Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16
The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant. Psalm 25:14
Vol. 16, No. 8 Straight and Narrow August 2007
“Consider the lilies how they grow: they
toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these (Luke 12:27).”
Hearkening to the Prophets
Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper (2 Chronicles 20:20).”
One of the greatest gifts that God has given to his people is the gift of prophecy. While Seventh-day Adventists recognize this gift especially in the last days, we find it mentioned throughout the Bible. Furthermore, we are amazed to see that the prosperity or despair of God’s people rises and falls with their submission to the messages God sends by his prophets.
I would like to look at some Bible examples that illustrate this truth and see what lessons we can learn from them, for we are told: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come (1 Corinthians 10:11).”
Our first example centers around two kings who lived contemporaneously. Jehoshaphat was one of the more notable kings of the southern kingdom of Judah and Ahab was arguably the most important king over the northern tribes of Israel. At the time they reigned, the kingdom had been split up for only a few generations. Originally, Israel was a united monarchy under first Saul; then David; Solomon; and, for just a very short time, Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. As a united kingdom, Israel only had four kings, and you may remember the story of Rehoboam’s consideration during the early part of his reign of how to best rule his people. His leading advisors were young and not very wise and they told him to whip the people into line. He followed their advice, but the people rebelled against him and the kingdom was divided. A few generations later, Jehoshaphat and Ahab were crowned kings. Let us now look at a specific event that occurred between them to see if we cannot draw some lessons from them. In 1 Kings 16 we read about Omri:
In the thirty and first year of Asa king of Judah began Omri to reign over Israel, twelve years: six years reigned he in Tirzah. And he bought the hill Samaria of Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of Shemer, owner of the hill, Samaria (1 Kings 16:23, 24).
Who was Omri?
But Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the LORD, and did worse than all that were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin, to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger with their vanities. Now the rest of the acts of Omri which he did, and his might that he shewed, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? So Omri slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria: and Ahab his son reigned in his stead (vs. 25-28).
Omri was the father of Ahab! No one before Omri had been as wicked as Omri had been, but then Ahab began to rule. You have heard the proverb, “Like father, like son.” Well, Ahab was more wicked than even his father had been:
And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah began Ahab the son of Omri to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat… (vs. 29-31).
The sins of Jeroboam alluded to involved idolatry, which is an abomination to God. It is a hideous sin, but the Bible says as if Jeroboam’s idolatry was not bad enough, Ahab did something even worse:
And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him (v. 31).
God says as bad as the sins of Jeroboam were, as bad as the sins of Omri were, and as bad as the fact that Ahab was walking in the sins of Jeroboam, he did something even worse. He married Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, King of the Zidonians. The name Ethbaal means with Baal. The Zidonians appear to have lived a luxurious, reckless life (Jud xviii:7); they were skillful in hewing timber (1 Ki v:6), and were employed for this purpose by Solomon. They were idolaters, and worshipped Ashtoreth as their tutelary goddess (1Ki xi:5, 33; 2Ki xxiii:13), as well as the sun-god Baal, from whom their king was named (1Ki xvi:31) (Smiths Revised Bible Dictionary, Software Edition, reference #6192).”
Jezebel was extremely influential in Ahab’s life. Those of us familiar with the stories of Ahab and Jezebel know that even though Ahab had the title of king, Jezebel was the controlling power. Notice what the Bible says:
And he [Ahab] reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him (1 Kings 16:32, 33).
With Jezebel’s encouragement, Ahab planted a grove for Baal because Baal supposedly dwelled in the holy trees. The name Jezebel means “Baal exalts” or “Baal is husband to.”
Ahab had begun to reign when Asa, Jehoshaphat’s father, was king of Judah and then reigned contemporaneously with Jehoshaphat. Notice some of the things the Bible mentions about Jehoshaphat:
And Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his stead, and strengthened himself against Israel And he placed forces in all the fenced cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land of Judah, and in the cities of Ephraim, which Asa his father had taken. And the LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; But sought to the LORD God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel. Therefore the LORD stablished the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honour in abundance (2 Chronicles 17:1-5).
The Bible paints quite a contrast between Jehoshaphat and Ahab. We are told that because of Jehoshaphat’s integrity, God greatly blessed him. Prosperity seemed to follow Jehoshaphat and all that he did. Why? Because Jehoshaphat tried to exalt the worship of Jehovah. In verses 6-9 of 2 Chronicles 17 we read that he appointed governors, princes, and priests to go throughout Judah: “And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the LORD with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people (v. 9).” So, Jehoshaphat not only tried to bring about a religious reform among the people in their worship, but he also tried to bring about educational reform. He successfully sent leading representatives to different cities throughout the kingdom to teach the people about God. “And the fear of the LORD fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah, so that they made no war against Jehoshaphat (v. 10).” When Jehoshaphat tried to live righteously, it affected the whole nation. Jehoshaphat’s policies and the dedication he had to God served as a protective wall of fire around the cities in Judah. “For I, saith the LORD, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her (Zechariah 2:5).”
Even though the surrounding nations may have been stronger militarily, God put a fear on the other nations that they would not attack Judah though they might have felt she could easily have been overcome. We know that early in his reign, Jehoshaphat tried to suppress the idolatry that was happening in Judah. He later rooted out the Sodomites that were in Judah. He tried to cast down the idols. He also fortified the fenced cities. He did a great work, but there is one thing that Jehoshaphat did that was a gigantic mistake. Do you remember who was king after Jehoshaphat? His son, Jehoram, and Jehoram’s wife was Athaliah. Where did she happen to come from? She was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel.
Some years after coming to the throne, Jehoshaphat, now in the height of his prosperity, consented to the marriage of his son Jehoram to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. By this union there was formed between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel an alliance which was not in the order of God, and which in times of crises brought disaster to the king of Judah and to many of his subjects (The Review & Herald, December 25, 1913).
This marriage was personally arranged by Jezebel to carry out her own plans:
She arranged a marriage between her daughter Athaliah and Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat. She knew that her daughter, brought up under her guidance and as unscrupulous as herself, would carry out her designs (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 1038).”
Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab (2 Chronicles 18:1). The Hebrew word chathan, translated “affinity,” means to join together by marriage. This background helps to explain something that is recorded in chapter 18.
And after certain years he [Jehoshaphat] went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him [As we shall see, he evidently had his army with him.] and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramothgilead (v. 2). Jehoshaphat agreed to go to war with Ahab. Jehoshaphat in a moment of weakness had rashly promised to join the king of Israel in his war against the Syrians (Prophets and Kings, p. 195). (All emphasis in this article is supplied unless otherwise noted.) However, before they decided to go to war, Jehoshaphat suggested they call the prophets in and inquire of Jehovah. Please remember that when you read the term LORD, using capital letters, in the King James version of the Bible it signifies the divine name, which some believe should be written Jehovah, Yahweh, or in some other way. The point I wish to emphasis is that it refers to the divine name of the Creator. It is not the same as the Hebrew word adown, translated Lord (ord in lower case). The significance of this can be seen as we continue in the account: And Jehoshaphat said unto the king of Israel, Enquire, I pray thee, at the word of the LORD to day (v. 4). Jehoshaphat is not speaking about just any Lord. In fact, Baal means lord, but Jehoshaphat is not speaking about Ahab’s lord, Baal. He is speaking about Jehovah. Jehoshaphat is saying, “Shouldn’t we inquire of Jehovah?” “Therefore the king of Israel gathered together of prophets four hundred men (v. 5).” Do you think Ahab’s prophets were prophets of Jehovah? No, they were not, and I can assure you that Jezebel would have made sure they were not. Ahab and Jezebel had 850 prophets of Baal and prophets of the grove before this. They met Elijah at the brook Kishon and Elijah did not have any sympathy for them, but somewhere between that time and this story (about seventeen years later), four hundred more prophets had been raised up and no doubt were eating at the queen’s table. “Therefore the king of Israel gathered together of prophets four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall we go to Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for God will deliver it into the king’s hand. But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him (vs. 5, 6)?”
Notice that the word LORD is in all capital letters. Jehoshaphat realized that these prophets were not the prophets of Jehovah and that he could not trust them because they did not worship the true God. “And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always evil: the same is Micaiah the son of Imla. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so (vs. 7, 8).”
They sent an envoy to get Micaiah and the envoy told him, “Listen, when they bring you before the kings, you speak only what the king wants to hear.” But Micaiah said, “As the LORD liveth, even what my God saith, that will I speak (v. 13).” And, while the envoy is gone, one of the prophets of Baal, “Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah had made him horns of iron, and said, Thus saith the LORD, With these thou shalt push Syria until they be consumed (v. 10).” They were going to tell this king exactly what he wanted to hear, even invoking the name of Jehovah: “And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramothgilead, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king (v. 11).” “And when he [Micaiah] was come to the king, the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go to Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And he said, Go ye up, and prosper, and they shall be delivered into your hand (v. 14).” There must have been something about the manner that Micaiah said these words, for Ahab could tell he was receiving sarcasm from the prophet:
And the king said to him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou say nothing but the truth to me in the name of the LORD? Then he said, I did see all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master; let them return therefore every man to his house in peace. And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would not prophesy good unto me, but evil (2 Chronicles 18:15-17)?
Now, at first did he tell the king anything different than the prophets of Baal had said? No. As we noted, he said the same thing, but there must have been something in the way Micaiah spoke, perhaps a little bit of mockery, that Ahab knew he was not telling him the full story. Then Micaiah told him the truth: “You are not going to win; you should not go; and it is wrong to go.” Jehoshaphat was seated with Ahab and heard all of this. What should Jehoshaphat have done at this point? He should have listened to the warning of the prophet and quickly returned to Jerusalem, but he did not. Ahab ordered, “Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I return in peace (v. 26).” Micaiah responded: “If thou certainly return in peace, then hath not the LORD spoken by me (v. 27).” But, of course, he was a prophet and God did speak through him.
The next thing we see happening in the story is something that seems very elementary. Jehoshaphat must have been blind by this point because when you do something, friends, that you know is wrong, it is a little harder to have good discernment right after it. Jehoshaphat agreed to go with Ahab and take the soldiers of Judah with him, but Ahab had an idea. “And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, I will disguise myself, and will go to the battle; but put thou on thy robes. So the king of Israel disguised himself; and they went to the battle (v. 29).” He said, “I am going to take off my royal robes and you only wear your robes out to the battle.” Now, this battle was mainly with the king of Israel and the king of Syria. Who was the king of Syria looking for? Ahab. How would you recognize a king on a battlefield amidst all the chariots and the soldiers? What would you look for? You would look for the kingly robes, and who was wearing the kingly robes? Jehoshaphat!
“Now the king of Syria had commanded the captains of the chariots that were with him, saying, Fight ye not with small or great, save only with the king of Israel. And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, It is the king of Israel. Therefore they compassed about him to fight: but Jehoshaphat cried out (2 Chronicles 18:30, 31).” Despite the fact that he allowed his son to marry the daughter of Ahab, despite the fact that he made an agreement to go to war with Ahab without consulting with the Lord, despite the fact that even after the prophet told him he should not go, he still cries out to Jehovah and in mercy God hears him. If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it is that God looks at our lives as a whole, friends, and he does not allow one or two mistakes that we make along the way to permanently cripple us if our heart is toward him. God gave to Jehoshaphat, as it were, another probation. Jehoshaphat had done many wonderful things that God was pleased with, but it was not because God put Jehoshaphat’s good works on one side of a balance scale and his bad deed or two on the other side and saw more good works that counteracted this bad deed. That is not the way God works. God knew Jehoshaphat’s heart and he knew that his heart was to do the right thing. His deeds merely represented what was in his heart as a whole.
In his alliance with Ahab, Jehoshaphat made some mistakes and he was not wise, especially in allowing his son to marry Athaliah, but even when he went to battle, the Lord still did not forsake him when Jehoshaphat called upon him. So, when we get into trouble, and sometimes it can be very self-induced trouble and not the Lord’s will for us to be where we are at, if we will sincerely cry out unto him and if our hearts are truly towards God as Jehoshaphat’s was, he will hear our prayers and he will deliver us. That is what he did for Jehoshaphat. The Bible says:
And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, It is the king of Israel. Therefore they compassed about him to fight: but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him; and God moved them to depart from him. For it came to pass, that, when the captains of the chariots perceived that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back again from pursuing him (2 Chronicles 18:31, 32).
The Syrians saw Jehoshaphat was not the king of Israel, and they left, for whatever reason, because God moved upon them to do so. Maybe God helped them to recognize that Jehoshaphat was not Ahab, but regardless of whatever way it specifically happened, it is clear that God expressly intervened on Jehoshaphats account, and God will intervene in like manner in our individual personal lives in the things that happen to us. That is encouraging for me because sometimes we read stories in the Bible about how God worked for Israel, but God realizes that Israel is made up of many, many people. As we say in mathematics, the sum is equal to the total of the parts. Gods church is composed of his people and he cares for and lovingly watches over them. It is made up of all of us as individuals. God is no respecter of persons. We might think, Well, Jehoshaphat was king of Judah. Friends, we might be the lowly plumber, we might be the lowest of the low on the worlds totem pole, but if our hearts are like Jehoshaphats heart, especially when he began to reign and then after this situation, then in Gods eyes, we are a king. But ye are a chosen generation, aroyal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9).” Peter tells us that we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood. God has called us all to have a kingly state and a kingly position and he will treat us just as well as he treated Jehoshaphat. He will hear our prayer just like he heard Jehoshaphat’s in time of need.
There is another thought to consider. Earths history is almost over. If there was ever a time as a people we need to be ready, it is now. We need to have our lives together in every way possible. When my children were younger we would go camping, but it seemed that inevitably every year we would forget a sleeping bag, the lighter for the camp stove, extra clothing, or something else, and we would have to do without or buy what was needed while on the road. Sometimes we were not very well prepared, especially when we first started camping, but we always had a good time and it was fun, even the times we got wet in the rain. In the end time, however, as Christians we cannot be unprepared like that. We are coming up to a time that we have to be totally prepared for, and to be totally prepared means to be prepared in every aspect. Jehoshaphat did not have his life fully prepared at the time of the incident in chapter 18. There were still issues that he had not learned to fully give to God and trust God for, or he had not learned to keep his mind focused and fixed at all times upon the divine. We may not have the second or third chances that God sometimes gave these men, who were good men in many respects. We are here at the end and we need to have everything together now. Jesus never said get ready. He said, Be ye therefore ready (Luke 12:40). We need to make our calling and election sure and seek God with all of our hearts now, not thinking this is a work that we can do at some later time because if we wait that time will not come. It will be too late and then woe unto us because there will be a group of people that will say to Jesus in the end time, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works (Matthew 7:22)?” These people seem to have done wonderful works, but Jesus is going to tell them, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (v. 23).” I suppose those will be the saddest words that ever fall upon mortal ears, but this does not have to be true for us. From today on, let us purpose in our hearts that in every step and on every path along the way that, when the word of the Lord comes to us like it came to Jehoshaphat through the prophet Micaiah, we will listen and we will be obedient to it.
In Acts 6:7 it says that a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. The word obedient in the Greek is upakouw (hupakouo) and it means literally to hear and come under. Now, sometimes we hear things. We might tell our children to do something and if they disobey we might say, Didnt you hear me? Or we might give the child the command to listen when we know that they can physically hear us. What we are really saying is that we want the child to do what they hear. That same concept is in Acts 6:7. They not only heard the word of God but they came under it. They submitted to it and that is what we need to do. Jehoshaphat only heard the prophet. He did not come under it at that point.
During the battle against Syria, Ahab received a mortal wound and died, but Jehoshaphat’s life was spared and he returned to Judah.
And Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned to his house in peace to Jerusalem. And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD. Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God (2 Chronicles 19:1-3).
The prophet gave Jehoshaphat quite a rebuke, but nevertheless God knew that his heart was turned towards him and he spared Jehoshaphat. With renewed appreciation of God’s goodness and mercy, Jehoshaphat began further reforms. You can read about his additional reforms in verses 4 through 11.
The next thing we find happening, apparently that same year or very close thereafter, is that Judah was threatened with invasion by the children of Moab, the children of Ammon, and the children of Mount Seir. According to 2 Chronicles 17:10, God had placed a fear upon the inhabitants around Judah and they would not attack Jerusalem, but when Jehoshaphat made an alliance to go to war with the wicked Ahab and failed to listen to the prophet, God withdrew that protection. When Ahab went to fight Syria, he was not compelled to fight, he was not on the defensive; but now the enemies are knocking on Jehoshaphat’s door. Jehoshaphat is not in a position of having an option. Something has to be done. Ahab is not around anymore. Ahaziah, his son, has succeeded him in the northern kingdom, but does Jehoshaphat look there for help? NO! He now looks to Jehovah. “And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah (2 Chronicles 20:3).” Who participated in this fast? “And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children (v. 13).” They knew that their lives were on the line and they prepared their hearts to seek God. Jehoshaphat, on behalf of himself and the people, prays:
And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, And said, O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee? Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever (2 Chronicles 20:5-7)?
He prays, “Here are the children of Moab, Ammon, and Mount Seir. When the children of Israel came into the promised land, you would not let us attack them but now see how they reward us?” In verse 12 we read: “O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee.” God could put his eyes upon them because the Bible says “the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him (2 Chronicles 16:9).” God could bless Jehoshaphat because he now put his trust and his hope in the right place. God did something in answer to that prayer. When Jehoshaphat was going to go to war with Ahab, did God have a message for him? How did he give him that message? Through the prophet! Now God has another message for Jehoshaphat and again it comes by a prophet:
Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the LORD in the midst of the congregation; And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. To morrow go ye down against them: behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the brook, before the wilderness of Jeruel. Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you. And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the LORD, worshipping the LORD (2 Chronicles 20:14-18).
Did they believe what he said? They did believe and the Bible says: “And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper (v. 20).”
Jehoshaphat should have believed Micaiah earlier and if he had his experience would have been better and a lot of people would have been spared. But now he has learned and not only does he believe, but he encourages the people to believe. Sometimes a person may say that he or she believes in God’s prophet, but if that person really believes, they will also encourage others to believe in God’s appointed messenger(s). Jehoshaphat learned the hard way to believe the prophets of God. The Lord has given our people a prophet and we will prosper if we believe that prophet. She has given us many words of wisdom from God, not to take the place of the Word of God, but to help us in our study of the Word of God.
Sometimes we have trials and we do not succeed in them. So, what does God do? Give up on us? No, in his mercy, he allows the trials to come back to us again. Did Jehoshaphat listen this time? We would say he hupakouod (remember that Greek word for obedient which means to hear and come under?) Jehoshaphat set singers before the Lord to praise the Lord for his goodness and the beauty of holiness, and they went out to battle with a choir leading the army. Never in the history of this world was that done and I doubt it has ever been done since, but they were victorious. Why? Because the battle was not theirs but God’s. God said that because they sought him by faith the battle was his.
When God sends a message through a prophet and it is disregarded, such as in the first case with Jehoshaphat, there is always tragedy or calamity. When God gives a message through a prophet and the people heed that message, there is always a blessing.
Remember Noah? He was a prophet of God who warned the world that a flood was coming. He prepared an ark, but nobody listened except his family, and all were lost in the flood except his family. Jesus said: “And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man (Luke 17:26).”
Jeremiah counseled Judah to be obedient to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, for them to be submissive to him, and the Lord would take care of them. (See Jeremiah 27:1-7.) This is one of the most pointed illustrations in the Bible and the sad fact is it was not just a one-time affair. Jeremiah counseled the people and repeatedly pleaded with them to submit and follow God’s plan, for they were going to be under captivity to Babylon. Was his message well received? He was put in a pit and in a dungeon (chapters 37, 38); his scroll was cut with a pen knife by King Zedikiah and thrown into the fire (chapter 36). These people did not want to listen to him.
“Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1).” Not only did he speak to the people of Jerusalem, but he also sent letters to those who were already in Babylon:
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
God said that after seventy years were accomplished they would be able to come back, but you can imagine that, if you were anything but the youngest of people, seventy years would be a lifetime and most people would die. No wonder God said to take wives and have children. The people in Judah heard those words too, but they did not care very much for them.
Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin (Jeremiah 36:2, 3).
They did not hear. In fact there were some who decided they were going to flee to Egypt and they took Jeremiah with them. We understand that Jeremiah was actually killed on that trip to Egypt. The book of Jeremiah is a picture of the prophet counseling the people, and the people saying, “No.” Jeremiah said, “Here is the word of the Lord,” and the people said, “We do not want to hear it. It is not palatable to us.” Many of those people who rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar were lost.
The Apostle Paul wrote most of the New Testament and nearly every Christian universally acknowledges Paul as a great prophet of God. Paul received visions and dreams from God and Jesus spoke to Paul firsthand. We know that he personally taught him in Arabia. Paul followed the Lord very closely. He not only received prophetic visions of things that would be future but he also had spiritual insight to realize that the mystery of inquity was already working in his day. We know that God counseled Paul on many things, but in the course of time Paul was a prisoner and on his way to Rome by ship:
And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band. And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us. And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself. And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary. And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia. And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein. And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone; And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea. Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them, And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives (Acts 27:1-10).
Now, does the Bible say Paul had a vision? Paul said he perceived. He had an understanding. The season for sailing was past and winter was coming on. Maybe common sense would have said that there was a chance for problems, but because the captains were experienced they decided they would push on and not listen to Paul. “Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul (v. 11).” The Bible tells us that a storm came up and the sailors thought the ship was going to be lost. They fasted and started throwing things overboard.
But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me (Acts 27:21-25).
God did something for Paul. There is one part of this incident I really like. Paul said: “The angel of God, whose I am.” He said he belonged to God. He could have said he was the apple of his eye, for he was. God told Paul he would spare him and everyone on the ship. Later the ship seemed as if it would sink, and they decided that they would have to abandon the ship, but Paul told them to stay on the ship. If they left the ship they would die, but if they stayed on the ship they would live. Interestingly, there is no account that Paul had a vision about this, but he was right. God did bless those people and they finally reached land. (See verses 29-44.)
Paul had counsel for these people, but did he have a direct revelation for every part of his counsel? The Bible does not record it. We do not have all the details, but there is no evidence to support it. Does the Lord sometimes work on a persons mind and heart without a direct revelation? Yes. God can give a spirit of discernment or understanding. Paul had a spirit of discernment to know what to do even though he may not have had a direct revelation. (See Mark 7:18, Ephesians 1:18; Colossians 1:19.) Sometimes people might say, Yes, Ellen White was a prophet, but I only accept what she directly saw in vision as inspired. I am glad that the people in Pauls ship did not feel that way because if they had, they would have been lost. When someone is clearly a prophet of God and the Lord speaks through that prophet by whatever means, we need to listen and be obedient to what God sends. If we do this, we will be blessed. Jehoshaphat was blessed by following what he was told in 2 Chronicles 20. In verse 14 of that chapter it says that “the Spirit of the LORD in the midst of the congregation” was upon Jahaziel. So, sometimes the Spirit comes upon someone and others realize it, but sometimes the Spirit comes upon a person and we do not know it or perceive it. We have to follow first and foremost what God’s Word says, and if the Spirit of the Lord comes upon a prophet with a message to share with his people, it will not contradict the word God has already given.
What exactly is the purpose of a prophet? In the most basic form, a prophet speaks for the Lord as his mouthpiece. We need to listen to God’s messages to us through a prophet because it is just as if God were speaking directly to us.
God had another prophet that came on the scene a few years after Jehoshaphat and his name was Isaiah. Let us look at a few verses in chapters 38 and 39 of Isaiah. “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live (Isaiah 38:1).” Now, this was not Isaiah’s idea but what Jehovah said. We have all heard the expression, “Set your house in order.” That means to get everything ready so that when you die things can continue on in the best manner possible.
Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, And said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years (Isaiah 38:2-5).
Somewhere around 701-700 BC Hezekiah prayed and God responded by adding fifteen years to his life. What was Hezekiah’s plea to the Lord based upon? What reasoning did he use that God should extend his life? He said he had a perfect heart. What did Job say about that kind of a boast? “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life (Job 9:20, 21).” If I say it, my heart already condemns me. Was this really the truth about Hezekiah? No. Another account in the Bible says “his heart was lifted up (2 Chronicles 32:25).” Hezekiah had done many good things, but his heart was not as perfect as he thought it was. In fact, if it had been perfect, he would have said: “Good is the word of the Lord. I will accept the word of the Lord and do whatever he says.” He could have accepted death instead of pleading for his life, but he did not. Hezekiah was, however, very thankful for the added fifteen years and he wrote of his thankfulness in a long poetic statement. (See Isaiah 38:10-20.) Then in verse 21, we read: “For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover.” Apparently a sickness precipitated the statement from the Lord that Hezekiah was going to die, but Isaiah later instructed that a plaster of figs be placed over the area of sickness and Hezekiah was healed. A sign for this was that the shadow on the sundial would retreat. We all can see the sun from different places on the earth. At different times the sun may appear differently to us, but we all can see the shadow the sun casts no matter where we are at in the world.
About five hundred miles away from Judah, the backward movement of the sun’s shadow was seen in Babylon. Today we have many means of communication available to us and the most speedy, perhaps, is the Internet, but even in Hezekiah’s time word could get around and word got back to Babylon that the mysterious movement of the sun’s shadow happened because the king of Judah had been healed, and it was Judah’s God who had moved the sundial back fifteen degrees. Babylon, therefore, sent emissaries to congratulate the king and to pay their respects to him for what God had done, but what did Hezekiah do for these men when they visited him? Did he speak of the glories of God? Did he acknowledge God as the source of all of his wealth and strength? No. Instead, he showed them all the wealth that he had. This was a terrible mistake. Let us read about it in Isaiah 39:
At that time Merodachbaladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and shewed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not. Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon. Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them. Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken (Isaiah 39:1-8).
Did Hezekiah repent for doing this? To the best of our knowledge, Hezekiah did repent. Hezekiah humbled his heart and did what he could to build up his kingdom. The fact is, however, that Nebuchadnezzar did come later with his army and took the best people of Judah back to Babylon with him. The king’s seed was taken captive and made eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Hezekiah could do nothing to change God’s pronouncement through Isaiah. Hezekiah’s sin had brought this tragedy upon his people, and he could not rectify it by his actions.
Let us now turn our attention to Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh. Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign following his father’s death. He was born after the events of Isaiah 38 and 39. Hezekiah had fifteen years added to his life and since Manasseh was only twelve years old when Hezekiah died, he was conceived and born during the extra fifteen years of life given to Hezekiah. Now, what kind of a king was Manasseh?
Before we consider the rulership of Manasseh, let us look as some verses to lay foundational points first. In Malachi 3:6, we read: “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” When God makes a decree, he does not change. Also, notice how Peter describes God’s relationship to us as individuals: “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).” Jesus has this same attribute, for we read in Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”
Now, let us turn to the book of Second Kings for some inspired history on the reign of Manasseh:
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them (2 Kings 21:1-3).
The Bible says in 1 Kings 16:30 that there was no king as wicked as Ahab, and here we read that Manasseh was like Ahab.
And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he made his son pass through the fire (2 Kings 21:4-6).
The people who served Molech made their children go through burning coals of fire as a sacrifice to Molech, and the Bible says that Manasseh did this to his own son. I cannot imagine anyone doing such a wicked thing. How could Manasseh have been devoted to a god requiring this of him? We cannot find rhyme or reason to excuse such a thing.
And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. And he set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the house, of which the LORD said to David, and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever: Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them. But they hearkened not: and Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel (2 Kings 21:6-9).
To find out what God thinks about such abominations, let us turn to Deuteronomy 18:9: When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. The word abomination in this verse is translated from the Hebrew word towebah, which means something that is extremely disgusting or abhorrent. “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch (Deuteronomy 18:10).” Are these not the very things that Manasseh was doing?
Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do (Deuteronomy 18:11-14).
Leviticus 20:27 pronounces the death penalty upon anyone in Israel found doing these abominations, but what else did Manasseh do? “Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the LORD (2 Kings 21:16).”
We understand from Hebrews 11 that some of Gods prophets were stoned and some, as Isaiah, were sawn asunder. Isaiah, who was permitted by the Lord to see wonderful things, was sawn asunder, because he faithfully reproved the sins of the Jewish nation (The Signs of the Times, February 17, 1898).” Manasseh issued the order for Isaiah’s death and Isaiah fled. Isaiah was apparently in a wilderness area and found a hollow log to hide in. Manasseh’s men, however, enclosed each end of the log and then took a saw and sawed the log in half thereby killing Isaiah. This is the kind of person Manasseh was and this is how much respect he had for the Lord.
So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken (2 Chronicles 33:9, 10).
All we can imagine, friends, they did and more. The Bible says the Lord spoke but the people would not hearken.
Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God (2 Chronicles 33:11-13).
We do not know what it took for Manasseh, in his jail cell in Babylon, to come to his senses and pray, but apparently something came back to his mind, perhaps something he had learned from his father, Hezekiah. Inspiration does not record what his prayer was, but there is a prayer attributed to Manasseh that is considered to be pseudepigraphal by some that surely seems to be the kind of prayer Manasseh might have prayed:
O Lord, Almighty God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of their righteous seed; who hast made heaven and earth, with all the ornament thereof; who hast bound the sea by the word of thy commandment; who hast shut up the deep, and sealed it by thy terrible and glorious name; whom all men fear, and tremble before thy power; for the majesty of thy glory cannot be borne, and thine angry threatening toward sinners is importable: but thy merciful promise is unmeasurable and unsearchable; for thou art the most high Lord, of great compassion, longsuffering, very merciful, and repentest of the evils of men. Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness to them that have sinned against thee: and of thine infinite mercies hast appointed repentance unto sinners, that they may be saved. Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the just, hast not appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against thee; but thou hast appointed repentance unto me that am a sinner: for I have sinned above the number of the sands of the sea. My transgressions, O Lord, are multiplied: my transgressions are multiplied, and I am not worthy to behold and see the height of heaven for the multitude of mine iniquities. I am bowed down with many iron bands, that I cannot life up mine head, neither have any release: for I have provoked thy wrath, and done evil before thee: I did not thy will, neither kept I thy commandments: I have set up abominations, and have multiplied offences. Now therefore I bow the knee of mine heart, beseeching thee of grace. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge mine iniquities: wherefore, I humbly beseech thee, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me, and destroy me not with mine iniquities. Be not angry with me for ever, by reserving evil for me; neither condemn me to the lower parts of the earth. For thou art the God, even the God of them that repent; and in me thou wilt shew all thy goodness: for thou wilt save me, that am unworthy, according to thy great mercy. Therefore I will praise thee for ever all the days of my life: for all the powers of the heavens do praise thee, and thine is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
As we noted before, we do not know if Manasseh prayed this prayer or not, but it is the kind of prayer someone who had sinned as he had sinned might have prayed.
Now, what happened next?
And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. And he repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel. Nevertheless the people did sacrifice still in the high places, yet unto the LORD their God only (2 Chronicles 33:15-17).
So, the people still used some of these pagan shrines in a perverted worship of Jehovah.
Let us next turn to Second Kings and read about what happened during the reign of Josiah, who was the grandson of Manasseh:
Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD. And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him (2 Kings 23:24, 25).
A revival seems to have occurred, but does the picture really change?
Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. And the LORD said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there (2 Kings 23:26, 27).
In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years: then he turned and rebelled against him. And the LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by his servants the prophets. Surely at the commandment of the LORD came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did; And also for the innocent blood that he shed: for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the LORD would not pardon (2 Kings 24:1-4).
We might ask, “What is this saying to us?” Did God forgive Manasseh? Yes, he did. Had Manasseh done extremely terrible things? Yes, he had. The only way I can put this puzzle together is to understand that Manasseh had started a downward path in Israel that superficially could be repaired and made to look good, but the people as a whole were not changed. They were still rebellious. This becomes evident in the book of Jeremiah. The things Manasseh did and the sins he brought upon the people placed them in a position that they were never able to be lifted from. It was incurable and this is quite a statement to us.
When Hezekiah showed the ambassadors of Babylon all of his goods, he later repented, but did Babylon still come? Yes, they did. Was all of Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled? Yes. Sacred items were taken out of the temple, the place was leveled, and precious children were taken off and made eunuchs in the kingdom of Babylon. Then we have Manasseh and the wickedness that he did. God said he would not pardon it because it brought the people down to a level from which they would not return. He could not pardon it. These things should have a tremendous effect upon us.
We have seen how just one disregard by Jehoshaphat and Ahab of the message of the prophet Micaiah brought a large devastation to the people and how it also was a means of Ahab’s death. We have seen that if, in 701 BC, Hezekiah had only accepted God’s Word through the prophet Isaiah instead of weeping and pleading for more time on this earth much pain and suffering could have been prevented.
We have seen from two specific situations—that of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20 and that of Paul in Acts 27—how God’s people will be blessed and prospered when they accept the messages God sends through his prophets. May God grant to us a willing spirit to not only hear his Word but to also do his Word.
Someone has said that whenever we choose to disobey God, we are really saying, Lord, I have a better way. In effect, Hezekiah was saying he was smarter than God about how long his life should be and that God needed to listen to him. The Lord allowed Hezekiah to have his own way so that generations thereafter, might they might see the folly in following their own way instead of choosing to accept Gods way. When God sends us messages through prophets and other appointed messengers, we dare not avoid listening to what they say because we may be putting ourselves and other people in a position where the Lord cannot forgive and where he will not be able to hear their prayers. Allen Stump
We probably would all agree that God has blessed us with great light in understanding of Scripture and with the gift of prophecy given us through Ellen White. For this I am sure most, if not all, of us are very thankful, but being thankful for Gods riches includes a willingness to share them with others. Please join us in prayer that God will send more workers into the vineyard, for we all want to see the work finished and Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven. There is much work to be done in every area of the worldChina, India, the countries of Europe and Africa, to name a fewand God has a plan to use each one of us today, right now wherever we find ourselves. If you have talents that are going unused or are underused, please pray that God will reveal his plan to you and that he will use you to bring honor and glory to him in finishing his work on earth. It is very exciting to think of the possibility of people, known or unknown to us but all known to God, rising up around the world, dedicating their lives, their talents, and their time to him instead of seeking for the transitory riches this world has to offer. It will be worth surrendering all to hear those precious words fall on our ears, Well done, thou good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21). Onycha Holt
Youth’s Corner — Advisement part 2
Part 1 of Advisement was the story of good Queen Bess and Sir John and of how Queen Bess changed her mind about bringing people from faraway lands against their will to her country and to other countries to be sold as slaves. We learned how she took advisement from Sir John, and perhaps from members of her cabinet, and then she changed her mind. At first she thought what Sir John was doing was an awful thing, but when saw a lot of money could be made by selling human beings to other human beings, she thought, “I would like to have some of that money.” So, she gave her approval to what Sir John was doing and she even gave him one of the big ships from the British Navy for him to use in transporting slaves.
I also mentioned that in this story there was a man named William. William did not live during the reign of Queen Bess but lived during the reigns of other monarchs. When William was growing up, he was a very sensitive young man and when he heard about this awful thing called slavery, selling people to be owned and used by other people, he knew it was very wrong, but as he grew older he began to not care about such things as much and instead only wanted to have a good time. He went to school, but he did not do very well because he wanted to play most of the time, but then God spoke to his heart and it changed William’s life.
After this change, or conversion, he wanted to do good things instead of thinking only of himself and the fun he could have. He remembered how people were being sold as slaves in his country, and he determined in his heart and in his mind that no matter what the consequences would be, he would work toward stopping it. This is what he said: “Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected” the abolition of slavery. William was elected to Parliament, and he worked very hard in the legislature to pass a law to abolish slavery. He was naive and he thought that, surely, when the rest of the members of Parliament found out how bad slavery was, they would all agree with him, but, oh no, that did not happen. He introduced into Parliament many laws, maybe twelve, but each one was defeated on a technicality. But, remember, he had determined that he would not rest until slavery was ended, so he kept trying. As he tried, he talked to other people and some of them finally began to see how bad slavery really was. Do you remember the story we had about perseverance? Well, William persevered. He stuck with his task, he did what he knew was right, and he did not stop until he had accomplished what needed to be done.
In 1807, after twenty years of hard work by William and his friends, the British Parliament finally passed “An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade,” which ended slave trade. As good as that was, however, it did not free those who were already slaves, but in 1833, forty-six years after his struggle began and just three days before William Wilberforce died, Parliament passed the final reading of the law for the abolishment of slavery throughout the entire British empire, setting 700,000 slaves free! Wliberforce declared: “Thank God that I’ve lived to witness the day in which England is willing to give 20 million pounds sterling for the abolition of slavery!”
While he was living and fighting against slavery, the slave traders realized how serious William was about ending slavery, and they began to verbally attack him. They called him all kinds of evil names because they did not want to lose the money they obtained from the sale of human beings. The slave traders tried to stop William any way that they could, but it did not work. William persevered and slave trade was finally abolished in England. The slaves that had already been sold and were then owned by people in England were eventually set free, and the same thing happened here in America. In America’s early days, it was permissible by law to own slaves, but Abraham Lincoln, about the same time William Wilberforce was working in England, was working hard in America to free the slaves and to abolish slave trade and eventually that did happen.
Even though William Wilberforce was persevering, our story is really about taking advice. When William was young and eighteen years old, he was already the mayor of the town he lived in and it was at this time that he was converted and decided to follow Jesus. He did not know, however, if he should stay in politics or if he should leave it to do something else for Jesus. So, he sought advice not only from God, yes, but also from his friends. His friends realized William was a man God could use to do good things for the country of England, so they advised him to go to Parliament and do what he could to help other people. William took their advice, even though it meant he had to work very hard. Many bills that he and his fellow politicians introduced into Parliament were defeated and some did not even get to the floor to be voted on, but he kept on working and finally something very good happened because of his hard work and the continued hard work of his friends.
As a young person, please remember that when God speaks to your heart, when you read his Word, and when you then know the right thing to do, you need to persevere with it, yes, but you also need to seek advice from God at every step of the way, for God wants to lead and guide you, just like he wants to lead and guide your parents and the other grown-ups in your life. -- Onycha Holt
Will The Real Gospel Please Stand Up?
(The following article was published in the January 1983 issue of The Layworker. Though it is over twenty-three years old, we believe that the principles laid out in this article help us to understand important issues we as a people face today. We do not republish it saying that any of the views presented represents any one individuals thinking nor the thinking of any ministry or church, but rather represents the basic principles of the two divisions of soteriology that most systems of belief branch out from. Editor)
The past several years have been a time of real pain for the Seventh-day Adventists. We were not around at the last time of major crisis in Adventist history during the early 1900’s. Neither I nor my parents have seen anything remotely similar to what is transpiring within Adventism today. We have all seen pastors leave the ministry before for various reasons, including an occasional pastor who felt that Seventh-day Adventist beliefs were not compatible with his own beliefs. But now we are seeing young, bright, conscientious pastors saying, one after another, “I can no longer preach Adventism and be true to my conscience and the Bible.” For the first time in my memory, longstanding Seventh-day Adventist members have left a particular church, not because their pastor was unfriendly or not a good preacher. But because they felt they were hearing a different brand of Adventism proclaimed from an Adventist pulpit; one which they felt incompatible with the Seventh-day Adventist mission and message. In some churches, the division between ideas has been so deep that two camps have developed, both coming to worship from Sabbath to Sabbath, but not communicating or having fellowship with each other.
What is going on in our beloved church? Ministers and laymen have become confused. Desperate cries have gone out from both sides, attacking each other; while those in the middle wonder how they can possibly make a decision about who is right. Or whether they should just silently slip out the back door? Is there any answer? Or are we doomed to stumble along — while the church is crumbling beneath us?
Within the past three years, I have become convinced that there is a reason for the pain we are suffering today. And that there is a solution to the theological dilemma I have just posed. We have been told recently that our church must be judged by the gospel. I accept that challenge. The gospel lies at the heart of Christianity. Without the gospel, there would be no point or purpose in Sabbath-keeping. But what is the gospel? This is the critical question which has been pounding at the consciousness of pastors, teachers, and laymen of all professions.
I propose that there are two versions of the gospel being proclaimed today within Adventism. I am going to outline them, hoping that doing so will clarify this crisis of conscience with Adventist teaching.
But perhaps the greatest good to come from what I am about to say will be the clarification of the opposing positions, so you will be better prepared to study the Bible and our modern inspired testimony to determine which of the two systems of belief will be your gospel. For ultimately, it must come to that you must make a decision based on Bible study and prayer, not on the authority of the Adventist Review or Verdict magazine.
For a long time, we have been taught that in the end of time it will be necessary for men and women to step out for truth because of their own conscience not listening to any pastor or religious leader. Perhaps this step of faith is now becoming a necessity within our own church individuals must make decisions based, not on the charisma of any speaker but on a thorough study of the inspired testimony and wrestling with God in prayer. You see, in the past it has been relatively easy to identify the offshoot groups and stay within the mainstream of Adventism. Not many have followed the voices of the Shepherds Rod or the Reformed Adventist. But now we have two gospels within the mainstream of Adventism, and again, a difficult choice. What we once thought of as one track of truth has been seen only lately as two tracks, diverging more and more widely until we have found ourselves at this crisis point. At the heart of my proposal to you is the deep conviction that these two tracks are totally incompatible with each other, that compromise or harmony between them is logically impossible, and that one must make a choice between two systems.
Statement of the Problem
A recent article, “Exodus from Adventism”, listed one hundred Seventh-day Adventist ministers and teachers who have left Adventism for reasons of conscience within the past two years. The article commented: “The denomination would give the appearance that it is frantically attempting to rid itself of the unwelcome doctrines of salvation by faith alone and the all-sufficiency of Scripture as the sole doctrinal norm.” Now those are broad charges. Can we be more specific?
In South Africa, Francis Cambell resigned as Union Conference president under some pressure. And he attempted to pinpoint the specific areas of controversy: “The domination has never been able to define clearly its position on the nature of Christ, perfection, original sin — areas which are vital to an understanding of righteousness by faith. As a result, various streams of theology exist within the church, leaving our members in a state of confusion. The truth of justification by faith alone as taught in Romans and Galatians clears this confusion.”
As I read these three sentences, I realized he had just presented half the message I want to state. I believe his insights were extremely accurate and get right to the heart of the difficulties we are experiencing. As a church, we have never defined clearly our beliefs in these three critical areas — sin, Christ, and perfection. And because of unclarity and divergent views in these areas, we have been wandering in the theological desert for these past forty years of uncertainty and frustration. Because we have held contradictory views in these areas, we have been unable to clearly define our message and our mission.
The following lines were written by Aage Rendalen, a former Seventh-day Adventist editor in Norway, who has become quite critical of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in recent years:
In the 1950s Adventism began a remarkable house-cleaning. A number of doctrines which had bothered theological purists for years were given a public funeral. With the rising level of Biblical knowledge in the church, as well as increasing contact with the evangelical theologians, many leading Adventists felt embarrassed about some of the doctrines that had survived the nineteenth century. Chief among these were the doctrines of the split atonement and the sinful nature of Christ. With the publication of the book Questions on Doctrine, in 1957, both views were repudiated. The work of clarification progressed up to the beginning of the 1970’s. By then the traditional belief in a latter day perfection had come under attack and seemed to be on the way out…. In spite of frantic efforts by a few vocal defenders of Adventist tradition, the doctrines of the sinful nature of Christ and human perfectibility in this world were slowly sinking. The weight of Biblical evidence had simply overcome what little buoyancy was left. With the dawning of the eighties, a new crisis of unsurpassed magnitude is now confronting the church. What is thought to be the very foundation of Adventism — our “sanctuary theology” — is coming under close examination. At the same time the authority of Mrs. White as a crypto-canonical prophet is being re-evaluated. With the evangelical courtship of the 1950’s, the Adventist leaders started something to the extent of which they did not anticipate. The traditional Adventist landscape was being radically changed and as a result, a crisis of identity set in. Today, the very validity of the movement has become an open question to many. They feel that this is not the church they joined. The doctrinal superiority…which the evangelist had held out to them now appears to lie in shambles. Can this really be “the only true church?” they ask. ... God has never required perfection, whether doctrinal or moral, from his agents… Why should we try to do something for ourselves which He has already done for us?
As I read his article, I got the feeling that, from quite a different perspective, he was stating what I want to state, for he has pinpointed the issues at stake in the controversy and the historical development of these issues over the past thirty years. He has, in fact, hit the nail right on the head. We need to define these issues if there is any hope the real gospel will ever stand up. I would repeat two very important sentences in his article: “With evangelical courtship of the 1950’s the Adventist leaders started something the extent of which they did not anticipate. The traditional Adventist landscape was being radically changed.” How very, very true. I believe the things we have seen in the late 70’s and early 80’s are but the inevitable harvest of the seeds planted during the 50’s and 60’s.
Desmond Ford is a careful and systematic theologian who has developed these theological seeds into a consistent and logical theological harvest. And those ministers and laymen who have listened to his views have been impressed with the logical and Biblical evidence in support of them. What I am saying is, given his presuppositions, his conclusions are necessary, even inevitable, and many thinking Adventists have seen the necessity of living out the implications of those conclusions. Moreover, both the presuppositions and conclusions are widely believed within the Seventh-day Adventist Church right now by a wide range of scholars, ministers, and laymen. Thus it is not just a matter of beliefs outside Adventism versus those within Adventism. Both systems of theological belief are alive and growing in the Adventist church today. Now let us look more closely at the individual components of these systems of beliefs.
The Central Issue
The pivotal doctrine, the issue which determines the direction of both systems of belief, the foundation and premise of the whole controversy, is the question: “What is sin?” You see, the gospel is all about how we are saved from sin. It is sin which has caused us to be lost, and the gospel is the good news of how God redeems us from sin. Now most of us have assumed for perhaps our whole lifetime that we know what sin is, without actually taking the time to define sin.
It is just at this point that Adventism has been challenged as having unclear and even erroneous definitions of sin which have led to erroneous positions in righteousness by faith. The vital question is, “What is the nature of sin for which man is considered guilty?” So guilty he must die in the fires of hell unless he is rescued by the grace of God? We must be precise in defining the nature of this sin, so that we will know just what it is that the gospel rescues us from. Of what must we be forgiven? What must be healed for us to escape eternal death? When you go to see a doctor, he must first determine precisely the nature of the problem afflicting you before he can prescribe a therapy or medicine which can heal you. Just so with sin. We must know wherein our guilt lies, so that we will be able to apply the gospel to the right area.
Gospel of Ford and Brinsmeade: “Original Sin”
In Geoffrey Paxtons challenging book, The Shaking of Adventism, he says we rejected righteousness by faith in 1888 because we rejected the historic doctrine of original sin. He identifies original sin as the foundational principle of Reformation theology. Now original sin is simply the belief that we are guilty because of our birth as sons and daughters of Adam. This doctrine teaches that we are guilty by nature, before any choice of good or evil can enter the picture. Des Ford believes our condemnation comes from Adam; that we are guilty because of our inherited depravity. The following statements express his view: “Sinful behavior is explicitly declared to spring from sinful nature.” “There is sin in the desire of sin.” “Sin is declared to exist in the being prior to our own consciousness of it.” “There is guilt in evil desires, even when resisted by the will.” “Thus sin and guilt apply to nature, and the gospel must deal with the reality of guilt as a part of the nature of man which can never be removed until eternal life.”
In this view, weakness, imperfection, and tendencies are sin. It is an interesting and significant point that the Reformers built their doctrine of original sin on the premise of predestination — which teaches that God leaves some men to suffer and die in their sinful and guilty natures while He elects to send His saving grace to others through the gospel. These two doctrines fit together very naturally, so it is a bit strange that while predestination has been rejected by most Christians today, original sin is still seen as the foundation of correct gospel teaching.
The Nature of Christ
What kind of human being must Christ be, if He is going to be both human and sinless? Obviously He must have a sinless nature, totally unlike the nature you and I inherit from birth. Sometimes this is referred to as the nature of Adam before the fall. Again some quoted statements will help to clarify. For Christ to be the second or last Adam, He must possess a sinless human nature. To teach that Christ was possessed of sinful propensities is to teach that He himself was a sinner in need of a savior. Because of the belief that sinful nature involves guilt in the sight of God, it is absolutely imperative that Christ have no connection with our sinful nature. If one is to ask how this could be, since Christ did have a human mother, this is Fords answer: The substance of Mary was molded into a perfect nature for our Lord, just as in the beginning the Holy Spirit took chaos and made a perfect world. In other words, Marys genetic deficiencies were altered so that she would pass on only a perfect heredity to Christ; completely unlike the heredity we received from our parents. [This is an alternate concept of the Immaculate Conception Ed. of The Layworker]
The next step involves our experience. Since we are guilty by nature, and since we will retain this nature until glorification, and since we continue to be guilty after our conversion, and since we sin even in the good deeds we do because there is probably some selfishness tainting our best efforts and even in the very act of overcoming sin we may be guilty therefore, we must focus on justification rather than sanctification. We must look to an imputed righteousness outside of us at all times, since whatever is within us is corrupted by guilt. Thus the gospel is justification, the righteousness of Christ credited to our account. Righteousness by faith is always justification only, while sanctification is basically good advice. This must be so, since anything which is corrupted with original sin can never participate in a perfect righteousness by faith. Thus we are forensically, legally righteous, while we are actually inwardly guilty at all times. We must always emphasize Christs work for us, rather than the Holy Spirits work in us.
Finally, the basic premise of sin as nature leads to the inevitable conclusion regarding perfection of character. If our essential guilt resides in our nature, the nature with which we were born, and if we retain this nature until death or translation, then it becomes patently clear that there can be no talk of perfection or sinlessness in this life. If, in spite of growing spiritually during a lifetime of trusting Jesus more and relying less on our own efforts, we are just as guilty at age sixty as we were at age eighteen, then the words character and perfection are really meaningless and ought to be dropped quickly from our spiritual vocabulary.
Thus the repudiation of the possibility of moral perfection in this life is a necessary corollary to the doctrine of original sin. According to Des Ford, if one is to believe in perfection, one must either deny the doctrine of original sin and the depravity of human nature, or the infinite perfection of God’s law. The very effort to attain perfection results in legalism and a denial of righteousness by faith. Even after the close of probation the characters of God’s people will be defective in faith, hope, and love. Since the only meaning of sinlessness is a totally sinless nature, that will never happen until glorification.
Conclusion of Original Sin Gospel
This, then, is the gospel according to one well-developed and carefully articulated system of belief both within and outside Adventism. It is consistent from its presuppositions to its conclusions, and I believe that if you begin with the foundational premises of this system, you must logically end with its conclusions. I believe this is one reason it has become so attractive to many long-time Adventists. Then, if we desire to be logical and Biblical, are we forced to join with this understanding of the gospel — with the only other option being to be both illogical and unbiblical?
I wish to share my personal testimony; a testimony based on my deep and heartfelt convictions from my own study of God’s messages to us. I believe the true gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ and Paul, is based on different presuppositions and leads to different conclusions. I believe this gospel is the only one which deals adequately with the great cosmic issues in the controversy between God and Satan. I believe that this is the only gospel which will provide security and hope for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and for individuals asking the age-old question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Following then, is a short summary of the other option, the other way of understanding the gospel promised in the Old Testament and realized in the New Testament.
The Historic Advent Gospel
The basic presupposition of this gospel is that the heart of the cosmic controversy between God and Satan revolves around the issue of free choice. God took terrible risks with the universe to protect freedom of choice. Why did God allow the misery of sin? Because of the worthlessness of forced obedience and the necessity of the possibility to sin if righteousness was to be possible. Jesus came to this earth to be killed by Satan to allow all men to choose freely once again. And the agony of sin will not end until Satan freely bows down and confesses Jesus Lordship. This means that the greatest tragedy of the universe is Satans maligning of God, a tragedy even greater than my sins. Thus the issue to be resolved is how unfallen beings, angels and fallen beings will choose in the great controversy, either for God or for Satan. All of this means that the gospel can never be based on predestination of any kind, which essentially bypasses any right of man to choose for or against God. The gospel is built solidly on the foundation of free choice, the two most important words in the history and the future of the universe.
The Nature of Sin
This leads to a decision about the nature of sin. Sin is not basically the way man is, but the way man chooses. Sin is when the mind consents to what seems desirable and thus breaks its relationship with God. To talk of guilt in terms of inherited nature is to overlook the important category of responsibility. Not until we have joined our own will to mankind’s rebellion against God, not until we have actively entered into opposition to the will of God, does guilt enter in. Sin is concerned with a man’s life, his rebellion against God, his willful disobedience, and the distorted relationship with God which ensues. Sin is concerned with a man’s will rather than his nature. If responsibility for sin is to have any meaning, it cannot also be affirmed that fallen human nature makes the man inevitably guilty of sin. Inevitability and responsibility are mutually exclusive concepts in the moral sphere. Thus sin is defined as choosing willfully to rebel against God in thought, word, or action. In this gospel, sin is our willful choice to exercise our fallen nature in opposition to God’s will
The Nature of Christ
Building on the foundation, we move to the nature of Christ. If sin is not nature but choice, then Christ could inherit our fallen nature without thereby becoming a sinner. He remained ever sinless because His conscious choice was always obedience to God, never allowing His fallen nature to control His choices. His inheritance was just the same as our inheritance, with no need to resort to special intervention by God to prevent Jesus from receiving human falleness from Mary. Christ accepted voluntarily the humiliation of descending, not only to the level of unfallen man, but to the level to which man had fallen through the sin of Adam and the sins of succeeding generations. Man was not in the state of Adam before the fall, so something far more drastic was needed if the effects of Adam’s fall were to be overcome. Christ must descend to the depths to which mankind had fallen and in his own person lift mankind from its depths to a new level of life. Jesus stooped from the very heights to the very depths to lift us up, to be our Savior
If Jesus assumed a perfect human nature untouched by the fall, then He did not stand side by side with man in his need. If Jesus had assumed unfallen human nature, there would have been a great gulf between Jesus and those whom He represented before God. A gulf created by sin. It was fallen humanity that He was to represent before God. He stood at the side of fallen sinners to mediate between sinful man and the holy God. If Jesus assumed perfect human nature, He spanned the gulf between God and man, but the gulf between fallen and unfallen man still needed to be bridged. If, however, Christ shared our fallen human nature, then His mediatorial work bridges the whole gulf from fallen man, in his dire need, to God. Only by entering into our situation in the deepest and fullest sense and identifying Himself fully with us was He able to be our Savior. Any other condition except in fallen flesh would have been challenged at once by the enemy, and would have influenced the thinking of the universe. It is at least of interest to note that this understanding of Christ was the one believed strongly by Jones and Waggoner in their righteousness by faith messages of 1888, which were endorsed so highly by Ellen White. In fact, this understanding of Christ’s life was the accenting power of their messages, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was loyal to God in the fallen flesh
From here the gospel message moves to our situation. The gospel is the good news about God’s character — that God both forgives and restores. The gospel is both God’s declaration that we stand righteous in the merits of Christ and God’s renovation of our sinful lives so that, gradually, we may be restored into His image. The gospel is both a legal verdict and transforming power. Union with Christ is the key to the faith through which justification must take place. The gospel includes justification, a uniting with Christ by faith on the basis of which we are declared righteous, and sanctification, a growing more like Christ through the daily exercise of a constantly growing faith on the basis of which we are made righteous
Finally, this gospel can speak comfortably and Biblically about Christian perfection, which is simply letting God do His full work in us as we depend ever more closely upon Him by trusting faith. This is not perfectionism, which is trying to be good enough to please God and to be saved. Perfection is total victory over sin, when through total trust in Christs power, sin becomes repulsive and we have no desire to transgress Gods will. If sin is our willful choice to rebel against God in thought, word, or action then sinlessness is our willful choice not to rebel against God in thought, word, or action. The purpose of perfection is not to save us, but to honor Christ.
Perfection is not the eradication of our sinful nature, but the subjection of that nature through a relationship with Christ. It is not a plateau, but unceasing growth and teachableness. It is not awareness of our inward holiness, but dependence on Christ. It is not being equal with Christ, but being surrendered as Christ was. It is not being free of temptation, but refusing to yield to temptation. It is not autonomous goodness, but total dependence, so that we are all through rebelling.
This gospel affirms that it is possible to have a sinless character in a sinful nature. Perfection remains always the goal, while abiding in Christ is the method. My concern is not primarily with the end product, but with my relationship with and my trust in Christ today! Only with this understanding of Christian perfection of character does the Seventh-day Adventist message of the second coming carry motivating power.
This understanding demands agonizing with God in prayer. Do we know what it means to wrestle with God as did Jacob? Are our souls drawn out after God with intensity of desire until every power is on the stretch? Do we cling with unyielding faith to the promises of God?
These, then, are the two gospels being proposed within Adventism. Do you see why these two systems are incompatible with each other? Do you see that compromise between them is impossible? That you must make a choice for your personal faith? I challenge you to study and pray for yourselves so that you will know what you believe, and why, rightly dividing the word of truth. May informed and Spirit-guided decisions be made that will stand up under the pressures of the last days, and more importantly, under the scrutinizing eye of God as He probes our consciences to see if we have made honest decisions or if we have rationalized and equivocated, seeking the easier way. May the good news be God’s good news and not man’s invention.
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Old Paths is a free monthly newsletter/study-paper published monthly by Smyrna Gospel Ministries, HC 64 Box 128-B, Welch WV 24801-9606. U.S.A. It is sent free upon request. The paper is dedicated to the propagation and restoration of the principles of truth that God gave to the early Seventh-day Adventist pioneers. Duplication is not only permitted, but strongly encouraged. This issue, with other gospel literature we publish, can be found at our web sites. The urls are: http://www.smyrna.org and http://www.presenttruth.info. Phone: (304) 732-9204. Fax: (304) 732-7322.
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This page was last updated: Sunday, May 26, 2013