God’s Sovereignty in Human History

God providentially and sovereignly rules over every event of history, whether the participants recognize it or not.  Here we meet two examples of this truth.

Today’s Reading

Ezra 1-2; John 19:23-42

Selected Verses

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:  “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” Ezra 1:1,2

For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”  And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” John 19:36-37

Reflections

Ezra records God’s sovereign moving by His Spirit in Cyrus the king of Persia to make a decree to send Jewish exiles back to Judah to rebuild the temple. Ezra knows this is the Lord’s doing, but Cyrus in his written decree shows that he, too, recognizes that he is doing God’s work.  Cyrus makes his own decree to the Jewish exiles to gather resources and to go and do the work. God further moved in the exiles to want to do this project. God works at every level here.

The details surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial all reveal that Scripture is being fulfilled while the participants seem to be unconscious of that fact. The soldiers cast lots for His garment. They forego breaking His legs to hasten His death, but, thrust a spear in His side. John relates all of these actions to earlier prophecy which is fulfilled precisely. Yet there is no indication that the soldiers have either knowledge of the Scripture or awareness of the importance of their seemingly inconsequential actions.

Think about it

Are you aware that the events of this day, whether in Washington, DC, or Moscow, Russia, or Moscow, Idaho are all under God’s providence?  He does hold the whole world in His hands while we go about often oblivious to this truth.  Are we robots?  No, we act freely, but God engineers the outcomes and purposes so that His will is perfectly executed.  We may choose to obey Him or not. In the end He will be glorified and His purposes will come to pass.

Do not fret that the world is out of control and going to hell in a hand basket. God is still on the throne. Be confident in Him and grateful to Him, and, like Cyrus, do what He gives you to do.

Learning to Trust the Love of God

The path of God may take us through pain, suffering, and death, but never away from His love and compassion. Will we trust Him?

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 26-27; John 11:18-46

Selected Verses

And Obed-edom had sons: Shemaiah the firstborn, Jehozabad the second, Joah the third, Sachar the fourth, Nethanel the fifth, Ammiel the sixth, Issachar the seventh, Peullethai the eighth, for God blessed him.  1 Chronicles 26:4

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus wept.  So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  John 11:33-36

Reflections

Today’s reading in 1 Chronicles includes long lists of names, yet, as we have seen before, there are treasures to be found in these lists.  One example is the comment about Obed-edom,  “God blessed him.”  The note in my Reformation Study Bible (page 626) helped me remember that Obed-edom was the man who took care of the ark of the covenant for three months after a mishandling of it had resulted in death (1 Chronicles 13:13-14; 2 Samuel 6:10-11).  Now we pick up with this same Obed-edom and learn that God’s blessing included eight sons who served as gatekeepers.

What image do you have of the Man Jesus?  Is He too cool and calm to ever show grief or sadness?  Is He always upbeat, joyful, and in total control?  Think again. John 11 does not give us that picture.  When Jesus arrived at Bethany, the home of Martha and Mary, He was deeply moved and troubled by what He saw there: a distraught family, friends seeking to console them, and everyone grieving.  His love and compassion for the sisters and the friends of Lazarus expressed itself in tears that flowed.  Isn’t it curious that Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead in a few minutes, but for the moment He entered into the agony of the bereaved family and felt their suffering?

Think about it

God’s plan for the lives of Obed-edom and Lazarus took them in different paths centuries apart from each other but always under the providential care of the Lord who reigns over all things.  Praise Him who does not overlook the loving and careful service of Obed-edom. Neither will He forget your service for Him. Take comfort in this. The Lord who cared for Lazurus’ family knows and cares for you who are His.  He is the resurrection and the life.  Fear not.  His plan is good and ends with His victory.  Meanwhile, walk on by faith and keep learning to trust the love of God.

Your Assignment from God

God makes assignments to His people. It may be enduring great suffering or making great music. But He is always glorified and His people always built up.

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 23-25; John 11:1-17

Selected Verses

And they cast lots for their duties, small and great, teacher and pupil alike.   The first lot fell for Asaph to Joseph.  I Chronicles 25:8,9a

So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  John 11:3-4

Reflections

Under David’s reign, God’s people were given assignments for His glory.  In today’s reading, there are long lists of people who had responsibilities in the service of worship, such as playing musical instruments.  Maybe you find the lists of names tedious to read, but if your name were on that list you would not.  Those listed there had positions, an assignment, a specific job to do, and a time and place to do it.

In John 11, we learn about two benefits from the illness and subsequent death of Lazarus.  First, it was for the glory of God and so that the Son of God would be glorified through it (John 11:4).  Jesus would show His power in this incident and the disciples would learn more about His glory.  Second, it was so that those disciples might believe (John 11:14-15).   Jesus was all about teaching His disciples so that they might believe in Him.

Death is universal.  No mere human has ever solved the problem of death. But Jesus, the Son of God, came to give eternal life to all who hear His word and believe God (John 5:24).  Lazarus had the assignment of getting sick and dying so that the glory of God would be seen and the disciples would believe.

Think about it

It is thrilling to know we too have an assignment in God’s great cosmic plan.  It may be through suffering and death or it may be through playing beautiful music or through innumerable other ways.  Seek to glorify Him whether you are clearly conscious of your role or not.  Just think, the story of the raising of Lazarus has been preached from pulpits and discussed around supper tables for centuries.Though this God is always glorified and His people are strengthened in faith.  Lazarus completed his assignment.  May you complete yours, too.

God’s Timing: does He schedule things?

Does God control both what happens and when? Jesus Christ’s disciple knows that God orchestrates all of life down to the minutest detail. Timing included.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 21-22; Luke 22:1-30

Selected Verses

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”  II Samuel 21:1

For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!  Luke 22:22

Reflections

A famine came upon Israel.  David understood that it was not due to bad luck or some unfortunate coincidence.  He knew that God ruled over the harvest whether it be light or heavy.  David turned to the Lord for answers and guidance.  The Lord revealed to Him the reason for the famine.  It had to do with the guilt incurred by Saul over the breaking of a treaty with the Gibeonites and the attempt to annihilate them. Though the treaty itself was foolish and based on deception, God held Israel responsible to maintain their integrity and honor the treaty perpetually (Joshua 9).  Seven of Saul’s descendants were executed to satisfy the demand for justice.  The famine ended.

In Jesus’ final days before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion we are allowed to see all the forces at work to bring Him down.  The chief priests and scribes were plotting to kill Him. Satan was entering into Judas. The disciples were preparing for the Passover and arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Jesus was serving and teaching them the meaning of His death.

In a matter of a few hours all these protagonists would converge in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the final act would begin on Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Was it a coincidence?  No, not at all.  It was by God’s decree that all this would come about at that precise moment for the salvation of the nations.

Think about it

Are the random incidents in your life really random or are they carefully sent by God according to His plan?  Do you ask “why this?” or “why now?” How would it change your attitude to have a clearer conviction about the providence of God?  Yes, God does schedule things–all things. We may not always understand God’s actions and timing, but we can always be sure it is Him who is doing it. Furthermore, He has a purpose and plan for our good and His glory.

The Providence of God

God providence acts at all times in the lives of all people preserving, guiding, correcting, or punishing according to His wise counsels.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 17-18; Luke 21:1-19

Selected Verses

And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.”  For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom.  II Samuel 17:14

By your endurance you will gain your lives. Luke 21:19

Reflections

As we saw yesterday, Absalom put together a foolproof plan to overthrow his father’s throne and make himself king. Well, it was not really foolproof, was it? God gave David wisdom to send the loyal Hushai back as a mole in Absalom’s cabinet. The Lord gave Hushai an amazing ability to paint a picture of the consequences of following the advice of Ahithophel and to make a compelling argument for delaying the pursuit of David. God turned the heart of Absalom toward Hushai’s advice so that the Lord could carry out His will to bring harm to David’s mutinous son (Proverbs 21:1).

The outcome? Absalom was defeated and killed, and David’s throne was saved.

Jesus foretells things yet to come in the lives of the apostles. He describes the destruction of the temple, the false “christs” that would appear, wars, tumults, national uprisings, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, terrors, and great signs from heaven. These things would occur after the disciples had suffered arrest, persecution, imprisonment, and inquisitions by religious and political authorities. They would be turned in by close relatives. Some would be killed. All would be hated.

Could this be God’s will?  Yes, and it had a purpose. “This will be your opportunity to bear witness,” Jesus told them. Furthermore, God would be with them through all their trials. He told them not to concern themselves about what to say. He would give them the wisdom and words when the time came. No one would refute their statements. He promised that not a hair of their heads would perish. He would save their lives.

Think about it

Do you know that God by His providence preserves you? Do you know that you are safe to do His will and nothing can harm you? Can you trust Him no matter what forces mount up against you? Will you stand up and bear witness with the wisdom and words He gives you in that day? Stand firm in Him. He rules the universe. He will keep you down to the last hair on your head. Fear nothing. Fear no one. Trust God alone.

God’s Intervention in Human History

God works in dramatic ways and in mundane ways to accomplish His purposes for His people.  Watch for evidence of His presence in your life today.

Today’s reading

Joshua 9-10; Luke 3

Selected Verses

And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.  Joshua 10:42

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  Luke 3:6

Reflections

In today’s reading in Joshua, God was at work defeating the enemies of Israel.  Certainly, the twelve tribes saw the salvation of God from those who had defiled the land with pagan worship.  God blessed them with much victory using even hailstones and a suspended sunset to accomplish His purposes.

Luke quotes from Isaiah in introducing the ministry of John the Baptist.  John was preparing the people for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Isaiah described one who cried in the wilderness, calling the people to prepare the way of the Lord.  That prophecy was fulfilled as John literally preached in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Crowds came to John and sought baptism.  He did not soft pedal his message, but warned them of the wrath to come and the need to make changes in their lives that reflected true repentance.  Two groups were specifically mentioned: the tax collectors and the soldiers.  John’s ministry was blessed by God so much that people thought perhaps he was the Christ, but later he clarified that Jesus was the One whose worth was far above his own and that Jesus would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  Isaiah’s words came true that all flesh would see the salvation of God.

Think about it

God intervenes in human history for the salvation of His people whether through dramatic or mundane means.  Whether we see signs of miraculous intervention or not, He has promised to save those who come to Him through Christ.  None of our enemies can stand before Him.  He overcomes the sinful hearts of tax collectors and soldiers.  He destroys the unrepentant, but saves His own.  Look for His presence as you pray and walk with Him today.

 

God’s Providence: it’s a mystery

The providence of God is evident, but is not predictable nor understandable, not fully. Can we live with the mystery by faith?

Today’s reading

Numbers 14-15; Mark 6:1-32

Selected Verses

Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say,  ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ Numbers 14:15-16

And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.  And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison.  Mark 6:26-27

Reflections

God threatened to destroy the entire nation of Israel for their rebellion and unbelief and to start over again forming a new nation with Moses.  In a rather unique and wise prayer, Moses appealed to God to spare them on the basis of what would result in greater glory for the Lord.  Certainly this was one of Moses’ best moments in which he showed more concern for God’s glory than for his own.  So God spared the guilty Israelites once again.

In our reading in Mark we come to the sad account of the hideous beheading of John the Baptist.  John died because he dared to stand up to corruption in high places.  It is not hard to surmise that Herod carried the guilty weight of this execution to his dying day.

In both of our readings the providence of God is evident but is not predictable nor understandable, not fully.  It is mysterious and complex.  Although they suffered discipline and forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Lord spared the guilty.  On the other hand, the bold and faithful John died a horrible death.

Think about it

God does not reveal all of His reasons for the providential circumstances He decrees for His children, but we see enough examples to know that it’s not about karma where every good dead gets rewarded and every bad deed gets punished in this life.

Are you perplexed about some inexplicable event?  Do not despair even if you never understand it before you reach glory.  Trust God that He has a wise plan and ultimately will resolve all things for our good and His glory in the age to come.

Providence and Human History

Today’s reading

Genesis 41; Matthew 13:1-32

Selected verses

And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are.  You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.”

Genesis 41:38-40

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Matthew 13:31,32

Reflections

God’s providence controls all the events of history to bring about His eternal purposes, and, because of this, He causes seemingly insignificant things to have a completely unforeseeable impact.

For example, God used a chain of sad and painful events in Joseph’s life to bring an amazing outcome. His kidnapping led to his being sold as a slave.  As a slave he was imprisoned on false charges. But in prison he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s  baker and butler.  That resulted in his recognition by Pharaoh for his ability to interpret dreams and give wise advice.  Joseph ended up the second in command to Pharaoh.  From that position, Joseph was able to save Egypt and his own long-lost family from starvation. Jacob and all his family relocated to Egypt where, over a four century period, they would grow into a mighty nation.  Their descendants would be prepared to return to the Promised Land to conquer it for their homeland.

Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to a man planting a tiny mustard seed in the ground.  The seed was hardly visible before it was planted, and, after it was planted, it could not be seen at all.  Yet that seed grew into a huge plant, the largest in the garden and able to provide a nesting place for the birds.

 

Think about it

How have you seen God bring about mighty outcomes from practically unknown people or unfortunate events?  How have you seen the kingdom of heaven manifest its greatness where it was previously tiny or even non-existent?

Praise God for His providence!  He does wondrous things as He grows His kingdom!

Trust in the Dramatic and the Mundane

Today’s reading:

Genesis 23-24; Matthew 8

Selected verses

After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.  The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.

Genesis 23:19-20

 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Matthew 8:27

Reflections

Life unfolds mostly in ordinary, everyday ways. Mostly.  But then there are days that one senses a turning point has been reached.

In today’s reading in Genesis, Abraham takes care of business. Not unimportant business, but business just the same. He arranges for Sarah’s burial and Isaac’s marriage. God has promised him the whole land, but he pays the exorbitant asking price for a cemetery. He is generous, because his God is generous. God guides Abraham’s servant to a wife for Isaac making the choice obvious. Blessed is the man who is given a wife by the Lord.  Isaac was blessed, but none of these events is totally unexpected.  This is normal life, sort of.

In Matthew, however, Jesus’ ministry schedule is filled with the dramatic: healing, teaching, and calming a storm to the amazement of the disciples. The One who rocked crowds with His authoritative teaching (Matthew 7:28-29) now shakes the kingdom of darkness by casting out demons and demonstrating His authority over the weather.  This is not every day life in the first century, or any century.  History is being made here and the world is being challenged to trust Jesus Christ.

Think about it

God works in the mundane and in the dramatic. Be not complacent in the former, nor fearful in the latter. Today may seem normal to you but God is not slumbering. This could be a day when all hell breaks loose, but again God is not distracted from your trials and reality.

Either way, trust Him and be faithful.

 

Unintended Benefits

Opponents of Jesus Christ, His gospel, and His church inadvertently create unintended benefits through their persecution and hostility.  In today’s reading, it happens again in the case of the new convert, Saul.

Today’s reading:

Acts 8:26-10:22

My selection:

But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.   When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him,  but their plot became known to Saul.

Acts 9:22-24a

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.