The Bible and the Revelation of God in Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - Christ and the Issue of Life and Death

We continue under our general title of "The Bible and the Revelation of God in Christ", and now we come to the second section, the historical books, in which, as we have seen, the predominant element is that of kingship.

We have been very much occupied with the fact that this revelation of God in Christ is always in relation to Life. So in this chapter we shall be seeing that Life is by way of His Lordship. The battle of the ages, as we have pointed out, is that between Life and death; not life and death as just a physical matter; neither is it merely a matter of perpetuation or cessation of being. This whole question of Life and death is a spiritual one, and goes far beyond, far deeper, than merely temporal or physical consideration.

What we have been seeing is that the Bible covers the history of man and the world in relation to spiritual issues, or, if you like, to spiritual Life, and that the Bible is a unity by reason of a Person. In the Old Testament, that Person is present in prefiguration, prevision and prediction; in the New Testament in Person, then in corporate expression in His Body, the church; and finally in administration as revealed in the Revelation. That Person, the Lord Jesus, Who unifies the whole in Himself in every one of these connections and phases, governs in terms of Life or death. That is, He is present with that issue always. Wherever you find anything that indicates the Lord Jesus in any part of the Scripture, you will find that it is associated with the question of Life or death; Life, on the one hand, provided there is accord with Him in the specific expression of His presence at that time, or death if there is that which is not in accord with Him. That, of course, covers an immense amount of ground, an enormous number of details, but that is the issue everywhere, from Genesis to Revelation.

Now we come to this second part of the Bible to see Christ as represented in this way in the historical books, that is, from Joshua to Esther, twelve books, and we make a hurried survey of this section and take up a few of the spiritual lessons which we find here in this particular revelation of Christ.

"In the Heavenlies"

We begin with the book of Joshua. Most of us have some idea of the content of the book, that it is the book of the entering in and taking possession of the land, and it is mainly gathered into three sections. Firstly, the conquest of the land, and then the settlement in the land, and finally, the farewell of Joshua.

But what does this represent and set forth as to Christ and the issue of Life and death? Well, Joshua, of course, corresponds to that position in the New Testament in which we find the Lord Jesus and the church which is His Body on the other side of Jordan, that is, "in the heavenlies", to use Paul's phrase; in the heavenlies in Christ. That phrase touches both sides: Christ in the heavenlies and the church as seen there in the heavenlies in Him, and that heavenly position of the Lord Jesus means four things. Firstly, it is His position in type.

You remember at the time of His birth when He was sought by Herod and they went down into Egypt, a fragment of prophecy was cited as being, or about to be, fulfilled in that. "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt did I call My son" (Matt. 2:15).

You will remember that the challenge of the Lord through Moses to Pharaoh was "Let My son go that he may serve Me" (Ex. 4:23). "Israel is My son, even my first-born" (Ex. 4:22). "Thou hast refused to let him go: behold, I will slay thy son, thy first born". Now, you have the two things brought together clearly; Christ, as taken up in the prophecy, and its fulfilment. "Out of Egypt have I called My son"; and Israel in the place of sonship typically being brought out of Egypt. It is a principle that is here in the type, that is, the coming out of Egypt represents the utter separation from the world unto God. That is exactly the place, representatively and in type, that the Lord Jesus took at the Jordan, this same Jordan over which Israel has now passed in the book of Joshua. At the Jordan He typically took the position of an utter separation from the world unto God, and it was because of that position taken that He was assailed immediately in the wilderness by the adversary. First of all, Christ called out of Egypt, that is, separated unto God from the world and this kingdom of the prince of this world. Out of Egypt - that is the first thing in relation to a heavenly position. It is "separation from".

Then, secondly, in the wilderness. The wilderness for forty years was the place of testing as to the position taken. Those years were a searching, a trying, by fiery ordeal as to whether the position taken would be maintained at all costs. It was a heavenly position. Now the probation begins, for forty is always the number of probation. So Israel in the wilderness is, in principle, the same as Christ during forty days, being tempted of the devil in the wilderness, tested as to the position taken. Anyone who really does take a spiritual position with God will not long escape a severe test as to the position taken. We cannot move with God in mere doctrine and theory. If we are moving in a living way with God, we are going to find that every step taken is tested out as to whether it is a thing done inwardly or merely outwardly.

Thirdly, there is the Jordan, and we know that it represents the cross. Out, tested, now the Jordan, the cross, the establishing in an inward way of that which has been taken and tested. It is something more than the Red Sea, which was the objective side of things. This is the subjective, this is something done inwardly as well as outwardly. It is the establishment of the course taken and over which we have been truly tried.

Then, fourthly, the land, in the heavenlies in Christ.

Here is Christ, then, in four phases or features of the heavenly position. Out completely unto God; tested as to that; and, as we indicated or hinted, the testing in the wilderness was, "Will you in any way compromise with this world, can you be got back on to the old ground?" The devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and said, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me" (Matt. 4:9). That is what he was after all the time, to get Him in some way to act apart from that utterness of abandonment to God. "If thou be the Son...". It was the assault upon that relationship in its utterest meaning. Can He be brought back on to the old - Egypt - in principle? If so, He is in the power of the prince of this world. That was the bid that was being made and it was all a question of Life and death.

The Heavenly Lordship

Secondly, the heavenly Lordship. We find in this book of Joshua they are over in the land and one of the first things that arises is the absolute sovereignty of the Lord. You remember the incident when Joshua saw a man standing with his sword drawn and Joshua went up to him and said, "'Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?' And he said, 'Nay; but as prince of the host of Jehovah am I now come.' And Joshua fell on his face and worshipped and said 'What says my lord unto his servant?'" (Joshua 5:13-15). Joshua surrendered the Lordship to this One, and that is the way of Life.

And here is Christ in the heavenlies, in the first place, in the position of absolute Lord. We know that from the New Testament counterpart.

But then, on the other hand, it is the church, the people of God, brought entirely under that Lordship, in subjection, submission, capitulating to His Lordship. That is the way of life in Christ. Life in measure depends entirely upon the degree of the absolute Lordship of Christ. He has been made Lord, but it is not just the despotic, the official position; He is the Prince of Life. What God has done with Christ in exalting Him has been to make Him the Lord of Life, the Mediator of Life, the Prince of Life, vested Him with the power of Life. What He said in the days of His flesh was made true, He was speaking prospectively - "As the Father has life in Himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in Himself" (John 5:26), and that became fully true on His exaltation. That is simple enough and we know it, and Life depends entirely upon the degree in which Christ is Lord, and that means far more than Christians have recognized. They call Him Lord, they sing of Him as Lord, they speak of Him as Lord, but oh, in how many things is His absolute Lordship challenged! There is dispute over His Lordship over many things in the life. The release of Life in greater measure is so often bound up with the winning of some battle where the Lord's Lordship is disputed and challenged.

A Heavenly Power

Thirdly, in this heavenly position, it is a heavenly power. Very often we have heard it said that Joshua is a type of the Holy Spirit. I think that is not quite correct, that is doubtful. I think that Joshua is more a type of the energy of the Holy Spirit. To use Paul's phrase again - "the power that works in us" (Eph. 3:20). We are "in the heavenlies" - that is an Ephesian phrase. "According to the power that works in us" is an Ephesian phrase, and the history of things in the book of Joshua is clearly the history of a Divine energy working through a man. Joshua was filled with the Spirit, for Moses had laid his hands upon him (Deut. 34:9). It is the energy and power of the Spirit here, and that, of course is obviously the next thing in the matter of Life. Life, fulness of Life, depends upon the energy of the Holy Spirit in us, the power of the Holy Spirit, the activity of the Spirit. We must get our position first, and then in that position there must be the absolute Lordship, and then there must be the operation of the Spirit of God within as the Divine energy of everything.

A Heavenly Inheritance

Finally, it is a heavenly inheritance. Here we come more into the Colossian letter where "it pleased the Father that in Him should all the fullness dwell" and "in Him ye are made full" (Col. 1:19, 2:10). It is the riches of Christ, the land, the inheritance; God's fulness vested in His Son, and Life is bound up with that. For the people here, it was a matter of progressing in the fulness which was there. That was the way of Life for them, and the way of Life for God's people is always this continuous progress in the way of the fulness of Christ, not just being saved and staying there all your life rejoicing in the fact that you are saved, but going on. There is a boundlessness, a fulness, in Christ, which, however long we might live here, we shall never exhaust, and Christ can be and should be more wonderful, more full, more unspeakable as the years go on. He is all God's fulness, and Life is a matter of progressive development in Christ, ever increasing in the knowledge of Him, knowing what He is.

Well here, you see, we have Christ in the position, in Lordship, in the power of the Spirit, in possession of the fulness, the inheritance, and in those ways He is the Prince of Life. We derive Life from coming into the good of that as the Lord's people.

The Way of Death

We pass on to the book of Judges. The first part is occupied with how things begin to shape with the death and after the death of Joshua, and then the large section from verse 7 of chapter 3 to the end of chapter 16 is occupied with the Judges and all the declensions; a sevenfold declension. It is interesting to note that, while there are twelve Judges over this period, only seven of them are really given any importance. Of five of them you simply know their name and that is all. Seven alone are in relation to the sevenfold declension. You know what we have been saying about the sevens in the Word of God. In the previous chapters we thought of the seven great typical men of the Pentateuch representing seven aspects of Life as set over against the course of death; the seven feasts of the Lord, and so on. Here you have seven declensions and, over against them, seven interventions of God through seven outstanding Judges; they occupy a large section. Then a short closing section has some very unhappy, unpleasant incidents to record.

All we need to say about this book is that it is a tremendous demonstration setting forth an exhibition of the course of death by reason of the opposite to what you have in the book of Joshua. In the book of Joshua you have Life, it is a living book, a living story, and it is by reason of these things that we have mentioned - heavenly position, Lordship, power and inheritance. In the book of Judges you may say that it is more death than Life. It is a terrible story. These bright patches... how short-lived they are! Death seems to be in a place of mastery and it is because things are just exactly the opposite. They have lost the heavenly position, they have lost the heavenly Lordship. "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). They lost the Kingship, they lost the heavenly power. It is a state of weakness, and, as you notice in Judges, it is a steady decline; the beginnings are higher than the end.

Samson seems to come down to the deepest depths of shame. They have lost the heavenly power. And they have lost the inheritance. The enemy is in the land in possession. They even have to go to the enemy if they want to sharpen an instrument of agriculture because the enemy had taken all their means of sharpening instruments lest they should make weapons of war. It is a lost heavenly position with weakness, defeat and bondage as the pre-eminent condition, and the Lord here is only seen to be acting in a sovereign way. In Joshua, in principle in the type, the Lord is not acting just in a sovereign way. He is acting by an inward energy because the people themselves are in harmony with Him. In Judges He is acting outwardly in a sovereign way, faithful in Himself, but not now as within the people.

What a lot of history there is in that fact. How often it has been like that, I wonder whether it is not very largely like that in our own time. The Lord is doing things, we say He acts sovereignly, we are glad to note sovereign acts of God even for our nation, Dunkirk, and so on. But is it because the Lord is in heart fellowship with people, and people are in heart fellowship with Him? Is it by reason of His inward working? No, it is not; He is a merciful and gracious sovereign and He is acting sovereignly, but He has not got what He really wants - conditions which make it possible for Him to do this thing as in and as through His people. Well, Judges is simply an emphasis upon the fact that if we lose the heavenly position, it is death. The positive is emphasized by the negative.

Life in Relation to Lordship

Then we come to that little book of Ruth, and what a jump it is in the light of this whole history, this whole issue of Life and death. You know the story. There is a man and his wife, Elimelech and Naomi, in the land, proprietors in the land. Famine comes, the land dies, the land falls into this state of death and the man goes and takes his wife into a foreign land, into the land of Moab. There they live; his sons marry women of that land. Then Elimelech dies, the two sons die. Death, you see, has broken right in.

Then Naomi decides, in her sorrow and loss, to return to her own land. The challenge is presented to the two daughters-in-law. One decides to stay in her own country; the other, Ruth, determines not to leave her mother-in-law but to return with her. "Entreat me not to leave thee... whither thou goest, I will go". They return, a sorrowful couple whom death has robbed of everything precious. They wear the veil of death as they return. They come back; then there is romance - Boaz and his field, the inheritance that has gone into death is recovered, resurrection sets in. The recovery from death of the lost inheritance; the recovery from death of the relationship - Ruth and Boaz are married, and then the child is born to them, and one of the last views you get of that beautiful story is the elderly mother-in-law, the old widow, holding a new born baby in her arms, and with that baby is bound up a new history of kingship.

Here is a woman who, in herself and on her side, represents what death does, and in the arms of that very death, that woman, is a new life, the symbol of resurrection, life from the dead... and with that life from the dead the Christ is bound up. Obed, Jesse, David, Jesus Christ of the seed of David, all in that little life from the dead. There is the picture of the widow who has known all about death and in the very arms of that living grave, shall we say, there is the resurrection out from the dead, out from the grave, resurrection Life - and the King is coming. It is a beautiful picture all in this setting, this great issue of Life and death, and for this part of the book, it is Life in relation to Lordship again.

A Spiritual Instrument

We pass on to Samuel. The first part of the book of 1 Samuel, the book of transition, is occupied with Samuel and the spiritual and the soul travail of his mother, his birth, the crisis in the nation, the terrible story of Eli and his sons, then the ark going into captivity and Samuel's judgeship for twenty years. Then in the second section Saul is brought in, and in the third section David is introduced. In the second book of Samuel, David begins to rise on the fall of Saul, comes into the kingship, firstly over Judah and then over the whole nation. The second part of 2 Samuel is occupied with David's fall, his sin, the punishment of his sin in his family and in his throne, and his restoration. The third part of the book brings in the government of God and closing scenes in David's life.

Here, then, we have some more intimations of the way of Life, for we are still concerned with this matter of kingship, and what arises in these books is the question of kingship, and we have a divided dominion. We have Saul - "Make us a king to judge us like all the nations" (1 Sam. 8:5) - man's choice of a king. On the other hand, David, God's choice.

Let us remember that that phrase we know so well - "A man after my heart" (Acts 13:22) and (1 Sam. 13:14) is not literally translated in that book. Infidels have been very pleased to get hold of that and say, "Look at David, a man after God's own heart! - and yet...! That is the kind of God He is!" But literally the words are 'the man of God's choice', not "a man after God's own heart", although in many things he was. This sets him over against Saul as the man of man's choice.

These two represent two spiritual factors; one is the carnal and the other is the spiritual. There is no doubt about that. All that you see and read and observe about Saul is his carnality, and, whatever you have to say about David on certain points and at certain times, this man has his heart set upon God. He is in heart a spiritual man. But here you have the historic conflict between the flesh and the spirit, the carnal and the spiritual, and while this is an undecided issue, everything is in a state of unrest, in a state of defeat, just as things were then in the days of Saul. While Saul was king officially, there was dividedness in Israel, no one was wholly satisfied. When David came on the scene, before ever he was in any way king officially or recognized, there was a going out of heart to him and so at once the nation was divided. It was a terrible time for the nation.

Saul must be put out of the way by God, the flesh cut off. It is interesting, by the way, to note that Saul's downfall was because he spared the Amalekites and God demanded that they should be slain, and that Saul lost his life at the hands of an Amalekite; it is usually like that. We compromise with something and that very thing is our undoing. We have a reservation because of some personal interest, something that we want to preserve, and that thing we do preserve, but it is our undoing. That is always the course of the flesh. Give the flesh one little bit of consideration and that bit of flesh that you consider will be your undoing, rob you of your crown, of your glory. That is Saul. He must go as the carnal life, and the man of God's choice is coming.

It is again the way of Life by reason of the man of God's choice having undivided dominion. We cannot lay too much stress upon this truth, that Life for individuals and Life for the church, for the people of God, is bound up with this whole question of the absolute sovereignty of the Lord Jesus.

But here, in this scene, while this controversy is going on, we have the very beautiful story of Samuel. I think Samuel is one of the finest characters of the Old Testament. But as we look to see what he really signifies, we find a principle of tremendous value. It is something which God always seeks to have in a day when there is dividedness amongst His people in this way, where the flesh is having too much place and His Son is not having His right place, where things are in this state that they were in in the days of Saul and David and Samuel. What does he signify and represent? Do you not think it is very clear that he represents a spiritual vessel in which all the thoughts of God are found holding the situation in an uncertain day? Samuel embodies prophet, priest and king. Those are the three great thoughts of God, the great provisions of God as the way of Life - prophet, priest and king.

We saw in our study of the Pentateuch how the priestly function is the way of Life; redemption and Life, Life because of righteousness. The priest has to do with that, and Samuel functioned in the priestly office. Prophet? - undoubtedly, a seer; and king - in principle, he was the last of the judges. He embodies all the highest thoughts of God, and is a spiritual man, a spiritual vessel who is walking with God, and he is the intermediary in a day like this. It seems to me that that is what God seeks to have for Himself.

Who shall say that we are not very much in a state similar to that which is found here in the days of Saul and David? It is a state before it is all established, in a time when Christ has not an absolute place in His church, amongst His people. Therefore we have a state of weakness, uncertainty; all those unhappy conditions spiritually that exist because of this. In a state like that the Lord needs a company of His people to function in the position that Samuel held, to hold things for God's full thought, to stand in the gap for God. It seems to me, if not always, perhaps always, He has so often had that in a day of declension - a spiritual company embodying His fuller thought to hold the situation during transition. That is Samuel in brief.

The Power of His Resurrection

Let us pass on to Kings. 1 Kings is the book of disruption. We begin with the passing of David, the rebellion of Adonijah, the crowning of Solomon, David's last charge and his death. Solomon then comes in in the second section of 1 Kings. In the first place, Solomon in all his glory, and then the glory faded and gone and Solomon in shame. This is followed by the third section of the book, the division of the nation, ten tribes called Israel henceforth, two tribes called Judah, and their respective kings, beginning with Jeroboam and Rehoboam, and then one king following another in quick succession, usually by the tragic death of his predecessor, often by assassination. Then on to the scene comes that great figure, Elijah. We know how his life heads up in Ahab and Mount Carmel.

We pass over to 2 Kings. Things are going from bad to worse in corruption, and Elisha appears on the scene. Deep corruption follows Israel in this history, broken with some bright spots as in the case of Hezekiah and Josiah, but all too short. At length the nation goes into captivity; first Israel, then, several years after, Judah. It is the way of death. Note the relationship between the Sabbaths and the seventy years. That was the issue God raised. "Because of My Sabbaths".

They went into captivity for seventy years; that is seven multiplied by ten; ten is the number of responsibility. God is exacting His Sabbaths to a full degree, making them know their responsibility for His Sabbaths. The principle of the Sabbath is this, that God has come to the end of all His works in His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Sabbath is no longer a day, but a Person. Christ is God's Sabbath, and in principle God was holding them responsible for His Son Who at every point they had ignored; the seventh day, the seventh week, the seventh month, the seventh year, and the seven weeks of years - God's Sabbaths, in every way violated. Now they go into captivity because of the Sabbaths. The way of death is the way of either the ignoring or the violating of the great truth that Christ has consummated God's work of new creation. Ignore that and there is no way of Life at all.

Well, here arises the big battle for Life again in the midst of this situation. Elijah sets forth the assault of death. Few men in the Bible set forth the assault of death more than does Elijah. You find him all the time pursued by death, assailed by death, dealing with death or death dogging his steps. Sometimes he is fleeing for his life. The king will send three bands of soldiers to take his life.

But then there comes his successor, Elisha, and it is interesting again. Elisha has to do with seven forms of death, and in them all he overcomes and those forms of death are very instructive.

First of all there are the waters of Jericho. The sons of the prophets came to him about the waters of Jericho, and said, "The situation of this city is pleasant... but the water is bad and the land miscarries" ("casts its fruit" A.R.V. margin); nothing comes to maturity - and that is always a mark of the curse. The thing proceeds so far and fades out. The whole creation is subjected to vanity, just going so far and then not being able to go through to perfection. And, as you remember, Elisha cast salt from a new cruse into the waters and they were healed. The curse is dealt with by the power of resurrection Life. It is Life triumphant over death as death is working by the curse. The Lord Jesus was made a curse for us, but by the power of an incorruptible Life - that is the salt - He destroyed the power of death in the curse.

Next, the widow's oil. Remember it is death again. The question was this - "My husband is dead, the creditors are come to take away my son to be their bond slave". And Elisha said, "What hast thou in the house?" And the widow's little oil was multiplied. Bond slaves through death; what is it in principle other than bondage to the law? The law has stretched out to lay its hand on things through death. Death has entered and the law has entered to lay hold and to bring into bondage, and Elisha, in multiplying the oil, exercises the power of Life which destroys bondage to the law and sets it aside, meets the law, fully satisfies it, sets it aside, destroys its claims. It is Life.

That is what the Lord Jesus has done by His resurrection. He has delivered us from bondage to the law by satisfying it wholly and putting it out of the way.

Thirdly, the Shunammite's son who died; given by God, then dying and raised from the dead. Here is Life in terms of sonship in the power of resurrection. Jesus, Paul says, was declared, set forth, attested; the Son of God with power, or in power, by the resurrection of the dead (Rom. 1:4). There is something in the power of resurrection which is the quality of sonship. Sonship is the possession of resurrection Life in Christ.

Then the fourth thing, the pottage; the sons of the prophets gathered together and Elisha with them and they went out to gather for their meal and one gathered something wild and they cried out "O man of God, there is death in the pot" (2 Kings 4:40). And Elisha said, "Bring in meal", and he cast it into the pot. We cannot stay to talk about the meal as a type, but what we have is the principle that my life has got to be pure, that is, it has got to be in the Spirit if it is to be maintained. If you bring in foreign or strange elements, things unknown, poisonous things and introduce them into your life, death ensues. It is a matter here of Life in the Spirit, in the purity of the Spirit, without any admixture of old nature, foreign nature. Those wild gourds are the fruit of the curse. All wild life of that kind is the result of the curse and death. That has got to be overcome. But for the sons of the Lord's prophets, there must be nothing like that, nothing wild, foreign or strange.

The next thing, Naaman, the Syrian, the leper. "Go, wash in Jordan seven times" - and I see in this the utter setting aside of the whole body of the flesh; seven times - a perfect spiritual order, the whole body of the flesh set aside as the only way of Life.

Next, the axe-head which came off, went to the bottom, was raised, made to float, and we are now in service, building the house, doing the work of the Lord. It is a habitation for the people of God, and Elisha brings something in that connection as from the dead, operating again in the power of resurrection, saying to us that the Lord's servants must be on resurrection ground, in the power of His own risen Life and not in the energy of nature, not even to work for God as out from ourselves. As Paul said, whom I... "serve in the newness of spirit" (Rom. 7:6), that is, newness of Life, resurrection Life.

Finally, Elisha dies and his burial takes place nearby. Some men are killed and then the enemy appears and the burying party picks up a corpse and throws it into the sepulchre, the grave of Elisha, and it comes to life. When he touches the bones of the prophet, he comes to life. And here is, not Life as triumphant over death, but Life triumphant in death. The consummation of the saint's life is that in relation to Christ we ought none of us really to die. When we die, it ought not to be a scene of death; even if we die, go by way of the grave, not caught up to meet the Lord in the air, there is the power of His resurrection there to turn the scene of death into Life. Elisha all the way through is setting forth this mighty power of Life triumphant in the presence of death.

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