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A TIME TO PLAY
AND THE WORK OF THE DAY
DO NOT CONFUSE, PLEASE!
I Kings 13
THE LION, THE CALL AND THE COMPROMISE
There was a prophet in Judah.
In the time when the two parts of Israel had split, and the Northern sector had expressly set up idols for worship, even reminding of the time in Egypt and of its gods in the most explicit fashion (golden calves), a young man in Judah was sent on a mission. He had to show a sign in the presence of the evil altar, and so in effect both warn those who were participants, and demonstrate the power of God. The way it happened, it would show that the way they were going was on course to lead to horrible results: indeed, the coming King would sacrifice the priests who dealt in it, and men's bones would be burnt on it. In fact, he did execute priests, and burn bones not only on this altar, but on others in Samaria, when he purged the place.
Firstly, the man of God uttered a prophecy that Josiah, a coming King, would destroy this altar. In fact, he was able to do this because by that time, the Samaritan schism and idolatry would have received its come-uppance, the people exiled, indeed largely removed, aliens being brought to replace them by the conquering King of Assyria. Judah then could do such things in Samaria.
That prophecy was a piece of information, and it was duly delivered.
Men's bones will be burned on you! he declared to this altar of aura, evil in intent and in action. They were, those who were dug up. Many priests were put to death.
He also gave a CURRENT sign, a signal testable, a verification observable, a miracle NOT understandable in any ordinary and natural way. If in the day of Jesus Christ on earth, He healed, a sign of the healing needed in heart and soul as of a compassion which was consistent, then in this day of repudiation in Israel, there was a work of partial ruin. The altar, said the prophet, will split apart and its ashes will be poured out. So Israel would be split apart, its schism to provide more than a neighbouring but similar stock, for its ingredients: it would be taken away, split up in form. The North would be lost, and become instead of an adjacent Israel, 'Samaria', its horrid city of religious vice giving to it its new name!
THIS is a sign that this is from the Lord, said the prophet! What more! He had succeeded, had he not ?
This sign occurred, the miracle was seen. It was a success story of spiritual warning with power supplied, and observable results to warn those with eyes and ears, of their own peril in such a place, and site, in such a way of life!
Nor was this all. When Jeroboam, the King of the schismatics, author of the altar, stretched out his hand from the altar area and demanded the arrest of the prophet, that hand withered. Its power left it. As the altar would go, as the sign had come, so the hand that sought to grab the prophet whose sign had just been given, was stayed. One miracle split the altar, the other shown the inherent weakness of the King, whose people after all were to be taken over by another country! but not yet.
THIS was warning. It was made fast in all directions. GOD was in it. That was most clear. Worse, Jeroboam could not even bring his arm back. In other words, not only could he not STOP the man of God, but he could not even help himself, all symbolic of the truth, that God would work, and he, the errant king, was merely a feeble fellow, despite his braggadocio. If THIS did not wake people up, what would! In kindness the Lord warned, and He did it thoroughly.
The King, brought to this pass, asked the man of God to ENTREAT the Lord for his hand. His request was granted, showing the enormous patience of the Lord, His intense desire for freedom, and the marvellous opportunities He gives to those straying, making things easier and not harder, at the outset, if by any means they might repent and be healed.
Indeed, this action of divine healing, following blight to arrest misused power, is altogether parallel to that of Christ who healed the ear of the Temple guard soldier, when Peter struck it off. Ponder before corruption is complete; for the goodness of the Lord is great, and He acts if by any means it should lead to repentance (as in Romans 2:4). We see here that there is NO room for collapsible, human power when the point is faith! not carnal power, not competitive power, not impulsive power which makes a contribution. Faith is faith and power is power, and the power of faith is simply that of God when rightfully and lawfully approached.
What amazing events, what tremendous warning was this! Now you might say, What is the use ? They are going the wrong way and they or their descendants are all going to be doomed. Not so. It is not NECESSARY to remain in this KIND of situation. Like Lot, they COULD have left what for him was Sodom, what for them was Samaria, shortly after this and avoided the whole scenario of doom. Similarly how, many might say, Well, we are facing a horrid tempest of judgment in this world, so what is the point of it ? It is coming, and we suffer it. Not at all.
To be sure, if you have heart and courage and mind and will, and are enlisted as a soldier, a spiritual soldier of Jesus Christ, then certainly you may suffer. He did; and if we endure with Him, if we are faithful, as faith overall is, then we shall rule with Him (I Timothy 2:12). Those who live in godly manner will suffer persecution (II Timothy 3:12). If you believe in Him, what does suffering really matter! You do not refuse to dig because your hand is hurt, or to write, because your back is tired, do you ?
SO just as the Samaritan who listened to these things, COULD have left, so things for such people as that, could have been different. It might have been a matter of faith and leading and enabling, as was this author's leading to Westminster Seminary, when cast out of seminary in Melbourne, falsely attacked for insisting that the Bible is infallible and not inclusive of devious lies and fraud, and showing this in the case contested. God has His own ways, and we must be awake, and NOT allow what is palpably wrong to be 'chosen' because we do not SEE the right way to follow. You insist on the right, and seek the way, and by faith will find it, though it may take you to the ends of the earth. In this case, for those in Bethel, it would have been far from that, just across the border into Judah...
Just as there is need to be spiritually realistic (that is, face facts, not make mere wry faces), so there is need of quality in one's deeds. In the case of the prophet, there was a strict condition for his own personal conduct. In I Kings 13:9 we learn that God had told him what it was: 'You shall not eat bread, nor drink water, nor return by the same way you came.'
Thus when the King himself asked this very prophet to share a meal with him, telling him that he would give him a reward, he declined, as he ought. Indeed, he he not only declined, but indicated that though half the king's house were his reward, yet he would not come. What! is there to be reward from the coffers of unrighteousness, when they are cornered ? Is it not for their sakes that the warning is given, and not for one's own, and will one accept what they offer in order to show the underlying fellowship and communality which now is no more! In that way, the truth is molested and the heart is proving weak.
Imagine now that someone had denounced Hitler in 1934, and Hitler had said, Oh come now (fearing the publicity), come and I will show you some of our better things of which you may approve, and I will give you a gift not to be forgotten. Would this not be a practical demonstration that your words were one thing, but that the very evil entity itself was a matter of variation and might not be quite so bad after all. In just such a way, the point could be lost, and the practice impugn integrity.
So far the prophet of the split altar is doing very well, and not a hair can be seen out of place.
However, sadly, when he did, as directed, go back another way, he had another test. An old prophet was apparently living nearby, and hearing of these mighty deeds wrought in Samaria from his sons, he sought to make haste to meet that man sent by God, and to invite him. The host was another Samaritan, it seems, one living nearby to come as the King had done.
Now here was the danger of lapse. Had this prophet from Judah not come, not spoken, not believed, not brought the sign with the miracle given, had not God wrought a second miracle, had he not resisted official fellowship and reward, and had he not shown compassion without compromise ? Yes, he had; and so he might relax, even feeling a certain composure and pleasantness within, as if he perhaps now had a little leisure. Was it not a prophet who asked him ? Might this not be different from the case of the King asking him to a meal ? Yes, it might, and perhaps it would be pleasant.
Thus he fell. Before, when asked to a meal by the King, he might well say to himself, Is THIS a time for rewards, or breaching the barrier by which those are cleaved who willingly err and put their heart into pollution in principle or practice of the Lord's commands, from those who do not! But now!
'I have been directly and strictly forbidden to do this, and I will not touch any of it!', some may say, but quibbling distance or defer action, till their hearts smudge the command, like wet ink on rubber, and leave merely a vague stain. The word of God is thus suppressed.
Is it then shame that they seek ? Beware lest it be granted! The path of a soldier is not to be coddled, but that of a task force in truth and triumph (I Corinthians 2:14); for treachery lies within these things, whatever may be the conscious rationalisation or retort.
In New Testament terms, the case is covered in principle in such texts and rules as seen in I Thessalonians 2-3, Romans 16:17, I Corinthians 5-6, I Timothy 6. Correctly then, he said no to the King. The words of a mission then, and all Christians are on mission (Philippians 1:27-28, 2:15-18), these are not all the pivotal action. There are also standards, qualities, procedures, there is atmosphere, there may even be rules. In this case, this certainly was so.
Was this a case for exception ? Was not the man a prophet ? was he not old ? did he not live a little way off from the scene ? could this not be an opportunity for rest and joy and fellowship ? Now he repeated the negative, and the grounds for it, to the old prophet.
Here then was this apparent model of fidelity, and there is the old prophet, perhaps in disobedience living near to this appalling religious scene, not only the altar itself, but the whole frame and spirit of misalliance which put it in place, and so ruled. He lied to the young prophet, telling him that an angel had instructed him to meet with him so that they might have a meal together. Nevertheless, the return had not yet been accomplished; and the order was to go and act, and not to eat bread in this way, but to return by another way.
HENCE this was excluded. But to the eye of moderation, to be humanly realistic, to take a little rest, to enjoy a little fellowship, to be in the presence of some spiritual person, this appealed. He varied as do those who make up parts of fallen denominations, as if it is all right since they SAY they are spiritual and indicate, contrary to fact, that the Bible allows this sort of communion in the unity of unbelief.
It does the opposite. Not only is fellowship with unbelievers strictly forbidden (II Corinthians 6:14), but with various deviants from biblical commands, one is not even to eat ( I Corinthians 5:11). This includes people CALLED Christians who are sexually immoral, drunkards, idolaters (putting anything above the word of God and following this in contravention of the words from the mouth of the Lord), revilers and the like. One is avoid those who reject the sound words of Jesus Christ, and to have no fellowship with those who depart from the truths apostolically confirmed.
Like those who steadfastly refuse to leave these forbidden arenas, so the young prophet was enticed, fell, went where he had been forbidden to go by the lying false teacher, and ate with him. Suddenly, as the meal progressed, this tempting old man declared that because the young prophet had in this disobeyed what God had said, therefore he would die - "your corpse will not come to the tomb of your fathers", a ghoulish seeming rebuke. Thus we learn never to listen to 'reason', that is to tempting offers with palliatives and alternatives to what is written; for what reason is in rebellion against our Maker! Do not stay in fallen denominations or sects, and where another mode of holding to the faith is in view, where man's wisdom and vision replace what may be proven from the Bible, in part or in whole: AVOID it.
The result was sure and soon. A lion met him on the way back. What could and should have been safe passage, now was not. BECAUSE he had added to the word of God, and EATEN and drunk before his return, therefore his life was at once forfeit. This in fallen denominations and false sects may lead to results as the children grow, or sooner; but the folly is real, the cost is certain.
Therefore, do not play with fire, do not assert yourself, but obey the commandments which are made for your own good, and even if 'reason' seems to tell it otherwise, with short-term inducements, these are but rebellion. Thus the Lord performed not one but TWO great signs.
Firstly, the evil schism, like a sect or changing denomination, adding to or subtracting from or polluting the Bible, is to be avoided, and condemned. It may NOT be remained in, as if a sanctuary. Secondly, avoid palliatives, and do NOT put credence in those who remain, like the old prophet. Step out and be clear-cut, and do not be spiritually seduced. It is not enough to say, one should also do. It is not enough (useful as it is) to speak the truth, for one should seek also to live it.
One should seek at all times to keep one's heart pure, to avoid compromise, to eschew, loathe what flies to the border of permission and then quietly crosses the line as if it had not noticed the thing. One should be building up a kingdom in the fear of the Lord, and not in the pleasures of self-satisfaction, even if it SEEMS spiritually satisfying to do so. It may SEEM physically satisfying to the adulterer too; but the result comes later.
Avoid perilous entanglements, and if you pay for doing so, it is well bought.
Do not accomplish clever subterfuges, such as saying, How else will we testify if we do not have fellowship with idolators, such as Romanists (cf. SMR pp. 1032ff.) ? How does this accord with the word of God ? As we have just seen, it is a categorical quarrel, and thus rebellion. What is the alternative ? It is to wait on the Lord, to preach and teach the Gospel and the word of God, and to leave it to God what opportunities you have, and to consider Him wise enough to know how to be mighty to save, and to use His own methods, while constantly seeking for the souls of the lost.
That is faith.
It is not fidgets. As to the young prophet, fidgets killed him, and that after all that he had done. One is sorry for him; but he repeated so clearly both to King and false prophet, what were the commands. All he omitted, after much obedience, was to keep to the VERY SIMPLE road he was told to follow in his conduct. He simply did the exact opposite, imagining he had found some place for compromise.
Compromise with your taste for lamb or beef, for some reason, if you will; but that is mere taste. If you compromise in your course for God, that is like driving on the wrong side of the road. Why do it ? but this now before us, it is not the law of man but of God.
There is then no law now ? Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, you perhaps quibble (Romans 10:4). The topic ? It is the efforts of some Jews to "establish their own righteousness" by good works (10:3). In THIS respect, doing that, trying to put yourself in the clear before God by good works, you are really trying to make of yourself a fount of righteousness. It will not do. In that context, Christ is the END of the law. There is no way through whatever. HE DID it (Romans 10:6-13), by coming down from heaven and paying (Romans 3:23ff.), so that seeking to use the law as a way to establish your righteous standing is illusory, shocking. Christ has paid. What do you think YOU are doing!
No, in fact, Christ declared this, that if you love Him you will KEEP HIS WORDS (John 14:21ff.). Are these not filled with commands and directions ? How then is one now to be lawless ? Does not Paul declare clearly in I Corinthians 14:37, this, that "if anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord."
Why then give commandments if they do not command! Why call Him Lord if His word is not to be obeyed ? As Christ declared directly (Luke 6:46), "Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and not do the things I say ?"
Christ, He is not cheer leader but God in human form, and what did He say in Matthew 5:17ff. ? It was that every last item of the law and the prophets would be fulfilled. But what of the sacrificial system and much more already fulfilled ? Why, since it IS fulfilled, then it is past (as in Hebrews 8:13).
We work now by grace ? Of course, nor did David fail to show it, for example, nor Joseph! to his brethren. But the MODE of our being saved because of the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10-13) merely the more fully exhibits the necessity for spiritual peace and communion with the Lord, of not now going on in the same road which occasioned the murder of Christ, that as sacrifice He might atone for the breach of righteousness which God defined, and is.
As Paul put it, in one dramatic regard, Will you join the body of Christ to a harlot ? Will you except a spiritual harlot (Revelation 17:1ff., 18:4). That is, if you are part of His body (I Corinthians 12ff.), will you then, using the imagery, by yourself in fornication, join Him to that! You are to disjoin yourself from what is disjoining itself, while claiming to be Christian, from what forsakes His teaching. Indeed, instead of breaking His words, rules, laws, you should not only be preaching the Gospel, but TEACHING HIS COMMANDMENTS. Who said so ? Jesus Christ said so, indeed in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.
What sort of teaching is involved in that ? It is this sort:
"Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Notice how greatly the Lord was with the young prophet of whom we read in I Kings 13, with miracles multiplying. Yet notice no less, that when he erred from his appointed path, CHANGING the commandment in practice, even while still mouthing it, both to the King and to the old prophet, then there was a penalty. Well, you may say, a penalty is a penalty and so be it. However, when the offence is to trade off the word of God explicitly held, and seen, and known, for something else, smudging and sludging about, then you are becoming specious, unsavoury, misleading, and your impact can overall be a blight. So was the young removed by the temptation of the old, because he 'seemed to be all right'. This is the very word of some who stay in colossally disobedient churches, impudent, intransigent, self-assured sites, who think this or that pastor is fine. How is it fine to stay by Samaria ? Do the eyes deceive ? Is truth a convenience ? Are words for appearance, while life is for the living!
POSSESSED BY THE LORD OR BY DISINCLINATION
Christian, if you are going to be steadfast, immovable (I Corinthians 15:55), valiant and courageous, sincere and love a pure heart, if from the heart you want that, then consider this. It is a SPIRIT which is needed. The Holy Spirit of God should FILL the Christian's heart (Ephesians 5). Wine is contrasted. Both lead to signal changes in man, one for the intemperate, and the other for the holy.
Man also has a spirit, and Paul prays for the entire sanctification of our spirits (I Thessalonians 5:23):
"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely;
and may your whole spirit, soul, and body
be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it."
Observe the certainty of it, the necessity of it. It is not an option for the 'saints', for Paul is talking to the saints as the church recipients of his letters! (as you see in the first chapters of the epistles to the Ephesians and the Philippians). Your spirit needs to be sanctified completely. This, be assured (I John 1:7ff.) does not make it perfect. It does however, like honest sweat in toil from the heart, have meaning. It is not a matter of being devious, but circumspect. It is not a matter of avoiding duty, but doing it, of disdaining responsibility, but meeting it. Nor is it a matter of mere duty, wholly insufficient as a motive, but most helpful for all that: it is a matter of love. Does a mother HAVE to be told not to leave a hundred nappies lying about without cleaning, of the danger to the health of her child and household ? Not normally, no not at all, for her heart is in it.
Faith has the heart alive in the thing believed in, provided three things are present:
First, it must be faith in what is there, and not in a dream
Secondly, it must be faith in what is able to control the situation, having power, authority and all necessary practical presence.
Thirdly, it must be authorised faith, since trusting in what disdains or rejects your trust is irrelevant.
ALL these conditions are fulfilled in Christ, the resurrected Son of the eternal God, the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, the only perfect human being that ever was (Adam having had a varied career!): He is there. All power is given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:19-20), so that is covered. Thirdly, not only has He authorised faith, He commands it as a condition, and when it is present, He declares this, that all things are possible to the one who believes (Luke 1:37, Mark 9:26, Matthew 9:23), and we learn from Paul that He is able not only to do more than we think or ask, but exceedingly much more (Ephesians 3:20).
By faith, then, one is filled with the Spirit, alerted to good, aided in its performance, lives in love, desires the uttermost and ultimate glory of God, and seeks humility and holiness. It is, as we see in I Thessalonians 5, not only authorised, but sought by God!
Having faith the size of a mustard seed avails! (Mark 11:23-24, Matthew 17:20). It is HE in WHOM you trust that matters. It is that you DO trust which prevails. The Lord pities His people as a Father His children (Psalm 103:13), and instead of having any of His sheep go West, He sets their sins as far from them as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12).
This episode, then, from I Kings 13, teaches us that making compromises with Biblical commands, truth, perspective, directive, is fallacious; this is not the way in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a haven, and His is the power, and whatever time seems to toss at us, yet it is known to God, and whatever the test, yet in Him one must act faithfully. Possess the promises of God, and rejoice: by faith.
It is rather like using electricity in this respect (Acts 5:32). It is powerful and useful and not to be intimidated or directed; but once go with it, and there is a remarkable result. If this is so with the things created, with their limitations, how much more when one is in true accord with the God who has no limit to His power, but very decided limitations on the way people may desire to use it. He is neither dupable nor culpable, but accessible by faith, in Jesus Christ, the eternal atonement, the everlasting redemption, who has carried the anchor of faith in those who are His, into the eternal realm already. From His love, nothing will separate those who are His, and the way in is by HIM as the door (John 10:9,27-28).
Keep therefore to Him, and do not add, subtract or compromise, so that HE alone is your rock, and then you will not be rocked; be valiant and let the Lord keep you. Fear nothing and no one but God, and then you find the Lord takes pity on those who fear Him (Psalm 145:8, 17ff.). He desires it. Please Him by doing it; for HIS pleasure is good, HE Himself being good and without variation or iniquity. To have his love on top of all that, is beyond a marvel; it is that glory which is found in eternal life, that from God who IS glorious, there being none such as He.