Spiritual Decline and the Answer
R. M. Rae, Prestwick
In our previous article we referred to the opening verse of 1 Kings 1, "Now king David was old and stricken in years", noting the contrast with that said about him earlier in 1 Samuel 16. 12, "Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to". This brought us to consider the fact of decline, not just physical as these verses indicate, but spiritual decline. We stated our conviction that this sad fact marks the testimony today. Pursuing the passage in 1 Kings 1, we were brought to a positive, productive answer to that which threatened the position, in the timely activity of three men, Nathan, Zadok and Benaiah. We shall now consider each in turn, submitting to the reader that the answer, as found in such persons, is the answer needed today.
Nathan the Prophet. He was the
first to act. He saw the danger. He brought the mind of God into the situation, knowing that what was taking place was completely contrary to it. This is the third of three occasions when Nathan has to confront David, and in each a spirit of excellence is shown. The first, in 2 Samuel 7, relates to ecclesiastical matters, where David would build a house for God. To begin with, Nathan approves and gives him his blessing. That very night God appears to Nathan and instructs him to return to David and tell him he cannot build such a house. This Nathan does, saying in effect, "I was wrong in approving of your intention". Alas! How much havoc has been caused because we have refused to adopt the spirit of Nathan and say, "I was wrong". The second occasion is found in 2 Samuel 12, in relation to David's shameful conduct with Uriah, Nathan is again sent to David, to deal, not with ecclesiastical matters but moral. Here he does not shrink from bringing home to David his terrible guilt, "Thou art the man". This was pointed, personal and impartial. Too often from our lips when one has gone astray, it is the third person we use, "he", like Ham, in the matter of Noah's failure, who "told his two brethren without", Gen. 9. 22.
In this record that is primarily before us, our main exercise is to point out how a man, who knewthe mind of God and presented it most urgently where it was needed, defeated one who challenged the rights of God's man to the throne. He knew the lawful successor was Solomon and would tolerate no other. We need men in this day of confusion, who not only know God's rights in a particular circumstance, but who are prepared to stand up and say, "Thus saith the Lord". We can well understand the rights of Christ being dishonoured in the world today—such is but a re-echoing of that mob that preferred Barabbas to Christ long ago. God has already taken care of this situation, and Psalm 2 gives us a declaration of intent from God as to the restoration of the glory of His Son in the universe. The tragedy is that, in the church for which He gave His all, His place is being usurped. The woman with an uncovered head in the assembly presents a denial of the headship not only of the man, but of Christ. Add to this the strengthening of ties between the assembly ground and ecclesiastical systems that deny the blessed fact of the priesthood of all believers. Indeed, we do not require to go outside local gatherings today to find a growing tendency to permit moral and doctrinal defection, when the only course open to ensure a continuance of the presence of a Holy God is an exercise of discipline in faithfulness to Christ. How painful to have to write thus, but we need the prophetic voice today; we need men ready to guard the place that only a "greater than Solomon" can fill! Such was Nathan. Such indeed was Paul as he appealed to the Corinthians, Is there "not a wise man among you?", "Let the prophets speak", "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge ... the commandments of the Lord", 1 Cor. 6. 5; 14. 29, 37.
Zadok the Priest. The priest was essentially a man of the sanctuary—a man closely involved in keeping the nation in right relations with Jehovah. As we examine the book of Leviticus, we find that the priestly family who, from chapters 1 to 10 are involved in the way of approach to God, are employed in an entirely distinct field in chapters 11-15, that of maintaining the nation in a healthy state. Only a man of the sanctuary could do this.
In this latter capacity Zadok acts. He too is aware of the defection (defection that was making room for one other than Solomon), and his one object is to work on the affections of the people, transferring them to the man of God's choice. Observe David's words, "let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him (Solomon) there king over Israel", 1 Kings 1. 34.Then "Zadok the priest took an horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon . . . and all the people . . . rejoiced with great joy", vv. 39-40. How we need this ministry today to stem the decline—men who can bring in the mind of God as did Nathan, yet men with a priestly heart who can make room for Christ in the affections of His people. God delights in such a ministry—authority combined with affection; not dominated by legal dictates, but attracted by a Man.
We recall again the ministry of Paul to the Corinthians. The first Epistle makes it clear that Christ was being dethroned—the very factions among them proved this. Men were being followed; indeed Paul's apostolic authority was also under attack. Hear his touching appeal in 2 Corinthians 10. 1, "Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ", and "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest. . .", 11. 2-3. Only a priestly heart could produce this. Exercise apostolic severity? He will do it Nathan-like when the interests of Christ are at stake, but when his own rights are being challenged, his response is in the touching appeal of chapter 10.
One final word on Zadok. As we read Ezekiel 44, where we have millennial conditions dealt with, we read in verse 15 of "the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me". 1 Kings 2. 35 indicates that Solomon put Zadok the priest in the room of Abiathar (of Ithamar's line), this being immediate recognition. How much more in Ezekiel, there is a place in the millennium for Zadok because of his faithfulness in days of decline.
Benaiah the Warrior. The work of this man of military prowess was one of consolidation. He had by his courage in earlier days earned a place among David's "mighty men". Now in the rebellion of the usurper Adonijah, he stands boldly with Nathan and Zadok in defence of the Lord's anointed. Indeed, when instructed by the new and rightful king Solomon, he uses his sword to slay Adonijah, Joab and Shimei. He comes in thus in a most important light, seeking to defend what has been procured in accordance with the mind of God as presented by Nathan, and the priestly intervention of Zadok.
As we close, note that the answer to the spiritual decline that marks the present hour and that seems to be gaining momentum, is found in the very exercises we have been considering. First, the prophetic voice that will fearlessly present, amid the confusion, the authoritative Word of God. Next, men of the sanctuary who can so present the claims of Christ that our affections will go out toward Him, with His enthronement ensured. Finally, because we value our heritage, and recognize in some measure its preciousness to God, we must be prepared to defend it against all that would oppose. May He help us to this end.