"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

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Vol. 11, No. 4, July - Aug. 1982 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

"Called And Chosen And Faithful" 61
Elijah: The Man In God's Presence (3) 63
Forty Years In Wilderness (3) 67
The Responsibility Of Leadership (3) 70
The God That Does Wonders 74
Notes On 2 Corinthians (11) 75
A Closer Walk With God (3) 77
Spiritual Parentheses (37) ibc



Poul Madsen

WITH the years we advance in age, but the passage of time gives no automatic growth in the kingdom of God for with Him faithfulness is more important than age. Whether we can have more committed to us is dependent upon whether we have been faithful stewards with what we already have from God. Faithfulness is a rare quality. There are many well-meaning and enthusiastic Christians but there sometimes appears to be rather a scarcity of truly faithful men and women. It is worthwhile to consider some features of faithfulness.

1. Endurance of Love

Faithfulness has to do with endurance, and both spring from love, for it is love that never fails. If we are unfaithful it is because we do not really love the one concerned, for how can we give up when it is stated that love never does so.

Love which gives up exposes itself as being false. It has never been love for had it been it would never have failed. It must have been self-love in disguise, using the beautiful language but lacking the reality. Similarly, if faithfulness fails, it exposes itself; it has never been the real thing, for faithfulness which only lasts for a time, never was even faithfulness while it lasted, but disguised self-interest. You cannot love up to 90% and you cannot be 90% faithful. Enduring love and faithfulness are absolutes and know no limits. A man who leaves his wife after twenty years of marriage has not loved that wife for twenty years and then stopped loving her; he has never really loved her.

We know that in the case of the Lord we are told that this is His very nature: "He remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself" (2 Timothy 2:13). The reason why He is faithful to us and never gives us up is not found in us, but exclusively in Him -- that is what He is like. We ought not to demand faithfulness in others as a condition for showing it ourselves, nor excuse ourselves if we find it lacking in others. It is easy to think, 'Well, if he is unfaithful to me, why should I be faithful to him?' but this is not a Christian attitude, since he may find the fount of faithfulness in our Lord Jesus Christ. When we look at Him, the inclination to give up disappears, and we are freshly inspired to endure.

2. Unsensational

But what does a Christian accomplish by his faithfulness? This is really beside the point, for the most important thing is not what we accomplish, but what we are. Many of the most faithful people do not seem to have much success to boast about. Those who aspire to be faithful must be prepared for a life hidden with Christ. For example, the faithful intercessors may find their work hidden from the public eye. But just wait until the Day of the Lord comes! It will be then, and perhaps not until then, that the Lord can give His verdict: "Well done, good and faithful servant". It could be that some who seemed most successful and received great publicity will hardly be noticed then.

It is especially important that we should be faithful in small things -- 'faithful in that which is least'. It is a joy to think of the modest Christians who do not advertise themselves or their works -- do not even publish a magazine, as I do -- but who are simply faithful, enduring, loving and self-forgetful, who can always be counted on. These are the pillars of the Church; the vessels unto honour in God's House.

There is something unsensational in faithfulness: it does not arrest attention. But God notices it. We have no means of knowing whether He takes much notice of sensational events. Faithfulness continues to burn steadily rather than flaring up at intervals and then dying down. There can be a lot of difference between just beginning something and then turning to something else, and carrying a matter right on to its completion. Of Moses it is said that he was faithful in all God's house as a servant and of Christ that He was faithful as a Son over His house. It appears that nothing greater can be said of any person than that he or she was faithful to the end.

3. Personal

Faithfulness is a personal quality; we cannot give it to others or receive it from them. It does not attach much value to crowds but focuses on the individual. So does God. In the crowd, personal values can easily disappear, as in mass Christianity or mass movements, but on the great Day, when we will appear before the [61/62] judgment seat of Christ, we will do so one by one, with each giving an account of himself.

In any case we should not complain if faithfulness is lacking in others, for how could we learn patience and love without the occasions caused by those who create problems for us? Without love, faithfulness changes into stubborn fanaticism or obstinacy. Faithfulness is not that; nor is it barrenly clinging to tradition. It is essentially faithfulness to the Lord Himself. It involves close contact with Him and walking in the light continually. Although it involves what may have to be repeated day by day with regularity, it will be saved from what is mechanical or just repetitious by heart-exercise to grasp and enjoy the privilege of service. Only nearness to the Lord can deliver us from the dullness of mere repetition and impart freshness by reason of our relationship with Him. Such a walk will deliver us from unfaithfulness and renew in us His own patience which alone is sufficient for the daily challenge.

This keeps us humble, for who dare say to the Lord: 'You know how faithful I am!' Yet He will never discourage us, but always supply enough grace for us to continue. Faithfulness is not a performance but a fruit of the Spirit. With the crucified Lord in view, who can sink into apathy?

4. Satisfying

There is no satisfaction for the soul in what is occasional or spasmodic. Faithfulness, however, brings joy and contentment. It is true that it requires self-discipline, not in a legalistic way but rather as the fruit of God's grace by the gospel. As we concentrate on the Lord, we find that we can do more than we naturally could. To endure to the end is not impossible; indeed the Lord who requires it is the One who makes it possible -- even to the weakest. He does this when we avoid riveting our attention on our own efforts after faithfulness and concentrate on the crucified Christ without being distracted. He then works out in us everything we long for, including faithfulness and self-denying love. All the promises of God, including those made to those who are found faithful, have their 'Yea' only in Him.

Although faithfulness has to do with self-discipline, this must not be confused with self-torture. A person can change himself into an ascetic in the power of the flesh, but this does not necessarily mean faithfulness to Christ. No-one was more enduring and faithful than Paul, but he enjoyed his meals and, like the first Christians, took them with joy and gladness. Even when he exhorted Timothy to endure and be faithful, he emphasised at the same time that "every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through the word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4-5). Ascetism and other forms of self-torture spring from concentration on oneself and can become a religious form of self-centredness. If we concentrate on Christ, we shall be glad and grateful for everything that God gives Us, enjoying it and sanctifying it by prayer.

Gratitude is closely connected with evangelical faithfulness. A grateful person may well fast now and again, but he should not want others to know that he does, nor talk about it, for that could attract attention to himself and cause weak souls to admire him. He therefore anoints his head and appears especially happy, so that no-one would guess that, influenced by gratitude and love to his Saviour, he has omitted a meal or two in order to concentrate on prayer.

5. Expectation

Faithfulness has a close connection with expectation. We do not endure in a vacuum; we endure because we expect to see the Lord in glory, with the fulfilment of all that He has promised. We are stewards of what He gives us "until He comes". That is what makes us faithful. He is coming soon! Faithfulness looks back to His finished work, but at the same time it looks on to His Second Coming. It rests in salvation now enjoyed and yet it stands on tip-toe in eager expectation of the full manifestation of that salvation in the redemption of the body and the renewal of creation. How can those so employed be anything less than faithful?

6. Vision Rather than Visions

As I close, I am conscious that some may find the idea of faithfulness not nearly exciting enough. They may ask, 'Where are the thrills and the visions and the ecstasies?' They may indeed refer me to Paul's declaration that he was faithful to his heavenly vision. It is true that he was so faithful, and we must be the same, whatever the cost, but we have to note very carefully that the 'vision' to which he was so faithful was the vision of the Lord Jesus Himself.

So it was not a vision of this or that as projects or programmes but a unique sight of the glorious Christ which constituted Paul's "heavenly vision". [62/63] None of us have, or will have here in this life, such a vision, for Paul was unique as the last to whom the risen Christ appeared (1 Corinthians 15:8). One day we too will see Christ in glory but meanwhile we ought to be rather careful in speaking glibly of 'our vision'. Those who use the phrase, usually mean that they have been gripped by a conviction. It may be right, but it could be wrong. It may express itself in a programme and, strangely enough, it is easier to make Christians enthusiastic about this kind of vision than to get them concentrated on Christ Himself. The Lord can be pushed into the background while we pay attention to the programme which we call 'our vision', and in this way faithfulness is directed towards some activity or accomplishment which becomes so important to us. Is Christ not Lord? Can He not modify or alter what we expected to do for Him or the manner in which we expected to do it? Above all, we must be faithful to Him.

Paul testified that he pressed on toward the mark because he had been 'gripped' (apprehended) by Christ Himself. He is our heavenly vision. To Him we would be found faithful. He has called us and chosen us; may He also enable us to be faithful. Those who keep their eyes on Him will always be radiant and will never be ashamed.



J. Alec Motyer

3. Failure -- Its Cause and Cure. 1 Kings 19

MEMORY is the key factor in living for God. "The children of Ephraim, being armed bowmen, turned back in the day of battle ... they forgot ..." (Psalm 78:9-11). No equipment would suffice against their enemies if they failed in the matter of memory. "How often did they rebel against him in the wilderness ... they turned back ... they remembered not his hand ..." (Psalm 78:40-42). Whether we are thinking of buoyancy in the face of outward adversity or of inconsistency in the face of inner temptation, the Bible will say to us over and over again: 'How is your memory?'

Then there was the experience of the psalmist which is very germane to our study of Elijah: "Why are you cast down, my soul, and why are you disquieted to my disadvantage?" (Psalm 42:5). There is no reason for a believer to be cast down, but there is a wonderful realism about the Bible so the man concerned has to confess, "O my God, my soul is downcast". What can I do about it? "Therefore do I remember thee ..." (v.6). I will find my way back out of this pit through the divine avenue of memory. This is a very fruitful seam of Bible understanding -- the place of memory in facing the adversities of life and conflicts within. It cannot be accidental that the one command of Jesus as a continuing factor in His Church was what they should do: "in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

The Cause of Elijah's Failure

So when we come to Elijah's experience as recounted in 1 Kings 19, we wonder if the root of his failure is not to be found in forgetfulness. We are obliged to read between the lines but I put it as a question in order to be as fair and unassertive as possible: 'Was the root of his failure in forgetfulness?' I ask the question throughout. If he had been living in the light of a fresh awareness of the Lord; if he had remembered who the Lord is and what He had shown Himself to be; if he had been in full possession of a clear memory of the Lord's promises and power, would he have come into this black pit of despair? Despair it was, for he asked that he might die (v.4). Would he have done that if he had remembered the Lord? I do not think so.

1. Did he forget the lessons of experience?

It all began, you see, when "Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done" (v.1). Of course he did. There she was waiting behind the door with a rolling pin when he got back to Jezreel! She was all agog to know what had happened on Mount Carmel. When he told her, she sent her threat to Elijah, and he in his turn ran for his life. Would he have done that if he had remembered the lessons of experience? For three years he had been hidden away from all the wrath of the royal family. Ahab had hunted high up and down low [63/64] in every surrounding kingdom, and yet Elijah was kept safe. During this time, as we learn in chapter 18, Obadiah had hidden many prophets of the Lord away in caves so that Jezebel could not put them to death. Elijah had been kept safe, safe from Ahab and safe from Jezebel. He had even lived a few miles away from Jezebel's father when he was in Zarephath. Had he forgotten all that?

2. Did he forget the sovereignty of the Lord?

He had seen that the Lord could control ravens. He could see that He could control fire and water. He had proved God's sovereignty over circumstances and people. How wonderfully He had masterminded events so that when He told Elijah to show himself to Ahab it was in fact Ahab who showed himself to Elijah. If he had remembered those years of proving the Lord's absolute sovereignty over things and people, would he have been afraid of Jezebel or her threats? Did he forget? He must have done.

3. Did he forget the rule of guidance?

The rule of guidance is that any person at the centre of God's will is untouchable and absolutely safe. Elijah had hitherto only moved when told to do so by the Lord. The word of the Lord came to him saying, Go ... "so he went and did according to the word of the Lord" (17:5). "The word of the Lord came to him saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath ... So he arose and went to Zarephath" (vv.9-10). "The word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, show thyself to Ahab ..." (18:1), so he did so. That was always the story. There was nothing else in his diary. Every move was documented. Why did you go there? Because God told me. Why did you stay there? Because God had not yet told me to go elsewhere. It was all a matter of guidance. And while he walked under the rule of guidance, he walked in total safety.

Now we find a great contrast: "When he saw that, he arose and went for his life ..." (19:3). Who told him to go? Nobody. It is possible to translate the phrase, "he went for his life" by 'he went at his own whim' or 'he went at his own volition'. How true that would be! Who told you to go, Elijah? I went at my own will. He had forgotten the rule of guidance.

4. Did he forget the work of grace in the heart?

He later complained to God: "The children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars ... and I, even I only, am left" (v.10). This was not the case. Not a word of it was true. The children of Israel were the object of his prayers on Mount Carmel when he asked that they might recognise the work of grace in their hearts: "Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou Lord art God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again" (18:37). What a marvellous prayer. He asked that they might recognise a work of grace turning their heart and he immediately had proof that his prayer had been answered as the whole people bowed down and said, "The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God". Now however, Elijah complains that the children of Israel are after his life. He had forgotten the crowds and crowds of those children of Israel who had had their hearts changed by the grace of God. We must never forget the power of God's grace.

5. Did he forget that the costly way of identification unto death is the way of fruitfulness?

Was this not the final lesson in Zarephath where, by some divine intuition, he knew that he must get down and identify closely with the dead child so that life could come out of that identification and prayer? The costly way of identification brought new life to the child and spiritual life for the believing mother, who cried "... now I know". We remember it. Has Elijah forgotten? Well, can we blame him for trying to forget? But when Jezebel threatened death, it seems that the great Elijah, who had entered in with such courage and commitment into that intimate contact with death at Zarephath, had forgotten the lesson learned there.

He left all those needy professing believers to the tender mercies of Jezebel. He left them to themselves instead of waiting with them in the place of death and so proving it to be the place of resurrection. Did it ever occur to you that when Elijah led the people back to the Lord in this way and slew the prophets of Baal that all those hundred true prophets who had been hiding in caves probably came out and were immediately marked down by Jezebel's secret police? And the man who led them out of their hiding place was not there to help them when the knock came on their door! He had not been willing to tarry in the place of death.

6. Did he forget that strength lies in fellowship?

Unnecessary isolation breeds weakness. Elijah said to the people, "I, even I only, am left", but [64/65] it was not true! He felt that it was true, but it was not. Twice over in chapter 18 we are told of Obadiah. Once would have been enough, but we are told twice over as it relates to this matter of other servants of the Lord. At the beginning we are told the objective fact: "It was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah took one hundred prophets and hid them in a cave" (18:4). We come back to this with Obadiah's own testimony: "Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of the Lord's prophets in caves ..." (18:13). So Elijah knew it, and yet he had the affrontery to insist that he was the only one left. No, no! There were many more.

There is something about Elijah that has a determined individualism about it. "I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts ... I, even I only, am left" (19:10). No, Elijah, you are not! There are still Obadiah's prophets, and there is Obadiah himself, that is 101 and now there are the people who all responded with the testimony, "the Lord, He is God". You are not alone. "I, even I only, am left" (19:14). You see how determined he is to be the only one. When he came to Beersheba which belonged to Judah, he left his servant there (19:3). He dismissed the one bit of companionship he might have had. Don't you think that Jezebel's fury would mean nothing if Elijah had surrounded himself with all those new converts and the strength of fellowship from Obadiah and the hundred prophets?

7. Did he forget proper self-care?

Here is something very practical. "The heavens grew black with clouds and wind and there was great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah and he girded up his loins and ran to Jezreel" (18:46). He had had no food and he had expended an enormous amount of energy and it was in this condition that he received the shock of Jezebel's opposition. He was exhausted for want of food and tired because of his long run, but the Lord knew all about that and treated him accordingly. He was cared for because he was tired and what he needed was what the Lord gave him -- a good sleep and breakfast in bed! How practical the Bible is! It does not say a word about a spiritual ministry to a depressed man, but practical comfort to a weary and hungry man. We need to watch self-care. If we do not watch it, Satan will do so, for he knows that the time to attack is when our resistance is low because we are not properly nourished or rested.

8. Did he forget the facts?

When the Lord enquired as to the reason for Elijah's presence at Horeb, the prophet complained: "... the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, slain thy prophets, and I, even I only, am left" (v.10). As we have said, this was not true; he was living in a world of his own. The facts were not like that. It is true that this is how he felt, but it had nothing to do with the real world in which other people were living. The children of Israel had not thrown down the Lord's altars. On Mount Carmel they were only too ready to come back to the Lord. They set up no Baalistic opposition to Elijah; the Lord had turned their hearts back again.

Baalism was a royalist activity in the northern kingdom. The opposition to Elijah, the search for Elijah, was not carried on by the people as a whole: it was carried on by the royal family and the royal police. Why did he go on so about being alone? Why did he overlook the other prophets? Did he despise them? It is one of the great snares of being an isolationist, that you despise other people. How could he despise them for hiding away when the persecution was at its height, since he too was hiding in Zarephath? It was not as though he had been exposed while they were hiding in caves. He had been hidden away by the Lord's command; was it not the same for them? The Lord might have said to him: 'Did you despise them for hiding in a cave? What are you yourself now doing on Horeb but hiding in a cave?' He was not looking at the facts.

Beloved, we need to get our memories in order if we are going to live for God. By means of those memories and our drawing upon them, we can find the real world, instead of indulging in our world of fancy which leads us into depression.

God's Care of His Failures

We look back over this story and view it from the other side. This time there are no questions involved but positive affirmations. Let us look at God's tender care of failure. That appeals to our hearts. We enjoy afresh "the love that will not [65/66] let me go". What does the Lord do for His failures.

1. He does not leave us.

Elijah went at whim; he followed his own panic impulse. He ran for his life, left his servant at Beersheba and then went into the wilderness, sat down under the juniper tree and requested for himself that he might die. He decided that it was enough, neither expecting nor wanting ever to awake from that sleep. But he did wake. It was an angel who wakened him. He may have run like the wind, but the Lord was there in good time, full of tender concern for His servant. He doesn't leave us. He stays alongside. He attends to every need. He was wakened the second time by "the angel of the Lord" (v.7), so it was more than an angel, it was the Lord Himself, the Lord accommodating Himself to the totality of Elijah's needy situation. It is always like this. The Angel of the Lord does not leave us; the Lord Himself comes alongside to bless.

Throughout this part of the story there is no word of command spoken. Elijah rose and went at his own volition, and in the end came to Horeb, the Mount of God. Not only does the Lord never leave us but He sovereignly governs the impulsive flittings of our own hearts to bring us to the very place where He will be found.

2. He answers our prayers.

He sometimes has to refuse our requests, but He answers our prayers. Elijah requested for himself that he might die. 'Oh dear no,' the Lord said to him, 'you are never going to die, not now nor at any time. That is the one thing which is not going to happen to you.' Deathbeds? Coffins? Graves? They are not for you. You are bound for the glory of the whirlwind. What grace God shows when He does not answer our foolish requests! What do you think that Elijah is doing in heaven now but praising the Lord for the mercy and glory that his request was not granted. It is foolish of us when we get involved in what we call 'unanswered prayer'. This is what God does for His failures: He refuses their requests, but He answers their prayers.

He knew what was at the heart of this prayer of Elijah's. The prophet felt that he could not stand any more and wanted to get away from it all. The Lord said to him, 'All right, you can get away from it all, but not in the way you think. Have a good meal. It will do you the world of good. You want to be alone. Well, go right on till you get to Horeb. Is that lonely enough for you? By all means get away from it all.' It reminds us of the words of Jesus: "Come ye yourselves apart and rest awhile". So Elijah was kept in isolation until he was put right and ready to return to the work.

3. He brings us back to fundamentals.

The Lord said, "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord, for behold the Lord is about to pass by" (v.11). I love that translation, which comes from the New International Version. I had never noticed before that the Hebrew could be understood in this way, and it makes such sense in the passage, as we treat this last bit as part of what the Lord said to Elijah. "Behold the Lord is about to pass by", but neither the earthquake, the wind or the fire expressed the characteristic reality of the Lord's presence. And then, after them all, there came a voice which was hardly anything more than a shimmering in the air, a voice that was just a whisper of silence; and all the reality of God was in that, so much so that Elijah felt that he had to pull his hood down over his head for he was in the very presence of God. What did it mean? Well, it meant that the fireworks were only the heralds of His coming. Great as Mount Carmel was, it was only the herald of the fact that the Lord was on His way to do great things. If that was only the herald of His coming, what might not happen if His servants would stand fast and live according to His Word.

For the Lord is always in His Word. Perhaps the fireworks pointed back to Jezebel's great royal threatenings -- her sword and her pounding around the palace breathing out threats and slaughter. The Lord is not in that! The Lord is where His Word is. If only Elijah will continue to live by the Word of God he will find himself in the place of awesome reality. These are the fundamentals -- the Lord and His Word.

4. He restores.

"Go, return thy way" (v.15). Go back to where you came from. God does not leave Elijah languishing out on Horeb in blessed isolation. Elijah was a prophet. A prophet must be where the people are. There was a work to be done and Elijah was sent back to do it as soon as he had had his meeting with God. [66/67]

5. He commands fellowship.

Even this great 'Do-it-yourself' among the prophets was commanded to practise fellowship. He was sent to Elisha the son of Shaphat, so he went and threw his mantle about him. This was a prophetic mantle and Elijah knew what he was doing. Elisha also knew what it was all about, so he responded, "He arose and went after Elijah and ministered to him" (v.21). So the great isolationist became bound by divine command into an intimate fellowship. This is what God does with His failures!

6. He makes exceeding great and precious promises.

There are several promises here but we concentrate just on this one: "I will leave seven thousand in Israel ..." (v.18). Surely that must have been enough for the person who thought that he was the only one. What a magnificent promise -- seven thousand. That will surely satisfy you. We all praise God for His exceeding great and precious promises to a failure.

Perhaps the central factor in this restoration of Elijah's was that he never ceased praying. When he had really touched bottom and had lost all hope, he still prayed to the Lord. It was a daft prayer, but at least he prayed. That is surely the key to recovery from failure.



John H. Paterson

IN our previous two studies on the theme of the Children of Israel's wandering in the wilderness, we have concentrated our attention on the men who had, for their part, the least reason to be in the desert in the first place -- on Moses, Caleb and Joshua. We have seen that their presence with the rest of God's people was due, not to their sharing the weaknesses of the people as a whole, but to their refusal, at whatever cost to themselves, to be separated from them. They lived the hard life of the wilderness for the sake of others.

But it is now time to turn our attention to the rest of the people, and to try to learn lessons of their years in the desert. We are, I think, a little too apt to regard the rank and file of Israel as teaching us only negative lessons, for that is how our New Testament tends to picture them for us: "... we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them ... neither let us tempt the Lord as some of them tempted" (1 Corinthians 10:6-9). Yet it is obvious from the record that there were variations of heart and attitude among them: some of them, says Paul, were idolaters, but others displayed more of a heart for God. On that terrible occasion of idolatry, for example, when Aaron made the people a golden calf, the tribe of Levi rallied to Moses' call and actually took up the sword against the idolaters (Exodus 32:26).

In the wilderness there were, in fact, some active rebels and troublemakers -- and then there were the rest of the people! Most of them, we may surmise, were chiefly interested in having enough to eat and a quiet life. When they lacked the one they "murmured"; when they lacked the other, they were afraid! But the one thing they dared not do was to break away and 'go it alone', for they would have been dead in days, if not hours. Once in the wilderness, their only safety lay in staying with Moses, who was the only man who could provide food, or water. In the most dramatic New Testament terms that Paul could use, they had been "baptised into Moses" (1 Corinthians 10:2). From the Red Sea onwards, their only safety lay in staying with Moses: he was their guide and their provider, and there was no life without him.

The wilderness, then, became a condition of life for them as, in a spiritual sense, it is for the believer today. Idle now to ask by whose fault they were there, or what particular mistake had brought them to these barren scenes -- as idle as the task that some Christians set themselves in trying to discover exactly when, at what point in their lives as believers, they first missed God's [67/68] way for them, as a means of explaining the emptiness or dreariness of their Christian experience. It is idle, firstly, because it may be beyond the power of any self-examination to discover that first wrong turning. It is idle, secondly, because even those who feel they have succeeded in tracing the point of their original mistake are not, in my experience, any the better off for having done so. The knowledge does not seem to release them; on the contrary, they live their lives under a constant shadow, conscious only that they can never have God's best for them. And it is idle, thirdly, because everybody else is in the wilderness, too -- the Calebs and the Joshuas, as well as you and I -- and the important point is not how we got there, but how we are living now we are there.

While, therefore, it may not have been God's first intention that His people should find themselves in the wilderness, that is very far from saying either that all that happened there was irrelevant to Him or, even more, that nothing could ever go right for them again until they got out of the wilderness. To realise these facts -- and their importance for us -- we have only to pause and reflect that the Tabernacle, with all its opportunities for contact with God and its rich spiritual imagery, was precisely a Tabernacle in the wilderness. Our fathers, as the disciples were later to recall (John 6:31) "ate the manna in the wilderness". Rich provision indeed for a people far from the centre of God's will for them!

What are we to learn from this? Certainly not that our mistakes and failures are unimportant; that the wilderness is as good a place to be in as the land of promise; that God will look after us anyway. On the contrary, we are to "give diligence to enter into that rest" (Hebrews 4:11). But it would equally be a misunderstanding -- and a painfully common one at that -- to imagine that the wilderness is, and is only, a place to which we are condemned by our own failure; a place from which there is no escape save through death; a place where only second-rate servants of God and those who have miserably failed Him are sent.

Am I the only Christian, I wonder, who has the feeling that he is "in the wilderness" while everybody else is enjoying the pleasure of being "in the land of promise"? Do you not sometimes get this feeling, too; that where you are is parched and dry, while all the good times are happening somewhere else? Other churches are blessed; other ministries are proving enormously fruitful; the hand of God is powerful on everybody else -- why should I have my own little desert, exactly here, where I am? Why indeed? But whatever the answer -- and I for one will not promise you that you are going to discover what it is! -- in a spiritual sense we are all in the wilderness together; all eating that same spiritual food, all drinking that same spiritual drink (1 Corinthians 10:3-4), and all expected to learn the lessons of desert life. Whatever the answer to your dryness may be, it is not that one of us is in the wilderness and the other is somewhere else.

So let us make something of these wilderness years, for it is most certainly God's purpose in them to make something of us. There seem to me to be at least three lessons to be learned, or principles to apply, and all of them regardless of whether we may feel, at any particular time, what failures we are.

Lessons of the Wilderness -- (l) A Life Together

The first principle of the desert life was and is the importance of keeping together. As we have already remarked, woe betide the Israelite who struck out on his own; who strayed away from the rest of the people, from the cloud of glory, and the manna, and the life of the camp! Progress might be slow, and the setbacks many, but to go-it-alone was not the answer; it was certain death.

We considered in an earlier study the case of some of God's people -- and Moses among them -- who might have been tempted to go-it-alone, just because the people as a whole were making so little progress. It was the temptation to form themselves into an elite and leave the rest to their fate, a temptation that we, too, know in our day. God grant us grace to resist it! But there was no danger of the rank and file of Israel considering themselves as any kind of elite, which brings us to the equal and opposite temptation: to detach ourselves from the Body of God's people not because we are too good for them but because we can never keep up.

This is a reaction which many of us, I am sure, will recognise. There is nothing quite so depressing as being among a group of the Lord's people who are full of joy and great events when you are feeling spiritually dried up yourself! All you [68/69] want to do is to leave them to it and go quietly away and hide! We detect something of this in that famous disclaimer by the Children of Israel in Exodus 20:19: "And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die". Contact with God was for the experts; it was safer to stay well clear of the whole affair!

Over and over again, the New Testament stresses that the Christian life is a life together, or it is nothing. And whether we break away from the Body of God's people for reasons of false pride or false humility, we are wrong either way.

Lessons of the Wilderness -- (2) Courage

Much of the trouble which the Children of Israel suffered in the wilderness was brought on them by fear. It is true to say that the New Testament repeatedly charges them (especially in Hebrews 3 and 4) with failure due to lack of faith, but when we come to analyse it, all that the writer is saying is that they were scared and did not have a sufficient confidence in their God to allay their fears. They were scared of the wilderness, scared of the peoples who opposed them and, worst of all, scared of God. So for fear they wandered for decades in the desert, and for fear "intreated that no word more should be spoken unto them" (Hebrews 12:19). When you are lost in a trackless, foodless desert, to request that your Guide shall stop giving you guidance is as neat a way as any of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Yet we can certainly sympathise with the people. To be continuously open to the Word of God indeed takes courage, especially when the word comes from a burning mountain in a thunderstorm. We know from our own experience that it takes courage just to face the news of our own sad, disordered world every morning at the breakfast table. Not for nothing has the phrase entered into our language, 'I told him, but he didn't want to know' or, as a delightful Scotswoman once put it to us, 'I think that there are some things you've better no to ken onything aboot!' The Children of Israel would have agreed. And if this is true in the realm of worldly affairs, how much more understandable it is in the case of "Him that warneth from heaven". How it reinforces that urgent appeal, "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh" (Hebrews 12:25).

Why should anybody want to refuse to hear God speaking to them? In the first place, obviously, because of what He might tell them to do -- to make some sacrifice, to undergo some upheaval that would be unpleasant (and incredibly, as you will recall, the Children of Israel were inclined to view leaving Egypt in that light, slavery or no slavery!). To say to the Lord, "Thy will be done" demands courage, and courage applied day after day to new commands and new sacrifices, and without it we shall never get through the desert.

But there is a second, a particular "wilderness" aspect to this. I am thinking now of those believers who have cause to accept that the wilderness is a place where only failures go; who are conscious of having missed the way somewhere in the past and taken a wrong turning, so that ever since then all the turnings, as they see it, have been wrong ones. Now if the Lord has anything to say to them, it can only be 'You are wrong' and in sorrow and shame they feel that they would rather hear nothing than hear that. To remain open to the voice of God when you are sweeping along on the full tide of His blessing may need courage of a kind, but to remain open to it when you are quite sure that you have gone far astray needs very much greater courage; yet it is quite vital that we develop that sort of courage. It is one of the lessons of the wilderness never to give up listening to His word, no matter how far astray we feel.

Lessons of the Wilderness -- (3) Holiness

Any idea that, in the wilderness, it does not matter what God's people do because they are nothing but failures is banished immediately we start to read the account of God's dealings with them there. For it was precisely there under desert conditions, that they received the most detailed, the most explicit instructions as to how to live a holy life that God ever gave to man. Nothing was too small for Him to specify and, when eventually a case came up that seemed not to be covered by His detailed instructions (Numbers 9:7-8; 15:33-34; 27:5), it was only necessary for Moses to approach God to receive a ruling on that matter, too. As some of His people found to their cost, it mattered very much what they did in the wilderness! God had a passion for the holiness of His own.

Let me here relate this to what I have been saying. I am trying to suggest an answer to the [69/70] question, 'What do you do as a believer when you feel that you are in a dry and desert place, with the Lord far away and a heavy consciousness of failure to do His will?'. And the answer seems to be: 'You grow in holiness!' There is surely no contradiction here. For adverse circumstances, difficulties and failures are the very stuff out of which character grows. I see no reason in the Scriptures why holiness cannot develop in a life which has missed God's first-best way, for it does not depend on success, or power, or blessing; it is a matter of character and will and courage to go on.

Holiness is, in fact, just the quality for the emptiness of the desert, because it is essentially a hidden quality -- an individual quality that requires no audience and no observer. Indeed, when holiness becomes observable it all too often becomes obnoxious; hence the contemptuous term, 'holier than thou!' Holiness brings no immediate reward, and that is not why it is to be cultivated; we are commanded to be holy. As I recall the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones once remarking, 'The biblical doctrine of holiness is simply that we should be holy!' and where better to develop that quality than in the desert?

We are going to have a busy life in the wilderness, are we not? There is so much to be done there. My purpose is simply to encourage us all by the recollection of how much teaching, and how much blessing, Israel found in those desert years -- the people found grace in the wilderness! And God had not abandoned them there: on the contrary, it was there, in the heart of the desert, in the very midst of the years of wandering and after they had refused to enter into the land of promise the first time, that He put in the mouth of that improbable spokesman Balaam (Numbers 23:21) the most gracious, the most marvellous words He ever said about this nation of failures:

He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob,

   Neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel:

The Lord his God is with him,

   And the shout of a king is among them.

(To be concluded)


(Illustrated by five kings of Judah)

Michael Wilcock

3. KING UZZIAH. 2 Chronicles 26

IN considering King Uzziah we skip from the ninth century and the reign of Jehoshaphat to the eighth century, passing over the four reigns of Jehoram, Ahaziah, Joash and Amaziah as being not suitable for our studies. Uzziah is the next one in the line who is at all compatible with Jehoshaphat as a responsible leader of God's people.

In our last study we saw that the main characteristic of Jehoshaphat in his pastoral care of God's people was probably his weakness. We now find that in the case of Uzziah the chief characteristic is strength. In describing the discharge of his ministry, the word "strong" is used three times (vv.8, 15 and 16). Uzziah was a strong king. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew form of his name tells the same story, for it means 'The Lord is my strength'. We may be sure that in the providence of God it was not an accident that he bore this name.

Keynotes of His Strong Pastorate

"All the people took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah." Chapter 25 tells us that Uzziah's father, Amaziah, had been taken captive by Jehoahaz, king of Israel, and he was in captivity for about ten years. Then he was released and came back and took up the reins of government again in association with his son for another fourteen years. It was only then that a conspiracy came to a head and Amaziah was assassinated (25:27). Meanwhile, twenty-four years before, all the people of Judah had taken Uzziah, when he [70/71] was sixteen years old, and had made him king in place of his father Amaziah. Amaziah was not dead but was languishing in a jail up in Samaria. So his place was vacant, and that was why the people took Uzziah and made him king. Nowhere else do you find that sort of phrase that 'the people' took someone and made him king. They didn't know what else to do. They said, We must have a monarchy or the kingdom will fall to pieces. It appears then that Uzziah was regent from the age of sixteen until he was twenty-six, then his father came back and they acted as co-regents for the next fourteen years. It was after that -- twenty-four years after he had come to the throne -- that Amaziah "was buried with his fathers" (25:28) and he was truly king over Judah.

Now an extraordinary event is immediately mentioned as happening about the middle of Uzziah's reign; "He built Eloth and restored it to Judah, after that the king slept with his fathers" (v.2). The opening verses are usually a summary of a reign before the story is unfolded, but here the main headline is that Uzziah built Eloth. There were so many important things which happened in his reign; why is this matter of Eloth given such prominence?

Eloth was an industrial centre. Solomon had set it up as the centre of the smelting industry and also as a port. It reached right down to the south of his territories and there, at the head of the Red Sea, he established this place from which his ships could go out on the great trade routes of Arabia, Africa and India. Then Judah lost it. Jehoshaphat had made an attempt to send out shipping from it, but his venture was unsuccessful. Now, in the eighth century, Uzziah recaptured it and rebuilt it. Why?

I think it must have been as a port. The king had his eyes on the far distances. I wonder if it was for that reason that the chronicler drew special attention to this matter as being the keynote of this man's strong pastorate, that he was prepared to reach right out and make a gateway to the world, establishing a port from which his ships could go even farther, beyond the very horizon. Ships! Seas! The land-lubbers of Judah gasped for they hated the sea. But Uzziah was a man of vision. This, then, is a splendid keynote of a strong rule for God, to have the ability to see a long way off, to cultivate the distant view.

Source of His Strong Pastorate

The source of Uzziah's strength lay in the fact that he sought the Lord. "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done; he set himself to seek God in the way of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper" (vv.4-5). Well, there is the source of his strength -- the seeking of the Lord. I would like to make three suggestions concerning three sources from which Uzziah found his strength:

1. He found it in the traditions of his family: "... according to all that his father Amaziah had done". Now we might well regard Amaziah as a sad case. He did make a good start but afterwards made innumerable errors and came to a sad end. The phrase might almost appear ironic, as if Uzziah had done no better, but this is not what he means, for the chronicler states this as a compliment. Amaziah did make a mess of his life and his reign, but he did start well. He had the nub of the matter at the beginning, and that was the tradition of his family. Numbers of them made a hash of their affairs but, generally speaking, the family tradition from which Uzziah sprang was one in which God and His ways were sought. We have to go right back to Jehoshaphat to find the last one who did this properly, but there were others before that and others would come after.

I think that it is important to have a respect for the traditions we inherit when they are true to God's Word. At times some of us feel that so much is wrong, we would like to make a clean sweep and start again. That may be a very natural reaction but we need to watch carefully lest we lose the values that those who seem 'oldies' may have to teach us. Some of their ideas may appear old-fashioned; nevertheless respect for the experience of age is a Biblical principle which we can easily lose sight of. The worldly instinct of our twentieth century age is to welcome change merely for the sake of change, under the misapprehension that the new is always better than the old. Uzziah's wisdom consisted in starting with a wise attitude towards the past.

2. He found it in the consecration of his own heart: "He set himself to seek God" (v.5). Those who are in spiritual ministry will find how easy it is to be carried along by the routine and [71/72] machinery of things. The machinery of life seems to go at a phrenetic pace so that we sometimes want to say, 'Stop the world. I want to get off!' Even those who are not so pressed will find that the slower and steadier rate of activity will carry them along, if they let it. The more important it becomes, therefore, to set apart time to seek the Lord in a personal way. The round of meetings and ministries can carry us along without any cultivation of our spiritual life. Preaching, in a sense, can become mechanical and repetitive, and carry a man along. Church activities can get into a rut, but they will still go on. So it is most important that along with the progress of the machinery, we set ourselves day by day to seek the face of the Lord.

3. He found it in fellowship: "He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God". This verse seems to imply that so long as this man Zechariah -- of whom we know nothing else -- was with him, all went well. It appears to be that when Zechariah left him, things began to go downhill. We must look for and cherish the ministration of our friends.

Uzziah was a man of many parts and a great shepherd of God's people, but he was not a man of all parts, and he was humble enough to recognise that he did not have within himself all the resources that he needed. He had sufficient humility to turn to this unknown worthy, Zechariah, and to seek in him spiritual help and instruction in the fear of God.

To my mind that is of great importance. We should not be ashamed to seek a confidant, and a confidant within our own community. What could have been more bracing for Uzziah, in one of his down days, to recall that up there in Samaria there was the prophet Amos, a man of Judah? They would speak the same language, they would have the same background, and Amos was a great man of God. It might have seemed more politic for Uzziah to winkle himself out of Jerusalem, where everybody knew him, and go off incognito, to have a quiet word with Amos up there.

It is an old saw, which I have frequently heard, that when you get into pastoral ministry, it is not a good thing to share yourself with people in your own fellowship; it is much better for all concerned that you should go outside it, to find friends somewhere else with whom you can be more free. I am an inveterate foe to that view; I don't believe a word of it. Your fellowship is your Christian family, and if you can't unburden yourself to people within the community with which you live day by day, then that surely is a bad thing. Uzziah was at peace with the Northern kingdom and could easily have gone up to Amos, but he found the fellowship he needed and instruction in the fear of God from his friend Zechariah. It was the source of his strength.

Range of His Strong Pastorate

The next paragraph is found in verses 6 to 15, and there we discover that Uzziah had the widest interests. In this he compares strikingly with the rest of the kings of Judah. The list of his interests is fascinating; in everything he was concerned with the state of the realm and the interests of the people. He broke down walls, he built cities, he erected towers and hewed out reservoirs and cultivated the land. I looked at the various translations to find a more attractive phrase for this last but with little success. I was dismayed when I even found in one excellent translation the report that "he was fond of agriculture"! I thought, what a bureaucratic phrase! It sounds like the minutes of the Milk Marketing Board! So I returned to the Revised Version rendering: "He loved the soil"! That is the kind of man he was -- he loved the soil. He was the one who saw to the well-being of his people in all sorts of aspects.

Now of course in the household of God there is often a place for the specialist. There are those who have their particular line and their own special gift which God has given them to pursue narrowly. If, however, we find that we are going to be specialists in a narrower field, then perhaps the normal 'oversight' is not for us. Uzziah didn't try to do everything: "He made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men ..." (v.15). But he was a good pastor in that he was interested in all sorts of people in all their many concerns. I suppose that is a trite sort of thing that every school-leaver, when applying for a job, says that he or she wants to work with people, because 'they are interested in people'. Well, this is certainly true so far as pastoral ministry is concerned. [72/73]

It is the outstanding mark of a strong pastorate that the one concerned is interested in people, in all their variety and all their infuriating peculiarities. I am quite sure that you will find the equivalents of the Philistines and the Arabians to combat, but you must see to the central citadels and you must love the soil, seeking out the places where the flock feed and where fruit is growing. You will find the equivalents of the watchtowers which need rebuilding and the wells that need to be dug. Your heart must be big enough to encompass all the needs of all the people, if yours is to be a strong pastorate.

Danger of His Strong Pastorate

We now come to the second half of this chapter which tells us of the danger of a strong pastorate. It is very interesting to see how this is the exact reverse of the story of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was a weak man who could not say 'No', and his weakness was blameworthy until it really came to the crunch when he found that in his realised weakness, God came to his rescue and his weakness was his salvation. With Uzziah, his strength was praiseworthy all the way through until he came to the crunch, and then his strength was his downfall. It is the reverse of the story of his great-great-great grandfather for "When he was great", he grew proud, to his own destruction (v.16). He was false to the Lord his God. In entering into the temple to burn incense he was so wrong that Azariah the priest and eighty of his colleagues "Who were men of valour" withstood him, for all his greatness. "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense," they said, "Go out of the sanctuary; you have done wrong ... Then Uzziah was wroth" -- that was his reaction. Had not he, the great and strong king, the right to do as he chose?

Two things can be said about that sin. It was not a sin of callow youth. In all probability it happened in the year 750, when for some seventeen years he had already been king in his own right and had been on the throne for forty-one years. Here was a man in his late fifties, a pastor of much experience and success, which seems to tell me that there are none of us who dare say that we are not capable of so sinning. The other thing is that neither was it a sin of obvious and blatant wickedness. Quite the contrary, for it took place at the very heart of the spiritual affairs of the people. It had to do with God, the temple of God and the Lord whom Uzziah himself worshipped.

That it was concerned with something that was holy made it so serious. It was a holy job, but it was not Uzziah's job. It was holy to someone else and he had no right to intrude on it. I have looked at this for a long time to discover what is the basic general lesson which it teaches us. What was so wrong in what he did? A man who had undertaken this job, that job and the other job, and had proved successful in all of them, a man of great strength and experience, was it really so wrong to take on a task that somebody else ought to be doing? In a curious way it comes full circle to exactly the sort of thing that Jehoshaphat had done. He didn't say 'No' when he should have done, and now Uzziah failed to say 'No' to this impulse of his. In his case he became self-sufficient, with this same result that he departed from faith dependence on the Lord.

It may seem a very simple thing, just not to recognise what was his province and what was somebody else's province, but the terrible result was a vivid illustration of the principle of which Paul speaks when he fears "lest when I have preached to others, I myself should be left on the shelf" (1 Corinthians 9:27). What happened to Uzziah was just that. What was perhaps the heart of his sin, though, was his angry response to correction: "he was wroth". It was not only the actual deed that was his downfall; it was the fact that he could not take criticism of it. It was when he would not accept the rebuke that the leprosy broke out on his forehead "before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the altar of incense" -- the very holy place itself.

There was no recovery from this. He hurried away from the scene because the Lord had smitten him, "And their king Uzziah was a leper unto the day of his death ... and Jotham his son reigned in his stead". May the Lord enable us to be strong in our service for Him and may He mercifully spare us so that we always do so in every humility.

(To be continued) [73/74]


T. Austin-Sparks

"Thy way was in the sea,
And thy paths in the great waters,
And thy footsteps were not known,
Thou leddest thy people like a flock,
By the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Psalm 77:19-20

WHAT a strange juxtaposition of similes! It would be difficult to have a greater contrast than that presented in these two verses -- the pilot in rough water and the shepherd in green pastures. On the one hand we have a reference to the turbulent sea, whipped up by tempestuous storms, and right alongside of it a reference to the shepherd tenderly caring for his flock. The first is a picture of unrest and anxiety, with stressful forces in action, while the other suggests tranquility and restfulness. What a contrast! And yet they are brought together in one statement concerning our Saviour God -- He is the Pilot and the Shepherd.

We have to read the whole psalm to get its full value. The earlier verses report a record of bewildering distress, so great as to provoke the questions: "Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?" (v.9). In the midst of his outcries the psalmist suddenly seems to check himself, recollecting what he already knows of the character of God. He confesses: "This is my infirmity" adding, "But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High ... I will remember thy wonders of old" (vv.10-11). The whole tone changes. Recollection and review bring reassurance and lead on to this comforting climax concerning the Pilot and the Shepherd.

This, however, seems to be by way of an introduction to the following psalm, for Psalm 78 is a great historical record of the Lord's dealings with His people. It is a long psalm, recounting the movements of the people of God as He guided them and dealt with them. Read in this light, the function of the pilot in the storm and the shepherd in the plain bring comforting reflections to us all.

The first principle which arises out of this psalm is that the divine purpose governs all His ways with His people. At the beginning of their history, Israel certainly proved that God's way is in the sea and His paths in great waters. What dread seized them as they found their way barred by the Red Sea, with its waters lashed by the howling east wind. The waters piled up as a wall on the left and the right, doing little to abate their terror. It must have been a terrible night as they passed through that sea. The word translated 'troubled' (v.16) is a word which is used to denote travail. The nation was born in the Red Sea that night when its waters were in anguish.

This reminds us of the divine purpose working in the tempest. Behind all the fearful stirring up of the waters, the divine purpose was governing, bringing to birth a nation who were chosen for His glory. Truly there was a path for Him in those great waters. Faith must learn to appreciate this principle, namely, that the things which seem to threaten to be our undoing are being governed by divine providence to produce something of value -- sometimes great value -- to the Lord. It was the recollection of this which saved the psalmist when his soul was perturbed by questions about God's grace and loving kindness.

He spoke for the people. They felt abandoned and forgotten. He therefore exhorted them to look back to the beginning of their national life. They had been born in a threat. They began their history in what looked like destruction. Yet they were brought through those tempestuous waters and by the skill and power of God they were delivered and set apart for Him. As the psalmist remembered this, he was freed from his doubts and questions, as we may be when life's rough seas threaten to engulf us. God has a purpose and is steering us through to it as a wise, experienced Pilot.

We have to believe in the wisdom of God as well as His power. He not only knows the end, but He knows how to get us to that end. He is that One who chooses the way through the [74/75] stormy waves. To us His ways may seem strange. We wonder what He is doing, or whether He is doing anything at all. "Have his mercies clean gone for ever?" we ask. The answer is that the Pilot knows both the destination to which divine purpose has called us and the best way by which we can reach that destination. He knows -- but He does not tell us. "Thy way was in the sea ... and thy footsteps were not known".

To help us to understand the psalmist's meaning, let us imagine a visit to the Egyptian side of the Sea after the wind had quietened down and the tempest come to rest. We look to see where His footprints are, and we cannot find them. We fail to trace His movements and cannot discover how He did the miracle. He leaves no traces by which we can explain just how He did it. We have to be content that He did do it, and He did it because He is all-wise -- the Pilot who has the knowledge of the way within Himself and so can bring us through every storm and work wonders on our behalf without giving any account as to the 'whys' and 'wherefores' of our experience.

This is why we have the complementary title of the Shepherd. It moves us on from the consideration of His power and wisdom to an appreciation of the greatness of His love. This is not an official Pilot who is disinterested and detached, just doing His job, but a Shepherd, who has a heart of love for His flock.

If there is one picture of heart concern for the good of others in the Bible it is this of the shepherd. Both the Old Testament and the New make much of this title for the Lord. We are not surprised, then, when the psalmist, having voiced his question, "Is his loving kindness clean gone for ever?", immediately realises that this is not the truth but is due to some infirmity of his. It is a common infirmity in times of great trial, to harbour questions about God's love. The only thing to do is what this man did; he resolved to call to mind the past experiences of himself and his people with their Shepherd God. The hand of the Most High was exercised through Moses and Aaron, under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd who will never forsake or forget His own.

There are three facts which every child of God must master -- facts which are suggested by this psalm. We are not really qualified for the Christian life, let alone for Christian service, until we have mastered them. We will be challenged again and again about them, but without them we will be weakened almost to the point of despair. They relate to the power of God, the wisdom of God and the love of God. He is indeed both our Pilot and our Shepherd. He is the God that doeth wonders.



Poul Madsen

Chapter 12:1-13

PAUL found himself obliged to glory, "though it is not expedient", that is, not profitable for the church, since he who glories in his visions does not build up the church but brings himself into the limelight. Unlike the false apostles, Paul had hitherto been silent about his experiences in this connection, but now the situation in Corinth obliged him to speak up so that he could destroy the influence of the false apostles by showing that he had not had lesser visions than they.

He would rather glory in his weakness, so he speaks with extreme caution and modesty about a rapture which he had had some fourteen years earlier -- that is, about 40 A.D. which was long before there was a church at Corinth. He speaks of it in the third person ("a man") almost as if he would have to differentiate between Paul the weak, which he preferred to be, and Paul the man caught up to the third heaven, which he shrank from bringing into prominence. He who was let [75/76] down in a basket from the Damascus wall, was the very same who had been caught up into Paradise. About the first humiliating episode he could speak freely in the first person ("I"), whereas about the rapture he avoided this at all costs to avoid self-advertisement.

Concerning the rapture, the apostle confessed that he did not know what actually happened, thus giving no plan to anybody for mysterious raptures. He had been forbidden to repeat the words of the divine secrets to anyone else, and he preferred to refer to this happening in the third person. Forbearance in talking about himself characterised Paul: he was afraid of others getting too high an opinion of him, knowing that the criterion for spirituality is not transcendental experiences but humility and Christlikeness.

Paul did not hide the fact that he was by no means immune to the temptations to pride which other men have, and passes immediately to his personal experiences of constant humbling which the wisdom of God prescribed for him. He twice emphasised that his trial was given that he "should not be exalted over-much" (v.7). He was not afraid to expose himself; on the contrary, he was concerned to be known as a weak man. Throughout the centuries students have made his "thorn in the flesh" a subject of conjecture, but no-one can say with certainty what it was. He speaks of "a messenger of Satan" and its painful blows, but in doing so he betrays his supreme confidence in a wise and mighty God who can use even His enemy to fulfil His purpose of good for His servants,

Like his Lord in Gethsemane, the apostle prayed three times for deliverance, and like Him, his earnest prayer carried with it the proviso, "Not my will but thine be done". God's answer was to give more grace. Grace often means the Lord's undeserved love by which a sinner is received as a child of God, but it also means the power which enables God's children to do what otherwise they could not do. This is what it means here: "My grace is sufficient for thee". By virtue of the grace of God, Paul's daily sufferings and dangers were made platforms for a unique service, and all the time it meant that Paul became more and more like his Master.

He had learned that the power of God was made perfect where all human power falls short and he understood that God kept him in constant weakness in order to use him so much the more. It was by faith that he was of good courage, for faith is at its best when it only has God to lean on. On the other hand, it collapses and dies when it can lean on human guarantees or demands a safety-net to be spread out underneath it before it will act.

Paul now comes to this matter of apostleship: "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you" (v.12). Until he had defended himself with arguments entirely contrary to the current idea of what characterises a man governed by the Spirit of Christ, he most emphatically asserted that this is not speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:2, 19), ecstasy (2 Corinthians 5:13) or visions and raptures (12:1-10). These are no more signs of spirituality than they are of apostleship, which is described as being "always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake", etc. At first glance it may appear that he now does a complete about-turn, for he bases apostleship on signs, wonders and mighty works, but this cannot be, for he has already insisted that weakness is the governing and decisive mark of an apostle.

The first thing the apostle emphasises is found in his choice of words. He does not say, 'The proofs that I am an apostle' but "the signs of an apostle". The word 'sign' must be understood as it is employed in John's Gospel concerning Christ's miracles. A sign always points to a deeper reality than the actual miracle. All can see the miracle, but only the believer appreciates its sign. Moreover no man has it in his power to do 'signs', for they are not programmed but only happen when God so determines. Paul's miracles were not, as one might first think, a proof that he was a spiritual giant with every situation under control, but they were a sign that he was an apostle , chosen by God to introduce a new epoch-making era. Those who understood the signs, noticed that they were done "in all patience", that is, in the context of personal suffering, including deep humiliation because God did not do the one miracle that His servant desired and did not prevent the messenger of Satan from buffeting him.

The second thing which is stated so quietly that only the acute ear of faith catches it is his choice of words by using the passive voice. Far from saying, 'I did wonders and mighty works', he affirms that the signs "were wrought among you". Paul would never sanction the idea that basically it was he who was acting. At the beginning [76/77] Peter spoke in the same reticent way, denying that he and John had it in their power to order God to do miracles (Acts 3:12-16). When the apostles spoke of what God had done through them it was never to suggest that they had a mighty faith or a special 'baptism'. Indeed faith itself was not a performance of man but something accomplished by the Lord.

The fact is that apostolic wonders and mighty works never neutralised the apostles' weakness. They preached Christ crucified and were themselves vitally associated with the cross. When signs and wonders were done by them it was not as though the cross were pushed aside or into the background for a time in order to give a central place of glory to the people involved. The apostles were themselves crucified men. Their mighty works were not a promise that if only you believe properly God will remove your weaknesses and problems, but rather signs that Christ who perfected salvation when He was crucified in weakness, now announced that salvation through the weakness of His messengers.

No believers saw in the mighty works done by the apostles any proof that the redemption of the body was available to those who believe enough, nor did they see in the apostles such mighty personalities that they had themselves been released from difficulties. No, what they saw was an apostle so much like his Lord and Saviour that he was an offence to all proud religious people who demand that a man of the Spirit must prove his anointing by freeing himself (and of course others) from the 'defeat' of the cross.

The false apostles had tricked the Corinthians into misinterpreting the sufferings and patience of Paul as a clear proof that he did not know Jesus as he ought, and did not possess the Spirit as they did. So grotesque was the situation of the Corinthians that one marvels that a church could be deceived in this way. Even more grotesque was it when the church interpreted Paul's loving sacrifice in refusing financial aid as a lack of love. "Forgive me this wrong!" (v.13). It smarted so much that Paul could only resort to cutting irony.

(To be continued)


"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

Harry Foster

3. ABRAHAM. Walking into the Unknown

IT is not actually stated that Abraham walked with God but, at a certain crisis in his history, he received the divine command: "Walk before me, and be thou perfect" (Genesis 17:1). To us this might seem a little inferior to what is said of Enoch and Noah, as though Abraham was being treated as a child under observation rather than as an adult companion. In the context of Abraham's whole life, however, this cannot be so, for this was the man whom God later described as "Abraham, my friend" (Isaiah 41:8).

At his death Jacob, Abraham's grandson, spoke feelingly of the fact that both his grandfather and his father had walked before God (Genesis 48:15), suggesting that this quality of life was very honourable and rather beyond him. To walk before God means to be very close to Him, trusting rather than seeing, and always sensitive to the still, small voice which constantly directs: "This is the way, walk ye in it" (Isaiah 30:21). In the truest sense this is the walk of faith. It involves complete dependence upon God and yet it also means a consistent stepping forward into the unknown, counting on His backing.

Abraham is the Scriptural example of this kind of walk. We are specifically informed that this was how his first movement was made: "... he obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Hebrews 11:8). His long and fruitful life was lived according to this pattern and, near to his end, his faithful steward was sent to seek out a bride for his son, Isaac, on the same basis: [77/78] "I, being in the way, the Lord led me ..." (Genesis 24:27).

There is a sense in which every man of faith must be a pioneer. Each one of us has to learn to step out into the unknown. For that reason a more considered study of Abraham's experiences may guide and encourage us in our own personal walk with God. In his case we see that:

1. The man who walks before God can never remain static.

By nature Abraham was not a nomad. His early years were spent as a city dweller in a highly civilised community, and his later expectations were always focused on another and better city (Hebrews 11:10). Grace, however, contradicts and overrules our natural inclinations, so that the operative words in Abraham's history were: "Sojourned", "Tents", "Strangers", "Pilgrims", "Afar off", etc. So far as this life is concerned, earth was a bridge to be traversed and never a permanent home in which to settle down. I have heard that somewhere in India there is an ancient inscription to this effect which is attributed to the words of the Lord Jesus. In any case it is an important truth.

Under his father's influence, Abraham was at first tempted to put down his roots in Haran, a place whose very name expressed a backward look. It was a half-way position which alas, many Christians seem content enough to accept. It was not for the man of faith, though, so he moved right on into the land he had been promised. Even so he found no settled abiding place, but moved on from one location to another, as if probing to discover the place of God's choice for him while always maintaining his reliance on the Lord on the basis of a new altar.

The fact that all his life was lived in tents is stressed in Hebrews 11:9, as if to draw our attention to the fact that this man and his family were never permitted to enjoy a permanent stay in any fixed locality. They could never know what it was to be static. This same chapter reminds us that this lack of permanence on earth persisted right to their death, while the Genesis story under lines the point by describing how Abraham recognised that it was God who caused him to wander in this way and reduced him to having to buy a cave as a family burial ground since, after all those years of affluence, he was still obliged to admit that he was "a stranger and a sojourner" (Genesis 23:4, 17-18).

What does this mean to us? Not that we should literally move from place to place, either in our pursuit of employment or our sphere of service for God. While the New Testament records some men on the move continually as they travelled, it gives us glimpses of James being permanently based in Jerusalem and Philip coming to a halt in Caesarea and settling his home there (Acts 21:8). "Gaius my host, and of the whole church" at least hints that this brother was permanently localised, while "Erastus the treasurer of the city" describes a Christian who was in a settled position as a public servant (Romans 16:23). No, we should be ready to accept movement when circumstances (under the will of God) make it necessary, but this "tent life" of the man who walked before God does not imply that there are any virtues in looking for constant change in location.

I suggest therefore that this characteristic of never becoming static is essentially spiritual. We must not put our roots down into this world's life as though this were our destination, but always welcome any outward changes which represent new spiritual lessons or further opportunities of witnessing. Even more so, we must never be so fixed in our spiritual outlook that we cannot adjust to fresh light from God's Word or move on from one phase of understanding to a fuller knowledge of the will of God. Abraham's constant movements remind us that we are continually growing in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

2. The man who walks before God must constantly face the unexpected.

This follows from what we have already stated. In the course of my life I have known young (and not so young!) people who have thrown up their jobs or moved their homes without any clear direction from God or fellowship with their spiritual companions and have justified their actions by the Biblical statement that Abraham "went out, not knowing whither he went". The results of this kind of plunge into the unknown have often proved most unfruitful.

I suggest that their mistake has been two-fold: they have misunderstood Abraham's action and they have erred in attempting to imitate [78/79] another servant of the Lord. In the first place, the Scripture quoted indicates that Abraham knew very well that he was called to go into Canaan and he took the road accordingly. What he did not know was the kind of life involved, for the land was unfamiliar to him and he was not given any blue-print of how God would guide and provide for him. No doubt there are exceptions to this rule, but I believe that generally negative movement out of any situation should be taken with a view to a positive movement into a new one, and not into a vacuum.

I may be wrong about this, but I am certainly right in stressing that none of us should try to copy or imitate another. The list in Hebrews 11 is about as varied as any list could be, not only in the differences of character of those there described but also in the different ways in which they were led. God did not command Abraham to walk after Enoch or Noah but to walk before Him! While in one sense Hebrews 11 provides a sequence of men and women of faith, it also stresses that each one was not a copy of any other but an original. God does not work on a basis of mass production. The one thing which we are to imitate is their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

The Lord seldom repeats our own experiences. We are moving on, not going round and round. Humanly speaking, Abraham's journeys might suggest that he was going round in circles, [but] we have the divine verdict that he was moving towards a destination. It is the lost traveller who goes round in circles; the pilgrim moves steadily towards his desired objective. It therefore follows that such a man must always move into the unknown. Not only may life and circumstances change as we journey on, but God's ways with us will vary too. He will take care that we depend on a present knowledge of Him and take nothing for granted, however wonderful the past may have been.

3. The man who walks before God must avoid impulsive actions.

We learn from Abraham's mistakes as well as from his successes. On the occasion of famine it was surely wrong for him to go down into Egypt (12:10), though it was doubtless puzzling for him to encounter acute need in the very land to which God had so clearly called him. The result, however, was that he disowned his wife and very nearly lost her. When he again practised this deceit (how slow we are to learn our lessons!), he explained to Abimelech that it arose from an arrangement which he had with Sarah "when God caused me to wander from my father's house" (20:13) but in fact the plot was first entered into "when he was come near to enter Egypt" (12:11).

He went down because seemingly he doubted God's ability to sustain him in the land to which he had been called, and so pioneered that reliance on Egypt that was later to become a snare to Israel (Isaiah 31:1). This is one of God's pilgrims' commonest tests -- to be led into a situation and then to come up against circumstances which appear to make it impossible to stay there. Moreover, when God does block your way and when your only contact with Him is to keep close enough to be checked as well as guided, it is so easy to lose patience and rush into the kind of perilous situation that Abraham found himself in as he got involved with Pharaoh. The truth was that in his walk he had left God behind, so he had to scheme for his own protection and well-being. For the time he lost his testimony, for Pharaoh was able to demand: "What is this that thou hast done unto me?" (12:18). It is a shameful thing for a pilgrim to be exposed as unbelieving in the eyes of the world. What was more, his fear for his own skin had exposed to real peril the wife who was his true companion and essential to the realisation of God's purposes through them both. Egypt, of course, was no good to him. It meant that he was repudiated by the very world in which he had expected to find support.

God is very gracious. He extracted Abraham and Sarah from their dilemma, enabling them to retrace their steps to the earlier location to the place of the altar. The lesson, though, is plain for us all to see, namely that faith and patience must go hand in hand; the one is useless without the other. We must always be ready to move on, but we must beware of going too far and too fast. We must walk humbly with our God, and we must never forget that Satan will be only too ready to back up any carnal impulse of ours. For our comfort, we notice that God's grace is so great that, provided we do return to the place of the altar, He is able to enrich us even from our foolish steps of unbelief (13:2).

There can be no doubt that the whole episode of the birth of Ishmael represented an impulsive and impatient act of unbelief (16:2). Abraham's [79/80] action of mating with Hagar (again an Egyptian) may have been tolerated and even approved of by the society of his day, though it was a departure from the original decree by which God ordered that a man and his wife should be one flesh. However much He overlooked this in the case of men like Jacob and David, he never departed from this basic rule as Malachi 2:14-15 proves to us. But what is more important to us in our present study is the fact that Abraham's action was one of sheer unbelief and, as so often happens, unbelief born of impatience. The man who walks before God must beware of impulsive actions.

Interestingly enough, the Lord answered impatience by making His servant wait another thirteen years before giving him any further communication from heaven and, still more interestingly, the promise of Isaac was prefaced by the command to be perfect -- or whole-hearted -- as he walked before God (17:1). Spiritual pilgrims must beware of impatient impulses and impatient counsels even from dearest friends, if theirs is to be a worthy walk of faith.

4. The man who walks before God can expect constant encouragements.

If it sounds too demanding to speak of walking into the unknown, let Abraham's experiences reassure us. I can add my own personal testimony to that of the patriarch when I say that before each test of faith the Lord will give some fresh word of encouragement on which we can rely as we obey His call. Again and again, from Ur of the Chaldees to Mount Moriah, we are told how the God of glory appeared to Abraham and spoke to him. Ought the man of robust faith to need so many new experiences? Would not the first original "Lo, I am with you ..." suffice? All I can say is that I have needed them, and have had them. So far as I can see, a long line of pilgrims from Abraham to Paul received a new word of encouragement just when things seemed at their darkest. In Abraham's case it might almost appear that at every fresh step forward, he received this kind of help: the greater the cost of obedience, the greater were the new promises given to him.

After he had allowed Lot to choose the richest pasture land, the Lord renewed His promises to the patriarch and told him to walk the length and breadth of the land in the knowledge that it was all to be given to him (13:17). After he had magnanimously fought to deliver his undeserving nephew, God met him in the person of Melchzedek with heavenly blessings, just in time to ensure that he would firmly refuse any help from Sodom's gifts. He did so, and received a further divine pledge of blessing with one of those often repeated Scriptural exhortations to "fear not" (15:1). Alas, he did fear and agreed to Sarah's faithless advice about Hagar, but when all this was put right he had yet another appearance from the Lord (17:1). What would he have done without God's clear speaking to him? And what can any of us do without the vital, saving ministry of God's holy Word?

The best -- as always -- was saved for the last. The most thrilling appearance of the Lord to His pilgrim servant, the final and most glorious, was when he put the son of promise on the altar and then heard God say: "Because thou hast done this thing ... in blessing I will bless thee" (22:16-17). For Abraham the mount of sacrifice became the mount of vision. It is always the abiding principle, "as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord shall He be seen" (22:14).

5. The man who walks before God shall reach the desired destination.

Our final step will be out of time and into eternity. To us the timeless sphere is indeed unknown, but this does not mean that it is unreal or unattainable. Concerning Abraham and his family it is stated that they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly; "wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he has prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:16). We cannot understand much of what is involved in exchanging this tent-life of our pilgrimage for the heavenly city of God, the Father's house of many mansions, but the one word which stands out like a beacon is the word 'BETTER'.

No-one can dispute that walking with God is a costly activity, but none who tread that path will ever wish to tread any other. The problems may prove greater than we have imagined, but the end will be more glorious than we could ever have believed. "God is not ashamed" -- that means that He is proud of it. Then the destination must be "very far better" than the best that we experience on the way.

(To be continued) [80/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


"(and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear
witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which
was with the Father, and was manifested unto us
)" 1 John 1:2

THE theme of John's message is life and he here emphasises that what he is talking about is the life which is eternal. The simple truth is that none of us who are creatures of time can understand what the word 'eternal' means. Our logical explanation is that it consists of an existence which goes on and on for ever, with no possibility of termination. Such a thought, however, does not in itself offer any attractive prospect and in any case signifies that we are trying to measure eternity in terms of time-endless years!

The apostle therefore begins his letter with the parenthetical statement that eternal life can only be grasped by focusing our attention on Jesus Christ. He singles out the simple fact that he himself had seen eternal life being lived out in a Man and here on earth.

The first obvious point in his remark is that this kind of life not only has no ending, but never had a beginning either. The life which was so vividly seen, heard and experienced in the Person of the Man Christ Jesus did not begin at Bethlehem. It did not even begin at Genesis 1. It has no beginning. It clearly belongs to a realm quite outside of time, even though by the Incarnation it was brought for a while into time.

We therefore conclude that this is a quality of life which is wholly beyond normal human experience; it is the life enjoyed by the eternal Father Himself. It is permanent; it is wholly satisfying; it for ever enjoys perfect fulfilment.

The record which John is presenting goes on to say that, because of Christ's atoning work, this eternal life is freely available to the true believer (2:25). He assures us that to have the Son is to have "the life" (5:12). Alas, the darker side of this same truth is that those who do not have the Son can have no hope of ever enjoying eternal life.

In a sense, John claims that he and his fellow apostles had a unique experience in those gospel days when they had their deep and satisfying encounter with eternal life in the Man, Christ Jesus. And yet in another sense he is able to write about others all around us having the opportunity to see and hear and touch that Life as it is being lived out in His believing people: "As he is, so are we in this world" (4:17). This verse is not pointing on to the future but affirming that eternal life now is a reality.

The Lord Jesus not only enjoyed eternal life with the Father; He manifested it among men here on earth. We are called into fellowship with Him. We enjoy now the eternal life which comes from the knowledge of the true God (5:20), so in us also that same life should be manifested (3:10). What a rich parenthesis!


[Back cover]

Joshua 1:8

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