Supremacy in rule or power; the dominion or rule of a lord, king, emperor, or the like; the power that, in the final analysis, determines the government of a state.
In the Hebrew Scriptures the word ʼAdho·naiʹ appears frequently, and the expression ʼAdho·naiʹ Yehwihʹ 285 times. ʼAdho·naiʹ is a plural form of ʼa·dhohnʹ, meaning “lord; master.” The plural form ʼadho·nimʹ may be applied to men in simple plurality, as “lords,” or “masters.” But the term ʼAdho·naiʹ without an additional suffix is always used in the Scriptures with reference to God, the plural being employed to denote excellence or majesty. It is most frequently rendered “Lord” by translators. When it appears with the name of God (ʼAdho·naiʹ Yehwihʹ), as, for example, at Psalm 73:28, the expression is translated “Lord GOD” (AT, KJ, RS); “Lord God” (Dy [72:28]); “Lord, my Master” (Kx [72:28]); “Lord Jehovah” (Yg); “Sovereign Lord Jehovah” (NW). In Psalms 47:9; 138:5; 150:2, Moffatt uses the word “sovereign,” but not to translate ʼAdho·naiʹ.
The Greek word de·spoʹtes means one who possesses supreme authority, or absolute ownership and uncontrolled power. (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1981, Vol. 3, pp. 18, 46) It is translated “lord,” “master,” “owner,” and when used in direct address to God is rendered “Lord” (KJ, Yg, and others), “Ruler of all” (Kx), “Sovereign Lord” (NW), at Luke 2:29, Acts 4:24, and Revelation 6:10. In the last text, Knox, The New English Bible, Moffatt, and the Revised Standard Version read “Sovereign Lord”; Young’s translation and the Kingdom Interlinear read “master.”
So, while the Hebrew and Greek texts do not have a separate qualifying word for “sovereign,” the flavor is contained in the words ʼAdho·naiʹ and de·spoʹtes when they are used in the Scriptures as applying to Jehovah God, the qualification denoting the excellence of his lordship.
Jehovah’s Sovereignty. Jehovah God is the Sovereign of the universe (“sovereign of the world,” Ps 47:9, Mo) by reason of his Creatorship, his Godship, and his supremacy as the Almighty. (Ge 17:1; Ex 6:3; Re 16:14) He is the Owner of all things and the Source of all authority and power, the Supreme Ruler in government. (Ps 24:1; Isa 40:21-23; Re 4:11; 11:15) The psalmist sang of him: “Jehovah himself has firmly established his throne in the very heavens; and over everything his own kingship has held domination.” (Ps 103:19; 145:13) Jesus’ disciples prayed, addressing God: “Sovereign Lord, you are the One who made the heaven and the earth.” (Ac 4:24, NW; Mo) To the nation of Israel, God himself constituted all three branches of government, the judicial, the legislative, and the executive. The prophet Isaiah said: “Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Statute-giver, Jehovah is our King; he himself will save us.” (Isa 33:22) Moses gives a notable description of God as Sovereign at Deuteronomy 10:17.
In his sovereign position Jehovah has the right and authority to delegate ruling responsibilities. David was made king of Israel, and the Scriptures speak of ‘the kingdom of David’ as though it was his kingdom. But David acknowledged Jehovah as the great Sovereign Ruler, saying: “Yours, O Jehovah, are the greatness and the mightiness and the beauty and the excellency and the dignity; for everything in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Jehovah, the One also lifting yourself up as head over all.”—1Ch 29:11.
Earthly Rulers. The rulers of the nations of earth exercise their limited rulership by the toleration or permission of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. That the political governments do not receive their authority from God, that is, that they are not acting by reason of any grant of authority or power from him, is shown at Revelation 13:1, 2, where the seven-headed, ten-horned wild beast is said to get “its power and its throne and great authority” from the Dragon, Satan the Devil.—Re 12:9; see BEASTS, SYMBOLIC.
So, while God has allowed various rulerships of men to come and go, one of their mighty kings, after having had demonstrated, in his own experience, the fact of Jehovah’s sovereignty, was moved to say: “His rulership is a rulership to time indefinite and his kingdom is for generation after generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are being considered as merely nothing, and he is doing according to his own will among the army of the heavens and the inhabitants of the earth. And there exists no one that can check his hand or that can say to him, ‘What have you been doing?’”—Da 4:34, 35.
Accordingly, as long as it is God’s will to permit man-made governments to rule, the apostle Paul’s injunction to Christians will apply: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.” The apostle then goes on to point out that when such governments act to punish one who does what is bad, the ‘superior authority’ or ruler (even though not a faithful worshiper of God) is acting indirectly as a minister of God in this particular capacity, expressing wrath upon the one practicing what is bad.—Ro 13:1-6.
As to such authorities’ being “placed in their relative positions by God,” the Scriptures indicate that this does not mean that God formed these governments or that he backs them up. Rather, he has maneuvered them to suit his good purpose, with relation to his will concerning his servants in the earth. Moses said: “When the Most High gave the nations an inheritance, when he parted the sons of Adam from one another, he proceeded to fix the boundary of the peoples with regard for the number of the sons of Israel.”—De 32:8.
God’s Son as King. Following the overthrow of the last king to sit on “Jehovah’s throne” in Jerusalem (1Ch 29:23), the prophet Daniel was given a vision describing the future appointment of God’s own Son to serve as King. Jehovah’s position stands out clearly when he, as the Ancient of Days, grants rulership to his Son. The account states: “I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.” (Da 7:13, 14) A comparison of this text with Matthew 26:63, 64 leaves no doubt that the “son of man” in Daniel’s vision is Jesus Christ. He gains access to Jehovah’s presence and is given rulership.—Compare Ps 2:8, 9; Mt 28:18.
Jehovah’s Sovereignty Challenged. Wickedness has been in existence for nearly all the years that Bible chronology indicates man has been on the earth. All mankind have been dying, and sins and transgressions against God have multiplied. (Ro 5:12, 15, 16) Since the Bible indicates that God gave man a perfect start, the questions have arisen: How did sin, imperfection, and wickedness get their start? And why has the Almighty God allowed these things to remain for centuries? The answers lie in a challenge against God’s sovereignty that brought forth a paramount issue involving mankind.
What God wants in those who serve him. Jehovah God, by his words and acts, has, over the centuries, proved that he is a God of love and undeserved kindness, exercising perfect justice and judgment, and extending mercy to those seeking to serve him. (Ex 34:6, 7; Ps 89:14; see MERCY; RIGHTEOUSNESS.) Even to the ungrateful and wicked he has expressed kindness. (Mt 5:45; Lu 6:35; Ro 5:8) He delights in the fact that his sovereignty is administered in love.—Jer 9:24.
Accordingly, the kind of persons he desires in his universe are persons who serve him because of love for him and for his fine qualities. They must love God first and their neighbor second. (Mt 22:37-39) They must love Jehovah’s sovereignty; they must desire it and prefer it over any other. (Ps 84:10) They must be persons that, even if it were possible for them to become independent, would choose His sovereignty because they know that his rulership is far wiser, more righteous, and better than any other. (Isa 55:8-11; Jer 10:23; Ro 7:18) Such persons serve God not merely because of fear of his almightiness nor for selfish reasons but out of love of his righteousness, justice, and wisdom and because of having the knowledge of Jehovah’s greatness and loving-kindness. (Ps 97:10; 119:104, 128, 163) They exclaim with the apostle Paul: “O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments are and past tracing out his ways are! For ‘who has come to know Jehovah’s mind, or who has become his counselor?’ Or, ‘Who has first given to him, so that it must be repaid to him?’ Because from him and by him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.”—Ro 11:33-36.
Such ones come to know God, and really knowing him means to love him and stick to his sovereignty. The apostle John writes: “Everyone remaining in union with him does not practice sin; no one that practices sin has either seen him or come to know him.” And, “He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love.” (1Jo 3:6; 4:8) Jesus knew his Father better than anyone else. He said: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one fully knows the Son but the Father, neither does anyone fully know the Father but the Son and anyone to whom the Son is willing to reveal him.”—Mt 11:27.
A failure to develop love and appreciation. Consequently, when the challenge was hurled against Jehovah’s sovereignty, it came from one who, although enjoying the benefits of God’s sovereignty, did not appreciate and develop the knowledge of God and thereby deepen his love for him. This one was a spirit creature of God, an angel. When the human pair Adam and Eve were put on earth, this one saw an opportunity to set out on an attack on God’s sovereignty. First, he would make an attempt (which proved successful) to turn Eve, then Adam, away from subjection to God’s sovereignty. He hoped to establish a rival sovereignty.
As for Eve, the person approached first, she certainly had not appreciated her Creator and God, and she had not taken advantage of her opportunity to know him. She listened to the voice of an inferior, ostensibly the serpent, actually the rebellious angel. The Bible does not allude to any surprise on her part at hearing the serpent talk. It does say that the serpent was “the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that Jehovah God had made.” (Ge 3:1) Whether it ate of the forbidden fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad” and then appeared to be made wise, able to speak, is not stated. The rebellious angel, using the serpent to speak to her, presented (as she supposed) the opportunity to become independent, “to be like God, knowing good and bad,” and succeeded in convincing her that she would not die.—Ge 2:17; 3:4, 5; 2Co 11:3.
Adam, who also showed no appreciation and love for his Creator and Provider when faced with rebellion in his household, and who showed no loyalty to stand up for his God when put to the test, succumbed to Eve’s persuasiveness. He evidently lost faith in God and His ability to provide all good things for His loyal servant. (Compare what Jehovah said to David after his sin with Bath-sheba, at 2Sa 12:7-9.) Adam also seemed to be taking offense against Jehovah, as is indicated by his reply when questioned about his wrong act: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and so I ate.” (Ge 3:12) He did not believe the Serpent’s lie that he would not die, as Eve had, but both Adam and Eve deliberately went in a course of self-determination, rebellion against God.—1Ti 2:14.
Adam could not say, “I am being tried by God.” Rather, this principle went into operation: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin; in turn, sin, when it has been accomplished, brings forth death.” (Jas 1:13-15) Thus, the three rebels—the angel, Eve, and Adam—used the freedom of will with which God had endowed them, to turn from sinlessness to a course of willful sin.—See PERFECTION; SIN, I.
The point at issue. What was here challenged? Who was reproached and defamed by this challenge of the angel who was later called Satan the Devil, which challenge Adam supported by his rebellious act? Was it the fact of Jehovah’s supremacy, the existence of his sovereignty? Was God’s sovereignty in danger? No, for Jehovah has supreme authority and power, and no one in heaven or earth can take this out of his hand. (Ro 9:19) The challenge therefore must have been of the rightfulness, deservedness, and righteousness of God’s sovereignty—whether his sovereignty was exercised in a worthy way, righteously, and for the best interests of his subjects or not. An indication of this is the approach to Eve: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?” Here the Serpent intimated that such a thing was unbelievable—that God was unduly restrictive, withholding something that was the rightful due of the human pair.—Ge 3:1.
What was “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad”?
By taking of the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad,” Adam and Eve expressed their rebellion. The Creator, as Universal Sovereign, was acting wholly within his right in making the law regarding the tree, for Adam, being a created person, and not sovereign, had limitations, and he needed to acknowledge this fact. For universal peace and harmony, it would devolve upon all reasoning creatures to acknowledge and support the Creator’s sovereignty. Adam would demonstrate his recognition of this fact by refraining from eating the fruit of that tree. As father-to-be of an earth full of people, he must prove obedient and loyal, even in the smallest thing. The principle involved was: “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.” (Lu 16:10) Adam had the capability for such perfect obedience. There was evidently nothing bad intrinsically in the fruit of the tree itself. (The thing forbidden was not sex relations, for God had commanded the pair to “fill the earth.” [Ge 1:28] It was the fruit of an actual tree, as the Bible says.) What was represented by the tree is well expressed in a footnote on Genesis 2:17, in The Jerusalem Bible (1966):
“This knowledge is a privilege which God reserves to himself and which man, by sinning, is to lay hands on, 3:5, 22. Hence it does not mean omniscience, which fallen man does not possess; nor is it moral discrimination, for unfallen man already had it and God could not refuse it to a rational being. It is the power of deciding for himself what is good and what is evil and of acting accordingly, a claim to complete moral independence by which man refuses to recognise his status as a created being. The first sin was an attack on God’s sovereignty, a sin of pride.”
God’s servants charged with selfishness. A further expression of the issue is found in Satan’s statement to God about his faithful servant Job. Satan said: “Is it for nothing that Job has feared God? Have not you yourself put up a hedge about him and about his house and about everything that he has all around? The work of his hands you have blessed, and his livestock itself has spread abroad in the earth. But, for a change, thrust out your hand, please, and touch everything he has and see whether he will not curse you to your very face.” Again, he charged: “Skin in behalf of skin, and everything that a man has he will give in behalf of his soul.” (Job 1:9-11; 2:4) Satan therewith charged Job with being not in harmony with God at heart, as serving God obediently only because of selfish considerations, for gain. Satan thereby slandered God as to his sovereignty, and God’s servants as to integrity to that sovereignty. He said, in effect, that no man could be put on earth who would maintain integrity to Jehovah’s sovereignty if he, Satan, was allowed to put him to the test.
Jehovah permitted the issue to be joined. Not, however, because he was unsure of the righteousness of his own sovereignty. He needed nothing proved to himself. It was out of love for his intelligent creatures that he allowed time for the testing out of the matter. He permitted men to undergo a test by Satan, before all the universe. And he gave his creatures the privilege of proving the Devil a liar, and of removing the slander not only from God’s name but also from their own. Satan, in his egotistic attitude, was ‘given up to a disapproved mental state.’ In his approach to Eve, he had evidently been contradictory in his own reasoning. (Ro 1:28) For he was charging God with unfair, unrighteous exercise of sovereignty and, at the same time, was evidently counting on God’s fairness: He seemed to think that God would consider Himself obliged to let him live on if he proved his charge concerning the unfaithfulness of God’s creatures.
Settlement of the issue, a vital need. The settling of the issue was actually a matter vital to all who live, as respects their relationship to God’s sovereignty. For, once settled, such an issue would never need to be tried again. It seems apparent that Jehovah desired that full knowledge of all the questions connected with this issue be thoroughly made known and understood. The action that God took engenders confidence in his unchangeableness, it enhances his sovereignty, and it makes that sovereignty even more desirable and firmly established in the minds of all who choose it.—Compare Mal 3:6.
A moral issue. The question, then, is not one of might, of raw strength; it is primarily a moral issue. However, because of God’s invisibility and because Satan has exerted every effort to blind men’s minds, Jehovah’s power or even his existence has at times been questioned. (1Jo 5:19; Re 12:9) Men have mistaken the reason for God’s patience and kindness and have themselves become more rebellious. (Ec 8:11; 2Pe 3:9) Because of this, it has taken faith, along with suffering, to serve God with integrity. (Heb 11:6, 35-38) Nevertheless, Jehovah purposes to make his sovereignty and his name known to all. In Egypt he said to Pharaoh: “In fact, for this cause I have kept you in existence, for the sake of showing you my power and in order to have my name declared in all the earth.” (Ex 9:16) Likewise God has allowed a time for this world and its god, Satan the Devil, to exist and develop in their wickedness, and He has set a time for their destruction. (2Co 4:4; 2Pe 3:7) The prophetic prayer of the psalmist was: “That people may know that you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” (Ps 83:18) Jehovah himself has sworn: “To me every knee will bend down, every tongue will swear, saying, ‘Surely in Jehovah there are full righteousness and strength.’”—Isa 45:23, 24.
How far the issue reached. How far-reaching was the issue? Since man had been induced to sin, and since an angel had sinned, the question reached up to and included God’s heavenly creatures, even God’s only-begotten Son, the one closest to Jehovah God. This One, who always did the things pleasing to his Father, would be most anxious to serve for the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty. (Joh 8:29; Heb 1:9) God selected him for this assignment, sending him to the earth, where he was born as a male child through the virgin Mary. (Lu 1:35) He was perfect, and he maintained that perfection and blamelessness throughout his life, even to a disgraceful death. (Heb 7:26) Before his death he said: “Now there is a judging of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” Also: “The ruler of the world is coming. And he has no hold on me.” (Joh 12:31; 14:30) Satan could get no hold so as to break Christ’s integrity, and he was judged as having failed, ready to be cast out. Jesus “conquered the world.”—Joh 16:33.
Jesus Christ, Vindicator of the righteousness of Jehovah’s sovereignty. So Jesus Christ, in a totally perfect way, proved the Devil a liar, completely settling the question, Will any man be faithful to God under whatever test or trial may be brought against him? Jesus therefore was appointed by the Sovereign God as the Executor of His purposes, the one to be used to destroy wickedness, including the Devil, from the universe. This authority he will exercise, and ‘every knee will bend and every tongue openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.’—Php 2:5-11; Heb 2:14; 1Jo 3:8.
In the dominion granted the Son, he rules in his Father’s name, ‘bringing to nothing’ all government and all authority and power that stand against Jehovah’s sovereignty. The apostle Paul reveals that Jesus Christ then offers the greatest tribute to Jehovah’s sovereignty, for, “when all things will have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone.”—1Co 15:24-28.
The book of Revelation shows that after the end of Christ’s Thousand Year Reign, in which he puts down all authority that attempts to rival Jehovah’s sovereignty, the Devil will be loosed for a short time. He will try to revive the issue, but no long grant of time will be given for that which is already settled. Satan and those following him will be completely annihilated.—Re 20:7-10.
Others who uphold Jehovah’s side. Though Christ’s faithfulness thoroughly proved God’s side of the issue, others are permitted to share in this. (Pr 27:11) The effects of Christ’s integrity-keeping course, including his sacrificial death, are pointed out by the apostle: “Through one act of justification the result to men of all sorts is a declaring of them righteous for life.” (Ro 5:18) Christ has been made the Head of a congregational “body” (Col 1:18), the members of which share in his death of integrity, and he is glad to have them share with him as joint heirs, as associate kings in his Kingdom rule. (Lu 22:28-30; Ro 6:3-5; 8:17; Re 20:4, 6) Faithful men of old, looking forward to God’s provision, maintained integrity, though imperfect in body. (Heb 11:13-16) And the many others who eventually bend the knee in acknowledgment will likewise do so in heartfelt recognition of God’s righteous, worthy sovereignty. As the psalmist sang prophetically: “Every breathing thing—let it praise Jah. Praise Jah, you people!”—Ps 150:6.