Freedom and Sovereignty at Work

Genesis 20:4-6 – 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.

One of the more difficult issues for many of us to grasp is the sovereign moving of God on our lives in relation to the significance of our choices. Are we free? Do we do what God sovereignly decrees? Interestingly, the answer is a glorious “yes” to both questions.

When Abraham was living near King Abimelech, for a second time in his life, he declared his wife to be his sister. Abimelech, as a king may well do, took Sarah into his harem. And God intervened to protect the woman.

In verses 4-6 of Genesis 20, we see the conversation between Abimelech and the Lord when God warns the king not to touch Sarah and to return her to her husband.

Notice two things at work. On the one hand, Abimelech had not approached Sarah yet. Though he had been misled by Abraham, he, living his life as he planned, simply had never gone to Sarah as a wife or concubine. As he pleaded his innocence before the Lord, Abimelech pointed out that he had not wronged Sarah in any way.

At the same time, when the Lord responded to the king, he let Abimelech know that it was God’s own sovereign hand that actively prevented Abimelech from going to Sarah. The Lord clearly intervened to protect this woman. Though he did not tell us here, it is clear that God would not allow the line of promise to be corrupted by the introduction of the descendant of a Canaanite king.

Considering freedom and sovereignty, in verse 6, we see both that Abimelech acted in his own integrity, and the Lord acted to prevent Abimelech from crossing a line that God was protecting. Abimelech felt that his actions and his decisions were in fact his own—and indeed they were to an extent. At the same time, Abimelech, once he learned the truth of the situation, also had to bow to the fact that it was the act of God that shaped his free actions so that God’s perfect will was accomplished.

When we deal with the issue of sovereignty and human freedom, much of our thinking needs to be along the lines of what we have seen here. God allows us to move in accord with our desires. God certainly never moves us into sin, as the Lord will not author sin. Yet, when all is said and done, we will realize that it was the sovereign guiding hand of God that moved us to accomplish his will. Thus, we know that God has made us free. But our freedom is limited by God’s sovereignty.

Of course this applies in our thinking about salvation. the lost person is not moved by God to not believe. Instead, the lost person is allowed to freely oppose God as fits his deepest desire.

In contrast, when you are saved, you are saved by grace through faith. You believe. You turn. You trust Jesus. You cry out for mercy. If, however, you could see behind the scenes, you would see that the faith you exercised was a gift given you by God (Eph. 2:8).