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“Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek…” (Matt. 21:5).
There is a certain truth in the theory of Thomas Carlyle, “The history of this world is the biography of its great men.” Certainly it is true that the great leaders of this world have left their mark on history’s lessons. Equally true is that great eras in history are closely associated with the great leaders of that era. Alexander the Great (the glorious days of Macedonia), Julius Caesar (the mighty Roman Empire), Napoleon Bonaparte (France’s day in the sun), even Adolph Hitler (Germany’s ignominious rise to power).
What is the quality(ies) which is required for leadership? What brings an Alexander the Great, an Adolph Hitler, or a Ronald Reagan from virtual obscurity to the highest positions of leadership in the world? Historians say that Napoleon could greet thousands of soldiers by name and that the American politician, James Farley (1888–1976), could call over 50,000 people by their first names. Is the necessary quality for leadership the ability to relate in a personal, intimate way with the masses? Today probably more than ever before this is a desirable quality for leadership—at least it is one important way to become a leader.
Undoubtedly, the qualities most sought after and expected in a world leader are that he is dynamic, forceful, charismatic, diplomatic. A man with a golden tongue is high on the list, his rhetoric such that he is able either to appease or to excite the masses; and good looks don’t hurt a potential leader either. Promises of the good life—plenty of “food and fun”—have always lured the people to follow a Pied Piper.
When it comes right down to it, modern day man’s expectations for its leaders has not changed essentially from that of Israel’s of old. Why did Israel’s heart swell in hope at the sight of Saul? His bearing was kingly; “from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.” And then later, “Saul has slain his thousands.” “He has clothed us in scarlet and put ornaments of gold upon our apparel.” In today’s language, “He is strong; he has brought us the good life.”
All of these are qualities which men look for in a leader. Are these also the important traits which God looks for in a leader? We would do well to remember that Saul was never God’s choice for Israel’s leader. Nor were Jesse’s older sons, handsome and debonair though they were. Even Samuel was fooled by outward appearance. It seems that God, however, reserves to himself a requirement for leadership that man has rarely, if ever, considered. God knows the vanity, the futility, in outward indications of leadership potential. As always, God looks past—and through—the outer shell of a man and his eye penetrates deep within the recesses of a man’s heart. And what does he want to find there which makes a man suitable for leadership? He is looking for one outstanding virtue for his leaders, be it in the world or in the church. His leaders must be meek! Meek, you say? Who would ever want a meek leader? In man’s opinion meekness has never been a necessary ingredient for leadership; in God’s judgment it is paramount. Scan the Scriptures from Genesis through Revelation and you will find that every leader that God ever chose was first and foremost meek. If Saul had one qualification going for him at the outset of his kingship it was that he was lowly-minded. Would today that more leaders were “hiding among the baggage,” being begged and coerced into the position of leadership.
When Saul became king, the adage held true, “If you wish to know what a man is, place him in authority.” Saul’s very soul became warped through it. “It is an observation no less just than common that there is no stronger test of a man’s real character than power and authority (leadership, MBL), exciting as they do every passion, and discovering every latent vice.” Saul could not hold up under these aroused passions; his latent vices soon rose to the surface.
In leadership there is the inherent vice, “Take heed lest thou become a Caesar indeed; lest the purple stain thy soul.” In fact, it is only a leader who is meek who can withstand the intoxication of power and authority—whose soul will be untainted by the purple.
We often equate (wrongly) meekness with “mousiness.” And in a world of “Stand up for your rights” and “I’ll show you who is first around here” the quality of meekness is oft times strained. Meekness makes a man “all things to all men.” Meekness is enduring injury with patience, without resentment. Meekness is largeness of spirit, denial of self, and willingly subjugating oneself to God and the neighbor. Meekness is an attitude of the heart which makes one willing to subordinate all one’s own rights, real or assumed, to the service of peace and unity. Dr. Thomas Goodwin (puritan preacher) says, “Meekness must spring up out of one’s heart, as that heart is more and more softened, and tamed, and humbled, and sweetened by the grace of God and by the indwelling Spirit of Christ.”
To be meek is to be as submissive as Abraham, as self-effacing as Moses, as penitent as David, all to God’s glory, for Jesus’ sake, for the advance of the Gospel, and the welfare of the neighbor. Out of the many possible examples of Scripture’s leaders (the judges, the prophets, the apostles), it is upon these three leaders that we will focus our attention as those who evidenced the fruit of the Spirit, meekness.
Abraham was a leader chosen by God whose entire life was characterized by the virtue meekness. Although already in Ur he seems to have been a man of import, he willingly packed up all his possessions at God’s behest to go to a strange land about which he knew nothing. It was because Abraham exercised meekness towards God that he was able to maintain peace and unity amongst the herdmen by showing a spirit of meekness toward his nephew, Lot. The pious patriarch took no account that he and he alone had been given the promises of God and the whole land for his inheritance, but rather, he “condescended to Lot’s equal although he could not be compared in age, dignity, or office” (Luther, Commentary on Genesis, p. 238).
How meekly he stands on those wind-swept plains—the title to those lands all his, clear and free—speaking softly and smoothly to avoid the confrontation which is smoldering right on the surface. Hear him as he says to Lot in honeyed tones, “We are brethren, let there be no strife between us” (Gen. 13:8). In this incident we see Abraham keeping Christ’s injunction in Matthew 20:27 and 28, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister….”
But Abraham’s supreme example of a meek and quiet spirit came near the end of his life when, after waiting nearly one hundred years for the promised son, God commands him to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac. See, then, this great Old Testament leader (put to the ultimate test of bearing injury patiently for God’s sake) walk meekly up Mt. Moriah, lay his beloved son on the altar, and with no forthcoming explanation from God, grasp the hilt of his knife to obey God unquestioningly and plunge it deeply into his son.
In Abraham, God chose a leader/friend who was meek towards him and towards his fellow man.
No biblical example of a meek leader would be complete without Moses. For it is of Moses that we read a phrase which is found of no one else in all of Scripture: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). It is a tribute to this Old Testament leader that the saying is common yet today, “He is as meek as Moses.”
And again, it was because Moses was first of all submissive towards God, voluntarily leaving the gilded courts of Egypt to spend forty long years in the wilderness of Midian as a lowly sheep-tender, that he is able to evidence that same spirit towards God’s people. With what meekness he leads the complaining children of Israel all the way to the Promised Land. What meekness is his when his own brother and sister try to pull him down from the exalted position in which God has placed him. For Moses, this was the final blow to any pride or self-exalting to which he might have been inclined —his own family humbling him by its envy and ill-will. This family dispute, coupled with his wife Zipporah’s earlier stand-off over the issue of the circumcision of his sons, had done much to humble and make meek the heart of this man, Moses.
And yet, as with all the Christian virtues, the most meek of men has only a small beginning of this godly virtue as is shown in the narrative of Moses when, on the very borders of Canaan, Moses, as fiery and quick-tempered as when he had slain the Egyptian taskmaster, struck the rock and called God’s people rebels. How beautifully Alexander Whyte gives verse to this incident in the life of Moses:
Moses, the patriot fierce, became
The meekest man on earth,
To show us how love’s quick’ning flame
Can give our souls new birth.
Moses, the man of meekest heart,
Lost Canaan by self-will,
To show where grace has done its part,
How sin defiles us still.
Thou, who hath taught me in Thy fear
Yet seest me frail at best,
O grant me loss with Moses here,
To gain his future rest.
In Moses, God chose a leader/friend who was meek towards him and towards his fellow man.
It was while David was yet a youth that God looked deeply into his boyish heart and, liking what he saw, chose David to be king over all Israel. It was of this ruddy young man that Scripture says, “A man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14). Without question, God saw much sin in that heart, sin of the grossest sort (adultery and murder!), for David was guilty of the worst of all sins beyond any other sinner in the whole Bible. But there he also beheld repentance, tears in the night, real sorrow over sin. He saw subjection to him. He saw a leader brave, fearless, and loyal, but also meek and humble. And so, Samuel must go to the unlikely sheepfolds of Bethlehem, to a lowly farmer’s home, to procure Israel’s greatest king.
Even though David’s brothers taunted him and accused him falsely when he was sent by his father Jesse to Saul’s battle camp, there was no pride in his heroic slaying of Goliath, but rather, “The Lord will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine…so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (I Sam. 17). How God loved the humility, the meekness, of the young stripling from Bethlehem. In David he saw the meekness of his own dear Son.
For many years after his anointing, David had to wait patiently, at great cost to his own reputation, for the crown to be placed upon his head. During those years Saul pursued him relentlessly. In retaliation, David had had more than one opportunity to take Saul’s life and thus to place the royal diadem upon his own head. In meekness he waited for God to crown him just as he had anointed him so many years before. Indeed, David’s self-restraint was the only thing that prevented civil war in the land of Israel. On one occasion, David did draw his sword but, to the consternation of his men, he only cut off the skirt of Saul’s garment. To the end of his days, David rued that he had even dared to take a piece of Saul’s robe for, after all, in David’s own words, “Saul was the Lord’s anointed.”
To behold David’s most Christ-like example of meekness we must see him and his band of mighty men as they are walking wearily past the top of a hill. His son Absalom has risen against him and his friend Ahithophel has betrayed him. A man named Shimei of the house of Saul comes out cursing David like a wild man and throwing stones and dirt at him, David’s men, hands already on their swords, are eager to do in this “dead dog.” But David, walking the way of sorrow, detains his men. Willingly, he endures the insults, the slights, the injuries, and meekly he says, “Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David… It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day” (II Sam. 16).
Whether David was on the hillside tending his father’s sheep or performing his duties in Saul’s court, whether he was in the wilderness fleeing for his life or wielding the scepter from his throne, and especially in the sanctuary, David was meek towards God and towards the neighbor. Who of us finds it easy to prostrate himself before God, putting away every excuse, crying from the depths of his soul, “I am the man!”? It is with David’s Psalmist pen that we are able to most clearly see the meek, lowly, penitent spirit of Israel’s greatest of kings. “I acknowledge my sin.” “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” “I waited patiently for the Lord.” “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise.”
In David God chose a leader/friend who was meek towards him and towards his fellow man.
Of David a voice from heaven said, Thou art a man after mine own heart, and it is that same voice which thundered centuries later. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Who is so meek a leader as Jesus Christ?
We sing of Christ in Psalter number 243:
A mighty leader, true and brave,
Ordained, exalted, strong to save.
And well we should. But listen to what Jesus says of himself: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
As one authority so well put it: “So utterly did the Son of Man renounce his own words, and works, and will, that we know comparatively little of him. All was from the Father and to the Father” (Paul, F. B. Meyer, p. 40).
“Come, learn of me for I am meek.” See him now as he relinquishes heaven’s courts for a lowly manger. See the one who framed the starry skies and suspended the planets in their orbits hammering nails to help his father Joseph make a living. See how meekly this king sits on the foal of an ass. See him stoop to wash his disciples feet. See him now, when smitten, turn the other cheek. See him reviled and mocked, answering not a word. Hear how submissively he prays, “Not my will, but thine be done.” See how meekly he bends his brow to receive a crown of thorns. With what divine meekness he pleads for us, his murderers, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Would you be an imitator of Christ, a leader such as he? Then, “Come learn of me…I am meek.”

And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years. . .came behind him, and touched the border of his garment.  Luke 8:43, 44

 

For the most elegant litany of all those who lived and died by faith, one only has to read Hebrews 11. Here, the apostle gives names to the Old Testament “cloud of witnesses” who by faith ran with patience the rigorous race set before them, some resisting sin even unto blood.

Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham (the great Old Testament hero of faith, which account takes up almost one- third of the chapter), and Sarah, his wife (given strength to conceive! What a comfort for all Israel’s spiritual mothers). Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. Rahab. Gideon. Barak (how interesting -Barak, whom we consider weak-willed and lily-livered). Samson. Samson? (how difficult to find evidence of faith in his life. His judgeship appears to be all brawn and brashness. Were I writing Hebrews 11, Samson’s godly parents might have been included on this list, but certainly not Samson). Jephthae. David. Samuel. The prophets.

Following this list of faith’s heroes and the sterling examples of faith’s discipline and endurance, comes that moving parenthetical phrase in verse 38, “(Of whom the world was not worthy:)” Just think of it—when you live out of faith, God says, “The world is not worthy of you.” What a remarkable statement! From God’s viewpoint, the simplest saint living out of the most elementary faith is too worthy for this world; he deserves (and will receive) better.

When we were children, we played certain games to hurry along loathsome chores —such as doing dishes. Sometimes we would name all the cars we could think of; sometimes all the cigarette brands we could name; at times, all the rivers we could list, and the like. When that dulled, we made up quizzes. One time we decided to name the strongest thing in the world, concrete. Diamonds. The North Wind, who can stand before His icy blasts?). Iron. Steel. Now, is there anything stronger than steel? We even speak of those with nerves of steel. My sister, desperate to come up with something stronger than steel and with the allotted time running out, blurted, ‘Love. Love is stronger than steel.” Now the contest ran in a different vein. What is stronger than love? “Love is strong as death. . . Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it” (Song of Solomon 8:6 and 7). “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

Undeniably, love is strong. But continue reading Hebrews 11 to discover the strength and power of faith. It can:

  1. subdue kingdoms
  2. bring about righteousness
  3. obtain promises
  4. stop the mouths of lions
  5. quench fire
  6. escape the edge of the sword
  7. rout the army of the alien
  8. receive dead ones to life again!
  9. refuse deliverance from torture

 

And another scripture says that he that has the faith of a grain of mustard can move a mountain. I ask you, is there anything stronger than faith? To believe something, all appearances to the contrary; to have confidence in someone, sight unseen —that is power, that is strength, that is faith!

Many there were in Christ’s day (and in ours!) who saw with their own eyes the miracles which He performed, who heard with their own ears the truths of which He spake, but turned their spiritual backs on the Saviour. They were not linked to Him with the unbreakable cord of faith. But there were others who feasted on His Word. They brought to Him their diseased, their lame, their blind, their devil- possessed—confident of His power to heal them. And still others (even, and especially, those outside the Jewish faith), did not even seek His physical presence to accomplish the miracle, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8). They were satisfied with the “crumbs which fell for the dogs from the master’s table,” and in so doing were assured that they would sit at Christ’s great banquet table through all eternity.

Such confidence characterizes the unnamed woman whose story is recounted in three of the gospel narratives. But although unnamed, there is scarcely a person alive, be he Biblical scholar, lowly plowman, or hardened agnostic, who is not acquainted with the woman who touched the hem of Christ’s garment.

She was poor. Very poor. It had not always been that way. Before her debilitating illness, she had enjoyed the simple comforts of this life. Nor did she begrudge the coins which had so swiftly slipped through her fingers in seeking treatment for her illness. If only she could get a grip on the good health which she so earnestly sought. For what are the goods of this world, money, houses, or land, compared with the simple gift of robust health? This woman had not known a day of good health for some twelve years now. And although she had visited doctor upon doctor, week in and week out, her disease steadily worsened.

At first she had paid for the expenses incurred in seeking medical help out of her luxury. Gradually, however, she began denying herself certain comforts and pleasures to pay for the many and varied treatments she endured. At long last, she realized that she was seeking help at considerable sacrifice to her own financial welfare. And the day came when it struck her forcibly that she had spent all her living on doctors, no longer even owning her house or the plot of ground in the Galilean hamlet she had for so many years called home.

For twelve years she had sought a cure for her malady. During those years she had subjected herself to many remedies. Poultrices. Oils. Balms. Plasters. Herbs. She had even traveled far to effect a cure from a well-talked-of mineral bath. Amulets, however, the woman did not permit (although there were those in Israel who did), that being, in her mind, a practice of the heathen Amorites. Every remedy known to the physicians of her day, she had tried —and some more than once. Most of the treatments, however, were of an external nature since there was very little knowledge among the Hebrew doctors concerning internal medicine. The Hebrew practice of treating diseases was still in a very rudimentary state, as it is in primitive societies yet today.

Some of the doctors, she was sure, were not even qualified to practice medicine, having had no medical education. Any lowly tradesman or farmer had only to grind an old knife blade into the shape of a lancet, bill himself as a doctor, and thus take up the healing art. How much she had squandered on these charlatans she would never really know. In her desperation to be healed, no price was too great, no doctor too humble. She remembered well the physician who had plainly told her after several sessions that her illness was out of the reach of human skill. She should plead upon the mercies of God. That was her only hope. There simply was no cure for her.

The trying years of failing health were indeed a great grief to her but even more painful to the woman was the fact that for twelve years now, because she was ceremonially unclean, she had not been able to go up to God’s House to worship Jehovah (Leviticus 15:25). She. a dedicated and zealous Jew, had not been able to enjoy the spiritual blessings of temple or synagogue because she was a bloody, hemorrhaging, unclean woman. Considered impure by levitical law, she could not worship with God’s people. As she became grievously ill, how she longed for this communion with God. Now more than ever she needed the comfort, the solace, which God’s House afforded. She was denied this. It was as if she had been excommunicated — perhaps unjustly – from the congregation of Jehovah. Like Job, she could not understand why she was cast off in this way. she could only lament, “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me. . .for the hand of God hath touched me’’ (Job 19:21).

And now, like Job, her soul was weary of her life. Ravaged by her illness, spurned by human companions, ceremonially unfit for the House of God, she had but one hope, but how meager it seemed.

The woman had “heard of Jesus” (Mark 5:27). Her belief in Him was firm enough —that wasn’t her meager hope—but rather, so many obstacles stood in her way to reach Him! It would be embarrassing enough to tell Him of her ailments if she were alone with Him. But Jesus was always busy: He was never alone. The twelve disciples were always near His side and multitudes followed Him at this time wherever He went. Then too, the very nature of her illness, constant hemorrhaging, made it exceedingly difficult to talk to Him about such a thing. No, she lacked the temerity to speak of such matters to anyone, much less to Him! If she could only devise a way to furtively effect the cure. Her faith in Jesus was such that she thought to herself, “If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole” (Matthew 9:21). Just so I don’t have to appeal to Him directly or expose my intimate female difficulties to Him or to the people thronging Him.

And so. she followed Jesus “in the press behind” and in the complete confidence of His wonder-working power reached out to touch the very lowest part of His garment —the hem. Immediately her faith was rewarded, for she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. But the Great Physician turned and looked directly upon her, crouching in the dust fearing and trembling, and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” And though the multitude swarmed Him and His own disciples scolded Him for asking such a mindless question, the woman understood the import of His question. Knowing that she was no longer hid, she knelt at His feet and told Him everything. She did not concern herself with multitudes, disciples, her embarrassing illness, the uncomfortable topic — nothing mattered any longer. She confessed all to Him, telling Him of all her fears, her pain, her sins, her miraculous healing. How silly to imagine that she could “sneak a cure” without Christ’s knowledge; how foolish to assume that she could be restored to health without His divine will. But how strong was her faith in Him! And Jesus, the tender Physician, “touched with the feeling of all her infirmities,” recognized her faith and acknowledged it —in front of all the masses that day, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole. Be of good comfort.”

We must note well: Christ says, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” He doesn’t say, “I have made thee whole,” or even, “The power which pervades my very clothing hath made thee whole.” Many people jostled Christ that day, and they were not healed nor were their sins forgiven. But to everyone who reaches out to Christ in faith, drawn by the efficacious power of His grace, to that one a complete and immediate cure is assured. The tower of sin which rises up in his life as a monolith of filth is completely and forever washed in the fountain of His blood.

In Luke 18:8 Jesus says. “When I return shall I find faith in the earth?” With the unclean woman we respond, “Yes, oh yes, and yes again.” Great Physician, Balm of Gilead, Healer of the Nations, we need not, we dare not, even look up into your blessed face. Let us but touch the hem of your garment.

’In our eagerness to minimize any innate power in Christ’s clothing, we must not do away with its importance altogether. Jesus used the border of His garment to heal the woman. See Acts 5 where the very shadow of Peter passing by healed the sick, and Acts 19:12 which teaches that handkerchiefs and aprons were brought from Paul’s body to those with diseases and evil spirits to bring about healing.

“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank. . . .” Daniel 1:8

 

And so, finally, we come to temperance, the last of nine evidences of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. What is temperance? Who is the temperate man that Galatians would have us know?

Simply put, temperance is self- control. It is the virtue which is best defined by its opposite, excess or indulgence. Sometimes we like to speak of temperance as “moderation in all things.” To the proponents of this definition temperance is drinking liquor but not to the point of drunkenness. It is regular and sumptuous dining, but not to the extreme of gluttony. It is watching television, but not being glued to the tube. It is partying with the boys on a given night, but not partying five nights out of the week. It is freely spending money, but not at the expense of paying the church budget. Sometimes we are inclined to think of temperance as sinning just a little, not a whole lot.

The nice thing about defining temperance as moderation in all things is that really no one can ever accuse you of being immoderate or intemperate in your manner of living and leisure since moderation necessarily involves a good deal of what we call “Christian liberty.” So you think that my six-pack a day is too much alcohol? Well, let me tell you not only to mind your own business, but you can be thankful that I don’t drink a couple Southern Comforts to boot. My Christian liberty, you know. And just where in the Bible does God legislate the strength or intake of alcoholic beverages? Maybe a six-pack is a sin for you — and then you had better not drink it either — but it definitely is not a sin for me. And so goes such argumentation. Good argumentation too, for even Jesus taught, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Matthew 15:11).

It occurs to me that it is too simplistic to identify temperance as moderation. Moderation is certainly included in temperance, but that is not its essential character. Temperance, at its very core, is saying “no” to sin. It is saying “no” to anything that takes on the appearance of sin (I Thessalonians 5:22). It is even a big “no” to the compromising position in which we sometimes put ourselves and which circumstance makes it extremely difficult to say “no” to the eventual temptation which follows.

We must think of temperance as “keeping under your body, and bringing it into subjection” as found in I Corinthians 9:27. It must always be a “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, making not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14). The temperate man is a man concentrating all his attention upon doing God’s will, not letting any earthly consideration interfere with this calling. He is the man who disciplines himself in every area of life to conform more and more to God’s perfect law as guided by the new spirit of grace within him.

Often the calculated and well- thought-out decision to be temperate must be made the first time one is confronted with any excess, any temptation which leads to sin. One must not parley with sin or postpone its urgency. Like a young Joseph, one must set his heart against sin. Like a youthful David, one must refute the imperious demands of sin at the outset.

*****

I am Ashpenaz, prince of the eunuchs of the great King Nebuchadnezzar. For many years I stood before his majestic personage, carrying out every royal caprice and command. I am very old now, having seen the rise and fall of these great ones in Babylon — Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar his son, and Darius the Mede. But for all this, I have fallen out of favor with the mighty ones of Babylon. Nevertheless, for my faithful years of service to these gods of Babylon, I have not been killed as so many of my companions have, nor subjected to the austere punishments which are so whimsically inflicted on dissidents (fiery furnace, dens of lions, “cut into pieces”); I have merely been exiled to this humble hut far from the palace of Babylon and the court activity in which I once played such an active role. Here I muse on the golden days of Babylon, now past. For even as I write this, another enemy, Cyrus of Persia, readies his forces for the takeover of this crumbling decadent city. “Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come” (Revelation 18:10). But before I die, I take stylus and tablet in hand to tell you a most curious and compelling tale. It came about in this manner.

During the reign of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, went into Jerusalem and besieged it, carrying home not only the spoils of war (including the intricate and costly vessels from the House of Judah’s God), but also, and especially, the prized and princely young captives of royal descent. One of these captives, Daniel by Hebrew name, had a most significant impact on the great King Nebuchadnezzar, on me, and even on the life pulses of the proud city of Babylon.

But to understand this Daniel, one has to see him against the city into which he was brought.

There was certainly ample reason for Nebuchadnezzar to boast, “Is not this the great Babylon, which I have built?” For he has made this magnificent city one of the wonders of the world, an unrivaled capital of the Near East. “The merchants of the earth waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies” (Revelation 18:3).

Babylon stands on a spacious plain occupying about 196 square miles. Around the city is a deep and broad moat full of water. Both city and moat are surrounded by a wall which makes a circuit of some 56 miles. I would reckon this wall to be over 300 feet high and almost 90 feet thick — so broad that a four-horse chariot can easily be driven across it. The gates of our city are made of marble and iron and brass and are guarded by images of winged bulls, giant serpents, and fearsome dragons. Outside these city gates live most of Babylon’s citizens — her artisans, her workmen, and her merchants These folk live in modest houses of unbaked clay; their standard of living is poor, but they are just as rich in superstition and sorcery as their compatriots within the city gates.

Opulence within the city gates stands in marked contrast to the humble huts outside. Two royal palaces adorn the city, ornately decorated with heads of gods, animals, and many statues. Each brick in these palaces bears the proud inscription, “I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.” The interior of these palaces is lavish with gold, silver, costly materials of wood and ivory, and precious stones and pearls. These splendid palaces were built for Nebuchadnezzar, but equally celebrated temples and festival houses were built for Babylon’s 65,000 gods and goddesses (Marduk the sun god and Ishtar, a bearded bisexual diety, being the most famous). For it must be remembered that Babylon is a civilization rich in myth and superstition, “the hold of every foul spirit” (Revelation 18:2), and the wishes and demands of the gods must always be assuaged and catered to. “The gods were not aloof from men; most of them lived on earth in the temples, ate with a hearty appetite, and through nocturnal visits to pious women gave unexpected children .to the busy citizens of Babylon” (Our Oriental Heritage, Will Durant, p. 234).

It was for these gods that a great and magnificent causeway was built — higher than the houses themselves — for the festal days of the procession of the gods. Walls of glazed tiles portraying life-size lions decorated the causeway on each side.

As much as 9/10 of the city consists of gardens (the most renowned being the Hanging Gardens which Nebuchadnezzar built for his queen who expressed a longing for her native hills and mountains), parks, paradises, fields, and orchards. And right through the center of the city flows the Euphrates River, its banks lush with palms, willows, and exotic flowers and shrubs; its waters rich with commerce and trade.

The learning and knowledge in this city is unparalleled. It is unexcelled in language and literature, in astronomy and mathematics, in agriculture and architecture, in painting and music, in law and medicine, in religion and philosophy.

Within this city, every pleasure and pastime conceivable to those of wealth and leisure takes place. Every deviant practice, sexual atrocity, and laxity of men and morals is prevalent. Within these high protected walls men of high degree were satiated with “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16). It is a city “full of abomination and filthiness”; it is “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS” (Revelation 17:4 and 5). Effeminate degeneracy is ordinary; fathers prostitute their daughters for money; every native woman is obliged once in her lifetime to sit in Venus’ temple and have intercourse with a stranger. And while Babylon gives itself up to revelry and debauchery, to eating and drinking and being merry — for tomorrow we die — a young boy far from his faith, home, and people walks into this city, gives new meaning to a ten-letter word called temperance, and forever alters the course of Babylonian history.

Daniel was not the only Hebrew captive to be brought into Babylon during these times (10,000 captives from Judah alone, II Kings 24:14); there were many lads of nobility and rank from all of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquests throughout the world. It was my duty to initiate a certain number of these boys to Babylonian traditions and assist them in making the adaptation to a foreign land. Particularly, at this time, four boys were given into my charge. It was Nebuchadnezzar’s practice to change the native names of all his captives and confer Babylon names upon them at once. Thus, Daniel, “God is My Judge”, became Belteshazzar. Daniel had no choice in this matter and I doubt that it bothered him a great deal. In his own mind God was always his Judge, as his subsequent life in Babylon showed.

I noticed very soon upon his arrival at Nebuchadnezzar’s illustrious court that Daniel was of strong physique, superior intellect, and of the highest character. Here indeed was a lad who would be worthy to drink at the fountain of Babylon’s knowledge, culture, and wisdom. I was eager to begin his rigorous training, for I was convinced that in him I had an apt pupil, old enough to make adjustments to this alien land, yet young enough to learn easily and feel at home in this new setting. By Nebuchadnezzar’s decree he, along with the others (including his three closest friends), would study extensively in the Babylonian ways — and I knew immediately that this young man would master them.

You can imagine, then, how surprised I was to encounter Daniel’s refusal so soon upon his arrival at the royal palace. Nebuchadnezzar’s decision was that these young men should

eat from his own table in order to hasten their adaptation to Babylon and secure their success in their studies. His philosophy ran something like this, “Strong, healthy bodies ensure strong, healthy minds.” ‘Tis true, the luxury of fine dining was a deliberate design by the king to weaken old loyalties and foster new allegiances. And most young captives were only too eager to lap up Babylon’s culinary delights. Captives were accustomed to and expecting abuse. How it surprised them to discover favors instead. This too was a deliberate psychological ploy. But Daniel never fell for it.

Nevertheless, when Daniel refused to eat the king’s meat or drink his wine, requesting pulse and water instead, not only did he put himself on dangerous ground, but he also jeopardized my high standing in court. Nebuchadnezzar had literally commanded the captives to eat of his food. Disobedience would certainly incur punishment, and as I’ve told you before this was never light or superficial in Babylon. Moreover, to speak of defilement in this matter of food, as Daniel had, could only be considered insulting to Nebuchadnezzar’s generosity.

Didn’t Daniel know that besides incurring the king’s wrath, disobedience would certainly be a barrier to any future progress and promotion? Could he not compromise on this moot point seeing he was far from home — “My parents will never know?” Wasn’t he aware that a refusal to eat the delicacies from the king’s table would mean mockery and jeering from the other boys? True, the king’s food was regularly consecrated to the Babylon gods before it was eaten, and Daniel had told me that it was against his religion to eat meat offered to idols, but even I knew that his choice of such a restricted diet was by no means normal Hebrew fare. I was appalled to find such resistance to eating the king’s dainties, and his speaking of defilement in this way at a mere 14 or 15 years of age — well, Daniel as yet had no idea of the defilement which Babylon could offer. Yet, he was determined to nourish his body frugally, lest he become intemperate.

So he came to me with candor, politely requesting that I give him and his three friends a ten-day trial period during which they would dine on pulse and water only. I had not the heart to refuse, even though I knew I should, because this young man had gained my favor immediately. I knew instinctively that here was no impudent young upstart, but rather, a boy of high moral stance. Having dealt daily with deceit, guile, and cleverly disguised intentions as I did, this lad was like a rare gem glinting in the mud. For whatever reason, I agreed to his astonishing proposal. And if ever in my life I did one good thing, this was it. May the gods smile on me for my answer to Daniel.

You know now the sequel to my story, for I too have had opportunity to see the divinely-inspired book which Daniel has written. You know how Daniel and his three friends continued to eat their chosen fare because the trial period only served to heighten their shining faces, superior physiques, and cunning intellects. You know how Daniel’s God revealed to him not only interpretations of dreams, but the very dreams themselves, catapulting him to the very highest offices in the kingdom. You know how his initial “no” to becoming Babylonianized made easier many other “nos” which he and his three friends were forced to make during their captivity in Babylon. You also know how, because of Daniel’s first “no”, his three friends were able to say “no” to another decree of the king and stand unscathed in Nebuchadnezzar’s hottest furnaces. You know how Daniel’s God, his race, and his faith never became remote or outdated to him, all the cunningly devised schemes of the king notwithstanding.

What you don’t know is that the lot of all Jehovah’s people was made easier because of this young boy who said “no.” Jehovah’s people enjoyed good farms in Babylon; many owned their own homes; they had freedom to come and go; they were able to continue their own institutions of elders, priests, and prophets; they had good job opportunities; they were able to correspond with those left behind in Judah. And yes, many in Babylon, myself included, came to hold Daniel’s God in high esteem. Here was a holy and powerful God, much in contrast to our gods of greed and impotence. . . and this boy’s entire life reflected Him. Daniel never succumbed to the filth and slime of Babylon’s manners and morals. At a tender age, by his temperance, he overcame the enticements of a godless court and city.

I found out, too, that for Jehovah’s people saying “no” to sin is not just for teenagers; it encompasses a lifetime — be it 70 or 80 years old as Daniel was when he had to say “no” even at that old age and thus endure Darius’ den of lions. Here was a temperate man to the end of his days.

And now, I, Ashpenaz, have nearly filled this tablet. Yet, before the clay hardens and I set my name to this document, I must tell you one thing more: it is certain that Daniel’s God placed him at this heathen court to declare to successive monarchs the truth of that curious dream which my lord, the great King Nebuchadnezzar, dreamed. For I, even in my lifetime, am seeing the stone made without hands growing in strength, size, and velocity as it strikes the fleeting and temporal kingdoms of this world to crush them to powder. And even now, Cyrus marches to Babylon’s gates. But the kingdom of Daniel’s God fills the earth. It will endure forever. I know this for a truth. For I have seen it in the life of one of His servants, Daniel.

“Behold, they King cometh unto thee, meek. . .”  Matthew 21:5

 

There is a certain truth in the theory of Thomas Carlyle, “The history of this world is the biography of its great men.’’ Certainly it is true that the great leaders of this world have left their mark on history’s lessons. Equally true is that great eras in history are closely associated with the great leaders of that era. Alexander the Great (the glorious days of Macedonia), Julius Caesar (the mighty Roman Empire), Napoleon Bonaparte (France’s day in the sun), even Adolph Hitler (Germany’s ignominious rise to power).

What is the quality(ies) which is required for leadership? What brings an Alexander the Great, an Adolph Hitler, or a Ronald Reagan from virtual obscurity to the highest positions of leadership in the world? Historians say that Napoleon could greet thousands of soldiers by name and that the American politician, James Farley (1888 – 1976), could call over 50,000 people by their first names. Is the necessary quality for leadership the ability to relate in a personal, intimate way with the masses? Today probably more than ever before this is a desirable quality for leadership —at least it is one important way to become a leader.

Undoubtedly, the qualities most sought after and expected in a world leader are that he is dynamic, forceful, charismatic, diplomatic. A man with a golden tongue is high on the list, his rhetoric such that he is able either to appease or to excite the masses; and good looks don’t hurt a potential leader either. Promises of the good life — plenty of “food and fun’’— have always lured the people to follow a Pied Piper.

When it comes right down to it, modern day man’s expectations for its leaders has not changed essentially from that of Israel’s of old. Why did Israel’s heart swell in hope at the sight of Saul? His bearing was kingly; “from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.” And then later, “Saul has slain his thousands.” “He has clothed us in scarlet and put ornaments of gold upon our apparel.” In today’s language, “He is strong; he has brought us the good life.”

All of these are qualities which men look for in a leader. Are these also the important traits which God looks for in a leader? We would do well to remember that Saul was never God’s choice for Israel’s leader. Nor were Jesse’s older sons, handsome and debonair though they were. Even Samuel was fooled by outward appearance. It seems that God, however, reserves to Himself a requirement for leadership that man has rarely, if ever, considered. God knows the vanity, the futility, in outward indications of leadership potential. As always, God looks past —and through —the outer shell of a man and His eye penetrates deep within the recesses of a man’s heart. And what does He want to find there which makes a man suitable for leadership? He is looking for one outstanding virtue for His leaders, be it in the world or in the church. His leaders must be meek! Meek, you say? Who would ever want a meek leader? In man’s opinion meekness has never been a necessary ingredient for leadership; in God’s judgment it is paramount. Scan the Scriptures from Genesis through Revelation and you will find that every leader that God ever chose was first and foremost meek. If Saul had one qualification going for him at the outset of his kingship it was that he was lowly minded. Would today that more leaders were “hiding among the baggage”, being begged and coerced into the position of leadership.

When Saul became king, the adage held true, “If you wish to know what a man is, place him in authority.” Saul’s very soul became warped through it. “It is an observation no less just than common that there is no stronger test of a man’s real character than power and authority (leadership, MBL), exciting as they do every passion, and discovering every latent vice.” Saul could not hold up under these aroused passions; his latent vices soon rose to the surface.

In leadership there is the inherent vice, “Take heed lest thou become a Caesar indeed; lest the purple stain thy soul.” In fact, it is only a leader who is meek who can withstand the intoxication of power and authority— whose soul will be untainted by the purple.

We often equate (wrongly) meekness with “mousiness.” And in a world of “Stand up for your rights” and “I’ll show you who is first around here” the quality of meekness is oft times strained. Meekness makes a man “all things to all men.” Meekness is enduring injury with patience, without resentment. Meekness is largeness of spirit, denial of self, and willingly subjugating oneself to God and the neighbor. Meekness is an attitude of the heart which makes one willing to subordinate all one’s own rights, real or assumed, to the service of peace and unity. Dr. Thomas Goodwin (puritan preacher) says, “Meekness must spring up out of one’s heart, as that heart is more and more softened, and tamed, and humbled, and sweetened by the grace of God and by the indwelling Spirit of Christ.”

To be meek is to be as submissive as Abraham, as self-effacing as Moses, as penitent as David, all to God’s glory, for Jesus’ sake, for the advance of the Gospel, and the welfare of the neighbor. Out of the many possible examples of Scripture’s leaders (the judges, the prophets, the apostles), it is upon these three leaders that we will focus our attention as those who evidenced the fruit of the Spirit, meekness.

*****

Abraham was a leader chosen by God whose entire life was characterized by the virtue meekness. Although already in Ur he seems to have been a man of import, he willingly packs up all his possessions at God’s behest to go to a strange land about which he knew nothing. It was because Abraham exercised meekness towards God that he was able to maintain peace and unity amongst the herdmen by showing a spirit of meekness toward his nephew Lot. The pious patriarch took no account that he and he alone had been given the promises of God and the whole land for his inheritance, but rather, he “condescended to Lot’s equal although he could not be compared in age, dignity, or office” (Luther, Commentary on Genesis, p. 238).

How meekly he stands on those wind-swept plains —the title to those lands all his, clear and free — speaking softly and smoothly to avoid the confrontation which is smoldering right on the surface. Hear him as he says to Lot in honeyed tones, “We are brethren, let there be no strife between us” (Genesis 13:8). In this incident we see Abraham keeping Christ’s injunction in Matthew 20:27 and 28, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. …”

But Abraham’s supreme example of a meek and quiet spirit came near the end of his life when, after waiting nearly one hundred years for the promised son, God commands him to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac. See, then, this great Old Testament leader (put to the ultimate test of bearing injury patiently for God’s sake) walk meekly up Mt. Moriah, lay his beloved son on the altar, and with no forthcoming explanation from God, grasp the hilt of his knife to obey God unquestioningly and plunge it deeply into his son.

In Abraham God chose a leader/- friend who was meek towards Him and towards his fellow man.

*****

No Biblical example of a meek leader would be complete without Moses. For it is of Moses that we read a phrase which is found of no one else in all of Scripture: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). It is a tribute to this Old Testament leader that the saying is common yet today, “He is as meek as Moses.”

And again, it was because Moses was first of all submissive towards God, voluntarily leaving the gilded courts of Egypt to spend forty long years in the wilderness of Midian as a lowly sheep-tender, that he is able to evidence that same spirit towards God’s people. With what meekness he leads the complaining children of Israel all the way to the Promised Land. What meekness is his when his own brother and sister try to pull him down from the exalted position in which God has placed him. For Moses, this was the final blow to any pride or self-exalting to which he might have been inclined — his own family humbling him by its envy and ill-will. This family dispute, coupled with his wife Zipporah’s earlier stand-off over the issue of the circumcision of his sons, had done much to humble and make meek the heart of this man, Moses.

And yet, as with all the Christian virtues, the most meek of men has only a small beginning of this Godly virtue as is shown in the narrative of Moses when, on the very borders of Canaan, Moses, as fiery and quick-tempered as when he had slain the Egyptian taskmaster, struck the rock and called God’s people rebels. How beautifully Alexander Whyte gives verse to this incident in the life of Moses:

Moses, the patriot fierce, became The meekest man on earth,

To show us how love’s quickening flame Can give our souls new birth.

 

Moses, the man of meekest heart,

Lost Canaan by self-will,

To show where grace has done its part, How sin defiles us still.

 

Thou, who hast taught me in Thy fear Yet seest me frail at best,

O grant me loss with Moses here,

To gain his future rest.

 

In Moses, God chose a leader/- friend who was meek towards Him and towards his fellow man.

*****

It was while David was yet a youth that God looked deeply into his boyish heart and, liking what He saw, chose David to be king over all Israel. It was of this ruddy young man that Scripture says, “A man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14). Without question, God saw much sin in that heart, sin of the grossest sort (adultery and murder!), for David was guilty of the worst of all sins beyond any other sinner in the whole Bible. But there He also beheld repentance, tears in the night, real sorrow over sin. He saw subjection to Him. He saw a leader brave, fearless, and loyal, but also meek and humble. And so, Samuel must go to the unlikely sheepfolds of Bethlehem, to a lowly farmer’s home, to procure Israel’s greatest king.

Even though David’s brothers taunted him and accused him falsely when he was sent by his father Jesse to Saul’s battle camp, there was no pride in his heroic slaying of Goliath, but rather, ‘‘The Lord will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. . .so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (I Samuel 17). How God loved the humility, the meekness, of

the young stripling from Bethlehem. In David He saw the meekness of His own dear Son.

For many years after his anointing, David had to wait patiently, at great cost to his own reputation, for the crown to be placed upon his head. During those years Saul pursued him relentlessly. In retaliation, David had had more than one opportunity to take Saul’s life and thus to place the royal diadem upon his own head. In meekness he waited for God to crown him just as He had anointed him so many years before. Indeed, David’s self- restraint was the only thing that prevented civil war in the land of Israel. On one occasion, David did draw his sword but, to the consternation of his men, he only cut off the skirt of Saul’s garment. To the end of his days, David rued that he had even dared to take a piece of Saul’s robe for, after all, in David’s own words, “Saul was the Lord’s anointed.”

To behold David’s most Christ-like example of meekness we must see him and his band of mighty men as they are walking wearily past the top of a hill. His son Absalom has risen against him and his friend Ahithophel has betrayed him. A man named Shimei of the house of Saul comes out cursing David like a wild man and throwing stones and dirt at him. David’s men, hands already on their swords, are eager to do in this “dead dog.” But David, walking the way of sorrow, detains his men. Willingly, he endures the insults, the slights, the injuries, and meekly he says, “Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. . .It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day” (II Samuel 16).

Whether David was on the hillside tending his father’s sheep or performing his duties in Saul’s court, whether he was in the wilderness fleeing for his life or wielding the sceptre from his throne, and especially in the sanctuary, David was meek towards God and towards the neighbor. Who of us finds it easy to prostrate himself before God, putting away every excuse, crying from the depths of his soul, “I am the man!?” it is with David’s Psalmist pen that we are able to most clearly see the meek, lowly, penitent spirit of Israel’s greatest of kings. “I acknowledge my sin.” “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” ‘‘I waited patiently for the Lord.” “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise.”

In David God chose a leader/ friend who was meek towards Him and towards his fellow man.

*****

Of David a voice from heaven said, Thou art a man after mine own heart, and it is that same voice which thundered centuries later. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Who is so meek a leader as Jesus Christ?

We sing of Christ in Psalter number 243:

A mighty leader, true and brave, Ordained, exalted, strong to save.

And well we should. But listen to what Jesus says of Himself:

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.”

As one authority so well put it: “So utterly did the Son of Man renounce his own words, and works, and will, that we know comparatively little of Him. All was from the Father and to the Father”) Paul, F.B. Meyer, p. 40).

“Come, learn of me for I am meek.” See Him now as He relinquishes Heaven’s courts for a lowly manger. See the One Who framed the starry skies and suspended the planets in their orbits hammering nails to help his father Joseph make a living. See how meekly this King sits on the foal of an ass. See Him stoop to wash His disciples feet. See Him now, when smitten, turn the other cheek. See Him reviled and mocked, answering not a word. Hear how submissively He prays, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” See how meekly He bends His brow to receive a crown of thorns. With what divine meekness He pleads for us, His murderers, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Would you be an imitator of Christ, a leader such as He? Then, “Come learn of me. . .I am meek.”

Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. I Cor. 4:2

If there is one criterion for anyone who is hired to handle a great deal of money or oversee the finances of some important corporation it is that he must be trustworthy. In a day of rank dishonesty, swindling of accounts, and embezzlement of funds a faithful, honest man is of infinite value. Even after a corporation has scrupulously screened its potential candidates with character references, lie detector tests, and the most refined selection processes, how can it ever be certain that a man is wholly trustworthy?

It must strike the Genesis reader that no other Bible character so closely approaches the high standard of moral uprightness and faithfulness required of the God-fearing man than Joseph. Not even the patriarchs themselves could equal him in this capacity. Perhaps he did not evidence the spectacular faith of an Abraham sacrificing his only son on Mt. Moriah; perhaps he lacked the prophetic value of an Isaac when he was old and his eyes were dim; perhaps he fell short of the wonderful power of prayer of a Jacob at Jabbok; but neither did he suffer from their deceitfulness and lies so that at times one experiences a sense of disappointment in these church fathers.

In Ephesians 6:6 and 7 the Apostle Paul gives guidance for the conduct of servants that they are to discharge their duties to their masters on earth as in view of their Master in heaven “with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.”

No man was more faithful in exemplifying this rule of conduct than young Joseph. And it was because Joseph was a servant of the God of his illustrious forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-rather than merely a servant of Potiphar-that he was so conscientious and discreet. two qualities pleasing to God in any occupation. In Joseph’s rapid rise from shackled servant to steward in Potiphar’s house, his irreproachable conduct and honest demeanor prompted Potiphar to give over all his affairs to this foreign slave from Canaan. Scripture states clearly that Potiphar did not know or even concern himself any longer with anything that went on in his great important household except the daily meal which went into his mouth. He had perfect trust in Joseph who had arrived in his household as a lad of about seventeen years.

It was only on account of Joseph’s virtue, diligence, and faithfulness that God blessed the household of Potiphar. Potiphar himself recognized the supernatural force which made everything prosper in the hands of this Hebrew lad. “And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hands” Genesis 39:3. Some older versions of the Bible give a curious, however colorful, translation here: “The Lord was with Joseph; and he was a luckie fellow” (F.B. Meyer, Joseph, p. 26). Potiphar saw (to his benefit) that the Lord was with Joseph, but Joseph freely acknowledged it too, “God did send me hither. . .” Genesis 45:8.

And so, for a time, all seemed to be going well for the trustworthy young slave from Canaan. His inherent character shone as the sun in the godless house of Potiphar. Everyone was only too happy to have an overseer who was industrious, reliable, and diligent. Who could find any fault with a man who did his work thoroughly in the spirit of true godly labor? Nor did Joseph trudge despondently around Potiphar’s house putting in the minimal amount of service to avoid the whistle of the whip around his ears: but rather he gave service to his earthly lord, Potiphar, with an eye to pleasing his heavenly Lord, Jesus Christ. What a difference that makes even today in how one does his duties-are you pacifying your boss, or are you with singleness of heart pleasing your Father in heaven? “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh. . .in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” Colossians 3:22 and 23. The motive that inspires our work will bear fruit in the manner we carry out that task. Joseph did not bewail his lot in life, shedding useless tears over the former good years he had spent in his father’s tents (even though it appears that he was greatly spoiled and shown deference to), but manfully he immersed himself in his work in the most menial of tasks, promoting Potiphar’s household -for which he probably received not one shekel remuneration. Joseph was faithful to Potiphar “with no string attached”, convicted that God had placed him where he was.

Who of us is not familiar with the sordid scene of Potiphar’s wife turned temptress? Her “lie with me” turns the hardest heart to putty. For Joseph this was a temptation accompanied by opportunity. To please her would certainly serve his advancement; to cross her would surely place his exalted position and hopes in jeopardy. But Joseph’s moral caliber and godly character caused him to resist temptation and sacrifice advancement (perhaps even freedom, which Potiphar’s wife could surely have influenced). He tries to dissuade her from her infamous proposal by three arguments:

  1. He urges her to remember that she is the master’s wife! She should not forget who she is -she is no common Egyptian whore.
  2. He shrinks from repaying his master, who trusts him implicitly, with such a vile and evil deed.
  3. In words immemorial he pleads, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

We must remember, too, that Potiphar’s wife’s proposition was not a one time, “heat of the moment” enticement. She enticed Joseph day after day. “And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her. . .” Genesis 39:l0. Finally, the day comes when, although circumspect in all his comings and goings, Joseph cannot escape the trap she lays for him and he is forced to run from the house-leaving his garment in her traitorous hands.

So what did Joseph gain by his integrity and his resistance to his master’s wife’s shameless proposals? In the next scene we find the once faithful steward a lowly prisoner in Potiphar’s dungeon. How painful it must have been for Joseph (as it is for us who read this vivid account) to be innocently maligned, helpless to vindicate his position. How fruitless his faithfulness must have seemed to him as he lay in the dark, fetid air of Potiphar ‘s dungeon. To use Joseph’s own words, “I have done nothing that they should put me into this hole.” But his trust in God was never shaken by this great wrong done to him.

Potiphar, as Captain of the Guard, is considered by some Biblical scholars to have been Pharaoh’s royal executioner. As such, he had total power of life and death in his hands. It is even claimed that the dungeon into which Joseph was put was on Potiphar’s premises. If so, it occurs to me that for the criminal act of raping his wife, Potiphar should have quickly killed Joseph. In fact, I don’t think Potiphar ever believed his wife, and rather than send an innocent and wholly trustworthy man to his death, he sends Joseph instead to the prison house. Potiphar’s irresponsible act of throwing an innocent man into prison was an act of “saving face.” Potiphar knew the intrinsic goodness of his faithful steward as compared with the deceit, guile, and impudence of his capricious Egyptian wife. Not for a moment did he believe her tale. But he had to save face for her too; so to the dungeon with Joseph. His decision to punish Joseph but spare his life bears close resemblance to a later decision of Pilate’s, who, convinced that Christ had done no wrong, appeals to the Jewish mob, “I will therefore chastise him and release — – him” Luke 23:16.

In the prison house Joseph immediately put his talents to use, making himself invaluable to the keeper of the prison. It would seem that Joseph was at first cruelly treated in prison for Psalm 105:18 says, “Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron.” It could not have been of long duration, however, for the keeper of the prison was undoubtedly previously acquainted with Joseph as manager of Potiphar’s household. Soon the keeper of the prison came to admire Joseph for the same qualities for which Potiphar had promoted him, and Joseph was advanced to the responsible position of which Genesis 39:22 and 23 speaks.

His new responsibility as manager of the prison was an important one for it was in this prison house that the offenders from Pharaoh’s court were detained. Yet the keeper came to rely fully on Joseph’s integrity and trustworthiness so that Joseph directed and oversaw how everything in the prison was to be carried out and all the prisoners were committed to his faithful oversight. How wonderful are God’s ways! Joseph had opportunity to become acquainted with Egyptian culture and court life during his confinement in prison. The imprisoned court magnates under his supervision must have talked freely to Joseph so that he learned much about politics, economics and trade, which in God’s plan would be very useful to him in his future career as Prime Minister of all Egypt. Joseph is being fitted for Pharaoh’s courts in the unlikely dungeon of Potiphar! God’s ways are past finding out -only like Joseph, trust him in everything. How was Joseph to know that for the wisdom. tact, and discretion necessary to bring the great nation of Egypt through a horrible crisis God was providing training in the dungeon? Even though Joseph enjoyed a certain amount of liberty in Potiphar’s prison, the clank of the fetters reminded him daily that he was a prisoner still.

It would take another sovereign act of God to bring Joseph out of prison and into the second most important position in Egypt’s land. And so we find Joseph interpreting the butler’s dream. Again we are impressed with Joseph’s faithful character. In his poignant plea to the butler to show kindness to him when he is restored to his position as Pharaoh’s cup bearer, he makes no attempt to clear himself by implicating others. He does not accuse Potiphar’s wife nor does he blame his brothers who sold him into Egypt, but says simply, “For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon” Genesis 40:15. Such a “covering of sins” pays big dividends for Joseph’s brothers in the end, for it is debatable whether Pharaoh would have been favorably disposed towards Joseph’s brethren had their earlier deeds of treachery to Joseph come to his knowledge.

Indeed, Abraham stands foremost on faith’s pinnacles, but Joseph stands preeminent for unfaltering faithfulness, steadfast principles, and trustworthiness. His father Jacob’s often unwise partiality towards him did not in the long run spoil him; the betrayal by his brothers did not embitter him nor cause him to lose heart; and Egypt’s allurements did not lead him astray. His own heart being without guile, he saw it not in his brothers. Whether he was in charge of finances. the lives of other men, or courtly decorum, he undertook his duties with meticulous fidelity. In every new position in which he was placed, he put his trust in God, showing faithfulness first of all to Him and then fidelity to all men, so that profane men in a debauched nation were forced to acknowledge his integrity and reliability. In sore trial as well as high honor he was faithful.

In Scripture’s detailed narrative of Joseph, we are impressed with his complete dependence upon and acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty in all his affairs. When Potiphar’s wife seduces him. he answers, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9. When the butler and the baker relate their dreams, Joseph replies, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Genesis 40:8. When Joseph has opportunity to “toot his own horn” to Pharaoh, he humbly, but forthrightly declares. “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” Genesis 41:16. His message to his aged father contains no words of self-commendation. but rather, “Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt” Genesis 45:9. Even in the naming of his sons he calls his ever-faithful God to remembrance (Genesis 41:51, 52). And who can read with dry eyes his words: “I am Joseph your brother. . .be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life . . .and God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” Genesis 45:4-7. When father Joseph died and the brothers quaked with fear that now Joseph might retaliate. he assures them, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good. . . .  Genesis 50:20. But it is Joseph’s dying words which place him forever in the annals of history (Hebrews 11): “God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence” Genesis 50:25.

Concerning Joseph, we can only echo Hebrews 11. “These all died in faith”, faithful!

As Joseph’s coat of many colors, once blood-stained and torn! was exchanged for a robe of fine linen, and his shackles of iron replaced with a chain of finely-wrought gold, so the faithful among us will be given the glorious apparel of Jesus Christ.

*******

Peter tells us how we should act toward those who wrong and persecute us. When you are treated badly, he says, you should do good. When you are reviled and cursed, you should bless. . .O Lord God, how rare such Christians are!

Martin Luther (on I Peter 3:9)

 

 “… for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.” Ruth 3:11

 

Tucked between the saber rattling of the Book of Judges and the power and panoply of the six books about the kings of Israel lies the quiet little Book of Ruth. It consists in its entirety of just 85 verses. It is the one book in the Bible which devotes itself to the domestic history of a woman —a for­eigner in Israel, no less! In idyllic, pastoral scenes, it leads us in four short chapters from famine, poverty, and untimely deaths right up to the splendor of David’s throne.

The Book of Ruth, like all the other books in the Old Testament, does not speak primarily of men and women — although we will meet some memorable ones in its few, short verses. Its intent is not to promenade its noble people—al­though we will come to admire several spiritual blue bloods on its pages. Above all, this book speaks about God. In its simple, rural narrative, we catch a glimpse of the goodness of God as He remembers His covenant faithfulness in the midst of blatant infidelity. And on its pages we see Jehovah’s goodness as He reaches His redemptive arm across all nations, tongues, and tribes to save His own. In the Book of Ruth we see the goodness of God as He transforms children of wrath, Moabites, into the finest tradition of Israelite maidens.

The exemplary conduct of at least three of the leading characters in the Book of Ruth could well be the subject for the fruit of the Holy Spirit, goodness.

Certainly Boaz, who is wholly characterized by godly dignity, integri­ty, and benevolence, could depict this fruit of the Spirit. Christlike, he is willing to serve as the redeemer for the crumbling household of Elimelech by marrying Ruth (at her instigation and request) and thus return the parcel of land to Elimelech’s posterity. By Ruth’s own declaration, Boaz is the first in all of Bethlehem to speak “friendly unto thine handmaid’’ Ruth 2:13. (What a sad commentary on Israel’s refusal to show hospitality to the “stranger within thy gates.” Is this also a commentary on us today?) Every action and consideration of Boaz, even to the least of his employees, is exemplified by goodness.

We could even pay homage to Naomi, the saintly old woman in the account. For although it is true that she erred greatly in leaving the land of Israel with her husband and sons (as is marked by the judgment of God upon each step of her walk in the land of Moab), nevertheless, it must have been through Naomi’s instruction that Ruth had come to know and love Naomi’s God and land, her people and faith. And then, there is Naomi’s own solemn and humble confession, “I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty. . .call me Mara …” Ruth 1:21 and 20. What delights God more than acknowledgement of wrongdoing and confession of sin? Yes, Naomi was good.

But this particular book is not named the Book of Boaz, nor is it called the Book of Naomi, but it has come down to us in the holy canon of Scripture as the Book of Ruth. So let’s see, now, how Ruth the Moabitess reflects the goodness of God in her own life and stands in her simple piety as a wholesome example of the fruit of the Spirit called goodness.

 

Alone in her humble cottage with the hours stretching long and silent ahead of her, Naomi had much time to ponder and reflect. As she had done each morning since their return from Moab, Ruth had left in the early hours to begin her monotonous task of picking up the grain left behind by the reapers.

Naomi was disturbed that once the excitement of their return had settled down, no one in all of Bethlehem had done anything to make Ruth feel accepted. The two of them, poor and destitute, widows indeed, were left severely alone. Naomi did not mind for herself that she was kept icily at bay —for she knew she deserved the distance at which she was held —but her heart ached to see Ruth, a fledgling in the faith, subjected to the proud and scornful looks of her neighbors.

Naomi had tried to dissuade Ruth from returning to Bethlehem with her. She had told Ruth in no uncertain terms before their departure from Moab that prospects for anything pleasant in Israel were dim. She had plainly told Ruth that the widow’s plight in Israel was grim. With no sons or husband to provide, poverty would stalk them. She had even discouraged any hopes that Ruth might have of remarrying. She had warned both Orpah and Ruth that it was clear that the hand of God was against her (Ruth 1:13). So Ruth had been prepared for unpleasant physical circumstances; but how could she ever have been prepared for such open hostility as they faced in Bethlehem? Was this all there was to experience in the blessedness of choosing for Jehovah? Yet Ruth quietly went about her own business, seem­ingly untouched by the cold looks and inhospitable treatment of Bethlehem’s inhabitants.

Ruth’s primary concern was for the physical care of her mother-in-law. And no unneighborly attitude could stand in the way of what she considered to be her duty. Naomi was deeply touched by Ruth’s devotion to her. Ruth cared for Naomi’s earthly needs by gleaning from early morning until late afternoon in the hot, dusty fields of Bethlehem. Back-breaking work, it was, only compensated by the few stray strands of barley which she was able to gather in the corners of the field —but so necessary to keep herself and Naomi from starving. Yes, she and Ruth were hungry. She, Naomi, who had once been a wealthy landowner’s wife, faced each new day with the primeval need for food. Sometimes, it didn’t seem possible, such a longing for food as the two of them endured. But God had been good, for He had brought them home at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Naomi remembered with some embarrassment the day that Ruth had worked in Boaz’s field and coming home had taken parched corn and bread from her pocket, reserved from her own midday meal, to share with the hungry Naomi. Naomi recalled how that she could not even exchange pleasantries or converse with Ruth until after she had warded off the hunger pangs by quickly eating Ruth’s kindly- saved lunch (Ruth 2:18).

Ruth was certainly loyal to her bereft mother-in-law. Her love was deep and pure. Freely she gave of herself for the good and service of Naomi. Not once did she intimate by glance or word that caring for her aged mother-in-law was more than she had bargained for —bothersome, a distaste­ful chore for her.

Naomi was well-aware too, that not only was Ruth keeping them from virtual starvation, but that she heeded old Naomi’s counsel, as well, never chafing (as so many young ones did) under Naomi’s “old-fashioned” advice.

As a new convert, Ruth had many things to learn about Israel’s customs and culture. She listened intently to all Naomi’s wisdom and experience as they fellowshipped in the evenings. Ruth paid attention to Naomi’s gentle but urgent warnings that she stay in Boaz’ field to glean because she might be sexually molested if she went to work in another field (Ruth 2:22).

Often in the weeks following their return to Bethlehem, Naomi recalled Ruth’s eloquent and timeless confes­sion as the two of them had stood near the bend of the stream which led from Moab to Bethlehem. Here Naomi had urged her two daughters-in-law to return to the land of Moab. Orpah had done so, but Ruth had clung to her and answered in ardency:

“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee. . .”

Had Ruth known then the circum­stances calculated to discourage her, would she have been so determined in her convictions? Is newly-found faith so strong that it can unflinchingly face up to ostracism, loneliness, poverty, and grief? Why hadn’t Moab been able to entice her or hold her back with its comfortable prospects of companion­ship, marriage, and the good life?

Naomi longed for rest for Ruth—a home and husband —but knew that this would be highly unlikely in the land of Israel. Yet Naomi had done all she could to warn this innocent one that her reasons for coming to Bethlehem had better not be thoughts of marriage. Old Naomi had no sons in her womb and had explicitly told Ruth that even if she did, it would be too long until they were grown up. And Naomi, who knew the law well, also assured Ruth that although her son Mahlon had married Ruth while their family had sojourned in Moab, no Israelite would wed a Moabite in his own land. Nor would there be any welcome for them in Bethlehem, for poor they would be and poverty was a sure sign of Jehovah’s displeasure.

Yet Ruth persevered in the face of many obstacles. She stood staunchly by her confession. She never wavered from it. She did not yet know this Jehovah intimately, but one thing was certain, she had separated herself unequivocally from Moab. She had chosen for Israel. She had denied Moab’s god Chemosh. She had em­braced Jehovah, the one true God. She would not falter for her entire confi­dence was Jehovah. He would not fail her. In just a short time, she had come

to love Israel and its people. By grace, she would not forsake them either. In truth, she meant it: nothing but death would separate her and Naomi. Naomi’s own faith was strengthened by the goodness of her daughter-in-law who was willing to “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. . .” Philippians 3:8.

And so, Ruth gives herself over to goodness. Out of goodness she re­quests permission to gather grain in the fields of Boaz, although the law clearly stated that the poor and stranger could glean in the fields at harvest time (Lev. 19:9 and 10). In humility, she places herself beneath Boaz’ most menial of servants (Ruth 2:13). Out of goodness, for Naomi’s sake and so that Elimelech’s name will not expire nor his inheritance be lost, she contracts a marriage with her late father-in-law’s kinsman, Boaz, to bear a child for Naomi in her old age when it was freely acknowledged that she would have made a God-fearing wife for any man in Bethlehem (Ruth 3:11).

Even Boaz praises Ruth’s essential goodness, her virtue, when he says, “You have shown more kindness in the latter end (to Naomi in agreeing to a marriage within the family of Elime- lech) than at the beginning (when you left Moab and chose for God, Israel, and the care of your mother-in-law)’’ Ruth 3:10.

Old Naomi’s ears would thrill to hear the confession of her neighbors that Ruth was better to Naomi than seven sons (Ruth 4:15), this being the supreme Old Testament blessing for a woman (see I Samuel 2:5).

Naomi’s heart was full. No longer did she want her friends to call her empty. Pleasantness would be her name once more. Truly Jehovah had changed her tears of bitterness into a well of joy.

Fondly she clasped Obed, the tiny son of Boaz and Ruth, to her bosom, and looking into his infant eyes, beheld down throughout he ages the Great Goodness of God, Jesus Christ.

“But a certain Samaritan as he journeyed came where he was: and when he saw him he had compas­sion on him. And went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine and set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”   Luke 10:33-34

The tired traveler never intended to go home by that way. For that particular road from Jerusalem to Jericho was well-known for its many places of entrapment and for its roving bands of robbers who waited in ambush for the unwary and unsuspecting traveler. Many a lone man and caravan had been waylaid by thieves and thugs along this route.

But the man had spent four days in Jerusalem on business, instead of the two for which he had planned, and now he was eager to be home before the Sabbath began. Even though he was a Samaritan, he rigorously kept the Sabbath Day. And so, he took the shorter, however the more dangerous, route to his home just on the outskirts of Jericho.

He was apprehensive, being a solitary traveler, and that probably accounted for the double safety mea­sures which he took for his own person and for his meager possessions and the few coins which he had finally gained after the long and shrill bargaining session in Jerusalem. Then, too, he had his flask of wine and small jug of oil without which no serious traveler ever set out on a journey. He felt confident also about his donkey who was steady and dependable, neither skittish nor whimsical as so many of his species were inclined to be.

Nevertheless, he was keenly aware that each of his senses must stay alert on the rocky road which dropped precipitously from Jerusalem to Jeri­cho. The road was steep and uneven and dropped some 4000 feet in about 15 miles. He must try not to let his mind wander, neither to recall the events which had transpired on this trading excursion in Jerusalem—especially the despicable Jew with whom he had done business at the Temple —nor to muse on the strange but wonderful Rabbi whom he had happened to hear in Jerusalem. No, he must concentrate totally against the snare of ambush. For around any bend in this twisted and winding road could lurk the bandits so dreaded by the innocent wayfarer.

Tall spiked shrubs, thick coarse grasses, and tangled vines and thickets provided concealed protection for the thieves who laid in wait. Rocky niches, stony cul-de-sacs, and old crumbling walls afforded ideal hiding places for the murderous villains who preyed upon the hard work and industry of others. One even had to be alert to overhead dangers. For thieves could easily hide themselves in the large-leaf­ed branches of fig and sycamore tree, dropping down with brutal suddenness on the unsuspecting traveler.

The man’s eyes strained to detect any movement or rustling in bramble or bush. His ears stretched to catch any sudden or unusual call of bird or animal. And his own donkey plodded faithfully by his side, his large pointed ears twitching regularly against the pesky flies and the occasional bee.

As the man focused sharply and intently upon the landscape about him, even the hunched and gnarled form of the olive tree took on the foreboding resemblance of thief and robber lurking on the path. Everything was dry and sere. Only the ribbon of oleander trees brightened the semi-baked ravines and the cracked stream beds.

After travelling some time in this way and with no immediate sign of trouble ahead, the man was eased of his tensions a bit, lured into reverie by the companionable squelching of the leather bags against the straps on his donkey. He began to reminisce on his business in Jerusalem, and, as was usual, he began to second-guess himself on the bargaining which he had done. It was always this way when dealing with a Jew, and that probably accounted in part for the fact that the Samaritan usually had no dealings with the Jews. What shysters those Jews were! Oh how wheedling and shrewd they were! Crying, complaining in their nasal, high-pitched voices that you were driving a hard and unfair bargain, all the while reaching with their greedy, greatly-veined hands for the goods which you could sell them.

Even now, the man was not sure that the Jew with whom he had done business had not gotten the better of him. Those wily sons of Abraham! Were it not for the fact that the man had to have a steady and dependable market for his olive goods, he would not even consider dealing with a Jew. But, he owned a productive but small olive grove on the outskirts of Jericho and the olive oil which he was able to squeeze from the succulent fruit was much sought after by the Temple merchants in Jerusalem. He and his wife had a special knack for timing the plucking of these olives, crushing them between two heavy stones. But the real secret for his product came in the curing of the olive oil —allowing the oil to stand in specially-prepared earthen­ware jars conducive to its final texture and sweetness. Even the oil which he sold of inferior quality was used for the little clay lamps which brightened and cheered the humble peasant’s home.

Had it not been for the Great Teacher which the man had heard in Jerusalem, this trip would have been drearily like every other trip which he had taken. The haggling, the arguing, the torrent of ‘raised voices, the arms and hands gesticulating in wild en­treaty over product and price. The all-pervading smell of penned animals, the unwashed people, the chickens and other poultry scurrying through the streets. How could the Jew be so inordinately proud of his Temple in Jerusalem? To a foreigner, such as he was, the Temple seemed but just another dirty bazaar like that to be found in any large mercantile city. No sanctity or holiness could in any outward way be ascribed to it. Gerizim seemed a paragon of purity in its comparison. The hatred and bitterness of his ancestors towards the Jews throbbed anew within him. Sometimes the man wondered how such violent antipathy had originated. Regardless, he knew in the very marrow of his bones that as an upright and dedicated Samaritan it was his sacred duty to hate, and hate scathingly, the Jew! And he knew, too, that all that hatred was eagerly reciprocated by the Jew.

It was the Rabbi whom he had heard in Jerusalem which set this trip apart from all previous ones. In all his years he had never heard anything like it. How that Rabbi had preached! To be sure, the man had seen and heard many a Rabbi during his trips to Jerusalem. He could not have avoided hearing them even if he had wanted to. They stood on every corner pontificat­ing in measured tones to the riff-raff which passed them. How carefully, however, they lifted the borders of their long robes to avoid touching the unkempt masses. Punctiliously they kept every outward code and conven­tion. And how they loved to be greeted in the market place with the respectful cries of “Rabbi, Rabbi.” But this Rabbi —how very different he was. He spoke with such authority! And of what unfamiliar truths He spoke! He spoke of the first being last, and humbling yourself to be exalted. He spoke of calling not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He spoke of giving a crust of bread and a cup of cold water in Christ’s name. He spoke of clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and entertain­ing strangers. And, yes, He spoke of loving your enemies. . .and at its very remembrance the man dropped his eyes to the rocky path in front of him just as he had done in the marketplace where he had first heard these strange words fall from the Great Rabbi’s lips.

Come to think of it, even this Rabbi’s robe was different. His robe, though beautiful, was of simple cloth and had no phylacteries on it. Was He really a Rabbi? Secretly, the Samaritan was eager to return to Jerusalem in the hopes that he could hear the Rabbi from Nazareth once again. And His eyes —would he ever forget them? They pierced through a man, exposing his very soul; yet such a tenderness and compassion shone through them.

And then he saw it. Lying along the side of the road just a few feet ahead was a man. . .and he appeared to be dead or very close to it. Closer inspection revealed that this was not just any man, but a Jew. Wounded he certainly was, bleeding profusely from many gashes, stripped of all his earthly possessions, and his life’s blood fast ebbing out of him. Robbers, ironically, were no respecters of either Jew or Samaritan.

Involuntarily, the hostility of the centuries coursed through the man’s veins. So the Jew rejoiced when a Samaritan died? Aha! Now would he rejoice at the imminent death of this hapless Jew! So the Jew cursed the Samaritan in his synagogue? Well, curses of the ages upon you, helpless one! Ah! Sweet and final vengeance!

But why was he stopping? Already his hands were fumbling at the thongs on his saddle bag to get at the flask of wine and the bottle of oil which he carried for just such a contingency, while in his ears drummed the words, “Love your enemies. . . Do good to those that despitefully use you. . . Whosoever giveth a cup of cold water. .

With that intensity now he strove to save the dying man. Liberally, he doused the gaping wounds with wine to cleanse them. Lavishly, he splashed the oil on his wounds to ease the dying Jew’s pain and to bring the two sides of the gashes together. Having no ban­dages, the Samaritan took his own freshly-laundered tunic and tore strips from it to bind up the Jew’s wounds and gashes. Then gently and tenderly he lifted his age-old enemy upon his own beast, he himself almost running along urging the animal to greater activity.

And now, oddly enough, no longer was his heart hardened towards this stranger, but rather a great compassion and tenderness welled up within him. The wine with which he had cleansed this stranger’s wounds must have also splashed onto himself cleansing him of his bitter hatred; the oil which he had sloshed on this alien’s gashes must have spilled into his own soul soothing his hatred and spreading compassion and gentleness in its place.

In great haste, the man brought the mortally-wounded Jew to the nearest inn, adjuring the innkeeper to care for him well, paying him in advance, and promising to pay him again when he returned this way.

Once he was on the rocky path again, the man began to worry about what his wife would say. Not even the precious apricots which he had spec­ially purchased for her from the Syrian merchant would placate such a wrath as she was bound to show. How his wife would scold that after these many days of bargaining and bartering he had so little to add to the old clay pot in which they saved the few coins not needed for daily living or necessary to put back into the olive grove.

There was no doubt about it, he would have to tell his wife that he had aided a badly mutilated and dying man —a Jew, no less. How else would he account for his own shredded tunic? He could imagine her fury when he told her the whole truth —how that he had promised the innkeeper that he would pay for the Jew’s further restoration to health and for his prolonged lodging when he made his next trek to Jerusalem. He covered his ears as he anticipated her shrill rebukes; he shaded his eyes as he envisioned the anguished wringing of her hands that she could be married to such a foolish man.

How could he ever explain to his wife that in the nursing of the enemy, he had even yearned towards him so that his deed of kindness far surpassed mere duty, but embodied mercy, gentleness, and compassion as well?

But the man would excuse the predicted responses of his wife. He would forgive the expressions of her feelings. For, after all, she had never heard the Great Rabbi in Jerusalem.

THOUGHTS FOR CONTEMPLATION – “When God is purely worshipped among us, and when true religion flourishes, it will be our best protection. We shall then be more impregnable than if we had all the power and wealth of the world: nothing can hurt us, if we give to God His due honor, and strive to worship Him in sincerity and truth.” John Calvin (on Jer. 50)

“However miserable our condition may be, it is yet better than the happiness which the ungodly seek for themselves in the world,”  John Calvin (on Jer. 51)

“Choosing rather to suffer af­fliction with the people of God. . . .”  Hebrews 11:25

As a child, there were two stories from the Old Testament which dis­tressed me a great deal. Neither of these stories seemed to have a very just or happy ending. And if there is one thing which every child looks for in a story, it is the just and happy ending. Good triumphs over evil; the hero is vindicated. A child will endure injustice throughout the entire story if only he can be sure that justice will prevail. However, both of the stories to which I am referring struck me as stories in which the retribution seemed far greater than the offense. And as I grew older, both of these stories instilled in me a chilling sense of the terrible holiness of God. Ours is not a God who winks at sin. Not any sin! No matter that you claim a record of lifetime obedience. Ours is a God who speaks His Word but once and who demands unswerving obedience.

The first story of which I am speaking is the story of Uzzah. You probably remember the account of Uzzah. He was the Israelite who, when the Ark of the Covenant was being returned to Jerusalem at David’s royal dictum, reached out his hand to steady it on the oxcart—and met with swift and sudden death at the hand of Jehovah right there beside the Ark. Even King David was afraid of the Lord that day.

This story really perturbed me! Here was a man who did not want to see God’s holy Ark topple off the cart into the dirt. Seemingly his intentions were good —at least Scripture gives no indication that his rash act was one of defiance or a deliberate flaunting of God’s commands. Rather his deed appeared to be an instinctive righting of something gone wrong. Sort of like a mother who will steady a hot pan with her bare hands —and sport a burned hand for months afterward. Reflexive. Instinctive. But had God not said that the Ark was never to be touched? Uzzah knew this, too.

The other story which always left me with a dreadful feeling deals directly with the man whom I have chosen to personify this particular fruit of the Holy Spirit. He is Moses. Here we have a man who spent his whole life in faithful service to God and the unthankful people whom he had been called to lead, only to be denied entrance to the physical land of Canaan at the end of his monumental life’s work. One little act. He struck the rock instead of speaking to it as God had instructed. Remembering, too, that on an earlier occasion, Moses had been instructed to hit the rock as the means to cause water to gush forth. But not in this instance. Once again retribution was swift and stiff. How this story bothered me! And even to this day after I spend weeks teaching young children about Moses —his patience, his longsuffering, his endurance of the wretched people whom he was called to lead —I always feel rather crestfallen to tell this story. One offense and he must hear, “Ye shall not bring this congreg­ation into the land which I have given them’’ Numbers 20:12. Oh, I hasten to tell the children that Moses went to a far better Canaan when he died. Nevertheless, there is always the niggling feeling that God dealt unfairly with Moses. And then I am struck anew with the awesome truth that if Moses, he who talked to God face to face as a friend (Ex. 33:11), cannot presume upon God’s favor by a lifetime of singular faithfulness and service to Him, how much less can I!

To suffer long. To bear with another’s weaknesses and failings and sins for a long time. Truly, if this virtue is ever to reside within us it can only be a fruit of the Spirit. If we cannot even endure the imperfections of someone whom we love dearly and who loves us in return —how can we ever suffer long towards those who mean to do us harm, towards those who intentionally and maliciously vex us to the quick? And yet, Scripture is replete with exhorta­tions to suffer long. How many times must I forgive my brother? Christ tells us we must ever and always forgive the same brother for the same offense. Who of himself can endure offense this long? Who of himself is able to be this longsuffering? Certainly, it will have to be a fruit of the Spirit.

Matthew 5 further instructs us that whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; if a man sue thee and take thy coat, then give him your cloak, too; and if someone compels you to go a mile, go with him two. Give, give, give. Be patient, be patient, be patient. Endure. Suffer long.

Such a man was Moses, youngest son of Amram and Jochebed. Moses did not begin his life by being a longsuffering man. No man ever has. It would be safer to say that Moses was the hastiest, the rashest, the least longsuffering of men. Like all the other divinely-instilled Christian virtues with which we are dealing in this series of articles, longsuffering takes a lifetime of grooming. Moses would be almost 80 years old before we can see evidence of his longsuffering. The experience of this gift in the Christian life takes years of refining, honing, polishing. . .and prayer. Like Moses, we are going to have to spend “forty years in the wilderness of Midian’’ to tame that quick tongue, to subdue that hot temper, to quell that vindictive spirit. Like Moses, we are going to have to spend hours with our faces in the dirt in holy communion with God in order to cultivate the gift of longsuffering. Only then, like Moses, will we have eyes to see and hearts to suffer long for the “recompense of the reward’’ Hebrews 11:26b.

Moses lived one hundred and twenty years, his life being divided into three parts of forty years each. The first two parts (80 years) were occupied with the training of intellect and development of character so important to prepare him for the great work which would comprise his last forty years. Each of these periods was necessary so that Moses could attain unto the maturity which would enable him to become God’s mouthpiece—zealous, yet tempered; assertive to do God’s will, all the while patiently enduring the affliction of God’s people.

The first forty years finds Moses being instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22). Much of it was undoubtedly the sheerest folly, but much of it was essential for the position of leadership he must assume and the nation which he would found. The philosophers, the mathematicians, the astronomers, the scholars, and the wise men of Egypt would do all in their power to make Moses their own — because oh, how heady is learning and knowledge —but the instruction which he had received during those first four or five years on his mother Jochebed’s lap would be strong enough for him to refute Egypt’s lures and lusts, so that Hebrews 11:24 can say, “By faith, Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. . . .’’

After Moses’ impetuous act of killing the Egyptian taskmaster who was maltreating a fellow Hebrew, he decisively renounced Egypt with its enticement of earthly success and its intoxicating prospects of fame and fortune, and set out on the long forty-year path of self-denial, reproach, and longsuffering. And so, he is guided to Midian where he has more to learn, his forty-year education in Egypt yet incomplete.

By his act of leaving Egypt, Moses separates himself from the world of sin; in Midian, he must learn the painful separation from his sinful self. Now, in exile, in the solitude of the desert sand and in the companionship of mountain slopes, he must be educated in divine virtues. He must be completely drained of self-will, self-reliance, self-energy, and self-interest in order to become a willing vessel, a fit instrument for God. A man trained to head up the Egyptian empire must now keep sheep for a living! It must have seemed to Moses as if his life were a failure.

Only after this second period of forty years is the man of God ready, God making His appearance to Moses in the burning bush calling him to. the work of his life on that eventful day on Horeb. No, Moses does not think that he is ready or capable of this work and gives God several good reasons why he should not go to Pharaoh; nevertheless, he has been disciplined to be a man of unfailing patience, meek, fit to free his groaning kinsmen.

By Moses’ hand the plagues fell fast and furiously upon Egypt and its inhabitants. He whose nature by this time was gentle and tender and meek, he who would rather pray for the cessation of a plague than for its advent, invoked plague upon plague over Egypt. And although God had given his brother Aaron to Moses for an eloquent spokesman, by the seventh plague Aaron is completely dropped out of sight and Moses exclusively is given the instruction from heaven which crippled Egypt, bringing this proud land to the very precipice of total destruction. The man who had fled Egypt in fear and furtiveness now bestrides its portals as a king.

All Israel had witnessed the power of the plagues and the mighty arm of Jehovah through His servant Moses, yet the people had already turned on Moses, that is on God, at the Red Sea, so that Psalm 106:7 says, “Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even the Red Sea.”

Then Moses stretched forth his arm, and God sent a strong east wind which divided the waters, and the people of Israel walked through the midst of the Red Sea with unmoistened foot and on dry sandals. But Pharaoh and the mighty Egyptian army were swept beneath its stormy waters forever.

With the song of deliverance still on their lips,

I will sing unto the Lord,

for He hath triumphed gloriously:

The horse and the rider

hath He thrown into the sea.

Who is like unto Thee, O Lord,

fearful in praises, doing wonders?

Thou in Thy mercy

 hast led forth Thy people,

the children of Israel were only three days into the wilderness, and finding no water they murmured. And when they tasted the waters of Marah they were bitterly disappointed and mutinied, hurling all their complaints at Moses. But Moses cried unto the Lord. He did not rebuke the people nor threaten to lay down his holy office — although by this time he must have begun to detect that he was up against a seething mass of rebels, and that the whole burden and responsibility for this pilgrimage lay on his shoulders, he who had never wanted to stand before Pharaoh or lead this people in the first place.

Short of sight, short of memory, short of faith, yet knowing full well the abundant resources of Jehovah’s store­house and the matchless strength of His right arm, it is only a few weeks later and the people murmur against Moses, demanding food. Moses, their longsuffering leader, points out to them that they are not murmuring against him, but against God (Exodus 16:7 &8).

And so, God fed them with the Wonder Bread —Manna. For a time the people were content and Moses was their successful and admired leader. But then they came to Rephidim, and in their displeasure at the lack of water they threaten to stone Moses. And again, with water nowhere in sight, Moses cried unto the Lord, “What shall I do. …?’’ And Jehovah, here as longsuffering and patient as His ser­vant Moses, does not chide or reproach the people, but gives Moses orders to strike the rock and water shall come out of it. “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” I Corinthians 10:4.

Oh, there was no end to it. Moses, in addition to the grave responsibilities of leading some two million people, had to endure their constant murmurings and perpetual grievances. Envy, insol­ence, ingratitude, and even open revolt always lay close to the surface. Manna was not sufficient for these wayfarers, but they must have meat. And God gave them their meat, but how quickly did their delightful feast turn into dreadful funeral.

But the repeated outbreak of these murmurers all along the route through the wilderness only brings to promin­ence the sympathetic ear, the patience, the longsuffering of this great man of God. When the people complained to him, he went straight to God. When it seemed likely that the whole nation must perish for their sin, he besought God and turned the imminent destruc­tion away. Twice for 40 days in their interest he stayed on Mount Sinai. When God desired to kill them all and make a new nation from the loins of Moses, he pleaded with God to remember His covenant mercies and that He not give the Egyptians reason to mock the promises of God.

How longsuffering he was towards this stiff-necked and recalcitrant people! On one occasion, weighed down and almost broken by the burden of his office, he prayed to God and said:

“Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?

Have I conceived all this people? Have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?”  Numbers 11:11 & 12

Nevertheless, Moses endured un­der great provocation. The longsuffer­ing of Moses reached its noblest note in Exodus 32:32 where God, seeing the blatant idolatry of the people while He is yet inscribing His hatred of it on stone, gives Moses the opportunity to break with them once and for all. And although Moses’ anger waxed hot against their sin, yet he had the deepest Christ-like compassion for the people willing to atone for their sin. What a price he was willing to pay for the ungrateful, idolatrous people! “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin: and if not, blot me, I pay thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” How the heart of God must have yearned towards this longsuffering servant, whose proposal so vividly anticipated that other future scene.

The personal blow which Moses endured at the mouth of his own brother and sister when they challenged his leadership, the bitter disappoint­ment he felt when the children of Israel decided to make a new captain and enter Canaan without him (Had the people so soon forgotten his interces­sion for them on the mountain, his tender devotion for them?), the con­spiracy led by Korah (“We are all holy. . .) he left it all in the hands of God. He himself was willing to be trampled on, to bear aspersion, to endure reproach. He himself was eager to stay the leprosy, to atone for the people, to stop the plague with a censer. Generously, selflessly, chival­rously he suffered long for the people and the glory of God’s Great Name.

And so, we come to the end of the recorded deeds of Moses. He is now very old. But his step is firm and sure; he is still energetic and strong; his eyes are yet glinty and keen; his under­standing is incisive and penetrating. He has but one consuming goal in life, and that is to enter Canaan, to enjoy, after all these long and toilsome years, its promised milk and honey, and to bask in its rest. There he stands on the very threshold of realizing his life’s ambition. And then it happened. In anger he struck the rock, at long last giving full vent to his fury, even calling God’s chosen people REBELS. After a lifetime of exemplary patience, long-suffering, and intercessory work, he reverted to his old ways of impatience, anger, and an unruly spirit. God would have none of it. Not even from His own chosen friend. Moses had not sanctified God in the eyes of the people. The penalty? He would not enter Canaan.

And so, we find Moses, God’s faithful servant and friend, pleading with God to let him set foot on Canaan’s rich and lovely ground, until finally God becomes wroth with him and says, “Speak no more unto me of this matter’’ Deuteronomy 3:26.

So, what do we have here for our example and edification? How fitting is Scripture in all its pictures and appli­cations! Moses represented the law, and the law being weak (Romans 8:3), is not able to bring us into glory. It will take the true Joshua, Jesus the Saviour, to lead us over the Jordan. However, we have in Moses the Old Testament prototype of Christ, albeit, an imperfect one. There is only One who perfectly bears long with us, who never strikes out in sudden anger, who intercedes for His people day and night, ceaselessly! What a faultless Mediator! What a perfect Saviour! I can live and die happily knowing that Jesus suffers long, that is, forever, for me. Oh, to be like Him!

“Whoever intends to enter married life should do so in faith and in God’s name. He should pray to God that it may prosper as according to His will and that marriage may not be treated as a matter of fun and folly. It is a hazardous matter and as serious as anything on earth can be. Therefore we should not rush into it as the world does, in keeping with its frivolousness and wantonness and in pursuit of its pleasure; but before taking this step we should consult God so that we may lead our marriage life to His glory. Those who do not go about it in this way may certainly thank God if it turns out well. If it turns out badly, they should not be surprised; for they did not begin it in the name of God and did not ask for His blessing.”        -Martin Luther

“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” Mark 16:9

Without a doubt, the decade in which we live will be remembered as the era in which the greatest advances for women were made since the Women’s Suffrage Amendment of 1920. Today, women have fought for and achieved “rights” in nearly every area of life. Often they have left the fray battered and bloodied, but, in their estimation, the new freedoms gained after years of subjugation and repres­sion have been judged as worth the struggle.

The cry of women is liberation, and magazines, newspapers, television, banners, and picket lines have touted their cause. Aggressive and out-spo­ken, women have slugged their way into every sphere of society. Once the shackles of the home have been shaken loose, there is no longer any place into which a woman cannot infiltrate. Admittedly restless and astir with their successes, they have, nevertheless, boldly and confidently strode into every type of business and industry. They have even been catapulted into the highest political offices in the country. There is no place, no position, sacrosanct to men. Never again will women be regarded as second class citizens. But they are not satisfied yet. Even in the church, women are vocal and unhappy and are making strong claims on the offices of deacon, elder, and, yes, even Minister of the Gospel! Subjugation? Expunge it from the vocabulary! Liberation? Ah! It is their rallying cry!

And so, I want to tell you my story. It is a story of subjugation —subjuga­tion to sin. It is also a story of liberation —liberation from sin.

I am a woman. My name is Mary Magdalene. I know all about servitude of women, for I lived in a time when women were regarded as second-rate creatures. Every man (and woman, too) prayed for sons. Daughters were of little account. Sons were trained and tutored and honored. Daughters rarely left the home —their duty was to care for men. Even in the synagogue, the women sat separately. Yet for all this, it was a servitude which seemed but light compared with the slavery to Satan that I was soon to endure.

Many books have been written about me and much speculation per­sists as to my looks, my character, my background, and my importance in the gospel narratives.  A woman in her late twenties, she is not the sinful beauty that tradition describes. More than beautiful, she is compelling, a woman who carries destiny with more charm than drama. Although of heroic temperament. . .she is well controlled, calm, her smile has a touch of melancholy, her voice a timbre of the sensual. Her skin is white, and she has red hair, of course: It would be an irreverence against our heritage to give her hair any other color. . . . (Fodor, Ladislas. The Vigil, p. 72)

Although there is no accusation of me in Scripture as being a “fallen woman”—a harlot, a prostitute —his­tory has associated my name with that of sinner-prostitute, now penitent. To be a Mary Magdalene is to be the whore (restored), nevertheless, repul­sive to God and even more abominable to the unforgiving eye of men. History has relegated me to this humbling category, and all its time-honored pages can never revoke those implica­tions. I can only say in my own defense that I became one of the group of holy women who ministered to Christ and His disciples during Christ’s short ministry on earth, and in this connec­tion, my name is usually mentioned first. Would Christ want such a woman as I have been depicted to be in such close communion with Him? Whenever Christ forgave the sins of women of ill repute, of which I have been accused, He sent them away. Forgiven? Yes. And with the austere command to sin no more; nevertheless, He sent them away. But I —I was permitted to take care of the physical needs and concerns of this blest band of men. History has unfairly libeled and labeled me.

I was born and grew up in the town of Magdala (hence, also my name) which is situated on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. From these shores and neighboring environs Jesus gathered many of His faithful followers and all His apostles with the exception of Judas Iscariot. Here, too, was the scene of many of the mighty works of the Savior— Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida on the north and Cana on the south. Magdala was a lovely town and it was well known for its dyeworks and for the manufacture of fine woolen textiles. It was a town of industry; subsequently, it was a wealthy town.

My early childhood in Magdala was happy and comfortable. The economics of my home were such that after Jesus healed me, when I was permitted to provide loving service to Christ and His disciples, I was able to give of my substance. “And certain women (were with Him), which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmi­ties, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their sub­stance.” (Luke 8:2, 3). Nor was I always a devil-inhabited creature. As a young girl, I was trained in the womanly arts and social requirements just as all Israelite maidens. How necessary this was for my future work of caring for Jesus and His disciples! I would have to meet many different people and adjust to many different circumstances. My mother had prepar­ed me well during those early untrou­bled years. And after my healing, I did not have to work for a living in order to provide this ministry to Jesus. From the comparative affluence of my family, I was able to purchase expensive spices to anoint the body of Jesus after His death (Mark 16:1).

Nevertheless, near to Magadala was also the land of the Gadarenes. And it was in this bleak and harsh country that Satan had marshalled his malignant forces in a special way to combat Christ during those few years of His public ministry on earth. The Prince of Darkness, frustrated and foiled since his first attack in Eden, knowing his time was running out, had rallied all his fearsome friends to challenge Christ and His followers once and for all. The country of the Gadarenes became the center for his demonic host to unleash their malicious attack on their victims, of which I was one. And so, let us enter this dark phase of my life.

Scripture opens its narrative about me with this introduction, Luke 8:2, “Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils. …” and Scripture closes its account of me, Mark 16:9, “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” This is Scripture’s own unequivocal assess­ment of me. I was a devil-infested woman. Seven devils resided within me causing me ceaseless torment and anguish. Seven devils —I was complete­ly dominated by Satan. He had achieved his Satanic fullness in me!

How did those hellish foes come to reside in me? What was my condition which made my body and soul so suitable for their habitation? I cannot say with certainty. Suffice it to say that my heart and life were open to sin; my soul, in a state of decline, was easily accessible for occupancy by Satan and his minions. There were many holes in my armour. (“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” Ephe­sians 6:11). I admit it freely, knowing better than most that a heart which is not Spirit-filled must by necessity be filled with someone else; but also being assured that, II Timothy 2:26, the devil snares his captives at will. At any rate, Satan desired to have me, taking along seven cohorts to occupy my body, my mind, my soul —not to tempt me, but to possess me! And I was willing captive.

I don’t think most of you know what this was like. I was completely indwelt with demons from whom I longed to be free, and at the same time, I did not want them to leave me—because in some sense they were ME. My will and Satan’s were inextric­ably entwined.

How wretched and miserable I was. Life held no joy, no peace, no meaning for me. Every new day was only a cause for more unhappiness, restlessness, and despondency. I was racked with torment and despair. Truly, I was a woman in subjection! Some days were better than others, but no day was ever a happy one. Many times I contemplated taking my own life. I was like the demoniac who tried to throw himself into the fire (Matthew 17:15). There was this screaming within me which I longed to hush once and forever. The violence which drove the demonized swine into the sea was the same violence which tore at me day and night. I soon became dirty, ragged, and unkempt. Everyone in our small, but prosperous village, tried to avoid me, and I rarely left the village. Even little children scurried to the side of road when they saw me coming. At times, this hurt me; but mostly I was too preoccupied with my own distress, too miserable to notice. I was a daily sorrow to my family, a brooding fear to my friends, and an abject terror to society. I was worse than useless. Nor did I care. I ate. I slept. Oh, how I longed for sleep! Sleep was the one effective tranquilizer. Sleep provided the temporary respite from all this agitation and tumult within me. But all the other wonderful human experiences escaped me —loving, caring, giving, laughing, enjoying.

For some time, I lived this way. Then, in my darkest hour, hopelessly mad, when I no longer even wondered whether I was animal or woman, a Stranger walked along the dusty roads

of Galilee, and as I scrabbled in the dirt, He looked on me with His eyes of compassion. In the supreme power of His Name, He cast out those seven devils. He flung them out of me by His efficacious Word!

Now Jesus healed many afflicted ones during those few years that He was on earth and I was witness to many of them. Most of these afflicted ones pressed through crowds to reach Him, some cried by the roadside for Him to have mercy upon them, still others carried their loved ones to Jesus for healing and restoration. These all came to Him for deliverance; but, in my experience, no demoniac ever came to Jesus for healing mercies. The pos­sessed could not come! I never saw it happen in all my years with the Master. Those in a wretched and vexed state, such as I, could not come to Him! They could not even reach out to Him! I, for one, did not even know who He was. How could I come to Him? How foolish to even think thus. Like the demoniac in the tombs of Gadara, I could only cry out, “Let us alone, art thou come to destroy us? What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God?’’ (Mark 5:7) I did not seek Him for healing, but He sought me! I did not find Him in the extremity of my darkness, but He found me! I did not draw nigh to Him on that memorable day, but He drew near to me with the strong encircling cords of His love! I could never have broken those chains in which Satan had bound me —and truth to tell, I had no desire to become unfettered. But the express purpose of the coming of Jesus into the world was “that he might destroy the works of the devil’’ (I John 3:8). And again in Romans 16:20, “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” That purpose He accom­plished as I, and all those who have experienced the horror of sin, can attest. No longer are we women (or men) in servitude to sin. No longer does Satan have dominion over us. Christ has freed us from the bondage of sin and the unrest of soul. He has given us the sweet peace of His liberating love.

As you can well imagine, this Stranger of Galilee means everything to me. He’s my life, my joy, my ALL. He granted me the peace which no physician, no friend, no rabbi, no philosophy of Greece or Rome could ever have given me. I owed Him everything and there was nothing I could give Him in return.

Freed from seven devils, I never left the Master, nor did He send me away as He did so many others whom He healed. I became energetic for Him. I was one of several women who walked and talked with Him whithersoever He went —through the countryside, along the shores of the sea, over mountain­sides, across lush valleys, and into the congested cities. And when His time was come, I walked with Him to the cross. I waited, although afar off, while they took Him down from the cross, bloody and lifeless, and I followed after when they took Him to the tomb. When they buried my Lord, I beheld where and how His body was laid. Although I could not comprehend His suffering and death, how I loved Him! He, who could have felled all His adversaries with one brief word and come down from the cross by His own power, had seemingly permitted His enemies to accomplish the final coup de grace.

When my Lord was nailed to the cross on that dark and grim Friday, it seemed as if all the evil in my life was about to return. The peace which he had so freely given me had scuttled to the darkest corners of my spirit, and the forces of hell seemed once again to hurl themselves relentlessly upon me. Without the Master I was so vulner­able. He was the buffer between me and Satan’s assailants.

Then, along with all my hopes and comfort, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus buried Him in the tomb. Now for sure with the Master sealed inside the tomb, the forces of darkness could rage against me and inveigh my soul. Behind Him had closed the yawning gates of hell; before me gaped the horrible jaws of enslavement and death.

Yet my love for Him compelled me to the garden in the gray dawn of that Sunday morning. Throughout His min­istry, Jesus had given us His followers many signs and even had told us plainly that He would arise, yet I came to His tomb with my costly burial spices intended to ward off corruption. How blind and slow of understanding I was. There in the garden beholding His empty tomb, I waited and wept alone, Peter and John and the other women having returned to Jerusalem. I alone could not be satisfied with the empty tomb. I was not even afraid when, peering into it for one last look, I saw two angels so bright. Nor was I alarmed or surprised when they spoke to me. The desire of my heart was only for Him, “Oh, where have they laid my Lord?”

And then, I turned, and in accents inexpressibly beautiful. He called me by my name. Mary. What a world of import in that one word. No combina­tion of letters can accurately convey the tone, the tenderness, the SALVATION in that one word. Now my liberation was complete. I fell at His nail-scarred feet. Rabboni. His glorious body I did not immediately recognize, but there is no mistaking His voice! Whether His voice comes to us in the eloquent message of the gospel or in the agonizing disturbances of our life while we seek Him in prayer, when He calls us by our name there is only knowledge and recognition (John 10:27).

Are you plagued with your sins, horrible, despicable, unmentionable ones? Well, women, and men, too, flee to His cross and then to His empty tomb where He meets you at the break of day, calling you by name with His sweet words of forgiveness and healing and peace.

And so, I, a woman, walked with Him in the garden on that joyful Easter morn. I, a woman, the first witness to the resurrection! To me He gave the command, “Go and tell my disciples I, a woman, given the honor of bringing the news of the resurrected Jesus to all mankind. I, a woman, a herald to the very apostles themselves. I, a woman, an ambassador to all His church down through the ages. Com­missioned by Christ Himself!

I sped from the garden for I brought good news. My heart burned within me impelling me from house to house and from door to door. Jesus is risen! I saw Him with my own eyes! I saw Him standing over against His own tomb! 1 bring good news! 1 bring the full Gospel! I bring words of comfort and peace! There is no death, no despair, no hellish fiends anymore! Death was snuffed out forever early this Sunday morning! What a libera­tion! What freedom! Now there is only life! Life Everlasting! And. oh. now there is PEACE!

“But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy:

So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.” Ezra 3:12-13

For as far as the old man could see in this glaring sunlight, the long strung-out caravan wended snake-like along the rugged landscape. For many weeks already, the returning exiles had been traveling in this fashion —and they were still a long way from their destination. First, Zerubbabel, a prince of the house of David, and Jeshua, a grandson of one of the last high priests to serve in the temple; then the Levites, followed by the temple singers, players, and the temple servants; finally, the thousands upon thousands of lay people, trailed by the beasts of burden and the herdsmen and servants to tend them.

The old man leaned heavily upon his staff as he paused for a few brief moments to regain his balance and catch his faltering breath. How fast and irregularly his heart was beating! How blistering was the sun—and it not even noon yet! How harsh was the terrain! The old man wondered if he would be able to persevere in this arduous trek back to Jerusalem, since stragglers such as he had to fend for themselves, keeping apace as best they could. Once in a while, the very old persons, like himself, were privileged to ride for a short time on a burden-bearing animal such as a mule, an ass, or a camel. Mostly, however, the old as well as the young had to walk, for every spare animal was needed to carry back the supplies and those precious treasures which had been taken from Yahweh’s House some seventy years ago —the dishes, the bowls, the cups, and the goblets. Now, Cyrus, in a surprisingly gracious edict, had given these back to the exiles for use in their temple in Jerusalem. Lost in his musings, the old man lagged farther and farther behind, shuffling along apathetically.

He was old. He wasn’t even sure how old. He only knew that he had to be at least fourscore years because he remembered well the sacking of Jerusalem. He recalled with clarity how he had thrown a huge rock at his dark-haired captor. And he remembered as if but yesterday how the Babylonian soldier had thrown back his head to laugh, not deigning to draw his sword on such an insignificant one saying, “Look how this young one fights. He’ll make a splendid soldier in our army.” Then, holding his obvious rippling strength in check, the soldier had cuffed him but lightly, even so sending him sprawling against his Mother’s doorsill.

Even now, the old man was embarrassed as he recalled his own feeble resistance on that memorable day. What a futile attempt that had been —one small, feisty boy resisting the well-organized Babylonian army. And yet, the old man knew by the clenching of his free fist and the tightening of his gnarled hand on his staff that given the same situation, he would resist and fight all over again —puny though his efforts would be. For to be a captive, and that in an alien land, was most painful to the proud and freeborn Jew.

In all his seventy years in Babylon, the old man had never felt at home. Many of his compatriots had had no difficulty “settling in” in Babylon and even now were plying their lucrative trades in that God-forsaken country. They had no intention of leaving the comforts and prosperity that Babylon afforded and had melded quite fluidly into Babylon’s culture and society. But not he! Every new sunrise had been a forceful reminder to him that he was a stranger in a foreign land. The old man fretted that so small a group had agreed to return to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel. Only about 45,000 out of the many, many of his kinsmen who were given the opportunity to return had set out on this long and wearisome journey —a distance of some 900 miles, spanning six months, and all of it on foot.

Every Sabbath day, the old man had grieved anew that he could not go up to Yahweh’s House in prayer. During those times of deepest loneliness, sorrow, and despair, he had tried to find consolation by playing on his lyre the songs of Zion which his Mother had taught him when he was a young lad. But after plucking only a few plaintive notes, he could only lament:  How shall I sing Jehovah’s song When Zion’s walls in ruin lie, While in an alien land I die ?

And then at the close of each Sabbath, he had carefully packed away his lyre in its goatskin sheath, with the fervent prayer that Yahweh, who had departed from the land of Israel at least so far as his favor was concerned, would remember to be merciful and bring back the pining captives to the joy and peace of Zion. The old man was one of the few exiles who carried in his heart the letter that Jeremiah had sent from Jerusalem to the captives and which assured him that indeed Yahweh would hear him:

For thus saith the LORD, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.

“For l know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”  Jeremiah 29:10-11

The old man never doubted, though the ray of hope was ever so slim, that some glad day he would stand within the temple, perhaps even as one of the temple players accompanying the singers. As a small boy, he had heard the sweet refrains which filled the courts of Solomon’s Great Temple on the Sabbath Day. He had listened in rapt attention while watching his father, of the illustrious family of Asaph, standing with all the other temple musicians in their blue and white robes, filling the temple, its courts, and all the surrounding countryside with the brilliancy of voice and instrument. He had been told that he, too. would someday take his place with his father to magnify God’s House with these same stirring Psalms of praise. Even then, he had begun his training; for as a scion of the house of Asaph he would also be expected to accompany the temple singers when he came of age.

But he had never played so much as one note in the temple. He, destined to be so nimble of finger on the lyre, had only learned to handle the sword and spear, and now his fingers were clumsy with disuse. How this vexed the old man. Tears squeezed out of his rheumy old eyes and coursed down the furrows of his cheeks at the memory of the lyrical strains which had filled the temple environs —which all the sands of time could not erase —and joy filled his soul at the very thought that such pleasure as he had yearned for all these many years yet awaited him.

He must quicken his step! Even now the children, those paragons of energy, had doubled back and were cavorting around him, urging him to catch up. Zerubbabel was calling a noon break. Already, the old man could hear the melody which the long line of returnees had taken up. Once more hope ran high. The old man rasped out a prayer to Yahweh: “Oh Yahweh, thou who hast kept me safely these many years, shine thou thy glorious face upon my aged one and allow me to return to the land of my people ere I die and be no more. Let me taste that joy once again.” It seemed that the prayer revitalized the old man more than all the urgings of the children, and they were surprised how quickly the old man hurried to catch up with the caravan.

With the foundation of the temple now laid, Zerubbabel had called for a day of celebration and thanksgiving, a day of temple worship. The old man had arisen especially early this morning. Each day since the captives had returned, at the first streaks of sunrise, the old man had hastened to the temple ruins to assist in clearing away the years of debris and rubble. But this day the old man had lain awake even before the first bird had warbled its morning reveille. He wanted time to be alone with God. How thankful he was! He must tell Yahweh this in the most beautiful phrases which he could formulate. Today he would play his lyre with the other temple players; he reached across to the crude table where his lyre rested and caressed the strings lovingly. This was the day for which he had prayed and waited for almost eighty long years, and his soul soared in gratitude to God.

As the old man haltingly made his way to the temple site, he was joined by throngs of fellow worshippers, already caught up in the festive tone of this day. Truly, this was a day of unparalleled joy and celebration!

When the old man reached the newly-laid foundation, the joy of this day was somewhat marred by the view which met his eye. Deep within this soul, he knew that this temple was not nearly so beautiful —nor would it ever be —as the grand and glorious temple of his youth. Many of the gold and silver goblets and dishes had not been returned. The wall surrounding the temple was crumbling and in disrepair, and even now the enemies were taunting the harried builders and threatening them. Worst of all, the Holy of Holies was empty. There was no Ark of the Covenant covered by the spreading wings of the cherubim. And there was no Shechinah, that divine, visible presence of Yahweh. He meditated on the prophet Haggai’s words:  Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?

“Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD. . .and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work. . .

For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;

And I will shake all nations, and the de­sire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.

The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.”

The old man believed these words of Haggai, but, oh, how dim was the picture it portrayed. It was as if he looked through a glass, darkly. Yet by faith, he recognized the “Desire of all Nations’’ who would “fill this house with glory.’’

As the old man took his prescribed place with all the other temple players and singers, a hush settled over the jubilant exiles as they began to play and sing giving thanks unto the LORD for His goodness and mercy. Lightly and hesitantly the old man coaxed his beloved lyre to play these thrilling Psalms of David and of his own ancestor, Asaph, while the tears streamed down his wrinkled face. Then, the people, no longer able to contain their happiness, in their transports of joy. interrupted the singing with a great shout of exaltation.

But the old man, along with all the other ancients of Judah, began to weep loudly.

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

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