55. A Time to go on the Offensive

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

1 Sam 17:10,11   Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

Hostile Neighbors? Israel in history, especially in the Old Testament, can be seen to be a demonstration of various things. We could focus, negatively, on the fact of their apparently continual habit of getting it wrong, of rejecting or rebelling against God, and when we do I also remind us that in that they were merely demonstrating what we as a human race are like. They were not especially bad; they just reveal the reality of sin that is true of all of us. But for this present exercise, Israel reveal to us what it meant to be a special people, God’s people because, as far as their neighbors were concerned, they were enemies.

Now I am not sure if I can find anywhere where the Scriptures say it was specifically because they were God worshipers, and it may be that in those primitive times, one expression of the Sin of mankind simply meant that one nation beat up another nation. Having said that, it seems more than a coincidence that Israel had more than their fair share of getting beaten up. (We should remember in passing that Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” [Mt 10:34] which opens up the whole area of division between believer and non-believer).

But this all goes to show something, perhaps, of what was behind the passage that we are going to examine in this and the next two studies, found in 1 Sam 17 when Israel are being opposed by their old enemy, the Philistines. (It is clear from the Old Testament that the Lord used the Philistines to discipline or chastise Israel when Israel had turned away from Him. They were part of His oft-used method of bringing disciplinary judgment that was designed to drive them back into His arms.)

The Battlefield statistics: The beginning of chapter 17 shows us the Philistines lined up against Israel: “The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.” (v.3), shown to be in the foothills to the west of Bethlehem, on the border of Israel. There is in a sense, a picture here of the divide between the Church and the rest of the world. On one hillside are the atheistic crusaders shouting their derogatory abuses about the folly of belief. With them, in much larger numbers, are the unbelievers of the world. In the UK where the real believing church is said to be only between 5 and 7% of the population, and the USA where more recent figures suggest it is only about 30% of the population who are really believers, the appearance is that we are outnumbered and the church numbers so often appear to be declining.

Outnumbered and talked down to: There is an amazing little picture found in 1 Kings at one point: “The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.” (1 Kings 20:27). What an amazing picture of little Israel facing the might of the Arameans. No contest! Well, yes, actually it was, because the Lord was with Israel and they utterly defeated the enemy. A lesson not to be forgotten. But here we are in this world today and lined up against us are atheists who bring derisory words spoken the Bible, derisory words about the nature of God, and derisory words about faith and being a Christian. Note that: so often the enemy’s attack starts with words. The classic example of that was when Sennacherib’s field commander stood outside Jerusalem before attacking it (a tough task with high and thick walls and strong gates) and demeaned their trust in God (e.g. Isa 36:4-10 and then v.12-20). It was pure propaganda designed to bring down the morale of Israel.

Challenging Questions: So today the Battle is joined and the voices of the enemy shout out, “You can’t trust the Bible, it is full of errors and tales of a harsh God,” or “Creation in seven days? What are you lot on about? Everyone knows it took hundreds of millions of years of evolution to bring about what we are today!” or “How can you believe in a God who has women and children put to death in genocide?”  The trouble is there are good answers to this untruths or even half-truths at times, but so often we do not prepare ourselves  because we have never thought to read the great apologists of the kingdom who have got good answers to these questions, and our minister is too busy doing verse by verse exposition of passages we have all heard before, to teach the answers to the questions that the world has.

Occult Spiritual Warfare: Thus very often I find that, if we are honest, many of God’s people are “dismayed and terrified” just like Israel were, because we haven’t trained them and there is little hunger to search out the truth and become warriors who can combat the lies and mis-truths and half-truths of the enemy.  I didn’t mention it in the previous study but there is another whole area of deception that the enemy uses to undermine the faith of God’s people and it is that of the occult. How often I have heard people casually say, “Oh yes, I played with a Ouija board when I was a teenager but it was only a bit of harmless fun.” Think again. Or the other common one is “My husband has been invited to become a Freemason.” Really, watch out for trouble in your spiritual life because any honest Freemason will acknowledge that there is a spiritual dimension to what they do, even though many would prefer to ignore it.

Ignorance of spiritual warfare and a failure of the Church to teach on it, means that many have lives that are blighted without them realizing it, having failed to repent of past dealings with the enemy and thus allowing themselves to be open and vulnerable to him. There are a number of really good ministries that help people be set free from their past, but the trouble is that most of us either don’t realize there is a spiritual battle going on or don’t realize they are walking wounded because of it. There is a strong case to be made for either in-house counselling or invited-in counselling. If we think this is all exaggerated talk, that is a sign that we have been subject to one of the enemy’s attacks I spoke of two studies back and have been lulled into a place of unbelief and placid acceptance of his deceptions.  Ask Him to open the eyes of your understanding, and touch and challenge your heart

Remove the Grave-clothes: What I have just been advocating is the equivalent of Jesus words at the tomb of Lazarus: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (Jn 11:44) You and I, if we are truly Christian believers, are not dead – we have died with Christ but we have also been raised with him (see Rom 6). Grave clothes are anything which hinders our present movement as resurrected children of God, anything that thwarts the will of God, preventing us living and working as the body of Christ today. ‘Grave clothes’ are unbelief, complacency, indifference, ignorance, self-concern, lack of concern for the glory and honour of the Lord, cynicism, pessimism, anything that stops us living according to His word and at the prompting of His Spirit. If you struggle with these things, talk to your leaders or mature trusted Christian friends and ask them to help get them off you. Don’t be part of the problem of this world, start being part of the answer to it.

26. Preliminary Battle Briefing

Meditations in Exodus: 26. Preliminary Battle Briefing

Ex 7:2    You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country

We observed chapter six as a summary time which we also said was a turning point and from now on the action really starts. At the beginning of chapter 5 the first approach had been made to Pharaoh, and it had not gone well. The result? Pharaoh had refused their first request for Israel to be let go  and had then made life harder for the Hebrew slaves. But so far he has not seen God move, That is about to change! But first of all again the Lord has to instruct Moses. Over the years I have noticed that of there is something big to do, the Lord says it more than a couple of times. If you have received fresh direction for your life from the Lord, then you may expect Him to speak at least three times. Why? Because He knows we need reminding and constantly reassuring.

We need to say something at the beginning of this Part 4. Although this will be a portion of Scripture that will be very difficult to apply to our personal lives, it will reveal the folly of man and the grace of God as it appears so clearly nowhere else in the Bible. The warning that must come through must be against pride and against spiritual blindness. The revelation of God that comes through is of one who hesitates in bringing judgment on this foolish occult-driven, superstitious people and gives them opportunity after opportunity of coming to their senses and repenting. Hold on to this picture of God for it is quite amazing. Power, yes, grace even more so.

So it starts: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” (v.1) Actually, this is going to be a bit eerie because Moses is going to be there always but will remain silent while Aaron does the talking. Without doubt Moses will be the leader and Pharaoh will realise that but Aaron will be the one bring the word from his boss. Yes Moses is going to be the one who does the stuff and so he is going to be seen as the power broker to Pharaoh. If Pharaoh comes to revere one of them because of their power it will be Moses. Moes will get the instructions from God, pass them to Aaron who will them convey them to Pharaoh (v.2). That’s the plan anyway.

Then comes a fourth warning of what will actually happen: “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites.”  (v.3,4) Observe very carefully this order of events again; this is God’s war strategy to bring judgment on this foolish king and his people:

  • I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and
  • though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt,
  • he will not listen to you.
  • Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment
  • I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites.

We have already touched on this before but it needs repeating if we are to fully understand it. Pharaoh has a hard heart to start with. That simply means he is proud and arrogant and set in his ways, the ways he thinks. When you push a hard hearted person they just get harder and so in that sense, God IS going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. I would suggest that this hardness is made more acute by the use of occult activity in the land, which we’ll soon see. Those who are involved in the occult, whether it is witchcraft, spiritist fortune telling or even freemasonry, always find it more difficult to comprehend the Gospel.  The apostle Paul said of people generally, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:4) there referring to Satan’s activity. It is even more so when people have dabbled in his works in the occult.

So God will press Pharaoh and his heart will just get harder so, second,  the Lord will multiply his signs and wonders in Egypt, the spectacular ‘plagues’ but, third, because of his hard heart Pharaoh will not listen. It will be crass stupidity because it will be so obvious what is going on, but blind hard hearted people are crassly stupid. It’s an aspect of Sin. So, fourth, those acts of disciplinary judgment (for that’s all the early plagues are, seeking to bring changes in behaviour) will eventually turn into terminal judgments, ones where people are dying, so that fifth, the end result will be that Israel are freed and allowed out of the country.

But there is an even bigger and even more important end result to all this: “And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” (v.5) God’s objective again and again revealed in Scripture is that he is revealed to His world.  He wants His world to know Him and, wherever possible, to enter into a living relationship with Him. THAT is the end goal. There will be some Egyptians who will leave with Israel and there will some who will remain in Egypt but never be the same again; they will know the truth, that all their present gods are petty superstitions, and that there is just ONE all-mighty, all-powerful God, the Lord of all, and He alone is worthy of worship, not all these other foolish make-believe entities!  That is where this is going eventually.

The to the success that is coming: “Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD commanded them.” (v.6) Awesome! Obedience releases the power of God or, to put it another way, it opens the way for God to come and move.  And just in case you thought you couldn’t do something like that, the record adds, “Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.” (v.7) Doing the will of God has nothing to do with age. Whatever He gives you to do, it doesn’t matter how old you are, if you are obedient, he will bless that obedience and you will see great things happening.

Remember you and I cannot do miracles, only God can. We’ll need to remind ourselves of this again and again for this is a primary lesson that is about to come out of what is about to take place. It is God who provides the plagues, not Moses. Moses and Aaron are only there to make it more clear for Pharaoh. Without them he would be so deaf as well as blind that he would not hear God, so Moses and Aaron become loudspeakers for God so that Pharaoh does hear.

So what have we seen in the first seven verses of chapter 7? We have seen the Lord, yet again, laying out the battle strategy. This is what WILL happen. The Lord knows and understands Pharaoh completely so He knows exactly what will happen, how Pharaoh will react and so what He will then go on to have to do. It’s all about showing to the onlooking world the folly or stupidity of pride. Don’t think you can outwit God. Never think you can beat Him in the chess game of life; you can’t. Surrender NOW!

45. What Hope

Meditations in Job : 45.  What hope

Job 17:15 where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me?

Life is sometimes a battle. At the time of writing this particular meditation I am aware of a friend who is battling with negative thoughts that threaten to destroy him. I am particularly aware of him at this moment as I read the next portion of Job. Job is struggling. He’s just been having some remarkable revelations, coming to some remarkable understanding, but the pressure of physical stress and the mental stress of the browbeating nature of his ‘friends, threatens to overwhelm him and squeeze out of his mind any remnant of these thoughts of a friend in heaven. That’s what it’s like when we get in a major spiritual battle. We seek to take hold of the truth and declare it, hold on to it and live by it, but the shear pressure of immediate circumstances almost crushes us. Jesus knew this experience on the Cross: he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” (Isa 53:5).  For him also it was a double pressure: the awful physical anguish caused by the cross, and the mental and spiritual anguish as the powers of darkness railed against him (see Psa 22:12-) so much so that he declares prophetically in that psalm, “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. (Psa 22:14) Jesus knew what Job was going through!

In these verses he first of all turns back to the friends who are almost taunting him: But come on, all of you, try again! I will not find a wise man among you.” (v.10)  It’s as if he taunts them back, as if to say, Come on, is that all you can do, have another go!  He ponders on what they have got to attack: “My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart.” (v.11)  It’s as if he says, Come on guys, whatever have you got to shoot at?  My life has gone, my plans no longer exist, and any desires I might have had are past history!  I’ve nothing left for you to have a go at!

He continues about what they do: “These men turn night into day; in the face of darkness they say, `Light is near.’” (v.12)  i.e. they twist the truth!  He goes on, “If the only home I hope for is the grave, if I spread out my bed in darkness,  if I say to corruption, `You are my father,’ and to the worm, `My mother’ or `My sister,’ where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me?” (v.13-15).  In other words, he looks death in the face and says, if death is all I have left, what hope have I?  Now to get the full significance of that we have to observe that there is likely to be a footnote in your Bible next to the word ‘death’ that indicates that it really means Sheol, or the underworld. The belief in such an underworld is a belief without hope. Who wants to end up in such a gloomy place? That is no hope you want to cling to for the future. Bear in mind all of his positive revelations earlier on here about a friend in heaven speaking up with him and perhaps one day seeing him. That suggests a hope of entry to heaven; thus this present wondering is in fact a writing off of the belief in Sheol. It is as if he implies there has got to be something better!

For us today of course, we see the fuller revelation of Scripture and realize that our hope is in heaven, because of what Jesus has done for us. Job speculates:  “Will it go down to the gates of death? Will we descend together into the dust?” (v.16). It may be very easy for us today with the revelation of the New Testament to be assured of heaven, but before Jesus came, that was not clear. The ‘it’ in this last verse is of course hope, we see as we reread the earlier verses.  Is the only hope we have to go down to some netherworld? Philip Pullman, author of the children’s ‘Dark Materials’ novels, ends the last of the trilogy with the two children going down into the land of death where there are just ghostly figures, the ghosts of those who have died. Pullman’s answer to this dark world is to get the boy hero to cut an opening into an alternate universe and let the ghosts out where they turn to dust and get absorbed into that world.  Another non-existence in another guise, but that is all an atheist is left with.

Other world religions have a variety of ‘after-this-life’ experiences but none matches the certainty that is revealed through Jesus Christ of a new world of utter goodness and blessing in the presence of God, where we still have personalities and are clearly beings with self-consciousness and self-awareness.

It is a measure of a person’s world view to see what hope they have after this world.  It is a good question, what hope do YOU have?   For many there is a blithe and naïve, well it will probably all work out all right.  On what grounds do you believe that?  No, that is blind faith and blind faith goes nowhere. Of course there are a lot of people who say there is nothing after we die, but that actually flies in the face of so much evidence.  The world view that says we come back in another form, dependant on how good we were in this world, would scare the life out of me if I believed it.  How could I ever know I had lived a sufficiently good life to merit even coming back in this life, let alone coming back as something better?  No that is seriously scary in its uncertainty!

The promise that arises again and again in the New Testament is of eternal life that starts at the moment you come to Jesus Christ looking for the salvation that only he can bring. Because it is ETERNAL it obviously has no ending and so when we die we simply go on in a spiritual form into the existence we call heaven, in the wonderful presence of God. We continue on there, not because of our efforts, not because we go to church, not because we are good, but simply because we surrender our old life to God and receive this new life that God offers us because of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross at Calvary nearly two thousand years ago. Simple, wonderful and true!

50. Stand Firm

Ephesians Meditations No.50

Eph  6:13,14 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place

We gave a hint in the previous meditation of where Paul was going with this. It impacts a key understanding for the Christian which radically affects their security. Many people don’t understand the enemy’s limitations – or what goes on in their heads!  We are actually going to deal with the subject of the armour in the next meditation and so, although it is mentioned in the verses above, we want to put it aside for the moment and focus on a different aspect of these verses. It is all about perspective.

You know about perspective don’t you? It’s not a ‘perspective’ that an artist or architect worries about, the depth of the picture; this is more about where you view the thing from. Now many Christians view the Christian life as something that is to be struggled for. They see it as a battle to achieve a place of love, joy, peace etc. etc., a place where they are loved, a place where they feel secure, a place of forgiveness, a place where there is no condemnation. In other words it is a case of having to work for all those things and the battle is to wrestle those things from the enemy. Now that ‘perspective’ is completely wrong!

The truth comes out in one word that Paul uses three times in these verses: ‘stand‘. ‘Stand‘ here means hold onto what IS yours now! I pictured it in the previous meditation as imagining that the Christian life that you have inherited is a plot of land. It is yours and the enemy has no access to it. If you are walking with the Lord with an open heart to Him then the enemy is allowed no access to your life. The worst he can do is scream at you ‘over the fence’. If you get thoughts that are negative, demeaning and which you find pull you down, recognise the source of these – it is him calling over the fence. He’s not there on your plot of land – he’s not allowed in. He can only shout at you from over the fence and you hear his words in your mind. But they are his words, not yours, so don’t put up with them.

The apostle James gave us the answer: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7) Give yourself over to God and when the enemy turns up with his lies, turn away from him and turn to the Lord (who IS on your plot of land – because His Holy Spirit lives in you), share it with Him, worship Him, speaks the truth about your life, and then turn back to the enemy and tell him where to go! Then get on in peace and quiet enjoying your inheritance.

The apostle Peter also spoke in these terms: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” (1 Pet 5:8,9)  He knew that Satan comes and roars over the fence at us sometimes and tells you how powerful he is or how powerful his minions are. Just remind him of the truth: “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4) God is so infinitely greater than a single fallen angel (because that is all Satan is) so don’t let the enemy try and tell you anything to the contrary.

Let’s look at what Paul says here: “Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” What are we to do? Put on the full or complete armour that God HAS given us, which we’ll consider in the next meditation. When will we particularly need it? “When the day of evil comes” or when a particularly bad day comes. We do have such days. We feel tired or weak, people are nasty or unkind to us, and the enemy leans over the fence and screams at us about what a failure we are. Something goes wrong with the car or with a member of the family and stuff starts to build up. Things go wrong at work or you are involved in an accident driving in to work. All these things contribute to a bad or evil day. At such times the battle for your mind is on, and at such times you need to rely upon ‘the armour’. But when you do, what will be the outcome? You will “be able to stand your ground.” You will remind yourself who you are, a child of God, you will remind yourself that you are loved of God and that His Spirit lives in you, and you will remind yourself that His grace is there for you, and you will tell the enemy where to go, and you will shine in the darkness!

And then? “And after you have done everything, to stand.” This second ‘stand‘ implies ‘keep on standing’, keep on holding your ground. Having withstood the onslaught you hang on to the godly and righteous life that Jesus has given you, refusing to let go of it, refusing to let darkness enter it. Do you remember a verse we’ve spoken of a number of times previously: he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13).  It’s the same imagery, of land transference. We’ve been taken out of the land where Satan rules, where darkness (evil) prevails and we’ve been transferred to the land where Jesus reigns and (by inference) light (goodness) prevails. So, says Paul a third time, “Stand firm then,” and goes on to launch into descriptions of what the armour is, and we’ll see that in the next meditation. So, today, whatever the enemy says or does, hold on to who you are, and the life you’ve been given. Jesus earned it and it IS yours now – today, this moment! Enjoy it!

15. Enemy Defeat

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.15

1 Sam 4:3 Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines?

That the Christian life is a battle, there is little doubt. Some Christians aren’t aware of it like that, but if you talked to them, they would express things which indicate the normal characteristics of a battle are there. So what is happening? Very simply, Satan or his demons use our old sinful nature to play on, to lead us astray, make us feel down, and make us want to give up our faith. The battle is largely in the mind and so they will whisper things in our minds that are lies: “You will get away with this, it’s all right!” That’s when they seek to lead us in temptation to do something wrong. Or there is, “You’re a failure, you’re a nobody, you’re a bad Christian, I should give up!” That’s when they want to reduce our effectiveness and stop us having impact on the world for Christ. Or it may be, “You’re too tired. Don’t bother to go to the prayer meeting,” or “You know who’s preaching this morning. He’s awful. I should stay in bed for the morning. The rest will do you good!”

Those are the sort of things that come to take us out of fellowship, to take us out of the place where we can encounter God through others in the church. Or perhaps it is, “You’re too tired. I wouldn’t bother with your Bible this morning. Don’t bother to go on line and read a meditation. I shouldn’t bother with praying. You know nothing happens anyway!” This is where they are trying to keep you out of direct contact with God. It is a battle, and sometimes we lose! Now on those occasions when give in and give up, what is the answer? Pick up and start again tomorrow!

But then there are times when all hell seems to break loose and people start getting hostile, and nasty words are spoken, threats are made and abuse is given, and so on. People rise against you. Jobs are lost, hopes are dashed and the future looks bleak and it seems like the enemy has had a field day! Even the apostle Paul knew this: For we wanted to come to you–certainly I, Paul, did, again and again–but Satan stopped us (1 Thess 2:18). Somehow the upsets of Satan thwarted his desires. When Daniel was praying for three weeks an angel came to him and said, Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. (Dan 10:12,13) For three weeks the enemy thwarted the angel of God. This is a tough truth, that there are times when the freedom the Lord allows the enemy means that he does seem to get the upper hand for a while. So why should this be? Well tomorrow for one day we’ll step aside and look at a number of reasons why God allows Satan to act as he does.

Here in our verse today, we find this cry – why should our enemy be allowed to overcome us? Let’s look at the circumstances. Samuel was still a young boy when the Lord called him:And the LORD said to Samuel, See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle (1 Sam 3:11) Israel were not in a good spiritual state and Eli the priest had been allowing his sons to act badly before God, so the Lord spoke through Samuel warning that He was going to deal with this situation and bring His judgement on Eli’s family and on Israel. Some time later we simply read, Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines.” (1 Sam 4:1) There seems no specific reason for this apart from the ongoing hostility that prevailed between the two peoples. The outcome of the battle was declared: as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield,” (v.2) which resulted in the people crying out as above. The answer was simple and obvious: God had said He would bring judgement and this is part of it. He knew what would follow. Superstitious Israel would call for the ark of the Lord, which came to be considered as synonymous with the presence of the Lord, to be taken out to battle Of course Eli’s sons would have to accompany it and they would be killed by the enemy as the ark was taken captive. All this would be part of the outworking of God’s plans to chastise Israel and bring them back to Himself.

Again and again, through adverse enemy circumstances, the Lord is working to bring about His purposes for His people. Yes, we live in a Fallen World and things go wrong, but behind the apparently mundane things, the Lord is moving to achieve His purposes.