At the entrance of a new year and the close of the old one, we look back and we look forward. We look in opposite directions. This is something we do also to protect and preserve our Christian character.
On quite a number of occasions the apostle Paul requires us to "stand" or "stand fast". A few well-known examples are: "… stand fast in the faith …" 1Cor.16.13; "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free …" Gal.5.1; "… stand fast in one spirit …" Phil.1.27; "stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught …" 2Thess.2.15. The words of Eph.6.11,13,14 are very familiar: "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil … that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand … Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness".
However, Paul also indicated that there are times we need to flee. These two injunctions are not contradictory but complementary. There are some enemies that are so powerful and lethal that it would be foolish to do anything other than flee.
The first sermon preached by John the Baptist in the New Testament is just where many of us commenced our Christian experience: "flee from the wrath to come" Matt.3.7, and we found shelter in the welcoming arms of the Saviour.
Paul warns us to "flee from idolatry" 1Cor.10.14. This was a problem where the gospel had prospered in an idolatrous society. We may think this not a problem in the western world, but when we think of idolatry as being anything that takes our affections away from the Lord Jesus, then it has an impact on all.
Again in 1Corinthians we are told to, "flee fornication" 6.18. In this day of dreadful immorality, this is something that all need to be warned about. Young people especially are raised in a society in which consciences are seared against any thought of fidelity. The Biblical pattern is purity before marriage and fidelity after. This may be looked upon as old-fashioned, but we remember the Lord’s injunction through Peter, "But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy" 1Pet.1.15,16. Anything else drains spiritual vitality.
In the context of "the love of money" 1Tim.6.10, Paul wrote to his young companion Timothy, "But thou, O man of God, flee these things" v.11. Our nature can be so perverse that some have been deceived into thinking "that gain is godliness" v.5. Even in these times of recession, some people who cannot meet their financial obligations, are still driven by materialism and covetousness, to the extent of bankruptcy, unrighteous dealings and the loss of their testimony in the community. The warning needs to be raised lest we "fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition" v.9.
In his last letter, Paul wrote to Timothy, "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" 2Tim.2.22. The two imperatives are telling us to look in opposite directions: look back and flee, but look ahead and follow.
We are commanded to flee as did Joseph, Gen.39.12. We are to flee "youthful lusts". This is more than the sensuous side of the flesh, and involves impatience, brashness, lack of respect, being ill-disciplined, having an answer to every problem etc.
To balance this there is a "but" and we are to follow, that is to pursue as if to persecute. What are we to pursue? Righteousness: this brings Jeremiah to mind, who spoke of ‘the Lord our righteousness’ 23.6; 33.16. He was the prophet of justification. Next is faith: it was Habakkuk who wrote, "the just shall live by his faith" 2.4. He was the prophet of regeneration. Now we are directed to charity: this reminds us of Daniel, the "man greatly beloved". He was the prophet of sanctification. We are to seek peace: This brings us to the evangelical prophet, Isaiah, who wrote much about peace and so was the prophet of reconciliation.
We are to do this while in fellowship "with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart". Such a manner of life can only be achieved when our hearts are "pure", meaning free from admixture.
May the Lord preserve us as we enter another year, perhaps the last before He comes.
As we move forward into 2014 in the will of the Lord, we do so recognising our continued dependence on Divine grace and enablement. A new year will present fresh challenges, but also new opportunities for service. For some the way ahead in personal and assembly testimony may appear to be fraught with difficulty. If so, then let us again take courage from the Lord’s commission: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen", Matt.28.18-20.
While many readers of "Assembly Testimony" live in countries where there is freedom "for the two or three to gather together" and to preach the gospel, we do with prayerful concern remember that fellow believers in many other countries are facing extreme persecution and restrictions. Indeed one respected human rights organisation has reported that in the first decade of this century people are still being killed for their Christian beliefs: with one study estimating the death rate to average 100,000 per year. To such in Smyrna the Lord said, "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" and "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death", Rev.2.10,11.
As we anticipate the 'any moment' return of our Lord Jesus Christ may we avoid Laodicean lethargy and respond to the One Who states, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches", Rev.3.22.
The Committee of "Assembly Testimony" continues to appreciate the encouragement and practical fellowship given by many individuals and assemblies from around the world. In addition to the bi-monthly magazine, we have been able to publish at least one new book per year; as well as undertaking a widening ministry in the translation of some of the "Glory" series books into Portuguese for the benefit of believers in Brazil and Angola.
We again express our appreciation to the Editor for his considered and faithful discharge of his responsibility. Also our accountant has audited our accounts in his thoroughly professional manner. Similarly we appreciate the time and input to the magazine and books by our various authors; and we are not unmindful of the constraints that imposes on their (so-called) free time with their wives and families. We also acknowledge our proofreaders, our printer, and those tasked with the timely distribution of the magazine and books, and those engaged in translation.
We are also grateful that brother John Bell and brother John Gordon joined the Committee of "Assembly Testimony" during 2013 to assist with the distribution of the books and magazine respectively. Brother William Neill, who, with his dear wife Elizabeth, carried the heavy practical responsibilities for the timely dispatch of the magazine over many years, continues to be a source of much appreciated and beneficial reference for those who seek to emulate their example.
In the previous paper we noted the chapter commences with security and comfort, vv.1-6, and concludes with destruction and captivity, vv.7-14. We entitled the three main paragraphs as follows:
• Idle Leaders, vv.1-6;
• Inescapable Judgment, vv.7-11:
• Irreversible Law, vv.12-14.
Previously we pondered the first, which brings us to:
INESCAPABLE JUDGMENT, vv.7-11
Israel’s godless society would be utterly destroyed. Not that they would have described themselves as ‘godless’. To the contrary, they would argue, they went to great lengths in their worship, but it was "a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" 2Tim.3.5. Whatever their thoughts about themselves and their worship, the fact remains that it was obnoxious to God. We should note the following:
Their Luxury Would End, v.7
The wealthy, self-indulgent leaders would be the first to be enslaved: "Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive". Their feasting and banqueting would come to an end: "the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed". Instead of stretching themselves on couches, they would trudge away to captivity.
While wealth per se is not necessarily condemned in Scripture, striving after it and reliance upon it are most certainly censured. This is clearly stated in the New Testament with reference to men generally and to believers particularly, 1Tim.6.9,10:
To men generally. "But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition" 1Tim.6.9. We should notice that Paul does not say here, ‘they that are rich’, but "they that will be rich". As already noted, riches are not in themselves intrinsically wrong. Here, however, it is a determination to be rich. According to W.E.Vine, the word boulomai ("they that will be rich" or "desire to be rich", R.V.) implies a deliberate grasping after wealth as a dominating object in life!" Solomon comments as follows: "Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make for themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle towards heaven" Prov.23.4,5.
Notice four stages in the downward course described by Paul above. Firstly, "fall into temptation": that is, the temptation to become rich at all costs. Secondly, "and a snare": that is, a trap: they cannot extricate themselves from the business of acquiring wealth. Thirdly, "many foolish and hurtful lusts": it becomes a craving. Fourthly, "which drown men in destruction and perdition": the ultimate calamity. Men sink with "total loss of well-being, bodily and spiritually, temporally and eternally" (J.Allen, What the Bible Teaches – 1Timothy).
To believers particularly. "For the love of money is the root of all evil (‘a root of all kinds of evil’, R.V.): which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" 1Tim.6.10. A desire to be rich means exposure to spiritual danger: unseen enemies wait for opportunities to mar our spiritual life with catastrophic results. Imagine that a hunter has dug a pit, placed in it a pointed stake, and covered it over to wait the arrival of an unsuspecting animal. In due course the victim arrives, falls through the cover, and becomes impaled on the stake. It is quite possible that Paul has this in view in saying, "and pierced themselves through (literally, ‘spitted themselves through’) with many sorrows". This is a solemn warning to us all. "Godliness with contentment" is far better: it is "great gain" 1Tim.6.6.
If striving after wealth and luxury is condemned, then a warning follows, not against the possession of them, but against reliance upon them: "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded. Nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, Who giveth us richly all things to enjoy" 1Tim.6.17. This part of the chapter is not addressed to "they that will be rich" v.9, but to "them that are rich in this world". In the words of David, "if riches increase, set not your heart upon them" Ps.62.10. It is far more important to be "rich toward God" Lk.12.21.
While the possession of wealth here is not censured in any way, it can nevertheless be dangerous. It can engender a haughty spirit. This is the meaning of the word "highminded": a feeling of superiority over others. It can engender false confidence: hence the words "trust in uncertain riches". It is therefore inadvisable to "have … hope set on the uncertainty of riches’ (R.V.). See, again, Prov.23.4,5. Stock Markets can crash; the property market can decline; savings may seem perfectly adequate, until rip-roaring inflation makes them terribly inadequate. We must remember what the Lord Jesus said about "uncertain riches". Read Matt.6.19,20.
Their Pride Would Be Judged, v.8
"The Lord (Adonai, the Sovereign) God (Jehovah) hath sworn by Himself, saith the Lord (Jehovah) the God of hosts (Elohim Tsebahoth), I abhor the excellency (‘or pride’, R.V. margin: ‘pride’, J.N.D.) of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city (literally, ‘I will shut up the city’, by enemy siege, M.F.Unger) with all that is therein" v.8. In the words of J.A.Motyer, when "God swears ‘by Himself’ He commits the totality of His nature (the holy One, the Redeemer, and Judge), the totality of His status as the world’s Sovereign Lord, and the totality of His effective power as the Omnipotent." He does this in blessing, Heb.6.13, or in judgment, as here.
It is not without significance that the first of the seven things which are "an abomination" to the Lord is "a proud look" Prov.6.17. Haman furnishes us with a comprehensive picture of pride. Read Esther 5.11,12. While pride can have some nice angles (we talk, for example, about ‘taking pride in our work’), there was nothing nice here. He was proud of his possessions: "And Haman told them of the glory of his riches": he was soon to learn that "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth" Lk.12.15. He was proud of his posterity: "and the multitude of his children": Ps.127 tells us that "children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward" v.3. He was proud of his promotion: "and all the things wherein the king had promoted him". Asaph thought otherwise: "Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion cometh neither from the east, not from the west, nor from the south; But God is the judge, He putteth down one, and setteth up another" Ps.75.5-7. He was proud of his privileges: "Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet which she had prepared, but myself; and tomorrow am I invited unto her also with the king". Apart from the king, he was the sole guest.
It's all summed up by Jeremiah: "Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord" Jer.9.23,24.
How important to "walk humbly with thy God" Mic.6.8, and to remember the injunction, "Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" 1Pet.5.5.
Their Numbers Would Be Decimated, vv.9,10
The horrifying results of the coming siege are described: "And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house, that they shall die" v.9. It has been suggested that this is an allusion to Gen.18.32. The Amplified Version renders vv.10,11 as follows: "And when a man’s uncle or kinsman, he who is to make a burning to cremate and dispose [of his pestilence-infected body], comes in to bring the bones out of the house, and shall say to another still alive in the farthest parts of the house, ‘Is there anyone else with you?’ and he shall say ‘No’; then shall the newcomer say ‘Hush’ hold your [cursing] tongue! We dare not so mention the name of the Lord [lest we invoke more punishment]." M.F.Unger suggests that the survivor in the house is told to hold his tongue from mentioning the name of the Lord with thankful praise, but whatever the exact meaning of the text, one thing is very clear: there is a deep conviction that the Lord was against them: no longer will they bandy about His name in empty ‘worship’.
If the Lord acted against His own people in the Old Testament (see, for example, Lam.2.1-10), then He certainly did so in the New Testament as well. See, for example, Rev.2.4,5. How much is the sad reduction in personnel and power in assemblies today attributable to affluence, v.7, and spiritual pride, v.8? It has been said that the ‘early church’ was marked, by poverty, piety and power, whereas today it is a case, of wealth, worldliness and weakness.
Their Ruin Was Irresistible, v.11
"For, behold, the Lord commandeth… and He will smite the great house with breaches, and the little house with clefts." It should be noted that leaders involve others in their successes and failures. In this case, the doom of the leadership would be shared by those they purport to lead. The big houses of the leaders and the little houses of the ordinary people would both be smashed. It has been said that ‘an assembly seldom, if ever, rises above the level of its elders’. Now there’s food for thought!
IRREVERSIBLE LAW, vv.12-14
"Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plough there with oxen?" We are told by the textual critics that there has been some emendation of the Hebrew text, and that the R.S.V. rendering ‘Do horses run upon rocks? Does one plough the sea with oxen?’ is ‘as sensible and undoubtedly correct’ (J.A.Motyer). Once again it has to be said that we should be very cautious when faced with these ‘emendations of the text’. However, in this case, the point of the verse is not in doubt. It would be absurd and pointless to reverse natural laws, but they had stupidly reversed the moral law: "ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock (or ‘wormwood’, 5.7)". James, in 3.8-12, makes a similar comparison.
The result of attempting to use animals on the rocks would be disastrous (for a start, you would injure the horse), and the result of reversing moral laws was equally disastrous. However, there often seems to be some short-term success when God’s moral laws are flouted, but in the long-term, judgment must fall. Looking at this from another standpoint, Ahaz, king of Judah, facing a siege by the kings of Syria and Israel, 2Kgs.16.5, resorted to a ‘quick fix’ by seeking help from Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria. And it worked! The king’s short-term solution seemed successful, 2Kgs.16.9, but the long-term effect was disastrous. The Assyrians marched south to occupy Judah, 2Kgs.18.13. It is important to remember that spiritual strategy must be governed by the Word of God, and not by human expediency. We must notice the short-term and long-term in our current passage.
The Short-Term, v.13
"Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?" This probably refers to recent military successes of Jeroboam. It is said that there is a play on words here. By treating the Hebrew consonants, two place names emerge, as indicated in the Amplified Version: "Ye who rejoice in Lodebar (or a thing of nought), who say, Have we not by our own strength taken Karnaim (or horns of resistance) for ourselves?" This is called ‘paronomasia’, and is particularly noticeable in Mic.1.10-15. However, taking the text as it stands, Israel’s triumphs were empty: the opposition they had encountered was nothing when compared with the looming might of Assyria, v.14. So:
The Long-Term, v.14
But such military success would be shortened: the reversal of the moral law would bring inevitable consequences. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" Gal.6.7. Hence we read: "But, behold, I will raise up against you a nation (the Assyrians), O house of Israel, saith the Lord, the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hamath (in the north) unto the river of the wilderness (in the south - probably near the Gulf of Aquaba: some say, ‘the brook of the Arabah’)".
People face nothing but disaster when they dispense with moral values. Their maintenance ensures continuity and security. "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people" Prov.14.34.
Read Heb.4.14-16: "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
In the previous paper we have considered:
The IRREFUTABLE FACT of our Great High Priest.
The INCOMPARABILITY of our Great High Priest.
The INVINCIBILITY of our Great High Priest.
The IDENTITY of our Great High Priest.
The INTEREST of our Great High Priest.
Now we come to enjoy the INVOLVEMENT of our Great High Priest, which is seen in that He "was tested in all points…"
He not only knows what it is to be touched with our infirmities, but also to be tested in all points, in the same way we are tested and tried – that is, in body, soul and spirit. We need only refer to His temptation by the devil in the wilderness to observe these realities. He was tested in the area of the body – "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread" Matt.4.3. He was tested in the area of the soul – "If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down: for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee: and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone" Matt.4.6; Lk.4.9-11. He was tested in the area of the spirit – "All these things will I give thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me" Matt.4.9; Lk.4.6,7. Praise God in the midst of all the temptation, He our Great High Priest remained unmoved and unmovable, undefiled and undefileable, uncontaminated and uncontaminable! In addition, being perfectly human, He knew what it was to be hungry Matt.21.18; Mk.11.12; Lk.4.2. He knew what it was to be tired, Jn.4.6; to be thirsty, Matt.24.35; to have compassion on those who were fainting by the wayside, Matt.9.36; He wept at the grave of Lazarus, Jn.11.35; He is a Great High Priest Who is involved in the lives of His people for He Himself passed through every experience of human life and existence, "yet without sin" [sin apart].
We must highlight the IMPECCABILITY of our Great High Priest. "…but was tempted [correctly, tested or tried] in all points like as we are, yet without sin…" Scripture records:
"In Him is no sin" – He was sinless intrinsically/essentially, 1Jn.3.5:
"He knew no sin" – He was sinless experientially, 2Cor. 5.21:
"He did no sin" – He was sinless experimentally, 1Pet. 2.22.
"He was without sin", Heb.4.15, and "In His mouth there was found no guile" 1Pet.2.22. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens" Heb.7.26. Pontius Pilate three times over pronounced "I find no fault in Him" Jn.18.38; 19.4,6; Pilate’s wife advised him, "Have thou nothing to do with that Just Man" Matt.27.19; the Roman centurion testified, "Certainly, this was a Righteous Man" Lk.23.47. Christ Himself turned to His detractors and said "Which of you convinceth [convicteth] Me of sin?" Jn.8.46. There was none who could justly point an accusing finger at Him! He was "the Lamb without blemish and without spot" 1Pet.1.19; inwardly and outwardly; intrinsically and extrinsically He was perfect and pure!
He was impeccable – He could not sin. He was infallible – He did not sin. There was no impurity and no imperfection in Him! There was nothing in His perfect human body that could respond to sin in any shape or form.
"A perfect path of purest grace,
Unblemished and complete;
Was Thine, Thou spotless Nazarite,
Pure even to the feet.
Thy stainless life, Thy lovely walk,
In every aspect true;
From the defilement all around,
No taint of evil drew.
Morning by morning Thou didst wake,
Amidst this poisoned air;
Yet no contagion touched Thy soul,
No sin disturbed Thy prayer."
We are glad of the INTERCESSION of our Great High Priest. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace …"
Come boldly, draw near, that is, the privilege of our priestly approach to the presence of God, where our High Priest "ever liveth to make intercession for us" Heb.7.25. Making intercession means to seek the presence and hearing of God on behalf of others. Our Lord Jesus Christ warned Peter about the devil’s attack when He said to him: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan [your hostile adversary] hath desired [has demanded, J.N.D.] or, has obtained you by asking [as other translators suggest] - to have you [all the disciples], that he may swift you [all of you] as wheat: But I have prayed [interceded, supplicated; or besought, name Kelly] for thee [Simon, in particular] that thy faith [the courage of thy convictions] fail not: and when thou art converted [turned again, restored], strengthen thy brethren." Lk.22.31,32. It has been said, "Satan in his malice uses a sieve and sifts the saint to get rid of the wheat. The Lord in His mercy uses a fan and sifts us to get rid of the chaff", (Trapp). Like the high priest of the old economy who, when he went into the holiest of all, went in with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved on the shoulder-pieces and on the front of the breastplate, so our Lord in His priestly intercession, bears our names as it were on His shoulders [the place of Divine support] and on His heart [the place of Divine affection]. What an Intercessor always there without fail despite our constant failures!
"Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea –
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;’
I know that while in heaven He stands,
No tongue can bid me thence depart."
Finally there is the INCLUSIVE EXHORTATION. The writer uses the word "us".
"Let us": that is why the exhortation is said to be inclusive. The writer is appealing to all believers and he includes himself. The phrase "Let us" involves the conscious decision and determination of our entire being (mind, emotion and will) to do what God wants us to do. The inclusive exhortation is two-fold:
V.14: "Let us hold fast our profession" – that is, the faith we profess or, the confession of our faith [our hope] in Him, our Great High Priest. We need this exhortation of an unwavering trust and "hold fast". Robertson notes "let us keep on holding fast; let us cling tenaciously to" and never let slip the clasp of our confession of faith in Christ.
V.16: "Let us come boldly [approach fearlessly, confidently] unto the throne of grace, that we might obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Here we have the exhortation of an unimpeded access to the very throne of grace. What a privilege, what a portion is ours! That we may:
obtain [receive] mercy [unfailing love]. This is to cover us for the things we should not have done, mercy for our past shortcomings.
And find [abound in] grace [undeserved favour]. There is grace just when and where we need it, to enable us to do what we should do, but do not have the strength to do on our own; grace for our present and future service and enjoyment!
To help in time of need. Literally, for seasonable help or help in good time. For well-timed help. Timeous help. Help in the nick of time! God’s help is never a moment too soon nor a moment too late.
Thank God it is a throne of grace and not of judgment. A throne of grace from the God of all grace! A throne characterised by grace; undeserved, unmerited Divine favour; the favourable, gracious disposition of God towards sinners on account of Christ and what He has done on Calvary!
His throne of grace is always:
Approachable: "Let us come boldly" [draw near].
Accessible: we are exhorted to "enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" Heb.10.19.
The only acceptable means of access. The privilege is always there.
Available: "there to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need". He is always there. No postponement of our petitions "until the evening hour of prayer" as it were!
It answers many questions:
To where do we come? Unto the throne of grace.
How do we come? Let us therefore come boldly.
Why do we come? That we may obtain mercy and find grace to help.
The Song begins with a short introduction praising Solomon. Unlike modern weddings, the focus of Scripture here is firmly fixed not on the bride but on the bridegroom. So it is with God’s programme. Upon the advent of the Messiah described in the 45th Psalm, glory will not be given to Israel but to her heavenly Bridegroom. When the events recorded in Revelation 19 finally unfold, honour will not accrue to the Church but to the Lamb, after whom both Marriage and Marriage Supper are named.
Three attributes of Solomon are extolled. Firstly, his is an exceptional song; "the Song of songs". The Song stands out in its subject matter for it pertains to Solomon, the greatest king of his time. Secondly, his is an incomparable love; it is "better than wine". Thirdly, his is an aromatic name; it is as "ointment poured forth".
Each of these characteristics is infinitely magnified when applied to Christ of Whom Solomon speaks. Every Christ-exalting song is exceptional, for no earthly song can match its glorious theme. His love is truly incomparable, not just "better than wine", but surpassing all other sources of joy. Finally, if Solomon whose flaws are elsewhere recorded can yet be ascribed an aromatic name, how much more fragrant the name of the impeccable Son of God.
From v.4 the courtship of the bride by the bridegroom now comes to the fore. The mutual declarations of love between the couple in this section strongly suggest they are already betrothed. During this period, we may trace the blossoming of their relationship from first love to full flower.
Three royal possessions are highlighted by the Songwriter, and will form the focus of our consideration. The bride’s response to each of these remarkable items provides lessons for Christians in our relationship to Christ. Noteworthy are:
• Her Entrance into the King’s Chambers, v.4:
• Her Resemblance to the King’s Curtains, vv.5-8:
• Her Fragrance at the King’s Table, v.12.
Her Entrance into the King’s Chambers - v.4
Here are shown vital lessons in Fellowship.
The Beginning of Fellowship: "Draw me, we will run after thee".
The king initiates the relationship; captivated, the bride responds with vigour. It is the sight of an uplifted Christ which has brought every redeemed soul into relationship with Christ, Jn.12.32.
The Nearness of Fellowship: "The king hath brought me into his chambers".
Not for Solomon’s bride the tentative and trembling approach of Esther into Ahasuerus’ court, Esther 4.11. When Solomon personally conducts his bride into his innermost apartments, she is fully assured of his love. Likewise, God graciously brings forgiven sinners into full fellowship with Father and Son at the moment of conversion, 1Jn.1.3. Even new believers may approach without fear, for spiritual maturity is never a requirement for divine communion.
The Joy of Fellowship: "We will be glad and rejoice in thee".
Solomon’s apartments were sumptuously decorated and lavishly furnished, 1Kgs.7.1-9. Yet once escorted thither, the bride is engrossed not in the place but the person; she rejoices not in her privilege but his presence. Similarly, though blessings in Christ rightly thrill the Christian’s heart, it is communion with the Blesser that brings fullness of joy, 1Jn.1.3,4.
The Keeping of Fellowship:"We will remember thy love more than wine".
The emphasis here is not on the commencement of the bride’s appreciation of her beloved, but its continuation. As believers, it is in maintaining fellowship with God where we most often fail. We begin a week in communion with God, but by the week’s end are out of touch with heaven. We commence a day in fellowship with Him, but by nightfall communication lines are severed. May we take the determination of the bride and her companions to heart; "we will remember".
The Basis of Fellowship: "The upright love thee".
These words introduce the moral basis for fellowship with the king. Solomon began His reign in godliness and righteousness, thus uniting to him his likeminded subjects: "can two walk together except they be agreed?" Amos 3.3. Similarly, it is because "we walk in the light as He is in the light" that we enjoy the privilege of Divine fellowship; all based of course, on the blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin, 1Jn.1.7.
Her Resemblance to the King’s Curtains - vv.5-8
In this section, the focus turns to Discipleship.
The Aim of Discipleship: "I am black … as the tents of Kedar"; "I am … comely … as the curtains of Solomon".
How different are these two descriptions of the bride.! Kedar (meaning ‘dark’) was a son of Ishmael, himself "born after the flesh", Gal. 4.29. In contrast, Solomon was a son of David; his curtains doubtless magnificent tapestries befitting the royal chambers. Having seen the character of Solomon reflected in his majestic surroundings, the bride herself begins to bear a similar dignity.
The Christian too has a two-fold appearance. Every child of Adam inherits a fleshly nature which mars our appearance to God. After conversion however, this should be progressively replaced by an increasing resemblance to the true Son of David, Christ Himself. Alas, the process is not easy, for within every believer rages an internal conflict; "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh", Gal. 5.17. Yet the ultimate goal of discipleship will one day be realised when, in His very presence, Christ-likeness alone will be seen, 1Jn.3.2.
The Need for Discipleship
A threefold deficiency is pictured here which could be applied to the flesh. The bride is deficient in her appearance; "Look not upon me because I am black". She is deficient in her relationships; "My mother’s children were angry with me." She is deficient in her responsibilities; "Mine own vineyard have I not kept." How vivid a picture this draws of our natural and fallen state.
God does not here discriminate against dark-skinned races. The bride’s dark complexion was not present at birth, or it would not be a source of reproach. Rather, it describes a sunburnt appearance due to exposure and harsh experience, "Because the sun hath looked upon me". A lesson here is that succumbing to the flesh may result in permanent spiritual scars, even after sins are repented of and forgiven, 2Sam.12.10-14.
The Path of Discipleship
Thankfully, the bride’s deficiencies in the flesh are replaced by absolute sufficiency in her beloved. Once the bride expresses her desire for the beloved’s presence, "tell me where thou feedest (as a shepherd)", she is given fresh responsibilities, "feed thy kids". The bride thus follows her beloved’s footsteps in shepherd work. The sequence of events is instructive; only after fellowship is sought will true discipleship follow. "He that saith he abideth in Him (fellowship), ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked (discipleship)", 1Jn.2.6.
Her Fragrance at the King’s Table – v.12
In v.12, Worship now comes into view.
The Source of Worship
While enjoying the king’s company, the bride gives pleasure in return by offering up aromatic spikenard. For the Christian, earlier verses have already shown that fellowship is the basis for discipleship. Now we learn too that out of fellowship springs worship. "While the king sitteth at his table (in fellowship), my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof (in worship)."
The Act of Worship
The reference to spikenard here transports us immediately to John chapter 12. In the village of Bethany, we observe three siblings enact different but equally important roles in relation to Christ.
• Lazarus sits in fellowship:
• Martha serves in discipleship:
• But Mary stoops in worship, anointing with precious spikenard the feet
of Jesus while He reclines at supper.
John’s record defines for us two aspects of true worship. In Mary’s actions, she firstly expresses Christ’s personal worth, deserving of "very costly" ointment withheld even at her brother’s death. Secondly, her offering acknowledges Christ’s sacrificial work; "against the day of My burying hath she kept this." May we grow in appreciation of Christ’s worth and work, for this will be our eternal occupation in glory, Rev. 5.9.
The final verses of the chapter indicate the realisation of the bride’s hope lies yet future. Technically, she already possesses all her betrothed offers. She marvels at "our bed", "our house", and "our rafters". However, she is yet to fully enjoy her beloved and all that belongs to him. Rather, her language is anticipatory; "He shall lie all night betwixt my breasts".
For the Christian, there is likewise a glorious "inheritance … reserved in heaven" for future enjoyment. In fact, both the Church and the nation of Israel are yet to receive their respective inheritances; heavenly for the Church, earthly for Israel, Eph 1.11-14; Isa. 66.20-22.
In conclusion, the relationship of Solomon’s bride to him may be summarised thus;
• She rejoices at her entrance into the king’s chambers, for she there is with him.
• There too, she acquires a resemblance to the king’s curtains, becoming like him.
• Finally, she brings forth her fragrance at the king’s table, where all is for him.
In our relationship with Christ, may we also learn to live with Him, like Him and for Him.
In the previous paper we gave a brief outline of the book of Job, noting the various addresses of Job’s three friends and Job’s specific responses. We also considered Job’s first reference to a particular bird species in 9.25,26, "Now my days are swifter than a post: They flee away, they see no good. They are passed away as the swift ships: As the eagle that hasteth to the prey."
Job’s second reference to birds is contained in his response to the first complete cycle of addresses by Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar that commences in Job 12.1, "And Job answered and said, No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you". He asserts that he too has understanding, noting "The just upright man is laughed to scorn" 12.4, which indicates that such an attitude has existed for at least 3,500 years since Job’s day! He then calls nature as witness to the greatness of God, "But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; And the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: And the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee" Job 12.7,8.
With Job’s encouragement, we shall look further at his next references to birds. These occur in his long discourse which commences at chapter 23. With the exception of a six verse interruption by Bildad, this response continues until Job 31.40, concluding with "The words of Job are ended". But let us consider Job 28.7,8, "There is a path which no fowl [a bird of prey] knoweth, And which the vulture’s eye hath not seen: The lion’s whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it."
It is interesting to note that those verses are found in the ‘mining chapter’ of the Bible:- the mining of silver, gold, iron, brass [copper], sapphire, precious things [gems], onyx, jewels, coral, pearls [crystal], rubies [opals] and topaz. And when the last of the precious things are listed he says, "Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, And kept close from the fowls [any bird] of the air", Job 28.21.
So in this chapter of ‘mines and quarries’ we have several references to birds: a bird of prey like an eagle; a specific reference to vultures; and also to birds in general. We have already considered in the previous paper the specific focus of the solitary eagle. Here it is joined by the collective view of the vulture, which not only circles on upward thermals looking for carrion, but also keeps its eye on those vultures circling nearest to it. Location of carrion by any vulture and its descent to it will therefore draw in those vultures closest to it which, in turn, alerts those further out to the presence of food. Various species of vulture will gather at the carcase, each with their own place at the feast. Some have the ability to rip open the fallen animal, others devour entrails with others specialising in breaking bones to extract the marrow. But once the carcase is devoured, and digested, the vultures will again fly off to occupy their separate but inter-related territory and resume their careful observation.
But Job chapter 28 advises that there is an industrious activity that is hidden from the eagle’s penetrating gaze, from the vulture’s collective scrutiny, or the casual overview of any bird: that of men mining underground. The keen observation of nature cannot perceive the depth and danger, planning and purpose, industry and intensity, all to prise material wealth from the earth. Unseen application, effort and persistence are needed to extract from the vein, shale and rock face that which is precious. Time and energy, digging and delving are all needed to secure the gain that men so value.
Against this background Job asks very similar questions: "But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?" 28.12, and "Whence then cometh wisdom? And where is the place of understanding?" v.20. Wisdom and understanding are much more than having knowledge. They are the outcome of the right use of knowledge and the result of an education in the school of God. Acquisition of wisdom and understanding will also require patient toil away from the eye of nature. Application of time and energy will be needed in the secret mines of God’s Word, digging deep and sifting, reading and meditating, praying and reflecting, seeking for that which is above the price of gold, silver or precious stones.
Yet the sad fact is that we often give more attention and energy to the pursuit of the material than the spiritual. But advancement in spiritual wisdom and understanding, which are not valued or even noted by natural or carnal men, requires a price to be paid -
The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.
(H. W. Longfellow)
But it is more than study and application in the secret place that is required. Moral conformity is also needed, involving reverential awe and a sensitivity of conscience guided by the Word of God. "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding" Job 28.28.
HIS LIFE - "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, So panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God" Ps.42.1,2.
The Lord in His earthly sojourn was in continual communion with His God and Father. For example, we see Him:
• praying at His baptism, Lk.3.21:
• after a busy day "rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed" Mk.1.35:
• Before choosing the Twelve, we read, "He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God." Lk.6.12:
• And after feeding the 5000, "He departed into a mountain to pray" Mk.6.46:
• In the Upper Room we see Him blessing the bread and giving thanks for the cup, Matt.26.26,27.
He did indeed thirst after God, as the hart seeks out the refreshing brooks of the valley.
HIS DEATH - Psalm 22 (Title) "To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar [The hind of the dawn]. A Psalm of David."
Parts of this psalm clearly have the imagery of a hunted deer in mind. The hind was a clean, surefooted animal, whose normal environment was the mountains and hills, feeding on the uncontaminated herbage of those lofty regions and drinking of the crystal clear brooks of the glens.
In the psalm the heart-rending cry of "My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken Me?" suggests the feeling of being alone in the midst of danger. When the hounds sight a herd of deer they single out one to pursue to the kill, while the rest scatter. "Then all the disciples forsook Him, and fled" Matt.26.56.
Just like a hind hunted and at bay, surrounded by predators, we read "they gaped upon Me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion" v.13. "Likewise also the chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others, Himself He cannot save" Matt.27.41,42 .
The phrase "My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of My bowels" v.14, conveys the sense of fearful apprehension, just as a hunted deer would anticipate the onslaught of the pack. Rahab said that when they heard of Israel’s’ approach "our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man" Josh.2.11.
"My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and My tongue cleaveth to My jaws" v.15, gives the sense of the quarry having been hunted over hill and dale, now is so exhausted and thirsty, but has no reprieve to even take a cooling draught from the brook. "Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, ‘I thirst’" Jn.19.28.
The hounds have encircled the prey, "For dogs have compassed Me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed Me: they pierced My hands and My feet" v.16. What a description of the cross! Just like hounds tearing at the hind, men used not their teeth but nails to pierce the Saviour!
"Deliver My soul from the sword; My darling from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion’s mouth" v.20,21. Surely this takes us beyond the cruel suffering of the tree to the anticipation of resurrection? For a deer delivered to the ‘tender mercies’ of a pack of staghounds, a wolf pack or a lion, there would be no hope, only a stark, merciless end in the "dust of death", but for the Son of God there was the "joy that was set before Him" Heb.12.2. That joy is seen in the latter part of the psalm where the Saviour looks forward to leading Heaven’s praise: "In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee" v.22. "My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation" v.25.
HIS RESURRECTION - "Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words" Gen.49.21. After v.18, "I have waited for Thy salvation, O LORD", we have a change in Jacob’s blessing, each son showing some feature of the coming Christ. Naphtali seems to set forth the release from the tomb of the Lord in resurrection power. He was "let loose" from that sealed tomb, after the fearful wrestling of Calvary. ("Naphtali" means "my wrestling").
What "goodly words He gave in resurrection! "All hail" (or rejoice) to the women who met Him on the way from the sepulchre, Matt.28.9. "Peace be unto you" to the disciples in the upper room, Jn.20.19. On the Galilean mountain, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach [make disciples of] all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world [age]" Matt.28.18-20. What "goodly words" for us at almost the close of the day of grace!
HIS COMING - "The voice of my beloved! Behold he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: … my beloved spake, and said unto me, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away. … arise, my love, my fair one, and come away’ … My beloved is mine, and I am his: He feedeth among the lilies. Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart, upon the mountains of Bether [separation]" S of S.2.8-13, 16,17
It is encouraging to note the:
• Appreciation of the Bride: "the voice of my beloved":
• Anticipation of the Bride: "Behold he cometh leaping" (his alacrity):
• Admiration of the Bride: "My beloved is like a roe or a young hart":
• Appeal of the Lord: "Rise up my love – and come away":
• Awaiting of the Bride: "Until the day break".
May all our hearts be in such a state of expectancy as we wait for the Lord from heaven, to call us to Himself.
The title of this article was seen on a large hoarding on the perimeter of a new housing development. It was meant to convey that a person buying one of these homes would be so delighted that it would be as if they were starting a new life. Admittedly the location was good; public transport connections were nearby; prestigious schools and shops were easily available; churches of all persuasions were local. However, is it true that these materialistic and transient advantages would really introduce the purchaser to a new life? The wisest man who ever lived, apart from Jesus Christ, was Solomon, who tried every conceivable pleasure, and his verdict was, "all is vanity and vexation of spirit" Ecclesiastes 1.14. Also the well-known story of the ‘prodigal son’ highlights the folly of seeking satisfaction in worldly pleasures, Luke 15.11-24.
Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was approached one night by a very religious man called Nicodemus; and one who was highly regarded in society, , John 3.1. He was told by One Who never lied, nor exaggerated, in plain and unambiguous language, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" v.3. Apparently, such a concept was new to Nicodemus and he failed to grasp what was being taught so he asked, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?" He was told again, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" v.7. Nicodemus confused physical and spiritual birth. The former is required to fit us for earth and the latter for heaven.
Perhaps this message is new and even confusing, to the reader. We were born into this world with physical life, but that did not give us a fitness for the presence of a holy God. A change is required; a new kind of life is needed: the life of God, eternal life. The Lord Jesus said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" John 10.10. The impartation of this Divine life is what the Lord Jesus called being "born again". It is in this, and not in a new, beautiful and expertly planned home that new life begins. This life is new because the recipients have never had it before; it is given to us from above; it brings with it forgiveness of sins, justification from guilt, reconciliation for enmity; redemption from slavery to sin and Satan; the person’s desires and eternal destiny are changed and they are fitted to "enter into the kingdom of God". It really revolutionises a person, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" 2Corinthians 5.17.
The incident referred to in John 3.14 is an illustration of this truth. The reader should consult Numbers 21.4-9. The people were bitten by the fiery serpents and many lay dying. They needed life and God told Moses to make a serpent of brass, and uplift it on a pole and whoever looked to the serpent lived.
This was the state of humanity: dying because of the bite of the serpent in the garden of Eden, Genesis chapter 3. New life, spiritual life is needed and can only be obtained by looking in faith to the Saviour, Jesus Christ, uplifted on the cross of Calvary, where He died for our sins, then three days later rose again and subsequently was received back into heaven. Because of His victory over death and the devil, He alone has the power to impart spiritual life to all who believe on Him. Thus we read "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 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" John 3.14-16.