Amos 8: 11
Genesis 45: 5-12
2 Kings 4: 38-41
I would like to begin by asking a question: why did you come here this weekend? It is a challenging question. Each one of us would probably answer in a slightly different way. Perhaps some were made to come here by their parents; some came here because they just wanted to come for the weekend, or some came for family or friends. All of those reasons are true in measure, but I wonder if any of us could answer that question by saying that we came here for food. I know it is Thanksgiving, in America anyway, and everybody is thinking about food to some degree. What I am going to speak about today is a different kind of food. We live in a day of great information and great communication. Each one of you probably has a cell phone in your pocket or your purse that has access to more information than I suppose the greatest library on earth contains. With a few taps of your finger, you can access just about anything that you can imagine: that is information. I want to speak about food, not information - especially to the young people, for there is a danger today of mistaking information for food. Just because your parents may have two hundred volumes of ministry in your home does not make you anything, if you do not read it properly in the power of the Holy Spirit. A man once said that sitting in church does not make you a Christian any more than sitting in your garage makes you a mechanic: there is a lot of truth in that. The only way for any one of us to get the kind of food that I would like to speak to you about is to get near to the Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot access the kind of food that I am speaking about through any modern information technology. It is the living Word of God. We touched a little bit on it in the reading - the words of God involve what is current and living. The Word of God we have in front of us, written down for us as the Word of God in Scripture. That is the Word of God. The words of God, as I understand it, involve what is living and what is real. That is the kind of food that is going to ’stick to your bones‘. The food that you get in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, alone, is the only food that is going to strengthen you and build you up from the inside out and have any lasting change on your life.
If you came to these meetings for the weekend to have a good time, I can assure you that you will have a good time. But you may not go away with any change or anything built up in you for the better. That is a very sobering thing. Sometimes you go to a three-day meeting and you pick up one thing. That is how simple it can be; just one point that you remember. It may even be off the subject of what was being spoken about, but if you come away with that one thing, that becomes formed in you and that results in something for God.
In order to find that kind of food, I would suggest that we could begin by considering the scripture in Amos that we read, because Amos says there will be a famine in the land - not of food and water but a famine “of hearing the words of Jehovah.” That is the kind of famine I would like to suggest to you that we live in today. We live in a world marked by all kinds of communication, but I believe we live, in the present age, in days of famine of “the words of Jehovah”. We have to begin in our own individual pathway to recognise where we are today. If we want to move forward in the testimony, if we want to grow as Christians, if we want to grow as worshippers, it has to begin, I believe, with recognising that there is nothing in the world around that we can access that will help us in our Christian pathway. It is only found it one place and that is in the Lord Jesus Christ.
That is what led my thoughts in reading to Genesis 45. As Joseph, one of the most perfect types of the Lord Jesus portrayed in Scripture, began his pathway we know that his father gave him that coat of many colours. It is like the Lord Jesus when He was marked out on earth. At that instant the enemy had to rise up against Him. The persecution began as soon as Jacob gave Joseph that coat of many colours. It came in immediately through his own brothers, his own brethren. You may say they should have known better, but they did not. The persecution came in through them. He was thrown into the pit. He was taken up and sold into bondage, into Egypt, a type of the world. He is falsely accused of a crime in Egypt, thrown in prison. So there he is, a slave, in bondage, in prison, in the world as a young man, and you think, ‘Well, if anybody had a right to be mad and upset it was Joseph’. But he was not. That is why he can be a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. He stayed in that place because he had something that the enemy could not touch, and that was the word of God. It comes out later. We do not know the detail of that but it comes out later as we read. Joseph’s brothers had to go through a process of eliminating all the different types of food. God came in with a famine. I think there are something like twelve famines in Scripture: you can look them up and find them. Most of them are caused directly by God through a drought, like this one. Some are caused by God but indirectly, through an army, or something of that nature. These famines are all under His hands and the purpose is not only to make you hungry and thirsty for something else, but it is to create movement. That is what we see in the book of Genesis here; God brought in a famine to the point where Jacob says, ‘We are going to die; there is nothing here any more in this land’. They were where they were supposed to be, but they were missing the word of God.
The same thing happened in Amos’s day where we read. In chapter 7 it is Amaziah the priest who gets so annoyed with Amos prophesying what God was about to do to his realm that he tells him to go somewhere else and do his prophesying: ‘Do not bother us. We are happy where we are. I am the priest. Do not disturb the king’s house. Go to Judah. Give them your prophecy. Just go away’. That is what created the famine that we read about in chapter 8. It began with the prophetic word being rejected. That is one of the ways that God speaks to us today, through the prophetic word. A very important function of assembly life, I would say, is the prophetic word. God may speak through any brother, whoever He will. As long it is God’s word, that is what matters. The famine came in here in the book of Genesis. Jacob said, ‘You need to go to Egypt to get food’. He was partly right. At least he had heard that there was food in Egypt, but it was not enough to know where there was food. That is not enough for a young person to say, ‘I know where there are happy Christians gathering together’. ‘I know where you can hear a good gospel’. That is nice, but that is not enough. God has something more in mind. He brought in a famine because He wanted movement in these brothers and He got it. There was a very bad famine and they go to Egypt. Joseph speaks roughly to them, chap 42: 7. Then he puts the money back in their bags, v 35. They had to go through this process of experience that God was bringing out in them before Joseph in this chapter finally can make himself known to them. The important thing is not to know that there is food in Egypt, but to know that the food is only under the hand of Joseph. That is what I want to bring to your attention today. For you to find out where the word of God is active and living you need to identify the only place where you can find God’s word. God says in one of the prophets, “My word … and my Spirit, remain among you”, Hag 2: 5. We can be thankful for that. We not only have just His word, but we have His Spirit to help us to understand that, a very wonderful blessing. You come to a stage in your life where you have identified, as we read in Amos, that we live in famine conditions. You start to hunger for something more, something that is real, that is going to last and make a change in your life, to change you completely from the inside out. Then you need to identify where Joseph is and go to Joseph. Do not just go to Egypt where there is food - that is, you might say, just to a company of people. Do not satisfy yourself going just to that. You may find it there, but find where Joseph is, and where Joseph is speaking.
The last verse that I read, verse 12, is the main part that I wanted to call your attention to. It says, “behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth which speaks to you”. Each one of us individually has to go through this process of identifying where we are in the world today where we live in famine conditions. I have been told that Christ will not be your everything until He is your only thing. These brothers had to come to the realisation that the only food that was going to sustain them in life was found with Joseph, and the only way to get access to that food was to draw near to him; as you must draw near to the Lord, personally, yourself, and identify that it is His mouth which speaks to you. We have to go through that process ourselves, individually get through to where the Lord Jesus really is. It is the only way that we can ever find this type of food that is going to produce growth and life in you. Now you might be saying, ‘That sounds really nice, sounds good. I would like to do that sometime, but I do not really feel able for that’. I tried for many years to get through to that kind of food by myself. You can fight for it and try for it and you wonder why you do not understand something, and you battle away at it under your own power. You will not get there. Think of what Joseph is going to provide here for them. He is not happy just to say, ‘Here is another bag of food: take it back to your father and enjoy it, and when it runs out come back and I will give you another bag’. He says, ‘I want you to come and abide with me’. That is what God is trying to get through to you and me, to bring us out of this world to an area where we can be sustained with this type of food. What I would tell you by way of encouragement is that you cannot get there in your own power, or your own thoughts and abilities. Only Joseph provides the wagons, a type of the Holy Spirit as we know in Scripture. He sends the wagons to bring them back so that they can abide with him and live with him and enjoy what Joseph had. It is a wonderful point in our life when we reach that; that the only place that you can find this type of food is with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is encouraging because we live in a day of information that can be so confusing. As an example, I was trying to find that scripture in Amos. I thought it was in the Book of Joel, and I did not have my concordance with me; so I went to a website and typed in roughly what I thought it said and I found it. On the same page where it listed the verse, there were nine Bible dictionaries, thirty-four Bible commentaries, and 143 different translations of the Bible. If you had a question about the verse, you could click on a link and listen to somebody read it to you, or you could link it to another website that would open it up even more. Seeing all of this, I thought to myself how confusing all this would be if you did not know the Lord Jesus Christ! Where would you start? How could you trace your way through an entire library of information? It is confusing! However, it is encouraging to think that there is only one place where we can get the true words of God, and that is with the Lord Jesus Christ. That is all you need to know.
Years ago, a brother, A B Parker, who worked in a bank, said that when the bank hires a new teller, they do not teach the new hire what counterfeit money looks like; they teach him what real money looks like; because, he said, if you know what real money looks like you can identify any counterfeit money. Get through to the Lord Jesus Christ, alone, the One Man from whom God is speaking, and you will you have eliminated all the confusion in what is in the world around us. The most confusing information that you will run into is the religious voice. The hardest thing to find your way through is the religious element. Do not settle for religion. People try to compare Christianity with Islam, Buddhism, hundreds of different religions, but you cannot compare Christianity to religion. Christianity is not a religion: it is a relationship. When you get through to that, it eliminates a lot of the religious chatter that is out there.
I read the Scripture in 2 Kings 4 because that is something that you may come to in your experience and in your pathway. It is coming up against the religious mind, the mind of man in the things of God, and the confusion that that brings in. This scripture here speaks about Elisha. He came again to Gilgal, a very familiar place to all of us. It represents circumcision. That is, you might say, our side, our view, cutting off of the flesh. If we look at it, according to God’s purpose, it was really sanctification from Egypt. It was what was accomplished there, the cutting off - the final cutting off of what had been of man in Egypt, Josh 5: 9. This was removed before they enter into the full purposes of God, what He had in mind for them. Elisha had been there before with Elijah. But now he is coming back to it, and you will notice our little word shows up again, “And there was a famine in the land”. This is one word that will keep popping up if you read through Scripture. Abraham experienced it, Isaac, Jacob, Naomi and David. You can read all the familiar names that you have heard of, they all came to a point like this. Each one of us has to deal with this famine, the day in which we live. There are a lot of bad things that could be said about the sons of the prophets, I know, but there are some good things that could be said about them. They are here with Elisha. In this setting they are listening to his word. They act on his word. They do certain things. But in that setting a danger comes in that can affect the entire company. I find that very sobering, how one small thing can enter in and affect a large group of people. There are a hundred of them. Elisha says to them, in a day of famine, ‘I think you need some food’. Have you ever heard that before? You think of another gathering in the New Testament, five thousand plus people. The Lord raises the question, “Give ye them to eat”, Luke 9: 13. What are we going to feed these people? They are hungry. I think they were like people that came to three-day meetings only to take something away. They were hungering for something but they had not prepared anything ahead of time, not even something small. You know the story of the small boy: he had the five loaves and the two fishes. He had something with him, however small. I think that is like preparing ahead of time for occasions like we are enjoying this weekend, to come with something. Bring something, however small. It may be an exercise just to start a meeting with a hymn, or to open or close with prayer, or bring in a remark, or a comment, one scripture that you have had on your mind for the last few weeks or a month. That practically speaking is how simple what I am speaking about is. God can take that small thing, however small you may say and insignificant in the world’s eyes. They say, ‘Oh, you are not going to feed this many people with that little basket of food’. But they gave it to the Lord, and the Lord blessed it. He prayed, they pass it out, and there was more than enough for everybody. They were filled.
We see a man of God here in Elisha; we see a man of God who had the word of God. He was a prophet. He knew what God was doing. He knew exactly why the famine was there in the first place. He understood what God was doing and he had access to the type of food that I am speaking about. He had access to heaven itself. You may say, ‘How do you know that’? I can tell you because he says, “Set on the great pot”. If you are living in a famine, are you going to bring out a tiny saucepan, and say, ’Well, I hope we can scrape up a handful of something and put it in there and cook it for everybody?’. A person that has identified the famine has identified that there is only one source for this kind of food; and the full riches of heaven become available to him. You can say, “Set on the great pot”. Get the biggest one you have got and put it on. That is the mindset of Elisha because he is in accord with what heaven is doing. He knows what is available through God. He says, ‘Bring out the biggest one you have got: let us make food for all of these men, the sons of the prophets. Let us give them something real. Let us give them something that is going to build them up; something substantial’. But - this is what I want to call attention to - immediately one of them goes out and gathers up wild colocynths. He gathers this plant matter off of a wild vine. Now you would say there is probably nothing wrong outwardly with that plant. It was used in the adornment of the temple. Do you know the buds and the half opened flowers that were carved in the woodwork of the temple? That was this plant. And this man went out and he went to a wild vine. I think that is like what you can run into when you look through the religious mind to find this kind of food. You are going to find something that is wild. It does not have a place in this great pot. It does not belong there, because the end of it is death. If you bring anything into a meeting that does not promote life, it is of the enemy. It is wild. It does not belong there, and that may sound harsh, but I believe it is true. There was one man, one son of the prophet here, who went and gathered that bad food and it was about to affect the entire company with what was of the enemy. Now, did Elisha say, ‘Dump the pot out and scrub it, and let us start again’? Do we need to throw away everything that we have had before, the ministries that we have enjoyed? Do we need to blot them out and say, ‘Well, that was for a time. Paul’s ministry was good, but it was for those days - we do not apply that one any more. I do not like this thing that Paul said. That was for that day - let us tear that page out’? Or the earlier ministries - were they just for their day? Do we need to wash the pot out and reinvent it today? I do not think so. We get the answer provided for us very nicely. Elisha says in verse 41, “Then bring meal”. That would be a very challenging sentence for you and me if we were in that situation. You have got this great pot of food bubbling away nicely and he would ask you, ‘What do you have that would help this situation?’. I think the meal here is a type of Christ that is brought in that is greater than what was wild and poisonous in character that would result in death. What they brought in was something, a feature of Christ that they could work out on their own. It was meal. It had been processed. It is not the raw material exactly. It was like an impression that each one might have of the Lord Jesus Christ. What He means to me is what is important - however small that may be. It may have been ground over a long period of time, many years; I think that is how this works out. But he says, “bring meal”. You say, ‘Well, it is a time of famine. Where am I going to find enough meal to deal with that poison?’. That is not the question. It is not a question of volume. He does not say x number of bushels or a bag or something in pounds of meal; he just says, “bring meal”, because that is the answer.
We have found that we are living in a time of famine and that there is only one place that we can go to for food of the right character, that is to Joseph, the true type of Christ. If we get through to that type of food we can bring something, however small; it counteracts what was happening here in 2 Kings. Elisha says, “bring meal”. We had quoted in the reading, “because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world”, 1 John 4: 4. Here is an example of that Scripture. You wonder, you say, ’Well, that sounds good, but show me, what does that mean?’. That is what I would show to you right now. Here is the answer. Elisha says, “bring meal”. Bring whatever you have, some impression of Christ that you have worked out individually. All of you bring something: put it into the pot. And what happened? What was there of man’s mind, that was poisonous in character, what was not really food, becomes neutralised. It is taken away. The danger of it is broken, and they are able to be fed. It says, “And there was no harm in the pot”. Think of that. All these people were then able to feed on that meal, something that would sustain them and cause them to grow. I find it very encouraging that it can be so simple to be sustained in this world. It is marked by hardship, marked by testing of every kind: it is a famine. Whether the famine is produced by conditions around you, whether it is a moral famine, issues that you have in your life that are wrong, whatever type of testing and problems that you have, they are all famines. If we get through to see and identify them for what they are, say, ‘That is a famine’, and then look for where we can hear the words of Jesus. We can hear the word, “behold … that it is my mouth which speaks to thee”. Get through to that. Then when problems and trials come up, it becomes very simple because there is only one answer to whatever the problem is. There is one source for power and there is one answer. We do not need myriad different translations of the Bible to understand what God is speaking to us today. We try to make it more complicated because of our religious minds but I would caution each one of us not to do that.
Information technology has its place, but I would like to give a warning to each one of us that what we look to for help should not be mere information. It should not be something that is arrived at by the religious mind, something that sounds good, or looks good; but that we should get through to the real true words of Christ. That alone is where the answer lies. I find that very encouraging, very stimulating and challenging as well. It is as simple as getting through, individually, to the Lord Jesus Christ. Identify His mouth, that it is Him that is speaking, and that will change you on your pathway. It will change you. It will change how you think; it will change the way you approach Scripture, ministry, everything. It will change the way you are formed.
I have always been impressed with the book of Genesis. It begins by man being placed in a garden where everything was good and wonderful. There was no rain, everything was nice; but the last verse, the last sentence of the book of Genesis ends, “he was put in a coffin in Egypt”. If you go back and look at the book of Genesis you could say, ‘There is the history of man’. God had everything in mind for man, gave it to him, and it was ruined because of sin. If you stay in that world, a world of famine, you will end up with your bones being in a casket in Egypt, in the world. They will stay there. That is the end of what is for God. But if you look a little closer at that story, dig a little deeper, you will see that those bones are Joseph’s; and if you dig a little deeper you will find out that he gave a commandment that years later when the people came to leave Egypt they were to ‘carry up my bones hence’, chap 50: 25. And they do. They took Joseph’s bones later on, quite a time later on, and the coffin, out of Egypt and into the land, a land of promise, the land where God would have them to be, Josh 24: 32. He is brought into that portion, you might say. It is very wonderful to think of the two types of man that you get in the book of Genesis. One is lost for ever; nothing for God, dead, lifeless - that is what poison produces. But there is another kind that goes on. That is what we touched on in the reading. God wants to dwell with men. The tabernacle of God is with men. There a living area where we can enjoy these things.
I just leave these thoughts with you and hope they can be some encouragement to each one of us and a challenge for us; that we identify the words we are listening to that we are using for our help and our guidance on the pathway that we are on.
For His Name’s sake.
23rd November, 2012