These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. They will be in outline form, so if you have any questions or need more details, please feel free to leave a comment below.
Click here for last week’s lesson.
What does “Ishmael” (Genesis 16:11) mean? El Roi (16:13)? Ishmael means “God hears.” El Roi means “the God who sees me.” Today, we’re looking at God’s sovereignty as displayed in the passages we read this week.
What do we mean when we say God is “sovereign”? Omnipotent? Omniscient? “Sovereignty” the way we use the word in the church today, means that God has authority and control over all things, people, and circumstances. He is omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing). Nothing in the universe happens without His knowledge, causation, or permission. We’ll see how God defines His sovereignty towards the end of today’s lesson. Because God is sovereign, we can TRUST Him.
Elihu (Job 32-34, Focal Passage- 33:29-30): God’s knowledge is perfect and complete. Ours is not. Elihu (as well as Job’s other three friends) thought he had God’s reasons for Job’s suffering all figured out: God brings suffering in order to lead men to repentance. Since Job was still suffering, he must still be in unrepentant sin. Elihu (and the others) were partly right. Sometimes, that is why God allows us to suffer. But not in Job’s situation. Each of them had a small piece of the puzzle, but none of them had the whole picture. Job wisely trusted God, who was the only one in this situation who knew the whole story, instead of his friends’ counsel.
42:7-9– Because our knowledge is incomplete, we must be extremely careful what we say about, or on behalf of, God. (Acts 20:26-27; Revelation 22:18-19, 2 Timothy 2:15) We are not to go farther than Scripture, nor stop short of declaring the full counsel of God. We are not to add to nor take away from God’s word. We are to handle God’s word rightly. We are to believe what God’s word says in context. Otherwise, we risk slandering the character of God.
Abram (Genesis 12-21): God isn’t just sovereign over the “big” things. He’s sovereign over the “small” things, too. He can be trusted in all things.
Abram trusted God’s sovereignty in the “big” things (Genesis 12:1-4; 15:1ff; 17:1-14)… Abram trusted God in a lot of “big” things. When God came to him and told him to leave his comfortable home and surroundings for a life of being a nomad, and didn’t even tell him where he was going, Abram went without question. When God told Abram He would give him innumerable descendants even though Sarai was barren, and that He would give Canaan to those descendants hundreds of years later, “he believed the Lord, and [God] counted it to him as righteousness.” (15:6) When God introduced the idea of circumcision to this 99 year old man, Abram didn’t try to talk God out of it or suggest a different way, he trusted God and obeyed.
…but sometimes he had trouble trusting God’s sovereignty in the “small” things (Genesis 12:11-13, 20:1-3; 16:1-2, 17:15-21; So did Lot’s daughters- 19:1ff; Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6) Abram trusted God when He rearranged and relocated his entire life. He trusted God to give him a myriad of descendants when he didn’t even have one child. He trusted that God would give thousands of square miles of land to his greatgreatgreatgreatgreat… grandchildren, yet when it came to protecting him and his wife, Abram gave in to fear and lied not once, but twice, about Sarai being his wife. Then, instead of trusting the God who had made all these great promises to him to cause Sarai to conceive on His timetable, he and Sarai took matters into their own hands with Hagar and violated God’s plan for marriage. Abram “listened to the voice of Sarai,” not the voice of God. (Just because bearing children “through” a handmaid was culturally acceptable at the time and Scripture doesn’t record God’s verbal disapproval of it doesn’t mean it was OK with Him.)
We see the same thing later with Lot’s daughters. Instead of trusting the God who sovereignly protected them from gang rape and the destruction of Sodom to give them husbands and children (or that it was OK with God for them to remain single and childless), they took matters into their own hands in a vile way. It is never God’s will for us to violate God’s word in order to bring about what we think are His purposes.
Hagar (Genesis 16:1ff, 21:8-21): God is sovereign over all circumstances, even the bad ones. His sovereignty brings comfort and shows He is trustworthy. Hagar was a slave. No one asked her if she wanted to sleep with Abram or bear his child. She had no choice. She was a victim of Sarai’s and Abram’s disobedience. But see how tender God is with her in these two passages! God comforts her personally and shows her she can trust Him by telling her a little about how He is going to use her circumstances in the future, and by His provision of the well. She can trust Him because He is sovereign over her situation. He has heard her cry (Ishmael) and is the God who sees her (El Roi).
Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 13:13, 18:22-19:29; Ezekiel 18:23; 2 Peter 3:9): God is gracious and patient, yet sovereign over sin, and sovereign in judgment. We learn as far back as chapter 13 that “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord,” yet it isn’t until chapter 18 that we learn of God’s imminent plan to destroy the cities. We can’t be sure of the precise timing, but we do learn in chapter 12 (right before chapter 13 when God states that the men of Sodom were wicked) that Abram is 75 years old, and we find in chapter 17 (right before chapter 18 when Abram intercedes for Sodom) that Abraham is 99 years old. If the events are in chronological order, it appears (not knowing how long they had been “wicked” before chapter 13) that God mercifully spared his judgment against Sodom for at least 24 years. We see in other places, such as with Egypt (Exodus 12:40-41) and in our own day (since Christ’s ascension) that God waited hundreds or thousands of years before bringing judgment.
God is kind, gracious, and patient, because of His sovereignty over sin and judgment. He knows the kind of judgment that’s required and what it will be like. Over and over He provides ways for people and nations to repent, escape the penalty for their sin, and turn to Him. But when the time of His patience is fulfilled, He faithfully and righteously executes judgment.
God says, “ Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” and “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” He has provided a way for us to escape judgment- placing our faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to pay the penalty for our sin.
What does God have to say about His sovereignty? (Job 38-42; Focal Passages: 40:1-2,7-14; 42:1-6)
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Or who shut in the sea with doors?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?
Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
Do you give the horse his might?
Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”
“Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
“Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
and tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
Then will I also acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can save you.
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”