ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
THE GOD OF JACOB
by P. Steele
THE LAMB IN REVELATION
by W. Banks
COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS IN A CHANGING WORLD
by R. Reynolds
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KING JEHOSHAPHAT
by J. Hay
POEM: A MERCIFUL AND FAITHFUL HIGH PRIEST
by S. Jardine
by J. Riddle (England)
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.45: PSALM 27 (Part 2)
In the previous Paper we noted that Psalm 27 could be called ‘The blessings of salvation’, which, in this Psalm, are:
- Enjoying God’s deliverance – vv.1-3
- Dwelling in God’s house – vv.4-6
- Seeking God’s face – vv.7-10
- Asking for God’s help – vv.11-14
Having considered the first of these four, we now proceed to look at the remaining three:
DWELLING IN GOD’S HOUSE – vv.4-6
We should note two principal things in these verses: David’s description of God’s dwelling-place, and David’s desire for God’s dwelling-place.
His Description of God’s Dwelling-place
The “sweet psalmist of Israel” 2Sam.23.1, uses a variety of expressions to describe God’s dwelling-place: “the house of the Lord” v.4; “His temple” v.4; “His pavilion” v.5; “His tabernacle” v.5.
“The house of the Lord” v.4
“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life”. The expressions “house of the Lord” and “house of God” convey His presence; but the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that these terms also emphasise His authority: “For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant … but Christ as a son over His own house” Heb.3.4-6. So, to “dwell in the house of the Lord” means recognition of His authority. It is not ‘our house’.
“His temple” v.4
“To behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” This reminds us of worship. “In Thy fear will I worship toward Thy holy temple” Ps.5.7. See also Ps.138.2. David tells us elsewhere that “in His temple doth every one speak of His glory” Ps.29.9. We must never forget that a temple is a holy place. See again Ps.5.7: “In Thy fear will I worship toward Thy holy temple.” The New Testament agrees: “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” 1Cor.3.17.
We know, of course, that the Temple (by which we usually mean ‘Solomon’s Temple’) had not been built when David wrote this Psalm. David could therefore be referring here to the Tabernacle, but he regarded the ‘tent’ as nothing less than the temple or palace of the Lord. However on this occasion, and others, David may well have been “thinking of that heavenly temple, the palace where Jehovah reigned in glory”1.
- 1 Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
“His pavilion” v.5
“For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion.” According to Young’s Concordance2, the word “pavilion” here (sok) means ‘a covering’. Gesenius3 has ‘a hut, booth, cottage’. It evidently refers to a shelter, reminding us that:
- 2 Young, R. “Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible”. Multiple publishers.
3 Gesenius, H.F.W. “Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon”. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
- In the secret of His presence how my soul delights to hide.
- Oh, how precious are the lessons which I learn at Jesus’ side.
- (Ellen Lakshmi Goreh)
“His tabernacle” v.5
“In the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me.” See also v.6: “therefore will I offer in His tabernacle sacrifices of joy”. While the word “tabernacle” will recall many things to our minds, we must not overlook the fact that the word means ‘tent’. It was “the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness” Acts 7.44. This reminds us that the Lord is to us what the Tabernacle was to Israel in the wilderness. We can enjoy His presence in a barren and inhospitable world. The Tabernacle was central to the camp, and central in the march.
His Desire for God’s Dwelling-place
The second thing to notice in this section of the Psalm is that God’s dwelling-place was of profound interest and value to David. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” v.4. The man born blind said, “One thing I know” Jn.9.25. He was very single-minded, and David is very single-minded too: “One thing have I desired”. Bearing in mind that in the New Testament “the house of God” is the local church, 1Tim.3.15, we should have a similar singleness of purpose: “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” Heb.10.25. David loved the place: “Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth” Ps.26.8. Do we? The “house of the Lord” was immensely important to David because:
It was a place where he could worship the Lord.
“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord” v.4. Not to take a quick look, or be satisfied with a glimpse, but “to behold the beauty of the Lord”. What a delightful purpose! We look back to days when it was true that for us “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” Isa.53.2. But Divine grace has opened our eyes! David’s desire is our desire:
- Precious moments at Thy table,
- From all fear and doubt set free;
- Here to rest we now are able,
- Occupied alone with Thee.
The idea of contemplation evidently continues with the words “and to inquire in His temple” v.4. According to Gesenius4, the word “inquire” means, amongst other things, ‘to look at with pleasure’. It “is ‘meditate’, ‘reflect’, ‘consider’”5. It also carries the idea of investigation, leading A.F. Kirkpatrick6 to say, “Investigating His character and dealings with men”, resulting in “knowledge gained and doubts solved”.
- 4 Ibid.
5 Flanigan, J.M., ibid.
6 Kirkpatrick, A.F. “The Book of Psalms”. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
It was a place where he could rest in the Lord.
The Lord provided refuge from David’s foes. “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me up upon a rock” v.5. This combines two figures: a tent (“pavilion … tabernacle”), affording shelter, and a rock, affording stability.
It was a place where he could praise the Lord.
“And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in His tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord” v.6. We in our turn can offer “the sacrifice of praise to God continually … giving thanks to His name” Heb.13.15.
At this point in the Psalm, the tone changes. In the words of A.F. Kirkpatrick7, “The jubilant rhythm is abandoned; anxious supplication takes the place of joyous faith.” He goes on to say, “If the two parts are by the same poet, he must clearly have written them at different times, and under the influence of different circumstances.” But how often, and how quickly, sunshine gives place to shadows in all our lives! The change in atmosphere presents no difficulty and certainly does not suggest either two authors (as some have inferred) or two different occasions.
- 7 Ibid.
SEEKING GOD’S FACE – vv.7-10
We should notice the occurrences of the word “face” in this section: “Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When Thou saidst, ‘Seek ye My face’; my heart said unto Thee, ‘Thy face, Lord, will I seek.’ Hide not Thy face far from me” vv.7-9. To seek the Lord’s face is to seek His favour and His blessing. That same face looks differently upon evil men: “The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” Ps.34.16.
It has been nicely pointed out that God “will not ask for our love (‘Seek ye My face’ v.8), and then withhold His own (‘Hide not Thy face far from me’ v.9)”.8 David knew that; hence that note of confidence: “leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” vv.9,10. It seems highly unlikely that David is suggesting either that his parents had disowned him, or that they would possibly do so in the future (see 1Sam.22.1-4). He is simply emphasising that God’s love eclipses even the deepest human love. See Isa.49.15: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” In the words of Moses, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” Deut.33.27.
- 8 Kidner, D. “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72”. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester.
ASKING FOR GOD’S HELP – vv.11-14
David is never free from enemy attack. They had launched attacks on him in the past, and had been defeated: “When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell” v.2. But that did not mean that they had been eliminated. David expected them to return in even greater strength, v.3, and they were certainly close in v.6: “And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me”. Now, at the end of the Psalm, they are still there, with renewed ferocity and cunning: “Teach me Thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty” vv.11,12. David therefore asks for Divine help:
He Prays for Divine Guidance – v.11
“Teach me Thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies” v.11. “Teach me … lead me” ought to be always on our lips. In the present context, it is a case of asking for help in order to give “none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully” 1Tim.5.14.
We cannot ascertain whether it happened before or after this Psalm was written, but there was a sad occasion in David’s life when he gave “great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” 2Sam.12.14. On this occasion he did not walk “in a plain [mishor] path”. David therefore prayed that the Lord would lead him in (what he calls elsewhere) “the paths of righteousness” Ps.23.3, so that he did not become entangled with the treacherous obstacles of the wicked. It has been nicely said that “the best way to keep out of harm is to keep out of harm’s way” (T.G. Baker, Cheshunt). Hence David’s prayer, “Teach my Thy way, O Lord” v.11. W.H. Burnett (“Choice Gleanings”, 01.05.2012) has a nice piece on the subject: “Isaiah tells us that in our unregenerate condition ‘we have turned every one to his own way’ Isa.53.6. But when one is truly born again, there must be a desire for the Lord to lead and direct us in His way. The apostle Paul tells us, ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God’ Rom.8.14. The evidence of sonship is seen in submission to the leading of the Spirit of God in every aspect of our lives. May the Lord enable us to have a distinctive walk of separation from the world, and to walk in His way.”
He Asks for Divine Deliverance – v.12
“Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty” v.12. The word “enemies” (tsar) means ‘adversary’ and is often translated in this way. David’s enemies – and ours – therefore reflected their spiritual parentage: the name “Satan” means ‘adversary’; the name “Devil” means ‘accuser’ or ‘calumniator’: A.F. Kirkpatrick9 points out that “slanderous calumniators are meant, rather than actual witnesses in court”; the name “Dragon” indicates his cruelty. David evidently had no doubt that his requests would be answered. So:
- 9 Kirkpatrick, A.F., ibid.
He Trusts in Divine Goodness – v.13
“I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” v.13, or, “Unless I had believed to see the goodness of Jehovah in the land of the living …!” J.N.D. The original construction is evidently quite deliberate: it emphasises the chilling alternative to faith in God. “He breaks into an exclamation which he leaves unfinished. The omission is easy to supply. He would have been their victim but for his faith. The broken words tell of his recoil from the terrible possibility forced on him by the sight of the formidable enemies.”10 Compare 2Cor.4.1: “Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not”.
- 10 Maclaren, A. “The Expositor’s Bible: The Psalms, Vol. 1”. Hodder and Stoughton, London.
He is Convinced of Divine Ability – v.14
“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” v.14. As Howard Barnes (writing in the “Believer’s Magazine”) observes, “This is the hardest lesson of all for such an active man, for waiting in seeming inactivity until the Lord acts demands the greatest faith.”
While it may not be clear whether David is addressing others here, or appealing to his own heart, the fact remains, in the splendid language of J.M. Flanigan11, that “the concluding verse of the Psalm is like a jewel encased in two clasps. ‘Wait on the Lord’ is one clasp. ‘Wait, I say, on the Lord’ is the other. The preciousness enclosed between the two is an emboldened heart, strong and courageous, calm and serene even though in the presence of cruel and unremitting enemies.”
- 11 Flanigan, J.M., ibid.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Ian McKee, N. Ireland
We now come in our considerations to Jacob’s eighth son, Asher.
ASHER – THE MAN
We recall that Jacob already had four sons by Leah; two sons by Bilhah, Rachel’s maid; and a son by Zilpah, Leah’s maid. Now “Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a second son. And Leah said, ‘Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed:’ and she called his name Asher” Gen.30.12,13. Leah now had six of Jacob’s eight sons attributed to her. Although Asher means ‘happy’ or ‘blessed’, it is very unlikely that Jacob’s domestic relationships were particularly happy given the ongoing interpersonal rivalries.
Although a son by a handmaid, Asher (like Dan, Naphtali and Gad before him) is accorded equal recognition as a son of Jacob, Gen.35.26. He similarly featured in Joseph’s “evil report” to Jacob, Gen.37.2, and was complicit in the betrayal of Joseph and the subsequent cover-up, Gen.37.18 et seq.
Asher, his four sons, a daughter and two grandsons are listed with those who later relocated with Jacob to Egypt, Gen.46.17; Ex.1.4.
JACOB’S PROPHETIC BLESSING
Jacob’s deathbed prophecy about this son is concise: “Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties” Gen.49.20.
Jacob predicts that Asher’s eventual territory in the Land will produce food of the quality befitting presentation at a royal table. Asher’s happiness will be associated with the enjoyment and sharing of the abundant blessings that sustain physical health and wellbeing. As we shall see later, Asher’s portion in the land was an especially fertile grain-producing area; indeed, it became ‘the breadbasket’ of the nation.
We should question ourselves as to what beneficial effect we might be having on the spiritual and material wellbeing of our brothers and sisters. May we be like our Father Himself and “have bread enough and to spare” with a heart to help meet the need of others, Lk.15.17.
ASHER – THE TRIBE
Asher – in the Wilderness
The children of Asher “from twenty years old and upward” numbered 41,500 at the commencement of the wilderness journey, Num.1.3,40,41, when they were the ninth largest tribe. Amazingly, their numbers increased significantly over the next forty years, to total 53,400, making Asher the fifth largest tribe at the end of the wilderness wanderings, Num.26.44-47. We are not given any explanation for this increase, however.
“Pagiel the son of Ocran” was the captain of the tribe at the start of the wilderness journey, Num.1.13; 2.27; 7.72; 10.26. Asher camped with the tribes of Dan and Naphtali, on the north side of the Tabernacle, Num.2.25-31; and when on the move they marched in the fourth group, under the banner of Dan, Num.10.25-27. “Sethur the son of Michael” was the representative from Asher sent to spy the land of Canaan, Num.13.13. Regrettably, he contributed to the evil report, which led to the wilderness wanderings. “Ahihud the son of Shelomi” was “the prince of the tribe of the children of Asher” involved in the dividing of the land, Num.34.27.
Asher – Moses’ Prophetic Blessing
As we have noted previously, Moses’ blessing of the tribes prior to his death is free of any criticism: “And of Asher he said, ‘Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil. Thy shoes [‘bars’] shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be’” Deut.33.24,25.
As in Jacob’s prophecy, Moses’ blessing envisages abundant provision and supply, all features that belong to a happy and contented people. The blessing with children has already been seen in the wilderness with a twenty-eight per cent increase in the size of this tribe in forty years! Acceptability to his brethren is suggestive that blessings flowed from Asher to others. Asher was never a warlike tribe, so may have exhibited an easy-going temperament. Also, the trading of their agricultural surplus would give them acceptance with other tribes. Dipping his foot in oil indicates that, as well as being settled in an area where olive oil was produced, there were blessings marking Asher’s pathway. Mining and smelting to produce iron and copper would assist towards the protection from enemies, particularly those who might invade from the north-west, seeking to come through Asher’s territory.
Asher, therefore, was surrounded by blessings; and so are we! The Hebrew word esher, usually translated “blessed”, and meaning ‘happy’ or ‘very happy’, is a very close cognate of “Asher”, and occurs nineteen times in the Psalms and only eight times elsewhere in the Old Testament. “Blessed” or “happy”, makarios, occurs forty-nine times in the New Testament, with the greatest concentration in Matt.5.3-11. Moses, within a few verses of referring specifically to Asher, states, “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord” Deut.33.29.
Thoughtful consideration of the verses throughout Scripture where the word “blessed” occurs can be guaranteed to produce Asherite health in us. As the hymn so aptly states:
- Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
- And it will surprise you what the Lord has done!
- (Johnson Oatman, Jnr.)
The daily enjoyment of God’s provision, with a grateful spirit, will inculcate into our spiritual life the power for Christian living: “as thy days, so shall thy strength be”. While many have been encouraged by that text, we should note that it is, however, a conditional promise. Although Divine supplies are available to ensure realisation in our spiritual experience, we must actively avail of them. Surely we would all wish to make progress with Holy Spirit enablement, conscious of His blessing as we move through our lives, ‘having our feet dipped in oil’ (to borrow the symbolic language of Moses’ blessing). Although all believers are assured of heaven, the formation of Christian character and the development of spiritual progress will depend on their daily life, the wisdom of the decisions they make, the distractions they avoid, the price they are prepared to pay, etc. We are ultimately the result of our choices and conduct. Asher, regrettably, gave way too often to the benefits of worldly commercialism, complacency, compromise and ease. Only the person with ‘oil-dipped feet’ can be sure to leave a mark of his or her progress.
- Lives of great men all remind us
- We can make our lives sublime,
- And, departing, leave behind us
- Footprints on the sands of time.
- (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Asher – in the Land
Following the conquest of Canaan, the tribe of Asher stood on barren Mount Ebal to hear the curses of the Law, Deut.27.13; Josh.8.30-35. Joshua delineated Asher’s tribal portion, which was the lowland coastal plain northward from Mount Carmel towards Tyre and Sidon. This fertile land producing corn, oil and wine, with its twenty-two cities and villages, represented Israel’s north-west frontier, Josh.17.10,11; 19.24-31. Four cities were assigned for Levites in the territory of Asher, in particular for Gershonites, Josh.21.6,30,31; 1Chr.6.62,74,75.
Asher – in the Days of the Judges
Asher was never a warlike tribe and, like other tribes, was indolent in relation to the expulsion of enemies. Many tribes settling west of the Jordan did not expel all of the former inhabitants of the land and so repeatedly we read that Canaanites dwelt among the children of Israel. However, Asher did not even achieve this: “Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Accho [Acre], nor the inhabitants of Zidon, nor of Ahlab, nor of Achzib, nor of Helbah, nor of Aphik, nor of Rehob: but the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: for they did not drive them out” Judg.1.31,32.
It would seem that Asher ever remained as a minority in their tribal area, establishing trading agreements with the Phoenician port cities, with their agricultural prosperity encouraging a lifestyle of relative ease and complacency. They did not even bestir themselves to secure the valuable ports of Acre and Zidon, which could have been theirs. They obviously concluded that they did not need to; after all, they could merge in and get on well with everybody. Early generations set the example and others followed. It is hardly surprising therefore that no judges, warriors or otherwise heroic figures ever came from Asher. That should be a cause for reflection for us relative to assembly testimony today. Others will follow the example this generation will set, even long years after we are gone.
Asher therefore did not rally to help other tribes break the bondage of Jabin king of Canaan and Sisera, his military commander, incurring the scathing comment of Deborah, “Asher continued on the seashore, and abode in his breaches” Judg.5.17. Asher’s focus was outward, upon their trading opportunities, not on the pressing needs of their brethren. After all, there was no immediate threat to Asher!
However, they did later exert themselves when Gideon summoned help from “Asher … Zebulun… Naphtali; and they came up to meet them” Judg.6.35. This time there was an immediate threat to Asher as the Midianites, Amalekites and the children of the east “destroyed the increase of the earth” and “left no sustenance for Israel” Judg.6.4. Asher never felt the need to help others until they felt the need themselves! The result was that after victory “the men of Israel gathered themselves together out of Naphtali, and out of Asher, and out of all Manasseh, and pursued after the Midianites” Judg.7.23.
It would be a tragedy if we were like Asher in that context, never seeing the need of others until impacted directly ourselves! It is all too easy to seek to absolve ourselves by adopting the attitude of Cain, if not the actual question asked by him, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen.4.9. We are mutually dependent upon each other and all should ever rise to their responsibilities in that regard.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Peter Steele (N. Ireland)
THE GOD OF CARE
(Psalm 23 in the Story of Jacob)
Jacob’s faithful care as a shepherd is evidenced in his words to Laban concerning his years of looking after Laban’s sheep: “in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes” Gen.31.40. Jacob was tireless and resolute in his care of them. However, at the end of his life Jacob reflects on how God’s shepherding of him was more tireless and faithful than that of any earthly shepherd could ever be with his sheep: “the God that shepherded me all my life long to this day” Gen.48.15, J.N.D. In Psalm 23, the well known Psalm of David that reveals God as the Shepherd, let us trace the story of Jacob’s life and see the faithfulness of God’s care toward him.
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” v.1
Jacob in early days was always selfishly grabbing things for himself. He came out of his mother’s womb, grabbing onto his twin brother Esau’s heel. He forced Esau to sell his birthright and deviously stole his father’s blessing from him. Through agricultural brilliance, he managed to expand his herd far above Laban’s. But at the night at Jabbok, Genesis chapter 32, Jacob’s selfish hands held only onto God, and to no-one or nothing else. He clung to God and was blessed by Him there. He learned that night that there was only one thing worth clinging to: the blessing of God. The following day, Esau said to him, “I have enough” Gen.33.9; to which Jacob replied, “I have everything” Gen.33.11, J.N.D. The man of the world may have much, but the child of God has everything. Jacob ended his days a contented man, blessing others. Why? He had learned that if the Lord was his Shepherd, he had no wants. Have we learned it?
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters” v.2
When Jacob first arrived in Padan he saw the idyllic scene of “a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it” Gen.29.2. Things were still and quiet here. The humorous conversation between the lackadaisical Haran farmers and impetuous Jacob, vv.7,8, showed Jacob that life moved at a slower pace here. This first impression of Padan was a sign of times ahead: things would not happen quickly in this new home; he would be here for twenty years to get what he came for. In this Syrian chapter of Jacob’s life, God caused him to slow down, “lie down”, and learn patience. Perhaps God teaches us the same when things do not work out as quickly as we would like.
“He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” v.3
Jacob’s time in Syria, Genesis chapters 29 to 31, ended with a hot dispute between him and Laban. His time in Shechem, Genesis chapter 34, also ended badly, with a slaughter which caused Jacob’s name to “stink among the inhabitants of the land” Gen.34.30. Jacob is not fully to blame on either occasion but neither are his actions in Syria nor his settling in Shechem fully justifiable. Let us say each was a ‘grey area’ in his life, and not “the paths of righteousness” in which he should have been treading. This is why in each place God spoke to him and sought to restore him into “the paths of righteousness”. In Syria: “I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto Me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred” Gen.31.13; and in Shechem: “Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother” Gen.35.1. From these two texts, we learn three steps to restoration:
First, recall the precious times when you were near to God. God reminds Jacob of the first time at Bethel. The Lord Jesus told the church at Ephesus the same: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen” Rev.2.5.
- Where is the blessedness I knew
- When first I saw the Lord?
- Where is the soul-refreshing view
- Of Jesus and His Word?
- (William Cowper)
Second, recognise that God has not changed; we are the ones who have changed. God told him, “I am the God of Bethel” Gen.31.13. It all went wrong when we drifted from God; it is to Him we must return.
Third, “Arise, go up”. Complacency will never lead to restoration. There must be a determination to get back on to right paths and a diligence to read the Scriptures, pray and seek the joy of God’s salvation again.
God’s name was dishonoured among the nations at Shechem, but God restores Jacob in Genesis chapter 35 and leads him in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me” v.4
Getting back to Bethel did not turn Jacob’s life into a carefree existence, for the words of Gen.35.8 quickly follow his return to Bethel: “But Deborah Rebekah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allon-bachuth [‘Oak of weeping’].” Perhaps she was like a mother to the house of Jacob. We know from their grief that she must have been held in high esteem. Then they had not travelled much further before Rachel died; a sorrow to Jacob that he seems to have kept within his heart: we do not read of him mentioning her again until the closing days of his life, Gen.48.7. Then some years later, the blood-stained coat of Joseph, the son of his old age, was brought to him, plunging him into a grief for over twenty years from which he refused to be comforted. This, added to the disappointing behaviour of his other sons, made these years the darkest in Jacob’s life. It was certainly the valley of the shadow of death. The spotlight turns to Joseph in these years so we do not read of how Jacob coped but we have no doubt that the presence of the Shepherd with him was what comforted and sustained him and made him the spiritual man that he became when we read of him again.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” v.5
Jacob experienced this when he came into Egypt, and was given food and land in the midst of the Egyptians: “And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father’s household, with bread” Gen.47.11,12. Sometimes a special provision from God comes to us in circumstances that we would find it easier not to be in.
“Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” v.5
When Jacob saw the sons of Joseph, he realised that God had not only blessed him, but had blessed him more than he ever imagined possible: “And Israel said unto Joseph, ‘I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed’” Gen.48.11. The valley of the shadow of death for Jacob had been left behind for an overflowing cup of joy and blessing. Do we ever stop to think how richly God has blessed us?
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” v.6
Not the ‘years’ of my life, or ‘months’, or ‘weeks’, but “days”. The Shepherd gives us goodness and mercy needed for each day. Jacob learned the same: “the God that shepherded me all my life long to this day” Gen.48.15, J.N.D. Moses said to the tribe of Asher, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be” Deut.33.25. The Lord Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” Matt.6.11. We would like to have a reserve of strength, wisdom and courage within ourselves for all the difficulties ahead, but that is not how the Shepherd deals with His sheep, for then why would they look to Him? Instead He gives us just enough for the day, so that we will look to Him always. For both David and Jacob, the strange and unexpected twists in the path of life made it look at times like goodness and mercy were not following, but looking back they both acknowledge that though often unseen, they were there, following, every day.
- What if tomorrow’s cares were here,
- Without its rest?
- I’d rather He unlocked the day,
- And, as the hours swing open, say,
- “My will is best.”
- (Joseph Parker)
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” v.6
The name of Jacob will ever be associated with the house of God because of his experiences at Bethel; so much so that it was the “Mighty God of Jacob” for Whom David had a burden to create a habitation, Ps.132.5. Jacob never got to see the Tabernacle or the glorious Temple of Solomon. He only knew of Bethel, insignificant in the eyes of men; but one day Jacob will see “the house of the Lord” in its fulness. When the Lord Jesus returns as King, Jacob will be resurrected to go into the Kingdom, Lk.13.28. He will experience the grand Temple of Ezekiel chapters 40-47, which the Lord Himself will build, Zech.6.12,13, which will sit on a mountain elevated above all the other mountains, and into which all nations will flow, Isa.2.2. Then Jacob will be able to say, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” Then I think he will marvel at how great a climax this theme has reached that began on a night when, as a runaway stranger at an unmarked and unknown place, he realised, “This is none other but the house of God” Gen.28.17.
There is a large coverage given in Scripture to the stories of Jacob and David.1 No doubt this was because they were men “subject to like passions as we are”; and so we can find help for our lives viewing the detail of their daily life; their good days and bad days. Both began their career as shepherds but both realised that they needed a shepherd themselves and both came to acknowledge that the Lord was their Shepherd, Jacob in Genesis chapter 48 and David in Psalm 23. May we learn it too, that the Lord is our Shepherd, and He will shepherd us all our life long. This is the God of care; the God of Jacob.
- 1. The stories of Jacob and David take up over eighty chapters of the Bible; almost nine percent of the Old Testament.
- And so through all the length of days
- Thy goodness faileth never;
- Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
- Within Thy house for ever.
- (Henry Williams Baker)
To be continued (D.V.)
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
“Jesus wept” John 11.35
This is the shortest verse in the English version of the Bible but it unfolds a marvel so profound that only God can truly comprehend its significance.
The wonder of the weeping Saviour has touched the hearts of countless millions. His miracles display His incomparable greatness but His tears disclose the unfathomable tenderness so that many of the onlookers on that occasion observed, “Behold how He loved him!” v.36.
How precious to recall that our Saviour is not distant, disinterested and detached; not aloof or afar but deeply interested in every aspect of our lives and intimately aware of our problems and perplexities, “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” Heb.4.15.
Those tears, precious and profuse, sprang from the unsounded reservoirs of eternal love, deep in the compassionate heart of the Lord Jesus. How He loves us!
- Who is He who stands and weeps
- At the grave where Lazarus sleeps?
- ’Tis the Lord! Oh, wondrous story!
- ’Tis the Lord! The King of glory!
“… Yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands” Isaiah 49.15,16
The prophet laments the limitations and fallibility of a mother’s love, suggesting that at certain times and for various reasons she may forget her offspring. In contrast he focuses on the unchanging, never-failing love of God. C.H. Spurgeon said, “He who counts the stars and calls them by their names, is in no danger of forgetting His own children.”
We are not only borne on His heart but branded on His hands, eternally and unalterably. No hand can ever erase those precious engravings or prise us from His deep affection. Not only are we carried on His shoulders, Lk.15.5, but we are cherished in His heart. Israel’s high priest had twelve precious stones upon the breastplate, close to his heart, and each one had a name engraved upon it.
We rejoice with Paul that nothing and no one “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Rom.8.39.
- My name from the palms of His hands
- Eternity will not erase;
- Impressed on His heart, it remains
- In marks of indelible grace.
By William M. Banks, Scotland
THE WORTH OF THE LAMB – Rev.5.1-14 (Part 2)
OUTLINE TABLE OF THE CHAPTER
|Verses 1-4||The sealed book||The weeping of John|
|Verses 5-7||The prevailing Lamb||The worth of the Lamb|
|Verses 8-14||The universal adoration||The worship of the universe|
In the previous Paper we considered verses 1 to 7. We now turn to verses 8 to 14.
THE UNIVERSAL ADORATION – vv.8-14
The response to the climactic transfer of power encompasses the whole of creation. Not surprisingly they erupt unitedly and spontaneously, as it were with one voice, but in three distinct paeans of praise and worship to proclaim the worth of the Lamb.
The Four Cherubim and the Twenty-four Elders – vv.8-10
The response begins with the heavenly hierarchy. Several important features are lying on the surface:
The reverent attitude adopted, v.8a: they “fell down before the Lamb”. Reverence is sadly lacking in our day. We can learn important lessons from the heavenly hierarchy.
The sweetness of the music played, v.8b: “having every one of them harps”. The harp as an Old Testament musical instrument (compare 1Sam.16.16,23) was used to provide tranquillity and serenity. Its use in Revelation is linked to circumstances of victory: see also 14.2 and 15.2.
The fragrance of the incense offered, v.8c: “golden vials full of odours [plural]”. True worship always produces a lovely atmosphere.
The permanence of the prayers presented, v.8d: it is likely that some of these prayers had been uttered a long time before (for example, Hab.1.12). It is good to know that God hears and keeps the prayers of His people (compare Lk.1.13: Zacharias had long ago ceased praying for a son but God said, “thy prayer [singular] is heard”; the many prayers had been accumulated by God into one; he had prayed for one thing!)
The nature of the worship enjoyed, v.9a: “sung … saying”. The singing was articulate and meaningful; not the repetition of abstract words and ideas that characterises so much of today’s ‘songs’.
The newness of the song sung, v.9b: it was new in character and quality (as distinct from being new in time); in tune with the prospects of a new creation to come, a new covenant to be introduced, a new name to be given, a new Jerusalem to be inhabited, and a new heaven and earth to be experienced.
The content of the worship detailed, vv.9c,10: “Thou art worthy …” Compare 4.11. The subject is thus the worth of the Lamb “to take the book, and to open the seals thereof” v.9c. This is done in the recognition of accomplished redemption (agorazo, the paying of a purchase price), v.9d. The price paid was “by [en, ‘in’] Thy blood”. It should be noted that both J.N. Darby and the Revised Version omit “us” in v.9 and change “us” to “them” and “we” to “they” in v.10. This indicates that the redemption does not apply either to the cherubim or to the elders. The people to whom it does apply is given in v.9e: “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation”, affirming the extent of the blessing; that is to say, it will be universal but selective (“out of”).
The nature of the blessing is given as being made “a kingdom and priests” v.10a, R.V. (compare 1.6; 20.6). This therefore involves rulership and priesthood (compare Isa.6.1 and Zech.6.13, where we learn that the Lord Jesus combines both). What was not possible for the Old Testament kings of Israel and Judah (compare for example Uzziah in 2Chr.26.18) is going to be experienced by a vast multitude of the redeemed in the future. The prospect is affirmed in v.10b: “they shall reign over the earth” J.N.D. (compare 21.9-22.5); but of course they could be on the earth at times as well, as necessity dictates, in the administration of the Millennial Kingdom.
The Many Angels – vv.11,12
The location of the (holy) angels is interestingly described as being “round about the throne and the beasts and the elders” v.11a. Their number is phenomenal: one hundred million and additional millions, which must describe an innumerable company, v.11b! As with the heavenly hierarchy their praise is clearly articulated: “saying with a loud voice” v.12a, though this time they are not speaking to Him but of Him. They have a sevenfold praise associated with His redemptive work, which is interesting coming from angels: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain”. This contrasts with the threefold praise associated with His creatorial majesty in 4.11.
The Praise in Chapter 5 (Contrasted with Chapter 4)
|Praise by the “angels” 5.12||Praise by “every creature” 5.13||Praise by the 24 “elders” 4.11|
All Creation (“every created thing” R.V.) – v.13
The extended areas from which the adoration comes are detailed in v.13a: “in heaven … on the earth … under the earth … in [epi, ‘upon’] the sea”. It is even more extensive than the spheres indicated in v.3. Even those “under the earth” are involved in the appreciation (compare Phil.2.10)! The details of the praise, v.13b, as tabulated above, are given, v.13c, to both the Throne Sitter and the Lamb. It is a never-ending paean, v.13d: “for ever and ever”.
The Reverberating Amen – v.14
There is little wonder that the four cherubim, v.14a, “said, ‘Amen’” and the twenty-four elders, v.14b, “fell down and worshipped Him that liveth for ever and ever”.
To be continued (D.V.)
By Jack Hay (Scotland)
Paper 1 – EARLY DAYS
A FATHER’S EXAMPLE
Because of Solomon’s folly, God decreed that the descendants of David would no longer administer a large area of his kingdom, 1Kgs.11.11-13. At a practical level, the breach resulted from discontent that was occasioned by Rehoboam’s domineering style of government, 1Kgs.12.1-24. The northern tribes seceded under the influence of Jeroboam and retained the name of Israel, and the southern territory became the kingdom of Judah, which was still under the jurisdiction of David’s dynasty.
In the kingdom of Israel, the desertion from God was unremitting; Jeroboam “made Israel to sin”, as is stated first in 1Kgs.14.16, and frequently thereafter. The drift commenced with the worship of two golden calves, but with the passing of the generations things degenerated further, with the worship of Baal with attendant vices and other sinister activities. There was not a single king of Israel who made any real attempt to stem the tide of evil, and the relentless abandonment of Jehovah led to His judgment, as Assyrian invaders carried the people into captivity.
The story in the south was just a little different. Although the inclination was the same, with a steady march towards idolatry and inevitable judgment, there were spells when that tendency was interrupted by the emergence of Godly kings. They reversed the trend and for a time at least, under their influence, Judah was loyal to its God. The first of these kings was King Asa, Jehoshaphat’s father, but it is rather sad that the end of his life did not match his early promise. Happily, this latter-day failure had no impact on Jehoshaphat, and when he succeeded his father, he did so with a determination to do what was right, and to rule in the fear of God.
While there are references to Jehoshaphat in the narratives of 1Kings, an extensive biography is found in four chapters of 2Chronicles. A summary is as follows: in chapter 17 we have his convictions, in particular, his conviction to fortify himself against Israel and the baneful influences of Ahab’s regime, v.1. He was also determined to recapture the pristine features of David’s kingdom, v.3, and to instruct his people in the Word of God, vv.7-9. In chapter 18, there is his compromise as he established links with Ahab in marriage alliances, v.1 (“he allied himself with Ahab by marriage” J.N.D.), and co-operated with him in a military expedition, vv.2-34. His counsel is the theme of chapter 19, as he advised and charged men who would function as judges in the nation. With an invasion by trans-Jordan nations, chapter 20 records his conflict; I call it his conflict, and yet in actual fact he was told, “Ye shall not need to fight in this battle” v.17.
As ever, we approach this historical part of inspired Scripture remembering that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” Rom.15.4. Jehoshaphat had qualities worth emulating, and he had lapses worth avoiding.
A FLYING START
He “strengthened himself against Israel” 2Chr.17.1. Asa had made military gains at the expense of the northern kingdom, v.2, and Jehoshaphat was determined to consolidate that position. He was 35 years of age when his reign began, 2Chr.20.31, old enough to know that Ahab’s administration presented not only a military threat, but also a moral and spiritual danger. There were influences and practices up there that had to be resisted for the sake of the spiritual preservation of his people and he was resolute that these influences should be kept at bay. Thus garrisons were established in strategic areas to ensure the security of his subjects.
What were the influences that had to be resisted? First, devotion to Jehovah had been abandoned in favour of loyalty to Baal; Baal worship was an imported religion that was being promoted militantly by Ahab’s scheming wife, Jezebel, 1Kgs.16.31-33. Jehoshaphat was determined that in his kingdom Baal worship would never usurp the worship of the God of Israel. Likewise today let us heed the words of John, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1Jn.5.21. The need for undivided allegiance to our Lord is paramount. In our individual lives and as assemblies, we must resist any tentative moves by the devil to introduce anything that would impinge on our commitment to Him. He deserves our exclusive devotion.
Next, disbelief of God’s Word was obvious in the defiant way that Jericho was rebuilt. They ignored the threat of a twofold family bereavement for the man who would spearhead such a project, and sadly, a man from Bethel, the ‘house of God’ Gen.28.17-19, was the main mover in the undertaking, and he discovered to his cost that to disbelieve God’s warnings is supreme folly, Josh.6.26; 1Kgs.16.34. Jehoshaphat was insistent that such unbelief was kept up there in the north; his regard for God’s Word would become evident as he commissioned men to go through his kingdom teaching it.
Another feature of the northern kingdom was disobedience to God’s Word, evidenced in the incident in which Ahab and Jezebel plotted Naboth’s death and confiscated his vineyard, 1Kings chapter 21. Naboth was insistent that the Bible’s laws of inheritance be adhered to. Ahab would have swept them aside by offering a superior vineyard or a cash alternative, and this highhanded disregard of God’s ways and the social injustice connected with it were something that Jehoshaphat was adamant should remain north of the border, and so “he strengthened himself against Israel”. He “walked … not after the doings of Israel” 2Chr.17.4. Let us all be as alert to the negative influences that are lurking around us, and be as determined as Jehoshaphat to insulate ourselves from them.
A FAITHFUL ROLE MODEL
Jehoshaphat’s knowledge of history inspired him to model himself on his forefather David, to walk in “the first ways of his father David” 2Chr.17.3. He was wise enough to know that David’s later life was flawed, but his “first ways” provided a pattern worth following. Both David’s personal life and the way he organised his government left Jehoshaphat with the deep desire to recapture the pristine features of the kingdom in his generation.
We too can look back to history with the determination to replicate early conditions in our own generation. The conduct of the believers in the early days of the Church provides valuable characteristics that are worthy of reproduction. In the first few chapters of the Acts of the Apostles Luke records noble features of the original believers, an ‘ABC of Christian behaviour’, “first ways” in which we would do well to walk. There was addiction to prayer. There was benevolence to fellow-believers. There was commitment to the gospel. Assembly testimony would be greatly strengthened if we were able to summon up these fundamental traits that adorned those early saints.
Individually too, there is a need to walk in “first ways”. It is so easy to lose ground, and to leave “first love”. The Lord Jesus encouraged the Ephesian assembly to “remember”, to “repent”, and to “do the first works” Rev.2.5. As is often expressed, failure need not be final, and it is possible to retrace our steps to the point of departure, recapture ‘the blessedness we knew when first we saw the Lord’, and discover that He will “restore to [us] the years that the locust hath eaten” Joel 2.25.
A FITTING RECOMPENSE
The “therefore” of 2Chr.17.5 is as significant as the “because” of v.3. Verse 3 furnishes the reason for the Lord being with Jehoshaphat: because he was walking after David’s example and repudiating Baal. We could want to claim all the precious promises of the Divine presence without realising that there could be conditions attached, and God is with us “because …” When Samson abandoned his Nazarite vow, he forfeited the Lord’s presence; “he wist not that the Lord was departed from him” Judg.16.20. Let us do all in our power to create conditions whereby God can happily dwell with us, empower us in His service, and be pleased to bless our endeavours for Him. Strangers coming into the assembly at Corinth would have detected the Lord’s presence and declare, “God is in you of a truth” only if the Godly order described by the apostle in the passage was being displayed, 1Cor.14.25.
Again, there is a reason for the Lord establishing Jehoshaphat’s kingdom, and enriching him through generous donations which betokened allegiance on the part of the people of Judah, v.5. It was rich recompense for the fact that he sought after God and was obedient to His commands rather than just ‘caving in’ and complying with the waywardness of his northern neighbours, v.4. In the Christian era, God does not necessarily reward faithfulness with “riches and honour in abundance”. In fact, in New Testament times there were those who suffered the confiscation of their property, Heb.10.34. Their consolation was in the fact that “in heaven” there would be “great recompense of reward” vv.34,35. In the main, reward for loyalty to Christ is reserved for the hereafter. Having said that, Paul regarded the pleasure of preaching the gospel willingly, without charge, “a reward” 1Cor.9.14-18. The joy derived from serving faithfully is a here-and-now reward, a happy sense of fulfilment, but the “full reward” awaits a future day.
To be continued (D.V.)
- A tender heart throbs on the throne,
And feels the pangs of all His own,
It is the Christ Who died and rose,
Who understands our deepest woes.
The sighs and tears, the losses too,
It is the way that He passed through,
At Lazarus’ tomb He weeps and sighs,
He’s just the same above the skies.
The interceding Great High Priest.
He carries all upon His breast,
And from the Throne He gives us grace,
In His great strength to run the race.
Sufficient grace and timely power,
Are promised in the testing hour,
O, let us then His promise take,
Till night shall cease and morning break!
“Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab … And he [Jehoram, Jehoshaphat’s son] walked in the way of the kings of Israel, like as did the house of Ahab: for he had the daughter of Ahab to wife: and he wrought that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord” 2Chr.18.1; 21.6
What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.
A Wicked Thief – and Wise Insects!
I have just read a news item about five hives, containing a total of around four hundred thousand bees, which were stolen during the night of 11-12 June this year from their home in Cornwall, England. At the time of writing, the thief and the hives have not been found, but, amazingly, some of the bees have escaped from their captor and have returned, of their own accord, to their owner, who has provided a new hive for them.
On reading this story, immediately I had at least three thoughts. The first is how wonderful God is, that these little creatures have been given this ability by Him. The beekeeper said: “They’re coming back to their old home because that’s what they’re designed to do.” Truly, God is an all-wise Creator. The second thought is a sad one: that someone, probably living nearby and having some knowledge of beekeeping, would do such a thing. It reminds us that God’s perfect creation has been invaded by sin, including thieving. The Lord Jesus Christ once stated the actions of a thief: “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” John 10.10. Supremely, these things characterise the originator of sin: the devil, God’s enemy, who wants people to remain in captivity to him, and hence to end up where he will be, in the Lake of Fire.
The second part of the verse just quoted is in sharp contrast to the first: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”. Christ came from Heaven into this world, not to steal, but to give; not to kill, but to make alive; not to destroy, but to bless. He said, “I lay down My life for the sheep … I lay down My life, that I might take it again” John 10.15,17. Years later, John wrote that “He laid down His life for us” 1John 3.16. How kind it was of God’s Son to do so, that we might be delivered from sin and Satan, receive the great blessing of everlasting life, and be with God, in Heaven!
And that brings me to my third thought: the wisdom of the bees in the story. These creatures do not have the complexity that we (humans) have, yet they knew where home was, and made their way there. Long ago, God unfavourably contrasted His ancient people and animals: “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider” Isaiah 1.2,3. Sadly, this analysis still holds for most people today: even domestic animals know who their owners are; they have some comprehension of provision that is made for them, and of where their own interests lie; yet ‘intelligent’ people fail to recognise Who God is; they do not acknowledge or appreciate His love and His many blessings; and they are not interested in His great salvation. They are far from Him, bound by sin and Satan, and they will perish if they remain in that state.
The One Who said, “I am come that they might have life”, also had to say to people whom He was addressing, “Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life” John 5.40. He came and did the work so they could have life; but in order to receive it they had to come to Him, and, tragically, they were refusing to do so. As you read this, please ask yourself: ‘What would He say to me?’ If you are still far from Him, ensnared by the enemy of your soul (Satan), then be wise, and “flee from the wrath to come” Matthew 3.7, by coming to God, acknowledging your need as a lost sinner, and putting your trust in Jesus Christ, Who died for you at the cross, Who rose again, and Who is now in Heaven. God will warmly welcome you into His family, and His home (Heaven) will be your home, forever.