|Vol. 8, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1979
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
"A STEP FURTHER"
THIS is the title of the sequel to 'JONI', the book which I wrote about
in the Editorial of the November 1978 issue. Written by Joni Eareckson
and her young spiritual adviser, Steve Estes, it is a book which
every Christian should read slowly, thoughtfully and prayerfully. It describes
some of the further experiences of this American Christian girl who broke
her neck in a diving accident and now has to move in a wheel-chair and can
only write and sketch by holding a pen in her mouth.
Let no one think, however, that this is just one more story of a plucky
triumph over crippling adversity -- though it is that -- for this book is
full of the most important spiritual principles.
For very many years those associated with this magazine have been seeking
to learn and communicate the divine truths of God's sovereignty, His eternal
purpose for the redeemed and His provision of fellowship within the body
of Christ. Although still young, and with the companionship and help of a
man who is even younger, Joni has been able to set out clearly and most helpfully
how meaningful and essential these principles are. A few years in the School
of Suffering, with the Word of God as her guide, have enabled her to impart
to her readers some of the most vital and precious truths of the Christian
I would dearly love to quote some of the illuminating passages of the
book, but I cannot do that without Joni's permission and in any case I have
no wish to provide a substitute for the book itself. If I may, however, I
would like to express my overall reaction from reading it, which is in a new
way to rejoice in the great marvel of the indwelling Christ. Joni's story
reveals that marvel in a movingly graphic way.
Praise God that one so physically handicapped can demonstrate the wonderful
truth that 'Christ liveth in me'. At every point we find Joni appreciating
and appropriating for herself that sufficiency which can only come from the
presence within of her triumphant Lord. We may well ask again what is the
secret of the enjoyment here and now of His resurrection life.
From the Scriptures it is quite clear that Christ's death must work in
us in order that His life may also work, that the practical expression of
the true Christian life can only be in 'the power of his resurrection'.
It is clear that the basis of resurrection life is the working of the cross
in which we experience conformity to the death of Christ. In His wisdom God
appoints for each of us that particular application of the cross which is
most calculated to enlarge our spiritual measure in this way. Only He can
apply the cross to us, but He will do so as we submit to His will and accept
the crucifying which He has selected for us. Joni tells of her trials --
and very acute trials they were -- but explains how by God's grace she was
able to accept His will. Out of her 'deaths' to self in Christ there emerged
ever fresh experiences of His triumphant life. The resurrection reality in
her life is plain on every page of the book.
We are told that it is as our outward man perishes that our inward man
is renewed day by day. This is for all who choose to "look not at the things
which are seen, but at the things which are not seen" (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
A story like this substantiates that teaching and makes it real in terms
of human living. It should comfort many of us who are not handicapped like
Joni but are becoming painfully aware of growing limitations because of approaching
old age. God is not out to patch up the old life but to make way for the
release of the life of His Son in us. This book should help us all.
You will find extra pleasure in the delightful sketches which Joni has
done, and perhaps you will feel as moved as I was at the final drawing of
a discarded wheel-chair, now labelled 'For Sale'. The chair is symbolic,
not only of her kind of limitation, but of all the limitation of the mortal
bodies which we will have no more use for when we enter eternal fullness.
We learn our lessons in them now, but when we graduate into eternity we will
not be beholden to them any more. Heaven, as Joni asserts, is not a dream
of escapists but the glorious substantial hope of all who by the Spirit are
now learning to be like Jesus, and waiting to be given a body like unto the
body of His glory. [81/82]
WITH WHAT BODY DO THEY COME?
Arthur E. Gove
Reading: 1 Corinthians 15
THIS chapter is historic -- it deals with the great fact of the resurrection
of the Lord Jesus. It is also prophetic -- it points forward to the resurrection
of believers. There is no doubt that death is a dreadful monster. Job's friend,
Bildad, rightly called it, "the king of terrors" (Job 18:14). Our chapter
reminds us that it has a terrible sting, not only in its immediate working
but in the fact that it precipitates its victim into the realm where he
now has to meet God and give an account to Him for the life which is now
past. Not only is death inevitable, but its sequel of divine judgment is
also inescapable: "It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this cometh
judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). For the Christian, however, that sting has been
removed. For him there is to be no condemnation. This "king of terrors"
is forever defeated and the Christian enters eternity with the triumphant
cry of victory.
It is a pity that so often this wonderful chapter is reserved for use
on funeral occasions instead of being frequently read and pondered as it
deserves. Facts are marshalled concerning the glorious resurrection of Christ
and then this is applied to us, for His literal resurrection guarantees that
we too will rise again in bodies which God will give us. For us the gospel
means that our Saviour Christ Jesus has "abolished death, and brought life
and immortality to light" (2 Timothy 1:10). Surely this means that He has
given us life in spiritual terms here and now, and also that He assures us
incorruptible bodies in the future, The redemption of our bodies is included
in the Calvary work of the Lord Jesus. However it has not happened yet, as
is demonstrated by Paul's explanation that our groaning in spirit is because
we are "waiting for adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (Romans
8:23). We will prove, then, that atonement is for the body, for when Jesus
returns, the believer will experience the coming together of eternal life
in the soul with the immortality of the body in glorious consummation.
Some may wonder how we can be sure of the after life, even as some of
the Corinthians did. Many of the world's wise men will assure us that death
ends everything. Well, the world's wisest man, Solomon, seems to have had
some doubts about this and to have admitted that there seems no difference
between man and beast in this matter of death, but he shows us the error
of such a conclusion. First he includes man with the beasts and says, "All
go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again", but then
he makes the striking difference by informing us that the spirit of man goes
upward (to God) and the spirit of the beast goes downward into the earth
(Ecclesiastes 3:19-21). There may be many things about the future which we
cannot now understand, but there can be no doubt about the 'afterwards' when
every man must meet his God.
Buddhists, and many who would never accept that description, believe
in a continuation of life by means of reincarnation. It may seem an attractive
idea that if you have not done too well in one life you should have another
in which you may do better, or even if you have been a failure that you may
be given a chance to try again, but there are no grounds for imagining that
when this life is finished we can have other lives to live here on this
earth. We return to the verse already quoted from Hebrews 9 which tells us
that it is appointed unto man once to die. That 'once' makes it very
clear that there can be no such thing as reincarnation.
Paul's critics posed the questions: "How are the dead raised up? and
with what body do they come?" Paul's immediate answer is to draw attention
to nature's constant miracle of resurrection, particularly in the matter
of grain. The simple seed is put into the ground to die, but from it there
emerges a new expression of life which far surpasses the seed. Instead of
that insignificant grain of corn there grow up stalk and leaves and a full
ear of abundant life. That is how it is raised and that is the lesson of
'the body' with which it comes. It is, of course, the same life principle,
but it is that principle expressed in greater dimension and superior beauty.
It has a different 'body'. As to us, it is quite clear that our present
bodies are not fitted for heaven and eternity, and that is why the resurrection
involves a great and glorious change which will adequately match the inner
transformation which has come to us by new birth. Having stated his case
by this [82/83] illustration of the seed and the
fruitful plant, the apostle now proceeds to give seven clear definitions
of the believer's resurrection body!
1. It will be a Celestial Body (v.40)
Some commentators understand that this verse is contrasting things in
the heavens with things on the earth, and the Living Bible gives the rendering:
"The angels in heaven have bodies far different from ours ...". Campbell
Morgan, however, gives the following comment on Paul's words: "Personally,
I believe he refers to those bodies we shall have on the other side of the
resurrection", and "by bodies terrestrial he refers to our present limited
earthly bodies". We may say that [when] the Lord Jesus came to earth at the
Incarnation, He took a 'terrestrial' body in which He lived and laboured.
He died and rose again, and in resurrection His body became a 'celestial'
body, still literal and physical but with new qualities which were evident
to all those who were privileged to meet Him. That celestial body of His is
the pattern of what ours are destined to be, bodies that will never grow old
and never know weakness or sickness, bodies able to endure and enjoy all
the glory of Almighty God.
2. It will be an Incorruptible Body (v.42)
The incorruptible life which now reigns in our spirits will characterise
our whole beings so that never again can we be touched by death in any way.
Here on this earth, death reigns. Everything we see and know is subject to
corruption. "Change and decay in all around I see" is the true confession
of the hymn-writer. Disintegration is working constantly in this old creation,
and our bodies, as part of it, have to be patched up and repaired in order
to go on serving as a home for our redeemed souls. It will be quite different
in the resurrection. Then we shall have new bodies which can never be touched
by any kind of corruption. As we have already said, there is indeed healing
in the atonement, but it will not be by the maintaining or improving of an
old mortal body but by the gift of a new body patterned according to Christ's
body of glory.
3. It will be a Body of Glory (v.43)
The present body is described as "the body of our humiliation" (Philippians
3:21) and rightly so, for it is so often the means by which we bring shame
to ourselves and to God. Even for the person who is a Christian, the body
can be the means of dishonouring the Lord's name. It is the body which Satan
so often uses and in which he works to destroy our peace and joy. This body
is usually the means by which we commit sin. It brings dishonour to God by
its selfishness and conformity to the world around it. Paul himself had to
confess with dismay: "In me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing".
In the new body, that will all be a matter of the past. God's stated purpose
in resurrection is to make us like His Son. Indeed this is the whole idea
of the Bible word 'predestination'. What it means is that God has marked
out a destiny for us, and that destiny is that we should be conformed to the
image of Christ. We shall not only see Him; we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2).
Well may we sing: "That will be glory for me" in the light of this great
4. It will be a Body of Power (v.43)
How weak are our present bodies! One by one we find ourselves with greying
hair, wrinkled face and faltering steps. Our sight weakens, and we need spectacles.
Our hearing gets dulled and our reactions slow down. Perhaps the time comes
when we need false teeth. The passage of time inevitably involves the lessening
of powers. Part of the process of growing older consists in making adjustments
to growing limitations. Now the Lord sympathises with us in all these evidences
of our natural weakness, and gives marvellous compensations to the ageing,
as many will testify, but He Himself does not grow older and suffers no
kind of diminution of His power. It is a wonderful thought that the eternal
God, who has given us eternal life in our souls, plans to communicate His
power to us in such a way that we will have eternal bodies, in which we
may enjoy Him and serve Him in resurrection power. "Blessed and holy is
he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death
hath no power; but they ... shall reign with him a thousand years"(Revelation
20:6). Throughout those millenial years the body will not age!
5. It will be a Spiritual Body (v.44)
Man is a tri-partite being. He has a body which is world-conscious; a
soul which is self-conscious; and a spirit which is God-conscious. The Christian
rejoices in the marvellous blessing of God-consciousness. The Holy Spirit
bears witness with his spirit that he is a child of God by new birth. But
he knows very well that he is [83/84] not all spirit
and if he is frank he will acknowledge that although he ought to live in
full accordance with that most important part of his being, he does not do
so. More often than he could wish, he finds himself controlled by the natural
part of his being. Many of his difficulties arise from this imbalance by
which the natural hinders or contradicts the spiritual. Thank God for the
prospect of divine balance in our new bodies. In the resurrection we are to
be given bodies which are in harmony with and dominated by the spiritual.
Though literal and personal, they will be wholly spiritual and perfectly responsive
to God and to His will.
6. It will be a Heavenly Body (vv.47-49)
In resurrection, this world was visited for forty days by God's "Second
Man", who is the Lord from heaven and now in heaven, who is eagerly awaiting
the day when all His redeemed people shall also have heavenly bodies. The
very term may raise in some minds the age-old problem as to whether we shall
know one another in glory. If we are all to be like Christ, some argue, then
we shall not be able to distinguish one another, for we will be all alike.
I suggest that in this section Paul helps us to answer such a question.
He begins by quite truthfully reminding us that we all bear the image
of the earthly Adam. We are all like Adam. And yet we are all different.
We do not look alike now, but each has his own personality, and yet we bear
the image of Adam, the earthy. In the resurrection we shall bear the image
of the heavenly, even Christ Himself, but each will have his own personality
and be different from the others. All will be like Christ, yet each will
be distinguishable from the others -- we shall know as we are known. It is
clear that on the Mount of Transfiguration Moses was recognisable, even though
he had been dead for many centuries, and that his companion was not just one
of the prophets but none other than Elijah the prophet himself. It seems evident,
then, that in our heavenly bodies we shall still be ourselves, but ourselves
freed from all traces of the old Adam. Our body will be suited to the heavenly
sphere in which we shall then live and function. When that change takes place,
it will represent the completion of the work which God began in us from the
moment when we were born from above.
7. It will be an Immortal Body (vv.51-56)
This last section of the chapter does not actually mention the Second
Coming of Christ but it gives us a vivid picture of the great change which
will take place for all who are in Christ. Some of these will still be alive
on the earth but many others will have died or 'fallen asleep'. Perhaps it
is concerning these latter that Paul writes of "putting on incorruption".
Their natural bodies will have corrupted into dust, but this presents no problem
to God, "they must put on incorruption". Those who are alive will not have
died, but they will be mortals, and it is impossible for flesh and blood
to inherit the kingdom of God, so concerning them, the Word says: "this mortal
must put on immortality". And this spectacular and glorious change will happen,
"in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye". This will represent total victory.
It will all be by the Spirit. It was through the Holy Spirit that the
Lord Jesus was raised from the dead, and it will be His work to do the same
thing for us who are in Christ. The believer still has a mortal body, subject
to sin and death, even though indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but on that great
Day the Spirit will take full charge and give an immortal body alive with
glorious resurrection power. No wonder that this is called "the blessed hope"!
No wonder that the Spirit thrills our souls even now as we talk or sing of
that glorious Day!
We have said nothing here about the future of those who have no personal
knowledge of the Saviour. It would not be right to conclude the many confident
allusions to immortality and glory without pointing out that these can have
no meaning for any who have never obeyed the gospel and put their trust in
Christ as Sin-bearer and Saviour. One of the world's great men is reported
to have said: "I die before my time, and my body will be given back to earth
to become the food of worms. Such is the fate which awaits the great Napoleon".
What a contrast comes from that old saint and sufferer, Job: "I know that
my redeemer liveth ... and though after my skin worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes
shall behold and not another" (Job 19:25-27). Everything turns on our knowledge
of the living Redeemer. [84/85]
There is still much that we do not know about the resurrection state.
With what body do they come? Well, this chapter has given us a seven-fold
reply to that reasonable question, and those of us who love the Lord will
find rich comfort in the blessed hope set before us. We cannot do better than
conclude with David's words: "I shall be satisfied, when I awake in thy likeness"
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
19. GOD'S PLAN FOR ISRAEL (Chapter 11:1-24)
IN this chapter Paul continues his investigation into the causes of Israel's
unbelief. We have already dealt with two of his four questions; we come now
to the third:
iii. 'Did God cast off His people?'
Since Israel has heard the gospel and ought to have understood it, and
yet has remained in unbelief, is this because God cast off His people? This
question touches upon the most awful of all possibilities. If God has done
this, then there is no hope at all. It is a possibility which Paul will
not even consider, for he reacts with an explosive: "God forbid! "After
all he himself was both a Jew and a Christian: "For I also am an Israelite,
of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin". He then proceeds to enlarge
on the doctrine of the remnant.
It might have been possible to object that the presence of Paul and a
few other Jewish Christians was no convincing argument against the casting
off by God of His people, for these, after all, constituted by now an almost
insignificant minority of the believers. The next few verses will therefore
be devoted by Paul to meeting this objection. In the first place he stresses
the matter of God's foreknowledge and secondly he refers to the story of prophet
"God did not cast off his people which he foreknew" (v.2). This
important verse builds upon three decisive facts which support the further
1. God knew that He had chosen a stubborn people. The Old Testament contains
many verses which clearly show that God foreknew the kind of people He had
chosen (see Deuteronomy 31:27), so that Israel's unbelief did not come as
a surprise to Him.
2. Although God knew His people's stubbornness, He expressly promised
that He would not cast them off nor forsake His inheritance in them (Psalm
3. We are told that He actually foreordained those whom He foreknew.
This predestination involved conformity to the image of His Son (Romans
8:29). In this context, such a purpose must refer not to every single Israelite
as an individual, but must mean that the people as a people (for this is what
Paul is talking about) are destined to attain to this conformity.
Paul then goes on to refer to the story of Elijah, who thought that he
was the only one of the people who had remained faithful to the Lord, but
who was informed that God had His true remnant. There were seven thousand
who had not bowed the knee to Baal. This means that under the old covenant
there was a previous case to prove that God keeps a loyal minority in the
midst of His unbelieving and unfaithful people. The apostle cannot emphasise
enough that it is God Himself who has secured this remnant: "I have
left for myself seven thousand men: and that is why they have not
bowed the knee to Baal. "Even so then at this present time also there is
a remnant according to the election of grace". But if it is of grace, then
it cannot be of works; otherwise grace is no more grace, but a mixture of
God's mercy and human effort. [85/86]
Paul rejects the suggestion that it might have been possible that it
was Elijah's obedience or the faithfulness of the seven thousand which was
the reason for their being chosen. The case was just the opposite. In the
same way in which Jacob had been chosen in preference to Esau, they were
chosen before they had done anything good or bad. It was because they were
chosen that they belonged to God, and because they belonged to God, He kept
them faithful. Elijah's long suffering and faithfulness was no more due
to the prophet's own strength of character than was Paul's own faithfulness.
They had their roots in God's election of grace. This indicates that the
Lord has a plan both in the matter of election and in the matter of hardening.
It is this plan which the apostle is leading up to and which he will develop
later in the chapter.
Before he describes this plan more fully, Paul emphasises what he has
said before (9:31), that Israel not only once sought but is still seeking
to stand righteous before God, only to be told that they have not obtained
this righteousness. The elect, however, have obtained it. The more that,
in their zeal without knowledge, they tried to establish their own righteousness
as before God, the more they became hardened, stupid, blind and deaf (v.8).
So extraordinary is this hardening that it is stated that their zeal was
turned into stupor by God Himself, a fact confirmed by the words: "It is
written ...". This very Scripture seems however to indicate that the whole
thing is part of God's plans which have sprung from His mercy.
The closing quotation from David reveals the culmination of their hardening:
"Let their table be made a snare and a trap", that is, let their fellowship
as a people, which they thought was fellowship with God, become a trap and
a snare into a fellowship in sin. "Let their eyes be darkened, that they
may not see", as though God had smitten them with blindness to Himself and
to His will; "and bow down their back alway" so that they become oppressed
They refused to bow to the righteousness of God (10:3), so they will
be forced to bow in perpetual slavery. It does not actually state that their
hardening was the result of their unbelief and disobedience, but nor does
it say that the disobedience was the result of their having been hardened.
It seems to me that Paul presents the two as being parallel features, unclear
to us but both parts linked together in God's plans from eternity. The description
of Israel's hardening is indeed a dark one, but it does not present an impenetrable
darkness of doubt as to whether God's promises are trustworthy but rather
points the way to a hope which springs from God's sovereign wisdom and mercy.
As he develops this hope he expands what he has already touched lightly upon,
namely the marvellous purpose which this hardening of Israel has served.
iv. 'Did they stumble that they might fall?'
Is it that their fall is final? In their following after righteousness,
Israel stumbled. There can be no doubt about that. It leads, though, to the
question as to whether in God's will they can ever rise again. Have they
fallen so low that it is hopeless for them ever to think again of the possibility
of salvation? Does their stumbling mean that they will remain prostrate
As in 11:1, the answer is: "God forbid!" Israel's hardening as a people
is only temporary. For as long as it lasts it serves an important purpose,
for "by their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles". None better than
Paul can attest this fact, for he has been an eye-witness of its outworking.
He was careful to take the gospel to the Jews first, but was rejected by them
and commanded to turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46; 18:6 & 28:28). The
result of this was that very many Gentiles believed and were saved. This is
perfectly clear, but what is not so clear (even after all these centuries),
is the likelihood that the salvation of the Gentiles could ever arouse the
Jews to the godly jealousy which would make them seek this righteousness
of God for themselves.
If the apostle had merely advanced this as a hypothetical possibility,
we would have had to reject it, for in all their long history the great
majority of Jews seem never to have been aroused to jealousy by the progress
of the gospel among the Gentiles in such a way as to seek its blessings
for themselves. But Paul has more to say. He speaks of a time when they
will all be saved, and he does so with no shadow of uncertainty in his mind,
for he affirms that this is part of God's counsel and plan. "But if their
[86/87] fall meant riches for the world, and the
fact that they did not come meant riches for the Gentiles, how much more
will it not mean when they all come and are saved" (v.12 Danish).
Before formulating the answer to this question, he turns back to the
thought which has evidently greatly preoccupied him, namely the hope that
the salvation of the Gentiles would arouse the Jews to seeking it. He has
touched upon this in 10:19 and 11:11, and he now takes it up again, this
time in connection with his own ministry (vv.13-14). Have his thoughts strayed
a bit? Is he inclined to think that he himself, as a Hebrew Christian, could
provoke his countrymen to jealousy by his example as a Christian and his
work as an apostle to the Gentiles, or perhaps that the saved Gentiles who
are the result of his labours in the gospel can do so? It may be a little
One things is sure and that is that his great burden is that his own
people might be provoked and aroused by that strange turn of spiritual history
when God made a Jew the apostle to the Gentiles, and through him ensured
that there should be a much greater number of these than of Jews entering
into the Kingdom of God. Even so, his expectation would not go beyond the
idea of saving some of them. It could never be all of them, not the people
as an entire nation. No, he can only think of saving some of them. And yet
he firmly believes that one day Israel as a people will be saved. Some day,
but not yet; and presumably when it does happen it will not take place as
the result of any man's preaching -- not even an apostle's -- but will be
a final historical act of salvation carried out sovereignly by God Himself
(vv.25-27). In a sense the salvation of each individual Israelite at present
can only be likened to a first fruit, an indication that ultimately the harvest
of the whole nation will be safely gathered in. In his earnest endeavour at
all costs "to save some" he longs to see Jews among them, for in the salvation
of such he can see more than the individual blessing of the ones concerned
and look upon them as guarantees that in the end all Israel will be saved.
"For if the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world, what
shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" The right understanding
of this verse depends upon the meaning of the expression: "life from the
dead". Is Paul talking about a mighty revival, or of the final resurrection?
Is he thinking in puritan terms or in eschatological? I think the latter.
Israel's divine reception as a people will usher in the resurrection, and
thus become the last link in a series of historical acts of salvation which
began with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. If this is so, then
the reception of Israel as a people will be the end of the present day of
grace and will mark something entirely new.
To pursue this line of thought Paul makes use of some illustrations.
"If the first fruit is holy, so is the lump: and if the root is holy, so
are the branches." The first picture is from Numbers 15:20, where the Israelites
were commanded to offer up a cake from the first of their harvest of meal.
This cake was holy, and so from then onwards all that the Israelites ate of
the same harvest was also holy. Similarly with the root and branches. If
the root is holy, then the branches must be holy too. They belong to the same
living organism, and cannot be separated. It seems that when Paul speaks of
the firstfruits and the root, he is alluding to those Israelites who are now
in Christ. These are Israel's firstfruits. They constitute an election of
grace and point onwards to the destiny of the people of Israel as a whole.
The fact that there are such first fruits and such a root at all is due solely
to the wonderful grace of God. So it is, then, Paul brings his arguments
concerning a remnant to a decisive point. He insists that its very existence
provides God's guarantee that He has not forgotten His people, but will receive
them again in due course.
Before completing his presentation of God's grace to Israel, Paul feels
impelled to address his Gentile brothers and sisters. The reason for this
is obvious. He has described Israel's rejection as being due to spiritual
pride, so he must now warn the Gentiles against any form of such pride if
they are to be kept in the grace of God. Conceit had made Israel stumble:
it could so easily do the same for them. "Glory not over the branches ...
be not highminded, but fear!"
In verse 24 Paul uses a picture that is contrary to the order of nature,
for no one grafts a wild branch into a good tree. He does this on purpose,
for his subject is not nature but grace, and in this realm God does not use
a wild root as human gardeners do. The root here is the true
[87/88] Israel, and it is into this that believers from among the
Gentiles have been grafted. They, though wild in themselves, have become
partakers of the root's fatness, that is the privileges and abundant life
of the grace of God. Indeed they have become true Israelites! This can be
nothing but grace, and so gives no reason for any kind of pride.
Let the Gentiles always remember that in themselves they are vessels
of wrath, ready for destruction. Let them never forget that, for if they
do so, then in their conceit they will begin to take God's mercy as a matter
of course, living no more by grace but foolishly imagining themselves to have
some merit. In this way real faith will disappear and be replaced by dangerous
presumption. "Behold then the goodness and severity of God!" It is not arbitrary
or capricious but corresponds to faith or unbelief. He is severe towards
the proud and unbelieving, but He is good towards those who continue to realise
their nothingness and live by undeserved mercy alone, which is the same as
remaining in the faith.
This exhortation takes up the differentiation between "vessels of mercy"
and "vessels of wrath" (9:22-23). There is no third kind of vessel in a halfway
position. Israel's trouble was that they regarded themselves as somewhere
in between. They could not consider themselves as vessels of wrath fitted
for destruction, and they had no wish to be treated as vessels of mercy,
for they expected to succeed in producing their own righteousness and therefore
felt no need to rely on mercy in its fullest sense. So it was that they
excluded themselves from God's mercy in salvation by grace alone. On the
other hand, the Gentiles who had been enlightened by gospel preaching, accepted
that they were vessels of wrath fitted for destruction and fled to Jesus
Christ to be made vessels of mercy by Him.
If, however, they now made the same blunder as Israel and trusted in
themselves, their experience would be the same as Israel's. Christians ought
always to remember this. The danger is always imminent: humble faith is
the only safeguard.
For Israel salvation is also imminent. If they will acknowledge that
they have sinned and come short of God's glory, if they will only realise
that they also are vessels of wrath, if they will repent and be converted,
then the wrath of God against them will be changed to goodness, and they
will be grafted in again. Can God do this? He certainly can. Will this plan
of His be carried through successfully? Our next study will show how Paul
now deals with this question.
(To be continued)
(Some thoughts concerning direct encounter with God)
THE Christian faith is not just a matter of creed, of doctrine or of
rules which we abide by, but is basically a personal relationship with the
living God. This is alluded to in the Old Testament where it says: "I desire
steadfast love and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6). The word usually translated
'mercy' does not really mean what we know by the word nowadays, but is really
'steadfast love'. It means a love relationship, a relationship of care and
kindness. The word is used very extensively in the Old Testament (I make
it 244 times), and it is equated with the nature of God Himself, for the
verse goes on to read: "the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings".
On two occasions the Lord Jesus quoted this extract from the Old Testament.
Evidently it is very important, and for us Christians the danger is always
of coming away from that vital, love contact and of settling down to a routine-like
performance of Christian living.
We all have this tendency to settle down to mere forms of worship and
Christian activities, [88/89] to programmes, regulations
and performances. It is right therefore to enquire what is the antidote to
such an inevitable tendency, and how can we avoid passing from a vital, heart
experience of God to a less vital way of life in which we do not actually
fall away from the Lord but allow the habits of Christian activities to take
over. The answer, as revealed repeatedly in both the Old and New Testaments,
is to have a personal meeting and confrontation with the living God. It happened
time and time again throughout the Scriptures that a man, an individual,
came to what I would call an 'interface' between this world and the other
one. Men came to that junction where this world meets the other, and crossed
from what is temporary to what is permanent, from what is limited in understanding
and vision into the realities of the heavenly kingdom. On this side the air
is polluted, but it is beautifully fresh and clear on the other side. There
is uncleanness and iniquity on this side; there is only holiness and purity
on the other side. Here there is uncertainty and confusion, but when we
cross the line, everything becomes true and clear. This is the interface
where two spheres meet, as experienced by men and women whom the Scriptures
describe as being called away from the world up to this point of junction.
I can only describe as an interface that moment when men find themselves
faced with God, seeing Him, hearing His voice and feeling His touch upon them.
So far as I can see, this is the antidote to the tendency which comes upon
all of us to settle down into routine things and lose the freshness of living
contact with God Himself which we once knew.
ENOCH and Noah had this experience of walking with God. There was Jacob,
also, when he had to move out into the wilderness, away from the security
of home which he had always enjoyed. Suddenly he found himself standing at
the interface; there was a ladder up to heaven where God was, and he heard
His voice and must have felt the impact of that other world. Many years
later, when he returned with his family and had to face the dreadful prospect
of meeting his irate brother whom he had cheated many years before, he was
at the side of the stream when he suddenly found himself once again at the
interface and felt the grip of God upon him. There is no doubting that kind
Moses, after the failure of his enthusiastic beginning, was sent into
the wilderness and spent many years in the routine of caring for sheep. Involved
day after day in the same kind of common round, his hopes and expectations
dwindled until he must have reconciled himself to the same settled routine
of living. Suddenly, however, he had his crisis as he came face to face with
God at the interface between this world and the next. God spoke to him and
he saw the glory there, the fire burning in the bush that was not consumed.
I am sure that he must have felt the heat of that fire on him. I could enlarge
on this matter by quoting experiences of Joshua, Gideon, Samuel and Elijah.
Then there was Daniel, who seemed to live close to that interface all his
life; Isaiah, whose lips were touched with coals from the altar, and the
apostle Paul, who was caught up to the third heaven. At this point, however,
I invite you to consider another prophet, Ezekiel.
THE book of Ezekiel opens with the statement that "In the thirtieth year
... the heavens were opened". There is the interface, the summons away from
the world and to look to God. The prophet had to turn his back on the world
and come to the interface where the heavens were opened and he saw visions
of God. "On the fifth day of the month in the reign of Jehoiakim, the word
of the Lord came to Ezekiel ... by the river Chebah ... the hand of the Lord
was there upon him" (1:1-3). In a way this can be compared with the experience
of Paul who saw and heard and felt God's presence and power. I think that
this is the cure for institutionalism or formalism, whether in our personal
devotions or our church life. This is the antidote for systematisation and
for legalism. A few moments at the interface changes it all. I am not suggesting
that we can dispose altogether of form and procedure in our Christian living
and in our corporate service. It is when such things take over from a vital
relationship with God that we need to seek Him afresh.
Well, we can read this first chapter of Ezekiel over and over again and
find that even after the fiftieth time we still do not know what he saw.
Really he hardly knew himself. It seems to be part of this experience of reaching
the interface and looking, that we cannot explain to others the
[89/90] full impact that our hearts have known. It is very difficult
to describe such heart encounters. Paul said: "I come to visions and revelations
of the Lord", but he really says very little of what they were, and what
he had seen and heard. He did not put it down in words. In a way this is
true of John, too, for we read the book of the Revelation time and time again
without being sure of what are the things which he clearly found so difficult
Is there not some such experience for each one of us? I have to be careful
lest I suggest that we should all have the kind of visions which Ezekiel
had, for this is not so. What I am seeking to suggest, though, is that there
is something that we need to see even though we cannot verbalise it. It comes
from an immediate and personal contact with God. From time to time we need
this kind of experience in which we recognise and know that we have met Him.
It may come when we read the Scriptures and meditate on them, or perhaps
while we are listening to the Word of God as it is preached. New light from
heaven breaks in upon us. We may go home to lunch or tea and be asked what
we have heard today and find it difficult to put into words. But it is real
and permanently life-changing. Does it perhaps mean that someone asks, 'What
have you been reading today?' and we find it hard to describe yet we know
that it has had a deep and profound effect upon our life. We cannot quite
explain the matter, but we know that it has involved a real encounter with
That is the nature of the experience of contact with God. It means a
glimpse of the realities of another world, the world into which we were
first introduced when we came to Christ and were reborn, knowing the inward
reality of the Holy Spirit's presence. It involved the introduction of an
altogether different world from the natural one in which we live. There
are times when we need to be reminded of this, times when God gives us a
fresh touch of that reality, to deliver us from what would otherwise be
the routine and ordinariness of our Christian lives.
THE supreme thing was that at this interface Ezekiel heard the voice
of the Lord, and indeed, throughout the whole of his prophecies, he was
constantly hearing the word of the Lord. He was even commanded to consume
the word: "Son of man, hear what I say unto thee; ... open thy mouth, and
eat what I give thee" (2:8). I was talking the other day to a man who knows
the Bible extremely well, who not only reads it constantly but who occupies
himself in analysing it and considering it in great detail, so much so that
he has become spiritually confused. I tried to suggest to him that his procedure
gave no place to feeding his soul on the Word, to eating the Word as Ezekiel
did. We need to have hearts and minds strengthened by assimilating God's Word.
It must be absorbed into our system, especially if it is then to be passed
on to others. In the New Testament the Lord Jesus teaches us that His word
is spirit and life, and is the bread upon which we should feed by receiving
and obeying it.
So it is that we can have experiences in which we really know that God
has spoken to us. We will all have had that personal encounter with the
Lord in His Word. I want to have more of it. I feel the need if I am to
avoid settling down to mere routine. I must have fresh times at the interface
when I hear the Lord's voice and know that I can never be the same again.
Further, we are told that Ezekiel felt the hand of God upon him (1:3)
and the Spirit entered into him and set him upon his feet (2:2). The narrative
goes on to say "that when the hand of the Lord was heavily upon him, the
Spirit lifted him up and took him away" (3:14) and repeats: "the hand of the
Lord was upon me there" (3:22). Consider the impact of these statements.
The living God reached out His hand to grasp the prophet, and he knew that
this was what was happening. The result of this intimacy was a control of
the Spirit on his life which meant that when God said, "do not speak", he
did not speak, and when God said, "Speak", he opened his mouth to do so.
It is of great importance to know this kind of intimacy and control, and to
learn immediate response to it.
In a sense, of course, Ezekiel was a special case, for he was called
to a very special ministry, but he exemplifies to us the kind of walk with
God which we should have. The living presence of God can be our experience.
It is illustrated for us also in the account by Paul of how he came to know
the reassuring, comforting sense of the presence of God in the words: "My
grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness".
John also heard the Lord saying, "Do not be afraid. I am here" (Revelation
1:17). [90/91] For all of these and many more it was
surely a case of confrontation at the interface between heaven and earth,
and it made all the difference.
I ASK myself if the many cases of such meetings in the Scriptures do
not have a personal and a present relevance to me, even though I do not
have the specific calling that so many Bible characters had. I am not thinking
of what is called a 'charismatic' experience and make no claim to have such,
though it may happen to some in that way. I am certainly not thinking in
terms of the mystical, for I understand such encounters to have been highly
practical, and that is all important. Can we not have new awareness of the
nearness of the living God? It must be for us, since the Lord has not wound
up His Church like a clockwork toy which must go on and on through the centuries
as if empowered by a doctrinal spring. He is with us! He has promised to
make us aware of His presence as we meet in His name. The interface is not
a question of signs, for we walk by faith and not by sight. Nonetheless it
offers us real and transforming direct dealings with God Himself, and this
at all costs we must have.
It should be noted that these Bible accounts reveal that the interface
begins with the initiative of God Himself. He is the One who moves out to
find men. Very often, though, we find that the individual concerned is already
searching. Joshua was out looking for a way in which to do the work of God.
Jacob at Jabbok was looking for help as he feared to encounter his brother
Esau who might prove vindictive against him and his families. He was trying
to find an answer, and that was when God met him. Maybe God is waiting for
us to be more active in seeking His face so that He can meet us anew at
the interface. As the days pass and we get nearer to the time when, as Jesus
said, "the love of many will grow cold", we need the hand of God upon us
in new ways. This is the only way in which we can find deliverance from the
dangers of the last days. May we be drawn closer to the Lord, to have this
kind of interface experience, not once or twice, but often; and may we be
quickened and inspired by it.
PILGRIM SONGS OF GOD'S PEOPLE
(Studies in the Songs of Ascent)
J. Alec Motyer
5. PSALMS 132, 133 & 134
WE have travelled with this pilgrim of long ago, and we have noticed,
as we moved through these Songs of Ascents that they have a homeward movement
all the way. In every group of three, the first was a psalm of distance and
the third was one of home-coming. It is fitting that the series should end
now with three psalms which are all songs of arrival; psalms which dwell
not upon the journey but upon the end of the pilgrimage. They are psalms that
are focussed upon Zion itself, dealing with the kind of life that is typical
of the City of God.
For us these psalms of arrival show in advance the blessings of our future;
by them we can see the blessings of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, which
is yet to come down from God out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband;
we can fore-fancy the day when the tabernacle of God is with men, and all
things are made new. But also we see the blessings of the here and now,
for we "are come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God", and
are already found in the place where the people of God enjoy their God-given
righteousness and where Jesus is already the mediator of the new covenant.
So, although our thoughts look to the future and the consummation, they equally
dwell on the present reality of what is true for us of living in the City
Looking at these three psalms, you will find first of all that each is
a psalm of Zion. Zion is [91/92] mentioned in each
of them because the pilgrim lives in the City of God. So we have Zion the
Chosen City -- "The Lord hath chosen Zion (132:13); Zion refreshed by the
commanded blessing of God -- "for there the Lord commanded the blessing"
(133:3); and Zion, the place where God dwells and from which He blesses His
people -- "The Lord bless thee out of Zion" (134:3). So the three psalms
are bound together: Zion Chosen, Zion Blessed and Zion Indwelt by her God.
Another link which runs through these three is the idea of blessing.
Blessing is promised: "I will certainly bless her" (132:15). Although some
versions use the adverb 'abundantly', the original is more a word of assurance
than of fullness, as though God were saying that He will certainly bless.
He commits Himself to bless His chosen city. Blessing is commanded (133:3)
and blessing is enjoyed (134:3). It seems impossible to speak of Zion without
this feature of divine blessing.
What is more, in each of the three psalms we are made aware of the condition
upon which we may enter into this blessing that is spoken of. In Psalm 132,
David is the ground of blessing. In Psalm 133, the blessing comes upon brethren
dwelling together in unity, while in Psalm 134 the blessing comes upon a
PSALM 132 -- The Blessing of David
All the good that came upon the Zion people, came because David promised
to God and God promised to David. The blessings are secured by the king.
i. David's Oath. The psalm starts with David's vow to have no
rest until he had found a place for the Lord, a fit tabernacle for the Mighty
One of Jacob. I have inserted the word 'fit' because once again the word 'tabernacles'
is in the plural. The Hebrew often uses the plural to denote majesty, worthiness,
fullness, so it is clear that the psalm speaks of a tent which is worthy
of its great Occupant. David took an oath in the matter. He swore to the
Lord, and he vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob. This expression, "Mighty One
of Jacob" was previously used in Genesis 49, when the dying Jacob looked
forward to what God would do in leading His people to a promised perfection.
David fits himself into these purposes of God; he sees that this is the promised
consummation. The building of the temple, as it turned out to be (the pitching
of the tent as it actually was in David's time), was not just an astute
political move; it was the spiritual commitment in which the king saw the
consummation of the purposes of God for His people.
And he saw this as something to which he ought to commit himself without
reserve. "Remember for David's good, all the hardship he endured", all the
trouble he put himself to, and particularly the opening verses of this psalm
tell us of how he did not spare himself in his personal consecration to the
task. Never mind the troubles which came upon him from the outside, think
of the trouble that he put himself to, in giving himself without reserve
to the discharge of that vow he had made to his God. He foreswore even legitimate
duties and legitimate joys, putting them on one side even though they were
God-honouring and God-given. He said: "They are not for me until I have discharged
my oath to God". This was the trouble that he put himself to.
Now this psalm is exactly balanced in two halves, so that we move on
from David's promise and look at the Lord's responsive oath (v.11). The
Lord approves of David's oath and replies to it with His own which makes
the matter secure: "The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will
not turn back". This confirmatory oath of the Lord's speaks of the continuing
throne of David, but He links the promise of this continuing throne with
the conditions upon which it will continue, namely, "if thy children will
keep my covenant and my testimonies which I teach them". The continuance
of the throne of David is made conditional on his children living responsively
to the gracious blessings and provisions of God. God's covenant is not a
bargain. It is not a tit-for-tat arrangement -- you do this for me and I
will do that for you! God's covenant is an unconditional bestowal of grace,
but the grace is opened to those who respond to that which God is giving
them in the covenant. So the first thing is that they must live in responsive
participation of the blessings which God pledges.
Secondly they must live in responsive obedience to what God reveals of
Himself; not only His covenant but His testimonies which He will teach
[92/93] them. This was the rule for the house of David, but is
it not also the rule for the house of God? Is not this the way of blessing
-- to live responsively to all the pledges and promises of grace, and to
live obediently to all that is revealed of God by God? The word 'testimony'
is a lovely word. The word 'law' sometimes sounds harsh to our ears, but
God speaks of His law as His 'testimony', that is, what He tells His people
about Himself. When, in His law, He commands or commends, it is not the harsh
dictate of a totalitarian despot, considering only himself, but the loving
dictate of a God who sees nothing better for His people than they should
be like Him. His law is His testimony.
ii. David's People. Here we find that when the king lets it be
known that he has made an oath to God to a certain effect, the people rush
to get in behind him, exclaiming: "Lo, we heard of it in Ephrath;
we found it in the field of the wood. We will go into his
tabernacles; we will worship at his footstool" (vv.6 & 7). David's
people are unitedly with him in his enterprise. This, of course, is a poetical
version of the narrative which may be found in The Book of Samuel. There
we read the whole story of how the Ark of God was brought up from its period
of retirement, indeed from its time of being overlooked and almost forgotten,
buried away in the heart of the country. This poetic account represents the
scene as though they had to look for it, as though they had to make a hunt,
whereas what actually happened was that they travelled right down to Jearim
("the field in the wood" v.6) to bring the Ark out of obscurity back into
the centre of national life.
In so representing the story poetically, they share with us their own
enthusiasm for the king's proposal. They are with him in what he wants to
do. They say, "We heard of it", "we found it" and "we will go into his tabernacle",
to show how unitedly and joyfully they participated in David's heart exercise
and decided action. Again the word 'tabernacle' is in the plural and may be
rendered: "we will go into this fit tabernacle of His". They want to worship
at His footstool, which is a lovely way of describing the Ark. Sometimes in
the Old Testament it is the hill of Zion which is spoken of as the Lord's
footstool; sometimes it is the house of the Lord which is so described; but
here it is as typically represented by the Ark of the Lord. That is where
he touches down, where the invisible and eternal God is earthed; where He
comes down and meets His people.
Then, as we move into the second half of the psalm, we find the Lord's
confirmatory approval of all this. They want to establish Zion as the place
where God lives and can be worshipped, and He wants the very same thing.
"The Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for a habitation" (v.13).
The eternal counsels of God, all that is immoveably settled in His mind,
is so lovingly blended out by Him that it matches the ambitions and the needs
of His people. They long for Him to dwell in their midst, and He discloses
that this is just what He has always wanted. So far, then, in our study of
the psalm: David's oath is matched by God's oath; David's people find that
their desire is also God's desire. The matter is settled and confirmed, even
the reality of His presence.
iii. David's Prayer. "Arise, O LORD, into thy resting place; Thou
and the ark of thy strength. Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness;
and thy saints shout for joy" (v.8). In the old days, when the Ark was travelling
with the people of God in the wilderness, we read that when the day's march
was to begin and the Ark moved out of its place, Moses cried before the people:
"Arise, O Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered, and let them that hate
thee flee before thee", and when the day's march was at an end, "the ark
rested" (Numbers 10:35 & 36). This is the same word which David uses
in his prayer, "Thy resting place". When the Ark came to rest and the people
were coming into the camp, Moses cried out: "Return, O Lord, to the many
thousands of Israel".
In this prayer David wonderfully summarised that old situation, bringing
the past to life in the present. In this case the people of God were no longer
campaigning, so he could safely leave out the reference to God's leading
them against their enemies, simply calling on the Lord to arise from the
obscurity of the field of the wood and come back into the centre of national
life. He viewed the whole thing in one movement: "Arise, O LORD, into Your
home, Your resting place!" In fact this word in Hebrew could rightly be translated
'home'. You will find it so in the book Ruth, where Naomi prays for her daughters-in-law
that each would find a 'home' in the house of her husband, using this same
word, 'rest'. David's prayer is therefore that the Lord should rise up and
come home. [93/94]
"Come home to Zion, Thou and the ark of Thy strength." He asks not just
for an imitation or a purely symbolic indwelling, but that it might be the
reality of God dwelling among His people. Nevertheless David speaks also
of: "Thou and the ark of thy strength", because the reality of that indwelling
is to be seen in the light of what the symbol declares. The people are not
free to imagine the divine indwelling in any way that might happen to appeal
to them; they are to understand it in the way which God has provided, that
is, in the light of the symbol. God dwells among His people in the terms
dictated by the Ark, which was constructed to enshrine the law. We see then
that God dwells among His people as the God of direction, the God of revelation,
He says: "This in the way, walk ye in it". But the Ark was so constructed
that over the law there was a mercy seat upon which blood was sprinkled. All
of which illustrates the fact that God dwells among His people as the redeeming,
saving God, the God who deals with their sins and their shortcomings. Look
also at what it says in the psalm: "the ark of thy strength"! This is what
the power of God is all about; it is the power of His revealed will and also
the power of His operative grace.
He prays, too, for a righteous priesthood: "Let thy priests be clothed
with righteousness" (v.9). In the Bible, when a person is depicted as wearing
clothing, he is represented as having a certain capacity and exercising a
certain function. Clothing frequently pictures capacity and function. The
prayer was that God would establish among His people priests who are themselves
righteous, and who function as those who will bring the people into righteousness.
Then the third element in this prayer is a request for a joyful Church:
"Let thy saints shout for joy" (v.9). Behind that word 'saints', there lies
the Old Testament's main word for the love of God for His people, a word
that is translated in the older version as 'mercy', and later as 'steadfast
love'. The latter translation is the better one, for the word depicts the
unswerving, undeviating, unending love of God for the people of His covenant.
The word here which is translated 'saints' really means, "those upon whom
that love has been disposed, those who have been made the recipients of
the covenant love of God". Is not that a splendid way to consider the Church
of God -- as a company of those who have been made the recipients of undying,
unswerving, unchanging love? So David prays for a joyful Church.
Now let us look at the Lord's confirmation of the prayer: "This is my
resting place forever: here will I dwell; I have desired it" (v.14). David
has prayed it: the Lord pledges Himself to answer his prayer. David said:
"Come in, Lord, and make Your home here", and the Lord replies: "I will; I
have longed for it; this is what I have always wanted!" Isn't it marvellous
how good God is, how gracious, and how tender in His sovereign purposes? It
is as though He said: "I have always wanted it, but now I will do it because
you have asked Me". The prayers of God's people are caught up into His sovereign
Prayer is one of the laws of providence. God does what He always intended
to do, but He does it in answer to the prayers of His people. So He says:
"Yet, of course I will come to Zion; this is My home". And then He goes beyond
and adds: "I will certainly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor
with bread". In fact David had never asked for that, but God does "exceeding
abundantly above" all that he did ask or think. God runs beyond the prayers
of His people to do things which are meaningful and fulfilling to Himself.
He remembered people that David forgot. David did not pray for the poor, but
the Lord remembered them. David did not ask for the prosperity of Zion, but
the Lord undertook to grant it. He is more practical than we are; that is
why we must safeguard our prayers with the prayer of all prayers: "May Your
name be hallowed; may Your kingdom come; may Your will be done". There is
nothing richer, there is nothing more liberating, than that God should do
for His people what is His own will. It was a mistake on David's part to
forget this. God is the Father of the fatherless, who defends the cause of
the widow, even "God is in his holy habitation". What a God!
He goes beyond the requests, but He does also attend to them, so He proceeds:
"Her priests also will I clothe with salvation; and her saints shall shout
aloud for joy" (v.16). He will establish a valid priesthood. They are "clothed
with salvation", that is to say, they are given the capacity and the function
to minister salvation to the [94/95] people of God;
they are righteous in themselves and they are saving towards God's people.
What a pattern of Him who is, in the ultimate, the only Priest; righteous
in His own character and ministering salvation to God's people. No wonder
that there is great rejoicing in Zion!
(iv) David's Budding Horn. Even now the Lord has not finished.
He goes one mighty step beyond what was asked, introducing something fresh
that is precious in His mind: "There will I make the horn of David to bud
(v.17). According to 2 Chronicles 6:41 & 42 it was really Solomon who
prayed this prayer. David himself had gone; but David's horn was going to
bud. There is a David who lies beyond David; there is a David who was yet
to come and whom God would crown: "Upon himself shall his crown flourish"
Solomon was the first anointed to pray: "Turn not away the face of thine
anointed" (v.10), but he himself failed and he was followed by a long succession
of anointed ones who failed, a long succession on the throne of David who
did not keep God's covenant nor fulfil His testimony, and who therefore could
not inherit the promises. But there is a David yet to come; His horn will
bud; His lamp will shine; His enemies will be defeated; and He will wear
a glorious crown. And all the blessings started when David swore to God and
God swore to David. God's purposes, brothers and sisters, do not depend
on poor fallible people who promise beyond their possibility of achievement:
God's purposes rest in Himself. When David fails, when Solomon fails, when
Rehoboam fails, and though they are followed by a series of failures, God
says: "Never mind! I will make the horn of David to bud. I will do for him
and for My people what David himself could never have done". And in that
great David's greater Son, the David of God, the Man who is truly and fully
after God's heart, all these blessings are now secured for the people of God.
Christ is the true Son of David.
Psalm 133 -- The Blessing of Fellowship
"How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."
This psalm starts with the situation; it goes on with illustrations; and
it finishes with an explanation. The situation is when brothers live together
in unity. The illustrations are the precious oil and the dew of Hermon. The
explanation tells us how such a blessing can be -- because the Lord commanded
i. Situation. These men are brethren in fact and they are also
brethren in experience, for they dwell together in unity. These are two distinct
matters. People who are brethren in fact are not necessarily at unity in
experience. The people of God are brethren, they belong to the same family,
the family of God. It is God's intention that they should demonstrate the
fact by enjoying and observing the unity of the family. The Hebrew is rather
crisper and more abrupt than our version, for it reads: "Brethren also one".
It is just that. It is not to be assumed that just because they are brethren,
they are in fact united; this is something special and precious, an additional
thing: Brethren also one! The word used for 'one' is the same as that employed
to describe man and his wife in Genesis 2: "they shall become one flesh".
Here they are, two quite different beings with quite different backgrounds,
with quite different capacities and quite different characters, and yet they
become one; they are blended together into a oneness which keeps and makes
to flower all their individuality and yet binds them together. It is the
same word which is used of the tabernacle when Scripture says it became one.
When numerous parts lay separately on the ground, they belonged together,
but it was only when the thousand and one bits and pieces were joined and
slotted together that they became one in a God-intended unity. They belonged
together but they had to come together and combine together to provide what
God wanted. When it happens God thinks it good and pleasant. It is objectively
good, and it is subjectively pleasant. It is a good thing in itself, and
it is a delight to those who experience it.
ii. Illustrations. When those who are in fact brothers and sisters
are in experience joined together into one, what is it like? It is likened
first of all to enrichment of life, "it is like precious oil upon the head".
There is another psalm which reads: "Thou anointest my head with oil, my
cup runneth over". This speaks of a whole new dimension of richness and fullness
which individual brothers and sisters could never know alone, but which flows
to them as they are linked together into a oneness. It is also likened to
consecration of life; it is not just precious oil, it is like Aaron's oil
that ran down upon his beard. [95/96] Don't just think
in ordinary terms of enriched life under this symbolism of oil, but think
of what happened to Aaron and how the oil of consecration was poured abundantly
upon him. It is like that when brethren dwell together in unity. It is like
the oil of consecration. It is not just like becoming a priest, but like
becoming God's High Priest. It ushers into a new dimension of life, with
whole new potentialities of access to God and blessing to people. Aaron's
anointing was so abundant that it ran down to the skirts of his garment. "The
collar of his robe", say those translators who are a little more skimpy in
their estimate of blessing, but "the skirts of his garment" say the translators
who have shared the abundance which God gives to His people. It is like becoming
Aaron, when brethren dwell together in unity.
It is also a supernatural refreshment of life, for it is like the dew
of Hermon running down upon Mount Zion. That never happens, not naturally.
How could the dew of distant Hermon fall on Mount Zion? It is impossible
for Hermon is away up in the north, while Zion is in the south. Hermon, moreover,
is the chief mountain of the northern kingdom while Zion was the chief mountain
of the southern kingdom; and the 'northern' brethren were not on speaking
terms with the 'southern' brethren. "Oh", says God, "if brethren will only
come together in unity, I will Myself bring that dew that used to fall on
Hermon and make it fall with refreshing on Zion". The prospect is of something
quite supernatural. They could never bulldoze Hermon down and add it to Zion:
that is man's way of trying to come together. But if by the Spirit they
keep the unity which belongs to God's family, then He will see to it that
there is extraordinary and supernatural refreshment of life poured out upon
Within fellowship there is personal and individual blessing -- it is
like oil on the head. God does not call people into fellowship to lose their
individuality. He makes His individuals by means of fellowship. People become
all their total individuality in its fullness when they enter into fellowship.
There is individual blessing. There is also corporate blessing. The blessing
of God flows down upon Mount Zion; that is to say, upon the total company
of His people. It is heavenly blessing, for the psalm rings with the word,
'running down', "like precious oil upon the head running down ... even
Aaron's beard, that came running down. It is like the dew of Hermon
"running down ...". That is what we need, dear brothers and sisters;
we need this running down blessing of God, the heavenly blessing that is
poured out in this richness and miraculous refreshing power.
iii. Explanation. "There God commanded the blessing!" I know that
there are some times when Christians say to one another: "Have you had the
blessing?" Sometimes they say: "I would like to have the blessing". Do we
listen to the Word of God which tells us how we can have that blessing? God
has commanded it on this simple ground, namely that of brethren dwelling
together in unity. God's Word is always plainer than our recipes. It is
there that He has commanded the blessing, for it is the blessing of
fellowship. It is there indeed that God imparts life to His united people.
Do you long for a 'living' church? God here gives us a recipe for life, though
nobody will imagine that it is an easy one. He will command the blessing
if we will dwell together in unity. There is nothing more sure than that.
PSALM 134 -- The Blessing of Worship
Here is the climax of these three psalms of climax. In Psalm 132 we came
to the City -- the place of God's presence. In Psalm 133 we came to each
other -- the place of fellowship. In Psalm 134 we come to the Lord Himself.
Here the people of God are actually in His presence, in the place where He
is. This is the climax of climaxes.
It is most interesting and unexpected to be reminded of those who "by
night stand in the house of the Lord". Since there is no word of God that
is accidental, we must believe that this was deliberately chosen. Look where
the pilgrim started; it was in the tents of Kedar. Now 'Kedar' means blackness.
That is where he began, in a deep darkness which seemed far off from God and
in which he could find no fellowship whatsoever. Now again it is night, but
this is an altogether new darkness, a blessed darkness, a transformed darkness,
a darkness in which there is fellowship with other believers in the near
and [96/97] realised presence of God. He has come
home from his far country.
The pilgrim has arrived. He and his fellows stand by night in the presence
of God because they find that that Presence is opened to them when they need
it most -- in the dark night. Night is a time when weeping endures, but
thank God, that weeping does not take away the presence of God; they stand
by night but they stand near Him. The night was the time when the Passover
lamb was slain, and the pilgrim people stood where the body of the lamb
was, keeping their vigil with God. So we stand by night in His presence
according to His appointed provision for us in the Lamb. "This is the night
of the Lord", says Scripture, "to be much observed by all the children of
Israel throughout their generations". The slain Lamb provides for us a night
Our God is, of course, available by night as well as by day. The Hebrew
says: "by nights", so that it is not just one night which is in view but
an open sanctuary night after night in a twenty-four hour service. We note
that it is the servants of the Lord who stand thus in His presence, a fact
which should warn us never to think first of the activity of 'doing' when
we talk of serving the Lord. No, the first service is that of worship. If
we ask what these servants of the Lord who stand by night in His house are
doing, the answer is that they are blessing the Lord. What does that mean,
to bless the Lord? What does the Lord do when He blesses us? He examines our
lives; He searches us from one end to the other; He sees what we are like
and He takes appropriate action. So, too, when we bless the Lord we examine
Him, we see the excellencies of Him who brought us out of darkness into His
marvellous light; and then we take appropriate action. We rejoice, we worship,
we adore and we praise the glories of His revealed nature. That is what servants
are for. They are to "lift up their hands in holiness" or as the Hebrew says:
"Lift up your hands ... holiness". You can make what you will of this. It
might mean, and probably does: 'Lift up your hands in the sanctuary'. You
are in the very Holiest of all -- lift up your hands. It might refer to the
condition of those who are to come before God, for without holiness no man
shall see the Lord. In any case our standing before Him is entirely God-given.
We close with an indication of the results of this service in His holy
presence: "The Lord bless thee out of Zion, even he that made heaven and
earth" (v.3). From such a worshipping people blessings flow out far and near.
The citizen of Zion has the joy of sharing in that spiritual exercise which
will result in out-flowing from the all resourceful God who possesses every
conceivable power to minister blessing out from Zion. The climax of all blessing
is surety to be a blessing.
"THOU GOD SEEST ME"
WE seldom pay much attention to little Hagar. The allegorical use of
her as the slave mother in Paul's letter to the Galatians, tends to make
us think slightingly of this Egyptian and her son. We are told that they
had to be cast out, and on the whole we are prepared to leave it at that.
But Hagar was more than an allegorical figure -- she was a human being
whom God loved. It is true that she was a stranger by birth and a slave
at heart, but is not that where we all begin? She has things that can be
said against her but she has left us all in her debt, for she it was who
first pronounced this wonderful spiritual truth: "Thou God seest me". I,
for one, thank her profoundly for such comforting words.
It is typical of graceless men that they distort this happy confession
and make it into an attack [97/98] upon the God of
the Old Testament. Is there a single writer with some early experience of
the Bible who can resist a sneer at this conception of a malicious snooper
upon human affairs? One after another, in their biographies or novels, they
describe the wall-text with a large EYE, and the ominous warning that a
fault-finding God is spying on you in your most private room. It almost
seems a 'must' for those who want to have a sly dig at the Old Testament.
If they sincerely considered the matter they would discover that the description
applies equally to the Jesus of the New Testament, and if they really verified
their reference by turning to the actual story in Genesis they would find
that Hagar -- far from resenting God's all-seeing eye -- found the sweetest
comfort in her discovery of an understanding God.
"Thou God seest me." Is it a warning? Well, if Abraham's daughter-in-law,
Rebecca, had just remembered that story of Hagar, she might not have plotted
with Jacob to deceive Isaac. Her old husband was blind, and fair game for
their deception, but God is not blind. He sees it all. She might have saved
her family from that disgraceful quarrel if she had kept Hagar's words in
mind. True, she did not foil God's purposes -- nobody can do that -- but
she lost her pampered son Jacob, and never saw him again, and all because
she ignored that all-seeing eye of God.
Later on, a happier recollection of this divine title took place down
in Hagar's native Egypt, for Joseph rejected the immoral advances of Potiphar's
wife with the reminder that although her husband might not see them, God
could. As he fled the temptation he exclaimed: "How then can I do this great
wickedness against God?" (Genesis 39:9). "Thou God seest me." That reminder
sent Joseph to an unjust prison but it preserved him for God's highest purposes.
Had he not heeded that warning he might have avoided immediate trouble, but
he certainly would have missed the throne!
So even as a warning, the phrase can be most helpful. Nevertheless, it
was not coined with this in mind, but was the grateful ejaculation of a
greatly tried slave-girl, who found that God loves slaves.
IT must have seemed to Hagar that nobody cared for her at all. She was
far from her native land. We remember that the visit of Abram and Sarai
to Egypt was a matter of wilful unbelief, so we have no reason to think
that their employment of Hagar was a matter of prayer. She was available;
she was probably cheap; possibly she was actually sold by her parents to
these affluent Hebrew visitors. It is unlikely that her wishes were consulted,
either then or later. She was a mere chattel.
"Ah," but somebody will say, "What a privilege to live in such a godly
home!" That is a very doubtful assumption. The truth is that there is only
a godly atmosphere in a home where husband and wife honour God's Word and
pray together. Did Abram and his wife share the promises of God round a
family altar? If they had done so, then Sarai would never have made her
unbelieving proposal to exploit Hagar for their own convenience, and if
she had, Abram would not have listened to her. Did the husband and wife
wait together on God in family prayers? If they had, God would not have
left them to their own carnal devices and would not have let them spend
thirteen empty years with no message at all from Himself. No, I fear that
the truth is that Hagar lived and worked in a home where there was little,
if any, evidence of God's presence. Any home where there is no regular sharing
of God's Word and no mingling of praise and prayer at the Throne of Grace
is a place where people do not meet God. Hagar never did.
What she did meet was unbelief and selfishness. Sarai decided that this
servant could be used to produce a son for Abram and got to work accordingly.
Now we do not need to concern ourselves too much with the morals of the enterprise.
Half of Jacob's sons who became tribes in Israel was born as a result of
similar irregular unions. It was not so much the immorality as the sheer
inhumanity of it. Neither Sarai nor Abram spared a thought for her. All they
wanted was a son. Hagar was under no illusion about her relationship with
her master. He had no affection for her, but simply used her as a convenience.
When Sarai turned against her, he never spoke a word in her defence. "Do to
her as it pleaseth thee" were his words to his irate wife, for he never troubled
himself about Hagar's feelings so long as he could be left in peace with
his unbelief. Sarai needed no second encouragement to vent her spite upon
the unfortunate girl. [98/99]
SO she ran away. What else could she do? Nobody loved her. Nobody cared
what happened to her. Life was dealing very hardly with her and nothing made
sense. Those who wish to do so can say that it was her own fault for despising
her mistress. Well, what else could she do? At this stage there was nothing
in that home to provoke anything but contempt. In her deepest heart, Sarai
despised herself. There she was, first provoking her husband to faithless
action and then complaining to him about the results, and there was he,
a man of faith out of touch with God and as miserable as any of us are when
we neither trust nor obey.
Hagar did what many of us have tried to do at times. She ran away. She
felt that nobody cared, and we may be tempted to feel the same when God
shows us hard things. But how wrong she was! We are told that God "found"
her. The very word shows that He must have been looking for her. He found
her and disclosed that He knew all about her: "Hagar, Sarai's maid", He called
her, for His is a very personal knowledge. "Thou God seest me" was
no general comment on God's omniscience but a personal realisation that my
individual case is well known to Him. "Whence camest thou?", He asked, not
because He did not know, but because He wanted to give her the relief which
comes when we have someone with whom to share our troubles. He went on to
ask: "And whither goest thou?" That was a question she could not answer. She
did not know. Hers was a blind fleeing from trouble. Had she some wild idea
of returning to Egypt? Did she just feel that anywhere would be better than
living with Sarai? She had no idea where she was going. God, however, knew
the answer to that one too, and would tell her all in good time and even
give long term promises about her future. For the moment, however, let her
just enjoy the comfort of God's understanding love. "Thou God seest me." This
truth brought peace into her troubled heart. Somehow everything seemed all
right if God was near enough to let His face shine on her.
She was assured not only that God's eye was upon her but that His ear
was open to her cry: "the Lord hath heard thy affliction". To us the wild
Ishmael is not an attractive figure, but his significant God-given name should
confirm to us the encouragement of the whole passage. Ishmael means, 'God
hears', and the name was given in particular connection with Hagar's affliction.
When we least feel like it, God sees us and God hears us too. That day made
history. From then on the well was known as "the well of the living one who
sees me" (v.14 R.V. margin). It is surely a great day in the history of any
one of us when we come to know the Lord in this way.
As we have said, Hagar did not know what to do, but now God could tell
her: "Return to thy mistress and submit ...". God sees us when we are running
away from our difficulties and He comforts us with His look of love, but
He does not excuse us from obedience. The word He used to Hagar is a great
New Testament word -- 'submit!' It seems to apply in every circumstance of
life; at home, at work and in the Church. God did not tell Hagar to submit
to Him -- that would have been easy, or at least we think it would -- but
to submit to her mistress "in the Lord" or "for the Lord's sake" (1 Peter
She could go back then to those same people and the same circumstances,
but if she went back saying, "Thou God seest me", it would all be different.
One imagines that it was never easy. Nothing worthwhile for God ever is.
It seems, though, that Abraham became very fond of Ishmael (Genesis 21:11),
so perhaps the atmosphere in the home was relatively happy for his mother.
But it could not last. In the will of God her son and Sarah's could not go
on living together. In the end Hagar and Ishmael had to make the final break
with Abraham's household, but this time Hagar did not run away, she was expelled.
Abraham himself sent her away (21:14). For my part I am always averse to
'resignations'. I believe that when God's time comes for us to abandon a
situation, He will allow us to be forced out of it, and if He does, then
we can count on His meeting us with His provision and His promises as He
did in the case of Hagar. That, however, is another story.
"THOU God seest me." Seest me in my loneliness, seest me in my submission
to difficult circumstances, and seest me in the wider setting of a great
future. For this was the result of Hagar's encounter with her seeing God.
He disclosed that He had vast purposes of fruitfulness to be accomplished
through her yet unborn son: "I will greatly multiply thy seed, that it shall
not be numbered for multitude". With us all God is working for the future.
It is not very clear to us just how this Ishmaelitish nation fitted
[99/100] into the divine purposes, but this was what Hagar was
told. You have a future! You have a very wonderful future! Nobody can calculate
the vast outworking of this personal encounter with the God who has seen you
in your unhappy wilderness experience and is silently planning over you in
I say that it is difficult for us to be wholly reconciled with this future
promised to Hagar, but there are no problems about God's promises to us who
are in Christ. He sees us in our trials and needs and He assures us that
in them all He will work together in such a way that through eternal ages
we will be "unto the praise of his glory", "God's own possession, unto the
praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:12 & 14). In Hagar's case He could look
beyond her present plight and immediate future into a glowing prospect which
to her may have sounded like a dream. In our case also God sees us, but He
looks beyond our present limitations and immediate prospects and sees the
eternal purposes into which He has brought us in Christ. "Thou God seest me",
in this sense, involves something which Hagar could never know, the eternal
destiny reserved for those who are to reign with Christ.
SO much for the Old Testament story. What has the New Testament to tell
us of this divine title? Well, we have hardly opened the Gospel by John when
we find another character whose whole life was transformed by a similar experience.
Nathanael was not an Egyptian, but a true-born Israelite; the Lord did not
find him by a well but under a fig tree; yet he seems to have passed from
bewildered despair to radiant faith just by Christ's words: "Before Philip
called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee" (John 1:48).
Whether Nathanael's heart condition was as despairing as Hagar's, we
do not know, but there must have been some deep desperation of soul which
made him explode with the exasperation of a man at the end of his tether:
"Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Nobody but the Lord and he knew
of what went on under that fig tree (itself a symbol of Israel's kingdom),
but it must have been an agonised enquiry as to why God did not seem to be
caring about His people's condition. Poor Nathanael did not just despair
about the best, he could not bring himself to expect any good thing at all.
Perhaps he was ready to make some new committal if only God would raise
up help for His people.
All this is conjecture. It arises, though, from his immediate recognition
of Jesus as "the king of Israel". Somehow the fact that Jesus had seen him
when he thought he was all alone under that fig tree, completely convinced
him that all his questions could be answered in the person of Christ. He
believed. He believed just because Jesus knew and understood what had been
going on in his heart. One can almost hear him repeating Hagar's rapturous
words: "Thou God seest me". Everything seems to have been transformed for
him by this simple discovery. "All things are naked and laid open before the
eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13). The man who really knows
that, is the man who has truly entered into God's rest.
Like Hagar, Nathanael was given immediate instructions and also a predicted
destiny. He had to go back to his own town, for he belonged to Cana of Galilee
and the whole apostolic band moved on to this town for the miracle at the
wedding feast. And he had to submit himself to the rigorous life of discipleship.
For him there would be little problem about submitting, for he was now a
committed subject of Israel's King, but there must have been times later when
he could have given up as the pressure mounted.
For him, also, there were long-term promises just as there had been for
Hagar. He was assured that he was to see much greater things, with the new
break-through of the era of the Spirit. When Jesus saw Nathanael under the
fig tree, He could look on and see his future under an open heaven with all
the energy of God functionally at work in and through Christ. Nathanael might
vaguely recognise in the words of Jesus an allusion to the dream at Bethel
of the first "Israelite indeed", and appreciate that the spiritual significance
of Christ's promise was that he (with the other disciples) would have an
honoured place in the House of God. The Lord saw Nathanael in his need, but
He also saw him in the setting of his eternal destiny.
"Thou God seest me." He sees me in Christ and sees me in eternal union
with Him in the heavenly places. No, God is not snooping on us, as if to
catch us out in some misdemeanour: He is looking on us with the eye of understanding
love and of purposeful grace. In Christ He has brought us to Beer-lahai-roi
-- "the well of the living one who sees me". [100/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (21)
"(for he that wrought for Peter unto the apostleship of the circumcision
wrought for me also unto the Gentiles)" Galatians 2:8
IN these breathless chapters of the Galatian Letter it is hard to keep
pace with Paul's parentheses. Close on the heels of the previous one in
verse 6, we now find a further reference in brackets to the matter of his
relationships with the apostles. It is a very happy reference this time,
for it underlines the similarity between him and Peter. It is a most notable
feature of the book of the Acts that there we find continuing and often
parallel experiences of these two great men.
BOTH of them were involved in the healing of a lame man as his first
recorded miracle (3:7 and 14:10). Both were the instruments for "special
miracles" (5:15 and 19:11). Both were miraculously released from prison
(12:11 and 16:26). Each of them raised a person from the dead (9:40 and 20:10).
Each had his whole course of service for God altered by a vision in a trance
(11:5 and 22:17). This and much more can be discovered in the book of the
Acts. Beyond that they had much more in common, both in their teaching (2
Peter 3:15) and their awareness of approaching martyrdom (2 Peter 1:14 and
2 Timothy 4:6). It was the same Lord who governed each of their lives.
THE particular point of this parenthesis is to assert that both Peter
and Paul fulfilled their respective ministries in the power of the same Spirit.
Their paths diverged. Their callings were different. In some ways Paul must
have been tempted to envy Peter, for he longed to spend his life witnessing
to Jews. After Caesarea Peter might perhaps have been tempted to envy Paul,
for in that city he himself had a marvellous experience of the outpouring
of the Spirit on the Gentiles. But it was theirs not to envy but to obey.
THE key word in this verse is "wrought" or "worked". It was Christ who
was at work in both men, so that it was not a question of the work that
Peter was doing or the work that Paul chose in the ministries to both Jew
and Gentile, but it was the work that the risen Christ was doing through
them. And it was mighty, as we would expect if Christ was at work. We must
get it quite clearly established that the very same Lord works in different
people for different purposes.
THERE is a sense in which each of us should be able to add, 'for me also',
since every one of us is called to be His functioning member here on earth.
We do not have to engage in the same activities as others. We certainly do
not need either to envy or to imitate them. Each of us has a distinct calling
from God, to be fulfilled by the powerful working of the same Lord in and
through us. It is wrong to despise or to envy. What we need to do is what
these godly apostles of old did -- give to one another the right hands of
fellowship and get on with our own calling in God.
"LITTLE CHILDREN, ABIDE IN HIM;
SO THAT WHEN HE APPEARS WE MAY HAVE CONFIDENCE
AND NOT BE ASHAMED BEFORE HIM AT HIS COMING."
1 John 2:28
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