Divine Decrees

The Well-Meant Offer: God Begs the Wicked to Repent (Ezek 33:11), Part 1

The Prodigal Son, Nikolay Losev, 1882.

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The setting of Ezekiel’s prophecy in general and of our text in particular is the exile. The first phase of the exile took place around 605 B.C. The second phase of the exile took place about 7 or 8 years later, around 597 B.C. And the final stage of the exile took place in 586 B.C. This is when the Babylonians destroyed the walls and temple of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel was part of the group of people who were deported in the second phase of the exile, and God called him to the prophetic ministry in the fifth year of that second phase, which puts the beginning of his ministry at somewhere around 593 B.C. The specific prophecy that we’re going to examine was given sometime during the siege of Jerusalem, which began in 588 B.C. (see 24:1-2), and just prior to the third and final deportation in 586 B.C. (see 26:1; 33:21-22). So the nation of Israel has already experienced God’s judgment, and they are about to experience another phase of God’s judgment.

Into that context, God calls Ezekiel to serve as a “watchman” (33:1-9).

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The Well-Meant Offer: God May Desire What He Doesn’t Decree (Deut 5:29), Part 3

Detail from The Prodigal Son, Nikolay Losev, 1882.

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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).

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The Well-Meant Offer: God May Desire What He Doesn’t Decree (Deut 5:29), Part 2

Detail from The Prodigal Son, Nikolay Losev, 1882.

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The Objections Addressed

Some object to the exegetical and theological conclusions above. On the basis of texts like Psalm 115:3, they argue that God’s desires must be coterminous with God’s decrees. That is, all that God desires he must decree. Or, all that God decrees exhausts all that God may desire. Accordingly, they impose one or more of the following limitations on the text.

God Desires the Good of the Israelites Only

John Gill denies that this text supports the notion that “God has vehemently desired the salvation of all mankind” on the grounds that “these words can be no proof since they only regard the people of Israel, who were the fewest of all people.”5

There are at least two problems with this line of reasoning.

First, even if it were true it would still establish the point that God may desire what he does not decree. Thus, one of the primary arguments against the well-meant offer is removed. For if God may desire the salvation of certain Israelites whose salvation he does not sovereignly bring to fruition, what objection can there be to the notion of God desiring the salvation of certain non-Israelite sinners whose salvation he does not sovereignly bring to pass?

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The Well-Meant Offer: God May Desire What He Doesn’t Decree (Deut 5:29), Part 1

Detail from The Prodigal Son, Nikolay Losev, 1882.

Unlike you and me, God has both the power and prerogative to bring all his desires to fruition. “Our God is in the heavens,” declares the psalmist, “he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3). Nevertheless, the Sovereign God of all creation has not chosen to fulfill every one of his wishes he has disclosed to us.

God expressly desired that Adam and Eve refrain from eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17), yet he ordained their Fall (Gen. 3:1-6). He plainly wants all moral creatures on earth to conform to his revealed moral standard, as do the moral creatures in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Yet he not only allows men to break his law but also uses their evil deeds to accomplish his plan (Gen. 50:20; Acts 4:27-28). And the Lord wants sinners to turn from their sinful autonomy, embrace him as Lord and Savior, and enjoy his saving blessing. But God has not chosen to bring to fruition the salvation of every sinner. In other words, while God fulfills all his decreed desires, he hasn’t chosen to fulfill every one of his prescriptive or revealed desires.1 This mysterious reality2 is underscored in a text like Deuteronomy 5:29.

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