|The Apparent Cause|
|1. Abram in Egypt||Gen. 12:10||Anxiety|
|2. Lot in Sodom||Gen. 19:1||Ambition|
|3. Jacob in Shechem||Gen. 33:18||Half-heartedness|
|4. David on the housetop||2 Sam.11:2||Indolence|
|5. Man of God under an oak||1 Ki. 13:14||Self-complacence|
|6. Elijah under a juniper||1 Ki. 19:4||Discouragement|
|7. Jonah in the ship||Jon. 1:5||Self-will|
|8. Peter at the fire||Lk. 22:55||Fear|
|9. Paul in Jerusalem||Acts 21:15||Spiritual Zeal|
How easily we may discern the grave mistakes of these beloved saints of God, in being where they were, and the positive harm that resulted. Yet, can our hearts possibly ignore the sad fact that these same alarming motives noted in our last column have had far too great influence in leading us also astray? What formidable enemies are these, against which we have no real protection unless armed with "the whole armour of God." If only "the shield of faith" is briefly dropped, Satan will use his "fiery darts" to full advantage. If we quietly analyze all these motives, every one will be seen to stem from personal pride, which is the one principle in man that will respond to the cunning deceit of the enemy, who himself fell through pride. But it is good to have these things so broken down for us that we may be able to discern the working of such motives in our own hearts, and to judge them unsparingly.
1) Abram. Who has not known something of Abram’s anxiety, not only for himself, but for his loved ones, when famine struck the land of promise? Led by sight, he goes where he sees the food is. Faith had wavered, for God had brought him to the land, and would He not sustain him, famine or not? Shall we leave the place of God’s testimony because apprehensive of the future, and seek other fields that appear greener? Whether for material or spiritual need, let us "be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6). It is this that brings "the peace of God," not seeking elsewhere some provision that seems attractive. If there are stern tests of faith, they are intended to test us. But "the trial of your faith" is "much more precious than of gold that perisheth" (1 Pet. 1:7). Why should we be content to fail the test-and suffer for it?
2) Lot. From this backsliding, however, Abram was fully recovered: Egypt’s attractions deceived him only for a time. Not so with Lot. Rather than being recovered from a spirit of anxiety, he allowed it to grow into worldly ambition. We may sincerely insist that it is necessary for us to make a living on earth; but how many who do so are very soon trapped by the snare of seeking worldly advantage and position! Lot may likely have persuaded himself that he was really trying to improve the condition of Sodom, as certain Christians endeavor to improve the world; but is this thoroughly honest? He sat as a judge in the gate. Could he dare to say that is was really Sodom’s improvement he was seeking, with no concern about his own earthly circumstances? Oh no, he was ambitious for himself, and he lost everything. What a warning for the child of God!
3) Jacob. In Jacob something of this same spirit is evident in Haran, and he labored hard to "provide for his own house," yet in his case he did not forget that he owed much to the grace of God. God indeed seeks by this same grace to fully restore him, when He tells him to return to Bethel, "God’s house." But Jacob lingered on the way, and at Shechem "bought a parcel of a field," and settled down. Instead of leaving the world fully behind, he bought a little part of it, and the price he paid later was far higher than a sliver of gold. How easily we too, because of divided affections, may be content with a half-way house, instead of being in God’s place for us, "God’s house." But the results here, in Jacob’s family, were the most shamefully evil in his history. Let us beware of a divided heart, partly for the Lord, partly for the world; but rather pray in earnest with the Psalmist, "Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth: unite my heart to fear Thy name" (Ps. 86:11).
4) David. However, on the other hand, supposing we do learn to refuse worldly ambition, does this mean we may give ourselves up to a lazy existence? Can it be that such a thought as this influenced David at a time "when kings go forth to war?" If there was no need to gain anything for himself, did he forget that there was yet much to gain for God? Indolence will lead to positive sin. David, energetic, devoted man of God as he had been, found himself now with nothing to do but to "walk upon the roof of his house," though Israel had gone forth to war. Are we in vital exercise as to the things of God? — not settling down in selfish contentment, but using leisure time in storing our souls with the truth of the word of God, and going forth to bear a consistent witness to the Lord Jesus, as good soldiers of His? If we are willing to allow indolence in our lives, the world has its thousands of attractions to excite our natural senses, for which, if we were properly engaged, we should just not have time, nor inclination. Can the eternal God of glory not supply us with enough to profitably occupy our time? Let us make no excuse for failing to serve Him.
5) Man of God. Yet another danger presents itself even to those whom the Lord may use in faithful service. The man of God in 1 Kings 13 had obeyed the voice of the Lord in bearing solemn witness against Jeroboam and his idolatrous altar at Bethel, and obediently began his return journey, going by another route. Why did he stop to sit down under an oak tree? It was here that he was deceived by the old prophet, and fell into the snare of which God’s word had solemnly forewarned him, and he was killed by a lion. If the horror of the evil of Bethel had had its due weight with him, as attested by the solemn word of God, certainly he would not have lingered for a moment. But allowing himself some pleasant satisfaction at having faithfully spoken the word of God, instead of feeling still the force of that word in his own soul, he was in a state fit to be deceived. What a warning! Let us indulge in but a little self-complacency, and we to may be deceived, and it was he who suffered. How good to take to heart the words of the Lord Jesus, "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Lk. 17:10).
6) Elijah. Elijah illustrates another very real danger in connection with the service of the Lord. Here is another man of God who had, after deep exercise of soul, stood firmly, alone, for the living God, had brought down fire from heaven, had destroyed the prophets of Baal, and whose prayer brought rain to desolate land. Yet immediately after he is found under a juniper tree, fleeing from Jezebel, and in utter discouragement asking God to take away his life. Of course he thought that through God showing such mighty works of power, Israel would be brought back to God, and now found that no such moral and spiritual effects had taken place. He feels his efforts have not been appreciated: he is despised and alone. Has not every true servant of God had to feel this in some measure at least? But can discouragement ever be right? Never! It is God who decides the value of our service for Him, not man. If the service has been done for the Lord, the results may be left fully with Him. It is not easy for us to apply this in real simplicity of faith, but we must remember that we are only servants, and the same truth of God for which Elijah could stand before Ahab is really sufficient to sustain Elijah when he is utterly rejected and despised. Let us have our eyes simply upon our holy Lord, and discouragement will not overwhelm us. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58).
7) Jonah. As though this were not enough, there is yet a worse evil that may attack a servant of the Lord, and it must not be forgotten that today every child of God is a servant of God and intended to "serve Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear." Jonah writes concerning himself, and exposed his own motives, which seems a clear indication that in his judging such motives, God did in grace recover his soul. Instead of going to Ninevah when God had sent him, Jonah is found in a ship, asleep, which led to an experience of intense anguish in the belly of a great fish. The reason for his disobedience he himself reveals in chapter 4:1-2. He felt that if he went and warned Ninevah of the awesome judgment of God, Ninevah might repent, and God’s judgment be averted, for he knew that God is gracious! When this actually happened, he was very angry, possibly because he felt his reputation as a prophet would suffer, or else because he would rather see Gentiles perish than repent! Can it be that the motives of a child of God can descend so low? Sadly, it is true. In order that I may be something, it is possible I may cruelly desire to have others put down. Do we honestly pray for all men — the lowest, the vilest? Do we rejoice in the thought of guilty sinners turning in repentance to God? May our hearts go out in true, active love for souls, and we shall be preserved from this cold-hearted self-will that does what one prefers rather than obey God. Ought not Jonah to have rejoiced that this preaching was used by God to turn a whole city in repentance to cry to Him for mercy? But if we know nothing of repentant spirit ourselves, then the repentance of others will fail to move our hearts with thankfulness.
8) Peter. The case of Peter is a more common one, however, for have we not all too frequently found ourselves in his company as regards the sadness of his failure when his Master faced the cruelest hour of man’s persecution? What powerful enemy so weakened this fervent, affectionate follower of the Lord Jesus? Simply "the fear of man," which "bringeth a snare." Can it be that this man, so naturally bold and courageous, will cringe and speak falsehood when confronted by a woman? Alas how weak are our hearts! But why should he be afraid? He had before assured the Lord he was ready to go with Him to prison and to death (Lk. 22:33). At that moment, though, the Lord Himself was not ready. He must go first to the garden of Gethsemane, where His soul was poured out in agonizing prayer to God, in preparation for the deeper agony of the cross. Peter neglected such preparation, and was asleep. What a lesson for us! In the things of God, natural courage will fail. Only God’s divine power and grace can sustain us and preserve us from fear. "What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee" (Ps. 56:3). "I will trust, and not be afraid" (Isa. 12:2). Most strikingly, Isaiah 51:12-13 shows that fear, no less than the other evils we have noted, is the product of mere pride, little as we might think it so: "Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and the son of man which shall be made as grass; and forgettest the Lord thy Maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth?" Is this not a stern and righteous reproof to our foolish fear of man? The results of Peter’s fear were humiliating in the extreme, nor shall we escape reaping what we sow. Yet divine grace did, and does, wonderfully restore.
9) Paul. However, this element of fear has no place whatever in Paul’s going up to Jerusalem when the Spirit of God had plainly warned him against it. But he was certainly not in the right place, however bold he may have been; in fact, it was a consuming love for his own people Israel, and a desire for their salvation that moved him so powerfully in seeking to attract their ears to the gospel. But the truest spiritual desire cannot be substituted for the guidance of God, who knew that Paul’s testimony would not be received at Jerusalem. This is a lesson not easy to be learned in practice, a most humbling lesson, and necessary for the most earnest servants of God. The fact that Paul had been so greatly used by God in the salvation of Gentiles in other lands was no indication that he would be so used in Jerusalem with his own people, the Jews. How can we escape the sad conclusion that there was some element of pride in his feeling that he could persuade these Jews, and specially after God had told him he could not? How we need the clear word of God for every step! Not that spiritual zeal itself is an evil: it is not; but if we depend on this, we shall find it will mislead us, and we shall reap the results. Constant, consistent communion with God and submission to His word is our only real protection; and of all these cases, this last no doubt is intended to press this upon us most positively.
These are by no means all the cases of saints in wrong places recorded in the word of God, and we should do well to consider such histories as those of Abraham’s going down to Abimelech the Philistine; of Samson’s many compromises with the Philistines; of Elimelech and Naomi going down to Moab; of David’s sojourn at Gath, and later at Ziklag; of Jonathan’s choosing the court of his father Saul when David was in rejection; of Jehoshaphat’s going down to visit the wicked king Ahab on friendly terms; and of Obadiah the servant of the Lord found serving Ahab. So numerous being the cases of such failure, they are surely serious warnings. Certainly they are not intended to provide us with any excuse for our own failure, but as warning signposts that we may avoid the same pitfalls, and rather find in the Lord Jesus the strength and grace necessary to meet these things, cultivating the positive motives of faith in the blessed Son of God, and of love Himself and for others.
"Wherefore, take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13).