ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
THE LAMB IN REVELATION
by W. Banks
COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS IN A CHANGING WORLD
by R. Reynolds
A DECLARATION OF THOSE THINGS
by D. Williamson
by P. Robinson
SEED PRODUCING AFTER ITS KIND
by W. Lavery
by J. Riddle
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.52: PSALM 31 (Part 1)
Before considering the Psalm in detail, we should notice: first, the Circumstances of the Psalm; and second, the Composition of the Psalm.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE PSALM
The precise circumstances in which David wrote this Psalm are unknown to us, although, according to A.F. Kirkpatrick1, “most of the earlier commentators suppose that the Psalm was written by David in the wilderness of Maon, and point to the coincidence between his words ‘in my haste’ (v.22) and ‘David made haste to flee’ (1Sam.23.26)”. A.G. Clarke2 similarly suggests that the Psalm was written by David “apparently during the period of Saul’s persecution, and most probably refers to his experiences at Keilah (1Sam.23.7-13)”. Both suggestions could explain David’s prayer: “Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me” v.4.
- 1 Kirkpatrick, A.F. “The Book of Psalms”. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- 2 Clarke, A.G. “Analytical Studies in the Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
The absence of clear information means that the Psalm gives guidance and encouragement to believers in any adversity. How often we find ourselves in threatening circumstances from which there is apparently no escape! Paul knew exactly what this was like: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” 2Cor.4.8,9. These words might almost have been written by David!
One feature of the Psalm is the way in which it is quoted elsewhere, leading Derek Kidner3 to observe that “This Psalm impressed itself on more than one biblical character deeply enough to come to mind at moments of supreme crisis … It illustrates the role of the Psalms in meeting a great variety of human needs beyond the bounds of formal worship and the original experiences of the authors”.
- 3 Kidner, D. “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72”. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester.
Jonah had evidently read the Psalm; he cited v.6: “I have hated them that regard lying vanities”, when he said, “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy” Jonah 2.8.
Jeremiah had evidently read the Psalm; he cited v.13: “For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side”, when he said, “fear is on every side” Jer.6.25; 20.10; 49.29, and “fear was round about” Jer.46.5.
A Psalmist in old age, possibly David himself, repeated the substance of the first three verses of this Psalm in Ps.71.1-3.
But above all, the Lord Jesus, having accomplished the great work of propitiation at Calvary, cried, “It is finished”. He then quoted v.5: “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit”, saying, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” Lk.23.46.
While Psalm 31 is not recognised as a ‘Messianic Psalm’, it might well be described in this way. If an objection is raised on the ground of v.10 (“my strength faileth because of mine iniquity”), then it is worth noting an alternative rendering to “mine iniquity”: ‘my misery (distress)’ J.N.D. margin.
THE COMPOSITION OF THE PSALM
In the words of Derek Kidner3, David “makes the journey twice over from anguish to assurance: first in vv.1-8 and again in vv.9-24”. This could be reworded to read ‘from distress to deliverance’, or ‘from problems to praise’. We do not know why David should repeat himself in this way. In view of what A.F. Kirkpatrick1 calls “the striking difference in the tone” of vv.9-18 from that of vv.1-8 and vv.19-24, he suggests “the possibility that these verses [vv.9-18] may be a later addition”, adding, “But the change of tone may only correspond to a change of situation”. The latter is preferable! It is a Psalm of ‘undulating emotions’, a ‘roller-coaster’. David’s spirit rises and falls. “The psalm exhibits the ebb and flow of faith during a period of deep distress.”2
- 1 Kirkpatrick, A.F. “The Book of Psalms”. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- 2 Clarke, A.G. “Analytical Studies in the Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
- 3 Kidner, D. “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72”. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester.
The two sections of the Psalm may be entitled, The Hunted Man, vv.1-8, which we will consider now, and The Hated Man, vv.9-24, which will be the subject of the next paper, in the will of the Lord.
THE HUNTED MAN – vv.1-8
David was evidently hunted like a wild animal: “Pull me out of the net that they have privily laid for me” v.4. As we have already noted, David’s experience at Keilah may lie behind these words. Saul had said, “He is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars”, but having been warned by God, “David and his men … departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go” 1Sam.23.7-13. Similarly, in the wilderness of Maon “David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them” 1Sam.23.2.
We must now notice his distress, vv.1-4; his dependence, vv.5,6; his deliverance, vv.7,8.
His Distress – vv.1-4
The present tenses suggest that David is speaking about his current circumstances: “deliver me” v.1; “deliver me” v.2; “Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me [‘the net that they have hidden for me’ J.N.D.]” v.4. Nevertheless, the Psalm commences on a note of high confidence: “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust” v.1. These opening verses stress David’s adversity, vv.1,2, and the Lord’s ability, vv.3,4.
David’s Adversity – vv.1,2
“In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in Thy righteousness. Bow down Thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be Thou my strong rock, for a house of defence to save me” vv.1,2. As noted above, the Psalm does not commence with despondency and despair, but with assurance. Centuries later, Paul wrote concerning himself and his colleagues: “we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: but we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us” 2Cor.1.8-10. While David and Paul had adversity in common, they were also marked by confidence in God. In New Testament language: “He hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ So that we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me’” Heb.13.5,6.
David’s confidence was well founded. He knew that the eternal God cannot allow any who trust in Him to be ashamed. He must honour faith. Hence, “deliver me in Thy righteousness”. David knew that the Lord would act righteously – do right – in delivering him. It was only just that those who trust in Him should be delivered. Hence, a little later, we read, “for Thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me” v.3. Because “the Judge of all the earth” must “do right” Gen.18.25, David prayed: “Bow down Thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be Thou my strong rock, for a house of defence to save me” v.2. He knew that the Lord would both hear and intervene on his behalf. David was well aware that “the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry” Ps.34.15. David was also aware that although he “abode … in strong holds” and “dwelt in strong holds” 1Sam.23.14,29, the Lord would be his “strong rock … and … fortress”.
The Lord’s Ability – vv.3,4
“For Thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for Thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me. Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for Thou art my strength” vv.3,4. It has been pointed out that the words, “For Thou art my rock [sela, emphasising its elevation] and my fortress [metsudah, meaning fortress or stronghold]” v.3, are the ground of his prayer, which is: “be Thou my strong [maoz, meaning ‘stronghold’] rock [tsur], for a house of defence [metsudah] to save me” v.2. David prayed that the Lord would be to him exactly what he knew Him to be in Himself. All of which reminds us that “the name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe [sagab, ‘set in a high retreat’ J.N.D. margin]” Prov.18.10; “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe [sagab]” Prov.29.25. David’s statement, “for Thou art my strength” recalls Paul’s words, “I can do all things through Christ who pours His strength into me” Phil.4.13, translation unknown.
It is worth noticing that David’s enemies had endeavoured to ensnare him with hidden traps and snares: “Draw me out of the net that they have hidden for me” v.4, J.N.D. While David undoubtedly refers here to either laying siege to a city where he had sought refuge, or ambushing him in one of his wilderness haunts, we can expect our “adversary the devil” to use any and every device to ensnare us. “The devil is cunning and well-practised in causing men to stumble” (Keith Keyser, Choice Gleanings, 16.02.2012). We must not be “ignorant of his devices” 2Cor.2.11, but rather heed Peter’s warning: “Be sober, be viligant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” 1Pet.5.8. But that is not all. He is, equally, “an angel of light”, but not by nature since he transforms himself into this likeness. Similarly his dupes, the “false apostles”, transform themselves “into the apostles of Christ” 2Cor.11.13,14. We must always “watch and pray”. In our case, the “net” might be anywhere, and could be many things.
His Dependence – vv.5,6
“Into Thine hand I commit my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth” v.5. As A.F. Kirkpatrick1 observes, “To God’s care he entrusts as a precious deposit the life inbreathed by God Himself (Job 10.12). The context makes it plain that it is for the preservation of his life that he thus entrusts himself to God; but the further application of the words to the departing spirit is obvious and natural, and it is sanctioned and consecrated by our Lord’s use of them on the Cross (Lk.23.46).” David commits his life to God in full confidence, knowing that He has delivered him in the past (“Thou hast redeemed me”, in the sense of delivering him from temporal distress) and that He will not fail now (“O Lord God of truth”). Had he known the words, David might well have sung:
- His love in times past forbids me to think
- He’ll leave me at last in ruin to sink.
- Each sweet ‘Ebenezer’ I hold in review
- Confirms His good pleasure to see me right through.
- (John Newton)
Moses also described the Lord as “a God of truth” Deut.32.4, and Paul described Him as “God, that cannot lie” Titus 1.2. Believers today can face death with complete tranquillity: “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.” For the child of God, “redeemed” has different significance!
David could pray like this in view of his complete faith in the Lord: “I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I [emphatic] trust in the Lord” v.6. To “regard lying vanities” is to engage in idolatry. David had no sympathy at all for idolaters. “He disclaims all sympathy and fellowship with the worshippers of false gods”1, reminding us of Paul’s warning: “But be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? … And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” 2Cor.6.14-16. David had, in effect, obeyed the injunction, “Keep yourselves from idols” 1Jn.5.21. The expression “lying vanities” has been translated, ‘vanities of nothingness’.
- 1 Kirkpatrick, A.F. “The Book of Psalms”. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
His Deliverance – vv.7,8
“I will be glad and rejoice in Thy mercy: for Thou hast considered my trouble; Thou hast known [‘seen’ J.N.D.] my soul in adversities; and hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: Thou hast set my feet in a large room” vv.7,8. The four occurrences of “hast” should be noted. They could form the basis of a good sermon! The words, “Thou … hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy”, may well refer to his stay in Keilah, where he found it necessary to ask the Lord, “Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?”, to be told, “They will deliver thee up.” In which case the “large room” was “a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph” 1Sam.23.12-14.
In the words of J.M.Flanigan4, “Jehovah had not permitted David to be shut up at the mercy of the enemy, but rather He had set His servant in a large place, a broad place of freedom”. Compare David’s testimony in Ps.18.17-19: “He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me. They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a large place; He delivered me, because He delighted in me.”
- 4 Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Ian McKee (N. Ireland)
Manasseh – on the Borders of the Land
As the children of Israel approached the Promised Land they had to fight for their possession. First of all, they conquered territory east of Jordan, which was given by request to the Reubenites and Gadites. However, “the rest of Gilead, and all Bashan … gave I [Moses] unto the half tribe of Manasseh; all the region of Argob, with all Bashan, which was called the land of giants. Jair the son of Manasseh took all the country of Argob unto the coasts of Geshuri and Maachathi; and called them after his own name, Bashan-havoth-jair, unto this day” Deut.3.13,14.
Moses rehearsed the account of these victories in the context of the covenant the Lord made with His people in anticipation of them entering the Land, Deut.29.8. Moses viewed these eastern lands from the top of Pisgah, as “the Lord shewed him” Deut.34.1. He must have been reassured to see the lands already conquered, Deut.34.2. If the “land of giants” had already fallen to Manasseh, surely greater victories in the land were assured!
Manasseh – in the Land
“The children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them” Josh.4.12. This vanguard of “about forty thousand prepared for war” Josh.4.13, was followed by the other tribes. When the conquest was complete, and “the land rested from war” Josh.11.23, the triumphs east of the Jordan were again rehearsed, with appropriate reference to the “half tribe of Manasseh” Josh.12.1-6. The division of the land west of Jordan was next determined for “the nine tribes, and the half tribe of Manasseh” Josh.13.7.
The double tribal portion for the descendants of Joseph, while yet retaining twelve tribal areas overall, is explained: “For the children of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim: therefore they gave no part unto the Levites in the land, save cities to dwell in, with their suburbs for their cattle and for their substance. As the Lord commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did, and they divided the land” Josh.14.4,5.
The tribal portions of Manasseh, and Ephraim, in the centre of the land, are delineated in Joshua chapter 16. Cities that were familiar to Abraham, such as Bethel and Luz, Josh.16.2, are now possessed by his descendants. There was some intermixing of these tribes: “And the separate cities for the children of Ephraim were among the inheritance of the children of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages” Josh.16.9; 17.9. Also, “Manasseh had in Issachar and in Asher” certain towns and territories, Josh.17.11.
Joshua chapter 17 gives further details about the land portion for Manasseh, plus some important insights. First of all, we are told that “Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead … was a man of war” Josh.17.1. Then the daughters of Zelophehad reappear, some eight years after their first mention. They remind Eleazar the priest, Joshua and the princes of the Lord’s earlier ruling on their behalf, Josh.17.4. They are indomitable, pressing their case with prevailing importunity. They knew what they wanted; and it is no wonder that they succeeded! What might be achieved if our spiritual exercise and prayer life exhibited the spiritual tenacity of these five ‘never give up’ sisters?
There is a distinction to be drawn between the two half tribes of Manasseh. The half tribe settling east of the Jordan fully conquered that land. However, the half tribe located west of the Jordan, like all the tribes settling there, “could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land. Yet it came to pass, when the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute; but did not utterly drive them out” Josh.17.12,13.
Subsequently a joint delegation from Manasseh and Ephraim approached Joshua seeking some territorial readjustment as they judged their land allocation insufficient for them as “a great people” Josh.17.14. They expected Joshua to effect some changes to their benefit and satisfaction, although detrimental to other tribes. Perhaps they thought that Joshua, an Ephraimite, would be favourable, owing to kinship. They expected another to do what they wanted without any self-effort on their part. However, Joshua answered them using their own terms: “If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee” Josh.17.15. When the onus is put back upon them, rather than accepting their responsibility, they engage in ‘difficulty-stating’. Sound familiar? They answered, “The hill is not enough for us: and all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, both they who are of Beth-shean and her towns, and they who are of the valley of Jezreel” Josh.17.16. If they thought that complaining would secure a favourable response from Joshua, they were wrong! Joshua said, “Thou art a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot only: but the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down: and the outgoings of it shall be thine; for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong” Josh.17.17,18.
There are times when there is an overwhelming need for personal exercise and spiritual initiative. A tribe and a half were impotent due to inertia. They had learned absolutely nothing from the daughters of Zelophehad! After all, if those girls had not taken the initiative, there was no-one else to represent their case! However, as soon as their case was made the Lord answered on their behalf. Difficulties are never overcome by difficulty-stating. They are rather overcome by acting in dependence upon God, fortified by His promise and power.
In Manassite territory east of the Jordan there were cities for the Levites from the children of Gershon, Josh.18.7; 21.6, and a city of refuge, “Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh” Josh.20.8; 21.27. However, the half tribe settling in the land to the west of Jordan had Levites out of the children of Kohath assigned cities in their territory, Josh.21.5,25.
Following the final conquest of the land, Joshua called together the representatives of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, Josh.22.1. He acknowledged their contribution in the battles of liberation, the fulfilment of all that they had promised Moses, and gave his injunction: “take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to keep His commandments, and to cleave unto Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul” Josh.22.5.
Manasseh was the only tribe which was permitted to divide to reside east and west of the Jordan. “Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in Bashan: but unto the other half thereof gave Joshua among their brethren on this side Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away also unto their tents, then he blessed them” Josh.22.7. That verse links one half of the tribe with Moses and the other half with Joshua. Perhaps this hints at a division in tribal mind-set, either toward the lawgiver or the liberator, in this tribe which had an Egyptian mother (a similar dichotomy of view, between law and grace, caused difficulty within the first generation of Christians). Anyhow, Joshua’s blessings related to material riches, Josh.22.8, which were only enjoyed after all the battles were over. Our blessings are spiritual, are present and are received from One greater than Joshua: “a hundredfold now in this time … and in the world to come eternal life” Mk.10.30.
The half tribe which returned east of Jordan with Reuben and Gad, Josh.22.9, shared in the good intentions to erect a great memorial altar. That almost led to a civil war, which was only averted by judicious investigation (see our earlier consideration of Reuben and Gad).
Manasseh – in the Days of the Judges
The first reference to Manasseh in Judges relates to the half tribe settling in the land itself and it is one of failure: “Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of … [five areas are listed] … but the Canaanites would dwell in that land” Judg.1.27.
The second reference relates to the seven years of subjection of the land by Midianites, Amalekites and the children of the east, which led to impoverishment, Judg.6.3. The Lord intervened by sending a prophet to chide Israel for their sin, and to remind them of God’s goodness and power in the past, Josh.6.7-10. Then followed a Christophany to Gideon, who was secretly threshing wheat: “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, ‘The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour’ … And the Lord looked upon him, and said, ‘Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?’” Judg.6.12,14. Gideon answered, “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” Judg.6.15.
The account of the Lord’s dealings with and deliverance of Israel through Gideon is well known and is very encouraging, Judges chapters 6 and 7. However, there was an omission in his preparation, which could have had dire consequences later, namely, Gideon failed to include Ephraim at an early stage in his enterprise, Judg.6.35; compare 7.23. It was only after the victory over Midian that “Gideon sent messengers throughout all mount Ephraim, saying, ‘Come down against the Midianites, and take before them the waters unto Beth-barah and Jordan.’ Then all the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and … took two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb” Judg.7.24,25.
That failure to enlist Ephraim at an earlier stage led to feelings of jealousy and resentment on the part of Ephraim against Manasseh. That potentially explosive situation was only defused by Gideon’s diplomacy in minimising his and Manasseh’s role in comparison with that of Ephraim, in cutting off the Midianite retreat and their capture and execution of Oreb and Zeeb. Gideon’s placating the hostile emotions of the men of Ephraim and avoiding a civil war was as great an achievement as the victory over Midian! His self-deprecating statements are worthy of consideration: “What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abi-ezer? God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you?” Judg.8.2,3.
This is a perfect example of, “A soft answer turneth away wrath” Prov.15.1, as “their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that” Judg.8.3.
We shall continue our consideration of Manasseh in the days of the Judges in the next paper.
To be continued (D.V.)
by William M. Banks (Scotland)
THE WITNESSES OF THE LAMB – Rev.14.1-20 (Part 2)
In the previous paper we considered the first of the two sections of this chapter:
THE LAMB ON MOUNT ZION WITH THE 144,000 – vv.1-5. A look forward
We now turn to the second section:
VISIONS OF FINAL JUDGMENT – vv.6-20: NECESSARY BEFORE THE MILLENNIUM. A look back
The necessary sacrifices of the faithful witnesses are now being vindicated. They might have asked: was it worth it? God has not forgotten what they suffered and the price they paid for their convictions. He is now dealing with their enemies and showing, as a corollary, the great future that awaits the faithful.
The Proclamation of Impending Judgment (by the First Three Angels) – vv.6-12
In Great Tribulation days personal witness will be nigh impossible. In these circumstances God is going to use angelic exhortation, proclamation and warning: an angel is going to preach the gospel!
The First Angel’s Message: the Everlasting Gospel – vv.6,7
There is really only one gospel, but with a variety of manifestations: “of the grace of God”; “my gospel”; “of the kingdom”; here its timeless nature in relation to creation is emphasised. The audience in this case is the earth dwellers; not now used with a moral connotation but indicative of “every nation …”, that is, it is universal in its scope. The earnestness with which it is preached is observed in v.7a: “with a loud voice”; evidently time is short. Incidentally, this confirms that angels have emotions. The subject of the preaching is clearly identified in vv.7b,d: “Fear God, and give glory to Him” (not the Beast); “worship” the Creator: the evidence is extant; there is no excuse; compare Ps.19.1-6; Rom.1.20. The reason for the earnestness is adduced in v.7c: “the hour of His judgment is come”.
The Second Angel’s Message: the Fall of Apostate Babylon – v.8
The fact is stated with emphasis in the repetition of “is fallen” v.8a. According to J.N. Darby and the Revised Version the word “city” should be omitted. The city will be the focus of attention later, in chapters 16 to 18. Here the emphasis is on the “great” apostate ecumenical conglomeration embracing every pagan and Christianised system. It has come to an end: its powerful influence is now abated. Details, however, are kept till later. The reason for her demise is given in v.8b: her universal influence (“all nations”) has prostituted the true, leading to the outpouring of Divine wrath, Jer.51.7,8.
The Third Angel’s Message: the End of the Followers of the Beast – vv.9-12
The earnestness, seriousness and solemnity of the message are again indicated by the fact that the angel speaks with “a loud voice” v.9a. Several factors relative to the message are delineated:
Its Recipients – v.9b
They are the worshippers of the Beast and his image, and receivers of his mark, which is indicative of allegiance to him.
Its Content – v.10a
Unmitigated wrath: the “wine of the wrath of God”. The Beast had shown his wrath against the witnesses. It is now reciprocated by God against the Beast’s followers.
Its Intensity – v.10b
It is “without mixture” (of mercy); they are “tormented [‘tortured’] with [‘in’] fire and brimstone”; compare Sodom and Gomorrah.
Its Solemnity – v.10c
It is “in the presence of the holy angels, and … the Lamb”. This is perhaps one of the most solemn statements in the whole of the Bible. They had associated with one who blasphemed His name, 13.6. They had rejected the ministry of angels and are now being judged in their presence!
Its Finality – v.11a
It is “for ever and ever”. Eternal punishment is a Biblical truth; it is never exhausted.
Its Uninterrupted Restlessness – v.11b
They “have no rest day nor night”. Contrast the offer available today in Matt.11.28.
Its Lessons – v.12
These are the conditions that believers need to cultivate in the circumstances of blasphemy: endurance (“patience”), obedience (“keep”) and “faith”.
The Blessed Dead Who Die in the Lord – v.13
It is interesting that this verse is contextually in the middle of two paragraphs each focusing on three angels, and dealing with severe judgment. It is good to know that the plea of Hab.3.2 is being answered: “O Lord … in wrath remember mercy”. “God is still on the throne and He will remember His own”! There would be those who would die during the Tribulation. Perhaps loved ones needed reassurance. Their “labours” and “works” are not forgotten. God has noted them: they “rest from their labours; and their works do follow them”, and now they are “blessed”.
The source of the assurance is “a voice from heaven” v.13a; compare v.2. It is therefore authoritative and reliable. Its certainty of fulfilment is assured by a record being given in Scripture: “Write” v.13b. It also comes with a beatitude: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord” v.13c. There is a total of seven beatitudes in the Book of Revelation: 1.3; 14.13; 16.15; 19.9; 20.6; 22.7,14.
Believers who die in the present dispensation are called the “dead in Christ” 1Thess.4.16. However, here they are said to be blessed as they “die in the Lord” v.13d. The sphere of their activity was evidently under the Lordship of Christ, Acts 2.36; Phil.2.11, as distinct from the worship of the Beast. The blessing is going to abide “from henceforth [now on]” v.13e. The Beast and his emissaries cannot touch them now! The word of the Spirit, v.13f, is confirmatory that they enter their eternal rest: “rest from their labours” v.13g, in contrast to those who have “no rest” v.11b, and that their service will come into remembrance for reward: “their works do follow them” v.13h.
The Coming of the Son of Man (and the Second Three Angels) – vv.14-20
There are two final ‘judgments’ in the chapter: one undertaken by the Son of man, called a “harvest” v.15, and the other by an angel, in this case described as a ‘vintage’: “Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe” v.18. There is a parallel with the parable of the tares. It is the angels that gather “all things that offend” Matt.13.41. The Lord is the Lord of the harvest. He gathers the good seed.
The Harvest of the Earth – vv.14-16: undertaken by the Son of man
John again expresses his wonder, in v.14a. The 144,000 were the “firstfruits” v.4. Now the harvest is going to be gathered in. To do it the Lord comes “upon the cloud” v.14b. This is a feature regularly linked with the Lord’s manifestation, Acts 1.11; Dan.7.13; Matt.24.30; compare also the interesting references to “clouds” in Nah.1.3; Ps.104.3. He has “a golden crown [stephanos]” on His head; an evidence of His righteous victory, v.14c, and “a sharp sickle” in His hand, v.14d. The sickle is an implement of harvest and its sharpness indicates the capability of discernment: not a tare is included; not a stalk of corn is left, Matt.13.30!
The first of the last three angels comes with a command “out of the temple” v.15a. The command to “reap, for the time is come”, is clearly Divinely authenticated (see Mk.13.32); otherwise the angel could not have spoken “with a loud voice to Him that sat on the cloud” v.15b! “The harvest of the earth is ripe” v.15c: the Tribulation is past. The reaping is accomplished and the faithful are gathered in for entrance to the Millennial Kingdom, v.16.
The Vintage of the Earth – vv.17-20: undertaken by an angel
The final two angels of the chapter act in tandem. They prefigure the battle of Armageddon: the tares are gathered; the chaff is burned, Matt.13.30a; 3.12. The first of the last two angels emerges “out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle” v.17. There is no mistaking the intent. The command is given to the angel with the sickle by the final angel in the chapter (the sixth): “Thrust in thy sharp sickle” v.18. He has “power over fire” (a symbol of judgment) and comes with authority from the (brazen) altar, v.18a; compare 6.9; 8.5.
There is no doubt about the material to be gathered: the vine with fully ripe grapes (ready for judgment), v.18b; see Deut.32.32-35; compare Isa.5.2-7 and contrast Jn.15.1-11. Here it is the gathering of the nations into “the great winepress of the wrath of God” v.19; see Joel 3.13; Rev.19.15,21; 2Thess.2.8-12. Three things are predicated as associated with the winepress: what was done, where it was done and the effect produced:
What was Done
The winepress “was trodden”, indicating the awful judgment exercised on the above gathering of the nations, v.20a.
Where it was Done
The location is identified as being outside the city, v.20b. Elsewhere specific locations have been identified: Bozrah, in the east, Isa.63.1-6; the valley of Jehoshaphat, in the south, though the location is not certain, Joel 3.2; and Megiddo, in the north, Rev.16.16.
The Effect Produced
The severity is indicated: blood “even unto the horse bridles” over an area of two hundred miles, v.20c! The magnitude of the judgment is staggering, covering all the above locations, with Jerusalem at the centre! Woe will betide those who refuse Divine overtures of grace in the everlasting gospel, v.6, and continue to worship the Beast!
To be continued (D.V.)
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest … Jesus the Son of God” Hebrews 4.14
There is perhaps no facet of the Lord’s glory so appealing and so advantageous to us as His unique glory as our great High Priest. We live in a very heartless, selfish and uncaring society and there is a worrying lack of care and compassion.
How comforting then it is for us to know that He Who came to win us on the cross of shame now lives for us at God’s right hand, unwearied in His invaluable ministry as the great High Priest of His people. When we have no one else to turn to, we can be sure of the companionship and compassion of our faithful and merciful High Priest. He is never overwhelmed by the multitude of requests that ascend to Him every hour of every day and night. No need is overlooked, no prayer goes unheard; He does not have to prioritise the cases presented to Him and all the weight of care will never become too much for Him.
The problems and pressures of daily life; the trials and tribulations of this sad scene, compounded by the frailty of our feeble frames, cause us increasingly to look to Him and lean upon His unvarying affection and His unfailing care.
- Before the throne of God above
- I have a strong, a perfect plea,
- A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
- Who ever lives and pleads for me.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” Luke 2.11
From the unsullied splendour of His eternal home He came to the insignificant Bethlehem, “little among the thousands of Judah”; He “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” Mic.5.2.
Wrapped in swaddling bands, His small body rested in the rude manger; He Who outspans eternity and surpasses the most distant boundaries of His creation. His greatness is boundless and knows no barriers or frontiers. He exceeds our loftiest thoughts of Him; our hearts cannot contain Him, our tongues cannot fully tell Him out and even eternity will never exhaust His praise. This world to which He so graciously, kindly and willingly came could not contain all the books that could be written of Him. No wonder Paul wrote, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” 2Cor.8.9.
How thankful we should be that He deigned to dwell among men, descending “into the lower parts of the earth” Eph.4.9, that we might be in heaven with Him eternally, by grace abounding!
- On that most holy morn at Bethlehem,
- When Christ the Lord was born at Bethlehem,
- He came, O wondrous sight!
- Forth from the realms of light
- Into a scene of night, at Bethlehem.
by Jack Hay (Scotland)
Paper 8 – VICTORY
It is to Jehoshaphat’s credit that when faced with overwhelming odds his immediate reaction was to “set himself to seek the Lord” 2Chr.20.3. With the praying done, there was the Divine response. The prayer meeting was attended by men, women and children from “all the cities of Judah” v.4, and “in the midst of the congregation”, the Spirit of God came upon Jahaziel, v.14, the man for the moment with the word for the occasion. He was an unknown; we never read of him before or after, just like Azariah who ministered to Jehoshaphat’s father, 2Chr.15.1. God is not dependent on big-name characters. All believers should see themselves as usable, but, like Jahaziel, we must be under the control of the Holy Spirit, and be with God’s people when they gather. To contribute to proceedings effectively, you must be there!
This communication from heaven had relevance for all: “all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat” v.15. Every citizen was at risk, so this pertinent message was addressed to all. On occasions, New Testament exhortations target specific groups among God’s people and responsibilities in different areas are explained. For example, the duties of husbands, wives, children, servants, masters, etc. are all spelled out, but, for the more part, the same instruction is given to all; and, of course, all the truth of God is for all the people of God. Just as all Judah was endangered here, so believers in general are exposed to spiritual perils, and there are instructions in Scripture to avert these dangers. We need to be as receptive as Jehoshaphat and his people were; as teachable as the Thessalonians of whom Paul wrote, “ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God” 1Thess.4.1.
Encouragement was at the foundation of this message: “Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s” 2Chr.20.15. God never minimises problems; it was “a great multitude” that confronted them, just as it was a “great mountain” of difficulty that faced Zerubbabel, Zech.4.7, and “a great king” that threatened “a little city” Eccl.9.14, but the greatness of the opposition or the problem is an irrelevance to God. “With God nothing shall be impossible” Lk.1.37, so fear and dismay can be quelled. Fear was Jehoshaphat’s initial emotion when the problem surfaced, 2Chr.20.3, but fear can evolve into dismay when there is no immediate solution to a predicament. Neither fear nor dismay was appropriate now, because the whole situation could be left in God’s hands: “the battle is not yours, but God’s”. In Acts chapter 12, a range of factors should have ensured Peter’s confinement and execution: four quaternions of soldiers, v.4; two soldiers stationed in the cell, chains, guards outside the door, v.6; an external iron gate, v.10. God brushed all these precautions to the side, and Peter turned up at the prayer meeting, v.12; the battle was God’s. We need to learn that lesson.
Being realistic, not every crisis triggers a miraculous Divine intervention, but leaving the situation in God’s hands lifts the burden. Hannah prayed, “and her countenance was no more sad” 1Sam.1.18. Even in situations where the outcome is not as we would have wished, grace is ministered to us. On three occasions Paul requested the removal of his “thorn”; that petition was denied, and yet there was the assurance of needed grace for the trial, 2Cor.12.8,9. Rest in the assurance that the battle is the Lord’s, and it is for us to submit to His sovereign design for us.
The battle was God’s, but Jehoshaphat had to be proactive, and his instructions were exact. He was told what to do: “go ye down against them”. He was told when to do it: “tomorrow”. He was told where to go: “by the cliff of Ziz …” 2Chr.20.16. Jehoshaphat’s response was precise and eager. On the next day “they rose early in the morning”, keen to comply with Divine instructions and employ the prescribed strategy, v.20. With the same enthusiasm, in Joshua’s day “they rose early about the dawning of the day” to accomplish victory at Jericho, Josh.6.15. Jehoshaphat’s ready obedience was augmented by him encouraging the others to have the same faith in God. He assured them that in believing His prophets and responding to their God-given instructions, they would prosper, v.20.
We need to learn that lesson. Spiritual safety and prosperity and successful service are reliant on these twin factors: trust in our God and simple obedience to His voice through His servants; our wellbeing is dependent upon it. “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” Deut.5.29.
In the service of God, the ‘how’, and the ‘when’ and the ‘where’ are all vital. At times the instructions that come our way may be a little more difficult to discern, but it is important to be sensitive to the Lord’s direction for our activities.
I used the word ‘proactive’ to describe Jehoshaphat’s remit, but, having advanced, tactics changed, and he was to be passive: “set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you” 2Chr.20.17. It is reminiscent of the first major obstacle that Israel encountered when leaving Egypt. Trapped at the Red Sea, the message from heaven was, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” Ex.14.13. The memory of that would instil confidence into Jehoshaphat. The God of redemption, Whose omnipotence effected such a comprehensive deliverance; that God is not merely the God of history, but His people’s Guardian in every generation. The reality of the Divine presence in Moses’ day was promised to this modern king: “the Lord will be with you” 2Chr.20.17. In days of crisis, let us claim His promised presence: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee” Isa.43.2. At Paul’s first trial, there were no human sympathisers in the public gallery, but he wrote, “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me” 2Tim.4.16,17. Let us draw courage from that and say with David, “I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me” Ps.23.4.
Although Jehoshaphat was a spectator on this occasion, we must never assume that every situation requires inactivity. An earlier episode in his life was a crisis of his own making, but, among other things, the strategy against the Moabites was to dig ditches, 2Kgs.3.16. Some circumstances demand inaction, because from a human standpoint nothing can be done. Other situations require a contribution from us, and it is important to discern the one from the other and to respond to God’s promptings.
Acceptance of Jahaziel’s message transformed worry to worship and panic to praise, 2Chr.20.18,19. The messenger was “of the sons of Asaph” v.14, David’s great choirmaster, so it is fitting that his ministry should evoke worship and praise. There was praise on reception of the message, and it was resumed the next day when they obeyed the message, the singers leading the army and praising: “Praise the Lord; for His mercy endureth for ever” v.21. Normally, celebrations are reserved for the hour of victory: “Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off” 1Kgs.20.11, and yet such was Judah’s confidence in God that their singing anticipated inevitable victory.
The believer’s “last enemy” is death, 1Cor.15.26, and not until “this corruptible shall have put on incorruption” will we be able to say finally, “O grave, where is thy victory?” vv.54,55. In the meantime, like Jehoshaphat we can praise in anticipation of victory, and say, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” v.57.
While Judah was singing, the confederate army was squabbling, and, at the instigation of the Lord, it fragmented, 2Chr.20.22,23. Why Ammon and Moab turned on the people of Seir is not explained. Maybe they suspected treachery, but, at any rate, having eliminated Seir, they then turned on each other and all that was left for Judah to do was to ‘hoover up’ the spoils of battle, an immense amount of wealth.
The dramatic victory had various effects. There was instant thanksgiving, v.26. There was subsequent joy, v.27. There was a sense of awe on the part of neighbouring territories, v.29. There was a return to tranquil conditions in the kingdom, v.30. The road that led to that was prayer, a Spirit-led ministry, ready obedience and a spirit of gratitude and worship. These same features would be catalysts in producing equivalent blessings in assembly life today.
The Temple had been the venue for the prayer meeting when the crisis broke, 2Chr.20.5; the Temple was the venue for the praise meeting when victory was accomplished, v.28. Frequently, we have heard our brethren pray, “We will be careful to give Thee the glory”; I trust that we are!
To be continued (D.V.)
by Dennis Williamson (N. Ireland)
A MINISTER OF THE SANCTUARY
These words inevitably turn our minds to the Tabernacle and the Temple, and to the person or persons who were acquainted with them and functioned in them. Those material buildings had a certain august appeal and atmosphere about them; so that, even as we read of them there arises in our minds ceremonial details of their order and ritual. Their peculiar importance to the nation of Israel, to which they were given, is revealed by the fact that they were treated in a very sacred way.
The construction and character of the buildings matched in many ways the respective surroundings of each, the wilderness giving place to the Land in due course. Every facet of their structure and substance has proved fertile ground for vivid imagination, as well as positive and fruitful instruction. They were literal, tangible and visible edifices, placed at the very centre of the community which they served. In this way the focus of the people as they performed their daily tasks was impacted greatly. From childhood, those of that nation learned that these were places to be treated with great care and respect. The people could never imagine their society without such places.
All teaching regarding God and man is illustrated and exemplified there. That primitive and tent-like Tabernacle in the wilderness, with the later, more permanent structure in the Land, had a twofold message for the people: on the one hand it told them that God desired to dwell among them, while on the other hand they were reminded of the distance between themselves and God.
Only on certain terms could they ever hope to have communion with God, and, even then, in a limited way. Other details which they might want to explore were behind curtains and veils. Most of the time access was limited by ceremonial as well as moral laws. All this impressed upon their minds the awesome nature of God. He is holy, as are His standards. Within the fabric of their daily lives was spun a reverence for God. Their history informed them of the deep need for cleansing and in pictorial language suitable to their comprehension that truth was driven home. If you will, it was a message from God of their standing and state before Him. That distance could not be bridged by man’s efforts. Man needed a special kind of help that only God could provide. He needed the forgiveness of sins.
With that cultural and national background, we come now to the Substance of Whom those shadows and types spoke. Heb.8.2 says He is “a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man”. This Minister is our Lord Jesus Christ, and this ministry is in the presence of God for us, Heb.9.24. The contrast is with those earthly priests who served in an earthly tabernacle. They were not suffered to continue by reason of death: succession was a must, Heb.7.23! But the One Who has entered this heavenly sanctuary lives in the power of an endless (indissoluble) life. He has an untransferrable priesthood, Heb.7.24. We are told that the nature of that priesthood is after the Aaronic pattern (He sympathises) but after the order of Melchisedec (He sustains). This all, in very simple but clear terms, reveals to us that the Lord Jesus could not be a priest on earth. No doubt we see many foregleams of this ministry in His attitude and actions while here below, as in Luke chapter 24 when the Lord blessed the disciples before leaving this world. Again, we know what is called the ‘High Priestly prayer’ in John chapter 17. His sacrifice and offering to God was undoubtedly priestly in character. This said, His official entry into His unique priestly ministry was not here on earth but in exaltation. It was then that God said to Him in salutation, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” Heb.5.6,10. This was precluded on earth: because of the tribe from which He came; because of the tenure of His priesthood; because of the tithe given by Abraham to Melchisedec, as linked in Hebrews chapter 7 with the Lord, “of whom it is witnessed that He liveth” Heb.7.8; and because it was not ratified by an earthly temporal commandment, which had to be changed. Much more could be said here but we forbear.
This Minister of the sanctuary has seven titles recorded for us in Hebrews: He is Captain, Apostle, Forerunner, Mediator, Surety, Shepherd and High Priest. In the context all are linked in some way with priesthood, which is the dominant theme of the Epistle. The word used for “minister” here (leitourgos) and the associated word, “ministry”, or “ministration” (leitourgia), bring before the mind a formal, official function on behalf of people; the public service of God. From them the English word liturgy is derived. We read in Lk.1.23 concerning Zacharias: “As soon as the days of his ministration [leitourgia] were accomplished …” He was performing Divine service for the people. So it is said of the Lord in Heb.8.6: “But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry [leitourgia]”; more excellent than that of Zacharias or any Jewish priests. He alone performs this Divine service for others, as public Minister for believers in heaven.
The Lord Jesus, as the Minister of the sanctuary, has all the qualifications necessary to represent His people and to support them, beginning with participation in manhood, Heb.2.17, then subjection, Heb.5.8, then temptation, Heb.4.15, then perfection, Heb.5.9 (not in this case moral, which was always the case, but experiential), then salutation, Heb.5.10, then intercession, Heb.7.25, and finally mediation, which He now exercises on our behalf in the very presence of God, based upon His work at Calvary, 1Tim.2.5. Before the Father stands One in perfect righteousness, 1Jn.2.1; His presence there is sufficient to advocate for our every deficiency. His presence alone pleads; His voice need not be lifted. What a glorious Person! Melchisedec is perhaps the only perfect type (according to the record of Scripture) of the Lord Jesus. Unlike all other earthly high priests, Lev.16.6, the Lord did not need first to offer for His own sins, Heb.7.27. He is sin-apart. Aaron, to a degree, could sympathise with the people, but he had no power to deliver. The Lord Jesus not only sympathises but has power to save to the uttermost, Heb.7.25. Today there is no other true high priest. The place of worship for every believer now is in “the sanctuary” in heaven, in the immediate presence of God. This is something that is open to each believer.
- No temple made with hands
- His place of service is;
- In heaven itself He stands,
- A heavenly priesthood His.
- (Thomas Kelly)
“A minister of the sanctuary”. Often we are asked the question, “Where do you worship?” We all understand what is meant, but the reality is that there is no place of worship now on earth. No material building now can rightfully be called a ‘place of worship’. All that order of things is past and this was pivotal to the understanding of believers to whom the writer to the Hebrews spoke. They understood that being saved had cut them off from that old system. How difficult it was for them! Would they return? Could they return to obsolete Judaism, and function again as they had done? No! They had learned that the death of Christ had severed those links forever. Like every other believer they were invited to “come boldly unto the throne of grace” to “obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Heb.4.16. Now they had immediate access to the presence of God, without the need for any earthly intermediary. There are only two ranks of priesthood now: first, our great High Priest in heaven, and, second, each and every believer on earth. All now worship where He is. The elaborate ceremonies of Judaism have no place in the present time, nor does any earthly priest enable us to gain access to God, nor do any earthly material additives prepare us better for worship. Worship is not anything fleshly or earthly. Our natural standing has no place here. The sphere is heavenly and only those truly born of the Spirit can worship. The figures of the true are past, and the distinctions in priesthood associated with them are gone. There is one Minister of the sanctuary: the Lord Jesus Christ, and all linked with Him can worship there.
A very powerful challenge presented itself to these believers especially, and, by extension, to us. That challenge would come from former religious associates. They might suggest something like this: “You had beautiful ornate buildings, you had priests in gorgeous robes to represent you, and you had sacrifices, holy days, altars and an earthly sanctuary. Tell us, why would you turn your back on it all?” I imagine they might respond like this: “You are right in what you say: we did have all those things, but they were only faint pictures of what we now have. The intricate details of those buildings speak of the Lord Jesus. Likewise, the decorated robes were but faint types of His glories. We have left the shadows and embraced the Substance. In other words we have left all this, as you say, but in Christ we have received much better.”
How true this is! “We have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” Heb.4.14. He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” Heb.4.15. We “have a strong consolation” Heb.6.18. We have a hope “as an anchor of the soul” Heb.6.19. We have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” Heb.10.19. We “have in heaven a better and an enduring substance” Heb.10.34. “We have an altar” Heb.13.10. All these possessions are far better than anything this world can produce, but do we see the value of these? Are we content to abide outside the shell and show of supposed earthly worship and in simple fashion to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness? “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” Heb.13.15. The only order of priesthood today is the heavenly priesthood “after the order of Melchisedec”. It will yet be fully manifested when He shall be a priest upon His throne in coming Millennial glory, Zech.6.13. The Lord Jesus Christ alone is the “minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” Heb.8.2. No one else can take that place and, thankfully, no one else is needed.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Paul Robinson (N. Ireland)
In the first paper we considered:
- DESCRIPTION OF THE IMAGE – v.1
- DEDICATION OF THE IMAGE – vv.2,3
- DECREE CONCERNING THE IMAGE – vv.4-6
- DEFERENCE TO THE IMAGE – v.7
- DEVICE OF THE CHALDEANS – vv.8-11
- DEFIANCE OF THE JEWS – v.12
We will now move on to:
DEMANDS OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR – vv.13-15
The companions of Daniel are brought before the king to ‘face the music’. Before any sound is heard, they hear what appears to be an entreaty from Nebuchadnezzar himself. He asks, “Is it true …?” Interestingly, he omits the first charge of v.12. The friends are given the opportunity to explain for themselves and answer the charges put forward by the Chaldeans. In a case of possible assembly discipline, it would be vital to validate any charge made against a brother or sister and allow the accused to answer for himself or herself. Face-to-face conversations can go a long way to mitigate the damage that can be done on an interpersonal level due to ‘facts’ that subsequently may prove to have feeble veracity at the very best, and no verity at their worst. Being ‘sent for’ by the overseers could engender a sense of fear and anguish, especially if there seems to be even a hint of rage or fury, as we read of in v.13. Nebuchadnezzar had already confessed in 2.47 truths regarding the God Whom Daniel served, but here he challenges the three regarding their supposed defiance. For them, idolatry could not be countenanced but what is revealing is Nebuchadnezzar’s challenge, not only to the three but also to God Himself.
The last clause of v.15 clearly indicates the impiety and defiance of Nebuchadnezzar: this was a direct challenge to God. From then until now this impious modus operandi has continued, with puny man defying God. The result is never in doubt. Nebuchadnezzar believed he was in a ‘win-win’ situation, but God will have no challenger. To the king, their God and details of a dream (chapter 2) was one matter, but when it is certain death, in his opinion it could only end in one way. How wrong he was!
Recent history meant nothing to the king either. Prior to this Babylonian ascendancy, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had invaded Judah, with Rabshakeh sent to Jerusalem, Isaiah chapter 36; 2Kgs.18.17-37. His threats, in the Jewish language, amounted to a defiance of God. His end was inglorious, to say the least, with 185,000 dead corpses bearing testimony to Jehovah’s care and defence of the city. It is worth noting that after Rabshakeh had cast derision upon the Lord, the response of Eliakim, Shebna and Joah was deafening silence, Isa.36.20,21. They “held their peace, and answered him not”. What then will be the response of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to the words, “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”
DECLARATION OF THE FRIENDS – vv.16-18
It is clear that any response given will be out of personal conviction. For whatever reason, Daniel himself is absent from the details of this chapter. The men did not need to wait until they had a consultation with Daniel. Their reply would prove that they were indeed fearless without their ‘frontman’; they would prove their loyalty in the absence of their leader. As we reflect upon the homecalls of overseeing brethren who stood front and centre for the truth of God, do we have a generation with the wherewithal to fill the ranks? What is required today are men with the necessary spiritual backbone who can “stand fast in the faith”, and who can positively respond to the clear responsibility to “quit you like men” 1Cor.16.13. Christian manliness is needed in a local company especially in an age of vociferous feminism that may attempt to gain a foothold in a New Testament assembly of believers. As we look at these three verses, we find the three following features evidenced:
Carefulness in Their Answer as Representing God – v.16
With quiet confidence they respond to the questions of the king. His fare had held no appeal in chapter 1; his fire at this juncture would cause no alarm. “We are not careful [Strong’s number 2818] to answer thee” could be rephrased as, “there is no need for us to answer thee”; these men knew that God would answer the king on their behalf in a manner that would surpass any words of explanation that they could proffer. For them, there was no need to answer; they were acknowledging that the charge of v.14 was true. Moreover, whether there would be deliverance or not, there would be no self-defence. ‘Self-defence classes’ may be popular, but defending oneself verbally in certain circumstances may be counterproductive and, in some measure, do the individual more harm than good.
Considering the Lord Jesus Christ, there were of course many instances when “Jesus answering said unto them …” However, before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin He answered nothing and held His peace, Matt.26.62,63. When “accused of the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing” Matt.27.12. Additionally, regarding Pilate’s question, “He answered him to never a word” v.14. We reflect on Isaiah’s prophetic utterance concerning Christ in His oppression and affliction: “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” Isa.53.7. As believers, we should take note of Gideon and his answer to the men of Ephraim, Judg.8.1-3, and how that “a soft [‘tender’] answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” Prov.15.1.
Clearness about the Ability of the Power of God – v.17
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego’s clear response proved the confidence that they had in the power of God. There would be no ambiguity as to the rationale of their non-conformity. We today may be accused by the world of being obdurate, but we can have confidence in the omnipotence of God and of our stance, when it is based on Scripture. The living faith in God exemplified by these men gave them that calmness and knowledge that God could deliver them from the heat of the furnace and the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Accounts are legion of men and women ‘in service’ who have exhibited courage under fire; these three servants would display courage before the fire. In their own way they would fully answer the “Is it true …?” of v.14. As believers in a spiritual warfare, we should always be ready to answer the ‘quick fire questions’ that can come our way. We recall the words of Peter to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” 1Pet.3.15. The Lord God of their fathers had already brought Israel out of the “iron furnace … of Egypt” Deut.4.20. Having confidence in the God Whom they served would allow them to face any furnace, no matter how hot. Nothing could remove the fact, even as things were about to heat up, that all was in God’s hands. Their service for and to God always had precedence over service to the king, however powerful he may be. In a day of convenient ‘self-service’, may we never forget the service we should render to God. Even if, on occasion, it may be decidedly inconvenient, it is imperative to serve Him. The three friends knew that their God was “a consuming fire, even a jealous God” Deut.4.24.
Contentment in the Outcome in Relation to the Purpose of God – v.18
In their refusal to serve the gods of Nebuchadnezzar or worship the image, we can see a Divine principle at work. Not only were they content in the purpose of God if there was to be no deliverance but, equally, they were content that their stand was not out of stubbornness but in keeping with their singleheartedness towards God. They understood that they were subject to God’s law, Ex.20.3-5, and although they were holding a prominent position, God would have pre-eminence. The principle seen in Acts chapter 5 holds true for today. In responding to the council, Peter and the other apostles gave answer to the command made in Acts 4.18, announcing that “we ought to obey God rather than men” Acts 5.29. The friends in Daniel chapter 3 would hearken unto God rather than men, no matter how powerful. Undoubtedly, we are subject to the “powers that be” Romans chapter 13; Titus 3.1; 1Pet.2.13-17, but we must also be prepared to take a stand and suffer loss in our loyalty to God. Loss of life faced these men and has faced others since. They were bound to obey God even if it resulted in earthly cords binding them. Countless martyrs have been bound to the stake down through the generations, but they are all known to God and will each receive his or her particular reward. An absent Daniel would have been pleased by their stand. In view of an absent, soon-returning, Lord Jesus Christ, we need believers of conviction today willing to take a stand; this will in itself bring pleasure to God and to His Son.
To be continued (D.V.)
by William C. Lavery (U.S.A.)
On the fourth day of creation God separated the water from the dry land and on the dry land He created vegetation. We are then told: “And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after its kind” Gen.1.12. When we sow grass seed it produces grass and if we sow wheat seed it produces wheat! This is a fixed, unchanging principle.
We are all familiar with the parable of the sower and the seed and the soil, in the ‘Synoptic Gospels’. In Matt.13.3 we read that “a sower went forth to sow”, and we are privileged to continue in this great work that was commenced by our blessed Lord. The seed is “the word of the kingdom” Matt.13.19, and the Lord said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” Jn.12.24. The seed that we sow is the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must preach heaven and hell as a background to the gospel but the good news is about the wonderful Person Who loved us and paid the great price of redemption. The preacher cannot make the seed grow but he sows the seed and leaves the results to our Saviour God.
Some seed fell by the wayside and was snatched away by the fowls. Some fell on stony places but had no root in itself and was starved. Some fell on thorny ground and was choked, or strangled. Thankfully some seed was received into good ground and it was successful and produced good fruit.
Now if we apply the principle of Gen.1.12 we see that the successful seed will produce after its kind and the believer will reflect at least some of the characteristics of the seed that was sown! God saved us that we “might set forth the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness to His wonderful light” 1Pet.2.9, J.N.D.
In Matthew’s Gospel the good seed produced one hundred, sixty, and thirtyfold, Matt.13.23. Some believers are more Christlike than others. Perhaps some of us displayed more of Christ when first saved than we do now! However, Matthew is the dispensational Gospel and when the things of God are entrusted to men deterioration follows. In the Gospel of Mark the good ground yields in ascending order, thirty, sixty, and one hundred, Mk.4.8. Perhaps Mark was thinking of his own restoration, 2Tim.4.11. May we grow in grace and become more like our blessed Lord day by day. Luke’s Gospel is the Gospel of grace and shows the good seed producing one hundredfold, Lk.8.8. All God’s people appreciate and display God’s marvellous grace!
There is another sowing and another harvest in 1Cor.15.35, where the question is asked: “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Paul gives the answer: “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die” v.36. Death and burial are equated with sowing and we are assured of a coming harvest, for Christ is the “firstfruit” 1Cor.15.20, Newberry margin, of them that sleep; so the first resurrection has already commenced!
Now in this life all believers display, in different degrees, some of the characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, when they die they are sown with a natural body that was suited to this old earth, but they will be raised with a spiritual body suited for the heavenly realm, 1Cor.15.44. Our Lord is coming soon and a tremendous transformation will take place, when the seed that was sown in death will produce much more after its kind, for the apostle John writes: “when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” 1Jn.3.2. Paul tells of a Saviour “who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory” Phil.3.21, J.N.D. What a harvest; what a prospect, to be like our Lord both physically and morally! God help us to show forth His excellencies as we patiently and longingly await the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us! Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
For seventy-five hours no one knew exactly where he was; in fact shortly after his escape some suggested that there was the possibility that he had already left the country. There was an immediate lock-down at Wandsworth prison when it was discovered that someone was missing. For just over three days Daniel Khalife became one of the UK’s most-wanted men until his arrest by a plain-clothes counterterrorism police officer as he cycled in Northholt in west London.
This high profile case was front-page news because of its seriousness, but around 170,000 people are reported as missing annually in the UK, a figure which is considered as an underestimate by charities and the police. There are families who have someone missing and have no idea where that person is; how distressing must that be!
In Luke 24.3 we read that Jesus Christ was missing when devoted women arrived at the garden tomb a few days after He had been crucified: they “found not the body of the Lord Jesus”. Others, on hearing this alarming news, hurried to the sepulchre, “and found it even so as the women had said: but Him they saw not” Luke 24.24. He was missing for He had risen from the dead, having, by His sufferings and death, secured a full and eternal salvation for all who would trust Him as their personal Saviour. His resurrection affords undeniable proof that God is satisfied with what the Saviour accomplished at Calvary and you, my friend need have no worries or doubts about His ability and willingness to save you eternally.
The next great event in the history of this world is the return of the Lord Jesus to take out of this world all who have trusted Him as Saviour. Be assured that just as He arrived the first time, about two thousand years ago “to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” Hebrews 9.26, so He will come again in fulfilment of His own promise, “I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” John 14.3. Fanciful as it may seem, in a moment millions will be missing from this world. Will you be one of them? Perhaps someone reading this just now, knows many who will be missing when that great event takes place, suddenly and without warning! “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven … and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them … to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” 1Thessalonians 4.16,17. It could happen at any moment: are you ready?
In Revelation 20.10-15 we have one of the most solemn and disturbing scenes in the whole Bible, when the amassed myriads who have died without having trusted the Lord Jesus will stand before Him as the Judge. All hope of salvation is gone and their fate is inevitable; nothing and no one can then change that. In absolute silence those serried ranks will be faced with the irrefutable evidence of their guilt and thence be consigned forever to the Lake of Fire. It is too sad and tragic to even think about but, alas, it is all too real! In vain their names will be searched for in the Lamb’s book of life, the accurate record of all who have trusted Christ as their personal Saviour. “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” Revelation 20.15. Is your name there or is it missing? That is all-important my friend. You can have your name written there indelibly if, just now, feeling your deep need of a Saviour, you accept the unchanging truth of God’s Word that Christ died for your sins that you might never have to go to that dread abode of the lost, and confidently rest alone in Him. The moment you trust Him, your name will be inserted in that great “book of life” and Christ Himself will assume the responsibility of your eternal security.
- “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” Rom.8.26
- In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
- John Bunyan
“For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” Hebrews 10.37
- This verse presents three great truths, concerning the Lord’s return, which are a comfort and an encouragement to all believers, whatever their circumstances. First, the Person is specified: “He that shall come”. For Jews, this term referred to the Messiah, for example, “Art Thou He that should come …?” Matt.11.3. How comforting that ‘the coming One’ (as the phrase could literally be translated) is none other than our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Second, the period is short: “yet a little while”. In Greek, this phrase is very strong, and has been rendered, “yet a little – ever so little – while”. Whatever saints are enduring, it will not be for long. Third, the promise is sure: He “will come, and will not tarry”. Assuredly, He will come, and He will not delay! So let us all take heart: we know Who is coming; that He will definitely come; and that He will do so at exactly the right time!
- “A little while” – ’twill soon be past!
- Why should we shun the shame and cross?
- O let us in His footsteps haste,
- Counting for Him all else but loss!
- O how will recompense His smile,
- The sufferings of this “little while”!
- (James G. Deck)
- While, in Lamentations, Jeremiah is recounting his own personal experiences and feelings, his descriptions frequently foreshadow the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, as in some of the ‘Messianic Psalms’. For example, the question, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? …” Lam.1.12, is strongly suggestive of those “that passed by” the cross, Matt.27.39; Mk.15.29. Our current text can be linked with the following words from a well-known ‘Messianic Psalm’: “They gave Me also gall for My meat; and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink” Ps.69.21, which was fulfilled at Calvary: “They gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall” Matt.27.34. That drink, in its literal bitterness, was a metaphor of the “affliction and … misery” that He endured upon the tree. Although that deeply bitter experience is for ever over, He will never forget it; nor will we.
- Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget
- The wormwood and the gall,
- Go, spread your trophies at His feet,
- And crown Him Lord of all!
- (Edward Perronet)