THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
by Bob Wheeler
In what kind of world do we live? One popular writer today, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, suggests that life is an ongoing struggle between order and chaos, and says that the experience of hunger, loneliness, thirst, sexual desire, aggression, fear and pain, “are elements of Being – primordial, axiomatic elements of Being” (12 Rules for Life, p. 101). He says that everyone must be willing “to shoulder the burden of Being and take the heroic path” (p. xxxiii).
The Bible, however, paints a different picture of reality. We live in a world that was created by an intelligent Supreme Being, but has fallen from its original condition and is ruined by human sin. Our goal in life should be to bring everything back into conformity with the will of the Creator.
But is God in control? According to the Bible, the answer is “yes.” He is Lord and King over all the earth. This is brought out beautifully in Psalm 47, a psalm that was evidently composed during the reign of King David and used in the worship at the tabernacle in Jerusalem.
The psalm begins, as many of the m do, with a call to worship: “O clap your hands, all peoples; / Shout to God with the voice of joy” (v. 1; NASV). Significantly “all peoples” are exhorted to worship – worship is not just the prerogative of the children of Israel, as we shall see as the psalm progresses. Moreover, they are to “Shout to God with the voice of .” The word translated “joy” might better be rendered “a ringing cry” (marg.). Worship should not be a dull, dry formality, but our expression of genuine, heartfelt love and adoration; and in this case of exuberant joy.
But why should we shout for joy? Because “the Lord Most High is to be feared, / A great King over all the earth” (v. 2). God is “to be feared,” in the positive sense of standing in reverential awe of the Almighty. And the reason why we should be thus overawed is that He is “a great King over all the earth,” which brings us to the central thought of the passage. We are to conceive of God as a powerful monarch whose dominion extends over the entire earth; and as such all human beings owe Him their obedience and respect.
The psalm then goes on to reflect on the immediate experience of the nation of Israel. David was king, and God had given him military victory over the surrounding nations. And so the psalm says, “He subdues the peoples under us / And nations under our feet” (v. 3). The psalmist was conscious that David’s military victories were possible only through divine providence. It was God, in effect, who subdued the surrounding nations and gave Israel the military victory.
The psalm also reflects on the fact that “He chooses our inheritance for us, / The glory of Jacob whom He loves” (v. 4). The “inheritance” was most likely the land of Canaan (cf. Ex. 15:17; Dt. 4:21,28) which God had promised Abraham, and the promised land was the “glory” of Israel, God’s chosen people, whom He loved. The psalmist was conscious of the fact that Israel occupied a privileged position. They were God’s own chosen people, and He had blessed them with a land flowing with milk and honey. But all of this was only possible because God was sovereignly in control of human events.
The psalm says that “God has ascended with a shout, / The Lord with the sound of a trumpet” (v. 5). The “trumpet” was the shofar, the curved ram’s horn trumpet, which was sounded on special occasions, included the coronation of a king. When the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem it was done “with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet” (II Sam. 6:15; cf. I Chron. 15:28), echoing the very language of the psalm. By giving Israel victory over its enemies God had asserted His sovereignty, and this is seen as a cause of rejoicing for Israel. God’s promises were being fulfilled and His righteousness was being established.
The next several verses then focus on the basic underlying principle, the sovereignty of God over all the nations. He is a “King” (v. 6) who “reigns over the nations” and “sits on His holy throne” (v. 8). God occupies the position of supreme authority in the universe. As His creatures who owe our very existence to Him we are duty bound to obey Him. He is our Lord and King.
Significantly the psalm says that “God is King of all the earth” (v. 7), and that He “reigns over the nations” (v. 8). In other words, God’s sovereignty is universal – He is rightfully the Lord and Master of every human being. The entire human race owes Him its allegiance and submission. To refuse to acknowledge that, as in the case of modern secularism, is pure rebelliousness on our part.
The psalm concludes by saying,
“The princes of the people have assembled themselves,
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is highly exalted.” (v. 9).
Today, of course, we live in very different circumstances. We are not a part of a nation that can claim to be God’s chosen people; and in fact, as we look at the world around us, what we see is a steadily increasing godlessness. How is God’s sovereignty manifested today?
First of all, God providentially controls all that goes on in the world today. Men are wicked and in revolt against Him. But God is omnipotent and ultimately in control. He is working out His own purposes in history, and will allow the wicked to go only so far.
Secondly, the Bible reveals to us how history will end. Christ will return, defeat His enemies, and institute a reign of peace and justice.
We are not dealing, then, with a weak and powerless Deity who stands by helplessly in the sky, but with the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. Certainly such a God commands our reverence and respect. He is to be “feared,” as we saw in verse 2 of the psalm. But we are also to praise Him, to shout joyfully to Him. He is merciful, compassionate and just, all at the same time; and He loves us, his chosen people. His sovereignty means that evil will not prevail in the long run. Good will eventually triumph. We can have peace and joy even in the midst of sorrow and difficulty. Our God reigns!