Reading 1 - 1Sa 9:27
"As they were going down to the edge of the town, Samuel said to Saul, 'Tell the servant to go on ahead of us' -- and the servant did so -- 'but you stay here awhile, so that I may give you a message from God' " (1Sa 9:27).
STAY HERE AWHILE: Or "Stand still that I may show you the word of God" (AV).
"Stand still and see the salvation of God" (Exo 14:13; 2Ch 20:17).
"Stand still and hear God's commandments" (Num 9:8).
"Stand still that I may reason with you" (1Sa 12:7).
"Stand still and consider the works of God" (Job 37:14).
Quite often the Bible tells us, in one way or another, that we should cease -- if only for a moment -- from our daily grind of tasks, and wait upon the LORD, quietly and expectantly. Perhaps at such moments we might really HEAR the word of God, speaking in some still, silent part of our hearts -- not just the words, powerful though they be, that speak from the pages of Scripture... but the word of God, internalized in us, "made flesh", as it were -- made real, because interwoven in the fabric of our lives and experiences.
Perhaps at such moments -- if we really listen -- we might hear Him working.
Perhaps then -- if we gaze with the eye of faith, and not so much with the natural eye -- we might really SEE the salvation He has in store for us!
Don't be afraid to "stand still".
Reading 2 - Isa 53
The All-wise Father does not teach His children by simple assertion only; if He did, then our Bible would need be no more lengthy than our Statement of Faith. But He teaches us also by type, parable, history, prophecy, and example. Foremost among the examples given for our instruction is His only-begotten Son. The example of Christ's sacrificial life, culminating in a cruel, lingering death, speaks volumes to the reflective soul.
Isa 53 is a mountain peak of God's Word. Let us simply consider the chapter as it relates to our experiences and responsibilities, as a moral issue and not a "theological" one (in the common sense of the word).
No man of faith can stand before the cross. It is perpetually holy ground -- this mysterious place of meeting between God and man. The perceptive disciple approaches the mercy seat on his knees; he finds there no place to display his own strength or wisdom or cleverness. All the qualities that develop pride in natural man are driven from him further and further with each blow of the hammer upon the Roman spikes. As his awareness deepens, he must finally acknowledge that the cross of Christ has become, not a set of logical premises to be sharpened and polished in legalistic debate, but rather a moral mandate. As the rising of the sun drives away the darkness and creates each day a new world, God's love for man as demonstrated in Christ's death and resurrection forever changes the spiritual landscape for the believer. Every issue of his life must now be viewed in the peculiar divine glow emanating from Golgotha.
And thus our fellowship, with the Father and the Son and with one another, is seen against the background of Christ's sacrifice. Here is the practical expression of his fellowship with us, his brethren. This should be our example of action toward one another.
To those of us who have been accustomed to read Isa 53 as related only to the last day or so of our Savior's mortal life, the quotation in Mat 8:16,17 comes as quite a surprise:
"When the evening was come, they brought unto him many demoniacs... and he healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.' "
Surely these verses are telling us that Christ's sympathy for poor suffering humanity was an intensely personal feeling. We can imagine no stronger words to convey the closeness, the unity, the fellowship of suffering. Here is no theoretical transferal of guilt or sin-effect; there is no ritual, no ceremony about it -- it is real, as real as it can be! This man was one of us. He stood before the tomb of a friend and shed real tears. Our weaknesses were his... are his still, this high priest who was touched so deeply with the sensation of our infirmities, and who carried it with him into the most holy place. For our griefs are his, our sorrows also. For us he was willing to die; for us, finally and conclusively, he did die. And not just for "us" as a whole or a concept or an abstraction, but... this is the real wonder... he died for each one of us! Had there been only one sinner, Christ would have still been willing to die. When each of us stands before the judgment seat, he will be looking into the eyes of a man who gave his life, personally and individually, for him.
Yes, it truly is a marvel: The Savior of mankind suffered for sinners. For the man who blasphemed God's Holy Name, Christ spent sleepless nights in prayer. For the man who coveted, and even took, his neighbor's wife, Christ denied himself all fleshly indulgences. For the man who in hot anger or cold hatred slew his brother, Christ bore the Roman scourge that tore his flesh and exposed his bones and nerves. And for us, "righteous" as we might be in the ordinary "middle-of-the-road" sense, but sinners at heart if we would but admit it, consumed with petty jealousies and grumblings, unthankful, lazy, and often indifferent -- yes, for people like us -- Christ, the holiest of all men, groaned and bled and died.
What does it really mean, to bear the griefs and sorrows of another? As exemplified in Christ, it was more, much more, than a mechanical "burden-bearing". It was a "living sacrifice", a way of life that denied the lusts of the flesh within himself, while at the same time loving and striving continuously for the wellbeing of his brethren who could not, or did not, so deny themselves. And when they failed, and failed miserably, he bore with their failures and never gave way to "righteous", condemning anger -- but only expressed sorrow and gentle rebuke. Was there ever such a man? "For even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom 15:3).
"The Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all." "He was wounded for our transgressions." Here again we Christadelphians so quickly lapse into the "technical" aspects (the word here almost seems sacrilegious) of Christ's sacrifice. We carefully point out that Christ did not bear the guilt of our sins, that he did not die in our steads. And there is nothing wrong with saying such things, in their proper place. But, is it not possible that we are missing the main point? Call it what you will, hedge it about with exceptions and careful definitions, when all is said and done, HE DID DIE -- and that is the important issue!
Let us be careful here, let us examine ourselves. In our zeal for "truth", are we so caught up in the theory that the fact is almost ignored? Do we suppose that when we have explained, in man's imperfect language, why Christ died, on a legal basis -- that our conception of the cross is complete? No, brethren. This man died because he loved to the uttermost his brethren. Here is the lesson. Christ's way of life, the fellowship he practiced in regular interaction with his brethren, is the challenge to us. Do we perceive that love as an impossible theory -- or as a reality, to be reproduced and practiced by us, here and now? Our Savior calls us, he commands us, he entreats us, insofar as we can, to do as he did. He sets before us an ecclesial life of difficulties, of sorrows, of problems -- and he tells us: 'Bear the infirmities, even the iniquities of your brethren. I died for them; you must live for them. I did not please myself; neither should you. They are all worth saving, they are all worth loving, they are all worth your sacrifices and prayers -- or else none of you are worth it! If you really believe in my love, then you must believe that your ecclesial problems can be solved -- and that love is the key to their solution.'
We break bread and drink wine as a memorial of our fellowship with God through Christ. We do not earn this right; it is a profound privilege and a gift, earned by the sufferings of Christ. It is given freely to sinners, if they will only believe. A fine record of outstanding accomplishment, accompanied by perfect purity of doctrine (remember our "brother" the Pharisee who prayed in the temple!), will not earn us eternal life. The spirit that compasses sea and land to bring division between brethren of Christ for the smallest hint of a cause will not earn eternal life, no matter how zealously exercised that spirit is!
"He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Mic 6:8).
Reading 3 - Rev 16:12
"The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East" (Rev 16:12).
Fresh water has never been plentiful in the Middle East. Rainfall, what there is of it, only comes in the winter, and drains quickly through the semiarid land.
Now the region's accelerating population, expanding agriculture, and industrialization demand more fresh water. Nations like Israel and Jordan are swiftly sliding into that zone where they are using all the water resources available to them. They have only 15 or 20 years left before their agriculture, and ultimately their security, is threatened ("Water: The Middle East's Critical Resource", National Geographic, May 1993).
Some experts feel that water wars are imminent, and that water has replaced oil as the region's most contentious commodity. Scarcity is one element of the crisis. But in this patchwork of ethnic and religious rivalries, water seldom stands alone as an issue. It is entangled in the politics that keep people (even diverse Arab peoples, much less Arabs and Jews!) from trusting and helping each other.
Compared with the United States, which has a freshwater potential of 10,000 cubic meters a year for each citizen, Iraq has 5,500, Turkey has 4,000, and Syria has 2,800. These are the "haves" in the regions; the "have-nots": Egypt: 1,100; Israel: 460; Jordan: 260. But these are not firm figures, because upstream use of river water can dramatically alter the potential downstream.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the mammoth Southern Anatolia Project, with its huge Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates River in Turkey. Ataturk is the centerpiece of Turkey's plans for 22 dams to hold the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris, which also originates in eastern Turkey, and to fill reservoirs that will eventually hold more than ten times the volume of water in the Sea of Galilee.
When nations share the same river, the upstream nation is under no legal obligation to provide water downstream. But the downstream nation can press its claim on the basis of historical use. This is what happened in 1989 when President Turgut Ozal of Turkey alarmed Syria and Iraq by holding back the flow of the Euphrates for a month to start filling the Ataturk. Full development of the Anatolia project could eventually reduce the Euphrates' flow by as much as 60%. This could severely jeopardize Syrian and Iraqi agriculture. A technical committee of the three nations -- Turkey, Syria, and Iraq -- has met intermittently to address such questions, but no real headway has been made.
In turn, less water in the Euphrates has meant lower power output at Syria's own large-scale Euphrates Dam at Tabqa. And, predictably, Syria's big dam has kindled fear of scarcity further downstream in Iraq, adding to longstanding tension between these two nations, apart from their respective tensions with Turkey.
Other water problems abound in the region. Israel -- in its National Water Carrier project -- has been tapping the Sea of Galilee to channel water as far south as the Negev, virtually drying up the southern Jordan River. This has caused substantial hard-ship for Jordanian farmers, and outraged their government, which calls the transfer of water from the Jordan basin a breach of international law. King Hussein of Jordan has said that water is such a volatile issue that "it could drive nations of the region to war."
And now Egypt, nearly totally dependent on water from the Nile River, is troubled by an unstable Ethiopia, source of 85% of the Nile's headwaters. No wonder that UN Secretary-General Bhoutros-Ghali, while he was still Egypt's foreign minister, said, "The next war in the Middle East will be fought over water, not politics."
Does all this have relevance to Bible prophecy of the Last Days? Or is it the merest coincidence that, in Revelation, the great event that immediately precedes the battle of Armageddon is the drying up of the Euphrates River?: "The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East... Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon" (Rev 16:12,16).
Historically, the Euphrates River was diverted and dried up by the invading Persians as part of the campaign that led to the fall of the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar's successors in 536 BC (Dan 5). This led, in short order, to the repatriation (under the benevolent Cyrus of Persia) of Jewish refugees back to the Land of Israel, from whence they had been transported away by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.
This history suggests that, in the Last Days, the "drying up of the Euphrates" will lead again to the fall of modern "Babylon" (cp Rev 16:12 with Rev 16:19), which answers geographically to Iraq (and Syria and Jordan?).
Rev 16:12 echoes its Old Testament counterpart (Isa 11:10-16): "In that day the Root of Jesse [Jesus, son of David and thus son of Jesse too] will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria [modern Syria and/or Iraq], from... Egypt, from Babylonia [Iraq]... He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah... They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west; together they will plunder the people to the east. They will lay hands on Edom and Moab, and the Ammonites will be subject to them. The LORD will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea; with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand over the Euphrates River. He will break it up into seven streams so that men can cross over in sandals. There will be a highway for the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel when they came up from Egypt."
This cross-reference, together with the history, suggests that the "kings of the east" who return through the dry Euphrates riverbed will be the remnant of Israel who had been previously carried captive by victorious Arabs (Zec 14:2). From their concentration camps in Egypt, but especially in Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, they will call upon the God of their fathers, and upon His Son. And from thence they will be delivered back to their own Land, as part of the process by which their Savior will reestablish the Kingdom of Israel in Jerusalem again. Why are they called "kings"? Because, along with Jewish and Gentile believers from others ages and other nations, they will then reign with Christ over the nations (cp Rev 1:6; 2:26,27; 5:9,10).
[Other prophecies which present the same basic picture, ie, of a believing Jewish remnant brought back out of the Arab nations in the Last Days: Isa 19:23-25; 27:12,13; 35; 43:1-7; 52:1-10; Jer 3:18; 16:14, 15; Joel 3:2-7; and Zec 10:9-11.]
It is possible that God, through Turkey's project at Ataturk, is presently arranging the "pieces of the puzzle" for the future -- when the drying Euphrates will accelerate the time of war in the Middle East. In the near future, the Arab nations may fight with one another, and with Israel, about water (and land, and "holy places" too, of course!). The outcome of the last such war will be the defeat of Israel. But, in some strange way as yet difficult to perceive, the continuous shortage of water for "Babylon" (Iraq/Syria/Jordan?) will contribute to the weakening of Israel's enemies, and the subsequent return of Israeli captives (prospective "kings from the east") to Jerusalem to participate in Christ's kingdom.
How exactly will this be brought about? Who will finally dry up the Euphrates? Turkey, or Christ? When will it be finally accomplished? Before Christ comes, or after? For the present, we can only guess at the answers. Perhaps there are other "puzzle pieces" lying right in front of us, which we simply haven't thought of in the right context yet.
[One final question: Is there any significance to the verbal similarity between the "east" -- in Greek, anatole -- of Rev 16:12, and the region of Anatolia in eastern Turkey?]