Where are the young Men?
Jim Voisey, Cardiff, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
‘And I sought for a man . . . that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap’, Ezek. 22. 30.
The ‘hedge’ to which the prophet refers is a spiritual border of testimony, with which the Lord surrounds the house of Israel. This has to be kept in constant repair, and in every generation, the Lord’s people have a responsibility to maintain this boundary, because of failures by reason of age and human infirmity or defection and the falling away of spirituality.
Ezekiel is uttering the Lord’s judgement upon Israel because of their deteriorating standards of behaviour. Some wanted all they could lay their hands on without regard to what the cost was to others. The rights of the poor, the needy and the stranger, as set out in the law, were being violated. The difference between the holy and profane was being blurred, and every deficiency was being hastily and shoddily covered up with lies. The Lord was looking for a man to come forward, and deal with these things, and intercede on the people’s behalf, but He ‘found none’, Ezek. 22. 17-31.
There will always be opportunities for young men to take responsibility in order to maintain the witness of God’s people and to stand up for what is right at whatever cost, and those who are so exercised, will find ample supplies provided by the Lord to fit and equip them for His work. The purpose of this article is to consider a few scriptural examples of young men that filled the gap in the hedge.
Joseph, ‘How can I . . . sin against God?’ Gen. 39. 9
Joseph was only seventeen years old when he was stolen away from his family and sold into slavery in Egypt. It was a bitter experience. What his brothers did, including that worse thing they had first thought to do, and their cruel deception of their father, was wicked in the extreme. They later remembered with shame their ‘sin against the child’, and ‘saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear’, Gen. 42. 21, 22. This was not the best of beginnings for his service for God.
Yet, twice we read that ‘the Lord was with Joseph’. He was with him in his slavery in Potiphar’s house, and when he was unjustly imprisoned. The Lord uses even the wicked to bring about His purposes. One of the most poignant scenes in the Bible is when Joseph revealed himself to his brethren. They had treated him so badly, but ‘he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them’, Gen. 45. 15. No one brother of his was excluded from his love, or his forgiveness. Joseph had a large, forgiving heart.
He was a man who was able to see beyond his adversities and his pain, and the wickedness of others. None of these things did he allow to corrode his own spiritual life. There is always a danger we might foolishly cherish our own bitterness and resentment and hold grudges. He did not succumb to temptation in the house of Potiphar, and what a shining example he is to us of a man who feared God. He rose far above the base standards of his brothers, when ‘he com-forted them and spoke kindly unto them’, 50. 21, and this to those who had so wronged him. In this, as in much else, Joseph reminds us of our Lord. A man like Joseph has qualities that the Lord seeks to ‘fill a gap’, and rise above petty attitudes of heart and mind, to be more like Him. We surely have men who could be like him.
David, ‘I will trust in thee’, Ps. 56. 3
Opportunity came to David unexpectedly to do something great for the Lord. A family errand brought him to the camp of Israel, just when Goliath was shouting his challenge. We may be quite sure that when David went forth to fight with Goliath, he did so with a fast-beating heart and apprehension, because after all he was only a youth. The great warriors of Israel were holding back. They were cowed and fearful, but David did not lack courage, and, even more importantly he had faith in the Lord. This is a constant theme in his psalms. It was an essential element of his life. His weapon was of the flimsiest kind compared to the refined armoury of the giant. Yet now David’s sling is as famous as Gideon’s pitchers. The people and things God has used are always good examples to us as to how to serve Him ourselves.
Goliath sneered at David, for he was ‘but a youth’, but not in the least daunted, and by his faith in the Lord he had a holy indignation that ‘this uncircumcised Philistine had defied the armies of the living God’, 1 Sam. 17. 26. David’s qualities were to make him a great king, and by his standards other kings would be judged. What a gap there would have been, what a great shame to Israel if David had not responded to the call at that time!
Grown men were afraid, but he was prepared and ready when the challenge came to him. He had come to know the Lord in a very special way, and throughout his life he instructs us about the truly devotional life in all circumstances. Have we men of the character and steadfastness of David among us today? They are sorely needed.
Daniel, ‘But Daniel purposed in his heart’, Dan. 1. 8
This ‘purpose of heart’ was the secret of Daniel’s life. Initially, it was just a matter of conscience as to whether he should eat the king’s food, with its idolatrous and perhaps immoral associations. But we see that same purpose of heart when he boldly commits himself to interpreting the king’s dream, and fearlessly witnesses to the truth before Nebuchadnezzar about his sinful pride before the God of heaven. He publicly rebukes Belshazzar for his profanity, and fearlessly faces the den of lions when unwilling to compromise about his worship. No doubt his enemies were smirking at his predicament and thought they had obtained their purpose against him. Not only did he stand boldly, but he was also a good influence upon those young friends of his. Daniel was a man given to prayer and noted for his piety, reliability and incorruptibility and that in the courts of kings. He was a man, heaven declared was ‘greatly beloved’. We may add he was respected by his fellow-men as well.
Daniel filled a gap in his day. He might have been tempted to accept his situation and just make the best of things, or as we say, ‘keep his head down’. He didn’t, and so shines out to us today from that dark period of Israel’s history. How much poorer we would be without Daniel to encourage us. Every day needs its Daniel!
Mark, ‘He is profitable to me for the ministry’, 2 Tim. 4. 11
Mark was a man who had ‘put his hand to the plough, and looked back’. Going back home was a serious blemish on his character, and even Paul was a bit unforgiving. Was it Mark who fled from Gethsemane when the crowd got unruly, and he felt his life was in danger? He was a man who recognized his fears, and was prepared to have another go when he failed. He was probably not of a robust dispo-sition, and his faith and courage could easily be tried and found wanting. Yet, he came back and became a useful servant in the Lord’s work, Mark 14. 51, 52; Acts 13. 13.
We are indebted to Mark for his wonderful and unique Gospel. It is remarkable that the Lord should choose him to record the life of perfect service. It must have been something very precious to Mark, to write of the Saviour, who came ‘not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life, a ransom for many’, Mark 10. 45. The Lord never writes men off. We can make good our failures and inadequacies with His help. For a young man who feels he has failed, that need not be the end. He can still fill a gap in the service of our Lord. Rise above past failures, and fill the gap in the hedge!
Timothy, ‘Let no man despise thy youth’, 1 Tim. 4. 12
Timothy came from a godly home. His name suggests his family had particular hopes for him. It means ‘God honouring’ and ‘God will honour’. His mother and grandmother are mentioned with respect and affection and that from a child he had known the holy scriptures, 2 Tim. 1. 5; 3. 15.
He was to prove a thoroughly trustworthy and valued colleague for Paul. He seems to have been an unselfish, caring, thoughtful young man, yet of a shy and retiring disposition. The Lord uses men like Timothy if they are given proper encouragement, Phil. 2. 19-23.
Timothy has an honoured name among the Christians of the first century. The Lord was pleased to use him, and that is sufficient answer to any critics. Of course we need to recognize that many who are called to serve Him, may receive no public recognition before men, but the Lord knows. Those of us who are older must remember that we also have a responsibility to young men today. There is a shortage of capable young men among us. The Lord commanded Moses concerning Joshua, ‘encourage him’. What examples are we giving to the young men of today? We should urge them to read and study for themselves, the Holy Scriptures, that they will properly understand and apply them and keep reminding them of the value and worth of the New Testament assembly, and the privileges of fellowship with the people of God. The Lord sets great store by these things. Let us not fail Him.