This time I want to look at God’s sovereignty, which is another of the midot (attributes) of God. A sovereign is one who is supreme in power, rank and authority. Because he is supreme, a sovereign has the right to rule. Whenever you read words like king, kingdom, lord, majesty, dominion, reign, rule, authority, glory, bow down, or bend the knee, know that the doctrine of sovereignty is being taught.
God’s sovereignty arises out of His perfections as the Supreme Being. Since God is infinite, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, unchangeable, perfect, and completely free, He is by inherent right the Sovereign Ruler over all things. To be sovereign, God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. To be Lord over creation, He must possess all knowledge. Were there one little bit of knowledge unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point. The prophet Isaiah said: Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has informed Him? With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? Who taught Him the path of justice and taught Him knowledge, and informed Him of the way of understanding (Isaiah 40:13-14)?
God is sovereign because He has infinite power. If God were lacking in any power, even the smallest amount, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom at that point. That one stray atom would belong to some other power, and God would be a limited ruler and therefore not the Supreme Sovereign. Good King Jehoshaphat declared this when he prayed: Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You (2 Ch. 20:6).
God’s sovereignty requires that He be able to do whatever He wants to do anywhere, at any time, in every single detail, and without any interference. If He was less than completely free He would be less than sovereign. God is absolutely free to do what He wills because no one and nothing can hinder Him or compel Him or stop Him. Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in the earth, in the seas and in all deeps (Psalm 135:6). The Lord is able to do as He pleases always, everywhere, and forever. There is no limit to be placed on His authority. It extends over all His creatures, from the highest to the lowest. He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, What have you done (Dan. 4:35)? Can you imagine the Lord of Hosts having to request permission from anyone? At whose throne would God kneel as a supplicant? Who is higher than the Most High? Who is mightier than the Almighty? Who is more knowledgeable than the All-Knowing One? Where is the greater one to whom He can appeal?
God is sovereign because He is the Creator and the Owner of all things. To the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it (Deut. 10:14). As the Creator and Owner of everything, it is right that He govern His own possession as He wishes. He is free to dispose of His creation as He wills, and it is reasonable that all created beings worship and obey Him. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You (Neh. 9:6).
The Lord is sovereign because He is the Preserver and Sustainer of all things. He continually upholds all things with His powerful Word. Since we live and move and have our being in Him, it is right that all creatures serve Him, since all things depend on Him every moment for their existence.
God is sovereign because He is the Redeemer. The authority of God is supremely established over those He redeems. We have been bought with a price, the infinitely precious blood of the Son of God. It is proper that the redeemed serve their King who bought them with such a high cost to Himself.
God exercises sovereign control over everything in the universe in a variety of ways. His sovereignty is seen in the physical and moral laws by which all creatures are governed. When His creatures obey these laws, they are blessed. When they deviate from these laws, they fall under God’s displeasure. The Lord makes the events of the physical and moral realms work out His purposes.
The King is sovereign over every aspect of the physical universe. Wind, rain, lightening, thunder, waters, hail, ice, snow, and frost are all subject to His bidding. The heavenly bodies, like the sun, the moon and the stars all obey His will and fulfill His word (Psalm 148). Every proton, electron, neutron and quark obey Him. The mountains are removed, the earth quakes and the ground yields its increase at His command. He uses good things that happen to us as expressions of His goodness and love. He uses destructive things like earthquakes, storms, and floods as instruments of His discipline and judgement. In times of physical distress men should therefore humble themselves and pray to Him who has all the elements in His power.
The Lord is sovereign over all the plant and animal life on Planet Earth. In His hand is the life of every living thing (Job 12:10). God controls all the millions of species of plants, birds, animals and fish that exist on this earth. They all fulfill His will. Every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine (Psalm 50:10-12).
The King is sovereign over the most important and the most trivial of circumstances that occur. God determines the most important decisions of existence, like the nature and powers of the different orders of created beings, such as the various kinds of angels, men and animals. He assigns to each its appropriate sphere, whether it is great or small, important or obscure. He also is involved with the seemingly unimportant events. The Lord determines the way that the lot falls. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Pr. 16:33). He is concerned about every sparrow that falls to the ground, and even more so with every hair on our heads.
The Lord God is sovereign over every area of man’s existence. The King determines when, where and under what circumstances each individual of the human race will be born, live, and die. He determines all the times, places, and circumstances of our lives. He has determined the numbers of our days before we see one of them (Psalm 139:16). God holds our life in His hands. When he takes our breath away, we die. The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up (1 Sam. 2:6). To some He gives honor; to others he withholds honor. He brings down leaders and exalts the lowly. He fills up the hungry but rejects the rich (Luke 1:52-53). He promotes one person and demotes another (Ps. 75:7).The Lord makes poor and rich. He brings low, He also exalts (1 Sam. 2:7).
The Lord is sovereign over the destinies of all mankind, the saved and the unsaved. He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires (Romans 9:18). Some are vessels for common use, and some are vessels for more honorable use. Jeremiah was known by God and appointed to be a prophet before he was formed (Jer 1:5). Paul was set apart for God’s purposes from his mother’s womb (Gal. 1:15). The Supreme Being sovereignly works out His purposes in each person’s life. The steps of a man are established by the Lord (Psalm 37:23). He marks out the paths of all His creatures and determines the way in which they will walk. I know O Lord that a man’s way is not in himself; nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps (Jer.10:23).
The King is sovereign even over the free acts of humans. God uses men and women to fulfill His purposes, whether they realize it or not, whether they know Him or not. God said to Cyrus even before he was born: I have called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me… I will gird you, though you have not known Me (Is. 45:4-5). He is involved in the thinking processes of rulers. The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes(Prov. 21:1). He worked in the heart of Pharaoh to do His bidding. He worked in the hearts of Kings David (1 Sam. 24:8) and Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:27). God works especially in the hearts of believers: it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
Nations, as well as individuals, are in the hands the Lord. God is the King of all the earth… God reigns over the nations (Psalm 47:7-8). The King controls each nation’s destinies. The Lord uses nations and their rulers as He wills (Is. 10:5-15, 45:1-4). He keeps watch over them (Ps. 66:7). He assigns them their place on earth and how long they will exist as a nation. He determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation (Acts 17:26). He increases and destroys them (Job 12:23). He establishes and then dethrones their rulers (Dan. 2:37-39, 4:25).
The Lord is sovereign over the needs of His people. He sustains us: My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me (Ps. 63:8). He supplies our needs: My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Messiah Yeshua (Phil. 4:19). He gives us safety: In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone O Lord, make me to dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8). He protects us: He will not allow your foot to slip… the Lord is your keeper … the Lord will protect you from all evil (Psalm 121:3-7). He acts on our behalf. From of old they have not heard nor perceived by ear, neither has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him (Is. 64:4). In general He makes all things work together for good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). Therefore we can pray: Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil, for Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever (Matthew 6:13).
WHAT IS GOD DOING WITH HIS SOVEREIGNTY?
The primary goal of God’s government is to manifest His perfections and display His glory. For My own sake, for My own sake I will act; for how can My Name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another(Isaiah 48:11). His power is seen in His work of creation, preservation, and redemption. His wisdom is seen throughout His creation and the ways He accomplishes His goals. His holiness is seen in His hatred and opposition to sin. His love is seen in His provision for His creatures, especially in His provision of salvation through the gift of His Messiah. His truth is seen in the laws of nature and in His faithfulness to His promises.
The Lord also governs the world with a view to the happiness of His creatures. The Lord causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45). Satan implied in his temptation of Eve that God was trying to withhold something good from her and Adam, and the adversary has been using this same technique throughout history to whip up human resentment against God. In contrast, Rabbi Paul told the people of Lystra that God did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17). The Lord’s goodness is intended to bring happiness to us and lead people to repentance.
God also governs the world with a view toward the improvement of the human race. This development is seen in various ways over the past 2000 years wherever the Messianic Faith has penetrated the world. It is seen in the elevation of the status of women, the building of hospitals, the introduction of educational systems, the abolition of slavery, the granting of religious and intellectual liberty, and the development of technology. These are all human developments for the betterment of mankind, but they are ultimately traced back to God’s good government of the world.
Finally, the King governs the world with the goal of creating the children of God (Eph. 1:9-12). He desires the salvation of a people for His own possession. He chose the nation of Israel that we might be such a people. If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine (Exodus 19:5). He has called the Messianic Community (the Church) for the same purpose. He is redeeming for Himself a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14, 1 Pet. 2:9). His creation of the Jewish people, God’s dealings with the nation of Israel, the incarnation of the Messiah, His atoning death on the cross, the coming and the gifting of the Holy Spirit, the production and preservation of the Holy Scriptures, the Church and its ministry, the Messianic Jewish revival, the regathering of Israel, are all intended to help prepare an eternal people for Himself.
Just as there are key words that teach the sovereignty of God, so there are certain words that indicate our proper response to His Lordship: give glory, glorify, honor, obey, yield, serve, dedicate, be subject to, and submit. Our song must always be: Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed and were created (Rev. 4:11). Is that your song? One day soon all Your works will give thanks to You O Lord, and Your godly ones will bless You. They will speak of the glory of Your Kingdom, and talk of Your power, to make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts, and the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations (Psalm 145:10-13).
YESHUA IS THE SOVEREIGN LORD
Yeshua is understood to be the Lord in the pages of the New Testament (Brit Chadasha) with the same frequency and regularity that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was understood to be the Lord in the Tenach (Hebrew Scriptures). Yeshua is described in the New Testament as our creator, our owner, our preserver and our redeemer, just as the God of Israel is portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Romans 10:13 Rabbi Paul quotes Joel 2:32, Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord (Adonai) will be saved, and applies it to Messiah Yeshua. How can Rabbi Paul, the greatest of all theologians, apply Joel 2:32 to Yeshua? Because Rabbi Paul knew that calling Yeshua “Lord” is equivalent to calling Yeshua “Adonai” – because Yeshua is Adonai – the Lord.
Since Yeshua is the Lord, we are called upon to make Him the supreme object of our love, His will the highest rule of duty, His glory the greatest goal of our being. We are to exercise the same faith in Him as we place in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We are to yield the same devotion and obedience to Yeshua as we would to the Lord God of Israel.
Messiah Yeshua was the Lord of the apostles and earliest Messianic Jews in just that way. Yes Lord, you know that I love you… Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God… Lord Yeshua receive my spirit… Believe in the Lord Yeshua… and the Lord said I am Yeshua… the grace of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah be with you… He is the Lord of lords… the Lord of all… the Lord of the living and the dead… the Lord of all who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth. The first Messianic Jews regarded Yeshua as their Sovereign Lord, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given. They considered Him as the One to whom they belonged. He was always present with them, dwelling in them, controlling their inward and outward lives. They were accountable to Him for their moral conduct. They believed that they had to account to Him for their sins, and for the use of their time and talents. They believed that every act, every thought and every word of theirs, and of every man or woman who ever lived, would lie open before His all seeing eyes. They knew that one day they were to stand before His judgement seat. They believed that the destiny of every soul depends on His judgement.
These first Messianic Jews believed the whole matter of man’s ultimate destiny centers around recognizing Yeshua as Lord. To them, true religion did not consist of the love of God alone, but also of the love and knowledge of the Lord Yeshua. In Romans 10:9 Paul wrote: if you confess with your mouth Yeshua as Lord… you shall be saved. They realized that accepting Yeshua as Lord and restoring God to His proper place of Lordship is the essence of salvation. They understood that when a person came to realize that Yeshua was Lord, the work of salvation had been accomplished; the saving truth had been revealed to their souls.
Why is this so? Because at the Fall, mankind usurped God’s rightful place. Ever since the Garden of Eden, we are rebels who are sitting on the true King’s throne. So the Lord God came to earth and died on a Roman cross so that the sinful, rebellious self can be thrown down, and the Lord God restored as the rightful Sovereign King over our lives. It is impossible to separate Messiah Yeshua as Savior from Messiah Yeshua as Lord. To be the Savior, He must be returned to His rightful place as the Lord of our lives. That is why the Messianic Message (the Good News) comes to us in the form of a command. It commands all men everywhere to repent and surrender to God by believing in the Lord Yeshua. The Messianic Faith is something that must be obeyed. Every human being must choose whether to obey the Good News, or reject its authority. Would you like some free advice? It is infinitely better to accept Yeshua’s Lordship now. You can willingly serve Him now as a loyal subject, or one day you will be forced to bow before Him as a defeated enemy, when every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord.
HOW DOES SIN AND EVIL FIT INTO THE PLAN OF A SOVEREIGN GOD?
Yes, the God of Israel is the King of the universe. Yeshua is Lord, with all authority in heaven and on earth given to Him. But that raises a difficult question: if the Lord God is sovereign, could He not have prevented sin and evil, pain and suffering from coming into existence? While we can seldom determine why God allows one thing rather than another, there are several things that we do know. We know that the authority of God is limited by nothing outside of Himself, but it is controlled by His infinite perfections. Even though God’s sovereignty is universal and absolute, His will is entirely guided by His good and wise attributes. His kingship is based on His attributes of wisdom, holiness and love. As a wise God, He may be expected to act rationally. As a good God, He will have the best interests of His creatures at heart. As the all powerful God, He may be relied on as having the ability to accomplish all His purposes.
In fact, there are certain things that God cannot do. He cannot deny Himself and His essential nature. He cannot be cruel. He cannot lie. He cannot sin. He cannot change. He cannot act or be other than what He is. God cannot decree anything that is contrary to His nature, or to His wisdom, or to His love, or to His righteousness, or to His holiness. And yet consider the following, apparently contradictory, examples: God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 10:27). It was wrong for David to number Israel, yet the Lord moved him to do it (2 Sam. 24:1). An evil spirit from the Lord plagued King Saul (1 Sam. 19:9). God gave sinners up to even more sin (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). God allowed the iniquity of the Amorites to fill up even further (Gen. 15:16). The Lord shut up all in disobedience (Rom. 11:32). During the Tribulation of the Last Days, God will send a deluding influence on the world so that unbelievers will believe what is false (2 Thes. 2:11). If God is not the author of sin, how can these incidents be explained? How is a holy God related to man’s sinful acts? This can be answered in four ways:
1. God will often restrain man from the sin which man intends to do. God said to Abimelech: I kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her (Gen. 20:6). King David prayed: keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me (Psalm 19:13). God has promised us that He will not allow the believer to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear (1 Cor. 10:13). God’s sovereignty can have a restraining influence on human sin.
2. Sometimes God, instead of actively restraining man from doing evil, will sometimes permit sin to take its course. I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own devises (Psalm 81:12). The Lord God also said: Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone (Hos. 4:17). For many centuries God permitted all the nations to go their own ways (Acts 14:16).
3. God determines the limits which evil and its effects may go. Evil acts can only occur by the Lord’s permission, and only insofar as He permits them. The Lord said to Satan: Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him (Job 1:12). In His wisdom God has permitted evil to exist for a time in carefully restricted areas of His creation. Evil is limited in extent as well as in duration. A day is coming when evil will be completely eliminated. Evil has entered the universe, but it will not be allowed to thwart God’s original, wise and good purpose.
4. God allows evil, but can direct the way it goes. All the evil acts of creatures are under the complete control of God. Though they are evil in themselves, God can overrule the evil acts of angels and men for good. God uses the wrath of man to praise Him (Ps. 76:10). Perhaps the most powerful example is the crucifixion. Yeshua said to Judas: What you do, do quickly. All those involved in the crucifixion of Messiah did what God predestined to occur (Acts 2:23, 4:27). Man’s intent was evil, but God used their evil intent to accomplish His will. The wicked conduct of Joseph’s brethren toward him (you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… to preserve many people alive – Genesis 50:20), the stubbornness and hardness of Pharaoh’s heart toward God and Israel, the lust for conquest of the Gentile nations that invaded Israel and carried the Jewish people off into captivity, the rejection and crucifixion of Messiah, the persecutions that the Messianic Community has endured, and the Shoah (Holocaust), have all been overruled for God’s purposes. The fact that God has turned evil into good should encourage us to trust Him to do the same with this present evil generation, and all the difficulties that we face.
Another question that arises from the sovereignty of God is this: if God rules the universe as the Supreme Sovereign, how is it possible for man to exercise free choice? And if he can’t exercise freedom of choice, how can man be held responsible for his conduct? Many theologians go to an extreme and deny either the sovereignty of God or the free will of man. But perhaps it is possible to reconcile these two positions. Consider the following: God has sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choices, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choices between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not overrule the sovereign will of God. No – he actually fulfills it. God’s eternal decree didn’t predetermine which choice the man should make, but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom, God has granted man limited freedom, who is there to say: what are You doing (Isaiah 45:9)?
Let me give you an illustration that might better explain this concept. A Boeing 747 leaves JFK airport in New York bound for Tel Aviv. Its destination has been determined by the proper authorities (this is a picture of God’s sovereignty). On board the airliner are 350 passengers. They are not in seat belts all of the time, neither are all of their activities determined for them. They are completely free to sleep, watch a movie, read a book, walk around, eat, talk, or pray (this is man’s free will). But all the time this great airplane is steadily carrying them toward a predetermined destination. Both freedom and sovereignty are present here, and they do not contradict each other. So it is with man’s freedom and God’s sovereignty. The mighty airplane of God’s sovereignty keeps its steady course over the air of history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfillment of those eternal plans which He purposed before the world began.
In the meantime things are not running quite as smoothly as this quick overview might suggest. The mystery of iniquity is even now at work. Within the broad expanse of God’s sovereign will, the conflict between good and evil continues with increasing fury. There will be storms and winds that might buffet the 747 of His will, but God will have His way despite the storms and winds. God will fulfill every promise made to the prophets. We know that those who ignore God will one day be removed from the earth. We know that a redeemed people will enter into everlasting joy and the righteous will shine in the kingdom of their Father. We know that the present imperfect order will be done away with, and a new heaven and a new earth will be established forever. We know that all created beings will acknowledge Yeshua as Lord, which will bring glory to God the Father. Toward all this God is moving with infinite wisdom and perfect precision of action. No one can stop Him from His purpose. Nothing can turn Him aside from His plans. Since He is all knowing, there can be no unforeseen circumstances; there can be no accidents. Since He is all powerful, there can be no lack of power to achieve His chosen ends. There can be no breakdown in His authority. Since He is sovereign, there can be no orders given by someone else that will countermand His.
God has determined the law of choice and consequences. God has decreed that all those who willingly commit themselves to Messiah Yeshua with the obedience of faith will receive eternal life. He has also decreed that all who love darkness and continue in rebellion against the high authority of heaven will remain in a state of spiritual alienation and at the last suffer eternal death. There is freedom to choose which side we will be on, but we don’t have the freedom to negotiate the results of the choice. It has already been determined. Whoever is on Messiah’s side is on the winning side and cannot lose. Whoever is on the other side is on the losing side and cannot win.
The sovereignty of God should be a source of peace, joy and confidence to all His people. There is perfect peace and the highest destiny for those who subject themselves to the Kingship of God. They can already say Halleluyah! They already rejoice that the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. They know that neither chance, nor the folly of man, nor the hatred of Satan, controls the sequence of events or the destiny of their lives, but that the Lord God and His infinite wisdom, love, and power do. But the knowledge of the sovereignty of God should also be a source of distress and anguish for all those who ignore the Lordship of God, and choose to live their life without King Messiah. Their destiny is the one of the usurper and rebel, and they will have a usurper’s and rebel’s reward.
Messiah Yeshua is the Lord. Have you become one of His faithful servants? The Lord God of Israel is the King of kings. Are you one of His loyal subjects? Everyone in creation one day bow down to Him. You might as well be wise, get a head start, and do it now.
I am indebted to A.W. Tozer, Henry Thiessen, and Charles Hodge for this article.