In our previous study we noticed that this chapter, which records "the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death" v.1, may be divided as follows:
The Lord’s past care for them, vv.1-5;
The Lord’s present purpose for them, vv.6-25;
The Lord’s future blessing upon them, vv.26-29.
We considered that He had led them, v.2, and He had loved them, vv.3-5. He was therefore well able to bless His people in the coming days. This brings us to:
• THE LORD’S PRESENT PURPOSE FOR THEM, vv.6-25
It is noteworthy that unlike the parting blessing by Jacob, no reference is made here to family failure. While Jacob’s final words are described as his blessing, Gen.49.28, they are equally a prophecy, and outline Israel’s future: "And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days" Gen.49.1. This accounts for the fact that Jacob does not always follow the order of their birth in pronouncing his blessing upon them. He knew that his family ("the children of Israel") would be marked by "human failure, infirmity, and sin" (C. H. Mackintosh), hence he refers to the evil conduct of Reuben, Simeon and Levi. He also knew that, ultimately, his children would be supremely blessed and utterly triumphant, hence the way in which he concludes with reference to Joseph and Benjamin.
Apart from the fact that Reuben is mentioned first, the order in which Moses refers to the tribes in this chapter bears no relation to their order of birth, but this does not mean that his mind was wandering! He was evidently in full command of his faculties. See Deut. 34.7. The sequence in which he refers to the sons strongly suggests spiritual order and development. The verses which follow certainly do not describe the tribes as they were naturally. Israel had caused Moses a perpetual headache. Just notice what he says about them in Deut.31.27! But now there is not the slightest hint of censure. To the contrary, what follows is a statement of God’s purpose for His people, which He will achieve, vv.28-29.
a) Reuben, v.6
"Let Reuben live and not die; and let not his men be few". No mention is made of Reuben’s instability, and no reference is made to his sin, Gen.49.4. While it could be said that the blessings of the tribes therefore begin with the possession of life, it is more likely that the emphasis is on continuity. Attempts have been made to extinguish the Jewish nation. Haman attempted to do this in the days of Esther, and it is not without significance that in "the dark days before their deaths, Jewish inmates of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka and Bergen-Belsen wrote the book of Esther from memory, and read it secretly on Purim" (E. M. Yamauchi).
The words, "and let not his men be few", are not easily understood, even when the italicised "not" is omitted (see J.N.D.). Various explanations have been given, but perhaps ‘let his men be of number’ (J.N.D. margin) is helpful. According to C. A. Coates, it means "Each one is taken account of; none are lost in a crowd". But leaving aside this technical difficulty, the overall meaning is clear. God’s people were about to enter Canaan where they would face superior numbers with superior firepower, but they would emerge victoriously. At the end-time, they will face "the dragon" with all his fearful power, Rev.12.13, but the nation will "live and not die". Let us take courage from this: the Lord Jesus said, "I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" Matt.16.18.
b) Judah, v.7
The assurance of continuity is followed by the assurance of victory: "Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him unto his people: let his hands be sufficient for him; and be thou an help to him from his enemies (‘against his oppressors’, J.N.D.)". Judah is given first place on several occasions in the Bible. See, for example, Num.7.12; 10.14; Judg.1.1-2; Rev.7.5. It has been suggested that "the voice of Judah" is heard in prayer, but Judah does mean praise, and it is worth saying that miserable people are not likely to make good leaders!
Whilst no reference is made here to the monarchy, Judah was the royal tribe, Gen.49. 10, and the Lord Jesus is "the lion of the tribe of Judah" Rev.5.5. Israel will triumph over all her enemies through Him, and believers today can say, "we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us" Rom.8.37. Very clearly, continuity of testimony (as in Reuben) involves conflict (as in Judah).
It is noticeable that Moses makes no reference to Simeon. We do know, although it is not mentioned here, that whilst Simeon and Levi were united in "cruelty … anger … selfwill" Gen.49.5-7, it was only Levi who responded to the call, "Who is on the Lord’s side?, let him come unto me" Ex.32.6-9. As C. H. Mackintosh observes, "Where was Simeon on this occasion? He was with Levi in the days of nature’s self-will, fierce anger, and cruel wrath; why not in the day of bold decision for Jehovah?" Perhaps the omission of Simeon here is to emphasise the grace of God. He does not raise the question of Simeon’s failure.
c) Levi, vv.8-11
If continuity (Reuben) involves conflict (Judah), then the Lord’s people must ensure that they are in priestly fellowship with God. Without this, all is lost. This is now emphasised. At least three things should be noted here:
i) Priesthood is involved in guidance. "And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummin and thy Urim be with thy Holy One" v.8. It is generally presumed that the Urim and Thummim were two stones, but this is not actually stated in the Bible. They were certainly used, in some way not clearly expressed, to ascertain God's will in particular cases. See Num.27.21; 1Sam.28.6; Ezra 2.63. It does seem that the high priest placed his hand on them: hence "withdraw thine hand" 1Sam.14.18-19. Israel was guided by God through the Urim and Thummim, but He guides us through His Word. This involves fellowship and communion with Him.
ii) Priesthood is involved in instruction. It should be carefully noted that the men who "shall teach Jacob Thy judgments, and Israel Thy law" v.10, were men who had been faithful to God. They had been ‘proved’ at Massah and Meribah v.8. The allusion to Massah and Meribah is not clear. There is no reference to Levi in Ex.17.1-7 and Num.20.1-13. As J. A. Thompson observes, "The present verse suggests that the tribe of Levi may have been approved on these occasions, and some writers have conjectured that they may have acted as they did at Horeb, Ex.32.25-29, or at Shittim in reference to Baal-Peor, Num.25.1-9." Very clearly, reference is made to Horeb in v.9.
It is most important that men who teach in assemblies should be in touch with God. The Old Testament refers to "teaching priest" 2Chr.15.3, and it was evidently the will of God that the priests should instruct the people. See Mal.2.7. Bible teachers should be priestly men!
iii) Priesthood is involved in worship. They shall put incense before Thee, and whole burnt-sacrifice upon Thine altar" v.10. This is quite self-explanatory. But are we functioning in this way? The New Testament describes believers as "an holy priesthood" whose ministry is to "offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" 1Pet.2.5.
Divine blessing certainly rests upon those who act in this way, v.11, and while we would not use the imprecatory language in the latter part of this verse today ("smite through the loins of them that rise up against him"), rebellion against Divine order is most serious, whatever the dispensation.
d) Benjamin, v.12
"The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between His shoulders." This indicates the blessing of those who are in the enjoyment of priestly fellowship with God. Raymond Brown puts it nicely: "The tribe of Benjamin was never large (Ps.68.27), but they were beloved of the Lord. Despite their limited numbers and resources they could rely upon His support in difficult times, for the Lord shields and protects those who feel weak, inadequate or outnumbered. The one whom the Lord loves rests between His shoulders. God carries His children." The Lord had already helped His people in this way: see Deut.1.31. In Scripture, the shoulders suggest strength, and it is significant that in the parable of the lost sheep, Lk.15.3-7, the man places it "on his shoulders". Two shoulders were employed in the welfare of the lost sheep, but only one shoulder in the government of the universe, Isa.9.6. Think about it!
e) Joseph, vv.13-17
The people described in the blessings bestowed upon Reuben, Judah, Levi and Benjamin have a marvellous inheritance! They enjoy fruitfulness and strength. Joseph was given the position of Jacob’s firstborn son. See 1Chr.5.1,2. As such he had a double portion of his father’s inheritance, and is therefore usually represented in the tribal listings by his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. We must notice:
i) The fruitfulness of his inheritance, vv.13-16. "Blessed of the Lord be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath" (v.13). According to Gesenius, the word "deep" here refers to ‘waters making a noise’. We would say ‘springs of water’. The blessing continues with reference to the "precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things brought forth by the moon" v.14. J. A. Thompson explains that "The sun and moon are connected with the seasons, and so are thought of as influencing the seasonal crops". Even the mountains and hills are productive, let alone "the earth and the fulness thereof" vv.14-16. God’s people had an inheritance in which everything came from Him. They were totally dependent upon Him. It has been pointed out that the Hebrew word meged (translated "precious") is used five times in these verses: it denotes "that which is of the highest quality" (Raymond Brown).
It is so today: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (‘in the heavenlies’) in Christ" Eph.1.3. The "spiritual blessings" are enumerated in the verses that follow: "chosen in him … predestinated … accepted in the beloved … redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins" vv.4-7. We might well exclaim, "Blessed of the Lord be his land!"
We cannot leave these verses without noticing that at this point Moses interjects something from his own experience: "And let the good will of him that dwelt in the bush come upon the head of Joseph, upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren" v.16, J.N.D. It was at the burning bush that Moses heard the Lord say: "I am come down to deliver them … and to bring them … unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey" Ex.3.8. God had been faithful: Israel now stood on the verge of that "good land" that He had promised them. While we think of Joseph as "separated from his brethren" in the sense of being rejected by them and sold into slavery, Gen.37.26-28, the meaning actually lies in another direction. The word "separated" means ‘consecrated’ (Gesenius) and is usually translated ‘Nazarite’. See, for example, Num.6.2,13,18-21. The section therefore ends with a notably consecrated man enjoying a rich inheritance.
ii) The strength of the inheritor, v.17. "His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh." The term "thousands", as "in many places of the Old Testament, denotes a military grouping" (J. A. Thompson). As Raymond Brown points out, "Agricultural prosperity will be useless unless it is accompanied by military strength. The tribe must have the horns of a wild ox if they are to protect and preserve their abundant crops." In New Testament language, "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." We therefore need "the whole armour of God" in order to "be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" Eph.6.12,13. If not, we will cease to enjoy our inheritance.
The sacrifices of old time were of four sorts, as listed in Heb.10.5,6. There were sacrifices proper, a reference to the peace offering; offerings, meaning the meal offering; the burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin. Each of these foreshadows a particular aspect of Christ as He was in the world for God, and as He went to Calvary in submission to His will. The peace offering tells of One Who is in perfect harmony with His God and Father. The meal offering prefigures God's ideal Man Whose life was so pleasing to His Father and presents such a contrast to the lives of those around Him. The burnt offering speaks of Christ's utmost devotion, Whose commitment to His Father's interests was total. The sin offering foreshadows One Who, although He knew no sin, nevertheless was made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, 2Cor.5.21.
It might be helpful if we note a series of contrasts between the burnt offering and the sin offering. Both speak of Christ, but we ought to be alert to the different emphasis of each, so that as we engage in worship, whether individually, or collectively in the assembly, we may do so with intelligence. The Lord Jesus made clear that true worshippers not only worship in spirit, but also in truth, Jn.4.23,24. His statement is full of meaning, and part of that meaning is that true worship is not now concerned with physical sacrifices, (although we should remember that part of Christian worship has to do with the giving of material assistance, Heb.13.16), but rather with the spiritual truths they set forth.
ACCEPTANCE OR FORGIVENESS
In the burnt offering there is a question of acceptance, for the acceptableness of the offering was transferred to the offerer when he laid his hands upon it. How gratifying it must have been to read the words, "it shall be accepted for him" Lev.1.4. How much more gratifying for us to know that because of Calvary, God has caused believers to be accepted in the Beloved, Eph.1.6. All that the Father finds delightful about His Son is attributed to His people; we are graced in Him.
The sin offering was different, however, for now the unacceptableness of the offerer is dealt with by being transferred to the offering, so that atonement for sin can be made. The apostle Paul had this in mind when he wrote, "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" 2Cor.5.21. These words are an echo of what is stated in Lev.16.9, where the words "offer him for a sin offering" can be literally rendered "make it sin". Who can tell what it meant to Christ to be made sin; to be reckoned by God as if He were sin itself, and to be treated accordingly?
THE FIRE MAKING OR DESTROYING
In the burnt offering the fire is said to make the offering, for it is "an offering made by fire" Lev.1.9. As the flame fed upon the carcase, there was caused to ascend heavenwards that which spoke to God of Christ. As the flame progressed from one part to the other, (for the parts of the animal were laid in order, not at random), the varied excellencies of Christ came before the Father in all their acceptableness. The head would tell of His intelligent devotion; the legs His patient progress; the inwards His heart-affection and the fat His energetic determination to please His Father in all things. At Calvary these things that had been so delightful to His Father during His life, were now surrendered in holy sacrifice.
With the sin offering, however, the flame consumed the carcase, destroying it so that it was utterly done away. This is what Christ has done by His sacrifice, for "once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" Heb.9.26. Heb.13.11,12 interpret the fire for us. It was nothing less than suffering. The bodies of beasts burnt outside the camp find their counterpart in Jesus suffering without the gate. With this difference, however, that the animal was dead when it was burnt, but Christ suffered before He died, and in those hours of darkness upon the cross He endured what no tongue can tell. Every faculty was alert and alive to the pain. His senses not at all dulled by sin, as with us. He endured unimaginable horrors at the hand of His God because of our sins. The penalty was not one whit lessened because it was the Son Who was paying the price. The judgment was not less fierce because of Who it was that suffered under it. God said He would spare Israel "as a man spareth his own son that serveth him", Mal.3.17. Yet here is the Son beyond all sons, Who had served beyond all others, and He is not spared! As the apostle Paul wrote in Rom.8.32, "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?"
VOLUNTARY OR COMPULSORY
The burnt offering was a voluntary offering, for "of his own voluntary will" is the language of Lev.1.3. Christ came willingly to Bethlehem, stooping to take the servant's form and to be made in the likeness of men. His willingness took Him further still, for He humbled Himself even unto death, and that the death of the cross, Phil.2.8. His devotion was unmistakeable, for coming into the world He said, "Lo, I come, (in the volume of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God" Heb.10.7. Christ went willingly to Calvary, for although men "led Him away", it is also true that He "went forth" to that place to do the Father's will, Jn.19.16,17.
The sin offering was compulsory, however, for "let him bring", is the decisive and immediate requirement of God, Lev.4.3. Sin made its demands on Christ, and He would not rest until the obligation laid upon Him to settle the matter to His Father's glory was accomplished. He could say, "But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do" Jn.14.31. That He has satisfied every Divine requirement regarding sin is seen in the fact that He has sat down on the right hand of the One Whose will He had promised to do, Heb.10.12. He Who is the brightness of Divine glory, and the exact expression of the essence of God, had purged sins in such a glorious way that He could sit Himself down on the right hand of God in all His majesty with the utmost confidence, Heb.1.3.
Some people speak about the "church" they attend and of "going to church". Some use the word "congregation". The words "church" and "congregation" are found in the Scriptures. However, when speaking about Christians coming together according to the New Testament pattern, then the words "assembly" and "gathering" are to be preferred since they convey more clearly the spirit and intention of the meetings. These words more accurately describe the sentiment of the word in the original Greek text "ekklesia". The words indicate a company who have come together with a common faith, mind and cause and who have gathered out from worldly influence, form and organisation.
There were different occasions when believers came together for spiritual activity in the New Testament. These included:
The Breaking of Bread, Acts 2.42; Acts 20.7; 1Cor.11.20-34:
While a specific Scripture is not cited to support gospel work there is no doubt that there were many occasions in the New Testament when God’s people came together with unbelievers present and the gospel was proclaimed; see 1Cor.14.23; 1Thess.1.8. Frequently men stood together in public places to preach the word, Acts 17.22. Today gospel halls, tents, prisons, community centres, streets and individual homes are used in gospel work. These are all public places. We must not therefore think that preaching in a gospel hall is not part of fulfilling our commission to "go into all the world". There is a present danger that the gospel meeting is being relegated in its importance and even discarded in many places on the false premise that it does not have Scriptural support. The writer of this article strongly believes that every assembly should convene regular gospel meetings (weekly as a minimum) and that these have an important place in a wider range of outreach activities. The commandment we have to "preach the word" should not be relegated to a place of lesser importance compared with social type work among the deprived and vulnerable in society. There is a place for both preaching and the practical expression of the gospel to the "whosoever".
Even a superficial examination of the gatherings and Scriptures cited above shows us:
These gatherings were not necessarily in a building. It is not the building that is important. Location does not determine whether a meeting is an assembly gathering.
These gatherings were generally in connection with a local church (as a company not necessarily in a building).
This is not an exclusive list of gatherings. There were in New Testament times other occasions when God’s people gathered together on a wider basis than a local assembly. Nowadays, conferences for ministry of the Word and specially convened gospel outreach activities are arranged to bring believers from different local assemblies together. These are wholly consistent with the Scriptural aims of building up, encouraging, exhorting and feeding God’s people and reaching the lost.
The whole assembly could not and, in certain cases, should not be present at all these gatherings. An assembly gathering cannot therefore be defined as a meeting at which all members of the assembly have the right or ability to be present. Some meetings are for specific members of the assembly. It is obvious that only elders will be present at an elders’ meeting unless others are invited to discuss a particular aspect of the work of the local company.
Some of the gatherings listed are generic descriptions. For example our present Bible teaching meetings would include ministry of God’s Word, Bible readings and Bible classes. These meetings may have the same purpose but take different formats. The same is true in relation to gospel activity.
It is possible for a gathering to have more than one purpose. For example, suitable ministry of the Word may take place at the Breaking of Bread or prayer meeting. Prayer and reading of the Scriptures should take place at every meeting.
DEFINITION OF AN ASSEMBLY GATHERING
Assembly gatherings cannot simply be defined by reference to location or a list of meetings as presented in the New Testament. Assembly gatherings would generally be characterised by the following key features as a minimum:
The saints "come together", see 1Cor.11.17,18,20,22,33,34:
The Lord is present, see Matt.18.20:
The Holy Spirit is present and active in the company, see 1Cor.3.16; Eph.2.22:
The Lordship and the pre-eminence of Christ are acknowledged, 1Cor.11:
There is godly order, 1Tim.3.15; 1Cor.14.40:
The saints are functioning in priestly capacity, 1Pet.2:
Spiritual gifts are being exercised, 1Cor.14; Eph.4:
The purpose is that the Lord has His portion and the saints are edified, Eph.4.
We must note that it is possible for believers to meet and for outward form to be in order, but the Lord may not be present because of other difficulties. The Lord’s presence can be conditional upon godly order, see 2Cor.13.11. Such a meeting may not therefore be a Scriptural gathering in the fullest sense of the term.
It is also possible for believers to meet together for social reasons. The whole assembly may be invited to someone’s home for supper but this would not make the occasion an assembly gathering. The Scriptures might be read and prayer offered for food or before departing but few would suggest that this becomes an assembly gathering. It is appropriate to distinguish occasions when certain Scriptural principles of gathering do not necessarily apply.
SOME ISSUES TO CONSIDER
There is the potential for us to adopt a rather simplistic approach to assembly gatherings. Some may argue that since Scripture only shows us a limited number of gatherings, anything outside these examples does not constitute an assembly gathering. If this very restrictive approach is taken, it could be argued that Scriptural order need not prevail at any other gathering outside the list irrespective of the nature of that gathering.
There are many occasions when the saints meet together and the definition of an assembly gathering (as set out above) is met, yet these circumstances may not be in the New Testament "list". We would not suggest that practices that prevail in the recognisable local assembly gatherings, should not be observed at these other occasions. It would grieve the vast majority of the readers of this article to suggest that tent meetings or conferences for example are gatherings where Scriptural order need not apply. Notwithstanding the format of a meeting, its location, its composition or its purpose, it is perfectly reasonable to expect Scriptural principles (particularly those set out in First Corinthians in relation to participation, headship and dress) to apply whenever the saints come together unless it is explicitly a social occasion.
Taking account of the definition given, it is not helpful to categorise some meetings as assembly gatherings and some otherwise. For example, the view of the writer is that Sunday Schools are assembly gatherings. Others take a different view. But both may be missing the point. It is not what a meeting is called but what Scriptural practices should be observed that is important. A rigid definition based on the New Testament "list" only could lead to certain meetings becoming occasions when Scriptural principles are set aside.
It is also important that we do not adopt practices within a specific meeting to accommodate unscriptural actions. For example the suggestion that a gathering stops being a gathering at a certain point or after certain things have taken place is foreign to Scripture. To divide a meeting with prayer after which Scriptural principles no longer apply borders on the bizarre. Commonly used expressions such as "the meeting proper" have no Scriptural sanction.
APPLYING THE TRUTH
There is a need to take a broader view on the definition of an assembly gathering. It is not simply limited to a list of six or seven meetings. A work might take place outside a normal place of meeting or with only a proportion of the saints present which can be legitimately considered an assembly activity and where Scriptural order must apply. For example activities in gospel tents, in the open air or through the use of Local Authority accommodation can be undertaken by a single assembly or a number of assemblies acting in unity and should be deemed to be an extension of assembly testimony. In such gatherings Scriptural principles should apply. Sunday schools, children’s meetings and conferences would also come within this category and should also be occasions when Scriptural principles should be adopted. Just as it is inappropriate for a sister to take a public role in any meeting so it would be inappropriate for sisters to speak (including the public reading of Scripture and asking questions) in a Bible Class or in an open air. The subject of sisters taking a Sunday school class is not addressed within the compass of this article.
Sometimes assembly meetings or outreach activities are convened in a house. These are extensions of the work of the local testimony and Scriptural order should again pertain. As a general principle, extreme caution should be taken in developing any work in the home. It should have the support of the assembly as a whole. Meetings in a house should not be a means of side stepping Scriptural principles, a device to allow sisters to take part or go uncovered or a basis for the development of a clique. Regrettably these problems do arise.
The question has been raised as to whether weddings and funerals are assembly gatherings. The simple answer is that they are not, they are private functions. However, as far as believers are concerned, there will be a time when prayer is offered, Scripture is read, the gospel may be presented, the Lord is present and there is a desire for God’s blessing. On this basis they can be considered as an extension to the testimony and the view of the writer is that sisters attending should both be covered and silent. When believing sisters attend these occasions and have their heads covered this is often noticed by those "outside" and may lead to healthy enquiry.
Unless individual assembly members are specifically excluded (because of the nature of the meeting) then there should be a deep desire and determination to be at all assembly gatherings, Heb.10.25. We are in a poor state when attendance at meetings is treated in a casual way. Some saints stay away from the meetings because "we do not like Bible readings" or worse "the gospel meeting is for the unsaved not for us". Sadly these comments are frequently heard. We need to be careful not to adopt an approach whereby we arbitrarily determine that some gatherings are not assembly gatherings and therefore that attendance is optional and Scriptural order does not need to apply.
If we believe in the autonomy of the local assembly, subject to the Lordship of Christ and obedience to God’s Word, then it is not for other assemblies to judge the practices elsewhere (often from a position of ignorance). There is an onus on local elders to promote Scriptural practice in relation to assembly gatherings and to ensure that all the saints are aware of the standards that are expected. Elders should therefore give guidance about suitable behaviour and attire at every occasion of gathering.
The late Jack Hunter said in his analysis of this passage, "Let us learn the lesson that we can never make Christ or the gospel popular to men". We must therefore be extremely cautious not to be governed by what unbelievers think, neither in our preaching nor assembly practice! There is a tendency that says, "give them what they want and they will listen to what we have to say." Make it more attractive and appealing and talk to them in their own terms and they will understand! This is human logic and not Divine instruction.
Let us be clear that they did not understand the preaching even of the Lord Jesus, as John chapter 8 would illustrate. The Lord asked the Jews, "Why do ye not understand My speech even because ye cannot hear My word" v.43. This had nothing to do with the message or the words He used. It was because of a basic inability in them and indeed in all unbelievers, "ye cannot hear". In v.47 He further amplifies this fact, "He that is of God heareth God’s words; ye therefore hear them not because ye are not of God". Our preaching then is not to be determined by the understanding of the unbeliever.
Neither is it to be governed by the acceptability of the unbeliever. Again in John chapter 8 it is evident that the preaching of the Lord Jesus was not acceptable to them for they took up stones to stone him, v.9. We have listened to the arguments against open air preaching based upon the comments of unbelievers, that it annoys them or even makes them angry and frustrated. This, we are told, does not engender good community relationships and perhaps it does not, but it is the Divine commission! The Lord Jesus frequently preached in the open air and the apostles in the book of Acts carried on open air preaching. It has far more Scriptural basis than a gospel meeting held in a hall and perhaps it is the discomfort of believers that is more the governing factor in these objections. Let us stop the attack on a practice that is soundly based in biblical precedent and if we can’t support it ourselves then at least let us have the grace to stop putting hindrances in the way of those who want to be involved in this kind of evangelism.
We must be careful not to be sidetracked from God given Scriptural precedent because we want to attract unbelievers to our meetings. Let every believer take care before God not to push patently unbiblical methods even to the extent of causing disunity or division amongst the believers. May God help us not to be sidetracked into discussions of using worldly methods, in the presentation of the gospel.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 2 Paul tells us how he preached the gospel. In vv.1-5 he draws attention to 3 matters surrounding THE TESTIMONY OF GOD.
v1, His Declaration
The word "declare" simply means to proclaim or announce in strong terms. In proclaiming the gospel Paul’s emphasis was not on the use of superior language presented in the best possible terms for his audience. Note this is the very best of language that Paul is discounting. Neither did he apply human knowledge, intellect or understanding in the gathering together in his thoughts of what he was going to say. It was not with natural wisdom. If we allow ourselves to conform to preaching governed by natural wisdom, we sadly miss the mark. What Paul proclaimed was the "Testimony of God". It was the witness sourced and characterised in God Himself. Note well these two principles – sourced from God and characterised by God. It is from Him we receive our words, matter and message and what we say must bear witness to and be in character with His holy and Divine attributes and Presence!
v2, His Determination
Paul was determined, fully resolved about the content of his preaching, "Jesus Christ and Him crucified". Sadly some modern versions translate this as "Jesus Christ, the One who was crucified". Paul’s point is that the preaching would certainly be about the Person of the Lord Jesus but would also focus with great emphasis on the work He accomplished at the cross of Calvary. Nothing else would do and nothing else will do. Note again Paul well knew that this kind of preaching was a stumbling block to the Jews and just plain foolishness to the intellectual Greek, 1.23. Nevertheless he was not moved to change his approach but was determined it was Christ and the cross and nothing else! This is not a popular message but it is a powerful message, "To us which are saved it is the power of God" 1.18. The Person and the work of Christ at Calvary were the centre and circumference of the message Paul proclaimed.
v4, His Demonstration
We are living in a day when physical presence and personality projection are paramount in public presentation. Paul made no attempt to fill that role model; so much so that the Corinthians said that his bodily presence was weak. There was no great charisma but he was with them in "weakness, fear and in much trembling". Paul shook before the task of presenting Christ to the Corinthians; such was his burden of heart and his appreciation of the One that he served. The result was a vessel that the Holy Spirit could use and through whom the power of the Spirit could be demonstrated and this was seen in that, "many of the Corinthians hearing, believed".
When will we learn the lesson that what we need is Divine power through the Holy Spirit of God and when will we be willing to conform our lives to allow that power to be demonstrated among us? This approach was not only to safeguard his preaching but so that their faith may be established in the power of God and not the ingenuity of men.
Next in vv.6 - 9 he focuses in more detail on the WISDOM OF GOD.
The wisdom of God frustrates the wisdom of this world. It is not just that worldly wisdom is forgotten in the process of time but that it is rendered null and void. It is brought to nothing and so are the worldly rulers who employ it, v.6.
In contrast the wisdom of God was employed in the foreordination of our eternal glory through the revelation of the mystery of the gospel, v.7.
What an astounding indictment, that it was men who failed to grasp the wisdom of God who crucified the Lord of glory in their ignorance. Worldly men and women are still ignorant of Divine wisdom and latently just as hostile to Christ and the gospel today as they were then. When will we ever realise that we cannot compromise to have friendship with the world, v.8? Again modern versions do not give to the Lord Jesus the full import of this title by translating "our glorious Lord" instead of the "Lord of Glory". He is not just glorious, He is all glorious and His glory is supreme above all other glories!
Finally in this connection natural faculties are futile in apprehending the wisdom of God! Eye, ear and heart are the normal means of receiving and understanding communication but this is not the case when it comes to Divine truth, the things that God has prepared for them that love Him, v.9.
Thus in the last section, vv.10-16, we are directed to the SPIRIT OF GOD.
Revelation can only come through the Holy Spirit. He alone pervades all that is of God; He searches and knows those deep things of God that are unfathomable to men. Note Paul says "us" here meaning the apostles, they are the ones to whom revelation has come through the Spirit, v.10.
Notice too that the reception of the Spirit is a prerequisite reason for knowing the things of God, v.12.
Paul undoubtedly refers to Scriptural inspiration in v.13. How important to see that the very words of Scripture are inspired by the Holy Spirit and not just the ideas and concepts as some modern translations of the Bible would promote today: "Words which the Holy Ghost teacheth" v.13. Human wisdom cannot educate men to a position of understanding no matter how intellectual they may be. How blessed that what was taught to the apostles was communicated and what we believe was preserved by the same Spirit in the Holy Scriptures for us today. The principle is thus established that spiritual things are communicated by spiritual means and we are obligated to keep worldly and natural means out of the equation.
V.14 is an absolute statement. The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God. Some modern versions have here "the person who is not spiritual" but that is not accurate and loses the distinction Paul is going to build upon between the natural man, the spiritual man and the carnal man, continued in chapter 3. Note again "neither can he know them" - it is an utter impossibility! This is the person who is unconverted and is not indwelt by the Spirit of God. How great is their darkness and only the Holy Spirit can shine to dispel it.
In contrast, how privileged are believers. The Holy Spirit enables us to apply discernment to come to conclusions about the things of God, in the God given capacity endowed upon us. Let us also realise that spiritual men and women will ever be an enigma to those who are unbelievers, v.15.
The great objective of course of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ to us. The natural man cannot know the mind of the Lord but we have the mind of Christ revealed to us through the working of the Divine Spirit. Let us endeavour therefore to be more moulded into the character of that anointed Man, exalted at God’s right hand and bow to the sovereign sway of the Holy Spirit in our lives and testimony.
Psalm 41 was written by King David and is the last Psalm in the first of the five books into which the Book of Psalms was originally divided: Psalms 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150. Each book concludes with a doxology. Only v.9 in Psalm 41 is Messianic. This verse refers to David’s betrayal by Ahithophel, his counsellor, whom he had regarded as a trusted friend. This verse was quoted by the Lord Jesus Christ when He spoke of His betrayal by Judas Iscariot, Jn.13.18. When quoting the verse, the Lord omitted the words "mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted".
David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had arranged for the death of Uriah, her husband, 2Sam.11.1-27. David had confessed his sin to God and had been forgiven, Ps.51; Ps.32, but God had told Nathan the prophet to inform David that, although he had been forgiven, "the sword shall never depart from thine house ... I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house" 2Sam.12.10,11. David’s sin was forgiven but his family and the nation would suffer as a consequence of that sin, 2Sam.12.10,14. It is blessedly true that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin", 1Jn.1.7, and we can receive forgiveness of our sins, but this does not mean that there will be no consequences, in this life, for us and for other people who are affected by our sins, "for whatsoever a man soweth, that he shall also reap" Gal.6.7. Psalm 41 arose out of David’s experiences following the rebellion of his son Absalom.
The Lord will preserve him - vv.1-3
It seems likely that David had been ill and that his enemies hoped that he would not recover, vv.5-8. David was weak physically and no longer had the control over his kingdom that he had in the past. However, David knew his God, and knew that He blesses the one that "considereth the poor" v.1. Such a caring person will be blessed, or made happy. God is not unmindful of the way in which people treat one another. We read in the beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" Matt. 5.7. The poor referred to in v.1 could mean, not only those who were lacking in money, but those who were experiencing poor health. David had helped in the past, people who were in trouble and he found comfort in believing God would yet "preserve him, and keep him alive". David was confident that he would be "blessed upon the earth" and delivered from his enemies, v.2. He believed that God would care for him in his sickness, strengthen and heal him, v.3.
He hath lifted up his heel against me - vv.4-9
David knew that when he sinned with Bathsheba, he had sinned against God. He knew that the problems and troubles he was experiencing were a result of that sin, and he prayed for mercy and healing, v.4; Ps.51.4. Sin, sadness and suffering inevitably go together as do righteousness and happiness. Because of David’s sin, his enemies found it easy to speak evil of him and they were waiting for him to die as a result of his illness and wanted his name to be forgotten, v.5. When his enemies came to see him they feigned sympathy and concern, and yet when they went out from his presence they gladly made public David’s sin and weak condition, v.6. All David’s enemies plotted and conspired against him, v.7, and said that it would only be a short time before he would die of a foul and evil disease which had been inflicted upon him because of his sin, v.8.
Ahithophel had been David’s trusted friend and counsellor, 2Sam.15.12. Ahithophel was, however, Bathsheba’s grandfather and wanted revenge for David’s seduction of his granddaughter and the murder of her husband, Uriah. Ahithophel betrayed David and endeavoured to help Absalom. David wrote "mine own familiar friend (the friend of my peace), in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me", v.9.
In His omnipotence, the Lord knows all things and He had always known that Judas Iscariot would betray Him, Jn.13.10,11; 6.64. The Lord said "I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scriptures may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me", Jn.13.18. The expression, "lifted up his heel against Me", carries the thought of a horse deliberately and viciously kicking its owner. Judas had been with the Lord and had seen His deeds that revealed His power, love and compassion. He had seen evidence of the Lord’s grace and mercy and had heard His teaching, and "Never man spake like this man", Jn.7.46. The Lord was "full of grace and truth" Jn.1.14. He could say "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" Jn.8.46, and could claim that He always did those things that pleased his Father, Jn.8.29. Judas betrayed the Lord. He was not one of those who had been chosen and given by the Father to the Son, Jn.13.18; 17.2: he had never been saved, Jn.6.64-71. Judas’ betrayal of the Lord was a fulfilment of Scripture, v.9, and telling His disciples that He knew it would happen would both comfort them and strengthen their faith when later they would be preaching the gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the hostile world, Jn.13.19.
Ahithophel had eaten bread at David’s table and Judas had eaten bread with the Lord, Mk.14.18. It was regarded as base treachery to harm a man whose hospitality had been enjoyed. In the Upper Room, the Lord identified His betrayer by personally giving him the sop, Jn.13.22-26. The giving of the sop, that is, bread which had been mixed with other food used in the feast was a token of love and friendship. It was after the giving of the sop to Judas that Satan entered into him and the Lord sent him out into the night to carry out the betrayal, Jn.13.27,30. Judas addressed the Lord as "Master", Matt.26.25,49, but never as "Lord", and it is important to notice that the Lord did not quote Ps.41.9 in its entirety, Jn.13.18, but omitted the words "mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted". Judas was never the Lord’s own "familiar friend". The Lord never trusted him because He knew from the beginning who would betray him, Jn.13.11. Nevertheless, when Judas betrayed the Lord, the last thing the Lord said to him was "Friend (Gk, hetairos, comrade or companion), wherefore art thou?" Matt.26.50. Both Judas and Ahithophel committed suicide by hanging themselves, Matt.27.5; 2Sam.17.23.
Judas had spent a great deal of time with the Lord but had never been saved. However, Demas, who forsook the apostle Paul, might well have been saved. Believers can still backslide and fall into sin. There are three references to Demas in the Word of God, Philem.24; Col.4.14; 2Tim.4.10, and in the last of these references Paul wrote, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world". Demas was not prepared to lead a life of separation from the world and to God, and he became a backslider. We cannot lose our salvation, Jn.3.36; 10.27,28, but we can still sin, backslide and fail our Lord and Saviour. We need to stay very close to the Lord and remember the admonition, "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" 1Cor.10.12.
Blessed be the LORD God of Israel - vv.10-13
David had been occupied with, and had written about, his feelings of guilt and sadness in connection with his past sins and their consequences, but in the closing verses of the Psalm his thoughts turn again to his unchanging, gracious and merciful God. He asks God to be merciful and raise him up again from his bed of sickness that he might requite or repay those who had spoken evil against him, v.10. As king, David would have to punish those who had attempted to overthrow his rule.
David had been preserved during his illness and had not died. God had protected him from his enemies and David knew that his survival was due to the mercy and favour of God, v.11.
The statement made by David in v.12 is full of significance. He is no longer concerned and troubled by memories of his previous sins and the feelings of guilt associated with them, but now he says "Thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before Thy face for ever" v.12. When Nathan had confronted David with his sin, David had confessed saying, "I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die" 2Sam.12.13. David trusted in the mercy and forgiveness of God, and if we "confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" 1Jn.1.9. God is holy, Lev.19.2, and God is righteous, Rom.3.21,22, and the Lord Jesus Christ "once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" 1Pet.3.18. God "made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" 2Cor.5.21. David had peace with God, and believers can rejoice with Paul who wrote, "being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" Rom.5.1.
The Psalm closes with a doxology, an outburst of praise to God. David wrote, "Blessed be the LORD (Jehovah) God (Elohim) of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen" v.13. The name Jehovah is the name of the eternal, unchanging, independent, covenant keeping God of Israel. Elohim speaks of omnipotence, majesty, creatorial and governing power. The word translated "blessed" in v.13 is not the same as the word so translated in v.1. In v.1 the word "blessed" is connected with happiness, in v.13 the word used calls for God to be praised, blessed and adored. The last Psalm in Book 1 of the Psalter ends with "Amen, and Amen", that is, "so be it, so be it", or "truly, truly". All of God’s people could then, and can now, join in and support the ascribing of praise to Almighty God.
Just recently, the plight of "Los 33", the Chilean miners who were trapped 700 metres below ground in the San José gold and copper mine, engaged the attention of millions around the world. We listened daily to the news bulletins, fearing the worst but hoping for the best. For 69 days they waited, hoped and prayed, yet often they must have pondered the possibility of perishing without ever being retrieved from the bowels of the earth. Their case seemed truly hopeless until a narrow shaft was drilled and an inserted camera detected that some of the men at least were still alive. Thus began the urgent efforts to reach the men and effect their rescue.
The remarkable feat of engineers in drilling a shaft into the very place where the miners had been imprisoned for over two months, has won the admiration of all who learned of it. What jubilation was seen when the specially constructed rescue capsule emerged from the narrow exit with the first miner on board and in an astonishingly short time the other 32 were brought up to meet and embrace family and friends who had maintained a vigil for all of those 69 days. Thank God, they were all saved – at last.
It is impossible for many of us to understand what it meant for those brave men to be separated from loved ones for all those weeks and to be completely unable to help themselves; knowing it was useless to cry for help as no one could hear.
Yet that is exactly how it is with all of us because of sin. Isaiah 59.2 reminds us, "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear." We are totally incapable of saving ourselves; our best efforts are completely futile and like those miners, rescue must come from above. How glad I am that I can tell you that "… God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" John 3.16. "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all …" Romans 8.32.
How wondrous the redemption plan,
Designed by God for ruined man!
His blessed Son in death laid low,
That He might endless life bestow.
It must indeed have been extremely costly to rescue those miners but no one complained and the joy of reunion far outweighed the mammoth effort and incredible expense to deliver them. My friend, have you ever stopped to consider for one moment what it cost God to provide salvation for us? Creation but cost Him His breath; He spoke gigantic worlds and billions of galaxies into existence; but to save us from hell and the lake of fire forever He had to send His Son into this world. The Lord Jesus went to Calvary and there offered to become responsible for the sins of the whole world and bear the awesome punishment for sins that we had committed. After six hours upon that lonely tree, rejected by the world and forsaken by His God, He at last cried in mighty triumph, "It is finished" and He died.
The judgment fell on Jesus’ head,
By His shed blood sin’s debt is paid;
God’s justice will demand no more,
And mercy can dispense her store.
My dear friend, I urge you to trust the Saviour God sent and thus accept the salvation the Lord Jesus has provided.