“Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed”(Jeremiah 48:11).
I WANT this morning that we should see the wrong tendency to be at ease, but the right way to be at rest. We will, from a bird’s-eye view of the history of Israel, and continuing from what we were saying yesterday, see how she was always wanting to be delivered from, but was hardly ready to be moved unto the purpose of God.
We will begin by seeing Israel after her four hundred years of captivity in Egypt. God heard her cry when she began to be tired of the taskmasters of Egypt, and He delivered her out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. He brought her out from her bondage, or captivity, but, having been brought out, she then had the privilege of choosing: Would she give herself unto the purpose of God?
I think we shall see how even today there are so many who in their bondage cry out to the Lord for deliverance, but are unwilling to go on unto the full purpose that He has for them.
Israel was content to stop half-way instead of moving on unto the full purpose of God, but God seems to say: ‘If ye will not go on unto , I have another captivity for you.’ And so they wandered forty years round and round the wilderness instead of moving into the land of Canaan. They did not want the glorious captivity in the Lord, so there was imposed upon them a schoolroom captivity. Thus this whole generation died in the wilderness, except for two men, Joshua and Caleb, but God, in His mercy, heard the new generation and delivered them out of the wilderness-wandering into the land of Canaan. He delivers them out from the captivity of the wilderness, and now He waits for them to move unto a full possessing of the land of Canaan — but you know the story so well. While they possessed and conquered some of Canaan, pretty soon they settled down just to enjoy it for themselves. They were not primarily God-conscious, purpose-conscious, or fulfilment-conscious, but only deliverance-conscious.
So once again there is a captivity imposed upon them: the captivity of the nations of Canaan. God had said to them: “Make no league with the inhabitants of this land” (Judges 2:2), but they did not obey Him. They were fearful of the people of Canaan, and so became captive to them.
What does all this teach us? When we are first saved we are delivered out of the world. It is so wonderful to have a release from our old habits and our old way of life, but there are so many young believers who do not realize that God wants to teach them how to live by His life. They must learn how to live by the bread from heaven and the water that He supplies, but they still have an appetite for the things of Egypt, and there are those who murmur and complain for the onions, the leeks, the garlic! You would think that they would enjoy the manna from heaven, but God has to apply the tree to change our appetites. He says: ‘If you will not move unto and live by My life, you will know the captivity of the fleshly life.’
And then there are those who do move into Canaan, as it were, but somehow they make entanglements with the men around them; and we read of the darkest hour in Israel’s history during the period of the Judges. They cried out to the Lord, and with each new judge that He raised up there was a bit of revival, but I believe that this would teach us that mere reviving is not the real answer. God must awaken His people to be alive to His larger purpose, not merely awakenings and revivings for themselves.
In due time the people of Israel cry out, and God gives them the prophet Samuel. Then, after a short period of King Saul, King David unifies the people into a nation. Finally King Solomon builds the House of Prayer for all nations, and it seems that for the first time God is maybe getting something out of His people Israel. And yet, once again, they begin to settle down merely to using all the good things for themselves. They had been in the land four hundred and ninety years, and this represents seventy sabbaths, when the land was to rest, and so the Lord tells them that they will be carried into Babylonian captivity for seventy years. He would take them away and enforce a sabbath rest for every sabbath year that they had failed to let the land be idle. Let us go back and see once again what this means.
Taken first out of the world, then delivered from the fleshly life of wrong appetites, then set free from the entanglements and the fears of men, this is the people that should have a ministry unto God and unto the world around, but they began to enjoy [6/7] God’s blessing and the temple just for themselves instead of letting them be a means for the blessing of the world. My gift, in my ministry, must never be merely for my blessing, but for the blessing of others.
And so we see the northern armies of Syria coming in and taking Israel into the Babylonian captivity. I wonder if now we have a fuller appreciation of Psalm 137? I see so many of the Lord’s people in this kind of captivity. Instead of joy there is defeat, and the only testimony they have is: ‘We remember a better day!’ But hear me! We today should know the joy and the overflow of the life from within. Let us read about these people in Psalm 137:
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.”
Now notice how the people round about are turning to them and saying: ‘Why do you not sing us one of your blessed songs of Zion? We remember that you are the songbirds.’ I notice in my country how many people of the world like to slip in and hear the Christians sing!
“For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
All the people around us are looking for something of reality in us. If not in words, at least in some way they are saying: ‘Lift us with one of your songs of Zion’, but all these people can say is:
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
I know I am in a strange land here, but I have a song, for this is a different kind of strange land — I am here with my brothers and sisters! But I wonder if we catch the real significance here: these are the people who had a ministry, but they lost the ministry they had. You see, the very issue is this: We are called all along the way to give, to be poured out. ‘Death worketh in us’, and this brings life unto others.
And so we see that there are three different planes. Up above there is a glorious captivity in the Lord. If we do not want that, then the Lord says: ‘Well, I have another one for you’, but there are so many of the Lord’s people who want to stop half-way. They do not want to be a love-captive, nor to be a bondage-captive, but they just want to be free. But I must remind you that this half-way plane is only a passing-zone; it is not a stopping-place. You think you can stop here, but God says: ‘I enrol you in My school-room’. Israel turned the wilderness into a schoolroom, and the captivity of the nations into another schoolroom. Even the Babylonian captivity was turned into a schoolroom.
So we read that in due time, after seventy years of captivity in Babylon, the Lord stirred the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia, and the people go back to their land. They rebuild the temple, restore the wall — and settle down to enjoy it all for themselves again! Well, we have another Psalm — 126 — which tells us about the turning of their captivity:
“When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.”
Do you know who it is that knows when you are set free? The neighbours begin to say: ‘Something has happened to brother …!’ Even your wife says: ‘He has a song again!’ You see, the heathen had a sense of what Israel ought to be. They may be glad that you are in captivity, but they know inwardly what is right, and so they say: “The Lord hath done great things for them.” And then the Israelites reply:
“Yes, the Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.”
Now, God wants to turn one captivity to another, for we are not made to be free in ourselves. Many years ago Dr. Matheson wrote these words:
“Make me a captive, Lord,
And then I shall be free!”
And so we read in the next verse:
“Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south.”
He who expects to have a real, poured-out ministry must know the broken ‘streams of the south’. In our country we say that the South is way down deep, and the North is up, so it is way down deep within that the ‘streams of the south’ must be broken up.
“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
Let me illustrate that. Many years ago, when my grandfather came from Sweden to America, he homesteaded out in the bleak prairies of the Dakotas. One spring they had so little food for the family that when it came time to plant the potatoes in the ground, my grandfather said he felt that each potato he put in was being taken out of the mouths of the little children. It was almost like weeping and watering each one, but that was the only way to have a joyous harvest. Beloved, there is no easy way to bring life to others. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” [7/8]
“He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”
That may perhaps be true of our ministry, but look at my lovely Lord who comes with all of His sheaves!
So it is hard to say how much Israel did move unto the full purpose of God. The temple was built, and the nations round about looked upon the glory of Israel. You remember that the Queen of Sheba had heard about the glory of a people who had sanctified the Lord God in their midst, and when she came and beheld it all she said: ‘Oh! The half has not been told!’ Israel had her wonderful ministry of representing, of being a testimony to what a people could be who are living unto God, and I have often wondered what she could have moved unto if the kings who followed had continued wholly in the way of the Lord. But we remember how, after Solomon, the kingdom was divided under Jeroboam and Rehoboam, and, weakened from within, Israel was overcome by the Babylonians. The enemy’s way is always to weaken us first from within, and where there is no real life within we are subject to all the diseases from outside.
Israel comes back from the Babylonian Captivity, rebuilds and restores, and in due time the Lord Jesus comes to offer Himself to them as their King; but they could not recognize the One they had cried for for so long. However orthodox they were in their interpretations, they did not have the spiritual eye to see, and so we find them today dispersed throughout the world. But we have a promise in Deuteronomy 30:3: “Then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee.” This does not mean that they will merely be brought back from captivity, but they will be turned again to another captivity — the one up above.
There is the background. Do you not see that the tendency of man is to get delivered from, and then to settle down at ease? People who move from one experience to another experience, or from one lovely doctrine to another doctrine, are so prone to settle down at ease. Do you not see that if Israel had moved up to the upper plane God could have taken them on into all that they needed to see? Jesus had said: “I am the Life; I am the Way; and I am the Truth.” I do not know how to explain what I see of entering into this captivity by which He becomes my life, my whole way and the very reality of everything, but are you not glad that God is very sovereign? He gets His way in spite of us.
Is there someone here who wonders why their spiritual life has come to a stalemate? Even when you read God’s Word it does not seem to speak to you as it once did, and in praying God seems so very far away. If God would bring you out from some captivity, would you say with your whole heart: ‘Lord, I choose to see and move unto your fullest purpose’? I believe I have learned by sad experience that, while the lower plane seems to be the easier way, the upper plane is the way. I believe I can see that in my earlier life there was such a period of wilderness-wandering when God was changing the appetites, and then a period when I was so prone to be yoked with men for rest and security, and I got all mixed up in the denominations. You forgive me — but there are many kinds of nations with which we become entangled! But God’s highway is the way of identification with Him.
In closing, listen again to what God says in Jeremiah 48:11: “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees.” So many of God’s children wonder why God takes them through the crucibles of life, but with all the Moabites they live on at ease. If you are a Moabite, all right, but if you are one of God’s own, He stirs you up to keep you from settling down at ease. Oh, how many times I have groaned in being poured from vessel to vessel! It seems that God says to Moab that he has not gone into captivity, but he is not really free. There is a much worse captivity! There are people who say they are captives of the Lord, but when I live close to them, I see that their tastes have not been changed. You see, if we are captive to the Lord we smell of His fragrance, but if we are in this imposed captivity, we smell of the flesh, we have the odour of entanglements, and we are those who are defeated, without a real ministry unto the Lord.
Finally, we are either deliverance-centred (or salvation-centred), or we become purpose-conscious. DeV. F.