The Doctrine of Christ
(2 John 9, 10)
Observant readers of Scripture have long noted that the character of the second epistles — 2 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, etc., — is one of decline and a falling away from revealed truth. In the Second Epistle of John, that character is clearly apparent. In verse 7 it reads, “For many deceivers are entered into the world … ” They are described as those who do not confess Jesus Christ come in the flesh, an expression which occurs also in 1 John 4:2 in connection with discerning the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
The writer is disposed to think that the expression, which heads this article, embraces all that the apostle John teaches about Christ's person and work in both his Gospel and Epistles. From the way these two expressions are linked together in the Second Epistle there can be no doubt that it must embrace whatever the words, “Jesus Christ… come in the flesh” mean. It is vital we have some clear understanding because otherwise we will neither be able to identify nor refuse those who do not bring the doctrine of Christ. What follows attempts to clarify the meaning.
It could never be said of any one of us that we came in the flesh for we had no previous existence. The Lord Jesus did! John 1:14 speaks of it: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth.” Those beautiful words are saying that He — the Word — was there before His incarnation, clearly asserting His personal greatness and glory. It is not simply that He has made God fully known by His incarnation and death, but that He alone was ever able to fully declare Him, for He ever was and is God. Whoever first used the words about John 1:1, “Eternal existence, eternally distinct personality, eternal deity,” not only caught the very spirit of Scripture but also hit the nail on the head in relation to the deity of the Lord Jesus.
However, that is not all, for Scripture has more to say about His pre-incarnate existence. John's Gospel was written to teach and maintain the truth of eternal relationships within the Godhead. One writer has written of those relationships as the very heart of Christianity. Another, writing to clarify that truth in the mid 1850's, when it was strongly assailed, asked a very simple but vital question, “Had the Father no bosom in eternity?” The Bible not only says He had, but tells us so much about the One who eternally dwelt there — the Son of the Father's love (Col. 1:13, J.N.D. Trans.). The matchless words of John 1:18 illuminate all — “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” This relationship is highlighted in 2 John verse 9 in the words, “He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” So in addition to His deity, the doctrine of Christ includes also His eternal Sonship.
It hardly needs to be said, let alone dealt with at length, that, “come in the flesh” must also mean that, sin apart, the Lord Jesus was a man; spirit, soul and body! Scripture bears witness to this: -
“Jesus … was troubled in spirit … ” (John 13:21)
“Now is My soul troubled … ” (John 12:27)
“Who … bare our sins in His own body on the tree … ” (1 Peter 2:24)
This is what Hebrews 2:9 means when it says, “Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death … that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Had He not been truly man, He could never have laid down His life an offering for sin. But He was and is truly man. He did lay down His life, both to glorify God and to lay that unshakeable foundation, upon which God in perfect grace is eternally and distinctively blessing the simple believer in Jesus.
Others would no doubt expand the foregoing. This simple outline is written to encourage us all in these perilous days to faithfully hold the truth in love. To cling to His Name and His Word in days of conflict is faithfulness indeed.
The Way of Faith in an Evil Time, by H. H. Snell, 32pp, paperback, reprinted by Chapter Two, price £1.95.
Who would dare deny that we live in an evil time as we approach the close of 1996? The nearer we come to the end of our present dispensation of God's grace, the darker the times appear. Men of God have always been concerned about the trends of the times in which they lived. In Psalm 11:3, David poses the question, “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” The author of this little booklet had similar concerns more than one hundred years ago. What he wrote then is still relevant today.
Unlike most contemporary writers, H. H. Snell does not concentrate primarily upon the declining moral standards and the increase in gross wickedness that even the world deplores as so pathetically commonplace today. He points out that “the natural conscience sometimes recognizes and recoils from moral evil,” and goes on to say: “but to discern and repudiate doctrinal evil we need to be spiritual.” It is this latter evil that he intends to focus on, both for the individual and for God's assembly. This is of great importance today, where so many gloss over doctrinal differences, and where mass movements even endorse indifference to doctrine as a principle by which to unite all kinds of people.
The author speaks plainly and straightforwardly. He points out that separation from evil is but a beginning: there is more to follow. Using Old Testament examples, he shows how in a time of ruin the judgment of evil was always followed by a returning to the Word of God and acting thereon. From the New Testament he points out what the essentials of Christianity are, at least as far as they directly relate to his subject. That which we “have heard from the beginning,” especially with regard to the Person of the Son, the headship of Christ, and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit — these are precious subjects to which he devotes consideration.
While setting before his readers the importance of doctrinal soundness, the writer equally stresses the importance of an accompanying condition of faith and love and hope. He warns against being puffed up about separation from evil and warns also against “gliding” (an interesting word to use, isn't it) “into formality and dead orthodoxy.” “God looks for reality,” he tells us in conclusion. “Are our hearts set on pleasing Him by walking in the truth?”
From time to time we are told not to remove the ancient landmarks which our fathers have set. Often this verse is applied to pet customs and patterns that have become traditional among gatherings of Christians. In this little booklet we have some of those ancient landmarks that God prizes, for these are landmarks He has used our spiritual fathers, the apostles, to set for us in His Word. May we heed them — they are still appropriate today.
Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
Judah and Tamar
What follows is the product of some study undertaken to try to understand a difficult portion of the Word. This chapter is seldom read in public as it refers to deeds of the darkest nature. It presents human nature in the raw, in its sordid character astray from God. It occupies a peculiar place, sandwiched in the unfolding progress of Joseph's history. Historically, the events recorded happened before chapter thirty-seven, but as is often the case in the Bible a moral order is given to the subjects that come before the reader. The bright light of Joseph's high moral conduct brings into even sharper relief the depraved and unprincipled behaviour of his brother Judah. Joseph is as constant and honourable at home doing his father's business looking after the sheep, as he is in Egyptian captivity. Joseph was a conscript into the world like Daniel in later years. Alas many are determined to go into the place where Christ has been rejected. They do not lose their first love but leave it. Demas forsook Paul's fellowship and went into the world that lies in the wicked one, where Christ is still hated and refused. Joseph (and Daniel) refused the seduction of the world but here we see Judah drawn into the closest ties with idolaters.
We are accustomed to viewing Joseph as one of the most beautiful types of Christ in Scripture. Genesis 37 gives us typical details of Christ's rejection even to parallels relating to Christ's betrayal by a man with the same name: Judas. Genesis 38 suggests the present period of grace, during which Israel as such has no history, but Judah (Jewry) is prominent. The question therefore arises: How does Judah fare now he is rid of Joseph? Sadly, we see a manifestation of perverted values, personal vileness and the hypocrisy of pretended virtue. William Kelly says that this is, “the most humiliating tale that we find perhaps anywhere in the book of Genesis.” Those of Judah are filling up the measure of their sins, making terms with the uncircumcised and defiling the holy seed. This passage gives us the first crisis of succession in Judah. We know that our Lord sprang from Juda(h) (Matt. 1:3; Heb. 7:14) and therefore perceive the intrusion of Satan into the circumstances. His design was ever to hinder the coming and work of the Messiah. We should note that not only is Tamar's security challenged but also her right to become the mother of Judah's heir. Something of the mercy and grace of the gospel is also seen. There is full departure from God's ways, with treachery and vile behaviour boldly exhibited. Any relationship with God is utterly despised and forsaken by Judah's reprehensible conduct. From the contrasts in the narrative we will learn both practical lessons and something of the unfolding history of Judah in Jewry. These themes are intertwined in the sacred text and will be of interest to the student of Scripture.
The chapter can be divided into six subjects by enumerating the six sins listed below. This is indicative of the Spirit's mind to record man's condition and hallmark it with the number of Man in his failure and distance from God.
Sin 1 v. 1 Judah joins the world
Sin 2 v. 7 Er's wickedness
Sin 3 v. 9 Onan's selfishness
Sin 4 v. 11 Judah's unrighteousness
Sin 5 v. 14 Tamar's whoredom
Sin 6 v. 24 Judah's hypocrisy
CommentsSin 1. Judah Joins the World (verses 1-6)
Judah leaves his brothers to join the world of the Canaanite (the Merchant) in all its ruined character. The actual words of Scripture, “went down from,” indicate the course of departure embarked upon and alert the reader to the fact that what follows will be characterised by sin. The consequences of Judah's wilful departure will be serious and he will have to learn that he cannot please himself without reaping a harvest of sorrow. He has to learn that what a man sows that shall he also reap (Gal. 6:7). Dispensationally this is where the Jew is at the present time, motivated by self-interest and governed by what he sees without regard for God's counsel. Tamar's history shows the infinitude of Divine mercy. We see God's own wonderful way of connecting the Christ with Judah, and thus Tamar is listed in the genealogy recorded in Matthew's Gospel. She is the first of the four women mentioned there, each having their own special place by God's grace. It is sad to witness Judah's departure from the relative safety and enjoyment of his brothers' company. His heart was already at a distance from the joy of communion with his father and now he takes this further step and leaves his brethren. We have seen this often enough with those whose hearts have grown cold, when in due time their feet follow the inclination of their minds. The heart astray from God is a ready prey to the deceit and incitements of men. One not walking in communion with God will soon walk in fellowship with the unconverted men of the world. In verse 1 we see that Judah must have had common interests with Hirah. In verse 12 he is described as “… his friend Hirah the Adullamite.” James tells us that friendship with the world is enmity against God (James. 4:4), but such considerations were absent from a man bent on doing his own will.
In the second verse we see that the downward pathway brings Judah into the most intimate association with a daughter of a Canaanite. Here we have him repeating the sin of Esau, whose marriages were a grief to his parents (Gen. 26:35). Judah had no regard for the ancient landmark set up by Abraham who said: “thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites” (Gen. 24:3). Judah had no compunction in marrying a pagan, “the daughter of a strange god” (Mal. 2:11). Today, for the Christian, the principle is clear. The instruction in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 is, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” The criterion for selecting his wife is suggested by the phrase, “And Judah saw,” much the same as Samson in later years: “And Samson went down … and saw a woman … of the daughters of the Philistines … and said, I have seen a woman” (Judges 14:1-2). There was no thought of making a selection according to the mind of God (cf. Gen. 2:18, 24). Judah was motivated by base desires such as we read of in 1 John 2:16, “the lust of the eyes … is of the world.”
Sin 2. Er's Wickedness (verses 6-7)
Judah had chosen a wife called Tamar for his eldest son. Er was the firstborn of Judah's strength. He had been named by his father and the meaning of his name may be “watchful” (Potts). Er evidently became watchful for opportunities to do evil. He thought that no consequences would follow upon his sins but the biblical principle in Galatians 6:7 holds good for all time: “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” His wickedness was seen by Jehovah and he reaped the due reward of his actions. Pay-day came swiftly for him: “and the LORD slew him.” Er deceived himself but was he not merely following his father? To bring up children in an evil world is not easy. When parents introduce their offspring to the things of this present evil age, they will find them applying themselves most energetically to the world in all its ruin and departure from God.
Sin 3. Onan's Selfishness (verses 8-10)
According to Old Testament custom a widow had her security provided for by the system of levirate marriage. You will recall that the kinsman in Ruth 4:6 was offered the opportunity of marrying Ruth and securing Elimelech's inheritance, but he said, “I cannot redeem it for myself.” He seemed unwilling to affect his own inheritance by marrying a Moabitess and I suggest that in this he showed a selfish attitude. Onan exceeded this because he married Tamar but then refused to grant her the privilege of being the mother of Judah's heir. He was prepared to marry her and enjoy conjugal relations, but he wanted to refrain from giving of his strength. The sin that is so displeasing to God in Onan's case was not simply a matter of spilling his seed on the ground, but of selfishness. He wanted her to remain a childless and despised widow and his whole attitude was governed by this. It was not a single sin but a repeated one, for the word “when” in verse 9 should read “whenever.” Augustine of Hippo once posed the question which, if my memory serves me correctly, was, “Whom have you ever seen content with a single sin?” So, as with his wicked brother, the solemn harvest was reaped and he too was slain by the Lord (v. 10).
Sin 4. Judah's Unrighteousness (verse 11)
Tamar had the right to be the mother of Judah's heir. He withheld this legitimate entitlement from her, effectively blaming her for the death of his sons. He did not blame his own sons for any wrong. Judah's prejudice in favour of his own family blinded him to the truth. He followed the same course as Eli and Samuel in later years. Many today allow the ties of nature to sway their judgment in matters of importance. Judah is characterised by perverted values. On a practical note, the suggestion that Shelah might be a husband before he was full grown is also contrary to the mind of God. In Genesis 2:24 we read, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother…” Maturity is supposed in every domain of life; physical, mental and emotional. Shelah was significantly younger than Tamar, and this was not a good recipe for a marriage.
Sin 5. The Whoredom of Tamar (verses 13-23)
This sordid occurrence took place at the time of sheep-shearing, the time when something was taken from the sheep. To take and leave naked is Satan's work. Sexual temptation was increased by the practices of the Canaanite cult. Ritual fornication was part of their fertility magic. It seems that Tamar posed as a temple/cult prostitute. Such was the world that Judah had married into! Can there be anything so dreadful as this kind of union? Alas, it is also found in the New Testament among the saints of God. Paul spares no words in telling the assembly at Corinth that, “fornicators” shall not “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). What had been done privately at home was made known to the conscience of the assembly and strongly condemned (1 Cor. 5:1-13). With such they were not even to eat. The wicked person had to be put away from among them. We know that these sins are commonplace in the world. We need to be aware of our natural propensities and ought to be most cautious and reserved in our conduct with those of the opposite sex (1 Tim. 5:2). Paul gives no licence for any dalliance with evil, but writes, “Flee fornication” (1 Cor. 6:18). We are commanded by Scripture to put a great distance between ourselves and the temptation. Obedience to the Word of God is the only way of escape which has been provided. In the next chapter, Joseph, in captivity but still answering to God's will, “fled, and got him out” of Potiphar's house. Potiphar's wife was persistent but he was as resolute to please God. Such a consideration seems entirely absent from Tamar and Judah. They demonstrate their personal vileness.
Sin 6. Judah's Hypocrisy (verses 24-26)
What a hypocrite! Judah acts as if he is completely right and without blame, but it is he who has the greater guilt. It was he who caused Tamar to stumble and now he wants her punished. If I cause another to sin because of my own wickedness, how great then is my responsibility. Judah was the prime mover in these sins and now he places all the blame on Tamar. He would be horrified to have the responsibility and blame placed at his feet. Judah's pretended virtue is about to be exposed by the subsequent events. God's Spirit will say, as to his great heir, David, “Thou art the man” (2 Sam. 12:7). He has a double standard, which is not acceptable to a holy God. Judah is ready to condemn Tamar to be burnt, but she had secured a pledge from him. This she now brought forward in evidence (v. 25) and Judah's complicity in the sin is manifested before all. This is the way God works. A frank confession will secure His mercy. Tamar is acknowledged as being more righteous than Judah (v. 26). In Psalm 92:12 we read again of Tamar, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree…” (Tamar means Palm). The last verse of that Psalm is very appropriate to what follows in the narrative of our chapter: “the LORD is upright … there is no unrighteousness in Him.” Having established righteousness He is now free to show mercy.
The closing verses (vv. 27-30) of this chapter show how mercy rejoices over judgment. Of this J. G. Bellett wrote, “The hope of Israel is in the womb, a blessing is in the cluster; but truly it is such a cluster of wild vine as might well be doomed to the sickle, if sovereign, abounding grace did not say, “Destroy it not” (Isa. 65:8; Matt. 1:3).” The midwife had seen nothing like this before and exclaims, “How hast thou broken forth?” (v. 29). But thus the line to Christ is carried forward. Pharez comes forth, the second Jacob, a supplanter. From this one there was to come the True Inheritor of every blessing. Christ is the righteous Supplanter of every usurper, and He will prevail and His kingdom will stand for ever. Out of Judah will come the chief ruler (1 Chr. 5:2). We wonder how any good could come out of such a disastrous course of events, but what is impossible with men is not so with God. He brings glory to His Name out of darkest shame. This is fully shown in the cross, where Jew and Gentile joined together in the sin of rejecting and crucifying God's Son. It was from such sinners that a new body was formed, expressly to worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:18).
Here we have seen sin abounding, yet grace much more abounding. Here we have, “God, in His great grace, rising above the sin and folly of man, in order to bring about His own purposes of love and mercy … How evident that there is nothing of man in this!” (C. H. Mackintosh). Grace reigns in every saint now but will reign in Israel in the future when Christ their King is upon His throne.
Stone … Cut Out Without Hands (1)
“Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces” (Daniel 2:34).
“Cut out of the mountain without hands” (Daniel 2:45).
In the three previous articles on the theme, “Without hands,” we have seen that the inward replaces the outward (circumcision), the permanent replaces the temporary (tabernacle) and the heavenly replaces the earthly (house). In this fourth article we shall see that the indestructible replaces the destructible (kingdom).
The subject of the “stone … cut out without hands,” calls for some background information and this is provided in Daniel 2. The three verses, 28, 29, and 45, assure us that the appearance of this “stone” lies in the future. “But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days” (v. 28). “As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind… what should come to pass hereafter” (v. 29). Verse 45 says much the same and all three references clearly point to the end times. In our days many momentous events have taken place and we cannot ignore their impact. These events make us feel that we live in closing days. However, the focus of prophecy is upon the end times and they will not begin to be fulfilled until the church has been removed from earth to heaven.
The familiar term, “the last days,” found in both the Old and New Testaments, does not always point to the same time. In 2 Timothy 3:1 we read, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” As we read on in this passage, we find described many of the features we see around us today. This confirms that the “last days” of 2 Timothy 3:1 are the closing days of the history of the church, just before the rapture. However, when this expression is used in the Old Testament it is connected with the period after the removal of the church. We give one example: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains” (Isa. 2:2). This beautiful verse describes events consequent upon the appearance of the “stone … cut out of the mountain without hands” (Dan. 2:45).
The Times of the Gentiles
It was the Lord Jesus who spoke these words in Luke 21:24: “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” The view taken of the Olivet discourse in Luke's Gospel, differs from that taken in the Gospels by Matthew and Mark. These last two writers almost immediately draw our attention to the last days. In Matthew 24:15 reference is made to the, “abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand(ing) in the holy place.” Also, the “great tribulation” is mentioned in verse 21 of the same chapter. Both of these events will take place on earth after the removal of the church. Luke, on the contrary, puts before us things that were then in the near future. In Luke 21:20 he writes: “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” This verse refers to what happened in A.D. 70 under the Roman armies. History records the awful calamities that befell the city, and the wholesale slaughter of the people. This event marked the beginning of long centuries of desolation and scattering.
Although it was not until the Son of God came to earth that the words were used, “times of the Gentiles,” those times actually began in the days of the captivity of Judah in Babylon (B.C. 604). However, consequent upon the rejection and crucifixion of their Messiah, the Jewish nation has suffered centuries of being “trodden down of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). Almost unbelievable persecutions and atrocities have been directed against them. At the present time the Jews have possession of Jerusalem. There is a nation of Israel in existence which makes its impact on world affairs. They are there in unbelief. Their troubles are not over yet, and the city will again be overrun by the Gentiles: “The holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months” (Rev. 11:2).
When did the Times of the Gentiles Begin?
It was a critical period for the kingdom of Judah. 115 years previously the ten tribes of Israel had been taken away by the king of Assyria into his own land. God in His righteousness had permitted this because of their sinful and idolatrous practices.
Judah had not taken this to heart. It ought to have been a warning to them and they should have changed their ways, but they heeded it not. Apart from one or two kings who were faithful, Judah never really gave up its idolatry. That kingdom ended in an ignominious way. The dreadful sins of Manasseh sealed its doom. The three wicked kings following the good reign of Josiah, hastened its end.
This time, God used Babylon to chastise His people. In B.C. 606 Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadnezzar and this was the commencement of the seventy years captivity in Babylon. This also marked the beginning of the “times of the Gentiles,” already referred to. A little later, in the year B.C. 588, Jerusalem was completely destroyed, together with the temple which had been built by Solomon. God took power and authority out of the hands of His own people and put it into Gentile hands, Nebuchadnezzar being the first head of the succession of Gentile kingdoms (Dan. 2:38). It is still the “times of the Gentiles” and these will go on until the setting up of the kingdom in the hands of Christ.
Those days were very dark indeed for Israel. Jeremiah and ohers like-minded felt it acutely. The “Lamentations” bring to light his distress when he saw the city in ruins. It was by visions that Ezekiel saw the end. He saw the “Glory of the Lord” departing: “and the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city” (Ezek. 11:23). The prophet Hosea, in his book, records very sad words. Referring to his newly born son he writes: “Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not My people, and I will not be your God” (Hosea 1:9). This verdict still stands today, and yet in spite of all, God's promises to the nation will be fulfilled. The day is coming when that nation will be brought to own their sin and folly, and recognize as their deliverer the One who they crucified. Their long centuries of blindness will then be over. Through mercy, they will come to trust the Lord Jesus, whom we have trusted. “For thus saith the Lord, Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them” (Jer. 32:42). We are also told in Jeremiah that what God did to His people, He did for their good (Jer. 24:5).
The history of God's earthly people illustrates His disciplinary ways, whether it be in relation to nations or individuals. God always has our profit in view. This is seen once again in the prophecy of Jeremiah: “The anger of the Lord shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly” (Jer. 23:20).
This verse reminds us of the 12th chapter of Hebrews, where we who are Christians are seen to be under the Father's chastening hand. How often the apostle's words have been an encouragement: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Heb. 12:6). They seem to line up with the “heart” in the verse quoted above. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11). As the nation of Israel will in the latter days consider their years of suffering perfectly, so may we be exercised by our trials and find that they have been truly for our good.
Having ascertained the starting point of the “times of the Gentiles,” we come now to the characteristics of this period. In Daniel 2 we are given an outline of the successive powers into whose hands rule and authority are committed.
This outline of Gentile power was given to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream. He called upon his magicians and astrologers to make known to him, not only the interpretation of the dream, but also the dream itself. This command was thought to be unreasonable by the wise men. They said, “tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation” (v. 4). The autocratic character of the king came out in his answer: “The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill” (v. 5). The magicians were in great danger and the more they remonstrated with the king, the more furious he became. Even Daniel and his fellows were threatened. Evidently Daniel had not been consulted as to whether he could solve the matter. However, when the matter was made known to Daniel he asked for time and called together his companions, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. These four godly children of Judah had a prayer meeting.
They decided that, “they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret” (v. 18). The attitude of Daniel and his companions to what seemed an impossible situation is a striking example to us in our day. How do we react to circumstances where no way of escape is evident? What a resource we have! There is a “throne of grace,” available at all times. In spite of this, how often we try to sort things out ourselves and fail. When the Lord Jesus was here, He referred to a faith able to remove a mountain (Mark 11:23). Nebuchadnezzar and his edict must have seemed like a mountain that could never be removed. But by prayer Daniel and his friends did remove the mountain, for we read: “Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven” (v. 19). Not only did they pray, but when the answer was given, Daniel was full of gratitude. “I thank Thee, and praise Thee, O Thou God of my fathers … for Thou hast now made known unto us the king's matter” (v. 23).
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
Having Loved His Own Which Were In The World (6)
Using the figure of a vine and its branches, the Lord has not only demonstrated how vital it is to abide in Him, but that they are thus able to bring forth fruit for the Father's pleasure. In unfolding these things, He is seeking to draw them closer to Himself.
In the intimacy of this fellowship with Him and the Father, He can speak freely to them as friends. He calls His own His “friends” because they have a ready ear and heart to receive all that the Father has given to His Son to communicate to them. His heart, the heart of the Son, had gone out to them. how favoured they were! Further, He makes known that they were His chosen ones, set in a place of favour, as ordained to go and bring forth fruit which should remain. This would be fruit in service for Him. In serving Him they have a place of nearness that gives free access to the Father in His Name. They can seek the Father's help and support. Such is the value of that Name to the Father that they will receive their requests. This service for Him requires unity amongst themselves and they are commanded, “That ye love one another.”
He passes on now to speak of the place of their service, where they were to bring forth fruit. The whole sphere and atmosphere of love into which they had been brought, is in direct contrast to a hateful and hating world into which He is sending them. He is hated by it: therefore they who are His own will be likewise hated. His deep caring love for them reveals these things to them so that they may be ready, prepared and strengthened. They were once part of the world, but as chosen out from it He says: “Ye are not of the world.” The measure of their Lord's acceptance or rejection would determine their own. They would be rejected on His account. Darkness and ignorance marked the world that received not the light of the revelation of the Father, manifested through and in the Son. The world did see Him whom the Father sent, for He had walked before them for three and a half years, and could not be hidden from their eyes. His words were words of truth, from which they could not escape. He had done works of power which they could not deny, though they refused them. Hatred toward the Son was hatred toward the Father, and this without a cause, for the Lord was without sin. All this He reveals to them beforehand, that they may be left in no doubt about the world into which He, in love, was sending them. How rich and how precious, therefore, would be the fruit they would bear.
Were they then to be here without power? Not so. The Comforter, the Spirit of truth, would be their power and resource. He would come from the Father, sent by the Son, to bring a testimony from thence of His glory. Besides this heavenly testimony, they would be enabled to testify also concerning Him, for they had been with Him “from the beginning” of His ministry. His own could bear witness of His life of humility, His path of love, and His devotion, even to the death of the cross. Beside all this, as they lived like Him in the world, they would manifest Him continually for the Father's pleasure while He was absent.
(The brother who has written this series of articles
wishes to remain anonymous)
Two Views of the History of the Church (1)
(Continued from page 293)
Verses 14 to 20. Oh the sense of ease the south wind gave (v. 13). What a false sense of security! The period of acceptance by the world had Satan's desired effect of lulling the assembly into a sense of comfortable numbness. Perched on deck with proud confidence, they made a sitting target for the sweeping hurricane of popery.
This introduces perhaps the darkest and longest blot on the assembly's history in this world. The features figured by all that happened to the ship hardly need comment: driven by the wind (v. 15) — every wind of doctrine; they made themselves masters of the boat (v. 16) — as lording it over their possessions, recognising positions of ecclesiastical mastery; they used helps (v. 17) — human helps, saints, men and women dead and living. With no sense of the value of the finished work of Christ, they feared running aground and with cargo and furniture thrown overboard (v. 18, 19) they saw neither sun nor stars for many days (v. 20) and gave up all hope of salvation. No guidance from God. No access to His Word. What absolute utter darkness! Well might we speak of them as the dark ages.
How significant that over this entire period there is not one word from Paul.
“Ye ought, O men, to have hearkened to me.” What characterised the revival known as the Reformation was a return to the Word of God. Gospel truth, justification by faith alone without works, the finished work of Christ, the sovereignty of God — all revived to the hearts and minds of many. The gospel Paul unfolded in Romans became the food and impulse of men of faith. Yet, as we also see here in verses 21 to 25, it is not a word of congratulation that the Lord gave to Sardis. In many respects, it is a word of rebuke. Paul's voice was heard again after a silence of about one thousand years, but the word heard did not go beyond the truth of the gospel and the assurance of salvation.
The words of the Lord Jesus to Philadelphia were, “thou hast kept the word of My patience” (Rev. 3:10). He has been patiently waiting for the day when He will receive His bride to Himself. Early last century this was impressed on the hearts of godly men and women who responded to the exhortation, “Behold, the bridegroom; go forth to meet Him” (Matt. 25:6). The Person of Christ and the imminence of His return drew forth a response from the hearts of many. They kept the word of His patience. In the words of our chapter, they “supposed that some land neared them” (v. 27). This “supposing” was founded on the teaching of the Word of God, by the Spirit of God, who confirmed to the hearts and minds of many the nearness of Christ's return.
This fresh response to the Word of God in its presentation of Christ and His coming enabled the subsequent understanding and appreciation of all the characteristic truths of the dispensation which had been committed to Paul. This was accompanied by an intense sense of humility on account of the assembly's failure. It was accompanied by godly fear (v. 29) and this produced an absolute reliance on the Word of God and the Person of Christ. They cast four anchors. It is Christ, the anchor for the soul. For connected with the apprehension of Himself as dead and risen, as ascended and seated at God's right hand, and as coming again are the four great realms of truth peculiar to the present dispensation: 1 — the truth of the gospel; 2 — the great doctrines of Christian life and position in connection with His death and resurrection; 3 — the truth of the assembly in all its varied aspects in connection with His having ascended and seated Himself at God's right hand; and 4 — the rapture of the saints, their association with Christ in His millennial reign, and the manifestation of His glory by the judgment of the living and the dead, following His coming again. In summary, evangelical, doctrinal, ecclesiastical and prophetic truth.
These wonderful truths are so closely linked together: they depend on one another, they are consistent with one another, and they characterise this dispensation. They were, in a peculiar manner, committed to the apostle Paul, who by them completed the Word of God (Col. 1:25). Early last century, when the anchors were cast, one wrote of “the testimony of God which He is giving at this time,” and enumerated the following truths as examples of that testimony:
“the peculiar glory of the exalted Man, its consequences in the sending of the Holy Ghost, the union of the church with its Head, the indwelling of the Comforter in the individual saints, their being members of His body, of His flesh, and His bones; the taking the bride up and presenting it to Himself, and the rapture of the saints: all that constitutes distinctively Christianity.”1
How greatly we need to feed on and be formed by these truths.
When once the saints had been drawn together by the appreciation and affection for Christ, and by the love of the truth, it was not long before Satan attacked. The consequence of his attack was that the principle of independency was manifested (v. 30); the sailors tried to go out on their own. The Person of Christ and the truth of God unite and establish souls. When these are, in any measure, let go (collective) unity and (individual) establishment decline commensurately.
v. 33, 34
Paul's counsel to those on the ship was to partake of some food. How we need to feed on the Word of God. “Controversy may instruct but it seldom feeds the soul.”2 When recovered, all these doctrines had to be fought for. They were rejected by the mass of the Christian profession. Yet the soul is not nourished by arguing and contending for the truth — rather by meditating on it and responding to God in worship on account of it.
v. 35, 36
Paul broke bread. This is obviously not the Lord's supper — but how forcibly does the use of the words describing his act remind us of it! The Lord's supper was one feature of the dispensation which was delivered to Paul in order to ensure its perpetuation until the Lord comes (1 Cor. 11:23). In it there is seen the link between the three great positions of Christ mentioned earlier. The risen and ascended Lord delivered it to Paul. By celebrating it we announce the Lord's death. It is to continue until He comes again.
It is a solemn indictment against us that we can, as rejoicing in the work of God and the blessings of God, subtly begin to grow complacent in them and to regard them as though we had merited them. No doubt each one on the ship took courage from the words Paul spoke and the exhortations he gave; but the courage taken from the Word of God became corrupted, and confidence in self took its place. Thus pride enters in. A simple matter to number the people (v. 37), but what consequences! David learned this the hard way (2 Sam. 24). The self-complacent spirit of Laodicea can lie virtually undetected in our hearts, and once it has taken root it grows rapidly.
“And having satisfied themselves with food, they lightened the ship, casting out the wheat into the sea” (v. 38).
“thou sayest I am rich, and am grown rich, and have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17).
How we need to confess that so much of this departure is true of us today. The wheat would correspond to all the truth connected with Christ in resurrection (John 12:23-24); all food that would tend to strengthen our appreciation of Him in glory and, in so doing, fashion us more and more in His image; all ministry that would have as its object our living down here as those who belong to heaven and have Christ as our life, having died with Him and been raised with Him. How dare we throw it overboard! How dare we say “we have had enough”!
Subsequent to throwing the wheat overboard they are unable to recognise the land and as a consequence they try to make do as best they can. Is our spiritual vision also impaired through not feasting on “all the counsel of God” as announced by Paul (Acts 20:27)? Have we relied rather on our own expedient solutions to the state in which we are found individually and collectively? How the intensity of the love of the Lord Jesus would seek to remedy this situation (Rev. 3:18-20). If we are willing to recognise any of these sad features as characterising us, there is a way back: the way of repentance.
Acts 27, however, refers to what is general. Any one of us may well buy gold and white garments and eyesalve, we may well repent and respond to His call and have fellowship with Himself, but the church of God, already in ruins as to its testimony here, has no hope of recovery held out to it. The truth will be cast away yet more and more and every wind of doctrine will take control until all is a complete wreck testimonially (v. 40).
A sorry end indeed to the history of the vessel of testimony left here in responsibility to Christ; but a just end in view of the setting aside of all that was revealed to, and announced by, the apostle Paul. Yet in the faithfulness of God, although his doctrine has been ignored and rejected, the final results of it will not fail. Not one of Christ's own will be lost. He will not be dissatisfied with the fruit of the travail of His soul. He will not fail to present the assembly, glorious, to Himself. As Man filling all things, He will take delight in that which is His fulness. These things are connected with the eternal counsels of the Godhead, counsels which were once unknown, but have now been made known through the apostle Paul. They will not fail. The truth of these things is still available to us today. May we have a heart for them!
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
1. Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 10, p. 268, 269
2. ibid. p. 91
Studies in the Book of Revelation (5)
(The Plumstead Conference, April 1995)
Continued from page 310
“Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, and he that sits upon the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them” (v. 15).
We were speaking earlier about the feast of trumpets and the day of atonement. Here I suppose we have reached the fulfilment of the feast of tabernacles.
I'm sure time is well spent in seeking to develop a little the thought of the feast of tabernacles. In verse 15 this company are said to “serve Him day and night in His temple.” The word for “serve” is the word to serve in a priestly way and quite clearly God gets a yield from this company that are brought out of the great tribulation. I wonder sometimes whether we take account of this sufficiently that everything is for the pleasure of God. This is the end to which God is working and He will have it, of course, in eternity. But in the meantime, in the millennium, there is a company who are able to minister to His pleasure because of the experiences they have gained in the great tribulation.
That is even more striking when we remember that this is a Gentile company. We might suppose it of Israel or of the church today, but this company is neither one nor the other. Nevertheless they are still activated by this priestly worship.
“They shall not hunger any more, neither shall they thirst any more, nor shall the sun at all fall on them, nor any burning heat; because the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall shepherd them, and shall lead them to fountains of waters of life, and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes” (vs. 16-17).
What is the reason that this company is so thankful and what is the theme of their priestly service? Salvation is, for them, having gone victoriously through the tribulation and where is the source of this? I would like to read Isaiah 63, verse 9, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them: and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” Every single circumstance that this company will have gone through, the Lord Jesus has gone through before them. This is a great encouragement for us now. It is not the same dispensation but there is not any circumstance or situation which the Lord Jesus cannot understand and carry us through.
When it says in verse 17, “He shall shepherd them,” that surely refers to the circumstances of their tribulation. He shepherds them in the midst of all those trials and there they learn His heart and, brought into millennial conditions, they give Him an adequate response.
In Psalm 23:4 we are taught the value of the Lord walking with us in the valley of the shadow of death. That is where we realise that the Lord is with us and I think many of us have had this experience. That is going to be a stimulus to their worship. Most altars in Old Testament times were built after someone had been delivered. Here, those who have been saved will return and an eternal song will be in their hearts and on their tongues.
Doesn't that confirm that the principles we learn in other families are always the same principles, whether it is the Gentiles as here, the Jewish remnant which we consider so much, or the assembly. Even the verse you quoted from Isaiah 63 shows that when we are in tribulation and learn that He has been there, then our hearts are won and drawn to Him. That same principle applies all along the way.
I heard from the brethren in Israel that sometimes when a palm tree is growing crooked they weight it with a large stone to make it grow straight up. That is a nice illustration of tribulation, which can be necessary to produce a righteous life. We have heard that the palm tree is not connected with the tabernacle but with the temple. In Leviticus 23 it is linked with the feast of tabernacles. The Passover could be kept even in the wilderness but not the feast of tabernacles. That feast looked back to the journey in the wilderness and celebrated their coming into the rest of the promised land as illustrated in Hebrews 4. That is why the feast of tabernacles is a beautiful picture of the millennial rest when the King will reign in justice.
The first of the seven feasts was the sabbath and that was God's rest in creation. The last of the seven feasts, which is the feast of tabernacles, is the emblem of God's rest in redemption. The first is the first creation, and the last the emblem of the new creation. The Lord Jesus is the creator of all worlds and He is the beginning of the creation of God.
There was an eighth day connected with the feast of tabernacles which there wasn't with the other feasts. That seems to suggest that there is something beyond the kingdom. There is a new heaven and a new earth.
I would like to ask why in Revelation 1 and this chapter we have washing with the blood, while in the Old Testament there is only washing with water and the blood is only sprinkled?
Brother Heijkoop said once at a conference in Dillenburg that by the expression in verse 14, “have washed their long robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” we should not think about atonement particularly, but that their practical life was in harmony with the blood of the Lamb. So here it is practical righteousness.
I have not made a study of this recently but my impression is that sprinkling with blood, an expression used in the Old Testament, signifies “committal to” the significance of what that blood stood for. When we come to the New Testament and the matter of washing, then obviously redemption has been accomplished and we are in a completely new set of circumstances.
I think it will help us is to refer to 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The question has very often been asked as to what sins the apostle is referring. It is a general principle that its application comes for the initial washing, the initial purification from sin. Then when we lapse along the way we still need the efficacy of the blood and the water.
I think it helps in looking at this verse in 1 John 1 to remember that it is in the present tense, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” It shows the efficacy of the blood which is the foundation for all. The believer does not need a second application of the blood.
The institution of the red heifer is helpful. There was the water of purification for sin and that was mixed with the ashes of the heifer. There was no question of another application of blood but there is the suggestion that by the Word of God the truth of the cross is brought to bear upon the soul which has failed. That would have the effect of humbling the person in the presence of God and eventually bringing restoration. The two things together, the water and the ashes, obviously refer to the Lord's death as the anti-type of the red heifer, but there is no re-application of blood.
It has been mentioned that the feast of tabernacles was not kept in the wilderness but was to be enjoyed in the land when every man was under his own vine and his own fig tree. There is a very interesting verse in Nehemiah 8 where we find that “since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun until that day had not the children of Israel done so” (kept the feast of tabernacles). I think we ought to take that home to our hearts. In the smallest conditions, when they had returned from Babylon, they were able to get the gain of what the feast of tabernacles stood for. And right at the close of the present dispensation we can get the gain of what the feast of tabernacles stands for. We read in this very context, “and there was very great gladness” (Neh. 8:17). That is connected with the end to which God is working and in spirit we can anticipate that end and enter into that gladness.
In Deuteronomy 16 there are three feasts. In the first, the Passover, the children of Israel had to eat bread of affliction and to afflict their souls or they would be cut off from Israel. In the second, the feast of weeks, which represents the present dispensation, there was a measure of joy. In the last feast, “thou shalt be wholly joyful.” There is no place for affliction any more. This is where we have come to in this passage, and we have the hope of reaching it.
In Deuteronomy 16 the feast of tabernacles is also called “the feast of our rejoicing.” That is the name given to it by the Hebrew people.
The “feast of ingathering,” is another name of it.
And it is a company matter rather than something to be enjoyed in an individual way.
Why do those who will enjoy such a blessing come to the fountains of blessing? Their thirst will be quenched. as a result of His work on the cross those who believe in Him never thirst spiritually any more. The comfort that is referred to last of all is mentioned twice in Revelation, once here in Revelation 7 and once in Revelation 21. Is it not remarkable? We do often weep now, but there will be a time when there will be no more tears.
When they went through the tribulation they were hungry, they were thirsty, and they were in the burning heat, so their blessing answers exactly to what they have suffered. I think there is practical teaching in that for us. The measure in which we will have found the Lord Jesus with us in our trials will be the basis for present and future blessing and worship. That is why our journey through this world is immensely important for us.
We can have these blessings in our own souls now. In John 6 we find our Lord Jesus as the Bread of Life, so we need not hunger. In John 7, notice it was at the time of the feast of tabernacles, we find the Lord Jesus connected with the fountain of living water. He satisfies our thirst. And in John 8 the Lord Jesus speaks about Himself as the Light of the World and He said this in connection with the Shechinah, the bright cloud of the Divine presence. He shields us from the burning heat.
“The Sermon on the Mount” (15)
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Following upon the other references to the law, the Lord Jesus now quotes the seventh commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). Marriage is something into which two persons enter for life, and ever since creation it has enjoyed God's special care. According to the New Testament it is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His assembly, marked by divine love and human devotion.
But what has become of marriage through sin! It was not the will of God that Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, Solomon and other men of the Old Testament should have several wives at the same time, and this only brought distress into their families. How serious was the adultery David committed with Bathsheba! And how are things today with regard to matrimonial morals — not only in the world, but also among Christians? In recent decades Biblical standards in society have been systematically done away with in this area too.
In God's sight immoral behaviour is so abominable that Paul had to write to Ephesus: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints” (Eph. 5:3). This means that we should not mention these things frivolously and so make little of them. The Bible speaks very clearly as to God's judgment about these sins. Holy Scripture not only calls prostitution fornication, but all extramarital intercourse, even where there may be the intention to get married, and even if it is done only once (cf. Gen. 34 and 38). In the world today the word fornication is only used in connection with the first meaning. In the New Testament, however, extramarital intercourse in general is called fornication, that of married persons is called adultery, and both are condemned as abominable sin (Matt. 15:19; 1 Cor. 6:9; Heb. 13:4).
In the Old Testament, adultery, unfaithfulness towards the spouse for the satisfaction of lust, was to be dealt with most severely. According to the law of Sinai this sin had to be punished with death (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22-24). In the first place the law contained God's regulations for the outward and social life of His earthly people, and for this reason only the accomplished offence was to be punished, even though the tenth commandment forbad the coveting of the neighbour's wife (as well as all his possessions. Ex. 20:17). If a Jew kept the commandment not to commit adultery, he was acting according to God's will and contributed towards the maintenance of the people's community according to God's order. Fear of the punishment threatened certainly contributed to this. However, the mere outward observance of this and all the other commandments could not justify him before God.
“But I say unto you”
In His own authority the Lord Jesus contrasts the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” with His words, “But I say unto you.” He does not speak against an interpretation which is more favourable to man and a weakening of the divine commandment, (unlike verse 22), and certainly not against the commandment itself, for He was not come to destroy but to fulfil.
For that reason the Lord now says, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (v. 28). Because of the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, the Jews thought the mere outward observance of the law was the way to be justified before God. Here, the Lord points to the human heart and shows that adultery has its source there. This is not a “spiritualisation of the law,” as is sometimes said. He reveals for the first time something which had to become clear by experience to every honest Israelite, namely, that everyone who endeavoured to keep the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” had within themselves those very lusts which led to the actions forbidden by God, and had not the strength to overcome them. The lusts were even provoked by the commandment: “ … for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7-11).
The law of Sinai did contain commandments directed at the attitude and heart, for example the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet they neighbour's house,” etc. (Ex. 20:17). Other passages have a similar bearing: “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart … but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself … ” (Lev. 19:17-18); “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart … ” (Deut. 6:5). However, most by far of the commandments regulated the outward conduct of the Israelites.
Adultery in the heart
The Lord Jesus now explains that before God it is not just the accomplished act that is sin, but the looking with lust on a woman, for this is adultery in the heart. The word “adultery” shows that either the man or both are married. Nevertheless, no unmarried believer should think that these words of the Lord have nothing to say to him.
The Lord is not speaking here about accidental, unintentional looks which can hardly be avoided, but about the conscious covetous looking: “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her … ” The intentional look is therefore preceded by the sinful thought in the heart.
This distinction is very important. Nowadays we can hardly move in this world without, unintentionally, continually witnessing the moral depravity of our time. We are easily defiled by this. The intentional covetous and sinful look is something completely different. No Christian can avoid unclean thoughts rising up in his mind but they only become sin when instead of turning away from them he consciously gives himself to them. If covetous looks and unclean lines of thought are sin, then it is also sin if believing women and girls cause and provoke this by their dress and behaviour.
The more casual and free contact between the sexes, especially with the younger generation and the negative example of most of their peers of the world, can lead to carelessness and great dangers. God-fearing Job said: “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1). However, there are also over-sensitive and over-anxious Christians whose consciences are heavily burdened by involuntary looks and thoughts. I would like to remind such of the well-known words of Martin Luther which he wrote on this verse: “I cannot prevent a bird flying over my head, but what I can prevent is it building a nest in my hair or biting off my nose.”
“And if thy right eye offend thee”
How serious the Lord judged the lustful looks and thoughts to be becomes obvious from His next words: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (v. 29). In the next verse He says nearly the same with regard to the right hand (cf. ch. 18:8).
The Lord is not calling for self-mutilation or asceticism in these words. The Creator will never demand that His creature mutilate the body he has received from Himself. Even if someone plucked out both his eyes, the lust would still remain in his heart. Rather, the Lord here extends the teaching to the question of self-judgment. The mention of the right hand points to this.
The eye, the light of the body, can rightly be called the “mirror of the soul.”1 Furthermore, in the Bible the right eye is often described as something very precious (1 Sam. 11:2; Zech. 11:17). The right hand, the “organ of action,” is mentioned much more often in the Holy Scriptures.2 The right eye and the right hand are symbols of attitudes and actions, but at the same time also of the precious and important things in human life. If these offend us, i.e. are a cause of sin or stumbling, then we should not even spare the most precious and important things in our lives, but honestly and strictly judge ourselves, and if necessary separate from them. Even if they are not bad in themselves, this does not mean that they are not dangerous!
1 Cf. Matthew 6:22-23; Proverbs 21:4; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ezekiel 6:9; Ezekiel 18:12; Ezekiel 20:8; 2 Peter 2:14.
2 For example Genesis 48:17; Exodus 29:20; Psalm 73:23; Psalm 121:5; Revelation 1:16; Revelation 10:5; Revelation 13:16.
The Word of God again and again points out that there are only two pathways on earth and two termini, either following the Lord Jesus with glory as the end, or a life of sin which leads to hell. It is the same here in the “sermon on the mount.” The apostle Paul was a disciple of the Lord, who recognised the consequences of completely surrendering and following the Lord and who put this into practice: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27). He wrote to the assembly at Corinth: “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers … shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
Psalm 119 (18)
(Continued from page 298)
15. SAMECH — A SUPPORT
Verses 97-120. The Importance of Bible Study
Section Fifteen. Verses 113-120: “The Word of God for Our Support”
The name of this letter denotes a prop, or a support, and its form in the Phoenician alphabet answers to this. Its numerical value is sixty.
The Ephraimites pronounced this letter Samech (Judges 12:6) like a “sh” instead of an “s,” and were consequently put to death. We learn from this incident that we should distinguish between things that are important and things that are unimportant. To press on others our views about unimportant things is like having our own “shibboleth.”
It gives spiritual discernment
Verse 113: SEH-GAPHEEM … “ … vain thoughts … ”
Notice the contrasts in this verse: Hate - Love! These are very decisive expressions. He certainly has deep convictions!
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was longing for his readers to grow in spiritual discernment. He said: “ … strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). Instead of “vain thoughts” the Hebrew also allows us to translate it “divided”: i.e. a divided heart. The French Bible renders this “doubles de coeur” — double hearted. James gives us this warning about a divided heart: “ … he that doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and tossed about; for let not that man think that he shall receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8, J.N.D. Trans.). This kind of attitude is hateful to the Psalmist. Is it also hateful to you, my dear reader?
It acts like a shield of faith
Verse 114: SITH-RI … “(Thou art) my covert … ”
Here we have the defensive attitude expressed in the words, “Thou art my hiding place.” There are times when we should flee from the evil one and temptation. Then there is the offensive attitude when we need our shield of faith. The Lord is both to us: covert and shield. The Lord protects us from the sun during the day, and from the moon during the night (Psalm 121:6).
The literal translation of Isaiah 59:19 is: “When comes like a flood the foe, the Spirit of Jehovah shall make flee against him … ” The J.N.D. Translation gives: “When the adversary shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of Jehovah will lift up a banner against him.” These verses certainly show that those who “ … hope in Thy word …,” do not hope in vain!
It helps me stand and resist
Verse 115: SOOROO … “Turn away (O evildoers) … ”
Therefore, having put on the complete armour of God, and having taken the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, we must now stand against the artifices of the devil. “Depart from me, ye evildoers,” says the writer. We are able to say the same in the Name of the Lord Jesus. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” is the promise we can claim (James 4:7).
It is not enough to hate vain thoughts. We must hate evil in any form. In this verse we find the only mention in Psalm 119 of the intimate expression “my God.” He has this intimate fellowship with the Lord and wants to do His will and keep His commandments. It is only in the measure that we give ourselves to do His will that we shall be able also to resist evil and evil-doers.
It helps me to remain standing
Verse 116: SAH-MACHNI … “Uphold me … ”
Verses 116 and 117 carry the theme of this section of eight verses: “Uphold me,” “Hold… me up.” The Word of God gives us the support we need day by day to live the Christian life. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness” (Isa. 41:10). What a wonderful promise for us to lay hold of! He who gives life, also sustains it. We are “kept by the power of God” (1 Peter 1:5). Indeed, all our springs are in Him. Our sufficiency is of God. If we trust in His precious Word we will never be put to shame.
It will save
Verse 117: SAH-GADNI … “Hold… me up … ”
I remember in my childhood standing on the ice of a canal that was frozen over. How slippery it was and how difficult to stay on my feet! How good it felt when my father was there beside me, holding me up and helping me take my first steps on my skates! The strong hand of my father was there to support me. These things can be given a spiritual application. There was first of all the sense of weakness, and then the realisation that there are slippery paths before us, full of dangers and pitfalls. Our safety depends every moment upon the upholding power of our Lord and Saviour. “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee” (Deut. 33:27).
It gives me victory through the Lord Jesus
Verse 118: SAH-LAHT … “Thou hast trodden … ”
Is this a prophetic view of the future victory of the Lord Jesus Christ when all His enemies will be made His footstool (Ps. 110:1)? The cross of Calvary was the place of Christ's victory over the powers of darkness. This victory has not yet been universally manifested because God is merciful, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). However, mark the character of those mentioned in this verse: they, “err from Thy statutes.” It is not that they err in their minds through ignorance, but they err in their hearts through obstinacy. They deliberately err from God. They are like those in the parable who say: “We will not have this Man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). They say: “We desire not the knowledge of Thy ways” (Job 21:14). In verse 119 they are justly called “the wicked”! “Their deceit is falsehood,” is another way of saying: “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13).
It shows me what sin really is
Verse 119: SEEGUM … “ … (like) dross … ”
Today there are those in the so-called Christian profession, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof … ” (2 Tim. 3:5). Paul says: “… from such turn away.” It is said of Israel: “Son of man, the house of Israel is to Me become dross … Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Because ye are all become dross … so will I gather you in Mine anger and in my fury, and I will leave you there, and melt you” (Ezek. 22:18-20).
We are living in the last days before the Lord Jesus comes to take His bride home. These are days of apostasy and departure from the faith. We must therefore “… try the spirits whether they are of God … ” (1 John 4:1). We shall be able to discern these false spirits only when we know what the Word says. “Therefore I love Thy testimonies” is the positive attitude taken by the Psalmist. We do well to follow his example!
It will keep me from sin
Verse 120: SAH-MAR … “(My flesh) has shivered…”
“My flesh trembleth for fear of Thee … ?” Our loving Father punishes the wicked but does He punish His own dear children? Meditate on the following verses: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). “ … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear … ” (1 Peter 1:17). These verses prove that believers should have a healthy fear of the Father, just as a child who loves his father fears the punishment he deserves when he acts in disobedience to his father's will. We also fear to grieve and sadden someone we love. “I am afraid of Thy judgments” says the Psalmist. With the help and support the Lord gives us through His precious Word, we can experience victory over our spiritual enemies, avoid pitfalls and being deceived by false teaching. It will also keep us sensitive to His will and help us to obey Him in our daily lives.