The God of Bethel

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - The Law of the House

In the opening of this consideration of the great revelation in the Scriptures of the House of God we noted the fact that God, in His creation of the world, had in view His dwelling with man. The end of the revelation sees that realised when the great declaration is made, "The Tabernacle of God is with men." At the beginning there was something which pointed to this in that He walked in the Garden and conversed with unfallen man. Then things became unsuited to His presence, for His rights had been challenged and man was found on the side of the challenge rather than on that of the Challenged: and more, man was - and has for ever since been by nature - on the side of the challenger. This fact comes out invariably when faith in God is subjected to certain tests.

From the time when He could no longer move freely in a state suited to Him, the Lord sought to have a place among men, and thus He never abandoned His original purpose, but persistently broke in and sought to have His rights recognised. Men of faith who had taken up the testimony to the utter rights in Lordship of God have always had to meet the full impact of a spiritual hierarchy which is set on keeping God out of the world. "The whole world lieth in the wicked one," hence, that which is God's house must be utterly separated from the world: though linked with it in testimony, yet not one wit of it. This leads us to the first and pre-eminent feature of God's House: remembering that believers individually and corporately are His house, His dwelling (this we shall consider more fully later.)

We proceed then to consider what, in Ezekiel, is called

"The Law of the House."

"This is the law of the house: upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy. Behold this is the law of the house." Ezek. 43:12.

This principle of suitability to the presence of the Lord runs throughout the revelation of all His associations with man. Holiness has often been taught as a branch of truth in itself, but every great aspect of truth in the Word of God is related to a centre, and that Centre is the Lord Himself. To have the adequate motive for any one requirement it must be seen in its setting with its great eternal and universal background. It is perilous to concentrate upon a fragment or a phase and give it a place in itself, and it robs it of its own dynamic to do so. So holiness must be seen - like all other Divine elements - in connection with the one great all-inclusive purpose of God, and the "House of God" is intended to be a cumulative, concrete, crystalisation of all the Divine features as capable of impartation to man. (This does not include Deity.)

Thus the matter of holiness applies to the whole desire and intention of God to make His dwelling with man, and carries with it the fitness for that abiding.

Seeing - as we have previously pointed out - that the House of God first definitely comes in with Jacob at Bethel, we go back in that connection to take up this "law of the House." From the time of his meeting with God first at "Bethel" till the time when he was Divinely commanded to "arise and go to Bethel" (Gen. 35:1) twenty years elapsed. What a twenty years it was! suffering, testing, being sinned against, sifting, and proving God. He had had plenty of time for thinking over the events and elements of that historic night, and of coming to some fuller understanding of its meaning and implications. So it was that when - after twenty years - the command came he instantly gave to his household some significant instructions. "Put away the foreign gods from among you." "Bethel," the house of God, is no place for other gods, that which suggests the false god, "the god of this age," or divided worship. That is unholiness and is utterly unfitting for the presence of the Lord. Not only is this so in the case of worship, but it is also true in the matter of the whole resource of the flesh. Before the Lord commanded Jacob to go up to Bethel there had taken place that terrific episode at Jabbok where the sinew of his thigh - the symbol of his self-strength - had been withered. To the end of his life he carried that weakness, and when at length, an old man, he blessed his sons, he did so in faith, "leaning upon the top of his staff." What a reminder that faith in self has to be broken and faith in God is our only strength. Yes, from that time onward this great fact is always kept in view, that the flesh is altogether out of keeping with the House of God. 

God never has committed Himself to man's "flesh," and He never will do so.   If Paul brings in the House of God more fully than any other, then he will have more than any other to say about the "flesh" and the need for its putting away. Note this in connection with every reintroduction of the House of God. What elaborate precautions  were taken in connection with the Tabernacle that all who were associated with it should have their flesh covered.  Linen robes long enough to cover the ankles. Linen, without an admixture of wool lest perspiration of flesh  should be induced. The holy anointing oil was not to come upon man's flesh apart from the blood. There were to be no steps to the altar lest lower extremities should be uncovered in going up. The physical flesh of the Old Testament was but a type of that moral "flesh" of the New. It would seem that the one great concern in all this exhaustive system was to guard against man's natural life as such coming uncovered before God.

Then when the Temple comes in through David the same law is immediately met with. David must not build the House of God because of his hands being stained with blood. This was true in a general way, but there was also that specific thing which had made him unclean and had weakened him for good. He had been the cause of death and plague in a realm which was not just straightforward warfare, but where Satan had had a hand, and where the "flesh" had governed. So, while the plan could be given to David, the execution was committed to Solomon. Then again there is the elaborate care that everything shall be suitable to God.

There are few more impressive things in the Bible than the three great Confession chapters of Daniel (9), Ezra (9). Nehemiah (9). Those all are related to the house of God at Jerusalem and the unhappy state of things amongst the Lord's people. They represent one great cry and sob because of conditions which are entirely out of harmony with the glory of God. What were all the splendours and glories of Babylon to Daniel when the House of his God at Jerusalem was in ruins. To him there was only one thing that mattered and it was the glory of God. That glory was beclouded while things were as they were there. That state of things, that departure of God from His house was - as the confession makes clear - due to "flesh" being in evidence in the Holy Place and in the holy things.

Ezra's prayer is a terrible thing, it moved all who heard it to action, and action of the most drastic and costly character. The holy seed had become mingled with what was foreign. Foreign wives had been taken and there were families. Speaking in spiritual symbolism this represented the affections being set on things beneath, and the results. It speaks of affectional principles influencing the Lord's people earthward, and then the responsibilities which follow. How difficult it is to get rid of these! How costly this is in the matter of the Lord's presence and glory.

Carrying all this forward into the New Testament we see, firstly, how the Temple is set aside because of inward uncleanness. The Lord Jesus takes its place as the true Temple, but for those who do not as yet recognise the significance of His Person He is saying and doing those things which - being placed on record - will forever reveal His mind as to what is related to the House of God. Vehement denunciations of all that is not holy to the very core, and burning acts of indignation against any caricaturing of the Divine dwelling. A passion for holiness and truth marked His attitude to all who had any official connection with the Temple. Going on still further we see that before the "Body" which is the Church, can be brought in in Romans 12, all that work of chapter 6 has to be settled and a chapter 8 position has to be occupied, leading on to 12:1, "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, which is your spiritual worship: and be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind."

The same is true in both Ephesians and Colossians, where death, burial and resurrection unto newness of life are placed before going into the "House" or "Body" or "Church."

All this is one great prolonged emphasis upon the words of the Psalm, "Holiness becometh Thy House, O Lord, for ever."

Again let us say that Holiness is not a department of truth, a line of teaching, but it embraces the whole house of God from centre to circumference, from foundation to top-stone, and all that is in it.

Men organise movements and constitute societies. God sanctifies people as the instruments of His purpose.    Men think more of the work to be done. God thinks most of the spiritual state of His children.

Of the twenty-seven books comprising the New Testament, six are largely history with much spiritual teaching in them, and all the rest - twenty-one books - are devoted to the spiritual life and state of believers.

God never guarantees to keep work or workers going beyond the spiritual condition or standard that He requires. There comes a point where men have to assume the responsibility and take the strain, and the Lord lets it fall on them if the spiritual standard is lowered.

Bigness and what man calls success is not the determining feature of spiritual value, but spiritual suitability to God. What determines things according to God is whether they proclaim Him at every point.

The last verdict of man passed upon Christ here on earth was, "truly this was a righteous man." Not "a successful man" or "an able man" or "a clever man," but "a righteous man." Our chief concern must be, not for what others will call successful, but for what God can establish forever: what can be made to really serve His end - i.e., the manifestation of Christ, and such must be above all else marked by holiness.

The one thing upon which the Lord Jesus could challenge men as to Himself was the question of sin.

He did not say, "Which of you can charge me with being unlearned, or without ability, or prestige?" but, "which of you chargeth me with sin?"

Nothing is of value in God's eyes beyond the degree of its holiness. The instruments which have been mostly used of God have been those which had a spiritual state mostly in view. With these the spiritual state of the Lord's people was of infinitely greater influence than the success of the enterprise embarked upon.

Many great instrumentalities have sprung out of ministries concerned with full sanctification. If Jacob is to be God's "Prince," which means to have power with God and man, and this is to be related to Bethel, The House of God, then, if it takes twenty years to do it, God will discipline and chasten and smite the flesh in order to make him a suitable head of the House of Israel - which was God's dwelling.

It is important and helpful to note that often the Lord gives some revelation of truth far ahead of it becoming effectual, and then begins a history of dealings with us to bring us into conformity - spiritually - with that truth. So it was with Jacob. When the time arrives then we know quite well why He has so led us and dealt with us, and are able to enter into it in a living way, rather than just a mental way.

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