The message God gave His people through the prophets was, “Return to Me.” Zechariah provides a good summary statement of the message of the prophets and how previous generations responded, when he pleads to the people of his day, “Be ye not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the LORD” (Zech. 1:4).
God had a message of impending judgment for backsliding Israel but often attached to it was a message of hope if only they word turn to Him. Because of this exception, there are some prophecies in the Bible that in a sense do not come to pass, or perhaps it would be better to say these prophecies had a conditional aspect based on the response of the people. God explains in Jeremiah 18:7-10:
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
This conditional aspect of prophecy was even true of Gentile nations. For instance, Jonah prophesied “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4); however, we know from Jonah 3:10 that Nineveh was not overthrown after forty days because God “saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” In fact, it was because Jonah, in his bad attitude, understood this principle of God’s merciful response to man’s repentance that he grew angry, saying to the Lord, “I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah 4:2).
This conditional aspect of prophesied doom is also true of individuals. Elijah prophesied of Ahab’s doom in 1 Kings 21:21-22; however, “it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly” (1 Kings 21:27). Because Ahab humbled himself before the Lord, the Lord postponed the determined evil so that it would be after Ahab’s days (1 Kings 21:28-29).
As a nation and as individuals, we too have prophecies of judgment hanging over us if we are not obeying the Lord, but if we turn to Him, the Lord may relent of the evil determined for us (Psa. 9:17). Like the nation of Nineveh or king Ahab we may postpone earthly punishment only for future generations to suffer it (the book of Nahum gives God’s punishment on Nineveh more than a century after Jonah’s preaching). The only way for us to avoid punishment is to turn to the Lord.
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
What is our world coming to? How long will evil people assail Christians? When anxieties about the future plague us, we must be reminded of the fact that God is sovereign. He reigns. He is in control. Everything is going according to His plan. Isaiah 44:24-28 is an encouraging passage that shows how God’s sovereignty is revealed and how we can trust that He will work out good for His people.
God’s Sovereignty Revealed in His Creation – Isaiah 44:24 God speaks to Israel, His chosen nation in the Old Testament, saying He is their redeemer, (Ex. 6:6; 15:13), who formed them from the womb. While it is true that each individual from conception is known by God (Jer. 1:5; Psa. 139:13-16), the context of Isaiah 44 is referring to God’s formation of the nation of Israel (v. 2; cf. Gen. 12:2; Ex. 19:6). God established the nation of Israel by redeeming them from bondage. Likewise, God has established the church, His holy nation of Israel in the New Testament, in the face of all opposition of men (Mt. 16:18; Gal. 6:16; 1 Pet. 2:9). But it is no marvel that God is able to accomplish His will since He alone has created all things in heaven and earth (Isa. 44:24). Nothing would exist or subsist without the Lord (Col. 1:16-17).
God’s Sovereignty Revealed in His Providence – Isaiah 44:25 The Lord is not only able to accomplish His efforts, but also frustrates the workings of evil men. Idolaters in Isaiah’s day were habitually looking to various superstitious signs and interpreting them as messages from their gods. When they claimed to have the spirit of divination, (to receive information about the future), the Lord would make them look foolish by bringing about circumstances that they never guessed would occur. Even the wise men who seemed to have deeper insight regarding the workings of world events are left perplexed when God turns their wisdom into empty speculations. Though some may be too proud to admit it, how often are even the greatest scientific minds in our day reminded of how little they truly know. Our God is the master chess player of this universe who, while never infringing upon man’s free will, works behind the scenes to bring about His will because He knows every conceivable outcome many steps ahead of any human.
God’s Sovereignty Revealed in His Predictions – Isaiah 44:26-28 While God confuses those who serve idols, He confirms the words spoken through His servants, the prophets. Isaiah is one such messenger of God who goes on in this passage to deliver God’s message regarding the rebuilding of Jerusalem and Judah. At the juncture this message was delivered, Judah had not even been destroyed nor its people carried to Babylonian captivity. Captivity itself seemed like an impossibility to many in Judah, but the Lord reveals through Isaiah the details of their return after exile. God calls the Persian King Cyrus by name, nearly 200 years before he came to the throne, as the one whom the Lord would use to grant His people permission to come back home (Ezra 1:1). The momentous occasion of re-laying the temple’s foundation after the people of Israel had spent 70 years in Babylon is mentioned here before the temple was ever destroyed. The detailed prophecies of the Bible should make us confident that the Lord knows exactly what the future holds.
The subject that remains is whether the Lord is sovereign in your life. Will you be His servant as He created you to be or will you pursue evil and have your purposes frustrated by Him who works all things according to His own will (Eph. 1:11)? Let Him be your Lord.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Matthew 7:7-11
One of the greatest biblical examples of the Lord blessing those who keep seeking Him is Ruth. Life had placed Ruth in bleak circumstances. After her husband Mahlon’s death, she returned to the land of his nativity, Judah, with her mother-in-law, Naomi. She was a foreigner from the land of Moab with no family to care for her but Naomi, who was also widowed. How would these two widows make ends meet? Where would they turn to find the necessities of life? She trusted not in the gods of Moab, but in the true God of Israel.
The book of Ruth is a book filled with requests. There are several requests made to the Lord on behalf of Ruth that He would care for her. Naomi’s request for both her daughters-in-law is found in Ruth 1:9, “The LORD grant you that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.” The book goes on to show how Ruth found rest from her heartaches because Boaz, a near kinsman, took her to be his wife (Ruth 2:20; Ruth 3:1-2; Ruth 4:13). When Boaz met Ruth he mentioned how he had noticed all the sacrifices she had made in caring for Naomi (Ruth 2:11). Boaz went on to express his request of the Lord to Ruth, “The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust” (Ruth 2:12). The book goes on to show how the Lord would, through Boaz, repay Ruth with food enough for her and Naomi (Ruth 2:14, 17-19; Ruth 3:15-17). When the people in the gate and the elders of the city witnessed how Boaz agreed to marry Ruth and purchase from Naomi all that belonged to the family, they said of Ruth, “The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem: And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give thee of this young woman” (Ruth 4:11-12). The book goes on to show how all this was accomplished because Ruth’s great-grandson was king David (Ruth 4:18-22).
God’s providential care is seen in the various episodes in the lives of Ruth’s family. While God’s plans for Ruth were to her unexpected, they were not because He was unconcerned. That it was the Lord who blessed all the characters in this narrative is repeatedly acknowledged (Ruth 2:20; Ruth 3:10; Ruth 4:14; etc.). The book, then, gives us assurance that though we cannot with specificity identify it, we can trust that God’s providence governs our lives as well.
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. Philippians 4:6