I struggle sometimes with how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility can both be true. I know, mind you, that they both are, but nevertheless my finite mind, which wants to figure everything out and file it away as ‘understood’ has a hard time reconciling the two. How can God be completely sovereign over everything that happens, but at the same time, man is responsible for his actions? I can’t explain it, but it’s true. Here is a passage of scripture that shows the two very clearly, I think.
5. O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.
6. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
7. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.
8. For he saith, Are not my princes altogether kings?
9. Is not Calno as Carchemish? Is not Hamath as Arpad? Is not Samaria as Damascus?
10. As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria;
11. Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?
12. Wherefore it shall come to pass, [that] when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.
13. For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done [it], and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man:
14. And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped.
15. Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.
16. Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.
In this story, God is going to send Assyria up against the hypocritical nation of Israel to punish her. Assyria is going to be an instrument in God's hands--the "rod of mine anger". And when God is finished, he is going to punish the king and the kingdom of Assyria for what they have done.
God is going to be sovereign in all that is done, for the king of Assyria will be doing what God is planning for him to do; and yet, the king and kingdom of Assyria will be held responsible for their acts. In this passage, the coexistence of God's absolute sovereignty and human responsibility is clearly displayed for us. We may have a hard time understanding how they can coexist, but here they are, side by side in the same passage of scripture, and side by side in regards to one single event.
Verse 7 tells us that the king’s intentions were not the same as the Lord’s. The king thought he was acting of his own power and will. His intention was not to punish and correct the people of the Jews, but to utterly destroy them, and not them only, but many other nations. In verses 8-11, the Assyrian king talks of the kings he had conquered in the past and how easily he did it. In verse 12, Isaiah tells us that indeed God will use the Assyrian king to punish his people, and afterwards he will punish the king for his wicked actions and pride-filled heart. In verses 13-14, Isaiah tells how the kings goes on with his boasting of what he will do and how easy it will be for him. I love verses 15 & 16 where Isaiah asks, shall the axe boast that it did the work instead of the person swinging it, or the saw boast of doing the cutting instead of the person pushing it back and forth? The king was only an axe or a saw in the hand of the Lord! --As are we.
What a great passage of scripture. The Lord is sovereign & at the same time, we are responsible for our actions. Understand it or not, it is true. The bible tells us so!