In Psa 139, we read that it is impossible to get beyond the reach of God and shows the doctrines of omniscience and omnipresence (Rom 8.38). We are going to look at the Will of God in this segment and see how this fits into our subject. We’ve seen that God desires men to be saved (1 Tim 2.4) and yet “predestines” some who are are “fitted” (Greek “katartizo”= to make one what they ought to be) to destruction (1 Pet 2.8; Rom 9.22). How are we to understand the “emotional” complexity of God so that we can understand what the Scriptures mean by the will of God.
Does he will that some perish? Does he will that we sin? There is a concept in the Scriptures called “the Two Wills of God” where the Lord ordains that we do the opposite of what he commands some to do. God has a “will of command” which is what the Lord would like to see happen, and there is a “will of decree” which is what the Lord ordains, makes or allows to happen, even human rebellion and sin.
This may sound really hard to understand, but let’s look at this. Pharaoh is commanded to “let my people go” and it appears that he wants Pharaoh to obey him. And yet, we read in Exo 4.21 that he is going to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not let them go. God’s will of command was to let them go, but at the same time he hardens his heart so that he won’t do it, or, he gave him the “strength” to follow through.
The “two wills” are at work here. His commands can be disobeyed, that is done every day but his “will of decree” cannot be stopped. So, if the Lord is impartial, we cannot say he is unable to make sovereign choices. Paul brings out this point in Romans 9.19 where he says “for who resists God’s will?” The answer is, that in one sense we all have resisted his will but there is a deeper sense in which we cannot resist God’s sovereign will. It will play out exactly as he planned it.
It was God’s will that Pharaoh resist his plan. This clearly shows that the Lord may “will” someone to resist his will. This is a clear teaching from Scripture and Paul brings this point out. Isa 63.17 says “Why do you cause us to go astray from your ways and harden our heart from fearing you?” However, in Psa 95.8 it says “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah (meaning “rebellion”), as in the day of Massah in the wilderness.” Here he commands us not to harden our hearts. He commands us not to do it, but he wills that we break his commands when he does harden our hearts.
This is another example of the “two wills” in action. In Zech 8.17 he says “also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate.” But, seven verses earlier it says that the Lord turned every man against his neighbor. God may express his desire for men to be kind, but for a greater purpose he may turn their hearts to plot evil against each other. Zechariah does not see any contradiction here.
In Ezek 18.32 he desires for people to repent, but we read in 1 Sam 2.25 that Eli’s sons did not listen to their father and it was the Lord’s will to put them to death. In Jer 15.1-2 it says that even if Moses and Samuel were to intercede for the people the Lord would not be with the people, and that they were being sent away from him. Those destined for death to death, those destined for the sword to the sword, and those destined for famine to famine and those destined for captivity would go into captivity. There is no way around the concept of the Lord’s will of command (Ezek 18.23, 32) and his will of decree (1 Sam 2.25).
This brings us to the question of punishment for sin. Scripture says that God does not willingly bring affliction on men (Lam 3.33) but in Deut 28.63 it says that he will “delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you shall be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.” If someone can explain this without the concept of the two wills of God, we will listen.
The ultimate example of this is Yeshua. His betrayal was a result of a satanic prompting of the heart of Judas (Luke 22.3) but Luke also says that Herod, the Jewish rulers and the people of Israel met with the Romans to conspire against him according to what the Lord had already predestined to occur beforehand (Acts 4.27-28). He predestined the most heinous sin of all time, which was the murder and death of the Messiah.
In 2 Tim 2.24-26 Paul admits the possibility that the Lord may not give “knowledge of the truth” to some, but in 1 Tim 2.4 Paul says that God wants all men to be saved. The only solution to this is that God would like all men to come to saving knowledge, but for some wise reason he may not be willing to give this knowledge to some. As confusing as this sounds, it is a clear illustration of his “two wills.”
2 Tim 2.24-26 can also be compared with 2 Pet 3.9 where he says he doesn’t want anyone to perish. There are many more examples of this. Lev 19.11 says he doesn’t want men to lie, but he may send an evil spirit to make people lie (1 Kings 22.19-23 and Micaiah’s vision). The Lord doesn’t want a prophet to deceive his people in Deut 13.5 but he may entice men to give false prophecies (Ezek 14.9-10). God does not want his people to suffer at the hand of persecutors (1 Chron 16.22) but he may “will” for this suffering to happen (1 Pet 3.17).
He wants us to love our neighbor (Lev 19.18) but he can and does cause people to hate their neighbor (Psa 105.24-25). The Lord wants Israel to live in peace with one another (Lev 19.18) but at the same time he may cause a bitter rivalry between tribes (Judges 21.15). God commands us not to steal (Exo 20.15) but sometimes sends an evil spirit to cause men to rob others (Judges 9.22-25). He can restrain men from sinning (1 Sam 25.26-39) but experience shows us that he does not always do so. God does not delight in war (1 Chron 22.7-8) but he still turns men against one another for slaughter (Judges 7.22).
Knowledge of the two wills can help clarify many passages. It shows how the Lord can plead for sinners to repent (Isa 65.2; Ezek 18.30) while he has the power all along to give repentance to them (2 Tim 2.25). In Rom 10.20-21, God holds out his hands to stubborn Israel but in the next chapter he says why Israel does not repent. He gave them a “spirit of stupor.” In Deut 5.29, the Lord laments over Israel by saying “Oh that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commandments” but we know he has the power to turn their hearts to obey him. Solomon prayed for this in 1 Kings 8.58 but in Deut 29.4 Moses says that the Lord “has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.”
The verses portraying the Lord as mercifully holding his hands out to sinners illustrates his near infinite patience with undeserving man. Yeshua cried over Jerusalem but at the same time he could have made the people willing to come to him (John 6.44) in order to give them life (John 5.21). He calls many to repentance (those who hear the message) but only a few are chosen (Matt 22.14). We can will something to happen, but there is something we want more so we put off the lesser desire for the greater desire. This is the two wills in action among men. Even so, God can be willing to save all, but there is something else he “wills” more which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all. What is this higher desire? It is the manifestation of the full range of both mercy and wrath to man (Rom 9.22-23). Also, the humbling of man to the point he enjoys giving all the credit to the Lord for saving him.
In this life, we do not have any idea what he has saved us from. But someday, we will, and we will look at the Lord with nothing but thankfulness and awe in what he has done for us. What he wants is for his glory to be fully displayed and for all his perfections to be seen by man. We have no concept of this at this time. These “perfections” include his mercy and love, but also his wrath and hatred for sin. In order for the Lord to show the greatness of his mercy, he must show the depths of his wrath.
Paul affirmed this in Rom 9.22-23. We won’t appreciate the greatness of his mercy shown to us in our salvation unless we catch a glimpse of the fierce wrath that we deserved had he not intervened in saving us. Sin doesn’t fit in to his plan, but in the long run it fits into his design. Sin exists to show his mercy in salvation. God had a choice in creating the world. He knew sin would stain the earth, but he chose to create man anyway. He could have prevented evil, but he didn’t. The only possible explanation for the existence of sin is that in some way it was the Lord’s will for it to exist.
When man sins, he allows it. He could have prevented it all together, so why didn’t he? He values that his glory and all that it contains be displayed in the earth in both his mercy and his wrath. He values this more than he values people and their freewill. He does not and will not share his glory with anyone, that is why salvation begins, is displayed and ends with him.
In Part 5, we will pick up here and begin discussing the will of man and freewill and whether this is a biblical view.