In our first article last week, we learnt that God’s decrees do not interfere with man’s free will. God’s counsel prevails despite the evil acts of man. None can resist or thwart His sovereign will: “The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect” (Ps. 33: 10).
Though God knows and allows our sinful acts, we are accountable for every decision and action – we cannot excuse ourselves on the basis of “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2: 23). “The decree of God does not take away the moral character of an action. It does not prove that an action is innocent if it is shown that it is a part of the wise plan of God to permit it” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).
God’s will is bound up with His wisdom and sovereignty. Man has the freedom to exercise his choices but God still has the last word. “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD” (Prov. 16: 1). We may plot and scheme but the Lord determines the success or failure of our plans.
We may ask, “What about our wrong decisions, foolish mistakes or attempts to resist God’s will? Does God’s will still prevail over our follies?” Most certainly. In His divine providence, God overrules even when our follies result in confusion and trouble. Ultimately, His counsel will stand, for none can defeat it. Despite our fleshly failings, our gracious Lord will direct our steps for our good and the accomplishment of His purposes: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8: 28).
o Example of Jonah
When God called Jonah to go and preach to the Ninevites, the Jews’ enemies, he fled “from the presence of the LORD” by boarding a ship that was heading in the opposite direction (Jon. 1: 3). But the disobedient prophet found to his dismay that he could not contend with God. On board the ship, Jonah fell asleep but “the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken” (v 4). He was thrown overboard after the sailors’ casting of lots pointed to him as the cause of the great storm (v 7).
In His divine providence “the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (1: 17).
In the great deep of the fish’s belly, Jonah learnt precious lessons. Though it was the sailors who had thrown him overboard, Jonah acknowledged that it was God’s hand that “hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas” (2: 3). Conscious now of God’s displeasure for his wilfulness, and overwhelmed with sorrow, the repentant prophet was thankful for God’s mercies: “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple” (2: 7). His prayers had “reached the ears of the Lord of hosts in the highest heavens, and met with a kind reception, and had a gracious answer” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible).
Jonah ended his prayer with thanksgiving to God. He vowed that if God delivered him from the fish’s belly, he would willingly obey God’s command to go to the Ninevites: “But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD” (2: 9).
In response to His servant’s prayer of repentance, the Lord delivered him – He spoke to the fish and “it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land” (2: 10). Having been restored, Jonah went about doing God’s will. He entered Nineveh and preached God’s message of salvation (3: 4). Taking God’s warnings seriously, the Ninevites believed in God and repented of their sins: “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (3: 5).
Jonah’s efforts to resist God’s will failed. His disobedience brought him only sorrow and misery. He found out that it was foolish to contend with God: “He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?” (Job 9: 4).
In the end, Jonah had to submit to God’s will to preach to the Ninevites. His preaching resulted in the salvation of the nation of Nineveh (Jon. 3: 5-10).
Truly, none can act outside the bounds of the will of the sovereign God. God has absolute control over every event of our lives. Notwithstanding man’s efforts to resist His counsel, what God has decreed shall surely come to pass.
Brethren, let us learn from Jonah’s folly. May we submit humbly to God’s ordained will for our lives. He alone knows how best to direct us for our good. (… to be continued)