In these delightful verses Moses bursts into praise as he contemplates the ways and purposes of God. Centuries later, having pondered the incomparable mercy of God toward Jew and Gentile, Paul does the same: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" Rom.11.33.
It could be said that Moses makes two major statements:
1) the Lord is unique, vv.26-28: "There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun" v.26;
2) the Lord’s people are unique" v.29: "who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord …!".
In describing the way in which the Lord comes to the aid of His people, Moses refers to His "help" and to His "excellency" v.26, and in describing the benefit that His people receive, Moses refers again to the Lord as their "help" and their "excellency" v.29. In relation to Israel’s enemies, the Lord would act on their behalf: "He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee" v.27, enabling His people to overcome them: "thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee: and thou shalt tread upon their high places" v.29.
1) THE LORD IS UNIQUE, vv.26-28
"There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, Who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in His excellency on the sky. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them". The Lord is described as (a) "the God of Jeshurun" v.26; (b) "the eternal God" v.27.
a) "The God of Jeshurun", v.26
As noted in previous studies (see our comments on 32.15; 33.5), Jeshurun is generally taken to mean ‘the upright one’, although some prefer ‘beloved of Jehovah’. On the basis of the former meaning, the name "Jeshurun" anticipates the ultimate uprightness of the nation, and therefore refers to their unassailable position in the will of God although, alas, this has not been reflected thus far in their history. The purpose of God for His people is emphasised in the prophecy of Isaiah, where Jeshurun occurs as Jesurun: "Yet now hear, O Jacob My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, My servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen" Isa.44.2. The combination of "Jacob" and "Israel", and "Jacob" and "Jesurun", points to God’s settled purpose for the nation. Like their ancestor, they will bear the name "Israel" in reality: "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed" Gen.32.28. They will also bear the name "Jesurun" in reality: "Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified" Isa.60.21.
Under Divine constraint, Balaam was obliged to say, "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel" Num.23.21, and God has never lost sight of His object in choosing Israel, even though they were totally unworthy of such a calling. Having recalled Israel’s abundant blessings, Moses was obliged to say, "But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation" Deut.32.15. But "the God of Jeshurun" will achieve His purpose. Having purged His people, leaving "in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people" who will "trust in the name of the Lord", they will become "Jeshurun" in truth: "The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid" Zeph.3.12,13.
This is an eloquent reminder of the New Testament exhortation, "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called" Eph.4.1. This has been conspicuously absent in the case of Israel, but as those who are "in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" 1Cor.1.30, we must "adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things" Titus 2.10.
"The God of Jeshurun" is not "a detached and distant deity" (Raymond Brown): "He rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in His excellency on the sky". According to Gesenius the word "excellency" means ‘magnificence’ or ‘majesty’. This striking statement combines His majesty and power with His care and concern for His people. David calls upon Israel to "extol Him that rideth upon the heavens" Ps.68.4, and another unnamed Psalmist calls upon his own soul to "Bless the Lord…Who maketh the clouds His chariot: Who walketh upon the wings of the wind" Ps.104.1-3. There can be no doubt that this was particularly meaningful at the time, when Israel was poised to invade Canaan, and during the subsequent conquest of the land. There is no doubt either that it has relevance to the end-time when, at the very moment of apparent defeat, the Lord will "go forth, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives" Zech.14.3,4.
How encouraging to remember as well that He is not ‘a detached and distant deity’ so far as we are concerned! Paul testified to this in saying, "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me…Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" 2Tim.4.16,17. We can rest in his promise: "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" Heb.13.5.
b) "The Eternal God", v.27
If as "the God of Jeshurun" He comes from above to help His people, then as "the eternal God" He both surrounds His people, and stands beneath them with Divine support: "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms". This beautiful statement has brought strength and comfort to generations of believers, and we should notice the following:
i)The guarantee of His support. He is "the eternal God". The undeviating testimony of Scripture is that God is without beginning and without end. He is "the everlasting God" Isa.40.28; Rom.16.26. His name is "from everlasting" Isa.63.16. Moses exclaimed, "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God" Ps.90.2. In the New Testament, He is called "the King eternal" 1Tim.1.17, or "the King of the ages" (R.V.), reminding us that in His sovereignty He presides over every period both in time and eternity. In short, the title, "the eternal God", reminds us that He is always present and will never fail. Indeed, He cannot fail!
ii) The availability of His support. "The eternal God is thy refuge". He is "our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" Ps.46.1. Raymond Brown makes the point that "after years in the wilderness, frequently striking their flimsy tents, they will soon encounter well-fortified cities with huge walls and strong gates. Their frail camps would shelter vulnerable, almost defenceless, communities", and asks "How would they fare?", with the answer, "The Lord guaranteed His invincible spiritual fortifications". Solomon would have entirely agreed: "The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe" Prov.18.10. Believers today can rightly say "A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary" Jer.17.12. When Judah, under Ahaz, sought help from Assyria, Isaiah counselled otherwise: "Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And He shall be for a sanctuary" Isa.8.13,14. The "glorious high throne" to which we resort is elsewhere called "the throne of grace" Heb.4.16, and "the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" Heb.8.1.
iii) The strength of His support. "And underneath are the everlasting arms". The Old Testament has a great deal to say about "the arm (singular) of the Lord", usually in connection with His ability to deliver His people and to destroy their enemies. But here Moses refers to the "everlasting arms" (plural) of the Lord, emphasising that His support is completely reliable at all times and in every way. His strength is complete. Unlike ourselves, and unlike the wicked, the strength of His arms can never diminish or be diminished: "for the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the Lord upholdeth the righteous" Ps.37.17. His "everlasting arms" are employed in tender ministry: "He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom" Isa.40.11. He did this when here on earth: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me…And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them" Mk.10.14-16.
With such a God, Israel was assured of victory: "He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them" v.27. This was certainly fulfilled in the conquest of Canaan, of which it was said, "they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but by Thy right hand and Thine arm" Ps.44.3. The Lord "thrust out the enemy" before them. But Israel was required to fight ("Destroy them"), reminding us that although we are assured of "the power of His might", we are required to put on "the whole armour of God" in order to "withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" Eph.6.10-13. At the end-time, Israel will again enjoy divinely given victory, and "the governors of Judah…shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left" Zech.12.6. While "Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree … all the days of Solomon" 1Kgs.4.25, there can be little doubt that Moses anticipated Israel’s millennial blessings in saying, "Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens shall drop down dew" v.28. Compare Jer.23.6, "In His days (when the King reigns) Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely". The expression, "the fountain of Jacob" appears to refer to Jacob’s descendants: "And Israel shall dwell in safety alone, The fountain of Jacob, in a land of corn and new wine" (J.N.D). The R.V. reads similarly. Dew is a symbol of divine blessing: see, for example, Hos.14.5.
2) THE LORD’S PEOPLE ARE UNIQUE, v.29
"Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and Who is the sword of thy excellency! And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places." It has been nicely said that "no one was like them because no one was like Him, v.26" (Raymond Brown). Israel had every reason to be a happy people. Having cried to the Lord for blessing upon "our sons … daughters … garners … sheep … oxen", David exclaimed, "Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord" Ps.144.15. Every believer can say, "Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God" Ps.146.5. We should notice that three reasons are given for the happiness:
i) The Lord was their Saviour. They were "saved by the Lord". Like Mary, every believer should be able to say, "my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour" Lk.2.47. He is "God our Saviour" Titus 1.3; 2.10; 3.4. The Lord Jesus is "our Saviour" Titus 1.4; 2.14; 3.6.
ii) The Lord was their shield. He was "the shield of thy help". The Psalms abound with references to the Lord as the "shield" of His people (see, for example, Ps.3.3; 5.12; 28.7; 84.11), and Agur said, "He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him" Prov.30.5. The Lord protects His people today, not necessarily from physical harm and danger, but from the spiritual harm that Satan and the powers of darkness would endeavour to inflict on the children of God, enabling them to say, "we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us" Rom.8.37.
iii) The Lord was their sword. He was "the sword of thy excellency". He not only defended His people ("the shield of thy help"), He defeated their enemies. The Midianites discovered that the Lord was the sword of His people when the cry rang out, "The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon", and "the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host" Judg.7.20-22. His sword has not lost its keen edge, and we must "take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" Eph.6.17.
With the Lord as their salvation, their shield and their sword, Israel could expect victory over their enemies: ‘And thine enemies shall come cringing to thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places’ (J.N.D), reminding us that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" 2Cor.10.4. Our enemies may not come ‘cringing’ to us, but "God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" Phil.2.9-11.
The children of Ham were settled in the land when the children of Israel entered it. But God had set it apart for Israel, Deut.32.8; and the Canaanites must be expelled from the land of promise.
"Arise," said the Lord to Joshua, "go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses," Josh.1.1-9. Up till now, we may say, there had been no fighting.
The wilderness was the scene of temptation — the place of discipline for themselves, not of fighting with others, though occasionally they had to combat foes, as in the case of Amalek. But now that they had crossed the Jordan and received their orders, they must fight for the possession of the land. Every inch of ground would be disputed by the enemy. But they had nothing to fear from the Canaanites: God was with His people, as He said to Joshua, "As captain of the host of the Lord am I now come." He had given them the land, and accurately defined its boundaries, but specified one condition as the only principle of actual possession. "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses."
It was only on this condition that they could possess the land, though freely given them of God. This is an important principle; note it, and see that thou understand it well. There was no fighting, strictly speaking, until they crossed the Jordan; after that, the sword was to be drawn, and ought never to have been sheathed while there was a Canaanite in the land. They had only to trust in God and be guided by His Word, and victory would follow them at every step. "There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life." This was God's sure word of promise to Joshua their leader. What an honour to be thus led, and led only to triumph — to plant the foot of victory on the neck of every foe. They were never to be left, never to be forsaken; His presence in power would always be with them, and His Word would be a sure guide to them. Only they were to be very strong, very courageous, and observe to do all things according to the Word of the Lord. But — alas, alas, we know what happened. They failed — they sadly failed. They followed not the God of Israel, though He was in their midst as a man of war. They never took possession of all the land which God had given to them. Nevertheless, the word of the Lord abideth sure. The day will come when in virtue of the death of their own Messiah, every man shall stand in his own lot, according to the boundaries assigned by God Himself. But now for:
THE APPLICATION OF THESE TYPES
Like Israel of old, the Christian, we may say, enters his heavenly Canaan without striking a blow. Crossing the Red Sea makes him a pilgrim and a stranger — brings him into the great scene of temptation; crossing the Jordan makes him a warrior — brings him into the scene of conflict. Thus we read in Ephesians, the great antitype of the book of Joshua; "But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Here, then, we are clearly taught what God has done for us, not what we have to do for ourselves. In His "rich" mercy and "great" love, He has brought us out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, the wilderness, the Jordan, and landed us in our heavenly Canaan. But we are not raised up to these heavenly places, merely to enjoy our rich privileges there; we have enemies to fight, like the people of Israel under Joshua.
It is not so difficult to understand the character of the fighting under Joshua; but what, may I ask, is the character, influence, or mode of acton, of these wicked spirits? Stratagem, cunning, and lies, are their most successful weapons. They will challenge thy title, question thy fitness, and in every way dispute thy present possession of the heavenlies. Thou must know thy ground well, at every point, in order to maintain it. And to this end, thou must be guided entirely by the Word of God, apart from feelings — thou must know what it is to be in heaven as a matter of faith, while still on earth as a matter of fact. Thou must also understand the blessed truth of being in the presence of God in all the acceptancy of Christ, though still here in the midst of difficulties, failures, and infirmities. In short, thou must maintain, in the face of every foe, thy present title to heaven, thy fitness to be there, and thy large possessions as an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ, 1Jn.4.17; Rom.8.17.
One of their most successful wiles is to insinuate, or boldly to affirm as the case may be, that Christians cannot enter or enjoy heaven till after they die — that their deliverance is not complete. This is one of the most subtle snares of the enemy, and by this lie thousands are deceived. He insinuates that our deliverance is not complete, neither as to the law, the flesh, or the world. Hence the bondage of many. But to those who know the truth as to their position in a risen Christ, it is a barefaced falsehood. Does not God say in His Word, that we are now seated in the heavenly places in Christ; that we may now enjoy the good things of heaven as the fruit of our own country; just as the children of Israel began to eat of the old corn of the land of Canaan, when the wilderness manna ceased? But no, says the adversary however sure you may think yourself of heaven, you cannot be there until you die; crossing the Jordan means the act of death. Hence the falsehood of Satan has become the belief of many Christians. "We believe we shall go to heaven when we die," is the doctrine of nearly all Christendom. Comparatively few would say, "We are there already, in Christ, and who shall separate us?" Not, observe, "We hope to join Christ in heaven when we die" — though that also is true — but being joined to the Lord now, we are there already, as one with Him; hence the challenge of faith is, "Who shall separate us?" Unless the Christian is master of his position, Satan will beguile him to settle down in his life. When we die and go to heaven, our fighting days are done. We shall need not armour there, thank the Lord. The soul rests in the paradise of God, and the body sleeps in Jesus until the morning of the first resurrection.
The latter part of the epistle to the Romans is devoted to issues that are intensely practical. Generally, chapters 12 and 13 deal with Christian Responsibilities and chapters 14 to 16 focus on Christian Relationships. As far as our responsibilities are concerned, the first priority is our duty to God: "present your bodies a living sacrifice" 12.1. If that has been done, other obligations will fall into place whether to the assembly, to persecutors, to civil authorities or to men in general. The two chapters conclude with a reminder that time is running out: "now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand" 13.11,12. The fact that we do not have long to go demands suitable moral conduct and that is the thrust of the last few verses of chapter 13.
Now Is Our Salvation Nearer
Are we not already saved? We are, for according to the verse "we believed". The religious world ridicules the believer’s claim to be saved; they brand it presumption, but it is a Biblical position, Eph.2.5,8. Paul wrote to Timothy about God "Who hath saved us" 2Tim.1.9. We have been eternally saved from condemnation. There is also a present aspect to salvation for we are those "that are being saved" 1Cor.1.18, R.V. This is daily salvation from the tyranny of sin. However, there is also a future aspect to salvation, for Peter wrote about a salvation that is "ready to be revealed in the last time" 1Pet.1.5. It is of a future salvation that our verse says, "nearer than when we believed".
When Tribulation clouds are gathering, there will be a need for an evacuation and that will be effected when we are "caught up", an experience that we describe as ‘The Rapture’, 1Thess.4.17. Hence "we wait for a Saviour", Phil.3.20 R.V. That Saviour is "Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" 1Thess.1.10. His promise is that we will be kept "from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world" Rev.3.10. The Rapture with its prospect of salvation draws near and is actually "nearer than when we believed", so what are the present implications?
First, be aware of last day conditions: "knowing the time" v.11. We dare not be blinkered to the fact that dark days require holy living, and that the approaching climax demands earnest commitment. Be like "the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" 1Chr.12.32. Read the situation as it is, and behave accordingly.
Then, be awake to moral dangers: "it is high time to awake out of sleep". Spiritual inertia and moral lethargy will deprive us of power just as surely as Samson’s slumber resulted in his weakness, Judg.16.19. Like the drowsy Jonah, we will be insensitive to the fact that men around us are perishing, Jonah 1.6. Our sleep will facilitate enemy activity, Matt.13.25. It will rob us of glimpses of both the glory and gloom of Christ as was the experience of His disciples, Lk.9.32; 22.45,46. "It is high time to awake out of sleep".
In ancient times, property diminished in value with the proximity of the Year of Jubilee, Lev.25.14-17. A trumpet blast inaugurated that year of release. We are straining for the sound of another trumpet blast, the "trump of God", the signal for The Rapture, 1Thess.4.16. As it draws close, does the value placed on material things lessen? Are we less preoccupied with what Scripture calls, "things pertaining to this life" 1Cor.6.4, "the things of the world" 7.34, or do they still dominate our agenda and cause us to relegate the issues that matter most? "Now is our salvation nearer" so let us prioritise our time wisely and well.
The Night Is Far Spent
The Lord Jesus taught that we are in the daytime, and "the night cometh" Jn.9.4. Paul is teaching here that we are in the nighttime, and "the day is at hand", but there is no conflict. The Lord was speaking about service: "I must work". Service can only be undertaken "from the rising of the morning till the stars [appear]" Neh.4.21. As far as our day of service is concerned, the sun is dipping over the horizon. Adopt the same attitude as the Saviour, "I must work."
In Romans chapter 13, Paul is describing moral conditions, and thus the metaphor of night is fitting. Remember though, that the New Testament always regards the Lord’s coming as imminent, and so we are told, "the day is at hand."
We wait to see the Morning Star appearing
In glory bright;
This blessed hope illumes, with beams most cheering,
The hours of night.
(Margaret L. Carson)
Seeing that the day has not yet dawned, and that dense moral and spiritual darkness still prevails, what is the believer’s strategy? Be attired with the right garments. We must first divest ourselves of "the works of darkness". The phrase is explained and expanded in v.13, where Paul highlights a cluster of these "works of darkness", a list of very distasteful activities.
One of the "works of darkness" is "drunkenness", v.13, and often, strong drink fuels some of the others. Alcohol erodes natural inhibitions facilitating a slide into the shameless conduct of which the verse speaks. It also promotes the belligerent attitude that is mentioned. The perils connected with strong drink cannot be overstated. That is why it is alarming that there seems to be an increasing number of believers who see no danger in what is called "social drinking". Where could it lead? No one would happily drift into the state of moral decline described in these verses, but alcohol could help you down that road. Ask Noah or Lot about that, Gen.9.20,21; 19.30-38. Abstinence would be one way of "making not provision for the flesh", v.14. A brother said to me recently, "My mother never set out to be an alcoholic"! No one ever does, but the first drink does the damage. "The day is at hand … cast off the works of darkness."
"Rioting" is "revelling" R.V. Worldly men concur with Scripture by describing part of their social activities, "night life". An integral part of nightlife is the revelling, the drink-fuelled raucous laughter that is like "the crackling of thorns under a pot" Eccl.7.6. Allied with it is "chambering", illicit associations, and "wantonness", the absence of restraint and decency, often reflected in dress, or in coarse, dirty language and disgusting behaviour. Elderly readers who have led a sheltered life may feel it is wasted space to even mention the dangers of nightlife in a Christian publication, but the warnings here do not originate in the heart of either the author or the editor of the magazine. They are embedded in the inspired Word of God. Thus we appeal to young believers. Your peers may influence you to accompany them to a seedy establishment. Stand your ground. You may even have alleged Christian companions who are very daring, and unbeknown to parents and elders they visit such a place after a Saturday meeting, and then take their place at the Lord’s Supper in the morning! Resist any pressure they try to exert. "The day is at hand … cast off the works of darkness."
"Strife and envying" complete the list of the disagreeable "works of darkness". Sadly, they could feature in the lives of people who would never contemplate involvement in anything so obviously evil as the previous items on the list. "Envying and strife" was "among" them at Corinth, 1Cor.3.3, and was an evidence of their carnality. We dare not allow these attitudes to sour the atmosphere of the assembly, and impede the spiritual growth of the company; there would be so little time to retrieve the situation, for "the day is at hand".
Put Ye On The Lord Jesus Christ
There are positive steps to be taken in light of the fact that time is running out. "Let us put on the armour of light." "Walk honestly as in the day." "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ." "The armour of light" is not expanded as in other passages where individual items of the armour are listed. The thought here is that positive holiness and practical righteousness will be a great defence against the insidious influences of the prevailing moral climate. "Be ye holy" 1Pet.1.15. "The day is at hand."
"Walk honestly." The word "honestly" does not relate exclusively to matters of financial integrity, although honesty in that sense should be part of the Christian ethic, in contrast to the sharp practices of the perpetrators of "the works of darkness." The need for reliability in money matters can never be overstressed. But most translations render this phrase, "walk decently", or "walk becomingly." It is a plea for a lifestyle that is as different from the unbeliever’s as day is from night, as light is from darkness. It is crucial; "the day is at hand."
In Scripture, on occasions, a positive command is followed up by a negative injunction. For example, "present your bodies a living sacrifice"; "be not conformed to this world", Rom.12.1,2. We will have no problems with the negative if we comply with the positive. Similarly here; if we "put … on the Lord Jesus Christ", we will not make "provision for the flesh." The skin of the burnt offering was for the officiating priest, Lev.7.8. If he followed the pattern that was set in Eden, then he would use it as clothing, Gen.3.21. It must have been impressive to see so many priestly men going around arrayed in the beautiful unblemished hides of burnt offerings. In a spiritual sense, believers should wear as clothing the delightful moral features of the Lord Jesus. "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us" Ps.90.17. Let us all be like Gideon’s brethren who resembled "the children of a king", Judg.8.18. If we put on the Lord Jesus Christ, then we will never make provision for the flesh by anything encountered through reading, viewing, or surfing. We dare not: "the day is at hand."
In the former paper we introduced the subject and in our consideration of 1Cor.11.1-16 we got as far as Headship and continue with the symbols.
To enable the truth of Headship to be displayed Paul uses two symbols. One is the ‘head’ and the other is the ‘head’! In vv.4,5 the use of head is literal and refers to the physical head of the man and the woman being covered or uncovered. When he speaks of the head being dishonoured, again in vv.4,5, the word head is used symbolically in respect of the man’s relationship to Christ and the woman in relation to the man.
Paul teaches that the physical head of the man should not be covered, because covering it would be a failure to display the Headship of Christ. In the case of the Christian woman her physical head is a symbol expressing the headship of the man. Therefore, within the context of the local church, her head should be covered so that she displays her acknowledgement of headship. If a man covers his head when the local assembly meets, he is bringing dishonour to his Head i.e. Christ. The word "dishonour" in this chapter means "to put to shame or public disgrace". A Christian man with uncovered head, in the gatherings of a local assembly is publicly displaying that Christ is Head, supreme and central, in the midst of His people.
With regard to the Christian woman, the same argument is applied. If her head (physical) is uncovered in a local assembly setting, v.5, she dishonours her head (figurative) i.e. the man. This is not confined to a husband and wife, but it involves man and woman. How then does she dishonour her head? The answer is that she dishonours him by making her position of responsibility equal to his, and so fails to show that the man and the woman have different positions before God. Not only this, but just as a man with an uncovered head directs attention to the one who is his Head, i.e. Christ, so the uncovered head of the woman would direct attention to her head i.e. the man, and that too would dishonour Christ by detracting attention from Him.
Christ must have no rival, and anything that diverts attention from Him is wrong. Christian men with heads uncovered are publicly declaring that Christ is Head. Christian woman with uncovered heads are publicly declaring that the man is head, and that is wrong in local assembly gatherings.
Lordship and Headship are inextricably linked to such an extent that submission to the Headship of Christ is in harmony with submission to His Lordship, and vice versa: one demands the other.
If a woman does not wear a head-covering in a gathering of the saints she is really saying: "I am not under the man’s authority, and I have an authority of my own". It is just the reverse of what a man would be saying if he wore a head-covering in a gathering: He would be saying: "I have no authority of my own and I am under the authority of the woman", for there is no one else there to whom he can bow in submission apart from Christ, and his submission to Christ would be shown by an uncovered head.
Just a point about the woman’s permanent covering, v.15, as there has been confusion over the years about her covering and her covering! The covering in v.15 is her permanent covering, as is stated; "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering." This is not the covering which has to be worn but her permanent covering; in fact, the word is different from that used in the preceding verses and so the covering taught elsewhere in the chapter is that which has to be added to the head as an acknowledgement of headship. So then if her head is not covered then her hair should be shorn, i.e. all cut off v.6, "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." God is not asking that the hair be removed, for He says that is a shame and so would be against His Word, but that the head is covered in the presence of Christ.
All assembly gatherings are alike in the fact that they are all sacred and we gather in God’s presence. It is the presence of God that sanctifies all the gatherings, not what takes place at them. Therefore the men uncover their heads at all gatherings and for the same reason the women cover their heads. This practice is not only to be seen when we meet in our home assembly gatherings, but wherever we attend the gatherings of another assembly, whether they practice it or not. We are not required to conform to the pattern of others who would not believe in the necessity of acknowledging headship. This is an individual exercise seen in collective capacity. If we accept it in our home assembly, we evidence our acceptance by our practice everywhere, even if we are the only people in the gathering to do so.
While the emphasis has been on local assembly gatherings, there are other times believers gather when we would acknowledge that we are in the presence of the Lord; times when public acknowledgement of this fact is made by prayer and the reading and attention to God’s Word. It does seem strange to publicly state at a wedding that, "we are gathered together in the presence of God and before these witnesses …", then deny that very claim by not acknowledging Headship. Likewise to gather at a funeral, read the Word of God, and invoke His blessing in prayer, but not demonstrate headship would be wrong. This would not only apply to weddings or funerals of believers. There are times when we are required to attend such occasions when the parties involved are unbelievers. As an acknowledgement to the reading of Scripture and prayer, albeit on many occasions just token acts by clergy, should not our obedience to headship be clearly shown, even among unbelievers? While it may not on its own justify the wearing of a head covering, it is interesting that in many communities it is expected by unbelievers that Christian women cover their heads on occasions such as those stated above.
There is no need to make this a contentious issue. However, in v.16 Paul gives his apostolic authority for giving such ministry. "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God." He has clearly stated that a man’s uncovered head and a woman’s covered head are both necessary to express the authority and glory of Christ in a local assembly, therefore we are not expected to follow the customs or fashions of the world, even the religious world, but the teachings of the Word of God.
The word "assembly" is derived from the Greek word "ekklesia". This word is made up of two words: "ek", out of, and "klesis", a calling (kaleo, to call). Sometimes this word is translated "church" or "congregation". To many the word ‘church’ directs attention to either a denominational sect or a building. It should be noted however that the word "ekklesia" is never used in the New Testament of a building. It is preferable therefore to use the word "assembly" in reference to companies of believers who gather into or unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Greek word 'ekklesia' is used of both the Church which is the body of Christ and local churches. Vine’s dictionary says that the word "ekklesia" has two applications to companies of Christians: "First it can refer to the whole company of the redeemed throughout the present era, the company of which Christ said, "I will build My Church" Matt.16.18, and which is further described as "the Church which is His Body" Eph.1.22; 5.23, and second in the singular number (e.g., Matt.18.17, R.V. marg., "congregation"), to a company consisting of professed believers, e.g. Acts 20.28; 1Cor.1.2; Gal.1.13; 1Thess.1.1; 2Thess.1.1; 1Tim.3.5, and in the plural, with reference to assemblies in a district."
These two aspects of the church were introduced by the Lord Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. In Matt.16.18 we read, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church". The rock was the truth contained in the confession made by Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" Matt.16.16. The expression "I will build" refers to something yet future when the Lord Jesus spoke these words. The "church" in its wider aspect came into being at Pentecost. In Matt.18.17 the Lord Jesus referred to what would later be understood to be the local church when an offended brother, having failed to resolve a personal dispute with his brother, should "tell it unto the church". The context clearly refers to a local church, for only a local company could deal with the situation in view.
Every true believer, from the birth of the Church at Pentecost to the rapture of believers when the Lord Himself descends to the air for His own, is part of the "church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all", see also Eph.1.22,23; 5.23,25; Col.1.18; Heb.12.22,23. Here the term "church" is used in a wide aspect of all who are saved in this day of grace. It is frequently designated by such terms as the universal church, the mystical church or the dispensational church although these terms are not used in the New Testament. The term "dispensational church" is preferred by many and will be used in the ensuing comments.
Those who constitute the Church, having been called out from this world, are so vitally linked to the Head in heaven that they, spiritually, are His body. This truth, developed in the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, is true of every believer irrespective of what his or her spiritual condition might be. In Ephesians (chapters 2 and 3) Paul develops the great dispensational truth of the Church as being comprised of both Jew and Gentile brought together in one body; he speaks of it as being a mystery, a truth previously hidden in God, but now fully revealed, "the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, Who created all things by Jesus Christ" Eph.3.9.
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY
A local assembly is composed of a group of Christians called out and called together by Him Whose name is the focal point of gathering. Christians (should) gather together in local assemblies in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The Lord does not want us to wait until we get to Heaven before we enjoy fellowship with one another. He expects us to meet with other believers in local churches. In this context the word "church" refers to a "called-out" company of believers who meet regularly in a particular locality. Whereas there is one Church there are many local churches.
Local churches or assemblies are composed of baptised believers who meet in the name of Christ, see Acts 2.41; Matt.18.20. Such companies meet regularly in a particular locality according to the New Testament pattern, Acts 2.42; Heb.10.25. This would include meeting for the breaking of bread, worship, prayer and the teaching of the Word of God. Such a company acknowledges the sole authority of the Word and the sovereign control of the Lord through the Holy Spirit Who indwells them, "Know ye not that ye (the assembly at Corinth) are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" 1Cor.3.16. Spiritual gifts are exercised under the control of the Holy Spirit and for the edification of the church. The members of a local assembly practise in worship and prayer the priesthood of all believers and, by godly living and the judging of sin in their own lives and in the assembly collectively, recognise the holiness of the assembly as the temple of God. Others may be received to the local assembly and whilst it is not an organisation it should have a degree of order and defined functions, Acts 9.26, 1Tim.3.1-16. The local assembly has geographic location, either unassembled or assembled, Acts 14.27; 1Cor.14.23. It has elders and the believers are to submit themselves to the guidance of the elders, 1Timothy chapter 3; Heb.13.17. It is in the assembled local company only that the Lord's Supper is observed; where Christians contribute to the support of the work; believers are provoked unto love and good works, 1Cor.11.18-34; Eph.5.19; 1Cor.16.1,2; Heb.10.24. The local assembly is not a denomination, but is simply a group of Christians who have joined themselves together for the purpose of worshipping God and collectively preaching the Gospel to the lost and edifying the saved, 1Tim.3.15; Eph.4.16.
In support of this description such local companies are designated in various ways in the New Testament including:
"Churches of God" 1Cor.11.16; the term "church of God" (apart from one or two debatable instances e.g. 1Cor.10.32) always refers to a local company;
"Churches of Christ", Rom.16.16; they belong to Christ;
"Churches of the Saints", 1Cor.14.33; they are comprised of sanctified ones, those set apart for God.
In the New Testament the following terms are also found: "Churches of the Gentiles" Rom.16.3,4, (in those early days, some churches were made up of just Gentile believers); "Churches of Galatia" Gal.1.1,2 (not the church of Galatia but churches of Galatia, thus recognising independent churches); Churches of Judaea" Gal.1.21,22; "The Seven Churches which are in Asia", Rev.1.4. The plurals here indicate local companies are in view.
CHRIST AS HEAD OF THE CHURCH
Col.1.18 and Eph.5.23 tell us Christ is the Head of the Church. This is the place the Lord Jesus has in relation to the dispensational Church and is to have in relation to local assemblies. As far as the physical body is concerned the head speaks of authority, direction, leadership and the seat of intellect. This has its spiritual counterpart in that the authority, direction, leadership and mind of Christ are to be acknowledged in the dispensational Church and its local expression.
Local churches are to reflect the character of the greater whole to which each member belongs, 1Cor.12.27, the Church which is His body and His bride. His relationship to each individual local church mirrors His relationship to the dispensational Church. Among other things this means that He is the Head of each individual church. In local assemblies therefore we are to follow the guidance of our risen, glorified Head in heaven. This requires dependence on His Word, prayer and the leading of His Spirit.
The converse of this truth is that if our Head is in heaven there is no need for any human "head" and "headquarters" on earth. Our headquarters are in heaven. Further, any prior obligation to man made codes, rules, creeds, covenants and rituals, which prevent complete obedience to the Head, are unscriptural and unnecessary. There is no intermediate hierarchy between Christ and individual assemblies. No archangel, no archbishop, no group of overseers representing several churches is given delegated power by the risen Christ to act on His behalf over several churches.
While Philemon could be included, there are three epistles that form the group commonly called the Pastoral Epistles. The main theme of these is ‘the deposit’. These could be loosely entitled as:
1Timothy - Protect It - 1Tim.6.20, "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust …"
2Timothy - Preach It - 2Tim.4.2, "Preach the word; be instant in season ..."
Titus - Practise It - Titus 2.7, "In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works ..."
The author is stated in the first verse, "Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ ..."
The letter was written after Paul’s first and before his second imprisonment and was likely written around AD65 at the same time as 1Timothy and about a year before 2Timothy.
The background is Crete, which is mentioned in Acts 2.11. Thus, some of the inhabitants heard the gospel on the day of Pentecost. It is also named in Acts chapter 27 where one of its ports, "Fair Havens", is said not to be a commodious place in which to winter. Subsequently the ship on which Paul was a passenger, floundered at Malta. After his first imprisonment he returned to Crete accompanied by Titus and Paul left him there, 1.5.
Titus is mentioned 13 times in the New Testament but never in the Acts by name. His name means "honourable". He was a Gentile, Gal.2.3, "But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised …"
He appears in 4 New Testament epistles. In chronological order these are:
Gal.2.1,3 "… fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also ... But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised …" - he was Accompanying The Servant: 2Cor.8.6, "Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also" - he was Accounting For The Saints: in Titus he was Adjusting The Saints and finally in 2Tim.4.10, "For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia" = he was Active In Service.
Some of the features of Titus’ character may be seen as follows:
Titus 1.4, his Authenticity - "To Titus, mine own son after the common faith ..." It is likely that he came into contact with the gospel at Antioch. Compare Gal.2.1 and Acts 15.2 and he was among the "certain other of them" who came from Antioch.
Gal.2.3, his Suitability - "But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised." He was a Greek and so a test case in the circumcision controversy.
2Corinthians has more mentions of Titus personally than any other epistle:
2.13, he was in the Family - "I found not Titus my brother."
7.6, his Dependability - "Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus …"
7.13, his Spirituality - "Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all."
7.15, his Sympathy - "his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him."
8.6, his Fidelity - "Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also."
8.16, his Pity - "But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you."
8.23, his Similarity - "Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner …"
his Reliability - "and fellowhelper concerning you."
12.18, his Transparency - "did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps?"
2Tim.4.10, his Activity - "For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia."
In Titus Paul shows him his Responsibility.
THE PURPOSE - Titus was given two major tasks by Paul, 1.5, "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:"
Set in order - ie Straighten or Correct:
Ordain elders - ie Select or Choose.
The book was written to give him the authority to carry out these tasks and to give him the guidance that he would have required. So it involves Authority and Advice; or Permission and Instruction.
THE PRÉCIS - There are three great doctrinal passages in the epistle, which give a little summary of three books of the New Testament. Note the topics introduced which are the subjects of three major epistles.
1.1-3 - election, before the world began, faith, preaching = Ephesians;
2.11-14 - grace coming, present life changed, Lord's coming again = 1Thessalonians;
3.4-7 - Depravity of man, justification by grace, heirs, hope = Romans.
Each chapter can be précised simply as:
Ch.1 - Appoint v.5, "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee …"
Ch.2 - Adorn v.10, "that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things."
Ch.3 - Avoid vv.9,10, "But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. 10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;"
Ch.1, Manifestation: vv.1-4, of Sovereign Purpose
vv.5-9, of Shepherds
vv.10-16, of Subverters
Ch.2, Mould: v.2, Aged Men
v.3, Aged Women
vv.4,5, Young Women
v.6, Young Men
vv.11-15, All Saints
Ch.3, Maintain: vv.1-8, Because of the Love of God, maintain good works, v.8;
vv.9-15, Because of the Truth of God, maintain good works, v.14.
Note the emphasis on "good works" throughout the epistle - 1.16; 2.7,14; 3.1,8,14.
Ch.1, Be Sound – v.13, "This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith …" - what we believe and it touches my mind:
Ch.2, Be Separate – v.12, "Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" - how we behave - touches my body:
Ch.3, Be Subject – v.1, "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work," - to whom we bow - touches my heart.
Ch.1, Guard the Saints – v.13, "This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith" - Elders Teaching:
Ch.2, Grace in Salvation – v.11, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men …" - Grace Teaching:
Ch.3, Gentleness to the Sinner - v.2,"To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men" - Apostle Teaching.
In every epistle we should note what that letter has to say about God, the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Of course, other doctrinal matters ought to be detected so that the fullness of the teaching can be appreciated.
GOD IN THE EPISTLE
1.1 - can be served
1.2 - can be trusted (cannot lie)
1.3 - is to be obeyed (commandment)
1.4 - has sufficient resources (grace, mercy, and peace)
1.7 - controls His house (steward)
1.16 - to know Him makes demands
2.5 - speaks to us (Word of God)
2.10 - teaches us (doctrine of God)
2.11 - pities us (grace of God)
2.13 - saves us (God and our Saviour)
3.4 - loves us (kindness and love of God)
3.8 - can be believed (believed God)
THE LORD JESUS IN THE EPISTLE
1.1 - He Sends (apostle of Jesus Christ)
1.4 - He Saves (our Saviour)
2.13 - He is Sovereign (Great God and our Saviour)
3.6 - He Seals (through Jesus Christ our Saviour)
Note the emphasis on His Saviourhood.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE EPISTLE
The Holy Spirit is only mentioned once and that is in 3.5. The emphasis in the Pastoral Epistles is on the Word of God and the responsibility of men to obey it.
I watched a lady in a supermarket buying her groceries. She lifted a packet from the front of the display and examined it. She replaced it but then began moving other similar packets so that she had access to those at the back of the shelf. One of these was selected and similarly examined and then placed in her shopping trolley. Being inquisitive I went to that shelf and examined two packets, one from the front and the other from the rear of the shelf and I discovered what she was doing. She wanted a packet that had the longest retention period according to the expiry date. Those at the back of the shelf could be kept for a longer time than those at the front.
The expiry date printed on goods has become most important. In a former generation this was unheard of and people used their common sense to decide if a product was fit for consumption or not. It seems that today we need to have everything pointed out to us, even though much appears to be very obvious.
The most precious commodity that a person possesses is his or her eternal soul. This is the real person that dwells in the body of clay. That body may die and be buried but the soul goes on to eternity and exists in either heaven or hell for evermore. At the dawn of human history sin entered into the world and has affected everyone. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" Romans 3.23. To have one’s soul saved from God’s judgment is the greatest blessing and comfort any person can know. King Hezekiah said of God, "Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back" Isaiah 38.17.
To permit God to forgive our sins and thus save our souls on a righteous basis, God Himself had to work. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved" John 3.16,17. The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, suffered for sins upon the cross of Calvary and all who accept Him as Lord and Saviour will be saved and ready for His return. However, God has put an expiry date on this offer of salvation, a date that is known only to Himself, but we do know the offer will be withdrawn when the Lord Jesus comes again and takes every saved person to heaven. To ensure that we get salvation before the expiry date we need to take heed to the message and prepare for His coming. We do not know when that will take place but we do know that "now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" 2Corinthians 6.2. Dear reader, do not delay and leave the salvation of your soul until it is too late, but "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" Acts 16.31.