COLOSSIANS - AN EXHORTATION FOR UNITY IN LOVE (2)
LESSONS FROM THE DELIVERANCE OF ISRAEL
When we come to reflect upon the varied methods through which the Spirit instructs us by The Word, one of the most important features to be recognised is the example of God’s past dealings with Israel. So the Apostle wrote: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition … wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1Cor 10:12). The modern tendency, when considering Israel’s rather turbulent past, is simply to give scathing criticism for their failures, and (less frequently), commendation for their times of obedience. Yet to do this really misses the point of why the Eternal Creator has preserved such a record of His dealings with them. It is not the Divine intention for us to stand as judges over those of bygone ages, but rather that we might learn from their examples and experiences – whether they be good or bad. Upon reflection of their failings, we are encouraged to “take heed”, lest we also “fall after the same example of unbelief” (Heb 4:6). And upon reflection of the longsuffering and mercy of the Almighty – extended to them even in their greatest failings, we can “have hope” that despite our personal weaknesses, if we but have faith – if we truly believe – that the same longsuffering might be extended to us also: “for whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom 15:4). So it is, that rather than to simply provide lists of commandments, or “bullet points” defining principles, it has so pleased the Lord Almighty to instruct his people by presenting examples both of faithfulness and unfaithfulness for them to consider, and be instructed.
Turning our attention more particularly to the first Chapter of Colossians, we find that this is the method employed by the Spirit through Paul, in describing the believer’s hope of a promised inheritance. The exhortation is given for the ecclesia to rejoice, “giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear son” (Col 1:13). Here, the comparison appears to be with the deliverance of the Children of Israel from another “power of darkness” – the strength of Egypt, which although being a centre of worldly wisdom and light, was in fact in the depth of Spiritual darkness (cp Mat 6:23). Under Moses, the people were brought out from under this “power”, as “a nation from the midst of another nation” (Deut 4:34), that they might commence their journey to the promised Kingdom – to be “partakers of the inheritance” promised to their Fathers.
AN EXAMPLE OF SEPARATION
In being delivered from the power of Egypt through a typical baptism “unto Moses” (1Cor 10:2), Israel became a dramatic example of separation. The parting of the Red Sea, in forming their waters of baptism, through which they passed in faith (Heb 11:29), efffected their severance from the faithless Egyptians who perished in their attempt to pass through the same waters. On the one side were the faithful, on their journey to the promised Kingdom, and on the other, the idolatry of Egypt, the death of the firstborn, and the destruction of those who sought the hurt of God’s People. The application of these “ensamples” to our circumstance is clear. Just as Israel were delivered through Divine visitation (Ex 3:16) as “a nation from the midst of another nation” (Deut 4:34), even so the Lord “did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His Name (Acts 15:14). And just as through baptismal waters of the Red Sea, the power of Egyptian darkness perished to provide redemption for the faithful, even so obedient believers in Christ, can be redeemed from the power of Sin, through Baptism. The Lord Jesus, as the “captain of salvation” destroyed that which has the power of death (Heb 2:14) in himself, in his Sacrifice, that those who become “buried with him in baptism” (Col 2:12), might be freed from its hold. Being redeemed by his blood, his brethren become no longer servants to sin, but in passing through the waters, their “old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom 6:6, cp Gal 5:24). And “being made free from sin”, they become “the servants of righteousness” (Rom 6:15-23), leaving behind a world of evil, death and destruction, that they might journey towards the promised Kingdom.
But in contrast with the Israelites, who left behind the destruction of the Egyptian firstborn – even the son of Pharaoh himself (Ex 12:20), the Apostle describes to the Colossians how the “saints in light” have left the benighted world of iniquity behind to join themselves to Yahweh’s Firstborn, who He raised up from the dead. He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature … he is the head of the body, the ecclesia: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence” (Col 1:15,18). The slaying of the Firstborn became the means of Israel’s redemption, as in their anguish and mourning, the Egyptians allowed them to leave. It was following the death of his Firstborn that even Pharaoh relented, and permitted them to depart from bondage into liberty. Even so, by the death of Yahweh’s Firstborn, even His Only Begotten Son, and by his perfect Passover offering (1Cor 5:7), our deliverance can be effected – the great contrast being that Yahweh’s Firstborn was raised from the dead victorious, “having spoiled principalities and powers” (Col 2:15) that other sons might follow, being partakers of his victory.
MANNA IN THE WILDERNESS
But although the people were delivered from Egypt, their troubles were not yet over, for in order to reach their promised inheritance they had to pass through “the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt” (Jer 2:6). It was not the purpose of their Redeemer to place them in their land immediately – they had to travel towards it in faith, and so learn to trust, and believe in Him. Even so, the life of a believer, as he journeys along the “narrow way” to the Kingdom is not always easy. He is not automatically “saved”, despite the claims of some, but has a journey to endure – maybe longer for some than others, according to the Wisdom of the Almighty. He travels through a spiritual wilderness, having to face many trials, for “many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Ps 24:19), to teach them faith and obedience.
In the case of the Mosaic “ecclesia in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38), it became necessary for provision to be made to meet their physical needs – nourishment in the desert, to provide for the temporal needs of the situation. But also, a continual blessing to give hope and assurance that their Redeemer would remain with them along the treacherous journey which lay ahead until they reached their promised haven. The provision of Manna fulfilled both requirements. The words of the Lord came to Moses: “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day …” (Ex 16:4). And when the people had gathered their “certain rate”, they found it to be wholly sufficient for their needs – a token declaring the power of Israel’s God “… in the morning ye shall be filled with bread: and ye shall know that I am Yahweh your God” (Ex 16:12). So it was, that Israel were taught of their God through the miraculous provisions he made for their welfare – originating “from heaven” for them.
And in the case of the ecclesia in the modern day “wilderness”, a similar need of spiritual sustenance and nourishment remains, a need amply satisfied with the “bread of God” which “cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (Jno 6:33). This spiritual bread is the Lord Jesus himself, in whom all our hopes and expectations rest, and whose words sustain and strengthen the weary traveller: “I am that bread of life … the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life (v 48,63). And in speaking of that Word of Life, particularly the hope it contains for those who partake of it, the Apostle taught the Colossians of: “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the Word of the truth of the Gospel” (Col 1:5). So just as the “ecclesia in the wilderness” had physical nourishment which was said to be rained “from heaven for you”, so the believers hope is said to be in heaven, (that is, in the Lord Jesus who is in heaven), yet it came to them after his ascension through the Word preached by his Apostles. And just as the manna “filled” the people, enabling them to “know” the power of their God, so it is, that upon partaking of the “word of the truth”, we find it to be sufficient for all our needs. We become “filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding … increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:9,10). There is then, a powerful exhortation for us in the example of Israel – just as they gathered in the Manna daily, that they might be “filled” and satisfied by it, so the believer ought to gather in daily the wisdom of the Word, that being so filled we might be strengthened further in our knowledge and appreciation of the Great Provider. Those who neglect this vital duty can only become spiritually weak and malnourished, and the probability of their reaching the Land of Promise will be no greater than a starving Israelite who couldn’t make time to collect and eat the Manna.
MANNA WHICH WAS “LAID UP”
But the Spirit through Paul informed the Colossians that their hope was “laid up for you in heaven”. This is most instructive, as there were two types of Manna which were said to be “laid up”. We remember that although the manna was to be collected daily, on the 6th day, double was to be collected. The people were thus commanded, “Tomorrow is the Rest of the Holy Sabbath unto Yahweh … that which remaineth over, lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade; and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein” (Ex 16:23-24). This Manna did not corrupt on the Sabbath. Thus, it speaks of incorruptibility on the 7th day, and points forward to the 7th millennial “day” of rest, when the saints shall “put on incorruption”, that they might inherit the Kingdom of God. This is the glorious hope which we have “laid up” for us – the hope of eternal life in God’s kingdom.
But we read also of another sort of manna which was “laid up”. “Moses said unto Aaron, take a pot, and put an omer full of Manna therein, and lay it up before Yahweh, to be kept for your generations” (Ex 16:23). This Manna never corrupted, and was laid up before Yahweh, in the Ark, in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle. Thus, it speaks of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, after being raised incorruptible, has entered into the Most Holy, even Heaven itself, “now to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb 9:35). This is the hope we have which is “laid up … in Heaven” – The Lord Jesus Christ who appears in the Divine Presence. As we read in Colossians 3:3-4: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory”. Our “life”, that is, the prospect of Eternal life, is hid with the Lord in Heaven. But when He returns, we shall be partakers of this hidden life, as it is written, “to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden Manna …” (Rev 2:17).
ENTRY INTO THE PROMISED INHERITANCE
The inspired writer to the Hebrews, in drawing upon Israel’s example of rebelliousness in the wilderness gave the exhortation: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the Living God …for some, when they had heard did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses” (Heb 3:16). The record of Numbers 14 recounts the faithlessness on the part of the majority to continue their warfare against the powers of sin in order to take possession of their inheritance. Yet, “not all” that came out of Egypt had an evil heart of unbelief, for two men, Joshua and Caleb (significantly a Jew and a Gentile!) did believe, and had the courage to obey the voice of their God. Out of the whole generation over 20 years of age, (Num 14:29) who left Egypt, only these two individuals remained steadfast to the end, and were permitted to enter the land – for all others, it was decreed, “in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die” (Num 14:35). Truly it was, that many were called out, yet few were chosen.
Returning to Colossians chapter 1, we find that there the Apostle speaks of the response of the faithful in terms which are highly reminiscent of this faithful pair. He speaks of “the word of the truth of the Gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it” (Col 1:5,6). So we find that the token of faith brought forth by the faithful, is the bringing forth of fruit in response to the word coming to them. And in Numbers 14, we find this to be the case of the two faithful spies.
Of the twelve who were sent by Moses at God’s command to spy out the land (Num 13:2), ten “brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature” (Num 13:32). But the two remaining (who we may suppose were Joshua and Caleb), in contrast to this brought forth fruit: “they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs … and they went and came to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation of Israel, and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land” (v23,26, cp Deut 1:25). So it was that, just as Epaphras brought forth the word of hope to the Colossians, even so, Joshua and Caleb “brought back word” to Israel, of the prosperity of the land – blessed by the Lord in preparation for their entry. And just as those with ears to hear at Colosse brought forth fruit; even so these men, in demonstrating what Israel’s response should have been, brought forth the fruit of the land as a token of their belief, and as an example of what was laid up in store for them. Interestingly in this regard, the fruit brought back was the “firstripe grapes” (Num 13:20), even as the Lord Jesus, being a living example of what the Kingdom will bring is the “firstborn”, or as the Apostle wrote to the Corinthians: “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1Cor 15:23).
Israel then, in receiving this “word” of hope and prosperity, ought to have themselves “brought forth fruit” to the Glory of God – yet they did not, but rather fell, providing us an example of unbelief. But Joshua and Caleb were both men of faith. The fruitfulness of the land they saw gave them a very real vision of the inheritance which would truly be theirs if they would “believe” that it was so. So it was, that forty years later, when “the children of disobedience” (cp Col 3:6) had perished in the wilderness, Caleb approached Joshua that he might receive his inheritance, “Moses sware on that day, saying, Surely the land whereon thy feet have trodden shall be thine inheritance, and thy children’s for ever, because thou hast wholly followed Yahweh my God … Now therefore, give me this mountain, whereof Yahweh spake in that day how the Anakims were there, and that the cities were great and fenced: if so be Yahweh will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as Yahweh said. And Joshua blessed him, and gave unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh Hebron for an inheritance” (Josh 14:9,12-13).
In conclusion then, we find that in focussing upon our redemption and separation from “the power of darkness” to become “partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col 1:12,13), this first Chapter of Colossians draws our attention back to God’s dealings with his people of old. We must therefore look to Israel as our example. In separating ourselves from the Egyptian darkness of the world around us, we must ensure that our severance from the World be as distinct as that of Israel, having passed through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea. And receiving daily the spiritual nourishment of our Redeemer’s providing, we can walk towards our inheritance with the faith of Caleb, knowing that if Yahweh be with us, if we wage war on the things of the flesh, the inheritance will be ours. The victory has already been won by the greater Joshua – the inheritance is guaranteed. The question remains therefore, will we follow the example of the “children of disobedience” whose carcasses fell in the wilderness, or will we be like the minority who believed? The choice is entirely ours.