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I joined the Beacon Lights Staff sometime in 1993 while attending Calvin College in preparation for seminary.  My memories of working with Beacon Lights include the monthly meetings with a staff who became life-long friends working through the routine, never-ending task of generating topics and encouraging writers.  From time to time we also worked through questions about improving the overall appearance of the magazine, updating style, and solving issues relating to mailing or printing.  I enjoyed the fellowship with staff and being able to serve the church in this way.

As I became more acquainted with all the work that went into getting an issue into the hands of our readers, and how much of that work was done by others outside of the monthly staff, I was especially intrigued by the fact that Jim Huizinga was printing every copy on a printing press in his basement.  I enjoyed machines, and an old working printing press that was chinking out our Beacon Lights was something I just had to go and see.  After an issue had been put together by the staff and proof-read by Bob Vermeer, a copy was printed out for Jim.  Jim took the copy and set it on a little platform under a giant camera which took a negative image of the page on a gel plate.  These plates were then placed in a tank in which an electric arc flashed between two carbon electrodes like a welding booth.  The ultraviolet light hardened the gel where the lettering and pictures were on the plates.  When the gel was hard, the soft gel was washed away and Jim assembled the plates on drums within the press.  These would turn against an ink roller, and then roll on the pages as they passed.  It was a huge, grand machine that filled half his basement.  The press spewed the pages onto a rotating collating table where Jim’s family members each took their station to gather the pages into the correct order and ready it for the stapling.  I never actually got to see it all in operation, but I saw the equipment, and Jim explained it to me.  I probably don’t remember it all correctly, so you will have to talk to Jim if you want more accurate details.

Another huge job was maintaining the subscription list, printing off the labels, sticking all the labels on the magazine and sorting it for mailing.  At least once, our volunteers (I believe at the time it was Bill and Fran Leep) were unable to do it for the month and the Beacon Lights staff met with some additional friends to get the job done.  Once again I learned another dimension of the great amount of work that is involved with getting Beacon Lights out each month.  From what I understand, the volunteers who did the mailing invited friends and looked forward to a monthly time of fellowship while doing this work.  The longer I was involved with Beacon Lights, the more I could see how this publication had been a labor of love and dedication to the youth and young people of our churches, and it was exciting to be involved with young adults who were excited to see this work carried on into the future.

Within a year after taking up the role of editor, I moved to Wisconsin in 1996 to begin teaching at Faith Christian School.  By now the internet had made it feasible to have a business meeting via Skype and manage the articles and minutes with email, so we thought we would give it a try keeping me on as editor while living in Wisconsin.  Nothing can substitute for face-to-face meetings, and over the years as familiar staff members retired and new members joined, the meetings began to lose their effectiveness.  In the meantime, Jeanine Van Baren and I were married, and she helped us consolidate two old and separate data bases (one with subscription information and other with address labels) into one up-to-date system.

As editor I also became the recipient of a set of Beacon Lights archives in boxes.  Wow!  What a treasure.  Being a teacher eager to make good information available to students, and now living in the digital age of information, it seemed a top priority to me to get Beacon Lights scanned and available for anyone to read and research.  Beacon Lights bought me a Scan Snap scanner. I carefully cut the pages loose of each old issue, and began scanning.  Eventually the files were uploaded into a website and then we began running all the scans through text recognition software so the text could be searched.  My wife and I solicited help for this from a number of different people, but the time and dedication needed for family and another move, this time to Iowa, eventually brought an end to our close involvement with this work with Beacon Lights.

I have hoped and prayed that someone with technical skill and organization would be able to bring the work of scanning and making the archives available online to completion, and these prayers have been answered in the form of a new and developing website.  It has all the scanned issues available, and they are adding the searchable text as it becomes available.  In its current form, searching is limited, but with some organization and sharing of work with a Google spreadsheet, my sophomore English students in Trinity Christian High School in Hull, IA  were able to glean a wealth of information from the 1940s about the young people’s conventions and write essays comparing them with conventions of today.  This resource gave them a whole new perspective on our church history and the wonderful heritage of conventions. I have included some of their essays for publication.  We live in a day with so many distractions, but if our parents and teachers work together to promote the reading of Beacon Lights, the Standard Bearer, and RFPA publications, God will bless those efforts.  Now that we have a good resource for doing some research into Beacon Lights, teachers ought to put some work into preparing to use that resource in their classroom.  It is a work in progress, and it is worth checking it out.

Beacon Lights has been a wonderful publication.  The archives are a treasure chest for our young people to learn from, and they need to continue reading the current issues to keep a finger on the pulse of the life of their church to which they belong.  They also need to contribute and continue to solicit writers who will give them an accurate picture of the life of the church, as well as the world around them.  I am thankful to have had the opportunity to serve the body of Christ through Beacon Lights, and I am thankful to see that work carried on by energetic and spiritually minded young leaders.  I am very excited about the future of Beacon Lights and the young people who are graduating and taking up their places in the body of Christ under the guidance of its light.

The word of God found in the middle of the books of Kings and Chronicles reveals that the church was increasingly feeling the pressure of persecution from within the nation of Israel and Judah itself.  It was becoming very clear that “they are not all Israel that are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6).  We have here the stories of Ahab and Jezebel murdering Naboth to get his vineyard, the prophets of God hiding in caves, and Athaliah trying to destroy the royal line of David.  Even so, God spoke powerfully through many prophets, including Elijah and Elisha, for the comfort of his church and the judgment of the apostate church.  God faithfully preserved the spiritual church while the earthly kingdom that pictured the church began to fall apart as they experienced the judgments of famine and political unrest.  The growing powers of Syria and Assyria began to loom over Israel and we read in 2 Kings 10:32 that “Syria began to cut Israel short.”

During this time God directs special attention to two nations: Syria and Assyria. Not only is he raising them up and strengthening them to be employed in the complete destruction of Israel as a nation, but in a wonder of grace, he also reveals something more of his plan to gather spiritual children of Abraham from every nation of the world.   In fact, it is in the way of the apostate church’s rejecting the gospel that the gospel is taken from them and preached to those whom the apostate church despises and counts as enemies.  We get a hint of this wonder in the story of the Syrian general Naaman who is healed of his leprosy through the witnessing of a little girl he had taken captive from Israel. Jesus referred to Naaman when he preached at his home town synagogue and was rejected and despised by the Jews (Luke 4:27).  Even more surprising is the prophet Jonah who is sent to preach not to the church in Israel, but to people whom God was pleased to save in the heart of enemy territory, Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria.  Jesus referred to the repentance of Nineveh when confronting the unbelief of the Pharisees in Matthew 12:41.  It is when the apostate church becomes lifted up in the pride of self-righteousness that God demonstrates the power of his grace to save sinners who know and repent of their sin.

The previous hundred-year period ended with friendly relations being attempted between the formerly warring nations of Israel and Judah.  Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, had worked hard to bring reformation and the true worship of Jehovah to Judah, but perhaps out of pride and thinking himself able even to have a good influence on the ungodly house of Ahab, king of Israel, permitted his son Jehoram to marry Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (2 Kings 8:18, 2 Chron. 18:1).  The families grew closer. Ahab had been engaged in some battles with the growing power of Syria and their king Benhadad, and as he prepared for another attack upon Syria, Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, came to join with Ahab in the battle against Syria saying “I am as thou art, my people as thy people” (1Kings 22:4).   During the battle, Ahab was killed, and Jehoshaphat went back home to continue his work of reform, establishing godly judges and organizing instruction in God’s law throughout the land (2 Chron. 19).  Even though God spoke to him through a prophet saying, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?” (2 Chron. 19:2), he again joined with the wicked king Ahaziah in a business venture which again was ended by God (20:37).  These attempts at establishing friendly relations with the ungodly within the apostate church did not result in reform and a good influence upon them; rather, it opened the door to the spiritual enemy, exposed the promised seed of David to destruction by Athaliah, and led to the decay of the nation.

Athaliah had grown up in the Baal worshiping home of Ahab and Jezebel.  When she married into the royal line of David, her love for the man-centered worship of Baal dominated the home, and her husband Jehoram could do little to prevent her influence.  What she did learn about Jehovah and his purpose to bring the promised Messiah through the line of David only aroused in her a determination to use her position in the home to destroy that purpose.  Her plan was to turn the promised seed from the royal line of David from God so that the promised seed would serve the purposes of Satan.  She trained her son well in the ways of Baal, and he fell into perfect line with her desire to add royal authority to a Baal-worshiping heart when he became king.  Ahaziah ruled for only a year, however, because God sent Jehu to execute judgment upon the wicked house of Ahab, and Ahaziah was killed on his way to visit his ungodly relatives from the house of Ahab  (2 Kings 10:13–14).

Athaliah could see the hand of God in the death of her son, and she was now more determined than ever to destroy the purpose of God.  God had prevented her plan to turn the royal line from God, so she determined to kill the whole line even if it meant killing her own grandchildren to cut the line of David and prevent the purpose and promise of God.  Also in this plan she failed, and God preserved one child who was hidden and raised by Jehoiada the priest until he was old enough to reign.

The earthly picture of the church as a kingdom—earthly kings that rule under God and defend the church and faithful prophets—was decaying.  The earthly reality of a kingdom, the nation of Israel and Judah, was now caught in the storm-tossed sea of this world in which nation rises against nation in violence, pride, and greed.  Soon king Jeroboam II in Israel would shine forth with one last burst of earthly power and glory like an exploding star before its death.  In contrast to fallen man’s way, God had revealed to Elijah that his power to save was in the “still, small voice.”  We see this work now as God quietly preserves the promised seed and also works powerfully to gather his church even from enemy lines.

Gathering his elect children from nations outside of Israel is not a new idea or plan of God.  His people had been gathered from among various families before and after the flood.  People like Rahab and others were taken into the covenant fold of Israel.  God’s focus on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and establishing a nation is like a parenthesis in history to reveal certain characteristics of the church and also to provide a rich covenant sphere in which the Christ would be born and prepared for his great work of saving and gathering the church from all the nations of the world.  As time goes on this purpose is given more and more attention.  Especially in some of the final prophets God reveals this purpose.  One of the clearest passages is in the second half of Joel 2, where we read about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  This passages is quoted in Acts when the Holy Spirit is poured out and the gospel is proclaimed in the many different languages that were represented by people from different nations.   Here too the work of God in connection with the preaching of the work is the powerful work of the Holy Spirit—the still small voice which is the work of the Holy Spirit.

During this period we begin to see this work when God sends his prophet Elijah to Zaraphath of Zidon to the widow woman.  Here, outside the borders of Israel, God reveals the wonder of his power to save by providing food, and also raising this widow’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17).  We then read in 2 Kings 4 when Jehovah God had given deliverance to Syria through the leadership of Naaman, that God used the witness of a little Israelite girl to reveal the saving power of Jehovah to Naaman, and even cured this enemy of Israel of leprosy, the picture of sin and death.  The next chapter records another strange and striking event that I believe points to the plan of God to gather his church from the nations.  Syria had besieged Samaria in an attempt to capture Elisha himself because God was revealing to him their battle plans, but God used Elisha to lead the entire blinded army into the city for a banquet feast and then let them go (2 Kings 6).   Finally, in 2 Kings 8:7 we read God sent Elisha to Damascus, the capital of Syria, to anoint the next king who would be used by God to bring judgment upon the apostate church.  In all these works of God, we learn that God is not a respecter a persons or nations, but will gather his people through the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit when and where he pleases.

The history of the prophet Jonah being sent to Nineveh really belongs to the next century, but we discuss it here in connection with the theme of God’s sending the gospel into the nations of the world.  The nation of Israel had risen to its peak of earthly power and glory under king Jeroboam II.  The nation of Syria that had threatened Israel was now cowering under the growing threat of Assyria, which was expanding and crushing every nation in its path.  It was here that God was pleased to send the precious message of the gospel: a command to repent along with the power of the Holy Spirit to work repentance and a clinging to the way of salvation prepared by God.

Assyria was known for its ruthless war tactics and became extremely great and powerful especially with Nineveh as its capital.  The city had connections with Nimrod the mighty hunter and the tower of Babel (Gen. 10:8-11) and represents a man-centered glory and the best that man has to offer.  It is here, in the heart of Satan’s show-case city where men of strength establish their own earthly heaven, that God with the still small voice of his Spirit brings the city to its knees in repentance for sin.  Whether only one or all of them truly repented is not as important to know as it is to know that God worked repentance in the hearts of men who lived in the heart of Satan’s realm.  That is a wonder of God works in the heart of every child of God no matter who we are or where we were born.

Such were the mysterious workings of God during this century of his-story.  We see the wonder of God’s gathering his church from the nations, making dead hearts alive and warning against false security in anything we can do or claim.  The church is a glorious work of God as he gathers his people from those we least expect.  Among those who cherish, defend, and promote the precious truth of the gospel as it unfolds through the battles and brings comfort to saints of every age, God is pleased to continue gathering his children from covenant homes as well.  The heritage of Israel and our own heritage is precious to us, but we may not assume that our national or denominational identity automatically entitles us to the gracious work of God and excludes others whom we may despise.   May it not be that a careless attitude, lack of appreciation for the gospel, or a despising of and persecution of brothers and sisters in the church leave us with a famine of hearing the word as the gospel moves on to gather the church from the highways and hedges of this earth.

As much as the people of God would like to live forever under a godly king who brought earthly peace and prosperity to the nation, such life was still corrupted with sin and death.  The life that the church had enjoyed under King David and now under Solomon was only a taste of something far better that God has in store for her.  The king under whom they experienced peace was only a picture of the Prince of Peace who was yet to come, and who would conquer the real enemy, Satan.   It is a beautiful and wonderful picture that the people of God will cherish and cling to as they wait for Christ to come in person.

The coming years before the glory of Christ shines forth will be dark and frightening for the church, and God has one more picture to give to his people to sustain them through this time: the temple.   The temple is a picture of the church herself in covenant fellowship with her God.   God will use King Solomon to build this temple and decorate it to express the great glory and beauty of this reality of God with his covenant people.  When this temple is complete, the Old Testament church will have everything she needs to await the coming of Christ and recognize him when he comes.  She has three precious gifts to carry her through the painful and frightening walk deep into the coming dark valley: 1) the promise of the seed who would crush the head of the serpent to destroy the power of sin (Genesis 3:15); 2) the glorious picture of Christ as prophet, priest, and king; and 3) the beautiful picture of the church fellowshipping with God in the temple.  The next 500 years or so will be a painful and frightening walk deep into this dark valley.  During the last 400 years even the speaking of God through prophets goes silent and the church is left only with that promise of the gospel, the picture of Christ, and the picture of the church.

The thirty-first century begins midway through the glorious reign of Solomon.  Two outstanding events that take place during this period are the building of the temple and the apostasy of ten northern tribes who forsake the picture and the promise of Christ when they say, “What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse” (1 Kings 12:16).  It spans the reigns of eight kings and queen Jezebel, and ends midway through the reign of king Jehoshaphat when he seeks peace and fellowship with the wicked king Ahab, who was ruling the ten apostate tribes.

By the time the thirty-first century began, Solomon was known far and wide for his wisdom and the glory of his kingdom.  The people were happy and at peace.  “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon” (1 Kings 4:25).  As a picture of Christ nourishing his people with truth and wisdom, Solomon “spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:32–34).  During this peaceful time Solomon set in motion the great desire of his father David, to build a temple unto Jehovah God who had revealed to the church his plan of salvation from the bondage of sin in Christ.

David had devoted the later part of his reign to the gathering of materials for the building of this temple.  The design of this temple did not come from the wisdom of man, but came from God himself who made David “understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern” (1 Chron 28:19).  God inspired David to record every detail, from the room dimensions to the size of the court and details of the tools used by the priests, and David gave these to Solomon along with all the gold and silver needed.  Now Solomon organized the project and had the neighboring king Hiram supply timber and craftsmanship.  Everything was well organized, and no detail was overlooked in this important work. “And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building” (1 Kings 6:7).

Minute details and dimensions were important for the earthly temple, and they were also important for the spiritual temple that was measured in the visions of Zechariah 2, Ezekiel 40–42, and Revelation 11 and 21.  The earthly temple was a picture of the wonder of God dwelling in covenant fellowship with each and every child of God living together as members of the body of Christ.  Every covenant child is important, and not one will be lost or forgotten.  The measuring and attention to detail is to show the great value, the glorious extent and prosperity of what is being measured.

When the temple was finished, Solomon continued with building projects.  He built the king’s house, a navy to explore the world and bring back treasures from afar, and cities for defense and storage for all the wealth that poured into the kingdom.  As a picture of the church, the only kingdom of God under the rule of Christ, Solomon’s kingdom exceeds every earthly kingdom. “So king Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom.  And all the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart.  And they brought every man his present, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments, and armour, and spices, horses, and mules, a rate year by year”  (1 Kings 10:23–25).  God will gather his people from every nation of the earth, and every member of the body of Christ will give of him or herself to serve.   For anyone who is really able to see the blessedness of life within the body of Christ, the queen of Sheba says it all when she says “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom. Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the Lord loved Israel for ever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice” (1 Kings 10:8–9)

The picture is indeed beautiful, but it is limited by the fact that it is but a picture.

But ….

“But King Solomon loved many strange women” (1 Kings 11:1).

After describing the beauty and glory of the picture in chapter 10, chapter 11 begins with the very small but significant word But.  This word signals a contrast, not simply between the good in Solomon with the bad, but rather between the weakness and limitation of the picture of Christ with Christ himself.   Solomon was a seed of the woman, but he was not the promised seed who would crush the head of the serpent.  Solomon had great wealth and wisdom, but these things could not touch the power of sin.   Ironically, for the man who had everything his heart could desire, sin raised its ugly head in Solomon in the form of covetousness, “which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).  We read simply “But king Solomon loved many strange women.”  This desire for something God had forbidden him opened the floodgates to further idolatry and sin, which swept Solomon farther and farther from the experience of covenant fellowship with God.  The church must not live in the picture, but must look forward to the reality of life with God in Christ.  It was time for the picture to fade.

Even though Solomon floundered in his sins and their consequences, God assured him that he would be faithful to his promises.  The kingdom would be rent in two, but the line of David would continue until the promised King, who would be able to destroy the power of sin, was born (1 Kings 11:13).  God now records the history and the means he used to erase the picture so that his church would increasingly direct their attention to the reality of the coming Savior.  We read that it was Jehovah who stirred up adversaries against Solomon (1 Kings 11:7).  These adversaries began as individual men who gradually gathered likeminded men around them and waited for the right opportunity to strike and begin to erode and dismantle the glorious picture of Christ, his wisdom, his spiritual riches, and his glory.

Shortly after Solomon’s death, Jeroboam made his move, and God used him to drive away the majority of the nation whose heart was not looking ahead to Christ, but left a small remnant with the house of David.  God made it clear to Jeroboam that all this history was under the sovereign control of God and served his purposes in Christ.   The majority in Israel under the rule of Jeroboam quickly followed his leadership into a false and apostate worship of Jehovah through his own altar and an image of a calf.

The temple in Jerusalem continued to attract the godly in Israel, and a steady trickle of people fleeing the apostasy of Israel came to Judah and joined the people of God in their worship and looking forward to the promised Savior.  But even in Judah apostasy was taking hold, and the kings did not all serve their role well as a picture of Christ fighting against sin.  Rehoboam as the king did nothing to fight against the sinful developments of idolatry and homosexuality in Judah (1 Kings 14:23–24). Rehoboam’s son Abijam was not much better, “Nevertheless for David’s sake did the Lord his God give him a lamp in Jerusalem, to set up his son after him, and to establish Jerusalem” (1 Kings 15:4).  King Asa did much as a godly king to fight against the sins of idolatry and homosexuality that had flourished under Rehoboam, but his power was limited to a superficial suppression of these sins.

While God preserved his church in Judah, a succession of wicked kings in Israel after Jeroboam drove the nation of Israel deeper into apostasy and farther from the promised salvation in Christ.  In a number of places, we read that there was continual war between the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  This warfare served to insulate the church from the influence of apostate Israel until King Jehoshaphat foolishly “made peace with the king of Israel” (1 Kings 22:45), so that they could unite their forces against Syria.  The battle ended with the death of wicked King Ahab in Israel, and brought the apostate church dangerously close to the church, leaving her vulnerable to the attempts of wicked Athaliah to destroy the line of David and the promised Christ.  This history, however, belongs to the next hundred year segment.

Before we close with this hundred year span of history, I want to reflect a bit on the significance of the temple that had been built.  The temple as a symbol of God’s dwelling with his people in covenant fellowship was the only physical symbol that continued until the promised Savior came and performed his saving work.  Even though the nation of Israel came to an end with their captivity, and the ark of the covenant and much of the furnishings were lost forever, God commanded that the temple be rebuilt by those who were allowed to return to Jerusalem under Cyrus and Darius.  All the other elements of Israel’s life as a nation were means to the end of life eternal with God, so that picture of life with God would stand as a beacon of light and hope in an increasingly dark nation.  It served this role until Jesus himself made clear that he is the eternal temple when he said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).   At that point there was no longer a need for an earthly temple.

God gives the temple a great deal of attention in the books of the prophets, but the attention is shifted to something far more glorious than a physical building.  The prophet Ezekiel was taken in a vision from Babylon back to the destroyed temple to measure every detail of the temple (Ezek. 40–48):  “And he said unto me, Son of man, the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever,” (Ezek. 43:7).  After taking detailed measurements to underscore the great significance of God’s dwelling with His people, we read, “It was round about eighteen thousand measures: and the name of the city from that day shall be, The LORD is there” (48:35).  Time shifts to eternity, and we read in Joel, “But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion.” (Joel 3:20–21)   Jeremiah looks forward to the saving work of delivering his people from the bondage of sin and the gathering of the nations into one body at the throne of Jehovah.  We read, “And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith the Lord, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more. At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart” (Jer. 3:16–17).

Zechariah uses language to describe the new and heavenly Jerusalem as “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein: For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her. … And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee,” (Zech. 2:4–5, 11). The spiritual reality is made clear in Christ, of whom we learn, “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:9–12). God’s full and complete revelation of the significance of the temple comes in the book of Revelation: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). Finally we have no more need even of the picture of the temple in heaven: “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” (Rev 21:22).

The temple that had been rebuilt by the returned captives was enlarged by Herod the Great shortly before Jesus was born, but finally destroyed completely in AD 70 under the leadership of the Roman general Titus.  Since the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in the seventh century, the temple site has been for some 1300 years under the Muslim Dome of the Rock.  This false religion may imagine that having a mosque over the site of the temple of Jehovah God is significant, but they, as well as Christians who are offended by Muslim control of this site, fail to see that the true and eternal temple is the body of Christ, a temple of living stones, each and every elect child of God with Christ as the head.  With Christ at the right hand of God, the people of God have no more interest in the temple Solomon built other than as a glorious picture of the blessed covenant fellowship the church begins to enjoy now.

The 30th century of His-Story begins with the rather strange scene of a tall and robust young man hiding among the baggage of his family and the people who had come to crown him king.  His name was Saul.  God had sent Samuel some days earlier to anoint him king privately, and now it was time to make the first king of Israel known to the nation.  His name was called out from among his brethren, but strangely he had disappeared.  He was not exposed until God made clear exactly whom he wanted and search was made to find him out.  There he stood before all the people who had come, perhaps with a sheepish grin, standing a full head taller than everyone.  He looked like a king, even if he didn’t act like one, but appearance was enough for the majority of the people.  This was the kind of king they were looking for; here was a man after their own heart.  They shouted “God save the king,” and went home satisfied that a “worthy” king would soon be leading them to fight against and conquer their enemies – just like the other nations.  Something was missing in Saul, but enthusiasm for a king and his impressive looks distracted any inquiry into his spiritual character.

Any doubts about Saul’s leadership qualities and bravery were soon put to rest by his courageous call to arms and crushing defeat of Nahash the Ammonite.  With this confirmation of his kingly qualities, the people gathered at Gilgal and had a real coronation ceremony for Saul.  In his noble speech that day, he confessed “The Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel.”  See, he was even a godly man!  Then “they sacrificed sacrifices of peace offerings before the Lord; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly” (1 Sam. 11:15).   The only critic of Saul and the people on that day was Samuel, and he did not hesitate to speak boldly about the fact that this type of king was not at all what would be good for the people of God.  He even declared that the heart and attitude of the people had been wicked in asking for this king.  God had revealed to Samuel that in their request for this king they were rejecting God (8:7).   He told them straight to their faces, “ye have this day rejected your God” (10:19).  The people had too much respect for Samuel to throw him out of the party, but they nodded politely and tried to assure the old Samuel that everything would be alright.  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

Samuel watched in grief as Saul followed his own will, and not the will of the true King of Israel.  The courage and strength necessary for godly rule departed from Saul and he cowered before the Philistines (13:6-7).   He trusted in his own personal judgment, and was willing to compromise in his obedience to God.  Finally Samuel had to confront him and tell him that God himself had removed from him the authority to rule his people (15:23).  The only king suitable for rule over God’s people would be one who loved God, and such a man is not one who will get the natural approval of men.  While Saul was fighting battles his own way against the Amalekites, sometimes attacking but more often cowering before the Philistines, God was preparing a young boy to be the king who would serve as a picture of Christ, the King.  God himself was preparing him for this work by working within his heart to make him a man who walked with God in covenantal fellowship.

God had already revealed to us some of the family history of David in the story of Ruth and Boaz, the great-great grandparents of David.  Jesse was their grandchild, and he now had a busy family with eight boys.  David was the youngest, and he was now old enough to take on the responsibility of leading the sheep out into the wilderness and finding the green pastures. Despite his youth, David made an excellent shepherd with all the right qualities of love and care for the sheep along with wisdom and musical talents.  Above all, he walked closely with Jehovah God, who gave him the courage and boldness to fight off the lions and bears that would attack the flock.  In fact, a top-notch shepherd was exactly the kind of man who would make a good king for the people of God.

After Saul had been given enough time to make clear that a king after man’s own heart would only lead the nation farther from God, we find Samuel again with a horn of anointing oil.  He had been mourning over the direction Israel was being led by Saul (16:1). This time God told him to go to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse.  Once again the one whom God had chosen to be king seemed to be missing, but this time he wasn’t hiding.  He was still out caring for the sheep because even his father could not imagine that he was the one whom God had chosen to be king.  There was nothing outward in him that marked him as a king.  He was the youngest.  There was a certain youthful attractiveness to him; he was “ruddy, withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to (16:12), a similar description of our Lord in the Song of Solomon 5:10, 16.  But he did not strike anyone as “royalty” the way Saul had done.  The royal qualities were deep within his soul where they needed to be.  His heart and thoughts as a young man caring for sheep was deeply concerned for the glory of God (Psalm 132).

Here, some 3000 years after Adam’s fall into sin, the old testament church was on the verge of seeing and experiencing the full and complete picture of the one who would crush the head of the serpent and deliver them from the terrible bondage of sin.  These were very exciting days!  After this relatively brief glimpse of the brilliant picture, the picture will be shattered, leaving the church in a dark and stormy world with only lightning flashes of God’s word in the prophets directing them to dwell not on the picture, but on the reality of the coming Christ.   So this is it!  This is the picture of the coming Savior.  In this young man God will reveal to his church a glorious picture of the coming Savior from sin as a victorious king who delivers his people from all enemies and tenderly cares for them as a shepherd does his sheep.  The church also learns that the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent will be born from the line of David.  The church must keep her eyes on the line of David. The picture is glorious, but relatively brief.  It reaches a climax at the end of this century and the beginning of the next when Solomon builds the temple.

We know well and love the stories of David.  God has been pleased to reveal many details of his life so that we grow to love him even as we love Jesus who experienced all of life even as we experience the joys and trials of this life (Heb. 4:13).   David boldly fought the enemies in the name of God.  He suffered and willingly gave of his life for the people of God just as he did for his sheep.  In David we especially see that part of the office of king that fights and defends against the enemy.  David was so involved in warfare all his life that God used his son Solomon to build the temple.  David desired to build a house for God where God would dwell in covenantal fellowship with His people, but David was a man of war and God gave this job to Solomon (1 Chron. 28:3).  The part of the office of king that brings peace and comfort to the people under his rule belonged to Solomon.

By the time David grew old and the time for Solomon to take over the throne came, the people were beginning to enjoy the fruits of a king who ruled under God as a man after God’s own heart.  They were eager to taste of this blessed life with God within the sphere of the covenant by joining in David’s desire to build the temple.  We read in 1 Chronicles 29:9–12:  “Then the people rejoiced, for that they offered willingly, because with perfect heart they offered willingly to the Lord: and David the king also rejoiced with great joy.   Wherefore David blessed the Lord before all the congregation: and David said, Blessed be thou, Lord God of Israel our father, for ever and ever.   Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.  Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.”  In these words we clearly see what it means to have a king ruling in harmony with God’s rule.

At the peak of Solomon’s rule, we find the picture of the glory and majesty of Christ’s rule as king come into full brilliance. The battles are over.  Peace reigns.  Every want is satisfied.  All glory and honor is directed to the author and finisher of such joy and happiness.   We read in 1Chroncles 29:25, “And the Lord magnified Solomon exceedingly in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed upon him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel.”  Dreamers might imagine that heaven was existing here on earth.  If there ever was a time in history when the church came close to heaven right here on earth, it was during the reign of Solomon.  But anyone with his spiritual eyes open could plainly see that it was but a picture.  Sin was just as powerful.  The child of God could smile and rejoice with the taste of heaven, but his yearning to be without sin and living in perfect fellowship with God only intensifies and he longs for the new heavens and the new earth.

There were many indications that life under David’s and Solomon’s reign was only a picture.  Both David and Solomon clearly fell deeply into sin, but Christ is without sin.  Peace under an earthly king is exceedingly costly, but peace under Christ our king is perfectly free.  “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1).  The righteousness we have is freely imputed unto us.  The church under Solomon enjoyed peace, but began to groan under the oppressive taxation that paid for it all.  Like a dream, the picture quickly faded away and the people of God were called to cling to the promises and wait for the reality of Christ.  The picture and promises gave hope and encouragement even as we also wait for his return in glory.

This one hundred-year period includes a great deal of material and marks a shift from life under the judges to life under kings.  The familiar stories of Eli and Samuel span this period—Eli serving as a priest and judge at Shiloh at the beginning, and Samuel serving as judge and prophet at the end.  Nine judges served during this last hundred years under the judges, and many judged at the same time but at different places.  This period also includes the story of Ruth as God reveals his sovereign work to prepare and bring his anointed king at last to the throne as a picture of Christ.  The tapestry of stories that fill this period of time vary greatly, but all direct our attention to the need for the office of king among God’s people.

As the time for the anointing of a king drew near, the need for the strong exercise of a godly king became more and more clear.  Along with the strengthening of the office of king, we also see God providing the blessing of his word and covenantal fellowship in the strengthening of the offices of prophet and priest.  God’s people are getting closer to the time when God would set before them a full and complete picture of the church and the wonder of the deliverance from sin that God would work in Christ.

The land had enjoyed rest for forty years after the service of Deborah and Barak, but again plunged deeper than ever into sin.  They kept up a superficial worship of God at Shiloh, but gave unashamed expression to their unbridled lust for earthly pleasure in Baal worship.  Gideon, whom God would call to be judge, lived in a home and neighborhood where an altar had been erected to Baal.  This altar had become the all-important focus of the neighborhood fun and entertainment, and anyone who dared to attack this altar would be sure to feel the wrath of Gideon’s father and the men of the city.   In judgment God prepared the Midianites as well as Amalekites, who stripped the land of its crops and forced many in Israel to live in dens and caves (Judges 6:2).  So severe was the oppression that Israel became “impoverished,” as we read in Judges 1:6.

This may well have been the famine that prompted Elimelech and Naomi to leave Israel with their two small boys and flee to Moab to find a place with decent shelter and food to raise their boys.  What motivated them seemed to be chiefly a desire to have some earthly peace where they could take care of the earthly needs of a growing young family.  Outwardly this would seem to be a reasonable and even wise move, but true godly wisdom would have sought the will of God at Shiloh, stayed where God was pleased to dwell with his people, and faced the enemy in God’s name like a king.  Elimelech as the head of this home failed to be a strong spiritual head, and God brought severe judgment upon this family even in Moab.  Elimelech died, leaving Naomi a widow with two boys.  The boys grew up and married, but they died too, leaving a desolate widow who appeared to have lost everything, even her spiritual heritage.

The story of Ruth is familiar, and we see how God was please to reveal his wisdom and strength even in the weakness and failures of man.  God worked with the power of his grace in the heart of Ruth, the widowed Moabitess, wife of one of Naomi’s sons, and she and Naomi returned to Israel.  As we well know, this part of the story ends beautifully as God unveils his plan to raise up king David from the generations of Ruth and Boaz.

Meanwhile God had raised up Gideon, a poor farmer, to fight and deliver Israel from what appeared to be an impossibly powerful enemy.  In Gideon we see many qualities of a godly king.  His name was changed to Jerubbaal to reflect his calling as a “Baal-fighter.”  He began with great boldness and zeal for God by opposing Baal worship in his own house and neighborhood, undaunted by the rage of his neighborhood.   He then gathered and army and used weapons to fight the Midianites, but God made the army small and the weapons strange to emphasize that the real power behind the king of God’s people was God Himself (Judges 7:2).  Unlike Elimelech’s weak leadership, the men with Gideon displayed daring, disciplined, and self-denying kingly leadership.

When Israel saw the great value of Gideon as a leader, they wanted to make Gideon a king, but he refused because they saw only Gideon’s bravery (8:22) and not the reality that it was “the Lord their God, who had delivered them” (v.23).  The people were not ready yet for an earthly king in whom they would be directed to the spiritual kingship of Christ. Gideon also displayed his weakness. He understood the office of king, but brought trouble and sin into Israel by his foolish intrusion into the office of priest by making an ephod (8:24–27), which introduced worship and fellowship with God in a way God had not commanded.  Blessing among God’s people comes only in the way of exercising the offices in accordance with God’s direction.  Not until Christ comes and the Holy Spirit is poured out is God pleased to have the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king exercised in the heart of each believer.

At this time God is pleased to give us an intimate peek into two more covenant homes in Israel: Eli’s and Elkanah’s.   As Elimelek’s, these also were weak and sorely lacking in the godly spiritual direction of the husband as head and king.   At the beginning of this period, Eli was about fifty years old.  He was married, raising his family of two boys, and serving as priest in Shiloh.  As the priest, his heart ached to see so much confusion and apostasy in Israel as the people came with their sacrifices and news from across the land.  Though his heart ached, he seemed to lack the zeal and courage to exercise this office properly.  Without the exercise of the office of prophet to bring God’s word, and the office of king to enforce godly rule, even Eli’s home life was in a sorry state.  As Eli’s own sons began to take up the work of the priesthood, they did what they wanted and gave no regard to the word of God concerning what parts of the sacrifice they might eat.  Living for their own self-satisfaction, they eventually began to molest the women who came, and they made a complete mockery of the priesthood.   This became the occasion for God to reveal to Eli that his family would soon be removed from the service of the priesthood.  God has a purpose in this sad history too, as he turns the priesthood over to the last remaining family of Aaron to picture Christ as the one and only high priest.

While Eli neglected to discipline his boys, a young wife, Hanna, was sinking into the misery of a home where she had to share a husband with a woman who mocked her for failing to bear children.  Those in Israel who sought covenant fellowship with God came to Shiloh to bring their offerings to God and be reassured of God’s covenant promise to send the Savior who would deliver His people from the bondage of sin.  Some, like Hanna, prayed fervently, but had little in the way of instruction and guidance.  Many of the people that the high priest Eli encountered at Shiloh were living ungodly lives, so much so that Eli’s first thought concerning Hanna was that she was drunk.   Eli listened to her desire for a child and her willingness to consecrate him to serve God in Shiloh, and God blessed his church with Samuel, who would grow up at Shiloh and become a great leader and prophet for the people of God. By the end of this period, God raises up Samuel to be a strong and faithful prophet and prepares the way for a strong and faithful high priest in Zadok, and a strong a faithful king in David.

The story of Eli, his sons, and the work of Samuel serve as a setting for the work of the remaining judges and the story of Ruth.  In all this history, God directs our attention to his work of preserving his church and preparing his people for the coming king.  God’s people had now been in Canaan for about 250 years.  If we can make an analogy with child development, this had been the time of emerging adulthood when the young person has left father and mother to live on his own.  The prospect of entering into real life with a good job, paying one’s own expenses, and having one’s own place and property is exciting. “I’m free from the rules of living under the roof of mom and dad, and am able to establish my own life within the sphere of God’s laws.”  After some years of living in independence and experiencing some troubles and hardships, the fun and excitement wears off and we begin to look again to mom and dad for advice.  Israel too was gaining a new appreciation for the power of sin and the need they had for the promised Christ before they could enjoy covenantal fellowship with God.  Every man had been living and doing what was right in his own eyes; but not having the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to live in each heart and the power of the resurrected Lord ruling as king in their hearts, life in Canaan had become miserable.

We have already taken a brief look at Gideon’s work of deliverance from a powerful alliance of enemies and noticed how his godly leadership had given Israel a taste for the blessings of the office of king.  One man in particular could see the value of having the offices of prophet, priest, and king combined—a man able to communicate with God through the ephod and priesthood and to lead boldly against all enemies – but this man tried to combine them apart from God for personal glory and ambition.   His name, Abimelech, means “my father, [a] king.”   He tried to take the offices upon himself through his own wicked scheming and for his own glory and power (9:1-3), but it is God himself who will choose and establish these offices.    Abilimelech’s way is the way of antichrist within the church—to use the offices of prophet, priest, and king for man’s glory.  Even though his motives and goals were entirely ungodly, God used his ambition and activity to judge and destroy the worship of Baal that had developed to the point that it had incorporated the doctrine of God’s covenant and now Baal was worshiped as the covenant God.

God preserved his church through the work of a number of other judges all throughout Israel before he established the office of king.  Tola (10:1) judged in northern Israel on the west side of the Jordan for 23 years while Jair served on the east side of Jordan for 22 years.  Jephthah served in the east against Ammon, bringing a period of about 50 years of rest during the middle of this century for this part of the land, a rest preserved by Ibsan, Elon, and Abdon.

As this twenty–ninth century of his-story comes to a conclusion, we find Samson in the southwest of Israel (10:7) displaying in a unique way the quality of a king that stands at the forefront of the office of king.  In himself he is a weak and sinful man just like everyone else, but being ordained of God and serving under him in obedience to him, he leads with great boldness and strength to defeat the enemies of the church.  Clearly his awesome strength did not reside simply in his muscle and bone, but it was to be found in obedience to God.  Samuel needed to remind Saul and all Israel of this when Saul failed as a king in his pride and disobedience.  When Samson looked to God, God used him to bring deliverance.

Samson died fighting, and even though the slaughter was great, the destruction of the Philistines was completed shortly after his death by Samuel at Mizpeh (1 Samuel).   Samuel was chiefly a prophet who spent his time and energy bringing God’s word to the people, and as a judge he demonstrated the power of God to deliver his people from their enemies. “So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath; and the coasts thereof did Israel deliver out of the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites. And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places. And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the Lord.” (1Sam. 7:13–17) To Samuel God spoke and gave hope to Israel that God had not forsaken his people.  He battled hard against apostasy, and God used him to open the eyes of Israel and speak to them his word.  His role as prophet came to its conclusion with the anointing of two kings: the first king, Saul, and then David.  By the end of this century, the people of God are able to see more clearly the need and value of the office of king exercised according to God’s purpose for his people.

The time of the judges is now coming to a close, and soon God will reveal more about the glory and power of the coming Savior through the office of king.   The earthly enemy is only a picture of our spiritual enemies of sin.  Only in Christ our king do we find victory and peace from the oppression of sin.  This time of the judges made more and more clear the depth of sin and the kind of Savior that would be necessary to deliver man fully from the bondage of sin.  It also makes clear that we can begin to enjoy the blessings of deliverance from sin even while we live on this earth when the ministering offices of prophet, priest, and king are alive and well in our day-to-day life.  When the judges restored the office of prophet and preached the gospel faithfully, God used this preaching in connection with the office of priest to restore covenantal fellowship with God.  The covenant also needs the office of king actively ruling in the church.  It is a rule of power over the wicked and a rule of grace within the people of God.  May we also exercise the offices of prophet, priest, and king in our own lives and in our own homes as we wait for the final coming of our Lord and King.

The twenty-eighth century of His-story opens upon a band of 600 Philistines entering the heritage of Shamgar, a man of God in Israel.  They had poured their energy and resources into developing superior iron tools and weapons and felt ready to press into the land of these despised people who put their trust in God.  Flushed with pride and meeting but feeble resistance, the Philistines gathered in small bands to drive deeper and deeper into the land of Israel,  looking for more victims upon which to enact their hatred for the church and lust for power and wealth.  They came into the field of a man named Shamgar.  He was alone and an easy target for this mob of 600 men as they began another rampage of terror.  Unknown to them, however, this man was filled with love for his God and a holy jealousy for the church to which he belonged.

As the Philistines approached with their weapons of steel, Shamgar stood unmoved.  In his hand he gripped an ox-goad, a mere stick of wood for prodding his cattle along.  It was time for God to make clear that within his kingdom, he is pleased to make known his power and glory through what appear outwardly to be weak means.  The real power and might of the church belongs to God, and it is worked through men who walk by faith in close communion with God. This would be the last raid this band of 600 Philistines would make upon Israel.  We read simply, “[Shamgar] slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel” (Judges 3:31).  Only one verse is devoted to this faithful judge, but with this act of faith God introduces his work through the judges of this period of history.

The Philistines were not the only ones who had begun to oppress Israel. The power of sin had taken firm hold in the church, and now multiple enemies had risen up to oppress the church from different directions.  The Philistines in the southwest had grown in power and in their hatred for the church.  With their superior technology in iron weapons, they had begun to strike out with groups of well-armed men to kill and loot among the homes and farms of Israel.  At the same time Jabin was leading the Canaanites with horses and chariots of iron in raids on the northern parts of Israel. Such raids were going on continually and were increasing to the point that the people were living in constant fear and were unable to conduct normal day-to-day activities of life.  Instead of being filled with travelers and traders, the roads were empty as the people tried sneaking from place to place through round-about trails.  The fields were left to grow wild, and villages were abandoned.  We are given this picture of misery at the beginning of Deborah’s victory song when she sings in chapter 5:6–8: “In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.  The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.  They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?”

That question at the end of the quotation is rhetorical.  The church does not rely on earthly weapons and superior technology for her protection.  But when the source of her strength is cut off through a lack of knowing God through the office of prophet, and a lack of covenantal communion with God through the office of priest, she becomes weak and vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy.  God uses the three-fold office of prophet, priest, and king to uphold the spiritual health of his covenant people.  We looked at the previous hundred-year period in light of the office of prophet, and in this article we highlight the invaluable role of the office of priest in the life of the church (though in the judges of this period the office of prophet continues to be prominent, especially in the work of Deborah).

When we look especially at the office of priest, it is helpful to describe the sin of the church in terms of spiritual adultery, because the priestly office has to do with our covenantal relation of friendship with God and maintaining faithfulness to our covenant God.  God speaks to his people through the office of prophet, and his people respond to God with prayer and thanksgiving through the office of priest.  This office is critical for covenantal life between God and his people.  The work of the priests in the Old Testament gave a three-fold picture of this fellowship: 1) they offered sacrifices pointing ahead to Christ; 2) they offered incense as a picture of the prayers of God’s people ascending to God; 3) they pronounced the blessing of peace and joy upon God’s people who lived with their God in covenantal fellowship.  Until Christ, the great high priest, came to remove the barrier, the priests were authorized by God to intercede between God and his people.  But the church had forsaken her spiritual husband and exposed herself to the wicked lusts of her enemies.

Due to the serious lack of attention to prayer and personal fellowship with God founded upon the knowledge of God as revealed by the prophets and recorded in the word, the people were attracted to the excitement and popularity of new kinds of worship.  Ignoring the word of God, they “chose new gods.”  They were bored with the tabernacle and the ark in Shiloh, and invented new forms of worship to suit their own style and convenience.  Judges 17–18 tell the story of a young man, Micah, who ignored the form of worship that God had prescribed for his people and exercised his own creative energies to establish a more exciting and fulfilling worship experience for himself and his family. He even built a special sanctuary where he could display his talent for carving images that he thought would help him focus on his worship of Jehovah. He even made his own ephod like the priests had so he could seek the will of God. He consecrated his son as his priest until a wandering Levite happened to stop by and took up that office within his house.

These distortions of church life and worship came about in part because the office of prophet was not actively engaged in Israel. The parents of this man did little to teach him what God had revealed throughout their history, and allowed this son to do as he pleased. He stole money from his mother and was but lightly rebuked. God explains this behavior in 17:6 with the well-known refrain, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Micah’s little experiment with worship may have been enjoyable and exiting for a time, but it led to misery and the corruption of worship for the whole tribe of Dan. A group of men from the tribe of Dan kidnapped Micah’s priest and stole his images for their own use. The end of this story is summarized in the last two verses of Judges 18: “And the children of Dan set up the graven image: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land. And they set them up Micah’s graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh.”   In close connection with feeble exercise of the office of prophet in the church, the office of priest had also become distorted and corrupt.

Having opened the door of the enemy, the Philistines entered from the southwest and the Canaanite descendents of Ham invaded with Jabin from the north.  The Philistines and Canaanites who put their trust in physical power and superior technology would again see that the God of Israel, the only true God of the heavens and earth, does not rely upon the inventions of men to gather and preserve his church.  Rather, God is pleased to display his power through the work of the Holy Spirit within the heart.  For this display he chose an obscure farmer in the south and a mother in Israel in the north.  Soon it would be shown in Samson, and later in David when he came as a boy to fight the Philistines’ military champion.  God would have to remind Elijah of this power with the still small voice, and he continues to work through the simple preaching of the cross to create a new heart in his people. “(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)  Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4–5).  By the sovereign grace of God at work in her heart, Israel repents and cries out to God, and he demonstrates his longsuffering faithfulness and love in delivering her from her sin and shame.

Interestingly God used a woman to exercise the office of prophet during her time as judge in Israel.  As a prophetess she received the word of God and taught it to the people.  She composed the song of praise that proclaimed the deliverance and glory of God.  She also ruled as a judge and led the battle against Sisera.  Even so, she referred to herself as “a mother in Israel,” because being a wife and mother was her primary calling in the kingdom of God.  God makes it clear that he will have men appointed to the special offices in the church as a picture of Christ as the head of the church, but under special circumstances he may be pleased to appoint a woman to this position.  Beginning with the unlikely defender Shamgar with his ox-goad, God chose a series of Judges (Deborah, Barak, Gideon, and Samson) who were weak in themselves or alone or with only a few men to make it clear that it was God who was pleased to bring peace to his people in the way of knowing and loving him.

Eli was born about half way through this century during the time of oppression by Sisera and began to exercise his role as priest at the tabernacle in Shiloh.  He would also serve as a judge during the last 40 years of his life (1 Samuel 4:18).  Though he himself was a godly man who faithfully exercised his office, his sons took up this office toward the end of this century, and by the middle of the next, it had become absolutely corrupt.  In the next and last one hundred year period of the Judges we see that while the office of the priesthood reaches a shameful low point in Hophni and Phinehas, the office of prophet reaches new heights in Samuel.  Then the office of king will also be introduced to shed more light again upon the promised Messiah who will be the prophet, priest, and king.  How precious and valuable are these offices as they are exercised in the faithful church to the blessing of covenantal fellowship and peace for the people of God!

 

 

As the twenty-seventh century of His-story opens, the tribes of Israel have settled into their appointed places in the land of Canaan.  They have been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, organized as a nation, and given the promised land.  If this were an ordinary earthly story, we might expect them now to live happily ever after; but this is no ordinary history, and the real significance has only just begun.  These people are the church, the beloved people of God.  Canaan is still a picture of eternal life with God.  The full revelation of deliverance from the cruel bondage of sin in Christ is still over a thousand years away. The church is, as it were, still in school being trained and prepared for eternal life with God.  They have been introduced to the whole plan of God regarding deliverance from sin and now begin to live a life of gratitude and fellowship with God.  They have graduated from elementary school and are moving on to high school, but they have not yet arrived at the real thing.  They will now have a taste of freedom and independence, but will quickly experience that there is much more to learn about the power of sin and the value of the offices of prophet, priest, and king to bring true peace and joy to the covenant life of the church with God.

The period of the judges lasts about 350 years and therefore will be covered in three articles, each in connection with one of the three offices through with the church experiences covenant fellowship with God. In this article as we look at the first hundred years of judges under Othniel and Ehud, I want to show how the history exposes the need for God to feed his people with his word through the office of prophets who speak the word of God.  In the following article I hope to show how this history exposes the need for the office of priest, and in the final article on this period of the judges we will see how this history exposes the need for the office of king.   While this division is somewhat arbitrary in that there is nothing historical in the first hundred years that points directly to the office of prophet in distinction from the rest of the history of the judges, the history of the judges as a whole clearly exposes the value of these God-ordained offices for the peace and joy of the church.  This history reveals this need for these three offices by demonstrating what life is like without having these offices firmly established in the life of the church.

The dominant characteristic in the church of this period of time is captured in the phrase “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”  Doing what you want sounds like freedom, but the reality is that the church over and over again finds herself deeper and deeper in the despair of sin.  Freedom to do what one wants is not the key to peace and joy.  By nature our will is in bondage to sin and does not choose for the glory of God.  Real peace and joy comes in the way of knowing God’s will and living in obedience to Him.  Real peace and joy comes only through the regenerating, powerful work of God’s grace in the hearts of His people.  He has created us for a purpose, and when we are ignorant of this purpose and how to attain it, life is shallow and empty.  By nature we are not interested in listening to God to learn his will, and what we may have learned quickly fades away.  The church as a whole and its individual members find peace when the knowledge of God is alive in the mind and soul.  This peace and joy God provides through the means of the faithful prophet who preaches the gospel of God.

Forgetting and a lack of knowledge is exactly what happened with Israel in Canaan.  Shortly after the people began to settle into their new life in this promised land, Christ himself, the Word of God and chief prophet, came in the form of the angel of Jehovah (Judges 2:1) and warned the people that of themselves, they were not going to discover God’s will and live accordingly.   The people understood what the angel was saying, and they cried because they were beginning to see how life on this earth involved a battle of the old man of sin and the new man in Christ.  Given a little earthly peace, we are inclined to become spiritually lazy.  Parents slack off on teaching their children, and the children are pulled in a thousand different directions with the distractions and pleasures of this world.  God says of the church at this time, “and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.  And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim” (Judges 2:10–11).   They forgot Jehovah their God (3:7).   We see then that God must continually speak his word to the church and give her a heart that will listen.   The church must have the office of prophet.  The office of prophet must be active, boldly and continuously preaching the word of God.

When his people departed from covenant fellowship with him and turned to the treasures and pleasures of this earth as their gods, God used a descendent of Ham and Nimrod, Chushanrishathaim, a king from Mesopotamia and the region of Babel and Babylon, to oppress them for eight years.  The Bible does not describe any details of physical cruelty or earthly oppression other than that they served this king.  All their resources and talents were used now in the service of the enemy instead of their God.  As the enemy of God and the church, this king sought to drive them completely away from God, but by the grace of God, the true church cried out, and God raised up Othniel.

Othniel was a nephew of Caleb, who was one of the faithful spies.  He was from the tribe of Judah and was actively involved in leading his tribe in the conquest of cities in Canaan (1:13).  His name means “lion of God” and pointed ahead to Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.   As a judge and picture of Christ he was given the authority and power to deliver Israel from this enemy.  After delivering them from the power of the enemy, he had the authority to instruct Israel to worship God alone and enforce that instruction.  It is especially in this role as instructor that we see the value of the office of prophet because Israel was again brought to a knowledge of God and enjoyed rest for forty years.

The chapters toward the end of the book of Judges give specific stories and details about life within the church during these years of painful spiritual growth.  Today we hear on the news dreadful stories of famine, poverty, violence, murder, and sexual perversion, but there really is nothing new under the sun.  These same things were happening even within Israel and demonstrate the corruption and misery that quickly develops when the people are not being fed with the word of God.  One shocking news story that aroused the whole nation to action was the news that the body parts of a woman had been sent from a man in Gibeah to all the tribes in Israel!  Behind this story were even more heinous scandals of prostitution, violence, homosexuality, and murder.   We read the details in the last three chapter of Judges, and we read a summary of the story in Judges 20: 4–6:  “And the Levite, the husband of the woman that was slain, answered and said, I came into Gibeah that belongeth to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to lodge. And the men of Gibeah rose against me, and beset the house round about upon me by night, and thought to have slain me: and my concubine have they forced, that she is dead.  And I took my concubine, and cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel: for they have committed lewdness and folly in Israel.” The tribe of Benjamin was unwilling to discipline these crimes and the ensuing civil war nearly wiped out the tribe of Benjamin.

Another example of life apart from the pure preaching of God’s word is the story of Ruth.   The story of Ruth begins with the words “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.”  We don’t know exactly when this famine occurred, but the famine may very well have been the result of the oppression of one of the nations God sent to chastise Israel.  We bring up this story of Ruth at this time because it illustrates the misery brought on by belittling the office of prophet and ignoring the word of God.  God was speaking through the famine, and they disregarded it, as well as the whole picture of the promised land as their place in heaven where they would experience the peace and blessedness of fellowship with God.

Only after Naomi returned to Israel (in every earthly way very miserable and bitter), did she begin to taste the sweet mercies of covenant fellowship with God.  The office of prophet was alive and well within the sphere of Boaz and his household.  Here was true peace and rest.  The words of Boaz brought comfort and hope to Ruth and Naomi, and God used this office of prophet to reveal that he was working in Israel, and even through the enemy, Moab, to bring the promised Messiah who would deliver Israel from the bondage of sin and speak the words of eternal life.  The story of Ruth also reveals God’s plan to strengthen the offices of prophet, priest, and especially king in the line of Ruth.

Ruth was from Moab, and we conclude this article with the second judge, Ehud, who delivered Israel from the oppression of Eglon, king of Moab.  Eglon had succeeded in taking control of Jericho, from which he was able to force the church to bring their offerings to him instead of to God.  This oppression went on for eighteen years before they cried out to God for deliverance. “But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.” (Judges 3:16)   It is striking to note that Ehud was from the tribe of Benjamin, which had nearly been destroyed by the other tribes because it had been unwilling to discipline the crime of the men from Gibeon.  The Benjamites were known for skill in war, and in particular their skill in using both hands with accuracy and power.  During the civil war, it was noted in chapter 20:16 “ Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth and not miss.”  In this judge the office of king is more prominent in the fact that he leads and fights for the people and encourages them to the battle.  When he himself comes personally to Eglon to deliver the present, he speaks as a prophet who brings the word of God when he told Eglon, “I have a message from God unto thee.” (3:20)   It was a message of judgment on those who hate God and oppress the church.

The rest of the judges who came after Ehud in the next two hundred years also brought the word of God to the people.  Notable among them is Deborah, who is called a prophetess and a judge (4:4).  Because the church had grown apostate and the men were neglecting their leadership roles in the church, God under these special circumstances appointed Deborah to judge and bring God’s word to the people.  Through her God called Barak to fight the enemy, and together they sang the song of praise to God in Judges 5, which proclaimed the word of God in song even as the Psalms do.

The office of prophet was not brought to its full force and action as an office of service in the old testament church until the end of the period of judges, when Samuel was prepared by God to fill this role.  Professor Engelsma writes in Unfolding Covenant History volume 5: “The period of the judges shows that the office of the prophet is necessary for the life of the covenant.  God’s purpose with the history of the judges is to introduce this office into the nation with the call of Samuel” (p. 5).  Let us give thanks to God for his covenant faithfulness as he continues to provide faithful ministers of his word and elders to feed the flock.  May each of us be diligent as prophets learning and speaking this word.

Life in Egypt had been good.  The children of Israel had homes.  They had plenty of good food.  Their large families were well supported with a prospering business in cattle.  They were strong, healthy, and robust.  As a people, their numbers were growing exponentially into the hundreds of thousands.  But the astounding growth and prosperity of the children of Israel brought new temptations and spiritual oppression for the church.   This growth had the attention of the new Pharaoh as well, and life quickly began to change for the children of Israel.  Peace and prosperity turned into terror as Pharaoh first subjected the people to forced labor, then tried an undercover plan to kill the baby boys at birth, and finally implemented an open policy of killing the Hebrew boys.   The Egyptians were told that these babies posed a threat to society and must die for the sake of a united and strong Egypt.  After eighty years of this horrible life of hard labor, fear, hiding, and losing covenant children, we read in Exodus 2:23–24 that “the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”

Immediately following the verse describing the prosperity of the children of Israel, God reveals to us in Exodus 1:8–12: “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.  Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.  But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.” Those before this new pharaoh remembered the terrible famine, and how Joseph had saved the people and in fact brought power and control to the central government of Egypt.  But this pharaoh was alarmed and saw a real danger to Egypt.   Unless these Hebrew people joined heart and soul with Egypt, they now had the strength to side with an enemy and overthrow Egypt.   He began to implement a plan to assimilate this people into the nation and harness their strength for Egypt.  But this dealing “wisely” was not so wise after all.  Perhaps if the children of Israel had been any other people, and not the church, this policy would have been wise.  But the world must recognize a sovereign God who is gathering a people unto himself.  He is a God who will turn the plans of man upside down and accomplish his purpose in all things.

As the new pharaoh began to implement these new policies for the Hebrews, we find Amram, the father of Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, over fifty years old.  He had married Jochabed (Exodus 6:20), who was actually his aunt—a daughter of Levi (Num. 26:59).  Their daughter Miriam was not yet born, but the oppression of the church had rapidly become intense, and Amram and Jochabed were very concerned about bearing children of the covenant under this time of terrible persecution.  When their first child—a girl—was born, they named her Miriam, which in the Hebrew means “rebellion” and “bitterness.”  Some years later when a son was born, they named him “Aaron,” which means “light bringer.”  Perhaps it seemed to them as though things were changing for the better, but within a few short years, by the time Moses, their third child, was born, the new pharaoh had implemented an open policy of killing the boy babies, and they resorted to hiding the child until it was impossible to keep him hidden.

These days were indeed dreadful for the children of Israel, especially for those who were clinging to the promise of covenant children and the savior who would be born of the seed of the woman.  In the middle of this dark time, God provided two remarkable women, Shiphrah and Puah, who served to thwart Pharoah’s strategy.  These two women were the head midwives who oversaw the work of a large team of midwives who delivered babies for the Hebrew women.  Pharaoh had instructed them to see to it that the boy babies did not live.  Exactly how this went is not clear, but it would seem that the plan was somewhat secretive, and the midwives could perhaps make the deaths appear accidental.  But these two head midwives disobeyed the king and preserved the life of all the babies.  They did so because they “feared God” (Ex. 1:17).  They are not included in the list of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, but we do read that “God dealt well with the midwives”(Ex. 1:20).

We are not told how long this went on before pharaoh realized that the midwives were not obeying his orders, but we are told that God used their bold actions to strengthen the homes of his people.  We read that “the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty” (1:20), and that “he made them houses” (v. 21).  The idea of “houses” here is not simply the external structure of a nice house, but rather strong, godly homes with many children who were being instructed in the fear of the Lord.  Whether the parents in Israel were aware of Pharaoh’s horrible plot or not is not clear, but while these families were but two women away from the loss of multitudes of covenant children, they were active in establishing covenant homes.  Soon pharaoh’s plan was delivered to the public and it became a criminal offense for anyone to preserve the life of a baby Hebrew boy.  Under this terrifying policy in which anyone could be a spy and everyone was out to save his or her own skin, even timid parents might be inclined to give up their own child to save their neck.

Into this scene a third child was born to Amram and Jochabed … and it was a boy!   Exactly what they were thinking when they built a little floating cradle and placed it with this baby in the river is impossible to tell.  Some view their actions as cowardly and unnatural, but God reveals in Hebrews 11:23 that faith was at work behind their actions.  We read, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.”  Their older daughter Miriam stayed nearby to keep watch, and perhaps to distract the alligators or snakes that might come too close.  But imagine the bittersweet joy and amazement of these grieving parents as Miriam came home with the baby and the daughter of pharaoh herself!  Under the protection of the royal house, his mother would be allowed to nurse the child until he was weaned.  They would have a few years to teach this child the precious promises of God and instill that knowledge into his soul before they would have to hand him over to the rearing of Pharaoh’s daughter.

Eventually the time came for the child to leave his father and mother, and Moses disappeared into the palace and the best life that Egypt had to offer.  Time went on, and the policies of Pharaoh appeared to be having the impact upon the children of Israel that pharaoh desired.  Life was much more difficult than before, but it was still tolerable and perhaps preferable in the minds of some to a life of wandering in Canaan like their fathers.  God reveals nothing of any plans of the children of Israel to organize and rebel against Egypt, as the Egyptians feared; on the contrary, they seemed to be very much attached to the life and food of Egypt.  We get a brief glimpse of life for the Hebrews some thirty-five years later when Moses began as a young man to understand his identity.   By the grace of God he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,  Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;  Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (Heb. 11:25-26).   It was pride, however, that drove him to kill an Egyptian and to try to deliver Israel by his own strategy.  He found that the people were reluctant.   Later, when they faced hardship in the wilderness, they wished they were back in Egypt.  This new pharaoh could perhaps have relied on the allurement of the earthly pleasures of Egypt to keep the people within Egypt and under its control.  But God was pleased to bring this oppression upon his people in order to wake them up spiritually, make Egypt ripe for judgment, and demonstrate his power and love for the salvation of his church.

After Moses fled the country and went to live in Midian, life went on as before for the children of Israel.  Pharaoh persisted in his oppression and the people began to give up, groan, and despair.  Those years of booming business opportunities in Egypt were distant fanciful memories.  The thrill of seeing the people multiply with busy families despite pharaoh’s attempts to crush them had disappeared.  All these children, now grown up, were only the multiplication of misery as they served their enemy.   Pharaoh had won.  The promises of God seemed to have failed.  It looked as though faith had died, and that these people whom God called his own were spiritually dead.   We read in Exodus 2:23 “And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.”  We do not read that they cried in faith to God, but simply that they cried; and when they cried, God heard his people.  The time had come for God to demonstrate the power of his grace and love, and to breathe life into this people who were dead in the bondage of sin.  The time had come for judgment and the overthrow of Satan and his powers.  Ironically (or rather, for the purpose of giving God all the glory) just when Satan seems to have the victory and God’s people are utterly helpless, God turns the efforts of Satan upside down and works salvation and deliverance.

The twenty-fourth century of history begins with Jacob, the weary pilgrim, coming to live in Egypt.  By now his family had grown considerably because his twelve sons had families of their own, and the total count of people had reached 70 souls.   This move into Egypt marks a significant change of life for the church, which had been very small and wandering in the promised land as pilgrims; now the church  moves into the heart of a powerful foreign nation, settling down in the land of Goshen (Gen. 47:1), in the area of the city Rameses (v. 11), and there multiplying in numbers.  The hundred year period we consider in this installment is described in Exodus 1:6–7 as follows:  “And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation.  And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.”  In some respects we as Protestant Reformed people have experienced a similar pattern—our founding fathers dying, and then the generation following growing old and dying, and now an increase in numerical growth.

Concerning the time spent in Egypt, there is some disagreement, and I will briefly describe the two options.  Some say they were in Egypt for 430 or roughly 400 years, and others say Egypt was the final stage of 430 years of oppression.   Having read through the argument of Henry Ainsworth, a British theologian from the 1600’s, I am inclined to think that the latter is a very straightforward and biblical explanation: the four hundred years of affliction came to its greatest depth in Egypt, but the persecution began when Ishmael mocked Isaac (Galatians 4:29).   Using the chronology in the Bible from Abraham to Moses, it can be calculated that Israel was delivered from Egypt exactly four hundred years after Ishmael mocked Isaac, the child of the promise.  This mocking took place thirty years after the promise of Genesis 12:2 which is why we read in Galatians 3:17 that the law was given four hundred and thirty years after the promise.   Abraham himself as the father of the nation was, for a time right after this promise in Egypt, and we read in Exodus 12:40 that the four hundred thirty years of the sojourning of the children of Israel had come to an end when they were delivered from Egypt.

With this understanding, Jacob’s coming into Egypt took place right in the middle of this period of affliction.  The beginning of the four hundred years of affliction had begun shortly after God had revealed it two hundred fifteen years earlier to Abraham when God said, “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.  And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.  But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” Genesis 15:13–16  Both Isaac and Jacob had lived under the growing pressure of affliction all their lives as strangers moving from land to land from the time of the promise until the oppression culminated as slavery in Egypt (Psalm 105:10 ff).   It would be about a hundred years yet before there arose a king over Egypt who knew not Joseph.

So Jacob and his sons left Canaan and settled in the land that Pharaoh had appointed to them.  From an earthly and financial perspective, this move opened up some very good opportunities.  Not only was this prime land for raising their own cattle, but Pharaoh had also instructed Joseph to select the best cattlemen of the family to supervise the management of Pharaoh’s cattle (Genesis 47:6).    While the famine wore on for another few years, and the whole land of Egypt came under the control of Pharaoh through the management of Joseph, all the needs of Jacob’s family were provided for by Joseph.  In fewer than twenty years, we read in connection with Jacob’s death, “they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly” (47:27).  Jacob, however, did not express any interest in this material growth in numbers and wealth, but was only concerned about their return to the promised land of Canaan, and the promise of salvation (chapters 48–49).  Joseph as well died with the words, “God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (50:24), and made his sons swear that they would take his bones with them.

We might wonder how it was that after such slow growth in the one hundred years prior, that the church now experiences exponential growth.  The world points to the natural factors mentioned in the previous paragraph: the abundance of resources, good health, and safety; and there is some truth to that.   But at the heart of this growth is the sovereign purpose of God.  We read in Psalm 105:23–25, “Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. And he increased his people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies.  He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants.”  God himself increased his people.  This great increase was the work of God as he prepared to demonstrate his power to save and deliver the church from the power and bondage of sin.

When we stop to think about the pattern of church growth that we noticed in previous articles, this exponential growth in the middle of a period of affliction and persecution for his people is quite remarkable.  At the time of Enoch we saw a church that was gradually being crushed by the power of the world.  After the flood the church experienced some growth, but again was gradually reduced to scattered remnants such as Job, Melchizedec, and Abraham.  Abraham and Isaac lived long, lonely years with no children and only one child after they were old.  From an earthly perspective, it would seem as though sending the wandering family of Jacob into Egypt would quench this smoking flax, but instead, God breathed new life into his church and increased his people greatly.  God’s ways are not our ways.  Living by faith as pilgrims in this earth, the people of God “out of weakness were made strong” (Heb. 11:34).

Secular historians speak of changes in Egypt about this time, as waves of immigrants called the Hyksos moved into Egypt from the east, and for a time took control of parts of Egypt.   They are said to have introduced horses and chariots as well as new food crops to Egypt.  Perhaps these are the foods and horses that impressed the Israelites and tempted them after they left Egypt.  God sovereignly directed all these events also for the purpose of his church in Egypt.

Though the word of God places great emphasis on Israel’s living in Egypt and then being delivered with a mighty and glorious deliverance, the records in Egypt show nothing of it and secular historians dismiss the stories as myth.  The world has never paid much attention to the true church, and we would not expect Egypt to pay much attention either, even though they felt the heavy hand of God.

Secular history gives much more attention to the Babylonian king Hammurabi, who had conquered much of Mesopotamia to create the first Babylonian empire and unify it with a single law code.  This is also the time when the descendents of Japheth were beginning to form the nations of Greece and Persia.  In what is now Britain, the last set of stones had been set to build what is now known as Stonehenge.  In China the Shang dynasty of rulers had begun, and they set down the first historical written record of their rule.  The Assyrian kingdom had gained considerable power, but at this time was being overrun by the Harrian people from Armenia.  These nations too are under the sovereign rule of God as he prepares them to display his glory in the future as they interact with the church.

The only other historical information that God’s word gives us about this period concerns the genealogy of Moses.  The genealogies in Exodus 6:16–20 reveal that Levi’s son Kohath lived during this time, and Kohath had a son Amram who was the father of Moses.   According to the numbers given, Levi lived through most of this century, and Moses was born 41 years after his great-great grandfather, Levi  died, and 33 years after the beginning the century we will cover next, the Lord willing.  We can be sure that this was a very busy period of time for the families of Israel as they raised large families and sought to instruct them in the ways of God and to provide for them in the land of Egypt.   Oppression for this brief period did not seem to entail very much outward hardship until the new Pharaoh began to implement his policy of hard labor and killing male children, but the spiritual oppression by Satan was heavy as the people began to enjoy the goods and food of Egypt.

In many ways the time we now live in is similar, as God has blessed many in our churches with large families.   We also live in an increasingly materialistic world which emphasizes more than ever the pursuit of wealth and pleasure.  We experience the temptations to cling to earthly treasures and feel tremendous pressure to reduce family size and join with the world in it pursuit of the pleasures of this earthly life.  Just as God’s church in Egypt, we can expect only physical and material persecution in addition to the spiritual oppression we face now as the day comes closer when God will reveal great deliverance for his church and judgment on the wicked world.

The twenty-third century of history begins with a rather lonely and depressing scene.  Jacob is on a journey. He is alone, leaving his home and family.  He is fleeing the wrath of his brother, Esau, and heading toward the land and the family of his uncle Laban, where his mother grew up.  Outwardly, it would appear that his life and future did improve very much.  One hundred years later the scene is strikingly similar.  The century will come to a close with Jacob again on the move and rather uncertain about the future.  At that time he will no longer be alone, but will be leaving the promised land of Canaan with wagon loads of belongings and seventy souls to live in Egypt.  From an outward and earthly point of view, Jacob’s life was a series of disappointments and a failure to thrive.

When he gets to Egypt, Joseph introduces him to Pharaoh, and in this meeting we see a striking display of the antithesis between the church and the world.  The tired patriarch Jacob and the enthusiastic young Pharaoh stand face to face; the life of the church and the life of the world stand face to face.  They try to communicate, but it really is not possible.  The difference between the two goes far deeper than language or culture – it’s as if they are from two different worlds.    Pharaoh comes in the flush of an astounding victory over famine, having averted national disaster, now as an exceedingly powerful man.   He comes filled with positive ambition and a zest for life.   We read that Jacob blessed the king, but this can be nothing more than him giving honor to the king with a greeting and farewell.  He finds no reason or direction from God to pronounce a true spiritual blessing of God’s favor upon him.  Pharaoh is apparently impressed with the great age of Jacob, and asks about it.  Jacob answers with a brief but very revealing commentary on his life: “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage” (Gen. 47:9)  The pomp, zest for earthly life, and ambitions for power hold no interest for Jacob, and the king doesn’t really know what to say in response to Jacob’s seemingly gloomy words.   Pilgrimage?  Perhaps this old man can at last settle down in the pasture lands of Egypt.  Pharoah does what he can as far as providing earthly comforts and offers him good pasture land for his cattle.

These words of Jacob are not words of bitter resentment for the difficult life that he has lived, but rather those of a pilgrim speaking to a prosperous citizen of this earth who really can never understand or appreciate what he is hearing.   What else would we expect from a man who has grown in faith and understands clearly what the life of a spiritual pilgrim entails?  God says of Jacob and the rest of the patriarchs, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.  And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.  But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:13–16).  God’s people are pilgrims.   Though Satan at times can distract and dazzle us with the wonderful things in this life, the child of God comes to realize he is a pilgrim in this earthly life.  God is pleased to give us life for awhile in a place that is not home, so that we grow and are prepared for eternal life with God.  God often has a very busy schedule of hardships for the short life of his saints as he reveals to them through these trials the depth of their sins and miseries and also the wonder of his love and grace in Christ.  Jacob was no exception, and serves as a pattern and example for our lives.

 

The word that Jacob uses to describe his life and that of his fathers is “pilgrimage.”   In contrast to Pharaoh and the people within his kingdom, who were applying all their resources to the building up of a mighty nation able to satisfy earthly needs and desires, Jacob had spent his life wrestling with family problems, and finally after wrestling with the angel of Jehovah (Hosea 12:3–4), coming to see the foolishness of trusting physical strength and earthly wisdom.  Through the trials and struggles of life in this earth, God brought Jacob into covenant fellowship with himself.  Having tasted life as a citizen of heaven in fellowship with God, the glories and ambitions of Pharaoh hold not the least bit of attraction.   Jacob is interested in Pharaoh only insofar as to see how God has used him to bring Joseph into a position of bringing his family into Egypt.

Leaving the promised land and moving to Egypt did not seem to fit with the promise of God, but God did tell Abraham earlier that this would happen.  Over two hundred years earlier, when Abram had fallen into a deep sleep and “an horror of great darkness came over him,” God spoke of his covenant to Abram with the words, “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.  And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.  But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Genesis 15:13–16).  The Amorites were descendents of Ham’s son Canaan.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been living among them and could see the growth and development in their iniquity while waiting for God to give them this promised land.  The land itself was only a picture of heaven, and the life of Jacob in Canaan and now in Egypt were pictures of the church as she waits for the reality of heavenly life.  Pharaoh was completely blind to the spiritual reality of Jacob’s life, and spoke to him as a mere curiosity.  The two of them standing there face to face were of entirely different kingdoms.  Jacob was only passing through and looking more and more forward the closer he got to his destination: perfect covenant life with God in heaven.

The land that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were traveling toward was heaven, and not simply a settled life in the land of Canaan.   It is true that God spoke to them all of the promise of obtaining the land of Canaan, and eventually the children of Israel obtained the land and even established a mighty kingdom there.  But even for the people of God who lived in peace under their own vine at the peak of Solomon’s glory, it was obvious that Canaan was only a picture of the heavenly kingdom.  Sin had not been conquered.  The picture quickly disintegrated as God again directed his people to the reality.  The word of God in Hebrews 11 makes clear that Jacob understood that his destination was not merely an earthly kingdom in Canaan.   In the same way we need to understand that the church on this earth and the gathering of the church into the kingdom of God is not the ultimate goal and destination.   We do not yet live in the new heavens and the new earth, as many today seem to imagine.  We are still pilgrims just like Jacob, and the way we life our life must show it.

Jacob’s life was difficult and full of trials.  Homer Hoeksema gives this summary of his life’s events:

He had been born at a disadvantage regarding that which he cherished most: the promise.  He had been struggling long years with his wicked brother Esau, who despised the birthright.  He had been compelled to become an exile, without possessions except for his staff.  He had been in servitude to his crafty uncle for a score of years.  He had been cheated out of the wife he loved and was compelled to marry the woman he did not love.  His beloved Rachel had died in childbirth.  He had been constantly harassed with family troubles of the worst nature.  He had seen the wickedness of his sons: of Judah, of Reuben, of Simeon and Levi.  He had bemoaned for years the loss of his most beloved son.  Now he was compelled to leave the land of promise and to move to a strange land once more.  Indeed, to the flesh the way had been evil.  … But now bring in the pilgrim’s viewpoint.  Then not the way, but the goal is the main thing.  With respect to the way, the sole question is not, “Was the way smooth or rough?”  Rather, in evaluating the way, the sole question is this: “What was its direction and whither did it lead me?” All of life must be judged in the light of this question. (Unfolding Covenant History 3:186-7)

 

Jacob’s direction in life was toward closer fellowship with God, trusting in God’s sovereign control, and the honor and glory of his name.  From an outward perspective, even we in the church might be inclined to judge his life as a disaster.  Suppose Jacob and his family attended your church.  He sits there, an old man with a family history of gross sins among his children, and never really settled and established.  But we may not be respecters of persons.  Jacob is very aware of his weakness and the power of sin, and he has grown very close to God in his covenant fellowship as he waits to enter his heavenly home.

 

The pilgrim never really feels at home in life as long as he is a pilgrim here on this earth.  It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate the wonders and beauty of this world or that he is dissatisfied with what God has created, but he recognizes that this world has been corrupted by sin and that God has established it as preparation for covenant life with him in the new heavens and the new earth.  Our young people who attend Christian colleges are bombarded with the message that this present earth is our home, and that it is our business actively to engage and transform the world in preparation for Christ’s return to rule.   This world has too much to offer and the colleges don’t like pessimistic pilgrim talk.  If God has infused this world with a grace common to all, how dare we disparage it with the tunnel vision of a pilgrim?  God’s word makes it clear that Jacob was a pilgrim even as he walked the land of Canaan, and not only while in Egypt.  God makes it clear that the saints all view this present earth as a preparation for the new heavens and the new earth.   Who are we to reply to God with our own vision and wisdom?    On the other hand, if our young people go to secular universities, they are temped with the glories and power of man, as Jacob saw in Egypt.   Either way, we must remember that we are pilgrims and desire a better country, that is, an heavenly.

 

Let’s keep in mind that one characteristic of this period of history for the church is that of learning and waiting.  She has already learned that God will choose by his sovereign good pleasure who will be saved.  She has learned that man will not need to earn salvation in any way by his own works.  She is aware that salvation will be deliverance from the bondage of sin, and that God will send one, born of a woman, to do the work of saving the church.  She is also aware that the nations of the earth have disappeared off into the horizon to fill and populate the earth, but that the church will one day be gathered from each of these nations.   Today we live in the last day, but we are not in heaven yet.  We still live as pilgrims and have the same attitude toward this world as Jacob did.

 

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

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