David A Brown
Genesis 26: 15-33
Numbers 21: 10-18 (“staves”)
Philippians 1: 16-19; 4: 18
The exercise I have had before me for a little while now is that of well-digging, how it is done and what the result of it is. Mr Coates said that the maintenance of vitality and freshness in what ministers to the pleasure of God should be our chief concern, Outline of Deuteronomy, p244. It relates to what we have had in the reading about adjustment, and what the Lord did Himself with persons. I would like to turn this now into our own exercise and what place we give to the blessed Holy Spirit. There is a scripture in Proverbs that speaks of the slothful: “The slothful roasteth not what he took in hunting”, Prov 12: 27. My exercise today is that none of us might be slothful in spiritual matters.
That is why I have read these scriptures. In Genesis it speaks of persons who dug wells. In verse 15, in speaking of Isaac, it says, “And all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father”. Abraham dug wells and he was honoured for that; if we look at the application of the wells which Abraham dug and in our day, I think it would relate to what was taken up in exercise by brothers who have ministered in the course of what we speak of as the recovery, especially those who dug wells at the beginning of the recovery. Think of the cost that has been borne by those who have gone before to bring to us what we treasure (I trust that we all treasure what we have in ministry); the exercise of heart that went into many souls to bring us the truth as we know and appreciate it. Think of what Mr Darby, Mr Raven, and Mr James Taylor, and others had to contend with in bringing out the truth! There was even a great deal of opposition to it. These matters are not to be lost upon us but to be appreciated by us so that we value what we have, both in our hands and on our bookshelves, and that we may take the page of Scripture and the page of ministry and make it live by the Spirit in our affections. May it not just be that we have the books, but may the impact of the truth have a great result as held in our hearts and in our affections.
Isaac was Abraham’s son, and it says, “And all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped them and filled them with earth”. Now, I wonder if your well is stopped up with earth. Have you allowed the Philistine earth to fill your well, or has your well been completely cleared of earth through your own exercise and spiritual diligence so that the free and full sway of the Holy Spirit might be known both in your life and as contributing amongst the dear brethren? My exercise is that we might be spiritually diligent because, when your desire is to serve the Lord, the enemy seeks to come in and spoil impressions; he will seek to bring in the earth; he will seek to fill that well with earth. My desire is that each one of us might indeed have the earth removed from our wells so that there might be the full sway and the full power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is interesting to note that whenever this is done, whenever there is spiritual diligence to make way for the things of God in our lives, and amongst us too, the enemy would always seek to bring in earthly principles. Let us be on our guard! I am not talking about what is evil exactly; I am talking about what is earthly and what might militate against the freshness and vitality which we would each desire to maintain here in view of the service of God.
The scripture says, “the Philistines stopped them and filled them with earth. And Abimelech said to Isaac, Go from us; for thou art become much mightier than we. And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his camp in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. And Isaac dug again the wells of water that they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, and that the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham”. So Isaac continued digging the wells, well after well, and we could speak of what marked him as spiritual tenacity. What is needed with each one of us is spiritual tenacity in divine things. The enemy is always seeking to neutralise or limit our desire to dig wells, but I have this impression that Isaac represents one who had the heavenly view; so he “dug again the wells of water” and “called their names after the names by which his father had called them”. He did not set aside what had gone before and neither should we. We should value what has gone before, value the Scriptures, value the truth, and value too what is coming in the living power of the Holy Spirit to us currently. A brother said to me recently that what he valued amongst the saints was the power and living flow of ministry from Christ as Head; so we need to be on our guard that that flow is neither nullified nor restricted. We need to see that our wells are constantly kept open.
In the digging of a well, we need to remove all the rubbish, all the earth that tends to go into these wells. Of course, in these days there was a lot of dust in the desert and wells had to be constantly dug out, but I need constantly to have this spiritual diligence and help by the Holy Spirit to keep my well free of earth. You know when earth has got into your well. Each one of us knows it in our own soul. So we need, by exercise and by diligence, to keep our wells free of earth. Then it says, “And Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found there a well of springing water. But the shepherds of Gerar strove with Isaac’s shepherds, saying, The water is ours”. The enemy is very real; in fact it has been said that the enemy comes to our occasions of gathering. That is quite a sobering thing, and if we do not make way for the Holy Spirit in our minds and in our affections, spiritual vitality starts to wane.
“And he called the name of the well Esek, because they had quarrelled with him. And they dug another well, and they strove for that also; and he called the name of it Sitnah. And he removed thence”. So he did not seek to take on the Philistines at their own level. He separated from them. He did not seek to quarrel exactly with them or for any length of time. They strove for it and moved on “and dug another well; and they did not strive for that. And he called the name of it Rehoboth”. They eventually come to dig this well which is not striven for; as we will arrive at a place of green pasture, a place without limitation, a place where the Spirit is free. They came to a place where they could enjoy land conditions. It says, “And he called the name of it Rehoboth”, which means ‘Broadways’ (see note ‘g’). Dear brethren, room for us is in the company of the saints. It is where we enjoy eternal life, where we enjoy these things together. There was no striving there. So I appeal to my younger brethren: keep in the company of the saints! Keep by the well where the Spirit is known and loved! Keep digging your well and keep it clear, keep it clear for the pleasure of God, keep it clear for the testimony of our Lord; and come to a place where there is peace, where there is restfulness, where there is that which is for the pleasure of God. I think ‘broadways’ might also mean that we can expand in our affections. That is what Paul’s exercise was to the Corinthian saints: “let your heart also expand itself”, 2 Cor 6: 13. Paul would never seek to say, ‘Well, your pathway can be as wide as the ocean’. It is not that way: our feet in the narrow path, the heart as wide as possible, Letters of JND vol 2 p378. That is how the idea of Rehoboth has been applied. They come to something in their souls that is not striven for, but where there is freedom for the Spirit to operate. And so it says, “For now Jehovah has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land”.
Where does faith take us? Faith takes us from Rehoboth to Beer-sheba. What does Beer-sheba speak of? Beer-sheba speaks of the oath, the whole aspect of God’s view of the land. In verse 33 of this chapter Beer-sheba is spoken of as a city: faith would take us to Beer-sheba. Where is our faith taking us; do we have faith for what is of God? The Lord “made as though he would go farther”, Luke 24: 28. The Lord will go as far as we wish in divine things, and so let us be spiritually ambitious! The world and its systems promote carnal ambition, but it is right to be spiritually ambitious. It is right to seek greater and higher things. Let us not be content with a low level of things! Let us see what Christ has in His assembly! Let us see what there is in the power of the Holy Spirit and make way for that, because it is an upward way! Scripture does not say, ‘he went down thence to Beer-sheba’, it says, “And he went up thence to Beer-sheba”; so that is where faith takes us. It takes us where God’s full provision is made way for, and where we can enjoy the blessings of the land.
“And Jehovah appeared to him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake. And he built an altar there… pitched his tent … dug a well”. Have we done all of these things? This was in Beer-sheba. Isaac came to something in his own soul which enabled him to build an altar, call upon the name of Jehovah, pitch his tent and dig a well. Have we reached this stability in our souls? Have we reached what enables us to align ourselves with God’s thoughts as to matters? It says, “And he built an altar there”. Think of what altars mean in Scripture. They speak of persons who have what was for God in their hearts. They wanted to sacrifice to God, and I think that is what it would mean here: “And he built an altar there, and called upon the name of Jehovah”. We were speaking in the reading as to remembering the Lord in the breaking of bread. Building an altar there and calling upon the name of Jehovah is really establishing something in our own soul that enables us to call upon the name of Jehovah. Have we really and rightly called upon His name? “And he pitched his tent there;” - I think that would mean that he reached something substantially - “and there Isaacs’s servants dug a well”.
I read the rest of this section to bring out how and why a man who had faith and was moving in this right way, making way for the Holy Spirit, keeps his well clear. That is how power is gained. These persons, Abimelech and Ahuzzath and Phichol, had to admit that there was power in Isaac. We do not gain moral power by anything of nature. We gain it through making way for the Holy Spirit, seeking to keep our wells clear, and to honour the Holy Spirit in His service to us. The servants say in verse 32, “We have found water. And he called it Shebah; therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba to this day”. How wonderful, therefore, that we come from a place to a city, in which God’s pleasure and what is for God’s delight is honoured. Dear brethren, these things are open to each one of us as keeping our wells clear. Let us be good well-diggers!
I was interested to read a comment recently by Mr James Taylor who says that Romans is ‘so to say, the digging epistle’, JT vol 31 p240. The epistle to the Romans establishes the soul in the principles of Christianity, in the basics of Christianity, and in chapter 12 of that epistle you can see how a person arrives at something definite: he is prepared to lay his body on the altar as a sacrifice. As a local brother often says to us, it is not only that a good Roman has somewhere to go, but he needs somewhere to go. So he is desirous then of moving into the Colossian, Philippian and Ephesian epistles. So you can see how as digging and arriving at something substantial in the soul and allowing the Spirit to operate we make progress in the truth. If we have our wells stopped with earth or allow anything to come in that would militate against the fulness and supply of the Spirit, then we know what happens: dullness sets in. Then we perhaps seek to withdraw a little from spiritual activity amongst the saints; maybe we do not fulfil our part as we used to. Laying our body on the altar in Romans 12 is a permanent matter. It is not to be withdrawn. I encourage all the brethren here: let us be committed to the Lord and His interests and let us know what it is to put our body on the altar. As laying it on the altar, we then “prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God”, v 2.
Well, in mentioning Romans, I come now to Numbers chapter 21. This is quite a key point in the history of the children of Israel. There are some special landmarks in this chapter. There is the brazen serpent. There are four aspects to the death of Christ in this history, as we know: the Passover, the Red Sea, the brazen serpent and the Jordan. It is interesting that we have life here brought in by looking at the serpent. The children of Israel had been wandering for thirty-nine years in the wilderness, and maybe you or I have been wandering in our own wilderness for thirty-nine years, but the Lord, in His grace, would bring us to a point in time where we need to take stock, and I think the children of Israel took stock here. “And they removed from Oboth, and encamped at Ijim-Abarim, in the wilderness that is before Moab, toward the sun-rising”. The children of Israel at this point turn “toward the sun-rising”. I trust you are turned towards the sun-rising. Is your vision filled with the glory and greatness of that blessed Man? Have you had that blessed Man in your view? Have I? Have we turned “toward the sun-rising”? What a moment this was for the children of Israel! They had been wandering all that time and here they had arrived at a point in their experience where they turned “toward the sun-rising”. What a moment it was! Maybe today will be a point when you turn towards the sun-rising in your soul and know what it is to move forward from this point in time. There is not much of a journey between this point and the land! So it says, “From thence they removed, and encamped at the torrent Zered. From thence they removed, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that comes out of the border of the Amorites. For the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. Therefore it is said in the book of the wars of Jehovah”. Let us not be afraid of conflict! It speaks here of “the wars of Jehovah”. They are not our wars; it is the “wars of Jehovah”; and Jehovah would seek to maintain what is true and right amongst us so that the Spirit’s operations and liberty are maintained. The Lord is not free where the Spirit is not made way for and when man’s natural thinking excludes the operations of the Holy Spirit. I am thinking of the clerical system, and how easily and quickly that can come in. What that system does is remove from each individual the sense of responsibility in what is for Christ and what is for God’s pleasure. Let us be warned and guarded against these things because I think digging our well in our own exercises and maintaining that in spiritual vitality will keep us on right lines!
So it is said in
“…the book of the wars of Jehovah,
Vaheb in Suphah, and the brooks of Arnon;
And the stream of the brooks which turneth
to the dwelling of Ar,
And inclineth toward the border of Moab”.
I think there was a substantial point reached here in the history of the children of Israel, and once the serpent had been looked at and they lived, there was an immediate blessing from Jehovah; there was the move “toward the sun-rising” and all these brooks and streams are mentioned. How much water there is, dear brethren; and it says, “And from thence to Beer: that is the well of which Jehovah spoke to Moses, Assemble the people, and I will give them water. Then Israel sang this song, Rise up, well! sing unto it”.
How wonderful this is! I think it is possible - and I say this guardedly - to stimulate the service of the Holy Spirit. If it is possible to grieve Him, then I believe it is possible to stimulate the service of the Holy Spirit, both individually and collectively - because here it is a collective matter. We spoke about digging the wells, and I suppose Isaac digging wells represents an individual matter, but here we come to the children of Israel collectively saying, “Then Israel sang this song, Rise up, well! sing unto it”
So I think it is a fine exercise to promote right feelings in relation to the Holy Spirit, and I think that hymn that we sang at the beginning of the address (Hymn 391) is like this. That is really a rising up hymn. That is like saying, ‘Rise up, Spirit! sing unto it’; so you can see how this scripture helped the brethren in relation to the worship of the Holy Spirit: if you look into Mr James Taylor’s ministry you will find that. When the worship of the Holy Spirit was first brought out, many brethren were not ready for it; it had to be brought out gradually, and most saw the need for it, the rightness of it and the preciousness of it. It was not just an individual matter, but there was that in the Spirit responded to collectively.
It goes on,
“Well which princes digged, which
the nobles of the people hollowed
out at the word of the lawgiver,
with their staves”.
I think these are persons of experience. These are persons who have been through things with God Himself and are able then to take the lead in this digging. It is not according to their own interpretation; it is “at the word of the lawgiver”. That is acknowledging the authority of Christ in these matters, “the word of the lawgiver”; and that takes us to the epistle to the Corinthians where Paul is seeking to help these brethren by bringing in Christ Himself. It also takes us to Galatians who were in danger of slipping into bondage, and you can see how Paul was one who knew what it was to use the service of the Spirit wisely. I think the exercise of hollowing out with staves is going on now. There are persons of experience, experience with God, who would help us in that way, but let us each cultivate having this experience with God so that we may indeed collectively be able to say,
“Rise up, well! sing unto it”.
I was also thinking as to Philippians. I think the Philippian saints would be good well-diggers. The testimony started in Europe in Philippi and there were certain women there who, by custom, prayed at the river. Lydia is a very fine example for us of one who dug her well. It is said of her, “whose heart the Lord opened to attend to the things spoken by Paul”, Acts 16: 14. She did not just listen to them - there is a tendency just to listen to ministry and then ignore it; but Lydia was one who attended to the things spoken by Paul. “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house …”, v 15. I do not think there was any limitation or blockage there with Lydia. She was a good well-digger. So Philippi was a good locality, and I think it has been said that Philippians is an epistle written from the side of what is normal, JT vol 40 p221. Although there are obviously things to be taken account of, it is interesting that this was a letter that was written as a result of Epaphroditus taking the gift from Philippi to Paul. That is why I read as to Epaphroditus. He took it and he gave the gift to Paul, and then Paul was now writing back to the Philippian saints by the hand of Epaphroditus. Would you ever have thought that a man who wrote the epistle to the Philippians was in prison? Was he downcast? Was he limited? This was Paul, his public testimony almost finished, and yet here he was writing in this way. What does he say? “But I have all things in full supply and abound; I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things sent from you”. Oh, dear brethren, how his heart was full of Christ! His heart, too, was full, I believe, of “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”. There is no limit to “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”, and can I just say, if you have received the Holy Spirit in your life, that is not a once and for all thing? It is not just a matter of asking for the Holy Spirit and then lapsing into what we were before. It is a constant exercise to be maintained in the living flow of “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”, because He would engage our hearts livingly with Christ. Romans 8, for instance, speaks of the Spirit and the flesh, and the Spirit helps us with that, but the Spirit’s normal service is to engage our hearts with that blessed Man, our Lord Jesus Christ. So here Paul speaks in chapter 1 of “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”. I think that what sustained Paul in prison while he awaited his trial before that awful emperor, Nero, was “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”. I leave these few impressions with the dear brethren, that we might know individually what it is to maintain our wells free of earth; so that there is a living spring in freshness and vitality in our souls. I think it links with what was arrived at by the woman in John 4. And then in Numbers 21 we have the appreciation of what there is in the Holy Spirit collectively; so that through experience and as under the authority of Christ, we can then say,
“Rise up, well! sing unto it”,
- to make space for the Holy Spirit to engage our hearts actively with land conditions, indeed, to take us over there, that we might enjoy these things; and then we might know the constancy of the supply of the Holy Spirit. It is not a once and for all thing, but it is constant. Dear brethren, may these few simple thoughts be for our encouragement, and may they also be used for the maintenance of what is vital and fresh in our affections and what is for God’s pleasure, for His Name’s sake!
4th October 2014