If You Want to Know More About Speaking in Tongues &
the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, You're at the Right Place...
A Person Has Not Truly Been "Born Again" Without it!
“And we know that all things work together for good
to them that love God, to them who are the called
according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
By John David Clark, Sr.
How wondrous is the thought of eternal life with God, a life of perfect bliss and rest. What unimaginable joys must greet those who awake to that glorious domain, into which neither sadness nor affliction will be permitted. Such is the promise of God to every person who believes in His dear Son, Jesus Christ.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Rev. 21:4).
Blessed as we are to be given such a promise, it is tragic that we should ever have needed the promise to be given, and not rather to have continued in that uncorrupted, happy state to which man was first created. Blessed as we are that the brunt of the Creator's fearsome wrath against sin fell upon His own innocent Son, the heat of that rage which so burned Jesus' soul is felt a little by all men in the vanity, difficulty, and necessity of labor (Gen. 3:17-18; Eccl. 5:15-17), and in the certain knowledge, and painful foretastes, of death (Gen. 3:19; Eccl. 2:17-26). And though "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the (promised) glory", until that glory is given, these present sufferings must be dealt with. For in righteous response to man's disobedience, the Creator has so ordered this present earthly life that for every soul conceived into being, suffering is an inescapable certainty. There simply is no such thing as living on earth without being hurt. In overwhelming measure, God has defined this life with pain, loss, hardships, and disappointments (cp. Eccl. 1:13). As a consequence, one's attitude toward suffering cannot be estranged from one's attitude toward life. And undeniably, one's attitude toward life cannot be estranged from one's attitude toward the Creator and Governor of life.
What a man thinks about God penetrates and colors every act of his living. In particular, it plays a determinative role in his ability to endure and to overcome the suffering which will certainly confront him. There are misunderstandings about God which make the overcoming of suffering more difficult. The greater the misunderstanding, the greater the difficulty. On the other hand, there is a divine understanding which promotes and hastens victory over suffering, an understanding which is demonstrated in the faith and patience of Joseph, Job, our Lord Jesus, and others. From the testimonies of these holy men we may learn how to face with steadfast hope the difficulties which will certainly rise against our lives and try the fiber of our faith.
BELIEVING WHAT THEY BELIEVED
We are exhorted by the writer of Hebrews to be "followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb. 6:12). But if we are to follow those of greatest faith, must we not know God as they knew Him? For faith is a trusting in. It is not a vague hoping, nor is it reliance upon a nebulous, divine Somebody. Faith is a real knowledge of, an assured looking to. Then, in order to be followers of their faith, must we not trust God to be what they trusted Him to be? Yes, if we are ever to be of like faith with them, our understanding of their object of their faith - God - must be like theirs. After all, it is what God is which serves to form the foundation, the reason, for true faith. The faith of the holiest men and women did not rest upon presumption or empty theology. The hurt and loss inflicted upon them was far too real ever to have been endured, except that their faith was anchored in an equally real knowledge of God.
This is more than a collection of the stories of suffering saints, for we will pay careful attention to what they thought about their suffering and about God's part in it. Otherwise, we might only stand on the sidelines cheering them on, but not really understanding the game.
This first book in the series entitled ALL THINGS focuses on the suffering of the righteous, rather than the suffering as chastisement for sin. What is the righteous to do, say, and think, when he or she has done what is right, yet suffers? In order that more of the saints will give answers to this question consonant with the answers given by the biblical saints of greatest faith, is the objective of this entire work. In shaping our faith to theirs, we will surely not fail to partake of the healing and deliverance which crowned their determined trust in God, knowing, as they knew, that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are the called according to His wise and often hidden purpose.
“Moreover he called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came: the word of the Lord tried him” (Ps. 105:16-19).
Joseph was only 17 years old when his envious older brothers sold him to foreign slave traders. All his pleading and weeping did not move them from their decision to rid the family forever of "this dreamer." What anguish of spirit Joseph must have suffered! As the camel caravan carried him away from his sneering brothers and the familiar green fields of Canaan, the young man must have been torn in his soul and tormented at the prospect of slavery and death in some distant land. The reader of Joseph's story is easily drawn to empathy with him and to feel indignation toward his wicked brothers. It is the reader's first, natural response to want them to be held responsible for their wicked deed.
But the mistreatment of Joseph by his brothers is only the beginning of his sorrows. Having become chief servant to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officers, Joseph was falsely accused by Potiphar's adulterous wife, when she could not lure Joseph to her bed. Innocent Joseph was summarily condemned to the dungeons of Egypt. Again, it is easy for the reader of the story to feel disgust for Potiphar's deceitful wife and to feel continued indignation for the injustices suffered by this righteous young man. Yet, Joseph's afflictions still were not ended. After Joseph was cast into prison, Pharaoh's chief butler was cast in there, too. Through a series of events, Joseph's righteousness and innocence were demonstrated to him, and prior to the butler's release and restoration to the personal service of Pharaoh, Joseph implored him:
“But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon” (Gen. 40:14-15).
Who has not felt the quick stab of contempt for the released butler when the following terse report is read?
“Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him” (Gen. 40:23).
When we read Joseph's story, our sense of justice is provoked by the injustices inflicted upon him. Our spirits are heated with empathy for Joseph and resentment toward his persecutors. Should we translate such feelings into words, they would be something like, "If I were God, I'd slap those evildoers down and take suffering Joseph in my arms and comfort him." And we justify ourselves in such feelings with the certain knowledge that Joseph was suffering, and that those who made him suffer were evil.
But the spirits of "righteous indignation" which the reader feels while reading Joseph's story are the very spirits which Joseph had to overcome in order for God's will to be accomplished in his life. The authority of Egypt's throne, which God intended to place into Joseph's hand, was of such magnitude that it could not be entrusted to Joseph as long as there remained in his bosom any of the ungodly spirits of self-pity or desire for vengeance. But Joseph could not resist those spirits as long as he felt mistreated. And he could not help but feel mistreated as long as he held his brothers and the others responsible for his miserable condition.
This was, and is, one of the Almighty's most terrible disciplines, reserved for those ordained to the highest callings. But by the grace of God, along that agonizing journey into Egypt, or perhaps at some time in prison, in those desperate, lonely nights of half-sleep and weeping, young Joseph wrestled the spirits of self-esteem to the dust and, as his fathers had done before him, dared to believe in God's purpose in all things, even in those things which seemed to be against him. Because contention comes only where pride grows (Prov. 13:10), Joseph was liberated from all contentiousness - even toward those who hurt him most - when through bitter disgrace and sorrow the stubborn, flickering sparks of pride were finally extinguished. By his own experience Joseph had to learn, without having any Scriptures to confirm it, that "the Lord trieth the righteous", and that if the Lord had chosen to use Joseph's brothers, or anyone or anything else, in the process of that trial, well, that was the Lord's prerogative. In one of those peculiar twists of truth, Joseph had to humble himself to confess that whatever happened to Joseph was none of Joseph's business, that Joseph's life was not his own, but God's. In the light of that revelation, malice vanished. How could Joseph resent what had been done to him when he realized that his own God was responsible for its being done? Whom any longer could he not love, regardless of what part he had played in God's plan for Joseph's life?
It Was Not You
Twenty-two years after being sold as a slave, Joseph, now thoroughly subdued under the mighty hand of God, and having become ruler of Egypt, faced his brothers again when they came to purchase food for their starving families. His words reflected the mystery of faith which he had learned:
“Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go our from me. And there stood no man with him while he made himself known unto his brethren. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence. And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither: for GOD DID SEND ME before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And GOD SENT ME before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now IT WAS NOT YOU THAT SENT ME HITHER, BUT GOD. . .” (Gen. 45:1-8).
None of this implies that Joseph's faith required him to pretend that there had been no harm done to him. But Joseph's faith in God inspired Joseph to believe that those who were doing him harm were not in control of his life. He knew his brothers made the deal to sell him away, but he committed his life into the hands of God and would not allow vengeful spirits to persuade him to believe that his brothers could have sold him without God's knowledge or without God's will. Therefore, even though Joseph had been unjustly hated and abused both as a child and as a man, the very same things which man intended for evil against him, Joseph trusted that God also intended to happen - but for good!
Because Joseph understood his enslavement to be God's work, he was able to serve his master Potiphar "as unto the Lord." Because he saw his imprisonment as God's work, Joseph could be the humble, hard-working prisoner he was. In both places, Joseph was acknowledged by those who ruled over him to be honest, capable, and devoted, as a servant, to them (cp. Gen. 39:1-6). This is what patience is: unrelenting continuance in well doing, in times of suffering as well as in times of pleasure. Joseph's continuance in well doing, his patience, was the expression of his faith in God. Through his brothers' cruelty, Joseph found himself a slave in a strange land, yet he became the most diligent and trustworthy slave Potiphar ever had. Through a wicked woman's deceit, Joseph found himself a despised prisoner, yet he made himself the hardest working and submissive prisoner in the king's dungeon. Joseph demonstrated his complete trust in God by his good works to men, obeying, thousands of years before, Peter's holy exhortation:
“. . .let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1Pet. 4:19)
Yes, Joseph believed that it was God who sent him into Egypt as a slave. It followed then that God was responsible for Joseph's being cast into prison and that is was God who let him linger there, forgotten by men, while with the firey knife of suffering He engraved mercy, truth, faith, and patience into Joseph's trouble spirit. And it was God who at last raised the bruised saint up out of the brambles and made him "a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt" (Gen. 45:8). Joseph learned to see God's hand in it all.
The human beings who carried out the various details of God's plan for Joseph's life were not worthy to bear the responsibility for what happened to him. It was God's plan. And to God belongs all the glory. As far as responsibility is concerned, it is irrelevant that Joseph's brothers thought it was their idea to sell him into slavery. As far as responsibility is concerned, it is irrelevant whether or not Potiphar's wife or Pharaoh's butler felt any guilt for Joseph's long imprisonment. And before God gave Egypt's power to Joseph, God made certain that Joseph knew that. Otherwise, upon seeing his brothers, Joseph probably would have slain in a fit of vengeance the very ones whom God had all along intended for him to save.
So far as the judgment of others is concerned, that wasn't Joseph's place. God alone was responsible for what He permitted others to do to Joseph, and God alone knew to what degree, if at all, any of them should be punished. When their father Jacob died, Joseph's brothers became fearful that Joseph would at long last retaliate for what they had done, but:
“Joseph wept when they spake unto him... and Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them” (Gen 50:18-21).
Joseph was able thus to love and to care for his brothers because he never lost sight of God's love and care for him. Joseph did not believe that his brothers were responsible for selling him into Egypt and that God only later managed to work it out for good. No, from the beginning, God "meant it unto good." That is to say, God controlled and had a purpose for every event which befell Joseph. Joseph wouldn't have wanted it, and God wouldn't have allowed it, to have been any other way.
For all their faith in God, the biblical characters of greatest faith were always those, like Joseph, of greatest suffering. Who suffered more than Jesus, or Job, or Paul, or David? Yet, in what is possibly the most astonishing paradox of true faith, all these holy men, who knew God best, looked to Him not only as the Giver of life and hope and healing but also as the Designer of every suffering which they faced. Hardships never caused righteous men and women to doubt God's power over their lives. On the contrary, hardships always served to remind them of it.
But why? What revelation of the Almighty inspired such a faith? After studying the stories of suffering saints which you will read in this book, I realized I didn't know. To acknowledge that Joseph held no one but God responsible for his sufferings is not the same as to understand why he did so, or why it was right for him to do so. So then, what did Joseph know about God which inspired him to believe what he did?
Please don't expect any high and mighty theology. There will be none. For, like the proverbial man who pursues happiness around the world, only to return home and find it, the revelation of God which inspired the faith of the righteous biblical characters, I found, after long search, to have always been before me in full, clear view truths so simple that their very simplicity causes them to be overlooked and their value to suffering saints to be vastly underestimated. The rock from which rose the highest and mightiest faith is the revelation contained in the very first words of the Bible:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).
To the saints who found themselves in the darkest pits of suffering, what that single truth taught them about God's goodness and power and wisdom formed the foundation upon which all their hopes were secured. The revelation of God as Creator, when rightly understood, is of such commanding majesty that it demands utter faith even as it inspires it. That wondrously simple, majestic revelation is of such purity and holiness that it purifies and sanctifies the very faith that perceives its meaning. To that end, now having Joseph's faith as a point of reference, we take time to consider the meaning of the revelation of creation. Then, entering into the stories of Job and Jesus, we may more fully appreciate their labor.
“He left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with gladness” (Acts 14:17).
The Goodness of God
An astute and witty observer of life has speculated that the last reality which a fish would discover would be water. A fish could easily notice the water plants swaying with the currents. Other fish gliding around him, obviously, he would see. Sol's bright light and the dark floor beneath him, the fish would easily perceive. Even garbage, carelessly tossed into the fish's home would attract his attention. But that unseen, life-sustaining, life-enveloping substance surrounding him, that absolute necessity for his very existence - water - a fish might well never discover at all.
Of course, this is a parable concerning mankind. For in a sense which is not far from literal, we all do swim out our lives in the pervasive, sustaining, enveloping goodness of God. To the philosophers of Athens, Paul said of God:
“. . .he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things
. . .That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from any of us: For in him we live, and move and have our being. . .” (Acts 17:25b, 27-28).
As with the fish, the mundane realities of our world hardly escape our notice. Other people and the concerns of daily living demand much of our attention. Human garbage, literal and figurative, is commonly and easily seen. But that upon which our very life rests, that "first cause", that elementary reason for our being - the goodness of God - is often among the last things realized or appreciated by men. Some, alas, never discover it at all.
Nevertheless, it is only of God's goodness that life on earth continues. It is God "who giveth rain unto the earth, and sendeth waters upon the fields" (Job 5:10). It is God who "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good" (Mt. 5:45).
“He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart. . .” (Ps. 104:14-17).
How true are David's words:
“The earth is full of goodness of the Lord” (Ps. 33:5).
Because God Is Good
If mankind merely evolved, if our existence is the result of pure chance, then we do not live because God chose for us to live. If mankind is simply another plateau of an ongoing evolutionary process, then God is just as pleased that we not be, is just as pleased as some other specimen of evolutionary impulse exist in our stead. There is not in that case any bond of love between God and man. It is said that in the evolutionary scheme, the odds against our coming to exist are virtually incalculable. Certainly, anyone who could, and then would have stacked the odds against us to that degree could not have been eager for us to live, could not have dearly loved and provided for our kind.
But God did create us. And He created us only because He desired to create us. It is of immense spiritual value for us to appreciate that. In creating us, God was coerced by nothing. He had nothing suggested to Him, was advised by no one as to how or to what extent creation was to be accomplished.
“Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Ps. 135:6).
We human beings did not have to be. There were no laws of physics which demanded our formation. We exist only because God wanted us. Out of the endless possibilities available to his mind, God chose for us to be. Of His own heart, He conceived the idea of man and then made a conscious choice that man should live. We are creatures of His design, our contours fashioned by His hand. And grace upon grace, He was pleased to bestow upon man the sacred honor of being created in His own image. Man has dignity and wisdom and dominion in the earth because it pleased God to give it to him. We are man only because God is good.
It is compellingly clear that God created what He wanted to create, no less and no more. On the seventh day, He did not scan with remorse His completed creation, ruefully wishing He had done something better or differently. Quite the opposite is true. As the sun lowered upon the sixth and final day of creation, God paused to look,
“And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).
In accordance with this, we must acknowledge that when God created man, He created man the way He wanted man to be. It pleased Creator to make man healthy and sinless and to give him dominion on earth. It was His heart's desire that man should be greatly and continually blessed. There is comfort available to us in the knowledge that God created man well and happy on purpose.
The men of greatest faith believed that the goodness of God - His mercy, His justice, His compassion, etc. - were as certain as life, for life itself was irrefutable proof of it. In whatever evil circumstance they found themselves, they could not surrender hope, for they had committed their lives into the mighty hands of their unchanging Creator, believing that His will, as it was in the beginning, is that men should be happy, healthy, and pure.
The Power Of God
As creation itself is the surest and most constant witness of the Creator's goodness, so it is with His terrible power. That God wanted to create is one thing, but that God could create what he wanted is altogether another. To believe in God as Creator is to believe in a good God of incalculable power and authority. So awesome is His creative power, that God cannot lie. It is a power so terrible that whatever God says, is. Even the breath that proceeds from His lips performs deeds.
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7).
“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth...Let all the earth fear the Lord: let the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:6-9).
The magnificent implications of this truth are being decreasingly appreciated by the body of Christ because (1) the doctrine of creation is increasingly allegorized or neglected and (2) we confuse ourselves by applying the term "creative" or "creator" to men. Biblically, to speak very strictly, it is idolatrous to believe that man or any other created being can create anything. Man can invent. Man can rearrange particles of what God has created. But there is only one Creator, and there is none other even remotely like Him. Any being who can lie cannot create.
No Other Source
King David's reflection upon the power of the Creator which was demonstrated in His creation inevitably led him to marvel at God's providence for men. Of particular interest was God's delegation of power to the beings which He had created.
“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou has made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou has put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:3-6).
As David observed, man's dominion on earth was graciously granted by God. The great King Nebuchadnezzar was given the mind of an animal and for 7 years ate grass with cattle in the fields until he learned, in Daniel's words,
“. . .that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever HE will” (Dan. 4:25).
But concerning dominion and the delegating of authority by God, there is much more to be considered than governments of men. For just as certainly as man would be powerless on earth had God not given him power, the same may be said of every other creature in every other realm. Whether earthly power, heavenly power, or powers of spiritual darkness, all life and all power exists only by the will of the Creator. There is no other source.
Every physical or spiritual strength of man, of nature, of fallen or faithful angels, even the power of Jesus Christ himself, all power, all authority, all strength, is subservient to God's power. No person, beast, or spirit has any power of its own or has received power ultimately from any other source than God. It came from God. It is a gift of God. And all creatures, great and small, carnal and spiritual, owe him all fear and thanksgiving for it. To fail to pay that debt is sin.
To Bless Or To Curse
Numerous gods with various fabricated personalities were worshiped and feared in the ancient world. Not just the way of isolated barbarians, polytheism dominated the entire ancient history of man. The learned and the ignorant, the noble and the base, governors and the governed - virtually all men in all nations - were immersed in this kind of spiritual darkness. The dying request of Socrates, an intellectual giant among men, was that an offering be made to the gods for his sick friend, Plato. The businesses associated with idolatry were both prosperous and secure (cp. Acts 19:23f). Among the most famous buildings on earth in those days were temples dedicated to particularly revered gods, such as the brilliantly sculptured Parthenon in Athens.
But the idolatry of the ancient world did not actually lie in the erecting of idols or temples or even in the performing of worship rituals for those other imagined deities. Those things were only the outward expressions of idolatry, for idolatry is a spiritual disease. The real idolatry, the real disease, lay in fearing that those gods had power, that they, like God, could do whatsoever pleased them, that they, like God, could determine and effect changes in the circumstances of the universe, that they, like God, could bless or curse whom they would. In short, the real spiritual disease of idolatry is believing that there exists another like the Creator. Pleaded Jeremiah concerning other gods:
“Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil; neither also is it in them to do good” (Jer. 10:5).
The revelation of God as Creator overcame the idolatrous spirit of those ancient times because included in that revelation is the truth that all power, whether to heal or to afflict, to lift up or to cast down, to save or to destroy (and therefore all fear and all worship) belongs to God.
It was during a blunt condemnation of Israel's fear of other gods that the Spirit of God, through Moses, proclaimed these stunning words:
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand” (Dt. 32:39).
It was neither God's nor Moses' intent to intimidate or harass the Israelites. God's goodness rules that out. The purpose of these words was to remind the people of the Creator's absolute power over His creation and, so, to expose the foolishness of fearing or serving any other but Him. And the faithful in Israel rejoiced that that was true:
“My heart rejoiceth in the Lord. . .There is none holy as the Lord; for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God. . . The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh the poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. . . for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's and he hath set the world upon them” (Hannah, in 1Sam. 2:1-8).
Hannah gloried in God's power because she trusted in His love. But how did she glorify Him for His power? By acknowledging His authority over every circumstance of human life. Throughout Israel's history, in opposition to the idolatrous spirits of their times, the prophets declared the singular power of God:
“. . .I am God, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded. I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images” (Isa. 45:22, 7, 12; 42:8)
Strange as it may sound to our ears, the righteous men of faith would not have so much as considered the possibility that their whole lives - including their sufferings were being directed by any other than God. It was the idolatry of believing that other gods were at work in their lives which ruined Old Testament Israel, as it was the righteousness of proclaiming that Israel's life was in God's hands alone that set the prophets apart.
This truth is of such abiding authority, however, that it not only challenged ancient idolatrous notions about God, but challenges modern notions as well. It is as distasteful to many modern ecclesiastical palates as it must have seemed queer to the ancient world, for the saints to confess that God is God of all. But it is irrefutably true now as it was then. And we are not of the same faith, not followers of that faith of the holiest and wisest of men, until we see, as they saw, all our sufferings as well as all our comforts to be determined for us by God. Anything short of that is too reminiscent of the ancient world not to be labeled idolatrous.
For the saints living now, this is probably the most difficult truth to believe about God. For we are living in an era wherein, as during the latest Old Testament times (cp. Mal. 2:17), the Creator is characterized as being ever gentle, never stern, ever loving, never doing harm. The power of God to afflict is virtually denied by the spirit of our age. Satan, instead, is almost everywhere honored with responsibility for the suffering of the saints. Unwise instructors have taught the saints to believe in God only as the God of all blessing and, in effect, to trust Satan to be the god of all discomfort. But you will never find any such doctrine in the mouth of righteous biblical characters. Later, we will speak more fully on this matter.
The Wisdom Of God
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).
Faith in God's goodness and His power, as secure a foundation as those provide, is not enough to sustain us in the hardest trials. For if we know only of God's desire that we be nothing but blessed and of His power to accomplish that, then there is room for bitterness that He does not go ahead and do it. It is "a threefold cord" which is not easily broken, and when with faith in God's goodness and power we are bound to Him with faith in His wisdom, there is no seat left in our hearts for any disconnected visitor.
God has promised that He will end all suffering forever for those who love and obey Him. "He will make an utter end", wrote Nahum the prophet, "Affliction shall not rise up the second time" (1:9). For the faithful in Christ, the Apostle John foresaw that
“. . .neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7:16-17).
There are, of course, questions as to why we must wait for those promises to come, and why we must through all our lives be confronted by sorrow, disappointment, and pain. We know that Jesus himself was "made perfect through the things that he suffered" (Heb. 2:10;5:8-9) and, so, that we might be made perfect is one of God's reasons for suffering to continue. But that is actually beside the point, for even though some answers to our questions concerning suffering are revealed, we could rejoice even if we were completely ignorant, so long as we knew that God knows all things. And it is the revelation of God as Creator which assures us that He does know all things, for He could not have created all things without His own knowledge.
Consider The Lilies
It is only by God's wisdom that birds take their flight (Job 39:26). Only by His wisdom do the stars gather in the evening skies (Job 38:31-32). By His wisdom do the clouds darken to water the earth (Job 38:25-27). By His wisdom, microscopic unions form successive generations of men. By His wisdom seasons change, beasts of the earth are nourished, men and women can think and feel and ask, and fires can turn leaves into rising columns of white and grey.
“O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches” (Ps. 104:24).
In contemplating the heavens, King David was not being an impractical dreamer, neglecting the weightier matters of his kingdom. Nor was Jesus promoting indolence when he enjoined us to consider the lilies. The most unforgettable spiritual lessons contained in the holy Scriptures are those based upon natural phenomena: a vineyard, the rain, fish in the sea, the wind, the planting of seeds. Wise Solomon was made still wiser by observing the ant (Prov. 6:6-11). The ephemeral quality of grass instructed Isaiah's heart in the wonder of eternity (Isa. 40:6-8). By His own immaculately wise design, the Creator's fingerprints remain, with subtle starkness, upon every article of His creation, and within even the smallest element of creation is hidden the potential of revelation of the God who created it.
“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. . .” (Paul, in Rom. 1:20).
Pondering creation, King David was enamored with the revelation of God in the rain, or in the animals of the forest, or in the daily labor of men (cp. Ps. 104). To David, there were testimonies in the trees, sermons in the silence of the stars. As if in a language both foreign and understandable, the skies to David seemed to be incessantly evangelizing the inhabitants of the earth.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech or language, where their voice is not heard” (Ps. 19:1-3).
Oh, let us recapture this lost, holy sense of amazement at the Creator's labor. Let us with childlike wonder join in the prophet's song of praise:
“O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him who by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that made great lights: the sun to rule by day, the moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever” (from Ps. 136).
Even Our Ignorance
Like chapel bells in winter, echoing loud and clear against cold and closed buildings, the exhortations of the ancient men of faith rebound against the empty confidences of proud mankind:
“Look unto the heavens and see; and behold the clouds that are higher than thou” (Elihu, in Job 35:5).
Known but to God, there is a measure for that which men call the measureless. There is in His heart the knowledge of that which men call the unknowable. There is a hope beyond what men have dreamed or can dream (Isa. 64:4; 1Cor. 2:9).
But there are worlds even within our own we know nothing of, secrets in the seas which man may never discover. On distant stars, what epic scenes of beauty and violence must surely play, beyond the realm of man's cognitive, even imaginative capacities. And all these imperceived, mysterious realities declare the glory of our Creator every bit as much as did the discernable heavens to David's awestricken heart. For everything we do not know is a reminder of the awesome knowledge of our Creator. In a curious twist of His fathomless wisdom, God has determined that even our ignorance, along with every other part of creation, should bear witness to His wisdom.
I know perfectly well that regardless of how much a parent loves a child or how much power a parent possesses to provide for a child's needs, both that love and that power can be unwisely demonstrated. But God is never like that. He is the perfect Father. He didn't have to learn to be a good parent. He was good from the beginning. He doesn't make mistakes. Regardless of how much goodness and power Joseph trusted God to possess, had Joseph not trusted in the Creator's wisdom, he would have wondered if his suffering was really necessary, if it was serving any good purpose.
We as the body of Christ are letting let slip from our grasp that thrilling sense of God's purpose in all things. To the eyes of faith, the sun doesn't just shine; it shines because the Creator has a purpose for its shining. To the eyes of faith, the sky itself never gives rain (Jer. 14:22); only God can do that. And when He does it, He does it for a purpose. "All things are full of labor" (Eccl. 1:8) because all things are fulfilling the often hidden purposes of God, and, oh, that He would ever keep that truth alive in our hearts! Jesus encourages us to trust in God's purposes with these amazing words:
“. . . even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Lk. 12:7).
Jesus' meaning is not that after you were born, God came while you slept and counted the hairs on your head. Rather, it is that the hairs on your head are numbered to you by the Creator, the point of Jesus' words being that God's care for us is so complete that every circumstance of our lives is contemplated by Him before it happens. That is, no circumstance, either pleasant or otherwise, is ever permitted into the lives of His children that does not fit into His plan for their lives, or that is not tailored by Him to match their faith (1Cor. 10:13). The reliance upon that truth during times of great suffering was the one act of faith which most clearly set the righteous apart from their idolatrous times.
Some may ask why, if all the circumstances of our lives, including our sufferings, are determined by God, should we desire to be delivered from suffering? The most obvious answer is that suffering hurts, and sane people do not enjoy pain. The prophets knew that God sent famine upon their land (2Kgs. 18:1), but they didn't pray for more famine. They prayed for rain (cp. 1Kgs. 8:35-40), in humility and fear before God.
Secondly, we should desire deliverance because the suffering which God determines for us is not an end in itself; it is never intended to last forever. It is only used now to serve God's purposes. Therefore, it is never wrong to want, or to pray for, or to expect healing. Indeed, it is wrong not to want or expect healing, because that betrays either an ignorance of, or worse yet, unbelief toward the Creator. It is always right to pray for healing, not only because healing would make us feel better, but also because God's purpose is always inextricably entwined with our healing. We cannot pray for healing without, at least implicitly, praying for God's purpose to be accomplished in our lives, for they are too much of the same thing. Joseph's deliverance from the dungeon cannot be separated from his rise to Pharaoh's throne. And when he was praying for the one, he was working with the will of God toward the accomplishment of the other.
Thirdly, we should pray for deliverance because when things are made right in our lives, and when God's purposes are accomplished, God receives glory. And risking the appearance of too much spirituality, let me suggest that to bring glory to God may be the best reason to pray for healing and deliverance (cp. Ps. 30:9-12), even outweighing one's desire for personal comfort. Certainly we could not be wrong in attributing that depth of holy commitment to our Lord Jesus, whose only purpose in coming to earth was "to do thy will, O God" (Heb. 10:7).
To conclude then, I must say that to believe in the Creator is to believe in healing, in being made whole. I cannot imagine how we could know and trust in God without expecting good things to happen to our lives. Goodness is so much a part of what He is. The very reason faith asks for healing is because faith knows God. Faith seeks for God's "way of escape" from every temptation (1Cor. 10:13) because it believes there is one. Faith knocks on the door of deliverance because it believes that door has hinges (Mt. 7:7-11; Lk. 11:5-13; 18:1-8). Regardless of the bleakness of the situation, the men of greatest faith still possessed the faith to call upon God for help. Indeed, our heavenly Father bids us to do so:
“. . . call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Ps. 50:15).
All the righteous from the beginning of the world have heard that compassionate voice of the Creator, beckoning all who would to come find shelter in His care. In the ancient, forgotten land of Uz, the Lord chose a man named Job to demonstrate for us the value of following after that voice.
(You may want first to read the beginning chapters of Job)
“He causeth it to come, whether for correction, or for his land, or for mercy. Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:13-14).
The Hand Of God
I evidently offended the concept of spiritual good taste which some held, when at a home Bible study I asked, "Who was responsible for the sufferings of Job?" The expected answer was either "Job" or "Satan", but my answer, "God", was neither appreciated nor welcomed. Nevertheless, as even a simple reading of Job reveals, it was never so much as suggested, either by Job or his comforters, that any other than God was responsible for Job's misery. The heated debate between Job and his friends centered on an entirely different matter. To wit, was the Almighty afflicting Job because Job had provoked Him by sin to do so, or, as Job maintained, was God afflicting him without cause? From either point of view, Job's suffering was rightly seen to be God's handiwork.
In the first chapter of Job, there is described a meeting of the sons of God, among whom was the creature named "Satan." When asked of God, "Whence camest thou?" Satan replied:
“From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil. Then Satan answered the Lord and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land” (Job 1:7-10).
Let us examine this situation. For an unspecified period of time, Satan had been traveling and observing the inhabitants of the earth. God, of course, was aware of that. Included among those whom Satan had been observing was the righteous man, Job. God already knew that, too. Had Satan possessed standing authority and power to destroy or even to trouble Job, certainly he would already have done so. But Satan had during none of that time assaulted Job, nor could he, of himself, have done so. Both he and God knew that.
Please notice that it was God who brought up the subject of Job. I dare say, Satan would rather have discussed another subject, something less galling than a man who "was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" (Job 1:1). Nevertheless, God brought up Job's name, and He did so because, in His fathomless wisdom, at His own time, and for His own purposes, He had ordained a trial for Job which would match Job's transcendent faith, and had chosen Satan as His instrument of affliction.
God's question to Satan, "Hast thou considered my servant Job?", was not asked by God to find out if Satan had considered Job. God already knew the answer to that and every other question He may ask. By bringing up the name of Job, God was setting in motion the beginning of Job's trials. And upon sensing that, Satan responded:
“But put forth THINE HAND now, and (you, God) touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord” (Job 1:11-12).
Up until this moment, when God gave it to him, Satan had no power whatsoever against Job. Satan knew that he never could touch Job, unless and until God ordained it to be. The fact that Satan was, in this case, God's agent of destruction has lead some to believe that Satan was carrying out his own plans against Job's life. Not so. This was altogether the determination of God, Who is neither advised nor coerced in His decisions concerning His children, any more than He was advised or coerced in His decision to create man in the beginning.
Following this heavenly meeting, the dam in Satan's heart which stores up hatred for righteous men was relieved a little of its burden, as a torrent of tragedies pummeled innocent Job. But at the control of the floodgates was Job's Redeemer, and everything that happened to Job happened according to God's ordination, with God's limitations, in God's predetermined time. Satan knew that. God knew that. Even Job knew that. It was God's hand, not Satan's, which was stretched over Job. In his bitterness, Job cried to his friends:
“Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for THE HAND OF GOD hath touched me” (Job 19:21)
In one day, Job suffered the loss of his children and virtually all of his many possessions. It was a crushing, heart-rending experience, but not one that was able to crush either Job's faith or his love for God. The agonizing man "arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshiped." He and his wife mourned for their children and came to know well the humiliation and frustration of poverty.
An indeterminate period of time passed, and then Satan was given permission by God to torment Job physically - but not to the point of death. Huge boils covered him, expanding with their piercing throbs until they erupted with foul-smelling, worm-infested corruption, which matted his clothes to his body (7:5). When he sought refuge from his misery in sleep, gruesome nightmares chased him back to consciousness (7:3-4; 13-15), leaving Job exhausted, confused, and, in time, prematurely wrinkled (16:7-8). Demonic fingers around his throat would seal tight his breathing passages (9:18), leaving Job sprawled in his own squalor, kicking in desperation for breath, forgetting for the moment the constant pains which returned with renewed fury when he was allowed to breathe again.
Hardly a soul could bear to be around him. Virtually all his friends forsook him. His servants ignored his plaintive cries for help. His wife, in utter frustration, offered the advice she considered best for him: "curse God and die." With neither strength to provide for himself nor anyone to provide for him, Job wasted away to a stick-man appearance. "My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth" (Job 19:20). Contributing also to his dramatic loss of weight was an excruciating bowel disorder (30:27) which prevented normal digestion. Moreover, crippling bone and muscle diseases tortured Job with relentless pains (30:17,30). Day and night, without rest, weeping Job cried out for respite, even for death (but death was not allowed), and month after month no respite was given.
“Oh that I were as in months past when God preserved me, when his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness. As I was in the days of youth when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle, when the Almighty was with me, when my children were about me, when I washed by steps butter, and the rock poured me out rivers of oil.
The young men saw me, and hid themselves. And the aged arose, and stood up. The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth. The nobles held their peace. . . When the ear heard me, then it blessed me, and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me, because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him.
The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me and I caused the widows heart to sing for joy. . . I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor. . . and I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his mouth.
Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel. After my words they spake not again, and my speech dropped upon them. They waited for me as the rain. . . I sat chief, and dwelt as a king in the army” (excerpts from Job 29).
Formerly the paragon of success and integrity, Job now groveled like a dog for crumbs from his master's table. In appearance almost inhuman, Job now was mocked by heartless low-lifes in the community. "Children of fools", Job cried, "Yea, children of base men. They abhor me, they flee far from me, and spare not to spit in my face" (30:8-10). Job, weeping and bleeding, was cursed and physically abused (30:11-14). A repulsive and ridiculed shell of a man, he was repeatedly accused of hypocrisy by his three closest friends for hiding what they believed were secret sins. They accused him, supremely confident of being in the right, because according to their doctrine righteousness is evidenced by one's wealth and being in the right, therefore, sickness and poverty proved Job's guilt. While asleep, then, Job was tormented by demons, and while awake men joined in the vicious attacks. And whether awake or asleep, always pain. Always pain.
Most grievous of all, and adding weight to the heaviest of his burdens, was the inexplicable silence of God. Why did He hide Himself? This was the hot knife's edge of Job's sufferings. This was the point whereat Satan waited to see Job's faith fail. But this is what he saw and heard from Job concerning his God:
“Oh that I knew where I might find him! That I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.
Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him. He hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him. But he knoweth the way that I take. When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips” (Job 23:3-4,8-12a).
"God is faithful," wrote a man of God long after Job's time. "He will make a way of escape" (1Cor. 10:13). Job found his "way of escape" by following the road which leads out of all suffering: the road which Isaiah called "The Way of Holiness" (Isa. 35:8). By refusing to do evil and persisting in doing good, Job finally overcame all the evil which befell him. "Till I die," he firmly argued through his searing pains, "I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go. My heart shall not reproach me so long as I live!"
Charging God Foolishly
As if Job's "miserable comforters" failed to accuse Job enough, some believers today are still finding fault with this incredibly righteous man. "He deserved what he received," some have said, "because he said that 'the thing which he had greatly feared is come upon me.’" But "the thing" which had come upon him, "the thing" which he had greatly feared was the hand of God! (Eg. 1:1) I find no fault in that. Indeed, it is a serious fault in anyone not to fear the hand of God, as both David and Paul taught (Ps. 36:1; Rom. 3:18), and as the author of Hebrews admitted, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (10:31).
During his sermon, a pastor friend of mine accused Job of "teaching false doctrine" for holding God responsible for taking away his children, possessions, and health. He couldn't agree with the meaning of these words of Job, which are among the most quoted of all scripture:
“Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, AND THE LORD HATH TAKEN AWAY; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Have you ever before noticed what Job was and was not saying here? He was glorifying God for both having given him blessings and for having taken them away. A man who does not know that God loves him cannot do that. A man who does not trust God's wisdom cannot do that. And a man who believes in other gods, including Satan, as having power to determine destruction for the saints, cannot do that. Job knew his Creator too well to believe that Satan could take God's blessings away, unless God Himself determined that it should be done.
Yet, of even more importance than Job's saying such words is the Bible's immediate commentary:
“In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly” (Job 1:22).
The Bible's judgment concerning what Job said was that it was not sinful, was not foolish, for Job to attribute responsibility for his suffering to God. In effect, this is God's judgment concerning Job's words. For us my friends, the question is, is our understanding of God such that we do not agree with Job? That, for us, is the whole issue. Are we of like faith with this righteous man? Does our faith rest in God, as He was to Job's mind, or to Joseph's? Do we think that God is not what these holy men knew Him to be? Is it our doctrinal position that they really didn't fully understand their situations?
Job's knowledge of God made sure his faith in God's goodness and power and wisdom. Nothing could move him from that faith as long as it was anchored in that knowledge. When his wife's counsel was that Job should "curse God, and die," Job's answer reflected his hope and faith in God's providence:
“But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10)
And again, as if to assure us most firmly of divine approval of Job's words, the Bible immediately adds this note:
“In all this did not Job sin with his lips.”
Unquestionably, it behooves us to agree with Job in believing that he received evil (meaning here "harm") from the hand of God, if the holy Scriptures confirm it. Or do we fear that somehow we would be wrong, were we to believe what Job believed about God?
“My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death; Not for any injustice in mine hands: also my prayer is pure” (Job 16:16-17).
“For He breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth my wounds WITHOUT CAUSE” (Job 9:17).
Statements as these do seem at first to be irreverent and self-serving. By uttering such words Job risked appearing proud, even arrogant, stubbornly justifying himself. That was certainly the conclusion reached by Job's three "comforters".
Eliphaz: “Who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the righteous cut off?. . . Thine own mouth condemneth thee, and not I: yea, thine own lips testify against thee.”
Bildad: “Doth God pervert judgment? Or doth the Almighty pervert justice?. . . If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous
. . . Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers.”
Zophar: “Should not the multitude of words be answered? And should a man full of talk be justified? Should thy lies make men hold their peace? And when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed? For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes. But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee: And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.”
Job's friends were disgusted to hear Job say that God was destroying him "without cause". But what would those wise men have thought, could they indeed have heard God "open his lips and speak", as He did to Satan after Job's afflictions had begun:
“Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst Me against him to destroy him WITHOUT CAUSE” (God, in Job 2:3).
Now, I should quickly note that for God or for Job to say that his suffering was "without cause" is not at all to say that his suffering was “without purpose.” Job, believing in God's purpose, spent much of his time of suffering in prayer, trying to discover what God's purpose was. To say that Job's suffering was "without cause" is only to say that Job had not by committing sin provoked God to afflict him. But that there was at least one purpose in his suffering, thousands of saints throughout salvation's history, who have been strengthened to faith in the face of sorrow by Job's example, can bear witness.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar vehemently disagreed with Job because they did not believe that God would cause suffering without being provoked by sin to do so. Unfortunately, many of the saints today would disagree with Job, too, principally because we are being bombarded with the insane notion the God will not cause suffering under any circumstances. But surely we can admit that Job was right in saying God was afflicting him without cause, if God Himself said the same. It is the least we can do to confess that God spoke the truth, even if it is difficult to bring ourselves to confess that Job did.
The Greatest Commandment
It was the knowledge of the goodness and power and wisdom of the Creator, constantly affirmed in His creation, which so firmly upheld the faith of Joseph and Job under enormous pressures. Any other foundation would have collapsed. Had they been any less understanding, they could have found some other god or person to hold responsible for their suffering. But to look to other sources was the heathen way of believing. It was the heathen way to hold grudges against men, to hate, to seek revenge for being mistreated. It was the heathen who had gods of love and kindness and gods to cause suffering, wise gods and foolish gods, a god to hold the keys of hell, a god to pull the sun across the sky, gods who lived and governed in the seas, and gods who ruled upon the land. That is how they believed, being chained to ignorance of the Creator. Their love, their worship, their fear, their faith, their whole lives were divided in their ceaseless efforts to keep the gods appeased. What a liberation, what a joy was the revelation of the truth!
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is ONE LORD: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Moses, in Dt. 6:4-5).
It is no wonder that Jesus said this was the greatest commandment contained in the holy Scriptures (Mk. 12:29-30). It is of the highest spiritual benefit, of first importance to an unadulterated faith, to know that there is but one God Who is all things to His beloved people.
The Other God
Of course, the kind of idolatry which dominated the ancient world is all but gone, but there exists in its stead another, more deviously subtle kind. For, to many believers, Satan has, in effect, replaced those gods which once were thought to have tried the hearts of men. Whereas God was, even by many of the Israelites, thought to have been one among many gods, now He is believed by many in the body of Christ to be one of only two. He is still rightly trusted to be the God of love and healing and truth, but at the same time Satan is thought by many saints to be the god of our suffering. Satan has become, for all purposes, the "other gods" to God’s children . And it is made none the less idolatrous that the saints are taught to dislike Satan for doing them harm. There were unlikable gods in the ancient world, too. Personal feeling for or against other gods has nothing to do with the fact that it was idolatry to believe in the power of those gods to determine circumstances, either in the lives of God's people, or in any other part of God's creation. Why, it is the fear of, faith in, respect for, or any other form of reverence for any other god, which is the very first thing forbidden in the ten commandments! The fear of the Lord, and no other, is the beginning of all knowledge (Prov. 1:7).
God Is God
I overheard an older saint attempt to woo a young girl to Christ with these words, "You don't ever have to fear God, honey. But you'd better be afraid of that old devil." I caught my breath in disbelief. What kind of doctrine is that? In whose power was this saint persuading that young girl to believe?
Oh, that God would circumcise the ear of our souls to hear words of the men who walked by God's light! It is, to me, as though Job were screaming the truth, so that he might be heard, even by us, over the din of confused tradition:
“Know now that GOD hath overthrown me, and hath compassed me in HIS net. . . HE hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and HE hath darkness in my paths, He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head. HE hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone” (Job 19:6, 8-10).
It was Job's understanding of God which gave him the faith to say those things. That those things were true was actually his only hope. For if God had not destroyed him, then who had? And if Satan or some other god were responsible, where had God been when it had happened? No, either God was responsible, or God is not God. But Job knew that God was responsible, and that God loved him and would be glorified in his complete deliverance (Job 13: 15-16), if through it all he would wait for that salvation in the way of righteousness. That is perfected faith. That is faith that is rooted in the unshakable foundation of God's goodness and power and wisdom. That is the beauty and benefit of the knowledge of God as our Creator.
And should there remain any doubt that Job's attitude concerning his afflictions was correct, serious consideration should be given to God's final appraisal of the faith which Job had shown. Speaking to one of Job's "comforters", God said:
“My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, AS MY SERVANT JOB HATH” (Job 42:7).
The life of every one of God's people is the sole responsibility of the Owner. He may use it or leave it upon the shelf. He may brand it, break it, twist it, or melt it. But whatever happens to the Master's instruments is determined by no one but Him. Faith, when it is matured, rejoices in that. Who better than our God to be in control of our fate? This is the faith which guided Joseph and Job to victory over suffering, and it is the faith which guided our Lord Jesus through his sufferings to eternal glory.
“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt. 26:53).
As A Lamb
In the first seven chapters of Leviticus, the laws for sacrifice are given. We learn there that before the priest could make the offering to God, the one to whom the sacrificial animal belonged was required to kill the animal:
“If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation of the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Lev. 1:3-5).
The requirement that the owner should personally slay his offering should be kept in mind whenever we think or speak of Jesus as being the Lamb of God. He was not the Lamb of men or of Satan. Only the one to whom he belonged had the authority to "put him to grief."
Isaiah was moved to prophesy of the suffering Savior in just this manner:
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. . . Yet it pleased THE LORD to bruise him; HE hath put him to grief
. . . THOU [LORD GOD] shalt make his soul an offering to sin. . .” (from Isa. 53).
From the beginning, Jesus knew that God's will was for him to "give his life a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28). But his faith in God was such that he thoroughly expected his suffering to be the gateway to eternal blessing and he "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." He was never bitter, never vindictive. Rather, by doing good to all men, he demonstrated that he had committed his life to God "as unto a faithful Creator."
Nobody But Jesus
Some, however, were provoked by Jesus' submissive attitude toward his suffering. Pilate, angered by Jesus' silence, demanded,
“Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (Jn. 19:10-11).
Pilate didn't know that his authority over the Jews at that particular moment in history was a gift from the God of the Jews. But ignorance of God's hand in all these events was not reserved to Pilate. The Jews thought that the crucifixion of Jesus was their idea. They could never have dreamed that the plans they were fulfilling actually belonged to the Father of the victim. Moreover, even Jesus' closest friends were unaware of the terrible truth they were witnessing. When Judas led the evil mob to the garden of Gethsemene, Peter drew his sword to protect Jesus:
“Then Jesus said unto Peter, Put up thy sword into thy sheath: the cup which MY FATHER HATH GIVEN ME, shall I not drink it? Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, and led him away. . .” (Jn. 18:11-13).
Nobody but Jesus saw beyond the angry mob and the sadistic Roman soldiers. Nobody except Jesus saw beyond the humiliation and horror of his crucifixion to see the loving hand of God at work, providing hope of eternal life for all mankind. Neither Pilate nor the Jews, not even the disciples - nobody but Jesus - knew that what they themselves were doing had been ordained by God since the foundation of the world. Nobody but Jesus knew.
“And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:33-34).
It was only after Jesus ascended into heaven and the Spirit of Truth had come, that men began to grasp the truth, the awful, wondrous truth: Christ Jesus had been purposely delivered into the hands of wicked men "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23 cp. Lk. 22:22). It was only when the purpose of Christ's suffering was accomplished and his followers were filled with the Spirit of Truth, that the knowledge of what God had done enabled them to pray "with one accord":
“Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, "Why did the heathen rage and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against teh Lord, and against his Christ." For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, FOR TO DO WHATSOEVER THY HAND AND THY COUNSEL DETERMINED BEFORE TO BE DONE” (Acts 4:24-28).
It was a "vain thing" for raging Pilate to imagine that he had power either to crucify or to set free the Son of God (Jn. 19:10). It was a "vain thing" for the rulers of the Jews to conspire against Jesus "to put him to death" (Jn. 11:47-53). It was a "vain thing" for Roman soldiers to guard the tomb, lest the stone be rolled away. All these were "vain things" because none of them to the least extent determined the fate of the One against whom they were directed. The Jew's conspiracy against Jesus was just as vain as was the guarding of the tomb, the only difference being that what the Jews conspired to do, God permitted to be done, and what the guards were sent to do, God's plan did not include. The fact that God allowed some men to imagine that they were accomplishing their purpose, when they were only accomplishing His, speaks only of the greatness of His mercy and wisdom and power, and does in no respect make less vain the evil intentions of men. It is altogether fitting to genuine faith in Christ that we should acknowledge and confess that if God had not sent him to the cross, there are no powers in heaven or in earth that could have taken him there.
Not of man's design or purpose, the sacrifice of Christ "was foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1Pet. 1:20). "The Son of Man shall be delivered into the hands of men", said Jesus (Lk. 9:44). But by Whom? "God delivered him up" wrote the Apostle Paul, "for us all" (Rom. 8:32). "The Father sent the Son", John wrote, "to be the propitiation for our sins" (1John 4:9-14).
“Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith
. . .Lo, I come to do THY will, O God” (Heb. 10:5,7).
Jewish people have been maligned for two millennia by foolish men as being responsible for the pain and death of the Savior. But Jesus said, in reference to his life, "No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down myself" (Jn. 10:18). No persons, or nation, or world of people, are responsible for Christ's sufferings, nor could they be. Indeed, every saint on earth should be thankful to God for the Jews, for it was through that people that God chose to provide a human body for His supernal Son to indwell, the offering of which body opened the doors of salvation for all people. Beyond that, what the Jews, with all the world, contributed to Christ's excruciating sacrificial death was, simply, the need for it. All mankind was in bondage together. All mankind, both Jew and Gentile, to Calvary's magnificent story contributed the disease of sin; it is God, alone, who provided the cure.
The wisdom which Christ's atonement entailed, the love which inspired it, and the power which accomplished it, are all far beyond man's little capacity to perform. Let us no longer, then, bicker or accuse one another of responsibility for Christ's sufferings. None of us are worthy of it. And who could doubt that if the tender Shepherd would now speak with his beloved fellow Jews, his words would echo those of weeping Joseph, who, too, was despised by those dearest to him:
“Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. . . and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 50:20).
Yes, Jesus knew that the Jewish rulers made plans to kill him. He knew that Judas betrayed him, that an evil mob arrested him, and that a Gentile governor ordered his scourging and his crucifixion. His faith in God did not blind his eyes to the reality of Roman soldiers, pounding spikes into his hands and feet. But neither did his awareness of what men were doing blind his spirit to the reality of his Father, determining moment by moment what would and what would not be done to His dear Son. At every point in his earthly pilgrimage, despite what everyone else thought they knew, Jesus humbly maintained that his sufferings were "things that belong to God" (Mt. 16:21-23). But at the time, nobody but Jesus knew.
It is the very soul of the gospel that what happened to Jesus at Calvary was the will and plan of God. We should follow Jesus' example and never lose sight of that, lest the deceiver deceive us into honoring him with responsibility for what happened at Calvary. Satan, too, despite what he would have us to think, was merely an outwitted pawn in God's inscrutably wise plan. The glorious truth now and forever remains:
“For God so loved the world that HE GAVE his only begotten Son. . .”
And His accomplished purpose remains with it:
“. . . that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).
Listen to Solomon's wisdom:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die: a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence; and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. . . He hath made everything beautiful in his time. . .” (Eccl. 3:1-8,11).
In each of our lives, there is a time for all things: birth and death, joy and sadness, gain and loss. It is a matter of unspeakable joy to discover that all our "times" are determined by our loving Heavenly Father!
“I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God. My times are in thy hand. . .” (David, in Ps. 31:14-15).
When men would have killed Jesus before God's appointed time, they repeatedly failed. And the only reason they failed is, as John wrote, "because his hour was not yet come" (Jn. 7:30: 8:20). Early in his ministry, Jesus plainly told his brothers, "My time is not yet come" (Jn. 17:1; 12:23). Neither men nor demons nor any other creature could have determined the time of Jesus' death. His times were in his Father's hands. He was his Father's Lamb, not theirs.
It remains for us to consider soberly the truth that we, too, are called to be lambs in His flock (cp. Jn. 21:15-17) and to commit ourselves entirely to His care "as unto a faithful Creator." We, too, can "shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end" (Heb. 6:11). We, too, can "trust in him at all times" (Ps. 62:8). Amen.
None of those whom we have thus far studied were mistaken in looking beyond the agents of their shame and suffering to see nothing but God at work, accomplishing His good purposes. Neither shall we be mistaken by following their perfect example. But it is very likely that we shall languish in immature spiritual confusion as long as we fail to trust, and to acknowledge the hand of God to be at work in all things at all times for us.
“For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to His purpose” (Paul, in Rom. 8:28).
In the few sorrows, hardships, and disappointments in which he is personally involved, Satan's intention is to destroy our lives and our faith in God. But the faith which overcomes the world believes that if those sufferings were actually of such weight that our lives would be destroyed and our faith could not overcome them, God would not have sent them our way. "God is faithful", wrote Paul, "Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able" (1Cor. 10:13).
GOD IS FAITHFUL
Say it to yourself when you are hurting. God is faithful! Say it to the spirits of depression and fear! God is faithful! Say it to those who would have you to surrender your faith and hold a grudge against someone who has wronged you! God is faithful! Concerning the miseries, distresses, and persecutions which confront us, the Apostle Paul asks, "what shall we say to these things?" And then to answer his own question he writes that to all these things we should say, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?. . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 37-39).
Say it to the spirits which would have you to fear a nuclear holocaust. "God is faithful!" Confess the truth and overcome the world! Look for God's good purposes in the trials of your faith. See them as from His hand and be encouraged, rather than be embittered as though an enemy had broken through His defenses.
Sometimes I think God has more confidence in our faith than we do. He certainly places us in situations where we wonder if we will ever be healed, or ever be happy again, or ever again be free in spirit. But having already measured that hurt or loss, the Father knows that we will be even healthier, happier, and freer than ever, if we will but trust him and be faithful. If we trust Him through the hard times, we will discover that our greater blessing was His purpose all along. But according to His own will, God has determined that those blessings will be received only by faith. Yes, we can joyously expect all things to be working for our good, but only if we do "love God and are the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). For those who do not love God and are not the called according to His purpose, there is nothing working for their good. Even the pleasant things of their lives will eventually amount to nothing. Solomon noted this in Ecclesiastes 6:
“If a man beget a hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many. . . yea, though he live a thousand years twice told. . . and his SOUL be not filled with good. . . I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.”
Then let our souls seek to be filled with His goodness, for God has ordained the trials of our faith to work for our good only if we love Him, only "if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end."
I believe that the key to this kind of love and faithfulness is a genuine knowledge of God, and that the key to that knowledge is the revelation of creation. When we experience the revelation knowledge of God as Creator, the rope of trust in God is no longer something at which our wondering hearts desperately grasp; rather, faith becomes woven into the fabric of our mind and spirit, so that it becomes part of what we are. It becomes our foundation instead of our goal. Then, growing into this grace and knowledge of our Savior, we survey past experiences which we once denounced as Satanic intrusions and perceive the short-sightedness of such a view. We see those experiences as the very stones upon which we now stand and view the glory of God, as stepping stones which were hewn by caring hands to match our toddling steps. Yes, Satan may have been allowed to shove those stones into our pathway, but he did neither determine the size of those stones nor when in our pilgrimage we would face them.
I am reminded of Jesus' words to the pastor at Smyrna:
“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
Yes, it was Satan who would cast some of these faithful saints into prison, but why just "some"? And why just 10 days? The purpose of this suffering, according to Jesus, was that they "may be tried", not that "they might be destroyed." Then, whose purpose was this trial serving? Who matched this trial to the faith of these saints so that they could overcome it and be crowned with eternal life?
It is the proclamation of perfected faith that the Lord both "trieth the righteous" (Ps. 11:5) and "saveth the upright in heart" (Ps. 7:10). The Apostle Peter rejoiced in this and saw absolutely no conflict in saying that the saints were being "kept by the power of God through faith", and in the following verse adding, "though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations" (1Pet. 1:5-6). That you are being tried does not mean that God's power is no longer keeping you. In fact, God's power may be most at work in your life during your weakness and sorrow than at any other time (cp. 2Cor. 12:7-10). Wrote James:
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Only a man who knows that he loves God and who knows how much God loves him could pray, as righteous David prayed in Psalms:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).
Our faith must be tried. If we trust God to provide for us only those trials which we can overcome, our faith will be perfected as we struggle through our hurt to understand and accomplish the will of our heavenly Father. If we do not see beyond our difficult circumstances to behold the hand of God at work for our good, our faith will never be perfected. We will always have trouble forgiving from our hearts those who have wronged us. We will always be victimized by bitterness at our "fate", as though God were unmindful of us, or still worse, unjust.
Is there anyone among us who has been treated more unjustly than Joseph was treated? Is there anyone among us who has hurt more than Job was hurt? Is there anyone among us who has been more misunderstood, maligned, and hated than our dear Lord Jesus? Satan, confident that his purposes would prevail, poured pain like a river into the lives of those holy men and arrogantly dared them to believe in the purposes of God. One by one, each in his turn according to the will of God, they took that dare. They each overcame the evil which befell them with the good which God had taught them to do. Will we? Are we as committed to our Creator as we are to our human spouses, "for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, till death. . . ?"
God can be trusted with our lives. That means that He can be trusted to be doing the right thing with the life that is entrusted to him. To trust God, that is the real spiritual warfare, not warfare against flesh and blood but against the spirits of this age which are envious of the love and fear and trust which belong solely to the Creator.
Dare to hope in God's goodness. Dare to rely upon His power. Dare to believe in His purposes. Dare to abandon your life, your circumstances, and your future to His will. Dare to speak to despair, to worry, "God is for me! You can't destroy me!" Dare to say to sickness, depression, even death itself, "God is faithful-and so will I be!" Go beyond the spirits of vengeance, and ill-will. God can be trusted with your life! Dare not to grumble at the trial He has prepared for you. Dare to believe that you will overcome it, that you will be healed, that things will be made right in your life again, and that that was His plan from the beginning. Our Lord Jesus, Joseph, and Job all clung tenaciously to that blessed hope. So should we. We may with every confidence follow their wise, righteous examples into eternal rest in the presence of God.
What to do when Bad Things Happen
1. Remember first that God is intimately involved, completely in control of your life and all that happens to it. He planned this a long time ago and has been preparing you for some time to be able to face it and to overcome it with good. Healing is in your future because God is in your "now".
2. Continue doing what you know is right. Be aggressive with doing good. Your "way of escape" is to "fight the GOOD fight" of faith.
3. Don't feel bad because you feel bad. No one enjoys suffering. Frustration is not a sin. Irritation is not a sin. Complaining is not a sin. No righteous person ever jumped with glee when God laid an affliction upon them. They cried, they grieved, they complained to God. If you don't like it when bad things happen to you, welcome to a club to which even Jesus belongs. So does his Father, who "in all their affliction was afflicted" with them.
4. Don't feel bad because you feel good. When you trust God, even as you hurt there is an undergirding peace for your spirit. Believers sometimes condemn themselves for experiencing the mysterious, sweet strength of Jesus when circumstances don't seem to call for it.
5. Pray. At all costs, pray. Nothing can take the place of prayer.
6. Read the Bible. There is no substitute for it, either. There is comfort and encouragement to be received from the Scriptures.
7. Ask God why. Have you ever heard someone say that he never questioned God? That seems so contrary to faith. Surely God wants us to know Him and His ways! All the righteous men and women in the Bible zealously sought God for answers. The question, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" came from the lips of a man who knew the will of God in these matters.
8. Know that in the heart of God you are of more value than many sparrows. I pray that you will feel loved, because you are loved. Trust your life to that pure love emanating from the heart of your Creator right now. I pray that you do feel the depth and power of it.
Understandably, some may wonder whether God's love, control, and care for his own, is altered when, instead of suffering unjustly, the believer is suffering because of doing wrong. The biblical answer is an unqualified and resounding "NO!" God's control and care is ever constant. In part two of this series on ALL THINGS, we'll find that the Bible gives us many such examples and, with those examples, gives us strength to hope and rest upon the unchangeable love of God in Jesus Christ.
“And we know that all things work together for good
to them that love God, to them who are the called
according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
By John David Clark, Sr.
To the memory of my father, George C. Clark, Sr., whose fiery zeal for the grace of God lighted the way for many.
To the memory of my mother, Martha M. Clark, whose grace under fire encouraged many broken spirits.
To the members and friends of the Pioneer Tract Society, whose patience and generosity made this work possible.
And to every hurting person.
INTRODUCTION TO PART 2
As there is a suffering for righteousness, there is also a suffering for the lack of it. All the righteous men, whose stories we studied in Part One of All Things, suffered "without cause", but some of the men of greatest faith have also suffered greatly "with cause", so to speak, when they strayed from righteousness and provoked the Lord's wrath. Moses was denied entrance into Canaan's land when his explosive temper caused him to disobey God's commandment (Num. 20:7-12). Righteous King Uzziah spent the last years of his life as a quarantined leper, after a spirit of pride prompted him to sin against God in the temple (2Chron. 26:16-21). And Jonah the prophet spent three days in the hell of a whale's belly because he chose not to preach in Nineveh (cp. Jonah 2:2).
In our time, many in the body of Christ hold the erroneous view that when a believer sins, he places himself in a position where, as some have phrased it, "The devil can get you." "When you sin against the Lord," said one brother, "You are in the devil's territory and subject to his power." In the light of the abundance of clear, consistent biblical evidence to the contrary, it is incredible that such an opinion commands so great a following. Yet, it is very widely and, I have found, very strongly believed that control over our lives automatically belongs to Satan when we err from righteousness, that the act of sin removes us from God's sheltering love to suffer whatever blows which Satan may choose to deliver.
I myself used to picture the body of Christ as a flock of sheep safely grazing in a wide, green pasture which was surrounded by a waist-high fence. Just beyond the fence were all manner of evil, ravenous wolves, salivating in hopes of dining upon one of these tender lambs. When a brother would err in his walk with the Lord, as I viewed it, it was as though he and leaped over God's protective fence and was at the mercy of the vicious demons which waited just beyond that fence of God's loving care. In short, with many others, I believed that God's protection ended when we sinned.
Over a period of years, I referred to that pastoral scene on numerous occasions to fellow believers, and it always was received with an assenting nod or a somber "amen." It had not yet dawned upon us that, were that scene an accurate one, no errant lamb would ever make it back to safety. The fact is that, while the body of Christ is referred to as a "flock" (e.g. 1Pet. 5:2), and we do feed in God's "pasture" (e.g. Ps. 23:2), there is no fence beyond which God's authority over the circumstances of our lives ceases to exist. Disobedience does not take us beyond God's love. His authority to correct those who err (cp. Ps. 119:75) is as much a part of His purview as is his authority to grant eternal life. After all, without His correction, which begins when He first convicts us of sin, would anyone ever inherit His promise of eternal life?
I think now that at the root of that distorted view of the flock and the fence, which I used to hold, was a spirit lacking in mercy, a spirit which, instead of "having compassion on them that are out of the way", would rather excuse its lack of compassion by thinking "they shouldn't have jumped over the fence. The devil gave them what they deserved." But when I came to realize that the chastisement of saints is God's province, not Satan's, a very real compassion began to awaken in my heart for those who were suffering or were in trouble for doing wrong. I understood that their suffering was not apart from God's care, but was a part of it. And I feared God's disapproval, if I failed to help them in their trouble (cp. Gal. 6:1-2). No longer did I see their difficulty as proof of my righteousness. (After all, I thought, I was not suffering; therefore, I was obviously right with God.) Rather, I prayed for the ones who had erred and were hurting. And I prayed for myself, that God would correct me when I was in the wrong. I discovered that the fence which erring brothers jumped over was not a fence which marked the limit of God's love and concern. It was the limit of my own. And the wolves which I imagined, waiting just beyond that fence, I discovered to be nothing in the world but my own ill-will toward those who I thought were less righteous than myself. It was a sobering discovery.
To understand God as Creator (see part one, chapter two) is to perceive that no deed, good or bad, brings its own consequences apart from God. That we reap what we sow is true only because God's justice cannot be escaped, as Paul pointed out:
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7)
So then, righteousness and wickedness do have their rewards (cp. Prov. 13:6), but only because God is just and faithful. The reward of both good and bad deeds is the sole determination of the Almighty, for He is the only one capable of making that determination. To think otherwise is characteristic of the idolatrous spirit which blighted the faith of ancient Israel with fear and worship of other imagined deities.
An Act of Faithfulness
Just a cursory reading of the Bible will reveal the truth of Solomon’s words, ". . . every man's judgment cometh from the LORD" (Prov. 29:26). Not only was Moses correct in saying that "the LORD shall judge his people" (Dt. 32:36), but the Psalmist was right in saying that God "chastiseth the heathen" (Ps. 94:10). The patriarch Abraham knew the Creator well enough to call Him "the judge of all the earth" (Gen. 18:25).
It was God Who cursed Adam and Eve and the Serpent for their sin (Gen. 3:14-19). It was God Who cursed Cain for murdering Abel (Gen. 4:11-12). It was God Who destroyed the whole earth with a flood (Gen. 6:7, 13; 7:4, etc.). It was God Who separated the inhabitants of the earth with various languages (Gen. 11). It was God Who obliterated Sodom, Gommorah, Admah, and Zeboiim with fire and brimstone from heaven (Gen. 19:23-25). It was God Who humbled Egypt with plagues, at last slaying the first-born in every house (Ex. 3:19-20; 11:1-5) and burying the Egyptian army in the waters of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:17-31). It was God Who stuck Miriam with leprosy for gossiping about Moses (Num. 12) and opened the earth to swallow them alive who led the great wilderness rebellion (Num. 16). It was God's wrath against sin which condemned the Israelites to forty years of wandering in the deserts (Num. 14:26-34).
The whole miserable condition of humanity is God's response to man's sin. "I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it", said Solomon, "And God doeth it, that men should fear before him" (Eccl. 3:10, 14). The responsibility of the serpent for his part in the fall of man should not be confused with God's responsibility for the punishment of man's disobedience. Afflictions, disasters, diseases, and death are all evidences, not of Satan's wrath against sin, but of God's. Every hardship, every discomfort, every loss which anyone has ever known, are hard evidences of the absolute holiness and unbending justice of our Creator. They are not reasons to fear what Satan can do.
With no exceptions, every account of suffering for sin which is recorded in the Scriptures exposes the senselessness of believing that sin is punished by Satan. Realistically, why would Satan even want to punish sin? He would be chasing people from sin by doing that! Many of us have entertained for so long the most contradictory picture of the Enemy: That he desires that we follow him in his sin AND that he punishes us when we do so. That view of Satan, while very popular, is neither Scriptural nor sensible. Satan's will is to make sin as pleasurable an experience as possible, so that men choose not to repent and, so, die without hope. And woe to the man whom God delivers to that will! How very blessed is the man who, having erred, can feel remorse, and is chastened and corrected; there is hope for that man:
“Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law; that thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity” (Ps. 94:12-13).
It was with this attitude that a chastened King David would sing, no doubt with tears:
“Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word....It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statues....I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that THOU IN FAITHFULNESS HAST AFFLICTED ME” (Ps. 119:67, 71, 75).
Yes, it is an act of faithfulness, a part of God's goodness, for Him to afflict His wayward children. There is a blessing in being able to feel guilt when we err. There is glory in suffering God's chastisement when we stray from righteousness. Pity the man who can do wrong and feel no pangs of guilt. Pity those who prosper in iniquity, those whom God does not convict or chasten for sinning, those whom God has delivered to the delusive power of darkness.
King David's tragic fall from righteousness could have been his soul's destruction, except that God, graciously, would not let him "get by." David's submissive, even thankful attitude for the chastening of the Lord is an attitude form which we all may receive genuine and profound insights into the love and the fear of God. Actually, it is for that very reason God inspired men to record not only David's story, but the story of David's people. "All these things happened unto them for examples," wrote the Apostle Paul, "and they are written for our admonition" (1Cor. 10:11; cp. Rom. 4:23-24; 15:4). And upon the sure presupposition that Paul's words were true, that Israel's history is relevant to believer’s lives now, we now enter into an examination of some of that history and of some of the characters who bore witness to the faithfulness of their creator to chasten and to save.
THE ERA OF JUDGES
For several centuries following their conquest of Canaan, the Israelites were led by divinely selected and empowered men and women, called "judges", who performed as military leaders, or prophets, or teachers, or in whatever other capacity which God would deem necessary for the time and circumstances occurrent. This system of government had no regal overtones. The judge was not a king (cp. Jud. 8:22-23). God was Israel's King. The judges were simply commoners in the kingdom of God, chosen by God to perform services for the other commoners. The judges had no inherited civil authority over their fellow Israelites. Although their words would have borne great weight, the judges had no authority to make law. Although deference would have been shown them, the judges had no inherent rights to privileged treatment. And though the judges may have occasionally received gifts, they had no power to tax. The Israelites demonstrated great respect for the judges, but they would not have bowed the knee at their presence. The distinction between a judge and a king is, however, most pronounced by the lack of a line of succession among the judges. There is not a single judge whose calling is recorded in the book of Judges, whose father was also a judge. The anointing of the Spirit of God was the distinguishing feature of a "judge" at this time, and that anointing was not biologically transferred.
This era of judges was also characterized by the repetition of a fourfold pattern described in the second chapter of the book of Judges:
1. After the death of the judge, the Israelites would forsake God and worship other gods (vv. 11-13)
2. God would subject the Israelites to heathen rulers (vv. 14-15a).
3. The Israelites would repent and cry out to God in distress (v. 15b).
4. God would raise up a judge to deliver them (vv. 16-19).
This cycle of Israel's sin - God's punishment - Israel's repentance - God's deliverance - is found throughout the book of Judges in words such as these:
“And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria....And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the children of Ammon....So that Israel was sore distressed. And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, saying, We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim...And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” (from Judges 10).
Thus begins the story of Jephthae, a judge from the tribe of Manasseh. And, according to the pattern, after Jephthae's death,
“The children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years” (Jud. 13:1).
It is inconceivable that there could have been any deliverance for Israel had God not determined it, regardless of how valiant any potential Israelite leader might have been. But the biblical attitude, which so seldom is acknowledged, is that it is equally inconceivable that there could have been any suffering for Israel had God not determined it, regardless of how strong Israel's enemies might have been. Both the instruments of God's deliverance (the judges) and the instruments of God's chastisement (Israel's enemies) are acknowledged in the Scriptures, but they are ultimately acknowledged only as instruments of God.
It was always the will of Israel's wicked enemies to afflict and to dominate Israel, but they could not accomplish that desire so long as God was pleased with Israel's manner of life. It was always the will of Israel's righteous few to see Israel free of heathen oppressors, but they could not accomplish that desire so long as God was displeased with Israel's manner of life. Israel's condition was entirely dependent upon Israel's relationship with her God.
If, as the Apostle Paul taught, these stories of the judges are written for our learning, then what is it that we are to learn from the fact that Satan is never mentioned in the book of Judges? Certainly it doesn't mean he was inactive or nonexistent. But is does clearly reveal the biblical attitude concerning the suffering of disobedient saints: God, not Satan, is responsible for determining the suffering of His people, and, as a extension of that responsibility, God alone is responsible for what deliverance may occur.
The End of the Judges
The last of the judges was the prophet Samuel from the tribe of Levi. And it was during the years of his labor that the Israelites, intimidated by the bellicose actions of the neighboring Ammonites, became discontented with God’s system of government by judges. They wanted a system which seemed, to them, more reliable.
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them....Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them. . .” (1Sam. 8:4-7, 9).
Samuel returned then to the council of elders and protested strongly against their request,
“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay, but we will have a king over us; That we may be like all the nation; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (1Sam. 8:19-20).
A short while after this meeting, God directed Samuel to anoint as king of the united tribes of Israel a stalwart young man, from the tiny tribe of Benjamin, named Saul.
“. . .and when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward. And Samuel said unto all the people, See ye him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king” (1Sam. 10:23-24).
THE MONARCHY: SAUL, DAVID, AND SOLOMON
“ gave thee a king in my anger, and took him away in my wrath” (Hos. 13:11).
At the beginning of his reign, Saul appeared to possess an abundance of humility. He was, in Samuel's words, "little" in his own sight (1Sam. 15:17). On the day of his inauguration as Israel's first king, Saul timidly "hid himself among the stuff” and "he could not be found" (1Sam. 10:21-22). Yet, sadly, the weight of kingly glory and authority proved to be more than Saul's humility could bear. A capable military leader, he overpowered all foreign threats to Israel's national security, but he himself fell victim to pride and respect of men (cp. 1Sam. 15:17-24). Following one particularly blatant failure to obey God's command, King Saul sought to mollify his aching conscience by promising to offer many sacrifices. Samuel was sent to confront Saul with his sin and to deliver heaven's reply to his promised sacrifices:
“Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king....And as Samuel turned about to go away, (Saul) laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent. And Samuel said unto him, the Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine, that is better than thou.” (1Sam. 15:22-23, 27-28).
Saul's "neighbor", who was better than he, was of course David, the youngest son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Under God's direction, Samuel journeyed to Bethlehem and anointed there the music loving shepherd-boy to be Israel's next king (1Sam. 16:4-13).
“. . .and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward....But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and AN EVIL SPIRIT FROM THE LORD troubled him” (1Sam. 16:13-14).
The men of greatest faith exulted in the knowledge of God's patience and compassion for men. They (not to say we) knew now it felt to stand before Him, naked and bruised in spirit, without defenses, trusting only in the hope of His mercy and love. And they knew how it felt to be forgiven and blessed with God's miraculous gift of encouragement to face life anew. But they stood repentant before Him, and no other god, not only because they trusted in His compassion but also because they knew that it was His wrath against unconfessed sin which is to be feared.
Had they believed that the punishment for their error was being determined and directed be Baal, or Moloch, or Chemosh, they might well have followed the lead of the idolaters of their time and sought to appease those other gods. But understanding God as Creator, the righteous could only, in great fear, humble themselves to the One Who was in command of the circumstances of their lives and Whose holiness their sin had offended. Their fear, yea terror, of God's wrath was not ill-founded. It was rooted in the reality and certainty of God's vengeance against sin.
That the Lord would and will send evil spirits to afflict His own people if they stubbornly set themselves in disobedience, as He did to King Saul, is a position from which the Bible never wavers. We see it during the time of the judges in the story of Abimelech and the men of Shechem (Jud. 9:23). We see it during the time of the kings in the story of Micaiah and the false prophets (1Kgs. 2; 2Chron. 18; see also Ezek. 14:1-11). We see it in the time of Jesus and the early believers as an explanation of the Jews' rejection of the Messiah (Jn. 12:37-40, Rom. 11:7-8; et al). And it shall be seen, possibly in our own time, when, as the Apostle Paul prophesied, many of God’s children will be turned over by God to the power of a delusive spirit:
“. . .because they received not the love of the truth....God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2Thes. 2:10-12).
Resorting to Witchcraft
In Saul's case, the evil spirit which God sent upon him drove him not to the refuge of God's forgiveness, but into the confusing wilderness of self-preservation. An ever intensifying paranoia pathetically distorted his perception of reality, at one point leading him to annihilate an entire city of innocent priests of God, on the basis of a foreigner's false accusation that they were conspiring against him (1Sam. 21, 22). His memory swiftly deteriorated. Whom he in the morning would favor, he could the same day forget (cp. 1Sam. 16:19-23 and 1Sam. 17:32-58). He became a disordered, tormented soul, one moment raging in the heights of arrogant wrath, only then to plummet for a short season into an abyss of depressed submissiveness (cp. 1Sam. 24, 26).
The last years of King Saul's life were thus miserably spent. He erroneously suspected young David of harboring aspirations for the throne (1Sam. 18:6-9), and the resulting drama concerning this increasingly deranged king and his fugitive but loyal servant from Bethlehem provides us with some of the Bible's most poignant character studies. Sadly, at the last, the king who in obedience to God had begun his reign with a purging of witchcraft from Israel, now himself resorted to it:
“And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: Wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die? And Saul sware to her by the Lord, saying, as the Lord liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing. Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice....And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself. And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee and is become thine enemy? And the Lord hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to David. . .Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons by with me. . .” (1Sam. 28:7-17, 19).
We shall have disregarded an essential lesson which Saul's story contains, should we fail to acknowledge that it was God Who destroyed Saul. It is a matter only of momentary note that the way God chose to destroy Saul was with an evil spirit. God could have instead sent a pernicious disease upon Saul, or struck him with lightning, or simply taken Saul's breath from his body. What difference does it make, as far as responsibility is concerned, which agent was employed, or what particular circumstances led to Saul's pathetic, despairing demise (1Sam. 31:4-6)? It was God's wrath which had been provoked, and it was God's retribution which Saul suffered. David understood it well, and it was a lesson which he would never forget.
Within eight years after King Saul's ignominious death, David had consolidated the factions among the Jews which Saul's death had caused and was incontestably the sole ruler of the reunited Kingdom of Israel. He abandoned the provincial capital of Hebron, relocating in the more centrally located city of Jerusalem (2Sam. 5:1-10). Thus began Israel to enjoy nearly 70 years of unprecedented happiness, first under David's righteous guidance and then by virtue of Solomon's inspired leadership.
David's long and joyous reign was unfortunately blemished by his adulterous relationship with the wife of one of Israel's noblest fighting men, Uriah the Hittite. But in David's story of suffering for his sin, we learn that virtually no failure need be final, except, as in Saul's case, the failure to repent.
My Son, My Son
When Bathsheba, Uriah's beautiful young wife, was found to be with child, the guilty King David successfully devised to have Uriah murdered (2Sam. 11). David then took Bathsheba into his own house, and shortly thereafter she bore to him a son. But when at last his sin "found him out", David listened with dread as his punishment was pronounced by Nathan the prophet:
“Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, the Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. And Nathan departed unto his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick....And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died” (2Sam. 12:11-15, 18).
Following the death of the infant son whom David so dearly loved, God did, as he said, raise up evil against David from his own house. As David fled Jerusalem for fear of his own impetuous son Absalom, he knew that he was being chastened by the Lord and harbored no ill-will toward the human instrument of God's wrath. On the contrary, even though driven from his kingdom by Absalom's army and made to fight for it again, he was crushed with grief at the news of Absalom's gruesome death:
“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2Sam. 18:33).
David knew the rebellion was not the fault of any other than himself. Had he kept the commandments of God, he would never have had to flee form Jerusalem into the wilderness as he had fled in his youth from the mad King Saul, nor would he have been tormented by the thoughts of Absalom, mutilated, hanging from a tree. David had caused it all. And he knew it. And that was half the pain.
“And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son. And the people gat them by stealth that day into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle. But the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2Sam. 19:2-4).
Those around David didn't understand his grief (cp. 2Sam. 19:5-6) because they didn't understand God as David did. They saw Absalom as an enemy to be hated. David saw Absalom as the instrument of God's anger, and could not hold his son Absalom responsible for what he himself had provoked God to do. This doesn't mean that Absalom unwillingly rebelled, but Absalom's intentions did not determine what happened to David; only God’s intentions did.
During his flight from Jerusalem David had demonstrated this same utter reliance upon God in another circumstance, though David's companions failed then, too, to comprehend:
“And when King David came to Bahurim, behold, thence came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera: he came forth and cursed still as he came. And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of King David: and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And thus said Shimei when he curse, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial: the Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man. Then said Abishai the son of Zeruiah unto the king, Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head. And the king said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because THE LORD HATH SAID UNTO HIM, CURSE DAVID. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so? And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants, Behold, my son, which came forth of my own bowels, seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it? Let him alone, and let him curse; for THE LORD HATH BIDDEN HIM (to do so). It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite my good for his cursing this day. And as David and his men went by the way, Shimei went along the hill's side over against him, and cursed as he went, and threw stones at him, and cast dust” (2Sam. 16:5-13).
Who would have believed that the Lord sent that man to curse and to throw stones at King David? But it was true. And David knew it to be true, because he could see through the glove being worn to behold nothing but the chastening hand of God at work. And David saw nothing but God's hand at work because he believed that the God to whom he had entrusted his life was faithful not to let slip through His mighty fingers the reins of authority over his life. In a sense, David wasn't hearing Shimei's curse; he was hearing God's curse, and he knew that he himself had caused that curse to come.
Pausing just outside Jerusalem with Zadok and Abiathar, the priests who, bearing the sacred ark of the covenant, wanted to flee with him, David's words there, too, had reflected his faith in God as being in sole command of his fate:
“Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and show me both it, and his habitation: But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him....Zadok therefore and Abiathar carried the ark of God again to Jerusalem: and they tarried there. And David went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up. . .” (from 2Sam. 15).
Some of the most touching of all verses of Scripture are found in the Psalms which David composed while bearing the grievous burdens of his sin. Of them, none exhibits more fear of more hope than this one, written, according to tradition, "when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba":
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgression: and my sin is ever before me....Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which THOU HAST BROKEN may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in my a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy Presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me” (from Ps. 51).
God's Spirit was not taken from David, as it had been taken from King Saul. And God did bring David back to his beloved Jerusalem. But the man whom God returned to the throne was a chastened man, a man broken with grief, a wiser man, much wiser, and with a heart close to God's own heart than he otherwise might have possessed. Fitting to David became the sobering praise of Psalm 118:18-19:
“The Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord.”
Yes, God had "broken David's bones" with suffering, but it had been done justly, with care, and with purpose. For, though God had broken his bones, David knew God would not despise his broken heart (Ps. 51:17), and it was in certain knowledge of His terrible power to destroy that David approached the Almighty with his plea for forgiveness. But, oh, what a difference we would have seen in David had he denied his guilt and held some other than God responsible for his sorrow. What anger, what hatred he would have felt! What harm he would have done to Israel! What eternal loss he may well have suffered!
It is in part because David was so desperate to obtain mercy from God that he was so willing to show it to Shimei, Absalom, and others. But underlying even that, was David's understanding that it was God's mercy which he needed because it was God's wrath which he was suffering. No one could have persuaded David to believe that evil forces or other gods were dictating these tragic events in his life, and because of that, no one could have persuaded David to hate those who were carrying out the dictates of God.
David's story bears witness to a truth which is unaffected by either time or customs of men. To wit, escape from the bondage of hatred is realized only when we stop blaming others for the suffering which God determines for us. David could submit to the chastening hand of God only by doing good to the human instruments of God's wrath; there is no other way that David could have regained God's favor. In other words, David knew how to behave in order to escape his trouble, because he never lost sight of Who was troubling him. David's glory, then, was not in his own wisdom or military prowess, but it was simply that he knew Whose hands were both beating him and holding up his bruised head. As the boy-prophet Jeremiah would proclaim, centuries later (9:23-24):
“Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches. But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth. For in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (Jer. 9:23-24).
Because David understood, and proved by his good deeds toward those wanting to harm him, that his trust was in God, he was received again, and blessed again by God. We do willingly "turn the other cheek" only when we know that none but God will determine whether we will be hit again. And as bold a step of faith as that may see to be, it is no more than what a genuine knowledge of our Creator demands. We are called to trust God, really trust Him, as the biblical heroes of faith trusted Him, so that we may sing with David of that comfort which this unbelieving and fearful world cannot understand: the comfort of God’s loving and chastening rod:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).
Just as a youth values discipline only as he matures, so the value of the discipline of God is appreciated only by matured saints. None but those who have grown to understand the Father's goodness can be comforted by His chastening rod. It is the immature mind which perceives that the care of the Father stops where the inflicting of pain begins. "My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord," wrote Solomon, "For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth" (Prov. 3:11-12). Such was the gist of the counsel which the prophets of old gave to the children of the Lord in Israel, and it is instruction which will always be needed as long as the body of Christ is blessed with young believers or confused by misunderstanding teachers.
Bathsheba's murdered husband, Uriah, having been a foreigner, had no near-kinsman in Israel to raise up a child by Bathsheba for him, as Moses' law commanded. Bathsheba could not be lift desolate of children. That would have been considered a cruelty beyond her shame of having being brought into King David's bedchamber. The responsibility to see that Bathsheba was not lift desolate of children, then, fell upon the chastened king. Thus was conceived the child Solomon, a child conceived this time not of wicked lists, but of obedience to the law of God. And though Solomon was not David's oldest son, or even close to it, David swore to Bathsheba that Solomon would reign after him, because God loved Solomon and chose him to reign in David's stead (1Chron. 28:5, 1Kgs. 1:16-17; 2Sam. 11:24).
As a child, Solomon was given much attention by the aging King David. Above all else, David stressed to the youth the value of wisdom, as Solomon would later relate in his book of Proverbs:
“I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: Keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she (i.e. wisdom) shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom” (Prov. 4:3-7).
Solomon continues through six complete chapters (Prov. 4-9) to recount his father's exhortations to him concerning the need for and value of wisdom. And those fatherly instructions had a lasting effect on the young man. After David's death, Solomon was told by God in a dream to ask for anything, and it would be given to him. Solomon's request was only for wisdom to govern well and to make right judgments:
“Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing” (1Kgs. 3:7-10).
God then promised Solomon such wisdom as no man had ever possessed. With that, God added riches almost beyond reckoning, and honor "such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like" (II Chron. 1:12). Moreover, God also promised,
“And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days” (1Kgs. 3:14).
God was not slack concerning any of these promises. Solomon's administration was a model of efficiency in complexity. Under his direction, Israel's dominion expanded to encompass, at long last, all the territory which God had promised to Abraham a thousand years before (Gen. 15:18; 1Kgs. 4:21). Solomon's wealth is simply staggering to consider. Fabulous apparel, rare spices, precious jewels, exotic plants and animals, specially bred horses, precious minerals, prized building materials, presents and tribute from vassal nations, brass in such abundance that it could not be counted, silver in such abundance that it became "in Jerusalem as stones", and in one year alone there came to Solomon "six hundred threescore and six talents of gold."
“And all King Solomon's drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold; none were of silver: it was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon. . .” (1Kgs. 10:21).
“I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I and great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I got me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I with held not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Eccl. 2:4-11).
With this last statement, Solomon confronts us with the heart's throb of the wisdom which he possessed. Like so much of the "hidden" wisdom of God, it is a simple reality which is hidden only because vain man overlooks it in his search for complex profundities which will exalt his reasoning capacity.
"Wisdom is before him that hath understanding", wrote Solomon, "but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth" (Prov. 17:24; cp. Eccl. 2:14). Solomon thus describes the phenomenon I just mentioned. That is, while vain men are straining to gain wisdom from distant places and from deep, twisted pits of reason, others are filled with the instruction of wisdom simply by observing the ordinary things of life everywhere before them. While some men are "never able to come to the knowledge of the truth", others cannot keep from increasing in wisdom any more than they can keep their eyes from seeing, their ears from hearing, or their chests from inhaling God's invisible streams of life.
Wisdom stares us in the face when we wake in the morning, regardless of where we wake. Birds sing it; flowers show it; rocks declare it; the whole earth exudes wisdom as the heart of a mother exudes pained compassion for a wayward son. It is not esoteric; it is simple, often ignored, and hungry for acceptance.
“Doth not wisdom cry? And understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of the high places, by the way in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things. For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge” (Prov. 8:1-9).
There is nothing perverse in creation's declaration of wisdom, because everything it tells us about the Creator is true. And everything it tells us about the Creator is true because the Creator created it. Creation is the work of the Creator! That is the reason that creation's message can be trusted and, in the final analysis, that is the very message of wisdom itself. Creation itself is an immovable, indisputable revelation, always present, in all ways pleading with all mankind to learn something of God in her.
“Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death” (Prov. 8:32-36).
The wisdom to be received from creation is a consuming concern of Solomon's writings, but were that the extent of it I would, for discussing it here, be at fault for pointless repetition. The certainty of creation's witness to the Creator has already been affirmed in the second chapter of Book One. The most significant value of Solomon's wisdom is not merely his declaration of the reality of creation's witness, not merely that creation is saying things about God. Rather, the value lies chiefly in Solomon's explanation of the things about God which creation is saying. It is an attainment of great spiritual value to become aware of creation's witness to the Creator; it is of even greater value to be able to interpret that witness so that suffering mankind may better understand their God and themselves and their situation in life.
We say that Solomon learned of God from creation. It may seem queer, but it is necessary to point out the obvious fact that the creation from which Solomon learned of God was this one. And before we examine some of what he learned, it is imperative that we think about that, for that single, obvious truth is of importance to those who must suffer and struggle in faith to hope. In other words, it is of importance to us all.
If God created everything perfectly pleasing to Himself, as He did, and then creation was redefined or recreated by Satan to include sickness, pain, disaster and death, then this miserable, fallen state of man is not a witness to the holiness and power of its Creator; rather, it bears witness to the wickedness and power of Lucifer. If suffering is Satan's curse upon mankind, if the presence of disease and disaster and pain are his "creations" for man, then God's fingerprints are not upon them, and there is, then, another to whom creation bears witness, another whose power men should fear, another who determines the circumstances of human life. But an opinion such as that fails to distinguish between Satan's ability to deceive men and God's power to punish men for sinning. Suffering and death are not Satan's curses upon mankind; they are God's curses upon man for his sin. They are evidences of His holiness and His power, and they are inspiration for all men to fear God, although not all men receive that inspiration.
But does not creation teach us about Satan as well as about God? Only indirectly, as we may also learn lessons in life about ourselves. Primarily, what creation indirectly teaches us about Satan is the dreadful results of believing his lies and of following his example of doing evil instead of doing good. The result of man's sin is man's present predicament of misery, war, confusion, fear, and endless toil. The One who thus afflicted man is God. So we learn, so this creation in which we live teaches us, by the terrible, tragic condition of humankind, that God is to be reverenced, feared, obeyed. The sorry consequences of a contrary course are both obvious and ubiquitous.
Time, Purpose, and Judgment
The wisdom which God gave to Solomon was the ability to see creation and understand it the way it was intended to be seen and understood. It was not an impractical, speculative intellectualism. Solomon's wisdom was his ability to learn eternal truths by observing temporal phenomena. As much as most of us sail through this life ignorant of creation's constant proclamation of eternal truths, so much was Solomon's heart opened by God to hear and to see, and to be instructed by everything which he heard and saw. And of the many profound truths which glared before Solomon's eyes, there are three which dominated much of Solomon's writing: Man's prison of time, the reality of purpose in all things, and the certainty of results, or judgment, for every action or inaction in the universe.
As Solomon meditated in his gardens, his ears heard the crack of dried, dead twigs under his feet. Lifting his eyes, he beheld blossom-bearing green twigs on the tree limbs above. Only a matter of time. He felt the warm easterly breeze from the burning Arabian sands, remembered the bitter cold winds from the north, and knew they would return. Only a matter of time. Rising with the sun, he strolled in the morning to the tomb of his father, felt the cold stone, and noticed the long morning's shadows had already grown shorter. Only a matter of time. He observed Jerusalem's inhabitants from the battlement of his palace, laughing children racing unheedingly, recklessly past tottering, white-header elders. Tim. He feasted to the full and, not many hours afterward, again felt the gnawing demand of human flesh for sustenance. Time.
Time! Time! Time! The tyranny of it! The blessing of it! The misery and the joy! Solomon was obsessed with time. Without God's help, the wisdom which God gave to Solomon would have driven him insane. Solomon's ears were opened to the plaintive cry of a creation filled with time! time! time! It was the greatest curse which the angry Creator imposed upon disobedient man, yet it was an act of incredible mercy. A curse, because "time" means "not eternal"; it requires death. Mercy, because death wasn't immediate; we are given time to prepare for the end of our time. A curse, because there is a time for love and for peace, but only a time. Mercy, because there is a time for hatred and war, but only a time. Solomon could find nothing on earth that was not cursed with time, nothing that was not dying or decaying or being spent. Even unborn babies were already cursed and blessed with time (cp. Eccl. 1:4). It vexed Solomon incessantly:
“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity....I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 1:2, 14).
By "vanity", Solomon means "temporal", or "subject to time", and in his commentary on the condition of fallen man, Solomon describes everything in the human condition as "vain." Nothing of this creation is eternal.
“Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity” (Eccl. 11:7-8).
For this cause, the day of death is better than the day of one's birth, for death is our escape from time (cp. Eccl. 7:1-4). If you think that a person would be a happier person if he did not think on such matters, Solomon would wholeheartedly agree (Eccl. 1:18). If you think that a person would be a better person if he did not think on these matters, Solomon would not agree, for
“Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning: but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Eccl. 7:3-4).
A constant awareness of time, a constant mindfulness of the presence of death and ending, is encouragement in times of suffering because we know that suffering, too, is only for a time. In times of pleasure, that same awareness will keep us sober minded, keep us humble, keep us from being lured into excess by the deceitfulness of riches and of ease. Nothing in this creation is timeless. Living in an awareness of that is part of the profound wisdom which God gave to Solomon. But it is only a part.
In addition to time, Solomon discerned another essential quality of this creation: purpose. Solomon saws purpose in the blossom-bearing twigs, purpose in the dead ones snapping beneath the weight of his sandals, purpose in the sandals themselves, purpose in the light of the sun which illuminated the scene for Solomon's eyes. It is a reality which is pervasive and dominating in the Creator's design of His universe. Solomon understood that the sun shines not by its own power, but by the will of its Creator to fulfill His many, many purposes. Flowers don't just grow; God "purposes" them to grow. God purposes sorrow and joy in our lives, He purposes snowfall and wind, He purposes war and peace. And the fact that we sometimes cannot discern His purpose is no reason whatsoever to doubt their existence.
So glutted with purpose are the experiences of our lives that Solomon does not call them "events"; he calls them "purposes." He saw birth as a purpose, weeping as a purpose, gain, loss, silence, speech as purposes (Eccl. 3:1-17).
If knowing that suffering is only for a time provides the sufferer with a measure of relief, then knowing that it has purpose provides the sufferer with even greater consolation. For the accomplishment of the purpose for suffering is the means of escape from suffering. Herein lies the wisdom of continuing to do good in times of suffering. Only the pathway of right conduct leads to God's door of escape from suffering, because only right conduct will accomplish God's purpose for the suffering. There is time in this creation only for God's purposes; something without purpose does not exist. Everything God created has purpose. Everything God does has purpose. And when the purpose for suffering is accomplished, the time for suffering is completed. Otherwise suffering without purpose would exist, and there is no such thing.
Lastly, with the iron rule of time and the all-permeating reality of purpose, Solomon could not for a moment fail to hear wisdom crying out, through every element of creation, concerning the certainty of judgment.
We might more fully appreciate Solomon's word "judgment" if we would use the word "reward", or "result." Solomon saw result in every word spoken and every silence maintained. If a man walked, he got somewhere. If he stood still, he stayed where he was. If it rained, the earth was watered and would bear fruit. If there was drought, the earth was dry. If a man labored and cared for his goods, he had plenty to eat. If he didn't labor, he would hunger. This is the way of God's creation, and it tells us something about God. Solomon's book of Proverbs especially focuses on this quality: results, or judgment. Read the 20 chapters of Solomon's proverbs (Prov. 10-29) and place an "R" beside every verse which suggests or speaks of reward or result, and you may need to sharpen your pencil's point before you are finished! Yes, "to every purpose" there is not only a time but "there is time and judgment" (Eccl. 8:6).
To the one who is suffering, perhaps it is the greatest comfort of all to know that for every act there is a judgment, a result. However, it is a comfort only when it is understood that all judgment belongs to God, or, we could say, all results are determined by God. What a thrilling realization, what a liberation from fear and worry, to realize that suffering is only one more of time's subjects, that if our suffering had no purpose it would not exist (and will cease to exist when its purpose is accomplished), and, finally, that our "patient continuance in well doing" during times of suffering, and our faith in God's purpose, will have a result which will be determined by the very God whom we have trusted!
The picture of the universe which Solomon paints for us in one of remarkable simplicity and consistency. As for man, his lowly miserable state is God's judgment, God's reward, for man's own sin. But Solomon saw that this state of suffering is only for a time and is for a purpose. At the end of time, God will reward men individually on the basis of whether or not their deeds demonstrated patience and faith through this time of suffering.
All of creation is subject to time, filled with purpose, and rushing toward judgment, and all creation declares those truths to every living soul. There are those that have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear, and hearts but do not understand. But the ear that hears time in the cry of an infant learns to fear the creator's wrath against sin. The eye that sees purpose in the movement of the stars, learns to rest in hope of the Creator's care for all that He has made. And the heart that discerns in the earthly results of human behavior a foretaste of judgment to come, wastes none of its short time in its quest to accomplish the will of God.
After his consideration of all these things, and many more truths besides, and after he had absorbed from creation such a vast amount of wisdom, Solomon, the practical counselor, reached a simple conclusion that belies the unsearchable depths of wisdom which inspired it:
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14).
Of Solomon's 1005 songs, only the Song of Solomon is extant. Of his 3,000 proverbs about 1,000 are preserved in the books called Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Of all his proverbs, however, Proverbs 16:7 remains one of the most haunting, in light of Solomon's inexplicable turn from righteousness in his latter years:
“When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
It teases the heights of irony that the man who spoke those words should later himself so displease the Lord that, instead of making Solomon's enemies to be his friends, God turned some of Solomon's friends to be his enemies.
“For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. . .And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods. And the Lord was angry with Solomon. . .Wherefore the Lord said unto Solomon, Foreasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statues, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant. Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father's sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son. Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe (Judah) to thy son for David my servant's sake, and for Jerusalem's sake which I have chosen. And the Lord stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite....And God stirred him up another adversary, Rezon the son of Eliadah....and he was an adversary to Israel all the days of Solomon, beside the mischief that Hadad did: and he abhorred Israel, and reigned over Syria. And Jeroboam the son of Nebat....Solomon's servant....even he lifted up his hand against the king....And it came to pass at that time when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way. . .And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces: And he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces; for thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes unto thee: But he (Solomon) shall have one tribe for my servant David's sake, and for Jerusalem's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel: Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshiped [other gods]” (From 1Kgs. 11).
Did Solomon repent of his idolatry before he died? How could this man, so full of wisdom, be so foolish? How could the author of three powerful books in the Bible turn from the righteousness and faith to which those very books guide hungry souls? Solomon's apostasy proves to be as mysterious and enigmatic as was his mighty wisdom.
THE DIVIDED KINGDOM: ISRAEL’S FALL
The kingdom over which Saul, David, and Solomon reigned was, as God promised, divided into two kingdoms, north and south (1Kgs. 12). Rehoboam, Solomon's son, would have by military force attempted to quell the rebellion of the ten northern tribes, but he was stopped by a prophet named Shemaiah:
“Thus saith the Lord, ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; FOR THIS THING IS FROM ME. They hearkened therefore to the word of the Lord, and returned. . .” (1Kgs. 12:24).
The northern 10 tribes retained the name "Israel" for their kingdom. The southern kingdom became the kingdom of "Judah." And the fate of both these small nations demonstrates the grim truth of Jesus' words:
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.”
Jeroboam, first king of "Israel", feared that if the people continued their yearly religious observances at Jerusalem, Judah's capitol, their hearts would "turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam, King of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam King of Judah" (1Kgs. 12:27). Jeroboam sought advice on this matter and, having received it, decided to invent a new religion for his kingdom like the true religion which was practiced in Judah, so that he could dissuade his people from making the pilgrimages to Solomon's temple in Jerusalem which Moses' law required.
Jeroboam's first act of apostasy was to construct two golden calves, one to be placed in Bethel near his southern border with Judah, the other to be placed in the northern part of his kingdom. "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem", he told the people, "behold [these calves are] thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (1Kgs. 12:28). Next, Jeroboam built a house for the worship of various gods, and though it could not have rivaled Jerusalem's magnificent temple in beauty, it proved to be a successful rival for the hearts of many in Israel. Jeroboam also "ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah" (1Kgs. 12:32).
A thorn in Jeroboam's flesh were the Levites, whom God had ordained to teach the law of Moses to the people. Joshua had scattered the Levites into 48 cities throughout the promised land so that the Israelites in every place might always be near someone able to instruct them in the ways of the Lord. What was Jeroboam to do with this tribe of holy men, which among Jeroboam's 10 tribes possessed a total of 35 cities? He decided to forbid them to practice their divinely ordained offices any longer, "and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi" (1Kgs. 12:31). In doing this, Jeroboam was divorcing himself and his nation from the covenant made with God at Mt. Sinai. He thought it was the only way to save his nation, but eventually it would result in its complete destruction.
Jeroboam's unnamed advisors told him first to find men who would teach the people to worship God as did the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is, to build altars on the hill tops (e.g. Gen. 12:8), to plant groves for places of worship (e.g. Gen. 21:33), and to have close ties to heathen nation (e.g. Gen. 14:13). All these things, permitted in the days of those patriarchs, were strictly forbidden by the law of Moses (e.g. Dt. 12:1-5; Dt. 16:21; Dt. 7:1-5; 23:1-6). Recalling Abraham's method of worship, the rallying cry of Jeroboam's priests became "the manner of Beersheba liveth!" (Amos 8:14). With this tactic, they persuaded many Israelites to believe that in returning to the patriarchs' manner of worship, they were returning to an original, unadulterated faith. Moses' law was rejected, possibly as being unsophisticated, superstitious, dictatorial, and too nationalistic. Likewise, David's doctrine that Jerusalem was divinely chosen as "the place" to worship (Dt. 12:13-14; Ps. 87:2) was rejected. Israel's new class of religious leaders quickly seized upon the theme of openness, even confederacy, with surrounding nations, no doubt accusing both Moses and David not only of a restrictive nationalistic attitude but also of nepotism. Moses, for claiming that God had chosen his own tribe of Levi for the honor of priestly and judicial service. David, for claiming that God had promised him a perpetual line of successor kings. Stressing this point, even Moses' destruction of the infamous golden calf at Mount Sinai could be interpreted as an effort to keep the Israelites enslaved to his law. And their construction of the golden calf would be interpreted as an effort toward freedom, a freedom which now, at long last, Jeroboam's priests and prophets offered to the nation.
This new class of clergy which Jeroboam invented for his nation became polished professionals of their craft. They painted for the northern kingdom of Israel a deceitful picture. Namely, that the southern "sister" nation of Judah was hopelessly naive, clinging to misinformed doctrines and antiquated ideas. Not infrequently does the Bible indicate that the northern kingdom's opinion of Judah was that she was a silly "country bumpkin", far less sophisticated than her northern sister. Going to Jerusalem to sacrifice to God became a joke. It was made to seem degrading, and unbecoming to true, enlightened faith. Israel's prophets probably laughed to scorn the very notion of traveling to Solomon's temple, and very likely accused Judah of trying to "can God up" into one little building in Jerusalem. Anyone with an inclination to obey God and go to His altar in Jerusalem probably suffered reproaches and persecution, that is, if he was courageous enough to face the shame by admitting to his feelings. He probably would even have been pitied, as though overcome by superstitious spirits, when in truth every one who refused to sacrifice only in Jerusalem had been overcome by the deceit of cunning men, the professional prophets and priest.
Jeroboam's sin provoked God's wrath, and that wrath resulted in a grievous curse upon that religion "which he had devised of his own heart" (1Kgs. 13:1-3) and upon himself and his descendants (1Kgs. 14). But for Solomon's son Rehoboam, King of Judah, who was still walking according to Moses' law, it provided strength, for
“. . .the priests and the Levites that were in all Israel resorted to him out of all their coasts. For the Levites left their suburbs and their possession and came to Judah and Jerusalem: for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest's office unto the Lord” (2Chron. 11:13-14).
Israel's great loss became Judah's great benefit, but when those who were righteous in Israel saw that the Levites were departed and Moses' law was abrogated, then Israel's loss became even greater, for many righteous men among the 10 northern tribes followed the Levites southward.
“. . .out of all the tribes of Israel such as set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto the Lord God of their fathers. So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and made Rehoboam the son of Solomon strong. . .” (2Chron. 11:16-17).
According to the word of the Lord (1Kgs. 14:1-16), Jeroboam's entire family was slain, just two years after he ended his 22-year reign (1Kgs. 15:25-30). Baasha, the man who killed Jeroboam's descendants, then suffered the same fate, for two years after his death his son was assassinated and all his descendants were slain (1Kgs. 16:8-14). Zimri, the soldier who killed Baasha's descendants, committed suicide one week later when Omri, general of Israel's army, surrounded Zimri in Tirzah (1Kgs. 16:21-22), and has dynasty was relatively successful. He had three descendants to follow him on the throne, the most notable of them being his wicked son Ahab, who married Jezebel, persecuted Elijah, cunningly took advantage of Judah's upright but naive King Jehoshaphat, and incurred upon his house the same curse which God had inflicted upon the other houses of Israel's king: complete slaughter. Jehu was the soldier who accomplished this bloody task, having been anointed by Elisha to assume control of the northern kingdom (2Kgs. 9-10). His was the most successful of all the short-lived dynasties of Israel. Four of his descendants followed his 28-year reign with reigns of 17, 16, and 41 years, and then 6 months. The 41-year reign belonged to Jehu's great-grandson, Jeroboam, whom we distinguish from Israel's first king by calling him Jeroboam II. In the final forty, tragic years of Israel's history which came after Jeroboam II's death, 6 kings ruled. Four were assassinated (including Jeroboam II's son, Zachariah), and the last one was taken in chains into captivity. The nation collapsed, never to rise again. In all, only eight of Israel's 20 kings managed to die a natural death on the throne. The average length of time on the throne was about 10 years. In contrast, the average length of reign for Judah's kings was about 18 years, and all these kings belonged to the same family, the house of David.
None of the 20 kings who presided over the northern kingdom of Israel were considered righteous, for none of them departed from Jeroboam's false religion "wherewith he made Israel to sin." None of these kings took the risk of encouraging Israel to return to worship at God's temple in Jerusalem. On the other hand, of Judah's 19 kings (Athaliah excluded) were some righteous men, such as Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. The salt of righteousness which did exist in Judah preserved the kingdom for a century and a half longer than her northern sister.
These few centuries, following Solomon’s death and the dividing of the kingdom of Israel into two smaller kingdoms, was the era of greatest prophetic activity. Though none of God’s prophets were limited in their labors to either one of these nations, their messages usually associated individual prophets with one nation more than the others. For example, Elijah’s ministry had more to do with Israel than with Judah (cp. 1Kgs.17-21). And the same may be said of Elisha, Micaiah, Amos, Hosea, and Jonah. Among the prophets whose voices were heard principally in the southern kingdom were Isaiah, Micah, Joel, Jeremiah, and Zephaniah. And it is the message of these prophets concerning the suffering of Israel and Judah which we should especially heed. Every one of these true prophets, though speaking in different locations, sometimes centuries apart, proclaimed the absolute sovereignty of God over the tragic events which befell His people.
Of the sixteen prophetic books which are preserved in the scriptures, only five fail to tell us when the prophet spoke (Joel, Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Malachi). The earliest of those whose times are given are Jonah (2Kgs.14:25), then Amos and Hosea. But even their prophecies are associated with the reign of Jeroboam II in Israel; so, we see that the time of the prophets whose books survive is relatively late in Old Testament history, beginning about 50 years prior to the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Amos and Hosea
Amos was an obscure herdsman and fruit gatherer from the quiet Judean village of Tekoah. While tending sheep on the peaceful, green slopes near his home, Amos was visited by the Almighty and commissioned to bear His commination to the prosperous northern kingdom and her king, Jeroboam II.
The nine chapters of Amos’ prophecies are glutted with “gloom and doom.” Except for the last five verses of the book, his messages are completely without those bright, sudden bursts of hope which characterize other prophetic books. His was an unpleasant task, a relentless indictment of the northern Kingdom of Israel for her departure from the kind of worship and lifestyle which the Law prescribed (cp. 2:6-12). But by the time of Amos, those in Israel to whom Amos spoke had been without Levites, the teachers of the Law, for over a century and were completely absorbed into the idolatrous, polytheistic understanding of their world. To combat this darkened spiritual attitude, Amos proclaimed anew the ancient revelation of God as Creator:
“. . .prepare to meet thy God, O Israel. For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what [is] his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, [is] his name. . . [Seek him] that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD [is] his name. . .[It is] he that buildeth his stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop in the earth; he that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD [is] his name” (Amos 4:12a-13, 5:8, 9:6)
Beyond this, Amos combated the idolatrous view of the world, into which his northern brothers had fallen, by declaring that responsibility for Israel’s sufferings, and Israel’s hope of deliverance, rested in no one’s hands but her Creator-God, Jehovah, and that it was Jehovah who had afflicted her in order to drive the nation back to the true worship of God:
“I have given you cleanness of teeth (i.e. famine) in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. And also I have withholden the rain from you...yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah...yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord” (Amos 4:6-11).
These verses, taken alone, might not have incited ire from Israel's idolaters, for they too could have believed Jehovah to be responsible for some of Israel's sufferings. But Amos insisted that God, alone, was responsible for every painful or pleasant circumstance that Israel had experienced, that it was impossible for harm to befall the cities of Israel unless the Lord did it (Amos 3:2-6). Of course, Amos' message exposed the foolishness of Israel's fear and worship of other gods and, so, infuriated the professional, idolatrous priests and prophets of his time. This angry reaction is especially easy to understand when we consider that Amos was prophesying gloomy things to a relaxed, prosperous nation.
Jeroboam II during these years was guiding Israel through a truly independent and comfortable time (the last such rest she would ever know). For 41 years Jeroboam II enjoyed military successes which restored much of Israel's lost territory and provided Israel with respite from the civil strife, murder, intrigue, and foreign oppression which characterized most of Israel's two centuries. It was only of the tender compassion of God that so capable a governor sat upon Israel's throne (2Kgs. 14:25-27), but it is doubtful that either Israel of Jeroboam II believed that. That sad fact may account for some of the vehemence of Amos' denunciations. What is certain is that his fiery prophecies did no fit the confident, complacent, contented mood of Israel in Jeroboam II's reign. Amos was denounced as an unwelcome alien to Baal's turf, an old-fashioned conspirator against the independence of the nation of Israel, trying to frighten the people to return to Judah and to the kings of the house of David:
“Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam King of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land. Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou see, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the kings chapel, and it is the kings court” (Amos 7:10-13).
Bethel being one of the principal places of worship in Israel, and Amaziah having access to the king's ear, we can safely assume that Amaziah, though wicked, was a religious leader of great ability and importance, no doubt possessing a developed intuition concerning spiritual matters and personal survival. It is no wonder that Amaziah so strongly condemned Amos as a threat to the safety of Israel, for Amaziah knew that if the king listened to Amos and turned to the Lord with all his heart, Amaziah's own life would be in danger. Moses' law required the death penalty for idolatry (Dt. 13), and though the common folk would hardly have been so ignorant, Amaziah slandered Amos in order to save his own neck. He made himself appear to be the defender of the nation, when in fact he and others like him were leading Israel into indescribable misery, and destruction.
Again, Amaziah's deceitful accusation against Amos was not simply a response to Amos' declaration of destruction. That, in itself, might have been tolerated. His contention was sparked by Amos' declaration that Israel would be destroyed by the God who delivered the Israelites from Egypt (2:9-16), and Israel's only hope of escape lay in obeying Him. Had Amaziah allowed that part of Amos' message to go unchallenged, the inhabitants of Israel might have been persuaded to reconsider their life style, to be curious about Moses' law and their own history. As long as Amaziah could persuade them to see Amos only as a Judean spy, sent to lead them into the harness of Judah's king Uzziah, Amaziah was safe. Amaziah may even have persuaded himself to believe that what he was saying was true. But Amaziah knew-it was obvious-that if Amos' message were ever received by the people, he would be out of a job or, more probably, stoned. As it was, Amos himself may have been put to death by the idolatrous priests of Israel. That certainly would explain the brevity of his time as a prophet, which may have been only a handful of years.
A bold voice which was not to be silenced, however, was Hosea, whose work may easily have spanned half a century, beginning about the same time as Amos and continuing possibly even to the fulfillment of his prophecies of Israel's doom. But if he did escape execution, it was not because his prophecies were of a softer tone than Amos', nor because he credited God with less responsibility for the sufferings of His wayward people. He bluntly warned Jeroboam II that his descendants would be slaughtered, as had been slaughtered the descendants of Israel's other kings (1:4), and that it would be God who would slay them, as it had been He who had destroyed the houses of Israel's other kings (13:11). Hosea told Israel that her blessings of corn, wine, money, clothing, and other goods had been given by God, not Baal (2:8), that she had wronged God by thinking otherwise, and that now God would demonstrated his authority over their blessings by taking those blessings away:
“Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her [Israel's] nakedness. And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers [other gods and their worshippers] and none shall deliver her out of my hand. . .And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, "These are my rewards that my lovers hath given me. . ." And I will visit upon her the days of Baalim, wherein she burned incense to them, and decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and she went after her lovers, and forgat me, saith the Lord” (Hos. 2:9-13).
The greatest difference between the prophecies of Amos and Hosea is Hosea's revelation of the depth of God's hurt concerning Israel's unfaithfulness to Him, and Hosea's proclamation of God's great sorrow for the terrible suffering which He would shortly inflict upon them:
“When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. . .I taught Ephraim [another name for Israel] also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off teh yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them. . .How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboiim? [two cities destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah]. Mine heart is turned within me. . .O Israel thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help. I will be thy king: where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities?” (-Excerpts from Hosea).
But Amaziah and the many other idolatrous priests like him had too firm a grip on the minds of the people for the people to believe that their hope, their only hope, was in Jehovah, or that He was the only One Whose wrath they needed to fear. The warnings of Amos and Hosea were rejected as dangerous, perhaps antiquated doctrines. The idolatrous priests themselves claimed to be anointed to bring the true message to the people: the days of blessing and prosperity would continue so long as the gods were pleased. So, Israel followed on confidently behind the professional prophets, refusing to countenance either Hosea's compassionate, pleading voice or the voice of the shepherd from Tekoa who claimed to be sent by God. But even as they did so, another thundering voice began to be heard in Jerusalem, the voice of the great prophet Isaiah, announcing which nation God had chosen to inflict His terrible, final blow upon this foolish, sinful northern kingdom:
“Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets” (Isa. 10:5-6).
Isaiah's length of time in God's service approximately equaled Hosea's (cp. Hos. 1:1 with Isa. 1:1), and they may have been well acquainted. It seems doubtful that Isaiah knew Amos, for Amos prophesied in the earlier part of King Ussiah's reign, when Jeroboam II ruled in Israel, and Isaiah began his career apparently in Uzziah's last days (Isa. 6). But the difference in time did not alter the somber message of the Spirit which spoke through them both: the very God who had saved the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage was now contemplating for them a much worse fate than Egyptian bondage had ever been. Still, in His fathomless love and mercy, the Creator pleaded with His chosen people, to the very end, to repent.
Very shortly after Isaiah joined Hosea and Amos in the battle for the hearts of God's people, Micah was also given the burden of bearing the sword of the Word of God:
“The Lord's voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it. . .The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net. That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward [i.e. bribe]. . .the best of them is as a brier: the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge. . .Therefore will I make Samaria [capitol of the northern kingdom] as an heap of the field. . .and all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces
. . .and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate. . .Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel. O my people, what have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me” (-excerpts from Micah).
Even as these words from Micah the prophet were being spoken, Israel's borders, which the deceased Jeroboam II had enlarged, were already in retreat before Assyria's expanding military adn political dominion. God's ominous, angry shadow loomed nearer to Israel with every passing day, ever more certain to cover the land with suffering. Prophetic activity, both true and false, became intense, the way a sunset sky may burst into brilliant, dazzling hues before turning black.
When Israel's gruesome end finally came, it came with surprisingly little biblical elaboration. In just four verses of Scripture are reported, in matter-of-fact language, Israel's subjugation to Assyria, the subsequent rebellion of Hoshea [Israel's last king], Hoshea's consequent capture and imprisonment, Assyria's siege and destruction of Samaria, and then, the captivity and deportation of the population of Israel (2Kgs. 17:3-6). The remaining 35 verses of that same chapter are devoted to insuring that the reader understands that all these tragedies which befell Israel were decreed and directed by God, and not by the Assyrians, nor by other supposed deities:
“Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only” (2Kgs. 17:18).
Israel miserably failed in two key areas of faith. First, she failed to acknowledge God's complete, unshakable authority over His creation, both the pleasant and the unpleasant elements. Second, and contingent upon the first, she failed to do what was good in the Lord's sight. Believing the truth, which God's messengers tried so valiantly to persuade Israel to believe, could have provided Israel the strength to repent and obey the law of God. But the more desperate became Israel's situation, the more feverishly she provoked His wrath, in praying to and seeking the favor and help of other gods. Her lack of the knowledge of God was her destruction, as God, in profound grief, had said by Hosea (4:6):
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
Now, half the house which was divided against itself had collapsed around its idols and was carried away like scrap to distant dumping grounds. Little Judah, the only part of the house of Jacob remaining, now stood alone against the winds. And as the frighteningly dark cloud which had fallen with such fury upon Israel continued to sweep southward, many must have doubted that this small remaining part of the household of faith would be able to stand.
After destroying Israel, the Assyrian King Sennacherib ordered his war-hardened forces to continue their offensives in the land of Canaan. Meeting no significant opposition, the Assyrian army marched onto the pleasant hills of little Judah, wreaking havoc as they advanced toward Jerusalem, the "city of the Great King." True and false prophets had long striven with one another as to whether these ruthless Assyrian soldiers were working for God or against Him. Now, in a bizarre twist, the Assyrian General Rabshekah would settle the issue. Standing just beyond the walls of a terrified, besieged Jerusalem, Rabshekah's testimony lent overwhelming weight to the true prophet's words:
“Am I now come up without the Lord against this place to destroy? The Lord said unto me, ‘Go up against this land, and destroy it’" (2Kgs. 18:25).
Within Jerusalem's walls, the righteous King Hezekiah, the now aged prophet Isaiah, and all Jerusalem, sought the face of the Lord in fasting and prayer. Tales of the horrors of Samaria's siege were still fresh in Jerusalem's worried mind. In the night, the willowing flames of a thousand Assyrian campfires swaggered and danced about Jerusalem in rude mockery of the inhabitants' fears. By day, the relaxed, confident soldiers could be seen attending to the routine of camp as nonchalantly as a carnivorous bird may preen its rumpled feathers, waiting for a bleeding victim to crease its frantic, and useless efforts to escape the sharp, gripping claws.
The intoxicating gratification of successive military conquests, however, blurred King Sennacherib's judgment. Forgetting that it was God who had sent him against Israel and Judah, he stumbled into the pit of pride. And from that darkened abyss he blasphemed the very God who had given nations into his hand, and claimed for himself the glory which belongs to no earthly king:
“After this did Sennacherib King of Assyria send his servants to Jerusalem, unto Hezekiah King of Judah, and unto all Judah that were at Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith Sennacherib King of Assyria, Whereon do ye trust, that ye abide in the siege in Jerusalem? Doth not Hezekiah persuade you to give over yourselves to die by famine and by thirst, saying, the Lord our God shall deliver us out of the hand of the king of Assyria?
Know ye not what I and my fathers have done unto all the people of other lands? Were the gods of the nations of those lands able to deliver their lands out of my hand? Who was there among all the gods of those nations that my fathers utterly destroyed, that could deliver his people out of my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you out of my hand? Now therefore let not Hezekiah deceive you, nor persuade you on this manner, neither yet believe him: for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of my hand, and out of the hand of my fathers: how much less shall your God deliver you out of my hand?
And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed unto the Lord, saying, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou are the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth. Incline thine ear, O Lord, and hear; open thine eyes, O Lord, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, and have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord, even thou only.
Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus said the Lord God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib King of Assyria: This is the word which the Lord hath spoken concerning thee [i.e. this is the reply, Hezekiah, which you will send to Sennacherib]; "The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice? even against the Holy One of Israel. By thy servants thou hast reproached the Lord and hast said, By the multitude of my chariots [not because the Lord sent me] am I come up to the height of the mountains...I have digged, and drunk water; and with the soles of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places.
Hast thou not heard long ago, how I [the Lord God of Israel] have done it, and of ancient times, that I have formed it? Now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defensed cities into ruinous heaps....[It was for this reason alone that]their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded. . .But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me. Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into my ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way which thou camest." (from 2Kgs. 18-19; 2Chron. 32; Isa. 36-37).
We can only imagine the anger which this message provoked in the Assyrian high command. Sennacherib himself must have been made livid by this insulting, taunting response to his demand for Hezekiah's surrender. As darkness deepened and brought its spell of slumber upon the generals who camped around Jerusalem, no doubt they laid themselves down in their tents with but one thought in mind: to bring haughty Jerusalem to her knees before Assyria's mighty gods and to make a public example of Hezekiah and the prophets who, so they thought, had so foolishly mislead him to trust in Jehovah. But as those mighty men laid themselves down that evening and drifted into sleep amid the somniferous crack of campfires and crickets, they could not have dreamed of the scene which, with the light of dawn would greet their waking eyes, for:
“. . .the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib King of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh” (Isa. 37:36-37, cp. Hos 1:6-7).
It was a blow from which the Assyrian empire never recovered.
Israel's failure to acknowledge God's hand in Assyria's military advances led to her downfall. Despite all that Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah said, God's people in Israel did not believe that God would destroy them. It was the same failure to acknowledge God's control over those same military successes which led to Assyria's downfall. Despite what the true prophets said, these heathen did not believe that God could destroy them. Too late, both Israel and Assyria learned the truth. And they both provided for little, lonely Judah a powerful, though woefully grim, lesson.
Before continuing with this history, we should pause to examine our own thoughts concerning Israel's destruction. Do we really believe that the pain and death inflicted upon Israel was the work of God against His won people? That is a question which, because of its enormous implications, requires of every saint an answer - but constrains us to patient, prayerful study before we dare render one. Actually, it is not altogether correct to say that we must give the answer to that question. For the question is as old as suffering itself and the answer is always already given, though it be so difficult to embrace. Therefore, it would be more correct to say that we must prepare ourselves in study and prayer to receive that answer which at every turn of the Bible's pages confronts us. The people of Israel were called upon by the prophets of God to receive that answer and be saved from death, but they were pathetically unprepared. And from my experiences as a pastor and teacher, I have learned that, sadly, there exist among us now a large number of equally unprepared believers.
There is a phrase used by the prophets which is especially instructive, if we can grasp its meaning. It is "receiving correction." By enjoining Israel to "receive correction", the prophets were calling upon Israel, first, to acknowledge that their sufferings were from God, second, to confess that God was righteous to afflict them because of their sins and, third, to turn from their error and do good in God's sight. Israel did not "receive correction" and do good, because the false prophets had convinced the people that Jehovah was not responsible for the circumstances which confronted them; therefore, they saw no need to alter their lifestyles according to Jehovah's commandments.
We now are living in a time in which it has become increasingly unpopular to acknowledge this same truth which Israel ignored. The dangers are obvious. When we falter in trusting God to be God of our every moment and believe instead that some other may be determining the sufferings which we face, we can not receive correction, for we will not believe that it is correction which we are receiving. The, instead of receiving God's correction, we will denounce it (possibly even as being demonic), rebel against it, and in the end find ourselves fighting against God.
We can not say that Judah's deliverance was of God but Israel's destruction was not. We must not allow ourselves to be mislead by those who teach that the blessings and pleasures of the saints are from God, while the sufferings of the saints are from some other source. That doctrinal stance, always available and attractive, betrays a warped perception both of life itself and of life's Creator. Though at first that doctrine seems to glorify God by removing Him from involvement in the hard, hurting times of our lives, it is actually a satanically inspired attempt to rob men's fear of, and trust in God. It is an idolatrous, spiritually enervating persuasion. God not only is involved in the sufferings of His people, He is in authority over those sufferings, either to lighten those burdens that press upon us or to increase them. Understanding that truth is a very real part of the knowledge of God to which the Scriptures, through these accounts of Israel's history, call us.
But this lesson which Israel's fall supplies us is declared in even clearer terms to our hearts by the events which subsequently befell the lonely little kingdom of Judah. May God open our hearts to hear His holy Word, for as the Apostle Paul so wisely pointed out, these events are recorded for our admonition and instruction (1Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4), and as we continue this series called All Things, we will carefully study the divinely given history of little Judah, from which our God intends for us to learn of Him.
THE DIVIDED KINGDOM:
It would seem that for Judah and Jerusalem, their miraculous escape from the claws of the Assyrian beast would have prompted a long, long time of fear, thanksgiving, and devotion to God and His law. For the remaining fifteen years of righteous Hezekiah's reign this was true. Unfortunately, Hezekiah's successor was only 12 years old at Hezekiah's death, which means that he was born 3 years after the great deliverance from Assyria. And the significance of the event seemed completely lost to his little, twisted mind.
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem; but did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, like unto the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them. Also he built altars in the house of the Lord, whereof the Lord had said, "In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever." And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, "In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever: neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them." So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel. Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside the sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. And the Lord spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken” (2Kgs. 21 and 2Chron. 33).
When the boy Manasseh began his 55-year reign, the scars which God's Assyrian servants had left upon Judah were very nearly healed. At Manasseh's death, and principally because of his wretched life, the much deeper scars which God's Babylonian servants would inflict upon Judah were barely another 55 years away.
The nameless prophets who immediately succeeded Isaiah and his fellows, risked their lives to proclaim God's displeasure with Manasseh:
“And the Lord spake by his servants the prophets, saying, "Because Manasseh King of Judah hath done these abominations. . .and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols: Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will. . . wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; because they have done that which was evil in my sight, and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day. . .”But they hearkened not: and Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel” (-from 2Kgs. 21 and 2Chron. 33).
Judah's patient and merciful God was infuriated by Judah's ingratitude and ignorance. Even the greatest revival in Judah's entire history 20 years after Manasseh's death would fall short of quenching the hot displeasure that now burned in the Almighty's bosom. So very far from righteousness had Manasseh led Judah that the copy of Moses' law which was in Jerusalem's temple was laid aside and eventually lost. God's precepts were at first ignored and then forgotten. It is easily possible to imagine a 50-year period, or longer, when God's law was never read or practiced at the temple which Solomon built. There may have lived and died an entire generation of Judean Israelites to whom in large measure the stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses were unknown. Manasseh's reign and the few years that followed were without question the blackest, most pagan moment in all of Judah's history. At Manasseh's death this little kingdom was entirely given to the worship of heathen gods. The voices that had denounced that idolatry had been silenced with the sword or driven into hiding.
In his short-lived reign, Manasseh's son Amon proved to be as perverse as his father had been. In his old age, Manasseh had humbled himself, albeit weakly, to God's chastening hand (2Chron. 33:11-17).
“. . .but Amon trespassed more and more. And his servants conspired against him, and slew him in his own house. . .and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his stead” (2Chron. 33:23-25).
Eight-year-old Josiah ascended to the throne of a nation whose hills were desecrated by idolatry. By the altars of fertility deities, as an act of "worship", God's own beloved people joined heathen travelers, or idolatrous priests, or anyone else who had the price, in lude, perverted acts. Babies which should have been reared in the study of God's commandments were instead laid upon the searing coals of Moloch's altars, as a demonstration of faith in the Ammonites' blood-thirsty god. Justice was nonexistent. It was every man for himself and, as always in such cases, the poor were plundered and without judicial recourse.
But the spirit of these times was not to find a home in King Josiah's tender heart. What struggles of spirit and mind the youth suffered during his first 7 years on the throne, we do not know. But in this 8th year the 16-year-old king made a momentous decision, the eventual results of which he could not have imagined.
“For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek after the God of David. . .” (2Chron. 34:3).
For four long years, until he was 20 years old, King Josiah, still without a copy of Moses' law to guide him, sought the face of King David's God. We are not told the details. Perhaps a prophet appeared out of some secret nook to help him. Probably David's psalms and Solomon's writings had not been lost with the law and were available. Some faithful, aged men possibly were found to counsel him in the ways of the Lord, as used to be practiced long ago. It had been 69 years since Josiah's righteous great-grandfather Hezekiah had died, and might not it have seemed fantastic to this young king to be told of days when idols darkened none of Judah's holy hills, of days when the priesthood was pure and the temple used to honor no god but Jehovah? Might it not have strained his imagination, as he was told of days when sodomites, harlots, witches, and the like, were put to death rather than being paid to live, and of days when the poor and oppressed among the people found refuge, not scorn, in the courts of the king? One by one, these scenes entered into his searching mind, and they did not resemble Judah as Josiah or anyone in his generation had known it; nevertheless, these scenes found in his hungering spirit a resting place and became, for Josiah, the kind of haven of righteousness he very much wanted Judah again to be.
“. . .and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the moltened images” (Chron. 34:3).
The tentacles of spiritual corruption extended into virtually every corner of Judah. Having been allowed free growth for over half a century, the roots of that corruption had sunk deep and secure into Judah's heart. To rid Judah and Jeruslaem of all vestiges of ungodliness would be a monumental task for the young king. Nevertheless, like a husbandman tearing into an overgrown, entangled vineyard, determined to make it live and bear fruit again, Josiah began jerking at the tenacious, entwined overgrowth of sin in his beloved Judah. Sincere as he was, however, his efforts at this point were relatively ineffective.
Clearly, the young king needed help. He needed encouragement, too. The ancients could tell him he was doing the right thing, but Josiah needed more than that. He needed companions in his zeal, other inspired souls. He was embarking upon a course of action which hardly a person living in his time had ever witnessed, and probably not many had heard of, for it had been almost 100 years since the young Hezekiah had begun his reign with similar dedication to God (2Kgs. 18:1-7). Certainly, to many of Josiah's contemporaries, Josiah may well have seemed to have been an impractical, foolishly idealistic dreamer, trying to live in the past. Josiah was 20 years old, resisting established old schools of thought and behavior, defying and irritating the darkened spirits of most of Judah's inhabitants. And he needed help.
In the 13th year of his reign, the year immediately following the beginning of his struggle against idolatry, Josiah's help came, but in God's own peculiar, immaculately wise way. For He brought to Josiah's aid, not a respected elder, nor an experienced statesman, nor yet any of Judah's valiant fighting men, but another child, from a faimily of priests who lived in the small town of Anathoth. It was a child by the name of Jeremiah. At a later time, Jeremiah would record the moment of his call from God:
“Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord” (Jer. 1:4-8).
So joined the child Jeremiah with the young King Josiah in the task of cleaning the vineyard of God, Josiah pulling at the stubborn tentacles of idolatry and lawlessness and Jeremiah laboring to persuade the reluctant Judah to be willing to let them go. It was an enormously difficult undertaking. Judah's resistance to the revival of old ways was strong, as glimpses of Jeremiah's efforts bear witness:
“Thus saith the Lord, "Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall have rest for your souls." But they said. "We will not walk therein." "Hearken unto the voice of the trumpet." But they said, "We will not hearken."” (Jer. 6:16-17).
We can imagine the disdain which much of Judah must have felt for these two crusaders. "Boy king and boy prophet. And both of them gone nuts over Jehovah. Where will it all end?" It can hardly be doubted that some, remembering the assassination of Josiah's father, might even have considered whether, for the good of the nation, Josiah ought to experience the same end. It was a turbulent time, a stimulating time, a time of awakening to spiritual warfare. No longer did Jehovah's relegation to being one god among many go unquestioned. Josiah and Jeremiah, and their growing number of followers, saw to that.
Much like the message which Amos had proclaimed to lawless Israel 150 years earlier, the centerpiece of Jeremiah's message was a renewed proclamation of the incomparable majesty of Judah's Creator-God and the foolishness of fear and worship of any other:
“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not: Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea. . .? But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone. Neither say they in their heart, "Let us fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter in his season. . ." Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? For pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. But where are thy gods that thou has made? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah. Wherefore will ye plead with me? ye all have transgressed against me, saith the Lord. In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction: your own sword have devoured your prophets, like a destroying lion. Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number. Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens. But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation. He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion. When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures. . .there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge with thee?” (-excerpts from Jeremiah).
The Priest Hath Given Me A Book
For five years thus they labored, a maturing king, smooth-faced prophet boy, and an ever increasing number of converts to their message and their efforts. The hills of Judah were beginning to look as though they belonged to another time, a good time, long past. Jeremiah, with others, was restoring a courage of conscience to the people while Josiah provided the means of accomplishing what that conscience demanded. Reaching his 18th year on Judah's throne, the 26-year old king's developing confidence lent firmness to his undiminished zeal. Now, in commanding kingly authority, Josiah made a bold, startling move which would lead to the turning point in his life's battle against idolatry and godlessness. For it was in this year of his reign that:
“. . .he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz, the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God” (2Chron. 34:8).
For over 60 years Moses' book of the law had lain in some dusty corner of the temple, or maybe in a neglected room piled full of "junk", in order to make room for the images which Manasseh had erected in the holy place. The length of time it had been lost and forgotten, and the spiritual dullness which all those lawless years had effected upon the people of Judah, can by no better means be demonstrated than by the unimpassioned reaction to its discovery by Shaphan, the man whom Josiah had appointed to oversee the temple's restoration.
Shaphan's reaction reminds me of the time that I, as a boy, found a valuable mid-19th century history book. It had been carelessly tossed with other "useless" stuff into a plywood box, which sat on the floor of our poor neighborhood's only junk store. It was an interesting discovery, but not one that caused me any great excitement. After laying it down and walking away, I returned to look at it again and decided, after several minutes of inner debate, to pay the 10 cents and take it home. After perusing its yellowed pages at the kitchen table, I placed it on a shelf in the pantry beside my arrowhead collection. It came up missing once and I found it. It came up missing again and I have never seen it since.
To be fair to Shaphan (and to Hilkiah the High Priest, who found the book and whose interest only a little surpassed Shaphan's), we should acknowledge that we expect, at the discovery of God's law, shouts of joy and thanksgiving and dancing and worship, because we know the value of the book. Shaphan didn't. He'd never seen it before, never heard it read. In fact, no one in Shaphan's generation had. When he brought the book to the king, Shaphan mentioned it only after the "important" business, his report on the progress of the temple's reconstruction had been completed, and then he mentioned it almost as an afterthought:
“And Shaphan carried the book to the king, and brought the king word back again, saying, All that was committed to thy servants, they do it. And they have gathered together the money that was [collected] in the house of the Lord, and have delivered it unto the hand of the overseers, and to the hand of the workmen. Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book” (2. 34:16-18).
Joy and Terror
Something of Josiah's initial excitement is indicated by the fact that he immediately required Shapan to read the book to him. Shaphan read, "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth", and Josiah listened, enraptured, to the story of his people's beginnings. No doubt, long into the night Shaphan read by the flickering light of the palace candles, as Josiah listened in stunned silence to the revelation of the God he had so feebly known, yet struggled to serve. He learned of creation and must have been strucken both by its profound implications and by its consonance with what Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and God's other prophets had been saying about Jehovah. What a help that book was to Josiah in determining which prophets were really declaring the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! What a testimony was that book to the prophets who were really bearing God's message!
As Shaphan continued to read, Josiah learned of the faith of Abraham, and Josiah's own faith increased all the more. He watched with his mind's eye as this patriarch of all the faithful wandered from distant Ur to this land of Canaan, this land where Baal was thought to rule over the heathen inhabitants. And Josiah learned as Shaphan read, that Abraham's first act upon entering "Baal's territory" was to build an altar of sacrifice, not to Baal, but to "the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth."
Josiah learned of Jacob's sufferings and well understood Jacob's seemingly endless quest for quietness and rest with God. Josiah wept at the story of Joseph, identified with his being misunderstood and maligned by his own brothers, and took courage in Joseph's steadfast confidence in God's power and purpose for every circumstance in his life. And had Moses actually persevered against the same spirits of idolatry which Josiah had for these 10 year now fought? Why, Moses taught exactly the same doctrine that Jeremiah and a few others taught now! Oh, what exultation! What thankfulness, and amazement! Josiah's heart must have leaped in him that night! And Shaphan continued to read.
As Shaphan continued, it became apparent that these thrilling stories of the men of the greatest faith, in Genesis and Exodus, only precede what is the heart of Moses' writings: the Law itself. And what Josiah heard his servant Shaphan read from that part of the old and dusty scroll filled his heart with every bit as much terror as he had been filled with joy moments before:
“Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. . .And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob...then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him and shalt sware by his name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you (for the Lord your God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.”
And Shaphan continued to read...
“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God.
Blessed shalt thou be in the city and blessed shalt thou be in the field.
Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
The Lord shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways.
And all the people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord; and they shall be afraid of thee.
The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow.
And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail, and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the Lord thy God. . .”
Moses' ancient farewell sermon continued, and Shaphan, with Josiah in the midnight stillness, continued to read it. . .
“But it shall come to pass, it thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:
Cursed shalt thou be in the city and cursed shalt thou be in the field.
Cursed shalt be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destoyed....
The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land....
The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.
The Lord shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed. And thy carcase shall be meat unto all fowls of the air, and unto the beasts of the earth, and no man shall fray them away.
The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed.
The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart: and thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee.
Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein: thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof.
The Lord shall smite thee in the knees, and in the legs, with a sore botch that cannot be healed, from the sole of thy foot unto the top of thy head.
The Lord shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee, unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known; and there shalt thou serve other gods, wood and stone. And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee.
Thou shalt beget sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them; for they shall go into captivity. And thine eyes shall look, and fail with longing for them all the day long: and there shall be no might in thine hand.
Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenest not unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee. Because thou servest not the Lord thy God with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things, and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck until he have destroyed thee.
The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; a nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor shew favour to the young: and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land: and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates throughout all thy land, which the Lord thy God hath given thee. And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the Lord thy God hath given thee, in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee.
If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD; then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful, and plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance.
Moreover he will bring upon thee all the diseases of Egypt, which thou wast afraid of; and they shall cleave unto thee.
Also every sickness, and every plague, which is not written in the book of this law, them will the Lord bring upon thee, until thou be destroyed.
And it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked off the land whither thou goest to possess it. And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life. In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see. [And Moses said] See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil....I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: that thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (excerpts from Deut. 6,28,30).
Upon hearing these and the other last, strong words of Moses, Josiah tore his kingly robes apart in astonishment and fear, and humbled himself before the Lord. He knew that in every evil which the law forbade, his nation had been very guilty and deserved every curse Moses described. He called for the high priest and elders and sent them to the prophetess, Huldah, who lived nearby, to
“. . .inquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book.”
The Lord's response to the king's messengers confirmed Josiah's fears:
“Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched.
And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humblest thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same.”
Where genuine fear of God dwells, fear of men or other gods cannot. And if there still lingered in Josiah's youthful breast a timidity or reluctance to challenge the idolatrous ways of Judah, it disintegrated before the fear of God as morning fog is dissipated by the rising sun. His zeal, which had seemed so forceful before, now was weak compared to the flames which hereafter raged in his soul. If Manasseh had filled Judah with wickedness, Josiah would now flood it with righteousness. No longer a searching, struggling youth, Josiah's commandments now exhibited an established heart, an enlightened mind, and an utter fearlessness of men or their vanities, which nothing but utter fear of God can bring.
“And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. And the king went up into the house of the Lord, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priest, and the Levites, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord. . .And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with al his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book. And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem...to stand to it” (from 2 Kings. 23 and 2 Chron. 34).
King Josiah would not live long enough to see the powerful, lingering effect which his display of devotion to Jehovah would have upon the lives of certain of Judah's children who were made to stand before the Lord that day. But standing in wide-eyed wonder amid the multitude, or possibly being held in the arms of their parents, were children whose names would, after Josiah's death, become synonymous with righteousness and faith. It is well within the borders of reason to assume that a little boy named Daniel was there, with Buzi the priest, holding his infant son, Ezekiel, who 28 years later in a distant land would be anointed to be a prophet to the children of God in captivity. A younger pauper named Mordecai may have fidgeted about the fringes of the crowd for a better view of the king, but his beautiful cousin, who would become Queen Esther, was still years from being born. And three Hebrew children, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael, probably heard the words of the law read aloud that day, not knowing that in 15 short years they would stand as captives before Babylonian lords and be given new names, their more famous Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego. These all, with Jeremiah, may well have witnessed Josiah's zeal for God that day, which zeal was intensified by every new convert to its cause and by every new prophetic voice, such as the mournful voice of Zephaniah, which reminded Josiah of the sentence of death which was still upon his nation:
“Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city. She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God. . .The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. . .Gather yourselves together, yea, gather yourselves together, O nation not desired; before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you. Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger” (-excerpts from Zephaniah)
Josiah did just that, with every fiber of his being. Having renewed the covenant between the people and God, Josiah left no stone unturned in his effort to please his God.
“And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of heaven: and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them to Bethel. And he put down [slew] the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven. And he brought out the grove from the house of the Lord, without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people. And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the grove. . .And he difiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun. . .and burned the chariots of the sun with fire. And the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, did the king break down from thence, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption [ = the Mount of Olives], which Solomon the king...had builded. . .did the king defile. And he brake in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, and filled their places with the bones of men.”
But Josiah's zeal was not to be contained within the borders of little Judah. From Mount Zion, into the territory of the north, where only scattered remnants of his fellow Israelites remained, marched the determined king, the prophecies of Jeremiah toward these scattered survivors of Assyrian captivity serving only to fuel his impassioned spirit:
“Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God...and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the Lord. Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord...and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:12-15).
Boldly, King Josiah came upon the altars to which Israel had long ago turned for help in her last, desperate hours, and Josiah stamped each one to dust, after that he had burned upon those altars the bones of the idolatrous priests who served them:
“And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the Lord to anger, Josiah took away. . .And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men's bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.”
The highlight of the revival, however, was yet to come. For Josiah now called for the keeping of the Passover. It was to be the greatest celebration of the Passover feast ever held in the history of the land of Canaan. Every Israelite who could be found, even from the wasted northern territory, was commanded to attend. For the poor, who could not afford to slay a lamb for the Passover, Josiah himself provided 30,000 lambs from his own flocks. It could not be remembered when Jerusalem's streets had been so crowded. It could not be remembered when such celebration had filled the hearts of so many.
“Surely there was not holden such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah.” (2Kgs. 23:22).
It would, of course, be wrong to assume that there were not strongholds of resistance remaining in Judah. Indeed, many who joined in the festivities with Josiah were doing so only to avoid provoking his wrath (cp. Jer. 3:10). But Josiah had inspired a true awakening and a genuine revival, so much so in fact that faint glimmers of hope were raised that God would change His plans for Judah's destruction. And much the more did those glimmers shine when God Himself held out to Jerusalem's inhabitants a precious, golden opportunity for reprieve:
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. . .For if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. (Jer. 7:1-7).
This prophecy, and others like it, must have sparked excitement and encouraged some hearts to hope that disaster might be avoided, but probably not many. In order for hope to be renewed, there must first have been hope lost. In order for these prophecies of hope to excite the people, the earlier prophecies which made disaster seem inevitable must also have been believed. And there is no evidence to suggest that the earlier prophecies of destruction had caused any great consternation in Judah.
The vast majority of Israelites probably were celebrating the Passover because everybody else was doing it, rather than because of a personal devotion to their Creator. There was a small number of wise and righteous men who were guiding this ignorant nation into a style of life which could result in happiness, peace, and blessing. But as surely as those righteous few existed, there was on the other extreme a group whose hearts were decidedly against this revival of old ways. Most of the inhabitants of Judah stood somewhere in between. But those who were as committed to the fear of many gods as Josiah was committed to One, dared not openly resist the revival. Josiah's influence served to silence the false prophets so that the people could hear Jehovah's voice and see his ways and, would God permit it, be given time both to learn godly living and to realize the blessings which godly living brings.
Josiah himself must have been ecstatic over Jeremiah's prophecy of hope that the nation might be forgiven its error and spared of God's wrath. If there was anything which could have made Josiah's efforts more impassioned, that wonderful hope could. And in the years following, every secret nook of idolatry which could be uncovered was destroyed:
“Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and Jerusalem, did Josiah put away [i.e. kill] that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord.
And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him” (2Chron. 23:24-25).
It was a time of hope, a time of justice, a time of inspired prophetic labor, when Judah's future swayed in the balance.
Josiah was 39 years old when Pharaoh Necho, with his army, passed through the western borders of Judah, on the way to combat the crumbling remnants of the once mighty Assyrian Empire. We don't know why Josiah decided to confront the Egyptian king. Neither do we know why Josiah failed to heed Pharaoh's timely warning, delivered to Josiah by the hand of Egyptian messengers:
“What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not” (2Chron. 35:21).
There are so many questions left unanswered. Why did Josiah not heed the warning? Why wasn't Josiah cautioned by one of his own prophets not to do battle with Necho? Why didn't Josiah inquire of the Lord in His temple? Nevertheless, whatever the unknowns, it is known that there in the green, pleasant valley of Megiddo, the flame which had ignited fires of revival in Judah was abruptly extinguished, when a storm of Egyptian arrows rained upon the chariot of Judah's righteous king.
“And the king said to his servants, Have me away; for I am sore wounded. His servants therefore took him out of that chariot, and put him in the second chariot that he had; and they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchers of the fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.”
If Josiah had lived a long life, Judah could have had time to become settled in the worship of Jehovah and satisfied without idolatry. Manasseh and Amon, combined with the first 12 years of the boy Josiah's reign, provided Judah with 69 years to sink into the pits of debauchery, injustice, and idolatry. Josiah had tried for 19 short years to pull Judah out, and only the last 13 were with full assurance and authority. It hadn't been long enough. Josiah had cleared God's vineyard of clinging, evil plants, but he had not had enough time to dig up all the roots. And almost immediately upon his death, the deceptively lovely blossoms of sin began to reappear. The bitter, bitter fruit would shortly follow.
Among the most distressed of Josiah's mourners was, of course, the still young Jeremiah. He knew that more time was needed. He knew, better than Josiah had known, that as completely as Josiah had cleansed Judah's hills of idols, the cleansing of Judah's heart from idolatry was far from complete. But even though Jeremiah knew this, the swiftness of Judah's return to spiritual darkness must have stunned even him. It was almost as though Josiah had never lived. The people, including Josiah's own sons, seemed to have understood nothing of what had just taken place.
In just 23 years, Judah would be a wasted, ravaged land, and nothing but crumbled walls and cold ashes would crown the hill upon which the holy city and her sacred temple now rested.
THE LAST FOUR KINGS
Passing over Eliakim, Josiah's oldest son, the people chose Eliakim's younger brother Johoahaz to be their king (2Chron. 36:1). But three months later the same Pharaoh who had killed Josiah took Jehoahaz in chains to Egypt, where he died (2Kgs. 23:34), as Jeremiah had prophesied (Jer. 22:10-12). For the remaining 22 years of Judah's life, the little nation would not again be free from foreign domination.
2. Jehoiakim (Eliakim)
Pharaoh Necho immediately imposed upon Judah a heavy tax (2Kgs. 23:33; 2Chron. 36:3) and set up Josiah's oldest but evil-hearted son, Eliakim, as a puppet king in Judah, whose principal responsibility seems to have been to oversee the collection of those taxes (2Kgs. 23:35). As a demonstration of his absolute authority over Eliakim's life, Necho then changed Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim.
In the early days of Jehoiakim's eleven year reign, Jeremiah was sent by the Lord to Jehoiakim with this message:
“Hear ye the word of the Lord, O king of Judah that sittest upon the throne of David, thou, and thy servants, and thy people that enter in by these gates: Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the Lord. But thine eyes and thy heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it. Thus saith the Lord; execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place. For if ye do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people. But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation” (from Jer. 22).
Some of Judah's princes heeded Jeremiah's words, but others, and Jehoiakim himself, "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God" (2Chron. 36:5). As for Jeremiah, he was sent to the temple to plead this time with the religious leaders and all who worshiped there in the house of God at Jerusalem:
“Thus saith the Lord; If ye will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, to hearken to the words of the prophets, whom I sent unto you, both rising up early, and sending them, but ye have not hearkened; then I will make this house like Shiloh [i.e. a God-forsaken, former holy place], and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth” (Jer. 26:4-6).
The reaction of the listeners to Jeremiah's words has an eerie, evil quality, especially when it is considered that just months previously those same listeners must have submissively followed the voice of Josiah as he lead the congregation in prayer and praise to God:
“Now it came to pass, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die. Why hast thou prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate without an inhabitant? And all the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the Lord” (Jer. 26:8-9).
Upon hearing of these things, the princes in Jehoiakim's house convened a special session of court to try Jeremiah for his life. And when they had all taken their places,
“Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears.
“Then spake Jeremiah unto all the princes and to all the people, saying, The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that you have heard. Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you. As for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you.l But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof: for of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears” (Jer. 26:11-15).
Jeremiah was defended by "certain of the elders of the land" who reminded the court and the people that the prophet Micah had in his day prophesied that God would destroy Jerusalem, and King Hezekiah had let him live. The court of princes and the people were persuaded by these arguments to acquit Jeremiah of the charges against him, ruling against the priests and the prophets (26:16). But this story of Jeremiah's escape from the death penalty is immediately followed by the story of another faithful prophet, Urijah, who was slain for prophesying as Jeremiah did (26:20-23). The mood in Judah was quickly, inexorably shifting away from the obedience to Moses' law which Josiah was able to inspire, and there certainly was no lack of prophets willing to proclaim that Josiah's premature death was a judgment of the gods, perhaps including Jehovah himself, for his "foolish" attempt to revive ancient beliefs.
The balance of world power was also shifting, as Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian kingdom vanquished the remains of the Assyrian kingdom and then moved south toward the land of Canaan. Unto King Jehoiakim and the kings of other nearby nations and city-states, Jeremiah delivered what amounted to a demand for them to surrender to the mighty Babylonian king:
“Thus saith the Lord...I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemeth meet unto me. And now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. . .And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the King of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand.
Therefore hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you. . .” (from Jer. 27).
But try as he may, Jeremiah was not able by prophetic utterance to evoke from his countrymen the fear of and allegiance to Jehovah, as the Law revealed him to be, which Josiah by kingly authority had been able to demand. With increasing loneliness, as his fellows either were slain or fell victim to the spirit of their times, Jeremiah suffered through the spiritual warfare of despair, frustration, humiliation, and an unrelenting terror for what certainly now lay ahead for Judah.
The more swiftly the nation plummeted to the depths of spiritual corruption, the more earnestly Jeremiah strove to stop them. And the more earnestly he strove, the more dangerous to the nation he was made to appear by the polished, professional prophets and by the confident, calculating clergy of his day. He lived with death threats, even from his own family and friends (11:18-21; 12:6; 18:18). Those he knew best watched his every move, hoping for a mistake on his part for which he could be condemned (20:10). Virtually every person in Jerusalem cursed him when they saw him (15:10), and to be seen in public with Jeremiah would have been considered a great embarrassment.
There is a heroism which men do not value, indeed do not even acknowledge. It is attained only by the noblest spirits. It is the heroism which makes a man no one's hero. The more that Jeremiah loved and gave himself for his fellows, the more he was despised by them. But from God's point of view, it was the people who were unworthy of Jeremiah's presence, not vice versa. Accordingly, he forbade Jeremiah to attend any social functions, such as funerals and weddings (16:5-9). Moreover, Jeremiah was forbidden by God to marry and have children, thus to be spared the agony of the suffering and death which God had determined for all the families of Judah (16:1-4). No prophet, from childhood to the grave, ever suffered more disgrace and loneliness than did faithful, tender-hearted Jeremiah, who, despite being so abused, dearly loved and wept for his people and never desired to see the harm that he knew would surely befall the nation.
The people did not understand that Jeremiah's refusal to attend their solemn assemblies and their religious celebrations was only because his heart could not bear to see their delusions furthered by the messages of the other prophets. It all just seemed, to Jeremiah, a mockery of God rather than worship (cp. 15:17). The pain of constant scorn was, in Jeremiah's words, "perpetual, and my wound incurable." Succumbing momentarily to the bitterness of seeing deceivers honored and admired, he spoke angrily to his Lord, "Wilt thou be altogether as a liar to me, and as waters that fail?" It was the same bitterness felt by Jonah when his God-given prophecies of Nineveh's destruction did not, by the grace of God, come to pass. For this error, God demanded repentance on Jeremiah's part, if he wanted to continue as God's messenger of hope to the nation (15:15-21). And it was love for both God and the nation which bowed Jeremiah's heart and enabled him to take again upon his weary shoulders the burden of the word of the Lord.
Emboldened by Josiah's death, men who had all along resented the revival easily influenced the people to embrace, as one would embrace an old friend, the spiritual darkness with which they had once been so familiar. Jehoahaz surrounded himself with prophets who prophesied what he wanted to hear: that Judah and Jerusalem were inviolable, that God would never let Jerusalem be destroyed, for David's sake and because the temple was there. Hadn't God's destruction of Assyria at Jerusalem's very doorstep proved that? Even Jeremiah agreed that a heathen conquest of Jerusalem had once been unthinkable (cp. Lam. 4:12).
Now, with his assertion that the unthinkable event was now all but certain, Jeremiah did not fit in with the confident air of his time. Amid the growing number of prophets who promised the king and the princes prosperity and peace, Jeremiah's call for repentance and his warnings of God's wrath now seemed increasingly naive and out-dated. The priests saw the temple redecorated with idols and repopulated with temple prostitutes, and were pleased. Jeremiah could see nothing but a vision of smoldering, crumbled ruins and was heartbroken. The sound of disciplined, rhythmic chants to Baal and to the "queen of heaven", the sensuous body movements of temple prostitutes, and emotion-packed wails for Tammuz echoed once again down the streets of the holy city, and the prophets hailed it as a long awaited liberation from the fanatic, antiquated views of the dead King Josiah. But the sound which Jeremiah heard was quite of a different nature. That sound did not yet echo in Jerusalem's streets. For hundreds of miles northward the wheels of Nebuchadnezzar's chariots, victorious over Pharaoh Necho's army, were rumbling along the highways to the south. How gladly Jeremiah would have torn away his flesh, that his fellows could have seen the grotesque scenes of destruction which by God's spirit were being exposed to his soul, but he could not. He could not convince them of the reality of the things which he saw in spirit. Even when reports came to the city from the northern territories that Nebuchadnezzar's army was moving south, the priests and prophets maintained their foolish confidence that they were sheltered from harm by the promises of God.
Only three years after Josiah's death, Jeremiah, with all Jerusalem, watched the disciplined Babylonian soldiers pitch their tents around Jerusalem. This time, there would be no divine intervention. Jehoiakim, possibly influenced by Jeremiah and the righteous elders of Judah, soon surrendered, and because he did surrender, God allowed Jerusalem to stand. Nevertheless, Jehoiakim had to pay a heavy ransom to Nebuchadnezzar, even surrendering some of the golden vessels of the house of God (Dan. 1:2). In addition to this, Nebuchadnezzar commanded young, intelligent males to be found and taken from Judah to Babylon, there to be made eunuchs and trained three years in "the learning and the tongue" of his people (Dan. 1:3-5). Among the captives at that time were
“Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name Belteshazzar; and Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego” (Dan. 1:7).
While these young men were being trained in the wisdom of Babylon, Jeremiah was, at God's direction, having all the prophecies which he had ever spoken to be written into a book. "It may be", said the Lord to Jeremiah,
“. . .that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (Jer. 36:3).
Jeremiah's book did stir the hearts of some who heard it read (Jer. 38:9-20), but when it was read to stubborn Jehoiakim, he contemptuously cut it to peices after he had heard only a small part "and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed" (Jer. 38:21-23). Moreover, Jehoiakim commanded both Baruch and Jeremiah to be arrested, "but the Lord hid them" (Jer. 36:26).
“Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. . .saying, Take thee again another roll, and write in it all the former words that were in the first roll, which Jehoiakim the King of Judah hath burned. And thou shalt say to Jehoiakim King of Judah, Thus saith the Lord; Thou hast burned this roll, saying, Why has [Jeremiah] written therein, saying, The King of Babylon shall certainly come and destroy this land, and shall cause to cease from thence man and beast? Therefore thus saith the Lord of Jehoiakim King of Judah...I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon the men of Judah, all the evil that I have pronounced against them; but they hearkened not.
Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah; who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim King of Judah had burned in the fire: and there were added unto them many like words” (Jer. 36:27-29, 31-32).
While Jeremiah and Baruch were being hid by God from Jehoiakim's soldiers so that another scroll could be made, in distant Babylon Nebuchadnezzar was raging over the inability of his wise men to interpret for him an incredible dream, the details of which he could not remember:
“For this cause the king was angry and very furious, and commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. And the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain.... Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would shew the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven” (Dan. 2:12-13, 16-18).
Daniel proceeded to the king's palace where he not only described and interpreted the profound dream which Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten, he even told Nebuchadnezzar what he had been thinking before he fell asleep and dreamed that dream (Dan. 2:29-45)!
“Then the King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him. The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret. Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon. Then Daniel requested of the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king” (Dan. 2:46-49).
Part of the dream which Daniel interpreted involved Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian kingdom and was in perfect consonance with what Jermiah was trying to persuade Jehoiakim in Jerusalem to believe. Spoke Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar:
“Thou, O King, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all” (Dan. 2:37-38).
Nebuchadnezzar had not of his own power become a ruler over the Jews; rather, he was God's unwitting servant, doing only what God had determined should be done. This is the understanding which saved Daniel and his friends from death. This is the understanding which prevented the restless spirits of bitterness and rebellion from finding harbor in their hearts. They understood that disrespect or rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar would have been tantamount to disrespect and rebellion against God. Certainly they feared Nebuchadnezzar, but only because they feared God. Whenever his commandments contradicted God's commandments, they unhesitatingly refused to obey him and bluntly told him so, as when Nebuchadnezzar commanded them to worship his 90-foot high golden image, and threatened to cast them into a furnace if they refused:
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Dan. 3:16-18).
They spoke this plainly to the great king Nebuchadnezzar for exactly the same reason that they bowed down at his feet: they wanted to please God. It wasn't to Nebuchadnezzar the heathen king that they bowed down anyway, it was to Nebuchadnezzar the servant of God. On the other hand, back in Jerusalem, the prophets were courting the fickle favor of both Jehoiakim and the people with ever bolder promises of deliverance from Babylonian dominance. Tragically, Jehoiakim was persuaded to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar and to refuse to render the required tribute (2Kgs. 24:1; 2Chron. 36:6)
As the Babylonian army approached Jerusalem to quell the rebellion, Jehoiakim died suddenly, 36 years old. His body was carted outside the city and, unmourned, was dumped unceremoniously aside (Jer. 22:18-19). Perhaps the people blamed him for provoking Nebuchadnezzar's wrath and for Judah's troubles with neighboring kingdoms (2Kgs. 24:2-4). He certainly ended his 11-year reign unloved.
Jehoiakim's young son, Jehoiachin, assumed the control of a nation in dire straits (2Kgs. 24:8-9; 2Chron. 36:9-10). He surrendered to the besieging Babylonian army in short order (2Kgs. 24:10-12), ending a reign of only 3 months and ten days (2Chron. 36:9). Once again Jerusalem was left standing, but Nebuchadnezzar took the young King Jehoiachin to the prison in Babylon, where he would spend the next 37 years (2Kgs. 25:27-30). Also taken captive were Jehoiachin's mother, his wives, his servants, his officers, 1,000 craftsmen and smiths, all 7,000 of Judah's "men of might", and 10,000 more of Jerusalem's populace. Besides the human captives, Nebuchadnezzar's generals
“. . .carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon King of Israel had made in the temple of the Lord. . .” (2Kgs. 24:12-13).
Included in the huge number of captives taken from Jerusalem this time were Ezekiel and Mordecai. Jeremiah was left in Jerusalem, as prophet to a nation of rapidly decreasing integrity.
4. Zedekiah (Mattaniah)
Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin on Judah's throne with Josiah'slast son, Mattaniah. The Babylonian King changed Mattaniah's name to Zedekiah, and, as an act of submission, Zedekiah swore an oath before God that he would not rebel (2Chron. 36:12-13; Ezek. 17:11-14).
Only 9 years old at his father's death, Zedekiah was now 21, a weak-willed, unstable young man, in need of guidance. There was no lack of prophets who were willing to give it to him. When Jeremiah approached the young king with a sincere plea for him to serve Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27:12-13), the other prophets demanded, in the name of the Lord,
“Ye shall not serve the King of Babylon” (Jer. 27:14).
When Jeremiah prophesied that the remaining vessels of the temple "shall be carried to Babylon" (Jer. 27:21-22), the other prophets cried "heresy!" and prophesied that, instead, the holy vessels which had just been carried away would
“. . .shortly be brought again from Babylon” (Jer. 21:16).
Prophets of Success and Victory
Who was the young king to believe? He was torn between the two. He hated the burden of being Babylon's vassal. And if the Lord was speaking by these prophets of success and victory over Babylon, wouln't he do well to rebel and to hope for divine deliverance? But if Jeremiah was telling the truth, God would make things even worse for Judah if he rebelled. But, again, if he didn't rebel, he would have to face the priests and prophets and princes who remained with him in Jerusalem, and he was not a courageous young man. While he vacillated, the fierce spiritual warfare for his mind raged with ever greater intensity.
It is possible that news from Babylon also arrived at this time which made the prospects for a successful rebellion seem good, news that King Nebuchadnezzar had lost his mind and was now eating grass in the royal pastures, his fingernails grown long "like birds' claws" and his hair "grown like eagles' feathers " (Dan. 4). But with that news, was it reported that Daniel, counselor to Nebuchadnezzar, had warned him that God was about to give him the mind of a beast for 7 years, until he learned (as Jerusalem's prophets needed to learn) that any man's authority to rule on the earth was given to him by Jehovah, tiny Judah's God.
Jerusalem's prophets of success and victory no doubt denounced Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin's two previous surrenders to Babylonian sieges as acts of cowardice, ignorance, and lack of faith in God. They could point to Isaiah's prophecy of long ago concerning Jerusalem when Assyria besieged the holy city:
“For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.”
"Read your Scriptures!" they probably would demand, in an air of righteous indignation, "Wasn't Israel destroyed because they forsook the Lord and refused to come any longer to this holy city to worship at His holy temple! And now will He destroy the very place which He Himself inhabits? Blasphemy!"
What would the young king do? If the prophets of success were right, it was not God, as Jeremiah maintained, who had given to Nebuchadnezzar the captives and the holy vessels which were carried from Jerusalem. Rather, Judah's own kings had in unbelief given them away by surrendering to the Babylonians instead of trusting God to defend His city against the foreign invaders. And if that were true, then the longer Zedekiah postponed rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar, the more likely it was that the gods, including Jehovah would cause Judah to suffer even greater loss. We can be assured that the thought weighed with increasing heaviness upon Zedekiah's mind each time he set his seal upon sacks of tribute money and watched them being loaded on pack animals for the long journey to Babylon. Zedekiah felt the scornful gaze of the prophets with his every act of submission to Babylon's power. He knew that the people considered the imprisoned Jehoiachin the real King of Judah. He knew that he was perceived more as a puppet governor than as King of the nation. Timid and indecisive, young Zedekiah was in a fearfully difficult situation. Sensing Zedekiah's pusillanimity, Jerusalem's princes grew ever bolder with their demands. Zedekiah could hardly have failed to sense the very real threat of assassination, a threat which grew greater with every new collection of tax for Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem's leaders, priests, prophets, and princes were determined that Judah would be free from heathen rule. But against the grain of Zedekiah's spinelessness and standing strong before the rising tide of rebelliousness among Jerusalem's inhabitants was the despised, determined Jeremiah.
“Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live. . .hearken not unto the prophets that speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon; for they prophesy a lie unto you. For I have not sent them, saith the Lord, yet they prophesy a lie in my name. . .I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant. . .and all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son's son. . .seventy years.
For thus saith the Lord, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of Peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nation, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive” (Jer. 29:10-14).
Since shortly after Josiah's death, now fourteen years past, Jeremiah had, at God's command, worn about his neck a heavy wooden yoke (Jer. 27:1-2). It gave Jeremiah a distinctive appearance as he walked throughout the marketplaces, to be sure.
Everyone understood that it represented Jeremiah's message of Judah's subjection to Babylon. At gatherings in the temple the prophets of victory could fervently prophesy of freedom for the nation, but it must have irritated them to no end and put a cold damper on their fervor to have standing in their midst a somber Jeremiah wearing his wooden yoke. It was precisely such a scene which is described by Jeremiah in the 28th chapter of his book:
“And it came to pass. . .in the. . .reign of Zedekiah King of Judah, in the fourth year, and in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azur the prophet, which was of Gibeon spake unto me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priest and of all the people, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lord's house, that Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon: And I will bring again [Jehoiachin] the son of Jehoiakim King of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went into Babylon, saith the Lord: for I will break the yoke of the King of Babylon. . .Then Hananiah the prophet took the yoke from off the prophet Jeremiah's neck, and brake it. And Hananiah spake in the presence of all the people. saying, Thus saith the Lord; Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years. And the prophet Jeremiah went his way” (Jer. 28:1-11).
There were, no doubt, rounds of applause and shouts of victory and approval from most of the people, prophets and priests who witnessed this foolish prophet's bold rebuke of the aging Jeremiah. Hananiah for the moment had become a hero of the movement for national freedom. He was probably lauded as a man of great promise, a giant of the faith, perhaps to become Jerusalem's next Isaiah in the resistance against another surrounding, heathen army. But how many of Hananiah's admirers envied his acclaim when, a little while afterwards, back into the excited congregation strode Jeremiah, grim-faced, and wearied with warning his wayward fellows:
“Thus saith the Lord; Thou has broken the yokes of wood; but thou shalt make for them yokes of iron. For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; I have put a yoke of iron upon the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon; and they shall serve him: and I have given him the beasts of the field also.
Then said the prophet Jeremiah unto Hananiah the prophet, Hear now, Hananiah; The Lord hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie. Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will cast thee from off the face of the earth: this year thou shalt die, because thou hast taught rebellion against the Lord [i.e. by inciting rebellion against the Lord's servant, Nebuchadnezzar]. So Hananiah the prophet died in the same year in the seventh month” (Jer. 28:13-17).
Though his words were confirmed in this and many other incidences, Jeremiah was fighting a losing battle against sentiments for rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar. Disregarding his oath before God not to rebel, Zedekiah decided to halt all shipments of tribute and to stand upon the promises of God, as delivered to him by the many prophets of victory, In desperation, Jeremiah cried in the streets because of the wrath of God which he knew now would certainly come:
"Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold I will bring evil upon this place" (Jer. 19:3).
But many other prophets prophesied just as loudly,
"No evil shall come upon you" (23:17)
Jeremiah cried in distress
". . .the sword of the Lord shall devour from one end of the land even to the other end of the land. . ." (Jer 12:12).
But the other prophets, with equal zeal, proclaimed together,
"The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace. . ." (Jer. 23:17).
"Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud: for the Lord hath spoken” (Jer. 13:5).
But the other prophets cried more loudly.
"It is not he; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword or famine" (Jer. 5:12).
Even among the captives who now lived in Babylon itself, there was animosity toward Nebuchadnezzar's authority. To them Jeremiah wrote letters, exhorting them to build houses, plant crops, and rear up families until the 70 years of captivity were completed, and then God would return them to their land (Jer. 29:1-14). Jeremiah's letter also included this exhortation:
“Seek the peace of the city (Babylon) whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace” (Jer. 29:7).
Concerning the prophets of success who were among the captives in Babylon who spurned Jeremiah's letters and spurred the other captives to despise Nebuchadnezzar's authority, Jeremiah added a terrifying warning: God would shortly give them to Nebuchadnezzar, who would "roast them in the fire" (29:20-23). And he did. It seems as if the people should have been able to see that Jeremiah was indeed speaking for God. But false prophets have a mysterious gift for making what is right to seem wrong, and for making evil to seem good. They are masters of appearances, and all who are foolish enough to be persuaded by appearances become their lackeys (consider 1Sam. 16:7; Jn. 7:24; 2Cor. 4:18; 5:12).
As Jeremiah wrote letters of instruction and reproof to the captives, so the false prophets who had been taken captive wrote letters of instruction and reproof to the people of Jerusalem. One such letter from Babylon rebuked a certain high-ranking priest for failing to punish Jeremiah for his "self-made" prophecies of a 70-year captivity (Jer. 29:24-32). At every turn, Jeremiah was frustrated in his prophetic efforts. His soul was bruised with scorn. His mind was tormented with visions of slaughter. Heart-broken, persecuted, and alone, Jeremiah wept and prayed:
“Ah, Lord God! behold, the prophets say unto them, ‘Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place. . .’ Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets. . .” (Jer. 14:13, 23:9).
It was at this time, by a river in Babylonia where a group of Jerusalem's captives had been settled, that the heavens were opened and the priest Ezekiel "saw visions of God" (Ezek. 1:1). This call of Ezekiel to be a prophet ranks among the most awesome visitations of God to man in all of Biblical history (read Ezekiel, chapter 1). Needless to say, Ezekiel himself was knocked to the ground by heaven's indescribable splendor and power.
“And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak to thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel [God calls the captives and those still in Judah, the children of Israel. He is not referring simply to the destroyed northern kingdom of Israel] to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them "Thus saith the Lord God." And they, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words. . .nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. . .Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. . .fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks. . .and so, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, "Thus saith the Lord God:" whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.” Then the spirit took me up...and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me. Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days” (From Ezek. 2,3).
During those 7 days, Ezekiel, in utter amazement at the glory of God, sat dumbfounded among his fellow captives. That is a long time to be unable to speak, but at the end of that week God made Ezekiel incapable of uttering any word of his own choosing at all. His tongue was loosed only to speak the prophecies and revelations of God (Ezek. 3:26-27). This uncommon handicap would remain in effect for 7 years, until after the annihilation of Jerusalem (Ezek. 24:25-27; 33:21-22). For Ezekiel, they would be 7 years of some of the most spectacular visions and miraculous events recorded in the Bible, including a trip, via the Spirit of God, back to Ezekiel's beloved Jerusalem:
“. . .as I sat in my house, and the elders of Judah [who had been taken captive] sat before me. . .the hand of the Lord God fell there upon me. Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire; from the appearance of his loins even downward, fire; and from his loins even upward, as the appearance of brightness, as the colour of amber. And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem. . .” (Ezek. 8:1-3).
Ezekiel was taken by the Spirit on a tour of Jerusalem's idols. He was brought to a room where stood 70 elders burning incense to "creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about" (Ezek. 8:10). Ezekiel, invisible to the 70 idolatrous elders, recognized them and even called the name of one (Ezek. 8:11). Following that, Ezekiel was taken to one of the gates of the Lord's house, where women sat weeping, not for Jerusalem's sin nor for those slain or taken captive, but to be heard by the god, Tammuz. Passing on from there, the captive prophet was led up to the temple where he himself probably once performed some of the law's holy rites:
“. . .and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. . .Moreover the spirit lifted me up, and brought me unto the east gate of the Lord's house, which looketh eastward: and behold at the door of the gate five and twenty men; among them I saw Jaaziniah the son of Azur, and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah, princes of the people. Then said he unto me, Son of man, these are the men that divise mischief, and give wicked counsel in this city: which say, "It [i.e. the destruction which Jeremiah was prophesying] is not near; let us build houses. . .
Therefore prophesy against them, prophesy, O son of man. And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and said unto me: "Speak..." And it came to pass, when I prophesied, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died.
Then fell I down upon my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, Ah, Lord God! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” (Ezek. 11:1-13).
The Lord responded to Ezekiel's question by promising His protection to those who trusted and obeyed Him (Ezek 11:14-20),
“But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abomination, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord God” (Ezek. 11:21).
Two more scenes of immense importance were witnessed by Ezekiel before the Spirit returned him to Babylonia. Both of them were part of God's preparation of Jerusalem for destruction. First, he beheld as God sent an angel, invisible to men, with a writer's inkhorn through the midst of Jerusalem to set an invisible mark upon the forehead of those few who were grieved for the idolatry and lawlessness of Jerusalem. These were certainly to be spared from death (Ezek. 9). The second scene which awaited Ezekiel concerned his beloved temple. God had chosen this faithful man of priestly lineage to witness what may actually have been the moment when the glory of the Lord departed from the house that Solomon built (Ezek. 10; 11:22-23), and also to hear God's promise that he would gather the survivors of the captivity together again and someday "put a new spirit" within them.
“Afterwards the spirit took me up, and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God into [Babylonia], to them of the captivity. So the vision that I had seen went up from me” (Ezek. 11:17-20; cp. 36:26-27).
The Order To March
If it was at the beginning of Zedekiah's reign in Jerusalem that Nebuchadnezzar offended God and was given the mind of a beast, then when Ezekiel was returned by the Spirit to Babylonia from Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar was spending his last nights in the Babylonian rains. Nebuchadnezzar himself gives this account of the return of his sanity:
“At the end of the days [i.e. after 7 years] I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation....At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established inb my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extoll and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (Dan. 4:34-37).
The order to march on rebellious Jerusalem was given. What sadness must have filled the hearts of Daniel and his friends as King Nebuchadnezzar, in great pomp, departed from Babylon with his army. Far away in Jerusalem, Jeremiah could feel that departure every bit as much as Daniel might have watched it:
“The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant. For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and howl: for the fierce anger of the Lord is not turned back from us.
O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? For a voice declareth from Dan, and publisheth affliction from Mount Ephraim.
Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thine heart.
My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war” (Dan. 4:7,8,14,15,18,19).
The Last Days
By the rivers of Babylon, word quickly spread among the Israelite captives that Nebuchadnezzar's army had departed. O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! the joy of the whole earth! The reassuring wards of victory not standing, how anxiously must the captives have awaited word from Jerusalem. How very slowly must the days of waiting have passed. Actually, however, the captives received information concerning the plight of Jerusalem before they could have expected it. Radios and television having not yet even been imagined, they could not have expected the same-day news report which Ezekiel received from the Supreme Commander of Nebuchadnezzar's army, the Lord God of Israel:
“Again in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this same day: the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day” (Ezek. 24:1-2).
The siege was on. Nevertheless, within Jerusalem's besieged walls, the prophets of success persisted in their misguided hope that, because God's temple was at Jerusalem, He would not allow the heathen to destroy the city (cp. Jer. 7:1-15). They prophesied that "the Chaldeans [i.e. Babylonians] shall surely depart from us." The princes who trusted those words persuaded Zedekiah to procure Egyptian military support, and then arrogantly boasted against the Babylonians:
“Who shall come down against us? or who shall enter into our habitations?” (Jer. 21:11-14).
But the siege continued, and Jerusalem weakened. King Zedekiah emerges from these scenes as a frightened young man whose confidence in Jeremiah was overruled by his fear of Jerusalem's leaders. Though the prophets of success proclaimed a deliverance would surely come, and though ambassadors had been dispatched to Egypt, Zedekiah, facing the deteriorating conditions in the city, sent messengers to his father's fellow soldier, Jeremiah, pleading with him to pray that God would break the Babylonian stranglehold on Jerusalem's neck (Jer. 21:1-2, 37:3). But God had already strictly forbidden Jeremiah to pray any more for the people (e.g. Jer. 7:16), and to Zedekiah was returned this reply:
“Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the King of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of this city. And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath. And I will smite the inhabitants of this city, both may and beast: they shall die of a great pestilence. And afterward, saith the Lord, I will deliver Zedekiah King of Judah, and his servants, and the people, and such as are left in this city from the pestilence, from the sword, and from the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, and into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those that seek their life: and he shall smite them with the edge of the sword; he shall not spare them, neither have pity, nor have mercy” (Jer. 21:4-7).
In addition to this prophecy for the king, Jeremiah gave to Zedekiah's emissaries a message for all the people of Jerusalem:
“Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death. He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth out and falleth [surrenders] to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live. . .” (Jer.21:8-9).
Despite continued encouragement from the prophets of victory to stand fast, some believed Jeremiah and escaped to the Babylonian camp, leaving a hungry, doddering Jerusalem behind.
I Was Deceived
We aren't told where Jeremiah was when he heard the news, but he must have had to climb the city's walls to see it for himself. Even then it must have been difficult to believe. The Babylonians were gone! The reason: the Egyptian army was marching up the sea coast toward Judah, and the Babylonian army, fearful of being caught between Jerusalem's besieged army and Pharaoh's forces, had hurriedly lift Jerusalem (Jer. 37:5, 11).
The prophets of victory must have danced in the streets. Their perseverence had been rewarded! Their advice not to surrender had been confirmed! O! glorious deliverance! The smoke from sacrifices to the gods must have dimmed the light of the sun that day. And, of course, sacrifices were made to Jehovah too. After all, it was His magnificent temple which stood within Jerusalem's walls and provided shelter for so many of Jerusalem's idols. Exultant songs of praises to God blended with excited chants to Baal and Astaroth. Perhaps there was also an unusually large offering of infants that day upon the searing coals of Moloch's altar. Celebration and the making of vows to various gods was the order of the day. Though lacking the resoluteness and power to enforce it, Zedekiah thought it appropriate to celebrate the city's liberation by ordering all Jerusalem's inhabitants to liberate any Israelite servant who had served them 6 years or more, just as Moses' law commanded (Jer. 34:6-22).
Jeremiah, because of his gloom and doom threats, became the joke of Jerusalem. We are not told when he spoke the following words, but they must mirror Jeremiah's feelings at this time:
“O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil. . .” (Jer. 20:7-8).
Hurt, embarrassed, ridiculed, fearful of reprisals, Jeremiah cursed his birth (20:14-18), and made a vow concerning his God which he would not be able to keep.
“Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name” (Jer. 20:9a).
Jeremiah's love for God's people, a love he received from God and shared with God, burned too fiercely within his heart for Jeremiah to be silent when God told him to speak. God's word spoken to Jeremiah's heart was, in Jeremiah's own words,
“. . .as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jer. 20:9b).
But what Jeremiah had to say to the people seemed under the circumstances, more outrageous than ever:
“Behold, Pharaoh's army, which is come forth to help you, shall return to Egypt into their own land. And the Chaldeans shall come again, and fight against this city, and take it, and burn it with fire” (Jer. 37:7-8).
The prophets of success and victory were proclaiming with renewed confidence the permanent departure of Babylonian forces from Canaan (Jer. 37:9), obviously implying an end to Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom. They were in no state of mind now to tolerate any more of Jeremiah's interference with their control of the people's trust. God had proved them right, they believed, and it was senseless any longer to allow such disheartening prophecies as Jeremiah delivered. Sensing danger, Jeremiah determined to flee from Jerusalem. But where could he go? Despite having been warned by God that his family and friends had turned against him, Jeremiah decided that the safest place would be the nearby territory of Benjamin, where he was born. But Jeremiah never made it out of the city. Arriving at the gate of Benjamin, he was detained for questioning by a prison keeper who accused Jeremiah of running from Jerusalem to find and to join the Babylonians (Jer. 37:11-13). Despite Jeremiah's denials, he was arrested and returned as a prisoner to Jerusalem (37:14), where he was condemned, beaten, and cast into a prison (37:15). Then, shortly after his imprisonment, news was brought to King Zedekiah that the Egyptian army had retreated into Egypt. The Babylonians were on their way back to Jerusalem.
Fearful that he would be assassinated if he were seen openly in Jeremiah's company, Zedekiah had the abused prophet secretly brought to the king's house. Alone there with the prophet whose voice he really trusted, yet lacked the courage to obey, the nervous, pathetic young king asked Jeremiah if there was any word from the Lord:
“And Jeremiah said, There is: for, said he, thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon” (Jer. 37:16-17).
It was a scene of challenge and pathos. The greying Jeremiah, bruised and despised, stared knowingly at the terrified youngest son of Josiah. The 32-year-old king wrung his hands in fear of both God and man. If he could only have summoned the resoluteness of his father! It is easy to picture the tormented young man breaking down and weeping in the quiet, dull light of the inner room. Grasping the rare opportunity to reason uninterruptedly with the king, Jeremiah in compassionate but firm tone asked, perhaps himself even with tears,
“What have I offended against thee, or against thy servants, or against this people, that ye have put me in prison? Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?” (Jer. 37:18-19).
Zedekiah had no answer. Jeremiah probably didn't expect one. They both in their own ways were desperate. They both in their own ways were unwilling prisoners. It wasn't really a conversation which either man expected to lead any where. The end of the road had been reached and they both knew it. Before he left, Jeremiah asked the king for one favor: not to return him to the prison cells, but to allow him to live in the court of the prison. Zedekiah granted his request, and the king's servants led Jeremiah secretly away.
The siege of Jerusalem soon began again. Again food supplies ran low. Again water was rationed. And again Jeremiah, now in the court of the prison, prophesied that the only sure escape from death was to "fall to", or surrender to, the Babylonians. A considerable number did just that, slipping past Jerusalem's watchmen to give themselves up. The prophets of victory became absolutely furious. Jeremiah was again frustrating their efforts to encourage the hearts of God's people to trust in divine deliverance. A high-ranking delegation approached Zedekiah with a demand in the guise of request:
“We beseech thee, let this man be put to death: for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them: for this man seeketh not the welfare of this people, but the hurt” (Jer. 38:1-4).
It was not the sensibleness of their argument, but the sheer force of their menacing spirits which pressured Zedekiah to relent.
“Then Zedekiah the king said, Behold, he is in your hand: for the king is not he that can do any thing against you” (Jer. 38:5).
It is a testimony to the vicious and depraved nature of these men that they chose not to kill Jeremiah outright. They chose rather to cast him into a muddy pit in the dungeon of the prison (Jer. 38:6). Too deep for him to lie down or to sit, he would have to stand, while he wasted away with hunger and exhaustion, finally to collapse and to suffocate in the mud. Fortunately for Jeremiah, there was one righteous man who had not deserted the city to surrender himself to the Babylonians. He was an Ethiopian convert to the religion of Moses and had devoted himself to the service of Jehovah and his king. That may explain why he had not left the city; he might well have made a vow to God to remain under any circumstance in the service of Judah's king. His name, Ebed-melech, means "servant of the king" and that is what he apparently was determined to be, even to the end.
Having obtained permission from the vacillating King Zedekiah, Ebed-melech took 39 men, a sturdy rope, and plenty of rags to help cushion Jeremiah's arm-pits, and pulled the prophet out of the smelly, sucking mud (Jer. 38:10-12). Jeremiah thus was freed from the pit but remained a prisoner in the court of the prison. For an unknown reason, the princes did not voice any opposition, but one factor may have been the horrible, deteriorating conditions in Jerusalem. Concern for their own survival may have consumed their desire to rid themselves of Jeremiah.
Driven by fear and frustration beyond the borders of reason, Zedekiah once again sought secret counsel from Jehovah's prophet (Jer. 38:14a), for whose execution the king had so recently given permission. Making an heroic posture, the king insisted that Jeremiah tell him nothing but the truth (Jer. 38:14b). To which the exasperated prophet retorted:
“If I declare it unto thee, wilt thou not surely put me to death? . . .So Zedekiah the king sware secretly unto Jeremiah, saying, As the Lord liveth, that made us this soul, I will not put thee to death, neither will I give thee into the hand of these men that seek thy life” (Jer. 38:15-16).
Then, for the last time, Jeremiah slowly, carefully explained to the king the will of God for him:
“Thus saith the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel; if thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon's princes, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house: But if thou wilt not go forth to the king of Babylon's princes, then shall this city be given into the hands of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand.
And Zedekiah said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me.
But Jeremiah said, They shall not deliver thee. Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord, which I speak unto thee: so it shall be well with thee, and thy soul shall live. But if thou refuse to go forth, this is the word that the Lord hath shewed me. . .they shall bring out all thy wives, and thy children to the Chaldeans: and thou shalt not escape out of their hand, but shalt be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon: and thou shalt cause this city to be burned with fire” (Jer. 38:17-23).
Jeremiah perceived that his words had not awakened in Zedekiah sufficient fear of God to heed the warning, when, in taking his leave of the prophet, Zedekiah insisted that Jeremiah not tell the princes of this secret conversation (Jer. 38:24-28). All that Jeremiah could do now was to wait for the weakening city to succumb to the relentless pressure of the siege and to suffer the consequences of sin.
And suffer the consequences Jerusalem did. Having been besieged at length by the surrounding Babylonian army, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, starved to insensitivity, resorted to the diet of the insane: dogs and horses, then mice, roaches, animal dung, even the flesh of the dead or their own arms and legs and, as a last ghastly measure, killing their own children for food. The filth and stench throughout the city must have been appalling. Diseases ravaged the hopelessly weak inhabitants, delivering Jerusalem's stubborn inhabitants from a tormented life to the torments of death, thus providing the desperate survivors the eerie blessing of another mouthful of flesh. And all the while, the Babylonians watched and waited, feasting upon the bounty of Judah's promised land.
Waiting. In the court of the prison was Jeremiah, waiting. Camped on the Mount of Olives and upon the surrounding hills and valleys were the Babylonian soldiers, waiting. In the city of Riblah to the north sat Nebuchadnezzar the king, waiting. By the distant river of Chebar, heavy with sorrow, were Ezekiel and the other captives, waiting. And in the royal houses of Babylon, praying toward Jerusalem three times a day, was faithful Daniel, waiting.
“And the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled ny night by the way of the gate between two walls, which is by the king's garden: (now the Chaldees were against the city round about:) and the king went the way toward the plain. And the army of the Chaldees pursued after the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho: and all his army were scattered from him. So they took the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon to Riblah: and they gave judgment upon him. And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon. [Then] came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem: And he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man's house burnt he with fire. And all the army of the Chaldees, that were with the captain of the guard, brake down the walls of Jerusalem round about. Now the rest of the people that were left in the city, and the fugitives that had fallen to the king of Babylon, with the remnant of the multitude, did Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carry away” (2Kgs. 25:4-11).
"The Lord of hosts is with us", sang David, "the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Ps. 46:7, 11). Nothing of all the tragedies which befell Israel or Judah to any extent made David's words less true. For every person who had David's kind of faith, for every person who resisted the appealing promises of the prophets of success and believed the truth, God was a refuge from the terrible suffering which the Almighty inflicted upon the children of disobedience. God was a refuge for faithful Daniel and his 3 friends. He sent the army of Babylon to carry them away to the safety of Nebuchadnezzar's palace. He sent the army again to carry righteous Ezekiel, Mordecai, and Esther's parents away from Jerusalem before the final, crushing blow fell (Jer. 24). He was a refuge for Baruch, Jeremiah's personal scribe (Jer. 45) and for Ebed-melech, who pulled Jeremiah out of the muddy pit (Jer. 39:15-18), "because" said the Lord, "thou hast put thy trust in me." He was a refuge for those who believed Jeremiah's prophecies and surrendered to the Babylonians. And He was a refuge for Jeremiah himself, who by Nebuchadnezzar's personal directive was given a choice by the Babylonian general either to go with the captives to Babylonia or to stay in the land of Canaan (Jer. 39:11-14; 40:1-6). Did Daniel ask of Nebuchadnezzar this favor for the prophet whom he had heard as a boy? Did the Jews who surrendered to the Babylonians tell their captors that they were surrendering because of Jeremiah's words? By whatever immediate impetus that Nebuchadnezzar's favor was shown to Jeremiah, Jeremiah (and all else who understood the truth) received that favor as being from God, the refuge, and only refuge, for the righteous. But for those who failed to acknowledge God's absolute dominion over the lives of His children and who thought that a less than holy and obedient life style was acceptable to Him, proximity to His presence proved to be the very most dangerous place on earth to be. And inasmuch as, in Christ, we have access by the Spirit into the holiest of the holy places of heaven, we should with great seriousness consider the smoldering ashes of the city wherein stood, with great acclaim, the temple which housed the mercy seat of God.
“Now all these things happened unto them for examples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (Paul, in 1Cor. 10:11-12).
THE BODY OF CHRIST
“But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him”
(Paul, in 1Cor. 8:6).
From before the ancient story of Job to the last prophetic voices of Israel's history, in various cultures and nations, in both tragic and blessed circumstances, the one battle of faith which righteous men of every time and place fought was the battle to believe that God was the only Governor of their lives and all life. Whether it was Joseph languishing in an Egyptian prison, or David fleeing from Absalom, or Jeremiah listening to Babylonian carpenters building ramps with which to scale Jerusalem's walls, the real spiritual battle was always the battle to believe that God had not lost control of the circumstances of life. It is remarkable that spiritual warfare should have had such a consistent focal point throughout the biblical history, but that such is the case bears strong witness to the importance of the issue. And the importance lies chiefly in the fact that it was only those who knew that God was responsible for their sufferings who remained faithful to His holiness. They continued to do what was good in God's sight because they trusted God to be the only God of their lives. On the other hand, those in Israel who were persuaded to believe that some other than God was determining the circumstances of their lives, were compelled by that belief to seek to please those other gods and to look outside the law of Moses for direction concerning acceptable manners of living and worship. And while they confidently pursued that vanity into the very pits of hell, the righteous humbly continued to fear the one true God and to cling diligently to his commandments because, knowing the truth, they could do nothing else. Only a fool could fail to learn from Israel's story that it is upon the hinge of the knowledge of God which hangs the moral character of men.
Consider all you have read concerning the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Consider the many afflictions of God's people, and consider the many words which God's prophets spoke concerning those afflictions. How many times did God's prophets lay the responsibility for those afflictions at the feet of any other god? With which sickness or disease did Baal afflict Israel? Which famine did Molech send? What army did Ashtar bring from afar to destroy Israelite cities and to enslave the saints?
God's messengers strove with their every strength to persuade God's own people to believe that responsibility for determining the earth's every pleasant or distressful circumstance belonged to the only God there is: Jehovah. Other gods were denounced, not as being evil, but as being nothing, incapable of determining either good or evil for anyone!
“They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good...there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might” (Jer. 10:5-6).
The evil of idolatry was not merely the idol; the idol was nothing (cp. 1Cor. 8:4). As I have said, the idol was only a symptom of the disease. The disease itself, the real sin of idolatry, lay in what men believed or failed to believe about God. The abomination was not the carved and decorated block of wood or stone, standing by an altar upon some high hill in Israel. The abomination was man's faith in and fear of what that idol represented. The sin was that men feared other gods and believed in their power to do either good or evil. The prophet Isaiah taunted these man-made gods:
“Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods; yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you” (Isa. 41:23-24).
As a result of choosing to believe in the power of other gods over their lives, the Jews' fear, faith, and worship were divided: some to God, some to Baal, some to Molech, etc. God's people sought to assure themselves of peace and prosperity by appeasing as many gods as seemed necessary to them. What the true prophets could not persuade the saints to believe was that it was necessary to please but One.
It was idolatry for Israel and Judah not to offer all their offerings to God. It was idolatry for them not to fear Him with all their fear. It was idolatry for them not to believe that all power over their lives was His power, and that both the pleasant and unpleasant circumstances which confronted them were from His mighty hand.
"The Devil Made Me Do It"
For our own spiritual safety, we must understand that the construction of idols and the composing of worship rituals in honor of other gods were only symptoms of ancient idolatry. It is extremely important to understand that the real idolatry was the fear and faith in other powers, which faith and fear impelled the Jews to erect those idols and compose those idolatrous worship rituals. If we fail to understand that, then we run the risk of assuming that we are innocent of idolatry simply because we haven't been carving on tree trunks lately. This is a critical issue for the believer. Though innocent of the symptoms of idolatry which characterized ancient Israel, are we innocent of the idolatrous attitudes and doctrines which produced and sustained those symptoms? I think not.
The tornadic winds of spiritual warfare which so violently raged throughout the biblical history are always blowing, but men are made aware of those winds which are carrying their souls away only when someone such as Jeremiah, or Josiah, or Amos is given the burden of standing up against the gales. Only when someone is sent by God to tell men of the raging, wild spirits which control them, do some men acknowledge the dizzying swirl which always encompasses lawless, carnal mankind. But why are men unaware of the tempests that carry them about?
It is a basic, biblical truth concerning human existence that mankind is estranged from God in spiritual "darkness"; that is, man is ignorant of the truth. Jeremiah lamented the spiritual condition of men in these words:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).
There is nothing, including demonic powers, more deceitful than the human heart, when that heart is not kept clean by God's sanctifying power. Without God's spirit, the human heart is the most untrustworthy element of God's creation. Not an unregenerated person is excluded from John's inspired observation:
“. . .the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1Jn. 5:19).
This is the state of man. He does not know that he is what he is. He does not perceive the howling, evil tempests which pervert his will. He does not know the truth, does not understand eternal life, can not discern between good and evil nor appreciate the doctrines and deeds of the Spirit of God. Man is bound by his own darkened intellect, his self-esteem, lust, and a wily, perverse heart. His spirit is restless, his works are temporal, and his institutions and desires are animalistic.
“. . .verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew. . .” (Ps. 39:5b-6a).
Jesus said that sin proceeds from the heart of man (Mt. 15:19; Mk. 7:21-22). Yet, man is always looking for someone else to blame for his sin. A certain famous comedian has made audiences burst into laughter with his impressions of a lady caught in a wrongful act, who then squeals innocently, "The devil made me do it!" In reality, this scene, intended as a joke, is an accurate reflection of the condition of the human heart. Adam blamed his sin on Eve. Eve blamed her sin on the serpent. And in a very limited sense, they were correct. But nothing can change the fact that Adam sinned for himself and Eve sinned for herself. Their sins were their own. They had not been forced to disobey God. These two in the garden of Eden first demonstrated the obsession of the condemned human heart to accuse another of its own guilt.
Paul wrote, in Rom. 5:12, "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin. . ." Part of the truth, then, which Jesus said would set us free is the truth that sin did not enter into the world through Satan, but through man. There is not one pain, disappointment, or disaster which afflicts the human race which is the result of Satan's sin. Man is reaping only what he sowed. Man does not reap what Satan sowed. The devil could have sinned from the moment of his creation until now, and this earth would still have been a paradise, had man believed and obeyed God. It may mollify the shame of a condemned heart to accuse Satan of responsibility for this miserable existence, but only the truth will heal the broken-hearted. And the first step to God's freely-offered healing is the realization and confession that this grief-plagued world is God's righteous response to MAN'S sin, and that our punishment is just.
A student of mine once lamented the "fact" that God had created the world so beautifully, and then Satan came along and "ruined God's beautiful world." What an idolatrous notion! Satan didn't make this world the miserable place it isl God did! And to what extent Satan will be held accountable for his part in man's willful disobedience is God's place alone to determine. The "whole duty" of man is to "fear God and keep his commandments."
It is man's wicked self-justifying nature which would have us to hold some other that God responsible for the punishment of our own sins. Indeed, this fleshly, wicked wisdom denies that the misery of mankind is punishment for sin at all. It is appealing to the flesh to maintain that disasters, disease, and death afflict mankind either as an evolutionary development of nature or as an unwarranted intrusion by Satan into the affairs of God's creation. Both of those alternatives implicitly deny that man's disobedience to God is the root cause of all of man's suffering. Both of those alternatives are made the more appealing to the flesh (1) by removing God from responsibility for the suffering of man (thus offering to man a god he can worship yet need not fear, a god of blessing but no wrath) and (2) by implicitly denying man's sinfulness and need of repentance before God.
If we deceive ourselves into thinking that Satan, or any other that the Creator, has determined our sufferings, then we can pity ourselves as victims instead of confessing our desperate sinfulness. To blame Satan for our suffering implies that we are suffering unjustly, that we are not worthy of such treatment. Moreover, besides justifying ourselves and hiding our guilt behind doctrines that seem to glorify God by denying His role in our suffering, we, by those very doctrines, implicitly deny the inviolable sovereignty of Almighty God over His own creation. Figuratively, we thus barricade ourselves within the besieged walls of our own Jerusalem, denouncing our surrounding sufferings as evil invaders and trespassers on God's property, and persecuting those who are pleading with us to surrender to the chastening hand of God.
Don't misunderstand the Apostle Peter's exhortation:
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he MAY devour” (1Pet. 5:8).
Any grammar student knows the difference between "may" and "can." We need never fear what Satan can do either for or against us because, like the idols which God's Old Covenant people trusted, he has absolutely no power whatsoever to determine anything concerning our lives. Peter did not write this scripture in order to put the fear of Satan into our hearts, but the fear of God! For if our heavenly Father determines that there exists a need for it, discomfort, sickness, tragedy, or, as a last resort, Satan "may" be sent to burn the dross from our lives. We can and should rejoice because that is true. That truth is both our hope and confidence. God is directing every experience of our lives toward our eternal glory and chastens us not for His benefit but "for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness" (Heb. 12:10). Our joy and confidence reach ever greater heights only as we learn that before any suffering arises, Jesus already knows that it is coming (cp. Rev. 2:10), and surely has already prayed for us, as he did for Peter (Lk. 22:31-32), that our faith will not fail.
Not Far From Us
It is a brilliant, though self-serving move of the perverse human heart to denounce suffering as a satanic invention and intrusion into human affairs. How cunningly exposed and frightened sin may disguise itself as righteous indignation, acting outraged at the suggestion that God is responsible for the suffering of the saints. How shrewd it was for the prophets of success to denounce Jeremiah as a blasphemer for associating the name of God with the suffering of His people, when actually it is idolatrous and self-serving to dissociate Him from it.
In the darkness of such an idolatrous mentality we fail to see our Lord even when he is near. It often happens that, after suffering for a while in difficult circumstances, we say that we "found" Jesus. Is it that we "found" him because he had, during our suffering, been somewhere else? Surely not. It is only that he opened our eyes to let us know he was there. I am persuaded to believe that Christ is desirous for us to know that he is never anywhere else, that he is always, as David declared, "a very present help in trouble." How very often in our difficulties, even when we look for Christ, we fail to recognize him when we see him. Like Mary, weeping outside his tomb, we are so caught up in our fears and worry that we mistake the Savior to be only "a gardener", a stranger to our lives, and unmindful of our hurt. Only when he speaks to us, as he did to Mary, with his inimitably comforting voice, do we begin to perceive either his greatness or the littleness or our faith. How slowly do we take it in! It is always true, just as our Lord Jesus told us, that "every one that seeketh findeth", but is also true that not every one perceives the answer when it is found.
How often we have immaturely resisted what we later realized was a gift sent from the Father. How often we have refused a course of action we later learned was the right course to take. How often have we denounced what later proved to be divine. We are strugglers in this life, and it is an indisputable fact that until we come to know the mind of the Spirit of God we often struggle against what we should with humility and fear receive.
How mournfully longed the besieged inhabitants of Jeremiah's Jerusalem for God to show Himself, when in a very real way they were seeing Him in the form of Babylonian soldiers. They prayed for someone to be anointed to perform an inspired, mighty act, but failed to understand that in breaching the walls of the holy city, the heathen invaders were doing just that. They cried for a message from God even as they cursed and persecuted His messengers. They longed for the "day of the Lord", unaware that His day had already come. They miserably failed in the real struggle of faith: to reach out beyond the circumstances of this life, to perceive that these circumstances are purposed and designed by God for men, "that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us" (Acts 17:27).
Even after vainly trying to communicate with God, tormented Job stubbornly maintained his faith that although he could not see God, God could see him, and "when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). God was not far from Job. He is not far from anyone, especially those who have trusted him with their lives. Some men can see only what they see. Others, such as Job, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul,
“. . .look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2Cor. 4:18).
It is not incorrect to say that the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, but it is spiritually near-sighted to see no farther than that. It is not incorrect to say that evil men crucified the Lord Jesus, but it is spiritually near-sighted and idolatrous to fail to understand that men did only what God "determined before to be done" (Acts 4:28).
God's Other Promises
Having healed a Jewish woman, Jesus rebuked with these words the man who condemned him for healing her on the Sabbath day:
“Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to the watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Lk. 13:15-16).
Had the Israelites faithfully kept their covenant with the Lord, the Lord would just as faithfully have kept his promises of health, prosperity, and peace for the nation (Dt. 28:1-14). When the nation drifted into the darkness of immorality and idolatry, God instead kept His other promises of sickness, destitution, and war for the nation (Dt. 28:15-68). Ironically, Israel's miseries are testimony to God's faithfulness, for God promised horrible suffering to Israel if she disobeyed His commandments, just as He promised her perfect peace and health if she obeyed. Then, the confession that Israel's misery was from the hand of God is nothing more than a confession of faith in God's faithfulness to His word (cp. Dan. 9:1-19).
When Jesus came, Israel had been in large measure turned over by God to the power of delusive spirits (Jn. 12:37-41). God had virtually stripped them of civil authority, giving the government of Palestine into the hands of the Romans. The Jews were, at Jesus' time, a despised and downtrodden people, plagued with all manner of sickness and disease, insanity and demon possession - all from the hand of God. Israel had drunk deeply from the cup of God's wrath, but in the voice of Jesus she was hearing the call of her God to a new start, as Isaiah had said:
“Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received OF THE LORD'S HAND double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:2).
It was from the Lord's hand that Israel was under foreign domination. It was from the Lord's hand that sickness, disease, and demon possession afflicted Israel. As a part of all that, it was from the Lord's hand that some were "bound by Satan." Jesus was not at all teaching that Satan has the authority to afflict God's people whenever he will. Jesus knew Israel's wretched condition was proof of God's, not Satan's, wrath against sin. It is essential to our growth in faith to understand that. The fact that Satan was the one who bound this woman provides us with only more reason to serve God with "fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12; 1Pet. 1:17), for it demonstrates what God, if pushed to it, will do to those who will not remain faithful to Him (cp. 1Cor. 10:1-12). When we understand Israel's history, as Jesus did, we will find nothing in Jesus' words which would suggest that Satan was more than just one of many tools of God's punishment. When that horrible punishment was completed, Jesus was sent in the power of the holy Ghost to cast Satan out and to demonstrate the absolute authority of God over all the conditions of His people. Gloriously, Jesus demonstrated that truth in perfection, "doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him" (Acts 10:38).
God's Being God
It takes time to grow to appreciate what God's being God means. Satan is a master craftsman with lies, but he is not God. Satan is an "anointed cherub. . .full of wisdom. . .perfect in beauty. . ." (Ezek. 28), but he is not God. Satan is a "prince" (e.g. Jn. 12:31), but he is not God, nor is he even like God. No one is like God. Satan is the "god of this world" (2Cor. 4:4), but that statement is actually more a ridicule of his power than a glorification of it. Being "god of this world" leaves Satan with no rank in the kingdom of God, no authority over any saint's life, no jurisdiction or influence concerning any event or circumstance of life - except to the extent that our heavenly Father may choose to use him to accomplish some wise purpose. Satan's being "god of this world" is not to be compared to God's being God. Satan's being "god of this world" is not cause for alarm; it is cause for confidence and joy. It means he is not god of anything which concerns those who are not of the world. Satan is not God! Oh, if we could fully grasp the glory of that! But in the main, men just don't know what God's being God means to us. Satan knows, and trembles (Jas. 2:19), but men don't know.
Satan and his fellow evil spirits know, better than men know, that they have absolutely no power whatsoever of themselves to govern in God's kingdom. They have no perpetual dominion over any part of God's creation. Whenever and wherever their wicked wisdom and their power is exercised, it is exercised with God-given limitations and for God-given purposes. Satan is servant, not master. He is the father of lies, according to Jesus (Jn. 8:44), and the lie with which he has most often robbed from men's hearts the faith and fear which belongs to God is the lie that he has the authority to determine either good or evil for men, that he will "get you" if you don't watch out.
Myths of Satan
“They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?” (Isa. 14:16-17).
Satan not only lies about God. He also lies about himself. Even the popular image of Satan as a hideous, disgusting figure with horns and a pitchfork is only another part of his effort to disguise himself. According to the Scriptures, Satan is "perfect in beauty." But he does not want men to realize that what he is, is attractive to them. As I have said, the idolatry of believing in the power of other gods over human life is made none the less idolatrous because men hate those other gods. Whether human beings love him or not is a matter of utter indifference to Satan. It is man's fear and faith which he covets, not their love.
By "Myths of Satan", I do not at all mean that Satan the creature is a myth. He is a real personality, a real being. But there are myths about Satan which are of Satan. That is to say, Satan inspires myths not only about divine truths, but also about himself. Satan does not want us to know him as he really is any more than he wants us to know God as He really is. For, as Isaiah said, when men at last see Lucifer as he really is, they will squint with amazed disbelief that such a creature as he could have for so long led so many to do so much evil. The sticky, tangled webs of myth about Satan, which he himself has inspired, all begin with the myth of his attempted heavenly coup d'etat. This myth serves as the foundation for all his other myths about himself, and to see him as he really is, we need to see the flimsiness of this foundation.
We are told in Revelation 12:7, "And there was war in heaven." But do we think it was war as we know it, with a sword-waving Devil leading a cavalry charge against God's throne, angels shooting lightning arrows at one another, and Christ, with furrowed brow, leaning over a table of maps of heaven's geography, trying to determine where Satan's next move will come? That is the picture, not much exaggerated, which most people hold of Satan's rebellion against God. This is the concept of his rebellion which Satan himself inspired, for it implies that God's authority can be challenged and that Satan was the only one in eternity brave enough to challenge it. But it is a lie. God is of such wondrous power that His authority can to no extent be challenged, nor is Satan a brave character when it comes to confronting God. Not at all the brave warrior which he would have us to think him to be, Satan commands the cowardly warfare of deceit. The details of his warfare in heaven are not given to us in the Bible, but if the warfare which he waged with Eve's spirit in the garden of Eden is any indication, then it was a wisely crafted warfare of slander against the Almighty.
When the serpent persuaded Eve to doubt God's love and to believe that His commandments were only intended to keep her and Adam under His thumb, she made up her own mind to disobey God's command. The serpent never asked Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. He only intimated that it was for selfish reasons that God told them not to eat it (Gen. 3:1-5). Both Eve and Adam decided on their own to eat the fruit, basing their decision of Satan's lie rather than on their own experiences of God's care and power.
There is no doubt that the same general scheme was followed in Satan's heavenly warfare. Not a warfare of strength against strength, for there is no strength against God, but a warfare of slander and lies and hidden desire for God's glory. It is unthinkable that Satan should ever have believed that the Almighty could be dethroned. Being "full of wisdom" (Ezek. 28:12), he would surely have known that the Creator cannot be displaced, and accordingly never hoped to do so. The fact that we humans often have thought that the overthrow of God was Lucifer's goal is only more evidence of our ignorance of both God's power and Lucifer's wisdom. The prize which Satan sought was the praise and reverence for God which dwelt in the hearts of all God's created beings. His goal was to be like God, not by attacking God Himself, but by perverting angels' and men's perceptions of God. His goal was to be like God in the minds of God's creatures, to receive from men and from angels some of that trust, respect, and fear which rightly belongs to no one but to the Creator.
The prophet Isaiah was used by the holy Ghost to reveal to us that Satan's original intent was not the impossibility of replacing God but to be held in like regard with Him:
“How thou art fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, "I will ascend into heaven [like God], I will exalt my throne above the stars of God [not above God Himself]: I will sit ALSO upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I WILL BE LIKE THE MOST HIGH” (Isa. 14:12-14).
Has he succeeded with this evil scheme in your heart? That is the real battleground. The "war" that "was in heaven" was a warfare for the hearts of angels. Afterwards, Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven to the earth (Rev. 12:7-17), and the warfare is now for the hearts of men. In reality, it is as impossible for Satan to be like God, as it is for him to replace God, but if Satan can persuade men to live as though it were possible and true, he has succeeded in his purpose. If he can persuade men to believe that he, like God, makes decisions concerning the circumstances of our lives, he will have stolen something from our hearts that is sacred to our Creator.
One sister told me, tongue in cheek, after I had delivered this message in her city, that I had caused her to lose her best friend. She then explained that the "best friend" she had lost was, in fact, Satan. For in the past, when trouble arose in her life, she would disgustedly cast all the responsibility on the devil, and thus relieving her sense of guilt, she would continue in her stubborn and stumbling way. But now, she explained, when trouble arose, she had nowhere to go but to God, in humility and supplication seeking His purpose and His merciful, delivering hand. Her previous "attacks of the devil" had been transformed into what they in truth had been all the time: God-given discipline to promote her into spiritual maturity. And what a difference that realization has made in her life!
Satan does offer himself as the "best friend" of every guilty conscience. He is willing, eager in fact, to be blamed for the trouble we cause ourselves, because as long as we are holding him responsible for our sufferings, we are giving him a place in our hearts and minds which he can by no other means occupy. As long as we hold him responsible, we are failing to look for and to accomplish God's purposes in our suffering. As long as we hold him responsible, Satan is like God in our hearts. It tickles Satan for God's people to blame their troubles on him. By no other means can he occupy a seat in the temple of God, except God's people give him that place of glory: the honor of responsibility.
Believest Thou the Scriptures?
Not many are as receptive to this message as was the lady who lost her "best friend." When the Spirit of the Lord opened my mind to these truths and I delivered my first sermon on the subject, there were some who left the service that night weeping. They dearly loved me and were truly sorrowful that my spiritual condition had, as they saw it, deteriorated to the point that I could say that God, not Satan, is responsible for the suffering of the saints. For those who do not know me or love me as did those saints, the reaction is frequently anger and contempt. But no reaction seems more inexplicable than the reaction of Lisa, one of my students at our local community college.
Lisa was a young mother, a community leader, and was active in her Christian church, as she had been from her youth. Near the end of our biblical survey course, having been consistently repulsed throughout the course by the Bible's open and unequivocal declaration of divine determination of suffering for the saints, Lisa announced to the class her conclusion: the Bilbe itself was wrong concerning what it said about God. Please understand that this happened several years before I myself understood the truths which you are reading in this book. She was not reacting to anything which I taught; she was reacting solely to the biblical material itself.
It is with heart-felt concern and genuine fear that I submit this material to the consideration of my contemporaries, for the same idolatrous spirits that rose to dominate the minds of God's Old Covenant people, I can see rising in strength today. Lisa was neither an exception nor a villain. She was a victim of ignorance of the Creator. Lisa had grown up, spiritually speaking, on a diet of Sunday school lessons and sweet sermons which emphasized the goodness and wisdom of God, but (except in abstract form) denied His power (cp. 2Tim. 3:1-7). The results were, for her, tragic, though she may not believe so. It grieved me to think that for her entire life she had been instructed in spiritual matters and, yet, not only was ignorant of the fear and knowledge of God, but actually had developed such an irreverence for the holy Scriptures as to condemn them as being a product of human error because they declared God to be something other than what she had been taught to believe. What is it that is being taught that would make men feel free to condemn the revelation of God in order to maintain their own ideas? When the Apostle Paul made his confession of faith before King Agrippa, he concluded by asking the question, "Believest thou the prophets?" (Acts 26:27). We should all search our own hearts with such blunt questions.
Do we believe the Scriptures? Do we believe in the Creator, as the righteous men of faith believed in Him? Do we believe what Joseph said about God and about his suffering? What Job said? Jesus? Or do the things they said make us wonder whether they really understood their situation? Do we consider their testimonies to be authoritative and perfectly trustworthy? Should we alter our thoughts about the Almighty if our thoughts are different from theirs? Do we, or can we, believe the prophets? Was David right in saying that his afflictions were from God? Would we be right to make the same confession? The warfare for your heart is now raging.
While the disease of idolatry afflicts every generation, the expressions, or symptoms, of idolatry may very with each. The idols and sacrifices to the gods, which characterized the ancient world, are all but gone. And though the ancient peoples didn't know it, the "gods" to whom they sacrificed were "devils", because the spiritual darkness which inspired such worship was from the devil:
“They sacrificed unto devils, not to God: to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee” (Dt. 32:17-18; cp. 1Cor. 10:20).
In our time, we are exhorted to worship God by offering
“. . .the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15).
The sacrifices of praise, too, may be offered to devils, when we profess that it is they who are determining, to any extent, the circumstances of our lives. The attributing of responsibility is one form of praise. It exalts the power of the one held responsible. As the manner of true worship changed from ceremonial works of the laws to worship in spirit (cp. Jn. 4:23-24), so the imitative manner of false worship has changed with it. Nevertheless, the real warfare, the warfare for the human heart, hasn't changed at all. Satan still wants that attention and respect which belongs only to God.
Of course, whatever the styles or symptoms of idolatry, those styles and symptoms are subsisted by what people think. What people think, in turn, is determined largely by what they are taught. In the light of biblical history, it should come as no surprise to us that doctrines have arisen among the saints which both defend and sustain the same idolatrous notions which destroyed God's Old Testament flock. The Apostle Peter gave us ample warning:
“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bing in damnable heresies....And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (2Pet. 2:1-2).
Ample warnings notwithstanding, I believe the body of Christ has lowered its guard against those doctrines which encourage idolatrous thinking and which hinder a right knowledge of God among the saints. Some of them I will discuss now.
When the prophets of success and victory cast Jeremiah into the pit of mud for counseling Jewish surrender to the Babylonians, we understand that the reason for their hatred was not that Jeremiah held a different opinion of the Babylonians (although his opinion of the invaders did differ from theirs). The reason for their antagonism was the more fundamental difference of Jeremiah's perceptions and understandings about the Creator. It was what Jeremiah knew about God that inspired him to call for Jerusalem's surrender. And it was what the prophets of victory thought they knew about God which inspired them to resist Jeremiah's message and to fight against the heathen invaders.
These prophets of success were forerunners of ecclesiastical educators now directing the thought patterns of some in the body, who, with doctrines which seem to glorify Christ, actually are undermining his authority over the saints. A most extreme of these doctrines is that which is called "eternal security."
The prophets who opposed Jeremiah in Jerusalem believed that Jeremiah was a heretic for teaching that God would destroy His own temple and crush His own people with Babylonian boots. They believed that God's people were assured of salvation from destruction simply because they were God's people, irrespective of their obedience to His law. Jeremiah, on the other hand, knew that God's salvation would be given only to those who served God acceptably and kept His commandments. To Jeremiah's faith the New Covenant writers agree. For example, the author of Hebrews teaches that our Lord Jesus Christ
“became the author of eternal salvation unto all them THAT OBEY HIM. (Heb. 5:9).
Paul taught the Corinthians that "ye are the temple of God, and...the Spirit of God dwelleth in you" (1Cor. 3:16). And in perfect consonance with Jeremiah's warnings to his people, Paul adds to that glorious declaration this somber admonition:
“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1Cor 3:17).
Proponents of any of the various forms of eternal security doctrine hold that those who are converted are assured of salvation simply because they are converted, and that God will deliver all truly converted people from the wrath to come because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus, without regard to the works which these converted people have done.
Some sub-groups of this doctrine believe that when a person is truly converted, he will certainly be saved because every truly converted person will live a life pleasing to God. This doctrine ignores the simple realities of life, the warnings of the New Covenant writers, and the history of Israel which God intended as a pattern of warning to God’s children. The prophets of victory were Israelites just as Jeremiah was an Israelite. God's people can do either good or evil. They can be either faithful or unfaithful, obedient or disobedient. Those who are genuinely born again may successfully "run the race" of faith or may miserably make "shipwreck of their faith" (1Tim. 1:20). To deny that is unbiblical and unreasonable.
Still Bound to Sin
It is good to realize that human nature is depraved. The Apostle Paul wrote, "In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing. . ." (Rom. 7:18). However, when a man teaches that this sinful depravity is so great that even a converted person is still bound to sin, he runs afoul of the gospel of Christ. What proponents of this brand of eternal security are actually saying is that when a man is in Christ, God no longer sees sin in him nor any longer imputes sin to him, even though that man necessarily continues in his spiritually squalid state. They would say that saints will be saved in spite of their constant disobedience because God, for Jesus' sake, will not hold them accountable for their sins. How much humility the stubborn, sinful nature of man seems to display by such a doctrine-even as it searches for a way to excuse its own sinfulness! How highly it seems to exalt Christ, even as it despises and denies the very deliverance from sin which he suffered and died to provide for us. It is just an Old Covenant heresy in New Covenant garb, condemned by every righteous voice in history:
“Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (Mal. 2:17).
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1Cor. 9-10).
“But as he which calleth you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1Pet. 1:15-17).
God's demand for holiness among his people is not lowered or removed in this New Covenant; it is raise to new heights, even to the point of a demand for perfection (Mt. 5:48; Col. 1:28; etc.). The awful certainty of death without mercy for the Jews who despised (disobeyed) Moses' law is said to be less than the certainty of destruction for New Covenant saints who despise (disobey) the Spirit which sanctifies them (Heb. 10:26-31). We have so much more with which we can overcome unrighteousness than the Old Covenant people had! How can we fail to live holy lives? And how can we fail to be worthy of greater damnation if our deeds are evil?
The prophets of victory erred in their assumption that salvation was guaranteed them because they were people who belonged to God. Actually, it was the fact that they were God's people that gave them the greater ability and responsibility to do good - and made them more worthy of damnation for sin, if they committed it, than the heathen who didn't know God. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Lk. 12:48). "You only have I known of all the families of the earth," said Jehovah to Israel, "THEREFORE I will punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2).
Modern prophets of victory stumble into this same pit of pride, not understanding that the people in this world who are most assured of damnation are not the Neroes or the Stalins or the Hitlers, but believers who will not obey God. Who is more worthy of death than one who has been delivered from sin and then returns to it? Who can more justly be condemned to eternal death than the one who has been delivered and cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ, but then returns to it, like a dog returning to eat his own vomit, or like a pig that is washed returning "to her wallowing in the mire" (2Pet. 2:22)?
“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been BETTER FOR THEM NOT TO HAVE KNOWN THE WAY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2Pet. 2:20-21).
This is not to say that saints who err are without hope, for we are told that if we do sin, "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." However, disobedient saints are in fearful danger of losing their hope and their souls if they do not repent and avail themselves of the advocate which they have been given. Obedience to God is not an optional lifestyle for believers who would someday see the face of their God. Disobedience is still "as the sin of witchcraft", and all the more is it so when those who have received God's Spirit of truth and holiness are the ones doing the sinning. It is not the truth that in Christ we are excused in our sin. The truth is, in Christ our excuse for sinning has been taken away.
“For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. . .But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you....Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God....For if ye [saints] live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 7:5; 8:9; 6:12-13; 8:13).
The consistent Scriptural demands for holiness and the equally consistent warnings of eternal punishment for lack of holiness do in no way diminish the beauties of God's love or the depth of His goodness. Those commandments and warning are, in fact, expressions of God's love and mercy, for having been given them, we can turn with all the more zeal from unholy things to God, our refuge.
God Is Love
The idolatrous doctrines of the Old Covenant false prophets and the eternal security doctrines of the New covenant false prophets are very close kin, because the effect of those doctrines is the same. To wit, the fear of God is diminished by them all. But fear of God has always been a quality of righteous men (cp. 2Cor. 5:11). It is of the wicked which David and Paul wrote, "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Ps. 36:1; Rom. 3:18).
We know that John wrote, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear." However, the fear which is "cast out" by love is not the fear of God; it is the fear of everything except God. The fear of God is sweet. It is clean and holy and good. Our souls are nurtured and guided by it. Fear of men, or fear of what demons can do to us, or fear of financial ruin, or fear of wars and rumors of wars, are all vexing, worrisome fears, filled with sin and despair. These are the kinds of fear which "hath torment", and the saint who fears such things "is not made perfect in love" (1Jn. 4:18). On the other hand, the saint who knows God well enough to fear Him, knows the great relief of fearing none but Him, and loves God all the more on that account.
Ours has been an era wherein the fear of God is often made to seem passe, on the basis of such Scriptures as "God is love" (1Jn. 4:8). Yet, can we not as certainly say that God has always been love? Does that not mean that when God cursed Adam and Eve and all mankind with the penalty of death, He was love? When He sent His dear Son to the Roman scourging post and then to the horrible death of crucifixion, wasn't God still love? When Ananias' and Sapphira's very breath was wrenched from their bodies (Acts 5:1-11), when Stephen was being stoned (Acts. 7:54-60), when the wayward Corinthian believers were hurt and crying upon their beds, was not God still love? Finally, at the last judgment, when the lake of fire is being filled with anguished souls begging for mercy and finding none, will not God still be love?
Yes, God is love. What a wondrous love He is! But the envious spirit of this age would have us to think "love" is all that God is. Satan would be pleased if you would love God with all your heart and fear God with half, or none, of it. It would suit Satan's desire very well, if you would honor God as the God of all the mercies and grace which befall your life and honor the devil as the one who sends all the suffering which befalls you. Fear of what Satan can do is going to be a worrisome part of your life, when faith in his power to afflict your life is in your heart. But not only is it worrisome; it is idolatrous.
John wrote "God is love" because John was in love with God. All who love God as John did have come to know how true those words are. But John did not tell the whole truth about Almighty God in those three words. It takes the whole Bible to teach us the whole truth, and is it any less inspired a scriptural truth that God is "to be greatly feared in the assembly of the saints" (Ps. 89:7) than that God is love?
Goodness and Severity
Teachers of righteousness have always maintained a proper balance between trust in God's mercy and fear of His wrath, and have seen no contradiction in declaring the reality of both, almost with the same breath:
“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations; and repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face” (Moses, in Dt. 7:9-10).
Here, Moses was teaching Israel the same truth which Paul would later proclaim to the Roman believers:
“Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches take heed lest he also spare not thee. BEHOLD THEREFORE THE GOODNESS AND SEVERITY OF GOD: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” (Rom. 11:20-22).
Faith in God will never mature so long as one believes that God is love and nothing else, or that God is a consuming fire and nothing else. We must, as Paul said, behold both the goodness and the severity of God. To deny either of them is heresy.
Many would quickly decry the blasphemy of declaring the benefits of God's goodness to be from the hand of Lucifer. But there have been too few voices decrying the blasphemy of declaring God's disciplining measures to be merely the work of the Enemy. Yet, where is the difference between the two? Why would one be any less outrageous than the other? Our lives are altogether in the hands of God. We are to trust Him to be the God of our lives, because that is what He is. Any doctrine which insinuates, to any extent, that the circumstances of our lives are ultimately being directed by another power is an idolatrous doctrine.
Throughout the history of salvation, men of God have declared, with equal boldness and joy, the wrath and the compassion of God:
“Come and let us return unto the Lord: for HE hath torn, and HE will heal us; HE hath smitten, and HE will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).
It is unfortunately true that by many of our teachers, the saints are instructed to think the Lord will indeed heal, but would never tear, will indeed bind up, but would never smite. The goodness of our Creator, great as it is, can be imprudently emphasized, when His power and wrath against sin is downplayed or denied outright. The resulting picture of the Almighty which many saints hold is pathetically distorted. It is as if the saints conceive of God as unendingly running behind Satan, trying to heal all the damage which Satan does to the saints, yet never quite able to catch up.
Nevertheless, the truth remains that we are God's people, "the sheep of his pasture", and Jesus is, in his own words, "the good shepherd" (Jn. 10:11), not a bad one. Does not the ancient, thrilling Psalm of God's perfect care for His people still speak to us who are "the Israel of God?"
“My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” (excerpts from Ps. 121).
By Faith Alone?
Still another doctrine which has infiltrated the body of Christ and stolen some of its faith and fear of God is that doctrine which teaches that salvation is "by faith alone." It is absolutely incredible that such a doctrine should be held in the present enormous esteem by such a large segment of believers, when it contradicts every iota of scriptural teaching concerning the salvation of men.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers that their salvation was "not of works" (Eph. 2:8-9), he was referring to the ceremonial works of the Mosaic law, not to the works of a clean life:
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28; cp. Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16).
In saying that salvation is "not of works", Paul was not saying, nor would have dreamed of saying, that good works and a holy life are not required in order for the saints to inherit the kingdom of God. Paul would have agreed whole-heartedly with James' words:
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him
. . .Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:14, 24).
We will see no contradiction whatsoever between what Paul taught and what James taught, when we understand to which kind of works each man was referring.
The Scriptures are absolutely clear in their declaration that we are "saved by grace through faith" (Eph. 2:8). But they are also absolutely clear in their declaration that we are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24-26), that we are saved by believing (Acts 16:31), by being baptized (Mk. 16:16; 1Pet. 3:21), by confession (Rom. 10:10), by sanctification (2Thes. 2:13), by perseverance in the faith (1Tim. 2:15; 4:16), by the constant renewing of the inward man by the Holy Ghost (Tit. 3:5), by calling on the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:13), by not neglecting the gospel (1Cor. 15:2; Heb. 2:3), by looking for the Lord's return (Heb. 9:28), by enduring persecutions in the love of God (Mt. 10:22; 24:12-13), by righteousness (1Pet. 4:18), by the fear of God (Phil. 2:12), by doing good (Jn. 5:28-29; Rom. 2:5-10), by the life of Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:10), and by whatever God's will may be for us to do individually in this life. Jesus himself told us,
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Mt. 7:21).
The doctrine of salvation by faith alone is one of the most bizarre developments in the history of the faith. I say this not simply because it is so blatantly contradictory to all reason and revelation, but because so many saints have embraced it as being the very gospel of Christ, despite that blatant contradiction. Amazingly, there has been very little opposition to this doctrine even from those who claim to hold the Bible in highest esteem concerning doctrinal issues. Where are the evangelical questions concerning the scriptural repugnance of the salvation-by-faith-alone doctrine? Is there anyone who is asking why the Scriptures never say that salvation is by faith alone? Indeed, they say just the opposite (Jas. 2:24). Why is this doctrine taught so widely and forcefully, while abundant contradictory scriptural evidence is down-played or ignored? If you are among those who have been taken in by this error, please consider the abundance of biblical evidence against it.
In John's great vision called Revelation, Jesus told him that only those who obeyed his commandments would have the privilege of eating from the tree of life and entering into the city of God (Rev. 22:12-14). Besides this, how often did the prophets and apostles warn God's people that judgment was due to all men, and that judgment would be based on their works. David (Ps. 62:12), Solomon (Eccl. 12:14), our Lord Jesus (Mt. 16:27), John (Rev. 20:12-13), and every other “teacher sent from God", taught us that the deeds of our lives will determine our eternal destiny (cp. Rom. 2:5-10).
Paul's message of the worthlessness of the work of the laws has been misinterpreted to mean that works of any kind are worthless, that the salvation which Christ will bring at his return will be given to anyone who has truly been converted, whether that person's life is holy or not. But it was never imagined by Paul, or any other holy man, that the reward of salvation would be given irrespective of one's works. Certainly, believers have been freed, by the coming of the Spirit, from the symbolic, ceremonial works of the law, but the believer is not freed from the obligation to work. The believer is indeed free from the handwritten ordinances of the law of Moses, but that does not mean that we are without standards or that we may formulate our own. That we are free from the Mosaic law does not mean that we are "without law to God" (cp. 1Cor. 9:21).
Not purposelessly did the leaders from the earliest of times strictly warn us to "be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless." They knew our salvation depended on it! But during and since that time, it has been one of Satan's highest priorities to convince God’s children that this is not true. If he can convince the us that salvation will be given to the believer, without regard to the quality of their lives, then half the battle of drawing the us into ungodliness is won. If he robs our hearts of the understanding that the wages of sin is death - for sinner and for saint - he has as well robbed our hearts of perfect fear of God.
The doctrines of salvation by faith alone and eternal security, in all their many nuances, with other related doctrines, form a network of support for idolatrousness by denying, either implicitly or explicitly, the need for unadulterated fear of the Almighty. For when men and women are instructed against the fear of God, it becomes easier to believe that He would never do anything to cause people to fear Him. Then whom do you think those men and women are going to honor with responsibility for the sufferings of humanity? And who do you think is waiting with open, evil arms to receive that honor?
The denial of the requirement of holiness and good works for the saints and the denial of the reality of divine punishment are both expressions of the idolatrous, corrupt nature of man. In our time, the roots of this corruption have grown deep. Like the generation in King Josiah's day, many in our congregations now are without any real knowledge of God or the Scriptures. When they come face to face with what the Scriptures actually say, they are embarrassed, intimidated, and sometimes unwilling to forsake the comfortable errors of the past. Because of this lack of real biblical and spiritual knowledge, many saints are becoming increasingly easy targets for spirits such as the ones that so disastrously led Jeremiah's generation astray and hardened their hearts to the fear of God. Already the stage is set for the fiercest spiritual battles ever witnessed, for the saints are now being carried away by some of the strongest deceitful winds ever to blow through the vineyards of God's kingdom. Already, the truth has been discarded, cast into a closet of God's house with other "junk", to make room for idols of men's own vain imagination. And not many are mourning the loss.
But we would mourn, could we know the goodness of what has been discarded. And we can know, for all creation is declaring it. We have allowed ungodly doctrines to grow to heights of staggering influence only because we were ignorant of the knowledge of God. We just didn't know what God's being God means. And we didn't know what His being God means, in large measure because the revelation of creation has been neglected and the message of creation, ignored. Salvation is not by faith alone because God is God. Saints are eternally secure from Satan's rule over them because God is God, but they are not, merely by being saints, exempt from the wages of sin if they sin - because God is God. If Satan were God, sin could be acceptable. But God is God; therefore, sin is still sin.
The Believers at Corinth
The subject of correction, or chastisement, of the saints should never be treated as a subject which is apart from the goodness or wisdom or power of God. His goodness, because God corrects us for our benefit, not His own (Heb. 12:10). Wisdom, because God does not judge us as men do; He knows "the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12) and knows exactly what we need. His power, because it is He alone Who determines how and when and by whom our correction shall come, whether by revelation (Phil. 3:15), or by exhortation of an elder (cp. Gal. 3:1), or, as in the case among the stubborn Corinthian believers, by sickness, weakness, and even death.
The saints which lived in the prosperous Grecian city of Corinth was an assembly without effective government. Lacking spiritual leadership, these raucous saints drifted into the quagmire of strife, envy, and sectarianism. It was largely "for this cause", Paul wrote, "many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge [i.e. correct] ourselves, we would not be judged [by the Lord]" (1Cor. 11:30-31).
It is of first importance that we, with Paul, should acknowledge that the sicknesses, weakness, and premature deaths among the Corinthian believers were not chance occurrences. Nor were they "attacks of the devil" against the household of faith. The power of God over His kingdom and the love of God for His children exclude those two options. These sufferings were from God, in wisdom measured by Him specifically for the members of this congregation. These were "judgments" of the Lord. The value and purpose for their chastisement would have been lost had they not realized that. The glory of chastisement for the Corinthians was that, first, the discipline of the Lord is a sure indication of His profound interest in their salvation and, second, the purpose of divine discipline, though the discipline be at times severe, is not to condemn but to save, as Paul himself explained in the following verse:
“But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1Cor. 11:32).
Those among us who have erred and are now suffering for that error can rest in hope, though men and, yes, even fellow believers stand aloof. For when God chastens, He chastens with a good, healing purpose, not to condemn or discourage. If in times of suffering we can but gather to our hearts the faith to persevere in doing good, in pursuing His righteousness, can it be doubted that God, in due season, will command that we reap in full what we in faithfulness to Him have sown. When leaving the "ninety and nine" sheep within the fold, there was no spite in the heart of the shepherd as he stepped out into the dark to find the one lamb who had gone astray. This story of the lost lamb, told by Jesus (Mt. 18:10-14; Lk. 15:1-7), indicates that there is not an obedient saint alive now who stands any closer to God's heart than the saint who has sinned and is now humbly suffering the bitter consequence.
We can always be assured that our lovingly heavenly Father does not happily frustrate us. He "doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men" (Jeremiah, in Lam. 3:33). However, when by ignorant resistance to His will, we do push Him to unpleasant, even severe, measures, it is a matter for great thankfulness that it is still He Who holds in His hand the chastening rod:
“For the Lord will not cast off forever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies” (Lam. 3:31-32).
Paul knew that. The Corinthians knew that. The matter of suffering among the saints is a matter between Father and children. At Corinth, the children had erred. The Father, for the children's benefit, had chastened them. For us, this is a crucial, comforting point: the disciplining of the saints is a family affair, and Satan is not in the family.
Obviously, the Corinthians had serious spiritual problems, resulting in situations which could rightly be called tragic. Infinitely more tragic than God's afflicting these unruly saints, however, would have been God's refusal to afflict them. The worst that could have happened is for the Corinthians to have been given free rein in their sin, to have been abandoned to wander in the darkness of their own stubborn way (cp. Rom. 1:21). As the author of Hebrews explained (12:8):
“If ye be without chastisement...then are ye bastards, and no sons.”
All of God's sons are promised His guiding hand. Many times it is the gentle, comforting touch which shows us the higher way. Sometimes, for our sakes, He must be more forceful. Nevertheless, when those harsher times come, we may still be confident that it is our Father, not another, at work, answering in his wise way our prayers to be made more pleasing in His sight. All of these things can be easily understood when we really perceive Who our Father is, and is not.
Not My Father
Throughout the seemingly endless afternoon and evening, into the early morning hours, a dear brother named Jim suffered excruciating, unrelenting pain, as the saints prayed and the medical personnel labored in the emergency room to secure his survival. He had been suddenly stricken with severe pains in his head during a worship service and now, in the hospital, was undergoing emergency procedures to discover the source of the problem.
The head pains were gradually brought under control, as Jim weathered some tests which caused new pains of their own. A spinal tap revealed blood where it should not be. From where was it coming? Some more tests were run, but failed to determine the exact origin of the bleeding. However, the grim certainty that the blood had drained into the spinal cord from somewhere near his brain could not be doubted. The prospect of more difficult tests, and possibly surgery, faced this weary and hurting saint.
It was during the most trying moments, the moments of tests and retests, pain and uncertainty, that God added to Jim's burden of pain, as He did to Job, the piercing heat of persecution. He sent to the hospital room beloved fellow believers who, although sincerely concerned for Jim's suffering, unintentionally burdened his wounded spirit with unwise words:
"What do you say about God determining the suffering of the saints now, Jim?"
"I tell you, it's easy to talk that stuff when you're well. But when you're sick it's a different story."
"Why, you know it can't be God doing this to His own children. That would make Him our enemy. I just don't see it."
"That preacher might say the Devil doesn't have such authority, but if he'd come face to face with something like this, it might make him change his mind, wouldn't it, Jim?"
"What do you think now, Jim? If this isn't the devil's work, then what is?"
Through it all, Jim remained humbly resolute. For Jim's mind was intent of finding God's good purpose, and on searching himself to see if a cause could be found. He reflected upon the afternoon prayer meeting where he was stricken. He remembered the visitor there, a brother in Christ, who, in misguided spirit, attempted to disrupt the meeting. He remembered how the love of God among the saints had been demonstrated to that wayward brother, had held the meeting together, and had overlooked his foolishness - a love for that brother which Jim had failed to demonstrate.
Not resisting the conviction of God's holy Spirit, Jim acknowledged to himself the ill-will he had felt. He saw himself now as he had not seen himself then. He heard his own unkind remarks now, as the Lord had heard them then. And now, chastened and penitent, Jim resisted the temptation to blame Satan for his suffering. Rather, he glorified God on this behalf, and looked to Him to be both the Author and Finisher of his sufferings.
If his soul was to be relieved of its burden of guilt, Jim was determined that it would be relieved by his heavenly Father's forgiveness, not by falsely accusing Satan in order to cover up his own guiltiness. The stain of Jim's sin would not be whitewashed with self-justification, but would be washed white by the cleansing blood of Christ.
The child had erred. The Father had punished. And to his sincere but misguided hospital "comforters", who would have had Jim to deny his guilt by honoring Satan with responsibility for his pain, Jim's simple response contained a world of hidden truth: "The devil is not my father."
Another spinal tap revealed that Jim's bleeding had stopped, apparently by itself. The original source of the bleeding was never found. Jim was sent home for rest. Later, he resumed his factory job and began to enjoy life, a wiser, more patient and compassionate man. Jim would later tell me that he believed that knowing the truth actually saved his life, for had he thought simply that Satan were attacking him, he certainly would not have searched himself to find the cause for his suffering. And if he had not found and repented for the true cause of his suffering, he may well have died, as some of the Corinthian believers "fell asleep" because of their failure to acknowledge and repent of their error.
In essence, the message which Jeremiah so desperately tried to communicate to his generation is that the devil was not their father, that God alone is head of the household of faith. Jeremiah understood that if God was God of the Jews, then God was God of the lives of the Jews. And if God was God of the lives of the Jews, then God was God of what happened to the lives of the Jews. This is what God's being God means, but it seems to be a difficult lesson for us to learn.
A Debt of Gratitude
"In the day of adversity", counseled Solomon, "consider" (Eccl. 7:14). But to accuse others, especially Satan, of the troubles we cause ourselves is the ever attractive alternative to submissive soul-searching. It is an alternative which, when taken, only makes matters worse. It is not a remedy; it is just another problem. The Jews at Jerusalem did not believe that God was in command of the Babylonian army. And while with that doctrinal position the prophets of success and victory maintained an appearance of righteousness, it only made their destruction at the hands of God more certain. The Corinthian believer, too, could only have worsened their situation by failing to see the hand of God in their afflictions. Brother Jim could only have hindered his recovery by accusing Satan of the responsibility for his suffering. It was, and still is, an act of righteousness and of faith to acknowledge the chastisement of the Lord when it comes, rather than to deny our guilt by denouncing God's chastisement as being an attack of the devil.
What divine discipline ever serves its good and healing purpose if it is rejected as being demonic? Confession of the truth has always been essential for those who would be forgiven and delivered, confession of sin AND confession that the resulting trouble is God's righteous response. Moses spoke God's words:
“If they shall confess their iniquity. . .with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; AND that I also have walked contrary unto them. . .and they then accept the punishment of their iniquity. . .I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them. . .for I am the Lord their God” (Moses, in Lev. 26).
Oddly, there are some who feel that to say the suffering of the saints is in God's hands, instead of the devil's, is a discouraging message, a doctrine of despair. Actually, just the opposite is true. For if God has commanded no suffering for us, has determined that we shall not suffer, yet we do suffer, the inescapable conclusions are (1) somebody (Satan) has the power to overrule God's will for His kingdom and (2) the events of our lives are under the authority and direction of someone other than God. What a discouraging doctrine that would be! I can think of no doctrinal position more contrary to joy, peace, and righteousness than to teach that Satan, of himself, has the power to afflict God's children.
Consider the implications of such a doctrine. If Satan has power to afflict you whenever he desires to do so, then every day in which you are not afflcited, you would owe him a debt of gratitude. For if he can decide when to afflict you, they he can decide when not to afflict you. It is, in that case, his favor you should seek as well as God's. He is, in that case, like God, to you. To attribute to the devil the power to determine our suffering is to imply that our blessings are ours because he has mercifully determined not to take them away from us. To honor Satan with any such authority is to rob God of honor which belongs to no one but Him (cp. Ps. 62:11-12). It is, in effect, to worship another god. It does, if only in our hearts, serve to accomplish Lucifer's original evil scheme to "be like the most High."
Old Testament Israel was condemned for reverencing the idols of other gods, thinking that those other gods had power to determine circumstances for their lives, to afflict or to refrain from afflicting them. In precisely the same way, much of the body of Christ now unknowingly reverences Satan. It is high irony that so many saints living now should shake their heads at Israel's fear and respect of idols and, at the same time, believe that Satan or his demons have power to do exactly what Israel thought those other gods could do. Many Israelites became violently indignant when the prophets of God declared the worship of idols to be foolish. I have seen men and women quite nearly as angered by the suggestion that Jesus Christ is indeed the only Lord of life, its pain and its comfort.
I should say that even though in this work I have given much attention to Satan as a tool of divine trial of faith or for discipline, the Scriptural picture as a whole suggests that he himself actually plays only rarely a part in God's dealings with His children. God is so loving and patient that His use of so unloving a creature as Satan is reserved for the trail of those of greatest faith or the most extreme cases of stubborn disobedience (e.g. Mt. 4:1; 1Cor. 5:1-5; 1Tim. 1:19-20 with 2Tim. 2:17-18). It is true that "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world. . ." (Eph. 6:12), but God never matches us against an opponent too strong for our faith. Despite the testimonies of many precious brothers and sisters in Christ concerning their "battles with the devil", most of us have never known and never will know what it really means to be pitted against him personally in spiritual battle. Christ Jesus knew. It is his victory over Satan which we celebrate and enjoy.
How did such notions of Satan's power to afflict the saints ever develop, to the extent that the Creator's control over His own creation and His complete care for His saints are implicitly denied? Doubtless, there are many and complicated reasons which could be offered, but at least part of the answer is that certain Scriptural references to Satan have been misunderstood to mean that, in effect, Satan rules with God over the lives of the saints. Consider, for example, the Scriptures which concern Paul's "thorn in the flesh."
I know of no truth for which one could not find some Scripture which, when taken out of context, would seem to contradict that truth. For example, against the truth that it is a sin for saints to be "joined to a harlot" (1Cor. 6:15-17), one could argue that the prophet Hosea was righteous, though he lived with a harlot for several years. Against the truth that there is one Lord and one God (Eph. 4:5, 6), someone could take out of context these words of Paul, ". . .there be gods many, and lords many" (1Cor. 8:5), or, to the other extreme, one might quote part of Psalm 14:1, where we find the words, "There is no God."
It is not surprising, then, nor unusual, that we should find a few Scriptures which at first glance seem to contradict the truths which have been described in this book. One such scripture concerns Paul's "thorn in the flesh":
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2Cor. 12:7).
The fact that Paul called his thorn "the messenger of Satan" has caused some students of the Bible to jump to the conclusion that Paul's thorn was determined for him by Satan. Paul neither said that nor intended for that to be read into his words. Didn't Paul acknowledge that his thorn was given to him in order to accomplish a good purpose in his life? Without any doubt, that very confession of a good purpose for the thorn was an implicit confession of God's control over it. That God had a purpose for Paul's thorn presupposes that God intended for Paul to have it, that it was neither a chance occurence nor merely a wanton attack of the enemy, and that from the beginning of Paul's suffering, to use Joseph's words, "God meant it unto good."
It was God Who discerned Paul's spiritual need for a thorn in the flesh, and it was God Who determined the degree to which that thorn would press Paul's spirit. If Satan had been in control of Paul's suffering, he certainly would not have measured that suffering to fit exactly Paul's spiritual need. Paul's suffering was a part of Paul's life, and Paul's life was altogether in God's mighty hands.
That Paul's thorn was "the messenger of Satan" makes God's care for Paul no less complete. We could, for example, say that the marauding Sabeans who stole Job's oxen and asses were messengers of Satan. We would say that the mob which arrested Jesus was a messengers of Satan. Nevertheless, both Job and Jesus maintained the integrity of their faith and acknowledged none but God as the God of their whole lives. Paul felt no differently. Having declared, "If God be for us, who can be against us" (Rom. 8:31), Paul would hardly think that Satan had sneaked past the Lord's protecting Spirit to stick a tormenting thorn into his flesh. Don't let Paul's mention of Satan overshadow all else that Paul said and taught. Paul's thorn was given to him by God as certainly as "the abundance of revelations" was given to him by God, and as a spiritual balance to them.
He Moved David
I will add here a short discussion of one more Scripture which could be misunderstood concerning God's authority in His kingdom. Although it is in the time of the Old Covenant, it is relevant enough to our subject to be considered here. It will clearly demonstrate the necessity of employing the whole of Scripture, rather than isolated passages, in our quest for the true knowledge of God.
In 1Chronicles 21:1, we are told that "Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel." This Scripture, taken alone, would seem to indicate that Satan has power of himself to determine trouble in the kingdom of God, and power of himself to direct to some extent the lives of those in the kingdom. However, we are blessed by the fact that another account of this same story is given in 2Samuel 24. There, the story is introduced with these words:
“And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and HE moved David against them to say, "Go number Israel and Judah."
So, taking both verses together, we see that what David did was not determined by Satan's will (even though Satan surely did want David to number the people), but by Israel's provocation of divine wrath. Again, Satan if found only to have been a tool, used by God to accomplish His purpose. In neither 1 Chronicles nor 2 Samuel's account of this story is Satan mentioned again. In both accounts, the plague which followed David's unwise deed is said to have been sent from God (2Sam. 24:15; 1Chron. 21:7, 14). Satan had no hand in it. God's angel was God's agent of destruction (cp. 2Sam. 24:16; 1Chron. 21:15). Israel's deliverance was, likewise, solely determined by God (2Sam. 24:25; 1Chron. 21:27).
The only part, then, which Satan is said to have played in this story is that of a tool for the temptation of David. Satan had no more control over what happened to David or to Israel than did the plague which God sent. Satan did not determine if Israel would suffer, when Israel would suffer, how Israel would suffer (cp. 2Sam. 24:11-13), or when that suffering should end (2Sam. 24:16). That is a power he has always coveted, but never received, even if undiscerning saints do sometimes attribute that power to him.
Not One Inch
Satan does have a kingdom (Mt. 12:26), but it is a kingdom of lies. There is no truth in either him or his kingdom (Jn. 8:44). The very throne that he sits upon is a stolen one, granted to him by misinformed saints who offer him the seat of authority over the unpleasant experiences of their lives. Yes, he has a capacity for great power, but he was created with it. And the same One Who created Lucifer with such wisdom and beauty and power also determines, every moment, the places and the extent to which those gifts of his may be used in the world.
We are engaged in spiritual warfare, and it is real. The powers of darkness are real. Demonic efforts to deceive and destroy are real and, unfortunately, often are successful. but there has never been a spiritual battle lost by anyone who persists in doing what is right, and who trusts God to be both greater than all forces of evil and to be faithful in His promise to work all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Demons cannot determine either our choices or the results of our choices.
The stories of the righteous are stories of those men and women who did not believe there was another like the Creator. Their fear and devotion were not divided. Their attention was riveted on the only worthy goal: accomplishing the will of God for their lives. There is a peace and confidence which comes with that kind of faith which a lifetime of denouncing the devil's "attacks" will never bring.
No, dear believer, there is not one inch of God's kingdom over which Satan exercises dominion, not one circumstance in your life over which he reigns. Even the popularly held idea that Satan rules in hell is only more of his own dirty, self-glorifying propaganda, for in John's Revelation (1:18), Jesus Christ himself is declared to hold "the keys of death and of hell." Let us rise, then, above the darkness and confusion of a deceived, idolatrous world! Let us rejoice that there is none even remotely like our Creator,
“Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light no man can approach unto; whom no man hath see, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen” (Paul, in 1Tim. 6:15-16).
SUFFERING AND PLEASURE
“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”
(Paul, in Phip. 4:11-13).
The Thoughts of Many Hearts
When considering the "why" of suffering, it is easily overlooked that the saint who is suffering is hardly ever the only one who is being tried by that suffering. By the suffering of one, the thoughts of many hearts are usually revealed. The greater the suffering, the greater the revelation of hearts.
When King David was fleeing from Absalom, those who truly loved him were revealed by their contribution, if only in prayer and hope (cp. 2Sam. 19:24), to his return to the throne. Those, like Shemei, who had secretly harbored envy and ill-will toward David were revealed, too, in their being gratified by David's hurt. Job's three friends were being tried by Job's suffering as well as was Job. Their self-righteousness and envy of Job's high rank was exposed in the form of accusations against him. Jesus' disciples were being tried by his arrest. Their fear of disgrace and death (which fear they later lost) was exposed in the form of their abandoning him to the evil mob. It is simple spiritual truth, that our reaction to the sufferings of another reveals the hidden thoughts of our hearts.
“. . .in mine adversity they rejoiced...but when they were sick, I humbled my soul with fasting...I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother. [But] they opened their mouth wide against me, and said, aha, aha, our eye hath seen it” (from Ps. 35).
Even for the most backslidden of saints, suffering is bad enough an experience without the added indignity of others being happy about it. What anyone needs who is suffering is deliverance, and whatever we can do to help bring deliverance, let us do it "in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1), for
“he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished
. . .but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he” (Solomon, in Prov. 17:5; 14:21).
In all our dealings with the children of the Lord, let us be mindful of our Savior, who said,
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Mt. 25:40).
Bear in mind that when Jesus said "the least of these my brethren", he did not leave it to us to decide who "the least" are. He himself described "the least."
“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:19).
In other words, saints who are walking contrary to holiness and teaching others that same error - these are "the least" in the kingdom. It is our reaction to their needs and their sufferings which most thoroughly manifests the quality of our hearts.
“For if ye love [only] them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good [only] to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do the same” (Lk. 6:32-33).
It is our reaction to the suffering of those who deserve to suffer which presents to others the clearest picture of our innermost thoughts. David certainly earned his suffering by his adultery with Bath-sheba and his cruel murder of her righteous husband. But those whose hearts were most pure stuck by David, encouraged his breaking heart, leaving the punishment to God. It was this kind of love and faithfulness which David twice showed to King Saul, when opportunities were given to David to slay the backslidden king. "I will not put forth mine hand against my lord", said David, "for he is the Lord's anointed" (1Sam. 24:10). Later, the kingdom of Judah provided us with a tragic example of an attitude contrary to David's righteous attitude. Judah watched her sister nation of Israel destroyed and understood that Israel was destroyed for apostasy from God's law. But when she interpreted her sister's suffering not as divine warning but as proof of her own righteousness, she went much too far, and suffered a similar disastrous fate.
Suffering and Sin
All suffering testifies of God's righteous judgment upon man's sin and is best seen as divine warning of the consummate wrath to come against all sin unforgiven. This general statement however does not imply that every instance of suffering has been "earned" by the sufferer. The very fact that so many innocent and righteous biblical characters did suffer should caution us not to assume that whenever a saint suffers, he or she has sinned and is being chastened for it. Job's "miserable comforters" based all their condemnation of Job on this one wrong assumption:
“If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous” (Bildad, in Job 8:6).
Health and prosperity are many times declared to be a result of obedience to the divine will (e.g. Dt. 28:1-14; Isa. 58:6-14; 1Thess. 5:12-23), but health and comfort are also experienced by the unrighteous (e.g. Job 21:1-13; Ps. 73:1-14; Jer. 12:1-2). Sickness and poverty, too, are experienced by both the disobedient (e.g. Dt. 28:15-68) and the upright in spirit (e.g. Job).
Further yet, suffering is promised to every person who walks uprightly (2Tim. 3:10-12), and eternal glory with Christ is repeatedly said to await only those who do suffer for his sake in this life (e.g. Mt. 5:10-12); Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:17; 2Cor. 1:7; Phil. 1:29; 2Tim. 2:12). Then, while it is true that suffering often follows disobedience, we may not hold that suffering only follows disobedience. Individual suffering is not a proof of individual sin.
It has been taught that to suffer for righteousness means only to suffer persecution, and that physical illness is never the kind of suffering which befalls righteous and believing saints. While the availabiltiy of God's healing power, which that teaching implies, is both true and inspiring, there is sufficient biblical evidence to restrain us from taking such an extreme position. Surely, Job's sore, running boils (Job 2:7; cp. 30:18), constant, vicious diarrhea (30:27; cp. 20:19) and searing, relentless pains in his bones and muscles (30:17), may be classified as sickness and disease. And could we say that the sores which covered poor, begging Lazarus (Lk. 16:20) were proofs of unrighteousness in him, although we are told that when he died he "was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom" (Lk. 16:22)?
Paul mentioned several of his fellow laborers who suffered sickness. There was Trophimus, a Gentile who risked his life in accompanying Paul on his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 21:29), knowing, as Paul knew, the certainty of the persecutions which awaited Paul there (cp. Acts 20:22-23; 21:10-15). Paul mentions Trophimus' sickness to Timothy in 2Tim. 4:20. Then there was Epaphroditus of Philippi, who both dearly loved and was dearly loved by Paul (cp. Phil. 4:18). Paul calls him "my brother, and companion in labor, and fellowsoldier. . .and he that ministered to my wants" (Phil. 2:25). Of his sickness, Paul wrote:
“For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27).
Even during his sickness, Epaphroditus demonstrated a genuine, holy concern for the body (Phil. 2:26), which does not at all suggest that Epaphroditus had erred from the truth and was being punished for it. As far as we are told, he was always a devoted servant of Christ and the brethren.
Finally, Paul mentions the frequent illnesses of Timothy (1Tim. 5:23), whom Paul considered to be his spiritual son (1Tim. 1:2; 2Tim. 1:2). Although young (1Tim. 4:16), Timothy was of such ability, faithfulness, and understanding that he was trusted by Paul with the immense task of pastoring the degenerating assembly at Ephesus (1Tim. 1:3-4). Paul's two extant letters to Timothy are filled with exhortations for Timothy to study (2Tim. 2:15), to preach (2Tim. 4:2), to honor his elders (1Tim. 5:1, 17), to flee "youthful lusts" (2Tim. 2:22), and many such exhortations. At no point is it suggested that Timothy had failed to measure up to these exhortations and therefore had become sick. Rather, Paul is simply rendering wise and fatherly exhortations for Timothy to continue doing what he was doing (cp. 2Tim. 3:14-15).
These are not the only instances of righteous saints becoming sick. The great prophet Elisha died of an unnamed sickness (2Kgs. 13:14). The righteous King Hezekiah would have died of his sickness, had God not healed him (2Kgs. 20:1-7; Isa. 38). The very power of the revelation given to Daniel actually made him sick for days (Dan. 8:27). Jesus' dear friend Lazarus grew sick and died, setting the state for one of Jesus' greatest miracles (Jn. 11). When Jesus was told "he whom thou lovest is sick", Jesus' response was not "Let us go and tell Lazarus to repent." He said rather, "This sickness is. . .for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby."
In the light of all this, it is incumbent upon us not to exclude sickness from those types of suffering which innocent and godly people may suffer. Otherwise, we ourselves may become someone else's "miserable comforters", heaping condemnation upon an innocent, suffering soul.
Real Spiritual Life
It is essential to our spiritual well-being that we confront the reality of our ignorance of God's purposes in His dealings with His children. This means that when anyone among us suffers, we cannot know why that person is suffering unless God permits us to know. Many times, by His Spirit or by one of His messengers, He does give us that understanding. Until He does do so, however, it is wise to refrain from making our own judgments concerning His hidden purposes. Not only is this true of the suffering of others, but also of our own suffering. Unless the Lord reveals it, we can no more know why we are suffering than we can know why another is suffering. "Man's goings are of the Lord", said Solomon, "How can a man then understand his own way?" (Prov. 20:24; cp. 1Cor. 4:3-5).
Every single instance of suffering stands alone, as a unique event, with its very own divinely ordained purpose. That purpose is always unknown until it is, by some means, revealed from heaven. But God does not allow us to sit back and wait for Him to tell us His purposes. The men of greatest faith demonstrate for us that "seek and ye shall find" applies to this part of spiritual life as well as to any other. They struggled against and through their sufferings to find and to accomplish the purposes of God. They grew, as we may grow, in the knowledge of God by their search. They partook, as we may partake, more fully of true spiritual life, as they strove to understand what God was doing with their lives. They knew that God wanted them to learn through sufferings, not loaf through them. They learned that in order to survive, they had to be spiritually alive to what God was accomplishing in their lives at any given moment. The examples and the writings which holy men left to us teach us that, if we would avoid the many pitfalls of darkness, we must live, with determination, in constant and close spiritual communion with God. This is what Paul called "walking in the Spirit" (e.g. Rom. 8:1, 4; Gal. 5:16), being "led by the Spirit" (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18), and "having the mind of Christ" (1Cor. 2:16). What these Pauline phrases were intended to describe is real spiritual life: moment by moment, situation by situation, relying upon the Spirit of God for our understanding of what is really happening.
This spiritual life may be short-circuited and lost if, instead of relying upon God's Spirit, we resort to empty theological copouts such as: all who are sick are being chastened for sin, or "God's mysterious ways will never be known down here", or every unpleasant or tragic circumstance is a satanic attack on our lives, etc. Let us rise above the death of such spiritual placebos and seek to know God! Let us confess our ignorance of His inscrutable purposes and our need of His understanding! Let us confess our faith in His goodness to communicate His truth to those who will seek it. Let us pray! Let us study! Let us fast! Let us commune with our heavenly Father while we live on this earth. Let us participate in real spiritual life, and not skirt around it with easy, empty doctrine.
Speaking of the suffering "daughter of Abraham" (Lk. 13:15-16), Jesus said that Satan had bound her. Speaking of other cases of suffering, he warned that an individual's sin would bring about an affliction (Jn. 5:10-14). In other cases, he taught that the suffering existed not because someone had sinned, but only that God might be glorified by the manifestation of His healing power (Jn. 9:1-3; 11:1-4). When he spoke of the eighteen people upon whom the tower of Siloam collapsed, Jesus declared their deaths to be divine warnings to those who were still alive (Lk. 13:4-5). In addition, he taught that his own suffering was for none of these reasons, but was for the redemption of a world enslaved by sin. All this evidence points us to the fact that Jesus was spiritually alive, in each specific circumstance of his life reliant not upon appearances or easy theologies, but reliant upon the Spirit of the living God. He carried in his sacred heart no pattern, no stereotype, no labels to which to resort as an alternative to dependence upon the holy Ghost (cp. Isa. 11:1-4). What Jesus said about any man or any event, he said not because it "just had to be true" according to a doctrine he had learned, but because it was revealed to him by the Spirit of Truth.
“. . .I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. . .and the word that ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me” (Jn. 8:28; 14:24 (cp. 12:49) ).
"If any man speak", wrote the Apostle Peter, "let him speak as the oracles of God" (1Pet. 4:11). Said Paul, "Let us not therefore judge one another any more" (Rom. 14:13). Both these men of God were echoing the spirit of wisdom which spoke by Solomon's mouth, "Trust in [rely upon] the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding" (Prov. 3:5). One who fully trusts the Lord reaches no conclusion and makes no judgment apart from the Spirit of God. When such a person speaks, it is truly as a "messenger of the Lord."
To hold that Satan is the binding force in every instance of suffering is as short-sighted as it is to teach that every saint who is sick has caused that sickness to come by committing sin, or that all suffering is for the redemption of sinners. To cling to any one agent or purpose as THE agent or purpose for all cases of suffering may be easier, in the short run, than to fast and study and pray for understanding of the changing realities of life, but, oh, what real spiritual living is missed by doing so.
Today is today. It has no mold into which it may fit. Moment by moment, this day is making its own mold, which at the set of sun is forever broken, never to be seen or used again. Yesterday's experiences are best built upon when we learn by them to prepare for the unknown realities of the days which will come. And there is no other real preparation than an abandonment of reliance upon our own strengths and perceptions, and an utter trust in the Spirit of God.
By All Means
Although suffering has, in this book, been predominantly emphasized, it should not from that fact be concluded that faith is tried and disobedience is punished only by suffering. Indeed, the greatest trials of faith have been those wherein prosperity and pleasure, not suffering, wrestled against men's souls. There is Queen Esther, in lush palaces, contemplating the dire risks of entering uninvited into the king's inner court (Esther 4). There is Moses in the opulent Egyptian palace, considering the misery of his kinsmen. Similarly, the most terrible punishments for sin have been those wherein men's lust for gain and pleasure have been granted. There are the perverted inhabitants of Sodom, whose desire for physical pleasure was given absolutely no rein or boundary. There is Judas, whose heart was finally given over to the greed (cp. Jn. 12:1-6) which he refused to resist.
“So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels” (Ps. 81:12 (cp. Rom. 1:21-32) ).
Throughout human history, mankind has distinguished itself by tragic inadequacy for knowing what to do with freedom, peace, and prosperity. Kingdoms and nations, which through decades of desperate struggle have climbed to world dominating heights, have plummeted to ruin through neglect and abuse of that peace which, through suffering, they achieved. But nations and kingdoms fell upon the rocks of pleasure and fortune only because their citizens fell. And individual citizens fell victim to the deceitful peace of this world, at least in part because it is the carnal mind's tendency to view only suffering as an enemy and, so, make pleasure its goal, rather than viewing both pleasure and suffering as conditions of this world to overcome in our quest to know and to accomplish the will of God.
The degree to which saints must have wealth and pleasure is as much determined by God as is the degree to which we must suffer. Both our comforts and our discomforts are tailored by His loving hand to match our faith and to perfect it. Our faith is being tried when we are seemingly swamped with work, but our faith is also being tried, perhaps even more profoundly, when we find ourselves with "free time" on our hands. An abundance of food tries the poor man's faith. Our spirits are by all means, at all times, being tried by the Father (Job 7:17-18).
In every human situation, whether pleasant or unpleasant, there is something right for us to do and something evil for us to resist and to overcome. If anything, the evil is more difficult to resist when we are in pleasant circumstances, when we know that by doing what is right our pleasant circumstances may come to an end. For example, the rich young ruler was certain that he would do whatever Jesus said was necessary in order for him to "inherit eternal life" (Mt. 19:16-22; Mk. 10:17-22; Lk. 18:18-30). He had obeyed all the Law's commandments from his earliest youth. But at Jesus' command to "sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor", the young man "went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions."
“And when Jesus saw that he was sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Lk. 18:24-25).
If Job was right in saying that God tries mankind every moment (Job 7:17-18), then for most of us God tries our faith with pleasure and ease much more often than with suffering. Most of the saints spend a greater part of their earthly lives without pain, without hunger, and with shelter, clothing, family and friends. Then, if at every moment we are being tried, we are much more often tried with blessings and joy than with discomfort and sadness. I believe this means that our heavenly Father, as concerned as He is that we learn to love our enemies, is even more concerned that we learn how to love our friends, for eternity will be spent with friends, while the enemies of righteousness will be forever taken from view. I believe our heavenly Father may be more concerned that we learn to maintain a determined spirituality while experiencing pleasures than while hurting, for pain will be done away, but "at His right hand are pleasures forever more." I believe God is more concerned that we learn to be holy and faithful in circumstances similar to what our glorious eternal circumstance will be, than that we learn to be holy and faithful in circumstances such as persecution and pain, which are not eternal.
That pleasures may actually be more difficult than hardships as a trial for our faith is suggested in Jesus' parable of the sower, wherein he teaches us that saints whose faith is sufficient to overcome sufferings may later still fall victim to the "deceitfulness of riches" and "pleasures of this life" (Mt. 13:1-23; Mk. 4:1-20; Lk. 8:4-15).
Gain is Godliness
There exists a very great danger in failing to understand that both discomforts and comforts are used by God to perfect our faith. If we perceive only our sufferings to be trails of faith, then we may fall into the trap of thinking that the lack of suffering is proof of spiritual purity. Especially is this true if we believe that the devil is "attacking " us with suffering. For then, pleasurable living is seen to be proof of victory over the devil. In that case, pleasurable living is seen as godly living. Luxury becomes godliness. By implication, those who are poor or suffering are then made to appear to be, at the least, weak in faith, and at the most, living contrary to the will of God. "Success", defined in worldly terms such as an abundance of money, prestigious positions, and physical attractiveness, then becomes the goal of our lives. And those who are without worldly success are implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, ridiculed for not having the "faith" to possess it. This is an alluring, spiritually debilitating heresy, contrary to all that the holy Scriptures teach.
“Hearken my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” (Jas. 3:5).
“Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Our Lord Jesus, in Lk. 6).
“If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, He is proud, knowing nothing. . .destitute of the truth, SUPPOSING THAT GAIN IS GODLINESS: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us therewith be content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: Which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (Paul, in 1Tim. 6).
To that number in the body of Christ who hold that earthly gain is a mark of righteousness and of faith, I would ask of the faith of the widow and her mite (Mk. 12:41-44), and of the righteousness of lonely Elijah being fed by the ravens (1Kgs. 17:1-7). I would ask of the faith of John, living in the wilderness on a diet of locust and wild honey (Mt. 3:1-4; Mk. 1:1-6), and of the righteousness of Christ Jesus, who had no place so much as to lay his head (Lk. 9:58), and of the faith of those who
“. . .had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:36-38).
"These all", continued the author of Hebrews, "obtained a good report through faith" (11:39). But now, many poor, suffering, and faithful saints stand unjustly condemned by those who preach what amounts to "gain is godliness" and maintain that "success" in this world is the effect of godliness and is God's reward for obedience.
“The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor....For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth. . .He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity. . .” (from Ps. 10).
Neither Poverty Nor Riches
Having said all that, however, we must not now fall overboard in the opposite direction. We must "rightly divide" the Scriptures so that we do not condemn an innocent fellow believer simply because he or she is blessed with an abundance of this world's goods. Included in the biblical list of those who "obtained a good report through faith" are such wealthy men as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; saints of high position such as Moses, Deborah, King David, and King Josiah; men and women of great physical beauty such as Sarah, Rebekah, and Joseph; men and women of immense talents, such as Bezaleel, Asaph, and Luke. What a glorious blessing these people were to others, by virtue of their faithfulness to God. What great earthly treasures were put to divine service by these devoted servants of the Lord!
There are some who are able to bear the pleasant things of this life and remain faithful to holiness, but not many (cp. 1Cor. 1:26-29). Those who are able to do so are of very great faith indeed. It is a tremendous accomplishment of faith for one to remain "unspotted from the world" while possessing much of this world's goods. And how blessed we all are that the body has some who are able to do that. However, the benefits of wealth, great talent, physical beauty, and prestigious positions, are such that only a few who have them manage to escape the temptation to "set their hearts upon them" (cp. Ps. 62:10). Only a few who have an abundance of possessions are able to resist those doctrines which equate wealth with righteousness. Only a few who are being tried with the burden of wealth will overcome the temptation to use such doctrines to disguise a spirit of covetousness (cp. 1Thess. 2:5). And not many who are now poor would be able to overcome that temptation, should God try them with it. It is a great trial of faith, reserved for those to whom it is given to be tried "so as by fire." Therefore, anyone who prays for any earthly blessing would be wise to pray also for the faith to bear it.
Whether we are being tried by poverty or by plenty, we are brothers and sisters together, being perfected by one hand for the good of many. Whether in distress or at ease, the saints' lives are inextricably intertwined. Let us then freely love one another, support one another, and pray for one another. For there shall come a time when both this world's poverty and its riches, its troubles and its pleasures, will be forever ended. And all who here have overcome the world, both its ease and its discomforts, will celebrate together the "glorious liberty of the children of God." But until then, let us understand that we are all being tried, each one in the manner and to the degree determined only by God, and we need one another's support.
There is nothing holy about being poor, and there is nothing righteous about being wealthy. The particular advantage of poverty is that those who suffer it are usually more constantly aware of their need of God. The particular advantage of wealth is the availability of the means for sowing great seeds of blessing by helping those in need. But both poverty and wealth must be overcome in order to make the most of those advantages. The particular temptation of the poor is the great pressure of their need. They may the more easily justify such things as falsifying their tax forms, or keeping goods they know are not theirs, or simply coveting the rich brother's trial. One relatively poor brother testified to a generally low-income congregation that, on his way to the worship service, he had put two dollars into a self-service gas pump. Then, he said, in addition to returning his money the pump issued to him more gas than he even had paid for. The whole group went up in a shout of victory. But I wondered what the owner of those gas pumps would have thought about the God those people served, had he been in the congregation that morning. On the other hand, the particular trial of the rich saints is the strong temptation to deny, at least in their attitudes, their absolute dependence upon God and their spiritual equality with "the poor of the flock."
Knowing all these things, wise Agur knelt in supplication for just two things. First, that his life might be filled with truth and freed from deceit. Secondly, that God would give him,
“. . .neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and [thereby] take the name of my God in vain” (Prov. 30:8-9).
It remains then for those of us who are wealthy not to despise those who are poor. On the other hand, those of us who are poor need not envy or resent those who are rich. For "the Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up" (1Sam. 2:7). So, let those who are rich bless the poor and have compassion for his need. For "whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (1Jn. 3:17). and let those who are poor resist covetousness, encouraging the faith of the rich brother, that his zeal for godliness will not be confused by the dazzling benefits of his earthly possessions. For "we are all members one of another" and "God hath set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him."
God is God
In the Scriptures, there is no example of a godly man or woman who had difficulty in believing that God is the One who determines both the sufferings and blessings of the saints. Only the idolaters feared that other gods were responsible. The righteous knew God far too well to have believed that some other power ruled over them. But they trusted God to be the God of their whole lives because they learned that He was the God of their whole lives, whether they believed it or not. Their believing it did not make it true. Rather, they found out that it was true and then believed it. They discovered that, completely apart from the faith of all men, God is God, the only God, and that He alone reigns over His creation. That is the rock from which rose the towering faith of those who knew God best. And we are called to be followers of those who through such faith obtained the promises of God.
God is the God of sinful men, whether they acknowledge Him or not (cp. Jer. 32:27). God is Satan's god, and he and his horde of demons tremble at the very thought (Jas. 2:19). God is the God of his people, both the faithful and the wayward (Dt. 32:36; 1Pet. 4:17). There has never been a moment in eternity when God wasn't God, or when His position as God was the least bit threatened. The perverse spirit of Lucifer, which has so tragically influenced mankind, labored to make that shining, eternal truth seem to be a lie. But both he and those who follow him in his error will be judged by the God they refused to fear. God is the only God of all things because He is the Creator of all things. This is an eternal and unalterable truth, and the foundation of the greatest faith and joy. The revelation of the Creator is the overarching spiritual truth upon which all others hang. It is the soul of every righteous word and deed. It demands perfect faith even as it inspires it. It is the substance of the revealed knowledge of God which Jesus described as "life eternal" (Jn. 17:1-3). All other reality springs from and continues by the Creator, the blessed, holy, Almighty Creator.
As a result of the body’s neglect of the revelation of creation and the resulting ignorance of the God Who by creation is revealed, many dear saints have grown up in ungodly fear and confusion. They do not know how much God loves them. They do not know, in practical terms, that God's power is the only power they either need to fear or can trust. They do not know that their heavenly Father has concealed good purposes within the manifold circumstances of their lives. Consequently, these precious saints of God are often trapped in bitterness. They cannot love their enemies because they cannot see beyond them. They cannot overcome evil with good because their faith is divided between the Evil and the Good. They do not expect to be healed because they fear being disappointed. In their trials, they rebel rather than submit, or worse, they denounce, as being a satanic attack, those trials of faith or those corrections which God so lovingly and patiently has designed to match and to perfect their spiritual strength. In short, they have not trusted God to be God of every moment of their lives because they have been taught that He is not the God of every moment of their lives. Because the knowledge of God the Creator is lacking, the body of Christ has become as idolatrous a kingdom of saints as Israel ever was, and is at the same time equally as certain that its errant faith and idolatrous doctrines are acceptable to God.
The saints of greatest faith, perceiving creation's witness to God's goodness, power, and wisdom, joyfully responded to that revelation by yielding their lives to His care. Their faith to do so was not strained, for their great faith sprang from that revelation which demanded that they trust God in that manner. There was but one object of their faith because there was but one source of their faith. Joseph did not force himself to believe that it was God who had sent him into Egypt or that it was God who later placed him on Egypt's throne. Because he truly knew God, that was all that Joseph could believe. It did not strain Jesus' faith to believe that God was sending him to the cross or to believe that God would raise him from the grave. David had no difficulty in seeing God's directing hand either in his punishment or in his forgiveness and restoration as king in Israel. The Apostle Paul did not force himself to tell the Corinthians that their afflictions were from God and that there was a healing purpose in them. The revelation of God as Creator excluded for these godly men any other possibility. Believing that God was responsible was not the difficult part. Indeed, that was their only hope. The difficult part was to overcome in a meek and godly spirit the trials which God had determined for them. But this they did. And this, by God's grace, we may do, confident throughout our lives, as the righteous men of faith were confident throughout their lives, that every experience we face is but a necessary part of God's plan for presenting us "faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy."
What To Do When Bad Things Happen
1. Pray. At all costs, pray. Nothing can take the place of prayer.
2. Read the Bible. There is no substitute for it, either. There is comfort and encouragement to be received from the Scriptures.
3. Continue doing what you know is right. Be aggressive with doing good. Your “way of escape” is to “fight the good fight” of faith. Evil is never overcome with more evil.
4. Remember that God is intimately involved, completely in control of your life and all that happens to it. He planned this a long time ago and has been preparing you for some time to be able to face it and to overcome it with good. Healing is in your future because God is in your "now."
5. Ask God why. Have you ever heard someone say that he never questioned God? That is so contrary to faith. Surely God wants us to know Him and His ways! All the righteous men and women in the Bible zealously sought God for answers. The question, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" came from the lips of a man who knew the will of God in these matters.
6. Don't condemn yourself because you feel bad. No one enjoys suffering. Frustration is not a sin. Irritation is not a sin. Complaining is not a sin. No righteous person ever jumped with glee when God laid an affliction upon them. They cried, they grieved, they complained to God. If you don't like it when bad things happen to you, welcome to a club to which even Jesus belongs. So does his Father, who “in all their affliction was afflicted” with them. You can feel bad and continue to do the will of God. Go ahead and do it.
7. Don't condemn yourself because you feel good. When you trust God, even as you hurt there is an undergirding peace for your spirit. Believers sometimes condemn themselves for experiencing the mysterious, sweet strength of Jesus when circumstances don't seem to call for it. You can feel good and do good in bad circumstances. Go ahead and do it.
8. Know that in the heart of God you are of more value than many sparrows. I pray that you will feel loved, because you are loved. Trust your life to that pure love emanating from the heart of your Creator right now. I pray that you do feel the depth and power of it, because it belongs to you.