Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Everything He Says He Does: The Personal and Specific Sovereignty of God

Everything He Says He Does

Will God do what he said? That is the sound of a spiritual crisis — when it seems like the very ground beneath your feet is shaking. If you haven’t yet experienced one, to some degree, while following Jesus, likely you will.

In such times of crisis, one of God’s great means of grace to us is his people. While we are in crisis, others in our lives are often steady, and ready to help. We feel like we’re free-falling, but they are tethered and so can gently, prayerfully, and patiently help us get our bearings again. But what if the bottom fell out, all at once, for you and every Christian you knew? The disorientation would multiply. The crisis would be all the more severe; the pain all the more acute.

The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the geographical heart and center of God’s first-covenant people, precipitated that kind of widespread crisis. They already had been run down and dominated by foreign armies from Babylon, the ascending power in the east. Wave after wave of their best and brightest had been carted off to exile. Then at long last, the final hammer blows came. To Jerusalem itself. The holy city. Pagans poured in through breached walls, burned the city, and tore down God’s temple, the place where his glory had dwelled, brick by precious brick.

This was the Great Trauma, the greatest crisis moment thus far in the long and convoluted history of God’s people. And at the heart of the collective freefall was this question, and fear: Has God’s word failed? Was he unable to keep his promises?

Into the Crisis

Into this crisis, God inspired 1 and 2 Kings to retell the history of his people and remind them of his promises, assure them that his promises had not failed, and declare that his word remained as sure as ever. Indeed, the exile itself did not thwart his word and plan. He himself had warned his people, centuries before, that such would come.

How would the inspired theological historian(s) of 1 and 2 Kings go about the task? We have much to learn from the approach. The way God restores and bolsters the confidence of his people is not simply through general summary statements, but with specific examples. He feeds the faith of his people with concrete, particular details and stories. We need to be confronted with the stark realities of how God’s mouthpieces spoke, and how God acted to fulfill his word.

According to His Word

In Solomon’s benediction after the dedication of the temple, he says, “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant” (1 Kings 8:56). Not one word has failed. Twice Joshua had made the same declaration for the ears of God’s people (Joshua 21:45; 23:14). Now, in the dark days of exile, 1 and 2 Kings declares it over and over again.

Some of God’s promises, and their fulfillment, stretched over long periods of time, acting as sinews holding together the history of his covenant people over centuries. Others came to pass much more quickly, within hours or even minutes. Both long-term and short-term fulfillments of God’s word serve to build and renew the confidence of his people.

Elsewhere we could rehearse the long-term lightning bolts of fulfillment, but here let’s consider the most striking flashes of God speaking and then quickly performing his word. Let’s marvel at the power of God, through his word, and let the specific details fill the tank of our confidence in him to immediately accomplish what he promises when he chooses — and every bit as much today, in Christ, as he did 2,500 years ago.

Sovereign over National Decline

The reigns of David and his son Solomon proved to be the high point of God’s people as an earthly nation. Solomon began well, but the first downward turn happened during his reign. He loved many foreign women, taking 700 wives and 300 concubines, and “his wives turned away his heart” (1 Kings 11:3). God was angry with Solomon (1 Kings 11:9) and said to him,

Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. (1 Kings 11:11–12)

Not only is this word fulfilled swiftly in the next chapter, after Solomon’s death, but even before Solomon’s death, God sends a prophet named Ahijah to one of Solomon’s servants, Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:28). Speaking for God, Ahijah announces to Jeroboam, “Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon [through his son Rehoboam] and will give you ten tribes” (1 Kings 11:31).

Then, in short order, following Solomon’s death, Rehoboam comes to the throne, and instead of trusting his father’s aged counselors, he opts for the advice of the young men with whom he grew up. He increases the burdens of the nation, and when Jeroboam and the people ask him to reconsider, he declines. The narrator comments,

So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Kings 12:15)

Not only had God sovereignly worked to plant his people in the land, establish and expand the kingdom, and bring it into glory under David and Solomon, but even now, as the kingdom begins to decline, it happens according to his word. God is not less sovereign in the waning than the waxing — and he has his good and wise purposes in the decline, and discipline, and refining of his people.

Sovereign over the Fall of Leaders

The prophet Ahijah strikes again in 1 Kings 14. Just as God had orchestrated the tearing apart of the kingdom through Jeroboam’s unexpected rise over the ten tribes, so now the same prophet speaks again on God’s behalf to announce, at once, both the death of Jeroboam’s ailing son and the end of his dynasty:

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: . . . “Behold, I will bring harm upon the house of Jeroboam and will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will burn up the house of Jeroboam, as a man burns up dung until it is all gone. Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat, for the Lord has spoken it.” Arise therefore, go to your house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him. . . . Moreover, the Lord will raise up for himself a king over Israel who shall cut off the house of Jeroboam today. (1 Kings 14:7, 10–14)

One is fulfilled immediately: “Then Jeroboam’s wife arose and departed and came to Tirzah. And as she came to the threshold of the house, the child died. And all Israel buried him and mourned for him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by his servant Ahijah the prophet” (1 Kings 14:17–18).

The other comes to pass soon enough, in the next chapter. An insurgent named Baasha arises and kills another son of Jeroboam, Nadab, who had taken the throne after his father. He then cleans the rest of Jeroboam’s house: “As soon as [Baasha] was king, he killed all the house of Jeroboam. He left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite” (1 Kings 15:29). Not only was God not taken off guard; he spoke it ahead of time by his prophet.

So also with Baasha. Like Jeroboam, he came into the throne in fulfillment of God’s word and, like Jeroboam, he also died in fulfillment of God’s word. At the end of his wicked 24-year reign, God raised up a prophet named Jehu, who spoke against Baasha,

Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, behold, I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Kings 16:2–3)

The fulfillment didn’t take long. Baasha’s son Elah succeeded his father, and reigned only two years, because “his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him” (1 Kings 16:9). Not only did he strike down the king, but “Zimri destroyed all the house of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke against Baasha by Jehu the prophet” (1 Kings 16:12).

Sovereign over Everyday Needs

The prophetic ministries of Eljiah and (especially) Elisha were filled with everyday miracles and immediate fulfillments of God’s word.

God fed Elijah by directing him to a particular widow in a particular town (1 Kings 17:8–9), and provided miraculously, according to his promise, for her (1 Kings 17:14–16). Elijah told the king, Ahaziah, because he had dishonored God and his word, that he would “not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die” (2 Kings 1:16). Sure enough, in the very next verse: “So he died according to the word of the Lord that Elijah had spoken” (2 Kings 1:17). God also spoke ahead of time, through Elijah, the specific place where king Ahab would die, and the shameful fate that would accompany his death (1 Kings 21:19; 22:37–38).

So also, and more, for Elisha, who prayed for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9). God spoke through him and immediately cleansed poisoned water (2 Kings 2:21–22), multiplied loaves to feed a hundred men with some left over (2 Kings 4:42–44), and even healed a leper (2 Kings 5:10, 14). But Elisha’s “everyday” miracles — which now we see so presciently anticipated the miracles of the Christ who was to come — didn’t preclude him from being the spokesman for one of the most shocking, overnight turn of events in all the Bible.

Sovereign over Shocking Turns

To feed the faith of God’s people, 2 Kings tells of two particularly spectacular overnight providences.

‘Famine Ends Tomorrow’

In 2 Kings 7, the entire Syrian army has besieged Samaria. Supply lines are cut off, and there is no food. The famine is so bad that women are eating their own children (2 Kings 6:28–29).

The king blames Elisha and sends his captain to kill him. Elisha knows he is coming and secures the door, through which the king’s captain speaks, “This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” (2 Kings 6:33). Elisha replies with a word from God that seems utterly unbelievable:

Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria. (2 Kings 7:1)

In other words, not only will the siege and the famine be over — in less than a day’s time! — but somehow the city will be overflowing with supplies. This sounds preposterous. The captain replies in cynical disbelief, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” To which Elisha adds a second prophecy: “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it” (2 Kings 7:2).

That night God does the miracle through four lepers. About to starve, they go to the Syrian camp, to give themselves up, and find the camp abandoned.

Behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.” So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives. (2 Kings 7:5–7)

The lepers report the good news to Israel’s king, and the stunning (double) word of God through Elisha blossoms into fulfillment: an abundance of food for the people — and the death of the unbelieving captain, who is trampled in the gate as the people storm out to the feast (2 Kings 7:16–20).

‘I Will Defend This City’

Amazing as the first overnight deliverance is, a second surpasses it. Jerusalem and King Hezekiah are surrounded by an army of 185,000 Assyrians. Humanly speaking, they are goners. It is only a matter of time, and time is running short. The Assyrian commander has mocked Hezekiah, and his God, and within earshot of the people on the wall. And yet into this impossible situation, God speaks through Isaiah,

Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land. (2 Kings 19:6–7)

As improbable as such a turn would be, Isaiah doesn’t back down. When a letter arrives from the king of Assyria promising to destroy Jerusalem, Isaiah adds another seemingly impossible promise:

Thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David. (2 Kings 19:32–34)

Then, overnight, while his people sleep, God does the miraculous:

That night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. (2 Kings 19:35–37)

God does not always bring about such shocking, overnight turns in the outward circumstances of his people, but he is able. He has done it before, and will do it again. And when he does not, he has even greater designs in order than our outward relief.

‘Do as You Have Said!’

God doesn’t mean for our rehearsing of such concrete, specific, and rare deliverances in the history of his people to discourage us that such fireworks aren’t happening regularly in our lives. The fireworks weren’t happening regularly for the original readers either. Rather, God’s purpose in acting in these unusual, pull-back-the-curtain moments is to show his people in all times and places the kind of God he is behind the curtain that veils our eyes in our very usual lives.

God feeds our faith with such details. He said it and it happened — not just in general, large-scale, and extended terms, but specifically, in the small details, and often immediately. These lightning strikes are tastes of how God is running the world all the time, for his glory and the enduring joy of his people. They show us his intimate, attentive, deliberate heavenly hand in the granular details of earth.

God means for us not only to observe the power of his sovereign care throughout history, and in our lives, but to plead his own promises to him — because he keeps his word. As Charles Spurgeon celebrates,

Our heavenly Banker delights to cash his own notes. Never let the promise rust. Draw the word of promise out of its sheath and use it with holy violence. Think not that God will be troubled by your importunately reminding him of his promises. He loves to hear the loud outcries of needy souls. It is his delight to bestow favors. He is more ready to hear than you are to ask. The sun is not weary of shining, nor the fountain of flowing. It is God’s nature to keep his promises; therefore go at once to the throne with, “Do as you have said.”



from Desiring God http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/10732/12705053
via DG