our own sinfulness. We often have an un-Biblical, soft, cuddly and fuzzy version of God in our minds which simply doesn’t reflect reality. More dedicated  reading of the Torah, the revelation of God’s heavenly throne room from Revelation 4-6, and the beautiful description of the new earth and the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 would go a long way toward curing this problem. Then, these texts won’t seem frightening at all.

Joshua 11:20 in the Septuagint

josh11(20)This isn’t the best title to entice a tired reader, but it’s the best I could do! In my devotions the other day, I ran across Joshua 11:20. Here it is, with the immediate context:

So Joshua took all that land, the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and the valley of the same; Even from the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir, even unto Baalgad in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon: and all their kings he took, and smote them, and slew them. Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses (Joshua 11:16-20, KJV).

This verse means what it reads. You cannot escape it. You cannot wish it away. You cannot “contextualize” it and change the meaning of the words. Look at all the English translation you like (e.g. ESV, NLT, NIV, NASB, NET, ISV, LEB, KJV, NKJV, Tyndale, NRSV, RSV), and you won’t find an escape hatch. But, more on that later. For now, I wanted to post my own translation of this verse from the Septuagint.

The LXX, or Septuagint, is the Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew which dates from perhaps 200 B.C. and was the Bible the early church, including Jesus Christ, used and quoted from.

Here is my own translation of Joshua 11:20 from the Greek Septuagint (the PDF is available here):

Greek Text:

ὅτι διὰ κυρίου ἐγένετο κατισχῦσαι αὐτῶν τὴν καρδίαν συναντᾶν εἰς πόλεμον πρὸς Ισραηλ ἵνα ἐξολεθρευθῶσιν ὅπως μὴ δοθῇ αὐτοῖς ἔλεος ἀλλ᾽ ἵνα ἐξολεθρευθῶσιν ὃν τρόπον εἶπεν κύριος πρὸς Μωυσῆν

English Translation:

Joshua 11:20 (LXX): “for because of the Lord it came to pass that their heart was strengthened in order to meet Israel in battle so that they would be annihilated. That is, so that mercy would not be granted to them – even so that they would be totally destroyed, just as the Lord said to Moses!”

Detailed Translation:


ὅτι: (1) Classification – the conjunction is expressing the intentional cause, the grounds, of the preceding statement (Josh 11:19)

διὰ: (1) Classification – the preposition is expressing reason

κυρίου: (1) Case – in the genitive case because it is the object of the preposition διὰ

ἐγένετο: (1) Translation – this construction is common in narrative literature, and its general sense is to move the events along. The normal gloss is “it came to pass,” or something of that nature (cf. BDAG, s.v. “1646 γίνομαι,” 4.f.).

κατισχῦσαι: (1) Classification – an anarthrous, simple infinitive which complements and completes the thought of the verb ἐγένετο. (2) Voice – a simple active, indicating the subject (the heart of Israel’s enemies) is performing the action of the infinitive. Of course, it was “because of the Lord” (διὰ κυρίου) that their heart did this in the first place! (3) Tense – context suggests a constative aorist, describing a simple historical event in the past.

αὐτῶν: (1) Case – the personal pronoun is possessive, indicating the heart in question belong to Israel’s enemies

τὴν καρδίαν: (1) Case – an accusative subject of the infinitive κατισχῦσαι

συναντᾶν: (1) Classification – an anarthrous, simple infinitive which complements the prepositional phrase

εἰς: (1) Classification – the preposition is expressing purpose. Why was their enemies’ heart strengthened? So that they would sally forth into battle against Israel and be destroyed!

πόλεμον: (1) Case – in the accusative case because it is the object of the preposition εἰς


πρὸς: (1) Classification – the preposition is either expressing association (“battle with Israel”) or opposition (“battle against Israel”). (2) Translation – I opted to leave this completely untranslated, because it’s basically superfluous.

Ισραηλ: (1) Case – in the accusative case because it is the object of the preposition πρὸς

ἵνα ἐξολεθρευθῶσιν: (1) Classification – this is a standard purpose clause. (2) Voice – a simple passive, which indicates the subject (Israel’s enemies) receive the action of the verb.

ὅπως: (1) Classification – the conjunction is expressing purpose. I believe it’s acting in apposition to the preceding purpose clause, further explaining God’s intentions here – therefore I translated it with “that is . . .”

μὴ: This is a simple negation

δοθῇ: (1) Voice – a simple passive, which indicates that mercy is something being dispensed (or in this case, not being dispensed!) to Israel’s enemies

αὐτοῖς: (1) Case – a dative of direct object, signifying Israel’s enemies are receiving the action of the verb

ἔλεος: (1) Case – the subject nominative of the sentence

ἀλλ᾽: (1) Classification – the conjunction is expressing emphasis. It makes no contextual sense to translate this to express contrast (“but”), because the preceding subjunctive purpose clause is already negative. I think it serves to just heighten the sense of God’s divine condemnation, so I translated it as “even.”

ἵνα ἐξολεθρευθῶσιν: (1) Classification – this is a standard purpose clause. (2) Voice – a simple passive, which indicates the subject (Israel’s enemies) receive the action of the verb.


ὃν τρόπον: (1) Translation – this construction is usually expressed in English with the gloss “just as . . .” (Friberg, s.v. “27075 τρόπος,” 1).

εἶπεν: (1) Voice – a simple active, indicating the Lord performed the action of the verb. (2) Tense – context suggests a constative aorist, describing a simple historical event in the past. (3) Mood – a declarative indicative.

κύριος: (1) Case – the subject nominative

πρὸς: (1) Classification – the preposition is expressing association

Μωυσῆν: (1) Case – in the accusative case because it is the object of the preposition πρὸς