Category Archives: A Mending Feast

This category is about my blog’s theme.

His Song I Sing

I love to sing, but I sing less often these days because my voice is kind of crackly now. Nevertheless I am always inwardly singing, and now, apparently, quite often am humming, or so I’m told. (It looks like that spring in my heart must surface one way or another.) So I’m told I’m often overheard humming a tune, something recognizable only by the birds of my feather, for I know I’m never humming the familiar music of this world. I don’t hum or sing that music. Not that it’s a rule I keep religiously; I just don’t want to; it isn’t in my heart anymore, hasn’t been for a long time.

It’s because of the old saying:

Whose bread you eat, his song you sing.

That’s what’s in my heart—the song of the Bread of God who came down from heaven to give life to the world.

For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (Jn. 6:33 NKJV).

The world’s bread left me empty; how can I sing its song? Its song left me empty too. Now I eat the Bread of God, it satisfies my deepest hunger. How, then, can I help but sing His song? Recently I had one stuck in my heart after hearing in a dream someone singing, oh such a beautiful melody, but, oh, how vexing: I could not identify the singer, nor the lyrics! So I approached one standing by, a stranger to me, and asked him if he knew the song. But somehow he hadn’t heard it being sung, so, anxiously hoping he would know it, I began humming it for him. To no avail. He couldn’t help me. I was so disappointed. After I awoke, the song kept replaying within me. It was only later in the day that I suddenly recognized it, and instantly knew it had to have been my friend Steven singing in my dream his favourite psalm from the Psalter, Psalm 84.

O Lord of Hosts, how lovely Thy tabernacles are;
For them my heart is yearning In banishment afar.
My soul is longing, fainting, Thy sacred courts to see;
My heart and flesh are crying, O living God, for Thee.

So… that’s what is ever with me—the Lord’s song. In the daytime. In the nighttime. It may be a psalm, or a hymn, or one of the many songs in my years-long memory bank that I loved to sing when gathering together with others unto the Lord.

He came down from heaven to give life to the world. Very fittingly He was born in Bethlehem, “House of bread.” Insignificant Bethlehem, though “little among the thousands of Judah,” had upon it the eye of a God who loves the lowly. He had destined that “out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2 ASV). “Unto Me,” God assured. This ruler born in Bethlehem would be God’s own divinely ordained and anointed king who would never abdicate or be deposed, one to whom all peoples, beginning with the people of Israel, were to bow the knee. His birth would fulfill great hope in those who longed to see this Ruler and give Him from the heart His rightful allegiance; it would also fulfill great fear in those who above all else did not want to see this One come forth and reign. One of them, inspired by His Enemy, sought to do away with Him in His infancy but failed; others in the service of that same Enemy ultimately conspired to have Him crucified. They succeeded in that but failed in their purpose; to their everlasting confusion all they did was establish His throne. He reigns even yet. I for one came to a time in my life when I humbled myself and bowed my knees to Him. I still remember the moment. What happened then is best related in the words of my old friend, George Herbert (another of whose poems inspired the title of this weblog):

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

That is just what I did. I humbled myself, and accepted His loving invitation. I sat down at His table, and did eat—He Himself serving me.

He Himself serving me? Where are the words…

Broken Bread for a broken man

I needed to be broken before I was willing to receive this Bread. The Bread Himself needed to be broken before I could take Him in. Before being broken, that Bread remained outside of me. But now this Bread has been broken, and has come to me in a Form I am able to take in: now by His Spirit this Bread is within me. I needed only to open my heart; now this Bread is in my heart sustaining me daily; it is “bread that strengthens man’s heart” for whatever a day may bring (Ps. 104:15).

What Wonder-bread is this! Where I live people can buy bread with the brand name Wonderbread. It’s good bread, and will keep your physical body going for a while. But that’s all it can do. Man, in order to live, needs other bread than that. “I am,” says Jesus, “the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35). He says further:

I am the living bread, which came down from heaven. If anyone eat this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51 NKJV).

Live forever? It is the bread of eternal life, then. But, in fact, He said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have not life in you” (Jn. 6:53).

You have not life in you? It is the most serious statement of Scripture that no human being has Life in him or her apart from ingesting the living Bread, the Bread of life. Those who have eaten this Bread have life in them, eternal life, and therefore even while in mortal flesh have this promise:

Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6:54).

Wondrous and sure hope!

And so, as one who has taken and eaten this Bread, and continues to do so daily, I exhort you, dear reader, oh, if you have not done so, please, lay this to heart.

You have no Life in you except you eat this Bread. Eat this Bread, and live.

Eat this Bread, and you will soon be singing His song.

Please join me now in singing one of my favourite hymns—or hum along if you like—and I pray that, just as this hymn has become so meaningful to me, it will also become so to you, because you, along with me, no longer hold allegiance with those who feared when “the hopes and fears of all the years” were met of old in Bethlehem.

Alden, will you please lead for us?

…Here also, for those who would like to listen in, is the song I heard in my dream:

Disciples Of The Lily

And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him: and He opened His mouth, and taught them…

These words in the Gospel according to Matthew introduce us to what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. It’s clear that the multitudes as well as the disciples had followed Jesus up the mountain, for we read at the end of the sermon that “the multitudes were astonished at His teaching” (Mt. 7:28). But it was primarily to His disciples that Jesus was speaking. The word disciple means, simply, learner. He was the Teacher, the Rabbi, they the learners.

What is it that He was teaching them? What were they to learn? The answer to that question is to be found in asking the better question, “Who is it that they were to learn?”

For, when He opened His mouth and taught them, it was Himself that He was revealing to them—Himself—the Life of the ages. John the beloved was there at that time, and no doubt it was this scene on the mount, among many others, that he had in mind when many years later he wrote of the Word of life that they had heard and seen and looked upon and their hands had handled, the Life eternal that had been with the Father, and was manifested to them. One cannot help seeing Him seated there on that beautiful day with His disciples around Him sitting or reclining in the grass, the flowers of the field blooming round about them, the birds of the air flying above.

It was the One now seated before them who had created it all, object lessons of Himself, and, perhaps with a motion of His arm He draws their attention upward, then downward.

Behold the fowls of the air… Consider the lilies of the field…

The context of these words is about two kinds of slavery—the slavery of Mammon and the slavery of God. Mammon originally meant “that in which one puts his trust, his confidence” and came eventually to mean (is it any wonder in this materialistic world?) “money, possessions, material prosperity.”

Jesus is teaching His disciples the Life that is not slavery to Mammon, is not anxious nor burdened with its own security, but rather trusts in the faithfulness of a heavenly Father to provide all that is necessary, both earthly and spiritual, while being bondslaves to Him. It seems an incongruous thought—slavery to God? But that is the word Jesus uses. “Ye cannot serve-as-bondslaves God and Mammon.”

And so He tells them, “Therefore…” What a precious place to find that word. Let us heed it. “Therefore, be not anxious for your life…” That’s what being a bondslave of the living God is like. It is the Life that is free from care, unburdened with the cares of this life.

Therefore, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air…

What about the fowls of the air? This. They are not sowing and reaping and gathering into barns, intent upon making sure they have in hand what tomorrow will need. What then? What resource do they have? “Your heavenly Father feedeth them.”

Remember that old poem?

Said the robin to the sparrow,
“I would really like to know
Why those anxious human beings
rush around and worry so.”
Said the sparrow to the robin,
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
such as cares for you and me.”

It’s meant, of course, to remind us that we do have. And note that Jesus has said, “Your heavenly Father feedeth them.” Not their heavenly Father. The robin and the sparrow cannot call Him Father. The disciples of Jesus can. And will not this Father who feeds the fowls of the air feed His own children, and care for all their needs, whether earthly or spiritual? It is thus that they grow, not by “taking thought,” not by anxious care; they cannot by anxious care add so much as one cubit to their stature.

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow…

This is where Jesus calls His disciples to become disciples of the lilies of the field. The word consider comes from the same Greek root that the word disciple comes from. Consider also has the prefix kata, which is an intensifier, which is why Young’s Literal Translation has, “Consider well.” Thayer says it means “to learn thoroughly, to examine carefully, to consider well.”

Kata also has the idea down in it. This is likely why Halton’s Expanded Translation has:

Humble yourself, get right down on your elbows in the grass, and become a disciple of the lowly lilies of the field: recline at their feet, and learn from them, learn well from them, the secret of spiritual growth, the secret of the life that toils not, nor spins, yet because of that wondrous law of life within, they grow with a beauty that by comparison, Solomon in all His glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Now Jesus’ next word. “Wherefore…” Let us heed this one too:

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Much more? Wondrous words we are invited to trust, to believe. The lily in all its glory is clothed with a beautiful array that it does not spin for itself, does not toil to produce. It is God who so clothes it, putting within it a law of life that brings into being that beautiful raiment as the lily simply obeys that law of life. This is how it grows—simply by letting that law of life have its way, and trusting in its Creator to provide the needed sunlight, and water, and nutrients from the soil. Thus the lowly lily brings forth and displays an inimitable beauty that glorifies God, who created it for this very purpose—to glorify Him.

Shall He not much more clothe us, to the praise of His glory?

Help us, Jesus, help us to be no longer of little faith, but to fully believe you, and follow through on your counsel, and become disciples of the lily.

The Lamb Is My Shepherd

In the following devotional the personal pronoun “I” has been used. Dear reader, if you are one of the sheep of His pasture, you are invited to take this “I” unto yourself. If you are not one of the sheep of His pasture, oh, become one!

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 I have a loving Shepherd of my soul, who, when I had gotten myself very lost (as all we of Adam’s race do) went as far as a hill called Calvary to find me in a valley called Sin and Death.

My Shepherd had to die to come to me where I was—dead in trespasses and sins.

Then, the God of peace brought again from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep—my Lord Jesus Christ—in the blood of an everlasting covenant.

When He arose He brought me up with Him: He took me up in His arms and carried me in His bosom, and brought me out from that desolate valley into a green pasture called Resurrection Life, a high mountain pasture where, as the Lamb in the midst of the throne of God, He continues to shepherd me, by His Spirit leading me daily to fountains of living waters. I thirst no more. I hunger no more. I walk with Him daily in newness of life—His life. The blazing sun does not beat down upon me, nor any heat, for He who sits on the Throne has spread the shady Tabernacle of Himself over me.

This Lamb who gave Himself for me is my shepherd, the overseer of my soul. He watches over me daily, keeping me, protecting me from marauding lions and bears. He causes me to lie down in His green pastures of living truth. He leads me beside the waters of rest. Daily He restores my soul, provisioning me afresh with all I need to do His will, working in me what is wellpleasing in His sight.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His own Names’ sake.  Leads me, I say. For He Himself is ever with me. Yes, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death with evil about me on every hand, I fear no evil. For, now I am no longer a subject under the shadow, the domain, of King Death. My Lamb-Shepherd has redeemed me from that king, and now, just as the children of Israel lived securely “under the shadow” of their kings, I live under the shadow of the Anointed King Jesus, the breath of my nostrils, whose shadow is the reign of grace, of righteousness and peace, of life and light and liberty.

And so we walk together, my Shepherd and I, He leading, and I following, in the Pathway He has chosen for us through the valley of the shadow of death. No longer a resident here, I am just passing through.

My Shepherd King is with me. So I fear no evil. He has a rod and a staff, and they comfort me—the rod to deal with my enemies, or to correct me when I need it myself, and a staff that sustains me, holds me up.

He prepares a table before me in the very presence of my enemies, who, though they continue to roar and threaten, can no longer torment me with fear.

The head of my Shepherd-king is anointed with oil, and that oil flows down upon my head, making me a king too.

It is all too, too much. His cup, my cup, runs over.

My Shepherd the Lamb of God went as far as Calvary and the grave to seek out and find this lamb. What comfort—to continue to lean on Him and trust Him daily in every circumstance great or small. He—my Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd and Bishop of my soul, “has come into my circumstances with divine and tender love, making Himself acquainted with all the little details of my life; and He has brought me, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in endless life, into His own magnificent circumstances, where I enjoy the light of His countenance… where I am the delight of His heart.” (J.B. Stoney)

Now, instead of my enemies pursuing me relentlessly every day, His goodness and His mercy pursue me all the days of my life.

I shall be dwelling in the House of my Shepherd forever. I know and trust that as I do so, God will, in His time, wipe away each and every tear from my eyes.

(Psalm 23; Hebrews 13:20,21; 1 Peter 2:25; Revelation 7:15-17; Lamentations 4:20)

 

 

 

 

 

The Life That Killeth Death

The last few days I have been mourning the death of a friend.  Our friend Amanda, after a long fight with cancer, died a few days ago.

This was all the harder for many of us because we had been praying earnestly for Amanda, hoping she would be healed.  Yet our Lord did not heal her.  She died, leaving behind her a husband and twelve children… some so young they will never have known their mother.

I know few people who had the depth of faith this woman had.  On one occasion she made Job’s words her own:  “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  So let me repeat what I said, this time more accurately.  Our friend lost a battle with cancer.  But she won the victory of faith.  For, she held her faith in Jesus to the end.  She died in faith.

In fact (again more accurately) Amanda didn’t actually die.  She fell asleep in Jesus.  This is not just a euphemism.  This is the way the apostles referred to believers who had passed on (1 Cor. 15.6,18).

For, to those who believe in Jesus, the power of death has been broken.  Jesus Christ has “abolished death” (2 Tim. 1.10).  The word translated abolished is a very strong word in the Greek.  It is katargeo, which is made up of three parts: kata-a-ergeo.  Kata is a prefix which is often used as an intensifier.  This is followed by a, which in the Greek is the negative (as in a-theist).  And then the stem ergeo, which means to work.  And so Paul proclaims that what Jesus Christ did on Calvary’s cross resulted in death being made totally unable to work.  For those who believe in Jesus, death totally does not work; death absolutely does not work anymore, is of no effect anymore… for those who believe in Jesus.

And Paul goes on to say that this is something that the Gospel is supposed to make manifest—not just tell us about, but actually make manifest.  Christ has “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Tim.1.10).

So… this is the shape my mourning has taken the last few days.  Yes, I mourn for my sister, but more than that, I am mourning for the reality of this powerful Gospel—the Good News that manifests, that shines forth as light, the victory of Christ at Calvary.  Those who know the Good News ought to be walking in a Life that is totally triumphant over the whole kingdom of sin and death.  Is that the case with you?  With me?

Just today the lines of the poem that inspired the title for my blog came again to mind:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.

(The Call by George Herbert, 1593-1633)

What’s this—a life that killeth death?  It’s ingrained in our thinking that death always triumphs over life, that death kills life.  And so we fear death.  But no, there is a Life that kills death, a Life that triumphs over death…

…Because it is a Life that leads in the Pathway of the Cross.  Jesus, walking in the Pathway of Life… this Pathway led Him to the Cross, where He accomplished the greatest thing that has ever happened in the universe.

He Hell in hell laid low;
Made sin, He sin o’erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death by dying slew.

Samuel Whitlock Gandy, 1780-1851

What paradoxes.  The Lord Jesus Christ manifested the Life “that killeth death.”  This Life led Him to the Cross, where He “death by dying slew.”  Eternal paradoxes.  And entirely scriptural.  By dying, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ destroyed (there’s that same word again, katargeo) him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil (Heb. 2.14).  He slew the Devil with His own weapon (as David did Goliath), and delivered those who “through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

For, He became sin for us—He who knew no sin.  And that is what causes death—sin. It’s there in the whole family of Adam, from the tiny baby to the ancient man.  Sin.  The poison of sin is at work in the whole family of Adam.  It’s the sting of death.  “The sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15.56).  In other words, when somebody sins they have been stung by death.  Sin is the sting of death.  But Jesus took the sting out of death.  He became sin for us—your sin and mine—and died, taking sin down into the grave with Him.  He died unto sin.  He died for our sins.  He died for our sins—and rose again for our justification.  What a revelation!  Paul says that if Christ has not risen from the dead, “your faith is vain (futile), ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15.17).  The implication is that if Christ is risen from the dead (and He is), we are not in our sins.  If Christ is risen from the dead, this is evidence that the sting of death (sin) has been removed, and so we who believe in Him are no more in our sins.  And, therefore, what hold can death have on us?  And so Paul concludes:

Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15.57).

What is that victory?  Yes, it’s the triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary.  But thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s what the Gospel is all about—or ought to be.  It ought to be a shining forth in our lives of the truth and victory that Christ wrought at Calvary, and which enables us to walk in Life even as He Himself walked.

I have to say that this is all too often not the case among us Christians, and so, as I said, I have been mourning for this.  I believe that if the Life of Jesus were more the reality we are walking in, my friend Amanda would still be with us.  I simply cannot accept that the present state of worldliness and weakness and sickness that is plaguing the churches is the will of God.

However, I know that my friend Amanda died in faith, and so, regardless what death seems still able to accomplish, it is faith that triumphs.  Death may be boasting over yet another of its victims, but faith has the last word.  For even though we see not yet the final victory over this the last enemy, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Heb. 11.1).  Yes, the world is full of sin and sickness and death.  But faith is the victory.

…This is the victory that overcame the world, our faith (1 Jn. 5.4).

And this is why Amanda is not dead.  She is asleep… and waiting to be awakened.

See you later, Amanda.

Here is George Herbert’s The Call set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

No Leftovers

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When outlining to the Israelites God’s provision for their deliverance from Egypt, Moses told them they were to apply the blood of the Passover lamb to the side posts and lintel of the doors of their houses.  This would be their protection when the Destroyer went through the land of Egypt slaying every firstborn of man and beast.

This event is the basis upon which Christians claim their salvation by the blood of Christ, whom the apostle Paul calls “our Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7).  In the New Testament, much emphasis is placed on the blood of Christ by which we are saved, and rightly so.

John calls us to give all glory “to Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5).

Peter reminds us that we were not redeemed with corruptible things like gold or silver from our futile way of life, “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pt. 1:19).

Paul also emphasizes the redemption that is ours through Christ, “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” Eph. 1:7).  Paul surely has the Passover in mind when he teaches that, “much more then, being justified by His blood we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom.5:9).

But important as this is, let us remember that in addition to this application of the blood to the doorposts of their houses, Moses gave two other injunctions which the people were to keep. (See Exodus Ch. 12).

They were to keep a feast of unleavened bread seven days.

And the same night in which they applied the blood of the Passover lamb to their doorposts with hyssop, they were to remain in their houses and eat that same lamb.

What is more, they were told there were to be no leftovers.  If any of the lamb remained till the next morning, they were to burn it.

All these aspects of the Passover are significant; not one can be neglected.  I say significant—meaning they were signs pointing to a greater reality.  The blood we have already touched on.  The unleavened bread speaks of a walk “in sincerity and truth,” as Paul explains (1 Cor. 5:8).  We must be genuine; we must walk the talk, or we do despite to the blood of Christ and the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29).

And we must partake of this Lamb.  Applying the blood does not stand alone and will not produce a working salvation in the person who is not also taking up the cross and sharing this Lamb’s sufferings.  Those who think they have been saved by the blood of the Lamb, but who then give themselves to life in this world and evade His sufferings… they are deceiving themselves.

The Passover lamb was to be roasted in fire and thus eaten; it could not be eaten raw, or boiled in water.  It had to be touched by fire, “his head with his legs, and with the purtenance (the innards) thereof” (Ex. 12:9).  That is to say, both inside and out, this lamb had to go into the fire.  And the Israelites were to partake of this lamb.

So with us.  This must become our own diet, too.  The fires of the Cross must become our own Christian experience—inside and out.

And we must see this for what it is—the highest of privileges.

For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29).

The word given here has the thought of a gracious privilege.  We aren’t seeing right when we view the cross in our lives as an unwanted burden, and take it up reluctantly, with heavy heart.  We must, as it were, cultivate a taste for Lamb.

We must partake of the Lamb.  And we must do so today… or should I say tonight—that is, during this time of darkness our world is now enshrouded in.  Christians the world over are suffering with the Lamb of God in this night… and are longing for morning.

That morning is nigh at hand.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand.

What about you and me?  For, when that day dawns… when morning comes, resurrection morning… it will be too late to share in Christ’s sufferings anymore.  Too late.

And those who have not suffered with the Lamb of God will have wasted their lives in this world.

Keep The Feast Of Tabernacles

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A few days ago I had not spent the necessary time waiting, seeking, praying, till I had the assurance of the Presence of the Lord in my heart before venturing into my day. And so I suffered most of the day with a troubled heart.  Yes, I know, foolish me.  At the same time I know it’s not always foolishness; these are increasingly difficult days; we are up against Egypt and Babylon—a world system built from the ground up to shut God out.  But when I could endure it no longer I finally found a quiet place and bowed my head and opened my heart to my Lord.  I am so thankful for His mercy.  It was not long before His Presence seeped into my heart and washed out the troubles.  And He began to speak to me.  Oh, the preciousness of hearing His Voice again!  I am sure He could hear mine—the troubled bleating of one of His sheep who had temporarily lost his way.  But as soon as I heard the Voice of my Shepherd I had my bearings again; I knew where I was, and where I was going—that is, where I was being led.

Oh the assurance, the comfort, of His Voice!  And instead of the troubles I found these words in my heart—“Keep the feast of tabernacles.”  I knew immediately this was a reminder, for it was a word He had spoken into my heart many years ago.

When the children of Israel returned from their Babylonian captivity in the days of Nehemiah they discovered in the book of the law that they were to keep the feast of tabernacles—Succoth, or Booths—in the seventh month.  This is something they could not do in the land of their captivity; it was to be kept in their own land in the place God designated.

Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty (Dt. 16:16).

That’s a promise—that they would not appear before Him empty—and the place was of course Jerusalem, the city God had chosen for His temple, His dwelling place.  And so here in Nehemiah we find the children of Israel who have returned from the Babylonian captivity gathering together in Jerusalem in the seventh month.

Let’s quickly review the events.  On the first day of the month—the day of the sounding of trumpets that initiates the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:24)—Nehemiah read from the book of the law, and the Levites with him “gave the sense” (Neh. 8:8).  That is, they caused the people to understand what was written.  This is the true significance of the feast of trumpets—the sounding forth of the word of the Lord in a way that opens the understanding to what is hidden in the letter of precept and prophecy.

It’s interesting to note, by the way, that when Nehemiah gives the names of the Levites who are standing with him, six are on his right and seven on his left, making fourteen altogether.  In other words, as a friend pointed out to me once, Nehemiah himself was not in the centre here.  Who was in the centre, then?  It’s a beautiful picture of corporate leadership in the church, in which no one man, but Christ Himself, is always to be in the centre.

There is much in this passage and we can’t cover it all here.  For one thing, there is no mention of the Day of Atonement, which is the very heart of the feast of tabernacles.  Not that they bypassed this day—as many have done in our day.  This is what accounts for the great uncleanness in much of the present-day feasting in the Charismatic realm.  People have wanted to keep the Feast without keeping the Fast (as the Day of Atonement was called.)  But to celebrate the feast of tabernacles without first keeping the fast of the Day of Atonement is a recipe for deception.  Without being broken before the Lord in great repentance and sorrow at the foot of the Cross…  without apprehending His atonement for sin… without His cleansing… no wonder the feasting of our day is so unholy and shallow and full of all manner of uncleanness and carnality. “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep,” cries James.  “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness” (Jas. 4:9).

This is what happened in Nehemiah’s day; there was great repentance when the people discovered what God called for in His Law.  The people mourned.  God’s reaction to their mourning?  He rejoiced to see it!  (In our day the reverse is true: the carnal rejoicing fills Him with sorrow.)  But then God in turn told the people to dry their tears and make His joy their own.  Don’t weep any further, He told them, “For the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).

And so in accordance with the newly-discovered Law, the people now went forth “unto the mount,” and gathered branches:

…olive branches, and pine (wild olive) branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.
So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.
And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so.  And there was very great gladness (Neh. 8:15-17).

I believe we have here a beautiful prophetic picture that is fulfilled in the city of God, the bride of Christ, the church.  With the help of the Holy Spirit we lift up our eyes from this Old Testament passage and see in the day of Christ the people of God gathered together as one.  They have come together from all places where they have been scattered among the denominations, have come together in the new Jerusalem the city of God to keep the longed-for feast, the great feast, the feast of tabernacles.  They are one in the Spirit with no doctrinal or denominational divisions.  They are dwelling together in unity, and their Lord is dwelling with them.  Not that they are all together in one huge building; they are dwelling in booths—little arbours of branches entwined together.  Succoth in fact comes from a root meaning “to entwine.”  It is a beautiful picture of the humble little fellowships the Lord has in mind for His people in the City of God.  A few “branches” are knit together in love, their lives are intertwined with one another… and with the life of the Man “whose name is The Branch” (Zech. 6:12).  He Himself is dwelling with them.  He is their tabernacle, and they are His tabernacle.

Israel was to commemorate this feast annually as a reminder of the day they came out of Egypt.

Ye shall dwell in booths seven days… that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God (Lev. 23:42,43).

When they came out of Egypt this was actually the name of their first encampment in the wilderness—Succoth, or Booths (Ex. 12:37, Num. 33.5).  They had left all behind; the little booth of branches was all they had now.  In the same breath, nothing else had a hold on them either!  They were no longer slaves, they were free!  Their God had liberated them from the iron furnace, from Egyptian bondage, from the servitude of building Pharaoh’s treasure cities.  They had left all the security of Egypt behind them for a flimsy booth of branches… and their God!

And so here in the days of Nehemiah the people are keeping the feast of tabernacles once again.  Do you see them—multitudes of rejoicing people camping in these little arbours of branches?  Wherever you look, there they are—in the streets of Jerusalem and in the courts of the house of the Lord and on the rooftops of their houses…  They are detached from it all—from their homes, their possessions, their jobs, their troubles, their cares, their fears….  Oh, but what about this, Lord?  What about that?  No, He says, you just keep the feast of tabernacles.  I’ll look after all that.

You touch the beauty of it and suddenly your breath catches in your throat.  There is a secret here.  A shelter of branches, so insecure, so weak… yet you are touching immeasurable strength and provision.  A flimsy shelter of branches…  and you are canopied under the eternal God.  The branches intertwined with one another speak of the corporate relationship, the individual branches themselves of the abiding relationship.  It’s a picture of the Christ-life, really, which we are to know both individually and corporately, the beautiful life of Christ Himself, the Life of the ages, which was with the Father and was manifested to us, the Life that is more than meat and raiment, the life that is free from the bondage of sin… and from the shackles of this present evil world, the life that is free from all the things that the Gentiles seek, “free from corroding care,” free to walk with God and worship Him in Spirit and in truth—at all times and in all circumstances.

It is the life free from the troubles and entanglements and cares of this world even while we are yet in the midst of them, the Life into which we ourselves have been immersed because of the Holy Spirit.  We become mingled with one another, and with the Son of God Himself.  Jesus promised this would be the result of the sending forth of His Spirit, saying, “At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you” (Jn. 14:20).  (Note well the plural here: “at that day ye shall know… ye in me, and I in you…”  If Christ is in me and in my brother as well, there can be no more division between us than there is between Father and Son.)

This, of course, is something that was inaugurated at Pentecost; Jesus had in mind the sending of the Spirit when He said this.  “At that day ye shall know…”  But Pentecost is “the earnest of the Spirit,” the pledge, the guarantee, that is given us assuring a redemption, a great fullness yet to come (Eph. 1:13,14; 4:30).  Pentecost is the feast of firstfruits (Ex. 23:16).  There is a greater harvest yet to come—“the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year.”  The feast of tabernacles.  So Paul (I believe referring to the pentecostal baptism) speaks of having “the firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23).  This is the guarantee of a great harvest yet to come, a festival of unbridled joy when the purposes of God in Christ and the church have come to ultimate fullness.

Nehemiah says that this feast had not been celebrated with such joy since the days when the Israelites first took the land in the days of Joshua—an interval of something like nine hundred years.  There were times in the days of the kings when it was observed, but apparently nothing like this.  I wonder if this, too, isn’t prophetic of the church.  Passover we know, and Pentecost we know.  Where is the feast of Tabernacles?  Yes I agree, the truths of the feast of tabernacles have been applicable to the whole church age; all through the history of the church there have been those who kept aspects of this feast… in a measure.  But I believe that now we are entering a time of fullness, and we are going to see a mighty outpouring of the Spirit, and we are going to see our Great Shepherd move His mighty arm and gather His lambs to His bosom and deliver them from all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.  I believe we are going to see these little “booths” of the feast of tabernacles springing up all over the land.  It is the City of God coming down out of Heaven from God.  The New Jerusalem.  And a great Voice says:

Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them… (Rev. 21:3).

He will tabernacle with them, the original says.  It’s the same word John used when he said, “The word was made flesh, and dwelt (tabernacled) among us…” (Jn. 1:14).   But God dwelling in His Son… this was in anticipation of the day when He would tabernacle not just in the one Man, but in a whole City of men—the bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem, the church.  Oh, the wonder of it all!  How our God has longed with great longings to keep this feast!

This is why some Christians these days are feeling they have outgrown their clothes, as it were.  The way they have done church for so long just doesn’t fit anymore.  Something in their heart is longing for more room.  It’s causing great alarm among those who consider this a threat to the old order and want it preserved.  But what is happening is of God.  He has something so much larger for His people—and for Himself.  That’s why some are being drawn to become intertwined with a few others in these little “booths.”  Didn’t I just say, larger?  How is this larger—little booths?  Gathering in a little booth like this seems very small when most are flocking to the mega-churches of our day.

But mark my words; these little booths are going to multiply.  These little booths by the thousands in the streets of the City of God all over the land—this is the only vessel large enough, compatible enough, to contain the glory of the Lord.

I’ve Found Gold!

Back in the 1600s when modern science was still in the cradle, alchemists devoted themselves to the pursuit of something they called the philosopher’s stone.  They were sure there was such a thing, and if they could just discover it, they would be able to transform base metals into gold.  Alchemists also experimented attempting to find the elixir, which to drink (they just knew) would keep them eternally young.

We who are arguably wiser now know that this is impossible, but it was exciting science back in those days.  If only they could discover how to turn a more common metal, say iron or lead, into gold.  Suddenly the rocks around them would make them rich!  Or this fleeting little life locked in to decay… if only they could discover the magic potion that reverses the inevitable.

And so everyone was talking about this back in the 1600s.  Would one of these alchemists actually find the philosopher’s stone or the elixir of life?  It was exciting to think so in a time when very few people lived into their 60s.  However, an Anglican rector by the name of George Herbert who knew and loved the Lord realized he had already found this stone, this elixir.  Herbert made it the subject of one of his poems, which were published after he died at age 40.  (Some might remember that a line from one of Herbert’s poems, The Call, inspired the title for this blog—A Mending Feast.)

Here is the poem, The Elixir.  It’s a little difficult for the modern ear; if you’re like me, it’ll take a few readings to mine out the riches in it.  But first, a few definitions that will bring Herbert’s use of the English language up to date.

Rude:  primitive, coarse, unthinking, like a brute beast

Prepossessed:  to be preoccupied with, to make something of exclusive concern

Tincture:  dye, stain

Mean:  ignoble, base

Now the poem.

The Elixir

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see;
And what I do in any thing,
To do it as for Thee;

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossess’d
And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.

All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—“For Thy sake”—
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
Makes that, and th’ action, fine.

This is the famous stone,
That turneth all to gold;
For that, which God doth touch and own,
Cannot for less be told.

Is this not a wondrous find?  To borrow a favourite phrase of our Lord’s, He that hath ears, let him hear. There is an elixir that transforms drudgery into the divine.  It is found in doing all things as unto the Lord.  Let me not be rushing through life preoccupied with its needs and chores, harnessed to them like an unthinking beast that knows nothing beyond earthly things.  Let me be preoccupied with God in it all, and give my best to Him.

Yes, we can focus our attention on the window pane of life taking note of the streaks in it, and the smudges.  But it’s a bit strange that someone stands before a window looking no further than the pane.  We can look through that and see the heavens revealed.  The base things, the mean things of life, the “servant” things… we need not chafe at these.  I know, we’d all like to leave that to others while we ourselves get on with what we know we were cut out for in this life—being kings and queens.  But—what does God know that I don’t?—inevitably there is something before me that means I must stoop to being a servant.  I am not free to do my own thing, I must obey… someone else.  But God adds a clause in that law—Do it unto the Lord—that makes the doing of it something royal, something refined.

When our lot in life is “mean” things, base things, this is the transforming elixir that makes those very things heavenly.  This tincture, this dye—“For Thy sake”—causes all that is colourless to shine with new luster.  This is the stone that, since God is now involved, the most humbling things can only rightly be told (accounted) as gold.

I like that very much.  This transforms not only the disagreeable duties of life, but the whole of life itself.  Take my own life, for example.  What a plain, ordinary, bland, boring life I live. If I ever wrote my autobiography it would be a bargain-bin book for sure.

Except for one thing… and oh for eyes to see this always!  I’ve found a Stone… and He’s turned my life to gold!  Yes, all the troubles and afflictions, too!  It’s all gold!

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