"Precious words! They are the first taught to our children … and they are amongst the last that we whisper in the ear of our beloved ones, standing in the twilight between the darkening day of earth and the breaking day of heaven …"1
1. Meyer, F.B. "The Shepherd Psalm".
The Psalm of the Crook (Psalm 23) lies between the Psalm of the Cross (Psalm 22) and the Psalm of the Crown (Psalm 24). These three Psalms can be identified with three references to the Lord Jesus as the Shepherd in the New Testament: Psalm 22, which prophesies the death of the Lord Jesus, connects with Jn.10.11: "I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep". Psalm 24, which looks forward to His second coming, links with 1Pet.5.4: "the chief Shepherd shall appear". In the meantime, as depicted in Psalm 23, He is seen keeping His flock, connecting with Heb.13.20: "that great Shepherd of the sheep".
Psalm 23 was written by a shepherd. We first meet David in Bethlehem. Jesse and his seven older sons attended the sacrifice at Samuel’s invitation, but God had chosen the eighth son: "There remaineth yet the youngest and, behold, he keepeth the sheep" 1Sam.16.11. See also 1Sam.16.19; 17.15,20,34,35. A later Psalm recalls this beautifully: "He chose David also His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: from following the ewes great with young He brought him to feed Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands" Ps.78.70-72.
"David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep" Acts 13.36. But was that the end of his shepherd care for Israel? Read Ezek.34.23,24.
But now the shepherd-king from Bethlehem becomes "the sweet psalmist of Israel" 2Sam.23.1, and acknowledges the integrity of the Lord’s heart, and the skilfulness of the Lord’s hands. "The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want." The two statements with which the Psalm commences are amplified as the Psalm proceeds:
"The LORD is my Shepherd" – The Care of the Shepherd. Our Security
"I shall not want" – The Confidence of the Sheep. Our Satisfaction
"THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD" – The Care of the Shepherd. Our Security
We must notice the identity of the Shepherd, the relativity of the Shepherd, and the activity of the Shepherd.
The Identity of the Shepherd – "The LORD is my Shepherd"
He is Jehovah. He is the living One. He is the self-existent One. He is the "I AM". He is the One "which is, and which was, and which is to come" Rev.1.4. Isaiah describes the might of Israel’s Shepherd: "Behold, the Lord GOD will come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him … He shall feed His flock like a shepherd" Isa.40.10,11. He is addressed as follows: "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; Thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth" Ps.80.1.
But there is more. A thousand years later, the great "I AM" became incarnate at Bethlehem, and we hear Him say, "I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep" Jn.10.11. At Calvary, Zech.13.7 was fulfilled: "Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man that is My fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered". See Matt.26.31.
I have a Shepherd, One I love so well;
How He has blessed me, tongue can never tell;
On the cross He suffered, shed His blood, and died,
That I might ever in His love confide.
The Relativity of the Shepherd – "The LORD is my Shepherd"
The statement is permeated with confidence. "If He be a Shepherd to no one else, He is a Shepherd to me; He cares for me, watches over me, and preserves me."2 The very Creator Who "calleth them [the host of heaven] all by names by the greatness of His might" Isa.40.26, knows every one of His sheep by name too: "He calleth His own sheep by name" Jn.10.3. He knows and cares for us individually, as Jacob knew: "the God that shepherded me all my life long to this day" Gen.48.15, J.N.D.
2. Spurgeon, C.H. "The Treasury of David".
The Activity of the Shepherd – "The LORD is my Shepherd"
A shepherd’s work is all embracing. We must notice the following:
It Includes Faithfulness
Jacob describes his shepherd work as follows: "This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten … Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes" Gen.31.38-40.
It Includes Watchfulness
Paul is describing shepherd work: "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch …" Acts 20.29-31.
It Includes Tenderness
Tenderness of heart, and tenderness of hands. Isaiah continues his description of Israel’s Shepherd: "He shall gather the lambs with His arm [the same arm that "shall rule for Him" v.10], and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young" Isa.40.11.
It Includes Fearlessness
The "hireling … seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth" Jn.10.12. Now listen to David speaking to Saul: "Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: and I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him" 1Sam.17.34,35.
It Includes Skilfulness
As we have already seen, David guided the flock "by the skilfulness of his hands" Ps.78.72.
No wonder David continues with the following words in v.1:
"I SHALL NOT WANT" – The Confidence of the Sheep. Our Satisfaction
The prodigal "began to be in want", and cried, "I perish with hunger" Lk.15.14,17; but every member of Christ’s "little flock" Lk.12.32, can say, "O fear the LORD, ye His saints: for there is no want to them that fear Him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing" Ps.34.9,10. "My God shall supply all your need …" Phil.4.19. The verses that follow prove the accuracy of the statement, "I shall not want".
No Want of Pasture
"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures" v.2. Let us just notice three simple things in this statement. We will leave the meaning until later. You see, we do need to read our Bible carefully, and notice what is actually said.
Firstly, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures". This is no rough command: a peremptory ‘Sit down’. The words are gentle. "It is the Lord who graciously enables us to perceive the preciousness of His truth, and to feed upon it."3
Secondly, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures". Certainly not, ‘He maketh me to stop for an occasional mouthful’, or ‘maketh me to charge through like stampeding cattle’. Not, ‘He maketh me to feed in green pastures’. Not even, ‘He maketh me to sit in green pastures’, but, "He maketh me to lie down …" A hungry sheep will not lie down. This sheep has fed well, and now he lies down with great satisfaction.
Thirdly, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures". Not barren pastures, or dry pastures, or scorched pastures, but "green pastures". Not even a neatly-trimmed lawn, but "green pastures". It will be so for Israel: "I will feed them in a good pasture … and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel" Ezek.34.14.
Is there really any need to give the meaning? The Shepherd wants us to take time to appreciate and enjoy the rich banquet He has provided for our spiritual nourishment. The Word of God is "green pastures" indeed; not ‘pasture’, but "pastures". "What are these ‘green pastures’ but the Scriptures of truth – always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted?"4
No Want of Peace
"He leadeth me beside the still waters" v.2. Have you noticed the recurring words, "He … me"? The sheep is watching the shepherd all the time, but more than that, "see how every verse tells us what He is doing"5 We may not, for the time being, be able to see our Shepherd, but we do hear His voice: "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" 1Pet.1.8. "The still waters" are ‘waters of quietness’ or ‘waters of rest’. Notice three simple things:
5. Meyer, F.B., ibid.
Firstly, "He leadeth me beside the still waters". Not, ‘maketh me to lie down’, but "leadeth me". Not ‘driveth me’, but "leadeth me". The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, "Come ye yourselves apart … and rest a while" Mk.6.31. He certainly says, "Son, go, work today in My vineyard" Matt.21.28, but He also says, "Be still, and know that I am God" Ps.46.10. He conducts us from the hustle and bustle of the world, and the hustle and bustle of Christian service, to ‘the waters of quietness’. If we fail to follow, we will suffer spiritual exhaustion. A state of peace and quiet is essential mentally and physically; it is essential spiritually too.
Secondly, "He leadeth me beside the still waters". Not to the still waters, and then stop, but beside them. We do not stay there, but they are an important part of the journey. Whilst Martha was "cumbered [‘distracted’ J.N.D.] about much serving", Mary "sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard His word". The Saviour very kindly answered Martha: "Thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her" Lk.10.38-42. Compare Jn.11.20.
Thirdly, "He leadeth me beside the still waters". Not beside the raging torrent or the mighty river, but "still waters". Perhaps we can best understand the "still waters" with reference to the presence of God.
There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God …
There we find rest and refreshment as the calm and serenity of His presence quietens our hearts and minds. "Be still, and know that I am God" Ps.46.10.
In the will of the Lord, in the next paper we will consider further blessings concerning which there is "no want".
The New Testament opens with "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas [Judah] and his brethren; and Judas [Judah] begat …" Matt.1.1-3; see also Lk.3.33. Judah and his descendants are named in the genealogies of the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s ways of grace and mercy associate men with inconsistency and failure with the lineage of One Who never failed, and never could.
Jacob’s deathbed prophecy referenced the Lord’s coming: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be" Gen.49.10. Isaiah prophesied, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel" Isa.7.14. Isaiah also prophesied, "And there shall come forth a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord …" Isa.11.1,2.
That which was foretold is brought to pass. Joseph and Mary were of the tribe of Judah, Matt.1.1-16; Lk.3.23-38. Yet these, Divinely chosen to provide legal title and virgin birth, resided outside Judah’s tribal area, not in the town prophesied as Messiah’s birthplace, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" Mic.5.2.
The angel Gabriel "was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary" Lk.1.26,27. An announcement followed, "Fear not, Mary … behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end" Lk.1.30-33.
Gabriel disclosed to Mary that "thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren" Lk.1.36. This prompted Mary to take a journey. "And Mary arose … and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth" Lk.1.39,40. There, in the hill country of Judah, something exceptional happened, "Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice" Lk.1.41,42. The four hundred silent years since Malachi have truly ended and Elisabeth’s blessing is followed by Mary’s ‘magnificat’, Lk.1.46-55. In another three months John the Baptist was born and Zacharias’ speech was restored and "fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea" Lk.1.65.
Gabriel was God’s messenger to Mary, consciously performing His bidding and discharging his responsibility. In Rome, Caesar Augustus was equally God’s messenger, but unconsciously. He issued a decree to all the Roman empire, creating a massive logistical exercise. Roman civil administration was engaged under Divine direction to achieve a specific outcome: "And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) … And so it was, that, while they were there … she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn" Lk.2.3-7. Eternal purpose is fulfilled in time, in absolute detail and that fact is appropriately and accurately recorded on earth at the behest of Caesar Augustus!
"And there were in the same country [the hill country of Judaea] shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" Lk.2.8. That was the same landscape and night sky familiar to David, to Boaz, to Caleb, to Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. But this night was unique. "The glory of the Lord shone round about them" and these humble shepherds from Judah heard "good tidings of great joy … For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" Lk.2.9-11.
The enquiry of the wise men from the east about the birth of the King of the Jews led to the testimony of Scripture being given, "In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, ‘And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel’" Matt.2.5,6. The place of Jacob’s greatest sorrow and loss, Bethlehem, where Rachel died in childbirth, Gen.35.19; 48.7, became the birthplace of the Saviour. It is the place where Benoni, ‘son of my sorrow’, became Benjamin, ‘son of my right hand’ Gen.35.18, and where, over one thousand seven hundred years later, the eternal Son of God’s right hand entered time to become a "man of sorrows" Isa.53.3. The Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest ever to be born, was brought forth to be swaddle-wrapped and held in the arms of a poor couple from the tribe of Judah.
Joseph’s and Mary’s relative poverty is seen in the offering of either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons when the days of Mary’s purification were accomplished and the child Jesus was brought to Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord, Lk.2.21-24. A very small, yet select, ‘reception committee’ awaited His coming. One of the two awaiting Him was Anna, of a great age, from the tribe of Asher (there are no ‘lost tribes’ with God), representing the ten northern tribes. The other was Simeon, "just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ" Lk.2.25,26. I suggest that Simeon may have been from Judah, representing the two southern tribes. Honoured to take the child Jesus up in his arms, he blessed God. "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel" Lk.2.29-32.
In the town of Kerioth in Judah, Josh.15.25, possibly around the same time as the birth of the Saviour, a boy was born in the home of a man called Simon. This boy was given the tribal name, "Judas". No doubt there was great hope that he would evidence the superior qualities of Judah: leadership, courage, loyalty. Perhaps, when he later became a disciple of Jesus, parental hopes were raised again, given his distinctiveness as probably being the only non-Galilean in "the twelve". Although Judas became the trusted treasurer of the apostolic band, he was never true. His fellow-disciples did not detect his inner emptiness, or wonder why he never called Jesus "Lord", or discover his petty thieving or recognise the subtlety of his heavily disguised personality. However, over time Judas Iscariot (‘Judas of Kerioth’), morphed via moral regression from being the son of Simon, Jn.6.71, to become "the son of perdition" Jn.17.12. His name is reviled; he is ever the embodiment of treachery, the betrayer, the traitor.
We recall in Genesis chapter 37 the progenitor of the tribe, Judah himself, selling the bewildered Joseph as a slave to Midianite merchantmen for twenty pieces of silver. Now our minds grapple with the most reviled descendant of Judah who, in the full knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, went "unto the chief priests, and said unto them, ‘What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you?’ And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. And from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him" Matt.26.14-16. We recall the words of the prophet, "So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver" Zech.11.12. It was only the compensation price for a dead slave, Ex.21.32.
The kiss of Judas added to his infamy. The man who kissed the ‘door of heaven’ would soon plunge to hell. Judas was the man into whom "Satan entered" Jn.13.27; compare Lk.22.3. The singular token of affection and loyalty was corrupted and demeaned when Judas, indwelt by Satan, dared to kiss the face of the Son of God. In that kiss the diabolical touched the Divine; and purity prevailed. And at the gate of Gethsemane’s garden for some brief moments stood two men from the tribe of Judah: Judas, the very worst of that tribe, and the Lord Jesus Christ: Divine, noble, dignified, majestic, sorrowful yet serene. We say of our Saviour, "Ten thousand charms around Him shine, but best of all I know He’s mine".
The Lord felt the betrayal keenly. He had employed in the upper room words that David used when betrayed by Ahithophel, "Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me" Ps.41.9; compare Jn.13.18.
JUDAH – THE FUTURE
The Roman suppression of the Jews ended Judah as a political entity in A.D.70. However, Judah has assurance of a portion in the future Millennial Kingdom, Ezek.48.7,8, with one of the three gates on the north side of Jerusalem bearing the name "Judah" Ezek.48.31. That gate will be flanked by those called "Reuben" and "Levi". No invader will ever pass those doors named after Leah’s sons.
There are surprisingly few references to Judah in the New Testament; only Heb.7.14; 8.8 in the Epistles; but Judah will contribute twelve thousand to the one hundred and forty-four thousand servants of God, Rev.7.5.
The greatest honour bestowed upon the tribe was revealed to and is recorded by John: "And one of the elders saith unto me, ‘Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.’ And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a [young] Lamb as it had been slain" Rev.5.5,6. Jacob saw Judah as a lion and with the sceptre, Gen.49.9,10. John saw "the Lion of the tribe of Juda" as a Lamb and with a book. Some sixty years had passed since John had last looked on the face of Christ. Time had wrought its changes in John. But the Lord is unchanged and the value of His sacrifice abides. "Hallelujah, what a Saviour!"
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 for Simon
PAPER 10 – Luke 22.31-34
We are in the last hours of the Lord’s life before the cross. In the previous verses the Lord has dealt with the fact that He is in control and that everything will happen to the Divine timetable of events. The Lord’s Supper has been instituted, after Passover. He has told the Apostles about His betrayal and dealt with the question of who will be the greatest, by saying that their positions in the future Kingdom have already been decided by God and that they will all have equal authority under the King of kings (each will sit on a throne, "judging the twelve tribes of Israel" v.30). They are then brought back to the present with these verses by being reminded that they, and therefore we, have an enemy.
We do not know when the Lord prayed this prayer but can be assured that the One Who knows the end from the beginning will understand all our needs and intercedes on our behalf, Heb.4.15; 7.25. We can use the following headings for these verses:
Satan’s Desire – v.31
Sifted Disciple(s) – v.31
Safety Desired – v.32
Strengthening Directed – v.32
SATAN’S DESIRE – v.31
Satan’s name means ‘adversary’. He is also described as "the accuser of [the] brethren" Rev.12.10. We need to understand that Satan will seek to destroy a believer’s testimony and he has no scruples about his methods, 1Pet.5.8. Remember we cannot lose our salvation, Jn.10.27-30. The answer to these attacks is given in the next verse, 1Pet.5.9. We are all given the ability to resist if we make use of it, 1Jn.4.4. Job suffered much at the hand of Satan but his faith never failed.
SIFTED DISCIPLE(S) – v.31
Being sifted has the thought behind it of being shaken in a sieve; part of the process of separating the wheat from the chaff. From the context and subsequent events, it seems clear that the Lord is referring to Peter’s denial. We can learn some lessons from Peter about resisting the devil:
In v.54 we see Peter "afar off";
In v.55 we see him "among them", that is, "the world";
In v.57 he does not acknowledge the Lord anymore;
In v.58 he does not acknowledge the Lord’s people;
In v.60 he claims not to understand what is being said.
So the Lord says, "when thou art converted" in v.32; this is not referring to salvation, but a return to Him.
SAFETY DESIRED – v.32
"I have prayed [strong desire] for thee". What comfort and encouragement, Heb.9.24; 1Jn.2.1! The prayer was that Peter’s reliance on Christ (faith) would not cease (fail). Compare Job (whose faith did not fail) in Job 19.25: "For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." At this time, in John chapter 17, the Lord prays for them all; see especially Jn.17.9,11,12,15.
STRENGTHENING DIRECTED – v.32
To strengthen means ‘to establish or fix’. Because Peter’s denial was done in public it seems that part of his restoration had to be seen in public. So in John chapter 21 we see that matters are dealt with and the Lord’s instruction to Peter is "Feed My sheep" v.17, matching "Strengthen thy brethren" in Lk.22.32. Peter was able to carry out that command and we read in 2Pet.1.10-15 his determination to obey his Lord.
From this prayer we learn that Christ has an ongoing concern and care for us. We also learn that prayer can be specific, and should be, when possible. We take great encouragement that after "backsliding" there can be restoration and many years of profitable service, as seen in Peter’s life.
For Paul, his reason for living was Christ; nothing else mattered and every consideration was tributary to glorifying his Saviour. He could conceive of no more rewarding life than to love, live and labour for his new Master. On his way to apprehend Christians in Damascus, Paul trusted the Christ Whom he had seen in glory, and his heart was won forever. He became a bondservant of his heavenly Benefactor and life changed irrevocably.
All that was dear to him prior to his salvation was deemed as dross; all his pre-conversion associations and achievements were discarded at the feet of the Son of God Who loved him and gave Himself for him. He never ceased to wonder at the grace which had been displayed toward such an injurious and blasphemous sinner and considered himself an eternal debtor to the Lord Jesus. All the pain, privation, perils and persecution were but small payments off a debt he could never hope to fully cancel. Could I justly claim that this is my motto for life?
Christ Jesus fills my sky and tunes my heart to song
For lasting things to satisfy no more in vain I long.
Content to live; content to die,
I’ve Christ on earth and Christ on high.
"Moses was in the mount …" Exodus 24.18
This reference to Moses and Sinai is but one of many records in Scripture of men who had significant experiences on a mountain: other such accounts include Noah and Ararat; Abraham and Hebron; Abraham and Moriah; Moses and Pisgah; Elijah and Carmel; Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. Such men proved the value of being on a higher plane and memories of what transpired there, were enduring. They could not be satisfied with spiritual life at street level; they could not tolerate mediocrity; they longed for a more meaningful relationship with God, a more intimate acquaintance with Him, a closer walk with God and a life of enriching communion with the Father. ‘Mere Christianity’ could not fulfil them; they aspired to the holiness of the heights and the sanctity of the summit.
How many of us, alas, have lowered our standards and no longer have the spiritual focus that weans us from earthly things and causes us to thirst after God. May God draw us to a higher plane from which we will have a more accurate assessment of the poverty of this passing scene and value Divine things aright.
In the previous two papers on the experiences of Elijah recorded in 1Kings chapter 17, we have thought of "Provision by the Brook" and "Purpose in the Barrel". We come now to the third and final incident :
PRAYER IN THE BEDROOM – vv.17-24
Elijah will go up into his bedroom and lay the boy on his bed, and he will pray, and life will come down from the Lord to be restored to the boy. Later, in chapter 18, Elijah will go up to another high point: Mount Carmel. He will lay the burnt offering on the altar, and he will pray, and fire will come down from heaven to consume the sacrifice. At the end of chapter 18, the prophet will go up to the top of Mount Carmel, and he will pray with his head between his knees, and rain will come down from heaven. But Elijah’s recorded prayer exercise begins in his own upper room, in a private setting. May we all learn the power of our own ‘upper room’ prayer in any kind of difficult times, because the Lord uses this kind of exercise to prepare His servants for greater service, for the higher mountains.
Verses 17,18: "And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him. And she said unto Elijah, ‘What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?’"
When Elijah was at the brook Cherith, the Lord provided the stream, and the ravens brought the food morning and evening, but there came a time when the brook dried up and Elijah had to face a new reality. The text signals that new reality with the expression "and it came to pass after a while …" v.7. It was the Lord Who caused the brook to dry up so that He might usher Elijah into a new sphere of service for Him.
Likewise, the text here signals a new situation, albeit a tragic one. The paragraph opens with this similar expression: "And it came to pass after these things …" Just as the Lord allowed the brook to dry out, this distressing incident was also part of the will of the Lord. The coolness of the brook and the consistent supply by the ravens would have been something that Elijah wished had continued, naturally speaking, but it came to an end. Here in the widow’s house, the barrel was still providing, and the cruse of oil did not fail, and everything seemed to be fine and stable. One would have wished for this stability to continue, but suddenly, the child dies. We often hope for stability, but at times the Lord has other plans for us that would take us into another heightened level of spiritual testing. This tragic incident of the death of the widow’s son was perhaps the most challenging test for Elijah thus far. How was he going to pass the test? It was going to be by the power of prayer.
The title "the mistress" is somewhat unique and surprising, and is not a common word used in the Scriptures to describe a woman owner. At first glance, it might appear that this is an overstatement of an obvious fact. However, the word "mistress" is baal-a in the Hebrew and is the feminine form of the word for baal, which either means ‘master’ or the name of the idol Baal. Perhaps this was an intended play of words by the writer, again emphasising the fact that the Lord was preparing Elijah in the house of a baal-a before he would confront the prophets of Baal in the next chapter. If Elijah can call upon the Lord to return life back to the dead in the house of a baal-a, he can certainly depend on the Lord to send down fire before the worshippers of Baal.
The boy ‘had an extremely strong illness’ is the literal translation for the expression "his sickness was so sore". The widow’s immediate reaction was fear. She had come to know Elijah as a prophet who could call a famine upon the whole land as a result of the nation’s sin, and she now wonders if the prophet had called up her sins and brought this calamity upon her family. However, that was not the case. Elijah is called "man of God" for the first time, but this title will come up again before the chapter ends. By then it will be proven that he is indeed a man of God.
Verse 19: "And he said unto her, ‘Give me thy son.’ And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed."
This tragic incident came suddenly, and it is apparent that neither the widow nor Elijah was prepared for it. Considering that the Lord had given them the lease of life through the barrel and the cruse, the fact that now He had taken the boy away would have been difficult for both the widow and Elijah to understand. Unlike at Cherith, where the Lord had already told Elijah to go to the widow of Zarephath, there was no prior instruction or warning when the boy fell severely ill. Under such a circumstance, what was the prophet going to do? He was going to bring the boy into a place where he knew closest fellowship with God: his own bedroom, where he would often have prayed. In fact, Elijah’s loft was a place as significant as Cherith and the widow’s house because it was also marked with the word "there": literally "where he abode" should be "there he abode". When trouble comes in a most sudden way, the fastest and ‘nearest’ source of help is the avenue of prayer. The place of prayer should be a significant ‘there’ for every believer.
This entire incident was made for Elijah. It is not that the woman did not learn the lesson of faith – for she did – but there was something special for Elijah here. The Hebrew text comes out more clearly in this instance, because there is a play of words that sound like the name of Elijah. The expression "and carried him up into a loft" sounds like this in Hebrew: "va-ya-a-lay-hu el ha-a-li-ya-hu". Elijah’s name in Hebrew is "Ay-li-ya-hu". If we put Elijah’s name beside his action, it would be "Ay-li-ya-hu va-ya-a-lay-hu el ha-a-li-ya-hu" (even though the word order might not be ideal in Hebrew grammar, but you get the idea). This whole incident was meant for Elijah, because even his action and his loft had the sounds of his name! Just like the barrel and the cruse, God was using this tragic incident involving death to prepare Elijah. Through trials, God prepares His servants for bigger things to come. While the present calamity tests our faith, it does more to develop our patience and dependence upon Him for future service.
Verses 20-22: "And he cried unto the Lord, and said, ‘O Lord my God, hast Thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?’ And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord, and said, ‘O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again.’ And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived."
Even a man of God like Elijah does not understand the ways of God at this juncture. He confesses his ignorance before God. It is alright if we sometimes do not understand why the Lord has allowed certain things to befall us and our family. Part of our spiritual learning involves openly confessing our ignorance before Him and laying all our burdens at His feet. Many have asked God "Why?" and we too have done the same. However, Elijah asked God the question with a clear confidence that He would hear his prayers, knowing that everything was dependent upon His sovereign will.
"Elijah" means ‘My God is Yahweh’. Under severe pressure to save the life of the boy, Elijah acts true to his own name. He calls upon the Lord and says, "Yahweh my God". The Lord was teaching Elijah in a personal way the power of prayer. He would need this in his public service, but he first learns this experimentally with God alone. He will pray on Mount Carmel to call fire from heaven, and he will also be praying to call rain from heaven, but now he prays in his own bedroom for God’s resurrection power.
Elijah identified with the death of the child when he stretched himself upon the child three times. We saw the dispensational aspect of this in the comments on vv.8,9, and the type of Christ seen in Elijah. However, from a practical perspective, if we are to pray for the well-being of our fellowmen, we must identify ourselves with them, considering the fact that whatever has befallen them might befall us too. Ceremonially, Elijah himself became unclean. This truth is also seen in the preparation and the application of the water of purification in Numbers chapter 19. The clean person applying the water on the unclean person becomes unclean himself. In Gal.6.1, Paul teaches that the person seeking to restore another must identify with him, knowing that he too faces danger: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." This is the principle of intercession through identification. In this period of danger, we are praying for the Lord’s people through identification, because we ourselves are also experiencing pervasive danger. This time we are all in it together. This time, it becomes more real than ever, when we pray for one another.
"The Lord heard the voice of Elijah." He is still the same Lord Who hears our prayers.
Verses 23,24: "And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, ‘See, thy son liveth.’ And the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.’"
What did the widow mean when she said "the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth"? I suggest what she meant was that Elijah’s office of a prophet was indeed genuine. Many false prophets (and perhaps Baal prophets) in those days claimed that they were speaking the word of the Lord. But Elijah’s claim that he spoke the word of the Lord is now proven to be genuine because no one could raise the dead except one appointed by the Lord Himself. He was truly a man of God, and a prophet of the truth.
Whether it be the writer or the reader, we are all faced with an unprecedented test. The solemn challenge to each of us is this: will we come out of this ordeal and be known as those who are faithful to the truth, the Word of God? There will be increasing pressures to ‘tweak’ the Word of God, or to compromise principles to suit the current times, but we must not succumb to the propensity of tailoring the Word of God to fit our present inconveniences, no matter how severe the ‘famine’.
As he examines the characters of faith across the landscape of spiritual history, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews summarises this way: "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith …" Heb.11.39. The tragedy of 2020 will be remembered in the annals of history. Books will be written about it; names will be remembered; dates will be etched; but Christians living in this period of time must be remembered for their faith and obedience to His Word.
Just before His ascension, the Saviour promised His disciples, "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" 1.8.1 The Acts of the Apostles records this outward dissemination of the gospel. Even though "we never read of the church at Jerusalem … deliberately initiating any mission to the Gentiles"2, as Samaria, and then the Gentile regions beyond, received the Word of God, Jerusalem remained a firm feature in the narrative. For example, "when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John … [who] when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans" 8.14,25. The converted Ethiopian eunuch "had come to Jerusalem for to worship" 8.27. Determined to prevent further spread of the Christian message, Saul of Tarsus obtained authority from the high priest to travel three hundred kilometres north-east to the ancient Syrian city of Damascus to bind and bring to Jerusalem any believers he found in its synagogues, 9.1,2.
1. Unless otherwise stated, all references are from The Acts of the Apostles.
2. Gooding, D. "True to the Faith". The Myrtlefield Trust, Coleraine, N Ireland., Reprinted 2013, p.221.
But there was a seemingly insurmountable barrier to overcome. In the Old Testament Jehovah graciously chose Israel to be His highly-prized, "special people", set apart from the surrounding nations and devoted entirely to Himself, Ex.19.5; Deut.7.6,7; 14.2; 26.18,19. The Law, which He gave Israel, was designed to separate her from the idolatrous practices of her Gentile neighbours. The dietary prohibitions alone prevented Jews from eating with Gentiles, Leviticus chapter 11. Devout Jews took this one stage further, refusing even to enter a Gentile house, 10.28; 11.3.
When Christ died on the cross, He broke "down the middle wall of partition between [Jew and Gentile]; having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace" Eph.2.14,15. Jews, who, under Law, had been treated like children, Gal.4.1-3, were "now to leave their childhood and learn to live and be trusted as grown-up sons. One of the first things to go was the food laws."3 God, Who instituted them, now annulled them, 10.15; 11.9. All could now be eaten; compare 1Tim.4.3-5. Of course, the Lord Jesus had already "declared all foods clean" Mk.7.19, N.A.S.B.
3. Ibid., p.207.
But how could the longstanding division between Jews and Gentiles, so clearly laid out in Mosaic Law and firmly embedded in the Jewish conscience, be abolished functionally in the Church? The story of Cornelius answers this key question, 10.1-11.18. It shows how the doctrinal reality "that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" Eph.3.6, was realised practically. Of course, Luke, being a converted Gentile physician, had great personal interest in this vital issue.
Meanwhile, about the time of Stephen’s stoning, which Saul had fully endorsed, severe persecution in Jerusalem led to many believers being "scattered abroad [diaspeirō, ‘to sow throughout’] throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria", some travelling "as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch" 8.1; 11.19. "Phenice" 11.19; 15.3, also known as "Phenicia" 21.2, or ‘Phoenicia’, was the narrow coastal strip between the Mediterranean Sea and the Lebanon mountain range, now called Lebanon. Christ’s own ministry extended into this region, Matt.15.21; later in Acts we read of at least three churches in this area: at Tyre, 21.3,4, Ptolemais, 21.7, and Sidon, 27.3. During their ‘first missionary journey’, Barnabas and Saul preached on the island of Cyprus, 13.4-13. Antioch, the capital city of the Roman province of Syria, was the third largest city in the Empire (after Rome and Alexandria), with an estimated population of five hundred thousand.4 At first, the scattered disciples preached "the word to none but unto the Jews only" 11.19. But things changed. When several from Cyprus and Cyrene ("a Greek colonial city in North Africa";5) compare Matt.27.32, arrived in Antioch, they "spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" 11.20,21. As far as the Acts record is concerned, this was "the first church to be planted outside of Jerusalem and Judaea."6
5. Davis, J.D., "Davis Dictionary of the Bible". Pickering and Inglis Ltd., London, England, p.162.
6. Gooding D., ibid., p.220.
When "tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem … they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch" 11.22. Their choice of delegate proved crucial to the work of God. Although Barnabas, being a Cypriot Levite, 4.36, came from a Dispersion family, he "was regarded with complete confidence in Jerusalem and acted as a pivot or link between the Hebrew and Hellenistic elements in the church."7 Being "full of the Holy Ghost and of faith", and the only man in Acts to be called "good", Barnabas was exceptionally godly, 11.24. As a natural encourager, 4.36; compare 9.27, sensitive and discerning, "when he came, and had seen the grace of God, [he] was glad" v.23. Avoiding any attempt to enforce these newly converted Gentiles to observe Mosaic Law, he "exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord" 11.23.
7. Marshall I.H., ibid., p.202.
Appreciating his own limitations and understanding the enormity of the task in hand, Barnabas departed "to Tarsus, for to seek Saul" 11.25. Tarsus, which was a university city in the imperial province of Cilicia, was "ranked as a free city under the Romans from 64B.C."8 Three years post-conversion, after a brief visit to Jerusalem, Saul had returned to Tarsus, his home city, 9.28-30; Gal.1.18,21. When Barnabas found him, he was likely obeying his Divine call and evangelising the Gentile "regions of Syria and Cilicia" 9.15; Gal.2.2. The churches of "Syria and Cilicia" which he confirmed at the beginning of his ‘second missionary journey’ had probably been founded during this initial preaching period, 15.41.
8. Bruce, F.F. "The Book of the Acts". Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, Reprinted 1984, pp.207,208
Saul responded positively to Barnabas’ request. "And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" 11.26. Their one year of teaching together shows the priority local churches should give to Christ-exalting Bible exposition, the need for new believers to be established in the faith and the benefit of sitting under the varied ministry of more than one teacher.
When the Jerusalem-based prophet Agabus came to Antioch, he "signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar" v.28. Moved with pity towards their Jewish brethren, these Gentile Christians, "every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul" vv.29,30. This generosity must have contributed to the practical fusion of Christian Jews and Gentiles. After delivering the gift, Paul and Barnabas returned from Jerusalem to Antioch, accompanied by John Mark, 12.25.
During the ‘first missionary journey’, after leaving Cyprus, John Mark "returned to Jerusalem" 13.13. Sadly, the link between Jerusalem and Antioch temporarily soured when men from Judaea told the Antioch Christians they had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, 15.1. This prompted the ‘Jerusalem council’, which further addressed the issue of Gentile Christians being accepted by their Jewish brothers, 15.2-31.
The Word of God comes to us in human language. There are times when the limitations of human language are exposed. How can human language fully describe and define infinite Beings? How can human language adequately convey the full glory of Divine Persons? Do we not feel the limitations of language when we worship? We search in vain to adequately express in words what the Lord Jesus means not only to us but to God His Father.
With this in mind consider the expression "in the beginning" in the Word of God, and its connection to Divine Persons. The expression is found in Gen.1.1; Jn.1.1 and Heb.1.10. Similar linked expressions where the word "beginning" is used are also found in 1Jn.1.1; Col.1.18 and Prov.8.22. But how can the word "beginning" be linked with eternal Persons? This can only be explained when we appreciate what the word is suggesting.
The study of the words of Scripture is helpful; but we must accept that the same translated word does not always have the same sense, or relate to the same event, as far as the original text is concerned. Further, a word study approach to Scripture should always take context into account.
There are times in Scripture when the word "beginning" has a simple and straightforward meaning: that of ‘start’ or ‘commencement’; but there are times when the word inadequately expresses the concept in mind; times when the word has a deeper, more significant meaning.
The expression "in the beginning" is a special expression of Scripture. Sometimes "the beginning" takes our minds back to creation, sometimes back into eternity and sometimes on to resurrection glory.
Gen.1.1 – "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth"
The words "in the beginning" in this verse take us back to the time of creation. This verse marks the beginning of the universe in space, time and matter. Here is the origin of the world. It is the beginning of God’s act of creation. It is the moment when the work of creation began. It is a point in time when God acted. It is the beginning of all things which God called into existence out of nothing.
In this verse we have the foundation of all belief, of faith; "in the beginning God". Faith does not seek to prove the existence of God; faith believes it. When the universe was created God was already there. God exists eternally. Ps.90.2 affirms this truth: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God."
The verse teaches that God is the first cause and origin of everything. "In the beginning God created …" It is by faith that the Bible record of creation is accepted. Heb.11.3 says, "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God". We are not called to argue the matter scientifically. We simply believe that "without Him was not any thing made that was made" Jn.1.3. We are told and believe that "for Thy pleasure they are and were created" Rev.4.11. The beauty and complexity of creation could only emanate from the glory of the Creator. Evolution theory denies Him that glory, indeed denies that He exists, and so evolution theory should be dismissed by us.
We are not told when "the beginning" of Genesis chapter 1 was, when the earth was created. No dates are given in the text of Genesis chapter 1, but at that point time began.
With these majestic opening words the Bible introduces the God of creation. The words contradict all philosophies and theories of man that deny that a personal Creator made the universe. The Word of God clearly teaches that this world was made by God and for God. "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thine hands" Heb.1.10; "God … made the world and all things therein" Acts 17.24; God "created the heavens, and stretched them out; He that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; He that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein" Isa.42.5. God Himself, speaking to Job, asked, "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Job 38.4. Scripture tells us that "by Him [‘His dear Son’] were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible" Col.1.16. See also Jn.1.1-3.
In creation God created something out of nothing. God spoke the word, gave a command and matter came into existence. What power! "For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast" Ps.33.9; "the worlds were framed by the word of God" Heb.11.3.
Gen.1.1 implicitly teaches that God is eternal, without beginning and without end. He was there before time began. He lives above and beyond time. We perceive eternity as prolonged duration, without beginning or ending, as if it is duration throughout endless ages. We think of eternity as extended time. Eternity, however, is greater than that. It transcends time, it is outside of time, and is not subject to any of the limitations, changes and effects of time. In eternity time does not exist. The God we trust and believe is the God of eternity. He is not subject to or overwhelmed by the limitations, changes and effects of time, as we are. What reassurance to our hearts!
The verse implicitly teaches that God is uncreated. He always has been, always is and always will be. With Him there is no beginning and with Him there will be no end. It is impossible for finite minds, created for and limited by time, to comprehend the fact of the eternity of God, but the Scriptures declare this truth eloquently. God was in the beginning, Gen.1.1; Jn.1.2, and is the Creator of all things. Nothing was created that He did not create. He is uncreated. He is eternal and therefore He is God.
As He is uncreated He is also timeless. He is not subject to time and with Him there is no yesterday, today, or tomorrow; there is no past, present, or future.
These truths bring blessing, comfort and reassurance to our souls. He is the eternal, everlasting God. Whatever may come across our path in this world, we can confidently rest in the knowledge that God can "do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from Thee" Job 42.2. He is a mighty God. He has been revealed in Christ in perfect love and His movements in grace towards us are characterised by what He is in Himself. Moses said of God’s earthly people, "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms" Deut.33.27. This truth applies to God’s people today. David said, "The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him" Ps.103.17. What a comfort for ourselves. The Bible tells of His "everlasting strength"; His promises are established by an "everlasting covenant"; He leads in the "way everlasting"; and finally He says, even to a wayward people, "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love" Jer.31.3. His word, His mercy, His righteousness, His light, His way and His love are as everlasting as Himself, and "this God is our God for ever and ever" Ps.48.14.
Gen.1.1 brings before us the eternal, uncreated, timeless God. From it we appreciate His greatness, His power and His majesty. It is the God of eternity Who has set His love upon us and to Whom we can now speak as a loving Father.
For many, birthdays are a reason for a party and a time of celebration. These occasions are anticipated eagerly and children especially, await the day with glee, hoping that lots of cards will pour through the letterbox and many presents will be received. They proudly wear a badge displaying their age and are keen to remind family and friends weeks beforehand of the imminence of the all-important date.
For others, each successive birthday is a solemn reminder of the fleeting brevity of life. How quickly another milestone has been reached! How swiftly life is passing! The annual anniversary tells us in no uncertain way that the journey of life is getting shorter and causes us to reflect on the inevitability of life on earth ending. Much as we do not like to dwell upon the thought, one day we will celebrate our last birthday and our little stay on planet Earth will be over. The Psalmist was conscious of this when he wrote, "LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am" Psalm 39.4.
Every picture of life in the Bible reinforces the fact that "life at best is very brief". "For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" James 4.14. "My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass" Psalm 102.11. "Man that is born of a woman is of , and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not" Job 14.1,2.
Life is like a revolving door: people come and people go; for every arrival there is a departure, and for every birth there is a funeral. For every name on a card there is a name on a coffin. Dear friend, in view of the reality of that solemn fact, have you made preparation for that certain day? In spite of amazing advances in medical knowledge and cutting edge therapies and treatments, statistics still reveal that out of every one hundred people, one hundred will die. What you need is a second birthday, a spiritual birth; you must be born again. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" John 3.3.
Let me tell you of One Who died of His own free will, at a comparatively young age, having been here for just over thirty-three years. He had no disease; in fact, death had no claim upon Him for He was sinless but He voluntarily gave His life to pay the penalty of sin and secure for us an eternal salvation. He was Jesus Christ, the only and eternal Son of God. No one had the power to take His life; He yielded it up of His own volition. Our sins demanded eternal death but Jesus died for our sins. At Calvary He suffered for the sins we had committed and He paid the debt our sins had incurred. No one else could have met God’s righteous demands and satisfied the justice of God. To prove that He was satisfied with the death of Christ, God raised Him from the dead on the third day. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is God’s approval of all that His Son accomplished at Calvary on our behalf.
My friend, you are powerless to save yourself but there is One Who longs for you to allow Him to do for you what you cannot do yourself. Will you trust Him as your Saviour? "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" John 3.36. If you do, you will have that all-important second birthday, and be assured of Heaven forever.
"He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord" Proverbs 17.15
This unjust state of affairs, in which the wicked person is declared righteous, and the righteous wicked, is also seen in the New Testament, where James writes of men who "have condemned and killed the just" Jms.5.6. The supreme example is the sentence passed by Pilate on the Lord Jesus, under pressure from the crowd: "But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you" Acts 3.14. We mourn at how often, in today’s society, evil people are declared good, and the godly are condemned. However, let each of us apply it to ourselves. In my dealings with others, do I always uphold righteous principles, in all my spheres of responsibility: in personal life; the home; the workplace; the assembly? Anything else is "abomination to the Lord", Who is absolutely righteous.
"A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape" Proverbs 19.5
Let us never forget how detestable lying is in the sight of God. As if to emphasise this, verse 5 is repeated almost verbatim in verse 9. "A lying tongue" and "a false witness that speaketh lies" are two of the seven things that He hates, Prov.6.16-19. "All liars" make up one of the eight categories that "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone" Rev.21.8. While we (believers) will never face that, we must seek to be totally unlike those who will. "Wherefore putting away lying, ‘speak every man truth with his neighbour:’ for we are members one of another" Eph.4.25. "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds" Col.3.9. "A faithful witness will not lie: but a false witness will utter lies" Prov.14.5. Are you a faithful witness, or a false witness?
By calling others "sinners", the Pharisees and scribes showed that they believed they were not, when, in fact, "there is none righteous, no, not one" Rom.3.10. They spoke with disdain, in an attempt to discredit the Lord Jesus. Yet, as in some other circumstances, words spoken about Him in criticism were, in fact, gloriously true, and we rejoice in them.
They considered that openness to "sinners" was tantamount to sympathising with their character and behaviour; but, on the contrary, rather than excusing their deeds, the Lord was reaching out to them in order that they might repent and be saved. He said on another occasion, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" Lk.5.32.
This is relevant today, when believers are criticised for condemning sin. Taunts such as "You claim to be followers of Christ, but He welcomed sinners" are common. However, this totally misrepresents the Lord. He never condoned or tolerated sin, but reached sinners with the gospel, and warmly received them when they repented. "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" Lk.19.10. We ought to follow His example, in reaching out to all with the glad tidings of salvation.
Sing it o’er, and o’er again: Christ receiveth sinful men.
Make the message clear and plain: Christ receiveth sinful men.