The God of Bethel

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - A Heavenly Revelation

In our contemplation of the great eternal purpose of God to dwell with men, we have utterly been taking account of what is called in the prophecy of Ezekiel "The Law of the House," or what the Psalmist refers to when he says, "Holiness becometh thy house, O Lord, for ever."   We have seen the introduction of the house of God with Jacob and noted that from that introduction in Genesis 28, to his return to Bethel in chapter 35, there had taken place twenty years of discipline in order to make him a fit subject for Bethel, the house of God. In this latter chapter where the Lord commands him to arise and go up to Bethel and dwell there, we have seen that he had come to realise that the house of God demands the putting away of everything not in accordance with the absolute holiness and the undivided rights of God; so that he instantly commanded his household to put away the foreign gods that were among them. Those represented idolatry, and idolatry is purely and simply worship according to man's thoughts and not according to God's truth. Thus we see that a relationship to the house of God must be upon God's basis and not man's thoughts.

God never brings His house down to us, we have to be brought up to it. Very often there elapses a long period between our introduction to the truth of the house of God, and our coming to dwell experimentally and with understanding in it. During that period, as with Jacob, the flesh has to be crippled, a new and spiritual name, which implies a spiritual nature, has to be received. We note that on his way to the house of God it says that a man met him and wrestled with him; angels had met him on the way, but it was a man that wrestled with him. If we rightly understand the significance of this, it is God in Christ, a man wholly governed by the Spirit who challenges man in the flesh and proves how weak he is at best in the strength of the flesh, and how necessary it is for that flesh to be broken and its strength withered, and how that man until his name, which is his nature, is changed, cannot dwell at Bethel. We can never be in the house of God to abide, in the flesh. This can only be as we are in the Spirit. "They that are after the flesh cannot please God."

At the time of our new birth we receive everything in germ. The fulness of God's purpose is all there in truth from the beginning, but it is often not until years afterward that we come to realise what was contained in the germ. So many there are who think that such revelations as the house of God, are extra or different truths from the truth of salvation, but in reality this is that which God had in view from the very beginning, and herein is the necessity for going on unto full growth, or completeness.

Jacob also teaches us that there is a peril of, even after receiving the Spirit, reverting to carnal methods or earthly connections. This is seen in the period between Genesis 32 and 35. The New Testament is not without examples of this, but it is always fraught with the most perilous elements.

When Jacob eventually reaches Bethel he builds an altar and pours out a drink offering to speak of that which is unto God's pleasure and satisfaction.   He has now come to delight himself in the Lord and this as the outcome of the Lord's taking pleasure in him though unworthy he had been. By this drink offering he is declaring himself wholly for the Lord. In  chapter 28, while Jacob received a revelation of the house of God, he was really ahead of his spiritual state; now in chapter 35 he has come abreast of the revelation and it is no longer a strenuous obligation, it is a matter of spiritual delight and satisfaction. He has moved from the place where his own interests were mainly in view, to the place where God's interests are supreme. It is the difference between having light and having life.

Second Phase: The House as a Heavenly Revelation

We now pass to a further development of the great truth of the house of God. The scripture is now in the book of Exodus, chapters 32, 33 and 40. That which is supremely before us here is not so much the condition of those who are associated with the house of God, as it is the necessity for things being constituted wholly according to the mind of God, as under His most particular direction. Glancing back for a moment to Exodus chapter 15 it is important and interesting to note that in the song of Moses and Miriam on the resurrection side of the Red Sea, with the power of Egypt broken, and the enemy overwhelmed in judgment, the object of  Israel's deliverance is brought into view thus - "Thou wilt bring them in and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Jehovah, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established" (verse 17). Thus  we  see  that the house of God is the ultimate object for which the people of God are delivered out of the authority of darkness. So the individual and corporate dwelling place of the Lord is linked with salvation as its very purpose. When we come to chapter 25, we find that the Lord takes the initiative in this matter, saying "Let them make me a Sanctuary," and in this connection, the whole pattern to the most remote detail is produced by His own mind; man's wisdom or judgment have no place whatever in it. That is a thought which it would be well to carry right through into our present-day conception of the Church, the house of God.

It seems clear that there was a lapse of time between the giving of the instructions and the actual carrying of them out. In that period we have the events of chapters 32 and 33 in which there is the lapse on the part of the people and the making of the golden calf by Aaron. Here idolatry is introduced once more and, as we have seen, it is not a matter of departure from Jehovah altogether, but the constituting of the worship of God according to man's own ideas. It is bringing God down to a level which is not worthy of Him and which is more the creature than the Creator. Let us remember that this is the nature of idolatry; not that a Supreme God is ruled out but that He is reduced to the ideas of man.

The House of God and the Judgment of Sin

This led to a very severe course with the people on the part of Moses as we see in the narrative; judgment and destruction followed and Moses took and placed outside of the camp the Tent of meeting; evidently not the one referred to in chapter 32, but a temporary one, and it would seem quite clear that he had spiritual understanding as to the meaning of the dwelling place of God, namely, that it is a place altogether separate from sin and darkness and idolatry and has its being upon the very basis of the judgment of sin.

It is a thing of which to take notice, that wherever we have the house of God coming into view, we also always have the forces of evil coming out. It is here in Exodus, the adversary breaks in amongst God's people with idolatry to capture the worship of God for himself, and to frustrate the completing of that habitation of God. It is most clearly seen when we come to the letter to the Ephesians, where the main subject is "the Church which is His Body" and as against this the Principalities and Powers are seen to be in active operation. One of his most successful methods of destroying the true House of God, is that of constituting worship according to man's thoughts instead of according to God's revelation, and the bringing in of the house of God in the book of Exodus as we have noted, particularly relates to things being made according to the pattern as shown in the Mount. To deal with this false thing which has broken in, there needs to be that spiritual priestly energy as displayed by Moses and the sons of Levi in taking the sword, judging this idolatry without regard for sentiment or natural relationship. "The sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God" is "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, joints and marrow" (Hebrews 4:12).

We further note that when on the basis of this complete judgment of sin the Tent of meeting was pitched outside of the camp where worship had been constituted according to man's thoughts, then the Lord talked with Moses face to face as a man speaketh unto his friend. Thus fellowship, communion, revelation are bound up with complete separation from all that is of man, even though it be religious. When we come to the New Testament and to the place where the Church comes actually into being, we find a company spiritually separated from the religious order of the day, as it were outside the camp, and there the Lord manifested His presence, constituted them the first members of His spiritual house, and gathered to them a company of the saved who had come under the power of the sword, the Word, piercing, cutting, and leading to repentance. It is in this sense that the Church is the Ecclesia or "called out" company, partaking of the nature of Him Who was "Holy, harmless and separate from sinners." Thus it is that the "true habitation of God through the Spirit," "The Church which is His Body," "The House of God" is that which comes to be known by the Believer, not along the line of historic conception, or traditional acceptance, or even doctrinal presentation, but by revelation to the heart by the Holy Spirit. It is essentially a heavenly thing; a spiritual thing.

The Apostle Paul had to be caught up into the third heaven to be shown the true nature of the Church, and when seeking to speak of that revelation to saints here on earth, he realised the necessity and prayed earnestly for them that they might be given "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of their hearts being enlightened." The dimensions which he goes on to mention "the breadth and length and height and depth" are the dimensions of that ultimate dwelling-place of God when the new Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven and it is said "the tabernacle of God is with men." This is Christ in His fulness as corporately manifested; in other words, the Church of the living God. Our need today is for a fresh revelation of what the house of God is according to God's mind and not according to man's construction. We have said that in that which is of God, man's judgment and wisdom have no place, everything is by the Holy Spirit.

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