Here’s the second part (part one here) of my series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility taken from D. A. Carson’s Praying with Paul. There are seven passages that support both God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, and I’ll cover four today and three next time.
1. Genesis 50:19-20
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.’”
After the death of their father, Jacob’s son come to Joseph and plead with him not to take revenge on them. Big Joe, recognizing God’s hand through the whole situation (not to mention his life) tells them that God has intended this situation for good the entire time.
To understand what Joseph is saying, Carson gives two responses which Joe does not say:
- “Look, miserable sinners, you hatched and executed this wicked plot, and if it hadn’t been for God coming in at the last moment, it would have gone far worse for me than it did.”
- “God’s intention was to send me down to Egypt with first-class treatment, but you wretched reprobates threw a wrench into his plans and caused me a lot of suffering” (128).
Joseph had dreams of the brothers bowing down to him. Joseph’s brothers sold him off. In God’s sovereignty he raised up Joseph and saved millions of people during te famine years, but it does not excuse the brothers’ evil. And their evil plot does not shrink God’s sovereignty, making his power subject to their decisions. Both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are to be assumed true.
2. 2 Samuel 24
Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” But Joab said to the king, “May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?’” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel….”
“But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” Snd when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David, ‘’Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’”
In his anger over Israel, God stirs up David to take a census of the people. After David numbers up Israel, an act previously forbidden, his hearts strikes him with guilt and he must chose one of three severe judgments that God will deliver. The result: seventy thousand people die.
In reading this, we must remember what the Bible says about God.
Deuteronomy 32.4, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
1 John 1.5, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
Revelation 15.3-4, “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.’”
But there are other cases like 2 Samuel 24 “where God is presented as in some way behind the evil.” The evil does not simply slip past God’s eyes, leaving him to say, “Whoops!”
2 Thessalonians 2.11, “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false,”
1 Kings 22.21, “Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’”
1 Chronicles 21 tells us that it is Satan, not God, who incites David to sin. Is this a contradiction, or is it merely different perspectives? In Job, does God afflict Job, or does Satan? All of the above?
“God is presented as sovereign over David’s life, including this particular sin in his life, while David himself is not thereby excused” (129).
[Interestingly, Michael Heiser says the 1 Chronicles passage doesn’t say it is Satan (which means adversary). The Hebrew says that it is not “the satan (adversary),” but “a satan” (or “an adversary”). A cross-reference to this would be Num 22.22, where Satan does not oppose Balaam. No, the adversary here is the Angel of Yahweh. Could this be the same thing here in 1 Chronicles?]
3. Isaiah 10.5-19
In a judgment on Assyria, Yahweh says, “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets” (10.5-6).
God is sending the Assyrians against his own covenant-keeping (sometimes) community because he is angry at their sin. Still yet, God pronounces a “woe” on the Assyrians for their mission. How can they be punished if they’re following God’s command? Simply because they think Samaria and Jerusalem are some other pagan towns that they’re going to take over. “They think they are doing this all by themselves” (130).
God uses this military superpower as if it were a simple tool – a saw or an ax – to accomplish his purposes of judgment (10.15-16). But Assyria is not absolved of their “willful pride” or their “haughty look” (10.12). The stench of their sin fills the nostrils of Yahweh, and they too will be punished for their sin. They are held responsible.
4. John 6.37-40
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (6.37).
In reading verse 37, all of God’s chosen people area gift to the Son, and once the Son receives them he will keep them in and never drive them away.
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (6.38-39).
God is seen as sovereign in the process of salvation. His people are given by him to the Son “who preserves them to the last day when (he promises) he will raise them up” (131). Does this make Christians robots? No, for the next verse describes believers by what they do.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (6.40).
In Part 3 of our series I’ll cover the last three passages (Phil 2.12-13; Acts 18.9-10; Acts 4.23.30).