God’s Mercy, Grace and Sovereignty 3
In our last article, we saw that humility and diligence causes the grace of God in our lives to increase, while integrity or honesty of heart and the fear of God causes the mercy of God to increase in our lives.
Now, what causes God to withdraw His grace and mercy from a person’s life?
To answer this question we will look at the lives of Saul: a man in covenant with God, like the born-again Christian of today and Pharaoh and Darius: men not in covenant with God, like the people who are not born-again today.
Saul was originally chosen and anointed by God:
1 Samuel 10:9-11 NIV: As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. 10 When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying. 11 When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”
1 Samuel 10:24 NIV: Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!”
But God rejected Saul as King and withdrew His mercy from him because of his pride and rebellion:
2 Samuel 7:15 NKJV: But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you.
Now, God’s mercy was not withdrawn from Saul all at once: it was gradual. God first announced His intention to remove Saul from the throne when he acted in haste to offer sacrifices presumptuously:
1 Samuel 13:7-14 NIV: Saul remained at Gilgal and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. 9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him. 11 “What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” 13 “You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”
However, God in His mercy still gave him victories in battle and another chance to obey God but Saul disobeyed God again, in partial, selective obedience, to please men.
1 Samuel 14:47-48 After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. 48 He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.
1 Samuel 15:1-3 NIV: Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. 2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'”
1 Samuel 15:7-11 NIV: Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt. 8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 9 But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs-everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed. 10 Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: 11 “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.
1 Samuel 15:13-22 NIV: When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.” 16 “Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.” “Tell me,” Saul replied. 17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?” 20 “But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.” 22 But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
1Samuel 15:23 NKJV: For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.”
The rebellion and stubbornness in his heart was his undoing.
Rebellion is simply doing what God has said your own way, as it seems convenient for your flesh; and it is stubbornness that causes Christians to remain in rebellion. This was what Saul did and continued to do.
So, for Christians filled with the Holy Spirit, originally chosen and anointed by God, unrepentant rebellion and stubbornness will cause God to gradually remove His mercy from our lives causing irreversible judgements to come:
Proverbs 29:1 NKJV: He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
Now, for men not in covenant with God: not born-again, we will contrast Pharaoh who had God’s mercy removed from him, with Persian King Darius who had God’s mercy shown to him.
Pharaoh’s forefathers had been saved by Joseph, a Hebrew. But when Moses came to tell Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go, the dishonesty and pride of his heart did not allow him to find out from the chronicles who the God of the Hebrews was and how He had preserved the Eygptian nation from famine 400 years earlier. This caused God to gradually withdraw His mercy, gradually hardening his heart plague after plague until the all the first born of Egypt and his army were totally destroyed.
Romans 9:17-24 NIV: For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. 19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory- 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
Notice that it is the response of our hearts either in honesty and humility or dishonesty and pride that determines whether God will increase or decrease His mercy to us respectively: either softening or hardening our hearts. It is not a function of what we do outwardly but a function of our inner heart attitude.
God does not predestinate people for destruction (1 Tm. 2.4,2 Pet. 3.9): it is their attitudes which, if they do not change, causes God, after long patience and forbearance, to destroy them.
Darius, on the other hand, heard about the Jews trying to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, allegedly in rebellion against the Kingdom of Persia. However, the honesty of his heart caused him to search the records to see that one of his fore-fathers Cyrus was the one who decreed that the temple should be rebuilt in Jerusalem. So Darius submitted to the will of God and asked for and received the mercies of the God of heaven for him and his sons.
Ezra 6:1-4, 6, 8-10 NIV: King Darius then issued an order, and they searched in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon. 2 A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana in the province of Media, and this was written on it: Memorandum: 3 In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be ninety feet high and ninety feet wide, 4 with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. 6 Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you, their fellow officials of that province, stay away from there. 8 Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God: The expenses of these men are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. 9 Whatever is needed-young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem-must be given them daily without fail, 10 so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.
So, dishonesty and pride will cause God to gradually withdraw His mercy from men not in covenant with Him until they are totally destroyed.
Honesty of heart and the fear of God will cause men to show mercy to others and so will cause God to also show mercy to them: the Persians showed mercy to Israel so God showed mercy to them.
So, for all men to increase the mercy of God upon our lives we need to be honest in our hearts, fear God and so show mercy to others:
Psalms 18:25 NKJV: With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful;