Jeremiah 29:10-11 “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 I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
After Nebuchadnezzar had gained superiority over Jerusalem, Jeremiah wrote a letter for the captives in Babylon. These people had lost their families, their homes, their homeland and their freedom. They were in a dark place in a bad day.
Yet, in this place of hardship, they received from the servant of the Lord a “good word”. This was a promise from God that after seventy years had elapsed they would return as a nation to Jerusalem.
This was an timely reminder that God was in control; “I know the thoughts that I think towards you”. He understood what was happening. He was at the helm navigating a course for Israel through this crisis.
These thoughts that God had for Israel, in these troubled days, were thoughts of peace. These captives did not feel much by way of peace or rest. Like the disciples, who were afraid of the storm, while the Saviour slept, many of these captives felt neglected by God, exposed to Chaldean cruelty. As Christ would awake, rebuking the winds and calming the sea, making his disciples feel ashamed of their cowardice and unbelief, so Jeremiah showed the captives that God rather than sleeping, was working to a plan. And the plan was good for Israel.
God’s timetable was secure. After seventy years the captives would be set free. Most of those to whom the letter was written would die in Babylon, but their children and grandchildren would benefit from the promise.
Although seven decades is prolonged in the eyes of man the assurance was remarkable. Israel would not be exterminated, their identity would be preserved, their children would continue in the faith and the Messisnic line would be preserved.
God will fulfil His Word, always in His time, and will ultimately fulfil His grand design. But there is another sense in which God is always fulfilling His promises, in ways that are mostly unrecognised, preserving His people, providentially guiding and in being present with them at all times.
Today we feel ourselves to be living through bad days full of fear and uncertainty. In this time of sickness, death and economic chaos this is a good word for our nation, our church, our businesses and our families. God is not asleep. He is rather at the helm of our ship guiding us through the hazardous seas.
His plans for His people are filled with peace and not with evil. His timetable, not measured according to our reckoning, is secure nevertheless. He will bring this crisis to an end, when we shall gather with our families and the Lord’s people once again. And His timing will be perfect.
There will be a future for our families and for the cause of Christ after these days have past. We will one dayI’ reflect from the vantage point of hindsight and say with Ann Ross Cousin, the hymn writer:
“With mercy and with judgement, My web of time of wove, And aye the dews of sorrow Were lustered with His love; I’ll bless the hand that guided, I’ll bless the heart that planned, When throned where glory dwelleth In Immanuel’s land”
Let us, therefore, claim this promise for today:
“I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
He now rises like a bird above the waves of agony which engulfed His mind and soul. His vision is sharpened with prophetic insight. The doom and gloom seems to vanish in the light of the glory yet to be revealed as he boldly declares:
“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” (Job 19:25).
It seems that God comforted His suffering servant by giving Job a glimpse of a glorious and happy future, which was unique in the experience of the Old Testament saints. This is an example of Paul’s teaching:
“For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2nd Corinthians 4:16-18).
Job was strengthened in soul through seeing by faith the eternal weight of glory which make even his extreme brokenness fade away as an irrelevance. A view of eternity is the great hope for the child of God. Our Heavenly Father has His own precious ways of giving us renewed hope in hours of earthly trial. He is truthfully the God of all grace.
Job’s hope is the same as the hope that we presently enjoy. This hope principally is fixed upon a person. The one whom Job described as His Redeemer, we know to be Christ:
“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
1: Belief in a Redeemer
It is evident that Job was comforted with the assurance that He had a personal Redeemer:
“I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
This key statement contains four key words:
“Know” – The word of ASSURANCE
“My” – The word of POSSESSION
“Redeemer” – The word of DELIVERANCE
“liveth” – The word of OPTIMISM
The Hebrew word employed for Redeemer is ‘goel’ and gives us an insight into the identity of this person who gave Job such optimistic confidence. The word literally means ‘one with the right to redeem on account of being a kinsman’.
Under the law in the Old Testament:
A slave could be redeemed by the ransom paid by a kinsman (Leviticus 25:48-49).
Land could be redeemed by a kinsman, land which had been sold off and lost to the family (Leviticus 25:25).
A widow could be redeemed by a kinsman of her husband’s, who would marry her (Leviticus 25:5).
The famous example of these liberating practices in found in the book of Ruth where Ruth and Naomi are redeemed from penury and childlessness by Boaz who married Ruth. In so doing he secured property that was lost and a family was raised up, thus preserving the family line of Elimelech, which had died off in Moab. This not only preserved Elimilech’s lineage, but more than that, was the chosen family out of which Messiah would come.
There is so much in this word ‘goel’ and the surrounding practices, which show us Christ:
He is our kinsman, having become flesh and blood.
He redeems those who are slaves of sin.
He redeems those who have lost their entitlement to eternal life.
He redeems those who are labouring under sorrow and death by making them his bride; He marries sinners and gives them new life as Boaz married Ruth.
The price He paid was not in shekels or any other currency but in the blood shed on Calvary which Peter described:
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.” (1st Peter 1:18-21).
Job, by faith, saw this Redeemer in His glory, anticipating that a price would be paid for his redemption, a redemption that had already been prefigured by God in the chambers of eternal providence.
Yet, remarkably Job knew his ‘goel’ prior to the law of Moses and the establishing of Israel as a kingdom of priests. He offered sacrifices, something that was forbidden after the establishing of the priesthood under Aaron, indicating that he belonged to ancient time; possibly a contemporary of Abraham.
How then did Job know about his kinsman Redeemer?
Job’s knowledge was rooted in the promise made in Eden that one born of the woman would crush the serpent’s head, bruising His own heel in the process. This was the one ray hope amid the darkness of Eden’s failure; a message of hope that echoed down the corridors of time – the Redeemer would come!
In our days of darkness and sorrow, in a world that suffers the effects of sin’s dreadful curse, we look not back but forward to our kinsman who has already come, our personal Redeemer, with whom we are intimately acquainted. Our confidence rests in Him.
2: Belief in Redemption
Logically, if Job believed in a Redeemer, then he also believed in redemption.
What did redemption mean to Job?
Redemption in the Old Testament, was about securing that which was lost, as a result of a price that was paid.
Job had lost ever so much; his business, servants, family, the love of his wife and the respect of his friends.
Yet now in this dark hour he anticipated redemption by one who was able to grant him recovery. He was bound up in the prison house of despair but freedom beckoned through his own personal Redeemer.
Isaiah had this thought in mind as he prophesied of the coming of Christ, the Redeemer who would stand upon the earth:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.” (Isaiah 61:1-4).
The meek hear the good news, the broken-hearted are healed, the captives are liberated, the mourners are made joyful and desolate cities are restored to their former glory. All this is achieved by the one who would come in the fullness of the Spirit, Christ our Redeemer.
3: Belief in Resurrection
This is a constant encouragement to every child of God because whatever we seem to have lost on this earth, we have not really lost – because no-one who is redeemed can ever be a loser.
“Blessings abound where’er He reigns; The prisoner leaps to lose his chains; The weary find eternal rest, And all the sons of want are blest. Where He displays His healing power, Death and the curse are known no more: In Him the tribes of Adam boast More blessings than their father lost.” Isaac Watts
Job’s faith in his Redeemer, was by no means limited to this world and all he had lost. Ultimately, Job like the travellers in Pilgrim’s Progress who caught a glimpse of the Celestial City from afar, saw the brightness of the dawning eternal day.
He believed that His Redeemer would stand upon the earth at the last day, an event that we describe as the Second Coming of Christ. Job was realistic in his knowledge that he would be dust before this day, but he knew that the clay vessel would be restored in life. Job in suffering the onslaught of death and pain believed that his redemption meant resurrection!
“And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:26-27).
Job’s faith led him through the millennia that stretched before him and the world to the day that John also, foresaw – when God’s people would see the face of Christ. Job was not motivated by seeing his loved ones, the gates of pearl, the streets of golf and a city bathed in everlasting light. He had one desire – to see his Redeemer.
Job had requested that these very words be engraved into the rock with an iron pen, and set in lead, as an everlasting memorial:
“Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!” (Job 19:23-24).
Some believe that he was referring to the custom of engraving words into stone at grave or a tomb. If so he was referring to his own grave. He wanted the world to know that if he died a pauper, as a consequence of this horrible trial that the end had not come – he would live again when the Redeemer came to claim the body that had long since been destroyed by the flesh eating worms. That failure was not the end. Eternal glory awaited.
Redemption for the Christian means not only, the salvation of the soul but the resurrection of the body also. Believers who have been taken home to glory as a result of this pandemic have been buried without the normal dignity that we give to the dead. But none of this matters, in the light of eternity. The coffin will be burst asunder, the body will rise without disease and will meet the the Lord in the air. What a gathering that will be! The eternal state will dawn. Death and the curse will be no more.
Exodus 2:23-25 And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them.
For four hundred years Israel had been dwelling in Egypt. For a considerable portion of that time they were slaves. The Pharaohs took advantage of the ethnic origin of the people dwelling in the land of Goshen by turning them into a cheap labour force. They not only saw the opportunities afforded by these Hebrews but they were afraid of their growing strength. Therefore servitude was a technique employed in weakening their numbers.
The last 100 years were the cruelest of all. As the building projects became bigger the work for the slaves grew harder still. When the slaves continued to grow in strength despite their hardship, one Pharaoh even commanded that all the baby boys be thrown into the river. Destroying the potential of the power of future manhood was hardly a way to treat a prize labour force! But sin fuelled by hatred and fear has no logic!
Behind all of this pain and sorrow – the taskmasters’ whip and the backbreaking work was the dark work of Satan. He was determined to destroy these people, to prevent the coming Messiah who would arise from their loins. This was a crucial moment. The family had become a nation. But the nation was without its independence and had no kingdom to rule. Across the wilderness in Canaan was the land that was promised to them. Here they were destined to take root, here the line of David would be established and here the Christ would be born of Mary. Satan in these desperate years was working frantically to hinder the work of God. Therefore God’s people, at the centre of the struggle were groaning by reason of their bondage.
As the skies grew darker, as the pain intensified, as the situation grew increasingly hopeless the slave nation took to praying. They had prayed before. But there is a moment that arrives in the life of a man or woman, in the life of a congregation or the soul of a nation where prayer becomes more real, more important, more vital than at any other time. This is prayer born out of urgent need as the realisation dawns – only God can help.
Have we reached that place today in our lives?
Crises and trials have a knack of finding us out – of discovering our carelessness or strengthening our weakness; exposing our shallowness and hypocrisy or burning up the dross and drawing us closer to the Saviour.
When we are cut away from regular worship do we still read God’s Word and expose ourselves to a biblical ministry? Do we continue to honour the Sabbath? No longer do we worship because we would not want to be seen to be absent. This is now about what we are before God – His fear is our only motivation. But in reality this should have always been our only motivation at all times. Are we in prayer? Are we walking with Him? Is this crisis driving us to God? – our only hope in days of trouble.
Thousands of lives across our nation, this island and the world have been taken in this pandemic. How many of these souls were saved? How many are lost? How many more souls? Many today on account of the threat of Covid-19 are in imminent danger of eternal Hell.
Is there not a need to pray, to pray urgently as we have never prayed before, not just for an end to the pandemic but for precious souls, out of Christ without a Saviour.
Our nation is not in a good place with God. Gone are the days when the Government and the Crown called the nation to prayer. We observe the madness and folly of sin – God is still defied as His laws continue to be set aside by rebellious and foolish hearts.
People around us will not pray but we can pray. Let us not complain. Let us pray. This is the need of the hour!
As these Hebrew slaves cried together, groaning under the sharp cutting whip of their earthly masters – God heard, God remembered, God looked upon them and God had respect unto them.
What a encouragement this is for our troubled and weary hearts!
We are confined to our homes, we are shut out of our churches BUT God is not confined and we are not shut out of His presence.
These Hebrews were slaves but they were the most powerful nation on earth because their God was greater than the power of Pharaoh. So it is today. Our God is in the heavens, He does as He pleases. As our God is all powerful His Church, rather than being weak and dispirited, is the most vibrant body on earth:
“All things are possible to him That can in Jesus name believe; Lord I no more Thy name blaspheme, Thy truth I lovingly receive; I can, I do believe in Thee; All things are possible to me.”
He continues to be the God who hears our groaning. He hears the cry of the nurse or the doctor struggling to cope with massive pressures on the healthcare system. He hears the cry of His child gasping for breath as the virus takes grip upon the lungs. He hears the sob of one who has lost a loved one, being deprived of the opportunity to say that final crucial farewell, he hears the cry of a family worrying about their financial future, he hears the cry of the church longing for a renewed spiritual consciousness in these desperate times.
He remembers, not merely the covenant with Abraham but that which He made with Christ. Therefore as we pray we always say, ‘For Christ’s sake’ – because God never turns away His Son.
As He looked upon the children of Israel with pity and concern, so He is looking upon us today.
But He also had respect unto Israel. This word ‘respect’ implies knowledge by way of intimate experience. God felt for Israel, His heart experienced their suffering, therefore He was filled with the most intense compassion.
This was the God of Israel; this is our unchanging God.
Part 1 – BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD; Job’s Confession of Faith.
There are few books of Scripture so applicable and appropriate for this current time in which we dwell, as Job. The grief and the pain experienced by this man assist us in understanding the mysteries of providence , in permitting His people to suffer. In many respects the words of 1st Peter 5:10 are an exposition of God’s purpose in permitting Job to experience such pain; as such they explain the mysteries of dark and frowning providences in every age, including our own:
“But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”
Therefore, this short series of studies examines five key texts which illustrate this God of all grace, who worked in the midst of Job’s calamities.
The first key text looks at the defining words for which Job is so famous
Job 1:21 “And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD; Job’s Confession of Faith.
1: Miraculous Words
These words of Job were miraculous from the perspective of His terrible afflictions.
He had experienced the sustained attack of Satan, which God permitted.
As a consequence of this attack his herds, flocks and servants were lost in one day. One cannot begin to imagine the thoughts that must have filled Job’s mind as three messengers followed one after the other bearing a stream of bad news. His entire business collapsed in a few brief hours.
But the news was about to get considerably worse!
When the cattle die and sheep perish farmers are comforted that the trouble is outside the home. But for Job this was not to be the case.
There are indications that his seven sons and three daughters were a spiritual disappointment. They habitually gathered together for festivities, gatherings which obviously excluded their father. When we first meet Job he is offering sacrifices and prayers for his family, with words that sound rather like a lament; “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5).
How then did he feel at the sight of a fourth messenger, moving with haste? The news was the most catastrophic of all – a sudden storm tumbled his eldest son’s home where all his sons and daughters were making merry. There were no survivors.
Consumed with grief Job was a broken man.
Miraculously he declared – “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
When God allowed Satan to touch Job’s person with boils which covered his body, his own wife turned against his faith, urging Job to curse God and die; there is nothing left to live for – still Job did not charge God foolishly nor did he sin with his lips.
There is no accounting for such painfully calm fortitude in the face of such an onslaught apart from the grace of God. Job felt his sufferings acutely, he was plunged into the darkest valley imaginable but still he blessed the name of the Lord.
Whatever our sufferings and our sorrows we take the greatest of encouragement from the faith of Job. Faith that was echoed by Horatio Spafford, as he wrote these words after learning of the death of his four precious daughters in a shipping accident:
“Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say It is well, it is well with my soul”.
2: Grateful Words
Job displayed a sense of gratitude when facing his calamities.
One might well ask, ‘What did he have to be grateful for?’ He reflected back to what he had lost and the enjoyment that these blessings had given him. This filled him with humble thanksgiving for all that had been given.
“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away”
He saw himself as one that was totally undeserving of ten children and all the riches associated with a farming empire. God had opened his hand and had given richly. Therefore the God who gave had a right to take away; but Job in his sorrow was grateful that God had provided to begin with.
This is Christian realism at its very best. Natural man boasts of achievement, success and endeavour. True Christianity teaches us that all things are God’s precious gifts, but they have only been borrowed for a time.
Let us today think about the privileges of life and health, the love of our spouses, the gifts of our children, and all of our provisions whether they be homes, careers, businesses, finances, food and clothing – then we must humbly praise the one from whom all blessings flow; the Lord giveth. But with the same breath we ought to acknowledge His right to take away what He has given. That nothing is ours as of right; all things are His gifts.
As Job heard the devastating news that his family had been taken so suddenly he must have been grateful that he had prayed for them at the beginning of that day. As a Father, he had taught them by word and example, as a priest he had prayed and offered sacrifices for them. He had no regrets concerning his use of the time and gifts that God had given. Let us look around at all that we have today and may God give us the grace to be good stewards of His beautiful gifts. May God help us to glorify God with our bodies, within our homes, with our money and with the time that He has granted because the Lord has given.
Before the Lord takes from us what we have, while we have time and opportunity, while we have the blessing of life, while we enjoy the love of family – let us glorify God with urgency because the night can swiftly come when no-one can work.
3: Submissive Words
In not charging God foolishly and in refusing to sin with his lips, Job was absolutely submissive to God. A careful study of Job will show that he considered the providences of God to be mysterious. He felt abandoned by God and by man. His friends were miserable comforters who accused Job of being a sinful man with whom God was dealing harshly. Job felt himself to be in the darkness of despair – there were no answers. Yet he insisted that through it all he would always trust:
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (Job 13:15)
He knew that God retained the absolute right to take everything away – therefore this submission gave him a heart of peace.
As Christians we feel the brokenness of this world everyday, especially in these days. When sickness arrives , when the hand of death knocks, when the income drops – we know that God is in control.
Writing to Christians worshipping and working in Ancient Rome who soon would be driven as sheep to the slaughter, the Apostle Paul employed the memorable words which have been such a help, to believers in every age:
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28)
As we look at this fearful and troubled world, we are anchored by this faith, the same faith that Job had, which Paul recommended and which Peter believed in – that God would be present in the darkness, veiled by the darkness of the night, but still there, present, working, planning and loving.
4: Humble Words
Job was a rich man, a powerful man and a famous man – the greatest of all the men of his generation. He never once, however, rose above his station and considered himself to be greater than he was. This spirit of humility was always present in the character of Job but in the darkness of his night it shone as brightly as the mid-day sun.
Troubles and pressures have a knack of finding us out; of probing us and discovering the truth about our spirituality. Satan believed that Job’s faith was based entirely upon the many advantages that God had given him. He thought that when permitted to remove Job’s wealth, family, health and friendships that this man would turn against God. Not so – even when Job’s wife wished her husband dead the man himself did not falter in his faith.
Job never was motivated by selfish concerns. His trials proved that his religion was never about personal gain – it was always and constantly about the glory of God. Therefore, as one who had given his time and soul to sitting patiently at the feet of the great Creator and Benefactor, he had learned the art of godliness with contentment; great gain indeed! Like Mary whose devotion gave her something, which Christ said would never be taken away – so Job too had a humble adoration and submission to God which Satan could never touch. He would inspire cruel enemies to threaten, steal and kill, he could provoke lightening strikes and stir up terrible storms, he could afflict Job with poverty, sickness and bereavement BUT he could not destroy the man’s humble dependence upon the God of heaven.
The proud person thinks that God owes but the humble person considers himself to the debtor, deserving of nothing. It was this spirit that grounded Job. It is this spirit alone that will anchor us in these uncertain times.
“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (James 4:6)
“The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters…The LORD sitteth upon the flood; yea, the LORD sitteth King for ever. The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace.” (Psalm 29)
The 29th Psalm describes a mighty thunder storm and the impressions it created upon David as he watched it pass. He was standing in Jerusalem and he could see the blackness in the north as storm grew closer:
“The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars; yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.”
As the thundering and lightening bore down upon the city David’s poetic spirit felt caught in a majestic and fearful drama which played out around him:
“The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire.”
As the cloud moved on, as the thundering became more distant, David watched the storm bearing down upon the wilderness, in the south country, and he imagined the dry river beds which were now a mighty deluge as the drought was ended:
“The LORD sitteth upon the flood”
As a soul that was spiritually senitive David perceived the presence of God in the storm, the rolling thunder, the flashing lightening and the lashing rain. He even imagined the world to be a mighty temple where the sovereign Lord was always active, speaking and operating revealing Himself in all His awesome glory:
“in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.”
David’s thoughts were transported through the natural thunderstorm to storms of different types; war, famine, sickness and death. But through it all he had this calm assurance; that God’s voice is heard through every calamity, that He is complete control, even though man may feel helpless because ”the Lord sitteth King forever”.
Therefore “the LORD will bless his people with peace.”
So it is today, throughout this international storm of sickness, death and economic upheaval that has come upon the world as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic; God’ voice is heard, He is in control sitteth as the eternal King and He will bless His people with peace.
“I’ve seen the lightning flashing, And heard the thunder roll, I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, Trying to conquer my soul; I’ve heard the voice of my Savior, Telling me still to fight on, He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.
Refrain: No, never alone, No, never alone; He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.
The world’s fierce winds are blowing, Temptation’s sharp and keen, I have a peace in knowing My Savior stands between— He stands to shield me from danger, When earthly friends are gone, He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.
Refrain: No, never alone, No, never alone; He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.
When in affliction’s valley I’m treading the road of care, My Savior helps me to carry My cross when heavy to bear, Though all around me is darkness, Earthly joys all flown; My Savior whispers His promise, “I never will leave thee alone.”
Refrain: No, never alone, No, never alone; He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.
He died for me on the mountain, For me they pierced His side, For me He opened the fountain, The crimson, cleansing tide; For me He’s waiting in glory, Seated upon His throne, He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.
Refrain: No, never alone, No, never alone; He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.”
THE GREATEST BATTLE EVER FOUGHT; John’s Relections from his Patmos Isolation
Bible Reading – Revelation 12: 7-11
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
The history of the world is punctuated by many terrible yet famous battles.
Positively Crowns have been won, evil has been defeated, freedoms have been claimed, Governments have been changed and maps have been redrawn in the field of human conflict.
There is a negative side also to war that we dare not overlook; millions of lives have been cruelly lost, evil has risen triumphant for a time, freedoms have been lost , dictators have ascended to power and genocides have been perpetrated through the battles of human history.
The history of the British Isles can only be understood through learning about the battles that have shaped our past and our destiny; the Battle of Hastings, the Wars of the Roses, the English Civil War, the Williamite War in Ireland, World War One, the Irish War of Independence, the Irish Civil War and World War Two. Across Europe bloody uprising such as the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution are regarded as the beginnings of true freedom from tyranny (even though at times one tyranny was replaced by another!). The United States of America defines its history through the 18th Century War of Indpendence and the American Civil War a century later. From continent to continent, from nation to nation, from tribe to tribe – wars and bloodshed have been a tragic stain upon the history of our race.
But there is one battle that surpasses all others. This conflict takes us far beyond the physical theatres of conflict to the spiritual and supernatural. Far from defining the course of nations this conflict alone helps us to understand, the history and the destiny of humanity. This is the war of the ages.
Isolated on Patmos, as the Roman sword persecuted the people of God, John was given a vision of the true nature of the conflict in which he was involved. This was the same sight that Elisha’s servant at Dothan received, as the Syrians besieged the city. The young man’s fears were assuaged by the sight of the legions of heavenly angels fortifying the city; there was a greater conflict and victory was assured. It is the spiritual conflict, the war waged by spiritual wickedness in high places, the threat posed by principalities and powers which helps us understand and appreciate the past, the present and the times in which we live.
1: THE COMBATANTS
There are two armies facing up against each other.
On the hand we observe “Michael and his angels”. Michael in Jude is called the archangel (Jude v9) and in Daniel is simply called the great prince (Daniel 10:13, 10:21, 12:1). He is supported by a company of angels. It is clear that Michael is on the side of God, advancing His cause. There has been debate as to who Michael is. Some define Him as being Christ Himself:
“Christ, the great Angel of the covenant, and his faithful followers” (Matthew Henry).
This view largely hinges around Michael’s name which means, “Who is as God?” It is pointed out that only one is as God and He alone can exercise command over the angel host, the Son of God.
But there are alternative views:
“There is no evidence in the name itself, or in the circumstances referred to, that Christ is intended; and if he had been, it is inconceivable why he was not referred to by his own name, or by some of the usual appellations which John gives him. Michael, the archangel, is here represented as the guardian of the church, and as contending against Satan for its protection.” (Albert Barnes)
For the purpose of this study, however, we view Michael, whether as Christ or a superior angel, as leading the charge in the greatest of all battles.
The other protagonist is the dragon, who is a picture of Satan, whom we have already met with in our previous study.
The theatre of conflict could not be dramatic; Satan and His angels are lined up facing off the angels of God in combat.
2: THE COMMENCEMENT
This conflict commenced in heaven, which takes us back to the origin of sin and the fall of Lucifer, the Son of the Morning.
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.”
This passage in Isaiah details apostasy of Satan as he boldly attempted to usurp God as the master of the universe.
Christ described the fall of Satan and the place where he sent to in defeat:
“And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.”
John in this vision sees this event in even more detail:
“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
Therefore, as Satan was cast out of heaven, he plummeted to earth, where through deception he continued his war against God. His first act in this deception was his tempting of Eve and therefore inducing the fall of mankind. The whole history of humanity and the miseries of a fallen world can only be understood in the light of Satan’s strategy of opposing God.
3: THE CONTINUATION
Satan is compelled by an instinct born of madness, to continue his conflict with God. He undermines the truth of God, he destroys lives and souls in his quest to destroy humanity, the crown if God’s creative genius.
There are two key descriptive phrases in this passage:
A. “Satan, who deciveth the whole earth…”
As he deceived Eve, so he continues to deceive. Every false religion and cult with their alternative spirituality, their false prophets and spurious scriptures are evidence of his involvement in the affairs of mankind. Likewise the militant secularism which characterises the western world with its denial of God and its immoral agenda, which runs contrary to God’s Word, is the work of the great deceiver in the world. Satan’s deceptions are destructive. God has framed a law which is good for man’s physical, psychological and spiritual well being. Satan undermines life and denies true spirituality. Through wars and violence, euthanasia and abortion, as well as alternative and depraved expressions of sexuality, Satan deceives, perverts and warps humanity. We observe the fingerprints of the devil all around us in this fallen world.
This world is reeling from the effects of the curse. This curse has ultimately been inflicted upon us because of the fall, which was induced by Satan’s temptation. The curse has brought chaos and discorder to the natural world with its earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, sicknesses, bacteria and viruses and a thousand other enemies of humanity with their life destroying potential. Therefore we can easily interpret our current predicament in the light of this war of the ages.
B. “the accuser of our brethren”
Here we observe Satan’s special interest in God’s redeemed people. As redemption through Christ is the only hope for the world, Satanic strategy will be especially focused upon the Church, the bride of Christ. He is styled the accuser of the brethren because he endeavours to fill the people of God with doubts, fears and insecurities. Our confidence absolutely is on the Rock of Ages but Satan is most adept at shifting us away from this Rock onto the sinking sand of our circumstances and our pride. He causes us to look inward at self and outward at our situation instead of looking upward to Christ. Every fear and doubt comes from him, never from God. Let us be alert to his methods as we work through this crisis which engulfs the world.
In relation to his accusations, however, this passage records that Satan comes before God to bring charges against the Church. He is like the prosecutor, in a court, standing before God advancing reasons why the elect people should damned forever with him in Hell. The devil cannot bear to witness the salvation of one soul. He employs his time in bringing humanity in its multitudes with him to destruction, just as Christ is determined to bring many sons to glory. Therefore, as Satan appeared before God with a view to plotting for the destruction of Job, so he appears before God pleading for our condemnation. In Zechariah 3 we read of him standing beside Joshua, the High Priest, in the presence of the angel of the Lord to thwart his work. He is mad in his quest to destroy the work of God’s hands, he is determined to destroy the Church of Christ, he bold in making these representations before God. Therefore we observe the various fronts on which this battle for the souls of men and women is being waged.
4: THE CONQUEST
Ultimately Satan is a defeated foe and through this vision the conquest of Satan is charted.
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
It is most thrilling to note that victory over the evil one, is given to the Church. The people of God will overcome the evil one both on earth and in the courts of heaven. No attack that is launched from the bastions of hell will succeed and there will be a response to every argument made that is designed to claim the souls of God’s elect. The sense is given, however, that this victory will come at a price, “They loved not their lives unto death.” Therefore, Satan may seem to have gained the upper hand over the Church with his peresecutions, but through death and martyrdom the Christians won the victory. This was real encouragement for believers suffering at the sharp end of Roman cruelty. Their blood would indeed be the seed out of which the Church would grow and prosper. This was true of the early Church and it was true of the Medieval and Reformation Churches. As Paul wrote of his experience, an experience shared in every age if Church history:
1st Corinthians 12:9
“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Throughout history Satan has employed the power of temporal Government to crush the Church but he is constantly reminded that he while he can destroy the body the soul is secure and beyond his reach:
“And through this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear for God hath willed,
His truth to triumph through us,
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also,
The body they may kill,
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever”
Satan’s plan to physically destroy the Church fails because his strategy to spiritually ruin the people of God is foiled. He may accuse and condemn but the blood of the Lamb secures the people of God for eternity. We overcome him by the blood of the Lamb. Victory over the evil one is guaranteed by the cross and resurrection of Christ. He threw everything at his disposal against Christ through the anger of Herod, the temptations in the wilderness, the jealousy of the Pharisees and Saduccees, the betrayal of Judas and the weakness of Pilate.
Paul talked about the condemnations of Satan being answered by the triumph of Christ:
“Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”
It is through His death and His blood that we live today. We accomplish victory over Satan by Christ and His triumph.
The Christian has nothing to fear from Coronavirus. The enemy of mankind revels in the way lives can be taken by such conditions. But while the body may fade and perish, the soul of the believer will be secure because nothing can separate us from this love. This is the Rock of Ages, this solid ground on which we stand.
On Sunday evening Britain watched, the Commonwealth watched, America watched – the world listened as Queen Elizabeth 2nd made a rare speech in an hour of national and international emergency. Her words were thoughtful, comforting and inspiring. She praised the NHS and other key workers, she commended the spirit of this generation, she gently encouraged us to stay indoors, she asked us to use the time for prayer and meditation and she finished with a rather heart felt flourish borrowing from a war time theme, “We’ll meet again”.
While the words of such an exceptional lady, as Queen Elizabeth 2nd certainly is, are important, there is one, who is the King of Kings whose words are infinitely more important.
Sadly the world does not pause to listen out for His voice.
Peter, James and John were given a glimpse of Christ’s glory as He was transfigured on the mountain. They witnessed a great cloud which overshadowed the scene and they heard the voice of God, “This my beloved Son, hear ye him.”
We do not have to wait for the words of our heavenly monarch being relayed via the media outlets of this world. Here is one whose words are on the page of Scripture, completely relevant for every circumstance in which we find ourselves.
After descending the mountain the disciples, were taught in a memorable way the importance of hearing Christ’s words. The nine disciples who were left behind were powerless to help. The situation was desperate. A loving Father was desperately pleading for help. His son would self harm, throwing himself into the fire and water, being overwhelmed by the power of a demon.
But where the disciples failed Christ succeeded. In response to the plea of the desperate father, “Lord I believe help though my unbelief”, Christ commanded the demon to depart. And the boy was cured.
Let us hear Christ today as the father, whom Christ helped did, in the story did:
“If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth”
Words of sympathy and encouragement from an earthly monarch, who is motivated by a strong sense of her duty towards her people are good, but words of grace and power from our heavenly king are better. And He makes a promise that no mortal can ever make – “All things are possible to him that believeth”. Feeling our weakness we must cry out, as the father did, “Help thou mine unbelief”.
The Queen completed her speech with the words, ”We’ll meet again”.
Yes, we are all looking forward to meeting once again, our loved ones and friends and and we do long for the time when we can fellowship with God’s people again in worship.
But above we know there is a glorious day when our heavenly King will come to earth, uniting us for eternity in that land where suffering and death will be no more.
Because our King said:
“I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
In the 55th Psalm David is suffering intensely. With agony of spirit of he cried unto God:
“I mourn in my complaint and make a noise” (Psalm 55:2)
With a heart that was pained as what he described as the terrors of death had come down upon him he wanted one thing; “the wings of a dove”. All he desired was to escape the situation.
How many of us feel like this today? Oh that this year would pass, oh that these things that we are facing had never happened!
Such a desire, in adversity, is unreasonable even though it is most natural. We can empathise with David, even though we know with him that our troubles cannot be escaped, they must be faced.
David discovered how to face his problems, and it was not by running away. Towards the end of the Psalm he experienced the burden lifted:
“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee, he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved”(Psalm 55:22).
In the 139th Psalm David talks not of running away but of the presence of God in every place and in every situation.
God knows me when I sit down and when I rise up, he even understands my thoughts. He is before , behind me and with me. If I were to grow wings and fly like a bird, “the wings of the morning” (v9), I would discover that God’s hand which led me there will also keep me there.
God has brought us to an extreme situation, that is so unlikely, it feels like the uttermost ends of the earth. God will carry the burden. Let us leave it with Him. Where God’s purposes led us His grace will sustain:
“Even there shall thy hand lead be, and thy right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:10).
“And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.”
Genesis 4 introduces us to the horrible brokenness of the world in which we live. We see this brokenness though the eyes of our first parents as they painfully learned through experience the consequences of their sin.
After the way back to Eden was barred, Adam and Eve’s marriage experienced what felt like a new beginning which proved to be a false dawn. As they cradled their boys, who were possibly twins and watched them grow up they anticipated that brighter days were coming. While Adam toiled the ground that became increasingly stubborn, while the livestock became more difficult to manage and while other creatures that once willingly responded to his voice became progressively wild – these two boys, Cain and Abel represented hope, that better days were coming.
What utter devastation!
Adam and Eve cradled the bloodied body of Abel in their arms knowing that they had not lost one son but two because Cain had gone away from them and more crucially from the presence of the Lord, a murderer!
With tears they cried out, “What have we done?”; a bitter reminder of the folly of their sin.
Cain went out and became an amazingly successful man. He raised a family, he built the first city and established the first society. The family of Cain led the way in human progress. Among his children and grandchildren we find agriculture, music and industry. But in the midst of their success they remained a family and a society that had abandoned God. Therefore we observe the very characteristics that would in a few generations cause the judgement of God to fall; immorality, violence and murder.
Cain’s generation was so like the world in which we live. We have witnessed progress, wealth and innovation. Yet prosperous man has abandoned God and we have seen the marks of that abandonment in the numerous sins of our society. The immorality, the violence, the murder and the selfishness continue with us.
In this dark time, when it seemed as if there was no hope for humanity Adam and Eve cradled a 3rd son in their arms. His name, Seth, is significant – “For God hath appointed me another son instead of Abel, whom Cain slew”. Eve felt so undeserving; she had helped bring about all the tragedy that had afflicted her family. Yet, now God had stepped in and given her another son, a new day had now truly dawned because God gives people who fail another opportunity. How remarkable is His grace!
Abel was dead, Cain was a murderer establishing a perverse society. But Seth as he grew into adulthood married and was given a son called Enos. Adam and Eve now saw the 3rd generation, something that they thought they would never see. Now something happened which had not taken place since the death of Abel:
“Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord”.
There was something special about Enos’ birth which kindled such hope and promise in the hearts of Adam, Eve and Seth – they started praying. Behind them was the wreckage created by their own sin. Around them was a world that largely, within a few years since creation, had abandoned God. But now in the midst of their pain and sorrow they prayed. They learned, that their only hope was found in a God whom they must cling to.
They discovered this hope through a child. What kind of a world did they want for this child? What hope would there be for this child? And so little Enos by virtue of his being born, led this family to bend their knees and cry unto God for their world.
Today we live in a dark and desperate time. Behind us the evil and rebellion of our society has made us ripe for a visitation of judgement. Around us the Coronavirus is causing havoc in the world. People are afraid as they have never been afraid before. Yet, there is no sign of repentance. There is no seeking after God. Man in his own proud way thinks he can weather the storm.
One of the most tangible signs of the continued intolerance of our society to God is Westminster’s insistence that the Abortion regulations in Northern Ireland, must be enacted on 31st March. Society is suffering, people are dying – chaos is everywhere – and yet the appetite to defy God, rather than pray to God, is just as strong. The apparent contradiction that we despair because a virus takes life while we legislate to murder babies by our own efforts is not considered.
We are hearing echoes of the Psalm 2 in our day; “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” ( Psalm 2:2-3).
Amid all of the confusion the voice of God is not heard and the lust for sin is overwhelming. The spirit of Cain and his generation dominates the spiritual and moral landscape.
This causes me to ask the question – What is the cause of Covid-19?
Is it a judgement sent from God? Certainly the nations of the world are deserving of judgement. We have repeatedly said for so long that morally our nation cannot continue to defy God as it has been doing.
Is this a curse sent upon the earth? Where God’s people are prevented from worshipping God publicly and proclaiming the Word – this is certainly a curse and even a Satanic attack. I will defend our decision to close our meetings because of the risk to public health, but even so, we mourn because this event is preventing us from fellowshipping together in the manner appointed by God – who else other than Satan could be behind such a circumstance?
In the days of Job, however, we are reminded that Satan can be loosed a little in order that God’s greater purposes will be fulfilled. Ultimately, while we see Satan at work, we know that the one who is within us is greater than the one who is in the world. Yet, we know that with the onslaught of this Covid-19 we are reminded of the cosmic struggle, the war of the ages as the forces of Hell line up against God and His Christ.
Where is our hope today, in the midst of this struggle for the souls of men and women? In God alone.
Therefore we must cling to him. Let us look at the children of our homes and our society. What kind of a future do we want for them? After the Coronavirus clears – what will the world look like? We must earnestly seek God, that he would intervene in grace, that in wrath He would remember to be gracious because where sin abounds grace doth much more abound.
This first prayer meeting in human history was a family gathering. Adam and Eve and Seth are the only named individuals. Let us use these days to seek God earnestly for the removal of the virus, for the health of our nation, for our valiant healthcare professionals and most importantly that men and women will turn to God with the repentance and sorrow. But as these dear people at the dawn of civilisation prayed with regrets because of their own spiritual barrenness, so let us draw bear mourning over the spiritual barrenness generated by the sins of the 21st Century Church. If God is to heal our land, we must turn from our wicked ways!
Reviewing the following chapter of Scripture will show us that God heard the cries of this simple family gathering. In the line of Seth and Enos we discover the early champions of the faith – Enoch, Methuselah and Noah shone brightly. Enoch was the man who walked with God, Methuselah’s longevity was a token of God’s patience and Noah’s ark saved humanity from disaster. All of these men were produced by the first family prayer meeting. While the children of Cain toiled and pleasured their way to doom the children of Seth prayed, they were preserved and the future of humanity was ensured.
While we do not know what the final outcome of Covid-19 will be, how many lives will be lost, how deep the economic recession will be that it causes and what the world will look like when it completes its visitation of this planet and its inhabitants. But I know this – God will preserve his Church, and He will build His Church. He will raise up a future generation to walk with Him.
The future belongs to the Christian Church because Jesus Christ promised that the meek would inherit the earth.
With hope and optimism let us follow the example of our first parents and pray earnestly in a dark and gloomy day.
“Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord”.
We are living in strange days filled with heightened anxiety and deep uncertainty. For two months we have watched COVID-19 coming closer to our shores; and now the pandemic is about to strengthen its grip on on our population.
We are concerned for older people who are our parents and grandparents. We worry about our family and friends who are already sick, with some undergoing treatment. We think about our healthcare professionals who will be on the frontline fighting this illness in order to save lives. Health concerns are not the only worries. There is the disruption to everyday life; some businesses are already suffering a dramatic loss of income and young people sitting exams have big concerns about their future. And there is the apprehension about isolation, lockdown – if it happens – and how long it will last for and what our society will feel like after we emerge from the darkness.
For the last fifty years the western world has been dominated by the secular humanist mindset, which sneers at faith and which considers science and natural reasoning to be sufficient for every situation. We are not only watching – we are part of an unfolding situation where Governments, armed with the best scientific advice available are approaching this crisis in different ways. I do not blame scientists and politicians, nor should any of us. They are making the best decisions they can honestly make, but the truth is everyone is struggling to hold back the tide. A sense of helplessness fills every mind.
In the midst of these desperately worrying times, there is nothing that can replace the certainty of faith; particularly the Christian faith. By faith the Christian looks beyond the natural world with all of its inevitable suffering to Christ who triumphed over death. As we approach Easter, the great symbol of new life, in these alarming days, there is a call coming from God to look to Christ who alone offers hope. When illness and death comes, when we have to lie in an ICU unit surrounded by masked strangers, when we stand beside an open grave laying a loved one to rest, when the doctor and nurse is caught in the turmoil of the never ending queue of serious cases – science can’t give hope, secular humanism can’t provide peace, BUT Christ can. Let us bow our heads today before the one who lives forevermore, who alone can give us hope in these troubled times.
As for me, I pray – for the sick and the vulnerable, for those already diagnosed, for our doctors and nurses, for our Governments and their advisors, for the world and this chaos that God would have mercy upon us. I pray that we might overcome Coronavirus fear with Christian hope.