Monday, March 18, 2013

Nahum 1:9-13 (Part 3)

Another factor in this passage is the absolute sovereignty of God over all things. God is the primary cause of all things, yet all secondary agents are fully responsible their actions. God sovereignly controls even His enemies for His divinely-appointed purposes with regard to His people, yet these same enemies will pay the ultimate price – destruction – for their treatment of the Lord’s people. Isaiah 10 details this explicitly with regard to Nineveh. Thus we are made to see Nineveh’s full responsibility for her actions. Yet God unapologetically states in verse 12b that it is He who has afflicted His people. He was the primary agent in the affliction of His people, yet Nineveh, as the secondary agent was fully responsible for her actions. This concept, like the previously discussed one of covenant solidarity, runs rampant throughout the Scriptures. The Bible plainly teaches that God is the First Cause, the Primary Agent, of all things, and I do mean all things which occur. That is to say, no one single act, good or bad, done by anyone who has ever lived or will ever live, occurs outside the decree of God. Nevertheless, God has decreed all things so that they must necessarily occur as He has decreed them to occur, by the people whom He has decreed to do these acts, in such a way that their own personal responsibility for these actions is not nullified. I am not arguing for freedom; I am arguing accountability or, if you like, responsibility. To say that one is free implies that there are never any external or internal forces or factors that influence our actions. This is patently false. Being born as sinners, we already have an inborn proclivity to evil which cannot be overcome except by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit of God. This means that we are never free. The only Being of whom freedom can be predicated with any real meaning is God. The existence or nonexistence of freedom has absolutely no bearing on the question of responsibility. God created us and He created us as responsible beings before Him. When Scripture asserts that Original Sin has rendered man completely unable to do anything righteous or pleasing before God, absolutely and totally unable to do anything salvific, utterly unable and unwilling to have faith in God or submit to Him – meaning that no man in the unregenerate state is able to obey the law of God: when Scripture says this and we state this, it is commonly objected that this would make God unjust. It is argued that it would be unfair for God to require of man that which he knows we cannot do. But this is a red herring. It is ridiculous to assert that simply because man fell into sin by eating the forbidden fruit, God must therefore logically surrender His right to demand obedience. Stated this way I trust we can all see the nonsensical nature of such an assertion. Just because Adam destroyed himself and his posterity with his iniquity, it does not therefore follow that God must surrender, or that God has surrendered His right to perfect obedience.

Returning to our previous statement that God is the primary cause, that is to say, First Cause, of all things which happen, we also remember that we stated that this does not exonerate the secondary causes from their personal responsibility. In Genesis 50, Joseph explicitly declares his brothers’ culpability and personal guilt when they sold him into slavery. Without denying this, Joseph also affirms that it was not they, but God who had sent him to Egypt. Joseph tells them that they meant their act for evil (Hebrew: ‏רַע‎). Joseph replies that this very act of ra, God meant for good. In verse 20, he says, God meant it for good.” The antecedent to the pronoun, it, is the word evil. They agree in person, number, and gender. There is no other word in the sentence to which the pronoun, it, can grammatically apply. So as I have been saying, we see that divine Providence, that is God’s direct government and control over all things, does not negate the personal responsibility of secondary causes.

So, looking back at our text, particularly 1:2-10, which comprise a hymn or poem celebrating God’s greatness, His special love for His people, His control over nature and His sovereign use of his enemies, we find two things asserted: God had afflicted His people and Nineveh had afflicted His people. Scripture places these two things side-by-side asserting that they are one and the same. This clearly shows what we have been saying. God is the First Cause or Primary Agent of all events that take place in history because He has decreed all things. But He has decreed that all things take place through the agency of secondary agents and His decree does not mitigate the guilt of the secondary agent nor does it nullify their culpability.

This theme is seen all over Scripture. In Exodus, when God sends Moses to Pharaoh he tells Moses that Pharaoh will not listen to him because God will harden Pharaoh’s heart. The succeeding narrative alternates in the reasons that it gives for why Pharaoh refused to obey Moses: in some instances we are told that Pharaoh hardened his heart. In other instances we are told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. In Joshua 7, when Israel is defeated in battle by the one horse town Ai, Joshua laments that God has given Israel into the hands of the Amorites. In 1 Samuel 2, when Eli’s sons refused to listen to him, we are told that this was of God for he planned to put them to death. In 1 Samuel 4, when the Philistines defeat Israel in battle, the elders of Israel cry out, “Why has the Lord defeated us in battle?” 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 recount the same event, namely David’s taking a census of Israel. In 2 Samuel 24 the impetus for this act is said to be God. In 1 Chronicles 21, the event or the inciting to the event is said to be of Satan. The Devil, no doubt, fancies himself a great rebel against God, yet in the final analysis, he's as big a company man as there ever was. Not even he moves without God overruling his every move.
This shows us that not only are human enemies of God’s people at God’s disposal, but even the spiritual enemy of God’s people is at His disposal. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul mourns his “thorn in the flesh.” And yet he acknowledges that this weakness he laments is actually of God so that the power of Christ may rest upon him. This “thorn in the flesh,” Paul actually calls a messenger of Satan while saying that God sent it. Clearly then we can see that God’s sovereignty over the sinful acts of men never exonerates sinners, neither does it negate their personal responsibility for their own actions. It ultimately serves to comfort God’s people, knowing that all things which befall them in this life come from their Father’s hand. Heidelberg Catechism, Question 26: What do you believe when you say, "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth"?

Answer: That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; who likewise upholds and governs the same by his eternal counsel and providence) is for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father; on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt, but he will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body and further, that he will make whatever evils he sends upon me, in this valley of tears turn out to my advantage; for he is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father.

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