Our Sovereign God

1 Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Arise, and depart with your household, and sojourn wherever you can, for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come upon the land for seven years.” So the woman arose and did according to the word of the man of God. She went with her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years. And at the end of the seven years, when the woman returned from the land of the Philistines, she went to appeal to the king for her house and her land. Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, “Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done.” And while he was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, behold, the woman whose son he had restored to life appealed to the king for her house and her land. And Gehazi said, “My lord, O king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed an official for her, saying, “Restore all that was hers, together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now.”

Now Elisha came to Damascus. Ben-hadad the king of Syria was sick. And when it was told him, “The man of God has come here,” the king said to Hazael, “Take a present with you and go to meet the man of God, and inquire of the Lord through him, saying, ‘Shall I recover from this sickness?’” So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, all kinds of goods of Damascus, forty camels’ loads. When he came and stood before him, he said, “Your son Ben-hadad king of Syria has sent me to you, saying, ‘Shall I recover from this sickness?’” 10 And Elisha said to him, “Go, say to him, ‘You shall certainly recover,’ but the Lord has shown me that he shall certainly die.” 11 And he fixed his gaze and stared at him, until he was embarrassed. And the man of God wept. 12 And Hazael said, “Why does my lord weep?” He answered, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women.” 13 And Hazael said, “What is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?” Elisha answered, “The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Syria.” 14 Then he departed from Elisha and came to his master, who said to him, “What did Elisha say to you?” And he answered, “He told me that you would certainly recover.” 15 But the next day he took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place. 2 Kings 8:1-15 ESV

Hazael meets prophet Elisha and asks for healing for his master, King Ben Hadad of Syria (2 Kings 8). Wood engraving, published in 1886.

It’s difficult to determine exactly when the two stories that open up chapter eight took place. But the author’s decision to include them at this point in his narrative doesn’t appear to have been based on a desire for chronological accuracy. He was trying to make a point about the spiritual conditions in and around Israel, and so he used the stories of two very different characters as illustrations. One we have met before. The Shunammite woman was first introduced to us in chapter four. She was a faithful follower of Yahweh who had shown gracious hospitality to Elisha and his servant, providing them with shelter and food every time they passed through her town. And God had rewarded her generosity to His servant by allowing her to conceive and bear a son, something she had never been able to do. But sometime in his early childhood, her son became ill and died. Her joy turned to sorrow. But the prophet of God intervened and restored the child to life. And now, in chapter eight, the author decides to pick up the story where he left off.

Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Arise, and depart with your household, and sojourn wherever you can, for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come upon the land for seven years.” – 2 Kings 8:1 ESV

The prophet informed the Shunammite woman about a famine that God was about to bring upon the land because of Israel’s ongoing apostasy. He gave this faithful servant of Yahweh the opportunity to escape and find shelter until the seven years of famine had passed. And she took the prophet’s advice and fled with her family to the land of the Philistines. But seven years later, when the famine was over and she returned to Shunem, she was homeless and landless. It could be that she sold her husband’s inheritance before she left seven years earlier. But it could be that the crown had confiscated her land in her absence. But in either case, the Mosaic law required that she be given the right to reclaim her land at any time (Leviticus 25:23-28). It would have been part of her husband’s inheritance and protected by law.

So, upon her return, she headed straight to the palace to make an appeal to the king. It seems likely that her husband had died. We know from chapter four that he was more advanced in years (2 Kings 4:14). Yet it could be that he was alive but physically incapable of presenting his case before the king, so his wife acted on his behalf.

This is where the story gets interesting. In a display of divinely inspired timing, the woman arrived at the palace at the exact moment when Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, was having a conversation with King Jehoram. The fact that Gehazi was standing before the king would indicate that this story took place before he had been stricken with leprosy (2 Kings 5:20-27). The author doesn’t reveal the purpose behind Gehazi’s appointment with the king, but he does let us know what they discussed.

Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, “Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done.” – 2 Kings 8:4 ESV

Jehoram’s relationship with Elisha had been anything but cordial. Like all the kings of Israel, he had a love-hate relationship with God’s prophet. Jehoram was the son of Jezebel and, like his wicked mother, he had continued to lead the people of Israel in the practice of idolatry. So, it seems a bit out of character for him to ask Gehazi to regale him with all the exploits of the prophet of God. But, once again, this reveals the divine timing and providential planning behind all that is taking place in the story. God was orchestrating everything, down to the last detail.

It just so happened that as Gehazi was telling Jehoram how Elisha had restored the woman’s son to life, she walked in the door. Gehazi, shocked at seeing the woman show up at just that moment, exclaimed, “My lord, O king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life” (2 Kings 8:5 ESV). This wasn’t a case of kismet, karma, fate, or good luck. It was the sovereign will of God Almighty on display. He had pre-ordained and orchestrated it all. And the result was that the king ordered the immediate restoration of the woman’s land, “including the value of any crops that had been harvested during her absence” (2 Kings 8:6 NLT). He richly rewarded her for her faithfulness.

And this sets up the second story. In this one, the location shifts from Samaria, the capital city of Israel, to Damascus, the capital city of Syria. In verses 1-6, the author presented the story of a faithful servant and a curious king. But in verses 7-15, he tells a strikingly different story about an unfaithful servant and a critically ill king. These stories are arranged as they are for a reason. They are meant to stand in stark contrast to one another. But they are also intended to demonstrate the sovereign hand of God over all that takes place. From the palace of the king of Israel to the royal court of the pagan king of Syria, God is in full control of all things. There is nothing that escapes His notice or falls outside His divine jurisdiction.

In another display of divine timing, Elisha has arrived in Damascus at the very same time that Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, has become ill. Upon hearing of Elisha’s presence in his capital, Ben-hadad determines to take advantage of this fortunate opportunity. He sends Hazael, the governor of Damascus, to ask Elisha whether he will recover from his illness. And, in a not-so-subtle attempt to garner a favorable response from the prophet, Ben-hadad includes a lucrative welcome gift. And when Hazael delivers the king’s gift and message to Elisha, the prophet responds with a rather cryptic answer.

“Go and tell him, ‘You will surely recover.’ But actually the Lord has shown me that he will surely die!” – 2 Kings 8:10 NLT

What followed this exchange was a long and awkward staredown between Elisha and Hazael. The prophet knew exactly what was going on in Hazael’s heart. God had revealed to Elisha exactly what the governor was planning to do. So, he locked eyes with Hazael, perhaps hoping that the awkward silence would lead the governor to have second thoughts about his evil plan. But there was no confession from Hazael. Instead, Elisha began to weep. He knew exactly what was going to happen and the long-term ramifications for the people of Israel.

“I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!” – 2 Kings 8:12 NLT

God had given Elisha a glimpse into all that was going to take place. Ben-hadad would recover from his illness but would die at the hands of Hazael. And when Hazael ascended to the throne of Syria, he would wreak havoc and destruction upon the nation of Israel. He would become God’s chosen instrument of judgment upon His unfaithful people. And this had always been part of God’s sovereign plan.

All the way back in chapter 19 of 1 Kings, we have the story of Elijah running from the threat of Jezebel’s revenge. He escaped to the wilderness where he sought shelter in a cave. But while there, he received a visit and a message from God.

And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.” – 1 Kings 19:15-16 ESV

Don’t miss the significance of what is going on here. Years earlier, God had commanded Elijah to anoint Hazael to be the next king of Syria. And Elijah had obeyed that command. This means that long before Elisha showed up in Damascus and had his face-to-face encounter with Hazael, this man already had God’s divine seal of approval to be the next king of Syria. He had already been anointed by Elijah but had not yet assumed the throne. But it was just a matter of time. It was inevitable and unavoidable because it had been ordained by God.

And God had made it clear to Elijah that He would one day use Hazael as His instrument of judgment upon the rebellious people of Israel.

And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” – 1 Kings 19:17-18 ESV

Now, that prophecy was about to be fulfilled. God had shown Elisha what was about to happen and the thought of it brought him to tears.

“The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Syria.” – 2 Kings 8:13 ESV

The judgment of God was about to come upon the people of Israel. And while He had rewarded the Shunammite woman for her faithfulness, He was about to bring death and destruction upon unfaithful Israel. And the author closes his story with the fateful words: “the next day he [Hazael] took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place” (2 Kings 8:15 ESV).

The man whom God had ordered Elijah to anoint years earlier, was now the king. The sovereign will of God had been fulfilled. And the next phase of His plan for the rebellious people of Israel was about to begin.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

There is No Other God

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” 2 Kings 5:1-15 ESV

Elisha appears to have been a prophet to the people. At this point in the narrative, his interactions with the kings of Israel have been few and far between. Yet, we have seen him provide the widow of Zarephath with a miraculous supply of oil that allowed her and her two young sons to escape poverty and avoid possible enslavement. Next, he rewarded the Shunammite woman’s hospitality by replacing the sorrow of her barrenness with the joy of motherhood. But years later, when that young son unexpectedly died, the prophet intervened again, raising him back to life and restoring the joy of his mother. And then there’s the story of the poisoned stew. A young prophet had inadvertently and innocently added wild gourds to a stew that Elisha’s servant had prepared, not knowing that they were poisonous. This deadly concoction could have resulted in the deaths of all the prophets who ate it, but Elisha had intervened, purifying the contents and protecting the lives of God’s messengers.

All of these stories are meant to reveal God’s interest in and interactions with His people. The average Israelite had to live in a land permeated by idolatry and under the judgment of God. On two separate occasions, God had brought famine on the land because of the apostasy of its godless kings. Yet, the stories of Elijah and Elisha reveal how God stepped into the lives of his people, graciously providing them with sustenance in the midst of His divine judgment. These stories are meant to showcase the mercy and love of God. Despite the ongoing unfaithfulness of Israel’s kings, the God of Israel remained committed to the covenant promises He had made to His people.

And in chapter five, we’re given another story that illustrates God’s sovereign hand over not only Israel but all the nations. While the kings of Israel continued to abuse their power by leading the people into idolatry and apostasy, God operated behind the scenes, demonstrating His unparalleled sovereignty over faithless kings, false gods, and even those outside the flock of Israel.

Suddenly, in chapter five, the author expands the scope of his narrative by including the plight of a Syrian general who suffered from the debilitating and potentially deadly disease known as leprosy. This story’s inclusion was meant to shock and surprise the Jewish audience to whom the author originally wrote. Their attention would have been piqued as soon as they read, “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria” (2 Kings 5:1 ESV). Why in the world would the God of Israel have given this pagan idol-worshiper a victory of any kind? This would have made no sense. And to make matters worse, this non-Hebrew is described as “a mighty man of valor” (2 Kings 5:1 ESV) who had led raids into Israel and captured and enslaved a young Jewish girl. To the Jewish reader, the only positive aspect of this story would have been that Naaman had leprosy.

Over the centuries, the Syrians had enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the nation of Israel. And ever since God had divided the nation in two, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the Syrians had made a habit of playing one against the other. Treaties had been signed and then broken. Alliances had been made, only to have been reneged upon. Syria had repeatedly taken advantage of the discord between Israel and Judah, choosing to align itself with one or the other based on what could be gained from the arrangement.

The Syrians were not to be trusted. They were self-promoting opportunists who regularly switch sides and deftly manipulated the strained relationship between Israel and Judah to their advantage. And yet, here we have the unexpected and shocking story about a Syrian general who receives healing from the prophet of God.

Everything about this story is intended to reveal God’s sovereign hand. He is described as the source behind Syria’s victory, and that victory was over the nation of Israel. Not only that, the victory included the capture of a young Jewish girl. But providentially, that same young girl ended up as a servant to Naaman’s wife. Like Moses being adopted into Pharaoh’s family or Joseph ending up serving in Pharaoh’s court, this young, unidentified Jewish girl found herself serving in the home of one of the most powerful men in Syria. Her plight, while difficult, had been God-ordained.

Because of her providential presence in Naaman’s household, she had become aware of his leprosy and was able to tell her mistress about a possible solution to his problem.

“I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5:3 NLT

Despite her predicament, she was still a faithful follower of Yahweh, and she believed that her God had the power to provide healing, even to the pagan commander who had enslaved her. Not only does this young girl display an amazing amount of faith, but she reveals a kind and compassionate heart. Rather than rejoicing over her captor’s plight, she expresses her desire that he be healed, even declaring her wish that he could meet the prophet of God.

Once again, God’s sovereignty is revealed through the rather strange chain of events that ensue. Naaman goes to Ben-Hadad II, the king of Syria, and received permission to visit Samaria. The king even provides Naaman with a letter of introduction to Jehoram, the king of Israel. And in an attempt to guarantee Jehoram’s assistance, Ben-Hadad II sends 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and 10 changes of royal apparel. Don’t miss the irony in all of this. At the suggestion of a young Israelite slave girl, a pagan Syrian general has made an appeal to his pagan Syrian king. And that idol-worshiping Syrian king has sent a sizeable tribute to an apostate Israelite king begging that he help his leprosy-stricken general get healing from the God of Israel. You can’t make this stuff up.

When Naaman presented his letter of introduction and the generous gifts from King King Ben-hadad, he was met with both surprise and suspicion. Jehoram thinks the whole thing is a set-up.

“Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.” – 2 Kings 5:7 NLT

It never seems to cross Jehoram’s mind to seek the aid of Yahweh or His prophet. He simply panics, assuming the whole thing is a clever ploy by Ben-Hadad to justify military action in the guise of revenge. But while Jehoram decided to leave God out of the equation, Elisha got wind of what was happening and contacted the king.

“Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.” – 2 Kings 5:8 NLT

Once again, God’s prophet came to the rescue. But what happens next is almost humorous. The famous general from Syria had to get in his chariot and, along with his retinue, make his way to Elisha’s humble home. But before Naaman could get there, the prophet sent a messenger to meet him with a rather strange set of instructions.

“Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5:10 NLT

But the proud military commander, who was used to having all his subordinates report to him, was offended that Elisha didn’t bother to meet him. And it’s clear that he had expected something a bit showier when it came to how he would be healed.

“I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! – 2 Kings 5:11 NLT

But to Naaman’s disappointment, Elisha’s only instructions had been to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. This sounded ridiculous to the general, and he let his frustration be known in no uncertain terms.

Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” – 2 Kings 5:12 NLT

But as Naaman was preparing to walk away in a huff, one of his own servants convinced him to do what the prophet had said. After all, what did he have to lose? Yes, the whole bathing-in-the-Jordan thing would be a blow to his pride, but it might very well be worth it. So, Naaman took the advice of his servant and obeyed the command of the prophet. And when he came up out of the water the seventh time, he was completely cleansed of his leprosy. In fact, the author describes the condition of his skin as that of a young child – no scars, scabs, or lesions of any kind. Naaman the Syrian had experienced a miracle, and he clearly recognized that it had been the work of Yahweh, the God of Israel.

“Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. – 2 Kings 5:15 NLT

That’s an amazing admission to come from the lips of a pagan Syrian general. He had spent his entire life worshiping Baal, and it’s likely that he had often petitioned his god for healing from his condition. But his requests had remained unheeded because they had gone unheard. His leprosy had been real, but his god was not. Yet, here was Naaman standing before Yahweh’s prophet, healed and whole, and declaring his belief in the one true God of Israel.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Under God’s Judgment, But Unrepentant

1 In the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twelve years. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, though not like his father and mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless, he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it.

Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. So King Jehoram marched out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel. And he went and sent word to Jehoshaphat king of Judah: “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me to battle against Moab?” And he said, “I will go. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” Then he said, “By which way shall we march?” Jehoram answered, “By the way of the wilderness of Edom.”

So the king of Israel went with the king of Judah and the king of Edom. And when they had made a circuitous march of seven days, there was no water for the army or for the animals that followed them. 10 Then the king of Israel said, “Alas! The Lord has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 11 And Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?” Then one of the king of Israel’s servants answered, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” 12 And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of the Lord is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.

13 And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 14 And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.” 2 Kings 3:1-14 ESV

When Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, died just two years into his reign, his brother Jehoram became the next king of Israel. And he proved to be just as evil as his father and brother. Yet, he did use his royal power to eliminate the worship of Baal in Israel. But “he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it” (2 Kings 3:3 ESV). He refused to remove the false gods that Jeroboam had erected in Dan and Bethel, and his failure to do so kept the spirit of idolatry and unfaithfulness alive in the land of Israel. Rather than call the people to repentance and encourage a return to Yahweh, Jehoram simply maintained the status quo, allowing the people to continue to place their hope in the golden calves Jeroboam had created.

But Jehoram soon found himself in need of divine assistance. His father, who had been a wicked and oppressive king, had managed to make a lot of enemies. One of them was the king of Moab. During his reign, Ahab had forced the Moabites to pay an annual tribute that consisted of “100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams” (2 Kings 3:4 ESV). But the Moabites found this annual levy to be onerous, and, as soon as the king of Moab heard of Ahab’s death, he refused to make any further payments.

Jehoram viewed this as a blatant act of rebellion against his authority as the king of Israel. His primary concern was not with the loss of the annual tribute but with the potential loss of respect he would face if he did not deal decisively with this blatant affront to his royal reputation. So, he determined to teach King Mesha of Moab a lesson. Jehoram mustered all the fighting men of Israel and then called on Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to come to their assistance. Jehoram wanted Jehoshaphat to provide troops and access through Judah’s land because he planned to attack Moab from the south.

King Jehoshaphat agreed to assist Jehoram, stating, “I will go. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” ( 2 Kings 3:7 ESV). This was the second time that King Jehoshaphat threw in his lot with the king of Israel. Back when Ahab had been king, he had requested Jehoshaphat’s help in attacking the Syrian-held city of Ramoth-gilead. And Jehoshaphat had responded to Ahab with the very same words of commitment: “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” (1 Kings 22:4 ESV).

Surely, Jehoshaphat had learned a lesson from that first ill-fated alliance with the king of Israel. It had almost cost him his life and had ended with Ahab dying in a pool of his own blood on the floor of his chariot. But the king of Judah proved to be a slow learner. He agreed to Jehoram’s request, providing Israel with military assistance and unhindered access to Moab through the land of Judah. But because the southern approach to Moab would require Jehoram’s forces to pass through the land of Edom, he had successfully coerced the king of Edom to join their expedition.

For seven days, the combined forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom marched around the Dead Sea’s southern tip, an inhospitable region where rain was rare and fresh water was in short supply. And long before they were able to reach their final objective, they ran out of water. They were in the middle of a virtual wasteland, with no means of slaking the thirst of their troops, horses, or pack animals. This mighty military force had come to a screeching halt. And in a state of panic, Jehoram cried out, “The Lord has brought the three of us here to let the king of Moab defeat us” (2 Kings 3:10 ESV).

It’s interesting to note that in his greatest moment of need, Judah’s apostate king utters the name of yᵊhōvâ – Jehovah, the one true God of Israel. He doesn’t call on the golden calves of Jeroboam. He doesn’t mention Baal, the god his father and mother worshiped. Instead, he interpreted their dire circumstances as a divine judgment from the hand of Jehovah. He concluded that God was out to destroy them.

But King Jehoshaphat provided a voice of reason. Rather than assume the worse, he suggested that they seek the aid of a prophet of God to determine what God would have them do. Perhaps God was simply trying to get their attention. It appears Jehoshaphat suddenly realized that they had started this entire endeavor without seeking a word from the Lord. So, he strongly suggested that they do so now.

It just so happened that Elisha, the newly appointed prophet of God, had chosen to accompany the expedition. We’re not told why Elisha was there, but it seems reasonable to assume that his presence had been divinely decreed and ordained. He was there because God, in His providence, had planned it. The very man who had purified the brackish spring water outside the city of Jericho was there in their midst (2 Kings 2:19-22). In their greatest moment of need, when all seemed lost, God had placed His spokesman among them.

So, Jehoram and Jehoshaphat schedule a meeting with Elisha. But the prophet of God took full advantage of Jehoram’s predicament, chiding the idolatrous king of Israel for his apparent lack of faith in his own false gods.

“Why are you coming to me?” Elisha asked the king of Israel. “Go to the pagan prophets of your father and mother!” – 2 Kings 3:13 NLT

It was obvious that Jehoram put no stock in the golden calves of Jeroboam, and he had no faith that Baal or Asherah would come to their aid. And Elisha couldn’t resist the opportunity to rub the king’s nose in the mess he had made of Israel’s spiritual state. Jehoram, like all his predecessors, had stubbornly and arrogantly chosen to reject Yahweh. He had claimed to believe in a new god. But as soon as he found himself in a predicament that called for divine assistance, his faith became as false as his god.

In his desperation, Jehoram ignored the prophet’s stinging rebuke and declared his strong belief that this was all the work of Yahweh.

“No! For it was the Lord who called us three kings here—only to be defeated by the king of Moab!” – 2 Kings 3:13 NLT

Jehoram was convinced that their expedition was doomed to failure. The God of Elisha had it in for them, and there was nothing they could do about it. But there is no sense of repentance or remorse on Jehoram’s part. He does not confess his apostasy and refuses to acknowledge any guilt regarding his idolatry. In his mind, Yahweh was just another God who happened to oppose their plans. And if Jehoram could get Elisha to appeal to his God, perhaps they could be spared. Was there a sacrifice they could make to appease Elisha’s God? Could they do something to make Jehovah happy? Was there a way to get Yahweh to change His mind? That is all Jehoram was interested in and the only reason he was willing to consult with Elisha. And the prophet was not moved by Jehoram’s desperate cries for help. He knew that Jehoram’s interest in Yahweh was motivated by fear and not faith. The threat of divine judgment, while real, had done nothing to draw Jehoram back to God. And Elisha knew that the king of Israel remained unrepentant and unwilling to acknowledge Yahweh as the one true God. He had no respect for Jehoram, but he agreed to intervene because Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, had been the one to suggest that they call on the name of Yahweh.

“As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I wouldn’t even bother with you except for my respect for King Jehoshaphat of Judah. – 2 Kings 3:14 NLT

Here, in the desolate Dead Sea wilderness, the God of Israel was about to show up in might and power. As He had done so many times before, He would intervene in the lives of His rebellious people. In the midst of their unfaithfulness, the always faithful Yahweh would show up and rescue His unrepentant and undeserving people yet again.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Getting to Know God the Hard Way

16 And they went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings who helped him. 17 The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-hadad sent out scouts, and they reported to him, “Men are coming out from Samaria.” 18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive. Or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

19 So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts and the army that followed them. 20 And each struck down his man. The Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them, but Ben-hadad king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen. 21 And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow.

22 Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.”

23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. 24 And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places, 25 and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so. 

26 In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country.

28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’”1 Kings 20:16-28 ESV

King Ahab found himself in a strange predicament. His capital city, Samaria, was under attack by a confederation of 32 kings, led by King Ben-hadad of Syria. But much to Ahab’s surprise, a prophet of Yahweh had appeared with a plan for Israel’s deliverance.

“Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” – 1 Kings 20:13 ESV

The very God whom Ahab and Jezebel had attempted to replace with their false gods had announced that He was going to rescue His disobedient and unfaithful people. And God had told Ahab exactly how the victory would take place.

By the servants of the governors of the districts.” – 1 Kings 20:14 ESV

God was not going to utilize Ahab’s army to fight the Syrians. This is significant because Ahab, like all his predecessors, had assembled a large military force. There is even evidence to that fact, found on an ancient Assyrian stone tablet. It bears an inscription describing the battle of Qarqar between Ahab and his enemy King Shalmaneser III of Assyria. The tablet records the size of the army that assembled to do battle that day: “2,000 chariots and 10,000 men of Ahab king of Israel.”

But on this occasion, God chose to place Ahab’s formidable resources in a secondary position, choosing instead to use “servants” – a group of common people who, when assembled, amounted to only 7,000 in number.

Confident that he would defeat the Israelites, Ben-hadad and his vassal kings were drinking themselves drunk in a pre-victory celebration. So, when scouts arrived with a report that Israelite forces had been seen leaving the city, Beh-hadad had assumed they were bringing news of Israel’s surrender or their decision to continue the battle. While he and his military commanders continued to toast their inevitable victory, the 7,000 servants made their way to the Syrian camp, followed by Ahab and his army.

This surprise attack caught the Syrian forces completely unawares and unable to respond. Led by the 7,000 servants, Ahab’s army quickly routed the Syrians, forcing them to abandon camp and run for their lives. Quickly sobered by this unexpected reversal of fortunes, Beh-hadad managed to escape. But the rest of his forces didn’t fare as well.

And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow. – 1 Kings 20:21 ESV

Notice that the author conveniently eliminates any mention of Ahab’s name. He simply refers to him as “the king of Israel.” He repeats this obvious slight in the very next verse, refusing to give Ahab any credit for the victory. He simply warns him that the battle may be done, but the war is from over.

“Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.” – 1 Kings 20:22 ESV

Ben-hadad would be back. He had suffered a devastating defeat, but once he had time to assess what had happened that day, the Syrian king would return, more determined than ever to avenge his loss by destroying the Israelites. And his advisors encouraged his plans by suggesting that his loss had been divinely ordained. In their pagan way of thinking, the only thing that could explain a loss of this magnitude was the intervention of the gods. They rationalized away their defeat by concluding that they had chosen the wrong place to do battle.  They absolved Beh-hadad of any responsibility for the loss by assuring him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they” (1 Kings 20:23 ESV).

Little did they know how right they were. Their defeat had been the result of divine intervention, but geographic location had played no role in it. Yahweh was the God of the hills and the valleys. He was sovereign over all the earth. Unlike their false gods, Yahweh was unbound by time and space. The extent of His power was limitless. To the God of Israel, the location and the size of the opposing army made no difference. And so, when Ben-hadad’s advisors counseled him to rebuild his army and restructure his military command, it would prove to be futile advice. They had no idea what they were dealing with and their ignorance led them to make some very dangerous assumptions. First, they assumed that the God of Israel was similar to their own gods – limited in power and vulnerable to defeat. After all, their gods had failed to deliver them. So, if they could find Yahweh’s weak spots, the next battle would go their way.

And Ben-hadad, eager to avenge his loss, took their advice and spent the winter rebuilding his army. He replaced the 32 kings with seasoned military commanders. He ordered the construction of new chariots. And he made plans to take the fight to the valley, where the God of Israel would have no power and play no role in the outcome of the battle.

It is fascinating to consider that all of this was in the sovereign will of God. He had orchestrated all the details concerning the original battle, including Ben-hadad’s escape. God had even told Ahab that the Syrians would return. Ben-hadad’s rebuilding and reconfiguring of his army had been part of God’s plan. The original battle had been intended to restore the Israelites’ belief in God. Prior to their victory, God had told them, “I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (1 Kings 20:13 ESV).

But God knew that little had changed in Israel. Even after their miraculous defeat of the Syrians, the people still remained unconvinced of Yahweh’s status as the one true God. When spring rolled around, they found themselves facing their former foe again. This time, Beh-hadad showed up with a much larger and better-equipped army than before, and rather than laying siege to the city, they gathered in the Valley of Aphek. Ben-hadad had brought a bigger, better army and had chosen a battleground that was outside the reach of Yahweh’s power. Or so he thought.

The stage was set. The enemy of Israel had returned. And the author paints a rather bleak and foreboding picture of the situation.

Israel then mustered its army, set up supply lines, and marched out for battle. But the Israelite army looked like two little flocks of goats in comparison to the vast Aramean forces that filled the countryside! – 1 Kings 20:27 NLT

Here was Israel, outnumbered and underequipped yet again. They were no match for the Syrians. And this time, they would not have the walls of the city to protect them. They would be fighting on open terrain, facing an army equipped with chariots and horses and motivated by revenge.

But God sent another prophet with a promise of His presence and power.

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” – 1 Kings 20:28 ESV

Despite the overwhelming odds, God would provide another victory over their enemy. By the time this day was over, they would know that He was the one true God. But notice that in verse 28, the author leaves out Ahab’s name again. He simply refers to him as “the king of Israel.” God was going to deliver this victory despite Ahab, not because of him. Not only did Ahab deserve to lose this battle, but he also deserved to die for his blatant rebellion against God. But God was acting on behalf of His covenant people. He was doing this to protect the integrity and honor of His name. He had made covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had given His word to Moses and David. And while Ahab had failed to use his position as the shepherd of Israel to lead them in faithful obedience, God would prove Himself true to His word and committed to His covenant promises.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Prophet Pity Party

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke 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. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 1 Kings 19:4-14 ESV

While everything had gone extremely well for Elijah on Mount Carmel, he soon found himself disappointed in how things turned out. His challenge of Baal and his false prophets had proven to be successful and, from the immediate reaction of the people, it had appeared that revival had come to the land. And this spiritual renewal of the people seemed to be symbolized by the torrential rain that had brought an end to the three-and-a-half-years of drought. It all appeared as if the nation was headed in the right direction. And as a prophet of God, Elijah longed to see the repentance and restoration of the people of God.

But upon his triumphant return to Jezreel, he was met with intense opposition from the very woman who had begun all this trouble in Israel. Queen Jezebel had become incensed when she heard what had Elijah had done to the 450 prophets of her god. So, she sent Elijah a life-threatening message.

“So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” – 1 Kings 19:2 ESV

She swore an oath to her gods that she would avenge the deaths of the prophets of Baal by killing Elijah within 24 hours. If she failed to do so, her gods could take her life as payment. Despite the abject failure of her god to defeat Yahweh on Mount Carmel, she was still very much a believer. She exhibited no remorse or repentance but instead, warned Elijah that while he had won the battle on Mount Carmel, the war was far from over. She was willing to fight to the death – either his or her own.  And Elijah did not take this news well.

…he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. – 1 Kings 19:3 ESV

The man who had run from Mount Carmel to Jezreel after his victory over the prophets of Baal was now running for his life. But this time, he was powered by fear, not faith. And Elijah didn’t stop running until he had reached Beersheba, the last town of any size in the southernmost region of Judah. Then, leaving his servant behind in the city, Elijah traveled another day’s journey into the wilderness, where he finally stopped to rest.

In a state of deep depression and disillusionment, Elijah asked God to take his life. Since Ahab and Jezebel remained fully committed to their false gods, Elijah had concluded that his prophetic mission had been an abysmal failure. There would be no revival in Israel as long as those two wielded all the power and influence over the people. They were calling the shots and determining the nation’s religious affiliation.

Elijah had run out of faith and energy. He was physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent. And in his despondent state, he cried out to God, saying, “I have had enough, Lord.…Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died” (1 Kings 19:4 NLT). Exhausted, he fell asleep. But he was soon awakened by an angel who commanded him to eat. There beside him was a loaf of bread and a jar of water. Rather than taking Elijah’s life, God had provided his faith-famished prophet with sustenance, miraculously delivered by the hand of an angel. Elijah may have decided that he was done, but God was not done with Elijah. The prophet ate and fell back asleep. 

But his rest was disturbed yet again by another visit from the angel, who had brought more food and a message.

“Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.” – 1 Kings 19:7 NLT

Elijah had not reached his final destination. He had run, but not far enough. And when he had abruptly fled Jezreel, he had done so because he thought his life was over. Either Jezebel was going to take his life or God would. But God had other plans. He sent Elijah on a 40-day journey further south, all the way to Mount Sinai. And the food God provided miraculously sustained Elijah for this long and arduous journey.

…the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. – 1 Kings 19:8 ESV

This trip should have taken no more than 15-20 days by foot, but Elijah found himself wandering in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. This number is significant because it corresponds to the 40 years that the disobedient Israelites had spent wandering in the wilderness because they had failed to obey God and enter the land of Canaan (Numbers 13-14). Having heard the report of the spies that the land was full of giants and well-fortified cities, the people of Israel had refused to trust God and made plans to return to Egypt.

“If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” – Numbers 14:2-3 NLT

Now, centuries later, Elijah, the prophet of God, had chosen death in the wilderness rather than face the “giants” in his day. He had determined that Jezebel was too big for God. But God had brought Elijah to the very place where He had revealed Himself to the people of Israel. It had been at Mount Sinai that God had given His law to Moses. And it had been on Mount Sinai that God had displayed His glory and demonstrated His unparalleled power.

And when God had safely sequestered Elijah in the recesses of a cave, He asked His doubting prophet a question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9 ESV). He was wanting Elijah to explain the motivation behind his most recent actions, and the prophet responded with a pitiful portrait of his Don-Quixote-like quest to defeat the enemies of God. He deemed himself the last-man-standing, the sole survivor of an ill-fated battle against the forces of evil.

“I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” – 1 Kings 19:10 NLT

Elijah was throwing himself a pity party and he had invited God to attend. But God was not interested in celebrating Elijah’s accomplishments or validating his woe-is-me mentality. Instead, God instructed His despondent prophet to step out of the cave and into the shadow of Mount Sinai. And as Elijah stood there, God revealed Himself. At first, He came in the form of a fierce windstorm so powerful that it blew boulders off the face of the mountain. Then He appeared in the form of a massive earthquake that shook the ground under Elijah’s feet. Finally, God disclosed Himself to Elijah in the form of fire. And all of these manifestations of God’s glory and power were exactly what the people of Israel had seen when God had appeared to them centuries earlier at the very same spot.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled.… All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. – Exodus 19:16, 18 NLT

But in Elijah’s case, these dramatic revelations of God, while impressive, were not meant to represent the presence of God. The text clearly states that the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Yes, they were manifestations of His greatness, but they were not how God was going to speak to His prophet. After the ear-piercing blast of the wind, the earth-shaking rumble of the earthquake, and the roar of the fire, Elijah heard “the sound of a low whisper” ( 1 Kings 19:12 ESV). Evidently, the three previous displays of God’s power had driven Elijah back into the recesses of the cave. But upon hearing the gentle sound of the whisper, he timidly made his way back outside. And there, in the quiet of that moment, he heard God repeat His previous question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13 NLT). 

And, once again, Elijah gave the same well-rehearsed reply. And don’t miss the focus of Elijah’s response. It was all about him. He alone had zealously served Yahweh. While everyone else in Israel had turned their backs on God, Elijah had remained faithful and fully committed. He was the last line of defense against the forces of evil, and now he was as good as dead.

Where was God? Even after the dramatic displays of divine power on Mount Sinai, Elijah had been unable to get his mind off of himself. For some reason, he believed that the future of Israel had been dependent upon him, and he had failed. He had let God down. Despite his victory over the prophets of Baal, Ahab and Jezebel were firmly entrenched and in charge of the affairs of the nation, or so Elijah thought. From his perspective, all was lost. But God had news for Elijah. And He had plans for Ahab and Jezebel. God was about to whisper His sovereign secret for Israel’s future in the ear of his self-consumed prophet. And Elijah was going to discover God’s answer to the question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Naked and Afraid

43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled.

51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. Mark 14:43-52 ESV

While Jesus prayed and His disciples slept, Judas had been busy making a deal with the Sanhedrin, agreeing to sell Jesus out in return for 30 pieces of silver.  And now, money in hand, and with an armed mob accompanying him, Judas showed up in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mark describes him as “one of the twelve,” emphasizing the shocking nature of His betrayal. He had been a faithful follower of Jesus for more than 3-1/2 years. But now, this hand-picked disciple of Jesus had decided to reject his calling and cash in on his close relationship with his former teacher and friend.

It seems that Judas had always been in it for himself. His fellow disciple, John, describes him as nothing more than a thief. Just a few days earlier, when Mary had anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive oil, Judas had expressed his disfavor at this extravagant display of gratitude. He suggested that the oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But John pointed out that Judas was driven by greed, not economy.

Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself. – John 12:6 NLT

Judas was an opportunist. He was always looking for a way to profit from his relationship with Jesus. And when Jesus failed to manifest Himself as the Messiah and King they had hoped Him to be, Judas had decided to make the most of a disappointing situation by offering to turn Jesus into the Jewish religious authorities. But little did Judas know that his actions were preordained by God. Peter, another one of his former companions, would later describe the actions of Judas as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. On the same day that Jesus ascended into heaven, Peter would address his fellow disciples, saying, Brothers…the Scriptures had to be fulfilled concerning Judas, who guided those who arrested Jesus. This was predicted long ago by the Holy Spirit, speaking through King David. Judas was one of us and shared in the ministry with us” (Acts 1:16-17 ESV).

Peter was referring to Psalm 41 in which King David, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, predicted the betrayal of Jesus by one of His closest associates.

Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
    who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. – Psalm 41:9 ESV

That very night in the upper room, Jesus had shared the Passover meal with Judas and had even washed his feet. He had treated with the same love and respect as He had the other disciples, even though He knew what Judas was going to do.

And in return for Jesus’ kindness, Judas had arranged to betray Jesus with a kiss. This outward display of affection would be nothing more than a prearranged sign between Judas and guards tasked with arresting Jesus.

“The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard. – Mark 14:44 ESV

Even his act of betrayal was a display of pretense. By kissing Jesus, Judas was disguising his real intentions from his fellow disciples. Rather than simply pointing to Jesus and shouting, “He’s the one!,” Judas cleverly chose to cover up his defection with a display of affection. To the other disciples, he would come across like a latecomer to the party. His kiss would look more like an apology than an act of betrayal.

But as soon as Judas placed his kiss on Jesus, the guards went into action. They immediately seized Jesus and this display of aggression prompted the ever-impulsive Peter to act as a one-man rescue team.

Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. – John 18:10 ESV

It should be noted that Peter’s aggressive action was aimed at an unarmed servant, not one of the guards who were most likely carrying weapons. Perhaps Peter was attempting to provide proof that he meant what he had said earlier: “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mark 14:31 ESV). But Peter’s display of courage was unnecessary because Jesus was not in need of protection or rescue. He was doing the will of His Heavenly Father and this entire scene had been preordained before the foundations of the world. 

Everything was happening according to plan. And Jesus confronted the guards who had come to the garden in a display of force.

“Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” – Mark 15:48-49 ESV

This moment was divinely ordained. There had been plenty of opportunities along the way for the Jewish religious leaders to arrange for the arrest of Jesus, and they had tried. But they had failed because His hour had not yet come. It had been impossible for them to do anything until the Father deemed the timing to be right. They had tried to stone Jesus and been unable to do so. They had attempted to arrest Him but He had simply walked away. But now, the time had come and there was no need for swords or spears. Jesus was going to go willingly because He was walking in step with His Father’s will. And as the guards prepared to lead Jesus away, the disciples all fled away. They did exactly what Jesus had warned they would do.

“You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” – Mark 14:27 ESV

And Mark describes another unnamed individual who fled from the scene.

And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. – Mark 14:51-52 ESV

We have no idea who this young man was or why he had come to the garden dressed in nothing but a linen cloth. But when he was seized by the guards, he was so anxious to escape that he left his captors clinging to the cloth as he ran from the scene stark naked. This image of this completely exposed man running into the darkness of night seems a fitting way to portray the actions of the disciples. Every one of them, fearing for their lives, left behind their dignity and honor as they escaped into the night. They had pledged to stay by Jesus’ side, but their actions exposed their true nature. They were fearful and their panicked flight into the night revealed the naked truth about their faithlessness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Divine Hearing Aid

1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”

13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” Mark 4:1-20 ESV

For whatever reason, Luke records this event as taking place before Jesus’ mother and brothers showed up to see Him. Matthew and Mark place the telling of this parable after their arrival. This is not an example of a contradiction in the Bible, as much as it is an example of the gospel authors arranging the events of Jesus’ life in order to drive home the point they are attempting to make. Each of them places a different emphasis on the various aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry because they are chronicling the story from their own personal perspective and with a specific audience in mind.

But all three authors of the Synoptic Gospels include this parable. Over the centuries, it has been referred to by many names, including the parable of the seeds, the parable of the sower, and the parable of the soils. But regardless of what you call it, this parable is a classic example of a teaching style that was common in Jesus’ day. Parables were extended metaphors that attempted to communicate difficult truths through the use of comparison. Jesus utilized this teaching method frequently, especially when addressing large crowds. But as we will see illustrated in this passage, Jesus would often take time to explain the meaning of the parable to His 12 disciples.

Matthew records that Jesus told this parable on the same day His mother and brothers had come to see Him.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables… – Matthew 13:1-3 ESV

It is important to remember what Jesus had said earlier that same day.

And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:49-50 ESV

The next scene reveals Jesus sitting in a boat just off the shore of the Sea of Galilee, as a large crowd gathers on the shoreline to hear what He has to say. Mark indicates that Jesus began “teaching them many things in parables.” As usual, His audience would have included all types of people, including His faithful followers, the simply curious, those hoping to be healed, and the ever-present Pharisees and scribes. It is likely that HIs mother, Mary, and his half-brothers were also in attendance that day. The diversity of His audience will become increasingly more important as the parable unfolds.

Jesus told a story about a farmer who went out to sow. This imagery would have been very familiar to His audience because they lived in an agrarian culture where this scene was commonplace and uneventful. But in His story, Jesus describes the farmer’s valuable seeds falling onto four different surfaces: A well-worn path, rocky ground, a thorn-infested patch of land, and finally, a field that had been properly prepared for seeds.

The mostly rural audience to whom Jesus addressed this parable would have immediately guessed the outcome of the story. You didn’t have to be a farmer to understand that many of the seeds had been scattered in places that would prove to be inhospitable and unfruitful. Those seeds would have been wasted. And Jesus confirms this conclusion by describing the seeds as being eaten by birds, scorched by the sun, and choked out by thorns. In a few cases, the seeds took root but failed to produce fruit.

This story would have resonated among people who were heavily taxed by the Romans and who saw poverty and deprivation all around them. For many of them, just making ends meet was a daily struggle, and the thought of valuable seeds being sown so carelessly would have gotten their attention. It’s likely that the people began to draw their own conclusions as to the meaning of the story. They were familiar with the use of parables and would have known that there was some hidden lesson to be learned. Some probably assumed that Jesus was pointing out the carelessness of the farmer. His haphazard scattering of the seeds was meant to illustrate the need for good stewardship. Others might have focused their attention on the seeds themselves, noting that some of the seeds were quickly consumed, while others sprouted, but failed to produce fruit. Maybe Jesus was illustrating the need for good works. The farmer had intended for all the seeds to produce fruit, but most did not. And in the works-based environment of Judaism, it would have been easy for some in the crowd to assume that Jesus was promoting the need for the faithful observance of the law.

And Jesus makes no effort to explain His story, but simply concludes it by stating, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9 ESV). The NET Bible provides a bit more forceful rendering of Jesus’ words: “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!

This wasn’t just a story. It was an important lesson that was to have real-life implications. So, Jesus warned them that hearing what He had to say would not be enough. He expected them to listen and learn. His lesson behind His story was meant to be apprehended and then applied.

But the people were confused. Mark indicates that some of Jesus’ followers approached Him asking for an explanation.

those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. – Mark 4:10 ESV

Matthew adds that the 12 disciples had a more specific question for Jesus.

“Why do you speak to them in parables?” – Matthew 13:10 ESV

And Jesus revealed to His closest followers the purpose behind His use of parables.

“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…” – Mark 4:11 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was revealing that the 12 disciples had been set apart by God to receive knowledge that was unavailable and inaccessible to everyone else. They were being given the privilege of knowing divine truths concerning the kingdom of God of which the scribes and Pharisees were ignorant. The religious leaders of Israel were famous for their knowledge of the Mosaic Law and their encyclopedic understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. But they were ignorant of what God was doing. Jesus would later say of these men:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” – John 5:39-40 ESV

And even these learned men were unable to grasp the meaning of the parable Jesus told. Jesus said it was hidden from them. He quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10, explaining that it is God who chooses to reveal hidden truths and, according to His sovereign will, He sometimes blinds the eyes and deafens the ears of some so that they might not turn and be forgiven.

“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’” – Mark 4:12 ESV

What Jesus was saying was that the ability to hear and understand the deep truths concerning the kingdom of God comes from the Father. He alone can open the eyes and ears of the spiritually blind and deaf to perceive the truth. The scribes and Pharisees spent years studying the Scriptures but were oblivious to the truths revealed in them. Despite their knowledge, they were ignorant of what God was doing in their midst. And unless God opened their eyes, they would remain blind to the truth regarding Jesus. Unless God opened their ears, they would hear but never understand the message of the gospel.

In the Gospel of John, we have a record of Jesus’ powerful words concerning the inability of men to understand the ways of God.

“The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you do not believe me.” – John 6:63-64 NLT

And He went on to reveal man’s complete reliance upon God for salvation.

“That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” – John 6:65 NLT

Which brings us back to the parable. Jesus knew that His disciples had not yet grasped its meaning, so He explained. The seed represented the word or the message He had come to proclaim. And don’t forget what that message was. Mark described it this way:

Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” – Mark 1:14-15 NLT

It was the good news of the King and His Kingdom. The Messiah had come. But while John the Baptist and Jesus had proclaimed that message near and far, it had fallen on deaf ears. There were many who had heard it and begun to believe that Jesus might be the long-awaited Messiah, but they had begun to have their doubts. Their initial faith got choked out by the cares and concerns of this world. There were others who heard the word and simply refused to believe at all. They rejected it wholeheartedly. Insert the scribes and Pharisees here. Then there were others who heard it but allowed the threat of ex-communication by the religious leaders to drive them away.

But Jesus describes the fourth group: “the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20 ESV). They are those, like the 12 disciples, whom God has chosen to understand the truth concerning the King and His Kingdom. The Word concerning the Son of God has fallen on them and taken root and, in time, it will produce much fruit. But their ability to hear and accept the Word of God concerning the Son of God is the result of the Spirit of God. Because “the Spirit alone gives eternal life” (John 6:63 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Good, the Bad, and God

34 To crush underfoot
    all the prisoners of the earth,
35 to deny a man justice
    in the presence of the Most High,
36 to subvert a man in his lawsuit,
    the Lord does not approve.

37 Who has spoken and it came to pass,
    unless the Lord has commanded it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that good and bad come?
39 Why should a living man complain,
    a man, about the punishment of his sins?

40 Let us test and examine our ways,
    and return to the Lord! – Lamentations 3:34-40 ESV

Jeremiah was painfully aware that the nation of Judah stood fully and justifiably condemned before God. They were guilty as charged and their fate had been ordained by the hand of God. It was the just and righteous punishment they so thoroughly deserved. And while God had graciously delayed His judgment for generations, He had not forgotten His promise to punish His chosen people for their rejection of Him. Their spiritual infidelity had become so pervasive that He could no longer allow them to defame His holy name through their unholy actions.

Jeremiah reminds his fellow citizens that God had not been blind to their behavior. He had seen it all. And He had grown tired of their blatant disregard for His holy law. They had long ago forgotten what it means to live in obedience to God’s law. The admonition delivered by Moses to the Israelites while they were still in the wilderness had been clear and compelling.

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the LORD your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good. – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 NLT

And yet, over the centuries, God’s people had failed to live in a way that pleased Him. They made it all about themselves. God became little more than a cosmic Genie in a bottle, whom the Israelites turned to when all else failed. They had long ago forgotten what it means to fear God, treating the Almighty as if He was just one more god in a long list of possible options. And over time, their outward behavior stood as evidence of their unbelief. Their actions condemned them.

And Jeremiah had spent years pointing out the glaring wickedness of their ways.

“Among my people are wicked men
who lie in wait for victims like a hunter hiding in a blind.
They continually set traps
to catch people.
Like a cage filled with birds,
their homes are filled with evil plots.
And now they are great and rich.
They are fat and sleek,
and there is no limit to their wicked deeds.
They refuse to provide justice to orphans
and deny the rights of the poor.
Should I not punish them for this?” says the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself against such a nation?” – Jeremiah 5:26-29 NLT

And now, Jeremiah reminds his fellow sufferers that they had received the just recompense for their sins against God.

If people crush underfoot
all the prisoners of the land,
if they deprive others of their rights
in defiance of the Most High,
if they twist justice in the courts—
doesn’t the Lord see all these things? – Lamentations 3:34-36 NLT

They had lived their lives as if God was blind or oblivious to their actions. But now they knew that He had seen it all and He had held them accountable. Everything that had happened to them was the direct result of God’s sovereign will. It had not been a mistake. It had not been the result of poor timing, bad luck, or the fickleness of fate. It had been the providential plan of God Almighty.

Who can command things to happen
without the Lord’s permission?
Does not the Most High
send both calamity and good?
Then why should we, mere humans, complain
when we are punished for our sins? – Lamentations 3:37-39 NLT

The people of Judah couldn’t blame Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians for their problems. They had been little more than instruments in the hands of God. They had been His chosen means for delivering His divine judgment against a stubborn rebellious people. The people of Judah had been punished by God for their sins against Him. And they had no cause to complain.

For years, they had lived in a state of overconfidence, basking in the goodness of God’s blessings, while regularly disobeying His commands. They thought they were immune from judgment. As God’s chosen people, they lived with a false sense of security, wrongly assuming that they were divinely protected from harm. But disobedience always leads to discipline. They were wrong to assume that their unique relationship with God made them untouchable by God. If anything, God was holding them to a higher standard. He had expected them to live lives that were distinctively different from all the other nations around them.

But their behavior had brought shame to the name of God. Their actions reflected poorly on His character. As His children, they bore God’s name, but they had failed to live up to their calling as His sons and daughters. Now, they were suffering the consequences for their blatant disregard for His holiness.

“For I, the LORD, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:45 NLT

Their holiness was not an option. It had been God’s expectation from the moment He had chosen Abram out of Ur and promised to make of him a great nation. His descendants would be God’s chosen people, unique among all the nations of the earth. And their relationship with God, determined by His law and regulated by His sacrificial system, was to have set them apart as holy and wholly belonging to Him. But their lack of holiness had left a black eye on God’s character. And now they were suffering because of it.

So, Jeremiah calls them to examine their lives and to understand that their current circumstances were ordained by God and were for their own good.

…let us test and examine our ways.
Let us turn back to the Lord. – Lamentations 3:40 NLT

God had blessed them. Now, God was punishing them. But it was all for their good. And Jeremiah wanted them to learn the invaluable lesson that both the good and the bad come from the hand of God. And both are conditioned upon the love of God. He disciplines those whom He loves. But it is often difficult for us to recognize God’s love when it shows up as correction. It feels like anger. It comes across as rejection. But as Jeremiah stated earlier in this same chapter.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning. – Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT

As God’s children, we must learn to recognize His love in all the circumstances of life. From the good to the bad, the enjoyable to the painful, the indescribable to the inexplicable, God never falls out of love with us. And, like Job, we must learn to see that God’s love never fails, whether we fail to understand it or not.

“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our All-Powerful-All-the-Time God

1 Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do anything,
    and no one can stop you. ” – Job 42:1-2 NLT

The Lord merely spoke,
    and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
    and all the stars were born.
He assigned the sea its boundaries
    and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
Let the whole world fear the Lord,
    and let everyone stand in awe of him.
For when he spoke, the world began!
    It appeared at his command. Psalm 33:6-9 NLT

36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” – Luke 1:36-37 ESV

When we, as humans, attempt to discuss the power of God, we are at a distinct disadvantage. We are finite creatures who are well acquainted with personal limitations. It is impossible for us to consider something being all-anything. That little three-letter word “all” conveys the idea of wholeness or completeness. And while we might say that a glass or bowl is all full, we know that it will not remain full permanently. Upon completion of a task, we might proclaim, “All done.” But we will do so knowing that the finished task will likely need to be repeated at some point.

Someone who claims to be all-in regarding a project or endeavor will likely have his commitment tested somewhere along the way. His assurance of whole-hearted engagement will likely waver, given enough time or the lack of his expectations being met.

We live in a world full of limitations. No one is truly all-knowing. They may know a lot, but there will always be more to know. Someone may appear to have “all the money in the world,” but logic precludes the veracity of that statement. No one can literally have all the money. And while someone might wield a great deal of power, there is no one who is truly all-powerful. Even the world’s most powerful people experience limitations to that power. And the sad reality of life is that no one can ever seem to get enough power. And the same can be said of fame, money, or time.

Which brings us back to our all-powerful-all-the-time God. Theologians refer to this as God’s omnipotence. The word omnipotent comes from omni- meaning “all” and potent meaning “power.” And when used of God’s power, that word “all” is meant to convey the complete and wholly undiminished nature of that power. His power is without limits. It never diminishes in intensity. God does not grow tired. In fact, the psalmist states, “he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps” (Psalm 121:4 NLT).

God isn’t just more powerful, extremely powerful, or simply powerful. He is all-powerful.

The power of God is that ability and strength whereby He can bring to pass whatsoever He pleases, whatsoever His infinite wisdom may direct, and whatsoever the infinite purity of His will may resolve…  – Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volumes 1-2

Notice what Charnock says. God can bring to pass whatever He pleases. God’s power is directly tied to His will. Unlike man, God’s will is never a case of wishful thinking. There is never a case when God desires something, but finds Himself lacking the power to make it happen. God has never had to say, “If I only I could….” He has never had to sit back and watch His will go unfulfilled because of a lack of strength.

A. W. Pink states, “He who cannot do what he will and perform all his pleasure cannot be God. As God hath a will to resolve what He deems good, so has He power to execute His will” (A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God). This is essential if we are to understand and fully appreciate the transcendent nature of God. He is not a slightly improved version of man. He is not a human on steroids, but He is the infinite Almighty God who spoke the universe into existence.

And God’s power was not acquired, developed over time, and is not running out. C. H. Spurgeon put it this way: “God’s power is like Himself, self-existent, self-sustained. The mightiest of men cannot add so much as a shadow of increased power to the Omnipotent One.” The greatest earthly examples of power we can think of are all limited. Niagara Falls, while impressive, is not self-existent or self-sustaining. It has a source, or it would not exist. And it will one day cease to exist. Simply divert the headwater that provides the source of its power, and the falls will become nothing more than exposed rocks and a dry river bed.

But because God’s power is self-existent, it cannot be diminished or diverted in any way. His power is unmatched in its intensity and irrepressible in its intent.

All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth. No one can stop him or say to him, “What do you mean by doing these things?” – Daniel 4:35 NLT

The LORD does whatever pleases him throughout all heaven and earth… – Psalm 135:5 NLT

It was Job who confessed to God, “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you” (Job 42:2 NLT). And Job argued with his well-meaning, but misinformed friends, “who can turn him back? Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” (Job 9:12 ESV).

It was Lord Acton who wrote the oft-quoted line, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” But that truism does not apply to God. Because He is holy, just, and righteous in all He does, God’s power cannot be corrupted – even though it is absolute. God is deity, not humanity. He is nothing like us, and cannot be measured according to our standards or evaluated based on our limited and sin-influenced perspective.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
 – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God’s undiminished and non-constrainable power always accomplishes what He intends. God, Himself stated, “My word that proceeds from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and it will prosper where I send it” (Isaiah 55:11 BSB).

While we may not fully comprehend or appreciate the extent of God’s power, we all relish the idea that it might be at our disposal when needed. We love the thought of the all-powerful God putting all that power at our beck and call. But God’s power, while accessible by us, is not answerable to us. He is not our cosmic Genie-in-a-bottle or personal valet. God’s power exists to accomplish God’s will, not ours. And A. W. Pink would have us maintain a delicate balance when it comes to our reaction to and relationship with God’s power.

Well may all tremble before such a God! To treat with impudence One who can crush us more easily than we can a moth, is a suicidal policy. To openly defy Him who is clothed with omnipotence, who can rend us in pieces or cast us into Hell any moment He pleases, is the very height of insanity.

Well may the enlightened soul adore such a God! The wondrous and infinite perfections of such a Being call for fervent worship. If men of might and renown claim the admiration of the world, how much more should the power of the Almighty fill us with wonderment and homage. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our Supremely Sovereign God

10 “Only I can tell you the future
    before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
    for I do whatever I wish.”
Isaiah 46:10 NLT

34 His rule is everlasting,
    and his kingdom is eternal.
35 All the people of the earth
    are nothing compared to him.
He does as he pleases
    among the angels of heaven
    and among the people of the earth.
No one can stop him or say to him,
    “What do you mean by doing these things?” – Daniel 4:34-35 NLT

According to Dictionary.com, sovereignty is “the quality or state of being sovereign, or of having supreme power or authority.” And a “sovereign” is “a person who has supreme power or authority.” So, when we talk about the sovereignty of God, we’re referring to His absolute rule, control, and authority over everything He has created, including the affairs of men. A. W. Pink describes it as “the exercise of His supremacy.”

He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influence by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

The word “sovereignty” is not commonly used today. But when we hear it, we tend to think of kings and queens, those royal personages from ancient history who wielded great power and influence over nation-states and the citizens who comprised them. These privileged potentates enjoyed tremendous influence, reigning over vast kingdoms. Unlike Britain’s modern-day royal family, these ancient heads of state were much more than mere figureheads. They were the supreme rulers over their domains, with the authority to demand unwavering allegiance from their subjects. And it didn’t matter whether they were a good king or a bad one. Even an evil queen fully expected the citizens of her kingdom to submit to her will and obey her decrees. To fail to do so would be considered a display of insubordination at best or, at worst, an act of outright insurrection.

One of the things we must understand when considering the character of God is His sovereignty. The Scriptures often refer to Him as “God Almighty” or El Shaddai in Hebrew. It most likely means “God, the All-powerful One,” and refers to His ultimate power over anything and everything. In other words, He is all-powerful. And yet, that power is not limited to His physical capacity to accomplish great feats of strength. Yes, He is able to perform acts of unparalleled might, but His sovereignty includes the authority by which He does what He does.

As the sovereign King of the universe, God is in complete control of all things. And that authority has not been granted to Him by some outside or greater force. There is nothing greater than God. In the book of Isaiah, He declares His unchallenged authority in no uncertain terms.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God…” – Isaiah 45:5 ESV

God answers to no one. He has no board of directors or parliament to whom He must report or from whom He must seek permission or approval. “Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things ‘after the counsel of His own will’ (Ephesians 1:11)” (A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God).

…we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter; then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust. – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol. 2, 1856

God does what He pleases. That phrase can either encourage or enrage us. It can create in us a sense of peace and calm as we consider the unstoppable nature of His divine will. Yet, for some, the thought of God’s will going unchallenged creates a sense of fear or infuriation as we consider what we believe to be the loss of our own rights. As Tony Evans puts it: “The sovereignty of God means that He exercises His prerogative to do whatever He pleases with His creation. Why? Because, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it’ (Psalm 24:1)” (Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On).

For some of us, that last line by Tony Evans paints a picture of God that we find to be disturbing rather than comforting. And it’s most likely because we want to be the master of our own fate and the captain of our soul. We don’t mind God getting His way as long as it doesn’t interfere with our own. We like the idea of God being all-powerful, but only as long as that power is at our disposal to do as we see fit. But that’s not how it works. The apostle Paul wrote the believers in Corinth, reminding them that we exist for God’s glory, not the other way around. Contrary to popular opinion, God isn’t our personal valet or servant. He made us. But sometimes we act as if we made Him.

…yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. – 1 Corinthians 8:6 ESV

We exist because God chose it to be so. And we exist for Him. All of creation was intended to bring glory to God as it evidenced “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20 ESV). Even fallen humanity brings glory to God as He exercises His sovereign will over their lives. There is nothing that happens outside His purview or without His permission. And that should bring His children a sense of peace, confidence, and security.

…when you have a sovereign God, it means that the negative and the positive do not come by chance. The flat tire that made you miss the interview you were banking on to get that job was part of God’s sovereign plan. The situation you thought was going to work out a certain way, the job you were sure was yours which was given to someone else, was all a part of God’ sovereign plan. – Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On

The sovereignty of God is a very deep subject. But its application is quite simple. We have a God who is all-powerful and in full control, no matter how things may appear. Circumstances may give the appearance that all is lost, the future is bleak, there is no hope, and there is nothing you can do. But the apostle Paul would beg to differ. He once wrote, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV). And right before Paul wrote these words, he prefaced them with the very real nature of his life on this planet.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. – Philippians 4:11-12 ESV

It didn’t matter what Paul faced, he was content because he knew his God was sovereign over all. And Paul encouraged the believers in Rome to hang onto the sovereignty of God, no matter what they encountered in this life.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 ESV

The sovereignty of God is meant to encourage us. And the fact that our God is holy, just, righteous, and true in all that He does is what makes His sovereign will not only acceptable but preferable.

There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation—the kingship of God over all the works of His own hands—the throne of God and His right to sit upon that throne. – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol. 2, 1856

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson