The Sovereignty of God
September 29th, 1996
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
09-29-96 Sunday School
That’s about the best introduction I ever had in my life. The best one, though, really, was when the fellow who was to present me didn’t appear and I introduced myself. Well, it is an incomparable privilege to be here with you. I have been a preacher for 70 years and I have never been with a group that have been so reverently listening, as have you. It inspires my heart.
Now, I want to take just a moment and look at our previous lesson concerning the Babylonian captivity. There is no way that we could enter into the tragic sorrow of the kingdom of Judah when it was destroyed and taken into captivity. Their homes were destroyed. Their capital city of Jerusalem was destroyed. The walls of the city were destroyed. The Temple was destroyed. The sacred places were annihilated. The priests were slain. And the people were carried away into slavery.
You have one of the most poignant of all the prescriptive reactions to the destruction of that kingdom in the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm:
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing to us one of the songs of Zion.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I prefer not, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
One can hardly express the tragic sorrow of that kingdom as it went into captivity. But, in the last lesson, we pointed out three incomparable blessings that came out of that slaughter and that slavery. The first one was the people of Judah and the Jewish people were never again idolatrous.
One of the most amazing things to me in reading the Bible to me is the addiction and the openness of heart of God’s people to idolatry. Even when Moses was up there on the top of the mount receiving the Ten Commandments, his brother Aaron was down there, leading the nation into the worship of the golden calf.
You remember, of course, the name of that valley just to the right of Jerusalem; Mount Moriah. They renamed it Gehenna. Time and again, is that word Gehenna used in the New Testament to name hell. Gehenna is another name for hell. And the reason for that was down there right next to the temple was a large graven image of Moloch, and he held out his arms like that. And underneath they built a roaring fire. And they brought their children – this is the Jewish people – and they brought their children and the placed their little children in the arms of Moloch. And they were burned to death. It’s hard to realize that. That’s why that valley is called Gehenna, another name for hell.
The second great, marvelous blessing that came out of that tragic captivity was the birth of the synagogue, which is another name to us of the church. Heretofore of course, Israel had been – Judah had been worshiping the Lord in the temple, and all of the beautiful things that pertain to that temple. But, now it was destroyed and gone forever. There is no temple. So, the people assembled to worship and have the services in what they called the synagogue.
And in that synagogue you will never find a graven image, just as it is with us in our dear church. It would be unthinkable for us to have an idol in our sanctuary. So it was the second great blessing to come out of the captivity was the birth, the organization of the synagogue. And when you go into a synagogue, up there at the front, will be a scroll of God’s Holy Word, just as in our sanctuary up there at the front you will have the Word of God; the Bible.
The third great, tremendous blessing that came out of captivity was the creation of the canon – the birth of the holy Scriptures. That came to pass in that captivity. And when you read that marvelous eighth chapter in the Book of Nehemiah, you have the story of Ezra, who gathered all the people together. And the canon was made up of the holy Scriptures that were written in Hebrew. If a book like say First Maccabees that is as marvelous as any book in the Bible-the reason First Maccabees is not in the canon is because it is written in Greek. The book that was included; the books that were included in the canon had to be written in Hebrew.
Now, the people learned to speak Aramaic in the captivity. They no longer spoke Hebrew. So, in the eighth chapter of the Book of Nehemiah, you have the priest, Ezra speaking to the people and reading to them out of the holy Scriptures. But, they were written in Hebrew and the people now spoke Aramaic. So, Ezra the priest taught the people what the book says in Hebrew. And you don’t realize it. I don’t think anybody does. But, Jesus spoke Aramaic. And the people spoke Aramaic. And Hebrew was a dead and forgotten language.
And in one of the most marvelous prophecies that I could ever think for; Jeremiah says this speech; Hebrew will be spoken again under the grace and goodness of God. And do you realize that that came to pass only in 1948 when the kingdom of Israel was recreated in Palestine? That means that, for 2,600 years, that language was forgotten – never spoken. But Jeremiah said it will be spoken again. And that came to pass in our day.
Could I make just one other observation about the captivity? Not only were those three marvelous results born out of that servitude, but the little group that came back – the little group that followed Ezra, Nehemiah and all of those devoted servants of Christ – that little group was the group that gave birth to the remnant; to Joseph, to Mary and finally to Jesus.
Out of the sorrows of our lives inevitably come our greatest blessings. Isn’t that an unbelievable reconstruction of the human days. It is out of your tears and your hurts and your disappointments and the sorrows and death you experience that come our greatest blessings.
So, we come now to the lesson for today. We’re going to speak of the Lord God who rules the nations: the sovereignty of God. Someone has said that a great institution or business is but a shadow of the family that creates it. In the same way, it might be said that the Babylonian kingdom, that lasted from 625 BC to 605 BC was the shadow of a single gifted family.
The family presented in the Old Testament – that family made a more meteoric flash across the history of the human race. It was the family of Nabopolassar and his son, Nebuchadnezzar. Strangely enough, this family of four generations that we know left behind a more material evidence of their day than any other family in the Bible and I’d like to add than any other family in human history. And of the monarch, Nebuchadnezzar, more is said of him in the Bible than that of any other ruler.
As we speak of him, we, inevitably, speak of the sovereign God, who rules and presides over the nations of the world. So, we just look at that almightiness and His glorious relationships with us. In Genesis chapter 15, verse 13, God makes known to Abraham the 400-year captivity of Israel in Egypt. And you look at that. That revelation of God to Abraham about the 400 year captivity of his people to Egypt was spoken to Abraham a good 500 years before it came to pass. How old is the United States? I’d say about 200 years old. It’s hard to think of the marvel of God in relationship to us.
Now, if you have a Bible, you turn to Isaiah 39; Isaiah 39 and we are going to read verses 5 through 7 – Isaiah 39, verse 5 through 7:
Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts:
Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this present day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, saith the Lord.
And of thy sons that shall come from thee, which thou shall beget, they shall be taken away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.
Now, Babylon, at that time, was just a little town down there on the Euphrates River. This is a good hundred and some odd years before it came to pass. And may I point out to you one other little thing to you: the sons of the king are going to be eunuchs. And when we get to looking at Daniel; he was a eunuch. And the three Hebrew children with him were eunuchs in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar. Dear, dear, dear me! How God speaks of the things that are yet, yet and yet to come!
Now, one of the things that the New Testament repeats in Romans 11 verse 25, Paul writes that : "Blindness of Israel will continue until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in." Now, how long is that Scripture true? It has already been true for 2,000 years. This is the dispensation of the church which is made up of Gentiles and a few, few believing Jews. And we live in that prophecy. This is called "the fullness of the Gentiles" – this era in which God has cast our lives. And it has already lasted 2,000 years.
Now, God raises up men to execute His judgments. For example, in Jeremiah 25 verse 9, 23 verse 6 and chapter 43 verse 10, Nebuchadnezzar is called by the Lord "My servant." That is amazing to me. That’s the same word in Hebrew that is applied to David in Psalm 78:70 and 2 Samuel 7:8. That’s also the word – "My servant" – that God applies to Cyrus, the leader of that Persian conquest. Each ruler of the great empires was, in ways he did not realize, working out the purposes of God. And when God wills it, no man can countermand or interdict it.
I want you to look at this for a minute. In Jeremiah 27 verses 2 to11, it says that Jeremiah sent yokes to the nations all around Israel. And that was the prophet’s signification that that whole earth around there; all of the nations around it were going to be servants of Nebuchanezzar.
All right, let’s take one little incident that accrues with that. In Jeremiah chapter 28 verses16 and17, Hananiah, who proposes to elect himself and appoint himself as a prophet; Hananiah breaks the yoke off Jeremiah that Jeremiah is wearing to signify that Judah also is going into captivity. Not only did he send those yokes to all the nations around Judah that they were going into captivity to Babylon but Jeremiah wore a yoke around his neck, signifying that Judah also is going in the Babylonian captivity.
Well, Hananiah, you know a self-disposed and self-appointed prophet, took the yoke and broke it off of Jeremiah. "We’re not going into captivity." And [Jeremiah] looked at Hananiah and said: "We are certainly going into captivity. And one of the signs of it will be not only that yoke that you have broken off my neck but in a matter of weeks, you will die." It’s just amazing to me the workings of God through His chosen servants!
Now, I have another instance of that same kind of a thing when I turn to Isaiah chapter 20, verse 2. Isaiah walked naked and barefooted three solid years through Jerusalem as a sign that the nations were coming under the destructive power of Assyria and as a sign of the helplessness of the people around who were under that terrible prophecy of the almighty might of Assyria. Now, I can’t help but remark on what an unusual "come to pass" that was. Isaiah the great prophet walked naked and barefooted through the capital city of Jerusalem as a sign that the whole world around there was going into captivity to Assyria.
Well, I have one other instance of that kind of thing in Acts 21:11. Agabus, who is a prophet, binds the Apostle Paul with his girdle, signifying that he is going, as a bound prisoner, to Rome. Now, we’re going to look at the men that God used to execute His judgments however their personal characteristics. No matter what kind of a critter the king or the leader was, God used him. And his personal characteristics did not enter at all into the choice of God to use him.
Well, let’s take, first of all, Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan idolater. In Daniel 1:1 and 2 and Daniel 3 and 1, he is a servant of the Lord. And I look at what kind of a guy; what kind of a ruler he was. He was revengeful and imperious. For example, when the wise men, in chapter 2 of Daniel could not tell him what he had dreamed, they were to be slain; killed.
All right, turn over one chapter to the third chapter of the Book of Daniel and the three Hebrew children, who refused to bow are thrown into the fiery furnace. Now, that is Nebuchadnezzar, the man God chose to be His servant. Now, look again, in Daniel 4:30. Nebuchadnezzar was vain and proud. As he walked through the city, he said, "This is my great Babylon; mine!" But, the purposes of God – in Habakkuk 1:12, God says of Nebudchadnezzar and of Babylon, "They are ordained for judgment and established for correction."
It just amazes me as I read all this. No matter what the personal characteristics of the ruler, or the people of the nation, God used them. Now, look again: the ruthless, merciless rulers of Assyria, such as Sargon and Sennacherib. But, Isaiah, in chapter 10 and verse 3, calls them "the rod of Mine anger and the staff of Mine indignation." God used them for His purposes.
May I speak a word of the imponderables of war and the judgments of God? Let’s take one recently that you know about. Can you believe – can you – that the great and mighty nation of America – no nation ever in the earth ever even began to assume the glorious proportions of our country. Now can you believe this? There’s a little country – I’ve been over there – there’s a little country over there named Vietnam – a little bitty country – and who won that war? Who did? America came back in embarrassment – scorned , belittled. Well, where could such a thing come from? You look at America. Look at it and just maybe I don’t care what you name it is worse than any nation that ever existed: murder, crime, immorality – everything that is bad. And it’s getting worse.
What the future of America is is known but to God. He’s the God of judgment. That’s why when I’m out there at that College of ours – this coming Tuesday, I’ll be preaching at their chapel hour – I tell those young fellows honestly, truthfully and as forcefully as I can, "You will never come to any day in this earth like the day to which God has called you to be a preacher."
It is unthinkable and unbelievable – a day ago, a day ago – there was a – oh a day ago – there was a TV minister who had a group together to talk to them about the eclipse of the moon.
And one of them said, "Oh, my. This is an interesting thing."
Another one said, "Gracious, gracious. The whole world can look at this, can’t they?"
And they had comments and comments. And he went to a little fellow, and said, "What do you think about that?"
And he said, "When I look at it, I see the glory of God."
And immediately, the TV minister took the microphone away and wouldn’t let him make one other, one other comment because he was speaking of the glory of God. Well, you don’t speak of the glory of God in America. What you speak is all of this stuff you see on television and at the movie theaters and these unthinkable books that are published. Don’t you persuade yourself otherwise! There is a God of judgment who is looking down upon America.
Do you remember that Rudyard Kipling? He went to the great celebration, world celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of Queen Victoria. There has never been a pageantry comparable to that in the history of the world. Oh, dear, the whole world was there with the armies and navies and everything possible to exalt Queen Victoria. And Rudyard Kipling was there. And do you remember the poem that he wrote: "God of our Fathers, Known of Old?"
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine ~
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!
Far-called our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Lord God of hosts be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!
[Rudyard Kipling, "Recessional"]
And England that was the most powerful leader of the greatest empire the world has ever known, England has the strength of a puppy. It is so divided: Scotland one way, Wales another way, England another way, the southern part of Ireland one way, the northern part of Ireland another way. England couldn’t mount a force of any stature or power anywhere in the earth.
Well, what about America? That’s why we need a great turning to God. We need a mighty revival. We need to supplicate and to ask fort he remembrance of the Lord in our national life. So, I come to this avowal: God presided over the invincible conquest of Nebuchadnezzar. God did that. It was foretold by Jeremiah in chapter 23, in chapter 17 and chapter 27. It was foretold by Ezekiel in chapter 12.
Do you remember, in history, the old Babylon: the eighteenth century BC when the famous king and lawyer, Hammurabi, was the leader of the nation? Do you remember that? Well, this new Babylon [one thousand] years later. And it rose to like world power under another Semitic king, named Nebuchadnezzar; Hammurabi back there, a thousand years before; and Nebuchadnezzar, a thousand years later. And between the two – the "old" and the "neo" Babylon – the Assyrian Empire, with the world-famous capital of Nineveh on the Tigris River, ruled the world.
Their last great king was named Ashurbanipal. He died in 625 BC. He had appointed Nabopolassar the viceroy to rule over Babylon. And the heir to the Assyrian throne when Ashurbanipal died, his son was weak and incapable. And Nabopolassar, with his gifted son, Nebuchadnezzar, rebelled against Assyria and went to war against Nineveh.
Now, you remember that was when Pharoah Neco the pharaoh of Egypt came up to help Assyria against Babylon. But, God had said, "Babylon is going to rule the world." But, Pharoah Neco took his army to help against Babylon.
And what did good King Josiah do? Now, you remember God said Babylon is going to rule this world. I can’t believe this. When Pharoah Neco took his army up there to help Assyria against Babylon, Josiah took his little army and placed it at the pass in Megiddo, to destroy the effort of Neco to help Assyria against Babylon. And you already know what happened. Not only was that little army of Judah destroyed, but Josiah, the last great, marvelous, good king of Judah, was slain.
I tell you, when God says something, no matter who we are, even including good king Josiah; when God says something; when God reveals His purpose and will, it’s best for us to acquiesce. This is God’s Word, God’s purpose and God’s will. So the armies of Assyria and Egypt met in battle at Carchemish, one of the great ancient cities of the world. They met there; the army of Neco and the army of Assyria against Babylon. And the Assyrian and the Egyptian armies were defeated. And that battle turned the history of the world. Babylon became triumphant.
And I have got to conclude. So may I point out in that vast victory of Babylon over Assyria and [Egypt] at Carchemish, five things resulted out of that one battle?
Number one: Assyria passed away forever. One of the beatenest things I ever have read in history is this: Alexander the Great – on his way to the east, Alexander the Great, the mighty military leader – never defeated – Alexander the Great passed his army over Nineveh and had no idea what a great city was under his feet. How conclusive are some of God’s judgments? And that’s one of them.
All right, another thing: the back of Egypt was broken forever. They never rose again. Egypt never rose again as a world power. And to this day, it is one of those little nations down there in the north of Africa.
Number three: the magnificent city of Carchemish, with its long and brilliant history, was utterly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. And now, even now, it is buried under desert sand to this very day.
All right, number four: one of the results of the triumph of Babylon at Carchemish – Judah became a vassal of Babylon and this according to that prophecy that we read in Isaiah 39. Judah has never been able to rise again.
Now, number five: while Nebuchanezzar was pursuing the army of Pharoah Neco and the army of Josiah in their panic-stricken flight from Carchemish, back through Palestine and Judah, toward Egypt; word was brought to Nebuchadnezzar that his father, Nabopolassar had died. And this is in 605 BC. So, Nebuchadnezzar turned around and returned to Babylon, to be crowned king of the Babylonian Empire.
But, he returns not alone. He carried back with him, in 605 BC a few of the chosen members of the royal family of Judah to aid, and to add to the brilliance of his imperial court. And of those chosen were Daniel, that he named Belteshazzar; Hananiah, that he named Shadrach; Mishael, whom he named Meshach; and Azariah, that he named Abednego.
And that’s where we’re going to start next lesson: how those four young men out of Judah, who were taken captive; how they fared in the heathen, pagan capital of Babylon.