As informed Bible students have observed so many times in the past, the providential activity of God is beyond human analysis. I sometimes refer to it as a provable-nonprovable proposition.
This is what I mean: the Lord’s providential operations are certain; for, in principle, Bible examples demonstrating such are very clear. The experiences of Joseph are sufficient within themselves to establish this point (see Genesis 45:5-9; 50:20).
It is equally certain, however, that providential actions are veiled from human perception at the time they are transpiring (Ruth 2:3; Esther 4:14). Paul, in referring to the conversion of Onesimus, could not be sure whether providence figured into the glorious event or not (Philemon 15). He suspected that it did, but he could not positively affirm it.
One aspect of Jehovah’s providence is his international operation. He is “ruler over the nations” (Psalm 22:28), and civil powers rise and fall at his behest (Daniel 2:21; 4:35). The general rule seems to be, “righteousness exalts a nation” (Proverbs 14:34), but “nations that forget God” are consigned to Sheol, i.e., the region of the wicked dead (Psalms 9:17).
Let us note several categories of this mysterious process of national providence.
The Use of Righteous Nations
The Lord can use a righteous nation to overthrow a wicked one. This certainly was the case in Israel’s early history when God led his people into Canaan and commanded them to destroy the tribes of that land (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). The ultimate potential redemption of humanity was at the root of this moral surgery. The failure of the nation to carry out completely the instructions was a source of severe hardship in the years that followed.
The Use of Wicked Nations
Jehovah may use an evil nation to chastise a relatively better one. There is no question but that the nations of Assyria and Babylon were far worse than both Israel and Judah, yet the Lord employed both of these pagan powers to punish his people who gradually (and sometimes more than gradually) were drifting into apostasy.
The Assyrians came marching against the northern kingdom of Israel under Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29; 16:7-9), and then twelve years later under Shalmaneser and Sargon. The capital city of Samaria was under siege for three years. It subsequently fell, and over twenty-seven thousand Jews were taken to Assyria as captives. All of this was because “they obeyed not the voice of Jehovah their God” (2 Kings 18:9-12).
A little more than a century later, Judah fell as well. Through the prophet Jeremiah, Jehovah pledged that he would send his “servant,” Nebuchadnezzar, against Judah, bringing desolation upon the land, and most of the people would be taken captive into Babylon.
This punishment was “because you have not heard my words” (Jeremiah 25:8ff). It is estimated that some seventy thousand Hebrews were transported into the pagan king’s land. The prophet Habakkuk disputed with God about the use of a heathen king to chastise his own people; but the Lord assured him such was necessary, and Nebuchadnezzar would be dealt with in due time (Habakkuk 1:5-11; cf. Jeremiah 25:12ff).
When the Jewish nation reached the zenith of its rebellion, even to the extent of murdering its long-awaited Messiah, God determined to send the Roman armies (called “his armies”) to destroy many of the Jews and burn their city (see Matthew 22:7). According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, more than a million Hebrews were slain and thousands more were sold into slavery.
The Lord had instructed Jewish Christians to “flee” the city (Matthew 24:15ff). What do you suppose would have been the fate of these children of God had they insisted they were patriots and therefore had the right to defend their Hebrew kinsmen and their homes against the evil empire of Rome?
Does the Principle Still Prevail?
Now here is the intriguing question: is God still working internationally—raising up and overthrowing powers, consistent with his ultimate will for mankind? Paul argues that he is.
The apostle contends that God “made of one [literally, out of one male] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitations” (Acts 17:26). The providential purpose in this international orchestration is revealed in v. 27.
How, then, does one know which nations to favor and which to condemn? He doesn’t! That is God’s affair. He acts consistent with his own sovereignty and purpose (regardless of whether we understand the reasons or not), and no one is wise enough to question him (see Daniel 4:35; Romans 11:33-35).
The Christian’s duty is to love the Lord, do his will, serve his kinsmen in Christ, work for the conversion of the lost, and conduct his attitude and life so as to facilitate his enemies’ salvation, if at all possible. Unfortunately these are biblical truths which all too many appear to have forgotten—if indeed they ever understood them.