ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
UNTO THE UTTERMOST PART OF THE EARTH
by H. Rees
THE BOOK OF RUTH
by E.G. Parmenter
THE GOD OF JACOB
by P. Steele
COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS IN A CHANGING WORLD
by R. Reynolds
“Consider Him that endured” Heb.12.3
Some months ago, members of a family searching through their recently-deceased grandmother’s belongings found a note that her husband had written to her in China in 1942, in which he quoted the following poem:
- In days like these, with pressure all around,
- Where sorrows, griefs, on every hand abound,
- To weary hearts, ’tis sweet to hear the sound
- Of Jesus’ voice – “Endure”.
- Oh! think of Him Who trod this very earth,
- Who came so low, was found of humble birth,
- Think of His grace, think of His matchless worth,
- ’Tis He Who says, “Endure”.
- ’Tis sweet to think of how He left the throne,
- And stooped so low to tread a path alone,
- In Him, the Father did His pleasure own,
- He says to us, “Endure”.
Interested to find out the background to this poem, the family did an online search. Only one result came up: it was on the “Assembly Testimony” website, having appeared in the May-June 1963 magazine! Hence I received an e-mail, asking me if I could shed any further light, which, sadly, I was unable to do. If anyone reading this has any information on the authorship or circumstances of the poem, please let me know, and I will pass it on.
There has never been an easy year to be a Christian in China, and 1942 was no exception, when the region was in the throes of the Second Sino-Japanese War; a major conflict of the Second World War, during which many of the people in the area perished. Most reading this magazine today are not in such straitened circumstances, yet the year that has passed has brought its own difficulties: internationally, nationally, locally and personally, and there must be very few believers who have not been impacted by these. With all the myriad pressures, how we are to respond? As in the exhortation in the poem: “Endure”.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the word “endure” and different forms of it (such as “enduring”) occur frequently. These translate various Greek words, one of which we will consider: hupomeno, which we find four times: once in chapter 10 (v.32) and three times in chapter 12 (vv.2,3,7).
In chapter 10, the writer describes his readers as having “endured a great fight of afflictions” v.32. They had faced opposition from a hostile world, and they were exemplary in their response, not only when attacked personally, v.33, but in supporting the writer when he was afflicted, v.34. In chapter 12, while the opposition of the world is still much in evidence, the context is the need to “endure chastening” v.7, which is evidence of the fact that we are God’s children, and of His love for us, vv.5-7.
Whatever the precise nature of the trials that we face, the writer states great truths to keep in mind, which will help us to “endure”. Those who “took joyfully the spoiling of their goods” were mindful that they had “in heaven a better and an enduring [meno, the root verb from which hupomeno is derived] substance” 10.34. When, across the world, many are facing financial hardship, let us not forget that we have treasure in heaven which cannot be lost! There was more to fortify the readers, in light of the Lord’s return: “great recompense of reward … receive the promise … yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” 10.35-37. Hence the writer says, “Ye have need of patience [‘endurance’, hupomone, the noun form of hupomeno]”. They had endured, but they needed to continue doing so, strengthened in the knowledge that their true riches were in heaven, and that they would be rewarded by the soon-coming Lord. These things are no less pertinent to us today.
As far as being chastened as sons is concerned, it will help us to endure when we recall that it is “for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness” 12.10. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” 12.11. In the difficulties that we experience, God is working, to make us more like Himself, and if we ever bear that in mind, it will produce the response that He desires, and which is for our profit.
It is very easy to write these things, and quite another matter to ‘live them out’. However, the writer would draw our attention not to the example of endurance shown by his readers in chapter 10, or even of those faithful saints of earlier days in chapter 11, but to the supreme, perfect example in chapter 12: “let us run with patience [‘endurance’, hupomone] the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus …”, Who endured more than any of us ever has or could: He “endured the cross” and “endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself”. As we are exhorted to endure in light of the glory and rejoicing that lie ahead, we are reminded that this is what He did: “who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame”. And, as we are told that reward for faithful endurance is certain,we see it was so for Him, Who “is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” 12.1-3.
None of us knows what 2022 holds for us, but whatever we face, let us not faint, but rather “consider Him that endured” so much for us. “He says to us, ‘Endure’”.
We again face into another New Year with its possibilities, and its problems! The previous two years have been characterised by the pandemic, with associated periods of isolation and restrictions. That represented significant challenges for individuals but also for the maintenance of corporate testimony and gospel witness. We sympathise with all who have suffered the loss of loved ones during that period. We also feel deeply for believers in countries with inadequate health care or where Christians continue to face persecution.
We also note the ever faster decline in general standards of probity and decency across the world, with agitation and activism on every front. The Bible has been removed from public consciousness as a result of militant atheism’s relentless drive for secularism. There is no-one in public life who might dare to say, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” Isa.5.20. There is a palpable absence of hope on the part of society generally, but the message of the gospel is spurned by most. Indeed, we seem to be having a preview of “men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth” Lk.21.26.
In contrast, we are “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” Titus 2.13,14.
The continued and united exercise of the committee is to ensure that sound teaching is provided through the bi-monthly publication of the magazine and the associated books. One positive result of the pandemic restrictions has been the increased demand for written ministry; and our secretary has received numerous letters and e-mails expressing appreciation for its continued publication and timely distribution. We therefore express our thanks to those who, at personal sacrifice of time (something also shared by wife and family) contribute thoughtful exposition. It is also gratifying to note contributions from new writers who desire to maintain the distinctive assembly position and teaching characteristic of this magazine.
We also express our appreciation to our editor for his care in ensuring a variety of ministry suitable to our readership. His attention to detail is commendable, as is the work of others in proof-reading, updating our website, maintaining accurate mailing lists, and ensuring the correct administrative processes in relation to international postage.
That said, the ongoing work of ‘Assembly Testimony Magazine’ would not be possible without the gracious help of God and the prayerful and practical support of His people. We can say, in the words of Joseph Hart’s hymn, “How good is the God we adore!”
by J. Riddle (England)
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.41: PSALM 25 (Part 2)
In the previous paper, we saw that this Psalm may be divided into four parts: David’s Prayer, vv.1-7, David’s Assurance, vv.8-15, David’s Affliction, vv.16-19, and David’s Deliverance, vv.20-22. Having considered the first part, we will now look at the remaining three:
David’s Assurance – vv.8-15
As already noted, the expressions “will He” and “shall He” punctuate this section of the Psalm. The section commences with, “Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will He teach sinners in the way” v.8. According to Dr. Cohen, “The rabbis deem this one of the great sayings of Scripture. Because God is good, He is just, and because God is just, He is good.”1 This is exemplified in Rom.2.4: “Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” As J. Flanigan observes, “As sinners, men have fallen short of [God’s] righteousness, but His goodness will provide a way of recovery for them, and instruct them in that way.”2
- 1. Cohen, A. “The Psalms”. Soncino Press, London.
- 2. Flanigan, J. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd.
The words “good” and “upright” are the key to what follows. The Lord will teach (He is “good”), but there are necessary conditions in the lives of those concerned (He is “upright”). The resources we need are all available, but we must appropriate them. How?
Meekness is Essential – v.9
“The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach His way.” Meekness is essential to guidance. See Jms.1.21: “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls”. Preachers often define meekness as ‘power under control’. The Lord Jesus was “meek and lowly in heart” Matt.11.29, and fulfilled Zech.9.9: “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass” Matt.21.5. Moses is described as “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” Num.12.3. We should also notice that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves” 2Tim.2.24,25.
Obedience is Essential – v.10
“All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.”
Confession is Essential – v.11
This lies at the centre of the section. “For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.” It seems that David interrupts his flow of thought to confess his uncleanness and unworthiness. Once again (see our comments in the previous paper in connection with vv.4,5 and vv.6,7), submission to the Word of God is coupled with confession of sin to God. He then resumes:
Reverence is Essential – vv.12-14
David refers here to the fear of the Lord, v.12, and to the secret of the Lord, v.14:
The Fear of the Lord
“What man is he that feareth the Lord? Him shall He teach [‘instruct’ J.N.D.] in the way that He [the Lord] shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth” vv.12,13. Note that it is not a matter of ‘my way’, but ‘His way’: “the way that He shall choose”. Notice the threefold promise:
- Instruction: “him shall He teach in the way that He shall choose” v.12;
- Increase: “his soul shall dwell at ease [‘dwell in prosperity’ J.N.D.; ‘lodge in goodness’ A.V. margin]” v.13;
- Inheritance: “his seed shall inherit the earth” v.13. The result for succeeding generations.
William MacDonald gives these three points the following respective headings: ‘Unmistakable Guidance’, ‘Personal Prosperity’ and ‘Family Security’.3 Solomon expressed the same principle in Prov.3.6: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” The fear of the Lord secures fellowship with God: this follows.
3. MacDonald, William. “Believer’s Bible Commentary”. Thomas Nelson Publishers.
The Secret of the Lord
“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will shew them His covenant” v.14. This signifies fellowship with God. It was of the man described as “the friend of God” that the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do …?” Gen.18.17. The Lord Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you” Jn.15.14,15.
“It was to Daniel, a ‘man greatly beloved’, that God revealed the wonderful visions of Gentile governments superseded by the final kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And it was to John, the disciple who leaned on Jesus’ bosom, that the glorious revelation of Patmos was given.”4
- 4. MacDonald, William, ibid.
Expectancy is Essential – v.15
“Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord; for He shall pluck my feet out of the net.” Are we looking with expectancy?
We have already noticed that the copious references to “the Lord” and to “God” in the Psalm indicate a life centred on Him (vv.1-7), whereas these verses (vv.8-15) indicate a life submitted to Him.
David’s Affliction – vv.16-19
This is conveyed by the expressions “desolate and afflicted” v.16, “troubles … distresses” v.17, “affliction … pain” v.18, “enemies … cruel hatred” v.19. “Those who refer this Psalm to the period of Absalom’s rebellion see reflected here the deep grief which this must have been to David. His own son, with his own erstwhile friend and counsellor, Ahithophel, and a large part of the nation, were against him. They would stop at nothing to see him destroyed.”5
- 5. Flanigan, J., ibid.
At the centre of this, for the third time in the Psalm (compare vv.7,11), David recognises the need for confession of sin, and forgiveness of sin: “Forgive all my sins” v.18.
David’s Deliverance – vv.20-22
“O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in Thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on Thee” vv.20,21. There are two sides to this:
God’s Role in Delivering Him – v.20
“O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in Thee.” “Salvation is of the Lord” Jonah 2.9. Compare 1Pet.1.5: “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”.
David’s Role in His Deliverance – v.21
“Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on Thee.” William MacDonald6 suggests that David does not refer here to his own rectitude, but is asking God to show His righteousness by delivering the one who puts his trust in Him. However, it does seem rather that David desires to be right, and knows that the possession of these virtues will preserve him.
- 6. MacDonald, William, ibid.
As already noted, the Psalm ends as it begins. So:
- “Mine enemies” v.2; … “Mine enemies” v.19;
- “I trust in Thee” v.2; … “I put my trust in Thee [‘I trust in Thee’ J.N.D.]” v.20;
- “Let me not be ashamed” v.2; … “Let me not be ashamed” v.20;
- “On Thee do I wait” v.5; … “I wait on Thee” v.21.
But there is an addition at the end: “Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles” v.22. This could be understood as indicating the unselfishness of David: he was not only thinking about himself. Or it indicates that David’s personal deliverance would be beneficial to the nation. The life of the man was bound up with the life of the people. Prophetically, it could indicate that the Psalm would become the language of the Godly Jewish remnant during the coming days of the Tribulation.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Ian McKee, N. Ireland
Our consideration now moves on to Jacob’s sixth son, Naphtali. Again we shall consider the tribal head, the tribal history and the associated lessons.
NAPHTALI – THE MAN
We recall that the birth of Jacob’s fifth son, Dan, was the result of Rachel’s scheming and interpersonal ‘power play’ against Leah, which involved Bilhah. Encouraged by the apparent success of that precedent, the same expedient is employed again: “And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son. And Rachel said, ‘With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed:’ and she called his name Naphtali” Gen.30.7,8.
Thus the meaning of Naphtali’s name, ‘My wrestling’, commemorates Rachel’s mindset at this time. She is evidently not wrestling with God, as Jacob later did to profit in that lonely night at Peniel, Gen.32.24-32, but wrestling with Leah, her sister! Rachel again uses her handmaid as a pawn in her ongoing rivalry with Leah and is congratulating herself that, by her own self-satisfied assessment, she has prevailed. Therefore Naphtali, like Dan, grew up in this less than ideal situation. Not everyone is born into a happy home and we can only imagine what the day to day irritations were in Jacob’s tented community.
However, Naphtali is recognised as an equal among the twelve sons of Jacob, Gen.35.25. He was engaged with them in the management of Jacob’s flocks and was included in whatever activities were contained in Joseph’s “evil report” of his brethren which he brought to his father, Gen.37.2. He was also complicit in the subsequent betrayal of Joseph and the continuing cover-up and deceit, Gen.37.18 et seq. He is also mentioned among those who accompanied Jacob to Egypt during the years of famine, with his sons, Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem, Gen.46.24.
JACOB’S PROPHETIC BLESSING
The death bed prophecy of Jacob about Naphtali is in two parts and is concise: “Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words” Gen.49.21.
Naphtali first of all is prophesied to be like “a hind let loose”, that is, a female gazelle or deer, a doe, released from entrapment and springing forward in free and unrestrained grace of movement. This is a recurrent metaphor in Scripture. David could reflect upon Divine help when pursued by King Saul: “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places” Ps.18.33. Asahel, a nephew of David, was described as being “as light of foot as a wild roe” 2Sam.2.18. Habakkuk ends his prophecy with the words, “The Lord God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places” Hab.3.19. Jacob evidently foresaw that Naphtali’s progeny would manifest a free-spirited liberty.
We should note that Jacob’s imagery of Naphtali as “a hind” could not be more different to that which he employed in respect of Dan as “a serpent”. From his prophecy we must at least expect that the tribes descending from those two full brothers will be distinctly different in temperament and destiny. Dan was covert and duplicitous in motive and action, whereas Naphtali can be expected to be open and transparent. Each of them was a true son of his father, Dan displaying his ‘Jacob’ characteristics, Naphtali those associated with ‘Israel’.
Secondly Naphtali “giveth goodly words”; it will be a tribe announcing a message of gladness. Naphtali is prophesied to be a tribe marked by an articulate people entrusted to disseminate good news. Already our minds leap forward some 1,700 years, from the words of the dying Jacob to a little band of men from Naphtali’s Galilean shore, commissioned and trained by the Lord Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, who first carried the message of salvation through gospel grace to mankind! We too have a responsibility in our day for the proclamation of the “goodly words” of authentic Christianity in the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. God has given His self-revelation in the Scriptures. He never intended that the gospel’s progress should die with our generation!
Jacob’s two-part prophecy of Naphtali is also echoed in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, ‘Thy God reigneth!’” Isa.52.7; compare Nah.1.15. These evangelical words are similarly cited in an overtly gospel context in the New Testament, with the Greek Septuagint translation of Isaiah being employed: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!’” Rom.10.14,15.
NAPHTALI – THE TRIBE
Naphtali – in the Wilderness
The children of Naphtali “from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war” numbered 53,400 at the commencement of the wilderness journey, Num.1.3,42,43, and they were the sixth largest tribe. When Naphtali was censused on the borders of the land some forty years later their numbers had declined by eight thousand, to 45,400 and they were now the eighth largest tribe, Num.26.48-50. The reason for the fifteen per cent reduction is not specified.
“Ahira the son of Enan” was the captain of this tribe at the commencement of the wilderness journey, Num.1.15; 2.29; 7.78-83; 10.27. Naphtali encamped with the tribes of Dan and Asher on the north side of the Tabernacle, Num.2.25-31, and when the host was on the move Naphtali was the protective rear-guard marching under the standard of Dan behind that tribe and that of Asher, Num.10.25-27.
“Nahbi the son of Vophsi” was nominated by Naphtali to spy out the land of Canaan and, sadly, he contributed to the evil report that resulted in discouragement and the years of wilderness wanderings, Num.13.14 et seq. The prince of the tribe of Naphtali at the close of the wilderness journey was “Pedahel the son of Ammihud” Num.34.28, who had the responsibility with other tribal princes in the dividing of the inheritance in the land of Canaan.
Naphtali – Moses’ Prophetic Blessing
As we have noted previously, Moses’ blessings of the tribes prior to his death contain no censure. Rather he encourages them to possess their inheritance and achieve their potential. His blessing of this tribe is: “And of Naphtali he said, ‘O Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord: possess thou the west and the south’” Deut.33.23.
The words “satisfied”, “full” and “possess” emphasise that Moses perceived that Naphtali would not only be blessed of the Lord but would be satisfied with the full favour extended to them. These blessings were in the first place material; as we shall later see they were given a fertile portion of the land adjoining the Sea of Galilee. However, in another 1,700 years the Lord, Who gave Naphtali blessing, would come in very Person to be the Blesser amongst them!
Naphtali was enjoined from the outset to possess their northern inheritance to the Mediterranean Sea coast on the west and expand from the shores of Galilee towards the south. The showers that came in from the west and the warmth that came from the south ensured the agricultural prosperity of this tribe. God blessed them with all that they needed and they had every encouragement to possess and enjoy it to its full. To find either an impoverished or discontented Naphtalite would be an incongruous aberration!
Our true riches presently are spiritual and are found in a risen and glorified Christ. Yet too many believers live spiritually impoverished lives, deficient in openness to receive the refreshing showers from His Word and the realised warmth of His presence. It is one thing to have the title deeds for an inheritance and another to be in full possession of it. There is a massive difference between ownership and occupancy! Are we content only to know that our sins are forgiven and that we will never be in hell? However, Naphtali did not fall short of the Divine intention for them, and neither should we. May we enjoy spiritual satisfaction in fuller possession of all that we have in our Lord Jesus Christ, in His purpose for us, availing of the abundant resources He has made available to us in His Word, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We can only imagine the feelings of Moses as he went on his last journey, to the top of Pisgah, when “the Lord shewed him all the land … and all Naphtali” Deut.34.1,2. He saw Naphtali’s land then in the far distance, but on the Mount of Transfiguration, with Elijah, in intimate conversation with the transfigured Lord Jesus Christ, Moses was on Naphtali ground in reality, “satisfied with favour”, “full with the blessing of the Lord” and possessing the knowledge of “goodly words” Matt.17.1-13; Mk.9.1-8; Lk.9.28-36.
May we also aspire to Naphtalite blessing in light of that day when we shall see Him face to face.
To be continued (D.V.)
(This series is co-authored by three brethren.)
THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL
Acts 15.1-31; Galatians 2.1-101
by Jeremy Gibson, England
- 1. Unless otherwise stated, all references are from chapter 15 of The Acts of the Apostles. I have assumed Acts chapter 15 and Gal.2.1-10 describe the same event.
The Day of Pentecost changed everything. As a result of it, believing Jews and Gentiles were united in Christ, both entering equally into the spiritual benefits of the New Covenant, such as regeneration, Jer.32.39,40; Titus 3.5, the remission of sins, Jer.31.34; 33.8; Ezek.36.25; Eph.1.7; 4.32; Col.1.14, and the reception of the Holy Spirit, Isa.59.21; Jer.31.33; Ezek.36.26,27; 1Cor.6.19. It was a tremendous jolt to the exclusive Jewish mindset; and “there was no small danger lest the new community should be rent asunder almost at its beginning.”2 How could Jewish Christians now associate themselves with believing Gentiles, who did not adhere to the Law of Moses, and whom they had despised as unclean?
- 2. “Cambridge Greek Testament. The Acts of the Apostles”. Cambridge University Press, 1920, p.269.
Things came to a head when Judaean false teachers, who seem to have claimed the approval of the Jerusalem-based apostles, taught at Antioch, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” v.1. Paul explained later that they were “false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” Gal.2.4. Having been smuggled in by Satan, they attacked the very foundation of the gospel, which offers free salvation through faith in Christ alone. Their demand for Gentile converts to “be circumcised, and keep the law” troubled the Gentile Christians, “subverting [their] souls” v.24. “Subverting” translates the Greek word anaskeuazō, meaning ‘an entire removal of goods and chattels either by the owners or by a plundering enemy’.3It was a deliberate attempt to rob them of their freshly found Christian joy and liberty, and to split the newly formed Church.
- 3. Ibid., p.282.
Concerned that his gospel preaching among the Gentiles would be negated, Gal.2.2, Paul, with Barnabas, had “no small dissension and disputation with them” v.2. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “We did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you” Gal.2.5, N.A.S.B. With Paul receiving Divine “revelation” about the importance of settling the issue, Gal.2.2, and the Antioch church wanting a definitive answer, it was “determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” v.2.
Accompanied by Barnabas and other Antioch brethren, including Titus, this was the third recorded time Paul travelled to Jerusalem after his conversion, Gal.2.1; Acts 11.28-30. Never wasting a moment, as “they passed through Phenice and Samaria, [they declared] the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren” v.3; compare Prov.25.25. At Jerusalem, there seems to have been a series of meetings, as follows:
FIRST MEETING – Gal.2.1-10
Realising the seriousness of the situation, Paul wisely arranged a private meeting with the apostles, “James, Cephas and John”, to whom he “communicated … that gospel which [he preached] among the Gentiles” Gal.2.2,9. While the steadfastness of these apostles had given pillar-like stability to the Jerusalem church, Paul was unfazed by their “reputation” Gal.2.2,6,9. Nevertheless, he needed their approval. During this discussion, they decided that Titus (a Gentile believer) did not require circumcision, Gal.2.1,3; neither did they add anything to the gospel which Paul preached, Gal.2.6. Rather, recognising the same power of God, which “wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision … was mighty in [Paul] toward the Gentiles” and perceiving “the grace that was given unto [Paul], they gave to [Paul] and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that [Paul and Barnabas] should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision” Gal.2.7-9. Their only proviso was “that [Paul and Barnabas] should remember the poor” Gal.2.10.
SECOND MEETING – 15.4,5
Having secured the private support of the apostles, Paul and his companions reported to the whole Jerusalem church “all things that God had done with them” v.4. Pharisee converts insisted “it was needful to circumcise [Gentile believers], and to command them to keep the law of Moses” v.5. This prompted a third meeting.
THIRD MEETING – 15.6-21
The apostles and elders then “came together for to consider of this matter” v.6. After “much disputing” Peter arose and reminded them that God had chosen him to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his Gentile friends, v.7; Acts chapters 10 and 11. When these Gentiles believed, “God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as He did unto [the Jewish believers]” v.8. Any attempt to burden such Gentile converts with the unbearably heavy yoke of God’s Law, which the Jews never managed to fully keep, was putting “God to the test” v.10, N.A.S.B. Peter concluded that neither Jews nor Gentiles are saved by Law keeping but “through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” v.11. These are Peter’s last recorded words in the Acts of the Apostles, and they were so persuasive that “all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them” v.12.
James directed them to God’s Word, vv.13-21. In the Old Testament Jehovah visited Israel, dwelt among them, and chose them to be His special people who were linked to His name, Ex.4.31; 25.8; Deut.7.6; 12.5; 14.21; Jer.13.11. James viewed the early (“at the first”) conversion of Cornelius as a similar visitation by God, this time to Gentiles, “to take out of them a people for His name” v.14. This correlated well with the Jewish Scriptures. Quoting Amos 9.11,12, James said, “To this agree the words of the prophets” v.15. Amos foresaw David’s dynasty restored to its former glory, Israel vanquishing her foes and established and prosperous in her land, Amos 9.11-15. By replacing Amos’ phrase “in that day” with “I will return” Amos 9.11; Acts 15.16; compare Jer.12.15, James highlighted that this prophecy will be fulfilled completely at Messiah’s coming. The Septuagint translators altered the phrase “that they may possess the remnant of Edom” Amos 9.12, to read “that the residue of men might seek after the Lord” Acts 15.17. The Hebrew text pointed out that Israel will defeat Gentile enemies. The Greek translation showed that Gentile nations will seek Jehovah. Both are true. Hebrew and Greek texts agreed that the heathen will be “called by [Jehovah’s] name” Amos 9.12; Acts 15.17, which is exactly what James had said of Cornelius and his friends. Gentile conversions within the Church era do not accomplish fully Amos’ prediction, but they are entirely consistent with the eternal plan of God, Who has “known … all His works from the beginning of the world” v.18.
James concluded: “that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” vv.19,20. True unity requires a careful balance of ‘give and take’, without compromising truth; compare Rom.14.3. Jewish believers would not impose Law keeping and circumcision on Gentiles; neither should Gentile Christians engage in anything associated with idolatry, which was so odious to their Jewish brethren. The “pollutions of idols” referred to the “meats offered to idols” vv.20,29. Since these animals were often strangled to death their corpses retained the blood, which Jews were forbidden from eating, Lev.17.10,11. Illicit sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes frequently formed an integral part of the worship of heathen deities; compare Hos.4.12-14. Christians must continue to “abstain from fornication” 1Thess.4.3, and avoid anything which would stumble a fellow believer or stimulate discord, 1Cor.8.1-13. James finished by assuring his Jewish hearers that the Law would never be forgotten. If any Gentile wanted to learn more about it, “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day” v.21.
FOURTH MEETING – 15.22-29
Under the Spirit’s direction, “the whole church” agreed to write to their Gentile brethren at Antioch. The letter was brief, courteous and authoritative. After a warm greeting, they firmly disassociated themselves from the false teachers, commanded the Antioch believers to abstain from everything associated with idolatry, and wished them well, vv.23-29. For the purpose of verbal confirmation, Paul and Barnabas were accompanied by two of Jerusalem’s own highly respected men, Judas and Silas, vv.22,23,25-28. As soon as the Antioch believers read the letter, “they rejoiced for the consolation” vv.30,31. Judas and Silas then exhorted and confirmed the brethren, and “tarried there a space” vv.32,33. “Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also” v.35.
By Eric G. Parmenter (Wales)
Paper 4 — Ruth Chapter 4
“The Part of a Kinsman” — The Work of Redemption Accomplished
- The unnamed kinsman: he appears for the first time in this fourth chapter and represents the Mosaic Law.
- Boaz the ready redeemer: he represents Christ, Who is our Kinsman Redeemer.
- The ten witnesses: their function was to testify that the transaction carried out at the gate was performed legally and righteously. The gate of the city took the form of an eastern court; it was the place where all legal transactions took place.
- Ruth the Moabitess: now a satisfied stranger, she prefigures the Church and some of its unique blessings.
- Naomi: she pictures the ministry of the evangelist, teacher and pastor.
THE UNNAMED KINSMAN
There are three reasons why the unnamed kinsman represents the Mosaic Law: firstly, he is found at the gate, the place where law was administered; secondly, he has first claim as redeemer: the Mosaic Law had first opportunity to redeem mankind; and thirdly, he was quite prepared to purchase the land but not the woman: the Mosaic Law will certainly regulate society and serve an excellent civil purpose but it will not redeem fallen humanity. Just as the nearer kinsman could not redeem Ruth, so the Law could not redeem man, because of the depravity of man.
The Law was excellent in itself, but the material upon which it worked was faulty. The nearer kinsman could not bring the desired blessing of rest to Ruth. Likewise, the Law not only failed to bring redemption to man; it failed also to bring rest to man: the Law said, “This do, and thou shalt live”, but continual doing is not rest.
Another issue was that the man could not raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance: he failed to give life. The Law equally failed to give life, because man could not rise to its demands. God’s holy Law, with its stern demands, cannot but judge us worthy of death.
The nearer kinsman’s unwillingness to do the kinsman’s part transferred his claims upon the woman to Boaz and, as was the custom in former times in Israel, he took off his shoe and gave it to Boaz. By so doing he confirmed that he had relinquished his right to redeem, 4.7. When Christ accomplished the wonderful work of atonement on the cross, the Law transferred its claims to Christ.
BOAZ THE READY REDEEMER
What the unnamed kinsman was unwilling to do, Boaz was prepared to do. In the language of Rom.8.3, “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and [as an offering] for sin, condemned sin in the flesh”. We therefore should be eternally grateful to God for the coming of His Son our Redeemer.
Boaz paid the price for the field in the presence of the elders. The field in Scripture is often used as a symbol of the world. The whole of the universe has been purchased by the precious blood of Christ and is held together by the silver chain of redemption. In Revelation chapter 5 the seven-sealed book in the right hand of the Ancient of Days, Dan.7.9,13,22, representing title deeds of the earth, required one who was worthy. The only One found worthy to take the book and loose the seals and claim for Himself the title deeds of the earth was the “Lamb as it had been slain” standing “in the midst of the throne” Rev.5.1-10. Christ purchased those rights at Calvary.
In addition Boaz purchased Ruth to be his wife. At Calvary the Lord Jesus Christ not only purchased the world, but He also purchased the Church, the pearl of great price, Matt.13.45,46, for He “loved the church, and gave Himself for it” Eph.5.25.
The transaction that Boaz undertook permanently closed the other man’s claim. In like fashion the Lord Jesus Christ’s death has completely liberated us from all the claims of the Law and we are blessedly free.
THE TEN WITNESSES
Ruth’s claim on Boaz at the threshing floor was done at night, in secret, but the transaction of that claim was done not at night but in the morning, not in secret but in the open, at the gate of the city. Boaz took ten men of the elders of the city to witness what was to take place at the gate, where all was open. The transaction was carried out in the presence of witnesses, to establish its legality, Ruth 4.1,2. This is true of the work of Christ on the cross; its public nature was witnessed universally. It is estimated that there were two million or more Jews and others in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion and many of the people saw the prolonged and agonising sufferings of the Lord Jesus before the sun shut his glories in, and all knew about the happenings on that Passover day. God Himself announced the death of His beloved Son with an earthquake and the tearing of the veil in the Temple.
The witnesses summoned by Boaz ensured that the transaction was perfectly consistent with the demands of the Law. The cross-work of Christ forbids any thinking that God has compromised with sin. Christ met and satisfied the righteous demands of the Law, and the claims of a holy God eternally at the place called Calvary. Therefore He is able to deal with all men and women consistently and righteously to forgive sins and justify all who believe in Jesus.
RUTH THE GENTILE STRANGER
In chapter 1 Ruth was a sorrowful and burdened young widow, but now she is supremely satisfied as the result of three blessings which she has received from this transaction: firstly, instead of widowhood, she receives matrimonial rest; secondly, instead of poverty, being now married to Boaz, she has riches untold; and thirdly, instead of being a stranger, she now has relationship. No longer is she “Ruth the Moabitess”: she is united by marriage to Boaz, the mighty man of wealth, and together they eventually become the ancestors of David the king. The question was asked by David, “Is there any yet that is left … that I may shew the kindness of God unto him?” 2Sam.9.1,3. Boaz, in his attitude and by his actions toward Ruth, gave a glowing example of showing the kindness of God to a stranger.
In Christ the kindness of God has been fully demonstrated: we have been given rest, rest of conscience and heart now and rest in eternity. We have the “unsearchable riches of Christ” Eph.3.8. Who can measure the spiritual riches that belong to all who trust in God’s Son?
THE MINISTRY OF NAOMI
Naomi is evangelist, teacher and pastor. When living in Moab she did the work of an evangelist and Ruth was brought to trust in the God of Israel. Her confession at the crossroads proved the genuineness of her faith as she declared to her mother-in-law, “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” Ruth 1.16. Could anyone doubt the reality of her faith?
At the home in Bethlehem-Judah Naomi’s knowledge of the Word of God and her understanding of His laws governing gleaning in the harvest field were evident as she taught Ruth the principles of God’s provision for the stranger and the widow. In reply to Ruth’s “Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn …” her mother-in-law answered, “Go, my daughter” 2.2, and she went and gleaned in the field belonging to a man named Boaz. Boaz coming into the field enquired who the stranger was gleaning in his field. Receiving the servant’s answer he went to where Ruth was gleaning and said, “My daughter … go not to glean in another field … abide here fast by my maidens … have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee?” 2.8,9. Boaz, in his conversation with Ruth, guided her feet, suggested her companions, encouraged her gleaning and protected her purity. Naomi, on listening to Ruth’s rehearsal of the events of the day, said to her daughter-in-law, “The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen … go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field” 2.20,22. Naomi endorsed in the home what Boaz had said to Ruth in the field. How important that was and still is today.
In chapter 3 Naomi instructed Ruth concerning what was required for her to approach the near kinsman and how to claim the blessing of the kinsman redeemer.
Before the story ends the home of Boaz and Ruth is blessed with the cry of a newborn babe. Naomi, now as a nursing mother, cherished and nourished the infant. Who can measure the value and importance of ministry such as Naomi carried out in Moab and Bethlehem? The same privilege is open to all Christian mothers and grandmothers, to encourage and foster interest in the things of God in the home.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Peter Steele (N. Ireland)
Paper 4 — THE GOD OF CRISIS
(Genesis Chapter 32)
In the late 1800s A.J. Pollock preached a sermon on the story of Jacob wrestling with God entitled “Wrestling or Clinging”.1 He preached that sinners will never be blessed until they stop fighting against God and, like Jacob, cling in total dependence upon Him for salvation. This is a very clear application; however, in this article we would like to apply Jacob’s experience to dealings with God in the crisis point of a believer’s life and ask all believers: are you wrestling or clinging?
- 1. https://www.brethrenarchive.org/people/aj-pollock/pamphlets/wrestling-or-clinging/
The fear of meeting Esau the next day was upon his heart, that his brother might take revenge and destroy him and all that he had. Or if he lived and went into the land, what other difficulties would he and his small fledgling family have to face? He had said his prayers, vv.9-12, and made his plans, vv.13-21, and God will answer his prayers the following day, chapter 33, and remove the problem, but in between God chooses this time of anxiety in Jacob’s life as an opportunity to mould and change him. Perhaps you have had similar experiences, where you prayed in deep trouble concerning an insurmountable problem ahead and God in time resolved that problem, but in between the prayer and the answer God did something that you had not prayed for: He worked in your life and moulded you.
“Jacob was left alone” v.24. He had sent his family across the brook, v.22, along with what he “possessed” v.23, Newberry margin. So now there were no servants, no family, no possessions; just Jacob, and God2; just like Elijah at another brook, further north, many centuries later, 1Kgs.17.1-6. The most memorable and developing times in life are when you turn off the phone, take your mind off the day’s work, shut the door to the noise of the house, and, with all proud thoughts of self removed, it is you left alone, and God.
- 2. Hos.12.4,5 calls this stranger an angel but goes on to say that it was the same Person Who met Jacob at Bethel and calls Him “the Lord God of hosts”.
- Alone with Thee, O Master, where
- The light of earthly glory dies.
But this night is not just a conversation with God; it is a fight, because Jacob at this time does not need to be instructed; Jacob needs to be broken. With us, broken things are useless: if we break a cup or a bowl we throw it out, but with God, before a man is useful to Him he must be broken. There was only one Servant Whose will did not need to be broken and that was the blessed Lord Jesus; but with us, we are too wilful, like Jacob, and we need His touch to make us crippled, surrendered and solely dependent on Him.
Jacob wrested all night long. How long have you been wrestling with God over who is in control of your life?
- When God wants to drill a man,
- And thrill a man,
- And skill a man,
- When God wants to mould a man
- To play the noblest part;
- When He yearns with all His heart
- To create so great and bold a man
- That all the world shall be amazed,
- Watch His methods, watch His ways!
- How He ruthlessly perfects
- Whom He royally elects!
- How He hammers him and hurts him,
- And with mighty blows converts him
- Into trial shapes of clay which
- Only God understands;
- While his tortured heart is crying
- And he lifts beseeching hands!
- How He bends but never breaks
- When his good He undertakes;
- How He uses whom He chooses,
- And with every purpose fuses him;
- By every act induces him
- To try His splendour out –
- God knows what He’s about.
When the Divine Wrestler touched Jacob’s thigh and put it out of joint Jacob, no longer able to wrestle, began to cling to this stranger and he will soon realise that it is God to Whom he is clinging, v.30. Jacob was always grabbing: he came out of the womb holding his brother’s heel; by intrigue he stole the birthright and the blessing from Esau; by agricultural genius he got a large amount of Laban’s cattle. He was always grabbing for himself but now, alone and crippled, Jacob holds onto God, for only God can help him now. And this is how he receives true blessing, v.26. This is the object of God’s dealings with us and the key to receiving God’s blessing and having power with God in prayer: surrendering all proud thoughts of living by the power of the flesh and learning to cling to God alone and entirely. Too often we grab and hold onto earthly things and trust in these. It is far better to hold onto God, for He alone is worthy, and capable of our exclusive trust.
“‘What is thy name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’” v.27. He did not need to confess all the selfish acts of the past: that name, meaning ‘supplanter’ or ‘crooked’, summed it all up. God wants honesty in His presence, both with a sinner and a believer, Ps.51.6. We will never move forward as believers without confessing that we fall far short at present.
What a change this was:
- From Jabbok to Peniel, vv.22,30;
- From Jacob to Israel, v.28;
- From a crook to a prince, v.28;
- From a proud man to a limping man, v.31;
- From a dark night to the dawning of a new day, v.31.
It is the dawning of a new day for every sinner who stops fighting and clings to God in simple trust and it is the dawning of a new day for every saint who gives up the struggle of maintaining a selfish, independent life and trusts in God alone.
Jacob told his son of the experiences at Bethel when he was an old man, Gen.48.3,4, but he did not rehearse the experience at Jabbok. As far as I can see, in Scripture Jacob is silent about this encounter with God. After all, there was no need to speak of it: Jacob’s walk was different after this experience, for he halted upon his thigh, v.31; all could see for themselves. We know men and women who in their lifetime have had special and life-moulding ‘Jabbok’ experiences with God. We know this not because they have ever told us (nor would they tell anyone), but because their walk is different, their depth of character and trust in God make it clear that they have spent time alone with God. In a culture where everything you do is expected to be publicised online, learn to spend times alone with God that no one will ever hear about. That will give depth to your character worth more than anything on earth.
We would expect Jacob’s summary of the night to be, ‘I have been touched by the hand of God’, but instead what impressed him most was, “I have seen God face to face” v.30. What changed Jacob to Israel was not just the bruising of His touch but the beauty of His face. What changed Saul of Tarsus forever was not the pricks that hurt him, Acts 26.14, but the face that enraptured him, for he saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, 2Cor.4.6.
Yes, times alone with God can often be humbling and sometimes we are rebuked for our ways, but this bruising from the Saviour’s hand is made up for a thousand times by a glimpse of the Saviour’s face, which makes the things of earth as important as dust and makes us cling to Him more, until at last we see His face at home forever.
- And since I’ve seen His beauty all else I count but loss;
- The world, its fame and pleasure, is now to me but dross.
- His light dispelled my darkness, His smile was, oh, so sweet!
- I’ve seen the face of Jesus – I can but kiss His feet.
- Oh! glorious face of beauty, Oh! gentle touch of care;
- If here it is so blessed, what will it be up there?
- (W. Spencer Walton)
To be continued (D.V.)
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
“But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” Proverbs 4.18
When we trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, we embarked on a path which, although strewn with difficulties in abundance and littered with problems and pressures of every kind, leads inexorably to the brightness and bliss of that distant land we have come to recognise as home. It soon becomes clear that Christians are not immune to the many trials that beset His people, and tears fall frequently from the eyes of the saints of God. It may even appear that, at times, God seems to have hidden His face from us and turned His ear away from our anguished cries.
Those trials, so hard to bear, are intended to remind us that this is not our home; that we are aliens in a hostile world; pilgrims on the march to the “better land, long since by faith possessed”. Look up and look on beyond the rock-strewn pathway ahead and catch the gleams of glory streaming from that “land that is fairer than day” (Sanford F. Bennett), where awaiting our arrival is the matchless Lover of our souls.
- We shall sing on that beautiful shore
- The melodious song of the blest,
- And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
- Not a sigh for the blessing of rest.
“He knoweth the way that I take …” Job 23.10
At the beginning of this year many find themselves in strange places, in circumstances they never expected to be in, suffering from illnesses they dreaded ever contracting. Life takes many strange twists and turns and sometimes events overtake us that we never envisaged or wanted. The pathway of life throws up many surprises and not a few shocks but “He knoweth the way that I take”. Our Saviour is never fazed by the unplanned and unexpected and all our tomorrows lie open to His view. No unforeseen events can derail His programme or upset His plans.
How blessed then at the start of another year to place our future in His safe hands and in childlike faith depend upon Him to guide us through the shadowy paths and tangled thickets! What we cannot see, He sees clearly; what we cannot know is understood fully by Him. His eyes are never dim, His mind is never dull and what seems dark to us is as brightest daylight to our Saviour. May we entrust then whatever we are permitted to experience of this year to His tender care and loving guidance, aware that He knows best, cares most and will never cause a needless tear.
- All the way my Saviour leads me;
- What have I to ask beside?
- Can I doubt His tender mercy,
- Who through life has been my Guide?
‘Take Your Pick’
Typically we associate the words ‘Take your pick’ with shopping: we might see it written on a confectionery counter, or hear it spoken by a shopkeeper as he or she encourages us to select items from a pile of fresh fruit. This short three-word statement reminds us that we are continually making choices: in the supermarket, in the clothes shop, deciding which holiday destination to go to, which make and model of car to purchase. On many levels we make selections throughout our lives. Sometimes we make the wrong decision or are advised incorrectly to take a certain course of action but often we can change our mind and in many cases the consequences are not serious anyway. There are, however, occasions when the wrong choice can be fatal or at least life-changing and irreversible and so great caution is essential and a detailed knowledge of what is at stake.
How thankful we ought to be that in the all-important matter of getting to Heaven there are not several options, but one, solitary means of obtaining salvation: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Other suggestions, of which, sadly, there are too many, are all doomed to failure, for example, doing one’s best, religion, good works, penance, baptism, charity, confirmation, partaking of ‘holy communion’, church attendance; the list goes on and on.
As a friend, with no ulterior motives or hidden agenda, desirous of your eternal welfare and blessing, I direct you to the Holy Bible for its clear, concise and changeless truth regarding the only way of salvation. It is God Who devised this wondrous plan of salvation, which was to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins on the cross and rise again. He offers salvation freely to all who will trust His Son as their Saviour.
- “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” Acts 4.12.
- “Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me’” John 14.6.
- “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life …” John 3.36.
- “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” John 3.16.
- “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ‘He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life’” John 6.47.
- “And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved …’” Acts 16.31.
From these verses it is clear that salvation is in a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, and only faith in Him will fit you for Heaven.
- How simple God’s way of salvation!
- Not trying or doing one’s best,
- But just in believing on Jesus
- The weary and sinful find rest!
- (John Vickers)
There remains just one choice for you: will you accept Christ as your personal Saviour or continue to reject Him? Do you want to be saved now or carry on as you are? Will you choose Heaven or Hell? The choice is yours; choose wisely, think of the consequences!
“The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going” Proverbs 14.15
We are constantly bombarded with peoples’ ideas: in conversation, in the media, in publications, and online, and these are often presented forcibly and confidently, with the implied message, ‘Trust me, because I know what I’m talking about!’ Whether the speaker is an infidel, openly peddling worldly wisdom, or a professing Christian, presenting what he claims is Biblical doctrine, we must not be credulous, naively accepting a man’s word, even if he sounds authoritative, or claims expertise. Let each of us be “the prudent man”, who, rather than believing all that he hears, will test everything by the Word of God, which is the only sure standard. Only when we are thus convinced of the truth of what we have heard should we accept it, and direct our steps accordingly.