|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 6: Security in the Old Testament
6.1 God of Judgement?
Very well, you may be saying, I can see how Jesus evoked a sense of security in his followers but wasn't that something new? How about in the Old Testament? Isn't that full of words about judgement? That doesn't seem very much about security? That's right. Judgement isn't about security, judgement is about dealing with those who are not the obedient people of God. Security is what the people in relationship with God knew.
In Chapter 3 we noted in the book of Nahum The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him (1:7) and noted that God can't be a refuge for those who ignore Him, but for those who trust in Him, He is a place of real security.
We'll now try and show you some of the aspects of this security that we find throughout the Old Testament generally. What we'll do is first of all look at individuals, then at Israel as a nation, and then at particular parts of the Old Testament.
As we said in chapter 3, when we start looking at individuals in the Old Testament what we so often find is the story of an insecure person (more often than not, a man) who eventually comes to see that he is secure - because of God. The story of the Old Testament is about men (and a nation) who were contacted by THE God, and who came to realise that because of this God they were secure. So, let's look at some of these people.
6.2 Abram (Gen 11:27 - 25:11)
This is an amazing story, the story of a Chaldean from Mesopotamia who found God speaking to him and calling him to go and live somewhere else, to the land we now call Israel (Gen 12:1). In Abram we find a strange mix of security and insecurity (but then that's probably how most of us are!). Watch him as he leaves his home at God's instigation, leaves all that is familiar to him, and goes to a land he knows little about and settles there - purely because God has said so, and he is seventy five years old when he sets out! (Gen 12:4)
The account of Abram is then a series of cameos, of encounters with God and encounters without God. For instance, after he's been in this new land a short while there is a famine, so he leaves the land and goes to nearby Egypt where there is food (Gen 12:10). While there he acts slightly less than honourably (!) in respect of his wife because he is fearful of the Egyptians (Gen 12:11 -13). In that he reveals something of his insecurity (quite natural, we might say, in the circumstances), he fears for his life. At that stage of his life it's clear he doesn't realise that God is a God of provision and security.
In his dealings with God he receives a number of promises saying that he will have a great family. This is comforting because he is childless, but as the years pass no children arrive! Eventually his faith wavers and he succumbs to his wife's suggestion and they help God out' by him having a son through his maidservant. The years pass and, despite what they have done, God does not give up on him but keeps reaffirming that he will have children by his wife. Eventually this happens, when Abraham (as he now is called) is a hundred years old. He's had to wait twenty five years for this!
Years later we find the greatest test of security that any man can go through. Abraham is asked to sacrifice his one real son, and he's willing to do it! We have to wait for the writer to the Hebrews (Heb 11:19 ) to tell us that Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. Now that is security!
Years later, when trying to arrange a daughter for his son, Isaac, (Gen 24) he instructs his servant not to allow Isaac to go back to their old home, for this is the land of God's promise. In old age this man indicates his complete assurance of his faith in God. This is where we are to be! In his dealings with God, he has come into a place of complete security in God.
6.3 Jacob (Gen 25-)
If Abraham's is an amazing story, Jacob's is even more so. He is a twister, and that's what his name means. Throughout his life, it seems he plots and schemes to achieve, to get on and become rich. Jacob is the classic example of the man who is working for himself by plans, schemes, ideas, and so on.
Even when he has a dream encounter with God (Gen 28:10-) he concludes that IF God will keep him safe, then this will be his God (28:20). He didn't realise that you don't choose God, God chooses you, but then he didn't feel very secure at that point in his life!
To cut a long story short, come to the end of his life. He is old and prosperous and he is clearly near death. In Genesis 48 and 49 we find a faith-giant, a man fearlessly prophesying by faith over his family, a man testifying to the dealings of God with him, a man completely in control up to the moment of his death. In these chapters we find an amazing security in this man. That was not how it had been in the earlier years but through the struggles of life and his struggles with God, he comes to realise he is secure, because God has kept him. The reality was that he hadn't needed to struggle all those years because God was with him. It just took him a long time to realise it. He had been secure all those years but just hadn't realised it!
6.4 Joseph (Gen 37 - 50)
The stories get even more amazing. When we first encounter Joseph he's a spoilt charismatic brat who can't handle graciously the prophecies that God gives him. He's a person who hears God, but doesn't realise the implications of that!
We then watch as he's sold into slavery by his angry brothers, but the writer tells us that even there, the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered (Gen 39:2). It's only in the pressure of those circumstances that we start seeing a glimmer of something good in Joseph, integrity in the way he refused the amorous attentions of his master's wife. Unjustly he is put in prison but we're told, the Lord was with him (Gen 39:21) and the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did (Gen 39:23).
Eventually, with the help of prophetic dreams, he is released from prison, promoted to Prime Minister and becomes the saviour of the whole of that part of the world. Does that power corrupt him? Definitely not, because he has learnt a lot about himself and about God along the way!
When, in this position of power, his brothers eventually are in his hands, we catch the sense of the security that he has found. Speaking of the past, he says You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done (Gen 50:20). He came to a place when he saw that men exercise their free-will sinfully, but God is there, taking and using even those sinful acts to bring about His redeeming purposes. In that amazing security Joseph forgives his brothers. He is a changed man! He has learnt that even in the awful circumstances created by sinful me, God will be there, working out His purposes and using and blessing those He has chosen!
6.5 Moses (Exo 1-)
Here's the next amazing character in God's scrap book, one who we've already met before. Let's reconsider him, but only in outline. The pivotal point of his story must be his encounter with God at the burning bush (Exo 3) as we saw earlier.
Perhaps today we view Moses as a giant of a figure, the man who delivered Israel out of Egypt and who led them for forty years in the wilderness. But that's not how he is in Exo 3 & 4! There he is a man who is completely unsure of himself, so unsure that he argues with God! Forty years looking after sheep in the desert had taken away all the confidence that this young Prince of Egypt had had. Now he's a nobody, but this power encounter with Almighty God changes everything.
When we meet with God, it suddenly puts everything into a different perspective. We realise we are secure, whatever people say or do. In this new-found security he confronts the most powerful, arrogant despot in the world and delivers Israel. At any one of his numerous encounters with Pharaoh he could have been put to death. He perseveres and is preserved.
Eventually he meets God again on Mount Sinai and has another dramatic encounter, but already he is a changed man. At the end of his life, just like Jacob, we find him prophesying amazing declarations of prophetic faith over what are now not just sons but whole tribes of Israel. Here is a man who faced the worst and came through because of His encounter with God. Because he knew who he was and what he had been called to do, he stood firm, secure in God!
David also gives us insight into security in God. His psalms exude this security and we'll consider them later, but for now let's just pick up several instances of the security he knew and experienced personally in God.
First of all let's consider his encounter with Goliath where he declares to Saul, The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine (1 Sam 17:37) and to Goliath, You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel (1 Sam 17:45). Here is a young man who has a relationship with God and is secure in the face of overwhelming ungodly odds. He already has experience of the Lord and that experience tells him that God will be there for him.
A second picture of the security that David knew comes in his wilderness years when he was on the run from Saul, long before he eventually became king. 1 Samuel 23 is a classic chapter on security. David and those who have gone to him are hiding from Saul's forces when they hear that the Philistine invaders are coming into Israel. David wants to do something about it, so what does he do? He enquired of the Lord (23:2). Unfortunately his men are afraid, so he goes back to God and asks again if he should go. When he gets God's go ahead, he defeats the Philistines (23:4,5). Next he hears that Saul is coming after him, so what does he do? He asks God about it. Twice God confirms what will happen and so David and his men move on and escape (23:9-13). David's security, we see in this chapter, came from his relationship with God. He talked to God, he listened to God and he obeyed God.
We could consider many more aspects of David's history but because of limited space let's simply consider one episode near the end of his life. Israel had sinned and God was going to bring judgement. He provokes David to rise up in pride and number Israel - to see how great he had become (2 Sam 24:1 - but 1 Chron 21:1 indicates that God used Satan to provoke David).
Through the prophet Gad, God gave David three options, i.e. he would choose what disciplinary punishment they would receive. David's response is illustrative : Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men. David knew that in failure he deserved punishment, as did Israel , but if he was to decide between receiving it from the hands of God or from men, he knew who he wanted to submit to. There is a security in David, even in the face of judgement, as he trusts in the mercy of God. David's security was in the character of the One he had known throughout his tumultuous life, Holy but merciful. With Him David was secure.
There are so many other figures in the Old Testament whose lives act as signposts in the same way, all saying the same thing: in a relationship with the Almighty God there is security. He is faithful, He is true, in Him alone is security. Why? Because He alone keeps us.
6.7 Israel in the Old Testament
The history of the nation of Israel is staggering. We've briefly touched on the life of Jacob who became Israel. We've briefly mentioned the deliverance of the families of Israel from Egypt and the fact that they met God at Sinai. Consider the words of God that really made them a holy nation: Now if you will obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exo 19:5,6). This is why they were the nation of Israel , because God had called them. All they had to do was keep their eyes on God and obey Him and all His blessings would be theirs.
For the sake of space we'll limit the story. Go next to Judges and observe what happened when they got into the Promised Land. God had been with them, using Joshua to lead them and had given them victory over all the sinful peoples already in the land. Yet they hadn't completely cleared them out and time and time again we read, Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals (Judges 2:11, 3:7 etc. etc.), so God removed His hand of protection and let the enemy prevail over them.
Yet, again and again, as soon as there was a glimmer of repentance we find, the Lord raised up judges who saved them (Judges 2:16 ). We perhaps take it for granted, but God had a long-term plan for Israel and the fact that they often wandered away from Him was not going to put that off.
When Israel grew fed up with the judges and demanded a king, to be like all other nations, the Lord reassured Samuel, it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king (1 Sam 8:7) but agrees to give them a king. The first king is exactly what they want, Saul, a head taller than any of the others (1 Sam10:23), a man who can obviously vanquish other kings!
Having rejected God you might have expected God to reject Israel, yet the Lord does not abandon them and when Saul eventually gets it completely wrong, the Lord tells Samuel to go and anoint a man of His choosing (1 Sam 16:1) and David is brought onto the scene.
When David sins the Lord disciplines him but does not destroy him. Following David comes his son Solomon who is given every bit of help from God in the form of wisdom (1 Kings 3), and the most glorious time for Israel as a nation ensues. Yet even with the wisdom from God, Solomon goes astray (1 Kings 11:1-6). Because of the extent of this folly the Lord declared He would divide the kingdom after Solomon's death (presumably to curtail the sinful stupidity and give a greater chance for wisdom through two kings instead of one). In all this He doesn't give up on Israel .
As the centuries pass by, the folly of sinful mankind, even within this chosen, divided nation, continues to persist. As I have studied the prophets the thing that has struck me was the number of times God warned Judah before He sent them into exile. The same had been true previously to Israel. When God apparently brings an end to the nation, it isn't the end. Indeed the time of the exile as shown in the Bible is portrayed almost in the form of a 'News Night' TV programme.
On the ground with the exiles is the reporter, prophet Ezekiel. In the foreign palace is reporter, prophet Daniel, while back in Israel watching the closing years of the nation is prophet Jeremiah. God wants to make sure we see His amazing hand at work in all areas. Yet the messages flash back and forth in a modern manner.
From Jeremiah in Jerusalem comes a message from God to those in Babylon, Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile (Jer 29:7). Even there the hand of God is upon them. Years later the amazing hand of God stirs up King Cyrus to start sending the exiles back (Ezra 1:1) and Jerusalem is soon re-established.
Centuries later the Lord's Messiah comes to that chosen city, to that chosen nation and is rejected and crucified. In AD 70 the city was sacked and the Jews dispersed, apparently THE end to the chosen nation. An aged Christian elder, exiled on the isle of Patmos has a vision of Israel, as a women fleeing into the desert (the world) where she will be taken care of for a specific period in God's economy (Rev 12:1-6). Half way into the twentieth century this woman, Israel, returns to the land. Watch this space!
This is security! It's not about the failures along the way; it's about the decreed plan of God. As the writer of Proverbs put it, Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails (Prov 19:21 ).
The story of Israel, and indeed of the various individuals, tells us some significant things about security. There is actual security' and felt security' (not Biblical terms but they do describe the truth).
Many of us go on feelings and we say we are secure when we feel it. For us with our limited vision, we feel secure when we feel comfortable. We equate the absence of turmoil with stability, but that actually is a false security. We equate success with security, but that also is a false security, as the barn builder in Jesus' parable found to his cost (see Lk 12:18).
The fact that these individuals in the Bible often got it wrong didn't mean that they lost their security. Their security was the fact that God had called them, they responded, and God was working out His purpose in relation to them. The Lord knew, in respect of these individuals, that deep in them they were believers. Sometimes that seemed decidedly absent, yet God knew that given some more time and more circumstances they would come through again. For us today our hearts are set on God and on heaven. On some days we score well and on other days not so well.
Consider an imaginary figure Chris, a Christian young man. On day 1, Chris wakes up after a good night's sleep and feels good. He reads his Bible for half an hour, is blessed by what he's read and prays fervently for half an hour before going to work. At work he's just full of the joy of the Lord and witnesses to three people about Jesus, one of whom promises to come along to the Sunday meeting to hear more. In the evening he goes out to a church meeting and is a blessing to everyone there. He stays up late reading his Bible and praying.
On day 2, Chris, having had a short night's sleep wakes up tired and through bleary eyes observes his Bible lying on his bedside table and leaves it there. The extent of his praying that morning is a tired, Lord, you know! At work things go badly and he has a row with two people. In the evening he's still too tired to do anything and so stays in and spends the evening watching rubbish TV. He goes to bed without a word to the Lord.
Question: On which day did the Lord love him most? Answer: The same both days. No doubt the Lord felt a sadness for him on the second day but the contrasting days do not affect his security. On day 1 he felt a tremendous sense of the presence of the Lord and would have been willing to be thrown into a lions' den if necessary. On day 2 he felt God was in another universe and, Don't ask me to do anything! On day 2 he would have jumped at a shadow, but the reality is that he is just as secure on day 2 as he was on day 1.
Suppose he had had an accident on day 2. Some of us would immediately jump up and say, Ah the judgement of God on his stupidity! Well yes, we do have to suffer the consequences of our stupid behaviour but that's simply part of our daily sanctification, that's not affecting our eternal destiny. God does allow and even bring things that can be considered discipline but discipline simply means a form of training that makes us conform. It's not about destruction or loss of salvation.
Yes, security is a fact, not mere feelings that go up and down with the varying circumstances. Our role as church is, perhaps, to create a secure-feeling environment in which people can experience and encounter The One who is the source of real and actual security.
Let's see some more of Him in the writings in the Old Testament. So far we've focussed on some of the historical or narrative passages. Let's now expand that.
6.8 Different Old Testament Writings
In this final section of this chapter I want to look briefly at the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (at least the Psalms).
a) The Law
Through Moses at Sinai, God gave His law for this embryo nation. First came the Ten Commandments (Exo 20:3-17), the first four of which are all about relationship with God. Often people say, Oh yes, I believe in the Ten Commandments but what they mean is they like the moral second half! Security starts and finishes with God!
Then came the daily law, the laws for living out life on a daily basis within the nation. Go through these laws some time and imagine what it must have been like living in Israel if all those instructions were being followed. For example there was employment law that said if someone got into such financial difficulties that he had to contract to live and work for another, that was only to last for a maximum of six years. After that time he was to be set free (Exo 21:2-). With these laws came a sense of justice, of fairness, or restriction on abuses. It involved personal property and behaviour towards others. I suspect that if you lived with those sorts of guidelines you felt very secure in that sort of society.
Some of us get very worked up about the death penalty. In those early laws in Exo 21 it was for killing a man (v.12-14), for attacking parents (v.15), for kidnapping (v.16) and for trying to put a curse on parents (v.17). In other places in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, there are at least 7 other reasons given for the death penalty. For us today we may find that shocking, but that is perhaps
(Note: Please understand I'm not trying to make a case for re-establishing the death penalty; I'm simply trying to show the effect of it on the security of the nation of Israel at that time).
We need to understand four things about the death penalty in the life of Israel that might help put it in perspective:
i) God was not blessed by it.
It was Ezekiel who brought the Lord's word many years later: I take no pleasure in the death of anyone declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! God would far rather have repentance than death. The whole ceremonial law pointed to a way for sins to be dealt with and for people to live, but repentance was the key.
There had to be at least two witnesses (Num 35:30) and the responsibility laid on witnesses was very heavy and there was a special accountability to God.
iii) The Death Penalty
The death penalty had to be brought by those involved, by stoning (Lev 20:2, 24:14,16, Num 15:35 , Deut 13:6-11). Now think about this for a moment. We live in an age when killing people has been made unreal by the means of TV and films. Can you imagine a group of you being required to take a member of your family or close community outside where you are all to pick up rocks and throw them purposefully at the warm flesh and blood pleading in front of you? As your stone hits their face (and you doing the stoning may be a man or a woman as may be the person being stoned!) blood spurts out. As further stones hit them they become disfigured, a bleeding wreck of a body until finally you stand over them and smash their skull until there is no question left that they are dead.
How would this leave you? Devastated! Probably having nightmares for the next three months! It would also leave you convinced that you would never let such a thing happen again. You would become the most zealous upholder of the law. Compassionately you would do everything in your power to prevent anyone near you fall to temptation again. Peace and stability would reign over that community.
iv) Sacrificial Law
The ceremonial law provided for sacrifices for your sin (see Lev 4-). Imagine it: you sin unintentionally but later become aware of what you have done. Depending on who you were, a priest, a leader or just an ordinary member of the community, you had to bring a different animal for sacrifice. Now again this wasn't bring it in, give it to the priest and walk away. No, you brought your best animal in, you put your hand on its head and you stayed there while either you or the priest cut its throat. You then watched as the blood poured out and you literally watched the life ebb out of your animal, as it fell on its knees and eventually toppled over. How would it leave you feeling? Quite possibly, pretty sick. This animal had died in front of your eyes with your hand on it, because you had sinned. You would suddenly have a new awareness of the awfulness of sin and you would determine not to do it again!
Why have I spent this time on the subject of death here? To help us see the outcome, a stability and peace and ordered society, where people were very aware of the awfulness of sin and its effects and, even more importantly for them on a daily basis, it produced a secure, law-abiding society. That Israel often turned away from God and from His Law simply shows their sinfulness, not any defect in the Law. The Law was there to bring about a stable and secure society.
b) The Prophets
The amazing thing about these men was the security they knew. Jeremiah is a good illustration. He was there in the closing years of the life of Israel before the exile. He keeps getting the word of warning from God to the kings, rulers and people. His life was threatened, yet when others are being carried away he is still there. In fact he comes under the special protection from the invading commander (Jer 40:1-6).
He remains with the remnant left in the land and when they flee to Egypt, he goes with them, still prophesying! (Jer 41,42). For Jeremiah (and the other prophets) the times were often tumultuous and uncomfortable but for the most part they stood in the gap as God's mouthpiece and knew the security of His hand upon them. When revelation comes from heaven the sense of the eternal overshadows the comings and goings on the earth.
Actual security comes from the eternal realm. Feeling security is in the temporal realm. The two come together when we see' with the eyes of faith on the earth, what is happening in the eternal realm. Thus the prophets were able to stand in the midst of upheaval and remain secure because they were aware of God and His plans and purposes being worked out around them, plans and purposes decreed in heaven and being worked out on earth. This was their security and this can be true of us today also.
For us, as with them, the problem so often is that we swing in our understanding between actual security and felt security. When Jeremiah was still young he had an encounter with God when the Lord told him, Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations (Jer 1:5) and thus was set up for his future life. Yet under the pressure of difficult circumstances, his feeling of security seemed a bit thin as he complained to God (e.g. Jer 12:1-4, 20:7-18), but again and again as the word of God came, he was made more sure of his calling. As with others of old, security for Jeremiah and the other prophets came through a living relationship with Almighty God.
c) The Psalms
Really we need say little here. Simply look at the variety of psalms and the constant references to God being the refuge of the writer: 2:12 , 5:11 , 7:1, 9:9, 11:1, 14:6, 16:1 etc. etc. etc. It is a constant theme. In so many of the Psalms, especially of David, even though refuge is not mentioned the idea is there. For example Psalm 13 - he has a sense of being forgotten, of being threatened by enemies but eventually he is simply able to say, I trust in your unfailing love. (v.5)
Throughout these psalms comes a clear sense of one who knows his God and is secure in that knowledge. The message is clear: troubles there may be, enemies there may be, deteriorating health there may be, but underneath are the everlasting arms of Him who is and will be for evermore! This is security!
6.9 And So?
We'll close the chapter with a final reminder that comes from early on in the Old Testament, in fact the first reference to the sinfulness of mankind and God's response to it. In Genesis 3 we find the facts of the Fall, but it is not there that we find these references, it is in Genesis 6:
What an awful condemnation of the state of mankind so early in its history. The inclination of the human heart was only evil! Now observe the Lord's reaction to this. Bitter anger? Violent wrath? No!
The indication here is that God was sorry that He had made man in such a way that free choice meant sin would prevail, but in His heart God felt pain, anguish, and grief. He was deeply moved that it had gone wrong. We might suppose, if that was all we had, that God's response was hard against man but it wasn't, only against his sinfulness.
Very soon after we find, But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord (Gen 6:8) and we soon see he is God's means of saving the human race from extinction. The picture is very much like that of the human body when things go wrong with it. We may love our body but when cancerous cells invade it we know they have to be cut out. We grieve the presence of the sickness but do not rail against the body. Thus it is with God and His world and sin.
This is the history of mankind! This is a testimony to the stupid sinfulness of man but also to the wonderful love and grace and mercy and faithfulness of the One God with whom we have to do. Can we be secure in that?