Reconciling God’s Sovereignty with Free Will

Today’s Reading – Ezra 1 – 2 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers Read – Romans 9 – 12Psalms 126 – 130Proverbs 27)

Listen to this morning’s Scripture song – Ephesians 4:32

Read the “0527 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Read previous posts from this morning’s passage – “A Fresh Start,“ and “It’s All According to God’s Plan”

“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem. And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.” (Ezra 1:1-6)

The Book of Ezra details the return of some of the people of God from their captivity in the land of Persia. You will recall that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and had taken the people of Judah captive somewhere around 586 BC. The Babylonians were then overtaken by the Medes and Persians and during the reign of King Cyrus, the people were permitted to return to Jerusalem. Ezra 2 records the specific number of people who returned (approximately 50,000) along with some genealogical information.

What caught my attention from this passage is the contrast that seems to exist between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Note the highlighted words in the passage above. For example, we see that the return of the people of God was a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, and that the Lord had “stirred up” and “charged” Cyrus. We also see that the people who participated had their spirit’s stirred by God. But we also see that these folks who returned into the land had “willingly” offered their “freewill offerings.”

From this passage we can clearly see that God was doing something and that He was moving in the hearts of both His people and this Persian King. Consider the following verses:

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

However, could we also say that these people who were part of this movement of God were also operating according to their own free will. Do you think that there were any there who really did not want to go? Do you think that King Cyrus really hated the people of God and desired to keep them locked up in Persia, but God forced him to do His bidding? I don’t think so. God was certainly moving and working and influencing in order to accomplish His will, but He was also using willing participants.

The story about Pharaoh from the Book of Exodus is similar to this one, but only in reverse. There we see the king of the land bent on holding the people of God back and persecuting them. He refused to let the people go. The scripture tells us fifteen times that Pharaoh’s heart was “hardened.” The interesting thing is that some of those times it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and other times it was Pharaoh who hardened his own heart. The bottom line is this: Pharaoh’s will was already made up. He had determined already that he would not let the people go (see Exodus 5:2). Do you really think that Pharaoh was just about to start a new Sunday School ministry for the Hebrew slaves, but then was instead forced by God to make things harder for Israel? No – he was a willing participant in Israel’s misery, and he was completely unwilling to release the people of God out of Egyptian bondage.

How can we reconcile these two concepts – man’s free will and God’s sovereignty? I must confess that I cannot completely wrap my head around all that would be included in this discussion, but I am pretty sure that God’s sovereign plan is accomplished while allowing man to make choices. Man certainly chose to sin against God. Could God force His will upon man? He could, but does He? I am not so sure about that. Does God work in man, influencing man’s decisions? I believe He does, but I do not think that man is a mere robot preprogrammed to do whatever God desires. Neither is he a puppet whose strings are controlled from Heaven. God is certainly sovereign and accomplishes His plan for the ages just as He determined before the beginning of the world, but He will not remove man’s free will in the process. Man is free to accept or reject God’s grace, and he is free to obey or disobey God’s commands. He (and the people around him) will also suffer the consequences of his choices, but he does have a choice. Joshua said, “choose you this day,” and in Revelation, the Spirit of God invites “whosoever will.” These are expressions of choice. I do not always choose wisely, but I cannot blame God for the choices I make or the consequences of those choices.

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Bob Fenton
Bob Fenton
2 years ago

Amen Pastor.I thank God for giving me a choice over 40 years ago to except His Son as my Savior. He broke the chains of eternal damnation and set me free from eternal pain and suffering of hell . There is a saying that Freedom is not free ,there is a price that was paid for it ,and that was the Lord Jesus Christ who took our place and suffered on cross for all of mankind .like the post

Bob Fenton
Bob Fenton
27 days ago

Amen Pastor. There is nothing like the feeling of when God stirs up our Spirit and taking the challenge and the blessing that comes along with the stirring of the spirit within side of us, let us act upon and execute the stirring of the spirit within us and be a blessing to others and to take on the calling of the post

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