|Vol. 18, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1989
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE UNWEARYING GOD
J. Alec Motyer
"Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard? the
everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of
the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary" Isaiah 40:28
WHEN Hezekiah appealed to God in his sickness, he was given a direct
promise of life for another fifteen years and a gratuitous promise, an added
bonus, "... and I will defend this city" (Isaiah 38:6). The Lord then added
a sign to seal this double promise. "So the sun returned ten steps on the
dial of Ahaz." It was a most remarkable miracle. Nobody knows what this
"dial" was, for the translation means "stairs" or "steps" but the interesting
thing is that the God who had said to Ahaz: "Ask thee a sign of the Lord
thy God, ask it either in the depth, or in the height above" (7:11) and found
that Ahaz refused to comply, now Himself offered a sign from the heaven above
which would be registered on the dial of that very king Ahaz. How wonderful
are God's ways! It was on the dial of Ahaz that the backward movement of the
sun gave the sign which confirmed His double promise to Hezekiah.
The first promise was that the king would get better; the second that
God would defend the city. Zion needed no other strength than the strength
of the Lord. Hezekiah was given great and precious promises. Then he had
to face a challenge concerning them. Chapter 39 tells us how letters and a
present were sent to the convalescent king. It was like bringing a bunch
of grapes to a sick bed, but who, on receiving such a kindness, would totter
off his invalid chair and say, "Please let me show you my bank balance"?
Yet in effect that was what Hezekiah did: "He was glad of them, and showed
them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the
spices and the precious oil, and all the house of his armour, and all that
was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house nor in all his
dominions that Hezekiah showed them not" (39:2). This disparity in his receiving
of sick-visitors and immediately showing them the strength of his country
can best be explained by what we presume prompted the visit in the first place.
When Hezekiah opened the packet with the bunch of grapes, he probably found
inside a note from Merodach-baladan asking if he would be interested in a
treaty, an alliance. This delighted Hezekiah; he felt that he must justify
himself as a possible strong ally, so he took them on their tour of his kingdom.
Merodach-baladan was a conspirator. He planned to establish a kingdom
in Babylon in the face of Assyrian opposition. It is now known historically
that he built up Babylon so successfully that it provided a balance of power
in Mesopotamia. He was an extremely successful rebel and desired to entice
Hezekiah into his rebellion so that they might defy the great Assyrian empire,
Israel's great enemy.
This overture faced Hezekiah with a challenge; where does the security
of his kingdom belong? Should he rely on the way of faith, trusting in those
promises given by the Lord (38:6) or should it be based on self-effort by
means of collective strength with Chaldea? The Lord had said, "I will defend
thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria." but now Merodach-baladan
said, "I will defend you; we can link our armaments". The question arose
as to whether Hezekiah would trust the promises of God or whether he would
rely on his own efforts. He chose the latter, and in doing so he committed
the unpardonable sin. [81/82]
Isaiah (who had not been consulted) came into this situation and demanded
to know who these visitors were and where they came from. Hezekiah, deceived
into the way of pride, replied that they had come all the way from Babylon
just to honour him, admitting that he had been glad to receive them. The
reply of Isaiah was devastating: "Hear the word of the Lord of hosts. Behold,
the days come, that all that is in thy house, and that which the fathers have
laid up in store until this day, shall he carried to Babylon: nothing shall
be left, saith the Lord". It was as though God said, "You are glad to be
associated with Babylon, are you? Very well, you and all that is yours shall
go to Babylon. You want Babylon, do you? All right, then you shall have what
you want." After all God's mercies to Hezekiah this was a tragic outcome.
His attitude and actions brought doom to his people.
The Message of Comfort
So Chapter 39 finishes with a verdict of condemnation. But see what immediately
follows in Chapter 40: "Comfort ye, Comfort ye my people, saith the Lord
your God". As soon as the word of judgment has been spoken, the word of comfort
follows. Here we find that we have an unwearying God. Even when His people
commit the unpardonable sin of self-reliance, He does not give them up. At
the heels of the message of wrath there comes the message of mercy. This
is the truth which bridges Chapter 39 and Chapter 40 and what follows.
Natural logic says that this must be from another man -- Deutero-Isaiah
. Commentators argue that since the captivity was a hundred years away
in the future, there would be a sense of unreality in calling for a word
of comfort which would only find its fulfillment in the release from captivity
which took place a hundred and fifty years after Isaiah. They therefore argue
that Chapters 40 to 66 cannot come from the same man who wrote the first thirty-nine
chapters of the book. But Isaiah was a prophet. He was only doing his job.
There is no need for us to pay attention to such commentators.
In any case at this very time Babylon was obviously a current possibility.
What is more, Isaiah said nothing about a lapse of time. As we look back,
we can observe the long interval between Hezekiah's days and those of the
return from Babylon, but that was nothing to God or to His message of comfort
which was valid enough at the time. God gave the word of comfort as soon
as He had uttered the word of wrath. That is what He is like: He is full of
grace. In our case the trial may be fully deserved, as it here was, but God
still commands comfort. He never wearies in being merciful.
This same truth applies in the comfort which comes to us all in the promise
of the Coming Again of the Lord Jesus. It could be argued that it was futile
for the Lord Jesus to offer comfort to His disciples by telling them not
to worry for after some two thousand years He would be returning: "Let not
your heart be troubled ... if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come
again and receive you unto myself" (John 14:13), but we know that this is
a false argument for, throughout the centuries, His saints have been greatly
comforted by the expectation of His Return. He said nothing about two thousand
years; He simply said that He would return -- and He will! What is significant
about His words is that He spoke a warning. "I am going away" and with the
same breath He spoke the words of comfort, "I will come back again". We can
be far too clever in our natural reasoning. The comfort is real, and the guarantee
of the promises are found in the Promiser.
The Guarantor of the Comfort
Isaiah goes on to describe to us who it is who gives this comfort. He
is the Unlimited God.
i. He is the Creator of all (40:12-26)
God operates on a worldwide scale. And there is no other God, so that
what He says is bound to happen, for there is no-one to stop Him. From this
truth we draw the conclusion (vv.27-31): "He gives power to the faint: and
to him that has no might he increases strength". He is not going to forget
you. You can never be so far away that He cannot help you. So just wait for
ii. He is the Ruler of all (41:1-4)
Everything is under His control. He calls the stars by name (40:26) and
He calls the conqueror [82/83] by name (41:2). Even
the greatest conqueror comes on his way only because the Lord has called
him to do so.
iii. He is always Sufficient (41:21 - 46:13)
We might have a problem concerning the concern of such a great God for
the larger part of the world which He has created. Is He only concerned
for Israel? No, the answer is that He meets the world's need as well as
meeting Israel's need. "He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles",
and "the isles shall wait for his law" (42:1 & 4). Our God is not only
the Unwearied God but is also the Unlimited God.
The Agent of the Comfort
Israel had two areas of need, the circumstantial or political and the
spiritual. In both cases God had His agent for providing for these needs,
and in both cases they are called His servants.
i. Israel's political need
They were an enslaved people, needing to be released from captivity:
"This is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes,
and they are hidden in prison houses; they are for a prey, and none delivereth:
for a spoil, and none saith, Restore" (42:22). God had a promise of release
for them in their circumstantial need and an agent through whom His resources
would be ministered: "For your sakes I have sent to Babylon ..." (43:14).
The agent is named: "Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus whose
right hand I have holden ... to open the doors before him ..." (45:1). It
is a pity that the commentators take exception to the thought that the original
Isaiah could predict the personal name of Cyrus. Prediction of personal names
is not commonplace in Scripture, but it is found there from time to time,
so there is nothing exceptional in Isaiah's prediction. In fact he did more
than that, for a careful reading of this chapter shows that Isaiah predicted
the rise of Cyrus, "For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel my chosen I
have called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not
known me" (45:4). Commentators say that the "Second Isaiah" must have lived
within the time of Cyrus to write of his delivering power, but they ignore
the fact that the original (and only) Isaiah predicted the rise of Cyrus
as well as his actions. God's prophet could operate even before Cyrus had
been heard of.
In fact the work of Cyrus was a resounding success. He released the captives
from Babylon and the exiles returned in circumstances like a second exodus:
"He that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water
shall he guide them. And I will make all my mountains a way, and my high
ways shall be exalted ..." (49:10-11). This was God's meeting of Israel's
political need. Nevertheless it is still written: "There is no peace, saith
the Lord, for the wicked" (48:22). God had called out a great conqueror, but
they still needed a great Saviour.
ii. Israel's Spiritual Need
This was the most serious need of all but, as always, the Lord has an
answer for this need too. "Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the
robbers? Did not the Lord against whom we have sinned ..." (42:24).
We have offended the Lord but, blessed be His name, He has the answer. He
has promised forgiveness and He has the Agent for the fulfilment of that
promise, even the Servant who could bear sin. For the wicked there is no
peace, but God brings comfort to His people by means of His suffering Servant
who makes peace for them.
The Servant of the Lord
By God's agent, Cyrus, the people had been delivered from bondage and
were now on their way back home, but their deeper need remained. A change
of address is not a change of heart. Political liberation is not the same
as spiritual redemption. Setting people free from bondage is not the same
as giving them peace with God. So we are shown the great Servant of the Lord
who alone can deal with the predicament of those who had come out of Babylon
but still had no peace with God. The Jews needed One who could not only bring
them back to Jerusalem but bring them back to the Lord. [83/84]
There are various passages which describe to us this suffering Servant.
He suffered for the sake of obedience (50:4-9). Sin is rebellion, but He
was able to say, "I was not rebellious". The costliness of such obedience
is painful in the extreme: "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to
them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting".
In His case, obedience meant not turning His back to the task but setting
His face like a flint for the work of sin-bearing. This is explained to us
in 52:13 to 53:12.
"He was numbered with the transgressors" (53:12). At His baptism, which
was a baptism for sinners who repented for their sins, He took His place
among them. John the Baptist, who had a personal knowledge of Jesus although
not yet fully enlightened, knew enough to argue that it would be much more
fitting for Jesus to baptise him, since Jesus had nothing for which to repent.
Even so Jesus went down into the waters of Jordan. No doubt at the end of
the day those who enjoyed statistics -- there are always some like that --
would be able to recount how many sinners had been baptised that day. But
they would have been wrong. The Servant of Jehovah was no sinner, though He
might be numbered among them.
But this was not all. When the Lord Jesus took up this matter He pointed
directly to His death when He told His disciples: "I say unto you that this
which is written must be fulfilled in me. And he was numbered among the transgressors:
for that which concerns me has fulfilment" (Luke 22:33). So that which was
prefigured in His baptism was fully and perfectly realised on the cross.
Any casual passer-by that day would have remarked that he saw three criminals
suffering for their deeds.
But no, we read that "He was wounded because of our transgressions".
There is nothing vague about His sufferings; the precise word affirms that
those sufferings had a cause, even our transgressions. From that cross of
sacrifice the strong Son of God uttered two loud cries. In spite of all that
He had endured, with fresh vitality, the holy Servant of the Lord made the
announcement "It is finished", but before that and from the deep, deep darkness,
He called out to His God, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" And He said this
because of our transgressions.
In the Scriptures, darkness means the dark presence of God in judgment.
Darkness is not where God is not, but where He is, and He is in wrath. It
is not where God is absent, but where He is present in holy anger. We read
of the plague in Egypt where there was "a thick darkness which could be felt"
(Exodus 10:21-22). This was not due to the absence of God but to His real
presence in judgment. He had entered the land of Egypt in all the darkness
of His outraged holiness. And when darkness descended around the cross it
was the darkness of His holy anger with sin -- our sin. Buried deep in the
Old Testament is the psalmist's comment made from his own long experience,
that God would not forsake the righteous: "I have never seen the righteous
forsaken" (Psalm 37:25). But Jesus was forsaken! The only explanation for
this sombre truth is found in Isaiah's confession that all had gone astray
like lost sheep but that "the Lord had laid upon him the iniquity of us all"
(53:6). David had never seen the righteous forsaken, but at the cross the
holy Servant of the Lord was forsaken. The only possible explanation for
every believer is that "In my place condemned He stood."
The previous verse records that "the chastisement of our peace was upon
him". Being wicked, we had no peace for "there is no peace, saith the Lord,
unto the wicked", but through Christ's agony we can gratefully speak of
our peace. The Servant secures peace for the people of God, so much
so that later the assurance comes: "The mountains shall depart, and the
hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall
my covenant of peace be removed ..." (54:10). In the interest of
making peace for a sinful people the divine Servant was "cut off out of
the land of the living". Our peace comes through the blood of Christ's cross.
John lays great stress on this matter of the blood of Christ: "Howbeit
one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and straightway there
came out blood and water" (John 19:34). Two observations are made by the
Evangelist at this point, the first is that there was an authentic witness
to testify to what happened and the second is that it was all according to
the Scriptures. The narrative tells us how a group [84/85]
of thoughtless soldiers, knowing nothing of the Bible and simply carrying
out the cruelty of their trade, were governed and overruled by the Word of
God which said that not a bone of Him should be broken. In view of the approaching
Sabbath they had to see that death was not delayed, so they broke the legs
of the two criminals, not merely to add the trauma of pain but to remove
all support from the legs so that the victims' bodies should be held only
by their arms in a most unnatural position and they would suffocate. When
they came to Jesus, however, they found that He was already dead, so they
had no need to break His legs. So the one Scripture was fulfilled, "A bone
of him shall not be broken."
But there was more than that. Out of sheer wantonness a soldier took
his spear and made such a great hole in the Saviour's side that Thomas,
who must have seen it, declared that it would be possible to plunge his
hand into it. So was fulfilled the marvellous Word of God which prophesied:
"They shall look on him whom they have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10). Those
soldiers were totally thoughtless and callous men and yet they fulfilled
God's Word. From that wound came blood and water. There was a distinct and
separate flow of blood and water, not mingled, but flowing separately from
the Saviour's wounded side.
If the unbroken bones corresponded to the Passover lamb, then this surely
was "passover" blood, the sure guarantee of perfect shelter from the wrath
of God. There is tremendous power in the blood of Christ; it reaches upward
and touches God, for He passes by and does not judge when He sees the blood.
It changes His attitude; provides propitiation, which means the taking away
of His enmity. Then there was also the water, which in Scripture speaks of
cleansing. There is cleansing by the cross. The blood runs upward and speaks
of a satisfied God because the price of sin has been paid, and the water
flows down to the trusting sinner in purifying power. So, in the interest
of making peace for a sinful people, the Servant of the Lord goes down into
the dust of death.
There follows the matter of His burial. The verse which speaks of the
Lord being destined to be buried with the wicked, goes on to say that this
did not happen, for He occupied a rich grave: "... he was with a rich man
in his death" (Isaiah 53:9). The word "wicked" is plural, whereas the word
"rich" is singular and I cannot for the life of me imagine why translators
fail to notice the accuracy of this Scripture. The Jews reckoned that He should
be buried with thieves as He had been crucified between two of them, but
God, in His sovereignty, made sure that His holy body should rest in a rich
man's grave. This could not be fully appreciated until it was fulfilled, but,
looking back, we are awestruck by the accuracy of God's Word. In the haste
of that approaching Sabbath it might be expected that the precious body of
Jesus would be slung into a criminal's grave like the other two, but God
saw to it that this did not happen.
Isaiah has more to say. This is not the end. The unwearying God has seen
to that. No sooner has the prophet told us of the Lord's Servant's being
made an offering for sin than he goes on to speak of Him as very much alive,
prolonging his days and with the pleasure of the Lord prospering in His hand.
The mighty Servant, having made peace for us by His death, is now seen alive
after His passion. He who a minute ago was in a grave is now alive and victorious.
Resurrection is not actually mentioned. It must not be inserted when
it is not there. Nevertheless we cannot fail to perceive the amazing sequel
to the cross in that he is spoken of as being alive and reigning after "pouring
out his soul unto death" and being "cut off out of the land of the living."
This Servant who died is now the One in whose hands the will of God will
prosper; He is God's appointed Executive. Those hands execute the most comforting
result of His having borne our iniquities, namely our complete justification
before God: "By his knowledge shall my righteous Servant provide righteousness
for the many". Here is the wonderful New Testament doctrine of imputed righteousness
for the believer as a gift of God's grace. That righteousness is based, of
course, on the fact that Christ has Himself borne all our iniquities. As
against Hezekiah's folly of self-reliance which is so calamitous, we have
the [85/86] divine comfort which comes to those who
commit their whole cause to the unwearied Saviour.
The Servant passage of Isaiah 53 concludes with what at first may seem
most unsatisfactory: "Therefore will I divide with him a portion with the
great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong ..." (v.12). Is it
possible that the Servant must share the fruits of His sacrifice with others?
What a disappointment if, after all, He has to divide the spoil with others!
Surely this cannot be. No, this is not possible.
I will never forget my excitement when I discovered that the proper rendering
of this verse is: "I will apportion to him the many, and He shall take the
strong as a spoil". That is right! The Servant's victory is personal and
it is unique. God will give Him the many of saved ones as His portion. The
spoils of His Calvary victory consist of the whole portion of the redeemed.
This verse begins with the word "therefore". The same word is found in
Philippians 2:9 and with the same connection: "Therefore also God has highly
exalted him, and given unto him the name which is above every name". The
Father's reaction to this absolute humbling of His Son in the death of the
cross is to exalt Him to the highest heights. There can be no other name
to equal His. That is what the Lord thinks of His Servant. That is what our
Saviour rightly deserves. The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the
ends of the earth, will never faint nor grow weary until everything is put
under the feet of His beloved Son.
We have already noted that Isaiah's message about God is not only that
He is unwearied but also that He is unlimited. Lest anyone should imagine
that this comfort belongs only to Israel, God proceeds with His promise
to His servant, "Behold, I have given thee for ... a leader and commander
to the peoples. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not,
and a nation that knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of the Lord
thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee" (54:45)
and sums it all up in the great invitation to all men: "Ho, every one that
thirsts, come ye to the waters, and he that has no money, come buy and eat
..." (55:1). The gospel call still stands today: ours is an unwearying God.
THE UNCHANGING GOD
John H. Paterson
For I am the Lord, I change not;
therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
THE other day, I was driven to the dictionary, as most of us are at times,
to check the spelling of a word. It was 'changeable' -- that 'e' in the middle
was the difficulty! After I had looked it up I was led, by a train of thought
that any Bible reader can share, to recall various Scripture references
to people and things that are changeable, and others that are not. One such
reference is the verse in Malachi which stands at the head of this article.
It is one of the Bible's surprise verses; that is, it is one of those
verses that take us by surprise because they say the opposite of what we
probably expect. There are plenty of others; indeed the Lord Jesus, when
He was here preaching and teaching, constantly surprised His audiences with
these opposites "Ye have heard it said ... but I say ..."
So, if you have read Malachi's prophecies up to this point, with their
almost continuous denunciation of God's remnant people for their short-comings,
you would not expect what you read here. You would, I am sure, expect Malachi
3:6 to read something like this: "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore
as long as you go on behaving like this I shall go on punishing you, as I
have done in the past." But that is not what it says!
Now I must be frank with you, and recognise that scholars are not absolutely
sure what it does say. The all-important word "therefore" is not actually
in the original Hebrew. But the Authorised, Revised and Revised Standard
Versions all translate it this way, not to mention several modern versions.
And if they are right to do so, what a tremendous "therefore" this is! It
is because the Lord does not change that His people are secure. The
converse of that is, obviously, that if God ever did change, the people
would be consumed.
All believers are familiar with Bible assurances that the Lord does not
change. How often we have comforted ourselves with those reminders: "Jesus
Christ the same yesterday, and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). But this
verse in Malachi stands a little apart from those other references. Their
message is consoling: "How wonderful that God doesn't change; He's always
there to help me when I need Him!" The message from Malachi, on the other
hand, is challenging: "What a good thing that God doesn't change, for our
security, our very survival, depends on His not doing so!"
Let us now relate this verse a little more closely to its context in
Malachi's prophecy. Throughout an incredibly up-and-down history as a nation
of God's people, Israel had been preserved by one thing alone: God's unchanging
character and His refusal (I almost wrote "His inability", but that might
sound strange) to act in any way out of keeping with it.
Not that Israel understood this: on the whole they preferred to think
of themselves as being owed favours by God, and they paid little attention
-- and that hostile -- to the prophets whom He regularly sent to remind them
of the true situation. They regarded themselves as privileged people --
which indeed they were, though not in the sense they imagined. They traded
largely on the way in which, time and again, He had apparently let them off,
and still held out to them the same promises which He had made to Abraham
and the Fathers long ago. Little did they realise how fragile was their ground
of confidence, how delicately-balanced their status, for the slightest tremour
of change in Him and they would all have been consumed.
Now the clearest evidence that they did not understand their true position
is contained precisely in this same prophecy of Malachi. You will see this
at once if you notice the points on which the prophet condemns them. For
we find them assuming, in fact hoping, that God had changed. They were
saying to each other, in effect, "God won't mind if we do things our
way rather than His way."
The God of their fathers had been very particular about how He was to
be worshipped: after all, several books of the Pentateuch were required for
His detailed instructions. But here they were, several hundred years later,
saying to each other, "He can't really be that fussy!"
So, it would be all right to offer "polluted bread" on God's altar (Malachi
1:7), and to bring blind, lame, sick or injured animals as sacrifices (1:8,
13) instead of the perfect and unblemished offerings of past years. It would
be cheaper, too. The governor might notice if they tried to fob that kind
of thing off on him (1:8). But God would, they felt sure, have relaxed His
standards with the passing of time; that very particular Being their fathers
had worshipped had now become Someone more tolerant, who didn't expect too
much of people -- particularly people scraping a living in a country from
which they had earlier been deported as slaves to Babylon.
Nor was this all. The rituals of worship for priest and people were one
thing, but the moral standards by which God called them to live were
[87/88] another. Some of the most remarkable verses in Malachi
(2:17; 3:14-15) are those in which God accuses them of actually believing
that He -- He, not they -- had reversed those standards; that He had turned
the moral world upside down:
"... ye say, Every one that doeth evil in the sight of the Lord ... He
delighteth in them. Ye have said, It is vain to serve God and what profit
is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully
before the lord of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that
work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered."
God had, they suggested, changed sides!
Fancy wanting God to change, when their whole hope of survival
depended on His not doing so! Imagine them telling themselves that He is
not so particular as He used to be; that He has mellowed with time, and that
He is consequently a different God from the One who made Moses "exceedingly
fear and quake" (Hebrews 12:21). They would have done better to fear and quake
lest He did change.
He did not, and has not. This surely, is the message that comes through
in the well-known verse (Malachi 3:10) which promises that there may yet
be blessing: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse ..." The "all" speaks
of an unchanged demand, an immovable standard. A God who was prepared to
change His standards might change them again and again, and then where should
we be? How could anyone hope to find, much less to satisfy, a changing God?
A Thought for Today
Put like that, it all sounds obvious, does it not? How could anybody
make such a grave mistake? Well, the answer to that question is less obvious,
maybe, but equally simple: this is a mistake that many of the Lord's people
are making, this minute! The reason why they make it is, in most cases,
because they are confusing God's methods with God's character
. You hear them say things like, "I'm glad that we are dealing with a
New Testament God and not an Old Testament God", or, "I like to think of
God as loving not vengeful", or, "How could a God who sent the Lord Jesus
order the killing of nations, or, for that matter, allow deformed babies
to be born?" In particular, as we sense a certain growing maturity in the
minds of men -- that is, a change in ourselves -- we assume that God, too,
is changing, and becoming more reasonable in His demands!
We need in this case to distinguish very clearly between methods and
character. It is true that God's methods of dealing with men and women have
changed, each change marked by what the theologians term a new "dispensation."
That word, once a great source of debate and distress among believers, simply
means "a way of dealing with people: a basis of behaviour". We can apply it,
if we wish, to other areas of our life-experience. When we were young, for
example, most of us went through a period which could be called the dispensation
of the rod: for doing wrong, we got smacked. Later there was a dispensation
of penalties: too big for smacking, we were subject to stoppages of pocket-money
or privileges. One day, our parents recognised that we had grown too old
for such treatment: they said, "You are on your own; you must take responsibility
for your own actions," and we entered the dispensation of personal accountability.
The goal was the same in every dispensation, and there was no change in the
parent's character, whatever their method of dealing with the problem.
And so with our heavenly Father: His methods have been many and varied,
but woe betide us if we get the impression that, behind the changes in method,
there is a changing God! We are blessed because we live in a dispensation,
during which we enjoy both a power to enable us to meet His demands and a
means of atonement for our failures to do so. But above us, and around us,
and in us, is an unchanging God, and in that fact we rest secure.
PAUL'S LETTERS TO SEVEN CHURCHES
5. PHILIPPI Fellowship
AS Paul sat down to write this personal Letter to his dear Philippian
brothers and sisters, the underlying word in his mind was surely this sharing
The past was vividly remembered, as is evidenced by such phrases as,
"From the first day ..." and "He which began a good work in you" (1:5-6)
and "in the beginning of the gospel" (4:15). Happily we do not have to speculate
about those first days, for the whole beautiful story is told us in Acts 16.
First there was fellowship with Luke, "the beloved physician" who joined
the party at Troas. The apostolic band had been checked by the Holy Spirit
as they considered two possible directions for their onward movement, so
that they came to Troas in a tentative mood. It was there that Paul had a
night vision with the urgent call from a man of Macedonia. Some have suggested
that this was Luke who had begged Paul to consider such a movement and then
formed the subject of a God-given dream. Was it all sparked off by Luke's
pleadings? We do not know but we pass from conjecture to certainty when we
note that it was at this point that he began to share in the apostolic labours
for in his account there is a sudden and significant change from the use of
"they" to "we" (16:8 & 10). If the word "fellowship" really signifies
sharing, then certainly from now on Luke became a valued partner in Paul's
It is just possible that Paul had been checked by a lack of agreement
among his helpers. He may even not have been accustomed to consult them.
In any case, though, he now made no movement until he had consulted with
them all and on this occasion found them unanimous in their agreement. So
they moved forward in what proved indeed to be the guidance of God, and Luke
had his place as a partner of the apostle, though he never disclosed his
own identity. This was a fellowship expedition and it produced a fellowship
Nowadays churches or assemblies are often described as "Fellowships",
but strictly speaking this is not what the word indicates. The idea is not
so much a community as an activity -- a sharing together. In the early days
of the testimony at Honor Oak we tried to avoid the possible limitation of
a closed community by calling ourselves not a Fellowship but a "Fellowship
Centre". Our idea was to move away from any institutional idea to the simple
conception of people sharing the life of Christ in an unofficial way. We hoped
to have a central point where Christians could express oneness in Christ.
Perhaps we were unrealistic. Perhaps we deserved to be misunderstood. Yet
in these days the whole conception of fellowship is practised in a much freer
way than it was sixty years ago. I take due note of the fact, though, that
this Letter which majors on fellowship has the distinction of having been
addressed to "All the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the
elders and deacons". So I have learned that some form of identifiable order
was operative from the first.
They did not go to Philippi just to form a "Fellowship", but rather to
share the gospel with whoever would listen to them, and the church at Philippi
was brought into being by this means. Luke's description of the first convert
is striking and no doubt not so much a matter of theology as of the wonderful
miracle which he himself witnessed: "A certain woman named Lydia,
[89/90] ... whose heart the Lord opened ..." (Acts 16:14). I somehow
doubt whether she would later have enjoyed singing, "I have decided to follow
Jesus", though of course she did so decide and was duly baptised. I imagine
that, like many of us, she would have greatly preferred the hymn, "O Love
that will not let me go" since she, at least, could appreciate the checking
by the Spirit and the guidance from the dream which brought the gospel to
An opened heart meant an opened home and, although Paul was always reluctant
to impose on converts, she finally persuaded him and the others to accept
hospitality in her home, and it seemingly became a base for their gospel
It is not unreasonable to enquire why the gospel began with a woman when
in his dream Saul had seen a man asking for help. May I be permitted to conjecture
that perhaps the "man" he saw was that keeper of the prison who in an hour
of great peril betrayed his anxiety to know the Saviour: "What must I do
to be saved?" Is it possible that God's only way of reaching that troubled
man was to have His servants ill-treated and imprisoned? Would the Lord do
that sort of thing to ensure a man's salvation? Clearly He would, for He
sent His own Son to the cross with that in view. When the rest of the band
kept on praying until midnight in Lydia's home, did they perhaps think to
pray for the salvation of the jailor as well as the release of their friends?
Maybe not, but that was what happened.
Came the earthquake, the compassion of Paul for his captor, the appeal
for enlightenment, the preaching of the gospel, and lo! more needy ones
were brought into the fellowship of the Father and of His Son Jesus Christ.
There followed one of the most remarkable breakings of bread that even that
much travelled apostle had ever experienced. In the early hours of the morning
he had the joy of baptising the man and his believing family, and then sitting
down to a shared table: "He brought them into his house and set a table before
them, rejoicing greatly with all his house" (v.34). A eucharistic meal if
ever there was one. The translators have seen fit to render Luke's word
as "a meal" or "meat" but my R.V. margin reminds me, and Young's Concordance
confirms it, that what was actually written was that he set "a table" before
them. Perhaps there was no official "Fellowship" in the city yet, but in
those simple surroundings they had a gospel message, faith, baptism, and a
love feast, which is what fellowship is all about.
No wonder that the aged apostle remembered with such overflowing joy
those days of the beginning of the gospel in Philippi. Like all true fellowship,
it went on unhindered. It went on while Luke remained with them when the
others left and it was still going on when Paul received their love-gifts
in his Roman prison, though doubtless Luke was elsewhere -- unless, of course,
it was he whom Paul so graciously described as his "true yokefellow" (4:3).
Once, when I had preached in a certain place and was receiving a gift from
the church, the man concerned passed it on to me with the words, "May we have
fellowship with you, brother?" It has remained a memorable incident to me.
I notice in the case of the Philippians that their gifts were conveyed by
Epaphroditus, a man whom Paul described as "my brother and fellow-worker and
So I might go on, but my purpose is not to expound the Letter but simply
to stress the way in which fellowship seems to pervade every matter touched
on by the writer. How Paul loved them all, and how they loved him! How easy
it was with such a relationship to write freely of his deepest emotions and
desires. And often the apostle's words were directed to the great Day of
the perfection of our fellowship when Christ returns in glory.
When I had to choose a title for this magazine I finally decided on the
words "Toward The Mark" (3:14) because I felt that they helped to convey
a sense that those of us who contributed and those who read are all partners
together in the enterprise of progress towards the goal of likeness to Christ.
This is the atmosphere of this Epistle from which the words were chosen.
My beloved friend, Poul Madsen, already edited a Danish magazine called
Mod Molet which means just the same. I took the phrase from him as
well as from the apostle Paul because the idea behind the words is to avoid
any suggestion that we have arrived and are now [90/91]
proposing to help others on their way also to perfection. Rather I wanted
to underline that we -- like the apostle himself -- are seeking to practise
together that fellowship of the Spirit which urges us to press on together
in pursuit of our on-high calling.
Paul's apostolic teaching is all important and is fundamental, but his
apostolic example not less important. I imagine that while he wrote this
Letter he was not so much exercising what we would call a "ministry" as pursuing
and nourishing loving fellowship. He would thank God for those dear folk
whose fellowship had been so sweet and constant. He would pray that the Lord
would watch over that fellowship, guard it from all harm, and renew it daily
for His own satisfaction. Searching his heart for some suitable closing greeting,
he chose that rather special phrase "My God shall supply all your
needs ..." We are all in it together!
(To be concluded)
THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH
IN His last talk to His disciples, the Lord said, "I have yet many things
to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). We have to ask
ourselves if this is still true of us. He had previously told the Jews that
He had many things to speak and to judge concerning them (John 8:26), but
to His disciples He did not speak of judging but of revealing, yet He had
to say that He could not do that immediately. They would not be able to bear
We might have expected Him to say, "But you cannot understand
them now" but He who is the Truth knows that in our lives the question of
understanding is not the decisive problem, for our real difficulty is obeying.
The more He says to us, the greater is the test as to whether we will obey.
Often to obey is the same as to bear something -- to bear His reproach, His
cross, His name. They could not do that then, but the time would come when
they could and did!
The Lord went on to say that the Spirit of truth would guide them into
all the truth. Here again we might have expected Him to have said, "When
the Spirit of truth is come, He will teach you the truth", but it
is not enough to be taught about the truth. Step by step we must be guided
to Him who is the truth, and each step will involve obedience. Since He Himself
is the truth (14:6) and since God's Word is truth (17:17), what the Lord
was really saying was that the Spirit of truth would guide them into the full
knowledge of Him, His nature, His way and His work. Teaching can easily make
us puffed up, as knowledge puffs up. Guidance, however, makes us humble, the
more so since we can hardly avoid stumbling in the way and being exposed in
When the Lord Jesus walked down here, He directed His disciples' attention
away from Himself to the Father: "As the Father taught me, I speak these
things" (8:28), and "My teaching is not mine, but his that sent me" (7:16),
and again, "For I spoke not from myself; but the Father which sent me, he
has given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak" (12:49).
In a similar way "the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, shall not speak from
himself, but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak, and
he shall declare unto you the things that are to come" (16:13). Here, then,
we have a test as to whether it is the Holy Spirit who speaks -- or whether
it is a [91/92] person who presents himself in the
name of Jesus and is a preacher of His Word, yet speaks of himself
. The test is a very delicate one, but the sensitive conscience with a
sensitive ear can hear the difference. Moreover, the test does not only
apply as to how the person speaks, but also to what he speaks
about. The Lord said that the Spirit of truth would teach His disciples
"the things that are to come". What did He mean? Well, we find the answer
when we accompany Him into the Garden of Gethsemane, we find that when men
came with their lanterns and weapons, Jesus knew all the things that were
coming upon Him (18:4). This is first and foremost what the Spirit of truth
declares to us, namely, our Saviour's self-sacrifice in the death of the
cross, and all that was entailed, the disgrace that was for our sakes.
We accept that the Spirit of truth has never worked more powerfully than
through the apostle Paul. "I determined not to know anything among you, save
Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). The Spirit taught him
that the things that were to come actually came in those dreadful hours after
Jesus had spoken these words to His disciples. And they came never to come
again. The Holy Spirit lays great stress on the completed work of salvation.
Salvation is a finished work.
The Spirit of truth is not occupied with sensations but with the glad
tidings of Christ's sacrifice. The consequence of those things which came
upon Him have not yet been realised in their fullness. That is what we still
look forward to. "Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom
to God, even the Father, when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority
and power" (1 Corinthians 15:24). Since the Spirit of truth always concentrates
attention on our suffering and crucified Lord and Saviour, He always makes
known to us what has not yet come, but what will soon come as the fruit of
that finished work. Christ alone is the subject of the Spirit of truth, the
One who was and who is and who is coming. Christ as the alpha and the omega,
the beginning and the end.
The Lord told His disciples that the Spirit of truth would glorify Him
(John 16:14). Just as the Son glorified the Father, revealing by words and
deeds the holiness, the love and the truth of the Father, so does the Holy
Spirit glorify Jesus by revealing to us His nature, His love, His retreat
for nights of prayer, His simple yet deep talk and His purity. In this way
the Spirit guides us into all the truth, for the truth is indeed Jesus --
not always as we imagine Him but as He really is. His glory is greatest
on the cross. That was the time for Him to be "lifted up", but only the
Holy Spirit can show us that, for it contradicts all our ideas of exaltation
If the Spirit of truth is to make us true witnesses of the glory of Christ,
so that the Son is also glorified through us, then He must indeed guide us.
The way in which He will guide us is a matter of personal relationship with
the Lord Jesus, for it is He who is the way (14:6). The way is certainly
glorious, but glory may consist of misunderstanding, pain and loss. We are
reluctant to walk in that way, and we need much guidance and help to make
even a few steps of progress along that way, if we are truly to glorify the
Son as He glorified the Father.
In this connection the Lord Jesus said, "He shall glorify me; for he
shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you. All things whatsoever
the Father has are mine; therefore said I, that he takes of mine and shall
declare it unto you" (16:14-15). This means that there is no limit to the
Holy Spirit's possibilities to glorify the Lord, for He takes of what the
Son and the Father have, and that is inexhaustible. It seems that there
are unlimited possibilities for the Lord to be glorified in us, since the
Holy Spirit draws from divine sources which are inexhaustible, but we have
to ask ourselves why then do we glorify Him so little.
When the Lord Jesus reminds us that the Spirit will take of Him for us,
we realise that we, in contrast to the Spirit, can take nothing from ourselves;
it must be given us from above. If this relationship is changed, so that
a man forgets his complete helplessness and powerlessness and draws on his
own resources, then the Spirit of truth withdraws and the Lord is not glorified.
We might expect that the Lord Jesus would say, "He shall take of mine and
give it to you", but in fact what He says is that He will "declare it
..." for eternal riches are not given to us in the same way as earthly
and temporary blessings but must be received by those who have ears to hear
Him. Do we have such ears? [92/93]
THE SPIRIT OF WISDOM AND REVELATION
The Spirit of truth is also called the Spirit of wisdom and revelation
(Ephesians 1:17). Revelation, since truth has to be given us from above;
it comes from a world into which we cannot penetrate with our own thoughts
or wills. Our eyes must he opened to it. Similarly true wisdom must come
from above; it is beyond our reach, for man's wisdom is foolishness with
God. What is more, the truth lies beyond our reach, for by nature we are
children of lies without any possibility of discovering the truth for ourselves.
The apostle was telling the Ephesians that they should not take it for granted
that they knew or could learn to know Jesus by their own efforts as though
it were a matter of course. If they needed the Spirit of wisdom and revelation,
how much more do we.
Christ is the mystery of God (Colossians 2:2). No-one can penetrate this
mystery by his own reasonings. That great figure, John the Baptist, twice
affirmed, "I knew him not" and told the emissaries from the Pharisees "In
the midst of you stands one whom you know not" (John 1:31, 33 & 26).
It is inspiring to learn how the greatest men reached the border of despair
in their efforts to know Him. Think of the efforts of Martin Luther
to find peace with God until his eyes were opened to see Christ as the
mystery of God when the Spirit of wisdom and revelation took the veil from
Another great man, Karl Barth, has described his painful efforts
to know Christ. At that time he was a minister in Switzerland, deeply involved
in various Christian works. He tried to preach Christ but his words did not
penetrate because, as he confesses, "it had not penetrated to myself". In
desperation he concentrated on the Epistle to the Romans. The first thing
he learned was, in his own words, "All Christian movements cannot continue,
for it is as though they demand of God that He shall crown their work, which
they however have begun and continued in their own way. The fear of God is
no longer the beginning of our wisdom. We try all the time to snatch God's
approval as we pass by". He concludes thus: "Let everything that is ours
break down, so that once and for all the world can see that God's work really
It is as if we take it for granted that we know God very well, and that
we have nothing to learn about how He works, what way He chooses,
what methods He uses. Apparently we presume that if only we are eager,
then He must bless us; indeed that the more eager we are the more He will
bless our work. We need to take more time to consider how the Lord Jesus
served the Father when He walked on the earth, so that the Scripture may,
to use Karl Barth's words, penetrate to us. This is so different from
snatching God's approval as we pass by!
Just think of John's Gospel's revelation of Him! He is indeed
"from above", but we are not. As we meditate on this Gospel we realise that
there is no particular in which the life of Jesus agrees exactly with our
ideas. He never spoke of Himself, but only what the Father commanded Him
to say, and for this reason He did not manage His own time. His whole life
and work contradict our ideas of effectiveness. His deepest secret was His
unbroken unity with the Father. Did He accomplish anything by realising
and preserving this unity? Yes indeed, for only in that way could He fulfil
the work of salvation.
Men would shake their heads, a few in despair and the majority with a
shrug of the shoulders, all agreeing that He was a failure, though in fact
that was the time He could claim that His work was successfully completed.
Self-sacrifice in love to the Father is the divine way of fulfilment; it
may seem to lead to loss after loss, but it is the effective means by which
the corn of wheat is sown in the ground and brings forth much fruit.
Even Paul, who knew Christ as few have learned to know Him, continually
longed to know Him better (Philippians 3:7-14). And his co-worker, Epaphras,
can help us in this matter of spiritual knowledge, since just as Paul prayed
for the saints, so did he. His request was that we "may stand perfect and
complete in all the will of God" (Colossians 4:12). They prayed for
[93/94] the same thing, Paul in more general terms as to revelation
and Epaphras in a more particular way which makes the matter clearer to us.
If the prayer of Epaphras is heard then we will be delivered from snatching
God's approval as we pass by as though anything would do. We will realise
that God is holy and that we need enlightenment thoroughly to investigate
His will at every point. Then the fear of God will deliver us from our own
wisdom, opinions and ideas which bring loss and ineffectiveness.
Perhaps we have all experienced having our names associated with what
did not correspond to our own wishes. When this has happened to me, I have
been reminded of how often we associate God's name with what is not really
in line with His wishes. Alas, at times we act impulsively and expect Him
to lend His name as a matter of course, being impudent to a degree without
realising it. To know His name, His character, His way of working will make
us sense deeply within us what really corresponds to His will.
I repeat that if the Ephesians, who had the apostle among them for so
long, needed the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in their knowledge of Christ,
how much more do we! Yet we thank the Lord that He has not turned His back
on us in spite of our foolish ignorance, and is so ready to give us new grace
as we pay attention to His Spirit's guidance.
GOD'S KEY MAN (2)
"There is a man in your kingdom" Daniel 5:11
THE previous article dealt with the first four chapters of Daniel, describing
events which took place during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the great Chaldean
king. The rest of Daniel's prophecies tell of his experiences in the reigns
of his successors. The chapters are not given in any chronological order
and, since Chapter 5 marks the end of Belshazzar and Chapters 7 and 8, describe
what happened before then, it is clear that we must consider these two chapters
No doubt at the end of Chapter 4 Daniel was on a "high" of spiritual
expectation. Things looked good, not only for him but for God's people as
a whole and for their pending release from captivity. We know that behind
Daniel's acceptance and execution of his post of honour at the court lay
his supreme concern that the captives should be sent back to rebuild Jerusalem.
How greatly, then, must he have welcomed Nebuchadnezzar's conversion and
goodwill, imagining that this boded hope for the future.
But now, Nebuchadnezzar had died. We are not told of this, but we observe
its effects in the loss of status for Daniel who clearly was seconded to
some insignificant post in the palace, to find himself ignored and far from
the corridors of power. A little hint of this can be found in that with Nebuchadnezzar
it was stated that Daniel came in to his presence (4:8), whereas he
only saw the new ruler Belshazzar at the end of his reign and then it is
said that "he was brought before the king " (5:13). The chief trouble,
however, was that this later ruler was a dissolute blasphemer from whom nothing
good could be expected. What about Jerusalem and God's people now?
This may well have been an all-time "low" for Daniel. Life is like that.
Prayer is answered, things seem to be developing in marvellous ways and we
are full of expectations. Then the whole scene changes. Perhaps it was at
such a time of question and dismay that Daniel was given some visions to
steady him and inspire him to go on.
Chapters 7 & 8
Our studies are concerned with Daniel as God's key man and not with the
elucidation or explanation of the many predictions found in his book. I therefore
propose at this point not to attempt identifications but just to mention
a few of the lessons given to him, lessons which are also important for us
in a way that mere predictions of future events would not necessarily be.
1. Daniel was told not to be so obsessed with personal problems as to
lose sight of larger issues. His concern was about Jerusalem, and rightly
so; just as our main concern may well be our own sphere of witness. He had
taken up the spiritual problems of God's city in succession to Jeremiah and
Ezekiel who had spoken much about its needs and its future and prayed earnestly
in this connection. His was a heavy burden, calculated to overwhelm him by
its very magnitude.
It seems that the Lord planned to give him some relief from his own immediate
and local problems by occupying his thoughts with the larger issues of His
eternal purpose. In the arrangement of this book we find that Chapter 6 and
Chapter 9 are concentrated on Jerusalem, but here in between them we have
two chapters in which the city is not mentioned. It can sometimes be a help
to us to turn for a moment from our own immediate problems and concerns and
be led out by God's Word into the larger spiritual issues of His purposes,
not to divert us from our personal responsibilities but to give them a wider
In Chapter 7 Daniel was confronted with the vast subject of the two kingdoms,
that of the world and that of Christ. Set over against the dream of Chapter
2, when he interpreted the kingdom of this world as an imposing and shining
image, he now sees that while it may look like that to men, in God's eyes
they are seen as ferocious beasts. I fear that a majority of the captives
only saw the glittering aspect of Babylon. When eventually the decree of
release was given, a majority of the Jews were so prosperous under the gold
and silver of this world's kingdom that they did not want to leave it, being
content to let only a remnant return to the city of David. This, in principle,
is all too often the attitude of God's people in our own days. It is not always
easy to turn one's back on personal comforts and venture all for God but
that was what the remnant that returned were ready to do. It may be that through
Daniel's ministry they were delivered from being deceived by the flashing
metals of this world's kingdom and, being able to see with God's eyes, they
were enabled to comprehend something of the ugliness and futility of it all.
For the moment Daniel was able to look beyond the immediate problems
which concerned the cities of Babylon and Jerusalem, and to see them in
the much larger setting of the age-long conflict between the two kingdoms.
For us the New Testament concentrates all the time on our need to see our
own personal problems in their relationship with the vast implications of
God's eternal purpose in Christ.
2. Daniel was not permitted to get mentally involved with world events
until he had received a fresh and bigger vision of God's King (7:15-28).
We must continually turn our eyes upon Jesus before we begin to look around
at this ugly world. Daniel had been given a quick sight of the unfolding
world empires, and seems to have been especially intrigued by the fourth
beast, but as he looked on he saw all those thrones cast down (7:9). In a
dark and unpromising situation, the Lord drew his attention to the glorious
ultimate of it all, as though saying, "First take a good look at My chosen
King and My purposes in and through Him, and after that it will be all right
for you to get involved in merely human history". There is no need here for
an exposition of the vision of the Ancient of Days and of His entrusting
of His eternal and universal Kingdom to the Son of Man. The New Testament
enlarges on this eternal purpose and it is vividly illustrated in the book
of the Revelation. [95/96]
Daniel 7 is an important chapter. Evidently the Lord Jesus paid great
attention to it, as is evidenced by the way in which He quoted it to the
high priest at a most critical moment: "The high priest said to him, I charge
you under oath by the living God. Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son
of God. Yes, it is as you say, Jesus replied, But I say unto all of you that
in future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the mighty
one and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:63-4). What is more,
most commentators conclude that it was from this very Scripture in Daniel
that Jesus chose His unique title, the Son of Man, which was never used by
His disciples, with the exception of Stephen who was being given a glimpse
of Christ's Second Coming. Clearly we are meant to live and die in the light
of Christ's Day of glory.
3. Daniel was informed that although God's saints must suffer, their
trials are preparing them to share in the kingdom of Christ: "the time came
that the saints possessed the kingdom" (7:22).
Daniel doubtless saw a great deal of violence when Jerusalem was attacked
and his people taken into captivity, but the references here to the crushing
and wearing out of the saints (7:21 & 25) do not apply to those incredible
cruelties which the nation suffered then and has suffered throughout the
ages, though these horrors and injustices are a solemn and grim reminder of
the inevitable fulfilment of God's Word: "Just as it is written in the law
of Moses all this disaster has come upon us" (9:13). Happily in that case
Daniel could argue that "To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses
..." (9:9), so that there was hope for Israel then as there still is now.
In this case, however, Daniel was being told of the ongoing experiences
of God's true people through the years and especially in the last days. His
larger vision extended right through to the end of the age and to that great
climax when these same persecuted saints will possess the kingdom. Entry
into the full values of God's kingdom inevitably involves many hardships as
Paul told the early believers (Acts 14:22). The spiritual implication of
Daniel's vision is ratified by the New Testament; we are told that "if we
suffer with Christ, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12).
The horrors were so real to Daniel that they left him sick and exhausted
(8:27), but he had already been told that God has a purpose in it all. The
light shines through the dark patches of these two chapters and it shines
right through the darkness of the world in which we live. Suffering for Christ
is not purposeless; it is already foreseen by our God and calculated to
prepare us for a great destiny, even the sharing with our Lord of His eternal
kingdom. This is very far from that rather cheap triumphalism which promises
believers unending ease and prosperity if only they have the right kind
of faith. To Daniel some of the issues were "beyond understanding" (8:27),
as indeed they are to us, but the cheering truth is that we will share Christ's
ultimate triumph and that then God's strange ways with us will all be vindicated.
After the first visions Daniel kept the matter in his heart (7:28) for two
full years, and then came further visions concerning the mounting tide of
evil until the matter is settled by this kingdom being broken "without hand"
Chapter 8 is largely occupied with a detailed account of how evil will
come to its climax "at the appointed time of the end" (v.19) and belongs
to a distant future time (v.26), but it was all so real to the prophet that
it made him quite ill. We can never take Satan's kingdom lightly, even though
we be sure of the final outcome. One imagines that he rose from his sick
bed to take up again his job in court affairs because he had no option, but
in any case the servant of the Lord can never be a mere visionary but show
his faith in God by a practical application to daily duties. Some of the Thessalonian
believers were so carried away by the hope of the Second Coming that they
failed in this very matter, so Paul had to command them to devote themselves
to honest work even while they looked for the Saviour (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
In Daniel's case something sensational was about to happen and that very
soon. This is what we will see as we turn back to Belshazzar's end.
The Lord's arm is not shortened. At His own right moment He was well
able to deal with this matter of Daniel's seeming eclipse. In fact it did
not need His arm, nor even His whole hand to transform Daniel's situation.
It was all done by a few fingers: "in the same hour came forth the fingers
of a man's hand, and wrote words over against the candlestick upon the plaster
of the wall of the king's palace" (v.5).
Those fingers did all that was necessary to rid the empire of a troublesome
ruler and to restore Daniel to a new place of authority in the land. The
actual battle which virtually brought the Chaldean regime to an end was already
fought and lost, but in His own wonderful way the Most High let this dissolute
deputy-ruler go on just long enough to ensure that when his end came the Lord's
appointed key man was placed securely where God needed him. The whole occasion
was governed by those few fingers. They turned a conceited braggart into
a cringing coward, frightened out of his life by this evidence of another
world, and at the same time rescued Daniel from his obscurity and restored
him to his place of influence.
I have already described what had happened to Daniel as a case of his
being seconded, but it is probably more exact to say that he had been demoted
and forgotten. It took the old dowager queen to remind Belshazzar of his
existence: "There is a man in your kingdom ... in the days of your father
light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found
in him ... king Nebuchadnezzar made him master of the magicians ... Now let
Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation" (vv.11-13).
The story of the writing on the wall is a familiar one and the phrase
a matter of common usage. It came at a time when evil was on the throne and
the sacred vessels of the temple were being debased to the vilest uses. Its
cryptic form served not only to frighten Belshazzar but to make it necessary
for the reinstatement of Daniel who alone could give the interpretation.
Just the sight of those writing fingers had completely unnerved the king,
who was now ready to offer everything in his power to know what it all meant.
He called aloud for help and offered unlimited promotion to any who could
help him but there was an impasse until the unknown Jew was brought in. "Are
you Daniel?", Belshazzar asked, since this was the first that he had heard
of him, but he listened to what the prophet had to say and, rather strangely,
was ready to substantiate his offer of promotion to third rulership in the
kingdom, he himself being only a deputy.
It was his last action. There was a dramatic reversal of affairs, and
it happened "that very night" (v.30). So often God tests our patience and
makes us wait as He did in Daniel's case, but when His moment comes it can
all happen at once. The blaspheming monarch was slain -- apparently the only
casualty in an otherwise bloodless coup -- and the prominent person confronting
the invading general was Daniel, the new deputy, who was clothed with purple
and had a golden chain of office about his neck. Once again the Most High
had intervened in this world's affairs to keep His key man in position.
One imagines that the military commander looked around for a suitable
civil administrator to take care of the immediate situation and found to
hand the officially arrayed ruler who had the advantage in his eyes of not
being a Chaldean and perhaps the only one who was sober. In any case, he
appears to have ordered Daniel to carry on. Such are the wonderful ways of
our living God! What is more, we may be sure that one of the first orders
given by this newly appointed official, Daniel, was that those defiled vessels
of the temple should be recovered, cleansed and restored to the king's treasury.
In this connection he was indeed God's key man. When the time came for the
captives to return, Cyrus was reminded that they were there and himself gave
orders for them to be returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 5:14-15).
Daniel had not grasped at the idea of promotion in the kingdom of Babylon.
In fact he disclaimed the rewards which Belshazzar offered him and made it
plain that he would faithfully interpret the mystic words on the wall without
any personal demands (v.17). There seems to be almost a principle in this
connection; when we pray selfish prayers for our own advancement we are
likely to be disappointed, but when we seek to be true to God just where
we are, we find that God opens new doors of opportunity in His service. At
least that has been my experience. [97/98]
This chapter apparently follows on after Chapter 5. The prayer here recorded
was made in the first year of the reign of king Darius, whereas Chapter 6
describes Daniel as now a trusted and greatly appreciated confidant of the
King. Such a relationship takes time. I therefore presume that here we are
told of that earnest prayer vigil now maintained by Daniel which is later
challenged according to the account in Chapter 6. The prophet was not so
busy doing the kings business that he neglected God's Word. Far from it!
This is an autobiographical section of his book and it begins with his account
of illumination from the study of Scripture. The main theme of the book
is emphasised as we find God's key man fully extended in intercessory prayer.
However much God may or may not need His servants to work for Him in other
ways, it is certain that He calls for the co-operation of prayer. He Himself
has chosen to use His people's prayers as a basis for His working.
Some might argue that there was no need for Daniel to get himself worked
up in such a way about Jerusalem since he knew very well from his Bible that
seventy years was the period determined by God and from his calendar that
those seventy years were almost completed. This may sound logical but it
is not spiritual. Indeed it is the revelation of God's will in His Word which
forms the basis of true prayer. We cannot pray without the Word, but a sincere
understanding of the Word will do for us what it did for Daniel who reports:
"So I set my face unto the Lord God to seek by prayer and supplications..."
(v.3). The man of God is not a fatalist, waiting for the inevitable and ready
to dogmatise about it. He is a worker together with God, and his main task
is prayer: "You that are the Lord's remembrancers, take no rest, and give
him no rest till he establish, till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth"
When others spoke about God in the rest of the book, they used a variety
of titles for Him. They did not and could not know His personal name. In
those circumstances Daniel used the same titles, but in the hidden place of
prayer he addressed himself directly to God by using the special, personal
name of Yahweh or Jehovah. And he used it seven times! In our Bibles this
is rendered in capital letters, LORD. For Daniel it kept in view the covenant
faithfulness of the One to whom he was praying.
This put him on to sure ground, but it did not admit of any superficial
attitude. Far from it. In fact the first part of the prayer was devoted to
sincere contrition. Happily with all his confessions he was able also to
appeal to the Lord's reputation for great mercies, and also to argue that
his request was not merely personal but associated with that reputation: "O
Lord hear; O Lord forgive; O Lord hearken and do; defer not, for thine
own sake ..." (v.19).
God loves to hear our confessions and our praises but He really does
want to know what it is that we request. Daniel left Him in no doubt about
that. He wanted Jerusalem to be rebuilt. It is a sad feature of our praying
that we tend to begin intercessions for others only to turn to subjective
prayers about our own spiritual state. I have known many a prayer meeting
to be diverted in this way. It may seem spiritual, but it often means that
we have been deflected from the objective purpose of our prayers.
Daniel, however, was a man who had his windows opened towards Jerusalem.
The actual location was a very long distance away and was in any case a mass
of ruins. Maybe Daniel recollected Solomon's great prayer which foresaw a
captive people turning to the Lord in penitence and looking again to God's
chosen city (2 Chronicles 6:38). If so, though he might be standing alone,
he at least was seeking God's glory there with all his heart and soul from
the land of his captivity. Perhaps his prayer represented a priestly function
on behalf of others with a like concern. Or perhaps he was alone in his praying.
It did not matter. He pressed home his appeal to the Lord to cause His face
to shine in mercy upon the desolate sanctuary.
And his prayer was accepted. What is more, it was accepted at the time
of the evening oblation. All our prayers have a direct connection with Calvary.
He was told that Jerusalem would be rebuilt though it would be in troubled
times -- a prediction which Ezra and Nehemiah found to be true enough. This
categorical assurance came, however, almost like an aside in its much larger
setting of the "seventy sevens" (v.24). His own request had not been overlooked
-- far from it -- and he could be sure that there would be a decree to restore
and [98/99] rebuild Jerusalem. But God had bigger
issues. He always has.
Daniel's prayer spanned the centuries. It embraced the coming and sacrificial
"cutting off" of the Christ and the bringing in of everlasting righteousness
by His resurrection. It went beyond that and reminded the prophet of that
earlier reference to the vision of "the time of the end" (8:17) when all
vision and prophecy would be sealed up at the Coming in glory of God's most
holy Son (9:24). How much or how little Daniel understood of events far off
in the future we do not know. We are by no means clear ourselves about some
things. For instance, the abomination of desolations mentioned here (v.27)
and also foretold in 11:31 & 12:11, is identified as various events by
different commentators and yet it was indicated by the Lord Jesus to be associated
with His Second Coming (Matthew 24:15). The great thing about this chapter
is that it shows us the divine ambassador faithfully doing his work on behalf
of the heavenly kingdom. His prayer marked a turning point in history. It
was a link in the golden chain of prayer, received from the earlier prophets
and passes on to Ezra and Nehemiah. (It is interesting that in their case,
as with Daniel, the prayer is recorded in the ninth chapter of their books!)
This brings us to Chapter 6 which clearly comes after Chapter 9, since
by now Daniel was obviously a favourite of Darius and now marked out by
him to be the future administrator of the whole realm (v.3). It gives us
the story of a diabolical attempt to stop the prayer or destroy the intercessor.
His earthly status provoked human opposition by jealous colleagues, whereas
his spiritual activities aroused the antagonism of the satanic kingdom, shaken
by the powerful praying of God's man. Between them they hatched a plot which
put Daniel in a similar quandary to that which had earlier been engineered
against his three friends. Like them, he found that there was no need to
compromise for the Lord really is the Most High.
As a true prayer warrior, Daniel had put on the whole armour of God.
He was girded with truth and in every phase of his daily life he wore the
breast plate of righteousness, so that his enemies had to confess that it
was not possible to bring a charge against him. He also had his feet shod
with the preparation of the gospel of peace as he walked home to his prayer
It is clear that we have passed from the golden feature of the image
to the inferior silver of a new empire. No-one would have dared even to
suggest to Nebuchadnezzar that he must be bound by his own decrees. Poor
Darius, however, once he had been tricked into signing his order against
prayer, was reminded that even he could not countermand it: "The thing is
true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot he repealed"
(v.12). So the uncompromising Daniel had to face the den of lions.
There is something dignified and even contemptuous about his reaction
to the threat: "When Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he
went home to his upstairs room where the windows were opened towards Jerusalem.
Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed giving thanks to his
God as he had done before" (v.10). He could, of course, have ordered
the windows to be closed, for he was master in his own house. That, however,
would have represented defeat. He could have given up praying just for the
time, since the edict only specified thirty days. I suggest that anyone
who gives up praying for a month will find it hard, if not impossible, to
recover his spiritual standing. Our Bible tells us that "Yet shall the righteous
hold on his way" (Job 17:9). That was Daniel's Bible too, and he did just
And even while he prayed he gave thanks. Poor Darius did not know
Yahweh so he spent a miserable day and an even worse night At first
light he hurried to the pit and enquired after Daniel with "a lamentable
voice" (v.20). It is reasonable to presume that such worries did not rob
Daniel of sleep. He could not himself get out of the den but he could stay
there with God's angel. What a difference it makes to know Yahweh, to know
Jesus, especially in the lions' den!
It seems likely that this experience confirmed Daniel in his standing
at the court, though this is not mentioned. However the chapter does conclude
with the comment that he prospered on into the reign of Cyrus the Persian,
confirming my view that Daniel's counsels as well as his prayers played a
part in the release of the captives. This had been determined by God from
the beginning (1:21). [99/100]
There are many lessons to be learned from this familiar story of the
prophet in the lions' den, a matter which is referred to in Hebrews 11,
but without mention of the name Daniel. To me a most heartening fact is
that God did not allow even one prayer session to be missed. Since Darius
postponed his decision till after sundown, we may presume that Daniel had
already offered his third prayer for that day before he was arrested and
put in the den. Moreover since it was at the first light of dawn that Darius
came and ordered him to be freed to go home we cannot be far wrong if we
conclude that his first action was to kneel again before those open windows
for the first thanksgiving and prayer session of the new day. It had been
a double miracle; not only was he safe -- an astounding wonder -- but also
the prayer ministry had not been hindered. This is an example of the sovereign
power of the living God -- Daniel's and ours -- who first provided Himself
with a prayer instrument and then proceeded to answer the prayers which had
From now on the scene was set for the fulfilment of Daniel's great objective.
Chapters 7, 8 and 9, had already passed and between Chapter 6 and Chapter
10, Cyrus the Persian had come to the throne and issued his edict for the
release of those who should return to re-build the temple in Jerusalem. Before
the coming of Cyrus Daniel had been delivered and advanced in the kingdom.
Once again the threat of destruction was made the occasion of promotion.
We might have thought that Daniel's story would have ended there but no, there
are still three more chapters.
(To be concluded)
SPIRITUALITY IN THE MIDST OF AN EVIL SOCIETY
(As I was finishing this article a letter arrived from Australia with
the following notes. It came from Raymond who has been a beloved and close
colleague for oven over fifty years.)
The first six chapters of Daniel illustrate very beautifully the words
of Paul about being "blameless and harmless, the sons of God ... in the
midst of a crooked and perverse generation" (Philippians 2:15). Daniel and
his companions certainly shone as lights in the world when set in the midst
of a devil-controlled Babylon, and as such, they teach us many important
principles relative to such witness for us in the world of our day.
Many such principles could be cited, but the outstanding one is that
this witness was being given by those whom we might call "resurrection"
men. To use the words of Paul, they were continually "delivered unto death"
yet always manifesting another life (See 2 Corinthians 4:11). There was
the fiery furnace and the den of lions and other experiences which were
virtual "deaths" in themselves, yet which led on to experiences of "resurrection."
At the very beginning they positively flourished when under threat in the
king's palace, and indeed their very survival from the destroyed Jerusalem
made them like "resurrection" men.
This, we suggest, is the basic and all-pervading principle. If we, in
our day, are to be part of God's light in this world's darkness and to be
His Testimony while surrounded by the decadence of today's Babylon, we have
to be men of the cross -- His cross -- and thereby men of resurrection life.
Put very simply it is a matter of:
"Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine:
Living with Jesus a new life divine."
From our early days we were taught that the one word which characterises
the true Church is the word "Resurrection", and this is true. It applies
to assemblies as well as to individuals, for it is thus that the Lord secures
His Light in the world's darkness.
It is most encouraging that in Babylon God had this witness in the lives
of young men -- perhaps little more than teenagers. O, for such a fresh witness
in our times! How we need young Joshuas, who can complete the work of Moses,
and young Timothys who can re-echo in the Spirit, the messages of Paul.
The history of Daniel and his companions teaches us that our God, the Most
High, is able to do just this. Let us pray on! [100/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (17)
HABAKKUK'S third chapter is really a psalm as is evidenced by the musical
instructions at its beginning and end and the threefold use of the word "Selah".
THE singer lived in an in-between period which he calls "the midst of
the years". The tradition which lay behind him was the original exodus and
this is described in poetic terms of eloquence which seem deeply to have
affected the prophet and taken his breath away (v.16). "God came" (v.3) sums
up the amazing events or Israel's beginnings. In a poetic way this can also
be applied to the tremendous Pentecostal events which marked the beginning
of the Church.
I understand that Habakkuk's words can equally be attributed to the future
and to the overwhelming events of a new divine intervention in the world's
affairs. Habakkuk was a prophet who was advised that there would be a no
less glorious "coming". He was told that in the Lord was in the place of supreme
exaltation: "The Lord is in his holy temple" (2:20) and the moment can confidently
be expected when He will rise up in judgment and salvation: "The vision ...
hasteneth toward the end ... though it tarry, wait for it; because it will
surely come, it will not delay" (2:3).
THE New Testament takes up this prediction and applies it to the Second
Coming of Christ: "Yet a very little while, He that cometh will come and
will not tarry" (Hebrews 10:37). This will be the apotheosis of the Church's
history, the time when God will indeed revive His work.
MEANWHILE Habakkuk was in a waiting time, "in the midst of the years"
and he was told that he must wait and live by faith (2:4). This is the phrase,
"The just shall live by faith" which is thrice repeated in the New Testament.
WHAT was the response of Habakkuk? In this time of testing how would
he proceed? The answer is given as the main theme of this psalm of his.
It is that far from being depressed and overwhelmed at the present hiatus,
he found himself with spiritual agility, able to rise to new heights and
to move freely in this area of ascendancy. As he praised the Lord he found
that his feet were like hinds' feet enabling him to tread happily in high
HE tells us how it is that he can live so constantly on a higher plane,
in spite of those dark circumstances all round him. It is described in this
well-known assertion that he would not be moved from a life of praising and
rejoicing whatever happened: "Though the fig tree shall not blossom, neither
shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the
fields shall yield no meat: the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and
there shall be no herd in the stall: yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will
joy in the God of my salvation."
IT will never be quite as bad as the picture I painted here. But even
if it were, the most depressed and deprived believer can take heart from
Habakkuk's example and prove its validity. "God is for us! Who can be against
us? In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved
us." I had a godly friend who used to say that rejoicing is not something
that happens to you, but something you do! "Rejoice in the Lord always."
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
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