THE PLAN OF GOD
"This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. "For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?" (Isaiah 14:26-27).
The Scriptures abound with statements describing God's plan and purpose for creation, for man and for history. These statements will go far beyond the normal question of predestination of certain men to salvation. They look to the entire scope of God's having predestined all events in all of history.
THE EXTENT OF THE PLAN OF GOD
The fact of creation via an omniscient Creator presupposes that God has a plan and an order for the universe the He has created. This plan was made by God Himself before the act of creation took place.
1. God's Plan was formed before the Creation.
During his Olivet Discourse, Jesus described the kingdom as having been prepared for believers "from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). The implication is that the kingdom over which Christ reigns was already planned and designed when God created mankind. The earth was made with this end in view - that there should be a kingdom. In the same way, God ordained those who would be His people before the foundation of the world.
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. (Ephesians 1:4).
Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted to us in Christ from all eternity. (2 Timothy 1:9).
These verses indicate that God's plan for His people goes back to the time before the creation of the universe - indeed, to "all eternity." Thus when we speak of God decreeing or determining, we do not mean that there was a time in the past when His plan was not yet formed or that it came into being at a certain time. His plan is from all eternity.
2. God's Plan is Everlasting.
In the 33rd Psalm, the temporal plans of mankind are contrasted with the eternal plans of the Lord. The Psalmist says, "The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation." (Psalm 33:10-11).
Notice the contrast between the plans of men and the plans of God. Men's plans often fail. God's plan never does. It will continue on its course throughout all eternity.
3. God's Plan is Unchangeable.
The plan of God is unchangeable, even though it sometimes appears to change from man's point of view. We refer to this characteristic as "immutability."
Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. (James 1:17).
God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, the He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19).
When the Scriptures speak of the Lord repenting, this does not mean that His sovereign decree has been scrapped and that He has to go back to the drawing board and start over again. Rather it is a reflection that there has been a change in His actions as revealed to us. Such a revelational change should not be confused with an actual change in the person or plan of God.
Thus when God gave Isaiah a prophecy concerning the coming destruction of Assyria, He guaranteed its fulfillment by pointing to the unchangeable character of His plan.
This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back? (Isaiah 14:26-27).
We can conclude from this that God's plan was both determined before the creation, that it is unchangeable, and that it will continue to stand forever in this unchangeable state.
GOD'S PLAN INCLUDES ALL EVENTS IN HISTORY
People often tend to think of predestination only in terms of who will be saved and who will be lost. The Bible presents the scope of predestination in a far wider range. All events have been ordained by God.
1. God's Plan includes "all things."
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will. (Ephesians 1:11).
Notice the implications of the truth that Paul presents. He says that God has predestined us to enjoy certain blessings. The reason that we know that He is able to predestine us to those blessings is because He works all things in accordance to His divine plan.
2. God's Plan includes where and when men live.
"And He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation." (Acts 17:26).
The phrase "having determined" is translated from the aorist active participle of the Greek verb horizo. It is a general rule of Greek grammar that the action of an aorist participle precedes the action described by the main verb which governs it. In this case, the main verb is found in the phrase, "He made from one" and refers to the creation of man. This means that God has predetermined when and where on earth all men would live.
3. God's Plan includes all of the Acts of Men.
This is stated as a general principle in the book of Proverbs where we read: "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." (Proverbs 16:9).
This is illustrated many times and in many ways throughout the Scriptures. It is seen in the decision of Absalom. Prince Absalom, the rebellious son of David, sought advice from his counselors on how he might bring about the defeat of his father. After hearing the advice from two key counselors, he made a decision to follow the plan of Hushai. The was the poorer of the two plans and would ultimately lead to Abasolm's defeat and death.
Then Absalom and all of the men of Israel said, "The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel." For the Lord had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, in order that the Lord might bring calamity on Absalom. (2 Samuel 17:14).
We are told that the reason Absalom decided to listen to Hushai instead of Ahithophel was because the Lord had ordained it. God had set Himself to the task over defeating Absalom and to this end, He was involved in the decision-making process.
There is a significant parallel between the human action and the divine plan of that action. On the one hand, Absalom made the decision as to whose advice he would adopt. On the other hand, God had determined that he would make that decision and, according to the Biblical narrative, this was the overriding factor that caused the wrong decision to be made.
The same principle is further illustrated in the decree of Cyrus the Great. Cyrus came to power in the 6th century B.C. and within the space of a few short years, merged Babylon, Persia and Media into a single great empire. His actions were prophesied in the book of Isaiah.
It is I who says of Cyrus, "He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire." And he declares of Jerusalem, "She will be built," and of the temple, "Your foundation will be laid." (Isaiah 44:28).
Over a hundred years before the coming of Cyrus, God declared through the prophet Isaiah that this same Cyrus would perform His will by ordering the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Cyrus had not even been born when this was written.
For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel, My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me. (Isaiah 45:40.
The Lord states that He chose Cyrus to perform certain things even though Cyrus himself was an unbeliever who did not know the Lord. God is not restricted to using believers to carry out His plan. In the same way that He used Cyrus, so also He used the pharaoh of the Exodus.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth." (Romans 9:17).
It was the Lord who raised up the unbelieving pharaoh of the Exodus to his position of leadership over Egypt. He did this so that, by bringing him to defeat through the plagues and through the incident at the Red Sea, the name of the Lord might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.
Are we to take these instances of Cyrus and the pharaoh of Egypt as being the exceptions rather than the rule? Does God's plan only extend to the great and the powerful while ignoring the humble and the weak? Not at all! If there were anyone who was said to have "free will," it was the king. He could point to someone and say, "Off with his head" and that head would topple. Thus, when the book of Proverbs states the principle of God's sovereignty over rulers as a general principle, the implication is that God is sovereign over ALL men.
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 has been said that man's free will flows in the channels which have been dug by the sovereignty of God. Such a concept is presented here. It is the Lord who directs men's will.
Paul takes this principle a step further to teach that the rulers themselves are placed in their positions of authority by the Lord.
Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (Romans 13:1).
Paul was not speaking in the context of a Christian king or governor. It was during the reigns of the Roman Emperors that he penned these words. He did not say that only those authorities which are obedient to divine laws are established by God, but ALL authorities.
This means that, whether a leader has taken a throne by force of arms or through inheritance or even through a national election by the vote of the "free will" of the populace, it is ultimately the Lord who places in office those whom He has chosen.
While it is true that the Lord ordains the lives of kings and princes, it is also true that He ordains the lives of peasants and peons. Job sums up the truth that the whole of a man's life has been determined by God.
Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil. (Job 14:1).
Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with Thee, and his limit Thou hast set so that he cannot pass. (Job 14:5).
The very length of a man's life is determined. It has been set by the Lord Himself. There is a sense in which it is impossible for you to "die before your time." And it is equally impossible for you to live beyond the time that God has ordered.
4. God's Plan includes the Sinful Acts of Men.
God's plan includes the acts of men which are sinful and evil in nature. This principles is illustrated in the sin of the sons of Jacob in selling their brother Joseph into slavery.
But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Genesis 50:19-20).
Joseph's brothers had exercised their own "free wills" in deciding to sell him into slavery. The slave traders had exercised their own wills in purchasing him, in taking him to Egypt and in selling him to Potiphar. Potiphar's wife had exercised her "free will" in trying to seduce Joseph and then in influencing her husband to throw him into prison. Yet in spite of the evil intentions of Joseph's brothers, the slave traders, and Potiphar's wife, God had planned these decisions for the ultimate good of His people.
In the same way, the Lord later brought about a prejudice in the hearts of the Egyptians toward the Israelites who were sojourning in their land prior to the Exodus.
Israel also came into Egypt; thus Jacob sojourned in the land of Him. And He caused His people to be very fruitful, and made them stronger than their adversaries. He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servant. (Psalm 105:23-25).
The reason that Egyptian public opinion turned against the Israelites who were living in the land is said to have been because God developed this hatred in their hearts. It was He who turned their hearts in this direction.
The ultimate example of the Lord incorporating the evil actions of men in His own plan and purpose is seen at the crucifixion of Christ.
"For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur." (Acts 4:27-28).
The word "predestined" used here is translated from the Greek word "pro'orizo." It is a compound word. We have already seen "orizo" used in a way that describes something which has been "determined." The use of the prefix "pro" tells us that this is something which was PRE-determined. It was decided beforehand.
Don't miss the implications of this! Both Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate, as well as a host of other jews and Gentiles, found themselves in Jerusalem doing the very things that God had predestined for them to do. We should not take this to mean that they did this against their will. They were not saying, "I don't really want to put Jesus to death, but God is countermanding my own will and so I am being forced to crucify Him." They are described as being responsible for their actions. But this responsibility in no way takes away from the fact that it took place in accordance with the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.
"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know - this man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." (Acts 2:22-23).
Here is a single passage we see God predestinating certain events to occur and, at the same time, sinful men are held responsible for their actions, being described as "godless men."
Though they had no intention of doing so, Pilate and Herod were fulfilling the will of God. They were acting according to God's plan and purpose. But they are nevertheless judged for their unrighteous intentions because they were willing participants in the death of Christ.
5. God's Plan includes "Chance Happenings."
The plan of God includes those events which appear to be merely "chance happenings" - those events which seem to come about just by chance. The principle is stated in Proverbs.
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:33).
When you think of "chance happenings," you think of random events like the toss of a dice or the flip of a coin. This passage tells us that every cast of the dice and every flip of the coin has been planned by God. The human mind hears this and screams, "Impossible!" But there is nothing that is impossible for God to accomplish. Nothing is too difficult for Him.
This means that those events which seem to us to be happening randomly were carefully planned and purposed by God. When the brothers of Joseph threw him into a pit and then sat down to plan his death, it was not by chance that a caravan just happened along. When Moses happened to come upon an Egyptian taskmaster beating an Israelite slave, it was not just a chance meeting. Neither was it just by chance that a Moabite girl named Ruth happened to find herself gleaning grain in the field of a wealthy Jew named Boaz. Just because we do not live in those days does not mean that God has changed the way He operates the universe. His world has never run haphazardly.
This teaching has some very practical consequences. It means that when something unexpected comes into your life, it is a divine interruption and you have every right to look for God's handiwork in it. All things that have every happened or that ever will happen have been ordained by God.