In our previous studies 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.
THE LORD’S PAST CARE FOR THEM, vv.1-5
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.
THE LORD’S PRESENT PURPOSE FOR THEM, vv.6-25
We have already noticed that 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 birth, and that the sequence in which the names occur is nothing less than an orderly unfolding of spiritual truth. It is noteworthy that there is not the slightest hint of criticism or censure. On the contrary, what follows is a statement of God’s purpose for His people, which He will achieve, vv.28-29. Thus far, we have noticed the following:
a) Reuben, v.6
"Let Reuben live and not die; and let not his men be few." This emphasises the continuity of the nation. In spite of all the crises in their history, both past, present and future, the nation would emerge victoriously. Even at the end-time, when they will face "the dragon" with all his fearful power, Rev.12.13, the nation will "live and not die".
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.]". We have noticed that while 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.
c) Levi, vv.8-11
"And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummin and thy Urim be with thy Holy One" v.8. 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.
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 Hhis shoulders." This indicates the blessing of those who are in the enjoyment of priestly fellowship with God. Although His children are weak and inadequate in themselves, they enjoy His love and strength.
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 ("Blessed of the Lord be his land…for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun…and the moon") and strength ("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"). This brings us to:
f) Zebulun and Issachar, vv.18-19
C. A. Coates puts it rather nicely in saying, "With such moral conditions, and such a wealth of spiritual blessing, as we have seen in Reuben, Judah, Levi, Benjamin and Joseph, there is a fine basis for evangelical activity, and this is set forth in Zebulun and Issachar." Both tribes are called upon to rejoice, Zebulun "in thy going out", and Issachar "in thy tents", and both tribes were involved in calling "the people unto the mountain". Paul expresses his joy in serving the Lord as follows: "For God is my witness, Whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son …" Rom.1.9. His service (his "going out") was permeated with intense devotion: it was far more than a servant doing a job. There was no resentment or complaint. He served gladly and willingly. If the gospel preacher and the evangelist are to serve with joy, then the local assembly ought to be a place where visitors are welcomed by rejoicing Christians. There can be nothing worse than an assembly which is cold, unfeeling and unwelcoming, or, to put it bluntly, ‘dead as a doornail’. In any case, an assembly that doesn’t "call the people to the mountain" hasn’t got a very bright future.
Do notice the two things that would occupy the people who respond to the call: they find fellowship with those who "offer sacrifices of righteousness [not idolatrous sacrifices]: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of the treasures hid in the sand". In the first place, the Lord receives their worship ("they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness"), and in the second, they are maintained and sustained by drawing on "the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand". As C. H. Mackintosh observes so well: "Thus it is always in principle. It is our privilege to rejoice in the Lord. Come what may, and to draw from those eternal springs and hidden treasures that are to be found in Himself."
It is always worth asking, ‘how would the tribes themselves understand the words of Moses?’ In this case, "new forms of trade and commerce will be open to them; with convenient access to sea and lake, they can engage in fishing, and develop skills in the manufacture of dyes (from shell fish) and glass-work (from sand)" (Raymond Brown). Zebulun is certainly connected with the sea, Gen.49.13, and J. A. Thompson suggests that "it is not impossible that Zebulun and Issachar provided transit areas for the products of the sea without being actually on the seashore".
g) Gad, vv.20-21
The territory allocated to God lay on the east side of Jordan. The blessing on the tribe commences with the words, "Blessed be he that enlargeth Gad!" It could therefore be said that the result of calling "the people unto the mountain" with their subsequent involvement in worship and enjoyment of God’s rich provision, v.19, is enlargement. Every assembly ought to have this in mind. We say that ‘numbers are not everything’, but this hackneyed expression can disguise lack of gospel enterprise.
Moses describes the strength of Gad, "he dwelleth as a lion, and teareth the arm with the crown of the head". He continues by recording the fact that the Gadites were not selfish in their enjoyment of their inheritance, but honoured the command of "the lawgiver" (Moses) by agreeing to support their brethren in the conquest of Canaan ("he came with the heads of the people, he executed the justice of the Lord, and his judgments with Israel"). Read Num.32.1-33 and notice that when the time came to enter Canaan (this was still future when Moses was speaking), Gad and his colleagues were as good as their word, Josh.1.12-18, for which they were duly commended, Josh.22.1-3. This reminds us that another result of calling "the people to the mountain" and its sequel, is fellowship in combating the enemy. The presence of Gad, and his east-Jordan colleagues, in the battles for Canaan, recalls Paul’s desire for the assembly at Philippi: "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel" Phil.1.27.
h) Dan, v.22
"And of Dan he said, Dan is a lion’s whelp: he shall leap from Bashan." Bearing in mind that Gad is described as "a lion", v.20, it can be said, by way of application, that involvement in spiritual conflict requires strength akin to that of a fearless and energetic young lion. Such strength is promised to Dan, and to us. We can, and ought, to be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might" Eph.6.10. But we still have to explain the connection between Dan and Bashan, since there does not appear to be any historical link between them. Dan’s territory, either originally or later, was not located on the east of Jordan. Leaving aside (of course) attempts to alter the text, perhaps the best explanation is given in the commentary by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown: "His proper settlement in the south of Canaan being too small, he by a sudden and successful irruption, established a colony in the northern extremity of the land. This might well be described as the leap of a young lion from the hills of Bashan."
i) Naphtali, v.23
The portion of Naphtali reminds us that while we are a warring people like Gad and Dan, we are at the same time a people who have acquired a rich inheritance, which the Lord intends us to enjoy to the full: "And of Naphali he said, O Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord: possess thou the west and the south." As C. A. Coates points out, the words "satisfied … full … possess" convey "a great deal more than having title". There is a big difference between familiarity with Bible teaching about our blessings in Christ, Eph.1.3-14, and the enjoyment of them day by day. Jeremiah was a man who enjoyed what he knew: "Thy words were found and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart" Jer.15.16. It has been said that "the west" is the direction from which the rain came: the "showers of blessing" came from the west, Lk.12.54, and the south is the place of warmth. Achsah had "a south land" as an inheritance, Judg.1.15. Our inheritance is warm with the love of God.
j) Asher, vv.24-25
The final blessing appears to be all-embracing, and it could be said that the words of Moses here describe the result of all that has already been said.
Firstly, assurance for the future: "Let Asher be blessed with children [‘sons’, J.N.D.]", reminding us that every assembly ought to pray with Rachel, "Give me children or else I die" Gen.30.1.
Secondly, good relationships: "let him be acceptable to his brethren", reminding us that every assembly ought to be a place of which it can be said, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Ps.133.1.
Thirdly, excellent productivity: "let him dip his foot in oil", referring to the olive groves. The men of Asher would have understood Moses perfectly since the Galilean highlands (which included part of Asher) were famous for olives. According to J. A. Thompson, one of the Jewish Midrashim contains the saying, ‘It is easier to raise a legion of olives in Galilee than to bring up a child in Palestine’". This reminds us that the "fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace …" Gal.5.22. C. A. Coates has an excellent piece here: "A man with his foot dipped in oil will move amongst the brethren in ‘kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control’ Gal.5.23, JND".
Fourthly, strong security: "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass" or "iron and brass shall be thy bolts" (J.N.D.). (According to J. A. Thompson the word minal means both ‘sandal’ and ‘lock’ or ‘bolt’). Bearing in mind that Asher stretched along the coast from Acre to Tyre, and was on the highway by which invaders entered Palestine, strong fortifications were necessary. In other words, a fairly strong case can be made for ‘bolts!’
Fifthly, unbroken rest: "As thy days, so shall thy strength [‘rest’, J.N.D.] be." This is a fitting conclusion to the section. Rest is a prominent and characteristic feature of the inheritance, and Moses had said, "ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God giveth you" Deut.12.9. Although it was the Lord’s desire then for His earthly people to enjoy rest in Canaan, this lies still in the future, but every believer rejoices in the Saviour’s words, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest … ye shall find rest unto your souls" Matt.11.28-29.
The final section of this remarkable chapter, which we have entitled ‘The Lord’s future blessing upon them’ vv.26-29, will be considered, God willing, in our next study.
In the first paper we noted that there are many contrasts between the burnt offering and the sin offering. We considered the following, being the first three of six: Acceptance or Forgiveness; The Fire Making or Destroying; Voluntary or Compulsory. This paper outlines the last three.
SWEET SAVOUR OR INTENSE DISPLEASURE
The burnt offering was a sweet savour offering, God's being delighted by that which spoke to Him of Christ. When Noah offered his burnt offerings after the flood, it is said that the Lord smelled a sweet savour, Gen.8.20,21. These words could be rendered literally as "a savour of rest", or "a soothing fragrance". After looking upon all the turmoil and unrest of the pre-flood world, God could at last rest in what spoke to Him of Calvary. After all the distress to His heart, when men's imagination was only evil continually, how soothing for Him to enjoy the fragrance of Noah's sacrifice, anticipating as it did the effects of the work of Christ.
The sin offering was not like this, however, for there is no mention of a sweet savour with it. Sin is hateful to God, and gives Him no pleasure. Surely it gave God no pleasure to judge His Son. It is true that Isaiah wrote, "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him", Isa.53.10, but this means that it was God's good pleasure, His determining will, to do this thing. Much as a convicted criminal may be "detained at Her Majesty's pleasure", we may be certain that Queen Elizabeth derives no enjoyment from that situation, but it is her sovereign pleasure nonetheless. Because Christ was made sin, He must needs be treated by God as if He is that detestable thing. From that standpoint there was no pleasure for God in the matter.
NEARNESS OR DISTANCE
The burnt offering was burnt on the altar, which became known because of this as the altar of burnt offering, Ex.40.29. This was the place where God promised He would meet with His people, Ex.29.43. The altar becomes the point at which God, sacrifice, and people meet. Such is Calvary, for did not the Lord Jesus say, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me" Jn.12.32?
The major part of the sin offering, however, was burnt outside the camp, the place of rejection. So the burnt offering emphasised the nearness of Christ to the Father as He undertook the work of sacrifice, whereas the sin offering highlighted the distance at which Christ was put because of our sin. As the prophet said of Israel, "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear" Isa.59.2.
HEAVENWARD OR DOWNWARD
The burnt offering was lifted up onto the altar, the blood was sprinkled round about upon the altar, and a sweet savour ascended up from the altar, so everything was elevated heavenwards. The "burnt offering gospel", is the gospel of John. It is that gospel which emphasises the relationship between the Son and the Father typified so wonderfully by the burnt offering. The gospel, too, which tells of the upward journey of Christ via the place of sacrifice.
He speaks to Nicodemus of ascending to heaven, Jn.3.13, then speaks of being lifted up on the cross, as the brazen serpent had been lifted up, v.14. He speaks of giving His flesh for the life of the world, then asks, "What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?" Jn.6.51,62. He refuses to allow Mary to touch Him, because He was not yet ascended to the Father, Jn.20.17. (Her contact with Him must be a spiritual one, forged once He had returned to His Father and sent down the Spirit from thence.) Yet His conversation with Mary took place in the garden of the place where He was crucified, Jn.19.41, thus linking the sacrifice and the ascending together. He speaks of His ascent in the place of His sacrifice. Just as the angel who appeared to Manoah and his wife ascended up in the flame of the burnt offering, Judg.13.20, may we not say that in a grander way, Christ has ascended in the flame of His sacrifice? Yet John does not record the ascension, as if to indicate that the return of Christ to heaven was to him a foregone conclusion.
With the sin offering, however, all was downward. The animal was burnt on the ground, (except the fat which was burnt on the altar), the blood was poured out at the base of the altar, (except what was sprinkled before the vail, or on the altars), and the fire consumed the carcase until all that was left was a heap of ashes on the ground. How low Christ was prepared to go for us! Not content with descending to earth, He humbled Himself still further to the depths of suffering at Calvary. But He Who went so low, has been taken up so high, for the same God and Father Who required His obedience, has "also" highly exalted Him, Phil.2.9.
Whilst all these things are true, it is also instructive to notice that God was careful to preserve the integrity of the person of Christ even in these Old Testament illustrations. God is a jealous God, jealous of His own glory and that of His Son.
So we find that the sin offering is killed in the same place as the burnt offering, on the north side of the altar, and before the Lord, Lev.4.24. The same place witnessed the death of two very different sorts of sacrifice. Calvary, too, witnessed the death of one Who combined in His person both the burnt offering and the sin offering aspects.
Again, we find that although the major part of the sin offering was to be burnt up outside the camp in the place of rejection and loneliness, the fat was to be burnt as a sweet savour on the altar of burnt offering, Lev.4.8-10.
Yet again, we read that the sin offering was to be burnt where the ashes of the burnt offering were poured out, in a clean place, Lev.4.12. The ashes of the burnt offering had been collected with due ceremony and deposited in a clean place outside the camp, Lev.6.11, and it is in this selfsame place that the sin offering was burnt, so that when the fire had done its work, a pile of ashes remained that was a mixture of burnt offering ashes and sin offering ashes. Could anything more graphically preserve the integrity of Christ, in that even when dealing with sins in the place of abandonment, He was associated by God with that which spoke of full acceptance? God spared not, but it was His own Son that He spared not. God gave to the horrors of Calvary, but it was His only begotten Son that He gave, Jn.3.16.
May the Lord help us to have an enhanced appreciation of these things, so that we may offer to our God the intelligent and adoring worship He so much desires from our hearts. "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" 1Pet.2.5.
In thy meditations O my soul, there is one department which thou wilt do well to consider; namely - "The Christian's Warfare." Rare qualities are needed in warriors, and great honours are heaped on the victorious; but who praises the coward? Alas, he stands at the head of the dark list of the lost, in Rev.21.8. "But the fearful," - "The fearful" here means those who are afraid to confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour, from the fear of consequences. They are cowards in reference to Christ. This, in God's sight, is a sin of the meanest and blackest character; for such evidently know something of Christ and of His goodness, and yet they are ashamed of His name before men. Therefore, under the ignominious brand of "the fearful," or cowards, they are consigned to their own place in the lake of fire.
But these, being altogether unbelievers, cannot be contrasted with those who are valiant for Christ. It is only with believers that we have to do in meditating on Christian warfare. Nevertheless, there are some amongst us who are but little skilled in the use of the shield and sword, and shew but little courage in the day of battle. Training is necessary, with a perfect knowledge of the enemy's position, and of our own vantage ground. Therefore we invite — we entreat, all our readers, and especially our youthful Christian readers, to study with us the important subject of the Christian's conflict. You are enlisted, you do wear the uniform, you ought to fight; victory is certain, the honours are everlasting; and only think of Him who is your "Leader and Commander." You will have no such opportunity of distinguishing yourselves for Christ in heaven. Lose no time then in waking up to the consciousness that you are soldiers, and that you must learn to fight. There is no discharge in this war, and no truce with the enemy.
But what of thine own experience, O my soul, in this warfare? Knowest thou well the sound of the trumpet that calls thee to battle? Art thou always ready and willing to obey the summons? A false humility might lead thee to plead thine own weakness, and a would-be honouring of Christ might lead thee to plead His strength as sufficient without thee; but thou must never plead either the one or the other to get rid of responsibility. And, remember, it is more with the wiles than with the strength of the enemy thou hast to contend. This is an important consideration and one that must never be forgotten. Who can speak of his wiles, his depths, his snares, his stratagems, innumerable? These must not be underrated. We need both the wisdom and strength of the Lord to resist them; and of these the apostle here speaks.
"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might." This is the first sound of the trumpet, we may say: and to what, we enquire, does it call the saints - does it call thee? Certainly not to survey the stronghold of the enemy, or to shew thee what thou hast to overcome; but sweetly to turn all thy thoughts to the Lord Himself. Before a word is said about enemies or conflicts, thou art called to survey thy strength in the mighty Lord, as seated at the right hand of God in the heavenlies. This is grace - the grace of the Lord Jesus, and like the ways of the Spirit when acting towards us for Him - "Be strong in the Lord." But this touches a high note of privilege and blessing, as well as of security and strength. Clearly, this is the first thing to be understood: what are we to understand by the words - "IN THE LORD?"
All through this epistle the apostle speaks of the saints as seated together in heavenly places in Christ. In chapter 1 we learn that God raised Him up from the dead, and set Him in the heavenlies. In chapter 2 we learn that God in doing this, laid the foundation of our association with Him there. In chapter 3 we are seen as a testimony to principalities and powers, that they might learn by this unity the manifold wisdom of God. In chapter 4 the doctrine of the "one body" is unfolded. In chapters 5, and 6, practical exhortations are given on the ground of these great truths. Hence the saints are addressed in the passage before us as "in the Lord". This is where they are for themselves in virtue of their union with Him as risen and exalted. It is the common heritage of all that belong to Christ; and their own proper place, according to the counsels of God. But here they are exhorted to use it as a fortification against the wiles of the enemy. And this we must do if we would be victorious, and fully enjoy our proper Christian privileges.
But in what way, thou mayest ask, am I to fortify myself in a heavenly Christ, against the wiles of Satan? How can he reach me there? It seems difficult to understand the true character of this conflict.
Unless the enquiring Christian knows his position as a member of the body of Christ in the heavenlies, according the the teaching of the epistle to the Ephesians, there will be great difficulty in understanding the true character of this conflict. The portion of Scripture before us is evidently addressed to such. It assumes that we have died and are risen again in Christ; that we are sitting in heavenly places, and enjoying our heavenly portion in Him. But Satan and his hosts are also regarded as in heavenly places; so that there must be conflict if we would practically maintain our position there.
It will be seen then that this conflict is not merely the mortifying of the flesh, or contending with the temptations of this world, though these, of course, have to be overcome. Neither is it, as many think, a question as to the state of our souls before God. He who has clothed us with the best robe, killed for us the fatted calf, and fitted us to be guests in His own presence chamber, has no conflict with us. And there need be no doubts or fears as to the final results of His grace. It is really a question of fighting with wicked spirits, who deceive and reign in darkness. Hence the exhortation, "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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 heavenly places."
We are here reminded of the Lord's directions to Joshua, and of Israel's enemies in the land of Canaan. These were types of the mightier and deadlier foes with which the Christian has to fight. The Canaanites were but enemies of "flesh and blood;" we have to encounter wicked spirits in heavenly places, even principalities and powers. These titles give us some idea of their supremacy over the human mind, at least over those whom they have first blinded, 2Cor.4.3,4. To resist such enemies as these, we must be armed with the panoply of heaven - "The whole armour of God." Mere human wisdom and strength are of no avail in this warfare. But it will assist us greatly to consider first, and briefly, the character of the wars in Canaan.
It is important to familiarise ourselves with the whole range of Scriptural truth, including Bible prophecy. No one would doubt that it is intriguing, particularly in the light of ongoing events throughout the world. Constant developments in the Middle East are of special interest, for that will be the arena in which the fulfilment of many prophecies will be played out. However, our fascination with the subject should never blind us to the fact that in many passages truth about the future is presented as something to influence our lives here and now. Lord willing, this series of articles will focus on some of the passages in which these practical applications are made.
THE DAY APPROACHING – Hebrews 10.25
Not every expositor is convinced that "the day" in the verse refers to the Lord’s coming, and some relate it to the impending destruction of Jerusalem, an event of great moment for Jewish believers. It should be noted though that even in the first century, believers were in expectation of His imminent return. In this very chapter we are told, "For yet a little while, And He that shall come will come, and will not tarry" v.37. Obviously, the undefined mention of "the day" leaves room for different perspectives, but it is interesting that another unqualified reference to "the day" points clearly to the day of review that will immediately follow the rapture, 1Cor.3.13. In light of that I will treat the phrase as referring to that event, and admit that I would never have even suspected an alternative had I not read some old books! If that interpretation does not sit easy with you, be good enough to allow it as at least an application of the verse!
There is little doubt that most believers have a conviction that the day of the Lord’s return is close; everything seems to point to it. In 2Tim.3.1-9, Paul painted a vivid word picture of the moral (or immoral) situation of the last days, and the narrative is a commentary on the universal state of modern society. Dysfunctional family life gets a mention. The moral climate is cited. The eclipse of religion by an insatiable appetite for pleasure is an apt description of the present age with its orientation towards sport and entertainment. With other features, these are pointers to the fact that the day is approaching.
Images of events thousands of miles away can be beamed into every home in the land, and because of that there is heightened awareness of the appalling calamities that befall the peoples of the world. However, very few would argue that it is only the more extensive news coverage that leaves the impression that there has been an escalation of these tragedies as compared with previous centuries. It is a reality; the number of devastating earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, famines and epidemics that have afflicted the planet has increased enormously. There are concerns, real or perceived, about the effects of long term global warming with the threat of the inundation of coastal cities. Men of the world wonder about it all, but many believers feel that coming events cast their shadows before them. In other words, the feeling is that these awful catastrophes and potential dangers are but the run up to the dreadful events of the Great Tribulation and since, by a number of years, the rapture precedes that time - The day is approaching.
The Political Stage
The major players in the last phases of human history are being manoeuvred into position. The State of Israel was established in 1948 after almost 2000 years of Jewish dispersion. Russia is a menacing military power, sympathetic to Iran, two of the allies in the invasion of Israel predicted by Ezekiel in chapters 38 and 39. Far Eastern powers are increasingly dominant both militarily and economically, pointing to "the kings of the east" of Rev.16.12. The inexorable advance towards federalism in Europe seems to be of great significance in light of the fact that there will be a last-days power bloc under the authority of the beast. The day is approaching.
If the day is approaching, if His return is as near as we anticipate, what are the implications? How should it affect our lives? Here are a few suggestions from the passage in Hebrews.
While relating to a future era, it is a general principle that when iniquity abounds, "the love of many shall wax cold" Matt.24.12. It would be easy enough for us to allow the escalating wickedness of the last days to impinge on our resolve to go on for God, but the exhortation of Scripture is, "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering" v.23. The word "profession", or "confession" R.V., indicates an open acknowledgement. We often say that people "know where we stand", but do they know where we stand if we do not tell them? Many of you have been forthright in acknowledging that your faith is in Christ and that your hope for eternity is centred in Him. Never be persuaded to backtrack. As the days darken around you, and as the godlessness of your working environment intensifies, resist the temptation to soft-pedal your witness. Try to avoid watering down the gospel principles for which you have taken a stand. Don’t get blown off course by the cynical intellectual exponents of "The God Delusion" who regard you as brainless. Don’t permit the militant advocates of eastern religions to browbeat you. Never feel embarrassed by being labelled an extremist by the liberals who disdain the Word of God. Don’t lower your moral or ethical standards because they brand you a prude. Why should we ever be ashamed of Divine blessings and Divine promises? "He is faithful that promised." "Hold fast … without wavering." The day is approaching.
Consider One Another
The increasing wickedness of the last days is a powerful reason for believers to stand together and foster and strengthen the links of fellowship. In the face of satanic aggression, solidarity is a must. The innate desire to make self a priority has to be displaced by the disposition of the Lord Jesus, the perfect exponent of the teaching of Phil.2.4, "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others". Aquila and Priscilla considered Paul, and for his sake "laid down their own necks" Rom.16.3. The Samaritan considered the injured traveller and used his resources, his means of transport, and his finances to assist him, Lk.10.33-35. Dorcas considered the plight of the widows, and poured her energies into relieving their need, Acts 9.36-42. Consideration for others is a noble characteristic. "Consider one another." The day is approaching.
In the context, there is a particular way in which we have to consider one another; it is to "provoke unto love and to good works". There is license here for the believer to be provocative! However, the provocation in view is the positive incitement to practical care. Of course, consideration for others will generally produce a similar attitude in the recipient; kindness can beget kindness. If our attitude is positive and helpful rather than critical and abrasive, it will make others more inclined to love us in return, so "provoke unto love". The day is approaching.
It is interesting that "love and good works" are twinned in this verse, for in reality, they cannot be divorced. John always insisted that love is no mere emotion, but is always expressed in active deeds of kindness. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" 1Jn.3.18. God’s blueprint for your life involves you walking in good works, Eph. 2.10. One of the reasons for which He redeemed you was to place you among the people who are "zealous of good works" Titus 2.14. When they feature in your life, men will "see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" Matt.5.16. "Provoke … to good works." The day is approaching.
It has often been remarked that there is more to Christianity than attending meetings and there is truth in that. Christian living is a seven-day a week business. However, there is always the suspicion that behind the statement there is the inference that attending meetings is not of great importance. In actual fact, according to v.25, we are under mandate to be there: "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is". In the early chapters of Acts, there are frequent references to the solidarity of the believers and to them being together. Despite the shortcomings of the Corinthians they too were good attenders at the meetings. Paul envisaged "the whole church [having] come together into one place" 1Cor.14.23. Sadly, it appears that among the readers of Hebrews "the manner of some" was to absent themselves. The darkening days and the increased pressure demand that if at all possible we should be there, and be part of the ongoing process of "exhorting one another". Every believer is needed at every assembly meeting, not just the Lord’s Supper. The encouragement and strength that we draw from being together and the benefit of the exhortations is a vital part of God’s means of sustaining spiritual life. Avoid being absent. The day is approaching.
During the course of recent conversations it has become obvious that there is some lack of understanding of the Scriptural truth of ‘Head covering’. It may be that one of the reasons for this is that the subject is rarely taught publicly and, perhaps, it has been taken for granted that everyone knows what is required. This article is written positively, on the basis that there is a lack of knowledge and not a lack of obedience.
We take our authority from the Word of God and that is the basis of this article. Much of the space in this article is taken up with quotations from the Scriptures to corroborate the teaching. However, please note that while the quotations are extensive they are not exhaustive.
Before we can fully understand the subject of head covering we need to understand the subject of Headship.
THE HEADSHIP OF CHRIST
In the Scripture we read that Christ is:
Head of the Corner - "This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner" Acts 4.11. Relating mainly to the nation of Israel.
Head of the Church - "And He is the head of the body, the church" Col.1.18, and "Christ is the head of the church" Eph.5.23.
Head Over All - "And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church" Eph.1.22
Head Over All Principalities and Powers - "And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power" Col.2.10.
So whether we look at the material world or the spirit world, Christ is over everything in all spheres. Clearly He has complete authority and absolute supremacy, yet this is challenged in the world and rebelled against in Christendom. However, as believers we do have a responsibility to display in a practical way the Headship of Christ.
A definitive passage of Scripture from which to teach the subject of the Headship of Christ is 1Cor.11.1-16. We will see that the apostle Paul’s exposition, written under the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit, is given to an established local assembly. Please do not read this with the prevailing preconceived ideas that this was written for local cultural reasons, or was Paul’s own idea, or that it is anti-women! This is the inspired Word of God!
As some background for the next section, we believe that where the local assembly gathers to His name, and functions in collective capacity, Christ is present: "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" Matt.18.20. As we gather we must acknowledge headship.
In 1Cor.11.1-16 there are four main subjects raised by the apostle.
1. In the local assembly gatherings the Christian man should have his head uncovered: "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head" v.4. Again in v.7, "For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man".
2. In contrast to this a Christian woman should cover her head at these gatherings: "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered" vv.5,6.
3. The Christian man should have short hair: "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" v.14.
4. Again the contrast is that the Christian woman should have long (uncut) hair: "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering" v.15.
This is a short, clear series of statements by the apostle and these verses can stand-alone. However, in God’s gracious way we are given reasons for the statements made. This should prevent any misunderstanding when we implement the instruction given.
The overriding reason for all of these instructions from God is that of Headship: "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" v.3. This introduces the subject of authority. Within the local assembly the ultimate and absolute authority belongs to Christ, and so the responsibility of every man in the assembly is to acknowledge the Headship of Christ as taught in vv.4,7.
Not only is the head of every man Christ, but the head of every woman is the man. Again this is about authority. Confusion has resulted because the subjects of superiority, inferiority and authority have not been understood. This authority is the order that God established in creation and is seen in the fact that Adam was held responsible for sin’s entrance to the human family. Eve, being deceived, was first to take the fruit but Adam, as both head of the woman and of the human race, made a deliberate choice and he is cited as being responsible for the entrance of sin: "... by one man sin entered into the world …" Rom.5.12. In the local assembly, man is held responsible to God for what happens, therefore the man should always promote the authority of his head, i.e. Christ. The woman in turn promotes this by her acknowledgment of the headship of the man. Therefore, a woman’s failure to acknowledge the headship of the man breaks the God given order of woman – man – Christ - God. The mutuality of relationship between woman and man is seen in vv.11,12, "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God." In other words the woman is of the man in creation, and the man is of the woman in continuation. At no time is there any idea of superiority or inferiority, but rather the acknowledgement of authority.
The third part of the reason is "the head of Christ is God". The name Christ means the "Sent One" Who came to reveal God. We in turn reveal the person of Christ in our adhering to and obedience of His Word. While God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in complete equality they are different persons and while functioning together, they have different roles to fulfil. In a similar way, men and women, while functioning together but in their distinctive roles, should display practically in a God ordained way, the Headship of Christ. In addition to the reason of Headship, Paul states the reason of creatorial order, vv.8-12; the reason of natural witness, vv.13-15 and finally the reason of apostolic authority, v.16.
What is it that constitutes a masterpiece? Anne Richler, an art expert from New York, once said, "You know you've encountered a masterpiece because it stays with you for the rest of your life". It is defined as a supreme intellectual or artistic achievement. Every masterpiece should evoke some sort of reaction from the observer, whither it be curiosity, awe or even disgust. Sometimes a masterpiece is a work that is simply perfect. We can add nothing nor do anything to improve it. It is usual to see the signature of the artist, indicating that he has finished his work.
The above quotations reveal the signing off signatures of approval for the two greatest masterpieces in the universe. "It is very good", this is the signature of approval for the masterpiece of Creation. "It is finished", this is the signature of approval for the masterpiece of Salvation.
Master artists among men are inspired by what they see, by what already exists. For Van Gogh it was the sunflower; for Da Vinci it was the face of a woman; but for Almighty God, from absolutely nothing, from a subject matter that was void and without form, He created a scene of unimaginable beauty.
It is light that sets the mood for any painting. An artist will first of all capture the light. Almighty God made the light and on to that canvas that was dark, He added an intensity of light. He placed the sun in all its dazzling glory, and across the universe, He sprayed as it were from His brush, billions and billions of stars.
He adds texture. From the sand on the seashore, to the shimmering seas and oceans. From the plains of grass, to the forests of trees, from the lush valleys to the snow capped mountains.
He adds colour. From His palette He infuses onto His landscape every shade of the spectrum. From exotic fish in the corals and reefs in the tropical seas, to the amazing array of plant life and flowers that burst onto His landscape in a diversity and vibrancy of colour. Every detail adding more beauty; every layer adding more depth until the Artist reaches the climax of His creativity in the formation of the most intricate, the most sophisticated sculpture the world has ever seen. Not with brass or copper or any precious metal but with dust He forms man and into His sculpture He breathes the breath of life and man becomes a living soul.
Six days of labour and the sons of God shout with joy as they look upon the masterpiece of Creation, and the Master artist signs it off with His signature of approval, "It is very good".
Four thousand years later another piece is commissioned. This time the subject matter is not dark, void and without form, but it is the essence of light, it is pure and holy and altogether lovely and yet upon that canvas of perfection the Master adds blots of deep tones of crimson and scarlet. He uses a pigment that is as black as coal as stroke after stroke, the Lord lays "on Him the iniquity of us all" Isa.53.6. As He who was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" Heb.7.26, is "made sin for us" 2Cor.5.21.
Whereas in the first scene, to set the mood, light is added, here it is removed. The sun is covered over, as a scene unfolds which is too graphic, too explicit for human eyes to behold. A scene with such darkness and depth we could never imagine as "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities" Isa.53.5. The sons of God, who had shouted for joy as they had watched the Master turn something dark and void and without form into a scene of the utmost beauty, here they watch in silence as He takes something that is beautiful and turns it into a visage that is "so marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men" Isa.52.14: and yet the Master artist, after six hours of labour, signs it off with the ultimate signature of approval, "It is finished!" A scene that in the eyes of the world is worthless. In the sight of Heaven it is priceless.
His work stands in contrast to those of master artists among men. Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Art is never finished, only abandoned". His dying words were these, "I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have". The masterpieces of men, the most of them hang in the private galleries of billionaires, to be viewed by only a privileged few. The works of the Master can be appreciated by all in creation and in salvation for He says, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else" Isa.45.22.
There is a saying in the art world, "no one walks away from a Rembrandt unaffected". As we gaze upon the masterpiece of Creation, as we "in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hands have made". As we gaze upon the masterpiece of Salvation, as we "survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died" (Isaac Watts) well might we exclaim in reaction to the work of the Master, "how great Thou art!" (Stuart K. Hine).
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians Chapters 1 and 2 are Personal and the emphasis is upon God and the stream of grace that flows from Him. Chapters 3 and 4 are Doctrinal and the emphasis is upon the Lord Jesus Christ and the fullness of redemption. Chapters 5 and 6 are Practical and the emphasis is upon the spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit is not mentioned in chapters 1 and 2, but is mentioned four times in chapter 3, twice in chapter 4 and twice in chapter 6. Here in chapter 5 He is mentioned eight times, seven of which are found in verses 13-26.
Verses 1-12 deal with liberty that refuses to be entangled by the law or by false teaching, liberty in contrast to law or liberty and bondage, freedom and slavery. The section from v.13 to v.26 is divided into four parts.
(1) Verses 13-15 Called unto Liberty
(2) Verses 16-18 The Conflict between the Flesh and The Spirit
(3) Verses 19-23 The Contrast between the Works of the Flesh and the
Fruit of the Spirit
(4) Verses 24-26 The Control of the Spirit
(I.) Verses 13-15: Called unto Liberty – Liberty that manifests itself in Love. These verses show that true Christian liberty is the liberty to live within the sphere of the will of God, a life walking in the Spirit. The Galatians having given up this liberty for the law and its bondage were not keeping the law. Legality destroys what is of grace as implied in v.15 – biting and devouring one another. The essential quality of the life of God imparted to us when saved. The unrestricted flow of that love to others is the fulfilment of law.
Verse.13 ‘For’ This is the reason for Paul’s scorn heaped upon their offence. They were defeating the very purpose of their calling. They were not to allow liberty as an excuse for indulging the flesh, the evil principle ever ready to turn liberty into carnal license. They were to exchange bondage of the law for the service of love. As believers we ought to allow love to permeate our motives and actions, we ought to be in bondage to each other through love – love the motive and the energy.
Verse.14 You profess eagerness to fulfil the law – here is a sure way to fulfil it. Love is expressed in the law, the whole of the law. This is endorsed by the Lord. "Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets", Matt.22.36-40. Rom.13.8-9 states "Owe no man anything, but to love one another, for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law." Not because it is demanded by the law, but because it is the product of the Spirit.
Verse.15 Clearly there was internal strife. To bite as a serpent and to devour as a lion – acting more like animals than saints. Biting develops to devouring. The contest would not result in victory for either party but in the destruction of both, the spiritual life smothered. Strife destroys liberty and destroys the testimony.
(II.) Verses 16-18: The Conflict between the Flesh and the Spirit- The remedy against the power of the flesh in the believer’s life is walking in the Spirit that is being under or submitting to His control. Both the flesh and the Spirit are in the Christian and they never can be reconciled since the flesh is condemned and judged by God. Thus the continuous conflict while in this life.
Verse.16. The sure way of victory over the lusts of the flesh and the only way to enjoy true liberty and manifest the life God has bestowed. The exhortation is to walk boldly and firmly as enabled by the Spirit and involves the totality of Christian life and the development of Christian character. It is being under the control of the Spirit in every department of life. The Spirit will never guide one contrary to the Word of God.
Verse.17. In verse 16 there is a contrast between the Spirit and the flesh, but there is antagonism between the Spirit and the flesh, they are fundamentally opposed. We should not yield to the desires of the flesh. With the power of the Spirit we can overcome these desires.
Verse.18. Led of the Spirit, the Spirit leads and with determination we walk in the path directed by Him. The Spirit’s complete control of one’s life. The totality if the new life not being under the dominion of law.
(III.) Verses 19-23: The Contrast between the Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit- The contrast in these verses is vivid showing the evil the flesh produces in the unregenerated and the Christlike features the Spirit produces in true believers. "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit" Matt.7.16-17. The fruit described here is the result of the Spirit’s work in the believer which is manifested in the life. Verses.19-21 lists the inner desires of the flesh mentioned in vv.16-18.
Verse.19.These are manifested outwardly in works, the whole state of being in the flesh and indicating the character of one’s life. Such are excluded from the life in the Spirit. The list falls into four classes:-
Sensual Passions - the realm of sex
Sins of Spirituality – unlawful spiritual things, pagan practices
Social sins, violation of concern for others
Sins of self – indulgence. Intemperance- the realm of strong drink.
There are 17 things in the list:-
There are four in the first class - Adultery – unfaithfulness in marriage; Fornication pre marital and unlawful sex, it does not include adultery; Uncleanness – sensuality, impurity in word, thought or deed; Lasciviousness – unrestrained and shameless conduct – indecent acts which shock public decency - self indulgence.
Verse.20. has two in the second class - Idolatry – worship of idols the work of man; Witchcraft – sorcery which are related to drugs because thy were used in sorcery to draw attention to mystic powers – traffic with evil spirits, spiritism.
There are nine in the third class - Hatred – feeling of malice, hostility – contrast to love of one’s neighbour – not living peaceable; Variance – strife or discord, contentious – quarrelling; Emulations – jealousy, a longing to have what others have; Wrath – outburst of anger, fits of rage, uncontrolled temper; Strife – selfish ambitions, self-centred; Seditions – dissension, division through strife – dividing the saints not uniting them; Heresies – faction. Strong and self-willed opinions which lead to a sect’. The result of the former word; Verses.21 Envyings – displeasure at what another possesses – desire to deprive others of what they have; Murders – slaughter, kill.
The last class has two - Drunkenness – excessive indulgence in strong drink; Revellings – orgies, wild drinking parties and such like indicates the list is not exhaustive, these are but a sample. These shall not inherit – not that they cannot be saved but rather that they are not saved.
Verse.22. The fruit of the Spirit – contrast to works which indicate the energy of men. Fruit indicates an inward power – the Spirit’s power producing features seen in perfection in Christ. Fruit is singular indicating the unity of the cluster and also that the source and character is one. The fruit of the Spirit is ninefold – nine virtues combined in a perfect harmony of character. These virtues can be related to the Upper Room ministry. There are three groups of three:-
Godward:- Love – In John chapter 15 the Lord, immediately after speaking of fruit bearing, speaks of love. Love expressed by keeping HIS commandments. Not an impulse or sentiment or emotion; Joy – the joy of abiding in His love and doing His will. Delighting in His love and will. Discontent is no companion of love. Peace – A state of untroubled and undisturbed well being, the result of forgiveness enjoyed. A state of well being in harmony with all that God is.
Manward:- Longsuffering – suffering long without retaliation, enduring wrong without thought of revenge, patient waiting. Gentleness – the quality of kindness, the root of the Greek word means ‘useful’, serviceable, gentle kindness. Goodness – similar to above but here a kindly action for the benefit of others. The moral quality that is beneficial in its effect. The above describes the kindlier aspects of goodness whereas here it includes the sterner qualities.
Selfward:- Faith - faithfulness, trustfulness, loyalty. A firm persuasion and the results of that persuasion - conviction based upon what God says which is manifested in one’s life v.23. Meekness - being at home in the will of God – the quality of accepting God’s dealings with us - content in the pathway enduring all things knowing it is the Lord’s will Temperance - self-control-the grace whereby the flesh is controlled – mastery over self. Against such there is no law because they are produced by the Holy Spirit. Law exists for the purpose of restraint, but with the fruit of the Spirit there is no restraint.
(IV) Verses 24-26: The Control of the Spirit. Verse.24. This destruction of the flesh with its passions and lusts took place at the cross. This was potential when Christ was crucified but it becomes positional when a person trusts Christ. It is not practical but positional. Faith’s acceptance of what God accomplished by the death of Christ involves the acceptance of God’s verdict and condemnation of the flesh i.e. our standing in Adam. In accepting this we must then reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to God. Affections, passions and desires within; Lusts – what gives expression to the desires. These were fully dealt with at the cross and should have no place in the believer’s life.
Verse.25. If means since or in view of the fact, it is a statement of fact that every believer lives in the Spirit. This is not a question of doubt. To live in the Spirit refers to the life we received through the work of the Spirit and that life is dependent upon the Spirit – Since we have a new life supplied and sustained by the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit – The practical responsibility to the fact. ‘Walk’ a different word to v.16. There it is the general manner of life, here it is that life in relation to others. It means ‘to walk orderly or to keep rank’. To keep step with one another. The one who walks in the Spirit in his personal life will be exercised about keeping in step with fellow believers. Thus the harmony of the assembly will be maintained.
Verse.26. Our desire should be for a Spirit controlled life not for vain – glory, empty conceit or a false opinion of self. There should be not a claim to spirituality that is challenging one another or being envious. "And be at peace among yourselves" 1Thess.5.13.
What an interesting Book the Bible is! A remarkable collection of sixty-six individual books bound into one priceless volume. There are books of history, books of poetry, and books of prophecy. There are four books telling the lovely story of the life and ministry of Jesus, and there are twenty-one letters written to individuals and to congregations of Christians.
About forty different authors were involved in the writing and although the first and last of these lived centuries apart there is not one mistake, no contradictions and no discrepancies. The Bible is one inspired whole whose great message concerns God and His Son, God’s hatred of sin, and the remedy which has been provided.
And what a variety of men God used as His penmen: rich men and poor men. statesmen and herdsmen, shepherds and fishermen. There were kings, prophets, and poets. One writer was a doctor and one was a tax-collector.
They wrote in such a variety of places too: in palaces and prisons: in mountains and meadows; in deserts and in lonely dwellings; at home and in exile. They wrote in Judea, in Galilee, in Rome, in Corinth, in Ephesus and Patmos. Surely it must be conceded that the Bible is a remarkable Book which everyone should read.
But for many of us, reading would have been a problem for it was written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. These languages meant the precious volume was inaccessible to many who speak only English and so we are indebted to those scholars who over the years have spent long hours of painstaking study and research in translating the sacred writing for us so that we could understand them.
Four hundred years ago in 1611 AD a new translation was printed. It was the work of a group of such scholars, who with royal approval had undertaken the task of translating. Because they had royal authority for their work, and since the King at that time was James 1st, the finished translation became known as ‘The King James Version’ or the ‘K.J.V.’ and was known also as the ‘Authorised Version’ or the ‘AV’.
How important the Bible is to use, revealing the Holy character of God, telling us of His great love for men, but of his equally great abhorrence of sin. He is a God of love but also a God of light who cannot tolerate sin. How could such a God admit men to His heaven when He hates their sin? It seemed an insurmountable problem, but God Himself provided the answer and "the Holy Scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation" 2Tim.3.15. Paul the Apostle explains, "When the fullness of the time was come God sent forth His Son…to redeem" Gal.4.4,5. Another Apostle wrote "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" 1Jn.4.9,10. The provision of salvation for guilty men cost God His beloved Son and it cost the Son His life. A sinlessly perfect Man suffered and died for sins at Calvary. How? Why? The Bible explains that Jesus the sinless One became a substitute for sinful men. Those who trust Him as Saviour and confess Him as Lord can say simply, "He died for me" or, in the words of yet another Apostle, "He bare our sins in His own body on the tree" 1Pet.2.24.
O how unlike the complex works of man;
Heaven’s easy, artless unencumbered plan.
Reader, do determine to read and believe the Bible and know the enjoyment of forgiveness now and the assurance of a home in heaven when life is over.