“Arise and go up to Bethel, and dwell there”
It is a day of lawlessness in thought as well as in act. People give free rein to their imagination and foolish reasonings (which seems to be the meaning of the word "inventions" in Ecc. 7:29); and to this our attention should be directed; not in the way of answering them by counter reasonings, but by seeking to reach the heart’s affections, and the conscience, as to what is due to God and to Christ. The more we have the sense of grace in our souls (the whole work of salvation of God towards us), the more we shall seek to draw nigh to Him in the deep sense of our need of being kept in an evil day.
The time is short for learning practically what Christ’s path was. But in a day of outward "toleration" and indifference, it is more than ever a matter of choice, and God gives His blessing with it. "Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her." Ruth chose too; a parting kiss could not satisfy her. She clave to Naomi in her sorrow, and a full reward was given to her. Caleb pursued a quiet suffering path of faithfulness to God, walking by faith, and when the proper time came, he used his privilege of choosing Hebron, where the field of Macpelah was. Faith works by love, and avoids reasoning. The apostle prays, "that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all intelligence, that ye may judge of and approve the things that are more excellent" (Phi. 1:9-10).
In the ordinary matters of this life, as to our circumstances, etc., faith’s path is not to choose, but to give oneself quietly over to God’s ordering for us. Lot, in self-confidence, chose for himself, pitched toward Sodom, and then went into it. The first warning God gave him had no effect upon him; he was delivered at that time by his uncle’s intervention, but he had no mind to leave Sodom. When the wicked city was at length destroyed, he lost everything, and the beautiful plain he had coveted became a burning fiery furnace. Abraham, through his humiliating experience in Egypt, learned the first lesson of the wilderness – not to have confidence in himself. Being thus consciously incompetent to choose, he was glad that God should choose for him, and he was blessed.
In spiritual things, the contrary holds good; God expects us to choose what is most excellent in the path which He graciously opens up to us (Eph. 5:15-17). We have not to seek anything dazzling or out of the way, nor to put forth any remarkable effort that would attract attention or make other people talk about us. We have simply to walk heartily and joyfully in the Lord’s path, having our hearts set on things above where He sits, and receive what He sets before us. Ruth had not to go out of her way to leave her country and cast in her lot with Naomi. The link had been formed quietly and naturally, and she held to it, minded not to leave or give up that which God had set before her; and so she could say to Naomi in quiet confidence, "Thy God shall be my God." Nothing could be more unpretentious. There was no self-assertion, no brilliant resolution or vow as to the future, only a quiet settled purpose to cleave to that which was already hers through grace, at a time when death seemed to have ruined all her prospects.
So with Caleb. He had been sent as one of the spies, had gone forth in obedience, traversed the land from south to north, right up to Lebanon and back again, and he clung to the promise: "Surely the land whereon thy feet have trodden shall be thine inheritance…" He had then a right to pick and choose his inheritance in all the best of the land given to the fathers. And after forty-five years of patience he chose, with its suburbs, that city where the sons of Anak lived, and where the spies felt with terror their own insignificance. It is the only city mentioned in Num. 13 as being in the land, and was the home of the giants. During seven years’ conflict, Joshua and all Israel had left those giants alone; yet Caleb ventures to say, "If so be the Lord will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the Lord said." It was simple faith, preserving to the end in the humility, and withal the boldness, which faith gives – no pretension, no boasting, but the quiet confidence of one who walked with God. And the "fields of the city and the villages thereof were made his forever" (Jos. 21:12). The "first lot," given to the sons of Aaron, the priest, was the city itself. Such is the choice of faith, working by love; and love must have its object, known to the soul and enjoyed. Without such an object, holiness is not possible for us.
Elisha is another stirring example of the simplicity of faith’s choice, showing how the soul is held, as by a chain of gold, in the path of God’s ordering and blessing. "As the Lord liveth and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee," was the simple answer to the test (and no ordinary test), applied three times to him; and it ended in the expression of acknowledged communion, followed by the thrilling sight of the prophet going up to heaven without dying, and the reception of the double portion of the Spirit as he gathered up the precious mantle which fell to him.
"Draw nigh to God," James says, "and He will draw nigh to you." May it be increasingly our portion, and the more so as the world is carried away by its talk and vain glory, that we may find our joy in serving Christ in obscurity, content with His approval until He come, having the eye and the heart set on that which is unseen and eternal.
Patient suffering for Christ’s sake will have its reward when He comes. If the world is against us, we know it was against Him, and hated Him. In the path of faith, the opportunity to choose for Him will be given, when the needed discipline of the soul has been duly carried out. Caleb lost nothing by waiting forty-five years. Moses had to wait forty years after his choice was made, before he was sent of God to help his brethren (Heb. 11:24-26). May we each of us know more what it is to keep the word of Christ’s patience.