"... 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. 3, May - June 1984 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Further Studies From Mark's Gospel (1) 41
Mark's Failure And Fulfilment 45
The Divine Objective (3) 47
The Life Of Faith [Hebrews] (9) 51
Great Is The Mystery 53
Abiding Spiritual Principles (5) 56
Jesus Our Joy 60
Old Testament Parentheses (9) ibc



J. Alec Motyer

1. Mark 7:24 to 8:21

WE start with a great turning point in the ministry of the Lord Jesus as Mark has set it before us for we reach a point where the Lord leaps over the wall and brings His message and His ministry out among the Gentiles.

In his Gospel John truly says that if all the things that Jesus did and said were to be written down, the world would not contain the books that could be written. This makes it clear that the four Gospels which we are privileged to have are very selective. Out of that world-filling mass of material about the Lord Jesus which could have been set before us, each of the Gospel writers said, "Now, I am going to take this and this and this, but not that and that and that, because I want you to see the glory of Jesus in a particular way."

So they made a selection, a deliberate selection under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and put it together in such a way that as we stand with Matthew, we see the glory of Jesus in one aspect, and as we stand with Luke we see Jesus from another side and as we stand with John, we see Jesus through John's eyes. In our case we have chosen Mark, so we are privileged to see Mark's carefully chosen portrait of the Lord.

The Spirit of God takes and possesses the special faculties He had given to Mark and, through those special faculties, He creates this matchless portrait of Jesus. We observe this example of selective writing if we compare Matthew's account of an incident which Mark describes in ways calculated to sharpen our awareness of the portrait of Jesus in his own colours. Matthew records that "Jesus came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and he went up into the mountain, and sat there. And there came unto him great multitudes ..." (Matthew 15:29-30). What abundance of material could have been taken from the many in that great multitude who were healed by the Lord but, out of that abundance, Mark takes just one person: "He came unto the sea of Galilee ... and they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech" (Mark 7:32). Just one man! This is the lovely selection made by Mark. There were many, many others whom Jesus healed but it is as if Mark says. "You will see Jesus through my eyes if you consider this one man."

The Comprehensive Power of the Lord

Our present passage deals with three of these carefully selected stories, and they come before us in the first place to stress the matter of the comprehensive power of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God. There are twin thoughts which emerge from them concerning this comprehensive power. They are that:

1. He is never at a loss. They never present Him with a situation which He needs to stop and think about. To use John's words, He knows what He is going to do.

2. His actions never fall short of full accomplishment. He never half does or three-quarters does the work, then having to say, "Come back tomorrow and I will finish what needs to be done." His was a complete and comprehensive meeting of every need presented to Him.

In the first story, we see how He meets the need of a parent and a child. "Straightway a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit ..." (v.25). The power of the Lord Jesus covers the need of both parent and child. In the second story, we see how His power covers the need of the individual: "They bring unto him one that was deaf ..." (v.32). Alongside of this, and in contrast with it, we have the third story which tells how His power covered the need of a great multitude: "There was a great multitude, and they had nothing to eat" (8:1). The power of the Lord was equally sufficient to meet the crowd's need or the need of the individual. It was all the same to Him.

Consider the realms of the need. The first was in the spiritual realm: "She besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter." The New Testament and the Lord Jesus take this question of demon possession very seriously and as a grim reality. Here the Lord was faced with the spiritual powers of darkness and yet, as we would say, "without lifting a finger", He showed [41/42] His competence to deal with such spiritual need. The next story (from 7:31-37), the need is quite different; it is in the physical realm in the matter of bodily healing. In the opening of chapter 8 the need is in the realm of bodily hunger and sustenance. There is, however, a contrast in these two. In the first, the bodily need is outstanding and remarkable, for the man had a complete physical ailment, whereas in the second case it is quite an ordinary matter and the common need of being hungry. In this way we see how little by little there is being built up the justification of the statement that these stories are about the comprehensive power of the Lord Jesus, as He meets every situation and every person, never baffled and never stopping short of accomplishment.

In the first story we are told of His power to overcome. The enemy of souls will not give up his grip on any part of his empire, even if it be just one small and otherwise unknown girl. Yet the Lord defeated him without needing to make a sign or even go to see her; He did not say a word, but just exercised His thoughts, and showed that He had power over all the power of the enemy. In the second case He dealt with a man whose ordinary human faculties had gone to rack and ruin, but the Lord Jesus had power to restore. In the third of the stories, the Lord was faced with the quite ordinary matter of daily food, and showed His power to create what had not been there before.

As we go back through these stories yet once more, we see that what is underlined in each case is completeness. When the Lord sets His hand to a thing, He finishes it: "She went away to her house and found the child laid upon the bed, and the demon gone" (7:30); "His ears were opened and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak plainly" (7:35); "And they did eat and were filled" (8:8). No-one could eat another piece. I found a note, but have no means of checking it, which says that in an early English translation by William Tyndale, he says: "They ate and they were fulfilled." Isn't that lovely! When the Lord Jesus set His hand to a work, He did it perfectly.

How the Power Operates

Having seen that the power of the Lord Jesus is so comprehensive that it is never baffled and never stops short of perfect fulfilment, we can begin to discover something about how His power operates.

1. It operates in response to believing prayer

This is found in the first story. In it there are one or two surprising details of which we must take note. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race and yet "she asked him". The word is not strong enough to justify the "besought" which is in some translation, for it is a simple word which just implies that she asked. Then He said to her, "Let the children first be filled, for it is not fair to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs", only to receive her reply, "Yes, Lord. I agree. That is true, but it is equally true that the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." To this the Lord responded, "For this saying, go thy way; the demon is gone out of thy daughter" and -- marvel of marvels -- she went away (v.30).

She required nothing more than that Jesus had said so. Surely the key to this story is that the power of the Lord Jesus is given in answer to believing prayer. The Jesus of the Gospels constantly takes us by surprise. Who would have believed that the Lord Jesus could have been so seemingly rude and abrupt to a needy mother? How could He so treat a person in need? Possibly because He wanted to bring this needy soul to a better position than she yet knew, so that she no longer came to Him as a mere wonder-worker but rather cast herself upon Him in an exercise of personal faith and believing prayer. So He tested her out to know how real she was.

In Matthew's Gospel this element is even plainer than Mark makes it, for there she is described as appealing to the Lord Jesus as the Son of David, a title which she, as a Syrophoenician, did not have a right then to employ. The Lord Jesus wants to cut through what might have been loosely used words and idly employed titles, so that as a needy soul she might come face to face with Himself in a personal relationship. So He faces her with this stark reality that, as things stood, He was the Messiah among the Jews, and she was out among the dogs. But how graciously He left the door swinging. His words were, "Let the children first be filled." First implies a possible second. It was as though He asks if she is willing to take a proper place before Him, in the light of "to the Jew first, also to the Gentile". What is more, the word He used described the pet dogs. "It is not fair to take the children's bread and cast it to the pets" -- not the wild dogs outside the city, but the house dogs who are pets. Such dogs have a right to share whatever is going in the family. [42/43]

With promptitude, the woman is willing to take a lowly place, but this is still within the family that Jesus cares for: "the pets under the table enjoy the crumbs which fall from the children." It was this saying which decided the issue with the Lord Jesus. Now she knew that nobody but Jesus could meet her need, and realised that there was a willingness to do so in His heart if only she would come to Him on the terms which He proposed, she had the true knowledge that lies at the heart of true faith. She thought, "I cannot, but He can", with the confidence that lies at the heart of true faith. What is more, she gave the obedience which is the mark of true faith for, when the Lord told her to go her way, she did so and, as her faith in the Lord Jesus expressed itself in this way, the power flowed out.

2. It operates through His gentleness

In this second story we come to a very different thing. All the abruptness which was so surprising in the first story is quite absent from this one. This is full of gentle sensitivity. The healing is unusually full of references to the way in which Jesus went about His miracle. He was aware of the frightening world in which the deaf live. For a totally deaf person the world is full of circumstances which lack explanations. Where are they taking me? Can you imagine his problem? "They bring to him one that was deaf." He must have been wondering where they were taking him, who were all those crowds of people and why were they so excited. What was going to happen to him? Notice what Jesus did: "He took him aside" (v.33). It was all so gentle and understanding to take him away from those baffling circumstances and from all those excited but inexplicable faces and, above all, from that sudden crash of noise that would be too much for the newly awakened ears.

But more than that; He took him away in order to establish a personal relationship between the needy person and the great Saviour. There was nothing remote about it but a "me and Him" relationship. And then, in the middle of the healing, it says that "looking up to heaven, he groaned". In that I find the gentleness and sensitivity of the Lord Jesus. You may remember that He also groaned on the way to the tomb of Lazarus. The Gospels do not explain this groaning to us and it is therefore perhaps venturesome to try to explain it, but I think that He groaned because He entered so deeply into the afflictions that afflict us. I find that marvellous. The groaning of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus is all of a piece with His tears there. Why should He weep at the tomb when He is about to raise the dead? Why waste tears? The cause for tears will soon be gone; why groan over a situation when you are about to mend it? Surely the answer is that it shows that the heart of the Son of God is right where we are. "In every pang that rends the heart, the Son of Mary has a part." He groans because He knows what it is to be like us. Before He lifts our burden He gets in under it with us, and He shares His groans with our groans, feeling upon Himself the weight of our burdens.

Towards this deaf man He begins to act as one would towards one without hearing, that is, with visual aids. The man cannot hear, but he can see. "He took him aside from the multitude privately, and put his fingers in his ears and spat and touched his tongue, and looking up to heaven ...". Can you imagine a deaf man seeing all this and entering into it? His fingers went out and touched his ears. Commentators say that in the medical thought of the day, the saliva of particularly powerful people was thought to have power. It is certainly true that as a matter of fact the Lord Jesus did use His saliva in one or two of His healing miracles, not that He is entering into the medical superstition of His day, but that He may have used it to put it beyond doubt that He Himself is the source of healing power.

And so, having shown His fingers and touched the man's ears, He establishes this further link of something proceeding out from Him to the deaf man. And the man is all eyes! He has to be so for he has no other link as he watches this marvellous Jesus. And so the Saviour and the needy one are bound together -- they are as one. So the man's ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak plainly. So if we describe the power of Jesus in the first story as being in response to believing prayer, we cannot do better than say that in this case it was power working through gentleness. I love that! Oh, the gentleness of Jesus. I know that people make a mock of our children's hymn about "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild ...", but thank God it is true. It is through that gentleness that the power of Jesus reaches us.

3. It operates as the outpouring of compassion

"In those days when there was again a great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, he called [43/44] to him his disciples and said to them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat" (8:1-2). This is different from the story of the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44). There the disciples asked that a halt should be called to the proceedings since they felt that time was getting on and something must be done for the great crowd. On this occasion it was not the disciples intervening into the teaching and caring ministry of Jesus, but the Lord Himself who takes the matter in hand. Note that the key-note of the story is the outpouring of compassion. He said, "I have compassion ...".

Jesus is fully aware of the circumstances of the people. There is a little touch here and there to show that all the time they have been with Him, He had been out and about amongst them. He had been saying to them, "And where have you come from? Isn't that a long distance away?" and so on. He had been looking at their lunch-packets and realised that now all was exhausted. "If I send them away fasting to their homes, they will faint in the way." He was thoughtful for them. It was not that they complained that they would faint in the way, but rather that Jesus had spontaneously stored up in His mind that they would have needs and for the only time in the Gospels expressed the fact of His compassion. The compassion of Jesus is not of course unique to this story, but on every other occasion when His compassion is mentioned, it was something that was observed by others. This story, though, gives us a self-opening of the heart of Jesus: He lets us see Himself on the inside. The compassion which others saw is not just a flickering and passing emotion but that which resides in His inner heart.

In both the feeding miracles, the five thousand in chapter 6 and the four thousand here, the emphasis is on the abundance and sufficiency of the supply. I think that it is worth pointing out that in both stories, the pieces that were picked up are not the pieces dropped by the crowd. It was not that the Lord was encouraging His disciples to have a saving mentality and not waste good food, though doubtless He would have approved of that. The broken pieces refer not to the rather revolting idea that the disciples went round picking up odd pieces which the crowd has discarded, but are the over-plus lying in front of the Son of God when no-one could eat more. Christ is not niggardly in His provision: He breaks bread and He breaks bread and they continue to come back and fill containers until they have to report that nobody can eat another bite, only to find that there is still broken bread lying in front of Jesus.

In the feeding of the five thousand, they took up twelve lunchboxes. In other words, Jesus fed five thousand and twelve people; He fed the crowd and then He fed His helpers. That is the message -- so little became enough for all. In this case, though, the word used is "hampers". The same word is used to describe how Paul was "let down over the wall in a basket" (Acts 9:25). It was the size of a laundry basket in which a man could sit to be lowered over a wall. Jesus here was among Gentiles; He uses what is apparently a Gentile word and it brings a Gentile thought, "seven hampers". So this time the message is, so little became such an abundance. It was a miracle of multiplication to match the abundant compassion of the Lord Jesus.

Power of the Universal Lord

It is time now to step back and look where these three stories have their setting in the Gospel of Mark. In the beginning of chapter 7, the Lord Jesus has been talking to the Pharisees about the distinction of that which is clean and that which is unclean: "They came to him and said, Your disciples eat with unwashen hands", focusing attention, as they always did, upon that which was outward. The Lord Jesus replied that this sort of outward consideration is not the basis upon which you decide cleanness and uncleanness. In order, then, that His actions may be as good as His words, when He has concluded the discussion about cleanness and uncleanness, He steps outside the borders of the Promised Land, in order to show that in that matter also, the outward distinction made between the clean and the unclean is not a valid distinction. The people there who would be considered pharisaically as being on the outside and unclean, are equally the recipients of the ministry of the Lord. His power was available to them in all its completeness and sufficiency, so He leaps over the wall to where they are. His power is the power of the universal Lord. He comes as the Messiah amongst His Gentile people, and there He spreads His banquet. This corresponds to the marvellous vision of Isaiah and begins to have its first realisation: "In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things ..." (Isaiah 25:6). [44/45]

We now look at the Scriptures which follow our passage: "The Pharisees came forth and began to question him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, putting him to the test" (8:11). Whatever more do they want? What a mysterious thing unbelief is! After all that they had seen Jesus do and all that they had heard of His doings, they still ask for a sign from heaven. But how much more mysterious unbelief is when it is found among the Lord's own people: "They forgot to take bread, and they had not in the boat with them more than one loaf. And Jesus charged them, saying, Take heed: beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." Yet they started reasoning about their lack of bread and they rightly came under a touch of divine exasperation. "The Lord Jesus, perceiving it, said to them, Why reason ye because you have no bread? Do you not perceive? Do you not understand? Have you your heart hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? Do you not remember ...? When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces took ye up? ... When the seven among the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces took ye up? Do ye not yet understand?" (8:19-21). With Him there is always abundance. Unbelief is always mysterious, but it is tragically so when it is found among the people of God.

This brings me to a point about the miracles of Jesus. I think that it is right to put over every one of these miracles the little saying, "I will do it this once so that you can see that I am able to do it, but after that you must learn to trust Me. You must remember and then just trust." The Lord loves to be trusted: He loves a believing people. With all the variety of our needs there is a Lord of comprehensive power. What are we to do? Just trust Him.

(To be continued)


David Godfrey

"Paul thought it not good to take with them him who withdrew from them
... and went not with them to the work.
" Acts 15:38

MARK'S position was a sad one, for it caused a sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas so that "they parted asunder, one from another" (Acts 15:39). Barnabas said that they should take Mark with them on their Second Missionary Journey, while Paul said that they should not do so. There were two sides to this contention, but it is generally agreed that probably both were right and both were wrong. The positive value which we do well to note is that the result of this quarrel was that two missionary expeditions set out instead of only one. So it is that our wonderful Lord overrules human failures and affairs.

If the dissension and dispute were to end at this point, leaving history to record that these two great men were never reconciled, it would be a sad day for the Church. Happily we can know more about the matter by considering the story of John Mark, a story of both failure and fulfilment.

WE begin at Acts 12 where we read of Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison. He himself was amazed by it all, but when he considered what had happened, he hurried at once to the house of Mary, who was John Mark's mother. Evidently the home was a centre for the gathering of the early Jerusalem church, and indeed may well have been the same house whose Upper Room was used by the Lord Jesus on the eve of the crucifixion. It might have been Mark himself who was the young man described in his Gospel (Mark 14:51-52). We have no proof of this, but we do know that Mark grew up in a Christian home and may even have been led to Christ by the apostle Peter.

What a night of excitement it must have been in that house, with such earnest and concentrated prayer and then such an outstanding answer! This is our first introduction to the name of John Mark and a very striking one it is. He may possibly [45/46] have met Paul and Barnabas when the latter first befriended Paul in Jerusalem, but at any rate he met them now, for they were in Jerusalem at that time (Acts 11:30 and 12:25). This was indeed a momentous period in the young man's life. Here he was, involved in a miraculous answer to prayer and caught up in a wave of great thanksgiving to God. No doubt he must have listened to the thrilling conversation of the two great apostles. With what bated breath he must have heard their stories and perhaps even discussions as to their future plans. Doubtless he was fired with a desire to do that kind of thing himself and to be involved in that kind of exciting activity, feeling restive at the idea of staying there at home and longing to get out where it all seemed to be happening. What a joy, then, to be able to pack his bags and go off to be a "full-time worker"! And we can imagine with what envy his Christian friends saw him off and how proud his mother must have been as her son set out to win people in the dark places of the earth for Christ.

It is most important for modern Christians to be careful about impulsive movements, made in moments of enthusiasm. The servant of the Lord must never be governed by what sounds romantic, abandoning the humdrum of his ordinary life for imagined fulfilment in distant lands. If such actions spring from romantic enthusiasm they may find not fulfilment but failure, as John Mark certainly did. By all means let me encourage you to venture out on the Lord when He so calls, but do make sure that your movement is in response to the Spirit's call and not to a romantic impulse. There in Antioch, the final plans were made and the church had a wonderful Valedictory Service. Mark was off. But alas, it did not last for long and soon enough, Mark was back again with his mother in Jerusalem.

I MUST not stress the fact that there is no mention of the Spirit's leading Mark, but it is a fact that in the church at Antioch the Holy Spirit said: "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:2), whereas no mention was made of John Mark. What we are entitled to do is to ask why the young man returned home before they had gone very far on their journey.

Was he, perhaps, an only son of a widowed mother who had spoiled him a bit, so that now he was homesick? Was it that although he had gone with visions of himself as a preacher, he had to spend his time looking after the two leaders? Or was it fundamentally because the operation resembled what has been described as trying to put a square peg into a round hole?

Whatever it was, everything came to a head at Perga (Acts 13:13) with the outcome that this young man who had gone forth from home and friends with such high hopes, now returned a defeated failure. And what is more, he is the prototype of so many others who have sincerely left their normal life to go out to what may be called "the work", only to succumb to discouragement and obvious failure.

But was it failure? At that period Paul was inclined so to regard it, but later he was man of God enough to realise that the overruling power of grace had turned that failure into fulfilment. How did it all happen?

FOR my part, I wonder whether Peter had a part in Mark's recovery. Who better than he, who knew what it was to break down under testing, to extend a loving hand to help the "failed missionary" and see the round peg put into the round hole? I can imagine him putting a fatherly arm around the crestfallen Mark and reminding him that it is not for us or any other person to choose our spiritual gifts. Only the Holy Spirit Himself can do that.

Perhaps Mark was never meant to be a preacher. There are those who volunteer and strive to be such when they have other gifts, and who therefore only find frustration. Perhaps Peter was able to say to Mark: "My son, your real gift is with your pen. Be content with that. Take it up and listen to me so that you can have the great privilege of being the first to give an account of the ministry of Jesus here on earth. Under the Holy Spirit's guidance, you and I can record that story in a way that will glorify our lovely Saviour and bring His love and life to multitudes. Together we will write 'The Gospel according to Mark'." This is nowhere stated. It is in fact a bit of imagination on my part. It is certain, though, that all can trace the influence of Peter in Mark's Gospel. So the round peg now fitted perfectly into the round hole. [46/47]

Mark had found God's niche for him but -- as is often the case -- he found fulfilment by way of failure and frustration. We shall never know how hard he had to work and to persevere to live down his past, but he did so and ultimately triumphed, this triumph being generously recognised and appreciated by Paul himself who valued his fellowship and asked for his help (Colossians 4:10 and 2 Timothy 4:11). And it was to Mark's eternal credit that he responded so readily to this new relationship with Paul. He could easily have responded, "No way! You didn't want me before, so why should I want you now?" Happily any old grievances were buried at the cross -- which is where all grievances should be buried.

This story of Mark may bring some comfort to a reader who is smarting under a sense of failure or rejection. I would urge you to take courage, for God has a way of taking up and using such experiences to lead us into what He always had in mind for us in terms of fulfilment. If Mark had been wholly taken up with work as a successful preacher, how much poorer the whole world would have been if it had never had his Gospel.



Harry Foster


WE have been considering Zechariah's fifth vision as described in chapter 4 of his prophecies. In our last article we dealt with the balance between communion and activity. The next point is:

2. The need not to be dishearted by seeming smallness and weakness

In the light of the vision of the lampstand the word of the Lord came to the prophet, asking "Who hath despised the day of small things?" (v.10). I don't know how Zechariah might have answered that question but I know that, if we are honest, most of us will have to do so by admitting that this is just what we tend to do. We are prone to measure spiritual work by its size; to be happy about magnitude and despondent about littleness. These are the world's standards. Had Zerubbabel been governed by them he might well have given up in despair. "If only I had an army of powerful helpers", he might have complained and reasoned, but God's answer was: "This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel saying, Not by an army, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts ...".

It was important that God's servant should not lose heart. If the Holy Spirit was in charge, then there could be no fear of failure. It was the Spirit who had enabled Zerubbabel's hands to lay the foundation stone, and it was He who now guaranteed that it would be by those very same hands that the work would be completed (v.9). Despising the day of small things can so easily make us fail to carry through to completion the work which we commenced with great enthusiasm; hence the importance of this vision to us all.

Zechariah had to confess that he was ignorant of the meaning of this amazing vision of a golden lampstand, fed and sustained by direct supply from God's olive trees, and he received a partial answer to his question with the reminder that once God's people are cleansed and clothed, they need to know the constant flow of His Spirit as enablement for service in His House. They were unfit in themselves, but they have been made suitable by redeeming grace; they realise that they are feeble in themselves, but that same grace makes full provision of the needed strength for testimony and service. Zechariah still had a question to ask, as we shall see, but for the moment this was God's reply, namely, that those who are wholly committed to His service will find that from His side there will never be any diminishing of the flow of the Spirit's fullness.

3. The significance of the work of intercession

The prominent feature of this chapter is the Holy Spirit. If the seven eyes are the Spirit of God "sent forth into all the earth" (Revelation 5:6), then the implication of this vision is that, [47/48] amid all His worldwide concern and activities, the supreme purpose of the Holy Spirit is the building of God's House (v.10). This explains why these last books of the Old Testament concentrate on the events of this period. The actual edifice was small, but its spiritual significance was divinely great. The God who declared Himself jealous for Jerusalem (Zechariah 1:14) is supremely jealous for the Church of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2) and it is His Spirit who is available in living fullness for this great task.

Zechariah, however, seems not to have felt that he had been given the full explanation, for he reiterated his original question of verse 4 and twice over asked the meaning of the olive trees (vv.11-12). Was he rather slow of apprehension, for the angel queried, "Knowest thou not what these things be?" Well, if he was, so are we. Whom did the olive trees represent?

Were they Haggai and himself? It is possible. Were they Joshua and Zerubbabel? Perhaps in a sense they were for surely the phrase "that stand by the Lord of the whole earth" (v.14) is complementary to a similar phrase "a place of access among them that stand by" in 3:7. Without needing to identify the two trees, may I suggest that they are explained by what the Lord Jesus indicated when He spoke of two or three "gathered together" in His name (Matthew 18:20)? In other words, they trace the explanation of the flow of oil for service back to the intercessory work of men in touch with the throne. What better example can we find of those whom the psalmist describes in the words: "They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and green" (Psalm 92:13-14)? Those of us who are engaged in active service for God in a public way, know something of how much we owe to interceding saints -- some of them old in years but mighty in prayer. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of intercessory prayer: it releases the "golden oil" for the lamp of testimony.

*    *    *

One wonders how Zerubbabel reacted when he compared this vision-message of Zechariah with his own experience. How could he possibly equate his faulty enterprise in the Jerusalem of his day with the pure gold ideal of this lamp? What Zechariah passed on to him was the divine pattern of a testimony all of gold; not only was the oil golden but so also were the lamps, the bowl and the pipes. Could his humble Temple be so described?

Can our church be like that? Can the prophetic ideal be demonstrated in modem terms? I must confess that in my earlier days I thought that my church could be like that. Not that it was -- far from it -- but that it ought to be and could be. I still dare not reject the ideal and do not regret my idealism, but through the years I have suffered many disappointments as I have failed to see such an ideal church in practical expression. Surely it is right for us to cherish this vision of a local fellowship wholly of God and maintained constantly by the uninterrupted flow of the Spirit's power. Surely it is our business to keep this ideal ever in view, in our preaching and in our praying -- especially in our praying. God knows that we come far short of the ideal and that our local fellowship is by no means "all of God" or a perfect expression of Christ corporate. As I pray, however, both for the Church as a whole and for my own assembly, my requests tend to be that there shall be a minimum of man's handling of affairs and a maximum of the work of the Holy Spirit, so that there may be a constant move towards the ideal, even though we have to wait for our greater Zerubbabel to complete the work.

The promise that He will do so is implicit in this message, for Zechariah was told that the one who laid the foundation stone would also bring forth the headstone with shoutings of "Grace, grace, unto it" (v.7). But we must keep on praying!

6th VISION. Zechariah 5:1-4

"I smote you with blasting" (Haggai 2:17)

The next two visions also form a pair and they show God at work in dealing with impurity among His chosen people. Taken together they seem to be an elaboration of God's former promise to remove the iniquity of the land (2:9). This vision of the Flying Roll is not easy of interpretation, and yet its main lesson seems clear enough. As we remarked in the previous chapter, God's people in their actual state come far short of the divine ideal for them. As a whole the people had responded wholeheartedly to Haggai's call to repentance, so that the work was greatly prospering. Everybody would know, though, that there were [48/49] exceptions and that there must be hidden defilements in some of the hearts and homes of those involved. What could be done about this? Did it matter so much?

As if to emphasise the importance with which God viewed this matter, Zechariah was shown an enormous document of denunciation, flying through the air and penetrating to the deepest recesses of hidden guilt in order to execute the judgments of God. The word "roll" may be confusing, for the document is described in two dimensions and they are great ones.

As to the defiling element, it has always been present among God's people. Jesus had Judas among the Twelve, Jerusalem had Ananias and Sapphira among its saints in that city, and there was Simon in Samaria. The penetrating gaze of the risen Christ found unholiness frequent enough in most of the churches of Asia (Revelation 2 and 3). This is always a menace to God's work and sometimes only He can deal with it. If it had been open and obvious, then the leaders would have responsibility to put it away, but since in this case it was hidden in men's hearts and homes, what could Zerubbabel do?

The vision seems to declare that once the Lord was being honoured and obeyed by His church, He Himself would undertake to deal with this matter. The very size of the Roll showed that it involved superhuman intervention and this was what would be provided: "I will cause it to go forth", the Lord affirmed (v.4). He alone can seek out and deal with hidden defilement.

May I suggest that for us the lesson is that if we seek to dwell together in true devotion to Christ, God Himself will seek out and deal with any hidden and perhaps unsuspected defilement in us or among us. That seems to have been what happened in New Testament days (1 Corinthians 11:30-32). If only there is vitality and purity in our fellowship, the Spirit will convict of any hidden defilement and judge it.

7th VISION. Zechariah 5:5-11

"The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts " (Haggai 2:8)

In some ways this vision may seem even more mysterious than the previous one, though it clearly relates to the same matter of defilement: "This is Wickedness" (v.8).

A few points are clear. First, the issue is general rather than individual. Secondly, that the ephah with its wicked occupant really belongs to Shinar, which is Babylon, where it eventually finds its true home. Just as Egypt was still in the hearts of the delivered Israelites in the wilderness, so Babylon seems to have had a place among the restored remnant in Jerusalem.

The symbolism seems to refer to a commercial spirit. Although I am in no position to prove it, I have been told that some such symbols here used, such as weights and measures, a woman and storks have almost always been incorporated into emblems used by institutions of trade or commerce. If this is what was at issue, then we can compare this with Christ's action in cleansing the Temple, which had become a "house of merchandise" (John 2:16). The vision may perhaps give us some idea of God's purpose to remove from His own House and people that false god of personal gain which is worshipped in the Babylon of this world from which redemption has delivered us. This image can be "set on its base" there, for that is where it rightly belongs, but it should have no place in the House of God.

Was this what Haggai meant when he reported the Lord of hosts as saying, "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine"? We have often taken this as a kind of reminder that the Lord will provide for us and His work, but in the context this hardly seems to be what the prophet was declaring. Was it not rather that the Church is no place for self-interest or worldly standards and values? Let them bear away the ephah to where it rightly belongs and "she shall be set there in her own place", but let her have no place among God's people. Whether in days of poverty and stringency which some of us have known when we had to count every penny, or in times of relative affluence when we grow older and what we call "more comfortably off", there is always a danger that the things of this life, or the lack of them, will occupy our attention more than they should. This should not be true of those who are builders in the House of God.

In all of these visions there have been personal messages of help and comfort. If we look for such in these two, may it be that when there are impurities in my life or if -- all unintentionally -- worldly values still affect me harmfully, then the Lord undertakes to cleanse and deliver me as I press on loyally to serve and honour Him in His [49/50] House. My business is to be true to Him: His promise is to proceed with His work of sanctifying me as I do so.

8th VISION. Zechariah 6:1-15

"The desire of all nations shall come" (Haggai 2:7)

So often in Scripture, completeness is represented by the number seven. At times, though, there is an eighth element which may begin again the sequence of the seven. In this case the vision has features about it which are associated with the first, as we might expect; although in this case there are chariots rather than four horsemen. I do not propose to dwell on these emissaries and frankly confess that I am unsure of their significance. I note, however, that the vision was followed by a full presentation of the Man whose name is the Branch, who had already been referred to in the fourth vision. We will therefore find spiritual profit in passing straight on to the scene of the crowning ceremony.

Both of the two prophets reached the climax of their ministry by passing beyond the house to its coming Ruler. Haggai concluded his prophecies by singling out Zerubbabel as the type of this Ruler: "I will make thee as a signet; for I have chosen thee" (Haggai 2:23), while Zechariah focused on Joshua: "He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne" (Zechariah 6:13). Sir George Adam Smith tells us that "the original text assigned the crown to Zerubbabel, the civil head of the community, and gave Joshua, the high priest, a place at his right hand -- the two to act in perfect concord with each other". Whether this is so or not, there can be no doubt that at this point the two types converge and find their ultimate fulfilment in the One who is our divine Melchizedek. It is Christ who is our crowned High Priest; we look forward to seeing Him when the full outworking of this message is realised historically and the Lord Jesus returns in glory, crowned with many crowns.

But we do not have to wait. Already He is so enthroned. From this throne He exercises His priestly ministry and in this dispensation we witness the fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy: "They that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord" (6:15). It is not just that people will come from afar to worship in the Temple. That would be most gratifying to Zechariah but might not surprise him. What must have staggered his imagination was the promise of strangers coming from afar actually to participate in the work of building: "they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord." With our New Testaments in our hands we can explain the phenomenon, for in this gospel age men and women are coming from every nation, fully involved in this supreme objective of God in Christ. All this is true today.

By all means let us look on to the great Day of Christ's Appearance in glory, but let us not miss the thrill and the power of the fact that already our ascended Lord is "a priest upon his throne". So much of the Letter to the Hebrews is devoted to this great truth. Salvation to the uttermost, the total fulfilment of God's redemptive plan for His Church, is guaranteed by the unflagging intercessory work of our crowned High Priest. Every exhortation in the Hebrew Letter -- to hold fast, to go on, to practise loving unity in Christ -- is based on the fact that Jesus is not only our sufficient Sacrifice but also our reigning Lord.

*    *    *

The prophecy that people would come from afar to share in the building of the Temple may seem to be a direct contradiction of the exclusive actions in Zechariah's day when every effort of the Samaritans to be allowed to participate in the work was brusquely rejected (Ezra 4:3). If Zerubbabel's exclusiveness, and that of Ezra and Nehemiah, was approved by God, then how could the same God give Zechariah this message of a day when people from far distances would have their part with God's people? Did the prophecy to Zechariah only refer to further Jews coming back from Babylon?

I think not. To my mind the explanation is clear enough. In those Old Testament days it was a matter of genealogy; none but the pure-born Israelites were acceptable to Ezra or Nehemiah. And it is still a matter of genealogy, though this time spiritual, for all members of the true Church have their personal names written in the Lamb's book of life (Revelation 20:15). The city to which we have come is that whose members are "the church of the firstborn ones whose names are enrolled in heaven" and whose whole position is determined by their relationship to the sprinkled blood of the new covenant (Hebrews 12:23). [50/51]

Through the preaching of the gospel, men and women are being gathered from all the lands to take their part in God's spiritual House, upheld and empowered by the ministry of the Lord Jesus who is the priest upon the throne. Surely this is the unity of the Spirit which we are all commanded to keep diligently. Any other exclusivism of spirit- - however logical it may seem -- is inadmissible. If our activities truly centre on the Lord Jesus as our King-Priest, then our hearts must be open to all who have the same objective. Zechariah finished his ministry of the eight visions with the injunction: "And this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God" (6:15). So let us be strong, and work!



(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 9)

John H. Paterson

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the
existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith
that our ancestors were commended.
Hebrews 11:1-2 Jerusalem Bible

THE first ten chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews are largely taken up with a review of Old Testament worship of God. The emphasis of these chapters is on the relationship of God and man, and the part played by the Lord Jesus Christ in securing that relationship; indeed, in improving it -- in making it much closer and fuller than it had previously been.

Hebrews 11 is, at the simplest level, the counter-part of those first ten chapters since what it, in turn, deals with is the question: what is it like to be at the manward end of such a relationship? In Hebrews 1 - 10 the emphasis is firmly on the Lord Jesus and His qualities. Now in the eleventh and twelfth chapters the writer is concerned with the kind of qualities, and the kind of life, which the man of God is likely to need, or to develop, in sustaining a relationship with Him.

So, what does a man need to sustain a relationship with God? The writer has one general answer: faith! The circumstances in which it is needed may vary from person to person; that is what Hebrews 11 is about. But what is quite certain is that nobody can have a relationship with God without having faith. That is the one indispensable requirement!

You will recall from our previous study that the writer of this epistle was dealing, at the end of chapter 10, with the implicit objections of the Hebrew believers: "But we've become Christians and yet here we are, some time afterwards, with no visible blessings and no relief from our troubles, and we think the whole thing was a hoax. We're going back to the old religion."

"Don't do it!" argued the writer. "Faith and patience are what you need. And lest you should feel that this need for faith and patience is putting an unfair burden on you; lest you think that you have been singled out in some way to be the only people so burdened, let me remind you that, equally in that Old Testament religion that you profess to admire, faith has always been a prerequisite for access to God's favour. Nobody has ever pleased God without it!

But why faith? Faith and patience? The answer is really very simple: "The man who approaches God must have faith in two things, first that God exists and secondly that it is worth a man's while to try to find God" (Hebrews 11:6, Phillips). The need for faith and patience stems from two attributes of God: firstly, that He cannot be seen, and therefore we have to take His existence on trust; secondly, that He is eternal -- that is, outside our time concepts -- and therefore that we can never insist that He should meet us, or be found by us, or answer us, between today and tomorrow. How else could we expect to find an invisible, eternal God than by the [51/52] exercise of faith and patience -- faith to accept the existence of what we cannot see, and patience to go on looking for Him?

*    *    *

WHEN we turn to the nine or ten biographies which the writer has included in Hebrews 11 (not to mention the 'extras' in his cast, some of them referred to by name, and some described only by their achievements), we find that all of them are commended for faith and patience in some form -- or, to be exact, for overcoming by faith and patience the circumstances of life that make them necessary, the circumstances of invisibility and delay .

The writer's purpose in listing so many specific cases was, I think, twofold :

(1) He wanted to show that the very greatest of Old Testament characters, without exception, had experienced the need for faith and the test of delay. If Abraham, Joseph and Moses went through this, he seems to be saying, who are you and I to be claiming exemption?

(2) He wanted to forestall a possible objection from his readers, who might well argue, "Faith is all very well when you are encouraged by favourable circumstances and God is obviously with you. But the problems we are facing are much too big and too depressing for someone simply to come along and say to us, 'Just have faith! Just wait a bit and everything will be all right!'"

"You think you've got problems?" says the writer, "Problems as big as Abraham's, when he had God's unfulfilled promise of a son and heir at the age of ninety-nine? As big as Moses', when he was trying to get the Israelites to go where God told them, and the years were ticking by -- a hundred, a hundred and ten? You must be joking!"

NOTICE, then, if you will how, from the beginning of the chapter, Hebrews 11 stresses the sequence: belief first ... delay ... evidence afterwards. The writer starts, quite literally, from the beginning -- from the creation. We believe that God is the Creator of what we see -- that it did not come into being by chance. But how do we "understand" this (11:3)? We understand it by faith. We were not there, and we did not see it happen, but we do not find this an insuperable obstacle. We simply believe that God did it, and we feel that the evidence of our experience supports our belief, although evidence that would prove us right may never come to us during our lifetime. But all religions proceed on that basis, and in that confidence; there is no other way of dealing with the situation. Even people who do not believe in God have, if you like, to hold their position by an equal and opposite act of "faith". There is nothing unusual or exceptional about the need for faith here.

Then there was Abel, the first individual mentioned by the writer: "It was because of his faith that Abel made a better sacrifice than Cain, and he had evidence that God looked upon him as a righteous man, whose gift He could accept" (11:4, Phillips). Here is our sequence again: faith first, evidence afterwards. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, "What was it about Abel that could be called faith?" Surely, he was simply fortunate: both he and Cain brought gifts of what they worked with, the flocks and the crops, and it was God's unpredictable choice -- His caprice, if you like -- to approve Abel's gift and disapprove Cain's? In that case, no wonder that Cain got angry!

There must have been more to it than that. And I suggest that what made Abel's gift acceptable with God was this: that Abel, "by faith", had taken note of God's dealings with his parents, Adam and Eve, and had deduced that, when God made them coats of skins, He was setting a pattern. He was indicating the basis on which, for the future, He would always accept men and women. We, of course, with the benefits of hindsight, can read all sorts of symbolism into God's acceptance of Abel's offering but, if we stick to what Abel knew at the time, then he was deducing on the basis of the few facts at his disposal, that the sacrifice of an animal would please God: indeed, the sacrifice of a life was indispensable to any approach that man might make to Him. And we now know that he was right, whereas all he could do was to believe, and act, and get killed for his pains! But because he had hit upon an abiding principle, "he being dead yet speaketh". [52/53]

Then there was Enoch. He pleased God and, as a consequence or as a reward, he was brought into God's presence directly, without passing through death. But where was the faith in that? In his account of the beginnings of human history all is shadowy, yet from the text it would seem that Enoch, like Abel, had grasped a divine principle -- a principle for which there was, so far as we know, no previous evidence. There is no mention of anyone having taught it to Enoch. It was not something that a person could argue out for himself. It was, in that sense, a step of faith, accounting for the realities which we see by the greater realities which we do not.

Enoch asked himself, "Why am I here? What is the purpose of my existence?" And he concluded that the correct answer was: to please God. It sounds from the Genesis account as if Enoch was the first person actually to formulate this idea. It certainly sounds from the account as if he was the only person who was pleasing God! And so he set himself to do this, in faith that it was what God would wish of him, and all his long life this was his goal. But to find out that he was right, that his faith was not in vain, he had to wait till the very end -- 365 years! Only when his time came to die did God intervene with the proof that what he had been doing, walking with God, was absolutely right.

And then there was Noah. While Enoch could please God quietly, without any particular outward show, Noah was called to express his faith in the most public way possible. How do you keep it a secret that you are building a boat 300 cubits long? What do you say to the curious and enquiring to explain your purpose?

What Noah was preparing for had never happened before. It was entirely without precedent and had therefore to be anticipated in faith; for what God had warned him of were "things not seen as yet" (11:7). That problem of invisibility again! How do you prepare for something you have never seen, and have no external reason to expect? The answer is that you do it by faith, and then you wait -- for the rain to fall, or the sea to divide, or the baby to be born. And up to the very moment before those things happen, you go on exercising faith and patience, believing that, if God has said a thing will happen, then it will, whether soon or late.

And this we shall see, in our further studies, as we examine the lives of other heroes of the Old Testament story. Evidently, faith and patience are very Old Testament qualities!

(To be continued)


Poul Madsen

"This is a profound mystery --
but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:32 (NIV)

EACH time the word mystery appears in the New Testament, we ought to prick up our ears, for we are faced by something which no man of himself can understand or fathom. To rush on hastily is to risk missing some special divine emphasis. Paul also speaks of Christ as "the mystery of God" (Colossians 2:2), and thereby stresses the fact that flesh and blood can never of itself truly know Him. Unless God reveals to us who Christ is, we shall misunderstand Him throughout our lives. In a similar way the Church is a mystery, indeed a profound mystery; even Christians may have wrong ideas about her, wrong ideas which can be so deeply rooted as only to be got rid of with great difficulty.

The Body of Christ

The most difficult Letter to understand in the New Testament is possibly that written to the Ephesians. In this book the word mystery occurs quite often (1:9, 3:3, 3:9, 5:32 and 6:19) and a great phrase used to describe the Church is "The body of Christ". Already in his first Letter to the Corinthians Paul had made the amazing statement: "For as the body is one and has many [53/54] members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is the Christ." This may surprise and even puzzle us, but of course we must take it spiritually. The apostle goes on to explain his meaning when he writes: "For in one Spirit were we all baptised into one body ..." (1 Corinthians 12:13).

By giving us His own Spirit, the Lord has united Himself to such an extent with us and united us with one another, that we constitute a spiritual body. This is not just a picture but a reality, so that each believer is one of His members and a member of all others. This is easy to state, but maintaining it in practice involves maintaining a mystery which remains a mystery even when it has been revealed. In other words, we have to fight all our lives against the very human tendency to treat the Church as an institution. It is and it remains the body of Christ and any thought of making it into an institution goes against its very nature. We must beware of trying to substitute our own common sense for a divine mystery.

A Habitation of God in the Spirit

We know of course that God does not dwell in the building which we call "churches", however sacred these may seem to be, but that the reason for His presence is that there are those -- even if only two or three -- who are gathered together in His name. If they were not there, the Lord would not be there, for the building itself does not attract His presence. The real Church is a spiritual building of living stones, that is, regenerated Christians. Paul calls this "a holy temple in the Lord" and a "habitation of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:20-21).

Since the people of God constitute the Church of God, that Church may be found in some Siberian prison camp where the two or three of God's saints are able to pray and worship together and may yet be lacking in beautiful Church buildings where unregenerate people meet in a merely formal way. We are never exhorted to build church buildings, but we are exhorted to be built up as living stones to a spiritual house. Our services are not thought of in terms of "going to church" but of being assembled together in the Lord's name with the risen Christ in the midst.

A Fellowship in the Lord

Denmark is supposed to be a country which excels in various societies; Danes are said to be mad on societies. At least we know what a society is -- it is a group of people who choose to unite, usually because they have a common interest. The Church, however, is not a fellowship of people with a human basis of uniting, but is in fact a fellowship of incompatibles! Jews and Gentiles are incompatible: Jews despise Gentiles and these in turn hate Jews. There is an insurmountable barrier between them. They would never join together in any society nor form any collective, but would prefer to keep as far apart from each other as possible. In India a high caste Hindu and a pariah will have nothing to do with each other. The former despises the outcast, would not give a thought to him nor help him in his need, but keep him at a proud distance. A Hindu and a pariah could never form a collective. But in Christ and around Christ, incompatibles are united, Jews with Gentiles, high castes with low castes, in a miraculous way which the world can never hope to emulate.

What is more, in Christ God is united with sinners. This is indeed a case of the unifying of incompatibles. The Church is a divine masterpiece, both vertically and horizontally, where redeemed sinners are united with God and previous enemies are united in a fellowship which holds good in time and eternity. In this fellowship, all differences of race, religion, social standing and every other kind of consideration which separate man from man are abolished, for Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11).

Our Mother

The Church is more than an activity of meetings and more than an instrument by which God reaches the unsaved -- though of course it is that. In the New Testament the Church is presented not primarily as a means in God's hand but rather as His goal. For what is His final objective? Is it not the New Jerusalem? And what is the New Jerusalem? Is it not the bride of Christ? And this is precisely what the Church is -- the bride of Christ. This is indeed God's great goal and it is to that goal that grace has brought us: "Ye are come unto ... the church of the firstborn ones who are enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:22-23). We must remember that this still remains a mystery, but if the reality of it dawns upon us we will get some spiritual realisation of the importance of the Church of the living God and not dare to reduce it to the low levels of our natural minds. [54/55] Human ideas are so often an escape from the divine, and accommodating of the divine to what is manageable to man; they involve the degrading of what is as high as the heavens above our views to the level of petty human ideas of forming associations or societies.

It is even more difficult for the natural mind to understand that the New Jerusalem is not only the goal for God's whole plan of salvation, but it is also said to be our mother (Galatians 4:26). We ask how can this be, but we can agree that in itself the Church is just as barren as Sarah, but by virtue of the promises of God it bears children after the Spirit, ourselves among them. We readily confess that it was by virtue of the prayers and testimony of members of the Church that we were led to believe in Christ and to receive new life in Him. The Church is both our mother and our goal. Let us not try to explain it, but rather rely on the revelation of the Holy Spirit so that we may enter into the reality of this great mystery.

Its opposite, of course, is a society which flesh and blood can create and maintain, one which can still carry on its activities without the Holy Spirit's working. Such a church is not a mystery; it is quite easy for the natural mind to understand. The Church is a miracle which cannot be explained, a miracle only kept in existence by the wonder-working of God. Moreover it is a foreign element which can never be made to fit into this world, neither the secular nor the religious world, and for that reason it will always be despised and persecuted.

The Outworking

Because it is the body of Christ there can be no members who do not have a task and a responsibility. There is no member who can act as an intermediary between the Head and other members. Each member has a direct relationship with the Head and holds fast to Him. No member has an "office", but every single member has a function. Not even the elders of any church have any formal power over other members; they are not lords over the church, imposing directions on others as to what they are to do, but they are just servants. This, of course, is quite different from institutions and organisations in which there is a management which makes decisions on behalf of all. There is no room for what is formal in the body -- everything is Spirit and life.

Some think that we ought to make the Church safe and strong by organising it. They point out that Paul appointed elders in the various churches and told Titus to do the same in Crete (Titus 1:5). They similarly point out that Paul describes how a deacon (servant of the church) should behave (1 Timothy 3:8-13). This is true and we ought not to neglect what the Scriptures say, but it is important to understand them rightly. A man does not become an elder by being given the office, nor does a deacon become one simply by appointment; he is appointed an elder or a deacon because he has already shown in practice that he is one, so that in the organic development of the church, it is evident that some have been equipped as elders (overseers) and others to be deacons or deaconesses. Thus it is not an organisational pattern which is forced upon the assembly, but a spiritual organic development.

The elders have no right to demand obedience because of their claim to their office, but they are instructed to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4). In this way the Chief Shepherd worked when He watched over His flock by laying down His life for it.

The Difficulties

All the Letters in the New Testament speak of the dangers which threaten the Church. They never give us the idea that Church life is idyllic but rather that it involves conflict. The gates of Hades will always oppose the Church of Christ, but the Lord has promised that they will never prevail, for it is He Himself who is building it and He knows how to defend it. Both the Scriptures and our own experience give the inescapable impression that the Church is continuously threatened by dangers from within and from without.

Any real organisational strengthening of the Church, which puts it within fixed limitations and changes it into an association with a management whose leaders have formal or legal competence to make binding decisions for all the others, may seem to provide a guarantee that things are more or less under control, but this makes for a spiritual weakening of the body of Christ. It ignores the miraculous nature of the Church and deprives the greater number of its members of their rights, changing them from being living and responsible members of the body into listeners, whose chief [55/56] business is to be present at the meetings in order to listen and to contribute financially to the upkeep of the activities.

Such an arrangement naturally provides a certain order and assurance that nothing unpleasant will happen, but the Church is not to have any such assurance, nor seek to procure it. Faith does not thrive within a safe framework where there is no risk. The Church in its very nature is a miracle of God and only remains a true church when it remains a miracle. Yet who is sufficient for these things? We are wholly cast upon the government of the Holy Spirit for the outworking of the true thoughts of God.

The Time of the End

The more we approach the end of this age, the more will God's adversary, the Devil, concentrate on destroying His Church. Attacks from within will come as false teachers increase in strength and subtlety. Seductions will be widespread, as we see already. It is all too easy for groups who claim to be Scriptural to attack or despise fellow members of the one body, so failing to give diligence to keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In addition there are, and will be, direct persecutions as at the first, for the Church is a foreign element and if it does not accommodate itself to the world, it will be made to feel that it will not be tolerated.

If the Church is to come through, it must live in ceaseless renewal, without human guarantees and ready to be the off-scouring of all things. In the great accounting day, we shall be judged after our work for the Church of God. Let everyone take care how he builds, to what he gives priority and how he thinks and acts in this connection. Let everyone take care not to damage, pull down or undervalue the Church of God and beware of arranging his priorities in such a way that in practice he ignores or scorns it. May the Lord Jesus, who was eaten up with zeal for the house of God, give us something of His zeal, so that we never grow tired and never give up the fight.



(Some lessons from the life of Solomon)

Michael Wilcock

5. THE GREATNESS OF THE KING. 2 Chronicles 8 - 9

AS the chronicler writes it, the story of King Solomon ends with chapter 9. In that respect his book differs from the version in 1 Kings, for that goes on to record a sad sequel which the chronicler here omits. 1 Kings 11 is all about the lapses in the life of the great king and how he went wrong in all sorts of ways and came to a rather sad end. The chronicler and his readers were well aware of all this, but the concern of the book here before us is to present Solomon in a different light and for a different reason.

An example of this difference is found at the very beginning of our passage in 2 Chronicles 8. Verse 2 may seem rather curious to us for it informs us that Solomon built the cities which Hiram had given him "and caused the children of Israel to dwell there". Now that tiny story appears quite differently in Kings, for there we read that it was Solomon who gave some cities to Hiram who, when he went to inspect them, didn't think much of them and christened them "the land of rubbish" (1 Kings 9:13). What happened after that we do not know, but if these were really the same cities as those described by the chronicler or if the two stories are entirely different or even two halves of the same story, they are certainly quite different. So far as the Chronicles are concerned, however, the story fits into a great many other things about what came to Solomon and his authority, namely, that everything was devoted to the well-being of his people.

The King's Greatness

The story of the cities has at its heart the fact that the chronicler wished to emphasise the greatness and the power of King Solomon. He is in the limelight throughout these two chapters. Everything is pointing in his direction, everything comes to Solomon -- he is at the centre of all attention and he is the focus of the chronicler's [56/57] story. There is in fact another focus alongside it. While the chronicler is concerned to point us to Solomon, he is also concerned to point us to Solomon's people, so that the two are like twin beams of light, Solomon the king, and the king's people, the people of Solomon.

As we have said, this book represents a sermon preached from the historical events, so that our first concern is to consider the text of this sermon. It is found in these two chapters which speak of Solomon at the peak of all his greatness. First there is his power (8:1-10) and we notice that when his power is described by the fact that his kingdom is increased by a group of cities given him by Hiram king of Tyre, his immediate response is to settle Israelites there. So his power is used to provide homes for his people. This is followed by one of the rare notes of Solomon's military might, "Solomon went to Hamath-zobah, and prevailed against it" (v.3). This shows us that his people were guarded. They are also provided for, as is made evident by the list of store cities (v.6). What is more, reference is made to the fact that these were fortified cities (v.5), so that the king's people are well defended and military strength is described (v.6). His people are well armed. Then, to defend them against the Fifth Column, which still dwelt in their midst, the Hittites and the Amorites and the others which had not been destroyed by Israel, Solomon makes sure that these will not cause any trouble by putting them to forced labour (vv.7-8).

This is what the king's power does for his own people whom he proceeds to exalt (v.9). They are not enslaved, but made chiefs and captains and rulers. To us this represents a terribly racist policy, but the chronicler's purpose is to show us the power of Solomon in terms of his people's security. The two things are side by side -- Solomon's power and his people's security.

The next paragraph (vv.11-15) describes Solomon at worship, giving us a little summary of that which has been set out in much greater length in the previous chapters which dealt with the Temple and its ritual. In some way verse 11 begins this section in a manner similar to that which we noticed in verse 2, since the chronicler takes the material which is before him and changes it a bit by adding the explanation of why he built his own house where he did: "for he said, My wife shall not dwell in the house of David king of Israel, because the places are holy whereunto the ark of the Lord hath come." The chronicler adds this reason why his wife had a place of her own, namely, that she should not be living in proximity to the people of God. There may have been other reasons, but the chronicler is using this to introduce his paragraph on worship to make the point that the worship of the king is to be a holy thing.

The places are holy where the Ark of the Lord has entered; this thought continues into the rest of the paragraph to make the point of the importance of the holiness of the king's worship. We read on about the king's offerings, as the duties of each day required, his festivals, the ministries of the priests and Levites and the magnificent house in which it all took place.

All the way through, from the day of its preparation to the day of its completion, everything was as the Lord wanted it to be and this was according to "the commandment of the king" (v.15). This, then, was the king's gift to his people and this the way by which they were led into the presence of their God. So we see that Solomon's worship links on to his people's righteousness. He prepared for them the way to God, and laid down the rules for them to come into God's holy presence. In this he was one with his father. The worship was ordered strictly in accordance with the commandments of David (v.14). So David and Solomon together formed the ideal in the chronicler's mind, and in this case it was the ideal of worship.

There is no clear sequence in the subsequent verses, but we can note other features of the king's greatness in them and how it affected his people. There are his riches. In verses 17 and 18 we read of his going down to the sea shore at Eloth and with the help of the maritime know-how of Hiram sending out a fleet to bring back a large quantity of gold. These two verses are picked up in 9:10-11, which tell us what else happened when the fleet came back. Nothing like it had ever been seen before in the land of Judah. 9:13-14 go on to tell us more about the imports which came to Solomon, not only from the fleet which he himself sent out but by gifts from other countries. Further mention is made of what the fleet brought back in verse 21: "gold and silver, ivory, and apes and peacocks." It was all very grand. In between 9:14 and verse 21 there is a little paragraph about the use that Solomon made of all this gold. To us some of it may sound like [57/58] useless ostentation, the shields and the throne etc., but the point seems to be to stress what a great and wealthy king he was. The chronicler then goes on to show that all this was not simply for the king himself for "the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, and cedars made he to be as the sycamore trees ... for abundance" (v.27). The city was wealthy. The riches were not just in the king's palace: all Israel benefitted from his wealth.

We see then that:

1. His power provided security for his people;

2. His worship provided the way to righteousness for his people;

3. His riches provided wealth for his people.

A fourth point is then made, for it was also a fact that his wisdom brought blessing to his people. This is shown in the section devoted to the queen of Sheba (9:1-9). We go back to that. This unnamed queen was a foreigner, a visitor who said that she came to Jerusalem because she had heard of the fame of Solomon. She herself elaborated the fact with her words: "It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thine acts and of thy wisdom" (v.5). No doubt reasons of trade, commerce and diplomacy were also involved but supremely her visit was due to what she had heard of the wisdom of Solomon. That is the reason which the Lord Jesus took up in the New Testament.

Her spontaneous reaction to this wholly successful visit was to comment on the felicity of his people: "Happy are thy men, and happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and hear thy wisdom ... Because God loved Israel ... made he thee king over them" (vv.7-8). So that once again the attributes of the king are seen to be designed for the blessing of his people. Solomon's wisdom was not an end in itself: it was for his people's welfare. The queen of Sheba made this point when she exclaimed on the blessedness of those who were ruled over by King Solomon. So this is consistent with the rest of what the chronicler had been making in the whole text of his sermon about Solomon's greatness and the consequent blessedness of his people. It would be very easy to spiritualise this sort of thing. Preachers frequently do, and so shall I -- but not yet!

The Immediate Implications of the King's Greatness

First of all we must consider what were the immediate implications for those who first read 2 Chronicles. If we are going to be honest exegetes of this passage we will find ourselves confronted by a problem. It is not sufficient for us simply to say that David and Solomon are a type of Christ so that spiritually we may claim everything in these chapters as ours and apply it to our own spiritual needs. Happily we must do that, but before we immediately do so we have to ask ourselves why this sermon was given in the first place. What were its original hearers or readers expected to understand from it? For, since we have agreed that the whole book of the Chronicles was offered as a sermon, we may ask what its original hearers were expected to understand from it and what they would be expected to do as their response. This is a very puzzling question for, if we put ourselves in the position of the first audience and the first readership, we will immediately be confronted by at least two difficulties.

1. Its application is difficult.

It is all very well to say that the chronicler here set up Solomon as the ideal of his people, but we ask ourselves in what sense could Solomon be an ideal to those who were the first readers of this book. They were living in a totally different situation, so that it could well seem that for the chronicler to preach to them a sermon about power and worship and riches and wisdom was nothing more than a rather horrid mockery. They might well have been forgiven for saying, "What has all this to say to us? What are we supposed to do about it? It is all very well for you to point to Solomon and say how marvellous his experience was and expect us to admire him, but admiration won't get us very far. If the object of good preaching is to make us go out and do something about it, what, oh what, are we expected to do?"

For them the circumstances were all so different. Let us think about it and go through these four points in reverse. Wisdom? Well, yes, they could do something about that and in their days wisdom had become quite a respectable branch of literature. They had the "Wisdom" books and could try their best to live up to them, so seeking to provide this kind of attitude to God and using Solomon in this way. At least they could try to live up to the Solomon ideal in the matter of [58/59] wisdom. But his riches! What could they be expected to do about them? Could they go out and burgle their neighbours? Could they festoon themselves with some feeble imitation of Solomon's glories and claim to be true sons of his in that respect? Here were they in what men would have called a God-forsaken province of the Persian Empire, struggling with poverty and adversity. At their best they could never be more than a feeble shadow of the Israel of Solomon's day. What about worship? Well, they could do their best to measure up to some extent to that ideal set before them in Solomon but really, that Temple of theirs! It was the best that they could make it, but it was not a patch on Solomon's. They could follow the ritual as best they might, but compared with what the chronicler described, it was rather pathetic. "What is the object of setting this ideal before us" they might have protested, "Is it meant for our imitation?"

It must have been thrilling to hear of the power of Solomon, but what on earth could that be supposed to mean in their case? This great king who built his cities and fortified them, garrisoned them all over the place and stretched his frontiers as far as the Euphrates and the Nile; it was all very wonderful, but what could they be expected to do about it? So we see that the application was very difficult and the more so as the chronicler took up the facts stated in the "Kings" and preached them with even greater conviction than the original author of those books did. He painted them with even more vivid colours, underlining the greatness even more definitely and setting up the ideal higher and more inaccessible than ever. The sermon was good but how could they respond?

2. Its values are different

Those first readers of the Chronicles were having to learn inwardness of spiritual values. They were beginning to understand what we who are Spirit-taught well know, that blessing is linked with poverty. It is those who are poor who are blessed; indeed to be poor is almost a synonym for being pious. Those who are weak in themselves can find power only in God and those who learn wisdom do so by confessing how much they lack it. What does the ideal mean to the humble remnant?

Here is a suggestion. It is that the chronicler was saying to those who had next to nothing in wisdom, riches or power that they should concentrate on the abiding fact that where God's throne is occupied by Him whose it is, His people have everything they need. It is God's throne (9:8). All through the history of God's people, the throne has been His. It was left for the people of the chronicler's age to work out what this meant for them, and it must have been very difficult for them to do so, but this is the object of the exercise and this is what the readers of this sermon have to work out in every age.

The Abiding Implications of the King's Greatness

The chronicler speaks to us all. He speaks to those who have little and he says, "Where God's throne is occupied by Him whose throne it is, then His people find that they have all. Where His people feel themselves insecure and subject to the assaults of their enemies, where they are conscious of their own weakness, then in that throne they will find strength and defence, power and authority."

It is all a matter of the throne. Where the people of God find that their relations with Him are not what they should be and where spiritually they are dry and dull, when they find that the promises of God to them do not seem to be Yea and Amen, when worship is lifeless and the spiritual life a drag, they need a new realisation of the enthroned glory of Christ. If they come to His throne they will find there true worship and a free access to God.

So we see that this picture of the ideal Monarch is not only able to be applied to us in all our need, but it is meant to be so applied. When God's people are -- in whatever sense -- empty and poverty-stricken just as the chronicler's readers were, then they may come to the Lord on the throne and in Him they will find all their riches. When their mind goes a blank and they cannot think any more, then they must come to the One on the throne and find in Him all the wisdom of God.

It is in this sense that Solomon is depicted as the ideal king upon his throne, and it speaks to men and women of the people of God in their profound need that there is now a throne, with One seated upon it, and because of this all their needs are fully provided for. It must have been hard for the chronicler to work out how this could apply in his day in that province of Judea with all its second-rate surroundings, but for us the application is much easier to make. [59/60]

We have in fact the words of the Lord Jesus Himself which apply the story to our needs: "The queen of the south ... came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold something greater than Solomon is here" (Matthew 12:42). That is not a contrast between Jesus and Solomon but a comparison. Jesus is saying that something happened in those far-off days when the queen of Sheba came to see Solomon which is a pattern for every subsequent situation in the life of the people of God. The greater thing for us is that the same pattern is repeated in our days and the same principles are brought into play as we come to the enthroned Christ. As the queen came from afar, told him all that was in her heart and heard from him all that she needed to know, so now the whole thing is lifted on to a higher plane. Something infinitely greater, yet something in the same shape, is here for us.

Those who are wise in their ignorance, will come and seek Him and learn His wisdom. Christ the King is enthroned among us by His Spirit so that we may find in our emptiness, poverty, insecurity and ignorance, all that we can ever need. Through Him we can find that though we have nothing, yet we possess all things and, what is more, these riches will so overflow that although we in ourselves are poor, we will yet make many rich. Our Kings' greatness is all for our benefit as well as being for His own glory. This seems to be the implication of the two chapters we have been considering.



May we draw your attention to a new book on the Letter to the Philippians by Alec Motyer. Here is a brief quotation concerning 1:6:

"The day of Jesus Christ is fixed in the Father's diary. It is as if he is under contract to himself and to his Son. The day will come and everything and everyone will be ready in time for it. There will be no last-minute rush, no botching up, nothing that will 'do for now'; strikes will not delay it nor carelessness mar it. The Father has weighed up the merits of his Son and the proper response to his work at Calvary, and nothing will suffice but that he should bring his Son out from the invisible glories of heaven and show him publicly to a wondering and worshipping world. For his own glory, the Father must one day see every knee bowed to Jesus and hear every tongue acknowledge his Lordship. And our salvation is as assured as the coming of that day! For it is we, the saints, the objects of the good work , who must be made ready for his coming 'on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marvelled at in all who have believed'."

The title of this book is "THE MESSAGE OF PHILIPPIANS". It is published by the Inter-Varsity Press and can be obtained from:

Norton St., Nottingham NG7 3HR, Great Britain

Downers Grove, Illinois, U.S.A. [60/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(Now it was that at every year's end that he polled it;
because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it.
2 Samuel 14:26

IT is difficult to know why the inspiring Spirit not only gave us the account of Absalom's luxuriant head of hair but saw fit to emphasise the matter by inserting this parenthesis. It may seem strange that the writer occupies us with this record of the prince's annual haircuts, with the massive amounts of hair polled and weighed, but it fits in with so much more that we know of the man. The evidence is clear that this much-loved but wayward son of David was a most conceited man. Pride is an attribute which God detests, so perhaps we may take it that this story may be given as a warning against it.

1. Pride is Foolish

This picture of the solemn weighing of Absalom's tresses seems to highlight the stupid folly of his self conceit. It seems incredible that a man who might have had true values of which he could boast, should set so much store on the profusion of his hair. Every year, in solemn ceremonial, his tresses were cut off and then weighed. No doubt his foolish admirers exclaimed, "How wonderful!" and took pleasure in passing the information round. They did not pause to reflect that he had done nothing to be proud of. He did not produce the hair or make it grow. His pride was wholly unjustified and rather pathetic. To us the whole affair seems trivial and rather foolish. Not more foolish, though, than a Christian's pride concerning his spiritual gifts. To the puffed up Corinthians Paul wrote: "What hast thou that thou didst not receive? ... Why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it" (1 Corinthians 4:7). This is a relevant challenge to us today.

2. Pride is Spiteful

We might have forgiven Absalom his attack on his depraved brother, but we can never pardon his treachery and murderous intentions against his kindly father. How could such a favoured son turn against his king in this way, to say nothing of his rebellion against God? The answer is that once the satanic power of pride takes hold of a person, anything can happen. When pride rules, nothing matters and nobody else matters.

3. Pride is Disastrous

It brought Absalom to a miserable end. And I imagine that this was due to that great head of hair of which he was so proud. It is true that the Bible does not actually state this but we tend to assume it. The Word tells us that "as his mule went under the thick boughs of a large oak, Absalom's head got caught in the tree" (2 Samuel 18:9). I have ridden on a mule in Brazilian forests, so I find it unlikely that any man, however tall, would let his head get caught in the fork of a branch. It seems likely to me, then, that it was his hair which brought about his downfall. He did not duck low enough. It was a mortal error, for his enemies surrounded him and destroyed him.

That is what pride does for a man. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). Our only safety, then, is to flee to the Lord Jesus and learn of Him, for He alone is "meek and lowly in heart".


[Back cover]

Ephesians 4:3

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