The present Study arose out of an attempt to help a Bible Study leader to show how rational was the principle of “Right Division”, by asking at the outset of any Bible study the questions Which? Who? When? and Where? but found that when the question “Why?” was put, a different category involving the question of Purpose was introduced. This is a matter for the most careful research, much exploration and illumination, and it is not at all unlikely that when we reach the last page we shall not have arrived at a complete answer. However, the Scriptures have been written as a revelation of all that may be known or should be known of the Divine Purpose. Providing we realize our limitations and avoid the attitude against which the Apostle warned the Colossians of “intruding into those things which he hath not seen”, we cannot but be pleasing to our gracious God if we manifest a desire to understand something of His wonderful purposes, even thought we limit our investigations to that phase which belongs to the dispensation of the Mystery.
Let us open our study with a salutary reminder or two. Zophar, one of Job’s three friends, said:
- “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” (Job 11:7).
We quote next the A.V. [Authorized Version] and Moffatt’s translation of Ecclesiastes 3:11, because of its ambiguity in most English versions:
- “He hath made everything beautiful in His time: also He hath set the world (Heb. olam ‘age’) in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end” (Eccles. 3:11).
- “He assigned each to its proper time, but for the mind of man He has appointed mystery (olam Heb. a period of undefined limits, an age), that man may never fathom God’s own purpose from beginning to end” (Eccles. 3:11 Moffatt).
The Scriptures themselves lead us to expect to be baffled, especially regarding the beginning and the end of God’s purpose, but we remind ourselves with much comfort and assurance that Christ Himself is “the Beginning and the Ending”, and to know Him will provide keys to unlock the hidden purpose of God. The Apostle also warned the Corinthians saying:
- “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11).
- “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away . . . for now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.”
Or as Moffatt renders the passage:
- “At present we only see the baffling reflections in a mirror, but then it will be face to face” (1 Cor. 13:9-12).
The writer of this article has no fuller revelation given to him than to others, of the purpose of God which is being wrought out through the ages; he stands exactly where the reader himself stands. He has opened the Bible, and the opportunity to “search the Scriptures” must ever remind us of the limitation which those self-same Scriptures set upon our search.
Purpose in the Old Testament
The A.V. uses the English word “purpose” to translate eight Hebrew words, and two Greek words. The verb “to purpose” is translated by seven Hebrew and six Greek words. These original words mean a word, device, delight, thought, work, counsel, desire, foundation and intention. Whether we can hope to solve the problems that are associated with the outworking of this purpose or not, it is a comfort to realize that the Scriptures gives us every assurance that, however inexplicable certain happenings and developments may appear to us, all are known, all are under control, and when the time is ripe we “shall know, even as we are known”. With this limiting proviso in mind, we can now freely meditate on all that is written, and refrain from intruding where no explanation has been given.
First let Ecclesiastes speak:
- “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccles. 3:1).
This is salutary. To know or to reveal any part of God’s purpose before the appointed time could be disastrous and play into the hands of the Great Enemy. This explains the evasive answer to the Apostles’ question, recorded in Acts 1:6. It may be well to remind ourselves that the Serpent did not tempt Adam and Eve to commit some brutal or degrading sin, but to “be as God, knowing good and evil”, which though forbidden while man was in his infancy, is the very mark of those who are “perfect” or “full grown” (Hebr. 5:14). Moses desired to see the glory of God, but was told that he could only look upon His “back parts”; the time had not then come for the fuller revelations of God’s purpose that are found in the New Testament. Even there we are not given a complete revelation “from the beginning unto the end”, but are pointed on to a future day of complete revelation.
The word translated “seasons” in Ecclesiastes means an appointed and appropriate time, and is expanded in the words of Habakkuk, and although it is not the same Hebrew word that is there translated, it is an inspired commentary and a word to guide and assure when we feel baffled. We subdivide the passage so that each portion may speak clearly.
- “The vision is yet for an appointed time,
- but at the end it shall speak, and not lie:
- though it tarry, wait for it:
- because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Hab. 2:3).
There can be no altering or hurrying the fulfillment of God’s purposes; our attitude is to rest assured that any appearance of delay is only because of our own ignorance and limitation. The attitude of heart that God looks for in the perplexed believer is that :
5. “The just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).
which is an exceedingly practical as well as a basic truth. Ecclesiastes speaks twice more about the purpose of God and its relation to time:
- “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work” (Eccles. 3:17).
- “Because to every purpose there is a time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him” (Eccles. 8:6).
The context of these passages needs examining, but for the moment we are listening the different references to the Purpose of God in order that all that is said may be before us as we go into details. Another thing to remember is that the purposes of God are the results of “counsel”. They are not the arbitrary dictates of a despot.
- “Without counsel purposes are disappointed” (Prov. 15:22).
- “Every purpose is established by counsel” (Prov. 20:18).
Here the essential feature is “counsel”. A Specific purpose occupies Jeremiah’s prophecy, that which deals with the overthrow of Babylon.
- “Therefore hear ye the counsel of the Lord, that He hath taken against Babylon, and his purposes, that He hath purposed against the land of the Chaldeans . . . At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth is moved” (Jer. 50:45,46).
- “Every purpose of the Lord shall be performed against Babylon” (Jer. 51:29).
Here judgment of evil and the certainty of its performance are stressed. This is true also of the Assyrian oppressor:
- “The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass, and as I have purposed so shall it stand.”
- “This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth . . . who shall disannul it? And His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back” (Isa. 14:24-27).
Quite apart from what is purposed, we see from these verses that there can be no disannuling of the purposes of God, whether for judgment or for blessing, as Jeremiah and Isaiah declare.
- “Every purpose . . . shall be performed.” (Jer. 51:29).
- “Declaring the end from the beginning . . . saying My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 46:10).
Purpose of the New Testament
- Prothesis, something “set before” the mind, a resolution.
- Tithemi, the verb to purpose, to set or to place.
- Bouleuomai, to wish, to take counsel.
- Poieo, To make or to do.
- Proaireomai, To choose, to take one before another.
Let us acquaint ourselves with the context and usage of these words in the New Testament, and become more acquainted with their inner meaning.
Prothesis. Four times it is used in connexion with shewbread (Matt. 12:4; Mark 2:26; Luke 6:4 and Heb. 9:2) literally “The bread of setting before”. It is used of Paul’s own purpose and of others, but we are concerned with the purpose of God, so we read “the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), which is followed by such terms as predestination. There is the danger of missing the sovereign will of God that lies behind His purpose, for we read in Romans 9:11,12:
- “For the children, being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.”
The Prison Epistle uses this term three times, and their meaning and place in the overall scheme is too implicit to deal with at this stage. We will give these references, but wait for a fuller exposition, after we have considered the remaining terms that are set out before us:
- “In Whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His Own will (Eph. 1:11).
- “According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11).
- “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling; not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9).
We leave the correction of one or two of these words in the A.V. until later.
Tithemi, which gives us the word Thesis in prothesis just examined, is variously translated appoint, set forth, lay down, ordain, to lay as a foundation, to put, as all enemies under His feet, all of which have a bearing on the question of purpose, to be considered presently.
Poieo. In one passage, namely in Ephesians 3:11, the clause “which He purposed” employs the word usually translated “to make or to do”, which at first reads somewhat strangely when we read of the “eternal purpose which He MADE in Christ Jesus”, but the word has wide significance. Dr. Bullinger’s comment in his Lexicon is:
- “To make, i.e. to form, produce, to bring about, cause, spoken of any external act as manifested in the production of something tangible and obvious to the senses, and referring to completed action.”
If that is what is purposed in Christ Jesus, how great is our joy and confidence.
It is not our intention to attempt to examine the whole purpose of God as it is unfolded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, but we do feel some attempt is justified in considering under the three heads the references to Purpose, Promise and Performance that run through the Prison Epistles, and belong so intimately with our high calling and hope. Purpose is written large across Ephesians 1:3-14, and is implied in such words as “chosen”, “predestinate”, “good pleasure of His will”, “His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself”, “Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will”. Arising out this tremendous emphasis on “purpose” in these opening verses of Ephesians, comes the “seal”, “promise”, “earnest”, “hope” and “inheritance” (Eph. 1:13-18) concluding with that most wonderful characteristic and title of the Church (ecclesia) which is His Body, namely “The fulness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22,23).
Purpose, Promise and Performance (No. 2)
In Ephesians 3:11 we read:
- “According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
and to this passage we shall return for closer scrutiny presently. The climax of God’s gracious purpose in Ephesians is found in Ephesians 5:27:
- “That He might present it to Himself a glorious church (ecclesia), not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
Turning to Philippians, we find the stress is laid on the “performance” of the promise made:
- “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
Even though the Apostle expresses “confidence”, some doubt has been injected into this verse, suggesting that what had been begun would be discontinued, but the rule of 1 Corinthians 2:13 when applied, shows what the Apostle meant by “begin” and “perform”, for he uses the same two words in 2 Corinthians 8:10-11, where he reminds the Corinthians of what they had “begun” a year ago, that there should be a “performance”. It would make nonsense of his exhortation to teach that Paul told the Corinthians that their willingness a year ago to make a contribution to the poor saints should not now be fulfilled. Later in Philippians, Paul expresses the earnest wish that he may “apprehend that for which he had been apprehended of Christ Jesus”. The change of this “vile body” that it may be fashioned like unto the Saviour’s “glorious body”, is “according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Phil 3:12,21). Colossians traverses much the same ground as Ephesians, but with different emphasis and different sequence. We read that Paul was made a special minister …
- “according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill (or complete) the word of God; even the mystery . . .” (Col. 1:25,26).
In 2 Timothy, the Apostle stresses the purpose of grace that is implied in his ministry, saying of God:
- “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles” (2 Tim. 1:9-11).
Having given this rough survey, we propose a more detailed and careful study of the words and context of “the eternal purpose” of Ephesians 3:11. Before considering the bearing of the context upon this passage, we must draw the reader’s attention to the fact that while “the eternal purpose” has a majestic sound about it, its literal rendering should be “the purpose of the ages”, and this demands some expansion and explanation. In the O.T. the word translated “eternal” or “for ever” is the Hebrew word olam, and if we consider its occurences in Ecclesiastes, translated in the A.V. we shall find it translated “for ever”, “old time”, “world” and “long” in Ecclesiastes 1:4,10; 2:16; 3:11,14; 9:6 and 12:5. Such variety may be charming but can be misleading. Supposing we translated olam in Ecclesiastes consistently, we then have the following most suggestive index to this problematic book.
Olam in Ecclesiastes
A 1:4 The earth abideth to the AGE – The passing generation. B 1:10 Already been in the AGES – Nothing new under the sun. C 2:16 No remembrance to the AGE – Forgotten. D 3:11 The AGE set in the heart of men. C 3:14,15 What God does is to the AGE. It remains. B 9:6 No portion to the AGE – under the sun. A 12:5 Man and the AGE home – The passing generation.
While this analysis of itself may not appear very illuminating, the comparison of passage with passage will bring out into prominence some of the truth sought and taught in Ecclesiastes.
The epistle to the Ephesians is most intimately associated with all we believe and hope for, and so we turn without further comment to the way aion is found and is translated in that most wonderful epistle. First let us note the way the A.V. has rendered this one word, namely world, course, ages, world, eternal, world without end (Eph. 1:21; 2:2; 2:7; 3:9; 3:11; 3:21; 6:12). Here we have this world which had a beginning, but which has no end, the course of this world, and the eternal purpose. If we translate consistently, light and instruction will immediately appear.
Aion in Ephesians
A 1:21 Rulers of this AGE to come. Subject to Christ in resurrection. B 2:2 The AGE of the world. Satanic energy (energo). C 2:7 AGES to come. Divine grace (future). D 3:9 Hid since the AGES — The Mystery (Central Feature). C 3:11 AGES, their purpose. Divine wisdom (now). B 3:21 The generation of the AGE of the AGES. Divine energy (energo). A 6:12 Rulers of darkness of this AGE. Withstood in resurrection power.
This purpose or plan of the ages is vitally linked with the following features, most of which are unique ‘and are not to be found in the ministry of any Biblical writer except Paul’ as the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the Gentiles. We tabulate without attempting to comment or enlarge these unique items:
- Paul speaks of himself as the prisoner of Christ Jesus for us Gentiles.
- He speaks of a special dispensation of grace (Eph. 3:2) that was given him to us-ward.
- This involved the making known to him by revelation the Mystery (secret).
Having given some attention to the need of speak of the ages rather than that which lies beyond our grasp, namely eternity, which unlike the ages, can have no beginning or no end, a state, that the human mind cannot grasp and with which the Scriptures are not concerned, we turn to the actual references in the great Prison Epistles that speak of Purpose, Promise and Performance. It is obvious that God had a wondrous purpose when He chose the members of the Church (ecclesia) which is the Body of Christ, before the foundation (or overthrow) of the world, but the actual word “purpose” first occurs in a verbal form in Ephesians 1:9, and in the substantive in verse 11:
- “In all wisdom and prudence having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself, That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him: In Whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”
What words are here! Before we dare to submit these verses to our poor inspection, should we not, in figure, “take off our shoes from off our feet”? The place whereon we stand is indeed “holy ground”.
Let us consider the wording of Ephesians 1:8. As the verse stands in the Authorized Version, it seems to contain a contradiction. How can anyone “abound” or “over-flow” with “prudence”? How can anyone “abound”, when the original means to overflow as well as be discreet, frugal, economical and provident at the same time? The contradiction exists only in the punctuation of the English translation.
- Redemption. This is made to abound with prodigal riches.
- Instruction. This is given little by little as we are able to bear it.
Let us read the passage once again, but put a full stop in the middle of verse 8, thus:
- “In Whom we have redemption trough His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace wherein He hath ABOUNDED toward us. In all WISDOM and PRUDENCE having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself.”
This mystery, good pleasure and purpose, had a special dispensation in view:
- “With a view to (eis R.V. “unto”) a dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him”.
The word “dispensation”, following the Revised Text, is used by the Apostle Paul four times:
A A dispensation of the fulness of times (the mystery of his will) . . . purposed in Himself (Eph. 1:10). B The dispensation of the grace of God given me to you (Eph. 3:2). A The dispensation of the mystery . . . according to the purpose of the ages which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 3:9). B The dispensation of God given me for you (Col. 1:25).h
In the fulness of “time” (Gal. 4:4) when God sent forth His Son, the Greek word for “time” is chronos, but in Ephesians 1:10 the word is kairos a “season”, the time of harvest (Matt. 13:30), referring not to the clock, but to the season of the year. The usual Greek words translated “gather together” are not found in Ephesians 1:10 but a compound of kephale “head”, anakephalaioomai “to head up” is used. The R.V. reads “to sum up”, but the presence of three expressions “the Head” and “the Fulness” and “all things” in Ephenians 1:22,23, and the added fact that in Colossians we learn that Christ is also “Head of all principality and power (Col. 2:10), and that in Him dwells “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”, make it imperative that we retain the word “head” in the phrase which the A.V. translated “gather together”, and read “to head up”, and so suggest that what Christ is to the Church (ecclesia) of the One Body now (Eph. 1:22,23), He will be when the goal, as indicated in 1 Corinthians 15:28, shall be attained. Now, in this anticipatory dispensation, Christ is All and in all (Col. 3:11), but when “the end” comes, God will then be all in all. Both Ephesians 1:22,23 and 1 Corinthians 15:27,28 flow out of the special interpretation given by Paul of Psalm eight.
The Authorized Version renders Ephesians 1:11 “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance”, where the Revised Version reads: “In Whom also we were made an heritage.”
Cunnington translates “We were made God’s portion.” Rotherham reads “We were taken as an inheritance.” Moffatt reads “We have had our heritage allotted us.” [zie ook: The Companion Bible / Bullinger & Welch] http://www.levendwater.org / http://www.everread.nl
The word kleroomai translated “obtain an inheritance” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Dr. Bullinger, in his Lexicon, tells us the word is in the middle voice and means “to acquire by lot, to obtain, to possess”, but leaves the question unsolved as to who it is that obtains.
We have on other occasions expressed our conviction, that many a doubtful passage in the New Testament can be rendered with certainty by referring to the parallel use in the LXX. One such passage is 1 Samuel 14:42, where in answer to the casting of lots between Saul and Jonathan, “Jonathan was taken”. The Greek Katakleroumai here is the translation of the Hebrew lakad “to take”, in what is called the niphal or passive voice, “be taken”, not actively “to take”. There are six occasions apart from 1 Samuel 14:41-42 where this word is used for being taken by lot.
- “The tribe of Judah was taken . . . and Zabdi was taken . . . and Achan . . . was taken (Josh. 7:16-18).
- “The tribe of Benjamin was taken . . . the family of Matri was taken, and Saul the son of Kish was taken” (1 Sam. 10:20,21).
It seems impossible to resist this evidence. Ephesians 1:11 teaches us NOT that we have obtained an inheritance, but that we have been taken by God as His inheritance! Of this rendering Alford says: “This seems to me the only rendering by which philology and the context are alike satisfied.”
We have already gained information by referring to the history of Israel. Let us turn again and see what that typical people tell us concerning this conception.
- “And the Lord spake unto Aaron, thou shalt have no inheritance in the land, neither shall thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.” (Num. 18:20).
This is blessing contrary to nature indeed! The man that God would honour the most, is to have, apparently, least, but only apparently. The tribes of Israel may possess a portion of the land, but Aaron finds his part and inheritance in the Lord Himself. This is not on all fours with Ephesians 1:11, but it is an approach. The Ephesian believer is taken one stage further; the Lord finds His portion in the members of the Church (ecclesia) of the One Body. This too finds fits its counterpart in Israe
“The Lord’s position is His people: Jacob is the lot of His inheritange” (Deut. 32:9).
We must not, however, make the mistake of insisting so much upon this aspect as to deny that Israel did have an inheritance.
Truth out proportion oft becomes a lie. In Deuteronomy 4:20, Mozes reminds Israel that they were taken to be a people of inheritance unto the Lord, but in verse 21 he refers to the good land which The Lord had given them for an inheritance. Both statements are necessary for a full presentation of the truth. Both Israel and the Church (ecclesia) are reminded that unless they are the Lord’s portion, all other portions will be a mockery. Unless they find their inheritance in the Lord, mere possessions will become vanity.
- “All things are yours,” said the Apostle, “whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours: and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:22,23).
The Apostle uses the word prothesis “purpose” once more in the Prison Epistles, namely in 2 Timothy 1:9, when speaking of the purpose of God, and once in 2 Timothy 3:10 of his own purpose and manner of life.
So far we have been concerned mainly with the question of purpose. We now turn to promise and will discover that the promises of God march with His purpose, and first of all, find their beginning and ending in Christ Jesus.
Purpose, Promise and Performance (No. 3)
- “For all the promises of God in Him are the Yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor. 1:20).
These sentiments form the general tenor of all Scripture. However many times we have been assailed by doubtings and disappointments, we shall all say, out of full hearts, the words of 1 Kings 8:56:
- “There hath not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised . . .”
Both Sarah and Abraham are mentioned in the New Testament concerning their conviction that God keeps His promises. Abraham “staggered” not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able to perform” (Rom. 4:20-21). Sarah “herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful Who promised” (Heb. 11:11). God too, “willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath” (Heb. 6:17). Here in these three quotations, we have the assurance, that God is (1) Able, (2) Faithful, and (3) Unchangeable, with regard to His promises. So important and valued were these promises, that the Apostle when he lists the superior advantages of Israel says:
- “To whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Rom. 9:4).
In contrast, the Gentiles at that time were “Aliens . . . and strangers from the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12) and so were without hope, without Christ, and without God.
Coming to the positive references to “promise” in the Prison Epistles, and including the two epistles to Titus and 1 Timothy we read:
- “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Tit. 1:2).
1 Timothy 4:8 speaks of the “promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come”. 2 Timothy 1:1 opens with the words:
- “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.”
Coming to Ephesians we read:
- “Ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13,14).
and among the special privileges that go with the membership of the Church (ecclesia) which is His body, we read:
- “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel, whereof I was made a minister” (Eph. 3:6,7).
We have purposely refrained from digging too deeply into some of these passages, Ephesians 3:6 being one, but have simply emphasized the fact that God keeps His promises, that He is both able, and faithful and is worthy of our complete trust. These facts practically include our third item “Performance”, but we will give this a hearing also that our joy may be complete.
Jeremiah was staggered at the prospect of being a prophet unto the nations, and made as an excuse the confession:
- “I cannot speak, for I am a child” (Jer. 1:6).
To encourage him, the Most High condescended to give Jeremiah a sign, and said to him:
- “What seest thou? And I [Jeremiah] said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.”
The answer of the Lord is not very evident on the surface, for He said:
- “Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten My word to perform it” (Jer. 1:11,12).
In Jeremiah 31:28, the word translated “hasten” in 1:12 is translated “watched”. The almond is one of the first trees to blossom in Israel, and was so called “the watcher”, and this would need no explanation to Jeremiah over any Hebrew living in his day. To Abraham promises had been made which included a seed, and a land, and when Isaac was distressed by famine, the Lord told him not to go down into Egypt but,
- “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father” (Gen. 26:3).
As we have earlier quoted, Solomon speaks of the performance of God’s promises in 1 Kings 8:20,24:
- “The Lord hath performed His word that He spake.”
- “Who hast kept with thy servant David my father that Thou promisedst him.”
Without further quotations, which the reader can supplement to his lasting benefit, we once again cite the Apostle’s words from Philippians 1:6:
- “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Purpose — Promise — Performance
What a trinity of blessing these three words contain, and they belong equally to Israel and the Church (ecclesia), without the possibility of failure through lack of power, through changeableness, or for any possible reason. May this blessed “confidence” be the portion of all who have put their trust in Him “Who is faithful that promised”.
The Question Why?
There can be few, if any, who have walked along life’s pilgrim pathway, without at times finding the word “Why?” forced from heart and lips, and we go straight to perhaps the most wonderful example of this human feature, the record of the crucifixion, and read the poignant words:
- “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Matthew tells us that the language actually used by the Saviour was:
- “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (Matt. 27:46).
These words are a quotation from Psalm 22, and there is every evidence that the Saviour recited the whole Psalm and identified Himself with David and all perplexed believers, for later the Psalmist said: “They pierced My hands and My feet”. They part My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture”, and the closing words of the Psalm “He hath done (this)” could easily be the equivalent of the closing words of the crucified Saviour, “It is finished”. The cry “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” cannot mean that Christ was taken unawares by His betrayal and actual crucifixion, such passages as Hebrew 10:5-10, Matthew 16:21; 26:2 and Luke 18:31 make such an excuse impossible. Let us for a moment turn to an earlier trial, and see how the Saviour met it. In Matthew 4:1-10 we have a record of the temptation of the Son of God in the wilderness. How did He resist the temptation, rebuke and triumph over the tempter? He Who Himself was The Word met the tempter exactly in the same way that you and I must meet him, He said “It is written” three times, and quoted three passages from O.T. Scriptures. The reviling crowd spoke truth when they said “He saved others, Himself He cannot save”.
Look at the record of Mark 4:35,36. At the close of a strenuous day of healing and teaching not only the multitudes, but when alone with His disciples, He at length said to them, “Let us pass over unto the other side”. Now note the words that follow:
- “And when THEY [not He] had sent away the multitude, THEY took Him EVEN AS HE WAS in the ship”,
and even though a storm arose that threatened the safety of the ship, “He was . . . asleep on a pillow” (38). Here was “The Man Christ Jesus” dead beat, physically exhausted, working miracles for others, but never for Himself. At the discipels’ cry however, He Who had been carried “even as He was”, arose, rebuked the wind, and at His word the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39-41). Now these passages (Matt, 27:46, Matt. 4:1-10 and Mark 4:34-41) have been brought forward to show that the Saviour entered into all the physical and mental trials that are known to man, and so the question “Why?” came from His lips, not because He did not know the answer, or was ignorant of the purpose of God, but that He might assure us that the eternal question “Why?” that haunts man from cradle to grave is understood by Him, and shared by Him.
So far as we have any means of knowing, man is the only creature on earth that asks the question “Why?”, and so with these introductory words, inadequate as they may appear to be, we turn to the Scriptures for example and for the answers given to this ever repeated question “Why”?
The Psalm Asaph shows us a man of like infirmities as ourselves, whose faith was sorely tried, but who was graciously led to the only place where his questioning heart could be satisfied. The Psalm is divided into three parts by the recurrence of the words “Truly” (1) “Verily” (13) and “Surlely” (18) which are all translations of the same Hebrew word, and could be translated in each place “After all”. First the Psalmist gives the conclusion that he had been led to after a period of doubt, and says “After all, God is good to Israel”, and if we demur and say, did Asaph doubt this blessed fact? he himself says:
- “As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped” (2),
and this because he had become envious at the prosperity of the wicked who seemed to have no trouble as other men, whose eyes stood out in fatness and who had more than heart could wish. So in verse 13 he came to the sad conclusion:
- “After all I have cleansed my heart in vain.”
But then came the wonderful change:
- “Until I went into the sanctuary of God, then understood I their end” (17).
- “After all, Thou didst set them in slippery places” (18).
Asaph’s question “Why?” was solved as our questioning must be solved “in the Sanctuary”. He had actually put his finger on the answer by his use of the word “chastened”, for this is the Lord’s dealings wit His own. Asaph’s feet “were almost gone”, his steps had “well nigh slipped”, but now he realized that those who had been the object of his envy would be cast down to destruction, while he emerged from the Sanctuary saying:
- “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel” – “And afterward receive me to glory” – “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? (24,25).
Most of us at different times have felt like Asaph, but however slippery the path, and the assault of the enemy, we can say with him “Thou hast holden me by my right hand” (verse 23).
Abraham, the man of faith
Abraham is lifted out by the Apostle Paul, both in Romans and in Hebrew as a wonderful example of a faith “that staggered not” at an almost unbelievable promise, yet, there is an illuminating passage which shows that he was much like ourselves, and became haunted with the question “Why?”. This we find recorded in Genesis 15. Although Abraham believed in the Lord that Sarah should have a son and heir, Abraham nevertheless asked:
- “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it [the land]?” (Gen. 15:8),
and at first reading, the answer of the Lord sounds the very opposite of reassurance:
- “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (13);
The assurance comes in the sequel:
- “But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again” (16),
as we find they did (Exod. 12:40-42). There were several factors that led to delay. Terah’s halt at Haran, and Lot’s accompanying afterwards gave the evil one his opportunity. Now, instead of blotting out the Canaanite by one miraculous blow, the Lord seems to suggest that even the Amorite had some length of time allowed, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16). Daniel also tells us that “when the transgressors are come to the full” (Dan. 8:23) the closing phases of Prophecy will be at hand. This seems to be a principle that is observed even when dealing with iniquity. In the dreadful denunciation of hypocritical Pharisees and those that agreed with them, the Saviour said:
- “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:32,33).
The Apostle Paul, referring to the antagonism of the Jews to the gospel, speaks of killing, persecuting, being contrary, forbidding to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, concluding with the words:
- “To fill up their sins alway” (1 Thess. 2:15,16).
Here again some recognized “measure” seems to be in view, and therefore may be an answer to another “Why?” that has often expressed the worry and anxiety of man under the centuries of Satanic power. Why should Satan be allowed 6000 years of rebellion? Perhaps so mighty an antagonist needs to have a greater extent of liberty before the final judgment falls. We cannot say for certainty that this is so, but, taking all these and parallel passages into account, the agonized cry “Why?” may have to be answered:
- “The iniquity of the Wicked ONE is not yet full”
and like Asaph we shall have to go into the sanctuary of God to gain peace and assurance and understand the “End”.
There is much that is left unsaid. If we can be assured that the Saviour Himself identifies Himself as the Son of Man by actually quoting as of Himself the agonized opening of Psalm 22, and if we can sympathize with Asaph in his distress and learn with him the lesson that he learned, and if like Abraham we catch a glimpse of the measure of iniquity that must be filled before judgment falls, then, while we may still at times be moved to ask “Why?” of some of life’s enigmas, we shall have the comfort of these Scriptures to enable us to trust where sometimes we cannot trace.
By CHARLES H. WELCH / THE BEREAN EXPOSITOR / Email address: http://email@example.com / www.bereanonline.org
De geboorte van de Messias / Alfred Edersheim
Dat de Messias in Bethlehem geboren zou worden was helemaal in overeenstemming met de Oudtestamentische voorzegging in Micha 5:2 en ook de overtuiging van de rabbi’s. Maar niets druiste meer in tegen de Joodse geest dan de omstandigheden die er de oorzaak van waren: Een volkstelling, die nog wel op bevel van een heidense keizer en uitgevoerd door de zo gehate Herodes. Overeenkomstig de Joodse manier van registratie moest het volk zich laten inschrijven, stamgewijs en familiegewijs en een ieder in zijn eigen stad. Voor Jozef en Maria, die wisten dat ze van koning David afstamden, was het daarom niet meer dan vanzelfsprekend om naar Bethlehem te gaan.
Het is goed mogelijk dat Jozef en Maria blij waren Nazareth te kunnen verlaten, in de hoop zich in Bethlehem te kunnen vestigen. Verderop in het verhaal lezen we immers dat ze in Bethlehem in een huis verbleven en God hen tijdens hun verblijf in Egypte moest waarschuwen niet naar Bethlehem terug te keren (Matth. 2:11 en 22).
Aankomst in Bethlehem
De korte winterdag liep ten einde toen de twee reizigers uit Nazareth het einddoel naderden. De weg was lang en vermoeiend geweest. Waarschijnlijk hadden ze de gebruikelijke omweg gekozen via de oostelijke Jordaanoever en de doorwaadbare plaatsen bij Jericho, om niet door Samaria te hoeven gaan.
De details van hun aankomst in Bethlehem en de stal waar ze hun vertrek namen worden niet verteld. Naarmate de geschiedenis vordert zullen alleen maar meer bijzonderheden weggelaten worden. De Evangeliën zijn immers niet geschreven als een biografie van Jezus maar hebben dit tweevoudig oogmerk: “Opdat u gelooft dat Jezus de Messias is en opdat u, door te geloven, het leven zult hebben in zijn Naam (Joh. 20:31).” Het enige dat verteld wordt, is dat Maria haar eerstgeboren zoon baarde, hem in doeken wikkelde en in een voerbak legde.
Maar wanneer we de stal uitgaan, de stille verlaten nacht in, komt deze tot leven door herders en stemmen vanuit de hemel. De Joodse traditie kan hier ons verstand verlichten: Dat de Messias in Bethlehem geboren zou worden, stond vast. Dat gold ook voor de overtuiging dat hij geopenbaard zou worden vanaf Migdal Eder (de toren van de kudde). Migdal Eder, vlakbij Bethlehem en bij de weg naar Jeruzalem, was geen gewone wachttoren. Een passage in de Misjna laat zien dat de kudden die daar geweid werden waarschijnlijk bestemd waren voor de tempeloffers. Deze herders waren dus geen gewone herders. De laatstgenoemden waren in de ban gedaan vanwege hun manier van leven en hun noodzakelijke onthouding van religieuze verplichtingen. Dezelfde Misjna-passage laat zien dat deze kudden daar het hele jaar door lagen. Het was dus in die winternacht dat herders de wacht hielden over hun kudden, die bestemd waren voor de offerdiensten, precies op de plek waar volgens de traditie de Messias als eerste geopenbaard zou worden.
En plotseling was daar de lang uitgestelde, onverwachte aankondiging. Een engel stond voor hun verblinde ogen, terwijl de heerlijkheid van de Heere hen leek te omhullen als een lichtmantel. Verbazing, ontzag en angst veranderden in rust en verwachting toen ze van de engel hoorden dat wat ze zagen geen voorbode was van een naderend oordeel. Integendeel. Het luidde voor het wachtende Israël grote vreugde in, de goede tijding dat de lang beloofde Redder, Messias en Heer geboren was in de stad van David. En zij mochten hem gaan zien en zouden hem herkennen door de nederigheid die zijn geboorte omgaf. Het was alsof aandachtig luisterende engelen dit signaal hadden afgewacht. Toen de boodschaper-engel uitgesproken was, kwamen ze in een grote menigte naderbij om de blijde boodschap te bezingen: “Eer zij aan God, in de hoogste hemelen, en vrede op aarde, in mensen een welbehagen (HSV).” Slechts één keer eerder hadden sterflijke oren engelenzang gehoord. Dat was toen Jesaja in een fascinerend visioen de tempel in de hemel geopend zag en de heerlijkheid van de Heere zich had uitgebreid over zijn vertrekken waardoor de dorpelposten het bijna begaven. Toén hadden de engelen de komst van het Koninkrijk aangekondigd en nu was de Koning gekomen.
De verspreiding van het goede nieuws
De herders haasten zich langs de terrassen omhoog naar Bethlehem. Daar vonden ze misschien niet wat ze hadden verwacht, maar wel wat hen was verteld: de moeder, de timmerman uit Nazareth, en de baby, gelegd in een voerbak. Wat er verder gebeurde is niet bekend, behalve dat ze aan iedereen vertelden wat ze gehoord en gezien hadden; waarschijnlijk ook in de tempel, waart ze hun kudden zouden brengen. Zo bereidden ze een Simeon en een Anna en een ieder die uitzag naar de verlossing van Israël voor op zijn komst.
Bewerkt naar: Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vereenvoudigde uitgave. / http://www.hadderech.nl
Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889)
Alfred Edersheim wordt in 1825 in Wenen geboren, als zoon van een bankier en als jongste van vier kinderen. Hij krijgt een Joodse opvoeding en na zijn studie filosofie verhuist hij naar Pest om zijn brood te verdienen. Daar komt hij in aanraking met zendelingen van de Schotse kerk en met het Nieuwe Testament. Diep onder de indruk van de Bergrede en de persoon van de Messias laat hij zich dopen, waarna hij in Schotland theologie gaat studeren en predikant wordt. In 1872 moet hij zich om gezondheidsredenen uit het ambt terugtrekken. Hij is dan 47 jaar oud. Vanaf dat moment zal hij een aantal werken schrijven die ook nu nog van belang zijn.
Zijn belangrijkste werk is The Temple waarin de tempeldienst beschreven wordt en het werk van de Messias en het evangelie duidelijk worden gemaakt.
Om de jeugd te wapenen tegen de Bijbelkritiek van zijn tijd schreef Edersheim ook een zevendelig commentaar op de historische boeken van het Oude Testament: Old Testament, Bible history. Heel mooi laat hij hierin zien dat in het O.T. God ten diepste niets anders van de mens vraagt dan op Hem te vertrouwen.
Z’n meest gelezen werk is waarschijnlijk: The Life and times of Jesus the Messiah, vooral geschreven voor studenten theologie en predikanten. Hierin plaatst hij de Messias tegen de achtergrond van zijn tijd, daarbij gebruik makend van zijn grote kennis van het jodendom.
Edersheims boeken getuigen van groot respect voor de Bijbeltekst. Woordjes waar wij geneigd zijn overheen te lezen, grijpt hij aan als bouwstenen voor zijn verhalen. Feitelijk zijn zijn Bijbelcommentaren historische vertellingen, waarin hij intens meeleeft met de lotgevallen van het Joodse volk, en van de Bijbelse hoofdpersonen.
Voor de Messias koesterde hij, zoals gezegd, grote bewondering. Ergens zegt Edersheim over hem: “Hij was de enige perfecte mens. Wanneer Jezus niet de Messias is, heeft de wereld nooit een Messias gehad en zal er ook nooit een hebben.” Een uitgebreide biografie en bibliografie vindt u op, http://www.hadderech.nl /http://www.bijbelaantekeningen.nl
Zie ook: Birth Date of Christ / The Star of Bethlehem / The STAR That ASTONISHED The World – By Ernest L. Martin: http://www.askelm.com
Zie ook artikel van 23 maart 2018 / Vrienden van Israel!
Profetieën die in vervulling gaan!!
‘Decoding the Antichrist’ – book / Mark Biltz
Gerard J.C. Plas