By T. Austin-Sparks
“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:9).
The first clause of that verse is what will occupy us for a few minutes, and it will be as in the more correct translation that some of you will find in the margin of your Bibles. While there is some authority for the ordinary translation of the words here, the actual language of the original reads thus – “In all their adversity He was no adversary.” You can choose between the translations which you like best, and you will not be in error if you prefer one to the other; but this alternative translation to the usual text conveys a message of its own which I think should be of very great help, encouragement and strength to us.
The Fact Of Adversity
First of all, we note that adversity amongst the people of God is recognised and accepted – that is, it is taken for granted. It is unnecessary to say that, amongst the people of God, adversity is a fact. None of us requires to be told that. Here the word of God takes note of the fact that the Lord’s people do know and suffer adversity, and their adversity is under His eye. That is only said lest anybody should think that adversity signifies that things have gone wrong. Perhaps at times we do feel that because of severe and continuous adversity there must be something wrong. While there may be a realm in which the adversity is the result of some wrong-doing, the enemy having rightful ground, nevertheless that is not the thing that is referred to here. In the first instance, it was not adversity because of evil and wrong; it was the adversity which is the common experience of the Lord’s people who are moving with Him; and when it is like that, as we shall see in a moment, there is nothing wrong about it at all. So much by the way for the fact of adversity.
The Nature Of The Adversity
Then we come to the nature of the adversity referred to here. The word “adversity” is really the word “straitness” – “In all their straitness He was no adversary” – and that thought of straitness is capable of manifold application. What was the straitness referred to? Well, Israel is here seen as in the wilderness. You notice that all the phrases which follow take you back to Israel’s life in the wilderness, and it was the life in the wilderness with its many forms of straitness to which the word referred.
First of all, they were shut up with regard to many things which the world had, and the world could do, which constituted the whole life of the world and gave the world its pleasure and, so far as it went, its satisfaction. They were cut off from all that, and sometimes that form of straitness came home to them very hardly and severely. You know when they got into a very bad time how their hearts went back to Egypt and they thought and dwelt upon the onions and the garlic and all the rest of the things there. In Egypt we did have this and that and the other thing which we miss now, and it is hard to be cut off, as we are, from those things; there was a certain element of certainty in Egypt, but out here you never know where you are going to be one day from another, or what is going to happen to you – so far as actual evidence is concerned you do not know whether you are going to be fed tomorrow.
It is all such a life of faith, and faith is a life of straitness so often, cut off from much and shut up to this wilderness where things are, to the natural mind, ‘narrowed down’ to God. (We know that is the wrong way of putting it – to the spiritual mind things are expanded to God; but who has got fully there, to the place where always earthly straitness is really heavenly enlargement?) Naturally, this is how it was with Israel – shut in, narrowed down, pent up, straitened so far as many things in this world were concerned. Because they were the Lord’s people they could not do this nor have that. There was a whole realm of things cut off from them; naturally, in the soul, it was straitness.