ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
UNTO THE UTTERMOST PART OF THE EARTH
by H. Rees
by B. Currie
COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS IN A CHANGING WORLD
by R. Reynolds
THE BOOK OF RUTH
by E.G. PARMENTER
THE GOD OF JACOB
by P. STEELE
by J. Riddle (England)
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.38: PSALM 24 (Part 2)
In the first paper on Psalm 24, we saw that the Psalm has three sections:
- The Rights of the Creator – vv.1,2
- The Righteousness of the Creator – vv.3-6
- The Reign of the Creator – vv.7-10
We considered the first section, which we closed by observing that the Creator desires that people should seek Him, and we asked what qualities God requires in those who do so. The following verses answer that question. The Psalm now tells us about:
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE CREATOR – vv.3-6
“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully” vv.3,4.
Verse 4 sets out the moral requirements necessary to approach God. It describes “the generation of them that seek Him” v.6. The words “stand in His holy place” suggest ability to enter and continue in God’s presence. Bearing in mind the advent of the “King of glory” in vv.7-10, these verses describe the character of those who are prepared for His coming, and who will surround Him as He reigns over creation. Their virtues, v.4, and their vindication, v.5, will answer to the perfection of His virtue and vindication.
His Virtue – v.4
It must be said, immediately, that only the Lord Jesus perfectly fulfils these requirements. It is often pointed out that since the “hill of the Lord” is Zion, Ps.2.6, and “His holy place” is the Millennial Temple, Isa.2.2,3; Ezek.43.1-5, the Lord Jesus is presented here as both King and Priest, and that He “shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne ” Zech.6.13.
“He that hath clean hands.”
The Lord Jesus had perfectly “clean hands”, even under the most intense provocation: “‘Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth:’ Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not” 1Pet.2.22,23. Is not this why, amongst other reasons, He is “worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof” Rev.5.2? All others are worthy of the judgments in the book.
“Clean hands” can be seen by others. This emphasises purity in activity: practical holiness. When the men pray in the assembly prayer meeting, they are to lift up “holy hands” 1Tim.2.8. Improper or dishonest dealings and relationships will disqualify them from leading the assembly in prayer. There must be a moral fitness to pray. Compare and contrast Isa.1.15: “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.”
However, “clean hands” were not in themselves sufficient. The next requirement is even more stringent:
“And a pure heart.”
In a most wonderful affirmation, the Lord Jesus said, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart” Ps.40.8. He could challenge His critics in saying, “Which of you convinceth [‘convicteth’] Me of sin?” Jn.8.46. He had no accusing conscience. “In Him is no sin” 1Jn.3.5.
While “clean hands” can be seen by others, we are reminded that “the Lord looketh on the heart” 1Sam.16.7. The word “heart” denotes inner life. The Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” Matt.5.8. The Saviour quoted Isa.29.13 in saying, “This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth but their heart is far from Me” Matt.15.8. David traced the cause of his moral lapse back to his sinful nature, and exclaimed sadly, “Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts” Ps.51.6. He had to confess that it was absent in him.
“Who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity.”
The meaning of this expression is best explained by comparison with Ps.25.1: “Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” The man who can “ascend into the hill of the Lord” and “stand in His holy place” trusts absolutely in God, and looks in no other direction. The Lord Jesus said, “I have set the Lord always before Me” Ps.16.8. (The word “vanity” is often used in connection with idolatry.)
The man who “hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity” tacitly acknowledges that there is no point in looking elsewhere anyway. In one of his ‘Michtams’, David exclaims, “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.
“Nor sworn deceitfully.”
Compare Ps.15.4: “who, if he have sworn to his own hurt, changeth it not” J.N.D. This man means what he says, and says what he means. There is no dubiety or deceit about him. He is a man of honour; he is absolutely trustworthy.
The Lord Jesus frequently prefaced His teaching with the words “Verily, verily”. “The Greek word is ‘Amen’, the transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning ‘truth’ In John’s Gospel, the Lord introduces a solemn pronouncement by the repeated word ‘verily, verily’ twenty-five times” (W.E. Vine, in his ‘Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words’).
How glad we are that “all the promises of God in Him are yea, and Him Amen ” 2Cor.1.20, or “For whatever promises of God [there are], in Him is the yea, and in Him the amen ” J.N.D.
His Vindication – v.5
While the world gives scant recognition to such qualities as those enumerated above, they are recognised by God with Divine pleasure: “He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” While it would certainly not be amiss to apply these words to salvation from sin, the context evidently suggests Divine recognition of godliness in life. The words “He shall receive blessing from Jehovah” J.N.D., promise prosperity. The words “he shall receive righteousness” mean he will be vindicated and upheld by God against every charge. The words “the God of his salvation” promise security and victory.
“This is the generation of them that seek Him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah” v.6. The word “generation” (dor) means ‘class’ or ‘circle’. Quite obviously, there will be no genuine desire to seek His face by those who do not have “clean hands, and a pure heart”. Those who do seek His face will ensure that their lives are acceptable to Him.
But what about the expression “that seek Thy face, O Jacob“? It is hardly surprising that the Psalmist adds, “Selah”! It certainly is something to think about! Most commentators explain these words by reading the text as ‘that seek Thy face, O God of Jacob’. This follows the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, commonly known as the ‘Septuagint’ (from the Latin word for seventy), and abbreviated as ‘LXX’ (the Roman numeral for seventy), because reputedly around seventy scholars were involved in the work. However, the Septuagint reading sounds more like an explanation than a translation, and even C.H. Spurgeon (‘The Treasury of David’) says, “The expression ‘O Jacob’ is a very difficult one”. However, he does continue by saying, “unless it be indeed true that the God of Jacob here condescends to be called Jacob, and takes upon Himself the name of His chosen people”.
Against this, it does seem eminently sensible to take the words exactly as they stand, that is, that the passage refers, no more and no less, to the nation of which Jacob was one the founding fathers, v.6. Since the Psalm refers to the Millennial reign of Christ, “the King of glory”, these words surely refer to the glory of God’s people when “strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your ploughmen and your vinedressers”. We are told that these “strangers sons of the alien” (Gentiles) will call God’s people “the ‘Priests of the Lord:’ men shall call you the ‘Ministers of our God’” Isa.61.5,6. Bearing in mind that “all nations” will converge on the “mountain of the Lord’s house” Isa.2.2, and that His “house shall be called a house of prayer for all people” Isa.56.7, the vast numbers seeking the Lord in the Millennium will see His glory in the face of His people. They will be known as “Priests of the Lord Ministers of our God” (see above), and “in those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, ‘We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you’” Zech.8.23.
Perhaps, therefore, J.N. Darby has the right explanation in his marginal note: “This is the generation of them that seek unto Him, that seek thy face [in] Jacob.”
God Willing, in the next paper we will conclude the study of this Psalm by looking at the Reign of the Creator.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Ian McKee, N. Ireland
We now come to consider the tribal history of Dan in the land itself. Moses had foretold that the tribe of Dan (with Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali) would stand on barren mount Ebal to hear and assent to the curses of the Law, Deut.27.13, which was apt in relation to Dan. When Moses surveyed the land from the top of Pisgah just prior to his death, “the Lord shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan” Deut.34.1.
DAN – IN THE LAND
In the division of the land in the days of Joshua we read, “And the seventh lot came out for the tribe of the children of Dan according to their families” Josh.19.40, with seventeen Danite cities identified. Immediately thereafter there is an indication given of Dan’s later ruthless propensity per Jacob’s prophecy, Gen.49.16-18, and in Moses’ prophetic blessing, Deut.33.22. “And the coast of the children of Dan went out too little for them: therefore the children of Dan went up to fight against Leshem [Laish], and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and possessed it, and dwelt therein, and called Leshem [Laish], Dan, after the name of Dan their father. This is the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Dan according to their families, these cities with their villages” Josh.19.47,48. Kohathites, of the tribe of Levi, also had inheritance of four cities in Dan’s tribal territory, Josh.21.5,23,24.
If the Danites later expanded their territory by smiting and possessing Leshem, we first read of a significant reversal. “And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley” Judg.1.34. It would seem that if Dan had freedom to plan a strategy and then implement it they could make progress, but they had extreme difficulty responding to unanticipated adverse circumstances.
Then we have another insight into the temperament of this tribe. It is neither advancing nor retreating, but doing absolutely nothing! This is forever immortalised in Deborah’s song: “Why did Dan remain in ships?” Judg.5.17. As far as the Danites were concerned, the depredations of Jabin and Sisera with their Canaanite army, and the impact on their brethren in other tribes, were not their problem. Their attitude was similar to that of Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen.4.9. They judged that they had more important and immediate things to do, namely engage in lucrative maritime trade and commercialism. Thus they left to Zebulun and Naphtali the responsibility to initiate the military response. Dan is demonstrating that it is a calculating and risk-averse tribe, seemingly focusing on ‘How will this affect us?’ Evidently they felt that they had too much to lose by getting involved!
The best known member of the tribe of Dan was Samson. His history starts with the words “And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not” Judg.13.2. The engagement of this couple with “the angel of the Lord” who appeared unto them is most interesting, Judg.13.3-23. That chapter ends with the words “And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol” Judg.13.24,25.
At this point everything looks positive, with a champion arising to break the burden of Philistine servitude. The story of Samson is told in Judges chapters 14-16, and provides instructive reading. Samson is one of the few named Nazarites in Scripture; Numbers chapter 6 refers. Separated unto God, Samson was endowed with extraordinary strength: but enablement requires corresponding discipline; otherwise potential can be squandered or disaster can ensue.
Sadly, there was something of a showman’s swagger with Samson. He had to be the centre of attention. His speech was smart, displaying Danite cunning and dissembling. His desires were demonstrably sensual; he satisfied himself, no matter how much collateral damage he caused. It was his apparent need for ‘adrenaline’ risk-taking and the crossing of defined boundaries with women that led to his downfall. He denied his Nazarite separation for “a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines” Judg.14.1; violated morality with a harlot in Gaza, Judg.16.1; and, finally, displayed outrageous recklessness with Delilah in the valley of Sorek, on the border of Philistine territory, Judg.16.4-21.
Samson always lived a borderline existence and he crossed that boundary with the Philistines physically and compromisingly numerous times. The tragic result was that one with such promise ended as a figure of fun for carousing Philistines: Israel’s judge became a jester; their champion became a clown! There is a saturnine sadness about Samson. What might he have been had he stayed true to God’s Nazarite intention and his parents’ careful upbringing? Yet he was not without faith, Heb.11.32. His epitaph will forever remain, “The dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” Judg.16.30.
We recall that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” Rom.15.4, so we must not disregard the lessons associated with this man from the tribe of Dan. He had the best of an upbringing, experienced the Lord’s blessing, was enabled by the Holy Spirit, had faith, enjoyed victories; yet he was undone by his carnal appetites and casual attitude to the Divine intention for him. May we take heed to the ‘Samsonite lesson’ for us today: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness ” Gal.5.17-19. The vital injunction is: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” Gal.5.16.
We noted earlier that the tribe of Dan had been assigned by God their portion in the land, Josh.19.40, but they failed to establish themselves therein, Judg.1.34. Rather than appreciate the heritage they had been given and apply themselves to expelling the Amorites from the fertile valleys and consolidating their position, Dan sought an easier option. “In those days there was no king in Israel: and in those days the tribe of the Danites sought them an inheritance to dwell in; for unto that day all their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel” Judg.18.1. The remainder of that chapter provides sad reading and has been commented upon earlier, in relation to the tribe of Levi.
“The children of Dan sent of their family five men … of valour … to spy out the land, and to search it” Judg.18.2. On their travels this Danite scouting party met the disobedient and discontented Levite in the home of Micah at mount Ephraim. “And they said unto him, ‘Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God, that we may know whether our way which we go shall be prosperous.’ And the priest said unto them, ‘Go in peace: before the Lord is your way wherein ye go’” Judg.18.5,6. It is always of concern when God’s name is invoked to support a predetermined intention, or is employed on the lips of someone in flagrant disobedience to Divine instruction.
The five men from Dan eventually found what they were looking for: a soft target! They “came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and there was no magistrate in the land, that might put them to shame in any thing; and they were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any man” Judg.18.7.
Returning home, the five spies gave their report and recruited a raiding party of “six hundred men appointed with weapons of war” Judg.18.11. Weapons unused against the Amorites are now to be employed against the unsuspecting inhabitants of Laish who, most likely, had afforded hospitality to the five Danite visitors. Truly, “Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” Gen.49.17.
On their northward journey through the land the Danite raiders, accompanied by their families and with their cattle, again visited the home of Micah to steal his “graven image and the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image” Judg.18.17. They also recruited Micah’s ‘priest’, the disobedient and discontented Levite, using the threat of violence against Micah’s subsequent futile protestations. So “they took the things which Micah had made, and the priest which he had, and came unto Laish … and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the city with fire” Judg.18.27. Dan is now marked by deceit and cruelty, but worse is to come. “And they built a city, and dwelt therein. And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born unto Israel … And the children of Dan set up the graven image: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh [‘Moses’ J.N.D.], he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land. And they set them up Micah’s graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh” Judg.18.28-31.
At a time when leadership and rule were lacking (“there was no king in Israel”), a tribe which found it too hard to do what they should, namely drive out the Amorites, relocated from relative nearness to Jerusalem to proximity to Damascus, to do what they found to be easy! They left their assigned inheritance to others, to establish themselves outside the realm of Divine intention. In so doing they turned their back on God’s centre, which was then in Shiloh, to introduce and establish idolatry in Israel, with Moses’ own grandson as their hireling priest!
The practices of the surrounding Canaanite nations were constantly a snare and early in the days of the Judges “they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth” Judg.2.13. Later Gideon himself succumbed, Judg.8.27. But the tribe of Dan institutionalised idolatry and established a cultic centre which continued to develop in opposition to the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple. Idolatry plagued the nation for over seven hundred years and led ultimately to God’s intervention in judgment with the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities of Israel and Judah respectively.
We should not, however, conclude that we are immune from adverse influences. It is always beneficial to examine our own heart to assess the extent to which we are impacted by attitudes and practices surrounding us; the degree to which we remain true to our heritage and God’s intention; and whether we have in any way been seduced into seeking an easier situation, which always has generational consequences.
To be continued (D.V.)
(This series is co-authored by three brethren.)
INTRODUCING PAUL’S FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY Acts 13.1-131
by Jeremy Gibson, England
1. Unless otherwise stated, all references are from The Acts of the Apostles.
Paul’s trailblazing first missionary journey, into Cyprus and modern-day Turkey, established a Biblical pattern for Christian missionaries and evangelists. Knowing the strength of Christian fellowship, the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to do this great work together. He then directed it, 13.2,4,9; this threefold testimony to the activity of the Holy Spirit is like “a threefold cord”, which is “not quickly broken” Eccl.4.12. The journey, which mostly consisted of pioneering evangelism, began with commendation from the local church in Antioch.
Conscious of its power, Paul preached “the word of God” 13.5,7,44,46,48,49; 14.3,25; compare Heb.4.12. He offered the gospel first in the Jewish synagogues. This reflected his deep love for his own people, and his desire for their salvation, Rom.9.1-3; 10.1, and it also demonstrated his practical wisdom, for there he found a ready audience, of both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, 13.16,42,43. Once the Jews rejected the message – mostly from envy – he turned to the Gentiles, 13.45,46; compare 17.5; 18.6; when opposition heightened, and turned violent, he moved on, 13.51; 14.19,20. As Paul doggedly repeated this method time after time, “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” 13.48; compare 18.10. Where new assemblies had been formed through local conversions, Paul endeavoured to revisit them, “confirming [epistērizō, ‘to give additional strength’2] the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith” 14.22. Having appointed elders and “commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed” 14.23, he left them to continue by themselves; though, of course, his earnest prayers and care for them continued, even though he was physically absent.
2. “Robertson’s Word Pictures”, cited in e-Sword
Even today, missionary work and evangelism should be done in partnership with other believers, in the Spirit’s energy and with the blessing of a local assembly. Christians should always seek fresh opportunities to reach out to new areas and to new people. Preaching “the word of God” remains the cornerstone of all evangelism. Although many believers lack opportunity to preach to Jews, the principle of reaching out to those with whom they have an immediate affinity remains. Christian servants continue to be opposed but, like Paul, must be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” 1Cor.15.58. God still oversees all gospel efforts, ensuring that “as many as were ordained to eternal life” believe. For individual converts and newly-established churches there needs to be a healthy balance between encouraging them and letting them stand ‘on their own two feet’.
ANTIOCH, IN SYRIA – vv.1-3
The assembly at Antioch was exceptionally privileged, having at least five prophets and teachers of different temperaments, classes and backgrounds. Tender hearted and encouraging, Barnabas was a Cypriot Levite, 4.36. Being “called Niger”, Simeon was probably of African extraction. Lucius hailed from Cyrene, a North African port with an established Jewish community.3 Manaen “had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch”. Last listed was Saul of Tarsus, a fiercely intelligent, intensely zealous, converted Pharisee; compare Phil.3.4-6. This international representation reflected the early spread of Christianity and the intended harmony between Jews and Gentiles. For example, there were at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost devout Jews from “the parts of Libya about Cyrene” 2.10. Following “the persecution that arose about” Stephen’s death, some Cypriot and Cyrenian believers escaped to Syrian Antioch, where they preached “the Lord Jesus” to Gentiles, 11.19,20.
3. “Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Places”. Inter-Varsity Press, 1995, p.96.
In the absence of a complete New Testament, the prophets spoke directly on God’s behalf, unfolding doctrine which had not yet been recorded in written form. The teachers did as they do today, expounding with clarity the sacred text. Even though a finalised canon of Scripture rendered the foundational gift of prophecy unnecessary, the principle remains that local assemblies should have a plurality of teachers, striving together to edify the saints, 1Cor.13.8; 14.19,26,29; Eph.2.20. This Bible-teaching ministry is not a prestigious role, but a lowly service for Christ, demanding high levels of commitment and self-denial.
As these prophets and teachers at Antioch “ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost [probably through one of the prophets] said, ‘Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them’” 13.2. Having been chosen and called by the Holy Spirit to a work which He had planned out for them, Barnabas and Saul did not join a missionary society, or appeal for financial support. Neither did the church at Antioch arrange a series of committee meetings. Rather, having simply “fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them [by way of identification], they sent them away [apoluō, ‘to free fully’]” v.3. Such unassuming commendation, without fanfare, should characterise the beginning of every Christian missionary endeavour. Believers considering missionary work should similarly wait on the Spirit’s guidance, Rom.8.14, while throwing themselves into service in their local assembly.
CYPRUS – vv.4-13
After travelling to Seleucia, a fortified sea port, Barnabas and Saul sailed to Cyprus, where the gospel had already been preached, 11.19. Having come under senatorial rule in 22B.C., Cyprus was governed by a proconsul, Sergius Paulus, 13.7. Two of its cities, Salamis and Paphos, were renowned devotees of the goddess Paphian, “a deity of Syrian origin identified with the Greek Aphrodite”4. The eastern city of Salamis had several Jewish synagogues, where the missionaries first “preached the word of God” v.5.
4. Bruce, F.F. “The Book of the Acts”. Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Reprinted 1984, p.263.
Barnabas came from Cyprus, 4.36, and throughout their time on the island his nephew, John Mark, helped the two missionaries, 13.5; compare Col.4.10. But Mark’s first foray into missionary work was short lived and soon after leaving Cyprus “John departing from them returned to Jerusalem” 13.13. No reason is given for his impromptu exit, which eventually contributed to a longstanding rift between Paul and Barnabas, 15.37-39. Whatever the cause, Mark recovered sufficiently to write the Gospel of Jehovah’s unerring Servant and for Paul to acknowledge his usefulness, 2Tim.4.11. The lesson is plain: recovery is always possible and we should never write off another believer.
During his Cyprus narrative Luke permanently switches from referring to “Saul” of Tarsus, to “Paul” 13.9. It is also here that he begins to chart Paul’s rising prominence in the missionary partnership (by Antioch their order has fully reversed from “Barnabas and Saul” v.2, to “Paul and Barnabas” v.43). However, Luke’s main focus at Cyprus is the intense opposition they faced in the city of Paphos together with the suddenness and strength of the Divine response to the opposition, which prompted the proconsul’s conversion.
Being a false Jewish prophet, who dabbled in the occult, v.6, Bar-jesus was the kind of man Isaiah warned Judah against and who, under Mosaic Law, would have been executed, Deut.13.1-5; Isa.8.19. The punishment he received was mild in comparison. “Elymas” was probably not a second name so much as a Semitic word, meaning ‘sorcerer’ 13.6,8.5 Even though Bar-jesus had wormed his way into the centre of power on the island, unconvinced by his craftiness, Sergius Paulus, “a prudent man called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God” v.7.
5. Ibid., p.264.
Probably afraid of losing his influential position, Bar-jesus “withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith” v.8. Paul reacted with a frightening intensity. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he “set his eyes on him”, exposed the wickedness of his character and actions, and, with apostolic authority, pronounced his judgment. Although his name meant ‘son of Jesus’, in reality he was “full of all deceit and all craft: son of [the] devil, enemy of all righteousness” v.10, J.N.D. In his wickedness, he had attempted to “pervert [diastepho, ‘to distort, twist’6] the right [euthus, ‘straight’] ways of the Lord” v.10. With immediate effect, he was temporarily blinded by “the hand of the Lord” so “there fell on him a mist and a darkness” v.11. The man who had sought to turn the deputy from the faith now sought “some to lead him by the hand” v.11. Deeply impressed by this miraculous power, Sergius Paulus “believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord” v.12; Rom.10.17.
6. Vine, W.E. “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”. Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts, p.862.
As an apostate Jew, Bar-jesus represented Israel as a whole. His opposition to the gospel was punished by a reversible judicial blindness. Paul explained to the Romans “that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob’” Rom.11.25,26; compare Isa.6.9,10; Acts 28.26,27. In the meantime, while we await Israel’s national salvation, just as the Gentile Sergius Paulus “desired to hear the word of God” and “believed” it, vv.7,12, the gospel is offered to Gentiles.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Brian Currie (N. Ireland)
In the previous papers, we have been meditating on the three occurrences of the word “moment” in the New Testament. Having looked at the MOMENT OF TEMPTATION, Lk.4.5, and the MOMENT OF TRIAL, 2Cor.4.17, we finally come to the:
MOMENT OF TRANSFORMATION – 1Cor.15.52
In 1Cor.15.50, Paul taught the Christians that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” and this raised what could have appeared to be a big problem to the saints: if flesh and blood, which is what they were, could not get to the kingdom then they could not get there unless they died. Was that true? Paul answers with a resounding ‘No’. Something that was never revealed previously will take place, and Paul states, “Behold, I shew you a mystery …” v.51. The mystery is not the Rapture, for it had been taught previously, by Paul, in 1Thessalonians, which was written before 1Corinthians, and so it could not be said that it was a mystery. The mystery is that of the change that will take place when the Lord Jesus will come to the air and call His Bride home to heaven. As we look around this globe of ours, we must come to the conclusion that His coming is very near. Paul refers to the moment, which describes the speed of the change and it is to the change that we will draw attention. The change will be:
Inclusive: “we shall all be changed” v.51.
At the commencement of this epistle Paul called some of the believers “carnal”, and yet they shall be called away at the Rapture. This proves undeniably that there will be no partial rapture. All, each member of His body and every part of His Bride, will be caught up.
Instantaneous: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” v.52.
“Moment” here means an indivisible period of time.
Invoked: “at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” v.52.
We are told that there are three main trumpet calls in the Roman army:
The Call to Battle
This is what is in view in 1Cor.14.8: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”
The Call to Rally
We read of this in Eph.5.14: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.”
The Call to Break Camp
This is what is in view here, in 1Cor.15.52: “the last trump”. We are going home.
It is important to understand that the trumpet referred to here in 1Corinthians chapter 15 has nothing to do with the trumpets in the Book of Revelation. Some say that since Paul speaks here of “the last trump”, then the other trumpets must sound before the last one, which, they say, is proof that the Church will go through the Tribulation. Sometimes, however, we may refer to ‘the last bus’ or ‘the last train’, by which we mean the last on that particular day, but there will be more buses and trains on another day. This “day of salvation” will end when the Church is raptured, but there will be other days, for example like the “day of the Lord”, which will follow the Rapture.
Immense: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” v.53.
Both the words “corruptible” and “mortal” describe the living, as can be seen in Rom.1.23: “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things”. We may ask why the word “must” is employed. The answer is in v.50, where we are told, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”. The “must” counteracts the “cannot”.
Insuperable: “Death is swallowed up in victory” v.54.
This means that at a point in time death is “swallowed up”. The verb “to swallow up” bears the sense ‘to drink down’. Two illustrations of Scriptures that use the same verb may be helpful: “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned” Heb.11.29; “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” 1Pet.5.8. When He comes and resurrection takes place, death will be visibly routed.
Illustrious: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” v.55.
Both the Revised Version and J.N. Darby’s translation read “death” in both clauses, and the Revised Version transposes them: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” It may be that the living will cry, “Where is thy sting?” and the dead will cry, “Where is thy victory?”
Impregnable: “thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” v.57.
Only our all-conquering Saviour has the right and authority to lead the saints in victory. As we read over these verses again, we may ask, “Can this really be true?” Note in vv.50-58 (A.V.) there are eight “shalls” and two “musts”. My beloved brethren, do not be despondent, downhearted; nothing can stop this happening. We are bound for heaven in a changed body and this is Divine truth, not science fiction.
Inspiring: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” v.58.
In this verse there are lots of themes about serving the Lord:
“Therefore”: this is a conclusion which is logical. It is practice that is based on doctrine. In light of the glorious future which lies before us, we should be diligent and undeterred in the work of the Lord. A similar sentiment is found in Rom.12.1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God …”
“My beloved brethren”: this is a characterisation which is loving. Paul is not speaking harshly, nor is he barking out orders, but, while he could have used his apostolic authority, he is rather making a loving appeal.
“Be ye”: This is a present imperative, with the force of an ongoing command. His coming energises us and as we obey it is seen to be a contradiction to lethargy.
“Stedfast, unmoveable”: these two words are a condemnation of looseness. “Be ye stedfast” is a positive injunction, meaning ‘be fixed, settled, unyielding’: marked by conviction. “Be ye unmoveable” is a negative injunction, meaning ‘be unshakable, stable: not easily turned aside’.
As we follow these verses to their climax it is obvious that the wonder of His coming is really an impetus to work on His account. Two words are employed that show us the capacity that the servants of the Lord have and that they lay on the altar for Him. These are the words of the apostle: “work”, indicating what is done; and “labour”, indicating the toil and energy in the doing of it.
Stimulation to Labour “Always”: unceasing;
“In the work”: untiring;
“Of the Lord”: not unqualified (not ‘for the Lord’);
“Not in vain”: not unproductive;
Supervised by the Lord “In the Lord”: not uncontrolled.
It is remarkable that when we come to the sphere of responsibility we are introduced to His Lordship twice in v.58. Being in the sphere of His Lordship means that all is under His control. Where that is absent, we should be absent also.
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
“Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me ” 2Timothy 4.17
Friends had forsaken the apostle; many to whom he had displayed great love and for whom he had made many sacrifices, putting his own life at risk, for some mysterious reason turned against him. Those whom he had trusted betrayed his confidence and deserted him in his hour of need. How bitterly disappointing it must have been for the beloved apostle! Those who owed him a great debt of gratitude abandoned him, apparently without a twinge of conscience. The Lord, however, never forsook him. In every circumstance, every moment of every day and night, in all the strange places he found himself and in all the problems he faced, there was One upon Whom he could confidently rely. He knew the Lord would be there, at his very side and always deeply interested in his affairs.
Maybe, dear brother or sister, you feel like Paul. You are often on the receiving end of sharp criticism, you feel misunderstood and unappreciated in spite of all you do to help the saints. Be assured, your Saviour is near; He loves, He cares, He understands and He can strengthen and encourage.
- O Lord, I will delight in Thee,
- And on Thy care depend,
- To Thee in every trouble flee,
- My best, my dearest Friend.
“And the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed” Deuteronomy 31.8
God’s people were about to cross the Jordan and enter where they had never been before. New paths would be trodden, unfamiliar vistas would meet their gaze and they would engage in conflicts never experienced before. They would encounter foes they had not previously known, and it was with great trepidation that they faced the prospects. To make matters worse, they would no longer have Moses as their leader. Their fears, however, were allayed by the assurance Moses gave when he “called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel” v.7, that the God Who had protected and provided for them in the inhospitable wilderness would go before them and be with them. He would neither fail them nor forsake them, so that they need not be alarmed.
Dear brother, dear sister, are you facing a crisis in life; do you find yourself in strange circumstances? Be still, for the God you have learned to trust will always go before you and be with you, so “fear not, neither be dismayed”.
- Press forward and fear not; be strong in the Lord,
- In the power of His promise, the truth of His word;
- Through the sea and the desert our pathway may tend,
- But He Who hath saved us will save to the end.
By Eric G. Parmenter (Wales)
THE SETTING AND VALUE OF THE STORY
The events recorded in the Book of Ruth took place “in the days when the judges ruled” Ruth 1.1. “In those days there was no king in Israel” is a recurring phrase in the closing chapters of the Book of Judges, Judg.17.6; 18.1; 19.1; 21.25. This has an important bearing on the Book of Ruth.
The existing conditions in Israel were marked by departure, debasement, idolatry and immorality. The events of the Book of Ruth displaying the devotion and purity of Ruth the Moabitess shone like a bright light across the darkening sky of Israel’s evil doings. Because of their sin, God delivered the Israelites into enemy hands; but when the people “cried unto the Lord”, He raised up judges to deliver His people, Judg.2.16.
At the time when the Book of Ruth was written this particular form of government was not in operation; it was a form of government that was effective in earlier days. There were other customs also which no longer prevailed at the time of writing, such as that described in the statement, “Now this was the manner in former time in Israel” Ruth 4.7. Customs, legal customs particularly, do not change quickly, so a considerable time must have elapsed between the custom referred to in the Book of Ruth and the writing of the story. How long? The passing of four generations at least must be allowed from the table of genealogy that concludes the book, 4.18-22.
THE CANONICAL SETTING OF THE BOOK
In the present Hebrew Bible the Book of Ruth holds a different place from that in our English Bible. It formed part of the sacred rolls which were read on occasions of Jewish festivals:
- The Song of Solomon, at Passover
- Ruth, during Pentecost
- Ecclesiastes, during the Feast of Tabernacles
- Esther, at the Feast of Purim
The placing of the Book of Ruth in the English version follows the Septuagint version. In the original order of the books, Ruth forms part of the covenant history of the people of God. The books fall into five groups:
- Joshua – New Beginning in the Land
- Judges and Ruth – Departures, Deliverances and Devotion
- The Books of Kings – The King, Priest and Sanctuary
- The Post-Captivity Books – Mercy for the Remnant
- The Books of Chronicles – Review
THE NAME OF THE BOOK
Why “Ruth”? It stands out in Scripture as the only book that bears the name of a Gentile woman. Ruth was a Gentile stranger in the midst of Israel and by naming this book after her, three things are suggested:
Firstly, it is a Divine example of the important injunction presented in Peter’s Epistles: to give honour to the weaker vessel. The thoughts of heathendom about womanhood are counteracted by God naming this book by a woman’s name. The book registers the triumph of a devoted life.
Secondly, there must have been great prejudice and resentment on the part of the Israelites against Ruth “the Moabitess” when she appeared in the land with Naomi, but slowly the loyalty and love of this young woman overcome this. Love, the manifestation of the Divine nature, in the believer will conquer prejudice and bias.
Thirdly, God has named this part of His Word by this woman’s name to illustrate to Christian women the possibilities of consecration to God. It is good and right that we should hold to the teaching of Scripture regarding the ministry of women. However, since they do not have a public role in the assembly, there is the real danger of Christian women not valuing the vital ministry God has for them as highly as they should. It has been said that ‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’. This influence of women is beyond all dispute. Let it be the highest and the best, and then the Church, and indeed the community, and society in general, will find it to their benefit.
THE BACKGROUND TO THE BOOK
The opening verse shows the necessity of being acquainted with the Book of Judges: “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled”. The events of the Book of Ruth take place during a period of extreme lawlessness. “No king in Israel”. Where there is no recognition of government, chaos and anarchy soon arise and in the days of the judges it produced Levitical and social and political lawlessness.
In chapter 17 a man set up a form of religion, based on a mixture of religions, and hired a Levite to maintain it. It was a departure from the Levitical order and an overthrow of the authority of the Word of God. In chapter 18 another product of anarchy was the suppression of individual rights as in the story of the children of Dan. The concluding chapters of Judges relate the story of civil war which almost exterminated one of the tribes of Israel.
It was in those very days that the events of the Book of Ruth occurred. Over against this dark background, the beauty of the Book of Ruth is seen.
THE VALUE OF THE BOOK
Its Historical Value
As already noted, the book is vitally connected with the condition of things when there was “no king in Israel”. It presents those links in the chain of God’s purposes to bring in the “man after His own heart”: David, 1Sam.13.14. A vital change was taking place, from one order of government to another. In this change the ministry of women has an important place.
Its Typical Value
The book opens with the departure of Elimelech and his family. They depart from the land of God’s choice, with no instruction from God and, interestingly, no intervention by God. Departing from Bethlehem they enter into the territory of the Moabites, their enemies. It results in the collapse of that Hebrew family. Through the death of Elimelech and his sons the family loses its expression of kingship, by the death of Elimelech (his name meaning ‘my God is king’), and heirship, when the two sons die. However, their fall results in a young Gentile woman being brought into blessing through faith in Naomi’s God (“thy God [shall be] my God” Ruth 1.16), and before the story ends she is united with Boaz, the mighty man of wealth, Ruth 2.1. The book closes with the restoration of that family: a son is born, the inheritance is restored and the promise of God to the family is made good. The story also suggests a dispensational picture, typifying the fall of Israel, the calling of the Church, and the future restoration of Israel.
Its Practical Values
Firstly, there is the triumph of Divine sovereignty: God will ever triumph over the failures of His people, however dark the day may become. He will always retain for Himself an expression of His truth. Secondly, the book teaches, particularly in the opening chapter, that “Many are the afflictions of the righteous”, but from the closing chapters we learn that “the Lord [can deliver] out of them all” Ps.34.19. Believers who may be passing through affliction and suffering can have this confidence: God is still the Deliverer in circumstances of trials. Thirdly, the book reveals the far-reaching effects of faith’s steps. Naomi returned to Bethlehem-Judah with Ruth. Both were widows, and their hearts were heavy, but the contents of the book will reveal that in those slow, heavy footsteps the purposes of God were being worked out. God’s purpose of redemption was made effective through the obedience of these two women.
The book was written about 120 years after the events took place so Boaz and Ruth never saw the ultimate purpose of their lives. It is possible we may die never seeing the purposes of our lives but we need not be dismayed. If our lives have been fulfilled in dependence upon God, we can well afford to go to heaven without knowing the full results. It will be better to see them from heaven’s viewpoint.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Peter Steele (N. Ireland)
In this series of articles, in the will of the Lord, the subject of “The God of Jacob” will be considered under the following headings:
- The God of Connection
- The God of Condescension
- The God of Crisis
- The God of Comprehension
- The God of Commitment
- The God of Care
- The God of Covenant
- The God of Changelessness
THE GOD OF CONNECTION
When God appeared to Moses in the bush in Exodus chapter 3, He revealed Himself by a fourfold title, “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” v.15. It is a wonder that the eternal God would link His name with mortal man at all, but if He must, we can understand to a degree Him being associated with one of the greatest of men, “the God of Abraham“, the great patriarch and hero of faith; and we can understand a little of the title “the God of Isaac“, the man who is portrayed in Genesis as a picture of the Lord Jesus; but “the God of Jacob“, the supplanter, the man who lived half his days in devious and selfish mischief, whose years were a rugged scene of mountains and valleys, which he himself calls “few and evil” Gen.47.9! Will God stoop to link His holy and glorious name with a man like Jacob?
Yes, this is the God of the Bible. Several times after the Book of Genesis we have “the God of Abraham of Isaac of Jacob” repeated; but excluding that triple title, how many times is “the God of Abraham” used on its own in Scripture after Genesis? Once: Ps.47.9. After Genesis, how many times is “the God of Isaac” used as a singular title? None. How many times after Genesis do we read of “the God of Jacob” without the other patriarchs being mentioned? About seventeen times! That is not even including other titles, like “Holy One of Jacob” Isa.29.23, and “Mighty One of Jacob” Isa.49.26; 60.16. So God delights to be known as the God of Jacob.
Are we not glad of this? How many of us, in our faith or devotion, rise to the height of Abraham? How many of us can mirror our lives in Isaac, with his steadiness and sacrifice? Very few. But myriads of believers feel a special attraction to the character of Jacob, because we can see ourselves there. In the failures and regrets, in the ups and downs, in the exceeding ordinariness of many of his years and in the great difficulties and sorrows he faced in his family (including the death of Rachel, living without Joseph, and almost losing Simeon), our experience resounds. We should ever be grateful that God chose not just to be the God of mighty men, exemplary men, heroes of faith, but has chosen to be the God of ordinary believers like you and me; He chose to be called “the God of Jacob”.
Psalm 46 ends by calling God “the God of Jacob” v.11. Psalm 47 ends by calling God “the God of Abraham” v.9, but Psalm 48 ends by saying, “This God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death” v.14. It is well that the God of eternity is not aloof and distant; He is near to us, so that we can call Him our God. Heb.11.16 tells us about the patriarchs, that “God is not ashamed to be called their God”. He “is [present tense] not “: it is a title He still holds, and He is not ashamed to link His name with ours. He will be our God for ever; the God of Connection; the God of Jacob.
Jacob’s life reveals to us:
A God Who Loves the Unlovable
The first era of Jacob’s life could be summarised in the words of Titus 3.3, “hateful, and hating one another”, especially with regards to his brother, Esau. But, in Genesis chapter 28, we could say, “the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward [him] appeared” Titus 3.4. And, though the Psalmist is speaking of the nation which bore his name, it is no less true of himself: “the excellency of Jacob whom He loved” Ps.47.4.
A God Who Spans the Unbridgeable
“Behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven” Gen.28.12.
A God Who Breaks the Unbreakable
“There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” Gen.32.24.
A God Who Steadies the Changeable
“The God that shepherded me all my life long to this day” Gen.48.15, J.N.D.
A God Who Does the Unthinkable
“Ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob … in the kingdom of God” Lk.13.28. Imagine God bringing a man with as bad a start as Jacob into the future kingdom! But it is no less unthinkable that God would bring sinners like us into heaven! It is often said that when we cease to wonder we cease to worship. Let us never lose the amazement that our God has “raised the ruined wrecks of sin above created thought” (John Dickie).
In further articles, if the Lord will, we will consider some of these events of Jacob’s life and how they teach us more about the God of Jacob.
To be continued (D.V.)
Caught by his own Camera
In recent years, many car drivers have installed dashboard cameras, so that, if they are involved in an accident, the footage can be used to help establish liability. The trend has also been taken up by some cyclists, who have cameras fitted, not only for use in case of accidents, but also for recording careless driving by motorists. The photographic evidence is then forwarded to the authorities, and those who pose a danger to cyclists can be prosecuted, even if no collision has occurred. A couple of years ago, a cyclist in Ireland successfully implicated two drivers by this method. However, to his dismay, the investigators, on examining his video, found that he too had been guilty of breaking the law during his journey, and he was prosecuted, along with the drivers he had filmed.
In the early chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, Paul shows how people are guilty of having broken, not the laws of the road, but the Law of God: the holy, righteous standard that He demands of all mankind. In Romans 2.1-3, Paul addresses someone who criticises others for their misdeeds, but who, in doing this, is condemning himself, for he does “the same things”. He states that God will judge everyone according to righteous principles, and that no-one should think that he will “escape the judgment of God”. Like the cyclist, we may try to pronounce others guilty, but in so doing we are declaring our own guilt, for “there is none righteous, no, not one” Romans 3.10. “What things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3.19,22,23. We are all “without excuse” Romans 1.20, and deserve “wrath, tribulation and anguish” Romans 2.9.
What is your attitude to this cyclist? Maybe you feel a little sorry for him, but also that ‘it serves him right’, for condemning others, while failing to see his own guilt. I doubt if anyone tried to contact him, or the two guilty drivers, to offer to pay their fines! How different is God’s attitude to us! We all have sinned against Him, but He did not take the position that ‘they will be punished, and it serves them right!’ He did not even just ‘feel a little sorry’ for us, and leave us to our plight, to suffer forever in the Lake of Fire for our sins. No: He had deep pity for us, and He took action to rescue us. This was not a simple matter, like posting off a payment to cover a traffic fine: it was very costly, necessitating “God sending His own Son” Romans 8.3, into the world. Jesus Christ is the only Person Who has ever lived who has the right to pronounce sentence on others, for He is sinless, and yet, in love, He went to Calvary, to bear the judgment for us: “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5.8.
It was an unpleasant surprise to the cyclist to find out that he was guilty, and had to pay for it. Perhaps it has been a shock to you to read that you are guilty of more serious crimes, against a much greater authority (God), and are subject to His righteous judgment. However, if you repent and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, Who died and rose again, you will be saved from the punishment for your sins, declared righteous, and sure of Heaven. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” Romans 5.1,9.
“‘Art Thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass ?’ And He said unto them, ‘What things?’” Luke 24.18,19
O the irony of Cleopas’ question! He thought this ‘stranger’ was the only person around who was ignorant of these “things”, while in fact they were all about Him, and He knew them more deeply than anyone else! Yet the Lord did not expose Cleopas’ mistake, but graciously asked, “What things?” thus allowing this disciple to unburden his heart to Him.
Today, the Lord is not bodily walking alongside us as we traverse the streets and roads of this world, yet He is the same, “at the right hand of God”, where He “maketh intercession for us” Rom.8.34. He is fully acquainted with our every circumstance; yet He desires to hear it from our lips. Are there things that are heavy on your heart today? “What things?” He knows, but He wants you to unburden your heart in His presence. “Pour out your heart before Him” Ps.62.8; “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee” Ps.55.22; “Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you” 1Pet.5.7.
- When He tells us we may cast at His feet every care,
- What a balm for the weary! O how sweet to be there!
- (Fanny J. Crosby)
“When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth” Proverbs 11.7
An example of the person here described is the rich farmer of Lk.12.16-21, whose every “expectation” and “hope” perished suddenly, when his soul was required of him. How very different was the “expectation” and “hope” of the apostle Paul, who wrote: “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Phil.1.20,21. His aspiration was that Christ would be glorified, in how he lived in this world, and in how he left it. Contrary to being the loss of his hopes, death would be “gain” for him. May we shun the example of the ungodly, and, like Paul, “seek those things which are above” Col.3.1,2.