No.18: "I will sift the house of Israel among the nations".
Read chapter 9.1-10
We have already noted that Amos chapters 8 and 9 bring us to the edge of the coming captivity, and then take us beyond it, and that the two chapters may be summarised as follows:
Retribution On the Land, 8.1-14
Removal From the Land, 9.1-10
Restoration To the Land, 9.11-15.
In our previous study, we concluded the first of these so we commence with the second:
REMOVAL FROM THE LAND, 9.1-10
This section commences with the last of the five visions given to Amos (see 7.1-3; 7.4-6; 7.8,9; 8.1-3; 9.1), and may be divided as follows:
The Execution of Judgment, v.1
The Inescapability of Judgment, vv.2-4
The Guarantor of Judgment, vv.5,6
The Universality of Judgment, vv.7,8
The Purpose of Judgment, vv.9,10.
The Execution of Judgment, v.1
"I saw the Lord standing upon the altar (‘by the altar’, R.V.): and He said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword." Isaiah "saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple" Isa.6.1. Like Amos, he was to proclaim Divine judgment upon God’s people, Isa.6.9-12, and, like Amos, v.9, he was to reveal that a remnant in the nation would be preserved, Isa.6.13.
There can be little doubt that in the vision here, Amos saw Jeroboam’s altar, rather than the altar in the temple at Jerusalem. Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, established this altar at Bethel in order to consolidate his kingdom (Israel in the north, as opposed to Judah in the south) and to ensure that his subjects did not gravitate to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. He therefore established a rival religion, with its own altar, feasts and priesthood, all centred on the golden calves, of which he said, "behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt". The whole miserable story is found in 1Kgs.12.25-33. Events surrounding Jeroboam’s altar are detailed in 1Kgs.13.1-10.
In this connection it is significant to note, "Jeroboam … offered upon the altar [‘went up to the altar’] … so he offered upon the altar [‘went up to the altar’]" 1Kgs.12.32,33. More particularly, we are told that Jeroboam "stood by the altar to burn incense" 1Kgs.13.1, and at the very moment that an apostate king stood by a rival altar, "a man of God" came from Judah and "cried against the altar in [‘by’, J.N.D.] the word of the LORD" 1Kgs.13.2. It is not without significance that, centuries later, when another king of the same name, Jeroboam, Amos 1.1; 7.10, was on the throne of Israel, that another "man of God" came from Judah to condemn Israel’s false religion. But instead of an apostate king standing by the altar, Amos saw "the Lord [Adonahy, the Sovereign Lord] standing on [or, ‘standing by’] the altar". In the words of J.A.Motyer, "The counterfeit is replaced by the real, the human by the Divine, the king who had come to prop up his dynasty by the King Who had come to throw it down".
The command, "Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: cut them in the head, all of them", evidently refers to the idol temple in Bethel. See 1Kgs.12.31, "he [Jeroboam] made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi." It is tempting to say that while blood was placed on the lintels of the houses in Egypt, Ex.12.22, affording protection from Divine judgment, there was no such protection here. But, to the disappointment of the eager expositor (!), the word "lintel" here is quite different to the "lintel" in Ex.12.22,23. We would call them the ‘capitals’ or heads of the columns. The "posts" are in fact the ‘thresholds’. J.A.Motyer puts it all together like this: "when the Sovereign calls up His forces, the building receives great shattering blows from above, on the capitals, driving them down upon their own thresholds, until the whole edifice crumbles on its occupants’ heads. Many rush away from the downfall, but none escape". "He that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered". This brings us to:
The Inescapability of Judgment, vv.2-4
The words, "though they", punctuate the section. There is no spiritual refuge, v.2, no natural refuge, v.3, and no political refuge, v.4. These verses remind us that there will be no refuge for men and women when God summons them to judgment: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God … And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death [which receives the bodies of men] and hell [which receives the souls of men] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works" Rev.20.12,13.
There is no spiritual refuge. "Though they dig into hell, thence shall Mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down" v.2. The graphic language serves to emphasise that there will be no refuge whatsoever for the guilty idolaters. By way of contrast, similar language is used to describe the security of the believer: "Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me" Ps.139.7-10.
There is no natural refuge. "Though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from My sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them" v.3. Neither Mount Carmel, one of the highest elevations in Israel, with its forests and caves, nor, by contrast, the seabed, would afford refuge to the fugitive from Divine judgment. "In the day of their calamity they find that there is no God but One, and that even were there a monstrous deity hidden in the deep it would turn out to be His servant!" J.A.Motyer. Compare Amos 5.19.
There is no political refuge. "Though they go into captivity before their enemies, thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: and I will set my eyes upon them for evil, and not for good" v.4. Moses had predicted this centuries before: "Ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it. And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other … And among those nations thou shalt find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind. And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and thou shalt have none assurance of thy life. In the morning thou shalt say, ‘Would God it were even!’ And at even thou shalt say, ‘Would God it were morning!’" Deut.28.63-67.
This section is the middle of three to chronicle the maturing marriage relationship of Solomon and his bride. The first section from chapter 5.2 described the bride’s Revival. This section from chapter 6.4 will discuss her Review. The final section from chapter 7.10 onwards will present her Rest.
In this section, the predominant voice is that of the bridegroom. The passage portrays the nation of Israel prophetically at her Messiah’s return, when she shall undergo Divine scrutiny. In God’s calendar for Israel, the section corresponds to the sixth feast of Jehovah, i.e. the Day of Atonement, Lev.23.26-32. However, while the feast focuses on a painful self-examination by Israel, this passage highlights her examination by the Messiah.
The passage also yields abundant personal lessons for the Christian.
Three aspects of the bride’s review are considered:
Her beauty Evaluated by her Beloved, 6.3-12
Her beauty Evaluated by Others, 6.13-7.6
Her beauty Enjoyed by her Beloved, 7.6-9.
Her Beauty Evaluated by her Beloved
A United People- "Thou art beautiful O my love as Tirzah, Comely as Jerusalem".
In Solomon’s day, Israel was a united kingdom; Tirzah lay to the north, Jerusalem, to the south. Sadly, after Solomon’s death, his kingdom was divided and the two cities separated. However, when Christ returns, Israel will once more be unified under Messianic rule, Rev.7.4.
On a practical note, there is great beauty to the eye of God when Christians endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit, Eph.4.3. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" Ps.133.1.
An Unwavering Attention - "Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me."
The groom acknowledges the searching gaze of his bride. Once Christ returns for Israel, nothing will ever divert her gaze from Him. Practically, Christians too should focus full attention on Christ; yet how often we falter. In Jn.21.19,20, no sooner had Peter been instructed by Christ to "follow Me", than he turned about to look at another!
An Uncontaminated Appetite - "Thy teeth are as a flock of sheep which go up from the washing, whereof every one beareth twins".
The thought, as in 4.2, is of clean, white teeth barring entry to anything unclean. Each tooth is matched by its counterpart, leaving no gap in the defences. This is a vivid picture of the care with which to guard our spiritual appetites.
An Undefiled Mind- "As a piece of pomegranate are thy temples within thy locks."
The temples, as the seat of the mind, are protected, "behind locks", yet fruitful, "as a piece of pomegranate". For the Christian, our focus too should be fixed on all things true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy, Phil.4.8.
An Unrivalled Position - "There are threescore queens … My dove, my undefiled is but one … the only one … the choice one."
The references to queens and concubines in v.8 may indicate that Solomon had already commenced his sad career of prolific polygamy. However, given the context, it is more likely that the comparison here has been drawn with royal women in other lands.
Among a multitude of noble women, the bride is uniquely elevated to a most privileged station. Likewise in Divine arrangements, the position of Israel is secure. In the Tribulation, she will be re-gathered from the nations; in the Millennium, she will be pre-eminent among them, Zech.14.17.
The Church too has a unique and privileged position as the Lamb’s wife, Rev.19.7. Redeemed at infinite cost, she will be forever precious to her Heavenly Bridegroom, Eph.5.25-27.
An Unshakeable Hope - "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning …"
The coming of the Messiah will be the sole expectation of Israel toward the end of the tribulation, Matthew chapter 24. She will be watching, waiting, and making ready. Thankfully for her, His return is certain.
An Unrestrained Welcome - "I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, and to see whether the vine flourished …"
Twice over in Israel’s history, Divine expectations were disappointed. In the time of Isaiah, chapter 5, God’s vineyard yielded wild grapes. In the time of Christ, the vineyard of Judaism lacked prayer, Matt.21.13; praise, Matt.21.15; and produce, Matt.21.19. On this occasion, what sight will meet the searching eye of the Messiah?
"Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib."
Israel will not disappoint God a third time. At the second coming of Christ, His heart will be lifted up, as if by chariots, with the abundant fruit of Amminadib, literally, "My willing people". In the joyous words penned by David, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power" Ps.110.3.
Her Beauty Evaluated by Others
"Return, return, O Shulamite, that we may look upon thee. What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies."
In this section, the viewpoint may well be that of the daughters of Jerusalem. A plurality of onlookers is here described; further on, Solomon the king is mentioned in the third person, 7.5. Thus, the nation of Israel is scrutinised by those around her.
In Gen.32.2, when Jacob’s company was met by a corresponding heavenly host, he named the place Mahanaim, literally, "two armies". Similarly at Christ’s return, it will be evident to onlookers that God’s earthly people are supported by a heavenly army, Rev.19.14.
In this Song, every other description of the bride begins with her head. Here alone, from chapter 7.1, her beauty is described beginning with her feet. This feature too suggests an earthly view of Israel from the perspective of the nations round about.
The first aspect of God’s people that others appreciate is surely evangelism. Appropriately, the description of the bride’s beauty begins with her ‘feet, with shoes’. Truly, "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel" Rom.10.15. Similarly, our feet should be "shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace", Eph.6.15.
The next object of admiration is Fruitfulness. There is sweetness, "Thy navel … like a round goblet"; fruitfulness, "Thy belly … like a heap of wheat"; and sustenance, "Thy two breasts … like two young roes". It is never envisaged that God’s people in any period be spiritually barren or unfruitful, 2Pet.1.8.
The description passes on to the bride’s character. She has stability, "Thy neck is as a tower of ivory"; vision, "Thine eyes like the fishpools of Heshbon"; and watchfulness, "Thy nose as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus". Lebanon in Solomon’s time was a frontier outpost from which the Syrian enemy in Damascus was monitored. The ability to anticipate and detect spiritual danger is an important attribute among the people of God, Acts 20.29.
The final aspect of the bride’s beauty to be perceived is her beloved’s attachment to her. "The king is held [or, captivated] in the galleries." As Israel is the apple of God’s eye, so too is the Church to Christ.
Her Beauty Enjoyed by her Beloved – "How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!"
From chapter 7.6, the speaker is again the bridegroom. He is not now occupied with evaluating his bride’s beauty, but with enjoying it. So shall the Messiah enjoy the spiritual beauty of Israel in the Millennial period, Ps. 45.11.
"This thy stature is like to a palm tree." In view here is the full extent of Israel’s Maturity. Similarly, Christ equipped the Church with gifts in order to bring us "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ", and to "grow up into Him in all things", Eph.4.18,20.
"… and thy breasts to clusters of grapes." Here is declared the full extent of Israel’s Fruitfulness. The Hebrew for the phrase "clusters of grapes" is Eschol. This word was used in Num.13.24 to describe Canaan’s abundant grape clusters, too bountiful to be borne by one man alone. This is an apt and striking picture of Israel’s spiritual fruitfulness in the Millennium. Practically, Christians are exhorted to be "fruitful in every good work" Col.1.10.
"I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof." Israel’s maturity and fruitfulness will be tangible offerings to God in the Millennium. Similarly important are maturity and fruitfulness in a Christian’s life.
"… the smell of thy nose like apples, and the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak." The bride’s beauty brings intense pleasure and refreshment to her beloved. In Paul’s time, the actions of the Philippian Christians were "an odour of a sweet smell" to God, Phil.4.18. It should thus be the aim of every believer to exude a similar fragrance toward Christ.
How touching that the Shulamite’s beauty was evaluated and enjoyed by her beloved. Yet our ambition should be far higher than hers. May we seek primarily not to be approved by men, but rather to be acceptable and well-pleasing to God.
To be continued, (D.V.)
God, Who At Sundry Times
By Tony van der Schyff (South Africa)
Paper 4 - Read Hebrews chapter 1.1-4
This paper continues the eightfold portrait of the Son as outlined in vv.2-4.
EXPIATORY, EFFICACIOUS ATONEMENT
"When He had by Himself purged our sins". He is both Sacrificer and sacrifice; both Offerer and offering; both Priest and propitiation. The terms "by Himself" or "Himself" or "His own", occur a number of times in the Hebrew epistle. "He offered up Himself" Heb.7.27; "by His own blood" Heb.9.12; "offered Himself without spot" Heb.9.14; "by the sacrifice of Himself" Heb.9.26. Here in our verse, "by Himself" indicates the offering up of Himself. "The work of purification was done by Christ personally, and was not something He caused to be done" (Vincent).
His sufferings and death were thus voluntary; of His own self, of His own volition, having submitted His will to the perfect will of the Father, He prayed, "Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine be done" Lk.22.42. He could also testify, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down [in death], and I have power to take it again [in resurrection]. This commandment have I received of My Father" Jn.10.17,18.
The writer records, "not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" Heb.9.12.
Not only were His sufferings and death voluntary [by Himself], it was also expiatory [atoning] in that He "purged our sins", that is, made an atonement for them. He made purification of sins; the cleansing of sins. He accomplished our cleansing of sin and our clearance of guilt. Praise His glorious Name!
EXALTED, ENTHRONED ONE
"He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." This is a reference to His triumphant ascension and glorious exaltation. The words "sat down" literally means He set Himself down; He took His seat. With no seat in the tabernacle or temple of Old Testament times, the Levitical priest could never sit down. Their work was never completed nor ever could be: "And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins" 10.11. The fact that He sat down is emphasised in the Hebrews: He "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" 1.3: He is a high priest "Who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" 8.1: He "sat down on the right hand of God" 10.12: He is "set down at the right hand of the throne of God" 12.2.
"The right hand of the Majesty on high" denotes the place of supreme authority, supreme honour, supreme glory, supreme dominion, supreme excellency, majesty and power. The writer speaks of Christ our High Priest as being "set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" 8.1. King Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple, "Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as head above all" 1Chr.29.11. The apostle Peter referring to the transfiguration scene, testifies, "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty" 2Pet.1.16.
Undoubtedly, here in Heb.1.3 His sitting down "at the right hand of the majesty on high" within the context, denotes His sitting down as Messianic Sovereign.
It has been suggested by some that He sat Himself down:
• In His own Sovereign right [because He is God];
• In His own Creatorial right [because He is the Creator of all things];
• In His own Filial right [because He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father];
• In His own Redemptive right [because of His accomplished work of redemption].
ESTEEM AND EXCELLENCY OF HIS NAME
"Being made [having become] so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they". Last but not least, the Hebrews writer takes us to the very pinnacle of the portrait of the Son, and shows us the Esteem and Excellency of His Name. He is the Son, unique, unparalleled, eternal. Angels are but servants, ministering spirits, 1.14, collectively referred to in the Old Testament as "the sons of God" Job.1.6; 38.7. There are a number of things said to be "better" in the epistle. Better than angels 1.4; better things 6.9; better person (than Abraham) 7.7; better hope 7.19; better covenant 7.22; better covenant … better promises 8.6; better sacrifices 9.23; better possession 10.34; better country 11.16; better resurrection 11.35; better things 11.40; 12.24. The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the eternal Father, "being made so much better than the angels" is seen in the sense that He, having become "lower than the angels" for the purposes of redemption, "for the suffering of death", was now, by virtue of His exaltation to the Father, resuming (we speak reverently) the dignity and the dominion which was ever His, and that which He had voluntarily veiled during His earthly life and ministry, and now in consequence, the One "Who was made [had become; indeed made Himself] a little lower than the angels" is now the One "made [having become] so much better than the angels". J.G. Deck put it very succinctly in his hymn when he wrote:
"Lamb of God! Thy Father’s bosom
Ever was Thy dwelling-place;
His delight, in Him rejoicing,
One with Him in power and grace:
Oh, what wondrous love and mercy –
Thou didst lay Thy glory by,
And for us didst come from heaven,
As the Lamb of God to die!"
He became, for a brief period, less or lower than the angels. "Who being in the form of God [being Himself God], thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation [of no account] and took upon Him [voluntarily] the form of a servant [a bond slave], and was made [became] in the likeness of men" Phil.2.6,7. "But we see Jesus, Who was made [Who became] a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became Him, for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings" Heb.2.9,10.
"A more excellent name than they": numerous and most noble are the many names given of our Blessed Lord in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Abraham called on "the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God" Gen.21.33. Manoah enquired of the angel of the Lord (a Theophany of the pre-incarnate Christ), "What is Thy name?" and the reply was, "Why askest thou thus after My name, seeing it is secret [wonderful]?" Judg.13.17,18. David brought the ark of God "Whose name is called by the name of the LORD of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubim" 2Sam.6.2. The Psalmist exults "Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth" Ps.124.8. Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the coming Messiah announces "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" Isa.9.6. Micah speaks of "the majesty of the name of the LORD his God" Mic.5.4. In the New Testament it is the apostle Peter who proclaims "Neither is there salvation in any other [any other person and any other name]: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" Acts.4.12. The apostle Paul exclaims "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should [must] bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should [must] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" Phil.2.9-11. The apostle John in his revelation of Jesus Christ beholds Him and writes, "His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns [diadems]; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself. And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God. And He hath on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS" Rev.19.12,13,16.
We worship Him, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. We adoringly acknowledge and acclaim Him as the Entrusted Heir, the Executor of all Creation, the Effulgence of Glory, the Express Image of the Father, the Empowering, Energising Word, the Expiatory, Efficacious Atonement, the Exalted, Enthroned One and the Esteem and Excellency of His glorious Name!
Paper 2 - "God maketh the solitary into families" Ps.68.6 (J.N.D.)
In Paper 1 we saw how that God’s desire for the joy of His creature was first manifest in the bringing together of the man and the woman in the bliss of the Garden of Eden. From the beginning it has been the purpose of Satan to wreck such joy and harmony.
At the beginning of miracles by the Lord Jesus in John chapter 2, He manifested His glory in the recovery of joy, which had been lost at the marriage feast. Such an occasion can still be to the glory of God and the beginning of many years of happiness for the couple marrying in the Lord.
The marriage bond must be entered into openly, publicly and legally. Without discussing differences of national custom, such passages as Matthew chapter 25 and Revelation chapter 19 indicate a public wedding ceremony. This formation of a new family unit and the setting up of home must be carried out in accordance with the laws of the local community. For believers, the occasion should be an opportunity of dignity and testimony for the glory of God involving the voices of prayer and praise and the reading of the Scriptures. The dress and behaviour of the Christian guests should be in keeping with the presence of God on a formal, dignified occasion.
A godly sister would never appear at the remembrance meeting without a head covering. This is a symbol of the presence of God and the headship of Christ. Are the presence of God and the headship of Christ not important at a gospel meeting? Some think this to be of less importance than offending some unsaved person who might come in to the meeting. On the contrary, the covering can give an opportunity to witness to such a person about the holiness and claims of God’s presence and the glorious provision of the way of salvation. Have we reached the stage that we do not want the symbol of the presence of God at a wedding? Is such a solemn occasion not an opportunity to glorify God? Are angels not interested in the bond of holy matrimony and marriage in the Lord? A sanctified, godly wedding, with modestly dressed sisters having their heads covered, is a special occasion of testimony in these days of decadent morality.
In modern society there is a Satanic attack upon this last blessing of Paradise that is left to us. A dignified marriage in the Lord is a good testimony and a joyful opportunity for the preaching of the gospel. A brief message of the cross and salvation will set a tone to the ceremony that will preserve from smutty speeches and loose talk in a later reception.
Eph.5.28,29 states "He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church". The mother/child relationship is intimate and precious but it is not an equal relationship. In early life the mother cares and provides everything for the child. As life progresses mother love can be too possessive and circumscribed by circumstances as the beloved son or daughter leaves home. It is precious to see the bond of love between brothers and sisters in the family but this is not the most intimate or tender type of love. Human relationships between friends no matter how close are not the nearest and dearest of ties. These ties are not the closest. This love is not the deepest. These understandings are not the all-inclusive.
The dearest love is that of the husband for his wife and the wife for her husband. The husband represents Christ in the relationship. He is to love his wife as, "Christ also loved the church" and the wife is to love and be subject to her husband. This love is the most intimate, the most precious, the dearest and best of all human experiences.
It is recorded, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" Gen.2.25. The intimacy of marriage is such that any man of decency and any woman of sense can see that it is proper only for people who are joined for life and have given themselves wholly to one another. This demands purity and cleanness. We must approach this subject with the sensitivity of the Bible. Too many sermons and writings have been based on psychology. Much advice has been given that is frivolous and incidental. Psychologists say; divide the money evenly; the wife should put on a fresh dress for her husband’s homecoming every evening; the husband should be all flowers and candy!
The intimacies of marriage based on sacrificial love are most blessed and sweet. The wife’s heart should be open to seek to share all her thoughts, desires and aspirations with her husband. Likewise, the husband should be so devoted to his wife that she may understand all his heart. She will be in loving submission and obedience to seek to please him as his "help meet". Thus together they can be one in their minds, one in their plans, one in their understanding. Above all, they shall be one in the Lord. Their love for each other will be a forgiving, sacrificial love. They will give to each other, as God gave, and so make marriage real.
The marriage where there is disagreement, quarrelling, broken vows and even hatred can be made a happy marriage by the grace of God through love and forgiveness. We are all weak mortal creatures who make mistakes, lack patience and are prone to misunderstanding. If God had not, through Christ and His work on the cross, forgiven us, it is possible that we would be already in hell. Is there any reader who at some time has not needed to say ‘sorry’? Happy the marriage where there is forgiveness, full and free. Problems and difficulties will arise. The devil attacked the first marriage. The spirit of having a trial time together to give it a go, and then at the slightest problem, walk out, is not the basis on which to enter marriage. There is of necessity an acceptance of each other’s individuality. There must be an acceptance of each other’s physiological and psychological differences. Yet the secret is that blending into that oneness and togetherness of the intimacy of nuptial bliss.
WHAT GOD HATH JOINED
The Lord Jesus taught, "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" Matt.19.6. Observe the word "what", not ‘whom’. The reference is not the persons but the yoke. The Lord referred to the marriage union and of this He said, "Let not man put asunder (separate)". This being in the present tense and imperative mood could be translated, ‘Stop severing marriage unions which God hath permanently joined together’.
We write with Christian love and compassion. There are many sad believers, weeping women and brokenhearted men who have endured the breakdown of marriage against their will and through no deliberate action of their own. Allowable divorce is the wreck of marriage. If we regard the Lord’s language without prejudice or modern notions, we must agree that His words decree the indissolubility of the marriage bond, quoting Gen.2.24 in Matt.19.5. His unsaved hearers understood that this was what He said. His disciples who listened clearly understood what He said, "His disciples say unto Him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry" v.10. Paul clearly understood this and does not give his inspired opinion because the Lord had clearly dealt with the matter. "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife." 1Cor.7.10,11,
In summary, the Bible establishes the institution of marriage for humanity through all ages as:
An Institution of God: "What therefore God hath joined together" Matt.19.6;
A Monogamous Relationship: "Brought her to the man"; one woman and one man, Gen.2.22;
A Heterosexual Relationship: "Let every man have his own wife and let every woman have her own husband" 1Cor.7.2;
A Formal, Public Establishment of a New Family Unit: "Leave his father and his mother" Gen.2.24;
A Binding, Lifelong Relationship Broken Only By Death: "So long as he liveth" Rom.7.2;
A Rule Relationship of Headship and Submission: "Wives be in subjection to your own husbands" Eph.5.22;
A Functional Relationship Of Sacrificial Love And Submissive Help.
On this last feature of marriage let us close our consideration as we breathe the pure air of God’s purpose in the lofty truth of Eph.5.22,23.
The Wife – The Submissive Helper – "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" Eph.5.22. "Submit" means be subject; place under to hold up. Hold up means to support the husband in the assembly, the home, his work, his responsibilities.
The Husband – The Sacrificial Lover – "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it" Eph.5.25. Sacrificial love, love not just for her beauty, or attraction, or advantage. Christ bore guilt that was not His own. Love will be forgiving.
The Marriage – The Symbolic Purpose – "That He might present it to Himself a glorious church" Eph.5.27. Marriage between two believers in the Lord should reflect that relationship of Christ and the Church. For those of us who are married; how much is there in that relationship that Christ can recognise as being of Himself?
We have observed that Peter was located at Babylon, the setting for the prophecy of Daniel, and that its dramatic events coloured his teaching. Consider two references in the epistle that link up with Daniel’s account of the fiery furnace, chapter 3. First, Peter refers to gold "tried with fire" and sees the trial of their faith as being "much more precious" than that, 1.7. Then, he anticipated a fresh wave of persecution, and he warned them, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you" 4.12. The word "strange" had been used already in the chapter. Their detractors regarded them as "strange" because they would not "run … with them to the same excess of riot" v.4. The believer who walks the pathway of separation with a lifestyle that is distinct from accepted norms will always be regarded as odd, and we must never regard it as unusual if the world’s curiosity turns to hostility. That reaction resulted in a "fiery trial" for Peter’s readers, and the three Hebrew youths experienced a literal "fiery trial".
Before examining the practical issues of the chapter, we will note that there is a parallel here with the situation in the end times. Nebuchadnezzar was the first emperor of "the times of the Gentiles". Last in that line will be the evil personage called "the beast", Rev.13.1. Observe the connections:
The command to worship the image on the plain of Dura was to "peoples, nations and languages" v.4, R.V. The beast will have power "over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations" Rev.13.7
The command was "to worship the golden image" v.5. The dragon, the beast, and the image of the beast will all be objects of worship, Rev.13.15
Both chapters contain death-threats for those who refuse to worship
Nebuchadnezzar’s blasphemy is seen in his challenge, "who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" v.15. The beast will "[open] his mouth in blasphemy against God" Rev.13.6
The three young Hebrews were targeted by the furious king. The beast will "make war with the saints" Rev.13.7
The number six features in the dimension of the image, 60 x 6 cubits, and six instruments were played. 666 will be "the number of the beast" Rev.13.18.
THE ABSENCE OF DANIEL
Daniel’s absence is unexplained and speculation is guess-work. Suffice to say that he must have been elsewhere; given his track record, he would never have buckled under the threats of the king. To their credit his friends remained firm despite his absence. He was their mentor. It was under his influence that they had maintained their distinctiveness at Babylon’s university, 1.6-21. He was the one who rallied them for the prayer meeting, 2.17,18. How would they fare when he wasn’t around? They had learned to stand on their own two feet. They weren’t like Lot; when he separated from Abraham his spiritual life deteriorated drastically. When Jehoiada the priest died, the promising but impressionable young Joash collapsed under new influences, 2Chr.24.15-22. Some believers have to be propped up, and when the prop is removed they fall. The three Hebrew youths stood firm!
It seems that Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when he was told, "Thou art this head of gold" 2.38, had inflated the king’s ego. He ignored the fact that it was "the God of heaven" Who had given him the kingdom, v.37. He erected the colossal golden image, very probably a statue of himself; it was a monument that displayed the pride that would ultimately see him swaggering around Babylon boasting about "this great Babylon, that I have built" 4.30. Was Peter thinking of Nebuchadnezzar when he said, "God resisteth the proud"? 1Pet.5.5.
Achievements often spawn pride and we need to guard against it for God hates it, Prov.6.17. It was pride in his success that destroyed good king Uzziah, who was "marvellously helped, till he was strong". Then, "his heart was lifted up" 2Chr.26.15,16. "Puffed up" is a key description of the Corinthians; let Paul’s question to them be a challenge to us, "what hast thou that thou didst not receive?" 1Cor.4.6,7. If God has been good, and has allowed what appears to be success either in secular affairs or in Christian service, let us strive to remain humble, for "pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" Prov.16.18. How devastating to hear news of "a great man fallen" 2Sam.3.38.
There is a lesson in observing who had to attend the dedication of the image. Only the elite were present, and the fact that Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were in promoted posts meant that they were obliged to be there. Daniel had arranged their promotion, 2.49, but perhaps if he had realised the danger to which they would be exposed, he would have let things stand as they were. We can unwittingly introduce others to areas of spiritual danger. A disciple who "was known unto the high priest" organised Peter’s admittance to the high priest’s palace, Jn.18.15-17. The servant girl knew of his commitment to Christ as indicated in her question to Peter: "Art not thou also [just as he is] one of this man’s disciples"? He must have been shocked when he heard Peter say, "I am not". Having been introduced to a place of spiritual peril, Peter failed. The three Hebrew youths were resolute.
Saints in management positions are often exposed to dangers that others avoid. They may come under pressure to compromise principles of honesty and justice. Extra demands on their time can affect their commitment to regular assembly responsibility. They may often be in situations where alcohol is being consumed freely. A position of authority sometimes produces an overbearing attitude to others. Thus the promoted post has its own risks, and those who occupy it must remain vigilant.
THE WILES OF THE DEVIL
With the subtlety of his father the devil, Nebuchadnezzar instigated a two-pronged attack to induce worship. There was the threat of the fiery furnace and also the appeal of the music. Music has a powerful influence on the emotions. National anthems are meant to stir patriotism and military bands incite courage. Freedom movements and football supporters have their distinctive songs. It used to be that popular songs were ballads about the heartbreak of lost love. Apparently, many of today’s songs incite immorality, drug-abuse, perversion and violence, and with tiny gadgets and earphones, no one need know your tastes in music. This is an appeal to young believers to be very wary about the lyrics and beat you listen to. Remember, music is a powerful medium.
In this context, the music was to encourage worship, and music is still used by the religious world to promote worship. It could be the classical anthem that charms the conservative "worshipper", or the modern renderings of the evangelical praise band, but neither features in the New Testament. Christian worship is not induced by any appeal to the senses, but rather by the activity of the Spirit of God: "We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God" Phil.3.3, R.V. The New Testament maxim is, "in spirit and in truth" Jn.4.24.
Motivated by anti-Semitism and envy, "certain Chaldeans", the ruling class in Babylon, reported the three youths to Nebuchadnezzar. Doubtless they saw the young men as a threat to their position! Their complaint contains an unintentional compliment; true, the youths would not bow to the image now, but they had never served the false gods of Babylon, v.12. They were absolutely consistent just as Daniel displayed consistency in praying three times a day "as he did aforetime" 6.10. Let us be consistent in the regular round of life so that when the emergency comes, normal behaviour continues.
The king’s reaction was "rage and fury" which gave rise to him throwing them to the flames. The Lord Jesus made the connection between anger and murder, Matt.5.21,22, and the link is as old as time: "Cain was very wroth": "Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him" Gen.4.5-8. Anger can easily lead to sin: "Be ye angry, and sin not" Eph.4.26.
GOD IS ABLE
The furious threats of the defied emperor did not intimidate the three friends. Their trust was in the living God. "Our God … is able" v.17. God was able, but was it His will to deliver them? Stephen was martyred but his fellow-deacon Philip survived for many years as an earnest evangelist. In a single chapter James was slain, but Peter was rescued, Acts 12. Could God not have intervened for Stephen and James? Of course He could have, but for reasons unknown to us, He did not. Thus the three Hebrews had no insight into God’s will, but one thing was sure, whether he intervened or not, they would never bow: "if not … we will not serve thy gods" v.18. Be confident in your God and do what is right whether or not there is immediate intervention and vindication.
"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee … when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned" Isa.43.2. The three Hebrew youths experienced that; the Divine presence was a reality. Peter said to saints who were facing the fiery trial, "He careth for you" 1Pet.5.7. So, believers of this church age have a powerful incentive to contented Christian living despite its hardships and trials, "He hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’" Heb.13.5.
Another outcome of their experience was the king’s edict demanding toleration of the God of the Jews! vv.28-30. Saints who do right will always enhance God’s testimony.
ln our first article we noted the Period, the Purpose and the Principles of the epistle.
PRÉCIS OF THE EPISTLE
There are eleven names mentioned in the epistle, five at the beginning and five at the end with Onesimus in the middle. That the number eleven is that of treachery is indicated by the following quotations. Judg.16.5, "the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, [Delilah] and said unto her, Entice him, [Samson] and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver"; 17.3, "when he [Micah] had restored the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, I had wholly dedicated the silver unto the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image"; 2Kgs.23.36, "Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem ... and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD"; 24.18, "Zedekiah was twenty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem ... and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD." There were eleven disciples left after the treachery of Judas. It is lovely to appreciate that the treachery of Onesimus is overcome by Divine grace.
We may outline the verses as follows:
vv.1-3 - Paul’s Approach to Philemon and his Acquaintances;
vv.4-7 - Paul’s Appreciation of Philemon and his Ability;
vv.8-22 - Paul’s Appeal to Philemon for Acceptability;
vv.23-24 - Paul’s Associates in Prison and their Activity;
v.25 - Paul’s Ambition for Philemon and the Assembly.
PARTICULARS OF THE EPISTLE
Vv.1-3, Paul’s Approach to Philemon and his Acquaintances
v.1 "Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,"
Paul’s Circumstances – he was, "a prisoner of Jesus Christ". In this statement he identifies with Onesimus, while being distinctly different. This is the principle of priestly sympathy. To really have sympathy we must be able to intimately understand the position of the other person. This is one of the reasons why the true humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ is so vitally important. Both R.V. and J.N.D. change the order of the titles to ‘Christ Jesus’, which implies that this sympathy is now experienced because of ‘the Man in the glory’.
Paul does not see himself as a prisoner of any earthly monarch. Because his vision is full of Christ Jesus he is able to rise above every earthly circumstance and see in it the purpose of God.
There is no reference to his apostleship, since this is a personal letter containing a plea and not a command. It is designed to touch Philemon’s heart. It would be a strange thing indeed if such a letter from prison from one’s spiritual father did not awake the emotions!
Paul’s Company – "Timothy our brother"
Timothy was Paul’s closest companion, but never was officially an apostle. He is mentioned in all of Paul’s letters apart from Ephesians and Galatians. It is an indication of Pauline graciousness that he links Timothy with him. This would also ensure that there was a witness to what he wrote. We need to be careful that we do not leave ourselves open to being misquoted and misrepresented. To have witnesses when serious matters are being discussed is essential. The standard of two or three witnesses is very valid even in this age of grace.
Paul’s Commendation – "Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer"
"Philemon" – as the head of the house, he is mentioned first. We sometimes see a plaque on the wall which states, "Christ is the Head of this house". That is not Scripturally correct. Christ is the Head of the church, Eph.5.23; Head of the man, 1Cor.11.3; Head of principalities and powers, Col.2.10; Head of the corner, Acts 4.11; but really it is the man who is the head of the house, 1Cor.11.3; Eph.5.23.
"dearly beloved", he was Loved, and he would get a chance to show the kind of love that was shown to him in his attitude towards Onesimus.
"fellowlabourer" he was a Labourer. This reminds him of how his fellowship was appreciated when Paul laboured in the gospel, probably at Ephesus, since Paul had never been to Colosse, Col.1.4-8. It also shows Paul expected him to continue to labour in the work of God. Consistency in the work of God is what is really valuable. How refreshing it is to meet saints after a period of absence, and find them still believing and practising the same truth they held in former times. Such conviction and continuity is vital.
It is important to note how different kinds of men are united in the work. Here a man known locally, another known very widely, yet both make valuable contributions to the work. It is a big thing when men of different abilities and temperaments work together harmoniously. This principle could be illustrated in the Old Testament by Haggai and Zechariah and in the New Testament by Peter and John. They had different personalities and were in different age groups, but they laboured together for His glory.
v.2 "And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house"
Note the Family, "Apphia"; the Fellowsoldier , "Archippus"; and the Fellowship, "the church in thy house".
"our beloved Apphia" – both the R.V. and J.N.D. read, "Apphia our sister". She was most likely the wife of Philemon. It is a great blessing when the husband and wife are united in their service for the Lord and His people. This is the only time Paul mentions a woman in an introduction and it may be because she had more contact with a domestic slave. Here it is private and in the family sphere, thus she is introduced. She is not spoken of in the Colossian epistle. Sisters do not have public place in the testimony of the assembly, but the value of godly sisters to the testimony should never be underestimated, nor should the contribution of a godly couple.
In the days when Paul was writing, women were considered inferior in society and were often demeaned and degraded, but Paul sets her in spiritual equality with her husband.
He calls her "sister" and thus removes any thought of undue familiarity. Not to be over familiar with a sister is a mark of all spiritual men. Note how John addresses the "elect lady" in 2Jn.1, "The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth". He is very guarded in his address lest there be any words which could be misunderstood. We, too, need to be discrete when dealing with a sister. We have to remove any hint of over familiarity that would allow the worldly, salacious mind to become suspicious, and then spread unfounded stories and perhaps ruin our testimony.
"Archippus our fellowsoldier". He was likely the son of Philemon and Apphia. If so, what a blessing to have the family all in fellowship and involved in service! His father was a fellow-worker – he was in the Field; Archippus is a fellowsoldier – he was in the Fight.
It appears that he was a little backward or timid since we read in Col.4.17, "say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it". Was he cooling in his dedication to the service of the Lord? Archippus seems to have been away from Colosse or Paul would have spoken to him personally. However, the responsible brethren had the task of challenging him in this matter. Each of us needs to be reminded of our responsibilities in the work of God, even Timothy, "But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry" 2Tim.4.5. Overseers especially ought to be alert so that any sign of coldness of heart is addressed early with spiritual admonition.
"the church in thy house" – this is the local church or assembly and comprises of the saints called out and gathered together. It is not a building. There is no thought of a material building being erected inside the house of Philemon! Those who term the building the church, and even prefix the term with some other adjective, are lacking in their understanding of assembly truth.
What a privilege it is to open one’s house for the saints. Note 1Cor.16.19, where Paul writing from Ephesus speaks of Aquila and Priscilla and, "the church that is in their house". With regard to Rome, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila ... Likewise greet the church that is in their house" Rom.16.3,5. Also Laodicea, "Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house" Col.4.15.
This lifts the home to a lofty level. When the assembly functions in the home, all is given to the Lord and the control of elders recognised. This does not support the modern idea of segmenting the assembly and having various house meetings. It does envisage all the members of the assembly meeting at one convenient location and all that is done is under the control of the overseers. Nor does it give licence for a member of the assembly to commence a work in his home, that he calls ‘my work’, and which is carried on in independence from the normal government of the local assembly. Again it must be emphasised that all work must be under the control of the assembly elders. What is stated applies to those who are in fellowship in an established assembly and not in the context of pioneering work.
This raises the pertinent and searching question: if the saints met in my house, would they find anything that would embarrass them? Would I need to put anything out before they came in and the Lord was present with His people?
v.3 "Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
The Greeting – This is two fold, "grace" and "peace".
"grace" - this was the Greek/Gentile greeting and it is the fountain of every other blessing.
"peace" - this was the Hebrew greeting, "Shalom".
In the 17 greetings in the New Testament where these words are used, grace always precedes peace. It shows there cannot be the enjoyment of peace without the experience of grace.
The Godhead – Two Persons are here mentioned, "God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ". There are three great truths in the verse that would take too much space to expound, but let us note them.
The Fatherhood of God. While this is a massive subject, Paul brings it to the level of an individual and seeks to remind Philemon that he was not always in the family of God, but is now, through grace. Thus it is a lever to have Philemon extend to Onesimus the same grace and bring him into the family circle without prejudice or suspicion.
The Lordship of Christ. Another mighty subject that Paul uses to remind Philemon that if he wants to continue to treat Onesimus as a slave, he was to remember that he had a Master also and He treated him well.
The Deity of Christ. All are agreed there is no article before Lord and since the one preposition governs both names it clearly implies and teaches the equality and Deity of Christ.
These are great truths, which are denied in Christendom, but held dear by every Christian. There is no such thing as a Christian who denies the Deity of the Lord Jesus.
As a result of advances in medicine and in other fields of human knowledge, people are living longer, but sooner or later physical life comes to an end: everyone dies. God, who created all things, Genesis 1.1, tells us in His written Word, the Bible, that life is brief. It is likened to a vapour which appears for an instant and then vanishes, James 4.14. Life is uncertain and for many people is not full of enjoyment but of stressful, worrying and painful experiences. However, physical death is not the end: all of us will exist forever. A million years from today, and on into eternity, we shall be experiencing either unimaginable joy, bliss and peace in heaven in the presence of God, Psalm 16.11, or we shall be separated from Him forever.
The Gift of God
Why do people die? Why is there so much trouble and suffering in the world? The cause of death, trouble and suffering is sin. God is holy, Leviticus 19.2, and must punish sin. We have all sinned against God, Romans 5.12, by breaking His commandments and we deserve eternal punishment. We read in Hebrews 9.27, "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" and in Romans 6.23 that "the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord". However, "God is love" 1John 4.8, and John 3.16 reads, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." It ought to be appreciated that in love God gave His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come into the world, to hang upon a cross and suffer, bleed and die for our sins, 1Corinthians 15.3. The Lord Jesus Christ is holy: He did not and could not sin, Acts 2.27. He was nailed to a wooden cross, and there, God "laid on Him the iniquity of us all" Isaiah 53.6. After He had borne that awful punishment He cried in triumph, "It is finished" and He died, John 19.30. As we have seen, death is a result of sin but the Lord Jesus Christ is sinless. He voluntarily died: He tasted "death for every man" Hebrews 2.9. He was buried, but three days later He rose from the dead, and after forty days ascended back to heaven, Luke 24.6,51.
You will not be in heaven in eternity as a result of doing good works or by being religious, Ephesians 2.8,9. How then can you be saved from eternal punishment? How can you know that your sins are forgiven and that you will be in heaven eternally? The Lord is going to return to take to heaven those who have been saved whether they have already died or are alive when He comes again, 1Thessalonians 4.16,17, and this could happen at any moment. There is only one way to be saved and that is, for the substitutionary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ to be effective for you so that you will be among those who will be in heaven eternally. You must repent, Acts 20.21, that is, turn from your sins and turn to God, put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, believing that, in your place, He bled and died on the cross suffering there the punishment your sins deserved from God. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" Acts 16.31. Once you have been saved you are saved eternally. Regarding those who are saved, the Lord said, "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand" John 10.28.