|Vol. 11, No. 3, May - June 1982
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
ELIJAH: THE MAN IN GOD'S PRESENCE
J. Alec Motyer
2. Into the Arena. 1 Kings 18
IN the story of Elijah, one great ground rule emerges, and that is that
there is a relationship between that which is secret and that which is public.
Every minister goes into the public arena as what he has already been in
secret, a truth which is made so plain here in Elijah's story.
In the secret place Elijah had learned obedience. "The word of the Lord
came to him saying, Get thee hence ..." (17:2); "So he went" (v.5). It was
entirely a private matter between himself and God, but he was learning obedience.
"The word of the Lord came to him saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath ..."
(17:8); "So he arose, and went ..." (v.10). Consequently, when the great
moment came, he had learned the lesson of obedience: "The word of the Lord
came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, show yourself to Ahab ..." (18:1).
So Elijah went and showed himself to Ahab. In those years of hiddenness, in
the secret years of apprenticeship, in the concealed years in the secret place,
he had learned to obey the word of the Lord, so that when the great moment
came, he went out and became publicly what he had first become secretly. The
severity of the test seemed to have nothing to do with it. "Go," said the
Lord blandly, "go and show yourself to Ahab" and, as though there were nothing
to it, he upped and went because he had learned to obey.
However, as he walked in obedience out of the secret place, he found
that his circumstances were being ordered in advance for the achievement
of the purposes of God. When the Lord told him to show himself to Ahab,
he may well have had in mind that he would travel to the palace, seek entrance
past the guards, enter the audience chamber and there meet with the king
on his throne. But how differently -- how wonderfully differently -- it all
turned out for, before Elijah set out from Zarephath, another journey had
been initiated. Ahab had said to Obadiah, the Minister of Drought of his
day, "Look, we must take a last review of the land. You go that way and
look for water while I go this way to look for it." So that before Elijah
could get near to the palace or the throne, here was the Minister for Drought
coming along the road with his retinue. The result of that meeting was that,
far from Elijah going before the king, the king was brought before Elijah.
The initiative rests with the man of God because, as he walks into a situation,
out of the secret place into the public arena, he finds that all has been
prepared by the Lord. However threatening the action may appear to the human
eye, it has been a case of walking into a situation organized by the hand
of God, for the overthrow of His enemies and for the glory of His name.
ii. Answered Prayer
When Elijah came into the public arena, he put into practice the central
thing he had learned in secret. In that hidden place he had learned how to
be spiritually effective: "The woman said to Elijah, Now I know that you
are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth" (or
'that the word of God is truly in your mouth') (17:24). We know what it was
that brought the woman to that clear conviction; she was there when prayer
was answered; she saw that prayer can be made to this God and He will answer.
So, seeing prayer answered, her heart rose with a new conviction that what
this man had told her about God was true, and that it was the true God whom
he ministered to her.
When, therefore, Elijah came out into the public arena, he came out to
put into practice that central lesson of spiritual effectiveness which he
had learned in secret, namely, that it is by prayer and by answered prayer
that people are brought to a conviction concerning who is God and who is
not. It is so easy to be dazzled by the fireworks on Mount Carmel, thinking
that Elijah was putting to the test either fire or no fire. This was far
from the case, for what he said was: "You call on the name of your god, and
as for me, I will call on the name of the Lord; and the god who answers ..."
(18:24). The particular request was for fire, but the supreme test was, Is
there a god who answers prayer? And the whole issue was suspended on that
proving of answered prayer in the woman's house in Zarephath. It
[41/42] was there that the conviction came that God does answer
prayer, and now Elijah could be sure that it would apply to the crisis of
the nation. What had been proved in private could be experienced in public.
We see then that there are two aspects to the great ground rule of the
relationship between the secret walk with God and the public ministry for
Him; they are to walk in obedience and to centralise prayer.
The Negative Side
I want to share with you the fact that there is a negative side to ministry.
Elijah was sent back with a glorious promise. The Lord had said: "Go and
show yourself to Ahab because I intend to send rain on the earth." The people
had been three years without rain. What a lovely message of grace and refreshment
Elijah could have passed on to the people from God. Yet, brothers and sisters,
if the message of grace from God is going to be effective, there has first
to be a demolition job regarding Baal. There is a negative side of ministry:
the breaking down of error, its exposure and banishment. Elijah did not rush
in saying that he had good news, advising the people to watch for the rain
and then know who is God. No, no! First of all he had to attack and remove
the error that had been gripping their hearts. So he set about demolishing
Baal, and it was not until he had disposed of the error that he was able
to display grace and glory and truth.
That, of course, was his procedure. We need to learn not a procedure
but a principle, namely, that in a declaration of truth there has also to
be an exposure of error. The truth is not fully declared until error has
been exposed and denounced.
Elijah did a marvellously thorough demolition job on the Baalim that
he saw around him. It was a double demolition: he destroyed what they held
to be true and he destroyed what they did in consequence of their supposition
of what they thought was true. Baal was a god made in the likeness of earth
and of men. People in Canaan of old thought of what the hymn-writer calls
"The ever-circling years" -- a serious error. As the years went round there
was the barrenness of winter, the new birth of spring, the fertility of the
summer months, the reaping of the autumn and then back again into the deadness
of winter. They reflected that process upward and attributed it to their
god. To them it was a matter of a god called Baal who dies, comes to life
again, fertilises things and brings them to reaping, and then dies again.
Baal was a god made in the likeness of earth and, even more tragically, made
in the likeness of man. He was endowed with animal appetites; he was subject
to hunger and thirst; he was governed by a vengeful spirit and he was subject
to death. Elijah worked his way into the heart of that theology, so that
after the Baal priests had exhausted themselves in their first round of crying
out for Baal, he stepped forward and began to mock them: "Cry aloud, for
he is a god; either he is musing, or he is gone aside, or he is in a journey,
or perhaps he has dropped off!" If you endow your god with human characteristics,
you must not be surprised if you find that he is bound by human frailties.
Elijah exposed their theology.
But he exposed also their religious practice. "They cried aloud, and
cut themselves after their manner with swords and lances, till the blood
gushed out upon them." Why ever did they do that? Well, because they practised
a religion of sympathetic or imitative magic. I can best explain this to
you by comparing it with teaching a small child to blow its nose. Just think.
The offending organ runs, and it needs to be blown long before you and the
child have any vocabulary in common. It is no use reasoning with this tiny
tot, so all that you can do is to practise sympathetic magic. You grip the
child firmly in your left hand, and with a hanky you grip the running nose
in your right hand, and then you make nose-blowing noises. If you are lucky
the child will make nose-blowing noises as well, and so begin to learn how
to blow its nose. Canaanite religion was like that. It would have been useless
to look up at a rainless sky and ask it please to give you rain. You could
no more plead with Baal than you can plead with electricity. There is no
moral nature; there is no loving heart; there is only a reflection of the
ever-circling years. So what they did was to act here on earth and hope for
him to look their way and to imitate them. So, when they wanted their flocks
and farms and themselves to be fertile, they went out into the open on a bare
hill and performed sexual rites, always hoping that this god of theirs would
catch the idea and think that it was time for him to do the same. Now that
they wanted fire from heaven, they took knives and cut themselves, imitating
the down-flow of red from heaven, which was what [42/43]
they wanted, so that Baal might get the idea and send them red fire.
Elijah, however, built an altar, with the wood and the animal, and then
said: "Now I will show you!" Then he took water and poured it out on the
sacrifice, as if saying: 'Now I will show you the folly of your imitative
magic. I will show you a God who is far from this sort of nonsense.' If you
wanted fire from heaven, would you pour out water, which is the very negation
of your desire? "Four barrels of water," he said, and then "pour it on and
then pour it on again. "And there was the Minister for Drought, watching all
this precious water being poured away, and there was King Ahab, who had been
struggling to keep his few horses alive, and they watched the water being
poured out until the sacrifice was saturated and the trench filled with water.
'Take that for your imitative magic!' says the prophet. He is a God who is
not dependent on seeing what you do and acting accordingly. Here is the God
who hears and answers prayer.
The Positive Side
As to the positive side of ministry -- it is so unimaginative that I
hardly dare speak of it. What is the positive side of ministry? It is to
obey the Word of God and pray to the God whose Word you are obeying -- just
that! "The word of the Lord came to Elijah saying, Go show yourself to Ahab"
(18:1). It could have seemed most untimely to the prophet. Just as he was
beginning to see fruit for his ministry in Zarephath, just as the widow
is truly converted, God asked him to go elsewhere. It was not only untimely
but dangerous. Ahab was growing more and more angry as the years passed
by. When Elijah met Obadiah, the latter's immediate response was: 'You mean
you want me to tell Ahab you are here? And as soon as my back is turned,
the Spirit of the Lord will catch you away, Ahab will come looking for you
and, when he can't find you, he will kill me.' Ahab was in such a state regarding
Elijah and yet the Lord blandly told His servant to go and show himself to
him. However we notice how beautifully the Lord sweetens the pill, as He
graciously adds: "... and I will send rain upon the earth". He makes it possible
for Elijah to counter the furious rage of Ahab by assuring him that all will
now be well, the rain is about to come.
We should notice how, on Mount Carmel, Elijah was so careful to conform
to the commands of the Word of God. He let the prophets of Baal go on with
their calling and their cutting from mid-day "until the time of the offering
of the evening oblation" (v.36). How careful Elijah was to slot himself in
to that which God required -- the evening sacrifice -- not acting before
then nor waiting until after then, but observing the exact requirement of
the regular evening sacrifice. It was then that Elijah said: "Come near to
me" (v.30) and all the people came. He wanted them to see what he was doing.
"He repaired the altar of the Lord that was thrown down. He took twelve stones,
according to the number of the sons of Jacob." Twelve stones! They can't
have liked that very much! "Here," he said, "is a stone for Reuben." Well,
that was all right, Reuben was one of them. "Here is a stone for Simeon."
That too was all right. "He is one of us," they said, "we will have him."
"Here is a stone for Levi" -- that was acceptable also. Then, "Here is a stone
for Judah." That was far from being right. "They are the awful people down
south; we don't want anything to do with them!" Elijah's reply would be:
"To you they may be the awful people down south that you repudiate, but with
God in His Word, there is the idea of one united people." So Elijah, as one
of the prophets, was faithful to the ideal of the one people of God and carried
his obedience of God's Word over to the people who had forgotten its implications,
insisting on the enforcement of its ideals.
And then he turned to prayer. "It came to pass at the time of the evening
oblation, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, O Lord, God of Abraham,
of Isaac and of Israel, Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel,
and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
Hear me, O Lord hear me, that this people may know that thou, the Lord,
art the God ..." (v.36). His prayer was focused upon the glory of God. Firstly
he was concerned that they might return to their proper loyalty of Him as
God in Israel, but more his concern was that they might return to their
proper theology -- "Let it be known that You are the God". It is
a pity that the translators have not proved faithful at this point, which
stresses that He is The God -- the One only true living and Very
God. As he prays, Elijah is concerned for the glory of God.
He is also relying on that inner work of God without which nothing can
be accomplished: "Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people
[43/44] may know that thou hast turned their heart back again"
(v.37). Do you remember what he had learned in the secret place? Although
the widow of Zarephath did not know anything at all about it, Elijah discovered
that her heart had been made ready by God to receive him and care for him.
So he learned that the foundation of all the work of God is a renewing of
the inner heart. Coming, then, to this public prayer, he prays that the work
of grace in the heart may be accomplished. This is what matters.
Furthermore, in his prayer he pursues the promises of God. I think that
this is most interesting and very instructive. When the whole performance
on Mount Carmel had finished, the prophets of Baal had been slain, and the
people had returned to their loyalty to God -- "The Lord, He is the God",
what happens next? Well, Elijah is leaning on the promise of God: "... I
will send rain on the earth". Not only so but Elijah senses its coming: "Get
up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of an abundance of rain" (v.41). I
wonder if we can take that literally. Here they were, surrounded by all the
dried-up vegetation from the long years of drought. Did the rain herald its
coming by a tiny fresh breeze, with a sudden stirring amongst the dead foliage
as a little wind sprang up? Did Elijah hear this and announce: 'There is
a sound of an abundance of rain?' In any case he knew that the promised rain
was now heralded. So what did he do? The rain had been promised, the rain
was heralded, he turned to prayer. The rain must be prayed for. "... Elijah
went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and
put his face between his knees" (v.42). He got right down into the place of
prayer and supplication.
Beloved friends, God brings His promises to pass in answer to the prayers
of His people. In his praying, Elijah pursued the promise until it came to
pass. We often fail to do just that. When with a spiritual ear you detect
the rustling of God's movement because the Spirit is at work -- that is the
time to pray. Elijah pursued God's promise diligently. "Go up", he said to
his servant. When the man came down reporting that he could see nothing,
seven times the prophet asked him kindly to try once more. While this sevenfold
movement was going on, Elijah remained in the place of prayer. James tells
us that he prayed and it did not rain, but then he prayed again, and the
heavens gave the rain. The same God who had answered his prayers in the secret
of Zarephath, now gave public evidence of His willingness to answer prayer.
We close with the repetition of this ground rule of ministry for us all.
It is what we are in secret, that we will be in public. I am afraid that
this can be true for ill as well as for good. Thank God, though, for this
encouragement to us that if we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word
and continue secretly in the place of prayer, we will be able in our public
ministry to prove the faithfulness of God's Word and the blessedness of answered
prayer. Is not the God of Elijah, of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, our God too?
Does He change? Of course not. Then neither do the principles upon which He
works change either. We can count upon Him.
(To be continued)
FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS (2)
John H. Paterson
IN our last study we thought about the children of Israel in their wilderness
wandering and the way in which Moses, Joshua and Caleb shared those desert
years with them, not because they shared the people's failings but because
they refused to be separated from the faithless, recalcitrant nation which
they led. They spent their lives in the desert when they might otherwise
have been having a peaceful, sedentary life in the land of promise -- or,
in Moses' case at least, a life of luxury amid "the treasures of Egypt" (Hebrews
To read this story is, however, to be confronted directly by the question
which it raises for every believer today: What is my attitude to those
of God's people who are, in my opinion, less committed to God's purpose or
slower-moving in the Christian life than I am? For of course there are
such people! To say that does not at all make [44/45]
me guilty of false pride, for it is an observation that the man in the
street can make for himself: the lives of Christians vary greatly in their
quality and impact. We can of course argue that it ought not to be so, but
we cannot deny that it is. What we need to examine is our reaction to this
Imagine, for a moment, that we are thinking not about spiritual progress
but about some action in everyday life -- driving along a crowded road, or
waiting to be served in a shop. In front of me is a person who seems quite
unable to make up his or her mind, and behind whom the waiting queue lengthens.
We want to shake them and say, 'Get a move on! You're holding us all up!'
Our first reaction is impatience, which may then grow to anger
. After that we shall probably feel, 'I could do better, if only
they were out of the way', and so our reaction turns to one of
superiority and dissociation from them and their feeble efforts.
Now obviously up to a point these reactions are justified. If the slow
driver is holding up an ambulance with its light flashing, then we can all
agree that the patient inside the ambulance is entitled to feel aggrieved.
The problem is to decide at what point these reactions become unjustified
. And that, as Moses discovered, is not so easy!
* * * *
During Israel's days in the wilderness, we read constantly that God was
angry with them: "Let me alone, that my anger may wax hot against them" (Exodus
32:10); "I swore in my wrath, that they should not enter into my rest" (Psalm
95:11). And Moses transmitted this sense of outrage in his own attitude:
"Moses' anger waxed hot and he cast the tables out of his hands ..." (Exodus
32:19). But then we come to an incident which, by contrast, finds God and
Moses on opposite sides, and what are we to make of this?: "They angered
him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their
sakes" (Psalm 106:32). Why, in that particular case (whose details are given
in Numbers 20), was it right for God to be angry but not right for
Moses to be angry?
The answer seems to be given us by a single word in Numbers 20:10: "Moses
and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto
them, Hear now, ye rebels; shall we bring you forth water out of this
rock?" A proper impatience, an anger at the frustration of God's purposes
in His people, had become a personal reaction. Moses' zeal for God
had hitherto been complete but now, under extreme provocation, he had allowed
himself to take it all personally -- to be impatient for himself (as what
man of well over eighty might not?), and to be angry at a personal criticism
of his leadership. But he was wrong. Under those circumstances impatience
and anger have no place.
Is it not true that there is what we may properly call a divine impatience
in God Himself to see His purposes complete? In that impatience we as His
people may and should rightly share, for it is not personal to ourselves,
or selfish, or self-centred. The Lord Jesus expressed anger at the sight
of the traders in the Temple and drove them out. And John says that the disciples
were not surprised or shocked; they remembered the words, "The zeal of thy
house hath eaten me up" (John 2:17).
God's house, God's purpose, God's interest in His people: that is the
secret. Impatience to see Christ enthroned, God vindicated, His people at
rest: all that is in the mind of God. Impatience with people who don't appreciate
me, who won't get out of my way: that certainly is not! For
such feelings as these there is only one remedy: "Ye have need of patience
that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promises" (Hebrews
* * * *
But does this mean that there is nothing to be gained by a fuller commitment,
by "pressing on toward the mark", by running the race as hard as we can?
Are we tied for ever to the speed of the slowest runner? Are there not crowns
to be won and prizes in store?
Indeed there are! My question for the moment, however, is simply this:
what is your attitude to those slow movers? I know that my own natural instinct
is to pretend that they don't exist or that, at the very least, they are
in a separate race -- a second-division race. To overcome the embarrassment
they cause me I dissociate myself from them, which naturally leaves me feeling
very superior indeed!
Consider this simple illustration: a form of sporting event which has
recently become popular is the mass marathon, a long race with thousands
[45/46] of runners, in which anyone can join. At
the start of the race, however, the organizers group in the front of the
column those runners who take this matter seriously -- those who have some
chance not merely of completing the course but of winning. When the signal
is given, this elite sets off, and soon leaves the main body far behind.
So far as they are concerned, the majority of the runners have ceased to
exist as soon as the race begins. The elite will be home and in a hot bath
long before the tail of the column crosses the line!
Now I believe that we must ask ourselves very seriously: is that
a true picture of the progress of God's people through their earthly pilgrimage?
Is that what Paul meant by pressing on toward the mark? Please do not answer
the question too lightly or too quickly, for there are some subtle shades
here. I take just two examples from my own recent experience to show how
the challenge of this question may come upon me unawares. Firstly, I received
the other day a letter from a young Christian who wrote: 'I am deeply involved
in a Christian fellowship which is structured similarly to the New Testament
Church before puritanism, legalism, humanism, capitalism and a thousand other
"isms" joined forces in the institutionalism of the church.' Leaving aside
the fascinating variety of '-isms' in the list, this is certainly a process
of dissociation -- by the sound of it dissociation from virtually every
other believer in sight! But it is, of course, no answer to the question
as to what my relationship to those other believers should be; it is simply
to have no relationship and therefore no answer to the question.
Secondly, a young man of our acquaintance who had, during several years,
left behind him a trail of damaged lives told us blithely, 'But the Lord
had to lead me that way, so that I could learn what He wanted to teach
me.' This is to treat fellow believers as mere cannon-fodder -- as something
for me to practise on, regardless of their wellbeing.
* * * *
It is curious, and sad, how readily believers who assent whole-heartedly
to the truth that we are all one in Christ will set about creating elites
among God's people. By an 'elite' I mean any division which has the effect
of separating believers into two classes; for example, those who are 'going
on with the Lord' and those who are not. The name and nature of the elite
depends on who is setting it up, and may change from time to time, but there
always remains in principle the same division: first-class and second-class.
And however proper may be our zeal or aspiration to be in the first class,
the same question remains, 'What are we to do about our second-class brothers
Let me mention just two Scriptural ideas (and I stress that they are
Scriptural) which seem to have in practice this unfortunate elitist effect,
and which I happen to have encountered; there are several others. There is,
for one, the idea of the Overcomers as it is expressed in the Book of Revelation:
"He that overcometh, I will give to him ...". May the Lord help all of us
to overcome! But an overcomer is not something we become in the same way
that a quite young man may obtain a seat in the House of Lords and there
spend the rest of his life in the enjoyment of his honours. We cannot book
our place among the overcomers and expect that our reservation will hold
good for ever! To be an overcomer we must overcome, daily and hourly, this
temptation or that. We may overcome one obstacle and fall flat on our faces
at the next (in which case, we shall be in some very exalted company!) The
last thing the exhortation to overcome was intended to create was two classes
of Christians, one for ever superior to the other.
Another Scriptural idea that has been used in much the same way is that
of the Remnant: the idea that what God cannot accomplish through the whole
of His people He may yet achieve in or by a remnant. In Israel's history,
this remnant played a vital role in securing ultimate fulfilment of God's
purpose, and it is easy enough to find parallels with our own day and the
failure of the church in general to be what God intends us to be. Then let
us be sure (so runs the argument) that we are a part of the remnant!
But no: that is to misread the Scriptures. If you follow through the
Bible references to the remnant, you will find that very rarely did it select
itself. (Paul described the 7,000 in Elijah's day who had not bowed the knee
to Baal as 'a remnant', and we may make that the exception.) Rather, the
reverse was generally the case, and the remnant consisted of just that --
a few feeble strugglers! For Paul the remnant, far from being self-elected,
was chosen "according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5).
Neither of these Scriptural ideas was given us to divide God's people,
or to justify abandoning [46/47] that part of it
which fell outside the elite. And Moses knew that so well! Listen to the
conversation between God and Moses in Exodus 32, the chapter to which we
have referred so often in these studies. God says "Let me alone ... that
I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation" (v.10). It was
a direct offer to create an Instant Elite! And Moses turned it down, and
in his second answer he reminded the Lord that all His purpose and promises
were bound up with the nation with whom He had begun; that to start with
a people and finish with nothing but an elite was not an outcome
of which God Himself could approve.
* * * *
So far this has been rather negative, although it challenges me personally,
and I hope it will lead us all to do some re-thinking. But let us try now
to answer the original question and, in doing so, make use of the writings
of the man who urged us all to press on and not get left behind -- the apostle
When I began this study, I was under the firm impression that Paul had
little or no time for second-class Christians. He was so hard on himself,
and so roundly condemned every perversion of the gospel that I found I had
taken it for granted that he was an elitist. But nothing could be further
from the truth. It is true that Paul dealt harshly with a question
of Gospel or No-Gospel. It is also true that he grew angry over those whose
conduct was so appalling that it was inconceivable that they could be true
believers. But if I follow the logic of his argument aright, all this simply
pointed to the importance of knowing who was in the household of God and
who was not because every single member of that household, once identified,
was to be treated as equally precious in the eyes of God.
There are, firstly, two warnings against elitism: "I say, through
the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think
of himself more highly than he ought to think ... we, who are many, are one
body in Christ" (Romans 12:3, 5); "in lowliness of mind each counting other
better than himself" (Philippians 2:3). Then there are the instructions for
careful handling of those who are evidently in the second class: "Him that
is weak in the faith, receive ..." (Romans 14:1). "Take heed ... through
thy knowledge he that is weak perisheth, the brother for whose sake Christ
died" (1 Corinthians 8:11). And then there is the whole, marvellous matter
of the Body and its members -- Paul's 'special' doctrine, if you like -- with
its obvious implication that we all matter, not only to God who, being eternal,
can afford to be patient, but also to one another. "Whether one member suffers
all the members suffer with it; or one member is honoured, all the members
rejoice with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26). If we accept that, then we cannot
also be elitist!
In another section of this study we shall hope to consider the position
of the weakest members of the Body -- the view, if you like, from the second
class! In the meantime let us read with fresh emphasis the words of Ephesians
4:13: "Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge
of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature
of the fulness of Christ.
(To be continued)
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERSHIP
(Illustrated by five kings of Judah)
2. KING JEHOSHAPHAT. 2 Chronicles 17 to 20
THE kings of Judah bore also the proud title of shepherds of the people
of God. Since 'shepherd' is simply another word for pastor, it is right for
us to see in their pastoral care of the people of God in their days, something
of a pattern for those who are pastors of God's people in all ages. This
is really our theme as we make these studies in 2 Chronicles.
We come now to the story of King Jehoshaphat. The characteristic of this
man which I wish to stress because I think that 2 Chronicles stresses it,
may not be the obvious one. For me, the characteristic which stands out a
mile as I study these chapters 17 to 20 is not that Jehoshaphat was a good
man (though he was), and not that he was a great man (although he certainly
was [47/48] that), but rather the fact that here we
have a shepherd of the people of God in his weakness. I feel that 'The weakness
of the pastor' is the theme of these chapters. It is not obvious, nor is
it primary -- it is not the first thing you notice about him as you start
in chapter 17. On the contrary, the first thing we are told about him is
something very positive. It is the first of three strands which are woven
together in the Chronicles story of this man and his pastoral responsibilities.
I say, three strands woven together, because they are not divided up into
three separate sections; you can follow them all through the four chapters.
1. The Basis of Pastoral Care
The first of these strands shows us a basis of pastoral care. In chapter
17 and the greater part of chapter 19, we are shown Jehoshaphat's activity
as the shepherd of his people. Some of the commentators suggest that the
chronicler has a rather quietist view. By that they do not mean the full-blown
quietism of Church History, but rather a passive acceptance that if God is
looking after you, you can leave it to Him and do not need to do much about
it yourself. They point to the famous verse in the story of Asa, Jehoshaphat's
father, in which he says: "We rest on thee ..." (2 Chronicles 14:11). If you
like, you can classify that as quietist, but you must not fail to proceed
with the verse which adds: "... and in thy name we go". Clearly Asa was not
one of those people who just sit and twiddle their thumbs, waiting for the
Almighty to do it all. And nor was Jehoshaphat. The same two attitudes of
the trust and the action of faith can be seen in him. There is a sense, as
we shall see, in which he learned to rest quietly upon the grace and power
of God, but that was only half of his faith. The other half is here described
for us -- he was an active man. We note how he used his activity on behalf
of God's people. He didn't simply sit and say that as God had put him there
in charge of those who were God's people, God Himself would look after them.
He was by no means passive or idle, but took his responsibility seriously
and worked hard at it.
It begins at 17:3: "The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he walked in
the earlier ways of his father." His heart was right. "He sought the God
of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the ways
of Israel." "His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord" (v.6). There
was a personal devotion to God in him which was the very centre of the basis
of his pastoral care of his people. This flowed out in a practical working
ministry to them. He was concerned for their military welfare: "He placed
forces in all the fortified cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land
of Judah, and in the cities of Ephraim which Asa his father had taken" (v.2).
This matter is expanded in greater detail in the latter part of the chapter:
"He had soldiers, mighty men of valour, in Jerusalem as well ..." (v.13).
This is followed by a list: "These were in the service of the king, besides
those the king had placed in the fortified cities throughout all Judah" (v.19).
So Jehoshaphat was concerned for the protection of his people. He ringed
his kingdom with fortifications and, in addition to them, he had a standing
army in his capital against a time of need. He was very concerned for the
wholeness, the integrity and well-being of his people.
The greater part of chapter 19 tells us something more: "Jehoshaphat
dwelt at Jerusalem; and he went out again among the people, from Beersheba
to the hill country of Ephraim" -- from the south to the north of the country
-- "and brought them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers, appointing
judges in all the land, throughout the fenced cities ... city by city". Details
are given as to the responsibility of those who were to administer justice
in the land. I find it rather fascinating to note the personal interest he
took, going from place to place, as is recorded of the earlier judges and
Back in chapter 17 I find something else as well. He was concerned for
their spiritual welfare. If we take this as a model of the pastoral care
of God's people in all ages, we can say to ourselves that what he was doing
there was guarding and guiding his people in the right and good ways of the
Lord. Along with his soldiers and his judges, he was also concerned for the
spiritual well-being of his people. In our case the whole matter is spiritual
-- spiritual protection, spiritual guidance and spiritual upbuildng.
2. The Peril of Pastoral Care
All this represents what we might call the norm of pastoral care. It
would be easy to use Jehoshaphat's story to make a rhetorical point in emphasising
the general lessons of spiritual responsibility in caring for God's people.
I believe, however, that the chronicler has a deeper lesson to get across.
We want to pay attention to [48/49] the general outline
of a true pastor, though in some sense this ought to be taken for granted.
What we are called upon to notice in Jehoshaphat's case is the peril of pastoral
care. This is what chapter 18 is all about. It is a very long and gripping
story. It is the amazing tale of how, for reasons best known to himself,
the king got into cahoots with Ahab, his neighbour up north, and accepted
an invitation to a great feast. Really it was a big 'con'. Ahab said to him,
'I have got a very good idea in my mind, brother Jehoshaphat. There is that
city of Ramoth-Gilead which has been in the hands of the Syrians for far
too long. How about you and me getting together, going up with our armies
and capturing it back again. We are related and ought to work together.'
Jehoshaphat's reply was, 'Fine! But ...". Being a godly man he added,
'Well, we really ought to find out what God has to say about it first. Is
there a prophet around the place anywhere?' 'Oh yes,' said Ahab, 'we have
lots of them -- about 400 as a matter of fact. We will certainly consult them.'
So the question was posed and the kings were encouraged to go. One of the
prophets was a visual-aid man, so he made a couple of horns of iron to illustrate
how successful they would be against the Syrians if only they went off to
To Jehoshaphat this seemed a bit suspect, so he diplomatically enquired
if there were not another prophet of the Lord to whom they could seek guidance.
'Well,' said Ahab, 'as a matter of fact there is one, but I don't like him
because he always seems to prophesy nasty things about me.' I wonder if Jehoshaphat
had a sense in his heart that this was much more likely to be the true thing.
In any case they sent for Micaiah, but the other prophets took care to prime
him with information and advice as to what he should say. 'As the Lord lives,'
resolved Micaiah, 'what my God says, that will I speak.'
Well now, shall we go, or shall we not? 'Up you go,' says Micaiah, 'and
triumph, and the enemy will be given into your hand.' There was something
about the way in which he said this that registered, even with Ahab. 'How
many times must I command you to tell me the truth?' he asks the prophet.
'Oh, I see,' said Micaiah, 'if it's the truth you want, well that is an entirely
different matter. If you want the truth, I can certainly give it you. You
should know that I have had a vision in which I saw the Lord sitting on
His throne (the sort of sight that Isaiah had in chapter 6 of his writings).
Around the throne the hosts of heaven were gathered, and the Lord asked who
of them could best entice the king of Israel so that he might go and fall
at Ramoth-Gilead. Various suggestions were made, until one spirit came forward
and offered to entice him by being a lying spirit in the mouth of all his
prophets. This was accepted as the best method, so he was sent with the assurance
that his mission would be successful. If you want the truth, then here it
Ahab entirely rejected this prophecy but, just to be on the safe side,
he decided to disguise himself while encouraging Jehoshaphat to put on his
royal robes. For some extraordinary reason, Jehoshaphat did what he was
told, so that there was only one obvious king in the battle, and that was
the wrong one! By a miracle of divine mercy, the enemy captains saw that
he wasn't the right one and called off the chase. Then came a greater miracle!
"A certain man drew his bow at a venture" -- and that was the end for Ahab.
He was a brave man. He got his charioteer to prop him up in the chariot
facing the enemy until sundown. But then he died, "and Jehoshaphat returned
to his house in peace" (19:1).
But that was not the end for Jehoshaphat, though, since "Jehu the son
of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said, Should you help the wicked
and love them that hate the Lord?" Jehoshaphat's weakness was what I now
set before you as a peril of pastoral care, namely, a fatal inability to say
'No'. In his case it was almost literally fatal. One imagines that the proposal
seemed quite plausible to him. His reason for succumbing was due to the obverse
of his virtues as a shepherd of the people. He was so kindly, so soft-hearted,
so concerned for everyone that he could not resist Ahab's overtures. They
were not really relatives, but Jehoshaphat came to look on him as a brother
and, before he knew what had happened, he was saying 'Yes' to him.
He had a kind heart. He responded readily to anything that anyone asked,
anything that anyone seemed to need and so, when a message came from Ahab
of Israel, it received his usual kindly response, 'My dear fellow! Of course!
Why not? Anything you say. Anything to help!' But it was wrong. It was a
seduction. The word "moved" (18:2) should really be 'seduced'. If we look
more carefully, we see how it all started -- "Jehoshaphat had riches and honour
in abundance" [49/50] (18:1). He therefore had no
need to make this alliance with Ahab. Why did he get so involved? It was
probably on impulse. He failed to think the matter through, and had no clear
mind about his objectives. If the proposal emanated from Ahab, then it is
just one more instance of Jehoshaphat's inability to say 'No'.
This, then, was the beginning, and the chronicler develops his theme
with the pathetic end to chapter 20 when finally, as if to drive the lesson
home to us, he remarks that "Jehoshaphat king of Judah joined himself with
Azariah king of Israel; the same did very wickedly" by making another alliance,
this time concerning a maritime enterprise. Chapter 20 is a most marvellous
story of God's blessing on His servant, but the close of the chapter gives
us one more example of Jehoshaphat's sad weakness. First there had been an
alliance of marriage, then an alliance of warfare and now, as if he had not
yet learned his lesson, an alliance of commerce; they built a fleet of ships
to go to Tarshish (v.36). Once again a prophet of the Lord came to reprove
the king and the Lord, in His mercy, took a hand and ensured that the ships
were not able to go anyway.
This persistent peril recurred because it was part of Jehoshaphat's character.
He could not grow out of it, nor could it be uprooted from him, for it was
a part of him. If the same is true of us what we have to do under every circumstance
is to recognise this subtle peril, to be on our guard against it and to
learn how by grace we can cope with it.
It is a subtle peril. The equivalent in our day would be to go along
with others from merely natural inclinations. There are those who would
claim kinship with us and try to get us involved in what seems a reasonable
proposition but which is really a trap. Ahab could argue that Syria was
their common foe, could urge the advantage of recapturing Ramoth-Gilead which
in any case should not belong to Syria. Jehoshaphat's easy nature made this
mistake of letting himself be wrongly persuaded and forgetting that he was
making common cause with the enemies of God.
It is an increasing peril. Like the lobster pot, with all its spikes
pointing inwards, so that once the lobster is in, he can't get out; or like
the shark's teeth, which also point inwards so that once you are in you
cannot get out -- this is the kind of trap which such compromise provides.
Jehoshaphat toyed with the idea, as though saying that he really did not
think that he should go, but perhaps there might be a word from the Lord
to justify his action. As he hesitated, Ahab argued: 'Oh that's all right.
We can provide that kind of message -- 400 of them if you like.' Although
not convinced, Jehoshaphat was by this time so committed, that he paid no
real heed to the true man of God, Micaiah, and went blindly on. So great
was his folly that he saw no way of drawing back. Whatever possessed him
to go into battle in his royal robes while Ahab went in disguise, we shall
never know, but by that time he was in the trap and seemed unable to break
free. It was only a last-minute intervention by God that saved him, yet
even so he later permitted himself to drift into a further alliance with
an enemy of God. To a man of his nature, this was a constantly increasing
The more you care about people, the more likely you are to be put upon
and ensnared. That is not to say that you must not be soft-hearted, but
it is to insist that you must be clear-headed. You must recognise what your
calling is; you must learn to be sensitive to the Lord and not take people
at their face value, even when they live within the land of Israel and seem
to have the right arguments. People will tell you to go with the crowd; they
will even point out that it must be right to make an alliance with those
who are fighting the same enemy; but it can be a subtle seduction. The man
with a soft heart must also be a man with steel in his soul. He must learn
when to say 'No'. After all, it was really an essential part of Jehoshaphat's
pastoral care of his people that he should be resolute against every temptation
to weakness or compromise concerning the will of God.
3. The Reward of Pastoral Care
Happily better things were to follow. If chapter 18 is a gripping story,
chapter 20 is a marvellous one. Jehoshaphat reaped valuable dividends from
his personal care for God's people. As he travelled round from place to place,
everyone got to know him. Consequently, when some men came and told him
that a great multitude was coming against him, the people rallied to him
in his moment of need. He may have been soft-hearted and soft-headed, but
when he feared the Lord and set himself to seek the Lord, all Judah (because
they loved him), assembled to his aid: "even out of all the cities of Judah,
they came to seek the Lord" (v.4). A great multitude was
[50/51] coming against him, but he did not have to face it alone,
for the people rallied to him.
As they all stood together, Jehoshaphat prayed. His prayer is very much
like the longer prayer of Solomon in 2 Chronicles 6. He looked back a hundred
years and -- like Solomon -- prayed for God's house. Then he thought back
a further four hundred years, to the time of the Exodus and its conquest.
And then he went right back a thousand years, to the promises given by God
to His friend, Abraham. "Remember Solomon," he prayed. "Remember Joshua!
And remember Abraham!" From this he looked upwards to the Lord Himself, saying
"Our eyes are upon Thee" (v.12). 'They proved Thee in their day, and we expect
to do the same today.'
Many of us will know what it means to be surrounded by a multitude of
cares and concerns. If, like this king, we have learned by bitter experience
the folly of trusting in our own strength or listening to seducing voices
which have sought to lead us astray, we can surely say, with him: "We have
no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know
we what to do, but our eyes are upon Thee". How different this was from the
self-confident Jehoshaphat of Ramoth-Gilead! I wonder whether perhaps in
the depth of his soul he did not feel glad now to be so completely cast upon
Glory to Thee for strength withheld,
For want and weakness known.
For need that drives me to Thyself
For what is most my own.
God responded in two ways; with a united company and with an inspired
nonentity. The nation was united: "All the men of Judah stood before the
Lord with their little ones, their wives and their children" (v.13). What
a heart-moving picture of a truly united people surrounding their king in
his hour of need! As I have already remarked, his devoted pastoral care brought
him rich dividends. This was the reward of his devoted labour -- a united
And then came the inspired nonentity: "Then upon Jahaziel ... came the
Spirit of the Lord in the midst of the congregation" (v.14). Who was this
Jahaziel? Have you ever heard of him? Probably not, nor had anybody else.
But if he was a nonentity, he spoke in the Spirit and his words are known
by us all and full of inspiration: "You will not need to fight in this battle;
set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you."
That was the answer. They obeyed. Jehoshaphat knelt down with his face to
the ground, and so did the people around him. Then they stood up and praised
the Lord with a loud voice. They got up very early next morning to go out
to this battle and found that it became a Thanksgiving Service. They organised
a choir to march in front. They all sang psalms and hymns. And when they
got there, they found that the enemy was already dead.
This shows us the right kind of weakness. It is wonderfully true to life.
When you are really at wits' end corner, when you can honestly confess that
you are powerless and do not know what to do, and when you affirm, "but our
eyes are upon Thee", then you are proving the New Testament words: "And he
said to me, My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Wrong weakness leads to an inability to say 'no' to men. That must be
overcome. True weakness leads to the recognition that at wits' end corner,
you can count on God's miracles. The Lord save us from the one, and keep us
steadfast in the other.
(To be continued)
NOTES ON 2 CORINTHIANS
10. THE GOOD FIGHT OF FAITH
THE apostle suggests that as the Corinthians have borne with a lot of
foolishness from his opponents, they might perhaps bear with a little foolishness
from him. In this way he begins this instructive section which is one of
the most personal he has ever written. [51/52]
His reason for speaking in this foolish way is that he has a sincere
jealousy for his beloved readers. He was not jealous because it seemed that
he had been made ineffective in Corinth; this would not have mattered to
him provided that it was for the benefit of the Corinthians. No, he was
jealous with the jealousy of God because he could see that their faithfulness
to Christ was in danger. When Paul had led them to repentance and faith,
he had established a marriage relationship between them and Christ. From
then on, it was their duty to keep themselves unblemished and faithful to
the Lord until the day when the marriage of the Lamb with His betrothed
(that is, the Church) should take place according to Revelation 19:7.
He was afraid now that they might abandon their simplicity and purity
towards Christ. The serpent succeeded in seducing Eve by his craftiness.
As she listened to his deceptive speech, her mind became depraved and she
was drawn away from upright faithfulness towards the Lord God. Paul was seriously
afraid that the same thing was happening in the case of the Corinthians for
they -- like Eve -- were tolerating questions about the truth of God. In using
the phrase "he that cometh" (v.4), he contrasts the men who acted on their
own initiative with the man sent by God as His messenger.
The false teachers presented a different Jesus and a different gospel
from Paul, and those who listened to them received a different spirit from
the Holy Spirit. Our task is to seek to understand what the false apostles
1. A Different Gospel
We find this matter expanded in Galatians 1:6. This different "gospel"
is no gospel at all. In the case of the Galatians, false evangelists taught
that the believers had to be circumcised if they wanted to receive God's
Spirit. It was not enough to believe on Jesus who hung on the cross in their
place -- they also had to prove that they were on God's side by being circumcised.
The false teachers in Corinth, whom Paul denounces as "Satan's ministers"
(v.15), did not stress circumcision, but they seem to have asserted that
if the Corinthians wished to possess the power of the Spirit, they would have
to 'pay a price' for it. They seem to have pointed to themselves as such
spiritual people, boasting of their visions and experiences as a proof of
this. If we realise that according to Paul, their different message made God's
blessing dependent upon the fulfilment of certain commandments, we conclude
that what they preached was that the power and the fulness of the Holy Spirit
were given as a reward for the fulfilment of certain conditions.
2. A Different Spirit
This also seems apparent from Paul's expression, "a different spirit".
The Holy Spirit is given to all who hear in faith (Galatians 3:2-4) so,
if His coming is made a reward for our efforts, it cannot be the Holy Spirit
whom we receive. The false apostles showed clearly how this other spirit
expressed itself. They were aggressively self-assertive, and saw nothing
wrong in penetrating into his field of work and appropriating the fruits
of his labours. They had an entirely different view of what is flesh and
Spirit, regarding him as carnal because of his natural weakness and sufferings
for Jesus' sake. For them a man of the Spirit should speak about himself,
especially his visions and revelations, and so add weight to his words. In
fact they were blind to their own carnality, as they gloried after the flesh
3. A Different Jesus
The Jesus whom Paul preached gave people a contrite heart and a broken
spirit, never making them great in their own eyes. The Jesus whom his critics
preached did not bring their hearers down to the dust, but lifted them up
in ecstasies. This is closely bound up with the fact that, while the cross
was central to Paul's preaching (1 Corinthians 2:2), the false teachers
regarded this as only the first step, insisting that the believer had to
move further on from this. In fact, to go further than Jesus Christ and
Him crucified is to suffer dreadful losses:
i. It is to lose the contrite spirit and broken heart in which alone
God will dwell by His Spirit (Isaiah 57:15).
ii. It is to be overtaken again by self-righteousness and consequent
iii. It is to open the being to another and a different spirit, without
realising that this is not the Holy Spirit.
iv. The so-called glory then enjoyed is glory for the carnal puffed-up
man, and not the glory described in 3:18.
The words which the false apostles used were like those which Paul used,
"Jesus", "the Spirit" [52/53] and "the gospel", yet
they did not really preach the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Paul
was right not to tolerate this. It was a pity that the Corinthians did tolerate
it. It represents a false humility which can be sadly present in believers
now, as always, to act as they did.
There is a hint of sarcasm in Paul's description of these men as "the
very chiefest apostles" (v.5), for they were only that in their own eyes
and in the eyes of those who were fooled by them. As for Paul, he was not
a "speaker by profession" (v.6 Danish), and indeed attached no importance
to human rhetoric. This, however, did not mean he lacked knowledge, first
and foremost the knowledge of God, but also, in a broader sense, he was exceptionally
well informed. His critics not only sneered at his non-ecstatic speech (10:10),
but asserted that his lack of clear conscience made him refuse payment for
preaching the gospel. Here they touched a very sensitive area of Paul's feelings
and hurt him deeply. He himself had affirmed that the Lord had ordained
that they who proclaim the gospel should live by it (1 Corinthians 9:14),
so his opponents accused him of not being Christ's apostle, since he dare
not act as Christ had ordained.
We do not know why Paul felt so convinced that in Corinth he should not
accept financial support from the church, but we cannot doubt that he acted
correctly. Perhaps the false workers suggested that he acted dishonestly
in Corinth, since he received financial support in other places. It was quite
true that he had received gifts from other churches, and now he explains
that he did so for the sake of the Corinthians and not for his own sake (v.8).
In actual fact he had been in want there (v.9), passing through periods when
he hardly had his daily bread, but he was determined not to be burdensome
to the Corinthians. When Paul gloried, it was always in his weakness, and
there in Achaia he had been content to be weak and poor, convinced that the
truth of Christ was in him (v.10).
The love of Christ dwelt in him also. It was the truth of Christ and
the love of Christ which forced him to protect the Corinthians against the
false apostles. Verses 13 to 15 provide one of the strongest attacks on
spiritual antagonists that we have had from the apostle's pen. It shows
that he regarded any reconciliation with them as impossible; to him they
were not misguided brothers but messengers of Satan on their way to perdition.
They were not only deceived but were themselves deceitful, false apostles
who were the Lord's adversaries even though they claimed to be His messengers.
They claimed to be ministers of righteousness, but the righteousness
they preached was not God's righteousness by faith but the righteousness
which man himself can produce by his works. This always makes an impression
on the religious person for righteousness by works is characteristic of natural
religion. Just as to the Galatians, so now to the Corinthians, Paul fought
this error, for it tends to destroy the Church by undermining faith; it denies
that Christ's salvation is a finished work, maintaining that believers can
attain to the fulness of salvation only by making their own contribution towards
However Paul was primarily concerned not with Satan's hirelings but with
his beloved Corinthians. He wanted to fight to free them from the corrupting
influences of these false apostles. They had led the Corinthians astray by
recounting their experiences and visions -- now Paul has to meet them on
their own ground. It is indeed foolishness to talk about oneself in this way,
but he could only expose the foolishness of the false teachers thus: "That
which I speak, I speak not after the Lord but as in foolishness, in this
confidence of glorying. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory
also" (vv.17-18). The Lord does not command His servants to assert or advertise
themselves, but Paul did so, knowing well that he spoke as a fool in God's
eyes and in his own, because this was the only possible approach to the Corinthians
who had evidently listened with pleasure to the foolish self-glorying and
self-exaltation of his opponents. To glory as they did (and as he now intended
to do) was glorying in the flesh. As soon as a Christian draws attention
to himself by pointing out how God has used him, he risks grieving the Holy
Spirit and appealing to carnality in his hearers. The flesh always wants
to be something and is attracted to those who consider themselves somebodies.
The following sentences are full of irony: "For ye bear with the foolish
gladly, being wise yourselves" (v.19). Here he returned to what he had already
pointed out in 1 Corinthians 4:10: "We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye
are wise in Christ". Then it was a mild correction of them,
[53/54] an ironical indication of the apparent disparity between
them and him, as though they felt themselves to be wise in contrast with
him. Now he uses a double irony, suggesting both that they would look tolerantly
on the man who was despised as a fool and that his words now meant that,
as a fool, he was talking like the real fools whom they accepted so tolerantly:
"For you bear with a man, if he bringeth you into bondage ... if he exalteth
himself, if he smiteth you on the face" (v.20). They had become so enslaved
to the false apostles that they had allowed themselves to be devoured, thinking
that in so doing they had gone far on the road to humility. In this spurious
humility, they allowed these "great apostles" to exalt themselves and, in
one case, to smite someone. This shows how ludicrous and unbalanced you can
become if you tolerate those who preach a different Jesus and a different
gospel, persuading yourself that it is Christian humility to do so.
For his part, Paul never sought to get rid of his evident weakness, for
he had learned that it was only through such painful handicaps that a man
could prove the power of God for the salvation of sinners and the edification
of the Church. He was not afraid of being compared with anyone else and,
since that was what he wanted, he would freely supply them with a basis for
comparison, even though the whole operation was really foolish. Speaking "beside
himself" he drew attention to himself as more than equal to others.
"Are they ministers of Christ ... I more" (v.23). This is difficult to
understand because he was not now talking of hypocritical ministers of Satan
but rather comparing himself with those who seemed to be true ministers
of Christ, enlarging his comparison to include anyone coming in the name
of Christ. He claimed that he was more a servant of Christ than anyone else
because he worked harder and suffered more. He acknowledged, however, that
it is madness to emphasise this and said that he never would have done so
if he had not been forced to do it.
It is hardly by chance that the long list of his sufferings which follows
describes events which are not mentioned in the book of the Acts. God is
not interested in what the flesh wants to know about. Paul's gruesome punishments
were enough to make him unique among the servants of Christ. It was a miracle
in itself that he survived them and continued his ministry with undiminished
fervour and devoted love, but he would never have written of them if he had
not been obliged to do so. In continuation of the comparison for those interested,
we find the word "peril" as the rhythmic centre and conclude that he was
stressing that he had often been in peril of his life. The list culminates
with, "in perils among false brethren" (v.26), i.e. those who claimed to
be Christians. We can only guess how these endangered his life -- possibly
by betraying him to the authorities.
It would improve the health of our life of faith if today we refrained
from judging our own or others' spirituality on the basis of subjective
visions or ecstasies, and formed a sober judgment by means of this criterion
here supplied by the apostle. There was not much room for recreations or
diversions in Paul's life; indeed there was hardly room for ordinary human
necessities (v.27). This is an autobiography which can give us much subject
Beside those things that were without, he was a spiritual father to many
churches and had daily problems in this great area of his responsibilities.
So he returns to that which lay heaviest upon him, namely, the difficulties
at Corinth. It made him burn to see the Corinthians stumbled by those who
had not known a fraction of his trials, and who callously set him aside attempting
to destroy what he had created. He might easily have been offended with
the Lord and tempted to give up, but he turned this temptation into a triumph
of faith and, instead of saying 'I will not endure any more weakness,' he
exclaimed, "If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern
my weakness" (v.30). He had not presented himself as a great and imposing
personality who, like the false apostles, showed impressive superiority as
master of every situation, but readily acknowledged himself as outstandingly
Lest, however, it should seem that he was making a heroic virtue of his
sufferings, he finishes by describing himself in the humiliating circumstances
of being let down over the wall of Damascus in a basket (vv.31-35). What
an anti-climax! There was no kudos for him in this tragi-comical situation.
His unforgettable experience of deliverance from death was not a matter of
a heroic exploit but rather of a merciful escape.
(To be continued) [54/55]
A CLOSER WALK WITH GOD
"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good,
and what doth the Lord require of thee ...
to walk humbly with thy God." Micah 6:8
2. NOAH. Walking and Working (Genesis 5:28 to 9:29)
NOAH is the second man who is said to have walked with God and, unlike
Enoch, we know quite a lot of his personal history. In a sense he was a
prophet and he was also a preacher, but the greater part of his time was
occupied in manual labours. He was, in turn, a carpenter, a game warden
and an agriculturalist.
In modern evangelical parlance Noah would probably not be described as
a 'full-time worker', but he certainly devoted all his time to conscientious
work and he did it all "as unto the Lord". He lived by faith (as we must
all do) and he served God's purposes in an outstanding way. If Enoch is an
example of a man who walked with God in his domestic affairs, then Noah shows
us how to walk with God in our workaday life. He was a very busy man, yet
he always made time for God.
Grace found him. The Scripture puts it the other way round (6:8) but
it is really the same thing. Grace ensured that whatever mixture may have
got into the human race during that mysterious intermarrying of the sons
of God and the daughters of men (6:1-4), none of it defiled Noah's blood,
for he was "blameless in his generation" (v.9). His experience of grace
led him to a walk with God, yet in the truest sense, he did not choose God,
but God chose him, and chose him both to work for Him and walk with Him.
All believers are entitled to claim that by grace they had a walk of
companionship with God prepared for them before ever they took their first
step of faith. But faith must appropriate what grace provides. The first
step in the spiritual pilgrimage must be followed by a further step, and
yet another, keeping up the walk with God through every circumstance of
life. It was not enough for this man to be specially named, to find grace
in the eyes of the Lord, to be made righteous and given a clean bill of
spiritual health; he had to keep taking deliberate steps of faith and obedience
-- to walk with God.
Whatever help he may have had in the actual construction of the Ark,
the Bible speaks of him as the workman (6:14). It may be that Enoch was
the first of a long line of all the "Mary's" who have sat at the Lord's
feet, but it is certain that Noah is the prototype of the New Testament
"Martha", the corrected and sanctified Martha who got on with the appointed
job with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of devotion.
There were three different spheres of activity in which Noah walked with
1. As an Artisan
It is not actually stated that the Ark took 120 years to build, but there
are sufficient indications to show that this must have been an arduous and
taxing task. Some men design ships or buildings, leaving it to others to
carry out the work of construction. Noah had no planning office and no drawing
board. He was the workman who received the design and specifications straight
from heaven and worked accordingly. This may sound romantic, but it obviously
involved careful attention and thorough workmanship; his own safety depended
on his doing a good job of work for God.
Where he got the specified wood and the protective pitch we are not told,
but it does not need much imagination to realise how much hard work Noah
had to put into that life-saving vessel. The size of the task would have daunted
many men; the sheer drudgery of the work would have overwhelmed most of us;
but the greatest miracle of all was that, even as he worked, Noah still had
time and strength to devote to the cultivation of a closer walk with God.
Training courses and Bible Schools may at times be part of God's call to
us, but the thing to realise is that these will never, of themselves, ensure
a closeness of walk with God. In one way or another most of us wrongly imagine
that we need to be freed from the daily claims of home and profession so
that we can spend more time with God. The whole conception of opting out
[55/56] of ordinary vocations to get closer to the Lord is countered
by the New Testament command: "Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called,
therein abide with God" (1 Corinthians 7:24).
Noah must have been clever with his hands. Who gave him that skill? He
must have had considerable strength. Who gave him that strength? The One
who gave them to him called him to spend years working as a carpenter, and
he demonstrates to us that what we call 'secular work', far from stultifying
a man's spiritual life, can be the sphere in which he daily draws nearer
to his God and brings glory to His name. In due course the divine Son became
a carpenter at Nazareth and, when He was led out of that job to His public
ministry, received the Father's strong approval of His eighteen years of
If by 'full-time worker' we mean that we are now separated in a special
way to specific work for God, as Noah was when he entered the Ark, that is
a valid description, but if we imply that until that moment Noah had not
been a 'full-time worker', I am sure that both he and Mrs. Noah would strongly
disagree. Noah could argue that all who walk with God (even in a carpenter's
shop) are full-time workers! It is true that we are told that Noah was "a
preacher of righteousness", but how many words he actually spoke we do not
know. His life was a sermon, his workshop was his pulpit and though, outside
his own circle, no-one heeded his warnings, he had the joy of seeing his
entire family finding salvation as a result of his practical living to do
the will of God.
If we walk with God and so work for Him, we can be sure that He will
also work for us. This kind of companionship is a two-way affair. 'Operation
Ark' was a complete success. God so involved Himself with Noah that in due
course he influenced the animals to approach and enter the Ark, made them
live harmoniously together and Himself closed the door -- presumably sealing
it so that it would be water-tight. Literally Noah knew what it was to be
a "worker together with God".
2. As an Animal Conservator
It is difficult to describe the second job which Noah found himself in,
but it was certainly not a less onerous one than his previous employment.
Given the miraculous element in the gathering together of the animals and
their peaceful co-existence in such confined quarters, there was still a
tremendous amount of hard work on the human side. Think of the stacking and
storing of the food and its subsequent distribution. Think of the daily journeys
up and down the stairs of their 3-storied vessel, as the food was daily carried
and apportioned! Can a man walk with God when he is humping bales of food
about? Can he walk with God as he labours up and down those interminable
stairs? He can perhaps walk with God in the wide-open spaces, but how can
he do so in a confined, crowded, and sometimes storm-tossed, floating menagerie?
We do not know. And yet we do know the experiences of drudgery which
in a way correspond to Noah's daily toil, and many of us know how near we
can be to God in spite of the disadvantages and demands. All those months,
it must have seemed irksome and almost irrelevant to Noah himself, but we
know that the whole of God's purposes for the human race depended on that
one man's faithfulness. As day succeeded dreary day, Noah could never have
realised that the hosts of heaven were peering with holy amazement into
that crowded Ark and must have been moved to new worship of God who can
give such grace to men. Let us remember that in our tests we too "are made
a spectacle ... to angels as well as to men" (1 Corinthians 4:9), even though
we may be doing nothing more sensational than climbing up and down stairs
3. As an Agriculturalist
Adam had been told: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" and
one would imagine that Noah's commission to "Be fruitful ... and replenish
the earth" (9:1) indicated that there was plenty of hard work still to be
done. It seems unlikely that he found this third phase of his life's work
less arduous than the previous two. One gathers from succeeding Scriptures
that he and his sons made a thorough success of their new job. We get the
impression that this particular work as husbandman was a new departure for
When he lived in the ante-deluvial world of godlessness, he may well
have thought how much easier it would be to walk with God if circumstances
could be changed so that he found himself in a new world of rainbow covenants
and sweet-smelling altars. Well, if he did [56/57]
entertain such theories, he had a chance now to prove them, and indeed
to find how false they were, for it was in this third and more favourable
phase of his life that he failed so badly. "He drank of the wine, and was
drunken ..." (9:21). Perhaps it was due to ignorance; he may not have known
the effect of fermented grape-juice. But even if we make that excuse for him,
we still have to conclude that he had somehow lost that close touch with
God which had so infallibly guided him in past areas of the unknown. No,
we may blame Ham for his coarseness and praise the other two brothers for
their correct behaviour, but we cannot for one moment look on an indecently
intoxicated man and suggest that he is walking with God. Any measure of sensitivity
to his divine Companion would have warned him when he was in danger of drinking
Why was this final story included in the Scriptures? Would it not have
been kinder to have suppressed it and left us with an unclouded picture
of this man of God? Much of the truth about all of us is suppressed by our
kindly God, but certain things are made public for the benefit of others.
In this case surely God wishes to emphasise to us that at any point in our
Christian pilgrimage it is not difficult to get out of step with Him, and
that such perils and possibilities do not diminish with age or experience.
This final verdict of Scripture ignores this moment of failure, doubtless
because there is always forgiveness and cleansing for the man who walks
in the light, and informs us that Noah "became heir of the righteousness
which is by faith" (Hebrews 11:7). In a sense Noah inherited the material
post-deluvian world in which he set up his altar to God and over which he
witnessed the hope of the rainbow. The Bible, however, regards such material
things as being of relatively small importance. What matters is the spiritual
inheritance which is his by grace. It was given by grace, but it had to be
appropriated by faith. The Lord Jesus commended the servant who is faithful
in that which is least, promising true riches to those who are faithful
in material matters. Noah's service was by no means little. Each of his
three tasks were of tremendous importance. Yet Ark-building, animal welfare
and agricultural development, on whatever scale, are very small compared
with the spiritual recompense and spiritual destiny of this man of God. Perhaps
it may be repeated once more, though, that his spiritual destiny was made
possible by his constancy of obedience and faith in material matters.
4. As a Man of Rest
We are told that Noah's name means 'Rest'. This seems to point on to
Christ's invitation to us to take His yoke upon us and learn rest as we
do so. We may single out three features of this restful service of Noah's:
Noah lived in a most impressive world. "There were giants in the earth
in those days ... mighty men which were of old, the men of renown" (6:4).
That was what they looked like from man's viewpoint, but God saw them as
corrupt and violent. That was how Noah saw them too for, as he walked with
God, he learned to have spiritual discernment and sensitivity. If ever such
a discrimination were needed among Christians it is surely in our day. It
is a tragedy when God's people tolerate and even admire the society which
the Bible calls "the world", being blind to the fact that what it prizes
is abomination in the sight of their God. Noah had no illusions about the
"giants" or the "renown"; he was sensitive to the sorrows of His divine Companion.
Noah's world looked as if it would go on for ever. "They did eat, they
drank, they married, they were given in marriage" right to the last (Luke
17:27). How came it that Noah alone saw what was coming while the rest were
blind? How comes it that these reasonable enough activities fully occupy
the minds and outlook of many Christians today? The answer to these questions
is contained in a New Testament phrase: "love of the world". Noah did not
love the world in that sense -- he condemned it. And he did so because he
looked beyond the seen to the eternal verities and values of God's eternal
True heart rest only comes to the obedient. Noah first of all accepted
the general commission given to him by God and then worked away at the details
of manufacture and the instructions regarding timing and personal movement.
It may have been that the instructions to take the clean beasts by sevens
and not by twos (7:2-3) was a last-minute order, for nothing had been said
about it until the week of his entering the Ark. Life is like that. New things
arise -- or things that may seem new to us -- so that the obedient servant
must be adjustable under the hand of God. [57/58]
Noah's whole procedure was a matter of pioneering; no-one had ever done
the things which he was called upon to do. In a less spectacular way, this
is true of every man of faith. It makes obedience not a matter of obeying
rules but of listening to God. If Noah really did move into that Ark with
heart rest, then he was indeed a miracle of grace.
Viewed from this one virtue alone, the story of Noah is most remarkable.
Taking for granted the long patience of his labours, think of his experiences
inside the Ark as he had to wait in that enclosed vessel for seven long days
while not a drop of rain fell outside. We are told that "the waters prevailed
upon the earth for an hundred and fifty days" (7:24). This, no doubt, Noah
had expected and while it must have seemed a long time, it could reasonably
be regarded as part of the plan. So could the gradual subsiding of the waters
and the various period of testing conditions by means of the raven and the
dove. But look at the last testing time when Noah looked out upon a dry
earth on the first day of the month (8:13) and yet had to wait the divine
command to disembark, which did not come until the twenty-seventh day of
the second month. He went in seven days before it was necessary, because
God told him to do so, and then he stayed almost two months after it seemed
necessary to him, and only moved when he had the word from the Lord. That
is a most striking example of obedience and patience working together. Make
no mistake about it, the man who plans to walk with God has many lessons of
patience to learn as he does so.
Our next character will be Abraham -- the man who literally walked very
many miles in his constant pilgrimage with God. Unlike him, Noah speaks to
us of the sheer discipline of daily work, sticking to the job, toiling up
and down the stairs and quietly awaiting divine commands to move. "Whatsoever
you do, work heartily, as unto the Lord and not unto men; knowing that from
the Lord you will receive the recompence of the inheritance" (Colossians
(To be continued)
A MESSAGE FROM THE MIDDLE EAST
"IF thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then
how canst thou contend with horses? and though in a land of peace thou art
secure, yet how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5).
It happens at times that one is able to speak of a Scripture as being associated
with one's personal experience. This chapter 12 of Jeremiah brings thoughts
which had a very real context for me last year. I was sitting in Damascus
in a small hotel run by a Christian brother, at a time when great disturbances
were going on in that area. There were questions in everybody's minds as to
whether there was going to be another war between Israel and Syria. My brother
was very anxious, as were all the people in Damascus. The things that were
just newspaper headlines to you in the West were very present realities to
us. Was it to be peace or war?
As I sat thinking about these things, I opened my Bible at Jeremiah 12
and it all seemed to fit in most aptly to those circumstances and that situation,
since Jeremiah wrote when the city of Jerusalem, like the city of Hama in
Northern Syria, was surrounded by enemies and being pounded by whatever was
then the equivalent of modern artillery.
I imagined Jeremiah sitting there in Jerusalem and asking the same questions
that troubled me in Damascus. "Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?"
Why do men suffer? Where is divine justice? "You are always righteous, O
Lord, so I would speak with You about Your justice: Wherefore are all they
at ease that deal very treacherously?" (v.1). This is a pressing problem which
relates directly to the doings of the eternal God. [58/59]
Look down to verse 3 and you will see Jeremiah's own solution to this
problem: "Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for
the day of slaughter." This is his own sound argument, based doubtless on
many Scriptures. He prefaces this appeal for judgment with the confession:
"Thou, O Lord, knowest me; thou seest me and triest my heart ...". He was
not afraid for God to look into his heart, and see that it was right toward
Him. Turning to the others, though, he asks: "Why doth the way of the wicked
prosper?" Is it not true that there is blessing for those who fear and follow
the Lord and a curse on those who turn away from Him?
Destroy them! That was Jeremiah's answer, but what was God's reply to
him?: "If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then
how canst thou contend with horses?" It was as though the Lord told Jeremiah
that he was out of his depth and was asking about things which God is not
prepared immediately to explain. God spoke in this parabolic way to His servant,
suggesting to him that if he struggled with immediate questions and found
no answer, he would be completely baffled when challenged with ultimate and
eternal realities. The real answer was quite different from what Jeremiah
argued. It lay not in the realm of mental understanding but in his attitude
of heart towards God as absolute God.
"I am Sovereign," God said, "I will do as I choose and dispose of My
heritage as I determine (see v.7). What you need, Jeremiah, is that attitude
of humility which recognises My absolute Lordship. You will then have, not
perhaps an intellectual understanding of what I am doing, but a basis for
going on in a living relationship with Me as Sovereign Lord."
As I was sitting in that room in Damascus, I was saying to the Lord,
'Why? Why this suffering? Why this uncertainty?' and I seemed to get the
answer from the Word: "... how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?"
To me this implied that there is yet worse to come and that what we are
now seeing is an end but not yet the end.
I fully realise that what I now suggest may not be popular, especially
with fellow believers who have a fixed idea that all the events in the Middle
East are now poised for an Armageddon type of situation with the climax of
final judgment. Certainly something very significant is happening in the
Middle East. I recently made a tour through Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt,
and then returned to our home, so I can confirm that an atmosphere of destiny
hangs over the whole of that area. People sense that things are moving to
a climax. Is this the end?
I am not an authority, but would like to register my conviction that
what we are seeing is an end but not yet the end. North Africa
was once a great Christian area but now all that St. Augustine and Carthage
stood for has been swept away, and the lands there are almost totally Moslem,
with only a few believers dotted here and there. I have been in the city
of Herat in Afghanistan, where once the Nestorian Church thrived. The hordes
of Genghis Khan wiped out the last vestiges of Christianity which once extended
up to China and across to Iran. I could go on giving similar illustrations
of times in history when the people of God must have been thoroughly convinced
that the final end of the dispensation had come when, in reality, they had
come to a climax from which new purposes of God were fulfilled.
In my own homeland of Canada it would be unthinkable that God's testimony
which has seemed secure could possibly be destroyed, but we must face the
fact that we now live in what has been called a post-Christian era. We in
the Middle East read in our newspapers ruthless exposures of Western decadence,
lawlessness and shameful immorality. Looseness in our society is everywhere
condemned. In spite of many faults, the Arab maintains a stable family and
a secure future for his women folk. This is rapidly disappearing in our Western
lands. In our part of the world, though, we are seeing remarkable happenings
which are making new history. The whole Arab world is being penetrated by
little groups of Christian believers. In places where for many hundreds of
years there has been no-one who called on God through Jesus Christ, such
groups are emerging. Here and there, small pin-points of light are breaking
out in countries which have been dark for centuries.
I was in Afghanistan for three years and here again -- despite the Russian
invasion and all the terrible horrors which are taking place -- the gospel
is spreading and people being won for Christ. I can report that although
some of God's servants have been imprisoned, beaten up and tortured,
[59/60] their steadfast faith makes me feel like weeping with emotional
gratitude to God for their faith and devotion to Christ. We must pray on.
For my part I hesitate to appeal to Him to hasten the Armageddon just because
it would bring relief to me personally.
The world is coming to a tired sort of end here in the West where Christian
influences no longer govern. Christians are faced with the prospect of becoming
a small minority, just like their brothers and sisters in India, Pakistan
and other lands. We may well expect the non-Christian majority to oppose
and discriminate against us more and more. It is just at this point that the
challenge to Jeremiah becomes relevant to us. We may have to face "the swellings
of Jordan". From their perspective, many Christians regard this as the
end, and it is their right to do so. From my perspective, however, it looks
much more like an end, with a consequent call to men of faith to find
grace to press on, even to the horses and the swellings of Jordan.
The fact that Jeremiah was a man of such spiritual quality did not prevent
the righteous judgments of God from falling on his generation, so we must
not be surprised if scourges come on our own lands. His patient faith and
humility meant that his prayers were answered at what seemed like an endtime.
Out of the calamities -- the destruction of his city -- came new values from
the captivity, the return to the land, the dispersion, the preparations for
the coming of the Lord Jesus and the birth of His Church. So let us not
tire in our waiting and witness. The Lord is on the throne. If this is not
the end it can become an end which leads on to fresh triumphs
of the gospel. God answers our problems and questions by urging us to continue
to trust Him -- even in the face of the fierce horsemen and the proud floods
[Editor's Note: This message comes from an esteemed brother who is
working for Christ in the Moslem world. Those of us who are most convinced
of the Return of Christ will not need to be reminded that it was the Lord
Jesus Christ Himself who said: "It is not for you to know the times or seasons
... but you shall be my witnesses ... unto the uttermost part of the earth."
[Inside back cover]
SPIRITUAL PARENTHESES (36)
"(for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing,
his righteous soul from day to day with their lawless deeds)" 2 Peter
SOME of us may find it hard to give Lot any place at all among the people
of God. None of us, however kindly, would have thought of describing him
as "righteous". Yet God does so, three times over. This is an unexpected parenthesis
and a meaningful one too.
IN fact Lot was saved from the judgment of Sodom by the intercessions
of Abraham. This is clearly stated in Genesis 19:29. Does this mean that
if we pray hard enough for anyone, we can ensure their salvation? If it did,
we would be wickedly culpable in not praying for each person we know. It is
not the case. There are, of course, mysteries about this matter of prayer
for the salvation of people, but the operative word in this case seems to
be "righteous". Abraham's prayer for Sodom circled around the number of righteous
men in that wicked city. There were not even ten, so Sodom could not be
saved. But there was one, Lot, who is here called "righteous Lot". This
was no self-righteousness, but must have been that righteousness which comes
THE first point, then, seems to be that Abraham's request was made possible
of fulfilment by reason of a personal faith (however weak) on Lot's part.
THE second point is that for the believer, a life of compromise is both
unsatisfying and "tormented" (margin). It is hard to live in a world of sodomites,
as many are discovering in our world today, but the grace of God is so great
that the committed Christian may do so and yet experience the glory of God
in his soul. If he were where the sovereignty of God had placed him (even
though it were "where Satan's throne is"), he could overcome, eat of the
hidden manna and rejoice greatly in his God (Revelation 2:12-17). If, however,
he had strayed out of the way of the will of God and chosen rather to get
involved with lawless men, then nothing but trouble awaited him. He would
vex his righteous soul from day to day, as Lot did.
THIRDLY, the Lord knows how to deliver even such a miserable compromiser
as Lot from the troubles into which he had got himself. The Peter of the
Gospels would have scorned this weak character. The Peter of later years knew
only too well how much he owed to merciful grace. He therefore found no difficulty
in making this reference to "righteous Lot" and recording the divine miracle
which rescued him in his hour of need.
THIS BOOK OF THE LAW SHALL NOT DEPART OUT OF THY MOUTH,
BUT THOU SHALT MEDITATE THEREIN DAY AND NIGHT, THAT
THOU MAYEST OBSERVE TO DO ALL THAT IS WRITTEN THEREIN:
FOR THEN THOU SHALT MAKE THY WAY PROSPEROUS,
AND THEN THOU SHALT HAVE GOOD SUCCESS.
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