Note: This was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
Many people think that predestination is some sort of idea invented in the 1500s, but the idea is Biblical and taken for granted in the Old Testament. A few obscure references to God’s sovereignty over the course of history and man’s will can be found in Ezra 8. The one thing they all have in common is their reference to “the hand of our God.”
For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, “The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him” (Ezra 8:22).
What is Ezra ashamed about? Is he ashamed of using violence to defend himself? I don’t believe that is the issue, because merely giving that same job to act violent in place of yourself is a tad hypocritical to say the least.
Other similar passages help us answer what Ezra is ashamed about:
According to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of insight of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, and his sons and brothers, 18 men (Ezra 8:18).
Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way (Ezra 8:31).
Obviously, if our lives “having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11), then we know that God foreknew how all these things were going to work out and, if anything, He Himself is the one who works all things according to His own will.
Now, the Calvinist interprets “all things” literally to mean everything, so that means God even works through our decisions and free will. The Arminian, or an unlearned Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic, says that indeed God works out all things but the one exception is a man’s free will, which is left solely to man.
Where is their evidence for this? The Bible never says God explicitly refuses to violate the will of man, because Romans 9:16 would actually seem to explicitly be against it. Instead, they infer from God’s commandments that God would never command man to do something he could not actually do. Apparently, if God asks something that man cannot actually do, this would be unfair (may it never be, Rom 9:14!)
Let’s get back to these passages in Ezra. If we took the Arminian interpretation, we would have no idea why Ezra was ashamed of asking for help. Or, why it was from God’s very hand he was able to find Sherebiah. Lastly, the Arminian interpretation would make no sense in Ezra 8:31, because how would God keep bandits away if their free will could not be violated? Perhaps, God sent them dreams or used angels and scared them off.
However, what is the easiest interpretation of these verses? Ezra was ashamed to ask for help, because he knew that God was sovereign over everything. God so put it into Sherebiah’s mind to cross paths with Ezra, it was not “chance” or “coincidence.” Likewise, God so put it out of the minds of the bandits to rob the silver, gold, and animals of great value that Ezra was bringing to the temple.
I suppose there is no contradiction in applying the Arminian “free will exception” in Ezra 8. However, it makes everything much more complicated and takes away from what it appears to be what Ezra is really talking about. God’s hand is on everything, no exceptions.