It is rather surprising to hear the content of conversations of many professing Christians. They will speak with authority about the pros and cons of various cars, the most economic kitchen appliances, the current bargains in a variety of shops, how to get an advantage by using the internet, where they went on holiday and so many other similar topics. A somewhat proud and arrogant trait can be detected as they speak of the things they own and boast of what they have. All these possessions are passing and transient. Eventually the car will need replacing as will every other commodity that is purchased with the currency of earth.
This is not to say that earthly, transient things are unnecessary or sinful. They have a legitimate place in life, but there are other possessions with which we ought to be familiar and be able to discuss intelligently with our Christian friends. Such conversation is the hallmark of those who are true "strangers and pilgrims" Heb.11.13; 1Pet.2.11. We find an example in Mal.3.16, "Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name."
Our possessions greatly outweigh anything of earth. Perhaps the first spiritual possession that we valued was that in Christ "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" Eph.1.7; which resulted in, "being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" Rom.5.1. Through His great and precious promises we have the assurance of salvation. It has been often stated that the work of Christ makes us safe and the Word of God makes us sure. "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life" 1Jn.5.13. Then there is the witness of the indwelling Spirit, "Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" Rom.8.15. Again we read, 1Cor.2.12, "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." Another proof that we have been saved is, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren ..." 1Jn.3.14.
This wonderful salvation has introduced us to many glorious possessions that we have "in Him". Eph.1.11, "In Whom also we have obtained an inheritance"; Eph.3.12, "In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him". We can approach God’s throne without fear because "we have a great high priest" Heb.4.14, Who "ever liveth to make intercession" for us. These promises of God have been "confirmed by an oath" so that "we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast" Heb.6.17-19. We owe the gospel to a perishing world since, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels" 2Cor.4.7. Provision has been made for us even if we sin (which ought to be rare): "if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" 1Jn.2.1. Truly the blessings we have in Christ are far too numerous to consider, even briefly.
When life has passed and our day of service is over, what a glorious possession awaits us: "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" 2Cor.5.1. Sometimes we look around with a measure of despondency, but we can look up with hearts full of anticipated glory, and this will prove to be a blessed subject for conversation.
It must surely be with renewed and increased expectation that we cross the threshold to another year. For the world it undoubtedly hails another year of disappointments and disasters; features which will become more prevalent as the Lord’s coming approaches. For us, His own, it may well be the year of the fulfilment of His promise, "… I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" Jn.14.3. This world is not our home; we are pilgrims journeying to the "better land, by faith long since possessed." Like the Thessalonians we "wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus …" 1Thess.1.10.
But Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave is our goal.
We owe an immense debt of gratitude to our God for His faithfulness in meeting all the needs in relation to the publication of the magazine and acknowledge with a sense of indebtedness all the encouragement of the Lord’s dear people and the service of prayer many have maintained on our behalf. We take this opportunity to thank the contributors who, at great cost, take the time and make the effort to write helpful, instructive and edifying articles. We do not forget those who facilitate distribution and go the extra mile, sometimes literally, to bring bundles of magazines to individuals and assemblies. Letters of appreciation from many saints in many countries, for the magazine and the "Glory" series of books, prove to be a great encouragement.
We express gratitude to our Editor for his patient and painstaking selection of relevant and worthwhile material for inclusion in the magazine and to the secretary for discharging his responsibilities cheerfully and efficiently. Likewise, we are grateful to the Accountant for his valued services and advice.
It is our prayer that the magazine will continue to fulfil the purpose for which it was originally commenced, namely the encouragement and edification of the Lord’s people. We pray that we will continue to be favoured with your prayerful support and look to the Lord for His further gracious and vital help.
No.19: "I will sift the house of Israel among the nations".
Again read chapter 9.1-10
We have noted that 9.1-10 deals with the Removal From the Land, and 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). These verses 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.
We considered the first two of these and now we come to:
The Guarantor of Judgment, vv.5,6
He is omnipotent and irresistible: "And the Lord God of hosts is He that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn: and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and shall be drowned as by the flood of Egypt. It is He that buildeth His stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop on earth; He that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: the Lord is His name". The very fact He is "the Lord" guarantees the certainty of coming judgment. He is in absolute control of creation, whether terrestrial or celestial. Whereas the previous reference to "the flood of Egypt" 8.8, is evidently figurative in that it refers to overflowing judgment, here it is quite literal. The Lord is in command of all creation at any given time. The expression, "His stories [‘upper chambers’, J.N.D.] in the heaven", has been defined as "His celestial palace" (M.F.Unger), and the word "troop" [‘vault’, J.N.D.], meaning an ‘arched, vaulted work’ (Gesenius), evidently refers to what we call ‘the vault of heaven’. Earth and heaven appear to be linked by the vast arch of sky above us.
The Universality of Judgment, vv.7,8
It is important to notice that the Lord is not terminating His covenant with Israel on account of their sinfulness. At first glance it might seem that Israel has lost its unique position and would, henceforth, be regarded simply as another nation without any further distinction. The message of these verses is that there is a very real sense in which Israel is not distinct from any other nation for the simple reason that all nations, including Israel, are accountable to God. At the same time, as Amos is about to demonstrate, vv.11-15, Israel is particularly and peculiarly, the people of God.
We must emphasise that the lesson here is that Israel is subject to the decrees and laws of God as much as any other nation. They were not exempted because of their redemption from Egypt. God had directed the affairs of other nations too: "Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto Me, O children of Israel? Saith the Lord. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir? Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom [that is, upon any ‘sinful kingdom’], and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth". Ethiopia is mentioned possibly because it was regarded as remote at the time, yet the Lord had watched over them. Caphtor is usually identified with Crete, although some scholars, including A.W. Streane, favour the coast of the Egyptian Delta. According to C.L. Feinberg, "Jeremiah (47.1-7) sees Philistia as the remnant of the ancient Aegean civilization headed by Caphtor … Crete was probably the original home of the Philistines before their entrance to Palestine (Deut.2.23)". Kir is unidentified, but it is thought to have been somewhere in Assyria, 2Kgs.16.9.
The Purpose of Judgment, vv.8,9
While any "sinful kingdom" will be destroyed "from off the face of the earth", and Israel would not be exempted from Divine judgment, a remnant would be preserved: "I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the Lord. For, lo, I will command, and will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain [literally ‘pebble’, but referring to the kernel] fall upon the earth" vv.8,9. The word "sift", meaning to ‘shake’, reminds us that the sieve "is an instrument of discrimination. It gathers out impurities and leaves intact that which passes the grade" (J.A.Motyer). The fearful judgment about to fall on the nation was designed to remove the chaff; while every "grain" would be preserved, "all the sinners of My people shall die by the sword, which say, the evil shall not overtake us nor prevent us [‘befall us’, J.N.D.]" v.10. This is in accordance with Jer.30.11, "For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished". Zephaniah describes the result of Divine judgment: "I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth. Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord hath taken away thy judgments" Zeph.3.12-14. See also Zech.12.9-14.
The object of coming judgment was not, therefore, to extinguish the nation, but to purge the nation in preparation for coming restoration. It should be said that while these verses can be applied to the nation in its entirety (that is, to Judah and Israel), they do have particular reference to Israel, the northern of the two kingdoms. Although the ten tribes were deported by Assyria, 2Kgs.17.6, this does not mean that they have become ‘lost tribes’. This is clear from Revelation chapter 7 where, with two exceptions (Ephraim and Dan), all the tribes are mentioned. The Lord is thoroughly aware of the location of every one of His people. Every one of His "elect" Matt.24.31, will be preserved. Not even "the least grain" will "fall upon the earth". The Lord will "throughly purge His floor, and gather the wheat into the garner; but He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire" Matt.3.12.
The expression, "the least grain", reminds us that every believer, however humble and insignificant is precious to God. These verses also remind us that the purpose of discipline is purification and restoration. The New Testament makes this clear in connection with assembly discipline: "For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" 1Cor.5.3-5.
The ‘sifting’ of Israel reminds us of the Lord’s words, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you [plural: have you all] that he might sift you as wheat" Lk.22.31. Matthew Henry puts it like this: "he desired to have them, that he might sift them, that he might show them to be chaff, and not wheat’. The word "sift" comes from sinion, meaning ‘a sieve’. But, as W.T.P. Woolston points out, "they were wheat! If they had only been chaff, and not really ‘wheat’, Satan would not have wanted to sift them: it was because they were real that Satan desired to get them in his power". Although the Lord knew that His disciples would be ‘winnowed’, He did nothing to stop it, because He knew that the process would remove the chaff. As C.I. Scofield observes: "Peter was wheat, but his self-confidence was chaff".
The preservation of a remnant in Israel ("the least grain") does not mean that there is no hope of future nationhood. The final section of the prophecy describes the glory of Israel after the refining process.
This is the last of three upward stages in the relationship between Solomon and his bride. Revival began at chapter 5.2; Review took place from chapter 6.4; now, Rest is the predominant theme from chapter 7.10.
The primary spiritual lesson here is prophetic, and concerns Israel as she enters the Millennium. In God’s calendar for Israel, this passage corresponds to the feast of tabernacles, Deut 13.16. However, the verses may also be profitably applied personally by individual Christians.
In this section, the bride describes the joy of resting in her beloved’s affection; she has passed through much to arrive at this point. Initially, she focused on her possession of him, "My beloved is mine, and I am his" 2.16. As the relationship deepened, her predominant thought became his possession of her, "I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine" 6.3. Now, at last, her only thought is his possession of her, "I am my beloved’s …" 7.10. Importantly, possession is accompanied by affection, "… and his desire is toward me".
While Christians are expected to love God, this is not the basis of our hope. Such a foundation would never avail. Rather, our salvation rests solely on Christ’s possession of us, and Christ’s affection toward us. This is the firm bedrock of eternal security. The Hebrew writer enjoins us to cease from our own works, and in faith, to enter into His rest, Heb. 4.10. In the same vein, John describes himself not as a disciple who loved Jesus, but rather as one of the disciples "whom Jesus loved" Jn.13.23.
In this passage, four different facets of the bride’s rest in her beloved are carefully presented, and this paper will explore each in turn.
The Company of a Partner
God designed marriage for partnership: "it is not good that the man should be alone" Gen.2.18. Accordingly, in 7.11,12, the bride repeatedly invites her beloved to work together, "Come, let us go forth", abide together, "Let us lodge", and yearn together, "Let us get up early … let us see …" Likewise, the Christian should seek to work together with Christ, Mk.16.20, abide together with Christ, Lk.24.29, and yearn together with Christ for spiritual fruit, Jn.4.34-38.
The bride seeks her beloved’s fellowship, but she is careful to also ensure that her company is desirable to him. There is about her a fragrance, "the mandrakes give a good smell" and a fruitfulness, "at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits" prepared purely for his pleasure, "which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved". Thus we should fill our lives with character and activity that is pleasing to Christ.
The Closeness of a Brother - "O that thou wert as my brother" - 8.1
Prophetically, this was fulfilled in part at the Incarnation, when Christ came in perfect humanity; "God was manifest in flesh" 1Tim 3.16. Then in 8.2 there is foreshadowed the proximity of Christ to us, "I would lead thee and bring thee into my mother’s house". This reflects Heb.2.14, "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same".
Then she says, "Who would instruct me". "Who" is in italics and not in the Hebrew text, so this is the bride’s beloved (rather than her mother) who provides instruction. Since Christ was made "like unto His brethren", He now instructs us as One Who has trodden before our earthly path. "His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me" v.3. Such is the delightful intimacy of this moment that the bride charges her companions not to intrude: "that ye stir not up, nor awake my love" [since "my" is in italics, "my love" really signifies "the love that we enjoy"].
The Courage of a Protector.
In these verses, the unfailing protection of the bride’s beloved is depicted in the following ways.
She is Supported – "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved" - v.5.
The assurance of love leads to trust and dependency. John the apostle too was conscious of Christ’s love toward him; thus was he able to fully lean on the bosom of Christ, Jn. 13.23.
She is Shadowed - "I raised thee up under the apple tree" - v.5.
Since the bridegroom is called an apple tree in 2.3, under whose shadow the bride sat in delight, consistency requires that the groom utters the words of this verse as well. The bride is fully shielded from harm by the shelter her beloved affords.
She is Sealed – "Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm" - v.6.
In Exodus chapter 28, the high priest wore a breastplate, set with twelve precious stones inscribed with the names of the children of Israel "like the engravings of a signet". The same names were similarly inscribed upon two onyx stones worn on the high priest’s shoulders. The word "signet" in that passage is the very same one translated "seal" in this verse. The idea is that of an imprint, fixed and indelible.
So too are Christians imprinted, not upon a breastplate or an ephod, but upon the Saviour’s heart and arm. His heart is the seat of affection and courage; His arm, the sign of strength. We are imprinted upon His heart; He will not forget us. We are imprinted upon His arm; He will not fail us.
Finally, the bride exults in her beloved’s love which is unfailing, v.6, "love is strong as death", unquenchable, v.7, "many waters cannot quench love", and un-negotiable, v.7, "if a man would give all ... for love … it would utterly be contemned".
The Care of an Overseer.
In v.11 we are told of a vineyard possessed by Solomon at Balhamon (literally, Lord of a multitude). Despite being the overseer of a "multitude", Solomon’s care for his bride is personally tailored to her.
Individual favour – "We have a little sister" - v.8.
The identity of the bride’s "little sister" in 8.8 presents difficulties in interpretation. Is she the bride’s sister, or is she the bride herself at an earlier age? Regardless, from a practical viewpoint, clear differences exist between the bride and the "little sister" in both development and disposition. The bride is at a later stage of development than the little sister; "she hath no breasts … my breasts like towers". The sister’s final disposition is yet to be seen but the bride’s is evidently fully formed: "if she be a wall, if she be a door … I am a wall". Yet irrespective of these differences, there is an individual interest granted by Solomon, "then was I in his eyes as one that found favour".
Christ too bestows an individualised favour upon Christians, according to the stage of our maturity and the nature of our personality. Thus, in John chapter 11 Christ meets two sorrowing sisters with different temperaments. To the one, He speaks, but with the other, He weeps.
Individual fruit – "Solomon had a vineyard … My vineyard is before me. Thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand …" - vv.11,12.
Not only does the bride receive individual consideration, she is also under an individual expectation. As the Lord of a multitude, Solomon let out the vineyard to many keepers. Yet, the bride was occupied with her responsibility alone; "My vineyard is before me." Thus, at the end of John’s gospel, Christ points out Peter’s path to him, but also instructs him not to be distracted by John’s; "if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me."
A PRACTICAL ASIDE
This section of the book illustrates ideal conditions within marriage. Husbands are shown how they may provide the rest of a loving relationship to their wives.
His Company. In activity, let us go forth, in locality, let us lodge, in priority, let us get up early, all should be shared between couples.
His Closeness. While women often speak of other women as their "best friend", the bride’s "best friend" in this Song is actually her beloved: "This is my beloved, and this is my friend" 5.16. Thus are husbands to provide friendship to their wives, with all the empathy and intimacy of a brother.
His Courage. Within the limits of human frailty, husbands should neither forget their wives: "set me as a seal upon thine heart" v.6, nor fail them, "upon thine arm" v.6.
His Care. Irrespective of a wife’s development or disposition, the husband, as a keen student of his wife’s character, is to bestow individualised favour. He is also responsible to provide peaceful conditions within the household conducive to her spiritual growth, so that she may be fruitful to her own heavenly Master.
The Coming of a Saviour – "Make haste my beloved, and be thou like to a roe, or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices" - 8.14,
We have arrived finally at the end. It is the end not just of this section, but the book as a whole. Indeed, prophetically speaking, it is the close of an entire dispensation, and yet the threshold of another. For Israel, in the final days of the tribulation, this verse will be a heartfelt cry. Perhaps conscious of the church’s prior removal at the rapture, "The companions hearken to Thy voice" v.13, Israel will likewise long for Messiah’s voice to ring in His millennial reign, "Cause me to hear it".
To Christians of today’s church age, this too is our great expectation. But we need not hasten our Lord; He has already thrice promised to do so; "Behold, I come quickly … Behold, I come quickly … Surely, I come quickly" And we respond to this promise, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" Rev.22.7,12,20.
‘God maketh the solitary into families’ Ps.68.6 (J.N.D.)
Having considered the Scriptural authority for marriage we will now use these papers to consider the subject of COURTSHIP. This may to some, appear to be in reverse order. We answer:
In these papers we wish to approach these subjects from the Scriptures, not from the sentimentality, philosophy or psychology of men. In keeping with the aims of this magazine in dealing with such a subject, we desire to start with the Word of God and apply the teaching to the benefit especially of young believers in assembly fellowship surrounded by the trends of modern society. On the subject of marriage, our main consideration has been from Genesis chapter 2. On courtship, the main passage of consideration shall be Genesis chapter 24.
As discussed in previous papers, it is only when one is ready for a serious commitment for life that anyone should consider courtship. Those that ‘play the field’ generally end up making a mistake. Only when the solemnity of marriage before God has been grasped and individual conviction in the presence of God has been reached should approach be made with a view to serious commitment. This is not a matter for a light frivolous experiment. Make a mistake and not one, but two lives are ruined.
In Genesis chapter 24 there are seven practical lessons, which should be seriously considered in the finding of a bride.
Priority of God’s blessing. "The Lord had blessed Abraham" Gen.24.1. If the story is to end with God’s blessing it must begin with God’s blessing. Long before Isaac or Rebekah were aware of it, God was working out His Sovereign purpose. Isaac’s father was elderly and his mother was now dead three years. Gen.24.27, "I being in the way, the Lord led me". We take note of the punctuation. It is essential to be in the way of prayer and exercises in the presence of God. If God’s blessing is sought upon the way that we take then we can be assured that the Lord will lead in the way of His choice.
Preservation. For some twenty verses in this chapter, things develop around "the well". Guidance that is sought around the well of God’s Word as unfolded by the Spirit can only lead us into paths that are pure and sanctified. It was in keeping with God’s will that the race be preserved free from alien blood. Abraham specified, "my country", "my kindred". It was a temptation to make alliance by marriage with the daughters of the chiefs of the land. The bride must be of the bridegroom’s kindred. 2Cor.6.15, "What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" They do not share the same ‘part’, portions, the same dish. The believer and the unbeliever are not equal. If they do not share the same interests then they have nothing in common. No amount of human adjustment can alter a mind that is dark, a will that is degraded, a physical life that is spiritually dead. The outstretched hand of the world, young sister, is stained with precious blood. The cross has made us to differ from the world. To embrace a worldling, young brother, no matter how attractive, is a denial of the claims of the cross. 1Cor.7.39, is very clear, "Only in the Lord". How can two walk together accept they be agreed in the same mind in the Lord. Marriage to an unbeliever will result in heartbreak and sin.
Courtship is getting acquainted. People with serious intentions of linking themselves together for a lifetime need to spend time in each other’s company, to talk together, to be happy together, to get to know one another’s ambitions, objectives, priorities and beliefs. They must be physically attracted but they need to be together to share their interests on a mental and spiritual plane. The young Christians will meet first in the spiritual atmosphere of the assembly, the sanctified conditions of Christian homes and the company of those likeminded at believers’ meetings. With godly and sincere motives our homes should be open for young people to meet, sing hymns and get to know each other. Such is the atmosphere of gossip, match-making and tale-bearing among many Christian companies, that a young believer may take a leap in the dark which could lead to a situation from which they cannot withdraw without malicious criticism. The ungodly seeking company go to dances, cinemas and worldly parties, places where the young believer would never be found. The way of the world is petting and exposure, which breaks down all sense of modesty, decency and respectability. This arouses the instincts of the flesh and leads to promiscuity as shameless as the mating of barnyard animals. "Flee also youthful lusts; but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" 2Tim.2.22. Let the will of God develop around the "well" of God’s Word.
Precaution. Gen.24.15, "Behold Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder". In her work of watering the camels, Rebekah already had an occupation in keeping with her future life. Thus the servant was led by God to find a bride that was suitable, in every respect, to Isaac.
Gen.24.62,63, "And Isaac came from the way of the well … And Isaac went out to meditate in the fields at eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming." "And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife" Gen.25.20. Isaac evidently was a quiet, pensive man of maturity when he married Rebekah. Some have the gift not to marry but to remain single, thus, "But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that" 1Cor.7.7. Paul speaking by permission states that he personally believes the unmarried state to be preferable because time is short.
Abraham built altars, Jacob built pillars, Isaac dug wells and re-dug them when the Philistines filled them up. It is good to linger long at the fountain of the Word in prayer seeking God’s will until one in the presence of God has peace in their heart. Child romances lack maturity of judgment. A passing infatuation may be temporary imagination and lead to heartbreak. Calculations of social or political advantage should not be a basis for a lasting relationship. The potential husband needs to wait until he can take responsibility to make a living and set up a home. There is no shame in decent poverty and frugality. The young wife should be prepared to set up a simple home and to scrimp and save, spending wisely. Young couples should not expect at once, to have a comparable home to their parents who have worked for a lifetime to achieve their comforts. The competition to "keep up with the Jones" leads to the stress of living beyond one’s means.
Marriage vows are ‘for better or for worse’ and ‘till death do us part’. Such vows should not be with the idea that there is an alternative of short-term commitment and easy divorce. To enter into marriage with such ideas is altogether unholy, uncommitted and unsafe. This is not an experiment to try to ‘make a go of it’. Poverty may come, sickness may develop, youth will flee away and physical attraction will wane. Paltry problems of beds unmade, meals uneatable and tongues that are sharp will have to be forgiven in the bonds of love. If you are not committed to spend the rest of your lives together in spite of what may occur in the trial of your faith, then you are not fit to marry.
Prayer. "And the man wondering at her held his peace, to wit whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not" Gen.24.21. Developments in this chapter are marked by a courteous approach, a reverent spirit and thankful dependence. Nothing here was forced, planned, twisted or hurried, but all those involved waited. Every exercise for the Lord should be settled upon our knees in His presence. The matter of a future husband or wife, above all things, must be brought before the Lord continually until at last, alone in His presence, we are sure that we have peace. "Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord" Prov.18.23. "A prudent wife is of the Lord" Prov.19.14. "Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies, for the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her" Prov.30.10. The burdens and trials of later family life are not the stuff of romantic novels. Happy is the man who can tell the Lord that He gave him his wife and family.
Peaceful. "And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those that hate them" Gen.24.60. Rebekah was sent with the blessing of her own family. The peaceful consent of the two families involved should be sought if possible. The overriding principle is stated, "As the Lord hath spoken" Gen.24.51. There should be no jealousy, no spite and no selfishness. If there are God fearing parents on both sides God’s blessing should be followed by their blessing. For the bride, her upbringing, well-being, training and even burden about her salvation cost her parents much. Decent regard for their feelings and happiness should be observed. Godly parents will not be involved in selection or exercise veto powers of disapproval. However, asking the permission of the bride’s father is not old fashioned but an expression of gratitude.
Precious Things. "He gave … precious things" Gen.24.53. This approach sets the pattern of that which should be serious and steady. She was given a seal of the earnest intentions of her beloved. This seal of love if so desired, may be expressed in an engagement ring. Engagement ought to be considered as a binding bond, genuine before God, a token of the intention of fulfilment. If two believers have given their word to each other, it is binding before their Lord.
The bride, moving in the light of the New Testament, will esteem the inward rather than the outward as being so precious in the sight of God. "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting of the hair, and wearing of gold, or putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" 1Pet.3.3,4. The heart is the source of beliefs and doctrines that a godly sister can retain so fervently. These are weightier matters than the frizzy new hairdo or latest fashion in clothes. Elaborate jewellery and wearing of gold indicate earthly riches and money, a poor currency compared with the priceless inward virtues of a good woman. "Her price is far above rubies" Prov.31.10. The Scriptures discern the hidden, inward, quiet spirit of the sister adorned in subjection rather than a body clad in fashionable attire.
Purity. "She took a veil and covered herself … She became his wife and he loved her" Gen.24.64,67. This chapter concludes with a beautiful picture of the purity of love. This love was soon to be tested in the problems of family life as recorded in Genesis chapter 27. How essential to begin with the strong bond of sacrificial, comforting, forgiving and understanding love.
The Holy Spirit inspired the writings of the Old Testament prophets, 1Pet.1.11, and also empowered New Testament preachers, v.12. These preachers were able to communicate truth that had been an enigma to prophets and angels, v.12. We have noticed the link between Peter’s ministry and the book of Daniel and in Daniel the puzzlement of the angels is highlighted there as they asked questions about the unfolding prophecies of the book, 8.13; 12.6. The prophets had to be content with the knowledge that they were not writing for their own benefit, but for ours, v.12.
It appears that what perplexed them was the fact that writings about the "sufferings of [unto] [the] Christ" seemed incongruous when placed alongside statements about the expectation of glory. Isaiah must have been baffled as he wrote of both the King in His beauty and the Suffering Servant of Jehovah. To a lesser degree, Daniel would have shared his bewilderment, for he too alluded to both the sufferings and the glory.
THE SEVENTY WEEKS
Regarding the sufferings, the prediction of the Messiah being "cut off" is at the heart of the section of Daniel’s prophecy of the "seventy weeks" Dan.9.24-27. The word translated "weeks" is literally a heptad, that is, a group of seven, seven of anything. With the benefit of hindsight, we deduce that these are sevens of years, so that 70 weeks equal a period of 490 years. This prophecy speaks of a 490-year period relating specifically to Daniel’s "people" the Jews, and Daniel’s "holy city", Jerusalem, v.24.
The first 483 years of the prophecy divide in two, one period of seven weeks, i.e. 49 years, and another period of 62 weeks, 434 years, v.25. The event that started the clock ticking was an edict from King Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem, Nehemiah chapter 2. Rebuilding the city walls took only 52 days, 6.15, but the reconstruction of the whole city took the 49 years predicted by Daniel, with progress hindered because of "troublous times" v.25.
The second period of 434 years spans the inter-testamental period "unto the Messiah the Prince". Daniel does not say "to Messiah’s birth", or "to Messiah’s death", but he simply makes the general statement, "unto the Messiah". Sir Robert Anderson’s reckoning in his book, "The Coming Prince", does not have universal acceptance, but there is a general feeling that in seeing the triumphal entry coinciding with the end of the 69 weeks he has made a fair calculation. So it was just a few days "after" the end of the second period that the Messiah was "cut off" v.26. Subsequently, the city and the sanctuary were destroyed in A.D.70. The precision of that prediction is intriguing. "The prince that shall come" is the evil personage who takes centre stage elsewhere in Scripture, described as "the beast", Revelation chapter 13. "He shall make a firm covenant with many for one week" Dan.9.27, R.V., and the signing of that deal with a future Israeli government will trigger the 70th week. His grand entrance on to the world stage is still future, 2Thess.2.3, so he had no part in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70! He is a figure of prophecy, and not of history, but his "people" sacked the city and demolished the temple, that is, a past generation of his race, the Romans.
Upon their rejection of their Messiah, God suspended His dealings with Israel, leaving a seven-year period of the prophecy still to be fulfilled. Such a prophetic gap is not unique in Scripture; see for example Isa.9.6,7; 61.1-5 and Zech.9.9,10. Romans chapter 11 gives teaching about Israel’s "fall", their present blindness during this church age, and their future reinstatement culminating in their national salvation. Thus the 70th week is the seven year period leading up to the Lord’s appearing in glory, during which the spotlight will again fall on Israel.
MESSIAH CUT OFF
The language is dramatic, "cut off". He was young and men would have called His death "an untimely death", though the term is wholly inappropriate in relation to One Who died when "His hour" had come. In type, it is seen as "green ears", but "full ears" Lev.2.14. The phrase also implies the violence of His death, "cut off out of the land of the living" Isa.53.8. David anticipated that Doeg would be rooted "out of the land of the living" Ps.52.5. That expectation was because of the treachery and brutality of the man, 1Sam.22.6-23. By contrast, this One Who was "cut off out of the land of the living" was transparent and gentle and true, and yet He was "cut off".
The Authorised Version has the phrase, "but not for Himself" v.26, an indication of the vicarious character of His death. It was "for me", an individual believer, Gal.2.20. It was for the church of God, the local assembly, Acts 20.28. It was for the church, the body of Christ, Eph.5.25. But in the context of Daniel chapter 9, it was for Daniel’s people, Israel. Messiah’s cutting off will ensure their future cleansing, for "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness" Zech.13.1.
Most translations offer an alternative rendering, and say that He was cut off "and shall have nothing". As far as personal possessions were concerned He had nothing. At the cross we see the greatest evidence that "He became poor" 2Cor.8.9; they gambled for His only belongings, the clothes they had stripped from Him. Very likely though, the phrase indicates that everything that He should have enjoyed as Israel’s Messiah was withheld from Him. The glory of Messiahship and the throne of David and the allegiance of the nation were all denied Him; He had nothing, nothing but a crown of thorns and a cross of wood; Messiah was cut off.
THE STONE CUT OUT WITHOUT HANDS
If Daniel alludes to "the sufferings of Christ" in the prophecy of the seventy weeks, "the glory that should follow" features in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, chapter 2. Successive world empires are depicted in the great image with its various metals of diminishing value. The whole era from Nebuchadnezzar’s administration to the final empire is described by the Lord Jesus as "the times of the Gentiles" Lk.21.24. He did indicate that these "times of the Gentiles" would "be fulfilled", that is, they would run to a conclusion, and that will be brought about in dramatic fashion as foreshadowed in the dream.
The Lord Jesus is depicted as "a stone (that) was cut out without hands" v.34, doubtless an allusion to the eternity of His being as One Who was unoriginated and uncreated. "In the beginning was the Word" Jn.1.1. (In viewing Him as a stone there is another link with Peter albeit tenuous, 1Pet.2.6-8, for the contexts are vastly different). In Nebuchadnezzar’s vision the stone smashes the image deliberately, dramatically, and decisively, pulverising it so comprehensively that its tiny fragments were as light as chaff carried in the wind. It is a picture of the complete and final annihilation of Gentile domination in this world. The imagery is so striking that its interpretation could never be satisfied by the concept that the gospel will gradually permeate every part of the world until men universally acknowledge the authority of Christ. No, it foreshadows something more violent; Gentile empires will be brought to an end by an unprecedented intervention from heaven. The details were disclosed to John when he saw "heaven opened", and Christ emerging on a white war-horse, Rev.19.11-21. The beast with the kings of the earth will be so naïve as to imagine that this is a battle that can be won! They will "make war against Him that sat on the horse" v.19. With the false prophet he will be plucked from the hordes of fighting men and assigned alive to "a lake of fire burning with brimstone" v.20. The sharp sword from the mouth of the Victor will wipe out his army; that is, with His word, and without a shot being fired, the victory will be won and Gentile domination will be smashed for ever. The Stone will have shattered the image.
A KINGDOM WHICH SHALL NEVER BE DESTROYED
In contrast to passing worldly kingdoms, "the God of heaven (shall) set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed" v.44. "The times of the Gentiles" have gone through various phases with kingdoms being toppled, and dominance passing from one empire to another. Of this kingdom Daniel says, "nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people … it shall stand for ever" v.44, R.V. Only of the Lord Jesus was it said, "the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end" Lk.1.32,33. In the last "Psalm of praise" attributed to David, he said this about God’s kingdom, "Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Thy dominion endureth throughout all generations" Ps.145.13. There will come a point in world history when there will never be another transfer of power.
Many regard the kingdom of God as being exclusively a spiritual entity, God’s rule in the hearts of His people. Doubtless there is that aspect to it, for Scripture says that He has "delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son" Col.1.13, but that does not militate against the concept of a literal Divine administration over the world. If the empires depicted in the image are literal, consistent interpretation demands that the kingdom that the God of heaven will set up will be literal too. While we have seen that His authority will extend eternally, the last 1000 years of the planet’s history will see a universal government administered by the King of kings. We use the word "universal", because the stone became "a great mountain, and filled the whole earth" v.35. "He must reign" 1Cor.15.25.
Thus Daniel with other prophets gave details of a Messiah Who would be "cut off", but he was also occupied with "the glory that should follow" as he foretold Christ’s final supremacy.
We have noted previously that the epistle could be divided 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.
We dealt with the first section and now we come to consider:
Vv.4-7, Paul’s Appreciation of Philemon and his Ability
In this paragraph we have, v.4, The Delight of Paul and in vv.5-7, The Details of Philemon.
v.4, The Delight of Paul: "I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers."
Only in the introductions to Galatians, 2Corinthians and Hebrews, does Paul not mention thanksgiving. Respectively, it was hindered by legality; lack of recovery; return to ceremony.
Thanksgiving is always first, even before prayer. We need to learn the priority of thanksgiving and worship. Our Lord Jesus underlined that to worship is the prime reason for our salvation and it precedes service: Matt.4.10, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve". The order established by Peter is that he states we are "a holy priesthood" before he calls us a "royal priesthood" 1Pet.2.5,9.
"my God" – this displays real intimacy. God and Paul were constantly on speaking terms. Paul uses this phrase on seven occasions: Rom.1.8; 1Cor.1.4; 14.18; 2Cor.12.21; Phil.1.3; 4.19 and here.
"making mention of thee" – it is good and important to mention people personally in prayer, since it allows us to detect the definite answers. Everyone with a shepherd heart should mention all the flock by name each day, before the throne of grace.
"always" – this shows that there was consistency in his prayer life. He was not given to haphazard fits and starts. It is a great encouragement when someone says sincerely, "I pray for you every day". This was a feature of Paul’s life, even for assemblies as seen in Col.1.9, "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you". This gives him the moral right to encourage others: Col.4.2, "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving"; Rom.12.12, "continuing instant in prayer"; 1Thess.5.17, "Pray without ceasing". We remember the words of Samuel, "God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you" 1Sam.12.23,
"in my prayers" – this could be translated ‘upon the occasion of my prayers’. Paul had a definite period for prayer, a time when he shut the door of his closet, Matt.6.6. His was a disciplined life.
Vv.5-7, Details of Philemon: Two great Christian qualities seen in Philemon drew forth the apostle’s thanksgiving, namely, love and faith. Some suggest that love is towards the saints and faith is towards the Lord Jesus. However, they seem to be interlinked and are primarily love and faith towards Christ, which are then worked out in practical experience towards the saints. Love and faith which are not practical in their out-working are not real. Loveless faith is cruel and faithless love is sentimental;
The paragraph may be summarised as follows:
v.5 - Report of Love and Faith;
v.6 - Revelation of Love and Faith;
v.7 - Result of Love and Faith.
V.5, Report of Love and Faith: "Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints."
"Hearing" - probably from Epaphras. It is a good thing to give good and true reports. Some saints always want to dwell on failure and feed on the carrion as the raven did in Noah’s day. If a bad report is given, let it be done with a view to assisting recovery as did the house of Chloe in 1Cor.1.11. They brought the report to a man who could best solve the problem.
"of thy love and faith" - These are unseen things and can only be detected by their deeds. It is love that would enable Philemon to receive Onesimus, and thus it is mentioned first. However, it is not natural love, it had to be Divine and is therefore associated with faith.
"which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints" - the prime motive of all service must be love to Christ. Well may we ask ourselves the question, why do we take a certain course of action? No one but self can judge motives.
Only in as much as we love Him will we love His people. This principle is seen by connecting Jn.14.15, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments" with 13.34, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." Note also, Jn.15.10, "If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love …v.12 This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you."
It is only as we love Him we can serve His people: Jn.21.15-17, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep."
This is the order in the Old Testament law where the first table of the law is summarised by the phrase, ‘Love God’, and the second by ‘Serve Men’.
"toward the Lord Jesus" - our Christian experience began with faith toward the Lord Jesus and so it continues, but as we know Him more we love Him more; thus both qualities are here. The preposition ‘toward’ (pros) implies that we aspire to this, yet it may be we are never able to make real contact. Even after 30 years of Christian experience Paul stated, "this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" Phil.3.13,14. Our constant ambition is to get closer to Him.
Nearer, still nearer, Lord, to be Thine!
Sin, with its follies, I gladly resign,
All of its pleasures, pomp and its pride,
Give me but Jesus, my Lord, crucified.
(Leila N. Morris)
"and toward all saints" - i.e. his love and faith embraced them all. Paul has no time for little cliques, groups of favourites or factions. If this was true toward all saints it must extend to Onesimus. The preposition ‘toward’ (eis) here is different and means at the human level contact is made and is manifest in practical way by kindness and, in this context, by forgiveness.
V.6, Revelation of Love and Faith. "That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus."
"the communication of thy faith" - faith itself cannot be communicated from one to another. For example, a believing parent cannot communicate it to his child, nor a preacher to his hearers. The word for ‘communication’ is koinonia which means fellowship, sharing, participation, and ‘faith’ is objective, thus J.N.D. renders the phrase, "in such sort that thy participation in the faith should become operative". Hence Philemon shares the faith by being of assistance to all others in the faith. By faith we seek the good of other Christians and thus have fellowship in, and be part of, the great plan and purpose of God. This is an evidence of practical Christianity working out in our lives – being helpful and kind to all in the faith. As Paul taught also in Gal.6.10, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith."
"may become effectual" – Paul desires that faith may be in good working order. J.N.D, "should become operative". This working comes about by:
"the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus." The saints will have the full knowledge of all that Philemon does which is good is in (en) Him because it is in or towards (eis) Christ Jesus. While Philemon shows good works to all in the faith, and thus shares all he has with them, the source and motivation is Christ Jesus.
v.7, Result of Love and Faith. "For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother."
The results were two fold - Rejoicing to the Servant and Refreshment to the Saints. This little paragraph is surrounded and encapsulated by joy. Note v.4, "I thank my God". The news of Philemon’s love and faith, brought joy and consolation to Paul in prison. This displays a true shepherd heart. He rejoices when the saints are doing well despite his own circumstances. How like his Master as outlined in Philippians chapter 2: Paul had a greater interest in others rather than himself.
Likely Philemon never thought his actions in Colosse would have had implications for Paul in prison in Rome! Our actions can have very profound implications in the lives of others. "For none of us liveth to himself …" Rom.14.7. It teaches the importance of always doing what is right and honourable. We do not know who will follow in our steps and we do not know where our actions will be reported.
"joy" – the usual word for grace.
"consolation" – J.N.D, ‘encouragement’. It was as if Philemon himself had come to prison and drew alongside Paul and encouraged him.
"the bowels" - the hearts, the inner seat of feelings of the saints. Their concerns and worries were lifted, their spirits were encouraged. What a need there is for such men and women in our day!
"of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother" - the word ‘refreshed’ means to give rest, and the grammar implies that they have been refreshed and the effect continues to the present. It is as Matt.11.29, "rest unto your souls"; Lk.12.19, "take thine ease"; Rev.14.13, "rest from their labours". The challenge to us is, do we bring rest to the saints? It would be tragedy if we brought grief or disturbance.
Paul desires to encourage Philemon’s exercise towards the saints and to have it continue, by hearing that Philemon had graciously received Onesimus, v.20, "Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord".
One of the greatest preachers that the world has ever known was John the Baptist. He was the forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As a result of his preaching he was asked by some soldiers, "And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages" Luke 3.14. His advice concerning wages has been echoed down through the centuries until this present time. It is not easy to find a person who is content, never mind being content with one’s wages. In the recent past and very probably in the foreseeable future there will be days of unrest, resulting in strike action by various bodies. This is all caused by discontent.
The Bible shows a different perspective when the apostle Paul wrote, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" Philippians 4.11. He tells us how this contentment is achieved. "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition" 1Timothy 6.6-9.
However, there are other wages that we are earning daily and they are not very desirable. We have no input as to their payment, but payment is absolutely sure. Read these words, "For the wages of sin is death" Romans 6.23. Most people, at some time, ponder death. Perhaps we ask, "Why?" Some suggest it is because of advancing years but we think for a moment and know that young people die. Others suggest it is as a result of disease but again we recognise that healthy people die. Death is not a function of upbringing, social standing, intellectual prowess, culture, climate or myriads more of man’s suggestions. The Bible is very clear, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" Romans 5.12. Again, "sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" James 1.15. Sin and death are inseparably linked. Since all have sinned all will die.
Yet death is not the end. Sin must pay its wages and this takes on to the realms of eternity, when every one who dies without the Saviour will be forever under the judgment of God. However, only part of Romans 6.23 has been quoted above. The full quotation is, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." God freely offers eternal life but only "through Jesus Christ our Lord." Why such exclusivity? God had only one Son Whom He gave in love to the agonising death of the cross at Calvary, "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" 1Peter 2.24. The wages of sin can be dispensed with forever because they have been borne away by the Lord Jesus Christ and instead of receiving what we earned and richly deserve, we can accept God’s free, unmerited gift of eternal life.
Dear reader, consider well the following Biblical quotation "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" John 3.16-18.