Posts Tagged ‘healing’

Problem Passages in James (Part 2)

Some Problem Passages in James (Part 2)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 5:12-20 Healing, Confession, Prayer, Conversion, and “Saved from Death”

Introduction

We are finishing up our study in the Book of James, and last week we discussed some passages with some small problems for us in terms of how to apply them. But the following verses give me serious trouble:

Healing

I am not at all sure that I understand the last seven verses, here. I’ve heard them preached, and seen them put into practice, but unless my memory fails me (and my wife remembers the same few times I recall), every single time I have seen this done, the patient has not been healed, but rather has died. So, perhaps we need to give serious thought as to what is being taught here.

14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

So, what should we get from this? To begin with, I can definitely say that the sick person is the one to call for the elders. It is not for the elders to volunteer. They are told to pray over the sick individual, and anoint that person with oil in the name of the Lord. (OK, so far…) But then, verse 15 makes a clear statement that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, AND if he has committed sins they shall be forgiven him.

In legal terminology, the word “shall” is a very strong word: it is the word that makes an issue mandatory, without exception, unless otherwise stated. It would seem, then,that the passage has to be a “blanket promise for healing” so long as some certain conditions are met. So…in the cases where the sick was not healed…what should I assume? What were the “conditions?”

  • Was their prayer not “the prayer of faith?” In other words, “Was it the fault of the elders?” I can’t blame the patient for a lack of faith: all they were told to do is call the elders; and they did so! So, let’s say the elders have “doubts about” this passage: if they lack faith, then, should they disobey and not follow through and pray? Jonah wasn’t “full of faith,” but God used him! Namaan the Syrian wasn’t “full of faith” when he took “seven dips” in the Jordan. He had just enough faith to go and do it! Seems to me they need to go and do it when called. But then…what is the “prayer of faith?” (I guess I don’t know!)
  • Is there some sort of “formula” not being correctly followed? (If so, it is not stated.) A special kind of oil, for instance? Special liturgy to follow?
    • Dr. McGee points out that the Greek word for “anoint,” here, is not the word “chrio” which is used in the sense of a spiritual “anointing” and from which we get the word “Christos” or “Christ…the anointed one…the Messiah.” Instead, it is the Greek word “aleipho” which just means “put oil on something,” often for a practical reason. His commentary says that since it was sometimes used in a medicinal sense, he has concluded that this must mean to “go get medical attention in addition to the prayers.” Sorry…it simply doesn’t say that: Grammatically, it says that the elders are to pray over the sick person, anointing that person with oil, in the name of the Lord! (The doctor would not do that!) There is no teaching here of getting separate medical attention, though I agree that the oil may not be a “ritual anointing.” I just don’t know how to understand this. I certainly believe in going to doctors for help. (Jesus said “he that is sick needeth a physician.”) That is not what this passage is about.
  • I do think it is worth noting that it says “…the prayer of faith shall save the sick…” It does not say the oil will do it. (Regardless of what the oil may mean.)
  • So, then, is this only for sicknesses caused by sin? Verse 15 does bring up the possibility that sin was involved. And if it is for “sicknesses caused by sin”, then why would it not heal some of the modern, fatal diseases that definitely are caused by sin?
  • Is the Lord no longer offering this promise? (It does say the Lord shall raise him up…) Has that offer been revoked? There are people who truly believe this to be the case; that this promise is no longer in force. How would we know, for sure?
  • Was the promise only for a select group of believers? Well, the book was originally written to Jewish believers. But, I don’t believe that healing is only promised to Jewish Christians. There were lots of Gentiles healed in the New Testament.
  • Does the fact that the word translated “sick” in verse 15 is not the same as the one in verse 14 make any difference? (In verse 15, the Greek word is “kamnonta” and it means “exhausted one”, or “faint one,” and it’s only used four times in scripture, and only translated “sick” in this verse. The Greek word in verse 14 is “asthenei”, which is frequently translated “sick”, or “infirm,” but also could be translated “faint” or “weak.” The word “asthenei” is the one used in regard to Lazarus, who was so sick that he died… and Jesus raised him from the dead. John 11:1-44)

The fact is, I have no solid answers to any of the above questions, and I am not willing to jump to anecdotal “proofs” of any sort. Either God gives light in His Word, or He does not. The claims made by so-called “healers” usually end up proving false: some very shamefully, publicly false, which leads unbelievers to blaspheme the Lord, and claim that the scriptures are false, and that all who believe the Bible are fools. And I can’t blame them, when that’s what they see!

For the moment, I have to confess, I simply do not know what to make of this passage. I don’t like to “skip a verse”, and I am not inclined to pretend to have knowledge, when I can’t back it up with God’s Word. So…that’s where it stands for right now. I’m sorry!

Confession

The next verse seems to tie in with the previous two, with the exception that it does not mention oil or prayers of the elders, at all: it does mention confessing our faults to one another, and praying for one another. It again mentions healing, but seems to be a general principle, not necessarily a specific incident of sickness.

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

The word translated “faults” here, is not the usual Greek work “hamartias” which is translated “Sins,” (as in 1st John 1:9.) It is the Greek “paraptomata”, and it means “offenses, trespasses, faults, etc.” This is not grounds for the practice of the “confessional”, as in some religions. It means that if I have offended, I should confess it to the offended party, and if it is a public matter, I should confess it publicly; not necessarily in a formal setting, as though it were a courtroom, but simply addressing the fact that (for example) “I wronged this brother when I was angry. I said harsh words about him. It was unfair of me to speak that way, as he was not at fault. I have already spoken to him, and asked his forgiveness, but many of you heard me, and I want your forgiveness too.” That sort of honest transparency “keeps the decks clear,” so to speak, and perhaps keeps our communication with God more open as well, because Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.”

Prayer:

It also says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” This passage is constantly quoted as proof that “prayer changes things,” and I agree that it does. I believe that we are commanded to “pray without ceasing,” (1st Thessalonians 5:17) and “in everything.” (Philippians 4:6, 7) We have examples in the lives of the apostles, as well as Old Testament saints, and the life of Jesus Himself. They all seemed to have pretty intense prayer-lives.

17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

This is a good reminder that prayer can make a difference: It is important to read what the rest of the scriptures say about prayer, too, though: 1st John 3:22; and 5:14, 15 give some admonitions regarding God’s reply to prayers. There are some keys given, in regard to answered prayer. We do not always “get what we want.” The passage in 1st John 3:22 suggests that we have to be living in God’s will in order to have confidence in prayer. If we aren’t even walking with Him, why should we hope for Him to do what we want? And the one in 1st John 5:14, 15 lets us know, that God still reserves the right to veto our idea. Remember that He is God!

He does answer prayers, but He reserves the right to answer “No”, or “Wait” as well as “Yes.” We say, “God didn’t answer my prayer,” unless He immediately answers “Yes!” That is a bad response on our part, and certainly not one that expresses faith. “No” is a legitimate answer, too, and sometimes it is the best answer God can give. “Wait” is also a good answer, in many cases.

Consider how many times a young child asks his parents about something he or she wants to happen. Little children are asking from a child’s perspective, and cannot understand all the ramifications of their requests. Like those little children, we have very limited understanding of the things of God, and the eternal issues He considers in responding to our desires. We need to trust that He will make the best choices for us, but also remember that He does want us to ask. And, finally,

What does “Convert” mean? What does Death mean?

19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; 20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.  

Is this about evangelism? Or is it in regard to restoring a sinning brother?

There are three keys to understanding this passage:

  1. The first is the phrase “if any of you do err from the truth”
  2. The second is to find the meaning of the verb, “to convert.”
  3. The third is to determine which of the three possible meanings of the word “death” is intended in this passage.

In the context (“Brethren, if any of you…”) I would have to say that it is regarding a sinning brother (or sister) who is erring from the truth, not an unbeliever who has never been connected to the truth. Remember that Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” when we sin, we are “erring from the truth”…wandering from the way, and temporarily separated from the life of Christ. Not lost, but acting as though we were lost…and, for all practical purposes, living as if we never knew Him.

But, in that case, I also have to ask, what does it mean to “convert” someone else? I certainly cannot “save” someone else, nor can I even force them, through strength of argument, to voluntarily receive the Lord. They have to make that decision themselves. Remember that the door to the truth is the will, not the intellect. (“Whosoever will may come!”) So, in what way are we “saving a soul from death?” What does “conversion” even refer to?

In our culture, we have long referred to salvation as “conversion:” possibly even because of this passage. But Jesus addressed Peter (already a believer) and said  … Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.(Luke 22:31, 32)

How could Peter, who was already a believer, expect to be “converted?” Perhaps some people would use this verse to support the idea of a believer “losing their salvation and being saved over again:” But it says, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” So, if Peter’s faith did not fail even though he denied the Lord, and he felt that his faith had failed, and he acted as though his faith had failed, what would his subsequent “conversion” entail?

The English verb “convert” (from the Greek, “epistrepho”) means to “turn back”, or “return.” It is the same word used when the shepherds “returned” after seeing Jesus in the Manger, and they “went back” to their flocks, glorifying God. (Luke 2:20) It was also the word used when the demon in Jesus’s parable decided to “return to his house,” meaning to “go back and repossess the man who had been freed from demonic possession.” (Luke 11:24) So Peter was expected to return to his strong faith. Could the word be used to denote salvation? Possibly…but the primary use simply means to return…go back! An unbeliever has never been a child of God: he cannot “return” to being one. Only a sinning brother or sister can “return” to the Lord. So, that leaves the last question, “What kind of death?”

Is this simply the “separation from fellowship” …a spiritual deadness which occurs every time we are out of fellowship? Or are we talking about the eternal “second death,” warned against in the Revelation? (In which case this would definitely be about evangelism, not restoration.) Or, is it actually about physical death? (Which indeed can result from a continuing pattern of rebellion in a believer’s life.)

To begin with, I am sure that this is a believer in question: it says, “Brethren (that means believers), if any of you do err from the truth…” So, let us assume there is no further question that the individual is already saved. That settles the issue with death, as well, then, because it is impossible for a believer to die, spiritually, although they can live as if they were spiritually dead, if they are out of fellowship. So, the only possible choices are either the “spiritual deadness” that results from unbelief and disobedience, or, more likely, physical death.

There are several examples in scripture of believers whose lives were taken by God, because of rebellion, or some flagrant sin. Perhaps that is the warning, here. John says that “there is a sin unto death.” (1st John 5:16) And John was talking about believers. In 1st Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul stated that some in the church at Corinth—believers— had physically died because of their sins regarding the Lord’s Table. They had dishonored the Lord by their actions and attitudes, in what is intended to be a solemn, holy memorial and celebration.

Ananias and Sapphira, in Acts 5:1-11, were believers too, but their sin of publicly lying to God, about something so mundane and trivial as money, cost them their lives. Peter demonstrated how pointless the whole thing had been; saying that the money was theirs, the land was theirs: they had been free to keep it, give it, or do whatever they wanted with it. But they lied to God about it, and judgment fell. They did not lose their salvation: they lost their lives.

King Josiah, one of the best kings Judah ever had, lost his life in an unnecessary battle with an Egyptian king who had no quarrel with Judah. (2nd Kings 23) We can lose our lives because of sin, too. Anger or lust or envy can drive us into situations that become deadly: in traffic, water-sports, or other life-situations. As we try to out-do a rival, or pass another driver, or show off for someone we want to impress, we take unnecessary risks. Many young men lose their lives through foolish behavior, but it is not limited to the young, nor only to men.

Left to ourselves, we can allow sin to fester until it erupts into a catastrophe. Murders have often occurred because of hurt feelings, anger, jealousy, etc. That possibility is not just for unbelievers. Christians are capable of every sin, the same as unbelievers. Suicides frequently occur because the individual turns in upon himself in a tighter and tighter “vortex” of frustration, guilt, fear, despair or anger, until there seems to be no escape. Sometimes (but not always) someone else can draw alongside the suicidal person and turn them away from the trap into which they are falling. That is what we are called upon to do, here.

We are told to care for one another, and to help turn one another away from such snares. I have personally known believers who allowed themselves to be drawn into sin that eventually cost them their lives. I don’t know what could have been done to turn them back from that sin, before it was too late. I do know that their family (also believers) desperately tried, but finally gave up trying. I heard about the results long after the fact. But we are told, here, that if we can “turn them back,” it will save their life, ultimately.

Believers are not immune to the attacks of the Evil one. In fact, we are his primary target. He really doesn’t need to do anything to unbelievers: he already has them. We are members of the Body of Christ, and Satan attacks us, in order to fight against Jesus, the King.

This closing admonition from James is to remind us of the battle we are in, and to urge us to take it seriously. I pray that we will do so. We are to function together as a team, as a body, and work to strengthen and bless one another. If we fail in that regard, the enemy is always looking for an opportunity to attack. We are told to “be sober, be vigilant, for your enemy the devil walketh about as a roaring Lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1st Peter 5:8)

Lord Jesus, we ask that you will feed us on Your Word, and give us the Wisdom to apply it to our lives, even when we feel that we don’t fully understand.  Shape us into your likeness and help us in our weakness and our ignorance.


What Shadow? Juniper, Gourd, or God?

What Shadow? Juniper, Gourd, or God?


© C.O.Bishop 2014 THCF 3/2/2014

1st Kings 18; Jonah 4; Song of Solomon 2:3; Psalm 91:1

“Beneath the Cross of Jesus, I fain would take my stand: the Shadow of a Mighty Rock within a weary land!”

Introduction:

There are a lot of references in scripture to shade, or shadow, in a positive sense: in a sunny, middle-eastern environment, shade is a thing of real value. Shadow can also refer to protection in general; not simply a cooler place to rest. But I would like to compare three different ideas regarding shade, or shadow, in reference to three different individuals: Elijah, Jonah, and the Shulamite woman from the Song of Solomon.

Elijah and the Shadow of the Juniper tree

Elijah had a pretty heroic ministry. We love to hear about all his miraculous victories, the chariot of fire that separated him from his protégé, Elisha, his exit from this world via the whirlwind, and the transfer of prophetic authority to Elisha, etc. But he had a low time, too…under the Juniper tree.  So, how did he get there?

Elijah was a faithful servant of God. He did what he was told to do, and God worked wonders through him. The king of Israel at that time was Ahab, a wicked man, whose wife, Jezebel, a Zidonian pagan woman, was even worse than Ahab. Jezebel had ordered that all the prophets of God be killed. Some had escaped, including 100 prophets hidden in two caves, and fed by a high-ranking steward of the king’s household, Obadiah. But we don’t learn about that until after the fact. Ahab had built numerous pagan altars. Because of their animosity toward the God of Israel and disregard for His word through His prophets, God sent Elijah to curse the land (the northern ten tribes, specifically) for Ahab’s sake.

Elijah was sent with a very simple message: “It will not rain again until I say so!” Then he went off and hid where God sent him, beside the brook Cherith, near the Jordan river. “Cherith” apparently means “gorge” so possibly there was a small ravine there, in which he hid himself. At any rate, he stayed put, as God told him to do, and God had ravens bring him bread and meat, twice a day, morning and evening, so long as he was to stay there. Ravens are unclean birds: we are not told just where they got the bread or meat, but Elijah did not question God’s provision. He obeyed the Lord, and stayed put until God told him to leave. His water came from the creek; when the creek dried up, God told him to go to a city called Zarephath, as He had commanded a widow there to feed Elijah. I am assuming it was a small industrial town of that day, since the name “Zarephath” means a “workshop for refining metals”. Nothing more is said about it, though, so it is just an interesting side note.

Now, during a famine, we might not feel that was very fair to the widow, to command her to feed Elijah, when it was hard enough to feed herself. But, in the first place, take note that God had commanded her…so Elijah didn’t have to twist her arm much. In the second place, as it turned out, the food with which she was to feed Elijah was miraculously provided, and was sufficient to save her life and that of Elijah and her household as well.

When Elijah arrived, she had gone out to gather firewood to cook the very last of her meal (barley-meal, perhaps) with the very last of her olive-oil, and was expecting her son and herself to die of starvation thereafter. What a strange thing, that God had commanded her to feed Elijah! Elijah asked that she make a little loaf for him first, and then to do so for herself and her son. She did so, but I wonder what she was thinking. Elijah had promised her by the Word of the LORD that the meal in the barrel would not run out, nor would the oil in the jar, until rain came again in Israel. And it didn’t! She obeyed, and that barley-meal and oil were the supernatural sustenance for Elijah, the widow, and her household, throughout the remaining time of famine.

But at the end of the famine, God sent Elijah to meet Ahab, and through him, to challenge all the prophets of Baal, and the prophets of the Asherim (sacred groves dedicated to the female Babylonian deity—Ishtar: Aphrodite, and Venus were later names…different names for the same sex and fertility goddess). Elijah was calling them all to what amounted to a duel…only it was one prophet of Jehovah against all the false prophets Jezebel had been feeding during the reign of Ahab.

We all know the story, how Elijah offered the eight hundred and fifty servants of the pagan gods the first try at calling down fire from heaven. They spent all day trying to get Baal to ignite his own altar. But there was no answer. Then Elijah declared that it was his turn, and, at the time for the evening sacrifice, he built up the altar of Jehovah that had been broken down, using twelve stones—one for each tribe of Israel—and laid wood on it, and a cut-up ox…but no fire. He had the people soak down the wood and rock and meat with twelve barrels of water. Then he offered a very short prayer for God to vindicate Himself, and show the people that He was God. The fire of God immediately fell and burned up the water, the meat, the wood, the rocks and the dirt…left a smoking hole. The people fell on their faces and confessed that Jehovah was the true God. Then Elijah called for the slaughter of the false prophets, and killed them all. He called for rain, out of a clear sky, and it came very soon, with huge dark clouds and torrents of rain. He outran Ahab’s chariot 17 miles back to the gates of Jezreel, and then went home victorious. So…how did any of that end up with him out hiding again, under the Juniper tree?

Well, Ahab had arrived home, and said “Honey, I’m home, and I’ve had a bad day! Elijah and Jehovah won, and all your pet prophets are dead.” So, Jezebel sent a message to Elijah, telling him that by the next evening he would be as dead as they were. Elijah was exhausted, and probably his guard was down, since he had thought the battle was already won and over. So, instead of calling on God to “fry” Jezebel, he ran off into the desert to hide. He sat under that Juniper tree and begged God to take his life. God did not rebuke him, but he did ask him what he was doing there.

That is a good question for us to ask ourselves when we find ourselves in similar straits. “What am I doing here?” If the honest answer is “Nothing! I am just feeling sorry for myself, and am no longer willing to trust God and to try to serve Him”, then we need to confess that, and allow Him to encourage our hearts. Elijah was in the shade of that Juniper tree, and his needs were provided by God, just as when he was hiding at the brook Cherith, but this time it was an Angel, not a raven, who brought him food and guarded his sleep. After a couple of good long naps, and a couple of heaven-sent meals, he took a long walk with God; and afterward, God provided the necessary correction to his thinking, and gave him a new job to do. The shadow of the Juniper tree was not a “bad place” for Elijah—it was a place where he was re-directed by God. But what about Jonah?

Jonah and the Shadow of the Gourd

Jonah is somewhat of a “special case” scenario from start to finish. God sent Jonah to do a job: he was to pronounce judgment on Nineveh (which would ultimately result in repentance. Jonah rebelled and ran away, for what was, to him, a very good reason: Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the oppressor of his people, and he did not want those people to repent.

But, at every step of the way, God had prepared a solution for Jonah: it says that God had prepared a great fish to take Jonah back to the beach—not an elegant mode of travel, but it got the job done, and also brought Jonah to repentance. After his own repentance, Jonah preached in Nineveh, and the entire city repented of their evil behavior: the king proclaimed a fast, that both humans and animals should have no food or water, and that all, both humans and animals, should be clothed in sackcloth and cry out to God for mercy. That must have been a very strange sight, seeing all the animals of Nineveh clothed in sackcloth. But it had the desired result. God postponed the judgment.

After Jonah had delivered his message, he was deeply angered that God had changed his divine sentence because of their repentance, and had not destroyed the city as Jonah had predicted. He said, “You see, this is why I ran off in the first place: I knew you were going to do somethinglike this!” So Jonah asked that God take his life. God didn’t really respond; He only asked whether Jonah was doing right, to be angry. Jonah didn’t answer, but moved off to the east of the city, to watch, hoping God would change His mind.

He sat outside of Nineveh, some distance away, and hoped God would destroy the city in spite of their repentance. The sun was hot, and he was in danger of getting sunstroke, so he built himself a little shelter of branches or something, and tried to shade himself that way. God had prepared a gourd plant, with its broad leaves, to grow up rapidly and give him shade, specifically as an act of deliverance, to deliver him from his grief. Jonah was glad for the gourd, but still hoped to see the Assyrians die. So God prepared a worm the following day, that ate the stalk of the gourd plant and it died. Then, instead of deliverance, He added to Jonah’s suffering by preparing and sending a strong east wind, hot and dry. Evidently even his little hut blew away, because it says the sun beat directly on his head, so that he fainted from the heat.

Jonah was furious with God, and asked for death again. When God questioned him again, whether he was right to be angry, Jonah angrily claimed his own righteousness. God handled him pretty gently, considering all that had already occurred: He reasoned with him concerning his values; how he valued a gourd plant more than the souls of over 120,000 people. Pretty sad story, but evidently Jonah must have repented again, because he wrote the account of the whole story, including all his failures.

We tend to focus on the story of the fish, and Jonah’s repentance in the fish’s belly. But the Shadow of the Gourd is perhaps equally important, and just as miraculous. Yes, gourds grow fast, but they don’t naturally grow so quickly as to grow up overnight, enough to shade a man from the middle-eastern sun. The Gourd was prepared by God, as both a mercy to Jonah and a lesson to him and us. The Shadow of the Gourd was given to show Jonah his sin. He valued human life very little. He was forgetting that those people (the enemies of his people) were people that God created. He didn’t know that God had plans for Assyria. Isaiah later predicted that Assyria, Egypt and Israel would be blessed together by God. (By the way, Assyria included all of what is now Iran; think that one over….) So God had a purpose in sparing them. But Jonah saw his own comfort and his own desires to be more important than the lives and souls of over 120,000 people. Do we do the same? Where are our priorities? How do we respond to God’s call to be witnesses for him? Do we head for the beach, and say, “I’m outta here!”? Or do we look for the road to Nineveh, and at least try to lead the enemies of God to the foot of the Cross, to approach His throne in peace?

What shadow do you find yourself under, today? If you have been broken down by stress, worry, and fear (unbelief, really) in the midst of trying to walk in obedience to God, then perhaps the Shadow of the Juniper tree is where you find yourself.

If you are angry at God, and are sure He has somehow short-changed you (believe me, He hasn’t), then perhaps what you are experiencing, with limited blessing, but your needs still being met, is the Shadow of the Gourd. Remember that because Jonah was grateful for the provision of the Gourd, but not changing his heart-attitude regarding the lost, God took away the Shadow of the Gourd, and even Jonah’s own provision of shade, so that Jonah experienced some real chastening. I pray that we will all seek God’s face, and repent of our hard-heartedness, so that the small but sufficient blessings we now have will not be taken from us in order to teach us the Grace and Mercy of God toward our fellow humans. But what shadow should we seek?

Believers and the Shadow of God

There are a number of references that call us to shelter under the Shadow of God—Psalm 57:1 says that we can shelter under the shadow of God’s wings, until the calamity has passed. Psalm 91:1 and 2, again speaking of refuge, says that if we dwell in the secret place of the Most High, we shall “abide under the Shadow of the Almighty”. He gives a condition—how to abide there. It requires that we make our personal walk with God central to our lives. Dwell in the secret place of the Most High: that’s private fellowship and personal prayer-life and worship of God…our personal devotions. Don’t just visit there once in a while…make that your home base! Then you can abide under the Shadow of the Almighty…God Himself.

In Song of Solomon 2:3, we see another aspect of that Shadow of God: The Shulamite girl, the bride, a picture of the Church, states regarding her relationship with the King (a picture of Christ) that: “I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste!”

Are you approaching the Throne of God with great delight? Do you sit down under His shadow (this time not as a refuge from destruction, but as a sanctuary of joy) with great anticipation of basking in the Joy of His presence? Or is it a chore?

If we find that our relationship with God seems a chore, we need to confess that our hearts are not right. Israel saw their relationship with God as “wearisome” (Malachi 1:13), so God told them, “If that’s the way you feel about Me, then stay away! I don’t want your sacrifices, if they come from a polluted heart!” (Wow!)

I don’t want God to feel that way toward me! I want to see my relationship with Him as precious and Holy, so that I can enjoy it forever, and so that He is free to bless me and my service toward Him. The results of a right heart toward God should be:

  1. Great delight in His presence and in Prayer
  2. Sweet fruit from His Spirit and from His Word
  3. Urgent outreach toward the lost, and a genuine desire for their salvation
  4. Refuge from the Evil one, so that, even in time of trouble, we find Peace in Christ.

Examine the place in which you find yourself. Ask yourself: what “Shadow” is my current experience? Am I joyfully trusting in the refuge of the Shadow of God, and eating the fruit of that relationship? Or am I broken down in fear, depression or defeat, and afraid to try again? Worse yet, am I angry at God, and desiring the destruction of the wicked around me, not caring for their eternal souls? Wherever you are, today, God calls you to “come away” with Him. If you are a believer, then you are part of the Bride of Christ, and, as Solomon called to the Shulamite girl, Jesus calls to you, “Come away with Me, my Love!”

Listen to His call, and meet him in the “Secret Place of the Most High.” Abide under the shadow of the Almighty, in joy and in peace.

Lord Jesus, grant us the wisdom to understand your word, to hear your invitation, and to choose joyfully the shadow of the Cross.


There is a River!

There is a River!

A study and application of Psalm 46:1-11, Ezekiel 47:1-12 and John 7:37-39

© C. O. Bishop 2/18/17 THCF 2/19/17

There is a River

(Max and David Sapp 1969)

There is a river that flows from deep within.
There is a fountain that frees the soul from sin.
Come to these waters, there is a vast supply.
There is a river that never shall run dry.

Introduction:

The song, “There is a River”, written in 1969 by Max and David Sapp, takes its title from Psalm 46, verse 4… “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.” The song writers used that verse as a springboard to John 7:37-39, wherein Jesus described the indwelling Holy Spirit as a spring flowing from within the believer, and changing his life. (Read it aloud.)

The problem with Psalm 46:4 is that there never has been a river in “Jerusalem proper”, and certainly not flowing from the temple. There is one outside of Jerusalem, that heads south, and then east, but it is not the kind of creek to make anybody glad…it drains the city dump, and ultimately is swallowed by the Dead Sea. (This is the Brook Kidron, which is a study unto itself.)

So, when we read this Psalm, we have to either “spiritualize” the passage, as the writers of the song did, and compare it to the passages about the Holy Spirit (which is OK, by the way), or, we are left with a problem…unless we can find another passage that explains it. And that is the first thing we should do…let God explain His Word, if He will.

What River? Let Scripture Explain Scripture!

Let’s turn to Ezekiel 47. The context, beginning in Chapter 40, verse one, and running all the way to the end of the book, is a very detailed vision of the City and the Temple as it will occur during the Millennial Kingdom (also known as the Messianic Kingdom, or, the Kingdom of Heaven). In chapter 47 he describes a literal spring of water flowing from under the literal altar, in the literal temple in the literal Jerusalem, growing deeper all the way, and ultimately, flowing into what HAD been the Dead Sea, but, because of the abundance of healing water flowing into it, it will no longer be dead: it will evidently be connected with the Mediterranean Sea, because it will swarm with fish, specifically the same kind as are in the “Great Sea” which is what we call the Mediterranean. (Read it aloud…)

Now—since we know that there will be a literal river flowing out of the temple in Jerusalem, and we have been told the effect it will bring on the land and the people, let’s go back, and read Psalm 46: (Read it aloud…).

Verse one; the Psalmist says that God is “present”, which we know is true in the global, or even universal sense, but it seems, here, it is meant in a more literal sense. The Old Testament believers were quite aware of God’s omnipresence, and were specifying that He was literally there in Jerusalem, as we can see a few verses later.

Verses two and three describe some natural or supernatural cataclysms through which he states that they will place their trust in God. Zechariah 14 tells of the momentous return of the Lord to Earth, and how the ground will split under his feet at the Mount of Olives, one side moving toward the north, the other toward the south, so that a chasm is opened from Jerusalem, eastward, under his presence.

At the moment the Lord returns there will be a siege in progress, and an assault by the Gentiles against the city of Jerusalem, so that they will have been in terror up until that time, but the passage in Zechariah states that the remnant in Jerusalem will recognize the chasm as being their refuge, and will run into it…and God will fight for them, delivering them from their enemies. I don’t know if this event is specifically what is referred to in the 46th Psalm, but it is at least one example of the kind of thing that will happen at the beginning of the Kingdom age…literally. It is not a case of the Psalmist making grand statements about how much they love and trust the Lord—it is a straightforward statement about something that will literally happen in the future…just like the river.

We already read verse four, but now let’s read it again, keeping in mind the nature of the river that Ezekiel described in the Kingdom age. Now both the river and the fact that it emanates from the Holy Place seem quite literal—as well as the fact that it says the Most High dwells there. (KJV v.4 “… tabernacles of the Most High”, NIV “…where the Most High dwells”) God literally lives there.

This is the long-awaited “Kingdom of Heaven” which Jesus preached for most of His ministry on earth, and of which the Old Testament prophets spoke in many places, including the Psalms. Jesus Christ will be ruling and reigning from Jerusalem. God the Son will be literally, visibly, physically dwelling there. Anyone will be able to go and see Him. This is described in many other places as well, including much of the book of Isaiah.

Verses 5 through 11 describe a collection of things that will occur literally, before, during, or at the end of the Millennial Kingdom…the abiding themes being that:

  • God is in control,
  • His people have nothing to fear, and that
  • Those who despise Him should tremble, as He is no longer holding back His judgment.

So—is that the end of the story? It is all literal—all physical? So that there’s nothing to apply to our lives? Well, of course that’s not so…but I think it is wise to know what the scripture is actually talking about before we try to apply it. “First interpretation, then application.

What about the River Jesus Offered? Is it different?

Jesus did talk about a river, flowing in an individual’s life…he did say that it would change our life, and transform it, and quench our eternal thirst for God as we abide in its flow. He said “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

Let’s go back and look at Ezekiel 47, in light of the John 7:38 passage.

  • The river is flowing out from the holy place—God is the source, as opposed to nature. The Kidron has a new headwater.
    • Every born-again believer has become a temple of the Holy Spirit. He lives in you. He is the source of life, as opposed to self. You have a new Head!
  • The waters bring about healing, even in areas long dead…deserts, even the Dead Sea.
    • Death itself is no longer a permanent thing for the believer…it is literally the valley (not the Pit) of the shadow (not the substance) of death, that we walk through, not into. Regardless of how we get there, we no longer have to fear death, as He is with us forever.
  • The salt marshes, where the water does not have freedom to flow, remain salt.
    • We still have a sin nature, and wherever we do not allow God to change us, we remain the same. That’s something to think about….

But what about all that stuff with “measuring,” and the ankles, knees, etc?

When a person becomes a believer they are immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is a positional matter—the believer is immediately and permanently in Christ, and He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is immediately and permanently in the believer. The believer will never be more indwelt by Him…but the level of effect can and will vary. So this is all about the experience of those who have been re-born.

What about the Ankles?

When he begins his new life, a new Christian is just getting his feet wet, as it were—he is learning to walk, as a child of God. Thus, the waters are to the ankles. The Holy Spirit has not gained full control of his life, but the transformation has begun. Notice that the distances are not great—each increment is only about five hundred yards—a little over a quarter mile. Growth is supposed to begin immediately, and continue to increase.

What about the Knees?

Next, it says that the waters are to the knees…it isn’t too long before the new believer is learning the demands of God upon his life, and is realizing more fully how deeply contaminated his whole life has been. The increasing weight of conviction begins to drive him to prayer more often and more fervently, as he seeks to be cleansed, and desires to serve. Perhaps he makes commitments he can’t keep (“I’ll never sin again!”), or asks for things for which he really has no concept of the results, or whether it is God’s will, or anything. But at least he is praying…and beginning to pray with others as well. He is also learning to submit himself to God’s Will…to bow his knee to God, willingly.

What about the Loins?

Next it says that the waters are to the loins (KJV says loins—NIV says “waist”, but the Hebrew word is “Mothnayim”; it’s plural, and it means “loins”, though it could include the waist).

So, what about the loins? I had a friend who thought it might mean how it begins to affect one’s pocketbook, but I don’t think so—in the first place, the practice of keeping one’s money in their hip pocket is a fairly modern one, and completely unknown to the writer, as well as to most cultures since then. In the second place, the pocketbook is frequently affected before the heart, so that even unbelievers frequently give in support of a church, thinking that they thereby gain God’s favor.

Again; “what about the loins?” I think it has to do with childbearing—spiritual reproduction—that is what we are born to do. We are to reproduce, spiritually. We are to lead others to the same relationship with Christ that we enjoy. (Incidentally, if you are not enjoying that life, living it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to change you… no one else is likely to want it either….) It is a normal part of God’s life in us, that it reproduces itself in others.

What about Swimming?

What’s left? It says that 500 yards later, we are swimming…the water is too deep for wading. You are no longer in the “kiddie-pool”. The friend who first shared this with me pointed out two things about swimming. One is that when a person swims, they are completely supported by the water. The other is that the only part of a swimmer that observers can see…is the Head.

Now, can we see a tie-in with John 7:37-39? I think so! The Holy Spirit, the Living presence of the Most High in your life, literally dwelling in your body since the moment you believed, desires to make all the changes listed above—he desires that you walk with Him; He desires that you pray continually, that you kneel to him, and yield your life to him. He desires that you bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain eternally. He desires that you continue to deepen your relationship and commitment to Him until you are completely immersed in Him, and the only thing people see in your life is the Risen Christ—your Head. The Head of the Church.

If that is what you desire, too, then how will you see it happen?

The 119th Psalm poses the same question, in the 9th verse: “How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.” God’s Word—heard, read, studied, memorized, meditated upon, and applied to the life of the believer—is the only thing God says can change us. Interestingly enough, there are several places where His Word is also referred to as “water”…so perhaps the “River” has a double connotation. The Word and the Spirit work together, without exception, so perhaps we can conclude that the degree of our “immersion” in Christ, and the resulting transformation, will depend upon the degree of our immersion in the Written Word, and our submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit by His Word.

We have several services going, here at True Hope—at least three per week—more, if you want them.

  1. We have our Sunday morning Bible study, at 9:30, with a full hour of interactive Bible teaching, wide open to questions;
  2. our main service at 11:00 every Sunday morning, with a full hour of teaching, singing and prayer;
  3. We have an informal Bible-study on Wednesday afternoons, from 2:30 to 4:15. Refreshments are frequently served.
  4. We also have a Bible Study at Cornell Estates, in Hillsboro, every Sunday afternoon, from 2:30-3:30.

All of you have Bibles, and all of you know other believers around you. So, the food is on the table! If you are hungry, eat! If you are not, then all we can do is to offer the food continually, and pray that your appetite will grow.

Can you end up “back on the bank?”

Now, notice, finally, in verse 6, that Ezekiel was brought back to the brink of the river, and was looking out over it. In his experience it was simply because the angelic messenger still had other things to show him. But there may be a warning there for us—you can quench the Holy Spirit in your life, and end up standing at the very edge again, looking out over the river of God’s Love, Grace, and Power, and wondering why it is no longer drawing you along in its flow. That is a terrible, lonely place to stand—still connected irreversibly to God, but “set on the shelf”—“out of the water”, so to speak…no longer able to fellowship with God or his children. Jeremiah 17:13, 14 says that such a person has forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters…they will be ashamed, but they can be healed. That does not mean that He has forsaken you, but that you have broken fellowship with him, and that it is affecting your whole life…you have dried up, and you’re miserable.

If that is where you find yourself today, then I would invite you to come back to the table— back to the river— via 1st John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You can only begin your trip back to the center of God’s will with confession. Sin has to be addressed, before worship or fellowship is possible.

If there is anyone here who is in that condition, and is still unsure what to do about it, I, or any of the other leaders would like to talk with you about it. God is still in the business of transforming lives, and we are here to encourage the growth and blessing of God’s children.

Think about that River that God began in your life—where do you stand, in it? Are you wading? Are you swimming? Are your prayers flowing from that source? Are you leading others to Christ? Or have you returned to the bank of the river, and now are yearning to once again be borne along by the flow of God’s Love?

Hear the Invitation From God!

In Revelation 22:17, the invitation is made: “Whosoever will, let him take of the Water of Life, freely!” You can move into deeper water, if that is what you desire, by walking with the Lord; by Bible study, by Faith, and prayer. If you have found yourself lacking, you can restore fellowship with God through confession, then feeding on the Word and seeking Him in prayer.

Lord Jesus, help us all to progress deeper into Your love, and be suspended more fully in Your Grace. When the World looks at us, Your people, may they see only You. Amen!