Does God Control Random Events?

What about seemingly random events? Does God control them?

THE FLIGHT OF AN ARROW

First Kings 22 contains a striking case. Micaiah, speaking as a prophet of the Lord, predicts that Ahab, the king of Israel, will fall in battle at Ramoth-gilead (1 Kings 22:20–22). Ahab disguises himself in battle to avoid being a special target for enemy attack (v. 30). But God’s plan cannot be thwarted. The narrative describes the crucial event:

But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he [the king] said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” (v. 34)

“A certain man drew his bow at random.” That is, he was not aiming at any particular target. An alternative translation would be that he drew his bow “in his innocence” . The alternative translation might mean that the man shot at Ahab, but he did not know who it was (he was “innocent” of knowing it was the king).

Whichever interpretation we take of this detail, we should notice that the arrow struck in just the right place. Ahab was dressed in armor. If the arrow had struck Ahab’s breastplate, it might have simply bounced off. If it had struck his scale armor, it would not have wounded him. But there happened to be a small space between the scale armor and the breastplate.

Perhaps for just a moment Ahab turned or bent in such a way that a thin opening appeared. The arrow went right in, exactly in the right spot. It wounded him fatally. He died the same day (1 Kings 22:35), just as God had said.

God showed that day that he was in charge of seemingly random events. He controlled when the man drew his bow. He controlled the direction of his aim. He controlled the moment the arrow was released. He controlled the flight of the arrow. He controlled the way Ahab’s armor was put on earlier in the day, and the position that Ahab took as the arrow came nearer. He controlled the arrow as it struck in just the right spot and went in deep enough to produce fatal damage to organs. He brought Ahab to his death.

Lest we feel too sorry for Ahab, we should remind ourselves that he was a wicked king (1 Kings 21:25–26). Moreover, by going into battle he directly disobeyed the warning that Micaiah the prophet gave in God’s name. It was an act of arrogance and disobedience to God. God, who is a God of justice, executed righteous judgment on Ahab. From this judgment we should learn to revere God and honor him.

Ahab’s death was an event of special significance. It had been prophesied beforehand, and Ahab himself was a special person. He was the king of Israel, a prominent leader, a key person in connection with the history of God’s people in the northern kingdom of Israel. But the event illustrates a general principle: God controls seemingly random events. A single outstanding event, like the arrow flying toward Ahab, has not been narrated as an exception but rather as a particularly weighty instance of the general principle, which the Bible articulates in passages where it teaches God’s universal control.

COINCIDENCES

We can find other events in the Bible where the outcome depends on an apparent coincidence or happenstance.

In Genesis 24, Rebekah, who belonged to the clan of Abraham’s relatives, happened to come out to the well just after Abraham’s servant arrived. The servant was praying and waiting, looking for a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 24:15). The fact that Rebekah came out at just the right time was clearly God’s answer to the servant’s prayer. Rebekah later married Isaac and bore Jacob, an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

Years later Rachel, who belonged to the same clan, happened to come out to a well just after Jacob arrived (Gen. 29:6). Jacob met her, fell in love with her, and married her. She became the mother of Joseph, whom God later raised up to preserve the whole family of Jacob during a seven-year famine (Genesis 41–46). When God provided Rachel for Jacob, he was fulfilling his promise that he would take care of Jacob and bring him back to Canaan (28:15). Moreover, he was fulfilling his long-range promise that he would bless the descendants of Abraham (vv. 13–14).

In the life of Joseph, after Joseph’s brothers had thrown him into a pit, a caravan of Ishmaelites happened to go by, traveling on their way to Egypt (Gen. 37:25). The brothers sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites. They in turn happened to sell Joseph to Potiphar, “an officer of Pharaoh” (v. 36). Joseph’s experiences were grim, but they were moving him toward the new position that he would eventually assume in Egypt.

False accusation by the wife of Potiphar led to Joseph being thrown into prison (Gen. 39:20). Pharaoh happened to get angry with his chief cupbearer and his chief baker, and they happened to get thrown into the prison where Joseph now had a position of responsibility (40:1–4). While they were lying in prison, both the cupbearer and the baker happened to have special dreams. Joseph’s interpretation of their dreams led to his later opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams (Genesis 41). These events led to the fulfillment of the earlier prophetic dreams that God had given to Joseph in his youth (37:5–10; 42:9).

After Moses was born, his mother put him in a basket made of bulrushes and placed it among the reeds by the Nile. The daughter of Pharaoh happened to come down to the river and happened to notice it. When she opened it, the baby happened to cry. The daughter of Pharaoh took pity and adopted Moses as her own son (Ex. 2:3–10). As a result, Moses was protected from the death sentence on Hebrew male children (1:16, 22), and he “was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). So God worked out his plan, according to which Moses would eventually deliver the Israelites from Egypt.

Joshua sent two spies to Jericho. Out of all the possibilities, they happened to go to the house of Rahab the prostitute (Josh. 2:1). Rahab hid the spies and made an agreement with them (vv. 4, 12–14). Consequently, she and her relatives were preserved when the city of Jericho was destroyed (6:17, 25). Rahab then became an ancestor of Jesus (Matt. 1:5).

Ruth “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz” (Ruth 2:3). Boaz noticed Ruth, and then a series of events led to Boaz marrying Ruth, who became an ancestor of Jesus (Ruth 4:21–22; Matt. 1:5).

During the life of David, we read the following account of what happened in the wilderness of Maon:

As Saul and his men were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have made a raid against the land.” So Saul returned from pursuing after David and went against the Philistines. (1 Sam. 23:26–28)

David narrowly escaped being killed, because the Philistines happened to conduct a raid at a particular time, and the messenger happened to reach Saul when he did. If nothing had happened to interfere with Saul’s pursuit, he might have succeeded in killing David. The death of David would have cut off the line of descendants leading to Jesus (Matt. 1:1, 6).

When Absalom engineered his revolt against David’s rule, a messenger happened to come to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom” (2 Sam. 15:13). David immediately fled Jerusalem, where otherwise he would have been killed. During David’s flight, Hushai the Archite happened to come to meet him, “with his coat torn and dirt on his head” (v. 32).

David told Hushai to go back to Jerusalem, pretend to support Absalom, and defeat the counsel of Ahithophel (v. 34). As a result, Hushai was able to persuade Absalom not to follow Ahithophel’s counsel for battle, and Absalom died in the battle that eventually took place (18:14–15). Thus, happenstances contributed to David’s survival.

When Ben-hadad the king of Syria was besieging Samaria, the city was starving. Elisha predicted that the next day the city of Samaria would have flour and barley (2 Kings 7:1). The captain standing by expressed disbelief, and then Elisha predicted that he would “see it… but… not eat of it” (v. 2). The next day the captain happened to be trampled by the people who were rushing out the gate toward the food (v. 17). “He died, as the man of God had said” (v. 17), seeing the food but not living to partake of it. His death was a fulfillment of God’s prophecy.

When Athaliah was about to usurp the throne of Judah, she undertook to destroy all the descendants in the Davidic family. Jehosheba happened to be there, and she took Joash the son of Ahaziah and hid him away (2 Kings 11:2). So the line of the Davidic family was preserved, which had to be the case if the Messiah was to come from the line of David, as God had promised. Joash was an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

During the reign of king Josiah, the priests happened to find the Book of the Law as they were repairing the temple precincts (2 Kings 22:8). Josiah had it read to him, and so he was energized to inaugurate a spiritual reform.

The story of Esther contains further happenstances. Esther happened to be among the young women taken into the king’s palace (Est. 2:8). She happened to be chosen to be the new queen (v. 17). Mordecai happened to find out about Bigthan and Teresh’s plot against the king (v. 22), and Mordecai’s name then happened to be included in the king’s chronicles (v. 23). The night before Haman planned to hang Mordecai, the king happened not to be able to sleep (6:1). He asked for an assistant to read from the chronicles, and he happened to read the part where Mordecai had uncovered the plot against the king (vv. 1–2).

Haman happened to be entering the king’s court at just that moment (v. 4). A whole series of happenstances worked together to lead to Haman’s being hanged, the Jews being rescued, and Mordecai being honored.

Vern S. Poythress

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With many peaceful blessings

Geoffrey

King David and King Solomon

I came across this little poem about King David and King Solomon in one of my many reference books – which I thought deserved a wider audience.

King David and King Solomon
Led merry. merry lives,
With many, many lady friends,
And many, many wives;
But when old age crept over them
With many, many qualms
King Solomon wrote the Proverbs
And King David wrote the Psalms.

Ruth and Boaz


So she (Ruth) set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. Ruth 2:3

Ruth had recently come with Naomi, her Jewish mother-in-law, from the land of Moab. She was an impoverished stranger in a strange land, just hoping to eke out an existence. God had told Israel that they shouldn’t pick their fields clean in the harvest but leave the droppings and the edges for the poor to glean. That’s what Ruth was hoping to do – to find a field, any field, where she could get permission to glean enough for her and Naomi to survive a few days.

She found a field and she “happened” to come to a part of the field owned by a man named Boaz. She just “happened” to come there. At least that would have been how Ruth saw it. Little did she know, but someday, this “random” happening would lead to her becoming the wife of Boaz, and an ancestor of king David, and Jesus himself.

We can see that this is God’s providence. God was directing her every step. Years earlier, Naomi and her husband “happened” to decide to move to Moab, where they “happened” to meet Ruth, who “happened” to marry their son. Years later, forced by poverty, Naomi and Ruth “happened” to return to Israel, and now Ruth “happened” to come to a particular field.

How many times in our lives do we just “happen” to go somewhere or meet someone and later find out it was God’s wonderful providence? Yesterday as I preached, I saw a family sitting there who years ago, just “happened” to move next door to another family in our church, who invited them to a dinner where they heard the gospel and eventually got saved.

You didn’t just “happen” to meet your husband or wife. You didn’t just “happen” to wind up living where you live. You didn’t just “happen” to join your church. God has been directing your every step.

And life isn’t just “happening” to you. You may work under a miserable boss. You may be going through tough times. You may have just been told you need a hip replacement or have a serious sickness. That unexpected tax bill, that transfer to another job, that tree that fell on your garage… you get the idea. Nothing just “happens” to us. God may have transferred you so you’d meet someone you will share the good news of Jesus with. That tree that crushed your garage? The tree service foreman may someday lead the Children’s Ministry in your church.

The next time you ask, “Why is this happening to me?” remember God’s loving providence. He has you right where he wants you, for your good and his glory. Nothing just happens to us. Not a sparrow falls apart from God’s will. He hand crafts every snowflake and lightning bolt. Our blessings and our afflictions are tailor-made by the loving hand of God.

Keep an eye out for God’s providences in your life. Someday you will say, “Oh, so THAT’S why that happened.” It didn’t seem so good at the time, but if THAT hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be enjoying THIS blessing right now.

And heaven will be the grand review of all God’s providences in our lives. Seeing how God orchestrated events and lives to bring you into the world, and bring you to Jesus and transform and use you for his glory. What an incredible day that will be.

From the pen of Mark Altrogge, Pastor of the Sovereign Grace Church.

Today, being St Valentine’s Day, Mark’s writings seem very appropriate.

I personally empathise with the whole question of ‘happenings’ – for I know that it was not by mere chance alone that my wife, Marlene, and I ‘happened’ to meet each other via the internet, and that we just ‘happened’ to get married – and that because we were living together after our marriage Marlene ‘happened’ to save my life when I was very seriously ill a year ago.

For I know that God has a special plan for Marlene and I and, for that, He needed me to be living an earthly life.

We may not always be able to ‘look round corners’ but providing we;-

Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way,
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey

the purpose for all our ‘happenings’ will be revealed unto us!