Posts Tagged With: divine sovereignty

The Eternal God: Over All, But Near to All

“Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”’” (Exodus 3:13–14; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

The letters in the middle are the Hebrew letters “YHWH,” the Old Testament name of God. Photo by Ulf Carlbark, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

In our previous post, we saw that the covenant name of God reminds us that He is self-existent and eternal. Nothing else created Him, He owes His existence to no other entity or force, and He will always exist. Because of this, He is sovereign over all things.

Theologians associate this aspect of God’s nature with something they call His transcendence: The fact that He is over all things and beyond normal human comprehension:

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

Some Bible teachers think this transcendence contradicts another of God’s qualities, His immanence. This quality reminds us that God is everywhere and is especially close to His people. He is always with us. Jesus reminded His disciples of this shortly before His ascension:

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20).

Some people think these qualities do not go together; they think it is impossible for God to be transcendentally above from His creation, yet immanently close to His people. However, these qualities address different aspects of His nature. It would be like saying that I am six feet tall and a guitar player; one attribute describes physical qualities, while the other describes a personal interest. Likewise, God’s transcendence is a function of His power and glory. His immanence is a function of His love. They are separate qualities, but they are aspects of His singular nature.

Because God is eternal, transcendent, and immanent, He is sovereign over all creation. He is sovereign over all the world. Moses learned this at the burning bush and in the months that followed. YHWH was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Israelites had probably passed down stories about God’s faithfulness to these three ancestors. The Lord had been their God. He remained the God of the Israelite people. Yet, throughout the chapters 4-15 of Exodus (and beyond), He showed that He was more than the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants: He was, and always will be, God over all the nations, whether they acknowledge Him or not. Egypt’s Pharaoh believed his deities were the greatest gods; in fact, he thought he was a god. The plagues described in Exodus and the departure of the Israelites from his country proved that his gods were no match for the God of Israel. The God of Israel could prove His authority over Pharaoh and his false gods. The One True God could display His authority over the most powerful nations on Earth. He can accomplish His will even when the most powerful nations in the world rage in rebellion against Him (Psalms 2:1-4).

His immanence reaches deeper. God is sovereign not only over the nations. He is sovereign over your life. Your life matters to God. You owe your existence to Him. The world might think you are an insignificant accident of evolution and history, but God orchestrated history to bring you here. He has power and authority over your life. He has a purpose for your life, which He desires to reveal to you.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

God may not have appointed you as a prophet, but He appointed you for some purpose. His will for your life is perfect. God has a perfect will, not only for the world, but for you (Romans 12:2). Those who come by faith to Jesus can find His perfect will for their lives.

Come to Jesus. He has given you life. He is the ground of your being. He is and eternal, but more importantly, He loves you, forgives you, and offers you a life far greater than you can imagine:

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Modern-Day Elijahs VI: You’re Not Alone

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

The LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.

[1 Kings 19:13–21. Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.]

[This study continues a series that I stopped writing about a year ago, entitled “Modern-Day Elijahs.” To read other articles in the series, click on “Modern-Day Elijahs” in the “Categories” list on this page. For the first article in the series, click here. For the last article before this one, click here.]

Prophet-Elias-Grk-ikon

Elijah on Mount Horeb, from a Greek icon. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1489939

Elijah is meeting with God, and it is a visit that will change the course of his life and the fate of Israel. Elijah has been discouraged. He feels like his ministry is a failure and that he is the last person in Israel who still worships the God of his ancestors.

Discouragement will enslave us. It will make us believe we are alone, or that we are the only people who have ever encountered our problems. It will make us exaggerate how bad things are and will cause us to overlook what is going well. Take a look at Elijah’s grievances, item by item:

  • “The sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant”—True, but when they saw the fire from heaven igniting Elijah’s offering, they confessed that “The LORD, he is God.” They were at least partially ready to return to Him.
  • They have “torn down Your altars”—But God has already shown that this is not a big deal. He had honored the makeshift altar the prophet built on Mount Carmel. Once they are ready to confess that the Lord is God, they will have no problem restoring the altars and the worship.
  • They have “killed Your prophets with the sword”—As we saw in 1 Kings 18:4, Jezebel did not get all of them. One royal official, Obadiah, was courageous enough to put God first and protect as many prophets as he could. Also, after the duel on Mount Carmel, the people obeyed Elijah’s order to execute the prophets of Ba’al. The tide was turning!
  • “And I alone am left”—Here is the greatest falsehood. Satan is the father of lies, and he will find ways to get you to believe falsehoods. Although I am usually a fan of modern literal translations of Scripture, I think the NASB drops the ball in 1 Kings 19:18, where it quotes God saying, “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” The King James Version seems to have it correct here: God had left 7,000 for Himself. (Hebrew does not have verb tenses like English does. Therefore, translators are usually forced to rely on context when determining if a verb is present, past, or future tense. This is one of the greatest challenges in Old Testament translation.)

Contrary to the voices of self-doubt and despair that were screaming inside Elijah’s head, he was not alone. He had acted like he was alone, but there were others around who worshipped his God.

The greatest mistake a man of God can make is to believe that God expects him to walk alone. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He did not slap Peter on the back and say, “Good luck, bro; it’s all on your shoulders now!” He left 11 disciples with the same set of instructions. They were supposed to wait together, and then fulfill the Great Commission together. Ministry is rarely a one-man show.

So, God gave Elijah an assignment: raise up other men to help complete the mission. He did not even have to choose them. God told Elijah whom He had chosen, and Elijah’s job was to anoint them for their ministries. He was to anoint a new king of Aram, a new king of Israel, and a new prophet to continue his ministry.

We can learn a few key principles from God’ instructions. First, God’s authority extends over the rulers of the world. Elijah was running in fear from the wife of the current king. Now, God told Elijah, “Go replace that king!” The servant of God should not cower or cater to politicians. We are called to proclaim God’s authority to the politicians and demand their obedience.

Second, God’s authority extends over all the nations of the world, including those who do not know know Him. Phillippians 2 tells us that every knee shall bow to Jesus: That includes the knees of our President, Congressmen from both political parties, Islamic terrorists, deranged dictators of third-world  nations, etc. Our mission is to speak God’s word and advance His kingdom throughout the world.

Third, this is God’s ministry: Not yours. Ironically, the only one of the three men that Elijah personally anointed was Elisha, his successor as prophet. Elisha anointed Hazael as the new king of Aram and Jehu as the new king of Israel.

When Elijah was taken up to heaven, God was not done speaking to the people. He continued to speak through Elisha and performed even more miracles through him than He did through Elijah. In fact, even though Elijah is considered the greatest Old-Testament prophet, we do not have a book by him. God chose other men to write the prophetic books of the Old Testament.

God was not done with Elijah. In fact, it was through this time of discouragement that God could reveal a greater purpose to Elijah: He was not only called to minister to others, but also to minister with others.

There is a reason why Jesus chose to assemble a team of apostles. He knew that people will give in to defeat and discouragement if they try to do God’s work alone. We are not made to serve Him as soloists. If you are facing discouragement in your walk with God, make sure you have other people around you.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Modern-Day Elijahs, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Modern-Day Elijahs V: Time for a Spiritual Retreat

Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [1 Kings 19:1–13. Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.]

Having won a mighty battle for the soul of his nation, Elijah had to fight a battle in his own soul. The servant of God must always remember that, if Satan cannot defeat you through the things around you, he will try to conquer you from within. The man who could call fire and rain down from heaven would find himself ready to surrender when Jezebel uttered a verbal threat.

Elijah had taken his stand for God, and God proved that He is greater than the idols the Israelites had been worshipping. On matters of faith conviction, though, some people will not surrender. Jezebel was one such woman. Even if everybody else acknowledged Yahweh as the only true God, she would continue to worship Ba’al.

Even in the face of defeat, Jezebel would not yield: Not to her husband, not to Elijah, and not to a God she refused to worship. She refused to recognize the limits of her authority. No other queen in the Bible was as  bold as her, as quick to usurp the king’s authority. The king was supposed to submit to God, and the queen was supposed to let the king do his job.

In the face of Jezebel’s threats, Elijah was tempted to despair. He was ready to quit, and to give up on life itself. “Now, O Lord, take my life.” He was almost ready to commit suicide, but thankfully he left his life and death in the hands of God. Elijah was ready to quit, but God was not done with him yet.

One might expect God to be angry at a believer—especially a mature believer who should “know better”—for wanting to die, but God chose mercy over wrath. Instead of answering his prayer, God allowed Elijah to take a nap. Then, He sent an angel with food. “Elijah, I understand. You are frightened. You are stressed out. You are tired. You are hungry. But, you’re not finished. Eat and get some rest. I want to meet with you on the same mountain where I first met with Moses (Exodus 3:1) and gave him the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:2).”

The journey was long, so God gave Elijah two supernatural meals, since the prophet would go 40 days without food. Elijah faced a turning point in his ministry. Just as Israel had needed a miraculous revelation of God’s power a few days earlier, now Elijah needed a miraculous sign of God’s mercy and provision now.

Elijah also needed a new perspective on God. Up until this time, his ministry had focused on God’s total power over the world. This is a God who can hold back rain as long as He chooses. He is a God who can feed those whom He chooses. He can send fire from heaven whenever He desires. But, Elijah was discouraged. That all-powerful God seemed too overwhelming. So, when God appeared to Elijah on the mountain, He did not come in the mighty, rushing wind storm; or the earthquake; or the fire. Instead, He came in a gentle whisper, a still small voice. It was  the sound a loving parent makes when comforting a crying baby who wakes up terrified in the middle of the night.

Elijah had served long enough. He had been busy doing God’s work, being the man God used to reveal Himself to Israel. He may have reached a point where he worked in his own strength. It was no longer a calling; it had degenerated into a mundane job: one with little or no wages, no apparent benefits, but plenty of hostility and disappointment. Elijah needed time away from the action so that he could bring his needs before the Lord. He needed to acknowledge how this ministry has worn him out. He needed a chance to admit his doubts, his frustrations, and his fears. As God’s top spokesman, he felt that he could not let other people know what was running through his mind. But, God knew already. He gave Elijah an opportunity to bare his soul.

This journey into the wilderness was Elijah’s opportunity to stop ministering to others, and to allow God to take care of him. He needed a fresh dose of God’s power in his life. To continue as God’s prophet, he needed to recover.

The modern-day man or woman of God needs that renewal also. Some of us (particularly myself) can be very task- and goal-oriented. We feel like we have to stay busy, and if we stop being busy, we get restless or (even worse) we feel like failures. However, God wants us to come aside and get some rest. In the midst of our busyness, let us not forget to spend time simply enjoying a relationship with the God who loves us and wants to bless us. How can we do that?

  • Schedule regular Sabbath-rest times. God commands His people to take a Sabbath-day’s rest every week (Exodus 20:8–11). He never told us to stop. Jesus merely told us that the Sabbath is meant for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). God created the Sabbath to be a blessing to His people.
  • Spend some time daily in prayer and Bible reading. Let this be a time when God speaks to you. As much as you may be tempted to read your prayer list to God, remember that your first priority is to receive direction, encouragement, strength, guidance, etc., from Him.
  • Set aside time for personal retreats. In addition to some corporate ministry retreats I attend annually (one or two with the members of an order in which I am a brother, and a church men’s retreat), I will usually have one or two solitary retreats a year: 24 hours where I am alone with God. I can come back with new perspective and insight into His will for my life.

Take that time to hear the still, small voice of God whispering to you. The greatest prophet in the Old Testament needed it. So do you.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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