Just as God’s sovereign purpose is accomplished in our lives as believers for our good and future glory together with His Son Jesus Christ in Heaven, so also God’s sovereign purpose is accomplished in the lives of those who do not know Him. In 2 Kings 19, we read that Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had conquered many nations, and he was at this point in time coming to make war against Jerusalem. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah about him saying:
“Have you not heard? Long ago I did it;
From ancient times I planned it. Now I have brought it to pass,
That you should turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps.” (2 Kings 19:25, Isaiah 37:26)
God ordained that Sennacherib would conquer nations, but then the time came when God also brought about his downfall. In response to Sennacherib’s threat to invade and conquer Israel just as he had done to other nations, Hezekiah, king of Judah, prayed to the Lord for deliverance
and received his answer through the prophet Isaiah: the Assyrians would not enter Jerusalem.
As they were encamped and preparing to attack Israel, an angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. Sennacherib withdrew, and sometime later as he was worshipping in the temple of one of his gods, he was killed by two of his
own sons (2 Kings 19:35-37). God ordained that he would conquer nations, and God ordained his downfall.
In Exodus 4-14, there are several references to God having hardened Pharaoh’s heart against Himself and the demands of Moses to let His people go. The Scriptures tell us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order that He might display His power in delivering His people from Pharaoh’s hand (Romans 9:17). Another similar example of God hardening the heart of a ruler against Himself and His purpose is recorded in Deuteronomy 2.
As the people of Israel were moving toward the Jordan River to cross over into the land that the Lord was giving to them, they had to first pass through the land of Heshbon. Moses sent messengers to the king of Heshbon, asking that they be allowed to pass through and to buy food.
But the Lord hardened the heart of the king of Heshbon against the request of Moses, so that He might deliver the king, his army, and the land of Heshbon into the hands of the Israelites through victory in battle, as we read in Deuteronomy: “But Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land; for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today.” (Deuteronomy 2:30). So yet again we see from the Scriptures that God hardened the spirit of a pagan king against Himself and His people Israel, so that He might demonstrate His power in delivering His people.
Our sovereign God controls the thoughts and the actions of the rulers of the earth. God raises them up and gives them power, and He determines the course of action they take while they are in power. In Proverbs 21 we read: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1).
It is clear from the instruction given to us in the Scriptures that our sovereign God controls the thoughts and the actions of the rulers of the earth, and that it is He who has raised them up and put them into power. At this point, considering the atrocities and sufferings that are brought about in the lives of thousands or even millions when these rulers embark upon a course of war or other policies that cause harm in the lives of many, we may question why God would allow such things to happen, when He surely could have prevented them.
As we seek answers from the Scriptures, we recall that Isaiah 55:8-9 teaches that God’s ways and thoughts are above the ways and thoughts of men. Paul also taught in Romans 11:33 that God’s judgments are unsearchable, and that His ways are beyond man’s ability to understand. In Ecclesiastes we also receive this insight: “and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, ‘I know,’ he cannot discover.” (Ecclesiastes 8:17). With these teachings in mind, we know that man will never be able to understand all that God does.
The Scriptures do, however, provide some insights into the ways of God. For example, it is clear throughout the Bible that God punishes sin. It is also clear that God limits the actions taken by all men, and He also limits the actions taken by Satan (Job 1:6-2:8). However, there are times when God allows suffering to affect the lives of His people through evil that is perpetrated by others, or through evil that is perpetrated directly by Satan himself.
When we as believers are caught up in events brought about by the evil doing of others, and we suffer unjustly, we are enduring a share in the sufferings of Christ, who also suffered unjustly as a result of the wrongdoing of others. His sufferings happened according to the predetermined plan, purpose and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23), as do ours.
When we consider our own sufferings, let us recall once again Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10:29-31, where He revealed that God is intimately familiar with every detail of His creation, even down to the number of hairs on our head. Nothing, not even an event as small as the death of a sparrow, happens in God’s creation apart from His knowledge and His sovereign will.
For everyone who has been called to faith in Christ, God has ordained that the unjust sufferings which He has allowed to affect our lives will be for us a share in Christ’s sufferings, whether these sufferings are brought about directly by Satan himself or through the actions of men. These sufferings have been allowed to touch our lives by our sovereign God, because as He has also ordained, it will be through our sharing in the sufferings of His Son that we will realize a share in His eternal glory (Romans 8:17-18, Philippians 1:29, others). Unbelievers may also suffer as a result of the evil
doing of others, but unlike the believer, they have been granted no share in Christ’s sufferings and no share in His eternal glory.