This is the second of two articles which deal with God’s attributes of infinite power and absolute authority. This article is concerned partly with the subject of God’s authority and rule (sections 1 and 2) and partly with the practical implications which follow from an understanding of the attributes both of power and authority (sections 3 and 4).
1. God is Sovereign.Ultimately, the will and purpose of God alone will hold sway in heaven and earth. The very angels of heaven “do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word”, Psa. 103. 20.
The psalmist felt keenly the jibe of the heathen, “Where is now their (Israel’s) God?”, Psa. 115. 2. Although the affliction of his people appeared to justify this taunt, he knew the true explanation for their affliction. Israel’s trouble was due, not to any lack of power on the part of God, but to His sovereign will. “But our God is in the heavens”, the psalmist replied, “he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased”, v. 3. A similar sentiment recurs in another psalm; “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth”, 135. 6. Small wonder that both of these psalms conclude with a summons to “Praise the Lord"!
Old and New Testaments unite in ascribing to the Lord the title “the great King”, Psa. 47. 2; 95. 3; Mal. 1. 14; Matt. 5. 35. He only is “the King eternal”, 1 Tim. 1. 17, who reigns for ever, Psa. 146. 10, and whose counsel stands for ever, 33. 11. The book of Revelation stresses that, often behind the scenes, God directs events and guides all history towards the fulfilment of His eternal purpose. How consoling for believers (and persecuted believers especially) to know that there is a throne “set in heaven”, 4. 2, and that “the Lord our God the almighty reigns”, 19. 6 lit. Some 1,000 years before, David composed a verse of a psalm which summarizes these points concisely: “The Lord hath prepared (established-as in 1 Chron. 22. 10) his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all”, Psa. 103. 19.
2. God Rules in the Kingdoms of Nature and Men.The experiences of three Old Testament prophets combine to demonstrate that God rules over the kingdom of nature. Elijah proved that He rules over the birds of the air, 1 Kings 17. 4. Daniel proved that He rules over the beasts of the earth, Dan. 6. 22. Jonah proved that He rules over the fish of the sea, Jonah 1. 17.
Scripture insists also that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will”, Dan. 4. 17, 25, 32. This was a lesson which Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way-see the whole of the chapter. According to the decree of Cyrus concerning Jerusalem, the king of Persia openly acknowledged from the outset that “the Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth”, Ezra 1. 2. It remains true today that the civil authorities have been instituted by God, Rom. 13. 1; cf. Luke 1. 52; John 19. 11.
God rules also in the life and affairs of the individual; "There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand”, Prov. 19. 21. Man’s goings are “of the Lord”, 20. 24. He works all for the good of them that love Him, Rom. 8. 28.
God can influence men to perform His will.Not only can He “open” the human heart to receive His word, Acts 16. 14, He can “touch” the human heart to do His will, 1 Sam. 10. 26; cf. Ezra 1. 1-2. The subjugation of the western nations to the beast in the end times is traced to the fact that “God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled”, Rev. 17. 17.
God can restrain men from sinning.Concerning Sarah, God said to Abimelech, king of Gerar, “I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her”, Gen. 20. 6. It seems that the Lord did this by means of some sickness which befell Abimelech, v. 17. Again, God warned Laban the Syrian in a dream, “Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad”, 31. 24. In so doing, He restrained Laban from harming Jacob. It was a wise prayer of David’s, “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins”, Psa. 19. 13.
God can overrule the wickedness of men for the good of others and His own glory.Joseph put at rest the distraught minds of his brethren with the words, “Be not … angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life”, Gen. 45. 5; cf. vv. 7-8; Psa. 105. 17. Later, he told them again, “As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good”, 50. 20. Truly, the Lord can turn “the curse into a blessing”, Neh. 13. 2.
In New Testament days, God permitted men to crucify His Son. In prayer, the apostles said concerning Pilate, Herod, the Jews and Gentiles that they “were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done”, Acts 4. 27-28. Though “taken, and by wicked hands … crucified and slain”, our Lord was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”, 2. 23. God overruled the greed of Judas, the envy of the Jewish leaders and the weakness of Pilate for the good and salvation of all who believe. Again, God overruled the opposition and hostility of the Jews towards Paul to bring the gospel where it would not otherwise have reached: see Acts 21. 27 to 25. 12 with Phil. 1. 12-13.
God can use men to accomplish His purpose without their ever realizing it.He claimed that the Assyrian was His “rod”, Isa. 10. 5. The Assyrian was sent by God and given “a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey”, v. 6. “Howbeit”, God said, “he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy”, v. 7. In a similar way, Nebuchadnezzar is styled “my servant” by God, Jer. 25. 9.
God even overrules the schemes and devices of the devil.Paul’s thorn in the flesh was “the messenger of Satan”, yet the Lord employed it to maintain the apostle in a humble-and therefore-usable frame of mind, 2 Cor. 12. 7. Again, Satan’s success in hindering Paul from reaching Thessalonica, 1 Thess. 2. 18, compelled Paul to write to the church there and so to enrich believers of all generations since!
3. Encouragements for us. The twin truths of God’s power and authority:
(i) Inspire us with confidence in the power of prayer. In the face of enormous opposition, Jehoshaphat grounded his prayer in the strength and sovereignty of God: “O Lord God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?”, 2 Chron. 20. 6. We do not ask, “Can God … ?”, Psa. 78. 19-20, for we know that He can "do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask (cf. 1 Kings 3. 11-13) or think (cf. Gen. 48. 11)”, Eph. 3. 20. Let us heed, then, David’s invitation to “seek the Lord and his strength”, 1 Chron. 16. 11.
(ii) Encourage us to rely upon the Lord. "Trust ye in the Lord for ever’ was the counsel of the prophet, “for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength”, Isa. 26. 4. Remember that, in every circumstance of life, “God hath power to help”, 2 Chron. 25. 8; cf. Psa. 121. 2.
The apostle Paul said that he boasted in his physical weakness, “that the power of Christ may rest on me (may spread a tabernacle over me)”, 2 Cor. 12. 9. He knew that the only adequate provision for spiritual conflict was to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might”, Eph. 6. 10.
We share the confidence of Asa, “Lord, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O Lord our God; for we rest (rely, as in 13. 18; 16. 7) on thee”, 2 Chron. 14. 11. We issue the challenge of Paul, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”, Rom. 8. 31.
(iii) Stimulate our faith in the promises of God. We can, like Abraham of old, be “fully persuaded (wholly convinvced)” that, what God has promised, He is “able also to perform”, Rom. 4. 21. King Solomon acknowledged that what God spoke with His “mouth”, He fulfilled with His “hand”, 1 Kings 8. 24. It is good to know that the One who has promised to keep us from falling, Jude 24, does so by His invincible power, 1 Pet. 1. 5.
(iv) Prompt us to be thankful for our many blessings. As the sovereign Lord, God is the ultimate source of all that is good: “Every good gift and every perfect gift (free gift, boon) is from above, and cometh down from the Father”, James 1. 17; cf. Eccles. 5. 18-19. Paul wrote concerning the foods which God had created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe, 1 Tim. 4. 3-and he practised what he preached!, Acts 27. 35.
(v) Help us to overcome the fear of men. It was a pertinent question which God posed to His people, “Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man (frail, feeble man-Heb. enosh) that shall die … and forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth … ?”, Isa. 51. 12-13; cf. Matt. 10. 28.
We can fall back on the words of Hezekiah to the men of Jerusalem, when faced with Sennacherib and his great army, “Be not afraid … for there is more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us”, 2 Chron. 32. 7-8. In more recent days, the apostles, when faced with violent opposition from the Jewish rulers, addressed God aptly as “Lord (sovereign Lord-Greek despotes), thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is”, Acts 4. 24. From Him they both sought and obtained boldness to speak His word, vv. 29, 31.
Armed with His promise, “Fear thou not … I will strengthen thee”, Isa. 41. 10, we can each pray, “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands”, Neh. 6. 9.
4. Challenges which we Face.Because God is sovereign and all-powerful, we must:
(i) Recognize that all we possess is ultimately and rightfully His. When making generous provision for the building of the temple of God, David recognized that “all that is in the heaven, and in the earth” was the Lord’s, 1 Chron. 29.
11. Consequently, all that which David supplied was, in reality, God’s “own”, vv. 14, 16; cf. Job 1. 21. Paul spoke of “God, whose I am’, Acts 27. 23.
(ii) Root out all feelings of (a) pride and (b) envy.
The Christian has no right to boast in that which is his solely as a result of God’s sovereign bestowal; “Who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive?”, 1 Cor. 4. 7; cf. 15. 10. See also Gen. 41. 16.
To begrudge and envy others their abilities or position is, in effect, to quarrel with the One who gave these things to them. In the spiritual realm, it is the Holy Spirit who has distributed gifts to each as He has purposed, 1 Cor.
12. 11. Do not dispute His right in having done so!
"Let us not be (a) desirous of vain glory … (b) envying one another”, Gal. 5. 26.
(iii) Submit willingly to His will and purpose for our lives. If we confess Christ as Lord, we should seek and do His will, Acts 22. 10; Luke 6. 46. All our desires and plans should be subjected gladly to the will of God, Rom. 1. 10.