Exactly what is under his control?
How far does his sovereignty extend?
Is there any molecule in all of the universe that operates outside the will of God?
While this is a very deep and vast subject that we cannot exhaust in one small blog post, I would like to give one small example of the great reach of the sovereignty of God.
As God was giving the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai he renewed his promise to bring Israel into the land of the Canaanites, drive the inhabitants out, and secure the borders of Israel (Exodus 34:11-12, 24a). When Israel is settled in the promised land, God requires that their males travel to the place of worship (Jerusalem) three times a year and worship God through the festivals he has appointed for them (34:22-23). This would have involved a very long journey for many of the people. And it posed a very serious potential danger: what if the surrounding enemies of Israel attacked while all the males were gathered to worship God? Who would protect their farms, their wives, their children, their animals while the males were gone three times a year?
God answers this question before anyone has opportunity to ask it. And in his answer, God - almost in passing - gives us clear insight into the great reaches of his sovereignty. God says:
No one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year. Exodus 34:24b, ESVNo one shall covet your land.
Matthew Henry comments on this verse:
The country would be left exposed to the insults of their neighbors; and what would become of the poor women and children, and sick and aged, that were left at home? Trust God with them (v.24): Neither shall any man desire thy land; not only they shall not invade it, but they shall not so much as think of invading it.They shall not so much as think of invading it! Here God shows himself to be in control, not only of outcomes, but of the thoughts and intentions of the heart of man. More than this! God reveals himself here to be sovereign over the hearts and desires of those who are his enemies! It is one thing to think of God as Lord over the desires of his servants; men who have bowed the knee to him and seek to surrender to him and serve him. It is quite another matter for God to have Lordship over the hearts of men who are hardened to him; who do not desire his Lordship! And yet, God gives Israel a guarantee that he will restrain his enemies' desires so that they will not covet their land.
Arthur Pink says it this way: "God exerts upon the wicked a restraining influence by which they are prevented from doing what they are naturally inclined to do" (The Sovereignty of God, p116). He then gives several examples from Scripture (The King of Gerar in Genesis 20), Joseph's brothers in Gen 37:8 and 45:8, and Balaam's inability to curse Israel in Numbers 23).
Concerning God's sovereignty Scripture is clear:
- God 'works all things according to the counsel of his will' (Ephesians 1:11). Let that one sink in a moment!
- 'For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure' (Philippians 2:13). God's sovereignty extends over our 'will' so that God's 'good pleasure' is carried out!
- When Job repented before God he exclaimed, 'I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted' (Job 42:1-2). No one can thwart God's will by hardening themselves against him.
- 'Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases' (Psalm 115:3).
- 'The LORD of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand' (Isaiah 14:24).
- And finally, observe what that great and proud King Nebuchadnezzar realized when God restored him (after humbling him and giving him the mind of an animal): 'all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”' (Daniel 4:35).
Yes, God is sovereign over the hearts of men. And the great mystery is that, although God is in control, man is still responsible for his choices and actions. Oh, the wisdom and power and glory of God!
Consider how this thought must have encouraged Israel. When they obeyed God in faithfulness and journeyed to worship him, they could trust that God was restraining their enemies from invading their land...or even thinking about it! Let us also be encouraged by God's sovereignty! The One who overflows with wisdom and love and grace is sovereign over all! Hallelujah!