The Sovereignty of God over the Nations
R. Catchpole, London
Speaking of the sovereignty of God in respect of the nations the Bible says, His ‘dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation . . . he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand’, Dan. 4. 34-35.
The sovereignty of God in the past as illustrated in history
(i) As seen in the division of mankind into nations
The first time the word ‘nations’ appears in the Bible is in Genesis chapter 10 where it occurs five times, vv. 5, 20, 31, 32. The actual Hebrew word is used once more in the chapter, its very first occurrence, and is translated ‘the Gentiles’, v. 5. The book of Genesis is the book of beginnings and chapter 10 records the origin of the nations. The opening and closing verses remind us that this is a list of the descendants of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, that three men, sons of the same father, formed the fountain head of the world’s nations, so that Paul would later say that God ‘hath made of one blood all nations’, Acts 17. 24-62.
In general terms we might say the descendants of Japheth spread out to the East and the West and embrace the Indo-European nations. The descendants of Ham spread out into the South, and embrace the peoples of Ethiopia, Egypt and Africa. The descendants of Shem occupied a central location embracing Israel and the line of divine promise and revelation. Moses would later say, ‘When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel’, Deut. 32. 8. It was the Lord who divided to each nation their inheritance; the Lord who set their boundaries.
(ii) As seen in God’s dominion over the nations and His work on behalf of the children of Israel
Consider what He did to Egypt in connection with the Exodus, the judgements God brought on Egypt, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and the destruction of Egypt’s army. Then, in connection with their entrance into Canaan, God’s ability to put the dread and fear of Israel upon all nations, to give the land to His people casting out from before them nations greater and mightier than they, and, equally, His ability ‘to put out the nations little by little . . . lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee’, and His leaving some in order to prove Israel by them.1 When the children of Israel were in the land, God used the Assyrians and Babylonians to discipline them, and raised up Cyrus, that a remnant might return.2
(iii) As seen in His determination regarding the Gentiles
In the dream of the image given to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel chapter 2 God revealed details of the kingdoms that would follow, the successive rising of the kingdoms of Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, details that are all now a matter of history.
The sovereignty of God in the present with its implications practically
(i) Our responsibility toward the ‘powers that be’
In Romans chapter 13 verse 1 the apostle says, ‘Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God’. The verse is asserting a general principle equally applicable to every age, namely that the governing authorities are ‘ordained’, ‘appointed’ and ‘ordered’ as determined by God and a number of verses can be considered in connection with that general principle, verses that demonstrate the breadth of God’s sovereignty in regard to those in authority. As to the persons who hold power, the WHOMSOEVER of divine sovereignty, Dan. 4. 17. Concerning the perimeters of their rule, the WHERESOEVER of God’s sovereignty, Dan. 2. 38. Then regarding the purposes of those who rule the WHITHERSOEVER of God’s sovereignty, Prov. 21. 1. Since the powers that be are ordained of God, twice in Romans chapter 13 Paul says we should ‘be subject’, vv. 1, 5.
(ii) Our responsibility to pray:
In 1 Timothy 2 Paul exhorts the believers to pray ‘for’, or on behalf of, ‘all men’, v. 1. But then he says in verse 2, ‘For kings and for all in authority’, the supreme rulers of the nations and for all that hold public office in the various strands of government, both nationally and locally. But we might ask, ‘What relevance does that have to the sovereignty of God in the affairs of the nations’? Paul goes on to indicate that such prayers have relevance not only to the affairs of national life but also to the believer’s daily life, ‘that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty’. Why can our prayers affect such matters? Surely, because of the sovereignty of God, His ultimate control over the affairs of the nations. When the church is removed at the Rapture, the Bible indicates that conditions amongst the nations will rapidly degenerate. Even though at first men might say, ‘Peace, peace’, in reality it will be an illusion that will culminate in the manifestation of the Man of Sin. The conditions that prevail in our nation morally and spiritually in the present day should surely come to us as a clarion call to pray.
(iii) Our responsibility to preach
Not now in regard to God’s sovereignty of the powers that be, but rather in connection with His redemptive purpose, God is currently visiting the Gentiles (nations) to take out of them a people for His name, Acts 15. 14. In the Old Testament one nation, Israel, was central to God’s movements, but, as to the present, we read in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 that the wrath of God is come upon them to the uttermost, and that for three reasons: they killed the Lord Jesus; they rejected the gospel; and they sought to frustrate God’s purpose to bless others, v. 16. In Romans chapter 11, tracing their setting aside, Paul says, ‘Through their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles’. The apostle is asserting that Israel’s fall has become, not the cause, but, in His sovereignty, the occasion for God to reach out in blessing to the Gentiles, v. 11. But there is something more we must add, for in reaching out to the Gentiles God has in view future dealings with Israel ‘for to provoke them to jealousy’, v. 11. Consistent with divine purpose we are called to go and ‘preach the gospel to every creature’, Mark 16. 15.
The sovereignty of God in respect of the future, as indicated in prophecy
The last book of the Bible describes in some detail the judgements that are yet to come upon the earth, and which will culminate in the manifestation of the Lord in glory and the establishing of Christ’s kingdom upon earth, Rev. 11. 15.
(i) In connection with the period of tribulation
Revelation chapters 6 to 19 record the judgements that will come upon the earth during the tribulation period, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven vials. On earth it will seem that all is chaotic and disordered, but in connection with each of those series of seven there is a progressive development that testifies to the sovereign control of God. In connection with the fourth seal, the judgement is confined to a fourth part of the earth, 6. 8. In connection with the trumpets, a third part is repeatedly mentioned.3 But with the vials there seems no limitation, for in chapter 16 verse 1 John says, ‘I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth’. There is thus a progressive intensity connected with these judgements, another testimony to the sovereignty of God in the affairs of the nations.
(ii) In connection with the plans of rulers
In Daniel chapter 2 in the dream given to Nebuchadnezzar the times of the Gentiles ends, as far as the kingdoms of men are concerned, with a kingdom represented in the image by the feet and toes. Other passages indicate the ten toes are symbolic of a confederation of ten kings that will ultimately give their power to one man, the first beast of Revelation chapter 13. Whatever human intrigue might lie behind their actions the scripture says the ten kings will ‘have one mind and shall give their power and strength unto the beast’, and three verses later this explanation is given: ‘God hath put into their hearts to fulfil his will and give their power unto the beast’, Rev. 17. 12-16.
(iii) In connection with the passing of the nations
The opening verses of Zechariah chapter 14 refer to the nations which will come against Jerusalem prior to the manifestation of the Lord in glory, and verse 1 describes how the spoils of the battle will be divided by the triumphant forces within the walls of the city, and their success is attributed, not to themselves but to the Lord, ‘For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle’, v. 2.
(iv) In connection with the possession of the kingdom
Despite the hostility of the nations and their rejection of Christ, God’s purpose is to bring His Son back into the scene of His rejection, to give Him the nations for His inheritance, and establish the kingdom in His hand.4 Other passages relative to the nations and God’s sovereignty in respect of millennial days can be studied to profit.5
Having considered the sovereignty of God over the nations surely we must say, ‘Who would not fear thee, O King of nations?’, Jer. 10. 7!
- Deut. 2. 25; 7. 1, 22; Judg. 3. 1.
- Isa. 10. 5; Jer. 25. 11; Isa. 45. 1-4.
- Rev. 8. 7-9, 11-12; 9. 15.
- Heb. 1. 6; Ps. 2. 8; Dan. 2. 44.
- For example, Matt. 25. 32; Micah 4. 2; Isa. 19. 23-25; Zech. 14. 16; Rev. 20. 8-9.