ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
THE GOD OF JACOB
by P. Steele
THE LAMB IN REVELATION
by W. Banks
COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS IN A CHANGING WORLD
by R. Reynolds
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KING JEHOSHAPHAT
by J. Hay
A DECLARATION OF THOSE THINGS
by D. Williamson
“But unto the Son He saith, ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom’” Hebrews 1.8
The ‘Assembly Testimony’ magazine is produced in the United Kingdom, from where it is distributed to many different parts of the world. In addition, it can be read online from most parts of the planet. Hence, when commenting on ‘news items’, care must be taken, as what could be meaningful to readers in one country could be totally unknown to those in another. However, in the year just ended, an event took place of which it is likely that no-one reading this is unaware: the death of Queen Elizabeth II, on 8th September.
Throughout the funeral proceedings, her coffin had upon it three potent emblems of her rule: the crown, the orb and the sceptre. At the close, in a highly poignant and significant act, these three items were removed from the coffin, which was then lowered into the crypt, and thus forever taken beyond the view of the cameras. The symbolism was unmistakable: Her Majesty, whose long reign had been characterised by such distinction, dignity, duty, devotion and diligence, had left this world, and, in doing so, had relinquished her sovereignty.
The great majority of The Queen’s subjects mourned her passing, not least Christians, who, in addition to sharing the sorrow of the general population, felt the additional burden of the likelihood that the deterioration in society, which was already proceeding apace, would now advance with even greater rapidity. However, while from that standpoint the picture is indeed bleak, we must never forget that there is a bigger, brighter reality: of a much greater throne, sceptre and kingdom, as we see in the quotation from the Epistle to the Hebrews at the top of the page. Let us ponder three great truths that this verse brings to our attention:
THE POTENTATE – “But unto the Son He saith, ‘… O God’”
Typically, in earthly kingdoms, a monarch reigns because he or she is the son or daughter of the previous monarch. However, the King Whose reign we await is not the son of an earthly king, but the eternal Son of the eternal God. The words “the Son” are in themselves an assertion of His Deity and equality with the Father, but this is further emphasised in that the Father addresses Him: “O God”. In Psalm 2, we read of rulers who oppose God and His Son, vv.1-3, but they will not be able to thwart His purpose: He Who says, “Thou art My Son”, also says, “Yet have I set My king upon My holy hill of Zion … Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession” vv.6-8. No ruler can compare with Him, “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” 1Tim.6.15.
THE PERPETUITY – “Thy throne … is for ever and ever”
Before very long, it will be true that “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever” Rev.11.15. “Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever” Isa.9.7. That reign, which will begin with one thousand years on earth, will continue eternally. We will never have cause to mourn for Him or for the end of His reign, or be apprehensive about a future without Him, for “of His kingdom there shall be no end” Lk.1.33.
THE PRINCIPLE – “A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom”
All over the world, there is much unrighteousness, which is seen, for example, in: dishonesty in public life; the atheistic, materialistic philosophy propagated in education and the media; the promotion of lifestyles that are in contradiction to the standards of God’s Word; the violence perpetrated in the battlefield and in the streets; the misbehaviour of those who should be setting an example; lawlessness and miscarriages of justice. How we look forward to the day when society will operate according to righteous principles: “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness” Isa.32.1; “With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth … And righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins” Isa.11.4,5!
These things have not been written to disparage the late Queen, or any other head of state. Indeed, she was a humble person, who was deeply aware of her own mortality and the transitory nature of her own reign, and who acknowledged the uniqueness of the King “whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him” Dan.7.27.
So, despite the fact that, as we look at the current scene, we can truthfully sing, “Change and decay in all around I see”, let us not be downcast. Perhaps in 2023 our Lord Jesus Christ will come to take us home, and not many years later He will return to set up His kingdom, in which we shall reign with Him! In light of these certainties, we can look ahead with blessed anticipation. Let us therefore endeavour, by God’s grace, to live in righteousness and holiness, as befits our dignified status and our glorious future; and let us faithfully serve the One Who is coming to reign, as we represent Him and His interests in this present evil world.
- Let all that look for, hasten
The coming joyful day,
By earnest consecration,
To walk the narrow way;
By gathering in the lost ones,
For whom our Lord did die,
For the crowning day that’s coming
By and by.
The advent of another New Year brings opportunity for reflection and contemplation. Very real problems have dominated the past such as those associated with the recent pandemic. Looking ahead there is much to discourage from a human point of view, whether it be economically or through potential unrest on a worldwide scale. These challenges impact upon assembly wellbeing, the upholding of testimony and the spread of the glorious message of the gospel. How precious to recall that the Lord Jesus proclaimed, “I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matt.16.18! It is reassuring to know that when the last stone is added “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” 1Thess.4.16-18. The moment of His return for His own cannot be far away!
Motivated and fortified by such a “blessed hope” Titus 2.13, it is the unwavering desire of the committee of ‘Assembly Testimony’ to continue to make available a variety of “sound doctrine” 2Tim.4.3, to a diverse and widely spread readership. We have been much encouraged by messages of appreciation and support for the magazine and the associated books. For these we are truly grateful.
In particular it is most appropriate to express the appreciation of the committee to our editor for his painstaking and thorough contributions. These require long hours of attentive labour and commitment. We also acknowledge with much gratitude the varied contributions of so many, without which the ongoing publication and distribution of ‘Assembly Testimony’ literature, whether by printed page or website, could not be sustained.
As we take stock and reflect on prevailing conditions, with all of the uncertainty and apprehension surrounding the future, we can take courage and follow the counsel of the Psalmist: “Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us” Ps.62.8. Let us give heed to the words of our God: “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” Ps.46.10.
by J. Riddle (England)
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.47: PSALM 28 (Part 2)
In the previous paper we noted the two divisions of this Psalm:
- David cries to the Lord, vv.1-5: “Hear the voice of my supplications” v.2;
- David blesses the Lord, vv.6-9: “He hath heard the voice of my supplications” v.6.
Hence, we have DAVID’S PRAYER – vv.1-5, which we have considered. We now proceed to:
DAVID’S PRAISE – vv.6-9
The atmosphere of the Psalm changes dramatically: “Blessed be the Lord, because He hath heard the voice of my supplications” v.6. As C.H. Spurgeon1 observes, “They who pray well, will soon praise well”. David had lifted up his hands in prayer; now he lifts up his heart in praise.
- 1 Spurgeon, C.H. “The Treasury of David.”
There are three main components to this section: first, David’s personal appreciation of the Lord’s blessing and help: “The Lord is my strength and my shield” v.7; second, David’s appreciation of the way God views His people: “His anointed … Thy people … Thine inheritance” vv.8,9: when you see God’s people as God sees them, there is only one thing to do, and that is to ask Him to bless them; so, third, David’s desire for God’s blessing upon His people: “Save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up for ever” v.9.
David’s Personal Appreciation of the Lord – v.7
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise Him.” David appreciated the Lord in three ways. He writes of “my strength … my shield … my song”.
Paul told the Philippians that he had learned to be content in all circumstances. “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” But this was not the language of a self-sufficient man. Not at all! “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” Phil.4.11-13. In fact, Paul’s own weakness became the vehicle for Christ’s strength. “And He said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness’” 2Cor.12.9,10.
David enjoyed Divine protection. Here is Paul again: “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom” 2Tim.4.18. He does not mean, of course, that he would be protected and preserved from physical harm, but from the spiritual harm that Satan would endeavour to inflict through persecution and adversity. For this, we need “the shield of faith” Eph.6.16.
A.G. Clarke2 points out the moral order in v.7: trust – help – joy – praise. “My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped [what lovely words!]: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise Him.” So there is no doubt about the quality and content of David’s song. The New Testament lays down the following guidelines for us in this matter: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” Eph.5.19. The difference between the three appears to be this: “psalms” are related to experience with God; “hymns” are praise directed to God; “spiritual songs” express spiritual truth.3
- 2 Clarke, A.G. “Analytical Studies in the Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
- 3 Leckie, A. “What the Bible Teaches – Ephesians”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
There is nothing selfish about David. He wants God’s people to enjoy what he is enjoying. So he makes an appeal to God based upon the relationship between God and His people. Let’s look at that relationship first. So:
David’s Appreciation of the Way God Views His People – vv.8,9
“The Lord is their strength [“the Lord is my strength” v.7], and He is the saving strength of His anointed. Save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance.” He identifies the Lord’s people as “His anointed … Thy people … Thine inheritance”.
We know, of course, that prophets, priests and kings were anointed in the Old Testament. Their anointing indicated their calling: the fact that they were marked out to serve God. The New Testament teaches us that every believer is anointed. “Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God” 2Cor.1.21. See also 1Jn.2.20,27: “But ye have an unction [‘anointing’] from the Holy One … But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you.” That anointing is, of course, the Holy Spirit.
Under Divine constraint, Balaam made four quite sublime statements about God’s people. Here is part of the first: “Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” Num.23.9. They would be unique. Years later, David said, “And what one nation in the earth is like Thy people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to Himself” 2Sam.7.23. But there is nothing quite as unique as the people described by Peter: “which in time past were ‘Not a people’, but are now ‘the people of God’” 1Pet.2.10.
Whilst it is wonderfully true that we have an inheritance in Christ, it is even more wonderfully true that He has an inheritance in us. Paul prayed, “that ye may know … what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” Eph.1.18. The Old Testament emphasises that Israel was God’s inheritance. For example: “But the Lord hath taken you and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto Him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day” Deut.4.20; “For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance” Deut.32.9; “Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance” Ps.33.12. We must not forget that God will ultimately enjoy His inheritance in Israel. But Christ has an inheritance in us now, which means that we must be of value to Him, and precious to Him, leading us to say, or sing:
- I wonder what He saw in me,
To suffer such deep agony.
David’s Desire for God’s Blessing on His People – v.9
“Save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up for ever.” There is no mistaking David’s desire for the fourfold blessing of the Lord’s people:
God’s people needed a Saviour. We can pray quite legitimately, “Save Thy people”. See, for example: 1Tim.4.16, where “save thyself, and them that hear thee” refers to salvation from backsliding; Jms.1.21, where the words “the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” refer to salvation from temptation; Phil.1.19, where the words, “this shall turn to my salvation” refer to salvation from despondency.
God’s people needed a benefactor. “A Benefactor would grant them peace and prosperity.”4
God’s people needed a shepherd. In Spurgeon’s5 words, “Be a shepherd to Thy flock”. As a shepherd He would guide them and guard them. “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd” Isa.40.11. God’s people need assembly shepherds to guide and feed them.
- 4 Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
- 5 Spurgeon, C.H., ibid.
Read this as ‘bear’ or ‘carry’. God’s people need “a Sustainer” to “lift them above their troubles, support them, and carry them in safety”.6 See Isa.63.9: “He bare them, and carried them all the days of old”; Isa.40.11: “He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom”.
- 6 Flanigan, J.M., ibid.
Our needs are exactly the same: only the Lord Jesus can meet those needs, and He is both able and willing to do so. We can say that He saves us, He blesses us, He feeds us, and He will lift us up and take us to heaven for ever!
by Ian McKee, N. Ireland
We shall now consider Jacob’s ninth son, Issachar, the tribal history and the lessons.
ISSACHAR – THE MAN
Jacob already has eight sons: four by Leah; two by Bilhah, Rachel’s maid; and two by Zilpah, Leah’s maid. His ninth son is also by Leah, with the circumstances surrounding his conception providing insight into Jacob’s complicated domestic life.
Jacob and Leah’s firstborn son, Reuben, “went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes [love apples] in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, ‘Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes.’ And she said unto her, ‘Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also?’ And Rachel said, ‘Therefore he [Jacob] shall lie with thee tonight for thy son’s mandrakes’” Gen.30.14,15. The jealousy and resentment engendered by how Laban gave his daughters in marriage and entrapped Jacob in servitude, Gen.29.15-30, continues still.
“Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, ‘Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes.’ And he lay with her that night” Gen.30.16. Yet God may work out His purpose in spite of human shortcomings: “And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob [her] fifth son” Gen.30.17. Leah concludes that God’s favour is a reward for her giving Zilpah to Jacob in concubinage for she says, “‘God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband:’ and she called his name Issachar” Gen.30.18. “Issachar” means ‘hire’ or ‘wages’, so his name may be a double testament to, first, the reward for the mandrakes given to Rachel; and second, Leah’s giving Zilpah to Jacob, Gen.30.9-12.
Issachar next appears in the list of names of Jacob’s sons, Gen.35.23. Issachar and his four sons are listed with those who later relocated with Jacob to Egypt, Gen.46.13; Ex.1.3.
JACOB’S PROPHETIC BLESSING
Jacob’s deathbed prophecy about this son is, “Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens; and he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute” Gen.49.14,15.
The strong ass is a valuable beast of burden, but its usefulness is dependent on temperament. The tribe of Issachar, like the strong ass, could have used strength, surefootedness, endurance and burden-bearing to benefit the nation. However, Jacob prophesied a complacency, a lack of willingness, in Issachar. While responsibility is well within Issachar’s capability, he and his tribe were temperamentally unsuited to it. In stubborn disregard, Issachar will lie down to rest with full panniers, or saddlebags, on either side, to keep them from falling over!
ISSACHAR – THE TRIBE
Issachar – in the Wilderness
The children of Issachar “from twenty years old and upward” numbered 54,400 at the commencement of the wilderness journey, Num.1.28,29, the fifth largest tribe. Their numbers increased within forty years to 64,300, to become the third largest tribe at the end of the wilderness wanderings, Num.26.23-25.
Nethaneel was the captain of Issachar at the start of the wilderness journey, Num.1.8; 2.5; 7.18; 10.15. Issachar camped on the east side of the Tabernacle with the tribes of Judah and Zebulun, Num.2.3-9, and marched in the first group, under Judah’s banner, Num.2.9; 10.14-16. Igal was Issachar’s representative to spy the land of Canaan, Num.13.7, but he subscribed to the evil majority report. Paltiel was the “prince of the tribe of … Issachar” involved in the later dividing of the land, Num.34.26.
Issachar – Moses’ Prophetic Blessing
Moses’ blessing of the tribes prior to his death is free of censure. His blessing of Issachar intertwines with that of Zebulun: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand” Deut.33.18,19.
A contrast is drawn between these two tribes: Zebulun goes out; Issachar stays home. Yet coupling together suggests a complementary balance to be achieved between an outward facing attitude and care at home: it being not a matter of either/or, but both. Whatever Zebulun and Issachar understood by Moses’ blessing, we can see that the primacy of worship must be complemented by fishing and digging: surely apt metaphors for evangelism and Bible study?
Issachar – in the Land
Following the conquest of Canaan, Issachar stood on verdant Mount Gerizim to hear the blessings of the Law, Deut.27.12; Josh.8.30-35. Joshua outlined Issachar’s portion in the Land, Josh.19.17-23, namely sixteen cities, including Jezreel and Shunem. Four cities were assigned for Levites in the territory of Issachar, in particular for Gershonites, Josh.21.6,28,29; 1Chr.6.62,72,73. Yet Manasseh had appropriated part of Issachar’s territory, including Megiddo, Josh.17.11, again suggestive of Issachar’s complacency.
Issachar was given the good agricultural land below Mount Carmel: the plain of Jezreel (or Esdraelon). Perhaps the productivity of their land fostered in Issachar a tendency to sloth; blessings came to them easily, so why do more than is necessary?
Issachar – in the Days of the Judges
Judges chapter 1 details the success, or otherwise, of those tribes settling west of the Jordan in driving out the Canaanites. However, the name of Issachar is not even mentioned, which suggests a tribe that made little effort. Did they become “a servant unto [Canaanite] tribute” Gen.49.15?
Issachar receives a mention in Deborah’s song: “And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar” Judg.5.15. Yet it is not said, as it was with Zebulun and Naphtali, that they were “a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death” Judg.5.18. The words “even Issachar” suggest that while their self-interest was due to their proximity to the Canaanite invasion, they were content to let the two closer tribes take responsibility. Issachar was a lazy tribe, relying on the activity and sacrifice of others.
Only one Judge came from Issachar: “there arose to defend Israel Tola [his name means ‘worm’!] … a man of Issachar … And he judged Israel twenty and three years, and died, and was buried in Shamir” Judg.10.1,2. Irrespective of tribal traits and the paucity of good role models it is possible, by the grace of God, to rise above the general malaise for the benefit of God’s people. Tola was not “a strong ass couching down between two burdens” Gen.49.14. He was a man rising to his responsibilities, exemplifying “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” Gal.6.2. Tola, in the best way possible, “bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute” Gen.49.15. He served God’s people in lowliness to give them twenty-three years of peace and security.
Issachar – in the Kingdom
The tribal progenitor is mentioned, 1Chr.2.1, and further details about this tribe and its chief men are given, 1Chr.7.1-5. Some of these were “valiant men of might in their generations; whose number was in the days of David two and twenty thousand and six hundred”, with others being “bands of soldiers for war, six and thirty thousand men, for they had many wives and sons. And their brethren among all the families of Issachar were valiant men of might, reckoned in all by their genealogies fourscore and seven thousand” 1Chr.7.2,4,5.
Men of Issachar transferred their allegiance to David at Hebron; men “that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment” 1Chr.12.32. It is one thing to have understanding of the times and to know what ought to be done; but it is another thing to have the courage to do it, with the moral standing to bring others along in fellowship. Issachar showed true loyalty and supplied provisions at Hebron when David was made king, contributing to the “joy in Israel” 1Chr.12.40.
During David’s reign “Omri the son of Michael” was the ruler over Issachar, 1Chr.27.18; and Issachar’s official responsible for provision and supply to Solomon was “Jehoshaphat the son of Paruah” 1Kgs.4.17.
In the northern part of the divided kingdom there was no continuous dynasty and at one point “Baasha the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him [Nadab, the son of Jeroboam]; and Baasha smote him at Gibbethon …” 1Kgs.15.27-34. However, Baasha was no better than his predecessor although he fulfilled “the saying of the Lord, which He spake by His servant Ahijah the Shilonite” 1Kgs.15.29, by smiting all the descendants of Jeroboam, 1Kgs.14.10-16.
Elijah knew Issachar’s territory. It was in the palace of Ahab at Jezreel that he made his famous declamation: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” 1Kgs.17.1. He looked over this tribal territory from Mount Carmel when he declared, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him” 1Kgs.18.21.
Was the greatest hero in Issachar’s territory Naboth the Jezreelite, who lost his life and that of his sons because he could never sell out his inheritance to King Ahab, 1Kgs.21.1-16; 2Kgs.9.26? Not far behind Naboth in honour is the great woman of Shunem who persuaded her husband to provide a little chamber for Elisha, 2Kgs.4.10, and of whom it is written, “Women received their dead raised to life again” Heb.11.35. It was in Nain, again in Issachar’s territory, that with a touch and a word an only son was restored to his mother by the Lord Jesus Christ, Lk.7.11-15.
Elisha was from Abel-meholah in Issachar, 1Kgs.19.16. He did not couch down under a double burden. Rather he sought, and obtained, “a double portion of [Elijah’s] spirit” 2Kgs.2.9.
During the reign of Hezekiah in Judah a multitude of people, including those from Issachar, “had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.’ And the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people” 2Chr.30.18-20.
Issachar – in Prophecy
It will be in Issachar’s tribal territory that the “battle of that great day of God Almighty” will occur, in “a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon” Rev.16.14-16. Issachar will contribute twelve thousand to the one hundred and forty-four thousand servants of God who will be sealed, Rev.7.7. Ezekiel prophesies that Issachar will have a portion on the south of the land in the Millennial Kingdom, Ezek.48.25; and the name “Issachar” will be on one of the three gates on the southern side of the city, Ezek.48.33.
ISSACHAR – THE NEW TESTAMENT APPLICATION
The New Testament application must await consideration of Zebulun, given the close association of these two tribes.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Peter Steele (N. Ireland)
THE GOD OF CHANGELESSNESS
In these meditations, we have not covered the entirety of the life of Jacob. We have only paused at some of the sections in the varied tapestry of his life and tried to learn lessons about his God, for that has been our focus: not so much Jacob, but the God of Jacob. We have learned that He is a God Who reaches down to lowly mankind, Who delights to dwell with us, Who moulds our lives as He is pleased, Who desires that we grow in our appreciation of Him and Who shepherds us unfailingly throughout our life. He is also a God Who will be faithful to the nation of Jacob and restore them back to the Land and give them a new heart. In all, He is a God of grace to the undeserving. But is God only revealed in these ways through Jacob? Are there any other characters in the Scriptures who because of their many shortcomings display all the more brightly God’s grace that made them what they became? There are many: from Noah, who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” Gen.6.8, to Paul, who received “exceeding abundant” grace, 1Tim.1.14, the night sky is filled with more stars than can be numbered which shine to “the praise of the glory of His grace” Eph.1.6. Some of the brightest of these stars, these ‘trophies of grace’, we will consider now.
In a previous article we noticed similarities between David and Jacob. They were both shepherds. They both realised that they needed the Lord as their shepherd. The story of their lives is given to us in detail so that we can draw alongside both and see their high points and low points. But most importantly, they both came to have a humble heart that appreciated God’s grace. It may well be wondered: why was David forgiven for his transgressions and departures whereas Saul was not? I judge the answer to be in David’s humble heart. Saul was a proud man, a man of the flesh; but David had a humble heart, Ps.131.1, and his repentance and attitude toward God were genuine, Psalm 51. Throughout the Psalms we can see that in his varied struggles he always came back to humble trust in his God, and that, no doubt, was the secret of his victory and song.
Comparing David with Moses and Elijah and other austere Old Testament characters, Alexander Maclaren wrote that those men “are like … the trumpet of Sinai, with its one prolonged note. [But] David is like his own harp of many chords, through which the breath of God murmured, drawing forth wailing and rejoicing, the clear ring of triumphant trust, the low plaint of penitence, the blended harmonies of all devout emotions.”1 How similar were David and Jacob! How complex! How they both needed and appreciated God’s grace!
- 1 Maclaren, A. “The Life of David as Reflected in His Psalms”. Butler & Tanner, Frome and London.
This woman is much less well known than Jacob and David, but is no less a display of Divine grace to the undeserving. Hosea’s wife had been unfaithful to him, and yet the Lord commands Hosea to buy her back and love her in order to demonstrate to the unfaithful nation how the Lord loves them. “And Jehovah said unto me, ‘Go again, love a woman … an adulteress, even as Jehovah loveth the children of Israel, though they turn unto other gods’” Hos.3.1, A.S.V. And, over our lives, who among us have loved the Lord as faithfully as we ought? Are we not glad that the love of God is faithful to us even when our love to Him is not?
- His love, not mine, the resting-place;
His truth, not mine, the tie.
- (Horatius Bonar)
This changeless love should inspire us to be faithful to Him.
Simon Peter is the New Testament Jacob. Jacob was responsible for the early expansion of the nation (his twelve sons); Peter was responsible for the early expansion of the church, Acts chapters 2-5. Both men received a new name from the Lord: the old name reflected the old nature (Simon and Jacob); the new name reflected the new (Peter and Israel). Both oscillated between the two parts of this dual character time and time again. Both were fiery and impetuous early on; both were deceitful: Jacob getting the birthright and the blessing; Peter in his denial of the Lord. But the patient and gracious Lord worked with both until they were profitable to Him. Peter’s Second Epistle was written not long before he died, 2Pet.1.14. In it he tells of the future, he encourages and guides the saints, and he worships the Lord, 2Pet.3.18. How similar in this is he to Jacob at the end of his life: he prophesies, he guides his sons, Genesis chapter 49, and he worships, Heb.11.21.
1 Maclaren, A. “The Life of David as Reflected in His Psalms”. Butler & Tanner, Frome and London.
Of Peter’s life J.R. MacDuff writes, “Like the mountain, which close at hand is torn and splintered – ploughed up with unsightly scars by spring floods and winter storms. But as we recede, and the soft autumn evening tints fall upon it – the jagged outline is lost; we see only a mass of mellowed glory! Such was the evening of Peter’s life.”2 So true of Peter; also so true of Jacob! May we end life like them! Both Jacob and Simon Peter could say with David, “Thy right hand hath holden me up, and Thy gentleness hath made me great” Ps.18.35.
- 2 MacDuff, J.R. “Memories of Gennesaret”. James Nisbet & Co., London.
THE PRODIGAL SON
Jacob was the Old Testament ‘prodigal son’, who lied to his father, divided his home and ran away. (Esau in ways is like the proud ‘elder son’). But God’s grace followed Jacob, as it still does with prodigal sons, brought him back to the Land and blessed him more than he could imagine, Gen.48.11. So it was with the prodigal son of Luke chapter 15: what took him from feeding the pigs and gave him the best robe? Grace! And may we never forget the grace that was shown to us at conversion, which brought us near though we were so far away, enriched us though we were so poor, and gladdened us though we were so miserable. May we also share something of the heart of our gracious God in seeking to reach the prodigal and the stranger. Let us never be narrow or exclusive in our outreach or prayers for the lost.
- Robe and ring, and royal sandals,
Wait the lost ones – “Call them in!
- (Anna Shipton)
Jacob failed in early life and caused a division in the home, but the grace of God moulded him into a key part of His purpose. So it was with John Mark. He departed from Paul and Barnabas in their missionary journey and as a result caused a division in the work, Acts 15.38,39. But God’s grace did not give up with Mark, and He made him profitable for the ministry, 2Tim.4.11. He also made his writings a key part of the New Testament Scriptures. While Jacob spoke of the Christ Who would come, Genesis chapter 49, Mark wrote of the Christ Who had come.
As we have looked at the bright star of Jacob displaying the grace of God to the undeserving, our eyes have become more accustomed to the sky of Scripture, and we begin to see more and more examples of God’s grace to the unworthy. The stars are of different brightness, and in different places in the sky, but all are shining to “the praise of the glory of His grace”. We have only looked at a few and we could look at hundreds more, but we will only consider one more: ourselves. We are part of the great galaxy which displays on earth, and will display in eternity, “the exceeding riches of His grace” Eph.2.7. If it was not for the same grace as was shown to Jacob, where would any of us be today?
- Say, while lost in holy wonder,
Why, O Lord, such love to me?
Grace shall reign eternally.
- (John Ken)
There came a day when a lowly Galilean journeyed through Samaria and found rest sitting on a well that Jacob had dug. A local woman saw Him wearied with His journey and she asked Him, “Art Thou greater than our father Jacob?” Jn.4.12. Is He greater than Jacob? Woman of Samaria! This footsore and thirsty traveller Who has asked you for a drink is none less than the God of Jacob! He has stooped to earth to reach a sinful soul like you and can give you living water to cause you never to thirst again! The ladder reaches to earth: that is why He sits on the well; the ladder touches heaven: that is why He offers everlasting life.
Jacob and all the characters we have mentioned were failing men and women who needed the grace of God to lift them up, but not so the Christ Whom we know and love. He had no failures or inconsistencies. We can use many good phrases to describe Jacob, but “fine flour” is not one of them; “unchangeable” and “the same from first to last” are not true of Jacob. But this Man of Sychar is greater than Jacob: all consistency is in Him; “He is altogether lovely” S of S.5.16. While we value the character of Jacob because we can relate to him, we would not like to trust our eternity to him. But how different it is with the Son of God, Who never has failed and never will fail; we can happily trust Him for time and for eternity: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today and for ever” Heb.13.8. I hope these pages have been enough to show us that God Who is full of grace to the sons of men does not change throughout all Scripture; and when His Son came to earth that character only shone all the clearer in Him. He is the God of changelessness, the God of Jacob.
- Matchless Lover!
Changeless as the eternal laws.
- (William Reid)
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
“In the beginning God …” Genesis 1.1
On the very first page of the Bible this bold assertion is made as to the reality and eternal existence of God. No explanations are necessary; no introductions are required; we are simply confronted with the greatest reality ever and God accepts and expects that no one would be foolish enough to doubt His existence for one moment. All creation bears testimony to its Almighty Creator and we are surrounded with evidence in abundance as to His power and wisdom. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork” Ps.19.1
When everything began, God was already there; there was no one and nothing before God. How blessed that we can call this God our Father and know His gracious care, love and help throughout life and in the unending ages of eternity! He slumbers not! His ear is ever open to our cries. How amazing that we should be the objects of His unfailing care and that we should ceaselessly be in His thoughts; never ignored or forgotten by Him!
“I am God, even thy God” Ps.50.7. May we long to know Him more intimately, love Him more sincerely and serve Him more loyally.
- Why should I ever careful be
Since such a God is mine?
He watches o’er me night and day,
And tells me “Mine is thine.”
“… Put Thou my tears into Thy bottle: are they not in Thy book?” Psalm 56.8
How many tears have fallen over human history! Has there ever been a face that was never tear-stained? Who can forget the aged patriarch who had known so many sorrows in his life, bowing over the dead body of his beloved Sarah and weeping at the loss of a lifelong friend who had shared so many experiences with him on the pathway of life, Gen.23.2? Or who would not be moved by the tears of a father, King David, who wept inconsolably as he learned of the tragic death of his rebellious son Absalom, 2Sam.18.33? What tears were shed during the cruel infanticide ordered by the unspeakably heartless Herod at the time of the birth of Christ, Matt.2.16-18! “Lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children” Matt.2.18. These heart-breaking scenes have been replicated millions of times over during the sad story of the human race.
Our pain and sorrow matter to Him. He does not dismiss the grief and hurt that cause the tears to flow so freely. The first question Jesus asked the heartbroken Mary as she lingered at the sepulchre was, “Woman, why weepest thou?” Jn.20.15. Soon it will all be over, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” Rev.21.4.
- Ye mourning pilgrims, dry your tears and hush each sigh of sorrow;
The long awaited morn appears, the bright Sabbatic morrow.
By William M. Banks, Scotland
THE WRATH OF THE LAMB – Rev.6.12-17 (Part 2)
In the previous paper, we saw that this subject can be considered under the following sevenfold outline:
- The wonder indicated – v.12a
- The cosmos devastated – v.12b
- The effect produced – vv.12c-14
- The persons affected – v.15a-g
- The hiding attempted – v.15h
- The cry articulated – v.16
- The reason adduced – v.17
We considered the first three, and will now turn to the final four.
The Persons Affected – v.15a-g
Seven distinct groups are mentioned. The response is interesting. It might have been anticipated that they would seek mercy based on repentance, but they do not: they seek death! It is the same in 9.6. Today we hear it said that if God made Himself known dramatically men would believe. The opposite is the case. Not only do they seek death but they refuse to repent, 9.20,21, and increase in their blasphemy, 16.9,11,21! The variety of persons involved is comprehensive and fully representative of all of humanity1:
- The kings of the earth, v.15a – leaders of nations, prime ministers, presidents;
- The great men, v.15b – subordinates to the above, cabinet ministers, C.E.O.s of top businesses;
- The rich men, v.15c – bankers, sports icons, ‘paradise’ owners;
- The chief captains, v.15d – hierarchy in military platforms: air, sea and land;
- The mighty men, v.15e – influencers of the population, media moguls (giants), members of parliaments, union bosses;
- The bondmen, v.15f – “every”! – slaves, skilled workers, agnostics, atheists;
- The freemen, v.15g – “every”! – all responsible members of society; none excluded!
- 1 Allen, J. “What the Bible Teaches – Revelation”. John Ritchie Ltd., 1997.
When we observe the corruption at every level of society today the above is not surprising. What is surprising is what is awaiting mankind: there will be no remaining atheists then!
The Hiding Attempted – v.15h:
“hid themselves in … dens and … the rocks …”
The location that men seek is clearly indicated: “the dens and in the rocks of the mountains”, but it is too late now! The opportunity had been presented earlier, as Isa.32.2 indicates: “And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Alas, His face is different now! The cry is too late.
The Cry Articulated – v.16:
“Fall on us, and hide us … from the wrath of the Lamb”
The reality of Divine intervention has at last dawned. They do not look to their religion or ‘…ism’ now, whether Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Sikhism, materialism …, but instead “they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty, when He ariseth to shake terribly the earth” Isa.2.19. Three things are to be observed:
The Appeal for Death – v.16a
“Fall on us, and hide us”; compare 9.6 and contrast medical science today with its fundamental ethos to prolong life, but it is too late: “death shall flee from them”, and they still refuse to repent, 9.21. As indicated above this contrasts with those who say today, “If only God would intervene we would believe”.
The Evident Sovereignty of God – v.16b
They are compelled to acknowledge that God is on the throne and in complete control; compare Dan.7.9: “the Ancient of Days did sit” in supreme majesty and settled authority.
The Supremacy of the Lamb – v.16c,d
This is seen in two particulars:
“The glory of His majesty” – v.16c (see Isa.2.19 above)
“The face of Him”; the Lamb is intimately linked with the Throne Sitter. Men want to be hidden from the display of His glory; they have come to realise the awful consequences involved. What a contrast with the delight of those in the celestial city, who will “see His face” 22.4.
“The wrath of the Lamb” – v.16d
The victory of Calvary (as the Lamb) has given Him the authority (see 5.6) to undertake the judgment of the universe and to display the necessary wrath on those who have refused to come under the benefit of His accomplished atonement. It will be seen in its fulness in the opening of the seventh seal, 8.1, which contains the seven trumpets and the seven vials.
The Reason Adduced – v.17:
“for the great day of His wrath is come”
The reality has at last dawned, v.17a: “the great day of His wrath is come”. This is part of “the day of the Lord” and precedes “the day of judgment” 2Pet.3.7, and of course “the day of God” 2Pet.3.12. It should be noted that wrath is associated with earth (Revelation chapters 6-19) and is the response of holiness to persistent and impenitent wickedness. (Care should be taken regarding the use of the word “wrath” associated with the darkness of Calvary. The word “judgment” is more appropriate).
The severity of the effect is emphasised in v.17b: “who shall be able to stand?” (compare Mal.3.2). A similar question is asked in Nah.1.6: “Who can stand before His indignation? And who can abide in the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him”. The answer is given in the next verse of Nahum: “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth them that trust in Him”. As in Nahum so here; the answer is given in the immediately succeeding chapter: two cases of people are “able to stand”: the “sealed” vv.1-8, and the saved, vv.9-17!
To be continued (D.V.)
By Jack Hay (Scotland)
Paper 3 – BUILDERS, TRADERS AND WARRIORS
Jehoshaphat had removed the “high places” and had put his Bible teaching programme in place; it had a sobering effect on the region. “The fear of the Lord” gripped the nations, and countered intended aggression against Judah, 2Chr.17.10. Some of these former foes went to the extent of sending substantial gifts to acknowledge his dominance. There was a similar effect on the people of Jerusalem in the aftermath of God’s judgment on Ananias and Sapphira. As they observed the believers’ reverence for God, the power of God exhibited by the apostles, and the sense of togetherness (the “with one accord” spirit), they were filled with awe, “and of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them” Acts 5.11-13. The lesson is that if the right conditions are in place in our lives, privately and corporately, while they may not necessarily result in a wave of gospel blessing, such conditions will at least command the respect of the community.
A building project was next on Jehoshaphat’s agenda, when “he built in Judah castles, and cities of store” 2Chr.17.12. Obviously, he himself did not mix mortar or handle a trowel, but he was motivating others to build, and was creating opportunities for them. In New Testament times, that was the function of what could be described as the public gifts that Christ gave to the Church. Their activity was “for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ” Eph.4.11,12, R.V. In other words, public men should be motivators, and the aim of teaching is to see every saint brought to such a state of spiritual maturity as to be personally involved in assembly service, which in turn is calculated to upbuild. May those in leadership among us be proactive in promoting initiatives that give every believer opportunities to be builders.
In erecting castles, Jehoshaphat was ensuring protection for his people, and in developing store cities he was guaranteeing provision for them. Elders have the same responsibility today. Paul encouraged the Ephesian elders to protect the little flock from the evil intentions of “grievous wolves” from outside and power-hungry men from among themselves, Acts 20.29,30. There is still the same need for vigilance. They had also the duty of providing spiritual nourishment for the flock: “feed the church of God” v.28, and elders must still maintain a healthy balanced spiritual diet from the Word for the hungry flock.
The “cities of Judah” had been targeted by the teachers, 2Chr.17.7,9, but now they are seen as the province of the traders, as Jehoshaphat “had much business in the cities of Judah” v.13. Robust trading is essential for the health of any national economy, and in a parable the Saviour used it as an illustration of our activity for Him in His absence: “Occupy [‘trade, do business’] till I come” Lk.19.13. One servant in the story used his skill and diligence as an entrepreneur to see his pound gain ten pounds, v.16. Apply the lesson: in light of the Judgment Seat of Christ let us be spiritual ‘merchants’, giving ourselves single-mindedly to the business of making eternal profit from the resources He has given us for His service. A successful businessman has an eye for opportunities, and willingly embarks on new ventures. He is prudent in the use of his capital, and is no stranger to hard work. Just as Jehoshaphat saw trading in the cities of Judah as the economic engine room of his kingdom, so let us have a substantial input of time, energy and resources for the assemblies with which we are associated; hear Him say to you, “Occupy till I come”.
Details of Jehoshaphat’s standing army occupy the latter part of 2Chronicles chapter 17. He had a huge number of fighting men garrisoned at Jerusalem, “men of war, mighty men of valour” v.13. The first expression is an indication of their commitment; they were not just ‘keep-fit fanatics’, honing their skills for martial arts contests! They were ready for combat, alert for any enemy activity, despite the lull in hostilities that the fear of God had induced, v.10. Similarly, Paul encourages us to regard ourselves as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, on active service, and remaining unimpeded by what might appear to be legitimate concerns. May we all be available for conflict against our foes, the world, the flesh and the devil, with the overriding consideration of each one being to “please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” 2Tim.2.3,4. That may involve “endur[ing] hardness”, being willing for the devotion, discipline and danger that military service entails.
The reference to valour points to their courage. While the Hebrew word has a range of meanings, context often gives the impression that those so described were brave warriors, who would not shrink from duty; a far cry from the cowardice of “the children of Ephraim, [who] being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle” Ps.78.9. Many of us are naturally timid, in temperament more like Timothy than Paul, but when it comes to active engagement in the work of the gospel, there is a reservoir of Divine boldness to be tapped into, as when Paul was “bold in our God to speak … the gospel of God with much contention” 1Thess.2.2.
Jehoshaphat surrounded himself with these valiant men, for they “waited on the king” 2Chr.17.19; he was the “companion of all them that fear [God]” Ps.119.63. One notable commander was doubtless a kindred spirit, “Amasiah the son of Zichri, who willingly offered himself unto the Lord” 2Chr.17.16. This was an advance on being just a heroic military man. True, his allegiance was to the king, but beyond that there had been the Old Testament equivalent of presenting his body a living sacrifice, Rom.12.1. What is said of him has its counterpart in the New Testament in the experience of poor Macedonian believers, who “first gave their own selves to the Lord”. That led to commitment to the support of God’s servants, and generous sacrificial giving to meet the needs of impoverished believers in far off Judaea, 2Cor.8.5. Whether it be spiritual ‘military service’, or ministering to the saints, as in 2Corinthians chapter 8, the first prerequisite is commitment to God, deliberately yielding ourselves to Him and to His will for us. Romans chapter 12 highlights the believer’s responsibility in various spheres: in the assembly, among individual believers and to men of the world, especially those who persecute us. None of these obligations will be met adequately if we do not get our primary responsibility in place, the one at the head of the chapter, presenting our bodies a living sacrifice. Discharging these other duties in a committed way flows out of willingly offering ourselves to the Lord as Amasiah did. Jehoshaphat saw the value of keeping company with a man like that; choose your companions wisely and well.
Like many others, arriving at a position of strength and wealth left Jehoshaphat vulnerable. There is truth in the cliché that victory can be the backdoor to defeat. Ai followed Jericho, Joshua chapters 6,7; for Elijah, Horeb followed Carmel, 1Kings chapters 18,19; and so we could go on. Let us be particularly vigilant when there has been apparent success. The man with such solid convictions in 2Chronicles chapter 17 made huge compromises in chapter 18. The first verse of the chapter is ominous, for although “Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance”, he “joined affinity with Ahab”. The phrase “join affinity with” indicates a marriage alliance, and so can be translated ‘ally oneself in marriage’; “he allied himself with Ahab by marriage” J.N.D.
This was a common tactic on the part of royal houses. By intermarrying they reduced the likelihood of an attack from the other state. Why ever did Jehoshaphat resort to such a common earthly ploy to secure his northern border? Could he not rest on the glorious truth that “my help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth” Ps.121.2? Could he not perceive the grave spiritual dangers connected with his family being linked to the godless family of Ahab and Jezebel? Could he not have anticipated where it would all lead to?
Where did it lead to? Frankly, he could never have predicted the ramifications of that one false step. It left David’s dynasty hanging by a thread, 2Chr.22.10-12. His son Jehoram married Athaliah, Ahab and Jezebel’s daughter, and in a bid for power, “she arose and destroyed all the seed royal”. Only the intervention of God rescued the situation and maintained the line of Messiah by shielding a baby from the slaughter. So, this was a huge mistake on the part of Jehoshaphat, with a massive knock-on effect. Could Abraham have anticipated the legacy of trouble that he would leave for the Middle East by fathering Ishmael? Could Adam have predicted the universal misery that he created by his one act of disobedience? The lesson is, “walk circumspectly [carefully]” Eph.5.15, picking each step thoughtfully, for we can never foresee the ever-widening ripples created by one false step. Life choices can have a ‘domino effect’.
To be continued (D.V.)
“A declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us” Luke 1.1
by Dennis Williamson (N. Ireland)
Paper 1 – THE GODHEAD
When the apostle Paul spoke to a company from Athens on Mars Hill he corrected their knowledge of God as to His likeness, Acts17.29. It was their general impression of God he challenged. Rom.1.20 brings before us a specific manifestation of the Godhead (or, perhaps more accurately, Godhood) emphasising His greatness. But the Epistle to the Colossians goes further still: in Col.2.9 Paul speaks of absolute possession or “the fulness of the Godhead bodily”. These nuances are seen in the slightly different words used in each case.
To be relatively succinct with such a vast subject, I purpose, in this article, to engage the reader with some salient features of guidance for the mind, that we may be preserved from the morass of error which already pertains in various circles. I will do this under five headings.
We speak of the ‘Trinity’ when we refer to the three Persons in the Godhead. In itself this is not a Biblical word. However, there is in Scripture abundant evidence of the truth it conveys: evidence much greater and more accurate than what you may expect to hear in any court of law. I understand that perhaps the first person to use this term in relation to the Godhead was Tertullian, in the second century A.D.
In the undivided unity of the Godhead there are three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three are co-equal, co-eternal and co-existent. I never use the expression ‘first, second and third Persons’. To me, it gives the impression of gradation within the Godhead, and we know that this is not the case. What does it mean, then, to say that God is Triune? It does not mean that there are three Gods. How then can God be ‘one’ and ‘three’ at the same time? Because He is ‘one’ in a different way to how He is ‘three’. Let me try to explain: as to His essence, God is one, but as to His existence God is three. Further, this doctrine is peculiar to Holy Scripture. Both Hinduism and Buddhism have certain ‘trinitarian’ formulae, but these neither explain nor confirm Bible doctrine. There is not a plurality of ‘Gods’ but a plurality of Persons in the Godhead. This does not mean that God is one and just manifests Himself in three ways. No! There are three distinct Persons in the Godhead.
Many false teachers assume, and therefore assert, that the Father is the Son and the Son is the Holy Spirit. This is known as ‘Modalism’, that is, that God appears in certain modes in relation to history, as opposed to there being three distinct Persons. Moreover, many more modern doctrines appear under this banner, for example, Unitarianism, Temporal Sonship, and that the Holy Spirit is an influence rather than a Person. The idea for this is based on a false interpretation of Israel’s Shema, the statement with which all Jews should start the day: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” Deut.6.4,5. “God” in this passage is Elohim, a plural word: “The Lord our God [plural] is one Lord”, revealing a compound unity. In the Hebrew language the indicator ‘plural’ is at least three. It is well to note that while there is distinction of Persons in Deity, yet there are no degrees.
Regarding what has just been stated as to compound unity, this can be confirmed from the first verse of the Bible, Gen.1.1: “In the beginning God [plural noun] created [singular verb] the heaven [dual] and the earth.” Distinctions like these are seen throughout the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.
It almost goes without saying that knowledge of this subject cannot be derived from philosophy, or demonstrated mathematically or grasped scientifically. It comes from the measure in which God is pleased to reveal Himself in His Word. Therefore accurate evidence for the Trinity is found only through the Scriptures.
Here are a few references to ponder. Hidden in the very structure of the Bible we find these truths. For example, in Num.6.24-26 we read: “The Lord bless thee and keep thee … The Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee … The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” The threefold nature of this blessing is strongly suggestive of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Isaiah likewise, in his vision, heard these words: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts” Isa.6.3. Then later, in Isa.48.16, the Lord says, “The Lord God, and His Spirit, hath sent Me.”
Turning to the New Testament: at the baptism of the Lord, recorded in Mk.1.9-11, the Lord was baptised in Jordan, the Spirit descended like a dove, and the Father’s voice was heard. In John’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus speaks in 14.26 about the Holy Spirit, ”whom the Father will send in My name”. A similar affirmation is in 15.26: “the Comforter, whom I shall send from the Father”. The same is stated in Gal.4.4-6: “God sent forth His Son … God hath sent forth the Spirit”. All this confirms Tri-unity in the Godhead.
The Father is recognised as God in Jn.6.27: “Him hath God the Father sealed”; again, Peter speaks of “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” 1Pet.1.2. The Son is also recognised as God, for He claimed attributes that only God possesses. We read, “Jesus knowing their thoughts” Matt.9.4, and “for He [the Lord Jesus] knew what was in man” Jn.2.25. This is omniscience. He said, “All power is given unto Me” Matt.28.18. This is omnipotence. Then in v.20 of the same chapter: “Lo, I am with you alway”. This is omnipresence.
The Lord also performed acts that only Deity could perform. He created all things, Jn.1.3; He forgave sins, Mk.2.1-12; He raised the dead, Jn.12.9; all future judgment is committed unto Him, Jn.5.27; to mention but a few. “The Word was God” Jn.1.1, the emphasis there being not on the verb, “was”, but on the Person, “God”. The absence of the article has been used by false teachers in an attempt to detract from the distinct glory of the Lord. They say it means He was ‘a god’. However, the absence of the article never denotes such a meaning, throughout John’s Gospel. Rather, it is used to underline the distinction of Persons in the unity of the Godhead.
The Holy Spirit is also recognised as God in the Bible. In Acts 5.3,4, when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit they were said to have lied unto God. The Holy Spirit searches the deep things of God, 1Cor.2.10. He also regenerates, Jn.3.5,6,8.
In Matt.28.19 the writer (quoting the Lord Jesus) states the truth of ‘oneness’ and ‘threeness’ in one sentence: “… baptising them in the name [singular] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”; the one name covering the three Persons of the Godhead.
Like all fundamental doctrines, Satan was not slow in mounting his attacks on these. The strategy and subtlety shown in Genesis chapter 3 have persisted throughout history from then until now, and will continue into the future. Early in the Christian era this became manifested in various ways and through different people. In the third century Sabellius stated that there was one God, expressed in three ways. By the fourth century Arius claimed that there was one eternal God who created the Son and the Spirit, and these had a lesser kind of deity. The debate settled at the ‘Council of Nicaea’ raged over the difference between two Greek words: homoios, meaning ‘similar’, and homos, meaning ‘the same’. When related to the Divine essence this latter is fundamental. Athanasius challenged the company to remain firm on the truth of ‘sameness of essence’ in all three Persons of the Godhead, which they did. Thus was preserved another pillar of doctrine for succeeding generations. To emphasise: ‘oneness’ while disregarding ‘threeness’ leads to the error of Unitarianism; while to focus on ‘threeness’ to the detriment of ‘oneness’ supports tri-theism, a fundamental tenet and error of Mormonism. To accept both ‘oneness’ and ‘threeness’ in the Godhead agrees with the truth of Holy Scripture.
With regard to this wondrous truth, our finite minds are subject to what God Himself has chosen to reveal in His Word. The very concept of unoriginated being, of uncreated, underived eternality or timelessness is naturally beyond us. Notwithstanding this, God would, in His infinite wisdom, make us aware of these glories, and to Whom they belong. This desire on God’s part, to reveal something of this magnitude to us, indicates a longing to have fellowship with His creatures. This, of course, we know, is dependent upon our possession of the Holy Spirit, 1Cor.2.9-12.
The Father is eternal, Titus 1.2; 1Pet.1.2; Rev.1.4; 1Jn.4.9,14. The Son is eternal: “Thy throne O God” Heb.1.8; ‘Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail’’ Heb.1.12. The Spirit is eternal: “who [Christ] through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot unto God” Heb.9.14. Eternality is an attribute of Deity. In John chapter 5, the Lord Jesus asserts His equality with the Father, in several ways. The eternality of the Persons of the Godhead is one of the attributes that show this equality.
Throughout the Epistles of the New Testament one thing is very clear: our concept of God will impact upon our conduct in this world. Paul speaks of “fear, and … much trembling” marking his pathway and service. What he learned of God in His presence conditioned his practice in this world. It is no wonder that, as he comes to the end of that great Epistle of service, he says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” 2Cor.13.14.
To be continued (D.V.)
‘It’s a one way ticket for me … but I’m ready.’
When I saw the above headline, I wondered if the words were spoken by someone who was about to die, but was ready to do so, and I read further. The article was in fact the touching story of a Ukrainian man who had taken the decision to get his wife and family safely out of Ukraine, then, having done so, to return to his homeland, alone, to join in the national effort to defend it. As he said, it was ‘a one way ticket’: he had assessed the situation, and made the difficult choice to travel to that place of danger, having no plans to leave again, and with the very real risk that he would lose his life.
Although the actual story was different from the possibility I had anticipated, I strongly urge you to consider what was on my mind: death, and being ready for it. Most of us will never make the journey that the Ukrainian man made, but, unless the Lord Jesus Christ returns soon, all of us will die. That man set off voluntarily, but we have no choice regarding death: it is unavoidable. Although he had a ‘one way ticket’, it is possible that one day he will come back, but there is no ‘return journey’ from death. A wise woman once affirmed, “We must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again” 2Samuel 14.14; Job declared, “When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return” Job 16.22. We die because we are sinners: “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” Romans 5.12, and after death comes judgment for sins: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” Hebrews 9.27.
In light of the solemn reality of death and judgment, it is vitally important to be ready. People do things to prepare for their death, such as making a will. However, while it is wise to make preparation for what will happen here after you have gone, it is immeasurably more important that you prepare for what will face you personally when you leave. The Bible tells us that there are only two destinations after death: Heaven and Hell. So that we could be saved from Hell, and go to Heaven, God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer, bleed and die for our sins upon the cross: “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. It is only by trusting in Him, Who died and rose again, that you can be ready to die: “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.
Long ago, God gave this clear message to Israel: “Prepare to meet thy God” Amos 4.12. That same appeal comes to you today. Are you ready to depart on that journey from which you will never return? In other words: have you repented, and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, to save you from going to Hell, and to take you to Heaven? If not, then turn from your sins, and put your faith in Him, today. He will save you, and you will be ready to die, without fear of perishing. Like Paul, who was facing the possibility of dying in the near future, you will be able to say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain … having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” Philippians 1.21,23.
- “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do His commandments: His praise endureth for ever” (Ps. 111.10)
- The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and they that lack the beginning have neither middle nor end.
- John Bunyan
- “Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save’” Mark 15.31This derisory comment shows that, whatever the Lord Jesus may have been able to do to save people in the past (the religious leaders could not, for example, deny His healings, Jn.11.47), and despite His claims to be able to save, the chief priests believed that He was certainly powerless to rescue Himself from this situation. How wrong they were! And yet, ironically, what they said was true, although not in the sense in which they meant it: in order to “save others” He could not “save” Himself. If He had succumbed to their challenge, “Let Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross” v.32 (which, of course, as we know, He would never have done), then there would have been no salvation for us. “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day” Lk.9.22.
- Himself He could not save! He on the cross must die,
Or mercy could not come to ruined sinners nigh;
Yes, Christ, the Son of God, must bleed
That sinners might from sin be freed.
- Himself He could not save! He on the cross must die,
“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” Colossians 3.3,4
Two contrasting words from these two verses are “hid” and “appear”. The former word concerns the present, the latter the future. Both words are used in reference to “Christ”: presently He is hidden, out of the sight of the world, but in a coming day He will be manifested to it. Both words also refer to our “life” in relation to “Christ”: the first (our “life is hid with” Him) is a blessed truth, but the second (He “is our life”) is even more wonderful. And, since our life is inextricably bound up with and in Him, it will not remain “hid” forever: when He is manifested, we, and the life that we have in Him, shall also be manifested to the world. In light of this, well could Paul write, “Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” vv.1,2.
- One with Himself, I cannot die;
My soul is purchased by His blood;
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Saviour and my God.
(Charitie L. Bancroft)
- One with Himself, I cannot die;