In our previous study, we suggested that this chapter may be divided as follows:
The ADVOCACY OF AMOS, vv.1-9:
The ACCUSATIONS AGAINST AMOS, vv.10-13:
The ANSWER OF AMOS, vv.14-17.
We have considered the first two and now we come to the third.
THE ANSWER OF AMOS, vv.14-17
We may divide the prophet’s answer into three sections:
his circumstances, v.14
his calling, v.14
his commission, vv.15-17.
His Circumstances, v.14
"I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer [cultivator] of sycomore fruit [the fig-like fruit of a tree resembling a mulberry in form and foliage]: and the Lord took me as I followed the flock" vv.14,15. (The word "herdman" means ‘shepherd’ in 1.1, but ‘ploughman’ in 7.14). Amos was a countryman, and his rural background can be seen in his preaching. He refers, for example, to "a cart…full of sheaves" 2.13, to a trap set for birds, 3.5, and to a shepherd taking "out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear" 3.12. Amos had no pretensions or delusions of grandeur about himself. He had:
No formal training. "I was no prophet". He had no connection with the schools of the prophets which certainly existed at the time. Reference is made to "the sons of the prophets" at Bethel and elsewhere in the days of Elijah and Elisha, 2Kgs.2.3; 4.38.
No family tradition. "Neither was I a prophet’s son". Amos was not a prophet himself, and did not spring from a prophetic family.
We learn, therefore, that it is not where a man comes from that is important, but where a man is going. Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees, and was evidently an idol-worshipper! Saul of Tarsus was the arch-persecutor of the church! It is important to remember that while a Christian family background is a great privilege, believers without that background are not necessarily disadvantaged.
Although Amos appeared to be quite unqualified as God’s spokesman he was able to speak with authority: "But the Lord took me as I followed the flock". As J. Sidlow Baxter observes, Amos "is a great encouragement to thousands of Christians today who have had no academic or theological training. God is sovereign in His choice of servants. He is not tied to any bishop’s hands. He is not bound to any set of officials. He is not restricted in His workings to any recognized ministerial order". The only authority that Amos possessed was His calling by God, but it was the highest authority in the universe.
This illustrates 1Cor.1.26,27, "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised hath God chosen: yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence".
His Calling, v.14
Amos therefore recognised the sovereign hand of God, and was deeply convicted of his place in God’s purposes: "But the Lord took me as I followed the flock". The call and commission of Amos were his only credentials. As already noted, he received no formal training: "I was no prophet". The call of God was firmly established in his heart. This will give us boldness in the face of opposition. As we have seen, Amos faced religious opposition, vv.10-13, but he was certainly bold! See vv.16,17.
For ourselves, the calling and commission of God do not necessarily involve a spectacular burst into the public eye. In fact, it is seldom like that at all! But at the same time our calling should have a transforming effect in our lives. See, for example 1Pet.2.9, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the praises of Him that hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light"; 2Tim.1.8,9, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began". We should notice:
"The Lord took me". This is the Divine title Jehovah. The name embraces the past, present and future, although not in that order. "It is a combination in marvellous perfection of the three periods of existence in one word, the future, the present, and the past. First, yehi, ‘He will be’ (long tense). Second, hove, ‘being’, participle. Third, hahyah, ‘He was’, short tense used in the past" (Thomas Newberry). Compare Rev.1.4, "Grace be to you and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven spirits which are before His throne". See also Rev.4.8. The Lord Jesus is "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever" Heb.13.8.
The words, "And the Lord took me", therefore emphasise the greatness of God. Amos was deeply conscious of the grandeur and majesty of "the living and true God" Who had called him. The God of Amos is our God. How much do we appreciate His greatness and glory?
"The Lord took me". This speaks of possession. Like Amos, we belong to Him. We are not our own, but "bought with a price" 1Cor.6.20. Paul’s desire was to "apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" Phil.3.12. The word "apprehended" means "to lay hold of; then, to lay hold of so as to possess as one’s own, to appropriate" (W.E.Vine). We must not miss the amazing contrast here. "The Lord took me …" It is intensely personal. Is it too much to say that Amos said this with a deep sense of wonder in his heart and voice? Surely we can be forgiven if this seems a little speculative! There was certainly a sense of wonder in Paul’s mind and heart in Eph.3.8 and Gal.2.20.
We could expand this by saying, ‘The Lord took me as I was’ and ‘used me as I am’. Amos did not become a robot. God did not obliterate his personality. The book begins, "The words of Amos…thus saith the Lord" 1.1,3. Although the message came from the Lord, it was expressed in the words of Amos, directed, of course, by the Holy Spirit. He was a countryman, and his preaching discloses his rural background. This reminds us that God does not ‘carbon-copy’ His servants. He uses people with different personalities and different backgrounds. We must be ourselves in the service of God! It has been nicely said that ‘God makes originals, not duplicates!’ In the words of W.T.P. Woolston, "Nobody can preach like me, and I can’t preach like anybody else!"
"The Lord took me as I followed the flock". One qualification for Christian service, whether this involves leaving secular occupation or not, is diligence in daily work. Believers should regard their secular work as service for God. See Col.3.22,23: "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ".
His Commission, vv.15-17
In general terms. "And the Lord said unto me, Go prophesy unto My people Israel" v.15. This was not ‘an optional extra’ for Amos, but a Divine command. This involved consecrated feet ("go") and consecrated lips ("prophesy"). Compare Matt.28.19, "Go ye therefore, and teach [make disciples] all nations".
This involved communion with God, for the true prophet "stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath perceived and heard His word" Jer.23.18. The false prophets "speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord" Jer.23.16. As a true prophet, Amos could say, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets. The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" Amos 3.7,8. The "prophets and teachers" at Antioch were in the same position: "As they ministered unto the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" Acts 13.1,2.
In particular terms. "And the Lord said, Go, prophesy unto My people Israel" v.15. Amos was sent away from Tekoa (in Judah) to Israel in the north. This is clear from the beginning: "The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel" 1.1. Amos was not sent to his native Judah or, like Jonah, to Nineveh. His preaching was not directed, like Obadiah’s, against Edom. We must therefore notice:
The sphere of the servant. Amos was appointed to a specific sphere of service: "My people Israel". Compare 1Cor.12.18, "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him". This does not mean that we have no interest in other spheres of service and it is worth pointing out that the ministry of Amos took note of the entire situation. Hence references to Judah (see, for example, 2.4,5) and to the "whole family" 3.1. The apostles at Jerusalem had a deep interest in the service of Paul and Barnabas: "when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter … they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision" Gal.2.7-9. A man with conviction about his calling and commission from God will not be given to compromise or be easily diverted from his service.
The heart of the servant. "Go, prophesy unto My people Israel". How often we forget that our fellow-believers are God’s people! This does not mean that we are obliged to agree with every view and every practice amongst believers. But our hard-hearted attitudes would be softened if we remembered that every child of God is precious to Him. It was this that engendered an interceding heart within Amos (see vv.1-6).
The faithfulness of the servant. His obedience to the Divinely given commission is evident from his words, "Now therefore hear thou the Word of the Lord … Therefore thus saith the Lord" vv.16,17. It is always necessary to refer back to our authority, and to be true to it. In his Divinely appointed sphere of service, Amos proved faithful. He did not shrink from unpalatable ministry (compare 1Sam.3.17): "Now therefore hear thou the Word of the Lord: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac (see comments at v.9). Therefore thus saith the Lord Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land".
Like John the Baptist, Amos was no "reed shaken with the wind" Lk.7.24. He did not bow under pressure from anybody, and he certainly didn’t vary his preaching to suit his audience. Like John, who called the Pharisees and Sadducees "a generation of vipers", Amos was not intimidated by the religious fraternity. He was not "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine" Eph.4.14. John said, "He that sent me … said unto me" Jn.1.33, and Amos said, "the Lord took me … and the Lord said unto me". Both men met opposition head on with this conviction. When the pressure begins to mount on us, will we do the same?
The first is told from the bride’s perspective. Perhaps she is relating a dream. The journey begins after the king’s arrival at the home of his bride, as related in the previous chapter. While Solomon and his retinue rest the night in the bride’s city, she notices his absence and leaves home to seek him. After numerous setbacks, she finally finds him, and joyfully returns with him to her parents’ home.
The second journey is described only in its final stages by an unnamed narrator, high upon Jerusalem’s city walls. Far on the horizon, a plume of dust heralds the approach of a desert caravan. Gentle breezes waft its exotic scents toward him. From a distance, he recognises the phalanx of guardsmen escorting Solomon and his bride to Jerusalem. As the procession draws near, exquisite details of the royal carriage can be seen. Jerusalem’s delighted daughters stream gaily out of the city to welcome the royal couple. The chapter closes on this joyous note as wedding celebrations commence.
These two charming scenes teach complementary truths regarding the Christian’s relationship with Christ. As before, the bride illustrates the believer, and Solomon, Christ.
The bride’s search for her beloved shows how Communion with Christ, if broken, must be restored. Here, diligence is required on the part of the erring Christian. It is the bride who finds, the bride who holds, and the bride who brings Solomon back to her mother’s house.
In contrast, the journey to Jerusalem depicts our Union to Christ, which rests securely on His finished work of salvation. It is Solomon who finds, Solomon who holds, and Solomon who brings his bride to her final home in Jerusalem.
COMMUNION: THE SEARCH FOR THE BELOVED
"By night …". The backdrop to the bride’s search is instructive; it is a night scene set in her own humble city. For those belonging to Christ, it too is a night scene upon earth, the place of our natural origin. The darkness of the age in which we live emphasises all the more our need for the light of Divine fellowship.
"I sought him ..." When the bride notices her beloved’s absence, she begins to seek him. Sadly, her initial search fails, for she seeks:
In the wrong Posture. "On my bed" suggests casualness and carelessness. the result; "I found him not".
In the wrong Place. "About the city" and "in the broad ways"; again; "I found him not".
Among the wrong People. Her beloved is unknown to the watchmen, for they give no reply to her question.
She finds him – "It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him …"
Wisely, the bride soon leaves behind bed, city and watchmen; only then does her search meet with success. Similarly, if we truly desire Divine fellowship, we must leave ‘wrong postures’, ‘wrong places’ and the instruction of ‘wrong people’. Let us follow the psalmist’s diligent example, "early will I seek Thee", Ps 63.1. Let us forsake the world’s "broad ways", for these are the paths of sinners, Ps1.1. Let us turn from the empty "counsel of the ungodly", Ps1.1. Then indeed shall we find "Him Whom my soul loveth".
She holds him – "I held him and would not let him go."
How touching the language of the bride as she clings fast to her beloved. How precious too the believer’s fellowship with Christ, when first it is renewed.
She brings him - "Until I had brought him …".
Because the relationship has not yet been formalised by marriage, the bride very properly leads him to her parent’s chambers rather than her own. She issues a strong charge, "that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please". The A.V. translators helpfully italicise "my", indicating its absence in the Hebrew text. The phrase "my love" is not therefore a personal term of endearment as elsewhere in the song, but refers to the renewed communion between bride and groom that should remain undisturbed.
UNION: THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
Scene and subject change abruptly from verse six, and the focus is now on Solomon as he brings his bride home to Jerusalem.
He finds her – "Who is this that cometh (up) out of the wilderness …?"
All Jerusalem wondered at the bride of Solomon, chosen over every other maiden in Israel. So too might angelic beings marvel at the bride of the Lamb, Eph 3.10; Rev 21.9.
However, Solomon’s bride had delightful attributes to explain his choice; sinners saved by grace who constitute the body of Christ can make no such claim. Rather, it is through God’s great love that He raises us up into heavenly places, out of the dust of our earthly wilderness, Eph 2.4.
He holds her – "Behold his bed, which is Solomon’s. Threescore valiant men are about it …".
The journey from the bride’s home to Jerusalem required an overnight rest ("because of fear in the night") and risked attack by brigands or Israel’s enemies. Thus the bride’s couch is encircled by a strong, royal guard. For the believer, Christ Himself promises eternal security, "I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand" Jn.10.28.
Solomon’s father David commanded the loyalty of ‘thirty mighty men’ who safeguarded his kingdom, 2Samuel chapter 23. But Solomon’s band here comprises sixty valiant men, twice that of David’s. What a reminder of the double security of salvation. For Christ also says, "No man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one," Jn. 10.29. We are held in His own hand and the Father’s hand, from which twin grasp none can wrest. Thus, unlike our communion with Christ, which may be broken by our sin and human failings, our union to Him is indissoluble.
His brings her - "King Solomon made himself a chariot …"
Solomon commissioned the bride’s carriage himself. This emphasis on royal attention to the matter is repeated in v.10, "He made …". The Christian’s salvation too has received Christ’s personal attention, for He "by Himself purged our sins," Heb 1.3.
The construction of the chariot illustrates various aspects of Christ’s work of redemption:
The wood of Lebanon, from timber once rooted upon the earth but soaring upright to the sky, reminds us of perfect humanity suitable as a sacrifice for sin;
The pillars of silver speak of the cost of redemption; not in our case by silver, but by precious blood of Christ, Num.3.44-51; 1Pet.1.18,19;
The base of gold signals the incorruptible Deity of Christ;
The covering of purple depicts the royal richness of Divine grace;
The paving with love for the daughters of Jerusalem portrays the gift by grace abounding to many, not now to Israel alone but to Gentiles also, Rom.5.14.
Solomon’s chariot brought his bride safely to Jerusalem. We too can trust, "the Lord will … preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom," for Christ’s finished work is the perfect conveyance by which He brings us to God, 2Tim.4.18, 1Pet.3.18.
CLOSING REMARKS - "Behold King Solomon."
Ultimately, Solomon himself is the focus of attention. Earlier, the watchers were invited to "behold his bed"; now they are to behold him. While we rejoice in the salvation Christ has procured us, our highest hope is that "we shall see Him", 1Jn 3.2. Indeed, it is the desire of Christ Himself we might behold His glory, Jn. 17.24.
"The day of the gladness of his heart." The chapter began with night, but ends in glorious day. It began with solitary anxiety, but concludes in shared and joyful celebrations. Tellingly, the joy emphasised is not that of the bride, nor of the guests, but of Solomon himself. Once before, the Son of God endured sorrow beyond measure, on our account. How glorious when arrives for Him that day of unending joy, when He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied, Isa.53.11.
Till then, let us keep in sweet communion with Him, and rest securely in union to Him.
As we conclude our consideration of references to birds in the book of Job we do well to recall Elihu’s words, "Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven?" Job 35.11. The answer to that question is "The Lord", and it is to His other comments in relation to birds that we now turn.
First of all He asks, "Who provideth for the raven his food? When his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat" Job 38.41. Helen Spurrell has helpfully rendered this verse, "Who provideth his spoil for the raven, when his brood crieth unto God, famishing for lack of food?" The principal food of the raven is dead sheep and, in the lambing season, the afterbirth. However juvenile ravens, and adult ravens in winter, flock and roost communally. Their guttural calls to each other at dusk are believed to communicate information about food sources, which seems to explain why ravens flock in large numbers at opportune food sources.
If God has so endowed the raven with the capacity to locate and communicate information about sources of supply, can we not rely upon our faithful God for everything that is necessary for our well-being? Said the Lord Jesus Christ when applying the lesson in relation to the person known generally as the rich fool, "Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better then the fowls?" Lk.12.24.
The Lord also asks, "Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south? Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off. Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she", Job 39.26-30. The answer to the questions asked of Job by the Lord, in relation to the hawk and the eagle, must be in the negative. The Lord’s answer to Job out of the whirlwind, as contained in Job chapters 38-41, rehearses evidence of His knowledge and power. Even in the realm of bird-life, migration and nest protection testify to the overruling care of the Creator.
The Middle East is one of the world’s major migration routes for raptor species. Job would therefore be familiar with the flight of hawks toward the south in the late autumn (and their return in early spring). He would also be familiar with the nesting and feeding habits of eagles using inaccessible places for their eyries and as vantage points from whence to locate their prey. Are these behaviours due to conscious rational deliberation or thought on the part of these avian species? The answer is obvious: their behaviours are due to an instinct bestowed by their Creator.
The greatest portion of the book of Job, from chapter 3 to 37, is comprised of human argument and counter argument, reasoning and speculation. Peace in the midst of adversity is not found by these activities. Indeed much of the reasoning of Job and his companions was patently specious. The answer to every difficulty was addressed through Divine revelation. Job did not have a Bible, God had yet to speak "in Son" Heb.1.2, but nature was a sufficient picture book for those with eyes to see it. God is in sovereign control. And after He had spoken in chapters 38-41 Job had to confess, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes", Job 42.5,6.
The final bird in the book is the humble sparrow, although its species name is not given in the A.V. / K.J.V. text, "Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? Or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?" Job 41.5. The context in relation to leviathan speaks of things too strong for us, too over-powering and oppressive. Job in the extremity of his experience came to know that. The knowledge and power of the Lord encompasses those things that are too great and mighty for us. But He also is so sensitive in relation to our limited capacity. Sometimes it is necessary for Him to take up an object lesson from a common or garden species to teach us, which brings us back to Luke chapter 12. "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows", Lk.12.6,7. I judge that Job learned this lesson in the unique experiences through which he passed. The sparrow has no song, but everywhere it is found in its extensive geographical range it chirrups its testimony to a sovereign God who cares for even the most seemingly insignificant of His own.
"So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning", Job 42.12. It was so then for Job, and it is still so for us today. No matter how difficult it is in the present, the best is yet to be – Maranatha!
The love of God cannot be understood or appreciated by attempting to compare it with human love which, at its best, is very wonderful. God’s love is not called forth by any qualities or characteristics we might have. God, Who is holy, loves us despite knowing exactly what we are. "All have sinned", Rom.3.23, and yet we were loved with an infinite love, "Even when we were dead in sins", Eph.2.4,5, and we read that, "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us", Rom.5.8. The source and cause of God’s love is in Himself and cannot be comprehended, understood or described.
We read of "the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge", Eph.3.19. God’s sovereignty is revealed in His love, Deut.7.7,8. His love is eternal and unchanging and nothing can ever separate us from that love, Rom.8.38,39. God loved the world, Jn.3.16; the Lord Jesus Christ "loved the church, and gave Himself for it", Eph.5.25, and each believer can rejoice and rest in knowing the love of God and can say, "the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" Gal.2.20.
We are commanded to love God and each other, Mk.12.30,31; Jn.15.17. Doing this is evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, 1Jn.2.5, and the extent to which we show forth this love to fellow-believers will reveal our love for God, 1Jn.4.11,12; 5.1. The Lord said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments", Jn.14.l5, and "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" Jn.l3 .34,35.
Unspeakable gift, 2Cor.9.15
In 2Corinthians chapter 9, Paul wrote concerning giving by believers. God loves a cheerful giver, 2Cor.9.7. All that a believer gives to others comes from that which God has given to the believer. God gives "us richly all things to enjoy" l Tim.6.17. He gives us "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" 2Pet.1.3, and "exceeding great and precious promises" 2Pet.1.4. The truth is that "Every good gift and every perfect gift" comes from God, Jms.1.1.7
Paul closes 2Corinthians chapter 9 by bringing before us the supreme gift, the greatest gift of all, and that is the giving by God of His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. So great is this gift that it is beyond our ability to express and describe the wonder and worth of it. He writes, "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift" 2Cor.9.15. Knowing that God has given us a gift which is beyond description, we can say, "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" 1Rom.8.32.
God has given to us His well-beloved Son, and those of us saved by grace through faith in Him "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" 1Pet.1.8. This joy is deep within and is independent of outside, continuously changing circumstances.
Unspeakable words, 2Cor.12.4
When Paul was caught up to heaven he heard words there which he understood but was not allowed to repeat on earth. What he heard was too sacred and holy to be uttered on earth, but what he saw and heard had a profound effect on his life and service for the Lord.
Unsearchable judgments, Rom.11.33
The doxology with which Romans chapter 11 closes praises, magnifies and glorifies God. Paul wrote, "how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out" Rom.11.33.
God is infinite, omniscient, supreme in power, wisdom and knowledge, and the fulfilment of all His plans and purposes is inevitable. God will be glorified and believers and the whole of creation will be blessed. God says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" Isa.55.8,9.
To be continued (D.V.)
God, Who At Sundry Times
By Tony van der Schyff (South Africa)
Paper 1 - Read Hebrews chapter 1.1-4
The epistle is addressed, in the first instance, to Jewish believers who had converted from Judaism to Christianity. Due to their faith in Christ they were facing severe opposition and even persecution, designed to undermine their new found faith in Christ and cause a return to "the weak and beggarly elements" of Judaism, Gal.4.9. It would seem that many were yet "dull of hearing" and when they should have been teachers, they still stood in "need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God" Heb.5.11,12. From the opening lines of the epistle it is apparent that some were uncertain as to how the God of the New Testament could be the same as that of the Old Testament; that Jesus of the New Testament was, in fact, Jehovah of the Old Testament.
The author of the Hebrews clearly establishes just how and why God in His manifold wisdom has revealed Himself and has been speaking to man in no uncertain way. He has been speaking to man ever since man was created and placed in the garden of Eden. Speaking in various ways and at different times until, at the right moment in the unfolding drama of redemptive purpose, God gave His final word, His final revelation, unveiling the glory of all that He is and all that He has done and all that He will yet do, in and through the Person and work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ! Indeed, God has been speaking since the dawn of creation when His voice was heard shattering the silence of eternity and calling ages and aeons into existence. The Psalmist records "For He spake and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast" Ps.33.9.
In the Hebrews epistle we will observe that in chapter 1 the Father speaks in and about the Son: "God … hath … spoken by [in] His Son, whom He hath appointed …" 1.2; the Father also speaks to the Son, "But unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom" 1.8. In chapter 2 the Son speaks to the Father, "Saying, I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee. And again, I will put My trust in Him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given Me" 2.12,13. In chapter 3 the Holy Spirit speaks to the Jewish believers (and indeed to mankind today), "Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, they do alway err in their heart; and they have not known My ways. So I sware in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest)" 3.7-11.
A PERSONAL COMMUNICATION
In light of the opening verses of Hebrews chapter 1, we note that God’s communication was Personal: "God … spake …": God, and no one else. The Jewish Christian would be familiar with the Hebrew word "Elohim" or "Yahweh" or "Jehovah". The Jewish mind still thought of God as the Old Testament monotheistic God. "The LORD our God is one LORD" Deut.6.4,5, is taken by orthodox Jews as the Creed of Judaism, called the Shema (Sh’mah) which means "hear" in Hebrew, the first word of this creed focussing on the word "one". "Hear, O Israel: The LORD [Yahweh] our God [Elohim] is one LORD [Yahweh]" – or, "the LORD is one". It is with this in mind that the writer to the Hebrews, sets out to convince and assure his Jewish audience that the same God Who spake in Old Testament times, is the selfsame God of the New Testament. However, He is not a monotheistic God, but the Triune God, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three Divine Persons in one glorious Godhead! The doctrine of the Trinity or Triunity of God is a Biblical doctrine. Although the word trinity or triunity is not found in Scripture, its truth is clearly taught. There are many references to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. All three Divine Persons are co-existent, co-essential, co-equal and co-eternal.
A PIECEMEAL COMMUNICATION
Next we notice that what God spake was Piecemeal or Partial: "God spake at sundry times" – variously as to time; in many parts (J.N.D.) or, at different times, for example, the seven distinctive dispensations found in Scripture. Those seven clearly defined periods of history from Adam to the end of time must surely indicate to us the "sundry times" at, when and through, which God spake. Dispensation or administration denotes an age or period of time in which God worked with and through a particular person or people for the blessing of mankind. Called in the Old Testament. "generations" Ps.145.13; 146.10, and in the New Testament "ages" Eph.2.7; 3.5; 3.21: Col.1.26, or "world" Gal.1.4; Heb.9.26. Other Scripture references include "What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world [age]? Matt.24.3; "the ages to come" Eph.2.7; "in other ages" Eph.3.5; "ages and generations" Col.1.26.
God’s administration of the human race has varied over earth’s history. There have been and will be different dispensations (administrations) of time with the eternal God working out His sovereign purpose and plan for the ages. It is therefore essential for us to "rightly divide the Word of Truth" 2Tim.2.15, recognising and understanding the different ways that God has administered His Truth, His wisdom, His will, His ways, in the revelation of Himself to Man. As most readers know, the seven Biblical dispensations are:
The Age of Innocence: Adam and Eve in Eden’s Garden. This Age ended in The Fall.
The Age of Conscience: from Eden to the Flood. This Age ended in the Flood.
The Age of Human Government: from the Flood to the Tower of Babel. This Age ended in confusion.
The Age of Promise: from Abraham to the Exodus. This Age ended in Failure.
The Age of Law: from the Exodus to coming of Christ. This Age ended when the "fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son" Gal. 4:4.
The Age of the Church: from Pentecost to the Rapture. This Age will end with the first stage of the Second Coming of Christ, the Rapture of the saints to meet Him in the air.
The Age of the Kingdom (Millennial Age): from the Second Coming of Christ to the earth (after the seven-year Great Tribulation period), to the new heaven and the new earth. This Age will end with the second and final stage of the second Coming of Christ, "when He shall deliver [hand over] the kingdom to God even the Father … that "God may be all in all" 1Cor.15.24-28.
To be continued, (D.V.)
by the late Franklin Ferguson (New Zealand)
In turning to the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, there are some striking references made to the experiences of God’s ancient people, the Jews, as they journeyed across the desert to the land of promise. Seeing that "whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" Rom.15.4, we may gather valuable instruction and guidance from the records of that unique nation. We, too, are on a pilgrimage, passing through this present evil world, for a "better country, that is, a heavenly" Heb.11.16. Let us notice a few particular experiences the Israelites had, in their wilderness life.
A LIFE UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF GOD. "The Lord led them" v.2. Moses had no chart of the way, nor had any one of the people been the road before and could act as guide. What did that matter? "The Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way" Ex.13.21. At the commandment of the Lord they encamped, and at His commandment they journeyed; the cloud might remain stationary two days, or a month, or a year as He saw fit. Oh, favoured people having God to lead them all the desert through! Jeremiah says, "I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" Jer.10.23. It is fatal to take our own way, but blessed to leave all to the Lord and say, "Lead me". He does not always lead by an easy path, nor one free from trial; and we may murmur because we judge by sight, yet His way is the right way and will show His wisdom, power and love.
A LIFE OF HUMILITY BEFORE GOD. "To humble thee" v.2. Travelling in company with God requires a spirit of humility. The natural heart is full of pride and self-assertiveness. How oft did this bring trouble upon the children of Israel, and their haughtiness led to many a fall, Prov.16.18. Moses stood in marked contrast to the people, a worthy example; for we read, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" Num.12.3. There was none like unto him, whom the Lord knew face to face, Deut.34.10. Without this qualification Moses would have found himself quite unfitted for his unique position, as leader under God, with so much provocation to encounter. The circumstances of their wilderness journey were designed to humble the hearts of the people, and make them learn how highly valued in the sight of God is humility of mind.
A LIFE OF TESTING BY GOD. "To prove thee" v.2. When difficulty and perplexity arose in the way the Lord led them, they were tests to prove whether the people would keep the commandments of God, and not murmur against Him. The trials were painful yet the necessary means to separate the dross from their hearts, for their ultimate blessing. How often they "limited" God, and in their hearts were back in Egypt, nevertheless His patience proved inexhaustible and He did not give up those He had redeemed from Pharaoh’s bondage and brought unto Himself. The trial of faith works patience, proves the reality of our trust in God, and is "much more precious that gold...found unto praise and honour and glory" 1Pet.1.7.
A LIFE SUSTAINED BY GOD. "He fed them" v.3. All around there was nothing in that desert to support life, they must all have died had God not given the daily manna from heaven. "Man did eat angels’ food; He sent them meat to the full" Ps.78.25. No single day did their food supply fail those forty years, and their thirst was satisfied with the water of the smitten rock that followed them, "and that rock was Christ" 1Cor.10.4. Yet they got tired of this heavenly bread, even to loathing, though never was food more digestible and health giving. They lusted for the varied diet of Egypt, Num.11.4-6. Beware lest we lose the desire for the Word of God, in its purity and goodness, and our souls crave for the trashy literature of this world and for those things that only feed the flesh. Moreover, all those years the people lacked nothing, even their clothes wore not out, and in His manifold mercies He forsook them not, Deut.8.4; Neh.9.19-21. Their sustenance was from the faithful God alone; and they lived to prove that He never failed them. Israel’s God alone; and they lived to prove that He never failed them. Israel’s God is ours.
A LIFE OF TOTAL DEPENDENCE ON GOD. "By every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live" v.3. This redeemed people had to learn there was more than mere bread required to sustain them; their souls needed every word of God. They were indeed dependent on the Lord for all temporal supplies, but how much more so for the sustenance of the "inner man". The latter seems to have less consideration than the former, whereas everything really depends upon a well-nourished spiritual state. Oh, that this truth were more realised by us all, then how differently would things go with us! God would be glorified truly, and we more richly blessed.
A LIFE OF HOPE IN GOD. The prospect of the good land vv.7-9. The far-reaching monotonous stretches of sand, and the treeless landscape, would not always meet their sight. A little longer journeying, and then a land, the finest on earth, was to be their own possession, so beautiful and abundantly fruitful. How cheering to these pilgrims was the hope set before them, and what an incentive to press on! We "rejoice in hope of the glory of God" Rom.5.2; and this that we look forward to is so glorious that no human pen can really describe it; so much so, that the apostle Paul declared that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" Rom.8.18.
A LIFE OF PRAISE TO GOD. "Thou shalt bless the Lord" v.10. This praise was not only for when the Israelites actually possessed the promised land; but meantime they should be filled with God’s praise for His daily mercies and anticipated inheritance. Did ever a people have more cause for thanksgiving, with God so near to them and caring so minutely for them, with promise of greater things to come? What of us? Did God do great things for them? Yes, but greater far are His mercies to usward, and the future exceeds all beside. What a praising people we ought now to be! Heaven will yet resound with the perfect praise of the "new song" Rev.5.9.
It is this going into our closet and shutting the door; it is this that is wanted, brethren-secret prayer. This is the mainspring of everything. And yet we make excuses, and say we cannot find time. But the truth is, if we cannot find time for secret prayer, it matters little to the Lord whether we find time for public service or not. Is it not the case that we can find time for public service or not? Is it not the case that we can find time for, I may say, everything except this getting into our closet and shutting the door in order to be alone with God? We can find time to talk with our brethren; and the minutes fly past unheeded, until they become hours; and we do not feel it a burden. Yet, when we find we should be getting into our closet to be alone with God for a season, there are ever so many difficulties standing right in the way. "Ten thousand foes arise" to keep us from that hallowed spot, "thy closet". It would seem as if Satan cares not how we are employed, so being that we seek not the Father’s face; for well the great Tempter knows if he can but intercept the communications between us and our God, he has us at his mercy.
ALONE WITH GOD
Yes, we can find time for everything but this slipping away to wrestle with God in prayer. We find time, it may be, even to preach the Ggospel and minister to the saints, while our own souls are barren and sapless for lack of secret prayer and communion with God! What saints often appear before people! Oh, the subtlety of this Adam nature. When we go into our closet and shut the door, no one sees us, no one hears us, but God. It is not the place to make a fair show. No one is present before whom to make a little display of our devotion. No one is there to behold our zeal for the Lord. No one is there but God; and we know we dare not attempt to make Him believe we are different from what we really are. We feel that He is looking through us, that He sees and knows us thoroughly. If evil is lurking within, we instinctively feel that God is searching us; for evil shall not dwell with Him, Ps.5.4. Ah, it is a searching spot; alone in the presence of God. Little wonder so many beg to be excused from spending much time there. But, beloved, it is the lack of spending time there that is the secret of so much of the lifelessness and the carnality that abounds. What we want to see is a great revolution in the praying habits of God’s people. We cannot pray by proxy-that is, another doing it for us-no more than our bodies can thrive by another taking food for us. There must be individual closet work.
The prayer meeting will not suffice us, blessed privilege though it be, "Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and, when thou hast shut the door, pray" Matt.6.6. How many there may be who have left off secret prayer, until communion with God has been as effectively severed as if for them there were no God at all! We do not speak at random. Anyone who does a little in coming and going among saints will have discovered this by experience. That God has His praying ones we believe, yea, we rejoice to know. He is never without faithful ones, remnant though they be, who cry day and night unto Him. Yet the terrible downward current of these last days is carrying many before it; yea, the many even of God’s people; and the great enemy of souls could not have hit upon a more deadly device for making merchandise of the saints than by stopping the supplies at the throne of grace. When closet prayer languisheth, "the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint." The lack of secret prayer betrays a lack of heavenly appetite. It implies a positive absence of desire for the presence of God. Those who are strangers to the closet fall an easy prey to temptation. Satan gets an advantage over them at every turn. Nothing comes right; everything happens in an untoward way, for:
Thorny is the road
That leads my soul from God.
THE PERIL OF NEGLECT
If a brother is not at the prayer meeting for a time or two, you can speak to him about it and exhort him. His absence is a thing you can see. But if he is absenting himself from the closet, that is a thing beyond your observation. You only feel, when you come in contact with him, that something is sapping his spiritual life, and who shall estimate the eternal loss that follows the neglect of secret prayer! On speaking to one as to how it fared with him for the kingdom of God, he surprised us by saying he was a backslider. He had tasted of the heavenly joys; but had gone back to the world. His backsliding had commenced with neglect of secret prayer. "I missed prayer by a time," he said, "and then I missed it oftener; and things went on in this way until, somehow, everything slipped through my fingers, and I found myself in the world again."
We fear this is true of many. Little by little, neglect eats in, until they waken up to find they have not even the desire to go into their closet to meet with their God. How different it is with those who watch with jealous care that the Lord has always His portion, whoever may have to want theirs. Their going out, their coming in, their whole manner of life declares that they have been where the heavenly dew has been falling. Their Father, Who saw them in secret, is rewarding them openly. They carry about with them, although all unconscious of it, the serenity of the secret place, where they have been communing with God as friend with friend. But these are reckoned "peculiar"; and it is to be feared their number is few, few, compared with the many who are hurrying on, strangers, to the closet and the hour alone with God. Little wonder that saints are getting as worldly as the very worldling. Little wonder the plainest precepts of the Word of God are brought to bear on them in vain. We need not wonder that they as resolutely refuse to obey the Word of the Lord as a waterlogged ship refuses to obey its helm. They cannot see this truth; and that practical truth which affects the pocket, has never exercised them! But why should this surprise us if private prayer has lost its charm? "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." It is an Abraham in sweet communion with God, that knows the fate of Sodom, long before the dwellers in that city are dreaming of danger. And it is the same Abraham who hastens and rises early in the morning to do the thing the Lord had commanded, although that thing be the severing of nature’s tenderest tie, Genesis chapter 22.
POWER OF GOD
Men of communion are men of quick obedience. It is men, delighting to be near the king, who are ready to hazard their lives to fetch him a drink from Bethlehem’s well, 1Chr.11.17. And it is men of prayer who have moved the arm of omnipotence in all ages; while they who seemed to have least need to pray, have been the very ones to whom the closet has been dearest. Our Great Example was a Man of prayer. We read of Him rising a great while before day and departing into a solitary place to pray, Mk.1.35. Let us follow Him whithersoever He goeth. If He needed the aids of heavenly power to help Him in the evil hour, how much more do we? Then let no uncertain sound be given in this all-important matter. Let secret prayer be urged on God’s people as one of the great essentials of spiritual life, without which our grandest service will be barren and fruitless in the eyes of Him who looketh on the heart. And let each one of us ask ourselves the question, "Am I delighting on the secret place, to plead with the Lord, to renew my strength, to have power with God and prevail?"
THE PRACTICE OF PRAYER
"O I have got a little room to myself now," said a brother.
"A little room for what?"
"One where I can go in and shut the door, and have a little time with the Lord alone."
The brother spoke as if he had come into some estate although it was but a very small attic room. But it was enough. And I suppose it is like Noah’s ark; the same door that shut the busy world out, shuts him in with his God. He had found a trysting-place, you see, and he was satisfied. Many had been coming and going before that; and there was always something to distract; but, with this little addition to the domestic accommodation, he could now have the Lord all to himself! And this is what the Lord wants to be the case with all His people; that each one of us may have Him all to ourselves.
(The writer courteously requests that Numbers 33 be thoughtfully read or at least verses 1 to 9 and 50 to 56.)
Probably the earliest phrase coined by the Roman world to describe first century Christians was "the people of the way" Acts 9.2; 19.9; 19.23; 22.4; 24.14,22, and the giving of such a title obviously shows that the outstanding impression made on men’s minds by early disciples was that these latter were men who were on a journey: indeed, primitive records show that Christ’s immediate followers were a people living without roots, untroubled by details as to food, clothing, money or success, Matt.6.19-24, principally interested in pursuing an unseen Figure, a Forerunner or a Veil Leader, Heb.6.20; 12.2, and counting with unclouded confidence on the protecting care and love of that Person at every step, Ps.56.8.
Such an attitude to life may seem remote to us today (and this is not to our credit), but I turn to the chapter which heads this article as providing an illustration of God’s way of leading His pilgrim hosts through this world and, too, as showing how, fifteen centuries before Bethlehem, the sons of faith had a rich and radiant experience of God, as going in the way before them to search out a place in which to pitch their tents, guiding them by day and by night, Deut.1.31-33.
The thirty-third chapter of Numbers consists of a carefully recorded list of Israel’s wanderings and halting places during her forty years in the desert; Moses himself wrote the list and we have it by Divine command.
If one is sufficiently interested to try and follow out the journey on a map we get the impression of an endless series of zigzags, a doubling back upon the track, a going forward in crooked ways, in fact, a journey curiously similar to one’s own life history.
I wish to draw three simple and surface lessons from the narrative:
THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD START vv.3,4.
Moses heads his writing, "the morrow after the passover," because the true journey of the soul only begins after the shelter of the blood is known and he then draws a dramatic contrast between the two nations involved. Israel goes out with a high hand in the sight of her foes, but the Egyptians are busy burying their dead and their trusted gods are shown to have miserably failed them in the hour of desperate bereavement and fear.
It was a clean cut with the past. No man in Egypt doubted as he saw them marching in ranks of five that the treasure cities, the brick kilns, the taskmaster’s rod were all things that lay behind Israel forever; the time past would suffice them to have done the will of the Gentiles and they stand as God’s free men, baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; such an experience can never be repeated, though in v.10 we saw how Israel returned to the shores of the Red Sea and viewed afresh the scene of salvation and victory.
For ourselves, few things are of deeper value than an unmistakable open confession, "on the morrow of our passover", that the blood of the Lamb has freed us from sin’s bondage and that in our risen Lord we have an inheritance of full salvation; again and again we may remember the hour when we crossed the sea, but conversion itself is the digging of a deep gulf between ourselves and this world, the raising of a frontier line which we will not recross, Prov.22.28; Gal.6.14.
THE MILESTONES ON THE ROAD vv.9,14,38
Moses carefully records every uneventful stage, but at three stopping places he adds a detail of the history to remind us that a life with God will always have its memorable moments; thus in v.9 we learn that at Elim the pilgrims were gladdened by twelve fountains and seventy palm trees, tokens that God had prepared all the necessary refreshment and shade for the road.
Then in v.14 the reverse side of the shield is shown to us. At Rephidim there is no water! As the record was read, how memory would travel back to that dark day of murmuring and contention at the waters of strife, Ex.17; Ps.81.17; 106.32; Hebrews.3, a day when God’s grace made His people ashamed of their faithlessness and crowned them with an undeserved victory.
Again, in v38, we learn of the death of the priest, a dark hour for Israel, and a time of encouragement for her foes, v.40, but in spite of lawless unrestraint God again revealed Himself in unclouded goodness and the brazen serpent gave healing in answer to the mediator’s prayer, Num.20.23 to 21.9.
For us, too, beloved fellow saints, the road of life has its "stones of remembrance." Like Jacob, we erect our pillars by the way, Gen.28.18; 31.45; 35.14; 35.20; each one is a memorial of tender mercy and we do well to treasure those days when we met God face to face at some crossway and when, by joy or sorrow, by shadow or sunshine, the level of our life was lifted, Ps.30.1.
THE GATE THAT LEADS TO GOD’S REST! vv.50-56
Finally, we read of the last stage and the conditions on which triumphant possession may be secured on the one hand, no trafficking with sin v.52, and on the other, the division of the land by sword, Josh.1.12, and book, Josh.21.44. These were the golden keys that would open the gates of rest.
For us, a fairer land than Canaan awaits us, not only in the distant future, when desert days are over, but now the rest of God is beckoning to us; the Holy Ghost saith "Today" and there remaineth a rest for God’s people, a present rest of ceasing from our works and pillowing our hearts on the work of Christ, our Captain and our Priest.
Such is faith’s pilgrim way; we stand committed to great enterprise and our Leader looks to us with confidence and He who brought us out will bring us in "if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end."
There are many thousands of these daily, throughout the world. The population of this world is continually on the move; some journeys are short while others are ‘long-haul’. Some take us to a nearby village while others carry us to distant countries. Some are one-way while others are return journeys. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that, even now, as you are reading this article, there are scores, if not hundreds of travellers who will not arrive at their planned destination.
We are all travellers on the sea of life; carried by the restless tides of time inexorably to eternity, with but one of two destinations before us forever: heaven or hell. An interesting, two-part question was posed by king Artaxerxes in Nehemiah 2.6, "For how long shall thy journey be? And when wilt thou return?"
Annually, many celebrate the date they arrived in this world though none of us remembers that event. In Job 1.21 we read of that humble beginning, "Naked came I out of my mother’s womb …". We began to breathe the polluted air of this sullied environment and our journey on earth began.
In Luke 2.11 we read of the arrival of a unique Person on Planet Earth. "Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord." That day was planned from all eternity. His birth was neither premature nor postponed; at exactly the hour God had predetermined, Mary "brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger." Luke 2.7. The Saviour remembers it well and the subsequent days He spent so profitably here for the glory of His Father.
In Luke 23.33 we read of His arrival at another place; Calvary, the place of His crucifixion. It too had been planned so that He arrived on the very day and date ordained of God. It could not be delayed or derailed; it must be on the day of the Passover for Christ was the Paschal Lamb by God appointed. Have you ever considered, my friend, that He went there just for you, to bear the fearful penalty of your sins and by His death, provide an eternal salvation for your soul?
It was for me, yes, all for me;
O, love of God, so great, so free;
O, wondrous love, I’ll shout and sing,
He died for me. my Lord, the King.
(J. M. Whyte)
A few weeks after that dread experience, He arrived back in His Father’s home and we who have trusted Him, await His arrival in the air to take us to be eternally with Him in heaven.
In Genesis 35.18 we read an interesting statement, "It came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) …". This informs us that death is not the terminus, but a transition from here to eternity. In Luke 16.19-23 we read of two men, representatives of the entire human race, who left this world and arrived in eternity; one in heaven and the other in hell. Where they arrived, has become their endless and changeless abode. They cannot reverse the change and they cannot now opt for the other destination; their choice is irrevocable. In the past hour, thousands have arrived similarly in their chosen, eternal destination. We will all, without exception, arrive there one day.
Most of us will depart this life, suddenly and unexpectedly but our arrival in eternity is beyond all doubt. In love to your undying soul, I ask you, "Eternity, where?"
Trust Christ and enjoy the confidence of the apostle Paul, "… having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" Philippians 1.23.