As we noticed in introducing Psalm 3, it makes good sense to read Psalms 3 and 4 together under the title ‘Morning and Evening’. While in Psalm 3, we have some historical information, now, in Psalm 4, we have some musical information: "To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David". The word "Neginoth" (from nagan, to strike) occurs in the title of six Psalms; nos.4,6,54,55,67,76. It means ‘stringed instruments’ (see R.V. and J.N.D.) and "indicates the preferred musical instruments which are to be used as an accompaniment for the Psalm, these in preference to ‘Nehiloth’, which signifies wind instruments such as flutes."1
We should also notice that the Psalm is addressed to "the chief Musician", reminding us that in the church, the leader of the praise is the Lord Jesus, Who is "not ashamed" to call us "brethren, saying, I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee" Heb.2.12. As spiritual musicians, it is our business to "offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name", Heb.13.15. We should not forget that "man’s heart is the harp from which the Divine hand produces the richest music".2
Bearing in mind that Psalms 3 and 4 should be read ‘in tandem’ it is worth repeating some points of similarity noted in introducing Psalm 3:
Both Psalms record David’s discouragement from others: "Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God", 3.2; "There be many that say, Who will shew us any good?" 4.6.
Both Psalms refer to David’s glory, evidently his glory as king of Israel. "But Thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory" 3.3; "O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame?" 4.2.
Both Psalms refer to David’s confidence that God will hear him. "I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill" 3.4; "The LORD will hear when I call unto Him" 4.3.
Both Psalms describe David’s peace of mind. "I laid me down and slept; I awaked: for the Lord sustained me" 3.5; "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou, LORD, only makest me to dwell in safety" 4.8.
Having expressed his praise to God for preservation from his enemies through the past night, 3.4,5, David now commits the next night to Him, 4.8. Although God had delivered him out of the immediate crisis, v.1, he still wasn’t completely out of danger, vv.6,7, but he can sleep at night with complete confidence in God, v.8.
Psalm 4 may be divided as follows:
vv.1,2 - the God of salvation:
vv.3-5 - the God of sanctification:
vv.6-8 - the God of satisfaction.
THE GOD OF SALVATION - vv.1,2
"Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress". So prayer had been answered although, as noted above, this Psalm tells us that the danger was by no means over. In v.1 David speaks to God; in v.2 he speaks to his adversaries.
David Speaks To God - v.1
We should notice that David calls on God with confidence: "O God of my righteousness". This refers to the justice of his cause. He knew that he was right with God. He could not have called on God if his cause had not been just, for "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" Ps.66.18. It is often said that there is no such thing as unanswered prayer (the answer might be ‘No’), but there is certainly such a thing as unheard prayer.
But David could pray to God with confidence for another reason: "Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress". The word "distress" means ‘pressure’ (J.N.D.) and "enlarged" means that God had freed him from that pressure. God had proved His ability to deliver David. He had given him room to move when he seemed to be out-manoeuvred by his enemies. His enemies were still there, since David addresses them in v.2, but they had not conquered him. We too are surrounded by spiritual enemies, but John reminds us that "greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" 1Jn.4.4. Paul puts it like this: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" 2Cor.4.8,9. As "earthen vessels" v.7, Paul and his colleagues were "troubled … perplexed … persecuted … cast down", but in it all they were sustained by inward "treasure" v.7, that is, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ". Hence they were "not distressed … not in despair … not forsaken … not destroyed". David would have given a hearty ‘Amen’ to this!
David Speaks To His Adversaries - v.2
J.J.S.Perowne3 in his highly recommended volume, points out that the expression "sons of men" generally means "men of high degree" (for example, nobles) as opposed to "men of low degree". See Ps.49.2; 62.9. However, this interesting piece of information must not make us overlook the obvious lesson, namely, that David speaks to God before he speaks to men. To our shame, it has to be said that sometimes, when a crisis threatens or difficulties arise, the last thing we do is pray!
The Lord Jesus prayed in connection with every circumstance through which He passed. His prayer life is emphasised particularly in Luke’s Gospel, where the writer majors on the perfect humanity, or manhood, of the Lord Jesus and therefore His dependence upon God. He prays repeatedly in Luke. He prayed at the commencement of His service, 3.21, and at the completion of His redeeming work: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" 23.46. He prayed on a mountain in connection with His glory, 9.29, and in a valley in connection with His agony, 22.41. He prayed in popularity, 5.15,16, and in adversity, 23.34. He prayed for an entire night, 6.12, before choosing His disciples. See also 11.1; 22.32.
David certainly speaks for us all when he says, "how long?" Bearing in mind that he was evidently ‘on the run’ from Absalom, we are probably right in thinking that he was referring to his right to the throne in saying that his adversaries had turned his "glory into shame". Perhaps David was thinking of Shimei’s bitter words in 2Sam.16.5-8. The world is still full of vanity and falsehood ("leasing"). Well, how should we behave with all this happening? This brings us to the second of the Psalm’s three suggested divisions.
THE GOD OF SANCTIFICATION - vv.3-5
David is evidently continuing to address his adversaries in these verses, reminding them that they were opposing a man who belonged to God. They were to remember "that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for Himself", and because this was the case, "the LORD will hear when I call unto Him" v.3. According to Young’s Concordance, the word translated "godly" (chasid) is rendered "saints" on nineteen occasions in the Old Testament, and "holy" on four occasions. In a marginal note, J.N.Darby observes that it refers, amongst other things, to "piety and recognition of God on man’s part". Such people demonstrate their Divine calling. There is certainly a close affinity with New Testament teaching on sanctification, meaning ‘separation to God’, with corresponding separation from evil. Such people are "vessels unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work" 2Tim.2.21. We must never forget our calling in this way. As God’s sanctified people, set apart for Him, He has an undisputed claim upon us. In Paul’s words, "ye are not your own … ye are bought with a price" 1Cor.6.19.
Now we can quite understand what follows: "The LORD will hear when I call unto Him". Why such certainty? Godly people, living in a way which demonstrates "whose they are and whom they serve" Acts 27.23, will be heard when they seek Divine help. Here it is again: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me", but this was certainly not the case with the psalmist in Psalm 66, since he continues, "but verily God hath heard me; He hath attended to the voice of my prayer" Ps.66.18,19.
We should bear in mind that David is evidently still addressing the "sons of men" v.2 in what he says next: "Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD" vv.4,5. The word translated "awe" (ragaz) means ‘to be angry’ or, as some say, ‘tremble’, perhaps with the meaning ‘tremble before God, and sin not’. David’s adversaries are urged "to tremble, to search their hearts, to take advantage of the quiet of the night, to be still and to muse upon their ways",4 then "to offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put their trust in the LORD."
Since David’s appeal to his enemies, "Stand in awe, and sin not", is cited in the New Testament, although in a different setting, we ought to look for an application to ourselves. Look at it like this: if we are "set apart" for God, what sort of people should we be? We must listen now, not to David, but to Paul: "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath" Eph.4.26. This has been otherwise rendered, "do not suffer yourselves to sin in your anger". Sanctified people, those whom "the LORD hath set apart … for Himself" v.3, should not nurse their grievances, but quietly rest their case with God. Paul does not say that we shouldn’t be angry, but that we shouldn’t retire for the night nursing our anger. Far better, in David’s words, to "meditate in your own hearts upon your bed, and be still" v.4, J.N.D. This means that we ought not to go to bed muttering about one (or more) of our fellow-Christians. If someone in the assembly has upset us, and it sure happens, we must tell the Lord about it, and leave it with Him. Then turn our minds to better things, like offering "the sacrifice of praise to God … that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name" Heb.13.15. Or even "singing aloud upon our beds" Ps.149.5. This certainly calls for a "Selah!"
THE GOD OF SATISFACTION - vv.6-8
"There be many that say, Who will shew us any good?" We are not told who asked the question, but it could have been David’s discouraged followers. After all, life was rather uncertain at the time. The answer to the question comes in three parts, The Lord would show them good with: His approval, v.6; His joy, v.7; His peace, v.8.
With His Approval
"LORD, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us" v.6. This refers to the blessing given in Num.6.24-26: "The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: the LORD make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace".
With His Joy
"Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased" v.7. David’s adversaries seemed to have all the material benefits. He was an exile, but he had something far better than the joy of material possessions. Perowne5 puts it nicely: "They in their worldly-mindedness look for their happiness in the abundance of their earthly things. Hence when adversity threatens they begin to despond. David, on the other hand, has a source of joy, deeper and more unfailing because it flows from above". Peter puts it like this: "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" 1Pet.1.8.
With His Peace
"I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety" v.8. There didn’t appear to be much peace for David, but in his adversity he enjoyed, as we have seen, "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding".
In Psalm 5, David is out of bed and praying: "My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up" v.3.
As previously noticed in these studies, the first four parables emphasise the activity of the evil one in undermining the work of God. In the parable of the sower he focused upon the progress of the gospel. The parable of the tares showed us it was the people in which he was interested, mixing what was false amongst the true. In the parable of the mustard seed he targeted the place that people would occupy in the world, ensnaring them with the false system of Christendom. Now, in the parable of the leaven, we witness the climactic point of his evil endeavours, where He attacks the very Person of Christ.
We will consider four points in this short parable:
the significance of the whole being leavened.
LEAVEN - THE COMPARISON
Leaven is a substance added to baking ingredients in order to make dough rise by spreading and permeating the whole. As such it is a fitting figure of the corrupting influence of evil and is used consistently in Scripture as such.
Leaven in the Old Testament
To the Jewish mind leaven could signify only evil, and a thing to be eschewed. At the institution of the Passover they were instructed to have no leaven in their dwellings, "ye shall put away leaven out of your houses" Ex.12.15. The same verse goes on to say "whosoever eateth leavened bread ... shall be cut off", that is, their diet was to be free from it. In Lev.2.11 we read, "no meat offering shall be made with leaven"; their devotions were also to be free of leaven. How instructive is this, when we recall Paul’s words in 1Cor.5.8 "therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Our lives like those of the Israelites of old are to be lived as a sacred festival free from the defiling influence of sin.
Leaven in the Gospels
The Lord Jesus warned His disciples of the danger of leaven in Matt.16.6 "take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees", and again in Mk.8.15 "And He charged them, saying, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod." The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy; the Sadducees were permeated with rationalism and Herod with worldliness. If the disciples needed such warnings how much more do we!
Leaven in the Epistles
Two well-known passages in the writings of the apostle Paul refer to leaven. In 1Corinthians chapter 5 the Corinthians took a very lax view of the moral breakdown of a brother in the assembly. Paul wrote, "your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" 1Cor.5.5. Condone evil and you will destroy the holy character of the assembly. The solution is found in v.7 "purge out therefore the old leaven".
Again we read in the epistle to the Galatians, "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" Gal.5.9. The Judaisers in Galatia had been relentless in spreading their erroneous doctrine, adding the law to the gospel. As another has said "to supplement Christ is to supplant Christ". Paul warns of the corrupting influence of false doctrine. It is never to be tolerated as merely another man’s opinion; rather it is to be rejected and shunned. Whether morally or doctrinally, leaven tolerated among the saints will wreak havoc.
THE WOMAN - THE CHANNEL
It is not without significance that at the head of many false cults stands a woman. One example would be Mary Baker Eddy the originator of the so-called Christian Science movement, and many others could be mentioned. Leaving aside the erroneous content of their teaching, the very fact that they teach is a blatant departure from the plain statements of Holy Scripture. See 1Cor.14.34 and 1Tim.2.12.
The woman in this parable ranks alongside other women of Scripture whose will was set against God’s. Consider also Eve, Potiphar’s wife, Jezebel, Herodias and her daughter, and worst of all the woman - "Babylon the great, the Mother of harlots and abominations of the earth" Rev.17.5.
In v.33, we see that she "hid" the leaven in the meal. This action is somehow secretive and sinister; we hear the hiss of the serpent seeking insidiously to corrupt the doctrine as to the Person of Christ.
MEAL - THE CHRIST
We recall the meal offering in Leviticus chapter 2, where we are given a beautiful picture of the impeccable humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. This offering comprised fine flour, oil and frankincense, and it is with the fine flour we are occupied. Its colour - white - tells us of His purity, unblemished, undefiled, yea, undefilable. Its consistency speaks of a man without roughness of nature. He never needed to be ground; there was no unevenness in Him. Adam may have for a time known innocence but Christ alone was sinless. The changelessness of the fine flour under pressure depicts One unruffled and unchanged by the trials of the pathway.
In smooth and silken whiteness, without a rough’ning grain,
In clear, unbroken brightness, without a speck or stain,
The fine flour in its beauty, the perfect man portrays
In all His path of duty, in all His heavenly ways
THE WHOLE LEAVENED - THE CONSEQUENCES
Into the meal the leaven is hidden. The devil will always seek to undermine the Person of Christ. The religious world that professes His name has been leavened with false doctrine as to His virgin birth, His sinlessness, His Deity, His eternal Sonship, His reconciling death, His bodily resurrection, His physical ascension, His imminent coming to the air. It is fair to say that there is not an aspect of Christ’s Person that has been unaffected by error; indeed "the whole" has been leavened. Naturally leaven makes the meal more palatable. Our duty is not to make Christ more palatable to the natural man. By God’s grace we uphold the honour of His name, and as for the error - 2Tim.3.5, "from such turn away".
In the previous papers we considered Gideon and "Obedience to the Word of God"; "Humble and Feeling Inadequate" and "Equipped and Strengthened".
PROUD, AMBITIOUS AND FAILING
The humble, obedient Gideon was enabled by God to lead the people to victory against the invaders despite being greatly outnumbered. As a consequence, he was much admired by the people. A believer who, in the past, has served and obeyed God with humility might be particularly vulnerable and liable to respond to temptation and fall into sin shortly after being enabled by God to gain a significant victory over the wiles and devices of Satan. The believer may feel proud, as if he, himself, and not God had achieved the victory. As a consequence of pride, and a reduced sense of dependence on God, less time might be spent in prayer and meditation on the Word of God. The believer drifts away from God, becoming less watchful and careful in the way he lives. When Saul was humble and unimportant in his own eyes God blessed him, 1Sam.15.17. When he became increasingly proud, self-centred, self-sufficient, self-assertive and arrogant, the "Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul" 1Sam.16.14.
Gideon, having shown, in the past, humility and obedience to the will of God, later showed signs of becoming proud and ambitious. He asked the men to give him the golden earrings they had taken from those they had recently defeated. The earrings were readily given, together with other ornaments, Judg.8.24-26, and so Gideon became a very wealthy man. At this stage we see a side of Gideon’s character which had not been revealed previously. Having acquired fame and wealth, he used a considerable amount of gold to make an ephod, which was a priestly garment, Exodus chapters 28 and 29. Gideon might have wanted to be a priest. When he was brought before us in chapter 6, and thereafter, he was a humble, retiring, self-effacing man of faith. The success God had given him, and the wealth he had acquired, produced a change in his behaviour. He experienced prosperity and became proud. His desire to exalt himself had a very serious effect on Gideon, his family and the nation, for Gideon placed the ephod in Ophrah, "and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house" Judg.8.27. The tabernacle and God’s appointed priests were in Shiloh, but the people took to worshipping the ephod despite the fact that God had commanded them not to make or worship images, Ex.20.4,5. They once again worshipped an idol, as did the people living in the land. We have to be very careful not to disobey the will of God as revealed in the Word of God and bring something into our lives, our homes or the assembly which is contrary to His will.
Gideon was no longer poor as he had once been, Judg.6.15. He had many wives, which was not in accordance with the will of God. He had seventy sons, and also had a concubine who bore him a son named Abimelech, which means "my father is king". This raises the question as to whether or not Gideon ever came to regret his earlier decision to refuse the invitation to be made a king, 8.29-31.
After Midian was subdued, the Israelites had peace during Gideon’s lifetime for forty years, v.28. Gideon lived to be an old man, and after his death the children of Israel once again disobeyed God and turned to idol worship. They forgot the grace and mercy of God who, in the past, had delivered them from oppression, and also forgot what Gideon had done for them, vv.32-35. Gideon had started well, being obedient to God, but later he declined spiritually, as did Solomon whose success, wealth, many wives and idolatry drew him further and further away from God, 1Kgs.3.3-11.43. There are many lessons to learn from what is recorded regarding Gideon, and "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall", 1Cor.10.12.
The question makes an assumption that needs to be explored. The question assumes that everyone has gift. Is this a correct assumption? I think so. The Bible does not suggest that a Christian may lack or lose gift. Given that the purpose of salvation is to enable the believer to serve God and that gift is needed for that purpose it would be surprising if there was such a thing as an ungifted Christian. Indeed, the assumption behind Rom.12.4-6 seems to be that all Christians have a gift or gifts. The Bible acknowledges that a Christian may not utilise their gift, 1Tim.4.14. This may give the impression that the individual is "ungifted", but God does not withdraw gift, Rom.11.29, so even though an individual backslides or fails to make progress they remain gifted.
There is a tendency to think that gift in the New Testament refers only to the public gifts of preaching or teaching or to the spectacular gifts mentioned in 1Corinthians chapters 12-14. However, Scripture does not confine gift in this way. There are three main passages that deal with gift: Rom.12.6-8; 1Cor.12. 4-11, 28,29 and Eph.4.11. The passage in Romans chapter 12 describes gift in a much broader way than the passages in 1Corinthians and Ephesians. We learn for example that some Christians are gifted to show mercy. In other words they are sympathetic and compassionate and can draw alongside those that are depressed or lonely. Not everyone is good at this. God does give some people the invaluable gift of sympathy. They know what to say and when to say it. This is an invaluable gift in the local assembly.
A sister should not be concerned about the public gifts of preaching of teaching. Scripture excludes women from the role of public teaching, 1Cor.14.34; 1Tim.2.12. It can be assumed therefore that God does not gift women to perform a function that He does not intend them to fulfil. That is not to say that sisters may not be very knowledgeable and can impart their knowledge privately, Acts 18.26, but public speaking differs from the art of conversation.
No one should be anxious to determine whether they possess the sign gifts of 1Corinthians chapter 12. The spectacular gifts mentioned in 1Corinthians are no longer in operation. If they were they would be seen among all companies of Christians. There is no indication that the Christians in the Acts of the Apostles or in Corinth sought or prayed for these gifts. They came naturally. Moreover, there is overwhelming evidence that the "tongues" which are practised in our day, are not the genuine languages of Acts 2.8 and that the miracles they perform are not the miraculous healings performed by the Lord Jesus or the apostles. Too many are "healed" and then relapse; this did not happen to the lepers healed by the Lord! Of course, God may do as He pleases and can still heal by the exercise of Divine power. Who knows what God may sovereignly do? But that is a different matter from possessing a gift. A gift means that the individual has the power to exercise the ability in question.
So how do I know what gift I have? In many cases a little common sense will go a long way. We ought to be able to discern our limitations as well as our strengths. Others will often be quick to tell us what they think. In addition starting "small" is a good way of nurturing gift. Many eminent teachers started out with a Sunday School or Bible Class and in course of time God led them to greater responsibilities. Elders should assist in identifying and encouraging gift. Elders can encourage young sisters to visit the sick or house bound. They encourage the young to give out leaflets. These simple exercises will often reveal whether they are able to do that kind of work well. They should give those who show promise and interest an opportunity to preach in their own assembly. Older men can take young men under their wing and seek to encourage them. Sometimes it will be obvious that a person has no gift to preach. If so, no Bible college or library in the world will be able to create that which God has withheld.
When everyone in an assembly uses the gifts God has given, the assembly is a happy place. Unfortunately in many assemblies believers do not exercise the gifts they are given and the result is that the meeting does not function as it should.
Because He had grown up in Nazareth, many who were present in the synagogue would have known the Lord Jesus since His childhood. They would have seen a perfect life, known of His submissive attitude to Mary and Joseph and His toil at the carpenter’s bench. Thus His claim to be Israel’s Messiah was announced to people who were familiar with Him. Even though the Lord had not undergone formal Jewish scholarly training, while growing up in Nazareth He would have regularly listened to the reading and explanation of the law and the prophets (including Isaiah chapter 61) in this very synagogue. It is likely that He timed His visit perfectly so that the portion which He read was the reading for the day.
It seems that at the beginning of the Lord’s itinerant public ministry in Galilee His habit on each Sabbath was to attend the local synagogue and, as a respected visitor, to be invited "to undertake the office of Maphtir, or reader of the lesson from the prophets."1 The procedure was formal. With reverence, He "stood up for to read" the Scriptures, v.16; in the synagogue at Nazareth, "there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Esaias" v.17. Having completed the reading, "He closed [rolled up] the book, and He gave it again to the [official minister]" (v.20, Newberry margin).
It was a remarkable occasion. The very author of the Scriptures read and then expounded them, explaining that in Him they were fulfilled. There was no anxiety in His delivery, no concern that He would fumble His words, fail to find the correct place in the scroll, forget what He was going to say, or be caught off guard with a difficult doctrinal challenge or charge of past misdemeanour. Having a perfect knowledge of the written Word of God and a full assurance that He was Israel’s holy Messiah, with quiet confidence and unique authority and clarity the Lord Jesus declared, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" v.21. Both His reading, v.20, and His teaching, v.22, gripped the attention of everyone in the synagogue.
While, as a whole, Isaiah chapter 61 predicts Israel’s future reversal of fortunes at Christ’s glorious advent, the first one and a half verses describe the gracious and effective ministry of their Messiah. Although these verses were fulfilled during the Lord’s earthly ministry, inasmuch as during that three and a half years He preached the kingdom of God, thus offering restoration to Israel, their final fulfilment will be seen at His coming to reign. This will be preceded by the seven year tribulation, "the day of vengeance of our God", about which the Lord Jesus conspicuously did not read.
When the Lord Jesus was baptised, God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit, Lk.3.22, to identify Him as Israel’s Messiah (anointed One) and to energise Him for public ministry, Lk.4.14. This service involved preaching the good tidings of the kingdom of God to the impoverished and proclaiming "liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound" Isa.61.1. He was sent "to heal the brokenhearted", something that Israel’s shepherds had failed to do, Ezek.34.4, and to restore sight to the blind, Lk.4.18.
His earthly ministry could be summed up in the phrase, "to preach the acceptable year of the Lord" Lk.4.19. This expression probably referred to the Year of Jubilee, which in turn looked forward to the messianic age. For example, the Hebrew word which is translated "liberty" in Lev.25.10, is identical to that translated "liberty" in Isa.61.1. In Israel the trumpet of the Jubilee was to sound every fiftieth year on the day of atonement. This signalled the national rejoicing in and celebration of a year in which slaves were released and all land reverted to its original owners as allocated to the tribes under Joshua’s direction, Lev.25.8-17, 23-28, 39-41, 47-55. This principle, which was closely associated with redemption, Lev.25.47-55, and governed the selling and purchase of real estate, ensured that the land did not pass permanently from one family or tribe to another, but that each family and tribe retained their allotted land inheritance. During the Year of Jubilee the land was meant to be rested, being neither sown nor harvested, Lev.25.11.
This Year of Jubilee anticipated the coming of Messiah to reign, when Israel will experience national cleansing and redemption, being freed from all bondage. Having been captive and outcast among the nations, they will be restored to their promised land, which will yet again be shared out among the tribes, Ezekiel chapter 48. At that time they will know joy and peace, when "they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid" Mic.4.4. In the synagogue of a despised, northern, provincial town, near the beginning of His Galilean ministry, the Lord Jesus declared Himself to be Israel’s Messiah, Who would usher in the blessings of the millennial kingdom. This was, in effect, what He meant when He said, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" Lk.4.21. The claim, made in front of many who had known Him from youth, was staggering. So much so that their amazement quickly turned to cynicism: "Is not this Joseph’s son" Lk.4.22? There can hardly be a better illustration of the truth that so often familiarity breeds contempt.
Knowing that His audience had heard of His healing the nobleman’s son at a distance in Capernaum, Jn.4.46-54, and that they craved a similar sign, the Lord Jesus responded swiftly to their cynicism. "Ye will surely say unto Me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Thy country" v.23. He had come to Nazareth, fully aware that "no prophet is accepted in his own country" v.24; Jn.4.44. He illustrated this truth from the lives of Elijah and Elisha, two great prophets in Israel’s history. Both of these prophets, whom He treated as historical figures, like Christ ministered in northern Israel. They served at a time when the nation had apostatised into Baal worship, just as in the time of Christ the nation had, in their hearts, generally departed from God, Matt.15.7-9. Elijah and Elisha each worked miracles, some of Elisha’s being very similar to those of the Lord Jesus. For example, Elisha resurrected a dead boy, 2Kgs.4.32-25; multiplied bread, 2Kgs.4.42-44; healed a leper 2Kgs.5.14 and, contrary to the law of gravity, caused an iron axe head to float, 2Kgs.6.1-7. The Lord Jesus raised a young damsel to life, Lk.8.49-56; healed many lepers, Lk.7.22; 17.11-19; fed "five thousand men, beside women and children" Matt.14.21; and Himself walked on the surface of a stormy sea, Jn.6.16-21; comp. Job 9.8. There was a famine for three and a half years in the days of Elijah, Lk.4.25, and for seven years in Elisha’s lifetime, 2Kgs.8.1. While there was no physical drought during the Lord’s ministry, for 400 years after Malachi’s prophecy heaven had been silent, during which time there was "a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD" Amos 8.11. Just as the Lord Jesus dispensed blessing to Gentiles, e.g. the centurion’s servant, Matt 8.5-13; a Syrophenician woman’s daughter, Mk 7.24-30, through Elijah and Elisha, God had graciously bypassed apostate Israel in order to bless Gentiles, e.g. the widow of Sidon; Naaman the Syrian. The Lord Jesus was, therefore, under no obligation to perform a miracle in Nazareth.
This poignant reminder of Israel’s history and God’s past kindness to Gentiles stimulated murderous rage in these men of Nazareth. The rulers of Israel sought to kill both Elijah, 1Kgs.18.10; 19.2, and Elisha, 2Kgs.6.30,31, because of their faithful service for God. Similarly, "filled with wrath", the men of Nazareth "rose up, and thrust [the Lord] out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong" vv.28,29. This out and out rejection of Christ displayed well the fact that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" Rom.8.7. However, the Lord Jesus still had work to do and it was not yet time for Him to die (comp. Jn.8.20). Therefore, they could not lay hold on the untouchable Christ: "He passing through the midst of them went His way" v.30. Although the Lord Jesus was no doubt grieved by their cruel hatred, He remained unperturbed. And so He "came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days" v.31. If only we too could respond to adversity in such a way. Do not be discouraged; do not retaliate; simply keep serving.
To be Continued, (D.V.)
1. Ellicott, C.J. cited by Crawford N. "What The Bible Teaches - Luke", John Ritchie Ltd, 1989, p.79.
Angels have an important place in Divine revelation. According to Schafer1 they are mentioned 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament. These 273 references in the Bible allow us to appreciate the vast variety of their activity. With so many references they clearly have important lessons to teach us. There are fundamentally two classes of angels; those that are "elect" (and "holy") and those that are fallen. In each of these categories there are a number of sub categories; for example cherubim and seraphim among the elect and free and bound among the fallen; but more of that later. In this study only the holy angels are considered.
THE MEANING OF THE TERM
The word angel in its simplest form means messenger. It is used both of men as was the case with Haggai; "Then spake Haggai the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord" 1.13; and of angels ministering as messengers to both God and men. The former is seen in Dan.7.10: "A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him [the Ancient of Days]: thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him". The latter is seen in Heb.1.14; "Are they [the angels] not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?"
THE EXISTENCE OF ANGELS
The existence of angels is simply assumed in Scripture. The creation of angels is unequivocally asserted in Psalm 148 where angelic hosts are called upon to praise the Lord in conjunction with other parts of creation "Praise ye Him, all His angels: praise ye Him, all His hosts … Let them praise the name of the LORD: for He commanded, and they were created" vv.2,5. Ezek.28.13,15 are additional affirmations of the Creator’s work in the sphere of angelic beings. They must have been created by the Lord Jesus since He was responsible for creating "… all things" as is asserted in both Col.1.16 and Jn.1.3. Thus they have a personal relationship to their Creator as indicated in Matt.13.41-43 where it is stated that He "… shall send forth His angels"; they belong to Him.
The time of their creation is not directly stated. However, it must have been prior to the creation of the universe since they at that time as "sons of God shouted for joy" as affirmed in Job 38.4,7: "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding … When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
THE NATURE OF ANGELS – A SUGGESTED "BODILY" FORM
The nature of angels has to be elicited from various references. Angels are spirit beings; "And of the angels He saith, Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire" (Heb.1.7 – see also 1.14 quoted above). They have personality with emotion, will and intelligence (e.g. they worship Ps.148.2). They are incorporeal and immaterial and while they "do not sustain a mortal organisation"2 this does not mean they do not have a "body", though vastly different from our own. They have localised determinate and special form. Gaebelein, quoted by Schafer2 has said, "God … made them spirits and clothed them with bodies suited to their spiritual nature". Believers are to have a "spiritual body" 1Cor.15.44, "…into conformity to His body of glory" Phil.3.21, J.N.D. Angels can certainly appear in bodily form as indicated by several references: see e.g. Heb.13.2; Matt.28.2-5; Acts 1.10. The case of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration is an interesting consideration in this context, since both were in a heavenly sphere and appeared in bodily form; one had been buried and the other went directly to heaven in a whirlwind!
AN IMPORTANT CONFIRMATORY CONSIDERATION
Consider the following quotation from Lk.20.34-36 when the Lord is answering the Sadducees in the context of a trick question: "The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children [sons] of God, being the children [sons] of the resurrection".
Note the difference between "this world" v.34, and "that world" v.35. Those who "… obtain that world" are "… equal unto the angels" in four very important particulars: two positive and two negative (cf.Godet3).
They are "sons of the resurrection" and therefore have resurrection bodies. Since they are "equal unto the angels", angels must have bodies as well. The reference to resurrection would seem to be unnecessary apart from asserting this important fact.
These bodies do not owe their existence to the ordinary processes of procreation "neither marry …", but to an immediate act of creation or "change" 1Cor.15.51,52. The married relationship no longer exists for glorified men any more than it exists for angels "in heaven" Matt.22.30.
This fact that there are no conjugal relations corresponds in both cases to the exemption from death, so there is no need for married relationships.
Both are called "sons of God". This title is used of angels collectively in the Old Testament, Job 1.6; 2.1; 38.7; Gen.6.2.
THE RELATION OF ANGELS TO EACH OTHER
All angels are individually unique and free moral beings. They are always referred to as masculine. There is no such thing as ‘son or sons of angels’. In the Old Testament angels are "sons of God" and men are "servants of God". In the New Testament this order is reversed. They do not procreate, so there are neither additions nor subtractions to their number. They live eternally.
THE SPHERE OF THEIR EXISTENCE
This is described in Jude 6 as "… their own habitation". It is clear from this passage that they can leave it. In Gal.1.8 their normal sphere is incidentally affirmed as heaven; "… though we or an angel from heaven …". In Mk.13.32 the Lord Jesus referring to the time of His coming as the Son of Man said, "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father". It is evident then that "heaven" is the normal sphere of their existence. Perhaps among the "abiding places" to which the Lord referred in Jn.14.2, as being in existence at that time, is one for the angels? In Eph.3.13,14 Paul refers to "the Father … of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named". If angels are one of these families then He will have provided an appropriate place for them. However, angels (including Satan) can become visible; see Matt.4.9,10; Zech.3.1 and 2Cor.11.14, which has its parallel in Genesis 3; and visit men; see Gen.18.1ff; 19.1,5; Lk.1.11,26; Jn.20.12; Acts 12.7-10; though normally they are invisible to the human eye without Divine intervention, 2Kgs.6.17.
In carrying out his duties for the "care of all the churches" 2Cor.11.28, the apostle Paul gave them thorough instructions on the subject of prayer. His writings are "for our learning" and his teaching on assembly prayer is just as relevant now as they were the day he originally gave it.
In his epistle to the Romans, the apostle gives a series of short miscellaneous instructions, in the middle of which we read "... continuing instant in prayer" Rom.12.12. Following Young’s Literal Translation, we can set out these general instructions, Rom.12.11-13, as encouraging six kinds of ongoing spiritual activities, as follows: the Lord serving; in hope rejoicing; in tribulation enduring; in prayer persevering; to the necessities of the saints communicating; hospitality pursuing.
The Authorised Version phrase "continuing instant" is variously translated elsewhere as "continue", "continued", "continuing", and "continued stedfastly". So the encouragement here is to continue on praying. The early chapters of the Book of Acts give us examples of such persevering prayer of the Lord’s people. First, those who returned to Jerusalem from the ascension of the Lord Jesus, "These all were continuing stedfastly in prayer and in supplication with one mind, with the women, and with Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers" Acts 1.14. Then after Pentecost the disciples "were continuing stedfastly ... in prayers" Acts 2.42. Lastly we read that the apostles delegated the distribution of aid to the widows at Jerusalem, so that they could give themselves "continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" Acts 6.4. So persevering prayer characterised the early church.
The apostle asks that some of the Romans’ persevering prayers should be for him: "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me" Rom.15.30. He told them about his plans to come to them, "by the will of God" Rom.1.10, and he expanded on this, "I will come by you into Spain. And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ", Rom.15.28,29. However, he says that such plans were only possible if prayer was made, so he beseeches that they might pray jointly with him, "Now I beseech you, brethren ... strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed" vv.30-32. Prayer for these activities would not be easy, in fact it would be hard work for them all in "striving together", because the word "striving" used here describes agonising in athletic competitions. Paul prayed such agonising prayers for the Colossians, Col.2.1, as did Epaphras along with him, Col.4.12.
Another example of this kind of cooperative prayer is given by Paul in writing to the Corinthians. Having just described his great deliverance from what looked like certain death, the apostle commends the Corinthians: "Ye also helping together by prayer for us" 2Cor.1.11. Their persistent prayer for the Lord’s servant had worked! Similarly, "Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him" Acts.12.5, and Peter was miraculously released. Presumably, Paul had the same thought in mind when he tells the Philippians, "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer" Phil.1.19, where his salvation here would mean his release from imprisonment. He certainly hoped that the prayers of Philemon would go towards that same end, "I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you" Philemon v.22.
EPHESIANS AND COLOSSIANS
Prayer for all saints, including the Lord’s servants, is encouraged for the Ephesians: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" Eph.6.18. Once again we find encouragement to continued prayer, this time expressed as "praying always": "Prayer should be continual, not sporadic; a habit, not an isolated act."1
Whereas prayer is the normal word for the act of speaking to God, supplication is a much more expressive word. As James Currie2 says, "The nuance of meaning in each of these ... words is not without significance ... "Prayer" is the general term often used for this activity but [it also] carries with it the thought of praise or thanksgiving. To "supplicate" is to give expression to entreaty when seeking help or assistance." Our word supplication comes originally from a Latin word meaning to bend or bow down, hence our word "supple". By extension it then came to describe the action of those asking for something humbly, i.e., on bended knees, emphasising their lowliness and need.
Watchfulness inevitably leads to all (kinds of) prayer and perseverance, and that for all saints. The Ephesians had already demonstrated their "love unto all the saints" Eph.1.15. Now such love should motivate their continued prayer for all saints.
Whereas the apostle asked for prayer and supplication for all saints, he also adds "and for me" v.19, "that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" vv.19,20. The apostle’s bold witness was not automatic; it needed the prayers of others for him to be able to carry it out, as he ought to. Assembly prayer meetings should be places where intelligent prayer is made, based on up-to-date information about the Lord’s servants.
Colossians is the "sister" epistle to Ephesians, with many common themes running though them both; indeed Puskas3 has pointed out nearly three dozen. In the parallel prayer passage in Colossians to the one we have looked at above in Ephesians, the apostle instructs "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving, withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds" Col.4.2,3. While much of the same ground is covered in this prayer request, the main difference is that they should pray that "God would open unto us a door of utterance", that is to say, that God would provide "doors", i.e., favourable openings for Paul "to speak the mystery of Christ". Examples of these are found in Paul writing to the Corinthians. First he told them about the opportunities he had in Ephesus; "For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries" 1Cor.16.9, see Acts 19.17-20 for details. Secondly, he told them about his experience in Troas, "Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord", 2Cor.2.12. Lastly we note that the Lord Jesus promised the Philadelphian assembly, "behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name" Rev.3.8. Both individuals and assemblies rely on the Lord for such openings.
"Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" Phil.4.6.
All the needs of the assembly at Philippi in general and its members in particular, expressed as requests, should be directed to God through their prayers and supplications, and along with these requests, Paul says, should go thanksgiving. These activities, prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, if covering "everything" would guarantee that they would be careful [i.e., anxious] about nothing, but they should then instead enjoy the defending power of the peace of God, v.7. Giving of thanks in prayer is constantly encouraged not just in prayer, but at all times, Eph.5.20; Phil.4.6; Col.3.17; 4.2. How suitable, indeed how encouraging for us, to count our many blessings!
In Paul’s earlier first epistle to the Thessalonians, in a few words he summarises much of what we have already seen, so he requests that they, "Pray without ceasing" 1Thess.5.17, and "pray for us" 1Thess.5.25. Prayer should never cease, however long the answer seems to be in coming. Apparently the Greek original suggests prayer without long gaps between our prayers. In the second epistle the request for prayer is repeated and expanded "brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you" 2Thess.3.1. Paul was delighted that the word of the Lord sounded out from the assembly at Thessalonica unhindered, 1Thess.1.8, and longs that this might be so for him and his co-workers also.
1 TIMOTHY (FOR THE EPHESIAN ASSEMBLY)
"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men", 1Tim.2.1.
Paul’s first exhortation to the assembly at Ephesus to be delivered through Timothy, was for various kinds of prayer. As often in the pastoral epistles, the Saviour hood of God is prominent, 1Tim.1.1; 2.3; 4.10; Titus 1.3; 2.10,13; 3.4. God’s desire to have all men to be saved requires that assembly prayers should be offered up for all men, but especially for those who had influence in determining the freedom necessary for the unrestricted preaching of the gospel. When Paul later returns to this subject of assembly prayer, v.8, he says "I will [desire] therefore that men [i.e., males] pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" 1Tim.2.8, making it clear that it is the men who are to engage in such public prayer, not the women. But those men who do take part must have certain qualifications, as William MacDonald helpfully points out, "[such] a man should exhibit holiness and purity selfward, love and peace manward, and unquestioning faith Godward".4
The apostle Paul’s instructions to assemblies concerning their prayer life cover a number of subjects such as encouragement to pray for all saints; for him, for boldness and gospel openings; to pray continually, Rom.12.12; Eph.6.18; Col.4.2, to pray to eliminate worry, Phil.4.6, seeking unrestricted conditions for gospel preaching, etc. This is indeed suitable material for our prayer meetings!
Prayer should also be important for the individual members of the assembly, so that they can bring a proper spirit of prayer to assembly prayer meetings: "Prayer is to be the accompaniment of our whole life - a stream ever flowing, now within sight and hearing, now disappearing from view, forming the under-current of all our thoughts and giving to them its own character and tone."5
1. MacDonald, William. "The Believer’s Bible Commentary". Nelson, 1995
2. Currie. J. "Glory Of Prayer - chapter 5". An Assembly Testimony Publication, 2011.
3. Puskas, Charles B. "The Letters of Paul, An Introduction". Liturgical Press, 1993
4. MacDonald, ibid.
5. Findlay, George G. "Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges". 1898.
From earliest days human beings have been fascinated and puzzled by the subject of life. The holy grail for different fields of knowledge all have to do with life. In biology, it is the creation of life from outside another life; in astronomy, it is the discovery of life from outside of planet earth; in medicine, it is the prolonging of life; in philosophy, it is the meaning of life. Whatever it may be, the subject of life is something that we cannot ignore.
Interestingly, the Bible, God’s Word, provides the answers to all these questions that are being asked by the scientific world. Only God is able to create life from nothing, which was what took place when He created this universe. God has placed mankind and all creatures on planet earth and on no other planet. The Bible clearly states that man will surely die despite the best efforts of doctors and medicine because of the problem of sin. God says that the true purpose of life is to serve and please God, Who first created it. If scientists of this world would just accept what the Bible says about life, our history books will be different; our society will be different; and some governments will not be spending billions of dollars on extraterrestrial programs trying to search for life on other planets.
But we come back to a very pertinent question on a personal level: What is your life?
The Bible says that your life is:
Short – just like a vapour from a boiling kettle that appears in a flash and then vanishes away, James 4.14. Peter echoes this truth: "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away" 1Peter 1.24. Seventy or eighty years may seem like a long time, but compared to eternity it is like a grain of sand on a vast ocean bed! After our physical life ends, eternity starts either in a blissful heaven or in a dreadful, horrific hell. If you accept the Lord Jesus as Saviour in this life, you are guaranteed a place in Heaven. However, if you reject Him, God will likewise guarantee you a place in hell. "Whosoever believeth in Him (the Lord Jesus) should not perish, but have everlasting life" John 3.16.
Sinful – Sin is an element in life that is present from the moment we are born until the moment we die, and it is because of sin that we die. Romans 5.12, "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." The question of sickness, suffering, and eventually death is a direct result of the presence of sin in our lives and in this world. The Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins so that we need to be eternally accountable for them. If you accept the Lord Jesus, you can have God’s forgiveness and a place in heaven. Let God’s Word speak to you: Romans 5.6,8 "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly ... God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Special – because the God of Heaven values our lives so much, He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our salvation. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" John 3.16, to die for us. What God asks from you is to accept and believe that Jesus Christ died for a sinner such as yourself, and you will receive forgiveness of your sins and eternal life.