Providence and Ibn Ezra’s not so original take on Moses the Egyptian: Can God decide my destiny without me?

In its description of Ibn Ezra’s writing style, “MyJewishLearning” says something quite odd about God. I capitalise the relevant remark:

”Ibn Ezra usually writes in a cryptic style, leaving much room for conjecture as to his meaning, probably because he was aware of the daring nature of some of his ideas which might lead the ignorant to unbelief. He is not averse to suggesting ORIGINAL INTERPRETATIONS of biblical events, as when he suggests that DIVINE PROVIDENCE HAD SO ORDERED IT THAT MOSES WAS RAISED IN Pharaoh’s PALACE. Had Moses been brought up among his fellow Israelites, they would have been too familiar with him from his youth to have respect for him as their leader. Moreover, the future leader had to have a regal upbringing and an aristocratic background to endow him with the nobility of character suitable for a leader.”

I’m surprised that the writer – that is if he/she believes that the Torah is God-breathed – considers Ibn Ezra’s interpretation that God ordains events to be a daring interpretation; for how else did Moses end up in Pharaoh’s court, and end up leading the Hebrews across the Reed/Red Sea, and all the other things he did, For that matter, how else did the writer of the above piece get to write it, and while I’m about it, how else did I end up writing this piece, or anything if it were not for God’s sovereignty?

“What!” you might protest, “do you think we’re robots? Don’t you realise that our free will is exactly what makes us human. Are you telling me that Miriam, Moses’ mother, and Pharaoh’s daughter, and all the other biblical characters, were merely pawns pushed around the chessboard?”

I answer: no, they (and everone else) are not pawns, yet all are are directed by the sovereign hand of the Almighty. How can this be? Joseph Ibn Isaac explains (Genesis 50:19-20).

Genesis 50:16-20

16. So they sent a message unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, 17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the transgression of thy brethren, and their sin, for that they did unto thee evil. And now, we pray thee, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. 18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we are thy servants. 19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20 And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Proverbs 16 explains further:

 1 To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue…4 The LORD works out everything to its proper end— even the wicked for a day of disaster.

Theologians speak of the “primary will/cause” of God and the “secondary will/cause” of man, which work in perfect synchrony. It is, of course difficult to understand the relationship between God’s will (His sovereignty) and man’s will (his responsibility). We read in Isaiah 55:

   8 “ For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
9 “ For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
10 “ For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

God’s will/thoughts/ways are not only higher than (a difference in degree) but also unlike (a difference in kind) our wills/thoughts/ways. No matter what man wills, the will (word) of God will not return to Him void, ”for I will accomplish what I please;” which is totally independent of what man pleases.

To return to Joseph (Genesis 50:20): his brothers planned evil, but God planned it (the evil) for good. Now it won’t do to say that God looked down the corridors of time, saw what Joseph’s brothers were going to get up to, and so(God) acted accordingly. If this were so, it wouldn’t even mean that “God proposes, man disposes,” but that God doesn’t even propose. What you get instead is, “Man proposes, and God does knee-jerks” (see No. 4 below).

There is:

1. The God who knows everything because he sovereignly controls everything, which is­ (surely!) the God of the Bible. Then there are the:

2.  “Open theists,” who believe that God cannot know something that has not happened.

3. “Middle knowledge” theists (Molinists) who say that God has a special vision (scientia visionis) and so knows all the possibilities of what man (a free being) would choose, if the necessary conditions were fulfilled. God then supplies these conditions. (A variation of Aristotle’s ”excluded middle,” where God knows both what He’s doing and what He”s not doing).

  1. There’s also another kind of theist called the “knee-jerk theist” (See The Violation of Philippians 2:6-10 – Knee-jerk theism).

Psalm 118

22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

The builders reject the cornerstone; the Lord has done this; but the builders are still held accountable. There you have it. Marvellous in ”our” eyes; isn’t it?

I could have used many New Testament passages to support the Hebrew Bible passages discussed above (Jesus quotes the Psalm 118 passage above – Matthew 21:42), but I think that I’ve made my point within the boundaries of my Jewish learning, and within the brief of MyJewishLearning.

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