When God’s Plan Doesn’t Make Sense.
Judges 19-20, Acts 27
And the Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day. All these were men who drew the sword. – Judges 20:35 ESV
“Do no be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” – Acts 27:24 ESV
There are times when God’s plan for our lives seems to make no sense at all. Things don’t always go as we would expect them to. Circumstances don’t always turn out like we would want them to. But that does not mean God is not there and it certainly is no indication that God’s plan has failed or His power is somehow limited in our lives. In our reading today in Judges and Acts we have two distinctly different stories, but one very similar theme: The presence and plan of God. In the case of Judges, the people of Israel have gathered to do battle with their own brothers, the Benjamites, for a gross act of immorality. A Levite who was seeking shelter in the Benjamite city of Gibeah, found himself surrounded by “worthless fellows” who wanted to have sexual relations with him. In a less-than-chivalrous act of self-preservation, the Levite gave them his concubine, whom they gang raped and left for dead. When the rest of the nation of Israel found out what had happened in Gibeah, they demanded that the men who committed this heinous act be turned over. But instead, the Benjamites refused and decided to do battle instead. The Israelites, who we would expect would be the good guys in this scenario, arrived with more than 400,000 soldiers to go against only 26,700 Benjamites. They even sought God’s will regarding which of the tribes of Israel should do the honors and go into battle first. God chose the tribe of Judah, but when the day of battle came, the Benjamites killed 22,000 Israelites. Demoralized and defeated, the Israelites wept before God, wondering what had happened and what they were supposed to do now. Things had not turned out as they expected. But God sent them back into battle. And the results were the same. They lost. A staggering 18,000 Israelites died. Once again, they came before God and wept, wondering what had happened. They fasted and presented burnt offerings. And God sent them back a third time, saying, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand” (Judges 20:28 ESV). And God was true to His word. The Israelites defeated the Benjamites, but not before they had lost 40,000 men in battle.
What does this passage reveal about God?
It would have been easy for the people of Israel to question what God was doing during this whole sordid scenario. They would have seen themselves as the good guys, simply trying to avenge the sins of the Benjamites. But their ultimate victory was prefaced with staggering and unexpected defeat. How did any of this make sense? What had they done wrong? Where was God in all of this? But God had been there all along. He had a reason behind all of this. The passage doesn’t give us any clue as to what that might be, but one must conclude that God was also punishing the people of Israel for their own sin and rebellion against Him. They were far from innocent. Their track record was clear. As a nation, the people of Israel were apostate, living in willing disobedience to God and committing all kinds of sins deserving of His righteous anger. God would eventually give them the victory, but not before He enacted judgment against them for their own sins.
God always has a reason for what He does and what He allows. In the case of Paul, he had been arrested and put on trial before Festus, Agrippa and was now under Roman guard and being transported to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. He was innocent, but was having to endure the shame of being arrested, chained and treated like a prisoner. And to make matters worse, Luke records with exacting detail, that this trip was filled with problems from day one.
“the winds were against us…” – Acts 27:4
“We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty…” – Acts 27:7
“the wind did not allow us to go further…” – Acts 27:7
“the voyage was now dangerous…” – Acts 27:9
And things went from bad to worse. The entire voyage was marked by increasing storm intensity. Even the sailors began to lose hope and were ready to abandon ship. But Paul had received a vision from God letting him know that they would all arrive safe, but the ship would be lost. God was in full control. This was all part of His divine plan. Yet it would have been easy for Paul to have concluded that this was all out of God’s control. It would have been natural to question where God was and why He wasn’t doing something about this terrible chain of events. But God was there. There was a reason for the storms. There was a purpose behind all the difficulties. One thing that jumps out is that Paul was able to use the circumstances as an opportunity to share about his faith and to encourage the sailors regarding His God. Paul’s peace and contentment in the midst of the storm was a witness to his faith and his confidence in the power and sovereignty of his God.
What does this passage reveal about man?
We don’t always get it. The circumstances of life don’t always make sense to us – even as believers. And when things appear to be less-than-ideal, we can easily become less-than-trusting when it comes to God’s sovereignty. We can begin to doubt, fear, question, and even become angry with God, letting Him know just how disappointed we are in His handling of our life circumstances. It all reminds me of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn’t make me’? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’?” (Isaiah 29:16 NLT). While the events of our lives may not always turn out the way we want or expect them to, we should never doubt the sovereign will of God. The Israelites had no idea why their superior numbers and righteous cause should have ended in a succession of bitter defeats. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t seem fair. Paul could have easily questioned why God would allow him to be arrested and sent to Rome, then have to endure the rigors of a perilous voyage that seemed doomed to disaster. But he received word from God that his life was in good hands and their journey was God-ordained and God-protected, storms and all. Ultimately, the Israelites would experience victory over the Benjamites, but not before they had suffered their own form of discipline at the hands of God. He would deal with the sins of the men of Gibeah, as well as the people of Israel. God had a greater score to settle than just the capture and punishment of a handful of immoral men from Gibeah. The entire nation of Israel was apostate and marked by sin. The actions of the men of Gibeah were just a symptom of the greater disease infecting the entire nation. And while the remaining tribes felt righteous indignation at what they heard had happened in Gibeah, they had no remorse over their own state of stubborn defiance toward a holy and righteous God. So God would use the circumstances to accomplish His will and in a way that was totally baffling to the people of Israel. But regardless of what they saw, experienced or thought, God was in control.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Trust God. If there is any more important lesson for the believer, I don’t know what it might be. Trusting Him in the midst of the cares and concerns of life is a full-time job and it is never easy. The events of life can easily cause us to either doubt His presence or deny our need for Him. When things are going poorly, we can conclude that God must be absent or uncaring. When things are going well, we can easily conclude that we are in His will or perfectly fine without Him. All of these conclusions are dangerous and decidedly wrong. God is always there. He is working behind the scenes in ways we can’t see or understand. We cannot judge His presence or power based on our circumstances. Paul was a prisoner confined to a boat headed to Rome for a trial before the most powerful man in the world. On top of that, their journey was seemingly ill-fated and destined to end in disaster. But God was not up in heaven wringing His hands or somehow surprised by the literal and metaphorical storms raging in Paul’s life. He was in control. He had a plan. He could be trusted.
Father, teach me to trust You. Help me to see You in the circumstances of my life – whether they’re good or bad. Never let me wrongly conclude that when I need You most, You are not there. And never let me decide that when my life is trouble-free, I don’t need You at all. I always need You. And You are always in control. Let me learn to rest in that reality. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men