ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
THE LAMB IN REVELATION
by W. Banks
A DECLARATION OF THOSE THINGS
by D. Williamson
by P. Robinson
COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS IN A CHANGING WORLD
by R. Reynolds
“For His name’s sake”
When Scripture speaks of the Lord’s “name”, it is doing much more than identifying Him; the “name” stands for His Person and everything associated with Him: Who He is, His nature, His attributes, and all He has done, is doing, and will do. Related to this is the thought that He is worthy of renown: all glory, honour, and reverence should be ascribed to Him.
The phrase, “for His name’s sake” occurs four times in the Authorised Version, twice in the Psalms and twice in John’s Epistles. It is wonderful to observe that each of these references involves mortal men. That God would deign to associate in such a way with the children of Adam is grace indeed! And not only was this true of ‘Bible heroes’, but it is so for each one of us, and has lessons for us, now, at the beginning of 2024.
“I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake” 1Jn.2.12.
The word John employs here, translated “little children”, is the one he uses to refer, not to those who are young in the faith, but to all believers: each of us has received the forgiveness of sins “for His name’s sake”, or “because of His name” NET, that is, the basis of our forgiveness is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the work He has done, as John has stated earlier in the chapter: “Jesus Christ the righteous … the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” vv.1,2.
We rejoice that we have the forgiveness of sins, and that nothing can take it away, resting as it does on our blessed Saviour and His once-for-all sacrifice upon the cross. And let us be zealous in declaring the gospel message to a world of perishing sinners: “through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” Acts 10.43.
“Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake, that He might make His mighty power to be known” Ps.106.8.
In this Psalm, the writer recounts times in the history of the nation of Israel where they were unfaithful to Jehovah, and yet, in His mercy, He delivered them. The context in this verse is the deliverance from Pharaoh at the Red Sea, vv.7-11. They “understood not [His] wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of [His] mercies; but provoked Him at the sea” v.7. Having so soon forgotten what He had just done for them, they were undeserving of His mercy, “nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake, that He might make His mighty power to be known” v.8. Their rescue, and their preservation in the years ahead, were not due to any merit of theirs, but “for His name’s sake”: in doing so He was being true to His nature, and His purpose was that others might know “His mighty power”. Sadly, the gratitude of the people was short-lived: “they sang His praise. They soon forgat His works” vv.12,13.
We too have been greatly blessed by the God of our salvation, and yet, like them, we are prone to forget, to be ungrateful, and to complain. May we be consistent in appreciation for all we have received from His bountiful hand, and unwavering in expressing thankfulness and praise to Him. And let us be humble, remembering that our spiritual preservation is not because of anything in us, but because we have a merciful, faithful God, Who acts in accord with Who He is, and in order that others may come to know His saving and keeping power.
“He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” Ps.23.3.
Most readers are familiar with this much-loved Psalm, so we will not dwell on details, but just pause to note a reason why God guides His people in paths characterised by righteousness: it is “for His name’s sake”, that is, in keeping with His character, and for His honour. We are to be righteous in our walk, living according to the principles clearly set out in the Scriptures. And there can be no higher motive for doing so than that the reputation of our Lord would be upheld. It is sad when the media carry accounts of people who name the name of Christ, but who walk in unrighteous ways. In every decision we face, whether as individuals, or in family life, or in the assembly, we should ask ourselves this: will my choice bring glory to the Lord? Let us do nothing that would bring dishonour upon His blessed name.
“Because that for His name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles” 3Jn.7.
It is likely that here John is speaking of preachers and teachers of God’s Word. However, what he says is true of all believers (or at least it ought to be). We have all been sent forth to serve Him, and each of us, in his or her own sphere, is to bear witness to the truth. We go forth on His behalf, to spread, tell forth and defend His name. The phrase, “taking nothing of the Gentiles” certainly shows that we are not to seek and receive support from the ungodly, but the principle goes much further: we are not to compromise with the world, or employ its methods, or imitate it. It is a great honour to be associated with the Lord Jesus Christ, and to bear His name. It is incumbent on us, individually and collectively, to do His work according to principles consistent with our dignified calling: those in His inspired Word.
As we enter another year in the will of the Lord, let us be diligent to rest in the assurance of the forgiveness of sins; to be humble believers, who are thankful to God for His faithfulness; to walk in paths that are pleasing to Him; and to follow the Scriptures of truth as we go forth in testimony for Him. May these things be true of each of us in 2024, “for His name’s sake”.
At this time of another year it is inevitable that we look back over the months which have so quickly sped past, reflect upon God’s faithfulness, recall His abundant mercies and raise our “Ebenezer” in remembrance of all His enabling grace hitherto.
We stand upon the threshold of 2024, with all that is unknown, conscious that He Whose hand guides unerringly will undertake for us as we go forward in His will. We are increasingly aware of the prospect of His imminent return as we view with dismay the disintegration of society on every level. We are conscious, perhaps as never before, that this world is definitely not our home and we feel ever more marginalised and unwelcome in a scene that has become more intolerant of and hostile toward Christians. Let us, however, be cheered and consoled by the absolute certainty of future prospects vouchsafed to us by Christ. “For 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.
Every remembrance of God’s goodness causes us to acknowledge afresh our gratitude to Him Who has enabled the publication of ‘Assembly Testimony’ to continue for the encouragement and edification of God’s dear people. We are sincerely grateful to all who consistently pray for our blessing, to all who encourage by their letters of appreciation, to all who assist by their practical help and generous gifts and to all who facilitate the distribution of the magazine.
Thanks must also be expressed to the secretary for his diligent and time-consuming labours in ensuring that correspondence is swiftly replied to; to our auditor for his expert services; to all the committee members for their amicable cooperation, interest and willing involvement and to our editor for his faithful selection and screening of material for the benefit of the saints of God.
We wish all a happy New Year, possibly the year of the appearing of “the bright and morning star” Rev.22.16, and solicit your continued prayerful remembrance of us in the days ahead in His gracious will.
by J. Riddle
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.53: PSALM 31 (Part 2)
We have seen that the two sections of the Psalm may be entitled, The Hunted Man, vv.1-8, and The Hated Man, vv.9-24. Having looked at the first section in the previous paper, we now come to:
THE HATED MAN – vv.9-24
In describing old age, Solomon refers to days and years when “the clouds return after the rain” Eccl.12.2, meaning ‘one trouble after another’. Just as one shower ends, the next one threatens or commences. That is the situation here. The clouds had dispersed, and David was so glad: “I will be glad and rejoice in Thy mercy: for Thou hast considered my trouble … Thou hast set my feet in a large room” vv.7,8. But not for long. As Derek Kidner1 points out, “It is hard to say whether this points to a renewed onslaught … or whether the crisis of the opening verses is recalled, to be explored a second time in greater depth.” We do not always heed Peter’s advice: “casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you” 1Pet.5.7. One thing is clear: David’s situation in the second part of the Psalm is a great deal worse than it was in the opening section. “The deepening demoralisation of the victim, from gloom to hopelessness, v.12, and terror v.13, shows how murderous is the impact of hatred, especially when it takes the form of rejection.”1
- 1 Kidner, D. “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72”. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester.
For the second time (see the previous paper), we must notice his distress, vv.9-13; his dependence, vv.14-18; his deliverance, vv.19-24.
His Distress – vv.9-13
David describes his current circumstances in three ways: first, “I am in trouble” vv.9,10; second, “I am … a reproach” v.11, J.N.D.; third, “I am forgotten” vv.12,13.
“I am in trouble”
“Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed” vv.9,10.
As J.M. Flanigan2 puts it, “Maclaren tells it all so feelingly; ‘The physical and mental effects of anxiety are graphically described. Sunken eyes, enfeebled soul, wasted body, are gaunt witnesses of his distress. Cares seem to him to have gnawed his very bones, so weak is he. All he can do is to sigh.’” This is a rather different picture to the customary impression of an energetic young man outstripping his enemies as they hunted him on the mountains! Paul was anything but a heroic trail-blazer at Corinth: “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” 1Cor.2.3. The Old and New Testament ‘heroes’ were not ‘supermen’! Elijah was “a man subject to like passions as we are” Jms.5.17.
- 2 Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
The words, “my strength faileth because of mine iniquity” lead most commentators to say, for example, that there was “some sin which called for chastisement”3, but the word “iniquity” is given as “misery … distress … affliction” in some versions. However, we may well hesitate before accepting this explanation since it involves a change in the text. An alternative suggestion might be that David was charged with iniquity by his enemies, and false accusation can be demoralising and debilitating. The Lord Jesus was accused in this way: “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” Isa.53.4.
Even if the Psalm does not qualify for the title ‘A Messianic Psalm’, it certainly reminds us of the Lord Jesus. We have already noticed that He referred to v.5 at Calvary. We are now reminded from vv.9,10 that He was indeed “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” Isa.53.3. More follows:
“I am a reproach”
“I was a reproach [‘I am … a reproach’ J.N.D.] among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me” v.11. We cannot miss the comprehensive sweep of this verse in its application to the Lord Jesus:
“I was a reproach among all mine enemies.” It is said of the Lord Jesus that “even Christ pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, ‘The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on Me’” Rom.15.3.
“I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours.” The Lord “came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up … And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust Him out of the city …” Lk.4.16-30. According to Mark, the populace of Nazareth was “offended at Him” Mk.6.1-3.
“I was … a fear to mine acquaintance.” We may think of Peter in this connection. When he was identified in the high priest’s palace, his fear got the better of him and he “denied before them all, saying, ‘I know not what thou sayest’” Matt.26.70. Worse followed (see Matt.26.71-74).
“They that did see me without fled from me.” This recalls the language of Isa.53.3: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”
“I am forgotten”
“I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel. For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life” vv.12,13.
So far as David was concerned, his enemies had forgotten all the good that he had done. The victory over Goliath had faded from their minds. Once he had been serviceable, but now he was regarded as “a broken vessel”. He had been “flung aside contemptuously and no more remembered”.3
- 3 Kirkpatrick, A.F. “The Book of Psalms”. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Peter informed the Gentile audience at Caesarea that the Lord Jesus “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem”, with this result: “whom they slew and hanged on a tree” Acts 10.38,39. The Lord Jesus was slandered, Matt.26.59-61; Lk.23.1-5, and His enemies “took counsel” against Him to put Him to death: “the Pharisees went out, and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him” Matt.12.14; “they took counsel together for to put Him to death” Jn.11.53. “David was betrayed by those whom he came to save; so with the great Antitype, 1Sam.23.5,12.”4
- 4 Clarke, A.G. “Analytical Studies in the Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
His Dependence – vv.14-18
But in the face of all this, David exclaims, “But I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, ‘Thou art my God.’ My times are in Thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me” vv.14,15. A.F. Kirkpatrick3 renders this: “But as for me, on Thee do I trust O Lord”, with the comment, “Men turn from him, but he turns to God”. Derek Kidner1 follows suit in saying, “David wrests the initiative from his enemies and deliberately turns in a new direction … the assertions of vv.14,15a give God His true place as sovereign, and David his secure relationship of intimacy (‘my God’) and dependence (‘in Thy hand’).” The enemies thought that they had David in their hand, vv.8,15, but David thought otherwise. Having said, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit” v.5, he now says, “My times are in Thy hand” v.15. The expression, “my times”, with all the implied variety, transience and change, lie in the sovereign hand of God.
- 1 Kidner, D. “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72”. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester.
- 3 Kirkpatrick, A.F. “The Book of Psalms”. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
But Divine sovereignty does not imply a stern and inflexible attitude on God’s part. He loves to bless people. David therefore calls upon Him to bestow the priestly blessing commanded by Moses: “Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, ‘The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace’” Num.6.23-26. David’s cry, “Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant” v.16, is “highly relevant to the dark looks or averted faces, v.11, which he meets on every side.”1 David calls upon Him to intervene in this way in His loving-kindness: “save me for Thy mercies’ sake” v.16, or “save me in Thy loving-kindness” J.N.D.
Having said, “let me never be ashamed: deliver me in Thy righteousness” v.1, and “save me for Thy mercies’ sake” v.16, David now turns to his enemies: “Let me not be ashamed, O Lord; for I have called upon Thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave [‘let them be silent in Sheol’ J.N.D.]. Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously [‘in pride and contempt’ J.N.D.] against the righteous” vv.17,18.
His Deliverance – vv.19-24
The Psalm concludes on a triumphant note. A.F. Kirkpatrick3 asks, “Can the author of this serenely joyous thanksgiving be the despised and downcast sufferer of Ps.31.9-18? If so, it was surely not at the same moment. An interval has elapsed; his prayer has been answered; the danger is past.” These verses may be divided into three pairs:
- 3 Kirkpatrick, A.F. “The Book of Psalms”. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
God’s Goodness – vv.19,20
“Oh how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men! Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man: Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.”
For “pavilion”, see Ps.27.5, in which a very similar word to that in Ps.31.20 is used: “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion”.Both words have the meaning of ‘a booth’, evidently referring to a shelter. More particularly, we should note the repetition of “them”. David engages in what we might call general exultation.
God’s goodness is likened to a treasure store: “Oh how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee” v.19. His rich provision is emphasised: “which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee”, reminding us that we have “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven …” 1Pet.1.4. We should notice that public testimony is strengthened by unseen resources: those who “trust in Thee before the sons of men” enjoy “the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man” and are kept “secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues”.
Paul describes believers in similar language: “your life is hid with Christ in God” Col.3.3. The word “hid” (krupto) means ‘concealed’ or ‘hidden away from’. Christian life does not subsist in tangible or visible religious practices. It is “associated with Christ and bound up with Him, and for that reason it is invisible.”5 Quite obviously, Paul is not saying that Christian life cannot be seen: he is saying that the source and nature of Christian life cannot be seen. We have this life through union with Christ. The world just ‘hasn’t a clue’ about this: it is completely outside human comprehension. Adam hid from God, Gen.3.8, but our lives are “hid with Christ in God”, denoting the security and safety of that life. “It is beyond the reach of any alien force.”6
- 5 Vine, W.E. “The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine”. Gospel Tract Publications, Glasgow.
6 Bentley, T. “What the Bible Teaches – Colossians”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
God’s Grace – vv.21,22
“Blessed be the Lord: for He hath shewed me His marvellous kindness in a strong city. For I said in my haste, ‘I am cut off from before Thine eyes:’ nevertheless Thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto Thee.” Here is grace indeed! David had cried out in the heat of the moment, “I am cut off from before Thine eyes”, which could be construed as a total lack of faith, but “nevertheless Thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto Thee”. How thankful we all are for the Lord’s grace, compassion and longsuffering. While, in vv.19,20, there is a repetition of “them”, denoting David’s general exultation, here we have “me … I … my”, denoting his personal experience.
The words, “He hath shewed me His marvellous kindness in a strong city” could be metaphorical, following the preceding words, “Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues” v.20. In this case, the “strong city” would refer to the strength and security of God’s presence. But as J.M. Flanigan2 observes, “Many, however, will prefer to read this literally … and will relate it historically to some of David’s triumphs.” While it is possible that this refers to Keilah, with its “gates and bars” 1Sam.23.7, J.M. Flanigan rightly suggests that it “may be better to understand it as first suggested, that Jehovah had become to the Psalmist as a city of refuge, a safe retreat from his enemies and from the world.”2
- 2 Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
God’s Greatness – vv.23,24
“O love the Lord, all ye His saints: for the Lord preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer. Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord [‘Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all ye that hope in Jehovah’ J.N.D.].” Exultation, vv.19,20, and experience, vv.21,22, give place to his exhortation. We should notice “ye” and “your” in these verses.
As Derek Kidner1 points out, “this does not promise an end to trouble: rather the strength to meet it.” In all the troubles and uncertainties of life, we must “love the Lord” and “hope in the Lord”. It is the recipe for spiritual strength.
- 1 Kidner, D. “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72”. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Ian McKee (N. Ireland)
Manasseh – in the Days of the Judges (continued)
The next reference to Manasseh comes during the period when Jephthah the Gileadite was judging. This “mighty man of valour” Judg.11.1, was raised up by God to defeat the Ammonites: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord …” Judg.11.29,30. Jephthah’s rash vow had unintended consequences for “his daughter … and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter” Judg.11.34. It would be unprofitable to discuss the pros and cons of whether Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter or whether she remained a life-long virgin. However, the outcome stands in stark contrast to that relating to the five daughters of Zelophehad, already considered.
The implications of Jephthah’s vow meant that there could be no linear descent of his inheritance, whereas Zelophehad’s name and inheritance continued. The lesson is that the exercise of reverent faith on the part of those five girls brought blessing and constructive precedence, but the rash and fleshly speech of Jephthah resulted in there being no succeeding generation to inherit! Surely the needs of the next generation are of greater importance than personal interests?
Manasseh – in the Kingdom
Manassites were attracted to David in his days of rejection with seven named “captains of the thousands that were of Manasseh. And they helped David against the band of the rovers: for they were all mighty men of valour, and were captains in the host. For at that time day by day there came to David to help him, until it was a great host, like the host of God” 1Chr.12.20-22.
This tribe was also represented in the great muster of forces which came to Hebron to make David king. Again Ephraim and Manasseh’s half tribe from the west of the Jordan are closely associated: “And of the half tribe of Manasseh eighteen thousand, which were expressed by name, to come and make David king” 1Chr.12.31. From the east of Jordan came Manassites along with those from Reuben and Gad, “with all manner of instruments of war for the battle” 1Chr.12.37.
When David was succeeded by his son, Solomon, there were men of Manasseh who were engaged “for every matter pertaining to God, and affairs of the king” 1Chr.26.30-32. Included in the princes of the twelve tribes at this time we have two representing the western and eastern half tribes respectively: “of the half tribe of Manasseh, Joel the son of Pedaiah: of the half tribe of Manasseh in Gilead, Iddo, the son of Zechariah” 1Chr.27.20,21.
As previously considered in relation to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, the half tribe of Manasseh contributed to the “valiant men, men able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war”, who “were four and forty thousand seven hundred and threescore, that went out to the war” 1Chr.5.18. This combined military force had success against the Hagarites and others, “for they cried to God in the battle, and He was intreated of them; because they put their trust in Him” 1Chr.5.20. Not only did they secure much booty, but “they dwelt in their [home]steads until the captivity. And the children of the half tribe of Manasseh dwelt in the land: they increased from Bashan unto Baal-hermon and Senir, and unto mount Hermon” 1Chr.5.22,23. This represented a considerable expansion of Manassite territory to the north and east by the “mighty men of valour, famous men, and heads of the house of their fathers” 1Chr.5.24.
However, if expansion and enrichment resulted when Divine help was experienced following their trust in God, that should not have given way to complacency. We should ever be alert to the repeated cycle in Scripture of victories being followed by defeats, which is also seen in Manasseh’s experience. Later “they transgressed against the God of their fathers, and went a whoring after the gods of the people of the land, whom God destroyed before them. And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even … the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day” 1Chr.5.25,26.
Manasseh’s defection to idolatry was against the background of having in their territory Levitical cities for Kohathites and Gershonites, 1Chr.6.61,62,70,71. This reminds us that departure from God and His ways is very seldom as a result of ignorance but, much more likely, is in spite of what we know! That increases exponentially the level of moral culpability.
The half tribe living west of Jordan seem to receive less attention. However, we see them coexisting in their various towns alongside the tribe of Ephraim, which allows the Chronicler to state, “In these dwelt the children of Joseph the son of Israel” 1Chr.7.28,29. Similarly, representatives of both Ephraim and Manasseh dwelt in Jerusalem, 1Chr.9.3.
The tribes to the east of Jordan, including that half tribe of Manasseh, were first to go into captivity (at the hand of Hazael, of Syria), 2Kgs.10.32,33, Gilead having been “threshed … with threshing instruments of iron” Amos 1.3. All of the northern tribes, including the half tribe of Manasseh to the west of Jordan, were later taken into Assyrian captivity. However, there were individuals from Manasseh who had aligned themselves with Judah and escaped those deportations.
During the revival under King Asa of Judah, when idolatry was put out of the land and the altar of the Lord was renewed, “he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and the strangers with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon: for they fell to him out of Israel in abundance, when they saw that the Lord his God was with him” 2Chr.15.9.
Similarly, during the later revival under Hezekiah a formal invitation was issued to those in the northern kingdom, including Manasseh, “but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them. Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem” 2Chr.30.1,10,11. Some from Manasseh were able to benefit from the special concession, 2Chr.30.18, for those with prepared hearts who had insufficient time to cleanse themselves. This reinstatement of the Passover was then followed by a thoroughgoing removal of idolatrous images, groves, high places and altars “out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all” 2Chr.31.1.
The later reign of King Josiah was another period marked by removal of idolatry, first in Judah and Jerusalem and, later, “in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali” 2Chr.34.6, that is the cities of the remnants of those northern tribes left in the land. However, Josiah’s was not only a ministry of removal, it was also of repairing the Temple, funded with “money that was brought into the house of God, which the Levites that kept the doors had gathered of the hand of Manasseh and Ephraim, and of all the remnant of Israel, and of all Judah and Benjamin” 2Chr.34.9.
Manasseh – in the Psalms
There are three Psalms in which Manasseh is specially mentioned. The first relates to God’s statement, “Gilead is Mine, and Manasseh is Mine; Ephraim also is the strength of Mine head; Judah is My lawgiver” Ps.60.7. The context is the ongoing wars of David, with any fears allayed by God’s restatement of His ownership of the whole land, north and south, east and west. The Psalm ends with the positive outlook, “Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly; for He it is that shall tread down our enemies” Ps.60.11,12.
Similar tribal names are used in a similar context in another Psalm: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; Thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up Thy strength, and come and save us. Turn us again, O God, and cause Thy face to shine; and we shall be saved” Ps.80.1-3. It is interesting that all the tribes descending from Jacob and Rachel are mentioned together. They marched together in the wilderness, Num.2.17-24; 10.22-24, and the memory of those days holds them together still.
When we come to the third use of Manasseh’s name we discover the wording is similar to that used in Psalm 60, already cited. Here “God hath spoken in His holiness; ‘… Gilead is Mine; Manasseh is Mine; Ephraim also is the strength of Mine head; Judah is My lawgiver’” Ps.108.7,8. The endings of Psalms 60 and 108 are identical.
Manasseh – in the Prophets
There is one verse in Isaiah’s Prophecy where the two tribes descended from the sons of Joseph are mentioned, not once, but twice: “Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh: and they together shall be against Judah. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still” Isa.9.21. Sadly, here Manasseh and Ephraim are united against Judah, and hence against the house of David, to which Benjamin gave allegiance. It is a tragedy when those who once marched together take opposing positions later in their experience.
Thankfully, they are not to be divided for ever. In the future Millennial settlement of the tribes, Manasseh will have a portion north of the Millennial city and just beyond the portion of Ephraim, Ezek.48.4,5. The heads of these tribes received blessing in Egypt under the hands of Jacob, and their tribes will end their history, still together, side by side, appropriately allocated their Millennial land holdings by the Lord Himself.
Manasseh – the New Testament Application
The New Testament application must await consideration of “Ephraim – the Man” and “Ephraim – the Tribe”, given the close association of the tribal leaders and subsequent tribal history.
To be continued (D.V.)
by William M. Banks (Scotland)
THE WEDDING OF THE LAMB – Rev.19.1-16 (Part 1)
Two great events await the Church after the Rapture. One is the Bema (the Judgment Seat of Christ) and the other the Marriage of the Lamb. These events are not independent but interrelated. We attend the marriage in the garments we have been given at the Judgment Seat. We are weaving these garments now: they are called “the righteousness [‘the righteous acts’ R.V.] of saints” 19.8. In the context of chapter 19 “the marriage of the Lamb” v.7, is followed by the “marriage supper of the Lamb” v.9, which seems to be immediately subsumed in the Revelation or Manifestation of Christ in 19.11ff; see v.14. The events in heaven after the Rapture are part of what is known as “The Day of Christ” Phil.1.10; 2.16; the parallel events on earth are called “The Day of the Lord” Acts 2.20; 1Thess.5.2; 2Pet.3.10.
- The arrangements leading up to the marriage – vv.1-4
- The opening hymn of praise – vv.5,6
- The wedding ceremony – vv.7,8
- The Marriage Supper (reception after the marriage) – vv.9a,b
- The appropriate response in worship – vv.9c,10
- The Lamb’s Wife shares in His victory – vv.11-16
The first section will be considered in this paper.
THE ARRANGEMENTS LEADING UP TO THE MARRIAGE – vv.1-4
The opening paragraph of chapter 19 sets the scene for the wedding. The demise of the opposition to the Lamb gives credence to the joyous occasion. The ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ is going to resound throughout heaven at the grand prospect of a marriage which has been in the mind of God since the opening of the Bible: “It is not good that the man should be alone” Gen.2.18. Several details are mentioned:
The Time Frame – v.1a
The wedding takes place “after these things” v.1a. The destruction of the vast religious, commercial and political system called “that great city Babylon” 18.21, the headquarters of the Antichrist, has taken place. The nature of the city is not in doubt: it is called “great” no fewer than nine times in chapters 17 and 18: 17.1,5,18; 18.2,10,16,18,19,21, and also in 16.19. To be rid of such “great” opposition is going to pave the way for an atmosphere of praise, victory and joy.
The Location – v.1b
It is good to leave the earth behind, especially one dominated by the Antichrist, and enter heaven: “… much people in heaven” v.1b. We are moving from destruction to delight, from gold to glory, from judgment to reward, from woe to worship!
The Hallelujah Choruses – vv.1c-4
The move is accompanied by the Hallelujah choruses, with worship leading up to the wedding! There is a stark contrast with events on earth, 18.9-19, where “the kings … bewail” vv.9,10; “the merchants of the earth … weep and mourn … weeping and wailing” vv.11,15; the seafarers, “every shipmaster … sailors … cast dust on their heads … weeping and wailing” vv.17-19. Now there is rejoicing in heaven, v.20, about to be demonstrated and described in greater detail. There is neither bride nor bridegroom in Babylon, v.23, but both are in heaven!
Three times we read “Alleluia” from the lips of the heavenly multitude, vv.1,3,4. Each has a particular focus:
The First Hallelujah Chorus – v.1c
This focusses on the Person of “the Lord our God”. God is vindicated and worshipped in view of four features:
- His “salvation”: He delivers and secures a comprehensive redemptive programme for the future.
- His “glory”: the majestic and moral excellence of His Person.
- His “honour” (omitted in R.V. and J.N.D.): His esteem and preciousness.
- His “power”: all might belongs to Him; to be displayed later, in vv.17-21.
The Second Hallelujah Chorus – vv.2,3a
This focusses on His judgment, with four factors emphasised:
- The character of His judgment – v.2a: “true [valid, deserved] and righteous”, in contrast to those of the Antichrist; see 15.3; 16.7; Heb.1.9.
- The object of His judgment – v.2b: “the great whore”. This judgment is richly deserved because she “did corrupt the earth …”; compare 17.6.
- The result and justice of the judgment – v.2c: “avenged the blood of His servants”, answering the appeal of the martyrs of 6.10; compare 18.20.
- The permanence of the judgment – v.3b: “her smoke rose up for ever and ever”. Never again will she seduce and slay. The final victory of the Lamb is assured, 11.15!
The Third Hallelujah Chorus – v.4
This focusses on God’s established position. He has an eternal throne: “sat on the throne” v.4c; compare 4.3; 5.1 and Dan.7.9: “… the Ancient of days did sit”, in absolute and authoritative and timeless majesty. The additional “Amen” with the Hallelujah seems to acknowledge this settled position. The hierarchy of heaven is involved in the worship, v.4b: the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures (this is their last mention in the book); heaven is concurring with the acclaim of the redeemed in vv.1-3. It is done with a reverent attitude: they “fell down and worshipped” v.4a; compare 7.11.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Jack Hay (Scotland)
Paper 9 – DIGGING DITCHES
Previously we followed Jehoshaphat’s exploits through 2Chronicles chapters 17-20. We now revert to an incident in 2Kings chapter 3 not recorded by the post-exilic chronicler. Ahab had died, and the king of Moab determined to take advantage of Jehoram’s inexperience, serving notice that he would no longer be a vassal to Israel, vv.1-5. Jehoram was determined to bring him to heel and, aware of a shortfall in his military strength, he solicited help from Jehoshaphat, vv.6,7.
“Wilt thou go with me against Moab to battle?” 2Kgs.3.7. Jehoshaphat must have had a sense of déjà-vu: the language was so similar to Ahab’s when seeking help against Syria, 1Kgs.22.4. Jehoshaphat’s immediate compliance was a replica of his response to Ahab, 2Kgs.3.7. He had forgotten Jehu’s rebuke, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?” 2Chr.19.2, and he was about to duplicate his blunder. In this he was not unique. Twice Abraham suggested that Sarah was his sister, Gen.12.10-20; 20.1-18. Twice Joshua failed to seek Divine guidance for crucial decisions, and it ended in tears, Josh.7.2-5; 9.3-27. Like them, we seldom learn from our history and repeat the same mistakes; we really need to be vigilant.
Having agreed to co-operate, the situation was now reviewed. A strategy was formulated, to advance from the south end of the Dead Sea rather than attacking from the north as might have been anticipated. It involved a circuitous route via the wilderness of Edom but with the advantage of incorporating another ally, the king of Edom, 2Kgs.3.8,9. There were basic miscalculations: lack of water in the sweltering environment jeopardised the whole campaign, vv.9,10.
In planning, no one had thought to seek Divine guidance; this was a serious omission. Perhaps Jehoshaphat was embarrassed to mention Jehovah in such doubtful company, and it was only when Jehoram saw Him as the cause of their predicament that he was stung into consulting one of His prophets, vv.9-11. Similarly, Joshua’s repeated error was that he “asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord” Josh.9.14. We can be at fault here. Often there are consultations, and decisions are made based on human logic without really having sought God’s mind. How rarely do we pray as earnestly as David, “Lead me, O Lord … make Thy way straight before my face” Ps.5.8!
Even idolatrous Jehoram knew that Jehovah had inflicted this calamity upon the confederacy, 2Kgs.3.10, and Jehoshaphat was relearning that “the way of transgressors is hard” Prov.13.15. But for Divine intervention, his association with Ahab would have been fatal, 2Chr.18.31. Again, it will take heaven’s involvement to rescue him; why do we never learn?
The water shortage with its ramifications prompted Jehoshaphat to remember another factor in the saga with Ahab, the involvement of the Lord’s prophet: “Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him?” 2Kgs.3.11. Amazingly, Elisha was at hand. Was he marching with the troops? Was he demonstrating solidarity with God’s people, like Ezekiel: “I sat where they sat” Ezek.3.15? Whatever, he was God’s man for the moment, in the right place at the right time, a condition to which we should aspire.
Jehoram’s servant was familiar with Elisha’s history: “Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah” 2Kgs.3.11. The abiding memory of this man was of his humility and selflessness. Chapter 2 tells of him parting the Jordan, healing the waters of Jericho, and cursing the youths of Bethel, yet here he was remembered as the man who had humbly served Elijah. Never regard any task for God or for others as being beneath you. Paul gathered sticks, Acts 28.3. The Saviour washed the disciples’ feet, Jn.13.3-5. At Shunem, Elisha was perceived to be “a holy man of God” 2Kgs.4.9, yet here, 2Kgs.3.11, it was his modesty that was most memorable. Aim to be a holy man of God, but never neglect the humble duties that lie along that route to spiritual greatness.
Although labouring in the north, Elisha’s reputation had spread to Judah, and hence Jehoshaphat’s words, “The word of the Lord is with him” 2Kgs.3.12. Figuratively, he was bearing the pitcher of the water of the Word and was worth following, Lk.22.10. Associate with those whose Bible knowledge and ability to communicate it can be of spiritual value; follow them in that sense. Let those who teach Scripture aim at being “the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message” Hag.1.13, as Elisha was here.
Wherever Elisha was, the three kings had to go “down to him”. Undoubtedly it was a geographical or topographical going down, but, as in similar Scriptures, there is an underlying lesson. Each day on the march had eroded their bravado and self-sufficiency, and now they had to humble themselves to seek guidance from a Godly ploughman. It can be like that for any of us: “I was brought low, and He helped me” Ps.116.6.
Elisha’s denunciation of Jehoram was scathing, once more eliciting the confession that it was Jehovah Who had orchestrated their threatening circumstances, 2Kgs.3.13. Help would be forthcoming only because of Jehoshaphat’s involvement: “I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat” v.14. Although the king was in ‘bypath meadow’, largely his life was creditable and worthy of Divine aid. It teaches us that as “the salt of the earth” Matt.5.13, we can carry influence, allowing God to show favour for our sake. Of course, things can reach such a pitch that even the presence of the Godly will be unavailing. Not even Moses or Samuel would have averted Judah’s exile, Jer.15.1. In Ezekiel’s day, things were so far gone that not even the righteousness of Noah, Daniel and Job would have deferred the impending judgment, Ezek.14.14. Generally though, we can live so as to allow God to show goodwill in our sphere of influence.
Elisha’s remarks were prefaced by reaffirming that “the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand” 2Kgs.3.14. God lives, so He can sort this issue, or indeed any that we might have. The troops of the confederate kings were weak with thirst, easy prey for the enemy, but God’s hosts were innumerable, so “if God be for us, who can be against us?” Rom.8.31. Elisha stood before this mighty God just as surely as Gabriel did, Lk.1.19, a man cultivating God’s presence, and at hand to do His bidding. His availability, attitude and actions are all worth imitating.
A message from God resolved the situation, not only in providing water, but also a military strategy and assured victory, 2Kgs.3.16-19. Water from a deluge on the hills of Edom would rush to their present location and meet the need. However, it involved some effort: “Make this valley full of ditches” v.16. The precious liquid would never be captured if they failed to dig ditches. Learn to ‘dig ditches’. The water of the Word will not just lie in pools on the surface. Changing the illustration, many of Israel’s blessings were crops and fruits that were clearly visible, but other essentials, like iron and brass, had to be dug out of the hills, Deut.8.8,9. Try to dig deeper into the Word, tapping the rich veins of ore that lie beneath the surface, truths unearthed by diligent Bible study. “Rightly dividing the word of truth” demands being “a workman” 2Tim.2.15. Maximising the benefit of the Word requires time and effort, ‘digging ditches’.
Water filled the ditches at the time of the morning oblation, 2Kgs.3.20. Similarly, it was “the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice” that triggered events that ended a prolonged drought with “a great rain” 1Kgs.18.29-46. These incidents are reminders that spiritual blessings flow from the cross.
The Moabites had now been alerted and were ready to defend their domain. When they surveyed the valley of what had been scorched scrub, the rising sun glinted on the brimming trenches. There was the appearance of massive bloodshed, creating the assumption that the invading kings had squabbled, with resulting carnage. All that remained was to mop up the spoils of battle! They walked straight into a trap and the battle was lost, 2Kgs.3.21-25. The promise had been, “He will deliver the Moabites also into your hand” v.18. “What He had promised, He was able also to perform” Rom.4.21. Be encouraged.
We return to 2Chronicles chapter 20, with its résumé of Jehoshaphat’s life, and a sad concluding incident, vv.35-37. He was a good man who had shunned idolatry, doing much to fan the revival ignited by Asa. That revival was doused because of his persistent links with the north; you see, his family got totally inveigled in the idolatry of Ahab’s household. The Holy Spirit seems to be saying, ‘I want to remind you of this major flaw in Jehoshaphat’s life: his liaisons with Ahab and his wicked dynasty. Let it be a beacon of warning.’ Why ever did he get involved in this merchant shipping venture with Ahaziah, “who did very wickedly”? He ignored the recent reprimand for helping the ungodly Ahab. He “had riches and honour in abundance” 2Chr.17.5; 18.1, so there was no need for an unequal commercial yoke to bolster his bulging coffers. God crushed his enterprise in its infancy, just as He blew on the meagre harvest of people who were putting their own interests before His, Hag.1.9. Let it be a lesson to us: we will always be losers if we stray from God’s precepts, allowing our own interests to usurp His.
by Dennis Williamson (N. Ireland)
The term “My church” brings certain memories before the minds of many. Some of these go back to childhood, and to a place which was attended in younger days. Other times it is looked at as a place where births, marriages and funerals are recorded. On still other occasions there is a touch of nostalgia linked to our memories, as we recall the bells, ringing out on special days, indicating some notable gathering. The atmosphere and even the aesthetics of a building have an appeal in some cases. Maybe it was the fact that we were drawn to a particular person who was so easy to listen to, and even more pleasant to talk to. It may just have been that this was the place our parents had taken us to, and so we continued the tradition and involved ourselves in the ceremony. On the other hand, it could be that it was the place where we first heard about the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His power to save us from our sins, and make us fit for the presence of God eternally. If the latter is so, what precious memories we will lastingly retain of such an occasion!
It may surprise some to know that this idea of ‘the church’ is completely at variance with the truth about the church, which we find in Holy Scripture. What was originally revealed in the Word of God has been confused over the course of history, by additions which men have made, resulting in a lack of understanding regarding the pristine glory of the church. Let us then try to recover some of that loss, by returning to the Word of God alone.
In any branch of knowledge or education, a definition of terms is absolutely essential. It seems that when it comes to the two words at the head of this paper, “My Church”, we need to be ever more careful and clear as to their meaning. Much confusion abounds, even in religious circles, with regard to the meaning conveyed. The text of Scripture from which these words are taken is found in Matthew chapter 16. The Lord Jesus was having a conversation with Peter the apostle. During the course of the talk it is told us that Peter had received a revelation from the Father. It resulted in a most precious confession by Peter. Here it is: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” Matt.16.16. After this confession the Lord said to Peter, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock [not on Peter] I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matt.16.18. What then truly defines the meaning of the word “church” or “My church”? We must ascertain this from the Word of God alone. This passage is the first time the word church is used in the Bible, and it is used by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The general meaning of “church” comes from the Greek word used for it in the Bible. It is a compound word, ekklesia, from ek (‘out of’) and klesis (‘a calling’). The true meaning of this word is therefore ‘a called out company’ of people. The particular company the Lord refers to here as “My church” is a people who would be saved by the grace of God, and linked to Christ forever. We glean then that the church is actually a company of people, not a material building of any kind, and that it belongs to Christ, being purchased by His own blood. The word ekklesiais used in various ways in the New Testament. In a historical sense it is used of that “assembly in the wilderness” J.N.D., which included Moses, Acts 7.38. It is used in a purely secular sense of an “assembly” that was “confused” Acts 19.32, and again in v.39 of “a lawful assembly”. Keeping this meaning before us, we can now derive a proper knowledge of our subject as we proceed. However, to arrive at this we must dispossess ourselves of preconceived thoughts (perhaps dearly held), and rely solely on what the Word of God teaches us.
Obviously, when the Lord said, “I will build My church”, He was speaking of a building (a people which would be called out from this world) yet future; it had not yet begun. He was not referring to anything in the past or in the present when He spoke, but a company in the future, which He would call “My church”.
Of all the Gospel writers, it is only Matthew who refers to the church. He uses the word “church” in two different senses. For the sake of simplicity and also clarity, we shall refer to these, firstly, as the ‘large’ sense (which is how he does it in our text in Matt.16.18), and secondly, as the ‘local’ sense (which is how he does it in Matt.18.17). Both mentions are by the Lord Himself. They are to be distinguished as the Lord distinguishes them. Further teaching regarding each is developed in the remainder of the New Testament. In each case people are referred to as the church, and never a material building. In this paper we are focusing mainly on “church” in the ‘large’ sense.
After the two cases in Matthew, the next mention of the word church (in the Authorised Version) is in Acts 2.47. Some manuscripts do not have “church” in that verse (see, for example, the Revised Version), but it is definitely there in the next reference: Acts 5.11. It is safe to say then that somewhere between the prophecy of the Church in Matthew chapter 16 and the mentions of it in the Book of Acts, the Church, as a company of people, began. This happened with the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 2. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not an individual experience, but an historical event. The Lord is the Baptiser and the Holy Spirit the element in which this baptism took place. It happened but once, but it is mentioned seven times in all in the New Testament (Matt.3.11; Mk.1.8; Lk.3.16; Jn.1.33; Acts 1.5; 11.16; 1Cor.12.13), on each occasion referring to what was to happen, or what had happened, at Pentecost. It was then the Church as a body was formed. There is one Body. The expression ‘the body of Christ on earth’ is misleading at best, and unscriptural. National, political and denominational overtones are all absent from the teaching of the Word of God regarding the Church. At Pentecost the Body and the Head were united for the first time, and remain united in the Spirit. It was a corporate act and a positional fact. God in His purpose saw every believer included, just as Levi was in the loins of Abraham when Melchizedek met him, Gen.14.17-20 with Heb.7.9,10. As Calvary was once for all, so was Pentecost. “By [‘in’] one Spirit were we all baptised into one body” 1Cor.12.13; see Newberry margin. Paul includes himself in the number even though he was not physically present at the time.
The Church of which we are speaking (where the word “church” is used in the ‘large’ sense) is nowhere found in the Old Testament. It is a New Testament revelation, unrevealed in former days and hid in God, Eph.3.5,9. Details of this revelation were given to Paul, although the Church was in existence before he was saved, for he persecuted it. Yet by grace he is given by God the stewardship of delivering the details concerning it to the believers. He calls it “the mystery”; not in the sense that it was something mysterious, but in the sense that it was not revealed in past ages but is now, in this age, revealed. It was always in the mind of God, Eph.3.11. Paul was in a special sense a minister of the Church, Col.1.24,25. He uses the word “church” nine times in the Ephesian Epistle (Eph.1.22; 3.10,21; 5.23,24,25,27,29,32), and in each case the word is being used in the ‘large’ sense. All believers, and only believers, of the present age are embraced in its scope. A detailed account of this mystery is given by the apostle in Ephesians chapter 3 and it is corroborated in Colossians chapter 1. It is not an organisation but an organism, pulsating with life. Another feature of this Church is that this unity is not a creation of men, but formed by the Spirit, Eph.4.3. It includes people (believers) from all nationalities, all races, all cultures, all countries, all stations in life, to mention but a few. The glorious fact is that all these are now made one. There was a division nationally between Jews and Gentiles for centuries. The great mystery is not that believers from each of these divisions have merely been brought together, but that in Christ they have been made one. Paul describes these believers as “fellowheirs”, “fellowmembers of the same body” and “fellowpartakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” Eph.3.6; see Newberry margin. Presently this Church is the focus of principalities and powers in heavenly places as they learn, through it, “the manifold wisdom of God” Eph.3.10. God, by His infinite wisdom, has achieved what men in this world throughout the centuries have dreamed of, fought for, strived towards and failed to accomplish: a true and lasting unity. One day this Church, comprising every child of God from the Day of Pentecost until Christ returns for us at the Rapture, will be caught up in the air. Not one believer in Christ will be missing on that day. For “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, 1Thess.4.16,17. Meanwhile, these words are designed for our comfort, 1Thess.4.18.
There is going to be a wonderful display of grace and glory when this Church is presented before heavenly hosts in the future, and “to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” Eph.5.27. However, it follows upon the appreciation of this truth that it has a present significance, and therefore should have a present practical response in our lives and in our behaviour. Some implications are very clear. Because we are members of the same body, it means we are forever spiritually linked to every other believer. The unity of the body supports this, but do we acknowledge it? Another practical matter concerns our love for each other. Do we manifest this? Other believers are, after all, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Many may not ‘see eye to eye’ with us, or agree with us all the time, but they are in the same spiritual family, Gal.3.26. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” Gal.6.10. Do we make an effort to practise this? Moreover we have the same life by the indwelling Spirit. This life was dearly purchased for each child of God by His only Son at the cross. He paid exactly the same price for each of us: His own blood. Then again, we have the same Lord. Subjection to Him means subjection to one another, and obedience to His Lordship. And so we think about our loyalty. In each case is that loyalty expressed first to the Lord, and then to one another? These are just some of the challenges which face us because of our knowledge of this doctrine. May we then be exercised to live in the light of them.
In our next article, God willing, we shall attempt to see what the Scriptures say about the ‘local’ church.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Paul Robinson (N. Ireland)
DETAILS OF THE FURNACE – vv.19-25
It was not hard to discern what Nebuchadnezzar thought of the answer of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. To him and his entourage, these impudent interlopers deserved what was coming to them. “His visage was changed”: his face revealed his disapproval; it also revealed his defeat. Having ‘lost it’ in front of all, his temper now gives way to a rash decision and, as a result, he will soon lose his most mighty men. How many potentially mighty men and women have been ‘lost’ due to the temper and consequential intemperate language of others? Is it possible that good people have been relegated to the ‘furnace’ as opposed to being received to the ‘fracture clinic’ of assembly care? In wrath, wrong decisions can be made. If Nebuchadnezzar really wanted them to suffer, the furnace should have been cooled, not heated “one seven times more than it was wont to be heated” v.19. We should consider James’ words: “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” Jms.1.19. We note that the Lord commanded sevenfold vengeance on any who would slay Cain, Gen.4.15. In Ps.79.12, a sevenfold recompense is requested against those who had reproached the Lord and His people. However, it is also of benefit to remember that “the words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” Ps.12.6. These servants of God would soon pass through the refining process in His ‘school’. Already they had been proved in chapter 1 and at the end of those ten days their countenances told the tale, v.15. In all matters of wisdom and understanding they were found to be ten times better, v.20. Even now, with the furnace seven times hotter, it would again be proved conclusively that their confidence in God was not misplaced, in whatever circumstance they would be found. They would come out of this trial better men, with a deeper knowledge of God and His ways. At the end of his trial Job was blessed with twice as much substance as he had at the beginning, Job 1.3; 42.12. Peter reminds us that “the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” 1Pet.1.7. He will also tell the scattered strangers: “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” 1Pet.4.12,13.
Nebuchadnezzar may have his mighty men from his army, and whilst we admire David’s three mighty men, these three mighty men arm themselves with an unaffected confidence in their God as they are bound and cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Little did Nebuchadnezzar consider, or understand, that the casting of these three individuals would soon afford a close companionship. Believers can indeed testify of God ‘coming close’ in times of deep and difficult trial. The flames would only affect Nebuchadnezzar’s men, and whilst the friends would not fall down in v.6, they would indeed fall down into the midst of this furnace. As believers we can encourage ourselves when we are cast down that God “comforteth those that are cast down” 2Cor.7.6. Indeed, they may be “cast down, but not destroyed” 2Cor.4.9.
The flames would melt away any attachments affixed by the soldiers, who themselves would soon melt away, never to be seen again. Nebuchadnezzar’s anger of v.19 would soon turn to astonishment as the flames would enlighten him to the fact of four in the midst of the fire, v.23. The threefold description of v.25 (namely, of being loose, walking in the midst, and having no hurt) is given regarding the three with a Christophany accompanying them. Having liberty to move, there is no hint of endeavouring to escape: they are happy to walk with One in their midst Who undoubtedly is the pre-incarnate Christ. Nebuchadnezzar would denote this fourth form as a ‘son of the gods’, but the three friends have perfect liberty and fellowship with God’s pre-incarnate Son in this trial. Christians today have liberty in Christ Jesus, Gal.2.4, having been “called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” 1Cor.1.9. Whatever trial we may face, whenever that may be, no matter how ‘hot’ it gets, we can take comfort and strength in an application to ourselves of Isa.43.1,2: “… I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name: thou art Mine … When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” We are never in the furnace alone. For the three friends, casting down would bring closer companionship; the flame of the furnace would further forge their friendship all within the blessedness of a Divine presence. Believers who have gone through trial can vouchsafe the wisdom of Prov.18.24 that “there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother”. It is solemn, however, to consider One Who suffered alone when the ‘fire’ of God fell from heaven upon His only Son at Calvary in order to procure our salvation. It is also with sadness that we consider the words of the Lord Jesus when He told His disciples of a future day when, regarding false professors, His angels “shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” Matt.13.42,50. From this furnace there will be no liberty or walking away.
DELIVERANCE OF THE FAITHFUL FRIENDS – vv.26-30
We are not privy to any conversation between the three and the pre-incarnate Lord in the fire. Upon their removal from the furnace, however, perhaps their minds recalled the words of Moses to Israel: “the Lord hath taken you and brought you forth out of the iron furnace” Deut.4.20. They would have recognised that if a Divine accompaniment could keep them safe in the trial, then a human agency could now be used to bring an end to the same trial. Here these loyal servants would obey the word of the king, and come forth.
Four classes of individuals (“princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors” v.27) bore witness to the fourfold deliverance that Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had undergone: bodies unharmed, hair unsinged, clothes unchanged, and they themselves untainted by the odour of close proximity to fire. Incombustibility proved a higher hand was at work than that of Nebuchadnezzar and his high-handed approach to these servants. As these were tangible evidences of deliverance, so too there should be clear evidences of salvation in one professing Christ as Saviour and Lord: outward changes, observable by both believers and unbelievers, which manifest an inward change having taken place. Progressive changes should also be seen in our lives and testimonies as trials and tests come and go with the terms of the ‘school of God’. Christian maturity and Christlikeness should positively correlate with the passage of our pilgrim journey.
As Nebuchadnezzar conceded God’s intervention in the deliverance of the lives of these trusting servants, v.28, should we as believers not also be attuned to the great deliverance we have received and will receive, Col.1.13? Truly we can acquiesce with the king when he decreed that “there is no other God that can deliver after this sort” v.29.
Although they had been through the furnace, there came a time when they returned to work. For them, post-trial brought promotion. This may or may not be the portion of a believer subsequent to trial. Interestingly, Mordecai (another captive Jew who would not bow, Esther 3.2) also attained to greatness at the end of his personal trial, with a crown of gold and fame which went throughout all the provinces, Esther 8.15; 9.4.
As we proceed on our pilgrim pathway, we may never know advancement from the king like Mordecai, Esther 10.2, or indeed promotion like the three friends, but we can exhibit qualities found in both. As we reflect on the fireproof friendship of Daniel chapter 3, may we fully prove the faithfulness of God and friendship of fellow believers in future trials. The words of Joseph Scriven are apt indeed: “What a friend we have in Jesus”.
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
“Then Jesus … came to Bethany” John 12.1
How refreshing it must have been for the Saviour to find a place on earth where He was welcomed and wanted. All around Him were scenes of unrequited love but at Bethany He found loving souls who yearned for His presence and whose home was always open for the lonely Pilgrim Who had nowhere to lay His head.
In this scene described by John at Bethany nothing was too much trouble for Martha, Mary and Lazarus because they had a true assessment of the worth of the Lord Jesus. It was there that perhaps the greatest display of love for the Saviour was shown when Mary, arguably the most devoted of all the Saviour’s followers, poured the very costly ointment of spikenard on His precious head. The price was not too much, the ointment not too costly to pour upon the head that soon would be wreathed with the cruel crown of thorns woven with hatred and calculated to produce the greatest insult and injury. How precious, how fragrant was that act of devotion to Christ!
Has our love for Christ waned? Have our hearts become frigid and frosty? Let us ensure this year that our hearts, our homes and our assemblies will be a veritable ‘Bethany’ for the One Who so loved us.
- There is love, true love, and the heart grows warm,
- When the Lord to Bethany comes,
- And the word of life has a wondrous charm,
- When the Lord to Bethany comes.
“And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth …” Luke 2.51
What a change from the fadeless glory of His Father’s house: insignificant Nazareth, famous only because the Saviour chose to live and labour there. At that time, it was a small, nondescript town with but a few hundred inhabitants, nestling in the hills a few miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee. It was a despised place and yet the Lord of glory deigned to make it His home for some thirty years.
We have come to marvel at the meekness and patience of the One Who is called the Nazarene, Matt.2.23. Seventeen times we read of “Jesus of Nazareth”. Amazingly, when Saul of Tarsus was relating the story of his conversion, he announced that the One Whom he saw glorified was “Jesus of Nazareth” Acts 22.8.
In such an alien environment the Saviour brought untold pleasure to His Father. In the obscurity of those years, His Father’s eye rested continually upon Him and afterwards God said of Him, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” Matt.3.17.
- That quiet time He knew – at Nazareth
- Saw One with purpose true – at Nazareth,
- Grow up in all His ways to God His Father’s praise.
- Precious indeed those days – at Nazareth!
“I had no idea it was so valuable.”
Recently a lady took an oil painting by L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) to an ‘Antiques Roadshow’ to be valued. After inspection by a knowledgeable connoisseur of art she was informed that it could be worth £100,000. The lady was shocked and said, “I had no idea it was so valuable.” For years it had been in the house and few people even cast a second glance at it but the name of the artist so clearly visible at the bottom of the painting meant it was a treasure.
After reading this story I began to think of the people, many of whom have heard the gospel from infancy, who should know how valuable God’s salvation is, and who only discover its importance when it is too late to obtain it and they have found themselves in Hell, on the wrong side of the “great gulf fixed” of which the Lord Jesus spoke in Luke 16.26. For years they were deceived into thinking that salvation was something only for the religiously inclined, a pleasant addition to life but not absolutely necessary; to them it was a mere badge of respectability, but they never considered it a ‘must-have’ in view of an unending eternity.
My friend, you can live quite successfully and happily without salvation but you can never be in Heaven without it; that is a complete impossibility. The main reason for its importance is the name which is linked to salvation. It was the Lord Jesus Christ Who provided salvation at an infinite cost: the giving of His life. Only by accepting Him can you obtain the salvation of your soul. Salvation is not obtained in any place, practices, prayers or piety; it is linked to the Person of the Lord Jesus, God’s only begotten Son. To receive Him as personal Saviour is the only way by which your sins can be forgiven.
No monetary value can be placed on salvation; its worth cannot be estimated or calculated but, amazingly, you can receive it “without money and without price” Isaiah 55.1. You cannot pay for it or earn it in any way; you will never deserve it but you can claim it as a free gift. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 6.23. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” Ephesians 2.8,9.
In Revelation 20.10 the archenemy of souls is identified as “the devil that deceived them” and multitudes have succumbed to his deception, resulting in them missing out on the greatest blessing in life and the one thing which is vitally important to reaching Heaven. My friend, be persuaded that the one thing you need now, more than anything else, is the salvation of your soul and the forgiveness of your sins; trust Christ and instantaneously receive God’s forgiveness and the peace that inevitably comes with it. Do not allow yourself to be deceived another day, for “how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation …?” Hebrews 2.3. There is nothing of greater value!
- There’s a Saviour now waiting for thee,
- With His heart and His arms open wide;
- Will you come, and from judgment be free
- Through the Lamb who on Calvary died?