Esther 9, 10
The book of Esther has a sad ending- the Jews are even more popular, even richer. Our loving Father gives us as His children what we beg Him for materially- but so often, it’s not for our good spiritually. God must be so torn- between giving us what we want, what we whine for, what humanly we obviously need and would desperately like to have… and yet knowing that this is not for our spiritual good. We wonder what happened to Esther. Ahasuerus was slain soon after the events of the book of Esther- typically, the wife and supporters of the King would’ve been slain or persecuted. Was this not another prod from God for Esther and Mordecai to return to Judah? It’s simply breathtaking how we are in God’s grip. He doesn’t give up on us. He works, as Job perceived, visiting us every moment in providential touches and prods, in order to encourage us to walk towards His Kingdom and quit the fake Kingdoms of this world.
Jonah is a classic example of a man slipping into the downward spiral- he goes down to Joppa, down into the ship, down into the very bottom of the ship, and finally down into the depths of the sea (Jonah 1). Sin, but its very nature, leads to more sin- e.g. adultery is a fire, once committed it tends to burn ever more fiercely to a man’s destruction (Job 31:12). Let's not fall into this spiral!
Heb 6, 7
We must be careful not to think that our promised inheritance is only eternal life; it is something being personally prepared for each of us. The language of preparation seems inappropriate if our reward is only eternal life. The husbandman produces fruit which is appropriate to his labours, and so our eternal future and being will be a reflection of our labours now (Heb. 6:7). Not that salvation depends upon our works: it is the free, gracious gift of God. But the nature of our eternity will be a reflection of our present efforts.
Job 1, 2
The satan in the book of Job expresses his serious doubt that any man would serve God for no prospect of reward in this life (Job 1:9). One of the themes of the book of Job is to show how a real believer will serve God for nothing. In fact, Job went beyond this. He says that he will still serve God even if he gets nothing from Him in this life and even if there is no future reward either, and even if God treats Him unfairly; 'Even if', Job speculates, 'God slays me (not just 'kills' me)' (consider Job 13:15; 14:7,14; 19:10). This was love of God, this was devotion to ones' creator, despite not understanding His ways. In Malachi's time, the Jews were expecting a reward from God for every little thing they did. They are rebuked in language which is full of allusion back to Job, and his willingness to serve God " for nought" (Mal. 1:10).
Jonah 2, 3
The Biblical records of those who took the easy way (as they thought it) often emphasize that they ended up in essence with the same experience of suffering which they would have had if they followed the way of the Kingdom. Those who worshipped idols forsook their own mercy (Jonah 2:8).
Heb 8, 9
One almost gets the impression that Paul is speaking with great constraints on his time: " the cherubims...of which we cannot now speak particularly...what shall I more say? for the time is failing me, running out" (Heb. 9:5; 11:32 Gk.). These sort of comments would surely be irrelevant in a written letter. But as a transcript of a live sermon, they make perfect sense. M. R. Vincent in his Word Studies Of The NT observed in Hebrews " a rhythmical structure of sentences (with) sonorous compounds" , as if what is written had first been spoken. This is one of many reasons for thinking that Hebrews is actually the transcript of a breaking of bread exhortation.
Job 3, 4
The Hebrew word usually translated “tongue” is also put by metonymy for the person- because a man’s words reflect who he really and essentially is. And this means we shouldn’t justify our bad speaking by feeling that underneath, we aren’t really like that. We can’t shout and scream hard words at our partner or children or brethren and think that really, we love them underneath. Let’s not think that the way words come out is something involuntary. Job and his friends (Job 4:2) all justified their inappropriate words by reasoning that a man just couldn’t but speak out what he felt given the situation. But they all learnt in the end how far better it would have been not to have spoken as they did. They laid their hands upon their mouths. Words can be controlled. We are culpable for them. Because a man’s words are counted as who he is.
Jonah's relationship with God involved what could be called 'move and countermove'. God's responses to Jonah indicated a very deep awareness and sensitivity to what Jonah was saying and feeling. The way the record is presented in Jonah 4 [in Hebrew] brings this out powerfully:
|Jonah 4:2,3||Jonah's monologue||39 words|
|Jonah 4:4||God's question||3 words|
|Jonah 4:8||Jonah's question||3 words|
|Jonah 4:9||God and Jonah in dialogue||5 words for God|
|5 words for Jonah|
|Jonah 4:10,11||God's monologue||39 words|
This same dialogue with God is possible for us today.
ical term for the promises, and it was these things that were ever " before mine eyes" , and the way of life in which he walked (Ps. 26:3). The promises of God are so sure of fulfillment that we can see them, and should seek to feel them, as having been effectively fulfilled to us already in prospect. Heb. 10:36 speaks of 'receiving the promise'. We must fill in the ellipsis: 'receive the fulfillment of the promise'. God's promise is effectively it's fulfillment.
Our prayers for others really can influence them and even affect their standing with God. Job believed this, in that he prayed God would forgive his children in case they sinned. The friends mocked this in Job 5:4; 8:4; 17:5 and 20:10, saying that the children of the foolish die for their own sins, whereas, by implication, Job had figured that his prayers and sacrifices could gain them forgiveness. Yet in the end, Yahweh stated that Job had understood Him and His principles right, whereas the friends hadn't.
Often the prophets break off from predicting coming condemnation to plead personally with their hearers to repent [this explains some of the strange shifts of pronouns in the prophets]. This is a prototype for the even more passionate Christian living which we should be experiencing. Take Micah. Chapter 2 is a message of judgment against Israel. And then Micah pleads: “And I said, Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob…is it not for you to know [the coming of] judgment?” (3:1). Likewise: “For this will I wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like jackals…at Beth-le-Aphrah have I rolled myself in the dust” (Mic. 1:8,10 RV). Rolling naked in the dust…this was the extent of Micah’s passion for the repentance of his audience. He comes to the point where he would fain make sacrifice for Israel, even to the point of offering his firstborn son, so strongly did he take upon himself the sins of his people. But he tells Israel that even this will be no good; they must repent themselves: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord...shall I come before him with burnt offerings....shall I give my firstborn for my transgression?...what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly...and to humble thyself [in repentance]” (6:6-8). In all this, Micah came close to the spirit of the Father and Son. For the Father would give His firstborn for their sin.
When we read that the faithful ‘saw’ the promises although they didn’t receive them, we are surely meant to understand that they ‘saw’ the fulfilment of the promises (Heb. 11:13). ‘The promises’ are so sure of fulfilment that the phrase is put by metonymy for ‘the fulfilment of the promises’. And because of their utter certainty, we are to be strangers and pilgrims, and unworldly (Heb. 11:13,14). There is therefore an obvious link between doctrine and practice. A doctrine believed leads to us coming out of this tangled world. Likewise 1 Jn. 5:5 teaches that we overcome the world by believing an idea- that Jesus is the Son of God [as promised to Abraham and David].
Job 6, 7
The description of life as a vapour in James 4:14 appears to be an allusion to Job 7:7: "O remember that my life is wind". Thus James is asking them to learn the lesson of Job, as he does in 5:11; to come to a true understanding of the weakness of human nature through responding in humility to the trials of life, and to the knowledge of God directly provided by Him.
he boundaries of the promised land and indeed the individual possessions of the tribes were changed by God in accordance with the weakness of Israel to actually drive out the tribes and take the inheritance (consider how the inheritance of Simeon and Judah was merged because of this inability to expel the Canaanites, Josh. 19:1). He “changed the portion of my people” (Mic. 2:4). Yet God worked with them in this progressive lowering of levels. God operates in the same way with us today.
In Against Celsus 3.55, Origen defends Christianity against the allegation that it requires men to leave the world of men and go mix with women and children in “the washerwoman’s shop”- presumably a house church Celsus knew. Lucian of Samosata even mocked Christianity as being largely comprised of children and “old hags called widows”. Marcus Cornelius Fronto likewise mocked the way “children” [and by that term he would’ve referred to teenagers too] participated in the breaking of bread [Octavius 8-9]. The teaching of the Lord Jesus was attractive to children / young people. They like women were treated as of little worth; the Greco-Roman world considered that children had to be taught, and couldn’t teach a man anything. But the Lord Jesus repeatedly set children up as examples of discipleship (Mk. 9:36,37; Lk. 9:47,48; as Heb. 12:5-9). So we can understand the appeal of early Christianity to young people, teenagers, especially girls. O.M. Bakke has written a fascinating study entitled When Children Became People. The thesis is that the teaching of Christianity gave disenfranchised people an identity and meaning as persons- women and slaves are obvious examples- but this also applied to children / young people. They too were disregarded as people in Mediterranean society; and yet in Christ they were given their value as people. In the house church setting, we can imagine how this happened. Celsus mocks how teenage boys go to Christian house churches to be taught by women- reflecting how attractive Christianity was for young people.
The words of the friends suggest that their view was in fact that of the satan in the prologue. Satan obviously quibbled with God's pronunciation of Job as perfect and upright (1:8). And Bildad likewise seems to allude to this when he comments concerning Job's downfall: " If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee" (8:6).
Mic 3, 4
The reality of God’s anger, His hurt, His jealousy, means that God isn’t indifferent to sin. And neither should we be, increasingly surrounded by it as we are, with sin presented to us as the norm of human existence. We may feel or express disapproval at sin; but God’s reaction is something which language can’t convey. It results in the broken heart of God. This is the message of the prophets: that we must end our indifference, quite literally, for God’s sake. Sadly, many readers of the prophets seem to feel that these men are merely droning on, one prophet, one chapter, seems so much like the next. Yet read sensitively, and in a good translation, the words of the prophets expose us to a relentless shattering of indifference. Their words are onslaughts against cherished assumptions, patterns of living, challenging our endless evasions of issues, calling faith and behaviour to account. They are the very voice of God passionately imploring us to turn more fully to Him. Their task was “to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (Mic. 3:8).
The letter to the Hebrew Christians describes salvation and the Kingdom with the idea of inheritance. The believers had possessions (Heb. 10:34), had been generous to others (Heb. 6:10), and yet needed the exhortation to "not live for money; be content with what you have" (Heb. 13:5) and to "share what you have with others" (Heb. 13:16). We could surmize that this audience weren't unlike many of us today- not overly wealthy, but sorely tempted to be obsessed by posessions and material advantage. And to them, as to us, the writer emphasizes that salvation in Christ is the ultimate inheritance or posession (Heb. 1:2,4,14, 6:12,17; 9:15; 11:7; 12:17); this is the ultimate "profit" (Heb. 13:17). Hence Esau was quoted as an example- he gave up his inheritance for the sake of a material meal (Heb. 12:15-17). The eternal inheritance which is promised to us in the Gospel, rooted as it is in the promises to the Jewish fathers, should make us not seek for great material inheritance in this present world.
Consider how the Lord taught ambition in prayer- He put before His men the real possibility of moving a mountain into the sea, if that was what was required (Mk. 11:23). This example wasn't off the top of His head; He was consciously alluding to Job 9:5, where Job says that God alone, but not man, can do something like moving a mountain into the sea. And the Lord is saying: 'Yes, God alone can do it; but such is the potential power of prayer, that He will hearken to your requests to do such things- and do them'.
The "pangs" of the pain of the Babylonian invasion ought to have been birth pangs which would result in the "daughter of Zion" giving birth to new spiritual life and then going forth out of the city of Babylon and returning to her land (Mic. 4:9,10). But it didn't happen; they experienced the pain, but it was as if their spiritual rebirth was actually a stillbirth in the end. The idea was that in Babylon, Zion would be "delivered" of her new child, she would "arise and thresh" the surrounding nations (Mic. 4:13), then a Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and lead Judah in the destruction of her enemies (Mic. 5:2,5-8). All this never came to pass, because in fact Judah were not spiritually reformed and reborn in Babylon. Mic. 4:10 speaks of how they would be "rescued" in Babylon, or (RV) "redeemed". That seems to me to be a reference to the miraculous deliverance / redemption of Judah from the pogrom of Haman as recorded in Esther. Mic. 5:8,9,14 goes on to speak of how at that time "the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations [the various nations that comprised Babylon, where the Jews lived]... as a lion among the beasts of the forest... let your hand be lifted up upon your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off... I will destroy your enemies" (RVmg.). This would be a reference to how the Jews defended themselves against their enemies after the demise of Haman and slew so many of them. But this was only a fraction of what could've been; "seven shepherds and eight princes" (Mic. 5:7 RVmg.) could have been raised up, a Messiah could've been born in Bethlehem, and Judah would have become as Babylon then was, "a lion among the beasts" [the lion was asymbol of Babylon]. But they were content with having escaped Haman's pogrom, and Esther ends on the sad note of the Jews prosperous and self-contented in the world which was theirs to conquer- if they had walked in step with God's plans, rather than being such easily contented, materialistic satisficers. Micah 7:11-13 RV seems to comment upon this wasted potential: "A day for building thy walls! In that day shall the decree [of Cyrus, to return and build the temple] be far extended. In that day shall they [the returning Jews] come unto thee [Zion] from Assyria... even to the river [all the places where the Jews were in captivity]... yet shall the land be desolate". In other words, the Jews are prophesied as returning, and yet that was a potential prophecy; the prophet foresaw that despite his prophecy and all that it enabled, the possible future it declared for Judah- yet the land would be [relatively] desolate, for most would not return. It's rather like Ez. 36:35,38 prophesying how the Jews would return from captivity and rebuild the waste places of Jerusalem- and yet Hag. 1:4 laments that the temple lay "waste" [s.w.] because the returned exiles were too lazy to rebuild it. The prophecy of Ezekiel was there for the fulfilling- but they chose not to. And how many prophecies are there which we likewise are too preoccupied and self-centred to reach out and fulfil?
We have to enquire, and enquire deeply, of our own lives- how much potential deliverance has God set up for us, that we refuse to be part of? To what extent has self-satisfaction, comfortable living, the acceptance we have in human society… lead to us failing to grasp the call of God?
By the hills of human pride being brought down, and the giving of confidence to those so low in the valleys of hopelessness and lack of self respect, there is a levelling of all those who respond to Christ. But more than this; in this lifting up of the hopeless and bringing down of the proud, there is a foretaste of what will happen in the future day of judgment. In essence, “we make the answer now” by whether or not we bring down our pride, or whether we summon the faith in God’s grace and imputed righteousness to believe that we, who are nothing, are lifted up in His sight. “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low” (James 1:9-10).
There are many brethren and sisters who live lowly lives, stuck in the lowest levels of society, living as they do with grim acceptance of their lot, who struggle with this: that they, really and truly, are seen as clothed with Christ, that they will be without fault before the throne. Or there are others who feel that their past failures really make it hard for them to ever be accepted by God. But believe it! This is how God eagerly sees you! We will be in His Kingdom, by grace…these are the valleys that must be exalted. And there are so many of us whose mountains of pride must be pulled down to the same level, by the same Gospel. If this happens, we will not need the ‘bringing down’ of condemnation. Flesh must be humbled- either we do it now, we humble ourselves that we may be exalted in due time; or it will have to be done to us through the terror of rejection. Time and again ‘bringing low’ or ‘humiliation’ is the result of condemnation (Dt. 28:43; 2 Chron. 28:19; Job 40:12; Ps. 106:43).
Job felt that " though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul" (Job 9:21)- he felt the impossibility of trusting his own conscience. He felt he wasn't perfect, and that he was condemned (Job 9:20; 10:2)- although actually God saw him as perfect (1:2). Job felt that God was searching around for his every sin (Job 10:6)- although compare this with how positively God spoke to Satan about him. Clearly God in His grace was more positive about Job than he himself was. Let that encourage you today!
delights in showing forgiveness and mercy; He loves doing it (Mic. 7:18). As a French proverb says, it's " son metier" - 'what He's good at, and loves doing'. Let's try to catch something of this spirit of the grace of God. Let's try to adopt God's perspective. For what does He require more of a man, " but to do justly, and to love mercy (as God does, 7:18), and to walk humbly with thy God" ? (Mic. 6:8).
The command to love our neighbour as ourselves is given an equivalent under the new Covenant: to love our brother or sister in the ecclesia as ourselves. Gal. 5:14 and James 2:8 quote this command in the context of ecclesial life. So to love God and Christ is to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is because of the intense unity of God's Name. Because our brethren and sisters share God's Name, as we do, we must love them as ourselves, who also bear that same Name. And if we love the Father, we must love the Son, who bears His Name, with a similar love. The letters of John state this explicitly. If we love God, we must love our brother; and if we love the Father, we must love the Son.
The love of Christ was shown in His cross; and through the Spirit's enlightenment we can know the height, length, breadth of that love (Eph. 3:18,19). But this passage in Ephesians is building on Job 11:7-9: " Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven, what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth and broader than the sea" . The purpose of the connection is to show that through appreciating the love of Christ, unknowable to the unenlightened mind, we see the Almighty unto perfection, in a way which the Old Testament believers were unable to do. It was as high as Heaven, and what could they do? And yet it must be confessed that we do not in practice attain to such fullness of knowledge and vision. We look to the Kingdom, one of the excellencies of which will be the full grasp of the Almighty unto perfection, as manifest in the death of His Son. All we now know is that that cross was the fullness of God, it was " the Almighty unto perfection" . But then, we shall know, we shall find it out. And yet, paradoxically, in some sense even now we can know “the love of Christ" [a phrase often used about the cross] that passes human knowledge. Speaking of His upcoming death, the Lord warned that where he was going, the disciples could not then follow; but they would, afterwards. This doesn’t necessarily mean they too were to die the death of the cross. Rather could it mean that they later would enter into what His death really meant; then they would see with some understanding, rather than run away from the vision of the cross. And for us, one of the Kingdom’s riches will likewise be that we shall then understand that final climactic act the more fully. Yet we begin that discovery now.
Rolling naked in the dust…this was the extent of Micah's passion for the repentance of his audience. He comes to the point where he would fain make sacrifice for Israel, even to the point of offering his firstborn son, so strongly did he take upon himself the sins of his people. But he tells Israel that even this will be no good; they must repent themselves: " Wherewith shall I come before the Lord...shall I come before him with burnt offerings....shall I give my firstborn for my transgression?...what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly...and to humble thyself [in repentance]" (6:6-8). In all this, Micah came close to the spirit of the Father and Son. For the Father would give His firstborn for their sin. Like the Father and Son, he came looking for fruit on the vine of Israel: " my soul desired the firstripe fruit" (Mic. 7:1). This chapter goes on to describe God warning Micah of how Israel would betray him and seek to kill him, despite his love for them, in language evidently prophetic of the Lord's sacrifice. Thus in Micah's love for Israel, in the depth of his appreciation of the reality of judgment to come which gave him such motivation to preach, he came to know the spirit of Christ crucified in the depth of his zeal to appeal to them. And we too know with quite some accuracy the judgment to come upon Israel and our fellow man. We cannot know this and knowingly tut tut to each other about it, and do sweet nothing about it.
James 3, 4
We must be God's in practice because He is our creator. So it is not that we merely believe in creation rather than evolution; more than this, such belief in creation must elicit a life given over to that creator. God as creator created man in His own image; and therefore we shouldn't curse men (James 3:9). By reason of the image they bear, we are to act to all men as we would to God Himself; we are not to treat some men as we would animals, who are not in the image of God. Because we are made in God's image, we should therefore not kill other humans (Gen. 9:6). James says the same, in essence, in teaching that because we are in God's image, we shouldn't curse others. To curse a man is to kill him. That's the point of James' allusion to Genesis and to God as creator. Quite simply, respect for the person of others is inculcated by sustained reflection on the way that they too are created in God's image.
Job 12:24 shows that there's an element to which the human mind, like the heart of kings, is under God's direct control. He can influence our thinking and mindsets and worldviews; just as He made Joseph forget all the pain of his former experiences.
Nah 1, 2
Nahum’s message was not only a warning of judgment to come upon Nineveh. It was an appeal to Israel, that unless they repented, they would likewise perish. The appeal to Judah to “perform thy vows” (Nah. 1:15) is couched in the very same words as Jonah used in Jonah 2:9: “I will pay [s.w. perform] that which I have vowed”. Judah were being asked to be like Jonah, and not despise Nineveh, but rather appeal to her to repent. Time and again, our spiritual tests are framed in terms of Biblical precedents, to provide us with strength to decide rightly- if we will take that strength.
Those who speak strong words with Divine oaths will 'fall under judgment' for those words (James 5:12 RV); if they don't use them, they won't have to have them considered at the judgment. And thus "He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life; but he that openeth wide his lips [in this life] shall have destruction" at judgment day (Prov. 13:3). Our words really can lead to our salvation or rejection... they're that important.
The Greek word translated “conscience”, sun-eidesis, means literally a co-perception. It implies that there are two types of perception within the believer- human perception, and spiritual perception. The conscience that is cleansed in Christ, that is at peace, will be a conscience that keeps those two perceptions, of the real self and of the persona, in harmony. What we know and perceive humanly, is in harmony with we spiritually perceive. Our conscience, our co-perception, our real self, makes sense of the human perceptions and interprets them in a spiritual way. So, a young man sees an attractive girl. His human perception signals certain things to his brain- to lust, covet, etc. But his co-perception, his conscience, his real self, handles all that, and sees the girl’s beauty for just simply what it is- beauty. Job before his ‘conversion’ paralleled his eye and his ear: “Mine eye hath seen all this, mine ear hath heard and understood it” (Job 13:1). He was so sure that what he heard was what he saw; he was sure that his perceptions were operating correctly. But later, he comes to see a difference between his eye and his ear. He says that he had only heard of God by the ear; but only now, he says, “mine eye seeth thee” (Job 42:5). He had heard words, but, he realized, he’d not properly ‘seen’ or perceived. Finally, he had a properly functioning ‘conscience’, a co-perception. What he saw, was what he really heard.
Nahum 3:9 describes Nineveh’s power as “infinite” (Nah. 3:9). This is how it appeared from the standpoint of a Jew in puny Israel; ultimately, from God’s perspective, Nineveh’s power was anything but infinite. God adopts a human perspective- as He does in our lives today, as He watches them with compassion and feeling for how we see things.
1 Pet 1
The trials of our faith are like fire which purifies us (1 Pet. 1:7; 4:12). And yet this is the language of the last judgment (Mal. 3:1,2). In our response to trials, we have the outcome of our judgment. We must rejoice now in our tribulations with the same joy which we will have when we are accepted by the Lord at the last day (1 Pet. 4:13). Job felt that his calamities were God entering into judgment with him (Job 14:3). If we react properly to trials, we thereby receive now "the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet. 1:9). Thus the question of the degree to which we now are 'saved' is connected with the fact that to some degree, the judgment process is also going on now. If we continue faithful under tribulation, this "is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer" (2 Thess. 1:5). It is a foretaste of judgment.
Job seems to oscillate between believing and not believing in the resurrection (consider Job 14:7-15). At the end, Job confesses he has not spoken the right things; and Yahweh then says that he has only spoken that which was right. The friends likewise said some true things and some false things; and yet because they did not repent, their bad words were remembered against them. The final revealing of Yahweh in Job was some kind of judgment day for all concerned. Job, the righteous, had only his good deeds and words remembered; whereas the wicked friends had only their bad words remembered.
God's oscillations of feelings, the sharp opposition between judgment and mercy, were felt equally by the prophets, who were breathing in God’s spirit. Consider all the other oppositions and paradoxes which there were in the prophetic experience:
- Speaking for God against Israel, when they themselves were members of Israel
- Appearing to be on the side of their own peoples’ enemies
- Holding an understanding of Israel’s God that was contradictory to Israel’s own understanding of their God
- Understanding why judgment should come, and yet like Habakkuk crying out with the question “Why?” (Hab. 1:2-4). After twice approaching God with this question, and each time being given fresh insights into the awful nature of the judgment to come as a response, Habakkuk ends up with a trembling body and lips that ‘quivered at the sound’… and yet, at the very same time, feels that he still “will rejoice in the Lord” (Hab. 3:16,18). What a torn man he was; and we are too, in many ways, in this world today.
1 Pet 2
The word is to be made flesh in us as it was in the Lord; theory turned to practice, knowledge into experience. " The word" in the New Testament often refers to the basic Gospel rather than every inspired word which there is in the whole Bible. " The word of God (a title of Jesus)...the word of the Lord...is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you" (1 Pet. 1:23,25 RV). It is this word of the basic Gospel which is the " milk of the word" which enables us to " put away therefore all malice...guile...hypocrisies" (1 Pet. 2:1,2). And having spoken of tasting / drinking the word of God (the same figure is in Heb. 6:5), Peter then speaks of tasting the grace of the Lord Jesus (2:3). He is the word of the Gospel made flesh- to taste His Gospel, the word, is to taste of Him.
“Dost thou hearken in the council of God?” (Job 15:8 RVmg.) implies there is an Angelic court in Heaven, where our lives and issues are discussed before God. Note how this is said in the context of Job, where we have the most classic statement of the operation of the court of heaven in the opening chapters. So let's not feel ignored by God today!
If the inspired word of God is made plain, then he who understands it will " run" in response to it (Hab. 2:2). A true understanding of the word of God for what it is will be related to realistic response to it. Insofar as we believe that the Bible is inspired, we will feel the passion and power of it the more, and thereby its impact upon us will be the greater. " Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven [therefore] ye shall not make with me gods of silver" (Ex. 20:22,23). Because of the wonder of having heard God's voice, therefore idolatry of any form will be meaningless for us.
1 Pet 3-5
Time and again the NT warns against elders who would be motivated by the love of " filthy lucre" rather than the Lord Jesus and His people (1 Tim. 3:3,8; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2). The Greek translated " filthy lucre" is hard to understand; it doesn't just mean 'money'. It suggests profit that is somehow filthy, morally disgusting. This is what money turns into, in God's eyes, when men so love it.
Job 16, 17
Stephen's enemies " gnashed on him with their teeth" , and his Biblical mind would therefore have raced to Job 16:9, describing the behaviour of the wicked towards the faithful: " He teareth me in his wrath, who hateth me: he gnasheth upon me with his teeth" . The context goes on: " Now, behold, my witness is in heaven and my record is on high" (v. 19). Surely Stephen had thought ahead to this, for as his enemies gnashed their teeth against him, " he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). He looked up to Heaven and saw His witness, faithful and true, standing there as he expected. According to our reflection upon God's word, so we will find encouragement in today's trials.
God clave the rock and there came out rivers (Hab. 3:9; Ps. 78:16,20; Is. 43:20). Each part of Israel's encampment had the water as it were brought to their door. And so it is in our experience of Christ, and the blessing enabled by His sacrifice. For 1 Cor. 10 reasons that the smitten rock represents the smiting of the Lord Jesus. The blessings that come to us are deeply personal, and directed to us individually. He died once, long ago, and yet the effect of His sacrifice is ever new. In our experience, it's as if He has died and risen for us every time we obtain forgiveness, or any other grace to help in our times of need. We live in newness of life. The cross is in that sense ongoing; He dies and lives again for every one who comes to Him. And yet at the end of their wilderness journey, Moses reflected that Israel had forgotten the rock that had given them birth. The water had become such a regular feature of their lives that they forgot the rock in Horeb that it flowed from. They forgot that 'Horeb' means 'a desolate place', and yet they had thankfully drunk of the water the first time in Rephidim, 'the place of comfort'. We too have done the same, but the length of time we have done so can lead us to forget the smitten rock, back there in the loneliness and desolation of Calvary.
2 Pet 1, 2
The wicked will be “overthrown” in the final condemnation (2 Pet. 2:6)- but this is the very same word used for ‘apostasy’ (Strong’s) or ‘subversion’ (2 Tim. 2:14). If we apostatize, we are overthrowing or condemning ourselves ahead of time. Israel in the wilderness "rejected" the land- and so they didn't enter it (Num. 14:31 RV). The condemned amongst the first century ecclesias "cast themselves away through the error of Balaam" (Jude 11 RVmg.)- and yet it is the Lord who will "cast away" the bad fish in the last day. Yet those He casts away have in fact cast themselves away. Only those who condemn themselves will be condemned... which is both challenging and comforting.
Job 18, 19
Bildad's words about the wicked in Job 18:4,7,16 [by whom he meant Job] are used by God in inspiring Paul to write about the wicked Jews in Romans. The point is that God uses even human weakness, the words of anger and misunderstanding said by Bildad, and weaves it into His purpose and saving revelation to humanity.
The breaking of bread is a further stage along one of two roads. Indeed, the Lord’s supper is a place to which the rejected are invited (Zeph. 1:7,8; Rev. 19:7), or the redeemed (Rev. 3:20). Like the cup of wine, symbolizing both blessing and condemnation, being invited to the Lord’s supper is a double symbol.
2 Pet 3
We must spread the good news to the whole world, for all men’s' sins were conquered on the cross. God is eager that none should perish, but all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:8); and seeing that we preach “the Gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:2), the God who is “the saviour of all men”, we likewise must offer this Gospel to as many as possible. Again, the motivation for world-wide preaching did not change at the end of the first century. To limit our preaching is to limit God; and limit Him we can, seeing that His purpose works in harmony with human freewill decisions. The urgency which shines through Paul's thinking here is just as true today, if not more so. " The day of salvation" was not just in the first century; it is now as well.
Contrast Elihu's claim to be speaking as a result of God's spirit within him (32:8), with how Zophar and the friends spoke from their own spirit (20:3). With whose spirit are we going to speak today? Man's words tend to hurt by their misunderstanding, as did those of the 'friends'.
Our innermost desires, our complaints, our situations, our deeply concealed attitudes, are read by God as if they are prayers, and answered accordingly. He sees us as asking for things which we perhaps can't even visualize (e.g. Ps. 106:44 cp. Is. 64:3), or having confidence in prayer which we certainly don't feel. How God saw Hezekiah's attitude to Sennacherib is a clear example. Yet God not only sees the thoughts and attitudes of His children like this. He describes Himself as " hearkening" to the mocking of Moab (Zeph. 2:8); and God hearkening is the language of responding to prayer. The wicked afflicting the poor, for example, leads to God hearing the cry of the poor (Job 34:28). The implication is that the nature of the situation, not just the fervency of their specific prayers, makes God respond. This very day, God is watching and thereby hearing, and responding, to all in our lives.
1 Jn 1, 2
“He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, as he walked” (1 Jn. 2:6) uses the same word as in the record of Peter’s walking on water with Jesus, making it possible that John is upholding Peter’s example for us all. For many, our conversions were relatively painless; indeed, for those raised in the faith, it may have been easier to get baptized than to walk away from it. But the essentially radical invitation to follow Jesus is repeated in later life; and the validity of our earlier choice to follow is put to the test by our later response to the same invitation.
The priests of Israel later said: " It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance?" (Mal.3:14). Elihu claimed that Job " hath said, It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself in God" (34:9)- i.e. keep the commands of God, seeing that the Hebrew for " delight" often occurs in the context of obedience to the word. The Malachi passage is more specifically alluding to Job 21:7,15: " What is the Almighty that we should serve Him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?" . These are the words of Job, complaining about the prosperity of the wicked who had such an attitude, and the carefree happiness of their lives: " Their children dance. They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ" (21:11,12). It is in this that the Malachi context is so significant, for Mal.3:15 continues :" We (the Israelites) call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up" . This was also Job's view. Notice that Job is probably implying that his prosperous three friends were among the wicked whom he is describing, thus associating them with the corrupt Jewish priesthood. Today it seems that investment for God is meaningless and pointless; we are surrounded by those who invest their time and resources for themselves. Yet here's the challenge- such behaviour is wickedness before God.
God's judgments are daily revealed, but the unworthy aren't shamed by them (Zeph. 3:5); they aren't convicted by them to the extent that they realize their condemnation and repent; and therefore they will be shamed in the final, unalterable verdict (Dan. 12:2). They could cover their shame now (Rev. 3:18)- but they chose not to. And yet, unknown to them, in God's eyes these people foam out their own shame (Jude 13). We live this day as men and women under judgment.
1 Jn 3, 4
Note the grace reflected in Jn. 12:42, where we read that some Jews were credited with having believed in Jesus, even though they did not confess Him (Jn. 12:42), presumably because those who confessed Jesus as Christ were excommunicated from the synagogues (Jn. 9:22). Those will not confess Jesus are antichrist (1 Jn. 4:3)- and yet the inspired record is so eager to note that these weak 'believers' were still believers, and their weak faith appears still to have been credited to them. This is a comfort to us in the weakness of our faith- and yet also a challenge to us to accept weak believers as believers.
Trials and reproofs from God are Him “entering with thee into judgment”, here and now (Job 22:4). How we respond to them is a foretaste of judgment day.
Hag 1, 2
Hag. 1:2 rebuked the people for saying “the time is not come…that the Lord’s house shoild be built”. They didn’t want the prophecy to be fulfilled, because it would mean ‘going up’ from their ceiled houses- both in Babylon and in the farmsteads they had built in Judah- to build the temple. And how do we really feel about the ending of this system, in the coming of God's Kingdom?
1 Jn 5
If we love the Father, we must love all those whom He has begotten (1 Jn. 5:1,2). We can't be introverted Christians. If we love the children of God, this is the proof that we truly love God. We simply can't claim to love the Father and Son if we have the 'private people' mindset.
Job came to long for the judgment seat. There are few believers who have reached that level of intimacy with God- but Job did, thanks to the way his friends so cruelly turned against him. And this is a major lesson we can take from being the victim of slander, misunderstanding and misjudgment by our own brethren. Job 23:3 perhaps epitomizes this desire of Job for judgment day: “Oh, that today I might find him, that I might come to his judgment seat!” (NAB). He wanted the judgment seat to come that very day! The invisible hand of God is working in every life that suffers from ones’ brethren ‘playing God’ in false judgment of us… to lead us to this wonderful and blessed attitude.
Time and again in the context of the restoration it is emphasized that God would return to His people if they returned to Him (Zech. 1:3; Mal. 3:7). And they didn't return to Him- most chose not to return to the land, and those who did for the most part did not return to their God in their hearts. The whole basis of Israel's covenant relationship with God was that if they were exiled from the land for their sins, they must repent and then God would return to them (Dt. 30:1-10). Yet God graciously states to the exiles: "I am returned unto you" (Zech. 1:16; 8:3). Here was grace indeed. And we stand related to that same grace today.
2 & 3 John
The knowledge and experience of the Lord's exaltation can only be witnessed to; it can't be kept quiet. 3 Jn. 7 refers to how the great preaching commission was obeyed: " For his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing (material help) from the Gentiles" (Gentile believers). For the excellence of knowing His Name they went forth in witness, and moreover were generous spirited, not taking material help to enable this. The knowledge of the Name of itself should inspire to active service: for the sake of the Lord's Name the Ephesians laboured (Rev. 2:3).
There is quite some internal evidence that the book of Job preceded Moses, or was just before his time. If this is so, Israel’s appreciation of Job 26:12 would have been proportional to their faith in the Red Sea deliverance: “He divideth the sea with his power, and by his understanding he smiteth through the proud [Egyptians]”. God provides us daily with experiences which we are meant to interpret in the light of incidents in His word.
Zech. 2:5 had prophesied that Yahweh would be a wall of fire around Jerusalem at the time of the restoration. But He allowed and even enabled the fearful Jews to build a human wall for defence in the time of Nehemiah. The higher level would have been for them to have set their trust in these words of prophecy. Will we take God at His word today, or take a lower level?
Abraham saved Lot out of Sodom by his earnest prayer for him; and there is ample reason to think from the Genesis record and his subsequent reaction to the Angel's invitation to leave that Lot of himself was simply not strong enough. Without those prayers and the concern of Abraham read by God as prayer, Lot may well have been left to suffer the condemnation of the world he preferred to live in. And yet Lot fleeing from Sodom is used in the NT as a type of our latter day exit from the world at the Lord's coming. Is this not to suggest that the latter day believers will be saved only by grace, they will not be strong and ready to leave; and their salvation will only be on account of the prayers of the faithful? Lot was not without spirituality; but he was simply swamped by the pull of the world in which he had become entangled, not to mention his unspiritual wife. He was the type on which one could have compassion, making a difference, and pull out of the fire. Indeed, it could even be that Jude's words about pulling a brother out of the fire may be a reference back to Lot being pulled out of the fire that came upon Sodom. Those in his position sin a sin which is not unto death only in the sense that we can pray for them, so that their sin will not lead them to condemnation. But only in this sense is sin not unto death; for the wages of sin, any sin, is death (Rom. 6:23). But in some cases this sentence can ultimately be changed on account of our effort for our brother. How much effort, therefore, should we make!
The fear or worship of Yahweh is paralleled with " to depart from evil" (Job 28:28); one cannot know / fear Him and remain in the ways of sin. Worship, singing catchy worship tunes to ourselves, must be meaningfully done if it is to lead in practice to a departing from evil.
The “great mountain” of Babylon was to become a plain before Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:7)- a clear allusion to Dan. 2:44, in which the little stone of Messiah destroys the Kingdoms of men and becomes a great mountain to replace the statue headed by Babylon. But Zerubbabel didn’t destroy Babylon- according to Jewish tradition he returned there after ‘giving up’ in Jerusalem. Perhaps Zech. 11:16 refers to him as “the worthless shepherd” who didn’t gather “those that be scattered”, who didn’t encourage the Jews scattered in Babylon to return to the fold of Zion, and who didn’t care for their spiritual wellbeing. And so the prophecy that Babylon would be destroyed before Zerubbabel has to be reapplied, and will be fulfilled at the return of the Lord Jesus. Will we fulfil God's potential for us today- or will He have to re-fulfil His intentions for us in someone else?
The greatest evidence against the view that we must maintain a totally pure fellowship is to be found in the letters to the seven ecclesias in Rev. 2 and 3. The " few" in Sardis who had not defiled their clothes attended an apostate ecclesia; and yet they are not seen as " defiled" by the Lord Jesus (Rev. 3:4). This is proof positive that there is no such thing as guilt by association with erring members of an ecclesia. Those faithful members were not rebuked for not disfellowshipping the others. The Lord’s criticism of the ecclesias seems to be that they had allowed false teaching to develop, rather than the fact they hadn’t separated from it. Smyrna was an ecclesia which received no criticism at all from the Lord; they weren't rebuked for not disfellowshipping the other local ecclesias who were apostate (Rev. 2:8-11). The elders at Sardis, an ecclesia holding many false teachers, were told to strengthen what remained (the Greek is usually used regarding people)- they were to strengthen the faithful minority, but nothing was said about withdrawing from them because they fellowshipped weak brethren.
It's so awesome that the court of Heaven (Hebrew word sod, 'council' or 'court') is something open to us as mortals. In Biblical times, Kings had their sod, their gathering of intimate advisors and ministers. But we, mere mortals on earth, are invited to be part of the sod of God Almighty, having His purpose and plans revealed to us (Job 29:4). But sod members weren't passive listeners; they gave their advice and requests, and the King factored that into His decision making. This is a picture of the power of prayer from those who have understood the way and essence of the King of Heaven.
It has been said that Judah rejected idolatry on their return from Babylon. I submit that Biblical evidence is different. They mixed pagan thinking with their form of Judaism, and although physical idols were rejected, the results of this idolatry by the early returnees influenced Judaism permanently. Thus Zech. 6:1 pictures Yahweh's cherubim, Angelic chariots coming out from between two bronze mountains. In the ancient Near East there was the common idea that the sun god appeared each morning in his chariot from between two mountains. Zechariah's point [as is the point of Psalm 19, which uses the same images] is that it is the God of Israel who is the God of the sun, and not Shamash or some such similar deity of men's imagination. But the exiles clearly needed this reminder; we remember how only a generation or so before, Ezekiel found them worshipping the sun god in Yahweh's temple. And earlier, Josiah had removed the "chariots of the sun" from the temple mount (2 Kings 23:11). Yet it seems that the Jews' desire to mix Yahweh's temple with the sun god was still just as strong even after the exiles returned. Note how Zech. 6:10 still calls the returned community "the exiles"- as if to suggest that they still had the mentality with which they went into captivity. The temptation to mix flesh and spirit is simply very powerful, and recurs daily in our lives in various forms. In those temptations we face what the exiles faced- a desire to appear faithful to God externally whilst doing exactly what they wanted, influenced by the world around them. In Zech. 7:1-6 we have the record of the delegation from Bethel, who come to enquire whether they should keep fasting for the temple to be rebuilt, as they had done for the last 70 years. God's answer is that they hadn't really fasted for Him. They'd fasted, publically appearing to love the temple and the idea of a restored Kingdom... but in reality they had not done it for God, but somehow for themselves.
If we appreciate the suddenness of the Lord's coming, that one day will be our last, one day we will put our clothes on, eat breakfast...for the last time, and then the judgment; this of itself, the Lord Himself reasons, ought to result in us holding on (Rev. 3:3,11). Likewise Paul argues that the opposite of falling away is living by faith in the fact that one day, He who is prophesied to return will really return (Heb. 10:37,38 cp. Hab. 2:3,4).
Job 31:24,25,28 speak in dire and chilling terms of trusting in wealth- and note that these words come from a rich believer who lost it all: “had I put my trust in gold, or called fine gold my security [cp. assurance and insurance policies, bank balances, portfolios of investments… banknotes stored under the carpet, jewellery hidden in a corner of some peasant home]… this would be a crime for condemnation; for I should have denied God above”. It’s noteworthy that Job claims that despite having been the wealthiest man in the Middle East, he never put his trust in it. But that shouldn’t lead us to think that we can so easily handle the possession of wealth. For to possess wealth leads most people to trust in it. And if we do this… this is a crime calling for our condemnation, it’s a denial of God, an effective atheism. Attitudes to wealth are that important.
The language of Israel’s return from captivity as found in Isaiah and Ezekiel all has evident reference to the second coming and the final establishment of the Kingdom. It isn’t just that Israel’s return under Ezra and Zerubbabel was a type of that final homecoming. It could have been the Kingdom- had they obeyed the prophecies. It was all about a potential Kingdom of God. But they were too caught up with their own self-interest, with building their own houses rather than God’s; and so it was all deferred. Using the prophetic perfect, God had prophesied that at the time of the restoration, He would come and dwell in rebuilt Zion (Zech. 8:3)- just as Ezekiel’s prophecy had concluded: “The name of the city from that day shall be, The LORD is there” (Ez. 48:35). Clearly, Ezekiel’s prophecies could have been fulfilled at the restoration; God was willing that they should be. But human apathy and self-interest stopped it from happening as it could have done. Let this be a warning to us today.
I observe in many converts something which was also in me for far too long: a perception of the Lord Jesus as somehow passive, sitting dutifully at the Father's right hand until the day on the calendar comes when He will return to take us unto Himself. This really couldn't be further from the truth. The Spirit of Jesus is so active. All power has been given to Him; He it is who opens the seals so that world history can progress (Rev. 6). The essence of our belief, our being 'in the Truth', being Christians, Bible students (however you want to term it)- is a personal relationship with the Father and Son. It really isn't enough to see the Lord Jesus as a theological concept called 'Christ', a black box in our brain marked 'Jesus', who of necessity had our nature, who overcame it as our representative, and therefore opened up the way of salvation for those who identify themselves with Him. This is all vitally true; but just as cold theology, it won't save anyone. It must be so deeply believed, that the saving power of the Lord's character and the great salvation He is achieving is known now in our humbled souls, and reflected in our thinking and being. The idea of a relationship with Him, of Him actually doing things for us now, seems to be something we shy away from.
It is hard to appreciate that the parable of the lost son really is intended to be read as having some reference to our daily turning back from our sins- such is the emotional intensity of the story. Yet such is the seriousness of sin that we must see in it an ideal standard to aim for in this regard. The parable alludes to a passage in Job which helps us better appreciate this. The prodigal's confession " I have sinned...in thy sight" , and his returning from spiritual death to life (Lk. 15:21,32) connect well with Job 33:24-30: " His flesh (of the forgiven sinner) shall be fresher than a child's: he shall return to the days of his youth (cp. the prodigal): he shall pray unto God, and He will be favourable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy...if any say (like the prodigal), I have sinned...and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man" . The prodigal's experience will often be worked out in our lives, the fatted calf slain time and again, and as such we will come to know and appreciate the Father's love even more.
The Lord sat upon the donkey, to fulfill the prophecy of Zech. 9:9 that Israel’s King would come to them “humble, and riding upon a donkey”- not a warhorse. And, moreover, Zechariah says that He would come commanding peace [and not bloodlust] to the Gentiles, with a world-wide dominion from sea to sea, not merely in Palestine. Those who perceived the Lord’s allusion to Zechariah 9 would have realized this was what His acted parable was trying to tell them- the Lord Jesus was not out to destroy Rome but to bring peace to them as well as all the Gentile world. A humble, lowly king was a paradox which they could not comprehend. A king, especially the Messanic King of Israel, had to be proud and war-like. The crowd must have been so terribly disappointed. He purposefully abased Himself and sat upon a donkey. This Jesus whom they had liked and loved and hoped in, turned out to totally and fundamentally not be the person they thought He was- despite Him so patiently seeking to show them who He really was for so long. He had become an image in their own minds, of their own creation, convenient to their own agendas- and when the truth dawned on them, that He was not that person, their anger against Him knew no bounds. The Russian atheist Maxim Gorky commented, in terrible language but with much truth in it, that man has created God in his own image and after his own likeness. And for so many, this is indeed the case. The image of Jesus which the crowds had was only partially based on who He really was. Some things they understood right, but very much they didn’t. And they turned away in disgust and anger when they realized how deeply and basically they had misunderstood Him. They angrily commented: “Who is this son of man?” (Jn. 12:34). In that context, Jesus had not said a word about being “son of man”. But they were effectively saying: ‘What sort of Messiah / son of man figure is this? We thought you were the son-of-man Messiah, who would deliver us right now. Clearly you’re not the type of Messiah / Christ we thought you were’.
All this would explain perfectly why the awful torture and mocking of Jesus in His time of dying was based around His claims to be a King. The crown of thorns, the mock-royal robe, the ‘sceptre’ put in His hand, then taken away and used to beat Him with, the mocking title over His body “This is the King of the Jews”, the anger of the Jewish leaders about this even being written as it was, the jeers of the crowd about this “King”- all this reflects the extent of anger there was with the nature of His ‘Kingship’. All the parables and teaching about the true nature of His Kingship / Kingdom had been totally ignored. The Lord had told them plainly enough. But it hadn’t penetrated at all… The Lord was not only misunderstood by the crowds, but His very being amongst men had provoked in them a crisis of conscience; and their response was to repress that conscience. As many others have done and do to this day, they had shifted their discontent onto an innocent victim, artificially creating a culprit and stirring up hatred against him. Their angry turning against Him was therefore a direct outcome of the way He had touched their consciences.
Such tragic misunderstanding of persons occurs all the time, to varying intensities.
The rejected will seek death and hope for it, because existence in the state of condemnation is simply unbearable. But remember that outside of Christ, mankind is likewise in such an unbearable state, if only he will perceive it. He is even now in a figurative furnace of fire. Those who in that day will "seek death" (Rev. 9:6) are those whose materialistic behaviour in this life was effectively a seeking of death (Prov. 21:6). They were and are living out the condemnation experience right now.
The wicked afflicting the poor leads to God hearing the cry of the poor (Job 34:28). The implication is that the nature of the situation, not just the fervency of their specific prayers, makes God respond. Our innermost desires, our complaints, our situations, our deeply concealed attitudes, are read by God as if they are prayers, and answered accordingly.
Even though we may have daily bread, we are still to pray for it. It’s rather like Zech. 10:1: “Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain”; even when it’s the season, still ask Him for what it appears you naturally already have.
‘How are you today?…Oh fine, I went to church last night…Yes? Oh, that’s nice…’, these conversations have no meaning, they are merely a passage of words, a kicking time as we both watch the wheels of life go round; whereas in the urgency of our task to convert men and women, we must be stopping them in their tracks, arresting their attention. To hold and present the Truth of God, with all its exclusivity, its implicit criticism of all that isn’t true, in a genuine humility…this has a drawing power all of its own. The two witnesses of Rev. 11:3 make their witness [and will make it during the latter day tribulation?] “clothed in sackcloth”- a symbol of repentance and recognition of sin (Gen. 37:34; Jer 4:8; Jonah 3:5; Mk. 2:20). Their own personal repentance and acceptance of God’s gracious forgiveness was the basis of their appeal to others. And is it going too far to understand that if these “two witnesses” do indeed represent the latter day witness of true Christianity, it will be made on the basis of a genuine repentance by us, brought about by the experiences of the holocaust to come?
Job recognized that if we are righteous, we give nothing to God (Job 35:7). Our unrighteousness commends God's righteousness (Rom. 3:5). All things come out of God: " Who hath first given to him? ...for of him, and through him, and to him, are all things" (Rom. 11:35,36); it's give, give, give with God. We are the poor beggars sitting down at the great supper, unable to recompense. Of course, it depends where we put the emphasis. The parable which relates how Christ desires fruit from us is followed by that of the marriage supper, where it seems we are just asked to accept an invitation with humility (Mt. 21:34; 22:3). The point surely is that we are invited, for no reason, to the Kingdom, and we must accept with the humility that will accompany a recognition of such grace (Lk. 14:9). But our experience of this grace will inevitably bring forth some spiritual fruit.
The word for “glory” in Zech. 11:3 is translated “mantle” elsewhere. When faced with God's glory revealed, Elijah wrapped his face in his own mantle / glory (1 Kings 19:13), rather than face up to the implications of God’s glory. A desire for our own glory prevents us perceiving God’s glory.
The names of the Roman emperors were to be greatly revered. The cult of emperor worship grew very strongly in the 1st century. Yet Rev. 13:2 describes the names of the leaders of the beast, which on one level represented the Roman empire in the 1st century, as “blasphemous names”. To assign divine titles to the emperor was, to the Jewish and Christian mind, a blasphemy (Dt. 11:36; 2 Thess. 2:4). This would have made the Apocalypse an outlawed document in the first century. Consider too the clear references to the evil of the emperor worship cult later in Rev. 13: one of its heads. . .is set up as the very opposite of the true Christ. Like the Lamb, who was killed and then raised up (5:6), the Beast seems to disappear and then return to life (17:8). This passage may be a reference to some definite event, such as the murder of Caesar and the healing of the empire under Augustus, the legend of Nero redivivus, whereby Nero was believed to have returned from the dead. The marvellous cure of the Beast excites admiration and leads to the adoration of the dragon and the Beast (17:8). This is an allusion to the rapid progress of the emperor cult and to the ready acceptance of the immoral example of the emperors. The beast of the earth in Rev. 13:11-18 seems to have some application to the cult of emperor worship which became so popular throughout the Roman empire: it speaks in the voice of the dragon (v. 11), from whom it receives its power; and like the first Beast, it attempts to mimic the Lamb (v. 12, 13). It seems to be a personification of an Antichrist embodied in the pagan priesthood, which endeavoured to draw all men to the cult of the emperor. In these thoughts we see just how radical was the Apocalypse in its first century context.
“The image to the beast” (13:13) would refer to representations of the divinized Roman emperors. “The wound of the sword” (13:13) is possibly an allusion to the mortal wound Nero inflicted upon himself in ad 68. Nero was perceived to live again in the persecutor Domitian (Tertullian, Apol. 5). Note how it is “the beast” who appears to have died or been wounded and then revives (17:8)- and yet these are references to what happened to Nero. The symbolism correctly perceives how the empire was incarnated in one man, the emperor.
We are called to a likewise radical separation from our world-system today.
Job 37:23,24 reasons that we therefore fear God because God is plenteous in grace and will surely save us and give us forgiveness of sins. This is the very opposite of what is often supposed- that appreciating salvation by grace may lead us to not fear God as we should. But " men do therefore fear him" if they truly grasp the awesome extent of His grace.
Zech. 12:3 " In that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people (i.e. all around Israel, as this often means): all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it" . The Septuagint renders the first phrase as " a stone trodden down by the Gentiles" , clearly alluded to by Jesus in His description of Jerusalem being captured by the Gentiles (Luke 21:24). Those who are 'gathered together' against Jerusalem must be the Arabs, according to the other uses of the phrase. These Arab peoples will take Jerusalem, and suffer for it (" burden themselves with it" ). The rejected likewise will be burdened with a heavy stone (Mt. 18:6), showing that they will share the judgments of Israel's enemies. All the signs that the Arabs are aiming to take Jerusalem are therefore indicators the Lord will soon be here!
Both the cross and the final judgment (Rev. 14:7,15) are described in John’s writings as ‘the hour coming’; the parallel language indicates that he presents the cross as the essence of the judgment. By reflecting upon the cross we have a foretaste of our feelings at the last day.
We can darken God's marvellous light, if we do not properly reflect it. God complained that Job had darkened His word (Job 38:2 NIV); the truths which Job should have taught to his friends he relayed very imperfectly, through the prism and distortion of clinging on to his own traditions and preconceptions of God.
Just before His death, in full knowledge of the disciples' impending collapse of faith, the grace of Jesus confidently spoke of how His men would not follow " a stranger...but will flee from him" (Jn. 10:5). But the disciples fled from their Lord in Gethsemane, as He knew they would (from Zech. 13:7, cp. Mt. 26:31) at the time He said those words. This is all an insight into how positive the Lord Jesus is about His people, and how much He hopes in our faithfulness. Let's not disappoint Him today.
The second coming will be our meeting with the Lord who died for us. To come before Him then will be in essence the same as coming before His cross. Rev. 16 describes the events of the second coming, and yet it is full of allusion back to the cross: "it is done", the temple of heaven opened (16:17); an earthquake (16:18), a cup of wine (16:19). We were redeemed by the blood of Jesus; and yet His return and judgment of us is also our "day of redemption" (Lk. 21:28; Rom. 8:23; Eph. 4:30). Yet that day was essentially the cross; but it is also in the day of judgment. Likewise, we are "justified" by the blood of Jesus. Yet the idea of justification is a declaring righteous after a judgment; as if the cross was our judgment, and through our belief in the Lord we were subsequently declared justified, as we will be in the Last Day.
"In nothing terrified by your adversaries" (Phil.1:28) employs a word classically used (although unique in the N.T.) to describe the startled shying of horses, perhaps suggesting Job 39:22, where the horse is said to mock at fear, "and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword". This would be as if Paul is saying 'Don't be terrified horses but like that one spoken of in Job, which represented what, in the Lord's opinion, Job was potentially capable of'. There are other allusions to Job in Philippians chapter 1.
The fact God’s Name is carried by us, the righteousness of it imputed to us, should lead us to a greater awareness of His grace. To know the name of Yahweh is an imperative to serve Him (1 Chron. 28:9). The greatness of the Name should have led to full and costly sacrifices (Mal. 1:6-8,9-11,14; 2:2). Thinking upon the Name led the faithful to pay their tithes and fellowship with each other (Mal. 3:6,10).
If we are not separate from this world now, we will not be separated form them when the judgments fall. If we don’t come out from Babylon, we will share her judgments (Rev. 18:4). This is foreshadowed by the way apostate Israel were treated like the surrounding Gentile world in the time of their judgments (Jer. 4:7). Israel worshipped the Babylonian gods, and so they were sent along with Bel their idol to Babylon, where their hearts were. Likewise in the ‘judgment day’ of AD70, the ‘rejected’ Jews were sent back into Egypt as slaves. Their condemnation was expressed in terms of an undoing of the redemption from the world which they once experienced. So... this day, will we come out from Babylon, or be like the majority of the exiles, who preferred the soft life there?
Because God sees and knows absolutely all, we must recognize that He realizes the unspoken implications of our words. Job's words of repentance of Job 40:5 are seen by God as Job effectively condemning God, because presumably they were said merely as a mask over Job's inner feelings that God had been unjust with him (Job 40:8). But when Job uses effectively the same words in Job 42:6, God accepts them. God's ability to see to the core should therefore not only affect our words but elicit in us an honesty of heart behind the words which we use.
It might not be amiss to highlight the areas in which the Jewish priesthood particularly failed:
- The priests " corrupted the covenant of Levi" (Mal. 2:8), in that they married out of the Faith (Neh. 13:29), thus violating the Spirit of the Levitical covenant- which was given in recognition of zealous action against the courting of Gentile women (Num. 25:12,13). A number of prophets condemn the priests for sexual malpractices.
- They offered the blemished sacrifices which Israel presented to them (Mal. 2:8,14). Thus they failed to speak out against the low spiritual standards of their flock, but instead went along with them.
- The repetitive nature of priestly work led them to treat it as " a weariness" , and to concentrate more on their own business enterprises.
- Worst of all, they refused to realize that there was anything wrong with their attitude They became spiritually self-satisfied.
Church life in this century is likewise based around repetition. Malachi's message is for us too. And the very same temptations exist, too. The epistle of James and those to Corinth and the seven churches would indicate that the first century eldership failed in just the same way. Indeed, there are a number of subtle allusions in James back to Malachi and the priesthood just after the restoration.
The devil and beast will be cast to the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20; 20:10), as will all the rejected (Rev. 20:15); they will go to the same place. As Satan is bound (Rev. 20:2), so will the rejected be (Mt. 13:30; 22:13). This will be the antitype of Zedekiah being bound in condemnation (Jer. 52:11). In all these things, we have a choice: to fall on the stone of Christ and be broken, or live proudly in this life without breaking our fleshly ways at all, until at the Lord's coming we are ground to powder (Mt. 21:44). This is an obvious allusion to the image of the Kingdoms of men being ground to powder by the Lord's return. The Lord was saying that if we won't be broken now, then we will share the judgments of the world, and be broken by Him then in condemnation.
God alone can put a hook in Leviathan's nose (Job 41:2), as He did to Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:28). Leviathan is thus a prototype of the Arab/Assyrian beast of the last days, which is further developed by Daniel and Revelation. But on a simpler level, God's awesome relationship with, and control of, the animal creation should encourage us to believe that there is no human 'beast' in our life that is outside of God's control and influence.
John the Baptist associates his "voice" with the voice of the Elijah prophet crying in the wilderness, and appropriates language from the Elijah prophecy of Mal. 4 to his own preaching. His denial that he was 'that prophet' (Jn. 1:21) therefore reflects a humility in him, a desire for his message to be heard for what it was, rather than any credibility to be given to it because of his office. There's a powerful challenge for today’s preacher of the Gospel.
It makes an interesting study to note John’s allusions to the cross in Revelation. At the end, he twice says that when he had heard and seen all things, he realized that he was the one who had seen them, and he fell down to worship (Rev. 22:8). ‘Heard and seen’ is the very language he uses about seeng the cross (Jn. 19:35). His feelings as he beheld the crucified Jesus were those which he had on surveying the whole wonder of God’s purpose in Him; it was all made possible by that naked, tortured body. Our reflection, daily, upon the Lord's death should affect our whole worldview; John couldn't write anything without some allusion to it.