|Vol. 10, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1981
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
A MAN WHOM GOD HAS HEDGED IN
"Why is life given to a man whose way is hid,
and whom God hath hedged in? Job 3:23
THE man who so described himself was one who no longer had any desire
to live. He longed to escape to that blessed place where "the wicked cease
from troubling, and the weary be at rest" (Job 3:17). But he was not permitted
so to opt out of life. God had hedged him in. Later he cried out in his misery:
"Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing
that I long for! Even that it would please God to crush me; that he would
loose his hand and cut me off!" (6:8-9). But it was not to be.
Life was an intolerable burden to him. He longed to discover a gap in
the divine hedge through which he could quietly give up the fight and slip
away. His way was hidden; it was securely hedged in. More than anything else
he wanted to die. Before we condemn him in this attitude, let us remember
that the great prophet, Elijah, passed through a similar experience when
in his despair he requested for himself that he might die (1 Kings 19:4).
And while Paul's prayers were more disciplined and his feelings more restrained,
he assured the Philippians that his deep personal desire was "to be with
Christ, which is very far better" (Philippians 1:23). And was it not David
who cried: "Oh that I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away, and be
at rest"? (Psalm 55:6).
In the course of many years of pastoral ministry, I have tried to comfort
godly people who shared this distaste for further life on earth, and have
done so by the reminder that our times are in His hands -- in other words,
that we are hedged-in men and women. I write as one who has some small knowledge
of how irksome it can sometimes be when God seems to hedge us in either to
circumstances or to life itself. Why is there no gap in the hedge for us?
What is the meaning of it all?
Let us make no mistake that Job was not imagining anything when he spoke
of being hedged-in. Satan himself came up against that barrier when he tried
to destroy the patriarch. It was he who complained to God: "Hast thou not
made an hedge about him ...?" (1:10). At the conclusion of his thoughts on
Romans 8 in this issue, George Harpur remarks on the almost humorous situation
when Satan was complaining that there was a divine hedge around Job which
he could not break into, while Job was lamenting that it was a hedge that
he could not break out of. Put like that it is rather amusing, but the hedge
is a very real one and the whole matter desperately serious. To the sufferer
the hedge does not seem to be a protection but an intolerable barrier against
escape. Job was a desperate man who felt that he could bear no more. Enough
was enough. "Why", he queried, "is life still given to a man in such a plight?"
It seems to me that there are three parts to the answer to this questioning
'Why?', three areas of comfort to those who would rather quit this earthly
scene of conflict and are not allowed to do so. The first, naturally enough,
concerns God. The second, quite rightly, concerns others than ourselves.
The third, however, is comfortingly personal. I will try to enlarge on this
three-fold answer. Firstly God aims to get glory for Himself through the sufferings;
next He plans to use them for the blessing of others, and thirdly He will
use them for the perfecting of the character of the sufferer.
1. Hedged-in For God's Glory
We need to look at the setting of the whole book. To poor Job his way
was hidden so that he did not and could not realise the real nature of the
conflict in which he was engaged. We are told the whole story. It shows that
God took the initiative. In the first two chapters we read that in his account
to God of his activities, Satan implied that he was gaining considerable satisfaction
as he went to and fro in the earth, for he observed that the race of men
whom God had created for Himself had now blindly (or not so blindly!) transferred
their allegiance to His enemy. God did not argue with Satan (nor did
[101/102] Jesus) but He threw down a challenge to him with the triumphant
question: "Hast thou considered my servant Job?" (1:8). My own guess is
that Satan would have preferred not to consider men like Job -- they were
calculated to remind him of his own limitations. In this case, however,
he was forced by God to take up the challenge and, as we know, he was completely
defeated by Job's faith. It was Satan who first complained of the 'hedge'.
Inside that hedge there was set an arena. God was planning to demonstrate
to the spiritual universe that He had men and women who love truly and will
trust Him even in the most painful and inexplicable circumstances. This is
no small matter. In the New Testament we are told that God's intention is
that "now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might
be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God" (Ephesians
3:10). This does not so much refer to the ultimate day of God's full vindication
but to what is going on in the present -- NOW!
Job was in the arena of faith. The Lord Jesus entered that arena and
in it He triumphed gloriously. May we not say in all reverence that the
Lord Jesus was supremely 'the Man whom God had hedged in'? Listen to Him
in the Garden of Gethsemane -- but listen most reverently -- and you will
hear Him asking if there were no way out of that Calvary hedge in which
He found Himself. His soul was exceeding sorrowful "even unto death" (Matthew
26:38). But He did not die there. He rose up from His praying prostration,
faced His accusers, bore His cross and glorified the Father by His sacrifice
unto death. For Him there was no escape gap in the hedge of God's will.
So we must not resent the fact that we still have to live on. We must
seek grace to be hedged-in here on earth until from our lives God has obtained
something of the satisfaction and glory which He received through Job's strange
sufferings. We can be "a sweet fragrance of Christ unto God" (2 Corinthians
2:15); we can be "a spectacle both to angels and men" (1 Corinthians 4:9
m.); by our loyalty of faith we can silence and overcome the accuser of the
brethren. The man who is hedged-in is therefore really being honoured by
2. Hedged-in For Helpfulness To Others
Reasonably enough, Job imagined that his greatest helpfulness to others
was when all went well with him: "Oh that I were as in the months of old,
as in the days when God watched over me. ... The blessing of him that was
ready to perish came upon me ... I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I
to the lame" (29:2, 13 and 15). To Job, those were the days. Behind the hedge,
though, he felt completely futile and helpless: "But now they that are younger
than I have me in derision" (30:1).
He could see no value to others by the troubles which beset him and yet
it is often the case that when death works in us, blessing comes to other.
What a blessing the story of Job has been to multitudes! I can still remember
the time and place when as a young Christian I first encountered that comforting
verse: "But he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me I shall
come forth as gold" (23:10). How many times since then have I been helped
and encouraged by those words, and what a blessing they have been to so many
tried Christians in the fires of God's refining activities.
The story of Job has often been the Holy Spirit's way of enabling tried
Christians to accept God's mysterious ways and to profit from them -- "to
come forth as gold!" Throughout the centuries, large numbers of believers
must have found great consolation and faith for endurance from the sufferings
and experiences of this 'hedged-in' man. In New Testament times, James comforted
his tried fellow believers with the reminder of Job's patience and "the end
of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity ..." (James 5:11).
Job doubtless said some unwise things. Who doesn't? But he also uttered
words of sublime inspiration. Out of the fiery furnace of his troubles he
was able to speak words which have brought comfort to countless sorrowing
mourners: "But I know that my redeemer liveth ..." (19:25). If Job had said
nothing more than that passage about the certainty of resurrection, his painful
experiences would have been more than justified. In eternity he will never
cease to praise the faithfulness of God which did not allow him to find
refuge in the grave when he so longed to do so, calling him to live on and
so to minister to troubled hearts and minds through the centuries.
Our own sphere of influence is doubtless much more limited. We cannot
expect to convey comfort to many generations. Yet it may be that there can
be much more value from our lives than we would think possible, and that
more [102/103] people may benefit from our patient
acceptance of the will of God than can be judged in our own lifetime. In
Job's case he was soon to see what help he could be to others, for those three
well-meaning but irritating friends of his found that they had great need
of his prayers. There on his ash-heap, with no visible sign of any change
in his circumstances, he was given the high privilege of interceding on behalf
of the three, and he was ready to take up their case as soon as they turned
to him at God's command.
We are not told anything more of their subsequent experiences, but we
conclude that all went well for them when Job had offered prayers on their
behalf. This privilege, at least, is given to us all. Hedged-in by circumstances
we may be, but there is always a ministry of helpfulness by prayer if, like
Job, we do not wait till things have changed for us before praying for others.
Abraham prayed for Abimelech and his household in their barrenness even when
he and Sarah had no indication of a child being born to them (Genesis 20:17).
For him that was the turning point. The immediate sequel was the gift to
them of Isaac. In that case, as in the story of Job, the Lord turned a man's
captivity when he prayed for others (Job 42:10).
3. Hedged-in For Personal Profit
The last chapter of this book tells us of the full restoration of a new
family to Job and the doubling of all his earthly possessions. While everything
seemed dark and hopeless, God was using the hedge and the test of patience,
not only for the glory of His holy name and for the provision of a ministry
of blessing to others, but also for the refining and enrichment of Job himself.
"Oh that I were as in the months of old", Job groaned, little realising that
he was near to a much better "afterward". His patience under trial produced
a sequel in which family and friends combined to heap upon him every comfort
and generous gift that he could have wished for (42:11). "Then" -- when
the refining work was done -- Job found himself more honourable and more
wealthy than he had ever been before.
This is God's purpose with us all. It is quite true that, as Job said,
the end of trial is to come forth as gold. His prosperity was earthly, and
even his long happiness had an end, but in our case God is working for eternity.
The values which He has in view for us will more than compensate for the
pain which we endure for Him now. The New Testament makes this very clear.
It is the only explanation, but it is a fully adequate one, for the strange
ways which God takes with so many of His servants.
Right to the end of our lives, believers are being prepared for eternity.
How many aged saints are pressed into complaint that the hedge remains and
they have to live on when it would seem so much kinder if the Lord would
remove them to their heavenly home. They know that it would be so much better
to be with Him; that if for them to live has been Christ, then to die must
mean gain. Yes, but even while Paul was penning those very words he knew in
his own case that for the time being he must be prepared to live on. It is
true that he remained alive because the Church still had need of his services,
but he confided to the Philippians that he had not yet attained and needed
to keep pressing on for the prize.
The time did come when he could be sure that he had finished his course.
That time will come for each of us, though the Lord alone knows how and when
it will be. Until then we must lie still and let Him mould us. Only the
heavenly Potter knows when the vessel which He has in hand is as He planned
it should be. But the very fact that I have passed from writing about the
hedge to a Hand, shows how personal is the care being given to each one of
us. Why are we now hedged in by God? So that in the end we may be unto praise
and honour and glory at His appearing. "So the Lord blessed the latter end
of Job more than his beginning" (42:12). He will not do less for us.
LIFE IN ITS FULNESS (3)
(A running commentary on Romans 8)
WE continue the matter of reigning with Christ in glory. God is going
to make new heavens and a new earth, no doubt a million times more wonderful
than this present universe, and He plans to make it so that He will need
a lot of redeemed people to share the running of [103/104]
it with His dear Son. But we are to suffer if we would reign. In this
context, Paul declares: "I have suffered the loss of all things". In that
short sentence he describes the life of one who is pressing on towards God's
goal. He was a man who was prepared to suffer, but who also insisted that
his affliction was not worth comparing with the glory that is to come.
So we are heading for glory. Paul begins to tell us how great that glory
is. He assures us that it is so significant and wonderful that the whole
universe is held up in its course until that time comes: "The earnest expectation
of the creation awaits the manifestation of the sons of God" (verse 19). In
other words, God knows that His creation is not right -- it is in bondage
to corruption, having been made subject to vanity -- but He fully intends
to put this right. But there is something more important which must come
first, and that is the manifestation of His redeemed sons in glory. Everything
else attends upon that. Elsewhere Paul tells us that "when Christ, who is
our life, appears, then we shall also appear with Him in glory" (Colossians
3:4). I have previously said that although we are God's sons, this is not
yet manifest. There is no outward change to show it. But there will be, and
that will take place at the Coming of Jesus.
SO we come to what our version calls, "the adoption". I understand that
there was a custom then for men adopt their own sons. This may sound strange
unless we realise that a boy in the family was treated as a child until he
reached the age of maturity. A slave was in charge of him; he spent his time
among the women-folk; he was of no account. During that period his father
would never be seen in public with him. When, however, he was "adopted",
or recognised as a son, his father gave him a grown-up name and a grown-up
garment like his own, and would walk down the street with him, saying, "This
is my son!" The boy had hitherto been a child, but now he had got sonship.
Not only this, but the father would celebrate the event by having the
whole home painted up and decorated. It would be a great day. And God has
a family of children who have not yet been publicly shown, but when He manifests
them as His sons He will transform the whole universe. Creation has been
made subject to vanity in hope -- the hope of a full deliverance from the
bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. I
am looking forward to that day, when there will be this transformation, for
His name will be hallowed everywhere and His will done on earth as it is in
heaven. People will be able to live without fear: "none shall make them afraid"
(Micah 4:4); the lion will lie down with the lamb; the desert bloom as a
rose; and the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover
This universe is the one which will be so delivered. The next one, when
it comes, will never need to be delivered, for in it there will be no sin
but only perfect righteousness. This one is subject to vanity. Everything
runs out to death. That is the tragedy of those whose only hope is in this
world. If the world doesn't die on them, they will die on it, and are left
with nothing but memories. The whole creation groans and travails in pain
together until now. Decay is written into it. It is running down; it is running
out. The scientists agree about that. God, however, will wind it up again.
Meantime, though, it is groaning. And so are we! We have the spirit of adoption
but we do not yet have the adoption, that is we are still waiting for the
public recognition as sons of God which will come with the redemption of
WHILE we wait for that glorious resurrection, "we groan", says Paul,
"within ourselves". The pity is that there are too many Christians who do
not limit it to that, but groan into any ear that they can find. The Civil
Service up yonder has a Complaints Department, and it is packed out day and
night. There are always too many complaining Christians, groaning for Social
Security of some sort or other at the heavenly Complaints Department. It
is as though there are long queues there, so that the complainers suffer
great delays; They say, 'I have been praying about this for years and there
is no answer yet'. Well, I am not surprised if the requests go in to the
Complaints Department. Don't forget that there is a Thanksgiving Department
too, and that has far less people and there one can get quick attention.
Oh, to keep our groans within ourselves!
We have much to groan about, not so much the common disasters of life
but the fact that we have to endure a situation here in which our Lord is
maligned, His Word derided and His people hated. If we are merely groaning
about the weather or because we haven't got a second [104/105]
car, we are not groaning about the right things. We need to learn to
groan in the right sense, within ourselves, looking for our adoption, "the
redemption of our bodies". For we are saved by hope. Saved by hope? you
ask, I thought that we are saved by faith. Yes, but by hope too. As we have
said, the spirit has been saved, the soul is being saved and the body is
yet to be saved. Thank God that the Christian's hope is a certainty. When
a non-Christian talks about hoping for this and that, he is on a gamble.
It is chancey; it might or it might not come off. The result is that a gambler
lives in intense anxiety, whereas the Christian has a true hope which enables
him to live in intense serenity. "If", says the apostle, "we hope for that
which we do not see, then we with patience wait for it". Had our future depended
upon us it would certainly have been a gamble, but it depends upon Him whose
Word is faithful and who always keeps His promises. And if He does not keep
them in the way in which we understand, then that is only a comment on our
understanding or our misunderstanding. We do not fret: we quietly wait.
PASSING on to verse 26, we have the assurance that "the Spirit also helpeth
our infirmities". Note the word 'also', which connects with verse 16 in which
we are reminded that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit. That is a
great help, for it means that as we pray we can say, 'Abba, Father'. Sometimes
that is all we can say, and all we need to say. In childlike trust we can
draw close to the Lord and lean on Him, just as we did with an earthly father.
He knew what we were talking about and what was worrying us, and he was
able to take things in hand. Our heavenly Father has much better ideas about
putting things right than we have. What is more, we have the Holy Spirit
to help our infirmities. So we discover that we have another Intercessor,
beside the Lord Jesus. He is the great Intercessor, ever using the power
of His name and of His precious blood to save us to the uttermost as we come
unto God through him. But do we realise that the Holy Spirit is also interceding?
We have a member of the Trinity interceding up there and Another down here.
This is not the only way in which the Spirit helps us, but it is an important
one. He works in us for prayer. Whether we feel Him or not is irrelevant;
the fact is that he makes intercession for the saints according to the will
of God. This aspect of prayer may come to us as a new revelation. There are,
then, two of us praying together. As we get on our knees, we are praying
and the Spirit within us is praying. Since He does this "with groanings which
cannot be uttered", right down deep in our hearts, God listens to that holy
praying which is according to His will. It is as though there were two sorts
of praying going on; the prayers which our natural man utters and which are
influenced by the fact that we do not always know how to pray as we ought,
and the perfect prayers of the Spirit within us. It would not be surprising
if at times the Father asked us not to babble on with our own ideas so much
but to be quiet before Him and let Him read our hearts. God is very patient
and will not be upset by anything we say to Him, but He knows that the real
business is the Spirit's activity in our prayers. On the one hand we may
be saying, 'Oh Lord, get me out of this. I can't stand this. Please change
it all', while the Spirit of God is saying: 'Do not do anything of the kind;
it will ruin him. I have gone to a lot of trouble to make this situation.
I have tailor-made it exactly for him. If he will go through with it, today
and tomorrow, he will be a new man or she a new woman. Don't listen to their
prayers!' And God says, 'No, I will listen to the prayers of the Holy Spirit
who is making intercession for them'.
So when we kneel by our bedside, or whenever we walk and pray, we must
remember that there is another One with us. Just as Jesus was with His disciples,
the Spirit of God is with us, though as He is inside us we often do not hear
Him. Maybe if we are quiet in the presence of God we may hear more of Him,
for He is speaking to us as well as to the Father. Prayer is an activity
which covers a good deal more than just asking for things: prayer is communion
If we recognise our own weakness in this matter, taking our requests
to the Lord in such a way that leaves their outworking with Him, it may
make a tremendous difference to our prayer life. If we were quiet enough,
what the Spirit of God is saying to the Father would grip us too. It would
be according to the Scriptures and would mean that our prayer life became
infinitely more satisfying and less complicated by the problem of unanswered
THE apostle goes on to remind us of the one thing we do know, connecting
it by the word 'and' with what has gone before: "And we know that all things
work together for good to those [105/106] that love
God" (v.28). All things! God is prepared to take hold of the whole machinery
of life and to make it work together for good. No, not for material good.
That is neither here nor there. If we want to be like Jesus in material goods,
we shall not be left with very much. No, God is occupied with our spiritual
good. He has no alternative. He has already designed that converted sinners
are to be made like Christ, and even God has to work hard to bring that
about. It is not an easy thing; there is a lot to be done, but He is well
able to use all kinds of circumstances to fulfil His will in those who are
called according to His purpose.
Paul is not saying that there were those whom it was His purpose to call
but rather that the calling was done with a particular purpose in view. The
next statement clarifies this, for it tells us that "whom he did foreknow,
he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son". This is
the constant concern of the Spirit. He is saying, 'Make them like Christ'.
We need not be stumbled by the word 'predestinate'. It is usually connected
in most people's minds with election whereas predestination is concerned
with sonship. A destination is surely the place of arrival at the end of a
journey. Even if you do not know where you are going, you will find that you
have a destination when you arrive. But if you make an arrangement before
you go, then that is a predestination -- a destination fixed in advance. Election
may have to do with our conversion but the five references to predestination
show that this has to do with the end of the journey.
Let us put ourselves in God's place for a moment. What is He going to
do with all these people that get converted? He has taken them out of Adam
and put them in Christ and might be thought to wish to place them in Gardens
of Eden, but that is not God's thought. He has something far bigger in mind,
and that is to make them like Jesus and cause them to be for ever with Him
and to share His rule. They will follow the Lamb wherever He goes. We are
going to reign with Christ for a thousand years when this creation has been
delivered from its vanity, and for ever and ever in the new one. It is not
only a destination: it is a destiny.
In another Letter Paul speaks about the possibility of being "a castaway".
That is serious. It is not that we may be lost, but that God may have to
call it a day because He finds that we are not learning and are hindering
others. But with His help we can run the full course. There is a plan and
God is bending every effort to get us to our destination of glory. It could
never be if He had not got the whole thing planned out. He takes the initiative
in salvation and then the whole plan is put into operation that His eternal
purpose for us may be fulfilled. God is not just working a salvage operation,
as if He had to react to the devil's work and scramble to get some sinners
out of his power. No, salvation is not like that! It was not an unpremeditated
thing, but something planned for all eternity. This explains our sufferings,
the prayer of the Holy Spirit and the working together of everything for
good. God is on plan.
"WHAT", asks Paul, "shall we say to these things?" We will say that we
can cope with life, we can cope with death, we can cope with all things,
since God is for us. God has committed Himself to our case. Having freely
given His Son for us, He can never turn round and exact a charge for any
lesser gift. He will not hold anything back -- He cannot, once He has given
us His Son. Of the seven trials described by Paul probably the only one which
will come our way will be 'distress', since most of us live reasonably sheltered
lives. But surely we can be 'persuaded' that no distress can separate us
from the love of Christ. No, we can put up with it, indeed we are more than
conquerors, according to the apostle. He does not say we would feel like it,
or should try to bring it about, but insists that we are. Our very
trials are the arms which He puts around us to ensure His full purpose of
glory for us.
Even in Old Testament days Job gives us a striking illustration of God's
hedge around His own. Satan complained about it. He said to God: "You have
put a hedge around him so that I can't get at him". Two chapters later we
have the extraordinary complaint coming from Job himself, complaining "You
have put a hedge around me and I cannot get out". One was outside, trying
to get in, and the other was inside, trying to get out. It would be amusing
if it were not so deadly serious. Job found it so, but he stuck inside the
hedge. He did complain, but God went quietly on and did not listen to his
complaints, for He had a marvellous future for His servant. And He has a
most marvellous purpose of glory for us. Thank God for the glorious experience
of being "in Christ".
NOTES ON 2 CORINTHIANS
7. SONS AND DAUGHTERS
6:1 - 7:4
PAUL continues his exhortation: "... we entreat also that ye receive
not the grace of God in vain". The danger in which they stood was of living
to themselves, in direct contrast to the essential meaning of the death of
Christ in their stead (5:14-15). If they continued in this way, it would
be vain that they had received the grace of God. The matter was urgent. They
must not postpone the decision. The words "At an acceptable time I hearkened
unto thee, and in a day of salvation did I succour thee" (Isaiah 49:8) apply
now, for "behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of
salvation". It is as though the Lord is waiting for those whom He has reconciled
to Himself through Christ, and who have received that reconciliation, to
be reconciled all over again by coming to Him to put right that which has
cast a shadow over their relationship to God and to the apostle.
It is always a responsible task to exhort others: the one who does so
cannot avoid the searchlight being directed against himself. Paul knew that
and was well aware that had there been any obvious shortcomings in his behaviour
and attitude, his exhortation would have no weight with others. So he continues:
"giving no occasion of stumbling, that our ministry be not blamed". This
statement must be balanced against others in which he admits that his message
of the cross is a stumbling-block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles (1
He had no desire to cause offence, but at the same time he would not
weaken the challenge of the cross in order to avoid giving it. His concern
was that his ministry should not be blamed. As a person, he was certainly
blamed, but no-one could deny that, however foolish people judged him to
be, he was truly faithful in his ministry. It was the ministry which Paul
glorified, but he sought no glory for himself. The ministry brought him into
deep disrepute but, whether he was famed or blamed, he persevered with energy
and wholeheartedness, with a sacrificial spirit and devotion to duty which
saved his ministry from being blamed.
He proceeds to describe his experiences in verses 4 to 10. As chapter
13 of 1 Corinthians is almost a lyrical climax to that Letter, so is this
section in the Second Letter. The apostle returns to the matter of recommending
himself. His opponents had put pressure on the Corinthians and referred to
their letters of commendation and consequent weighty authority, and had also
referred to their wonderful visions and the experiences of God's power in
their lives. This is Paul's answer. Ought a servant of the Lord to recommend
himself in this way? Paul says, No! The only recommendation which means anything
is whether, like his Lord, he endures every affliction; whether, like his
Lord, he is driven by pure motives of the love of God; and whether, like
his Lord, he reacts to loss and lack by turning such experiences to profit
and spiritual enrichment.
This section is marked with great passion, but without any Pharisaic
self-righteousness. It is for the sake of the Corinthians that he writes
it. He opens his heart without reserve to them, like a father trying to
help his dear children. He begins by describing his afflictions (vv.4-5),
then the purity of his motives (vv.6-7) and finally, what his ministry entailed
for himself and how he accepted it (vv.8-10).
1. Paul's Afflictions.
These are almost incredible. In 11:23-27, he describes them in detail,
but here he deals with them in the abstract: necessities and distresses,
stripes and imprisonments, etc. He calls lack of sleep and food, "watchings
and fastings". He is not thinking of voluntary periods with "prayer nights"
and deliberate fasting, but of the hardships that his ministry forced upon
2. Paul's Motives.
As to his motives, he describes these first of all as being "in pureness",
meaning that he seeks only what is best for those he is serving. Then, "in
knowledge". The practical results of his knowledge of the Lord is a sensitive
conscience as to the will of God and considerate thoughtfulness toward others.
Then, "in long suffering, in [107/108] kindness, in
the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned". The parallels with 1 Corinthians 13:4
are clear but it does seem strange that in a list of ethical characteristics
describing his actions, he should suddenly introduce the Holy Spirit. It
may be more consistent with the text if we understand that in this case the
words do not speak of the Spirit of God but of his own spirit; [he] may be
describing his own spirit as 'holy'. It is possible, however, that in order
not to concentrate too much attention on himself and to emphasise that the
characteristics in him were truly of God, he mentions the Holy Spirit as the
common denominator of all the virtues which he lists.
3. Paul's Experiences in Ministry.
Having thus described his afflictions and the purity of his motives,
the apostle concludes with a description of what his ministry entailed for
himself and how he reacts. Unlike previous contrasts, the contrasts here
described are united in a paradoxical way in regard to his life and ministry.
One can clearly sense the passion which moved him as he makes his points.
"By glory and dishonour, by evil report and good report." Paul was well
spoken about and badly spoken about, not only outside of the church but also
within it; the reports about him were spread far abroad, and perhaps the
evil reports predominated for he puts that first.
"As deceivers, and yet true." How bitter to be regarded as a deceiver
because he would not accept payment for his services, but then his Lord had
also been accused of deceiving the people.
"As unknown, and yet well known" or better, "as disapproved and approved",
implying perhaps that although he was not approved as an apostle, hardly
even recognised as a servant of the Lord, yet he knew himself to be approved
"As dying, and behold, we live." This is surely the most striking contrast,
and one which is a complete enigma to the natural man who knows nothing of
Christ's resurrection power.
"As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing", which continues this same thought,
even if it might seem impossible to be sad and joyful at the same time. Paul
had sorrow over the Corinthians, sorrow over the hardening of Israel, sorrow
for many other reasons, but at the same time he knew an unconquerable joy
in God which enabled him to say "Rejoice always in the Lord; and I say again,
Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).
"As poor, yet making many rich." The apostle had left all his earthly
possessions for the gospel's sake and had even renounced his right to live
by the gospel, but through him, many had become rich in the true spiritual
sense of wealth, "as having nothing, and yet possessing all things". From
the world's viewpoint he possessed nothing, and yet in reality he possessed
all things and, in contrast to this world's values, what he had would never
be taken from him, not even in the life to come.
Paul's passionate autobiography is like a heart sigh from a father who
has no reservations towards his children. He had not excluded them nor limited
them to a small corner of his heart, and was therefore grieved that they
had given him so small a place in their hearts. He gladly opened his whole
heart to them. If only they would open their hearts to him, they would be
able to receive the loving but serious exhortation which Paul now gives them.
He feels that he must enlarge on what he has said at the beginning of the
chapter, where he exhorted them not to have received the grace of God in vain.
Having given weight to his exhortation by the section in verse 3 to 10, he
now says: "Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers" and urges them to
come out and be separate and touch no unclean thing, with the Lord's promise:
"I will receive you. And I will be to you a Father, and ye shall be to me
sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty". He then continues: "Having therefore
these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of
flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
Many have wondered at these words. Why such an exhortation? Were the
Corinthians really in danger of confusing light and darkness? Yes, indeed
-- and that under the influence of the false apostles who had wormed their
way in amongst them. Relationship to the world had always been a problem
for the Corinthians, and in this matter Paul had sought to put them right
(1 Corinthians 5 to 10). We must therefore have these chapters in mind as
we examine the present paragraph. If we sum up all that the apostle taught
about the Christian's relationship with the world, we find two main thoughts.
First that he should not go out of the world nor be afraid to eat with a
Gentile, but secondly that he must not in any respect be morally defiled
by the [108/109] world. It is this latter point
which is now emphasised. A Christian neither can nor should avoid outward
contact with the world, but he must at all costs avoid inward defilement.
This had been forgotten by the Corinthians. Paul's opponents, the pseudo-apostles,
had turned their attention away from Christ crucified to what they called
"the Spirit", and which they interpreted in terms of visions and revelations,
ecstasies and wonders. Now it is a fact that ecstasy can slacken a person's
self-control, opening the way to abandoned behaviour with all its accompanying
dangers. This is especially the case if the one experiencing the ecstasy
is not fully bound to Christ Crucified, as Paul was. Few men were so good
a judge of character as Paul. He knew how extremely dangerous it can be for
a Christian to feel 'on top of the world'. That was exactly how the Corinthians
felt under the influence of the false apostles. Those who are 'on top of
the world' regard lightly the dangers and temptations which other Christians
wisely avoid. They tend not to take seriously their relationship with the
world: feeling immune from defilement of spirit and body, they more easily
become defiled. Paul could see through their false and puffed-up spirituality.
They felt superior in their relationship to him, but were blind about their
relationships with the world, so were in danger of becoming defiled without
being aware of it.
"What fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion hath
light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion
hath a believer with an unbeliever?" Here the thought is more than mere outward
contact between the righteous and the unrighteous; what the apostle warns
about is allowing tolerant friendliness to permit lawlessness and darkness
to gain entrance into the church. Just as it is impossible for Christ to
agree with Satan (Belial), so it is impossible for a Christian to seek in
practice to combine the things of Christ with what comes from His great enemy.
"What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" If we are conscious
that each of us individually is the temple of God, and that as a church we
are God's people and temple, we will take care to avoid anything which comes
between us and God. Neutrality with regard to idolatry is the same as lukewarmness;
it leaves the door open to darkness and impurity.
"I will receive you, and will be to you a Father, and ye shall be to
me sons and daughters, said the Lord Almighty." But had God not already
'received' them and were they not already God's beloved and elect? Was He
not their Father through Jesus Christ? Yes indeed, but it seems that they
had gone so far from Him that they needed to turn round again and anew be
reconciled with God. Then they would be sons and daughters of the Almighty.
This is the only time outside of the book of the Revelation that God is spoken
of as the Lord Almighty, which in itself gives the words all possible weight.
With such great promises in view the apostle makes his appeal "Let us
cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness
in the fear of God" (7:1). In his fatherly love he includes himself and identifies
himself with the Corinthians. "Let us ...". He was anything but a Pharisee
and fully recognises his own need to continue to work out his own salvation
with fear and trembling. Flesh and spirit is an expression for the whole
personality. We are to be holy as God is holy.
Practical holiness shows itself in our relationships with others, both
in separation from the world and in being at one with all other saints.
What Paul was writing was only intended to help and encourage his brothers
and sisters in Corinth, so he asks them to open their hearts to him, continuing:
"I say it not to condemn you; for I have said before, that ye are in our
hearts to die together and to live together" (v.3). He is indeed their father
and their shepherd and, having spoken so frankly to them, he terminates this
section with the assurance: "I am filled with comfort, I overflow with joy
in all our afflictions." If Paul's joy had depended on all the difficulties
being overcome and problems solved, then he would never have experienced it
but, as he testified over and over again, joy was an abiding experience for
him since it was joy in the Lord. Here is one more paradox: at one and the
same time, Paul could be grieved over the Corinthians and could yet rejoice
greatly over them.
(To be continued) [109/110]
LESSONS IN LIFE AND LEADERSHIP
J. Alec Motyer
"SHE named the child Ichabod" (1 Samuel 4:21). The speaker in this verse
was the wife of Phinehas the priest, and she concentrated the story of twenty
years of Bible history into two words: "Ichabod" -- where is the glory? In
this way she expressed by the name the fact that the glory had gone into
captivity from Israel because the ark of God had been taken.
She spoke therefore out of a situation of despondency, and a further
look at the developing situation described in 1 Samuel 4 shows that the
despondency arose out of defeat (v.10) and the situation of defeat had its
origin, as we clearly see in the unfolding story, from a state of corruption,
particularly in the priesthood. So we read that remarkable phrase: "the
sons of Eli were sons of Belial" (2:12) which has been well expressed in
the Good News Bible as "the sons of Eli were scoundrels". That situation,
then, despondency, defeat and corruption, was the one which Samuel inherited
twenty years later when he stepped on to the stage of history to begin his
It was a situation of despondency: "All the house of Israel lamented
after the Lord" (1 Samuel 7:2). It was a situation of defeat, since Samuel
spoke of the nation being delivered out of the hand of the Philistines (7:3),
showing that they were still in bondage, and up to that point it was a situation
of religious corruption for "the children of Israel put away the Baalim ..."
(v.4), revealing that up to that time they had remained in the spiritual
corruption in which the period began.
This, then, was how Samuel found the people: he found them despondent
and defeated and religiously corrupt, but he lived to see them brought back
to God. He lived to see the defeat transformed into victory and he lived
to see the shining of a new hope. That in a nutshell is the story of Samuel's
career. A brief glance at this man provokes in us the prayer: "Oh that there
might be such a ministry to the Church of God in our day!"
A Man Prepared of God
Now the first truth which emerges in this story is that Samuel was prepared
by God to be the person he was. The story of his birth is one of the best-known
stories in the Bible, the essence of it being that Samuel was brought to
birth by a distinct divine providence. At the beginning of chapter 2 we can
image Hannah and Elkanah taking the child up to the house of God where he
was now to remain. Perhaps it is not too far fetched to say that as they were
discussing the Service of Dedication which they proposed to have Hannah might
remark: 'Oh, do let us sing that hymn, My heart exalteth in the Lord,
my horn is exalted in the Lord!' At any rate, this is the hymn and prayer
which is described in that chapter.
Now the essence of that song, the theological truth which it enshrines,
is the fact of a God who has the power to make radical transformations (2:4-8).
"The Lord killeth and maketh alive. He bringeth down to Sheol and bringeth
up. The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich. He bringeth low, He also lifteth
up. He raiseth the poor out of the dust, the needy from the ash-heap, to
make them sit with princes." God is the one able to make radical transformations
and -- as the verses indicate -- it is always in the direction of betterment.
How aptly this expresses what Samuel's birth had meant to Hannah herself!
She was a particular example of God's power to lift up the downcast, to exalt
the poor and needy. So Samuel was born for such a time, brought to birth
by a distinct divine providence. Not that this sets him apart from the rest
of us, for we have the clear assurance that "we are his workmanship, created
in Christ Jesus for good works which He has prepared beforehand that we
should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
In this preparatory divine work which brought Samuel to birth there were
two distinct aspects. The first, proclaimed by his very name, Samuel, was
that he owed his origin to answered prayer. That was what Hannah said!: "She
called his name Samuel saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord" (1:20).
She later repeated this with the statement: "The Lord has given me my petition
which I asked of him, therefore for my part I have granted him to the Lord"
(1:28). She spoke of asking for Samuel, but the name she
[110/111] gave him means not 'asked of God' but 'heard by God'.
Samuel's name proclaims the fact that he owed even his origin to the fact
that God answers prayer. Every time he heard his own name, he was reminded
of the fact that God hears prayer.
The other aspect was that Samuel's conversion committed him to the ministry
of God's Word. He was a remarkably favoured child, being dedicated by his
parents not once but twice. He was dedicated in prospect, "I will give him
unto the Lord all the days of his life" (1:11) and then dedicated, so to
say, in retrospect, after his birth: "I also have granted him to the Lord,
as long as he lives he is granted to the Lord" (1:28). Right from his early
days, he was preoccupied with holy things. "The child did minister to the
Lord" (2:11) and again, "But Samuel ministered before the Lord" (2:18) and
yet again, "The child Samuel ministered unto the Lord" (3:1). And he enjoyed
the favour of the Lord (2:26). This is an impressive record of spiritual favour:
dedicated, occupied in holy things and enjoying the favour of God.
Sense then the surprise with which we are told that "Samuel did not yet
know the Lord" (3:7). In the Hebrew the personal name is put in the place
of emphasis, as though to say, Surprise! Surprise! Samuel of all people,
with all his privileges, did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of
the Lord revealed unto him. He had so much, but he did not yet have a personal
knowledge of God. We make no further reference to this than to point out
that the moment of his call to personal knowledge of the Lord was the moment
of his commission to hear and communicate God's word. What the Lord said
to Samuel (3:11) was a word for communication, as old Eli knew: "Eli called
Samuel and said, Samuel, my son ... what is the thing that He has spoken
unto you? ... And Samuel told him every whit." The whole circumstance of
his conversion, then, was ordered by God, as is every conversion, but in
his case it was bent in the direction of creating a man called to minister
God's Word. These are the two features which continue to prevail right through
the story of Samuel: Samuel, the man of prayer and Samuel, the man of the
The Man of Prayer
When later generations looked back on Samuel, the thing that lived in
their minds was his prayerfulness. For example: "Moses and Aaron among his
priests, Samuel among them that call upon his name" (Psalm 99:6). To such
an extent is Samuel the preeminent intercessor that he stands there alone.
Then again, he is linked with Moses in another passage: "The Lord said unto
me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me ..." (Jeremiah 15:1), the implication
being that Moses the great covenant intercessor and Samuel were the two men
most likely to prevail with God.
With some men, of course, their reputation increases only as their life
recedes into history, but in his case Samuel's reputation was in his own
lifetime and was well deserved. We know that the people of his own time had
this same conviction that he was a man who could be relied upon to pray: "The
children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God
for us" (7:8) and again, "And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy
servants unto the Lord thy God" (12:19). God's people had learned instinctively
to look to Samuel for prayer. Some truths about prayer seem to emerge from
1. He saw prayer as being part of his primary work in bringing the
people back to God.
"Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray for you to
the Lord" (7:5). The gathering at Mizpah was to be a gathering of national
consecration and repentance. Samuel called the people for a new dedication:
"If you return to the Lord with all your heart" (v.3). He also called for
a new reformation: "Put away the strange gods and Ashteroth". He assembled
the people at Mizpah for this dedication and penitence: "They gathered together
to Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord" (v.6). The picture
of the pouring out of water symbolised a new intention that the whole outflow
of life should belong to God. They fasted that day and "said there, We have
sinned against the Lord". But Samuel's own work was the work of prayer:
"Gather all Israel to Mizpah," he said, "and I will pray for you" (v.5).
In the context of bringing the people back to God he saw prayer as his primary
2. He saw prayer as the way of victory for the people of God.
The people needed to be saved out of the hand of the Philistines. So
"Samuel ... cried unto the Lord for Israel; and the Lord answered him" (v.9).
We then read that "as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering and the Philistines
drew [111/112] near to battle ..., the Lord thundered
with a great thunder that day upon the Philistines, and they were smitten
down" (v.10). Samuel did not leave the place of prayer, but as the Philistines
brought their forces nearer and nearer, Samuel continued to be occupied in
his spiritual ministry directed upwards to God. He saw prayer as the way
3. He made prayer his immediate reaction.
We see this great man in a variety of situations, but the common thread
that runs through them all is that he immediately resorted to prayer. Take,
for example, the time when he was displeased (8:6). He did not like the people's
request for a king; at that moment he was full of disappointment, that his
own ministry had passed and his sons were not fit to take up where he was
leaving off. He was displeased. But what did he do with his disappointment?
Samuel prayed. The people, however, insisted upon having a king, Samuel's
attempts to reason them out of it having no success. So he brought his perplexities
to God: "Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them
in the ears of the Lord" (8:21). He brought his perplexities to God. Even
more remarkable is the fact that he brought his anger to God: "The word of
the Lord came unto Samuel, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king;
he has turned back from following me and hath not performed my word. And
Samuel was angry; and he cried unto the Lord all night" (15:10-11). Prayer
was his immediate reaction.
4. Prayer was found to be a place of revelation.
This is a lovely touch which runs through these references to prayer.
He found that the place of prayer was the place of revelation of God. "Samuel
prayed unto the Lord ... and the Lord said unto Samuel" (8:6-7). "Samuel
heard all the words of the people and he rehearsed them in the ears of the
Lord" ... "And the Lord said to Samuel ..." (8:21-22). Again, and most remarkably:
"Samuel was angry and he cried unto the Lord all night" (15:11) and then
"Samuel said unto Saul, Stay. I will tell thee what the Lord said to me this
night" (15:16). So much, then, for Samuel's experience as a man of prayer.
The Man of God's Word
There is another side to Samuel's story, and that is his ministry of
the Word of God. I have already said that prayer was part of Samuel's primary
ministry, and must point out that the other part was preaching. As Samuel
stepped out on to the arena of history, he was a man with a ministry of God's
Word: "Samuel spoke unto all the house of Israel" (7:3). It was by this
double agency that he brought the Church back to God, by prayer and preaching.
1. In his own life.
May we first see the Word of God in Samuel's own life. Indeed the story
of Samuel in relation to the Word of God appears to spend more time telling
us of the place of that Word in his own life than it does in telling us of
it in his mouth. Samuel bowed to God's Word. The whole of chapter 8 is concerned
with Samuel's intense disquiet at the request that the people should become
monarchic. So when he had rehearsed the people's words in the ears of the
Lord, and the Lord answered that he should "hearken unto their voice and
make them a king", Samuel said unto the men of Israel, "Go ye every man unto
his city" (v.22). Once God had spoken, Samuel gave up pressing his own opinion
and bowed to the word of God.
In the centre of the story in chapter 9, we find Samuel trusting the
word of God implicitly in his own life. This is the story of how Saul went
to seek his father's asses and returned with a kingdom. The centre-piece
of that story is that Saul's wanderings brought him to Samuel, who had been
given a preview of Saul's arrival: "The Lord had revealed it to Samuel the
day before Saul came, saying, Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man
out of the land of Benjamin" (v.15). Now watch how completely Samuel accepted
God's speaking. Saul arrives, and discovers that Samuel has organised a feast
and in his organisation was a special feature: "Samuel said unto the cook,
Bring the portion which I gave thee, of which I said unto thee, Set it by
thee" (v.23). Samuel alone knew that the feast would contain one more person
than had appeared on the original Guest List. God had told him so, and Samuel
guided his life accordingly.
It is easy to read the story of Samuel's dealings with Saul in a kind
of 'I-told-you-so' voice, as though Samuel were rejoicing over Saul's downfall.
We have all met from time to time the person who puts on a pretence of being
outraged by what has happened, but we know that inwardly they are delighted
that happily all that [112/113] they feared has come
to pass. It is clear that when Samuel had to speak his words of condemnation,
he had no such emotion. The real truth of the matter is that when Saul's
kingship proved such a failure, a paralysing sorrow overtook Samuel, a sorrow
so great that God had to come and rouse him: "Samuel did not see Saul again
until the day of his death, but Samuel mourned for Saul ..." (15:35). "And
the Lord said unto Samuel, How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have
rejected him from being king?" (16:1). Samuel did not go around saying, 'I
told you so', vindicating his own stand against a monarch, but he grieved
over Saul. That perhaps is the most remarkable evidence of how he became identified
with what God said -- he reformed his mind according to the word of God in
his thinking and planning and his emotions.
2. In his ministry.
We must glance very briefly at the Word of God in Samuel's mouth. Notice
that his ministry opens and closes with this emphasis on the supremacy of
the Word of God. The first thing Samuel did after his conversion: "Samuel
told him every whit and hid nothing from him" (3:18). That private ministry
to Eli soon became a public ministry: "The Lord appeared again in Shiloh,
for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel by the word of the Lord. And the
word of Samuel came to all Israel" (3:21).
Pick out those last few phrases from the end of chapter 3 and the beginning
of chapter 4. Samuel began his public ministry in a mediating capacity. The
word came to him; the word came through him. It was just the same when he
ended his ministry. "Samuel said unto the people, It is the Lord who appointed
Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers out of the land of Egypt. Now therefore
stand still, that I may plead with you before the Lord" (12:6-7).
Samuel ended his ministry with a farewell sermon which is recorded for
us in chapter 12. Without a doubt, the central feature of this sermon was
the call for obedience. In his boyhood, growing up under Eli's care, Samuel
had watched while the priests of his day, Hophni and Phinehas, lived without
regard for the Word of God. These two men, as he had seen, had carried out
the Ark of God into battle, confident in the supposed security offered by
religious things. So Samuel's horror at the thought of the monarchy centres
on that very point; he feared that at the end of his life he was going to
see the people taking refuge in a religious thing instead of yielding to
God their own personal obedience. This time the thing would be the institution
of monarchy, so he set himself to call the king and the people alike to obedience
to the Word of God: "Now therefore, behold the king whom you have chosen
and whom you have asked for, and behold the Lord has set a king over you.
If you will fear the Lord and serve Him and hearken unto his voice and not
rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and both you and also your king
that ruleth over you be followers of the Lord your God ... well" (12:13).
The monarchy as an institution, albeit appointed by God, is in itself no more
a safeguard than the Ark, also appointed by God, had proved to be in the
days of Hophni and Phinehas. There is no security for the people save in
Samuel both called for obedience to the Word and demonstrated the power
of prayer. "Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call unto the Lord that
he may send thunder and rain; and you shall know and see that your wickedness
is great which you have done in the sight of the Lord in asking you a king"
(12:17). "So Samuel called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain."
The sin of seeking monarchy was that it lapsed from direct dependence upon
the God who answers prayer. The emphasis of Samuel is this; king or no king,
it is God with whom the people have to do. And the way of power for the
people was not the institution of monarchy but submission to the God who
answers prayer with acts of power.
See then, the consistency in Samuel's ministry. In secret days of preparation,
before ever he came on the public scene: prayer and the Word of God. As he
steps out into the arena: prayer and the Word of God. And as he goes into
retirement: prayer and the Word of God.
I remember a man coming to a neighbouring church to ours, and in doing
so he came into a church that all the wiseheads in our area had thought
should be closed. They had hoped it would be closed, because at that time
they were beset by the rather remarkable feeling that the work of God was
better done by pulling buildings down than by building people up! Rather
to their dismay, the congregation began to grow under this man's ministry,
so the matter was raised as to why this church was not closed when there
was a chance to do so. The minister [113/114] was
able to quote the facts of the situation to these leaders, showing that
God was blessing and that the church was growing in every way. In their
anger they rounded upon him and said, 'Perhaps you would like to address
us at our next meeting and share with us the secret of what makes a church
grow in these days.' Being put on the spot like that, what else could he
do? But as he and I went out together, he said, 'I don't know what I will
say to them. It seems so commonplace to say that the way of advance for
a church is by praying and preaching.'
(To be continued)
PAGES FROM A NOTEBOOK (2)
John H. Paterson
AMONG my father's old notebooks is one labelled 'Commenced Autumn 1937',
which contains the outlines of a series of talks he gave on the kings of
Judah. Reading the notes, and knowing my father, I am sure that this series
grew out of his fascination with David, easily his favourite among all the
Old Testament characters. From this study of Israel's great king, he would
have been led on to consider David's successors, and that sad, centuries-long
record of their failures and their rare successes. Of the kings of break-away
Israel who followed Jeroboam there was evidently only a limited amount to
be said: not a single one received God's approval, and each in turn "did that
which was evil in the sight of the Lord". But the kings of Judah were another
matter and would, he felt, well repay study. For their very diversity --
some good, some bad, and some good to begin with but breaking down later --
showed that the role of kingship could be carried out to God's satisfaction.
David had done it, and some at least of his successors had grasped the principles
involved and received the mark of God's approval. It was to discover these
principles, and to apply them to the lives of believers, that my father devoted
those Sunday afternoon studies more than forty years ago.
The Idea of Kingship
The basis of all the studies is laid out in the very first of them, and
the argument runs as follows: the kings ruled over God's people or, putting
that the other way round, they were the means by which God's people were
governed. In the lives of the kings, therefore, we may expect to find illustrated
the principles which are to govern our own lives as believers -- as subjects
of that great ideal King, the Lord Jesus. And where, as in Judah (but not
in Israel), there is this variety of good kings and bad, we may hope to learn
both positive and negative principles.
To state the same case from God's viewpoint rather than man's, it becomes
possible to say that what God was looking for in the kings of His people
was a man so perfectly governed by divine thought that he could express that
thought in the way he, in turn, governed the kingdom. If he was to govern,
he must himself be a governed man. No wonder my father started with David!:
"I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will
do all My will and carry out My programme fully" (Acts 13:22, Amplified).
Once committed to this basis of study, my father pursued it with great
thoroughness, taking every detail of the story of each successive king,
and turning it to spiritual significance. At some of his ingenious use of
the detail I find myself holding my breath, but he was nothing if not consistent.
He argued that, in the inspired Word of God, the details must mean something
, and if this was not the proper use of those details, then he
was waiting to be shown what it was! And his safeguard was always a close
link with the explicit truths of the New Testament. Indeed, his notes make
it clear that, while his patient class was following him through studies
of 22 kings, they accepted, as digressions, studies of Ephesians, Philippians
and Hebrews along the way! That winter of 1937 must have been a long one!
Here is a reconstruction of one of the studies, that of King Josiah.
Josiah The King
The account of the life of Josiah is a full one, occupying two chapters
of both 2 Kings (22 and 23) and 2 Chronicles (34 and 35). His reign represented
a high point in Judah's history; in some [114/115]
senses, evidently, an unprecedentedly high point: "Like unto him was
there no king before him: (2 Kings 23:25). If the reforms of Hezekiah carried
man back in thought to the times of Solomon (2 Chronicles 30:26), those of
Josiah had an even longer and nobler pedigree: "There was no passover like
to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet" (2 Chronicles
(1) Reversal and Recovery
From the start of his reign, Josiah "while he was yet young" launched
an energetic campaign to rid his country of idol worship. In the drastic
thoroughness of his methods we can see his singleness of heart -- that same
singleness which had marked David in his time. He "made dust" of the idols
and burnt the very bones of pagan priests, in an orgy of destruction of every
man-made thing that might rival the true God. This is where all true recovery
and all true spirituality begins, with the Cross getting rid of the natural
man and all his works.
This was, however, the negative side. The positive side was the repair
of the House of God, or the recovery of the Lord's testimony among His people.
The repair was made possible only by the gifts of the nation; that is, those
who had a heart for God expressed their devotion by contributing the necessary
means. All the ministries and services of the House which were later established
required this foundation of devoted giving. In just this same way, Paul stresses
in Ephesians 4 a diversity of ministries arising out of the one Spirit and
one calling of all God's people. As the Nazirites and the Kohathites and
the musicians (2 Chronicles 34:12) resumed their historic roles, the service
of God and the service of man were both set forward.
(2) Discovery and Discipline
But this was only the first stage; it was as if, in all this zeal for
God, something was lacking. It is therefore significant that it was precisely
"when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord,
Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses" (2
Chronicles 34:14). Devotion and giving might, in themselves, be misguided
or misapplied, but devotion opened the way to discovery -- or, to use a common
biblical term, revelation. We may wish to note the order -- devotion to the
interests of God led to the revelation, rather than the other way round. And
you will recall that the same sequence seems to have applied in the Ephesian
church, where Paul, after he had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and
love unto all the saints, then goes on to pray that there might be
granted to them "the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of
him" (Ephesians 1:15, 17).
In the sequence of events the critical period, however, was obviously
the reaction of the king to the discovery of the neglected law of God. He
as appalled by the extent of his own, and his people's shortcomings. But an
open, willing confession and committal to what the Word of God revealed, and
an instant humbling ("because thy heart was tender, and thou didst humble
thyself before God") brought God's reassuring message from the lips of Huldah
the prophetess. She either was, or had married into the family of, "the keeper
of the wardrobe" (2 Chronicles 34:22). Perhaps this may suggest to us a concern
for what God's people put on, and offers us another reminder of Ephesian
injunctions to "put on" the new man for the world to see, and the whole armour
of God to resist the devil (Ephesians 4:24; 6:11).
So discovery -- revelation -- demanded a disciplined response to the
Word of God. It required a commitment of obedience to whatever might be
revealed. The king was the first to make it (34:31) and then he "caused
all that were found in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it". They were
not merely committed individuals but a committed people, with priests and
Levites in due order and a total involvement in the will of God.
Just as the first stage was a mere preliminary to the second so that,
in turn, was designed to open the way for the third -- worship. Notice the
king's instructions to the Levites, upon whom so much of the work of restoration
had fallen: "There shall no more be a burden upon your shoulders: now serve
the Lord your God ..." (2 Chronicles 35:3). The recovery of the testimony
of the Lord was not to be -- is not to be -- an end but a beginning.
The real work is worship of the Lord.
And so worship was initiated, and carried through, as 2 Chronicles 35:1-16
explains, by the [115/116] marvellously co-ordinated
efforts of all God's people. In the account, there are constant references
backwards in time -- to David (v.4), to Solomon, to Moses and to Samuel.
There never was, says the writer, such a passover kept since Samuel's day
-- a day in which, let us remind ourselves, there had been no king; the Lord
alone was in control. It was a day in which the leader of God's people was
a true source of revelation: "The Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh
by the word of the Lord. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel" (1 Samuel
3:21; 4:1). And it was in that golden time before Israel asked for a king
for no better reason than to be "like all the nations". After the clean-up
and the restoration, God was getting back to something of His original purpose
in His people, a purpose in which redemption and renewal are never to be seen
as ends, but only as necessary preludes to fulfilment.
To what does all this point? To my father, reminded constantly by Josiah's
story of the Epistle to the Ephesians, the "governing principle" illustrated
by Josiah was embodied in a phrase from the epistle: "in heavenly places"
(Ephesians 1:3). He saw God's need for a heavenly, spiritual and Spirit-controlled
people, living in a realm from which the world and the natural man was entirely
excluded. From this people "in the heavenlies", God will derive the satisfaction
of a worship of Himself, and the blessings of such a life lived by such a
people will spread to others. These blessings flowed from the presence of
a king with a heart for God: "Like unto him was there no king before him,
that turned to the Lord with all his heart" (2 Kings 23:25).
So what went wrong? For things did go wrong, not merely for Josiah
but, irreparably, for Judah. After Josiah's death there were no more revivals
-- nothing but the last few miserable puppet kings, and their captivity.
As with Solomon, the fall-off was very swift and tragic -- as my father's
notes headline it, 'the tragic fall from a heavenly position'. It came about
through Josiah's deliberate intervention in a conflict that did not concern
him, between two pagan powers. The notebook sternly warns, with heavy underlining,
'this is not the business of the spiritual people of God'. To meet the world
on its own terms always spell disaster.
In Josiah's case, two details in the text tell something of the breakdown.
Firstly, Josiah went into battle disguised (2 Chronicles 35:22). Consistently
throughout the Scriptures, disguise has evil connotations: Satan himself
is transformed into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). It implies the
forfeit of a true position and the adoption of a false one, and for God's
heavenly people this will never do. Secondly, Josiah was brought down, ultimately,
because his armour was inadequate for the battle; an arrow found an unprotected
place. What an irony to read of the armour of God, and to realise that this
king had been armed as few before him and none after him with the Word of
God; yet the chink in the armour brought to disaster not just the man but
the whole kingdom.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God,
that you may be able to withstand in the evil day,
and having overcome all, to stand.
IN THE BEGINNING
(Some studies in Genesis)
5. GOD'S PRINCIPLE OF RESURRECTION
IT seems clear that God's principle of working is on the basis of resurrection.
In the New Testament we are told concerning Abraham's faith that "he believed
in God who quickened the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though
they were" (Romans 4:17). The original creation story highlights the latter
feature of His activities, but subsequent events [116/117]
show the importance of God's power to do the former ones, that is that
He is able to quicken the dead. I do not think that it would be any exaggeration
to say that from the very beginning of man's history, God's principle of
working has always been that of resurrection.
This is hinted at when, at the birth of Seth, Eve does not comment that
God has given her a third son, but rather "a son instead of Abel". Seth (Genesis
4:25) was a substitute for the dead son. Not only did Abel continue to speak,
but a live son took his place, giving at least a hint of the principle which
God proposes to use in the continuation of men of faith.
In the narrative of a dying humanity, given in Genesis 5, we are suddenly
confronted by the seventh in the line, Enoch, who triumphed over death (v.24)
in a way only equalled later by Elijah. It has often been helpful to Bible
students to see in the experiences of these two men a foreshadowing of the
Rapture of those alive at the Coming of the Lord. So Enoch is another whose
experience gives a hint of resurrection.
We then come to Noah, and in his case the principle of resurrection is
most marked. Unlike Enoch, he was not "caught up", but he was carried through
the judgment Flood, and this was done in such a way that Peter makes of it
a direct allusion to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21-22).
The gist of his argument seems to be that the Flood was a kind of baptism,
not by surface-cleansing waters but by the waters of divine judgment. In
view of man's universal sin there can be no avoidance of that judgment, as
is illustrated by the experience of the eight who were saved. They were not
excused from the Flood but saved through it. Their salvation consisted in
going through the flood of outpoured wrath by finding shelter in the ark.
The death which came upon all else came upon their shelter but not upon them,
for they were safely preserved in the ark. When they finally emerged in the
new world, their experience could only be likened to resurrection.
THAT was the Old Testament illustration. The New Testament reality is
that Christ (like the ark) passed right through the flood of divine wrath
and that believers, finding shelter in Him, are not those who have avoided
judgment but those who have passed through it (in Christ) and are now with
Him on resurrection ground. "The answer of a good conscience" (1 Peter 3:21)
is not the plea to God that they do not deserve judgment but the faith that,
in Christ, they have been sheltered and judged already. Christ has taken us
down into His death and brought us up into His risen life. The symbol of
baptism, I suggest, is the testimony of the believer to his personal union
with Christ in death and resurrection. Without exception, the whole of mankind
must inevitably face divine judgment, but those who are sheltered in Christ
can have their hearts at rest, for He has borne the judgment for them and
emerged into the heavenly glory of resurrection life. The very number, eight,
accords with this thought of resurrection.
This is full of significance, but the principle of resurrection finds
even clearer emphasis in the story of Abraham. It was he who passed through
the great crisis of being told by his heavenly Friend to sacrifice his only
and dearly loved son on Mount Moriah. With hindsight this may almost seem
like play-acting to us. 'God never meant Abraham to kill Isaac,' we say,
'He had a substitute ram all ready for that altar.' Of course we are right
in one sense, but that was not how it seemed to Abraham who had a real knife
in his hand and real fire to ignite the proposed burnt offering. The writer
to the Hebrews seems to explain the amazing faith of the patriarch when he
assures us that Abraham believed that God could raise his dead son to life
again and was ready to act on that assumption. In fact he never had to do
so -- that would have been unthinkable -- but spiritually and in principle
we are told that "in a figure" he did receive Isaac as back from the dead
(Hebrews 11:19). So, once again, God prefigured the principle that the new
creation was to be based on resurrection life.
JACOB was a carnal man; but he was loved by God. Twice over, in the course
of his chequered career, he was brought to that utter zero of human hopelessness
for which the only way of deliverance is to prove God's power of resurrection.
The first was at Jabbok, when he clung exhaustedly to the Man who had wrestled
with him all night. The mark of that encounter never left him, for from then
on he was a cripple. But as the sun rose on that day at Peniel, it was more
than an ordinary new day. It was a resurrection day for the old Jacob and
the new Israel. He not only had the name but could exclaim
[117/118] with wonder: "I have seen God face to face, and my life
is preserved" (Genesis 32:30). We may add that he had some taste of resurrection
truth at the death of his beloved Rachael, for although she named her baby
Ben-oni, the son of my sorrow, Jacob rejected the idea, even in the midst
of his own deep distress, and changed the name to Benjamin, the son of my
right hand (Genesis 35:18).
But the second striking experience concerned the story of his sons going
down into Egypt. The time came when despair took hold of Jacob's heart, and
it seemed that he had lost everything. Overwhelmed by his desperate situation,
he complained, "All these things are against me" (Genesis 42:36). That really
seemed to be the end -- and a very painful end too. But it was not. He had
been brought down to zero so that he might be raised up again to unexpected
joys and new fruitfulness. He had seventeen years of honourable dignity
yet to come and before he died he was able to worship God that he not only
saw the Joseph whom he had for so long presumed dead but was able to bless
Joseph's two sons also and prophesy their future.
When the news first reached him "Jacob's heart fainted". He could not
believe it. Neither could the disciples believe it when they saw their risen
Christ, but it was true. We are told that "the spirit of Jacob revived" when
he saw the wagons sent to carry him down to his beloved Joseph (Genesis 45:27).
It was like a resurrection. And while he was imagining that everything was
against him, in fact God was working all things together for good for him,
since he loved God and was loved and called according to divine purpose.
THE final figure in this book of beginnings, and perhaps the best illustration
of them all that God's way upwards is by going downwards, in other words,
that His abiding principle is resurrection, is this very Joseph. Joseph was
hated, put down in a pit, taken down into slave service, and then incarcerated
in an Egyptian dungeon. The psalmist's comment on his experience is that
"his soul entered into the iron" (Psalm 105:18 m.). We would say that the
iron entered into his soul, and no wonder! The last straw was when he was
forgotten by the very man whom he had helped. The butler was released, but
he was left in the depths.
But the resurrection day came when, in one majestic movement, he was
raised from the prison to the throne (Genesis 41:41). And, as he later explained
to his brothers, this eclipse and subsequent exaltation were God's means
of using him "to save much people alive" (Genesis 50:20). "God meant it",
he was able to explain to them. And then, so great was his faith, he gave
command concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:22). Lest anybody should be depressed
that this book of Genesis ends with the sombre words, "in a coffin in Egypt",
let us note that this was no ordinary coffin. Indeed it is probably the most
remarkable one that ever contained human bones. For its contents remained
there among God's captive people as an abiding testimony that the day of redemption
would surely come. Joseph was so certain that there would be a new day for
Israel's people that he made them swear that they would carry up his bones
with them when that day came.
Moses at least kept that hope alive in his mind and it may well be that
the bones of Joseph continued through those hundreds of years to inspire
in some of the slaves the assurance that their deliverance was sure. When
the great moment came for Israel's release, "Moses took the bones of Joseph
with him" (Exodus 13:19). They were, of course, only a token. But they were
a tribute to Joseph's faith. It is a strange and rather touching thought that
Joseph's bones went all through the wilderness, passed through Jordan into
the promised land and were finally settled in their family inheritance. Almost
the last words of the book of the possession of the land -- Joshua -- were
to reassure us on this point (Joshua 24:32).
So we see that in this first book of the Bible there are firm indications
of the great Bible truth -- that out of formlessness and chaos, our God can
produce a new creation, satisfying His own standards. It is as though He
has to bring low before He can exalt, to slay in order to make alive, to
empty in order that He may fill. If our faith can grasp this great truth and
stand firm in the face of even death itself, then we will learn more and
more of the glory of our Risen Lord.
TRAINING IN THE HOUSE OF GOD
"When Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth
his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued
as far as Dan." Genesis 14:14
"HIS trained men, born in his house." This raises some interesting questions.
It must refer to a big encampment, for they were not living in an actual
house but in tents. The reference is really to a household, and it is in this
connection that the word is used in the New Testament with regard to God's
house. We have been born into a household (Hebrews 3:6), and this household
is meant, above all other things, to be a place of spiritual training and
Whatever else Abram's men were trained in, they were certainly trained
for war. We also have to learn that the House of God is the place of training
for spiritual conflict. The household of God is the relationship and fellowship
of believers: it is not a place, but the relationship in the Holy Spirit
into which we are born again. It is the sphere of our training, so that we
do not live our lives in the realm of mere theories, but are subject to the
disciplining work of the Holy Spirit.
There are many blessings in the House of God, many amenities which are
for our good, our comfort and our protection. We thank God for these but
must never forget that this also is the place for our spiritual education.
Spiritual training is not academic. It consists of learning the lessons of
life together in fellowship with other believers, and because of this we
may at times feel that we would like to run away and escape from such testing.
"Trained men, born in his house." What is the meaning of love if it is
not a corporate thing? What is the meaning of patience, if it has not to
do with other people? What is the meaning of so many things in the Christian
life if they are not found in the context of related life? It is in this
community life that we are tested. It is there that we find our real discipline
"He led forth his trained men." Notice why he had to do this. Lot, the
compromiser, was in desperate need. There is so often the difficult person,
constantly getting himself and his friends into trouble, the awkward man,
the selfish man who has put his own interests first and suited his own pleasure
without seeking the will of God. At this time Lot had been captured, with
all his family and possessions, and carried off by enemies. Abram might
have rubbed his hands and said, 'Good riddance to bad rubbish! Thank God
he has gone!'. But he did not do so. It was for this 'weak brother', this
failing brother, this difficult brother who hardly seemed to deserve help,
that Abram led forth his trained men, and he did not return until he could
bring back this needy 'brother'. It is a lesson for us and an indication
of what it means to become a member of the Father's household.
It hardly becomes any of us to judge or condemn Lot, for in fact we are
all very awkward people. We all are the cause of trouble for the Lord. How
wonderful to remember that "Having loved his own which were in the world,
he loved them to the uttermost" (John 13:1). That is a household matter;
learning to love like that in God's House. Have you never felt that everything
would be better if only some difficult brother or sister could be taken far
away? This action of Abram's reminds us that the household in which we are
being trained demands willingness to fight for the weaker fellow believer.
Not that Abram would allow himself to be involved in Lot's compromise.
No, he would fight for his failing brother, seeking to win and save him,
but he would have nothing to do with Sodom and its king. The king was grateful
to him for seeming to support his cause, but Abram would have none of it.
He refused Sodom's gifts and their flattery. He kept himself unspotted from
the world, but he devoted his trained household to giving aid to the man
of compromise. He himself was in God's House and had had to learn lessons
of obedience and sanctification. Somehow we never think of Abraham as a fighting
man, and yet the life of faith is one in which we have to learn to fight
the good fight.
After Abram had left Ur and entered into the land of promise, he might
well have presumed [119/120] that he had arrived
and that since he was now in his God-appointed place he could expect an
experience of tranquility. We, too, are apt to expect that once we have
obeyed the Lord and stepped out in faith we ought to enjoy a smooth experience
of serene contentment. Are we not in the place of God's purpose, of His will
and His covenant? We have to learn, as Abram did, that the opposite of this
is true. To be committed to the totality of God's will as a member of His
household is to find that one difficulty overcome only means a greater one
yet to be faced. The realm of the greatest spiritual values is the realm
of the most difficult education, the sphere of the fiercest and most persistent
It seems that whatever else these three hundred odd men were being trained
for, they were called to enter a war and pursue a foe. This is one of the
great lessons that we who have been born into the House of God have to learn,
the lesson of spiritual warfare. We need to be trained in this matter for
there are enemies -- spiritual enemies -- who will contest the will of God
and harrass God's people. It is not enough just to have experiences, however
deep these may be. It is not enough only to have history. We have to learn
the meaning of our experiences, to be able to extract the Lord's intentions
from our history. We have to learn in the House of God, which is the school
According to Paul, one of the great purposes of the Scriptures is that
we may know "how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which
is the church of the living God" (1 Timothy 3:15). Abraham was able to train
others because he himself had to learn severe lessons. While he was in Chaldea
it was different, but now he had moved on with God and what belonged in his
new life was altogether different from what belonged to Chaldea. In Chaldea
he could perhaps do things which he could not now do in the land. If we
are to be trained to face and conquer the spiritual enemies of God's purposes,
then we need that Bible truths should be wrought into our own personal experience
so that we become embodiments of those truths. No teaching will ever be
true teaching if it is not worked out in experience. And it is in the House
of God, the related life together of believers, that such experience is
The temptation is to try to get away from such spiritual discipline,
to break away from fellowship, to ignore the implications and great values
of being born into God's house and trained there. Rather than succumb to
such temptations by dividing up and separating, we should recognise that
for our training in heavenly things we need to maintain the unity of the
Spirit. The moment will arise, as it did in Abram's household, when there
is a great challenge from God's enemies which will call us forth to make a
stand, to prove the power of God to give us victory through our Lord Jesus
Christ, and so much will depend upon our having submitted to the discipline
of being trained by the Holy Spirit and prepared for the spiritual conflict
by the tests which will come to us in our fellowship life.
The very fact that we are considering God's great servant, Abraham, stresses
the need for obedient and persevering faith. There must have been many times
for him when it seemed that, far from enjoying the fulfilment of that hope
which was based upon the strength of the Lord's word, everything was becoming
less likely and more impossible. But he kept on believing. No doubt this
was the kind of training which the rest of the household shared with him.
And in the case we have been considering, there was a total victory and complete
recovery of what seemed to have been lost. They "pursued as far as Dan".
They did more than that. They returned in great triumph and demonstrated for
us the New Testament assurance that "faith is the victory that overcomes the
We are "in a great house" (2 Timothy 2:20-21). Let us so respond to the
Spirit's training and sanctifying work that we may be vessels unto honour,
sanctified, meet for the master's use, prepared unto every good work.
As we draw to the close of our tenth year of publication, I would like
to express sincerest thanks to all who have had a part in this printed ministry.
Your messages, your prayers, your practical help and your gifts have
all been greatly appreciated.
Perhaps I may be allowed to draw your attention once more to the new
address in Weston-super-Mare. [120/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (33)
"(being first, by interpretation, King of Righteousness, and then
also King of Salem, which is King of peace; without father, without mother,
without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but
made like unto the Son of God)" Hebrews 7:2-3
THIS passage is only in brackets in the Revised Version, but it can certainly
be regarded as a parenthetical one, although not less meaningful, but rather
THE point is stressed that by his very name, Melchizedek is a true type
of the Son of God, who is certainly King of Righteousness. Christ's kingship
is altogether concerned with having and keeping everything right in God's
sight. He gave His life, not merely in defence of righteousness, but as the
only means by which this essential quality could be brought into the human
THIS is the first thing. The next is the significant fact that, since
he ruled in Jerusalem, Melchizedek also portrays the One who is King of peace.
IN Jeremiah's day -- as today -- many religious people said "Peace, peace,
when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 8:11). There could not be, for the basis
of any such experience is peace with God, and that can only come through
the cross of Christ.
THE real thrust of the allusion to Melchizedek seems to be, however,
that he portrays the Son of God as belonging to another world outside of
this. Nobody knows Melchizedek's origins; he is set before us in the divine
record as if he had neither beginning nor end. In this sense he is a beautiful
illustration of the eternal Son of God. Melchizedek stepped on to the earthly
scene for the one purpose of mediating blessings and worship between the
Most High God and a humble believer. He then withdrew and is heard of no more.
Christ spent a few years of time among the world of sinners in order to become
their priestly Mediator, and then He also withdrew.
IN His case, however, we know that His priestly ministry continues unfailingly,
and will continue when sin is no longer with us. We will always need -- and
always have -- a heavenly Mediator, even when we enter into that blissful
realm where time is no more.
WHAT was it about Melchizedek that the writer found hard, or even impossible,
to disclose to his readers (5:11)? We do not know; but for my part I sense
that he wanted to explain to them that in Christ we also have an eternal
vocation of priestly ministry. In Christ the Church is destined to mediate
God's blessings to men and to present men's worship to God. "The nations shall
walk in the light thereof" (Revelation 21:24). Our present experience of
priestly ministry is but a preparation for our eternal high calling to be
a kingdom of priests.
THE Hebrews were too earthbound to grasp this glimpse into eternity.
It was 'hard' to convey it to them. Reversing the old cliche, may we suggest
that it is possible to be so earthly-minded that we are of no heavenly use!
Not Melchizedek! Not our eternal King-Priest! But what about us!
"BUT HE SAID: YEA RATHER, BLESSED ARE THEY
THAT HEAR THE WORD OF GOD AND KEEP IT."
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