June 1 Jos 18
One simple reason why Israel failed to inherit the Kingdom in the time of Joshua / Judges was that they were simply " slack" , lazy, to drive out the tribes (Josh. 18:3; the same word is used in Ex. 5:8 regarding how the Egyptians perceived them to be lazy; and also s.w. Prov. 18:9). They were happy to receive tribute from them, and to enjoy what blessings they received. They were satisficers, not men of principle or mission; not real bond slaves. And for this, God rejected them and they never really inherited the Kingdom prepared for them. Are we going to be lazy this day... or go ahead and inherit the land?
We tend to think that if others are hypocrites, well, I’d better ensure I’m not. But this indicates a lack of perception of the glory of God, and omits the factor of how He must feel at all those other peoples’ hypocrisies; the glory that is intended to be given to Him, that isn’t. Because of hypocritical “songs of praise” to God, Isaiah felt physically ill- “I pine away, I pine away” (Is. 24:16). The prophets felt for God, seeing things from His viewpoint. They had the spirit of Moses, who wished to see Israel in the land glorifying God, and was willing for his name to be blotted out of the book of eternal remembrance for that to happen. In that spirit, Moses even earlier could rejoice in song that “Thou wilt bring them in and plant them” (Ex. 15:17) rather than “You will bring us in…”. The prophetic desire was to see God glorified rather than their own success. This is the spirit of the prophets. This is what led them to see the tragedy of insincerity, of indifference, of the don’t care attitude.
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.
June 2Jos 19
The portion of the children of Judah was too much for them" (Josh. 19:9) almost implies God made an error in allocating them too much; when actually the problem was that they lacked the faith to drive out the tribes living there. Likewise " the coast of the children of Dan went out too little for them" (Josh. 19:47), although actually " The Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley" (Jud. 1:34). When Dan fought against Leshem, this one act of obedience is so magnified in Josh. 19:47 to sound as if in their zeal to inherit their territory they actually found they had too little land and therefore attacked Leshem. But actually it was already part of their allotted inheritance. Yet God graciously comments: " all their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel" (Jud. 18:1). This God of grace is our God this day.
If we know it, we will appeal to men with conviction, receiving similar motivation to preach, as Isaiah's heart cried out for Moab like a young heifer about to be slaughtered, feeling for them in what would come upon them, and desperately appealing for their repentance. Because the Moabites would cry out and their voice would be heard, " my heart shall cry out for Moab" (Is. 15:4,5,8). As the Lord Jesus is a representative Saviour, we too must feel the judgment that is to come upon others, and in that sense cry out for them as they will cry out. " Therefore shall Moab howl for Moab" (Is. 16:7)- but Isaiah, feeling for them so strongly, also howled for them; " my bowels shall sound like an harp for Moab" (16:11). This level of love inspired Jeremiah to adopt the same attitude (Jer. 48:20,31-34); he too howled for those whose howling in condemnation he prophesied (Jer. 48:31 s.w.). As Moab cried out like a three year old heifer (Jer. 48:34), so did Isaiah for them (Is. 15:5). All this was done by Isaiah and Jeremiah, knowing that Moab hated Israel (Is. 25:10) and were evidently worthy of God's condemnation. But all the same they loved them, in the spirit of Noah witnessing to the mocking world around him. Our knowledge of this world's future means that as we walk the streets and mix with men and women, our heart should cry out for them, no matter how they behave towards us, and there should be a deep seated desire for at least some of them to come to repentance and thereby avoid the judgments to come. Particularly is this true, surely, of the people and land of Israel. It ought to be impossible for us to walk its streets or meet its people without at least desiring to give them a tract or say at least something to try to help them see what lies ahead.
Heb 8, 9
As part of the priesthood, our duty is to all teach or communicate the word of God to each other. It was God's intention that natural Israel should obey the spirit of this, so that they would " teach every man his neighbour and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord" (Heb. 8:11). That was how God intended Israel of old to fulfil this idea of being a priestly nation. The Gentile Israel has been chosen to bring forth fruit where they failed; and so we must ask if this is how we really are as a community. Where is our sense of real responsibility for each other, our sensitivity to the effect we have upon each other? Where is the enthusiasm of communication which Heb. 8:11 implies? Given current communication possibilities, the current plethora of online forums & magazines is indeed quite right- so long as they are communicating the real knowledge of the Lord rather than being political flagships. Discussion after Bible class, the posing of profitable questions to each other, lively correspondence columns- these are all part of it. It isn't something just for the academically minded. If we truly " know the Lord" , we will want to communicate that relationship to others, as a Kingdom of priests!
June 3Jos 20, 21
Many examples of God's grace at the time of the conquest could be furnished; they are epitomized in the conclusion: " The Lord gave unto Israel all the land...and they possessed it, and dwelt therein...there stood not a man of all their enemies before them" (Josh. 21:43,44). But their enemies did stand before them, they didn't possess all the land. Yet God puts it over so positively, as if it's a story with a happy ending- when actually it's a tragedy.
Isa 26, 27
Noah entering the ark
may be the basis of Is. 26:20: "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers,
and shut thy doors (cp. the ark) about thee: hide thyself as it were
for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast". Not only is this
verse in a latter day context; "the indignation" frequently describes
the Babylonian and Assyrian invasions of
Not assembling ourselves together is of course not a good thing. If we love our brethren, we will seek to be physically with them. There can be no doubt that we must struggle with our natural selfishness, our desire to go it alone. But is this actually what Heb. 10:25 is talking about? A glance at the context shows that forsaking the assembly is paralleled with the wilful sin which shall exclude us from God’s salvation:
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith
Without wavering [going back to Judaism, according to the context in Hebrews]
Let us consider one another to provoke unto love
Not forsaking the assembly-of-ourselves
Exhorting one another
Unlike the “some” who, according to how Hebrews uses that Greek word, have turned away from Christianity
Wilful sin, with no more access to the Lord’s sacrifice
Certain condemnation- “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation”
Despising the Law
Treading under foot the Son of God and reviling the blood of the covenant- what had to be done by Christians who ‘repented’ of their conversion and returned to the synagogue, the sort of blasphemy that Saul was making Christian converts commit.
Now are those awful things in the right hand column above really a description of someone who fervently believes in the Lord Jesus, but for whatever reason, doesn’t ‘make it out to meeting’ on Sundays? Those terms seem to speak about a wilful rejection of the Lord Jesus. And this of course is the very background against which Hebrews was written. It was a letter to Hebrew Christians who were beginning to bow to Jewish pressure and renounce their faith in Christ, and return to Judaism. “The assembling of ourselves together” can actually be read as a noun- not a verb. Those who ‘forsook’ ‘the assembly together of us’ would then refer to those who totally rejected Christianity. The same word “forsaking” occurs in 2 Pet. 2:15, also in a Jewish context, about those who “forsake the right way”. So I suggest that forsaking the assembly refers more to turning away from Christ and returning to apostasy, than to simply not turning up at church as often as we might. The writer laments that “some” were indeed forsaking the assembly (Heb. 10:25). But that Greek word translated “some” recurs in Hebrews to describe those “some” who had forsaken the ecclesia and turned back to Judaism: “Take heed…lest there be in some [AV “any”] of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (and returning to Judaism- Heb. 3:12)… lest some [AV “any”] of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13)… for some, when they had heard, did provoke [referring to the earlier Hebrews in the wilderness who turned away from the hope of the Kingdom- Heb. 3:16]… some of you should seem to fail [like the condemned Hebrews in the wilderness- Heb. 4:1]… lest some fall after the same example of unbelief” (Heb. 4:11). In fact, right after the reference to the “some” who forsake the assembly, Heb. 10:28 speaks of “some [AV “he”- but the same Greek word in all these places for “some”] that despised Moses’ law”. Clearly, those Hebrews in the wilderness who turned away from the spirit of Christ in Moses and the hope of the Kingdom, are being held up as warnings to that same “some” in the first century Hebrew ecclesia who were turning back from the Hope of the Kingdom. Now let me get it right. I’m not in any way saying that we needn’t bother about our ecclesial attendance. Far from it! But I also feel it’s not right to insist that if someone doesn’t attend an ecclesia, for whatever reason, they are therefore guilty of the wilful sin and certain fiery condemnation of which Hebrews 10 speaks for those who forsake the assembly. In fact, the passage has almost been abused like that- as if to say: ‘If you don’t turn up on Sunday, if you quit meeting with us, then, you’ve quit on God and His Son’. This simply isn’t the case.
June 4Jos 22
Who knows the height and depth, length and breadth of what could have been for God’s people? And the same is true for us today. According to Israel’s perception of the land, so it was defined for them. It seems they perceived the land to the East of Jordan as “unclean”- even though right up to the Euphrates had been promised to them. They were told that if they considered it unclean, then they could inherit on the West of Jordan (Josh. 22:19). And so with us- as we define God’s working, so, in some ways, will it be unto us. His mercy is upon us according as we trust in Him.
The Lord's parable of the house built on sand was no doubt partly based on Is. 28:17, which speaks of the day of judgment being like hail which " shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters (which) shall overflow" . The spiritual house of the foolish builder was a lie, effectively; an appearance of real development which deceived men. For externally, men cannot know anything about the different foundations of houses built side by side. We are left to imagine the details of the parable. The foolish man would have run outside and watched his house being beaten down and washed away. He would have thought of trying to do something to stop the destruction, but then given up, realizing it was too late. The foolish girls saw that " our oil is running out" (Gk.). The unworthy will have that terrible sense of their opportunity and spirituality ebbing away from them. The impression is given in the parable that the two houses were next door to each other; again confirming our feeling that this parable is about different attitudes to the word within the ecclesia.
" Through faith even Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed" (Heb. 11:11 RV). " Even Sarah herself" is clearly making a point, holding up a flashing light over this particular example. There is every reason to think, from the Genesis record, that Sarah not only lacked faith in the promises, but also had a bitter, unspiritual mind. The account alludes back to Eve's beguiling of Adam when it records how " Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai" (Gen. 16:2) in acquiescing to her plan to give her a seed through Abram marrying his slave girl. The whole thing between Sarah and Abraham seems wrong on at least two counts: firstly it reflects a lack of faith in the promise; and secondly it flouts God's ideal standards of marriage. Sarai seems to have recognized the error when she bitterly comments to Abram: " My wrong be upon thee" (16:5). Her comment that " the Lord hath restrained me from bearing" (16:2) would suggest that she thought she hadn't been chosen to bear the promised seed. Yet because of her faith, says Heb. 11:11, she received strength to bear that seed.
Hagar was so persecuted by Sarah that she " fled from her face" (16:6). God's attitude to Hagar seems to reflect a certain amount of sympathy for the harsh way in which Sarah had dealt with her. These years of bitterness and lack of faith came to the surface when Sarah overheard the Angel assuring Abraham that Sarah really would have a son. She mockingly laughed at the promise, deep within herself (18:15). Yet according to Heb. 11:11, she rallied her faith and believed. But as soon as Isaac was born, her bitterness flew to the surface again when she was Ishmael mocking. In what can only be described as unrestrained anger, she ordered Hagar and Ishmael out into the scorching desert, to a certain death (humanly speaking). Again, one can sense the sympathy of God for Hagar at this time. And so wedged in between incidents which belied a deep bitterness, lack of faith and pride (after Isaac was born), the Spirit in Heb. 11:11 discerns her faith; on account of which, Heb. 11:12 implies (" therefore" ), the whole purpose of God in Christ could go forward.
If this is how positively God perceives His people, we ought to take the same spirit with us into our relationships with them.
June 5Jos 23, 24
Moses gave repeated emphasis to the fact that our covenant with God precludes any covenant relationship with anyone else: " Thou shalt make no covenant with them...neither shalt thou make marriages with them...for thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all (other) people that are on the face of the earth. The Lord ...set his love upon you ...chose you...because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers...the Lord hath brought you out (of the world) with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen...know therefore that the Lord thy God, he God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments...and repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them; he will not be slack to him that hateth him. Thou shalt therefore keep the commandments..." (Dt. 7:2-11). The wonder of our relationship with Yahweh is stated time and again. To marry back into Egypt, the house of bondmen from which we have been redeemed, is to despise the covenant, to reverse the redemptive work which God has wrought with us. In this context of marriage out of the Faith, we read that God will destroy " him that hateth him" , and repay him to his face. On the other hand, not marrying Gentiles was part of loving God (Josh. 23:12,13).
So according to Moses, whoever married a Gentile was effectively hating God. It is possible that the Lord had this in mind when He taught that we either serve God and hate the world, or we love the world and hate God (Mt. 6:24). This isn't, of course, how we see it. We would like to think that there is a third way; a way in which we can love God and yet also love someone in the world. Yet effectively, in God's eyes, this is hating Him. Doubtless many Israelites thought Moses was going too heavy in saying that those who married Gentiles were hating God. And the new Israel may be tempted to likewise respond to the new covenant's insistence that our love of God means a thorough rejection of this world.
time and again, the prophets predicted the destruction of the temple by the God of Israel. This was radical stuff in those days; the idea was that the survival of a god depended upon the survival of his temple or shrine. No pagan god would threaten to destroy his own shrine. Israel’s God was so different. Likewise a pagan god looked after his own people against their enemies. But Yahweh of Israel sent and empowered Israel’s enemies against them, and gave them victory against His own people; He encamped against His very own people (Is. 29:2-4). The archenemy of Israel, Assyria, was revealed as a rod in the God of Israel’s hand (Is. 10:5 etc.), and the King of Babylon was Yahweh’s servant who would come against Yahweh’s own people (Jer. 25:9; 27:6 etc.). The will of Israel’s God was that the capital city, seen by the people as the symbol and nerve centre of a god’s power and control, was to be destroyed by Israel’s enemies (Jer. 34:1-5; 21:3-7). In the surrounding culture of Israel, capital cities were portrayed as women, the wives of the gods. They are always presented as pure and wonderful. But the prophets represent cities like Jerusalem and Samaria as fallen women, whores. It was all so counter-cultural. Yahweh’s prophet even appealed for Israel to surrender when under siege (Jer. 21:8-10). Try to enter into how radical and counter-cultural all this was. The prophets were trying to share the feelings and positions of a God so vastly different to the imaginations and understandings of His very own people. The nervous stress of this, the psychological pressure, can’t be underestimated. And we are asked to share the spirit / mind / disposition of those prophets. Not only was God on the side of Israel’s enemies; yet through all that, He somehow was with Israel; quite simply, “God is with us”, even though it is He who encamps against them too (Is. 8:9,10; 18:4). The God of Auschwitz is somehow still the God of Israel. The very torment, even torture, of understanding that was etched clearly in the prophets, and it will be in us too.
Who we are is in reality our judgment. After death, our works "follow us" to judgment (Rev. 14:13). According to Jewish thought, men's actions followed them as witnesses before the court of God, and this is the idea being picked up here. There is a great emphasis in Hebrews 11 on the way that each man has a "witness", "testimony" or "report" as a result of his life (Heb. 11:4,5,14,39). Because of this the dead are still spoken for, in that God keeps and knows that testimony, and it speaks for them (Heb. 11:4 AV mg.). The souls under the altar cry out (Rev. 6:10). But those men and women of Heb. 11 are then described in Heb. 12:1 as themselves "witnesses". Who they were is their witness, the testimony which is given of them in the court of Heaven and upon which God's judgment is decided.
June 6Jdg 1
After the leadership of Moses, there came that of Joshua. When he died, Israel expected that another such leader would be raised up: “After the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first?” (Jud. 1:1). They expected a man to be named. But instead, they were told that the whole tribe of Judah must go up. The reality would have sunk home- no more charismatic leaders, now the ordinary people must take responsibility. Yet we so seek for human leadership- and that's the basis of so much apostacy from the faith, in theory and practice.
Shining through all God’s judgment is His hopefulness for His people, and His grace: “The Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore will He exalt Himself [in judgment] to show mercy to you” (Is. 30:18). This wasn’t an angry God hitting back at a rebellious people; this is the God of Israel looking at judgment only as a way to reveal His grace and mercy in the longer term.
The Name of God of itself elicits repentance. Faced with the wonder of who He is, we can’t be passive to it. We realize and are convicted of our sin sheerly by the reality of who He is, was and shall be. Heb. 13:15 speaks of the fruit of our lips, giving confession to His Name. The “fruit of lips” in Hos. 14:2 RVmg. to which the writer alludes is clearly enough, in the context, the confession of sin. And the context in Heb. 13:12 is that Christ’s blood was shed to sanctify us. That declaration of the Name elicits a confession of sin, albeit in words of praise, to His Name. Mic. 6:9 has the same theme. When the Lord’s voice calls to the city demanding repentance, “the man of wisdom shall see [perceive] thy name”- i.e. repent.
June 7Jdg 2, 3
Even when God punished Israel, He seems to later almost take the blame for their judgments; thus He says that He left some of the Canaanite nations in the land to teach Israel battle experience (Jud. 3:2 NIV), whereas elsewhere the presence of those remaining nations is clearly linked to Israel's faithlessness, and their survival in the land was actually part of God's punishment of Israel. He almost excuses Israel's apostasy by saying that they had not seen the great miracles of the Exodus (Jud. 2:7). This grace is shown by the same God to the new Israel.
The Jews of Isaiah’s day turned to political alliances with the Egyptians to save them from the threat of Assyria. Isaiah insisted: “Do not rely on horses! Do not trust in chariots… the Egyptians are men and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit” (Is. 31:1,3). Egypt and Assyria are likened to mere tiny insects, a fly and a bee. Yet Judah were doing what was humanly sensible and smart. To trust in politics, in what seems the usual human response to an issue rather than trust in God, is in fact something which breaks God’s heart. With Assyria at the height of her power, Isaiah proclaimed her downfall (Is. 14:24-26). The life of faith in God is simply the very opposite of what seems humanly sensible. To give money we’d surely be better saving; risk our lives and health for another; neglect our business or career for the sake of the Lord’s work. These ought to be the normal decisions we make, if we are walking in step with the spirit; and yet it would appear that they are the exceptions to the rule of far too many of our lives. And the point is, God’s heart broke because His people were and are like this.
"Wavereth" comes from a root meaning 'division', giving the idea of inner debate. We will see that time and again James is warning us against having a semi-spirituality, whereby only part of our mind is totally influenced by the word, whilst other parts still retain the thinking of the flesh. "He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed".
James being so shot through with allusions to the Gospels, it is tempting to think that James is as it were taking a snapshot of Peter, wavering both in his physical movement and in faith as he stood on the water. Jesus did not upbraid Peter (cp.1:5) for his request for strength and support, but was eager to satisfy it.
There is also a possible connection with Eph.4:13,14, which says that the miraculous Spirit gifts were to be possessed until the church reached the "perfect man" state, i.e. when the canon was completed (1 Cor.13:8-10 cp. 2 Tim.3:16,17), and that through being in that state they would "henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine...and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive". The primary reference is doubtless to the doctrine of the Judaizers. This would liken the brother in James 1 whose faith in the Lord's protection from temptation is weak, to the brother in Ephesians 4 who will not make full use of the word to remain in the "perfect man" state, and is therefore liable to be influenced by false teaching. Both brethren are weak for the same reason- not making full use of the Spirit's gift in the word. Eph.4:13,14 implies that firmly grasping the basic doctrines of the one faith results in us not being blown about by winds. This connection with James teaches that true doctrine will have a very practical effect upon our lives; in this case, by developing a firm faith.
James constantly sets before us the need to strive for a "perfect" (complete, mature) man state, through having a mind wholly committed to the word. His black and white, "hot or cold" approach is now powerfully shown: "Let not that man (the waverer) think that he shall receive anything of the Lord" (1:7). This squashes the natural human reasoning that a bit of faith in prayer will lead to a bit of response from God. Faith is an absolute state. We either pray in faith- or with what are effectively empty words. But of course by contrast, if we do not waver, we certainly shall receive of the Lord. Again, there is another warning against semi-spirituality: having faith within certain limits, being content with expecting a small answer to our requests in accordance with our shaky faith. The way James understands human nature shines through, and it is fitting that someone of his experience and insight into the moment by moment ways of the flesh should have been the great leader of the early church. He too must have analysed his sins and temptations like we also can do. The correlation between his being such a senior brother and his evident appreciation of the wiles of the flesh must be significant; something to think about at the next ecclesial election?
June 8Jdg 4, 5
The record of Deborah and Barak's victory over " Jabin king of Canaan" is shot through with connections with other passages which are clearly latter day prophecies, e.g. Ps. 83, Eze. 38. There is also a very deliberate series of allusions in their song of victory to Israel's exodus from Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh's army - which we have shown to be symbolic of Israel's future deliverance from her Arab oppressors by the Lord's return. Other expositors have shown the links between the song of Deborah and Barak and Ps. 68, which is clearly prophetic of Christ's work of deliverance both on the cross and in the final deliverance of Israel from the forces of evil.
More details at http://www.aletheiacollege.net/ld/6-3.htm
Wealth is increasing in this world. Even a number who were previously without doubt ‘poor’ do in fact have enough over these days to buy a few of those extra luxury things which the Western world is so obsessed with. And many in the West end up receiving legacies from relatives, when they’ve already got themselves nicely established in life. They’re strapped [in God’s eyes] with extra cash. So are we to just hope on the Father doing a miracle to save us? Do we realize the grave importance of what the Lord is warning us of here? It seems to me that the Father has given us a way of escape. The enormous explosion of the Gospel in these last days has brought forth a huge harvest of converts amongst the genuinely and desperately poor of this world. The blind and lame, as it were, have been desperately herded into the feast, after so many others have rejected the call. And thanks to the communication revolution, our world-wide family can relatively easily respond to those needs. Is this not a wonderful, Divine way of escape for the ‘richer’ segment of the brotherhood? An escape, no less, from condemnation…? “The liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand” (Is. 32:8) makes the same connection- the generous will “stand” in the last day because of their generous spirit.
"For that law which said (AVmg.), Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the Law" (v.11).
The statement that "that law" included two separate commandments (concerning murder and adultery) shows that "the royal law" of v.8 may well refer to the whole law of Moses, which was fulfilled by loving the neighbour (Rom.13:9). These two commands concerning adultery and murder occur together elsewhere; it may be that James chose them because in spirit they are easily broken due to an uncontrolled mind; and the control of the mind is the great theme of James. Spiritual adultery is further defined in 4:4: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?", thus interpreting adultery as having worldly friends. Those to whom James was writing were aware, so v.11 implies, that literal and spiritual adultery were wrong, but were not so conscious of the command not to kill each other by hating them in their heart (Matt.5:21,22). The fighting and killing which James describes as happening amongst his readers (4:1,2) must refer also to this spiritual murder due to lack of love (to what else can it apply?). It is noteworthy that James is one of the few New Testament letters that does not contain explicit warning against sexual misbehaviour. We can thus start to build up a fuller picture of James' audience- keeping dutifully away from worldly friendships, holding themselves back from sexual sin, yet trading zealously with the world to make much profit (4:13), and unaware of the supreme importance of the command to love each other, resulting in them transgressing the law in spirit. Perhaps they are not without their counterparts today.
This lack of love was especially shown in their words: "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty" (v.12). Notice the equation of words and actions ("speak...do"), continuing the theme of thoughts and words being the same as physical actions. "The law of liberty" is normally used elsewhere in contrast to the Law of Moses- another subtle swipe at the Judaist tendencies in the early Jewish ecclesias. We must speak our words in accordance with the fact that we will be judged by the word; if we have the word/law of liberty (cp.1:25) in our hearts and therefore influencing our words, we need not fear our judgement by that word. Thus we judge ourselves now by our response to the word in practice, by how far we let it influence our words and doings, especially in the area of showing love to our brother.
June 9Jdg 6
The Israelites who fled to the dens and caves in Jud. 6:2 are described as heroes of faith because of what they did (Heb. 11:38). And yet their domination by the Philistines was a result of their idolatry. They were idolatrous, and yet some had faith; and it was this faith which was perceived by God. As God looks on our better side, so we must do to our brethren.
“There is no regard for man” was the complaint of Is. 33:8- the value and meaning of the human person was disregarded. And this was the cause of ‘bitter weeping’ (Is. 33:7). Perhaps we could say that the prophets are characterized by taking the individual seriously. We seem to have a hard enough job maintaining a sense of the value of persons ourselves, quite apart from weeping that others don’t have such values. This level of sensitivity to human sin is quite something; and yet this is the spirit of prophecy. In the ancient world it was felt that , as Cicero put it, “the gods attend to great matters; they neglect small ones” (De Natura Deorum Vol. 2, 167). The God of Israel was and is quite different; for as the prophets show, what men may regard as small issues are to Him all and vitally important. That slightly unkind email, that less than truthful passing comment on a brother, that exaggeration… these aren’t trivialities to God. What to us are trivialities are crucial to Him; that’s the message of the prophets. The spirit of the prophets cried out in pain and anguish because of that kind of thing; and their spirit is to be ours. There’s something alive and passionate to the words of the prophets. They’re not just droning on. Although they largely wrote in poetry, let not this delude us from feeling the cutting edge of their passion. Their poetry wasn’t what Wordsworth thought poetry is- “emotion recollected in tranquillity”. The attack on complacency and passionlessness was full frontal: “Tremble, you women who are at ease [as you stroll the supermarkets of today], shudder, you complacent ones [as you hang out with your friends, lost in small talk]; strip and make yourselves bare” (Is. 32:11 RSV- the RSV seems to me to capture the passion of the prophetic words best of all the English translations).
Jam 3, 4
Despite all the commotion within their hearts and the ecclesia, and perhaps also in their strivings in their misdirected prayers, "Ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (v.3). Although they asked in prayer, in God's sight such words are not prayer: "Ye ask not...ye ask", because desiring is not praying. Alternatively, this may be looking back to 1:4,5 about asking for wisdom, as if to say 'You don't receive answers to your prayers for material things because you don't pray firstly for the wisdom from the word to be in your heart, which would have made your subsequent prayers powerful'.
There is a link here with Mt.7:7,8: "Ask, and it shall be given you...for every one that asketh receiveth". But "Ye ask and receive not". The reason for such powerful prayer is given in the surrounding context in Mt.7- if they were not hypocrites in criticizing their brethren, which 3:17 implies they were guilty of, and if they did to men as they would like God to do to them (Mt.7:2,12). Not surprisingly therefore, the prayers of these brethren were not answered as Mt.7 promised. There is probably also a reference to Jn.15:7: "If...my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you". "Done unto you" possibly implies physical blessing. Because the word was not in them, which is the whole theme of James, this promise was not fulfilled in them.
"Ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (v.3).
"Amiss" is from a word meaning to be sick or diseased, or generally 'evil'. Although it is not the same word translated "sick" in 5:14-16, there may be a connection with the idea there of them being struck with physical sickness because of their sin and being advised to pray for forgiveness and therefore a cure. Here in 4:3 James is saying that their prayers were for human things and therefore they and their prayers were sick. "Consume" means 'to spend' in a financial sense, thus suggesting that they were asking God to specifically provide money, which they would then spend on their various pleasures ("lusts"). This would explain their 'killing' of their brethren by holding back wages from them (5:4), because they specifically wanted the cash in hand; see notes on 5:3 too.
June 10Jdg 7, 8
Manoah's desire to detain the Angel and offer sacrifice (13:15) was exactly that of Gideon (6:18). His belief after he had seen the Angel ascend (13:20 = 6:21), and his subsequent fear, were again expressed in the words of Gideon (13:21,22 cp. 6:22). As Gideon was, perhaps subconsciously, the hero of Manoah, so Samson followed his father's spirituality in this. It seems he lived out parental expectation, and imbibed the spirituality of his father without making it his own. Born and raised believers, beware.
As the Spirit came upon Gideon (6:34), so it is described as coming upon Samson (14:6). It seems that the incident in ch. 15, where Samson visits his wife with a kid and uses this as an excuse to kill many Philistines, was planned by him to reflect Gideon's zeal. The way Gideon brought a kid to Yahweh (6:19) may reflect how Samson came with a kid (15:1). He then takes 300 foxes and puts firebrands in their tails. Why 300? Surely this was in conscious imitation of how Gideon took 300 men and put firebrands in their hands, and with them destroyed God's enemies (7:16). The connection between the faithful 300 and the foxes could suggest that in Samson's eyes, he didn't even have one faithful Israelite to support him; he had to use animals instead. It may be that as Gideon " went down" to destroy God's enemies (7:9), so Samson justified his 'going down' to the Philistines to take their women, as well as to destroy their warriors (14:1,5,7,10). As Gideon was somehow 'separate from his brethren' in his zeal, so was Samson. And yet Samson seems to have copied just the externalities of Gideon (1); not the real spirit. And therefore as Gideon foolishly multiplied women to himself in the spiritual weakness of his middle age, so perhaps Samson saw justification for his attitude. 'If heroic Gideon could indulge the flesh in this area, I surely can'. He fell into our common trap: to compare ourselves amongst ourselves, to measure ourselves against human standards as we find them among the contemporary brotherhood (2 Cor. 10:12). Saul should have realized that Samson, like him, idolized Gideon, but only on a surface level- and should have taken the lesson. But he didn't see the points we've made in this paragraph. He could have done, but he didn't bother. And so with us. The word supplies us the potential power to overcome. It can often happen that the daily readings are almost purpose-designed for our present situation. Yet if we neglect to read them- that help lies untapped.
When Samson decided to attack Gaza by going into a harlot's house, he may have been consciously imitating the way the spies played their part in Jericho's destruction (16:1). And yet it was once again only a surface imitation. He fell for the 'little of both' syndrome, justifying it under the guise of Scriptural examples. He had done this in his youth; he " went down" to take a Philistine girl for wife (14:1,5,7,10); and yet by doing so he was seeking an opportunity to slay Philistines. He may well have had in mind the sustained emphasis on the fact that Gideon went down to destroy the Midianites (Jud. 7:9,10,11,24). He went down morally and physically, and yet he justified this by thinking that as Gideon went down physically, so would he. Such is the complexity of the process of temptation. And all this is written for our learning. Significantly, the major temptations within the Lord's mind- as far as we can tell from the record of the wilderness temptations- was to misinterpret Scripture to His own ends; to soften the cross.
The laws of the kings of Babylon,
"And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit" (v.18).
Again we are left to imagine when, where and how Elijah made this prayer, seeing that it is unrecorded. After his glorious triumph of faith on Carmel in the sight of all Israel, there appeared at last to be a significant repentance: "When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, Yahweh, He is the God", and promptly proceeded to massacre the priests of Baal. No doubt finding the four barrels of water to put on the sacrifice as the ritual required had involved considerable effort- making them reflect on the God whom they knew in their hearts provided rain. Elijah then went up to the solitude of the crags of Carmel, "cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees (in fervent prayer), and said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea" for rain. This command was repeated seven times. Being a man of like passions as us, it took seven repeated prayers, a widow continually coming and not taking no for an answer, for there to be even an indication of a response. Thus Elijah's 'praying again' was for a lifting of the physical curse on the land because of their repentance. Note his running before Ahab's chariot as the rain started to come down, symbolic of his belief that by his repentance Ahab was the righteous king that he had come to herald (1 Kings 18:39,33,42-46). This same calibre of head-between-the-knees, up-in-the-mountain prayer, consistently repeated, would lead to the lifting of the sickness placed on the first century ecclesia.
June 11Jdg 9
Biblically, the words translated " perfect" do not necessarily imply moral perfection, i.e. sinlessness. Rather do they carry the idea of completeness and fullness: " Perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (Jam. 1:4). Mary and Joseph " fulfilled (same word translated " perfect" ) the days" of the Passover (Lk. 2:43); " the scripture was fulfilled" (John 19:28). Christ is " a more perfect tabernacle" (Heb. 9:11). " More perfect" indicates a relative sense of completion, for one cannot be " more" perfect in the absolute sense. The Hebrew translated " perfect" is also rendered " sincere" (Jud. 9:16; Josh. 24:14). Again, there is no implication of sinlessness. The scriptures teach that both individuals and the church as a whole must develop toward some point of " perfection" (Lk. 8:14; Heb. 6:1). However, this is a point of completion of spiritual development in certain aspects, not moral sinlessness. David, Asa and others are said to be perfect of heart all their days yet they still sinned in their hearts (I Kings. 15:3; 2 Chron. 15:17; 16:10,12). Therefore, " perfection" is not total sinlessness; it is a condition of true faith in God and of trying to obey Him. So we are on a journey, in a Divine development program, today and every day. Yet ultimately, there is a way that we can be considered " perfect" before God- it is the blood of Christ which perfects: " By one offering [Christ] hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:1,14).
We’re familiar with the references to God hardening the heart of Pharaoh (Ex. 14:8 etc.). However, the same Hebrew words occur in a positive context- for God also hardens or strengthens the hearts of the righteous (Ps. 27:14; Is. 35:4). Indeed, Is. 35:4 speaks of how the righteous shouldn’t have a weak or [Heb.] ‘fluid’ heart, but rather a hardened one. Clearly enough, God solidifies human attitudes, one way or the other. This is a sobering thought- for He is prepared to confirm a person in their weak thinking. But on the other hand, even the weakest basic intention towards righteousness is solidified by Him too.
The seed is the word (Lk. 8:11); and " the word" doesn't necessarily mean the whole Bible (although the whole Bible is of course inspired). The phrase specifically means the word of the power of the Gospel, by which we were ushered into spiritual being. And this is what brings forth fruit, through our 'patient' and continued response to it. We were born again, " not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God...and this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you" (1 Pet. 1:23,25). Time and again the New Testament uses " the word of God" or " the word of the Lord (Jesus)" as shorthand for the preaching of the basic Gospel. This is the seed, this is the source of new life, this is what can lead to new character and behaviour in us. James speaks of being " doers of the word" (1:22,25), using the same word as in the parable of the sower, there translated 'to bring forth fruit'. Note that " the word of God" in the NT often refers specifically to the Gospel. James foresaw the possibility of hearing the word of the Gospel but not doing it, not bringing forth what those basic doctrines imply. He foresees how we can admire it as a vain man seeing his reflection in a mirror. We are not to be " forgetful hearers" of the word of the basics, the " implanted word" (1:21 RV- another reference to the sower parable). We aren't to learn the Gospel and then forget those doctrines. We are to be doers of them.
June 12Jdg 10, 11
God told Israel straight in Jud. 10:13: “Ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more”. But they begged Him, and He did. And likewise in Hosea, He said He would give them up completely, but just couldn’t bring Himself to do it. God really is open to changing His program in response to human prayer.
If we’re really confident in prayer being answered, we won’t be shy to openly state to others that we’ve prayed about something and expect the answer to be coming. Paul even asks Philemon to prepare his bedroom for him, because he’s so confident that prayers will be answered, and he’ll be able to come to him. Another example would be how Hezekiah prays to be ‘delivered’ (Ps. 120:2) from the Assyrian invasion. Rabshakeh had heard of this even in the enemy camp, and warned the people of Jerusalem not to trust in Hezekiah’s promise to them that his prayer would be answered and therefore “the Lord will surely deliver us” (Is. 36:18). Another lesson from this latter example is that prayerful attitudes spread- for Hezekiah had prayed for God to ‘deliver’ “my soul” (Ps. 120:2)- and yet the people therefore came to believe that the Lord would surely deliver “us”, i.e. all of them and not just Hezekiah personally as he had initially prayed.
To follow the Lord in cross bearing is indeed the end of the Gospel. And Peter understood this when he wrote that “hereunto were ye called [i.e. this is the bottom line of life in Christ]: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps" (1 Pet. 2:21). Fellowshipping His sufferings and final death is following Him. Little would Peter have realized that when he first heard the call “Follow me", and responded. And so with us. The meaning of following, the real implication of the cross, is something which can never be apparent at conversion. It is perhaps significant, given the theme of ‘following’ in the records of Peter, that he became well known for ‘leading about’ his wife (1 Cor. 9:5), as if she followed him everywhere. Peter translated the principles of following Christ into domestic life. There was a time when he may well have ‘forsaken’ his wife in order to follow Christ (Mt. 19:27-29). But further down that path of following he came to see that as he was to follow his Lord to the end, so he was to be as the self-crucifying Christ to her, and lead her in her following of him that she might follow Christ.
June 13Jdg 12, 13
We know that we sadly oscillate between the flesh and the spirit. And yet Scripture abounds with examples of where God sees us as in a permanent state of either sin or righteousness. We are fountains that bring forth good water, and therefore by that very definition cannot occasionally bring forth bitter water; we are good fruit trees or bad ones. We aren’t a little of both, in God’s sight. This is surely because He sees us on the basis of the fact that we are in Christ, clothed with His righteousness, rather than as individuals who sometimes act righteously and sometimes not during the course of a day. Thus God saw Samson as a lifelong Nazarite (Jud. 13:7), although we know there were times when he broke the Nazarite vow by, e.g., touching dead bodies and having his hair cut. The challenging thing is to behold our brethren as having the “in Christ” status (for we can’t impute anything else to them, lest we condemn them), and not to see them from the point of view of people who sometimes act righteously and sometimes don’t.
the experiences of believers are often suggestive of those of other believers. Insofar as we appreciate this, we will find strength to go the right way. Consider, for example, how Hezekiah was intended to see the similarities between himself and the earlier king Ahaz his father, and learn the lessons:
Threatened by invasion; tempted to turn to human help (Is. 7:2)
Ditto (Is. 37:1)
Visited by Isaiah and told to not fear (Is. 7:4-9)
Ditto (Is. 37:6,7)
Ahaz was unfaithful by “the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the fuller’s field” (Is. 7:3)
Here in just the same place Hezekiah’s faith was tested and he learnt the lessons of Ahaz’ failure (Is. 36:2).
Given a sign by God and promised deliverance (Is. 7:14)
Ditto (Is. 37:30).
Ahaz refused to ask for a sign when offered one (Is. 7:11)
Hezekiah learnt, and asked for a sign (Is. 38:7,22). Thus his asking for a sign was not a sign of faithlessness but rather his seeking to not be like Ahaz.
“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it” (Is. 9:6)
Ditto (Is. 37:32).
Knowing his condemnation after his denials, where did Peter go? What was conversion for him? Probably he could quite easily have also gone and hung himself- for he was of that personality type. But instead he went to the cross- he was a witness of the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 5:1), and his words and writing consistently reflect the language of Golgotha’s awful scene. There, in that personal, hidden observation of the cross, probably disguised in the crowd, not daring to stand with John and the women, his real conversion began. Then his love for his Lord became the more focused. Now he could do nothing- and his thinking had been so full of doing until that point. All he could do was to watch that death and know his own desperation, and somehow believe in grace. “Who his own self bare our sins in his body up on to the tree” (2:24 RVmg.) suggests the watching Peter reflecting, as the Lord’s body was lifted up vertical, that his sins of denial and pride were somehow with his Lord, being lifted up by Him. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18) could well have been written by Peter with a glance back at the way that after his denials, he the unjust went to the crucifixion scene and reflected just this.
June 14Jdg 14, 15
Samson killed a lion, escaped fire and killed many Philistines by his faith (Heb. 11:32-34)- so the Spirit tells us. Yet these things were all done by him at times when he had at best a partial faith, or was living out moments of faith. He had a worldly Philistine girlfriend, a sure grief of mind to his Godly parents, and on his way to the wedding he met and killed a lion- through faith, Heb. 11 tells us (Jud. 14:1-7). The Philistines threatened to burn him with fire, unless his capricious paramour of a wife extracted from him the meaning of his riddle. He told her, due, it seems, to his human weakness and hopeless sexual weakness. He then killed 30 Philistines to provide the clothes he owed the Philistines on account of them answering the riddle (Jud. 14:15-19). It is evident that Samson was weak in many ways at this time; the Proverbs make many allusions to him, the strong man ruined by the evil Gentile woman, the one who could take a city but not rule his spirit etc. And yet underneath all these weaknesses, serious as they were, there was a deep faith within Samson which Heb. 11 highlights. Let's take this as a comfort in our weakness, rather than an excuse for them.
David didn't want to die because he knew that in death, he would not praise Yahweh (Ps. 6:4-6). Hezekiah likewise (Is. 38:19). For these men, praise of Yahweh was the essential purpose of living. Praise is not only about offering up positive, joyful emotions to God. Hezekiah spoke some very sober words when he recovered from his sickness, writing them down for others to consider. He realized that his recovery was related to God's mercy in overlooking his sins; his gratitude was difficult to express in words; his way of expressing it was to walk in softness and sobriety before his God: " What shall I say?...I shall go softly all (the rest of) my years" (Is. 38:9,15). But Hezekiah described all this as " praise" (Is. 38:18). Thus our very way of living, even down to our body language, is an expression of our praise.
2Pe 1, 2
Peter’s letters are packed with allusion, consciously and unconsciously, to the Gospel records. And yet closer analysis reveals that he has an undoubted fondness for two areas: the cross, and incidents which include his own weakness, both morally and intellectually. In this lies Peter’s power, and it must have made him quite some pastoral figure in the early ecclesias. He could plead with men, both in and out of the Faith, with a credibility that lay in his ready acceptance of his failures, and his evident acceptance of his Lord’s gracious forgiveness and teaching. Consider how he tells Ananias that Satan has filled his heart (Acts 5:3), alluding to what everyone full well knew: that Satan had desired to have him too, and in the denials he had pretty well capitulated (Lk. 22:31,32). Peter’s disciplining of Ananias, so soon after his own deference to the pressures of Satan as opposed to those of the Lord, would have been done surely in subdued, saddened and introspective tones. There also seem to be a number of unconscious allusions by Peter back to his own failures- e.g. “Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren” (Acts 12:17) was an allusion to the women being told to go and shew the news of the resurrection to the brethren and Peter, who was then in spiritual crisis. Those words, that fact, was ingrained upon Peter to the point that he unconsciously builds it in to his own words. Consider the following examples in the letters of Peter of how he uses the areas of his own failures as the material for exhortation:
- Peter must have felt to the false teachers with whom he contended as he did towards Ananias. He warns that they even deny the Lord who bought them (2 Peter 2:1). They even do this- as if denying the Lord was the worst possible, imaginable sin. And it was the very thing which he had so publically done, three times, and had effectively done again when bowing to Judaist false teaching. They deny “the Lord”- and that had been Peter’s favourite title for Jesus during the ministry (see Peter And Christ). As he warned of the evil of the apostate brethren, his own sense of personal failure and frailty was so evidently shown. And yet it was no reason for him to simply say ‘So, I can’t judge, I can’t criticize another after what I did’. What he had learnt from the whole experience of forgiveness and grace was that the wondrous grace and atonement of Christ must at all costs be preached and preserved.
June 15Jdg 16
You will recall the words of Heb. 2:14,15 about Jesus: " through death he (destroyed) him that had the power of death" . This is exactly the idea of Jud. 16:30: " Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life" . Through his own death, Christ destroyed the power of sin, epitomized in the dead Philistines. Perhaps there is an allusion in Hebrews 2 to this passage. Heb. 2:15 goes on to say that Christ delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" . Now that's packed with allusions to the time of the judges- Israel in hard bondage to their Philistine masters, living in fear, until judges or 'deliverers' like Samson delivered them from their oppressors. The same great relief which Israel felt after Samson's deliverances of them, can be experienced by us spiritually. The sins, the doubts, the fears which we all have as we analyze our spiritual standing, should melt away when we recall the great deliverance which we have received. In practice, Samson must have become a larger than life figure. We get the impression that the Israelites had a problem relating to him due to his fantastic physical strength; his wives likewise must have felt distanced from him, knowing that he had a spiritual inner being which they had no access to. We too can feel distanced from Christ as we perceive more and more the supreme spiritual strength which he had. Yet in all his ways, Samson sought the glory of God, and means of overcoming Israel's Philistine enemies. Even his first marriage with a Philistine woman was " of the Lord, that he (Samson) sought an occasion against the Philistines" (14:4). Here we see his all consuming desire to actively seek conflict with the powers of sin which debilitated and crippled Israel. As we see the forces of sin so strong in our own lives, as well as in the new Israel generally, we too should have the zeal which he had in seeking an occasion against our own flesh. It is easy to think that we are just asked to passively resist temptation whenever it arises. But the example of Samson and the Lord Jesus was of active warfare against the flesh, going on to the offensive rather than being only on the defensive.
It seems that Hezekiah lived on a high, high spiritual level prior to his illness and the final invasion. He seems to have been single, and then in his illness he wished for a descendant, and subsequently married the Gentile Hephzibah. However, he didn't render again according to the benefit done to him (2 Chron. 32:25), and was therefore threatened with judgment. In response to this he humbled himself, and the judgment was postponed. He commented that it was a good deal for him, because he would have peace for the rest of the days of the 15 years which God had given him (2 Kings 20:19). My feeling is that Hezekiah lived the rest of his days acceptable with God, but on a markedly lower level than he had lived his earlier life. There are some other kings who are recorded as having lived acceptable lives to God, although evidently they lived on a lower level than the likes of David.
The " first" or most important (Greek) thing they were to understand when it came to Bible teaching about the last days was " that there shall come in the last days scoffers" (v.3). The presence of false teachers within the ecclesia would be one of the clearest signs of the second coming. The Lord " began" his Olivet prophecy with a warning about false teachers, as if this would be the first main sign (Mk. 13:5). Likewise Paul says that it was needless for him to write to the Thessalonians about the " times and seasons" of Christ's return. " For yourselves know perfectly (clearly) that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night" (1 Thess.5:1,2); i.e. it would be when there were unready elements within the ecclesia, to whom Christ's return would be thief-like. In similar vein, John taught that the believers could be certain they were in the 'last days' of AD70 because of the presence of false teaching (1 Jn.2:18). Connecting this with our comment on 1 Thess.5:1,2, it may well be that the 'false teaching' is not so much in terms of basic abstract doctrine, but in the encouragement of a way of life that is not alert for the second coming. As we progress through 2 Peter 3, and indeed the entire New Testament, it becomes painfully obvious that this class of people were to arise within the ecclesia. As there were false teachers among natural Israel, so there must be within the New Israel (2 Pet.2:1). Peter implies that this fact is a major theme in the teaching of all the apostles and Spirit-guided brethren. There are a number of connections between the descriptions of these people in 2 Pet.2, and the language of 2 Pet.3.
June 16Jdg 17, 18
There evidently were leaders of some sort in the first ecclesias; and so there ought to be in our groups those who are in positions of respect and thereby leadership. But let’s be clear about one thing: human beings naturally seek to have leaders, to have someone to shoulder the responsibility for their decisions, someone to tell them what to do, how to believe… hence the amazing popularity of the Catholic church. Yet there are Biblical ‘leaders’ in the ecclesias we read of in the New Testament; but it can’t be that our leaders today are leaders for us in the sense that people naturally desire leadership in order to offload the burden of personal decision making and exercising of our own conscience. Recall how in the time of the Judges, Micah asked the young Levite, who was “unto him as one of his sons”, to “be unto me a father and a priest” (Jud. 17:10,11- note the paradox), resulting in others likewise asking him to “be unto us a father and a priest” (Jud. 18:19). The point is, no matter how unqualified a person may be for the job, they may be pressed into being leaders because that’s what nominally religious people so desperately need.
The message of Is. 40:3 is that before the final coming of the Lord, there will be a proclamation of this by His people: “Prepare ye [plural] the way of the Lord”. As the King’s servants went ahead of him to make the path he had to travel smooth and plain [remember there were no motorways then!], so we go ahead of the returning Lord of all the earth, to prepare the way / road for Him. The fulfilment of this commission by John the Baptist in the first century is therefore a great pattern for our fulfilment of it before the Lord's second comingin our age. And yet within Isaiah, there is ample evidence that God prepares His own way: “I will do a new thing…I will even make a way in the wilderness” (Is. 43:19). Perhaps the element of unreality here, the ‘new thing’, is that the King Himself prepares His own way or road. Or again: “I will make all my mountains a way” (Is. 49:11). The connection with Is. 40:3 is that in the work of preparing the Lord’s way, in the last great preaching appeal of all time in the lead up to the second coming, the Lord Himself will work with us to make that way plain and clear. In all the challenges of the latter day fulfilment of the great commission, the Lord Himself will work with us.
The Isaiah 40 passage is therefore a command for our latter day witness to all the world, Israel especially, to prepare their way for the Lord’s coming. We are to “cry” unto Zion that “her iniquity is pardoned”, but we are also to ‘cry’ for her to repent, to be “made straight”, for the rough places to be ‘made plain’; to “cry aloud…lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression (Is. 40:2-4; 58:1). It’s exactly because we have in prospect been forgiven that we are called to repent. The forgiveness has already been granted; iniquity has been pardoned. We are to ‘cry’ out this fact; and also to ‘cry out’ for repentance. But we have to respond to that. It’s similar to how Saul/Paul was called ‘brother’ even before his conversion and baptism. The world’s redemption was achieved through the cross; but we have to appeal to the world to accept it. And in our own lives we must live out what we are preaching to others; exactly because we have already been forgiven, we need to repent of what we’ve been forgiven of, to as it were claim that forgiveness as our very own. And the same Hebrew word translated ‘cry’ occurs in the same context in Is. 40:26; 43:1; 45:3,4; 48:12; 54:6, where we read that it is God Himself who calls every one of Israel back to Him, just as He calls every star by its own personal name. And so in our personal calling of men and women, in our crying out to them in these last days to be prepared for the Lord’s coming, we are workers together with God. He is crying out to them, through our feeble, shy, embarrassed, uncertain words of witness. Likewise it is God Himself who makes the crooked places straight in Is. 42:16 and 45:2- whereas Is. 40:3, it is we the preachers who are to do this.
1Jo 1, 2
It's interesting to compare the Gospel of John with his epistles. Clearly, he saw himself as manifesting to his brethren what the Lord Jesus had manifested to him. John records how the Lord had said: " I have said this to you...that your joy may be fulfilled" (Jn. 15:11), but he then says of himself that " We are writing these things so that your joy may be fulfilled" (1 Jn. 1:4 RV). He saw himself as the face and mouth of Jesus to his brethren; and so are all of us who are in Christ.
June 17Jdg 19
The gruesome record of the Levite cutting up his wife’s body and sending parts of the body throughout all Israel has much to teach us of the power of the memorial service. It was done so that all who received the parts of that broken body would “take advice and speak [their] minds" (Jud. 19:30). It was designed to elicit the declaration of their hearts, and above all to provoke to concrete action. Splitting up a body and sharing it with all Israel was clearly a type of the breaking of bread, where in symbol, the same happens. Consider some background, all of which points forward to the Lord’s sufferings:
- The person whose body was divided up was from Bethlehem, and of the tribe of Judah (Jud. 19:1)
- They were ‘slain’ by permission of a priest
- They were dragged to death by a wicked Jewish mob
- They were “brought forth" to the people just as the Lord was to the crowd (Jud. 19:25)
- “Do what seemeth good unto you" (Jud. 19:24) is very much Pilate language
- A man sought to dissuade the crowd from their purpose- again, as Pilate.
There should be a like effect upon us as we receive the emblems of the Lord’s ‘broken body’- the inner thoughts of our hearts are elicited, and we are provoked to action.
Alexander Heidel analyzed the recovered Babylonian poem to Marduk Enuma Elish, discovering phrase after phrase in it which recurs in Isaiah- with reference to Yahweh exclusively. The similarities are exact, and impressive. Without doubt, Isaiah was developing a major theme in his later writings- that the true Israel of God must not have any part in the Marduk cult, and must understand all the claims made for Marduk as being untrue, and solely appropriate to Yahweh God of Israel. Consider some of the claims made for Marduk (exact references given in Heidel):
- “Marduk is King alone” (cp. “Your [Israel’s] God reigns as King!”, Is. 52:7)
- “None among the gods can equal him”
- Marduk killed Tiamat in the waters and cut him in pieces [applied to Yahweh in Is. 51:9,10]
- Creator of the stars (cp. Is. 40:26; Is. 45:12).
- Marduk is without comparison (cp. Is. 40:18,25 etc.)
- Marduk was, and no other (cp. Is. 45:5,6 etc.)
There are also mocking allusions to Marduk, showing Yahweh’s supremacy over him. Marduk was formed- but Yahweh had no god before Him and will have none after Him (Is. 43:10). Marduk had a counsellor, Ea, called in the inscriptions “the all-wise one”. But Yahweh has all wisdom and has no such counsellor (Is. 40:13,14; Is. 41:28). All this reference to the Marduk cult was in my opinion not merely a pointless mockery and poking of fun at the Persian culture. It was a very real appeal to the Jewish exiles to quit it, to come out and be separate; remember again and again that Mordecai [and perhaps Esther too] had adopted names reflective of the Marduk cult.
All this becomes relevant to us when we perceive that we in these last days are living in a similar position to the exiles. The difference between our spiritual "culture" and that of the world around us is marked and pointed.
1Jo 3, 4
John’s claim that he beheld the glory of God’s Son may therefore be a specific reference to the way he describes his own ‘seeing’ of the crucifixion in John 19:35: “And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe". He seems to be saying: ‘I saw Him there. I really and truly did’. He uses the same kind of language in 1 Jn. 4:14: “we have seen and do testify [cp. “his record is true"] that the Father sent the son to be the saviour of the world" in the cross. “The only begotten of the Father" is a phrase nearly always used in the context of the Lord’s death (e.g. Jn. 3:16). The love of God was defined in the way the Lord laid down His life in death (1 Jn. 3:16); but it is equally defined in that “God sent his only begotten son into the world, that we might live" (1 Jn. 4:9). God sending His son into the world was therefore in His death specifically. And it was through this that life was won for us. As He hung covered in blood and spittle, as He gasped out forgiveness for His enemies, God’s Son as it were came into the hard world of men. The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not and does not overcome it. There, the word, the essential love and grace and judgment and mercy of Yahweh, was made flesh, and tabernacled amongst us. The common translation “dwelt" can give the sense that John is merely saying ‘Jesus lived in Israel’; but there is far more to it than that. In clear allusion to his Gospel, John opens his first letter by speaking of the Lord Jesus, whom “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled [a reference to the taking down of the body and embalming?], of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness [cp. 19:35] , and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us" (I Jn 1:1-3). The manifestation of the Son was supremely in His death (1 Jn. 3:5,8; 4:9 cp. Jn. 3:16; Heb. 9:26 Gk.; 1 Tim. 3:16; Jn. 17:6 cp. 26). And John exalts that they saw this, and now they too declare / manifest it to the world. One cannot behold the cross of Christ and not witness it to others.
June 18Jdg 20
Peace offerings were also offered in times of Israel's sadness and defeat (Jud. 20:26; 21:4). In our traumas of life, we need to remember that the only thing that matters is our peace with God, the joyful fact that we have nothing separating us. As Israel made their peace offerings at those times, so we too should consider the possibility of breaking bread, perhaps alone, as we meet the desperate traumas of our lives.
God speaks of being burdened by Israel's sins (Is. 43:24)- and yet this is a prelude to the passages which speak of the Lord Jesus bearing our sins on the cross (Is. 53:4,11,12). We even read of God being wearied by Israel's sins (Is. 7:13; Jer. 15:6; Ez. 24:12; Mal. 2:17). Even though God does not "grow weary" (Is. 40:28) by nature, it seems to me that in His full entering into His people's situation, He does allow Himself to grow weary with the sins of those with whom He is in covenant relationship. It was this kind of capacity which God has which was supremely revealed in His 'sharing in' the crucifixion of His Son. God's long term 'holding His peace' at Israel's sins resulted in a build up of internal forces within God: "For a long time have I held my peace... restrained myself, now will I cry out like a woman in travail, I will gasp and pant" (Is. 42:14; 63:15; 64:12). God crying out, gasping, panting... leads straight on, in the context, to the suffering servant. This is the same idea as God's heart growing warm and being kindled in internal struggle about His people in Hos. 11:8,9. And all this went on supremely at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus.
The experience of an acceptive mutuality between God and man is surely at the very core of our spirituality; it should be part of an inner spiritual shell that nothing, nothing can shake: aggression from our brethren, disillusion with other Christians, persecution from the world, painful personal relationships... Israel were to give their hand to God, and His hand in turn would give them a heart to follow Him further (2 Chron. 30:8 cp. 12 A.V.mg.). " This is the witness of God...He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself...the (i.e. this) witness of God is greater" than that of men (1 Jn. 5:9,10). The ultimate proof that the Truth is the Truth is not in the witness of men- be they archaeologists, scientists, good friends or who. The real witness of God is deep in yourself. " Taste and see, that the Lord is good" (Ps. 34:8) is the most powerful appeal. John is using a legal word for " witness" . There is, of course, something intentionally contradictory here. For a witness must be independent of yourself. You can't really be a valid witness to yourself. But the Lord said that He was a witness of Himself, and this witness was valid (Jn. 8:14-18). We, too, John is saying, can be a valid witness to ourselves that our faith is genuine. Our personal experience of the Lord Jesus is valid. Paul proves the resurrection of Jesus by saying that " he has risen indeed" exactly because he (Paul) has seen the risen Lord (1 Cor. 15). This is the kind of 'evidence' we tend to fight shy of. But our personal experience of the Lord Jesus is a valid prop to our faith.
June 19Jdg 21
“All the people”, male and female, rich or poor, slave or affluent materialist, High Priest or mentally retarded cripple were all in covenant relationship with God (Ex.19:11). Thus women as well as men had to travel to the tabernacle to keep the feasts (Dt.12:12,18; 16:11,14). The Bible emphasizes how these commands were kept in practice; hence Jud.21:9-23 shows how it was well known that women would be present at the feasts, and 1 Sam.1 and 2:19 describe Hannah and Peninnah going up to keep the feasts each year. Local religions did not have this feature. The covenant was between their god and the leaders of the nations. “That which distinguishes the God of Israel from the gods of the (surrounding) nations is, among other traits, his condescension to the humble; he deigns to establish his covenant with the children, the women and the slaves”. Thus “Judaism...guarantees women a standing before God which they did not have in any heathen religious relationship”.
In the context of Israel’s final repentance, God speaks of how every one of the Jewish people has been potentially created for His glory, because they carry His Name (Is. 43:7). Although Israel have been “quenched as a wick” for their sins (Is. 43:17 RVmg.), we are to realize that the wick is still smouldering, and are to follow the Lord’s example of never totally quenching it but instead seek to fan the wick of Israel back into life (Is. 42:3). God works with whatever spirituality we and others can offer Him. And we should do likewise in our dealing with others.
That we can’t be secret believers is brought out by 2 Jn. 7 [Gk.]. Anyone who does not confess publicly that Jesus came in the flesh is described by John as a deceiver and even anti-Christ. The French [Segond version] is clearest: “ne declarent pas publiquement”. Whilst the passage is open to a number of interpretations, in our context the point perhaps is that to secretly believe in Christ isn’t possible- it must in some way be declared publicly or else we are “deceivers”.
June 20Ruth 1, 2
Jesus stresses to the disciples that their Father is His Father, and their God is His God (Jn. 20:18). He appears to be alluding here to Ruth 1:16 LXX. Here, Ruth is urged to remain behind in Moab [cp. Mary urging Jesus?], but she says she will come with her mother in law, even though she is of a different people, and “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God”. This allusion would therefore be saying: ‘OK I am of a different people to you now, but that doesn’t essentially affect our relationship; I so love you, I will always stick with you wherever, and my God is your God’.
The way God showed such grace and imputed righteousness to Jacob even before his birth is brought out in Is. 44:2, which states that from the womb, Jacob was chosen to be God's servant; and yet Jacob coolly said that only if God did what He promised, would he agree to serve Yahweh, and have Him as his master. Earlier in the same servant prophecies, the servant Jacob is described as a useless servant: " Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect (Jacob was a perfect / plain man, Gen. 25:27), and blind as the Lord's servant?" (Is. 42:19). Although the servant is worse than useless (a deaf messenger), he is seen as perfect by his Divine Master. And the servant prophecies are primarily based on Jacob (note, in passing, how often they associate the servant Jacob with idol worship, which seems to have been an earlier characteristic of Jacob). Consider too the allusions to Jacob in Is. 53; a man of sorrow and grief, despised of men, who would see his seed. As Christ felt a worm on the cross (Ps. 22:6), so Jacob is described (Is. 41:14). That even in his weakness, Jacob prefigured the Lord in his time of ultimate spiritual victory, shows in itself the way God imputed righteousness to him at the time. The whole basis of how God dealt with Jacob is intended to be an essay in the way in which He counts all the true Israel as righteous, even thought they are not. Imputed righteousness is they key to our salvation by grace.
We really can play a part in bringing salvation for others. Jude further catches the spirit of all this when he writes: " ...praying in the Holy Spirit...of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire" (Jude 20-23), just as the Angel had pulled Lot from the fire (Jude 7)- in this sense, Jude seems to suggest, we can do God's work for him. Likewise we must " make a difference" concerning some, just as the Angels " contended" [s.w.] for men (Jude 9 cp. 22). The fire of condemnation at the judgment is in a sense already kindled, as the Lord Himself had taught (Lk. 12:49). The weak brother condemns himself by his way of life, and falls into condemnation even now, before the judgment (James 5:12; 1 Tim. 3:6; Tit. 3:11). We see this, and have the power in some cases to save the brother by pulling him out of that fire of condemnation. Surely the point is that we can save our brother from condemnation at judgment day by what we prayerfully do for him now.
June 21Ruth 3, 4
Ruth seems to me to be a wonderful example of a spiritually ambitious person. It was unheard of in those times for a woman to propose to a man; yet by coming to him, uncovering his feet and laying under his mantle, she was stating that she wished to see him as a manifestation of God to her (Ruth 3:7,9 = Ruth 2:12). She went after him, following him (Ruth 3:10); the poor, landless Gentile aspired to be a part of a wealthy Jewish family, in order to fulfil the spirit of the Law. And she attained this.
There's an especially noteworthy thing which the sheer height of the Lord's exaltation leads us to. " Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him...that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord...wherefore...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:9-12). These words are alluding to Is. 45:23,24: " ...unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength" . We all find humility difficult. But before the height of His exaltation, a height which came as a result of the depth of the degradation of the cross, we should bow our knees in an unfeigned humility and realization of our sinfulness, and thankful recognition of the fact that through Him we are counted righteous. We will be prostrated in the day of judgment before Him, and yet will be made to stand. We therefore ought not to judge our brother who will likewise be made to stand in that day- to his Master he stands or falls, not to us.
Rev 1, 2
A glance through the descriptions of the beasts- the Kingdoms of this world- reveals that they are all set up in terms of the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom. The opening vision of Rev. 1 presents the Lord in His post-resurrection glory; but elements of that description occur throughout Revelation in portraying the beasts. The point is, they are all false-Christ’s. Their worlds are in collision with God's. The Lord has a voice as the sound of many waters (Rev. 1:15), but the serpent, on the surface, speaks with just the same voice (Rev. 12:15). The four empire-beasts of Dan. 7 are a parody of the four living creatures of the cherubim (Rev. 4:6). The rejected man who built greater barns, such was his blessing, would have thought that he was receiving the blessings of righteousness (Prov. 3:10). There was a cruel and subtle confusion between the wicked and righteous. Israel actually fell for this; they came to describe the Egypt they had been called out from as the land flowing with milk and honey (Num. 16:13). And so we have the same tendency to be deceived into thinking that the world around us is effectively the Kingdom of God, the only thing worth striving after.
June 221Sa 1
God's face looks at the righteous if He accepts them (Ps. 11:7; 13:1)- and God turning His face toward men is a very common idiom for Him answering prayer (e.g. 1 Sam. 1:11). Thus acceptability with God and Him answering our prayers are related. The experience of answered prayer is a great confirmation for our faith.
Isa 46, 47
To know God is to love Him, and to want to be like Him; there is something compulsive and magnetic about who He is. The knowledge of God elicits quite naturally a merciful spirit (Hos. 6:6). To “learn righteousness” is the result of beholding [after the pattern of Moses] the majesty of the Name (Is. 26:10). And so Is. 46:5-9 appeals for Israel to repent simply because God really is God; they were to “remember this” that they already knew, and “bring it again to mind” that God is really the great eternal, and His Name is as it is. And they that know His Name will put their trust in Him, day by day, as we cough and hack our way through these few years towards His eternal Kingdom.
Rev 3, 4
The Lord knocking on the door and 'coming' when the believer opens, hints at His second coming once the ecclesia shows a suitable level of spiritual response (Rev. 3:20). In the same letter to Laodicea, the ecclesia being " rich and increased with goods" (3:17) recalls the days of Lot and Noah, both typical of the second coming, and the unworthy walking naked is a figure picked up in ch. 16:15 concerning judgment day. A study of the letters from this angle reveals many other reasons for thinking that they have particular application to the believers living just prior to the Lord's return.
June 231Sa 2
Some prophecies simply won’t come true because they refer to what God had potentially prepared for His people, but they disallow Him from giving them what He had intended. Thus Eli was told of “all the wealth which God would have given Israel”, which his behaviour had now disallowed (1 Sam. 2:32 AVmg.). Knowing this, women like Hannah clearly hoped and prayed that their sons would be Messiah (1 Sam. 2:10 = Ps. 89:24); for they perceived that God’s purpose was open to such a thing. This is how much God weights human response in His operation on this earth.
The offer of rest was rejected by the exiles then; but is taken up now by all who accept Christ, realizing that they are in the same state as the exiles in Babylon. “Come out from among them and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17) is picking up the language of Is. 48:20; 52:11; Jer. 50:8; Zech. 2:7 concerning the return of the exiles from Babylon. The edict of Cyrus for the Jews to return to the land is in a sense pointing forward to God’s command to us to leave the spirit of Babylon, the Gentile world, and go up to do His work. The returned exiles are us.
Rev 5, 6
Silhouetted within the vision of the judgment throne is a slain lamb (Rev. 5:6), as if before the judgment, all will be aware of the Lord's sacrifice. The accepted will utter praise immediately after realizing the wonderful verdict pronounced for them- in terms of praising the Lord Jesus for his sacrifice, and recognizing their eternal debt to the blood of His cross (Rev. 5:9). The cross and the judgment and reward are connected. This is why the Sephardim called the Day of Atonement, with all its typology of the cross, "the day of judgment". Our reflections upon the cross are in a sense our judgment- hence the connection between them in the description of the breaking of bread in 1 Cor. 11:23-29.
June 241Sa 3
God is His word. The word “is” God in that God is so identified with His word. David parallels trusting in God and trusting in His word (Ps. 56:3,4). By our words we personally will be condemned or justified- because we too ‘are’ our words. When Samuel told Eli of the prophetic vision which he had received, Eli commented: “It is the Lord” (1 Sam. 3:18). He meant ‘It is the word of the Lord’; but he saw God as effectively His word. “The word”, the “word of the Kingdom”, “the Gospel”, “the word of God” are all parallel expressions throughout the Gospels. Our attitude to God's word is our attitude to Him. Hence the challenge to daily meditate upon it.
Paul was told by Jesus that all those whom he had persecuted were in fact Jesus personally (Acts 9:5). And this idea of the believer being so totally bound up with his or her Lord continues with Paul throughout his life. Thus he takes a prophecy concerning how Christ personally would be the light of the whole world (Is. 49:6), and applies it to himself in explanation of why he was devoted to being a light to the whole world himself (Acts 13:47- although 26:23 applies it to Jesus personally). Paul even says that this prophecy of Christ as the light of the world was a commandment to him; all that is true of the Lord Jesus likewise becomes binding upon us, because we are in Him. Note that Paul says that God has commanded us to witness; it wasn’t that Paul was a special case, and God especially applied Isaiah’s words concerning Christ as light of the Gentiles to Paul. They apply to us , to all who are in Christ. And when on trial, Paul explained his preaching to the Jews “and then to the Gentiles” as being related to the fact that he had to “shew” the Gospel to them because Christ rose from the dead to “shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:20,23). In other words, he saw his personal preaching as shewing forth the light of Jesus personally.
We can judge ourselves unworthy. It’s been observed that the tribe of Dan is excluded from the list of the redeemed tribes in Rev. 7. Dan didn’t take possession of their inheritance; they despised it. And so they excluded themselves, rather than being excluded for e.g. bad behaviour. The other tribes all had their moments of terrible failures; but these didn’t exclude them. The only one excluded was the one who didn’t want to be there. Ultimately those who truly love the appearing of Jesus will be accepted by Him.
June 251Sa 4
Eli did rebuke his sons; but in God’s eyes he didn’t (1 Sam. 2:24 cp. 3:13 AV mg.). He said words for the sake of saying words, but in his heart he didn’t frown upon them. Eli appeared to discipline his sons. But he couldn’t have really done this from his heart, or he wouldn’t have been condemned for not controlling them. He honoured his sons above God, to make himself “fat with the chiefest of all the offerings”. The description of Eli as being fat surely reflects his guilt (1 Sam. 2:29; 4:18). And yet he appeared on the surface to run his family life on a spiritual footing. We urgently need to search our motives, given the example of the condemnation of Eli- an apparently kindly, faithful old man.
The Lord set His face to go to Jerusalem, and the final sacrifice which would be there (Lk. 9:51). He hardened His face like a rock (Is. 50:7); and yet the wicked similarly harden their faces like a rock to go in the way of the flesh (Jer. 5:3). We are hardened in our path, one way or the other. Jeremiah had his face hardened in response to his own hardening of face (Jer. 1:17; 5:3), and the wicked in Israel likewise were hardened (Jer. 3:3; 4:30).
Rev 10, 11
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?
June 261Sa 5, 6
That a man should betray the Lord Jesus just for a bit of money is incredible- almost. But this is the iron grip of the snare of riches. And our community is littered with the spiritual wrecks of those who have likewise been snared by their pursuit of wealth, on whatever level. And Scripture brings before us so many others: Hezekiah is one of the more tragic. One reason why Israel failed to drive out the tribes, and thereby lost the Kingdom, was simply because they wanted to take tribute from them (Josh. 17:13). Ez. 7:19 defines “silver and gold” as Israel’s stumblingblock- moreso than idols. They just so loved wealth. The men of Bethshemesh looked into the ark to see if there were any more jewels left in it (1 Sam. 6:19 cp. 6,15); they trampled upon the supreme holiness of God in their crazed fascination with wealth. The early corruption of Christianity was due to false teachers who like Balaam " loved the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Pet. 2:15); they taught false doctrine " for filthy lucre's sake" (Tit. 1:11). 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. Will our natural love of wealth stop us from entering God's Kingdom?
Knowledge, in its active and true sense, does have a vital part to play. Otherwise spirituality becomes pure emotion alone. To " follow after righteousness" is paralleled with " to know righteousness" (Is. 51:1,7). To know it properly is to follow after it. The disciples were rebuked as being " of little faith" in the matter of not understanding the Lord's teaching about leaven (Mt. 16:8-11). It has been commented that the sayings of Jesus " are everywhere too subtly penetrated with theological claims and dogmatical instruction for the distinction commonly drawn between Christian " ethics" and Christian " dogma" to be other than forced or artificial" . His doctrines lead to His practice. Doctrine is likened by the Lord to yeast- it is going to affect the holder of it (Mt. 16:11,12).
Rev 12, 13
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. Our call today to be radically separate from this world, whatever it costs, is just the same. The events of the first century are to be repeated in the last days.
June 271Sa 7, 8
Real prayer is not merely an emotional outburst fuelled by the self-preservation instinct. This is a fine challenge to our excuses that we don’t have or don’t need much time to pray. As the Philistines closed in upon Israel, Samuel was busy offering up the burnt offering, symbolizing Israel’s plea to God for help (1 Sam. 7:10)- when the natural reaction would have been to think ‘Enough of that, come on, do something practical now…’. The widows who were financially supported by the early ecclesias gave themselves to constant prayer (1 Tim. 5:5 and context). In view of the way believers fall away and also because of our great duty to witness to the world, first of all (i.e. most importantly), prayer must be made (1 Tim. 2:1 and context). Indeed, it is an actual sin- albeit a sin of omission- to cease to pray for our brethren (1 Sam. 12:23).
n Rom 15:21, Paul justifies his preaching by quoting from part of the suffering servant prophecy in Is. 52 / 53. That whole passage is set in a context of explaining “how beautiful are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings…all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Is. 52:7,10). The preaching of good tidings and the declaration of God’s salvation was through the crucifixion. Paul quotes Is. 52:15: “To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand”. This was Paul’s justification for taking the Gospel to where Christ has not been named. Note in passing how the Lord Jesus sees us as “beautiful” in our witness to Him (as in Song 7:1). Yet further into Is. 53, so much else jumps out at us as appropriate to Paul’s preaching: “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high [cp. Paul knowing how to be exalted and abased, themes that occur in Is. 53 about Jesus’ death]. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man [cp. Paul’s thorn in the flesh?], and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for [that] which had not been told them shall they see; and [that] which they had not heard shall they consider”. Paul appeared before Agrippa, Festus, and one or two Caesars, with a visage marred by his evangelistic sufferings. The connection is surely clear- the preaching of the Gospel is a form of death and crucifixion, in order to bring forth a harvest in others. Are we suffering for the sake of the Gospel...?
It could be that this conversion of all men occurs during the final tribulation (Rev. 14:6); but it seems to me that the context demands that people from every nation etc. are already redeemed in Christ and await His return. It seems highly doubtful to me that over the past 2,000 years, the Truth has been taken to every ethnos, tribe, clan, custom and language, especially in Africa and Asia. So it follows that only once we have done it in our generation will this come true. The brethren in those parts especially have work to do yet, it seems to me. And we should all support them as best we can. I have a real belief that given the current rate of progress in preaching, the current generation could witness literally world-wide representation of Christians believing true, sound Biblical doctrine- if we all do our bit. And it seems no accident that representatives from so many nations can be preached to in cities like London, New York, Sydney…where the Truth has been so long established. It is very difficult for me to reproduce in writing the kind of picture I have in my mind. But it is a thrilling and all consuming, all-demanding vision.
June 281Sa 9
What we hear in the ear, that we must preach on the housetops (Mt. 10:27). This is built on the language of 1 Sam. 9:15,25, where God speaks in Samuel’s ear, and then he speaks that word to Saul on the housetop. The Lord is saying that in essence, we are all in Samuel’s position; we hear the word of this world’s salvation, the word about “the Kingdom” as it was for Saul, and that very fact is in itself the imperative to overcome our natural reservations and share it with those for whom it is intended- even if, as with Saul, we consider them unlikely and unspiritual hearers.
The cross of Jesus was ongoing, in essence, in His life. Jn. 12:38 speaks of how the Jews refused to believe in Jesus whilst He was still alive- and yet by doing so, John says, they fulfilled Is. 53:1:"Who hath believed our report". But the “report" there was clearly the message of the cross. It’s as if John applies a clear prophecy about the cross to people’s response to Jesus during His lifetime. His blood is a symbol both of His cross and of the life He lived. He took our infirmities upon Him on the cross, and yet He had done this in His ministry by healing sicknesses (Is. 53:4 = Mt. 8:17). His whole life was a being acquainted with grief (Is. 53:3); and yet we read in this same context that He was put to grief in His death (:10). The grief of His death was an extension of the grief of His life. “Who hath believed our report?" (Is. 53:1) was fulfilled by the Jewish rejection of Him in His life, as well as in His death (Jn. 12:38)."He bore the sin of many" (Is. 53:12) is applied by Jn. 1:29 to how during His ministry, Jesus bore the sin of the world. He was glorified in His death (although the world didn’t see it that way), as well as in His life (Jn. 12:23,29). The life of cross carrying isn't about a few dramatic moments of decision- it's a spirit of life each moment.
Rev 15, 16
God's judgments are now made manifest (Rom. 1:19) in that we know His word, His judgments; in advance of how they will be made manifest in the future judgment (Rev. 15:4). So the outcome of the day of judgment needn't be a mystery to us!
June 291Sa 10
David learnt the secret of seeing the positive in our weak brethren, and he didn’t let all that was wrong with Saul interfere with this. He describes himself as responding to criticism like this: “I as a deaf man, heard not” (Ps. 38:13). Yet he was alluding to how Saul, when likewise criticized by “sons of belial”, “was as though he had been deaf” to their words (1 Sam. 10:27 RVmg.). He saw the good in Saul, he remembered that one good example he showed- and it empowered him to follow it. This is all the more remarkable, in that it seems God would have given Saul into David’s hand when “a deep sleep from the Lord” fell upon Saul at the very time David intended to kill him (1 Sam. 26:12). Saul himself realized that the Lord had delivered him into David’s hand to kill him (1 Sam. 24:18). God thus confirmed David in his intentions- and yet at the last minute, it seems, David chose an even higher level; of love and deep respect for this spiritually sick man.
Isaiah had explained (Is. 54:7) that although God and Israel had departed from each other, they would come together again by Israel being regathered- i.e. by their return from Babylon to the land. And perhaps Hosea was rewritten at the same time, as an appeal for the Jews to ‘return’ to their God, i.e. to return to Judah. And yet, so tragically, whilst they all avowed their allegiance to Yahweh, generously supported the few who did return… the majority of the Jews didn’t return to their God. They chose the soft life in Babylon, where they remained. It’s why the close of the book of Esther is so sad- the Jews are there in prosperity and popularity in Babylon, no longer weeping by the rivers of Babylon. And will we this day decide to return to God, or will we remain in Babylon?
Rev 17, 18
If we are not separate from this world now, we will not be separated from them when the judgments fall. If we don't come out from Babylon, we will share her judgments (Rev. 18:4). The Lord taught that the believer who makes his brother stumble should have a millstone hung around his neck and be cast into the sea (Lk. 17:2). This is exactly Babylon's judgment (Rev. 18:21). The unloving in the ecclesia will be treated like the unloving world whose spirit they share. The rejected will weep and gnash their teeth (Mt. 25:30)- and be sent back into the Babylon-world, where they are also weeping and angry (Rev. 18:15,19). As the tree of Babylon will be cut down, so will the rejected be (Dan. 4:14,23 = Mt. 7:19). As Babylon is burnt with fire (Rev. 18:8), and indeed the whole 'world' too (2 Pet. 3:10), so will the rejected be (Mt. 13:40 etc.). But acting in a Babylon way means making our brother stumble!
June 301Sa 11, 12
If all Israel had been obedient, then Saul would have been too (1 Sam. 12:14). If a majority are spiritually minded, this can at times and in some ways influence a potentially weaker minority; even though the reverse is more often true. And yet Saul made the people “follow him trembling” because they weren’t, en masse, spiritually stronger than him (1 Sam. 13:7). All this reflects the huge power of example. And what example will we be this day?
We must believe, really and truly, that the word will not return void, but it will accomplish what it is intended to achieve. We are not scattering seed with the vague hope that something might sprout up; we are planting, fully expecting to see a harvest. The apparent dearth of response to some preaching therefore poses a challenging question. Are we preaching the word of God alone, or our own ideas? Does God withhold blessing for some reason unknown to us? Is this parable only part of a wider picture, in which somehow the word does return void due to man’s rejection? Thus the word of God was ‘made void’ by the Pharisees (Mk. 7:13 RV- a conscious allusion to Is. 55:11?)…. This is perhaps one of the most defiantly unanswerable questions in our experience. As an aside, one possible explanation is that “the word” which is sent forth and prospers, achieving all God’s intention, is in fact Messiah. The same word is used about the ‘prospering’ of the Servant in His work: Is. 48:15; 53:10 cp. Ps. 45:4. Another is to accept the LXX reading of this passage: “…until whatsoever I have willed shall have been accomplished”. Here at least is the implication that something happens and is achieved when we preach God’s word. The same idiom occurs in Ez. 9:11 AVmg., where we read that “the man clothed with linen”- representing Ezekiel or his representative Angel- “returned the word, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me”. The word ‘returned’ in the sense that someone, somewhere, was obedient to it even if others weren’t.
Rev 19, 20
he 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.