A Turn of Affairs

I am reading through 1st Kings right now and was struck by this phrase today:

“…for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word…” 1st Kings 12:15

Now, this struck me because of the recent discussion on this blog and many others concerning God’s sovereignty and involvement in the Minneapolis bridge collapse, particularly as it relates to John Piper and Greg Boyd’s discussion on the matter. But let me first give you the context and background of the passage before I pose a question.

Ahijah the prophet finds Jeroboam on the road out in the country {1st Kings 11:29}. Ahijah has on a new garment. And suddenly tears his new clothes into 12 pieces and gives them to the bewildered Jeroboam and says roughly for the LORD, “Take 10 pieces for yourself, Jeroboam, for I am about to tear the kingdom from Solomon’s hand and give you 10 tribes because Solomon has forsaken and worshipped other gods.” Meanwhile, Rehoboam is made king of Israel after the death of King Solomon {1st Kings 12:1}.

Then Jeroboam approaches King Rehoboam with others and basically asks him to not rule with a heavy hand like his father Solomon {12:3-5}. So Rehoboam sends them away and tells them to come back in 3 days and he’ll let them know what kind of ruler he will be. Then Rehoboam {wisely} asks the elders who helped his father for some advice. The old men basically say that if Rehoboam will rule them gently then the people will willingly serve him as king {12:6-7}.

But King Rehoboam gets a second opinion from the young bucks fresh out of seminary. They tell him to rule with an iron fist and make these people feel his power {12:11}. So Rehoboam agrees {unwisely} to the advice of the young guys. And he informs Jeroboam and the others that he will basically rule them more fiercely than his father ever did {12:12-14}.

So now we get to the phrase that struck me:

“So the king {Rehoboam} did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which he spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.” 1st Kings 12:15

It appears to me that the LORD not only knew that the kingdom would be divided but actually decreed it to come about. This raises the question of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. If God knew and decreed that the kingdom be divided, and King Rehoboam’s actions/response to the people were part of God’s plan {…a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word…}, then that demonstrates God’s sovereignty over even King Rehoboam’s decision! {Other passages that include this line of rationality might include Genesis 20:6 where God appears in a dream to King Abimelech and tells him that He {God} kept Abimelech from having sex with Sarah, Abraham’s wife! The text actually says, “…I kept you from sinning against me.” See also Exodus 14:4, 8 where God hardens Pharaoh’s heart}.

How do we reconcile man’s apparent free will with God’s sovereign ability to “overpower” man’s decisions? If man does have total free will and God does not intervene to overide any of man’s decisions, then how do you explain the above passages? And if these passages make you uncomfortable with a God who can and does intervene and apparently overide man’s free will, then let me ask you: Do you pray to God for family and friends to come to Christ or for God to work in people’s lives? If so, it appears that you believe in a God who can and does overide man’s free will, if not heavily influence it.

Okay, enough…my brain hurts. What say you?

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2 comments

  1. I do believe God can and does overide man’s free will; not every time, but AT TIMES. I believe it is only ONE of the ways in which He demonstrates His sovereignty. He does not necessarily “change a man’s mind” in an instant (although He certainly has the power), but I believe He sometimes “steers” or influences a man’s circumstances, inherent personality, and ultimately his thoughts toward certain thoughts/decisions, in order to arrive at His (God’s) desired outcome. This is related to my belief in how God inspired the men whom He chose to write the Scriptures, and how He inspires men today to speak His Word.

    A mental picture that comes to me is this: As a fallen tree in a stream diverts the immediate flow and subsequent current of water downstream–so that a swirling leaf once headed in one direction now follows an imperceptible, slightly altered course– so can God’s “finger” in the life “stream” of a man –an intervention undetectable–divert the course of his thought patterns. I remember hearing a philosophical question once, about whether the flutter of the wings of a single butterfly can ultimately affect global weather patterns, or the course of history……I’m not sure exactly how it went, but the thought has always intrigued me.

    I have a sincere, related question; I am not asking a sarcastic or rhetoric one, for I truly do not know: where in the Bible are the passages from which we derive the belief–or where does it say– that man has “total free will?” Thank you for your help! (And for the interesting discussions.)

  2. Shelley,

    Those are some great comments. As for passages that people appeal to to defend man’s free will, I think most would go to Joshua 24:15 “…choose this day whom you will serve…” and others like it. Any passage which sounds like man can freely make a choice is usually a passage cited. And passages like, “Repent and be baptized…” {Acts 2:38}.

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