"... 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. 13, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1984 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Faith And Patience [Hebrews] (8) 21
Light For The Last Days (3) 23
Abiding Spiritual Principles (4) 28
The Person Of Jesus Christ 32
The Divine Objective (2) 35
Old Testament Parentheses (8) ibc



(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 8)

John H. Paterson

IN our studies of the Epistle to the Hebrews we have now reached the eleventh chapter -- the famous chapter about faith. It must rank with the chapter about love -- 1 Corinthians 13 -- as among the best-known of all Bible passages. Taken by itself, and even without regard to its context, it is full of wonderful, reassuring, challenging things, and no commentator would want to take those away from its readers. But if challenge is what we are looking for, it is much more to the point to try to see this chapter in context; to ask what it is doing here, towards the end of an epistle which is mainly about things other than faith and an epistle, into the bargain, in which a number of the "heroes of faith" of chapter 11 have already made an appearance, in far less favourable roles, earlier in the letter!

So let us trace the object of writing Hebrews 11 by reading back into Hebrews 10. I have already suggested, in an earlier study, that Hebrews is made up of two kinds of material, 'argument' and 'application', and that the argument (designed to show that the new way to God through Christ is superior to the old way which Israel knew) ends in the middle of chapter 10. The writer has demonstrated, unanswerably, the superiority of Christ, and the rest of the epistle is given over to urging and encouraging the readers to go on in the Christian life.

Now it is clear, from the second half of Hebrews 10, that those readers had a problem and that the writer knew, or shrewdly guessed, what it was. These Hebrews accepted the good news about Jesus Christ, turned to Him, made good progress for a time, and then slowed down and stopped. Whereas formerly they had cheerfully accepted the abuse and reproaches and suffering that were the result of a public stand for Christ (Hebrews 10:32-3), they had now decided that this way, this stand, was too costly, too discouraging for them to sustain it.

What had gone wrong? The writer's diagnosis is revealed by a single word: patience (10:36). If, as he says, they had "need of patience", then it was because they had been tempted into impatience, and that was proving the stumbling-block. When they turned to Christ, they had assumed a certain time-scale within which the promised outcome of faith in Christ had been expected. Suffering and setbacks they could accept for a time. But now the days or the years were going by, and the promises were unfulfilled. Therefore, they argued, the whole thing had been a mistake.

The writer recognised the problem. He realised that we have, on the one hand, the promises and, on the other, an eternal God. It is His time-scale that operates in the world of the Spirit, not ours. His assurance is that, if we trust Him, we shall see the fulfilment of the promises. What He emphatically does not offer is any kind of commitment as to when we shall see them fulfilled.

This is hard, of course, and not only for the Hebrew Christians but for all of us who are human. Ever since we were little, we have been asking the question, 'When can I have it?' We always wanted our birthday presents early. We woke up at 2 o'clock on Christmas morning to see what was in our stocking. We could not wait to receive what we thought we should receive. As one of our children long ago put it, 'I want it here in my hand '. All this is natural -- a result of having only one life, of very limited duration, into which everything has to be fitted. There is always, to us, a good reason for arguing, 'But if I had it now, I could be using it. The longer I wait, the less time I have left'.

And just because this is 'natural' to human beings, it has nothing to do with God's way of seeing things! All questions of timing God reserves to Himself. The question -- the only question -- that concerns us as His people is that His will shall be done in our lives. And after it is done -- even after it is done -- we may have to wait a very long time before we see any result of doing it, much less any reward. "Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise."

Apparently, these Hebrew Christians were making this need for faith and patience an [21/22] objection to going on with Christ -- as if it were something peculiar to the Christian way and somehow invalidated the whole idea. Not so, says the writer. If you will only think for a moment, you are acting as if you, and you only, are required to exercise faith and as if, therefore, you have a special problem. But it has always been true that "the upright man will be living by his faith" (Hebrews 10:38, N. T. in Basic English). If that is an objection to the way to God through Christ, why, it was true also of the old way to God! To prove that, you need only think of the lives of those great men of the old dispensation, Abraham and the rest. For what does faith mean? It simply means "being sure of the things we hope for" (Hebrews 11:1, W. F. Beck's N. T.), "a conviction of the reality of things we do not see" (Weymouth). They, too, had to have faith!

It is by this route, clear and logical, that the writer brings his readers to the start of Hebrews 11. I have no doubt that he had a second purpose also in doing so: that of placing in perspective the problems -- the perfectly real and understandable problems -- which the Hebrew believers faced. When we have a problem, it tends to fill our horizon; in which case one of the best remedies is to meet someone who has our problem -- but multiplied a dozen times! If you have cut your finger, you are not likely to complain about it to a man who has lost a leg. You say to yourself, 'Well, if he can manage, I guess I can, too!'

These are, I think, the purposes of the writer in introducing his Old Testament history lesson in Hebrews 11: to show that faith has always been a condition for approaching God, by any route ("without faith it is impossible to please Him"), and to throw into perspective the relatively minor discomforts his readers had so far experienced in following the way to God through Christ.

When, in the later studies of this series, we come to look at some of the lives listed in Hebrews 11, we shall find that, in selecting events and emphasising aspects of those lives, the writer consistently chooses those which illustrate this same theme of patience and delay. His emphasis is on time-scale, deferment, waiting. It is as if all the history of God's dealings with those great figures of the past hinged upon this one question: when? And it seems as if 'When?' is the one question which the man of faith must never ask!

*    *    *

What I have so far written is simply by way of introduction to this chapter, and I am sure that you know it already. But before we consider individual case histories there is, I think, one other thing to be said. Perhaps I am influenced towards saying it by the fact that, as I write this, it is New Year's Day, the day of the year when, more than at any other point, we become conscious of the passage of time. The years come and the years go, and their remainder gets smaller all the time.

Now it is apparent from Hebrews 10 that the Christians to whom it was addressed had made a good beginning. They had taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods, they had shown compassion to prisoners (which seems to be the proper translation of 10:34), and had given every evidence that they were successfully overcoming the pressures inevitable to a change of allegiance such as they had made. In the short term, evidently, they had done splendidly; yet in the long term they had lost patience and lost heart.

This I can well understand, if only because, for the believer, there are actually two separate problems created by God's timing. And 'short-term' and 'long-term' is as good a description of them as any. Let me explain. An example of the problem of faith and patience applied to God's timing in the short term would be that famous story of George Muller saying grace in front of his orphans for the meal to which they had been summoned, when he knew that the cupboard was bare. What a thrilling story of faith in God, and how wonderfully He provided for the needy! Another, more everyday, example would be when you or I say to ourselves, 'By 4 o'clock this afternoon I have to know whether God wants me to do X or Y'. Faith is required for those intervening few hours -- although often by 4 o'clock, in my experience, God has said nothing, and we have to wait until 5 o'clock, or next day, for any confirmation to come! But either way the problem is short-term.

How exhilarating this can be! To live like this calls for faith, and I must say that I am glad that I don't have Muller's orphans waiting with [22/23] their spoons at the ready! But it is a particular kind of faith and, thanks to the efforts of biographers the world over, it has attained a certain glamour.

Now consider another situation. All that we do is to change the time-scale. Instead of an hour we take a year; instead of a week, a lifetime. When we became Christians, things happened fast; moreover, we expected them to happen fast. The whole world was exciting and full of change and, by God's grace, we were the ones who were going to make the changes. Persecution and pressure we could brush aside, for were we not launched on a whole new career with God?

And now the years have gone by, and nothing much has changed at all: no revival in our church, no record of widespread soul-winning, no change in our nearest and dearest, for whom we have prayed for -- how long is it? Ten years? Twenty years?

I think that this is where the Hebrew Christians had stuck! The short term they could survive, and survive with joy and triumph. But the long-term grind against all the pressures of delay and hindrance was what found them out and, if that was the case, I for one have every sympathy with them. For the faith needed for the long haul has nothing 'glamorous' about it at all. It leaves the believer with a stark choice: either he or she has got to be prepared to go on to the end with nothing to confirm the rightness of the way, or it was a huge mistake to have started on this way in the first place. Which alternative do you prefer?

I think that we have now got somewhere near the true context of Hebrews 11, this record of men and women who had to wait: "It was faith they lived by, all of them, and in faith they died; for them the promises were not fulfilled" (Hebrews 11:13, Knox). It is perhaps interesting that, on the whole, the characters whom our writer singles out for mention in Hebrews 11 are the 'long-term' men of faith: those for whom faith implied going on and on, while the more dramatic, short-term triumphs of faith are simply grouped together at the end of his list under the general heading, "Why need I say more?" (11:32, Weymouth)! After all, shutting the mouths of lions, like feeding orphans at dinner-time, is a 'short-term' triumph of faith -- the lions will see to that! What the writer has chosen to stress is the exercise of faith over the years; over whole lifetimes. And his message to the Hebrew Christians, as to us, is simple: Hold on!

(To be continued)


J. Alec Motyer

Reading: 2 Timothy 3

IN chapter 2:1 stress was laid upon the grace of God: "Thou therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus", but we have to ask how this can be done. It is all very well for Paul to speak of the grace available to make Timothy a different sort of person, but how is Timothy to appropriate that grace? It is very good for Paul to show Timothy his personal responsibility in the light of the power of God, but the vital question concerns how he can obtain the necessary grace. None of us needs to be persuaded that there is grace in Christ Jesus, and none of us needs to have it proved that His grace is sufficient for all our needs, but we may well ask how it can be ours. How can it come from that vast repository, Christ Jesus, and enter into our experience? How does Timothy empower himself in the grace that is in Christ Jesus and then, when he does so and is fashioned into the likeness of his Lord along the line of the six pictures of chapter 2, how does he make use of that powerful grace in reaching out to others? There remain then, unanswered, two very practical questions: How do we receive grace and how do we use grace? This brings us to the third line of teaching in this Epistle. It focuses in chapters 3 and 4 but it also runs right through the whole letter. It is The Word of God.

The Powerful Word

The first emphasis of Paul's teaching about this matter is that in the Word of God, the Church possesses all necessary truth. The Church [23/24] already possesses all necessary truth. Full stop! Now that is a very remarkable consideration. Paul was aware that he was drawing a line across Church history, for the apostolic company was now dying out. God had spoken directly to His Church through these men, but now Paul affirmed that there was to be no more. With the closing of the New Testament the Church has all the truth it needs.

Is that not remarkable? Paul envisaged Timothy as facing a desperate situation: "In the last days perilous (threatening) times shall come" (3:1). The apostle foresaw that fiercely challenging times would come, and yet he did not give the slightest hint that there would be new truth for those situations. The apostolic band was to die out and go -- there would be no more apostles in this sense -- but the Church would go into this post-apostolic period in possession of all the truth needed and would not be permitted to expect or await fresh truth for it already possessed the complete body of all divinely inspired truth.

Next, as he opened up this theme, Paul showed that truth changes people, so that it is by the truth of God that the grace of God is experienced, and thirdly -- as we would expect -- he insisted that this truth is the Church's instrument for outreach into the world. We see therefore that the questions left for us from our previous study as to how grace is to be experienced and used, are answered here in chapters 3 and 4: everything depends upon truth received and upon truth proclaimed. Paul did not divide his letter into four parts, but we can see that reference is made to the truth of God in each of the four chapters:

Chapter 1. Hold it!

"Hold the pattern of sound words" (vv.13 and 14). This is a great description, wholesome, healthy words. The words are wholesome in themselves and they impart wholesomeness to all who receive them. Paul sees Timothy as having in his hands a pattern of sound words, a fixed and definite pattern, given and bequeathed. "Hold it!" he says, making it clear that this is not something to be expected or looked for but to be maintained in possession. He goes on to say, "that good thing that was committed unto thee, guard through the Holy Spirit" (v.14). The "good thing" is the pattern of sound words and it was to be guarded by the Holy Spirit. This is, in fact, the only reference to the Holy Spirit in all these four chapters. As Paul looked out into the age looming in front of the Church, he recollects all that he had taught about the Holy Spirit and the one thing which he saw it necessary to underscore was that the Holy Spirit is made available to believers for the guardianship of truth already given. He inspired the Word and now He interprets and applies it.

Chapter 2. Study it!

The second reference to the Word of God is one which we have previously noted: "Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth" (v.15). We saw that Timothy was called to drive a straight course with the Word of God. Further reference is made to the very vexed situation Timothy had to face, people denying central Christian truth, Hymenaeus and Philetus who "have erred from the truth, saying that the resurrection has passed already" (v.18). In that situation of potential argument and conflict, Timothy's reaction was to be an unashamed, honest, straightforward handling of the word of truth.

Chapter 3. Abide in it!

Against the background of false teachers, Timothy was reminded that he had followed Paul's teaching. In contrast with those men and their errors there was at least one man, the individual Christian Timothy, of whom it could be said, "But thou didst follow my teaching" (v.10). And again, with equal stress on the individual Timothy, "Abide thou in the things that thou hast learned and been assured of" (v.14). The apostle goes on, "From a babe thou hast known the sacred writings ..." (v.15). How firmly is this strand of the Word of God twisted into the woof of Paul's total teaching.

Chapter 4. Preach it!

The word preach in verse 2 means 'act like a town crier'. It does not necessarily speak of loudness but of clarity and authority. "Herald the word." The theme of chapter 1 was The Power of God, the theme of chapter 2 is the Powerful Christian, and now in chapter 3 and the opening verses of chapter 4 we have The Powerful Word. Concerning the false teachers, it is said that they are "ever learning and never powerful to come to the knowledge of the truth" [24/25] (3:7). That is the state of the human heart and mind; no power to come to the knowledge of the truth. Contrast this with "... the sacred writings which are powerful to make wise unto salvation" (3:15). The human heart has no power to understand or master divine truths, but the Scriptures are powerful to bring salvation and make this wonderfully possible.

The Recurring Peril

"Know that in the last days, grievous times shall come" (3:1-5). We live in the last days and those days are going to have within them perilous seasons. The days are not one prolonged period of threat, for the word rendered 'times' means seasons or periods. The last days are going to have within them certain periods that are described as 'grievous'.

The only other time that word is used in the New Testament is in Matthew 8:28, in the story of the Gadarene demoniac, Legion. Concerning this man it is recorded that he was so "fierce" that no man could pass that way, and this same adjective is used, showing that the fierceness of the demoniac and the fierceness of the perilous periods of the last days are similar. The word therefore means that which is threatening, and such situations are to come again and again and yet again during these last days.

What causes this is a problem of human nature, for verse 2 continues: "because men ...". The word there translated 'men' is not the Greek word used for individual men, but one which is used for the race, as if saying, for mankind.... It is as though there are certain periods in the last days when a spirit of degeneracy lays hold upon the whole human race as the curse imposed by God goes one step further.

In his Keswick Readings on 2 Timothy, John Stott points out that the particular way in which this threat resident in human nature manifests itself is that there is a reversal of the true order of things. Note that the first thing said about this mankind is that men would be "lovers of self" and the last thing is "rather than lovers of God" (v.4), so that the love of self comes first and the love of God is discounted. In between those two statements there is a list of words which, almost without exception, are words of despising, setting at nought or disparaging other people. So John Stott points out that the natural order, intended by God for His creatures made in His own image, was that, first of all, God should be honoured; secondly others should be respected; and lastly, self should be given its place, whereas in this situation that order is reversed. The love of self is the primary focus, the love of God is rejected, and other people are preyed on and disregarded in scorn of moral values.

This bears out what I have said, namely that the degeneracy of the human heart is such that the original sin in Eden, which was the beginning of the Fall, is working out to its natural consummation. This is the outworking of God's curse upon a sinful race. The end of putting self first and God last produces an ever-increasing manifestation of that which had its beginnings in man's first sin.

This is the problem in human nature, but it can also be a problem for the Christian: "... holding a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (v.5). In other words, this spirit of the age is not something from which the Church is exempt; it can eat into the Church and produce what Handley Moule called 'the greatest non-Christian religion -- unspiritual Christianity!" The Christian is not just on the outside, looking in; he is surrounded by a peril which can easily become his peril as well. That is why these times are so threatening. To have the form of godliness while denying its power is a peril which faces every believer.

There is that in all of us which wants to be left alone; we don't want to be stirred up by the power of God manifesting itself among us, but would rather go on in our own comfortable way. To some extent we may all be bitten by that spirit which was manifested by the Gadarenes who, when they saw the man sitting clothed and in his right mind, begged Jesus to leave them alone and go away. We may not approve of a Christ who is going to make transformations like that! We need to be careful lest antipathy to what is going on among God's people may simply come from a desire to be left alone and not have our comfortable inherited pattern disturbed by the movings of the Holy Spirit.

Unthankfulness is also one of the marks right at the heart of this disastrous list of the manifestations of the outworking of the curse (v.2). [25/26] Most of us are far better off financially than we ever thought we would be. Are we correspondingly thankful to God and proportionately generous to other people? It is easy to stand aloof from the world we live in and to be aghast at what is going on in the world and yet to become conformed to it. We look around and so easily recognise the decline in the world; we say that standards are lowering and morals and society breaking up, but are we more notably holy than we were? Are we noticeably more holy than we used to be? To some extent we too have declined and allowed television to involve us in this corrupt world.

Compared to what we were some 30 years ago, our hearts are callous about the fate of the world. I remember the wave of horror that went through our country at the time of the Italian attack on Ethiopia before the last war, yet nowadays we hear of murders and outrages and go on our way unruffled. To some extent, my beloved, it may be true of us that these perilous days have come upon us and, all unawares, are subtly transforming us into the world's mould.

The Counter Offensive

From 3:14 onwards we are told three things which Christians need in the light of this recurrent peril. They are discernment, strength of character and equipment for the counter offensive. Discernment -- "The Scriptures are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction". Personal strength of character -- "that the man of God may be complete". The equipment for counter offensive -- "furnished completely unto every good work". We see here that the very things we need are the things promised and which come to us by grace through the Word of God.

Paul calls for individual distinctiveness. The men of iniquity, the men of false doctrine, are going on their way, "But thou ..." (v.10). "Evil men and impostors shall wax worse and worse", "But thou ..." (v.14). This individual distinctiveness is possible through the operation of the powerful Word of God.

i. The Content of the Scriptures

In verse 10 Paul says, "You followed my teaching" and immediately he continues, "Abide in the things which you have learned" (v.14). The apostle then goes on to add something else, "from a babe thou hast known the sacred writing" (v.15). We know them as the Old Testament but Paul would not have used this name, any more than would the Lord Jesus Himself. We see, however, that Timothy is reminded that he has both Paul's teaching and the inherited Scriptures of the Old Covenant and it is concerning all that together that Paul affirms: "Every Scripture is inspired" (v.16). It is important, I think, to realise that in principle Timothy was in our situation, having possession of the New Covenant Scriptures and the Old Covenant Scriptures, that totality of scripture which is inspired by God.

ii. The Nature of the Scriptures

Concealed behind those three words, "inspired by God" (v.16) there is one compound word in Greek, one which can best be expressed by a made-up word 'God-breathed'. Every Scripture has been breathed out by God. Please notice what this tells us: it tells us that the Bible is not a human product upon which God imposed a little extra gloss and polish, but the Scriptures are a divine product which has come to us through human agencies. The communication of the Scriptures is from God, through chosen men, to the Church. Some people say that it was through the Church that God gave the Scriptures to the world. Not a bit of it! The Scriptures have never been given to the world. It was through chosen men that God gave them to the Church. That is why the Church can never be any more than a keeper and a witness to Holy Scripture. When the prophets of the Old Testament said: "Thus saith the Lord", this is what they meant. They meant exactly what the words declare, namely that God was speaking through them without interruption, making them His mouthpiece. The nature of the Scriptures is that they are the very words of God. We may well enquire and discuss how God's inspiring activity took place in different forms in the Scriptures but we must accept that this inspiring activity covers the whole of the Scriptures, both in the Old and New Covenants, so that the Church can always affirm: 'This Book is God-breathed'.

iii. The Effect of the Scriptures

"Every Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable ...". This means that the Scriptures are designed to achieve an end, that end being given in this marvellous catalogue and programme: [26/27]

1. "... for teaching. The Scriptures instruct in the truth of God.

2. "... for reproof." The word means the refutation of error, so that if an untruth is cherished in the mind, the ministry of the Scriptures is to refute that untruth and to replace it by the truth, and if an error is cherished in practice in the life, the ministry of the Scriptures is to expose that error, to convict of sin, and to replace the error with the true practice and pattern of behaviour. So we have the reproof of error in the mind and the reproof of malpractice in the life.

3. "... for correction." The word indicates a positive direction for living. In its way it is distantly related to the word translated 'handling aright' in 2:15 which, as we have seen, suggests the idea of making a straight road. This is what the Scriptures do for us -- they set a straight road before the believer so that his feet may walk in a straight path.

4. "... for instruction which is in righteousness." This is the word one would use concerning the bringing up of a child, or what we would call 'education'. The Scriptures have an educative programme which takes us from the condition of babes in Christ and brings us through to spiritual maturity.

'Righteousness' in the Bible always means 'that which is right in the sight of God' and this involves coming to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, which is Christian maturity. Here, however, such maturity is also described in two other ways, "that the man of God may be complete and fully furnished ...". I have invented a little translation of my own -- 'that the man of God may be fitted and kitted'. The original Greek provides two words which have that sort of rhyming effect. 'Fitted' refers to inner fitness, the fitness of character and person, a vessel meet for the Master's use, while 'kitted' involves possessing the equipment which we can take into action for use in the service of God. All this is included in the command "Abide in the things you have learned" (v.14). You have had the sacred Scriptures since you were a babe, very well, abide in them. You know them already, then abide in them! Live in these Scriptures. Make them your home. Make them your permanent address. There is nowhere else for you to go.

The Ministry of the Word

There is no chapter distinction in the original letter so that the first verses of Chapter 4 show that the kitted-out Christian is to devote himself to the ministry of the Word. Paul gives the command twice over: "Preach the word" (v.2) and "Do the work of an evangelist" (v.5). The word 'preach', as we have already seen, is associated with the work of the town crier, laying stress on clarity and authority. Clarity, so that all may hear what he says, and authority, since in his case you know that he has not made it up out of his own imagination, but has been sent from the Town Hall with a message of authority. Herald the Word! The second phrase, "do the work of an evangelist", means that he is to bring the Good News. We have here three reasons why this double work of ministering the Word should be exercised.

1. A Divine Reason

"I charge you in the sight of God and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and kingdom, preach the word!" This is the divine reason. God in Christ will hold an enquiry into this very thing. When Jesus comes again, it will be the one thing He wants to know about, because it is the one thing which He told the Church to do when He went away. "Go into all the world," He said, "and make disciples of every nation." When He comes back, it will be no use telling Him of a hundred and one other things we have been doing, for this is the one thing He told His Church to do. Paul therefore reasons with Timothy, 'Look, I am bringing you right into the presence of God; I am reminding you that Jesus is coming again, and in that context I command you to preach the Word and bring the Good News'.

2. The Human Reason

Verse 3 begins with the word "For", which is an explanatory word as to why the man of God should preach the Word. This is the human situation, "For the time will come when they wilt not endure sound doctrine". I tell you to preach the Word, not because opportunities are abounding on every hand but because the doors are closing all around you. I command you to preach the Word, not because the situation is expanding, but because it is contracting. I tell you to preach the Word, not because time is on [27/28] your side, but because time is against you. The time will come when they will not endure it, so take the opportunity now while you have it.

3. The Personal Reason

Paul renews his exhortation to do the work of an evangelist with the reason: "because I am already being poured out, and the time of my departure is at hand" (v.6). The apostolic age is over; my time is finished; but you are in my succession. There is a true apostolic succession, and it is that we take up the torch which the apostles put down, doing the work of an evangelist, which is the task they left behind for us. In the personal allusion, Paul was able to say that he had fought a good fight; he had finished his course; he had kept the faith; and with that background he called the next generation and every subsequent generation to take up the task.

Such work entails sacrificial effort: "Endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist". Paul is terribly realistic; never for one moment does he suggest that the work of the gospel is a push-over. The two things lie together: hardship and evangelism. So we see that Paul's last word to Timothy is the same as his first had been, for he began to open out his message with the words: "Suffer hardship with the gospel" (1:8).

Brothers and sisters, ours is the apostolic task, and it is to be fulfilled so as to meet with approval from our returning Lord. This is the ultimate test of a duty fully discharged -- to meet with the smile and approval of our glorious Lord. As to our minds, then, let us be clear. As to our efforts, let them be unstinting; and as to our ministry, let us be determined that it is fulfilled right to the end.



(Some lessons from the life of Solomon)

Michael Wilcock

4. INTERCESSORY PRAYER. 2 Chronicles 6 and 7

THESE two chapters concentrate on the matter of prayer. The Temple was dedicated supremely as a place of prayer. It is true that the Temple was built with the altar as its centre piece (7:9) and that God accepted the Temple as the place of sacrifice (7:12); nevertheless, although the altar and the sacrifices were central to this building, we are not concerned with the Temple or temple ritual for their own sakes. As Solomon said more than once, God is far too great a God for anyone ever to imagine that He can be confined within a specific building and brought down to men by means of ceremonial rites.

The important thing is that in the Temple there should take place a real encounter between man and God, and this encounter is what we call prayer. The Temple was to be a place where man could meet with God and here we find it being dedicated not only as a place of prayer but especially as a place of intercessory prayer. This, then, is our subject and will be taken in four sections.

Introduction to Intercessory Prayer (6:1-11)

We notice that Solomon is described not only as praying but as one who prays an intercessory prayer. "The king turned his face, and blessed all the congregation of Israel" (v.3). The greater part of chapters 6 and 7 tells us of Solomon face to face with God in prayer; he encountered God in prayer and he did so in an intercessory capacity, acting in solidarity with his people and in his concern for them. He was not there alone for any individual purpose, but leading a vast concourse of the people of God and concerned with their blessing.

In this he teaches us an obvious and a truly worthwhile lesson, as do so many other characters in Scripture who encourage us to pray. In this particular context, however, and in reference to this particular intercessor there is a special feature, for we see him not only as Solomon the intercessor but as Solomon the praying pastor. I use the word 'pastor' in a general sense. This history was written when the monarchy was long [28/29] past. In the story Solomon was the king of his people, but for the chronicler and his readers there were no more kings. We have to think of Zerubbabel the prince or of some other kind of leader, and to grasp the general concept of Solomon the pastor, caring for the people of God. What is being shown to us here is the intercessory prayer of one who has taken upon himself or been given the responsibility of God's people. In his case he was a monarch but in many cases the same responsibility will come upon those who have much humbler titles but no less of a burden, and even upon us to whom responsibility equally comes.

We also see Solomon in terms of a type. He provides not simply a lesson for anyone who can be described as an intercessor nor even only an interceding pastor, but Solomon has a particular relevance to the Christian age in which we live. We notice what is said about him concerning the economy of God when he addresses the Lord as Fulfiller (v.4). God promised and God had performed. In verses 5 and 6 Solomon describes what the promise was and in verses 7 to 11, he tells how it was fulfilled. This is a fascinating passage, worthy of close consideration.

Ever since God brought His people out of Egypt He had made no particular choice as to a unique place in which He was to be worshipped, nor had He singled out any particular person who was to be the ruler of His people. It is true that judges rose time after time, being chosen of God for their special era and their particular circumstances. It is also true that God did recognise certain places in which He would be worshipped, such as Gibeon, Shiloh and others. This, however, was the first and only time in which God had said, "Now this is the one place in which I will set My name and this is the one man to whom I entrust the care of all My people". Jerusalem was the place and David the man. Now Solomon went on: "It was in the heart of David my father to build an house" but God rejected this and announced, "Thy son ... he shall build the house for my name". So Solomon claimed that this divine promise was being fulfilled in him; in other words, what the Lord had promised about David was in fact fulfilled by the actions of Solomon.

In this way we see that the two figures came together and were merged into one to provide for God's ideal kingship for His purposes. The two cannot be separated. The promise was given to David, but Solomon affirmed, "Here I am, and in me the promise is fulfilled, for I have built the Temple and in this way the promises of God about my father David have found fulfilment".

Now of course the chronicler and his readers were well aware of Solomon's later lapses, for they had the history recorded in the books of Kings and knew the sad mistakes of Solomon's later years, but what the chronicler was doing was not to present an idealised king, suppressing all the shady features and only recording the good ones, but presenting one spiritual truth. He was not concerned to idealise a fictional figure, but rather to present Solomon as God's ideal, which is a very different matter.

He knew all about Solomon, but he selected what was relevant to make Solomon appear in his pages as the ideal and the other half to his father David. The two men stand together -- the man of warfare and victory and the man of peace and building -- as forming jointly the ideal of the monarchy of God's people. As we saw in our last study, in the days of the chronicler, this was just a shadowy ideal to which he and his readers could look back, but our privilege in this Christian age is to see that that ideal has once again been embodied.

The pattern has been repeated and the principle carried through in this Christian age, that is, that the function of David and Solomon correspond to the function of the Lord Jesus Christ, first in the days of His flesh and then in the power of His Spirit. This sheds a tremendous flood of light upon these two chapters, for it shows us the intercessory prayer of king Solomon as illustrative of the Holy Spirit as He intercedes for the people of God.

Approach to Intercessory Prayer (6:12-21)

By way of introduction, we notice the parenthetic verse which tells us how the king prayed standing up upon a bronze platform (v.13). The book of Kings does not mention this platform, but the chronicler, who was anxious to exalt the work of the intercessor, does so, reminding us that he was lifted up above the people so that all could see that their ruler was interceding for them. We can now follow his sequence of thought as he prayed. [29/30]

He began his prayer with a descriptive address: "O Lord who ...". So many collects start in this way: "O God Who art the Author of peace and Lover of concord ..." etc. He brought in the qualities of the God to whom he was praying, for he was speaking to the unique God. Then we notice that as he moved into intercessory prayer, he appealed to the God who answers conditionally -- "if ..." (v.16), noting that God does not do His marvels regardless, but lays down conditions for the answers to be given.

This reminds me of the talk on prayer by the Lord Jesus who first spoke of importunity and then of the Father's gracious bounty (Luke 11:5-13). From one point of view, the way to pray was to keep on knocking away as if God were not willing to answer, but the other side of the matter is that God, from His side, is a loving father who would not dream of giving his son anything but the best. From God's side it is all a matter of grace, unconditional mercy, but from our side, we do well to remember what we must do, that is, keep on asking. So there is a conditional element in Solomon's prayer, for he argued that God's people would be blessed if they walked in His ways: "If only thy children take heed to walk in thy ways ..." (v.16).

Remarkably enough, Solomon then made so bold as to claim the promises (v.17). He knew about the conditional element, he knew that the blessing would be his if he were right with God, yet he did not hesitate to ask, "Now therefore, O Lord, the God of Israel, let thy word be verified which thou spakest unto thy servant David" (v.17). As if to say, 'I know all about the conditional nature of Your promises, but I am still going to claim them. I recognise the sort of man You require to come to You, and I make so bold as to come to You.'

On what ground did he do so? Not because of the marvellous house which he had built for God. That would have been a foolish thought indeed, for he well knew that heaven itself could not contain God, and that the house he had built could never do that (v.18). No, it could not be because of the Temple. What he said was: "I claim Your answer to my prayer, Lord, not because of what you see of my house, but because of what You see of my heart. Not because of the outward show of my religion, but because of my contrite heart." "Hear thou from heaven; and when thou hearest forgive" (v.21). Solomon's only claim for an answer from God was that he came seeking forgiveness.

We have to start with a penitent heart when we have a genuine encounter with God. The house is of small importance, it is almost insignificant, compared with the humility of heart which must mark the one who prays. Solomon said, "Lord, look at my heart. See that it is a penitent heart and a sincere, seeking heart, for it is with that kind of heart that I make so bold as to come to You with intercessory prayer." This is the only possible approach to such prayer. Every generation after the generation of David has to remember these conditions. Many may have failed to fulfil them, but Solomon made it plain that this is the right approach to intercessory prayer. As with his father, so with him; and on that basis alone can men come into God's presence and expect an answer to their prayers.

Model Intercessory Prayer (6:22-42)

In the following verses we have details of the prayer, always remembering the "if" clause of which we have already spoken. Here are seven petitions as intercessions, each of them being in the same sort of form. Each has a conditional clause.

vv.22-23. Circumstances of right and wrong between neighbours.

vv.24-25. Circumstances of defeat due to the people's sin. Even so, if they turn from their sin, please hear them and deliver.

vv.26-27. Circumstances of drought and a closed heaven. "If ... they turn from their sin ... send rain upon thy land."

vv.28-31. An assortment of general misfortunes of one kind and another in which men come to acknowledge the plagues of their heart, then may they find mercy and blessing.

vv.32-33. Concerning foreigners who have been attracted to the land and its life for the sake of God's great name, then may their prayers be answered. It is noteworthy that this was first recorded by the chronicler for those who lived in the most exclusive of days under Ezra and Nehemiah. Yet Solomon prayed, "hear him too!" [30/31]

vv.34-35. In this case the Lord's people would be forced to go out to battle not because of their own sin but because they were led out by the Lord, so Solomon prayed, "maintain their cause".

vv.36-39. Seventh, and lastly, if the time came -- as the chronicler knew full well it had come -- when God's people were sent into exile, then even there, provided they were prepared to turn back to God and repent of their sin, let there be hope and restoration for them.

After these seven areas of intercession, Solomon put a framework on his whole prayer with the words: "Now, O my God, let I beseech thee, thine eyes be open, and let thine ears be attent, unto the prayer that is made in this place", rounding off with a quotation from Psalm 132:8-9: "Arise, O Lord God, into thy resting place ..." adding the appeal, "Remember the mercies of David thy servant" (vv.41-42). This, then, is the model of intercessory prayer in all its detail, and perhaps a few remarks may be made in summary of it:

1. All these seven petitions are corporate. Even the first one (v.22) is not simply a matter of individual sin but of a man and his neighbour, and the oath which he takes to make sure that he is right with society. All the rest of them are corporate; none of them is a case of a man praying for himself as an individual but rather praying for the people of God. So it is that intercessory prayer should not be concerned with us and our needs but with the people of God for whom we carry responsibility. Our thoughts should be taken away from our own concerns to the needs of God's people at large.

2. We note the comprehensiveness of such prayer. It was as though Solomon was seeking to foresee all the possible vicissitudes of the history of his people, covering every eventuality as if saying, 'Whatever happens to my people, I want to know that the way will be open for them to come back to You and to receive Your blessing as they repent'.

3. The prayer was both universal and specific. We can go through each one of the instances and note how particular it was. Solomon said, "I am not just praying general prayers; I am talking about the particular instances in which men may be involved. These are not formal prayers, but actual needs which arise. A man has a case coming up in court. A drought-stricken farmer is pleading for rain upon his crop, etc." We can interpret this to cover the needs of someone who has a drought in his heart and needs the rain of the Spirit to refresh him. This principle can be applied right across the board. Solomon encourages us to pray about any kind of defeat, any kind of drought or any kind of enterprise for God's glory. We are to pray comprehensively and we are to pray in detail as we pursue the task of intercessory prayer on this basis.

When Solomon prayed this prayer, his requests were all covered by the word "if" but as the years went by the actual conditions obtained, so that the prayers were no longer "if", but "since"; they dealt not with hypotheses but with actualities. Time went by and each one of these situations became real. The monarchy came and went and the exile came and went. In the time of the chronicler, Nehemiah stood and spoke to God in these very terms, asking that the people's sins might be forgiven and their city restored. Daniel, also, in those post-exilic days, prayed on behalf of his sinful people, making confession and asking for restoration and blessing. So it has been all the way down in history until our day when we are to use the same sort of requests as responsible intercessors.

For us it is not a case of "if", for our friends are being defeated and we have to appeal to the Lord for help. It is not a question of "if", for there is a drought among the people of God and we may use the basis of this chapter and claim forgiveness and rain from heaven to refresh. There is no doubt about there being a stranger among us for whom we should seek and ask a blessing, and surely we know of some who are going out to do battle for the Lord and who therefore need our prayers that their cause may be maintained and furthered. Here we have the model of intercessory prayer. Let us be sure to use it.

Vindication of Intercessory Prayer (7:1-16)

How do we know if this kind of prayer works? How can we be sure that it works? This chapter gives us both a subjective and an objective vindication of the power of such prayer. We are told that "when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house" [31/32] (v.1). In this way Solomon was given a subjective vindication of the fact that his prayer was accepted. This was the same fire that fell when David first purchased the site for the Temple and offered his sacrifice there (1 Chronicles 21:26). It was the same fire that had fallen long before when the Tabernacle was first set up (Leviticus 9:24). When Solomon finished praying, the glory of the Lord was seen just as it had also been seen when the Ark was first brought into the Holy of Holies (2 Chronicles 5:14). On that earlier occasion the glory of the Lord had filled that part of the Temple where the Ark was, but now at the end of this intercessory prayer the glory filled the whole house.

Now these are things of sense and emotion; they are subjective and we must not rely on them alone. We know how prone we are to let our emotions run away with us. Nevertheless they are valid vindications of this sort of prayer for, as we come with a true heart towards God, interceding for one and another of God's people everywhere, we should expect that the fire of God will fall and that His glory will be experienced. This can be a genuine vindication of our prayer.

More important, though, is the objective vindication. We read that God appeared to Solomon by night and said to him: "I have heard thy prayer" (v.12). If Solomon had asked how he could know this, the Lord would have explained by what He then went on saying (vv.11-22), the substance of which was that God said to Solomon precisely what Solomon had been saying in prayer to him.

In the middle of this passage we encounter that well-known and much loved verse: "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (v.14). We rightly treasure this promise but for our present purposes we need to focus not on this but on the whole passage, for the really important point is that God was saying to the intercessor just what the intercessor had said to Him; in other words, the objective reason which Solomon had for knowing that his prayer would be answered was because he had been praying the kind of prayer that God wanted to hear. We may follow through the prayer point by point and realise that what was being asked was what was already in the mind of God. This that he was asking was what the Lord had always wanted, so he knew that the answer was sure.

The things he had been requesting were not some bright ideas of his, not just what he thought might be nice, but were what he knew that God wanted to do anyway. This correspondence between chapters 7 and 6 is one of the most important things to be learned about intercessory prayer. Our prayers will be vindicated if they are based upon what we ask according to the will of God. Prayer will always work when it corresponds with the very things which God desires and plans.

Mind you, the prayers are not really ours but are what the great Successor of David, the Holy Spirit, is praying for us: "We know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26-27). Naturally, if it is the King's great Successor, if it is the Spirit of Jesus, who is praying through us, then how can we imagine that our prayer will be other than what the Father wishes to hear? Let us, then, hand over our minds and our mouths to Him, so that we can pray the kind of prayers that God loves to vindicate.

(To be concluded)


Poul Madsen

THIS is a vast subject; it is quite beyond our capacity to master and indeed we dare not talk of our Lord as a 'subject'. We will consider some facts about Him, but before we do so we have to ask ourselves who has ever issued the following challenge to his enemies: "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John 8:46). This is what the Lord Jesus did, and we cannot say that [32/33] He was conceited, that He exaggerated or that He did not fully know Himself. These were the words of the Man whose sincere consciousness was revealed in the claim "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).

It was as though the Lord said, 'I do not know what it is to feel guilty. I have no consciousness of any accusation in My conscience. I have nothing to regret. There is not one word which I need to retract. There is not a single person of whom I need to ask forgiveness or to whom I need to apologise.' We are not able to appreciate such claim's, for none of us has a corresponding experience, nor have we ever met another person who has. Most of us are so superficial that we accept sin as inevitable and excusable. 'We are only human' we say.

We need the Holy Spirit to convince us that in the person of Jesus Christ we have the one Man on earth who could claim to be sinless. This in itself was enough to make the human race send Him to the cross, for the world cannot tolerate such a Man. If He were here today, the world would reject Him again. His was a transparent purity, which was confirmed from heaven, for Jesus could stand in the very presence of God and claim to be sinless. This consciousness is part of the mystery of godliness, for it was the Word who became flesh. It was not only that He put on flesh for a time, but He became flesh, He became a real and proper man.

His Words (John 12:49-50)

The words of the Lord Jesus are so simple in contrast with ours, and yet they are of infinite depth. There is nothing dramatic about them; He never behaved like an actor or an orator, speaking with frowns or gesticulations, and you cannot find one difficult word in His speech. Sometimes I am reproved for using long words, and I try hard to avoid this, though not always very successfully, but the Lord Jesus never employed difficult words. Nevertheless, He said more than any other man could say. His words were spirit and they were life.

The common people heard him gladly. He never tried to make an impression by oratory or poetry, yet His words, even from that point of view, are so beautiful that we never tire of hearing them. Without any official status He yet spoke with an authority which no-one else has possessed, and without the least hint of pomp or ceremony, He did not shrink from saying: "I say unto you".

He spoke time and again about Himself. Yet in no sense could He have been described as self-occupied. He could affirm: "I am the bread of life" and "I am the light of life". We all sense that He is the only One who had something of eternal validity to say, and when He spoke about life it was Life itself speaking about life. Even so, it was a Man who was speaking, and He stated that the words were not His words but that He spoke as He heard the Father speak.

For this reason, not one sentence can be added to what He has said, nor can anything be taken from it. His was not an attempt to say something right or something that could perhaps point in the right direction, but He spoke the word of life in human language -- "I say unto you!" Those who have really heard His words can hardly bear the endless torrents of words which are voiced by the fallen creation. As He Himself said: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear".

His Works (John 5:19, 30; 14:31)

He went about doing good (Acts 10:38). In this short sentence is summed up the years of His activities among men. He did good, and only good. He never did wrong to anyone, by word or deed. He never hurt anyone. This does not mean that He was a soft, inoffensive person who accommodated Himself to His surroundings -- far from it -- but that He was utterly true as well as loving. He went about doing good, but He was not a mere advisor or social worker, doing His best to do what God would have done, and that is always good. It is not comparatively good but absolutely so, for the works were not works which He did of Himself independently but, as He asserted, "What I see the Father do, that I do". So in this case the word 'good' must be taken in its absolute sense, bearing no comparison with what men might describe as their good works. His works were always perfect works.

Strangely enough, we never find Him hurried, rushing about from one thing to another in order to manage everything; rather do we see Him always at rest, even though He accomplished more than anyone. He could work from [33/34] early morning till late at night, yet He was never hurried or feverishly restless. Yet He was a Man, and it was as a Man that He did good and therefore needed to spend nights in prayer, being completely dependent upon His heavenly Father.

His works were wonderful, yet He did them in such a way that they formed a natural part of His life. He did not have to screw Himself up to special efforts, straining up to the extra-ordinary as if it were a climax. No, He acted easily and as if it were quite natural to perform His wonders. When the five thousand needed feeding, He felt no call to summon His disciples to an emergency prayer meeting, but simply looked up to His Father and proceeded to multiply the food. He even raised the dead, but apparently without prolonged prayer and simply with a word. In everything we find Him so pure and true that we cannot detect any difference in Him during one activity more than in every other.

Just as none ever spoke like Him, so no-one ever acted like Him: everything about Him was genuine. He never seems to have had cause to tell Himself that it was important to believe or that He must make an extra effort to do so, for His relationship with the Father was so intimate that they acted together. Alas, we are not greatly impressed by this, because we are so entirely different. Our service mostly consists of efforts which we hope will lead to something, but if they fail then we will have to keep on trying. His works, however, were always carried successfully through to completion. He never began an enterprise and then had to admit that He had made a mistake and would have to start again. Jesus Christ is unique.

Today much is made of so-called humanism and yet the life pattern of fallen man is making him inhuman. The Lord Jesus is the only true Man, and everything properly human is in Him. That is why He is called Adam -- the last Adam -- and "the second man who is from heaven" (1 Corinthians 15:45 and 47). He is the truth, and fallen man does not love the truth; hence the Lord's sufferings and His final passion.

His Voluntary Death (John 10:18-28)

This Man was executed! Then, as now, the cry was, "Away with him!" No-one, however, took away His life; He laid it down of Himself, as He said. We must remember, though, that He was a man, not some kind of superman, but a man like us. The fact that He laid down His life voluntarily did not relieve Him of the agony of it all. His death was voluntary but not mechanical as though it were an easy matter. It was done for love of you and me and of fallen humanity. At the same time, He was supported by the realisation that it was all part of the eternal counsels of God.

It was not an isolated historical event forced upon Him, but that which was in agreement with God's eternal plan of salvation ordained before the foundation of the world. As Paul reminds us: "Christ died according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). No-one can love death or regard it as his friend, but He was willing to taste death, having been gripped by its agony and striven in prayer. If we say that Christ chose a voluntary death, we must never think that this means that it was easy. Far from it. He endured it because of His great love.

His Resurrection (Acts 2:24)

A further fact, though, is that it was impossible for death to hold Him, for death is the result of sin and He knew no sin. When Jesus hung on the cross He prayed for His enemies, "Forgive them" but He never once said 'Forgive Me'.

Even on the cross He had no twinge of conscience for He had no faults, and so it was impossible for sin and its consequences to hold Him. On the third day God raised Him from the grave and forty days later said to Him: "Sit thou at my right hand".

Who is He?

He was born of a woman, and the woman's name was Mary. His birth was like any other birth into this world, and He was born into very poor circumstances. At the same time, He came from God. The Scriptures reveal what no man intellectually can understand, that He was conceived in the virgin Mary by God's own Spirit. He is called "the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5) for He was completely and fully a man as well as being completely and fully the Son of God. He is the mystery of God. That means that no-one is able of himself to understand Him. [34/35] There was a day when Jesus rejoiced especially in His Spirit and said: "No one knoweth who the Son is, save the Farther ..." (Luke 10:22).

Peter could only answer the question which Jesus Himself asked by special revelation from the Father in heaven, but we need to beware of the danger of presuming that we know Jesus better than we really do. Paul tells us that Christ is the mystery of God, so we must not presume that if only we have said 'Yes' to Jesus then we already know Him very well, especially as Simon Peter's God-given knowledge proved to be so limited that he very soon had to be rebuked for giving an opportunity to Satan.

The Lord Jesus is a Man and yet He is the Son of God. These two things may seem incompatible to our minds, but John unites them with the infinitely significant statement: "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14). We must avoid the mistaken idea that the Word merely clothed Himself in flesh, as though it was only in His body that Jesus was human and that inwardly He was divine, for it is of supreme importance for us to know that the Word became flesh so that Jesus was fully and completely and in every way a true human being as we are. He developed as an ordinary human being. He was just as helpless as the smallest baby when He was laid in the manger. He grew and learned. He increased in wisdom as well as in age (Luke 2:52). He lived through adolescence, He became an apprentice and a carpenter; He knew what it was to be hungry and thirsty and tired. When He was tempted in all things, they were real temptations, not temptations which had no attraction for Him because He was the Son of God.

He was the Son of God and so described Himself; but He was also the Son of Mary and had the human name Jesus. But He was not a double person ! The description He used of Himself was "the Son of Man", by which He meant that He accepted man's total helplessness. This was what God implied when He addressed Ezekiel as "son of man". At the same time it describes man's true destiny for we read in Daniel's prophecies that one day all the kingdoms of the world will be subject to one "who is like a son of man" (Daniel 7:13). This Son of Man is Jesus, the Man, the One who calls us His brothers.

His name Jesus was a common name which many others had, but He alone is the One who gives that name its true meaning of Saviour from sin (Matthew 1:21). For our part we must be careful to give Him His titles. As Peter announced on the day of Pentecost, "God hath made him both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). The Scriptures show that His disciples never called Him by His name Jesus; those who get to know Him are only too glad to call Him "Lord" for that is what He is. In a sense it may be right to exhort men to make Him their Lord, but in fact He can never be anything else than what God has made Him. He is Lord of all.

It is not possible exhaustively to explain who the Lord Jesus is, for He is the One in whom are present all the riches of wisdom and knowledge in bodily form. It is a true Man who is at the right hand of the Father now, and He is there as a forerunner for us. He is infinitely great, infinitely pure and infinitely glorious. May we learn more and more to know something of the reality of what John meant when he said "We beheld his glory!"



Harry Foster


IT would be difficult to find two such contrastingly different men as Haggai and Zechariah, yet they prophesied in a joint ministry with a single objective, the building of the House of God.

For the purpose of this study, we limit ourselves to chapters 1 to 6 of Zechariah, chapters in which we are informed of eight separate visions which this man of God received. In the brief 'Parenthesis' at the end of this issue of the magazine, reference is made to the fact that the elementary name for a Prophet was a Seer. Few prophets merit such a description more than Zechariah, for each of the eight passages we are to consider contains his introductory words, "I saw" and in some cases, "I lifted up my eyes and saw" or "He showed me". [35/36]

The thrilling thing to me is the galvanic effect which the recital of these visions had on the prophet's congregation. Unlike Ezekiel's days, when Jewish churchgoers merely encouraged one another to come and get more religious entertainment by listening to their popular preacher (Ezekiel 33:30-32), these people did more than listen -- they acted. We are told that their response was a concerted and enthusiastic obedience to the word (Ezra 5:2).

My own suggestion is that frequently questions arose in the hearts of the leaders and the people as they worked together, and that Zechariah's visions often provided answers to their questions. It is one of the most vital features of spiritual ministry to explain the experience and resolve the often unuttered problems of the hearers. We know nothing of those questions, nor are we given explanations of most of the visions, so that my suggestions may be faulty as well as inadequate. For what they are worth, however, I offer some thoughts on the eight visions.

1st VISION. [Zechariah] 1:7-17

"I will shake all nations" (Haggai 2:7).

I regard this as retrospective, giving some indication as to what lay behind the release of the captives and their return to the land. It seems certain that at the date mentioned by Zechariah, the world was far from being in the peaceful state described by the four horsemen, so I suggest that this vision looked back and revealed what had been the condition of international affairs when Jerusalem lay in ruins. To natural reasoning it might seem a highly desirable condition of affairs with "all the earth sitting still and at rest" (v.11), but clearly the angel of the Lord reacted strongly against it, if it involved -- as seemingly it did -- stagnation as far as God's purposes for His people were concerned.

To the covenant-keeping Lord, it was intolerable that Jerusalem should lie in ruins. He was jealous over her with an intensity of passion which made Him shake up international affairs and, by doing so, precipitate the recovery of His testimony in His House at Jerusalem. It is most probable that it was strategic considerations in world politics which brought about the imperial decree which ended the seventy years of captivity. Jerusalem was an important frontier post for the empire and this, rather than the rebuilding of the Temple, was the real concern of government planners, once the fragile peace had given way to international rivalry and strife.

If I am right, then Zechariah's vision told of God's reason for permitting or even provoking this end of world peace; His objective is not first of all stability among the nations but the liberation of His redeemed people and the recovery of His testimony among them. It is surely a divine principle that God can use world unrest for the spread of the gospel and the salvation of men. Although the last world war was terrible, it was the occasion for many to turn to Christ who otherwise might not have done so. I have known of missionaries and ministers who were won for Christ while serving in the Forces, far from their peacetime surroundings. Today many are hearing the gospel and believing, in countries which have been stirred up by strife or invaded by enemies.

After the vision of the horsemen, Zechariah was told that God was now showing His anger against the nations which had hitherto felt secure, and had returned in mercy to Jerusalem where His House was to be built. Here was a tremendous encouragement to those who were called to rally to the work of building; the mercy of God for them and His jealousy for His own glory provided the motive for their activities of faith. As we shall see in some of the later visions, the modest labours of the Jews were set in the context of world affairs, so nobody must despise what they called "the day of small things" (4:10).

2nd VISION. [Zechariah] 1:18-20

"I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations" ( Haggai 2:22).

The Jews might well have responded to the first message about the nations being shaken by pointing out that they were involved in world trouble themselves; indeed that they seemed to be the focus of universal antagonism. If so, this second vision would be very relevant, for it confirmed the fact of universal hostility while insisting that the Lord had everything well in hand. There might be four horns, but there were also four smiths or craftsmen.

If we think of the four horns as being literally the nations from the four corners of the earth, we must agree that it was not literally true that these were all engaged in scattering Judah "so [36/37] that no-one could raise his head" (v.21), so probably the better interpretation is that God's people were conscious of pressure from all sides. Nevertheless there is a spiritual sense in which the work of the Church is set in the midst of a hostile world in which the powerful horns of antagonism are concentrated on scattering those whom the Lord would gather together in His name. Both the Lord Jesus and His apostles made no secret of the world's enmity against the Church.

Here were two messages of comfort. The first was the assurance that the Lord had taken the measure of the world forces against His purposes. Zechariah and his listeners need not think that things had gone wrong or got out of hand, for the Lord Himself was well informed of the universal opposition to His people. "What are these?", Zechariah asked when he saw the terrifying horns, to be given the explanation that they were powerful forces bent on the destruction of the divine purpose. God knew all about them. The psalmist voiced his dismay at this concerted attack from the world rulers, but he was able to describe the divine reaction in the words, "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision" (Psalm 2:4). God is never disconcerted nor surprised.

The second message of comfort implicit in the vision was that God had already provided four smiths or craftsmen to throw down and destroy those horns. Four, to stress the Lord's worldwide power and four, to assure His people that He did not underestimate the fury of the adversaries but matched them with His own four. Nor did He have to stretch Himself to deal with them; He only needed four to give full deliverance to His own.

Zechariah reported that he lifted up his eyes and saw the horns, but he stressed the matter of revelation when he went on to say, "Then the Lord showed me four smiths" (v.20). His message of hope was not based on human optimism, nor even only on past promises, but on up-to-date revelation of God's hidden workings.

3rd VISION. [Zechariah] 2:1-13

"I will fill this house with glory" (Haggai 2:7).

This is a rich chapter, full of spiritual significance and closing with a command for all flesh to be silent now that God was on the move.

Rather than attempting to interpret its immediate relevance to Jerusalem, it may be more helpful to do what the prophet himself was clearly doing, that is, seeking to envisage the larger spiritual significance of what he saw and heard. What he saw was a young man hurrying out to apply his measuring line to the constructional work which was going on. We know in fact that in actual dimensions and splendour this rebuilt Temple fell far short of Solomon's earlier building (Haggai 2:3 and Ezra 3:12), so this energetic inquirer was likely to meet with a bitter disappointment or perhaps even to become a negative-minded protestor, clamouring for what we call 'the good old days'.

In any case he was halted in his tracks by the second angel who pointed out that spiritual realities cannot be measured by earthly standards. "I Myself will be the protecting wall" said the Lord of hosts, "a wall of fire round about" and, as to the central edifice, "I will be the glory in the midst of her" (v.5). You can measure size and calculate statistics, but who can measure fire and who can analyse glory?

Two considerations emerge from this vision. The first is that we are not to be disheartened by the seeming insignificance of our experience of building in the house of the Lord. What we are engaged in may seem mean in our own eyes, but it is clearly precious in the eyes of the Lord (v.8). And it is growing. This is not a static, limited enterprise, but a vast spiritual home which will expand to include men from many nations (v.11). Let us not carnally apply some earthly measuring line to our fellowship as God's people, but let us see it in terms of its spiritual significance in God's purposes of grace. And if we must calculate at all, let us base our standards on the measure of the Lord of glory in our midst. Some impressively large communities may well lack this divine essential, while some very humble and despised groups may well excel in this experience of the Lord's glory in the midst.

The second consideration relates to protection. At the beginning of their history, it was the pillar of cloud and fire which protected Israel from their enemies and at this late stage of their national history, God had not changed. How can our spiritual fellowship be maintained? Not by mere walls of doctrine or legislation but only by the maintained sovereignty of the Spirit [37/38] in our life together. According to the psalmist, Zion may become involved in cosmic upheavals but "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved" (Psalm 46:5). This fearful remnant in Jerusalem could take heart as they were told of Zechariah's further vision.

The chapter has more to say, however, and this time the message was directed beyond Zechariah's companions in Jerusalem to the majority of comfortable, self-satisfied Israelites who had chosen to remain in Babylon. It no doubt seemed so much more secure there than to brave the hazards of life in Judah, but in the end this would prove a mistaken assumption. There is only one absolutely safe place for any of us and that is in the centre of God's will. So to those who had ignored the call to leave their comforts and pleasures and to return to God's objective in the land, Zechariah was commissioned to utter cries of warning: "Ho, ho, flee from the land of the north ... Ho Zion, escape, thou that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon" (vv.6 and 7). Babylon's walls would fall, but God's wall of fire remains. Babylon's delights would be plundered by slaves (v.9) but God's faithful people be chosen and blessed in His inheritance (v.12).

Safety and stability are only to be found by wholehearted committal to God's objective. This truth holds good today. Does it seem unpractical to give priority to the fellowship of the Church over selfish interests or the attractions of the world? Does it seem precarious to walk by faith rather than by sight? If it does, then we need to see afresh what Zechariah saw and to hear what God says about this matter. It can all be summed up by saying that both safety and satisfaction can only be found in the House of God. The chapter ends with the reminder that the Lord has risen up to fulfil His supreme objective of redeeming love and that the questions and arguments of the flesh must be silent in the presence of this great fact.

4th VISION. [Zechariah] 3:1-10

"So (unclean) is this people and so is this nation" (Haggai 2:14 ).

The fourth and the fifth visions are closely connected, though Zechariah became sleepy between the two. The latter vision was concerned with Zerubbabel, the royal leader, while the former related especially to the high priest Joshua. It is clear that he is here regarded as representative of the whole people, though we can rightly appropriate his experience for ourselves in a personal way. The issue was straight-forward: how can a sinful and defiled people have a part in God's holy House? The answer to this question can be summed up in one word, 'Grace', and the whole subject is illustrated in a vivid and most Scriptural way.

An early instance of the kind of encounter between God and Satan described here can be found in the story of Job who became the object of Satan's accusations before the throne of heaven. The final book of the Bible alludes to the same matter when it records that Satan, the accuser of the brethren "who accuseth them before our God day and night" was silenced and defeated (Revelation 12:10). This, then, is a Scriptural theme and it concerns the manifest unworthiness of those claiming to be the Lord's servants.

Whether Zechariah's vision dealt with the general sinfulness of Joshua and his people, or whether it related specifically to their culpable neglect of God's House does not really matter. Our sinful state and our sinful acts are alike an affront to God, and the Accuser was not slow to emphasise the point. He hardly needed to make specific charges before heaven's throne; it was sufficient for him to point to the hapless Joshua who -- according to all the divine requirements -- should have been clothed in spotlessly white fine linen for service in God's house, but who in fact was dressed in filthily dirty clothes. The guilty priest had no excuse to offer. The defiled people whom he represented were "without excuse". So are we all (Romans 3:19). We, as well as Joshua, are like the man in the Lord's parable who, when asked: "Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?" had no reply -- "And he was speechless" (Matthew 22:12).

We know that Satan is a liar, but in the matter of human unrighteousness before God, he does not need to speak untruths. Like Joshua, we all stand before the throne of heaven, "clothed with filthy garments". Now, such a realisation can have a paralysing effect upon us in our service for God. Judged on purely legal grounds this whole people of Israel were not fit to engage in [38/39] the Lord's holy service. What, then, should they do? Give up in despair? That was what Satan wanted them to do, and he still persists in his attempts to discourage the servants of the Lord. For a moment it must have seemed as though there were no alternative and, as Zechariah witnessed this confrontation, he could have despaired about the whole enterprise.

But only for a moment, since his vision, like all the others, was given not to depress the builders but to encourage and help them (Ezra 5:2). So the silence was broken, not by man but by God Himself. From His righteous throne, He rebuked Satan, insisted on His sovereign grace in choosing Jerusalem, and drew attention to the redeeming power of His love, when He had spared the faithful remnant, with the words: "Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" (v.2). What a graphic description of God's amazing grace!

The vision unfolded, as the thrilled prophet saw Joshua stripped of his soiled garments and dressed in his proper robes of glory and beauty, and he excitedly cried out that the fair mitre should also be put upon his head (v.5). This was done and the disgraced Joshua, relieved of all his defilement, was made suitable for holy service by being clothed with what God called "rich apparel". And it was God -- the God of all grace -- who did it all.

So often we limit our conception of divine grace to cleansing from the defilement of sin. This is gloriously true and makes it possible for us to be delivered from judgment, like brands from the burning. But there is more to it than this. We -- like the returned Jewish exiles -- have been called to the holy task of building God's house, and for that we need positive qualifications of holiness. Grace provides for them too, as was shown by the new and rich clothing which followed Joshua's cleansing.

This is God's answer to every accusation. Put into New Testament language, it is that Christ has been made unto every believer the righteousness and sanctification which God's holy service requires. This chapter speaks of the iniquity of the land being removed in one day: by the gospel we know how it is done in one moment. We need to remember, though, that cleansing is only a part of the work of Christ's cross. The purified Joshua was clothed with rich apparel, the work being completed with that fair mitre for which the prophet appealed, the turban which bore upon it the golden plate with its inscription, "Holy to the Lord" (Exodus 28:36). Thus it was that the hitherto disgraced and disqualified priest and people found themselves fully accepted and given full access to the holy presence of God.

The lesson is obvious. Only with a background of perfect acceptance with the holy God and a rightful place with them that stand by Him (v.7), can we undertake the service of the house of God. The practical aspect of this truth must be noticed. The Lord did not only answer the Accuser with words -- He answered with deeds. Those who enjoy the good of that answer are reminded that justification and sanctification must be evidenced by their deeds too; hence the Lord's injunction to Joshua to walk in His ways and keep His charges if he were to have responsibility in His house.

Still this is only the first of the two related visions. Status before God is a priority, but it is not all. The servants of the Lord who have a personal experience of the cross must also know the power of God's Spirit. Zechariah, therefore, had to be woken out of his complacent slumber and interrogated concerning a further vision -- the fifth -- which this time applied particularly to the other leader, Zerubbabel.

5th VISION. [Zechariah] 4:1-14

"My Spirit abides among you; fear ye not" (Haggai 2:5).

As we have noted, this vision is really a continuation and counterpart of the previous one. Chapter 3 provided a message especially for Joshua, the high priest, and now chapter 4 is directed to Zerubbabel, the ruler. The first message answered the problem of the people's standing before God, and it did so in terms of cleansing and clothing; the second deals with the problem of their lack of adequate resources, the answer being given in the well-known words: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (v.6). Both visions emphasise grace, and in this chapter the prophecy is made that when the final headstone is placed in position, the universal cries of joy will focus on the fact that it has been all of grace (v.7).

Chapter 3 left us with that glow of pure joy which comes to those who realise anew the [39/40] miracle of redeeming grace. Here are we, in ourselves totally unsuitable for God's presence, so completely purified and sanctified that we have free access to the very throne or His holiness. We can never cease praising the Lord for His wonderful grace. This, however, is only half of the story. Neither Zechariah nor we must go off into a beautiful sleep of satisfaction because we are reconciled to God, without asking ourselves what is His objective in so blessing us. For this reason the angel came again to Zechariah to wake him up to that objective and to reassure him that the Lord of hosts -- the all-sufficient Provider -- offers resources of power for the task in hand. That task was, and still is, the building of the house of God.

The fact that the vision was of a lampstand perhaps stressed the testimony aspect of the Church -- "Ye are the light of the world" -- but the main thrust of the message was on the divine power of the Spirit and dealt not so much with the golden lamps, the golden bowl and the golden spouts as with the golden oil (v.12). Everything depends on the flow of the power of God. The whole vision is so rich in symbolism that it deserves a more detailed consideration than I can provide. As a part of our study of the ministry of the two prophets, however, there are a few points which may helpfully be noted:

1. The balance between communion and activity

Just as the occasion demanded a joint prophetical ministry, so it also called for joint leadership in the work. Joshua illustrates for us the need for communion with God: Zerubbabel lays equal emphasis on working for God. Wake up, redeemed and rejoicing people! Wake up to realise that worship also means work! "They shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel, even these seven, which are the eyes of the Lord; they run to and fro through the whole earth" (v.10). There is some question as to who are those who rejoice. Were they those who were mourning at the day of small things? If so, then let them rejoice to find their leader getting on with the job. Or were they, as I believe, the seven eyes of the Spirit? Then what a commentary on the importance of the enterprise, that the Spirit who has the whole world in view should focus with such pleasure on this one building! It seems that the cause of the Spirit's joy was that Zerubbabel was actually on the job, holding up the plumbline in his hands. No doubt it was good when the planner's hands were busy on the drawing board, preparing the plans for what was to be built, but how much better to see Zerubbabel there on site, with his hands holding up the plumbline. There are too many drawing board Christians and not enough committed workers actually taking up the plumbline. Committees may be necessary; but God's servants are to do more than discuss and plan, they are to work. And let us note that such activity involves not deciding what is wrong, but rather using the instrument for positive building, to ensure that they are working according to the plummet of God's revealed will. Was this not the appeal of Haggai to all and sundry, including the leader Zerubbabel: "Be strong ... and work"?

The New Testament fulfilment of these activities in building work points to the fact that both Joshua and Zerubbabel are types of Christ, "the priest upon his throne" (6:13). Yet while the Lord Jesus claimed that it would be He Himself who would built his church (Matthew 16:18), there is a sense, and a very real sense, in which all God's people are charged with the task of spiritual building. That was no time for the saints to be complacently musing about the marvel of their being brands plucked out of the burning while ignoring the purpose of God in so delivering them, and the same is true of us today.

(To be continued) [40/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


"(Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to enquire of God,
thus he said, Come, and let us go to the seer, for he that
is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.
1 Samuel 9:9

THE man who would speak for God must first have insight concerning His will. The prophet must first be a seer.

FROM his earliest days Samuel was noted for his messages: "The Lord was with him and did let none of his words fall to the ground" (1 Samuel 3:19). Later, however, he became even more famous for his work as an intercessor, as is revealed by 1 Samuel 12:23 and by the allusions to him in Psalm 99:6 and Jeremiah 15:1.

THE prophet must first be a seer. The one whose words both to man and to God are to be effective, must seek to become a person of spiritual discernment. Such discernment is an essentially spiritual capacity; it is not a natural faculty and it cannot be learned in any school. It can only be acquired and maintained by a close walk with God.

FOR Samuel this was a costly experience. He felt that the people had spurned him when they asked for a king so that it must have gone very much against the grain for him to receive his instructions concerning Saul. Nevertheless he set aside his own sense of hurt and obeyed those instructions in a kindly way.

IMAGINE his further pain when he was given divine insight into the unsatisfactory man whom he had anointed and he had the unpleasant task first of rebuking Saul and then of disowning him. There followed a period of deep depression from which he had to be aroused when he was sent to Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16:1).

ALTHOUGH the scene at the home of Jesse makes pleasant reading for us, it involved a strange experience for the Seer. He felt confident that his ideas in choosing the new king were correct, prefacing his thoughts concerning Eliab with the word "Surely" (16:6), only to find that this and further ideas were turned down by the Lord. He -- an experienced and mature prophet -- had to be corrected by the Lord with the reminder that "The Lord seeth not as man seeth, for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (16:7).

HAPPILY Samuel was humble enough to receive this correction and to realise that even a Seer like him had no innate capacity for discernment. He waited for David, and in due course found that he was given the divine direction which he needed. His humility saved him from a mistaken choice.

TO be a seer, one must walk humbly with one's God. Probably humility is the prime requirement for spiritual discernment, the discernment without which no prophet can function effectively.


[Back cover]

Ephesians 4:3

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