There are two components of God will that work together to accomplish the things that God wants to do, the part that God does and the part that we do. We usually know what God is doing or has already done because he tells us. Prophecy is when God tells us what he is going to do before he does it. God also tells us what he wants us to do through commands or instructions. An example of how this works can be found in Genesis 12:1-3 which records God’s promise to Abraham. It states:
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:4 tells us that “Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” Abraham’s obedience instigated the work that God intended to do in his and his descendants lives for hundreds of years and paved the way for a covenant that secured their participation in his eternal kingdom.
Abraham’s grandson Jacob was not as cooperative as he was and made it more difficult for God to continue working in the lives of Abraham’s descendants. After Jacob increased greatly in the land of Paddan-aram, “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram (Genesis 31:17), but stopped before he reached his father’s house. Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, but after his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons killed all the men of the city in retaliation, Jacob said to his sons Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household” (Genesis 34:30).
Jacob’s doubts and fears seemed to continue the rest of his life. When his son Joseph told him and his brothers about a dream that he had, Jacob “rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?'” (Genesis 37:10). Jacob’s lack of faith seemed to reach its pinnacle when he was presented with his son Joseph’s coat after his brothers had dipped in the blood of a goat. Jacob “identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:33). The Hebrew word that is translated “without doubt,” taraph (taw-raf’) refers to the evidence that was presented to Jacob. It appeared that Jacob had been eaten by a wild animal, but “the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:38).
God continued to work in Joseph’s life in spite of Jacob and his other son’s resistance and even outright rebellion against God’s will for them. Joseph’s position as the governor of Egypt made it possible for Jacob’s family to receive food and remain alive during a severe famine. After Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, “They went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them” (Genesis 45:25-26). When Jacob finally learned the truth about Joseph’s disappearance, he was unable to believe it. The King James Version of Genesis 45:26 states that “Jacob’s heart fainted.” The Hebrew word that is used, puwg (poog) means to be sluggish (H6313). A word that is derived from puwg, puwgah (poo-gaw’) means intermission (H6314), suggesting that Jacob had a heart attack or went into shock because the good news that Joseph was still alive was not at all what he had expected to hear when his sons got back from Egypt.
Before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples ahead of him, and told them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them, and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden”‘” (Matthew 21:2-5). It was God’s will for Jesus to enter the city at that exact moment in time and in the exact way that he did, riding on the colt of a donkey. Jesus, the two disciples that obeyed his instruction and the owner of the donkey and its colt all played a part in making it happen just as it had been foretold hundreds of years earlier. And yet, “when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee'” (Matthew 21:10-11). The crowds witnessed what happened, but interpreted it incorrectly. Jesus was not just a prophet, but the “Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9), Israel’s Messiah.
After he recovered from the shock of hearing that Joseph was still alive, Jacob went to Beersheba, “and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1). The fact that Jacob offered sacrifices to the God of his father, rather than his own God seems to suggest that Jacob had still not done his part of God’s will, which was to accept the Lord as his Savior. Jacob had many years earlier left Beersheba and went toward Haran (Genesis 28:10) to live with his uncle Laban and promised, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house” (Genesis 28:20-22). Jacob’s stipulation that God keep him in the way he was going suggests that he wanted God to do his will instead of the other way around. It seemed that Jacob never got to a place where he was willing to submit himself completely to God’s will. And yet, God continued to do what he said he would. He told Jacob, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:3-4).
God’s description of Jacob’s travels as going down to Egypt and coming back up again, may have been his way of assuring Jacob that he still planned to establish his family in the Promised Land, God’s will for Abraham’s descendants had not changed. God also said that he would go with Jacob to Egypt. In other words, God would continue to work in Jacob’s life even while he was living in a foreign land. After Jacob arrived in Goshen, “Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (Genesis 46:29). When Joseph presented himself to his father, he was essentially proving that his father was wrong about the future. Jacob didn’t believe Joseph was alive until he saw him face to face (Genesis 46:30). The Hebrew word ra’ah (raw-aw’), which is translated presented himself, “can represent mentally recognizing that something is true” (H7200). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, Matthew said, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). The Greek word that is translated took place, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means to cause to be or “to become (come into being)” (G1096), the context being physical existence. When prophecy is fulfilled, it means that God’s will has been completed. Therefore, seeing Joseph’s face changed Jacob’s mind about God’s intention for his life.
Jesus gave his disciples a visual lesson in accomplishing God’s will. Matthew tells us, “In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once” (Matthew 21:18-19). When Jesus’ disciples observed the fig tree withering up as a result of what Jesus said, they marveled because of the immediate response he got (Matthew 21:20). Jesus explained to them that what happened was an outcome of having complete confidence in God. Jesus told them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what had been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith” (Matthew 21:21-22). Jesus stipulated that you must have faith and not doubt because these two aspects of our human nature contradict each other. Doubt is not the absence of faith, but an opposing viewpoint. The Greek word that is translated doubt, diakrino (dee-ak-ree’-no) means “to withdraw from, or (by implication) oppose” (G1252). Figuratively, diakrino means to discriminate or decide. The two words that diakrino are derived from, dia (dee-ah’) which denotes that channel of an act (G1223), and krino (kree’-no) which means to be of opinion as in deciding if something is right or wrong (G2919), suggests that doubt is a determination that God’s will is wrong and should not be acted on.
It might be easy to think that Jesus cursing a fig tree because it had no fruit on it was unfair of him or perhaps, even a cruel act of revenge, but the purpose of the fig tree was to provide fruit for its master and it had failed to do that. Jesus had the authority to determine its fate and the fig tree was unable to oppose him. Jesus’ authority was the key that unlocked God’s ability to do things for him. The chief priests and elders of the people asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) refers to the liberty of doing as one pleases (G1849). Exousia is derived from the word existi (ex’-es-tee) which essentially means “it is right” or lawful (G1832). Jesus didn’t answer the priest’s question about his authority, but went on to tell a parable about two sons that were expected to work in their father’s vineyard.
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
Jesus focused on the connection between obedience and believing what one has been told to do. Jesus said that the son that refused to work in his father’s vineyard changed his mind and did what his father told him to. The Greek word that is translated changed his mind, metamellomai (met-am-el’-lom-ahee) means to care afterward, i.e. regret and “stresses a change of the will which results in change in single individual actions and is translated ‘to repent'” (G3338). John the Baptist’s primary message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The problem that Jesus pointed out was that the religious leaders didn’t think they needed to repent. They thought they were doing what was right, but the tax collectors and prostitutes knew they were sinners.
Jacob’s departure from the Promised Land may have felt like a demoralizing defeat to him, but God assured him that he would be blessed no matter where he went. God said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 46:3). In the same way that God had made Joseph the lord of all Egypt, he intended to transform Jacob’s family into a great nation through difficult circumstances and suffering. Jacob’s life was somewhat of a precursor to the bondage that all of his family would eventually have to endure. When Pharaoh asked him how many years he had lived, Jacob told him, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). Jacob’s description of his years as being few and evil probably had to do with his realization that God’s will for his life was not what he thought it was. It was almost as if Jacob thought he had been cursed by God rather than having received his blessing. The Hebrew word that is translated evil, ra’ (rah) “Combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury to both himself and to everyone around him” (H7451).
In his parable of the vineyard, Jesus associated the contradiction of God’s will with a desire to usurp his authority. Jesus likened the Jewish religious leaders to tenants of a vineyard that refused to pay their rent and asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” His disciples responded, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:40-41). Jesus concluded by stating, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:43-44). Jesus’ differentiation between being broken to pieces and crushed by God’s authority might likely have to do with a person’s willingness to change his mind. To a certain extent, repentance is just admitting that you have been wrong. It seems that Jacob was broken to pieces by his disobedience, but he and his family were not abandoned by God. In fact, God made a way for them to move into the land of Goshen and thrive for hundreds of years so that his prophecy that they would become a great nation could be fulfilled.