We have already noted that Psalms 9 and 10 are evidently companions (some versions show them as one piece), and that both refer to enemy oppression. The principal difference between the two Psalms is the identity of the enemy. In Psalm 9, he is external. The repetition of "the heathen" and "the nations", together with reference to "the world" in v.8, strongly suggest an outside aggressor, a national foe. In Psalm 10 however, the enemy is within the nation.
But is it strictly correct to distinguish between the two Psalms in this way? What about Ps.10.16? "The Lord is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of His land". There could be two explanations. First of all, "the heathen" (‘nations’, J.N.D.) could refer to people like the Philistines and the Canaanites who were resident in the land. However, and more likely, the concluding verses of Psalm 10 could be read as the conclusion of both Psalms, bearing in mind their close connection. See our introduction to Psalm 9, but notice, in addition, that both Psalms end on the same note. Psalm 9 says, "Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in Thy sight. Put them in fear, O Lord: that the nations may know themselves to be but men" vv.19,20. Psalm 10 says, "that the man of the earth may no more oppress" v.18. In both cases the words "man" and "men" translate a word meaning ‘frail man’ (enosh). Notice too, that both Psalms contain the petition, "Arise, O LORD" 9.19; 10.12.
Ps.10.1 raises a familiar problem: "Why standest Thou afar off, O LORD? Why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?". It almost seems as if God has abdicated His interest in human affairs. He appears to practise a policy of non-intervention. Why do the wicked seem so successful? In Psalm 73, the prosperity of the wicked is questioned. They seem to do very well indeed without even pretending to acknowledge God. In Psalm 10, David questions the complete absence of restraint on the wicked. They seem to be able to be as cruel and as unjust as they like: "The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor" v.2.
Is there any answer to this age-old problem? We must wait and see how our Psalm proceeds. In the meantime, notice that the Psalm divides into two clear sections:
The Complaint of the Afflicted, vv.1-11
The Cry of the Afflicted, vv.12-18.
THE COMPLAINT OF THE AFFLICTED - vv.1-11
The first section of the Psalm makes very unpleasant reading, and it would be inappropriate (hopefully!) to apply these verses directly to ourselves. So this is what we will do: we will read them carefully, just to make sure that we are not tainted in any way with the wickedness described. We must notice:
the Pride of the Wicked - vv.2-4
the Peace of the Wicked - vv.5,6
the Practice of the Wicked - vv.7-11.
The Pride of the Wicked - vv.2-4
Notice: "the wicked in his pride ... the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire ... the wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God". The section describes three ways in which human pride is displayed:
It is Displayed Manward. "The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor" v.2. Mercy, compassion and kindness, are absent. The wicked (‘wicked one’ or ‘lawless one’) will tread on everything and everybody who does not serve his purpose. People of lesser position and importance than himself are disdained and oppressed. Phil.2.3 is so different: "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves".
The latter part of v.2 appears to be a statement of fact, rather than a prayer for judgment. It is best understood as follows: "let them [that is, the wicked] be taken in the devices that they [that is, the wicked] have imagined". See Gal.6.7.
It is Displayed Selfward. "For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire" v.3. A margin reading gives the remaining part of the verse as follows: "the covetous blesseth himself, he abhorreth the Lord". He thinks of nothing but himself, and his own interests. Nothing else figures in his plans and aspirations. The claims of God are totally disregarded. Paul describes the attitude in 2Tim.3.2, "For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud".
We can so easily become tainted in this way. There was nothing self-indulgent about John the Baptist: listen to this: "He must increase, but I must decrease" Jn.3.30. There was nothing self-indulgent about Paul: listen to this: "For to me to live is Christ" Phil.1.21.
It is Displayed Godward. "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts" v.4. The words, "God is not in all his thoughts" are elsewhere rendered; "all his thoughts are, There is no God" (J.N.D.). See Ps.14.1: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God". In both cases, it is the language of the man who rejects God, rather than the language of the atheist. To quote D. Kidner (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries): "The bold words, ‘There is no God’ (v.4, J.N.D.) are bravado, for his inner dialogue contradicts them, vv.11,13. Yet they are the language of his choices and actions, since ‘thoughts’ in v.4 means ‘schemes’, as in v.2. He is a practising atheist, if hardly a convinced one."
How do we live? We all shudder at the statement, "There is no God". But do we always live in a way which reflects our absolute belief in God, and His ability to govern and intervene?
The Peace of the Wicked - vv.5,6
The words, "His ways are always grievous" v.5, mean, "his ways always succeed" (J.N.D.) or, literally, ‘are rigid’ or ‘sure’, in spite of the following:
He is Quite Peaceful When He Thinks About God. "Thy judgments are far above out of his sight" v.5. Whilst this could mean that he lives without reference to God’s laws, it is more likely to mean that he is quite oblivious of Divine judgment. The fact that he will be called to account never occurs to him at all.
While, in the love of God, we will never "come into condemnation" Jn.5.24, we must never lose sight of the fact that "we must all appear (be manifested) before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body" 2Cor.5.10. See also Eccl.12.14: "for God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil".
He is Quite Peaceful When He Thinks About His Enemies. "As for all his enemies, he puffeth (‘to rail against’, Gesenius) at them" v.5. Be careful how you treat your enemies. Remember that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world". False teachers "speak evil of those things which they know not" Jude v.10. As you will see from the preceding verse, Jude is speaking about the contemptuous way in which false teachers refer to Satan and his associates. See also 2 Pet.2.10,11.
He is Quite Peaceful When He Thinks About His Future. "He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity" v.6. This was the language of the ‘rich fool’: "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years" Lk.12.19. Compare the words of the Messiah in Ps.16.8, "I have set the Lord always before Me: because He is at My right hand, I shall not be moved".
On what basis do we rest as we think about the future? The wicked man was doing very nicely indeed – as noted above, "his ways always succeed" v.5, (J.N.D.); and he was quite confident that it would always be the same. So he acts as he wants.
The Practice of the Wicked - vv.7-11
How He Speaks. "His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud" v.7. Compare Ps.5.9 and see Rom.3.13,14, "Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness". Children of God are to be the exact opposite in their speech. See, for example, Eph.4.29, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth"; Eph.5.4, "neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks"; Col.4.6, "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt". The "deceit and fraud" of the wicked should never taint the Lord’s people.
Where He Sits. It’s all very secretive and underhand, isn’t it? "He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages ... he lieth in wait secretly ... he croucheth, and humbleth himself" vv.8-10. A.G. Clarke (Analytical Studies in the Psalms) summarises vv.8-10 as follows: "a lawless bandit" v.8; "a lurking lion" v.9; "a luring hunter" v.10. Have you ever noticed that in Scripture, evil, and evil intentions, are almost invariably camouflaged? The Lord Jesus taught that "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" Jn.3.19,20. On the other hand, good, and good intentions, don’t require any camouflage. Listen to this: "But have renounced (rejected) the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God" 2Cor.4.2. We must beware of people who always seem to act furtively. You know, the kind of person who would rather stick a knife in your back than confront you to your face. People still sit in "lurking places" and lie "in wait secretly".
Never resort to subterfuge: be open and above board. The Lord Jesus said, "I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; in secret have I said nothing" Jn.18.20. But false teachers act surreptitiously. See Gal.2.4, "false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily" and 2Pet.2.1, "there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies".
Notice too that the wicked man is only interested in the poor. In vv.2,9 "the poor" (ani) means the ‘afflicted’, whereas in vv.8,10,14, "the poor" means ‘the wretched’ (J.N.D.). If your Christian life is impoverished and weak, you are vulnerable. Spiritual growth and spiritual strength are necessary if we are not to be "children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of man, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" Eph.4.14. Don’t forget either that every one of us has chinks in our armour, and that we all need not to be "ignorant of his devices" 2Cor.2.11.
What He Thinks. "He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: He hideth His face; He will never see it" v.11. The contrary is true: "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" Heb.4.13. It is a healthy thing to remember that "Thou God seest me" Gen.16.13. This brings us to the second section of the Psalm:
THE CRY OF THE AFFLICTED - vv.12-18
At the beginning of the Psalm, David asked, "Why?" v.1. The "times of trouble" were so difficult to understand. Now he does two things:
He Calls Upon God To Intervene - vv.12-15
He Is Confident That God Will Intervene - vv.16-18.
He Calls Upon God To Intervene - vv.12-15
"Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up Thine hand … break Thou the arm of the wicked". The wicked had said, "God hath forgotten: He hideth His face; He will never see it" v.11. Some additional words are added in v.13: "He hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it". All three statements are answered in the petition: "Forget not the humble v.12 ... Thou hast seen it; for Thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with Thy hand" v.14. Notice that the appeal to God is based on two things:
The Honour of God. "Wherefore doth the wicked contemn (disregard) God?" v.13. The statements, "God hath forgotten ... Thou wilt not require it" vv.11,13, really assert that God was not particularly interested in justice and equity. David appeals to the honour of God. That’s very important. Never mind about ourselves, how concerned are we that the Lord Jesus should be honoured? Isn’t that why Paul speaks about "a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" 2Tim.4.8. Of course we look forward to the Rapture: to the day when we are "caught up ... to meet the Lord in the air". Nevertheless we should also gladly anticipate His appearing - that is, the day of His return to earth to reign. He will then be recognised and honoured in the world which crucified Him.
The Compassion of God. "Forget not the humble v.12 ... the poor committeth himself unto Thee; Thou art the helper of the fatherless" v.14. Here are people unable to help themselves, and who look to God for strength and support. David calls upon God to remember their weakness. We have a God Who "pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust" Ps.103.13,14.
He is Confident that God Will Intervene - vv.16-18
In his petition, David appeals to the honour of God and to the compassion of God. He now anticipates that God will vindicate His honour, and care for His dependent people. So he notes: "The Lord is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of His land" v.16. He will be honoured. Men will see the folly of assuming that "God hath forgotten: He hideth His face; He will never see it" v.11. He will use angels to "gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity" Matt.13.41.
"Lord, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble: Thou wilt prepare (establish) their heart, Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear: to judge (do justice to) the fatherless and the oppressed" vv.17,18. He will show compassion, and intervene on behalf of His people in all their weakness and need. He both sees, v.14, and hears, v.17, and He takes action, v.18.
So what should we do when the going is tough, and the absence of Divine intervention makes it almost seem that God is standing "afar off"? James says, "Is any among you afflicted (suffering evil)? Let him pray" Jms.5.13. That’s what happened in Ps.10, and the answer was assured. Remember, "He careth for you" 1Pet.5.7.
Debates about the importance of education usually heat up when children reach secondary school. At this stage pupils begin to sit exams which will shape their future careers. Children may then begin to feel pressure from all sorts of sources. Some children put pressure on themselves. Others are pressurised by their parents. There may also be pressure from the school. Pressure affects children in different ways. Some children are impervious to pressure or can handle the expectations of parents and teachers with ease. Some, however, find it a difficult burden to carry. They may become anxious or absorbed by exam success. While pressure may be a good thing and spur a child on to do well, it may also be damaging. Parents should be careful not to place too much pressure on their children. I like this paraphrase of Paul’s advice: "Parents don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits" Col.3.21. While the Bible teaches that parents should encourage their children it does not demand that their children be academic successes. God is more interested in their spiritual development. On the other hand the Bible also teaches that Christian children should seek to honour the Lord in all that they do, Col.3.17,23. This means that they should do their best.
Should I go to University?
If God blesses you with the ability and means to attend university you should go. A good degree is a valuable asset in the job market. That said, university is often a graveyard for the young believer. There are a number of reasons why things go wrong. Often they are away from home for the first time and have not developed the convictions that are necessary to stay away from the temptations of alcohol and bad company. For such the university environment can be very dangerous. However, by the same token it can be the making of a young Christian. Sometimes it is necessary to be exposed to opposition or difficulty for convictions to develop. In the comfort of the home, character may be slow to develop, but in the crucible of the university swift progress can be made. When away from home it is usually important to develop friendships with other likeminded Christian students. Young students away from home depend more than they know on the hospitality of Christian families. Caring for students is a noble work.
Sometimes degree courses can sow doubts in the minds of young believers. Many disciplines particularly the sciences and social sciences involve the teaching of evolution and its derivative concepts. Once again it is important to acknowledge that young Christians need to learn how to stand up for themselves. Students need to develop discrimination and the ability to defend their Christian world-view. The world has never been welcoming to the believer and the world of university is no different. Wisdom is needed and counsel should be sought from older believers or elders in making appropriate choices. Older people are not always wrong!
What about home schooling?
Home schooling has become more popular in recent years. It attracts young couples who do not wish to expose their children to the challenges of a State education. In many cases it works well particularly if the parents are dedicated to its success and network with others who also home school. There is a wealth of materials to facilitate home schooling. These come online and in paper form. For missionaries home schooling has long been their best option in countries where the local education system may be inadequate and they do not desire to send their children to boarding school. However, it is a demanding option. In order to provide children with the discipline they require and the opportunities they need, the parents need to be very committed. Unless the parents can meet the needs of the child it may not be an ideal option. The other difficulty it presents is that it usually inhibits the socialisation of the child. Although the playground and classroom is often a challenging place for a child, it is representative of a world that they will have to face one day. It may not always be wise to seal the child from these influences as sooner or later they will have to confront them on their own. On balance I feel that it is better to give a child a State education or, if the parents can afford it, a private school education, and seek to moderate its effects by providing a strong Christian influence in the home. This may not work for every child or in every situation so wisdom is required.
The order and severity of the judgment in each case is important. It begins on the serpent. God goes to the source. The serpent is cursed with a double curse, v.14; in relation to posture; "… upon thy belly shalt thou go" (he could go no lower), and in relation to food; "… dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life". What a difference from the shining seraph! Also there was to be a double enmity, v.15; with the woman and with her seed (not his seed!). Thus on the very threshold of Scripture there is an affirmation of a unique birth, but not only so but of a devastating victory. The final defeat of Satan is affirmed and certain and the victory of the Christ attested and assured. Satan’s head would be bruised (crushed) by the heel of Christ. Here is a prophecy of Calvary, an outline of the first gospel message to be detailed later in e.g. Col.2.14,15 and Heb.2.14.
There is no "curse" per se pronounced on the woman personally. In this case the twofold judgment is related to sorrow in conception and childbirth, v.16a, and in her submission to her husband, v.16b, "… he shall rule over thee".
The reason for Divine judgment on the man is because of his threefold mistake, v.17a: he hearkened to the voice of his wife (this order ought to have been reversed!), he ate of the tree and he disobeyed the commandment from God. This led to a fourfold result. Firstly the ground was cursed, v.17b. The fall did not only affect humanity (in the "loins" of Adam) but affected both animate and inanimate spheres as well. The effect of this is still seen today with creation groaning on a minor key, Rom.8.20-22, waiting for the redemption of the believers’ bodies, and subject to decay, Heb.1.10-12.
In addition Adam would experience the presence of sorrow, v.17c, always an adjunct of sin. The third result would be the difficulty of cultivation, vv.18,19a; thorns, thistles and sweat would be its constant and necessary accompaniment. As Adam contemplated the beauty of Eden conditions, he must have realised the awful mistake of disobedience to the command of God. Everything had been pristine and perfect, but now the very creation over which he had been given unqualified control and authority was no longer to be subject to him. Indeed one of the reasons for Satan’s fall, discussed in detail in an earlier paper, may have been his innate desire to have authority in the realm of creation which had been given to Adam. If Adam could be toppled from his pinnacle, it could be given to him! We know that this is essentially the case today; Satan is "the god of this world" 2Cor.4.4. This would be another confirmatory consideration that Satan sinned after the creation of man when he was given the "dominion" detailed in Ps.8.4-8. What was lost in Adam will of course one day be restored in Christ, and publicly manifested in the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus, Heb.2.5-9.
The certainty of death, v.19b, is the fourth result of man’s sin: "… dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return". The moment Adam sinned he became a dying man!
THE PROVISION OF GOD FOR FALLEN MAN IN SALVATION AND PRESERVATION - vv.20-24
Adam appropriated the promise of God in relation to a coming Redeemer, v.15, by faith, v.20. He reckoned that this Redeemer must come through the seed of the woman, so he called his wife’s name Eve which means "Living". This is an incidental affirmation that there was no pre-Adamic race; she was the mother of all!
The Provision of God - v.21: to meet the need of the fallen pair was based on sacrifice. This is an early indication of the necessity and importance of the death of Christ. Fig leaves are not enough. Sacrifice is essential if communion with God was to be restored. It should be observed again that God took the initiative. Here was a practical lesson that future generations must follow – approach to God must be on the basis of sacrifice.
The Preservation of God (or His goodness) - vv.22-24: man is mercifully preserved from the tree of life, v.22. It would have been a tragedy to live for ever as a sinner. However, what a blessing it will be for redeemed humanity to be able to enjoy the fruit of this tree in the future state, Rev.2.7; 21.1,5; 22.1,2. Man is also sent forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground, v.23. There might be an indication of reluctance to go since God "… drove out the man". Was the garden no longer to remain in its pristine beauty because of the effect of the fall? Certainly in tilling the ground Adam would learn the effects of sin. The garden was to be protected by the cherubim, (linked with the throne and holiness and judgment), and a flaming sword, v.24. There would be no possible access to the tree of life!
THE NEW TESTAMENT USE OF GENESIS 3
The doctrinal significance of the literal historical events presented in this chapter cannot be over emphasised. Only the briefest outline is given here. The Lord Himself refers to the importance of this chapter (e.g. in John chapter 8) and a whole plethora of New Testament doctrine is based on it. This includes the important treatise on federal headship given by the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 5; the outline of headship and subjection in relation to men and women given in 1Corinthians chapter 11; the requirement for the silence of sisters in the public gatherings of the Lord’s people given in both 1Corinthians chapter 14 and 1Timothy chapter 2; in this latter case the priority of the woman in the fall (as well as the priority of man in creation) being one of the main levers for the authentication of the doctrine. The important relationship between husband and wife in Ephesians chapter 5 is also based on the details of this chapter (see vv.22,23).
The New Testament significance for church truth could of course be expanded considerably. But what is clear is that the functioning of a local assembly is not based on local culture, as averred by some today, but on the inspired and infallible presentation of Divine truth, with permanent and unchangeable authority.
In addition to the chapter’s importance for church truth, indicated above, the fundamentals of salvation truth are also seen here in embryonic form. The requirement for a different kind of man, "the seed of the woman"; the battle of the ages, prefiguring Calvary, leading to the devastating crushing of Satan’s head and the unqualified victory of Christ; the fact of Divine sovereignty in the realm of redemption initiating the possibility of renewed communion for the estranged sinner, and determining that sacrifice was to be the basis of approach to God. The grand prospect of man enjoying eventually the "tree of life" is indicated by its unique preservation by cherubic agency. Meantime, in anticipation of future glory, fellowship is possible between the Creator and the creature, as Divine love holds in store an unparalleled blessing for redeemed humanity. What a chapter!
The twelve tribes of the children of Israel provide a fascinating narrative, from Genesis to Revelation. As descendants of the Patriarch Jacob, perhaps one of the most complex characters in the Old Testament, it is not surprising that their tribal characteristics are diverse and convoluted. Yet just as their father graduated in the school of God from Jacob ("Supplanter") to Israel ("Prince with God"), so God’s dealings over time, both in grace and severity, outworked His purpose in that chosen nation. Through the lessons learned by the children of Israel, believers today can be educated as to God’s prophetic programme and in relation to issues of contemporary practical application.
In Genesis we have the record of the births of the twelve sons of Jacob by four different mothers. It is interesting to note that Leah, the unloved, contributed most to the establishment of what subsequently became the nation of Israel, being the mother of six of the sons. There are specific sections of Scripture devoted to the tribes. In Genesis chapter 49 we have Jacob’s prophetic blessing of his twelve sons prior to his death. Then in Deuteronomy chapter 33 we have Moses’ prophetic blessing of the twelve tribes. Their history is provided throughout the Old Testament and their characteristics are seen in the New Testament in the general epistle of James, who writes "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad", Jms.1.1.
The birth order of the sons of Jacob is provided in Genesis chapters 29, 30 and 35. They are as follows:
Reuben, "behold a son", by Leah, Gen.29.32;
Simeon, "hearing", by Leah, Gen.29.33;
Levi, "joined", by Leah, Gen.29.34;
Judah, "praise", by Leah, Gen.29.35;
Dan, "judging", by Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid, Gen.30.6;
Naphtali, "wrestling", by Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid, Gen.30.8;
Gad, "a troop", by Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid, Gen.30.11;
Asher, "happy", by Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid, Gen.30.13;
Issachar, "hire or wages", by Leah, Gen.30.18;
Zebulun, "dwelling", by Leah, Gen.30.20;
Joseph, "adding", by Rachel, Gen.30.24;
Benjamin, "son of my right hand", by Rachel, Gen.35.18.
In considering the traits of the tribes we will discover that Scripture gives a ‘warts and all’ portrayal. Failures are highlighted, as well as their successes; perhaps even more so; yet God in grace bears with their manners and works out His sovereign purpose through such unlikely characters.
JACOB’S PROPHETIC BLESSING
Jacob’s blessing of his twelve sons as recorded in Genesis chapter 49 is truly amazing. "And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, "Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days. Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father"" Gen.49.1,2. On the final day of his life, at the age of one hundred and forty-seven years, Gen.47.28, within as many minutes from death as it will take Genesis chapter 49 to be read, an old man who was sick, Gen.48.1, dying, Heb.11.21, blind, Gen.48.10, and sitting on the side of his bed, Gen.49.33, was enabled to deliver his blessing to his sons. Although his eyes were dim, his spiritual vision was unimpaired. While weak in body, he was strong in faith. He was a prophet as well as a patriarch. While there were many episodes in Jacob’s life that fell far short of the ideal, there is no failure here. His words are intended as the bestowal of a blessing: "All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them" Gen.49.28.
Jacob concluded his benediction with all of its prophetic portent, and with nothing more left to do, he died: "And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people" Gen.49.33. Jacob dies, but "the mighty God of Jacob" Gen.49.24, continues to outwork His purpose. God is ever true to His word: "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" Num.23.19. Much of that foretold by Jacob has already been fulfilled, although the nation of Israel will experience greater blessing still.
While some occurrences of the phrase "in the last days" in Scripture refer to the coming millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel, here it may also have the general idea "in future times" or "in the days to come". However, their future will run right until that glorious reign. While intended as a blessing, there are solemn issues in Jacob’s benediction. All twelve sons were gathered round. Each would hear what was said about himself and, also, about his eleven brothers. So there was both a personal and a public aspect to the pronouncement. There was an accurate and inspired assessment of the evident character and conduct of each son, which was a serious issue in itself but, as we shall see, which also had a profound impact upon their tribe going forward for centuries to come. Their individual lives had implications for the future, either to profit or loss. And those following would in large measure display similar character traits. There are practical issues in this for us presently: we must take care to ensure that our conduct does not impact adversely on our children or succeeding generations of believers. And let us remember that we will all be called to stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ, where our service, motives, etc. will receive Divine scrutiny and unfolding.
Jacob uses his two names, "Jacob" and "Israel", in his call to gather his sons for the last time before he dies. His experience at Penuel, Gen.32.28, broke his will and permanently affected his subsequent walk. Reliance on fleshly methods was replaced by total dependence on God. However, his sons, the children of Israel, will continue to vacillate between "the Jacob" and "the Israel" characteristic, that is between the natural and the spiritual, all through their subsequent history. Truly they were the chosen people of God, yet they were more often characterised by the example set by their ancestors. Yet we too are those of a special position: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together" Rom.8.16,17. That being so, are we not also (and perhaps more often than we may care to admit) marked by similar failures to those exemplified by those twelve grown men who stood in respectful silence around the deathbed of Jacob; and by the traits of their tribes?
Yet they, like us, have a promised future. Indeed as Jacob recites his prophetic poem, he must have rejoiced to know that God had important intentions for his family; that the promise to the patriarchs would be fulfilled; and that their future was not in the Egypt world either.
MOSES’ PROPHETIC BLESSING
While almost at the end of his life of one hundred and twenty years, Deut.34.7, with its outstanding service, Moses’ benediction was not a deathbed event. Indeed, unlike Jacob, Moses’ "eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated" Deut.34.7. Also, while Jacob’s death was witnessed by his twelve sons, the death of Moses was not witnessed by any man. And while Jacob’s address to his sons in Genesis chapter 49 contained reference to failure, the blessing of Moses to the tribes in Deuteronomy chapter 33 contains no obvious censure. Indeed it provides encouragement to each of the tribes to possess the land and reach their potential in accordance with Divine grace and covenant relationship.
To encourage them in their onward journey without him, Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 33 gives a reprise of their glorious past. Sinai and the giving of the law are called to remembrance; also that God illuminated the Divine way toward the land via Mount Seir, Deut.1.2, and went with them to Paran, Num.10.12, with the accompanying presence of angelic armies. The whole scene reviewed by Moses is invested with Divine glory and power. This was the God Who brought them out of bondage and sent them on their way, and Moses has no doubt that their God will see them safely home. As well as demonstrating power and glory, "He loved the people [lit. the tribes]" with an unfathomable and inexplicable love, Deut.33.3.
God’s love toward the tribes is the source of their present, and future, blessing as well as their safety and security: "all His saints are in His hand" Deut.33.3. If only His people had remained ever and always in the good of His love and care, they would not have failed to have "sat down at Thy feet" and to "receive of Thy words" Deut.33.3. Have we not also been recipients of His counsels of love and evident care? Hence we need to take special interest in the twelve tribes and their characteristics, as their successes and failures are mirrored by our own.
It is interesting that Moses associates himself with Jacob, Deut.33.4. Via the mediation of Moses, the law was bestowed as a rich inheritance, and by the experiences of Jacob encouragement is given that, in the sovereign dealings of God, the natural is superseded by the spiritual.
JAMES’ PRACTICAL APPLICATION
James, the writer of the New Testament epistle of that name, like his namesake Jacob, had his own "Penuel" experience: "After that, He was seen of James; then of all the apostles" 1Cor.15.7. It was a sight of the risen Christ that transformed everything for James. He had grown up in the same home in Nazareth as the Lord Jesus Christ but, some months before Calvary, it is recorded, "For neither did His brethren believe in Him" Jn.7.5. But his encounter with the risen Saviour changed everything and he later became, with Peter and John, a pillar in the assembly at Jerusalem, Gal.2.9. He writes in his epistle to benefit Jewish Christians; and he writes in Acts 15 to benefit Gentile Christians.
In many respects the epistle of James is the bridge between the Old and the New Testaments. It is the epistle that promotes an active, living and genuine faith. Christian profession must be manifest in Christian conduct. Jewish Christians of the dispersion were evidently descended from all the tribes and, as we shall see, had the potential to display tribal characteristics in a New Testament context. Hence James writes to encourage and challenge them to progress from tribal traits to princely grace.
We shall therefore progress to consider Reuben and the Reubenites.
Rightly we rejoice in the release that the man of Gadara experienced when he met Christ, Mk.5.1-20. The power that once controlled him could break chains and fetters and had driven him out from the society of the friends, who were to look with wonder on the man no-one could tame, until he met Christ. Although few of us were controlled by demons before salvation, every one was once a child of disobedience and influenced by the prince of the power of the air that now works in the world around, Eph.2.2,3. That evil prince’s interest in God’s people does not end at the moment of their salvation, although he knows that he will never reclaim the allegiance of any who are Christ’s, but he will seek to lead them astray into pursuits that once marked them before they turned to Christ, or to sins that had never held them captive. How should the assembly act to see that brother or sister restored to fellowship with Christ and His people? Sadly, an assembly may find itself facing such a situation.
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT: THE CONTINUING EMPHASIS OF DISCIPLINE
From when sin entered the world, the history of the world has been a catalogue of indiscipline. It was seen in the first family, when Cain murdered Abel. A lack of discipline was seen in the nation of Israel, when God provided manna. Despite the guidance God had provided through Moses, some tried to keep the manna until the next day and it stank; others went to gather manna on the sabbath day, which venture was fruitless and condemned by God Himself, Ex.16.19,20,27-29. That disregard of the will of God was also evident after the law had been given. Even Aaron was involved in the manufacture of the golden calf in express rebellion against the commandment that the Israelites were not to worship a graven image, Ex.20.3,4;32.1-6.
The story of the Gentiles is also one of gross indiscipline, as we find it summarised by Paul in Romans chapter 1. The period he considers is from the foundation of the world until his own day, with particular emphasis on the emergence of the Gentile nations. Despite the witness of creation to God’s eternal power and Godhead, men chose not to glorify God as God and, with darkened hearts, "changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image like to corruptible man … birds … beasts, and creeping things" v.23. God acted in judgment against their gross idolatry by giving them over to uncleanness, vile affections and minds that were devoid of moral discernment, Rom.1.18-32. The world of the twenty-first century is largely given over to the idolatry and immorality that marked the Gentile world that Paul knew.
In a relatively few years after the Lord’s resurrection and exaltation, the gospel was preached among Jews and Gentiles and many souls were saved. Not only were they saved, but, in obedience to the teaching of apostles and teachers, in many places there were saints that called on the name of the Lord Jesus. Those many places included notable cities including Jerusalem and Rome and many other places in Israel and among the nations. It is clear from the letters written to first century Christians and assemblies of God that indiscipline needed to be corrected. The lack of discipline in first century assemblies was not restricted only to those that were predominantly among Gentiles. Even the letter to the Hebrews contains reminders of their responsibilities to the strangers, the imprisoned and the poor, Heb.13.3,16. They also needed to be reminded of the sanctity of marriage, lest adultery defile the marriage bed, Heb.13.4. The correspondence between Paul and the church of God at Corinth reveals the extent of the guidance needed by those snatched from the evil, idolatrous pursuits of Corinth.
Even in the pristine conditions of the early Acts, the presence of the apostle Peter did not deter Ananias and Sapphira from deceit, compounded by lying to an apostle, Acts 5.1-11. In a remarkable example of apostolic discernment, Peter interviewed the guilty parties separately, resulting in the Lord striking dead both the lying husband and his lying wife. Several hours separated their deaths, but each death occurred after denying their sin in the presence of Peter. Not surprisingly, that clear indication that God would discipline those associated with His testimony, even to removing some in death, was not lost on the early Christians: we read that "great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things" Acts 5.11. Examples of such judicial action also occurred in the church of God at Corinth around twenty years later, when Paul wrote: "For this cause many … are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep" 1Cor.11.30 (R.V.). The use of the verb "sleep" is used in the passage as a synonym for death.
Whereas the deaths at Jerusalem of Ananias and Sapphira occurred in the presence of an apostle, the deaths at Corinth occurred in the absence of an apostle. Referring to the events at Corinth, Paul revealed that the Lord had judged and chastened a number of saints, in a way that He would not act toward the world. At the coming assize, He will judge men and women of the world at the great white throne, as Rev.20.11-15 reveals. God’s disciplining of Corinthian saints established a precedent that should be noted: God may stretch forth His hand in judgment of an assembly in the absence of an apostle. What happened at Corinth was not a feature restricted to the apostolic period, in the first century AD. Until the Lord comes to rapture home the saints of this present period of assembly testimony, He still acts to uphold His honour and to maintain conditions in His assemblies in which God might dwell. We have no authority to suggest that the Lord no longer acts as He did in Jerusalem and Corinth. Where a group of Christians takes the ground of being a church of God that calls upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, God may act as He did at Corinth; and the Lord, Who moves in the midst of lampstands, observing and counselling, may have to use the sword of His mouth against some who may have had "space to repent" but remained stubbornly rebellious, Rev.1.13; 2.16,21.
The world has not improved from the first century until now. The breakdown of society, as we know it, is undoubtedly related to the philosophy of the age and the conduct it is producing. Political leaders, religious leaders and the apparently all-powerful heroes from the worlds of entertainment and sport present a debased way of life, restricting only to specific areas of their lives the necessary degree of discipline to secure their goals. Even the young imbibe, consciously and unconsciously, the tenets of the age, so there is a degree of rebellion in even the most orderly of homes. No Christian dare look in the direction of unsaved men and women for a model to follow. The guidance the Christian needs, whether he or she is young or old, is the same guidance that New Testament churches received from the Lord Jesus and His apostles.
A WIDER CONTEXT: THE CHASTENING OF THE LORD
Christians should not assume that discipline is related only to matters associated with collective companies of God’s people, where there has come to light unseemly behaviour or erroneous doctrine that could prove harmful, even divisive, in an assembly. Writing to Jewish saints at a time of persecution, the unnamed writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds them of a statement from Solomon’s pen, which, in their perplexity, they had forgotten: "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth" Prov.3.11,12; Heb.12.5,6. They may have forgotten, the writer suggests, that rebukes, chastening and scourging were proofs that God was dealing with them as sons. Every father worthy of the name chastens his son, as both Solomon and the Hebrew writer agree. The Hebrew writer stresses that God requires holiness of each child of God, but He does not expect us to produce it by our own efforts. He chastens us that we might be partakers of His holiness; indeed, says the writer under the Spirit’s guidance, we must be partakers of God’s chastening that we might be partakers of God’s holiness, Heb.12.8,10. We are also to follow peace with all holiness, that is, in true separation to God, Heb.12.14.
We note en passant that Solomon, who wisely counselled his readers to acknowledge that God would work with them and in them in a way that the flesh would find unwelcome, was the same man whose heart was turned away from his father’s God by commerce and idolatrous wives, when he was old, 1Kgs.11.4. The disciplining of Solomon was "with the stripes of the children of men" 2Sam.7.14, for God raised against him three adversaries: Hadad the Edomite, Rezon of Damascus, and Jeroboam the son of Nebat, once a reliable servant of Solomon, 1Kgs.11.14,23,26.
The discipline exercised by an assembly of God is not distinct from that work of God to which the Hebrews writer carefully alludes. It shares common purpose with the broader aim set out in Heb.12.10: that the one who erred might be a partaker of God’s holiness. Acting in discipline, the assembly looks to God to bring conviction of sin, so that there can be appropriate correction applied that, in due course, would restore the erring brother or sister to usefulness among God’s people.
From the two exhortations in these verses, we learn that the gatherings of the Lord’s people should be characterised by three things:
Edification, v.26, "Let all things be done unto edifying"
Decency and Order, v.40, "Let all things be done decently and in order."
These are three very important principles that must be observed in connection with the gatherings of the Lord’s people.
The apostle labours much in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 on the subject of edification. In fact, the word translated "edify" or "edification" occurs seven times. Thus, the apostle emphasises that meetings of the saints must be for edification. This was lacking at Corinth, because as 1Cor.14.12 states: "Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church". The A.V. states, "Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts," but it could scarcely be said they were zealous of spiritual gifts at Corinth. The fact is, they were guilty of overemphasising gifts of an ostentatious and spectacular character, while despising those of a more spiritual nature.
Notice that the expression, "spiritual gifts" is different from the word in 1Cor.12.1, where the apostle says, "Now concerning spiritual gifts brethren, I would not have you ignorant". It is also different from the expression in 14.1, "Follow after charity and desire spiritual gifts". In both of those the word is an adjective. "Now concerning spirituals" 1Cor.12.1. "Follow after charity and desire spirituals" 1Cor.14.1. However, here in v.12, the word is a noun, not an adjective. The apostle is saying: "Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous [or better, "jealous"] of spirits." In other words, the saints at Corinth were jealous of spirits – evil spirits. A table of demons existed in Corinth and these saints were surrounded by the demonic miraculous. They were jealous of it, and this lead them to emphasise the spectacular and miraculous in the assembly.
Paul said, "Forasmuch as ye are zealous of these spirits, seek that ye may excel unto the edifying of the church." In other words, he tells them that their testimony to the world and the matter of impressing the world, must take second place to edifying the church. This is important. Today also, we must be concerned with edification in the church and not so much with impressing the world around us. Scriptures show that the spirit of unbelief is always stronger than the power of evidence. The children of Israel sojourned in the wilderness forty years, witnessing a miracle or miracles nearly every day, yet 1Corinthians chapter 10 says, the majority still died of unbelief. The city of Capernaum witnessed most of our Lord’s mighty miracles, but the Saviour exclaimed in Matt.11.23, "And thou Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell". The rich man cried from hell, "Send [Lazarus] to my father’s house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment" Lk.16.27,28. He thought if someone raised from the dead, went to his brothers they would be spared from the place of torment, but Jesus said: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them". Certain of the scribes and Pharisees also wanted a sign proving the Saviour’s Messiahship, but "He answered and said unto them, There shall no sign be given … but the sign of the prophet Jonas" Matt.12.39. Two things marked Jonah: the Deep and the Dry Land, both signs of our Lord’s death and resurrection.
Twelve disciples were chosen by the Lord, with another seventy added to His service later, yet nowhere do we read that He performed a miracle of healing upon them. He did not raise any of them from the dead or make any of them hear or see. When He did perform a miracle, He’d almost invariably say, "Now go home and show [or, tell] ...". That is not the kind of thing that is done today. These kind of individuals are taken around preaching and testifying in order to boost the testimony or impress unbelievers; but the Lord Jesus said, "Go home".
My dear brethren, as we have noted, Scripture stresses this important principle, that the spirit of unbelief is always stronger than the power of evidence. We should be less concerned with impressing the world today, and seek rather, to "excel unto edifying of the church." This is Paul’s emphasis throughout 1Corinthians chapter 14.
This world is very subtle and seductive. Gatherings of the Lord’s people that do not edify are not worthwhile. Let us determine in our gatherings, to edify the saints. For this to occur, at least seven features will have to characterise those who minister. And as one who himself is a minister to God’s people, I am deeply conscious that these features apply to me also.
Before considering these features, however, I want to say regarding 1Corinthians chapter 14, that the prophet of the New Testament is the teacher of today. The chief difference between them is in the way they acquired Divine truth. Revelations from heaven came to a prophet and he in turn, uttered that revelation by prophesying. However, no direct revelations come from heaven today. All is contained in His Word. Teachers must gain a knowledge of God’s truth by reading God’s Word. 1Cor.14.6 states, "Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?"
Why did Paul group revelation, knowledge, prophesying, and doctrine together? Well, the first two are the means of acquiring Divine truth, the latter two means for communicating Divine truth. The first mentioned is revelation and the third is prophesying. These relate to the prophet. The second is knowledge and the fourth doctrine, both a part of the teacher’s work. Knowledge is acquired by reading God’s Word: "Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand" Eph.3.4. Doctrine or teaching is how that knowledge is communicated to God’s people. These two are linked in 2Pet.2.1 with regard to the false: "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you".
SEVEN FEATURES OF THOSE WHO MINISTER
The First Feature is found in v.3: "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." Three things should characterise the ministry of all who minister God’s Word: edification, exhortation, and comfort. It is said that edification is building up, exhortation is stirring up, and comfort is cheering up. I should never minister merely to be heard. The possession of gift alone is no justification for its use. Its only justification is the profit of God’s people.
Also observe, that ministry that edifies and exhorts and comforts is positive in character. My dear brethren, there’s a crying need today for positive ministry. Negative ministry will invariably produce negative results, but positive ministry will produce positive results. I cannot help feel, that if there was less negative ministry today, there would be fewer ministers of God’s Word, for it is much easier to minister against error, than to build saints up in Divine truth. A dear sister said to me, "Mr. Leckie, the system is never built up by the use of purgatives" and that is true. I appeal to you, dear brethren, assay to minister profit to God’s people. Negative ministry may be necessary at times, but go in for positive ministry; that which edifies and exhorts and comforts the people of God.
The Second Feature is in v.6: "What shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?" I’ve already referred to this verse, but I want to suggest another important principle: a prophet in New Testament times was never to prophesy unless he had a Divine revelation. Likewise, teachers must not teach unless they have knowledge. If revelation preceded prophesying, then knowledge must precede teaching.
How is knowledge acquired? By reading God’s Word. No one who is not prepared to sacrifice and make time to be alone with God, prayerfully pouring over His Word in an effort to acquire a knowledge of Divine truth, should minister to God’s people. Knowledge must precede doctrine. Men who help God’s people today, are those who take (or make) time. I can’t help God’s people if I’m always on the run. I must see that I take time alone with God, reading His Word prayerfully and acquiring a knowledge of Divine truth, before I rise to teach God’s people. Knowledge comes before doctrine.
The Third Feature is in v.9: "So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air." This might apply particularly to younger brethren, for these are days of advanced education. My young brother, if you would assay to minister to God’s people, Paul says to employ words that are easily understood. Avoid the pride of immaturity that seeks to use the biggest words in the vocabulary.
A brother I once preached with was speaking to fellow brethren who worked in the mines and as he spoke he mentioned things like microscopic minutiae and the prognostication of majestic buildings. Another brother I ministered with, spoke of Ephesians chapter 1 as a kaleidoscope of scintillating truth. Paul said, "Words easy to be understood." A gifted man is one who presents profound truth in the simplest language. If I use the biggest words in the vocabulary and an old sister happens to be sitting in the front seat, what will she get? It’s been a long time since she was in school and perhaps when she did go, it wasn’t for very many years. If I use a big word, she’ll think, "I wonder what Mr. Leckie meant by that word?" While she ponders it, the rest of my message is going over her head too. If I’m to speak profitably so all are edified, Paul says I must use words, "easy to be understood."
(This article has been transcribed from a recording of our late brother’s ministry and submitted for publication. It also explains its somewhat colloquial style.)
Most of us love to boast of what we have accomplished and draw attention to the effort and sacrifice we had to make; the expense and time we were prepared to invest. Some projects have been possible only by physical effort, toil and labour to the point of exhaustion and human endurance beyond imagination. Their completion involved blinding sweat, aching muscles, straining sinews, weary limbs and in some cases resulted in death. Hundreds of miles of road and rail have been laid by intense labour.
Other projects were the result of engineering skill, architectural flair and the ingenuity of brilliant minds: bridges spanning deep chasms or miles of ocean; tunnels carved through solid rock; Alpine roads snaking tortuously down mountain sides; ornate buildings which have drawn admiration from tourists and visitors for many decades; skyscrapers and towers rising to dizzying heights, competing with others to be the tallest in the world.
Yet others feats could not have been achieved without staggering amounts of money and incredible wealth being provided; their completion depended on colossal cash injections stretching to millions or billions of pounds or dollars.
Many of these great feats of scarcely believable human achievement are listed in books such as "The Guinness Book of Records".
The greatest project ever undertaken was the rescue of sinners, defiled by sin and in danger of an eternity in the fire that shall never be quenched. This wondrous plan of salvation originated in the heart of God and the cost involved was the death of God’s only Son. The amassed wealth of this world could not have purchased our salvation; "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold … But with the precious blood of Christ", 1Peter 1.18,19. The sacrifice and sufferings of God’s Son upon the cross have procured salvation for all mankind and made available to every human being a royal pardon for sins of deepest dye and a righteous escape from the eternal judgment our sins deserve. The cost to God was incalculable:
And, when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
(Stuart K. Hine)
The cost to Christ was measureless: sufferings indescribable, judgment intense and unrelenting, rejected by men and forsaken by His God. The cost would have bankrupted this world, but Christ by His atoning death has done and paid all that God demanded for us to be in heaven forever.
What must I do or give to obtain this salvation? What price must I pay to have everlasting life? Amazingly it is "the gift of God … through Jesus Christ our Lord" Romans 6.23. It is offered freely by God’s grace, completely undeserved, offered without money and without price. It is simply to be received without offering anything in exchange; it can only be obtained by trusting Christ and depending upon the sacrifice He offered and the work He accomplished on the shameful cross at Calvary. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" Ephesians 2.8,9.
When can I obtain this salvation? "... behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" 2Corinthians 6.2. Our advice to you, dear reader is found in Isaiah 55.6,7: "Seek ye the LORD while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."