O (LORD) our God, will You not judge them?

For we are powerless before this great multitude coming against us,

nor do we know what to do; but our eyes are on You.”

( 2 Chron. 20:12)

 

King Jehoshaphat was scared. A great confederation of enemies was coming against Judah from the south—Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites without number. In his fear—but also in his trust—he assembled all Judah to fast and pray. And when the time to pray in public arrived, he called to mind both the character and the promises of God. Then, in the words of our text above, he laid his petition before the LORD.

What words they were, and what a reminder and admonition to us, as we fight our own good fight of faith! Note well in these words three great and unalterable facts that mark our Christian life as we journey through the wilderness of this world to our heavenly homeland.

First, Jehoshaphat acknowledges his powerlessness. “We are powerless before this great multitude coming against us.” And so we are—but only in and of ourselves (John 15:1f). For outside of ourselves there is a great power that created the world, that raised Christ from the dead, and that is eager to suit us up daily with the weapons of our warfare. How sweet to read that in Jehoshaphat’s day it pleased the Lord to do all the fighting by himself. All that Judah was required to do was “stand and see the salvation of the Lord.” And so they did. We, of course, will often be called on to participate in the various “salvations” that the Lord grants us. But that changes nothing essential. Essentially we are powerless—unless and until we are empowered by his invincible power from above. It is not just true of Jehoshaphat’s battle, but of all battles: They belong to the Lord.

Secondly, Jehoshaphat admits he doesn’t know what to do. What a liberating confession! Can you not the feel the weight lifting from your shoulders as you realize that God does not hold you responsible for coming up with bright ideas to advance his Kingdom? No, all he holds you responsible for is to do exactly as Jehoshaphat did: sometimes fast, always pray, and always seek God’s face (20:3). Was this not what Paul and the prophets in Antioch did? And did not one of the prophets, just like Jahaziel in Jehoshaphat’s day, bring a word from the Lord? And did not the execution of that word turn Asia and Europe upside down, and storm the kingdom of Satan in those lands? (Acts 13) Our walk with God is never easy, but it’s always simple: We are simply to seek the LORD.

This brings us to the third and greatest fact of all. In this face of his spiritual powerlessness and ignorance, Jehoshaphat spoke these wise and memorable words: “But our eyes are on You!” Amen and amen! Do you remember how our Lord said, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. And how great that darkness will be!” Well, strong warnings protect vital truths and ensure great blessings. We MUST fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1f). Read Hebrews 11, and ponder the men and women of Faith’s Hall of Fame. Did they not all walk in the footsteps of king Jehoshaphat? Did they not see, feel, and acknowledge their utter powerlessness; did they not admit their ignorance; did they not look to the Lord alone for help; and did he not graciously give them the wisdom to know his will and the power to walk in it?

If you will take time to read the whole story of Jehoshaphat’s reign, you will see that he was not a perfect king. More than once he took his eyes off the Lord, putting his trust in man rather than God. And for those failures he more than once earned a rebuke, and more than one experienced a measure of defeat. But O what a great king he was, for over the great long haul he did indeed look to the Lord, walk in his will, enjoy his blessings, glorify his Name, and therefore earn his everlasting “Well done!” (17:1-6)

What then is the take-away of our text? Simply (but never easily) this: Let us ask for Jehoshaphat’s eyes. And let us do all we can to maintain them, fixing our eyes on Jesus as we meditate in daily on his word, pray always in the Spirit, and faithfully step out in obedience to his will. This is not a one-time experience; it is the pattern and trajectory of the whole Christian life. But as we keep rising to it, more and more will we find ourselves in the place of king Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah, of whom it is written that they fell down before the Lord, worshiped him in joy, and declared, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his covenant love endures forever” (20:18)!

 

 

Asa built fortified cities in Judah, because the land was undisturbed;

and during those years no one made war with him, because the LORD had given him rest.

(2 Chronicles 14:6)

 

Asa—a good king who sought and served the LORD—enjoyed peace. Though he stumbled towards the end of his life, it is written of him that he had a heart like the heart of his father David. He trusted the Lord, tore down high places, won (rare) battles, used only the God-approved weapons of war, built fortified cities, filled them with riches and booty, and brought prosperity and rest to the land of Judah. In short, God made Asa a king of peace.

Asa is a powerful picture of the one true King of Peace, the exalted Lord Jesus Christ. Having completed his own arduous earthly work of 33 years—always trusting his Father, always using the God-approved weapons of war—Christ ascended above, sat down at God’s right hand, and as the high King of heaven entered his eternal rest. In short, God made Christ THE King of Peace!

But what is the King of Peace doing as he rests? Amazing to say, he’s working! In particular, like Asa, he is building fortified cities: cities with mighty walls, tall towers, thick gates, and heavy bars; secure cities loaded with food and drink and the treasures of war.

But what exactly are these cities? According to the NT, they are you and me and all who now live in Immanuel’s Land. Yes, Christ is much at work in many ways to root and ground and build up and establish his people in their most holy faith. His people are his fortified cities. The treasures with which he fills them are his truth and his Spirit and his glory. And the land in which they are found is the heavenly Judah: a land filled with praise and rejoicing and glorying in God, all because of the all-sufficient work of Christ.

But we ourselves have a role to play in all of this. To become Christ’s fortified cities, we must live like the Asa of old, and also like the Asa above. We must cast ourselves wholly upon God; we must tear down our idols and high places; we must forbear to use the weapons of Egypt, which fit so comfortably in the hands of the proud and the strong; we must take up the full armor of God, which only fit comfortably in the hands of the weak, the humble, and the dependent.

Will it be easy? No. But is it doable? Yes . . . if only we follow our heavenly Asa day by day, entering into his rest, fighting from his rest, watching him build us up into strong, beautiful, well-beloved cities, cities filled with eternal treasure and ever prospering in a heavenly land of praise.

 

 

Off the Shepherd went, leaping on the mountains and skipping on the hills, with Grace and Glory (formerly called Much Afraid) following close behind, and the beautiful figures of Peace and Joy (formerly called Suffering and Sorrow) springing at her side.

As they went she sang this song:

Set me as a seal upon thine heart,
Thou Love more strong than death,
That I may feel through every part
Thy burning, fiery breath,
And then like wax held in the flame,
May take the imprint of thy Name.

Set me as a seal upon thine arm,
Thou Love that bursts the grave,
Thy coals of fire can never harm,
But only purge and save.
Thou jealous Love, thou burning Flame,
Oh, burn out all unlike thy Name!

The floods can never drown thy love,
Nor weaken thy desire,
The rains may deluge from above,
But never quench thy fire.
Make soft my heart in thy strong flame,
To take the imprint of thy Name.

Hannah Hurnard, Hinds Feet on High Places

We are all homeward bound. But as I near the end of my journey, I sometimes find myself circling back to the beginning, re-reading the great books that set me on my way. Hinds Feet on High Places is one of them. And strange to tell, it is the golden nuggets found in the Preface to the Allegory that shine most brightly in my memory.  For those of you who love the old book, here’s the Preface. I hope you have found, with the author, that ” . . . the High Places and the hinds’ feet do not refer to heavenly places after death, but are meant to be the glorious experience of God’s children here and now—if they will follow the path he chooses for them.” But if you haven’t—or if you haven’t to the degree you had hoped for when you first began the journey—take courage: Just like me, you’re homeward bound.

 

Preface to the Allegory

One morning during the daily Bible reading on our mission compound in Palestine, our little Arab nurse read from Daily Light a quotation from the Song of Songs, “The voice of my Beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song of Solomon 2:8). When asked what the verse meant, she looked up with a happy smile of understanding and said, “It means there are no obstacles which our Savior’s love cannot overcome, and that to him, mountains of difficulty are as easy as an asphalt road!”

From the garden at the back of the mission house at the foot of Mount Gerizim we could often watch the gazelles bounding up the mountainside, leaping from rock to rock with extraordinary grace and agility. Their motion was one of the most beautiful examples of exultant and apparently effortless ease in surmounting obstacles which I have ever seen.

How deeply we who love the Lord of Love and desire to follow him long for the power to surmount all difficulties and tests and conflicts in life in the same exultant and triumphant way. To learn the secret of victorious living has been the heart’s desire of those who love the Lord, in every generation.

We feel we would give anything if only we could, in actual experience, live on the High Places of love and victory here on this earth and during this life—able always to react to evil, tribulation, sorrow, pain, and every wrong thing in such a way that they would be overcome and transformed into something to the praise and glory of God forever. As Christians we know, in theory at least, that in the life of a child of God there are no second causes, that even the most unjust and cruel things, as well as all seemingly pointless and undeserved sufferings, have been permitted by God as a glorious opportunity for us to react to them in such a way that our Lord and Savior is able to produce in us, little by little, his own lovely character.

The Song of Songs expresses the desire implanted in every human heart, to be reunited with God himself, and to know perfect and unbroken union with him. He has made us for himself, and our hearts can never know rest and perfect satisfaction until they find it in him.

It is God’s will that some of his children should learn this deep union with himself through the perfect flowering of natural human love in marriage. For others it is equally his will that the same perfect union should be learned through the experience of learning to lay down completely this natural and instinctive desire for marriage and parenthood, and accept the circumstances of life which deny them this experience. This instinct for love, so firmly implanted in the human heart, is the supreme way by which we learn to desire and love God himself above all else.

But the High Places of victory and union with Christ cannot be reached by any mental reckoning of self to be dead to sin, or by seeking to devise some way or discipline by which the will can be crucified. The only way is by learning to accept, day by day, the actual conditions and tests permitted by God, by a continually repeated laying down of our own will and acceptance of his as it is presented to us in the form of the people with whom we have to live and work, and in the things which happen to us. Every acceptance of his will becomes an altar of sacrifice, and every such surrender and abandonment of ourselves to his will is a means of furthering us on the way to the High Places to which he desires to bring every child of his while they are still living on earth.

The lessons of accepting and triumphing over evil, of becoming acquainted with grief, and pain, and ultimately, of finding them transformed into something incomparably precious; of learning through constant glad surrender to know the Lord of Love himself in a new way and to experience unbroken union with him—these are the lessons of the allegory in this book. The High Places and the hinds’ feet do not refer to heavenly places after death, but are meant to be the glorious experience of God’s children here and now—if they will follow the path he chooses for them.

Perhaps the Lord will use it to speak comfort to some of his loved ones who are finding themselves forced to keep company with Sorrow and Suffering, or who walk in darkness and have no light or feel themselves tossed with tempest and not comforted. It may help them to understand a new meaning in what is happening, for the experiences through which they are passing are all part of the wonderful process by which the Lord is making real in their lives the same experience which made David and Habakkuk cry out exultantly, “The Lord God maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon mine High Places” (Ps. 18:33 and Hab. 3:19).

–Hannah Hurnard

O Lord, why do you stand far off? Why do you hide in times of trouble?

(Psalm 10:1)

 

We’ve all wrestled with it: the feeling that God is far off, that the heavens are made of brass, that the room, the church, and the world itself are destitute of his comforting presence.

Here are two thoughts, anchored in the New Testament, that have helped me cope with it.

First, in Old Testament times, God really was far off. I do not mean to deny that his Spirit was omnipresent, or that he took a constant and active interest in his covenant children, or that he occasionally graced his saints with mighty demonstrations of his Spirit’s presence, power and gifts. But I certainly do mean to deny that God’s Old Covenant people were privileged to live as we do under the New Covenant: In constant spiritual union with the Holy Trinity.

That brings me to my second point: In NT times, not only is God not far off, he is so near that he couldn’t possibly be any nearer! The NT bends over backwards to make this point, using rich, diverse, and highly comforting words and images, so the saints will never forget it.

For example, when Gabriel came to Joseph, he said of the coming One, “And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’”. Sounds pretty near, does it not?

When our Lord promised his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, he said, “I will petition the Father, and he will give you another Helper, so that he may be with you forever.” How is it that we so often ask God to come to us, when Jesus tells us here that he already has, and that he plans to stay forever!

In this same discourse, the Lord went on to reveal a stupendous implication of the gift of the Spirit: Henceforth there will be a “mutual indwelling” of God and his people, a mutual indwelling much like that of the Persons of the Holy Trinity itself. He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you . . . On that day you will realize I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you . . . Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14)

And in his high priestly prayer the Lord again speaks of this same thing: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity . . . I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known, in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17)

Now, can we honestly think of God as far off when Christ says that he is in us, and we in him, with the result that we are now at home forever in the Holy Trinity?

But there is more.

Paul, for example, tells us that because the saints are now sealed with the Holy Spirit, they are also seated with Christ in the heavenly places. It’s pretty hard to think of God as far off when you’re sitting with him in heaven! (Ephesians 1, 2)

Finally, and in some ways best of all, we have the NT letter to the Hebrew Christians. There we learn that while our OT brothers and sisters had no access to the Holiest Place of the tabernacle, we do, since Christ, our High Priest, has entered it once and for all in our behalf. Here is a miscellany of texts, revolving around this crucial point:

The Holy Spirit was showing by this (i.e., by limited access to God’s presence in OT times) that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed so long as the first tabernacle was still standing. But when Christ appeared as the high priest of the good things that now have come, he entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, a tabernacle not made with human hands (that is, not belonging to this creation). He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; rather, by means of his own blood he entered the Most Holy Place once for all, thus obtaining eternal redemption . . . We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, our forerunner, has entered on our behalf, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek . . . Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven—Jesus, the Son of God—let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, and yet did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4, 6, 9)

Do you see the thrust of these rich texts? It is really quite astounding: On the basis of his righteous life and atoning death, Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, has entered the (heavenly) presence of God once and for all—and he has brought us in with him once and for all!

So then, how do we handle “that far off feeling” when it comes? Here’s my best thought: We handle it by meeting it with a strong, determined NT faith. Unlike our OT predecessors, we refuse to allow ourselves to think of God—or to speak to God—as though he were far off. No, clinging to NT truth, and averting our eyes from every contrary feeling (or lack of feeling), we boldly say, “Lord, you are here. You are nearer than hands and feet. Like all your kids, I live and move have my being in you. I am in you, and you are in me. Together, even now, we are seated in heavenly places. My new and eternal home is right here with you, in the Holy Trinity, in the Holiest Place of All!”

Will such affirmations shake off all your spiritual doldrums? Will they ignite a mighty stirring of the Spirit in your emotions? Will your days of spiritual longing and struggle be over forever?

How I wish I could answer yes to all of the above! But from my own experience I can honestly say this: The Spirit of Truth likes it very much when God’s kids persistently affirm the truth that their triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is not a God far off, but a God who is near. And I can further say that those who boldly do so will surely grow in the assurance and joy that he really is.