|Series Theme: Big Picture Meditations|
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 1. Creation
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Having recently taken a break to slowly meander through the first two psalms, it may appear going from the sublime to the ridiculous to now go to examine the ‘big picture' of the Bible but as I was watching a preacher and congregation interacting recently it made me realise afresh something that I have seen before, that so often Christians have never been taught the ‘big picture' of the whole Bible and do not see the logical flow of revelation from Genesis to Revelation. So here goes! Each ‘meditation' is more of a potted study covering a big issue or big step in the Bible that is important if we are to understand the whole. So we will start at the beginning and work through to the end taking giant steps, and all the way through I will seek to show how the one study fits the whole.
The starting point obviously has to be Creation – the bringing into being of everything that is. It is the greatest challenge to the human mind, that there is an Almighty God and He and He alone is the cause of all that is, however big it is (millions of galaxies) or however small it is (I have lost track of the latest ‘small' matter scientists discover!). The Bible declares this is the handiwork of God. I have written previously of the conundrum of the ‘Big Bang' the insolvable mystery of creating something from absolutely nothing (see Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith' : 4. A Big Bang) so we will not go there again in this study.
Here, I think, we should just focus on the Biblical testimony and you will either believe it or not. Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis appear to give a double view of the Creation by God. Genesis 1 shows seven ‘days' of creation. Again whether these mean seven literal periods of twenty four hours that God took to bring it all into being, or He took seven days to reveal it to Moses or ‘days' refers to long periods, I confess does not bother me. Whether it was guided or godless evolution does concern me because the Bible says God did it and if He guided evolution (which has much fewer problems than survival of the fittest evolution) that doesn't bother me. God, being God, could have brought everything into being in a split second or He could have spent millions of years doing it; He is capable of either. The issue is whether He did it or it was pure accident. Without Him we are pure accidents and things such as morality, meaning, purpose, beauty etc. all evaporate. That is the logic of an impersonal beginning.
Genesis 2 focuses on the man and woman God creates and the New Testament has a number of references to Adam and Eve as two people who lived in time-space history. At some point in the whole Creation exercise two people are brought into being who are described as being made in the likeness of God. I take this mean they have some of God's characteristics that differentiate them from all other living creatures; they communicate with complex language, and have complex thought patterns, they plan, they scheme, they organise, they write, they compose, they invent, they discover, they worship – all of these things lift them higher than the animal kingdom. But Genesis 2 also reveals a relationship between them and God; this perhaps is the greatest thing that differentiates them from every other creature – they are beings who communicate with and interact with God. In Genesis 5 the word ‘created' appears 3 more times and in Genesis 6 one more time. Moses uses it again in Deut 4:32.
Those other carriers of the inspired word of God, the prophets, also attested to this truth, for example, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” (Isa 40:26). Seven other times Isaiah declares this truth – God is the Creator of all things. The Son of God himself declared the same truth: “those will be days of distress unequalled from the beginning, when God created the world , until now--and never to be equalled again.” (Mk 13:19) The apostle Paul likewise declared it, speaking of “God, who created all things.” (Eph 3:9) In John's vision we find the same truth being heralded in heaven: “for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev 4:11)
Back in the Old Testament, “Melchizedek … blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” (Gen 14:18,19) What an intriguing revelation brought to Abram who had encountered the Lord but presumably had not yet realised His greatness. This truth also appears among the Psalms. In Psa 136 the psalmist exhorts us to give thanks to the Lord, “who by his understanding made the heavens…..who spread out the earth upon the waters, ….who made the great lights….. the sun to govern the day….the moon and stars to govern the night.” (Psa 136:5-9) What is interesting is that it flows on recounting other historical happenings, and therefore the inspired writer sees it at a clear and distinct historical event, not some made up fairy story.
But how about the bigger picture? Is this all there is to note? No, there is an intriguing passage in Rom 8:19-22 where the apostle Paul uses such words as, “The creation waits in eager expectation … the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God….We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Whatever the broader picture has to do with salvation, Paul is indicating that the world, as it is at the moment, is in an incomplete state; there is more to come. Thus as we get to the end of the Bible we read, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,” (Rev 21:1) The truth is that this present world is not all there is or is to be. There is an air of mystery about it because it is not completely clear, but there appears a new heaven AND a new earth that will be different from the present ones where the Lord will be in the midst and there will be no more sin or sorrow.
In the faith series we came across the following: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us (Heb 11:39,40) Whatever we experience in this present world, is only a glimmer of what is to come. Praise and thank the Lord by all means for the wonder of this world, it's beauty and its variety, but be ready to be blown away with a new world to come in eternity that will be just so much more wonderful. Hallelujah! And then a final thought to evoke even more praise: have you ever realised that God uses time-space history for at least two environments (heaven and earth) where He can interact with the human beings He has created. Creation is about a communication environment.
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 2. The Fall
Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
If the Creation is the first stepping stone on the path of human history, the Fall must be the second. The words ‘the fall' are nowhere to be found in Scripture but they are simply used by us to describe what happened in the Garden of Eden at some specific time in history. There are those who suggest that the story of this couple is merely that, a made up story. Admittedly the name Eve only occurs twice in Genesis and twice in the New Testament but Adam's name appears nine times in Genesis as an historical figure, once in a family tree in 1 Chron 1, once as an example in Hos 6:7, and then eight times in the New Testament. Although Jesus (at least in the records) referred to neither of them he did refer to Genesis 1 & 2 in an historical context (see Mt 19:4,5 referring to Gen 1:27 and Gen 2:24) implying an historical dimension to the book of Genesis from the beginning onwards.
The very existence of human beings, distinct from any other living creature, is a challenge. In Gen 1 we find God creating all living creatures and then human beings, “male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27) Now I love the simplicity of this and especially the nightmare it creates for evolutionists. Did you know that the existence of sexual reproduction is almost certainly the biggest stumbling block in the theory of evolution. Even evolutionists acknowledge it is their biggest problem and no one has come up with a satisfactory answer to it. It is almost certainly the biggest challenge to the veracity of the theory of unguided, ‘survival of the fittest' evolution.
So what do we find in the account of Adam and Eve? Why is it so significant? Let's start with what we find in Genesis chapter 2:
First of all we find two living creatures that we now call human beings who are capable of communicating with complex language and capable of communicating with God.
Second, we find God giving this couple a mandate to reign over all other creatures (see Gen 1:28) thus placing them, contrary to the strange beliefs of some ‘green' activists, above all other creatures, clearly superior to them.
Third, he gives them intellect of such magnitude that they can take and understand instructions and take responsibility for their actions. He makes them moral beings, although at that stage they had only one negative rule to follow – “ you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” (Gen 2:17a) and note in the light of what we have just said about taking and understanding responsibility, “for when you eat of it you will surely die." (v.17b).
Fourth , implied within all this is the existence of free will (it is meaningless to give an instruction and a warning if it is not possible to choose which path to take).
Very well, let's move on to Gen 3. Put very simply a tempter challenges Eve over what God actually said and did He really mean it? Eve, you will remember from above, is an intellectual and moral being with free will. She chooses to use her free will to go against or disobey God's one negative rule (Gen 3:6) and also draw her husband into her disobedience. As the apostle Paul would later say, “Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning.” (2 Cor 11:3)
But then we find a number of consequences following: a) self-awareness (3:7), b) a sense of guilt and shame (3:8), and then c) blame passing (3:12). These are the changes that took place in them. This is followed by the Lord's corrective action in respect of them. Why some of these things is only open to speculation. Taking them in reverse order, we find the Lord bans them from His presence and from the Garden (3:23,24) and prevents their return. This is without doubt the most severe thing the Lord can impose on them – separation from Him, separation from His source of everlasting life. The human race needs to face what it means to be on your own – and then cry out for what was before. Until we realise our loss we will not cry out for God's salvation. This separation, this exclusion, is not a spiteful one-off act of a touchy God but a careful act of loving compassion of a God who yearns for them to come to their senses – but it may take several millennia before that happens.
It is perhaps because of being on their own, separated from His ongoing daily blessing, that it means the world will be dysfunctional – work will be hard, having children will be hard, relationships will be hard – these are the things He speaks into being in chapter 3 verses 16 to 19, and they may all be like that because of the distance of God from mankind (although subsequent chapters reveal that He carried on having dealings with mankind.)
When we speak of ‘The Fall' we are referring to an event that produced a fall from a wonderful relationship with God in a world of total peace, to a world where God seems at a distance and the world ‘goes wrong'. In the bigger picture? This is how it is and has been ever since that time, but it has been changed through the salvation that comes through Jesus' death on the Cross, so that a relationship with God is made possible again, and His presence and His power will be available in a measure at least. Yes, it will not be fully experienced until we leave this present life but Jesus' ministry was clearly to counter the works of this fallen world. Our role is somehow to join in with what he is doing so that we too may counter the broken works of this fallen world. Ponder on that.
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 3. Abraham, man of faith
Gen 12:1-3 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
We must remind ourselves that we are covering only those ‘big steps' along the path that carry great significance to the ‘big picture'. The temptation may be to follow God's ongoing interaction with mankind – His dealing with Cain and Abel in Gen 4, His relationship with Enoch in Gen 5, His standing against the growing evil on the earth but saving a remnant through Noah in Gen 6 to 8, His covenant to never again destroy mankind in Gen 9, and His scattering mankind from Babel in Gen 11 – but the next big step comes with Abram recorded in Gen 12 right the way through to Gen 25 where Abraham died.
This step is in fact enormous and may diminish some of the later steps we shall consider. We mentioned the name of Enoch just now of whom it was written, “When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away,” (Gen 5:21-24) – and that is all! Now that is a remarkable testimony that this man, “walked with God 300 years and … then he was no more, because God took him away,” but that is all we get of him in just 4 verses. The contrast with Abram, or Abraham as he later became, is amazing not only for the brevity of the account of Enoch, but more for the extent of the account of Abram's dealings with God in all those chapters from 12 to 25.
So why is Abram such a big stepping stone in the history of the Biblical record? First, it must be because he is the first man to enter into a long-term and detailed relationship with the Lord. It is the detail that marks him out from Enoch. But second, it is because of the nature of the man Abram and what he tells us about the possibility of having a living relationship with Almighty God. Prophetically the Lord was later to speak through Isaiah of “Abraham, my friend.” (Isa 41:8). This designation is also given in 2 Chron 20:7 and James 2:23.
Friends talk together and the account of Abram's life moves from prophetic directive words (Gen 12:1-3), to protection (Gen 12:17-20), to constant repetition of the promise of people and the land (e.g. Gen 13:14-17), to covenant making (Gen 15:9-18), to persisting with the couple despite their taking affairs into their own hands and having Ishmael (Gen 17:1,2), to further covenant making (Gen 17:9-14), to discussing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18), to protection again (Gen 20:3-), to enabling Sarai to conceive (Gen 21:1,2) and so on. It is a life of interaction with God.
And yet the thing that makes Abraham really stand out is his faith. Faith is hearing God, believing God and acting on what God says. Already we have seen how he left his home in Mesopotamia and travelled to Canaan, purely on the word of God which was in itself an act of faith, but it was in respect of the fact that his wife was barren and beyond childbearing age that we find this faith coming out most strongly: “Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be. "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:4-6)
Now although this is remarkable, the more remarkable thing about this is that it becomes the example for all to follow who wish to have a relationship with God. The apostle Paul uses this and describes him as “the father of all who believe.” (Rom 4:11) Indeed the whole of chapter 4 of Romans is given over to this and concludes, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:20-24) i.e. the faith he had, trusting completely in God's word, is to be the same faith we have in believing on Jesus as our Saviour.
Perhaps the highest accolade, praising Abraham for being our example of faith, comes in Hebrews 11 where FOUR times he is praised for his faith: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Heb 11:8) “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country.” (v.9) “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.” (v.11) “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.” (v.17)
But to conclude, let's go back to God's original promises to Abram: Through Abraham God's intent is clearly to bless the whole world – see Gen 12:2,3 “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. This would be in two ways:
i) Abraham's demonstration of faith was to be an example for all to follow, showing that it is possible to have a relationship with God. (see also Gal 3:6-9, 4:28-31) This is what makes this such a monumental step along the path of history.
ii) Also Abraham would be the father of the nation ( Israel ) into whom the Messiah, the Son of God, would be born and reveal God and bring the means of salvation to the world.
The son, Isaac, who we have briefly mentioned, is the first son born into this family that will eventually develop into a nation known throughout history as Israel, a nation still in existence today, still playing a part in God's plans. So significant is Abram that his name appears 32 times in the epistles of the New Testament after numerous times in the Gospels and the Acts. This is indeed a mighty step or signpost along the way!
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 4. Jacob or Israel
Gen 32:28 Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."
There are some people or names that are so familiar that we simply miss their presence or significance. My concordance tells me that the name ‘ Israel ' appears 1841 times in the Bible and the name ‘Jacob' appears 363 times. In other words, this man or this nation or this land gets mentioned over two thousand times in the Bible. (The name ‘Jesus' gets 1274 mentions). The story starts with the name Jacob and ends with the name Israel . It starts with a man and ends with a nation and a land.
First of all the man. He is a twin, born of Rebekah and Isaac is his father. His twin, born minutes before him is Esau. (see Gen 25:24,25) His name means grabber, or deceiver, given because from the womb he appeared to grab the heel of his brother. He was very different from his brother who was a hunter and cared little for his birthright, something considered very important in those days. Thus Esau sold Jacob his birthright for a meal (see Gen 25:29-34). Later on, when Isaac was an old man and nearly blind, Jacob and his mother worked to deceive Isaac into giving him the family blessing (see Gen 27:1-41) Because of this Esau was against Jacob who had to flee and go and live with a distant uncle where he lived for many years (see Gen 27:42-45)
To cut a long story short his time with Laban was characterised by these two men, appearing as bad as one another, plotting to get the better of one another. Jacob, over the years prevailed and accumulated many flocks and herds of his along the way, and also ended up marrying Laban's two daughters, Rachel and Leah. Over the years there appears to be a competition to see who can bear Jacob the most sons and into this competition are drawn two maids, Bilhah and Zilpar. The end result of all this was twelve sons and one daughter. The twelve sons obviously grew and had families and in the course of time each of these families grew and became a tribe. We thus have the twelve tribes of Israel .
Israel? Yes, if you are not familiar with the story, on his way home after his years with Laban, Jacob wrestled in the middle of the night with a man who turns out to be God. Although losing the wrestling match, Jacob will not let go of his opponent and so the Lord simply puts his hip out of joint to completely disable him and make him unable to continue but then we find, “ Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” (Gen 32:28) Israel means “he struggles with God”.
Now of course that is a two sided name because we might think it is praise for having held on to God through their midnight tussle but the truth was that Jacob had, in one way or another, struggled with God throughout his life. He was such a schemer that everything he did was for himself. As we've already seen, he had robbed his brother of his birthright and his blessing. When he was fleeing to Laban, Jacob had a dream and saw the angels ascending and descending and the Lord had reiterated His intent to give his family the land. Instead of just gratefully receiving that promise Jacob's response had been, “ If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God.” (Gen 28:21-22).
It is the language of bargaining. He still has the mentality of one who bargains with God, trying to get his own way. He doesn't realise that he has been chosen by God anyway. Before the wrestling incident, on his way back, he had prayed, “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, `I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.” (Gen 32:11,12) Yes, he is calling on the Lord but it is as if he is leaning on the Lord to fulfil His promise to look after him. It is still the language of one pressing a bargain and that is how Jacob had lived.
We need to go right back to the beginning of Jacob's story: “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her , "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Gen 25:21-23) Later when it came to Isaac blessing the two boys prophetically, this became even more clear. Jacob would be the leader.
Read Esau's side of the story and you see a man who cares little for God or for his heritage; little wonder God, who knows what will be, chose Jacob over Esau. But wasn't Jacob a twister? Yes, he was to start with and for much of his life, but follow the story to its end and you find an old man who is aware of his birthright, aware of God's calling on this family, aware of the significance of the Land and who prophesied over his sons before he died. He is a man who honours God's will and becomes a spiritual giant, a changed man.
And so the family grows in Egypt and becomes over a million people, a nation called Israel. When they eventually take the land of Canaan it will become named by the nation that occupies it, Israel . It may get temporarily renamed Palestine but today we know it as Israel ! As we go on to consider the years, the centuries that followed, we need to remember this is a nation called into being by God. It was not the work of a scheming man but the sovereign calling of God. The two names Jacob (twister, deceiver) and Israel (struggler with God) say everything about this nation.
Don't look down on them for these names also describe what the rest of us are like, and like them we too need a marvellous work of grace done in our lives. We are no different; they simply are a nation under a microscope who reveal what the rest of us are like, schemers, twisters, self-serving and godless until God came to us and drew us to Himself to receive His blessing to transform us. Jacob's prosperity and all his children came in a competitive spirit environment and yet the truth from the outset was that God wanted to bless and use him. Because Jacob was so set in self the Lord simply used that so that a nation would emerge and become the ground on which life with God would be revealed. Amazing!
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 5. Exodus and Passover
Ex 12:13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt .
From Abraham and Jacob we move on some four hundred years. At that time previously a famine covering at least the whole of the Middle East had struck and Joseph, one of Jacob's sons, becomes the saviour of the whole of the Middle East using the wisdom and revelation of God (see later part of Genesis). To cope with the seven years of famine old man Jacob takes his family to Egypt where Joseph is second only to the Pharaoh. And there they settle. That is how, after the passing of four hundred years, the growing family of Israel , possibly numbering well over a million people, are in Egypt .
Now it is important to note that this state of affairs did not come as a surprise to God. While He was making a covenant with Abram He revealed to him what was going to happen, “ Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions… In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:13,14,16) Now it is difficult to know from this whether Israel ending up in Egypt was because God made them go there, or simply that the Lord knew they would end up there in the circumstances and so used them in that situation to bring judgment on Pharaoh and establish such a memory that would never be forgotten in their history.
Now the purpose of the Exodus, as it becomes, is twofold. First it is to take Israel out of the land and take them to take over Canaan: “I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites-- a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Ex 3:17) - But, second, it is also clear that God wanted to use Moses and Israel to deal with the sin of Egypt. When He calls Moses (see Ex 3 & 4) He explains, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.” (Ex 3:19,20)
Thus a reluctant Moses confronts Pharaoh who has made Israel slaves, and over the following chapters (7-12) we witness 10 ‘plagues' of increasing severity. It is important to note this, that the ‘plagues' started off by just being thoroughly inconvenient and got gradually worse and worse until they became life threatening with the last one destroying every first born son in the land of Egypt.
Perhaps we should note in passing why God wanted to deal with Egypt in this way. History tells us that they had multitudes of gods linked to the land, the sky, the seasons, almost anything. They were very superstitious and occult practices prevailed. Pharaoh was even considered a god. At the heart of it all was Pharaoh's hard and arrogant heart which is revealed again and again and again. At the end of it, the Lord explains, “the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” (Ex 7:5) Not only that, the whole surrounding world will hear of it and will fear.
To cut a long story short, Israel are delivered and Pharaoh and his army are destroyed and Egypt is left mourning the loss of so many of their sons, all because the pride of Pharaoh would not back down in the face of these increasingly devastating miracles or plagues. To any rational person the facts are obvious – except those full of pride are not rational. The action by Israel were to take a lamb for each family, kill and eat it but put some of its blood on the doorposts of their homes so that when the destroying angel saw the blood he would ‘pass over' their homes and leave them untouched.
This symbolic action was taken into the New Testament and John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29 and also v.36) In heaven, revealed in Revelation 5, we see, “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne.” (v.6) and the song is sung, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (v.9) A lamb slain so that the judgment of God would pass over sinners.
The account of the Exodus is a major milestone in the history of the Bible. It reveals the power and majesty of God, and His grace and mercy as He gives Pharaoh opportunity after opportunity to step down and allow Israel to leave. It also deals with the occultic and superstitious world of Egypt that is so contrary to God's good design for mankind. Further it establishes this symbolic deliverance or redemption that comes through the death of a lamb, seen centuries later in Jesus. It is an account that appears again and again in the Old Testament, being retold to show the wonder of God's love and power. It is as much about His love and grace and mercy as it is about His actions as a judge who brings judgment to bear to deal with His world that sometimes appears to run rampant out of control – but it is never out of His control. He will deal with it and judgment will always be tempered by mercy and grace. Powerful lessons!
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 6. Moses the Lawgiver
Ex 19:3 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel :
A number of these milestones or steps along the way in the history within the Bible, are in fact people. Yes, we have seen Abraham the father of faith and father of Israel , and we have seen Israel himself, a schemer turned man-of-God. We have also seen some of these steps as events – the Creation, the Fall, the Passover, but now we have to pause up and consider another man and a feature of Israel 's life that was fundamental in the Old Testament period. Moses' name occurs 847 times in the Bible and so often it is linked the ‘the Law'. Now I know from experience when I used to teach ‘Law' that many of us are fearful about ‘laws' and think they are difficult to understand and so we shy away from the very thought of them. The word ‘law' occurs 467 times in the Bible and ‘laws' another 113 times. I simply mention that because it is quite a lot in a history book, especially when you consider the word ‘grace' only appears 131 times.
Let's try and summarise Moses' early days. He had a fairly spectacular time as a baby (see Ex 1 & 2) being born into a slave nation within Egypt at a time when the Pharaoh (king) of the land had decreed that in order to cut down on the growth of this Hebrew people, every baby boy was to be killed at birth. However Moses survives and is brought up as a Prince of Egypt until, when he was forty, he intervenes in the affairs of the nation and has to flee the land (see Ex 2:11-15) and ends up in Midian where for the next forty years he is a shepherd (see Ex 2:16-22). At the end of that period Moses has an encounter with God (see Ex 3 & 4) in which the Lord calls him to lead Israel and deliver them from Egypt – hence the Exodus and the Passover that we have already considered. This is obviously Mount Sinai (see Ex 3:12) for the Lord promises that Moses will bring the people out and they will worship Him there.
Of course all this comes about and by Ex 19 we find Moses and Israel back at Mount Sinai where the Lord reveals Himself on the mountain and we see, “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel . Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Ex 24:9-11) This was a unique occasion where 74 people had a privileged encounter with the Lord and were not destroyed. If you read Ex 19 on you will see that Moses goes up and down the mountain to the Lord a number of times and it is on the mountain that he is first given the Ten Commandments (see Ex 20:1-17) and then a number of other laws for the ongoing life of Israel (see Ex 21:1 - 23:19)
As I wrote in an earlier series of meditations on The Law, God gave these Ten Commandments because the first four match reality and anything less degenerates into pagan superstition and fear, and the latter six bring peace, order and stability to society. They are, therefore, applicable to any society in the world. When it comes to the laws of Ex 21- these were clearly for Israel and only Israel . There have been those who have tried to apply them to other societies in history but the truth is that they were spoken expressly to Israel and were applied to their circumstances. This was a new nation but most importantly it was a nation under God, founded by God to be a light to the Gentiles. Now we may certainly observe the nature of these laws and learn from them but they are, first and foremost laws for Israel. As with the Ten Commandments, these remaining laws are designed to bring peace, order and stability to society.
It would appear that other laws, e.g. in Leviticus & Numbers, were spoken directly to Moses by God in the Tent of Meeting (see Lev 1:1, Num 1:1) in the early months after the main encounter at Sinai. The Laws of Deuteronomy are those thus received and reiterated by Moses just before Israel entered the Promised Land. In Lev 1-7 we find a completely different set of laws, all about offerings, and the easiest way to summarise these is to say they were given by God to Israel, recognising that from time to time they would get it wrong and there needed to be a way of coming back to God and these sacrificial laws allowed for that.
There are also additional laws in the Pentateuch, given by God to Moses. An example would be those in Lev 11, obviously given to help Israel constantly remember they are a special people. That may be a main reason that they are given these rules about what food they may eat and what they may not eat, reminding them as to who they are – a people called by God into relationship with Him to be a light to the rest of the world. This chapter covers animals on the land (11:1-8) sea creatures (11:9-12), birds of the air (11:13-19), insects (11:20-23), dead creatures (11:24-28) etc.
Now when we come into the New Testament we find that Jesus taught, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt 5:17) That must apply to the Levitical laws first of all, where a sacrifice dealt with sins, but also if you live in the love of the Son, you will be bringing peace, order and stability to your life and into the world around you; thus Jesus fulfils the intent of those laws for society we have noted in Ex 21-23
A big distinction is made in the New Testament between Law and Grace because the legalistic Jews, e.g. the Pharisees especially, maintained that keeping the Law was the means of getting right with God. The apostle Paul, for example showed (e.g. Rom 7) that we are never able of ourselves to perfectly keep all the rules and it is only by the power of the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8) and the work of Christ on the Cross that enables us to have a real and meaningful relationship with God. The Law, teaches Paul, was to show the way but also show us that we need God's grace for of ourselves we are incapable of keeping it perfectly (see Gal 3:24). Also, all of his teaching about faith being at the heart of salvation means that trying to keep the Law, following rules and subsequently failing, is not a faith act but a failure act. Some of his basic teaching: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law. Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith.” (Gal 3:10,11) We will deal with Grace more fully in a later study.
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 7. The Promise of the Land
Gen 12:6,7 At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land."
In trying to plot the big steps along the path of human history recorded in the Bible or, to put it another way, to identify the most important features that stand out in the history recorded in the Bible, following the Exodus (including the giving of the Law to Moses) we must pause and gaze with awe at the whole phenomena of the ‘Promised Land', a subject that has caused contention from the days of Abram right through to the present days. Let's consider first of all how God revealed His intentions in respect of Canaan and then in the next study how Israel eventually took it, for both are steps in themselves that should be observed when we are trying to understand the broad scope of Biblical history.
First of all how God revealed His intentions . Prior to our verse above we find, “ The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1) That had been the start but now Abram is in the land the Lord says this will be the land of his descendants. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his family lived in it but eventually left it, as we noted previously, because of a massive famine and for the following centuries lived in Egypt . But then God revealed His plan to deal with Pharaoh and Egypt and within part of that plan showed it was His intent that Canaan should become the home of Israel .
Again, as we previously noted, He revealed this to Abram a number of times The next time after the initial verses in 12:1-3 we see, “The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen 13:14,15) He reiterated this in 15:7 and then at the evening covenant ceremony he explained about the exodus in some four hundred years' time (Gen 15:13-16) and reiterated it in 17:8 – “The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." Note the words in these various verses that speak of the length or duration of their occupation of this land: “to your offspring forever” (13:15) and “as an everlasting possession,” (17:8)
Later the Lord reiterated this to Isaac (26:1-4) and then later to Jacob: “There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying… I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (Gen 28:13,15) See also 35:12. Jacob later conveyed this to Joseph in Egypt – see 48:3,4.
To ‘fulfil' this Jacob later instructs his sons, “ Then he gave them these instructions: "I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan , which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field.” (Gen 49:29,30) This subsequently happened – see Gen 50:12. Later on Joseph would do the same thing instructing his brothers to take his bones to Canaan (Gen 50:24,25) which Moses later did (see Ex 13:19) and then later Joshua made happen (Josh 24:34).
Thus we see very clearly, it was declared to each of the Patriarchs that God's intent was for Israel to have this land when they returned after the Exodus and to have it for ever. Before we move on to the next study and consider just how Israel went about taking Canaan, a major event with serious consequences, it might be well to consider the big picture and see long-term what happened to Israel, the land.
Israel eventually took it, as we will see in the next study, and the date is likely to have been somewhere around 1200BC. For roughly the next two hundred years they lived in it under the rule of judges, followed in roughly the next hundred years by the rules of Saul, David and Solomon. After Solomon's reign the land was divided into two kingdoms, so-called Israel in the north comprising ten of the tribes and so-called Judah in the south comprising the Judah and Benjamin. The division was about 930BC and Israel continued until the fall of Samaria and deportation of the occupants of the northern kingdom in 722BC. Judah continued on until the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC when most of the occupants of the land were taken to Babylon where there remained for the next 40 years. The ‘Exile' was the first time they completely lost the land. Throughout the period of Jesus' ministry and that of the early church in Jerusalem , Rome ruled over the land but Israel , the nation, still occupied it.
In AD70 there was a Jewish rebellion and the might of Rome crushing it, completely destroyed Jerusalem . Since then, until the middle of the twentieth century, Israel were scattered across the face of the globe. The vision in Rev 12 appears to show a woman, Israel , bearing a son, Jesus, but being chased into the desert by a dragon (Satan) for a period of three and a half years. In prophecy seven is the number of completion and the suggestion is that for the first part of God's plan, Israel would be scattered into the world to be preserved and thus the returning to the land in the middle of the twentieth century would seem to suggest that we are now in the second part of God's long-term plans for this land and this nation. Watch this space!
Without doubt, therefore, the ‘Promised Land' is a key part in God's plan to reveal Himself to the world and every time there has been a threat to it, He has been there on behalf of His people and on behalf of His long-term plan for the land. It is amazing that such a small piece of land should have such strategic importance in God's plans. When we get to the Exile we shall see the detailed activity of the Lord to preserve the land and the nation, even to the point of guiding and directing major pagan kings. Incredible!
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 8. The Taking of the Land
Josh 1:1-3 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: "Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them--to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
Between leaving Egypt and fully taking the Land, there are really four phases. If you want a shortened version of all that happened, at least in respect of the first three phases, read Moses' words in Deut 1-3 as he recounts all that took place. The verses above come at the beginning of the fourth phase but to catch a sense of al that took place we have to go back to the start of the first phase, the leaving Egypt and travelling to the borders of Canaan. He briefly refers to the first time they approached the Land forty years ago and they had suggested sending in twelve spies to see what the land was like. Ten of those spies came back with a negative view and put off the rest of the nation from entering that land (see Deut 1:6-33)
As a result of this refusal to enter, the Lord said that all of those of responsible age (20 and over) would be condemned to live in the desert for the next forty years until they had all naturally died off. That was thus the second phase – living in the desert for forty years. (see Deut 1:34-46, 2:14,15)
When they come to the end of that second phase they move into the third phase which was moving up the eastern side of the Dead Sea area. Now what tales place in this phase is quite significant. In Deut 2 we see the early stages of their progress towards the Land, and there are two significant parts to it, the first that was peaceful and the second involved fighting.
First we see how the Lord warned them not to provoke the descendants of Esau who live in Seir (2 :4-6), nor the Moabites (2:9), nor the Ammonites (2:19). That was part 1, the peaceful part. However, when they crossed the River Arnon (2:24 – which flows from east to west into the east side of the Dead Sea ) they were entering the territory of Sihon the Amorite, the hostile king of Heshbon, and were warned they would have to fight him (2:24). Nevertheless Moses sought to pass through peacefully (2:26-29) but Sihon refused (2:30) and led his army against Israel (2:32) and were destroyed by Israel . Next, when they approach Bashan , the Amorite king, Og, also came to fight them (3:1) and was completely destroyed.
These were Israel 's first two victories which would have been reported all over the area as we'll come to see. Please note that they did not come as a marauding army destroying everything before them, which is what happened with most invaders. No, this was a strictly controlled advance, and the only fighting that took place happened because two kings refused to give them peaceful passage. That fighting took place purely because of the hostility of the two pagan kings.
These things, Moses said to Joshua, were meant to encourage him as he took the people in: “At that time I commanded Joshua: "You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. The LORD will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you." (Deut 3:21,22) So we now arrive at the beginning of phase four, the taking of the land, and there are various important things to note.
First, God has two primary goals in what follows: a) to deal with the Canaanites in the Land – to remove their pagan practices and b) to get Israel into the Land for it to become their new home – and theirs as a unique people of God, revealing Him to the rest of the world.
Second, contrary to much popular opinion, God's initial plan for Israel was NOT to destroy the Canaanites. In the various accounts, please note that there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and 4 to them being WIPED OUT; the overwhelming evidence shows the divine intent was for the inhabitants to be removed from the Land, which could have been bloodless and it was only their intransigence that meant that battles occurred with people being killed. Of those 31 references to them being driven out, at least thirteen of them are in respect of the Lord doing the driving out and the way He will do it is by using fear (see Ex 23:27-30 and Deut 2:25,25 and 11:25) and that fear was initiated by the way Israel had defeated the two pagan kings on the way in. Rahab told the spies how fearful her people were (see Josh 2:11) and the news of them spread across the land (see Josh 5:1) and the Gibeonites also confirmed it (Josh 9:24).
Third, it becomes clear that there were three possible outcomes which were determined by the occupants of the land:
Fourth, the end outcome was that Israel failed to completely clear the land of the Canaanites and so some of them became an ongoing thorn in the side of Israel and God would use them to test or try the hearts of Israel (see Jud 2:20-3:4) for years to come.
Fifth, we might note that the land was not fully under Israel 's control until the reign of King David who we will consider later. In the time of the judges, there remained pockets of resistance and troubles with their neighbours. King Saul started the cleaning up process but it was David who totally took control. The taking of the Land was thus very clearly a major landmark in the onward march of the history of Israel revealed in the Bible.
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 9. A People of Failure
Deut 9:24 You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you.
Now it may well be that anyone reading this particular study will question it as particularly negative and wonder why I include it in a series that seeks to cover the big stepping stones of biblical history. The simple answer is that as I have been studying the Old Testament over the past year or so for research purposes I came to a point – which surprised me – of wondering why in fact God had NOT acted in judgment more than He has done through that period. This study is, I suspect, a summary of my findings about God's judgments in the Old Testament or rather more why such judgments were due and yet not forthcoming.
Earlier on we did a study about Israel and my conclusion as to why Israel existed is always that God's intention was that they should be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6 & 49:22 – clearly words initially meant for the Messiah and yet surely also applicable to Israel as a nation.)
The initial reference to all the nations of the world being blessed through Abraham is reiterated in Gen 17:3-7 / 18:17,18 / 22:15-18 and then to Isaac in 26:2-4, then to Jacob in 28:13,14. With Moses the intent becomes more immediate, that Israel will be an immediate means of revealing God to the surrounding nations and indeed then to the rest of the world - see Ex 15:14-16 / Num 14:13-17 / Deut 2:24,25 / 4:5,6 / 28:8-10, and so it continues with later leaders. There is this explicit understanding that Israel should reveal God through His dealings with her.
However when you come to observe those dealings although they reach their peak of blessing through David and then Solomon, the vast majority of God's dealings with Israel are of a corrective nature. The history of Israel is one of failure and so one wonders why God ever raised up Israel , knowing as He must have known, that this would happen? The answer has got to be that God was revealing to the world the presence or existence of Sin that caused the folly of unrighteousness through self-centred godlessness, and if it was true of Israel, a nation receiving all of God's help in a major way, how much more true would that be of the rest of the world?
But why would He want to show that? Well, first, because it was true, this is the effect of free will being given to mankind, this is the state of mankind; Sin and free-will go hand in hand. Second, this reveals mankind needs God's help to rise above this helpless and hopeless state. If any thinking person reflects on these things, they will see that we are all in the same boat and we all need something other that human self-effort. This paves the way to receive the Son of God as Saviour of the world.
Now what is the reality of what I have been saying. Self-effort is at the heart of human sinfulness, this self-centred propensity towards godlessness. We see it from the outset in Genesis in the fall by Adam and Eve (Gen 3), then in Cain (Gen 4), then in the increasing wickedness of mankind (Gen 6), in Abram's life (in the way he dealt with the famine - Gen 12) and the way he and Sarai ‘tried' to fulfil God's promise via their maid (see Gen 16). We see it in Isaac's mishandling of the blessing of his sons (see Gen 27) then in the cooked dealings of Jacob and then the wrongs of his sons selling Joseph in to slavery. Case after case of individual failures in Genesis.
In Exodus of course we see the blinding pride of Pharaoh and then the crass stupid idolatry with the golden calf by some of Israel at Mount Sinai , so soon after amazing revelation of God. Between that and the entering the Promised Land we see Israel again and again grumbling against God despite His miraculous provision, and even refusing to enter the Land and so dying in the wilderness. In the book of Judges we see an almost constant cycle of Israel drifting away from the Lord, being disciplined, crying out to the Lord, and then Him providing a saviour for them. It is one of the classic passages showing the folly of the nation.
But then move on into the historic books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles and you find example after example of the folly of sinful behaviour by Israel . There is not a single leader who does not fail in some way or other. Samuel fell short in his weak disciplining of his sons, David lusted after another man's wife and murdered her husband, and Solomon gave way to his many foreign wives and ended up worshipping their gods. When God split the kingdom, despite clear prophetic guidance, the first king of the north set up two idols to be worshipped and every single northern king continued that idolatry. The southern kings were marginally better but no single king had a completely clean slate and when their sin continued to build and build, despite having seen the northern kingdom sold into exile in 722BC, they too were sold into exile in 587. After the Lord brought them back and re-established them they continued with a chequered history in the four hundred years or so before the coming of Jesus Christ.
It was the combined folly of Jew AND Gentile that brought about Jesus' death, the climax of the revelation of Sin in the Bible we might say. Well not quite. In the midst of the horrific judgments in the End Times, in the book of Revelation, we read, “ The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood--idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Rev 9:20,21) and “ They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him... Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent.” (Rev 16:10,11) Is it any wonder that at ‘the end' God remakes heaven and earth and it is only the redeemed who are saved, that minority who did respond to the news of Jesus.
Have no romantic feelings about Israel or about the human race. They and we are lost without Christ. That is the clear message of the entire Bible. See it, understand it and then stop and reflect on the grace and mercy of God, which is what we will do in the next study.
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 10. The Grace & Mercy of God
Zech 3:3-4 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you."
Now the example I have chosen above to start off this particular meditation comes from a long way into the Old Testament but it strikes me as being an exceptional illustration of the love and goodness of God. We have just considered “A People of Failure”, seeing how so often the people of Israel demonstrated the reality of Sin in the human being, time and time again rejecting the goodness of God, expressing their self-centred godlessness to bring about their own ruin. Now that is not so much a stepping stone as a cloud hanging over the whole of Old Testament history. But if that cloud hangs there – and it does – then so also is there a regular breakthrough of sunlight from heaven as God again and again seeks to bless His people and bring them back to Himself. It is that breakthrough of divine sunlight from heaven that we consider here now.
There are those who say that God is harsh, that He is capricious and spiteful but having been researching the Old Testament for the last year or so to write a book, “The Judgments of a Loving God”, I find that such descriptions are way out of place. It you were God and you were hasty and spiteful, at the first signs of the Fall you would have wiped them both out and started with some other life-form, possibly without free-will, instead of simply casting them outside the area of your blessing so that they could learn to appreciate it and maybe even repent and come back to you. If you were that sort of God when Cain killed Abel you would have killed him straight off instead of arranging things so that he went off and learned afresh what mercy is.
If you were that sort of God you would have given up early on, with Abram, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, at the first sign in each of them of their self-centred foolishness, instead of persevering and persevering and persevering with them. If you had been that sort of God you would have given up arguing with Moses at the end of Exodus 3 and 4 and simply gone and destroyed Pharaoh and the occult and superstition-driven Egypt, instead of pressing on with this eighty year old shepherd. If you were that sort of God the moment Israel started grumbling on their way out of slavery you would have abandoned them back to a life of slavery, and as they continued to grumble and grumble all their way to Sinai, you would have given up on them long back, and when they created and worshipped a Gold Calf idol you would have wiped them all out in an instant and gone to find another universe to work with because if this human race was all you had here, it was going to be a long and hard job – but you did persevere with that long and hard job.
As I have studied Israel in the historical books of the Old Testament, I have almost despaired over David's sin with Bathsheba but that was nothing compared with the folly of Solomon who started off with such wisdom but fed his desire for more female flesh and ‘married' foreign princess after foreign princess, allowing them to each bring their own false religion into the palace which he then succumbed to and drifted right away from God. How can sin be so stupid! But God didn't kill him! Why not? It can only be God's love, mercy and grace. Instead He divides the kingdom to give them two chances to get it right, but they don't learn and so the northern kingdom lasts for 208 years before being carried off. Why did God tolerate them that long; nothing changed in that time, they kept of worshipping two idols and having a counterfeit copy-cat religion – without God? The answer can only be His mercy, and perhaps, just perhaps, He wants us to learn that mankind left to themselves are not good, are not wonderful, are in fact sinful and stupid, and so need a salvation from outside of them. In 2 Kings 17:7-17 I have counted 20 sins listed there that reveal the folly of the kings of that northern kingdom.
When you come to the southern kingdom it is marginally better, but not much. Yes, there are a number of ‘good' kings, but even they have feet of clay and reveal their imperfections. Without going into detail (you can read the book as far it has got so far elsewhere in this site), the thing that amazed and left me perplexed as I worked through the historical books was why God didn't destroy these people. Yes, of the 20 kings in the northern kingdom, 11 of them died violent deaths but for 9 of them there is no record of how they died.
Yes, He did use other nations to discipline 4 of the kings but so often, it would appear that the Lord simply let this northern kingdom get on without much interference but also often allowed the sinful nature of powerful men to kill other powerful men. Of the twenty kings of the southern kingdom, 3 got away with no rebuke or judgment in any form, 3 were rebuked only, 5 were disciplined by being put under pressure from neighbours, 4 were killed, either assassinated or executed, and 4 were disciplined by being carried off to Babylon; it was a really mixed bunch and that kingdom lasted for 343 years before the Exile.
The Exile!!!! Why did He bring them back after forty years and re-establish Jerusalem ? It has got to be His grace and mercy, together with the determination to have a people in existence to create a working environment into which to bring His Son, Jesus Christ. Read the Old Testament (and New of course) carefully and you will never say nasty things about God. He was there working in the background the whole time, seeking to bring the people back into a place where He could bless them, reveal His love to them and to the rest of the world – but it was hard going! It is in inadequate picture but it seemed as if sin was like an incoming tide and time and time again He sought to prevent it coming in and yet He knows that without removing the ‘sea' completely that IS going to happen.
Give mankind free-will and Sin is going to abound. The only way to overcome it is by love and more love, that is there when the individual comes to the end of themselves; that is God's way, winning back the hearts of individuals. You can't do it as a nation and you can't do it as a community; it has to be one by one being convicted of their sin and shown the wonder of God's love that is there and revealed through the person and work of Jesus Christ. THIS is the God who reaches out to us with His love in our folly. It is seen again and again in incidents in the Old Testament and then it is revealed in its fullness in the New Testament in the coming of Jesus. Hallelujah!
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 11. From Judges to Kings
1 Sam 13:14 the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people
I am aware that, having just done two very general meditations, coming back into specifics of history again, and specifics of circumstances rather than of people, there is likely to be a measure of repetition as we consider various events from different viewpoints. Historically we have gone as far as taking the Land and briefly mentioned the subsequent rule of the judges.
It is at this point that we pick up the thread or the flow of history as we see it in the Bible. We find a summary verse early in the book of Judges that declares, “Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders… . . Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them”. (Judg 2:16,18) In the chapters that follow we see the Lord raising up Othniel (3:9), Ehud (3:15), Deborah / Barak (4:3,4), Gideon (6:11), Tola (10:1), Jephthah (11:29) and Samson (13:5). After the erratic life of Samson and his eventual death (16:30) the book degenerates into the even more erratic goings on of people and groups in the nation and we find “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (17:6).
Moving into 1 Samuel , we find the presiding judge is Eli a priest, who is now very old. He sees in the last judge, Samuel, who is also a prophet. Nevertheless, the leadership of Israel is not in a good state: Eli's sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD….. This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD's sight, for they were treating the LORD's offering with contempt….. Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting….. His sons, however, did not listen to their father's rebuke. (1 Sam 2:12,17,22,25 ) To cut a long story short, Eli's sons die in battle and Eli dies of shock and Samuel is left to lead the nation.
However there comes a time when the people are no longer happy with this: “So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Sam 8:4,5) Again, to cut a long story short, Saul is chosen to be the first king of Israel . This comes about with God's acquiescence and Samuel's guidance and the expectation is clearly that Saul will rule but in a way acceptable to the Lord – but this does not happen. Saul gets it wrong at Gilgal where he impatiently and wrongly acted as a priest (13:8,9) and when he failed to destroy the Amalekites as instructed (15:2-9) For these reasons he is rebuked by Samuel: “Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command." (1 Sam13:13,14)
The second half of 1 Samuel is taken up with the introduction of David as that man after God's own heart, who is eventually taken into Saul's service, but then is seen as a threat by Saul who at least twice tries to kill him. So has to flee and spends the rest of the book on the run. It is only when, at the end of 1 Samuel, Saul is killed in battle, that David becomes king. In 2 Samuel we see his rise and his reign .The significance of David's rule is not really seen until later when we find the following spoken in respect of Abijah the second king of the southern two tribes but really saying much about David: “He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been. Nevertheless, for David's sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. For David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD and had not failed to keep any of the LORD's commands all the days of his life--except in the case of Uriah the Hittite. (1 Kings 15:3-5 )
When David dies Solomon, one of his sons, takes over the reign of the country and is promised divine wisdom to rule his country (1 Kings 3:5-14). He starts out very well and becomes the richest and most powerful king in the world. Israel prospers. However, tragically we read, “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter--Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. (1 Kings 11:1-6)
The Lord's response is strong: “The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel , who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD's command. So the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe,” (1 Kings 11:9-13) and that was the end of the single kingdom of Israel . In the next study we will see the divided kingdom. It has been a tumultuous period, this time of the reign of the judges giving way to the reign of the kings.
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 12. A Divided Kingdom
1 Kings 11:10,11 Solomon did not keep the LORD's command. So the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.”
Our verses above indicate the next serious turning point in the life of the nation of Israel . It will govern what will go on for over 300 years ahead. The starting point, and we need to examine the whole passage to see what was happening and why, comes in verse 9: “ The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.” Now the apostle Paul was to say centuries later, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Cor 4:2) i.e. the more the Lord gives you, the greater the responsibility on you. Now the Lord had personally appeared to Solomon twice. The first time had been in a dream (3:4-5) where the Lord had promised to give Solomon wisdom to rule well, and the second time had been when Solomon had finished building the Temple (9:1-9) where the Lord promised blessing for obedience but judgment on them for disobedience, especially if they served ‘other gods'. That was the starting point: responsibility through blessing.
And then the Lord spells it out: “Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD's command.” (v.10) At the beginning of chapter 11 we find these terrible words: “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women… As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods.” (11:1,4) This wasn't just a one-off sin but a long-term turning to the gods of his wives. The wisest man in all the earth – so blessed by God that he also became the richest and most powerful man in all the earth – gives it all away and becomes an idolater.
Because the Lord cannot just sit back and turn a blind eye to this (for it would undermine His authority for ever more), He declares He will take the kingdom from Solomon (v.11) but after he had died (v.12) and then not entirely (v.13). He will do this for David's sake and for the sake of the name of Jerusalem. Nevertheless the Lord disciplined Solomon in his lifetime by raising up two adversaries, “Hadad the Edomite, from the royal line of Edom ,” (11:14-) and “ Rezon son of Eliada,” (11:23) and we read, “Rezon was Israel 's adversary as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad.” (11:25) and then, “ Jeroboam son of Nebat rebelled against the king. He was one of Solomon's officials.” (11:26)
Now we also read of how the Lord also spoke to Jeroboam through Ahijah the prophet (1 Kings 11:29) and promised him rule over ten of the twelve tribes (v.31,35) but will leave one tribe with the southern kingdom, “ for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem ” (v.31,32). He explained in detail that God would do this because of all the idols they were worshipping (v.33). He explained He would leave the one tribe with Judah in the south, “so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem , the city where I chose to put my Name.” (v.36) If Jeroboam would rule as David had done, the Lord would build him a dynasty that would last (v.38).
Solomon eventually died and Rehoboam his son succeeded him (v.43). However Jeroboam returns and with the people confront Rehoboam and demand a lighter reign than they had had under Solomon (1 Kings 12:1-5). Ignoring the wisdom of the elders who agreed to this, Rehoboam listened to the folly of youth in his young friends and replied harshly (12:6-14): “So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.” (v.15) Thus the split came about with two tribes in the south focused on Jerusalem and ten tribes in the north with Samaria as their capital.
The explanations we are given for this division are, a) Solomon's disobedience and b) the memory of David. What is amazing about the Biblical account is the effect David's (largely) righteous life had on the Lord's feelings. Again and again David is referred to and specifically as a factor in God's responses to various later kings. It really is pure speculation because we are told no more, but one wonders if the Lord allowed or brought about two kingdom to give two different groups the opportunity of getting it right with Him.
It is clear from the outset that the northern kingdom got it wrong with Jeroboam reasoning, “If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem , they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah . They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” (1 Kings 12:27) and so, “After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem . Here are your gods, O Israel , who brought you up out of Egypt ." One he set up in Bethel , and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there.” (1 Kings 12:28-30) Moreover, “Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.” (12:31) and so “Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth.” (1 Kings 13:33,34) Not a single northern king changed this and so ultimately is appears to be one of the reasons for the demise of the northern kingdom in 722BC.
I am aware these recent meditations tended to be factual and have lacked personal application. If you are looking for personal lessons in these chapters you don't have to look far seeing the life of the once wise Solomon now being driven by sex and the inability to control his emotions or will to resist the alien religions of his eventual wives. Also the example of Rehoboam failing to listen to the wisdom of his elders and going along with the youthful folly of his peers. When we come to observe all the kings of the southern kingdom (because the northern kings are best forgotten!!!) we realise that we all have feet of clay, some part of our lives that make us vulnerable, and it is a wise person who knows themselves and knows the areas to be guarded against or worked against. David sinned on one occasion (apart from the time when the enemy provoked him into unwise action) but was generally known as a man who stuck close to the Lord. You and I may stumble on occasion but may we also be those who are known, despite that occasional stumble, to be those all out for God.
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 13. Into Exile
Jer 13:19 The cities in the Negev will be shut up, and there will be no one to open them.
All Judah will be carried into exile, carried completely away.
Centuries pass, Israel , the northern kingdom, is carried away and still the southern kingdom is a mix of blessing and bane. When Israel is carried away, Ahaz was king in the south, a bad king who refused God's chastening (see 2 Chron 28:1-11,22-25). He was followed by Hezekiah (2 Chron 29-32), essentially a good king though he struggled with pride in his last years. He was followed by Manasseh who was a seriously bad king restoring idolatry in a big way (2 Chron 33:1-11) and was carried to Babylon by God's discipline where, amazingly, he repented and was restored to his land and to kingship (2 Chron 33:12-20). Then came Amon who only did bad and was assassinated within two years (2 Chron 33:21-25). He was followed by Josiah (2 Chron 34 & 35) who was a remarkably good king but was killed in an unnecessary battle.
He was followed by the final four bad kings: Jehoahaz (who only lasted 3 months – 2 Chron 36:1-5), Jehoiakim (11 years, 2 Chron 36:5-8), Jehoiachin (only 3 months, 2 Chron 36:9,10) and finally Zedekiah (11 years, 2 Chron 36:11-21). So much for Judah 's closing history as far as the kings went. The final three kings were all taken into captivity in Babylon : Jehoiakim, (2 Chron 36:6), in 598BC, then Jehoiachin, (2 Chron 36:10) in 597BC, and then Zedekiah, in 587BC with the fall of Jerusalem .
Nebuchadnezzar invaded more than once, when he came and took captives to Babylon from Judah :
a) it started in 605 , when Daniel and his friends were taken,
b) it was repeated in 597 when Ezekiel and some ten thousand Jews were deported to Babylon (see 2 Kings 24:12-17) and then
c) finally to quash Zedekiah's rebellion in 588/587. (the siege of Jerusalem lasted over a year before it fell)
Now Jeremiah prophesied from the time of Josiah right through to the end of Jerusalem and the final exile. Many of his prophecies warned of the coming conflict and called Judah to repentance. Probably one of the more significant prophecies comes in Jer 25, delivered probably in 605BC in the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign and Nebuchadnezzar's first year of rule before he came against Jerusalem for the first time. Jeremiah had already prophesied for 23 years (Jer 25:3) and had warned them against apostasy (25:4-7) but they had ignored the warning so now, “ Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon," declares the LORD, "and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.” (25:8,9) Now that prophecy went on to warn of complete devastation which did not happen at his first invasion but certainly did at his final invasion in 588/587.
While Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem throughout that period, Ezekiel appears to have been carried away to Babylon as we saw above in 597 but doesn't appear to have received his prophetic call until 593 (see Ezek 1:1,2) There he brought his words to the exiles in Babylon and presumably those words were carried back to Jerusalem. In chapters 1 to 24 he prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem for the apostasy of the people. Nevertheless, in the midst of that, as always with God's words of judgment, there were words of hope: “`This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.' "They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.” (Ezek 11:17-21) In that remarkable word the Lord reveals His long-term strategy – the Israel that will return will be free of idol worship and will hold fast to the Lord.
In January of 588 the Lord told him that Jerusalem was under siege (Ezek 24:1,2). Thereafter he was instructed to prophesy against Ammon , Moab , Edom , Philistia, Tyre , Sidon and Egypt . God's day of judgment was coming but not only on Jerusalem ! Eventually he was told that Jerusalem had fallen (Ezek 33:21) In the chapters that follow the prophetic word brought hope and more hope, e.g.: “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. …. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.” (Ezek 34:11,13)
Read Lamentations and catch the awfulness of the destroyed Jerusalem . The walls have gone and the temple has gone; it has been burned to the ground and the vast majority of its people carried off to Babylon . If you were an Israelite you might have thought that this was the end of Israel – except Ezekiel was prophesying it wasn't (and Jeremiah had prophesied that it wasn't!). Forty years after the destruction, something amazing happened: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: `The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you--may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.'” (2 Chron 36:22,23) The details are given in Ezra in respect of the temple and in Nehemiah in respect of the city walls. God had restored His people to their land after the most devastating judgment Israel and Jerusalem ever experienced. Incredible! Worship the Lord who is sovereign and who WILL fulfil all His purposes.
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 14. Out of another Long Silence
Mark 1:4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
I suspect that we are so familiar with the Gospels that we don't see the next big step in the history revealed through the Bible. Israel had been resettled in the Promised Land after the Exile, there are some encouraging and challenging prophetic words we see in some of the minor prophets and then all goes quiet for over four hundred years. There had been a previous four hundred year silence from heaven in the period when Israel were settled in Egypt and the Lord was waiting for the right time to deal with both Pharaoh and then the Canaanites. Now in this present four hundred year period there are various upheavals in Israel and of course eventually the might of Rome takes over control of the Land, but heaven remains quiet and nothing is added to the Old Testament canon.
We tend not to think about this but it is the equivalent of nothing happening in our own country since say 1700. That's a long time back for nothing to happen. Yes, life had gone on in Israel . Rome had exercised control and appointed Herod the Great as king of Judea under Rome . Religious life had carried on as normal – well, actually Herod had built up the old Temple , the one built after the exile, and made the new one quite spectacular. There were clearly spiritual or religious factions and as far as power within Israel itself was concerned it appeared shared between Rome and the priesthood. And so life just carried on with most people, we would assume, oblivious of impending activity by the court of heaven. There obviously were a spiritual minority, alert and awaiting a break in the silence of heaven: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel , and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.” (Lk 2:25,26)
But mostly, life just carried on, and then came John the Baptist. The first sounds from heaven had come a number of years previously when an angel from heaven came to Zechariah a priest and told him that his aged wife Elizabeth would have son – and this was John the Baptist. Shortly afterwards the same angel from heaven came to a young girl named Mary and told her she would conceive and have a son to be named Jesus, and so it was. And so follows what we call the Nativity with angels turning up for shepherds and wise men from the East turning up with financial resources, and of course Jesus being born somewhere out the back of an inn in Bethlehem . Strange circumstances that we now almost take for granted courtesy of annual nativity plays. And then silence for approximately thirty years we think and then it all starts happening.
Yes, John the Baptist is first on the scene preaching in the wilderness calling people to repentance and then baptizing them in the River Jordan as a sign of being washed clean by God. In modern times he would be reported in Christian magazines and be referred to on Christian TV but then news of him spread by word of mouth. Crowds came and among them, Jesus, who shortly started his own ministry, roaming the Galilean countryside telling people that God's rule was about to break about – and it did. Later on the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter summed him up: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Later he explained it to Cornelius, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached - how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem .” (Acts 10:38,39) but Jesus himself perhaps explained it best and most briefly, when speaking to John's disciples: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5)
Without doubt these three years of Jesus ministry must have been THE high point of human history with so many people being healed, dead being raised, and miracles being performed; this was truly the reign of God, the kingdom of God breaking loose on the earth. But here is the challenge as we look across the earth today. Jesus said, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) Anyone? Faith is the only criteria. To do what Jesus did? “To preach good news to the poor….. to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) and “preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Mt 10:7,8)
Is this what we see when we go into the synagogue, sorry, church, every Sunday morning? It feels sometimes like we are in the time waiting for the end of the four hundred years of silence, with church just carrying on from week to week. Yes, there are exceptions and yet there are many little glimmers of light but does the Church generally match these descriptions above? Perhaps it's time to get down on our knees and stay there until it changes. Until we can get up and go and do these things with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. “Our father in heaven, may your name be glorified, may your kingdom come and your will be done….”
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 15. Three Liftings
John 3:14,15 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life
We have come to the point in biblical history where Jesus has left heaven, come to earth and is now ministering to the people of Israel, mostly up in Galilee, but sometimes down south in Jerusalem. They see him as a man, a miracle worker, yes; a great teacher, yes; a bringer of a new way, yes, but still a man. The next major step in this history of the world is about to happen. It will all take place within the space of less than two months but after it has happened, the world will never be the same again. The period and events we are about to observe are most certainly the most important and most significant events in world history, and yet they are ignored or forgotten by so many.
Three times in John's Gospel, the apostle John, reflecting back on that wonderful time, remembers some of the words of Jesus that the earlier Gospel writers missed in their concern to get down the basics. For John there was more than the basics; there were truths spoken by Jesus that revealed him for who he truly was. I say three times he did this but in fact it was dozens of times in his Gospel but I want to just note three specific words. We have the first of them in our verse above from chapter 3 of John. But in very similar vein we also read, “ So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be,” (Jn 8:28) and then later, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32)
Now I am fairly certain that (certainly in John's mind) each of these refers to Jesus being lifted up on the Cross, but in reality I want to put before you that in less than two months there were in fact three ‘lifting up' times and each one – yes each one – was as significant as the others and causes the world to change.
The first one is, as we indicated above, Jesus being lifted up on the Cross. In John 3 that is paralleled with the snake that Moses lifted up in the desert (see Num 21:6-9). Anyone who ‘looked on' the bronze snake after having been bitten by a snake, would live. What an analogy. We have been bitten by Sin and are consigned to death but if we will accept Jesus' dying on the Cross as for us, we are saved. Hanging on the Cross Jesus took all our sins and ‘became sin' (2 Cor 5:21) or the sin offering that essentially took on the sin of the person offering it. On the Cross all our sin and guilt and shame were dealt with by Jesus and justice was satisfied as the unique Son of God hung in our place and took that which was due to us, and being God could do it for every single person who would ask for it. That first ‘lifting up' was critical for the world. It is the only way that justice can be satisfied in respect of every one of us.
But the second ‘lifting up' was that of the resurrection: “God raised him from the dead,” (Acts 2:24) and “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:32) so that “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4) The resurrection, the second ‘lifting up' proved who Jesus was. As the dead body was lifted up and the life returned, the indications are that this ‘new' body was something more than the old one had been. The apostle Paul pressed the logic of this: “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11) Being ‘born again' (Jn 3) means being indwelt by the Holy Spirit who brings ‘new life' to us also. This is the significance of the second ‘lifting up'.
Now the third ‘lifting up' was even more dramatic. No one saw Jesus being raised from the dead, except God but when it comes to the third ‘lifting' it was quite different: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going.” (Acts 1:9,10) Jesus' ascension into heaven was physical and literal. It said to the disciples, ‘don't go looking for him anymore; he is no longer on the earth.' If they were not blown away by the resurrection – and they clearly were – then the ascension was even more mind blowing. Where did he go? Which cloud is the doorway to heaven????
Mark adds at the end of his Gospel, “Jesus … was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God's right hand.” (Mk 16:19) The writer to the Hebrews put it, “ After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3) The apostle Paul also wrote, “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Eph 1:20-22) The point of the third lifting was that it transferred Jesus from his earthly ministry to a new exalted ministry at the Father's right hand (see Rom 8:34, 1 Pet 3:22, 1 Cor 15:25) As Rev 5 shows us, Jesus is the one who now oversees the end times. There he will remain until the time comes for him to return again (Rev 19), but NOW he is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2). He is Lord.
On the Cross he took our sins, in the resurrection he gave us confidence and a picture of the power we would receive, and in the ascension he shows us where he now reigns. As we said earlier, the world was never the same again!
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 16. The Rule of Jesus
Rev 1:4,5 Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Some would refer to the present ere as the day of the Spirit but the names of the Holy Spirit include ‘the Spirit of Jesus' and so the Holy Spirit is the executive arm if you like of the Godhead, but He administers the will of Jesus in his people while Jesus sits at his Father's right hand in heaven exercising his rule, deciding and determining what will be. Now of course many of us would prefer to focus on the works of the Spirit as seen, say, in the Acts of the Apostles and that is certainly the starting place.
Yes, there we see on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit being poured out on the believers and them being equipped to be Jesus' witnesses (see Acts 1:8, 2:1-4,14-21). Yes, there we see Peter preaching the first sermon and three thousand being saved (Acts 2:22-41), there we see the apostles performing miracles (e.g. Acts 3:1-10) and then taking the opportunity to share the Gospel (Acts 3:11-26) And so it continues. The Holy Spirit moving through the early church with signs and wonders accompanying the preaching of the Gospel.
Others may wish to observe the roles of the Church and Israel . It is a fact, forgotten by many, that the early church was entirely Jewish in nature with all the apostles being Jews and Jerusalem being the heart of the church. As the church reached out with the Gospel more and more, it was obvious that it would change its nature with believers coming from the larger population of the world and thus became more Gentile orientated. Indeed Acts shows us quite clearly that it was Jewish hostility that forced the apostle Paul to move on sometimes and thus pushing the Gospel out even further. (Some modern historians suggest that Jews continued to be saved in numbers until the seventh century). With the fall of Jerusalem - and the church leaders had already moved on – Judaism was also dispersed into the world (see Rev 12)
As far as individual Jews are concerned, they are no different from Gentiles in terms of needing salvation: “ there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:12,13) yet when it comes to them as a people, “ Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.” (Rom 10:25,25) Some will say that word ‘ Israel ' simply means all believers whether from Jew or Gentile background, others will say it means the Jewish people will eventually be saved. Time alone will tell. That they as a people still have a part to play in the plans of God seems fairly obvious.
Which leaves us coming back to Jesus revealed as:
It might be well to emphasis the 1 Cor 15 verses: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) We may not be able to discern his works but the truth is that he IS reigning over this world – from heaven. He brings things about by his Spirit working in his followers, he will use Satan and his demons and powers as he sees fit (this is too big a subject to cover here, but he does) and he will work to manipulate circumstances, yet overall it is a mystery for most of the time. BUT he IS ruling; this is the era of Christ's reign from heaven.
However when we see the praise given to him in heaven there comes a surprise: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9,10) We the believers should be reigning. Now there will be some who say that is in the future but when you consider Jesus' words, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:19 & 18:18) there seems a certain amount of ‘exercising rule' about that. There is a similar hint in Eph 1:22 – “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,” Perhaps, as with so many things it is a partial reign this side of heaven, fulfilled completely in the new heaven new earth where, “they will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev 22;5) Some room for more reflection there!
Pre-AD1 (say) Christ sat with his father in heaven, waiting for his day on earth to come. Somewhere about that time, about AD30-33 He expressed his father's kingdom in his ministry on earth. Since that time he has been reigning from heaven. At some point in the future he will return again as a conquering king (see Rev 19) and will then preside alongside his Father in eternity over the new heaven and new earth. The present ‘stepping stone' of history is unknown to us as to duration for the time being – so watch the skies.
Meditations on “The Big Picture” 17. The End or the Beginning
Rev 21:1-4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City , the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
The fact that there are various schools of theology in respect of the end times suggests that everything is not as clear as we might like to wish it to be. Time is coming to an end, the day of the material world that we know is rapidly coming to an end. History as we know it is about to be wound up. Apart from the return of Jesus again (see Acts 1:11, Mt 24:30,31, 1 Thess 4:15-17, Rev 1:7, 19:11-16) which is quite explicit, the details of what will happen at the end leave us with questions. Are some of the things figurative or literal?
The book of Revelation is almost our only source and it is prophecy which means very often the language used is figurative rather than literal. But what does it say?
Jesus comes down and subdues his enemies (Rev 19)
Satan is subdued for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-3)
Those who had been martyred will reign for that thousand years (Rev 20:4-6)
At the end of that period Satan will be released to deceive and war against God's people but his followers will be destroyed (Rev 20:7-10)
Then will come judgment, all before the throne of God (Rev 20:11-15)
Then comes a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-5)
Judgment is imposed on all unbelievers (Rev 21:6-8)
The bride of Christ (see Rev 19:7-9) is revealed as the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2,9-26)
There is the throne of God (Rev 22:1-5) dwelling with His people
To summarise those things, Jesus is coming to wind up the world as we know it. There appears to be an interregnum, if you like, where the world continues but without Satan's influence, then a releasing to show nothing has changed with him or with sinful mankind. This is followed by a final judgment where Satan is subdued and all created beings stand before God for an accounting. Those who have not received the Lamb go to judgment. Those who are his followers enter into a new experience, a new heaven and a new earth and they, as a people, will enjoy the Lord in their midst in a new unlimited way for eternity. Shortening it even more, the end of evil and an eternity for the followers of the Lamb in the glorious presence of God.
And that is it. The end of what is now and the beginning of the experience of eternity with the Lord. Everything has been working towards this. The whole history of the Bible has been about revealing God to His world and looking for response to Him by people. Many reject, many receive Him. Those who receive Him have an inheritance in eternity that is really beyond our understanding or explanation. Perhaps that is why it is so limited in scripture. There is a plan. There is a beginning and an end to it and yet the beginning and the end refer only to the material existence part of the plan which is limited. It is the bit we are largely concerned with today and it is the bit that takes up 99% of the Bible, and yet it is only part of existence. There is also a spiritual dimension, another existence that somehow exists without time, outside of time, beyond time, and yet an existence that can be comprehended, understood (when you are in it) and communicated.
The present material world appears massive to us, in fact beyond our imaginations even as we try to comprehend millions of galaxies, billions of light years and so on, and yet in comparison to the real existence is so limited. Solomon caught a glimpse of this: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11) The psalmist also caught it: “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.” (Psa 93:1,2)
There is a material world existing in time-space history and there is another dimension called eternity, and God is Lord over them both. In Proverbs, wisdom personified, revealing the Son, begotten of the Father, declares, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.” (Prov 8:23) The son stepped from eternity into material world existence as he stood alongside the Father creating the wonder of the world that we know: “I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) Father and Son and Holy Spirit together from ‘the beginning' but then eternity doesn't have a beginning.
But this is their book, this is their history, in brief sketchy outline at least, this is their account and they are in it from the beginning when “God said, ‘Let there be light', and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) through to the end: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Rev 22:12-14) Amen! Hallelujah!