A SOVEREIGN GOD AND A CLAY KING
Ward Fenley

Romans 9:21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

I received a question from a dear brother concerning the sovereignty of God and affliction and judgment. In my quest to respond I sort of veered off into what I believe is the area necessary to answer the question. So if you find the article somewhat straying from the question, you will understand why.


Ward, Thanks for pointing me to your articles on Pharaoh and Supralapsarianism. They were both very thought provoking with some things hard to swallow; but I can't argue with Scripture. I guess I'm just waiting for them to sink in. Let me ask you something!! Do you think that all of this stuff that is happening in the schools here in America (Columbine, shootings, etc.)is being directed by God's hand?? Do you think it could be some kind of judgement due to the direction we've taken in teaching our kids in the public school system?

Thanks for your time.

In Him, VS


Thanks for the question:

This passage came to mind:

Job 37:11-13 He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. {12} They turn round and round by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. {13} Whether for correction, or for his land, or for love, he causes it to happen.

I do believe that God still judges today, inasmuch as He still gives life and blessings today. Granted, I don't necessarily think it is for us to be absolutely clear as to what or why a particular judgment is. For example, it is a common thought that AIDS is a judgment against homosexuals (which it may very well be), however, God sends pestilence and affliction sometimes just out of pure providence and not necessarily a response to the sin of people. Remember the blind man in John 9? The Pharisees asked, "Who sinned? This man or his parents that he should be born blind?" Jesus said, "Neither, but that God would be glorified." Obviously this is a radically different scenario. And I would go so far as to say that in general we can say that things so obviously a result of spiritual decline and neglectful parenting could very well be said to be the judgment of God. And that yes, God certainly has His hand in it. This is one of the reasons I wrote the article on Pharaoh. Sure, it was God who first hardened Pharaoh's heart. In fact, God said "Go tell him to let my people go....but I will harden his heart so that he won't....*so that* the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I bring these pestilences upon them." That was a paraphrase. But the point is that God is actively involved in the affairs of men. There are two theologies that stand diametrically opposed to each other. They are Deism and Determinism. Logically (and biblically) there is no in between ground. God certainly controls all things for His purposes. Deism says God just wound up the world and let it run like a top. Arminianism or what I refer to as "modified Deism" is simply the idea that God controls *most* things. But see, here is the question: If I ask an evangelical, "Does God control everything?" He will answer with a resounding yes. But then when you ask Him if God is directly involved with everything, he will say no. God says Proverbs 16:4 "The Lord has created all things for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of evil"; Isaiah 45:7 "I am the Lord, I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do *all* these things"; "Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created"; Deuteronomy 32:39 See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand." Consider the devious works of Clinton:

Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

Now, this is not to say that we approve of Clinton's actions. But it is to say that there is far more comfort in the heart of a Christian who understands that God really is in control and that this country is not actually at the hands of someone like Clinton. Remember this verse:

Psalms 75:6-7 For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. {7} But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

Yet sadly so many people do not consider these things:

Isaiah 5:11-12 Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! {12} And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands.

Job 12:6-10 The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly. {7} But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: {8} Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. {9} Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this? {10} In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.

God even tells us to appeal to the beasts. Even they know these things. Consider verse 6 immediately followed by verse 9:

Job 12:6,9,10 The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly. {9} Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this? {10} In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.

God is certainly dictating the affairs of this universe and of course the spiritual realm.

One of the reasons His sovereignty is so repulsive is that it takes away that last sense of control that we think we have, namely our will. I mean, after all I at least have one thing that I control exclusively. But God says no, I don't. You see, this is a doctrine that actually humbles man--or at least should humble him. But I find that this doctrine is the doctrine at which most theologians shake their fist. Why? Because it tears at that which we deem most precious, and that is our own power, or will. But God says:

Leviticus 26:19 And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:

In fact there is a fairly amusing yet strikingly clear passage dealing with a man who really thought that the victory over Israel was his doing. Read these words carefully:

Isaiah 10:5 O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.

The Assyrians came against Israel. But God calls them His rod and his anger. They performed what He wanted. David intimated the same thing about wicked rulers:

Psalms 17:13-14 Arise, O LORD, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is **thy sword:**{14} From men ***which are thy hand, O LORD,*** from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes.

The Isaiah example continues:

Isaiah 10:6-7 Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. {7} But this is not what he intends, nor does he have this in mind; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few.

Isaiah 10:12-16 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. {13} For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man: {14} And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped. {15} Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood. {16} Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.

This rebellious and prideful king stated that he was the one who made sure no one even peeped or even moved unless he had his say in it. Yet God says, "Shall you, O King of Assyria, you Ax, boast yourself against Me, the One who is using you to chop down my people? Shall you, Oh King of Assyria, you Saw, magnify yourself against Me, the One who is shaking you? Shall you, Oh King of Assyria, you Rod, shake yourself against Me, the One who who is lifting you up. Shall you, Oh King of Assyria, you piece of Wood, lift yourself up against Me?"

Notice, God's anger was because the king of Assyria said, "By the strength of *my* hand I have done it, and by *my* wisdom, for *I* am prudent." God hates this mentality that ignores His sovereignty. Yet so many in professing christendom simply disregard the hand of God.

God brings up another example in Isaiah:

Isaiah 37:23-29 Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel. {24} By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, "By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the height of his border, and the forest of his Carmel. {25} I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places. " {26} Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps. {27} Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded: they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up. {28} But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me. {29} Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.

Here the king of Assyria (Sennacherib) says the same thing essentially: "By the multitude of **my** chariots **I** come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and **I** will cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and **I** will enter into the height of his border, and the forest of his Carmel. {25} **I** have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of **my** feet have **I** dried up all the rivers of the besieged places.

I place asterisks around the Iís and the Meís to emphasize the problem mankind has. We are very much a human-centered race. We are particularly enamoured with ourselves and our power and our accomplishments. Yet James says:

James 4:13-17 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: {14} Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. {15} For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. {16} But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. {17} Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

He says that boasting like that is evil. Declaring that we will do something apart from the Lordís will is boasting and evil. In fact, it appears from the context that "knowing to do good" is in reference to the acknowledgment of the Lordís will. And when we know to do good (i.e. acknowledge the Lordís will in what we do or plan to do) yet we do not do it, then it is sin. Hence, the king of Assyria was sinning in that he would not acknowledge the hand of the Lord in his work. Instead, the king acknowledged himself and his chariots and his power and accomplishments. So God responds accordingly:

"Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps."

God said something similar when He planned to send Cyrus from the Medo-Persian empire to help Israel:

Isaiah 46:8-11 Remember this, and show yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. {9} Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, {10} Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, **My** counsel shall stand, and **I** will do all **my** pleasure: {11} Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth **my** counsel from a far country: yea, **I** have spoken it, **I** will also bring it to pass; **I** have purposed it, **I** will also do it.

God is in essence telling us to make no mistake about it. He has a plan and will accomplish it. Notice the Myís and the Iís. And lest we think that somehow the king of Assyria could reverse things:

Isaiah 14:24-27 The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as **I** have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as **I** have purposed, so shall it stand: {25} That I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders. {26} This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. {27} For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?

These obviously rhetorical questions are directed at the king. "Oh king, will you annul my purpose? Will you turn back my outstretched hand?" In other words, "Do you really think that you could do these things?" God gives a similar message through the Psalmist:

Psalms 33:8-11 Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. {9} For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. {10} The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. {11} The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.

The problem with the king of Assyria was that he blatantly denied the sovereignty of God. The kingís constant affirmation of his own power and progress earned this response from God:

"Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest."

Who is really in control? Whose will is done on earth as it is in heaven? What is interesting is that God first declared that it was His own power that brought the king to come against the people of Israel; but then God says, "I am going to put a hook in your nose and bring you back by the way which you came." Again, as Proverbs says:

Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

This world is the river and flows where God turns it. This universe is the horse and God controls the bit.

It is understandable that at this profound doctrine we are in awe and sometimes confounded, which is precisely why God spoke:

Proverbs 20:24 All our steps are ordered by the LORD; how then can we understand our own ways?

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O LORD, that the way of human beings is not in their control, that mortals as they walk cannot direct their steps.

I do not profess to understand this doctrine in its completeness. Quite honestly I am not sure that I want to. Yet this I can say: it is a doctrine that continues to humble me. It is not that I struggle with the truth of the doctrine. Philosophically and biblically it is all there. But experientially I struggle with it. But honestly I would struggle experientially far more if I had Arminian or Deistic convictions.

You mentioned that these truths are hard to swallow. It is true that getting them down the throat is very difficult. But I do believe that in the long run when all the nutrients are assimilated into the body the results are very healthy. It is not so much about finding a balance between an imagined freewill and the sovereignty of God. Rather the task is finding a balance between the sovereignty of God and our own personal assessment of that sovereignty. Let me put it this way: Our assessment of the sovereignty of God does not change His sovereignty, regardless of how deviant our assessment may be. However, once our assessment of His sovereignty is biblical, then what remains to be seen is the fruit of appreciating and healthily applying that biblical assessment.

Thanks for your encouragement.


The following is an addendum regarding the problem in the public school systems
About 9 years ago I encouraged a couple to continue in sending their children to public schools. My reasoning as a Christian: "They will be a better influence to the kids in the school system." Sadly this type of reasoning, though well-intentioned as it was, falls radically short of reality and biblical truth. God is very clear that parents are to raise up their children in the Lord:

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

God knows that a child needs training in order to withstand the barrage of humanism, earth-centered and evolutionary philosophies. Therefore homeschooling is by far the most biblical and healthy alternative for children. The common objection is that the child will not be socially adept once they are ready to send into the world.

I beg to differ. After contemplating the thinking behind this misconception I realized the simplicity of the answer. First, is it our goal as parents to have our children equipped to socially interact with publicly schooled children, the vast majority of which are humanistic, earthly, rebellious to authority, and contrary to God? And this for a mere four years? Or is it our goal to train them in righteousness and to train them to be able to communicate and relate with those people such as employers, spouses, workmates--the very people around whom they will be for the rest of their life? Honestly, is there really any fruit in the lives of children that are public schooled as far as family and jobs are concerned? Hardly? Which of the public school parents could show me a good percentage of publicly schooled children that are ready for marriage upon graduation from high school? Also, it has been proven that homeschooled children are brighter on the average than publicly schooled children.

The reason our public schools are the way they are is because of humanism, catering to a rebellious and disobedient culture of children who, quite frankly, were not spanked. Their parents are the offspring of Dr. Spock. Therefore, because so many of these children are products of that upbringing (e.g. Proverbs 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.; Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.), our schools are catering to a deviant and selfish body of students. They have no punishment for disobedience, much like our prison system. Punishment merely consists of time-outs, a room with a television, a visit to the office, or a mere suspension. Instead of providing the rod for the back of him that is void of understanding, the schools and the laws are designed to promote violence and give no deterrant to rebelliousness:

Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

That is an obvious truth. Children have foolishness trapped in their hearts. However, there is a wonderful promise: The rod drives that foolishness far away. Yet very few want to test the validity of that promise.

Somehow parents think that their kids will be immune to the selfish, immoral behavior of children in the public schools. But Paul is clear:

1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals."

It is a fact: You hang around bad people--those bad people will ruin your good morals:

Proverbs 13:20 He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

No wonder our children are being destroyed by guns, drugs, violence, disease. They are the companions of fools:

Proverbs 28:7 Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father.

No wonder our children are violent and shaming their fathers.

Proverbs 28:24 Whoso robbeth his father or his mother, and saith, It is no transgression; the same is the companion of a destroyer.

Why do children steal from their parents? They are wicked and are simply practicing that which they learn of their companions. When we publicly school our children, we are shipping them off to mass day care centers in which are contained the rebels and ungodly of the future. Why do we wonder when our children come home and are disrespectful to their parents?

So, in answer to the question about incidents like Columbine etc., yes, I personally believe it is the testimony of God's sovereignty imposing the due penalty for the sins of the parents and the sins of the children. Yes, God is in control. And much like what happened to disobedient Israel, the same is happening today in our schools, and will ultimately happen to our country:

Psalms 105:25 He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtly with his servants.

Obviously the hearts of Harris and Kleibold were turned to hate their fellow classmates. No, they are not excused from their sin, and certainly it appears they have been judged for it. And may God continue to judge those who exercise hatred and violence. However, I do believe it may very well be a sign to parents: "Raise your own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And observe these words:

Psalms 1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. {2} But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. {3} And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. {4} The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. {5} Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. {6} For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish."

It is happening: the way of the godly is perishing. Parents are sending their children off to stand in the way of sinners and to sit in the seat of the scornful. They are mocking God. But they should not be deceived, for God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man sows, that will he also reap.

However, just as judgment is still applied today, so also I believe healing can be applied today:

2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Isaiah 63:17-19 O LORD, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants' sake, the tribes of thine inheritance. {18} The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary. {19} We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; they were not called by thy name.

Isaiah 64:1-7 Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence. {2} As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! {3} When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence. {4} For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. {5} Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved. {6} But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. {7} And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.

I really think that even though this was specifically given to Israel, yet just as blessings were given to Israel for their humility before God, so also blessings will be given to those who confess their sin before Him and acknowledge His power, holiness, and sovereignty.

Thanks for allowing me to elaborate.

In Christ,

Ward Fenley


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