The Path of the Wise Men

THE PATH OF THE WISE MEN

(Matthew 2:1-12)

by Wayne S. Walker

     The only time many people ever hear or even think about the birth of Christ is during the holiday season known as "Christmas." We do not know what time of year Jesus was born, and we do not have any scriptural authority to celebrate it as a religious holiday anyway. However, because it is a Biblical subject it is proper and right to study about it at any time. Before Christ was born, an angel appeared to both Mary and Joseph, at different times, to explain what was going on.

     Then, right after His birth in Bethlehem, angels appeared to shepherds in the surrounding fields to announce it. In this article, we shall study just one incident connected with Jesus’s birth. This is the visit of the Wise Men in Matthew 2:1-12. We know that they came from the east, but we do not know what country was their home, exactly how many there were, or precisely when they came, except that it must have been within two years of Jesus’s birth and after Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were in a house. So, what can we learn from a consideration of the path of the wise men?

I. Sought Christ

     To begin, we note that these wise men came seeking Christ, asking, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?" (verses 1-2). Regardless of their station in life, all people are seeking something or other. Those who lack true wisdom are seeking the things of the world–it might be riches, possessions, power, honor, popularity, pleasure, or friendship–but the things of this world can never truly satisfy because the wisdom of the world leads away from God. "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God by the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Corinthians 1:21). Many of the things that the people of this world seek are not necessarily wrong in themselves, but there is something more important. "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).

     So, how do we seek Christ today? "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me’" (John 6:44-45). We seek Christ by hearing and learning from God through His written word. In certain spheres of our society it has become increasingly unpopular to seek Christ. Yet wise men sought Christ shortly after His birth, and it has been a mark of true wisdom ever since for men everywhere to seek Him.

II. Followed Divine Guidance

     Next, we see that these wise men had divine guidance (verses 3-7). They did not rely on their own wisdom to find Christ. They must have understood that "the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Rather, they followed the star sent by God to guide them. There is no literal star today which will guide us to Christ, but God has given us a light to be our guide to Him. "Your word is lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).

     Therefore, just as the wise men followed the star, so we need to follow God’s word, knowing that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is interesting that when the wise men came to Jerusalem and asked where the King of the Jews was to be born, the answer was found in the scriptures. Only they can lead us to God as the star led the wise men to Christ.

III. Finished Their Journey

     Also, we find that these wise men finished their journey, continuing on till they came "to where the young Child was" (verses 8-10). The prodigal son of Jesus’s parable made a decision to return to the father and then started on his journey home. "’I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."’ And he arose…" (Luke 15:18-20). However, if he had stopped along the way, he would have never made it home. Paul also went "all the way." He wrote toward the end of his life, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

     In order for us to finish our journey and reach our eternal home, we must remember what the Lord told the brethren in Smyrna. "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). The wise men did not stop in Jerusalem, saying, "We have already traveled enough, so we shall just stay here." Rather, they continued on to Bethlehem that they might finish their journey.

IV. Worshipped Jesus

     In addition, we learn that these wise men, when they saw Jesus, "fell down and worshipped Him" (verse 11a). Because Jesus is the divine Son of God, He is worthy of worship. God has always desired men’s worship. "Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms….Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker" (Psalm 95:1-6). There is only one true God, and we should worship Him alone. "…You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve" (Matthew 4:10).

     However, God not only wants men to worship Him but also wants us to worship correctly. "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). While we have no right to make laws where God has made none and bind burdens upon men that God has not demanded in worship, neither does anyone have the right to set aside what God has commanded and authorized to replace that with human additions and substitutions in worship. The wise men worshipped the Lord in an acceptable manner. Those who will not worship Him as God teaches are foolish.

V. Gave Gifts

     Finally, the wise men gave "gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (verse 11b). Some have assumed that because there were three gifts mentioned that there were three wise men, but that is not a necessary conclusion. Two or twenty wise men could have presented the gifts. The only thing that we know for sure is that the wise men gave gifts. God has given so much to us. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). In return, God wants us to give to Him. Speaking of monetary contributions made to the local church for work authorized by God, Paul wrote, "So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).

     However, God want more than just some money. In using the Macedonian brethren as examples to the Corinthians of the kind of giving that pleases God, Paul also wrote, "And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God" (2 Corinthians 8:5). The Macedonians gave money for the Lord’s work to the best of their ability because they had first given themselves to God. When we first give ourselves to God, nothing–money, time, energy, effort, or whatever–will be begrudged to the Lord and His service. These wise men did not give a mere pittance; they gave the best that they had. God wants us to give Him our very best too.

Conclusion

     In examining the path which these wise men took so long ago, we can learn some important lessons that will help us to see the course which true wisdom will lead us to take today. When we imitate their example, we shall seek Christ as the most important element of our lives. We shall follow the divine guidance that God has provided in His word. We shall finish our journey that we might receive the reward. We shall worship Him who is our Savior and Lord. And we shall lay all our gifts at His feet for His use. Only in having the kind of attitude that will lead to these actions can we be said to be going in the path of the wise men.

     (—from Faith and Facts Quarterly; July, 2007; Vol. 35, No. 3; pp. 64-70)

The Old Paths

THE OLD PATHS

(Jeremiah 6:16)

by Wayne S. Walker

     The people of Israel in Jeremiah’s day had forsaken Jehovah. In fact, they had always been a rebellious nation. They murmured against Him while coming out of Egypt. They failed to fulfill His command to drive out the nations around about them. When they became evilly influenced by those nations, He sent oppressors to punish them and judges to deliver them. But they rejected God’s method of rule and requested a king. One of those kings, Solomon, married heathen wives and reintroduced idolatry. The kingdom split upon his death. The apostasies of Jeroboam led the northern tribes into Assyrian captivity. The same fait was awaiting the southern kingdom as they followed a like path. Jeremiah admonished the people to return to God.

     "Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein" (Jeremiah 6:16).

I. Something old?

     What are the "old paths" mentioned by Jeremiah? Are they merely old ways of doing things? The answer is no. The scriptures do not reveal that something is right just because it is old. The Jews had been walking in the traditions of the elders for many years, but Jesus told them, "Ye also transgress the commandment of God by your traditions" (Matthew 15:3). The Jewish rulers and their followers were wrong even though they were "doing it the way they had always done it." The concept of "good enough for parents, good enough for me" was not the criteria Jesus used. Some of the most cherished religious beliefs and doctrines are based on antiquity rather than scripture.

II. Something new?

     On the other hand, we must be careful of that which appears to be "new, fresh, and imaginative." Often, in rejecting stagnant traditionalism, many will swing to the other extreme and fall for every new idea that comes along without critical examination. Paul cautioned against being "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). Simply because something is new, it is not necessarily good. Many churches practice things as a result of this experimental spirit rather than respect for God’s word.

III. Something from God

     What are the old paths? They are simply the words of the Lord as revealed in His written word. In order to please God, men must learn to stay within its boundaries. Yet numbers of people today "transgress, and abide not in the doctrine of Christ" (2 John v. 9), by either clinging to vain traditions, or trying to update and modernize the old paths. We call for men to accept religious teaching not on the basis its historicity or recentness, but its conformity to God’s truth. We plead for a return to the Bible as the complete and final guide in spiritual matters. Let us take God at His word and be content with His will. (—taken from Torch; Aug., 1982; Vol. XVII, No. 8; pp. 22-23)

Praise Jehovah!

PRAISE JEHOVAH!

(Psalm 135.1-6)

by Wayne S. Walker

     The Hebrew word for Psalm is "mizmor." However, in the Hebrew Bible, the name for the book of Psa. isn’t "Mizmorim" (or whatever the plural of "mizmor" is) but "Tehellim" which simply means "praises." Now, not all of the Psalms are specifically intended to praise God. Some are expressions of repentance, many are cries for God’s protection, and others are even calls for God’s judgment upon His enemies. However, the book of Psalms has in general been called the Hebrews’ hymnbook, and the last five Psalms, along with several others, all begin with the words "Praise the Lord!"

     This is true of Psalm 135. "Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD; Praise Him, O you servants of the LORD! You who stand in the house of the LORD, In the courts of the house of our God, Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; Sing praises to His name, for it is pleasant. For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special trasure. For I know that the LORD is great, And our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places (verses 1-6).

     Notice that the word "LORD" is in all capital letters (with one exception). The ancient Hebrew language did not have written vowels, so the name which God chose for Himself and revealed in the Old Testament is represented in writing by four consonants, usually transliterated into English as YWHW. Because of a fear of accidentally taking the Lord’s name in vain, the Jews became very superstitious about using it and refused to pronounce it, substituting the Hebrew word for "Lord" which is "adonai" in its place. Thus, over a period of time, the actual pronunciation of God’s name was lost.

     Later, when a system of vowel points was added to the Hebrew language by the medieval scribes, they used the vowels of the word "adonai" to fill out the name for God. The traditional way that this has been represented in English is Jehovah. We sing songs such as "Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah" and "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah." In fact, the American Standard Version reads, "Praise ye Jehovah." Many modern scholars think that in Hebrew the name was probably pronounced Yahweh. However, most English translations follow the Jewish practice and substitute the word "Lord" for the name of God, but put it in all capitals to show its origin. These six verses give us three reasons why we should praise Jehovah.

God

     First, we should praise Jehovah because He is God (vs. 1-2). What does it mean to be "God"? We have a couple of English words which express the quality of being God. One is "deity" which comes from the Latin word "deus" meaning god, and "divinity" which comes from the same Latin root through the French. Both of these words are defined as the state of being God. But again, what does that mean? I guess that the best way to express the idea is to say that being God means having absolute infinity or unlimitedness. We generally identify God as being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, or unlimited in power, knowledge, and presence (Ps. 139:1-14).

     There is something else that being God means. The name which God chose to call Himself, I AM WHO I AM, suggests the idea of one whose existence is self-sustained and eternal (Exo. 3:13-14). This terminology is linguistically the basis for the name which we know as Jehovah or Yahweh (Exo. 6:2-3). Many authorities suggest that the nearest translation of this name is "the eternal one" (Deut. 33:27, Ps. 90:2, Isa. 57:15). Because of who and what He is, God is absolutely eternal, without beginning or end. Unlike the nature of God, all of us who live in this earthly life have a beginning point, birth, and an ending point, death, at least from a physical viewpoint. Because we are beings bound by time, it is difficult for us to grasp this eternal aspect of God’s nature, but it is taught in the Scriptures

     One other concept inherent in the idea of being God is master or ruler. The Hebrew term "adonai," usually translated "Lord" suggests this idea. "Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men. He turned the sea into dry land; They went through the river on foot. He rules by His power forever; His eyes observe the nations; Do not let the rebellious exalt themselves" (Ps. 66:5-7). Again, simply because of who and what He is, God is the ruler or master who’s in control of the entire universe, and thus is worthy of our praise.

Good

     Second, we should praise Jehovah because He is good (vs. 3-4). The specific reason that the Psalmist gave for knowing the goodness of God was His treatment of Israel. He said that He chose Jacob for Himself. We remember that God made promises to Abraham about His descendents (Gen. 15:13-16, 18). And he kept those promises (Josh. 21:43-45). The inspired writer of the Hebrew letter uses this fact to argue that God is good (Heb. 6:13-18). Because our God is one who has always kept His promises, such as those He made to Israel, we can trust that He will always continue to do good for His people.

     We also know that God is good because of His provisions for mankind on earth. Paul said that He did good in that He gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons filling our hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17). In fact, every good gift and every perfecit gift comes down from the Father of lights (Jas. 1:18). God is so good to have provided for all our material needs in this life. "God is great, God is good, Now we thank Him for our food."

     Furthermore, we know that God is good because of His offer of redemption in Christ. Yes, God provided for our physical needs, but our spiritual needs are even greater, and God provided for them too. He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ, including redemption through His blood (Eph. 1:3, 7). All responsible human beings have sinned, stand condemned in God’s sight, and deserve punishment in hell. Yet, God wants all people to be saved and is not willing that anyone should perish. Therefore, He sent His Son to die on the cross to pay the price for our sins by the shedding of His blood that salvation from sin and the hope of eternal life might be made available to all who would obey Him. So there can be no doubt to the honest observer that our God is good and therefore should be praised.

Great

     Third, we should praise Jehovah because He is great, (vs. 5-6). According to the Psalmist, God’s greatness is seen in His place above all gods. All other beings or things called "gods" are in actuality mere figments of men’s imagination or dumb idols made by men’s hands, but the God revealed in the Bible, and who in fact revealed the Bible, is a being who is intelligent and active, in contrast to the idols who are dumb and motionless (Isa. 46.5-10). The Bible is full of incontrovertible examples of where God foresaw the future and prophesied what would happen, something neither man nor non-existent pagan deity ever did. That in itself shows the greatness of God.

     However, for all mankind, God’s greatness is seen additionally in creation. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light" (Gen. 1:1-3). We have visited many caves through the years, and when the lights are turned out they are dark–very dark! Imagine someone in a dark cave without any electricity or other source of light who ways, "Let there be light"–and there is light. We cannot do that, but God did. Man can "create" items out of already existing materials, but God created everything out of nothing, "so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible" (Heb. 11:3). Such great power surely demonstrates the greatness of God

     Then, for those of us who live this side of the cross, God’s greatness is seen in His providential guidance of history. We remember the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, as interpreted by Daniel, in which the Babylonian king was the head of gold, which would be followed by a second, inferior, kingdom, then a third, and finally a fourth during which God would set up His kingdom (Dan. 2:36-44). Later visions of Daniel identify the second and third kingdoms as Persia and Greece (Dan. chapter 8). The New Testament identifies the fourth kingdom as that of Rome (Lk. 3:1). The existence and activities of all these kingdoms contributed to the circumstances of which Paul said that in the fulness of the times God sent forth His Son to redeem us (Gal. 4:4-5). Thus, God used the events of history, even the activities of His enemies, to bring about the conditions that enabled Him to fulfil His plan for the redemption of mankind. Only a God as great as the one revealed in the Bible could work through history to accomplish His will, and hence we need to praise Him for it.

Conclusion

     There’s a song in the Hymns for Worship Supplement, #99, that is based on the first six verses of Psalm 135 and summarizes the reasons for praising Jehovah that are outlined in this passage.

"Praise ye the Lord, Jehovah is His name.
Ye who are servants sing unto His fame.
Stand in His house where He can be adored.
Forever in His courts, Praise ye the Lord!
Praise ye the Lord, for He is full of grace.
Yes, praise is pleasant here and every place.
He chose a people for Him by His word.
Ye who His treasure are, Praise ye the Lord!
We know the Lord is holy and is great.
He dwells above all gods in heaven’s gate.
He does whate’er His wondrous plans afford.
In heaven and earth and sea, Praise ye the Lord!"

We should praise God in our prayers. We should praise God by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. "Hallelujah! I am rejoicing, Singing His praises, Jesus is mine" (Henry J. Zelley). However, we also can and should praise God by our lives. Those who are Christians should think, speak, and act so as to do everything to the glory and praise of God. And even those who are outside of Christ, when they make a decision to come to the Lord in obedience to His will so as to seek salvation from sin, are in essence giving praise to God. "Sing on, O blissful music, With every note you raise, My heart is filled with rapture, My soul is lost in praise" (Fanny J. Crosby).

     —Taken from The Expository Files; March, 2008; Vol. 15, No. 3

“So Shall I Keep Your Law Continually”

"SO SHALL I KEEP YOUR LAW CONTINUALLY"

(Psalm 119:44-47)

by Wayne S. Walker

     Most Bible students know that the longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119. The subject matter of this psalm, which many scholars believe was written by David, is the word of God. Nearly every verse in the psalm uses some synonym for God’s word. The psalm is divided into sections of eight verses apiece, and each section has one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet at its heading. In verse 44 the psalmist says, "So shall I keep Your law continually, forever and ever." This should be our aim in life too. But how do we go about it? In the next three verses, the psalmist tells us what he plans to do in keeping God’s law. And when we do the same things, we shall keep His law continually as well.

I Seek Your Precepts

     "And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts" (verse 45). To walk at liberty is to be free from all sin that would hinder us from keeping God’s law (Romans 6:17-18). This liberty is not a license to do anything we want (Galatians 5:1-13). Rather it is the freedom to do and be what God wants. Thus, we can have this liberty only when we seek God’s precepts. All people are seeking for something. It may be pleasure, happiness, satisfaction, power, fame, fortune, or whatever.

     Some find what they are seeking, some do not, and some who find what they are seeking learn that it really was not what they wanted after all. Jesus promises that there is something which we can seek and find, and it will always be what we really need (Matthew 7:7-11). So, what we really need to seek is God’s precepts. The word "precept" means "a direction meant as a rule of action or conduct." When one makes a recipe, he need to follow the directions. In life, God has certain directions for us to follow. "You came down also on Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments" (Nehemiah 9:14). Just as God did for Israel in the Old Testament, He has done for us in the New Testament, and the only way that we can keep His law is to seek His precepts so that we can walk at liberty.

I Will Speak of Your Testimonies

     "I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed" (verse 46). Keeping God’s law involves not only our actions in seeking His precepts but also our speech in declaring His testimonies before others. To do this, we must first make sure that our speech is not characterized by things which God hates (Ephesians 4:29). Rather, we should use speech that will help, build up, and encourage others (Colossians 4:6). Specifically, the psalmist said that he would speak God’s testimonies before kings. David, if he be the author, certainly had communications with the various kings of the nations round about Israel and may have used them to talk about God. 

     We may not necessarily have the opportunity to speak before kings, but one way that we can always use our speech to help, build up, and encourage others is by telling them the good news of salvation in Christ (Acts 8:4, 1 Peter 3:15). The psalmist also says that he would not be ashamed. This may mean that he would not have anything to be ashamed about, but it may also mean that he was resolved not to feel ashamed (Romans 1:16, 2 Timothy 1:8). When people say that they believe something but never talk about it, it is almost as if they are ashamed of it, and they can often be more easily persuaded to turn away from it. But if we really believe strongly enough in God’s testimonies to speak them before others, we are much more likely to keep God’s law continually.

I Will Delight Myself in Your Commandments

     "And I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love" (verse 47). We have seen that keeping God’s law continually requires our actions in seeking His precepts, and our speech in declaring His testimonies. Now we find that it also requires our very minds, our thinking, our attitude of heart in delighting in His commandments. Often, the character of a person’s life is determined by what he delights in (Psalm 1:1-2). Therefore, we should always delight in God’s commandments because they are important. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). And the beloved apostle wrote, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).

     Sometimes people will say that there is more to following God than just keeping commandments, and that is true. But the simple fact is that if we do not keep God’s commandments, we do not love Him and we are not right in His sight. Yet, it is not enough just to keep His commandments. We need to love them. "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). The truth is that we usually do that in which we delight, which we love. So when we truly delight in God’s commandments and love them, then we will keep His law continually.

Conclusion

     Therefore, if it is our desire to keep God’s law continually, these are some things that we need to do to help us achieve our goal. We must seek God’s precepts in all our actions. We must speak of His testimonies. And we must delight ourselves in His commandments. Please do not misunderstand. The Bible does not teach that these things will always be easy. They will take dedication, effort, and commitment. But the Bible does teach that if we follow the prescription found in these verses, we shall be able to keep God’s law continually. And God has surely promised to help us do so. (—taken from Expository Files; July, 2002; Vol. 9, No. 7; and September, 2002; Vol. 9, No. 9)

God–Our Refuge, Strength, and Help

GOD–OUR REFUGE, STRENGTH, AND HELP

(Psalm 46:1)

by Wayne S. Walker

     "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble" (Ps. 46:1). The 46th Psalm is sometimes called "Luther’s Psalm" because this was the passage of scripture the noted reformer had in mind when he wrote his famous hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." It is thought by some that Luther was in Wartburg Castle at the time he wrote the hymn. When his enemies were planning to put him to death, his friends rushed him to this stronghold and hid him securely. Apparently he likened God’s protection to that of the great fortress.

     The psalm is "for the sons of Korah" and was probably written after Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah. It is also "A Song upon Alamoth." As the Psalms were originally written to be sung, this is possibly a musical direction. Some believe it is derived from almah ("virgin") and means after the manner of virgins, that is, with the female voice, answering to our treble or soprano as opposed to our bass or baritone of the male. Others think it refers to some kind of musical instrument. In any event, this verse praises God as our refuge, strength, and help.

     The word "refuge" means "a shelter, a place of trust and hope." Barnes wrote, "The first word, refuge, from a verb meaning to flee,and then to flee to…or to take shelter in–denotes a place to which one would flee in time of danger–as a lofty wall; a high tower; a fort; a fortress." It indicates safety and protection (Ps. 91.2). In battle one would find security in a castle. In the same way, Barnes said, "God is for us as a place to which we may flee for safety….The idea here is, that the people of God, in time of danger, may find him to be what such a place of refuge would be." Today, Christ is to be our refuge and our shelter (Heb. 6:18-20).

     The term "strength" means "might, power," akin to stronghold. It indicates a source of strength to those who are weak and defenseless, and implies security, tranquility, and relief. The people of Israel found their strength in Jehovah (Exo. 15:1-2). Barnes noted, "That we may rely on his strength as if it were our own; or that we may feel as safe in his strength as though we had that strength ourselves. We may make it the basis of our confidence as really as though the strength resided in our own arm." Of course, the Christian’s source of strength is Christ. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). There is no problem too big, temptation too great, trial too severe, or affliction too sore that Christ will not strengthen us to endure.

     The phrase, "A very present help," is literally "a help he has been found exceedingly." Help is also translated "helper" and means aid, assistance, a sign of assurance and confidence. God is our help (Ps. 121:1-2). He is a present help, one that is proven, found to be true, and certain; therefore, we can be sure He is close or nearby. He is a very present help–exceedingly, emphatically, superlatively present. And He is a help in time of trouble. In every difficulty, anxiety, or sorrow, God is there to help. Furthermore, under the new covenant, we have God’s help through Christ by prayer (Heb. 4:15-16).

     God is our refuge–place of safety, shelter, protection–in Christ. He is our strength–source of might and power representing security and tranquility–in Christ. He is our help–means of aid an assistance in whom we trust, hope, and have confidence–in Christ. Are you in Christ to enjoy this refuge, strength, and help? According to Romans 6:3-4, one is baptized into Christ where all spiritual blessings are found (Eph. 1:3). If you are not a Christian, make God your "mighty fortress" today by obeying the gospel. (—taken from Guardian of Truth; Dec. 15, 1983; Vol. XXVII, No. 24; p. 1)

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD

(Psalm 19:1-4)

by Wayne S. Walker

     "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tabernacle for the sun" (Psa 19:1-4). These verses suggest that there is a testimony to the existence of God in the sky. The heavens are the material universe, the region of the sun, moon, and stars. To declare means to announce, proclaim, or make known. And the glory of God refers to that which constitutes God’s honor–His wisdom, power, skill, the sum total of his perfections.

     This testimony is effective. "The firmament shows His handiwork." The heavens exist. Something cannot come from nothing, so they had to come from something. This should make us think. David also wrote, "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?" (Psa 8:3-4). From what source did the heavens, the moon, and the stars come that man can see and appreciate them? The Bible gives the answer. "By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth" (Psa 33:6).

     This testimony is continual. "Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge." Life on earth is dependent on the heavens, specifically the light and heat of the sun, which controls our weather and makes the things that we need possible. Because this was created by God, Paul said, "Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). Every day and night as we wake up, go to bed, buy food, feel the wind, and see the rain, we experience the evidence of God’s existence. No, we cannot see God, but the evidence is so strong that, "By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible" (Heb 11:3).

     This testimony is silent. The word "where" is in italics, indicating that it was interpolated by the translators. The American Standard Version reads, "There is no speech nor language; their voice is not heard." My family and I once visited the house in St. Joseph, MO, where Jesse James lived when he was killed. Jesse James is not alive today to talk to us. None of the items in that museum audibly said anything about Jesse James. Yet, their very existence speaks volumes. Though they make no sound, the very existence of the heavens tells us, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1).

     This testimony is universal. "Their line has gone out through all the earth." There is no place on earth where the witness of God’s sun cannot be seen and felt. Therefore, Paul wrote, "Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead, so that they are without excuse" (Rom 1:19-20). Thus, everywhere on earth men have visible evidence upon which to conclude, "For every house is built by someone, but he who built all things is God" (Heb. 3:4).

     (—taken from Biblical Insights; March, 2005; Vol. 5, No. 3; p. 23)

The Prayer of Jabez

THE PRAYER OF JABEZ

(1 Chronicles 4:9-10)

by Wayne S. Walker

     "Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.’ So God granted him what he requested" (1 Chronicles 4:9-10). Who was Jabez? There is no mention of him anywhere else in the scriptures. From the context, it does appear that he was of the tribe of Judah, and some think that he was a son of Koz (cf. v. 8). There are other theories as to who and what he was, but our purpose here is simply to see what lessons we can learn from this passage of scripture.

His Attitude in His Prayer

     First, consider the attitude of Jabez. He was honorable. Why he was more honorable than his brothers we are not told, but it may have to do with the nature of his prayer. There are two characteristics that are needed for one to be honorable in prayer. One of them is being earnest, which means intense, zealous, sincere, and determined. We are told that "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). The second of these characteristics is humility. "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter5:6-7). The earnest, fervent prayer that is prayed in true humility ishonorable before God.

     Another aspect of the attitude of Jabez is that he directed his prayer to God. Because we are to worship the Lord our God and serve Him alone, Jesus taught us to address our prayers, saying, "Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name" (Matthew 4:10, 6:9). To direct such a prayer to God demonstrates that one is trusting in and thus dependent on Him for everything that is needed. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6).

The Character of His Prayer

     Second, consider the character of Jabez’s petition. He requested a personal blessing. To ask God’s blessing is to ask Him to bestow divine favor. There is nothing wrong with requesting God to bless us specifically. The Psalmist did. He prayed, "Save Your people, and bless Your inheritance; shepherd them also, and bear them up forever" (Psalm 28:9). Jabez also asked God to enlarge his borders. This seems to relate to material prosperity. Thus, it is certainly scriptural for us to pray that God will bless us materially (note Matthew 6:11). However, the Bible offers no "quid pro quo" promise that if we do certain specified things for God then He will materially prosper us a certain specified amount, as some who hold the "Abundant Life–Health and Wealth" gospel teach. Rather, the Lord has simply said that if we serve Him faithfully, He will provide for us (Matthew 6:33).

     Then Jabez beseeched that God’s hand would be with Him, no doubt to provide protection and guidance. Should we not pray with the Psalmist, "Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day" (Psalm 25:5)? Finally, Jabez expressed a petition that God would keep Him from evil. Jesus also indicated that His disciples should pray for God’s preservation and deliverance, as He taught them to say, "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13). Of course, God’s protection, guidance, preservation, and deliverance are all provided for us through the scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

     The reason why Jabez thus prayed was so that He might not cause pain. One commentator expressed it this way: "Let me not experience the grief which my name implies, and which my sins would well produce." Another phrased it, "Grant that the grief implied in my name may not come upon me!" And likewise, it should be our prayer, "I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame!" (Psalm 119:31).

The Answer to His Prayer

     Finally, consider the response of God, who granted Him what he requested. The Lord has promised us, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocksit will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8). God has said that He will hear and respond to the prayers of His people. Oh, He may not always give us what we ask for, when we ask for it, in exactly the way that we asked. But He is the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Therefore, we can trust Him to answer our prayers by providing what He knows best that we need in harmony with His will, just as He did with the prayer of Jabez. (—taken from Expository Files; November, 2001; Vol. 8, No. 11)