God's Overruling Providence
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles to the book of Proverbs, that portion of the Word of God we are studying together. You will recall we are in what we refer to as the second section of the book of Proverbs, that which is known as the personal Proverbs of Solomon , which begin with chapter 10 and continues through verse 16 of chapter 22.

As we have perused this particular section of the book, we have learned that the proverbs are of two kinds—comparative and contrasting. We have learned that the proverbs are not presented in chronological order as far as time or subject matter is concerned, so we said that of the many ways that have been suggested to study the proverbs, the one we like the best and the one which we are using is the proverbs discussed on the basis of principle—that is, gathering together all of the proverbs which deal with a certain principle. The principle we are going to discuss in this lesson is the overruling providence of God.

When we mention that subject, it might be wise to say that what we are talking about is a sovereign God, intervening and overruling in the affairs of men. I have enjoyed sharing these truths with you on the many different principles which have been before us, but this particular principle is one that I thoroughly enjoy studying in God's Word because it means so much in our individual, personal lives.

The Omniscience of God

I think to thoroughly understand the principle that we have under discussion, there is one thing that we are going to have to keep in mind, that is inseparably related to the overruling providence of God, and that is the omniscience of God. The doctrine of the omniscience of God, the fact that God knows everything, permeates the Scripture. We could spend all of our time on this one subject, but we are studying the book of Proverbs, so we are going to notice only what is recorded in this particular section about it. Turn to Proverbs, chapter 15, verse 3:

Proverbs 15:

3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.

Another translation, the New English Bible translation, suggests: “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, surveying evil and good men alike.” That is the basic meaning of the text. God is surveying evil and good men. It is not a matter of things we are dealing with; it is a matter of men . We are more particular when we recognize the word beholding in our text and remind you that the word beholding comes from the Hebrew word tsaphah , which translated very literally means, “to lean forward and wait,” the idea being that figuratively speaking, God is leaning over the battlements of Heaven surveying the activities of good men and bad men and awaiting the working out of His eventual purposes in their lives.

A verse of Scripture that I would like for you to notice with me by comparison is Proverbs, chapter 5, verse 21, which will emphasize the matter even more specifically:

Proverbs 5:

21 For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.

We are interested for the moment in the word pondereth . “God pondereth all the activities of men.” The word pondereth comes from the Hebrew word plalyah , which means “Jehovah judges.” Get the picture if you will, and then you will have a rather complete picture of the omniscience of God. God is leaning over the battlements of Heaven, awaiting the fulfillment of His eventual purpose, but He is not idly awaiting the fulfillment of that eventual purpose. Rather, He is pondering the activity of men; that is, Jehovah God is judging and discerning the activities of all men.

The Spirit of God would have us think that such an activity of God is a tremendous one, and it is, particularly if you have God fixed in your mind as one who is not omniscient. So to remind us that the suggestion that He makes is not one that is too unusual, He calls to our attention a proof in chapter 15, verse 11, which it would be wise for us to heed at the moment. We read:

Proverbs 15:

11 Hell and destruction are before the LORD: how much more then the hearts of the children of men?

Our English text is not a happy translation, for it does not convey to you the full meaning of the verse. For example, the word that is translated Hell here is the Hebrew word Sheol , which is the place where departed spirits go when they die. In Old Testament days, the body was placed in a grave and the body went to Sheol. Sheol, the place of the departed spirits, had two rooms to it, if we might speak simply; one was called Paradise for those who died justified in faith and one was called Sheol for those who died without being justified through faith.

This passage of Scripture says that Hell is before the Lord; that is, He is surveying all the activities and is cognizant of all of the spirits that are residing in Hell. The words “Hell and destruction are before His eyes” do not convey the true meaning of the text at all because the English word destruction is the translation of the Hebrew word abaddown . In Revelation, chapter 9, verse 11, the Spirit of God makes very plain that this word is the Hebrew word for the pit of the abyss, which is another place of departed spirits. Here we read of the demon locusts who will be loosed upon the earth during the period of the Tribulation. John said:

Revelation 9:

11 And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.

The bottomless pit is a prisonhouse in which are incarcerated all of the spirits who are disobedient to God. You might call them fallen angels; you might call them demons ; but our omniscient God knows the activity of all the angels—past, present and future. So do not think that He does not know what is going on upon the earth.

To recapitulate so that you will know exactly what we are talking about, we are saying to you that the overruling providence of God is inseparably related to the omniscience of God—the sovereign intervention of God in the affairs of men.

God's Sovereignty of Purpose

I want you to notice with me what is recorded here in the book of Proverbs concerning God's sovereignty as it is seen in a number of different areas. The first that I would call to your attention is what I have referred to as God's Sovereignty of Purpose . Notice Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 4:

Proverbs 16:

4 The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

This verse, simply stated, means that God has made everything with and for a distinct purpose. The American Standard translation of the Scriptures makes that very plain when it reads: “The LORD has made everything for its own purpose.” You are not here by chance. God has created you for a distinct and definite purpose. To emphasize the overall sovereignty of God regarding the purpose of man, this statement makes mention of the wicked. The last statement of verse 4 has proven to be a puzzler for many people who are interested in the Word of God, for it reads:

Proverbs 16:

4 …yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

Men would read the verse as though God deliberately created wicked people so He would have someone to judge upon that day of judgment. They say, “It is as though on the day of judgment He needed somebody to judge, so He created wicked people for that purpose.”

That is not the thought of the verse. The latter portion of the Amplified translation of that verse makes it even clearer, for keep in mind that the Lord hath made all things for a definite purpose. Even the wicked people are fitted for their role in the day of calamity and evil by virtue of their disobedience to the revealed truth of the Word of God. The ultimate purpose of God in the affairs of men will be fulfilled, and as one proverb emphasized, though hand join in hand, wicked men shall not go unpunished because our sovereign God will intervene in the affairs of men in order to fulfill His divine purpose to each one, the purpose for which each was created.

God's Sovereignty Over the Heart

Another illustration that we would call to your attention we might describe as God's sovereignty over the heart or God's intervention regarding the affairs of the hearts of men. Notice Proverbs, chapter 21, verse 2:

Proverbs 21:

2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.

I think the first statement of that verse is one beyond dispute: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” Very few of us feel that we are wrong about anything, and spiritually speaking, we feel that our ways are right even in the sight of God.

What do you do when you feel that you are right about a certain thing? You immediately proceed to do it, do you not? You immediately proceed to fulfill the thing you are convinced is the right thing to do. Where does the sovereignty of God enter into the fact that in the eyes of every man his ways are right?

Notice the last statement of the verse: “but the LORD pondereth the hearts.” We call your attention to the word pondereth again, and remind you that it is not the same Hebrew word which we noticed in Proverbs, chapter 5, verse 21. As you can see, it is an entirely different Hebrew word. It is the Hebrew word takan , and translated literally, it means “to arrange,” “to equalize” or “to determine direction.” With that word in mind, it might be wise for us to read verse 2 in that fashion to recognize the sovereignty over the hearts of men. Notice:

Proverbs 21:

2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD [determines the direction of] the hearts.

You may feel that you are right about a certain thing, and you may be determined to follow the course of action which you have laid out for yourself, saying, “I know that this is right. In my heart, I know it is right.” Someone might say, “What can be done when a person feels that way? How can you do anything about a situation like that?” If you talk hopelessly in that fashion, you are overlooking the sovereign rule of God over the hearts of men.

God's Sovereignty over the Will of Men

Very closely related to the hearts of men is the will of men. It is so closely associated, as we learned in one of our other studies in the book of Proverbs, but sometimes it is important to notice the difference. We need to consider a moment what this portion of God's Word has to say concerning God's sovereignty over the will. Every individual has a will. God created us with a will. Must it be considered? Absolutely, because God does not ride roughshod over human will. Fix that in your mind, but do not sit down in despair and decide that because a man is self-willed, there is nothing God can do. Oftentimes I have heard it said that the will of man must be considered and the statement is made in the context of “so God is helpless in the face of man's will.”

I do not believe that the Word of God teaches that, and I believe it is contradicting the doctrine of the sovereignty of God if you assume such. Notice what is recorded in chapter 19, verse 21:

Proverbs 19:

21 There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.

There are many devices in a man's heart. You may say, “We are talking about the heart, are we not?” No, as you see, we are talking about the will, the determining counsel of man. There are many devices in the heart of man, we read here, but what are we told? “The counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.”

Another translation makes it even a bit clearer. The American Standard version says: “A man's heart may be full of schemes, but the LORD's purpose will prevail.” Yes, these hearts of ours are scheming hearts, and we decide this and we decide that. Individuals throw up their hands in despair, and say, “What can be done? He is a willful man. He is a stubborn man, and you have got to reckon with his will.” You need to recognize his will, but you need not reckon with it, for a man's heart may be full of schemes, but the Lord's purpose will prevail.

Another translation that makes this statement even more effective, the Amplified , suggests: “Many plans are in a man's mind [notice the difference they make in the translation], but it is the LORD'S purpose for him that will stand.”

What an encouraging thing this ought to be to believers. What an encouraging thing this ought to be to fathers and to mothers who have dedicated their children to the Lord and long to see God's purpose fulfilled in their lives, and yet the indication is that the purposes of God are not being fulfilled. They become so alarmed that they begin to harass their children into spirituality, which is an impossibility and the very worst thing that you can possibly do. The harassment of parents in relation to their children in regard to spiritual things is an indication to me that they have no confidence in the overruling providence of God, that they have no confidence that the purpose of God will stand in the life of the individual concerned, no matter how many schemes may be in the human heart.

Don't misunderstand me or misquote me. You may have to live through the carrying out of some of those schemes, and the carrying out of some of those schemes may come nigh to breaking your heart, but you do not need to panic. The overruling providence of God cannot be denied.

Overruling Providence of God in Relation to Rulers

I want to give you some examples in this portion of the book of Proverbs of the overruling providence of God. I would like for you to notice first that overruling providence of God in relation to rulers. This verse gives me a great deal of comfort in days of uncertainty, in days when we know not which direction the countries of our world are going to go. Notice chapter 21, verse 1:

Proverbs 21:

1 The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

Two things I would like for you to keep in mind. One of them is related to the two last words, “he will.” Whithersoever he will, God is in charge of the governments of the world. He putteth up men and He putteth down men. He can turn the hearts of the rulers of the world in the direction that He wills, just as He directs the water courses of the world.

I would suggest to you another thought from that verse, and that is that the kings are in the hands of God, and God, being so closely related to them, can do with them what you and I may never be able to do because we may never be able to get the ear of the king.

I think you should very definitely be concerned about the trend in our own nation. I think you should be doing everything that you can to bring to an end that which would rob us of our freedom and do everything that you can to extend the freedoms which yet remain.

I would remind you that if you feel rather helpless and feel that there is nothing you can do, there is something you can do. You can pray. There is no point in praying unless you can pray intelligently, so you need to be informed in order that you can pray intelligently, speaking the mind of the Lord. When you do, you will be able to sway the heart of God to sway the heart of the king and accomplish the purpose that God has in mind.

In the book of Ezra, chapter 6, there is the story of the rebuilding of the temple. At the celebration, the statement was made that we notice in verse 22:

Ezra 6:

22 And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, [now notice] and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

If you read the whole story you will find that this wicked king was so moved after the people of God prayed that God turned the heart of that king from opposing their enterprise to assisting their enterprise. Unless you are carrying on a ministry of intercession for our beloved country, don't say there isn't anything you can do. There may be many other things you can do and maybe many more things you ought to do, but there is one thing thing that you can do. I can say with full assurance that you can pray that God will wake up the President in the middle of the night and put into his heart and mind the things that need to be placed there to accomplish the divine purposes of God.

If you are saying that I sound a bit contradictory talking about divine intervention in the affairs of men, talking about divine purposes, and are asking why I should talk to you about asking God to do something, it is because God has included in the plan of His sovereignty the ministry of intercession, and it is affected by the intercession of men.

God's Sovereignty in Relation to Casting Lots

I would like to call to your attention another example of God's sovereignty. This time it is in relation to casting lots. Notice chapter 16, verse 33:

Proverbs 16:

33 The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.

The casting of lots is not something that we do today. This is something that was done in Old Testament times. Nobody knows for sure what the lot was. It may have been two different colored stones—a black and a white. Nobody knows for sure, but whatever the lots were, they were cast into the lap of the High Priest, and decisions were made on the basis of the way the lots fell.

Someone might say, “This is luck. This is gambling. This is spinning the wheel. This is tossing the coin. Heads, we do; tails, we don't.” God said, “No, no. Men cast the lots, but the way the lots fall is determined by the Lord.” Another translation, the A mplified translation seems to me to relate it properly to everyday living when it says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly of the LORD.” Then to bring it up to today, because we are not in the habit of casting lots like they did in the Old Testament times, the Amplified translation adds, “even the events that seem accidental are really ordered of Him.”

We remind you, on the basis of this and other Scriptures we could quote had we the time, that there are no accidents in the life of the child of God. God is so ordering our lives that even that which seems accidental or as near luck as the casting of lots is really part of God's plan, His divine purpose for those who have placed their trust in Him.

God's Overruling Providence Regarding the Knowledge of God

Keep in mind that we are looking at examples of the overruling providence of God regarding the affairs of men, so I would call to your attention another example of what we are talking about: God's overruling providence regarding the knowledge of God. Notice what is recorded in Proverbs, chapter 22, verse 12:

Proverbs 22:

12 The eyes of the LORD preserve knowledge, and he overthroweth the words of the transgressor.

In the light of the context the word knowledge here could just as well be translated by the Word of God . That is exactly what it means. God intervenes in the affairs of men to preserve His Word, and the words of the false teachers are overthrown. Of course, you understand we do not have time to review all of those instances where God intervened in the affairs of men to preserve the Word of God so that we have it before us in a form as pure as though we had the original manuscript before us. This is the providence of God, for no other book has so been preserved in the history of mankind, and it is an illustration of the certainty of the Word and the definiteness with which we can depend upon it.

God's Intervention in Man's Plans

We call to your attention God's intervention in what I refer to as the plans of man . This may seem very similar to what we touched on before, but it is a different side of the same picture. Notice chapter 16, verse 9:

Proverbs 16:

9 A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.

You may say, “Today or tomorrow I shall go into such and such a city and buy and sell and get gain.” But if you do talk like that, you are a very foolish man because you should say, “If the LORD will, I shall do that;” for God does have a will for you, and when He so desires, He intervenes in the affairs of men so that regardless of the plans that you may make in your own mind, God can direct your steps.

The American Standard emphasizes it with the words: “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” I am sure that many of you recognize that you have at times made certain plans and were very sure that you were going to carry them out. Then suddenly you discovered that you didn't. You may not know the reason for it, or you may have an explanation that satisfies your own mind; but I think God in Heaven must smile to Himself at some of the explanations we give for the reason some of the plans that we have made are not fulfilled. The answer is, no matter how many plans we might make, God is able to direct our steps. Not only is He able, He does.

God's Intervention in Man's Thoughts

We call to your attention another example in relation to the thoughts of men. Notice chapter 16, verse 1:

Proverbs 16:

1 The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.

How many times have you planned to say something. There was a need, perhaps, to converse with some individual, and you planned very carefully everything that you were going to say. To you it seemed all right, but God knew that if you were permitted to say what was being suggested in your mind, havoc would be the order of the day, and so God intervened. You order your thoughts, and God causes something entirely different to come from your lips. Sometimes you might even be surprised at how it appears.

The New English Bible suggests: “A man orders his thoughts, but the LORD inspires the thoughts he utters.” This does not suggest that there should never be any preparation for what is said. It does not suggest that there should never be any preparation for any speech that might have to be made, but it is to say that you and I should recognize the overruling providence of God to such an extent that He can even change the very thoughts of your mind and rephrase the words of your mouth.

If you have been thinking, you are probably saying to yourselves, “If God intervenes in the affairs of men is there anything left for me to do? Is it all of God? Is it all settled? Is man but a pawn upon the chessboard of divine humor?” We offer to you some exhortations which are given in the light of the examples at which we have looked, these exhortations limited to what we find in this section of the book of Proverbs.

How Can Man Understand His Own Way?

The first is in the form of a question. Notice Proverbs, chapter 20, verse 24:

Proverbs 20:

24 Man's goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?

It is a pretty good question, isn't it? Perhaps the question will be the clearer to you if you notice the question in another phraseology: “Man's steps are ordained of the Lord. How then can any man understand his own way?”

The answer is very simple, Beloved. You can't understand your own way. You can't make your own plans because God has a purpose and a plan for you. You never will be happy, and you never will be well adjusted until you find God's plan and purpose for your life, for He has a specific one.

I am well aware of the arguments of some theologians, who say, “God has a general plan for the human race, so don't be silly enough to be worrying about what God's will is for your individual life.”

I suggest that such individuals are riding an election hobby and when anybody rides a hobby of any kind in the Word of God, they are blinded to the whole truth of God's Word. How then can man understand his way?

Commit Your Works Unto the Lord

The second exhortation I would bring to your attention is brought not as a question, but as a word of advice. Look at chapter 16, verse 3:

Proverbs 16:

3 Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.

This verse as it is represents a good prescription to curtail worry. “Commit your works unto the LORD, and your thoughts shall be established.” Turn your plans over to the Lord and God will establish your thoughts. This King James translation does not get all of the juice out of the orange, so to speak, and it does not answer the question that we referred to a moment ago: How then can man understand his way? I would call to your attention the Amplified translation of the Scripture, the latter part which reads: “Commit your works unto the LORD. He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, so shall your plans be established and succeed.”

I hope that you let that sink in, for what that verse of Scripture is saying is that if you commit your works unto the Lord, He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will. He will cause your thoughts to coincide with His plan and His purpose for your life, and so your plan will be established and succeed.

Conclusion

When we read in God's Word that His purpose will prevail, we are not reading that God takes a big stick and says, “I'm going to do what I want to do, so be quiet. You are no more than a robot with nothing to say or no way to be associated in My plans and purpose.” Instead, He said—to me this is wonderful—“I have a plan and I have a purpose for you. My plan and My purpose is the best. Your heart is full of schemes. You can try them if you want to, and if you wait long enough, every one of them will fail. Then My purpose will stand. But if you want to save some time, you commit your thoughts, your works, your plans to Me, and I will go to work on your will. I will make it coincide with My will. Then your plans will be established and your purposes will succeed.”

If there is a secret of success, it is this: Recognize the overruling providence of God in the affairs of your life and give way to it.


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