By George H. Warnock
Today is Saturday, May 8, 1982. This is my day off from work... so I seek to plan things somewhat, in order to accomplish the many things that have to be done. It is springtime... and there is gardening to do shortly. Springtime comes late up here in Canada, at least where we live; and if we are going to profit from our short summers we have to be diligent when the weather is favorable. But today there is fresh snow on the ground. Not much, and it will soon go; but today it means I can work in the shop. I am a woodworker, and I have a pile of cedar wood cut up and sanded and ready to assemble. We have four daughters and three sons; and for each of the three daughters I have made a cedar chest. Now it is about time for our youngest daughter to graduate from high school, and the rumor is that she is expecting her cedar box. And so I will work on it today, and with the few hours I can spare here and there I should have it ready for her graduation day.
I have a good workshop; the fire has been lit; and I am about ready to go. It stays rather cool in these parts till well on in May, nestled away as we are in the snowcapped and rugged mountains of southern British Columbia. Very beautiful country... a land filled with flowing streams and brooks... many of them you can just stoop down and take a drink any time you wish, without fear of pollution. There are beautiful mountains clothed with all manner of trees: tall stately cedars, pine, fir, and larch (commonly called tamarack by the locals). There are rich pasture lands, and fertile valleys. But most of the country is very rugged and mountainous--and as you drive through isolated areas and come across some old dilapidated log cabin you cannot help but admire the rugged pioneer spirit of the early settlers, who chose to settle in such challenging areas and set about the task of making a living off the land. Somehow you cannot help but feel that they had it better than we, despite the hardships they had to endure; caught up, as we are, in the vortex of this civilized life as we know it, where all you know is the monotonous routine of duty on the wheels of industry ...cogs in a crazy machine that would keep you whirling ...for what purpose you know not. But apparently it is all so very necessary and so very important ...and your success is rated for you ahead of time in terms of how big a cog you can become in how big a wheel. As Christians we have to be ever alert to the fact that we are "in this world" but are not intended to be a part of it.
So today I have my plans. The fire is burning and I will finish, or at least make a good start on this cedar chest that I must build. But I can't seem to get at it. Last Sunday at our fellowship I ministered a little on the topic "The Hyssop that springeth out of the wall"--and afterward I felt inclined to put it in print. Perhaps this afternoon I will make a start. Maybe I can put a few hours each week on it and get it in print by early summer. So I will get at my work. But as I pace around my shop I have no peace.
Many times I have discovered the will of God to be just as simple as this. I think our main problem with the will of God is the thought that God only cares about the great and the mighty happenings... everything else we fret and strive about ourselves. We have to come to that place when the will of God is like the air we breathe... it just comes naturally as we desire to serve Him and obey the still small voice of His Spirit, And so I walk back into the house and get settled down at my typewriter.
We generally refer to ourselves as a "fellowship," for we are just a handful of people that the Lord seems to have joined together for some meaningful purpose. We are not particularly trying to "build" anything, for we have learned that Christ is building His Church, and except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. We do have a burden for God's people and we earnestly anticipate the day when each member of the Body will be fitly joined and knit together in the Spirit, and empowered to fulfill his role in a very meaningful way unto the edifying of the Body. We continually emphasize the fact that if there is to be true "fellowship," then there must be a mutual concern, a mutual sharing one with the other, and a mutual receiving one from the other. By this we are not referring to everyone giving their little sermon every time we come together. That is not fellowship. The sharing that is implied in true New Testament fellowship is a sharing with the other of what God has shared with us. And therefore to some extent we discourage talking, if God is not talking... and we discourage "doing," if God is not doing. At the same time we seek to keep a balance in our teaching lest some who have something from the Lord might hesitate to share it because they feel not quite confident whether or not it is truly from the Lord. We would not bring anyone into this kind of bondage. We profess that none of us have as yet come into the true mountain of the Lord's inheritance in any degree of fullness. We still see through a glass darkly. There are still many areas where we long for that greater clarity of vision and understanding in the ways of the Lord, that there might go forth a very positive and assured Word from His lips. And yet, even in our lack of understanding, and even in our weakness, we rejoice so many times when someone, perhaps falteringly, bares his or her heart concerning something that God has been dealing with them about... some way of the Lord that is new to them... some Word of the Lord that has come to mean much to them. And because it means so much to them, and they had the courage to share it with the rest, it means much to us also. For we have discovered a little of what Paul meant when he said: "That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus" (Philemon 6). The thought seems to be: "that as we truly fellowship together in the Spirit we are helping to bring one another into a deeper appreciation and understanding of the riches of His grace and blessing." Fellowship, therefore, can accomplish the purposes of God in the believer's life in a manner that no amount of sermon-tasting and church-going can do; for in fellowship there is a sharing of the Ways of the Lord one with another, thus enriching us with a deeper understanding of Truth, and a more meaningful appropriation of Life. For let us never forget that Jesus would have us to know Him who is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE.
THE CEDAR... AND THE HYSSOP
"And he (Solomon) spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall," (1 Kings 4:33).
For many years I have quoted this passage or referred to it, with reference to the wisdom that God had given to Solomon. But it was just this past week that I seemed to catch the full impact of what he said. The man to whom God had given such wisdom had insight far beyond that which could be attained by natural learning, and he was able to behold intent and purpose in what God had created. God had left this understanding with man in the beginning... but he soon lost it by his own perverseness, all of which could be traced back to "unthankfulness" of heart (See Romans 1:21). But to Solomon, God had given great wisdom and understanding, and he was able to write with purpose and meaning concerning God's creation. Besides he wrote many songs, 1005 in all--only one of which is recorded in Scripture, the Song of Songs.
The range of Solomon's writings was "from the Cedar... even unto the hyssop." Here we have an indication of the nature of the hyssop. He is speaking of two extremes. Now the Cedar was something magnificent; and throughout Scripture the Cedars of Lebanon speak of power, stateliness, grandeur and usefulness for a house, temple or furniture. Kings and great ones of the earth are poetically referred to as Cedars of Lebanon. Solomon's great temple was built from such material, cut from the mountains by the forestry workers of Tyre, and shipped to the site of the Temple. Carvings were made in the cedar boards, of colocynths and flowers. Some of the furniture was made of cedar, and covered over with gold. But of what value was the hyssop? It served one purpose only.
"MIND NOT HIGH THINGS"
We can understand how a man gifted with wisdom would write about great and lofty things; but God would show us that men of wisdom are concerned also about little things. It reminds us of Paul's admonition: "Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate," (Romans 12:16).
Much reference is made in Scripture to both the Cedar and the Hyssop; but whereas the Cedar speaks of stature and honour and glory, the Hyssop always relates to sacrifice... and therefore to humility, weakness and contrition of heart. Other than this I knew nothing about the plant itself. But after having been impressed to minister on the "hyssop" relative to its weakness and sacrificial character, I felt to put it in writing; and I have since looked up a number of reference books concerning it. I found it grows in dry places, out in the full sun. It is particularly suited to a rockery, and this may be inferred in the statement that it "springeth out of the wall"--perhaps a terraced rock wall. It is low-growing, up to about 2 feet. It is native to Egypt. It has strong wiry stems, with bunches of flowers and leaves. Produces small bluish-purple flowers, and has a sweet fragrance. It is a bitter herb, belonging to the mint family, and was once used for medicinal purposes. It seemed to grow plentifully in Egypt, for on the Passover night it was readily obtainable to every Israelitish family, who would use it for the sprinkling of the blood. It was used for various sacrificial purposes in the Levitical order, and therefore must have grown extensively in the wilderness also. It is always associated with "sacrifice"... so that even at Calvary, when the supreme Sacrifice was being offered, mention is again made of the lowly "hyssop."
Solomon, a great and Wise man, was impressed to write about the weak, insignificant "hyssop." Great men are always small enough to take note of little things. They are concerned about the weak. Jesus stood still at the cry of a blind beggar. True greatness reveals itself in areas of meekness, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. The world considers a meek man to be a weak man. But God considers the meek to be strong. They shall inherit the earth; because in their meekness and weakness, their confidence is not in themselves but in Another. The weak must assume an attitude of defensiveness; but the strong are prepared to let the Truth defend itself. So when the weak assume positions of power and authority, as is often the case, they must use that power and authority to bolster their own inadequacy. The meek are strong, because they are prepared to commit their cause into the hands of God who judgeth righteously.
As I ministered about the hyssop I could not help but think of our own little fellowship. It seems so fragile. What is it that keeps us gathering together week after week? Just a handful of us... but we will travel 30, 50, 70 or a 100 miles a week just to gather with a handful of people in someone's home. But when you come to know God's ways a little, what does it matter whether there be 20 or 30 people, or 1,000? God can use 20 as well as 2,000... 1 as well as 10,000. It doesn't really matter, as long as we are faithful; and as long as God is directing us in this way. But how strange this may sound to those who have not known God's ways?
How long will we continue to gather in this manner? We certainly do not know; for we have no plans to fulfill of our own. And we are reminded that the precious "hyssop" having served its purpose was thrown away! Precious as it is in the eyes of the Lord, it was made for sacrifice. And every sacrifice that delights the heart of God requires it. God has therefore put it within the reach of all. It grows there at our feet, lightly esteemed by most... but prepared of the Lord for sacrifice... a certain kind of sacrifice: the sacrifice of a broken spirit and a contrite heart. It is not something beyond our reach. The elders of Israel had no problem finding it... apparently it was right outside their doors, and when the blood had to be sprinkled on the doorposts, the hyssop was readily obtained. When the last Passover Lamb was offered, hyssop was there too, and readily obtainable. When Jesus cried "I thirst," a soldier bunched some hyssop together and lifted it to Jesus' mouth with a sponge full of sour wine. He must use hyssop to fulfill the Scriptures, and God had provided it even on Mount Calvary! Then it was discarded... it had served its purpose.
But what waste? And to what purpose is this waste?
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:24, 25).
JESUS CRUCIFIED IN WEAKNESS
"...but He liveth by the power of God."
What a stench must have filled the atmosphere when the blood flowed freely from Jewish altars, and the flesh of bulls and goats was consumed on the Altar of Burnt Offering! But God said the offering on the Altar of Burnt Offering would be unto Him as "a sweet-smelling savour." What a stench it has been in the nostrils of men as they behold the Son of God dying the death of a criminal on Calvary's brow! But God looked down that day and smelled a "sweet savour" from this the only burnt offering that ever really delighted His heart. And the only reason He smelled a "sweet savour" in former offerings was because God was anticipating the Day when His own Son would become the one and only Sacrifice that would put an end to sacrifice and make an end of sin. For this was the true Lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world. The hyssop is a lowly shrub; and God must stoop low to smell the incense of Calvary. And great men ever since Calvary have found grace in His sight to humble themselves and stoop low that they too might partake of that same incense.
THE WEAKNESS AND FOOLISHNESS OF GOD
"But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23, 24).
So He is to them that believe. But to those who believe not, God seems to do some very foolish things, and to manifest a lot of weakness for One who is supposed to have made a whole Universe. However, it is in these very things that God is pleased to reveal His glory and His wisdom: to baffle the wisdom of the wise, and to bring to nought the counsels of men. Therefore, in the midst of the apostasy of modern day Christianity, and the hypocrisy and artificiality of modern day religion, we who know somewhat of God's ways can rejoice in the fact that it is just like God, in times like these, to rend the heavens and come down in power and great glory... and yet in ways that will seem strange and foolish in the eyes of the world. We are confident that the darkness and the gloom about us will once again become the fitting background for the display of the gems of His glory. Some good Christian people are trying to set the stage for God to work, but God always has to bypass these efforts, for He has prepared the stage upon which He will reveal His sons who are moving in Harmony with His will. For it is consistent with God's character and way, and with the Jealousy of His Glory, that the greater the work He will perform in the earth--the greater will be the measure of weakness and foolishness that He will cause an unbelieving world to behold.
AN ARK OF GOPHER WOOD FOR NOAH
God told Noah to prepare an ark for the saving of His house; and by this act he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. God could have directed him and his family to proceed to some secret mountain peak, and sustained them there... and then controlled the floodwaters so that they would not reach such heights. But instead He gives direction for the preparation of an ark, confounding the wise men of his age, and confounding the wise men of every age since then who continue to scoff at this story as a mere fairy tale. Scientifically it would seem just impossible to house so many animals, and to store enough food to sustain them for so long a time. Of course they do not realize that God may well have performed ten thousand miracles to accomplish this task. One armful of hay could have fed every grass-eating animal on that boat for a whole year. One jar of grain could have fed Noah and all his family for a year, or ten years if need be. But God tells us nothing of all this, one way or the other. Men of faith continue to believe the story; for they know that the God who preserved Noah and his family was the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who fed the five thousand with a mere handful of bread and fish; and who taught us, by word and deed, that His God is our God, and the God of the impossible.
A SAVIOUR FOR EGYPT
Consider the man Joseph. Destined of the Lord to preserve life in the earth in the day of famine. But God deliberately allows him to be sold as a captive into Egypt. His brothers make a deliberate attempt to frustrate the dreams that he had. When God speaks, and we know it is God, how assuring to know that anything man might do to hinder what God has declared... God Himself will carefully weave their evil intentions into the pattern of His purpose, and literally use the evil designs of men to fulfill what He has declared.
A DELIVERER FOR ISRAEL
Consider Israel in their bondage. The same God who arranged the stage for the preservation of His people in Egypt in the time of famine, must now arrange the stage for their deliverance some four hundred years later. This time the purposes of God were wrapped up in a little baby named Moses. Yet behold the "weakness" and the "foolishness" of God's ways. He puts it in the heart of Amram and Jochebed to make a little fragile ark out of flimsy reeds, and set the ark adrift on the backwaters of the Nile! What foolishness! And yet what majesty of wisdom For God had it all arranged: Moses, the great Deliverer, was to be reared in the house of Pharaoh; and Moses' mother, from a very poor and enslaved family, would be paid wages for nursing her very own son. And so the ONE CHILD in all Israel upon whom the special purposes of God rested would be raised with the protection of the power of Egypt... while at the same time all the wrath of Pharaoh was poured upon the little captive nation, and the male children of Israel were being slain.
A CRIPPLED ARMY AGAINST THE CANAANITES
Consider the second generation of Israel, after the Exodus. God would take a people, unskilled in the art of war, into a land that was inhabited with powerful enemies, and drive them out. But weak as Israel was, God would weaken the nation still further: not while they were on the Eastern side of Jordan in relative safety, but after they had crossed over and had encamped right opposite Jericho, God commanded that all the young men in the nation were to be circumcised. And all at one time. Thus all the armies of Israel, weak as they were, were for a time completely incapacitated and left totally exposed to the enemies in the land. With what result? The terror of the Lord gripped the inhabitants of Jericho, and they locked and barred the gates in fear of the miracle-working God of Israel.
Again, consider their war tactics. Priests in white robes and carrying a little box covered with gold, and blowing trumpets... marching about Jericho every day... and on the seventh day going about seven times. Foolishness? But God used this kind of foolishness and weakness to terrify the enemy and to cause the walls of Jericho to fall flat.
A BARLEY LOAF AGAINST THE MIDIANITES
Consider the man Gideon. Israel had been oppressed by the Midianites for a long time. Any grain that they were able to grow was snatched away by the enemy as soon as it was harvested. God appeared to Gideon and gave him a charge to wage war against the enemy and deliver his people. And so naturally Gideon began to muster the army... not too many responded, but he had a word from God and Gideon took courage with the handful that came to the battle. He only had 32,000 men compared to the hosts of Midian which numbered about 135,000. But God looked at Gideon's little army and announced: "You have too many..." Good Christian leaders everywhere are trying to mobilize the forces of Christianity to wage warfare against the forces of evil; but God comes on the scene and begins to demobilize. Twenty-two thousand went home out of fear... they might die in battle and lose all. But once again God looked down and said, "You still have too many..." What would Gideon do now? God Himself would single out the ones that would qualify for His army, and 9,700 more were sent home. God said, "All you need are the 300 I have left with you... this way I will get all the Glory." God likened Gideon's little band to a "barley loaf" and with that flimsy, insignificant little army God would destroy all the armed might of the Midianites, 135,000 strong. How we need to learn God's Way!
A HELPLESS BABE EXPOSED TO THE WRATH OF HEROD
In the story of Christ we have the most beautiful example of all, as to the weakness and the foolishness of God. Incarnation in itself was an act whereby the Mighty God of Jacob became weak. But God would add a few finishing touches to make His "weakness" even weaker. The Child would be born to a defenseless, humble couple and would not have the protection that royalty is generally entitled to. This defenseless Child would be placed in the hands of a young woman, a virgin, to nurture and care for until He became of age. Further, they would not be secluded in a little town in Galilee; but because of the decree of the governor the couple would have to journey to Bethlehem for registration. While there the Promised One who would bruise the Serpent's head would be born, But the Serpent had active control of the most powerful empire the world had seen up to that time, and the king issued a decree to slay all the young males anywhere in the vicinity of Bethlehem and surrounding areas. Unknown to the "god of this world" everything that he was inspiring his evil servants to do was coinciding exactly with God's eternal purpose, and helping to bring about Satan's own destruction.
There are so many, many illustrations in the Scripture of God's strategy of war that it seems strange that the Church has lost sight of it. When will the Church of Christ come to the realization that God does not save by sword or by spear, and that it is "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord"?
God always delights in using the weak things of the world to bring to nought the things that are strong; and the base and the despised things of the world to overthrow the wisdom of the wise.
The Mighty God who hangs the world upon nothing does not hesitate to suspend the full weight of His purposes from an invisible, silken thread of His own wisdom!