February 19 - 25
Such a Great Cloud of Witnesses
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Heb. 11:1-40; Job 19:25-27; Pss. 16; 23; 73; Gen. 5:21-24; 6:22; 12:1, 4
MEMORY TEXT: "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8, NKJV).
KEY THOUGHT: The witness of God's faithful followers in the past encourages those who are new in the faith and establishes those who may have doubts and need assurance in their relationship with God.
THE VALUE OF PERSONAL TESTIMONIES. The saints' witness in the past about their encounters with God: their calling, their answered prayers, their transformed lives, and their supernatural rescues, all build up our faith and bring praises to the living God. Their encouraging testimonies are an essential part of worship. This week we will briefly look at the witness of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Job. Finally we will consider Psalms 16, 23, 73, which demonstrate how believers experienced God's establishing their assurance in Him and renewing their hope for the future. The Psalms have proved to be an unceasing fountain of spiritual comfort and revival. All these testimonies are inspired examples of how we may reach our God and cultivate a living communion with Him. They are written for our sake, as Paul explains: "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4, NIV). This week let us regain courage and assurance as we remember God's saving acts. God can be trusted; He is the same faithful covenant God at all times.
Describe the essence of a living faith. Heb. 11:1.
Having assured us that God cares for His people in previous chapters, Hebrews 11 makes practical applications for believers today. At the end of Hebrews 10 the author appeals to Habakkuk's famous assurance (Heb. 2:3, 4) that those who live by "faith" will survive the impending judgment. His principal citation from Habakkuk is: "But my righteous one will live by faith" (see Heb. 10:38). His first conclusion was "But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved" (Heb. 10:39, NIV). What is the meaning of "faith" here? The Hebrew term for faith ['emunah] refers not to a one-time acceptance of a creed of beliefs, but to an attitude of faithfulness, to a persevering faith that holds on till the end. To continue this rich meaning of "faith," Hebrews 11 begins to define faith for Christian believers in an even deeper sense.
Why did God approve of Abel and his offering? Heb. 11:4; Gen. 4:4.
Notice that God looked first at the offerer himself and then at his offering. This indicates that both faith and obedience are essential in true worship.
How is Enoch's life a telling example for the end-time people? What is the prerequisite to pleasing God? Describe its twofold content. Heb. 11:5, 6; Gen. 5:21-24.
Enoch's life was a daily "walk with God" for three centuries. Can you describe what this involved? How do you walk with God? Is there any significance in the statement that Enoch began his walk with God after the birth of his first son, Methuselah? How did Enoch demonstrate a living faith? "The closer the connection with God, the deeper was the sense of his [Enoch's] own weakness and imperfection. . . . To him prayer was as the breath of the soul; he lived in the very atmosphere of heaven."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 85.
How did God regard Noah's faith and life? Heb. 11:7; Gen. 6:22; 7:1. What motivated his obedience to God?
Noah trusted in the Word of God. His faith was living and obedient. He was sure of the coming fulfillment of God's promise. This shows that faith and hope are inseparable. In fact, the forward-looking aspect of faith is hope.
How did Abraham first demonstrate his faith in God's Word? What does this say about his relationship with God? Heb. 11:8-11; Gen. 12:1, 4.
Again we see how faith includes the forward-looking aspect. It motivated Abraham to start his pilgrimage of faith in obedience to God's command. He then showed his faith by living in tents as a stranger in the Promised Land, because he was looking for the heavenly city. Abraham believed God!
How is Abraham's faith an inspiring example for those waiting for the Second Coming? Heb. 11:13-16, 39, 40. What does God's immediate response to Abraham's faith tell you about His character? Gen. 15:6.
Can we accept Abraham's justification by faith alone as a guarantee for our own justification by faith alone? See Romans 4:24, 25. Is this good news for you? "When the sinner believes that Christ is his personal Saviour, then according to His unfailing promises, God pardons his sin and justifies him freely. The repentant soul realizes that his justification comes because Christ, as his substitute and surety, has died for him, is his atonement and righteousness."—Ellen G. White Comments, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1073.
What does it mean that "none of them received what had been promised"? God had a "better plan" that includes all Christian believers and will be consummated in the "better resurrection" (11:35, NIV) of all the saints together. Charles Wesley wrote: "E'en now by faith we join our hands with those that went before, And greet the blood-besprinkled bands on the eternal shore."—Quoted in F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The New London Commentary on the New Testament (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971), p. 344.
How did Job's friends misrepresent both him and God? Job 13:3-12.
"Job is willing to confess to any sins that may be proved against him (13:23), but so far neither his memory nor his friends have done this. His own vindication and God's will go hand in hand, but what he needs more is understanding of the ways of God through rational discussion. So far the friends have failed to supply the needed explanation (4-12). It must come from God."—F. I. Andersen, Job. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 164.
How did Job respond to God's justice? What does this tell us about his relationship with God? Job 13:15-18.
Job is certain of his vindication. He sees his sufferings, not as a punishment, but as a test by God. He now accepts this divine testing. "I will come forth as gold." This implies his belief that he is precious in the sight of God. Job's faith in God is stronger than death (13:15).
In what famous words did Job's faith reach its height in his darkest hour? Job 19:25.
The great sufferer expects to die soon and wants his testimony to be recorded as a permanent witness for the day of judgment (19:23, 24). As Job looks to the future he calls God "my Redeemer," and expects to be vindicated by Him after his death.
What is the significance of Job's emphasis on "seeing God" with his own eyes? Job 19:26, 27.
Job firmly believed that God would "remember" him after his temporary stay in the grave (see 14:13, 14) and would never abandon him. What great trust in God!
"From the depths of discouragement and despondency Job rose to the heights of implicit trust in the mercy and the saving power of God "—Prophets and Kings, p. 163.
|Is your relationship with God leading you to trust Him no matter what? How is this trust being strengthened daily?|
The communion with nature and with God, the care of his flocks, the persecutions and rescues experienced, all were set in songs of praise and thanksgiving by David, Israel's sweet singer. "They were, in all coming ages, to kindle love and faith in the hearts of God's people, bringing them nearer to the ever-loving heart of Him in whom all His creatures live."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 642.
How did David find security in his God when he faced death? Ps. 16:1, 2, 8.
David expressed his confidence in God and His blessed assurance of salvation (see also Ps. 62:2, 6). In Psalm 16:8 he mentions what he did in order not to be shaken: (1) setting the Lord always before him; (2) experiencing the Lord on his right hand. The Lord became his guide and his support to give him assurance and security.
What were David's three great spiritual blessings when he trusted in God? Ps. 16:11.
How did David sing of God's keeping grace during the crises of his life? On what basis could David have no fear of death or evil? Ps. 23:1-4.
Verses 1-4 contain an extended metaphor, in which God is the shepherd and David is a sheep belonging to His flock. So long as the Lord was his Shepherd, he would suffer no lack. That is trust in God's providence and confidence in His guidance. Look up Deuteronomy 2:7 and describe how all who were delivered from Egypt and had arrived safely in the Promised Land could have identified with the promises of Psalm 23. Explain what David meant by the metaphors of "your rod and your staff' as his comfort. What would those instruments of a shepherd do for a sheep?
|How did David anticipate the future with full assurance of God's provision and protection? Ps. 23:5, 6.|
Psalm 73 is the personal testimony of Asaph, a Levitical priest and founder of one of the temple choirs (1 Chron. 25:1). He has a story to tell that describes his spiritual journey from doubt about God to an assurance of His presence. This psalm belongs to one of the highest expressions of communion with God in the entire Bible. Heart is a key word in this testimony (six times). It indicates that the state of the heart, not external circumstances, determines our relation to God. "Psalm 73 takes us beyond the present life into an eternity of glory, where man will find the ultimate solution and his ultimate satisfaction in the presence of God."—SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 802.
Compare Asaph's introduction of this psalm with its conclusion. Ps. 73:1, 28. What two things does he refer to in verse 28 that move him to witness about God?
What led Asaph to doubt God's care for him? Ps. 73:2, 3, 14. How did he find the assurance and new hope for which he searched? Ps. 73:16, 17, 24.
The immediate occasion may have been a serious illness (vs.14, 26). Asaph's constant question became, "Why must a righteous man suffer while the wicked prosper and have it so good?" He began to doubt God's faithfulness to His covenant with Israel. He can be called "the doubting Thomas of the Old Testament."
He finally went into the sanctuary of God, not just to perform his official duties, but to commune with Him. "Asaph went into the sanctuary plagued by doubts. He came out singing for joy, because he had seen the Invisible One. He went in insecure; he came out transformed and utterly convinced. Israel's God had kept him from finally slipping away, because Asaph had come to Him. . . .
"Asaph found not so much an intellectual solution to his questions as a settling reassurance of God's care for him and of God's sovereign control of history."—Hans K. LaRondelle, Deliverance in the Psalms: Messages of Hope for Today (Sarasota, Fla.: First Impressions, 1991), p. 170.
|How can you in the midst of doubt and discouragement experience hope and assurance? Recall an experience when this was the case.|
FURTHER STUDY: Read Hebrews 11:1 in different translations to experience its rich meaning. For example: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (RSV).
In what respect did Enoch "please God"? Are there "Enochs" today? (See Christ's Object Lessons, p. 332).
Consider Job 19:26 and 14:13-15. These passages strongly indicate that the hope of the resurrection belonged to the very heart of Job's faith. "Job indicates that in the resurrection he will retain his personal identity."—SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 550.
"It is the privilege and duty of every man to take God at His word." Ellen G. White Comments, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 928. Am I committing myself to His guidance as Asaph did? "By prayer, by the study of His word, by faith in His abiding presence, the weakest of human beings may live in contact with the living Christ, and He will hold them by a hand that will never let go."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 182.
The following commentaries offer helpful instruction about the historical background and the literary context of the Psalms: Psalms, 2 volumes, by D. Kidner, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Psalms 1-50, by P. C. Craigie, and Psalms 51-100, by M. E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary; Deliverance in the Psalms, by Hans K. LaRondelle.
SUMMARY: The purpose of the accounts of tragedies and triumphs of believers in the Bible is to teach us valuable lessons of trusting our God. We have the privilege not only to take the Bible saints as our examples but also to identify with their sinful impulses and with their victories through faith in the promises of God. Their hopes must become ours.
J. H. Zachary
Everet Kamuh, Global Mission director for the Irian Jaya Mission, wanted to place Global Mission pioneers in Aurim, a village in the steamy jungles of eastern Indonesia. But the villagers threatened to kill any Adventist who entered. How could Kamah ask two pioneers to risk their lives on such a dangerous assignment? Then he realized that while the villagers might kill a man, they would not harm a woman! He asked Yinina and Sarah to go.
Trembling, the women finally agreed to go. They took a bus to the village. But heavy storms made the road impassible, and the women had to walk the last few miles, carrying their heavy luggage.
As they approached the village, a crowd gathered. Frangky, the leader of the village youth, blocked the path and loudly told the women, "If you were men, you would have one minute to leave."
The women bowed their heads and prayed, then started singing a song of praise to God. The villagers were charmed by the music. Scowls turned to smiles. Even Frangky hummed along.
The villagers let the women stay in a large house in the center of the village. They offered to teach the villagers to sing their songs. Even Frangky joined the singers. But the daughter of the region's king demanded that her father force the women to leave the large house. The women found themselves living in a tiny crowded hut.
About a week later this woman's son died in an accident. She was crushed and convinced that God was punishing her for driving the women from the large house. She begged their forgiveness and urged the villagers to listen to them.
Often when the villagers sang, Tarsan, a village dog, howled along. The villagers said that the dog was praising God.
Frangky joined the women's Bible study group and eventually decided to be baptized. His decision angered his friends, who threatened him. "If you join them, we will kill you and burn your house down."
Frangky answered, "My life is hidden in God. Everything I have is laid up in heaven. You cannot take it away."
Today a jungle chapel stands in Aurim. And Frangky, the man who had led the threats against the missionaries, recently graduated from the Global Mission training center. He has gone to an unentered village in Irian Jaya, where he will share the love of God that changed his life.
J. H. Zachary is international coordinator for The Quiet Hour, located in Redlands, California.
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