"And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, when a land sinneth against me by committing a trespass, and I stretch out my hand upon it, and break the staff of the bread thereof, and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast; though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord. If I cause evil beasts to pass through the land, and they ravage it, and it be made desolate, so that no man may pass through because of the beasts; though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, they should deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only should be delivered, but the land should be desolate. Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off from it man and beast; though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord, they should deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only should be delivered themselves. Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my wrath upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast; though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, they should deliver neither son nor daughter; they should but deliver their own souls by their righteousness." (Ezekiel 14:12-20).
That is a very difficult and
hard portion of Scripture; but you must remember that the people
of God had gone very, very far away from God's mind and will, in
the days when Ezekiel prophesied: so much so that the Lord took
the attitude that their state was practically incurable. They had
for many centuries had the knowledge of God's will, as it had
been proclaimed to them by seers and prophets. They had in their
possession the very oracles of God. God had, in numerous, almost
countless ways, made it clear that He was for them, that He was
ready to show His power and His love to them, and they had
steadily set aside His word, turned away from Him, neglected His
law, violated all that He had given them of the knowledge of His
will; they had persistently hardened their hearts: so that the
state had come when they were entirely without a sense of sin,
when no appeal to them from God made any difference. His signs,
all the things which spoke of Him, were in the land, but they had
no respect, they passed on their way, they were almost entirely
without any sense of God's requirements in their lives. They had
reached the place where a prophet might hold an open-air meeting
and proclaim to them God's mind, God's will, God's requirements,
and no one would stop to listen: they passed on their way
indifferent. The places of meeting, the house of God, were
neglected. And so it came to be like this: the Lord made this
terrible declaration, that though Noah and Daniel and Job were in
the land, it would make no difference, except to themselves. When
God is so ignored, repudiated, left out of account, judgment is
Of course, for a company of
God's people that may have no message, when we leave it there.
But there is a message for us. That state of things is not unlike
the condition as found in our own country - the unheeding ear,
the cold rejecting heart, the increasing difficulty to get men
to attend to the things of God. We are moving fast toward such a
place, and we can already see the dark clouds of judgment drawing
very near; and it is not exaggerating, or saying too strong a
thing, to say that, if the men who, in their day, did represent
God in a very mighty way, were to be accumulated in our day, it
would not make much difference. Here were three men who had
mightily counted for God in different ages. In their own days, in
different ways, they registered for God in this world, and now
the Lord says, 'Though I were to gather them all together, in one
day in one place, it would make no difference, people would not
take any notice.' That is terrible. Their ear is so heavy and
dull, their hearts are so cold and indifferent, that it does not
matter what appeal you make.
But let us take this principle
in reverse for ourselves. In a day of judgment which must be,
which is inevitable - it is coming - who will be delivered? For
there are those who will be delivered. "They should
deliver... their own souls": that is, they would be
delivered. While it says that many will not, it does say, if not
in actual words, at least by implication, that there are those
who will be delivered. God will be faithful to His faithful ones.
Here are three representative men, representative of those who in
the day of judgment will be delivered: Noah, Daniel, and Job.
Note the order, because that is not the Biblical order. Noah, of
course, does come first of the three - but where does Job come?
He might have come before Noah or he might have come after; but
certainly Daniel stands third: yet he is put second here. It is
not a mistake, not an oversight, not a slip. No: as it is here in
the inspired Word of God, it is right, it is spiritually right.
I cannot stay with the
significance of these three men in any fulness. But I note one
thing about them all. Noah, mentioned first, lived in a day when
the whole course of human nature had moved away from God, when
human nature had become altogether indifferent to God. It was a
matter of the race. God looked in the days of Noah and saw that
all men had gone astray. It was the course of man's evil nature:
and Noah lived in that day and stood against the course of
nature, against the way that humanity goes when it is left to
itself, leaving God out and getting further and further away from
Him. Daniel, coming second here, lived in a day and in a place
where the world power was all against God, the day of Babylon,
the world system, in the glorifying of man and the excluding and
denying of God; and Daniel stood up against that, not only
against the course of human nature, but against the whole world
system. He stood up against that, and overcame it. Job is
mentioned third, and the scene of Job's conflict was still
deeper, still more remote. You know the story of Job - it was in
the realm of spiritual forces, something more than human nature
and this world system. It was in the realm of 'principalities and
powers and world-rulers of this darkness'. Job's whole battle was
against the devil himself.
And in these three realms these
men triumphed. In the realm of evil human nature, Noah triumphed.
In the realm of the world's glory in itself and rejection of God,
Daniel triumphed - at great cost, but he triumphed. And in the
realm of the very devil himself, Job triumphed. A threefold
glorious triumph is represented by these men. It makes this
statement of Ezekiel a very terrible one - for three men like
that to be brought together in one time, and yet for men to take
no notice, to be unaffected.
However, these men bring their
message to us. We are in this threefold realm. We know the course
of nature, sinful nature; we know the conflict with this fallen
humanity. But, blessed be God, we know the way of victory there.
We know that it is in that very realm of sinful nature that the
Apostle cries his great, exultant, triumphant cry -
"Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me out of the
body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our
Lord" (Rom. 7:24,25). That is victory over sin.
The world is a very potent
force against God and what is of God. This whole system makes it
very difficult for Christians; it is altogether opposed to the
living of a godly life. You know it, most of you - you young
people know it very well - and you have got a real conflict here
in the realm of this world system - God-neglecting,
God-rejecting, God-spurning, God-ignoring; you are right up
against it. But the same Apostle cries, "Far be it from
me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through
which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the
world" (Gal. 6:14). Here is victory over the world.
And Job - well, we know
something about conflict with the spiritual forces of evil: we
know that there is a real drama being fought out there. Job did
not know. I think one of the helpful things about Job is that he
complained and grumbled so much. I am very glad that he did! Why?
Because, in the light of what God said about him later, it shows
that God knew that the complaints and grumbles were just the
mental perplexities of Job, that they were not true of his
spirit. His spirit was stedfast with God, his spirit was true,
his heart was really for the Lord. Although he was perplexed and
could not understand what was going on or what was the meaning of
things, and sometimes felt that God was not doing the right thing
by him, and said so, God knew Job better. We do not understand
God, and we sometimes have a quarrel with God; but He knows us
and knows that we love Him - that we want nothing beside Him.
What we want in our hearts is the Lord and only the Lord. This
other sort of thing is only our mental state for the time being.
The Lord knows better than that. Your grumble is just your
inability to understand, but He knows your heart. Job went
through in his heart. God was able to say of him - and He never
says anything just for the sake of paying compliments - that Job
had 'spoken of Him the thing that is right' (Job 42:7). Here is
that righteousness which is of faith, that is a triumph over the
very power of the enemy.
How much ought to be said on
these things! But here is a threefold triumph, in spirit, in
heart; over flesh, over sin; over the world and its power; over
Satan and his hatred of that and those who belong to God; and
there is triumph in Christ. These are the ones who will be
preserved by God, who will deliver themselves, who will be saved
in the day of judgment. These are the ones who go through.
And, what is more, God must
have such people in the earth. Even though others spurn them,
do not heed them, pass on their way - even though it be like
that, God must have them here as a testimony. He must have such
people as that in the earth. He must be able to point to them and
say, 'Have you considered my servant Job?' If there should be an
enquiring one - 'There you are: there is where you will get
help'. He must have us here like that until the end comes; He
First published in "A Witness and A Testimony"
magazine, Sep-Oct 1952, Vol 30-5