In the preceding paper we began considering the second of the two sections into which Psalm 22 may be divided according to Peter’s words in his First Epistle, 1Pet.1.11; 5.1: "The sufferings of Christ" vv.1-21, and "The glory that shall be revealed" vv.22-31. We saw that, as a consequence of the finished work of our Saviour, God is praised in an ever-widening circle, which provides us with the following four headings:
God is Praised amongst His Brethren – v.22
God is Praised in Israel – vv.23,24
God is Praised in the Great Congregation – vv.25,26
God is Praised Throughout the World – vv.27,28
Having previously looked at the first two, we will now conclude our meditation on this precious Psalm with the last two.
THE GLORY THAT SHALL BE REVEALED – vv.22-31
God is Praised in the Great Congregation – vv.25,26
"My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation …" v.25. Rather than looking for yet another category (in this case, "the great congregation", as opposed to those mentioned in vv.22,23), it may be better, and more easily understood, if we take it that, here, the numerical size of the congregation, v.22, is emphasised: it is the "great congregation", evidently referring to the "house of Israel" in its entirety in the Millennium: "all … the seed of Jacob … all … the seed of Israel" v.23. See again Jer.30.19. Compare Zech.10.10, "I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon; and place shall not be found for them." A "great congregation" indeed!
But there is more: the "great congregation" will enjoy the immense benefits that flow from their Messiah. He continues, "I will pay My vows before them that fear Him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek Him: your heart shall live for ever" vv.25,26.
In what sense could a vow be taken by the Lord Jesus? It seems quite inappropriate to say that He made a vow in the same way as Jacob: "And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go … then shall the LORD be my God …’" Gen.28.20-22. The answer lies in this very Psalm. Having said in v.22, "I will declare Thy name unto My brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee", He now reaffirms that intention: "I will pay my vows before them that fear Him." Compare Ps.56.11-13.
The payment of a vow required an offering, a peace offering: "But if the sacrifice of his offering be a vow, or a voluntary offering …" Lev.7.16. This is most interesting: the peace offering was shared, and conveys the idea of fellowship. In fact, God, the sacrificing priest and the offerer all enjoyed the same sacrifice. In this Psalm, the Lord Jesus takes the place of the offerer, and shares His part of the offering with others in the same way that the offerer in the Old Testament would do with "his family and friends" (J.M. Flanigan1): "it shall be eaten the same day that he offereth his sacrifice". So we have the picture of a feast at which there is ample provision and great joy. "The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek Him: your heart shall live for ever." There are at least three things to note here:
1 Flanigan, J.M. "What the Bible Teaches – Psalms". John Ritchie Ltd.
Firstly, "The meek shall eat and be satisfied". Speaking in New Testament terms, it has often been said that ‘meekness is not weakness’. The Lord Jesus was "meek and lowly in heart" Matt.11.29. He chose not to display His eternal majesty and power. It is an attitude of mind which shuns self-assertiveness and self-interest, and which does not resist the Word of God or the will of God, Jms.1.21. It is ‘submission by choice’. The people who enjoy fellowship with Christ are like Him in meekness. It is one of the things that we are to "put on" as "the elect of God" Col.3.12.
Speaking, however, in Old Testament terms, the word anavim ("the meek") evidently means here, ‘afflicted, distressed, miserable’ (Albert Barnes2; J.J.S. Perowne3), which puts a rather different complexion on the words "The meek shall eat and be satisfied". As the result of Christ’s work, blessings in abundance will be imparted to the poor and distressed (Barnes)4.
2 Barnes, A. "Barnes’ Notes: On the Old Testament, Psalm 22".
3 Perowne, J.J. Stewart "The Book of Psalms".
4 Barnes, A., ibid.
Secondly, "They shall praise the LORD that seek Him." We will do this in eternity when Ps.84.4 will be completely fulfilled: "Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house: they will be still [‘constantly’ J.N.D.] praising Thee". But we have every reason to do so now: "Let all those that seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee: let such as love Thy salvation say continually, ‘The LORD be magnified’" Ps.40.16.
Thirdly, "Your heart shall live for ever." This is a rather unusual expression. Why "your heart shall live for ever"? Perhaps it extends the previous statement, and refers to a praising heart. In David’s words, "I will praise Thee, O LORD, with my whole heart" Ps.9.1. Compare Ps.69.30-32. The words "Your heart [praising heart] shall live for ever" mean what they say: "undying affection and devotion, and an endless energy in praise" (J.M. Flanigan)5.
5 Flanigan, J.M., ibid.
Eternal praise, our God, shall rise
In mansions far beyond the skies;<</dd>
Thy name shall be adored!
With joyful hearts our songs we raise,
Our God and Father, Thee we praise,
While waiting for our Lord.
God is Praised Throughout the World – vv.27,28
"All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and He is the Governor among the nations."
While it is perfectly true that today "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" Dan.4.32, the nations certainly do not yet worship before Him. At present, God is taking "out of them [the Gentile nations] a people for His name" Acts 15.14, but that in no way fulfils this passage. It awaits the time when the Lord will say to His Son, "Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" Ps.2.8. Then Zechariah’s prophecy will be fulfilled, "And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles" Zech.14.16.
But what will "all the ends of the world" remember? The best answer lies right at the end of the Psalm: they will remember that "He hath done this" v.31, a statement which has marvellous implications.
If v.27 tells us that "all the kindreds of the nations shall worship", or "all the families of the nations shall worship before Thee" J.N.D., then v.29 tells us that this will include both rich and poor. The rich are described as "they that be fat upon earth", and the poor are described as "they that go down to the dust". Commentators readily agree that the verse is not easily understood, but J.M. Flanigan, while concurring, puts it all together admirably (as usual): "The living and the dying, the mighty and the meek, the rich and the poor, the great and the small, shall all bow before Him and worship. All are mortal. All are going down to the dust. What are any apart from Him? No man can keep alive his own soul."6
The Psalm ends with two wonderful statements concerning Christ, vv.30,31, which indicate that His sufferings at Calvary will never be forgotten. In the first place, we are introduced to the servants of Christ, vv.30,31, and in the second to the saving work of Christ, v.31.
The Servants of Christ – vv.30,31
"A seed shall serve Him; it shall be accounted to the Lord [Adonahy, plural: meaning ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’] for a generation." The prophets predicted, with pin-point accuracy, that although the Lord Jesus would be "cut off out of the land of the living" Isa.53.8, and be "cut off, and shall have nothing" Dan.9.26, J.N.D., He nevertheless would "see His seed" and "see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied" Isa.53.10,11.
While we can apply these words to ourselves, and should certainly do so (are we serving Him?), they refer, in context, to His faithful witnesses in coming days. See, for example, the Jewish witnesses in Rev.7.4-8, with the results of their testimony in Rev.7.9-17. The words "it [the ‘seed’] shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation" are perhaps best explained by the Lord Himself: "And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom He hath chosen, He hath shortened the days" Mk.13.20. The coming judgment of God upon Israel during the Great Tribulation will leave only a "seed", and that will be "accounted to the Lord for a generation". This speaks volumes about their labour for Him: so few of them comparatively speaking, but with such results.
We are told about the message of His servants. "They shall come, and shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done this" v.31. Their preaching will be Christ-centred. This brings us to:
The Saving Work of Christ – v.31
Future generations will be told about Christ and His sufferings. In the language of v.31, they will be told that "He hath done this". The rich blessings attending the reign of Christ rest upon His sufferings at Calvary. Those sufferings will never be repeated.
There is a striking correspondence between the words here – "He hath done this" – and His own words at Calvary: "It is finished" Jn.19.30.
We too have a responsibility to tell others about the finished work of Christ, and to emphasise that the enjoyment of blessing and security is only possible through His infinite suffering at Calvary.
We shall not consider the closing years of David’s life and the transition to Solomon’s rule. However, it is interesting to note that the schism in the nation between Judah and the other tribes, evident during David’s lifetime and reign, continued into the reign of Solomon.
JUDAH IN THE DAYS OF SOLOMON
In the days of Solomon’s zenith Judah is mentioned separately: "Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry" 1Kgs.4.20. Also, "Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon" 1Kgs.4.25. These verses indicate that in the days of peace and plenty, when it seemed that all was unified, there was still a fault line running through the nation, which resulted in division after Solomon’s death. Tribal rivalry, perceived slights and personal agendas are ever detrimental to unity. The resulting division is not only damaging at the time, but its effects are felt by succeeding generations. Truth is never the cause of division, but variance, egotistical personalities or minor issues that are allowed to fester, "the little foxes, that spoil the vines" S of S.2.15.
It would seem that Solomon never showed the care which his father, David, manifested in preparing for orderly transition on his demise. It is good when men recognise in reality that they are not going to be here for ever and, with wisdom, plan accordingly. David did, and his final years of rule were shared with Solomon. Sadly, Solomon had so many immediate personal objectives that he gave insufficient attention to transition.
In addition, Solomon’s "heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father" 1Kgs.11.4. His private life was his undoing. His God-given wisdom and wealth eventually led to an attitude of entitlement and indulgence. His privileged position was abused in the pursuit of egregious pleasure, which ensnared him in idolatry. He did not learn any lessons from David’s sin in the realm of sensual lust. "And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded" 1Kgs.11.9,10. Privilege, knowledge and wisdom do not guarantee preservation and the greatest national inheritance was squandered in a single lifetime; the result was a rupture in the nation following Solomon’s death. Every subsequent king of Judah had a much lesser sphere of rule than otherwise might have been. These are solemn issues for all, and especially for leaders, to consider.
Let us turn from David and Solomon to consider two lesser known, yet worthy, men of Judah.
It is possible that there are many of us who skip over the first nine chapters of 1Chronicles, with their lists of difficult names, which is a pity for many reasons. However, contained therein is a two-verse biography of a man of Judah, written in beautiful prose, which we do well to consider. "And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bare him with sorrow.’ And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!’ And God granted him that which he requested" 1Chr.4.9,10.
We know very little about Jabez’s lineage other than that he is listed within details pertaining to the tribe of Judah. We do not know who his father was, nor do we have his mother’s name. The circumstances surrounding his birth were evidently difficult. While no child was ever born without travail, there seems to be something more implied here. Did his father die before Jabez’s birth; or had he abandoned Jabez’s mother; or was there some other unrecorded issue? It must have been significant in that it was, unusually, the mother who named this child "Jabez", meaning ‘sorrowful’.
If Solomon had a rich heritage but sowed the seeds of its dissipation, Jabez had no such inheritance, yet secured one by exercise and associated endeavours. He had noble aspirations and "called on the God of Israel". Jabez had a spirit of prayer and supplication. His request was made with earnestness, possibly in the character of a vow. It was succinct, sincere and specific. He was not content with his own straitened circumstances and he desired enlargement. He was dissatisfied with the status quo. His desire was for bigger and better things. In this he was like David, who said, "One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple" Ps.27.4. This should lead us to ask ourselves the questions: are we satisfied with our status quo; or have we greater spiritual aspirations and, if so, are we willing to strive after them?
Jabez wanted enlargement and expansion of his boundaries, but not at any price: it must be with the blessing of God. He would therefore be careful in his personal and public life so that he could experience God’s hand with him. He recognised the sinful propensities of the human heart (something which Solomon progressively lost the sense of) and desired "that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me". What was the outcome of Jabez’s earnest request? "And God granted him that which he requested." He certainly did not "ask amiss" Jms.4.3, and he secured more honour than his brethren. Jabez was not disheartened by any disadvantages, making excuse, as so many do. He recognised what was lacking and, in fellowship with God, he achieved his potential and, through grace, a place of honour in Scripture. May the example of Jabez encourage us all to ask great things of God for His glory and our blessing.
We should also benefit from considering "Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man of Kabzeel" 2Sam.23.20; 1Chr.11.22. Kabzeel was a city in the south of Judah, Josh.15.21. This heroic man, one of David’s "mighty men" 2Sam.23.8-39; 1Chr.11.10-47, had three extraordinary triumphs and was required to perform three unpleasant tasks.
Benaiah, "who had done many acts; he slew two lionlike men of Moab: also he went down and slew a lion in a pit in a snowy day. And he slew an Egyptian, a man of great stature, five cubits high; and in the Egyptian’s hand was a spear like a weaver’s beam; and he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear" 1Chr.11.22,23; see also 2Sam.23.20,21.
God not only takes note of service rendered; but also of the circumstances, difficulties and dangers involved. Benaiah was in type an overcomer of the world, the flesh and the devil. We have no difficulty seeing the lion as being indicative of the devil: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" 1Pet.5.8. Benaiah faced his lion in the most disadvantageous of circumstances: conceding the advantage of higher ground; being constrained in his movement by the sides of a pit; and with snow making it treacherous underfoot. Flight, rather than fight, might have been the natural impulse. But we are reminded "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" Jms.4.7. May we be resolute when so assailed.
Egypt in type speaks of the world politically. Egypt is Israel’s first and ancient foe. The world is ever impressed by stature and armaments. What was Benaiah’s staff compared to the Egyptian’s spear? It is the same as David’s staff, his five smooth stones and sling were to Goliath’s armour, spear and sword, 1Sam.17.40,45. Truly "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty" 1Cor.1.27. Let us never be discouraged by apparent weakness.
The flesh is ever typified by Moab, Jer.48.11, and the flesh is our insidious foe, the enemy within. This was a fearsome double enemy, "two lionlike men of Moab". These must not be spared. Too often we would seek to be easy of self, but half-way measures here will still leave us facing a formidable adversary. Benaiah gave no quarter; and neither should we.
Benaiah secured a recognition in the reign of David and an enhanced position in the reign of Solomon. But position brings responsibility and not every responsibility is pleasant to discharge. Too many desire the position of leadership without being prepared for the onerous responsibilities associated with leadership. It was the sword of Benaiah at the command of Solomon that fell upon: Adonijah, the rebellious and carnal man, 1Kgs.2.25; Joab, the cruel and treacherous man, 1Kgs.2.34; and Shimei, the blasphemous and disobedient man, 1Kgs.2.46. It is easier to assess character traits and weaknesses in others and be condemnatory than it is to recognise our own faults and failings. If there was one man in Israel who understood the gravity of such crimes, it was Benaiah. He would be only too well aware that if such was not tolerated in others, he would be judged by the same standard. This has a lesson for us. And the obverse is also true: "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" Jms.4.17.
However, Benaiah was ever loyal to David and to Solomon. He was the commander of David’s Life Guards, 2Sam.8.18; 20.23, who later became commander of Solomon’s army, 1Kgs.2.35; 4.4.
Jabez and Benaiah were two very different characters from the tribe of Judah, but they represent all that is good in Judah: leadership in their own sphere, with unquestionable personal integrity and loyalty.
We have indicated previously that we do not intend to provide biographies of Judah’s kings or a historical overview of the southern kingdom called Judah. Just as we did not provide biographies of great men from the tribe of Levi, we shall similarly desist from considering many of Judah’s worthies, including Daniel and his three stalwart companions. So next we shall consider Judah in the New Testament and the relevant section in the Epistle of James.
These notes were written to accompany a series taught in the assembly Bible Class at Uxbridge, England. The series was shared by three brethren, which is reflected in the individual styles of writing of the notes.
Praying in the Upper Room
PAPER 9 – Luke 22.14-20
This incident is recorded in all three ‘Synoptic Gospels’. It should be noted that when Matthew and Mark record the events of the Upper Room they do so in a chronological order (Judas leaves the Upper Room after the Passover meal) but Luke records the order differently in order to make a deliberate comparison between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, which was instituted in the Upper Room.
THE GENERAL CONTEXT OF HIS PRAYER – v.14
1. The Appointed Moment in History – "the hour was come"
This was the moment that the Saviour was working towards from the moment He had entered the world, Jn.12.27,28; indeed, it is the focus of the ages. This hour could not be hurried; compare Jn.2.4.
2. The Peace of the Saviour – "He sat down"
He took time to spend this moment with His own. It was precious to Him: He had arranged the situation so that they would not be disturbed. The lessons of these verses must therefore be important.
3. The Presence of the Disciples– "the twelve apostles with Him"
There are two great truths to be gleaned: firstly, that the Saviour wanted the company of the apostles; He was in their midst. This is the truth expressed in Matt.18.20. Secondly, that for these men to really function as "apostles" (literally, ‘sent ones’) then they needed to grasp these lessons.
THE SPECIFIC CONTEXT OF HIS PRAYER – vv.15-20
1. The Passover Meal – vv.15-18
a. The Passover Was Precious to Him – "with desire ..." v.15
The Saviour did not dismiss the Passover feast as a relic of the past. He kept it this last time because He knew what it spoke of historically and what it anticipated prophetically.
b. The Passover Had an Anticipatory Character – "before I suffer" v.15
The feast spoke of the work of Christ at the cross. It was eaten with bitter herbs, Ex.12.8, and the lamb was roast with fire, Ex.12.8,9: it all spoke of His suffering. As He ate, He was appreciating fully what it all meant.
c. This Passover Marked His Last Act of Fellowship with the Nation – "until it be fulfilled" v.16; "until the kingdom of God" v.18
The Passover will be kept in the Millennium, Ezek.45.21-24, but then there will be no slain lamb or bitter herbs, for Calvary will be past. The Saviour was indicating that God’s dealings with Israel as a nation were coming to an end at the cross, but God would take them up again.
"... and gave thanks ..." v.17. For what did He give thanks? The Passover was the record of God’s faithfulness to Israel; and He gave thanks. It was the evidence of God’s plan of redemption; and He gave thanks. It was the promise of Millennial restoration and glory for the nation of Israel; and He gave thanks.
2. The Lord’s Supper – vv.19,20
a. The Bread That Spoke of His Body – v.19
His was a Divinely-prepared body, Heb.10.5. It was a body in which no sin dwelt, 1Jn.3.5. It was a body in which He glorified God every moment of every day. It was the body in which He bore our sins, 1Pet. 2.24: this He did voluntarily ("given").
b. The Cup That Spoke of the New Covenant in His Blood – v.20
The shedding of His precious blood had great consequences. It obtained redemption, 1Pet.1.18,19. It obtained forgiveness of sins, Eph.1.7; Col.1.14. It brought us peace with God, Col.1.20. It established a new covenant (anticipated in Jer.31.31-34) that will never be rescinded, and the blessings of it are never to fade away.
c. The Remembrance He Enjoined – v.19: "this do in remembrance of Me"
This remembrance is "the affectionate calling to mind of the person Himself" (W.E. Vine). As we call Him to mind we should be able to give God thanks for Him. He should be the greatest incentive to worship.
"... and gave thanks ..." v.19. For what did He give thanks? His was a life of faithful service. He had enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God. He had blessed the multitudes through His words and deeds. He knew His death would result in the blessing of untold millions. He knew His death would truly glorify God. He knew that He would triumph at the cross.
As we gather to remember the Lord Jesus in the Breaking of Bread let us reflect on these words, "He ... gave thanks". May it move us to greater appreciation of Him.
"… we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" Hebrews 4.16
What a consolation; no matter how great our need is; no matter how overwhelming our problems seem to be, there is an unfailing supply of mercy and grace at our disposal. Generation after generation has drawn upon these inexhaustible resources and they are neither diminished nor depleted. The granaries of God’s grace are overflowing and, amazingly, are there for the asking.
Just as the famishing masses in Egypt were directed to "go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do" Gen.41.55, so we are invited and encouraged to "come boldly [‘with confidence’] unto the throne of grace" Heb.4.16, and avail of His inexhaustible supplies.
There is no need too small, no problem so trivial that He will dismiss it with contempt and there is no burden so great that He would be overwhelmed by it. None who asks of Him will be empty sent away.
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear;
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
"All power is given unto Me" Matthew 28.18
There are many who fain would help us if only they could but they are powerless. Often we are painfully conscious of our own frailty and we feel frustrated by our inability to impart the needed help to others. We cannot cure the dreaded disease; we cannot adequately comfort one who has known the chilling blast of bereavement and thousands of other problems are beyond our capacity to help.
Thank God for the unfailing Friend Who is full of pity joined with power. The everlasting arms which are underneath never weaken and the omnipotent hand that rescued Peter from the waves of Tiberias never droops. His tender heart not only feels as none other could but His mighty power can assist where others fail.
There is no power greater than His; it is unlimited and invincible. Again and again He manifested that power when He was here; sickness, death and demons must flee before His irresistible command, "so that we may boldly say, ‘The LORD is my helper’" Heb.13.6.
We are considering this subject under three headings:
Provision by the Brook – vv.1–7
Purpose in the Barrel – vv.8–16
Prayer in the Bedroom – vv.17–24
Having looked at "Provision by the Brook" last time, we come now to the second incident:
PURPOSE IN THE BARREL – vv.8–16
Verses 8,9: "And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, ‘Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.’"
We saw that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in v.2, and the timing of Divine revelation could not have been more precise for him. The famine came, and God intervened to bring him to safety. The same mercy is seen here now. The brook had dried up, and life was about to cease in Cherith. Then came the word of the Lord to Elijah to direct him to the house of a Gentile widow for preservation. The Lord will never fail us but will allow His will to be fulfilled in us, no matter how severe the tests and how tumultuous the storm.
The imperative from the Lord in v.3 was literally ‘Go from here!’; but now it is ‘Arise!’ The call ‘Arise!’ signals a new purpose, and a great task ahead for the prophet. There was no specific servant task for Elijah when God sent him to hide by the brook Cherith; he had only to go there; but now, God was about to give him a task: he was going to be the prophet reaching out to a poor dying Gentile widow. God was going to accomplish His great purpose through a barrel and a cruse in the midst of a dire crisis!
As we have commented already in connection with vv.2-4, the three keywords of "commanded", "feed" ("sustain" here in the Authorised Verson) and "there" are repeated here. The Lord was showing His consistency in provision to the prophet. However, as unusual as it seems, the Lord was sending Elijah to another unexpected source of provision: a Gentile woman. In this chapter, the Lord made Elijah go through experiences that would have seemed unclean based on his religious affiliation. He caused him to be fed by unclean birds; now He sends him to a people that would have been deemed unclean Gentiles by the Israelites; later God will enclose the prophet in a room with the defilement of death. I am immediately reminded of the three-time descent of a great sheet knit at four corners, containing all manner of unclean animals, presented to Peter in vision form, Acts 10.11-16. The Lord said to Peter, "Rise, Peter; kill, and eat." Peter answered, "Not so Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean." The Lord said, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." Therefore, I am persuaded that in these three incidents which God brought Elijah through there is dispensational truth. The dried-up brook of Cherith could be a picture of Israel presently in their spiritual wilderness. Elijah left Cherith and went to a Gentile land, picturing the Lord Jesus moving out from Israel and going to the Gentiles. In fact, the Lord Jesus spoke on this in Lk.4.25,26, and said that Elijah went not to any widow in the land of Israel, but to the widow of Sarepta. The grace of God has now been extended to the Gentiles in this dispensation of grace. How could this be? The answer is: through the death of Christ, Who Himself identified with death and entered into death, then rose from the dead the third day. We see this typified in Elijah’s identification with the dead son of the widow.
Hence the purpose of God in sending the prophet to Zarephath becomes clear through the commentary of the Lord in Luke chapter 4: not only was the prophet to bring immediate relief to the widow and her son (and himself); the whole incident was a prophetic preview of what God would do for the Gentiles in this present dispensation through the Preacher of "the acceptable year of the Lord" Lk.4.19.
Verses 10-12: "So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, ‘Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.’ And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, ‘Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.’ And she said, ‘As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’"
The Lord’s specific command was literally, ‘Arise, and go to Zarephath’ v.9. Elijah responded in obedience: he "arose and went". Elijah did not have to search the city to find the widow. The prophet met her at the entrance, when he arrived at the city. The world calls this coincidence, but we discern this as Divine providence at work. However, Elijah was still unsure that she was the one, hence he issued a series of requests to ascertain that she was indeed the widow of Zarephath for whom he was looking. Perhaps it was her mention of Jehovah in her reply that gave confirmation to Elijah that she was the one.
The prophet made a request for water, and while she was about to fetch him some water, he asked for more: he asked for some bread. Requesting water was a big ask, because water must have been scarce when there was no rain or dew; but to ask for more, and to ask for bread, of which she had near to none, was really pushing the limits! We now hear her pouring out her sorrows, and perhaps with tears rolling from her eyes, she said, "As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die" v.12. While we lament over the present restriction of movement experienced all over the world, there are so many people in different regions around the world stricken with poverty and facing their last meals. We are told that over seventeen thousand people die from hunger every single day, and children make up a big proportion of that number. I am in no way downplaying the seriousness of the spreading disease plaguing the world now, but we want to remind ourselves of how privileged many of us are, and we have not expressed enough gratitude to the Lord for His manifold mercies. However, many suffering believers have experienced being brought to this stage of desperation in their own circumstances, in their own way. Is it not a comfort to know that before the widow had known any movement from God He had already articulated His plan to do so in Cherith, when He commanded Elijah to visit her? The Lord knows all our needs and dangers even before we utter a word, and He already has a plan for us.
I suspect that the widow was a believer, because she knew the name of the Lord God of Israel. But if not, she had at least heard the name of Jehovah, Who brought the famine to the land. The seed of faith could have been planted in her heart, much like the case of Rahab.
She said, ‘I do not have bread enough for a company, but all that I have is a handful of flour and a little oil enough for me and my son, and the only worthwhile possessions I have at this desperate juncture are this barrel and this cruse. I was just gathering two sticks, so that I might go and make our last meal, that we might eat and die’ (paraphrase by me). The word "cake" only appears twice in the Old Testament, and it could also refer to a feast, or the type of food served in a feast. She thought that Elijah did not know the dire situation she was in and that he was expecting a proper full-course meal laid on the table; but the Lord knew, and Elijah knew.
Verses 13,14: "And Elijah said unto her, ‘Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.’"
The prophet who had experienced the provision of God by the brook can now say with confidence to the widow, "Fear not!" Elijah’s solitude by the brook was also God’s way of preparing him for the ministry to this Gentile woman and her son. He had experimentally seen the faithfulness of the Lord, hence he now speaks with authority to assure the widow. It is interesting to observe the sequence of tasks in his instruction: the widow was to make a little cake for the prophet first, and to bring the cake to him, before she could start to make any meal for herself and her son. It was a real test of faith for the widow. However, after giving away the portion that was originally meant for herself and her son, the Lord immediately supplied for their need, as we shall see in the next verses.
The promise of God through the words of Elijah was this: "The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail". What were said to be the widow’s only relevant possessions during her final moments of life on earth become now the vessels of salvation and provision. God used what seemed insignificant – a barrel and a cruse – and turned them into the vessels of unceasing provision. These were indeed small things during a big crisis. During our time of crisis, we should not be surprised if the Lord uses whatever is in our possession as instruments of preservation. They might be things that we often take for granted; they might even be insignificant things. Just the thought that the Lord has provided a shelter over our heads so that we might be closed in at this time of danger should bring about a sense of gratitude. We might not have the nicest house, or the safest neighborhood, or be having the sumptuous spreads that we usually enjoy with family members and friends; it is possible that some will not have their jobs after this period of lockdown, and others will see their fortunes depleted. But "Fear not", because the Lord will ensure that those who belong to Him will see their ‘barrel’ and ‘cruse’ become an unceasing supply of His mercies.
The expression "shall not … fail" with regard to the cruse of oil is exactly the same expression as "shall not want" in Ps.23.1. It is also said concerning the manna that he who gathered little had "no lack" Ex.16.18. Therein lies the unfailing hand of God: whether it was the Israelites in the wilderness, or a God-fearing Gentile widow living outside the commonwealth of Israel, or just any of His own sheep, He will not fail them.
Verses 15,16: "And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which He spake by Elijah."
The Lord performed His word, and Elijah, the widow and her son were delivered from the cruel famine. However, the question is this: was the lesson that the Lord can provide mainly to be learned by the widow only, or was there a greater lesson for the prophet, even though he was the bringer of good tidings to this poor Gentile widow? At first glimpse it would seem that in this incident the widow was the one who benefited the most in the school of God. I would suggest otherwise.
There was a greater lesson for Elijah in the barrel and the cruse. This word "barrel" (ḵaḏ in Hebrew) does not appear many times in the Bible, and in 1Kings it is only linked to the prophet Elijah. The word "cruse" (ṣap̱aḥaṯ in Hebrew) in 1Kings is also linked with Elijah alone, and only appears seven times in the Bible. These two words will reappear again in Elijah’s life. "Barrel" will be seen again in 1Kgs.18.33, when Elijah used this instrument to pour water on the burnt offering during his battle with the prophets of Baal. This was the peak of his service life, when his victory over the enemy was public and convincing. "Cruse" will resurface in 1Kgs.19.6, and this time the prophet was at the lowest point of his life. Though the barrel and the cruse were instruments of salvation for the woman and her son, they were more than that for Elijah. God wanted him to learn through these vessels that every aspect of the servant’s life must be lived out in total dependence upon Him.
At Mount Carmel, the barrel reminded the prophet that the Lord Who used the barrel to supply unceasingly at the widow’s home is the same Lord at the time of public conflict. An insignificant barrel was used in private supply, and in public victory. Therefore, the barrel was more than just a day’s meal for the prophet: it was a lesson of dependence to prepare the prophet for a greater purpose to come.
What about the cruse that stored an ever-flowing supply of oil? If the Lord could cause the oil to flow miraculously, why was Elijah so downhearted at the mere threat of Jezebel? So much so, that the prophet wished that his life had been taken away from him, 1Kgs.19.4. So the prophet went into a deep sleep and was later woken up by an angel. Upon waking up from his sleep, Elijah found a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. This cruse of water should have reminded him of the Lord’s faithful preservation when he was in the house of the widow of Zarephath. He went back to sleep again and was again woken up by the angel. This time he ate and drank and went on a journey in the strength of that supply forty days and forty nights, to Mount Horeb. That was the strength that the cake and the cruse had given him. What should Elijah have learned at the widow’s home? The cruse should have taught Him that the Lord would never fail. He learned the lesson of the barrel well when he used it to accomplish his public victory, but he might not have learned the lesson of the cruse well enough to lift him out of despondency and discouragement.
What do we learn? We have to look around to notice the ‘barrel’ and the ‘cruse’ that the Lord is using to sustain us in the time of testing. While we all experience this time of restricted movement, we should thank the Lord for every measure of provision and preservation we enjoy; but we must all wonder if the Lord has used a ‘barrel’ and a ‘cruse’ to teach us greater things about His purpose for us, and to prepare us for what is to come.
In the will of the Lord, in the next issue we will conclude the series with a consideration of "Prayer in the Bedroom".
We are considering some of the prison experiences recorded in Scripture and seeking to learn lessons from them to strengthen us in the ‘dark times’ that we are currently experiencing. In the first paper, we considered Joseph and his patience, and Peter and his peace. We will now conclude our meditation by looking at Paul and Silas and their prayers and praise, and the Lord Jesus and His provision.
PAUL AND SILAS AND THEIR PRAYERS AND PRAISE
So very often the gospel preacher turns to Acts chapter 16, with many sermons being preached on the man whom we often refer to as the Philippian jailor. Not a few have been challenged by those words, "What must I do to be saved?", and through the answer to that question, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved", have entered into the joys of salvation.
Paul and Silas had a love for souls and were fearless in their presentation of the Saviour. Here we find that for doing so they have been cast into prison, wounded and beaten, with their feet made fast in the stocks. Are we prepared to suffer that others might hear the gospel message? Perhaps in these times God is stirring our hearts to have a greater zeal for those who are perishing.
Christianity is no dull drudgery for we can see here that in spite of much suffering, Paul and Silas are praying and singing praises. If it were you and I, perhaps we would be examining our wounds and keeping our mouths shout. Not so with these men! They enjoyed communion in prayer and their mouths were full of praises. Even in the darkness of the Philippian jail, the prisoners heard them. The opportunity was not missed to commune with God and to let others hear the message of the gospel. Oh, the joy that filled their hearts even in their circumstances! Perhaps in these days, when neighbours are at home there will be opportunity to speak to them over the garden fence or if we meet them along the way as we take our daily exercise. Let us avail of every opportunity to tell them of our Saviour. Spend much time praying for them and our families. The season of suffering is only for a little while and then the praise that has begun here on earth will be our occupation eternally unto the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us.
How our hearts are often warmed as we spend time praying; just in bringing our burdens and cares to our heavenly Father, Who understands and answers prayer, according to His will. We have a great High Priest, One Who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, Heb.4.14,15. Maybe you are like me and there are times when you hardly know what to pray for. Do not despair in these situations, for in Rom.8.26 Paul tells us, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
In times like these, let us continue praying and be cheered in singing praises, making melody in our hearts.
To all our prayers and praises
Christ adds His sweet perfume,
And love the censer raises
Their odours to consume.
THE LORD JESUS AND HIS PROVISION
Well might we turn our minds now to the Lord Jesus and draw attention to His prison experience. The prophet Isaiah tells us that "He was taken from prison ..." Isa.53.8. In Acts 8.33 this verse is quoted as Luke tells us the Scripture being read by the Ethiopian eunuch. There it reads, "In His humiliation His judgment was taken away".
When we consider Him in all His sinless perfection and recall Who He is, the eternal Son of the eternal God, it bows our hearts in worship. Just to think that He ever came from the heights of glory into this sinful world to make provision for fallen man. He came to do the will of His Father but we remember also that night when He was betrayed into the hands of sinners, He submitted Himself to puny man and was willingly restrained. They bound Him and led Him away. He passed through the crucible of the prison experience; enduring the mockery and the false accusations before being condemned to death. As He was hurriedly taken away from the scene of the greatest miscarriage of justice, having been denied a proper trial, Isaiah reminds us that "He openeth not His mouth" Isa.53.7.
The scene is now Calvary. Three crosses uplifted and upon the centre one hung the Son of God. With forgiving heart, He would pray for those soldiers, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" Lk.23.34. In those six hours upon the cross, three of daylight and three of darkness, a mighty provision was made when He shed His precious blood and died for our sins. We love to speak of the Saviour and the finished work: His death, burial and resurrection, for it is upon this foundation that our hope is firmly anchored, not like the sandy foundation of this unstable world, which has been shaken to its core by the Coronavirus.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame;
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.
On Christ, the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness seems to veil His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, and blood,
Support me in the whelming flood:
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
The quotation at the top of this paper (‘These are dark times but there is hope ahead’) is from a recent news article, which was referenced in the previous paper. In that article, the writer goes on to say: ‘In these dark times, doesn’t it seem strange that the sun continues to shine? While it encourages us to keep going, it’s also a reminder of just how fragile and temporary some things are.’
Our minds would immediately turn to the Creator and our Father, the One Who "set [the sun] in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth" Gen.1.17. In Matt.5.45 we read, "… He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." Therefore, it does not seem ‘strange’ to us but is a reminder that our God, He is the One Who is in control. The things of this world are indeed fragile and temporary so in these ‘dark times’ let our faith in Him stand firm, unwavering and unshaken as we "serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven … which delivered us from the wrath to come" 1Thess.1.9,10.
O, child of God, there is for thee
A hope that shines amid the gloom:
A gladsome hope that thou shalt see
Thy Lord, for He will surely come.
He’ll come … yes, He’ll come and tarry not,
He’ll come … yes, He’ll come and tarry not,
He’ll come … He’ll come … He’ll come and tarry not.
Invariably as we would normally gather on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s Supper, our thoughts are taken to the cross, not simply, of course, to the cross itself but rather to the One Who hung upon that central cross at Golgotha. We frequently speak of ‘the cross of Calvary’, but this term is not used, as such, in the Word of God.
"The cross of Jesus" – the Cross Historically
On one occasion in the New Testament we read of "the cross of Jesus": "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene" Jn.19.25. So, four women stood by the cross; here a group is noticed by the Spirit of God; four who had been drawn by affectionate devotion for the One Who was hanging on the central cross: they were not looking on from a distance, or mingling with the crowd in attendance; this was an expression of sympathy. "The cross of Jesus" tells us of the cross historically; it emphasises the reality of the cross: "And He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull" Jn.19.17. In contrast to the women, there were those who sat before the cross: "And sitting down they [the soldiers of the governor] watched Him there" Matt.27.36; this suggests an attitude of apathy, or indifference. Thirdly there were those who passed by the cross: "And they that passed by reviled Him, wagging their heads" Matt.27.39; they were demonstrating antipathy, or active ill will.
"The cross of Christ" – the Cross Doctrinally
There are three occasions in the New Testament where we read of "the cross of Christ". Firstly, Paul writes, "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect" 1Cor.1.17. "The cross of Christ" is the cross doctrinally: the historical fact of the cross has been embraced in the message that we preach; it is both authentic and authoritative. Paul goes on to say, "For the preaching [the content of the message] of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" 1Cor.1.18. Ultimately all must fall into one or other of these categories: saved or lost. He adds, "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" 1Cor.1.21; the reference is not to the act of preaching, but rather to the (perceived) foolishness of the thing preached, for what could be more foolish, as far as the world is concerned, than that a man who died upon a cross almost two thousand years ago could be the Saviour of the world?
Secondly, Paul makes mention of those who are "enemies of the cross of Christ" Phil.3.18. He does not call them ‘enemies of the cross of Jesus’: they do not deny that a man called Jesus died upon a cross, but they are opposed to the message that we preach.
In Gal.6.12-16 we read of those who were trying to ‘put on a good face’; they were making a display of religious zeal in the flesh, in outward things, such as circumcision: Paul wrote to the Galatians that "they constrain [‘compel’] you to be circumcised". These men were not concerned about the welfare of believers or the glory of God, but only about their own reputation and safety. Paul adds, "only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ". This is the third reference to "the cross of Christ". The addition of something as a condition of (or as a means to) salvation has down through the centuries proved the most effective way of avoiding the offence of the cross.
"The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" – the Cross Morally
Whilst these men (known as Judaisers) would "glory in your flesh" Gal.6.13, Paul would glory, only in "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ": note the full title, expressive of dignity. Here it is the cross morally; when we consider the cross, there are always practical implications as far as we ourselves are concerned. In chapter 3 of the Epistle to the Galatians, the cross is viewed as the means of deliverance from the Law: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" Gal.3.13. Strictly speaking, the reference is to Jews. In chapter 5, the apostle applies the doctrine of the cross to the flesh and shows that "they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" Gal.5.24.
Now in chapter 6, he comes to the third thing, namely the world. The world is that sphere of things in which the flesh lives and delights: the world system with all of its allurements, especially, in the context of the Galatian Epistle, the world’s religious systems. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is that which crucifies the Christian to the world, puts him entirely outside it; but also the world is crucified to him, so that there cannot be the least common ground between the Christian and the world.
James Paterson (known to most as "Jim") was a faithful contributor to the ‘Assembly Testimony’ magazine and books. He wrote this poem on 5 October 2016. The Lord called him home on 21 April 2020, at 62 years of age.
What do I hope to find, should death o’ertake me;
Or, better still, to meet Him in the air?
Should Master’s voice or trumpet call awake me,
What view within the heavenly mansions fair?
I know the blessèd Son of God will greet me,
With scenes of earth for me for ever past;
He delegates no other one to meet me,
When heaven’s portals then I reach at last.
I’ll view in wonderment the fields of Glory,
And breathe the uncontaminated air;
Not now the blighted scenes of sin’s sad story,
But greatest pleasures from His hand to share.
Heaven’s angel chorus chants a song of victory,
Another soul from Satan’s realm brought in;
Participant in God Jehovah’s mystery,
Redeemed and ransomed from the power of sin.
I’ll find no tears, no pain on that fair morning,
Nor night, nor death and all its kindred woes.
I’ll find no curse or sin, but all will gladden,
To leave for ever all the earthly woes.
Then, farewell earth with all your transient pleasures,
I’ll happy be with Christ, Who dwells on high.
I’ve more in Him than all earth’s boasted treasures,
Eternally secure, above the sky.
Tune: "I am the Lord’s" (Believers Hymn Book No.394)
8th May 2020 marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of ‘VE Day’, when World War Two ceased in Europe. It was a good day for the civilian people of that continent. All, whether on the winning or the losing side, were relieved that the bombing was over, that their loved ones who had gone off to fight and had survived would be returning home, and that the privations they had endured for years would begin to recede.
Many years later, a lady spoke of that day, and recounted that 8th May happened to be the birthday of her little sister. The child had no memory of a peacetime birthday, and when she saw the crowds in the streets, the flags and bunting hanging from buildings, heard the singing, and sensed the euphoria, there was, to her, only one explanation: everyone was out to celebrate her birthday! Her older sibling fondly recalled: "She thought it was all for her!"
There is a far greater peace than the one celebrated 75 years ago: the peace brought about by the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, when He died upon the cross at Calvary. In Isaiah 53.5 we read, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed": He suffered the awful stroke of Divine judgment for us, in order that we might be delivered from the punishment we deserve for our sins, and have peace with God. He did the work fully, rose from the dead, and is exalted at God’s right hand, in Heaven. Everyone who turns from his or her sins and trusts in Him receives forgiveness, and comes into the great blessing of peace with God: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" Romans 5.1.
As the years passed, that young girl came to realise her mistake: that, actually, the festivities were not for her. When it comes to the great salvation resulting from Christ’s death, many make the opposite mistake, and say, "It’s not for me". The girl’s mistake did not do her any harm; it may have caused her mild embarrassment, at most. In contrast, if you think God’s salvation is not for you, and you refuse it, the consequences for you are very serious: to be forever in the Lake of Fire. We urge you, like Paul, to believe in your heart that "the Son of God … loved me, and gave Himself for me" Galatians 2.20, and trust Him as your Saviour. If you do, your joy will far eclipse the gladness of that girl on that day, and, unlike her, it will not be based on a misunderstanding, but on the truth of God’s Word. In Romans 9.33 we read, "Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed"; that is, all who put their trust in Him will not be disappointed (by discovering that what they believed was untrue). You can fully trust His word: "He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life" John 6.47.
It was for me, yes, all for me; O, love of God, so great, so free;
O, wondrous love, I’ll shout and sing, He died for me, my Lord, the King.