Faith’s Victory in the Furnace of Affliction
By Al Stoner
Discouragement (casting down, excessive carefulness, heaviness) is an inevitable reality that “is common to man” (I Cor. 10:13). It is common to all the sons of man, and is encountered by all, but it has a special dimension and significance for those, who are in Christ, even those who living and walking “by the faith of Him” (Eph. 3:12). The phenomenon of discouragement proceeds chiefly from the consequences of Adam’s transgression and the entrance of sin into the world. Those consequences can, however, also be complicated and amplified by personal neglect. Involved here are also the workings of the tempter, the Devil, our personal adversary, that old serpent, who walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (cf. I Pet. 5:6-7). And as John wrote, “the whole world lieth in wickedness (in the evil one)” (I Jn. 5:19, ASV). All of these things combine as contributors to the casting down and heaviness of spirit, experienced by all who are fighting the good fight of faith, and laying hold on the eternal life, to which they have been called.
The time of our earthly sojourn is one of constant Divine scrutiny, proving, and testing, even in seasons of rest and of being led “beside the still waters”, and being made to lie down “in green pastures” (Ps. 23:2). As Moses declared to the children of Israel, it yet remains true in principle with all who are in covenant relationship with the great and exalted Jehovah through His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. “And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live” (Deut. 8:2-3).
As was the case with the land which God promised to Israel (Deut. 11:12), so it is ever the case with the occupants of that land (both Israel and the church of God), “the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon” them. His eyes are ever running to and fro throughout the whole earth in search of hearts that are “perfect towards Him” (II Chr. 16:9; cf. Zech. 4:10). His all-searching eyes are ever “over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers” (I Pet. 3:12; Ps. 34:15). Solomon declared: “The ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He pondereth all his goings” (Prov. 5:21). How much more can this be said in truth of those who are “a peculiar treasure unto” Him “above all people” (Exod. 19:5)? “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto THE EYES OF HIM WITH WHOM WE HAVE TO DO” (Heb. 4:13).
The Savior was No Stranger to Heaviness and Discouragement. “In the days of His flesh” (Heb. 4:15) the Lord Jesus Christ was comforted in times of great discouragement with the prospect “the joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2) and of His being “glorious in the eyes of the LORD” (Isa. 49:5). The “Man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3) was prepared of God to give “the oil of joy for mourning” and “the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:3) and Himself tasted of heaviness and discouragement much more than any man ever did or could taste of. He it is who forged through the deepest waters and passed through the hottest fires of trial and testing. In so doing He was being prepared of God to made “a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God” (Heb. 2:17) “to make reconciliation [“a propitiatory shelter”, CLV] for the sins of the people”.
Discouragement Resulting in Divine Provocation
The “Ensample” of the Children of Israel in the Wilderness. As Paul declared, these things happened unto them for our ensamples. We learn from these examples that it is not a sin to be discouraged. God is fully aware, even much more so than we are, of the liabilities and proneness to disheartenment that are part of the sojourn through this present evil world. But nevertheless how men deal with the discouragement is a very sensitive matter with the Lord, the Creator of both the heavens and the earth. Will they avail themselves of the boundless wellspring of everlasting comfort and consolation that He has bountifully provided in His only begotten Son, or will they turn to the measly offerings of this present evil world, and hew themselves out “cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water?” (Jer. 2:13).
The Example of Israel by the Way of the Red Sea. “And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom:AND THE SOUL OF THE PEOPLE WAS MUCH DISCOURAGED BECAUSE OF THE WAY. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. “AND THE LORD SENT FIERY SERPENTS AMONG THE PEOPLE, AND THEY BIT THE PEOPLE; AND MUCH PEOPLE OF ISRAEL DIED” (Num. 21:4-6). That disheartenment will eventually come is a matter of inevitability. But the possibility of discouragement leading to murmuring against God is one that the people of God need ever to be mindful of. The new covenant’s provision of new creatureship in Christ, and of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are divinely provided antidotes for discouragement and casting down. But these provisions must be diligently possessed and continually walked in by the believer in Christ, in order for the needed benefit to be derived from them.
The Jeopardy of Discouraging Others. We are speaking here of discouraging others to the point where they do not enter in to obtain the promise, not of causing momentary discouragements. “Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up unto the valley of Eshcol, and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, that they should not go into the land which the LORD had given them. And the LORD’s anger was kindled the same time, and he sware, saying, Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me: Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD” (Num. 32:8-12). Joshua and Caleb are ensamples in that they were strong, and of a good courage in the face of discouragements, and they also sought to encourage others encountering great discouragement. But, for the most part, their words of encouragement went unheeded, which resulted in Israel provoking the Lord to anger. We also see vividly from this that “evil communications corrupt good manners (morals)” (I Cor. 15:33, ASV).
(The Name Israel as Applied to Christ. Israel, He who strives with God, or He who is a Prince with God. We’re speaking here of striving with Him in the sense of earnestly pleading and beseeching Him, not of walking contrary to Him. “And said unto Me, Thou art My Servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent My strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely My judgment is with the LORD , and My work with My God” (Isa. 49:3-4). The name Israel, first borne by Isaac’s son, even by him who was known as the supplanter, and then by the chosen nation proceeding from his loins, is also the one that by which the Father addresses His Son here in this passage of Isaiah. The Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of this name with all of its holy significance much more than any other. There has never been one who has striven with God like He did in the days of His flesh. And it is also Christ who presently makes intercession for us at the right hand of God, thus ensuring that those who are now fighting the good fight of faith and laying hold on eternal life shall triumph in the battle frays confronting them, but also that they shall have ultimate triumph when He comes in all of His glory.
Christ’s Supplications with Strong Crying and Tears. “So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest; but He that said unto Him, Thou art My Son, to day have I begotten thee. As He saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared; Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; And being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 5:5-10).
The Garden of Gethsemane. “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words” (Mt. 26:36-44).
Israel Had Power over the Angel, and Prevailed. “And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Gen. 32:28). “He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Beth-el, and there he spake with us; Even the LORD God of hosts; the LORD is his memorial. Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.” (Hos. 12:3-6). “And Jacob fled into the country of Syria, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep. And by a prophet the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved” (Hos. 12:12-13).
It seems that in these words of Hosea’s prophecy that the Lord is reflecting back upon Israel’s beginnings, to a time of great tenderness with regard to the nation of Israel. Through Jeremiah He said, “Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown” (Jer. 2:2). But at the time of Hosea’s writing the nation had grievously fallen by her iniquity (Hos. 14:1). Though Israel fell woefully short of the name by which it was called, nevertheless the Lord Jesus Christ, who also bears the name of Israel (cf. Isa. 49:1-5), as He was so addressed by the Father, has never failed to bring honor and glory to His Father.
Some other Considerations regarding Israel. “The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him” (Isa. 56:8). “Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee” (Hos. 8:3). “But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end” (Isa. 45:7). “In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory” (Isa. 45:25). For those who are well grounded in Scripture and able to reason upon that which is revealed in them, it becomes evident that the Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely essential to God for the implementation and realization of these exceeding great and precious promises. Apart from the redemption in Christ Jesus there can be no bright prospects for either Israel or the church, “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16; see also I Cor. 10:32).
Christ’s Encounters with Heaviness and Discouragement. “LISTEN, O isles, unto Me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called Me from the womb; from the bowels of My mother hath He made mention of My name. And He hath made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand hath He hid Me, and made Me a polished shaft; in His quiver hath He hid Me; And said unto Me, Thou art My Servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent My strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely My judgment is with the LORD , and My work with My God” (Isa. 49:1-4).
The Savior’s Discouragement Resulting from His Humanity. “My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. But thou, O LORD , shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations. Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD , and all the kings of the earth thy glory. When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD . For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth; To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; To declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem;When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD . He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened my days. I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end” (Ps. 102:11-27).
The “Much More” Nature of God’s Comforts. “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail” (Heb. 1:8-12). In the same way that He comforted His Son, He does also with us in our measure. It is therefore essential that we be well acquainted with the Most High and His ways. “We went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place” (Ps. 66:12). --Editor