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From: Teus Benschop 
Subject:      The Scriptures opened, 36
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Numbers 14:1,2,      Israel's unbelief
Isaiah  40, part 5,  God, the Only God, incomparable
Luke    18:9-14,     The Pharisee and the publican

Numbers 14:1,2, Israel's unbelief

Weekly reading: Num 13:1-15:41

And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried;
and the people wept that night.
And all the children of Israel murmured
against Moses and against Aaron:
and the whole congregation said unto them,
Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt!
or would God we had died in this wilderness!

    Here  is the story of the coming of Israel at the borders  of  the
promised  land,  of Canaan. They had sent out spies,  to  explore  the
land.  Twelve  spies went out. When they came back, ten of  them  were
unbelievers. They brought an evil report of the land unto the  people.
Only  two, namely Joshua and Caleb, believed in God's might and power.
They  said to the people that God surely would bring them in. But  the
ten  brought an evil report. What was the result of that evil  report?
We  read  it  in our text: "And all the congregation lifted  up  their
voice,  and cried; and the people wept that night." The people  rather
believed  the bad report of ten unbelievers, than to believe the  good
report  of  two  believers. The believers were a  minority.  That  has
always  been so. Many people utter evil reports about God's  promises,
but  only a few speak the truth, namely a right report. The people  of
Israel, of whom the majority was also unbeliever, rather believed  the
ten  ungodly spies than the two godly: Joshua and Caleb. Here  we  see
how  a  few people, only ten, can set afire a whole nation. The  whole
nation was polluted with unbelief, of which the ten bad spies were the
causes. Let we learn of this not to listen to all, who bring forth  an
evil  report of God's promises. The majority is doing so, but  let  we
rather  listen  to the few righteous, to the people  like  Joshua  and
Caleb, to the true believers.
    After  all the congregation had lifted up their voice,  and  after
they  had  cried, and after they had wept that whole night, they  went
on.  Now  they  began  also to murmur against  their  leaders,  as  is
written:  "And all the children of Israel murmured against  Moses  and
against Aaron". What is that unreasonable! Just as if Moses and  Aaron
were  the  cause of their unbelief! The people had better  done,  when
they  had  been silent, and when they had put their trust in God.  But
no,  they  murmured against their leaders. Because God had  set  their
leaders  over  them,  their murmuring against  the  leaders  was  also
murmuring against God Himself. They rebelled against God! God, Who had
redeemed  them  out of Egypt. God, Who had done so  many  wonders  for
them! God, Who had fed them by heavenly bread in the desert. God,  Who
went  before them in a cloud by day, and in a fiery pillar  by  night.
God, Who had led them to this place. How unthankful!
   What did they say in their murmur? "And the whole congregation said
unto  them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or  would
God  we had died in this wilderness!" We see where unbelief brings the
people. Through their unbelief, they expect the death, when they would
enter  Canaan.  They chose rather to have died in  Egypt,  or  in  the
desert, than to be killed by the inhabitants of Canaan. We see how the
unbelief leads to despair. They saw themselves placed before  a  task,
which was too heavy for them. A task, which was impossible for them to
carry  out. Yes, no wonder, because without God, we are utterly unable
to  do  any task. Through their unbelief, they did not know  that  God
would help them, and that God would exterminate all their enemies.

When  we  look around us, we see a world full of unbelief.  They  who,
through  unbelief, become despaired, sometimes make an  end  of  their
lives.  They say with unbelieving Israel: It is better to die in  this
wilderness  of life, then to go forth in our despair. How  unhappy  is
mankind  without the one true God. Darkness all around. Fear jumps  on
them. They are without God, without hope, without salvation. They  are
like Israel of old, but in a new form. What is people without God?
    When  we, however, look somewhat better around us, we will  descry
the few believers. The great heap doesn't see them, like Israel didn't
listen  to Joshua and Caleb. Yet, the few believers are still  in  the
world. Their voice is often overshouted by the unbelievers, yet,  when
you  listen well, you can hear them. They call you up to believe  God.
They  call you up to trust Him, however many your enemies may be.  The
new  Joshuas and the new Calebs. They still blow on the trumpet of the
Word.  The world doesn't listen to them. The world says that there  is
no God, because of all the wars, catastrophes, etc. Reader, listen not
to them. Listen to Joshua and to Caleb: "Only rebel not ye against the
LORD,  neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread  for
us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear
them not." (Numbers 14:9)

Isaiah 40, part 5, God, the Only God, incomparable

Isaiah  is pointing out the majesty of God, using several pictures  to
describe that.

   17 All nations before him [are] as nothing; and they are counted to
   him less than nothing, and vanity.

The  prophet continues the raising of God's greatness and the  abasing
of  mankind. He has done so until now. He said that the high mountains
would  be  brought low, in verse four. There, he used the  picture  of
mountains,  but  here,  he  explains his  message  further.  The  high
mountains,  that  are  the nations. All pride  will  be  subdued.  The
nations  before Him are as nothing. They are counted to Him less  than
nothing,  and vanity. Maybe, the nations think that they are powerful.
But  in reality, they are less then nothing before the high Lord. They
are vanity, that is, they are nothing, and passing. When whole nations
are  counted  less  then  nothing, how  much  less  are  we  then,  an
inhabitant of one vain nation!

   18 To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare
   unto him?

Nothing  can be compared unto God. The prophet has showed  that  until
now,  but  he  continues therewith. He now begins  to  speak,  in  the
following verses, about graven images. The Israelites made images,  to
"serve"   God   through  them.  How  dull!  How  erroneous!   God   is
incomparable, so each image is a severe dishonouring of God.

   19  The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth
   it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.

The  prophet portrays how an image is made. In the previous verse,  he
has  asked  wherewith God could be compared. In this verse, he  speaks
about  the comparison, which many make. They compare God with a graven
image.  God is not made, for He is eternal. But an image must be  made
through  a workman. A workman, of whom just is said, that he  is  less
then  nothing, vanity. To compare the unmade God with a man-made image
is  therefore  a  very bad comparison. God had an infinite  amount  of
glory,  but the glory of that image is nothing more than a thin  layer
of  gold.  So,  a very bad comparison. The workman also  casts  silver
chains to decorate the image. God however, needs no decoration, but He
decorates all with His glory.
    Many  decorate the Torah-scroll, but the Torah is holy  enough  in
itself. All decoration, consisting of cloth or crowns, darken the real
glory  of the Torah, and of God. They peoples' eyes get stuck  in  the
outward  appearance, and they do not penetrate into the Torah  itself.
In  this  way, many have their graven image, which they    lug through
the  synagogue sometimes. The workman makes the outward parts  of  the
scroll  and  the holder, and the goldsmith spreads it over with  gold,
and  casts  silver chains. In this way, they darken God's  Word.  They
spread a veil over the Word, in order that nobody can read it.

   (to be continued)

Luke 18:9-14, The Pharisee and the publican

In  the  parable of the Pharisee and the publican, Jesus shows us  the
difference between the self-righteous, and the humbled people.

     9  And  he  spake  this  parable unto certain  which  trusted  in
     themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

Jesus  spoke  this parable to some people, who trusted in  themselves.
They  thought  that they were righteous. They not only committed  that
sin,  but added thereunto, that they despised others. Despising others
is already a sin in itself, so I cannot understand why they thought to
be  righteous. Perhaps they were blind for their own sins. That is, by
the  way,  the  case  with all people who think  to  be  righteous  in
themselves.  Being  spiritual blind, they  overlook  their  sins,  and
therefore become haughty, and begin to despise the others. Jesus, as a
good  Teacher,  instructed  them by a parable.  He  was  also  a  good
Physician,  in  applying  this medicine of the  parable.  Maybe,  they
understood, and would be healed from their sickness.

     10  Two  men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee,
     and the other a publican.

In  the  parable,  there  were two men. A Pharisee,  and  a  publican.
Pharisees were honoured by the common people. The people thought  them
to  be  very  righteous, and unfortunately, the  Pharisees  themselves
thought the same. A publican, however, was despised by the people, and
justly.  Publicans worked together with the Romans, the  occupiers  of
the land.
      Both  went up into the temple to pray. But what a very different
motives did they have. The Pharisee went to pray, that is, to boast in
his supposed righteousness. The publican went to pray in humility,  to
ask forgiveness.

     11  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank
     thee,  that  I  am  not  as other men are, extortioners,  unjust,
     adulterers, or even as this publican.
     12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

The Pharisee thanked God that he was not as the other men. He was much
better.  Yes,  he was even so good, that he despised  the  other  men.
"Lord,  I am very good, and I thank Thee for that". He counted up  all
his  external works, as abstaining from great sins, and paying tithes,
etc.  He counted up his works, but he left out the pride of his heart.
How blind can self-love, and contempt of others make a man!
      This Pharisee still lives in our days. Not only one Pharisee, or
a  few, but great crowds. Nearly everybody thinks of himself, that  he
is  not  too bad. He helps the other people, he prays now and then  to
God, goes to church, goes to synagogue; so, what does God want more? I
fast  twice  in the week. I go twice a Sunday to church.  I  go  three
times on Sabbath to the synagogue. I give tithes of all that I posses.
I  give not a little to the collections. I am not a public sinner;  so
God,  I'm rather good. The present Pharisees thank God; yes, there  is
prayer  and thank enough; but, they overlook the pride of their inward
parts.  They  say: I am not an adulterer, like many others;  but  they
forget that already the unclean look at a women is like adultery. They
aren't extortioners, but yet, they severely claim their money.

     13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much
     as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God
     be merciful to me a sinner.

There  was  a world of difference between the self-righteous Pharisee,
and the humbled publican. The Pharisee went close to the altars of the
temple,  but  the  publican stood afar off. He did not  count  himself
worthy  to enter so far into the temple. He knew that he was  a  great
sinner,  as he indeed was. The proud Pharisee lifted up his eyes  unto
heaven,  but the publican dared not. He would not lift up so  much  as
his  eyes unto heaven, but looked to the ground in shame. He  did  not
thank  God  for his righteousness, as the Pharisee did, but  he  smote
upon  his breast as a sign of self-contempt, and indignity before  the
Lord.  He  also  prayed, like the Pharisee, but his  prayer  was  very
different.  "God,  be merciful to me, a sinner".  He  counted  himself
worthy  of  punishment, because of his great and many  sins.  Yet,  he
asked for mercy.
      Also  in  our days, when you listen here and there, you discover
churches  full of Pharisees. They always thank God. But the prayer  of
the publican, where do you hear it? But on a few places, they know and
pray  the  publican's prayer: O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.  The
religious world is thanking God for their supposed righteousness,  but
the people of God are asking for mercy.

     14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather]
     than  the  other:  for every one that exalteth himself  shall  be
     abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

It  is  sure  that the publican went down to his house  justified,  in
opposition to the Pharisee, who, according to his own words,  did  not
need  any justification. He was already righteous, so why did he  need
God's  righteousness? The Pharisee was left under God's coming  wrath,
but  the publican was redeemed. He, though a sinner, was justified  by
God. That is, his sins were forgiven him.
      The  Pharisee  was proud. He exalted himself. But  according  to
Scripture, he who exalts himself shall be abased. "A man's pride shall
bring  him  low:  but  honour  shall uphold  the  humble  in  spirit."
(Proverbs  29:23)  The  publican was  humbling  himself,  and  he  was
therefore exalted. The publican declared himself to be a great sinner,
and was acquitted by God.
     The proud and self-righteous in our days also will be abased, but
the humble, who confess their sins, will receive forgiveness.

Teus Benschop  |  t.benschop@pobox.ruu.nl  |  editor of the list Chr-Exp

           "A Christian explanation of the Scriptures to Israel"

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