The first time we see the doctrine of providence explicitly coming into view is in Genesis 22 where God called Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.
You can imagine the torment in the heart of Abraham as he was walking up the mountain with his Isaac knowing what he is about to do. Isaac looks up at his dad and says in Gen. 22:7, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered saying in v8, ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering my son.’ That phrase ‘God will provide’ is where we get the name for God Jehovah Jireh or ‘God our Provider.’ This is the first place in the Bible where we explicitly see God’s providence being spoken of. This is a great passage because it looks forward to God providing the greater Lamb in His Son for the greatest sacrifice of all, His death on the cross for us.
We can define God’s providence in this manner: the continued exercise of the divine work whereby God preserves all His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end (Berkhof, 166). Or as the Westminster Shorter Catechism question 11 puts it ‘God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions.’
This is shown clearly in the Bible, where we see God being providentially over 11 things:
1) The entire universe – Ephesians 1:11, ‘…all things work according to the counsel of His will.’ Psalm 103:19, ‘The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all.’
2) The physical world – Psalm 135:6, ‘Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.’ Matthew 5:35, ‘…earth is His footstool.’
3) The brute creation – Matthew 10:29, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.’ Matthew 5:45, ‘For He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.’
4) Over all nations – Job 12:23, ‘He makes nations great, and He destroys them, He enlarges nations, and leads them away.’ Psalm 22:28, ‘For kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations.’ Psalm 66:7 says God’s ‘eyes keep watch on the nations.’
5) Man’s birth and life – Psalm 139:16, ‘Your eyes saw my unformed substance, in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.’ Acts 17:26, ‘And God made from one man every nation on mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.’
6) Successes and failures of all men – Luke 1:52, ‘God brings down the mighty from their thrones, and exalts those of humble estate.’ Psalm 75:7, ‘It is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.’
7) Seemingly accidental occurrences – Proverbs 16:33, ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.’ Matthew 10:30, ‘Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.’
8) The protection of His people – Psalm 4:8, ‘In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone O’ Lord make me dwell in safety.’ And the verse that began us tonight, Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.’
9) The wants of His people – Deuteronomy 8:3, ‘And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’ Philippians 4:19, ‘And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.’
10) Answers to prayer – Matthew 6:32, ‘…our heavenly Father knows’ what you need. Matthew 7:7, ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.’ Luke 18:7-8, ‘Will not God give justice to His elect, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.’
11) Punishment of the wicked – Proverbs 16:4, ‘The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.’ Romans 9:22, ‘What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction…’
We can also make three distinctions when it comes to God’s providence: preservation, concurrence, and government.
Preservation: the continuous work of God by which He maintains the things which He created, together with the properties and powers with which He endowed them.
Concurrence: the operation of God’s divine power which causes all things to act as He ordained them to act.
Government: the continued activity of God whereby He rules all things purposefully so as to secure His divine purpose for all things.
Friday we’ll ask the ever pressing question: ‘So what?’
(Image courtesy of Ruth Seefeldt)