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What We Know So FarWe have now completed our survey of the first two books (chronologically) that were written for the Bible. Together, they show us the first attributes of God. As such, they constitute His “first impression” and are what God wanted us to know about Him before He wanted us to know anything else.
What I find most striking is that in the large majority of Christian churches in America today, most of what we learn about God in these two books is rarely, if ever, taught. There are obvious exceptions (mainly in Reformed churches and the like), but it is quite clear that the first aspect that God wanted to convey of Himself to us highly emphasizes His sovereignty. I daresay that while the majority of Christians do acknowledge God is sovereign, it is so rarely taught that hardly any American Christian knows what “sovereignty” really means. As such, it has been my experience that the majority of Christians who say “God is sovereign” are unable to state in what way God is sovereign, and indeed they will also hold to other views that contradict the concept that God is sovereign.
It would not do us harm to review quickly the multitude of ways that Job and Genesis teach us that God is sovereign. In Job, we are told that God created the Earth, and in doing so established the exact size of the earth (Job 38:4), He “prescribed limits” and set exactly where the ocean could be (Job 38:10-11), and He designed the animals with particular traits (see the end of chapter 38, all of 39, most of chapter 40, and all of 41).
That idea is reinforced by Genesis 1-2, where we see that God created everything with the power of His own thoughts, spoken as commands. God ordered creation to exist, and it was so. And not only was it so, it was exactly as He intended it to be, because He declared that it was good. This is the might and power of God. But this also is the only part of God’s sovereignty with which most believers today have been acquainted, and God’s sovereignty does not end there.
Just as God is sovereign to declare the creation must exist, so too God gives commands to man. These are commands that man must obey, or else suffer the consequences for disobedience. The first such command was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—a command that was arbitrary on God’s part. He did not have to make this rule, but He did so for His own reasons, yet because He did so Adam was morally obligated to obey that command. When Adam disobeyed it, Adam sinned.
Think about what this means in terms of sovereignty. Not only is God’s command creating the universe itself, it creates morality. This is His sovereignty: if God says something is immoral, it is immoral. Period. There is no question. There is no debate. If God says, “You must do this” then you are morally obliged to do so.
The fact that this is so can be seen in the fact that Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac because of God’s command, something that would have been completely immoral and repugnant had God not demanded it. And, of course, we know that God never intended for Abraham to follow through with it; but how many of us today would accept the truth that God is sovereign over what is morally good, such that if He commands something we are morally obligated to do it even though it would have otherwise been evil? Most of us would hesitate at that. Yet think of the implications of our hesitation.
Do we really believe God? Do we trust who He is? Abraham believed God’s promises and it was counted as righteousness. Do we believe God with the faith that Abraham displayed? Do we trust Him enough that we would allow Him to challenge what we think is morally right? Or would we demand He submit to our own moral intuitions? (And if so, remember that our own moral intuitions are described as being evil from our youth, so is that really the standard by which God should be judged?)
But God’s sovereignty doesn’t end there either. God could have instantly struck Adam and Eve dead for their sin, but instead He was merciful. Yet even in His mercy, He is sovereign over how it is applied. Both Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to God, yet God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s. God is sovereign over the manner in which He will accept worship and repentance.
Beyond that, God specifically chose one person—Abraham—to give a covenant to. God could have made that covenant with literally anyone on Earth, because the covenant did not depend on Abraham, but on God alone. Yet He specifically chose Abraham (even using the word “chosen” in Genesis 18:19 to describe the process). And furthermore, not only was it limited to Abraham, but specifically Isaac, as Ishmael was explicitly excluded from the covenant.
Even here, God’s sovereignty does not end. When He decided to destroy the earth with a flood, He did so. He brought forth rain for forty days and nights, and He opened up the fountains of the deep. He was able to act immediately when He desired. And not only that, but later in the story of Joseph we saw how God determined to bring a famine to Egypt. He did not cease acting within nature. He did whatever He desired when He desired.
Furthermore, we see that He was able to intervene in the normal birth process. First, when Laban tried to cheat Jacob out of flocks, God altered the normal way recessive and dominant genes worked, so that Jacob ended up getting the best flocks possible. But His sovereignty over births didn’t end there, for we also see how God made Abraham and Sarah fertile despite the fact that they were one hundred years old and ninety years old, respectively. Furthermore, He closed Rachel’s womb when Leah was hated by Jacob, and later, when God desired to do so, He opened Rachel’s womb so she would give birth to Joseph and Benjamin.
And beyond all that, God was even sovereign over the motivations and thoughts of people. We see that explicitly when God tells Abimelech that it was God who kept the man from sinning (Genesis 20:6) and also in the fact that God sent dreams to Joseph, Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer, and also to Pharaoh. God’s sovereignty over mental states is also implicit in the story of Abraham’s servant and Rebekah, since the servant prayed for a sign that was exactly what Rebekah ended up doing (an impossible coincidence).
So we see God is completely sovereign over nature, over birth, over dreams, over morality, over how we can approach Him, over who He will make covenants with, and even over whether or not someone can sin.
Ironically, the thing that may be most surprising about what we have learned in Job and Genesis may be what was not in those books. Given Christianity’s heavy emphasis on the various New Testament passages showing how much God loves us, it might be shocking that the only reference to God’s love in the first two books that He gave us is when Genesis says that God showed love to Joseph in prison. Since the love of God is such a huge part of Christianity, it ought to make us wonder why God did not choose to start off with that aspect of His being.
This helps to establish my thesis: It is far easier for us to begin with the sovereignty of God and later add in His love, than it is for us to start with God’s love and try to add in His sovereignty, and still maintain correct theology. I believe that is why God emphasized His sovereignty first, and that unless we have that solidly grounded in the Word, we will never really understand how it was truly loving of God to have Job go through the torments he did, or how it really was loving of God to bring a famine on Egypt when He did, and so forth. Proof of the difficulty of approaching this in the reverse manner is exemplified, in my view, by the fact that God’s sovereignty is just not taught in America’s churches, which are primarily focused solely on God’s love (or at least what we think His love is). Were it not so difficult when we have the sequence backwards, I think Genesis would be preached in your church just as often as, say, the Gospel of John is.
Therefore, I maintain that we ought to start our study of God’s attributes in the way that He revealed Himself, beginning with His sovereignty, and only later adding in His divine attribute of love.
In any case, let us now continue on to the book of Exodus.