The Lord's Day Morning
July 25, 2010
1 Kings 22:34
“There Is No Such Thing as Chance. Or Is There?”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me if you would to 1 Kings Chapter 22 — the first book of Kings and chapter 22.
Now let me ask you a question this morning — Do you believe in luck or chance or fortune? I think if I put a Christian up against the wall we would all say this morning, “Of course not,” until, that is, trouble, difficulty, sin, evil, catastrophe occurs, and then sometimes something happens. We lose our focus, we lose our confidence in the sovereignty and control and providence of God.
So I want to say to you this morning, God doesn't play dice. God doesn't gamble. History is not fortuitous. There are no accidents. Oh, it may appear to us as though there are. Our text this morning will highlight that. But we see in part. We don't see the whole. We see a fraction, a miniscule fraction. God sees everything. From our perspective, when you only see a little tiny section of it, it looks to us like a fortuitous event.
Let me ask you this morning, does Ameristar believe in luck? I mean, I'm asking a scientific question now. Thirty-five years ago, in another life somewhere in the dim and distant past, I remember doing a course in mathematics. I was a math major. I remember doing a course in mathematics on chance. I remember the formula for calculating risk. Do you think an insurance company believes in luck? No, it talks about acts of God for an entirely different reason. No, there is mathematics of chance. There is a mathematics that calculates risk.
I want to say to you this morning, God does not play dice. And I want to say that to you because I want that to be this morning a pastoral word to you. Wherever you might be this morning, whatever circumstances, difficulties, trials, hopes, dreams, aspirations, whatever may be on your mind this morning, whatever may have been your concern this past week and you just can't get rid of it this morning even as we worship God together. I want to take you back — oh 3,000 years, almost 3,000 years — I want to take you back a long, long time ago to when there were two kingdoms. Sorry, a little bit of history. Nine o’clock in the morning but we need just a little bit of history to put this in its context.
The northern kingdom of Israel with its capitol in Samaria — the king is Ahab — nasty, a bad king. You remember his encounters with Elijah on Mount Carmel? Married to Jezebel. Jezebel, in the book of Revelation, is a euphemism for evil. Ahab and Jezebel together is a collective term for “bad.”
In the southern kingdom of Judah, in the capital of Jerusalem, there is another king. The king's name is Jehoshaphat and Jehoshaphat has lost his mind. He's agreed to go north to Samaria on perhaps some kind of ecumenical dialogue with a northern king that may bring about certain political advantages because of surrounding kingdoms and nations that seem to be threatening both Israel and Judah. He's gone north to Samaria for dinner, a banquet, a banquet for a king, with great ceremony. And the occasion is the engagement of Jehoshaphat's son to Ahab and Jezebel's daughter. The son is called Jehoram, the daughter is called Athalia and these are to be married. A very bad idea.
Now just as a little footnote, Athalia — you may remember your Old Testament history — but Athalia will kill all of her children, two of her sons in particular, in order that she might become queen. A very bad idea!
Jehoshaphat agrees to go on a military expedition to a neighboring town that was in the region of Syria, a town called Ramoth-gilead, along with Ahab. Ahab, of course, has conspiracy. His design here is to get Jehoshaphat killed. Prophets are called. These are court advisors of Ahab, and they are court advisers who tell Ahab whatever they think he wants to here. So whatever he asks they give the answer that Ahab wants to hear. They’re called lying spirits. But among them is an extraordinary man, a man by the name of Micaiah, a godly man, a courageous man. At first, when he's asked, “What will the outcome of this battle in Ramoth-gilead, what will the outcome be?” he tells the king that which he's always been telling him, namely that which he thinks the king wants to hear and, “There will be victory.” But then Ahab, who is suspicious of Micaiah, says, “No, what do you really, really think? What is God really saying to you?” And he tells him, “When you go to Ramoth-gilead you will die.” And Ahab throws a tantrum. He says to Jehoshaphat, “There, I told you, this man never liked me. He never says good things about me.” He is, for his pains, Micaiah that is, thrown into prison on bread and water. Now let's pick up the story.
Turn with me to verse 29 of 1 Kings Chapter 22. Before we read the passage, let's look to God in prayer.
Father, this is Your Word. You wrote this Word. You caused it to be written. You wrote it for us. You wrote it for me. When this Word was first penned, You had me in mind, so now Lord as we read this passage together, grant illumination. Help us to understand it, but not just understand it in our minds, but to understand it in our hearts so that we might live by this Word. And we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
“So the king of Israel [that's Ahab] and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.’ And the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. [The point of course is that the Syrian forces will see Jehoshaphat in his royal robes and go after him and not after Ahab.] Verse 31 - Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, ‘Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.’ And when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, ‘It is surely the king of Israel.’ So they turned to fight against him. And Jehoshaphat cried out. And when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. But a certain man (this is our text) drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, ‘Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.’ And the battle continued that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Syrians, until at evening he died. And the blood of the wound flowed into the bottom of the chariot. And about sunset a cry went through the army, ‘Every man to his city, and every man to his country!’
So the king died, and was brought to Samaria. And they buried the king in Samaria. And they washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it, according to the Word of the Lord that He had spoken.”
And we’ll end the reading there. May God bless to us that reading of His holy and inerrant Word.
Verse 34 — “A certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate.” A lucky shot. We don't know who this man was. He was just a soldier in the Syrian forces. He draws his bow, perhaps not sure who it is he is aiming at or perhaps not anyone in particular, it was just at random, and it caught Ahab in the one place where there was a little gap between certain sections of his armor, sufficient to pierce into his flesh. And it was a fatal wound and that evening, propped up in his chariot, King Ahab is dead.
I. God's control is total.
A lucky shot…or is it? I want to say first of all that God's control is total. God's control is total. Micaiah had prophesied this. God, through His prophet, His mouthpiece, had prophesied this event. This event was going to happen. This event was going to come to pass. This event was part of God's decree. Nothing happens without God willing it to happen, without God willing it to happen in the way that it happens, without God willing it to happen before it happens. Everything that happens, everything, the totality of existence in the entire cosmos, from the macrocosm to the microcosm, from big things to little things, everything, everything, is under God's control. God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. Okay, that's a Presbyterian doctrine. That's a Calvinistic doctrine. That's an expression that occurs within our Confession of Faith. That's a piece of theology. But I want to say this morning it is one of the most pastoral, reassuring truths that you can ever hear and ever believe in.
I mean, let's consider this morning the alternative. What is the alternative to that truth that God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass? What is the alternative? That there are events, circumstances, occurrences, situations, that are not part of God's control, they are outside His decree, they are outside His providence? What's remotely comforting about that?
What is remotely reassuring about that, that there are black holes in the universe? You know, science tells us that in the universe there are these black holes, they are gravitational wells that pulls, sucks in, matter. This is science now. But even those, even those if they exist and if science is right, even those are part of God's control. He can control an arrow, the shaft of an arrow that is shot at random to fulfill His prophecy. By an unknown soldier in the midst of the heat of an ancient battle, God is in complete and entire control.
You remember the lesson Joseph drew from that? Joseph, who had been sold by his brothers into slavery, he had been left as dead and then they changed their minds and they sold him as a slave and he finds himself in the house of Potiphar, he's accused of rape, he's imprisoned for years on end and forgotten and abandoned, and then rises to be the second most powerful person in Egypt — and you remember what he says to his brothers? “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” God was in control of everything.
II. God is sovereign. God is in control.
The second thing I want to say this morning is that God is sovereign, God is in control, even over the sinful actions of men and women. Ahab had gone in “civvies.”. He’d gone in “civvies” because he understood that the Syrians would go for the king and would go for him in particular. And Jehoshaphat, who seems to have lost his mind, goes into battle dressed as the king. It's like a target that says, “Here, right here — shoot right here.” Ahab's wicked plot and yet God is sovereign. God is sovereign over evil things. Evil things can't thwart the providence, the decree, the will of God.
Do you remember what Peter said on the Day of Pentecost? What's the most wicked thing that has ever happened in the history of the world? The most wicked thing in the history of the world is the crucifixion of Jesus. That's the most wicked thing that has ever happened - He who had done no sin. Do you remember what Peter said at Pentecost? He said to the Jews in Jerusalem, “It was you, by wicked hands, who took Him and slew Him,” but it was all by the determinant counsel and foreknowledge of God. God is sovereign over evil things. Rape, the death of a child, adultery, estrangement, a cancer cell — God is sovereign over it all.
You see, there's no middle ground here. You either believe this or you don't. You either say, “I believe Romans 8:28 or I don't,” that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. All things — not some things, not just the good things, but all things for my good. How's it going with you this morning? How's it going with you this week? “Fine.” No, I want the honest answer. How's it going with you this week? And God is sitting on His throne. God is sitting on His throne.
What did Job say? “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” He’d just lost ten of his children. He’d just lost ten of his children — “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
You understand that those folk who want to try and explain this by saying that God isn't in control of all of the future - open-theism, freewill-theism, whatever you want to call it, it's out there today - do you understand how they interpret what Job is saying? They say Job was wrong. That's what they say — Job was wrong. God is sovereign over everything. God is sovereign over sinful things, bad things, wicked things.
III. God is sovereign over life and death.
Thirdly, God is sovereign over life and death. Ahab had planned that Jehoshaphat would be killed. God had decreed that Ahab would be killed. Who won? That night Ahab is dead. Now I know we don't shed many tears for the death of Ahab. Ahab was a wicked, bad king. But the text is saying to us, this happened do you see, by the decree of God, by the providence of God, by the overruling of God.
Do you know what the book of Hebrews says this morning? Sorry to remind you of this. “It is appointed unto man once to die.” It is appointed. And the sense seems to be that the author of Hebrews is saying there is a divine appointment. It's on your calendar. Get out your phones — not now — look at the calendar. Somewhere on that calendar, you can't see it, you don't know when it is, but it's there, God has put it there - there is a time, there is a day, there is an hour, and it is appointed for men and women to die. And after death, the judgment.
Isn't the Gospel great? Because those of us who know the Gospel have no fear of death. We may be fearful of the process of death, but we don't fear death itself because the moment we die we are in the presence of Jesus. There are going to be so many things that are going to be answered in that first few minutes, first few hours of our existence, our on-going existence in the presence of Christ.
Let me make two applications. First, first in the region of anxiety - an application with regard to our status this morning. If God is in control of everything, everything, even bad things, if God is in control even to the appointment of my death, what have I got to be anxious about? Why should I be fearful? You remember what Paul says in Philippians?
“Be anxious about nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known unto God. And the God of peace, the God of peace, will bring you blessing and serenity.”
You see, there's a crucial difference between providence and luck and the key is the personal character of God. This isn't blind, faithless determinism. This isn't, “The force will be with you.” Who is the God of providence? Who is the God who decrees? Jesus is the God of providence. Jesus is the God of providence. There is nothing in providence, there is nothing in what God has decreed for us, that isn't Jesus-like - the Jesus who was prepared to die for us, who loves us to that extent. Everything that happens has Jesus right at the very heart, right at the very center of it. You see, fortune is blind. God is all-seeing. Luck is impersonal. God is our Father and Jesus is our Friend. Luck is dumb. And God speaks. He speaks. He says, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
My dear Christian brother and sister this morning, and I want to ask you this morning, not just do you believe that, not just can you recite the Catechism about God's foreordination or the doctrine of providence, but do you believe it in your hearts? Deep, deep, deep down in your hearts do you believe that? So why are you troubled? Why are you troubled?
“Let not your hearts be troubled. If you believe in God believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go to prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you unto Myself that where I am, there you may be also.”
Let me ask you another question and with this I’ll close. If you knew, if you knew something was going to happen tomorrow, next week, that God had decreed and it was a bad thing, it was a terrible thing, what would you say? I mean if God were to open the window a little and say, “Four days from now this is what's going to happen” and it's bad. What would you say?
Jonathan Edwards in 1732, after he had been kicked out of Northampton and he had gone as a missionary to the Indians, his granddaughter I think it was had this recurring dream. And in this dream an arrow kills Jonathan Edwards. This is what she keeps dreaming. And she says to him, “What do you think about this?” Do you know what his answer was?
“If I thought it was God's decree, I wouldn't want it to miss.”
Go home today and think about that answer. “If I thought it was God's decree, I wouldn't want it to miss.” There's faith. There's trust for you.
Let's sing. We’re going to sing something, Number 75 — “Oh Father, You Are Sovereign.”
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
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