In our previous studies, we have seen how David’s statement in v.1, "I shall not want", is amplified as the Psalm proceeds. Thus we have considered:
No Want of Pasture, v.2
No Want of Peace, v.2
No Want of Restoration, v.3
No Want of Guidance, v.3
No Want of Comfort, v.4
In this paper, we will conclude our meditation on Psalm 23 with:
No Want at His Table, v.5
No Want for the Future, v.6
No Want at His Table
"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over" v.5.
We have noticed the change in pronoun at v.4; now another change occurs in the Psalm with v.5. We now have a table, anointing oil, a cup, and a house. While the details in vv.4,5 have been pressed into shepherd work, it does seem that David is employing another set of figures. The transition is, perhaps, illustrated in Ezekiel chapter 34: "And ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord God" Ezek.34.31. The imagery of Psalm 23 now passes from sheep to men. J. Strahan puts it like this: "He is at the same time both Shepherd and Host – as Shepherd, David is one of His sheep – as Host, David is one of His guests, at His table in the wilderness now, and then in the house of the Lord for ever."1
1. Strahan, J. "Hymns and Their Writers". Gospel Tract Publications, Glasgow.
Perhaps in v.5 we are still in "the valley of the shadow of death". The enemies are still present, but there is no sense of mere survival. There is enjoyment of God’s goodness. "It is one thing to survive a threat, as in v.4; quite another to turn it into a triumph."2 We should notice:
2. Kidner, D. "Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72".
The Preparation of the Table
"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
"Thou preparest a table." "God provisions His castles before they are besieged."3 Isaiah describes the wealth of Divine provision: "And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined" Isa.25.6. As to the future, "‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.’ But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit" 1Cor.2.9,10. (Always finish this quotation properly, and then you will understand it correctly: it is a contrast between human wisdom and Divine revelation). But He provides for us now!
3. Meyer, F.B. "The Shepherd Psalm".
"Thou preparest a table." It is in fact, "the Lord’s table". It is where we sit in fellowship with Him. Needless to say (we hope!), "the Lord’s table" is not a piece of furniture bearing a loaf of bread and a carafe of wine. In the Old Testament, the "Lord’s table" was the altar (for example, Mal.1.7, "the table of the Lord"), and to be "partakers of the Lord’s table" 1Cor.10.21, is to be in fellowship with God. We enjoy what God enjoys. That fellowship began, or, if you prefer, we took our place at the Lord’s table, at the moment of our conversion. Moreover, we are always at His table. Not just when we are at the Lord’s Supper, or when we are ‘at the meeting’, but always, because fellowship with God is the happy position into which we have been brought through Christ.
"Thou preparest a table … in the presence of mine enemies." Perhaps the very passage which deals with the Lord’s table also explains the "enemies". "Ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and the table of devils [‘demons’]" 1Cor.10.21. Ellicott’s Commentary puts it rather nicely: "We must imagine the banquet spread on some secure mountain height, in sight of the baffled foe, who look on in harmless spite".4
4. Ellicott, C.J. "A Bible Commentary for English Readers".
The Welcome to the Table
"Thou anointest my head with oil." Simon the Pharisee denied such a welcome to the Saviour. Notice, "He went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat", or "He took His place at table" J.N.D. However, the Saviour was obliged to say to Simon, "My head with oil thou didst not anoint" Lk.7.36-50.
If the anointing with oil expresses love and welcome, it has a further significance: "He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God: who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts" 2Cor.1.21,22.
The Joy at the Table
"My cup runneth over." In the language of the New Testament, "I have all, and abound" Phil.4.18; "To know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge" Eph.3.19; "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" Eph.3.20; "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" Jn.10.10.
We can apply to ourselves the words of the Lord to the nation of Israel, "Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of My fury: thou shalt no more drink it again" Isa.51.22. He has given us the "cup of salvation" Ps.116.13. It is indeed a "good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over" Lk.6.38. To make this possible, the Lord Jesus drank the cup of Divine wrath.
Finally, there is
No Want for the Future
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever" v.6. We should ponder the following:
Firstly, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me". F.B. Meyer puts it beautifully: "Surely: because God has never failed in the past. Surely: because it would not become Him to take in hand and not complete. Surely: because He has pledged Himself by exceeding great and precious promises. Surely: because the united testimony of all the saints attests that He never fails or forsakes. Surely: because if He has set His love on us eternally, He is not likely to forget us in time".5 Good, is it not?
5. Meyer, ibid.
Secondly, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me". These two are linked elsewhere in the Psalms: "For the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting" Ps.100.5. In goodness, He provides for us; in mercy, He pardons us. But "mercy" ("lovingkindness" J.N.D.), as we have seen elsewhere, carries the idea of covenant love; steadfast love.
Thirdly, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me". While it has been said, "In the East the shepherd always goes in front … but his shepherd dogs bring up the rear"6, the predominant idea is pursuit. God will send His goodness and mercy after us. To start with, "It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not" Lam.3.22.
Fourthly, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life". Not just ‘some days’, but "all the days", enabling us to say, "Every day will I bless Thee" Ps.145.2.
Fifthly, "And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever". Although the words "for ever" (Hebrew: "for the length of the days" J.N.D.; R.V. margin) may not, strictly, refer to eternity, there seems little doubt that having thought about "all the days of [his] life", David now goes further, and thinks about eternity. If we argue that "the house of the Lord" is the Temple, then we have to remember that the Temple did not then exist! We could argue, of course, that David meant the Tabernacle, which is called "the temple of the Lord" in 1Sam.1.9. See Ps.27.4. On the other hand, David does refer to the heavenly temple in Ps.11.4. However, surely the whole question is beyond technical argument. We must understand these words with reference to Jn.14.2, "In My Father’s house are many mansions …"
My Father’s house on high,
Home of my soul, how near
At times, to faith’s transpiercing eye
Thy golden gates appear!
My thirsty spirit faints
To reach the land I love,
The bright inheritance of saints,
This is where we will "dwell …for ever". The journey will then be over, all the dangers past for ever, and we will enter eternal rest. There is no doubt in David’s mind about the future: "I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever".
We now come to consider Jacob’s fifth son, Dan. We will consider him as the progenitor of that tribe, the tribal history and the lessons we can learn.
DAN – THE MAN
An unfortunate heading perhaps: while it rhymes, it is not poetry! Jacob now has four sons by Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. The birth of each of those sons occasioned joy for Leah, with continuing disappointment that she never found preferment with Jacob. Doubtless Jacob’s pride in his sons was tempered by Rachel’s barrenness. The reason for this is specified: "And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated [unloved], He opened her womb: but Rachel was barren" Gen.29.31.
One can imagine the simmering interpersonal tensions in Jacob’s household. These eventually erupted, with Rachel’s first recorded words being, "Give me children, or else I die" Gen.30.1. She has no apparent recognition of Divine dealings. Her ire is directed at her husband. Jacob appreciated that "Rachel was beautiful and well favoured" Gen.29.17. She had so captivated him emotionally that "Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her" Gen.29.20. Then Laban’s deceit trapped Jacob into serving another seven years, Gen.29.27.
Rachel outwardly was fair in face and form, but inwardly envy had developed. Her resentment provoked anger, and led to unreasonable demands and the proposal of a seemingly ingenious ‘surrogate solution’ Gen.30.1-5. A better outcome would have been achieved had Jacob and Rachel taken the issues to God, rather than resort to a natural expedient.
Decisions taken in short-term anger often have significant long-term consequences. "And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, ‘Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?’" Gen.30.2. Rachel had her answer ready, which indicates that her proposal was not a ‘spur of the moment’ suggestion. Her encouragement to Jacob was "Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her" Gen.30.3.
Rachel and Leah had been pawns in their father’s earlier duplicitous dealings with Jacob; and they must have felt that keenly. Yet it did not deter Rachel from similarly using her maid in her own scheming against Leah and Jacob: "And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son" Gen.30.4,5.
In this we will see shades of Abram, at Sarai’s instigation, seeking to produce a true heir with Hagar but producing an Ishmael instead, Genesis chapter 16. The outcome of Sarai’s proposal was disastrous, the ramifications of which continue to run on in world history. Surely Jacob knew the result of his grandparents’ failure to await God’s timing; or were those failures never subsequently discussed in the family? Jacob should have learned from his own experience when, encouraged by his manipulative mother, Rebekah, he sought to advance God’s declared purpose by trickery, Genesis chapter 27. He also suffered many years of humiliation from Laban following his own precipitate actions.
Those two examples should have been sufficient to demonstrate the disaster of using human endeavour to progress Divine purpose. Nevertheless, with provocation from Rachel, Jacob fathered Dan with Bilhah. Dan became leader of the tribe which developed into the nation’s ‘enemy within’, with tragic consequences in history and the prophetic future. It is a well-known adage that ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. We should never allow ourselves to think that the happenings in patriarchal households have no relevance for us. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" Rom.15.4. Millennia may have passed but human nature does not change, therefore the lessons drawn from those domestic details are pertinent today.
Bilhah’s situation was far from easy. She was subservient to Rachel, a woman of beauty, on whom time, disappointment and interpersonal rivalry had a detrimental effect. This resulted in Bilhah being used as a physical commodity to achieve via manipulation what God in His wisdom had, to date, withheld. So Bilhah’s status transitions from ‘handmaid’ to ‘wife’ at Rachel’s calculated suggestion and Jacob’s hasty response. Whatever difficulties Bilhah had already experienced in the interplay between competing personalities, nothing would radically improve following the birth of her son. She could not even name him and he would, in accord with contemporary social conventions, be considered as belonging to her mistress.
Rachel though, evidences only carnal reasoning: "And Rachel said, ‘God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son’: therefore called she his name Dan [‘judging’]" Gen.30.6. There is an obvious word play here. Rachel is not stating that she has undergone a judicial process, but is using the word in the sense of deliverance. Concluding that God had undertaken her cause and judged in her favour to deliver her from reproach, she so named the boy. Rachel by scheming got what she desired, but it entailed a national legacy of sorrow. If the desire of the heart is not achieved in accord with the will of God, and in His time, heartbreak will ensue. This can be as true in the life of an individual as it was in relation to the nation: "They soon forgat His works; they waited not for His counsel: but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul" Ps.106.13-15.
Dan grew up in this less than ideal situation and we may feel a certain sympathy for him, as he was conceived as a result of jealousy in an irregular relationship. Indeed, we feel similarly for many children in society today who suffer consequences from casual relationships. While Rachel lived there may have been more protection for Dan and Bilhah. Certainly, after Rachel’s death, Dan’s half-brother Reuben violated Bilhah, who was there described not as ‘Rachel’s handmaid’ or ‘Jacob’s wife’ but as "his father’s concubine" Gen.35.22. It would be difficult for Dan to grow up being made to feel ‘second rate’ by older half-brothers – immoral Reuben and Judah, and cruel Simeon and Levi – and with his mother unprotected from incest. Yet Dan is listed as an equal in the sons of Jacob, Gen.35.25.
Dan engaged in the pastoral husbandry of the family and in other, unspecified, activities of his brothers when away from home and not under Jacob’s supervision. We read, "Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report" Gen.37.2. We cannot say that Dan’s behaviour was any worse than that of the others, but it is so easy to become like the company you keep: "Be not deceived: ‘Evil communications corrupt good manners’" 1Cor.15.33. Dan was also implicated in the betrayal of Joseph and the subsequent cover-up.
Dan is mentioned among those who accompanied Jacob to Egypt, Gen.46.23; Ex.1.4. A son, Hushim, was also in the company, but other sons may have been born later, in Egypt, as Dan became one of the larger tribes.
JACOB’S PROPHETIC BLESSING
In his deathbed prophecy, Jacob’s comments about Dan are terse and pointed: "Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord" Gen.49.16-18.
This prophetic utterance expresses the Divine intention for Dan’s tribal history, tempered by an expectation of shortcoming. However, while we acknowledge the reality in respect of Dan we must not become unduly censorious, as we all fall short of Divine expectation in life and service.
It was God’s intention that Dan would live up to his name, which means ‘judging’. Although the son by a handmaid, yet he is counted as a tribal head and is here assured of this by Jacob. Dan was therefore to "judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel". He was expected to be a deliverer of his people. This implies that characteristics of nobility, selflessness, decisiveness, courage and wisdom were to be expected.
However, the next verse prepares us for a display of treachery, deceit and underhand dealings. Dan will be . Not only a serpent, but a poisonous one, an adder; a horned desert viper. These snakes are ambush predators, lying partially submerged in sand adjacent to rocks or under sparse vegetation, from which they spring upon their prey and inject their venom.
As "an adder … that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward" we have an early indication of the disposition and actions of the tribe of Dan. The wording is suggestive of smoothness in movement, disguised intention, and duplicitous activity to achieve murderous ends by indirect means.
Dan’s activities will cause a fall, which reminds us of another serpent which "was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made" Gen.3.1, and of a subsequent fall with cosmic consequences. The conjunction of the words "serpent" and "fall" in Gen.49.17 is suggestive of the power of Satan in operation.
The final statement in the Dan section of Jacob’s prophetic declaration is "I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord". It would seem that Jacob, having insight into the course of Dan’s subsequent history, inserts this statement as a prayer. He appears to grasp afresh that deliverance must come from God, not the endeavours of man. It was after the serpent and the fall in Eden that a Messianic promise was given, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" Gen.3.15. Has Jacob on his deathbed received some insight that there is a nexus between his prophecy in relation to Judah and that in relation to Dan; between Judah’s Messianic destiny and parallel Danite idolatry? In view of all that lies in the future, Jacob, with some understanding of the Messianic hope, is longing for home, "I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord."
Remarkably this is the first mention of the word "salvation" in the Scriptures!
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 AT THE CROSS (1)
Luke fixes the location of the crucifixion of Christ at "the place, which is called Calvary" Lk.23.33. The underlying Greek word for Calvary, kranion, refers to a skull and is a reminder of the awful position in which the Saviour was placed in dealing with the issue of our sins. Luke proceeds to tell us that He is hung upon a cross between two malefactors (or wrong-doers), therefore depicting Him as if He was the chief wrong-doer. What a travesty of justice against the innocent Man of Sorrows!
"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" was the first of seven sayings of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. This sentence, along with the Lord’s word to the thief and His prayer to the Father commending His spirit, Lk.23.43,46, are recorded only in Luke.
Here is another instance where the content of a prayer of the Lord has been carefully written in the Scriptures for our observation and meditation. This prayer was the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy written seven hundred years earlier when he prophesied, "He … made intercession for the transgressors" Isa.53.12. This prayer comprises only ten words in English, and is a reminder to us that our prayers need not be long. We may learn the following from His prayer:
TO WHOM HE PRAYED– "Father"
It is fitting that in view of the nearness of the Saviour’s relationship to His Father, His first words on the cross should be directed Heavenward. The Lord consistently taught that prayer should correctly be directed to the Father, rather than to Him or the Holy Spirit. We observe Him practising what He had instructed others to do.
FOR WHAT HE PRAYED– "forgive"
The Lord’s prayer for forgiveness speaks volumes about the seriousness of the sin of those who put Him on the cross. Yet, this is also a clear demonstration of the love of the Saviour in His willingness to forgive the cruel deeds which led to His crucifixion and to call on His Father to do the same. No word of condemnation or complaint issued from His lips. His heart was found to be filled with purest love in the face of man’s vilest and violent hatred against Him.
FOR WHOM HE PRAYED– "them"
The Saviour prayed for the Roman soldiers who nailed Him on the tree. Perhaps, more broadly, He may also have remembered the Roman authorities, specifically Pontius Pilate, whose verdict sealed His path to Calvary. His thoughts may have also turned to the Jews who clamoured "Crucify Him, crucify Him" Lk.23.21, when Pilate showed his reluctance to pronounce the sentence of death upon One Who was innocent.
In life, His instruction at the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ was to "pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" Matt.5.44. In death, He practised what He taught.
WHY HE PRAYED– "for they know not what they do"
They were ignorant of their actions and implications. In addressing the people of Jerusalem at the Temple, Peter said that "through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers" Acts 3.17.
Paul later wrote concerning the "wisdom of God", and explained that "… none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" 1Cor.2.7,8. Christ crucified demonstrated God’s wisdom. "The princes of this world" (which may refer to the demons and their human agents on earth) did not understand this "hidden wisdom" of God, or realise that their crucifixion of the Son of God would result in their own destruction, and our blessing and glorification.
It is one thing to pray in the quiet solitude of a peaceful day or night but altogether different when communicating with the Father amidst the clamour and cruelty of a cross death. Yet the Saviour showed it could be done. A lifetime of communion with the Father was unbroken, even in death.
Many martyrs following in the footsteps of Christ have since prayed for their enemies in the throes of a violent death, Stephen being the first, Acts 7.60. This of its own would have been a powerful testimony to unbelievers, Acts 7.58.
Let us therefore "pray without ceasing" 1Thess.5.17, whatever circumstances we may find ourselves in.
The story of Cornelius answers two critical questions. First, how did God practically dissolve the divide between Jewish and Gentile believers? Second, how did He respond to a genuinely seeking Gentile sinner?
1. Unless otherwise stated, all references are from The Acts of the Apostles.
Despite being a professional soldier, Cornelius was "a devout man", God-fearing and "just" 10.1,2,22. Giving "much alms to the people" and praying "to God alway", he was highly respected by local Jews, 10.2,22, and noticed by God. Like Old Testament ascending offerings, Lev.1.3, or grain offerings, of which a "memorial" was burnt on the altar, Lev.2.2, Cornelius’ prayers and alms came "up for a memorial before God" 10.4. But those Old Testament sacrifices could never save; neither could Cornelius’ devotions. Probably sensing this, he seems to have prayed for more light. And God answered him in the same way He answered Daniel’s prayers: with an angelic visitation, 10.31; compare Dan.8.15; 9.3,20-22.
At the ninth hour (15:00; 3p.m.), while Cornelius fasted and prayed, a holy angel, in the form of a man dressed "in bright clothing", entered his house, stood before him and addressed him by name, 10.3,22,30; 11.13. The vision was clear ("evidently" translates phonerōs, meaning ‘plainly’), gripping ("looked" translates atenizō, ‘to gaze intently’), and terrifying: "he was afraid" 10.3,4. When Cornelius asked, "What is it, Lord?" 10.4, the angel warned him, "Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side … who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" 10.5,6,22,32; 11.13,14. Peter’s staying with a tanner may indicate "that the strictness of the Jewish law was losing its hold on Peter; since the tanner’s occupation was regarded as unclean by strict Jews, and the tanners were commanded to dwell alone."2 As soon as the angel departed, Cornelius "called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; and when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa" 10.7,8.
2. Vincent, M., "Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament". Hendrickson Publishers, Vol.1, p.497.
PETER’S HEAVENLY VISION – 10.9-23,28; 11.4-12
God works in harmony with our prayers. When Cornelius’ messengers "drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour [12:00; 12 noon]" 10.9; compare Ps.55.17; Dan.6.10. Weakened with hunger, undistracted by others, and falling "into a trance", Peter saw a "vision" of "heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners … wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things [herpeton, reptiles], and fowls of the air" 10.10-12,17,19; 11.5,6; compare Gen.1.25; 6.20; Rom.1.23. The Greek word translated "corners" "was a technical expression … for the ends of a bandage."3 This wide range of creatures represented every major group of land-based animals and birds. They were probably a mixture of ceremonially clean and unclean animals, Leviticus chapter 11. Having been "let down from heaven", this great sheet was then "received up again … drawn up again into heaven" 10.16; 11.5,10.
3. Ibid, p.499
A voice from heaven commanded Peter to "kill, and eat" 10.13; 11.7. Despite his hunger (which heightened the effectiveness of the vision), Peter refused, saying, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean" 10.14; 11.8. It was a similar reaction to Ezekiel’s when God told him to eat cakes baked with human excrement, Ezek.4.9-14. Having observed Jewish dietary restrictions from birth, the thought of eating ceremonially unclean flesh horrified Peter. While God permitted Ezekiel to replace human faeces with "cow’s dung" Ezek.4.15, Peter was given no such concession. A greater issue was at stake: Church unity. God, Who made every creature, Gen.1.24, gave every creature to Noah for food, Gen.9.3. Although He temporarily limited which animals Israel could eat, He now removed such dietary restrictions. "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" 10.15. The message was so important, Peter was given the vision three times, 10.16; 11.10.
Having "fastened [his] eyes [atenizō, ‘to gaze intently’]" upon and "considered" what he saw, 11.6, Peter remained "greatly perplexed" 10.17, N.A.S.B. "And while Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs, and accompany them without misgivings; for I have sent them Myself’" 10.19,20; 11.11,12, N.A.S.B. Their perfectly timed arrival (and their message), the vision, the heavenly voice and the Spirit’s prompting, all clinched the lesson in Peter’s mind. If he should no longer deem any animal common or unclean, how could he view Gentiles, who ate these animals, as common or unclean? That night Peter lodged the three Gentile messengers; the next day, "without even raising any objection", he travelled with them from Joppa to Caesarea, accompanied by six Jewish brethren, 10.23,29; 11.12, N.A.S.B. Ironically, it was to Joppa that Jonah fled to avoid preaching to Gentile Nineveh, Jonah 1.3.
Arriving at Caesarea, Peter did something which, as an orthodox Jew, he would never have done before. He entered a Gentile house, 10.24,28; 11.12. There he found Cornelius, his kinsmen and near friends eagerly waiting, 10.24,27. In his enthusiasm Cornelius "fell down at [Peter’s] feet, and worshipped him" 10.25. Of course, Peter immediately corrected this misplaced veneration, taking "him up, [and] saying, ‘Stand up; I myself also am a man’" 10.26; compare 14.11-18; Rev.19.10; 22.8,9. With candour, Peter explained that although it was "an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation … God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean … I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?" 10.28,29. Cornelius, in turn, recounted his own angelic visitation three days previously and clarified that everyone was "present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" 10.30-33; 11.13,14.
Having established that, as far as salvation is concerned, Jews and Gentiles are on an equal level, 10.34,35, Peter preached a God-centric and Christ-exalting message, in which he explained four phases in the development of Divine testimony concerning Christ, 10.36-43. Phase 1: the Old Testament anticipated Christ, bearing "witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins" 10.43. Phase 2: John the Baptist announced Christ, 10.37. Phase 3: fulfilling prophecy, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power" 10.38; compare Isa.61.1; Lk.4.18. This anointing, which took place at His baptism, began a public ministry, witnessed by the apostles, of "preaching peace … doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him" 10.36,38,39. In contrast to secular rulers, who described themselves as "benefactors" Lk.22.25, or even Cornelius, who did many good works, Peter presented for "admiration and faith the supreme doer of good."4 Focusing mostly in Galilee, the Lord’s ministry had a generally southward direction of travel, ending in Jerusalem. It was here the Jews crucified Him, so completing His public service, 10.39; compare 1.21,22. Even though Christ preached primarily "unto the children of Israel" His fame had spread widely, 10.36,37. Phase 4: God appointed Jesus of Nazareth to be the "Judge of the living and the dead" 10.42, N.A.S.B. He confirmed this appointment by raising Him from the dead and showing Him openly to pre-selected witnesses, who ate and drank with Him, 10.40,41; 17.31. The Lord then commanded His disciples "to preach unto the people" 10.42. This final phase was mostly away from Jerusalem, "unto the uttermost part of the earth" 1.8.
As soon as Cornelius and his friends heard the gospel, they believed it, God "purifying their hearts by faith" and the Holy Spirit falling on them, being poured out upon them, and being received by them, 10.44-47; 11.15,17; 15.7-9. When they spoke (supernaturally) in foreign languages and magnified God, Peter and the six Jewish Christians who accompanied him were "astonished". God had given to these Gentiles the same "gift of the Holy Ghost" 10.45, as He had to Jewish disciples on the Day of Pentecost ("at the beginning" 11.15). Remembering the Saviour’s pre-ascension prediction of Spirit baptism and feeling unable to "withstand God", Peter "commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days" 1.5; 10.48; 11.16,17.
PETER’S SUCCESSFUL DEFENCE – 11.1-18
This section is bookended by what the Jerusalem-based apostles and brethren heard. First, they "heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God" v.1. When Peter came to Jerusalem they challenged him, "saying, ‘Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them’" vv.2,3. But having "heard" his compelling, comprehensive and orderly exposition of the entire series of events, "they held their peace, and glorified God" v.18.
Thus far we have considered the expression "in the beginning" in Gen.1.1 and Jn.1.1. We come now to closely related words in 1Jn.1.1: "That which was from the beginning".
Notice the words here "from the beginning". "That which was from the beginning" is another expression that has been subject to different views and interpretations. Are these words that indicate a point of time? If so, what period then is indicated? Or do these words take us to a timeless beginning? John says, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)".
Some suggest the expression refers to the manifestation of the Son of God amongst men (see Jn.1.14); His incarnation. It is argued that in the Epistle Christ is presented as "from the beginning", the manifestation on earth of that eternal Life that was with the Father; this being different from Him as "the Word … with God", as in the Gospel (John chapter 1). Relationship and fellowship in the Divine nature is the subject here.
Some suggest the expression is more restrictive and takes us to the beginning of the public testimony of the Lord Jesus at thirty years of age, the manifestation of Him Who was the eternal Life. Those who hold this view suggest that the context leads to this conclusion. It is argued that here is the beginning of gospel preaching, when they first heard of and from the Lord Jesus (see also Jn.15.27; 16.4; 1Jn.3.11; 2Jn.5,6).
There is an alternative view. The closing words of this verse suggest, as a minimum, that the apostle refers to our blessed Lord in incarnation, for it was down here, after that the Word became flesh, that the only begotten Son manifested that eternal life which He had ever enjoyed in a past eternity with the Father. This revelation was not only in His public ministry. The manifestation of eternal life could hardly be restricted to only three years of His life. Surely the whole of His life was a manifestation of life with the Father. Indeed, the manifestation may also include Christ in His resurrection. The words "was manifested unto us" indicate that John writes to believers in the circle of fellowship of the apostles. What had been manifested to the apostles had been conveyed to his readers, and their eyes had been opened to discern in Jesus of Nazareth the Divine Son when resurrected.
In contrast to the above it is suggested that the expression is not time related. It also (as in the Gospel) goes back beyond the earthly life of the Lord Jesus. The One Who is eternal has been manifested. It is in fact a critical doctrinal statement at the beginning of the Epistle and wholly consistent with the doctrine of the Epistle. The broader context of the whole Epistle, not just the immediate verses at the commencement of the chapter, must be taken into account. The verse is teaching us of His eternity and the reality of His humanity. This is the error that John was facing when he wrote this letter. In an epistle which defends both the Deity and true humanity of the Lord Jesus there is an emphatic doctrinal statement at the start. Here then the apostle is saying that the Lord Jesus existed "from the beginning", from all eternity and came down into manhood. The "beginning" here takes us back to the Son’s eternal pre-incarnate being.
This is different from what is referred to in 1Jn.2.13. There it is knowing "Him that is from the beginning". It is the beginning of His taking flesh, the incarnate Word, in this world. "From the beginning" there is reckoned from His manifesting Himself as Emmanuel, God with us.
Taking our thoughts forward, "the beginning" is a title of the Lord Jesus, Col.1.18; Rev.3.14:
In Col.1.18 we read, "And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead". The apostle speaks here of Christ as the Head of the body, the Church. It is clear that he presents Him in His risen and glorified condition. To remove all possible doubt, after he has termed Him "the beginning", he adds, "the firstborn from the dead". The beginning here tells of Christ in resurrection. In resurrection He is the revelation of God’s counsels for man. As "the beginning" He is the source, energy and originator of the new creation. All He was to the first creation He is to the new creation.
The resurrection of Christ is a moment of supreme importance. It marks God’s new beginning after all the sad history of man’s failure and sin. It is a moment on which the eye of God has rested from all eternity; for while Adam, as the responsible man, came first upon the scene of this world, Christ was ever the Man of His counsels, the One in Whom and through Whom the whole universe will be filled with redemption glory.
In Colossians chapter 1, He is the Beginning, as Firstborn from among the dead, ascended on high, the glorified Head of a new creation; Who is the Head of the body, the Church, the members of which are firstfruits of this new creation. It is the beginning of a new epoch, Christ in resurrection.
In Rev.3.14 Christ terms Himself "the beginning of the creation of God". This is slightly different from Colossians, in that our attention is directed to the new creation of which Christ is the beginning, rather than to Himself in His new condition. He is the source and origin of the new creation. The words could be translated "the beginner of creation". All in the new creation is founded upon Him.
The references in Colossians chapter 1 and Revelation chapter 3 are connected in that both refer to Him in resurrection; but we learn from Revelation (as from other Scriptures) that there is a new creation suited to the Divine and heavenly Man, and that He Himself, in His condition as risen and glorified, is the expression of it. He presents Himself thus to Laodicea because the local church (and indeed the whole Church) ought to be the exhibition morally of the new creation in the power of the Holy Ghost. Sadly, we have come far short of this goal. But God’s thoughts are completely realised in Christ, and the presentation of Himself in this character serves to bring out by contrast our failure in responsibility (whether as individuals, or as local assemblies, or in the broader sphere of Christian testimony) as witness-bearers for Christ. In Revelation chapter 3 He announces Himself to the angel of the church at Laodicea (where to His view the riches, pretensions, and independence of the first man were apparent) as "the beginning of the creation of God". He is the originator of the new creation. It is under His headship. In both Colossians chapter 1 and Revelation chapter 3 Christ in resurrection is God’s new beginning.
It is evident that there is some divergence of views on the interpretation of the expression "in the beginning". Alternative expositions are allowable as long as there is no compromise to the fundamental truths of Scripture in relation to Divine Persons. The intention and desire is that the exposition suggested should prompt us to consider the matters through additional study. Whatever our exposition of the verses looked at in these articles, surely they would cause us to adore the eternal Son of the eternal God.
"Ebenezer … ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’" 1Samuel 7.12
Every backward glance reminds us of the goodness and help we have received from our faithful God. His help has never failed; His care has never ceased; His love has never changed. Our present circumstances bear testimony to His gracious provision, and that despite our frequent failures and embarrassing shortcomings. We raise our Ebenezer and pay tribute to the unceasing kindness of our Father and acknowledge that "hither by Thy help we’re brought".
The future with all the imponderables and all that is unknown and uncertain we leave to Him Who has proven to be worthy of our implicit trust. He Who has not failed in the past, upon Whom we lean each passing day, is immutable and so we leave all our tomorrows in His care, knowing that He Who has helped us hitherto, will be our Helper to the journey’s end.
I’m a wonder unto many,
God the mighty change has wrought;
Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Hither by Thy help I’m brought.
"… the Lord thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing"
How precious His presence; how plenteous His provision! How could we lack anything when we consider our bountiful, benevolent, beneficent God? He showers blessings unnumbered and unmerited upon us every day; in never-failing cascades of kindness He meets our recurring needs and His mercies are new every morning. He knows our needs; the Saviour Himself said, "… your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things" Matt.6.32.
Such is His faithfulness that we can confidently affirm, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life …" Ps.23.6. Experience has taught us that He is infallible and that He to Whom we have turned for help in the past will never change in the uncertain days that lie ahead. His giving will not cease and His mercies will not fail.
It is interesting to note that in the Authorised Version of the New Testament the word "moment" is found only three times and, to add more interest, each of these words is different in Greek. The three occurrences are:
Lk.4.5: "And the devil, taking Him up into a high mountain, shewed unto Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment [stigme] of time";
1Cor.15.52: "In a moment [atomos], in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed";
2Cor.4.17: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment [parautika], worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory".
The distinctiveness of each word is:
Lk.4.5: "moment [stigme] of time ..." means ‘an instant, a point of time’;
1Cor.15.52: "In a moment [atomos], in the twinkling of an eye ..." means ‘an indivisible moment of time’. From it we get our word ‘atom’;
2Cor.4.17: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment [parautika] ... " means ‘momentary’, in contrast with the "eternal weight of glory".
Thus we have:
Lk.4.5: Moment of Temptation
2Cor.4.17: Moment of Trial
1Cor.15.52: Moment of Transformation
MOMENT OF TEMPTATION – Lk.4.5
Mentions of the Temptation
Of the four Gospels only three record the Lord’s temptation. The one Gospel that omits the temptation is John and it is not an oversight, but is done by design. John writes of the Deity of the Lord Jesus and James states, "God cannot be tempted with evil", or "God is untemptable" Jms.1.13. We read in Darby’s translation of Col.1.19, "for in Him all the fulness [of the Godhead] was pleased to dwell". He was the Man Who was God’s "fellow" Zech.13.7. It is unthinkable that this holy Man Who was God could be tempted. It is not that He was able not to sin, but that He was not able to sin. John concurs with this: "in Him is no sin" 1Jn.3.5. Note that John, by the Spirit’s power, does not write ‘in Him was no sin’. That would allow the possibility of sin in the future, but the statement is absolute, and regardless of where and when we find Him we can say, "in Him is no sin".
Some deny that He was God but the Scriptures are so very clear in this vital truth. Isa.9.6: "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Matt.1.23: "‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,’ which being interpreted is, God with us." Jn.1.1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Jn.20.28: "And Thomas answered and said unto Him, ‘My Lord and my God.’" Rom.9.5: "Whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever." 1Tim.3.16: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh ..." Titus 2.13: "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." 1Jn.5.20: "we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God ..." Since it is impossible, in the face of so much evidence, to deny the Deity of Christ, it is also impossible to aver that He could have sinned.
The writers of the other three Gospels hold to the Deity and impeccability of the Lord Jesus every bit as strongly as John does, but the Holy Spirit uses them to present these truths from a different standpoint, which involves the two meanings of the word "tempt". The meaning that tends to come to our minds when we hear the word is that of seeking to make a person commit sin. As we have already seen, it was not possible for the Lord Jesus to commit sin, but Satan was attempting to cause him to do so, and the Holy Spirit, through these three writers, describes the total failure of his attack. However, the word "tempt" does not always have an evil connotation, but may mean ‘to test, to prove’. Two clear examples are Gen.22.1, "God did tempt Abraham", and Ps.95.9, "When your fathers tempted Me, proved Me". Here we have the purpose of the temptation from the Divine standpoint: it was not to see if He could sin, but to show that He could not sin. Some years ago a new concrete bridge was built across a river near my home. When it was completed, the bridge was loaded far beyond its normal, working capacity, with all sorts of vehicles. Crowds were gathered to witness this sight. Did they come to see if the bridge would collapse? Absolutely not! That was impossible, and the crowds came to witness this impossibility.
Thus, in the four Gospels, the Deity and impeccability of the Lord Jesus are demonstrated in a twofold way: by the omission of the temptation from John, and by its inclusion in the other three Gospels.
In his Gospel, Mark writes of the perfect Servant and covers the details of the temptation in two verses. Mk.1.12,13 reads, "And immediately the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto Him."
Just the fact of the temptation is stated and its significance is that it answers a question that should be asked of all servants: ‘Was he or she faithful?’ Thus at the beginning of his Gospel Mark highlights that the crucial characteristic for service is faithfulness. This could not have been said of Adam, who was given a stewardship and failed. Note the words used by Mark with respect to our Lord: "driveth Him … in the wilderness forty days … with the wild beasts". How much less conducive were the conditions He was in to those of Adam, who had been placed in a beautiful garden, where there were no "wild" animals! Yet the "first man" failed, and the "second man" was victorious over the tempter.
Matthew, in his Gospel, presents the Lord Jesus as the King of Israel and introduces the temptation as a parallel to the experiences of the nation:
The nation came out of Egypt. This is paralleled in Matt.2.15: "Out of Egypt have I called My Son";
They went through the waters (the Red Sea). This is paralleled in Matt.3.16: His baptism;
They came into the wilderness and failed. This is paralleled, and contrasted, in Matt.4.1-11, where He was victorious. He could not fail;
The first temptation involved bread, Exodus chapter 16, where God provided "manna". So, in Matt.4.3, the first temptation was about providing bread;
The second temptation was when there was no water, Exodus chapter 17, and the people accused Moses of bringing them out of Egypt "to kill us … with thirst". In Matt.4.6, Satan said to the Lord, "cast Thyself down";
The third temptation involved the making of the golden calf and the false worship of it, Exodus chapter 32. In Matt.4.9, Satan said to the Lord, "Worship me".
The order of the temptations in Matthew is chronological or historical. He seeks to prove the worthiness of this Man to be the King: His background (chapter 1); His birth (chapter 2); His baptism (chapter 3); His battle (chapter 4); His beliefs (chapters 5-7); His blessing (chapters 8,9); His bondmen (chapter 10); He Is blasphemed (chapters 11,12). At this point the nation rejects the King and in chapter 13 the King rejects the nation.
A prime thought associated with a king is commands, thus the first temptation, "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread" Matt.4.3. Then there is a great and regal seat, which we also associate with a king: "Then the devil taketh Him up into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple" Matt.4.5. With a king we also associate kingdoms and glory, so, "Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them" Matt.4.8.
It is notable that the locations become higher, implying that the temptations of the King became grander and loftier.
Luke’s order is moral and so he stated he would set things in order, Lk.1.1-4. Note the order of the temptations: the first was to make bread from stones; then there was the high mountain and kingdoms; followed by Him being taken to the pinnacle of the Temple and told to cast Himself down, Lk.4.1-13. The second and third are in the reverse order from Matthew’s Gospel. This order parallels the garden of Eden, Gen.3.6 and 1Jn.2.16:
“good for food”
“the lust of the flesh”
“stone ... made bread”
“pleasant to the eyes”
“the lust of the eyes”
“shewed ... the kingdoms”
“desired to make one wise”
“the pride of life”
“cast Thyself down”
The first temptation in Luke is "command this stone"; in Matthew it is "these stones". More is required for a king than for a man. The second in Luke and third in Matthew is the mountain and kingdoms. Matthew says it was "an exceeding high mountain", but Luke says that it was "a high mountain". Again, in keeping with the King presented by Matthew, loftiness and glory are very suitable. Thus Matthew speaks of "the glory of [the kingdoms]", whereas Luke omits such an observation. Luke records that the devil showed Him the various kingdoms of the world "in a moment of time"; a thought omitted by Matthew. This is not surprising since time relates more to a man than a king. The third temptation in Luke, referring to the pinnacle of the Temple, is second in Matthew. In Luke He is taken to "Jerusalem", but in Matthew it is to the "the holy city". Both are Jewish, but "the holy city" very strongly so.
On 24 December 2020, a week before the deadline, agreement was reached between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which avoided a ‘no-deal Brexit’, the UK Prime Minster declared, ‘We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny.’ On reading this, two questions came to my mind: ‘To what extent is that true?’ and ‘What will the destiny be?’ Then I turned to applying these issues to ourselves as individuals. Can we each decide our ‘laws’? Is our ‘destiny’ in our own hands? What is that ‘destiny’?
It does seem that ‘Brexit’ will give the UK greater control over its law-making, and some gladly say that external bodies cannot now ‘tell it what to do’. In personal life, many also like to make their own decisions, and do not want instruction from others on how to conduct their lives. However, no nation can totally do as it pleases as far as its laws are concerned, for there are serious consequences if, for example, it breaks international law. Similarly, for people whose attitude is ‘I make my own rules’ the problem is that ultimately we are responsible not to ourselves, but to our Creator, God, Who is totally righteous. In the Bible, He gave "the Law" (of which the best-known part is the "Ten Commandments"), which shows the righteous standard He requires. We have all failed to reach it: "what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" Romans 3.19. This has serious, eternal, consequences: "the wages of sin is death" Romans 6.23.
What of the ‘destiny’? Decisions by authorities do have a huge bearing on the direction a country takes; however, much lies beyond their power, as (for example) the spread of Covid-19 across the world has shown. Likewise, for individuals, while we can take decisions that greatly affect our future (such as where to live or whom to marry), many things are outside our control. In particular, we cannot escape our own mortality, and the fact that we must meet God: "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" Hebrews 9.27.
However, while it is inevitable that we will leave this life and then face God, we do have a choice as to whether or not we are ready to do so. God Himself has provided a way for us to escape the consequences of our rebellion against Him. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. Unlike us, He lived a life of perfect righteousness. His ‘destiny’ was to go to the cross for us, bear the judgment of God against sin, die, rise again, and return to Heaven. "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" 1Peter 3.18.
None of us knows what Britain’s ‘destiny’ will be after ‘Brexit’. There is a wide range of possible outcomes. In contrast, as far as our destiny after death is concerned, the picture is clear-cut: there are only two destinations, Heaven and Hell. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" John 3.36. In an uncertain world, how vital it is for you to be certain that your destiny is Heaven. You can be sure, and you will be, if you put your trust in the Saviour Who shed His blood for you at Calvary. "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" Acts 3.19.
"I am the root and the offspring of David" Revelation 22.16
Here, in the very last chapter of the Bible, our Lord Jesus Christ states that He is both the One from Whom David sprang, and the One Who sprang from David. When He was here on earth, He asked His opponents, "If David then call Him [the Christ] Lord, how is He his son?" Matt.22.45. On the grounds of human logic, it would seem impossible.
The answer to this apparent paradox is that it does not concern mere human relationships, but rather it tells of Him Who is the eternal Son of God, by Whom and for Whom all was created, yet Who voluntarily became a man, of David’s family. Thus He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord. The angel who announced His birth to Mary spoke of Him being given "the throne of His father David", yet, moments later, told her that He "shall be called the Son of God" Lk.1.32,35. He is "His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" Rom.1.3,4.
Hail Him, ye heirs of David’s line, Whom David Lord did call,
The God-incarnate Man Divine, and crown Him Lord of all.