Did you hear that? G-d’s sovereignty allows G-d to make sure that bad events, i.e. sinful acts happen! Be it known this is heresy! The proper understanding is that HaShem is so sovereign that even the bad events do not hinder His Holy will; in fact, He can use even sin to accomplish His Holy will. Why do Mr. Piper and some other Reformed theologians believe such things about the character of G-d? Often the reason is they rely on faulty translations that were influenced by other Reformed theologians. For example, in this same article by Mr. Piper, he cites Proverbs 21:1 stating,
“The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hands of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wishes.”
If one pays close attention to the Hebrew, he would see this translation is faulty. The Hebrew text has the following:
פַּלְגֵי-מַיִם לֶב-מֶלֶךְ בְּיַד-יְהוָה עַל-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יַחְפֹּץ יַטֶּנּוּ׃” “
“Channels of water are a king’s heart in the hand of the L-rd, concerning all which He will delight He will turn it.” Proverbs 21:1
Please note that Piper’s translation, or the one he chose, adds the word “like”, which is not found in the Hebrew and he pluralizes the word “hand” which is singular in the Hebrew. Finally, Piper’s translation renders the two verbs that conclude the verse in the present when, in fact, they are in the future.
The point the Hebrew text makes is that “channels of water”, which is a phrase that is also found in Psalm 1, should be understood as an idiom referring to an abundant resource which is foundational for a good and timely outcome. For clearly this is its use in Psalm 1,
“For if in the Torah of the L-rd is his delight and in His Torah he meditates day and night; he will be as a young tree that is planted by channels of waters which its fruit it gives in its season and its leaves will not wither ” Psalm 1:2-3
It is also vital that one understands that the phrase “with the hand” to mean “under the authority of”. Often in Hebrew the word “hand” has to do with “power” and / or “authority”. The Hebrew phrase בְּיַד appears 288 times according to “A New Concordance of Old Testament” by Even-Shoshan. In this construction the definition provided by Even-Shoshan is “with authority” or “by means of”. Therefore the idea of Proverbs 21:1 is that when a king’s heart (thoughts) is under the authority of the L-rd, then all which is pleasing to HaShem, He will turn. Please note that it is what is pleasing to HaShem, He does through the king who has brought his thoughts under the L-rd’s authority. The frequent understanding of this verse by Reformed theologians is to assert that whatever a king does is G-d’s will. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once again, the point here is simply that when a king places his thoughts under the authority of G-d, G-d will use that king to do the very things that are pleasing to HaShem.
Mr. Piper understands the sovereignty of G-d as allowing G-d to desire sin not to be restrained. Mr. Piper states and I quote the same article,
“Which is to say that sometimes God wills that their sins be restrained and sometimes he wills that they increase more than if he restrained them.”
In supporting this point, Piper refers to the wicked sons of Eli concerning whom he wrote,
“For example, God meant to put the sons of Eli to death. Therefore he willed that they not listen to their father’s counsel:…”
It is hard for me to imagine that one would assert that HaShem wills people not to listen to sound Biblically based counsel so that they will sin and He can slay them. Piper, knowing how wrong such a statement sounds, offers 1 Samuel 2:22-25 as support for his position. He writes concerning this passage,
“But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death.”
Piper assumes that the sovereign G-d would not allow the sons of Eli to respond to their father’s counsel, because He desired to put them to death. First of all, the sons of Eli had already committed much sin before this account and HaShem would have been justified in slaying them. In other words, He did not need them to disobey their father Eli this time so G-d would be justified in punishing them with death. The intent of this verse is to show that even under the counsel of Eli the leading Priest, they still would not repent, for this was why HaShem was moved, i.e. desired to slay them.
In order to bring home his point, Mr. Piper adds Deuteronomy 28:63 to the discussion. He quotes,
“And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you.”
Obviously for Piper, he understands this to mean that the sovereignty of G-d allows G-d to rejoice over the death of the wicked or in their repentance as Ezekiel 18:23 states, whichever HaShem desires the most, He brings about. I suggest that once again such an understanding of this text and its utilization in Piper’s article represents a gross error on his part.
The proper interpretation is that the Holy and Righteous G-d is free to influence people to repent and when they do, He rejoices in this as do the angels of heaven. HaShem absolutely never moves to influence one to sin. HaShem may allow Satan to influence one to sin, but our L-rd is never a partner in sin. Does not James state clearly,
“Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by G-d: for G-d cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt any man. Rather, every man is tempted when he is led away by means of his own lusts and is tempted.” James 1:13-14
What the Deuteronomy passage is upholding is that G-d delights when righteousness is administered. Sometimes righteousness is maintained by G-d when His mercy and grace are received and forgiveness placed upon the guilty and other times His righteousness is maintained when He judges sin. I rest fully in HaShem’s perfect wisdom and knowledge to administer His standard of righteousness. I feel no need nor do I see any basis in the Scripture to state that the sovereignty of G-d demands that HaShem is the cause or influence of all things, both good and evil.
More will be said concerning this issue at the conclusion of this article. For now let us return to the end of Romans chapter 10. Once again, Paul is consistent to stay on message and speak about Israel’s spiritual condition. In speaking about the fact that Israel, to a large degree, has seemed to miss out on salvation, Paul reveals that this is not what G-d caused to happen, but what G-d used to fulfill His call upon Israel. The first point that Paul makes as he concludes the tenth chapter is that Israel is without excuse for he writes,
“But I say, ‘Have they not heard? Rather to all the land went forth their sound and into the ends of the world (inhabitable) their words.'” Romans 10:18
Paul makes it most clear in this verse that HaShem informed Israel properly, the problem was that Israel to a large degree simply did not respond. In the next two verses Paul provides two quotations from the Hebrew Bible to assist the reader in understanding how to perceive Israel’s failure. Paul asks once more, “Did Israel not know?” To this Paul provides the reader first with a verse from the book of Deuteronomy,
“I will make you jealous with a non-people; by an unintelligent people I will anger you.” Romans 10:19 (Deuteronomy 32:21)
It is imperative that one understands the context of the Deuteronomy passage. It is an error to simply read the citation and attempt to comprehend Paul’s intent without a thorough understanding of the text in its original context. In Deuteronomy Moses is speaking about how Israel has fallen into idolatry, desiring to be like the Gentiles. These Gentiles were not a unified people that were achieving great things; rather Israel was enticed by sinful abominations and empty promises. In pursuing the behavior of the Gentiles, Israel ignored HaShem, the Rock, Who had brought them out of exile. Therefore Moses emphatically states that HaShem will hide His face from Israel. In other words, Israel will receive punishment as HaShem turns away from her, but at the end of the chapter from Deuteronomy, the reader learns this is not forever. HaShem hiding His face from Israel is temporary and will serve to cause Israel to ultimately repent. HaShem desired Israel to obey Him, but because Israel did not, does not mean that G-d’s purposes will be thwarted.
In the next verse the reader encounters the second quotation. Here Isaiah states boldly,
“(I) was found by those who were not seeking Me, I have become manifest to those (who) were not asking for Me.” Romans 10:20 (Isaiah 65:1)
Here Isaiah is always referring to Gentiles, who even though they were not seeking or praying to find the One True G-d, they did; while to Israel Paul states in the next verse ( which he also quotes from Isaiah 65:2),
“All day I stretched forth My hands to a people disobedient and denying.” Romans 10:21
This verse makes it absolutely clear that it was not because HaShem did not try to present His message to Israel that they missed out; rather it was due to their disobedience and denying nature. The word which I translated “denying” is ἀντιλέγω. Other possible renderings are, “to speak against“, “to oppose one’s self to another“, “to decline to obey“, “to declare one’s self against another“, and finally “to refuse to have anything to do with another“. These meanings make it very clear that it was not based on some failure upon G-d’s part that Israel to a large degree did not respond obediently to the calling which HaShem placed upon her.
In the next chapter, Romans 11, Paul reiterates once more a common explanation of why Israel did not respond, when he asks, “Did G-d cast away His people…?” To this question Paul answers in the strongest language, “by no means“. Paul points out that he is Jewish and from the tribe of Benjamin and is responding to the call HaShem gave to Israel. Paul continues and states,
“G-d has not cast aside His people whom He foreknew…” Romans 11:2
It is very important that one pays attention to the fact that Paul used the phrase, “whom He foreknew“. As was also said in part one of the article, the foreknowledge of G-d is a very important aspect of understanding the Doctrine of Election. In this section Paul brings up Elijah the prophet who cried out to HaShem that he alone was left (of the prophets) and they (Israel) sought to kill him as well. Even though Elijah felt he was the only one who walked in faithfulness to G-d, Paul quotes from I Kings 19,
“I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men which have not bowed the knee to Baal.” I Kings 19:18
This verse is pivotal in understanding the primary issue of our discussion, election. The matter that must be understood is the proper meaning of the verb which states that G-d “has reserved“. Reformed theology asserts that HaShem, in His sovereignty, caused seven thousand men to remain faithful. It is important to note that no one is saying that HaShem did not move and act in the lives of these seven thousand men. The question is whether these men had any chance of being like their fellow Jews and turning to Baal or did G-d mandate these seven thousand men and there was absolutely no possibility for any of these seven thousand to turn to idolatry? It is this question that we shall begin with, in the fourth and final section of this article.
By Dr Baruch Korman