|Vol. 11, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1982
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
ELIJAH: THE MAN IN GOD'S PRESENCE
J. Alec Motyer
1. The Hidden Years. 1 Kings 17
THIS is the first of a series of three studies of Elijah, the great character
of the Old Testament. You will note that he comes on to the scene without
any warning whatsoever. But as he bursts on to the scene before our gaze,
he brings with him very simply and dramatically what seems to be a foundation
principle in the operations of God. There is a divine order of things in
the matter of serving God and serving the Church. At its simplest, this principle
is expressed in the command given to Elijah, "Hide yourself" (17:3) and the
command "Show yourself" (18:1). This is the divine order of things. There
must be a period of withdrawal before the period of service; a period of
seclusion before the period of publicity.
In the experience of Elijah this principle was expressed in a most dramatic
way. Elijah came before the king, Ahab, and said: "There shall not be dew
nor rain these years but according to my word" (v.1). These words may sound
to us like a weather-forecast -- that and nothing more. If, however, we think
ourselves back into the situation in which Elijah was ministering, those
words are seen to be far removed from the pictures we see on our T.V. screens
which attempt to tell us what is going to happen next in the matter of rain
and sunshine. It is a weather-forecast, but much more than that, it is a
Perhaps the book of Deuteronomy is one of the clearest of the Old Testament
books to give us the background to Elijah's ministry, and there we read:
"It shall come to pass if you will diligently hearken to the voice of the
Lord your God, to observe to do all his commandments which I command you this
day, that the Lord your God will set you on high above all the nations of
the earth: and all these blessings shall come upon you ..." (Deuteronomy 28:1).
Do you see the connection there? If you will diligently hearken to the voice
of the Lord your God then blessings will follow. The two are fastened together
-- obedience and blessing. But see what follows: "It shall come to pass,
if you will not hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe and
do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, that
all these curses shall come upon you" (28:15). So equally two other things
are here fastened together, namely, disobedience and cursing.
This relationship of things was so important to the Lord and important
also to the life of His people, that Deuteronomy 27 describes how God kept
the idea before His people in one of the largest visual aids used by the
Bible. When the Lord brought His people into the land of Canaan, He told
them to identify Mount Ebal with curses and Mount Gerizim with blessings,
so that day by day they would live in the presence of this choice from which
there could be no escape. They could choose life or they could choose death:
they could choose blessing or they could choose cursing, and they would do
this by choosing either to obey or to disobey. But right in the heart of
the narrative of Deuteronomy 27 there is a very lovely provision. On Mount
Ebal, the mount of cursing, the Lord commanded Moses to raise up an altar.
This is a beautiful reminder of the great Bible truth that where sin abounds,
grace abounds much more. The point which we are considering now, however,
is related to the curses which come upon a disobedient people, and especially
that "Your heaven that is over your head shall be as brass, and the earth
under you as iron. And the Lord shall make the rain of your land powder and
dust" (Deuteronomy 28:23). In other words, one of the curses of the Lord
upon a disobedient people is the curse of drought. So when Elijah came to
King Ahab, he did not come as a weather-forecaster but as a prophet. He offered
a spiritual diagnosis of Ahab and his people, revealing that, being astray
from God in disobedience, they would find a divinely given proof that they
were under the curse of God in that they would suffer three years of drought
How striking it therefore is that the Lord does not now allow Elijah
to stay with this people in their plight and to deal with their spiritual
need. He knows the danger that they are in, he knows the cause of it and
he also knows the cure for it. [21/22] Surely, therefore,
the obvious thing to do was to be busy about the work of God, to get at people
where they are in their desperate straits, to explain and to recover them.
But Elijah is not permitted to do this. So for three years the people remained
under God's curse because His principle of doing things required a period
of apprenticeship by His chosen servant. This principle of a period of withdrawal,
of apprenticeship before service, was imposed by the will of God: "Get thee
hence, turn thee eastward, hide thyself". This was not a question of Elijah's
will or choice but of a divine directive.
Maybe, of course, the Lord knew that the situation was tougher than Elijah
could stand. Even after his period of preparation, he made a notable failure,
as we shall see. So perhaps that lay behind God's command. It is possible
that Ahab would have his police searching for the prophet up hill and down
dale in such a way that God knew the place would be too hot for His servant
to stay in. Well, the Lord is very merciful, very gracious, very protective.
Nevertheless this is not the point that the Scripture makes when it tells
us that Elijah had to hide. He goes away and hides, not from danger, but
because there are lessons of trusting and obeying which he himself must first
In this chapter there are three stories, so well known that we need not
linger with the details. There is the story of Elijah's being fed by the
ravens (vv.2-7), the story of his stay with the widow at Zarephath and being
fed by her as she discovered, in her poverty, that God's supply was sufficient
for herself, her son and the man of God (vv.8-16). Lastly there is the story
of how the widow's son died and Elijah raised him from the dead (vv.17-24).
i. Apprenticeship in the Word of God
In the first two stories we find the first lesson which Elijah had to
learn, which is that God's would-be servants must be taught that the Word
of God is to be wholly relied upon. This is a lesson which is learned by
the exercise of an obedience which leads to confidence. "The word of the
Lord came to him saying, Get hence, turn east, hide yourself by the brook
Cherith ..." (v.3). So he went and did according to the word of the Lord.
He was told to do it, and he did it. Then again, "The word of the Lord came
to him saying, Rise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Zidon ..." (v.9). So
he arose and went. When you come to think of it, the word of the Lord was
not speaking altogether sensibly in either of these stories. The promise in
the first story was that scavenging birds would feed the hungry prophet. "I
have commanded the ravens to feed you there" (v.4), that is to say that those
whose whole energy was occupied self-ward would suddenly become caring for
somebody else! Secondly, he is sent to a widow who was in disastrous straits,
with nothing in the house and ready with her son to eat their last meagre
meal and then die of hunger. This, of course, would be more or less implicit
in Elijah's idea of widowhood, the most ill-provided existence in the Old
Testament. So in this case it seemed that he was being sent to somebody who
could not share because she had nothing to give. In each case, though, the
word of God proved to be reliable. To do what God says is to verify the word
ii. Apprenticeship in Prayer
The third story brings a lesson concerning a crisis for which no previous
word of God had prepared him. We read the blunt statement that "after these
things the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and the
sickness was so severe that there was no breath left in him" (v.17). That
was that -- he just died. Elijah is confronted with this crisis of the dead
child, with no warning from God as to what would happen. In this, as you
will see, his situation was quite different from the other two. In the previous
cases he knows what to expect, being told that the ravens and then the widow
had been commanded to feed him. Now, however, there is no preparatory word
from God. The crisis is unheralded. There does seem to be a moment in God's
dealings with us when, after He has introduced us to preparatory exercises
of grace, He tests us out and helps us to grow by introducing a moment of
Now, Elijah, what will you do? Elijah has already learned that the word
of God is trustworthy, so he now turns all that trust into prayer. It is
very interesting that in his prayer he confirms the intuitive reaction of
the bereaved widow. She says, "What have I to do with you, O man of God, are
you come to bring my sin to remembrance and slay my son?" She does not treat
the death of her son as accidental, but as part of her relationship with
God. Is it a punishment for sin? Somehow God is involved. Elijah takes up
that very thought in his prayer. "He cried to the Lord, and said, O Lord my
God, [22/23] have You brought calamity upon the widow
with whom I sojourn?" Have You brought this calamity?
He does not contradict her intuitive theology; he confirms it. God is
in this tragedy: it is an act of God to be accepted from His hand. But Elijah
believes that the God who does all things can do all things, so that the
crisis is to be faced by bringing to that Almighty God the need with which
he and the widow are now confronted. Can we not learn from him something of
the beginning of how to minister in crisis and tragedy, for in one house after
another in our own land this intuitive approach of the widow of Zarephath
is still found. A man's four-year old son goes out to buy an ice-cream from
a passing van and is killed on the road. The bereaved father, broken-hearted
with grief and not having any vocabulary about God, asks about 'the One above
-- why did He do this to me?' Somehow everything in us cries out to make
excuses for God. We say that we must not blame Him. Brothers and sisters,
we forget that if we cannot blame Him, then neither can we trust Him. For
if He were not there when tragedy struck our beloved one, what guarantee have
we that He is here when we need Him?
If He was not there when men needed Him, why should He be here when I
need Him? The Bible has a name for an absentee god. We shall meet him when
we come to study 1 Kings 18, for he is the god Baal. Elijah mocked the priests
of Baal. He said: "Cry aloud, he is a god, but perhaps he is on a journey,
perhaps he has fallen asleep, perhaps he has had to leave the room!" The God
of the Bible is not an absentee god, and our task is not to make excuses for
our great Lord in the house of tragedy, but to show how trustworthy He is.
Yes, we can trust Him. It is Elijah's God, the God who does everything and
who can do everything. Yes, that event is to be accepted from His hand. And
we express our trust in Him by means of prayer. As Elijah cried out to the
Lord in this way, we read: "The Lord hearkened to the voice of Elijah" (v.22).
What a remarkable turn-round! Hitherto Elijah was hearkening to the voice
of the Lord. The Lord's word came and he obeyed. Now the Lord is hearkening
to the voice of Elijah. He speaks to God and God hears his prayer.
iii. Apprenticeship as to the Cost of Power
When you come to think of it, Elijah's trust in God rested on a mounting
revelation of the power of God. But corresponding to the mounting revelation
of power, there was a mounting demand. There is a cost involved in entering
into an experience of the power of God. If Elijah's example is valid, we
cannot experience the power of God without paying that cost.
There is a simplicity about the first test that the Lord gives Elijah.
He says, "Go ... eastward ..., hide thyself by the brook Cherith on the
east of Jordan" (v.3). Elijah was of Gilead, that is to say, he was a man
of trans-Jordan, an inhabitant of the east bank of Jordan, and he is now
being sent home. The Lord makes His first test easy for the prophet. James
does tell us that Elijah was of like nature with us, and I can well imagine
myself saying in that sort of situation, 'Well, I am not too certain about
this promise of the ravens, but I don't mind going home for I will at least
be near my own folk if the worst comes to the worst'. The Lord introduced
this element of testing and discipline in a gentle manner. It sounds simple
enough -- "Go home!" When he obeyed, he soon came face to face with the power
of God, for the ravens did bring him bread and flesh in the morning and bread
and flesh in the evening (v.6). So Elijah learns the power of God over circumstances,
over things, over what we are pleased to call the life of nature. The natural
creation is in the hand of God and is subject to His power.
In the second test the element of demand is increased. Elijah is called
to leave his own land and go into a foreign country and, what is more, into
the enemy's country. I suppose that there is not an idle word nor a wasted
word in Scripture, so we must conclude that there was a purpose in mentioning
that Zarephath belonged to Zidon (v.9). Now Elijah knew where Zarephath was;
why did he need to be told that it belonged to Zidon? The truth is, of course,
that it is not so described for his sake but for ours. Jezebel, Ahab's domineering
wife, was a princess of Zidon. Her father, according to 1 Kings 16:31, was
Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians. And Zarephath was, in fact, no more than
six or seven miles south of the royal capital. The element of demand heightens;
Elijah is told to go into enemy country in order to learn more of the power
of the Lord.
When he obeys, he learns of that power, power over all things, even over
the hearts and minds of people. When Elijah came to Zarephath and approached
the widow she did not say, 'Oh there you are! I have been expecting you.
The Lord [23/24] told me you were coming'. No, she
had no word from the Lord and yet somehow she had been made ready to welcome
the prophet when he arrived and to do the amazing kindness of going to get
water for him in a time of drought and to feed him in a day of famine. How
wonderfully the power of God bends the hearts and minds of those who, all
unknowingly, fulfil His perfect will. So we read that "Elijah remained there
many days", unmolested though right in the heart of enemy country. God's power
extends to counter all the workings of His enemies. By his obedience Elijah
paid a greater price and took a greater risk, but he learned of a greater
power. He proved the power of the Lord in respect of resources -- oil and
flour. The power of the Lord in respect of agents -- the widow cared for
him. The power of the Lord in respect of opposition and hostility -- the
princess of Zidon never found him.
The third test was the severest of all. He had to learn that the power
of the Lord extends into the spiritual realm, the realm of death and of
life. The widow's son dies. Elijah says, "Give me your son", takes that
poor dead body up into his own room and lays him on his own bed (vv.19-21).
We are then told "he stretched himself upon the child three times". Now,
either the child was uncommonly big for his age or Elijah was a very small
man who had to stretch himself to measure up to the child. The translators
really should know better than this. The Hebrew word here is that he "measured
himself" upon the child and, since the verb is in a reflexive formation,
it means or could be translated like this: "he accepted for himself the measurements
of the child". What is said is that Elijah contracted his manly stature until
it corresponded to the child's stature.
What does that tell us? It tells us that he was called to the most costly
identification with the need that he had to meet. Not merely is this a revolting
thought, to crouch on a dead body in that fashion, but for an Israelite it
involved the idea of spiritual contamination to have that sort of contact
with the dead. Nevertheless Elijah went right down into the place where the
need was, right down into the place of death. Once more, he paid the costly
price of apprenticeship, the price of identification with the needy, and
once again he learned a new lesson concerning the great power of God: "the
soul of the child came into him again". He proved God's power to give spiritual
life and, what is more, the widow came to share his convictions, confessing
a new realisation that he was a man of God and that the word of the Lord
in his mouth was truth.
My brothers and sisters, today's experiences are tomorrow's apprenticeship.
It is not given to us to go off somewhere for three years and then come back,
but the principle remains the same. The would-be servant of God is always
called to live in the secret place in order that he or she may be equipped
for the public place. How we live for God tomorrow depends upon how we obey
God today. The Lord's power is totally sufficient but the way to that power
is a costly way. Elijah emphasises this one matter of trust and obedience.
In the three stories he only did one thing, and that was to pray. His was
an effective ministry because it sprang out of prayer. Prayer is the effective
way of expressing trust and it is the key to spiritual power.
(To be continued)
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERSHIP
(Illustrated by five kings of Judah)
1. KING ASA. 2 Chronicles 14 to 16
YOU will perhaps know that the approach of the books of The Chronicles
is not quite the same as that of the Books of Samuel and The Kings. The
chronicler concentrates on the story of Judah as the true people of God
and in particular on the stories of the kings of Judah as leaders of that
people. In their case we will find that their strength or their lack of strength,
as the case might be, is founded upon their relationship with their Lord,
so that we may learn from them something about the strength and the weakness
of leadership and where it lies.
We shall find that one of the special features of the Chronicles is that
they concentrate on taking facts and on preaching from them. We
[24/25] know that by the time that this book of 2 Chronicles was
completed, it was being read by people for whom these stories were past
history. In their time there were still princes of the people, it is true,
but theirs was not an independent kingdom such as the writer is describing.
There was still a priesthood and a temple, but it was a very small affair
compared with those written about in this story. It is in the very nature
of the case that what the author is doing for us is to take facts which for
his readers were already past history and say, 'Look, here are principles
which are still valid for us even though circumstances have changed; things
from which we too can learn, even though times are different!' I find that
tremendously helpful, because it gives us illustrations in operation, showing
us spiritual truths which were true then, which were equally true when the
chronicler came to write them, and therefore equally true for us as we now
read and study them for ourselves.
In the Geographical Magazine I came across a very interesting article
which was part of an issue devoted very largely to the supertankers of the
world and the damage they can do with oil spill. One particular section described
how attempts are made to overcome such hazards by training the masters of
these ships. Apparently in the French Alps, near Grenoble, there is a lake
upon which you can cruise around in a miniature supertanker, the biggest
of which is only 50 feet long. The whole thing is scaled down so that the
miniature tanker is overweighted and underpowered, just like the real thing.
The man on the bridge steers this thing from port to port on the lake and
so begins to realise the 'feel' of one of these immense, unwieldy ships.
It is a model, but it is still a real boat in real water, with a real master
in charge, even though the whole thing is transferred to a different location
and on a different scale. It seems to me that this is one of the ways in
which we are intended to learn from the Old Testament generally and particularly
from these stories in the Chronicles. The same principles operate; they are
real men and are concerned with the real people of God, though the location
and the circumstances may be different. We will consider a series of men
who were given responsibility for leadership among God's people; even though
they spoke a different language from ours, dressed differently and had many
other differences, they show us the abiding spiritual principles of leadership.
The briefest bird's eye view will tell us what the chronicler was trying
to do. He spent the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles with information
of the genealogies of the antecedents of the people of God. In chapter 10
he tells us about Saul and how he failed because he was not true to the Lord
but sought help elsewhere. The rest of that book tells us the story of David
who founded the kingdom, and then 2 Chronicles 1 to 9 gives the story of
Solomon, who completed the foundation of the kingdom. Chapters 10 to 12 tell
us of Rehoboam, who was a bit of a disaster on any reckoning, and chapter
13 gives the story of his successor, Abijah, who was really something of a
nonentity. This brings us to chapters 14, 15 and 16 which give us the story
of the first of the five great kings, Asa. These five embody within themselves
both the aspects which we will consider, that is, the aspect of faith and
obedience, leading to success and prosperity and on the other hand, the aspect
of unbelief and disobedience and the disasters that follow this kind of failure.
All of the five were great men but they were all human, and perhaps that will
be all the more helpful in teaching us lessons concerning leadership in the
Church of God.
The chronicler begins with Asa's historical records and then begins to
deal with the man himself: "So Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried
him in the city of David, and Asa his son reigned in his stead. In his days
the land had rest for ten years" (14:1). We might prefer to begin from God
and work down to man but it seems equally valid to start with the man and
work back to God, so long as one gets there in the end. In any case this
record starts with the man and what he was like. Not that we are to be given
a man-centred message; but it is a message that begins with man and works
back to God. Chapter 14 really speaks of what the king's heart told him. Later
on, in chapter 15, we shall see what the Lord quite explicitly told him,
Finally, in chapter 16, we shall discover what the voice of the world told
1. What the king's heart told him. Chapter 14
Asa begins with great aims, peace, purity of faith and protection from
enemies. "In his days the land had rest for ten years" (v.1) "and the kingdom
was quiet before him" (v.5). He aimed at peace, "He took away the foreign
altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and hewed down the
Asherim, and commanded Judah to seek the Lord the God of their fathers
[25/26] and to keep the law and the commandments" (vv.3-4). His
next concern was with spiritual purity. Furthermore, "He built fortified
cities in Judah. The land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the
Lord gave them peace. And he said to Judah, Let us build these cities and
surround them with walls and towers and gates and bars" (vv.6-7). He made
sure of protection for the people of God.
Now that is a great aim, a noble aim, is it not, for the leader of the
people, that there should be peace among them, that there should be purity
of worship among them and that they should be well protected. Ministry in
the church, though on a different scale and in quite different surroundings,
should seek the welfare of God's people in this way. We should seek their
peace, the purity of their faith and protection from their enemies. The
principles are the same.
It is important to notice the basis of this aim and its achievement:
i. Individual knowledge of God.
"Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God" (v.2).
It is his relationship with his covenant God, who is the Lord, which is the
basis for all his actions. He could proceed as he did because of what God
meant to him personally: "the eyes of the Lord his God". It ought
not to need to be said, but I will say it just the same, that it is very easy
to have a stereotyped spiritual experience, to think -- quite erroneously
-- that somebody else's experience of God can be accepted as mine. If we
are to serve God's people, we must be able to say that we know God in a personal
and individual way. We will doubtless be given quite different experiences,
but we must have our own personal knowledge of Him. That is a truism and
might perhaps be considered more apt for an evangelistic message to those
who have never yet met the Lord. We need, though, to repeat to ourselves that
the very first necessity for any ministry is a personal revelation of the
Lord to one's own heart. Only the one who knows how God has come down to
his position and met him in his need is competent to help others.
ii. The God of our fathers.
"He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers" (v.4),
and he spoke to the people saying, "... we have sought the Lord, our
We need to be rescued from a wrong kind of individualism by remembering
that our personal knowledge of God is shared by His people, and inherited
from our fathers. We must not try to be God's people in a vacuum, as if He
came into existence when we did. He has been Lord of our fathers for many
past centuries, past millennia, and it is an important corrective to recollect
this fact. God has been looking after His people for years and years and
years, and He is very practised at it. He knows a great deal more about the
job than we do.
We come unto our fathers' God:
Their Rock is our salvation:
The eternal arms, their dear abode,
We make our habitation:
We bring Thee, Lord, the praise they brought;
We seek Thee as Thy saints have sought
In every generation.
This continuity between the days of the chronicler and our own days gives
us a tremendous historical ground of certainty. This God has never failed
in the past; then how can He fail us now?
So it was that Asa was able to say to his people that since everything
they had read in the old records of God's faithfulness had been true, then
they could be sure that so it would be for them now. He is "the Lord, my
God"; He is "The Lord, the God of our fathers"; so we can claim Him as "The
Lord our God". Asa insisted on this personal relationship with God, and what
follows shows how he was vindicated.
His own army was completely outnumbered by the hordes of Zerah the Ethiopian
(v.9), but Asa's confidence in his God and his people's God was magnificently
vindicated when the test came. The rest of the chapter describes this incident
and furnishes us with the memorable words: "Lord, there is none like thee
to help between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God; for we
rely on thee and in thy name we go" (v.11). In all this Asa was doing as his
heart told him. He acted as a man of God and the Lord did not let him down.
2. What the Word of God told him. Chapter 15
Chapter 15 tells us most explicitly what it was that the Lord's Word
told him. His heart had told him true, but now a prophet comes to him: "The
Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet
Asa and spoke to him" (v.1). He preached the king a sermon,
[26/27] and it was a sermon addressed to him as an individual:
"Hear me, Asa ...". It was a sermon that appealed to history: "For a long
time Israel hath been without a true God, and without a teaching priest
and without law ..." (v.3). "Let me expound to you the lesson of history",
the prophet says, "and it is that all the way through, when men have trusted
the Lord, they have been blessed, and when they have foresaken Him they have
taken the consequences". It was also an appeal to the community: "Hear me,
Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin". So this little sermon that the prophet
preaches to Asa the king is a simple underlining of what we found in the
previous chapter. "Listen", he says, "the whole of the history of your people
backs the message up. He is the God of your fathers, as verses 3 to 6 will
tell you." The message was for both the king and his people and when Asa
heard these words, "he took courage and put away the abominations out of
all the land of Judah ...". He removed all the things which were spoiling
the life of the people of God and "gathered together all Judah, and them
that sojourned with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh and out of Simeon; for
they fell to him ... in abundance when they saw that the Lord his God was
with him" (v.9). They all met at Jerusalem and rejoiced together over the
oath they took to renew their covenant with God.
I think that the one thing I learned from this is that very important
lesson of repetition and underlining. Real understanding of the truth of
God seems to be much more often an intensive matter than an extensive one.
Obviously when we first come to know the Lord there are things we do not
know and so we have to extend our understanding so that it can spread wider.
But much more important in the long run is that our understanding should
go deeper in the things which we already know. That is what Azariah was seeking
to do in his message. The Word of the Lord was sent to Asa to tell him over
and over again what his own heart had already told him under the influence
of the Spirit of God. Azariah had told him, "It is simple, it is repetition;
it is only a reminder, but it is still true. It is what you learned when
you were first converted and it is still important and true. God is your
God -- you knew that then and you need to remember it now. God is the God
of history -- you were told that a long time ago, but it is worth remembering.
And God is the God of your people -- that early lesson must be pressed home
for your spiritual maturing". The Word of the Lord is often giving much
more importance to the deepening of understanding than to its widening.
We see what a great effect this prophetic message had upon Asa and upon
the kingdom (v.16). Even the queen-mother was put in order! She had been
misbehaving so "he removed her from being queen, because she made an abominable
image for Asherah". There is courage for you! Even dominant mothers can be
a hindrance to spiritual life.
3. What the world told him. Chapter 16
We have seen what the king's heart told him and what the Word of God
told him, now, alas, we find in chapter 16 what the world told him. Verse
1 tells us of what happened in the thirty-sixth year of his reign. All the
commentaries will argue as to whether it really was the thirty-sixth, and
come to no conclusion, but that problem is as nothing compared with the
problem in the next verse. How could it be that " Asa took silver and gold
from the treasures of the house of the Lord and the king's house, and sent
them to Benhadad king of Syria ... saying, Let there be a league ..." (vv.2-3).
This was the way in which he proposed to solve the threat of invasion from
his northern neighbour. How could such a favoured leader, who had both heard
his own heart telling him the way to go and also heard the Word of the Lord
so explicitly confirming it, confront this particular problem by listening
to the voice of the world? How could he so slide away from all his experience
of his covenant-keeping Lord? How could it happen? My dear brothers and sisters,
if you look into your own hearts, you will know all too well how it can
happen, and how easy it is. I almost said, "Even for those who are in positions
of leadership in the Church of God", but perhaps I should say, "Especially
for those who are in positions of leadership". How easy it is, even after
having heard your own heart ten you the way to go, and heard the voice of
the Lord confirming it, yet to listen to a different voice which sounds
more prudent, or more attractive, or more effective. Look at the subtlety
of the voice of the world, as it spoke to Asa when his city of Ramah was
taken and fortified against him by his enemy, the king of Israel. Look at
the subtlety of it! "He took the silver and the gold from the treasures of
the house of the Lord". That is how he would cope, for he had the wherewithal.
"There is a [27/28] league between me and you", he
says to Syria, "as between my father and your father" (v.3). There is a
precedent for it! This is not a new thing I am doing; God's people have done
it in the past. My own father, the previous generation of God's people, were
quite prepared to do this sort of thing, so why shouldn't I?
He had the wherewithal and he had the precedent and -- the most subtle
and perilous thing of all which shunts him on to the downward path -- he
finds it successful. The voice of the world tells him, You can do it; it
has been done before and you will find that it works. So he does. The money
is sent off to Syria, and the Syrians attack the north, and the threat is
removed. "Then king Asa took all Judah" (v.6) and they went up to Ramah and
carried away the stones and the timber with which the enemy had been building
and fortifying it, "and he built therewith Geba and Mizpah". When Baasha
came back, there was nothing there. Rather fun! There had been a city, then
suddenly there was none, but there was another one just down the road. I
wonder, did those stones have a voice which cried out? If so, what would
the stones have said to Asa? Well, they didn't need to, because once again
the Lord sent a prophet.
The subtlety of the world is that it can even drag down an Asa. It is
as strong as that. God's prophet, Hanani, condemned the king for relying
on the king of Syria and not upon the Lord: "When you did rely on the Lord
(in the past) he gave them into your hand, but now you have done very foolishly".
"The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show
his might in the behalf of those whose heart is blameless toward him" (v.9).
What made you panic, Asa? The Lord is in control, not simply of your destiny,
but of the destiny of every nation of the whole earth. The eyes of the Lord
scan every international movement and they are certainly focused on you. You
had no call whatever to listen to the voice of the world in your time of
need. You ought to have known that very well, because you have experienced
it in the past. When you relied on the Lord, He did not let you down.
We may judge something of the strength of that voice of the world in
that when God spoke to Asa directly and rebuked him for his lack of faith,
his only reaction was anger: "Asa was wroth with the seer and put him in
the stocks, in prison, for he was in a rage with him" because he had found
him out and given him a dressing down which he richly deserved (v.10). The
remainder of the verse presumably means that when some people sympathised
with Hanani the prophet, he maltreated them as well. Then the Lord took a
hand in the matter and struck Asa with disease, but still this believing
man, whom the Lord had so signally blessed, turned to physicians instead
of to the Lord. He was not wrong to turn to physicians; the trouble was that
he turned to them instead of the Lord. No doubt he felt too uncomfortable
to turn to the Lord, for he and the Lord were not on speaking terms. How
strong is the voice of the world!
These three chapters, then, give us the story of the man who showed strength
and yet betrayed weakness. His great power lay in his trust in the Lord:
his failure rose from his lack of trust in the Lord. I could perhaps apologise
for being so simple, but I will not do so. In this old history, we need to
find encouragement or warning concerning our spiritual history. Right at
the start we learned simple trust in the Lord and believed that the Lord's
blessing is for those who put their trust in His covenant-keeping faithfulness.
If we fail to maintain and exercise that same simple trust all the way, there
are consequences which -- apart from His mercy -- we shall certainly suffer.
The Lord looks for those whose heart is perfect toward Him.
(To be continued)
PREPARING FOR ETERNITY
"so much the more as you see the Day drawing near" Hebrews 10:25
NO reader of the Old Testament needed to have explained to him what "the
Day" was, for the prophets were full of the announcement of that great day.
There is only one day that matters for this world and for God: it is the
Day when the Lord will break in among men and destroy for ever the separation
that now exists between heaven and earth. There are, of course, two sides
[28/29] to it: one is a dark, a dreadful side; but
there is also the bright and glorious side to His appearing. The prophets
saw that day in the distance -- in a very far distance -- but here we are
reminded that we see it drawing near. We certainly do! The Day, the great
Day, the only Day that really matters to the Church is rapidly approaching.
Praise God for that!
What sort of a day will it prove to be for us who love Him? It will be
a day of perfect communion when we shall meet Him and know Him face to face.
It will also be a day of perfect fulfilment, when we shall not have any more
questions about God's promises or His faithfulness. It will be a day of
absolute assurance and certainty, when we know that it was all right --
even when it seemed most wrong, it was all right. Thirdly, it will be a day
of perfect unity, when all the Lord's people will find how much it means
to them, and still more, how much it means to the Lord, that they are all
in the good of heavenly harmony.
The context shows that what will happen in that Day challenges us with
certain present responsibilities. We must live in the light of it. The Letter
to the Hebrews has various key phrases, and one of them is the exhortation
involved in the words, "Let us ...". It is all very well for us to be praising
the Lord for what He is then going to do, but let us prepare for it. In
this passage there are three relevant exhortations; we have a responsibility
in each of the three matters which I have mentioned.
Perfect communion: "let us draw near" (v.22). We rejoice that
we are to see Him face to face. Are we now having the benefit of such communion?
Are we being prepared for the encounter of that great Day? Perfect fulfilment
of the will of God: "let us hold fast the confession of our hope" (v.23).
It is all very well in the glory, after it has all happened, to declare that
He was faithful that promised. We will do that all right, but we ought even
now to be saying that He is faithful that promised. We must hold fast ...
"without wavering ..." until the great Day comes. Thirdly, perfect unity
. Perhaps a correct summing up of what is said in this connection would
be: "let us stand together".
1. "Let Us Draw Near"
Of all the other exhortations in the Epistle, this is the peak and climax,
and may perhaps be described as the end to which all the arguments have been
tending: "Let us draw near ...". When the doctrines are all set forth and
the truth established, the way is made clear for this, namely, heart-to-heart,
face-to-face communion with God within the veil. That is the Lord's great
desire and for that He gave His Son to die, so that we might have free access
to Himself. Every truly redeemed heart responds to this divine desire and
finds that it is its supreme longing -- to come nearer to the Lord. We want
to draw nearer.
How is it done? Clearly and manifestly not merely by religion, for the
Hebrews were not lacking in that. In spite of being so religious, they did
not enjoy fellowship with God. They also had godly leaders, but this did
not do the work for them. The Epistle underlines this truth. However much
you may admire them, you do not get near to God by devotion or attachment
to His servants. Even blessings did not produce this close communion. What
blessings Israel enjoyed, what deliverances, what rich provision, yet the
blessings did not in themselves bring them nearer to the Giver of them. The
Letter seems to make it plain that even service for God does not necessarily
bring the worker near to Him. The men of the Levitical and priestly orders
did nothing else but serve God. They were, if you like, full-time workers,
but with all their full-time service they never got within the veil.
For us, however, there is now "a new and living way, through the veil
..." so that we can now have the closest and most intimate fellowship with
our holy God. The glorious result of the crucifixion of our Saviour is that
we may boldly draw near. Since the writer goes on to add "that is to say,
his flesh" (v.20) we may well enquire how the life of the Lord Jesus as a
Man can be likened to a veil, for the veil suggests to us a hindrance to
communion. How then can the flesh of the Lord Jesus be likened to a veil?
May it be that we have not properly understood the meaning of the veil?
It was not an iron curtain to exclude but, in its highest spiritual meaning,
was intended to attract men. Its message to men was in effect to say, How
wonderful it must be to pass through that veil into the very presence of
God! Its resplendent beauty was attractive and calculated to suggest that
the sum total of all blessedness could be found behind that veil. In that
sense the flesh of the [29/30] Lord Jesus was certainly
a veil, provoking the sincere believer to long above all else to be like Him.
He is like the veil, standing between God and men, but not for the purpose
of excluding them but rather beckoning them on to enjoy this holy communion.
The life of the Lord, like the veil, spoke of the extreme blessedness of
close fellowship with God. In many ways He was the loneliest Man who ever
walked this earth, and yet He was the most satisfied Man -- full of that infinitely
wonderful heart rest which comes to the one who enjoys the constancy of perfect
love. When the disciples realised how near to God He lived, they came to
Him and asked: "Lord teach us to pray ...", but they dare not go so far as
to say "Teach us to pray as Thou prayest", for they realised that that was
impossible, so they said: "Teach us to pray, even as John also taught his
disciples" (Luke 11:1). What they really wanted, however, was to be like Him.
We must not, however, limit this matter of fellowship with the Father
to uttered prayer. It was as though Jesus lived within the veil. When the
Lord was by the well in Samaria, the disciples offered Him food but He did
not need it. He was already a satisfied Man. They turned to one another and
asked, "Where has He got His satisfaction from?", only to be answered, "I
have meat to eat that you know not" (John 4:32). From this we might think
that the Lord found His joy in service as He led the woman to God, but this
cannot be so since the disciples also served by preaching and healing and
yet, according to the Lord's words, they did not experience this satisfaction.
No, it was not the service; it was nearness to God in the service.
When the disciples reached that well, they did so just as the Lord had got
to the core of what mattered most to Him, which was the heart satisfaction
of His Father by true spiritual worship. To Him it was not just a matter
of another soul to be saved, a further justification of His work as an evangelist,
but of bringing joy to the Father's heart by leading one of the most unlikely
people in that district into the secret of heart worship. Can we doubt that
somewhere in those slow hearts of the disciples there was provoked a new
longing to taste that nearness to God which their Lord so manifestly enjoyed?
I hope and believe that it provoked in them something of the reaction
-- Oh, to get within that veil! Oh, to serve God like that! Oh, to find that
kind of satisfaction in the love of God! So, throughout His earthly life,
those who lived closest to Jesus were constantly beckoned on to seek to
"enter in". There was the occasion when they were in a storm on the lake.
A most unusual storm it must have been, probably diabolical in its origin,
for hardened fishermen do nor get frightened by wind and waves, especially
on a comparatively small lake. In the horror of that dark experience there
was something evil which they had never met before. And how about the Lord
Jesus? Was He in any way perturbed or distressed? Not at all. We may suggest
that this was because the disciples were only men but He was God. True enough,
and yet, does God go to sleep? It seems, then, that Jesus was living out His
truly human life, and yet He was asleep and when awakened, gave no reaction
of urgency, but rather of serene faith. Surely those men then caught a glimpse
of life within the veil. Surely they must have desired to be more like Him.
His whole life, therefore, was a beautiful attraction and invitation.
Yet always there was an element of exclusion while He was still alive.
They may have wanted to be like Him, but it was impossible, for one cannot
imitate that kind of life. By the victory of the cross, however, that impossible
thing became wonderfully possible. God gave an illustration of the open way
now made for sinners to enjoy communion with Him by tearing the great veil
of the temple down the middle: "Behold, the veil of the temple was rent
in twain from the top to the bottom" (Matthew 27:51). It was something of
a miracle to men, but it was a mere nothing to God, just to tear open a curtain.
But the reality was something tremendous; it was like tearing open His dear
Son. Now there need be no more exclusion and no vain longing, but a bold
and grateful acceptance of an open door into closest communion with our God.
The blood has opened for us a new and living way into His presence.
This exhortation to draw near appears twice in the Letter. The first
time is concerned with an occasion of personal necessity: "Let us draw near
... that we may find grace to help us in time of need" (4:16). I think that
we do this fairly often and easily. We need grace and so we turn to the Lord.
Well, thank God, the veil has been rent so that we may do this. God's throne
is a throne of grace and is occupied by our High Priest who is willing and
able to meet every need [30/31] of ours. We do not
have to apologise for coming to God with our troubles -- that is what we
ought to do.
This second exhortation, though, leads us on into deeper spiritual experiences.
It calls us on to heart-to-heart communion with our Lord. It may not be a
time of special stress or an occasion of particular demands or needs, but
He wants us to seek Him for the sheer joy of fellowship within the veil.
Ready as He is to help us, He does not want us only to come to Him with our
troubles; He wants us to come with our love. And the more so as we see the
Day approaching. When that day comes there will not be troubles or fears or
even needs to take us to His throne: these will all be over. Shall we then
say that we do not need Him any more? Far from it! We will press to Him in
thanksgiving and worship. If that is to be so, the clear call for the hour
in which we live is that we should avail ourselves of every opportunity to
draw ever closer to Him. "Let us draw near ...".
2. "Let Us Hold Fast"
Since we anticipate the nearness of the Day of perfect fulfilment, we
must be all the more concerned not to waver now. There is at least the suggestion
that the battle of faith concerning God's promises will grow fiercer and
fiercer as the end of the age approaches, demanding supreme tenacity of unwavering
faith. Such steadfastness involves something more than maintaining a calm
or confident exterior -- putting on a bold face. It means a constancy of
spirit, an inner buoyancy, which always rises above the downdrag of appearances
or feelings. "Let us hold fast ...". We can, and so we must. But it will never
be easy, and may well grow harder as we see the Day drawing near.
The only basis for this kind of steadfastness is the Word of God. In
that Word we not only discover the promises but meet and communicate with
Him who gave them -- the Promiser. I have to confess that recent events in
my own life have shaken me as I never thought I could be shaken. Perhaps
it would be more truthful to say "have threatened to shake me". Having spent
over fifty years asserting with strong conviction that for those who have
truly been living for Christ, death is positive gain, I have been rocked on
to my heels by the unexpected blow of the loss of my wife. It is impossible
to describe the turmoil of soul which such an experience can bring. With a
mind full of Bible teaching and long familiarity with all the Scriptural articles
of faith, I have yet been almost overwhelmed by onsets of hopelessness.
As to "without wavering" -- that is a consistency of hope which I could
never have known if it had not been for the Word of God and its specific
statements. I have been enabled to hold fast in spirit only by turning to
some positive statement of Scripture and answering all my inner questions
and emotions by insisting that God's Word must be true and must be accepted
as such in the face of every seeming contradiction.
No-one can claim always to feel hopeful or free from dark despondency,
but I have found some degree of steadfastness -- as my Saviour did before
me -- by affirming absolute confidence in what "is written". This has led
me to consider anew the unwavering steadfastness of the Man Christ Jesus.
Whether He could have managed without the Scriptures or not is beside the
point, since He did not try to do so. In fact it may be valid to say that
He held fast His confidence of hope firm to the end by totally relying on
the written Word of God.
Two areas suggest themselves -- that of the immediate constancy of His
demeanour, and that of His certainty concerning His future destiny. As to
the former, He never questioned that He had been "sent". Very frequently
He stated that it was so and He even asserted, concerning His heavenly Father:
"I have not come on my own, but he sent me" (John 8:42). This, then, was
a realm in which He maintained boldly His confidence right to the end, that
His Father bore full responsibility for His life on earth and His mission
here. Now while we may attribute this to some inner consciousness of His
divinity, we can equally be assured that it was based on God's Word, for
His original quotation from Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue traced the conviction
to the written word: "... he hath sent me ..." (Luke 4:18), and He went on
to explain that He knew that the words applied to Himself. Was He ever assailed
by mental questions? Did He always feel this truth? We do not know.
We can only confess that the temptations are very real in our own case.
But the point is that all questions and emotions are set aside for those
who cling closely to the Word of God, continually re-assuring themselves
that "He is faithful that promised". [31/32]
The other area of testing must have come as the Saviour saw His dread
"day" approaching. What steadied and sustained Him in His endurance to the
end? We are told that it was "for the joy that was set before him" (Hebrews
12:2). Was this based on His divine foreknowledge? Again, we do not know.
But we do know that He made more than one reference to a favourite New Testament
quotation from Psalm 110:1. When He rounded on His critics with an unanswerable
quotation, it was: "... sit thou on my right hand ..." (Luke 20:42), and
when He gave His final reply to the high priests and rulers it was: "From
henceforth shall the Son of Man be seated at the right hand of the power of
God" (Luke 22:69). There was a similar Scripture which He quoted with some
zest and possibly sang in His final hymn in the Upper Room: "The stone which
the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner" (Luke 20:17,
cited from Psalm 118:22). We may surely believe, then, that our beloved Lord
found the unwavering confidence which we all so sorely need in the promises
given so especially to Him in God's Word. And may we not seek and find our
own poise and steadfastness in those promises which are given to us in the
same Holy Book?
Make no mistake about it, the nearer we approach what is called "the
Day", the more may lesser "hopes" be disappointed and fiercer will be the
assaults on our supreme hope. Having been drawn more powerfully into nearness
to God by the imminence of Christ's Coming, may we also be grounded more
sure]y upon His infallible and all-sufficient Word of promise. "Let us draw
near!" "Let us hold fast!"
3. "Let Us Consider One Another"
The Day will be one of perfect unity in Christ. It will be the occasion
of the removal of all barriers and divisions between God's people, as the
body of Christ becomes the bride of Christ. It therefore seems very reasonable
to suggest that all blood-bought believers should provoke one another to
love and encourage one another to faith as they see that Day approaching.
It may equally be argued that since Satan's downfall will be brought
about in that Day, he will re-double his efforts to sow suspicion and discord
among God's people in an effort to postpone his own end. In either case,
though, "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" becomes a matter of
Now it is clear that if this third exhortation is parallel with the two
previous ones, it is firstly an inward matter of men's spirits. The unity
can well express itself in outward ways and indeed must do so, but it begins
in the heart. Is my heart warm and open to my brother or sister (any
brother or sister) in Christ? If the answer is in the negative, then
I am by no means ready to be overtaken by the holy blinding light of that
coming Day. True unity among Christians is the easiest subject for talking
or preaching, but it is the hardest thing to practise. It does not come
by talking about it or even praying for it. It comes by recognising that
Christ has received it from the Father in answer to His prayer (John 17:21),
has died to bring it about (John 17:19) and has sent His Spirit to administer
it (Ephesians 2:18).
We agree that when "the Day" comes, we will all be caught up together
(1 Thessalonians 4:17). In that rapture we will leave behind all the
things that make for division among us. We will also leave behind the merely
outward and temporal things that unite or seem to unite us. In that Day
the essential unit of the people of God will consist of their likeness to
Christ. Since we already have the presence of that new nature of His in
us now, we should know beforehand something of the heavenly harmony which
we will experience in fulness then. How sad it was that some had gone off
on their own -- "forsaking the assembling of themselves together" (v.25)!
How unworthy of Christ was the behaviour of those who could only practise
unity with believers who accepted circumcision or some other outward procedure
as its basis! How pitiful the 'in groups' of those who were either of Paul
or of Apollos or some other spiritual leader! And how unspiritual we tend
to be when we withhold loving concern and openness of heart to true believers
who preach the same Christ as we do! The Day in prospect should produce heart
unity in practice.
If I had only one more message to speak, or one more effort to make,
before passing myself on into eternity, it would be directed to the single
purpose of encouraging spiritual unity in the body of Christ. Personal ideas
and predilections recede into second place when we realise that "the Judge
is at the door" (James 5:9).
In this passage the special reference is to the local assembly. Here
it is that we can assemble ourselves together, provoke to love and encourage
[32/33] in the faith. We begin here -- of we should
do. But if a group gives too much attention to its own unity, it may well
lose that very unity. If, however, it cultivates an open and loving spirit
to all God's people, near and far, it will find itself delivered from those
temptations to isolation which contradict, and perhaps even delay, the coming
of that approaching Day.
FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS (1)
John H. Paterson
FORTY years in the wilderness! It sounds like the title of an autobiography
-- perhaps that of a particularly unsuccessful politician, or even of an
unsuccessful Christian. But for Bible readers the words are sure to evoke
the experiences of the Children of Israel: "Forty years long was I grieved
with that generation, and said, It is a people who do err in their hearts,
and they have not known my ways; wherefore I sware in my wrath, that they
should not enter into my rest."
The train of thought is an obvious one. But have you ever paused to recall
that, although forty years was the period of Israel's wanderings round and
round in the desert, hardly any of them, except some children and adolescents,
actually spent the whole forty-year period on the march? All those who were
over twenty when they reached Kadesh Barnea on their first approach to the
land of promise (Numbers 14:28-34) died before the journeyings ended. In
fact, only three men survived to the end of the period: Moses, Joshua and
Caleb. Two of them eventually entered the land while the third -- Moses --
was taken away by God on the very eve of entry.
"Forty years in the wilderness" was therefore the lot, not of the faithless,
fearful members of God's people but of His most faithful servants. Indeed,
the greatest or them all, Moses, spent not merely forty but eighty years
altogether in the wilderness. He spent his last forty years leading the recalcitrant
Israelites, after spending the middle forty herding sheep in such places
as the one described graphically in Exodus 3:1 as "the backside of the desert"!
To be "in the wilderness" is not, therefore, necessarily a sign of unbelief
or backsliding on the part of the individual, nor yet of God's displeasure,
for those who bore least blame spent the longest time there! On the contrary,
presence there did them credit, for, if you consider their history, they
had no need to be there at all; they were there from choice.
LET us try to understand this, and be moved by their example. The people
of Israel, by and large, were in the wilderness because they were unsuited
to being anywhere else. The first two years of their wanderings were planned
by God because He knew that a nation of liberated slaves was unsuited to
a life of independence in their own land; unsuited to fight the battles that
free men must fight to maintain their freedom (Exodus 13:17-18). The other
thirty-eight years of wandering were attributable to unbelief (Hebrews 3:19).
If we ask 'unbelief in what?' then the answer is: 'unbelief in the
capacity, the ability of God to lead them victoriously into the land of promise'.
And without that confidence they were quite unsuited to the task of capturing
and holding the land. They were dreadfully slow learners!
They for their part would have much preferred to be back in Egypt, about
which over the years they retained a strange fixation (Exodus 16:3; Numbers
11:5). But they no longer belonged there either. The closing of the Red Sea
behind them had effectively cut them off from their past; as Paul vividly
puts it in 1 Corinthians 10:2, they had been "baptized unto Moses in the
cloud and in the sea", shut out of an old life and shut in to a new. Unable
to go back, and unready to go on, where else could they live but in the wilderness?
MOSES, Joshua and Caleb were quite different. They were ready for the
Promised Land (Numbers 14:6-9), for they had already learned the lessons
which their friends and followers failed after a lifetime of trying to master.
In this sense, the three men were wasting their time in the desert. They
were waiting for everybody else to catch up with them! And the waiting cannot
have been pleasant. It would be idle to suppose that a diet of manna with
occasional quails did [33/34] not pall for them as
it did for the rest of the people. They shared the discomforts of desert
life. So what were these three men doing in the wilderness with the others?
They were there by choice -- the choice they had made to stay with God's
people, no matter how hard the life or how slow the progress. That such a
choice existed is very clear: not once but twice God made Moses a straight
offer -- to wipe out Israel and start again with him (Exodus 32:10; Numbers
14:12). And not once or twice but many times over Moses defended the people
from God's anger; as Psalm 106:23 puts it, he "stood in the breach" for them.
By doing so, he implicitly rejected God's offer. He not only asked God not
to choose him instead of the people; he begged that, if God had
to make a choice (Exodus 32:32), He would choose the people rather than
It was this refusal to be separated from the people, despite all their
sin and repeated failure, which the writer to the Hebrews picked out as
one of the dominant features of Moses' life of faith: he chose rather to
suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of
sin for a season (Hebrews ll.25) -- or, we can add, to enjoy the approval
of God and the privilege of becoming the founder of a new nation!
Let us not suppose that this was easy. We know that it was not: that
Moses was sorely tried by Israel's waywardness; that he complained about
feeling like a nursemaid; that, eventually, the frustration became too much
for him -- "they angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went
ill with Moses for their sakes; because they provoked his spirit, so that
he spake unadvisedly with his lips" (Psalm 106:32-33). It must have been
a very powerful motive indeed that kept God's servant loyal to such people,
and at such cost to himself.
THAT motive, as it emerges from Moses' own arguments and pleas, was simply
this: an unalterable, unquenchable concern for the purpose of God in His
people. It was founded on a realisation that what God proposed to do involved
a people; that to bring into the promised land just one person, or
two, or a handful, would not be enough. God's purpose -- more, His very reputation
-- was bound up with the whole of His people, even including those
who wished they were back in Egypt and those who had got tired of eating
manna, and all those others who grumbled each time they grew thirsty!
And so these men stayed when they could have gone ahead; they held on
when they could have been rid of the whole irritating, rebellious nation.
They held on for the great benefit -- one could legitimately say the salvation
-- of the rest, and they did not get embittered, and only occasionally impatient.
Nor did they count the time wasted. As the years went by, and they were no
nearer to their destination, they might well have argued, as all mortals
will, 'I have so little time: why should I be wasting it here, when I could
be enjoying the blessings of life in the land?' There is probably no human
feeling so common or so debilitating!
I like therefore to read the words of Caleb at the end of the
wilderness years, as an antidote to this feeling of time wasting away. Although
he had lived through all those years, he said, "As yet I am as strong this
day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even
so is my strength now" (Joshua 14:11). Caleb had not allowed the wilderness
years to wear him down; had not wasted his strength in complaint or protest,
because he had seen those years as a necessary preparation of heart for the
rest of God's people, to make them worthy one day for life in the land.
It was, after all, Moses himself (Psalm 90:12) who prayed, "So teach
us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom".
(To be continued)
NOTES ON 2 CORINTHIANS
9. TRUE AND FALSE SPIRITUALITY
THE transition from chapter 9 to this chapter is so abrupt that it is
difficult to explain. In chapters 7 to 9 the apostle's tone has been easy
and happy, permeated by his confidence in the Corinthians and his joy in
the fact that they have completely turned back again to him. In this
[34/35] chapter, however, his tone changes to one which is so full
of sorrow and anxiety that he has to doubt whether they will ever listen
to him at all.
What is the cause of this acute change? Several commentators think that
Paul had sent chapters 1 to 9, and that it was afterwards that he received
new information about the situation in Corinth which showed that the false
apostles had stolen a march on him and once more gained the ear of the church.
This, they think, made him write chapters 10 to 13, which were then added
to the church's file, thus forming one single letter. It is also possible
that, after having dictated chapters 1 to 9 but before having sent them,
he received alarming reports from Corinth and so -- after a sleepless night
-- began dictating the rest of the letter before sending it off.
The seeds of the "tares" described in chapters 10 to 13 are already to
be found in the earlier chapters. His trustworthiness and apostleship had
been questioned by "certain people" who behaved as his opponents, and a
visit which he paid to Corinth had not cleared the situation, but rather
the contrary. Yet Titus had brought such encouraging news from them, that
Paul thought that the tares had been pulled up by the roots. It now turned
out that this had been far from the case.
In Galatians 5:2 the apostle used the term, "I Paul" in order to emphasise
the importance of his message, but here it is even stronger. "I Paul
myself ...". He is writing with desperate intensity, and one wonders
if perhaps he has seized the pen from his amanuensis to write down personally
what he wants to stress. He refers to the ironical statements made about
him in Corinth: "Paul is humble when he is face to face with you but brave
when he writes letters to you". Presumably the reference is to his strict
remarks in 1 Corinthians (see 2 Corinthians 2:4 and 7:12) which his opponents
used to characterise him in this way. It is true that he now exhorts them
"by the meekness and gentleness of Christ", but what follows shows that firmness
and severity are not incompatible with this. There is every justification
for revealing irony and even pain of heart approaching bitterness, but he
gives no room to uncontrolled outbreaks of anger.
We are told that Paul's enemies accused him of walking after the flesh
and warring after the flesh: in their opinion he was an unspiritual man
when compared with them. In 5:12 he had described them as people who gloried
in appearance. Later we are told more about them, but this is enough to show
that they and Paul were in complete disagreement as to what it is to walk
after the flesh or to be led and governed by the Spirit of God. They had
noticed that Paul did not assert himself very much and was modest; this they
regarded as weakness. He had no letters of recommendation, which they viewed
as proof that no-one would recommend him. They had also noticed that his
behaviour and speech were unpretentious and not ecstatic (5:13). All this,
in their opinion, was a clear proof that he was not a man of the Spirit but
just a very ordinary person who operated by very ordinary human means. They
argued that if you were a man of the Spirit, other men of the Spirit would
recommend you, your speech and behaviour would be spectacular and your whole
being characterised by strong authority. They felt that in a special degree,
this last feature should be true of one who called himself an apostle of
PAUL has a diametrically opposite view of Spirit and flesh. To him their
procedure proved that they did not know the Spirit, and later he even said
that they did not know Jesus either, though they themselves thought that
they did and used His name in their words and with their actions. It was they
and not he who walked and warred after the flesh in a totally unspiritual
way. It was true that he walked in the flesh, and by this Paul means more
than just walking in the body. In Galatians 2:20 he speaks of "the life which
I now live in the flesh" and both references cover the same thought: they
mean that Paul lived a life which was continually given over to death. To
live in the flesh is to die. If he had lived after the flesh,
he would have done everything in his power to avoid death, for the flesh
protests against death. Paul, however, being a spiritual man, understood that
for Christ's sake he should willingly lose his life, so that the life of
Christ could be manifest in his mortal flesh (4:11). That was the reason for
his obvious and continuing weakness, which his opponents wrongly interpreted
as lack of God's power but which, on the contrary, was the condition for the
power of God "to reveal itself fully" (12:9 Danish).
Paul refrained from using the carnal weapons of human recommendation,
boasting and self-assertion, he did not fight to preserve his own life, but
he did have weapons which were "mighty before God" (v.4) and could accomplish
great things in God's interest. His weapons were not carnal and had nothing
to do with the weapons which clever people use when they want to forward their
own interests. The "strongholds" of which he speaks are "imaginations and
every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God". Paul sees
man as establishing himself in his own world of ideas. These false apostles
think themselves wise and they therefore defend themselves against God's foolishness,
namely, the Word concerning the crucified Saviour who is the wisdom and power
of God. Behind all their wisdom, Paul sees sin in its basic character of
pride and self-exaltation. However worked over their philosophic wisdom may
be, it is in fact nothing more than imagination which pits itself against
the knowledge of God. It acts as a stronghold which cannot be stormed or
conquered by any superior wisdom of the same kind, for such wisdom would still
be carnal. Spiritual weapons, however, do not consist of excellent speech
or persuasive words of wisdom, but only of the words about Jesus Christ and
Him crucified. They are given in weakness and fear and much trembling, yet
the message works in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Corinthians
2:1-5). By such weapons he brings "every thought into captivity to the obedience
of Christ", that is to say, not into captivity to a better view of this world's
life, but into captivity in the way that a broken-hearted sinner, convicted
of sin and guilt, is taken into grace by Christ and brought altogether under
The point, then, is that of failing to be obedient and submissive to
Christ. All the difficulties in Corinth originated in the fact that the
false apostles had drawn the church's attention away from Christ, so he
continues: "We are in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience
(to Christ) will be fulfilled" (v.6). This can hardly mean that the apostle
will punish the Corinthian's previous disobedience now that they have become
obedient, for former disobedience is blotted out when obedience to Christ
is fulfilled. It must therefore presumably mean that when obedience has
"conquered" ( Danish) in the Corinthians and they are consequently
again united with Paul, then he will punish disobedience on the part of
the foreign apostles who had penetrated the church from outside and caused
all the problems which had threatened to make Paul's work seem almost to
have been in vain. Now he asks them to look together at the circumstances
while he comments upon them: "If any man trusteth in himself that he is Christ's,
let him consider this again with himself that, even as he is Christ's, so
are we" (v.7). On the face of it his words seem to indicate that he was accused
of not belonging to Christ at all. Such a suggestion even his worst opponents
would hardly have dared to make, but what they might rather have said was:
'He does not belong to Christ as we do, for we are Christ's apostles, but
he is no apostle'. They had gained a hearing for this statement but, in
a church which has begun to listen to lies, it may well have seemed that
a man who did not assert himself could hardly be considered an apostle.
IT is Paul's apostleship which is in question, so he continues: "For
though I should glory somewhat abundantly concerning our authority which
the Lord gave for building you up, but not for casting you down, I shall
not be put to shame". In verses 4 and 5 Paul has mentioned his weapons of
warfare which can break down imaginations, boasting as it were of his authority.
If he continues to boast, he has nothing to be ashamed of, for he claims
an authority for building up the churches, including that at Corinth. His
breaking down of the pride which exalts itself against the knowledge of God
is a link in the building up of the Corinthians. When he had written so seriously
and even strictly to them, it was not in order to frighten them but only
to keep them from the destructive influence of the false prophets so that
his work of building them up could continue.
There was an element of truth in Paul's opponents' description of him
as coming in fear and trembling and using words which were without excellence.
They, however, had judged Paul "after the flesh" because they themselves
were carnal and so regarded him as a nonentity. The Corinthians ought not
to have allowed themselves to be influenced by this carnal character-sketch,
for they had certainly experienced that the power of God worked mightily through
this weak man who never did anything to impress them by rhetoric or carnal
wisdom. It was [36/37] through him that they had come
to the faith and been built up in it: he was their father in Christ.
In contrast, the false apostles had asserted themselves; they were not
weak in their own estimation but claimed that their procedure was authoritative
and impressive and their eloquence perfect. This comparison between them
and himself arouses Paul's irony, "They themselves, measuring them by themselves,
and comparing themselves with themselves, are without understanding" (v.12).
They fixed their own standard, which was naturally a standard which suited
them, and so were able to tell how spiritual they were now in contrast to
what they had once been. It is foolish to do this. They attached great importance
to their visions and revelations, but they forgot that such things are not
objective and [not] to be used as a measuring-rod, for the fact that the
visions and revelations were so personal made them purely subjective and not
capable of comparison.
PAUL, however, will not glory beyond his measure. Verse 13 is a very
complicated sentence, even in the Greek. The apostle's thought seems to
i. His opponents had measured themselves by themselves, which led them
to glorying beyond all limits.
ii. Paul did not measure himself by himself. He does not say directly
by whom or what he measures himself; he did not need to, for everyone knows
that Paul's 'measuring-rod' is Christ.
iii. Therefore he will only glory within the limits given in the realm
of operation appointed to him by God, namely, to reach also to Corinth.
He does not say, as some have interpreted, that he gloried in this province,
that is, in the fact that he had even reached as far as Corinth, but rather
means that within this province he glories in what Christ had accomplished
through him there.
iv. His opponents were concerned with a desire to be 'big'; therefore
they reached beyond the limits God had set for them and had gone to Corinth,
though this was not their province and lay beyond their boundary. Paul was
quite different; he was not driven by any desire to be great in his own eyes
or the eyes of others, and therefore did not reach beyond his own appointed
province. It was God who had sent him to Corinth, where no-one else had been
with the gospel. His opponents had not planted the gospel in the town but
had only come after the result of Paul's labours were evident, appropriating
his work and by their behaviour suggesting to the Corinthians that Christ
did not speak through Paul -- at any rate not fully (13:3) but rather through
v. When Paul spoke of "not glorying beyond our measure" (v.15), he did
not mean that he would not reach out beyond limits already attained but
rather that he did not reach out after being great and impressive. He certainly
hoped to reach out into new territory with the gospel. While the false prophets
regarded it as praiseworthy to intrude upon another's field of operation
and appropriate the results already won, he made it his aim "to preach the
gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another
man's foundation" (Romans 15:20).
vi. The question of glorying, which the false apostles had first raised
and which Paul now felt he should enter upon, must be strictly limited: "But
he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (v.17). The man who glories
in the Lord can never glory in himself. He can glory in the fact that he knows
the Lord, but that is not self-glorying, for such knowledge is not due to
his own wisdom, strength or riches, but exclusively to divine grace (Jeremiah
9:23-24). Moreover, glorying in yourself and recommending yourself is quite
a different matter from being approved by God (v.18). The false apostles
have gloried in themselves and found a listening ear in Corinth. They have
behaved with carnal wisdom, for it is tactically wise to appear as an imposing
personality who can tell stories to show how important he is. Such wisdom
is, however, foolishness in the sight of God. Paul feels that the Corinthians
should understand that the one whom the Lord recommends is the one who does
not preach himself, but Christ Jesus as Lord (4:5) and who walks as Jesus
(To be continued) [37/38]
A CLOSER WALK WITH GOD
"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good,
and what doth the Lord require of thee ...
to walk humbly with thy God." Micah 6:8
1. ENOCH. Walking in the Home
THE first mention of the Lord in direct association with man suggests
that He was accustomed to walk with Adam in the garden (Genesis 3:8). It
seems, then that, until the Fall, Adam walked with God. After his disobedience
he never did so again. This does not necessarily mean that God forsook him,
for there is a great deal of difference between being cared for by God and
walking with Him.
Enoch was the first of Adam's descendants to walk with God (Genesis 5:24).
No-one will suggest that his predecessors who are listed in this chapter
were forsaken by God, but Enoch stands out from the other men by reason of
the fact that he was the only one of his period who deliberately and constantly
brought pleasure to his God by walking in step with Him. The importance of
that difference is stressed by the fact that, unlike the rest of them, he
did not die. He never saw death but was taken straight to heavenly glory
at the end of his earthly walk.
We who have the same hope as Enoch do well to seek a closer walk with
God. The Bible makes frequent reference to a believer's "walk"; perhaps the
most challenging of all these Scriptures being the reminder that if we say
that we abide in Jesus Christ we ought ourselves to walk "even as he walked"
(1 John 2:6). This is indeed a high standard and would be quite impossible
of being reached if it were not for God's own promise: "I will dwell in
them, and walk in them" (2 Corinthians 6:16). It may be that consideration
of some patriarchs who walked with God in their day will assist us to do
the same. We begin, as the Bible does, with Enoch.
No doubt there were many features and activities in his life which were
interesting, but little enough is told us. One thing we do know, however,
and that concerns his domestic affairs: he walked with God in his own home.
There is no suggestion of drama in his story, as with Abel and Noah. The
Bible gives no status to him, as it does to Abraham and Moses. He was, apparently,
just an ordinary family man. And yet he was different. He walked with God.
What is more, he did so in his own home and among his own children. Paul
makes it clear in his letter to Timothy that no man is qualified to hold office
in his church who does not first learn to walk with God in his home life.
Home is never the easiest place for such a walk.
What is more, Enoch's world was certainly not an easy world. Men then
lived in such conflict with the will of God that Enoch's only recorded utterance
is concerned with divine judgment. In it the word "ungodly" is repeated no
less than four times in one verse (Jude 15). He lived in a 'permissive society',
just as we do, but he did not capitulate to its low standards, making sure
that in his home and among his children, God's name was always to be honoured
and His will respected.
The family multiplied and grew up. Still Enoch continued to keep close
to his Lord. It is, of course, an obvious feature of movement by walking
that it can only be done a step at a time. It was only at the end that he
was lifted up and carried by God: until then he pursued his course by small,
deliberate and repeated actions -- he kept on walking. The life of faith
does not consist of constant raptures; it rather demands the steady step of
the man who, by waiting on God, is able "to walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).
THE psalmist pilgrim spoke of God's Word being a lamp to his feet as
well as a light to his path (Psalm 119:105). It is not enough to have the
general light which indicates the way; we also need to be enlightened as
to each step. This is included in the divine command that we walk "in the
light". Not that anyone should be governed by an over-caution which will
make for tension or paralysis. Walking is one of the most
[38/39] natural and spontaneous of all movements forward. The man
who tries to be extra-spiritual will tend to make a crisis of every proposed
step and feel impelled to have a prolonged prayer session before taking
it. If Enoch had been like that he would not have made a good family man
and would certainly not have been a happy one. But he was both. "Let us
walk honestly, as in the day" (Romans 13:13). To walk with God means to be
always open to His Word, always sensitive and responsive to it. For the man
who walks in this manner there can be no subterfuges, no closed mind and
no unwillingness to suffer correction.
It is interesting that when writing of "walking in the light" John makes
it clear that the man who does so is by no means faultless. On the contrary,
he both needs and can have the assurance that the blood of Jesus Christ keeps
on cleansing him from all sin (1 John 1:7). The most besetting sin of every
Christian is that of unbelief. Enoch is the great example of a man who got
the victory over this sin -- he was the first man to walk by faith. This
quality is the one which is emphasised in the reference to him in Hebrews
ENOCH'S faith is presented to us in the simplest terms. First of all,
he believed that God is. It may seem absurd to suggest that a man who was
walking with God would have to fight the battle of faith over this matter,
but of course this means not just that God exists but rather lays stress
on His constant presence and full sufficiency as the divine I AM. The young
believer, enthused by the reality of his new experiences, will find it hard
to credit that a man who has been walking with God for a long time could ever
give way to doubts on this matter. Nevertheless I suggest that right through
to the end of those three hundred years of his spiritual walk, Enoch had
to exercise an aggressive faith as to the nearness and reality of his divine
Companion. When a Christian has enjoyed the experience of mounting up with
wings as eagles and been able to run and not be weary, he still has to receive
faith to "walk and not faint". Such a man has neither inward feelings nor
outward encouragements to aid him, but has to be God's plodder, constantly
reminding himself that GOD IS. We are not told of any special tests endured
by Enoch but, since Abraham, Jacob and Joseph had to endure deep trials, we
may rightly conclude that Enoch, too, was not without them.
The other factor mentioned with regard to Enoch's faith is that he believed
that God rewards those who centre their lives on Him. This may also appear
implicit in an even elementary concept of faith, but it often becomes a matter
of real inward conflict. The key factor in Enoch's faith was that he was
convinced of the Lord's Coming. He prophesied of it, and boldly insisted that
it would mean judgment on God's enemies. If this is true, then surely it
must also involve blessing for God's friends. Faithfulness does not always
bring an immediate reward; the man who walks with God may not have immediate
vindication; the supreme conviction of such a one must be in the ultimate
glory which lies at the end of the road. It was so with Enoch. In a much greater
way it was so with our Lord Jesus. Our great test may well be to keep right
on the road of God's will, believing that in the end, He will be our great
Does such a walk appear somewhat sombre? It should not do so for, as
we have already stated, Enoch was a happy man. Happy in his home and children
because he was first of all happy in his God. Sometime before the end of
his life's walk he came to realise that he was bringing pleasure to the heart
of God. There can be no greater joy for a spiritually sensitive man than
to have such an assurance. We may be sure that, like Abel, the first man of
faith, Enoch knew acceptance by virtue of blood sacrifice, but there came
a moment in his life when he followed his sense of forgiveness and reconciliation
by a full-hearted committal to divine love. Enoch did not walk with God because
he had to, but because he wanted to. He "walked in love" by giving God a
total trust, as though walking hand in hand with Him.
God loves to be trusted. He loves to be loved. Who doesn't? The walk
of faith must never be a duty-walk but rather a walk of happy companionship.
This is certainly how the Lord Jesus walked. He knew, as Enoch never could
have done, how pleased the Father was with Him, and so was "anointed with
the oil of joy above His fellows". There must have been a special factor
in Enoch's family love, for the one who knows that God's smile is upon him
personally becomes a person who overflows in love to others. Yet here again,
Enoch is a challenge to us for it is by no means unusual for a radiant and
out-going Christian to be rather less than gracious in the daily contacts
with members of his own family. We know [39/40] nothing
of Enoch's work for God in other ways, but we are informed that among his
own children and in his own home he walked with God and was well-pleasing
THIS brings us to one more feature of the Christian's walk, namely, that
he must walk by the Spirit. Enoch did not see a Person. It is not recorded
that he ever had a heavenly visitation, as Abraham did. We must presume,
then, that it was the Holy Spirit who made God real to him. Since we are told
that those who are not in the Spirit cannot please God (Romans 8:8) and Enoch
did please Him, the patriarch must have walked by the Spirit. The truth is
that we not only need the guidance of the Spirit if we are to walk with God,
but we also need the Spirit's strength to be able to do so. We readily accept
the fact that we need the Spirit's power for any special work that we have
to do for God and we need His power in order to witness in the world, but
we must not overlook the fact that for our ordinary home life, we can only
walk with God if we are truly governed and empowered by the Spirit.
Moses was a man who had much experience of walking with God and it was
he who passed on the divine message to Asher: "As thy days, so shall thy
strength be" (Deuteronomy 33:25). In the previous verse he describes how
Asher could obtain this daily strength: "he shall dip his foot in oil". It
is God's part to give us the Spirit's strength but it is our part to make
daily appropriation of it. The man who, spiritually, will "dip his foot in
oil" every day, is the man who will find sufficient power to meet the demands
of that day's walk with God.
The Christian is not merely invited to walk by the Spirit; he is commanded
to do so. It may not be easy, but it is simple. It is for this very purpose
that the Spirit has been "called alongside" to help us in our walk. The end
of such a journey is glory, as Enoch discovered. None of us will envy the
many years of those other men listed in Genesis 5, for even the one who
lived the longest still had to end in death. All of us would surely wish
to be like Enoch. Though our lives be shorter than that of our contemporaries,
provided they finish by our passing from walking with God in our own homes
to an eternal walk of love with our Lord in His Home, that will be reward
enough for us. The experience of Enoch is intended to inspire us with such
a hope as this. Enoch walked with God; Enoch had the joy of being well-pleasing
to God: Enoch walked and lived by faith. And so must we.
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (35)
"(of whom the world was not worthy)" Hebrews 11:38
HERE is a glorious parenthesis. It discloses how different are God's
values from those which are current among men. Faith faces a sneering and
scoffing world and puts it in its place by asserting that the non-believers
and unbelievers who have so despised the suffering saints of God were not
fit to have the privilege of living in the same world with them.
WE note that the special commendation is not reserved for those great
heroes of faith whom we all venerate as we read this chapter, but is applied
especially to anonymous harassed and despised fugitives who were true believers.
Men never praised them while they were paying the cost of their faithfulness,
nor have they recorded their names for posterity. Heaven, however, has taken
full note of their tribulations for the sake of the Name and, in due course,
will reward them openly before a wondering universe.
WHEN that day comes the unbelieving adversaries as well as their fellows
in the faith will appreciate how true this divine parenthesis has proved
-- the world with its conceit and self-complacency was not worthy to have
such choice souls resident in it.
NATURALLY those here described would never have claimed that their world
was not worthy of them, and nor would we make any such claims for ourselves.
Yet, as onlookers, we can learn even in our day to appreciate the great value
to God of suffering and enduring faith. If we ourselves are knowing anything
of the offence of the cross, we need not fear the world and we will not
envy it, but we can quietly take to ourselves the comfort of this divine
DO we feel apologetic about ourselves? Sometimes we do. Do we take on
the world's tawdry values and accept its poor estimation of men and women
of faith who have nothing to boast of here on earth? Sometimes we do. Do we
perhaps even envy the "men of the world whose portion is in this life, and
whose belly thou fillest with thy treasure" (Psalm 17:14)? Alas, there are
times when we do.
THE more important, then, that we should not only refresh our faith by
considering the examples of faith represented by this "cloud of witnesses"
but listen to God's verdict upon them: "Of whom the world was not worthy".
That surely is a commendation which we would all like to merit. Who will
care what men think of him if he can have such a verdict from God?
THIS BOOK OF THE LAW SHALL NOT DEPART OUT OF THY MOUTH,
BUT THOU SHALT MEDITATE THEREIN DAY AND NIGHT, THAT
THOU MAYEST OBSERVE TO DO ALL THAT IS WRITTEN THEREIN:
FOR THEN THOU SHALT MAKE THY WAY PROSPEROUS,
AND THEN THOU SHALT HAVE GOOD SUCCESS.
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