Several rejoinders may be offered to the “anthropopathic” interpretations represented above.
1. God is Not Pretending
One may affirm that the text has a rhetorical function while also insisting that the human behavior enjoined is predicated on the divine disposition described. In other words, the inferred imperative (“you people should fear God always”) is based on an implied indicative (“God wants you to fear him always”).
When my wife says, “Honey, I wish you’d take me out for a date tonight,” she does not intend for me to interpret her expressed wish as “feigned” or “pretended.” Nor is her aim simply to define my duty. Instead, she expects me to infer (rightly) that she really wants me to do what she has expressed in the form of a wish. Similarly, God is not “faking it.” Every Israelite in covenant with God should obey him because he genuinely wants them to obey.
Ironically, after affirming Calvin’s depiction of God’s wish as “feigned” or “pretended,” Matthew Winzer goes on to affirm it as a real desire by narrowing the scope of the text to elect Israel:
The divine expression of desire for His commandments to be obeyed and for His promises to come to fruition [in Deut 5:29] is not an unfulfilled desire at all. For God undertakes on behalf of elect Israel to put His laws into their minds and to write them in their hearts, so that the promise to be their God and to bless them as His people comes to fruition (Heb. 8:10).
That God undertakes on behalf of elect Israel is a biblical truth. That all the persons identified in Deuteronomy 5:29 represent “elect Israel” is a misreading of the text. And Mr. Winzer cannot have it both ways—either the wish depicted is “feigned” or it is real.
2. God’s “Wish” Means Something Like “Desire”
One may agree that volitional and emotional capacities ascribed to God are not equivalent to human dispositions and desires. But they are analogous. Of course, God’s desires are not “need-based” or “uncontrollable” or even susceptible to being frustrated from without. If God desires an objective or state of affairs that is never realized in time and space, the reason ultimately resides not with outside forces to which God is subject. Rather, God’s freedom allows him to prefer and to pursue other objectives or states of affairs he deems more desirable.
For example, King Saul’s failure to carry out Yahweh’s directives is depicted not merely as contrary to God’s command but as contrary to God’s desire (1 Sam 15:22). Conversely, King David’s adultery and murder are depicted not merely as behavior falling short of God’s moral law but also as that which “displeased the Lord” (2 Sam 11:27). Hence, God’s “wish” depicted in Deuteronomy 5:29 is not identical to but analogous to what humans know as “desire,” just without the human limitations or imperfections.
3. God’s Desires Aren’t Always Decrees
The anthropopathic readings above are predicated on an unbiblical dichotomy between God’s decretive will and his revealed will, as if the former represents his actual disposition and the latter only a “sign” for human duty.
But as we will argue later,13 both God’s decretive will and also his revealed will disclose God’s moral nature and that to which his will and affections incline. Where the two seem contrary may be explained on the basis of God’s viewing two mutually exclusive objectives or states of affairs from different perspectives. John Piper describes it as follows:
God has the capacity to look at the world through two lenses. He can look through a narrow lens or through a wide-angle lens. When God looks at a painful or wicked event through his narrow lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin for what it is in itself and he is angered and grieved. “I do not delight in the death of anyone, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:32).
But when God looks at a painful or wicked event through his wide-angle lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin in relation to everything leading up to it and everything flowing out from it. He sees it in all the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity. This mosaic, with all its (good and evil) parts he does delight in (Psalm 115:3).14
God might desire the devotion and consequent blessing of the wilderness generation as a thing in itself. The same is true of Saul and David’s obedience. Yet God did not decree Saul’s and David’s obedience in the particular instances referenced above. Nor did he decree the devotion of the Israelites addressed in Deuteronomy 5:29.
In such cases, God’s desire (decretive) has reference not to the persons and outcomes considered by themselves but considered in relation to the totality of history and its ultimate outcome.
It is true enough that “whatever God wills is done” (Ps 115:3 NAB). But God’s will in this case is his decretive purpose, and God’s decretive purpose does not exhaust every possible state of affairs that God may deem desirable.15 The objectives and state of affairs envisioned in Deuteronomy 5:29 are a case in point. Thus, we are constrained to agree with John Murray when he writes,
There can be no room for question but that the Lord represents himself in [texts like Deuteronomy 5:29] as earnestly desiring the fulfillment of something which he had not in the exercise of his sovereign will decreed to come to pass. This bears very directly upon the point at issue.16
Indeed! If God may desire what he does not decree, he may freely and sincerely offer the gospel to those whose salvation he has not ordained.
13 See the “Theological Propriety” of the WMO.
14 Does God Desire All to Be Saved (Crossway, 2013), 45.
15 Neither the analogy of Scripture nor the syntax of Psalm 115:3 demands that the Hebrew be interpreted as comprehending all that God might desire. The same terminology and construction are used with respect to Solomon’s planning and building of the temple: whatever Solomon determined to do he did (see 1 Kings 9:1). This expression does not preclude the possibility that Solomon may have contemplated other “desirable possibilities.” It simply means that nothing hindered him from bringing to realization what he ultimately wanted to bring to realization. This same sense can be applied to Psalm 115:3.
16 The “point at issue” is, according to Murray, whether God has any disposition of lovingkindness toward the non-elect and whether it can be said that he genuinely has pleasure and delight in contemplating their blessedness in connection with their compliance with the offer of the gospel. See “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” in vol 4 of Collected Works(Banner of Truth, 1972), 119; K. W. Stebbins, Christ Freely Offered(Covenanter Press, 1978), 43-44; Samuel E. Waldron, Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Evangelical Press, 1989), 122.
Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.