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.  

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:

josh11(20)aa

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

josh11(20)b

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.

Josh11(20)c

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