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An Eternal Plan

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the rulers and to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-12)

“According to the eternal purpose that is realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Herein lies one of those great and profound statements of the Bible. The revealing of the Gospel took place because it was purposed (or planned) by God. Was this something that God decided upon as he watched human behavior? No. Was the revealing of the Gospel a reaction to the Jews’ rejection of Jesus? No. This is the eternal plan of God. Thus, before God created, when it was just God that existed in eternity prior to creation, this plan existed in His mind. 

The implications of this truth should be apparent in that they reject the theology of Open Theism, much of Dispensationalism, and much of Wesleyanism. It rejects the notion that Adam and Eve could have remained sinless and chosen not to disobey. God had all of these things planned before he even began to create because he had planned the way the Gospel would be revealed from eternity. As Election is a part of how God laid out and worked out his plan, it also clearly rejects the notion that election was a result of the Fall, even in terms of the question of theological priority. That plan was then realized in Christ and in the work that Christ did (and exactly the way He did it). And notice, it does not say that God realized it with Jesus and it is up to us to choose him…

How easy it is to fall into the trap of making God’s plan out to be something like we would want it imagined rather than what God has clearly set forth in His word. How simple it is for us to be attracted to those ideas that we like rather than to what is true and plainly taught in the Bible. God sovereignly saves his Elect and that plan was part of God’s eternal design, worked out in Christ Jesus. 

Hidden from the Eons

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-12)

It may seem that we are beating a dead horse with this idea, but if we are beating a dead horse, it is only because Paul keeps bringing it up. From when has the mystery of the Gospel been hidden in God? Paul writes that it has been hidden “from the ages.” The Greek word used in this case is αἰών (aion), which is the origin of the English word, eon. This word refers to the ages past or to the beginning of time — “the earliest ages” as the scholarly lexicons would read.

While it is true that this term does not need to refer to eternity past and can speak of long ages ago, the same point can be made. God has sovereignly chosen and decided his mystery — his plan of the Gospel and to redeem the Gentiles as amongst his people — from the ages. God did not change his mind and include the Gentiles when the Jews refused the Son as many dispensational theologians would teach. He also decide the best course of actions in response to human choices as open theists and free-will theologians would teach. God ordained a plan from old and worked out that plan in time and space, revealing it ultimately in His Son and proclaiming it through the Apostle Paul and through others. God had his plan before the foundations of the earth, as Paul has already mentioned in this letter, and is working it out in time.

Predestination and Human Freedom

“In whom we have received an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of the one who works all things according to the counsel of his will, to the end that we who exist to the praise of his glory — those who first hoped in Christ; in whom you also, in hearing the word of Truth, the Gospel of our Salvation, in which you also believed and were sealed in the Holy Spirit who was promised.”

(Ephesians 1:11-13)

The other part of the “predestining” that needs to be fleshed out is the human part. One of the common challenges that people raise against the Biblical notion of predestination has to do with where there is room for the human will and responsibility. If God predestines all things, can it be said that we ever really make a choice of one thing over another? And, if God predestines all things, how can we be held accountable for that which we do?

These are matters that have brought debate within the Christian community across the centuries. In today’s world, it is at the heart not only of the debate between Calvinists and Arminians but extremes on both ends lead to heresy — namely hyper-calvinism on one side and open-theism on the other. Thus, it is worth picking at this question a little bit here. 

To begin with, the “all” of “all things” is presented in the absolute. It is true that in some places in scripture, the “all” refers to “all kinds of things” or to “all kinds of people,” but context determines the reading of the word. In this case, there is nothing in the text to suggest anything but the most comprehensive use of the term πᾶς (pas)…or “all.” This is not a reference to God predestining this but not that; it is a reference to God predestining this and that — both the greatest things and the smallest things and all things in between.

It must also be said that the Bible affirms both that God is sovereign and that we are responsible for our actions. If we loose God’s sovereignty in our theology as does Open-theism, then we enter heresy. If we loose human responsibility in our theology as do the Hyper-calvinists, then again, we enter heresy. What the Bible affirms, we too must affirm.

So, how do we balance these two doctrines in a way that keeps our views consistent with that of Scripture? To begin with, we affirm the language we find here in Ephesians 1:11 — that God has predestined all things that come to pass according to the counsel of His will. From the birth and death of a sparrow to the birth and death of the Messiah, God is sovereign over all of these matters. Second, while our will is not free in the libertarian sense, we do make real choices every day of our lives. When I woke up this morning, I decided what I would wear and I decided what I would have for breakfast (amongst other things). These were genuine decisions where I had the option to do other than what I did. Yet, God is the one responsible for creating me and for forming my psyche as a Christian man. And thus, the decisions that I make are perfectly consistent not only with my character but with God’s eternal predestining design.

Does that mean that God has ordained my sin? In a sense, yes. Because we are fallen, we have inherited a sin-nature from our first parents, Adam and Eve. This sin nature means that I am bent toward sin. It is my natural default. Think about that toy car with a bent wheel axle. No matter how you push it, the car will drift to the side and not go in a straight line. Such is the case with humans, except that our bend is far worse and far more encompassing than a bent axle.

And so, God does permit our sin. At the same time, He also permits that sin for a purpose — most commonly for the glory of God and to draw us back to himself in repentance. In other words, sometimes we need to see and experience our own depravity before we will take that depravity seriously. Also, we will never understand grace until we really understand just how undeserving we are of it. Yet, not only are there no surprises when it comes to God and our sin, but it can be said that God is sovereign over our sin as well and further, that God uses our sin in a sinless way to do His will. Somewhere that is going to cause our brain to melt just a little bit, but as this is what the Bible affirms, this is what we too must affirm if we are to remain orthodox in our thinking.

A Predestined Inheritance

“In whom we have received an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of the one who works all things according to the counsel of his will, to the end that we who exist to the praise of his glory — those who first hoped in Christ; in whom you also, in hearing the word of Truth, the Gospel of our Salvation, in which you also believed and were sealed in the Holy Spirit who was promised.”

(Ephesians 1:11-13)

It is important to see the flow of Paul’s argument, which ties together Jewish believers and gentile believers into the single body of those whom God has called and predestined. Yet, with that said, as has been the case with much of this book, the theology of these three verses is incredibly compact and needs to be unpackaged somewhat to get to the heart of what Paul is teaching us.

First, note the language of the inheritance. As co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:29; Ephesians 3:6; Titus 3:7), we are given the right to an inheritance. Some translations prefer to use the word, “obtained,” with respect to this inheritance, but to do so would imply that the inheritance was somehow earned or merited — something contrary to what Paul says immediately in the next clause. The word in question, κληρόω (klaro’o), typically refers to those things gained by drawing lots (something over which God is sovereign — Proverbs 16:33), and not something that is earned or given meritoriously. 

No, this inheritance is toward those who were “predestined according to the purpose of the one who works all things according to the council of his will.” When I first  became convinced of the Calvinistic view of the sovereignty of God, this verse became my “go-to” verse when I was asked to make my point. In many ways, it is still my go-to verse. 

For God to predestine something, that means that God decided beforehand what would take place — deciding before I had done anything on my own — in light of Ephesians 1:4, deciding before the foundation of the earth. And, furthermore, the reason that God decided these things beforehand, according to the Apostle Paul, is because he willed it to be so. God did not foresee our actions and declare it to be the case nor did he act in response to other actions that I had chosen. No, God sovereignly ordained these things to take place entirely on the basis of his sovereign will. One cannot read the scriptures carefully and come away with any other conclusion. God is sovereign over all things that come to pass — nothing is left to chance and hallelujah that it isn’t. All things are done according to the Council of God’s will — as Paul writes in Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depths of the riches and of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unfathomable are his decrees and incomprehensible are his ways!

“For who is he who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is he that has become his counselor? Who is he that first gave to him that he might receive repayment? For out of him and through him and for him are all things. For to him is the glory unto eternity, amen!”

His Grace

“In Him we have deliverance through His blood — liberation from trespasses — according to the riches of His grace, which abounds to us in all wisdom and understanding,”

(Ephesians 1:7-8)

A dozen times in this Epistle, Paul speaks of grace. We have already defined it here as “unmerited favor,” but it is worth noting that in these verses, Paul is very clear that this grace is “His grace.” Indeed, this seems to be an obvious connection, but it is important for us to clarify that when it comes to grace, there is nothing in it that is generated by or originates within us. It is unqualified, unreserved, unlimited, and unambiguous. God knows to whom he has extended his grace (election) and the extension of grace is mediated by the work of the Son. For God’s elect it is unalienable and for the eternally reprobate it is unattainable. It is God’s grace and his grace alone to give and he chooses to give it through his Son and in no other ways. It cannot be requested by us and it cannot be either accepted or rejected on our part. For it to be grace it must be sovereignly given. 

How often people fall into the error that they think that they can accept or reject the grace of God. How often, the picture is painted of God universally offering grace and waiting upon man to accept it. Yet, beloved, if grace is contingent on our desire for it or upon our willingness to receive it, then it is not truly grace (Romans 11:6). It is something else entirely. Grace is not based on our human will nor is it based on the works we might do; it is based fully and entirely upon God and his mercy towards a fallen people in need of his grace (Romans 9:16). Woe to us when we demean the grace of God with notions of our choosing or of our acceptance. It is His grace and His alone to give. And that which is sovereignly given cannot be rejected on our part…it has been sovereignly given.

Six times in his epistles, Paul makes a point in referring to grace as “His” grace. How important it is for us to pay attention to those little pronouns if we are going to purge ourselves of the ideas of men that so proliferate the churches of our culture. The question is not really one of whether “you have received Jesus in your heart” (notice how that makes it something you do), but whether God has driven you to your knees, broken you of your pride, and brought you to repentance before the saving work of Jesus as an expression of his eternal and sovereign grace. It is not about what you want or do, dear friends, it is about God and what he is doing — whether you want it or not.

Turned Toward My Good

One of the great contributions that the Heidelberg Catechism brings to the table of Reformed confessions is that it is so very much first-person and pastoral in nature. As I have noted before, instead of speaking in the abstract, it uses words like “I” and “me” and “my” to convey spiritual truth. And the language of question 26 is no exception to this rule. 

The whole phrase that the catechism uses here is: “whatever evil that he sends to me in this valley of tears will be turned toward my good.” That is a remarkably powerful statement. The bottom line is that this world is filled with awful experiences. There are wicked people both inside and outside of the church and tragic events that take place all around. Yet, as Christians, we can be assured that all these events are under God’s sovereign control (Ephesians 1:11) and as a result, they will be used for our good (Romans 8:28).

The real question that we must ask is, what constitutes our God? Romans 8:29 clarifies this as well — that it is to conform us into the image of Christ. And thus, the evil that we experience has a purpose and it works into God’s plan — even the wicked being tools in God’s hands to refine the elect. That is the result of a sovereign God.

Some would argue that God is not absolutely sovereign over all things. And those who claim this, cannot claim the language found in this catechism question — or the promises that God makes to his people in the Bible. In fact, the only assurance that we can have of any good in our life is based on the premise that God is sovereignly in control…but if he is sovereignly in control, then all things are under his control and in his plan — and will be worked for my good — little by little, conforming me into the image of Christ.

Rejoicing in Yahweh’s Divine Actions

“For you make me rejoice constantly, Yahweh, in your divine action; in the works of your hands, I continually exult.”

(Psalm 92:5 [verse 4 in English])

 

The question that we must raise is whether or not we can really say, with the psalmist that we rejoice and exult in the works of God. On the surface level, our first response is probably to say that we do rejoice in God’s works, but in saying that we need to take a closer look at what we are suggesting. Indeed, it is easy to rejoice in the blessings that God brings into our lives, but what of the trials? What of those times when everything is falling apart and we just cannot figure out which end is up in life? Is it not harder to rejoice in God and exult in his works when such things take place? Yet this, too, is in sight of what the Psalmist is saying.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do, when things fall apart in our lives, is to praise God in the midst of such things. Yet, in times of distress like this, such is what our soul most needs. We need that communion and worship and we need to affirm that God’s work is continually a good thing in my life because it is used to conform me into the image of his Son, Jesus.

One of the great reminders of this principle is the setting aside of the Sabbath day. A day where we join with the body of Christ and worship together — where we even lift one another up in worship, standing in the gap for the brother and sister who is broken and cannot stand (spiritually) on their own feet to do so. That joined with the promise that if we count the Sabbath a delight, God will raise us up from our depths and give us a taste of his glory (Isaiah 58:13-14).

Caiaphas’ Prophesy

It was Caiaphas who plotted with the Jews that it would be useful that one man die for the group.”

(John 18:14)

 

The language of Caiaphas’ warning to the Sanhedron is one worthy of reflection. This little parenthesis is meant to point us to an earlier event that took place shortly before Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. John records the event in this way:

“But one from their number, Caiaphas, who was the High Priest in that given year, said to them, ‘You do not know anything, nor do you understand that it would be useful for you that one man die for the group and not have the whole of the people destroyed.’ This he did not say on his own, but being the High Priest in that given year, he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the people and not for the people only, but also in order that the Children of God that are dispersed might be gathered together as one.”

(John 11:49-52)

Before we move further, there are some terms that we must understand if we are going to grasp John’s explanation. First of all, this is a plot. Some of our English translations render John 18:14 as if Caiaphas is giving advice or spiritual counsel. What they are doing is plotting and scheming to see Jesus dead because Jesus has upset their powerbase.

The second thing that we must clarify up front is “to whom” will this arrest and execution be “useful” or “expedient.” While John points out that these words of Caiaphas are prophetic, it is important to first understand Caiaphas’ motives for speaking such words. Thus, the “to whom” in Caiaphas’ mind, must clearly be referring to the power of the ruling party in the Sanhedron. Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law, showed himself to be a master manipulator of power for personal gain, there is no question that Annas has been coaching his son-in-law in these matters.

Thus, if we know for whom it is “useful” we must also ask for which group is Caiaphas thinking Jesus must die. In God’s economy, we know the answer is that Jesus died for the elect, but in what context is Caiaphas speaking when he utters these words? Some of our English translations imply that the group in question is that of the nation of Israel based on John’s use of the term e¡qnoß (ethnos) in verse 51 above. While e¡qnoß (ethnos) can be interpreted as “nation,” it can more simply refer to a group of people united by any given common tie — hence the derivation of our modern term, “ethnic,” from this Greek word. It is also clear from Caiaphas’ actions that he cares little for the people of Israel apart from his ability to use them for his own personal gain. Similarly, at this point in history, Israel cannot be said to be a nation, but is a Roman province, a status that Caiaphas clearly has no interest in changing due to the fact that an outright revolution would clearly bring Caiaphas’ downfall (the effects of revolt would be demonstrated 40 years later when the Romans would march on Jerusalem in 70 AD).

Thus, the answer seems to be that Caiaphas is still thinking about himself and about those in power. The presence of Jesus only shook up the status quo, interrupted their monetary gains (think of Jesus’ actions with the sellers in the temple courts), and risked the oppression of the Romans. From Caiaphas’ perspective, Jesus must die to preserve Caiaphas’ power and the power of those who were in the ruling class — these are the “people” — the e¡qnoß (ethnos) — of whom Caiaphas is speaking. Again, John points out clearly that Caiaphas is speaking prophetically here, much as the pagan, Balaam, spoke prophetically generations earlier. While Caiaphas’ heart was focused on one thing, God used him to speak truth. It was “useful” that one man should die for the people — and Jesus was the only such man that could do so, being both God and man. For in Jesus’ death, he would pay the penalty of sin for His people — believers throughout the generations — those that God had elected before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and then drawn to Jesus (John 6:44). In God’s eternal plan, this is the group for whom Jesus was dying — a group that Peter would refer to as a nation of priests (1 Peter 2:9-10) — a nation of which, by God’s grace, I have been called to be a member. And you have been made a member of that nation as well so long as you are trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Caiaphas spoke prophetic words — but words that pronounced his own ultimate defeat at the hands of sin and death. May these words stick with us and remind us not only of God’s sovereignty over even the wicked of this world, but over our lives as well. May these words remind us that it is only in Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can find hope and life for the dark days in which we live and for eternity thereafter.

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

-Edward Mote

From Ur to Haran, but No Further…

3/26/13

“These are the descendants of Shem: when Shem was a son of one-hundred years, he begat Arpakshad — two years after the deluge. And Shem lived, after he begat Arpakshad, five hundred years and he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:10-11)

 

Essentially, this list of genealogies picks up where the genealogies in Genesis 5 leave off. Here we find the descendants of Noah that lead us to Abraham. And, much like we find in Genesis 5, we are not seeing an exhaustive list, but simply the covenantal line that leads from Adam to Noah (Genesis 5) and now from Noah to Abraham. God is a God who elects to bestow his grace and blessings upon a specific people, not vague generalities, and out of one lump of clay (in this case, the children of Shem), he has every right to make some vessels for honored use and others for dishonored use (Romans 9:21). We know nothing of most of these people apart from the fact that God called them to be part of the line of Abraham — the man with whom God would establish his covenant. But that is why we call God’s election: “Grace.” It is not what I have done, but what God has done, praise be to God.

Traditionally, Arpakshad’s name has been understood to mean, “healer,” though the etymology of this is a bit stretched. The Hebrew word apr (rapha) is seen as the root, being the verb, “to heal.” The word dv (shad) in Hebrew refers to one’s chest or perhaps to one’s mother’s breast. The Aleph at the beginning could be a use of the first person singular verbal prefix in the imperfect tense, but we are really beginning to stretch the speculative realm of things further than I am comfortable doing. The key is that while we know very little of this particular man, we know that he was born two years after the flood and that he is in the line of Abraham and for that we can celebrate our inheritance with him.

Shem lived a total of 600 years, had other sons and daughters, and then passed away. He had a full life, but we know nothing of what that life entailed apart from his connection to his father and to his son, though it should be noted that in Genesis 10:22 we have a fuller list of Shem’s sons. How often it is that the things that we consider important are not really that important in the economy of God. May we find our satisfaction not in all the things we have done but in the fact that in Christ our names have been preserved in the Lamb’s Book of Life — something far more important than those works that might be attributed to us during our lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

3/27/13

“When Arpakshad lived thirty-five years he begat Shalach. Arpakshad, after he begat Shelach, lived four hundred and three years and he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:12-13)

 

When reading these genealogies, I often get asked why some of these Old Testament saints waited so long to have children. Thirty-five perhaps is not terribly old, but read this way, Shem was 100 before he had Arpakshad. Yet, to read the text in this way misses the thrust of what is being communicated. It is not that Arpakshad waited until he was thirty-five to have children, it is that Arpakshad was thirty-five when his wife gave birth to Shelach. Shelach stands out from his other brothers and sisters because Shelach is in the line of Abraham who is in the line of David who is in the line of Jesus. This genealogy is not seeking to be exhaustive, simply to trace the covenantal line from Noah to Abraham.

In these two verses, you will note that I spelled Shelach’s name differently. This is not a typo, but a reflection of the Hebrew vowel markers changing shifting from one use to the next. Remember, that Hebrew is a consonantal language, and in most cases, vowel pointing is not written, just simply pronounced. Thus, the change from an “a” to an “e” should not throw us off very much as we understand his name. Shelach means “to stretch out” or “to send.” Again, we do not know much about the context of his naming or character, but his purpose is that of being a pointer to the covenant mediator to come. Beyond that, all other things are secondary.

Once again, scripture reminds us repeatedly that human life is passing like the flowers of the field in the scope of eternity. What is more important is not so much all of the accomplishments we think are important, but whether we have faithfully pointed others to Jesus, using all of our gifts to do that task. May we commit ourselves to being pointers to one greater than we are and not to ourselves.

 

 

 

 

4/4/13

“It came to pass that Shelach had lived for thirty years, and he begat Eber. And after he began Eber, Shelach lived another four-hundred and three years and he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:14-15)

 

And here the pattern continues. At times this may seem to get redundant, but the presence of these genealogies reminds us of God’s patience through the generations and the long gaps of time in between his covenantal activities. Our tendency is to be impatient and we want everything yesterday. God’s design is that he may never intend to bring earth-shattering events in our generation, but it may be through our children, our grandchildren, or through our great-great-great grandchildren whom we will never live long enough to meet in this life. There are basically ten generations that are traced here from Noah’s son Shem to Abraham. In which generation are we? We may be called simply to live in faith and obscurity, setting an example in our children or grandchildren to follow, for it may be in their generation that God is going to fulfill our prayers and move. We may pray for revival, but God is the one who brings such revival and he does so in His timing.

The name Eber comes from the Hebrew word meaning, “to pass by” or “to cross over.” Typically this is seen to reflect the nomadic lifestyle given to the descendants of Noah (they were to multiply and fill the earth — Genesis 9:1). It could also reflect the deliverance that God had given to his people through the flood as they passed over the waters of judgment if only still in the loins of Shem. It is also rather prophetic, because the people of God would pass through the Red Sea and the Jordan River by God’s divine working. There is some debate as to the origin of the word Hebrew, but some trace the word back to this son of Shem’s name. Hebrew traditionally is understood to be taken from the term “the ones who come from across the river.” Prophetic indeed.

The bottom line is that God is still continuing to work. Shelach and Eber may not be mighty judges or covenant mediators, but they prove faithful to God and hand down what they know from one generation to the next — something that we are all called to do as believers. We must be engaged in this privilege — teaching our children and grandchildren about the mighty works of God. The sad thing is that in our culture today, many parents are not doing that, but rather are taking the attitude that children should make up their own mind on such matters. Yet, for a plant to grow strong and healthy, it must be biased by good soil, plenty of water, and good sunshine; for a child to grow strong and healthy, he or she must be biased toward the truth — we are called to do that biasing by the way we live and by the way we teach our children. And while history may simply record us as a name in the line of another, our faithfulness will bear fruit in the generations that follow in faithfulness to God’s call and design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4/12/13

“It came to pass that Eber had lived thirty-four years and he begat Paleg. After Eber begat Peleg, he lived four-hundred and thirty years and he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:16-17)

 

Like Shelach, we find Peleg presented with two sets of vowel, which again should not cause us to stumble greatly as we are reminded that the vowel pointing is present for pronunciation, not for definition. Of the Sons of Shem, this is the first case where more than one son is mentioned (see Genesis 10:25) and in that context we are also given the meaning of his name: “division.” We are told that it was in this generation that the earth was divided up — in context, most likely speaking about the various clans going in their separate directions. God had commanded the children of Noah to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth with their kind (Genesis 9:1), yet the children of Noah settled in Shinar and set forth to build a city in their own honor (Genesis 11:1-4). God confused their languages and thus divided the people, forcing them apart and to migrate to every corner of the earth, leaving behind their plans for vain-glory and being made to be obedient even if that was not their intent. While we do not know for sure exactly which “division” that Eber had in mind when he named his son, it is not unreasonable to consider Babel as the event behind the division. Peleg’s brother’s name was Yoqtan, which means “watchful,” and traditionally is seen as the forefather of those who live in the Arabic nation of Yemen.

How often disobedience brings division. Our culture is one which celebrates the individual and tends only to think of the ramifications that one’s actions may have on oneself. Yet, what of the ramifications of one’s actions on the community around us? God would have us understand that one’s actions either bless or bring trial upon the community around us — hence the seriousness of the punishments prescribed for Old Testament Israel were incremental based on the seriousness of the crime within the covenantal community. Division was brought in Peleg’s day. If as a result of Babel, then we know exactly the kind of disobedience that caused the division. If as a result of something else, then all we know is that the actions of the day were ones that brought division — something that brought grief and separation on the face of the earth — no longer could the people dwell together but they had to separate and divide.

As Christians, we are called to be a people of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Yet how often we act as Pelegs — people of division. Numerous protestant denominations are a testimony to this fact. And, though there are certainly times when denominations separate themselves from the body of Christ by their unfaithfulness, how many small, faithful denominations are there whose only point of separation was on whether one sang psalms, hymns, or praise choruses? Loved ones, we are quick to divide and slow to reconcile…it ought to be the other way around.

 

 

 

 

 

4/13/13

“And it came to pass that Peleg was thirty years old and he begat Reu. And after he begat Reu, Peleg lived two-hundred and nine years. And he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:18-19)

 

Here we find the first real indications that the effect of the Fall upon our lifespan is progressive, for Peleg’s lifespan is significantly shorter than that of his fathers’ before him. Shem lived to be 600, Apakshad to 438, Shelach to 433, Eber to 464, and now Peleg dies at 239 — a comparatively young man compared to those who have gone before him. And, as we continue to see the lives of these Old Testament saints go forward, we find that their life expectancy continues to drop until they are within our range. Isaiah speaks in terms of the new creation to come that those who only live to 100 would be counted as cursed (Isaiah 65:20) — how accursed a race we are then!

This change in longevity is worth noting because Peleg is the first of these patriarchs to die before his father. In fact, he died before his father, before his grandfather, before his great grandfather, and before his great-great grandfather. In fact, Peleg dies ten years before Noah, his great-great-great grandfather, dies. What a devastating reminder that while the world has been remade new through the flood, people still are under the weight of the fall and thus death still reigned in their bodies. To put things in even clearer perspective, Shem outlives almost all of his named descendants for nine generations — only Abraham and Eber outlive their great ancestor — and Eber (Peleg’s father) outlives Abraham by four years!

Reu’s name means, “companion” or “friend.” How profound a name that is given the context of death that the descendants of Shem now need to face. How often, in the wake of death, what we need most is friendship — those who will comfort and not condemn. Loved ones, we live in a dark and fallen world, we need those Godly friends and companions that he gives us to accompany us on our way. May there be many “Reu”s in your life.

 

 

 

 

 

“And it came to pass that Reu lived thirty-two years and he begat Serug. Reu lived two-hundred and seven years after he begat Serug. And he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:20-21)

 

And the pattern continues. Sometimes we can get a little weighed down by lists of genealogies like this, but do remember always that these are real people in time and space that are striving to live faithfully before the Lord and to teach their sons and daughters the ways of God. More importantly, they are the line from whom God would raise up Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and eventually Jesus. It is important to be able to trace these roots — a reminder to all of the sovereign hand of God upon his elect through the ages.

The name Serug is typically understood to be an adaptation of Sarugi, an Akkadian place name marking a region about 35 miles from Haran (though spelled, “Charan”). Perhaps this is where he lived and settled or perhaps his name is somewhat prophetic of the travels that his grandson, Terah would make when he left Ur and settled in Haran. This we do not know. Perhaps his name is simply a reminder that they were not a people to be settled in Ur, but meant for a place distant from there in the direction of Sarugi and Haran.

It is interesting to me how our nature can often be so radically distinct from God’s call. Abraham was to be a wanderer — a traveler — in a land promised to him and to his children, but not his own. I wonder how many of us would accept a call like that in our lives today. How often we choose comfort and security over the call that God places upon us. Yet God’s call and God’s way is always better than our own. Loved ones, do not despair, God is sovereign over all things — big and small! — and he has your life in his hand. When he calls you to step out in faith, do not hesitate to do so. Be messengers of his grace in all you do and trust the bigger plan to God’s hand.

 

 

 

 

 

4/18/13

“And it came to pass that Serug was thirty years old and he begat Nachor. And Serug lived two-hundred years after he begat Nachor and he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:22-23)

 

Some names in the Bible are more flattering than others. This one is not one of the more flattering ones… Nachor literally means, “snorter,” and is typically understood to refer to the kind of snort that an aquatic whale would make when they surface and snort, or blow out, the carbon dioxide stored in their bodies from long dives. Being called a “whale” is unflattering enough, but even more so when you realize that the ancient Hebrew culture was never overly fond of the water in the first place. One can speculate that perhaps this name came from the way the baby snorted or played, but that is entering into speculation. The reality is that we do not know for sure.

Yet, as unflattering as we might find the name to be, Nachor’s grandson — the son of Terah — would be named after him. That simple fact should remind us of the importance of honoring those who have gone before us and one way to do so is for our children to carry their names. There is a tribute that is made to that end and Terah saw that as a way to honor the one who had raised him up in the world. So often we are prone to live only thinking of ourselves; this is a reminder to us that we stand on the shoulders of the giants that have gone before us.

 

 

 

 

 

4/19/13

“And it came to pass that Nachor was twenty-nine years old he begat Tarach. And after Nachor begat Terach, he lived one-hundred and nineteen years and begat sons and daughters. And it came to pass that Terach had lived seventy years. He begat Abram, Nachor, and Haran.”

(Genesis 11:24-26)

 

And the bridge has now been crossed — the covenantal transition between Noah and his sons and Abram — a period spanning 352 years beginning with the flood and taking us to the birth of Abraham. And all of that three hundred and fifty two years summarized within 17 verses of scripture. There may perhaps be a temptation to be discouraged, wondering if our own lives will prove to be such a small footnote of history — or even to make the text of the history books, for many do not. Yet, we are to always remember that it is not our lives that are of significance; it is Jesus who is of significance. And that means that if we labor all our lives in humble obscurity yet in a way that honors our Lord and Savior, that ought to be enough — and enough it is.

We have seen the subtle vowel changes between the first and second readings of several of the names in this genealogy already, so Terach’s name should not cause us to stumble. There is a great deal of discussion as to what the origin of Terach’s name actually is. Some have suggested that it goes back to a town on the edge of the River Balikh which is north-east of Haran, Turāhu. Others have connected his name with the Akkadian word turāhum, which means “mountain goat” — typically understood as referring to an ibex. The answer we just may never know in this life.

We have already seen the meaning of the name Nachor; Haran is typically understood to refer to a mountainous countryside as the root of the name, rAh (har), means “mountain” or “rough hill.” Abram’s name means, “Great Father.” And that is exactly what he is.

There are some who would be slightly tripped up by the way verse 26 leaves things off. Was Abraham the oldest of the three brothers (hence is mentioned first) and if so, was Abraham born when Terah was 70? Traditionally, it has been understood that Abraham left Haran at the age of 75 (Genesis 12:4) and at the death of his father, Terah. Yet, that means that Terah was 130 years old when he Abraham was born, thus making him a younger son of Terah, not the oldest.

The answer to this question lies in the fact of who Abram is — he is the son of the covenant, the one through whom God will be continuing his covenantal promise. Just as the language of Genesis 5:32 leaves us with the birth of Noah’s three sons, yet only through Shem would the line continue, we find the same pattern being preserved here, hence he is listed first (just as Shem is listed first in Noah’s lineage — and note that Shem was 97 years old when the flood hit, making his father, Noah, 503 when he was born — so again, he was not the oldest of the three.

What will follow in this chapter is the beginning of the call that Abraham would receive — in portion given through his father Terah. Perhaps, though, as we continue to introduce the life of Abraham, it would be valuable to lay out the timetable of births and deaths that bridges us from the flood of Noah to the life of Abraham.

  • The Flood of Noah’s Day takes place (the floodwaters themselves lasting a full year)
  • 2 AF (After the Flood): Arpakshad born
  • 37 AF: Shelach born
  • 67 AF: Eber born
  • 101 AF: Peleg born
  • 131 AF: Reu born
  • 163 AF: Serug born
  • 193 AF: Nachor born
  • 222 AF: Terach born
  • 292 AF: Terach begins having sons
  • 340 AF: Peleg dies (the first of the covenantal line to die post-flood)
  • 341 AF: Nachor dies
  • 350 AF: Noah dies
  • 352 AF: Abraham born
  • 370 AF: Reu dies
  • 393 AF: Serug dies
  • 427 AF: Terach dies and Abram migrates to Canaan
  • 440 AF: Arpakshad dies
  • 452 AF: Isaac is born
  • 470 AF: Shelach dies
  • 502 AF: Shem dies
  • 527 AF: Abraham dies
  • 531 AF: Eber dies

 

Sobering, isn’t it?

 

 

4/23/13

“These are the descendants of Terach. Terach begat Abram, Nachor, and Haran and Haran begat Lot. Haran died before the face of Terach, his father. It was in the land of his descendants, in Ur of the Kasdiym.”

(Genesis 11:27-28)

 

As we have mentioned, the scriptures are transitioning us from the life of Noah to the life of Abraham. Terach had three sons, but it would only be Abraham that is the line through which God will work, calling Abraham’s descendants to himself. These verses and the verses that follow really mark the setting apart of Abraham from his brothers — the first of his brothers, Haran, died at an unrecorded age in the land of his children. No children are mentioned by name as they are not connected to the covenantal line, but the text indicates their presence.

In Hebrew, the name of their homeland is MyIÚdVcAÚk (Kasdiym), and typically that is recognized to be the land of the Chaldeans, the predecessors of the later Babylonians. This is likely a connection back to Babel and the tower that those who dwelled in that area were seeking to build. We are introduced to Haran’s son, Lot, whose name refers to a covering or a wrapping over top of something. Lot will be taken in by Abram and Sarai and thus we know a great deal more about this man and his family (though much of it is not good), but we get ahead of ourselves.

For now, God is situating Abram to be separated from his people back in Ur. One step at a time, he is preparing to take this man and his wife on a journey of a lifetime — a journey of covenantal promise. For those who doubt the election of God, this is one of portions of scripture that must not be ignored. Here is a God who is intentionally separating a man and his line from all the rest of his family to be the bearer of the covenant. That, my friends, is election, plain and simple.

Yet, we would be remiss if we did not bring out a final principle by way of reminder. When God calls a person to follow, we must follow. He expects obedience from his own. Does that obedience characterize your life? If not, repent and follow the calling of the King of Kings wherever that may lead you.

 

 

 

 

5/10/13

“And Abram and Nachor took to themselves wives. The name of the wife of Abram was Saray and the name of the wife of Nachor was Milkah — the daughter of Haran who was the father of both Milkah and Yiskah. And it came to pass that Saray was infertile and had no child of her own.”

(Genesis 11:29-30)

 

I suppose that there are no great surprises in the various spellings of familiar names — again, transliteration is not a precise science and there are many agreed upon spellings of these names that do not reflect the literal transliteration from the Hebrew into English. Saray, is better known to us as Sarai, whose name means, “My princess.” Milkah is the daughter of Haran, which makes her the sister of Lot. Milkah (or Milcah) means “Queen.” It is interesting that, based on names, both Abraham and Milkah marry women whose names denote royalty. Milkah has a sister named Yiskah, or Iscah in our English Bibles, whose name probably is derived from the word for “to look” or “to look at.”

And now we have the family line laid out before us as well as another tidbit — Sarai was barren and could bear no child. Perhaps that is the reason for Abram taking in Lot, his nephew, when his brother dies. We do not know the answer to that particular question. What we do know is that God is waiting until Abram’s father dies (and thus Abram becomes the covenant head of his home) and then is going to begin doing mighty things in this man’s life. The wait is for another purpose as well — so that the only explanation for this man’s success could be attributed to God.

How we like to have our successes attributed to our persons. Yet, how much better it is when our successes are attributed to the one from whom the success originated! For any good success that I might have is only because of the grace of God and the hand of God working in my life. It is all about God and his work from beginning to end — I am not my own. How often we fall on our faces because we do not recognize that truth and how often we allow our bloated egos to become so puffed up with pride that we become a blight even to ourselves and need be laid low all over again. Oh how the “mighty” have so often fallen. Loved ones, cling to God, trust his leading, but also ensure that you understand that any good credit belongs to God alone. We are but tools in his hand — may we be always sharp and ready for use.

 

 

 

 

5/14/13

“And Terach took Abram, his son, and Lot, the son of Haran — the son of his son, and Saray, his daughter-in-law — the wife of Abram, and they went out together from Ur of the Kasdiym traveling toward the land of Canaan. But when they entered into Charan, they dwelt there. And the days of Terach were two-hundred and five years. And Terach died in Charan.”

(Genesis 11:31-32)

 

It strikes me that the call of Abram to leave behind the land of Ur and enter the land of Canaan was initially heard, at least in part, by Abram’s father, yet Terach did not complete what he started out to do. Perhaps the roads ahead were hard and the place in Haran more comfortable. Perhaps his health was waning and there was a need to stop here and allow him to rest out the final years of his life. We are simply not told the human reasons for this rest stop.

Though we will come back to this as we explore the life Abram and Abram’s following of God’s call where his father failed, it should be noted here the significance of God’s sovereign plan. Ultimately, it was for Abram, not Terach, to receive the promise of the land of Canaan and in God’s sovereign design, all of the human events that took place or failed to take place that caused Terach to stop in Haran were ordained by God so that it would be Abram and his household that would enter into the promised land. It is Abram who is the great father, not Terach.

We often talk of the plan of God but we also often fail to see God’s hand in our failures as well as in our successes. That, of course, does not let us off the hook, but God uses us in spite of ourselves, our foibles, and our abject failures. Bottom line is that we are to strive to be faithful to God’s calling upon our lives, but God has ordered all things — even our failures — to bring about his will. On one level that ought to boggle our minds. On another level, it ought to drive us to our knees in worship and thanksgiving. Personally, I have walked some very dark roads of sin over the years of my life; to be reminded that even in those dark valleys, God was directing my steps is a remarkable thing. It was my sin, but God was using even that sin to conform me into the image of his Son. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Thus begins the call of Abraham.

 

Behold the Woman Yahweh has Assigned

“Behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw, to whom I say, ‘Please let me drink a little water from your jar,’ and who will say to me, ‘Not only shall you drink, but I will also draw for your camels.’ Let her be the woman which Yahweh has assigned for the son of my lord.”

(Genesis 24:43-44)

 

This is the first use of the term “virgin” in the text of our story. She has been called a girl and a young woman previously, but here in her father’s household, the language changes slightly, perhaps as a sign of respect. It should be noted that it is this same term that is used in Isaiah 7:14 when the prophesy of Christ was made that a virgin shall give birth. Sometimes people will debate the Isaiah prophesy and choose to render the Hebrew word hDmVlAo (almah) as “maiden” or simply as “young girl.” While the range of meaning for this word allows for such a translation to be given, it should be noted that in the ancient culture, it was assumed that young girls would also be virgins. More importantly, the context of both this passage and the passage in Isaiah implies that something more than a young girl is at question, but that she is a young girl, eligible for marriage, and whose womb had not yet been opened. Virgin is a much better choice in English because that is what the Hebrew is implying. In our passage, everything about this discussion circulates around the question of marriage; Rebekah is being presented as one ready to take that step and be joined in marriage to Isaac.

Note also the emphasis in these verses on the sovereignty of God. It is God who is assigning this woman to be Isaac’s bride and it is God who has led Rebekah to Eliezer in the first place. There are no schemes of men involved; God has done the appointing since before the creation of the earth. Not only is this statement a statement of giving honor to God, but it is a statement that reflects the trust that Abraham’s servant had in God. How often we fail to follow his model.

Loved ones, let us never neglect to take notice that God is sovereign over all of his creation…that means you and me as well. He has ordained; He has appointed; He has governed; and He has chosen all of these events. That does not mean that we are robots, but it does mean that when things go well it is God who ought to get the credit, not us. And it means that when things go poorly, God is teaching (or sometimes rebuking) us. In the end, it is God that is glorified and we are to be servants in his world. Yet, is that how those who know you best would describe you? As a servant of God rather than being a servant of self? Beloved, may we repent where we have gone astray and recommit our lives towards the service of God and of God alone and let God provide those things that we need to get us through the day.

Understanding Predestination

Predestination:

The natural outworking of the Doctrine of God’s Decrees when applied to salvation is the language of predestination, of which election is a subset.  Regardless of how you understand predestination to be worked out in history, the term (and terms surrounding predestination) need to be dealt with because they are employed within scripture.  With this in mind, various views on the nature of predestination have been put forth including that of God’s foreordination of some to glory and some to reprobation (Calvinistic), God’s predestination based on divine foresight (classic Wesleyan), and God’s predestination of Christ as the only elect one and believers finding their election in him (modern Wesleyan). 

To better frame out this discussion, the first question that needs to be raised is whether God is active or passive in his predestination.  The Calvinist will typically hold that God’s predestination of believers to glory is active while his predestination of unbelievers to reprobation is a passive activity—that of literally choosing not to act in the life of some.  The Wesleyans will hold that God’s predestination of both believers and unbelievers is passive, the final decision in terms of salvation being left in the hands of the individual who chooses either to believe or to reject the things of God.

The second question that is addressed is the question of who forms the object of predestination.  The Calvinist will hold that all men, both good and evil, are the object of God’s predestinating work.  The Wesleyan will either argue that men ultimately choose to become the object of the predestinating work (as the work is passive) or that Christ is the only object of God’s predestinating work.  It is worth noting that these theologies typically apply the language of predestination to angels as well as to humans, thus it is God who predestinated Satan and his minions to fall or that it is Satan and his minions who chose to fall on their own free and un-influenced will.

The third question that must be addressed is that of the specific language of the New Testament surrounding predestination.  There are several terms that feed our understanding of God’s decretive work when it comes to predestination.

  1. proori/zw (proorizo):  This term that we typically translate as “predestine” is constructed from two root words: pro (pro), for “beforehand” and oJri/zw (horizo)—“to define, appoint, or set a limit to.”  Thus, when the terms are combined, this refers to something that is predetermined or decided upon ahead of time.  Thus, two ideas must be accounted for in interpreting this word.  First is that this word carries with it the idea of willful determination.  God determined to do something (scripture context and theology will determine what that something may be); there is an intentionality that is contained by this word.  Second, this willful act is an act that takes place before said events are realized, arguably, based on passages like Ephesians 1:4-5, said willful act takes place before the act of creation.
  2. proginw/skw (proginosko):  Again, this term can be broken down into two constituent parts:  pro (pro) and ginw/skw (ginosko), which means, “to know.”  Thus, this term refers to God’s knowing beforehand things and events.  There are two ways in which this “foreknowing” has been understood.  The Calvinists have consistently argued that God’s foreknowing is due to his foreordaining (God knows the end of the story because he wrote the book).  The Wesleyans have typically held that God, being outside of time and not bound by the linear time-stream as we are, equally sees past, present, and future, viewing the entire timeline of history from his divine vantage point (God knows the end of the story because he read the story beforehand). 

The Wesleyan view ties proginw/skw (proginosko) with proora/w (proorao), or “foresight.”  Thus God knows because he sees.  Yet, the Calvinist points out the theological connection between ginw/skw (ginosko) and the Hebrew term [d:y” (yada), “to know.”  The Hebrew concept of knowledge is relational, thus, when Adam “knew” his wife, she became pregnant.  The Calvinist would thus argue that it is impossible to have a relationship with something that is simply seen in time, but that the word demands the idea of God setting his affections on those he “foreknew” ahead of time.

  1. ejkle/gomai (eklegomai):  This is the verb that we translate as “to elect” or “to choose,” noting that this verb implies a certain degree of intentionality. This idea is also communicated through two nouns: ejklekto/ß (eklektos)—“chosen one” or “elect”—and ejklogh/ (ekloge)—“a choice” or “an election.”  This is a term with which we will deal in more detail in our unit on Soteriology, but it is an important part of the understanding of predestination in terms of God’s decretive work.  For our purposes here, though, it is important simply to understand the idea of election as being something that is a result of God’s intentional choice, regardless of the means by which you understand that choice being made (foresight or foreordination) or of your understanding of the object(s) of God’s electing work (Christ alone or all believers).

There is a fourth question that must be addressed, and this question, though it is one that tends to be more subjective than objective, is one that carries with it more pastoral connotations, and thus, in the eyes of many, is likely the most important question to address.  This question is, “Is the idea of God predestinating fair?”  Certainly, one may dismiss this concern by quoting, “Who are you, O Man, to answer back to God?”  And, indeed, it is important to be reminded that we are the ones who must answer to God and he does not answer to man or seek man’s counsel.  We were not the ones who set the world into place nor do we even know what tomorrow will bring.  God is sovereign and man is not.  As the German composer, Samuel Radigast, wrote: “Whatever my God ordains is right…”

At the same time, as we discussed before, God is not capricious and he is not unjust.  All God does, he does in perfect harmony and accordance with his will.  Thus, the question is raised once again, how do we understand the idea of predestination in terms of the “rightness” or “fairness” of the act that is consistent with the goodness of God’s character?  The answer that we must give falls under a right understanding of our fallen, sinful estate.  While we will discuss sin further when we discuss Anthropology, let it suffice to say that as a result of Adam’s fall, what every man, woman, and child deserves is the judgment of God—that is what we have earned.  Thus, in terms of “fairness,” what is fair is that all mankind would face eternal judgment.  In turn, the redemption that is seen in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ must be seen as the greatest of mercies delivered to an undeserving people.  Regardless of your particular view on the object or means of election, a right view of our sinful states places into its proper context the marvelous, gracious, and wonderful work of our Lord on the cross.  It can be said that the more seriously you take sin and its effects, the more you will appreciate the mercy of the cross.

One final note in terms of the language of predestination, in particular with respect to the Decrees of God:  while there are many and varying views on how one explains the theology and theological ramifications of predestination, one must not ignore the concepts because they are scriptural concepts.  One must deal honestly with the language of texts like Acts 4:28 and others, and while one’s theology may make less or more of them, one must make something of such passages in order to be faithful to scripture.


Ordinarily, this approach is rather backwards.  Normally, when doing exegetical work, one should examine the words and their meanings, working from what the text literally states within its context and then deriving an interpretation from that point.  Yet, in discussions as theologically charged as this discussion can be, it is worth noting that one’s theological presuppositions will often color one’s understanding of the context within which particular words may be found.  If one is aware of one’s own presuppositions as they approach a text like this, it is my belief that one will be more inclined to recognize the effect that said presupposition is having on interpretation, hopefully using more discernment as the words are defined and understood.

Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5,11.

Note that one must not be too hasty in assuming that a word can be defined accurately by combining the definitions of its constituent parts.  Just as the English word “hot-dog” does not refer to a cute, fuzzy pet on a summer-time afternoon, such is often the same with Greek terms.  At the same time, just as in English, many compound words do carry with them the combined meanings of their parts, and thus is the case with proori/zw.

Typically, when we speak of the Decrees of God, we speak of them as having taken place prior to his creative work.

Acts 26:5; Romans 8:29; Romans 11:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:17. 

pro/gnwsiß (prognosis—from which our English word comes), is the noun form of this term.

Genesis 4:1.

Mark 13:20; Luke 6:13; Luke 9:35; Luke 14:7; John 15:19; Ephesians 1:4.

Matthew 22:14; Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:22; Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 5:21; 1 Peter 2:4; 2 John 1; Revelation 17:14.

Acts 9:15; Romans 9:11; Romans 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10.

It is important to note that a related debate in terms of predestination is that of single/double predestination.  Some would argue that God actively elects some to salvation and passively permits unbelievers to condemn themselves to damnation.  Others would argue that God actively elects some to life and elects others to condemnation.  That debate is outside of the scope of this discussion, though it deserves to be referenced in this context.

Note that this question is often rephrased to say, “Is it just?” or “Is it consistent with my understanding of God’s character?”, but ultimately, if you read between the lines, the question that is being asked is whether or not God is being arbitrary and partial, which flies in the face of most of our understandings of “fairness.”

Romans 9:20—Here Paul is citing Elihu’s rebuke of Job (Job 33:13) and Isaiah’s illustration of a clay pot in the master’s hands (Isaiah 29:16).

Romans 11:34-35; Isaiah 40:13; Job 35:7, 41:11.

Job 38:4.

James 4:14.

Acts 4:24; 1 Timothy 6:15.

Job 8:3.

Romans 5:28,6:23.

Ibid.

Also note that predestination, even in a strict Calvinistic sense, is different from philosophical determinism.  God did not make automatons of mankind and though we make choices that are set within God’s will, these choices are not coerced in a negative sort of way.  This will be discussed further in our discussion of Anthropology.

The Decrees of God

The Divine Decrees of God[1]

In general, we can begin by defining what we mean by a “decree” of God.  A decree reflects the definite plan of God; Wollebius[2] defined a decree as: “an internal act of the divine will, by which he determines from eternity, freely, and with absolute certainty, those matters which shall happen in time.”[3]  Thus, when we are speaking of the “Decrees of God,” the definition is focused on three basic aspects:

  1. The Decrees were made in eternity, prior to God’s creative act.  This is not a portrayal of God that pictures him working along through history, hoping that he can bring his desires into reality, but a God who is in sovereign control over history.[4]
  2. These Decrees were made in perfect consistency with God’s immutable will.[5]  All these decrees flow out of his perfections and are good and right and designed for the bringing about of God’s purposes.
  3. These Decrees were made without outside influence[6] (as in eternity prior, there was nothing outside of our Godhead) and without any internal deficiency or need. 

With this definition in mind, there are seven attributes or character traits that can be said to belong to these decrees:  they are founded on divine wisdom; they are eternal; they are efficacious; they are unchangeable; they are unconditional; they are all-comprehensive; and they are permissive with respect to sin.

  1. They are founded on Divine Wisdom.  God neither pronounces his decrees randomly nor in a way that is arbitrary or fickle, but his sovereign decrees are pronounced in, by, and through his divine wisdom.  This gives his decrees purpose and meaning and gives us every reason to trust in said decrees.  They are his “good pleasure” to design, are grounded in God’s ever-wise foreknowledge[7], and they come to pass as a result of God’s ever-wise foreordaining.[8] 
  2. They are eternal.  The Decrees of God are formed from before the beginning of time and will relate to all things that will come to pass, beginning with God’s first spoken word of creation and continuing forever without end.[9]
  3. They are efficacious.  What God decrees comes to pass.  While man may plan, contrive, and anticipate all sorts of endeavors, he cannot so much as make one hair white or black[10], nor add an hour to his life.[11]  Yet, God can do all things that he sets before himself to do; the God of the Bible is not a God who sits in submission to the works of men nor is he a God whose plans are able to be undone by the aspirations of man.[12]
  4. They are unchangeable.  God is not a God who is fickle as men are fickle, nor is he a God of chaos.  If God’s will is perfect, then, by definition, there is no room to improve on that perfection, and hence the concept of change in the decrees of God is nonsensical.[13]
  5. They are unconditional.  God does not act in response to outside input; God’s actions and decrees are not caused by anything apart from his perfect will.  Neither do God’s decrees rely on fallen man so that they may come to pass; they come to pass because God so decrees.[14]
  6. They are allcomprehensive.  Some have made the suggestion that God’s decrees are only concerned with salvation and do not apply to anything else.  Yet God has ordered all things according to the counsel of his will[15] and has set all things into being[16], from the greatest of things to the smallest.  He numbers our hairs[17], feeds the birds of the air[18], and he has set the moon and stars into their respective orbits.[19]  Even what we view as evil in this world is brought to pass through the will and decrees of God.[20]  Note that this does not mean that God is the author of evil, yet he uses the evil that comes through sin and rebellion to accomplish his good and perfect will.  There is nothing that we experience in this world that does not fall under the oversight of God’s decrees.[21]
  7. With reference to sin, they are permissive.  God is not the author of sin[22], yet God yet permits sin to come about through secondary causes, using it to complete God’s good and perfect plan.[23]

 

Objections to the Doctrine of God’s Decrees:

There are several concerns that rise when we use the language of God’s decrees that ought to be addressed.  The first is one which we have already dealt with in that the language of decrees can seem to imply that God is the author of sin.  In discussing this, we must add to what has already been discussed the concept that sin is an attribute of the fall much in the same way that wisdom is an attribute of God.  Wisdom is not so much a created thing as it is a reflection of God’s perfect being and actions.  In the same way, sin is not so much a created thing, but it is a reflection of our fallen state and actions.  We miss the mark, when it comes to God’s righteousness, and hence we sin.  Even so, this doctrine does contain the idea that God willingly chose to permit the fall to take place and could have ordained otherwise.  Yet, as Augustine suggested, there is a blessedness in the fall, for without the fall of man, we would not know the full extent of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us as his people.

The second concern that has been raised with the Doctrine of God’s Decrees is that such a doctrine robs man of his moral freedom and will, thus removing from him the liability for his sin, making the idea of salvation meaningless.  This debate is at the core of the Calvinist-Wesleyan/Arminian[24] debate.  It is not our purpose here to delve into this debate beyond the following principle:  the scriptures present the God of the Bible as being sovereign over all things and the scriptures present man as being responsible and culpable for his sin.  Any theology that does not affirm both of these principles is out of accord with orthodox Christianity and both the Calvinist and the Wesleyan seek to present a theology that affirms both of these principles.  With this in mind, whether Wesleyan or Calvinistic, one is right to speak of the decrees of a sovereign God.

The third concern flows out of the previous question and leads us to the discussion of election and predestination.  It is felt that in affirming a doctrine of God’s decrees (assuming that God has decreed who will come to him in faith) one robs man of the motivation for evangelism and of the responsibility to seek him in a stance of worship.  Yet, this objection misunderstands the position of the Calvinist.[25]  Scripture clearly affirms that man is used as a tool by God[26] to bring about his ends and that our primary task as the church is to go out and make disciples of all nations[27] through the process of preaching and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.[28] Thus, regardless of your position on decrees and on predestination, the making of disciples through evangelism and teaching is the work we have been commissioned to do.[29]


[1] While we normally refer to “Decrees” of God in the plural, it should be noted that this is not meant to suggest the disunity of God’s decretive work.  All of the decrees of God flow from his perfections in such unity that one could realistically speak of them as if they were a single, multi-faceted

[2] Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629) was a Dutch theologian and professor of Old Testament at the University of Basel.

[3] Compendium of Christian Theology (need more accurate citation)

[4] Acts 2:23; Job 11:7-9; 21:22; 1 Corinthians 8:6.

[5] Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Proverbs 16:4; Job 40:2.

[6] Romans 11:34-35; Isaiah 40:12-14; Job 34:13-15.

[7] There is an important distinction that must be made between foreknowledge and foreordination.  Foreknowledge, drawn from the Greek term proginw/skw (proginosko), literally means, “to know beforehand.”  Yet, we must understand that this knowledge is not simply a result of God gazing ahead in time and seeing what will come to pass.  Knowing, in its Biblical usage, refers to a relational knowledge.  Thus, foreknowledge not only reflects God’s perfect knowledge of all time from eternity prior, but it also reflects God’s setting his affections upon that which he foreknows or those which he foreknew.  In contrast, foreordination is represented by several Greek words:  pro/qesiß (prothesis), which means “to will beforehand” (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; 3:11); and proori/zw (proorizo), which means “to decide beforehand” or “to predetermine” (Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 2:7).

[8] Acts 15:18; Psalm 84:8-11; Ephesians 1:9-11.

[9] Ephesians 1:4; Isaiah 48:13; Matthew 25:34; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 17:8.

[10] Matthew 5:36.

[11] Matthew 6:27.

[12] Psalm 33:10; Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 46:10; Acts 2:21.

[13] Ephesians 1:11; James 1:17; Job 23:13-14; Psalm 33:11; Luke 22:22.

[14] Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 1:2.

[15] Ephesians 1:11.

[16] Job 38.

[17] Matthew 10:30.

[18] Matthew 6:26.

[19] Psalm 8:3.

[20] Isaiah 45:5-7.

[21] Deuteronomy 18:22; Isaiah 42:9; Ezekiel 24:14.

[22] James 1:13; Job 34:10—note, the concept of God sinning is self-contradictory and nonsensical.  Sin, by definition, refers to missing the mark—not living up to the righteous standard of God.  Thus for God not to be able to live up to the standard that is set by his own essential character is a contradiction of the very term and makes no sense.

[23] Genesis 50:20.

[24] It should be noted that while many Calvinists confuse Wesleyanism with Arminianism, assuming their views to be synonymous, there is a distinction between the two.  Wesley adapted the positions of the Remonstrance particularly in the area of the extent of the fall.  The Arminians held that the fall did not affect the human will, thus allowing man freedom of choosing God rightly on one’s own.  Wesley properly understood that the fall affected the will as well as the mind and flesh, yet argued that the work of the Cross made it possible for man to choose God when presented with the Gospel (falls under Wesley’s category of “Prevenient Grace”).

[25] It should be noted that one ought not confuse the position of the Calvinist with the heretical position of hyper-calvinism, which does, in fact, hold that believers have no obligation to evangelize because of God’s predestining work.

[26] Zechariah 9:13; Romans 9:19-24.

[27] Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; John 20:21; Acts 1:8.

[28] Luke 24:47; Romans 10:14-17.

[29] Sometimes it is easier to talk about these decrees in the negative:  God is not the author of sin; God does not repress the will of created beings; God does not eliminate secondary causes; God does not relinquish his divine sovereignty.