|Vol. 5, No. 3, May - June 1976
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
IN the past I have felt a certain reserve at the use of Paul's words:
"... that we may present every man perfect in Christ" (Colossians 1:28),
for it somehow seemed presumptuous for any man to claim or accept responsibility
for the maturity of all his fellow-believers. I doubted whether even the
great apostle to the Gentiles could take on such an obligation. The other
day, however, in reading a helpful paraphrase of this verse, its meaning suddenly
became illuminated to me by the words: 'We warn everyone we meet, and we
teach everyone we can, all that we know about Him, so that we may bring every
man up to his full maturity in Christ'. This may not be exactly what Paul
wrote, but it helped me to understand what he meant, and it came as a personal
challenge to me.
This, then, is our God-given obligation, to seek the spiritual maturity
of every Christian with whom we have any association. It does not mean that
we must constantly be trying to correct others who do not use the same phraseology
or follow the same procedures as we do. Nor does it mean that we should always
be trying to please others, for the ultimate issue is not whether they like
us but whether they grow in the knowledge of the Lord. What it does mean,
though, is that no personal considerations should ever be allowed to obscure
this one concern, that Christ may become more precious to all other Christians
with whom we have any dealings.
This approach will be costly, but it is possible; and it is certainly
not presumptuous. If we want to serve the Lord as we should, then our primary
consideration with other believers whom we meet must be to help them on to
a fuller knowledge of Him, and this will contribute to our maturity as much
as to theirs. Love has only one purpose -- the good of the one loved. There
can be no greater good than to become fully Christlike, so this will be
brotherly love in its best expression. Paul realised that only as God's power
worked in him mightily could he live up to this standard. We can have the
same power if we are dedicated to the same purpose.
THE LIGHT OF LIFE
Reading: John 8:1-12
HERS was a serious sin, and it was also a human tragedy. To be brought
out into the limelight in this way and to have her ugly sin exposed to public
view, was calculated to shame not only herself but all those who were bound
to her by family ties, her parents, her brothers and sisters, and others.
The scribes and Pharisees, however, thought nothing of that. They had
no sympathy with sinners, and moreover they had no hesitation in making use
of her as an instrument in their hatred of the Lord Jesus.
It was she who was shown up -- yes, but it was also they. Let us never
forget that we show ourselves up by the way in which we treat wayward sinners.
And of course the Lord Jesus was revealed in His true character by His treatment
of her. And what is more, He showed that He had seen through them completely
and knew how to silence them. 'Moses commanded that this sort of woman should
be stoned,' they insisted. 'Now what are you going to say about that?' We
shall see what Jesus said and did.
The first thing which we must notice is that He did not excuse her nor
minimise her wrongdoing. Sin is no less serious in His sight than it is
in ours -- on the contrary. She had sinned. He agreed with her critics on
that. But in contrast with them, He was the sinner's Friend, who had come
not to judge the world but to save it. On this basis He could be a true
Friend to her, for she was a sinner. [41/42]
He does not excuse sin, but He forgives it and breaks its power. She
remained there when all her accusers slunk away, and so she heard these
wonderful words: "Neither do I condemn you".
He did not condemn her! He, who was the only One who had the right to
do so, for He alone was Himself without sin, did not condemn her. None of
her accusers had the right to pass judgment on her, for they were all sinners,
and had probably committed the same sin as she had in the depths of their
hearts, even if not in their outward conduct. Evil desires, in God's sight,
are just as bad as open sinful acts. The Pharisees virtually admitted that
they had no right to assert themselves over her in condemnation, and left
the scene. He, before whom she stood, was pure and spotless, and could have
condemned her. But He did not do so.
It may well be that she was quite broken in spirit when they hauled her
before Jesus. And when she was left alone with Him, she doubtless stood there
with downcast eyes, overwhelmed by her shame, with floods of regret and
self-accusation sweeping over her soul.
Perhaps you know how she felt. Perhaps you have been exposed to some
soul condemnation yourself. If, when you remember your failures and sins,
your heart quails and your conscience is troubled, then you are in a similar
position to that of the woman. Humanly speaking, your case is hopeless. No
one can help you. If so, then be sure that Paul wrote to such when he asked:
"Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" (Romans 8:33), and
replied that God's answer is to justify. He went on to ask who could possibly
condemn, when Christ Jesus, the only One who has the right to do so, instead
of condemning died for you, rose again for you and is at present at God's
right hand praying for you. To every contrite sinner who believes in Him,
the Lord Jesus still says "Neither do I condemn thee".
Secondly, Jesus told her to go on her way and not to sin again. We can
feel sure that she never again fell into that sin. We think this to be so
because her sin had been brought to the light and she had made no attempt
to hurry away from it. Sin that is exposed to the light of the Lord loses
its power; it is destroyed from the roots. What is more, the words of the
Lord Jesus had authority and power. It was not good advice that He gave
her, but a divine command of power which effected its own result. When she
received this strong word, she received God's creative power. His word shut
the door to impure lust and gave her instead the desire for purity and holiness.
This meeting with Jesus, which took place at her point of greatest humiliation,
and the wonderful words which He spoke to her, simply made a new person
The scribes and Pharisees, however, slunk away. They also had been shown
up, but in contrast to her, it did not bring them any help. To go away when
you are exposed by the light of the truth is to go out into darkness.
When the Lord said: "He that is without sin among you, let him first
cast a stone at her", what ought they to have done? They should have gone
to Him with downcast eyes and said: 'Lord, forgive us. We are no better
than she. We, too, are sinners and are condemned by our own sin.' Had they
acted in this way, they would have won a lasting victory. They would then
have bowed to the truth. They would have got the victory over themselves,
crushing their self-righteous pride and entering into a right relationship
with God. They would then have won a victory over falsehood and hypocrisy.
And then Jesus would have been able to say to them also: "Neither do
I condemn you. Go your way; from henceforth sin no more."
Jesus once said: "Narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth
unto life." It was too narrow for them. They ran away from its challenge.
They did not find life, but remained in falsehood, darkness and death. It
was just as narrow for her, but she came through. Because she was so mean
in her own estimation, she could get through. Anybody who is prepared for
such humbling will find it possible to get through the gate. Those who fancy
themselves something will find, however, that this gate is too narrow for
them, and also will turn away to falsehood and death.
The man or woman who will look truly at themselves in the light of God,
and not shrink back [42/43] from the humbling experience
of being exposed by that light, will know the power of those words: "Neither
do I condemn thee, go thy way; from henceforth sin no more."
Immediately after this event we read: "Again therefore Jesus spake unto
them, saying: I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not
walk in darkness but shall have the light of life." This comes as a comment
by the Lord Jesus on the story of the woman taken in adultery. He is the
light of the world.
The scribes and Pharisees who wanted to stone the woman no doubt thought
that they had quite sufficient light. To them the case was clear. They arrogantly
imagined that they knew all about it. What they did not know was that they
lived in darkness just as dense as hers -- perhaps even more dense. They
could see her sin, but they were blind to their own. They judged her harshly,
but had no thoughts of judging themselves. They were ready to have her die
a terrible death, but they would have done everything in their power to save
themselves suffering or pain. They themselves would never submit to the uncovering
of what was in their own hearts, but had no qualms at all about exposing
Those who so behave are living in darkness, and thick darkness at that.
This means that they were unable to see, and so were as good as blind. They
searched the Scriptures and thought that they had light on them, but in fact
they were blind to the Word of God and to their own condition: because of
this they deliberately set themselves against Him who is the light of life.
The woman was also in darkness. We do not know enough about her to say
how complete her darkness was, but it would seem that she was a poor, helpless
woman who had been led into temptation and had not been able to stand up
What we do know is that she came out of darkness into that wonderful
light which is found in Jesus, and in Him alone. Her sin was forgiven. That
brought her immediate light. Light and warmth began to steal into her heart
as she heard the words of forgiveness.
She was then told that she need not sin any more, words which made the
light even clearer. When Jesus said that, it dawned on her that the power
of sin over her was broken -- she was free. Temptation had lost its power;
sin's stranglehold was released.
All this she owed to Jesus alone. He had become her light; the light
which always overcomes darkness.
This, then, is what is meant by the Lord's words: "I am the light of
the world." The world has no light without Him. Apart from Him all is darkness.
No culture, no technique, no human ability and no religion either, can banish
darkness and create light. It is not within man's power to say: "Let there
Notice the words of the Lord Jesus. He says: "I am -- I am the
light of the world". In doing so, He uses God's own self-chosen name, since
God's description of Himself to Moses was in these words. When He met Moses
at the burning bush in the wilderness and was asked His name, He replied:
"I am that I am. Say to the children of Israel, I am hath sent me." So Jesus
also did not hesitate to say, I am, and He had perfect right to do so without
any apology for it, since He and the Father are one.
These two words give us a glimpse of His majesty. He speaks as One who
does not belong to the creation, for He is its beginning, its Creator. He
is the eternal God who possesses unlimited power and authority. His words
are not the expression of man's opinion, nor are they open to debate. They
are divine, having unlimited and eternal validity.
I am the light of the world! So it was, is, and will ever be. The world
has no other light than that which is found in God, and this is the light
that God has sent us in the person of His Son. So Jesus was able to continue:
"He who followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light
of life." We can only keep in the light by following the Lord Jesus and submitting
to His rule. If up till now you have followed your own way and been governed
by natural darkness, you can now follow in His way and so enjoy His light,
walking in that until the dawn of the perfect day. [43/44]
When Jesus said: "Go thy way, from henceforth sin no more", He commanded
the woman to leave the way that she had been in before. She must never go
back to that way, but make a complete break with it in her heart and mind.
But His Word was also positive. He who commanded, also made it possible.
It was as though He said: 'From now on walk in My way, the way of purity and
truth. Walk in that way, however much it may cost you. It will probably
cost you more than you think; and yet that will be a small price to pay for
the marvellous blessing which comes to those who walk in the light and follow
Him who is the light of life.'
Never darkness: always the light of life! What a gospel! Let us never
forget that bitterness, selfishness, rudeness, condemnation and much else,
are included in darkness, while love, joy, peace, a good conscience and eternal
life, are included in light.
The Lord makes such a wonderful offer to lead men out of darkness into
His marvellous light, that one might think that everyone would gladly receive
His promise, but no, the majority reject it. Like the Pharisees, they prefer
darkness to light. Why? Because to come to the light is too humiliating,
too revealing. Rather than face the shame of it all, men prefer to stay in
the darkness with their sins.
It may well be that, in spite of themselves, the scribes and Pharisees
did this woman a great service when they forced her out into the limelight.
She would probably never have come willingly. Circumstances, however, obliged
her to come face to face with Jesus, and such an encounter made a new person
Let me exhort you not to allow pride or a sense of shame to keep you
in the darkness. Whatever drives you out into the light before the Lord
is really a blessing, though it may be evil in itself. However painful it
may be, do not resist God's overruling to get you into His light, for that
which is brought out of darkness into the light of Jesus, itself becomes
THE PERFECT LAW OF LIBERTY
(Messages from the Sermon on the Mount)
3. SALT AND LIGHT (Matthew 5:11-16)
J. Alec Motyer
AS we again consciously take up our position, seated in front of the
altogether Righteous One, God Himself come down to the Sinai of the New
Testament to declare to the redeemed His law, that law which is productive
of the blessed or 'happy' life, we are to listen to what He has to say about
the matters of salt and light.
THE MINISTRY OF INFLUENCE
Clearly the central topic of this section is that of influence. The Lord
desires His people to be influential in the world in which they live, for
they are to be the light of the world. In broad terms we might say that Christians
have tried to influence the world in three ways. First of all there is the
way of prayer. This has been notably exemplified in some aspects of a monastic
life, where people have felt led to withdraw from the world altogether,
but to do so with the deliberate purpose of exerting an influence on it
by undistracted intercession. Then there is a second way sometimes called
'prophetic', though I do not think that this is a proper description, and
it is certainly not in accord with the ministry of the Old Testament prophets.
I refer, though, to the efforts of those who try to influence the world
by speaking out boldly against social ills, the ministry of those who see
clearly the evil trends of modern life and publicly rebuke them and commend
a different and better way. This is the prophetic or pronouncement way of
influence. Thirdly, then, and nearest to our own hearts, is the evangelistic
or missionary method. This means that influence is [44/45]
to be exerted on the world by means of the gospel, which works individually
in the transformation of sinners.
Now all these three methods are right. Prayer does change things. To
our shame, I think that we have gravely neglected the way in which the Church
can influence world conditions and affairs by prayer. I find that if I speak
to groups of Christians on this subject, somebody soon raises the matter
of the many other things which we must do as well as pray. I think that the
Biblical answer to this is that it is probably true, but I am forced to challenge
people as to whether they have ever belonged to a fellowship which has exhausted
the things which God will do in answer to prayer. The first question is not
whether there are other things as well but are we fully measuring up to
God's challenge that we should pray? We may also say that when somebody has
been raised up to challenge the society of his day and call men back to
God, he has been given divine blessing. And the third means, evangelism,
is certainly a vital one. God has indeed changed the world through the preaching
of the gospel and the labours of His missionary servants. We need more of
the gospel. When, however, in these verses, the Lord Jesus speaks to us of
our influence in the world He is not precisely talking along these three
lines at all. He is speaking of INFLUENCE. He is drawing our attention to
something which is at the same time simpler and yet more effective than them
all. He is telling us, as individual Christians, what is His plan for us
to be a mighty influence for Him in this world in which we live.
The first thought in connection with this matter of influence can be
expressed in the need for involvement. "Ye are the salt of the earth" (v.13).
The salt has got to get down off the shelf and out of the package and right
into the porridge! You are the salt of the earth -- not salt in isolation
but salt in involvement. "Ye are the light of the world" (v.14), and as such
must be on a hill or on a stand, your light is to shine before men. When
we think of these words of the Lord, the illustration which comes most readily
to our minds is that of a lighthouse, standing in the place of danger to
warn men. Jesus, however, uses the more homely illustration of the twinkling
lights of a city on a hill. As the traveller approaches, he cannot mistake
it. There it is. Out from each window there is a warm glow of domestic light.
Going into the house, the light there is found to be, not covered up by a
bucket, but shining from some place of prominence. So the domestic light now
shines on the faces or in the eyes of those who are sitting at the family
table or around the family fire. This life of yours, says Christ, is to shine
before men. It must involve itself with them.
The salt that gets in where it is needed; the light which illuminates
where it can help. These are the symbols of practical involvement. This light
is not, of course, limelight. We are warned against doing our righteousness
before men (6:1). The Christian must never do things with the motive of self-display;
he must never seek the limelight. His job is rather to be light, to
get out into a needy and dark world and there to shine with the light of
I mention this word 'distinctness' at once, in order to avoid possible
danger from the word involvement. We are to be involved but we must not
be identified. We must get involved, but we must also remain distinct, for
this is what the Word of God insists upon. I think of the experience of
Zerubbabel when he returned from the captivity and gathered the remnant
of God's people together around the rebuilt altar so that they could get
to work on rebuilding the house of God. He was approached by those who claimed
that they worshipped God as he did, and they wished to come in with him
on the building enterprise. They received from Zerubbabel what we can only
call an uncommonly dusty answer. Zerubbabel refused to welcome them; he
refused to allow them into any sort of partnership at all in this holy enterprise.
He has come in for quite a bit of criticism by some of those who have written
commentaries on the book of Ezra, charging God's servant with reverting
to exclusivism, with setting up unnatural barriers between the Church and
the world and with being bigoted in refusing such an offer from those who
were interested and wished to help. I cannot accept their reasoning. They
completely misunderstand Zerubbabel's spiritual position. If the Church
does not retain its distinctiveness, it loses all its influence, because
it becomes one with its environment. Unless we are prepared to follow the
example of Zerubbabel and build the community of God's people in its distinctness,
then the Church [45/46] will lose all capacity
to exercise an influence of testimony in the world.
Even when the salt gets into the food, it retains its distinctness. Years
ago we used to run a vegetable garden, with my wife as the brains and I as
the brawn of the outfit. One thing we seemed to be able to grow in abundance
was runner beans. We had so much more than we could eat that we decided to
preserve some. Those were the days when deep-freezes were not known, so
the only thing for us to do was to salt them down. This was a very simple
operation, consisting of storing layers of prepared beans and salt alternately
in an earthenware pot, topping the whole with a good layer of salt, and then
putting the pot away in the store. About Easter-time, thinking that we would
like a dish of the previous summer's beans. we just fetched the pot and
removed the beans. But we could not cook them like that; we had first to
put them under the tap and give them a good wash. The salt had become impregnated
into the beans all right, yes, it had become involved and was exercising
an influence; but it had also remained thoroughly distinct and for our purposes
it had to be washed out. It had become involved, but it had remained distinct.
And the same is true of the light. Light does not mingle with darkness. When
light comes in, darkness vanishes. While the Lord Jesus spoke of the world,
He made special reference to a city and to a house (verses 14-15). In a dark
world this lighthouse testimony must have its distinctness; it must be a
life different from that of the world. The Church is a community which is
different from any fellowship that the world knows. It is a city. And it
is a household, which has a mutual enjoyment and sharing of the light within
The third feature of this influence is urgency. The Lord said that we
are "the salt" and "the light". This is not a case of one salt
among many, or of one light among many, but the only ones. If there is going
to be any salt in the earth, then it is His Church, and if there is going
to be any light in this world, then it must be in and through us. In this
way He gives dignity to His Church, but He also charges it with a responsibility.
Salt stays corruption. Light dissipates darkness. Without the Christian
in the world, there is nothing to stay the world's corruption: without the
Christian in the world there is nothing to banish the world's darkness.
God has no alternative.
Now surely we must feel this urgency for ourselves and, feeling it, must
face the question as to what is the practical issue of all this. So far we
have spent our time circling round the subject in order to get our focus
correct. Involvement, distinctness, urgency, yes -- but what does this mean
in practice? What is this involvement which leaves us distinct and which imposes
such urgency? Without it, the world will sink into increasing corruption.
Without it there will be nothing which can banish the world's darkness. But
what is it?
THE MEANS OF THIS MINISTRY OF INFLUENCE
The time has come for us to consider our opening verses: "Blessed are
ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of
evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for
great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which
were before you" (verses 11-12). These are clearly linked to the verses of
our previous study, for they have in common the same word, 'Blessed' or 'Happy'
which introduces the beatitudes. Like the groups which combine the inward
reality of spirit with the outward reality of a righteous life, these two
verses present to us the same combination.
Jesus said: "Blessed are you when men shall revile you ... for my sake".
Here is an outward mark of the believer. It is quite distinct and it is the
mark of Jesus on his life. Everything he does, he does for Christ's sake,
and this is the distinctive outward thing which the observer can see. And
this Christlike life inevitably brings upon it a measure of persecution.
So these happy ones have a life which is characterised by the outward distinction,
but which is also marked by an inward reality. Jesus said that such are to
rejoice because a great reward awaits them in heaven. This heavenly reward
even now brings into their life a supernatural quality, for it is not natural
to rejoice under persecution. Here is a touch of heaven upon the life of
the saints still on earth. They have an inward assurance of being right with
God, and this brings joy even in the midst of trial.
In the earlier verses Jesus presented the totality of blessings in a
general way, but now He makes it quite personal. 'This,' He says, 'is
your life.' Verses 3 to 10 were verses of description: 'Blessed are
they.' That is the general truth, applying to [46/47]
all who are so described, but in verses 11 and 12 He makes the general truth
applicatory, saying: "Blessed are ye." He is talking to us personally. He
has described the members of His kingdom. He has explained that the sum and
substance of their life is that inwardly they are utterly dependent upon
God and outwardly they are intent upon living a life of righteousness, and
now He says: 'You are such a people. I am talking not only about you but
to you.' Jesus took the beatitudes seriously. He said: 'I have described
that life. Now I apply that life. It is for you. It is not an ideal life
that belongs only to a never-never world; it is for you in the here and now.
These are to be the dimensions of your life.'
You notice that He gives Himself the central position. There is a lovely
change from verse 10 to verse 11, for whereas in the first place He speaks
of suffering "for righteousness sake", He then goes on to speak of the blessedness
of those who suffer: "for MY sake". Not that there is any real difference.
"For righteousness sake" is the same as "For My sake", because He is the
Man of Righteousness. The law which He lays down is not a series of rules,
it is not like the 'Bylaws' which are written and placed on a board so that
they can be observed. No, in giving the law, Jesus gives us a verbal portrait
of Himself, for the life of righteousness is life according to the pattern
Remember, the subject is Influence, but He does not talk about techniques,
He talks about people, and those people are true disciples. He says that
they are opposed, persecuted and misrepresented. They bear His reproach. In
the total experience of the people of God this does not often mean actual
violence, but it always involves suffering reproach and being misrepresented.
So they are an opposed people. But they are also an unimpeachable
people. No charge can stick! All the charges against them are false. Jesus
takes it for granted that we will be criticised but He also relies on us
that the criticisms will not be valid. And thirdly these disciples are
devoted -- devoted to Him personally. Jesus is the focus, centre and
substance of their lives. It is for His sake that they suffer as they do,
and for that reason they will suffer gladly. In the fourth place they are
supernatural . Under opposition and persecution their experience is
of joy and exceeding gladness. Members of His kingdom are spiritually sustained
and supernaturally empowered, because they are gripping on to heavenly realities.
It may sound clever to talk of people who are 'so heavenly minded that they
are no earthly use', but to be frank, the testimony of the Scriptures is that
in order to be of any earthly use we must first be heavenly minded. It is
those who live in the heavenlies, says Jesus, who have the supernatural mark
that they are disciples and members of the kingdom, and who are able to rejoice
and be exceeding glad through every earthly trial borne for His sake. Fifthly,
Jesus speaks of them as prophetic; they are in the authentic prophetic
line of men who suffered because they stood for God. The 'disciples' of verse
1 are finally described as the children of the heavenly Father (verse 48).
This is the prophetic line, the line of those who speak for God, for that
is what prophecy really is. In Acts 2 prophecy is defined as declaring the
wonderful works of God in an intelligible language. That was what happened
on the Day of Pentecost, and what should be happening all the time with us
who are truly in the prophetic line and called to declare the wonderful works
of God in a language which all can understand. So the last point which the
Lord Jesus makes is that we are in the prophetic line, as though this were
a kind of extra bounty to all the rest.
The means of influence, then, is people -- 'You are ...' (v.13). The
'you' is emphatic, and it is coupled with the verb 'to be'. It is not that
you have a technique, a method, an approach to the situation, a church organisation
or a series of meetings. The Lord is not talking about media, but about people.
You, and you alone; you and none else, you are the light of the world by
being in Christ what you are. It is the people who are living according
to verses 3 to 12 who are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Verses 11 and 12 unfreeze the beatitudes and bring them into warm and living
human experience. The blessed life is the salt. Now saltness is invisible;
it belongs to the secret nature of things, so Jesus warns against the appearance
without the reality -- salt without savour. But as we have repeatedly said,
the whole weight of these verses is concerned with an inner reality before
God and a corresponding outward manifestation before men.
Did I not tell you that Jesus calls us to that which is much more personal
and more homely than those high-sounding words with which I began -- monasticism,
social activities and missionary endeavour? But though it is simple it
[47/48] brings a tremendous challenge to us all. It is something
which we cannot side-step. It is nothing less than a life of inward fellowship
with God and of outward manifestation of the likeness of the Lord Jesus.
This is God's means for the ministry of influence in the world.
PATIENT TEACHER AND SLOW DISCIPLES (1)
"Jesus saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? do
ye not yet perceive, neither understand? have ye your heart hardened? Having
eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When
I brake the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of
broken pieces took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among
the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces took ye up? And
they say unto him, Seven. And he said unto them, Do ye not yet understand?
" (Mark 8:17-21)
IN these remarkable verses we have nine consecutive questions which the
Lord fired at His discomfitted disciples. Now the Lord was perfect in His
patience; He could, when necessary, be angry, but He was never irritable
or impatient with any man. Yet on this occasion He challenged His disciples
in very strong terms, putting to them a series of questions which revealed
their total lack of understanding. What does it all mean to us?
To appreciate the whole incident we need to go back to what is said about
His walking on the water and calming the storm, for the comment on their
unbelief on that occasion is: "they understood not concerning the loaves,
but their heart was hardened" (Mark 6:52). It appears, therefore, that the
hardening of heart of which the Lord complained, was connected with the feeding
of the multitudes.
The miracle of the multiplication of the five loaves to feed five thousand
men seems to have a central place in the Gospels. It took place at Passover
time, right in the middle of Christ's years of ministry. It is the only miracle
described by all four Evangelists and John, who rarely repeated what is
related in the Synoptic Gospels, actually places it as the central of the
seven sign-miracles of which he writes. Furthermore this was the central
of the only three miracles which dealt with nature; the other two being
the changing of water into wine and the withering of the fig tree. This
miracle was done entirely at the Lord's initiative. No one asked Him to feed
the multitude, and no one exercised any faith in the matter. In the case
of healings there was always the voiced or unspoken appeal, and there was
a ground of faith in the ones concerned which co-operated with Christ's power;
but in the cases of the five thousand and the four thousand, nobody asked
Him to act. Indeed it was the other way round, for it was He who told the
disciples to undertake the task of feeding the hungry: "Give ye them to eat".
To them this command seemed quite absurd. They appear here as only having
five small barley loaves and two fishes, but in actual fact they had nothing
at all, since the later Gospel of John discloses that it was a lad who supplied
this small contribution. "Give ye ...". How could they? And yet, in the end,
they did! For while it was the hands of the Lord Jesus which broke the bread,
and His divine power which multiplied it, yet the groups of hungry people
were actually ministered to by the Twelve, who received the supplies from
their Lord and then carried them to the people. A major challenge to all
of us who desire to be servants of God is how to obtain real spiritual 'bread'
which can give life and strength to those to whom we minister. Nothing else
will do. This is the Lord's command to us also: "Give ye them to eat". It
is humanly impossible, and yet He says that this is what we must do. What
seems to have appalled the Lord Jesus is that, having participated in this
miracle and then had it confirmed by repetition in the feeding of
[48/49] the four thousand, the disciples gave no evidence at all
of having profited spiritually. Somehow their hearts were hardened. This
was so amazing since, as Jesus reminded them, they themselves had profited
so much from the miracles, collecting their share of the food on both occasions.
The Lord forced them to confess this, that at the first they had each collected
a personal basket of what remained and on the second occasion there had
been seven large baskets, or hampers, over. Even so, they seem completely
to have failed to grasp what He sought to teach them.
Now before we come to the vital spiritual implication of these miracles,
it may be profitable for us to consider the practical lessons which are to
be learned from the very detailed account which is given us. There are those
who are so overwhelmed by the spiritual, or mystical, lessons to be learned,
that they are in danger of ignoring the practical points. For my part, I
am greatly impressed by the balance of spiritual and practical teachings in
the Bible. Even concerning these the Lord may have to challenge us as to
whether we have become stale or insensitive to truths which are very familiar
to us. "Have ye your hearts hardened?" He may say to us too, "Do you not
yet understand?" I suggest, therefore, that before we concentrate on the purely
spiritual, we should consider some of the practical lessons which our patient
Teacher urges us to learn,
1. The Time -- The Passover
It was no accident that this happened just at the time of the Passover.
As John's Gospel makes it clear, the Lord had much spiritual truth to communicate
concerning Himself as the Bread of Life when He did this miracle. So, clearly,
He chose to work the wonder at a time when it was particularly relevant.
In His evangelising ministry He did not forcefully rush people, but found
suitable pegs upon which to hang His words. We should do the same. It may
do more harm than good to say the right thing in the wrong way or at the wrong
time. If we look for it, and perhaps wait for it, there will usually be some
timely link for our contact with others. The truths here conveyed were deeply
spiritual, but the Lord chose the time and opportunity wisely and, if we
wish to win men for Him, we must do the same. It is he who is wise who wins
2. The Place -- A Desert
Here the consciousness of need was made acute by the unhelpful surroundings
in which they all found themselves. I find it particularly absurd that commentators
should try to explain away this miracle by saying that a spirit of camaraderie
came over the crowd so that men shared their own provisions with those who
had none. They would hardly have had such a satisfying meal if it had been
like that, and there certainly would have been nothing over. What is more,
we are told that it was evening and that all the people were extremely hungry.
Now it is surely reasonable to presume that had any of them possessed food,
they would have eaten it during the day.
No, this was a mighty miracle and the scene takes us back in mind to
the days of Moses, when God's people were breadless in an inhospitable wilderness.
Then they needed a miracle -- and God did the miracle for them. Now, on a
smaller scale, these conditions were repeated, and the same God -- through
His eternal Son -- made full provision for their needs.
3. The Host -- Christ Himself
The Lord Jesus never had a home of His own here on earth. Had He possessed
one, we can imagine how readily and how often He would have used it for the
purposes of hospitality. This whole matter of showing hospitality is greatly
stressed in the Bible, and is clearly something which is pleasing to God.
Spiritual conversation and exercises are supremely important, but people
often need more than a message; they need food and fellowship. On this occasion
the Lord Jesus was the Host in a big way. He made sure that his thousands
of guests were comfortably seated and that, even though the fare was simple,
every single one of them had as much as he could have wished.
It must have caused the Lord deep satisfaction that, though He did not
have an earthly house, He could gather such a crowd around Him and not only
speak words of life to them, but share a meal out there under His Father's
heaven. As all who practise it will find, this kind of open hospitality
adds a new dimension to Christian life.
4. The Food -- Pilgrims' Fare
The disciples wanted to be rid of the responsibility of arranging about
food, but we must remember that food is an important part of life. There
are times when it may be profitable to fast, but normally we need nourishment
for our bodies, a fact clearly recognised by our Lord in His pattern prayer,
for He followed the highest worship [49/50] with an
immediate request: "Give us this day our daily bread".
Bread was the simplest and most satisfying provision there in that wilderness.
The Lord always gives appropriate food. At the wedding in Cana it was wine,
for the purpose was rejoicing; here, however, it was bread, the substantial
fare needed by pilgrims. It is a notable point that Jesus always fed His
disciples on bread and fish.
5. The Measure -- Fullness
It has, alas, become a common idea that those who live a faith life must
of necessity adopt meagre measures financially. We note here, though, that
although there was such a large crowd, yet everybody was fully satisfied.
It was as though Jesus was saying: 'My Father is like that: He is the God
of abundance'. Later on, in not dissimilar matters of material needs, the
apostle Paul affirmed: "But my God shall fulfil every need of yours, according
to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus". What is more, on this occasion there
were twelve baskets left over, as though to emphasise this divine munificence.
I know of a servant of God who took his car to a garage and urged the
owner to do as little as possible, giving as his reason the fact that he
was only a preacher. To his surprise, the garage man turned on him indignantly,
saying: 'Only a preacher! Then surely your Boss has got far more than I have'.
Yes, Christ's measure is always fullness.
6. The Order -- Quiet Harmony
Where the Lord Jesus is in charge there is always quiet order. There
was no queueing up for self-service and no fighting to be first, in fact
no jostling at all but perfect order. Yet it was not a harsh and forcefully
imposed procedure; the order was not of a military style. As a matter of
fact the word translated "in ranks" (6:40) is said to apply to beds of flowers.
The colourful garments in the green setting of the grass seemed more like
a garden than a wilderness, as the disciples moved quietly and efficiently
among the seated groups as though in the enjoyment of the harmony of a well-kept
garden. So should God's people always be, with things done: "decently and
in order". Probably this explains how they were able to calculate the numbers,
for the Lord had ordered the people to be arranged in groups of fifties and
hundreds. Our God is not a God of chaos, clamour and disorder, but One of
efficient and attractive harmony.
7. The Sequel -- Tidying Up
Now it is not impossible that the tired disciples might have been very
glad to melt away with the crowds, leaving bits and pieces of food everywhere,
but in any case they had no liberty to do so, for the Lord sent them round
once again, this time to gather up all the pieces, leaving the place as they
had found it. It is true that there was deep spiritual significance in the
twelve baskets full of fragments, but in addition to this we can surely
remark that they left no litter problem. What a good testimony this provided,
and what an important one too! It is so easy for God's children to have
a good time together and then thoughtlessly to leave a mess for others to
clear up. The disciples were not allowed to do this, but were prompted to
tidy up after them. Is not the same Lord in charge of us today? Is He any
less concerned that true spirituality should be accompanied by thought for
others and worthy behaviour in practical matters than He was then? Surely
not! There is so much for us to learn and we are such slow disciples, but
our Patient Teacher will persevere with us, and may even persist in our case
with some of those penetrating questions: "... do you not remember? Do you
yet not understand?"
(To be continued)
THE MINOR PROPHETS
John H. Paterson
THE prophecies of Zechariah form the longest of all the books of the
Minor Prophets. In them are echoes of a number of the other books; there
are familiar figures who reappear, like Micah's Shepherd-King, and many
similarities of theme and setting between Zechariah and Haggai, two prophets
who shared the task of encouraging the people involved in rebuilding the
[50/51] Temple in the period 530-520 B.C.; that
is, the period covered by the book of Ezra. But there are fresh and distinctive
features too. Zechariah has much to say of a Priest-King, who is obviously
related to the Shepherd-King -- the ruler who stands as intermediary between
God and His people. And Zechariah's prophecies contain a large visionary
element. They are, to the Minor Prophets, what the book of Daniel is to
the "Majors", or the book of the Revelation is to the New Testament.
Throughout the Bible, visions fulfil the important function of revealing
to men who are in touch with God the spiritual realities behind the appearance
of everyday things. To men living among the frustrations and apparent contradictions
of human affairs God says, in effect, 'The forces that really shape
human life are not those you see. In this vision you will get a glimpse of
what is actually happening. Real control is from heaven.' In the time
of Zechariah there was a need for such a reminder as this, for appearances
were very discouraging indeed. Israel and Judah had been eliminated from
the political scene and, for as long as most of God's people could remember,
their enemies had been triumphant. Now here were a handful of refugees who
had returned to the ruins of Jerusalem, trying to rebuild with their pathetically
inadequate resources a Temple which it had taken all the wealth and influence
of Solomon to create in its original form. No wonder that they felt depressed!
Zechariah was sent to encourage them. His few harsh utterances were reserved
for those who had failed in the past (1:4; 7:11-13; 10:3). To his contemporaries
he brought a message of promise. The God of Zechariah is a God of Hope
. And this hope is quite specific. So often hope, even Christian hope,
is no more than a vague, Micawberish expectation that something will turn
up. In the play Lion in Winter, the author has the King say to his
queen, 'We're both alive. For all I know that's what hope is.' The fact was
that the King could not think of anything to hope for, except to
stay alive on the off chance of something happening -- which is a fair description
of a good deal of human hope. It is an emotion devoid of content. But Zechariah
was offering much more than this and, in particular, hope of the very things
which, at this moment of their history, they most needed: peace, protection,
Peace: never within the memory of the oldest Jew had there been peace
in Palestine, unless it was the peace that results from death and destruction.
For decades, Judah had been the target of every passing army or warlike power,
and there had been no way of warding off the blows. Now God promised to
take a hand against these enemies and to be a Protector: "I will be unto
her a wall of fire round about" (2:5), for "he that toucheth you toucheth
the apple of His eye" (2:8). And prosperity: this was a mirage that never
became real -- the land was devastated after countless wars. But now God
was sending them the message that "my cities shall yet overflow with prosperity;
and the Lord shall yet comfort Zion" (1:17 R.V. margin). Even more remarkably
perhaps -- at least to a Jew -- peace and prosperity would bring yet another
unexpected benefit: popularity. No nation has been more hated, by more enemies,
than the Jews. Yet here God promises hope of restoration even in this respect:
"In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold ... of
the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have
heard that God is with you" (8:23).
HOPE, then, is quite specific; the God of hope does not hide behind vague
generalities which enable him to renegue on his promises or claim, like the
Delphic oracle and the modern fortune-teller, that his words should have
been understood in some different allegorical sense. But if hope is specific
as to its content, it is equally specific as to its conditions
. It is these conditions that form Zechariah's other main theme and that
were revealed to him in the visions he received.
There were, in the first place, the visible conditions that seem to militate
against hope and its fulfilment. The most obvious of these was the
total lack of resources available to God's people. They had neither materials
nor strength. It was indeed "the day of small things". Another hindrance
was the harmful effect of generations of bad rule; they had had shepherds
who had led them astray. But an even more serious potential threat to hope
was to be found in the spiritual realm, as the vision recorded in chapter
3 reveals. Not only had God's people human enemies to contend with, enemies
of whose presence they were all too well aware, but there was a spiritual
Adversary too, standing in the very presence of the Lord (3:1). How could
hope survive so long as Satan's accusations could be levelled at the best
It is always a condition of hope with God that we face the realities
of our situation. The prospect [51/52] looked bleak,
but Zechariah's visions provided the answers. The answer to poverty of resources
comes in the vision of Chapter 4 -- a set of lamps connected directly to
an inexhaustible supply of oil. The condition of hope is that we recognise
that our own resources are not, and never can be, sufficient, but that His
are limitless; that there is an invisible source of oil supply: "Not by might,
nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O
great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain" (4:6-7).
The answer to the Accuser's charges of unworthiness and inadequacy is
shown to Zechariah in the vision of Chapter 3. There is not even a clean
garment for the high priest to wear -- not a hope of ceremonial purity, let
alone moral perfection. But the Accuser's mouth is closed (3:2), because
God Himself will provide the necessary cleansing: "Behold, I have caused
thine iniquity to pass from thee ... and I will remove the iniquity of the
land in one day" (3:4-9). It is a condition of hope that righteousness and
freedom from the Accuser's charges can never be produced from our own resources;
they must be conferred upon us by God, by His sovereign action in grace (4:7).
So Paul is careful to say, "Not having my own righteousness ... but that
which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God through
faith" (Philippians 3:9). Hope is conditional on the Accuser being silenced
by an answer which he cannot refute.
The Permanent Conditions of Blessing
BUT there were other visions given to Zechariah, and we must note the
lessons of these, too. Taken together, they suggest that there are certain
permanent conditions which govern the relationship between God and His world,
and which therefore must form the basis of any realistic hope. The first
of these is what we may call accountability. It is seen in the vision
of the men and horses "whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through
the earth" (1:10), and that of the flying scroll (5:1-4), which carries the
word and judgment of God to every place and individual. It is the principle
that everything that happens in His world is under His eye and subject to
His scrutiny; that it is all precisely weighed and controlled by Him. So
God complains that He was only a little displeased with His people, and had
intended for them only a light punishment, but that the surrounding nations
had taken the law into their own hands, as if they had the authority
to decide on and regulate the punishment (1:15). But God keeps exact and individual
accounts; as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, "All things are naked and
laid open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (4:13). Unless they
remain so, there is no basis for hope.
The second standing condition of hope is contact; contact, that
is, between God and His people. There had been long periods in the history
of the nation when He and they had drifted hopelessly apart; when sin and
disobedience and carelessness on their part had broken the links between
them. There was the period when every man did that which was right in his
own eyes, and went his own way (Judges 21:25). There was the time when, even
with all the machinery of Temple and priesthood in operation, Judah drifted
so far from God that the discovery of His law in His house came as a total
surprise to the king (2 Chronicles 34).
The machinery existed precisely to prevent this from happening. It was
the role of the priest in Israel to keep open the contact between God and
the people. And when they entered the Promised Land, He even gave them a
geographical location where He could be found. It was to be in Jerusalem
that contact would be kept with their God. In rebuilding the ruined city
and Temple, Zechariah's contemporaries were not merely reviving past glories
for reasons of sentiment or national pride; they were renewing contact with
God. Jerusalem mattered -- as the point of contact which He Himself
had prescribed (2 Chronicles 6:4-6). The priesthood mattered -- for
maintaining the link with God; hence the alarm at seeing the high priest
in a filthy garment, in which he could not possibly enter the presence of
God (3:3). The 'popularity' of Jerusalem would ultimately depend on this
fact of contact with Him: "We have heard that God is with you" (8:23).
The third condition of hope, then as now, is holiness. From the
very first days when men had contact with God, it had been understood that
this was a condition of their approach (cf. Exodus 3:5), and in the Tabernacle
which was the forerunner of the Jerusalem Temple, the law of holiness was
absolute. It was the law of the visionary Temple which Ezekiel saw (43:12).
And at least a part of the distress and discouragement with which Zechariah
had to contend was due to the hopelessness of ever cleaning up the ruins
of [52/53] Jerusalem to the point where the ritual
holiness of the Temple could be re-established.
But that, of course, was a misunderstanding of how holiness comes about
in the first place. It assumed that you can start with rubble and broken
walls and somehow make them holy. This was a mistake that Haggai had already
dealt with (2:12-13). God Himself is the only source of holiness; His presence
can make anything holy and without it our efforts have no effect. Our
responsibility is to preserve the holiness which He creates by that presence.
So long as He remains, all is well. The very bells on the horses' harness
will have written on them HOLY UNTO THE LORD (14:20). And so long as we keep
in mind this basic condition of His presence, remain He will.
"Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell
in them, and walk in them; ... wherefore come out from among them, and be
ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will
PREPARATIONS FOR THE KINGDOM
(Studies in 1 Samuel)
9. THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAISE (Chapters 19 - 21)
WE now come to the time when Saul definitely turned against David, and
consider the first period of trouble which culminated in David's gathering
the needy and oppressed Israelites to be with him in the cave of Adullam.
It is generally thought that many of David's psalms were written at this
time of rejection and persecution. We can well believe that this was so,
but in most cases we lack proof as the psalms are not dated. There is, however,
one psalm which we are specifically told was composed at this time. It is
Psalm 34, the heading of which is: "A Psalm of David, when he changed
his behaviour before Achish (mg) and he departed."
These words make a direct connection with the opening sentence of 1 Samuel
22, which marks the end of this present study. So we have in this psalm a
personal commentary on the sufferings of those days. We note that he had
been almost overwhelmed by fears (v.4), by all his troubles (v.6) and by his
many afflictions (v.19). The opening of our chapter 19 presents him just like
this: "And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the spear;" (1
Samuel 19:10). The man of God is now a target for murderous hatred. No wonder,
then, that in Psalm 34, as also in quite a number of other psalms, we are
confronted with the problem of the troubles which come upon the Lord's anointed.
These afflictions are quite undeserved, indeed their sufferer is called 'righteous'
(v.19). This is not self-righteousness, nor does it here refer to the imputed
righteousness of the justified; it is simply an affirmation of the fact that
David was not wrong, he was right. He was right, and yet he was distressed.
How can this be? The man of God himself cannot understand it, hence the oft-repeated
voicing of the enquiry, 'Why' which is found in a number of the psalms: "Why
standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?"
(10:1). Does anybody know the answer?
Our first comment must be that this is no merely intellectual problem.
The background of these psalms is genuine human suffering; their words arise
not from meditations in the study but from agony on the battlefield of life.
Poetry they may be, but they are not the contrived writings of theorists
or pious mystics, but rather the exclamations and discoveries of a soul in
deep trial. Why do the righteous suffer? David might well wonder. Here is
an upright young man, called and anointed by God, tested and approved in faith's
conflict, and yet homeless and on the run. He is not even back in the obscurity
of the sheepfolds, which was discipline enough for any man with his calling,
but has been made a fugitive, a displaced person, forced out into the woods
and fields, suspected and hated, and it is completely undeserved. Why does
God not intervene? Can it be that the Spirit's anointing means nothing?
[53/54] Human reasoning would say that God would not allow such a
thing to happen to His anointed. But it was happening. God was allowing it.
Well might David ask: 'Why?'
We who know the whole story realise that the cave of Adullam was only
the beginning. There was more -- and worse -- to come. Mercifully David did
not know this. What he did know, as he gathered his forces together at Adullam,
was that the Lord had marvellously helped him so far. In spite of everything,
the eyes of the Lord had been upon him, and the Lord's ear open to his cry
(Psalm 34:15). And this is all we need to know. The future is mercifully
veiled from our eyes, too, but past mercies give us hope and enable us also
to affirm that we will bless the Lord at all times.
It may help those who are passing through similarly bewildering experiences
or who yet have acute problems awaiting them, to consider David's case and
make a few suggestions as to why God was dealing with him in such strange
ways. May I suggest three possible reasons?
1. To give him a testimony
This may seem very simple but it is most important. David's testimony
now became: "My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the meek shall hear
thereof, and be glad" (v.2), and this has a permanent value. Could any of
us have endured without the comfort and support of David's psalms? Have they
not brought succour to millions of tried believers? It is not irreverent to
the Lord Jesus, the Son of man, to ask how He could have won through without
the aid of these Scriptures. He did not try to do without them; He fed upon
them; to Him they were not just David's testimony about God, but God's testimony
through David. The explanation of the troubles, then, is that through them
God is writing a testimony in the life of the sufferer. This testimony is
meant to instruct others: "Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach
you the fear of the Lord" (v.11).
2. To teach him obedience
'How can you teach us, David?' 'Because I myself have first learned.'
'And where did you learn, David? What college did you attend, or what course
did you study?' 'I learned in the school of suffering.' As a matter of fact
there is no other school to prepare a man for this kind of ministry. Even
the Lord Jesus had to learn there: "Though he was a Son, yet he learned obedience
by the things which he suffered.' (Hebrews 5:8). There was a sense in which
there might have been something lacking in terms of sympathetic helpfulness,
if the Lord Jesus had not been buffetted by men and devils as well as crucified.
It was His experiences of trial which qualified Him for the throne. He is
now King not only because He has been crowned, but also because He has qualified
and been made perfect through suffering. Otherwise He could have lived a
sheltered earthly life and still suffered death as Redeemer. He could have
been spared the sneers of men, the irk of His disciples, the treachery of
Judas and much more of pain and distress which were not actually a part of
His sacrificial death. But He was not spared. He did not ask to be spared.
In the same way, David could not be spared. His rejection and affliction
were necessary to qualify for the kingdom. And many centuries later, when
the tried believers of Pisidia were comforted in their tribulations by the
apostles who themselves bore the marks of bitter persecution, they were told:
"that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts
14:22). We must. This is the only way. There is nothing less than
a kingdom at stake.
3. To ensure his dependence
In a fit of mad rage Saul threw his javelin at David. What did this mighty
overcomer of Goliath do? He just ran away. He would not fight with Saul.
Then Saul sent messengers to David's house to capture him. These men were
not 'the Lord's anointed', so this time we might have expected the warrior
David to show his mettle and make short work of his attackers. No, once again
he ran away, and this time escaped by being let down through a window by his
wife, Michal. Readers of the New Testament will be reminded of how Saul of
Tarsus was let down in a basket over the wall of Damascus. One gets the impression
that this was a painful and never-to-be-forgotten experience for this man
who was a born fighter. It may well have been a humbling experience to both
men. Both were men of fearless courage. Neither of them would naturally have
thought of turning their backs on their enemies. So this further lesson which
young David had to learn was that of not taking up arms on his own account,
but rather seeming to behave as a weakling when God so required. Nobody likes
being let down, but every aspirant for the throne has to accept it.
We now pass into chapter 20, and find David forced to continue this life
of a hunted fugitive. Jonathan did his best to champion his cause but was
threatened with the same javelin for his pains. In fact Jonathan could neither
prevent nor shorten David's period of persecution, though he did what he
could to help David bear it. Even our best friends cannot do more than Jonathan
did, but how grateful we can be if they do as much! Neither Jonathan nor
David understood the reason for this suffering as we, with hindsight, now
do, but David could and did learn valuable lessons through it all. May we
try to grasp some of these?
LEARNING TO PRAY
The first lesson is the importance of prayer at all times. Psalm 34 stresses
this matter of crying to the Lord, stressing how often David did so. In 1
Samuel 20 a beautiful scene is described, for it tells us of how two men
were in a partnership of faith. "And they went out both of them into the field.
And Jonathan said unto David, O Lord God of Israel ..." (verses 11-12). Surely
this suggests a most moving relationship of two men with each other and with
their God. One moment they are talking to each other, and the next they address
the Lord directly. How near and real God must have been to them! Jonathan
did not suggest a prayer meeting, nor did he invite David to stand still
or kneel down. No, it was much more spontaneous than any set form. They walked
together and together they walked with the Lord. They talked together and
in an effortless way talked to the Lord.
How good of the Lord to provide David with such a self-effacing prayer
partner at this juncture of his life. There is tremendous value in having
a friend with whom you can pray. Ask the Lord to give you a prayer partner!
And see how Jonathan helped David still more. When he was in the wood, Jonathan
came to him there and; "strengthened his hand in God" (23:16).
We now return to 19:18 to enquire where it was that David escaped to.
Where was the first place he thought of, and what was the first name which
came to his mind? It was Samuel, and David went straight to Ramah, for that
was where Samuel had his home. Ramah means 'a lofty place'. Happy the person
who in an extremity of need has a trusted friend who lives in close fellowship
with God, as Samuel did in his lofty place. The old prophet would hardly
have much practical advice for young David. He could not provide a permanent
home for him, but had soon to send him away again. But before he did this,
he was able to teach David the spiritual reality of the lofty place. One of
the names which is used again and again in the psalms is the Most High. David
had to learn not just that God is High or Very High, but that He is the Most
High. 'How high are your problems, David? However high they may be, the Lord
is higher. Are your enemies so great that you feel hemmed in and overwhelmed?
Rise up in faith to the lofty place, and rejoice that your God is higher
This was not a lesson to be learned in classes or by a correspondence
course; it can only be learned in the school of suffering with Christ. Yet
the sufferer usually needs a human counsellor and comforter, and this is
what Samuel was to David. The prophet was in the closing stages of his life;
he no longer judged; he does not seem any longer to have been making his
circuits; but in his watchtower with God he was able to lead the younger
man into some of the secrets of spiritual life. We are told that David went
to Samuel: "... and told him all that Saul had done". So Samuel was a good
listener. There are not many listeners about, though there are plenty of talkers.
When you are in a tight corner, when your soul is overwhelmed, as David's
was, it is a tremendous comfort to have someone who will listen to your woes.
May I recommend the Lord Jesus to you in this capacity? He is the best listener
of all. And tell Him the whole story. We tend not to do that. Our approach
to the Lord in prayer is so often stilted and artificial. I am quite sure
that we would get more help if we told the Lord what is happening and how
we feel, treating Him just as David treated Samuel. The young fugitive probably
argued that it was so unfair and undeserved. It was all wrong. It was strange
of God to allow it. Well, if we feel like that, we may as well tell the
Lord so. The psalmist did. He will not be offended, but will help us. It
was David who said: "Trust in him at all times, ye people. Pour out your
heart before him" (Psalm 62:8). When you have done that, you can go on.
David had to do so. Samuel could not keep him there. David had much more
schooling to go through before he became the kind of man who can rule for
God. We, too, have to go out and move on. God has no use for hothouse Christians.
But all will be well if we have learned to commit our cause to the Most High,
as David did. [55/56]
LEARNING TO PRAISE
However prayer was only half of the lesson learned at Ramah. The other
half was praise. This seems clear from the beginning of Psalm 34, where
he states his determination on this respect. He did not say: 'I am henceforth
going to pray all day. I am going at all costs to hold on in prayer.' No,
what he did say was: "I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall
continually be in my mouth." Since the psalm was written after Ramah, we
may conclude that this resolution was formed there, and from 1 Samuel 19:19
onwards we are given a sensational story of the power of praise. It happened
when Saul sent a posse of men to apprehend David in Ramah. The men arrived,
breathing out hatred and slaughter, and they went away praising the Lord.
The king therefore sent a more hardened group who would not so easily be
influenced by an emotional praise atmosphere, but the same thing happened.
They, too, joined in the praises of the Lord. The third group must surely
have been composed of Saul's toughest men, but these, too, were completely
conquered. It was not as though they just slank away furtively; they actually
joined in the singing. Some incredible thing must have happened. Saul, however,
was quite unconvinced until he himself had visited Ramah. He went there with
murder in his heart, but he also succumbed to the power of God operating
through that worshipping group, and became as harmless as a babe.
What did all this mean? So far as I can understand it, these experiences
demonstrated the tremendous spiritual energy released by united praise. It
was as though the power of God was so real at Ramah that the powers of darkness
were forced to flee in disarray. There is an illustration of this in 2 Chronicles
20:20-21, where Jehosaphat, faced by a hostile army and with neither might
nor skill to combat it, gained a notable victory by setting the singers
in front. We may well imagine that it was this kind of praise which defeated
Saul's efforts to destroy David. It is true that the Ramah group are described
as prophesying, but this probably means that they were declaring the wonders
of God's grace and power. Perhaps this is what is meant by the phrase: "the
high praises of God". The effect at Ramah was quite remarkable; it not only
demoralised Saul's soldiers, it defeated the king himself. Nobody took his
armour and weapons from him; he laid them down voluntarily. He even took
off his clothes. He had no status and no strength. He could not even stand,
but lay down naked all night. It was as though all his evil powers had been
paralysed by praise.
This is not a fairy story. It really happened. And it illustrates the
lesson which David learned among that consecrated band at Ramah, the lesson
of praise as a weapon. Now we can understand why David's psalms so often
speak of blessing the Lord. Such blessing both satisfies the heart of God
and strikes a mighty blow at His enemies. Even Saul, who was possessed by
an evil spirit, found himself powerless in the presence of God, and constrained
to join in these ecstatic utterances. We do not know how closely their experiences
at Ramah correspond with modern 'speaking in tongues', but if in any way
it did approximate to such manifestations, then it is just as well to note
that it happened to a man who was a spiritual reprobate, and it did him no
lasting good. If a man with an evil spirit, who could expose himself and lie
indecently naked all night, had a temporary experience of this rather ecstatic
praising, then we will not put too much value on the gift merely as a gift.
True praise, however, praise with the spirit and with understanding, is
a secret of spiritual victory. The story is a challenge to us. No wonder
we are so often defeated. No wonder that the Church is so powerless. How
can it be otherwise if we do not make it our first business to honour the
Lord by our united praise?
LEARNING FROM FAILURE
So David went on his way, taking the double lesson of prayer and praise
from Ramah. Unfortunately he did not always put into practice what he had
learned, as we discover in chapter 21, which does not reveal him in a very
good light. Instead of trusting wholly in the Lord, he succumbed to our common
fault of trusting in man. Ahitub was a good man, you may say. He was a priest
who could surely help. Well, David had to resort to a lie to get his help.
However much you try to excuse him and justify his behaviour, the fact remains
that when he said that the king had sent him, it was an untruth. Later on
the psalmist sings: "Remove from me the way of falsehood" (Psalm 119:29).
Yes, indeed. This was not a fitting procedure for a man anointed to be God's
king. God would look after him without his having to fabricate stories to
get men's help. It is true that Christ defended his eating of the shewbread,
because the Lord's purpose was to stress that human need means more than
ceremonial observance. In that David was right, but [56/57]
could not David have found bread without lying to get it? Would it not
have been better to have suffered hunger than that? One thing leads to another,
so his next request was a weapon. This also was explained away, for although
he had run away in haste, it was not because of any urgent errand, as he
pretended, so it was at least a half lie. The priest could only suggest the
sword of Goliath which was by the ephod. What was it doing there? Surely
it was a lasting testimony to the fact that one small pebble used in faith
in the name of the Lord was superior to all the weapons and armour of men.
It was a testimony to the Lord's victory. "There is none like it," commented
David. The words come strangely from him, above all people. He took it, but
did he ever use it? I wonder! He took it when he tried to join the army of
Achish, he would have needed it there, but after that, his heart smote him
and he returned to the simple faith of which he sang: "Blessed is the man
that trusteth in him". He also sang that: "They looked unto him, and were
radiant" (Psalm 34:5). I question whether there was any radiance about David
at that moment, and feel that if he were not ashamed then he ought to have
been. If it seems strange to comment in this way, it is as well for us to
remember that God's greatest servants have had their times of failure, and
indeed that we sometimes learn more from their failures than from their successes.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that at that time David was out of
harmony with the will of God, for we are told that: "he fled that day for
fear of Saul" (1 Samuel 21:10). No wonder that in his psalm he testifies
to having been delivered from all his fears. In the end he learned that
lesson, though not without further suffering and shame. For we read on and
find that he: "was sore afraid of Achish" (v.12) and then we have the worst
of all, for the Lord's anointed is described as acting like an idiot (v.13).
For the moment he had completely lost his testimony. But for divine grace
that surely would have been the end of his story, and a most ignominious
end at that. But, as his psalm tells us: "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18) and concludes: "The Lord redeemeth
the soul of his servants, and none of them that trust in him shall be condemned"
So, by the mercy of God, David was not allowed to have a place in the
court of Achish, but was thrown out and sent on his way to start afresh with
God. One can imagine his sigh of relief. Never mind Goliath's sword! Never
mind the protection of the king of Gath! He would go into a cave, but he
would go there with God. He had made his blunders, as we all do, but he
had learned his lesson, and that is what God most desires in us all. "O
fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him"
(v.9). This, so we are told, is what David sang when he departed from Achish,
and he kept on with the same song and found that dispirited and bewildered
Israelites gathered to him and found help from him as he did so. His history
from now on will contain an oft-repeated and significant phrase: "David
enquired of the Lord" (1 Samuel 23:2). Even if we are the Lord's anointed
we will end up in some ignominious situation if we fail to do that. But
if we have really learned that lesson, then we are well on the way to being
prepared for the kingdom.
(To be continued)
WHERE DO YOU STAND?
"And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him,
Where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9)
"Behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him,
What doest thou here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:9)
"I John, ... was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of
and the testimony of Jesus." (Revelation 1:9)
THERE are times when we are called upon to give an account of where we
are and why we are there. This is what happened on the three occasions which
are described in our texts. The two in the garden were so challenged by God
Himself, as was Elijah when he fled from Jezebel. Then there was John who
commenced his book of the Revelation by declaring where he was when
[57/58] he received that revelation, and why he was there.
The Lord's purpose in the case of the garden at the beginning was represented
and symbolised by the tree of life. Everything circled around it, as may
be verified by the reference in the final book of the Bible, the Revelation.
So the original man's position was challenged as to its relationship with
the Lord's testimony of life.
Elijah was the great prophet of life. How much he had to do with the
meeting and overcoming of death! Eventually he went up in a whirlwind, untouched
by death and triumphing gloriously over it. Here, however, we read of his
being questioned as to his position, and pressed by the Lord to state just
why he was where he was at that time.
There can be no doubt about the spiritual position of the apostle John.
His whole ministry had been concerned with the testimony of Christ's triumphant
life, and it was for that testimony's sake that he found himself in the isle
of Patmos. There was no need for the Lord to ask any questions as to the
whereabouts of His faithful servant, for He Himself had permitted the banishment,
but others might ask and, if they did, John had his answer. He was where
he was for the sake of the testimony.
Each of these three men had a different relationship to the testimony
and each had to declare just what his position was. Which immediately confronts
us with our own personal feelings. Where do we stand? We have Church associations
and activities, we have doctrinal beliefs and Bible teaching, but the real
question is whether we are in the good of a real and effective testimony
to triumphant life in Christ. This is not just a matter of orthodoxy or sound
evangelism, but rather of the impact of victorious life upon the kingdom
of spiritual death.
ADAM and Eve had lost their living, God-appointed testimony. They hid
themselves from the Lord. This means, of course, that there had awakened
in them a conviction as to their maladjustment to the will of God. There
was something gravely wrong with Adam's position. When the Lord asked: "Where
art thou?", it was not because He did not know Adam's whereabouts so much
as a stern challenge concerning his departure from the spiritual relationship
with Himself which the man had previously had.
In the first place Adam was in a wrong relationship because of disobedience.
He had been given light, had been instructed as to his proper procedure,
but he had wilfully disobeyed. Perhaps he thought that he could get something
better by taking this wilful way, or conversely that he would have lost by
not taking it. This latter was certainly the suggestion made to him by the
tempter. In any case, though, the point of the story is that, having been
given light by God, he had disobeyed it and so fallen out of vital relationship
with the Giver. So far as he and Eve were concerned, the door was now closed,
and it would require another and a different 'Adam' to re-open it. It is
a very serious thing to be shown the Lord's purpose and then to reject the
light and sin against it. Adam tried to make excuses, as we so often tend
to do, but the Lord cannot be put off in that way. No excuses will pass with
Him. Adam is out of touch with God, that is where he is, and the inevitable
consequence is death.
ELIJAH, of course, is in quite a different category, and yet, for the
moment, we sense a certain peril in his position. His difficulty was not
disobedience but unbelief. This man who had maintained such a glorious testimony
of victorious life, was longing to be quit of it all. 'It is no good. Please
take away my life, Lord', was what he said, although he was the one man in
the whole of the Old Testament who could be expected never to succumb to such
a death-wish. Yet here he was, the man who had proved the power of God's
life in miraculous ways, now pleading with God to let death have its way
I am not criticising Elijah. Far be it from me to reproach God's servant,
for under much less trial, I have sometimes been tempted to feel that it
was not worthwhile to go on. Under such Satanic pressure, it was no wonder
that the prophet lost heart, became discouraged, and longed to get away from
God, of course, would not accept Elijah's proffered resignation. He first
challenged him as to why he was where he was, and then listened while Elijah
poured out his mournful story. So often when we do that, there is not much
in it, and even the telling of our tale makes us realise how wrong we are
in our hasty reactions. With Elijah. God went on to point out that his assessment
of the situation was quite erroneous: "I have yet seven thousand ...". It
was as though the Lord said to [58/59] him: 'Your
claim to be the only one is quite wrong. Go back again. Prove once more that
the testimony which you bear is one of triumphant life. You are not finished
yet, but when you are, the testimony will still go on.'
WITH John the story is quite different. Adam had perfect surroundings,
but he lost his testimony. In his cruel banishment John had just the opposite;
but he was where he was both because of and in the good of this testimony
of triumphant life. It is not environment which decides this issue, it is
not circumstances, but rather personal relationship with the Lord. Adam in
Paradise departed from the testimony: John in Patmos maintained it. Think
of his situation, his position, and then remember how he sat down and wrote
Spirit-inspired words about the river of the water of life. This victim of
Roman persecution, exiled and oppressed, penned his book of Revelation which
abounds with references to life. There can be no reproach about John's location;
he was in the right place and was there for the Lord.
Some of us may complain about our situation or surroundings, feeling
that where we are and in our circumstances there is no opportunity for an
expression of victorious life. The best remedy will be to re-read Revelation
1:9, and to get inspiration from this old warrior who could sing so triumphantly
even in the midst of outward opposition. Here was a man who could answer
the challenge as to his whereabouts by declaring that he was in the good
of the testimony of throne life.
Really the matter resolves itself into a matter of being or not being
in the will of God. Adam's position, even though at that time he was still
in the garden, was that he was out of the will of God. Elijah's location
was due to doubts and questions about the will of God. John could claim that
for his part he was in the centre of God's will. Men would call his situation
unhappy and unjust, but he was able to rejoice as he accepted God's overruling
permission of the tribulation which had overtaken him. That explains the
flow of living ministry which went out from Patmos to Asia and to the world,
from that day to this. He knew where he stood. and God was with him.
Now in each of these three cases, the element of Satanic power and guile
was very obvious. The Devil is one who deals in death, and he is the fierce
opponent of the testimony of life. He saw that if Adam ever became a partaker
of incorruptible life, he would forever have lost his chance with the human
race, so he made his supreme bid to get in between man and God, and he did
so by deception. By this he tricked Adam into a break with the will of God,
robbed him of his birth-right, and spoiled the purposes of God for that first
In Elijah's case it was Jezebel who was Satan's agent in putting intolerable
pressure on God's servant. Elijah withstood and overcame this enmity so well
and for so long, but then in physical weariness and soul disappointment the
prophet temporarily succumbed. So it was that Elijah felt unable to withstand
the pressure any longer and decided to ask God to relieve him of any further
responsibility for the testimony. This can happen to us all. It is not a
matter of the kind of deception which defeated Adam and is not a direct temptation
to flagrant disobedience, but the sheer pressure of doubting whether we
can go on any more. Satan never lets up in this unceasing endeavour to get
a man out of the place where he ought to be, either geographically or spiritually.
He knows that only those who abide in the will of God are any match for
There is no question about the evil nature of the powers which made John
a prisoner on Patmos, and it is specifically stated that it all arose from
John's faithfulness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. The apostle,
however, refused to capitulate. Adam might defy the will of God. Elijah might
doubt it, but he would glory in it. This is the way of certain victory; to
accept God's will, however painful it may be, and to trust Him in the certain
faith that His will must triumph in the end. John stood his ground, maintaining
his testimony in the face of every foe, and as a consequence has exercised
a mighty ministry of life right down the centuries.
For us it must be the Lord's testimony that determines our position --
not things, not people, not arguments and not apparent failure. There is,
of course, a battle. It is never easy to maintain that testimony of life,
but it is all important that we should do so. At any point we may be challenged
as to why we are where we are, and we can always face that challenge if we
keep true to the Lord in every circumstance. Any sense of question, any lack
of assurance, any capitulation to the tempter, will rob us of our testimony;
but provided we can affirm that we are standing for God where we are, then
we need fear no challenge. [59/60]
RELEVANCE OF THE CROSS
"For I am determined not to know anything among you,
save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." 1 Corinthians 2:2
THE Corinthian believers, in common with believers everywhere and in
every age, had come to Christ out of a completely egocentric society. It
is one thing to know that we are recipients of a new life; it is another
to realise all the differences of action and attitude this new life requires.
The Corinthians began to find that they had to adjust their lives to a completely
new set of standards.
Man's natural life is centered in self. The new life we receive in Christ
is centred in God. The gospel means a change from self-centred living to
God-centred living. This change does not take place without a struggle. In
fact the struggle will continue till every part of us has been brought into
complete subjection to Him, and that will only be when we see Him face to
face. As we remain open to the Spirit we constantly enter into a deeper realisation
of how the Cross must deal with our self life.
The Corinthians, in the worldly society of their city, had lived a life
of self-seeking. This was the standard on which they had been brought up.
They knew no other. Their relationships, whether in society or in their homes,
were used for self-gratification. Personal whims and fancies ruled their
thinking, and any standard of conduct was allowable if these fancies were
to be achieved.
In his letter to them, Paul shows that the very privileges God gives
us can be misused to exalt self rather than Him, and this will be inevitable
unless the life we receive in Christ is worked out in the spirit of the Cross.
The Cross was the ultimate proof of our Lord's subjection to the will of
the Father. To us the Cross means a readiness to use all that God gives for
Him alone, not for ourselves. This was the basis of the struggle in which
the Corinthians were engaged. Paul looks at different aspects of their life
as a church, and shows the chaos that results when the principle of the Cross
The Corinthians had been privileged to sit under a most competent ministry.
Paul, Apollos and Peter were all outstanding servants of God. They brought
a message which could have contributed much to the church's unity and understanding
of the Lord. The Corinthians, however, were interested mainly in the personal
pleasure they received from their favourite minister. The result was that
the ministry led to argument and dissension. Paul reminds them that the power
of God is in the Cross. Only when we allow the ministry to lead us to Christ,
with a concern greater for Him than for ourselves, will it bring light and
The section of this letter which deals with the gifts of the Spirit must
be one of the most perused parts of the Bible. The two chapters 12 and 14
are, however, divided by the great passage on love in chapter 13. The supreme
expression of God's love was the Cross. Without the Cross, the inspiration
received from the use of spiritual gifts is merely transitory. The Cross
introduces us to an understanding of the mind of God, an understanding which
comes through the Word. Without this, no subjective spiritual experience can
1 Corinthians ends with a great defence of the resurrection. The resurrection
was the outcome of the Cross. Had our Lord not died, He could not have risen
again. Paul's concern is to show that apart from the Cross, our spiritual
life is meaningless (15:17). There is no spiritual life without spiritual
One of the most insidious temptations we face is, as it was with the
Corinthians, the temptation to remove the Cross from our faith. When the
Cross is in fact removed, all becomes void of vitality. The most competent
ministry of the Word becomes a dead letter. Christian fellowship is emptied
of meaning. Relationships with the family or among the Lord's people are
debased. Our witness to the world becomes irrelevant. Our Scriptural order
and patterns become a sham. The whole subject of the gifts of the Spirit
leads to confusion.
There is a lot of seemingly orthodox but crossless Christianity in the
world today. May the Lord deliver us from it! [60/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (1)
"(and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the
Father )" (John 1:14)
AS we read our Bibles we find that every now and again the translators
have surrounded a parenthetic passage with double brackets -- ( ). These
parentheses have no part in the flow of the narrative, as can be seen by
simply omitting them from the reading and finding that there is no gap or
break. Since, however, they are part of the inspired Word of God, they must
not be omitted or overlooked. It may even be that the opposite is true, and
that the Spirit has inserted them just there because they have a special
value. I think this is the case, and propose to consider some of them in
this way, beginning with the phrase quoted above from John 1:14.
The passage is a wonderful one. It tells us that: "the Word was made
flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth". This, however, could
have been a general statement, true enough but quite impersonal. The words
in brackets represent a most important addition; they inform us that John
himself witnessed and appreciated this revelation from the Father. John
closes his Gospel with the same insistence that he knew what he was writing
about, since he had actually been present and enjoyed the spiritual reality
of what had taken place (John 19:35 and 21:24). He not only saw the glory
of the Incarnation, but also the glory of the Cross.
For him this parenthesis was all important. What is more, the values
of it have overflowed to the Church everywhere. We cannot even imagine a
New Testament lacking John's contributions, especially his Gospel which
is full of spiritual wealth and is quite unique. We might never have marvelled
at the water turned to wine if John had not seen Christ's glory at Cana
of Galilee and believed on Him. If John had not been at the Cross, then
we might not have known that the Lord's triumphant cry at the end was: "It
is finished", and we would have had no personal testimony concerning the
mysterious flowing of blood and water from the side of the crucified Saviour.
All this, and very much more, represents the blessings which have accrued
to us because John had this vital personal experience of beholding the Father's
The lesson, therefore, of this significant and inspired parenthesis is
the supreme importance of having a personal revelation of God in Christ.
It is not enough to have accurate information about the Lord Jesus -- we
must see Him and know Him for ourselves. For John this was the secret of
personal blessing, and it was also the basis of the long and costly witness
which he faithfully bore right through to the isle of Patmos. But more than
that, it gave him a mighty ministry of blessing to others. Because John so
saw Christ, multitudes of others have come to see that glory for themselves,
enjoying comfort and inspiration as a result of John's first-hand testimony.
Let us note this lesson. Let us make sure that we can put ourselves in
the inspired double brackets, so that we also may be powerful and fruitful
witnesses to the glory of the only begotten of the Father.
"THE LORD OF HOSTS IS WITH US:
THE GOD OF JACOB IS OUR REFUGE."
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