The Gospel accounts concerning John the Baptist, impress the reader with the importance placed upon him, and immediately we are convinced that he was a man who had a special place in the plans and purposes of God. Of no other man has it been written, “there was a man sent from God” (John 1:6). John was a SENT man, “the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message” (Haggai 1:3). There can be no substitute for a man sent from God, circumstances will be ordered to reveal him (Ps. 105:16-17). God took the sleep from the eyes of a king in order that a man should be brought into his rightful place (Esther 6:1). No amount of advertising or organising will ever produce the results or promote the conditions that prevail when God works!
Not only was John a Special man but he was a Selected man (Luke 3:2), divine communication was directed to him, “Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests” plurality of high priests was spurious as far as God’s order was concerned, the Feasts of Jehovah had become the feast of the Jews (John 5:1), God had set aside the nation of Israel and was now dealing with individuals, how majestic are the sovereign workings of God, “they were-but the word of God came unto John, the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.”
Again John was a Secluded man, in the wilderness, this would remind us that John was an independent man, not influenced by the whims and fancies of men. Is not this a lesson for our day, individually and a personal conviction should mark God’s servants, that the mind of God should be declared irrespective as to what conditions exist. Popularity is a curse, following a man or men, this in turn can lead to a form of idolatry, and of course we are limiting God relative to the servants we are prepared to hear, this could be a form of clerisy!
The Diet and Dress of John were consistent with the message of repentance which he proclaimed, would camels hair suggest—separation, leathern girdle—self-control, and locusts and wild honey—submission.
There are three features which characterised John, worthy of our emulation!
Humility—“What sayest thou of thyself” (John 1:22). John replied, “I am the voice” he could have said “the forerunner, a subject of Old Testament prophecy, the son of the priest Zacharias.” John’s estimate of self was not the Lord’s estimate of John, (Luke 7:28). This divine principle runs throughout Scripture, “Before honour is humility” (Prov. 15:33), again, “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Abraham in (Gen. 23:4) said “I am a stranger and sojourner” the opinion of others was different, “Thou art a mighty prince” (v. 6). There are three Epistles in the New Testament in which Paul does not mention his apostleship, Philippians and 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, in his opening salutation, the three letters dealing primarily with service, the words of the old hymn expresses the truth beautifully :
“My highest place is lying low,
At my Redeemer’s feet,
No real joy in life I know,
But in His service sweet.”
Testimony. John was a burning and a shining light, (John 5:35) it is possible to be burning and not shining, the wick becoming be-fogged by sin. John stood and Jesus walked, the end of an old order and the beginning of a new, (John 1:35-36). The ministry of John was a heart affecting ministry (John 1:37). John testified to the Lord Jesus as to His Past (John 1:15), His Present (John 1:29), and His Future (John 3:30). The Gospel of the Perfect Servant reveals a lovely touch (Mark 1:14) no desire to usurp, or to eclipse the service of John!
Stability. (Luke 7:24), John rebuked an unholy association and paid for it with his life (Luke 3:19). Those who would stand for divine truth and principle must expect opposition and persecution. The servants of God have been marked by this trait down through the ages, no compromise, a firm stand on a “thus saith the Lord.” Divine legislation needs no revising and can never be repealed! Unstable as water (Gen. 49:4) certainly did not apply to John, the line of least resistance, conformity to modern trends. We need to dig old wells and revive old names (Gen. 26:18).
Stand like Daniel brave and daring,
Stand for Truth and Right,
Stand like Daniel, though against you,
Legions of foes unite.
Our rest comes not from our being what He wants, but in His being what we want.—J. N. D.
At the end of chapter 14 of John’s Gospel the Lord Jesus says to the disciples ‘Arise, let us go hence’ and they make their way to the Mount of Olives. It is evident that in the intervening chapters, 15, 16 and 17 His discourse is darkly coloured by the imminence of the Cross. It is not difficult to imagine that in the course of that walk they would pass the doors of the temple, on either side of which was carved a vine. In the opening of chapter 15, the Lord speaks of Himself as ‘the True Vine,’ in contrast to the words ‘Israel is an unpruned vine’ (Hos. 10:1, J.N.D.). His words are followed by the significant word ‘and my Father is the husbandman,’ which have their application not to Christ personally but rather to His people. It would thus seem that He is speaking of Himself and the Church as One, similarly as in the words ‘so also is (the) Christ’ (1Cor. 12:12), a thought which runs throughout the chapter. This divides itself into three areas of relationship, each fairly easily and clearly defined.
1.The relationship between Christ and His own (vv. 1-11). This must be a first priority and indeed will regulate any other lesser relationship. The key verse (4), ‘Abide in Me and I in you’ sets out this most attractive thought of union and communion: it is not the idea of a stem to which the branched are attached. It is something akin to the flood of light to Saul of Tarsus when attacking the Church, the Lord’s words are then ‘Why persecutest thou ME.’ Doubtless John learned much by way of intimacy as one ‘leaning on Jesus’ bosom’ (chap. 13:23); so may we also be fruitful as abiding in Him. A further promise is made (v. 7) that we shall ask what we will and it shall be done unto us, following the word ‘if . . My words abide in you.’ There is no question that we shall know what to ask in the nearness of this love, expressed so fully in verse 9, ‘As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love.’ And the Lord gives the secret of continuance, setting the example Himself (v. 10), ‘If ye keep my commandments.’ And the outcome of His words in the following verse, ‘that My joy might remain in you and your joy might be full.’ We are told that the pruning of the vine is of the most drastic character and there is no doubt that with us, the branches, the discipline of the daily pathway is to the end that we may produce more fruit of quality. In the idea of being grafted in (see Rom. 11:16-20), there is in the case of the vine, a moving suggestion of the sufferings of Christ.
2. The relationship between one another (‘the branches’) vv. 12-17. The section is summed up by its opening verse (12), ‘This is my commandment that ye love one another, as I have loved you,’ and the concluding verse (17) in almost identical terms, simple words (John’s have been called one-syllable words), so characteristic of his writings. Even the least instructed believer can enter into their meaning, yet how great the standard, ‘as I have loved you.’ The connection between our first section and the absolute necessity for the fulfilment of this of ‘abiding in Me and I in you’ (v. 4) becomes crystal clear. This is a commandment, in no way optional, and the Lord, as ever, provides Himself the example ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ (v. 13). It would seem that we qualify to become His friends, ‘If ye keep My commandments.’ In this way our fellowship with one another becomes more exalted in character as we see its involvement with our fellowship with Himself. As His friends (not by our choosing but His), He has made known to us all things that He has heard of His Father (v. 15).
3. The relationship between ourselves and the world (vv. 18-27). This section is prefaced by the word ‘If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.’ Its predominant feature is testimony and witness, having the same derivation as the word martyr. It should not surprise us, for the Lord goes on to say ‘they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father.’ Here again the measure of our testimony will be that in which, abiding in Christ, the True Vine, we are marked by the same character, rather than by the words which we may speak. We have been chosen out of the world in which He was persecuted and the servant is not greater than his Lord. He says Of Himself ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ and now introduces another Witness, the Comforter to be with us in the testimony, Whom He designates the Spirit of Truth. Of Him, He says, ‘He shall testify of Me and as we abide Tit the Vine, this too will be the character of our witness.
Life is like a journey over undulating country. There are long level stretches of plain when the traveller jogs along, and nothing sensational happens. Sometimes there are deep valleys where light fades and shadows overcast the way. The Shepherd Psalmist describes such places as “the valley of the Shadow of Death.” Sometimes, however, the traveller scales a mountain height from which there is clear vision of entrancing country, an uplifting experience, likened in the spiritual realm to intimate fellowship with God.
Abraham’s life was like that. There were long periods about which no record has been kept—the day-to-day occurrences of his domestic affairs, when he lived as a successful nomadic shepherd, happy with Sarah and in his old age with Isaac. He had, too, moments of unparalleled blessing, walking so intimately in fellowship with God that he worthily had bestowed upon him the title, ‘Friend of God.’ There were, however, times when sorrow visited him, and grief invaded the heart of the man who walked with God. One of those moments was when Sarah, at the age of one hundred and twenty seven years, died at Kir-jath-arba, while Abraham was still dwelling at Beersheba after his return from his journey up Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:19).
The record in Genesis takes account of the crisis in the patriarch’s life, amongst others, the call from Ur of the Chaldees, the trial of his faith on Mount Moriah when he was about to offer up Isaac, the marriage of Isaac, the death and burial of Sarah.
Genesis chapter 23 has some interesting features. It records the death of Sarah, and mentions the age at which she died; and that is the only instance in Scripture of the preservation of the age of a woman at her death. It contains the second mention of tears; ‘Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her’ (v. 2). The first mention is as follows; Hagar sat over against her son and lifted up her voice and wept (21:16). Here also is the first lengthy story in the Bible of a business transaction, conducted between Abraham and Ephron the son of Zohar for the purchase of the field containing the cave of Machpelah. While we may read of those who died (as in chapter 5), it is in chapter 23 that we may read the first story of a burial, that of Sarah in the cave which Abraham had secured for four hundred shekels of silver, carefully weighed out in the presence of witnesses.
Sarah was a remarkable woman. She had responded with her husband Abram to the call of God when that call came while they dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees. It took both faith and courage to give up a city life to go on a journey ‘not knowing whither they went’ (Heb. 11:8). She had to exchange the comforts of a settled existence for the uncertain conditions of a nomadic life, dwelling in tents. Her name was changed at the time when God communicated to Abram the fact that his wife Sarai, then ninety years, would have a son to be his heir. Abram became Abraham, and Sarai had her name changed to Sarah. Sarai signified, ‘Jehovah is Prince,’ while Sarah means ‘Princess.’
Sarah was a woman of attractive beauty. On two occasions her beauty caught the eye of kings. In Egypt, the ruling Pharaoh would have her for a member of his harem, while Abimelech of Gerar would have taken her to himself had not God intervened and saved the situation.
As a woman, grieving over the fact that she had no family she was specially blessed of God. The story is most fascinating.
‘God said unto Abraham, as for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? .... And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him” (17:15-19). What a beautiful story!
In Romans chapter 4 it is Abraham’s faith that is commented upon when ‘he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith giving glory to God’ (v. 20). In Hebrews chapter 11 it is Sarah’s faith which is mentioned. ‘Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised’ (11:11). She is placed in the same category as ‘faithful Abraham.’
The Apostle Peter, in his first Epistle, throws a special light upon Sarah and her domestic life The whole section is worthy of quotation without comment. It speaks for itself, and carries its own easily-understood message.
‘Ye wives be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the (a) word be won by the conversation of their wives; while they behold your chaste conversation (conduct) coupled with fear, whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting of hair.....”
Asher means “Happy.” Jacob says of him—“Out of Asher, his bread shall be fat”—that answers to John 6, and to the miracle and the discourse on the Bread of Life alike, note that in John, the Lord Himself distributes the food: He does not give it to the disciples, as He does in the other three Gospels. “He shall yield royal dainties.” We are by the sea of Tiberias in John 21—a sea dignified with a royal name, though the wrong name. But the true King is standing on the shore watching His own on the morning after they had caught nothing. He says “Children, have ye any meat?” W. E. Vine in his Dictionary notes the original meaning of the word “meat” here to be “primarily a dainty, or a relish.” Blessed Lord! He not only provides His own with the staff of life—the bread, in the sixth of John, but when they come to shore at the end they find “a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread” (21:9). He has put the “dainty” first—then the bread. The order is reversed from that in ch. 6. He is owner of the sea and land alike. The fire and food He provides are the best. To His followers, He feeds them with the best, the luxurious, the fish first. He yields royal dainties.
Moses says of Asher, “Let Asher be blessed with children —or above sons—let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil. Thy shoes shall be iron and brass, and as thy days, so shall thy strength be,” Deut. 33:24-25.
Shall we not say of Him that He is acceptable to His brethren, those He speaks of in ch. 20:17? When we read of the glory that He had with His Father, shall we not say that He is blessed above sons? But now His feet. John the Baptist draws our attention to them in ch. 1:27. The next day the Lord comes towards him. He has begun those holy movements down here. The next day, John is standing —as if to indicate that his work is now over—“And looking on Jesus as He walked said, Behold, the Lamb of God.” Have we not wondered what there was in that walk that drew that breath of adoration from John? He had begun to walk for the pleasure of God, and that walk will take Him down to Lazarus’ grave in the eleventh chapter. In ch. 13, they make Him a supper at Bethany. “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair,” 12:3. If we look in the parallel accounts, in Mt. 26 and Mk. 14, we shall see that Mary anoints His head. There she is drawing attention to His official character, but here, she is expressing her sense of fragrance of that walk down here. Only John mentions the feet in this connection. She is showing her appreciation of that walk. He is the greater than Asher. He dips His feet in oil. His whole walk was in the energy of the Spirit of God, and Mary expresses her realisation of this. In the Revelation, we shall see in ch. 1, that His feet are as burnished brass. The Living one has perfect strength for judgment associated with Him.
His feet are dipped in oil—but in the 13th chapter, He takes the towel, and washes the feet of His disciples. It is a delightful comparison with ch. 12. He will refresh His own, He Whose walk was throughout in the power that the “oil”—that which speaks of the Spirit—gave Him—so that we do not read in this chapter that His own feet needed to be washed. The onyx stone is throughout associated with High Priestly support—it was the stone that was upon his shoulders, and which had inscribed in it the names of the children of Israel according to their birth. In view of all that He gives to His own as the greater than Asher, we shall think that the stone rightly belongs to Him.
Finally we look at Naphtali, whose name means “Wrestling” and speaks of exercise of soul. In Genesis 49:21, that exercise is over. “Naphtali is like a hind let loose— he giveth goodly words.”
The hind let loose should remind us of the title in Ps. 22—“Upon Aijeleth Shahar”—which means “The hind of the morning.” In the first twenty-one verses of Ps. 22, where is the hind? It is at the mercy of every wild creature that comes to attack it. But He is heard—from the very horns of the wild oxen (R.V.) He is answered, and in verse 22 breaks out with all the joy of resurrection—“I will declare Thy name unto my brethren in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.”
It is morning in John 20, and the swiftness of the hind’s movements may be discerned in the running of Mary and of Peter and John. But Mary says “Rabboni.” but He will simply say, “Go to My brethren,” and say “I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; unto My God, and your God.”
It is the world of Ps. 22:22 exactly. He has called them servants, and friends, but now, what a new relationship is opened up by the cross! We are His brethren now: linked to the same Father. “I will declare Thy name.” It is not as “Heavenly Father” that we know Him now—that title belongs to the Gospels which show Israel’s relationship to their covenant-keeping God. We are on entirely new ground. We know Him as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The words of Hebrews 2:10-18 need to be carefully weighed in relation to this sublime truth. What a profound name it is that has been declared! We may well feel that we do not rise to our privileges in simply being able to call Him “Father.” Read John 17:26 in connection with the Lord’s intention to bring His own into a wider sphere, where they may know the intimacy of the Father’s love. Truly “He giveth goodly words.”
If He is the “hind let loose,” we know where He is now. He is on the mountains of Bether—separation—in the heavenly place again. Song. 2:7. The Bride, at the end, looks for His coming back—“Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like a roe, or a young hart, upon the mountains of spices,” Song. 8:14. Suddenly He will appear from the place where He is now concealed!
He has gone up—and is in the place where the full glory of God rests upon Him. We read of the Holy Jerusalem in Rev. 21:11, “having the glory of God, and her light was like a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” The jasper stone brings before us the brightness of Deity. Associated as it is with His ascension, we can see its fitness attached to Naphtali. The glories revealed in John’s Gospel are those of the Son of God.
We have not done more than begun a study on these tribes in relation to our Lord Jesus. As the true Israel Himself, those twelve tribes just show refracted beams of His glory. May we be helped to see in all the Scriptures the “things concerning Himself.”
V. 16 “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink,” Here Paul warns the Colossians of a second type of gnostic false teacher- the Judaiser. This man would compel them to accept the Law of Moses, as a way of living, despite the fact that ‘the handwriting of ordinances’ had been blotted out (v. 14). He would criticise them for eating food prohibited by Moses, e.g. the eating of unclean meats (Lev. 11); he would impose his own laws on them (Rom. 14:3, 10). Restrictions also about drinking. These prohibitions had all been set aside (Acts 10:15); they had only been given until the time of reformation, established by Christ at Calvary (Heb. 9:10). The power of the Kingdom of God in a man’s life is not determined by: what he eats or drinks. There were other Judaistic compulsions under the Law of Moses which the Gnostics would impose on Gentile believers. They were mainly in respect of three kinds of feasts to which the Israelite in the Old Testament must pay attention. Mentioned here are, (1) The three Annual Set Feasts (Deut. 16:16)—the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles; (2) The monthly feasts, at the new moon (R.V.) (Num. 28:11-15); (3) Sabbath Days, with all their holy connotations. The position of these in the New Testament is clearly set forth in Rom. 14:16. Days for special observances belong to the Old Testament ritual, which seem to have been set aside, and all days now given to be devoted equally to God.
V. 17 “Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” The relation which these things of the Law (eating and drinking, and the observance of special days) have to. Christianity is seen under a two-fold picture here. (1) They were a shadow of something good to come; they pointed to it with unerring accuracy (Heb. 10:1). (2) As a shadow is an immateriality associated with something material, or substantial, so these legal examples from the Mosaic ritual portrayed nothing less than the person of Christ Himself (Heb. 8:5-6).
So the examples of the Law give way to the reality of the things of Christ. Christ is the Mediator of the better covenant of the Gospel (Heb. 8:6). The first covenant, under Moses, was faulty, and was passed over, and replaced by the second. The Law could* never make the offerer perfect, but the offering of Jesus Christ did just that (Heb. 10:1-10). Therefore the child of God in the New Dispensation finds all his satisfaction in the things of Christ rather than in the demands of the Law of Moses. He does well to leave the things of the Law, and go on to perfection, in the teachings of Christ. This is the general warning against setting aside the commandments of Christ for these gnostic ideas of Judaism. They are but a shadow, to be put away, when Christ the Reality is presented to us.
2:18-19, WARNING CONCERNING MYSTICAL ERROR
V. 18 “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels.” In dealing with the errors of mystic philosophy Paul introduces a new metaphor—that of the greek games, looking at them from the standpoint of the prize to be won. Paul deals with this metaphor also in other epistles. In 1Cor. 9:24 we see an ordinary race in progress, in which the coveted prize is the acquisition of one person only among the runners, a corruptible laurel wreath. But there are many first prizes for which believers contend in the Christian race. This is the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14, R.Vm.), the presentation by Christ of incorruptible wreaths of righteousness, to all who like Paul have so loved the appearing of Christ as to serve Him faithfully (2Tim. 4:8).
The apostle uses the word translated ‘prize’ (Phil. 3:14), as a basis for the compound word rendered ‘beguile’ here, meaning to hinder one getting his prize, the work of the teacher of the error of mysticism. This the false teacher did by suggesting to the believer to delight in (cf. ‘desire,’ Luke 20:46), a mock lowliness of mind. It is akin to the expression of the Lord with regard to fasting (Matt. 6:16). Compare v. 23, below. Thus gnostic teachers taught mock self-humility, which manifested itself in rites and ascetic-isms. In Ch. 3:12 the word here used for false humility is also translated humility, and there used of a Christian virtue, by way of contrast to what is found here. This voluntary humility was manifest in the worship of angels, when as a token of their so-called humility, angels were appealed to by using them as intercessors with God, which custom is condemned in scripture, “intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,” In his speech the false teacher haughtily enters into details about things he claimed to have seen, though he had not. Compare the Revised Version, ‘dwelling in the things which he hath seen.’ His visions were likely imaginary, and with these he sought to impress his hearers. In reality his voluntary humility was but an empty self-inflation, due to the working of his mind being energised by his flesh, not by his spirit. Asceticism is one form of the fleshly mind.
This mock humility, worship or angels and dealing with imaginary visions were all the manifestation of the mysticism that characterised the pagan religion of the Colossians before conversion. It was, in effect, a reversion to their old religious customs, cf. v. 23. Such a desire to go back to the rites and ceremonies of primitive religions is presenting itself in so-called Christian countries to-day, and must be vigorously opposed.
V. 19 “And not holding the Head,” In contrast to what the false teacher taught concerning the worship of angels, Paul shows them here the Gnostics’ gross omission; he left out the important fact of the believer holding fast to, being dependent upon Christ, who alone can bring blessing to the child of God, apart from angels, “from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together,” Paul now sugests what ‘holding the Head’ implies, and how it is done. From Christ (note the R.V. ‘from whom’) comes the only means of the building up of the Church. The phrase, ‘having nourishment ministered,’ is derived from a word that was used of the leader of the Greek chorus, who not only conducted the stage appearance, but also defrayed the expenses of the chorus (W. E. Vine. Dictionary). It is rendered ‘ministereth’ in Gal 3:5 of the continuing supply of the Holy Spirit of God to believers for service. So here the Lord Jesus Christ ministereth all that is needed for the nourishment of the Body, the Church, by reason of its association with the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole Church is built up (Eph. 4:15-16). “increaseth with the increase of God!” In the human body the successful growth of members is established by joints (the bringing of adjacent parts of free limbs into apposition), and bands (the ligaments which firmly hold the joints together). The head, by means of nerves, supplies tone to the joints and ligaments of the body, enables them to function, and so makes for growth. This God does for the saints, for His glory. Dependence upon Christ, and on all that He provides, will enable the Church to grow, as God intended, and for which growth He has provided all things, (a) the Head, Christ, upon whom we are dependent, (b) the joints are the apostles, free (1 Cor. 9:1), (c) the bands are the teachers, who bind together. The Head, Christ, is the giver of all those who perfect the saints, and edify the Body (Eph. 4:11-12). He gave some, apostles. Does this suggest the freedom of the joints (1Cor. 9:1)? He gave some, pastors and teachers. Does this suggest those who speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), the great bond of perfectness (Col. 3:14)?
God’s method to-day for the up-building of the Church is much the same as in Paul’s day. The Head of the Body, Christ, ministers stability through the teachers whom He has called, and by whom instruction is given unto edification. Well might we believers to-day pay attention to these warnings, for similar dangers present themselves to us. The traditions of men, the vain philosophies, the mystic religions are all a source of trouble to us, and only to be overcome by holding to Christ, the Head.
2; 20-23 THE IMPLICATION OF OUR DEATH WITH CHRIST
V. 20 “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world,” Paul reminds the Colossians once again of the truths confessed by them at their baptism. In this act they had in effect stated that they had died with Christ, since they had asked for baptism (2:12). Having by faith died with Christ, by faith they had asked to be buried with Him. They had been associated by faith with Christ’s death in His circumcision—the death of Christ. Being dead with Christ implies separation from all that Christ dealt with on the Cross—the rudiments of the world, the elementary religious principles to which the pagan world subscribed. Thus they were dead, freed from (Rom. 6:7), the rudiments of the world, “why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,” The apostle queries, why if in fact, they were dead as far as the rudiments of the world were concerned, they seemed to be living in it, by subscribing to its ordinances. ‘Subject to ordinances’ might almost be translated, ‘rule-ridden,’ either the rules of Judaism (v. 16), or of the empty philosophy of v. 8.
V. 21 “Touch not; taste not; handle not;” Note the R.V., ‘Handle not, nor taste, nor touch’—three examples of the ordinances of v. 20, possibly three different degrees of the same prohibition. The Greek word translated, ‘Handle,’ is the root from which the word rendered ‘joint’ (v. 19) is derived. ‘Handle not,’ means do not be joined to these ordinances. ‘Touch not,’ means momentary contact. These three prohibitions may refer to the ordinances of v. 20, or to the meats of v. 16. It would seem as if these words were the parrot-cry of the false teachers, and constituted the decrees set forth.
V. 22 “Which are all to perish with the using;” These ordinances are non-important, for they refer to things that will perish as they are being used, e.g., the meats of v. 16, or even the so-called impure things which the false teachers suggest would not be touched, “after the commandments and doctrines of man?” The portion in brackets vv. 21 and 22a) is parenthetical, which suggest that the phrase here refers to the ordinances of v. 20. These are not Divine legislation, but arise from men’s own teaching. Compare Tit. 1:14, where the Jewish fables seem to refer to the Pharisaical prohibitions of eating bread with unwashen hands (Mk. 7:3), which the Lord clearly refuted (Mk. 7:18).
V. 23 “Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility,and neglecting of the body;” Paul shows the nature of such ordinances. They seem to be of value; they seemed to denote wise thinking, but in reality they constitute will worship—a self-devised religion, that is, what a man imposes on himself, not from God; they seem to indicate humility, the voluntary, or self-imposed humility of v. 18, which was not produced by the Holy Spirit; they seemed to call for severity (R.V.) to the body, lit., not sparing the body, leading to ascetic practices—the vain puffing up of his fleshly mind (v. 18). “not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” The apostle closes this section by reminding the Colossians that these ordinances are not of any profit to the body; the purpose of using them is for the satisfying of the flesh. They set aside true honour for the body, that which has been redeemed by Christ; they only satiate the flesh, the sensual indulgence that man so often seeks after.
From the tribe of Levi God selected one family—Aaron and his sons, for the work of the priesthood. The purpose of priesthood and mediation . The priest represented the people before God and maintained their relationship with Him. The priest also engaged in the service of the Sanctuary, attendance at the altar, caring for the light and renewing the shewbread each Sabbath (Lev. 24:1-9). The priest was also required to instruct Israel in all the statutes which the Lord had spoken (Lev. 10:11).
Aaron was appointed to the special office of High Priest and his sons were engaged in the other priestly activities. Aaron then was a high priest by divine calling and not appointed by man (Heb. 5:4). At the command of the Lord a solemn and elaborate ritual was ordained before Aaron and his sons entered their duties. Minute instructions were given regarding their personal fitness (Lev. 10:9-11; Lev. 21:16-23). Aaron and his sons were cleansed, clothed, anointed and consecrated for this priestly work (Ex. 29). The high priest however was clothed in regal attire with garments of glory and beauty. He bore before the Lord continually the breastplate of judgment which was held from the shoulders and rested upon his heart. The names of the children of Israel were inscribed on the shoulder pieces and on the breastplate itself (Ex. 28). All Israel therefore were upheld constantly in the presence of the Lord, sustained by His omnipotent power (shoulder pieces) and everlasting love (breastplate of his heart). On the day of atonement the high priest alone entered the holiest.
The Aaronic priesthood, however, was the example and shadow of heavenly things (Heb. 8) and typified the One Who is now our Great High Priest over the house of God. Israel’s elaborate ritual shadows forth the merits and character of Christ who is now seated at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens (Heb. 4:14; 8:1).
He has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 1:3; 9:26) and now appears in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24). Our Great High Priest sustains His people for He is touched with the feelings of their infirmities (Heb. 4:15) and by His intercession enables them to endure their trials and overcome the attacks of the evil one (Heb. 7:24-25).
THE TABERNACLE THE COURT (Ex. 27:9-19)
The court was a rectangular enclosure marked out by 60 pillars made of achia wood with sockets of brass and crowned with capitals of silver. There were 20 pillars on each of the North and South sides and 10 on the East and West sides. The pillars supported the white curtains at the gate. The court marked the boundary of God’s habitation. Inside was regarded as holy ground (cf. Lev. 6:16-24) and no stranger was permitted inside the court (Num. 3:38). The gate at the East end marked the first of the three entrances directing the way into God’s presence. The four pillars of the gate supported a curtain of blue, scarlet and fine twined linen. These colours suggest thoughts of heaven in the blue, regal splendour in the purple, sacrificial work in the scarlet and righteousness in the fine linen. The gate was the only entrance into the court and this reminds us of the words of our Saviour Who said “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6).
THE BRAZEN ALTAR (Ex. 27:1-8)
On entering the gate the first vessel is the brazen altar. It was the largest of the Tabernacle vessels (1\ feet square and \\ feet high) and called the altar of burnt offering. All that was consumed on this altar ascended as a sweet savour unto God. The victim was brought to the gate, the offerer identified himself with it by the laying on of hands. It was then slain on the north side of the altar and the officiating priest sprinkled the blood round about the altar and the carcase of the animal was consumed upon the altar. The offerer would behold his offering rising as a sweet savour unto God and find in it acceptance and atonement (Lev. 1:4).
The burnt offering speaks of Christ's perfect sacrifice. He has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet smelling savour (Eph. 5:2). In contrast to the oft repeated sacrifice on Jewish altars, Christ offered “one sacrifice for sins forever” (Heb. 10:12). There is now “no more offering for sin” (Heb. 10:18). At the brazen altar we learn there is only one righteous meeting place between God and man and salvation is only possible on the ground of sacrifice. It foreshadows the cross of Christ and the One Who alone is competent to undertake the work of redemption.
THE LAVER (Ex. 30:17-21; 38:8).
Moving forward into the court we come to the Laver which was made entirely of brass or bronze, obtained from the polished metal mirrors of the women. No particular design is specified and no measurements are given but the use of this vessel is clearly stated. It was a vessel for personal cleansing. Aaron and his sons were required to wash their hands and feet before entering the sanctuary and ministering at the altar. Failure to do this meant instant death.
In like manner the Christian needs constant cleansing from the defilement contacted through his contact with the world. The blood at the altar cleansed from the guilt of sin whereas the water in the laver, which speaks of the Word of God cleanses from the defilement of the world (Eph. 5:26). God calls for clean hands to do His work and clean feet to walk in His ways (cf. Ps. 26).
Verse 1. The Ziphites yet again inform Saul of David’s whereabouts, and he goes out with 3,000 men and again seeks to kill him, adding to all that in the recent past had demonstrated his great wickedness, and in which he had been delivered into David’s hand by God as he had acknowledged. But David ascertaining that Saul was there in person, and where he would lie down for the night, comes, and with Abishai his nephew looks down on Saul’s prostrate form again. A deep sleep from the LORD was upon him, and those all around him, even Abner his bodyguard. “Let me smite him,’ urges Abishai—“at once.” But David replies “Destroy him not, for who can stretch forth his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be guiltless”—“The LORD shall”—it is His prerogative (how solemn this is). “Take his spear and cruse of water, and let us go,” vv. 8-11. How forbearing and gracious. From the top of a hill afar off, David taunts Abner with failure respecting his guardship of the King. And Saul knew David’s voice, and David answers with becoming deference and humility and Godly wisdom, w. 13-20. King Saul’s reply in v. 21 certainly approximates more nearly to repentance: “I have sinned ... I have played the fool and erred exceeding but “Return my son David” is hypocritical! since he had given Michal, David’s wife, to another man. Parting words are spoken (vv. 22-24) all in the hearing of Abner and 3,000 men assembled to kill David. Saul’s last words to David are best left at their face value, the two part for the last time. David has no regrets; there is nothing to hide from God—He is judge! David’s hands are clean and his motive right; his acts are righteous, and his faithfulness proved (Psalm 18:20-24).
Verse 6. David considers it expedient to move away to the south, with his armed men and families, to seek asylum again in the city of Gath, with Achish, King of Gath. Received by him, he later asks to be given place in a town, rather than impinge on the royal city, and Ziklag is allotted to him. This was evidently to David’s liking, and it is also evident that he exploits the hospitality afforded to him, not at all in the interests of his host. The interests of the people of God never waned in his mind, nor could do so. Verses 8-12 detail his ruthless activities against Israel’s enemies, his accounting to Achish and the confidence the king had in him.
Now Saul must face another trial of strength, with the Philistines in massed array, and he is utterly estranged from God. Samuel is dead; the priests are dead; in this grave hour he is alone. David is with the Philistines now; Saul is afraid, and his heart trembles greatly.’ In desperation he resorts to an evil expedient he had rigorously suppressed before—to witchcraft, as he knew it. He wishes to know— how many are ensnared thus—and by the voice of Samuel, vv. 15-19, not of this woman’s familiar spirit, he learns what the morrow shall bring forth, but first, that all is in consequence of Saul’s own unfaithfulness. “David shall be King! Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me, and the host of Israel shall be delivered into the hands of the Philistines,” v. 19. Terror prostrates King Saul. It is his last act of defiance of God’s law. Deut. 18:9-14. This manifestation whether of the person or voice of one who has died and whose body lies in the earth corrupted, is unique in Holy Writ: but it is the occasion of the rebuke of Saul, and all who tamper with the occult and evil spirits, whose activities are Satanic. Departed saints are “with Christ, which is far better” Phil. 1:23, “and in His keeping.”
So the Philistines again go out to war against Israel, and Achish would have David and his band go forth with him, but this is over-ruled; the princes of the Philistines will not have it so, they divined rightly, David would not be their ally. He and his men return, v. 11.
After an absence of three days at most, they find Ziklag ravaged and burned by Amalekite invaders, and with the total loss of all, both persons and goods, vv. 1-2. This is a dark day indeed, in which David is to prove how fickle human allegiance could be “but he encouraged himself in the Lord” v. 6. At David’s request, Abiathar brings the ephod, and God-given assurance of complete recovery is vouchsafed and acted upon forthwith, and all is brought back, and far more than was lost. The wisdom exercised by David in the disposal of the spoil, shows him to be compassionate, just and generous. Also the loyalties of friends, proved during the years of his exile are duly rewarded, vv. 21-31.
The battle is now joined, and the disaster foretold overtakes the host of Israel. “They are delivered into the hands of the Philistines”—what a grievous reversal of the purposes of God for His people! (ch. 9:16). How often King and people are, in the Scriptures, seen to be involved together in crisis resulting from spiritual decline and breakdown: of which their Rulers are especially guilty. Saul and his three sons, Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchishua are slain. Jonathan? yes, about whom the scriptures are silent, since he sought out David in the Wood of Ziph, “and returned to his own house,” not to Saul and his cohorts who were awaiting precise information of David’s whereabouts, with ill intent. In this he was completely at variance with his father throughout, but when the interests of the nation are at stake, Jonathan with the rest is at his father’s side, a duties call, and this had much importance to David who so loved his nation over which he was destined to reign in the will of God. Rut his enthronements, now so long in prospect, must be of God’s directing alone. It could well have been brought to pass much sooner had God willed it, but in His sovereign working, He allowed King Saul to reign 40 years—the full probationary period, as also with David and Solomon, each was Divinely chosen; but David only was faithful to the last. Only awaiting God’s time was proper; not a blow could be struck. Jonathan had, we shall agree continued in the only pathway he knew to be right under God for him.
The Philistines, as conquerors, impale the bodies of Saul, Jonathan, Abinadab and Melchishua on the walls of Beth-Shan. Does this imply fault in Jonathan and his brothers? No!—it certainly does in Saul! it could never have happened had he walked in the ways of God and in His fear.
The history of the Christian Church abounds in evidences of the innate cruelty of the human heart, finding expression in the acts of evil men in afflicting the Godly both in life and death. “Be not afraid of them that kill the body and after that have no more that they can do,” are the words of our Lord Jesus, Luke 12:4. Do they not make a mockery of the walls of Beth-Shan? and were they spoken in view of the gross indignity of John the Baptist’s execution, when his head was brought (at the demand of the utterly impious Herodias) on a charger to the banqueting hall of Herod? John was a martyr for his faithfulness to the law of God. His insistence on the guiltiness of Herod in taking his brother Philip’s wife was met by the revenge of Herodias herself. We would not allow for a moment that John’s integrity and faithfulness are in question, neither may we impugn Jonathan’s integrity because he fell with Saul. John fulfilled his course, Acts 13:25. Might this be true of Jonathan also? John’s disciples came and took his body, and buried it.
The valiant men of Jabesh Gilead, remembering the deliverance wrought by Saul of their city from Nahash the Ammonite (1Sam. 11:1-11), journeyed all night and took down the bodies from the wall of Beth-Shan, and burred them, and buried their bones at Jabesh Gilead. (They were later reinterred in the sepulchre of Kish, Saul’s father, at King David’s word, 2Sam. 21:13-14. David commended those valiant men, 2Sam. 2:5-6.
By running is meant cheerful, ready, and zealous observance of God’s precepts; it is not go, or walk, but RUN. They that would come to their journey’s end must “run in the way of God’s commandments.” It noteth a speedy, ready obedience, without delay. We must begin with God betimes. Alas! when we should be at the goal, we have many of us scarce set forth. When a man’s heart is set upon a thing, he thinks he can never do it soon enough. And this is running, when we are vehement and earnest upon the enjoyment of God and Christ in the way of obedience. This running ... is very needful, for cold and faint motions are easily overborne by difficulty, and temptation. A slow motion is easily stopped, whereas a swift one bears down that which opposeth it; so is it when men run, and are not tired in the service of God.
“TOHU-VA-BOHU” (Hebrew—“Without form and void”) (Bohu meaning emptiness) see Gen. 1:2; Isaiah 45:18; Jeremiah 4:23. The Genesis passage says that God did not make the first creation “empty and without form.” It
“was” or “became” that which indicates that in the earliest of times of which we have no history the earth was or became empty and void, but in the Jeremiah passage it is linked with the day of the Lord’s vengeance. So then some great calamity had taken place long before man’s history began and it is thought by many that it had to do with a rebellion of fallen angels headed by Satan. We get indications of this in several scriptures where he and his associates were together combined in an attack on the throne of the Eternal, and there is a trinity of evil banded together to take the position of the Almighty and that this earth was the sphere of their rebellion. We can but briefly refer the reader to such passages as Isaiah 14:7-24, and Ezekiel 28:1-19, which must go far beyond any human being how ever exalted, and this threefold power is opposed to the Trinity.
That there had been a rebellion amongst the heavenly host, probably before time began, is explicitly stated. Jude 6 refers us to angels which kept not their first estate, so that there was a great rebellion probably before time began, and a whole host of the followers of Satan who were implicated in his first great rebellion against God. —R W.B.