Circumcision Made Without Hands (Colossians 2:11)
The first mention of circumcision in the Bible is in Genesis 17:10-14. After a silence of thirteen years God breaks in and makes a covenant with Abram when His servant is ninety-nine years old. Thirteen years previously Abram had listened to Sarai his wife and an attempt had been made to produce a seed through Hagar the bondmaid. This action resulted in the birth of Ishmael with all its subsequent disaster. It was a seed according to the flesh, not according to promise. This event may account for the thirteen years' silence before God in His goodness intervenes and renews His promise in the form of a covenant resting upon His “I will”.
The faith of Abram was further tested at this point. If his patience gave way at 86 years old what now? He is now 99 years old. The whole matter has become impossible as far as man and the flesh are concerned. The power of God must come in if the promise is to be fulfilled. Yet note how many times in Genesis 17 “I will” is mentioned. This is the statement of an unconditional covenant. All relies on God's unchangeable will and purpose.
Genesis 17:7 says, “And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee”. Circumcision is said to “be a token of the covenant betwixt Me and you” (Verse 11), and this chapter tells us who was involved in the rite of circumcision and when it was to be carried out. It becomes evident that circumcision means that the flesh must be kept in the place of death. The flesh can contribute nothing towards the carrying out of the will of God. “He that is eight days old” was to be circumcised, and the eighth day is significant as referring to a new start entirely. Only a new life within can produce anything for the pleasure of God.
So circumcision became the sign of a covenant relationship between the Israelite and God. What could be referred to as a surgical operation was to be performed on the male child at eight days old in all Jewish families. This began to be carried out very diligently throughout the nation, but its true meaning was soon lost. It became just an outward rite carrying very little inward reality. Its effect on manner of life was non-existent. It was never God's intention that an outward rite should be observed without inward reality. This gives no pleasure to Him.
In Exodus 6 we are given the words of the Lord to Moses when he was called to speak to Pharaoh: “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land” (Ex. 6:10-11). The response to this call is very revealing. Moses withdrew from this command, saying, “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?” (v. 30).
It is obvious that Moses had grasped the true meaning of circumcision. It is not just an outward rite to be observed, but an inward reality affecting the use of the lips. Was it a feeling of his unworthiness to speak for God that caused Moses to draw back, or was it the fear of man? It is difficult to say. But whatever it was, the vital message for us is that he understood the real meaning of circumcision. What God requires is circumcised lips, that is, lips that speak for Him apart from the activity of the flesh.
In the book of Deuteronomy circumcision is twice related to the heart. Israel turned out to be a rebellious and stiffnecked people. Following the awful sin of worshipping the molten calf at Horeb we read: “Only the LORD had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and He chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day. Circumcise therefore … your heart, and be no more stiffnecked” (Deut. 10:15-16).
The second passage in Deuteronomy is as follows: “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deut. 30:6). This verse looks on to the future. There has never really been a day when the promise of this passage has been fulfilled as far as Israel is concerned. The terms of the New Covenant come to mind here: “I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jer. 31:33). In that day Israel will be a nation born again, and true love for God will be produced. It will be true then that Israel will have a circumcised heart.
Circumcision to the Lord
In considering the Prophets, Jeremiah has most to say on the subject of circumcision. Three times it is mentioned in this book.
“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD … ” (Jer. 4:4).
Perhaps this is the most important reference because it is the objective which is before us. The real value of anything we do is seen when we do it to the Lord. There may have been the greatest care taken in carrying out the act of circumcision, but was it done to the Lord? This can be asked with regard to the many areas of service in which we are occupied. We need to question our motives. Is it really done to Him?
Jeremiah 6:10 gives us the second reference in this book:
“To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.”
This time it is the ear — a matter of obedience to the Word of the Lord. How solemn these words are: “ … they have no delight in it”. It is of little value to submit to outward ordinances and yet have the ear closed to His Word. This was the case with Israel.
Earlier in the book, Jeremiah wrote: “Judah hath not turned unto Me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD” (Jer. 3:10). These words were written during the revival under the godly king Josiah. It seems that the outward appearance looked well, but with many the heart and life were not affected.
Distinction of Circumcision (Separation)
The third reference to circumcision is in Jeremiah 9:26:
“Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, … for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.”
The nation of Israel was called out of the surrounding nations to be a witness for God against the idolatry of the nations. They were to be a separate people. The prophet Balaam, false though he was, was made to utter the truth with regard to Israel, “ … lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Num. 23:9). Notice that in Jeremiah 9:26 Judah is placed between Egypt and Edom. No distinction is seen and hence there is no separation. The nations were literally uncircumcised. Israel, although having submitted to the outward rite, were equally uncircumcised in heart.
From these Old Testament passages concerning circumcision it is evident that our lips, hearts and ears are to be affected. We are to be a separate people and all is to be “to the Lord”. Outward submission to the ordinance of circumcision without the realisation of its true spiritual meaning did not affect practical living.
The Circumcision of the Lord Jesus
In following our theme of circumcision into the New Testament the striking fact of the circumcision of the Lord Jesus attracts our attention. In the Gospel of Luke, which brings to light His perfect life as a man, we are introduced to a godly company of Jews who were so different from the majority of the nation. It was among this remnant that the earthly parents of the Lord Jesus were found. It must be kept in mind however, that as conceived by the Holy Spirit His birth was altogether unique. What has been looked at so far regarding circumcision is in reference to the judgment of God upon the flesh. How careful we must be when our thoughts turn to Christ. There was nothing in Him that answered to the nature of the flesh; all was holy, perfect and blameless.
As being brought up in a godly Jewish home, where the law was adhered to and loved, the child Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day. We are reminded of the words of the apostle Paul here: “ … made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4). How wonderful it is to consider the Son of God becoming so lowly, found in obscure circumstances, and submitting to the law as a godly Israelite. It must be so if redemption is to be found for Jew and Gentile alike.
It has often been said that the Lord Jesus was, in all His life, what man ought to have been for God. It is equally true to say that He was all that a godly Israelite should have been.
Consider again the five areas in which Israel as a nation had so dismally failed by being untrue to their circumcision:
Lips; Heart; “To the Lord”; Ears; Separation
In Christ there was a true answer to His circumcision. Where Israel as a nation had failed, He triumphed.
Much has been written about the Lord's words. The well loved passage in Psalm 45 comes readily to mind, “Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips: therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever” (Ps. 45:2). How often we have connected this verse with Luke 4:22, “And all bear Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth”. Many Scriptures could be quoted referring to what He said while here on earth. His lips, tongue, voice and mouth are mentioned.
The verse referred to previously in Deuteronomy 30:6 shows that the circumcised heart is related to loving God with all the heart. How blessedly this was seen in Christ. There are not many Scriptures which refer to His love to the Father, but there are two we will notice, one in the Old Testament and one in the New. “Because He hath set His love upon Me, therefore will I deliver Him: I will set Him on high, because He hath known My Name” (Ps. 91:14). These words express His Father's appreciation of His love. “But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence” (John 14:31). How wonderful is the intimacy between the Father and the Son seen in these verses. That fellowship which was always present before the worlds were made, unchanged while on earth as a man, is the same now. What an expression there was in Him of true circumcision of heart.
Circumcision to the Lord
This aspect of circumcision brings in the matter of aim and objective. With the Lord Jesus this was always the honour of His Father. This is seen in a very obvious way in John's gospel. “I do always those things that please Him” (the Father — John 8:29). “I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30). “ … but He that seeketh His glory that sent Him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him” (John 7:18). “I have not a devil; but I honour My Father, and ye do dishonour Me” (John 8:49). It was the Father's pleasure, will, glory, and honour that were ever His object. He had the single eye. All was “to the Lord”.
There are a number of references to the Lord's ear in the Scriptures. “Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; Mine ears hast Thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required” (Psalm 40:6). A footnote in the New Translation by J.N.D. reads “opened” as “digged or hollowed out”. Christ was not in the place of subjection until He came into the world, but in becoming a man He became the obedient Servant. In the prophet Isaiah, who gives the words of Jehovah's Servant who was to come, the Lord says, “ … He wakeneth Mine ear to hear as the instructed” (Isa. 50:4, J.N.D. Trans.). It is striking to think of the Lord Jesus as a disciple. This position is suggested by the word “instructed”. “Morning by morning” His ear was turned Godward for instructions. Never a word was spoken or a deed done apart from His Father.
There was a separation from the world evident in Christ, though not exactly from the world of mankind. He was the friend of publicans and sinners. But He stood apart from the world system in its hypocrisy and utter alienation from God and His righteousness. It was this that drew forth man's hatred and antagonism. It could also be said that the world through which He passed was neither the source nor the object of His life. The Father's word and those that the Father had given Him were His absorbing interest. Twice over in His prayer in John 17, speaking to His Father about His own, He says, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14, 16).
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
The True Sacrifice
The LORD Will Provide (Genesis 22:14)
God takes care of man. He provides for all our needs, but in particular He provides for the most fundamental need man has known since the fall: the need for a sacrifice. Abraham must have understood this when he said to his son, whom he was to offer, “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8). God was the only One who could provide the sacrificial lamb and it was primarily meant for God Himself: “God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering”. This lamb was, so to speak, God's own lamb, a figure of Christ as the appointed Lamb of God. And the offering of Isaac was a type of Christ's sacrifice — foreordained by God before the foundation of the world (cf. John 1:29, 36; 1 Peter 1:19-20; Rev. 5:6ff).
This Lamb provides for the needs of the sinner who is totally unable to do so himself. But it also meets all God's holy demands. Indeed, by His sacrifice Christ glorified God in a unique way. The lamb that is brought to our attention here in Genesis 22 was a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, a sweet savour to the Lord (Gen. 8:21; Lev. 1:9, 13, 17; Eph. 5:2). No one else but God Himself could provide for the need, and from the above-mentioned verse in 1 Peter it appears that He had provided for it even before He called the world into existence.
How great is our God that He Himself provided this sacrificial lamb! Adam and Eve experienced this when they were clothed with garments of skin in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:21). Not man but God was the first One to bring a sacrifice, and He clothed the first human couple with the skins of these animals in order to cover their nakedness (and also in a symbolical way their spiritual nakedness, that is, their sinful state before God).
Abraham also experienced this when the Lord provided for his needs and directed his eyes toward a substitute for his son (Gen. 22:13). In remembrance of this he called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide” (v. 14a), which is just one word in Hebrew, “Jehovah-jireh”. Abraham used a compound name of the Lord which indicates that it is one of His glorious attributes to act in this way and to provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering. This wonderful name of God is the first one of a series of compound names that are revealed in the Old Testament:
1. The LORD will provide (Gen. 22:14).
2. The LORD that healeth thee (Ex. 15:26).
3. The LORD my banner (Ex. 17:15).
4. The LORD which sanctify you (Lev. 20:8; Lev. 21:8).
5. The LORD is peace (Judges 6:24).
6. The LORD is my shepherd (Ps. 23:1).
7. The LORD our righteousness (Jer. 23:6; Jer. 33:16).
8. The LORD is there (Ezek. 48:35).
The first name shows that God provides for the most essential need of sinful man, the need of a substitute. This is the basis on which God can reveal more of Himself and of the many aspects of His nature. The last name shows Him filling everything with His glorious presence: The Lord is there, and there is no room for sin any more, for God will be all in all.
Then we should also pay attention to the place where God revealed Himself in this way, where He made Himself known as the One providing the lamb for a burnt offering. He did so in the Mount of the LORD (Gen. 22:14b). This is an important expression. God revealed Himself on this mountain, the place where Abraham found himself on the level of His thoughts, rather than in the plain of Jordan which Lot chose (Gen. 13:10-11). God called Abraham, as it were, into His heavenly presence. The same thing happened to the disciples who received divine teaching from the Lord Jesus on a mountain (see Matthew 5:1ff.). And it was also on “the holy mount” that they saw His glory and were eyewitnesses of His majesty (cf. 2 Peter 1:16-18).
Moreover, this mountain is described as “the Mount of the LORD”. We find the same expression in the book of Exodus where it always has to do with God's revelation on Mount Sinai. Just as Moses led the flock of his father-in-law all the way through the desert to Horeb, the mountain of God, he also led the people of Israel through the wilderness to this mountain (Ex. 3:1; Ex. 18:5; Ex. 24:13). It was the mountain where God sat enthroned. He` desired to reveal Himself to the people He delivered from slavery to be His special treasure. So we are on holy ground here and, like Moses, have to put off our shoes. Thus the people of Israel, too, and most of all the priests, had to sanctify themselves in order to be able to meet with God at the foot of the mountain (Ex. 19).
Yet this expression, the mountain of God, does not only refer to Mount Sinai. It is also used for Mount Zion, and for the Temple Mount, after the ark of the covenant (the visible sign of God's presence) found a resting place there (cf. Ps. 15:1, Ps. 24:3; Ps. 48:1-2). This is very striking indeed with regard to the Temple Mount, for there is a clear connection between Genesis 22, 1 Chronicles 21-22 and 2 Chronicles 3. Abraham went to the land of Moriah to offer his son on one of the mountains of which God would tell him, while king David built his altar of burnt offering on Mount Moriah.
This was the place where atonement was made for a sinful people, the place of the altar of burnt offering for Israel — which enabled God to dwell in the midst of His people. Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham sacrificed his son, was the place of the altar of burnt offering for God's people. This mountain therefore points to the place called Calvary, where God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all. And in doing so He laid a just foundation for the future temple in the Spirit, that was to be built after Christ's resurrection from the dead!
Finally, it is remarkable that the Hebrew name of the upper altar in Ezekiel's temple is also “Har-El” or Mount of God (Ezek. 43:15 — J.N.D. Trans.). Here too, the altar is the place where man will draw near to God in a coming age — on the same basis of a burnt offering, referring to Christ as the true sacrifice which God Himself provided and which fully pleased Him.
The Life of David (9)
David, Having Died, He Yet Speaks
(Continued from page 320)
The First Ways of David. 2 Chronicles 17:3
What were the first ways of David in which Jehoshaphat walked?
His great confidence in the living God. David was never affected in any way by idolatry. His psalms breathe his deep knowledge and trust in God. This was evidenced too when he faced Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, and in his prayers to God when engaging God's enemies.
His reverence for the Ark of the Covenant. David learned from his mistake in not ordering the Ark to be carried by the Kohathites. He remedied his mistake and the Ark was handled with the reverence that was due to it.
His profound respect for the people of God, expressed in his communications with Jehovah (2 Sam. 7:23-24; 2 Sam. 24:17).
His great courage in fighting God's battles with the help that God gave to him.
Jehoshaphat, in his life, expressed these same features of David his father:
His confidence in God (2 Chr. 20:5-12).
While Jehoshaphat is not mentioned in connection with the Ark of the Covenant he is intimately connected with the house of the Lord (2 Chr. 19:8-11 — Levites and priests; 2 Chr. 20:5, 18 — worship, 21 — praise).
His respect for the people of God: “Thy people Israel” (2 Chr. 20:7).
He derived his courage from belief in his God (2 Chr. 20:6) and his belief of the prophet's message (2 Chr. 20:14-17, 20).
There is a saying that “first impressions are right impressions”. Good for believers in God and Christ if they hold fast to the good teaching that they accepted and practised in their young and impressionable years. Sad to say, as believers grow older, sometimes other influences hinder the continuance in “first ways”. But God does not forget these “first ways” that glorified Him. “I remember for thee the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holiness unto Jehovah, the first-fruits of His increase” (Jer. 2:2-3). “God is not unrighteous to forget your work, and the love which ye have shewn to His Name, having ministered to the saints, and still ministering” (Heb. 6:10).
The Saving Influence of God's Covenant with David.
2 Chronicles 21:5-7
Jehoshaphat, good man that he was, made a fatal alliance with the house of Ahab (2 Chr. 18:1). The marriage led him to join the army of Judah with the army of Israel. It nearly cost him his life and he deserved the stern rebuke of Jehu the seer, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate Jehovah?” (2 Chr. 19:2). His son, Jehoram, followed his father's bad example and married Ahab's daughter and did evil before Jehovah as Ahab his father-in-law did. But Jehovah would not exterminate the house of David. His covenant with David prevented His righteous wrath being executed on Judah. That covenant was a powerful influence for mercy in dark days of unbelief and evil.
The influence of a godly man's life and prayers is invaluable in any Christian gathering. Such a life helps to keep at bay the destructive influences of sin and worldliness. He can be assured of God's support as he contends for what is right before God.
The God of David. 2 Chronicles 21:12-15;
2 Kings 20:5-6
Two kings of Judah, Hezekiah and Jehoram: two prophets, Isaiah and Elijah: two references to the God of David. What lessons can be learned from these passages? They have certainly different characteristics. The prophet's message to Hezekiah contains hope and blessing for him. The message to Jehoram is solemn and full of judgment. Perhaps it will be better to consider the dark picture first.
Jehoram, king of Judah, was incredibly cruel. In order to strengthen his position as king he slew all his own brothers and some of the princes of Israel (2 Chr. 21:4). He lost valuable territory belonging to his kingdom (God was not with him because of his evil ways). The most serious failure was the encouragement of idolatry (2 Chr. 21:11). His evil ways exhausted the patience of God with him, and Elijah, the prophet, was sent to him with a condemnatory message. No respite was to be given to the king for repentance. The judgment was righteous and irrevocable. But why the reference to “the God of David thy father”? By far the most of David's life showed how God supported and cared for His servant in a variety of circumstances. On two occasions He had judged His servant because of his sins. First, in relation to his sin and evil lust with Bathsheba, with real consequences for David's house. Secondly, because of David's pride in numbering the people and the sorrow that it brought on Israel. At both of these sad blots on David's honourable life for God David repented bitterly of his folly. David's God was a righteous and holy God. Did Jehoram follow David's example? It would not seem so from the narrative. There was no repentance and the threatened judgment followed. Jehoram lost all, his wives, his sons (except the youngest), his health, and eventually his life. No one mourned when he died.
What a difference when we consider Isaiah's message to king Hezekiah! Hezekiah had been told by Isaiah that the time had come for him to die. That upset the king. He prayed to God and wept much. He didn't want to die. God sent Isaiah back to the king with the good news that God would answer his prayers and tears. Isaiah was to preface his message with the words “Thus saith Jehovah, the God of David thy father”. The message was a promise of longer life and deliverance from his enemies. But why the God of David thy father? Perhaps Psalm 18 provides the answer. The heading of the Psalm is as follows: “To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David, the servant of Jehovah, who spoke to Jehovah the words of this song in the day that Jehovah had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies and out of the hand of Saul”. David knew that it was his God who had enabled him to triumph over his enemies. He, like Hezekiah, had been afraid of death. “The bands of death encompassed me” (Ps. 18:4). “The bands of Sheol surrounded me, the cords of death encountered me” (Ps. 18:5). David completed his psalm with a note of worship to his God, “Who hath delivered me from mine enemies … It is He who giveth great deliverances to His king, and sheweth loving-kindness to His anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore” (Ps. 18:46-50). The God of David was to Hezekiah, David's seed, what He had been to David.
The lessons to be learned from these passages are twofold. First, it is futile to seek for God's approval when our lives are contrary to His will. God is righteous and cannot, and will not, support self-will and flagrant disobedience. We reap what we sow. Secondly, where there is honest prayer and humble dependence on God, He delights to answer the prayers and tears of His own. “Tell it to God” is the best way to get guidance and help (More could be said about Hezekiah's failures in his life — but that is not the object here).
God describes Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He also describes Himself as the God of David. God places His honoured servant beside the patriarchs, the depositories of His promises. Honour indeed for David. He was worthy of such honour. That God was God to many more of His servants is abundantly true, but these four, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, are spoken by God Himself as being blessed in this way. He was their God.
David's Legacy of Weapons. 2 Chronicles 23:9-10;
2 Kings 11:10
The future of David's seed hung by a slender thread. A wicked woman named Athaliah had attempted to exterminate the royal seed of Judah. She almost succeeded. One little baby boy was saved. Jehoshabeath, the daughter of Jehoram, a previous king of Judah, who was married to Jehoiada the priest, saved the boy from the cruel death that his brothers had experienced. The baby boy and his nurse were hid in the house of God for six years (2 Chr. 22:10-12). But Joash was not yet seated firmly on David's throne. The wicked Athaliah was still alive. Jehoiada the priest took positive steps to deal with the problem. Gathering the important people of Judah into the house of God where the young boy, now seven years old, was, Jehoiada reminded them of Jehovah's pledge to David that his sons would sit on his throne. When the covenant was made to defend the boy king's right to the throne Jehoiada armed the men. They were no ordinary arms that were in the house of God. They were king David's spears, shields and targets, (large and small shields). It is remarkable that the weapons of warfare that had enabled David to mount the throne of Judah and Israel were now used to protect the helpless scion of his house, and enable him to reign. Athaliah was slain and better conditions were secured for the worship of God. Idolatry was overthrown and David's influence was further seen in his directions being followed in relation to the Levites and the service of song (2 Chr. 23:16-21).
What an important lesson can be derived from this incident in Judah's history! We do not wage war in the same way that we find in the Old Testament. Paul states this clearly: “For walking in the flesh, we do not war according to flesh. For the arms of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful according to God to the overthrow of strongholds; overthrowing reasonings and every high thing that lifts itself up against the knowledge of God, and leading captive every thought into the obedience of the Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Without doubt the most potent weapon that the Christian possesses is the Word of God. The Lord Jesus used it to defeat Satan, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians. Paul used it continually in his preaching. All the valiant servants of God who have done great things for Him have wielded the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, to powerful effect. In the closing days of the church's testimony on earth may we hear an old soldier's voice ringing in our ears from a bygone day, “I commit you to God, and to the Word of His grace” (Acts 20:32). We may not be able to answer intellectual attacks on the Christian faith but we can stand four-square on the revealed Word of God and allow it to silence our adversaries. It is living and operative and is wiser than the most astute man.
The Influence of David on Hezekiah.
2 Chronicles 29:1-36; 2 Kings 18 & 19
Some 300 years after the death of David, his descendant Hezekiah walked in the faithful steps of David to Jehovah. In two outstanding features he resembled David:
His love for the house of God.
His implicit trust in the living God in the face of apparent overwhelming opposition.
Hezekiah came to the throne when the house of God had been closed and neglected and the holy vessels destroyed (2 Chr. 28:24). With energy and wisdom Hezekiah in his love for God's house began the task of restoration. He got the doors opened and ordered that all the accumulated rubbish, the evidence of neglect, was to be immediately removed from the holy precincts of God's house. When that was accomplished all that was necessary for the worship of God was re-established. Note how David's influence pervaded the revival. We read of “the commandment of David” (Verse 25), “the instruments of David” (Verses 26-27), and the Levites were commanded to sing praise to Jehovah with “the words (Psalms) of David and of Asaph the seer” (Verse 30). The result of Hezekiah's work of restoration was worship (Verse 30), and also the service of the house of Jehovah was set in order. Hezekiah's example is worth following. In assemblies and in the lives of individual believers there can be closed doors to the Spirit's voice. Rubbish can accumulate easily after that. Sin, worldliness and fleshly activities can take over and predominate. These things must be judged and put away that true worship and godly order may prevail in the house of God. Judgment before blessing is a divine principle from Genesis to Revelation.
When Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, came against Jerusalem with a great army, the doom of the city seemed certain. But Hezekiah was a true son of David and no doubt derived strength and courage from the example of his illustrious ancestor. As with Goliath, so with Sennacherib's army. The weak one was the victor, but through God. The parallels between David and Hezekiah are most interesting:
David The armies of the living God have been defied (1 Sam. 17:26, 36-37).
Hezekiah The king of Assyria … has sent to reproach the living God (2 Kings 19:4).
David The battle is Jehovah's (1 Sam. 17:47).
Hezekiah But with us is Jehovah our God … to fight our battles (2 Chr. 32:8).
David All the earth shall know that Israel has a God (1 Sam. 17:46).
Hezekiah Thou alone art the God of all the kingdoms of the earth (2 Kings 19:15).
Hezekiah's knowledge of God and his implicit confidence in Him secured the victory over the Assyrian host. He was a worthy son of his father David. The exploits of good and great men in the Bible and in the history of the Christian testimony are inspiring and encouraging. It cannot be emphasised enough that the reading of the biographies of men and women of God is essential reading for every Christian. It is sad if Christians do not take advantage of the rich material that is available for them, first of all in the Bible, and secondly in the vast amounts of godly literature describing the conflicts of faith in the centuries of Christian warfare. How can their example be followed in days of weakness and brokenness? By an increased appreciation of the greatness and power of God and all that is available through Christ at God's right hand, and by the power of the indwelling Spirit. If God be for us, who against us? (Rom. 8:31). See also the reign of Josiah for similar features. He too was a true son of David his father (2 Kings 22:2; 2 Kings 23:3, 25; 2 Chr. 34 and 35).
“The Sermon on the Mount” (7)
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children (sons) of God (Matthew 5:9)
Peace comes from God
Few thoughts move the minds of men as much as the desire for world peace. And yet, despite all the efforts to achieve peace, we constantly hear of war and of the threats and fears of men. But we know from the Bible that, perhaps soon, there will be world-wide peace. This peace will not be the result of human efforts, but will be introduced by God Himself at the beginning of the millennium. The Kingdom of God, under the visible rule of the Lord Jesus, will be a Kingdom of peace (Isa. 9:6-7).
Those involved in politics are continually arguing with one another, while quarrels of other kinds are commonplace and are even found among believers. How difficult it is for us to live in peace with one another! According to God's thoughts peace should also reign in the relationships between the people in His Kingdom. “For the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men” (Rom. 14:17-18). Thus peace characterises the Kingdom of God in every aspect, be it at present or in the future.
But peace is not only the absence of war, quarrels or disagreements, but also a result of the presence of God in the life of man. He is the God of peace and His message is the gospel of peace (Rom. 15:33; Eph. 6:15). This peace comes from Golgotha, for it was there that the Lord Jesus made peace through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:20). Thus He has become our peace, and then He came and preached peace to those who were afar off and to those who were nigh (Eph. 2:14-17). Because of this, sinful men without peace are now able to obtain peace with God for their consciences and the peace of God for their hearts (Rom. 5:1; Phil. 4:7). This personal peace is a gift of the grace of God for each one individually. It is also the prerequisite for true peace on earth. Yet peace among men, and among believers, is also dependent on the condition of our hearts and on our conduct. Therefore we are very often exhorted to follow or to strive after peace (Rom. 14:19; 2 Tim. 2:22; Heb. 12:14; 1 Peter 3:11). In the Greek text the same word is used every time, meaning “to chase, run, follow”. In Ephesians 4:3 we are also told that diligence and zeal are necessary to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. If these exhortations were not necessary, God would not have had them written in His Word. Every believer is being addressed when the Lord Jesus says to His disciples, “ … have peace one with another … ” (Mark 9:50).
The prophets of the Old Testament had already spoken much about peace on earth. The word peace (Hebrew: Shalom) means the whole salvation of God on earth as it will be realised under Messiah's reign of peace. This salvation and this peace are not yet universally present. But they can already be found in the lives of the disciples of the Lord. In this present time believers can already display the characteristics of the Kingdom of Christ (cf. Rom. 14:17), just as the believing remnant will do during the tribulation, before the Kingdom of God over all creation is established in power and glory.
Sadly, there is not peace among believers everywhere. Instead of being shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace one goes about in a spirit of criticism. Sometimes this is done under the pretence of zeal for the truth and the holiness of God. A fault with a brother then becomes an offence; an inaccurate expression becomes false doctrine. A number of these reproaches put together may result in a serious accusation against someone, who himself is not aware of any guilt and thinks he has to defend himself against these attacks. Here it is not a question of fundamental teaching, but of human imperfection and weakness. Who is able to make peace in such a situation, where everyone concerned thinks himself to be right? How good it is when a true peacemaker is found who can, with wisdom, patience, love, understanding for human weakness and waiting on the Lord, help the person attacked and dispel the doubts of the accuser.
Party spirit among believers is also a source of quarrelling. One may lack acceptance by brothers and sisters and suppose neglect by them. When human vanity is wounded in this way it can lead to someone withdrawing and gathering partisans around himself … and the result is strife. Who is then able and willing to reconcile the parties?
Quarrels can even occur in the service of the Lord, as is shown by the example of Euodias and Syntyche in Philippi. One could list many more reasons for quarrels among believers.
Our verse now speaks about those who not only seek and follow peace, but who make peace. There are many who are peaceable and love peace, but who are unable to make peace once a disagreement has arisen. Yes, a person who is a lover of peace by nature might be in danger of becoming unfaithful to the Lord, “for the sake of peace and quiet”. He may think the quarrel can be done away with by “sweeping the matter under the carpet”. But it is not possible to make true peace in this way. When the peace among brothers and sisters or in an assembly has been disturbed the grace of our Lord Jesus must become active to still the waves of human passion which then often come to light, before peace can be re-established. Much self-denial and waiting on the Lord is necessary for this, as the purpose is to reconcile opposite characters, emotions, convictions and interests, in a godly manner. Yet these loving efforts must never be at the expense of the holiness and righteousness of God. He who wants to be a peacemaker needs to have sound spiritual discernment. This means that he first has to examine himself in the light of God as to whether he has a pure heart, as in the previous beatitude. James writes that the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable (James 3:17). Truth as well as grace are necessary for the right fulfilment of such a task. To make peace is therefore also a matter of prayer for clarity, neutrality, wisdom and love. Only then can mercy and truth, righteousness and peace meet in our lives practically. Time is often required in order that God may work in our consciences and hearts, since peace cannot be enforced.
Children (sons) of God
The peacemakers are also called “blessed”. It is their reward to be called sons of God. Later the Lord Jesus mentions a similar title. “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who insult you and persecute you; that ye may be the sons of your Father who is in the heavens; for He makes His sun rise on evil and good, and sends rain on just and unjust” (Matt. 5:44-45, J.N.D. Trans. Compare Luke 6:35).
The expression “son” does not always have the same meaning in the Holy Scriptures. Here in the “sermon on the mount” where the believers are addressed as disciples in the Kingdom of God, the word has a practical, moral meaning. A son resembles the father when he acts in accordance with his will. In the family and house of God everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus is through grace forever a son positionally (cf. Eph. 1:5; Rom. 8:15-15; Gal. 4:5-6). In contrast, those disciples of the Lord who act according to God's own example are here called sons of God. By acting according to His mind we become morally like Him, i.e. we reveal His character and show it to the world. We are enabled to do this by means of the new birth. In addition, we have been led into His thoughts by the Holy Spirit. He is the great peacemaker, and as true disciples of the Lord we may also be peacemakers.
The moment will come when the peacemakers are called the sons of God, i.e. when they are openly recognised as such. Very often now, no appreciation of such efforts is to be seen. But one day our God and Father Himself will show His appreciation of them.
“Policy of peace”
It should be mentioned briefly that this verse must not be abused by Christians (although with good intentions) to take part in political actions like “peace initiatives”, “peace rallies”, etc. for the preservation or creation of world peace. It is true that we are in this world, (yet for how long?), but we no longer belong to it (John 17:11, 14, 16). The Lord Jesus may come at any moment. Our responsibility towards this world, which rejects our Lord and therefore heads towards destruction, is not political, but only of a spiritual character. This responsibility consists of:
Praying for all men that they will be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
Being a witness personally for our beloved Lord, to all men (1 Peter 3:15).
Living in peace with all men as much as lieth in us (Rom. 12:18).
The Epistle to Philemon (2)
(Continued from page 316)
Verses 8 & 9
The first word “wherefore” links this section of the epistle with the previous seven verses. They were not preliminary small talk before getting down to business. The plea Paul would make was based on what had gone before in the epistle. The vital link “in Christ” was enjoyed by both Paul and Philemon. Paul proceeds to delicately approach the primary object of his letter. His method could well be imitated. We need to be careful in approaching one another. An outstanding Christian shows us in this letter the trouble he takes to bring harmony into a situation fraught with difficulties.
He could “charge” (enjoin) Philemon to obey him as an apostle but the case was far too delicate. He is willing to put aside apostolic authority in order to obtain a full result which affection alone can accomplish. We have considered how the bearers may have felt in bringing this epistle, but what thoughts exercised Paul's mind as he penned these words? Would Philemon be a faithful child of Paul? Would he be governed by the grace that had won his soul or would he fail in practical Christianity and grasp at his rights? Worldly feelings and practice, with social norms and family, would bring their pressures to bear upon Philemon. The choice was plain: conformity to the world or conformity to God's will (Rom. 12:2). Hitherto Philemon had delighted Paul with practical grace. Paul is relying on the triumph of the Saviour's love. He does not give a command to be obeyed but as one who had grown old in Christ's service (Paul the aged) he makes a humble petition which calls for willing consent.
My son Onesimus (verse 10)
This phrase needs to be quietly contemplated. It is a rich jewel reflecting the power of God's grace. Paul had written: “There is not Greek and Jew, … bondman, freeman; but Christ is everything … ” (Col 3:11). How often do we read this without further thought as to what it meant for the Pharisee of the Pharisees, the heir of Jewish exclusiveness, to speak thus of Gentiles? Here we have the former self-righteous Jew speaking of a runaway Roman slave in such an affectionate way. One from the very lowest dregs is called my son. The ignoble things of the world and the despised did God choose (1 Cor. 1:27-29). And because of what God had done in electing grace he now gives expression to the warm bond that God had formed. It was no less a bond of love for Onesimus than for Timothy — nor was he less “my son”. How Onesimus came to meet Paul in prison we are not told; perhaps he was imprisoned for some crime (1 Peter 4:15, 16). Paul does not complain if he is left to languish in prison. This time had been fruitful.
Time past … but now (verse 11)
The unconverted man has a past, but a converted man has “time(s) past” (Rom. 11:30; Gal. 1:23; Eph. 2:3). A radical change has occurred. Formerly, Onesimus had given grudging service. Now, instead of the feckless slave who gave eyeservice, he has learnt to give Christian service “in singleness of heart, fearing God”. (Col. 3:22-23). Most readers will know that Onesimus is a slaves name meaning “useful”. Some slaves were just numbered 2, 3, 4 (Acts 20:4; Rom. 16:22-23). But others had descriptions to help sell them in the market. In time past Onesimus could not be true to his name. He was useless; a waster. “But now” marks the change. He is a testimony to the power of the gospel of the grace of God which alone can bring such a conversion.
Paul discloses the purpose of his letter. It would cost him to send the runaway back. “Mine own bowels”, tells us of the deep inner feelings that the wrench would cause. The apostle doesn't stop there but goes on to show how he would dearly have liked to retain Onesimus. His return was very costly to the lonely Roman prisoner but he is not retained. Philemon was not to be compelled to offer a service. The believer has a duty to serve but God does not want service given “grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Paul knows that it is not just a matter of getting a wayward slave back to his legal master but of having a brother received and confidence established.
Paul's appeal goes on, and he suggests that the events connected with the slave absconding were used of God for His purposes. It appears Onesimus was led to Rome under providential circumstances. If we dwell only on the present situation we may well fail to see how the apparently adverse circumstance is in reality being ordered by God. If Onesimus had never deserted his post then Philemon's gain would have been but transient. An unconverted man has no abiding link with a Christian. But because the voice of God had been heard and touched his conscience, the heathen bondslave had been converted to Christ. The reunion would be one that would never end; not even death could touch it.
Philemon had lost a slave but in return he receives more than a slave, he receives a brother in the Lord. Under the Law of restitution in Exodus 22:7 we read “let him pay double”. “In the flesh” he is a transformed servant, “in the Lord” he is a beloved brother. In fact Philemon and his household will be better off all round. In Colossians 4:9 Onesimus is not described as a pardoned criminal but “the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you”. This is the wonder of Gods grace. Pardon for crimes of deepest dye; would that not have answered our great need? But grace does not give that alone and we are elevated to be brethren. He is not ashamed to call us brethren. The dignity of our place in the family of God will not cause pride when we remember our great deliverance from the worst lawlessness of Satan's domain. Everything we are we can only trace back to the heart of God. If Philemon is really a partner (of the great apostle Paul) then he will welcome Onesimus back as if he was welcoming Paul. Would he receive Paul as a slave?
The apostle does not ignore the past and neither does God, who requireth that which is past. Restitution must be made, the debtor has nothing with which to pay, but the apostle pledges with his own signature to restore what he did not take away. “I Paul … I will repay … ” Paul wants to remove all obstacles for Philemon and his household. But Paul gently, graciously reminds Philemon of his own debt to Paul. In this way the accounts are skilfully contra'd and thus settled.
Paul now finalises his appeal. He too wants to be refreshed by Philemon, who had refreshed others, and the refreshment of heart would be in Christ. How fittingly he uses the word “brother” again as in verse 7. Paul yearned for a new display of Christ in Philemon. All he desired was in Christ.
The heart of Philemon would be deeply touched by Paul's appeal and it would not be neglected. The duty of hospitality, much exercised by this Colossian household, would also be called upon if their prayers were answered. Paul hoped to visit them. What a privilege to open our homes for the Lord's servants! The privilege of using our homes in the noble service of hospitality is one that is strongly enjoined on believers as may be observed from numerous Scriptures (Gen. 18:1-8; Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; Heb. 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 5-6). It may be necessary to say that some who are able are not willing. Comfortable circumstances are not always conducive to a spiritual atmosphere. It is evident that the expression of hospitality should be a part of regular Christian life. If it is absent then the reason may well be a poor sense of the grace that has brought us together as brethren.
Those named here are known to Philemon in a closer way. They knew both him and Onesimus, and their prayerful interest and their fraternal greetings would also carry weight. The final greeting of the apostle to all is also a prayer. The Lord who gave Himself to redeem the saints in Colosse would also give grace to perform all that was asked and more. We need grace in order to give practical expression to true Christianity. Truth must be lived out in daily life and grace is the power that makes that possible.
E. N. C.
From Our Archive
The Scriptural Way of Gathering in the Present Day (2)
(Being the substance of ministry at the Chicago Conference, November 22-24, 1951)
(Continued from page 312)
What is Meant by Ground of Gathering
We have heard the expression “ground of gathering” mentioned often in what has gone before and I thought it might be good just to clarify somewhat this expression. The question has often been raised as to what such an expression really means and also whether the “one body” is still the ground of gathering.
By “ground of gathering” is meant the principle which governs the saints as the basis of their coming together. In plain language, “How are they gathered; they come together as what? — members of this church or that, or as members simply of this local gathering or that, or this mission or band, this evangelical society, or this independent little Bible church?” If such is the case, their ground of gathering is as members of their particular society or group, be it what it may. This is what is meant by “ground of gathering”. This would be a sectarian ground of gathering.
Now the question would arise, “What is the correct principle or ground of gathering?” For this we must go back to the beginning and get God's thoughts for we find the thoughts of man to be conflicting. I ask a simple question, how were they gathered in the beginning? Was it as members of such and such a local group or was it simply as believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, as members of His body? It was as belonging to the only church known in Scripture, the body of Christ, surely. That is the ground God put them on in the beginning and His Word has never changed and it is just as true today as it ever was then. “There is one body, and one Spirit” (Eph. 4:4). Ought we to own any other membership and gather on any other ground than that of the one body? Surely not.
Perhaps an illustration might help on this point. Suppose a certain regimental commander should put his regiment on a certain plot of ground to defend in face of the enemy and then retires from them for conference with other officers. Then after his departure, some, if not most, of the regiment think that another plot of ground is more advantageous and dissemble to it, leaving only a feeble few on the original ground. What then, are the few who are left the whole regiment? No, indeed, but are they not on the ground of the whole regiment and therefore the only true representatives of it? Would not the whole regiment be with them where they are if they had all retained their original ground or if after having left it they should renounce their self-chosen position and return to the original position assigned them by their commander? This is only an illustration, but it emphasises the point that even though it is not possible today for any company of Christians to say that they are the “church of God” for alas, many members of the body are scattered hither and yon throughout the multitudinous sects of Christendom, nevertheless, one can say by faith, that he is on the ground of the church of God when gathered simply as members of the body of Christ and owning no other membership. Every believer, having received the Spirit, is a member of the body of Christ and for any group to say that they are the “church” in any locality, they must have all the believers in the locality among them. For the local assembly is nothing more than the members of the body of Christ resident in that locality: “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Cor. 12:27). The Word speaks of “the” church at Corinth, “the” church at Jerusalem, “the” church at Ephesus, etc., and never “a” church, for it was the church in that locality, that is, the members of the body in that particular place. Suppose a letter were addressed today to the “church of God in Chicago” who would receive it? It would go to the dead-letter office.
Yet, notwithstanding these things, is all lost? No, indeed, but the answer is not to set up something else in addition to the vast numbers of Christian groups, even if it were with more light and godliness; nay, rather, it is for us to cleave to that which was from the beginning and, while owning the ruin and failure that has come in, to gather simply as members of the body of Christ recognising no other membership. On that ground we can act for the whole church, not as being the whole church, but as being on the ground of the church and therefore representative of the whole church. And I believe that God holds us responsible as such. Every local gathering ought to realise that being on the ground of the one body, it acts for the body, the whole church, in its action. Reception and discipline ought to be looked at in this light. That is, as being gathered as members of the one body and owning His authority in their midst, their action cannot be viewed as of themselves locally only, but is in reality an act of the church and for the church, the one body, irrespective of locality.
In closing, let me say that though it is true that the basis of receiving is membership in the body of Christ, there is also the question of discipline, for we are responsible to exercise discipline. Does this mean that those who seek to gather on the true ground of the church are better than others? Far be the thought! But there is a difference between failure in the path and refusal to walk the path. Failure and wilfulness are not the same. For instance, I say to my two children, “Go and make up your beds this morning before going out to play.” The eldest, who is quite capable of doing the task, slips out the back way and goes out to play in plain defiance of the order. The younger makes a whole-hearted and honest attempt to make his bed, but due to his weakness is unable to do so properly. Now neither child actually performed the task assigned, but what father would deal with the two the same? Certainly the more culpable is the wilful one who refused to even attempt the duty, whereas an obedient attempt was made by the other. Have we failed? Yes, but let us not confuse failure with departure from the truth, which is wilfulness. Let us humble ourselves over our failure, but let us not be drawn into a path of wilful disobedience to the plain teaching of the Word of God as to principles of gathering. There has been thorough failure on the true ground of gathering, but may God preserve us from giving up that divine ground because there has been failure.
Reception to a Local Assembly Only?
The question is often raised, should any be received as a Christian who are not regularly with us? Let us first say that the basis of reception, whether it be a Christian who is visiting or someone in the locality who desires to break bread regularly with us, is the same in both cases.
The basis of reception is membership in the body of Christ. However, in view of the evil that has come in, practical fellowship is now restricted by divine authority to those members of the body who bow in a practical way to the Lordship of Christ over them in their life, walk and associations. See Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, 13; 2 Timothy 2:19, 22. If we are gathered as members of the body of Christ there would be no Scriptural grounds for refusing any godly and sincere Christians simply because they are not regularly with us or because they are ignorant of church truth. But when such are allowed to break bread, the conscience of the assembly must be satisfied that they are sincere and godly in each case, and the brother or brothers introducing them must be able to assure the assembly as to this. We must bear in mind that we need discernment in all such cases as circumstances may vary greatly in each case. The point is to avoid sectarianism by refusing any sincere and godly members of the body of Christ on the one hand, or looseness in receiving those who are not walking in practical subjection to Him as Lord on the other hand.
The truth to be held firmly and clearly is, that the basis for all reception to the breaking of bread is membership in the body of Christ, and that reception is therefore not to fellowship locally merely, but a recognition of one's membership in the body of Christ and one's title thereby to fellowship wherever saints are gathered as members of the one body.
It should be equally clear that all such received are under the godly care of the assembly. Everyone who breaks bread does so as a member of the body of Christ and not merely as a visitor. The assembly is therefore responsible for his conduct whether he be regularly breaking bread with them or not. The assembly is responsible for all who come into their midst, so those in the gathering have a responsibility to instruct such as to the true ground of gathering and separation from evil, as well as all truth pertaining to our individual and collective walk. Further, this godly care would cover warnings and rebuke when necessary, to any who might be going on wilfully with unscriptural ways and practices. In short, it is not only the privilege of the assembly to receive all who are of the body who are not Scripturally debarred, but it is its responsibility also to exercise godly care and discipline over all such received into their midst. Some emphasise the privilege to receive, but entirely overlook the solemn responsibility of instructing those received as to the error of church organisations, and in the precious truth of gathering to the Name of the Lord Jesus alone outside the camp.
If we are gathered on the ground of the one body in subjection to the Lordship of Christ in our midst, then we are truly outside of the religious systems set up by men. Do any then come to us on that ground? Then let them be instructed in that fact with all long-suffering, patience and grace. But if wilful insubjection to the truth of God's Word is manifested, then proper disciplinary action must be taken. If we avail ourselves of the privilege of reception, and surely we ought to, God holds us responsible also for the exercise of godly care and discipline.
It ought to be pointed out also that in receiving anyone as a member of the body of Christ we are not having fellowship with them as a member of such and such a church group, for we can Scripturally recognise no membership but that of the body of Christ. While individuals can be received as such, it should be clear that an assembly gathered as members of the body of Christ, owning the authority of the Lord in their midst, could have no intercommunion with any gathering or group not so gathered. This would be giving tacit approval to sectarianism which the Word of God condemns (1 Cor. 1:10-13), and would encourage those who are in the sects to continue on such ground. This would not be faithfulness to the Lord nor love and honesty towards them.
Those gathered on the ground of the one body, owning the authority of the Lord in the midst of His gathered saints, can practice intercommunion. This is done in commending to and receiving from, only such assemblies as are known to be Scripturally gathered on the ground of the one body, and which keep themselves clear from the sectarian principle of independency of local gatherings or any other sectarian principles or practices. But all such assemblies known to be so gathered should have intercommunion in keeping with the truth of the one body and subjection to the authority of the Lord.
Psalm 119 (9)
(Continued from page 296)
6. VAU — A HOOK OR NAIL
The shape of this letter in Hebrew is like that of a nail. The use of a nail is to join things together. This letter is therefore what is called a copulative conjunctive. The English equivalent would be the word “and” which always joins a series of ideas. The letter therefore connects things together. In the Old Testament this letter vau occurs more than 15000 times! The numerical value of vau is six, which in the Bible is the number of man, and it stresses man's limitation in contrast with God's infiniteness. We get the idea of what is individual. An interesting use of the letter is found in Daniel 5:25: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN … ”. Vau is the U in Upharsin. In the Hebrew this means literally: “ … A Mina, a Mina, a Shekel and Half-Minas … ”. The Chaldean “Upharsin” is translated into English by “ … AND divided it” (or finished it).
It is interesting that in several verses in the Old Testament we have the “Nail” mentioned as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ and His work of redemption and salvation: “And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house … In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the LORD hath spoken it” (Isaiah 22:23-25). Some commentators see Eliakim here foreshadowing Christ. “Out of him came forth the corner, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every oppressor together” (Zech. 10:4). This verse speaks of the house of Judah. “Out of him”, would come He Who is the CORNER-stone, He Who is the NAIL on Whom all Hope hangs …
Verses 25-48. Strength for the Weary
Section six. Verses 41-48: “The Word of God Leads to Victory”
A. The Prayer — verses 41-44:
1. For full salvation
Verse 41: VA-BANI … “Let come to me … ”
In the previous section we saw the writer's helplessness and nothingness and his desire for quickening. This section, through the significance of the letter vau as superscript, stresses the fact that Jesus, having identified Himself with helpless and needy man, is man's only salvation. This is what the Psalmist realises: his constant need for mercies and salvation. It is the same for the Christian. We have been saved and we are being saved. We have experienced God's grace and mercy, and we continue to need His mercies every day. The writer in these verses fears lest in any degree the Lord would withhold His favour from him. This is a needless fear for the true Christian. We may become unfaithful but He abides faithful, He cannot deny Himself. In salvation we have become identified with the Lord Jesus Christ, and as long as we realise our constant need of Him, and abide in Him, we shall experience victory over Satan and sin and self, “ … according to Thy Word”. In 1 John 2:14 we see that the young men were able to overcome the wicked one by the fact that they were made strong through the Word that abode in them.
2. For victory over Satan
Verse 42: VA-GAH-NAH … “And I will answer … ”
Here we are told who it is the Psalmist wants to answer! “ … him that reproacheth me … ”. The verb reproach in the Hebrew has the sense of scorn, to carp, to reproach. We all know that Satan is described in the Bible as the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). Satan uses human beings also to inflict scorn on their fellow-men. Unbelievers may scorn and mock the believer, or ask him “tricky” questions. The verse continues to tell us that it is only as “I trust in Thy Word” that the Psalmist is able “to answer”. Here then is another secret of victory over the enemy: “But sanctify the Lord God (J.N.D.: “the Lord the Christ”) in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
3. For truth that overcomes
Verse 43: VA-LA … “And not deliver … ”
His desire has been to be able to “give his testimony” even before those who oppose and scorn and ridicule him. He dreads the possibility that for some reason he would not have a word to answer: “ … the word of truth … out of my mouth”. Only daily experience of fellowship with the Lord and study of His Word will prepare us to be His witnesses. Sin in the life would take away our testimony. Sometimes, even when out of fellowship with the Lord we may try to cover up and continue to testify, but there is no power, no conviction. Our opposers may even say: “Your actions speak so loud that I cannot hear what you say”.
4. That I may triumph only through Him
Verse 44: VA-ASHAMARH … “And I shall keep … ”
The verse begins with a “vau” which may also be rendered “by way of explanation” or our “If … then … ”. Here the Authorised Version has translated: “So … ”. “Nothing more effectually binds a man to the way of the Lord than an experience of the truth of His Word, embodied in the form of mercies and deliverances. Not only does the Lord's faithfulness open our mouths against His adversaries, but it also knits our hearts to His fear, and makes our union with Him more and more intense. God's grace alone can enable us to keep His commandments without break and without end”. So, because He strengthens and quickens and enables us, we can “keep” His “law” in the form of Christ's commandments for us today.
B. The Promises — verses 45-48:
1. Perfect freedom is to be His slave
Verse 45: VA-ATHALACH … “And I will walk … ”
Am I stating a contradiction? Is to be His slave really perfect liberty? Yes, indeed. Ask all those who have totally submitted to His blessed will. What joy! What perfect liberty not to do our own will, as before, but His will. Free at last to do His will. Free from the bondage of the will of the flesh, from self-will! “For I seek Thy precepts”. It is as we search the Scriptures that we shall find this secret of “perfect … liberty”. It is at the end of Romans chapter seven that we see a soul cry out in bitterness: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” He is miserable because he is under the tyranny of sin and self. But he discovers the secret: “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Have we yielded to the Lordship of Christ yet?
2. My lips are His
Verse 46: VA-ADABARAH … “And I will speak … ”
Delivered from the bondage and tyranny of sin and self, now we can yield to our new Master, the Lord Jesus Christ! There was a time, in our unregenerate days, when Psalm 12:2-4 might have been applicable to any one of us: “ … with flattering lips, and with a double heart, do they speak. The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things; Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” I hope that my reader can say: “my lips are His”. What do we use our mouths and our lips for now? Surely our verse helps us: “I will speak of Thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed”. Think of the apostle Paul, how he stood before king Agrippa, before Festus and Felix, and gave a ringing testimony to his faith in the living God. (Acts 26 etc.).
3. My heart is His also
Verse 47: VA-ASHTATGAG … “And I will delight myself … ”
It is a very good habit to have our hearts and thoughts occupied with the Lord and His Word, from the moment we wake in the morning. Many believers know the joy of keeping a regular “quiet time” with the Lord and His Word. Do you? It is not easy to find time each day for this. Many believers have totally disorganised lives, and feel dissatisfied as they seem to accomplish nothing really positive. But you will always recognise a spiritual and fruitful believer — his life-style is an organised life-style. “My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up” (Ps. 5:3). Many men of God in the Bible got up early in the morning to do what the Lord required of them. Of the Lord Jesus we read that He got up “a great while before day”, to pray. This is indeed the secret of the victorious life, a life of prayer and study of the Word of God.
4. My hands and my body are His
Verse 48: VA-AHSAH … “ … And I will lift up … ”
It is entirely appropriate that this section of eight verses should end with hands lifted up to the Lord in total dependence, relying on Him for victory in daily life. Nothing less than total surrender of our will to the Lord Jesus and submission to Him as His “slaves”, yielding our lips and our mouths and our hands to Him, is required so that we might realise His victory in our lives.
(To be continued, if the Lord will)