TODAY’S READING: EZEKIEL 28-30
“And I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon and put my sword in his hand, but I will break the arms of Pharaoh, and he will groan before him like a man mortally wounded. I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, but the arms of Pharaoh shall fall. Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I put my sword into the hand of the king of Babylon and he stretches it out against the land of Egypt.” – Ezekiel 30:24-25
In this passage, Ezekiel prophesies that God will use Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to break the power of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. According to Ezekiel, God will pit one kingdom against another.
This idea of God using one kingdom to punish another is quite common throughout the Old Testament. So, at one time God favors a particular kingdom, for example Assyria, to punish Israel. But, at another time, Assyria falls out of favor with God. So, God raises up another kingdom, Babylon, to punish Assyria.
Perhaps the epitome of this belief that God is in literal control of every king of the earth is Proverbs 21:1, which says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”
Therefore, many Christians today believe that God’s sovereignty is such that he directs every single event that happens. They believe that God picks and chooses leaders to be put in place and directs their every action.
This would mean that God is responsible for all the violence, evil, wickedness, and destruction of every single king and kingdom of this earth.
But, does this idea that God picks and chooses kings and turns the hearts of the kings he chooses wherever he wants hold up to what Jesus reveals about God?
There are two specific instances in which Jesus has a significant interaction or confrontation with the king of this world.
Matthew 2:1-3 says, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have to come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled.”
Jesus was born king. We need to read that carefully. Jesus was not born to be king. He was born king. Jesus was king immediately upon his birth.
Now, when Herod, who symbolizes the king of this world, hears that there is another king to be worshipped, Herod seeks to kill Jesus. Jesus, and God, have a direct confrontation with the king of this world.
How did God respond?
Did he simply turn Herod’s heart wherever he wanted it to go? Did God directly control Herod’ actions?
If you say yes, then you believe that God was behind the killing of all the boys less than two years old in Bethlehem. For Matthew 2:16 says, “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under.”
If Jesus reveals anything about God, then he reveals that God was not behind Herod’s actions, directing Herod’s heart wherever he wanted it to go.
Instead, we see God’s response a few verses earlier. Matthew 2:13-15 says, “Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.”
Instead of seeing God behind the actions of Herod as he slaughtered an untold number of innocent baby boys, we see God acting in a way to protect his son. He told Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, to take Jesus and flee to another country until Herod died.
Just like this interaction with the symbolic king of this world at the beginning of his life, Jesus has another encounter with the symbolic king of this world at the end of his life.
John 18 and 19 records the interaction between Jesus and Pilate, symbolizing the king of this world. Pilate ends up delivering Jesus over to be crucified. But, if we think God was behind the scenes, directing Pilate’s heart wherever he wanted it go, so as to crucify his only beloved son, then we have a very sick and twisted view of God.
Pilate asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” Jesus did not respond. There was no attempt to manipulate Pilate in the direction Jesus, or God, wanted him to go. Pilate, who surely was angered that this lowly Jew would not answer his question, then asked, “You will not speak to me?” Pilate then told Jesus that he had authority to let him live or crucify him.
Then Jesus spoke and told Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” Jesus is not saying that God is directing Pilate to crucify Jesus. Rather, Jesus is saying that he has made the choice to lay down his life, to suffer. Pilate will carry out his own evil and wicked intentions. Jesus simply laid down his life. This was how Pilate had authority over him. Not because God was manipulating Pilate like a river to crucify Jesus.
Beyond these two interactions between Jesus and the symbolic king of this world, we know that God does not control and direct the appointing of every king and their following actions because that is not love.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. Love bears all things, believes, hopes all things, endures all things.”
“God is love.”
If God is love, and if God is all the things Paul says love is, then could God ever be in the business of manipulating and forcing kings to do what he wants like a stream of water in his hand?
God is omnipotent. God is all powerful. But, God’s power does not force, control or manipulate.
God is love. That is his power. And love draws and woos.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul goes on to say that “we prophesy in part.” We must remember that Paul is speaking of people who know Jesus. And, because they know Jesus, they have seen the Father clearly. This is in contrast to the people before the time of Jesus who had a veiled view of God (2 Corinthians 3 and 4).
So, if those who have seen Jesus and had the veil over the true view of the Father removed still prophesy in part, then how much more did Ezekiel and all the other writers of the Old Testament only prophesy in part?
Interestingly, another meaning for the Greek word translated part is “to some degree.” Even as much as we have seen Jesus and know the Father, Paul says we still can only prophesy and testify of Jesus to some degree. And, Paul certainly believed that the Old Testament writers prophesied to even less of a degree than we do.
So, just because the Ezekiel and other Old Testament writers believed that God manipulated and controlled all the kings and kingdoms of this world, that doesn’t mean that is what God is like and what he actually did. Jesus shows us otherwise.
In fact, to believe that God manipulates and directly controls all the kings and kingdoms of this world is a childish belief. In regards to prophesying in part, this is why Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
So, let us put away this childish view that God is directly behind all the events of history, controlling everything that happens. That does not line up with Jesus has revealed. Nor does it line up with what love, God’s love, is truly like.