Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

Chapter Three Who Can Understand This God?
Friend, I want to be brutally honest with you before I begin this chapter. I know for a fact that this particular chapter, probably more than any other is going to an especially difficult chapter for many of you. Lend me your ears while I attempt to explain what I mean by this. It was not until the past two to three years of my life that I have come to the conclusion that I simply cannot understand this God who loved me and sent His Son to die for me. Oh, I can understand Him somewhat. I understand what He did for me in satisfying His rightful wrath against my awful sin. And I understand other similar truths such as justification by faith alone. But I cannot comprehend the depths of these truths because to do so would take the mind of the Infinite. Therefore, although it has been a slow and difficult change for me personally, the amount of understanding I do not have about God has come to categorize my overall thinking process. Let me offer some valuable insights I have learned along the way. 1. Do a Humility Check

First, check your own heart on this matter. Would others categorize you as a person who thinks he has all the answers? Are you the first one to answer a theological question when it is put forth? How long of a time do you take before answering it? Are you prone to answer it immediately? Or do you delay for a moment in order to gather God’s wisdom? Or do you have the guts to just say, “I don’t know”? I love what C. J. Mahaney told his congregation once: “Get used to hearing your pastor say, ‘I don’t know!’”1 That has become a sort of mantra for me over the last three years or so. How you answer these kinds of questions, and how you meet the challenge of self-examination on this point is crucial to the rest of this book. Unless you, as a true believer, develop a category in your mind for mystery, pride will always be your deadliest and many times victorious foe. 2. Develop a Place for Mystery in Your Mind

When dealing with a theology of any kind, friends, there is always going to come a time
1

C. J. Mahaney. Sovereign Grace Video. Sovereign Grace Ministries, 2003. Available online at http://www.sovereigngracestore.com/sogrvi1.html.

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© Rob Wilkerson

when you will be backed up against a wall with nowhere to go. In the same message from which I just quoted by Mahaney, I heard the following exhortation. “You will always be bumping into mystery when you are relating to God.”2 When this happens, and you feel unable to go anywhere, you are inevitably and unavoidably faced with the unexplainable. God cannot be fully explained or understood by humans. Why is that one truth so hard to grasp? I am convinced that it is not so much a difficult thing to grasp as it is a difficult thing to accept. No one likes holding on to something they don’t understand. It is much easier to get rid of what you don’t understand. The easy road to take is to ignore it, don’t touch it, eat it, or even think about it. That’s what was chiefly behind my situation. What I preached and what I believed was something that caused great discomfort. Yet instead of dealing with the discomfort for a while, it became easier to get rid of the pain in the neck by voting me out. 3. Become Comfortable With Uncomfortability

If there is one thing that I have come to understand in theology it is this: I must become comfortable with uncomfortability, if I may coin a new word. Do you know why? Because I am a human and I cannot fully understand God. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet so many humans, Christian humans, have such a problem with actually living it out. That was the crux of the conflict between Alex and myself. He simply did not have a place for mystery which left him without humility. Consequently he could not and would not be comfortable with a sense of uncomfortability that mystery will produce. Humility demands this mindset, brothers and sisters. 4. Develop Categories of Thought That Make You Uncomfortable

This chapter is especially important, and for this reason I have put it first before we delve into any texts. I felt that developing a theology of double-predestination must be preceded by developing a field of thought for it to happen. That field of thought is presented in this chapter. The texts we will examine in the following chapters are difficult. And without a field of thought in which to put them, they will either be misunderstood or rejected or both as they usually are by anti-Calvinists. The one thing that seems to prevent so many well-meaning Christians from growing in their theology of God is their lack of thinking categories. The reason many truths bounce off of them with such vehemence is because they have no place in their minds in which to put what you told them. If there is any serious implication here it is for the pastor who preaches sound doctrine. And part of preaching the doctrine is preparing, massaging, and developing your people’s minds so that they can have a place to put what you are preaching. You can’t pour them a refreshing drink unless they have a cup
2

Ibid.

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

in their hands. Build that cup for them first, and then the truths you pour will not make such a big mess! This thought originated one July day in 2004 over a buffet of vegetables and fried chicken at a hometown restaurant in middle Georgia. It came from the mouth of Pastor John Piper. I’ll never forget his encouragement to me as we fellowshipped together that afternoon: “Rob, you’ve got to create categories of thought for your people so they will have a place to put the things you’re preaching to them.” In his recent biographical address on Athanasius, John Piper unfolded this seed thought to some twelve hundred pastors. He cried out to all of us about the need for laboring to create categories for our congregations. These categories must be God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated ones that shatter the categories our fallen human minds continue to create in our hearts. In that sermon Piper exhorted us to understand that, “From the very beginning, we are speaking to them God-centered, Christexalting truths that shatter fallen human categories of thought. We must not shy away from this. We must do all we can to advance it and to help people, by the grace of God, to see what is happening to them (the shattering of their categories) as the best news in all the world. “From the very beginning, in the most winsome way possible, we must labor to create categories like this: God rules the world of bliss and suffering and sin, right down to the role of the dice and the fall of a bird and the driving of the nail into the hand of his Son, yet, though he will that such sin and suffering be, he does not sin, but is perfectly holy. “Or a category like this: God governs all the steps of all people, both good and bad, at all times and in all places, yet such that all are accountable before him and will bear the just consequences of his wrath if they do not believe in Christ. “Or this category: All are dead in their trespasses and sin and are not morally able to come to Christ because of their rebellion, yet, they are responsible to come and will be justly punished if they don’t. “Or: Jesus Christ is one person with two natures, divine and human, such that he upheld the world by the word of his power while living in his mother’s womb. “Or: sin, though committed by a finite person and in the confines of finite time is nevertheless deserving of an infinitely long punishment because it is a sin against an infinitely worthy God.

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

“Or: the death of the one God-Man, Jesus Christ, so displayed and glorified the righteousness of God that God is not unrighteous to declare righteous ungodly people who simply believe in Christ. “These kinds of mind-boggling, category-shattering truths demand our best thought and our most creative labors. We must aim to speak them in a way that, by the power of God’s word and Spirit, a place for them would be created in the minds of those who hear. We must not preach only in the categories that are already present in our listeners’ fallen minds, or we will betray the gospel and conceal the glory of God.”3 His overall point was simple. Without such categories, much of what we preach will fall on deaf ears. Our sermons will not convert the lost, mature the saints, or convince anyone of those kinds of truth that are always and forever mysterious. That is why this chapter is written. 5. Watch Out for Idol Worship!

So many believers seem absolutely bound and determined to worship a God they have put in a box. They would hate to ever say such a thing, and they surely wouldn’t like it if you pointed it out to them. But the fact of the matter is that too many believers feel like they must be able to handle Him. The problem is, when they do so, they get burned. And so they get rid of Him like a hot potato, and simply pick up something else which seems less painful or more comfortable to them and call that God. This one thing is the basis for why so many anti-Calvinists chant the phrase, “God is a God of love!” Whenever hell, sin, justice, righteousness, wrath and other like terms are used, it burns their hands, and so they resort to something lukewarm, or perhaps even cold. I hate to say such things. And I hate to sound so pessimistic or negative or critical. But the bottom line is that too many Christians are actually idol worshipers! The first two Ten Commandments deal with our great God. The first command prohibits any other gods from entering our lives. The second command prohibits the making of any graven images. Both commandments center on idolatry. They both target the inherited tendency in fallen humans to worship something other than their Creator. It was John Calvin who said once that the heart of man is a factory of idols. If God made man in His image, man has historically been guilty of making God in his image. And that’s how Christians become idolaters. Many Christians, then, have actually fashioned another god for themselves in their
3

John Piper. “Contending for Our All: The Life and Ministry of Athanasius.” Delivered at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, February 1, 2005. Available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/library/biographies/2005_athanasius.html.

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

hearts and minds. And they worship it when they refuse to read, study, believe and submit to the truth about God where He has revealed Himself. The Scriptures give us the only source of divine revelation where we may learn about God. Sure, nature and creation help us learn about God, but the Scriptures are the tool we use to interpret nature. In short, the Scriptures contain everything we need to know about God. It is the Christian’s refusal to go to that source, while simultaneously believing what he wants to believe about God, that makes his belief idolatry. Whenever any Christian chooses not to believe what the Bible says about God, while at the same time continues to believe that he believes in the God of the Bible, he or she is guilty of idolatry. They have refashioned God to be what they want Him to be, rather than what He has revealed Himself to be in the Bible. 6. Always Be Learning

We’re all guilty of this folks. The difference that separates us is simple enough, however. Those who know they are guilty of this see it and make efforts to humble themselves before the God of the Bible. This error is glaring to them and so they constantly work hard at keeping an open mind so that they can regularly learn. They guard against allowing their minds to grow cold, hard and stale. They know they can’t remain so open-minded as to be susceptible to error. But they also know that humility demands a certain sized aperture in their minds so that they are still teachable. And why do they act, think, talk and live like this? Because they know that as long as they are in a fallen body they’ll never get it all right. They realize that their very best efforts at explaining and teaching about this unfathomable God are hugely weak and foolish in comparison to God Himself. And they have a proper view of themselves which says that their best efforts to theologize about Him looks like child’s play, if that, to the Cause of the Universe. What I Want to do in this Chapter What I want to do in this chapter then, is simple. If I have not said the magic word of “open sesame” so that you have at least moved the stone covering the cave of your mind, I’d like to try to get my hands inside of it and force it open. It may seem easy to reject the discovery we will make of the texts in the following chapters. But it will seem much harder to reject the ones I’m going to share with you now. I share them with you not because they support double-predestination. I share them with you because they simply “rock my world” and leave me face down before a God I simply cannot understand. What is contained in the rest of this chapter has left me constantly bumping into mystery as I have tried to relate to God. Before you walk through these passages with me, I beg of you one thing. Please do not

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

think so highly of yourself that you immediately form an explanation for the passages I’m going to share. That would be terribly arrogant. If you are like this, go back to the very first we covered in this chapter. Seek humility first and foremost. It would be out of place for you, the creature, to instantly perceive that you can hold a full and complete view of the Creator in your feeble mind. I’m not trying to show you any disrespect. I’m only trying to convince you of reality. Your mind, my mind, and all our minds put together will never be capable of holding a complete view of God, totally balanced and harmonious in all respects. Be humble brothers and sisters. Humble yourselves before this mighty hand of God. The Scripture passages we will look at in this and the following chapters are included for one simple reason. If you think you can understand God, this book is not for you. But if you know you cannot understand Him fully, then you’re at least open-minded enough to be willing to learn something new, something that may add more to what you know about God, and something that might add more spirit and truth to your worship. The main reason why most Christians reject double-predestination is because they think they can understand God. Walk with me through a few texts and see if you still can. Seven Introductory Texts To begin with, I want to just cite three texts that will be shocking to most readers who have never encountered this subject before. The first comes from the mouth of Jeremiah, who in lamenting over the fall of Jerusalem wrote, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lam. 3:38). Not much commentary is needed on such a text other than just to repeat what the author already wrote. From God’s mouth comes commands or decrees that are both good and bad. The prophet Isaiah concurred completely. “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isa. 45:7). God creates calamity. He causes it and He takes the credit for it! Finally, consider one of my favorite texts on this subject from the prophet Amos who wrote, “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6). In short, these three texts adequately introduce for us the truth that there is nothing that happens, good or bad, wonderful or calamitous, victory or disaster that does not come directly from the Lord God. As one theologian has written, “The worldview of the Scriptures is that God is sovereignly in control of all things, from the decisions made by kings (Prov. 21:1) to the throw of the dice (Prov. 16:33; cf. Isa. 46:9-11). Even the cruelest and most vicious

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

act in history – the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, was predestined by God (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).”4 With these texts as an initial background, consider several others cases which we will examine more at length. The Case of Job My swim instructor in college taught us that the best way to swim is just to jump in the deep end and ‘let her fly.’ That’s what we’re going to do by starting with Job. In the beginning verses of chapter one, Satan is found making his rounds in order to look for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Are you ready for this? Let’s start in verse 8. “So the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job?’” Wait just a minute! Is this God recommending one of His saints as a target for Satan’s harm? That’s what the text says. To this Job explains why he didn’t think that was a fair fight. “Have you not made a hedge around him and his household and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his cattle have increased in the land” (v. 10). So how does God respond to all this? “So the Lord said to Satan, ‘All right then, everything he has is in your power. Only do not extend your hand against the man himself.’” Wow! Satan doesn’t even ask permission to harm Job. God is the one who suggests it. And He is basically just handing His righteous servant over to the Devil. Now let me introduce a little bit of that uncomfortability I talked about earlier. In verse 22 of chapter one, the author records that Job did not sin by blaming God for what had happened to him. So are we then to infer from this that blaming God would have been a sin? After all, it is clear from the text that God was the one who suggested the whole thing to Satan to begin with. Now my initial answer is that it would not have been a sin if we understand “blame” to refer to the cause and source of what happened to Job. Certainly God was the origin of the idea to hurt Job in the first place. On the other hand, perhaps it would have been a sin if “blame” is meant to refer to fault in motivation. It is sinful to judge the motivation of God in what He does. So what do we do? Let me make you more uncomfortable. In 2:3 God makes an interesting remark to Satan: “even though you stirred me up to destroy him…”. Are you feeling the tension here? Notice a couple of things. First, God seems to be saying that Satan stirred Him or ‘twisted His arm,’ shall we say, to do what He did. Yet the previous text we read clearly shows God as the One thinking up the idea in the first place. Second, God takes the blame here for Job’s injuries.

4

Thomas Schreiner. 1, 2 Peter, Jude, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2003), p. 113.

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

To be sure, what the author is trying to communicate in the Hebrew is that after Satan attacked Job the first time, Job maintained his righteousness. This made Satan’s reasoning behind his attacks automatically groundless. Thus, there was no real truth in the reason why Satan wanted to attack Job. Thus, God harmed Job through Satan’s reasoning, even though his accusations were groundless. But the difficult is still sitting in our laps. God was the One who thought up of the idea to ‘destroy’ Job. It was His idea originally, not Satan’s. This text is helpful then in establishing the first and very important point that destruction and calamity do originate with God. Or to put it a more controversial way, God is the author of evil. And author, I might add, is a great word to use here, for He literally wrote the course of Job’s life, blessing and destruction. Consider Isaiah’s words, “I am the one who forms light and creates darkness; the one who brings peace and creates calamity. I am the Lord, who accomplishes all these things” (46:7). The Lord is ultimately responsible for all calamity that happens to all men including terrorist attacks on skyscrapers, Brazilian Air Force planes shooting down missionary planes, and tsunamis that kill hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. At the end of this first example, you must stop and do another humility check. You have read these texts for yourselves, and I encourage you, if necessary, to stop and read them again. They way what they say, and I have not tried to make them say anything else. This is the God of the Scriptures no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. And this truth demands that we create a new category of thinking in our minds and allow it to develop with other similar texts, like the next one. The Case of Eli and His Sons Turn to 1 Samuel 2:25 and you’ll find another text which will widen the mental aperture I’ve hopefully just created. In the context we find Eli, judge and priest of Israel, trying to reason with his sons regarding their heinously wicked behavior as priests. At the end of verse 25 we read, “But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death” (NLT). Another translation renders it, “…for the Lord had decided to kill them.” The Hebrew word behind “decided” is actually “desired.” God desired to put these two men to death. Now I can hear someone saying, “Yeah! Good riddens! They deserved it, those scoundrel priests!” Yet that same person would probably be the one to end up shouting at me after a sermon on this subject what God said to Ezekiel. You remember that text well. In 18:23, God says, “Do you think, asks the Sovereign Lord, that I like to see wicked people die? Of course not! I only want them to turn from their wicked ways and live” (NLT). The gist of this passage is given again for us in chapter 33. In verse 11 we read, “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can life. Turn! Turn

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from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” 5 Compare what God says here with the actions He took against Eli’s sons? God Himself told little Samuel that He had warned Eli of his constant neglect of disciplining His sons (1 Sam. 3:13). But nowhere do we read of God warning Eli’s sons. Yet God desires to kill these two men seemingly without ever warning them personally. Does that make you uncomfortable? How then do we explain on the one hand God’s desire to put Eli’s sons to death, but on the other hand God not desiring the death of the wicked? The Case of Eli’s Grandson and Great Grandson While we are on Eli we might as well finish the story of what happened to his family tree. His son Phineas had a son named Ahimelech. He was one of the priests of Nob who was faithful to the Lord. You’ll remember that he was among those at Nob who hid David while Saul was chasing him all around the wilderness trying to kill him. Ahimelech had a son named Abiathar. When we turn to 1 Kings 2:27 we find that the deposing of Abiathar from his place as high priest was the fulfillment of God’s prophet judgment through Samuel against Eli. 1 Samuel 2:31 is the beginning of that prophecy. There we read that God promised to put an end to Eli’s family so that none of his descendants would serve as priests anymore. Now go and plug all this into the equation. Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech, the head priest of Nob, was put to death, along with his associates, by Saul for alleged conspiracy with David. Abiathar managed to escape and carry the ephod to David which was evidently a great strength and help to David. Consequently, he grew close to David and was the new heir to the priesthood. Abiathar ended up taking the high priesthood along with Zadok (1 Chron. 15:11) when
5

I encourage all who call themselves “Calvinists” as well as those who think they know what Calvin believed, to turn to Book 3, Chapter 24, Sections 14 and 15 to see how Calvin himself handles this case. In section 14 he makes mention of Eli’s case. “…it is not denied that their stubbornness arose out of their own wickedness; but at the same time it is noted why they were left in their stubbornness, even though the Lord could have softened their hearts – because his immutable decree had once for all destined them to destruction” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. 2. Edited by John Baillie, John T. McNeill, and Henry P. Van Dusen. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960. Page 981). Then in section 15 he comments on the use of Ezekiel’s passage to confute God’s decree to reprobate certain persons. “If it pleases God to extend this [Ezek. 33:11] to the whole human race, why does he not encourage to repentance the very many whose minds are more amenable to obedience than the minds of those who grow harder and harder at his daily invitations?” (ibid, p. 982). Such could be said of Eli’s sons. If God does not take pleasure in the death of Eli’s sons, then why doesn’t God encourage their hearts in particular, a little harder? A reading of sections 12 through 17 is very helpful on answering and understanding this issue. Also helpful is a reading of Chapter 21 in its entirety in which Calvin deals with “Eternal Election, by Which God Has Predestined Some to Salvation, Others to Destruction” (Vol. 2, pp. 920 ff.).

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

David brought the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem. Abiathar and Zadok are together eight times in the narrative of Absalom’s rebellion. But later, when Abiathar chose to join with Adonijah rather than seek David’s choice for an heir to the throne (1 Kings 1:7), this brought his priesthood to an end and thus fulfilled God’s prophecy.6 In this whole story, God’s sovereignty is striking. He promised to put an end to Eli’s family serving as priests. Yet He causes or permits (use either word if you like, though it does not at all alleviate the tension) the death of a good priest, Eli’s grandson Ahimelech, to die by the hand of an evil king. God uses a bad king to kill a good priest to fulfill His prophecy of judgment on Eli. Then, another good priest is used by God to bring the ark back to Jerusalem. But he ends up turning bad and is deposed. Do you have an explanation for the ways in which God worked here? Who can understand this God? Why would God not reverse His prophecy against Eli’s descendants on account of the good priest, Ahimelech? Why would He allow a good priest to be killed by a bad king just to fulfill His prophecy? The Case of Joshua and the Midianites If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to jump back into history before the days of the judges, to the days of Joshua. More particularly, I want to point your attention to his battle with the Midianites. You may recall in reading about Israel’s wilderness wanderings, as recorded in Numbers, that some Moabite women seduced some of the Israelite men into committing fornication and adultery, followed by a feast, followed by a worship of Baal. For this seduction, the Israelite men who were seduced were to be executed (25:4-5). The fact that they were seduced did not make them innocent, contrary to popular opinion today. On the other hand, the Moabites did seduce the men, and for this, they too were to be summarily executed (25:16). That attack comes later in chapter 31. What I want to point out in this text is verse 17. “Now therefore, kill every boy, and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse with a man.” The actual Hebrew reads, “kill ever male among the little ones.” God is commanding Moses and his army to kill little children! Now, my point in sharing this text is not to attempt to explain the theology behind the Old Testament, God-commanded genocide of pagan nations. My point is simply to show you that this God you love and serve commanded His people to do something that you do not understand. Oh sure, you can comprehend it mentally. But what does this do to your insides? Surely you experience at least some measure of discomfort in reading such a text. What would you think of this God if you were a Midianite mother? But the fact that you cannot understand it is no grounds whatsoever for rejecting it. Who can understand this God?
6

Some have seen Psalm 55:12-14 as referring to the friendship David had with Abiathar, and his disappointment with him during the Adonijah uprising.

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The Case of Israel and Judah A cursory reading of the prophets reveals something strange from a human standpoint. In short, God raises up foreign nations to discipline His people for their unfaithfulness; He uses them to destroy the other neighboring nations who have given them such a hard time; and yet He turns right around and destroys those foreign nations for daring to attack His people. Have you ever stopped to think about this incredible display of Divine reasoning and action? This is the one that keeps me awake at night. Let me lay it out for you this way. God used the surrounding, neighboring nations of His people to come in and wreak havoc whenever His people turned unfaithful. Then God turned around and brought in foreign nations to punish those neighboring nations for doing such a dastardly thing. But then God seemingly double-crosses them all by using those foreign nations to attack and besiege His people for further unfaithfulness. He then finishes the whole thing by triple-crossing everyone by punishing those foreign nations for doing the same dastardly deed that the neighboring nations did! Oh my word! Who can understand this God? One text will do as an example. The Bible clearly teaches that God raised up Babylon and Assyria to punish Israel and Judah for their impenitence. Habakkuk says as much of Babylon regarding the Southern Kingdom of Judah in 1:12 when he complains to the Lord, “O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal…O Lord our Rock, you have decreed the rise of these Babylonians to punish and correct us for our terrible sins.” The same can be said of the Assyria, a nation mentioned one hundred and eight times in the Scriptures. Here is a nation God raised up to destroy the southern kingdom of Northern Kingdom of Israel (cf. Isa. 7:17, 18, 20). And then He turns right around and promises to take vengeance on the Assyrians for daring to do such a thing (Isa. 10:12). God even goes so far as to call Assyria, “the work of my hands” in Isaiah 19:25! That means He personally prepared and sent this nation to do the awful things they did to Israel! Then, after sending Babylon and Assyria to kill and take captive so many of His chosen nation, God turns around and says, “Look, I am raising up an army of great nations from the north. I will bring them against Babylon to attack her and she will be captured… Babylonia will be plundered until the attackers are glutted with plunder…” (Jer. 50:9, 10). Continuing on to verses 17-18 of the same chapter we read,

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“The Israelites are like sheep that have been scattered by lions. First the king of Assyria ate them up. Then King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon cracked their bones. Therefore, the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says” ‘Now I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, just as I punished the king of Assyria.’” God raised them up to destroy and take captive His people. God was just in doing this because His people had sinned against Him for too long. But God also destroyed the nations who destroyed Israel and Judah. And God was just in doing this also, because these wicked nations attacked and plundered His chosen people. But He sent them to do it! How can God raise them up, use them, and then destroy them for doing what He raised them up to do? In this paradoxical scenario there is a truth factor that we must always retain and protect. It is equal to the human/divine paradoxes of inspiration and Christology. God used humans, but the humans were acting of their own will. Their part in the action God was orchestrating was judged and punished because they were the ones who attacked God’s people. But God sent them to do that in the first place! Who can understand this God? The Case of Jotham and Ahaz Consider another passage. In 1 Kings 15:37 we read that in the days of Jotham, king of Judah, “The Lord began to send King Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel to attack Judah.” That’s right, you read it correctly. The Lord sent two kings to attack His people. And not only that, but one of those nations He sent to attack His people, was also His people! What in the world is God doing in His world? Here is another example of God actively causing destruction. And more than that, He is causing it upon His own people. To be sure, He is sending it as punishment for Judah’s failure to completely comply with God’s commands (cf. 15:34-35). But God was sending the attacks nonetheless. It is verses like these that continue to frustrate the arrogant plans of anti-Calvinists, verses for which they have no explanation, but simply will not bow to. Oh believers! That we would put our hands over our mouths, ceasing from our arrogant questioning of this supreme God who has and will always have the right over His creation to do with as He pleases for His own glory! Oh, that we would simply be quiet and bow down, taking our proper place in joyful submission at the feet of this magnificent and glorious and mysterious God! After Jotham died, the attacks continued against Judah under Jotham’s son Ahaz. Ahaz was more wicked than his father. And for this God continued to send Rezin and Pekah to attack Judah, according to Isaiah 7:1. Yet chapter 7 of Isaiah in its entirety is about the comfort the Lord sent to a wicked king through Isaiah the prophet. It just keeps getting more and more weird doesn’t it? Who can understand this God?

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

So let’s get this straight. First, God sends attacks on His own people, and more particularly, during the days of a comparatively godly king, Jotham (he did what was pleasing in the God’s sight). Second, God sends attacks by way of a rather un-orthodox alliance: Rezin, King of a pagan nation, and Pekah, King of Israel. God sends His people Israel to attack His people Judah. Third, God sends the attacks but also sends the comfort. Fourth, God sends the comfort to a wicked king. And more than that, the comfort was a messianic prophecy! So God send a precious messianic prophecy to a wicked king who was being attacked by his own brothers who had been raised up and sent out by God to do what they were doing to him! How unfair is that! The only questions that can follow each point is simply, “Why!” Why would God send attacks against a godly king? Why send attacks on His people by way of His people? Why send comfort too? Especially to a wicked king who neither deserved it nor comprehended it? After all, if a murderer killed your spouse, would you want to be comforted by the one who hired him? Who wants to be comforted by the person who attacks them? And why bless a wicked king with a precious prophecy? I have no answers. I cannot understand this God. Bow with me to His awesome supremacy. The Case of Habbakuk I’ve already made mention of Habbakuk earlier. His plight seems to be a similar example of these things. His case was cited to me by three different pastors in one week, right after we had heard the judge’s ruling on our case, ordering us to hold a court-officiated vote to terminate the leadership. I was utterly frustrated. Yet I knew that God had raised up and appointed this judge who had ruled over us in this way. So I heeded the multitude of counsel and read the book. The whole complaint which he makes is centered on the fact that God was using a pagan nation to punish God’s chosen people. Sure, Israel is sinful. But compared to Babylon they look righteous (Isa. 1:12-13)! Why not use another nation more righteous than God’s people? Perhaps we can see the logic then in using Israel to punish Judah in 2 Kings and Isaiah. But as we saw in the cases of Jotham and Ahaz, though Babylon was raised up by God (Hab. 1:6) to attack His people, He will turn right around and destroy them for this act. This is the substance of Habakkuk’s prayer in chapter three. In the end God would destroy the Babylonians with their own weapons (3:14). And what was Habakkuk’s response to God’s strange sovereignty which he could not understand? I absolutely love Habakkuk’s response! You must come to love it also. If there is any proper response to a God we cannot understand, to a God who makes decisions that jerk the human heart and mind awake time and again, it would be Habakkuk’s response at the end of his book. His response is four-fold. First, in 3:16, Habakkuk learned to tremble in fear waiting for God’s will to

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

unfold. Oh, what blessed and comforting counsel this is to my heart and ministry, wearied with such wickedness! What else can you and I possibly do before a God we cannot understand? Second, in verse 16 Habakkuk prayed that he would quietly wait for the destruction God would send. He didn’t like the Babylonians for one thing. And he definitenly didn’t like the Babylonians attacking his people. But he did like the thought that God would punish the Babylonians nonetheless for their destruction. So he committed himself to wait quietly. That’s quietly, friends. Not with complaining and arguing and whining and bitterness and resentment. Quiet means with our mouths shut, again bowing in humble submission to a supreme plan. Third, even though he knew that all would be destroyed, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the Lord of my salvation” (vv. 17-18). Despite the destruction, despite the unexplained sovereignty, and despite all that he simply could not understand, he committed himself to rejoice in the Lord. That joy was not dependent on his capacity to understand God and His will. It was a quiet joy that simply trusted and waited. Finally, in verse 19, he prayed according to that quiet joy and waiting. He stated that the sovereign Lord was his strength. The strength he needed to make it through and cope with such horribly destructive times was a strength that did not come from his ability to understand and explain what was going on. It was a quiet, weeping, trusting and rejoicing hope in a God he could not explain that gave Him strength. He was not at the mercy and whim of one of the gods of another nation. They were easy to explain and understand. All they delighted in was making people suffer and fear. But this God! Oh my! This God was different. He delighted in something else. He delighted in glory, truth, justice, and love. And somehow, in some mysterious, unexplainable way, He manifested that glory, truth, justice and love in the most humanly bizarre ways which always consummated on His faithful covenant love to His people, even amid their destruction. That is why in verse 19 Habakkuk was able to pray that God would strengthen his soul to survive and conquer. The only One who could comfort a hurting soul was the One who caused and orchestrated the suffering to begin with. Only an all-knowing, all-wise, sovereign God who designed and assigned such suffering could possibly know how to comfort those who suffered under His wise and sovereign plan. Only God can strengthen such a soul to survive the destruction and conquer the humanly horrid results of it all. So the answer to the earlier question is a resounding “YES!” I do want to be comforted by the One who planned my pain and caused me to hurt! I want that because it is the God of Israel, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God who will never listen to any charge brought against me by any man or angel, and the God who will exercise His mighty power to make sure that I continue to know and experience His infinite love for me!

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

God’s Glory is the Only Key to Understanding Him The paradox of God sending nations to destroy other nations, and then destroying those nations He used at first is mind boggling. Habakkuk and Ahaz and Jotham and others just basically had to wait it out. It was like waiting out a storm. And as far as I have been able to discover from Scripture in my attempt to understand God, the glory of God and the name of God are the only motivating factors for all of this strangeness. God raises up and destroys nations and persons solely for His glory. This is an issue with which I will deal more thoroughly in Part Four. I would like to point out at this juncture that this factor is found in Ezekiel 28:22 where we read that God declared Himself to be Sidon’s enemy and when He carries out His judgment on Sidon, He will be revealing His glory. So God’s glory is a motivating factor in working such humanly bizarre activity. But His Name is also a factor. A frequent conclusion to the prophecies of the destruction of the nations is, “then they will know that I am the Lord” (e.g. Ezek. 28:26). Both God’s glory and God’s name clearly indicate that even though God is using the pagan nations of the world to harm His people, they do so because they are in fact pagan and do not acknowledge the God of Israel. So in order for them to know Him, He will use them to punish His people, and then turn around and punish the pagan nations. And He will do so for the glory of His name. Who can understand this strange way in which God makes a name for Himself? It runs completely contrary to human reason, doesn’t it? So it appears in conclusion that the inability of man to understand this God who acts in such strange ways is meant to humble him. The fact that we can’t figure this out is what makes us so small, so finite, so creaturely. And it is also what makes God so huge, so infinite, so majestic, and so awesome! It is what causes us to throw ourselves before Him and declare His glory among the nations! Conclusion There are two things I want you to pull from this important chapter. First, the texts presented have proven the words of Isaiah the Prophet, “’My thoughts are completely different from yours,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (NLT). These thoughts and ways of God as presented in these texts prove we serve a God who does what He wants to do (motivated not by arbitrariness but by His glory) and this does

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

not always make sense to us. Second, these texts prove that God raises up both individuals and nations for the express purpose of using them to make His mighty power known to the world. He raises them up to use them as He wills and then He brings them down. This could not be made any clearer than in the cases of Babylon and Assyria, and even Israel, including Pharaoh and Judas whom I have reserved for a later discussion. Friend, I would encourage you as you close this chapter that if you have not yet embraced the truths here, you will probably not be able to comprehend or embrace the truths presented in the next few chapters. You have seen with your own eyes a God who is supreme above all, a God who actively causes harm, pain, suffering, death and destruction. He is a God who does it to pagan nations and to His own nation. All calamity and disaster have their origin in His mind and they come from His hand. Unless you have come to a point where you embrace the truth that you cannot understand this God, you will not be able to understand His workings in the texts observed in the following chapters. So, if need be, read this chapter once more, praying as you go along, asking God to enlighten the eyes of your heart so that you may be able to humbly bow to this God who does not answer to any of His creatures.