Understanding God’s Sovereignty

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Daniel 1:1-2

In verse 2 it tells us that the Lord gave (or delivered) Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s  hand. This is important to understanding the sovereignty of God. No matter how great Neb’s power was at this time, he was acting on God’s behalf. God ordained the taking of Jerusalem. To address this any other way is to violate the text.  John Gill explains, “this was from the Lord, because of his sins, and the sins of his ancestors, and of his people; or otherwise the king of Babylon could not have taken the city.” Gleason Archer agrees with the text and Gill’s assessment. He contends, “From the very beginning of this record, it is made clear that Nebuchadnezzar’s success was not through his prowess alone; it was the work of the one true God (Yahweh of hosts), who brought about the complete collapse of the Judean monarchy and the deportation of the people of Jerusalem into exile.”  So we are left with the picture of a God who is orchestrating the leveling of his own nation! How can this be? We must remember there was warning after warning before this final judgment. And while God will destroy what he loves, it is always for the greater good. God’s grand design is at all times wise, just, and purposeful.

Returning to the point of why God is destroying his nation, I want to discuss the seriousness of God’s word. In reading the expository commentary, Daniel, by H. A. Ironside, I was astounded to find such specific detail in regard to the exile. Ironside notes that the prophets had declared what was going to happen, and this word is fulfilled at the beginning of Daniel. The prophets had warned that the God was going to give Israel over to its enemies and that the land would lie desolate. Ironside then states, “God connects this with their failure to keep the sabbatic year.” You may remember that God instructed his people to work the land for six years and then in the 7th year allow the land to lay fallow, giving it “rest”. Ironside goes on to tells us that in 490 years, the Israelites had not kept one sabbatical year! What is even more astounding is that nothing seemed to happen. There was no punishment. They had disobeyed and all was ok, or so they thought. Speaking of God’s apparent lack of concern, Ironside explains, “He seemed to be indifferent to this breach of obedience on their part. He appeared to wink at their sin. But He had taken account of it all.” Friends, God is not dead, and neither is his word. He took all into account. And what happens? God takes his 70 years. In 490 years, the people had taken 70 sabbatical years in disobedience. Guess what? He laid them flat and removed them from their homeland. The land would lay fallow for 70 years. All of this is critically important for us to understand. Not just the exile itself, but also how serious God takes his word and our obedience. Once we understand what he expects, we are accountable. We live in an age of very low standards and accountability. We need not fear that God is like us. As Daniel proclaims, He is not!

In August 2005, we experienced the costliest hurricane in U.S. History. Hurricane Katrina did $108 billion in damage. As a comparison, the next worst hurricane in dollars is Ike (2008) with 29.5 billion. While we all know the hurricane caused much more damage due to the levee system failure, the devastation of this storm was enormous. It also exposed much about our great nation. In The Economist, an article was published in September 2005 entitled, “The Shaming of America”. The article states:

Since Hurricane Katrina, the world’s view of America has changed. The disaster has exposed some shocking truths about the place: the bitterness of its sharp racial divide, the abandonment of the dispossessed, the weakness of critical infrastructure. But the most astonishing and most shaming revelation has been of its government’s failure to bring succour to its people at their time of greatest need.

This devastation and exposure of this hurricane changed how we think about people, government, and what our nation really is. And I think this is very similar to what happened in Daniel with the exile. Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were taken captive. It was a total destruction of the land and culture of the Jews. Although Hurricane Katrina affected a specific location of the U.S., it was a totally devastation of that area, and it had many long lasting effects. Over a million people were displaced, oil production disrupted, insurance coverage totally changed, and on the list goes with the economic shift the storm caused. My point is that we can identify on some level with the exile into Babylon. And we should ask where the sovereignty of God fits. If you are wondering if Hurricane Katrina just happened, or if it was an act of God to expose sin and corruption, consider Job 37.

God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things that we cannot comprehend. For He says to the snow, “Fall to the earth,” and the torrential rains, His mighty torrential rains, serve as His sign to all mankind, so that all men may know His work. . . The windstorm comes from its chamber, and the cold from the driving north winds. . . He saturates clouds with moisture; He scatters His lightning through them. They swirl about, turning round and round at His direction, accomplishing everything He commands them over the surface of the inhabited world. He causes this to happen for punishment, for His land, or for His faithful love. Job 37:5-7,9,11-13 (HCSB)

The sovereignty of God is mysterious; however we need to ask the hard questions to unpack why God moves in unexpected ways. God shines his light into the darkness to reveal what is hidden and to bring about change. Maybe instead of deflecting and pretending everything is ok, we should be open and honest that we have some problems. God exposes so we will deal our issues. If we will stop hiding in the dark, he would not do this, but until we do, expect God to use any means necessary to reveal and expose.

Moving back to the original expression, “the Lord gave”, we see the ultimate sovereignty of God over events of history. But it does so in ways we may not think about. The language expression tells us who is calling the shots. The word “Lord” itself is not Jehovah, but Adonai, which means lord or master. But think of what our assessment would be if the words, “the Lord gave” were not present. What would Daniel be communicating to God’s people? Those three words tell us of the grandness of God. Even as it is hard to understand, we are left with the majestic sovereign authority of Adonai. John Calvin speaks to this in his commentary on Daniel:

As to his assertion that Jehoiakim was delivered into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar by God’s command, this form of speech takes away any stumbling block which might occur to the minds of the pious. Had Nebuchadnezzar been altogether superior, God himself might seem to have ceased to exist, and so his glory would have been depressed. But Daniel clearly asserts that King Nebuchadnezzar did not possess Jerusalem, and was not the conqueror of the nation by his own valor, or counsel, or fortune, or good luck, but because God wished to humble his people. . . For under the name of God, there is a silent antithesis; as the Lord did not deliver Jehoiakim into the hand of the Babylonians without just reason.

Yes there certainly is an antithesis, although I am not sure how silent it is! God is sovereign. And while it is by his command that the land lay desolate, that is far better news than it was all Neb’s doing. The absolute authority and control of God over the events of our world can be hard and confusing, yet it is also very comforting. There is hope, for Adonai reigns.

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