THE SEARCHING SPIRIT OF YAHWEH
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see If there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:24).
The Word of Yahweh came through Jeremiah in rebuke of the false prophets, who spake under the assumption that the Almighty could not see or hear their wickedness: “am I a God at hand, saith Yahweh, and not a God far off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith Yahweh. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith Yahweh. I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying I have dreamed, I have dreamed” (Jer 23:23-25). Here is a simple, yet profound Truth expressed – that there is no escape from the eye of Divine scrutiny, that all things are open and manifest to him with whom we have to do. No man can act against the dictates of the Most High, and assume that He will not know. True it may be that there are no immediate thunderbolts of wrath in response to man’s evil; but it would be a grievous mistake to assume that because there is silence there is ignorance.
Asaph became perplexed at the apparent prosperity of the wicked, those who said “How doth God know? and Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Yet, in his musings he went to the Sanctuary, and recognised the reality of the hopeless situation the wicked are in. “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst cast them in slippery places: thou castest them down into destruction” (Ps 73:16-18). Within the Sanctuary, as he beheld the brasen plates of the Altar – the place of death and burning – he was faced with a memorial of Korah’s rebellion, and the rejection of those who exalted themselves against the knowledge of the Most High (cp Num 16:38). That is the true end of all the wicked; a sliding into oblivion and an ignominious rotting in the depths of the earth.
COMFORT FOR THE SAINTS
For the righteous however, the outlook is very different. Rather than to be fearful of the constant Divine cognisance of all that they do, the saints of the Most High can rejoice, being comforted by the fact that in whatsoever circumstances they are in, the all-pervading diffusion of Yahweh’s Spirit is there. Whereas the Prophet spoke of the Omniscience of the Most High by way of warning to the wicked to turn from their ways; the Psalmist contemplated the same matter with comfort and hope: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (Ps 139:7-10). Whether David was ascending up the mount of Olives towards Heaven, in flight from his own son Absalom (2Sam 15:30-31), or being compassed about by the enemy, as the cords of sheol (2Sam 22:5), he lived in the constant awareness that Yahweh was with him, and that his deliverance from adversity was certain.
There is another facet of knowing of the all-seeing Divine Eye. In the verses cited above, David speaks of the impossibility of fleeing from the Spirit-presence of Yahweh. But we would do well to ponder why such a man as he would want to do this – why would he want to flee from the overshadowing care and guidance of his Maker? The prophet Jonah provides an example of one who sought to do just that; and his motives for doing so are enlightening: “Now the word of Yahweh came unto Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh …” (Jon 1:3). Jonah then, was one who sought to flee from his responsibilities. Yahweh purposed for him to do a particular task, yet he sought to evade accomplishing it, because of the unsavoury nature of that task to his natural senses. In seeking to escape the Divine presence, he did attempt to go to “the uttermost parts of the sea” (cp Ps 139:9), where he might continue his mortal existence free from the dictates of the Most High. Yet he was shown that this could not be so; no man can flee from the Almighty, for He is present in all places by the diffusion of His Spirit which is at One with His Person.
THE DARKNESS OF DEATH
Being swallowed by a Divinely prepared “great fish”, Jonah descended to the depths of the earth in the darkness of a typical grave, during which time he became enlightened as to the unfathomable searchings of Yahweh’s Spirit: “then I said, I am cast out of thy sight … the waters compassed me about, even to the soul … I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Yahweh my God. When my soul fainted within me I remembered Yahweh: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple” (Jon 2:4-7). Though he were in the bleakest of situations within the whale’s belly, hidden, as he thought from the Divine Eye; when he prayed, Yahweh heard. By His Spirit, the Father was present even in the depths of the ocean, and the prayer of his formerly rebellious servant was answered, as Jonah emerged from the belly of death to a restoration of his former life.
KNOWLEDGE TOO WONDERFUL
In his contemplation of the penetrating discernment of the Eternal Spirit, David recognised that though he trusted, he could not fully understand: “such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Ps 139:6). And how much do those of our age – the age of the so-called “information revolution” – need reminding of that principle! Through the ingenuity of man – particularly with respect to computer technology and the Internet – news and data can be transmitted globally in an instant, as the event happens. Knowledge truly is increasing throughout the earth more than ever before, as man increases in his understanding and perception of the world around him, and is able to know precisely what is going on at almost any part of the earth, at any given time. But the Creator’s knowledge is far greater even than this. Not only does He perceive the intricacies of detail unknown to man; knowing the end from the beginning He predicts events long before they take place. And by His infinite Spirit, even the very thoughts and motives of men can be scrutinised, as he searches the hearts and reins of men (cp Jer 20:12), something which even the most attentive political analyst cannot do. Yea, even in the grave Yahweh is there, beholding his faithful sleeping ones, that as the God of the living, he might raise them to dwell in a new age of Righteousness to come, as we shall presently consider. Truly it is, that whilst the Spirit searches out all the ways of man, man simply “cannot attain” a comprehension of the ways of the Spirit.. Things ordinarily hidden to mortal man, are scrutinised by the Father who sees in darkness – even the developing child in the womb: “If I say darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:11-13). Darkness, whether it be the darkness of the night, a whale’s belly, the womb – or even of the grave (v 15) is no hindrance to the Spirit of Yahweh.
NICODEMUS – A MAN OF THE NIGHT
These various strands of the unsearchable ways of the Spirit, the birth of a new life, and Divine Scrutiny even within darkness, come together in Christ’s discourse with Nicodemus: “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (Jno 3:1-5).
Even though the Master discerned him to be “a master of Israel”, Nicodemus had insufficient understanding of Spiritual things to perceive what he was being taught, concerning this new birth. He answered: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God”. The rebirth of which Christ spake was not a physical emergence out of the womb; but an emergence from Baptismal waters to a new life of holiness – followed up in due course with the final, physical emergence of the New, Immortal man in the discarding of mortality. That which emanates from the flesh is flesh, but that which is the product of the indwelling of the Spirit Word, when the flesh-nature and all it stands for ceases to be mortal, is Spirit. But how can that be? That was Nicodemus’ question (3:9) – how can such a development take place?
THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE WAYS OF THE SPIRIT
The Preacher spoke of the incomprehensible nature of a literal birth to mortal man, comparing it to how man cannot know the ways of the Spirit: “As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all” (Eccl 11:5). The case of Nicodemus is not unlike this; being unable to receive earthly things (the birth of Baptismal water), similarly he could not receive heavenly things (being born of the Spirit), as the Master told him (v 12). And just as the foetal development of a new life cannot be ordinarily discerned by the natural man, even so the Spiritual Rebirth was above his understanding: “the wind (spirit) bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth (or, “in what he goes away”, JT): so is everyone that is born of the spirit” (Jno 3:8). Though they heard the sound, or voice of the Spirit both through John, and now the Master himself, the Pharisees could not perceive it’s Divine Origin, that it was from Heaven. Neither could they say in what form it would depart from them; namely in the resurrection of Christ and His ascension to heaven (v 13). Those who are ‘born of the Spirit’, will, in like manner be raised and immortalised, in following the example of their master. Having received the word of the Spirit of life, the sound of the Spirit breathing where it pleases, it dwells and grows within them to form the New Man, fashioned after the image of it’s maker. It is, to all intents and purposes, a ‘new creature'(2Cor 5:17), indiscernible to the natural man, even as the Apostle taught: “he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is discerned (marg) of no man” (1Cor 2:15).
Though he sought the cover of darkness, Nicodemus was seen, and known of by the Master, who, we are informed only a few verses earlier, “needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (Jno 2:25). The Lord discerned the true nature of this man’s nocturnal approach, and spake in such terms so as to make that clear: “light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jno 3:19). Men love darkness, because under it’s cover, their activities cannot be easily discerned, themselves being laid open to rebuke and condemnation: “For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God” (Jno 3:19-21). Nicodemus however, though his initial approach was under the cover of darkness, was nevertheless drawing nigh to the True Light. And it is ironic that the next recorded approach of this man, was when that Divine Light was temporarily extinguished in death. Then, he drew nigh, this time with spices to anoint and bind up the Lord’s body for burial (Jno 19:39-40), that henceforth he might await the time of resurrection, and the Lord’s own birth of the Spirit.
RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD
Like as the Master drew a parallel between the natural, yet inscrutable birth of men, and the two-fold Rebirth required for them to emerge into the new world of his Kingdom, even so the Spirit of Christ through the Psalmist spake of the Father’s watchfulness over his own son yet within the womb – and also within the tomb:
“Thou hast possessed my reins: thou covered me in my mother’s womb … My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, (RSV: The days that were formed for me) when as yet there was none of them” (Ps 139:13-16).
Like as the Christ-body was to emerge from the womb of Mary to be a habitation of the Spirit, even so it was to emerge from the earth, to a new, immortal life; energised and born again of the Spirit. But the depiction here is not of the Lord Jesus alone – it is the Multitudinous Christ-Body, comprised of many members, each of whom are written in the Father’s Book of Life (Rev 3:5). In this book, the Psalmist continues, are to be found the details of the faithful, itself a testimony to the fact that the Holy Ones, though sleeping in dust are not forgotten before Him. Before the appointed days for their resurrection to glory – before there were any of them – the multitudinous ‘members’ of the Christ-Body were inscribed within in that book, in preparation for the day of awakening and restoration to life.
The Christ-Body is here spoken of here as being “curiously wrought”whilst in “the lowest parts of the earth”, the substance thereof being unperfect. Interestingly, the phrase “my substance, yet being unperfect” translates a single Hebrew word, 01564 Mlg only used on this one occasion. It’s root is also used only once (2Kings 2:8), where it is translated “wrapped”. To wrap then, would appear to be one of the senses contained within the word, maybe being expressive of the graveclothes with which Nicodemus and Joseph bound our Lord, prior to his burial. The Father beheld his Only Son wrapped in burial garments, themselves being symbolic of death and mortality, to be left behind in the emergence of the risen Christ from the tomb (Jno 20:5).
But what of the Christ-Body being “curiously wrought”? The Hebrew here, speaks of embroidery, or needlework and is thus translated 9 times to do with the Tabernacle arrangement of things:
“them he filled with all wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work” (Ex 35:35).
“And the hanging for the gate of the court was needlework, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen …” (Ex 38:18).
Notice here, that the “needlework” is not so much the fabric which made up the hangings, but that which was worked into it, to make up the varied colours which gave it it’s distinctive qualities. The fabric was fine twined linen; but embroidered into that, were other qualities which determined the nature of appearance which that linen would have. That being so, when we contemplate our Lord’s body in the grave, we have a beautiful picture of the Spirit being woven into it, as it were; flowing through his veins in the place of the blood common to mortal flesh. The resurrected Lord, whilst not emerging with immortality, nevertheless no longer had the ‘diabolos’, or ‘the law of sin’ woven into the fabric of his being (cp 1Pet 4:1,2), rather the Spirit of the Law of Life. This took place prior to his actual awakening to consciousness, so the Psalm depicts, that being referred to in verse 18. The Spirit was embroidered into the body of our Lord, repairing it, and preparing it for restoration to life, and determining it’s character, to be holy, spiritual, and ready for the bestowal of everlasting life.
And this is the hope of all the saints. No matter what distresses and perplexities may befall us in the days before our Masters’ coming, we can nevertheless have the confident assurance that the Father’s Spirit is present with us. In whatsoever circumstances we are brought into, He will hearken unto our prayers of faith. Yea, even if we be laid in the dust of the ground in the sleep of death, we will not be forgotten; for His Holy Ones are written in Yahweh’s book, awaiting that great day of awakening when their bodies also shall be embroidered by the Spirit, ready to be changed at the twinkling of an eye, if accepted at the judgement, and “fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil 3:21).