Having said this, the latter part of the chapter, v18-22, can be regarded as part of a larger section extending to the end of ch.18 in which Moses deals with the responsibility of ‘officials’ to maintain purity of worship, to promote the law, and to administer justice impartially.
1) OBSERVING THE FEASTS OF THE LORD, v1-15
The gatherings of God's people are most important, and this section of the chapter deals with three of the seven “feasts of the Lord” described in Lev.23, where they are called ‘my set feasts,’ v2 (JND). The word “feast”, Lev.23.2,4,37,44, means ‘an appointed meeting’ or ‘set time,’ and these occasions are also described as “holy convocations,” v2 etc. A “convocation” is simply ‘a calling together.’ The word “feast” also occurs in Lev.23.6,34,39,41, and in each case it means ‘festival.’ The same word is used of the “feasts” mentioned in Deut.16. This raises two questions:
a) Why are these three particular “feasts” singled out in this chapter? The answer evidently lies with the fact that they represented the entire seven.
(i) The feasts of Passover and unleavened bread are never divided in Scripture. See, for example, Num.28.16-17.
(ii) The feast of weeks took place fifty days after the feast of firstfruits, Lev.23.15-16, and the precise dating emphasises their close connection. This is confirmed here: “Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn. And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God,” v9-10. See also Num.28.26.
(iii) the feast of tabernacles was the third of three closely connected feasts in the “seventh month.” The sequence is significant: trumpets (regathering); atonement (repentance); tabernacles (rejoicing). In Ex.23.14-17, the same three “feasts” are called “the feast of unleavened bread,” “the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours,” and “the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year.”
b) What did these three “feasts” actually mean to the children of Israel? Whilst we rightly study the “feasts of the Lord” in terms of God's calendar (they cover the entire history of God's people from the exodus to the millennium, and beyond), it is important to give some thought to their significance for the people at that time. The emphasis in this chapter is not so much on the typical and prophetical aspects of the “feasts of the Lord,” but on the fact that God's people were never to forget that they owed everything to Him. For this reason they were required to attend “the place which the Lord shall choose to place His name there” on each occasion, v2,6,11,15. They were to keep each of these three “feasts” in His presence. Bearing this aspect of the “feasts of the Lord” in mind, these three “feasts” commemorated:
God's saving deliverance (the feast of Passover, v1-8);
God's abundant provision (the feast of weeks, v9-12);
God's continuing faithfulness (the feast of tabernacles, v13-15).
The feast of tabernacles looked back to His faithfulness during the wilderness journey as well as in providing abundant harvests in the land. They gave God's people the opportunity to acknowledge Him as their Deliverer: “that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life, v3, and Provider: “thou shalt give … as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee, v10; “seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto thy God … because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase,” v15. It would not be inappropriate to write over this passage “in everything give thanks,” 1Thess.5.18. These three “feasts” were times of gratitude to God. The word “rejoice” occurs in v11,14.
a) The feast of Passover, v1-8
The feast of Passover reminded God's people of their deliverance from Egypt, and we can look at these verses in the following way:
i) Why it was to be kept, v1. “Observe the month of Abib (meaning ‘the month of the green ears’), and keep the Passover unto the Lord thy God: for in the month of Abib the Lord thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.” See also v3. Like Israel, we must never forget our redemption. “O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good … Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy,” Ps.107.1-2. We have been “redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot,” 1Pet.1.18-19.
ii) How it was to be kept, v2-4. Three things are mentioned in this connection but a fleeting reference to the first and third will have to suffice. The Passover was to be kept with a sacrifice “of the flock and the herd,” v2. This refers, not to the Passover lamb itself, but to the offerings required in connection with the associated feast of unleavened bread. See Num.28.16-19. Nothing remaining from the Passover meal was to “be left overnight until the morning,” v4 (JND). See also Ex.12.10. This was to preserve the close connection between the blood of the lamb and the nourishment provided by the lamb. We must never forget that the Saviour who provides our spiritual nourishment is the very Saviour who died for us at Calvary.
For the purpose of this study, however, we must emphasise the connection between the feasts of Passover and unleavened bread. This is stressed throughout the section: see v 3,4,8. The same connection is emphasised in the New Testament: read Matt.26.17; Mk.14.1; Lk.22.1. The lesson from this is clearly stated in 1Cor.5.7-8, “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast (this does not refer to the Lord's supper), not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Leaven in the Bible is always a picture of sin (including Matt.13.33) and the close connection between the two “feasts” clearly teaches that redeemed people are to be holy people. The Lord Jesus warned His disciples against “the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod,” Mk.8.15, together with the “leaven of the Sadducees,” Matt.16.6, and these three varieties of leaven should be carefully studied. Unleaven bread is called “the bread of affliction,” v3, not just because it is comparatively unpalatable, but because it reminded Israel that their deliverance from Egypt involved the surrender of their normal food, Ex.12.34, reminding us that redeemed people should have no time for “leaven” in their lives. Israel left Egypt “in haste” and believers should deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” Tit.2.12.
iii) Where it was to be kept, v5-7. The Passover was not to be kept “within any of thy gates,” v5, but “at the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place His name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the Passover … thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose,” v6-7. But the associated feast of unleavened bread was to be eaten at home: “thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents,” v7. It has been suggested that this could refer either to their ordinary homes or to their temporary homes near Jerusalem. Either way, there was to be consistency between conduct “at the place of the name” and in the “tents”, reminding us that we should not be people of double standards. Our conduct in the day to day round of life should not be at variance with our conduct in assembly gatherings. Since the number seven in Scriptures indicates completeness, the “seven days,” v3,9, reminds us that the injunction, “Be ye holy,” 1Pet.1.16, is a life-embracing command. Notice further “sevens” in v13,15.
b) The feast of weeks, v9-12
“And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God,” v10. As we have already noticed, this “feast” was to be kept seven weeks from the time “that thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn,” v9, i.e. seven weeks from the feast of firstfruits. It is called “the day of Pentecost” (meaning ‘the fiftieth’) in Acts 2.1.
Leaving aside its prophetic significance (which must not be forgotten), the purpose of this “feast” was to give God's people the opportunity to express their acknowledgment of His goodness, which they were to do by offering “a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee,” v10. According to Gesenius the word “tribute” refers to the rate applicable to the offering which is “according as the Lord thy God blessed thee.” This is strikingly similar to the rate at which believers are to exercise their stewardship: “let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him,” 1Cor.16.2. The “freewill offering” here is evidently not the same as the offering described in Lev. 23.17-20. We should notice the following:
i) That thanksgiving to the Lord should be a joyful experience, not an onerous duty: ''And thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God ... in the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place His name there,'' v11. See also v14-15.
ii) That thanksgiving to the Lord should be accompanied by provision for other people. Our appreciation of His generosity and goodness to us should overflow in generosity to others: “And thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you,” v11. (This is not mentioned in Lev.23 or in Num.28). The ‘place of the name’ should be a generous place! The assembly should be a place of kindness, care and fellowship. See also v14. Now read Jms.2.4-16 and 1Jn.3.16-18.
iii) That thanksgiving to the Lord should never be disassociated from redemption: “And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt,” v12. Their prosperity must not make them forgetful that the Lord had delivered them from slavery. The Egyptians were anything but generous to God's people!
c) The feast of tabernacles, v13-15
The “feast of tabernacles” stressed the ongoing goodness of God. He had both provided for them in the wilderness and in the land. This “feast” looked back to deliverance from Egypt, hence the “tabernacles” or “booths”, and celebrated God's ongoing provision for them.
i) It reminded them that they were dependent upon Him in the wilderness. It has been rightly said that “other accounts of the feast in the Old Testament link it specially with the years when the Israelites were refugees, homeless pilgrims, travelling through the wilderness” (Raymond Brown, The Message of Deuteronomy). See Lev.23.42 in this connection: this may refer, in the first place to Ex.12.37: “And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth (meaning ‘booths’).” So “the feast of tabernacles” commemorated deliverance and dependence. It reminded them of their God-given protection, and proclaimed their dependence on Him. They went from houses to booths! Booths are temporary and fragile structures. The Lord was their only defence.
ii) It reminded them that they were dependent upon Him in the land. The “feast of tabernacles” celebrated ‘harvest home’: it was to take place “after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine,” v13. Such rejoicing was assured “because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy increase,” v15, although we know that disobedience would rob them of divine blessing: see Deut.28.15-68. Like “the feast of weeks,” the seven-day “feast of tabernacles” was to be a time of rejoicing and provision for others, v14-15. The word “solemn”, v15, is omitted by JND as the word “feast” here means ‘festival’. If God's gifts are bountifully received they ought to be generously shared.
2) APPEARING BEFORE THE LORD, v16-17
On each of the above occasions, the men in Israel were commanded to “appear before the Lord … in the place which He shall choose.” See also Ex.23.15-17 and 34.22-24. According to Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, “No command was laid on the women to undertake the journeys, partly from regard to the natural weakness of their sex, and partly to their domestic cares.” Although this explanation would not be popular with the Equal Opportunities Commission, it should be quite acceptable to the Bible student. Whilst there is no room in the Bible for the ‘feminist movement,’ it is equally clear that the Scriptures do not rank men higher than women in importance. Their respective roles most certainly differ, but that does not mean that sisters have an inferior position in God's service and in the assembly. In this case, the men in Israel were fulfilling their God-given role as head of the house in appearing “before the Lord.” It should be said that men in the assembly should function in their proper sphere. Sisters should be able to find joy and pleasure in the way that the brothers exercise godly leadership in the praise, prayer, worship and service of the assembly.
We must notice that the men were not to “appear before the Lord empty.” This did not mean that every man was to offer a sacrifice of identical size and value, but that “every male shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which He hath given thee.” We have already noted the significance of this in terms of our material stewardship (see our comments on v10), but the principle is equally applicable to our spiritual stewardship. It is not a case of striving to emulate another brother in the length and content of his prayer and praise, but contributing “as he is able.” That ability will enlarge as we enjoy “the blessing of the Lord” in reading and studying His Word. The silent but equally precious contributions of the sisters should be made in exactly the same way — ‘as she is able.’ It would transform our assembly gatherings if we all participated in ‘the place of the name’ in this way.
Three prominent words used at the end of chapter three were ‘holiness’, ‘love’ and ‘coming’. The same subjects are addressed in this chapter. V1-8 deal with the subject of holiness in the believer’s life; v9-10 treat the subject of brotherly love; and v13-18 unfold the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This chapter can be also divided into two main sections:
All teaching about future events should have a practical affect upon the believer in the present. It is not meant merely to titillate our curiosity or satisfy our intellect, but to have a powerful sanctifying influence on our day to day living. This whole prophetic section extending from 4.13 to 5.11 is sandwiched between two practical sections.
Initially Paul makes a general appeal to live a life that pleases the heart of God, v1-2. Paul is gentle and caring and uses words suggestive of affection and equality, not putting himself on some kind of elevated spiritual pedestal. He addresses the believers as ‘brethren’, those who are in family relations with him. Also he uses the word ‘beseech,’ erotao, which is often used between those of similar position. The motivation of a life that pleases God stems from, firstly, our association with Christ, for we are said to be ‘in the Lord Jesus’. Pleasing God ought to be the chief aim of our lives because of our close relationship with His Son. Secondly, it is stimulated by our anticipation of the Lord Jesus Christ, v13-18. We endeavour to please God because of the Coming of Christ. His soon return should always energise believers to living more godly and pure lives, 1Jn.3.3.
Paul’s reminder of the ‘commandments we gave you,’ v2, looks back to his first visit, when he taught them the importance of pleasing the Lord. We all need to hear truth repeated, for we are so prone to forget that our main purpose in life is to delight God’s heart.
The metaphor, ‘to walk,’ peripatete, meaning to ‘walk around’ in carrying out the activities of everyday life, compares the Christian life not to a journey aiming towards a destination (although it is that), but the constant and repetitive routine of daily living.
‘The Lord Jesus’, v1, is the ultimate example of a life that brought pleasure to God’s heart, Jn.8.29. Enoch too walked with God, Gen.5.24 and in so doing pleased Him, Heb.11.5. Further, the Thessalonians themselves were seeking to do the same, ‘even as also ye do walk.’ Although they were being reminded to live such a life, Paul encourages them by noting that they are already practising it.
In one sense such a life brings dissatisfaction, for, while we are to be perfectly content with the Lord and all His provisions for us, we are to be thoroughly dissatisfied with ourselves, and constantly endeavouring to ‘abound more and more’ by God’s grace. Thessalonica was renowned for its hot springs and perhaps Paul had these in mind when he wrote that the life of the believer should be bubbling over.
Finally they were reminded of the obligation of such a life. ‘Ought,’ dei, v1, can also be interpreted as ‘must’ and speaks of a definite duty for the child of God. It is not a desirable option, but a compelling obligation. ‘Commandments,’ v2, is the word parangelia, a military expression used to address subordinates, hence carrying authority. To please God is a commandment that we do well to obey. Now Paul turns his attention to specifics.
Believers are to exhibit sexual purity, v3-8. Firstly sexual immorality is exposed and then sexual purity is encouraged.
Sexual immorality exposed
This is a temptation for the best of saints. In 1.7 we learned that these believers formed a model church, but even they were in grave danger of sinning in this area, like King David in 2Sam.11. ‘Fornication,’v3, is the word porneia which includes every form of sexual activity outside that divinely permitted within the marriage bond. To ‘defraud his brother,’ v6, is not necessarily limited to adultery since promiscuity before marriage robs another of that virginity which ought to be brought to marriage. This sin is one of the greatest foes of sanctification, v3. Of all the sins a Christian can commit, sexual sins have the most detrimental impact on his separation to the Lord, which is what sanctification involves, 1Cor.6.15-16. It needs to be warned against. There is no direct censure of immorality in this epistle as there was to the believers at Corinth and it appears that Paul is writing prophylactically, seeking to prevent these things from ever taking place by advance warning. We must take the same attitude, for there is not as much warning about the dangers of sexual sin in local assemblies as there ought to be. Obviously the body (‘his vessel,’ v4) is involved in the act, but it also suffers the repercussions, 1Cor.6.18. This is partly explained by such things as sexually transmitted diseases, however, although such consequences can be devastating (e.g. AIDS), they do not exhaust the awful effects such sin has on the body, Job.20.11. ‘Lust’, v5, speaks of active desires and intense cravings, and ‘concupiscence,’ pathei, of the ungovernable nature of such longings. The combination of the two terms indicates the surrender of the person to his passions so that he is overwhelmed and carried away with them. We all, believers and unbelievers, have the same types of desires, which spring from the old nature, but God’s people have to learn to control and overcome them. Sexual sin is common among unbelievers, v5. That which is forbidden to the Christian is normal and acceptable behaviour amongst the lost, those ‘which know not God’. We are those however who know the living and true God. An ignorance of God inevitably leads to moral degradation and sin, Rom.1; conversely, knowledge of God should lead to holiness. The society the Thessalonians lived in was much the same as ours today. Sexual sin is a crossing over of a clearly demarcated boundary, v6, ‘go beyond’. This suggests an element of rebellion and transgression. Further, it is a form of theft, v6, (‘defraud’, pleonektein, means to take advantage of, to defraud or cheat) for sexual sin is to take that which is not rightly ours. It is worth saying that ‘in any matter’ should be read ‘in this matter’ or ‘in the matter’, that is to say the specific matter of sexual wickedness, not of business dishonesty and corruption. It may pose a genuine temptation and problem for believers that the ungodly will not face, v6, because a local assembly is like a family where we are thrown together closely with believers of the opposite sex and temptations may arise. These must be resisted, for purity must mark all relations in the assembly, 1Tim.5.2. Such sin will be avenged by God, v6. The deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is here clearly alluded to, for in the Old Testament vengeance is the work of Jehovah, Deut.32.35, and here it is the work of ‘the Lord’. Sexual sin carries serious repercussions as in 2Sam.12.10, ‘now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house.’ King David was punished for many years to come because of his sin with Bathsheba. 1Cor.11.30, ‘for this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep,’ indicates that because of sin believers had been inflicted with illness and some had actually died. How careful we must be. We must also learn that there is no need for us to avenge ourselves because the Lord carries out vengeance. Uriah the Hittite could not revenge the wrongs done to him, but God did. This principle should characterise our attitude towards those who wrong us, Rom.12.19, in anything. People frequently ask believers why God does nothing to punish wicked men. The answer is that He will in His own good time, and that all sin in the universe will ultimately be judged. Sexual sin is an evidence of a heart that despises God, v8. Though these instructions came from the hand of the apostle Paul, they were in actual fact the commandments of the Lord. David’s sin revealed a contempt for the Lord in his heart, 2Sam.12.9. Let us all earnestly search our hearts for such a spirit.
Sexual purity encouraged
Purity is the will of God for us, v3, 8. This in itself should be sufficient. It is an individual responsibility, v4, applying to ‘everyone of you’ for we are responsible for our own actions and for what we do in our bodies. This is something we ‘should know’, v4. We can never hide behind the façade of ignorance and plead that we didn’t know any better. It is God’s will that each of us knows how to act in the matter of sex. This demands self-control and restraint, v4. ‘Possess’ is the word ktashai meaning to control, to gradually obtain the complete mastery of the body, necessary for all attainment in the Christian life and achieved through struggle and persistent effort. What may seem beyond us is possible by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, v8. The main emphasis is on the character of the Spirit as holy and the verse should read, ‘His Spirit, the Holy.’ Here is another important factor to consider in sexual matters, the body of the Christian is a temple for the Spirit of God, 1Cor.6.19.
Saints are to exercise brotherly love, v9,10. Here we learn some of the characteristics of brotherly love. It is to be instinctive, v9, for ‘ye yourselves are taught of God.’ The word for ‘brotherly love,’ philadelphia, was used in classic Greek to denote the affection between brothers and sisters, but in the New Testament always speaks of love between fellow Christians brought into the family of God by means of the new birth. One of the tests for genuineness of conversion is a love for fellow believers, 1Jn.3.14. Theodidakto translates as 'taught of God'. This brotherly love cannot be learned at a seminar or college, but should arise naturally from true Christians. Tertullian (c AD 192) quotes a heathen as remarking in amazement, 'Behold how these Christians love one another.' We are taught through being 'partakers of the Divine nature,' 2Pet.1.4 and the indwelling Holy Spirit, so that love for the brethren becomes instinctive. It is to be impartial, v10, embracing 'all the brethren'. We are to love all saints, not just our favourites and the people we naturally like. It is to be overflowing, v10, reaching 'all the brethren which are in all Macedonia.' They showed love for believers outside the boundaries of their own local assembly, for there were churches at Philippi and Berea, and no doubt others in Macedonia. We must be willing to show Christian love to believers in other assemblies and those in other companies, without compromising assembly principles. They were showing such love, but they were to do it even more, v10.
They were to engage in secular employment, v11-12. Paul lists four negative reasons why we should work in ordinary jobs so as to be able to support our dependants and ourselves. We are not to be impetuous, v11, but ‘study to be quiet.’ It seems that the believers had become over excited by the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ, so Paul recalls them to a restful state of mind and a spiritually balanced outlook upon life. They were to be ambitious to lead quiet lives, 1Tim.2.2, in effect they were to be ambitious not to be ambitious! If we took this same attitude at work, not striving for promotion how our Christian lives might flourish! We are not to be intrusive, v11, but mind our own business and not poke our noses into other people’s affairs. We must not meddle in the affairs of others. Nor are we to be idle, v11, but ‘work with your own hands.’ Believers shouldn’t be lazy, and Paul working to support himself was the prime example. We are not to hinder others, v12, but ‘walk honestly toward them that are without.’ Lazy, indolent Christians who assume the Lord Jesus Christ will soon return, can easily become a stumbling block to unbelievers who do work to support themselves. We must make every effort not to offend. We must work in order that we have sufficient for ourselves and our dependants to live without the charity and goodwill of others, v12. It is God’s will for us to support ourselves and so maintain a dignified independence.
Sanctification is sometimes seen as very much like the cleansing, or washing, already discussed, or perhaps the making of someone holy by inducing a higher moral standard. That this cannot be the real N.T. meaning of the word is made plain by a prayer of the Lord Jesus in which, speaking not only of the disciples with Him at the time but “them also which shall believe in Me through their word,” He says. “For their sakes I sanctify Myself,” Jn.17.19-20. Neither of the two earlier discarded meanings could possibly be applied to the Lord Jesus. The idea then is rather a dedication, of being set apart to a person, group or cause. What He was saying was that He dedicated Himself to His people and in so doing was giving full-hearted affirmation of what His Father had already committed Him to. He speaks of Himself as “Him Whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world,” Jn.10.36. We see then, the Son of God sanctified by the Father to perform the task for which He willingly came into the world, and which, for the sake of His Father and the beneficiaries of that task, He sanctified Himself, set Himself apart, to perfectly complete.
That really is the setting of the scene in determining what sanctification means for us, a dedication, a full-hearted commitment to God. But can we really be expected to attain to such a high and total standard of devotedness as God's holiness would demand? No more by our own efforts than we could in the spheres of redemption and cleansing. In the context of current considerations then, on what is our standing in God's sight actually based and is that foundation firm enough to be totally dependable?
Referring once again to Paul's letter to an assembly in seemingly hopeless disarray, we saw that he could say, in spite of their failures and problems, “— but ye are sanctified,” 1Cor.6.11. That is a solid statement of fact, a fully accomplished condition. But how could people like that, people like us, a person like me, be so sanctified and set apart for God? “By the which will (i.e. God's) we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all — for by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified, Heb.10.10-14. Now if words mean anything, and remember that these words are from God's Word, “once for all” and “for ever” signify something unalterably complete which can never be nullified or need repetition or addition.
That being our standing in God's sight, and remembering that that is in accord with His divinely revealed will, (see again Heb.10.10), we need to consider and determine just what His will is as regards our present and actual state. Well, it is precisely the same. “For this is the will of God even your sanctification,” 1Thess.4.3, and Paul is now talking about our practical living. How then is this practice of sanctification to show itself, for to be meaningful, show itself it must? “That ye should abstain from fornication — for God hath not called us to uncleanness but unto holiness,” v4-7. The apostle is quite frankly dealing with potential sexual misconduct, but without saying, as he had to do with the Corinthians, that it was actually happening, he was giving advance warning. He goes on to show that such sins, in the context, adultery, are not only perpetrated against the victims but against God Himself. “He therefore that despiseth” (disregards JND), i.e. another's rights “despiseth (disregards) not man but God,” v8. David was very conscious of this aspect of such sin. He certainly had sinned outrageously against Urijah, but when convicted of his sinfulness he exclaims to God, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight,” Ps.51.4. Having said that though, and going off at a slight tangent from our main discussion, we must not think that even genuine repentance towards God absolves us from the duty of remedying to whatever degree possible, the results of sins perpetrated against others (see e.g. Ex.22.1-17).
Sanctification, in the sense of our practical living, our state, does require attention being given to it. “Abstain from”, may linguistically be a negative concept, a ‘not doing’ of something, but it still demands an application of effort. Remember that those failing to respond to what Paul was saying, were described as despising or disregarding. Despising or disregarding what? “Commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus,” v2, and the revealed “will of God,” v3. That being the case remember that “The Lord is the avenger of all such,” v6. Those sinned against, defrauded as the AV puts it, may not be in a position to avenge themselves, Urijah was murdered to make quite sure that he wasn't. God, however, could and did see that David suffered directly for those sins (see 2Sam.12.11 and 16.22). Unfortunately that did not stop Urijah and Bathsheba suffering too, nor did it prevent the death of an innocent child (see 2Sam.12.15-19). Freedom from eternal judgment by grace, does not mean escape from deserved chastisement in this life, hence the need to be concerned about our present state of behaviour. God is concerned about our practical sanctification, our being separated to Him. Because of His intrinsic holiness He says to His people, “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” 1Pet.1.16. Holiness is not the same as sanctification, it is the working out of it in practice. But God is not only concerned in this context about the relationship between Himself and us individually but also because the kind of life produced by practical sanctification makes us beneficial to others too, and that is what God wants of believers “a peculiar people, zealous of good works,” Tit.2.14.
“And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations.”
We get the record of the giving of the manna in Ex.16. Included in that record is the instruction by God that one omer full is to be laid up before the Lord, as a testimony to God’s goodness for succeeding generations. Heb.9.4 tells us that the omer of manna was placed in a golden pot and along with Aaron’s rod and the tables of the Law, were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark itself symbolised God’s presence and authority among His people, while the pot of manna was a reminder of His continual grace in supplying their needs. The pot of manna, the tables of the Law and Aaron’s rod were reminders of God’s particular provision in a crisis. God solved a crisis of ingratitude by giving manna as Divine Provision for Life. He granted to Aaron a rod that budded to resolve a crisis of insubordination by Divine Selection of Leadership. Lastly the Tables of the Law were given to answer a crisis of idolatry by Divine Precepts for Living.
One of the ways of looking at the golden pot of manna is to see practical lessons that assure us there is always abundance with our God for the journey across the wilderness. If we take the manna as evidence of God’s supply to meet our recurring needs in the journey of life, we see two simple truths. There is daily sufficiency and daily dependency.
Daily Sufficiency. The instruction was that they were to gather an omer per day per person. God’s gracious supply on any morning was sufficient for a man for that day. Any day’s supply was as able to meet his need as that he enjoyed yesterday. The children of Israel were living in the good of God’s grace as described by Jeremiah almost a thousand years later in Lam.3.22,23; “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.” That daily sufficiency was based upon Divine Cognisance of their need, Ex.16.11, and a Divine Covenant to meet that need, Ex.3.8. So too for us, the grace of God takes account of our exact spiritual needs and He has promised to meet those needs through Christ.
Daily Dependency. The grace of God that provided an omer full of manna for today also ensured that they had none for tomorrow. At the end of each day they had nothing left in store for the next day, Ex.16.19. Every morning they were brought back to where they were when God first gave the manna — with nothing and looking to God for their needs. The covenant that gave a daily sufficiency expected human obedience and the cognisance that provided a full supply demanded human faith. Each morning the Israelite would exercise faith in effect by saying, God has promised and I will trust Him. He would show obedience by saying, God has said and I will obey. Those who tried to work a system of their own by hoarding some manna overnight, found that it stank by the morning. The lessons for us are clear. God has graciously provided for all our needs in Christ and all we have to do is avail of those resources by daily looking to Him for sustenance along the journey of life. We cannot live today on the grace of God that we gathered yesterday.
The pot of manna was a continual reminder to Israel of the faithfulness, freeness and fulness of God’s grace to them. May we learn the lesson of daily dependence upon our gracious God.
Human responsibility is stamped upon the pages of our Bible from the beginning. It is timely for us to be reminded of this emphasis in a day when the ‘no blame’ culture has become characteristic of many aspects of national life. Much that is wrong is excused and it is often difficult to face people with their responsibility. It is also not unusual for the wrong person to receive the blame where two parties are involved and the main responsibility lies with others.
We know that in some cultures, the loss of face in confronting or acknowledging wrong has always been a feature of that society and can be taken to such extremes that it becomes ridiculous by normal standards. The practice has spread almost unnoticeably and marks a change from the time when the acceptance of responsibility and condemnation of irresponsibility, was normative. The words we appear to have difficulty in saying are, “I am sorry” or, “I was wrong.” Our pride tends to make us think that this is demeaning, whereas in reality it is something that is to be appreciated and more than likely, can be the first and necessary step towards righting what is wrong.
Evasion of responsibility and the tendency to blame others has been characteristic of man’s sinful nature from the beginning. Immediately after the fall, Adam blamed Eve for what had taken place and by implication, he blamed God - “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat”, Gen.3.12. Eve blamed the serpent. It is easy to blame the devil for something that is our responsibility. In the announcement of the penalty which was now passed upon Adam and through him upon the human race, God placed responsibility squarely upon each party involved. In Gen.3, the penalty was announced in the order in which events had taken place. The sentence upon the serpent came first, “Because thou hast done this ... “ The penalty upon Eve and upon womanhood, followed. Adam was charged with having hearkened to the voice of his wife. He became the head of a fallen race.
In the second half of Rom.5, a contrast is drawn between the headship of Adam and the headship of Christ. The consequences of Adam’s one act of disobedience not only passed to him but to the whole race. In contrast, the one act of obedience by Christ in His death has made it possible for the grace of God and the gift of righteousness to abound unto the “many”, who will eventually come under His headship, but it is available to all.
The responsibility for headship belonged to Adam. He was “first formed, then Eve” and he was held responsible for his transgression. Eve’s responsibility was not overlooked. “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being [thoroughly] deceived was in the transgression”, 1Tim.2.13,14. As a result, Adam’s headship was confirmed, “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”, Gen.3.16. This is the basis of Paul’s teaching in 1Tim.2.11-15, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” The silence of the woman in the assembly gatherings is mentioned twice in vs 11 and 12, as the expression of her submission to the man’s authority and recognition of the truth of headship. These responsibilities are also taught in 1Cor.14.34,35, where the words, “as also saith the law” confirms the authority of the teaching of the Word of God in the book of Genesis. The truth of headship was not a new revelation to Paul or following the culture of the day. These principles remain in force.
Adam was the first man who attempted to evade responsibility for his actions. He is by no means the last. In Gen.4, when Cain was asked, “Where is thy brother?” he replied with another question in which he sought to evade responsibility for what had happened , “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The truth is that I am responsible for the welfare of my brethren. It is my business. Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, left him little ground to complain but he did. He reasoned that as “a fugitive and vagabond”, or “wanderer” in the earth, he would be vulnerable to attempts on his life. If he had lived in Noah’s day, the punishment would have been the death penalty. In response to his complaint, God was again merciful to him and said to him, “Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold”, Gen.4.15. To a man like Lamech, God’s mercy to Cain was only licence to cast off restraint and responsibility. When he slew “a young man”, he said, “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold”, Gen.4.23,24.
Evasion of responsibility is not just something that is attempted by wicked men. Even a godly woman like Sarah, sought to evade acknowledging that she had laughed in unbelief at God’s announcement that she would have a son when she was past child-bearing age. Abraham was questioned as to the reason why she had laughed. Was anything “too hard for the Lord?” “Then Sarah denied saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And He said, “Nay; but thou didst laugh”, Gen.18.15. Even godly men and women can be afraid to acknowledge that they are wrong and find it difficult to accept responsibility for what they have said or done. The importance of the truth of human responsibility is that it teaches us that we are responsible for our actions and will be held to account for them.
Like a star he shined in the early dawn,
Faithfully labouring as noon wore on;
But afternoon shadows dispelled his song,
Ere evening fell, the man was gone.
The events of 1Kg.13 depict the spiritual journey of a man of God in perilous times. We WITNESS HIS SUDDEN ENTRANCE, WELCOME HIS STEADY ENDURANCE, then WEEP AT HIS SORROWFUL EXIT. His name is omitted, for this is a lesson to “all who would live godly in Christ Jesus,” 2Tim.3.12. Along the way he encountered three enemies: A Sovereign Power, A Senior Prophet, and A Savage Predator. Three in number, they were one in nature, representing the dreadful designs of Satan, that great adversary of the saint.
A Sovereign Power
Ten tribes from divided Israel had united behind the wicked Jeroboam. Like Satan, “the prince of the power of the air,” Eph.2.2, he directed his subjects into avenues of extreme evil. As the chapter commences, we find him officiating at the profaned altar in Bethel (“house of God”). “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into (masquerades as) an angel of light,” 2Cor.11.14. “If you were looking for Satan and knew only that he was disguised, where would you go to look for him … Would you think of looking in a pulpit?” (J. D. Pentecost).
Burdened by behaviour in Bethel, (remember 1Tim.3.15) the man of God arrived from Judah with a message to the altar. Like the wise men who bypassed Herod in their search for One born King of the Jews, he had no interest in King Jeroboam. As “God’s peculiar treasure, His special ambassador” (W. Hendrickson), he cried against the altar, “O altar, altar!”, much as the Saviour did, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” when He wept for the city that rejected Him, Matt.23.37. Flagrant apostasy had brought catastrophe. Christians gathered in “house of God” character today, must guard against departure from God, lest He “come and remove thy candlestick out of his place,” Rev.2.5. “For the time is come, that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”, 1Pet.4.17.
The man of God announced the coming of King Josiah, who three hundred years later would purge the land of idolatry. Upon the altar in Bethel, the bones of defiled priests from the high places would burn. The edict was sealed with an immediate sign — the altar was rent and its ashes poured out — declaring God’s disdain for the altar.
Christ, the “King of kings and Lord of lords,” 1Tim.6.15, is the preacher’s theme today. Descending from the “height of His sanctuary,” Ps.102.19, the Lord Jesus as a faithful Priest, “offered Himself without spot to God,” Heb.9.14. From above, fire entered His bones, Lam.1.13, and a sweet savour sprang heavenward.
The gathered fragrance sweet
From all the path He trod,
Now at His death, ascends complete
As incense unto God.
The veil of Herod’s temple was rent in twain from top to bottom, Matt.27.51, publicly signifying the Lord’s departure from Judaism. In contrast, in tabernacle typology, we who have been purged from dead works, may now enter the holiest “by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh,” Heb.10.19,20.
King Jeroboam’s first inclination was to use FORCE against the man of God. “Lay hold on him!” Similarly, Satan’s ire is aroused against faithful servants now. Even amongst saints there are those who will not tolerate “sound doctrine.” What was Timothy, the “man of God,” to do at such a time? “One might guess that such a desperate situation should silence him. If men cannot bear the truth, and will not listen to it, surely the prudent course will be for him to hold his peace? But Paul reaches the opposite conclusion” (J. Stott). Timothy’s charge instead, was to “preach the Word, be instant (urgent) in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine,” 2Tim.4.2. When Scriptural truth becomes unpalatable, it must be more earnestly preached.
The hand extended to restrain the man of God was restrained itself. Thus, the king switched from FORCE to FRIENDSHIP. “Pray for me,” he begged, “that my hand may be restored me again,” v6. He had no thought for Israel’s restoration, only his own. When the hand was healed, his heart remained unchanged — “Jeroboam returned not from his evil way,” v33. After the Great Tribulation, the devil will also be restrained and then released again without effect: “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth,” Rev.20.7,8.
As gratitude, the king offered refreshment and reward to the man of God, but it came at tremendous cost. To enjoy it, he must “come home with me,” v7. The devil ever seeks to corrupt the message by compromising the messenger. Even to the Lord Jesus, he said: “All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me,” Matt.4.8, 9, — instant gratification without intense suffering, but with a dreadful stipulation attached. The Saviour could not be enticed, but saints can be. “But thou, O man of God, flee these things,” 1Tim.6.11. “Flee” means to put as much distance as possible — as quickly as possible — between yourself and satanic snares. Lot failed to flee. So did Demas. But this man refused Jeroboam’s overtures. “If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place. For so was it charged me by the Word of the Lord,” v8,9. He remained separate as a stranger and faithful as a steward.
Homeward he marched, taking care not to retrace his steps, Eph.5.15. But spiritual victory can impair vigilance. The man stopped to sit under an oak. Far better had he kept moving, for a determined foe nipped at his heels. “The counsel of heavenly wisdom is, ‘Bear ever in mind that the current against you is strong and constant, so that to relax effort is to go downward. If you rest at the oar to muse complacently on what you have gained, you are meantime rapidly losing all the gain’,” (R. Johnstone).
A Senior Prophet
An “old prophet” was stirred into action by news of the man of God. His past is unknown, but his actions mirrored the subtle workings of the “old serpent,” Rev.20.2. The tactic now was FALSEHOOD. Informed by his sons of the man’s works, words, and way, he aggressively pursued him. Observe his relentless activity:
(1) He made an INVESTIGATION —“What way went he?” v12:
(2) He approached by INTERROGATION —“Art thou the man of God …?” v14:
(3) He extended an INVITATION —“Come home with me.” v15:
(4) He used INSINUATION —“I am a prophet also, as thou art.” v18:
(5) He claimed INSPIRATION —“An angel spake unto me by the Word of the Lord.” v18:
(6) He succeeded at INDOCTRINATION —“He lied unto him … So he went back.” v18-19:
(7) He expressed God’s INDIGNATION —“Thou hast disobeyed.” v.21.
The Lord had sent a man from Judah to the altar in Israel, so the devil sent a man from Israel to the messenger from Judah. The Lord sent a prophet, so the devil sent an “old” prophet. The man of God had a heavenly charge and a right way, so the devil, through an old prophet, contradicted that charge, by introducing “a way which seemeth right,” Prov.14.12. The Saviour warned of false prophets, “which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” Matt.7.15. And Paul alerted Timothy of those “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” 2Tim.3.5.
Three times over, the old prophet demanded that the ass be saddled. This seems suggestive. When Saul, the people’s choice for king was introduced, he was pursuing the lost asses of his father, but when David, God’s choice for king was introduced, he was keeping the sheep of his father. What a remarkable difference! Israel was to redeem every firstling of an ass with a lamb, or else break its neck, Ex.13.13. Wild and unclean, it illustrated the sinner in rebellion to God. The old prophet and his sons saddled (constrained) the asses for service. Satan binds his victims as well, Lk.13.16. How unlike the Lord Jesus who woos the sinner, offering freedom from bondage! Rom.6.22; Gal.5.1. This was portrayed in the gospels, when the tied and untamed colt of an ass was brought to the Saviour, and garments — not a saddle — were thrown over it. Graciously subdued, it carried the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem, Mk.11.2-7.
Clothed in garments of salvation
At Thy table is our place;
We rejoice, and Thou rejoicest,
In the riches of Thy grace.
The old prophet invited the man of God home, just as Jeroboam had. Where one cloak failed, another succeeded. The man was less adamant now. “I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee,” he responded. The old prophet’s age and stature alone, likely elicited spontaneous respect. The elderly can be a tremendous help or a tremendous hindrance to the young. Timothy was exhorted to “continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them,” 2Tim.3.14.
Feigning inspiration, the old prophet “lied” to the man of God. Perhaps out of resentment, he sought to stumble the faithful servant. “Jealousy is cruel as the grave,” SofS.8.6. But whatever the reason, he emulated the devil who is “a liar, and the father of it,” Jn.8.44.
Without further dissent or prayerful inquiry, the man of God abandoned his sacred charge. “I marvel,” exclaimed Paul to the Galatians, “that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you,” 1.6. “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of Him that calleth you,” 5.7,8. Sadly, some saints today are discarding truth. Their rationale may sound plausible, but their route is poisonous. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee,” 1Tim.4.16.
The man of God went back, and like Eve, partook of forbidden fruit. Judgment was pronounced through the old prophet. “Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment which the Lord thy God commanded thee … thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers,” v21,22. Surely God is no respecter of persons, Acts 10.34. Shadows hung heavy as the man of God rode off to judgment.
A Savage Predator
“A lion met him by the way and slew him,” v24. The “way” can be dangerous. Joseph warned his brethren: “See that ye fall not out by the way,” Gen.45.24. Moses stated: “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way … how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindermost of thee,” Deut.25.17,18. Ezra wrote: “And we departed from the river Ahava … and the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way,” Ezra 8.31. And Jeremiah cautioned: “Go not forth into the field, nor walk by the way; for the sword of the enemy and fear is on every side,” Jer.6.25.
The first two foes were human, the last was a beast. The devil stalked with FEROCITY now. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,” 1Pet.5.8. The man of God’s disobedience gave Satan an opening, and it cost him his life. This warrants sober reflection. Disregard for truth has grievous consequences. It may destroy one’s testimony, one’s health, and even one’s life, 1Cor.11.30. Scriptural examples abound. “For this reason, we should give heed more abundantly to the things we have heard, lest in any way we should slip away,” Heb.2.1, (JND).
“Behold,” said the Psalmist, “the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him … to deliver their soul from death,” Ps.33.18,19. David and Daniel were each delivered from the lion. Paul stated metaphorically: “I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion,” 2Tim.4.17. And the Lord Jesus, who at Calvary implored, “Save Me from the lion’s mouth,” Ps.22.21, triumphed gloriously, “having spoiled principalities and powers,” Col.2.15.
A solemn repetition sounded: “Cast in the way!” “Cast in the way!” “Cast in the way!”, v24,25,28. Paul feared a similar fate spiritually. “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-a-way,” 1Cor.9.27. The flesh can disqualify a saint for service. This poor man had preached to others, but now through disobedience was “cast in the way.”
Travellers were startled to see the lion standing like a sentinel over the man’s corpse. “The lion, contrary to its nature, had neither consumed the prophet whom it had slain, nor torn in pieces and devoured the ass upon which he rode, but had remained standing by the corpse and by the ass, that the slaying of the prophet might not be regarded as a misfortune that had befallen him by accident, but that the hand of the Lord might be manifested therein” (Keil and Delitzsch). Also we note, that like the lion, Satan is allowed to go only so far. He might touch the erring saint, but he cannot have his soul. “If any man’s work shall be burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire,” 1Cor.3.15.
News of the man’s death reached the old prophet and the sequence that followed was eerily familiar. The ass was again saddled, the man of God was sought, found, and brought back, and mournful words were pronounced over him. A strong beginning ended in a sad burial. Prior to crucifixion, the Lord Jesus declared to His Father: “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do,” Jn.17.4. And facing martyrdom, Paul wrote: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith,” 2Tim.4.7, (RV). This man failed to fulfil his ministry, 2Tim.4.5, (RV). And the evil foes remained. The words of the Psalmist come to mind: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end,” 73.16.
Daniel is introduced to us in the first chapter of the book that bears his name. He had been carried away into Babylon, his prospects of ‘advancement’ among his own people seemed lost and he was to face many difficulties. In touch with Israel’s God, he was able to turn these same difficulties into opportunities to serve God and be a blessing to others. All was not lost, for the king of Babylon was to give him and to others, the opportunity to serve in his palace.
Preparation began quickly. A new language had to be learned, new names applied and they were introduced to a special diet. In a new country with new studies too — everything to encourage an enthusiastic adaptation to change. We are told in v8 that Daniel had a heart exercise “to obey God rather than men,” Acts 5.29. He, therefore, politely requested Melzar, the prince of the eunuchs, not to bring him the food which would cause him to be defiled. This caused Melzar great concern and he explained his fears to Daniel. He thought that the diet of pulse and water would soon show itself in the thin, pale faces of the participants and he would be in serious trouble. Daniel suggested a ten day trial period and Melzar agreed. Of course, God honoured His servants and rather than being worse looking, the very opposite had taken place! It is no surprise as we draw the spiritual lesson that a diet of pulse (vegetables or seed food), typical of the Word of God and water, typical of the Holy Spirit, will always produce healthy Christians. The king found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers in his realm.
In chapter two the king had a remarkable dream, which he appeared to have forgotten, unless he decided to hide the facts to authenticate the interpretation. None could help, so he commanded that all the wise men should be slain. Daniel, on being informed of this, asked the king for time and he would make known the interpretation. What faith! Perhaps he was remembering Gen.40.8 as he would have known Joseph’s history. Fellowship was added to faith as he and his companions joined in prayer. So as we have a problem, united prayer, laying hold on God with unflinching faith, can be followed by praise. Worship is to be followed by witness.
Daniel was brought before the king and is introduced as “a man of the captives of Judah,” v25. He was maintaining his separation. In v26 the question is asked, “art thou able?” How easily Daniel could have answered, “Yes, but no!” He points out that God is making known to the king His plan for the ages ahead. This humble attitude is continued in v30, “as for me …” The reader should read these verses and grasp the thoughts of Daniel at this auspicious time. “… maketh known to thee …”, v29. Note how all the glory is given to God. Compare v10 with v28, “there is not a man upon the earth …”, “… there is a God in heaven …” Daniel was taking a leaf out of Joseph’s experience here. He was another man of God in a strange land with the rulers’ dreams to interpret! Note Gen.41.16, “it is not in me,” Joseph cries, “God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” Note also v25, “what God is about to do he showeth unto Pharaoh” — not me!
Pharaoh’s dream has to with the coming 14 years, Nebuchadnezzar’s with the rest of time ahead, at least over 3,600 years. Both interpreters show much humility and give glory to God. Satan fails to spoil their usefulness and testimony, through pride. We wonder how many of us would have stood this test.
At the end of ch.2, Daniel is given the opportunity for promotion, but hands it over to his three friends. What a lovely spirit he shows again.
He had more difficulties to face throughout his long life in captivity but he was faithful to God in later years as he was in his youth. May we too be given grace to serve our God, Daniel’s God, whom we have come to know in a more intimate way through the work of His Son, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the indwelling Holy Spirit and the complete canon of Holy Scripture.
Coming from a large Pentecostal family the fear of God was instilled from youth. My father taught me to diligently work hard and from my mother I received good discipline from doing wrong. I learned that sin was sin and it deserved punishment. If the consequences of sin were escaped, then I knew effects of bearing a guilty conscience. At the age of twelve I recall doing wrong and asking myself how mercy with God could be found.
In my early twenties, death was confronted on several occasions and God used these events to stir my thoughts about the need for salvation. After graduating from a religious college in 1963 I began teaching in an elementary school. It was during this time that I visited the home of a Christian and heard the testimonies of several young people. They spoke of what Christ had done them by dying for their sins on Calvary’s cross and how God had saved them. This bothered me; although, I knew the facts of the gospel and told others I was a Christian, I had neither peace nor assurance of Heaven.
Awaking very troubled on the morning of June 1, 1964, I acknowledged to God that I was only a lost sinner and I wanted to be saved. I began to think about the verse, “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree...,” 1Pet.2.24. It seemed so clear, if Christ took all my sins and suffered for them, then that was enough. I needed no more and the burden of my sins was gone. I rejoiced that God had saved me.
A search began to find the “right church.” After being introduced to, and attending meetings where Christians professed to be gathered to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, a brother asked me, “If the Lord is there, should not I also be there?” That settled the question of where to attend, and two years after conversion, I was baptized and received into fellowship at the Omaha Gospel Hall. I joined with my brethren in distributing gospel papers, helping in children’s work, and other gospel outreaches.
In 1990 my family had the privilege of entertaining in our home a young communist youth leader, Igor by name, from Tobolsk, Russia. A Russian Bible was presented to him and an extra one for his grandmother. That fall Igor wrote that his grandmother loved this Book, but no such Book could be found in the city nor did any one know about it. (For seventy years the Bible had been outlawed). Immediately a letter was written to the City of Tobolsk Administration requesting permission to bring 5,000 New Testaments and 100 Bibles to their city in the summer of 1991 for free distribution. Permission was granted. My son Andrew accompanied me and we had many encouraging engagements to speak the gospel of Christ and then give the Word of God to all who listened. We were granted permission to return the next year with 20,000 New Testaments and a 1,000 Bibles and the Lord’s work in Russia commenced.
In the following years, and with the help of other Christians, many trips have been made to Russia. (Details of the commencement of this work are found in the book entitled “TO SIBERIA WITH BIBLES” by Louie Smith and Doug Yade.) God has blessed His Word, precious souls have been saved and gathered to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1996 I obtained early retirement from my employment so that I might invest more time in the work. In 2000, Russian authorities questioned me why I was doing missionary work with a cultural exchange visa. In 2001 two assemblies gave letters of commendation to the service of the Lord. I spend about six months each year in Russia and continue to work on the language.
Currently there are five assemblies in the Ural Mountains and western Siberia. Brethren from North America and Europe share in the work and are able to make frequent visits to teach the saints. We seek to be like John the Baptist, our desire being to glorify God in bearing a faithful witness of the Light that all men through Him might believe. “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light,” Jn.1.7,8.
In August 2005, a Russian mini submarine was trapped 190m (629 ft.) down off the Kamchatka peninsula, in the Russian Far East, with seven crew members on board. It was entangled in nets and underwater antennae, which formed part of the military coastal surveillance system, and could not get to the surface. The temperature inside the vessel had dropped to around 6C (43F) and their supply of oxygen was fast dwindling.
The cry for help reached Britain and the British had a Scorpio craft that was suitable to undertake the task. It was flown to Kamchatka and taken on to the site on a Russian vessel. The British operatives worked skilfully and quickly as the Russians had only a few hours of oxygen left. They cut away the entangling mesh and the mini submarine reached the surface. The men were saved from certain death.
As I read the account of this rescue, I pondered a very similar situation in which I was found. I was trapped, bound and facing death if not rescued. No person on earth could effect that rescue and I was helplessly and hopelessly lost. Not only was this a picture of me but also it was of all who read this paper! Let me explain.
The Bible teaches us that we were all enslaved by sin and could not extricate ourselves from this bondage. In Romans 6.17, 20 we read twice of people, “ye were the servants of sin.” Hebrews 2.15, tells us a people who “were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
The only Person who could help us was God. Religion or good works could not do it. It would have been useless to ask the Russians to become religious and do good works when they were at the bottom of the sea! God undertook our rescue. The rescuing vessel came from another country and so with God’s plan of salvation. Read again the precious words of John 3.16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” What a glorious statement, that God so loved me, and you, that He sent His only Son from the glory of heaven to deal with our problem. 1 John 4.9, 10, “ In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
The reason He came was to save us, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, 1 Timothy 1.15. Again, Luke 19.10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
How did He do it? Let the Word of God answer. Romans 5.6, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly;” v8, “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 1 Peter 2.24, “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree;” 1 Peter 3.18, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” He did it by going to the depths of suffering and death thus breaking the bands of sin and death in which we were held and delivering us from this bondage. Isaiah 53.5, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.”
It would have been foolish for those trapped to refuse the salvation offered. Are you foolish enough to refuse God’s offer of salvation and perish eternally or will you accept His Son and be saved eternally?
Difficulties don't kill faith, but simply strengthen it.
— J. Paton
Unity - Psalm 133
By Matthew J. Cordiner (Scotland)
How good! how pleasant! ’tis when we
Can dwell together in unity.
It’s like that fragrant oil so sweet,
Which fell from Aaron’s head to feet.
Though each constituent diverged
‘Twas by the Apothecary merged
Into an ointment pure and rare,
Ordained by God for priests to wear.
Or like the dew from Hermon’s crown,
Falling, slowly, gently, down.
So small, so weak apparently,
But yet when linked in unity
Refreshing plain and wilderness.
(Conditions which God loves to bless).
He chose the weak like you and me
To demonstrate His pow’r you see.
It may well be that I could spoil
The fragrance of that holy oil.
And smash the Spirit-made unity
By adding some impurity.
If one were to pollute the dew
The land would be affected too.
But if we live in holiness,
We can expect our Lord to bless.
Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,
and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.
Beholding Him still as we run
The race He has marked for us here,
Until the bright goal has been won—
We meet and are like Him up there.
The Spirit directing the eye,
Our object and pattern we find
In Him who is gone up on high,
But left His blest footprints behind.