CHAPTER 13 - TABERNACLES -
THE FEAST OF RESTORATION
As we have considered the spiritual significance of the glory and power and wisdom of Solomon's kingdom, so now let us consider the spiritual significance of the days of restoration, following the captivity. Both temples and both periods of history are applicable to our day: Solomon's day speaking of the glory and power and wisdom of the Church; and the days of Restoration showing in what manner the lost glory is to be restored.
As for the days of Restoration, it will be of particular interest and profit to us if we consider carefully the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah--because these four books deal particularly with the return of the remnant to Jerusalem following the captivity, and their attempts to restore the walls and the temple and the order of religious worship. Ezra was a priest; Nehemiah was the governor of Jerusalem; and both Haggai and Zechariah were prophets of the Lord who encouraged the builders in the great tasks which lay before them.
THE FIRST FEAST OF TABERNACLES AFTER THE CAPTIVITY
The remnant who had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem were determined that all things should be restored according to the original pattern. And so they kept the Feasts of the Lord also in their due season. "They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings, as the duty of every day required" (Ezra 3:4). They could not keep the feast in its fullness, for the foundation of the house of the Lord was not yet laid, but they observed the pattern as best they could, and God honoured their faith. And now as the first rays of this glorious Feast begin to appear on the eastern horizon, we have every reason to rejoice--knowing that the days of restoration are here. And little by little we can see how the pattern is being unfolded before our eyes.
THE PEOPLE ASSEMBLE AS ONE MAN
"And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves as one man to Jerusalem." (Ezra 3:1).
This, of course, is the foundational truth of this whole revival which God has given the Church, and one of the first revelations that came forth: that God would now at this time bring His people together to form one body. At the beginning it was hoped that the Christians everywhere would catch the vision, and that before long the whole Body of saints would become one vital, living organism, united together in the bonds of the Spirit unto one common purpose. But it is becoming apparent that only a remnant are returning to Jerusalem. The vast majority are content to remain in Babylon, for they have grown up in that state, and know nothing of the glory of God which once rested mightily on the Temple of God. They are prosperous enough; and the venture which a few fanatical Israelites have started upon is so utterly hopeless and fantastic that they will have nothing to do with it. Just imagine a small group of Israelites, with no natural resources (for they were a captive people), and very little perhaps in the way of education or business and administrative ability--venturing off to a land they had never seen, to a city utterly wasted and desolate, and starting to erect a temple comparable to Solomon's! And so the majority, the vast majority, were content to remain in Babylon, with only about fifty thousand of the multitudes in Israel thinking it worth their while to go up and start work on the temple.
We know God has a great and eternal purpose for all His precious saints, and when His plan is revealed we shall glory in the wisdom of God who "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will." But it is becoming increasingly evident that the pattern of the remnant in Israel who returned to Jerusalem is the immediate pattern for this hour. And as then, so now, a group of people who have really seen the vision of what God is doing, have assembled together as one man. It is the vision of the Body of Christ. It is the vision and assurance that there must arise out of the dust of Jerusalem a Holy City, a Beautiful City, and a Temple not made with hands--a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle. "Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem..." (Isa. 52:1, 2). This whole passage speaks loudly of this day and hour in which we live, when the glory of God is about to be restored to the once-holy city of God, even the "heavenly Jerusalem." "Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem." (vs. 8, 9).
THE FOUNDATION OF THE TEMPLE LAID
"And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord..." (Ezra 3:10).
The first feast of Tabernacles that they observed was before the foundation of the Temple had been laid. Therefore the real meaning of the Feast was lacking; but it did promise great things to come when the days of restoration were over. That was in the first year of their return from captivity. Now the second year had rolled around, and God had enabled them to lay the foundation for the temple. There was great rejoicing, therefore in the camp of Israel, to know that God had prospered their work, that the foundation was laid, and that the work was progressing. Hence there was cause for great rejoicing.
THE PRAISE OF THE MUSICIANS
"And they sang together by course (or, alternately) in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid." (Ezra 3:11).
It is not without Divine purpose, therefore, that the ministry of spiritual song and music is being restored to the Church. Actually it is the voice of prophecy. We read, therefore, "Moreover David and the captains of the host separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals..." (1 Chron. 25:1). No doubt there was usually prophetic singing accompanied by the musical instruments; and together it formed this great prophetic orchestra and choir. And because it is the voice of prophecy, that is why there is a work of deliverance wrought when songs are sung in the Spirit, or when instruments of music are played in the Spirit. David, you will recall, drove the evil spirit away from Saul, as he played upon the harp. It is the voice of God; and it is a ministry, as it was in the case of the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun. Asaph means Gatherer; Heman means Faithful; and Jeduthun means Choir of Praise. What a wonderful description of what is generally called the Heavenly Choir. "The Choir of Praise!" Sung by those who are "Faithful" in their ministry; and to "Gather" the saints together in the unity of the Spirit.
It is not difficult, then, for us to understand why the Choir of Praise has been restored to the Church. The Temple service is being restored. The saints are singing "by course,"--that is, "alternately" in prophecy one to one another, because once again the Lord's Temple is being restored.
WHY THE REJOICING?
"And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid." (Ezra 3:11).
The present work of the Holy Spirit in re-establishing the Temple of God and its spiritual order of worship, has really just started. But we can thank God, nevertheless, that the pattern has been revealed, and that the foundation has been laid. Perhaps it is not too evident to some, because the building is just under construction. It is not our purpose to try to prove that the foundation of apostles and prophets has been relaid. Nor is it really the minister's responsibility to prove any doctrine to anybody. His duty is to minister the Bread of Life to the hungry. If they can receive it, they will be nourished: if they cannot, then perhaps we could administer the sincere milk of the Word that they might grow thereby. According to every man's ability to receive, and their stature in Christ--so may God enable us to minister the words of life. And let us realize that we are sent to feed Christ's sheep, and nourish His people--and not to fill them with doctrines and theories which will not profit. These things, therefore, are written only for those who can receive them; and for none others.
We realize, therefore, that perhaps there are very, very few who can discern the foundation of the temple being relaid in this day. And of course it is most difficult to see a newly laid foundation, for it is usually almost obscured amidst the concrete forms and the supports and the heaps of broken stones and boards that cover the ground. But the Choir of Praise continues to exalt the Lord, and the saints continue to sing one to another in prophecy, because they can see that the foundation has been laid, and the temple is beginning to take shape.
"Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built (literally, are being built) upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." (Eph. 2:19, 20).
"And God hath set some in the church, first apostles (1 Cor. 12:28).
The time is at hand when God will vindicate who His ministers are, and what their place is in this new Temple. For these ministries are not by human-appointment, nor by self-appointment, but by Divine appointment. Until now perhaps there has not been any great need for recognized leadership. We have been in the wilderness; and you really do not need a guide until you start travelling through strange territory. But those days are about to end. We stand on the brink of Jordan, Before us lies a good land, a great land, a rich heritage in the Spirit. But it is strange territory, As of old, therefore, God is establishing ministries which shall lead the way across Jordan; and the people must be prepared to follow.
"And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host, and they commanded the people, saying, when ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it." (Josh. 3:2, 3). This is a new way. We have not passed this way heretofore. And with this new way, there shall arise new dangers, new problems, new perplexities. Such terrible days are ahead, and such deception shall be manifest by the adversary, that the saints must know who God's ministers are that they might follow them into this good land. Said Paul, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1).
It would be most enlightening if we could take time to examine in detail the opposition that was raised--against the faithful remnant who laboured on the second temple; for it is a clear picture of what is now transpiring, and what shall yet transpire, as this new Temple begins to rise into her glory, First there was the opposition of the people who dwelt there in the land. Their request was, "Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do." (Ezra 4:2). But Zerubbabel discerned their true nature, and refused to accept their help. No doubt he was condemned for not co-operating with this noble gesture, and this desire for fellowship. But Zerubbabel's action was certainly confirmed in what followed: for immediately they sent letters to the King of Persia, demanding that the builders be forbidden to continue their work. Their argument was quite a modern one: "Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings." (Ezra 4:13). There are many "kings" in the Church today, collecting toll and custom from the people, and the restoration of the Church is going to bring about their downfall. In the first place, they were never ordained of God. In the second place, instead of shepherding the flock they are fleecing them. In the third place, when the Church is properly established there will be local elders in each assembly to guide the flock, and there will be no need for a permanently residing pastor. Every minister of God should carefully examine himself in the light of God's controversy with the shepherds of Israel, and make his calling sure:
"Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed; but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them." (Ezek. 34:2-4).
There seems to be very few real, genuine shepherds, who are prepared to lay down their lives for the sheep. It is no wonder, therefore, that the false shepherds do not want to see the Temple of God restored, and the gates set up! Their revenue shall be endamaged when this happens. And so they persuaded the authorities in Persia to forbid the progress of the work; and the work ceased.
THE PROPHETS ENCOURAGE THE BUILDERS
Just how long the work ceased on the temple we do not know. And just how long the work on this Temple is going to be hindered, we do not know. Perhaps God in mercy will do a quick work. Nevertheless, despite all the opposition and all the obstacles, the work shall continue. Has the Lord not raised prophets to encourage the builders, just as He did for Israel? With the builders, we are told. "Were the prophets of God helping them," encouraging them in their task. (Ezra 5:2). Is it not the purpose of prophecy to speak unto men words of "edification, and exhortation, and comfort?" (1 Cor. 14:3). Edification! Building up! It is the work of prophecy to edify and build up the saints as they labour in this holy Temple of the Lord. The opposition will continue from within as well as from without--but the prophets of God are there to exhort and comfort the saints in every hour of trial.
Once again there were efforts to hinder the work, and the matter was referred to Darius, but permission was granted and the work continued. In fact, he even ordered that timber and salt and wine and oil be given the builders to help them in their task. And so they built and they prophesied... "And they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo." (Ezra 6:14).
Haggai's prophecy is most enlightening, in view of all these facts that we have mentioned. For Haggai and Zechariah were God's special prophets sent to Jerusalem to encourage the builders in their work.
His first task was to cause the people to realize that the hour had really come for the House of God to be built. The problem is the same today: "This people say, the time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should he built." But God gave Haggai a simple word of wisdom, and it was enough to settle that argument. "Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?" (Hag. 1:2, 4). You have your comfortable churches; and, of course, that is all right! You have beautiful carpets, and tapestry, and stained -glass windows, and beautiful furniture... there is plenty of time for that. But you have no time for the restoration of God's beautiful House, the Temple not made with hands, the Temple made of "living stones." Is it not a fact, a solemn fact, that the beauty and glory of the Church of Christ has been sacrificed for the natural beauty and refinement of our places of assembly? The people have no objection to this extravagance whatsoever. But let a group of saints declare their intention of restoring the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem and seeking God's face for a restoration of early apostolic power and glory and unity in the congregation of the saints, and there is no time for it!
"Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways." (vs. 6). And well might the Church of Christ consider her ways. "Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes." (vs. 6). It seems almost perplexing and mysterious sometimes when we consider the ways of the Church. We read of great revivals, of mass healing meetings, of thousands getting converted or filled with the Spirit, But when the hour of testing comes, where is all this glory of which we have boasted? How many really continue to show evidences of salvation when the revival passes on to the next town? How many retain their healing when they get back home? How many keep filled with the spirit? We are not suggesting that these great Healing or Gospel ministries are not genuine. There will be the false, of course; but God has raised up mighty ministries in the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring healing or salvation to the nations; and much has been and is being, accomplished compared to what we have seen in the past. But little, very little compared to what these ministries should produce. We looked for much; and then God blows upon our efforts in the great fanning-mill through which we all must pass, and where is the wheat? Does it not seem to have disappeared with the chaff? And, "Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house." (Hag. 1:9).
The implication is clear, and the indictment against sectarianism is with no uncertain voice. If the Body of Christ is betrayed for the sake of base gain, or for one's own Personal interest in this sect or that, then all our vaunted claims to revival and great mass conversions are empty. Is it not true, that the people assemble together to co-operate in some great mass effort for revival, and after it is all over they run "every man unto his own house..."? Back they go to their little sect and attempt to build it up with the new converts brought to birth by the revival effort. And God blows upon their work by His sifting, testing, trying Spirit; and "Lo, it came to little." Hence the drought, the lack of spiritual power and blessing; the absence of any real fellowship with the saints or unity of the Spirit; and the reason there is no latter rain. God has called the drought, and therefore at His word the Heavens have withholden their dew.
ZERUBBABEL FACES THE CHALLENGE
Zerubbabel (who was in charge of the building of the second temple), and Joshua (who was the high priest), and the remnant of people, obeyed the voice of God as spoken by the prophet, and "they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts." (Hag. 1:14). We have already considered in some detail the story of their labours and their problems. But God was with them.
Zerubbabel means "Sown in Babylon," and Joshua is the Hebrew for "Jesus." Is it not true that we have all been planted in Babylon, that great city, the city of all manner of abominations, religious and otherwise? But some have heard the call, "Come out of her, my people" and have been transplanted into another land, the land of their true calling. "Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven." (Heb. 12:22, 23).
HAGGAI PROPHESIES ON THE LAST DAY OF THE FEAST
It has been assumed that Haggai was probably born on a Feast day, because his name signifies "Feast of Jehovah." However, an amazing passage of scripture in his prophecy reveals that Haggai gave utterance to one of the Church's choice promises on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Therefore he was truly named "Haggai," which signifies "Feast of the Lord." One might wonder why the Scriptures go into such detail at times, in giving us dates and seasons which seem to be meaningless to us. God no doubt has a great plan in it all, and as our eyes become enlightened to the riches of His Word, many delightful surprises are there to greet us. And so we read, "In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the Lord by the prophet Haggai, saying..." (Hag. 2:1). The seventh month, and the twenty-first day of the month! In other words, in the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles!
Just imagine what concern and heartache must have gripped the holy prophet of the Lord as he looked down upon this second temple, slowly rising from the dust--but so very, very incomplete, and far from being a glorious temple. And now on this great day, the last day of the Feast, when the memory of every true Israelite would naturally revert back to the days of Israel's glory and power in the days of Solomon's magnificent kingdom--Haggai would likewise be thinking of the great and tremendous heritage which they had lost because of the captivity. The magnificence of Solomon's temple was utterly unsurpassable. There is nothing in the annals of history to compare with it, past or present. How could this feeble remnant begin to erect a structure even comparable to that wonderful temple? How discouraging their work must have been as they contemplated the glory they had lost! But at that very moment, on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the word of prophecy came upon him and he cried to Zerubbabel and the remnant:
"Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? And how do ye see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing! Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord: and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith Lord of hosts: According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not. For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts." (Hag. 2:3-9).
Notice the repetition of the phrase, "Saith the Lord of hosts." God wants us to make no mistake about this: God hath spoken and not man. True, our feeble attempts at restoration are nothing compared to the glory of the early Church, the Temple of the living God erected in apostolic days. But God hath promised: "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former..." Neither Zerubbabel's Temple nor the Temple of Herod could begin to compare with Solomon's Temple. But God was not speaking of the earthly house; He was speaking of the Temple not made with hands, composed of living stones. And the "Desire of all nations" would he the Glory of that Temple. And so Malachi prophesies: "And the Lord, whom ye seek. shall suddenly come to his temple..." (Mal. 3:1). All nations--yea the creation itself, are waiting eagerly for His appearing, even for the "manifestation of the Sons of God." (Rom. 8:19). Nor shall their hopes and expectations be disappointed.
And how shall this exceeding glory be manifested? By the very shaking of the heavens and the earth. Paul quotes this passage in Heb. 12:26 and assures us that this shall be fulfilled in the Kingdom of the saints. We dealt somewhat with the shaking of the heavens in a previous chapter. The very unseen powers of the heavenlies must be toppled from their thrones; yea, even now are they beginning to feel the impact of heaven-tremors as the Sons of God begin to mount up with wings of an eagle to take unto themselves their God-given authority in the Spirit. "Be strong... Be strong... Be strong" is the threefold prophecy of comfort and encouragement to the builders of the Temple, to the priesthood, and to the remnant. For it is in the spoken word of prophecy that power and strength shall be imparted to the builders, enabling them to use the tools of their ministry in the one hand, and to fight with the Sword of the Spirit in the other. With similar words of encouragement, and with a similar purpose in mind, the apostle Paul exhorts the saints: "Finally, my brethren be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:10-12). It is this wrestling with the spiritual hosts of wickedness in "the heavenlies" that shall cause the very heavens to shake and Satan and his hosts to relinquish their kingdom into the hands of the Sons of God. Everything that can be shaken is going to quake and fall before the Sons of God. And then into the very heavenlies shall they ascend, first of all in the Spirit, to take possession of the kingdom left vacant by the casting out of Satan. and his evil hosts. Then shall they be in a position to administer peace and life and blessing to a Church and a world that are in bondage and under oppression.
ZECHARIAH'S PROPHECY (See Zech. 4)
Zechariah likewise prophesied words of encouragement to Zerubbabel and the remnant who laboured on the temple. In what way would the Lord encourage the builders in the colossal task that lay before them? Well, the Lord would give the prophet a vision that would explain the means of their success. How helpless they were! How would the Lord encourage them? And so Zechariah looked, and what did he see? Mountains of stone and timber and mortar? Huge labour battalions marching down from Babylon to help them? Great machines to aid in their seemingly impossible task? Ah no! But he looked, "And behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon and two olive trees by it." A very simple illustration, and meaningless perhaps to many: two olive trees pouring their oil into a candlestick.
Zechariah himself did not know what it meant; and so God gave him the interpretation.
"This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it." Shall anything be too hard for the Lord? "By my spirit," saith the Lord, and so shall it be. And now let us notice this great word of encouragement, which God speaketh even now to the builders of this living Temple: "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it: and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things?" Child of God, remember these words; God has pledged His Word that this Temple shall be finished. Let us never lose that vision.
But still Zechariah was puzzled; what were these "two olive trees" that he saw emptying their golden oil into the candlestick? And the angel replied: "These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth." Literally, "These are the two sons of oil..."! Sons of the anointing! It is the Moses-Elijah company, as we shall discover in the next chapter. It is the company of overcomers who shall go forth in the Day of the Lord working all manner of signs and wonders and miracles in the Name of the Lord; and nothing shall stand against them.
"By my spirit," saith the Lord. This is a work of the Spirit of God. The Oil of the Spirit flowing through them: That is the secret of their power.
RESTORATION OF THE WALLS
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah cover too periods of restoration. Neither Ezra nor Nehemiah were present at the rebuilding of the Temple but came many years later: Ezra to teach the people the laws of God, and Nehemiah to rebuild the walls and the gates of the City.
And so we read that "All that could hear with understanding" assembled together "as one man into the street that was before the water gate" while Ezra the priest read from the law of God from morning until midday. This was the first day of the seventh month, the month of the Feast of Tabernacles. (See Neh. 8:1-3). "So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading." (Neh. 8:8). This is the hour of revelation and spiritual understanding. The Spirit is speaking to the churches, but only those with "ears to hear" shall understand what is spoken, The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, and only men whose minds have been quickened by the Spirit shall be able to "give the sense" on the one hand, or "understand the reading" on the other. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches."
THE PEOPLE IN THEIR PLACE
"And the people stood in their place," (Neh. 8:7). God is setting His ministries in the Body according as it pleases Him, and the time has come when every man must know his place in the Body and serve the Lord accordingly. Ministries have been raised up for the express purpose of administering gifts of the Spirit through prophecy and the laying on of hands--and the saints are exhorted to "war a good warfare" accordingly. (1 Tim. 1:18). We realize, of course, that much harm has been done by those who are attempting to administer gifts to others through prophecy and the laying on of hands--when God has not authorized them to engage in this ministry. But the tares must always grow together with the wheat until the time of harvest. If the child of God is walking in close communion with his Lord, then the Spirit will witness as to the truth of the prophecy which goes forth concerning him. And if he is not walking in close communion with God, then the prophecy will mean nothing to him anyway--except perhaps to harden his heart or fill him with pride. This will I serve as a good test. If pride rises up in the heart, the prophecy--whether true or false, cannot be relied upon. For even a true prophecy must submit to the test of faith and obedience in one's life and ministry. Furthermore, the purpose of prophecy is to establish, edify, comfort and exhort; and if the candidate is left in a state of confusion or turmoil and doubt-he might as well reject what has been said concerning him. "For God is not the Author of confusion, but of peace." (1 Cor. 14:33). We merely mention these things, because we know that many are trying to engage in this ministry of prophecy, with the laying on of hands--and God has never commissioned them to do so. The ministry is real and genuine, as all can testify who have really entered in to the realities of this move of the Spirit. But as surely as the Sower plants good seed, the enemy is there to sow tares--and both must grow together until the harvest.
However, if the child of God who hungers to know God's will, and do it--has not had the opportunity of being set aside by prophecy and the laying on of hands, he need not be in the least discouraged. Let him continue in the things which God has placed in his hand to do. Choose the humble and lowly position, and you cannot go wrong. Pray, fast, intercede, shew mercy, give, help and assist God's people--do whatever the Lord enables you to do, in humility and meekness, and God will honour your efforts. And regardless of any prophecy that has been given to any man, utter consecration unto God is God's will for you, first and foremost. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Rom. 12:1, 2). That is the will of God for you! Take the lowly position, therefore, and God will exalt you in due course when you are able to receive it. Much better that you should be found doing some humble task, and the Lord promote you unto honour, than that he should be forced to say: "Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room." (Lk. 14:9). If this plan is followed, God will certainly give guidance and direction. And in His own good time, when He chooses to reveal your ministry in greater fulness through prophecy and the laying on of hands, His servants will be directed your way, and led of the Spirit to set you apart unto the work for which God has called you.
SEND PORTIONS TO THE NEEDY
"Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared..." (Neh. 8:10).
As the Feast of Tabernacles begins to dawn upon us, it is becoming increasingly important that the saints have something to minister to their fellow-members in the Body. They must not "appear before the Lord empty: every man shall give as he is able according to the blessing of the Lord." (Deut. 16:16, 17). This strongly reminds us of Paul's exhortations to the Romans and Corinthians, concerning their ministry in the Body of Christ. "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering..." (Rom. 12:6, 7). The whole ministry of the various members is to edify the Body, and not for their own gratification. "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (1 Pet. 4:10). As he ministries develop and the Body is edified, then they will go forth unto the world bringing health and gladness to those who sit in darkness, starvation, and the shadow of death.
VICTORY AND PROSPERITY AHEAD
"Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written..." (Neh. 8:15).
No doubt all these trees are significant of one thing and another. But broadly speaking they depict the victory and prosperity and joy and triumph of the people of God. The "olive"--a true symbol of the Holy Spirit. The olive oil was used for making the holy ointment, for the anointing of prophet, priest, or king. Palm branches, you will recall, were cut down and scattered in the pathway of the King who came riding triumphantly into Jerusalem sitting upon an ass, amidst the shouting of the people and of the children. "Hosanna"' they cried, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." (Mk. 11:9). And the saints who come out of the Great Tribulation clothed in white robes have "palms in their hands," as they shout the victory song and worship the Lamb that was, slain for them. There is a great day of gladness ahead for the saints when the Feast of Tabernacles is observed. But they must leave their homes in the streets of Jerusalem. They must forsake their own ways, their own thoughts, their own plans and desires, and crucify the flesh--in order that the life of Christ and the joy of the Holy Ghost might be their portion.
What a spectacle this scene must have presented. Thousands upon thousands of little humble tabernacles or booths erected along the streets of Jerusalem, or upon the house-tops, or in the courts of the temple, or in the open places of the city; all assembled together with one common purpose in mind, with one heart and one soul, to keep the Feast of the Lord. The booth was nothing much to behold--just a humble, fragile hut. Says Paul, "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." (2 Cor. 4:7). Weymouth's translation of this passage is most expressive: "But we have this treasure in fragile earthen pots, in order that the surpassing greatness of the power may be seen to be God's and not to come from us." Again, Paul says, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor. 12:9). Literally it reads, "That the power of Christ may spread a Tabernacle over me... " It is the manifestation of Christ within us. It is the crucifixion of our flesh, that the very life of Christ might be revealed, in the power of the Holy Ghost.
OPPOSITION WITHIN AND WITHOUT
Nehemiah gives further light on the opposition that was arrayed against them. As they started the tremendous task, there was nothing more than mockery. One said, "Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall." (Neh. 4:3). But soon their mockery turned to violence. They realized that great progress was being made in spite of their tremendous difficulties, and so they began to get fearful, and tried to hinder the work by force of arms. It became necessary, therefore, for the builders to be armed with spears as well as tools; and they builded with the sword girded by their side. (Neh. 4:18).
If we seek to restore the walls of Jerusalem, we are going to find it necessary in the very near future to put on "the whole armour of God." Mockery is giving way to violence. Satan will soon begin to use force against the saints instead of insult, because he realizes that the plan of God is being fulfilled, even if the work is slow and not any too spectacular.
Then carnality crept into the midst of God's people, and brother was ill-treating brother. Because of the hard times, some were being forced to mortgage their fields and their properties, and the rich were exacting usury from the poor. And we can be sure of this, saints, that one of Satan's sure devices against God's people is in causing internal strife and division. If he cannot conquer by outward attack, he is often most successful by causing the congregation to fall into sin. When Balaam could not curse Israel (for they were God's people and God turned the curse into a blessing)--then he advised Balak to invite the people to a great sacrifice of their gods--and Israel fell into the trap. Consequently a great plague swept through the whole congregation. (Num. 25:1, 2; 31:16).
Finally, Sunballat conceived another plot against Nehemiah, perhaps the most subtle of all. If he was unable to conquer by force, or by mockery, he would befriend Nehemiah and in that way betray him. He would propose a conference. "Come, let us meet together..." he suggested. But Nehemiah discerned the true intent and purpose of the proposed meeting, and he replied that he was too busy. (Neh. 6:2-8). Failing that he hired a man to come and persuade Nehemiah to flee into the temple for safety, stating that some were after his life. But Nehemiah had no part in the priesthood, and he refused to sin against God in this manner; and again the plot failed.
Nehemiah's ministry was to govern the land, not to minister in the Temple. Perhaps Satan's most successful form of attack against the saints, is to get them to become involved in some work of the Lord which is not theirs to perform. It appears to be such an innocent thing. And perhaps the need that arises would almost demand that you submit, and take upon yourself some ministry which God has neither enabled you nor called you to perform. But God knows all about it. and he has some who are qualified to meet that need. Let every man minister according to the ability which God gives, and in the place which God has designated for him.
EVERY MAN HAD HIS JOB TO PERFORM
No man needs to be unduly concerned about his ministry if he will but minister according to the ability and power which God has given. For the ministry that you have is one that is suited to you, and one for which God has gifted you. If you are walking with God you will automatically be in your ministry. And the ministry that you have from God has constituted you a "steward," or literally, "a house-manager" of His affairs. Having received a gift from God, therefore, we are called upon to be "good stewards of the manifold grace of God." And as a "steward" of God's House, only one thing is required of you, and that is faithfulness. (1 Cor. 4:1). You are not called upon to be great, or mighty, or prosperous, or clever, or successful, or to do great things--but to be "faithful." Before God that is true greatness, and true success. The lone soldier guarding some obscure vital spot in the field of battle, even if he never sees any action, is just as much entitled to promotion as the man in the front lines. One thing is sure, the Day of Christ is going to reveal every man's faithfulness in building upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ. This we know: the Judgment Seat of Christ will reveal quality and not quantity. "And the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." (1 Cor. 3:13). If it is "gold, silver, precious stones," it will stand the test; and if it is "wood, hay stubble" it will be burnt up, leaving the builder without the crown of glory, saved as through fire.
And so every Israelite had his job to perform. Some on the sheep-gate, some on the fish-gate. Some on this tower, and another on that tower. Some at the fountain, some at the pool, some at the stairs, some at the armories, some at the houses of the priests. But they all worked together, according to their several ability, the prophets of God encouraging them as they built--and in due course the wall was finished, and the defence of the City was made secure.
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