This chapter of the book contains an auto-biographical section, vv.10-17. Thus far, we have listened to the preaching of Amos, with more to follow, but our knowledge of the man himself has been rather limited. This is about to change, and what Amos is to tell us about himself contains some most important lessons.
Looking back over the previous chapters, we have noted that the prophecy commences with eight messages, 1.1-2.16, reminding us that the Lord is in complete command of international affairs. He is not a mere tribal deity. All nations, whether Jew or Gentile, are subject to His control. The prophecy then focuses on Israel, the northern kingdom (although not always exclusively, see 3.1; 6.2), with three more messages, all of which commence with the same formula, "Hear this word" 3.1; 4.1; 5.1. The third message, which includes two lamentations, 5.1,16, leads to the pronouncement of "Woe" twice on the nation" 5.18; 6.1, and the coming judgment is then portrayed in a series of five visions given to Amos, the first three of which are described in our current chapter, 7.1,4,7. The remaining two visions are introduced in 8.1 and 9.1, but before we reach them, Amos relates his encounter with Amaziah, the priest of Bethel.
Bearing this in mind, we can divide the chapter as follows:
The ADVOCACY OF AMOS, vv.1-9: twice we hear him say, "O Lord God…by whom shall Jacob arise, for he is small?" vv.2,5.
The ACCUSATIONS AGAINST AMOS, vv.10-13: Amaziah’s two accusations, vv.10,11, were not only inaccurate, they were deliberately falsified.
The ANSWER OF AMOS, vv.14-17.
THE ADVOCACY OF AMOS, vv.1-9
As noted above, the chapter commences with the first three of five visions. In introducing the book, we noticed that of "the five visions, the first four are introduced in the same way: "Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me" 7.1,4; 8.1, or "Thus He shewed me" 7.7. The final vision is introduced by the words, "I saw the Lord" 9.1. We also noted J. Sidlow Baxter’s suggestion that there is a clear progression in their meaning: "Thus, in these five visions we have, successively, judgment averted (grasshoppers), restrained (fire), determined (plumbline), imminent (summer fruit), and executed (the Lord standing upon the altar)". The altar in question is at Bethel, not Jerusalem. Jeroboam the son of Nebat established this altar and stood by it, 1Kgs.12.32; 13.1. Now the Lord stands on it in judgment. We will look at the three visions here in order. It is often said that the first three visions refer to Assyrian invasions under Pul, 2Kgs.15.19, Tiglath-pileser, 2Kgs.15.29, and Shalmaneser, 2Kgs.17.3, but this is not easily proved. These particular invasions appear to have taken place after the days of Amos. On the other hand, the visions could be predictive.
The First Vision, vv.1-3
The details are easily divided:
the vision itself, v.1
the intercession of Amos, v.2
the response by the Lord, v.3.
The vision itself. "Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me; and, behold, He formed grasshoppers (probably referring to a variety of locust) in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings" v.1. The "king’s mowings" were evidently some kind of tax paid to the king. The consumption of the second crop would be disastrous for the common people. According to Deut.28.38, locusts were evidence of Divine discipline. See also Joel 1.1-7; Amos 4.9. The fact that Amos saw God ‘forming’ the grasshoppers, or locusts, indicates His control of creation. "He is in absolute control, doing what He will, when He will, and how He will" (R.Catchpole).
The intercession of Amos. "And it came to pass, that when they had made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord God, forgive, I beseech Thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? For he is small" v.2. Amos had a tender heart, and interceded for God’s people. Compare Paul’s tears: "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart, I wrote unto you with many tears" 2Cor.2.4. Sometimes we can be so hard!
Richard Catchpole (speaking at Cheshunt 29.06.2005) drew attention to the features of Amos’ prayer: he prayed briefly (see Eccl.5.1,2); reverently ("Lord God"); earnestly ("O Lord God"); humbly (no complaint or argument, referring to God’s people as ‘Jacob’ rather than as ‘Israel’); effectively (God was not indifferent to His prayer, see v.3). It has been suggested that Amos might have referred to God’s people as ‘Jacob’ in view of the promises made to the patriarch himself. See Gen.28.10-22.
The response by the Lord. "The Lord repented for this: it shall not be, saith the Lord" v.3. It must be borne in mind that Divine repentance is altogether different from human repentance. "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent" Num.23.19. However, the Lord does repent! But He does not repent as men and women repent, for the simple reason that He has never done wrong. With the Lord, repentance is either a response consistent with a change of conduct on the part of those threatened with Divine judgment, or in response to the intercession of others on the part of those threatened with Divine judgment.
God’s mercy towards Nineveh is a good example of the first case: "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not" Jonah 3.10. God’s mercy towards Israel here is a good example of the second case, to which we can add His mercy towards Israel as the result of the advocacy of Moses: "And the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people" Ex.32.14. We should also remember that Divine repentance can be exercised in the opposite direction. See Genesis 6.5-7.
Perhaps this is a good opportunity to address the question, ‘Does prayer really change things, or will the will of God be done regardless of our prayers? The words, "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" Acts 15.18, must be a fixed point in considering the subject! From the human standpoint, it may appear that the Lord’s response to Amos’ intercession represents an apparent change of mind, but in actual fact He is acting consistently with His own mercy and grace. Judgment is "His strange work... His strange act" Isa.28.21. He "delighteth in mercy" Mic.7.18. He delights to answer the prayers of His people in a manner which is consistent with His mercy and grace. Intercession is not a means of bringing about something that God does not want to do! The will of God is accomplished in harmony with the prayers of His people. Prayer is a very wonderful thing!
The Second Vision, vv.4-6
Again, the details are easily divided:
the vision itself, v.4
the intercession of Amos, v.5
the response by the Lord, v.6.
The vision itself. "Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me: and, behold, the Lord God called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and did eat up a part" v.4. For "the great deep", see Gen.7.11; 8.12. It evidently refers to the subterranean water reservoirs. This would mean perennial drought. The reference to fire reminds us that "God is a consuming fire" Deut.4.4.
The intercession of Amos. "Then said I, O Lord God, cease, I beseech Thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? For he is small" v.5. See our comments above, v.2.
The response by the Lord. "The Lord repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord God" v.6.
The Third Vision, vv.7-9
Once again, the details are easily divided:
the vision itself, v.7
the interpretation by the Lord, v.8
the imminence of judgment, v.9.
The vision itself. "Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in His hand" v.7.
The interpretation by the Lord. "Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of My people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more" v.8. The Lord "stood upon a wall made by a plumbline" (that is, on the basis of perfect righteousness), with a plumbline in His hand" (that is, He measured His people by the standard of perfect righteousness), and His people had come to the point at which He could "not again pass by them any more." No more prayer. They had "sinned unto death" 1Jn.5.16. Compare Jer.7.16, "Therefore pray not for this people… for I will not hear thee".
The imminence of judgment. "And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword" v.9. The reference to Isaac strongly suggests that since, like Isaac, they were the people of the promise, they thought that they were quite immune from judgment. It was an attitude that said, ‘This could never happen to us! See also v.16.
THE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST AMOS, vv.10-13
In these verses we should notice: what Amaziah said to Jeroboam, vv.10,11 and what Amaziah said to Amos, vv.12,13.
What Amaziah Said To Jeroboam, vv.10,11
"Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words" v.10. Amaziah totally misrepresented Amos: he made no reference to the fact that Amos was the Lord’s messenger, vv.8,9. He depicted Amos as just a ‘rabble-raiser’ from Judah!
"For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land" v.10. Amaziah misquoted Amos. The prophet actually said that the Lord would "rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword" v.9. Jeroboam "slept with his fathers" 2Kgs.14.29, but Zachariah, his son, was assassinated by Shallum, 2Kgs.15.8-10. God’s word, as ever, was marked by pin-point accuracy! Paul was misrepresented and misquoted. See, for example, Rom.3.8, "as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say." So was the Lord Jesus. See, for example, Mk.14.57-58, "And there arose certain, and bare false witness against Him, saying, We heard Him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands." We too can expect to be misrepresented and misquoted. Sometimes, alas, by the Lord’s people. It is so important to be accurate when speaking about fellow-believers, and even then the fact that something untoward happens to be true does not necessarily mean that it should be publicised!
What Amaziah Said To Amos, vv.12,13
"O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s chapel (sanctuary), and it is the king’s court (J.N.D. ‘the house of the kingdom’)". It was a religious ban imposed by a false priest. The religious world today says in effect, "flee away". But we face worse than even that. Amaziah said, "Go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there". He made no attempt to extend the ban and silence Amos in Judah as well. This is not the case today. In the name of ‘political correctness’, which is nothing but a front for satanic opposition, we can expect attempts to silence all who preach the gospel and who maintain the sacred truths of Scripture. In effect, Amos told Amaziah "we ought to obey God rather than men" Acts 5.29, and that may well have to be our position in the not too distant future.
We will consider the accusations against Amos, vv.10-13 and the answer of Amos, vv.14-17, in our next study, God willing.
This chapter may be considered in two parts. The first consists of seven verses, and continues the delightful duet begun in chapter 1. In some hymns, the words of v.1 are assigned to the bridegroom. On closer inspection, they seem rather to be uttered by the bride, as she humbly compares herself to the common flower of the plain or the lowland lily. To the king however, if she is to be a lily, she has all the distinction of a single lily springing up among thorns. To the bride too, the king stands out as a lone apple tree set amidst wild woodland, whose shadow and sweetness bring delight. The bride revels in her beloved’s love. In v.4, his love flies high as a banner; in v.5, his love overwhelms her; in v.6, his love is all-embracing; and in v.7, her joy in the love they share brooks no interruption.
The second part of the chapter commences at v.8, and will form the focus of this paper. It highlights the coming of Solomon for his bride, thus ending the betrothal period seen in chapter 1.
THE COMING FOR THE BRIDE
Four events centre upon Solomon’s coming:
vv.8,9: Solomon arrives at the home of his bride
vv.10-13: Solomon invites her to share a future together
vv.14-16: Solomon and his bride exchange mutual expectations
v.17: The bride urges Solomon to come quickly.
The narrative thus unfolds events in reverse order, since events in the first half of the passage, vv.8-13, occur later than those in the second. Perhaps the earlier verses relate the bride’s anticipation of Solomon’s arrival, rather than their actual occurrence.
A number of lessons may be drawn from this passage:
Pictorial lessons for the Church
Personal lessons for the Christian
Prophetic lessons for Israel.
Pictorial lessons for the Church
In Revelation chapter 22, the Lord Jesus thrice promises His return; in response, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come" v17. This is still the language of the Church today as she awaits Christ’s return at the Rapture. This chapter illustrates three aspects of the Rapture taught in our New Testament; the Voice of Christ, the Words of Christ, and the Wait for Christ.
The Voice: "The voice of my beloved!" v.8
The passage opens with the bride’s exultant cry, as her long wait is ended by the Solomon’s call.
At the Rapture, Christ’s welcome voice will end the Church’s centuries-long wait, 1Thess.4.16. Our transformation will happen in "the twinkling of an eye", so quickly that it might not even be seen, 1Cor.15.52. Yet His rousing shout will be audible to every believer, heard even by those who "sleep in Jesus" 1Thess.4.14.
The Words: "My beloved spake ..." v.10
Solomon invites his love to, "Rise up ..." At the Rapture, in answer to the Saviour’s command, "the dead in Christ shall rise first", 1Thess.4.16.
But Solomon issues a further instruction, "… Come away". To accompany him, the bride must leave all behind. At the Rapture, "we who are alive and remain shall be caught up," 1Thess.4.17. Removed by Divine force, nothing shall hold us back. Neither shall we bring with us anything from this world, for it is "certain we can carry nothing out" 1Tim.6.7. Let us loosen our grip on the things of this life, and fasten our hopes on the next.
The Wait: "Turn my beloved …" v.10
How touching the bride’s plea to her beloved. Every thought is bent toward his coming; every word and action weighed in light of his arrival. May we too echo the prayer of John, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus", Rev.22.20.
Personal lessons for the Christian
Solomon was a renowned naturalist, 1Kgs.4.31-33. He deftly illustrates divine instruction for us with familiar scenes from Israel’s countryside, using the Dove, the Foxes and the Shepherd.
The Dove: "O my dove ..." v.14
The bride is likened to a dove in perfect safety. She relies not on her own strength or swiftness, but on her location "in the clefts of the rock". In Christ, the Christian is likewise secure. Like the dove in the "secret places of the stairs", we will be kept until we rise to meet Him in the air.
Solomon desires his bride to show dove-like sweetness of voice and appearance. How much sweeter ought our lives to appear before Christ as we await His return.
The Foxes: "Take us the foxes, the little foxes ..." v.15
Too often, we harbour attitudes, activities or alliances we know to be ungodly; yet we allow them in our lives because we deem them harmless. The warning from this Scripture is clear. Left unchecked, these ‘little foxes’ will ruin grapes, vine and vineyard. How sad to meet Christ at the Rapture with spiritual barrenness.
Solomon, in his writings, teaches severe consequences of overlooking ‘little things’:
In Proverbs 6.10, a "little sleep" deprives us of food for ourselves
In Ecclesiastes 10.1, a "little folly" mars our fragrance for others
In this chapter, the "little foxes" destroy fruit for God.
The Shepherd: "He feedeth (as a shepherd) among the lilies. Until the day break …" vv.16,17
As the Dove, the bride is responsible for showing sweetness; when dealing with the Foxes, bride and bridegroom work together ("take us the foxes"); but here with the Shepherd, the work of sustaining the bride lies solely with the beloved (He feedeth) and He will do so "until the day break". Truly we may say with Paul, "the Lord shall deliver … and preserve me unto His heavenly Kingdom" 2Tim.4.18.
Prophetic lessons for Israel.
We come now to the primary application of the passage. In contrast to the depiction of the Rapture which is here but faintly traced, these verses unfold clear and detailed prophetic teaching concerning the second Coming of Christ from the viewpoint of Israel. Three aspects of this majestic event are revealed; firstly, the coming of a Person; secondly, the coming of a Period; and thirdly, the coming to a Place.
The Coming of a Person - the Messiah: "Behold, he cometh …" v.8
Portrayed here is none other than Messiah Himself (compare Rev.1.7). These verses promise the vigorous Swiftness of His coming; "Behold, he cometh leaping" and "skipping", "like a roe or a young hart" vv.8,9. Messiah’s advent has ever been Israel’s hope, but the assurance of His swift return will have special significance to faithful Jews enduring the great tribulation, and sustain them through extreme suffering.
The Sight of Christ’s Coming will be visible to all ("every eye shall see Him") and a source of despair to the lost ("all kindreds of the earth shall wail"), Rev.1.7. In contrast, the Sound of His coming will be sweet to tribulation saints ("My beloved spake, and said unto me …" v.10) and the very means of bringing them to Him ("He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect …") Matt.24.31.
"Behold, he standeth …" v.9. Despite its swiftness, Messiah’s coming will nonetheless be heralded by distinct Signs: "Behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the window, he sheweth Himself at the lattice." Centuries after Solomon, these signs were taught on the Mount of Olives by Christ Himself and recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25. In the future, as tribulation saints see "all these things" fulfilled, they will know that He "is near, even at the doors" Matt.2.33.
The signs preceding the second Coming of Christ clearly distinguish it from the distinct event of the Rapture of the Church, which will occur prior to the tribulation and for which no warning signs are recorded. The Church thus expects Him to fulfil His promise at any moment, "Surely I come quickly" Rev.22.20.
The Coming of a Period: the Millennium:"The time … is come" v.12
Psalm 72 is entitled a prayer for Solomon, but foreshadows Messiah’s millennial reign. In our passage, the period ushered in by Solomon’s arrival is also a glorious portrayal of the Millennium. Spiritually, this period will be;
Bright: "The winter is past"
Cloudless: "The rain is over and gone"
Beauteous: "The flowers appear on the earth"
Joyous: "The time of the singing of birds is come"
Peaceable: "The voice of the turtle(dove) is heard in our land"
Fruitful: "The fig tree putteth forth her green figs"
Fragrant: "The vines … give a good smell".
Then will God’s earthly promises to Israel be literally fulfilled, for ‘the earth’ and ‘the land’ form the backdrop to the period. In view of such blessing, little wonder the beloved repeats his invitation to rise up and come away!
The Coming to a Place: the Mountains of Bether: "Turn my beloved … upon the mountains of Bether" v.17
The chapter ends with the bride pleading for her beloved’s return "upon the mountains of Bether". The name Bether may refer to an unknown mountain range in Palestine; or, its translated meaning ‘separation’ may imply mountains standing between the bride and her beloved.
A third alternative is suggested by the word’s biblical usage, for it is found in only two other passages. In Genesis chapter 15 and Jeremiah chapter 34, this word is Divinely employed to describe sacrificial animals "divided in the midst", marking the establishment of a covenant between God and man. This idea parallels the astounding event occurring at Messiah’s arrival, "The Lord shall go forth … and His feet shall stand … upon the Mount of Olives … and the Mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst" Zech.14.3-5.
"The mountains of Bether" may thus refer to the Mount of Olives and its cleaving in two at Christ’s coming, thus signalling the final fulfilment of God’s covenant with Abraham; "unto thy seed have I given this land" Gen.15.18. For Israel, the occasion will be momentous, as Zechariah continues, "And the Lord my God shall come". For the Christian, it will be equally wonderful, for the prophet foretells we shall return with Christ: "And all the saints with Thee" Zech.14.5.
The poetic record of Solomon’s arrival to claim his bride holds tremendous promises for the future of the Church and the restoration of Israel. As Christians, we joyfully anticipate both His return for us at the Rapture, and with us at His second Coming.
Job’s final reference to birds is found in Job 30.29. "I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls." However, we should clarify that the word translated as "dragons" most likely refers to crocodiles. Also the word translated as "owls" does not signify the nocturnal bird of prey with which we are familiar, but the female ostrich. Indeed, Helen Spurrell, in her translation of the Old Testament Scriptures from the original Hebrew, renders the verse, "Verily I am a brother to the crocodiles! And a companion to the daughters of the ostrich!"
It is interesting that the Lord also makes reference to the ostrich in Job 39.13-18; "Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? Or wings and feathers unto the ostrich?" Again, a word of clarification is needed as to which species is being highlighted. Those who are familiar with the iridescent feathers of the peacock, that beautiful bird from the Indian sub-continent, will be disappointed to learn that this is not the bird being referred to here! While some have translated this difficult verse as making reference to the wing of the stork as well as the ostrich, others relate the expressions solely to the ostrich: "The wing of the ostrich is exulting, Rather than an affectionate pinion and plume", per Helen Spurrell.
So in this book both Job and the Lord make reference to the female ostrich. Job speaks from his pitiable condition. The Lord speaks as powerful Creator. Let us consider further.
The flightless ostrich is the world’s largest bird, yet its wings are proportionately small. Although incapable of bearing the weight of its body, its wings assist the ostrich when it changes direction or makes a sudden stop. The ostrich can attain speeds of up to 40mph / 70kph, using its strong legs to outrun, and its wings to outmanoeuvre its enemies.
Today the ostrich is confined to Africa, but this does not mean that we should locate Job and his contemporaries in that continent! Up until recent times a subspecies of the ostrich lived in the deserts of the Middle East. Somewhat smaller than African ostriches, it inhabited the area between the Syrian desert and the Arabian peninsula including the Negev desert in Israel and the wilderness of Sinai. Archaeological evidence exists for ostriches being present in Israel’s coastal plain during Old Testament times. The last Syrian ostriches were seen near the borders of Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia in 1948, although an ostrich carcase was found in Jordan as recently as 1966. Since then there have been no sightings of this subspecies, which may have been the one familiar to Job, with evidence existing of a former geographical range extending to southern Russia, India and north central Africa. Ostriches presently found in Israel’s Negev desert are of birds more recently introduced from the deserts of Ethiopia.
As we have noted, Job in his distress likens himself to the daughters of the ostrich. He feels keenly his pitiable condition. He feels as if he is like the hunted ostrich, singled out, destitute of former companions. He knows that he is the subject of his enemies’ derisive song and has become their byword, Job 30.9. He refers to "mire" and to "dust and ashes", Job 30.19. His cry is not heard, Job 30.20. He came into darkness, Job 30.26. He refers to his skin being black upon him and to his bones burnt with the heat, Job 30.30. He is a companion to owls (ostriches).
We can hereby discern parallels in the life of Job with the infinitely more severe experience of the Lord Jesus Christ as expressed in the Messianic Psalms and outlined in Lamentations. He could say, "I was the song of the drunkards" Ps.69.12. Also, "I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing" Ps.69.2 and "I have eaten ashes like bread", Ps.102.9. He could also say, "I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent" Ps.22.2, and "Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps" Ps.88.6. Also, "I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me" Ps.22.17, and "From above hath He sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them" Lam.1.13. "By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin" Ps.102.5.
These parallels are not coincidental and allow us to make some observations. First, the Lord does not ask His people to face trials and adversity of which He has no experience. Indeed, He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" Heb.4.15. Second, while we are aware, from Scripture, of the experience and feelings of the Lord in the days of His flesh, and can draw strength and solace from this, Job had no Bible. Yet it was still possible for Job to know His God in an experimental way. He had faith of immense capacity, despite trials of such intensity, which enabled him to say, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" Job 13.15.
The Lord is under no obligation to explain the reason why choice saints suffer. Yet in his dealings with one of the choicest of His saints He has given precious encouragements to those who may be called to pass through similarly crushing experiences.
It seems to be instinctive and inevitable for an ordinary, rational man to think about the existence of God and to wonder what He might be like. Without a revelation from God, man would worship some form of idol. Zophar asked "Canst thou by searching find out God?" Job 11.7. Only God can reveal God and He has revealed Himself in that which is recorded in His written Word, the Holy Scriptures. The first written words of Scripture were written by God on two tables of stone, Ex.31.18; 20.1-17, and each and every Scripture is Divinely inspired, 2Tim.3.16. We read in 2Pet.1.21, "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost".
The revelation in the written Word is gradual and piecemeal, the full and final revelation being in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, Heb.1.1-3, for "no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" Jn.1.18. The pre-eminence, power, supremacy, glory and all-sufficiency of the "altogether lovely" S of S.5.16, Lord Jesus Christ are brought before us in Col.1.15-20. He is declared to be the image of the invisible God, v.15; creator of all things, v.16; upholder of all things, v.17; Head of the Body, the Church, v.18; the One in Whom all fullness dwells, v.19, and the One Who made peace through the shedding of His blood on the cross and by Whom all things will be reconciled to God, v.20. The Lord said, "he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" Jn.14.9. He was God "manifest in the flesh" 1Tim.3.16; "God with us" Matt.1.23, and all the fullness of Deity dwelt in Him in bodily form, Col.2.9.
God’s wonderful creation reveals something of His power and glory, Ps.19.1-6: the creation continuously provides evidence of the existence, creatorial power, wisdom and majesty of God. Mankind is without excuse in not worshipping and serving God. The witness to the invisible God, to His glory and eternal power, is all around us in the things we can see and hear. Paul wrote, "the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" Rom1.20.
The creation provides incontrovertible proof of the existence, power and glory of God, and meditation on the creatorial work of God will fill us with awe. The revelation of God in and through creation does not, however, give us an insight into the nature, person or character of God. Many of the attributes of God, such as His holiness, love, grace and truth, are not revealed by creation but are revealed in His written Word. The revelation of God in creation will not of itself produce saving faith, but the Holy Spirit graciously speaking to an individual through the Word of God can reveal the holiness, love, grace and mercy of God, convict of sin and lead a sinner to repentance and saving faith in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. A sinner is not saved by believing that God exists but by saving faith in Christ, Acts 4.12.
As a believer prayerfully reads the Word of God under the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit, the wonder of God, and all He is doing, has done and yet will do, fills the believer with awe, for the facts revealed are overwhelming and stimulate a desire to worship and praise the omnipotent and omniscient God. "God is love" 1Jn.4.8, and He is holy, Lev.19.2. He is "the God of all grace" 1Pet.5.10, and "rich in mercy" Eph.2.4.
He is "the only wise God" 1Tim.1.17, and we read of the "depth of the riches of both of the wisdom and knowledge of God" Rom.11.33. Being infinite in wisdom, knowledge, love and power, God always achieves His purposes in the best possible way: His "way is perfect" Ps.18.30. The world did not come to know God through worldly wisdom, "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" 1Cor.1.21. The preaching referred to in this verse is the preaching of the message of the cross, and "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" 1Cor.1.18. In the infinite wisdom of God, not many who are wise, mighty or noble in the eyes of the world are saved. God has often chosen those who are regarded as foolish and weak and are despised. In doing this, the wisdom of God is revealed and He is glorified, 1Cor.1.26-31.
Believers can rest in the assurance that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" Rom.8.28. God’s purpose is that believers should become more and more like His only begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Rom.8.29. Only God, in His perfect wisdom, knows what is best for believers, and He is able to order all things for their eternal good and His glory. All that God does, in His wisdom, love and power, glorifies Him, exalts the Lord Jesus Christ and brings peace and blessing to believers. Having been saved, believers should seek to serve God in accordance with the truths revealed in His written Word, and pray for the wisdom which is from above, which is "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" Jms.3.17.
God has an un-derived, eternal existence and the cause of His existence is in Himself. He is the self-existent, self-sufficient, Holy One Who possesses eternal life in Himself. He is immutable, eternally unchanging, Mal.3.6. Being perfect and infinite in wisdom and knowledge, God has never learned or forgotten anything. He has never had to experiment to see if something would work or develop, for He knows all things from their beginning. All His attributes are eternal and unchanging; what He always was He is, and what He is He always will be. His promises are unchangeable and, because of what He is eternally, their fulfilment is sure and certain.
Meditation on God and on the Person and work of His only begotten, eternal and beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is co-equal, co-eternal and co-existent with Himself, will cause a believer to experience such overwhelming feelings of awe, wonder and love for the Father and the Son that the feelings cannot be fully expressed in human language, neither verbally nor in writing. Human language is perfectly adequate as a means of communicating information on finite, earthly matters and on earthly experiences. However, its inadequacies become apparent when dealing with that which is infinite and eternal; that is, with God and the things of God. Even the use of superlatives is not sufficient. One can feel more than one can express.
There is a great need to restate truth concerning the local church. It seems there are those in fellowship who have no clear understanding of what the assembly is and what is expected from those who are in the fellowship of a local company. With this in mind this paper is written.
Firstly, we note that the word ‘church’ is a called out company and that means it is called out from the world.
The World of Pleasure as seen typically in Egypt
The World of Ease as seen typically in Moab
The World of Base Evil as seen in Sodom
The World of Religion as seen in Babylon.
NAMES OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
Church Of God 1Cor.1.2
Eight times in the New Testament this statement occurs. Without exception it is the local church in view in these references. This is not to be confused with "The Church which is His Body" Col.1.18; Eph.1.22,23, which is composed of every believer in Christ from Pentecost to the Rapture. All believers in this church age are in the Body but not all are in the church of God, 1Cor.14.23. Acts chapter 2 shows clearly that believers are baptised and added into the church of God. Believers are responsible for gathering themselves together in corporate testimony.
Churches Of God: 1Cor.11.16; 1Thess.2.14; 2Thess.1.4
Three times this term occurs, showing us that there were other churches of God in existence. The late Arthur Gooding said that there were over 500 churches in Asia but God had chosen the seven in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 for a purpose.
Church Of The Living God: 1Tim.3.15
This is unique and conveys the distinction between all other gatherings in Ephesus at that time where false gods were worshipped. This statement does distinguish the church of God from all other professed churches. God will not move and presence Himself in opposition to His Word, a lesson we need to learn in this day. Another has said that the Lord will not presence Himself locally where He cannot be morally.
Churches Of Christ: Rom.16.16
This statement is always in the plural. A place where the Headship and Lordship of Christ are acknowledged; He is the one who controls and provides. The local church is a testimony to Christ.
Churches Of The Saints: 1Cor.14.33
This is the composition of the assembly. Phil.1.1 teaches that saints, bishops and deacons compose the local church and that all are saints, sanctified believers without distinction, no classification, no clerisy, no lords. The responsible brethren have no officialdom as 1Peter chapter 5 would confirm. The gathering of the saints unto His name is the sole ground of gathering, Matt.18.20.
The word saint means "Holy Ones" so the holiness and purity of the company is in this title. What a practical ministry lies here for each one of the saints.
Churches Of Galatia: Gal.1.2
A province or area is in view where there are a number of local churches. While there is fellowship between the churches there is no confederation of local churches; every local church is autonomous. There is no national church in the New Testament. No titles such as Church of Scotland, Church of England; no doctrinal emphasis in any church name like Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Episcopal and so on.
Churches Of The Gentiles: Rom.16.4
This title indicates the progress of the Gospel. It was first to the Jews but also to the Greeks. Here in the west we ought to be thankful that Paul was turned westwards and brought the gospel to Europe.
LOCATIONS OF LOCAL CHURCHES
We can be assured that there are local churches in the Scriptures, since many are named. To note a few brief features may be helpful to younger believers.
The Church at Jerusalem: Acts 2. They Received the Word; they Believed: they Responded to the Word- they were Baptised.
The Church at Antioch: Acts 11-13. There were Preachers, Prophets, Teachers, all in the one assembly.
The Church at Troas: Acts 20. They broke bread and then Paul preached until midnight.
The Church at Ephesus: Acts 20. The elders were exhorted to feed the flock and Paul warned of grievous wolves.
The Church at Lystra: Acts 16. This was the home of Timothy.
FIGURES OF A LOCAL CHURCH
The local church is described in eight different figures that give us to understand something of its value and exercise.
Temple Of God: 1Cor.3.16
This is the naos, meaning the inner temple, the shrine, the sanctuary. It highlights that holiness and purity mark the assembly as the dwelling place of God. In the temple, privilege in holy reverence is ours to enjoy; priestly service is ours to engage; peace in this holy atmosphere is ours to experience.
God’s Building: 1Cor.3.9
The word here is oikodome, suggesting the labour and toil required for a house in building.
This building is not of man’s design, but designed by God Himself as the great architect. It displays His wisdom and brings responsibility to us as we build into the assembly. We can build gold that speaks of His deity and glory; silver that speaks of His redemptive glory and power; precious stones that speak of His inherent Glories, His acquired glories, His moral glories.
Our building takes character from the foundation which is Christ, 1Cor.3.11. We need to take great care what and how we build into this assembly, God’s Building. In the context the teacher is in view.
God’s Husbandry: 1Cor.3.9
A georgion, means a tilled or a cultivated field. The assembly is a spiritually productive field or garden that should produce fruit for God’s glory. Again the teacher has responsibility to dress, to offer care and training that will promote growth and produce something that is well pleasing to God. We should value the ministry since it is the means by which growth is encouraged and saints developed. The non-attendance of the younger generation at conference gatherings is a concern because they are missing the ministry that produces growth and encourages the garden to blossom for God’s pleasure. "A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed" S of S.4.12.
Flock Of God: Acts 20.28; 1Pet.5.1-4
This is the poimnion, the little flock. It is dear to Him since it was purchased by the blood of His own Son. The assembly is composed of sheep, having the propensity to wander and so need to be shepherded. Prov.27.23, "Look diligently to the state of thy flocks."
In a day when travel is easy and many have the opportunity to minister to other assemblies there is just the danger to neglect one’s own assembly. It would be helpful if the brethren discussed when they would be away preaching, so that the sheep were not deprived of their shepherds. The sheep ought to benefit from the presence and ministry of the shepherds.
House Of God: 1Tim.3.15
The assembly is God’s dwelling (oikes), inheritance. The first mention of the house of God is in Gen.28.16,17. Jacob, when he awoke from his sleep and recovered from his dream, said "Surely the Lord is in this place"; it was the place of the Divine presence, "and he was afraid." "How dreadful is this place; this is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven." The reverential fear of Divine holiness and the nearness to heaven was his experience. When did we last have this experience in the assembly? It is of no wonder that we are exhorted to behave ourselves "in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
These five figures mentioned above are all linked with God, whereas the remaining three are linked with Christ.
Body Of Christ: 1Cor.12.27
Here the word is soma, indicating a body as a complete person, marked by unity and harmony. This is not the body of Christ, but body of Christ, without the definite article. This indicates that the local assembly characteristically displays the body.
Epistle Of Christ: 2Cor.3.3
An epistole is a letter or a message. Known and read of all men, in conduct, in service, in teaching, transparent for all to read. If we are being read in society we ought to ensure that we write our lives legibly and with clarity.
Chaste Virgin To Christ: 2Cor.11.27
A parthenos was a young woman awaiting marriage, and she was marked by chastity and fidelity. An assembly must maintain this virgin purity. It is the devil’s work to corrupt the testimony and the warning of Scripture is that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. In 1Cor.5.6 it is morally and in Gal.5.9 it is doctrinally contaminated. We wait for Him affectionately and anticipate being linked with Him in nuptial bliss as His Bride.
During his first imprisonment in Rome, see Acts 28.16–31, the apostle Paul had an unexpected visitor with sad news. Epaphras had turned up from Colosse in the Lycus valley in Asia (today’s western Turkey), seeking Paul’s help in combating the effects of heretical teaching that seemed to have been influencing some of the saints in the area.
Epaphras himself was probably converted through the preaching of the apostle Paul in or near Ephesus in Asia where Paul "continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" Acts 19.10, and "mightily grew the word of God and prevailed" v.20. He then seems to have gone home (see the phrase "one of you" 4.12) to the Lycus valley in the inland mountainous region in Asia. He began to evangelise in the district, and eventually saw assemblies formed in Colosse, as well as in the nearby towns of Hierapolis and Laodicea.
Although things had gone well to begin with, eventually one or more very persuasive teachers had tried to introduce errors among the believers, as for instance in chapter 2, where we have mention of "he" and "his", see v.18. While addressing these errors in the epistle by teaching the truth about Christ, the first thing that Paul did was to validate the preaching of Epaphras, thus reassuring any saints with doubts, who might have been to some extent beguiled "with enticing words", see 2.4. We read of this endorsement in vv.3–9 of the first chapter, and it is a useful checklist for any preacher today. He then assured the believers of the genuineness of Epaphras himself as a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus.
As we shall see, Paul makes use of a number of phrases unique to this chapter when he authenticated Epaphras’s gospel as well as the brother himself.
FAITH, LOVE AND HOPE, vv.4,5
The mention of the three expected Christian graces of faith, love (charity) and hope reminds us of the number of other places in New Testament epistles where this triad of words are in close proximity, i.e., Rom.5.1–5; 12.6–12; 1Cor.13.13; Heb.6.10-12 and 1Pet.1.21,22. However, the outstanding reference must be "your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ", in 1Thess.1.3, which gave Paul assurance of the Thessalonian believers’ election by God, 1Thess.1.4. This continued further into the Thessalonian believers’ lives, with God’s provision of "the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation" 1Thess.5.8. So finding these three graces in the Colossian believers gave reassurance of the genuineness of Epaphras’s evangelism.
"THE HOPE WHICH IS LAID UP FOR YOU IN HEAVEN" v.5
While faith was directed towards our Lord Jesus Christ, love was "to all the saints", cp. Eph.1.15. This present love "to all the saints" was "for [because of]" (R.V.) their future hope, the great expectation that they had reserved for them in heaven. Their anticipated future in heaven affected their behaviour as much as, if not more than their past. Another thing Paul wrote about being "laid up" was his crown of righteousness, 2Tim.4.8. However, this would be his reward for faithful service when he had finished his course.
"THE WORD OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL" v.5
The hope anticipated by these believers was preached about in Epaphras’s gospel, which they had "heard before". However, in order to confirm its authenticity still further, Paul reminds them the message was "the word of the truth of the gospel", cp. Eph.1.13, reserving this unique and distinctive phrase for this moment. Some expressions concerning the gospel and its preaching occur many times, viz., "the word of God" in Acts (13 times), epistles (18 times); "the word of the Lord", Acts (8 times), epistles (3 times), but seven other phrases once or twice only, i.e., "the word of faith" Rom.10.8; "the word of truth" Eph.1.13; 2Cor.6.7; "the word of this salvation" Acts 13.26; "the word of [the Lord’s] grace" Acts 14.3; 20.32; "the word of the gospel" Acts 15.7; "the word of reconciliation" 2Cor.5.19, and "the word of life" Phil.2.16. All these ‘words’ were Divine revelations from heaven. So by way of support, this emphasised and longer phrase "the word of the truth of the gospel" particularly stands out here. It was equally important to emphasise that it was the truth of the gospel, in the same way that in v.6, they heard the grace of God in truth, since the truth was being questioned at Colosse by those who were trying to bring error among to the saints.
"AS IT IS IN ALL THE WORLD" v.6
The next question answered might be, was Epaphras preaching his own version of the gospel? The answer was no indeed, for there was nothing added and nothing taken away, so that Paul could assure the Colossians that the gospel they heard was "as it is in all the world", to Jew and Gentile alike.
"BRINGETH FORTH FRUIT ... SINCE THE DAY YE HEARD" v.6
Did Epaphras’s gospel effort have its proper effect in that it brought forth fruit in the lives of those saved? It had straightaway and still did, note the present tense used, i.e., ‘bringeth forth’, cp. "should bring forth fruit unto God" Rom.7.4, and indeed this is Paul’s desire, see the same Greek word in v.10, "being fruitful". After the words "bringeth forth fruit" the R.V. inserts "and increasing", and J.N.D. adds "and growing": of this William Kelly notes "The gospel is both productive of fruit and has propagative energy". Indeed, in the biological world, one of the most compelling evidences of life is growth and this is also true in the spiritual realm, see Col.2.19; 1Pet.2.2; 2Pet.3.18. This twofold thought is paralleled soon afterwards when Paul prayed that they would be "fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" v.10.
"YE HEARD ... AND KNEW THE GRACE OF GOD IN TRUTH" v.6
The grace of God is the only proper basis of the gospel, Gal.2.21; Eph.3.2; Tit.2.11. The Colossian believers had learned ("became fully experimentally acquainted with", Jamieson, Fausset and Brown) this truth and it would be vital in combating error. Most erroneous ideas about the gospel usually have works as at least part of the deceptive teaching, stipulating various things that should be done by way of works to ensure salvation.
"EPAPHRAS OUR DEAR FELLOWSERVANT" v.7
Paul not only authenticated the message but also endorsed the messenger. All that they knew they had learned from Epaphras, of whom Paul is now happy to speak as "Epaphras our dear fellowservant". He was indeed beloved of Paul, who was happy to associate himself with him, in the same way that later in the epistle he mentions "Tychicus ... a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord" Col.4.7. These titles were well-deserved, not just polite designations.
"A FAITHFUL MINISTER OF CHRIST’ v.7
This particular designation is also unique, although as we have just seen, Tychicus is similarly called a faithful minister "in the Lord", see Eph.6.21; Col.4.7. Paul adds that Epaphras was "for you", showing that he was the Lord’s servant for them, perhaps even suggesting that any others who did not preach the same gospel were not faithful. It was as important to authenticate the messenger as well as his message.
"YOUR LOVE IN THE SPIRIT" v.8
This is the only mention of the Holy Spirit in this epistle, compared, for instance, with twelve such citations in Ephesians and three in Philippians, which epistles were written around the same time. This one mention in Colossians reminds us of the fact, already pointed out, that hope had given rise to love, so now similarly the Holy Spirit is love’s motivation. Equally true is the fact that prayer, Eph.6.18; Jude 20, and worship, Phil.3.3, should be "in the Spirit".
WHAT PAUL WANTED FOR THE BELIEVERS vv. 9-11
Paul’s unceasing prayer and spiritual desire for these believers was that the process begun by Epaphras’s preaching of the truth might continue, so they would be filled, v.9, walk worthy, v.10, and be strengthened, v.11.