sermon: God's Sovereignty, Ecclesiastes, and God's Will
Regarding Us and God's Will
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 19-Jan-13; 75 minutes
I was quite interested in the commentary that Richard gave because one of the major principles that is within it feeds right into what I am going to say here (although my sermon is not in any way about deep space, where we have never been to but someday hope to go). The title of my sermon is God's sovereignty, (I seem to be stuck in that gear but it is a good one), Ecclesiastes, (a little forerunner of what is to come), and God's will. That is involved in both of those other subjects.
There was a section in my previous sermon in which I asked a question, “Why do we sin?” Often it is out of ignorance and other times it is because we do not know God's will specifically enough to avoid sinning and other times we are simply overwhelmed by weakness or desire. None of these is truly a justifiable reason, but there is no doubt that the effect of any sin is not good regardless of the justification that we form. The wage can always be death.
One thing is always true, and that is that when we sin God has not stopped us from sinning. This is interesting, because as human parents we almost invariable attempt to stop our children from doing the bad things and we will often resort to force to stop them if it does not seem as though they are going to be inclined to stop.
As we begin, let us first see that God does not judge each sin as being of equal value. So we will turn to Luke 12.
Luke 12:47-48 And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know yet committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required. And to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.
This is pretty clear, and it helps to establish from this verse that God Himself does not judge every sin as being of equal seriousness. So the instruction is clear: when any sin is committed there will be a penalty, as those two verses show, but the penalty will be according to a sliding scale based on the sin’s seriousness.
This principle can also be established from the Old Testament laws that God gave Israel that show that one’s intent and the attitude in which it was done, made the judgment different. Please turn to Exodus 21. This is right in the midst of the terms of the Old Covenant.
Exodus 21:12-14 He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. But, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee. But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor to kill him with guile, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.
The intent makes a difference.
Numbers 35:15-25 These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there. But if he strikes him with an iron implement, so that he dies, he is a murderer, the murderer shall surely be put to death. And if he strikes him with a stone in the hand by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer. The murderer shall surely be put to death. Or if he strikes him with a wooden hand weapon, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer. The murderer shall surely be put to death. The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death. When he meets him, he shall put him to death. If he pushes him out of hatred or, while lying in wait, hurls something at him so that he dies, or in enmity he strikes him with his hand so that he dies, the one who stuck him shall surely be put to death, for he is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him. But, if he pushes him suddenly without enmity, or throws anything at him without lying in wait, or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm, then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments. And the congregation shall deliver the man slayer from the hand of the avenger of blood and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.
So most of that information there was in regard to murder, and you can see clearly that if it was done with intent then the person was guilty of murder and they were put to death. On the other hand, if the death was accidental, it becomes manslaughter and the person is still penalized. He has to spend a long period of time in the city of refuge. It is like being locked up there until the high priest dies, and then because the death he caused was not fully intended, he is then free to go back to his family.
In addition to these laws, there are also the eye-for-an-eye judgments that clearly show that the scale of a judgment against the offender was measured against the damage it inflicted and the attitude in which it was done.
What about God not stopping Adam and Eve from sinning in the Garden? The Bible shows it was a very serious sin its consequences because those consequences involve us too. Does this mean that God was guilty of sin because of His failure to do good when He had the opportunity? Was He an accessory before the fact? How can we be involved in their sin?
Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son.
The answer to this lies within God's will and God's judgment. Now we will go back to the New Testament, to the book of Romans. Paul is discussing Adam and Eve's sin.
Romans 5:14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned [that is, us] according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
We are involved because Adam and Eve were a unique couple since they were the parents of all humans. They were the first humans, and they were the parents of all humans. God perceived both of them together, as the federal head of humanity. Federal means, an association of independent parts. A clear example is that the United States Federal Government is an association of essentially independent states. An example that fits into Adam and Eve sin is, if the federal government of the United States goes to war against a foreign power, the independent states, all fifty of them, are drawn right into that war because the federation aspect makes them a single unit.
This same principle is involved in why we are directly affected by Adam and Eve’s sin. We are involved in their sin because they carried all of us within their bodies and they, as our representatives before God, stood in the place of all of mankind. Thus we all became in some tiny measure also guilty of their sin and are penalized for it.
Some aspects of this may be a little hard to grasp immediately, but when you think about it you can see that God's judgment is correct.
I Corinthians 15:20-23 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. [This next verse if important for understanding of God's truth] For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming.
I remind you that in the previous verse, that is Romans 5:14, it says that Adam was a figure, a type, of Jesus Christ. This verse says that all who are in Adam die. Were we ever in Adam? Yes we were. All who were in Adam die. Why? Because the wages of sin is death, and we were in Adam as he sinned and therefore we die too. Death passed right on to us.
Now we will go a little further in I Corinthians 15, because this has an exciting conclusion.
I Corinthians 15:45-49 And so it is written, The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life giving spirit. [We all understand that is Jesus Christ. Notice the difference between the two. One brought death, the other is giving life.] However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, [Adam] and afterward the spiritual. The first man [Adam] was of the earth, made from the dust. The second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of the dust, so also are those who are made of dust. [We follow the same pattern.] And as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
Christ is the spiritual reality of the new creation, and at the same time He is the second Adam. The first Adam contained within Him all of mankind that would follow, and we, God's converted children, are perceived by God as being where? In Christ. We are the heavenly, meaning spiritual, as Paul calls us in verse 48. Adam was the father of the old creation, the original creation., Christ is the father of the new creation.
You might recall the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6. It calls Jesus Christ the Everlasting Father of all the sons of God. These verses tell us that all who are in Him will be resurrected into His Kingdom, and all who are in Adam are mortal and die. It appears that God judged that as Adam and Eve did, so would all of mankind. We all sinned on our own.
History proves that His judgment was correct because we have sinned too. God had already willed—this all the way back there—through His purpose, that those in Christ would be spiritual entities, and have imputed to them the righteousness of Jesus Christ and given immortality at the resurrection.
In simple terminology, God, by His grace, reverses the condemnation that began when Adam and Eve sinned. What a gift! We did not do a thing to earn it. He willed it.
Maybe that kind of judgment seems strange to you, but it is used elsewhere in the Bible. An Example is in Hebrew 7, which is involved with Abraham, Melchizedek meeting.
Hebrews 7:9 Even Levi, [head of the tribe that became the priests, he was the great-grandson of Abraham] who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak.
Levi was not even a gleam in his father’s eye when Abraham paid those tithes. The way Paul reasons, if Abraham paid tithes, Levi paid tithes, even though he did not even exist yet. Interesting judgments in the spiritual realm by those who perceive the mind of God. That may seem far out in terms of reasoning to us, but to God, what Paul did there, I am sure God inspired it. It was an acceptable judgment, for Paul to make that statement.
We are going to consider some things about God's will today. The principles that we learn will feed right into the sermons on accepting God's sovereignty fully, as well as the principle Ecclesiastes teaches, without ever saying it directly, that everything in life matters. I have just read to you from the Bible, something that happened way before we were ever even on this earth, and it effected you and me. I am talking about Adam's sin. Everything matters.
Our minds are not expansive enough to be able to contain that thought completely. I am teaching you this thing about everything matters because the principle comes through the book of Ecclesiastes that we should treat life with respect, especially the life that we have been given.
With God's Spirit, we have been given something that is awesome in its consequences and we need to consider life thoroughly and not just let it slip by without us thinking about what is going on. What is happening to me, what is happening to them, and to see if there is anything positive that we can add to what is going on, and maybe, with all our might strive to glorify God in everything we say, everything we do, and everything we think.
There is one place where Jesus said, that by our words we are going to be justified or condemned. Do we really think about what we are saying? Every word can be used for us or against us.
We have already seen God's will. It is His will to save us. We will see an important verse as we go along here. We are looking into God's will because we learned as we were going through the Sovereignty of God series that it is our responsibility to submit to God's will. To fail to submit to God's will is sin, and the wages of sin is death. I am sure that we do not want to sin even though human nature persistently inclines us to do so.
There are a number of foundational planks that we need to consider as we begin this portion of the sermon. The first plank is very important regarding God's will, as we will see. It is responsible for much of what we must deal with in this way of life, in which everything matters. It is that God has an overriding purpose He is working out.
We have been included in this purpose, but He has overriding purposes that He is working out. These purposes have been underway from before the foundation of world, as Richard showed in his last sermon, but God has not revealed in detail what many of these purposes are. Some He has not revealed at all, yet. But they are nonetheless being worked on by Him. Even though we are unaware, they are being worked on by Him, and they will impact on us from time to time and sometimes His will affects some but not others. There is a selectivity aspect to some of them. That is the first plank.
The second is that God hates sin, and He has not directly willed that any of His children sin. However, as we are seeing, His purpose permits a person to choose to sin. God's purpose is the overriding reason why Adam and Eve were not stopped by God from sinning. So listen carefully, because He permitted them to sin! His permission becomes part of His will or it never would have happened.
Nobody slips anything over God when He is not watching. He knows everything that is going on in His creation. So if God permits something He has also willed it to occur or He would have stopped it right in its tracks.
The scope of God's involvement with His creation needs to be understood and better appreciated by us. I will repeat, God is fully aware of what is going on! He is not ignoring what people are doing. Add this to the commentary that Richard gave, talking about the immensity of what God has created, and it gives us some kind of insight into the power that there is in that mind.
What I am telling you is, that power that is in that mind is somehow able to keep track of what is going on all over the earth, of all the people that He is concerned about. In one way we can say, He is concerned about everything, because everything matters to Him.
He has more than sufficient awareness and power to stop them, but He has willed Himself not to. That is part of His will. Nobody overrides God's will! God only permits what is according to His will. He is not managing His operations in a slipshod, disorderly way. We are going to see a verse in a little bit where it says that He knows the end from the beginning and if He is going to reach the end that He has determined He has willed, that He is going to produce, He has to keep careful watch on everything that is going on, or it might not end the way He has willed it to do.
This is mind boggling stuff! This is the God we need to fear. I do not mean afraid, I mean to reverence and respect, to stand in awe of. What a mind! I might also say, what love! Why is someone that great so interested in us? Richard finished with David's Psalm 8, when he asked the same thing, who is man? Who am I? But He is.
I Peter 1:19-20 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.
The important thing for my sermon is that Christ was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. He is always attentive to what is going on in His creation, and within His purpose.
Back to Adam and Eve. He did not make Adam and Eve sin, and they had no human nature to pull them into sin. They freely sinned, and He knew beforehand that they would. Do you know how I know that? I Peter 1:19-20.
Christ was already ordained as the lamb slain before the foundation of the world. God did not need a Plan B. God is not guessing and making all kinds of adjustments as He goes along. And thus God designed and therefore willed the existence of sin within His purpose for mankind without Himself being the author of sin. Satan and his sinning angels had already done that. Satan continued his evil work as soon as God presented him with the opportunity with Adam and Eve.
Now we will look at the scripture that I mentioned before.
Isaiah 46:8-10 Remember this, and show yourselves men; recall to mind, O you transgressors. Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.
God has willed the eternal unchanging purpose concerning all that He has made to be accomplished by certain means. He has not revealed every aspect of His will within His Word, and that is important for us to understand. There are thing that He is doing that we are not aware of. I mean doing on earth, maybe with people we that we know that He is working with and we are not even aware of it.
Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”
A lot of people try it. Every single one of us, whenever we sin. But nobody can stop God from what He has willed to accomplish. This is an aspect of God's sovereignty over all and over everything, meaning every circumstance.
Adam and Eve clearly chose to sin. Eve's reply to Satan's statement that he made regarding the tree clearly shows that they were instructed regarding the tree and sin, and because of His purpose, this indirectly involves God in mankind’s sins because He has given us the liberty to sin. Thus it is His will even though we are never commanded to sin, and He will not command us to sin. He gives us liberty to do it. That is within His will.
It is God's will that we will experience the tragic effects of sin as part of our being created in Christ Jesus and of our preparation for the Kingdom of God. We need to realize that. I know that we are really feeling the wearying effect of the time of the end. God has willed that we have to go through this period. That is why He said that those who endure to the end will be saved.
He has willed us to have to go through it and feel the effect of this mountainous, almost earth size pile of sin that is pressing in on us. He has in fact clearly commanded His children in Deuteronomy 30:19 to choose life. That is simply another way of saying, "Do not sin, because it will bring about your death."
We may think that as things are piling up here that God is being somewhat unfair to mankind.
Romans 1:18-20 [God does not lie, He inspired Paul to write this.] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress [hold down] the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
Again we heard in Richard’s commentary, in word picture, some of the eternal power of our God. Can we use that in our life? Of course we can, because it helps to build our appreciation for Him, and our respect for Him.
This judgment here in verses 18-20, is a third element of those foundational facts that is true even though what we have here is a generality. This judgment does not cover each and every circumstance, thought, and activity of either God or mankind, but the great Judge decrees here that mankind is responsible for his sin. He has a great deal more evidence about God than he gives himself credit for, because God has revealed things to him.
They may not appreciate it, they may not think about it, and the impact that it may have on their life, but nonetheless, God does not go back on His Word. We will carry this a little bit further, turn to Romans 2 and we will pick up the story flow here in verse 12.
Romans 2:12 For as many as have sinned without [or apart from] law. . .
That is people live on earth and they do not specifically know the law of God, they cannot recite any part of Exodus 20 from their memory maybe, but they have sinned apart from law.
Romans 2:12-16 . . . will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law [those Israelitish people primarily] will be judged by the law [because they had it available to them]. For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.
What Paul was saying there is that God is giving evidence that He has provided mankind with enough evidence and a basic acknowledge of sin so that mankind even though unconverted and having little or even none of God's Word from the Bible, has enough understanding that He can convict them as guilty of sin.
However, the will of God that we need to be expressly concerned about, by we I mean you and me, is what is declared in His Word. His will as declared in His Word states our responsibilities to Him. I believe that it is very helpful that we all understand that not every aspect of His will is declared in His Word.
In addition to this, not all of His will was fully declared for all time, since Adam and Eve. He has declared His will progressively throughout time. It was not all declared at once. You can see this in the Bible. Now beginning in Genesis, that is, in that time, time as we live it clearly proceeds right on through the Bible to the book of Revelation's end.
I doubt very much that Abraham had the Bible fully available to him, but at the same time I am certain that he was taught by someone what aspects of God's revealed will he needed to know. Do not forget that Melchizedek was there at the time Abraham was walking on earth. Melchizedek might have been Jesus Christ.
What I am getting at here is that, regardless of when a person lives, God always provides His people what they need to know for their salvation in their day and time. David did not know all of God's will, nor have any of the prophets as much clearly revealed to them in the written word as we have today. In fact the Bible was not completed until the end of the first century—the century Jesus and the apostles lived in, and the church of God was founded in.
So, what we have available to us today was concluded as John wrote the book of Revelation. However, there is yet more to fully grasping God's will than just having the Bible freely available to us in printed form. This distinction is very important to you and me.
Please turn to Matthew, which continues on this theme of selectivity in regard to knowing and being able to carry out God's will. To those of us who have the Bible and the Spirit of God, we have the very best chance of any who walking on earth today, to really know the will of God better than others.
Matthew 13:10-16 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered them and said to them, “Because it has been given to you the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.
We will go back to verse 13, because my Bible has a notation in verse 10 regarding the term mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The notation says that we should understand mysteries as hidden truths. Those hidden truths declare God's will and at one time they were hidden from us. Most modern translations render that Greek word, secrets. God has secrets. That term is closer to what the Greek word actually means. William Barclay's commentary states that the usage in Greek does not indicate something dark and difficult, like we think of the term mystery, and therefore impossible to understand, but rather it indicates a term unintelligible to an outsider, but crystal clear to the initiated.
Finally, the NET Bible agrees that it is best translated as secrets and furthermore it means in this context a new revelation or a revealing interpretation of an existing revelation that appears earlier in the scriptures.
With that in mind, the next important statement by Jesus to us is that the correct understanding, that is, the revealing interpretation or the new interpretation, has been given to us, the initiated; but not to them, the uninitiated, the unconverted. So Jesus is teaching us that we have been blessed with an understanding of God's revealed will that appears in the Bible so that we might obey it. It has been given to us.
Now it is these aspects of God's will that we are commanded to obey. We are commanded to obey what He has revealed. Now clearly we should begin to see selectivity here. God gives to some but He withholds from others. This result in our being able to grasp these things regarding God's will from the Scriptures and other sincerely religious people can read the same things that we do and find nothing needful for them to submit to.
Witness the Sabbath, the holy days, clean and unclean, tithing as clear examples. We read it and it is clear as a bell and we want to do it. They read it and they say, “Those are nice ceremonies.” They really had something going, are you going to tithe, are you going to keep the Sabbath? No, I have no need to do that. God has switched on our minds. That is what Jesus means when He says we have been blessed. God has given us an insight that they do not have.
Now we are going to expand on this a little bit further. Turn to the book of Romans. In a way the book of Romans is the foundational epistle in the New Testament for everything that is of great concern to us. Again we will see selectivity. God picks some, others He does not.
Romans 9:15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”
Feed this thought right back into what we just read in Matthew 13. Some He opens their minds, others He does not. God is doing that. He has willed it that we understand but your next door neighbor has not been included in that will.
Romans 9:16-18 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
Where is that will ever written? It is in His mind. He wills it that one person can understand, He wills it that another person right beside them does not understand. It is not written anywhere. We can see the principle here so that we can understand why we can give thanks to Him for what He has done. This is why that saying exists: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
Romans 9:19-25 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? [God willed that Adam and Eve had the privilege, if you want to look at it that way, to sin. The opportunity was there but He did not make them sin, they chose to sin.] What if God, wanting to show His wrath and make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Nowhere in God's Word does God discuss why His will is different for some. Some He mercifully wills to call to reveal Himself, but others He wills to not call or reveal Himself and His purpose.
Now the why of this, He holds secret within Himself, leaving it up to the individuals to work out their life situation without knowing why—that is you and me—except to understand that we did not will it and God did not do this because we somehow earned it. He willed it, in a sense, completely and totally apart from what we were. So, the calling is given because He willed it.
There is more, much more, that God wills that He keeps within Himself. Please turn to the book of Deuteronomy, to the chapter leading up to that wonderful chapter 30.
Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of His law.
Revelation is the process by which God imparts to us the truth regarding Himself and His purposes that we would never otherwise know. He does this in order that we might fulfill our purpose and be like Him.
Deuteronomy 29:29 is an admonition to us to help keep us headed in the right direction, if we are going to live by faith. The admonition is this: "Pay attention to God's clearly revealed will, written in the Bible, because that is what we are responsible to obey in order to be prepared for God's Kingdom."
Remember the parable that Jesus gave about the virgins, five of the virgins paid attention to Christ and God's revealed will, five of virgins let their minds fritter off on things that were nothing but vanity. They did not pay attention to God's will, so they were not prepared.
In this category a clear example of secret things is the fulfillment of prophecies. God prophesied by writing prophecies in a way that it cannot be truly understood until He chooses to reveal them. For example, Jesus said in Matthew 24, that none of us knows the day or hour of His return. No one is ever going to figure that out until God chooses to reveal it. That is a secret that is inside of Himself. When He has willed it, everything will be in place for Christ to return. Please turn to Ezekiel. There is something very interesting here in regard to prophecy.
I want to show you something that appears very often in the book of Ezekiel. It is something to hang on to if we are going to keep ourselves on track and not get off the deep end in some area.
In Ezekiel 2:4, he is talking about Israelites; they are impudent and stubborn children.
Ezekiel 2:5 As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse—for they are a rebellious house—yet they will know that a prophet has been among them. [Even though they did not know it then. He is going to reveal it to them someday.]
Ezekiel 5:13 Thus shall My anger be spent, and I will cause My fury to rest upon them, and I will be avenged; and they shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it in My zeal, when I have spent My fury upon them.
Ezekiel 6:10 And they shall know that I am the Lord, and that I have not said in vain that I would bring this calamity upon them.
Ezekiel 6:13 Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when their slain men are among their idols all around their altars, on every high hill, on all the mountaintops, under every green tree, and under every thick oak, wherever they offered sweet incense to all their idols.
This phrasing in the verses that I just gave you appears literally scores of times in the book of Ezekiel. What is he saying? What is going on in these prophecies is that they are not going to know until God chooses to reveal it to them. Then they shall know.
This ought to be especially interesting to us, because the book of Ezekiel appears to be directed towards the ten northern tribes. Understand that the book of Ezekiel was not written until after they were scattered in captivity and thus the ten northern tribes never heard this before they were scattered. By His hiding of this, His will becomes much more personal.
This was not an oversight by God, that is, that Ezekiel was written after they had already gone into captivity. God willed it, so that the message would be available for the end time, and more fully revealed when the time came for some in the house of Israel to understand.
Deuteronomy 8:1-5 Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that man shall not live by bread alone but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens [disciplines] you. [Which includes teaching, as well as correcting]
I am referring you to this verse in principle to cover the way God dealt with Israel without going into many examples that I could give you. God did not reveal everything that they would face, in this very telling experience. God willed to raise up Moses and Aaron, and prepared both of them, especially Moses, to lead Israel humanly.
When Moses was sent back to Egypt, he preached the gospel to them, according to Hebrews 2. The Israelites excitedly bought into the message as indeed they should have, but God kept secret from them that their efforts to leave Egypt would be quashed until it was clearly plain to them that when they finally did leave—"then you shall know"—that it was by what God alone did, or willed to be done, and by what He himself clearly accomplished.
When their leaving was quashed they got angry with Moses and Aaron because events did not move as they thought they should, but now because what God secretly willed occurred, it is plain to us when we read the story, that it was only by God's purpose and power that their release from Egypt and our release from Satan's bondage, is accomplished.
Did some man bring about all those plagues? Did some man part the Red Sea after they got out of Egypt? Then God established that they would be lead through the wilderness following the path that He willed. Not only that, He willed that they would be guided by the cloud and by the pillar of fire. He did not tell them any of that beforehand, none of it.
By following the path that He willed, they very quickly ran out of food and water. Why? Because He willed beforehand that He would feed them with manna. He willed when, where, in what manner they were to be given His law. He willed that they would build the Tabernacle and none of this, and much more, was ever revealed by God beforehand. They were secret until they happened, and then He revealed it to them. None of these events happened accidentally, not one of them.
God knows the end from the beginning. He knows what He is going to do even beforehand, but that does not mean that He is going to tell the people He is saving beforehand what He is going to do, and how He is going to do it.
Romans 15:4 For whatever things were written before [in Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy,] were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
I Corinthians 11:1 imitate [follow] me, just as I also imitate [follow] Christ.
The Israelites responsibility was to faithfully follow Him through the wilderness, the One who is in the cloud and the pillar of fire, with patience and faithful endurance along the path to the Promised Land that He willed that they trod. It seems probable to me that they had no idea that their pilgrimage through the wilderness was their preparation for living in the Promised Land.
The important thing for us is this: are we getting the point of the Israelites' release from Egypt and their trek through the wilderness? I will make it clear that God's will for us may be far different than we would ever imagine. It is right here that the wonderful instruction in the book of Ecclesiastes begins to kick in, because Ecclesiastes shows that life can be compared to a labyrinth full of twists and turns because of the merisms that God wills to inflict upon us—good and bad. He also determines their timing, just as He did with the children of Israel in the wilderness.
All of these events are for our preparation. He gave us Ecclesiastes to help us, at least somewhat, in making choices following the path that He chooses for us, by faith to follow in this confusing world.
Ecclesiastes is not always an easy writing to grasp. I personally believe that it is much more complex than the Proverbs, by far. Please turn to I John. I want you to see something here that God has withheld from us. It is very clearly stated by the apostle John.
I John 3:1-2 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God. Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be . . .
God is holding that in Himself for each and every one of us. It is His secret. Are we going to be willing to follow Him, patiently enduring as He leads us through the wilderness? And your wilderness maybe entirely different than your next door neighbor's.
I John 3:2-3 [We only know that] we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
We only know generalities. Did God get Israel to the Promised Land? He did. Brethren, He will get us into the Kingdom of God as long as we do not thoroughly rebel against Him. But in order to help us, we must understand that He knows exactly where He is going and we do not.
Along the way God does not make us sin, just like He did not make Adam and Eve sin. He has given us the choice. We can choose to sin as we go along. And it is not good that we sin, because the trials God has willed we go through are carefully chosen to prepare us without having to resort to sin, and they are never according to His Word. He has already willed it, they are never too difficult for us. God has willed the entrance of sin into His purpose even though His own holy nature hates all sin, with infinite abhorrence.
He has done this because it is one of the best means by which what He is accomplishing in us will provide the best preparation for living eternally in His Kingdom. When we get there we will hate sin as He does. Our responsibility as we tread on is to live by faith, submitting to what He has already revealed to us in His written word.
Keep His commandments even in the midst of the unexpected, sometimes painful twists and turns that He has willed, or this wretched world has provided as an environment. It can be done because God has willed that it will be done.