Monday, March 12, 2018

A Case Study For Divine Sovereignty And Human Freedom

In the fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation we have looked at a vision of the heavenly throne room that has shown us that God the Father and God the Son are sovereign over and behind all that happens in this age—including righteous and unrighteous acts. This includes the salvation of people, but also the persecution of the church. These two chapters have taught us that nothing happens except through God or by his will, and that includes the brokenness and evil that permeate our world right now.

Yet, at the same time, the following chapters will also show both that God has a different relationship to evil than he does to righteousness (he is not the author of or morally responsible for the former) and also that all other beings in the world (angels, demons, and humans) make free choices for which they are responsible. In other words, God’s absolute sovereignty by which he governs all things in the world is compatible with human freedom (if we understand that freedom in line with what the Bible teaches).

I believe it is helpful to break from Revelation for the week and to look at a passage that addresses both subjects (God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom) and, along the way, gives a starting point for understanding how they relate to one another and that they can fit with each other. There are many passages that could be chosen, but one particularly helpful is 1 Chronicles 29:10-19. In fact, this passage can serve as a case study not only for how God governs all, but how he interacts with the human will in that all-encompassing governance.

Introduction to 1 Chronicles 29:10-19
What the chronicler seems to do in 1 and 2 Chronicles is to encourage Israel after their captivity to see the faithfulness of God and also to see that their full enjoyment of life with God in covenant demands they return to right worship of him.[1] This is played out in these last chapters of 1 Chronicles by highlighting God’s faithfulness to fulfill promises to David as preparations for the temple are made and the king approaches the end of his life and reign.

We read in 28:1-8 that David assembled military and tribal leaders, along with royal overseers and leading soldiers, gave them a charge, and then turned to his son, Solomon, to exhort him in preparation for his ascension to the throne (28:9-21).[2] After David’s appeal to the people to give, as well as a record of materials offered willingly by them for the building of the temple (29:1-9), David turns in 29:10-19 to praise God for what has happened. Here is what we read: 
Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
14 “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. 15 For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. 16 O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. 17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. 18 O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. 19 Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”

There are two main kinds of prayer we see David engaging in: Praise of God for what has been accomplished (10-13) and a request that he continually empower Solomon and the people to carry out his will, since they cannot do this without God (14-19).[3] What we read in both of these kinds of prayer sets forth the view of divine sovereignty and human freedom we will discover in the book of Revelation and also introduces they are compatible.  Let’s see how this is so.

David’s Descriptive Praise Of God: Verses 10-13.
To begin, as we examine David’s praise (10-13), we grasp that the king blesses or praises the LORD because of or in response to the whole-hearted and generous giving of the people toward the future temple building (cf. 29:6-9). [4]  If this is accurate, then we should expect the praise to be logically connected into the giving on the part of the people, a reality confirmed when we move on to vv. 14-19, which clarify that in his praise of God David is focused upon what the people have given (cf. 14, 16, 17).[5]

What is also significant is what David says directly to and about the LORD in his praise (10b-13).[6] In referring to him as the LORD (Yahweh) and “the God of Israel” he emphasizes that God has committed himself to his people and to keeping his promises to them (cf. Dt. 7:8; Jer. 1:12), which is the significance of the current collection and preparation for the temple building.[7]

To be clear, then, David believes that the sovereign God has moved among the people in such a way as to bring about certainly their giving of the materials for the building of the temple. They truly decided to give freely and willingly (29:6-9), and yet David sees the giving as ultimately moved by the LORD and so is a sign of his promise-keeping covenant faithfulness. In other words, the sovereign God has so worked in the wills of his people and in their circumstances to bring about the very end God desires and had promised—including this generous giving on their part—for the purpose of building the temple and thus demonstrating his continual faithful presence among them (cf. Ex. 25:8; 1 Chr. 17:10-14).

That we have read this correctly so far is also seen in the “meat” of David’s praise and thanks—verses 11-12. Here the king attributes to the King of kings several things that not only belong to him, but that men should rightly acknowledge in worship that belong to him. First, is “greatness,” which is a term that not only describes all of God’s attributes and what he does, but highlights that God is superior to all other beings and rulers.[8] Additionally, David ascribes to God “might,” a term that is not only synonymous with “sovereignty,” but also highlights God has the power to carry out effectively what he desires as the King of kings, and no one can thwart what he determines to accomplish.[9] What is more, David affirms that “glory” belongs to God, in other words, a splendor or beauty flowing from who he is and what he does that elevates him in the eyes of others above all other powers.[10]  Next, to God belongs “victory,” a term that highlights he succeeds in what he sets out to do and he can enable his people to succeed as well,[11] and also “majesty,” a term that connotes the ultimate royal excellencies that inspire awe.[12]

David has piled up royal terms to highlight God as the ultimate power and King who can carry out what he has purposed and promised—terms designed to lead those assembled to praise him above all others and to affirm that the present giving ultimately was orchestrated by him—and so in fulfillment of his promises.

David ends this first pregnant statement of praise with reasons why we know that all of this is true of the LORD: “for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours.” The point in this clause is that all things in the universe belong to the true God and ultimately originate from him. In context, part of the meaning seems to be that nothing can happen but that it is either caused by God or at least permitted by him.

That we have read the text correctly so far is confirmed as we move on to the parallel statement of God’s praise in 11c-12, a statement that focuses with even greater clarity upon God’s sovereignty. In 11c we read, “To you, Yahweh, is the dominion” (author’s translation).[13] What is being attributed to the LORD is universal (and absolute) sovereignty. This description is reiterated in the last clause of verse 11: “and you are the one who exalts himself as head above all” (my translation).[14] This wording makes it clear that no one or nothing outside himself has decided God’s status. He is exalted “over all” “as head”. The term “head” here means the chief or ultimate one. It is what is meant when we speak of “absolute sovereignty.” No one or nothing is above God. He has dominion and has exalted himself above all powers, kings, and other heads, as the head, the chief, the ultimate ruler.

In verse 12 we read David’s last words on why praise is given to the LORD on this occasion. This verse reiterates that the praise is tied into this occasion and in large part David is focusing on God’s sovereignty. In the clause, “riches and honor are from before your face” (my translation), it is affirmed that the current circumstances (including David’s reign) and the resources just brought for the temple by the people ultimately came from the divine king, who first dispensed them.[15] After all, the Hebrew sovereign (David) is able to say of the divine sovereign, “you rule over all.” In a context in which David is praising God for what he has brought about in Israel, for the current abundant offering, and the reality that the LORD continues to carry out his amazing redemptive work among his people, it appears that this specific affirmation is praising the LORD that there is not one aspect of life—big or small—that is outside God’s rule, his sovereignty. This appears to clarify the statement in v. 11, “Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.”[16]

What we have seen in this passage is that the view of divine sovereignty it presents does not leave room for God merely looking ahead into the future (or merely having an innate knowledge of the future) and then ordaining what happens based upon what humans will do with a kind of freedom that allows their decisions to originate exclusively in themselves, and without any ability on the part of God to bring about the very events he has decreed would take place.

This conclusion is not only reached because of what we have seen in David’s praise of God, it is also supported by the second kind of prayer the Hebrew king offers to God in verses 14-19, a request that God continually empower Solomon and the people to carry out his will, since they cannot do this without God. Let’s turn to those verses now. More specifically, the king goes about this request by preliminary remarks that lead to trust in God for this empowerment (14-17) and then makes the request itself (18-19). 

David’s Grace-Focused Prayer Request: Verses 14-19
In 14a David’s prayer affirms that people are not worthy or able on their own to be involved in such free giving to God. David asks (my own translation): “But who am I, and [who] is my people, that we should be able to offer willingly [as this]?” The verb translated, “offer willingly,” not only speaks of truly desiring to give the offering, but elsewhere is used in contexts of duty, strong compulsion, and influence—including, as here, God’s determining governance.[17]  The expected answer to David’s question is something like this, “We ourselves are no one and we are not able on our own willingly to do this—it must be by God’s grace!”[18] David is acknowledging here that God has not only made David king, brought about these circumstances, and given the resources behind the giving, he has also worked in the hearts of the people certainly and according to his promises[19] that they willingly give these resources! And, in light of verses 11-12, it is deduced that the movement on God’s part to work in their hearts was not based upon knowledge that they would make these choices.

What we have here is none other than what I would call compatibilistic human freedom, freedom that is in line with the reality that people are moved by the strongest motive in their heart—a motive that can be certainly caused by God and antecedent movements of the heart.[20]

In addition to man’s moral inability that prevents him from giving such gifts as these in the manner they were given (14a), David has another reason for attributing the giving ultimately to God, namely that God is the ultimate origin of the resources and the ultimate origin of the desire to give (14b): “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.”[21]

Additionally, in verse 15 David affirms the shortness of their lives and the reality they are not the ultimate owners of the land and resources and these realities place them in situations in which David knows they cannot ultimately control their own destinies and could not, on their own, have brought about these outcomes: “For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.”[22]

In verse sixteen David concludes his affirmation that God has been the ultimate source of the material and volitional resources with these words: “O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.” God has provided what he promised and what he commanded the people to do and so the glory ultimately goes to him.

Yet, we dare not overlook that in verse seventeen David also sees the desires and decisions to give as truly coming from the hearts of the givers—a joyous, willing giving that pleases God: “I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.”[23]

After these preliminary remarks that have prepared the hearts of David and the assembled people for petitioning God with humble and dependent hearts, David now turns to the actual request for continual empowerment itself (18-19), a prayer, that takes us beyond any reasonable doubt that David has been attributing to God through this text that both the material and volitional resources for this giving (and thus doing the will of God) have come ultimately from God: “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people,[24] and direct their hearts toward you.[25] 19 Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”[26]

What we have in this passage, then, is a case study that reveals God’s absolute sovereignty by which he governs all that takes place (without exception) is compatible with responsible and free human choices. To have some grasp of this will go along way toward helping us work our way through Revelation 6-22—especially in light of the reality that all that takes place in these chapters is decreed by God, yet, he is not the one doing the sin. That is Satan, demons, and humans.

Freely Delighting In God’s Sovereignty With You,


[1] See Bill T. Arnold, Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering The Old Testament: A Christian Survey (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1999), 253; and Gleason Archer, A Survey Of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody, 1985), en loc.

[2] See Brian E. Kelly, notes in the ESV Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 740.

[3] I am indebted to the notes in the Reformation Study Bible (Orlando: Ligonier, 2005), 593, for this twofold division.

[4] The form of the Hebrew verb here can connote a logical sequel of actions:  “Therefore…blessed….” There is a strong logical connection between the following praise and the previous passage that speaks of the people willingly giving.

[5] The verse 10a clause ends with this literal rendering; “Before the eyes of all the assembly.” As we discovered in the immediately preceding context, Israel is assembled together for David to charge them and Solomon. As such, what we have here is David praising Yahweh in the presence of this assembly and so the assembly saw and heard David do this. This, then, is both praise and, at the same time, admonition to those present (a reality implied about corporate worship we see explicitly in Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16-17). It may be implied, as a result, that David’s prayer in their presence is one of the means God will use subsequently to empower and motivate them to serve him and carry out his will.

[6] David’s praise forms a chiasm—with the A (10b) and A’ (13) affirming that praise and thanks are being offered. Then the B (11a-b) and B’ (11c-12) form the content or “meat” of the praise. This means most likely that B and B’ are parallel in some manner.

[7] In 1 Chronicles 17:10-14 God promises he will bring about the building of the temple through Solomon. The building of the temple will be both an affirmation that God has given peace and victory to David and the people, as well as an affirmation that the Davidic dynasty will be forever—thus pointing forward to the Messiah.

[8] This is a word that encompasses all that God does among men to save, bless, and carry out his blessings, and perhaps even his judgments—actions that could only be done by someone who is of vast and immense power, wisdom, and goodness (2 Sam. 7:21, 23; 1 Chron. 17:19, 21; Ps. 145:6). It appears to be a word that could apply to all of God’s attributes—and to display that they are of enormous, i.e. immeasurable, proportions (Ps. 145:3). The term is used in Esther 1:4 to speak of the many riches and works of King Ahasuerus, things that display the immense and vast character of his kingdom—and point to the enormous place he must have, especially in relation to other kings (see also Ps. 71:21). This greatness is designed to make people marvel at the kingdom. When greatness is attributed to one it also distinguishes them from others (Esther 6:3; 10:2). In regard to God, it shows his uniqueness (cf. Dt. 3:24) and so his superior greatness over all others. In context, his greatness shows he is the ultimate ruler over his universal kingdom.

[9] This word is a cognate of a term that is often translated “mighty men of valor” (Hagibborim: e.g.1 Chr. 10:24). In texts related to God, the word connotes the resources and power God has to be able to carry out effectively what he desires (Job 12:13-14), which includes his wisdom (Prov. 8:14; Is. 11:2), his giving strength to man (1 Chron. 29:12; Ps. 71:16), or even animals (Job 39:19), as well as creative and sustaining abilities (Ps. 65:6), and also carrying out salvation and judgment. This is a royal, divine, and unique (Jer. 10:6) strength and ability of God that shows he is King of kings and Lord of lords, a strength and ability no one can successfully oppose, what classically is referred to as God’s sovereignty (2 Chron. 20:6). It is a power which should increase man’s praise of him (Pss. 21:13; 150:2), which stands as the ultimate purpose of his salvation of man—“that he might make known his mighty power” (Ps. 106:6), for God’s acts of salvation and judgment that display his might form the very content of what one generation should proclaim to another (Ps. 145:4, 11, 12 [esp. in light of vv. 6-20]).

[10] The term that is used here is hatiph’ara. It means “beauty” or “glory.” Though this term can be synonymous with kabod (the most common term translated “glory” in the OT), the focus here is more on being pleasing to own’s sight or understanding, i.e. the display of brilliance or magnificence, rather than the full weight or weightiness of one (as with kabod). The term is associated with the beauty or splendor that is displayed by a king (Esther 1:4). Most likely since the other attributes associated with God here seem to address him as King of kings, this one also is intended to communicate that God displays a royal beauty or splendor that surpasses all others.

[11] The Hebrew term, chanetsa can mean “enduring” or “perpetual” (e.g. Job 20:7; Ps. 9:6), but this sense can also communicate enduring beyond battle and thus “victory” (cf. Job 14:20; Is. 25:8). “Victory” appears to be the sense here. After all, the LXX (Septuagint [Greek translation of the OT]) translates it as hē nikē (“the conquering,” “the victory,” “the overcoming”).  In context, this most likely focuses upon the reality that God as King over Israel has not only given them victory over their enemies, but currently has given victory or success in their present mission—that of preparing to build the temple that will be at the heart of their attractional witness to the world.

[12]The term howd is most often translated by the English word “majesty,.” In the Bible it is often paired with hadar, which speaks of splendor, beauty, or majesty. In Nu. 27:20 it suggests the character and place that Moses had before Israel such that they respected and obeyed him—and this was to be transferred to Joshua. In 1 Chron. 29:25 we read that after Solomon was anointed king, Yahweh exalted him (gave him such greatness) and gave him such royal majesty that there was no king like him previously. As the accounts of Solomon unfold, we know this refers to riches, respect among other royalty and in Israel, success in projects, and wisdom. Like the other descriptions in this verse, so with this one, it is used of royalty and leaders (see Jer. 22:18—respect given a king). It appears to suggest an exalted status, place, rank, varied excellencies, and in some cases, deportment. God’s majesty inspires fear (Job 37:22; Is. 30:30). It also inspires singing, praise, and worship (Ps. 96:6, in light of whole psalm [here the LXX translates with exomologesis, an act of making known or revealing]). The one who has ultimate royal majesty is also the one who will bring fulfillment of the visions and blessings of Zechariah, the one who will build the end-times temple (Zech. 6:13), none other than the Messiah, the Christ!

[13] The term hamamlakah (ESV: “kingdom”) is used in Chronicles to refer to a realm of reign, such as a country, countries, or specifically Israel (1 Chr. 16:20; 29:30; 2 Chr. 9:19; 12:8; 14:5; 17:10; 26:6, 29, et al). It is also used to speak of the reign or dominion, the rule of a king (2 Chr. 11:1; 13:5, 8; 17:5). In context, this second usage seems to be the focus here. This appears to be the only time in Scripture where this exact phraseology is used. More specifically, the point seems to be that ultimate dominion or sovereignty belongs to Yahweh. All belongs to him and so he reigns over it all as the ultimate sovereign or potentate.

[14] In “the one who exalts himself” we find a hithpael participle (a Hebrew verb form), which connotes ongoing causative and reflexive action.

[15] The idiomatic picture is of a king dispensing something (for which one would normally stand before him—before his face). If one has honor and riches, then this King of kings has granted it. It is by his decree, his pronouncement. The term translated “riches” (`osher) speaks of material possessions (e.g. Gen. 31:16) and usually of such an amount or abundance that it is the opposite of poverty (e.g. Prov. 30:8; Eccles. 5:14). Such an abundance of material goods (wealth) and “honor” (kabowd)  in the Old Testament are seen as gifts from Yahweh and come to the one who in humility fears Yahweh and seeks wisdom (Ps. 112:3; Prov. 3:16; 8:18; 22:4 [riches, honor, and life are gifts from Yahweh]).
David is acknowledging here that he has been placed in his position of leadership by God—along with the honor and wealth that he experiences. This most likely includes the fact that the current wealth that has been brought together in preparation for the temple has been given by and made possible by God.

[16] As the absolutely sovereign God of the universe, the one who exercises meticulous providence (governance over all that happens without exception), David acknowledges at the end of verse 12, “In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” The point here seems to be that the current status of David and Israel, as well as God’s ongoing work among them have come from the LORD. Underneath David’s praise here is that as the King of kings and Lord of lords, God is able to take care of his people and he is doing this. As such, all that the people have given back to God and all that David has been able to accomplish in obedience to God come ultimately from God. God has blessed and rewarded his people for the very things he has enabled them to do!

[17] The verb nadav that stands behind the English, “to offer willingly,” communicates the idea of inciting or moving something or someone to act. For example, in Exodus 25:2, as the LORD is giving instructions to Moses regarding the tabernacle, he instructs Moses in this fashion: “From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.” The clause, “whose heart moves him” literally is, “who moves his heart” and contains the Qal imperfect of nadav. We see a similar usage in Exodus 35:21. There, as people are bringing offerings for the tabernacle, we read, “…everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting.” The clause, “whose spirit moved him” contains the Qal perfect of this verb. Exodus 35:29 repeats this idea, only with the “heart” as the subject of the verb.” Outside of Exodus 35 the verb is used only in the Hithpael (causative reflexive) tense. All of its other uses speak either of offering one’s self freely for some kind of service or act (Judges 5:2, 9; 2 Chron. 17:16; Ezra 11:2), freely bringing resources or materials for the accomplishment of God’s work—the building of the temple (1 Chron. 29:5, 6, 9, 14, 17; Ezra 1:6; 2:68), or freely bringing offerings or sacrifices to offer on the altar to the LORD (Ezra 3:5). In 1 Chr. 29:9 we are told that giving freely involves giving with the whole heart or because they truly wanted to do it. In Ezra 1:6 freely giving can be ordered by decree of the king (cf. 1:4)—i.e. strong compulsion or causation—especially in the context of knowing what the penalties are for disobedience. And, in Ezra 3:5 offerings can be freely brought to the LORD, even though it is emphasized that this is according to God’s requirements, his laws (cf. 3:2, 4)—i.e. a strong sense of duty or compulsion. Finally, moving to live in Jerusalem as decided by the casting of lots (which itself is decided by the providence of God in the biblical worldview, Prov. 16:33), can be described as doing something freely (Neh. 11:1-2)—i.e. in the context of a strong sense of compulsion or causation. In other words, the use of the verb elsewhere repeatedly affirms that something is free if the heart or will of a person truly wants to do it, i.e. if the movement is from the person, rather than their being forced to do it. Free choices and giving can be the result of strong influence or compulsion outside the person—provided that their heart truly comes to desire to move or give. This is consistently how Scripture views what is a free act for humans (cf. Philemon 14).

[18] This expected answer is not only implied by the context here, but also by this same form of question used elsewhere and the expected answers in those contexts: Exodus 3:11; 1 Samuel 18:18; 2 Samuel 7:18; 1 Chronicles 17:16; 2 Chronicles 2:6.

[19] Consider what God promised to David in 1 Chronicles 17:3-15, that though David himself will not build the temple, his offspring will and God will certainly bring it to pass!

[20] As we see in 1 Chronicles 29:1-5, King David made a strong case to the assembled people that they should give—following his example, and also that they might be part of the great purposes God is working out (cf. 28:1-8). In 1 Chronicles 29:9 we discover that the people “had given willingly…with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD.” In other words, they responded to David’s reasoning and so in their intellects, affections, and wills, they came to agree with David—seeing the truth of his reasoning, they had the desire to follow his words, and so they made the decision to do so. These were decisions the people truly made, but they also were decisively moved by God to make them.

[21] The following reasons lead us to conclude that David is writing that the desire to give also comes from God and not merely the material resources: (a) In the immediate context (14a), David is talking about giving willingly or freely. The statements about all being from Yahweh come directly after this and thus more likely refer to the giving of both the material and volitional resources. (b) The fact that “victory” is ascribed to Yahweh in v. 11 implies success; i.e. the ability to do something or stay with something. This includes the willingness to start and carry out the task. (c) In verse 12 that David affirms that Yahweh “gives strength to all” goes to the level of willingness and ability. (d) Finally, verse 17 speaks of giving not only freely, but joyously, and this is part of the uprightness of heart on which David focuses. This joyous affection seems to be part of what God has made possible, what he has brought about that these events might take place. So, what we are saying, then, is that in context, David is not merely praising God for the material resources, but also for the volitional resources for the people to carry out this task. This runs counter to those who would suggest God was somehow only looking ahead to see what humans would do without his decisive influence upon (what some argue must be present for an act to be free).  

[22] In v. 15 we find another reason why (“For:” kiy) David and the people are not worthy to give freely to God what they have. It is not only that all things belong to and are from God, but David and the people are not truly and ultimately owners of anything. Instead, they are “strangers” (gerim) in the eyes of God and sojourners (wetoshabim), as were their fathers. What is more, their days are like a shadow and there is no abiding, remaining—i.e. their lives are short. The emphasis appears to be on the shortness of life, the fact that they are not the ones who ultimately own the land (that is God) and so they are not in control such that they could decide their own outcomes, what their resources are, and thus what they give.

[23] There are two main affirmations David makes here. First, God examines the heart (the seat of emotions, desires, and will) of man very closely and he finds great pleasure in decisions, desires, and actions that are in accordance with the character of God—in accordance with his will. The term for “uprightness” is used elsewhere as synonymous with “righteousness,” which is something that is in line with the character of God (cf. Ps. 9:8). The point here is that God knows man’s heart, he knows what he does and why he does it, and God takes great pleasure in obedience that flows from a heart given to God.
The second affirmation is that God-like uprightness involves free and joyous giving to God for the purpose of his mission. Both David and the people have given freely (nadav [same verb as used above]) and David adds the people have given “with joy/rejoicing” (simchah). When true joy or rejoicing (gladness) is present, this means that there is full desire on the part of the person to do what they do.

[24] The text uses an intensified form of the imperative for “keep,” that displays a strong request. David very much wants the LORD to keep this way of thinking (i.e. glad free giving for God’s glory and living for his mission) forever or always “in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of your people” (my translation).

[25] The verb used here (kuwn [lit. “prepare”]) is a Hiphil (i.e. causative, active) imperative, so it is in this context a request that God would direct or prepare in such a way the heart of the people so that they would be inclined toward Yahweh and thus would gladly and joyously give and live for his glory. The sense of this verb (i.e. to prepare) suggests that David understands that God must work in hearts such that preparatory work is done so that the heart will be moved toward and in favor of God. This is none other than praying for antecedents (previous movements and decisions) to take place so that the heart of the people is moved to glorify and please God. It is not only another example of how God’s grace is seen in the OT, but also prohibits us from holding to a view of human freedom that believes free decisions must originate in the person without decisive causation.

[26] David prays for God’s grace to give to Solomon a whole heart to follow God and to complete the temple (v. 19). Here we see that the focus throughout has been on God’s provision in the hearts and lives of the people so that this part of the mission of God that lies at the heart of his redemptive history could be completed.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Redemption: Accomplished And Applied

The title for this blog comes from a very helpful book written by the late Westminster Theological Seminary professor, John Murray. What the theologian did in those pages was to outline not only how God achieved redemption in Christ, but also how he continually brings about the presence and effects of that redemption to his elect.

The title is also a very accurate label for the second half of the Revelation 4-5 throne room vision (5:1-14). In these fourteen verses we are made aware of the second and third ways we are encouraged by God’s sweet sovereignty in this current age.

2 & 3. God Sovereignly Accomplished Salvation Through The Lamb (Jesus Christ), And He is Sovereignty Applying That Salvation Work To The World.

Both of these encouragements to the church are intertwined throughout this part of the vision John received. Let’s discover the ways this is so.

a. God The Father Is Envisioned On His Throne In The Heavenly Throne Room And As Sovereignly In Control Of The Accomplishment And Application Of Salvation And Judgment. 1
Here we read: “Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” This vision has roots in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 29:11 the vision of what is happening in Judah and the subsequent judgment God will bring upon them is “like the words of a book that is sealed.” Similarly, in Daniel 12:4, 9, Daniel’s visions of the end-times events in the far future are sealed up in a book. It also is not insignificant that in one of the most central OT passages that stands behind the visions of Revelation (Daniel 7) that God is envisioned sitting in judgment on his throne “and the books were opened.”

What we glean from these Old Testament passages is that what is in view here in the book or scroll is God’s plan for the achievement and outworking of both salvation and judgment in history. We have seen in chapter four that God is sovereign over all and that when he plans something it is as certain as if it had already happened. Yet, now we see this applied particularly to the salvation of the church and to judgment upon those who oppose God and treat the church unjustly, even persecuting them. This last point will be seen more clearly as we read in chapter six of the unsealing of the scroll. These truths are powerful for churches being persecuted. After all, God will preserve, protect, and save them in the ultimate sense. They also are powerful for churches on the brink of compromise. Such congregations will face the judgment of God unless they repent.

The fact that the scroll is sealed means its God-decreed events have not come to fruition yet.

b. The Only One Worthy To Unseal The Book And Bring About All That Is Ordained In It: The Hero. 2-5
In a very dramatic fashion that emphasizes there is only one who can accomplish and secure the outworking of what God has decreed for this age in relation to salvation and judgment, we first read: “And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” The way this is worded, with the question asked by a mighty angel, the silence in all heaven and earth, and then John’s passionate response, all are designed to lead the reader to see there is no hope for salvation and judgement in all the world, except as found in only one.  That one is revealed in verse five.

In 5:5 we read: “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” There is no need for John to be distraught and hopeless. The fourfold reason is found in the hero introduced here.

To begin, he is referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” This comes from Genesis 49:8-10, where Jacob was blessing his sons toward the end of his life and where we read in his blessing of Judah: “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. 9Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? 10

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Not only is Judah referred to here as a lion, but it is affirmed that he, somehow through his descendants, will have an everlasting and world-wide kingdom that includes the peoples or nations submitting to him. Especially in light of later Old Testament prophecies that speak of a descendant of David who will have an everlasting kingdom (Jer. 33:14-22; Ezek. 34:23), this has traditionally been seen as a prophecy about the coming Messiah (God’s anointed king who will bring his kingdom and saving blessings to his people). The one seen is this Messiah (the Christ).

Second, he is referred to as “the root of David.” This is taken from Isaiah 11, where the future Messiah, the one who will bring God’s worldwide kingdom and saving blessings, is referred to as “the root of Jesse” (11:10 [Jesse was David’s father]). This is a reiteration that the one seen is the Messiah, the Christ, who brings the kingdom of God. In other words, he is able to accomplish and work out, to apply what God has decreed about salvation and judgment.

Third, it is said of this one that he “has conquered.” In other words, there is a way in which he has been victorious, he has defeated something and/or someone. It is also likely that in context what is intended is not only that the accomplishment and application of salvation and redemption are tied to his conquering or overcoming, but that God’s people are able to conquer or overcome because this one has (see the same verb used in promises to overcoming saints: 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). In fact, Rev. 3:21 draws this direct connection between the conquering of Jesus and that of his followers: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Fourth and finally, we uncover the outcome, purpose, or the result of his having conquered: “so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” It is through this one John envisions, that what God has decreed and that which will enable the church to conquer will come to fruition.

Yet, the reader has been held in suspense. Who is this hero?  Verse six leaves no doubt as to the identity.

c. The Identity Of The Hero And What He Did Behind The Accomplishment And Outworking Of God’s Ordained Salvation And Judgment. 6
Here is what John saw, as recorded in verse six: “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.”

It is clear from elsewhere in Revelation that this is none other than Jesus Christ. We know this, to begin with, because in 1:5, 18 it has already been affirmed that he died a substitutionary atoning death and was raised from the dead to free his people, save them, and give them life, and later in Revelation this death is attributed to the Lamb (7:14; 12:11). Additionally, John recorded Jesus as affirming he had conquered and so his people can (3:21).  But more than this, it is said of the “Lamb” elsewhere in Revelation: That he is to be praised as is God on the throne, thus strongly implying he is God and so the second person of the one true and living God (Rev. 5:12-13); he exercises judging wrath, which is a role of God (6:16); he is viewed as being married to the bride, the people of God (19:7) which, in light of its Old Testament background (e.g. Is. 62:1-5) also means he is divine; the twelve apostles belonged to him, which clearly equates him with Jesus Christ (21:14); and he is the light of glory of the new Jerusalem, along with God the Father on the throne (21:22, 23, 27; 22:1); and finally, according to precise language, he is equal with the Father, but also a distinct person (22:3). All of this, beyond doubt, identifies him as Jesus Christ.

Beyond the Lamb’s identity, however, we see great significance in how he is described here in verse six. He is “standing, as though it had been slain:” Here, he is viewed as fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (sp. 53:4-6) as the slain lamb, the one to die in the place of God’s people. That he has been slain in the past and his death brings continual results (the sense of the wording) speaks of the substitutionary atoning death of Jesus on the cross. Yet, the fact he is standing implies he has been raised and is no longer dead (see Rev. 1:18). We see here the enemy he has conquered that saints might conquer—sin and death. Later in Revelation it will be made clear he has also conquered the ultimate enemy, Satan (12:7-12, esp. v. 11).

It is also said of him that he is standing “with seven horns.” Horns in Scripture are symbolic of power, just as they tend to emphasize the power of an animal or beast, as we see in Rev. 13:1, 11; 17:3 (cf. also Dan. 7:7ff.).  Here is the slain, risen, conquering, divine Lamb, Son of Man, and Lion of Judah, who has great power. He has wielded this power and continues to wield it in behalf of his people, to save them!  This is a glorious assurance for the church in the face of hostility.

He also is standing “with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” We have already seen “the seven spirits of God” referred to in 1:4 and in 4:5—a reference to the Holy Spirit who empowers the people of God for our mission. Here, however, what is emphasized in the “seven eyes” most likely is the awareness on the part of the Spirit (and so of the Father). However, the Spirit here is directly associated with the Lamb. The reason most likely is that through the work of Jesus Christ in behalf of the church, the Spirit is present in the church applying the person, power, presence, and work of Christ. Additionally, with this comes infallible awareness of what the church needs for protection, preservation, and to be propelled away from sin and idolatry to faithfulness before God (note in the seven messages to the churches in chapters 2-3 the emphasis on Jesus knowing where they are and what they need).

d. The Heroic Lamb Begins To Unfold The Divinely-Decreed Salvation And Judgment In God’s Book. 7-8
Here John records what he saw as follows: “And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

Elsewhere in Revelation (see chapter 12) the start of salvation and judgment is tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The following context here makes clear that is the point of victory, the point of accomplishment.

Something of interest is that the twenty-four elders have golden bowls full of incense that symbolize the prayers of the saints. The significance of this, as seen in Rev. 8:1-5 (as part of the seventh seal that gives way to the seven trumpets), is that God works to accomplish redemption and to carry out its entailments (salvation of his people and judgment on opposition) in response to the prayers of his followers. So, even though God has determined what he will accomplish, he has also decreed the means to the end, which includes prayer. This shows the significance of prayer!

e. In Response To The Heroic Lamb’s Actions, Two Hymns Of Praise Are Offered, Which Clarify Even Further What The Lamb Has Done To Accomplish And Apply Salvation. 9-14
Regarding the first hymn (9-10) we read: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”

Here we find out what Jesus Christ, the heroic Lamb, has done to accomplish and apply salvation.

Next, we read of a second hymn (11-14): “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ 14 And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Here we discover all the heavenly beings John sees around the throne worshiping the slain and risen Lamb. Because he is the Savior and the one who demonstrates all who ignore him deserve judgment, he is worthy of all that men can give to him (power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing). In other words, all that God has gifted us with, we should give to the Savior to magnify him and to be used in the continual application and outworking of redemption.

The idea is similar to what we see in Romans 12:1 (NLT): “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”

The implication for readers of Revelation 5 is that we too should give all we have in worship and service to Christ.

Joyfully Worshiping And Serving The Lamb With You,