ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS IN A CHANGING WORLD
by R. Reynolds
THE LAMB IN REVELATION
by W. Banks
A DECLARATION OF THOSE THINGS
by D. Williamson
THE VISION OF THE THRONE
by J. Brown
by P. Robinson
by J. Riddle
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.51: PSALM 30 (Part 2)
We have seen that this Psalm divides into three sections:
- David exalts the Lord – vv.1-5
- David exalts himself – vv.6-10
- David exalts the Lord – vv.11,12
In the previous Paper, we considered the first section (DAVID EXALTS THE LORD – vv.1-5). But vv.1-5 are evidently to be understood in the light of vv.6-10 and we now understand why he was sick in the first place. This is not to say, as some suggest, that sickness is always related to sin in the lives of God’s people. There is no hint of this in connection with Trophimus, whom Paul left “at Miletum sick” 2Tim.4.20, or Timothy, with stomach problems and “often infirmities” 1Tim.5.23. This brings us to:
DAVID EXALTS HIMSELF – vv.6-10
His confidence in the Lord, vv.1-5, is now set against his erstwhile self-confidence. While the Psalm begins and ends with David exalting the Lord, these “two outbursts of praise flank the confession in verses 6-10 of over-confidence and its dire results”1. David is obliged to confess his own weakness, having learned to mistrust himself. We should notice: first, he expressed complacency, vv.6,7a; second, he experienced chastening, vv.7b-10.
- 1 Kidner, D. “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72”. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester.
He had become complacent – vv.6,7a
“And in my prosperity I said, ‘I shall never be moved’” v.6, or “As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved’” J.N.D. His self-confidence is emphasised by the references to himself: “my … I … I” A.V. David failed to remember the injunction given by Moses: “And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land … beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” Deut.6.10-12. To think like this is to align ourselves with the wicked who “said in his heart, ‘I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity’” Ps.10.6. The same attitude is discernible in the ‘rich fool’ who “thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do … This will I do, I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods …” Lk.12.16-21.
David evidently refers here to his own security, and to his occupancy of the throne. He had reached the zenith of his career, with every enemy in subjection to him. Prosperity, in every way, can be a very dangerous time indeed! “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” 1Cor.10.12. According to A.F. Kirkpatrick2, the word “prosperity” (shelev) “includes the idea of careless security, resulting from uninterrupted good fortune”. Compare Prov.1.32: “The prosperity of fools shall destroy them”.
- 2 Kirkpatrick, A.F. “The Book of Psalms”. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
In all this, David had forgotten the grace and provision of God. “Lord, by Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong”. Not now “my … I … I”, but “Thy … Thou”. Derek Kidner3 calls this a “striking metaphor for David’s kingdom, or his personal fortunes”. Since he uses the expression “my mountain” it seems more likely that he is referring to his own position, rather than to either Mount Zion or the kingdom of Israel.
- 3 Kidner, D., ibid.
The word “favour” signifies Divine grace. We should notice that Paul did not fall into the same snare. In telling the believers at Corinth, “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts” and “manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us”, he added, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament” 2Cor.3.1-6. He had already told them, “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” 1Cor.15.10. The believers at Corinth were evidently glorying in their gifts, obliging Paul to ask, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” 1Cor.4.7.
He had experienced chastening – vv.7b-10
Divine Chastening – v.7b
“Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled.” He had no sense of Divine approbation. Another Psalm (with no indication of its author) says the same about all living things: “Thou hidest Thy face, they are troubled: Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust” Ps.104.29. At that time David did not enjoy the priestly blessing on the children of Israel: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” Num.6.23-26. Nothing ought to trouble us more than distance from the Lord. This led to:
David’s Cry – vv.8-10
“I cried to Thee, O Lord; and unto the Lord I made supplication. ‘What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise Thee? Shall it declare Thy truth? Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me: Lord, be Thou my helper.’” We cannot mistake the urgency of David’s cry, and the sense of distance between ourselves and the Lord should be treated with similar urgency.
David appeals to the Lord, firstly on the grounds of His glory: “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise Thee? Shall it declare Thy truth?” v.9; and secondly on the grounds of his own need: “Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me: Lord, be Thou my helper” v.10. David uses the word “helper” in a later Psalm: “Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul” Ps.54.4. The same word occurs in the oft-quoted words, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” 1Sam.7.12.
DAVID EXALTS THE LORD – vv.11,12
“Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: Thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.” Compare Ps.16.9: “Therefore My heart is glad, and My glory [or ‘honour’ J.N.D. margin] rejoiceth”. It is usually said that the word “glory” in this context, v.12, denotes the soul, “either as the noblest part of man, or as the image of the divine glory”4. Even so, this is not easily understood, and perhaps J.M. Flanigan5 has a better explanation in saying, “Any glory, any honour, which David may now enjoy must return to God in adoring worship. ‘That my glory may sing … and not be silent.’”
- 4 Kirkpatrick, A.F., ibid.
- 5 Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
The Psalm ends where it begins: with praise. David looks back to the moment when his prayer was answered. In the words of A.F. Kirkpatrick6, “The gestures of sorrow and joy are contrasted, for mourning [misped] means, literally, the beating of the breast … In place of the sackcloth which was the mourner’s garb, gladness clothes him like a festal garment.” These verses are comparable with Isa.61.3: “to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”.
- 6 Kirkpatrick, A.F., ibid.
As J.M. Flanigan7 points out, “the blessing of the saints always has the greater end in view of the glory of God. There is a constant desire in the heart of God for the worship of His grateful people. ‘The Father seeketh such to worship him’ Jn.4.23. He looks for the appreciation and affection of those whom He has blessed. David cannot, therefore, be silent in his renewed joy, but must sing his praise to the Lord.”
- 7 Flanigan, J.M., ibid.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Ian McKee (N. Ireland)
Following our brief consideration of Joseph, we now wish to consider the two tribes that descended from him, called after his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. We shall, first of all, consider ‘Manasseh – the Man’; and then ‘Manasseh – the Tribe’.
MANASSEH – THE MAN
As previously noted, Manasseh means ‘forgetting’: “Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: ‘For God,’ said he, ‘hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house’” Gen.41.51. The naming of this son provides insight into Joseph’s thinking at this point in his life: the first half of which was with his father and brothers; the second half in Egypt, mainly in servitude and imprisonment. His more recent elevation has reoriented his thinking from the past and what he had lost, to present blessing and future responsibility. Little did Joseph think, when he so named his elder son, that the suppressed past would soon become the expressed present, after “Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt” Gen.42.3. How we love to retrace the subsequent Scripture narrative!
Manasseh is later named in full association with “the children of Israel, which came into Egypt” Gen.46.8,20. The fact that he had an Egyptian mother did not debar him from this recognition.
We do wonder what Manasseh’s thoughts and feelings were when brought before his ailing grandfather, Jacob, to receive his patriarchal blessing, Gen.48.1,5. Joseph took “Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him” Gen.48.13. However, Manasseh’s expectation of receiving the principal blessing was immediately dashed: “And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn” Gen.48.14.
This action of Jacob took Joseph totally by surprise, and “it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head” Gen.48.17. Joseph’s perspective was guided by primogeniture and parental expectation; Jacob’s by prophetic insight and Divine intention. While parents should have the best desires for their children, God’s purpose must never be thwarted.
Joseph’s remonstration is rebuffed: “And his father refused, and said, ‘I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.’ And he blessed them that day, saying, ‘… God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh:’ and he set Ephraim before Manasseh” Gen.48.19,20.
So from the outset Manasseh knew that he and his tribe would be eclipsed by his younger brother and his descendants. Indeed, something of that was seen in Joseph’s own lifetime: “And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh [the second generation] were brought up upon Joseph’s knees” Gen.50.23.
There are no further details given in respect of ‘Manasseh the Man’, or of personal interaction with his brother, Ephraim. Since God knows best there should not have been any resentment between the brothers. Sadly, so much spiritual potential can be squandered as a result of intra- and inter-family rivalry, when so much more should be secured by supportive cooperation.
MANASSEH – THE TRIBE
Having considered ‘Manasseh – the Man’ we shall now consider the tribal history.
Manasseh – in the Wilderness
The men of Manasseh “from twenty years old and upward” at the commencement of the wilderness journey numbered 32,200 and they constituted the smallest tribe, Num.1.1-3,34,35. At the next census, on the borders of the land almost forty years later, Manasseh had become the sixth-largest tribe, evidencing an over sixty per cent increase, to 52,700, Num.26.28-34. Surprisingly, among the names associated with the tribe of Manasseh we have females mentioned, the famous five “daughters of Zelophehad” Num.26.33; but more about them anon.
At this stage in Manasseh’s history “Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur” was the principal man of that tribe, Num.1.10; 2.20; 7.54; 10.23. Later “Gaddi the son of Susi” Num.13.11, was the tribe’s discouraging spy, who took a different view to that of his Ephraimite counterpart “Oshea [Joshua] the son of Nun” Num.13.8. That represents the first obvious divergence between the two tribes descended from Joseph.
Half of the tribe of Manasseh, with the tribes of Reuben and Gad, fell short of God’s intention by settling outside the land. The initiative was that of Reuben and Gad, who had “a very great multitude of cattle: and … saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle” Num.32.1. So they requested, and obtained, permission to settle on the east side of Jordan. We later read: “And Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto half the tribe of Manasseh, the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land, with the cities thereof in the coasts, even the cities of the country round about” Num.32.33; compare 34.14.
However, while the territories of those two heathen kings were taken by the host of Israel as they approached the borders of the Promised Land, there was individual initiative on the part of some from the tribe of Manasseh. We read: “And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorite which was in it. And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh; and he dwelt therein” Num.32.39,40. Positive exercise always provokes others, “and Jair the son of Manasseh … and Nobah went and took” towns and villages, renaming them after themselves, Num.32.41,42. Thus their exploits were remembered.
In relation to the final division of the land, “Hanniel the son of Ephod” was Manasseh’s responsible delegate, Num.34.23.
While it is generally true to observe that Ephraim produced more outstanding men, Manasseh had more memorable women: the daughters of Zelophehad, who posed a valid question, leading to a legal precedent.
The ‘Famous Five’ – the daughters of Zelophehad
We should never underestimate the impact of spiritual women acting in their own sphere when the cause is right. The fact that the name “Zelophehad” occurs eleven times in Scripture signifies the importance attached to this legal case, Num.26.33; 27.1-11; 36.1-13; Josh.17.3; 1Chr.7.15.
We are introduced to his daughters: “And Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters: and the names of the daughters of Zelophehad were Mahlah, and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah” Num.26.33. They are all named again in Num.27.1; 36.11 and Josh.17.3.
These five girls suffered bereavement when their father died during the wilderness journey and, as none of the five were married when first brought to our attention, this suggests that they were still relatively young. But neither disadvantage nor youth curbed their collective exercise and it must have been somewhat unusual for Moses to receive their determined appeal. They said, “Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father” Num.27.3,4.
They certainly knew what they wanted and were united in pressing their specific case, using an economy of words in so doing. There was no long-winded circumlocution here! Without any hesitation, “Moses brought their cause before the Lord” Num.27.5. Not only did Moses act as their advocate but “the Lord spake unto Moses” Num.27.6, in favour of their request. What an honour when Jehovah, the covenant-keeper, spoke from heaven to clarify the law of inheritance on their behalf and extend His rulings to cover other potential inheritance issues.
Heaven’s declaration was, “The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them” Num.27.7. This was not a ruling unique to these girls! They secured permission for all others in a similar position: “And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, ‘If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter’” Num.27.8. They also obtained additional inheritance law clarification: “And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren. And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father’s brethren” Num.27.9,10. The comprehensive nature of this ruling concludes, “And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the Lord commanded Moses” Num.27.11.
Now it is incontrovertible that this ruling was ever in the Divine mind, but it is interesting that it was not made known until five young women, feeling keenly their position and the implications for the perpetuation of their father’s name, put in their plea and, what is more, made it before they ever entered the land! God honoured their faith. They asked for much, and got more, to the benefit of others.
Immediately after Moses’ delivery of that statute of judgment he was told by the Lord to ascend the mountain to see the Promised Land and “be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered” Num.27.13. As he prepared to transfer the leadership of the nation to Joshua, a descendant of Joseph via Ephraim, did he reflect on this recent adjudication and remember, with affection, the five girls descended from Joseph via Manasseh who, with clear-eyed faith and vigour of speech, sought him to plead their case with God?
Wisdom and further guidance were needed to ensure that the inheritance of Zelophehad was not fragmented from Manasseh, in response to clarification sought by tribal leaders, Num.36.1. The further command was, “Let them marry to whom they think best; only to the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry” Num.36.6.
The eventual outcome was that “Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married unto their father’s brothers’ sons” Num.36.11, retaining their father’s inheritance within their own tribe.
We really ought to salute their memory. They were special!
To be continued (D.V.)
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
“While he was yet speaking …” Job 1.16,17,18
The name of Job is synonymous with trials and tragedies on an almost unimaginable scale. While news of one calamity was being relayed, more bad news was on the way, to be followed closely by yet more sadness; sorrow upon sorrow, burden upon burden. As if the tragic news conveyed in chapter 1 was not heavy enough tidings to overwhelm any person, a short time thereafter Job himself was smitten “with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown” Job 2.7. No wonder that his three “friends” who came to see him sat in astonied silence “for they saw that his grief was very great” Job 2.13. On top of this he endured misrepresentation by his friends when he was at his lowest point.
The amazing thing is that in spite of the intensity of suffering, Job worshipped and “in all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly” Job 1.22. Job had learned that even though the way was not clear and life had become incomprehensible, the only way forward was to have unwavering faith in an infallible God. The questions were many but answers were scarce; yet Job was persuaded that he must continue to depend upon his God. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” Job 13.15. Should we be surprised then to learn that “the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” Job 42.12?
- Trusting Him while life shall last,
- Trusting Him till earth is past.
“… the sufferings of Christ …” 1Peter 1.11
This glorious theme features prominently in the Old Testament and all four writers of the Gospels refer at length to the actual unfathomed sufferings of the sinless Saviour. Thus, the sufferings of Christ pervade all Scripture and, for us who are saved, are a compelling and engaging theme which should be of supreme interest to us.
That He should suffer seems a paradox since suffering is inextricably linked with sin and is the common lot of man; the sad legacy of our foreparents’ sin in the garden of Eden. None has been exempt; all have been contaminated and corrupted by the murky stream of sin, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” Rom.3.23.
One glorious Person is the exception; He is impeccable, it is impossible for Him to sin and He alone is untainted by the debilitating defilement of sin; yet He suffered. Disaster, disease, decay and death are all the inevitable consequences of sin; they are the wages we expect to receive, “the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss” Lk.23.41, and so Christ did not deserve to suffer, but He did suffer, as no one else ever has suffered. “O my soul, it was for thee! Praise Him, praise Him cheerfully.”
- Saviour we remember Thee!
- Thy deep woe and agony,
- All Thy suffering on the tree:
- Saviour, we adore Thee.
by William M. Banks (Scotland)
THE WITNESSES OF THE LAMB – Rev.14.1-20 (Part 1)
The 144,000 sealed witnesses of chapter 7 are now seen standing with the Lamb on Mount Sion. In chapter 7 the time frame is after the Rapture and before the start of the seven-year Tribulation period. The time frame now is the introduction of the Millennial Kingdom: the Tribulation is past. In chapter 7 the contextual interlude is between the sixth and seventh seals; in chapter 14 it is between the sixth and seventh trumpets.
The spiritual link in chapter 7 is with the saints who anticipatively emerge from the Great Tribulation. They are evidently the fruit of their labours. The first of the two visions of chapter 7 looks back to ownership and security; the second looks forward to joy and exultation. In chapter 14 we once again have two visions. The first is the heavenly vision of the 144,000 on Mount Sion, a vision of triumph. The second is a vision of judgment. This time the first vision, vv.1-5, looks forward to Millennial blessing; the second, vv.6-20, looks back to necessary judgment before the blessing can be known. It reassures the redeemed that they will be vindicated when judgment falls on the unbelieving world of the Beast, depicted in chapter 13. The contrast is stark: a beast, a Lamb; the Beast’s name, the Father’s name; suffering, glory! In addition it shows them that God was not unaware of the circumstances through which they were passing during the severe persecutions of the Tribulation experiences. God is aware of every detail!
The Lamb on Mount Zion with the 144,000 – vv.1-5. A look forward
- They are “with” the Lamb – vv.1-3
- They “follow the Lamb” – vv.4,5
Visions of Final Judgment – vv.6-20: necessary before the Millennium. A look back
The proclamation of impending judgment (by the first three angels) – vv.6-12
- “The hour of His judgment is come” – vv.6,7
- The fall of apostate Babylon – v.8
- The end of the followers of the Beast – vv.9-12
The blessed dead who “die in the Lord” – v.13
The coming of the Son of Man (and the second three angels) – vv.14-20
- The harvest of the earth – vv.14-16: undertaken by the Son of man
- The vintage of the earth – vv.17-20: undertaken by an angel
We will consider the first five verses of the chapter in this Paper.
THE LAMB ON MOUNT ZION WITH THE 144,000 – vv.1-5. A look forward
The faithful sealed witnesses have survived the rigours of the Tribulation to a man, and are now entering the Millennial Kingdom. In vv.1-3 they are “with Him”, while in vv.4,5 they “follow” Him “whithersoever He goeth”; a lovely moral order.
The Intimate Association – vv.1-3: “with Him”
As John views the 144,000 on “mount Sion” he uses his usual expression to confess his wonder: “I saw and behold”, translated this time as, “I looked, and, lo” v.1a. Two matters produced the wonder. The first was the location of the Lamb, v.1b: He was on mount Sion in Jerusalem, the metropolis of blessing and government; compare Psalm 48; Isa.24.23. The second was the fact of the association of the 144,000 “with Him” v.1c; compare Mk.3.14. Not even one of the “sealed” had been lost in spite of the reign of the Beast and the severe Tribulation experience. This is an amazing fact. There was no doubt as to who they were. They were identified by having “His name and the name of His Father written upon their foreheads” v.1d, J.N.D., R.V., the effect of the sealing.
In vv.2,3 we are introduced to a song that only the 144,000 could sing. The “voice from heaven” v.2, was irresistible in its majesty: “as the voice of many waters” v.2a; compare 1.15; great in its power: “as the voice of a great thunder” v.2b; compare Ps.29.3; sweet in its accompaniment: “[‘as’ J.N.D., R.V.] of harpers harping with their harps” v.2c. The voice was the united voice (not a discordant note) of a “new song” v.3. Three things are predicated of it:
- Where it was sung: “before the throne and before the four beasts [living creatures], and the elders” v.3a;
- Who sang it: only the 144,000 could learn it (preparing for 15.3?), v.3b;
- Why they sang it: they were “redeemed [purchased] from the earth” v.3c.
The Following of the Lamb – vv.4,5
They follow the Lamb “whithersoever He goeth”. This is evidently a direct result of their association with Him, which we have discussed above. “These are they” occurs twice; “these” three times. “These” who are “with Him” not surprisingly “follow” Him; an important lesson for us. There are, however, corresponding requirements. The character necessary to follow the Lamb is indicated in vv.4a,5: virgin purity, v.4a; compare 2Cor.11.2, a necessary characteristic of saints; guileless language, v.5a: no lie; compare Jn.14.6 and contrast 2Thess.2.11; inward reality, v.5b: “without fault”, meaning ‘with no blemish’. This word is used seven times in the New Testament: Eph.1.4; 5.27; Col.1.22; Heb.9.14; 1Pet.1.19; Jude 24; Rev.14.5. The willingness to be subservient to His leading is emphasised in v.4b: they “follow … whithersoever” He leads. This is affirmed as a feature of servants in Jn.12.26.
The 144,000 would be thrilled to know that there were others to enjoy redemption in days of tribulation. The prospect of others coming into the blessing is seen in v.4c, where the 144,000 are described as “redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb”. They are the first to be saved after the Rapture but there is a huge harvest to follow, Rom.11.26,27. In a similar vein, Christ is the “firstfruits” of the first resurrection, 1Cor.15.23; compare Lev.23.10.11, again with a mighty harvest to follow.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Jack Hay (Scotland)
Paper 7 – JEHOSHAPHAT’S PRAYER
For some years, Jehoshaphat had reigned without fear of invasion, but things were about to change. A confederacy of eastern neighbours was ready to strike, 2Chr.20.1,2, and in this respect his reign resembled that of his father, Asa. Asa had experienced ten years of peace when a massive army of Ethiopians invaded, 2Chr.14.9-15. His immediate reaction was to call upon God: “help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on Thee” 2Chr.14.11. Sadly, in the autumn of his life he changed his strategy when threatened by the northern kingdom of Israel; rather, he turned to the Syrians for help, 2Chr.16.7,8. This lack of consistency led to spiritual disaster. We really do need to have unwavering trust in our God instead of turning to our “own understanding” Prov.3.5.
Jehoshaphat imitated his father’s initial confidence in God, and he instantly “set himself to seek the Lord” 2Chr.20.3. The enemy had created a bridgehead on the west of the Dead Sea at “Hazazon-tamar, which is Engedi” v.2, and the king’s primary emotion was fear, v.3; hence his speedy recourse to prayer. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee” Ps.56.3. Prayer was the first, not the last, resort, as when Peter’s wife’s mother had a great fever: “anon [immediately] they tell Him of her” Mk.1.30. Jehoshaphat’s prayer indicates that he had extensive knowledge of God’s dealings with his forefathers, and that would include David’s biography, for David was the role model for his life, 2Chr.17.3. The wilderness of Engedi, with its caves and “strong holds”, had been a safe haven for the outlawed David when hounded by Saul. God’s providence preserved him in that rugged region, 1Sam.23.29; 24.1-22, and no doubt recollections of that preservation ignited Jehoshaphat’s belief that God could act in his interests too. Let us be encouraged by the memory of Divine activity on behalf of others, and have confidence that His care for His people is permanent and undiminished.
Jehoshaphat’s foes were mainly Moabites and Ammonites, 2Chr.20.1, and their disgusting origin is recorded in Gen.19.30-38. That, with their subsequent history, allows us to view them as an illustration of the believer’s adversary the flesh, the ‘enemy within the gates’. Our innate sinful nature was not removed at conversion, and “fleshly lusts … war against the soul”; hence the need to “abstain” from them, 1Pet.2.11. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit”, necessitating submission to the Holy Spirit, walking in the Spirit, and being led by the Spirit, to avoid fulfilling the lust of the flesh, Gal.5.16,17. Paul again urges us to “make not provision for the flesh”, involving “put[ting] … on the Lord Jesus Christ” Rom.13.14. Obviously then, when it comes to conflict with the flesh we do have certain responsibilities. The old maxim of ‘Let go and let God …’ is a little simplistic, but, at the same time, we must understand that victory is dependent on reliance on the Holy Spirit, just as in this incident Jehoshaphat triumphed over these enemies by Divine power.
THE PRAYER MEETING
By fasting, “all Judah” demonstrated that they were in earnest in seeking after God, and so they gathered to Jerusalem, 2Chr.20.3,4. The solidarity of the nation illustrates the Lord’s teaching about the necessity for agreement when supplicating the Father, Matt.18.19. “Wrath and doubting [‘disputing’ R.V.]” have a negative impact on the effectiveness of prayer meetings, 1Tim.2.8. Here, the united front paid dividends, as it did in New Testament times. The Lord Jesus had no sooner returned to heaven than it was said of early believers, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” Acts 1.14. You may argue that these were people who were well familiar with the prominence that the Lord had given to the subject of prayer. Let it be noted though that the extensive wave of new converts gave it the same priority, for “they continued stedfastly … in prayers” Acts 2.42. Never treat the assembly prayer meeting as the poor relation of assembly gatherings, an optional extra. It is a central function of assembly life, the engine room, the powerhouse; whatever metaphor you may care to use. Unless there is a legitimate reason for absence, it is vital to be there.
It is instructive that little ones, wives, and children were at this prayer meeting, 2Chr.20.13. “The women” were at the prayer meeting in Acts 1.14, and generally Christian women are consistent attenders at prayer meetings. An exception is that in many places the prayer meeting prior to gospel preaching is exclusively for the males. Is that really Scriptural? As far as the children are concerned, there is a stage in family life when it is deemed unsuitable for them to be at midweek gatherings because they are so young (at least, that is the perception in the western world!) But do try to introduce them to the prayer meeting as soon as is practicable; habits formed in one’s youth can become a permanent feature of life. When Ezra and his associates were returning to Jerusalem, they suspended their journey at Ahava, as they sought guidance from God about “a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance” Ezra 8.21. Again, their young people were being taught by example the importance of determining Divine leading.
A number of Divine attributes had impressed Jehoshaphat, instilling confidence that though “vain is the help of man”, yet “through God we shall do valiantly” Ps.60.11,12. He prefaced his appeal for help by expressing his adoration at the thought of these Divine qualities. That is the prayer structure encouraged by the Lord Jesus when He taught that “Hallowed be Thy name” should precede “Give us this day our daily bread” Matt.6.9-13.
Jehoshaphat was awestruck at God’s majesty: “art not Thou God in heaven?” He was enthralled by God’s authority: “rulest not Thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen?” God’s omnipotence was big in his thinking, with the reference to “power and might”, and God’s sovereignty impressed him: “none is able to withstand Thee” 2Chr.20.6. If only we had similar impressions of the transcendence of God it would infuse us with the same confidence that Jehoshaphat displayed. Always entertain big thoughts of God, because His greatness can never be exaggerated; it is “unsearchable” Ps.145.3.
Another stimulus to faith in Jehoshaphat’s God was the memory of God’s dealings with his ancestors. God had promised the land of Canaan to the descendants of Abraham His “friend” 2Chr.20.7. He had honoured that pledge, but that had involved an exhibition of His power in driving out the previous occupants of the land. Was that same power not available in this present emergency? Further, in the process of time the Temple was built at Jerusalem, v.8, and at its inauguration Solomon had anticipated the kind of crisis that Jehoshaphat was now facing, beseeching God to intervene for the supplicants who appeared at that sanctuary, 1Kgs.8.30-53. In effect then, Jehoshaphat was laying hold on the revelation of Holy Scripture from Genesis to 1Kings, and, by faith, applying it to his present circumstances. Prayer that is based on the revelation of God’s character and the acceptance of His promises can never be futile. In praying for a drought, Elijah was appealing to the Word of God; in praying for an exit from Babylon, Daniel was basing his appeal on the promise of God through Jeremiah. Let us have the same confidence in the Word, and, in our prayers, lay claim to its “exceeding great and precious promises” 2Pet.1.4.
The ingratitude of these trans-Jordan nations was appalling. God had forbidden His people to encroach on their territory, 2Chr.20.10, and now they were attempting to oust Judah from their God-given inheritance. It is bad enough to be vengeful, but to repay kindness with evil is shameful. It was the crowning sin of Joash when he assassinated Zechariah, whose father had rescued him in infancy, and had mentored the young king, 2Chr.24.20-22. “Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house” Prov.17.13. In light of that, Jehoshaphat appealed, “O our God, wilt Thou not judge them?” 2Chr.20.12.
Jehoshaphat acknowledged his helplessness against such a massive army: “we have no might” v.12. It had yet to be written, but he was about to learn that “My [the Lord’s] strength is made perfect in weakness” 2Cor.12.9. It was when Uzziah felt strong that he became vulnerable, for his heart was lifted up, 2Chr.26.15,16. Pride and self-confidence create a recipe for failure. Jehoshaphat was also aware of his ignorance of a suitable strategy in the face of this aggression: “neither know we what to do”. In similar circumstances, when “we know not what we should pray for as we ought”, we have a Divine intercessor, the indwelling Holy Spirit, Rom.8.26. The final feature of Jehoshaphat’s prayer was an expression of dependence: “our eyes are upon Thee” 2Chr.20.12. At that, a message from heaven allayed his fears, affirmed a strategy, and assured a victory, of which more in the next paper, God willing.
To be continued (D.V.
by Dennis Williamson (N. Ireland)
HE WAS TAKEN UP
The Lord has gone back where He was before, but not the way He was before. For the first time true humanity has reached the throne of God. The question was asked by the Lord Himself as He spoke to His disciples in Jn.6.62: “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?” What majestic glory! Cherubim and seraphim bow before Him, their faces covered, their feet veiled as they praise in antiphonal song and wonder, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory” Isa.6.3. The pathway of purity and grace has been submissively trodden, with the glory of His Father’s will before Him throughout; He has entered in triumph as the all-subduing Conqueror of death and the grave. The evidences of His victory yet fully to be displayed, He takes His place of glory which He described to His Father as “the glory which I had with Thee [‘by the side of Thee’] before the world was” Jn.17.5. This time, that place is filled with glorified humanity. He has ascended. The forces of evil had all been marshalled against Him to prevent this happening, but He has “spoiled principalities and powers” and “made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it [i.e. the cross]” Col.2.15. Defeated as they were, they must curiously watch as the Victor rends the heavens for a second time and moves, in dignified exaltation, to the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. It thrills each believer’s heart to join by faith that welcoming chorus of the occupants of that glorious place, as they pour out their adoration before Him. He “now … appear[s] in the presence of God for us” Heb.9.24. ”He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things” Eph.4.10. In His offices we see: prophetic: while He was here His prophetic ministry was rejected, but He Whom heaven has received will be acknowledged on earth, and it will be manifest that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” Rev.19.10; priestly: entrance into a higher order of priesthood, “a high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” Heb.6.20; kingly: from rejection to eventual rule, Ps.110.2.
Peter says, “God … raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory” 1Pet.1.21. Here resurrection and ascension are intimately linked; the one is the inevitable outcome of the other. Lazarus was raised but did not ascend. The Lord was the unique One Who “came out from God and went to God” Jn.13.3. He was “received up into [‘in’] glory” 1Tim.3.16. Luke says: “He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven” Lk.24.50,51. His separation from them is emphasised in Luke. Mark stresses His reception into heaven; He is the rewarded Servant: “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God” Mk.16.19. Matthew does not really speak of the ascension. In keeping with his presentation of the Lord Jesus as “King of the Jews”, the King is awaiting His kingdom. John states that the Son is always “in the bosom of the Father” Jn.1.18.
Many things are related to His exaltation:
THE FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY
Both the Old and the New Testaments are replete with citations and allusions to the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Psalm 16 the Lord says prophetically, “Thou wilt show Me the path of life: in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” Ps.16.11. Before this Job had exulted: “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” Job 19.25. Isaiah spoke often about the Lord: in chapter 2 he stresses: “And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day” Isa.2.17. Chapter 32 speaks of Millennial days with the words, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” Isa.32.1,2. Who can forget chapter 53? There we are told that “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” Isa.53.11. We are taught by Zechariah: “He shall bear the glory, and sit and rule upon His throne, and He shall be a priest upon His throne “ Zech.6.13. These are but a few of many quotations referring to the Lord in the Old Testament, with many more in the New Testament. While many of these look forward to His future exaltation, when He returns to earth to reign, His present exaltation in heaven is an essential prelude to the fulfilment of these prophecies.
THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF HIS WORK ON EARTH
“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name” Phil.2.9. “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” Jn.17.4,5. This work was a perfect work and the Father responded by “set[ting] Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” Eph.1.20,21. This is an irreversible exaltation. Such is the abiding character of that work that it will never need repetition. Once the Lord had been challenged by Satan: “All this power will I give Thee … If Thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be Thine” Lk.4.6,7. The answer was, “Get thee behind Me, Satan”. The Son awaited God’s time, Psalm 2, and it will surely come, to be fully manifested when He reigns supreme in this scene of His rejection.
THE ENRICHMENT OF HIS OWN
The very thought of His separation from them brought sorrow, Jn.13.33, but now, in this interim period, after He had spoken of separation, “they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” Lk.24.52. The lifting up of His hands in blessing would be an indication of His present ministry on their behalf, Lk.24.50. He carried back to heaven His official glories, the result of His victory at Calvary. He is now crowned with glory and honour, Heb.2.9. The right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens is His rightful place, Heb.8.1. He is passed through the heavens, Heb.4.14. He is ascended far above all heavens, Eph.4.10. He has gone into heaven itself, Heb.9.24. That entrance of His has abiding significance. He entered once into the holy place, Heb.9.12. The Old Testament high priest looked for a day each year when He would enter the holy place in the earthly sanctuary with the blood of animal sacrifice. It was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, described for us in Leviticus chapter 16. Sadly, it needed to be repeated each year. The Lord, in virtue of His own blood, needed to enter only once. Because of this we can draw near, through that new and living way, Heb.10.19,20. What tremendous privileges we can enjoy!
THE ENDOWMENT OF THE SPIRIT
Acts 1.1-3 covers a period of forty days. The Lord Jesus had been seen of the disciples during that time, v.3. They were then charged to “wait for the promise of the Father, ‘which, saith He, ye have heard of Me’” v.4. This promise was the coming to earth of the Holy Spirit. They waited ten days and something happened which would impact upon the generation following, and indeed the whole world. Meanwhile, they asked the Lord a question: “wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” v.6. This was what they expected to be restored, and it would be, but not at this time, v.7. It was within the Father’s power. However, something unique was about to happen. A new season of witness was to be inaugurated. The witness would be of Him, and would spread from Jerusalem, to all Judea, Samaria and the uttermost part of the earth, v.8. For this to happen, two things were necessary: one, the ascension of Christ to the right hand of God, and, two, the descent from heaven of the Holy Spirit of God. The first of these things must occur before the second. This is confirmed by the Scriptures Jn.7.39 and Acts 2.33. Only after Christ was glorified in heaven could the Holy Spirit come. Both of these were distinct, unique actions, at the beginning of the present dispensation. This is why it is sometimes called ‘the age of the Holy Spirit’. Like Calvary, Pentecost will never be repeated.
THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE CHURCH
The Lord Jesus had promised, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matt.16.18. This promise was fulfilled, and this Church began with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Later, it is called “the church, which is His body” Eph.1.22,23. Wherever we read of the Church in the New Testament it never refers to a material building, but always to the people. Every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ belongs to this Church, from Pentecost, when it was formed, until the time when every believer will meet the Lord in the air, 1Thess.4.13-17. All believers are included, and it comprises only believers. This body cannot be complete without the Head, Who is the Lord Himself. Therefore, belonging to this Church means being linked eternally with the Lord Jesus. As believers, we are organically united to Christ, just as a physical head is organically united to a body. This “in Christ” position is unchangeable and unbreakable, and is a peculiar characteristic of this present era. It depended upon the ascent of the Lord Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
THE PROCUREMENT OF GIFTS
Associated with the exaltation of the Lord Jesus is the giving of gifts to the Church. Eph.4.8, with Ps.68.18, confirms this. In both passages the order in maintained: the Lord emancipates before He enriches. He receives and He bestows; the gifts are vouchsafed in a Man. Sometimes the gifts are persons, as in Eph.4.11; at other times they are special enablements, as in Rom.12.6-8 or 1Cor.12.4-10, but whether the Lord Jesus is presented as Lord or as Head, as in these relevant passages, they are focused in the same One. The spoils of victory are His and He dispenses them according to His own sovereign will. No one person has all the gifts, and no believer is without any. Whether you are a gift, or possess a gift, all is for the glory of the Giver. It is for this reason Paul states, “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” 1Cor.4.7. To glory in ourselves is to deprive Him of the glory which is His due!
THE ADVANCEMENT OF HIS KINGDOM
The One Who will one day reign in a literal Kingdom is the One Who has ascended to the throne of God. One day He will sit on His own throne. The Father has said to Him, “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool” Ps.110.1. He has also said prophetically, “Rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies” Ps.110.2. Between these two statements a period of two thousand years has passed. But just as the first has been literally fulfilled, so also will the second. After this period of grace has ended, and after that time of Jacob’s trouble, the Great Tribulation, has run its course, the Lord will appear in manifested glory, to take upon Himself the responsibility of King of kings and Lord of lords. The Son of David will sit on David’s throne. This world shall know what righteous rule really is, when that blessed Man Who once hung between two thieves at Calvary, and was treated so unrighteously by mankind, will take up the reins of world government and be a Priest upon His throne. Both righteousness and peace will characterise that wonderful one-thousand-year reign, and He shall bear the glory, Zech.6.13.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Jeff Brown (Wales)
The Prophecy of Isaiah is the longest of the prophetic books and looks further into the future than any other Old Testament prophecy. It is the second most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament (the Book of Psalms is the most quoted). Isaiah was a Godly man and was used of God over a long period of time, Isa.1.1. He seems to have begun his prophetic ministry at the end of King Uzziah’s reign: perhaps the last few years. He then continued through the reigns of Jotham (sixteen years), Ahaz (sixteen years) and most (if not all) of the reign of King Hezekiah (twenty-nine years): certainly well over half a century!
The ministry of Isaiah was marked by spiritual consistency. He was used of God in the reign of kings of contrasting ‘spirituality’. Uzziah had started well and generally had a long and distinguished reign, 2Chr.26.1-15, but in later years his life of usefulness was limited and it ended tragically, 2Chr.26.16-23; Jotham was a good king, 2Chr.27.1-9; Ahaz was an evil king, 2Chr.28.1-4; while, finally, Hezekiah was another good king, 2Chr.29.2; 31.21. This shows us that Isaiah was used of and faithful to God in times of spiritual growth and times of spiritual decline! It should be the same with us today: we should be prepared to be used of God and be faithful to Him despite the prevailing circumstances around us!
Uzziah’s spiritual failure (and that of the people generally) in the latter part of his reign was in contrast to the increased material prosperity that the nation enjoyed. There are lessons to be learned here! Prosperity in material things can often be followed by spiritual decline! Those in authority among God’s people can have a profound effect for good or bad on others. In the latter years of his reign when Uzziah failed, the nation followed his spiritual decline. Elders and leaders of God’s people today have a solemn responsibility! It is so sad to see good men, once used of God, failing in their latter days. Not only Uzziah, but Solomon, after a promising youthful start, lapsed into desires that were not of God when he was older. We often think of the many temptations before young believers today: and many there are! Yet middle age and old age also have their temptations: Uzziah and Solomon should be a warning to us! Despite spiritual decline, God can and does still work through those whom He, and He alone, has raised up.
THE ETERNAL THRONE
Isaiah lived through the reign of four kings and witnessed blessing and failure in the kingdom: kings were raised up, some were blessed, some were judged, and all died. Isaiah prophesied of kingdoms that would be established and ultimately fall, and of a Kingdom to be established for ever! In this vision that Isaiah saw of ‘the Lord on the throne’, he would be reminded by God that all earthly kingdoms are temporary, and that “the Lord sitteth King for ever” Ps.29.10. God’s throne, like God Himself, is unshaken, unshakeable and undisturbed! Even in the world-shattering judgments of the Tribulation period on earth, Revelation chapters 6-19, the throne of God in heaven remains unchanged! What a comfort for us today in a world of political, financial, cultural and religious turmoil! We have One in complete control Who never changes and is unchangeable, Mal.3.6.
ANALYSIS OF THE VISION
Concerning this vision in Isaiah chapter 6, Jn.12.41 states: “These things said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him”. The “Him” in the context in John’s Gospel is Christ! So John is speaking of the glory of Christ which the prophet saw: thus it is a pre-incarnate appearing of Christ! At a time of spiritual decline and uncertainty in the history of God’s people (Israel) when one who had started well (Uzziah) ended-up a disappointment and judged of God, Isaiah himself must have been saddened at the state of things. Yet this vision of Deity and the eternal throne, and all associated with it, would galvanise the heart and soul of this Godly prophet, to know that there were better days ahead! What about us today? We can look around (and sometimes within) and see disappointments and failure, but the lesson here is for us to look up and appreciate more fully Who God is, what He plans for us, and why He, and He alone, can make it happen!
OUTLINE OF THE VISION
We can look at these first eight verses of Isaiah chapter 6 in a number of ways:
- vv.1-4: What Isaiah saw, v.1. Isaiah looking to the Lord. An upward look.
- v.5: What Isaiah said, v.5. Isaiah looking at himself. An inward look.
- vv.6,7: What Isaiah did, v.7. Isaiah in relation to cleansing. A look at the altar.
- v.8: What Isaiah heard, v.8. Isaiah seeking God’s guidance. An outward look.
What Isaiah Saw – vv.1-4
The Glory of Deity – v.1
At the very beginning of Isaiah’s vision he looked up and something of the character of the Lord, vv.1,3,5, was brought before him: His greatness, majesty, holiness and power. The “Lord” (Adonai, sovereign, absolute Lord) is emphasised here in v.1! Is He that in our lives? At the end of v.1 we read, “and His train filled the temple”: the hem/fringe of His robe filled the Temple (the inner sanctuary, which measured 90 by 30 by 45 feet). Such was God’s greatness that His skirt fringes were sufficient to fill the earthly sanctuary! Solomon had previously stated: “Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” 1Kgs.8.27. Never let us consciously, or unconsciously, seek to diminish the greatness of our God! Notice that His “train” filled the sanctuary; there was no room for anything else! Today the presence of God dwells in the assembly (collectively), when we gather, and in our bodies (individually: the temple, inner sanctuary, of the Holy Spirit, 1Cor.6.19). In both cases there should be no room for anything else!
The Holiness of Deity – vv.2,3
The seraphim had a great appreciation of God’s holiness. We are not told when they were created, but when this vision took place they had been in God’s presence for a long time. They certainly had time to appreciate something of the character of God. If we live with someone for, say, six months, we will soon learn something of their character, and their faults! Yet after being in God’s presence for so long, the seraphim were in awe, and all they could utter was, “Holy, holy, holy”. This threefold acclamation reminds us of the uniplural Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. See also Gen.1.26, when God said, “Let us make man, in our image, after our likeness”. There is again a reference in v.8 to the plurality of Divine Persons: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
In Jn.17.11 we read of the Lord Jesus Himself praying, “Holy Father”; in Ex.3.5 we read of “holy ground” when Moses was in God’s presence in the desert; in Psalm 99 we read of God’s holy name, v.3; His holy character/Person, v.5; and His holy dwelling, v.9. God could say of Himself, “Thus saith the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place” Isa.57.15. The truth of the holiness of God and the requirement of believers to live holy lives is being lost today. All around us is impurity and unholiness. If those seraphim were in awe in God’s presence then we, as believers, should seek to serve Him with reverence and godly fear, Heb.12.28. Think of a little building in a small village, insignificant to the world, but if it is a place of gathering of the Lord’s people according to the Scriptural pattern, then God’s presence is there when we gather and it constitutes holy ground!
The Power of Deity – v.4
As a result of God-given power to the seraphim, “the posts [foundations] of the door moved”. So, we see a scene of great power and great holiness. In Amos 1.1 we read of the earthquake in the days of Uzziah (we do not know the specific date). This was such a great earthquake that it was recorded as “the” earthquake and not ‘an’ earthquake. It was used as a time-marker in the nation’s history. Even an average-sized earthquake is more powerful than the energy released by five hundred atomic bombs. Yet the posts of the Temple did not move then with the earthquake; only now, with the voice of something more powerful, and even that was transferred power! Isaiah was surely reminded of the great privilege of being in the presence of One so mighty, so powerful and so holy; and, as we shall see, so gracious and loving!
What Isaiah Said – v.5
After fully appreciating who and what God is in His absolute glory, power and holiness, Isaiah then realised just who and what he himself was, and his natural, personal inadequacies. Notice the personal pronouns “me”, “I” and “mine” mentioned six times in v.5. What a contrast to vv.1-4! Isaiah looked at the Lord, and then he looked at himself. This is a child of God and possibly the Godliest man alive on Earth at this time, yet he recognises his natural unfitness for the Divine presence. The more we appreciate who and what Christ is, the more we will appreciate who and what we are. Think of others who did this: after Job appreciated more of the wonders of creation and also the wonder and glory of the Creator, Job chapters 38,39, then he could declare, “Behold, I am vile” Job 40.4. See also Peter with the Lord, Lk.5.8, and Daniel’s confession, Dan.9.4-19.
Isaiah felt unclean; he said, “Woe is me …” In Isa.5.8-22 six woes were pronounced by God because of various sins perpetuated by the people; compare these to the woes that the Lord pronounced against the Pharisees in Matthew chapter 23. The spiritual state of the nation was dire all around Isaiah, yet the first thing he said was not, ‘Woe unto them’, but, “Woe is me”. Later he did go on to mention the state of the nation, but his main focus was to look at himself (an inward look) and not at them. Do we constantly look at others? It would be better to look at ourselves; actually it would be even better to constantly look at Him!
What Isaiah Did – vv.6,7
Was Isaiah to stay in that condition and feeling of uncleanness and inadequacy? What could be done? We now see Isaiah in association with the altar. King Uzziah had sinned when he took live coals from off the altar to burn incense, which only the priests had the authority to do, Lev.16.12,13; Num.16.39,40. But here now at the altar was the right application of the altar’s live coal: Isaiah’s iniquity was taken away and he was cleansed! Sin was dealt with at the altar. The matter of sin and its penalty was eternally dealt with at the ‘altar fire’ of Calvary, but in the context of our daily lives we need to come to ‘the altar’ (the place of sacrifice and of communion). In other words, we must approach God in prayer, reading His Word, and confessing our sins, in order that we might experience daily cleansing and be made fit for service.
What Isaiah Heard – v.8
If our personal inadequacies/needs as sinners have been met at the altar, then this should create in us an exercise for those without: those still unsaved and whose personal needs have, as yet, not been met. Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send …?” He had been made fit and now had the moral authority to go to the people! If we are to do a work for God, then we must be sent of God, and not go in our own strength. He was sent from the presence of God, and that is where we should come from before going out in His work. If God has called us to a work, then He will provide for us: nothing will be too burdensome or too difficult, if we are called of God. That is not to say there will not be burdens and difficulties, for there certainly will be; but if we are in the will of God, these will be overcome.
CONCLUSION – DIVINE ORDER
We note the definite order in the sequence of events in vv.1-8. First, Isaiah looked upward and had an appreciation of Christ. He then looked at himself and he realised what he was. As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, it reveals to us who and what God is but, in contrast, it reveals who and what exactly we are! Isaiah realised his failure and weakness, yet he never stopped there! He was not pre-occupied with it. We need to be maintained in close communion with God, and daily cleansing. For this we come into the presence of God: reading His Word, daily being before Him in prayer, and confessing any sin. Then, and only then, can we be in a morally fit condition to look outward to others. Always remember: he who speaks best for God speaks most to God.
by Paul Robinson (N. Ireland)
The three young men mentioned throughout this chapter had already been proved by testing regarding their diet, chapter 1, and in the dream of chapter 2 (see v.13). In this chapter they would be tested regarding the dedicated image. As believers we can expect trials to come and go and come again. Israel has known serious trial in the past because of their disobedience, and in a future day a remnant will be brought “through the fire” Zech.13.9. The refining and trying process of our own individual “fiery trial” 1Pet.4.12, should not come as a surprise, or indeed something strange. May we, with full assurance of faith, be like those mentioned in Heb.11.34, who “quenched the violence of fire”. In the testing of this trio, there are lessons that we could learn.
DESCRIPTION OF THE IMAGE – v.1
Having set the three friends over the province, at the end of chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar now sets up an image in the plain. There can be no doubt that the revelation made known to him in chapter 2 has had an effect. The king recognises himself as the “head of gold” Dan.2.38, but goes further, in making the image all of gold. There are still people today, sadly some in assembly fellowship, who must have it all about them ‘from top to bottom’; they always have a story that is better; they like to be the centre of attention. Nebuchadnezzar was actually defying what had been revealed. Not only was there a decline in the material composition of the image revealed in chapter 2, but, more importantly, making this image was against God’s Word, Ex.32.31; Deut.5.8,9. This seximal structure (base 6), sixty cubits in height and six cubits in breadth, suggests that the king wanted no rivals; nor did he believe that anyone could follow on from him. The world talks about ‘capacity building’, that is, getting ready for when the current generation of leaders moves on. The image in Daniel chapter 3 had height and breadth measurements, and those in overseership in a local assembly should be those who have spiritual ‘dimensions’ given by God, ‘measuring up’ to the New Testament qualifications. Are we as the people of God slow to understand that, sadly, administration on a local level can be manmade, with failure to recognise those whom God has set up in the affairs of assembly life? There will always be people who like to be seen: sixty cubits high in a plain would ensure this. Sixty equals six times ten, signifying man’s responsibility to God. Our responsibility is to serve God in the circle where God dwells. Dura (Strong’s number 1757) means ‘circle/dwelling’. Man will set up many a thing, but we should test it in the light of His Word. This setup in v.1 would soon be a test for those who had recently been set over, v.12.
DEDICATION OF THE IMAGE – vv.2,3
The various dignitaries invited to the dedication would enable Nebuchadnezzar to advance political solidarity and indeed loyalty. As they stood before the image, three other men would soon take a stand that would be principled upon solidarity and loyalty to God.
DECREE CONCERNING THE IMAGE – vv.4-6
The command goes out that when the seximal sound (six instruments are named in v.4) is heard all should bow. Falling down and worshipping the image would be an acknowledgement on their part that their own gods could not deliver them out of the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Interestingly, in 2Chronicles chapters 6 and 7, we have a man upon a raised structure with specific dimensions, 6.13; there is a prayer of dedication (by Solomon); and we read of fire, 7.1, people bowing down, 7.3, and a dedication, 7.5, accompanied by musical instruments, 7.6. Those who herald (see Dan.3.4) the gospel in our day do so under the command of God and commission of Christ, Mk.16.15,16. Those who refuse to bow in repentance when the message is sounded out will ultimately suffer an eternity in the Lake of Fire, the intensity of which will be unabated. Here, in v.6, those who refused would be summarily cast into a burning, fiery furnace. Looking at Jer.29.22 would have shown the hearers that this was no idle threat. Being “roasted in the fire” was a real possibility.
DEFERENCE TO THE IMAGE – v.7
The “therefore” of v.7 is not surprising. What is sad and indeed at times perplexing is that people today continue to bow down in various acts/forms of idolatry. At the same time, they refuse to acknowledge what the Bible makes clear about the destiny of those who refuse to trust Christ as their personal Saviour. We have no doubt of the reality of “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” Rev.21.8. Clearly, the fear of fire from a human-made furnace turned many to bow to the image. The fear of eternal fire should turn many to Christ and to God in repentance.
DEVICE OF THE CHALDEANS – vv.8-11
As we have already noted, the “therefore” of v.7 is due to the threat of v.6. At the start of v.8, we have something similar. This time, it is not the action of the masses, but the inaction of the three friends that gives occasion for the accusation. The Chaldeans had seen these three individuals being given a place of hegemony over the province. To them, the very least these Hebrews could do would be to give homage to the potentate. Later on, we see a similar tactic being employed against Daniel himself, Dan.6.5. As believers, our actions or indeed inactions with regard to certain matters will undoubtedly arouse animosity and, at times, accusation. In his book “The Climax of the Ages”, F.A. Tatford noted that “many a knee bows thoughtlessly to the golden image today”. Whilst this was written in 1953, it has particular resonance today. Imagine the furore, faux or otherwise, if all around you went down on bended knee whilst you stood upright! To these Chaldeans, the lives of these Jewish men did not matter. The wise men were envious of the position the three friends had gained. They had lost face in chapter 2, yet instead of showing gratitude to those who had interceded for them, 2.18, they would seek to use the king’s decree to their own ungracious ends. We live in an age of jealousy, envy, ingratitude and unthankfulness, Rom.1.21; 2Tim.3.2. These characteristics should never be seen in a believer.
The word “accused” v.8 (Strong’s numbers 399/7170), means ‘to devour/eat’. It is used again in 6.24 in regard to those who would accuse Daniel. For those in chapter 6 who sought to slander Daniel and see him ‘chewed up’, they would suffer literally at the den of lions what they verbally inflicted upon Daniel. Here in chapter 3, with flattery on their lips, the accusers remind the king of his decree. Whilst we may not be like the Pharisees condemned by the Lord Jesus in Matt.23.14 for devouring widows’ houses, could it be possible that an occasion has arisen where we have been guilty of ‘eating the face’ off someone or indeed ‘devouring’ them with our words? The apostle Paul’s word to the Galatians is apt: “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” Gal.5.15. Before we accuse another believer, we should be conscious of another accuser, Rev.12.10, who in adversarial ferocity seeks to devour, 1Pet.5.8. Indeed, false accusations may be levelled at us betimes, as it was at the Lord’s mock trial. However, we as believers should never fall into the class of what Paul denotes to Timothy as “false accusers” 2Tim.3.3.
DEFIANCE OF THE JEWS – v.12
The Chaldeans get to the point with their specific charge sheet against, not just certain men per se, but “certain Jews” in particular. Clearly the charge was not so much to do with their work on behalf of Nebuchadnezzar, but with their worship – or, as far as the religion of Babylon was concerned, lack of it – and witness. So too for believers today: whilst our secular work may be exemplary, we too should not be surprised that our spiritual walk and work may subject us to flagrant envy and undeserved ignominy from our colleagues/peers in whatever spaces or spheres we find ourselves employed. Despite the dishonour that may be directed towards us, we can hold dear the words of 1Sam.2.30: “for them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed”.
In the charge of the Chaldeans we see the depth of their craft: in adding “whom thou hast set over” there is almost an implied criticism of the king. In their seeking to ‘add fuel to the fire’ by means of what they hoped the king’s reaction would be, we see similarities with other Scriptures. Adam replied to the Lord God by saying, “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” Gen.3.12. Again, in the same book, Potiphar’s wife reminds her husband, “The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me” Gen.39.17. Joseph, as a Hebrew foreigner brought in and given place, would soon be bound and cast down after his master’s wrath was kindled. For these Hebrew servants, their threefold defiance is detailed as having failed to give regard, service or worship. As key representatives of the king, having regard to his person should have been paramount in all their actions. Failure in this regard would send out all the wrong signals to the populace all around. See Esther 1.15-18, for a similar situation. Their failure to serve Nebuchadnezzar’s gods was, to the Chaldeans, a calculated offence. They, like Nebuchadnezzar, believed that these gods had served them and the king well in facilitating the position that they and their potentate now filled. To them, the very least these foreigners could do would be to give service to these very gods. Worship of a golden image was nothing new; indeed, their Jewish ancestors had done it before, Ex.32.1,4; 1Kgs.12.28; 2Kgs.17.16; Ps.106.19. Additionally, to the Chaldean mind, their ‘frontman’, Daniel, had freely acknowledged that Nebuchadnezzar was indeed “a king of kings” Dan.2.37. Therefore, would it not be pertinent to give homage in the very province where they themselves had been given place?
To the three friends, the case was concrete, with only one possible outcome. For us as believers, what regard do we have to the Person of Christ, the power of God or indeed the presidency of the Holy Spirit? Is our service sporadic, stymied by sin and structured around material of wood, hay and stubble? Does our worship revolve around well-worn phraseology and does our work confine itself to ever-decreasing windows of opportunity? Has the wonder of where we find ourselves “set” in local assembly testimony been lost to a large degree?
To be continued (D.V.)
A TITANIC RESCUE
On the morning of Sunday, 18th June 2023, Titan, a submersible containing five men, slipped slowly down into the cold North Atlantic waters. Their plan was to descend to the ocean floor, survey the wreckage of the ocean liner, the Titanic, and then return slowly to the surface. However, less than two hours into the dive, the submersible stopped communicating with the support vessel on the surface. The Titan did not reappear, and the US Coast Guard was informed. An unprecedented international rescue operation was launched, and all available resources were utilised in order to effect the rescue of the five men lost in the depths of the sea, before their emergency oxygen ran out.
Tragically, it was not to be. On the Thursday afternoon it was announced that debris had been located near the Titanic’s bow. The Titan had suffered a catastrophic failure and had been crushed by the unimaginable pressure. The five men had likely been killed in an instant. All of the effort expended in pursuit of a rescue proved to be utterly in vain; it would have made no difference if every resource and skill on Planet Earth had been applied: the passengers were already beyond rescuing, even before anyone knew they were missing.
These tragic events serve as a parallel of our own condition. The Bible says that in our natural state we are at an insurmountable distance from God, “dead in trespasses and sins” Ephesians 2.1, in great danger of perishing eternally, and absolutely helpless to save ourselves. As soon as the crew of the Titan lost contact with the support vessel it was recognised that they would be unable to rescue themselves. Sadly, it was later discovered that no help on earth was sufficient to rescue them. Many people recognise that their sin is serious, deserving judgment, and that they need to be ‘rescued’ if they are ever to be in Heaven. But they think that through a great application of effort or resources, such as good works, prayers, or giving to charity, they will be able to rescue themselves. However, the Bible says that salvation is “not of works” Ephesians 2.9, and even the good things that we try to do are but “filthy rags” Isaiah 64.6, compared to God’s perfect standard.
How then are we to be rescued from the terrible consequences of our sin? In His great love, God sent His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into this world. He came, as it were, into the depths and the darkness where we were drowning in our sins, in order that He might rescue us. He provided the means of rescue by taking the full punishment for our sins upon Himself, on the cross. The Scripture likens the experience of the Saviour there to a man, drowning alone in the depths of the sea, with no one to pity or help him in his plight: “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow Me … I looked for some to take pity, but there was none” Psalm 69.2,20. Such was the love of the Lord Jesus for you and me that He willingly endured the sorrow, the suffering, the loneliness, the darkness, the depths of the cross, in order that He might rescue us. The tragedy of the Titan was that even though there was a desire to conduct a rescue, those with the will did not have the power to do so. How thankful we should be for the Lord Jesus, Who has both the desire and the ability to rescue a sinner from his sin, and raise him up out of darkness and death into the light, life and joy of His salvation.
Dear friend, try as you might, you are unable to rescue yourself: if you are to be saved from your sin you must depend completely on Another. The Lord Jesus Christ is both willing and able to save you, and He will, if you will trust Him.
- Souls in danger, look above, Jesus completely saves;
- He will lift you by His love out of the angry waves.
- He’s the Master of the sea, billows His will obey;
- He your Saviour wants to be – be saved today!