Theme: All in God’s Hands
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the need to trust the Lord for his deliverance from our struggles, and to praise him for his goodness and mercy.
Scripture: Psalm 107:33-43
As we read in yesterday’s study, even the bad things of life are in God’s hands. To paraphrase H. C. Leupold, no one is brought low or raised high unless God wills it to be so. Today we look at two great biblical confessions of that truth. First, the example of King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar had been struggling against the claims of the sovereign God, refusing to recognize that even his own destiny was in the sovereign God’s hands. When he took the glory of God to himself, claiming, as he looked out over the magnificent city of Babylon, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30), God punished him with insanity so that he was driven from the company of other human beings and lived among animals for seven years.
Later, when he acknowledged God to be “the Most High” God and had his sanity restored, Nebuchadnezzar praised God, saying, “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’…Everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Dan. 4:34, 35, 37). As I am fond of saying, not only is God able to humble them, he does humble them. In fact, Psalm 107 says this even of the righteous, “Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow” (v. 39).
The second great biblical confession of this truth is in the New Testament, in that psalm of the Virgin Mary we know as the Magnificat. Mary declared: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52, 53). Probably Mary was thinking only of the lifting up of the righteous and the debasing of the wicked. But we learn from the psalm, as well as from other passages of Scripture, that the righteous are sometimes brought down also.
What are we to make of this? Are we to conclude that God is arbitrary, sometimes blessing and sometimes abasing with no apparent reason? Are we to conclude that these are just two different understandings of God, that there are really two different psalms here, with two different outlooks, after all? We can’t do either. Everything we have been thinking about is not only part of the Bible as a whole; it is a part of every Christian’s experience. Even the Christian life is not a bowl of cherries.
What are we to think? Since we are talking about the Pilgrims, who were Puritans, I want to do what the Puritan preachers very often did. If you read their sermons, you will find that often, after having stated what they call “the doctrine,” they give what they call “uses” of it. Over the next two day’s studies I want to give four uses of the doctrine that even for the righteous, God sends sorrow as well as joy, hardship as well as material blessing—yet is not arbitrary.
What was Nebuchadnezzar’s sin? What happened to him? How does his story illustrate God’s control of this life?
Why are the righteous also sometimes brought down?
Read Daniel 4. What can you learn about God’s sovereignty?
Reflection: What examples have you witnessed of enormous pride humbled?