|Vol. 13, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1984
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE DIVINE OBJECTIVE (1)
ALTHOUGH their styles and approach were so different, the prophets Haggai
and Zechariah worked as one in their devotion to the divine objective, which
was the building of the House of God. The people involved, the returned exiles,
were relatively few in number and the work they proposed to do most unimpressive
in merely human terms. Nevertheless the spiritual significance of what was
in hand must have been very great, for at least the four books of Ezra,
Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah are devoted to it and the happenings described
in the book of Esther impinged upon it. Malachi, the final book of the Old
Testament, also seems to have a close affinity with the matter under consideration.
This matter was the building -- or rebuilding -- of the Temple at Jerusalem.
To those in closest touch with God, this was the one thing that mattered
above all others. If Haggai's hearers would respond to his exhortations concerning
the work, then God's pleasure would be served in an outstanding way (Haggai
1:8). If those same people would also listen to Zechariah's vision, they
would know that the Lord of hosts Himself was moved by a tremendous jealousy
concerning their task (Zechariah 1:14).
What does all this mean to us? In this article I hope to explain that,
translated to our own time, the lesson to be learned is that the recovery
among the Lord's people of the spiritual significance of the Church as the
House of God is the supreme concern of all lovers of the prophetic Word
All of those concerned were liberated slaves. They had long been held
in oppression by the world-power of Babylon, remote from their true home
and wasting their lives in what counted for nothing in the purposes of God.
But they had been freed. In accordance with the glowing promises of the evangelical
Isaiah, they had gone out with joy and been led forth in peace. They had
been allowed, and even urged, to return to the Zion which God so loved, and
this not so much for their own pleasure and comfort as to devote themselves
to the work of building God's house.
From the beginning this purpose of their deliverance had been clearly
stated (Ezra 1:3). God made sure that all the necessary materials were provided,
and He gave them suitable leaders. They certainly started in the right way
by seeking God's help on the basis of the altar (Ezra 3:3) and they were
filled with joy when they had the foundations truly laid (Ezra 3:11). All
seemed set for a sensational success. But something clearly had gone wrong
when Haggai and Zechariah began their ministry.
All of this has a spiritual parallel for us. We too have been liberated
from the captivity of sin and the world, not just for our own advantage,
but with a view to providing God with a home among His people, a divine purpose
which was indicated by the Lord Jesus with the words: "I will build my church".
We, too, went out with joy and were led forth in peace; we, too, found ourselves
making an excellent beginning as we affirmed the centrality of the cross
as our altar and the Holy Scriptures as the sure foundation of our faith.
The pertinent question raised for us by Haggai and Zechariah concerns
not our beginnings but our present position. Is it possible in our case that
the heavenly historian has to repeat the laconic comment: "Then ceased the
work of the house of God"? (Ezra 4:24). The two prophets made little reference
to the fierce opposition which brought about that cessation. It is all described
for us in the book of Ezra and illustrates an undoubted fact that the gates
of hell are strong against the work of spiritual building. Satan is always
opposed to God's will, but he seems to react most violently against the
expression of that will by a corporate testimony of God's people living
and witnessing together. He hates the building of the house of God. There
is much less opposition to the private enterprises of the believer -- God's
people can build their own panelled houses unmolested -- but it is when
saints are together in constructive concern for God's name and honour that
troubles begin. For the people of that day, the work of building had ceased
so that the very purpose of their deliverance was being nullified. Was that
the end? It would have been but for God's immediate reaction of raising up
Haggai and Zechariah to speak to the leaders and the people in His name (Ezra
5:1). Over against the "then" of the [1/2] cessation
of the work was this other "then" of a powerful prophetic ministry.
Their messages were direct and timely. They were for "this place" and
"this day" (Haggai 2:9 and 18). Unless they come to us in the same direct
way, there is little point in our studying them, but since these closing books
of the Old Testament focus on this matter in such a striking way and mark
the climax of that revelation, it may well be that they have peculiar value
for us who are surely near to the climax of New Testament days.
Perhaps at this point I may be allowed to point out the unusual feature
of two prophets working in one shared ministry. So far as I know this was
unprecedented up to that time. There had been many prophets in the past but
these had been lonely figures. It is true that Elijah had Elisha, but this
young man was really his successor and while the older man was on earth,
his task seems not to have been notably prophetic: "He poured water on the
hands of Elijah" (2 Kings 3:11). Jeremiah had Baruch but apparently more as
a helper than a colleague. In the case of Haggai and Zechariah, however, they
prophesied at the same time and in the same place as well as having the same
objective. Theirs was a shared and complementary ministry which seems to
me rather to provide a foretaste of New Testament corporate functioning.
Their personalities must have been different. Did Haggai, the action-man,
find it hard to work so closely with Zechariah, the visionary? Was Zechariah,
the man of spiritual interpretation, irked by Haggai's brusque realism? We
do not know. Which was the more effective, the one who shouted, "Be strong,
and work" or the one who gently warned, "Not by might nor by power but by
my Spirit"? No-one can say. The truth is that they worked in harmony: God
needed them both.
As a man who has spent long years humbly seeking to be "the Lord's messenger
in the Lord's message" (Haggai 1:13), may I stress the value of shared ministry?
It is important for a prophet to listen to others as well as himself to speak.
It is essential for a divine balance to be achieved, an end which usually
demands complementary ministries. I have no interest in controversies about
a 'one man ministry', but through the years I have had cause to appreciate
the added values of shared preaching, and I rejoice that among God's people
of recent years there have been notable moves in this direction.
For Zion the turning point came when these two stood up together and
spoke in the Lord's name. The building work had ceased; God's people were
completely absorbed in their own affairs and given up to a pessimistic paralysis.
"Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied
unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem ... even unto them" (Ezra
5:1). This was immediately followed by another "Then", when the leaders and
the people rose up and began to build, and verse 2 goes on to comment that
"with them were the prophets of God, helping them".
Would to God that the result of all preaching were as electric. The people
did not stop to discuss the messages or congratulate the messengers; as one
man they responded and went to the task. The two prophets kept them at it,
challenging, encouraging and giving practical help. The official ban was
set aside "and the elders of the Jews builded and prospered, through the
prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they
builded it and finished it, according to the command of the God of Israel
..." (Ezra 6:14). Our purpose now is to consider the messages of these two
effective servants of the Lord.
THE MINISTRY OF HAGGAI
While Zechariah inspired by illustration and explanation, Haggai fulfilled
his ministry by means of short sharp exhortations. In the small book bearing
his name we have five brief messages, all given within the space of four
months. It may well be that these are selected utterances, typical of others
not recorded, for it is certain that once Haggai had moved the leaders and
people to recommence the work, he persisted with them until the final completion.
1. God's Priority (1:2-11)
Haggai made no reference to the opposition from without, concentrating
solely on the failure in the hearts of God's people. Perhaps he was so convinced
that the key to everything lay in the spiritual condition of the people that
he regarded government decrees as insignificant. The story is told at some
length in Ezra, recording that the first attempts to build provoked the
opposition of the non-believers who first wanted to help and
[2/3] then became bitterly antagonistic, and describing how that
opposition was overruled and even turned to the advantage of the believing
builders. If the consensus of opinion that the time was unpropitious was influenced
by those official hindrances, the argument was proved false by the fact that,
once the people responded to Haggai's challenge, the decree was set aside.
No doubt Zerubbabel and the others felt that they had to wait for the times
to change, but Haggai would have none of that but kept stressing the importance
of giving priority to the work for which they had been released and which
had now lain in abeyance for some fifteen years.
The actual argument used by the defaulting Jews was that the economic
recession in their land was the reason for the opinion current among them
that it was not the right time for this forward movement. Haggai dealt with
this by insisting that their bad harvests and general poverty were the result,
not the cause, of the position of stalemate. God had a priority; they failed
to observe it and struggled on, grumbling about the bad weather and the low
farm prices, though incidentally they had gone in for some fine timber houses
for themselves. It may even be that for this purpose they had used wood which
should have been employed for the Temple, since Haggai had to urge them
to go up to their hills and cut down trees when previously the material for
the Temple had been provided (Ezra 3:7).
Be that as it may, Haggai's first message concentrated on the matter
of priorities. Were God's people going to concentrate on their own well-being
or would they be governed by what brought pleasure to the heart of their
God? His House lay in ruins. They saw this, they possibly multiplied committees
to consider what, if anything, could be done about it, but nothing was done.
Every time the building proposals were discussed, they were postponed indefinitely.
It was not the time! It ought to be done, but not yet.
Someone had to break this deadlock. Haggai did so by warning the people
that their own situation would never improve until they put God's House first.
God Himself would see to that. It was He who had called for the drought condition;
He had a part in the holes in the bags through which their wages vanished;
after all, He is the Lord of hosts.
It is easy enough for us to accept this explanation of the Israelites'
calamities, but not perhaps so easy to interpret them for ourselves in a
modern context. It is by no means certain that we will become more affluent
if we put the gospel first, nor is it a sign of God's disfavour when His
people have poor wages and find it hard to feed and clothe themselves. It
may be the opposite. Those who put self first in our age may become materially
prosperous, while those who put the Lord's interests first may have to live
in conditions of real hardship.
Quite clearly, our interpretation must be spiritual, though nonetheless
real. God's people become starved in their souls, inwardly cold and discontented,
when they consult their own comfort and neglect the worship and witness which
corporate Christian living requires. "Consider yourselves" Haggai urged,
"Lay to heart how things are with you." If you are waiting for your fellowship
conditions to improve before you are prepared to get fully involved, you
will get inwardly leaner and more dissatisfied if you do not come to your
senses and respond to the divine priority.
Haggai was not concentrating attention on a building, as such. Isaiah
and Jeremiah had made it quite clear that God's purposes are not bound up
with what is ceremonial or institutional, but spiritual. What the Lord needed
most was what Ezekiel called the place of God's throne, the place of the soles
of His feet, where He could dwell in the midst of His redeemed people (Ezekiel
43:7). In this age it is the Church which is called to provide this royal
Home of God. Haggai urges us not to wait for some special occasion of "revival"
as though it were not yet time for this, but to stir ourselves with new devotion
to play our part in the fellowship of the House of God.
2. God's Backing (1:13)
With this striking phrase, "the Lord's messenger in the Lord's message",
we naturally expect that what the people were now to hear was an eloquent
and unusual utterance, so it may be with some sense of anticlimax that all
we read are the words, "I am with you, saith the Lord". Is that all? Dear
friends, It is everything. It promises God's full backing in the work we
undertake, and what could be greater than that? This is the practical significance
of the anointing, for are we not told concerning the Lord Jesus that "God
anointed him with the Holy Spirit ... for God was with him" (Acts 10:38)?
However [3/4] much or however little they might be
conscious of the Lord's presence, they could count absolutely on His full
backing in this enterprise.
There was more to this than Haggai makes mention of, for we understand
that it was at this very time that the protests and consultations were going
on in government quarters which, humanly speaking, could decide whether
the building work would be sanctioned. According to Ezra, the documents
used against the Jews (Ezra 4:19-21) were now set aside in favour of a roll
discovered in the archives of Babylon as the result of a search ordered
by king Darius and in consequence of this the local governor received his
instructions from the capital: "Let the work on this house of God alone"
(Ezra 6:1-7). In this very practical way, the Lord proved to those who had
recommenced the work in faith that His almighty overruling power was behind
Haggai's own comment on the result of his brief but powerful message
was that men were stirred in their spirits: "The Lord stirred up
the spirit of Zerubbabel ... and the spirit of Joshua ... and the spirit
of the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of
the Lord of hosts, their God" (1:14). The movement was not in their circumstances
first and not just in their reasoning, but in their spirits. Happy
indeed is the messenger whose message can touch and move men deep down in
their spirits so that they make such a united response to the challenge of
the hour. "The Lord of hosts is with us!" What more can anybody want?
3. God's Encouragement (2:1-9)
God's prophets only spoke when He inspired them to do so; it was therefore
a whole month before Haggai prophesied again. We know that many of God's
people were discouraged by the seeming smallness of things in their day and
to them Haggai addressed the words: "Who is left among you that saw this house
in its former glory? and how do you see it now? is it not in your eyes as
nothing?" Haggai's colleague dealt with the same atmosphere of depression
by asking: "Who hath despised the day of small things?" (Zechariah 4:10).
As we shall see later, he had his own answer to this question, but for the
moment we deal only with Haggai's message.
In the first place, he swept aside all their complaints and questions
with a forthright injunction not to waste time moaning or arguing but to
get on with the job: "Be strong ... and work". That was directed to all,
without distinction. The ordinary members were not to off-load the responsibility
on to their leaders and the leaders were not to wait for the rest, but all
alike were to gather up new strength and proceed with the task. They were
God's redeemed people, and it was by His Spirit that they were being sustained
(v.5). The verse concludes with that constantly recurring Biblical command:
"Fear not!" It seems that we all need it, for the command began with Abraham
(Genesis 15:1) and goes right through the Scriptures until the apostle John
(Revelation 1:17). If it was the Lord of hosts who was with them, as Haggai
again reminded them, where was the need for fear?
This was the first reason why they could be strong. Haggai then introduced
another altogether new one, namely the tremendous significance of the House
of God in the future, in which there would be much more glory than ever there
had been in the past (v.9). It is not possible to discuss just how his words
could be fulfilled literally, so I only refer to the ultimate glory which
will come when the "desire" or "things desired" of all nations will come.
The New Testament makes it clear that this promise relates to the Return
of Christ (Hebrews 10:37 and 12:28), though Haggai's hearers could hardly
have appreciated that. What they would know, however, was that God had far
bigger things in hand than their modest activities might suggest.
For us the issue is quite clear. It is that we must not be misled by
the smallness or seeming insignificance of our local experience of God's
house. The end which the Lord has in view is nothing less than "that great
city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the
glory of God" (Revelation 21:10). Why should we be strong and whole-hearted
in our devotion to corporate activities in church life? Because they have
a direct connection with the ultimate purpose of God for our glorious Christ
and His Church.
4. God's Blessing (2:10-19)
The next message came two months later and it is the longest of the five.
It concluded with the ringing assurance: "From this day will I bless you"
(v.19). Haggai agreed that there were as yet no signs of relief in the stringent
hardships and poverty of the builders; no harvest had been gathered and no
fruit trees were bearing -- not [4/5] yet! Once again,
though, the prophet called the people to consider carefully so that faith
could rely on the divine blessing now that the work of building was being
It is not easy for us to follow the questions and answers about ceremonial
uncleanness. For our purposes perhaps they may be reduced to the straightforward
fact that, while unbelief and unholiness are most contagious, holiness itself
is definitely not so. It is not enough to have contact with a holy work of
God, we need ourselves to be holy if we are to have a part in it. The amazing
fact which emerges though is that, having charged the people with being
to Him as unclean as contact with a corpse, the Lord then promised them
a blessing. Haggai's fellow prophet foretold that the headstone of this
edifice would be brought forth with shouting of Grace, grace unto it (Zechariah
4:7). I can only suggest that in his fourth message Haggai was saying the
same thing -- and how true it is -- that for us any part in the House of
God is wholly of grace.
5. God's Chosen King (2:20-23)
The last message was given on the same day. It looked altogether into
the future, giving God's royal servant, Zerubbabel, a personal assurance
that when all the cosmic shakings were over, he would emerge as the chosen
and divinely appointed sovereign.
For us this is the final word from the Lord about the work of church-building,
namely that through world convulsions it will culminate in the revelation
in glory of the Lord Jesus, Himself the Master-builder. Haggai was a man
of few words but he will not have spoken to us in vain if we grasp the significance
of the fact that we are called to labour together in spiritual fellowship
in the light of the divine objective of the Coming in glory of the Lord Jesus
(To be continued)
ABIDING SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES
(Some lessons from the life of Solomon)
3. THE TEMPLE BUILT. 2 Chronicles 3 - 5
THESE chapters, like the rest of the Scriptures, are here for a purpose,
so we must try to find out what that purpose is. This time, instead of taking
a consecutive exposition through the chosen passage, we will take the passage
as a whole, considering it from three different viewpoints. We want to know
what we as the people of God can learn from King Solomon.
David was the ideal ruler of God's people but when he moved off the scene
and Solomon had to take over the responsibility, the new king's heart was
no doubt filled with consternation at being asked to stand in the shoes of
such a prominent man as his father, wondering how he could cope. We saw in
our last article how in fact he did cope in those very demanding circumstances
and gives us an example of how we ourselves are to cope in similar circumstances.
We ask ourselves in what sense we can look at him and find in him the way
in which we should go.
Obviously we cannot do exactly the same as he did, but we can consider
the whole situation and ask what is the parallel in our days, which was
exactly what the chronicler was doing for the readers of these books of
the Chronicles. Their times were different from those of David and Solomon
too, and they had to ask themselves what were the principles which remain
and how could they apply them in their changed circumstances. We are seeking
to do exactly the same in our own days. There seem to me to be three senses
in which the activities of Solomon as described in chapters 3 to 5 can provide
an example for us:
1. A Matter of the Devout Heart
We read here of the devout heart of Solomon and consider how we can follow
his example. If we dip into these three chapters, we may well think what
a dull list they provide of posts and beams, altars, lavers, lampstands, veils
etc., but if [5/6] we read the whole passage and consider
its context, we can see something else. For a start, we have to remind ourselves
that these chapters were not conveying any new information, for the people
who read this book in the first instance had presumably read the books of
the Kings and knew what the Temple was like. This was not new information
to them, simply to instruct their minds, but the chronicler was taking what
they already knew and using the material for the purpose of turning it into
He took up the old familiar picture and put it into a new frame. One
presumes that none of his readers had seen the original Temple of Solomon,
but all of them knew what it was like. It is as if the chronicler was seeking
to interpret to them the information which they already had. And the way
in which he wanted his readers to look at it is for me pin-pointed by a few
verses in these chapters.
For example, we take Solomon's own comment on the house: "But who is
able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and the heaven of heavens
cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him an house, save
only to burn incense before him?" (2:6). That was all that the house was.
He knew that this was not really a place in which he could confine God.
We cannot accuse Solomon of having such primitive ideas. He knew perfectly
well that his God was a great God who filled the heavens and the heaven of
heavens and more beside.
This, then, was the way in which his mind had been stretched already
and when we come on to Chapter 5 we see him, once the Temple is completed,
gathering together all the men of Israel to the feast which was in the seventh
month (v.3). As the work was gradually completed, everything was geared
towards a tremendous celebration for its opening which coincided with the
feast of the seventh month, that wonderful festival of joy, the Feast of
Tabernacles. That is the context in which Solomon was constructing the Temple.
As we read on in chapter 5 we come to a gloriously long sentence, starting
at verse 11: "And it came to pass, when the priests were come ... also the
Levites which were the singers ... and when they lifted up their voice with
the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music and praised the Lord ...
that then the house was filled with a cloud ... for the glory of the Lord
filled the house of God." It is in that context that we are supposed to read
the inventory of everything that went to make up the Temple. It is not simply
a dull old list, it is placed in the context of worship and the greatness
of God whom Solomon worshipped, as well as his overwhelming desire to do
honour to God in this particular way.
So we see that it all worked up to that tremendous climax at the end
of chapter 5. This inventory of the vessels and bits and pieces is all a
part of that. These chapters are, in fact, the expression of a devout heart
in worship of God. This was how Solomon expressed his love to the Lord.
All the pots and pans and spoons and forks and pillars and hangings etc.
were simply an expression of devotion. And that is what we have to interpret
for that is what it is all meant to be in our case. Here was this man and
here was the way in which he expressed what was in his heart; we read the
complication of it, the comprehensiveness of it and the costliness of it,
and we feel that what he did is the sort of thing we want to express. We
will do it in a totally different way but with the same kind of devout heart.
In the light of that, I invite you to come with me as the building is
going on and, as we do so, we come first to the great porch of the Temple
which he has in mind to build (3:4). This porch leads into the main hall
of the Holy Place (v.5) panelled with pine and overlaid with fine gold, decorated
with palm trees. In fact the whole was overlaid with gold. Later we will
not be permitted to go into the Holy of holies (v.8) but we know elsewhere
that this was a cubic room, having height, breadth and length of twenty cubits.
This room apparently had no windows and was therefore in darkness, but even
so it was all overlaid with gold. There in the Holy of holies stood the
two cherubim, facing the door as we look in and with wings outspread so
that the outer wings touched the walls while the inner wings touched each
other. In due course the Ark will stand there. It was all protected by the
veil of blue, purple, crimson and fine linen with cherubim worked on it.
In front of the Temple stood the two great pillars, Jachin and Boaz (3:17).
The whole of chapter 4 is devoted to a record of everything which had
been provided, making especial mention of the work of Huram the Syrian craftsman
and concludes with a summary of it all (vv.19-22). But this is not all, for
[6/7] although Solomon had provided the materials
we find that he has also brought in all the things that his father David had
dedicated which were to be stored in the Temple treasuries (5:1). So far
we have been dealing with things. Solomon, however, asked, What are things
without people? So he assembled all the people, for the whole purpose was
that they were to come and share the worship of the Temple. This is the necessary
part: "Then Solomon assembled the elders ... and all the men of Israel assembled
before the king ..." (vv.2-3). This was what it was all about; this forms
the climax of the chapter and of the whole passage.
If I were to start spiritualising each item, endeavouring to explain
what is meant by the various articles, there would be no end to this message
and perhaps not much profit in the exercise. The great spiritual principle
is surely the fact that a powerful and wealthy king did all this because
he desired to worship and serve his God. He gave of his very best, showing
us that in our equivalent situation, we will want to worship the Lord with
our very best. With us there will be the equivalent of the gold and the bronze
and the precious stones, given with the same comprehensiveness and absorbing
nature that Solomon manifested in his day. The cost of it! The wealth that
went into it! The total attention of the mind and utter devotion of the heart!
This is how it applies to us. Such things are open to us also in our worship
of our God.
2. A Matter of the Discerning Mind
In point of fact, if you compare the account in Kings with this Chronicle,
you will find that the chronicler has actually abbreviated his account of
the Temple. He has put it in a much wider context. In fact in the rest of
the book he has gone on to describe fairly dispassionately the fact that
a whole series of the kings of Judah were not averse to helping themselves
to Temple treasures, that Manasseh desecrated this marvellous Temple and then
Nebuchadnezzar despoiled it. He tells how the Babylonian army sacked it and
burned it to the ground.
Clearly, then, the chronicler's devotion to the Temple was of rather
a curious kind. He didn't honestly seem to mind all that much what happened
to it. In the last chapter of his book, at the end, he tells of a projected
replacement for it, but it does not seem that he was attached to the building
for its own sake. He was concerned with spiritual realities more than with
the visible edifice. He sees it in its historical perspective, comparing
it both with what had gone before and with what was to come after.
May I give two examples of this comparison? This was Solomon's Temple,
but there had been an equivalent earlier in the form of the Tabernacle which
Moses had made in the wilderness. There was another equivalent later, which
was the second Temple which was built when the exiles returned from Babylon.
And there was yet another, a total renovation in the time of Herod the Great
and then finally there was the one in Ezekiel's visions which describe the
ideal Temple. When we put all these together in comparison, certain truths
emerge. My two examples are that the two most important things in the Temple
complex are the altar and the Ark.
The chronicler himself makes a direct comparison between the altar that
Solomon had in his temple and its predecessor, the altar made by Bezalel
the son of Uri in the days of the wilderness wanderings. That earlier one
is stated as being in use at Gibeon in Solomon's day (2 Chronicles 1:5). It
had been preserved and was actually in use. Now Solomon did not regard that
part of the Temple furniture as so intrinsically holy that he dare not replace
it by anything else, because that was just what he did. What happened to
the old altar we do not know; at all events it disappeared somewhere and was
replaced by a brand new and larger altar which Solomon had specially built.
Obviously the size did not matter very much. In fact, if we were to go on
into Ezekiel's vision we should find that the altar was even larger (Ezekiel
43:15). So presumably the dimensions were not sacrosanct; neither, I think,
was the thing itself.
As we make these comparisons, we see that neither Solomon nor the chronicler
minded that the altars looked different, for the essential thing was that
there should be a place where sacrifice was offered to God. That is the principle
which runs through the whole series of buildings and, as we think about
that, we ask ourselves if there is something which must continue, something
which we must discern as an important element in our worship of God. There
certainly is, and so we must ask ourselves what is the equivalent for us.
Why was the altar so important as the place of sacrifice in those Old Testament
days? The size and shape did not matter so much, but there had to be a sacrifice.
This is intrinsic [7/8] and essential to our worship
of God. And we know, of course, that to us this means the cross.
If we think of the Ark, we are comparing that with something else. Looking
back before Solomon's time we have noted that the altar was in the Tabernacle
and represents something which has to continue in some shape or form, but
if we think of the Ark we find that no mention is made of this after Solomon.
To the best of our knowledge there was no Ark in the second Temple and its
successor. Somewhere along the line it had got lost, so that inside the Holy
of holies in the later temples there was nothing. The spiritual reality,
however, is all-important for it speaks to us of God's covenant with His people
and His mercy seat.
The differences between Solomon's Temple and the later one were very
many. The two pillars were not there; it seems that nine of the lampstands
had disappeared and been replaced by one. This was so much the case that
the old folk who had known Solomon's Temple were very down in the mouth about
the one built in Ezra's day for the latter seemed such a poor thing compared
with what they had been used to. To them it was "a day of small things" indeed.
There was so much lacking, and so much that was different.
This is why I stress the matter of the discerning mind. Solomon was concerned
with the Temple as the place where the people of God may meet with Him and
for this there are always the same things and must always be, both for the
worship of God in those days and now, while other things apparently do not
matter. There are things which are essential and things which are expendable;
we must therefore set our minds to discern what are the things of importance
in our worship and what are the things of less importance. We need to discern
what is obligatory and what is optional in the worship of God. We must have
the altar and we must have the Ark.
Solomon's worship not only went back to his father David (1 Chronicles
28:11) but far beyond David to Moses as is shown by his use of the words
"as prescribed" (2 Chronicles 4:7). In his choice of the site he went back
far beyond that to Mount Moriah (3:1). We recall from Genesis 22 that this
takes us back to Abraham's altar. For Solomon the place was surrounded with
history and he was aware that there are certain things which take him right
back to the very roots of his people, right back to Abraham, the father of
the faithful. That distant past and the truth of God's revelations of Himself
to His people, provided roots for Solomon's worship.
We have to gather for ourselves out of the whole of the Scriptures what
are the vital matters, and that will tell us what are those which are less
important. We must have the altar and we must have the Ark. There must be
cleansing as we come to God and there must be the sense of the veil -- torn
though it now is for us -- and of the One who has gone through it on our
behalf. These are absolutely essential: they were represented in all the temples
and take us right back to the Tabernacle. As for the rest -- how many tables,
lamps, songs etc. -- that is up to us. We need to apply a discerning mind
to the shape of our worship.
3. A Matter of the Divine Spirit
To me this is the most fascinating thing of all. In explaining what I
mean by referring to the divine Spirit I realise that I am embarking on the
stormy sea of typology but I hope that you will appreciate my point. There
are ways of dealing with Old Testament things in such exaggerated applications
of typology which becomes absurd, but there is such a thing as the study
of typology which is legitimate and spiritually profitable.
David is a type of Christ. We may feel that from what the Scriptures
tell us, Solomon is also a type of Christ in his capacity as prince of peace.
I wish, however, to pursue this subject of the roles of the two men. Way back
in the tenth century B.C. the people of God were in the happy position of
being governed more or less as God wanted them to be governed. Those were
the days of the monarchy, because in their particular circumstances that
is how the true government by God of His people worked out. It was God's will
that His people should be ruled by David His servant, the man after His own
heart, and as we look back to David, we see in him a picture of the ideal
ruler of the people of God. We can also think to ourselves that it is perfectly
possible to look at Solomon in a similar way. Solomon is to us more than
an example of how we should live and how we should worship for he, as it
were, recedes into the background and stands alongside his father David as
equally and in parallel a picture to us of the ideal government of God's
people. There is David the Father and Solomon his successor. Those were great
For the next thousand years the situation declined; the monarchy was
not what it had been and for a long time the people of God had to make do
with memories, traditions and a past ideal. The chronicler and his readers
were in that position and something that they never knew was this, that
the time would come for us in our New Testament days when the people of
God would once again be ruled as God would have them ruled and that the king-shaped
blank, which they had had to make do with, would once again be filled with
the embodiment of the ideal kingship when He Himself came into the world to
bless His people.
Now it is all too true that the study of typology can readily be abused,
but there is nothing more Biblical than the fact that the Davidic monarchy
was a type of the rule of Christ. We are entitled to ask if both David and
Solomon are not types of Christ, and in a manner of speaking they are. We
remember, though, that we are told that the reason why David was not allowed
to build the Temple himself was that he was a man of war (1 Chronicles 28:3).
It was his function to fight the battles of the people of God, to combat
their foes and not to build the Temple because he was a man of war. That building
was to be the responsibility of Solomon, the man of peace.
I believe very firmly that this was not a moral judgment on David. It
in no way laid any blame on him as though he was disqualified because he
had embroiled himself in warfare and so could not have the privilege of building
the house of God. Not at all! It was simply that in the economy of God it
was fitting that the Temple should be built by a man of peace. Once the
man of war had won the victory and completed that conquest, then the reign
of peace could begin under his successor Solomon -- his other self -- and
the Temple be built.
So we see that Solomon is not only an example to be followed; he is to
us a picture of the One through whom God rules His Church. The battle has
been fought and won; now it is time for the bringing in of the reign of
peace, in which time God's house is to be built. We know what that house
is in New Testament terms. We know that it is the Church and that we ourselves
are a part of it and can think for ourselves what the beauty and wealth of
this spiritual Temple is to be. As we consider this, we have to ask ourselves
"Who is sufficient for these things?" From these three chapters in 2 Chronicles
we have been finding the man of peace exerting all his great power to make
the Temple a fitting place for God to be in and we are encouraged to believe
that Solomon's story is an encouragement to us to bring the very best that
God has given us and devote it to this task.
In a sense this is in accordance with the command to work out our own
salvation but we note that the rest of the verse reminds us that "it is God
that worketh in you to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians
2:13). This sanctifying and edifying work in the Church is the responsibility
of the Holy Spirit. For that reason I submit that Solomon may rightly be
considered as a type of the Holy Spirit -- Christ's other Self -- and these
chapters encourage us to look to Him for our divine sufficiency in this matter
of God's spiritual house. We desire to be all that God wants us to be. We
desire that the equivalent of all the beauty and richness and order set
forth in these chapters should be spiritually fulfilled and expressed among
us. But just as Solomon was the one ruler who could build the Temple, so
the Holy Spirit alone can build us up and He will do it as we hand ourselves
over to Him for the building of God's house.
(To be continued)
LIGHT FOR THE LAST DAYS (2)
J. Alec Motyer
Reading: 2 Timothy 2
IN our previous study we considered the subject of the power of God,
noting that this is especially focused in Chapter 1. This emphasis on the
supreme, undefeated magnificent power of God is intended to give us confidence.
As we take our stand alongside Timothy and face the desperate last days,
the first thing for us to know is the power of God to give us confidence
in the face of the world. Whether the world comes before us in all its need,
or in its hostility, or in [9/10] its coldness, we
can look to the power of God and affirm that while we do not know what to
do, He does and He can do it.
We can also have confidence, beloved, in the face of past failure, or
seeming failure. When Paul wrote about the power of God, he was in a situation
where all he had been attempting seemed to have fallen apart. His whole work
in the Roman province of Asia was just disappearing before his eyes, and
he was bound in a dark prison. He was able to say, however, that he knew whom
he had believed and was persuaded that He is powerful to keep what
He had committed to His servant. He knew that God could look after His own
Further, we can have confidence in the face of present tasks. Whatever
God may have put in front of you or in front of me, it is something that
He has planned, and in the planning of it He has also determined the outcome.
So we can commit ourselves to the task in the confidence of the power of
God to see this thing through to the point that God intended it to reach.
He is able!
But now in Chapter 2, alongside that stress on the power of God we find
another equally continuing stress. It is Individual Responsibility, Commitment,
Sacrificial Effort and Accountability. This emphasis also runs right through
the whole of the Letter to Timothy.
Chapter 1. We notice that this element of individuality is found
right at the start. "I have been reminded of the unfeigned faith that is
in thee" (v.5). The value of the old-fashioned English is that the
word 'thee' underlines the fact that Paul is writing to a single individual.
He is so excited about this thought that he comes back to it at the end of
the verse, saying "I am convinced it is in thee also". It is marvellous to
have a godly inheritance and believing parents. Timothy had both a believing
mother and a believing grandmother -- which was great -- but this did not
save him. Saving faith is an individual faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul
goes on to put Timothy in remembrance "to stir up the gift of God that is
in thee " (v.6). In verse 7 the apostle goes on to speak of God's common
dealings with His people, saying, "God gave us ..." but first he wanted
to urge Timothy to fan his own individual gift into a flame. The command,
"Hold the pattern ..." (v.13) is in the singular imperative, as is "Guard
through the Holy Spirit ..." (v.14).
Chapter 2. The apostle was concerned for the perpetuation of the
pattern of the gospel, so he went on to write, "... commit thou to faithful
men" (v.2). This was a responsibility laid upon Timothy personally. I do
not wish to labour the point unduly, but must point out that these 'Thou's'
and 'Thee's' focus on the individual. Later in the chapter we read: "Give
diligence to present thyself ..." for the individual has an equal responsibility
to watch his own soul's welfare.
Chapter 3. "But thou didst follow my teaching" (v.10).
This is the chapter which shows how Timothy was placed in a world which
was on the slide and where everybody else was declining from moral standards,
so Paul said to Timothy, "Now, my son, you know better than that; you must
stand up and be counted as different." "Abide thou in the things which
thou hast heard" (v.14).
Chapter 4. We come to the final chapter and find that in it Timothy
is brought right forward to the Day of Christ as if made to stand in the
presence of God: "I charge thee, in the sight of God and of Christ Jesus,
who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom,
Preach the Word" (singular imperative). Why did Paul link together this command
to preach the Word and a reminder of the coming kingdom? Surely, it was because
he was saying, 'Timothy, you will have to give an account of how you have
discharged this responsibility. I told you to suffer hardship with the gospel;
I told you to hold and guard the truth; I told you to commit the truth to
others; and now as I tell you to preach the truth I must remind you that
you will stand before God and give an account of what you have done.' Running
right through this letter, then, there is a marked emphasis on individual
accountability. Each of us has his duties, his faith and his gifts, and each
must eventually stand before God to give an account of what he has done.
Now this is where our two studies may seem to grate against each other,
for if God is the total Doer, how could Timothy be the doer. If God lays
His plans in eternity, with nothing able to hinder Him and nothing needed
to help Him, and if He brings those plans by His own sole energy to complete
fulfilment, why is there this call to Timothy to do this and that, with the
statement that he will be held accountable? How [10/11]
are these two things to be blended together? It is certainly true that
when in the Last Day we are assembled in heaven, not one of us will sing
a song containing the words, Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the
Holy Spirit and to me! No-one will want so to sing, for we will know even
more than we do now that it has been all of God and all of grace. Nevertheless
we must face up to this warning about commitment and accountability.
The truth is that while Christ has provided the gospel -- "Remember Jesus
Christ ..." (2:8) -- He has also committed to us a responsibility for the
gospel, a ministry that involves sacrifice and commitment to the N'th degree
-- "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they also may
obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus ..." (v.10). So the eternal
plans of God are brought to pass through the sacrificial labours of His servants.
It is the work of God to bring the elect to eternal salvation and glory
(1:9) but Paul claimed that he was working and travailing in order that
the elect might obtain salvation.
This brings us to the special stress of chapter 2, which opens with the
words: "Thou, therefore ...". This second great message of the letter deals
with the theme of the committal of the responsible individual, spread throughout
the letter, as we have seen, but now all concentrated in this one chapter,
where we note that there are six pictures of what the committed Christian
is to be: A Soldier (vv.3-4), An Athlete (v.5), A Farmer (v.6), A Workman
(v.15), A Vessel (v.21) and A Servant (v.24).
Now here is one way, though perhaps not the only way, of studying the
six pictures. To me they seem to belong to two groups, divided by the separating
command to "Remember Jesus Christ". The first three state principles or ideals,
while the second three show how those principles become practical and those
ideals become realities. The first three, soldier, athlete and farmer are
ideals. The next three, workman, vessel and servant show us how to actualise
those ideals and make them real in our lives. So picture 1 is matched by
picture 4; picture 2 is matched by picture 5; and picture 3 is matched by
1. The Good Soldier (vv.3-4)
The soldier is here represented as looking upward. His whole desire is
"to please him who has enrolled him". He is not looking anywhere else but
upward to his senior officer. His commander might need him; he must be in
a state of unencumbered readiness: "No soldier entangles himself in the
affairs of this life". It is true, of course, that the majority of things
that a soldier gives up in order to go on active service are wholly good
things. He gives up his home and his job, and the society in the district
with which he is familiar, and he gives them up even though they are good,
because there is something that to him is best. Dear friends, it does honestly
seem to me that more often than not it is the good things which hold us back
from the best. We need the upward look. We need always to be seeking to please
Him who has called us to be His soldiers.
2. The Athlete Contending in the Games (v.5)
I would call this the inward look, because the great concern of the athlete
is to have himself in trim. Because he intends to take part in the games,
he wants to get his body to the peak of fitness. He keeps looking inwardly
at all his inward powers, to have them disciplined and contained and at their
peak of readiness for the great race. Paul goes on to say that he must contend
lawfully if he is to be crowned so, while the picture of the athlete concerns
the inward look, the man concerned has to be governed also by the element
of obedience. Self-discipline expressed in obedience -- that is the ideal;
that is the essence of this inward look.
3. The Husbandman or Farmer (v.6)
The third picture is that of the farmer. Now he is not looking upwards
-- unless he wants rain! Neither is he looking inward. His gaze is upon
the fields: he is looking outward. He looks out upon the field and the crop,
going out day by day to labour on his farm but getting ready the soil, sowing
the seed, watching over the growing crop and bringing home the harvest. So
the farmer speaks to us of the outward look into the field which is the world,
which needs the seed of the Word of God. Notice that he is "the husbandman
that laboureth". He is not what used to be called a gentleman farmer, but
is a working farmer, a man with mud on his boots who gets involved in the
hard graft of running his farm. The word is a nasty one; it has a sort of
aching bone in the middle of it, even in the very sound of it. However he
will be the first to enjoy the crop. That which costs nothing earns nothing:
where there are no pains there will be no gains. So this picture of the farmer
represents [11/12] the outward look and sets before
the Christian the ideal of toil leading to reward.
4. The Unashamed Workman (vv.14-17)
First of all let us notice that this picture returns to the matter of
the upward look: "Give diligence to present yourself approved unto God" (v.15).
This man's gaze, just like the soldier's, is fixed on his commanding officer
or employer, with a view to winning His approval. In this upward look, the
workman is exercising both self-care ("a workman that needeth not to be
ashamed") and care of the church, exhorting other people and "charging them
in the sight of the Lord" (v.14). In his personal concerns and in his pastoral
ministry, he is saying, 'Now what would God think of that?' The man with
the upward look is saying, 'Don't think of yourself as doing this thing
quietly, where nobody knows, or just before other people, but think of it
as being before the sight of God.'
Having urged others to maintain the upward look, he comes back to himself
as a workman under the eye of God. The workman who is handling aright the
word of truth must "strive not about words to no profit, to the subverting
of those who hear". The word 'subverting' is the Greek word for 'catastrophe'.
The passage goes on to speak of words which will "eat like a cancer". This
workman under the eyes of God has tremendous responsibilities for, if he
goes wrong and does not maintain a mind engaged upon the Word of God, then
he will deal in words that are a catastrophe to the hearers (v.14) and that
"eat like a cancer" (v.17).
What a terrific responsibility is ours! Once we stray from the Word of
God, these three forces will go into operation:
i. Words to no profit
ii. Words that are a catastrophe to those who hear
iii. Words that eat like a cancer.
The only safeguard from this is what is called "the word of truth " and
as the workman focuses upon this word of truth, he has positive and negative
injunctions. The positive is that he is to give diligence, to use every effort,
to be busy with this word. The negative is that at the end of the day he
may be able to look back without any shame and be proved a "workman that
needs not to be ashamed".
Right at the centre of his activities, he is told that he must rightly
divide or better, "handle aright" the word of truth. So far as I know the
word here translated as "handling aright" only occurs elsewhere in the Bible
in the Greek version of the Book of Proverbs, where it is found twice: 3:6
and 11:5. The word means 'holding a straight course' or 'making a straight
road' and suggests a sort of Roman road that went like an arrow to its goal.
That is the picture given of how God's workman handles His Word, he takes
that Word in its plain straightforward meaning, driving, as it were, a straight
highway from one end of it to the other, so that the Word of God is traversed
in its totality and understood in its simplicity.
May I remind you that this letter is concerned with the last days. How
can the Church grapple with the problems which face it so as to be ready
for the Coming of the Lord? By not getting dragged off into side issues,
by not going beyond that which can be reasonably understood, but to have
a mind so engaged with the Word of God that at the end of the day, at the
end of each week, at the end of each year, we are able to look back and know
that we have no need to be ashamed of the way we have handled and obeyed
5. The Vessel unto Honour (vv.20-21)
The second picture was concerned with a life that is disciplined and
purged, so we find the same thing in this reference to a vessel unto honour.
We are not now looking upward but inward, considering the inner contents
of the life. Just as the athlete was intent on having his body in readiness
for the contest, so this vessel is asking what there is in him that needs
to be purged out before the blessed Master could reach out His hand and take
up this cup and use it as a vessel unto honour. Once again we have the inward
We notice first that we have an individual responsibility for our own
holiness: "If a man purge himself ...". No-one else is going to do it for
us and the Holy Spirit will not do for us what we can do ourselves. People
are always looking for instant recipes for holiness but, from beginning to
end, the Scriptures know nothing of such a thing. This is not the way of
God, and there is no recipe in His Word for instant holiness; there is only
the constant call of the Scriptures that we should take ourselves in hand,
that [12/13] we should mortify and put to death
the deeds of the body and so grow in holiness.
Secondly we notice that it is holiness that fits us for service. What
is it that prepares a Christian for God's work? It is holiness. The Christian
who goes all out for holiness is going all out for usefulness. That holy
hand of our heavenly Lord is not going to take up a filthy vessel; it is holiness
that equips for service. Downright and practical as ever, Paul now gives
us three items in a programme of practical holiness:
i. There is something to set behind us. We must "flee youthful
lusts". I am not very happy about that word 'lusts' for the Greek word is
simple and harmless, meaning 'desires'. It can of course mean wrong desires,
but it often means perfectly good ones. The word 'lusts' rather obscures this
and with the epithet 'youthful' makes us think of the red-hot passions that
younger people have to contend with. Well, we all have to contend with them,
but that is not what is in view but what the apostle is speaking of is neither
evil desires nor good ones but childish desires. We must earnestly and constantly
learn to put behind us all those things which belong to immaturity. There
were things that were proper enough when you were a child, but now you have
grown up and must put childish ways behind you.
ii. There is something to put before us. Timothy was told to "follow
after righteousness, faith, love, peace". It is lovely to see how these virtues
are strung along without any conjunctions between them. They present a beautiful
cluster. Righteousness means all that is right in the sight of God. That
is what we are to set before us as a target. And as we do so we must pursue
that righteousness in a spirit of absolute belief in the promises of God.
If God has given us a command, then it is right to obey it; if He has given
us a promise it is right to believe it. These first two speak directly to
us about ourselves. The next two, love and peace, indicate our behaviour towards
others; we must pursue the aim of loving one another. It must not be a case
of sometimes loving and sometimes hating; not half-loving nor barely tolerating
or being satisfied provided we do not actually fall out or speak harshly.
No, love and peace are a concern which should be ever before us.
iii. There is something to set alongside us. The end of this verse
enjoins that we do this "along with them that call on the Lord out of a pure
heart" (v.22). There is a companionship for the Christian as he attends to
his sanctification. And notice that he or she is to be set alongside a fellowship
which is a praying fellowship. I do not see how a Christian who is absent
from the church prayer meeting can possibly be one who is equipped for responsibility.
Especially in these last days we are called to be closely identified with
a praying fellowship.
6. The Servant of the Lord (vv.24-26)
So we come to the sixth picture, which is parallel with the third in
which the farmer was found looking outward. Here, then, is the Lord's servant
who is moving outward towards other people and as he does so he must not
strive but be gentle to all. As he looks outward he must be "apt to teach,
forbearing, in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves". In this
his aim must be if "peradventure God may give them repentance". He is after
a crop. He is going out to those who have not yet repented in the hope that
God will enable them to do so, in order that they may be rescued from the
snare of Satan and be brought home to God.
This title "The Servant of the Lord" is precious because it was the one
which Isaiah chose as he looked forward to the Lord Jesus. Here, then, we
are called to model ourselves upon the Lord Jesus Christ. There are six things
said here about the Lord's servant:
i. He does not strive, or He is not quarrelsome (RSV). The Greek is very
dramatic -- "He does not go to war". The Lord's servant must not be a person
spoiling for a fight, anxious to pick a quarrel; he is not a controversial
person, he does not go to war. This is matched with (iv), "forebearing".
If the first tells us how he acts this word describes how he reacts: he is
tolerant and takes everything that is thrown at him. The word seems to have
a basic meaning of acceptance of hostility. He accepts it. He obviously does
not run from it; he does not give ground; but neither does he hit back.
ii. He is gentle, and this matches up with (v) which speaks of his meekness.
Both of these concern our attitude. The first is towards others, to whom
he maintains an attitude of gentleness and kindness, ever seeking the other's
welfare. The second speaks of his attitude about himself. It is an attitude
of meekness. He will always put the other person first and himself second.
I can [13/14] only express this idea of meekness by
inventing a word, which is 'unselfassertive'. That is what meekness really
means. So the servant of the Lord will assert the rights of others in kindness
and gentleness but maintain a non-assertive attitude towards himself.
iii. This, together with the matching phrase of (vi) deals with his methods.
He is "apt to teach" -- a good teacher. He also corrects or instructs or
tutors those whom he serves. He is devoted to the task of communicating the
truth. His sole and over-riding preoccupation is to share the truth with
others. He is apt to teach. The word "instructing" (vi) is translated "correcting"
in R.V. and "discipline" in the NEB. It really relates to the bringing up
of a child and suggests the sharing of the truth appropriately to the condition
of the person to whom the testimony is being made.
* * *
We have now reviewed these six pictures of the Christian who is being
made in the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ for the work of God in the
Church. We might well ask how a person can become like that. The full answer
must await our third study, but here in Chapter 2 we find the answer, for
the chapter which has begun with grace, now ends also with grace. There is
grace received (v.1) and there is grace bestowed (v.26). While there is considerable
doubt as to what in fact is the correct detailed translation of verse 26,
there can be no doubt about the main meaning, which is that as the servant
of the Lord reaches out with the truth to the unconverted, these receive the
grace of repentance and so are recovered out of the snare of the devil. If,
therefore, we empower ourselves with the grace that is in Christ Jesus and
so become fashioned in His likeness, we then become the sort of people through
whom that grace may be bestowed on the needy and unconverted. This is the
way forward for the Church; it is light for the last days.
(To be concluded)
THE WAY TO GOD
(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 7)
John H. Paterson
THE middle chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Chapters 5-10, may
well strike us, when we read them, as important but trackless. They are like
a garden full of interesting shrubs or plants, but lacking any paths from
which to inspect the flowers. That they contain a kind of summary of the
religious rituals of Israel in the wilderness is clear enough. It is clear,
too, that the writer of the epistle was pursuing through these chapters his
consistent argument that the way to God through Christ, the "new and living
way" of 10:20, is better than the old. But is all that detail really
Because in the earlier chapters of the book (on which, for the most part,
our previous studies have been based) the line of the writer's argument has
been so clear and masterly, I approach these middle chapters with the expectation
that they, too, will reward study -- that there is a pathway through
the shrubbery! Somehow, these details all fit into a logical sequence or
pattern. Certainly the writer was not adding detail just to show off his
knowledge; does he not say, in dealing with the features of the Tabernacle:
"But we cannot discuss these things in detail now" (9:5 N.I.V.)? Would that
all writers showed the same spirit of economy! So let us see what we can make
of these chapters.
A Threefold Division
There are three principal subjects dealt with here and they form, I think
it fair to say, three divisions of the general subject of Old Testament ritual.
In the order the writer presents them they are:
Priesthood (4:14 - 8:5)
Covenant (8:6 - 9:22)
Offering (9:23 - 10:18)
There is some overlap between the sections but the sequence of thought
is, I believe, as I have shown it. Each of these three aspects of the way
to God is discussed in turn and is matched, [14/15]
in the writer's argument, against the corresponding item in another sequence:
A priesthood after the order of Melchizedek (Chapters 5 and 7)
A new covenant (Chapters 8 - 10)
An offering "once for all" (10:10)
Of this second sequence the Lord Jesus is, of course, the one and only
subject: He fills the roles of High Priest, Mediator of the new covenant,
and Sacrifice, and is in every role superior to that which was provided
for men under the old system. But what I want us to consider for a moment
is the significance of this sequence: priest -- covenant -- sacrifice. In
what way does it help us in our understanding of the passage?
A Logical Sequence
Let us recall what I have been suggesting all through our studies of
this epistle: that the writer is carrying on an argument about the relative
merits of two ways to God, but that we have recorded in our Bible only one
end of the dialogue. We have his arguments, but those which were
being offered, or would be offered, in rebuttal we must supply ourselves.
We have to guess (as our writer was evidently well pleased to do) what his
Jewish opposite numbers would be likely to put forward as their arguments,
in favour of their own religious system.
In the development of the argument this section begins, as we have already
seen, with a discussion about priests, a discussion impending ever since
Chapter 3:1, but which the writer postponed while he dealt with the Lord Jesus
as "apostle". At the start of Chapter 5, he was ready to introduce the second
part of this twin theme: "apostle and high priest". His immediate intention
was to show his readers how grave were the shortcomings of the Aaronic priesthood;
how inferior the service it provided. Those shortcomings we considered together
in an earlier article in this series.
But his Jewish readers would not take kindly to criticism of the Aaronic
priesthood: they thought highly of it and, within the limits of the Old Testament
setting, they were entitled to do so. But they were, of course, handicapped
in their defence of it by the knowledge that they were, historically, on
very shaky ground. A critic would need only to murmur "Aaron and the golden
calf", or "Hophni and Phineas" for the weakness of their position to be apparent.
Israel's priests had been a thoroughly mixed lot!
How would you and I -- how do you and I -- respond to such criticisms
of our religious leaders -- say, to a suggestion that some particular archbishop
in the past burned other Christians at the stake, or sold indulgences, or
led a notoriously profligate life? We should probably answer -- and so would
the Jews -- that all men are fallible, but that it is not the man himself
who counts so much as the office, the position, the function he fulfils.
In the case of a priest, it is not what he is so much as what he is mediating
. And that is just another name for a covenant.
In military tactics it is common to speak of a 'fall-back position'.
If you cannot hold one line of defence, you drop back to another. To switch
from arguing about priesthood to arguing about the covenant which that priesthood
was called to administer would be, for both reader and writer of this epistle,
a logical step. We can imagine the Jewish argument: 'Certainly there were
some bad priests. But to condemn the system or agreement because of the personal
failings of its functionaries is one of the best-known red herrings in the
business! The validity of a document is not undermined by the morals of
the lawyer who draws it up: so long as it is properly drawn, it can withstand
any criticism about the character of the man who drafted it.'
There can be no dispute about that! And so the discussion turns, smoothly
and logically, to covenants. God's 'old' covenant with His people was embodied
for them in two forms: one was His law and ordinances, and the other was
the remarkable 'visual aid' He gave them -- the Tabernacle. He not only
told them the way to Himself, and how they must approach Him: He
showed it to them. The writer to the Hebrews described the Tabernacle
is such terms as a 'parable' or 'allegory'. God's people had no real idea
what He was like, and could never see Him, so what He did was to create a
series of shapes or spaces and say to them, in effect, 'I am the God who fits
into these spaces'. The spaces themselves gave form to the way to God, a
way which ended -- where? At the Ark of the Covenant. Into that particular
space, the Holy of holies, only the high priest might enter, and only once
a year at that. [15/16]
The Old Covenant and the New
You can almost feel the relief on the side of the Jewish readers as this
'fall-back position', this method of rebuttal, dawned upon them! For it is
not one that the writer could or would dispute. It is a good law, and a
good theology. But the readers' relief was going to be short-lived, because
the writer was going straight on to consider two covenants, the 'old' and
the 'new'. Each covenant represented an agreed basis of approach to God.
Each had a certain amount of 'small print', which specified conditions, and
limited the application of the agreement. And our writer was quite certain
that, between the old and new covenants, there was really no comparison: the
new was and is immeasurably better.
Let us pause for a moment, in passing, to see why this is so. Let us
recall the conditions of access to God under the old covenant -- the 'fine
print' of that covenant, if you like. God granted access to Himself on the
basis of obedience to His written commandments. The tablets on which those
laws were inscribed were enclosed in the Ark, where no one ever saw them;
indeed, there was no way for the average man even to be sure that they existed!
Ordinary people had to depend for their knowledge of God's laws on the priests:
they were taught about Him by the so-called experts, as a result of which
there were times when the knowledge of God faded entirely from the people's
minds. And the only man who could actually verify all this was the high priest,
who once a year could actually visit the Ark. But the purpose of his doing
so, even then, was laid down by God: he was there to make atonement for all
the sins of all the people during the previous year. Not the happiest of
reasons for this visit to the very presence of God! The 'fine print' of the
old covenant was very daunting indeed.
But what a contrast is offered to us by the new covenant! The writer
to the Hebrews quotes it from Jeremiah 31, not once but twice (8:8-12; 10:16-17).
Quite simply, it offered three things:
i. No longer will God's law be shut away, inaccessibly, in a box that
nobody ever sees. It will be accessible to all, because "I will put my
laws in their minds and write them on their hearts".
ii. There will be no more need for intermediaries to dispense the knowledge
of God, and no more blind leaders of the blind, because "they will all
know me, from the least of them to the greatest".
iii. "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
" No more? Not once a year? Not even once a year? No: never again!
A Further Step
But that is by the way. We are still pursuing this elusive thread of
argument between the writer and the readers of the epistle. Where will they
move to next? To put it bluntly, is there any escape for the supporter of
the old system -- any rebuttal possible?
Yes: I think that there is, and it is this. Most agreements, or covenants,
or wills, have to be 'signed and sealed'; that is, they have to be validated
in the same way. The agreement itself is simply a piece of paper: what authenticates
it is the signature or seal. In the Old Testament days, what authenticated
God's agreement with people -- the patriarchs as well as Israel in the wilderness
-- was the blood of a sacrifice. It was a way of sealing an agreement; it
was "the blood of the covenant" (9:20).
It was therefore possible for the Jewish readers to argue that while
the covenant defined the relationship of God to His people, it was
the blood of the sacrifice which assured it. It was the quality of
the sacrifice which was the ultimate guarantee that the relationship would
hold fast. So long as God accepted the sacrifice He was saying, in effect,
'All right: our agreement still holds!'
You can see what is happening in this argument: both sides were looking
for an ultimate -- for the thing that was absolutely fundamental to
the survival of a contract between God and man. They had argued about the
priesthood, but that is not fundamental; they had discussed covenants,
but even covenants were, in this context, incidental. So what it comes down
to is that if you have just one thing on which to pin your faith in, and
your hope for, a relationship with God, then you should choose the seal
of the covenant; that is, the blood of the sacrifice. There is no way
past that, and no security elsewhere. It is indeed the ultimate ground of
So that is the point to which the writer turned, in the final verses
of what I have been calling the 'argument' section of his epistle. He argued
[16/17] that the "once for all" sacrifice of Christ
is superior in its efficacy to the sum total of those thousands of earlier
animal sacrifices. In fact, he allows himself to express some surprise that
anyone should imagine that those other sacrifices were anything more than
a temporary solution! -- "because it is impossible for the blood of bulls
and goats to take away sins" (10:4). Did you really think, he seems to have
been saying, that it was the animals alone that assured your contact
The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus was of another order altogether. Notice
how the writer abruptly interrupted himself to quote from Psalm 40 here (10:5-7).
What I think he was saying was this, that not only was there a world of
difference between the old animal sacrifices and the Lord Jesus offering
Himself , but the Lord Jesus actually made it possible for the sacrifices
and the shedding of blood to stop. You see, the point about those
old sacrifices was that they merely attested to the fact that somebody had
sinned -- that God's will was not being done. Now along came the Lord Jesus
and did God's will: "Lo, I come to do thy will". Offered a choice
between having a lot of dead animals and having His will done, which do
you think God would prefer? I can only admire the writer's restraint as
he laconically comments, "He sets aside the first to establish the second"
And that, really, is that! Certainly it was the end of this particular
argument, for there was simply nowhere else for the Jewish readers to make
a stand -- no line of retreat for this was, to use a modern phrase, 'the
end of the line'. I have tried to show how the writer and reader reached
this point. Now, as far as the writer at least was concerned, there was no
more history and no more theology to argue about. The case was clear and
it only remained to invite his readers to take that "new and living way"
to God and draw near in full assurance of faith (10:20-22).
Let us trust that, recognising the greatness of Christ and the wonder
of His sacrifice, they did so!
(To be continued)
SOME GLIMPSES OF GOD
"I thank my God through Jesus Christ" Romans 1:8
THIS is perhaps the greatest experience of human life, to be able to
say with the apostle Paul, "First, I thank my God ...". My God! Those
who can so speak from their hearts have a prospect which is inexpressively
glorious. We dare not take "God" as a subject; at best we only know Him in
part, but from the Scriptures we can get some gracious glimpses of Him in
all the wonders of His Person.
God is Good
When Jesus was addressed as "Good Master" (Mark 10:18), in His reply
that "None is good save one, even God", He was not admitting any imperfection
but perhaps stating that since He was in bodily form as a Man, He could be
tempted, whereas God, as such, cannot be tempted. He is only good; His goodness
can never even be exposed to temptation. God is not only good; He is goodness.
He does not have to think things over to find out what is good and how He
can be good, for it is the essence of His nature. We never have to appeal
to God to be good for He Himself is good with a goodness that is unrestricted,
a goodness that cannot be tempted and a goodness that is absolutely pure
and entirely unmixed with evil of any kind.
God is Holy
We read of four living creatures who "have no rest day and night, saying,
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty" (Revelation 4:8). If we are
honest we will have to admit that we fall far short of this. We are so far
from the nature of God that this characteristic holiness of God would tire
us if we tried to join in such an exercise day and night. Not one of us
could repeat these words with real meaning for a [17/18]
quarter of an hour in our own present state. We are not able to appreciate
how to give the words true weight and meaning.
If we call it the radiant fullness of God's excellence and perfection
in every imaginable realm, that may give us some slight impression of what
is meant by God's holiness. Our own natural unholiness and obtuseness make
it only possible to get some faint impression of what "Holy, holy, holy,
is the Lord" really means. If God revealed it to us in fullness it would bring
us down into the dust.
Using a merely human way of speaking, we have to say that there can be
no contradiction between the inward and the outward so that God is holy
in His innermost motives as well as in His outward actions. In everything
that is pure and true, God is effortlessly perfect, with His outward actions
springing from His inward perfection. That is why no-one can bear to see
Him, for to do so is to dwell with consuming fire. Yet He has laid down
the standard for human life: "You must be holy, for I am holy". We do not
like this standard and are constantly found trying to explain it away and
to excuse ourselves, but the fact remains that God is against all forms
of unholiness and can only accept us on the basis of the gift of holiness
which is ours in Christ. This brings us our next consideration which is that
God is Love
We may be able to love a little, though all too often our love is mixed
with selfishness, but of no-one can it be said that he is love. It
is said, however, without any reserve or qualification about God. This means
that in Him there is a longing to give Himself and everything good to us
His creatures and to possess them in an eternal fellowship. This love -- like
His goodness -- is far beyond our powers of comprehension. God does not lack
anything as we may do. That He is love does not mean that He, like the rest
of us, needs others. He has the fullness in Himself, and yet He longs
to give Himself, for that is the nature of love.
This is a wonderful thought, that God wants to have us in an eternal,
intimate spiritual fellowship in which He can say, "Son, thou art ever with
me, and all that is mine is thine". In Christ He paid an indescribable and
incomprehensible price in order to give Himself to sinners. The gospel of
the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is the news that He has paid
a price beyond description in order to give.
The children of God have always longed to know Him, to know His love
and His holiness and we cannot understand how His holy, consuming purity
can long to give Himself, regardless of the cost, to such as us. We cannot
understand how such a holiness and such a love can dwell in our God at the
same time. But perhaps -- and only perhaps -- we can say that God would
not be holy unless He loved, because love is included in perfect holiness.
We can easily be indifferent to those who wrong us, but we cannot imagine
God being like that. God never treats us with superior indifference because
we are small and petty people. The opposite is also true; God could never
be love unless He were holy, for only the perfect One can truly be love.
It is a pity that we often mix our ideas of goodness and love when we think
of God. We would like goodness to adapt itself and not take our sins so seriously,
but in relation to sinners, both God's holiness and God's love forbid that
things should go well in that pathway, though at the same time that same
holiness and love are always eager to save from what they rightly forbid,
which is sin.
God is Life
In John 5:26 we read: "The Father has life in himself". God is life because
He has life in Himself and not from anyone else. You and I have life from
Him. We do not have it of ourselves. It may seem strange to use an artificial
expression about the Almighty, but we have to say that He is self-existent.
You can go back as far as you will, yet will always meet Him who is the "I
AM". Our minds reel: He has no beginning, no cause that brought Him into
being; nor can anything cause His existence to cease. He is God. Everything
that exists owes its existence to Him. "I am that I am." Is it not wonderful
to say of such a Being: "My God"?
God is Everywhere
In John 4:23 Jesus says: "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true
worshippers shall [18/19] worship the Father in spirit
and truth". The Jews thought that it would happen in Jerusalem, and the
Samaritans thought that it would happen on the mountains of Samaria. That
is, they thought that God was limited to a locality. Jesus said, "No, the
time is coming when there will be true worshippers everywhere, for God is
everywhere". He is God, and His power is available to Himself everywhere
and at all times, without His needing to move or concentrate that power
in anyone place. God is always near, with His wonderful power of action.
For this reason we can confidently pray for others, since God is with
them with His unlimited power and His infinite wisdom. This is something
we cannot understand. I can only act when I am present, and I have to concentrate
my capacity on what I am doing at any given moment; if a need arises in some
other place, I cannot immediately meet it. God, however, is everywhere, undiminished
in every respect without any limitation of time or place. This is a wonderful
thought but it is also a dreadful one, for it means that, wherever sin is
committed, it happens in His very presence.
God Knows Everything
"There is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether"
(Psalm 139:4). God does not forget and He does not judge wrongly: He neither
exaggerates nor depreciates. Our motives are an open book to Him. It is a
marvellous privilege to make the claim, "My God" and "My
Father", and yet it should make us tremble for He sees the hidden depths
of our hearts. While we cannot understand that His knowledge is independent
of time and space, we may learn that the beginning of all true wisdom is the
fear of God.
God Can Do Everything
He is the Almighty. He once told Abraham to walk before Him and be perfect,
prefacing that command with the words, "I am God Almighty" (Genesis 17:1).
Unfortunately many Christians think of His almightiness as being something
magical. 'God can do anything', they say, and of course in a sense that is
true, but God cannot and will not do anything that contradicts His own holiness
and love. His almightiness is not a characteristic which makes Him act against
His own perfection. We need to be a little hesitant about taking the almightiness
of God as a guarantee of the fulfilment of all our prayers and desires,
for He uses His omnipotence in harmony with His perfect wisdom. The wisdom
of God is complete, and cannot be enlarged or corrected by experience. Nothing
takes Him by surprise. No development in society is news to Him. We have
to confess that we often find our own wisdom insufficient; then let us not
pretend to be wise, let us not think and interminably turn things over in
our minds, but let us say with King Jehoshaphat: "We have no right ... neither
know we what to do; but our eyes are upon thee" (2 Chronicles 20:12). He
knows! He understands! He is Light.
Who are we to say that God must do something. We must be careful.
It may be right but it may be wrong, for God is God. He is a Person, not
an impersonal power which can be applied in an almighty way according to our
I turn back to the words with which we began, words which can easily
be read and yet -- like all Biblical words -- are inexhaustibly glorious.
"I thank my God through Jesus Christ." In the face of all life's problems
and demands, how wonderful to be able to go to your room, close your door,
look up and say: "My God". You hardly need to say more. He knows
all your needs before you mention them. Perhaps it is better to begin with
"Hallowed be thy name". That is what matters most. "Thy will be done." That
is the greatest good, for our Father is perfect in His goodness. When you
have prayed for His will and His kingdom, then perhaps you can mention your
To be able to say "My God" brings a person with all his desires and conflicts,
his struggles and his nervousness into what the Word of God calls rest. This
is not passivity but a matter of right relationship with God. Our Lord Jesus
has made all that possible, for He is the Mediator without whom we could
have no contact with God either in time or in eternity. He has made His Father
to be our Father and His God to be our God. We do not need to say more.
W. Y. Fullerton
|When the morning stars were singing,
| And the world was newly born,
|And all life was filled with music,
| Music of the morn,
|There was One above the splendour,
| Who commanded it to be;
|And in all the heavenly radiance,
| None so fair as He!
|When man's heart was growing weary
| And his feet had gone astray,
|And his God seemed high in heaven,
| Very far away;
|Then there came from heaven the Saviour,
| To whom shepherds bowed the knee,
|And the wise men made their offerings;
| None so wise as He!
|When my early hope was darkened
| By the sin that won the day,
|And I stumbled in the shadows,
| Groping for the way;
|Then His grace and promise beckoned,
| And He welcomed even me:
|And in all the human story,
| None so kind as He!
|Ever clear and ever clearer,
| Shall His glory yet increase,
|And the praises of His people
| Never, never cease;
|They shall grow into His likeness,
| For His beauty they shall see,
|And in all the ransomed future,
| None so great as He! [20/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (7)
"(for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, and
son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days.)"
MOST of the history of the people of God in the days of the judges makes
painful reading, and the closing chapters of the book report some ugly happenings.
Chapter 20 is no exception. It tells of a deed among the Benjamites that
caused such great revulsion among the rest of the tribes (19:30) that they
gathered at Gibeah to punish the wrongdoers (20:11).
WHETHER they were right so to attack their erring brothers, who shall
say? They seem to have made their own decision without seeking God's guidance,
and it was only when the decision had been made that they enquired of God
who should take the lead. The answer seems to have been that Judah should
go first (v.18).
THE first attack was a disastrous failure, in spite of all their efforts,
so they made a further rueful enquiry as to whether they ought to proceed
with the enterprise. Apparently they were told to do so (v.24) but the second
day brought almost as severe a defeat as the first. Obviously something was
HAD God really told them to order the battle on the first day and encouraged
them to try again on the second? If so, why had they met with such total
defeat? There is no easy answer to this question, but at least we should note
the behaviour of the people on the third day (v.26). Our verse repeats the
phrase, "in those days", and we imagine that it means that the Ark was near
at hand, though we cannot be certain that it was at Bethel. In any case we
note that the parenthetical comment refers us to the Ark and the attendant
ON this third day the people left the scene of the battlefield and congregated
at the house of the Lord where they sat before Him, unitedly humbling themselves
and offering sacrifices. In this way they at least gave some outward confession
of their own unworthiness and ignorance. Through the high priest they asked
if they really must renew the attack once more. The answer came that on the
following day they would be given a decisive victory, and so it turned out.
FOR my part I find the whole episode most distasteful. It is a part of
the Bible which I am tempted to avoid. However it is Holy Scripture so it
must contain some spiritual lesson which is profitable to us. With this
in mind, I seize on this parenthesis for, by its reference to the Ark and
the high priest, it reminds me that it is always right to wait humbly before
God before undertaking any enterprise. For them it turned repeated defeat
into total triumph, though no-one would envy their victory and its consequences.
CAN it be that the whole story would have been different if they had
done on the first day what they eventually did on the third? If only they
had waited on God, they might perhaps have been told of some less savage
means of dealing with the affair. In any case, to decide on an action first
and then to ask afterwards for God's guidance and help must be a sure recipe
IN those days they had the Ark and the high priest, and in the end they
made good use of them. In our days we have the throne of grace and our great
High Priest to whom we can turn at all times. Rather than impulsively rushing
into the conflict, suffering defeat and being forced to turn back to Him,
why do we not go directly to that throne and seek divine guidance before
we decide what our plans shall be?
GIVING DILIGENCE TO KEEP THE UNITY
OF THE SPIRIT IN THE BOND OF PEACE.
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