The Sovereignty of God and the Human Heart

Posted: November 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

Most Christians readily affirm God is sovereign in the generic sense. That is, most would affirm the statement that “God is sovereign.” Yet, when Christians begin to discuss the specifics of God’s sovereignty, one finds that there are very different understandings of God’s sovereignty represented in Christian circles.

One of the areas where there is difference of opinion regarding God’s sovereignty is whether he exercises that sovereignty over the human heart. That is, does God exercise divine sovereignty over our wills? I think God does exercise his sovereignty over our hearts (wills) and offer the following passage from Deuteronomy 2:26-37 to highlight this point.

The context of the Deuteronomy passage is after the wilderness wanderings where the rebellious generation (“fighting men,” 2:14) had passed away. As Israel continues to journey, after this generation has passed away, they are to steer clear of certain lands and peoples but are called to engage in battle with others. In 2:24-37 the people of Israel are called to “cross the Arnon Gorge” because Yahweh had “given into [their] hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country” (2:24). As Israel appeals to king Sihon for safe passage through the land we read about the king refusing to let Israel pass (2:30; cf. Num 21:23). What is instructive for our purposes in this post is to notice why the king refused.

In verse 30 we are not only told that the king refused passage but we are given insight into the ultimate reason why the king refused; namely, because Yahweh “had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into [their] hands…” (2:30, NIV). It is Yahweh that has “hardened” (2:30, ESV) the heart of the king (cf. Ex 4:21). The Hebrew makes this explicit (כִּֽי־הִקְשָׁה֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ). The verb form is a Hiphil verb which in this instance carries the meaning of “actively causing a state.” In the passage, “Yahweh, your God” (יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ) has caused the hardening.

What we see in this passage is that the heart of the king was under the control of Yahweh. It was to fulfill the purposes of Yahweh that the king would not allow Israel safe passage. This was not outside the controlling arm of God. The king was the medium through which God accomplished his divine purposes. This is yet another instance of God working everything according to his own divine will (Eph 1:11).

*Note: Lest we miss the result, notice that because God hardened the heart of king Sihon, whole armies were laid waste, towns were destroyed, and even women and children are included in the destruction (2:34). For instruction on how one can think about the judgment wars of the OT, I suggest listening to this or buying this book.

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