By S.D. Gordon
The Image of God.
Man is God's darling--the king and crown of creation. The whole creation was made for him to develop and rule over and enjoy. He is in a class by himself. When he made his bad break there was just one thing left to do. God must get a new leader for His man to lead him back into all the original plan for himself. Of the whole earth man stood next to God Himself. God could not find that leader lower down. So He went higher. Jesus is God giving the race a new Leader who would withstand the lure of temptation and realize the ambition of God's heart for His darling.
The man was made in the image of God, for self-mastery, and through self-mastery for dominion over all of God's creation. That was the plan for the man. That, too, is the plan for the new Man. There is only one place to go to find God's plan for the coming One. That is in the Hebrew half of the Bible. One can hardly believe, unless he has been through the thing, how hard it is to get out of the Old Testament its vision of the coming One without any coloring from the New getting into his eyes.
We have been reading the Old Testament through the events of the New for so long that it gives a severe mental wrench to try to do anything else. Yet only so, be it sharply marked, can the plan for the coming of Jesus be gotten, and, further, only so can Jesus be understood. One must attempt to do just that to understand at all fairly what a reverent Hebrew in prophetic times expected; what such earnest Hebrews as Simeon and Anna were looking for.
I have tried to make a faithful effort to shut severely out of view the familiar facts of the gospel story for my own sake, to try to understand God's plan as it stood before there was a gospel story.
This old Hebrew picture is so full of details that are found in the reality that one who has not actually gone studiously over the Old separately will be very likely to think that the New Testament details are being read into the Old. If that be so, it is urgently requested that such an opinion be held off until the old Hebrew pages have been carefully examined as outlined in the study notes, that you may get the refreshment of a great surprise.
It must be kept keenly in mind that there is a difference between God's plan and that which He knows ahead will occur. Sovereignty does not mean that everything God plans comes to pass. Nor that everything that comes to pass is God's plan. Clearly it has not been so. It does mean that through very much that is utterly contrary to His plan He works out, in the long run, His great purpose. He works His own purpose out of a tough tangled network of contrary purposes; but in doing it never infringes upon man's liberty of action. He yields and bends, and, with a patience beyond our comprehension, waits, that in the end He may win through our consent. And so not only is His purpose saved, but man is saved and character is made in the process.
The plan is a detail of the purpose. There is one unfailing purpose through continual breakings of the plan. God's purpose remains unchanging through all changes. Yet here not only is His purpose unbroken, but His plan is to work out in the end unbroken too, though suffering a very serious break midway.
The plan goes back to the first broken plan. There was dominion or kingship of the earth by a masterful man bearing the image and imprint of God. All this was lost. Through loss of contact with God came the blurring of the image and the loss of self-mastery. Through loss of these came loss of dominion. These are to be restored--all three. This is the key to the plan for the coming of Jesus. A universal dominion, under the lead of a Master-Man, in God's image, and through these a restoration of blessing to all the earth of men. This is the one continuous theme of the old Hebrew writings. The emphasis swings now to one aspect, now to another, but through all the one thought is a king, a world-wide kingdom bringing blessing to all creation.
But if Jesus was to lead man back He must first get alongside, close up, on the same level. This was the toughest part of the whole thing. The hardest part in saving a man is getting the man's consent to be saved. There is no task tougher than trying to help a man who thinks he doesn't need help, even though his need may be extreme. You may throw a blanket over a horse's head and get it out of a burning stable or barn; or a lasso over a bull's head to get it where you want, but man cannot be handled that way. He must be led. The tether that draws must be fastened inside, his will. He must be lifted from inside. That is a bit of the God-image in him. And so God's most difficult task was getting inside the man that had shut Him out.
Fastening a Tether Inside.
And a long time it took. That it took so long, measured by the calendar, suggests how great was the resistance to be overcome. A long round-about road it does seem that God took. Yet it was the shortest. The circle route is always the shortest. It is nature's way. Nature always follows the line of least resistance. The eagle, descending, comes in circles, the line of least resistance. Water running out of a bowl through the hole in the bottom follows the circuitous route--the easiest.
God's longest way around was the shortest way into man's heart. Standards had to be changed. New standards made. Yet in making a standard there must be a starting point. God's bother was to get a starting point. When man was too impure in his ingrained ideas to receive any idea of what purity meant, things were in bad shape. When he was grubbing content in the gutter, how was he ever to be gotten up to the highlands, when you couldn't even lift his eyes over the curbstone? All the prohibitions of the Mosaic code are but faithful mirrors of man's condition. A wholly new standard had to be set up. That was God's task. It must be set up through men if they were to be attracted to it. So God started on His longest-way-around-shortest road into man's heart.
A man is chosen. Through this man, by the slow processes of generations, a nation is grown. Yet a nation only in numbers at first; in no other sense; a mob of men. Then this mob is worked upon. They are led through experiences that will make them soft to new impressions. Then slowly, laboriously, by child-training methods, the new standard is brought to them. Yet after centuries the best attained is only that their tenacious fingers have hold of a form, not yet the spirit. Yet this is an immense gain.
By and by this is the pedigree: A man, a family, tribes, a nation, a strong nation, a broken nation, a literature, ragged remnants of a nation, an ideal the like of which could not be found anywhere on earth, and a book embodying that ideal written as with acid-point in metal, as with sharpest chisel in hardest stone.
At last a start was made. God had gotten a hook inside man's will to which He could tie His tether, and draw, lovingly, tenderly, tenaciously, persistently, draw up out of the mire, toward the highlands, toward Himself.
The First Touches on the Canvas.
This old Hebrew picture is found to be a mosaic made up of bits gathered here and there, scattered throughout the Book. Some of the bits are of very quiet sober colors found in obscure corners. Others are bright. When brought together all blend into one with wondrous, fine beauty. The first bit is of grave hue. It comes at the very beginning. There is to be sharp enmity, then a crisis, resulting in a fatal wound for the head of evil, with scars for the victor.
After this earliest general statement there are three distinct groups or periods of prediction regarding the coming One. During the making of the nation, during its high tide of strength and glory under David and his son, during the time of its going to pieces. As the national glory is departing, the vision takes on its most glorious coloring. The first of these is during the making of the nation. As the man who is to be father of the chosen family is called away from his kinfolk to a preparatory isolation, he is cheered with the promise that his relationship is to be a relationship of leadership and of great blessing to the whole earth. This is repeated to his son and to his grandson, as each in turn becomes head of the family. As his grandson, the father of the twelve men whose names become the tribe names, is passing away he prophetically sees the coming leadership narrowed to Judah, through whom the great Leader is to come.
Later yet, in a story of divination and superstition characteristic of the time, a strange prophet is hired by an enemy to pronounce a curse upon the new nation. This diviner is taken possession of by the Spirit of God, and forced to utter what is clearly against his own mercenary desires. He sees a coming One, in the future, who is to smite Israel's enemies and rule victoriously.
During the last days of Moses that man, great to the whole race, speaks a word that sinks in deep. In his good-bye message he says there is some One coming after him, who will be to them as he had been, one of their own kin, a deliverer, king, lawgiver, a wise, patient, tender judge and teacher. The nation never forgot that word. When John the Baptist came, they asked, "Art thou the prophet?"
The second group of predictions is found during the nation's strength and glory. To David comes the promise that the royal house he has founded is to be forever, in contrast with Saul's, even though his successors may fail to keep faith with God. It is most striking to note how much this meant to David. He accepts it as meaning that the nation's Messiah and the world's King is to be of his own blood. "Thou hast spoken also of thy servant's house for a great while to come." Then follows this very significant sentence: "And this is (or, must be) the law of the man (or, the Adam)." This promise must refer to the plan of God concerning the woman's seed, the man, the Adam.
At the close, when the tether of life is slipping its hold, this vision of the coming greater Heir promised by God evidently fills his eye. He says:
"There shall lie One that ruleth over men;
A righteous One, that ruleth in the fear of God.
And it shall be then as the light of the morning,
When the sun ariseth,
A morning without clouds,
The tender grass springing out of the earth through
clear shining after rain."
"Verily, my own house has not been so with God;
Yet hath He made with me an everlasting covenant,
Ordered in all things and sure.
For this covenant is now all my comfort and all my desire,
Although he has not yet brought it to pass."
This seems to be the setting of those psalms of his referring to the coming One. It was to be expected that his poetical fire would burn with such a promise and conception. In the Second Psalm he sees this coming Heir enthroned as God's own Son, and reigning supremely over the whole earth despite the united opposition of enemies. In the One Hundred and Tenth Psalm this Heir is sharing rule at God's right hand while waiting the subduing of all enemies. He is to be divine, a king, and more, a priest-king. Surrounded by a nation of volunteers full of youthful vigor He will gain a decisive victory over the head of the allied enemies, and yet be Himself undisturbed in the continual freshness of His vigor. And all this rests upon the unchanging oath of Jehovah.
David's immediate heir found his father's pen, and in the Seventy-second Psalm repeats, with his own variations, his father's vision of the coming greater Heir. While there is repetition of the kingdom being world-wide and unending, with all nations in subjection, the chief emphasis is put upon the blessing to that great majority--the poor. They are to be freed from all oppression, to have full justice done them, with plenty of food to eat, and increased length of life.
That David's expectation had thoroughly permeated his circle is shown in the joyous Forty-fifth Psalm, written by one of the court musicians. It addresses the coming One as more than human, having great beauty and graciousness, reigning in righteousness, victoriously, with a queen of great beauty, and a princely posterity for unending generations.
A Full-length Picture in Colors.
These are but the beginnings. It is in the prophetic books, the third of the groups, that the full picture with its brightest coloring is found. The picture is not only winsome beyond all comparison and glorious, but stupendous in its conception and its sweep. It is most notable that, as the flood-tide of the nation's prosperity ebbs from its highest mark, the vision to the prophetic eye of a coming glory grows steadily in brightness and in distinctness. As the great kings go, the great prophets come. It is to them we must turn for the full-length picture.
The one continuous subject of the prophets is the coming King and kingdom and attendant events. Immediate historical events furnish the setting, but with a continual swinging to the coming future greatness. The yellow glory light of the coming day is never out of the prophetic sky. Its reflection is never out of the prophetic eye. Jeremiah is the one most absorbed in the boiling of the political pot of his own strenuous time, but even he at times lifts his head and gets such glimpses of the coming glory as make him mix some rose tincture with the jet black ink he uses.
The common thread running through the fabric of the prophetic books clear from Isaiah to Malachi is the phrase "in that day." Sometimes it thickens into "the day of the Lord," "the great day of the Lord," "Jehovah hath a great day," "at that time." About this thread is woven in turn the whole series of stirring scenes and events that are to mark the coming time. Sometimes it is of local application; most times of the future time, and a few times the meaning slides from one to the other, touching both.
Over all of these pages is the shadow of Somebody coming down the aisle of the ages, who is to be the world's Master. The figure of a man, large to gigantic size, majestic, yet kindly as well as kingly, looms out through these lines before the reader's face. The old idea of God Himself dwelling in the midst of the people, sharing their life, made familiar by Eden, by the flame-tipped mount and the glory-filled tent, comes out again. For this coming One is said to be God Himself. But more than that He is to be a man, and a son of man; man bred of man. The blending of the two, God and man, is pointed to in the unprecedented thing of a pure virgin birth for this one. God and a pure maiden join themselves in His coming. He is to be of native Hebrew stock, in direct descent from the great David, and born in David's native village. Of course He is to be a king as was David, but unlike that ancestor, to be not only a king, but a priest, and a preacher and teacher.
The kingdom he will set up will be like Himself in its blending of the human and divine. Its origin is not human, but divine. The capital is to be Zion or Jerusalem. It will be marked by the glorious presence of God Himself visibly present to all eyes. The characteristics of the kingdom are of peculiar attractiveness, at any time, to any people of this poor old blood-stained, gun-ploughed battle-field of an earth. The stronger traits that men commonly think of as desirable are combined with traits that have been reckoned by men of all generations as absurdly, unpractically idealistic.
There will be vengeance upon all enemies, who have been using Israel as a common football, and great victory. Yet, strangely, these will be gotten without the use of violent force, and will be followed by great peace. The kingdom is to be established in loving-kindness and marked to an unparalleled degree by a sense of right and justice to all. This feature is emphasized over and over again, with refreshing frequency to those so eager for such a revolutionary change in their affairs. Absolute gentle fairness and impartiality will decide all difficulties arising. Even the most friendless and the most obnoxious thing will be fairly judged.
That great universal majority, the poor, will be especially guarded and cared for. There will be no hungry people, nor cold, nor poorly clad; no unemployed, begging for a chance to earn a dry crust, and no workers fighting for a fair share of the fruit of their sweat-wet toil. But there are tenderer touches yet upon this canvas. Broken hearts will be healed up, prison doors unhung, broken family circles complete again. It is to be a time of great rejoicing by the common people. Yet all this will be brought about, not immediately, but gradually, following the natural law of growth; though the beginning will be marked by a great crisis, coming suddenly.
The effect upon Israel nationally is to be tremendous, sweepingly reversing the conditions under which most of these predictions are made. Israel is to become a Spirit-baptized nation, wholly swayed by the Spirit of God, and that gracious sway never to be withdrawn. All judgments for her sins are removed and all impurity thoroughly cleansed away. Possession of their own land is assured. And the capital city is to become a holy place from which, in common with the whole land, all impurity has been cleansed away. All weakness and disability are gone, and full freedom from the exactions of her former enemies to be enjoyed. Not only is Israel to be at peace with all nations, but, far more, is to have the leadership of the nations of the earth, and leadership of the highest sort--in a world-wide spiritual movement, in the day when the Spirit of God is to be poured out upon all flesh.
This leadership is to be a glorious and absolute supremacy among all the nations of the earth. And yet this is not to be by man's method of conquest, but of their own earnest accord all nations will come a-running eagerly, voluntarily, with all their wealth and resources for the upbuilding and service of Israel. In that time the Hebrew capital Jerusalem will likewise be the capital of the earth.
No less radical and sweeping will be the changes in Israel personally, individually. The people are to be made over new within. The modern word for this sort of thing is regeneration. The old-fashioned word is a new heart--a new spirit. The change is to be at the core; a change of the sort. With this will come a marked spirit of devotion to God, and a peculiar open-mindedness to the truth. There will be an absence of all sickness and a decided increase in length of life and great increase in numbers. There will be no longer any disappointment in plans, and the sense of slavish fear, which is universal, not only with all the race, but through all time, will be utterly absent. Israel is to be a nation of persons with thrilled hearts and radiant faces.
Back to Eden.
The effect upon all the nations of the earth is a large part of the background of the picture. Through Israel's advancement under the new order, every other nation is to come back to God. The outpouring of the Spirit upon Israel is to be followed by an outpouring upon all flesh. There are the two outpourings of God's Spirit in these old prophetic pages. This will be followed by a universal, voluntary coming to Israel for religious instruction. She becomes the teacher of the nations regarding God, until by and by the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the only God. Her influence upon them for good will be as the heavy fertilizing eastern dews and the life-giving showers are to vegetation.
But further yet, Israel is to be the only medium of God's blessing upon the nations--the only channel. Those refusing her leadership will, for lack of vital sap, die of dry rot. The wondrous blessing enjoyed by this central nation, the unhingeing of dungeon doors, the opening of blind eyes, the mellowing of all the hard conditions of life, the reign of simple, full justice to all, is to be shared with all the nations. Israel's peace with all nations is to become a universal peace between and among all nations.
But there's still more. There are to follow certain radical changes in the realm of nature. Splendid rivers of water are to flow through Jerusalem, necessitating changes in the formation of the land there. The fortress capital of the Jews strongly entrenched among the Judean hills is to become, as the world's metropolis, a mighty city, with rivers to float the earth's commerce. The light of the sun and moon will be greatly increased, and yet this greatly intensified light will become at Jerusalem a shadow cast by the greater light of the presence of God. A devout Hebrew would associate this back with the light of the Presence-cloud in the Arabian barrens. While the devout Christian will likely, quickly think forward from that to the light that was one time as the sun, and, again, above the sun's brightness. Naturally, with this comes a renewed fertility of the earth's soil, and the removal of the curse upon vegetation. Before the healing light and heat the poisonous growth, the blight of drought and of untempered heat disappear. There is to be a new earth and above it a new heaven.
To complete the picture, the animal creation is to undergo changes as radical as these. Beasts dangerous because of ferocity and because of treachery and poisonous qualities will be wholly changed. Meat-eating beasts will change their habit of diet, and eat grain and herbs. There will be a mutual cessation of cruelty to animals by man and of danger to man from animals, for all violence will have ceased.
And then the climax is capped by repeated assurances that this marvellous kingdom will be as extensive as the earth and absolutely unending.
The whole thing, be it keenly noticed, is simply a return to the original condition. In the Eden garden was the presence of God, a masterful man in the likeness of God, with full dominion over all creation. There was full accord in all nature, and perfect fellowship between man and nature.
All this is to come to pass through the coming One. He is the key that unlocks this wondrous future. Through all, above all, growing ever bigger, is the shadowy majestic figure of a Man coming. His personal characteristics make Him very attractive and winsome. He will be of unusual mental keenness both in understanding and in wisdom, combined with courage of a high order, and, above all, dominated by a deep reverential, a keenly alert, love for God. He will be beautiful in person and, in sharp contrast with earth's kings, while marked personally with that fine dignity and majesty unconscious of itself, will be gentle and unpretentious in His bearing. His relations with God are direct and very intimate, being personally trained and taught by Him. Backed by all of His omnipotence, He will be charged with the carrying out of His great plans for the chosen people and through them for the world.
In a fine touch it is specially said that "He will judge the poor." Poor folk, who haven't money to employ lawyers to guard their interests, and haven't time for much education to know better how to protect themselves against those who would take advantage of them--the poor, that's the overwhelming majority of the whole world--He will be their judge. They will have a friend on the bench. But He will have this enormous advantage in judging all men, poor and otherwise, that He will not need to decide by what folk tell Him, nor by outside things. He will be able to read down into the motives and back into the life.
Such is the plan for the coming One outlined in these old pages. To many a modern all this must seem like the wildest dream of an utterly unpractical enthusiast. Yet, mark it keenly, this is the conception of this old Hebrew book that has been, and is, the world's standard of morals and of wisdom. The book revered above all others by the most thoughtful men, of all shades of belief. It is striking how the parts of this stupendous conception fit and hold together. There is a mature symmetry about the whole scheme. For instance, the changes in the light of sun and moon run parallel with the changes in growth and in the healthfulness and longer lives of man. Increased light removes both disease and its cause, and gives new life and lengthened life.
Surely these Hebrews are a great people in their visions. And a vision is an essential of greatness. Yet this sublime conception of their future is not regarded as a visionary dream, but calmly declared to be the revealed plan of God for them, and through them for the earth. And that, too, not by any one man, but successively through many generations of men. The prophetic spirit of the nation in the midst of terrible disaster and of moral degradation never loses faith in its ultimate greatness, through the fulfilling of its mission to the nations of the earth.
Is it to be wondered at that the devout Israelite, who believed in his book and its vision, pitched his tent on the hilltop, with his eye ever scanning the eastern horizon, for the figure of the coming One? And when eyes grown dim for the long looking believed that at last that figure was seen, the heart breathed out its grateful relief in "Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen."
Strange Dark Shadowings.
But, too, there is in this vision of glory something very different, so mixed in that it won't come out. There are dark shadows from the first touch upon the canvas. Always there is a bitter, malignant enemy. There is decisive victory, but it comes only after sharp, hard, long-continued fighting. But in the latter parts, that is, in David's time, and intensifying in the later pages, there is something darker yet. Through these lines run forebodings, strange, weird, sad forebodings of evil. There are dark gray threads, inky black threads, that do not harmonize with the pattern being woven. And the weavers notice it, and wonder, and yet are under a strange impulse to weave on without understanding.
Their coming One is to be a king, but there is the distinct consciousness that there would be for Him terrible experiences through which He must pass, and to which He would yield on His way to the throne. The very conception seems to involve a contradiction which puzzles these men who write them down. Like a lower minor strain running through some great piece of music are the few indications of what God foreknew, though He did not foreplan, would happen to Jesus. A sharp line must always be drawn between what God plans and what He knows will happen. The soft sobbing of what God could see ahead runs as a minor sad cadence through the story of His plans.
Sometimes these forebodings are acted out. In the light of the Gospels we can easily see very striking likenesses between the experiences in which keen suffering precedes great victory, of such national leaders as Joseph and David, and the experiences of Jesus. Here is God's plan of atonement by blood, involving suffering, but with no such accompaniments of hatred and cruelty as Jesus went through. Read backward, Jesus' experience on the cross is seen to bear striking resemblances, in part, to this old scheme of atonement; yet only in part: the parts concerning His character and the results; but not the manner of his death, nor the spirit of the actors.
Then there are the few direct specific passages predicting a stormy trip for the king before the haven is reached. There is a vividness of detail in the very language here, that catches us, familiar with after events, as it could not those who first heard. There is the Twenty-second Psalm, with its broken sentences, as though blurted out between heart-breaking sobs; and then the wondrous change, in the latter part, to victory through this terrible experience. And the scanty but vivid lines in the Sixty-ninth Psalm. There is that great throbbing fifty-third of Isaiah, with its beginning back in the close of the fifty-second, and the striking ahead of its key-note in the fiftieth chapter.
Daniel listens with awe deepening ever more as Gabriel tells him that the coming Prince is to be "cut off." To the returned exiles rebuilding the temple Zechariah acts out a parable in which Jehovah is priced at thirty pieces of silver, the cost of a common slave. And a bit later God speaks of a time when "they shall look upon Me (or Him) whom they have pierced." And later yet, a still more significant phrase is used, as identifying the divine character of the sufferer, where God speaks of a sword being used "against the man that is My Fellow," adding, "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." It is God's Fellow--one on a par with Himself--against whom the opposition is directed.
Such is the great vision in these Hebrew pages of the plan for the coming One. There is a throne on a high mountain peak bathed in wondrous sublime glory, but the writers are puzzled at a dark valley of the shadow of death through which the king seems to be obliged to pick His way up to the throne.
Jesus is to be God's new Man leading man back on the road into the divine image again, with full mastery of his masterly powers, and through mastery into full dominion again; but the road back seems to be contested, and the new Man gets badly scarred as He fights through and up to victory.