God Cannot Be Put In a Box: He Works in Mysterious Ways
“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isa. 55:8-9)
Sometimes when I pray for something I expect God to answer a certain way because of my own human reasoning, understanding, or desire, and He ends up answering a completely different and better way. Isn't it true that we so often try to put God in a box?
When we pray, we must pray in faith, and part of that faith is in the fact that God is a Creative God, and an all-knowing, all-powerful God. Anne of Green Gables often used the term "scope for the imagination." Knowing God as omnipotent, omniscient, Creator we often fail at having any scope for the imagination in how He will work. We have short memories and the sinful tendency to try to understand God and his ways through human reason, something God tells us specifically not to do. Proverbs 3:5-6 says Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Reread the Isaiah 55 passage above and notice the part that says, "...As the heavens are higher than the earth..." That's a vast amount. And that's how much higher his ways and thoughts are than ours.
I am reminded of two stories in the Bible where God did not answer or do things the way He was expected to. In these stories, God’s way was best by far.
Gideon - An Unconventional Military Victory
We first meet Gideon in Judges 6 threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. Because of this, poor Gideon has always been labeled a coward. However, if you read verses one through ten you will discover that the Midianites were a mighty force to reckon with:
"So the Lord handed them over to the Midianites for seven years. The Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel, camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys. These enemy hordes, coming with their livestock and tents, were as thick as locusts; they arrived on droves of camels too numerous to count. And they stayed until the land was stripped bare. So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help (Judges 6: 1-6 NLT)."
Most of us would have been in the winepress threshing the wheat also. I think Gideon should be given an A+ for creativity. I think the winepress incident is given to us after the first ten verses to prove the point that Gideon had a valid reason to be hiding his activities. The Israelites were hungry and oppressed. I think we are also given this scene to make us aware of Gideon's state of mind when God showed up, calling him into military service for the Lord to set Israel free. Basically, Gideon was shaking in his boots when the Angel of the Lord showed up in verse 12 and said: "The Lord is with you, mighty man of valor." "Say what? You talking to me?"
Paraphrased, Gideon was saying, "Wait a minute. If the Lord is really with us, why has he let all this bad stuff happen to us? Where is the God of miracles we heard about that delivered Israel from the Egyptians? It looks more to me as if God has abandoned and delivered us to the Midianites"(vs 13).
As this story progresses, we do see the fearful, insecure side of Gideon. He asked God for a sign that it really was God who spoke to him. He gave God an offering and the Angel of the Lord took His staff and zapped the offering by fire, consumed the entire thing.
Per God's instruction, Gideon tore down the altars of Baal that his own father had built. But he did it by night lest he is found out by the powers that be. They were not fooled, but God protected Gideon and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. He blew his trumpet and started calling in leaders from other tribes to assemble with him and start the ball rolling. Gideon was still unsure though and asks God for two more signs - putting out the fleeces.
In chapter seven, Gideon then assembled an army of 32,000 men. The Lord told him there were too many warriors. So God told him to tell his men that if anyone was too fearful to fight, they may be dismissed. Twenty-two thousand men went home, leaving only ten thousand. But God told Gideon that was still too many. The Bible doesn't say what Gideon's reaction or feelings were to that news, but many would quake in the army shoes. God's next plan to whittle down the forces was very unusual. He instructed Gideon to take his troops down to the water to drink. What he says next is just strange,
"And the Lord said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink” (vs 5).
Three hundred lapped the water, all the rest got down on their knees to drink. God chose the three hundred to deliver the Midianites into their hands.
Meanwhile, the Amalekites had joined forces with the Midianites and they together were as numerous as the sands in the sea (vs 12).
God gave Gideon and his 300 men an unfathomable military strategy. Gideon divided his men into three groups of one hundred and gave them strategic locations around the enemy camp. As instructed by God, Gideon blew his trumpet and each unit in turn, with a torch in one hand and a trumpet in the other, blew theirs, shouting "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon." They scared the massive Midianite army who in panic and confusion began killing one another and ran for their lives. The masses had now become cowards and Gideon fulfilled God's call on him as a mighty man of valor. Gideon's army had won the war without wielding a single weapon.
Gideon, though hesitant, reluctant, unsure and insecure, was also humble. He asked for signs, which took a lot of courage and humility, and then he obeyed God when he was sure that God was in control.
If this story does not illustrate God's unimaginable ways that are higher than the heavens from the earth, I don't know what is.
Naaman - Healed in a Muddy River
Next, we have Naaman in 2 Kings 5. What a sharp contrast to Gideon. Naaman was, to begin with, a courageous military leader of the army of the king of Syria, a gentile nation. Syria was the most powerful force in that day, mightier than the mightiest. God had used him and Syria against Israel because of their continual disobedience. Naaman is also named a mighty man of valor (vs 1).
This mighty man of valor did have one problem, a big one. You see, he had leprosy. He could not continue in the king's service as commander of the Syrian army with this disease. Enter, a young girl captured at a raid. She suggested to Naaman's wife that he go see the prophet of Israel to be healed.
The king sent a letter ahead of him to the king of Israel. The king of Israel was not too keen, but in the end, Naaman proudly arrived at the prophet Elisha's doorstep with his fine horses and chariots, expecting a grand audience with the prophet of lowly Israel, never mind his body was ravaged by leprosy. To say he was disappointed is an understatement. There was no red carpet and no obeisance by the scraggly prophet of Israel. Instead, Elisha sent a servant to tell the grand Naaman to go dip in the muddy waters of the Jordan river seven times and he would be healed. "How dare he!"
Naaman then proceeded to throw a temper tantrum, "But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy'"(vs 11). Because of his own sense of self-importance, he demanded special treatment. How dare Elisha treat him like a second-class citizen. Why should he submerse himself in a dirty, po-dunk, river when he could dunk in the fine, clean rivers of Damascus, which were much more suitable for a man of his import. He was so enraged, he stormed off for home, just as sick as when he arrived.
Fortunately for Naaman, he had some wise officers who talked some sense into him, "But his officers tried to reason with him and said, 'Sir if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” (vs 13). It was good advice and Naaman took it. He went to the backwoods, dirty Jordan river, dunked himself seven times and was healed. He went back to Elisha to proclaim that Elisha's God was the only God and offered him a gift. Elisha would accept no gift for doing the Lord's work. Naaman then said something lame. He promised he would never offer any burnt offerings to anyone except the God of Israel, but would Elisha please offer grace when he accompanied the king to worship the god of Rimmon and bowed with him. Elisha said "Go in peace.
What an unlikely way for God to bring about Naaman's healing. Who would have thought bobbing around in a muddy river seven times for any man, let alone one of Naaman's renown, stature, and ego, would bring healing? Who would have thought that Elisha, the prophet of God, would not go out and meet with someone God sent for healing?
Are you unhappy when God works in ways you don't expect?
You Cannot Limit God
Think about how these two people would have ended up had they not obeyed God in his unimaginable ways. Gideon and the Israelites would still have been terrorized by the Midianites and his army would be annihilated. Naaman would have gone home and died of leprosy. All throughout Scripture, God does things differently with each person. Jesus often healed the same infirmities in different ways. He dealt with each person in just the way that they needed to be dealt with. Often, those ways were different from others. God accomplishes His purposes and answers our prayers in ways we would never imagine.
I am so thankful God does not always answer my prayers the way I expect.
More Hubs on Great Men of the Bible
- King David: Secret Faults, Presumptuous Sins
David recognized his tendency toward pride and arrogance, as well as his hidden faults. The result was his humble repentance.
- Washing the Disciples Feet: An Example of Humility
Humility was an example Christ set for us. How can we walk this journey called life in humility like Jesus did?
- Barnabas: A Man Who Lived Up to His Name
Barnabas' name meant "Son of Encouragement." Truly he was a man who lived a life encouraging others.
© 2013 Lori Colbo