The Collective Bodies
Existing on Earth
Gen. 10:6, 8-12, 32; Gen. 11:1-6. Joshua 7:10-12, 20-22, 25
2 Kings 18:28-35; 2 Kings 19:14, 35; 2 Kings 20:12-16. Zech. 5:5-11
Rev. 17:3-5; Rev. 18:2-5, 9, 11, 17-24; Rev. 19:1-3
Eph. 1:22-23; Eph. 4:10-15
The portions of the Word of God that we have read this evening are connected with the collective bodies which exist upon earth. It is very interesting to discover that two of these collective bodies are found from the very beginning and continue up to this present time. We therefore need to consider these powers because we may have some relation to them and have to learn their true character.
Genesis 10 is a chapter that few would read with interest. It seems to be just a listing of generations, of fathers, sons, and so on. What can be interesting about this? But the way that God gives us history is not at all the way that men give it. It is clearly stated in the last verse of chapter 10 that, “these are the families of the sons of Noah... from these came the distribution of the nations on the earth after the flood.” Not only are the names of the nations given here found throughout the Bible, but they have characters that they keep during all the history up to the end. In Ezekiel, especially in Ezekiel 38 and 39, we find many of these names mentioned in connection with the very last days before the millennium.
The few verses we have read in chapter 10 speak to us of two bodies quite different in character, even though they are presented at the same time and are closely connected in their origin and the regions where they are located. Nimrod was a son of Cush, who was a son of Ham, the one who sinned against his father. He began to be mighty on the earth, and was a mighty hunter before Jehovah. Those are few words but they are full of meaning. He was under the curse but that was nothing to him. He did not fear Jehovah at all and he was willing and able to show he was strong before Him. There is a clear difference between the hunter and people of God like David and Amos who were shepherds who took care of the sheep. The hunter tries to kill the animals he is hunting. This remains Nimrod's character down the ages. He is closely connected with Babel because the beginning of his kingdom was Babel. Babel is described more specifically in chapter 11, but first in chapter 10 we have mention of the connection with Nimrod. Babylon is located in the land of Shinar and we will find elsewhere that Babylon is in some respects the counterpart of Nimrod. Nimrod is mighty and rules the old city of Nineveh and the people there. He is what, today, we would call a dictator. Babylon is completely the reverse. There is nobody specifically mentioned in connection with Babylon. The people desire to have a name and they combine their efforts to achieve their aim. The basic principle of Babylon is that unity makes strong and the desire of Babylon is to have a name, that is to say, to be recognised and to be important before everybody on the earth. We are going to see that these two collective bodies, with their specific characteristics, reign during all the time of the land of Shinar.
There is a portion that we have not read, in Genesis 12, where Abram is called outside these people of the earth. He is a man of faith who represents those who are called out of the existing people and who are for God in a world which is at enmity with Him. That is to say, Abraham is totally the opposite of Nimrod and Babylon. Now we are going to see the relationship of the people of God to these collective and powerful bodies.
The first mention we have of Babylon after Genesis 11 is in the story of Achan in Joshua 7. It is particularly interesting because it comes just at the time the children of Israel are entering the promised land. They had just fought the battle of Jericho and gained the victory. The Lord Himself had thrown down the walls of the city. At this crucial time there is the introduction of this mantle of Shinar which was taken from Jericho with some silver and gold. Achan saw it and coveted it, and through that action he introduced the curse of God among the people. All the people of Israel were defeated just because of this corruption which had its origin in Shinar. This was at the very beginning of the life of the people of God in their own country. What a warning! That is really the first mention of Babylon corrupting the people and this is what we are going to find right up to the end in Revelation. The reaction of Joshua was good. He rent his clothes, and turned to God about the situation. The Lord told him very clearly what had happened and showed him what was to be done in order that Israel might clear themselves in the matter. There was a clear confession of the sin by Achan, and they stoned him: they rid themselves totally of the sin which was among them. So, the first reaction of the people of God was good. They showed that they were pure of heart and put away this uncleanness. It is most solemn to see that this one sin of this one person introduced and placed the curse on the whole of the people of God.
The next portions we have read are in the Second Book of Kings. In 2 Kings 18 and 19 we have the story of Rab-shakeh who came from Assyria and spoke to Hezekiah, and in 2 Kings 20 we have the story of the visit of the messengers from Babylon. If I may summarise the speech of Rab-shakeh, he says to them, “It is no use relying upon the Lord. If Hezekiah tells you that you may rely upon the Lord he is deceiving you. It is no use relying upon the Lord because I am the one who is mighty and I am resolved to take you to a land which is better than yours. Nobody has been able to resist me so I am the lord and the Lord you are relying upon is nothing.” The city and people specifically named in Genesis 10 in connection with Nimrod, were found in Assyria, and the speech of Rab-shakeh shows the same principle we have seen with Nimrod. There is a collective body with a strong leader and hierarchy. It is strong, but strong against God. It doesn't care about God but only about itself. The consequence of this is that it oppresses the people of God. There is direct persecution of believers. So from Assyria, Nimrod, and Nineveh we get power, a dictator, and a hierarchy; oppression, violence, and persecution of the children of God. Babylon is corruption introduced among the people of God. Nothing else is to be expected, at any time, from these worldly bodies.
We have read how Hezekiah overcame the problem of Assyria and Rab-shakeh. He didn't dispute with him. He told his people to keep silent and he went to the house of God with Rab-shakeh's letter and showed it to the Lord. Then the answer came from the Lord to Isaiah the prophet, indicating that He Himself would deal with the matter. we have read that in one night one hundred and eighty-five thousand were killed. All the mighty power of this nation was nothing before God. Hezekiah and the people of Israel were in very great weakness, but they were the victors in this story, not by their own power but by the power of God. But immediately after this victory Hezekiah became sick and was visited by people who were sympathetic about his sickness. They came and entered his house and he showed them all the treasure which God had given. He showed all the riches which were from God and which were blessings from God, to the coveting world of Babylon. This also has a typical meaning. There were not only the riches but also the fine oil which could be used for the perfume for God. How can it be that a believer shares the precious portion reserved for God with the corrupting world? Immediately the Lord sent the prophet Isaiah again, who asks Hezekiah, “What said these men? and from whence came they to thee? ... What have they seen in thy house?” Hezekiah confesses what he has done and then the speech is very strong: “... all that is in thy house... shall be carried to Babylon.” Hezekiah was empowered by God but he sought the recognition of the world and lost everything. How much all this should speak to us and to our hearts, that we may realise and consider what is the character of the world and what should be the character of the believer.
We are not going to consider at length the passage in Zechariah. The specific character which is seen in the vision in Zechariah 5 is wickedness, and the woman with the wings of a stork takes the wickedness back to its origin which is Babylon in the land of Shinar. This is a very important point.
We have read some verses in Revelation. Without going into many details, we may observe that what we have seen already, we see again. There is Babylon, and people trying to be united. They have a religious character, and they are trying to have a name, to be important in the world. They do this as a collective body. They introduce corruption not only among the children of God but also among everyone else in the world. And Babylon keeps its influence through its business links, and all business is seen in chapter 18. Everyone weeps when Babylon is destroyed, the kings and merchants, the steersmen, sailors and the like. Everybody has benefited from Babylon but the Word of God is very strong: “Come out of her, My people;” have nothing to do with such an organisation, it is only corruption. And it is not only corruption like the mantle of Shinar in the story of Achan, and Hezekiah showing everything in his house to the Babylonian messengers. It is absolutely amazing: in Babylon there is found all the blood of the saints since the beginning of the world. There is only one sort of people who rejoice over this destruction, and that is the people of heaven. They say “Hallelujah.” It is a marvellous scene and this is the starting point of the marriage of the Lamb in chapter 19.
We read two portions of the Word of God in Ephesians. It is important to see that these verses speak of the assembly as the body of Christ. This is the third kind of collective body on the earth. The first kind is Nimrod the dictator, and is marked by mightiness and violence. The second kind is union, but without relationship with God and without conscience. The corruption is not considered important provided there is success: power in relation to the Beast, the political body, and money and business. These are the two principles governing the organisations in the world. And if we think about this problem we will see that in every political domain men are organised according to one or other of these principles, either the principle of strength, where one is dominating everybody, or of union together. But both are at the end against God and against His will. That is the organisation of men. But there is the collective body which is according to the thought of God and this is blessed. The principle of organisation in this case is totally opposite to what we have been considering. First of all it is not an organisation, it is an organism. Secondly, there is connection with the Head. You have neither dictatorship nor worldly union. You have unity in one body, and the clear relationship of each member to the Head. This direct relationship is not only a direct relationship for guidance, but it is also a direct connection for conscience. That is to say, each member should have the same appreciation of the holiness of God and of the saints, and the same appreciation of the Head. This is the key point: the collective body with conscience. This is the only way that you can get a body for the glory of God. And this is the only principle that we are to follow together as individual members of the body, as local assemblies or as the assembly as a whole. Of course, there are many things to consider in relation to this subject. It is so beautiful to look into Ephesians 4. The Lord is not only the Lord and Head, but He is also the One who gives the gifts of apostles, of prophets, of evangelists, shepherds and teachers. And there is the growing of each member. Is it just growing to be competent? No, it is much more. It is growing up to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ; in order that we may be no longer babes, tossed and carried about by every wind of... teaching;” the teaching of men, “but, holding the truth in love, we may grow up to Him in all things, who is the head.” Dear brethren, that is what is before us, and what is so difficult to realise. But it is the only thing that we are to realise both as individual members of the body and collectively. In this way sin is avoided and holiness is maintained, but any organisation according to the spirit of men will arrive either at Nimrod's gate or at Babylon's gate. May we be preserved from either of these ways and may we cleave to this one organism according to the will of God. It is very striking that there are troubles precisely in connection with this matter of the unity of the body because it is this principle of organism that the Lord would like us to keep and that Satan would like to destroy. Satan only likes the principle of Nimrod or the principle of Babylon. Let us hold fast the principles connected with the one body and let us keep close to the Lord as members of His body, both individually and collectively.
This is the last of the material from the 1995 Plumstead conference which will appear in this magazine. Please see the inside back cover regarding the full edited transcript of the conference which is being published separately.
Is the Church of God an Organization or an Organism?
Read Exodus 18
Exodus 18 has sometimes been used as an argument to justify a practice in the church of appointing people to certain places of responsibility and dignity so that operations might proceed more smoothly. Does the Spirit of God have any such intention in recording the advice of Jethro, and Moses accepting this advice without question?
There was a friendly spirit between Jethro and his son-in-law, Moses. Jethro had not shared in the afflictions of Israel in their liberation from Egyptian bondage, but coming to visit Moses afterward, he found Moses sitting from morning to night to hear the causes of Israelites and to pass judgment for them. It was a most plausible alternative he suggested, one that appeals favourably to our natural thoughts. But notice that Jethro said, “I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee” (v. 19). He did not suggest that God should give Moses counsel, but implied that God would be with Moses if Moses accepted Jethro's counsel. He advised Moses to appoint able and conscientious men to judge the smaller matters that arose between the people, and who could bring the larger matters to Moses.
Moses evidently considered that this was perfectly logical, and who could quarrel with this? But one fatal flaw was evident in adopting this advice. God had not commanded it, and Moses did not even consult God about this matter. Jethro could give the advice, then leave. He had not been linked with Israel in their former afflictions, and he was not to be linked with them in their wilderness trials. Moses chose “to suffer affliction with the people of God” (Heb. 11:25), but Jethro did not.
If God intended Moses to act as he was doing, could He not give him strength for it? Certainly He could. But this history illustrates something most serious. Moses is a type of Christ. Should believers be content to have other people settle the problems they consider small, and only bring the great things to the Lord? No! We should go directly to the Lord with every occasion of need. The introduction of intermediaries is the legal principle of human organization. No wonder we find God introducing the law of Moses in Exodus 19, and God Himself putting Israel under a form of organization that Peter later spoke of as “a yoke… which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10).
But even among Christians the natural tendency of our hearts is to revert to legal bondage in some way, and we fail to realize that human organization in the church of God is legal bondage. Where some people are put in special places, then others do not need the spiritual exercise of being in the Lord's presence to receive guidance, for they get their guidance from human sources.
The body of Christ, the church, is not an organization, but an organism, that which is vitally connected with the Head of the body and which receives its nourishment, guidance and direction from the Head (Eph. 4:15-16). When first instituted after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the church had no human head on earth, such as Moses. Apostles were present, not as being authorities themselves, but as unitedly insisting on the sole authority of the Lord Jesus. When some Jewish believers came to Antioch and insisted that Gentile believers should be circumcised and keep the law, this was settled at Jerusalem, not by the authority of any apostle, but by the Word of God (Acts 15:7-8; 17-18), which was declared by the apostles and accepted by the gathered brethren.
It was necessary to have apostles as the connecting link between the dispensation of law and that of the grace of God, necessary that such men of devoted character should be used to lay the foundation of Christianity (1 Cor. 3:10-11; Eph. 2:20), that is, to lay down the truth of God concerning Christ in all His relationships. Apostles themselves passed away, but they have left their writings, Scriptures that are authoritative, and by which the church of God may be guided and preserved in all her subsequent history. While they were living, apostles did appoint elders in various assemblies, and Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in each assembly in Crete (Titus 1:5). Assemblies never did appoint elders, and there are no apostles living to do so now, nor delegates of the apostles. However, once the church has been established, there is no reason why believers should not be unitedly guided by the Spirit of God, who remains as a living power in the church, as was not true under the dispensation of law. Are there no elders therefore? By all means elders are still in the church, but not as appointed by men. There are those who can do the work without any appointment, for God has fitted them for the work. We should certainly pray for such, and appreciate their wise counsel and help.
As regards ministry of the Word of God, God Himself gives gifts who are to respond to His own leading in devoted service. They do not need the appointment of men, but the power of God. If the assembly sees a spiritual gift in a saint, they should gladly encourage him. With the Spirit of God leading, there will be humility and unity. The assembly will gladly express fellowship with such a servant in the measure in which they can approve of his service.
In all spiritual service, we are therefore to depend, not in any way upon human arrangements, but upon the power of the Spirit of God. On the other hand, in Acts 6:3 the saints at Jerusalem were told to look out from among themselves seven men of good reputation to take care of material needs among the saints. These are the deacons of which 1 Timothy 3:8-13 speaks. As to caring for material things, the assembly is perfectly right to appoint those whom they can trust to do this work. But God does not allow us to choose for ourselves the ministers of spiritual things whom we desire. How good it is that God cares for us so perfectly! Yet we so little respond to this that when difficulties arise we look all around us for some human means of meeting these. Such means will be appealing to our rationalizing minds, things that have been adopted by many groups of Christians, but leaving out the clear leading of God by His Spirit. How humbling it is that we are thus expressing the opinion that Christ is not enough!
It is natural to desire a thriving testimony, but if such a testimony becomes an object, then Christ has lost His place as the one Object worthy of our confidence. Let us return to our first love, and value the living power of the Spirit in the body of Christ.
L. M. Grant
Two Views of the History of the Church (2)
There are very few words of encouragement found by tracing through the incidents in the life of Samson for the purpose of comparison with the history of the seven assemblies in Revelation 2 & 3. Samson's deep and shameful failure to maintain a testimony to the holiness of God, compared with the church's failure (our failure) to maintain God's testimony, give occasion for us to listen afresh to the warnings the Lord Jesus Christ may have for us. The lessons of history are lessons for the present time.
The initial comments made by the inspired historian in recounting Samson's early life in Judges 13:24, 25 may readily be compared to the bright days of the church's early history. Samson grew, Jehovah blessed him, and the Spirit of Jehovah began to move him. The book of Acts shows the same features of growth (Acts 6:7), blessing (Acts 4:32, 33) and the moving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31). Yet there is very little said about this period of Samson's life in Judges, in proportion to the details given regarding his failure. Likewise this early period of the church's history was very brief compared to the centuries of failure that ensued.
Judges 14:1: “Samson went down.”
Revelation 2:4: “thou hast left thy first love.”
Decline is immediate and rapid: “And Samson went down.” His affection was not set in the midst of the people of God. He became motivated by lust and not love — the lust of the eyes. The last phrase of verse 3, “she pleases me well,” is translated in the German Bible, “she is right in my eyes,” in full keeping with the final summary of the book of Judges as given in its concluding verse.
The rebuke which the Lord Jesus gave to Ephesus was, “thou hast left thy first love.” The bride had ceased to look for the Bridegroom. In the early days of the church, corresponding to the period represented by Ephesus in Revelation 2, one of the first things lost was the immediate expectation of Christ's return, the return of the Bridegroom.1
Although Samson himself was a bridegroom, his hopes, aspirations and desires regarding the marriage relationship were completely misguided. His first love was a love for God and His people which thus found its activities and interests among them (ch. 13:25). This love was replaced by lust for one of the daughters of the Philistines. If we are losing heart for the Lord's coming as a perfect expression of His love for us then we face the same danger into which both Samson and the early church fell.
Judges 14:5: “a… lion roared against him.”
Revelation 2:10: “the devil is about to cast of you into prison.”
Samson's failure here was in touching the dead body of a lion (Numbers 6:6). No! It wasn't failure, it was sin. How often we are guilty by our words, of reducing the sinfulness of sin — by using terms which do not strike the conscience. Samson sinned — he acted in direct contravention to the revealed mind of God.
There is, however, no sin mentioned in the Lord's address to the assembly at Smyrna. The lion is mentioned, that is, Satan as a roaring lion (cf. 1 Peter 5:8) acting in persecution against them. The encouragement to them of which the bees and the honey are but a picture is also mentioned, that they would receive a crown of life and in no wise be injured of the second death: words speaking of resurrection from the lips of the One who became dead and lived. “Out of the eater came forth food, And out of the strong came forth sweetness” is surely a beautiful meditation on the theme of death and resurrection — yet for Samson this victory was marred by his sin.
Like Samson, we face the continual danger of allowing victories given by God to be occasions for our sinfully dishonouring Him. Perhaps it was also true for Smyrna and for the professing church in the historical period which Smyrna typifies. For us there is no “perhaps.” Let us beware not only of the roaring lion but also of the workings of fleshly pride and complacency which may arise when God gives us any victory.
Judges 14:10: “Samson made there a feast.”
Revelation 2:13: “where the throne of Satan is.”
Samson again went down into the territory of the Philistines. It was there that he made a feast; it was there that he did what was customary among the young men; it was there that he made a friend (v. 20). He played a game of cunning with those who were experts at cunning games, and he lost.
The assembly at Pergamos dwelt where Satan's seat is. Historically this represents the period when the once antagonistic world began to show favours to the professing church. The result was a settling down in the world — a diminishing of the realisation that Christians are pilgrims and strangers. God's ways with His ancient people were characterised by bringing them out from the place where Satan had dominion and making them pilgrims and strangers: it was so with Abraham and it was so with Israel. Pergamos settled down, and the result was the accepting of doctrines which encouraged intimate links with this world in its religious character (Revelation 2:14).
Samson went to where the enemy was, not to fight but to feast. The enemy's mask was a mask of friendship, as it was in the case of Pergamos. We should reject everything which has the character of denying that, “friendship with the world is enmity with God,” whether it be a teaching or a practice.
Judges 16:1: “a harlot.”
Revelation 2:20: “the woman Jezebel.”
The commencement of friendship with the world is often very subtle and its development can be slow. Judges 15 refers to incidents which follow on from the feast Samson had made. As time went by, what started as a compromise of friendship with the Philistines in chapter 14 developed into sexual immorality in chapter 16.
Samson's promiscuous relationships, having developed from the seeds of compromise, are like the Thyatira period in the church's history. What started in Pergamos, ripened in Thyatira. In one it was the throne of Satan, in the next the depths of Satan. In one it was “thou hast” those who hold doctrines of compromise, in the next “thou permittest” the woman Jezebel who not only holds but teaches and leads into the same evils. The neutral condescension to “have” things in Pergamos became an active condoning of them in Thyatira.
We must beware of what we allow (individually or collectively) because what we allow will eventually become what we actively teach and encourage.
Judges 16:20: “Jehovah had departed from him.”
Revelation 3:1: “a name that thou livest, and art dead.”
“A name that thou livest, and art dead,” conveys the sad message of having reputation but no (present) ability. One of the marks of Protestantism (figured by Sardis) is its reliance on “the historic Christian faith”2 dating back to the Reformation, and making the Reformation a standard to be maintained, rather than seeking that the process of recovery may continue.
Samson relied on what he knew of his past ability, his past victories, and did not bother to examine his present condition. The warning to Sardis was “Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain.” Samson was not watchful. He slept. He yielded to Delilah's influence. He had a name to live; a name associated with strength, power, might, influence — but it was all gone. His hair was gone and he didn't know it.
Collectively, if we make past victories and past recovery our standard, we come short of God's desire and may imagine that a reputation won by our predecessors in some way throws credit upon ourselves. We can fail individually in supposing that because God has used us in the past He will continue to do so, regardless of our spiritual condition.
Judges 16:21: “seized him, and put out his eyes.”
Revelation 3:17: “thou art the wretched and the miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
A name, a claim and an aim. These are respectively Sardis, Laodicea and Philadelphia.
The condemnation of Laodicea is expressed in Revelation 3:17 with the contrast between “thou sayest” and “thou art.” We never have to say anything. There is no need to claim anything to ourselves. We must beware of this. There are many principles we claim to uphold and yet in practice we deny them. In the story of Samson the section which parallels Philadelphia follows that which parallels Laodicea — and surely this can be an encouragement to us. We must not give up hope. The Spirit of God has indicated that a testimony will be continued right through to the end, that the Lord's death would be shown forth “until He come.” We should have this before us as an aim, yet beware of claiming that we are fulfilling it.
Judges 16:22: “But the hair of his head began to grow.”
Revelation 3:8: “a little power.”
Even if we dare call Samson's last act a victory we will nevertheless admit that it contains nothing in which Samson could boast. This is not an attempt to downgrade what the Lord said to Philadelphia — but we should realise, if the comparison is considered, that the features of recovery follow on from what is only horrible failure.
A little strength. Samson's end was nothing like his beginning. There are doubtless many things in assembly experience and practice which marked the beginning of the dispensation which will never be practically attained at the present time — but look at the exhortation, “hold fast what thou hast.” All Samson had was two pillars and he held them fast and made use of them. What a responsibility we have. Just because some features of the assembly may be unattainable due to the ruin that has come in it doesn't mean that we should give up. We must seek to maintain what is proper to the whole assembly — but with this proviso — to do it in simplicity, not claiming any greatness to ourselves, but recognising how feeble is our attempt, as Samson did. At the very end he bowed himself with might (Judges 16:30). His power, little as it was comparatively, was brought into useful evidence through his bowing himself.
How we delight in any little feature of recovery. How the Lord Jesus delights in it too. Let us not overrate it, or take pride in it, or claim things as though we had achieved them. Let us rather acknowledge any recovery as being evidence of past failure and of present inadequacy. Samson's final victory was not something about which any would boast. Let us make recovery our aim, as those who are conscious of weakness, and not our claim as though we were totally unconscious of our true condition.
1 For an account of the recovery of the truth of Christ's return as an immediate hope see “Precious Truths Revived and Defended Through J. N. Darby,” available from the publisher.
2 Quoted from a book entitled “Light over Australia” published as a manual of Christian doctrine representative of the creeds of “the body of the Protestant Church.”
It is a very solemn thing that the apostles had the very same experiences themselves. The last of them had to face the fact that the very best of the churches — that which had been the brightest — became the object of the Lord's warning, and the last of the churches of the Lord's threatening; a warning of what soon came to pass, and a threatening to be surely executed viz. — to take away the candlestick of the one, and to spue the other out of His mouth (Rev. 2, 3).
Now, is that meant to weaken confidence? It was revealed in order to enforce the need of dependence upon the Lord, to encourage us to look up from the earth and things that are here — but not to give up. We are never free to give up anything that is of God. We are never at liberty to plead the state of ruin for carelessness about any expression of God's will. The ruin of the church has nothing to do with weakening our responsibility. It brings in the necessity of greater watchfulness, of more prayer; and particularly the necessity of God and the word of His grace to deal with the difficulties altogether above man. But are they above the Spirit of God?
(From page 10 of “Lectures on the Epistle of Jude,” by W. Kelly)
Stone... Cut Out Without Hands (2)
“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).
(Continued from page 334)
The image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his dream represented the line of Gentile powers under which Israel was to be subjected. There is an obvious deterioration in forms of government and in the value of the metals used. However the strength of the metals do not decrease, as is seen in the fourth, which is said to be “strong as iron.”
The metals involved are gold, silver, brass and iron. We are not left to suppose what each metal represents. The interpretation of the dream given to Daniel to pass on to Nebuchadnezzar was very clear as far as the king was concerned: “Thou, O, king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory” (Dan. 2:37). Part of verse 38 reads, “Thou art this head of gold.” The rule of Nebuchadnezzar was autocratic. It was absolute power given by God to whom he was responsible. It is said of this king, “whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive, and whom he would he set up, and whom he would he put down” (Dan. 5:19). Nebuchadnezzar failed to act for God, he was a worshipper of idols, and there was no righteousness in his dealings. Nevertheless, the form of government with which the times of the Gentiles began, is that which will be exercised by the Lord Jesus Christ in the world to come. The exception will be that His rule will be of inflexible righteousness, equity and truth. The view taken of these four kingdoms in Daniel 2 is that given by the apostle Paul: “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1).
We are not left to conjecture as to what the three following kingdoms are. The “breast and his arms of silver,” represent the empire of the Medes and Persians (Dan. 5:28). The “belly and… thighs of brass,” represent the Grecian empire (Dan. 8:21). The “legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay” point to the Roman empire which followed that of Greece. We ascertain the meaning of the fourth empire in the New Testament (Luke 2:1; Matt. 22:21). It was when Christ was here that this empire was in existence; indeed it was by a Roman form of execution that His life was taken.
The Roman Empire
There is much more said about the fourth kingdom than the first three. This is particularly so in Daniel 7, where there is a more detailed account given of it. It is in Daniel's dream in chapter 7 that these powers, described as metals in Daniel 2, are represented by wild beasts. It has already been said that the image presented these powers as “ordained of God,” whereas in Daniel 7 they are seen in their true character. The fourth kingdom is represented by a beast to which no name can be given, so terrible is its form. It is an apt description of the Roman empire at the zenith of its power. It is not surprising that many references are made to the fourth kingdom in the book of Revelation. It was under Rome that John was held captive in the Isle of Patmos.
The reason why more is said about the Roman empire is that in the last days, after the rapture, there will be a revived Roman empire on earth. It will be in a form never seen before. Revelation 17:8 describes this empire in its three stages: “they... shall wonder, seeing the beast, that it was, and is not, and shall be present” (J. N. D. Trans.). “It was” in John's day, and then for centuries it was non-existent: “is not.” “Shall be present” is its future revival. Coming back to Daniel 2 again, the last and final phase of the “times of the Gentiles” is represented by the feet and toes. The ten toes are important as are the ten horns on the fourth beast of chapter 7. “And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken” (Dan. 2 42).
We learn from the iron that there will be an imperialistic rule, while in reference to the clay there will be ten separate kingdoms (Rev. 17:12, 13). It is upon the feet of the image that the stone falls: “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” (Dan. 2:34). This event, yet future, is the end of the “times of the Gentiles.”
A Kingdom which Shall Never Be Destroyed
“Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35). This destruction of Gentile power precedes the stone filling the whole earth. The description of it as “a great mountain” suggests its permanence and stability. The quotation above tells of the coming kingdom of Christ. While we are aware of the many Scriptures which refer to the Lord Jesus as the Stone, here His kingdom is prominent. This kingdom will never be succeeded by another. In a world ravaged by sin for centuries, where man has sought to dethrone God, there will be righteousness, peace and gladness. “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed... and it shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2:44).
The Stone Which The Builders Refused
Before bringing this article to a close, reference should be made to the Scriptures which speak of the Lord Jesus as the Stone. An Old Testament passage, quoted in the New Testament, is Psalm 118:22 and 23: “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.” It is actually quoted by the Lord Himself after telling the parable of the vineyard and the wicked husbandmen. The parable was a description of the way the nation was treating Him then. He was the Stone, refused by the builders. The Lord Jesus went on to warn them, “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matt. 21:44). These last words are akin to those we have considered in Daniel 2:34. While the emphasis in Daniel was on the kingdom, here in Matthew it is very distinctly upon the Person of Christ. The expression, “And whosoever shall fall on this stone,” is further explained by the apostle Paul in Romans 9:32: “For they stumbled at that stumblingstone.” Had the Lord Jesus come in power to free the nation from the Roman yoke, it might have been different, but His lowly character and meekness, showing up their hypocrisy, did not suit them and therefore they stumbled. But He will come again in judgment to grind His enemies to powder.
In the future days of the “great tribulation” (Matt. 24:21) there will be a godly remnant who, because of their faithfulness, will suffer. This remnant is referred to in Isaiah 28:16: “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” Christ, the “tried stone,” will be the stay of these suffering saints. The Lord in whom they will trust is our Lord. Whatever be our trials we do not need to “make haste.” How often we panic over our circumstances and anxiety overtakes us. May we in our day be like that remnant in that coming day and “trust, and not be afraid” (Isa. 12:2).
Lastly, a reference to those who belong to the assembly: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). The church is seen here as a building and is also said to be growing “unto an holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21). There is no thought of failure in this Scripture. Christ as the “chief corner stone” is the security of the building. Soon it will be complete: “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). As we end this study of Christ as the Stone, may our hearts be more firmly attached to Him.
Having Loved His Own Which Were In The World (7)
In the previous chapter the Lord has instructed His own as to the character of the world through which they were to pass. Its heart is made known. In this that follows He further instructs them as to the treatment they would receive from it.
He informs them of these things before they come to pass, that they might not be taken unawares. The truth as to these matters would put them on their guard. Their own countrymen would disown them, looking upon them as law-breakers. Blind in heart and mind, and not having the truth, they would be zealous for their religion and His own would be accounted as odious to God. In this way the world would prove that it does not know the Father or the Son. Men would be led on by Satan, for he blinds the minds of them that believe not. As these things came to pass their confidence would be strengthened in the One who had told them beforehand of them. He did not tell them these things earlier because He protected them while He was with them. What comfort He sought to bring to them now, showing how fully He knew, cared and felt for them.
He knew the sorrow that filled their hearts as they realised they were about to lose Him, their Lord, and contemplated the opposition they would receive from the world. Burdened by these things, they were no longer demanding where He was going. The Lord well knew their hearts' feelings of loss and fear.
Turning from speaking of persecution and sorrow He seeks to bring in comfort and encouragement. He goes on to unfold yet more truth. It was necessary for them that He should go away in order that the Comforter may come. The Holy Spirit would be sent by the Lord, consequent upon His taking His place on high as the One whom the Father had glorified. When the Holy Spirit came He would not only bring much needed support to them but His presence on earth would in itself be evidence of certain facts. He would be sent from a victorious Man, who had overcome the world, defeated Satan, and established righteousness. He would come in power and His presence in the world would be witness to it of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. The world was guilty of refusing the Son of God, who in righteousness returned to the Father. This showed the true character of the world and of its prince who was judged. The Spirit of truth would be the power against the world. He would come alongside His own to help, bearing a testimony of truth that the world would feel and know. He would be unseen, but by and in His own there would be a witness that none could resist or ignore.
If He witnessed against the world He would be the minister of God to His own. He would give the capacity to receive and guide them into all truth. He would bring the present truth from the glory and speak concerning things to come. (What rich fulness the Lord in His love would have His own to receive and know!) For He would reveal the Son in His glory, and the results of His exaltation. The Spirit would glorify the Son, taking of the things of the Son and making His own to know them. The fulness of the things of the Father are the Son's, and He would show them to His own.
(The author of this series of articles wishes to remain anonymous)
Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea (4)
(Continued from page 277)
After the solemn verdict that the Lord as the righteous Judge had to pronounce against the assembly in Laodicea (Rev. 3:15-17), Christ presents Himself as the great Counsellor. In our days there are multitudes of counsellors, often with good intentions (but not always), trying to bring in man's remedies, which are doomed to fail. In a day when man has an abundance of resources, as the people in Laodicea had, one easily becomes self-complacent, self-sufficient, self-righteous, etc. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to be open to the resources that God makes available to us. Already in the apostle Paul's days there was a need to distinguish between two different orders of resource: man's wisdom and God's wisdom.
The first order rejects the second, but the second, linked with Christ as the wisdom and the power of God, is constantly exposed to perils and temptations, namely that something of the first order will compromise it, and this in a subtle and deceiving way. In 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 we read many valuable lessons concerning this potential danger and we learn how the apostle, led by the Spirit of God, deals with such a challenging situation. I recommend a careful study of those chapters.
Before we meditate upon the character of His counsel, and the remedies and resources which the Lord makes available to the longing soul, it is good to look first at the Lord Himself, the great and best Counsellor. In a day when, humanly speaking, there is no more hope for Israel, God introduces Immanuel (Isa. 7:14f; Isa. 9:6f) who brings His answer to the problems and sustains a weak remnant that relies on Him and enjoys His company (Immanuel means “God with us”). One of His many names is Counsellor. Is it not our experience that as long as we seem or think to manage for ourselves, we do not really turn to the Lord for help? This is what the soul in Romans 7 has to learn, as far as the way of practical righteousness with God is concerned: to really surrender to God and to His resources.
It has been a need, and often a lack in every phase of the church's history, to turn to God's Counsellor and to His resources. Studying the book of Judges, I was struck to notice in Judges 2 and Judges 10 how a constantly recurring cycle is described: (1) sin and rebellion; (2) God's discipline, His dealings in retribution, bringing His people into bondage under the yoke of the enemy; (3) repentance, as they confess and abandon their sins, and cast themselves upon God; (4) followed by public restoration and (5) concluded by rest. Thus God forced them as it were to pay attention to His counsel. However, God looks for willing hearts (John 7:17), as He found for instance in Rebecca in Genesis 24:5.
The remnant that returned from the Babylonian captivity was encouraged by God's prophet Zechariah to rebuild the temple, as he drew their attention to the Branch or Sprout (Zech. 6:12f). Their eyes were also directed to a future day of glory, when the true King will rule upon Jehovah's throne in Jerusalem and He shall be a Priest upon His throne, “and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” Even with regard to the millennial reign of righteousness and peace, the Word presents Him as the Counsellor. Will He not always be God's prophet who reveals His mind and counsel, even in the blessed context of His public reign?
God's will, purpose, counsel
Let us now think for a moment about God's counsel in Ephesians 1:11, which is according to His will and for His own pleasure. Ephesians 1 presents three dimensions of God's will: past (Eph. 1:4f), present (Eph. 1:9), and future (Eph. 1:11)! It was a special feature of Paul's ministry that he could reveal the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) which was realized in time, and expressed in the members of Christ's body on earth, according to God's will or purpose (1 Cor. 12:11). In connection with our new birth we read in James 1:18, “Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” In Hebrews 6:17 the author of the epistle shows how God's blessing for His people is according to the promise of God who cannot lie, who does not change His purposes at random and who confirmed everything by an oath. To this He adds the further security of showing and giving them free access to His throne (Heb. 6:18ff; 10:19ff).
It is a blessing to become more acquainted with God's purposes and counsels, and to learn His sovereignty (Rom. 9:19ff), as well as His ways (Rom. 11:32-36). How striking it is to read in this context: “who hath been His (God's) counsellor?” (Rom. 11:34). The same word is used (now as a verb) by our Lord in Revelation 3:18, where He counsels us! Should we then not listen?
Centred in Christ
The foundation of our salvation is also linked with God's purpose and counsel, centred in Christ and in His sacrifice, whereas at the same time, in an unfathomable way, man's responsibility is maintained: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” This passage in Acts 2:23 should be compared with 4:28 where God's hand and counsel is emphasized and with 5:38f in the same book. We find a beautiful Old Testament example in David who served the will (purpose) of God in his own generation, and in this there lies a challenge for every believer who has a heart for God's will (Acts 13:36).
Christ, God the Son, has the same authority as God the Father (John 5), and He reveals the Father to whomsoever He wills (the same verb for purpose or counsel. Matthew 11:25-27). The same passage continues to underline man's responsibility (vs. 28-30): wonderful balance and unity of Scripture! Luke 10:22 is another example of this unsearchable harmony. These passages underline Christ's greatness as Son, while taking the place of a humble Man, subject to the purpose, counsel, or will of the Father, as in Gethsemane (Luke 22:42). What an Example and Model!
God's will and man's
The greatness of God expresses itself in giving man a place of responsibility in which he can do his own will and follow the counsels of his own heart. However, the human will needs to submit to God's will and counsel (cp. 2 Peter 3:9). In 1 Timothy 6:9 Paul shows that believers who purpose to become rich, fall into temptation and into a terrible snare. The verb for counsel (without the preposition sun, which is added in Rev. 3:18) is used by Paul to express his healthy desires for believers or for himself, to give counsel for their functioning and well-being in the house of God (1 Tim. 2:8; 1 Tim. 5:14; Phil. 1:12; 2 Cor. 1:17). Luke 7:30 underlines man's responsibility regarding God's counsel as linked with His ways with the Jews. In John 18:39 the same verb for counsel is used with respect to the people's will toward their Messiah.
I underline these different aspects, because the Lord's counsel to Laodicea has been rejected by the majority of Christians, but should be heeded by us even though we may form a very small remnant. The word counsel implies the idea of common sense (Luke 14:31), sometimes wise, sometimes not (see Acts 27:12, 42f). Let us be wisdom's children and pay attention to the Lord's counsel. Man's counsel — and God fully maintains his responsibility, also when it concerns believers — will be considered and evaluated ultimately by God (see 1 Cor. 4:5). Joseph of Arimathea, an honourable counsellor (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50f), is a reflection of something we find in Christ in perfection (cp. Isa. 9:6) and which the assembly in Laodicea was lacking. Finally I underline that there is a close connection between God's pleasure, desire, will and counsel, on the one hand and man's will on the other (2 Peter 3:9; Ezek. 33:11), as well as with the mystery and wonder of Christ's sacrifice for sin, summarized in Isaiah 53:10!
A. E. Bouter
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
The Blessings of a Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit
God clearly shows us in His Word the mind and attitude of heart that is well-pleasing to Him. There are several Scriptures where the Spirit of God tells us what kind of behaviour pleases the heart of God and what blessings He has promised where there is such an attitude. It is our purpose in this article to meditate upon four passages in the Old Testament that show the attitude which is suitable to everyone of us in our days. When such an attitude characterizes our behaviour we shall enjoy the seven promises that God gives in connection with this mind that is so pleasing to Him.
“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Ps. 34:18):
The mind and attitude that God desires to see in us and which is mentioned in each of the four passages we are considering is described in the following terms: our spirits and our hearts should be broken, contrite and humble. Our whole being, our whole attitude of heart is humbled in the presence of God. We submit our will completely to the will of God. We feel deeply our own failure and mourn the sorrow and poor condition of the people of God. Not only will we, weep and mourn certain days (Neh. 1:4), like Nehemiah, but we will also continue in prayer, as did that faithful servant of the Lord. “And confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against Thee: both I and my father's house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against Thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments which Thou commandedst” (Neh. 1:6, 7).
When this is the way we approach our God we shall find His promises fulfilled in our lives. The first two of them are mentioned in our verse:
1) God is near to us
If the Lord sees such a broken heart, He says to such: “I am near.” The disciples on their way to Emmaus asked the Lord: “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent” (Luke 24:29). Considering the condition of His testimony on earth, don't we have to say, “it is toward evening” and the day of grace is “far spent”? Is there not the same desire in our hearts, to ask: “Lord, abide with us, be near to us.” This verse shows that the attitude of a broken heart has the assurance of His nearness.
2) I will save
When we see such a lot of sorrow and so many problems and trials, how do we react? Are we looking for a “solution” in a carnal manner? We won't find one. On the contrary — we may make things worse. But perhaps, like the apostle Paul, we are at the point where “we are perplexed” (“seeing no apparent issue.” JND Trans. 2. Cor. 4:8). If in such a situation we really have a contrite spirit before the Lord then He will save us, He will show us the way so that we can add, like the apostle, “but not in despair” (“but our way not entirely shut up.” JND Trans.). The Lord will show us a way. This may not be the easy way — but we will have the certainty that it is His way.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17):
There are two further blessings in this verse:
3) A sacrifice, acceptable to God
The verse quoted above is preceded by the words: “For Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering” (v. 16). Several passages in the Old Testament show that God did not delight in sacrifices that were offered in a wrong attitude of mind. A few quotations will illustrate this. “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High” (Ps. 50:13).
In Malachi, where the low condition of the people of God was very serious, God said plainly, “I have no pleasure in you, saith the LORD of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand” (Mal. 1:10). Against this background we can remember that in Psalm 51 God says that there is sacrifice which He will accept — the contrite attitude of a broken spirit. Not only should the body of the believer be “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Rom. 12:1), but our right attitude of heart is also most precious to Him.
4) I will not despise you
The kind of attitude we are considering is one that the world despises. Those that gather to the Name of the Lord Jesus alone, perhaps here and there literally “two or three,” and who humbly mourn the humiliating condition of the Christian witness, are often in the eyes of the religious world only a poor, despised testimony. But the Psalmist could say, such a “broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” And is not His approval what we should really value?
“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15):
God introduces Himself as the high and lofty one, whose Name is Holy. And when He says that He dwells in the high and holy place, inhabiting eternity, we can easily understand this. He is the Holy One, “dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto” (1 Tim. 6:16). Solomon rightly asked the question, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee” (1 Kings 8:27). Do we not bow in worship and adoration as we go on and read of another dwelling place of God?
5) I will dwell with you
“I dwell... with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” God promises His presence and fellowship. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23). Connecting these two verses we could say that where our love to the Lord manifests itself in obedience to His Word in the right attitude of mind and heart we will experience this personal communion with the Father and the Son. “And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:3, 4).
6) I will revive
This intimate fellowship of the soul with God results in joy and revival. If God promises to revive, faith can say confidently with the Psalmist: “Thou, who hast shewn us many and sore troubles, wilt revive us again” (Ps. 71:20. JND Trans.). “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, Thou wilt revive me” (Ps. 138:7). The means God uses to revive us is usually His Word: “I will never forget Thy precepts: for with them Thou hast quickened me” (Ps. 119:93). This very personal encouragement in fellowship with God will further the desire in our hearts that the whole people of God may be revived, and therefore we pray, always considering our own weakness and failure, “O LORD, revive Thy work” (Hab. 3:2).
“But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word” (Isa. 66:2):
Here we have an added characteristic of the mind that God looks for: one that “trembleth at My word.” We have already seen that the Word revives us. Yes, we may rejoice in the Word “as much as in all riches”; “as one that findeth great spoil”; “for they are the rejoicing of my heart” (Ps. 119:14, 162, 111). But on the other hand it is the holy Word of God that speaks with authority to our hearts and consciences. Are we “trembling” at His Word, and endeavouring to order our lives according to it? Or do we try to adjust God's Word to our behaviour when we have to some degree already departed from it?
7) I will look to you
So the Lord says, if there is the broken heart and the contrite spirit acknowledging the authority of My Word, then I will look to you with divine approval. “The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry” (Ps. 34:15).
Let us once again broaden our view from our personal situation to the collective testimony for Him and the place where He has set His Name. Even Solomon, the king, had the desire that God would look at this place: “Now, my God, let, I beseech Thee, Thine eyes be open, and let Thine ears be attent unto the prayer that is made in this place” (2 Chr. 6:40). Let us listen to God's answer to Solomon's prayer: “Now Mine eyes shall be open, and Mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place... and Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually” (2 Chr. 7:15-16). Not only My eyes and My ears, says the Lord, but also My heart is at this place where the saints are gathered to My Name. This is surely a thought to revive us in these last days.
Afflicting The Soul
(2 Peter 2:8)
This article is based on the story of Obadiah, the man who served king Ahab of Israel. It provides a striking warning for all believers in our day. The reader is asked to consider 1 Kings 18 prayerfully before reading what follows.
As an introduction we will recall the time when Ahab came to power. Following the division of the kingdom He was the seventh king to ascend the throne of Israel, after the death of his father Omri. He was married to Jezebel and established the worship of Baal under the influence of his idolatrous wife. He built the temple to Baal's name and persecuted the prophets of God. We read that he wrought evil more than all his former fellow-monarchs (1 Kings 16:30, 33). He even allowed his wife to kill the prophets of the Lord. Such a condition in Israel called for a response from above, and God sent the prophet Elijah to meet the prevailing apostasy. He went to the king and told him of the drought that would be in the land. A period of famine followed and the king's reaction was not one of seeking the Lord in time of trouble. Only when the famine became severe did the people and king appear to realise how evil a thing and bitter it is to forsake the Lord God and worship idols, as we will see further on.
The scene changes and brings us to the subject we are considering. Ahab had a governor or steward who ruled over his house and contrary to what we might have supposed he was a pious person, for Obadiah “feared the LORD greatly” and did fear Him “from my youth” (1 Kings 18:3, 12). The proof was that he “took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water” (18:4). We see here an upright man seeking the welfare of these servants of God, and therefore dealing righteously with them in the midst of the idolatrous people and rulers. Such behaviour was worthy of reward: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me” (Matt. 25:40). However, there was a serious shortcoming. What really shocks us is that he remained faithful to king Ahab. He was the steward of his house and under obedience to the king's commands. How he obtained this position we are not told. It seems that outwardly he pretended to follow Baal while inwardly he feared the Lord. This fear of the Lord was shown in relation to the faithful prophets but hidden from the king and people.
Far from acting positively for the interests of the people and turning to the God of their fathers, Ahab only thought of feeding his animals. He commanded Obadiah to look for green pastures and water for the horses and mules so that he would not have to destroy some of his beasts. He did not care about the people, any more than he cared about the prophets. This selfish man was characterised by weakness in the face of the influence of his wicked wife and it resulted in enmity towards God.
After king and servant separated from one another (v. 6), Obadiah encountered Elijah. This was a meeting between a true servant of God and one who was thoroughly compromised by his association with the wicked king. The contrast between the true character of separation from evil, seen in Elijah, and the hesitation and fear that marked Obadiah, is very clear. Obadiah anticipated a stern rebuke from the prophet. Falling on his knees he said: “Art thou that my lord Elijah?” (v. 7). He had been leading a double life and knew Elijah was morally much greater than he was. Elijah did not rebuke him in an open way, but clearly disapproved of his behaviour. To the prophet, Obadiah was just a servant of Ahab: “go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here” (v. 8). These words were not welcomed by Obadiah and the answer he gave shows how he drew back from a mission which was likely to provoke the king's anger: “What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me?” (v. 9). Elijah was an outlaw who had disturbed the king (cf. v. 17) and Obadiah had met him. Might not the king and Jezebel suspect what Obadiah had managed to keep hidden from them for so long: that he really feared the Lord? The king himself had been looking for the prophet so long that a release of news about Elijah now might mean death for Obadiah. Ahab would be waiting for food, not for this news! Obadiah was unwilling to deliver the message because of his lack of faith in the God that could keep him from the hand of the king.
In this faithless attitude he was unable to accomplish the task. His faith had become dull because of his allegiance to the king. A bad conscience prevented him from having free fellowship with God. Unlike Elijah, he had no confidence that the Lord would protect him against the actions of Ahab, and was not in a fit condition to speak in the Name of the Lord. In order to avoid danger and death, he simply refused to do as he was directed. He tried to excuse this refusal by referring to his own past good deeds: “Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the LORD, how I hid an hundred men of the LORD's prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water?” (v. 13). This action was commendable but by speaking to the prophet about it he tried to justify his false position. His dilemma was the result of the position he was in. He was governed by what was expedient rather than by divine principles. In contrast to Obadiah's unwillingness, Elijah declared that he would go and show himself to the king. This was the firmness of a servant of God who delighted to carry out his Lord's will (v. 15; cf. Isa. 6:8). There is also the contrast between Obadiah's life of comfort and luxury in the kings house, and that of the prophet by the brook Cherith, in the house of the widow of Zarephath and in the desert. Elijah had no other comfort except the Lord's company but he had chosen the best part! (cf. Luke 10:12; 2 Tim. 1:12).
It would be well for a moment to focus our attention on the matter of the believer's service. There is little doubt that Obadiah tormented his righteous soul day by day, because of his continuing association with Ahab and seeing what went on every day in Israel. When Lot lived in Sodom two angels were sent to destroy it. Likewise this steward had contact with a divinely sent messenger, Elijah, and through the prophet's faithful witness he was confronted with the reality of his association with the evil king. Whether he forsook this evil link we are not told. His remaining where he was would have involved a continuing loss of privileges which can only be enjoyed by those who are found in separation from evil. The Christian cannot serve two masters as Obadiah tried to do, “... for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). If we attempt such a thing we shall be drawn into the world and come under the power of its prince. The world passes away and all its lust, and in the end it will be destroyed by fire sent down from the Lord (2 Peter 3:10b). Let us therefore turn away from worldly sin and set our hearts and eyes upon heaven and the One who is there. Remaining in false associations will do us no good but only lead to affliction of soul.
What Manner of Man is This?
The Lord Jesus is never recorded in the New Testament as giving expression to a sense of humour or taking part in any foolish jesting. We have God revealing that He will laugh and have the sinful heathen in derision, but that is altogether different to attributing “a good sense of humour” to the Lord Jesus. This is more than Scripture allows, and the circumcised heart should confine itself to the facts that Scripture gives and not give place to fleshly notions or speculations regarding the Christ of God that are all too prevalent in Christendom today.
The Word of God shows that in this world the Son of God was an outcast, the Man of sorrows and the one acquainted with grief. He was here, sowing in tears, weeping over Jerusalem and all who had fallen victim to Satan's subtlety. Strong crying and tears marked His course. Scripture shows Him as a sociable Man, serving all and being available to every one who was in need. He served the poor and weak. His ministry was to do good and to deliver. His oral ministry was of such quality that common people heard Him gladly. The inexpressible sweetness of His words is degraded by thoughts of Christ telling jokes. No trivial utterance left His lips, nor was any joke ever told by Him. He warned His hearers that they would be judged for every idle word spoken. Matters of eternal weight and importance were the subject of His speech — all that the Father gave Him to speak. There was first hand knowledge of heavenly things and these and like themes comprised the subject matter of His conversation. No man on earth ever walked in such a narrow path as the Lord Jesus Christ; and none had such a large heart as He. He was the Blessed (Happy) God, yet here a mourner and a homeless stranger among the sad and weary. The joy He brought was full and lasting; it was not expressed in a fleeting jest.
May He give us grace to speak worthily of Himself in terms found in Scripture. If we truly love His all-glorious and all-beauteous person, we cannot be indifferent to His glory and honour. There is no such thing as neutrality in divine things. It is wrong to reduce His spotless, yet true, humanity to what is found among the fallen sons and daughters of Adam.
A careful, reverent and sober consideration of the Gospels will keep us from believing such defective and irreverent ideas. Further help can also be found in Christ-honouring literature. Among the most readable and reverent meditations of His life on earth, is J. G. Bellett's, “Meditations on the Moral Glory of the Lord Jesus.”
The Lord illustrated that word that is among us, 'in the world, but not of the world' — a form of words which, I suppose, has been derived from what He Himself says in John 17:15: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil”. He illustrates this condition all through His life; for He was ever in the world, active in the midst of its ignorance and misery, but never of it, as one that shared its hopes or projects, or breathed its spirit…
But again… He would not gain his disciples after the poor way of amiable nature. Honey was excluded from the offerings made by fire as well as leaven. The meat offering had none of it (Lev. 2:11); neither had Jesus, the true meat offering. It was not the merely civil, amiable thing that the disciples got from their Master. It was not the courtesy that consults for the ease of another. He did not gratify, and yet He bound them to Him very closely; and this is power. There is always moral power when the confidence of another is gained without its being sought; for the heart has then become conscious of the reality of love… Attention, if it be mere attention, is honey, and how much of this poor material is found with us! And we are disposed to think that it is as well, and perhaps we aim no higher than to purge out leaven, and fill the lump with honey. Let us be amiable, perform our part well in the civil, courteous, well-ordered social scene, pleasing others, and doing what we can to keep people on good terms with themselves, then we are satisfied with ourselves and others with us also. But is this service to God? Is this a meat offering? Is this found as part of the moral glory of perfect man? Indeed, indeed it is not. We may naturally judge, I grant, that nothing could do it better or more effectively; but still it is one of the secrets of the sanctuary, that honey was not used to give a sweet savour to the offering.
J. G. Bellett
(From “The Moral Glory of The Lord Jesus Christ,”
pages 19, 22, 23)
I purposely use the present tense, because this is what God did in the past, what He does at present and what He is going to do in a coming day of great distress. Furthermore, both passages presuppose the mystery of the Incarnation, as revealed in the New Testament. Notice also that this is one of the many passages in Scripture where peace and righteousness are intimately linked together.
We find here in the text of the LXX in the word “willing” the same root as used in purpose or counsel.
In contrast to God's counsel (Acts 2:23), there is man's counsel and the plot to kill the Messiah (Matt. 26:4), together with Lazarus whom He had raised from among the dead (John 12:10). The same hatred and plot were seen with regard to Paul (Acts 9:23). As the climax of man's counsel, Caiaphas emphasized that his counsel would be profitable for the people (John 11:53)!
The Greek text of the O.T. uses here the same verb for God's pleasure as we are discussing.