|Vol. 11, No. 4, July - Aug. 1982
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
"CALLED AND CHOSEN AND FAITHFUL"
WITH the years we advance in age, but the passage of time gives no automatic
growth in the kingdom of God for with Him faithfulness is more important
than age. Whether we can have more committed to us is dependent upon whether
we have been faithful stewards with what we already have from God. Faithfulness
is a rare quality. There are many well-meaning and enthusiastic Christians
but there sometimes appears to be rather a scarcity of truly faithful men
and women. It is worthwhile to consider some features of faithfulness.
1. Endurance of Love
Faithfulness has to do with endurance, and both spring from love, for
it is love that never fails. If we are unfaithful it is because we do not
really love the one concerned, for how can we give up when it is stated that
love never does so.
Love which gives up exposes itself as being false. It has never been
love for had it been it would never have failed. It must have been self-love
in disguise, using the beautiful language but lacking the reality. Similarly,
if faithfulness fails, it exposes itself; it has never been the real thing,
for faithfulness which only lasts for a time, never was even faithfulness
while it lasted, but disguised self-interest. You cannot love up to 90% and
you cannot be 90% faithful. Enduring love and faithfulness are absolutes
and know no limits. A man who leaves his wife after twenty years of marriage
has not loved that wife for twenty years and then stopped loving her; he has
never really loved her.
We know that in the case of the Lord we are told that this is His very
nature: "He remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself" (2 Timothy 2:13).
The reason why He is faithful to us and never gives us up is not found in
us, but exclusively in Him -- that is what He is like. We ought not to demand
faithfulness in others as a condition for showing it ourselves, nor excuse
ourselves if we find it lacking in others. It is easy to think, 'Well, if
he is unfaithful to me, why should I be faithful to him?' but this is not
a Christian attitude, since he may find the fount of faithfulness in our
Lord Jesus Christ. When we look at Him, the inclination to give up disappears,
and we are freshly inspired to endure.
But what does a Christian accomplish by his faithfulness? This is really
beside the point, for the most important thing is not what we accomplish,
but what we are. Many of the most faithful people do not seem to have
much success to boast about. Those who aspire to be faithful must be prepared
for a life hidden with Christ. For example, the faithful intercessors may
find their work hidden from the public eye. But just wait until the Day
of the Lord comes! It will be then, and perhaps not until then, that the
Lord can give His verdict: "Well done, good and faithful servant".
It could be that some who seemed most successful and received great publicity
will hardly be noticed then.
It is especially important that we should be faithful in small things
-- 'faithful in that which is least'. It is a joy to think of the modest
Christians who do not advertise themselves or their works -- do not even
publish a magazine, as I do -- but who are simply faithful, enduring, loving
and self-forgetful, who can always be counted on. These are the pillars of
the Church; the vessels unto honour in God's House.
There is something unsensational in faithfulness: it does not arrest
attention. But God notices it. We have no means of knowing whether He takes
much notice of sensational events. Faithfulness continues to burn steadily
rather than flaring up at intervals and then dying down. There can be a
lot of difference between just beginning something and then turning to something
else, and carrying a matter right on to its completion. Of Moses it is said
that he was faithful in all God's house as a servant and of Christ that He
was faithful as a Son over His house. It appears that nothing greater can
be said of any person than that he or she was faithful to the end.
Faithfulness is a personal quality; we cannot give it to others or receive
it from them. It does not attach much value to crowds but focuses on the
individual. So does God. In the crowd, personal values can easily disappear,
as in mass Christianity or mass movements, but on the great Day, when we will
appear before the [61/62] judgment seat of Christ,
we will do so one by one, with each giving an account of himself.
In any case we should not complain if faithfulness is lacking in others,
for how could we learn patience and love without the occasions caused by
those who create problems for us? Without love, faithfulness changes into
stubborn fanaticism or obstinacy. Faithfulness is not that; nor is it barrenly
clinging to tradition. It is essentially faithfulness to the Lord Himself.
It involves close contact with Him and walking in the light continually. Although
it involves what may have to be repeated day by day with regularity, it will
be saved from what is mechanical or just repetitious by heart-exercise to
grasp and enjoy the privilege of service. Only nearness to the Lord can deliver
us from the dullness of mere repetition and impart freshness by reason of
our relationship with Him. Such a walk will deliver us from unfaithfulness
and renew in us His own patience which alone is sufficient for the daily
This keeps us humble, for who dare say to the Lord: 'You know how faithful
I am!' Yet He will never discourage us, but always supply enough grace for
us to continue. Faithfulness is not a performance but a fruit of the Spirit.
With the crucified Lord in view, who can sink into apathy?
There is no satisfaction for the soul in what is occasional or spasmodic.
Faithfulness, however, brings joy and contentment. It is true that it requires
self-discipline, not in a legalistic way but rather as the fruit of God's
grace by the gospel. As we concentrate on the Lord, we find that we can do
more than we naturally could. To endure to the end is not impossible; indeed
the Lord who requires it is the One who makes it possible -- even to the
weakest. He does this when we avoid riveting our attention on our own efforts
after faithfulness and concentrate on the crucified Christ without being
distracted. He then works out in us everything we long for, including faithfulness
and self-denying love. All the promises of God, including those made to those
who are found faithful, have their 'Yea' only in Him.
Although faithfulness has to do with self-discipline, this must not be
confused with self-torture. A person can change himself into an ascetic
in the power of the flesh, but this does not necessarily mean faithfulness
to Christ. No-one was more enduring and faithful than Paul, but he enjoyed
his meals and, like the first Christians, took them with joy and gladness.
Even when he exhorted Timothy to endure and be faithful, he emphasised at
the same time that "every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected,
if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through the word
of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4-5). Ascetism and other forms of self-torture
spring from concentration on oneself and can become a religious form of self-centredness.
If we concentrate on Christ, we shall be glad and grateful for everything
that God gives Us, enjoying it and sanctifying it by prayer.
Gratitude is closely connected with evangelical faithfulness. A grateful
person may well fast now and again, but he should not want others to know
that he does, nor talk about it, for that could attract attention to himself
and cause weak souls to admire him. He therefore anoints his head and appears
especially happy, so that no-one would guess that, influenced by gratitude
and love to his Saviour, he has omitted a meal or two in order to concentrate
Faithfulness has a close connection with expectation. We do not endure
in a vacuum; we endure because we expect to see the Lord in glory, with
the fulfilment of all that He has promised. We are stewards of what He gives
us "until He comes". That is what makes us faithful. He is coming soon! Faithfulness
looks back to His finished work, but at the same time it looks on to His
Second Coming. It rests in salvation now enjoyed and yet it stands on tip-toe
in eager expectation of the full manifestation of that salvation in the redemption
of the body and the renewal of creation. How can those so employed be anything
less than faithful?
6. Vision Rather than Visions
As I close, I am conscious that some may find the idea of faithfulness
not nearly exciting enough. They may ask, 'Where are the thrills and the
visions and the ecstasies?' They may indeed refer me to Paul's declaration
that he was faithful to his heavenly vision. It is true that he was so faithful,
and we must be the same, whatever the cost, but we have to note very carefully
that the 'vision' to which he was so faithful was the vision of the Lord
So it was not a vision of this or that as projects or programmes but
a unique sight of the glorious Christ which constituted Paul's "heavenly
vision". [62/63] None of us have, or will have here
in this life, such a vision, for Paul was unique as the last to whom the
risen Christ appeared (1 Corinthians 15:8). One day we too will see Christ
in glory but meanwhile we ought to be rather careful in speaking glibly
of 'our vision'. Those who use the phrase, usually mean that they have been
gripped by a conviction. It may be right, but it could be wrong. It may
express itself in a programme and, strangely enough, it is easier to make
Christians enthusiastic about this kind of vision than to get them concentrated
on Christ Himself. The Lord can be pushed into the background while we pay
attention to the programme which we call 'our vision', and in this way faithfulness
is directed towards some activity or accomplishment which becomes so important
to us. Is Christ not Lord? Can He not modify or alter what we expected to
do for Him or the manner in which we expected to do it? Above all, we must
be faithful to Him.
Paul testified that he pressed on toward the mark because he had been
'gripped' (apprehended) by Christ Himself. He is our heavenly vision. To
Him we would be found faithful. He has called us and chosen us; may He also
enable us to be faithful. Those who keep their eyes on Him will always be
radiant and will never be ashamed.
ELIJAH: THE MAN IN GOD'S PRESENCE
J. Alec Motyer
3. Failure -- Its Cause and Cure. 1 Kings 19
MEMORY is the key factor in living for God. "The children of Ephraim,
being armed bowmen, turned back in the day of battle ... they forgot ..."
(Psalm 78:9-11). No equipment would suffice against their enemies if they
failed in the matter of memory. "How often did they rebel against him in
the wilderness ... they turned back ... they remembered not his hand ..."
(Psalm 78:40-42). Whether we are thinking of buoyancy in the face of outward
adversity or of inconsistency in the face of inner temptation, the Bible
will say to us over and over again: 'How is your memory?'
Then there was the experience of the psalmist which is very germane to
our study of Elijah: "Why are you cast down, my soul, and why are you disquieted
to my disadvantage?" (Psalm 42:5). There is no reason for a believer to be
cast down, but there is a wonderful realism about the Bible so the man concerned
has to confess, "O my God, my soul is downcast". What can I do about
it? "Therefore do I remember thee ..." (v.6). I will find my way back out
of this pit through the divine avenue of memory. This is a very fruitful
seam of Bible understanding -- the place of memory in facing the adversities
of life and conflicts within. It cannot be accidental that the one command
of Jesus as a continuing factor in His Church was what they should do: "in
remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).
The Cause of Elijah's Failure
So when we come to Elijah's experience as recounted in 1 Kings 19, we
wonder if the root of his failure is not to be found in forgetfulness. We
are obliged to read between the lines but I put it as a question in order
to be as fair and unassertive as possible: 'Was the root of his failure in
forgetfulness?' I ask the question throughout. If he had been living in
the light of a fresh awareness of the Lord; if he had remembered who the
Lord is and what He had shown Himself to be; if he had been in full possession
of a clear memory of the Lord's promises and power, would he have come into
this black pit of despair? Despair it was, for he asked that he might die
(v.4). Would he have done that if he had remembered the Lord? I do not think
1. Did he forget the lessons of experience?
It all began, you see, when "Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done"
(v.1). Of course he did. There she was waiting behind the door with a rolling
pin when he got back to Jezreel! She was all agog to know what had happened
on Mount Carmel. When he told her, she sent her threat to Elijah, and he
in his turn ran for his life. Would he have done that if he had remembered
the lessons of experience? For three years he had been hidden away from all
the wrath of the royal family. Ahab had hunted high up and down low
[63/64] in every surrounding kingdom, and yet Elijah was kept safe.
During this time, as we learn in chapter 18, Obadiah had hidden many prophets
of the Lord away in caves so that Jezebel could not put them to death. Elijah
had been kept safe, safe from Ahab and safe from Jezebel. He had even lived
a few miles away from Jezebel's father when he was in Zarephath. Had he forgotten
2. Did he forget the sovereignty of the Lord?
He had seen that the Lord could control ravens. He could see that He
could control fire and water. He had proved God's sovereignty over circumstances
and people. How wonderfully He had masterminded events so that when He told
Elijah to show himself to Ahab it was in fact Ahab who showed himself to
Elijah. If he had remembered those years of proving the Lord's absolute sovereignty
over things and people, would he have been afraid of Jezebel or her threats?
Did he forget? He must have done.
3. Did he forget the rule of guidance?
The rule of guidance is that any person at the centre of God's will is
untouchable and absolutely safe. Elijah had hitherto only moved when told
to do so by the Lord. The word of the Lord came to him saying, Go ... "so
he went and did according to the word of the Lord" (17:5). "The word of
the Lord came to him saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath ... So he arose
and went to Zarephath" (vv.9-10). "The word of the Lord came to Elijah in
the third year, saying, Go, show thyself to Ahab ..." (18:1), so he did
so. That was always the story. There was nothing else in his diary. Every
move was documented. Why did you go there? Because God told me. Why did
you stay there? Because God had not yet told me to go elsewhere. It was
all a matter of guidance. And while he walked under the rule of guidance,
he walked in total safety.
Now we find a great contrast: "When he saw that, he arose and went for
his life ..." (19:3). Who told him to go? Nobody. It is possible to translate
the phrase, "he went for his life" by 'he went at his own whim' or 'he went
at his own volition'. How true that would be! Who told you to go, Elijah?
I went at my own will. He had forgotten the rule of guidance.
4. Did he forget the work of grace in the heart?
He later complained to God: "The children of Israel have forsaken thy
covenant, thrown down thine altars ... and I, even I only, am left" (v.10).
This was not the case. Not a word of it was true. The children of Israel
were the object of his prayers on Mount Carmel when he asked that they might
recognise the work of grace in their hearts: "Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that
this people may know that thou Lord art God, and that thou hast turned their
heart back again" (18:37). What a marvellous prayer. He asked that they might
recognise a work of grace turning their heart and he immediately had proof
that his prayer had been answered as the whole people bowed down and said,
"The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God". Now however, Elijah complains
that the children of Israel are after his life. He had forgotten the crowds
and crowds of those children of Israel who had had their hearts changed by
the grace of God. We must never forget the power of God's grace.
5. Did he forget that the costly way of identification unto death
is the way of fruitfulness?
Was this not the final lesson in Zarephath where, by some divine intuition,
he knew that he must get down and identify closely with the dead child so
that life could come out of that identification and prayer? The costly way
of identification brought new life to the child and spiritual life for the
believing mother, who cried "... now I know". We remember it. Has Elijah
forgotten? Well, can we blame him for trying to forget? But when Jezebel threatened
death, it seems that the great Elijah, who had entered in with such courage
and commitment into that intimate contact with death at Zarephath, had forgotten
the lesson learned there.
He left all those needy professing believers to the tender mercies of
Jezebel. He left them to themselves instead of waiting with them in the place
of death and so proving it to be the place of resurrection. Did it ever
occur to you that when Elijah led the people back to the Lord in this way
and slew the prophets of Baal that all those hundred true prophets who had
been hiding in caves probably came out and were immediately marked down by
Jezebel's secret police? And the man who led them out of their hiding place
was not there to help them when the knock came on their door! He had not
been willing to tarry in the place of death.
6. Did he forget that strength lies in fellowship?
Unnecessary isolation breeds weakness. Elijah said to the people, "I,
even I only, am left", but [64/65] it was not true!
He felt that it was true, but it was not. Twice over in chapter 18 we are
told of Obadiah. Once would have been enough, but we are told twice over as
it relates to this matter of other servants of the Lord. At the beginning
we are told the objective fact: "It was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets
of the Lord, that Obadiah took one hundred prophets and hid them in a cave"
(18:4). We come back to this with Obadiah's own testimony: "Was it not told
my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a
hundred men of the Lord's prophets in caves ..." (18:13). So Elijah knew it,
and yet he had the affrontery to insist that he was the only one left. No,
no! There were many more.
There is something about Elijah that has a determined individualism about
it. "I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts ... I, even
I only, am left" (19:10). No, Elijah, you are not! There are still Obadiah's
prophets, and there is Obadiah himself, that is 101 and now there are the
people who all responded with the testimony, "the Lord, He is God". You are
not alone. "I, even I only, am left" (19:14). You see how determined he
is to be the only one. When he came to Beersheba which belonged to Judah,
he left his servant there (19:3). He dismissed the one bit of companionship
he might have had. Don't you think that Jezebel's fury would mean nothing
if Elijah had surrounded himself with all those new converts and the strength
of fellowship from Obadiah and the hundred prophets?
7. Did he forget proper self-care?
Here is something very practical. "The heavens grew black with clouds
and wind and there was great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And
the hand of the Lord was on Elijah and he girded up his loins and ran to
Jezreel" (18:46). He had had no food and he had expended an enormous amount
of energy and it was in this condition that he received the shock of Jezebel's
opposition. He was exhausted for want of food and tired because of his long
run, but the Lord knew all about that and treated him accordingly. He was
cared for because he was tired and what he needed was what the Lord gave him
-- a good sleep and breakfast in bed! How practical the Bible is! It does
not say a word about a spiritual ministry to a depressed man, but practical
comfort to a weary and hungry man. We need to watch self-care. If we do not
watch it, Satan will do so, for he knows that the time to attack is when our
resistance is low because we are not properly nourished or rested.
8. Did he forget the facts?
When the Lord enquired as to the reason for Elijah's presence at Horeb,
the prophet complained: "... the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant,
thrown down thine altars, slain thy prophets, and I, even I only, am left"
(v.10). As we have said, this was not true; he was living in a world of his
own. The facts were not like that. It is true that this is how he felt, but
it had nothing to do with the real world in which other people were living.
The children of Israel had not thrown down the Lord's altars. On Mount Carmel
they were only too ready to come back to the Lord. They set up no Baalistic
opposition to Elijah; the Lord had turned their hearts back again.
Baalism was a royalist activity in the northern kingdom. The opposition
to Elijah, the search for Elijah, was not carried on by the people as a whole:
it was carried on by the royal family and the royal police. Why did he go
on so about being alone? Why did he overlook the other prophets? Did he
despise them? It is one of the great snares of being an isolationist, that
you despise other people. How could he despise them for hiding away when
the persecution was at its height, since he too was hiding in Zarephath?
It was not as though he had been exposed while they were hiding in caves.
He had been hidden away by the Lord's command; was it not the same for them?
The Lord might have said to him: 'Did you despise them for hiding in a cave?
What are you yourself now doing on Horeb but hiding in a cave?' He was not
looking at the facts.
Beloved, we need to get our memories in order if we are going to live
for God. By means of those memories and our drawing upon them, we can find
the real world, instead of indulging in our world of fancy which leads us
God's Care of His Failures
We look back over this story and view it from the other side. This time
there are no questions involved but positive affirmations. Let us look at
God's tender care of failure. That appeals to our hearts. We enjoy afresh
"the love that will not [65/66] let me go". What does
the Lord do for His failures.
1. He does not leave us.
Elijah went at whim; he followed his own panic impulse. He ran for his
life, left his servant at Beersheba and then went into the wilderness, sat
down under the juniper tree and requested for himself that he might die.
He decided that it was enough, neither expecting nor wanting ever to awake
from that sleep. But he did wake. It was an angel who wakened him. He may
have run like the wind, but the Lord was there in good time, full of tender
concern for His servant. He doesn't leave us. He stays alongside. He attends
to every need. He was wakened the second time by "the angel of the Lord"
(v.7), so it was more than an angel, it was the Lord Himself, the Lord accommodating
Himself to the totality of Elijah's needy situation. It is always like this.
The Angel of the Lord does not leave us; the Lord Himself comes alongside
Throughout this part of the story there is no word of command spoken.
Elijah rose and went at his own volition, and in the end came to Horeb, the
Mount of God. Not only does the Lord never leave us but He sovereignly governs
the impulsive flittings of our own hearts to bring us to the very place where
He will be found.
2. He answers our prayers.
He sometimes has to refuse our requests, but He answers our prayers.
Elijah requested for himself that he might die. 'Oh dear no,' the Lord said
to him, 'you are never going to die, not now nor at any time. That is the
one thing which is not going to happen to you.' Deathbeds? Coffins? Graves?
They are not for you. You are bound for the glory of the whirlwind. What
grace God shows when He does not answer our foolish requests! What do you
think that Elijah is doing in heaven now but praising the Lord for the mercy
and glory that his request was not granted. It is foolish of us when we get
involved in what we call 'unanswered prayer'. This is what God does for
His failures: He refuses their requests, but He answers their prayers.
He knew what was at the heart of this prayer of Elijah's. The prophet
felt that he could not stand any more and wanted to get away from it all.
The Lord said to him, 'All right, you can get away from it all, but not in
the way you think. Have a good meal. It will do you the world of good. You
want to be alone. Well, go right on till you get to Horeb. Is that lonely
enough for you? By all means get away from it all.' It reminds us of the words
of Jesus: "Come ye yourselves apart and rest awhile". So Elijah was kept
in isolation until he was put right and ready to return to the work.
3. He brings us back to fundamentals.
The Lord said, "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord, for
behold the Lord is about to pass by" (v.11). I love that translation, which
comes from the New International Version. I had never noticed before that
the Hebrew could be understood in this way, and it makes such sense in the
passage, as we treat this last bit as part of what the Lord said to Elijah.
"Behold the Lord is about to pass by", but neither the earthquake, the wind
or the fire expressed the characteristic reality of the Lord's presence.
And then, after them all, there came a voice which was hardly anything more
than a shimmering in the air, a voice that was just a whisper of silence;
and all the reality of God was in that, so much so that Elijah felt that he
had to pull his hood down over his head for he was in the very presence of
God. What did it mean? Well, it meant that the fireworks were only the heralds
of His coming. Great as Mount Carmel was, it was only the herald of the fact
that the Lord was on His way to do great things. If that was only the herald
of His coming, what might not happen if His servants would stand fast and
live according to His Word.
For the Lord is always in His Word. Perhaps the fireworks pointed
back to Jezebel's great royal threatenings -- her sword and her pounding
around the palace breathing out threats and slaughter. The Lord is not in
that! The Lord is where His Word is. If only Elijah will continue to live
by the Word of God he will find himself in the place of awesome reality. These
are the fundamentals -- the Lord and His Word.
4. He restores.
"Go, return thy way" (v.15). Go back to where you came from. God does
not leave Elijah languishing out on Horeb in blessed isolation. Elijah was
a prophet. A prophet must be where the people are. There was a work to be
done and Elijah was sent back to do it as soon as he had had his meeting with
5. He commands fellowship.
Even this great 'Do-it-yourself' among the prophets was commanded to
practise fellowship. He was sent to Elisha the son of Shaphat, so he went
and threw his mantle about him. This was a prophetic mantle and Elijah knew
what he was doing. Elisha also knew what it was all about, so he responded,
"He arose and went after Elijah and ministered to him" (v.21). So the great
isolationist became bound by divine command into an intimate fellowship.
This is what God does with His failures!
6. He makes exceeding great and precious promises.
There are several promises here but we concentrate just on this one:
"I will leave seven thousand in Israel ..." (v.18). Surely that must have
been enough for the person who thought that he was the only one. What a
magnificent promise -- seven thousand. That will surely satisfy you. We
all praise God for His exceeding great and precious promises to a failure.
Perhaps the central factor in this restoration of Elijah's was that he
never ceased praying. When he had really touched bottom and had lost all
hope, he still prayed to the Lord. It was a daft prayer, but at least he
prayed. That is surely the key to recovery from failure.
FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS (3)
John H. Paterson
IN our previous two studies on the theme of the Children of Israel's
wandering in the wilderness, we have concentrated our attention on the men
who had, for their part, the least reason to be in the desert in the first
place -- on Moses, Caleb and Joshua. We have seen that their presence with
the rest of God's people was due, not to their sharing the weaknesses of
the people as a whole, but to their refusal, at whatever cost to themselves,
to be separated from them. They lived the hard life of the wilderness for
the sake of others.
But it is now time to turn our attention to the rest of the people, and
to try to learn lessons of their years in the desert. We are, I think,
a little too apt to regard the rank and file of Israel as teaching us only
negative lessons, for that is how our New Testament tends to picture them
for us: "... we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither
be ye idolaters, as were some of them ... neither let us tempt the Lord
as some of them tempted" (1 Corinthians 10:6-9). Yet it is obvious from
the record that there were variations of heart and attitude among them:
some of them, says Paul, were idolaters, but others displayed more of
a heart for God. On that terrible occasion of idolatry, for example, when
Aaron made the people a golden calf, the tribe of Levi rallied to Moses' call
and actually took up the sword against the idolaters (Exodus 32:26).
In the wilderness there were, in fact, some active rebels and troublemakers
-- and then there were the rest of the people! Most of them, we may surmise,
were chiefly interested in having enough to eat and a quiet life. When they
lacked the one they "murmured"; when they lacked the other, they were afraid!
But the one thing they dared not do was to break away and 'go it alone',
for they would have been dead in days, if not hours. Once in the wilderness,
their only safety lay in staying with Moses, who was the only man who could
provide food, or water. In the most dramatic New Testament terms that Paul
could use, they had been "baptised into Moses" (1 Corinthians 10:2). From
the Red Sea onwards, their only safety lay in staying with Moses: he was their
guide and their provider, and there was no life without him.
The wilderness, then, became a condition of life for them as, in a spiritual
sense, it is for the believer today. Idle now to ask by whose fault they
were there, or what particular mistake had brought them to these barren scenes
-- as idle as the task that some Christians set themselves in trying to discover
exactly when, at what point in their lives as believers, they first missed
God's [67/68] way for them, as a means of explaining
the emptiness or dreariness of their Christian experience. It is idle, firstly,
because it may be beyond the power of any self-examination to discover that
first wrong turning. It is idle, secondly, because even those who feel they
have succeeded in tracing the point of their original mistake are not, in
my experience, any the better off for having done so. The knowledge does
not seem to release them; on the contrary, they live their lives under a
constant shadow, conscious only that they can never have God's best for them.
And it is idle, thirdly, because everybody else is in the wilderness, too
-- the Calebs and the Joshuas, as well as you and I -- and the important
point is not how we got there, but how we are living now we are there.
While, therefore, it may not have been God's first intention that His
people should find themselves in the wilderness, that is very far from saying
either that all that happened there was irrelevant to Him or, even more,
that nothing could ever go right for them again until they got out
of the wilderness. To realise these facts -- and their importance for
us -- we have only to pause and reflect that the Tabernacle, with all its
opportunities for contact with God and its rich spiritual imagery, was precisely
a Tabernacle in the wilderness. Our fathers, as the disciples were
later to recall (John 6:31) "ate the manna in the wilderness". Rich
provision indeed for a people far from the centre of God's will for them!
What are we to learn from this? Certainly not that our mistakes
and failures are unimportant; that the wilderness is as good a place to
be in as the land of promise; that God will look after us anyway. On the
contrary, we are to "give diligence to enter into that rest" (Hebrews 4:11).
But it would equally be a misunderstanding -- and a painfully common one
at that -- to imagine that the wilderness is, and is only, a place
to which we are condemned by our own failure; a place from which there is
no escape save through death; a place where only second-rate servants of
God and those who have miserably failed Him are sent.
Am I the only Christian, I wonder, who has the feeling that he
is "in the wilderness" while everybody else is enjoying the pleasure of
being "in the land of promise"? Do you not sometimes get this feeling, too;
that where you are is parched and dry, while all the good times are happening
somewhere else? Other churches are blessed; other ministries are proving enormously
fruitful; the hand of God is powerful on everybody else -- why should I have
my own little desert, exactly here, where I am? Why indeed? But whatever
the answer -- and I for one will not promise you that you are going to discover
what it is! -- in a spiritual sense we are all in the wilderness together;
all eating that same spiritual food, all drinking that same spiritual drink
(1 Corinthians 10:3-4), and all expected to learn the lessons of desert life.
Whatever the answer to your dryness may be, it is not that one of us is in
the wilderness and the other is somewhere else.
So let us make something of these wilderness years, for it is most certainly
God's purpose in them to make something of us. There seem to me to be at
least three lessons to be learned, or principles to apply, and all of them
regardless of whether we may feel, at any particular time, what failures we
Lessons of the Wilderness -- (l) A Life Together
The first principle of the desert life was and is the importance of keeping
together. As we have already remarked, woe betide the Israelite who struck
out on his own; who strayed away from the rest of the people, from the cloud
of glory, and the manna, and the life of the camp! Progress might be slow,
and the setbacks many, but to go-it-alone was not the answer; it was certain
We considered in an earlier study the case of some of God's people --
and Moses among them -- who might have been tempted to go-it-alone, just
because the people as a whole were making so little progress. It
was the temptation to form themselves into an elite and leave the rest to
their fate, a temptation that we, too, know in our day. God grant us grace
to resist it! But there was no danger of the rank and file of Israel considering
themselves as any kind of elite, which brings us to the equal and opposite
temptation: to detach ourselves from the Body of God's people not because
we are too good for them but because we can never keep up.
This is a reaction which many of us, I am sure, will recognise. There
is nothing quite so depressing as being among a group of the Lord's people
who are full of joy and great events when you are feeling spiritually dried
up yourself! All you [68/69] want to do is to leave
them to it and go quietly away and hide! We detect something of this in that
famous disclaimer by the Children of Israel in Exodus 20:19: "And they said
unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with
us, lest we die". Contact with God was for the experts; it was safer to
stay well clear of the whole affair!
Over and over again, the New Testament stresses that the Christian life
is a life together, or it is nothing. And whether we break away from the
Body of God's people for reasons of false pride or false humility, we are
wrong either way.
Lessons of the Wilderness -- (2) Courage
Much of the trouble which the Children of Israel suffered in the wilderness
was brought on them by fear. It is true to say that the New Testament repeatedly
charges them (especially in Hebrews 3 and 4) with failure due to lack of
faith, but when we come to analyse it, all that the writer is saying is that
they were scared and did not have a sufficient confidence in their God to
allay their fears. They were scared of the wilderness, scared of the peoples
who opposed them and, worst of all, scared of God. So for fear they wandered
for decades in the desert, and for fear "intreated that no word more should
be spoken unto them" (Hebrews 12:19). When you are lost in a trackless, foodless
desert, to request that your Guide shall stop giving you guidance is as neat
a way as any of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Yet we can certainly sympathise with the people. To be continuously open
to the Word of God indeed takes courage, especially when the word comes from
a burning mountain in a thunderstorm. We know from our own experience that
it takes courage just to face the news of our own sad, disordered world every
morning at the breakfast table. Not for nothing has the phrase entered into
our language, 'I told him, but he didn't want to know' or, as a delightful
Scotswoman once put it to us, 'I think that there are some things you've
better no to ken onything aboot!' The Children of Israel would have agreed.
And if this is true in the realm of worldly affairs, how much more understandable
it is in the case of "Him that warneth from heaven". How it reinforces that
urgent appeal, "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh" (Hebrews 12:25).
Why should anybody want to refuse to hear God speaking to them? In the
first place, obviously, because of what He might tell them to do -- to make
some sacrifice, to undergo some upheaval that would be unpleasant (and incredibly,
as you will recall, the Children of Israel were inclined to view leaving
Egypt in that light, slavery or no slavery!). To say to the Lord, "Thy will
be done" demands courage, and courage applied day after day to new commands
and new sacrifices, and without it we shall never get through the desert.
But there is a second, a particular "wilderness" aspect to this. I am
thinking now of those believers who have cause to accept that the wilderness
is a place where only failures go; who are conscious of having missed the
way somewhere in the past and taken a wrong turning, so that ever since then
all the turnings, as they see it, have been wrong ones. Now if the
Lord has anything to say to them, it can only be 'You are wrong' and in sorrow
and shame they feel that they would rather hear nothing than hear that. To
remain open to the voice of God when you are sweeping along on the full tide
of His blessing may need courage of a kind, but to remain open to it when
you are quite sure that you have gone far astray needs very much greater
courage; yet it is quite vital that we develop that sort of courage.
It is one of the lessons of the wilderness never to give up listening to
His word, no matter how far astray we feel.
Lessons of the Wilderness -- (3) Holiness
Any idea that, in the wilderness, it does not matter what God's people
do because they are nothing but failures is banished immediately we start
to read the account of God's dealings with them there. For it was precisely
there under desert conditions, that they received the most detailed, the
most explicit instructions as to how to live a holy life that God ever gave
to man. Nothing was too small for Him to specify and, when eventually a case
came up that seemed not to be covered by His detailed instructions (Numbers
9:7-8; 15:33-34; 27:5), it was only necessary for Moses to approach God to
receive a ruling on that matter, too. As some of His people found to their
cost, it mattered very much what they did in the wilderness! God had a passion
for the holiness of His own.
Let me here relate this to what I have been saying. I am trying to suggest
an answer to the [69/70] question, 'What do you do
as a believer when you feel that you are in a dry and desert place, with
the Lord far away and a heavy consciousness of failure to do His will?'. And
the answer seems to be: 'You grow in holiness!' There is surely no contradiction
here. For adverse circumstances, difficulties and failures are the very stuff
out of which character grows. I see no reason in the Scriptures why holiness
cannot develop in a life which has missed God's first-best way, for it does
not depend on success, or power, or blessing; it is a matter of character
and will and courage to go on.
Holiness is, in fact, just the quality for the emptiness of the desert,
because it is essentially a hidden quality -- an individual quality that
requires no audience and no observer. Indeed, when holiness becomes observable
it all too often becomes obnoxious; hence the contemptuous term, 'holier than
thou!' Holiness brings no immediate reward, and that is not why it is to
be cultivated; we are commanded to be holy. As I recall the late Martyn
Lloyd-Jones once remarking, 'The biblical doctrine of holiness is simply
that we should be holy!' and where better to develop that quality than in
We are going to have a busy life in the wilderness, are we not? There
is so much to be done there. My purpose is simply to encourage us all by
the recollection of how much teaching, and how much blessing, Israel found
in those desert years -- the people found grace in the wilderness!
And God had not abandoned them there: on the contrary, it was there, in the
heart of the desert, in the very midst of the years of wandering and after
they had refused to enter into the land of promise the first time, that
He put in the mouth of that improbable spokesman Balaam (Numbers 23:21) the
most gracious, the most marvellous words He ever said about this nation of
He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob,
Neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel:
The Lord his God is with him,
And the shout of a king is among them.
(To be concluded)
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERSHIP
(Illustrated by five kings of Judah)
3. KING UZZIAH. 2 Chronicles 26
IN considering King Uzziah we skip from the ninth century and the reign
of Jehoshaphat to the eighth century, passing over the four reigns of Jehoram,
Ahaziah, Joash and Amaziah as being not suitable for our studies. Uzziah
is the next one in the line who is at all compatible with Jehoshaphat as a
responsible leader of God's people.
In our last study we saw that the main characteristic of Jehoshaphat
in his pastoral care of God's people was probably his weakness. We now find
that in the case of Uzziah the chief characteristic is strength. In describing
the discharge of his ministry, the word "strong" is used three times (vv.8,
15 and 16). Uzziah was a strong king. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew form
of his name tells the same story, for it means 'The Lord is my strength'.
We may be sure that in the providence of God it was not an accident that
he bore this name.
Keynotes of His Strong Pastorate
"All the people took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him
king instead of his father Amaziah." Chapter 25 tells us that Uzziah's father,
Amaziah, had been taken captive by Jehoahaz, king of Israel, and he was in
captivity for about ten years. Then he was released and came back and took
up the reins of government again in association with his son for another
fourteen years. It was only then that a conspiracy came to a head and Amaziah
was assassinated (25:27). Meanwhile, twenty-four years before, all the people
of Judah had taken Uzziah, when he [70/71] was sixteen
years old, and had made him king in place of his father Amaziah. Amaziah
was not dead but was languishing in a jail up in Samaria. So his place was
vacant, and that was why the people took Uzziah and made him king. Nowhere
else do you find that sort of phrase that 'the people' took someone and
made him king. They didn't know what else to do. They said, We must have
a monarchy or the kingdom will fall to pieces. It appears then that Uzziah
was regent from the age of sixteen until he was twenty-six, then his father
came back and they acted as co-regents for the next fourteen years. It was
after that -- twenty-four years after he had come to the throne -- that
Amaziah "was buried with his fathers" (25:28) and he was truly king over
Now an extraordinary event is immediately mentioned as happening about
the middle of Uzziah's reign; "He built Eloth and restored it to Judah,
after that the king slept with his fathers" (v.2). The opening verses are
usually a summary of a reign before the story is unfolded, but here the
main headline is that Uzziah built Eloth. There were so many important things
which happened in his reign; why is this matter of Eloth given such prominence?
Eloth was an industrial centre. Solomon had set it up as the centre of
the smelting industry and also as a port. It reached right down to the south
of his territories and there, at the head of the Red Sea, he established
this place from which his ships could go out on the great trade routes of
Arabia, Africa and India. Then Judah lost it. Jehoshaphat had made an attempt
to send out shipping from it, but his venture was unsuccessful. Now, in the
eighth century, Uzziah recaptured it and rebuilt it. Why?
I think it must have been as a port. The king had his eyes on the far
distances. I wonder if it was for that reason that the chronicler drew special
attention to this matter as being the keynote of this man's strong pastorate,
that he was prepared to reach right out and make a gateway to the world, establishing
a port from which his ships could go even farther, beyond the very horizon.
Ships! Seas! The land-lubbers of Judah gasped for they hated the sea. But
Uzziah was a man of vision. This, then, is a splendid keynote of a strong
rule for God, to have the ability to see a long way off, to cultivate the
Source of His Strong Pastorate
The source of Uzziah's strength lay in the fact that he sought the Lord.
"He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his
father Amaziah had done; he set himself to seek God in the way of Zechariah,
who instructed him in the fear of God; and as long as he sought the Lord,
God made him prosper" (vv.4-5). Well, there is the source of his strength
-- the seeking of the Lord. I would like to make three suggestions concerning
three sources from which Uzziah found his strength:
1. He found it in the traditions of his family: "... according to all
that his father Amaziah had done". Now we might well regard Amaziah as a
sad case. He did make a good start but afterwards made innumerable errors
and came to a sad end. The phrase might almost appear ironic, as if Uzziah
had done no better, but this is not what he means, for the chronicler states
this as a compliment. Amaziah did make a mess of his life and his reign, but
he did start well. He had the nub of the matter at the beginning, and that
was the tradition of his family. Numbers of them made a hash of their affairs
but, generally speaking, the family tradition from which Uzziah sprang was
one in which God and His ways were sought. We have to go right back to Jehoshaphat
to find the last one who did this properly, but there were others before
that and others would come after.
I think that it is important to have a respect for the traditions we
inherit when they are true to God's Word. At times some of us feel that
so much is wrong, we would like to make a clean sweep and start again. That
may be a very natural reaction but we need to watch carefully lest we lose
the values that those who seem 'oldies' may have to teach us. Some of their
ideas may appear old-fashioned; nevertheless respect for the experience of
age is a Biblical principle which we can easily lose sight of. The worldly
instinct of our twentieth century age is to welcome change merely for the
sake of change, under the misapprehension that the new is always better than
the old. Uzziah's wisdom consisted in starting with a wise attitude towards
2. He found it in the consecration of his own heart: "He set himself
to seek God" (v.5). Those who are in spiritual ministry will find how easy
it is to be carried along by the routine and [71/72]
machinery of things. The machinery of life seems to go at a phrenetic pace
so that we sometimes want to say, 'Stop the world. I want to get off!' Even
those who are not so pressed will find that the slower and steadier rate of
activity will carry them along, if they let it. The more important it becomes,
therefore, to set apart time to seek the Lord in a personal way. The round
of meetings and ministries can carry us along without any cultivation of
our spiritual life. Preaching, in a sense, can become mechanical and repetitive,
and carry a man along. Church activities can get into a rut, but they will
still go on. So it is most important that along with the progress of the machinery,
we set ourselves day by day to seek the face of the Lord.
3. He found it in fellowship: "He set himself to seek God in the days
of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God". This verse seems to
imply that so long as this man Zechariah -- of whom we know nothing else
-- was with him, all went well. It appears to be that when Zechariah left
him, things began to go downhill. We must look for and cherish the ministration
of our friends.
Uzziah was a man of many parts and a great shepherd of God's people,
but he was not a man of all parts, and he was humble enough to recognise
that he did not have within himself all the resources that he needed. He
had sufficient humility to turn to this unknown worthy, Zechariah, and to
seek in him spiritual help and instruction in the fear of God.
To my mind that is of great importance. We should not be ashamed to seek
a confidant, and a confidant within our own community. What could have been
more bracing for Uzziah, in one of his down days, to recall that up there
in Samaria there was the prophet Amos, a man of Judah? They would speak the
same language, they would have the same background, and Amos was a great
man of God. It might have seemed more politic for Uzziah to winkle himself
out of Jerusalem, where everybody knew him, and go off incognito, to
have a quiet word with Amos up there.
It is an old saw, which I have frequently heard, that when you get into
pastoral ministry, it is not a good thing to share yourself with people in
your own fellowship; it is much better for all concerned that you should
go outside it, to find friends somewhere else with whom you can be more free.
I am an inveterate foe to that view; I don't believe a word of it. Your fellowship
is your Christian family, and if you can't unburden yourself to people within
the community with which you live day by day, then that surely is a bad
thing. Uzziah was at peace with the Northern kingdom and could easily have
gone up to Amos, but he found the fellowship he needed and instruction in
the fear of God from his friend Zechariah. It was the source of his strength.
Range of His Strong Pastorate
The next paragraph is found in verses 6 to 15, and there we discover
that Uzziah had the widest interests. In this he compares strikingly with
the rest of the kings of Judah. The list of his interests is fascinating;
in everything he was concerned with the state of the realm and the interests
of the people. He broke down walls, he built cities, he erected towers and
hewed out reservoirs and cultivated the land. I looked at the various translations
to find a more attractive phrase for this last but with little success. I
was dismayed when I even found in one excellent translation the report that
"he was fond of agriculture"! I thought, what a bureaucratic phrase! It sounds
like the minutes of the Milk Marketing Board! So I returned to the Revised
Version rendering: "He loved the soil"! That is the kind of man he was --
he loved the soil. He was the one who saw to the well-being of his people
in all sorts of aspects.
Now of course in the household of God there is often a place for the
specialist. There are those who have their particular line and their own
special gift which God has given them to pursue narrowly. If, however, we
find that we are going to be specialists in a narrower field, then perhaps
the normal 'oversight' is not for us. Uzziah didn't try to do everything:
"He made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men ..." (v.15). But he
was a good pastor in that he was interested in all sorts of people in all
their many concerns. I suppose that is a trite sort of thing that every school-leaver,
when applying for a job, says that he or she wants to work with people, because
'they are interested in people'. Well, this is certainly true so far as pastoral
ministry is concerned. [72/73]
It is the outstanding mark of a strong pastorate that the one concerned
is interested in people, in all their variety and all their infuriating peculiarities.
I am quite sure that you will find the equivalents of the Philistines and
the Arabians to combat, but you must see to the central citadels and you
must love the soil, seeking out the places where the flock feed and where
fruit is growing. You will find the equivalents of the watchtowers which
need rebuilding and the wells that need to be dug. Your heart must be big
enough to encompass all the needs of all the people, if yours is to be a
Danger of His Strong Pastorate
We now come to the second half of this chapter which tells us of the
danger of a strong pastorate. It is very interesting to see how this is
the exact reverse of the story of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was a weak man
who could not say 'No', and his weakness was blameworthy until it really
came to the crunch when he found that in his realised weakness, God came
to his rescue and his weakness was his salvation. With Uzziah, his strength
was praiseworthy all the way through until he came to the crunch, and then
his strength was his downfall. It is the reverse of the story of his great-great-great
grandfather for "When he was great", he grew proud, to his own destruction
(v.16). He was false to the Lord his God. In entering into the temple to
burn incense he was so wrong that Azariah the priest and eighty of his colleagues
"Who were men of valour" withstood him, for all his greatness. "It is not
for you, Uzziah, to burn incense," they said, "Go out of the sanctuary; you
have done wrong ... Then Uzziah was wroth" -- that was his reaction. Had
not he, the great and strong king, the right to do as he chose?
Two things can be said about that sin. It was not a sin of callow youth.
In all probability it happened in the year 750, when for some seventeen years
he had already been king in his own right and had been on the throne for
forty-one years. Here was a man in his late fifties, a pastor of much experience
and success, which seems to tell me that there are none of us who dare say
that we are not capable of so sinning. The other thing is that neither was
it a sin of obvious and blatant wickedness. Quite the contrary, for it took
place at the very heart of the spiritual affairs of the people. It had to
do with God, the temple of God and the Lord whom Uzziah himself worshipped.
That it was concerned with something that was holy made it so serious.
It was a holy job, but it was not Uzziah's job. It was holy to someone else
and he had no right to intrude on it. I have looked at this for a long time
to discover what is the basic general lesson which it teaches us. What was
so wrong in what he did? A man who had undertaken this job, that job and
the other job, and had proved successful in all of them, a man of great strength
and experience, was it really so wrong to take on a task that somebody else
ought to be doing? In a curious way it comes full circle to exactly the sort
of thing that Jehoshaphat had done. He didn't say 'No' when he should have
done, and now Uzziah failed to say 'No' to this impulse of his. In his case
he became self-sufficient, with this same result that he departed from faith
dependence on the Lord.
It may seem a very simple thing, just not to recognise what was his province
and what was somebody else's province, but the terrible result was a vivid
illustration of the principle of which Paul speaks when he fears "lest when
I have preached to others, I myself should be left on the shelf" (1 Corinthians
9:27). What happened to Uzziah was just that. What was perhaps the heart
of his sin, though, was his angry response to correction: "he was wroth".
It was not only the actual deed that was his downfall; it was the fact that
he could not take criticism of it. It was when he would not accept the rebuke
that the leprosy broke out on his forehead "before the priests in the house
of the Lord, beside the altar of incense" -- the very holy place itself.
There was no recovery from this. He hurried away from the scene because
the Lord had smitten him, "And their king Uzziah was a leper unto the day
of his death ... and Jotham his son reigned in his stead". May the Lord enable
us to be strong in our service for Him and may He mercifully spare us so
that we always do so in every humility.
(To be continued) [73/74]
THE GOD THAT DOES WONDERS
"Thy way was in the sea,
And thy paths in the great waters,
And thy footsteps were not known,
Thou leddest thy people like a flock,
By the hand of Moses and Aaron."
WHAT a strange juxtaposition of similes! It would be difficult to have
a greater contrast than that presented in these two verses -- the pilot
in rough water and the shepherd in green pastures. On the one hand we have
a reference to the turbulent sea, whipped up by tempestuous storms, and right
alongside of it a reference to the shepherd tenderly caring for his flock.
The first is a picture of unrest and anxiety, with stressful forces in action,
while the other suggests tranquility and restfulness. What a contrast! And
yet they are brought together in one statement concerning our Saviour God
-- He is the Pilot and the Shepherd.
We have to read the whole psalm to get its full value. The earlier verses
report a record of bewildering distress, so great as to provoke the questions:
"Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?"
(v.9). In the midst of his outcries the psalmist suddenly seems to check
himself, recollecting what he already knows of the character of God. He confesses:
"This is my infirmity" adding, "But I will remember the years of the right
hand of the Most High ... I will remember thy wonders of old" (vv.10-11).
The whole tone changes. Recollection and review bring reassurance and lead
on to this comforting climax concerning the Pilot and the Shepherd.
This, however, seems to be by way of an introduction to the following
psalm, for Psalm 78 is a great historical record of the Lord's dealings with
His people. It is a long psalm, recounting the movements of the people of
God as He guided them and dealt with them. Read in this light, the function
of the pilot in the storm and the shepherd in the plain bring comforting
reflections to us all.
The first principle which arises out of this psalm is that the divine
purpose governs all His ways with His people. At the beginning of their history,
Israel certainly proved that God's way is in the sea and His paths in great
waters. What dread seized them as they found their way barred by the Red
Sea, with its waters lashed by the howling east wind. The waters piled up
as a wall on the left and the right, doing little to abate their terror.
It must have been a terrible night as they passed through that sea. The word
translated 'troubled' (v.16) is a word which is used to denote travail. The
nation was born in the Red Sea that night when its waters were in anguish.
This reminds us of the divine purpose working in the tempest. Behind
all the fearful stirring up of the waters, the divine purpose was governing,
bringing to birth a nation who were chosen for His glory. Truly there was
a path for Him in those great waters. Faith must learn to appreciate this
principle, namely, that the things which seem to threaten to be our undoing
are being governed by divine providence to produce something of value -- sometimes
great value -- to the Lord. It was the recollection of this which saved the
psalmist when his soul was perturbed by questions about God's grace and loving
He spoke for the people. They felt abandoned and forgotten. He therefore
exhorted them to look back to the beginning of their national life. They
had been born in a threat. They began their history in what looked like destruction.
Yet they were brought through those tempestuous waters and by the skill and
power of God they were delivered and set apart for Him. As the psalmist remembered
this, he was freed from his doubts and questions, as we may be when life's
rough seas threaten to engulf us. God has a purpose and is steering us through
to it as a wise, experienced Pilot.
We have to believe in the wisdom of God as well as His power. He not
only knows the end, but He knows how to get us to that end. He is that One
who chooses the way through the [74/75] stormy waves.
To us His ways may seem strange. We wonder what He is doing, or whether He
is doing anything at all. "Have his mercies clean gone for ever?" we ask.
The answer is that the Pilot knows both the destination to which divine purpose
has called us and the best way by which we can reach that destination. He
knows -- but He does not tell us. "Thy way was in the sea ... and thy footsteps
were not known".
To help us to understand the psalmist's meaning, let us imagine a visit
to the Egyptian side of the Sea after the wind had quietened down and the
tempest come to rest. We look to see where His footprints are, and we cannot
find them. We fail to trace His movements and cannot discover how He did
the miracle. He leaves no traces by which we can explain just how He did it.
We have to be content that He did do it, and He did it because He is all-wise
-- the Pilot who has the knowledge of the way within Himself and so can bring
us through every storm and work wonders on our behalf without giving any
account as to the 'whys' and 'wherefores' of our experience.
This is why we have the complementary title of the Shepherd. It moves
us on from the consideration of His power and wisdom to an appreciation of
the greatness of His love. This is not an official Pilot who is disinterested
and detached, just doing His job, but a Shepherd, who has a heart of love
for His flock.
If there is one picture of heart concern for the good of others in the
Bible it is this of the shepherd. Both the Old Testament and the New make
much of this title for the Lord. We are not surprised, then, when the psalmist,
having voiced his question, "Is his loving kindness clean gone for ever?",
immediately realises that this is not the truth but is due to some infirmity
of his. It is a common infirmity in times of great trial, to harbour questions
about God's love. The only thing to do is what this man did; he resolved
to call to mind the past experiences of himself and his people with their
Shepherd God. The hand of the Most High was exercised through Moses and Aaron,
under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd who will never forsake or forget His
There are three facts which every child of God must master -- facts which
are suggested by this psalm. We are not really qualified for the Christian
life, let alone for Christian service, until we have mastered them. We will
be challenged again and again about them, but without them we will be weakened
almost to the point of despair. They relate to the power of God, the wisdom
of God and the love of God. He is indeed both our Pilot and our Shepherd.
He is the God that doeth wonders.
NOTES ON 2 CORINTHIANS
11. SIGNS OF AN APOSTLE
PAUL found himself obliged to glory, "though it is not expedient", that
is, not profitable for the church, since he who glories in his visions does
not build up the church but brings himself into the limelight. Unlike the
false apostles, Paul had hitherto been silent about his experiences in this
connection, but now the situation in Corinth obliged him to speak up so that
he could destroy the influence of the false apostles by showing that he
had not had lesser visions than they.
He would rather glory in his weakness, so he speaks with extreme caution
and modesty about a rapture which he had had some fourteen years earlier
-- that is, about 40 A.D. which was long before there was a church at Corinth.
He speaks of it in the third person ("a man") almost as if he would have
to differentiate between Paul the weak, which he preferred to be, and Paul
the man caught up to the third heaven, which he shrank from bringing into
prominence. He who was let [75/76] down in a basket
from the Damascus wall, was the very same who had been caught up into Paradise.
About the first humiliating episode he could speak freely in the first person
("I"), whereas about the rapture he avoided this at all costs to avoid self-advertisement.
Concerning the rapture, the apostle confessed that he did not know what
actually happened, thus giving no plan to anybody for mysterious raptures.
He had been forbidden to repeat the words of the divine secrets to anyone
else, and he preferred to refer to this happening in the third person. Forbearance
in talking about himself characterised Paul: he was afraid of others getting
too high an opinion of him, knowing that the criterion for spirituality is
not transcendental experiences but humility and Christlikeness.
Paul did not hide the fact that he was by no means immune to the temptations
to pride which other men have, and passes immediately to his personal experiences
of constant humbling which the wisdom of God prescribed for him. He twice
emphasised that his trial was given that he "should not be exalted over-much"
(v.7). He was not afraid to expose himself; on the contrary, he was concerned
to be known as a weak man. Throughout the centuries students have made his
"thorn in the flesh" a subject of conjecture, but no-one can say with certainty
what it was. He speaks of "a messenger of Satan" and its painful blows, but
in doing so he betrays his supreme confidence in a wise and mighty God who
can use even His enemy to fulfil His purpose of good for His servants,
Like his Lord in Gethsemane, the apostle prayed three times for deliverance,
and like Him, his earnest prayer carried with it the proviso, "Not my will
but thine be done". God's answer was to give more grace. Grace often means
the Lord's undeserved love by which a sinner is received as a child of God,
but it also means the power which enables God's children to do what otherwise
they could not do. This is what it means here: "My grace is sufficient for
thee". By virtue of the grace of God, Paul's daily sufferings and dangers
were made platforms for a unique service, and all the time it meant that
Paul became more and more like his Master.
He had learned that the power of God was made perfect where all human
power falls short and he understood that God kept him in constant weakness
in order to use him so much the more. It was by faith that he was of good
courage, for faith is at its best when it only has God to lean on. On the
other hand, it collapses and dies when it can lean on human guarantees or
demands a safety-net to be spread out underneath it before it will act.
Paul now comes to this matter of apostleship: "Truly the signs of an
apostle were wrought among you" (v.12). Until he had defended himself with
arguments entirely contrary to the current idea of what characterises a
man governed by the Spirit of Christ, he most emphatically asserted that
this is not speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:2, 19), ecstasy
(2 Corinthians 5:13) or visions and raptures (12:1-10). These are no more
signs of spirituality than they are of apostleship, which is described as
being "always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake", etc. At first glance
it may appear that he now does a complete about-turn, for he bases apostleship
on signs, wonders and mighty works, but this cannot be, for he has already
insisted that weakness is the governing and decisive mark of an apostle.
The first thing the apostle emphasises is found in his choice of words.
He does not say, 'The proofs that I am an apostle' but "the signs
of an apostle". The word 'sign' must be understood as it is employed in
John's Gospel concerning Christ's miracles. A sign always points to a deeper
reality than the actual miracle. All can see the miracle, but only the believer
appreciates its sign. Moreover no man has it in his power to do 'signs',
for they are not programmed but only happen when God so determines. Paul's
miracles were not, as one might first think, a proof that he was a spiritual
giant with every situation under control, but they were a sign that he was
an apostle , chosen by God to introduce a new epoch-making era. Those
who understood the signs, noticed that they were done "in all patience",
that is, in the context of personal suffering, including deep humiliation
because God did not do the one miracle that His servant desired and did not
prevent the messenger of Satan from buffeting him.
The second thing which is stated so quietly that only the acute ear of
faith catches it is his choice of words by using the passive voice. Far
from saying, 'I did wonders and mighty works', he affirms that the signs
"were wrought among you". Paul would never sanction the idea that basically
it was he who was acting. At the beginning [76/77]
Peter spoke in the same reticent way, denying that he and John had it in
their power to order God to do miracles (Acts 3:12-16). When the apostles
spoke of what God had done through them it was never to suggest that they
had a mighty faith or a special 'baptism'. Indeed faith itself was not a
performance of man but something accomplished by the Lord.
The fact is that apostolic wonders and mighty works never neutralised
the apostles' weakness. They preached Christ crucified and were themselves
vitally associated with the cross. When signs and wonders were done by them
it was not as though the cross were pushed aside or into the background for
a time in order to give a central place of glory to the people involved.
The apostles were themselves crucified men. Their mighty works were not a
promise that if only you believe properly God will remove your weaknesses
and problems, but rather signs that Christ who perfected salvation when He
was crucified in weakness, now announced that salvation through the weakness
of His messengers.
No believers saw in the mighty works done by the apostles any proof that
the redemption of the body was available to those who believe enough, nor
did they see in the apostles such mighty personalities that they had themselves
been released from difficulties. No, what they saw was an apostle so much
like his Lord and Saviour that he was an offence to all proud religious people
who demand that a man of the Spirit must prove his anointing by freeing himself
(and of course others) from the 'defeat' of the cross.
The false apostles had tricked the Corinthians into misinterpreting the
sufferings and patience of Paul as a clear proof that he did not know Jesus
as he ought, and did not possess the Spirit as they did. So grotesque was
the situation of the Corinthians that one marvels that a church could be
deceived in this way. Even more grotesque was it when the church interpreted
Paul's loving sacrifice in refusing financial aid as a lack of love. "Forgive
me this wrong!" (v.13). It smarted so much that Paul could only resort to
(To be continued)
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
3. ABRAHAM. Walking into the Unknown
IT is not actually stated that Abraham walked with God but, at a certain
crisis in his history, he received the divine command: "Walk before me, and
be thou perfect" (Genesis 17:1). To us this might seem a little inferior
to what is said of Enoch and Noah, as though Abraham was being treated as
a child under observation rather than as an adult companion. In the context
of Abraham's whole life, however, this cannot be so, for this was the man
whom God later described as "Abraham, my friend" (Isaiah 41:8).
At his death Jacob, Abraham's grandson, spoke feelingly of the fact that
both his grandfather and his father had walked before God (Genesis 48:15),
suggesting that this quality of life was very honourable and rather beyond
him. To walk before God means to be very close to Him, trusting rather than
seeing, and always sensitive to the still, small voice which constantly directs:
"This is the way, walk ye in it" (Isaiah 30:21). In the truest sense this
is the walk of faith. It involves complete dependence upon God and yet it
also means a consistent stepping forward into the unknown, counting on His
Abraham is the Scriptural example of this kind of walk. We are specifically
informed that this was how his first movement was made: "... he obeyed; and
he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Hebrews 11:8). His long and fruitful
life was lived according to this pattern and, near to his end, his faithful
steward was sent to seek out a bride for his son, Isaac, on the same basis:
[77/78] "I, being in the way, the Lord led me ..."
There is a sense in which every man of faith must be a pioneer. Each
one of us has to learn to step out into the unknown. For that reason a more
considered study of Abraham's experiences may guide and encourage us in our
own personal walk with God. In his case we see that:
1. The man who walks before God can never remain static.
By nature Abraham was not a nomad. His early years were spent as a city
dweller in a highly civilised community, and his later expectations were
always focused on another and better city (Hebrews 11:10). Grace, however,
contradicts and overrules our natural inclinations, so that the operative
words in Abraham's history were: "Sojourned", "Tents", "Strangers", "Pilgrims",
"Afar off", etc. So far as this life is concerned, earth was a bridge to be
traversed and never a permanent home in which to settle down. I have heard
that somewhere in India there is an ancient inscription to this effect which
is attributed to the words of the Lord Jesus. In any case it is an important
Under his father's influence, Abraham was at first tempted to put down
his roots in Haran, a place whose very name expressed a backward look. It
was a half-way position which alas, many Christians seem content enough
to accept. It was not for the man of faith, though, so he moved right on
into the land he had been promised. Even so he found no settled abiding
place, but moved on from one location to another, as if probing to discover
the place of God's choice for him while always maintaining his reliance on
the Lord on the basis of a new altar.
The fact that all his life was lived in tents is stressed in Hebrews
11:9, as if to draw our attention to the fact that this man and his family
were never permitted to enjoy a permanent stay in any fixed locality. They
could never know what it was to be static. This same chapter reminds us
that this lack of permanence on earth persisted right to their death, while
the Genesis story under lines the point by describing how Abraham recognised
that it was God who caused him to wander in this way and reduced him to having
to buy a cave as a family burial ground since, after all those years of affluence,
he was still obliged to admit that he was "a stranger and a sojourner" (Genesis
What does this mean to us? Not that we should literally move from place
to place, either in our pursuit of employment or our sphere of service for
God. While the New Testament records some men on the move continually as
they travelled, it gives us glimpses of James being permanently based in Jerusalem
and Philip coming to a halt in Caesarea and settling his home there (Acts
21:8). "Gaius my host, and of the whole church" at least hints that this
brother was permanently localised, while "Erastus the treasurer of the city"
describes a Christian who was in a settled position as a public servant (Romans
16:23). No, we should be ready to accept movement when circumstances (under
the will of God) make it necessary, but this "tent life" of the man who walked
before God does not imply that there are any virtues in looking for constant
change in location.
I suggest therefore that this characteristic of never becoming static
is essentially spiritual. We must not put our roots down into this world's
life as though this were our destination, but always welcome any outward
changes which represent new spiritual lessons or further opportunities of
witnessing. Even more so, we must never be so fixed in our spiritual outlook
that we cannot adjust to fresh light from God's Word or move on from one phase
of understanding to a fuller knowledge of the will of God. Abraham's constant
movements remind us that we are continually growing in the knowledge of our
Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
2. The man who walks before God must constantly face the unexpected.
This follows from what we have already stated. In the course of my life
I have known young (and not so young!) people who have thrown up their jobs
or moved their homes without any clear direction from God or fellowship with
their spiritual companions and have justified their actions by the Biblical
statement that Abraham "went out, not knowing whither he went". The results
of this kind of plunge into the unknown have often proved most unfruitful.
I suggest that their mistake has been two-fold: they have misunderstood
Abraham's action and they have erred in attempting to imitate
[78/79] another servant of the Lord. In the first place, the Scripture
quoted indicates that Abraham knew very well that he was called to go into
Canaan and he took the road accordingly. What he did not know was the kind
of life involved, for the land was unfamiliar to him and he was not given
any blue-print of how God would guide and provide for him. No doubt there
are exceptions to this rule, but I believe that generally negative movement
out of any situation should be taken with a view to a positive movement into
a new one, and not into a vacuum.
I may be wrong about this, but I am certainly right in stressing that
none of us should try to copy or imitate another. The list in Hebrews 11
is about as varied as any list could be, not only in the differences of character
of those there described but also in the different ways in which they were
led. God did not command Abraham to walk after Enoch or Noah but to walk
before Him! While in one sense Hebrews 11 provides a sequence of men and
women of faith, it also stresses that each one was not a copy of any other
but an original. God does not work on a basis of mass production. The one
thing which we are to imitate is their faith (Hebrews 13:7).
The Lord seldom repeats our own experiences. We are moving on, not going
round and round. Humanly speaking, Abraham's journeys might suggest that
he was going round in circles, [but] we have the divine verdict that he was
moving towards a destination. It is the lost traveller who goes round in circles;
the pilgrim moves steadily towards his desired objective. It therefore follows
that such a man must always move into the unknown. Not only may life
and circumstances change as we journey on, but God's ways with us will vary
too. He will take care that we depend on a present knowledge of Him and take
nothing for granted, however wonderful the past may have been.
3. The man who walks before God must avoid impulsive actions.
We learn from Abraham's mistakes as well as from his successes. On the
occasion of famine it was surely wrong for him to go down into Egypt (12:10),
though it was doubtless puzzling for him to encounter acute need in the
very land to which God had so clearly called him. The result, however, was
that he disowned his wife and very nearly lost her. When he again practised
this deceit (how slow we are to learn our lessons!), he explained to Abimelech
that it arose from an arrangement which he had with Sarah "when God caused
me to wander from my father's house" (20:13) but in fact the plot was first
entered into "when he was come near to enter Egypt" (12:11).
He went down because seemingly he doubted God's ability to sustain him
in the land to which he had been called, and so pioneered that reliance
on Egypt that was later to become a snare to Israel (Isaiah 31:1). This
is one of God's pilgrims' commonest tests -- to be led into a situation
and then to come up against circumstances which appear to make it impossible
to stay there. Moreover, when God does block your way and when your only
contact with Him is to keep close enough to be checked as well as guided,
it is so easy to lose patience and rush into the kind of perilous situation
that Abraham found himself in as he got involved with Pharaoh. The truth
was that in his walk he had left God behind, so he had to scheme for his
own protection and well-being. For the time he lost his testimony, for Pharaoh
was able to demand: "What is this that thou hast done unto me?" (12:18).
It is a shameful thing for a pilgrim to be exposed as unbelieving in the
eyes of the world. What was more, his fear for his own skin had exposed
to real peril the wife who was his true companion and essential to the realisation
of God's purposes through them both. Egypt, of course, was no good to him.
It meant that he was repudiated by the very world in which he had expected
to find support.
God is very gracious. He extracted Abraham and Sarah from their dilemma,
enabling them to retrace their steps to the earlier location to the place
of the altar. The lesson, though, is plain for us all to see, namely that
faith and patience must go hand in hand; the one is useless without the other.
We must always be ready to move on, but we must beware of going too far
and too fast. We must walk humbly with our God, and we must never forget
that Satan will be only too ready to back up any carnal impulse of ours.
For our comfort, we notice that God's grace is so great that, provided we
do return to the place of the altar, He is able to enrich us even from our
foolish steps of unbelief (13:2).
There can be no doubt that the whole episode of the birth of Ishmael
represented an impulsive and impatient act of unbelief (16:2). Abraham's
[79/80] action of mating with Hagar (again an Egyptian)
may have been tolerated and even approved of by the society of his day,
though it was a departure from the original decree by which God ordered that
a man and his wife should be one flesh. However much He overlooked this in
the case of men like Jacob and David, he never departed from this basic rule
as Malachi 2:14-15 proves to us. But what is more important to us in our
present study is the fact that Abraham's action was one of sheer unbelief
and, as so often happens, unbelief born of impatience. The man who walks
before God must beware of impulsive actions.
Interestingly enough, the Lord answered impatience by making His servant
wait another thirteen years before giving him any further communication from
heaven and, still more interestingly, the promise of Isaac was prefaced by
the command to be perfect -- or whole-hearted -- as he walked before God
(17:1). Spiritual pilgrims must beware of impatient impulses and impatient
counsels even from dearest friends, if theirs is to be a worthy walk of faith.
4. The man who walks before God can expect constant encouragements.
If it sounds too demanding to speak of walking into the unknown, let
Abraham's experiences reassure us. I can add my own personal testimony to
that of the patriarch when I say that before each test of faith the Lord
will give some fresh word of encouragement on which we can rely as we obey
His call. Again and again, from Ur of the Chaldees to Mount Moriah, we are
told how the God of glory appeared to Abraham and spoke to him. Ought the
man of robust faith to need so many new experiences? Would not the first
original "Lo, I am with you ..." suffice? All I can say is that I have needed
them, and have had them. So far as I can see, a long line of pilgrims from
Abraham to Paul received a new word of encouragement just when things seemed
at their darkest. In Abraham's case it might almost appear that at every
fresh step forward, he received this kind of help: the greater the cost of
obedience, the greater were the new promises given to him.
After he had allowed Lot to choose the richest pasture land, the Lord
renewed His promises to the patriarch and told him to walk the length and
breadth of the land in the knowledge that it was all to be given to him (13:17).
After he had magnanimously fought to deliver his undeserving nephew, God
met him in the person of Melchzedek with heavenly blessings, just in time
to ensure that he would firmly refuse any help from Sodom's gifts. He did
so, and received a further divine pledge of blessing with one of those often
repeated Scriptural exhortations to "fear not" (15:1). Alas, he did fear
and agreed to Sarah's faithless advice about Hagar, but when all this was
put right he had yet another appearance from the Lord (17:1). What would he
have done without God's clear speaking to him? And what can any of us do
without the vital, saving ministry of God's holy Word?
The best -- as always -- was saved for the last. The most thrilling appearance
of the Lord to His pilgrim servant, the final and most glorious, was when
he put the son of promise on the altar and then heard God say: "Because thou
hast done this thing ... in blessing I will bless thee" (22:16-17). For
Abraham the mount of sacrifice became the mount of vision. It is always the
abiding principle, "as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord shall
He be seen" (22:14).
5. The man who walks before God shall reach the desired destination.
Our final step will be out of time and into eternity. To us the timeless
sphere is indeed unknown, but this does not mean that it is unreal or unattainable.
Concerning Abraham and his family it is stated that they desired a better
country, that is, a heavenly; "wherefore God is not ashamed to be called
their God: for he has prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:16). We cannot
understand much of what is involved in exchanging this tent-life of our pilgrimage
for the heavenly city of God, the Father's house of many mansions, but the
one word which stands out like a beacon is the word 'BETTER'.
No-one can dispute that walking with God is a costly activity, but none
who tread that path will ever wish to tread any other. The problems may prove
greater than we have imagined, but the end will be more glorious than we
could ever have believed. "God is not ashamed" -- that means that He is proud
of it. Then the destination must be "very far better" than the best that
we experience on the way.
(To be continued) [80/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
SPIRITUAL PARENTHESES (37)
"(and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear
witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which
was with the Father, and was manifested unto us)" 1 John 1:2
THE theme of John's message is life and he here emphasises that what
he is talking about is the life which is eternal. The simple truth is that
none of us who are creatures of time can understand what the word 'eternal'
means. Our logical explanation is that it consists of an existence which
goes on and on for ever, with no possibility of termination. Such a thought,
however, does not in itself offer any attractive prospect and in any case
signifies that we are trying to measure eternity in terms of time-endless
The apostle therefore begins his letter with the parenthetical statement
that eternal life can only be grasped by focusing our attention on Jesus
Christ. He singles out the simple fact that he himself had seen eternal life
being lived out in a Man and here on earth.
The first obvious point in his remark is that this kind of life not only
has no ending, but never had a beginning either. The life which was so vividly
seen, heard and experienced in the Person of the Man Christ Jesus did not
begin at Bethlehem. It did not even begin at Genesis 1. It has no beginning.
It clearly belongs to a realm quite outside of time, even though by the Incarnation
it was brought for a while into time.
We therefore conclude that this is a quality of life which is wholly
beyond normal human experience; it is the life enjoyed by the eternal Father
Himself. It is permanent; it is wholly satisfying; it for ever enjoys perfect
The record which John is presenting goes on to say that, because of Christ's
atoning work, this eternal life is freely available to the true believer
(2:25). He assures us that to have the Son is to have "the life" (5:12). Alas,
the darker side of this same truth is that those who do not have the Son
can have no hope of ever enjoying eternal life.
In a sense, John claims that he and his fellow apostles had a unique
experience in those gospel days when they had their deep and satisfying
encounter with eternal life in the Man, Christ Jesus. And yet in another
sense he is able to write about others all around us having the opportunity
to see and hear and touch that Life as it is being lived out in His believing
people: "As he is, so are we in this world" (4:17). This verse is not pointing
on to the future but affirming that eternal life now is a reality.
The Lord Jesus not only enjoyed eternal life with the Father; He manifested
it among men here on earth. We are called into fellowship with Him. We enjoy
now the eternal life which comes from the knowledge of the true God (5:20),
so in us also that same life should be manifested (3:10). What a rich parenthesis!
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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