The Autonomy of God – Romans 11:35

Father, as we look now into Your Word, I ask for Your grace and for Your guidance, that You would teach us the truth, that your Holy Spirit would be the indwelling truth teacher within each one of us and that He would make the things of Christ abundantly clear to us. As we approach this text, I pray that there would be a note of genuine humility within our hearts as we would bow before Your Word. So, Lord, meet with us now, in Christ’s name. Amen.


Okay. Well, I want you to take your Bible and turn with me to Romans chapter 11, Romans chapter 11, and I want to begin by reading this closing doxology, verses 33 to 36. This morning, we are going to be looking at just verse 35. The title of this message is “The Autonomy of God,” the autonomy of God, and I will define that word here for us just very shortly, but I want to begin by reading and this is really my favorite benediction that is in the entire Bible. Beginning in verse 33, “Oh, the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”


We are looking at this mountaintop benediction that completes the most comprehensive and profound section in the entire Bible on the subject of salvation. Beginning in Romans 1 and extending all the way through Romans 11, Paul has laid out the greatest case in the entire Bible for the height and the depth and the breadth and the length of the salvation that He has provided for us in the gospel of God. And as we come to the end of Romans 11, Paul now concludes with this punctuation, with this benediction in which he can hardly hold his own heart back as he now exults in the grace of God that has been demonstrated in the gospel.


And as we look at verses 33 to 36, let me just give us an overview of this benediction. It breaks up very easily. In verse 33, there are two exclamations. You will note in verse 33 there are two sentences that end with an exclamation point, so two exclamations. And then in verses 34 and 35, there are two questions, two sentences that conclude with a question mark. One is at the end of verse 34, the second is at the end of verse 35. And then in verse 36, there are two indicatives, two sentences that end with simply a period. So, Paul, who is so systematic in the way that he writes and in the way that he communicates, what we have here is perfect symmetry in this doxology; two exclamations in verse 33, two questions in verse 34 and 35, and then two indicatives in verse 36. I think that you can see for yourself how this lays out.


And now as we look at verse 35, we are looking at the second of the two questions. And it deals with the autonomy of God. Let me read it again. “Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?” What does the word “autonomy” mean? Well, it means that a person is a law unto himself. It means that he is self-governing, that there is no one over him, that he has complete freedom from any external control. He has complete freedom of his actions. That is what the word “autonomy” means. Next week, we will look at the word “sovereignty” in verse 36. “Sovereignty” means that God has complete control over everyone else. Autonomy means He has complete control over Himself. No one is governing God.


And so, as this applies to God, the word “autonomy” means that God is independent. He acts independently from any external constraints that would be imposed upon Him, that God is self-governing, God is self-ruling, God is self-determining over Himself. So, therefore, He is not under obligation to anyone outside of Himself to do what others would impose upon Him to do. That is to say that God is a law unto Himself. So, that is very profound, but that is why I want us to take our entire study on just verse 35 for us to grasp something of the hem of His garment.


So, I have three headings for us as we look at verse 35. And the first is “The Question Raised,” the question raised. Verse 35 comes in the form of a question, what we would call a rhetorical question. So, verse 35, I just want to look at it very carefully here, “For who,” that refers to “what person.” What person in the entire human race? “For who has first given to Him,” “Him” refers to God. Who has first given really anything to God that would obligate God? Who has initiated giving anything to God that God would therefore be responsible or accountable to respond with any gift in return? “Who has first given to Him that it,” the “it” refers to these good works or good character, “that it might be paid back?” The idea is an obligation, something that is owed by God to the person that it might be paid back to Him again in return is the idea.


This question deals with salvation. Who has given to God anything by which God would be now a debtor or a creditor to this person to give back to him? Who has earned any gift from God? To whom does God owe salvation? Now, there is a sense in which God owes justice, but He does not owe grace. That is a very important question and it is an important question at every level of salvation. To whom does God owe His sovereign election? What has anyone ever done that would cause God to choose them in eternity past? What has anyone ever done that would cause God to foreknow them, to choose to love them? What merit was there or is there in any person that would elicit the foreknowledge of God? What has anyone ever done that would cause God to call them to Himself? What has anyone ever done that would cause God to grant to them saving faith? What has anyone done that would cause God to justify them freely? What has anyone done that would cause God to glorify them one day in heaven? That is the question that is raised.


This leads second now to the question replied. This is a rhetorical question. You will note in verse 35 there is no answer that is given, and the reason is the answer is so obvious that no answer even needs to be given. To raise the question is to answer the question. The answer to verse 35 to this question is a resounding, “No one!” “Who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?” The answer is “no one has ever first given anything to God of any merit, of any value that would induce God to respond and to give salvation.”


In other words, God does not owe grace to anyone. If God gives salvation to anyone, it will simply be because God has chosen to have mercy on whom He will have mercy. We saw that back in Romans chapter 9 and in verse 15. He says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” that there was nothing in any person that would cause God to have mercy or compassion upon them other than their desperate need to have mercy and compassion, but it all originates within God. We have not put anything on the table that would draw God to give mercy or compassion to us, nothing of any value that would elicit the mercy and grace of God. God does nothing in salvation out of obligation.


So, this now leads us to the third heading, which is “The Question Referenced,” the question referenced. And this question in verse 35 is drawn from a particular Old Testament text. It is drawn from Job 41 verse 11. If you have a cross-reference Bible like I do, out in the margin it will give you the cross-reference, and I see it here clear as day, it is Job 41 verse 11. And in just a second, we are going to turn back to Job 41 verse 11 to really understand what this verse actually means. But just to set it up, in verse 35 as we look at this, God is the speaker. Job is the one being addressed. And as you are familiar with the story of Job, Job has undergone great suffering at the initiative of the sovereign activity of God. It is God who said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is none like him on the earth.” And unknown to Job, God is the one who threw his name into the circle and said to the devil, “Then bring your affliction onto Job because he will worship Me no matter what comes his way.” And so, this led to, as you are well familiar, the rest of the book of Job.


And over a period of time, Job’s three friends, Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar, begin to wear him down until Job comes to the point he wants to argue his case with God, that “God You must have the wrong person. You are picking on the wrong person. I haven’t done anything that would deserve or merit this kind of consequence of suffering in my life.” And the basic argument that is swelling in the mind of Job is that the punishment far exceeds the crime. “Whatever crime it is I’ve done, and I don’t know what it is, but the punishment that You’ve inflicted upon me, taking all the lives of all ten of my children, as well as all of my business and my possessions, it far exceeds whatever it is I’ve done that would cause this,” and there began to be bitterness welling up in Job toward God.


Well, when we come to Job 38, it begins the longest section in the entire Bible in which God speaks. Think about that. It is the longest place in the entire Bible where God speaks. And God shows up in a whirlwind to Job, and God is very sarcastic with Job. And He begins His questioning in Job 38 beginning in verse 4, “Job, where were you when We created the world together? I just have simply forgotten where you were when We created everything out of nothing.” And here is the driving argument that God will make with Job because Job is essentially accusing God of mismanagement of his own life.


And God’s argument with Job is, “I have put every animal perfectly in its place. I have put the oceans, the mountains, the coastlines. I have put everything in the universe in exactly its perfect place. Don’t you think I can manage your tiny little life on this planet? I created this planet out of nothing. I have put everything on this planet in its perfect place. I am controlling everything that takes place on the planet. Your little life is like a grain of sand on all of the beaches of the world. In an argument from the greater to the lesser, I have even hung the planets in place in outer space. I am putting the entire universe, rotating it perfectly. I am the One who is feeding all of the animals day after day after day. Don’t you think I can take care of your life? I know exactly what is going on with your life.”


And so, as we come now to Job 41, God continues to speak, and God will use an object lesson with Job. He will use what is called a “Leviathan.” And if you will turn with me now back to Job chapter 41, the verse that the Apostle Paul will quote is Job 41 verse 11, and let me just read it. “Who has given to Me,” God is the speaker. “Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.” And what God is saying, “I have got the whole world in the palm of My hand and I am totally controlling everything that takes place in this world.” Now, that would include Job, that would include you, and that would include me.


Now, to get a running start, we really need to start at verse 1 in Job 41, and we are going to do a study here of Job 41:1 through 11, and the reason we are doing this is because verse 11 is what Paul quotes in Romans 11:35. So, we need to really understand Job 41:11 in its context, the building argument that God Himself is making and it will crescendo in verse 11, the verse that Paul quotes. So, I want to begin now in verse 1, and let us just walk through this, and I think you will see why I am taking this time to walk us through this passage. And this all deals with the autonomy of God, that no one controls God and no one puts God in a posture of obligation to them, that God is free to do as God chooses to do with each one of us. This is what one theologian would call “the Godness of God.”


So beginning in verse 1, God the speaker begins with a series of questions, and you will note that these questions go all the way to verse 11. Every one of these is a question, and raising a question is a powerful pedagogical tool, a teaching tool, because it forces the listener to think. Because God will not be giving the answers, Job will have to supply the answers in his own mind. So beginning in verse 1, “Can you,” “You” is Job. “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?” “Can you lure out Leviathan with a fishhook?” Now, “Leviathan,” we are not exactly certain exactly what Leviathan is? It could be a sea monster. It could be a crocodile. It could be a whale. It could be a great white shark. It could be a mythological marine dinosaur. The point is not exactly, “What is Leviathan?” The point is “Who is God?” But can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook? Can you go fishing for this enormous monster?


Now Kent, you drove in this morning from a lake in east Texas, and let us just say in that lake is a monster that is larger than the lake itself. Could you hop in a little rowboat and row out into the middle of the lake and cast out a little line with a hook on it and reel in a monster that is bigger than the lake itself? I can assure you that monster would control you. You would not be controlling the monster, and that is where God is headed with this analogy, this parallelism. “Can you draw out a Leviathan with a fishhook?” Could you put in a tiny little fishhook into the mouth of this massive Leviathan and have any influence, any control over the Leviathan? The answer is a resounding, “No.” It is absolutely absurd for you to even have that thought in your head.


The second half of verse 1, “Or press down his tongue with a cord?” Could you like pry open his mouth and put a fishhook under his tongue and just strategically put it there so that you could reel him in? Of course, the answer is “no.” To raise the question is to answer the question. It is that obvious. And verse 2, “Can you put a rope in his nose?” Kent, we are in Texas and there are rodeos here. I went to Texas Tech, the largest rodeo on a college campus, at least used to take place at Texas Tech, and I have seen a lot of cowboys with ropes on campus and practicing and all the rest. “Could you, with a rope, toss it around the neck of this massive sea monster and again hope to reel him in, to corral him, to put him under your dominion, to put him under your control?” The answer is “No, you couldn’t Job, could you?” And this is going to be a building argument that will lead up to verse 11.


The second half of verse 2, “Or pierce his jaw with a hook?” “Could you throw that hook so forcefully that it would penetrate, pierce the outer jaw of Leviathan and set a hook in his jaw so that you could catch him and control him? You couldn’t, could you Job?” And with each one of these questions, Job is just shrinking, shrinking, shrinking. If this were jeopardy, he can’t answer. He can answer the question, just not in the way he would want to.


Now, verse 3, and God will not pull His foot off the gas pedal here. God keeps His foot on the gas pedal and is accelerating with these questions. Verse 3, “Will he,” the Leviathan, “make any supplications to you?” “Could you get the Leviathan to beg you to release your grip on it? Could this Leviathan begin to pray to you and plead with you to release your cord or to release your hook from it, where the Leviathan is at your mercy? Could you do that, Job? Do you have that kind of dominance over the Leviathan?” Of course, the answer is a resounding, “No.”


Second half of verse 3, “Or will he speak to you with soft words?” “Will he come to you and go, ‘Pretty please, pretty please, would you just let me do what I want to do?” No, the answer is no. Verse 4: “Will he make a covenant with you?” Will he come to the table and negotiate with you? Will he meet you in the middle? Will there be a give and take in this relationship? Does he have bargaining chips that he can use with you? The answer is no. Second half of verse 4, “Will you take him for a servant forever?” You know what the question is here? “Can you tame him? Can you domesticate Leviathan? Can you take him home with you and housebreak Leviathan? Will he sit at your feet? Will he wag his tail like a pet, make him your servant? Will he fetch things for you? When you say, ‘Go, get the newspaper,’ will he go get the newspaper? He won’t, will he, Job? Job, I have a few more questions to ask you.” In verse 5, “Will you play with him as with a bird?” In other words, “Can you make him your pet so that he will play with you in the backyard? Can you do that Job?”


And, would you please note how sarcastic God is with Job. There is a proper use of sarcasm. The end of verse 5, “Or will you bind him for your maidens?” This is even more sarcastic. “Now, Job, you’ve got some servants. Can you make the Leviathan the servant of your servants? Can you so humble Leviathan that this monster will not only come under you, but will come under your servants who are under you? Can you bring him down that low? Can you humble Leviathan to do your bidding and do what you want him to do?” Of course not! It is insane. No!


Look at verse 6, “Will the traders bargain over him?” In other words, “Do you have Leviathan in the palm of your hand and can you take him to market and can you sell him off? Can you name the price for Leviathan? Can you bargain with traders over selling him off and you have the final say over Leviathan’s destiny and over Leviathan’s future?” “Will you,” the end of verse 6, “Will you divide him among the merchants?” “Can you cut a deal with the merchants where you name the price for Leviathan and you can sell him off? He is totally under your control, he will remain under your control as long as you want him to and you can sell him off whenever you want him to, and he has no say in this, can you do that, Job? No, you can’t, can you?”


You see, Job has gotten too big for his britches. Job has God small and Job big. And God is reducing Job to where he belongs, that God is big and Job is little. In verse 7, “Can you fill his skin with harpoons?” “Can you just like send many arrows into his skin, harpoons, and catch him? No, you can’t, can you, Job?” “Or his head with fishing hooks?” He is going back over some of the same questions because Job hasn’t been humbled enough yet. Job has not yet been reduced to his proper place to realize that Job is not in control really of anything in his life.


So, he comes to verse 8, “Lay your hand on him; remember the battle; you will not do it again!” What he is saying is, “Job, you would actually remember if you’ve ever controlled Leviathan. You’re not going to have a brain freeze on that. You would remember the moment, the day, when you gained the upper hand with Leviathan, but that moment has never ever occurred.” Now verse 9, “Behold.” “Job, pay attention to this. Job, I need you to concentrate here.” “Behold, your expectation is false.” “Job, you are daydreaming. Job, you are living in an alternate universe. Job, it will never happen. Read My lips. It will never happen, Job. You will never control Leviathan. There is zero possibility of it.” The second half of verse 9, “Will you be laid low even at the sight of him?” “Will you be scared to death if he were to show up?” And, the answer is yes, you would be frightened out of your mind if Leviathan hopped out of the ocean and stood in front of you as you would be overwhelmed with the enormity of his power and his control over you.


So, this is all building now to verse 10, “No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him.” “Job, you just need to leave Leviathan alone. You just need to let him sleep. The foolishness of awakening Leviathan and you have to deal with Leviathan would be a nightmare for you. No one is a match for Leviathan. No one wants to take on Leviathan.”


Now, here’s the transition leading to the second half of verse 10. God now shifts from Leviathan to God Himself. And the argument that God will be making, “Job, if you cannot even control the creature, what makes you think you can control the Creator of this creature, because the Creator is infinitely larger than the creature. And if you can’t even control the creature, you need to back off with Me.”


So here it is, second half in verse 10, “Who then is he who can stand before Me?” The answer is no one. Not even you, Job, who is the most righteous man on the face of the earth, blameless in all of your ways, upright and fearing God. If anyone on planet earth could stand up against God, it would have been Job, and Job has zero chance to control what God is doing in the universe and what God is doing in Job’s individual life because God is autonomous. God is self-governing, and Job has zero influence on what God will do. The point is God will do what God will do. God will do as He pleases, when He pleases, where He pleases, with whom He pleases. And so, the end of verse 10 is actually an argument from the lesser to the greater. In other words, “Job, if you cannot control the lesser, you certainly cannot control the greater. Job, if you can’t play in the little league, what makes you think you can play in the big leagues?”


So, this now leads us to verse 11, which is the very verse that Paul quotes in Romans 11 and verse 35. And the reason I have taken virtually this entire lesson to work to this point is for us to see why Paul quotes this text in his doxology in Romans 11. So, please note verse 11 now of Job 41. God is the speaker. “Who has given to Me that I should repay him?” The answer is no one. You cannot buy God’s favor. You can’t induce God really to do anything. Even when you pray, God is autonomous and God will answer according to how God in His perfect wisdom and sovereign will will answer. You can appeal to Him, but God will do what God will do. You are not praying to yourself; you are praying to God. You don’t have the upper hand with God. God has the upper hand. God is dealing the deck. God cannot be obligated. God cannot be put on the defensive. God is a law unto Himself. He is self-ruling. He is self-governing. He is self-determining.


So, at the end of verse 11, God is still speaking. It is the first time there is not a question mark at the end of the sentence by the way. So, this is an indicative statement, and it is a summation of everything that has preceded. Double jeopardy is over. No more questions. There is now the final answer. Here is the bottom line. “Whatever is under the whole heaven,” stop right there. That basically includes everything, okay, whatever is under the whole heaven. That includes it all; Job, his three friends, the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, everything in history. “Whatever is under the whole earth,” last two words, “is Mine,” capital M. It is in the palm of God’s hand. It is God’s to control. It is God’s to use as it pleases God, as God sees fit to use it. So, as it related to Job, God is totally sovereign over Job’s life, over Job’s suffering, over Satan, over the extent to which Satan can come against Job. God even defined the outer boundaries. God said to the devil, “You can do this, you can do this, you can do this, but you can go no further,” God totally in control of even the trials and tribulations and troubles of Job.


And the same is true as Paul quotes this in Romans 11 verse 35 as it relates to salvation, as it relates to the doctrine of sovereign election that God is free to choose to save whoever God chooses to save. God does not owe sovereign election to anyone. If God let the entire human race go its own way into eternal destruction, God would remain perfectly, holy God. If God chooses to save just one person, God the potter and the human race, the clay, if God chose to save just one person, it would be amazing grace, undeserved merit, and it would be at the discretion of God. But God has chosen to save a vast number out of the human race, and it is an amazing testimony to the mercy and the grace of God.


But verse 35 is a verse that we can’t just quickly pass over and move on to verse 36, which we will look at next time. Before we see God’s sovereignty over everyone, we need to see God’s sovereignty over Himself, that God is in total control of His own actions and He is a law unto Himself.


So, as we bring this to conclusion, let me just give you three words by way of application. The first is “honor.” What honor and worship and praise we should give to this God who is so transcendent and so majestic and so beyond any one of us, beyond what we can even comprehend? We know but the outer fringes of who He is. Let us bow down before this God and give Him the honor that belongs to Him alone, which leads second to “humility.” As we would rise up to bless Him, we do so best when we bow down before Him. Let us lower ourselves before this God who is self-ruling and self-governing and recognize our proper place. It is a place that Job had to be brought to. And I pray that God would not have to humble me or humble you as He did with Job, that we would of our own recognition realize who He is and who we are and humble ourselves. He holds our entire life in His hands.


And the last word is “hunger.” Let us hunger to know more of this God. Let us delve into His Word more and more. Even as we are doing in this study, verse by verse through the book of Romans, we are plunging into the oceans of the truth and the knowledge of who God is. Let there be an appetite in our soul to know more and more of thi