THE MAN OF GOD

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P Cooper.

“I have been told by the word of the LORD, ‘You shall not eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by going the way you came.’ ” He said to him, “I too am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’ ” But he lied to him. (1KI 13:17-18)

We often think about the land of Israel as a single entity, but the fact is that throughout its entire history it was a deeply divided nation. In the north there were the ten tribes, sometimes known as the “Joseph” tribes, because the two main groups were Manasseh and Ephraim, the two tribes named for Joseph’s sons. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Simeon but Simeon was almost completely absorbed by Judah and so is not named after the boundaries of the tribes were settles, and the tribe of Benjamin sometimes allied itself to the North and sometimes with the South.

Solomon alone, of all the kings of Israel ruled a unified, strong nation but his great building programs came only at a great cost and when Rehoboam took the throne upon Solomon’s death, he took the advice of his young friends instead of the elder statesmen. Instead of providing some tax relief for a burdened nation he instead proposed heavy taxes. The ten northern tribes revolted under Jeroboam and the north and the south were permanently divided. Never again was there one nation of Israel.

It is against this background that we can understand what was happening when Jeroboam was at the altar and the man of God was sent to him to prophesy against him. Jeroboam had just rebelled against the proper, chosen ruler of Israel and become the leader of a new nation, a nation that worshiped Jehovah but had no place to worship Him. Remember that when Moses first brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, the book of Exodus tells us that the first thing they did was build a wonderful tabernacle. A portable center of worship. They carried it with them across the wilderness and finally into the land of Israel itself, and this was their focus and center of worship. Eventually through the periods of the judges and then the kings, the tabernacle and its furniture and its articles of worship were brought into the temple built by Solomon.

The Tabernacle became the cultural and religious center for that whole nation, and because it was in a portion of Benjamin that was associated with the tribe of Judah, when the kingdoms divided the people in the north were unable to come to the tabernacle to worship. The Word tells us that Jeroboam knew that if the people were to travel down into the South, travel to the glory of Jerusalem they would be overcome by its beauty and they would soon begin talking among themselves and saying that this business of having two separate nations was not the right way to do it, and that they would soon choose to be united again which would probably mean death to him and to his family.

So Jeroboam, to protect himself and his position and his family, came up with the idea of creating an altar to two golden calves, and he created a place in Bethel where they worshipped idols. Of course we know that this was one of the most horrible things that you could do. The whole point of the worship of Jehovah was to worship one God, to shun this Canaanite temptation to worship many gods and to worship graven images. Here Jeroboam the king, supposedly the leader of a religious nation, was leading them into idolatry, and so the Man of God was sent to him to give him a warning.

We read what happened to him in the children’s talk; how the prophet came and called out and spoke to him and how his arm was withered and the alter split in two. We know these things happened. Jeroboam listened to those words for a time and we are told that later he went back to his old ways. The point that we need to pay attention to is what happened to this man of God, this prophet that was sent from Judah to Jeroboam with a powerful message, obviously truly a messenger of God because at his word miracles happened. The arm was withered, the alter split. He was not carrying a false image, or a false word. He was in fact a true prophet. A man of God. But when he was sent he was given a very specific order. The Lord told him: don’t come back the way you came. Don’t drink the water there, and don’t eat any bread while you’re there. He was to make a short journey to Bethel to deliver this message and return without eating or drinking.

We read in our third lesson, that the reason for this was that bread represents good and water represents truth and because Jeroboam had committed idolatry the good that he was doing was profaned. The truth that he taught was mixed with falsity and so to eat bread and to drink water in that land at that time would have represented an acceptance of this profanation – an adulteration of the truth. So the prophet was specifically told not to eat or drink in that land because it would represent the Word, the man of God, the Prophet, taking into itself something that was contaminated – adulterated. So very specifically in the lesson, a number of times, the prophet was told don’t eat bread, don’t drink water.

But he was tired, he was hungry, it was a long trip, it was a hot day and this other man comes up – the man the Word calls the “Old Prophet.” The Old Prophet has heard about the story, he says “Ah, a prophet from Judah has come, he’s done a miracle, I want to speak with him. I want to visit with him, I want to hear what the Lord has said through him.” And so we’re told that he saddled his donkey and went off and came to the man of God who was finding his way home and he said “Come to my house, refresh yourself, rest,” and the man of God told him, he said “I can’t, God told me I’m supposed to go home and not eat or drink here.” The Old Prophet then did something terrible. He said “I too am a prophet, and God told me that you’re supposed to come home with me,” and the Word says that he lied.

He had no call, he had no reason. The Lord hadn’t spoken to him, but he said He did.

Now we might think at first glance that in this story it’s the Old Prophet that’s at fault because he lied, and it’s true, he is at fault because he lied, but the man of God is not innocent either. He was in a situation where on the one hand he had a direct word that he heard with a living voice, in his own mind. God said, “Go straight home. Don’t eat any bread, don’t drink any water.” He heard it in his own mind – God’s own word. Then somebody else comes along and says “I tell you that God says something else.” Which did he listen to? He chose the easy way. He was thirsty, he was hungry. It was more convenient to believe what somebody else said God said, than what God Himself said, and so he made the choice, and he made the wrong choice.

He chose what somebody else said God said, and actually that’s the heart of the matter for all of us isn’t it? We face the same dilemma all the time. The Lord says in the Word that we should resolve our differences and be forgiving, but the hells whisper in our ears and lead us to dwell on our hatreds and plan ways of getting back for things said or done. When we know what the Word says, when we know the hells are whispering in our ears, which do we choose?

The Lord says in the Word – `Thou shalt not steal’ and then we’re tempted to do something. Maybe it’s that we bring supplies home from the office, or we exaggerate expenses thinking it doesn’t matter, because everyone does it. The Word says: “Do this,” other people say “We can interpret it to mean that.” Which do we choose?

The Lord says – `Thou shalt not murder’ but its so much fun to know secrets about other people’s lives, their problems, their disasters, their scandals, and to tell them to other people because they’re so interested, and by telling them to other people we are somehow elevated and made important ourselves. The Lord says – `Don’t murder, don’t take away someone’s life, their use’, and yet we know things and repeat things that do just that.

The Lord teaches us in the Word how to care for our children but the glossy magazines in the supermarkets give us lots of other ideas. To let someone else do it, or to use these interesting new methods.

The Lord tells us in the Word how to prepare ourselves for the most wonderful blessing of all, a lovely eternal marriage. He tells us that if we focus our minds and keep ourselves pure, and pray to the Lord for a lovely partner, one will be provided. Yet we look at the films and the books, the TV and the advertisements and we are bathed in a society that approves of adultery to the point where we begin to not only approve of it, but begin to think of it as normal.

The Word tells us that homosexuality is the worst form of adultery, but the people who teach political correctness say it’s an “alternative lifestyle.”

The Lord asks us to follow His commandments to prepare ourselves for heaven, and the reformed churches interpret Paul to say “All that it takes is faith.”

We could go on at some length to illustrate the choices and the contrasts that we have in our own life, the dilemma that we face. On the one hand the Word tells us certain things that in our own mind, are as clear as can be, and yet other people are telling us “No, no we think that the Word says something else,” and our own natural inclinations our own desires for pleasure and selfish needs allow us to listen to the wrong voice.

The two issues that this story revolve around are the same ones that rule our lives. The first is idolatry. Whom do we worship and why? The Word tells us that we should worship the Lord, but the Word also tells us that we will be tempted to worship the golden calves and all that they represent. The things of the world, the things of self. To put ourself above others, to worship things. That’s an issue for us, we have to be aware of it, we have to look to it. Jeroboam as king made the wrong choice. He wanted to prevent people, his own people, from going to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem represented the Church, where the Lord was. He wanted to present his own ideas in such a way that they would be so attractive that people would not go to the Lord.

We’re told in the Word that the love of self is not just a selfishness, a sense of wanting, “me first,” but in its higher sense it is to wish to take the place of the Lord, even the desire to kill the Lord, and that’s what Jeroboam was doing, wasn’t he? As the leader of his people he was putting himself in such a position of authority over their lives that he would prevent them from traveling down from their homes to the center of worship, and he substituted his own ideas for the Lord’s teaching. That’s really idolatry isn’t it? When we put ourselves above everything else.

The other issue is obedience. The Lord speaks to us so clearly on the one hand. The Word tells us these things that sometimes appear complicated, but in many places the Word speaks very plainly to us. On the other hand we have our friends who are doing thing and who want to have others doing the same things with them. We like to feel that somehow our activities and our thoughts are validated if lots of other people do them, and so we try to convince others to join us in doing things that we’re worried about, because somehow we feel that if lots of people are doing it, it must be OK. The hells use this. They whisper in our ear, they inspire our natural inclinations to do what is of the world.

Like the man of God, we have to make this choice between the clearly heard word of God on one hand, and what somebody else says God says on the other, and we must make it repeatedly. Are we going to listen to the Word of God which may be telling us something difficult or challenging? He says to us, “Don’t go back the same route, don’t drink water even though you’re thirsty, don’t eat bread even though you’re hungry. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired and hungry and thirsty because these things are contaminated. They’re spiritual death,” we’re told. Are we going to take the easy route? “I’m so tired and hungry and this fellow has written this wonderful article that says that God has told him that I am supposed to take it easy.”

We have to be aware that the hells are based on falsity and they lie. It says that the Old Prophet lied. The hells spoke through him and said that he should do the easy thing. It’s the hells that want us to take the easy route. It is hell that helps us think up all the different ways that we can change the names of sins so they sound much more acceptable so that we can do them anyhow and ignore the commandments. It is hell that encourages us to turn away from the Word of God and substitute something else, that in the light of day is ridiculous.

As we face these difficult choices in life, remember the prophet. Remember the choice he made by listening to the man of God, by listening to the Old Prophet, and its result. In Matthew 7:15-16 it says:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.

AMEN.

Lessons: 1KI 13:11-25, MAT 7:13-23, AC 9323:1,3

(Transcript by Gay Waters of a recording made 9 February, 1992 in Westville, South Africa)

WORKING IT OUT

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P Cooper

Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. (Mat 18:19)

The subject for today is what happens when things go wrong between people. We are not really talking about the simple, easily resolved misunderstandings, the little things, but the big things, or when little things are allowed to go on, and anger begins to replace discomfort; when we end up with feelings of contempt, anger, jealousy, rage, even hatred. These are the things that happen when we allow our feelings to get out of control.

We feel these kinds of strong feelings when we believe that someone – whoever – is doing something to us that is malicious, that is consciously designed to do something to harm us.

Now let’s think about just that issue for a moment. How often can each of us honestly say that we’ve done something to someone else with a conscious, deliberate effort to harm them? In most cases the things that we do to others we’re doing because we genuinely believe it’s for the best. Either for the best in general or the best for that other person’s own good. Whenever something goes wrong, whenever there’s anger. We’re surprised when that other person says “How could you think that? that’s not what I meant. I was trying to …” and we try to explain that our intentions were good, and we’re always surprised and hurt when the other person thinks ill of us.

If that’s the case, logic indicates that we should give others the benefit of the doubt. We should also train ourselves, or remind ourselves, that other people, no matter what they say or do are trying to do what they think is right, or best, or helpful. Now a lot of problems could be solved if we would remember this simple idea: that we all are trying to do what we think is best in spite of the fact that we sometimes make errors, and it’s these errors that we’re thinking about now, because it’s the errors and the anger from them that the Lord was speaking about. We become angry with each other from time to time and we have to learn how to deal with that anger.

The Word tells us in the Arcana Coelestia that “brother” means neighbor, anyone not ourselves, immediate family, people over the whole world. The idea of neighbor is not to be limited just by racial group or family or nation. That it means everyone is because all of us recognize that the Lord is our Father and so we are all brothers in His care.

When there is anger, when there are problems, and the Lord recommended that certain steps be followed. It’s interesting to note that in researching this part of the Word the internal sense was not given to these steps because the steps themselves are what is meant. The internal sense and the natural sense are one and the same here. This is one of those places in the Word where the Writings teach that “the Word is like a man clothed,” in that in some places the internal sense is very deeply hidden, like under very many layers of clothing that have to be carefully peeled away. But other parts of the Word are like a man’s face or hands that stand forth without explanation.

The Lord said, the first thing you must do when you’re angry is to discuss the problem between you and him alone, and that may solve many problems. If it doesn’t, if there’s stubbornness or misunderstanding it may be necessary to go on, and the next step is to take two or three witnesses. The principle here is that in trying to establish what is the truth everyone’s memory is flawed and it often helps to have a number of different views. That’s how the court system works. You bring witnesses in to speak and as each one speaks and others are allowed to question and resolve the issues that arise, a clear picture of what really happened should emerge. The truth becomes apparent.

That may solve many problems, but if it doesn’t, the Lord says the third step is, if he still doesn’t hear you, to tell it to the Church. Now why the Church? It wouldn’t have made any sense for Him to say “take the man to Civil Court”, because in those days there was no such thing. It was the Church who served that role in the time that the Lord was in the world. It was the Chief Priests who were called, who the Lord was taken to when the Pharisees and the other priests got together to arrest Him. He was only taken to the Roman Governor Pilate because the Jewish Church did not have the authority to execute a prisoner, and so they had to take Him to Pilate if they wanted to put Him to death.

So the Lord did not mean that for us, today, that somehow the pastor of the Society, or the Bishop has any particular insight for solving problems. Although there are times when that can help too. The idea He was suggesting was that we should take our disputes to some authority that both parties will recognize. Where both parties will say “We’ll present both our cases as clearly as we can, and let this person, who is objective and has the principles of justice in mind, make the decision.”

Sometimes that doesn’t work either, and what happens then? What does the Lord say when parties take it to a higher authority and yet even though a decision is handed down, there is still anger and even hatred?

The next step He says is, “Let it go”. He says “Let him be as a publican and a sinner to you.” In other words, treat them as the people of the Jewish Church in those days would treat publicans and sinners: they would have nothing to do with them. He is telling us that not every problem can be solved, and there comes a time to let it go. What worldly dispute can be worth your eternal soul?

What did the Lord say in our lessons that we read today? What was the next thing He said after “let him be a publican and a sinner to you”? He said “What is bound on earth will be bound in heaven”. When you burn with enmity and hatred and revenge on earth, it can become a part of your life. When that becomes the focus of your life, it becomes a part of your character that you take with you into the other world. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to remember where those people gather who have bound anger and hatred and revenge and enmity to their characters, to their souls. The Lord allowed them to build hell for themselves and it is there that they gather together.

After the Lord taught that what is bound on earth will be bound in heaven and said that if we hold onto these things they become part of us and taint our souls, He said, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I in the midst of them”. Think of this passage in its context. We’ve been talking about anger, we’ve been talking about hatred, we’ve been talking about people who are full of this horrible feeling, and then He suddenly talks about how people gather together in His name, that He will be with them. The contrast is obvious. What He is saying is when people are gathered together not in His name, but in anger and in dispute, then He is not present.

Apocalypse Explained number 411 says. The Lord’s name means everything by which He is worshipped and as He is worshipped by means of truth from good, which is from Him, so this is meant by “His name.” When people come together in charity, when they do what is good because they have learned what is true from the Word, then there is concord, there is harmony. That is the life of heaven, and the Lord is present, and it is clear from the context what the Lord is saying. When there is dispute, He is not present.

So the point is clearly made that when there are disputes we should do everything we possibly can to clear them up and if we cannot clear them up by reasonable means we need to let the matter go for the sake of our own souls. We need to forgive, to let it go.

Peter, understanding exactly this point, says to the Lord “Lord how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? up to seven times.” and the Lord answers “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Mat 18:21)

Divine Providence 280 speaks to this point saying, The Lord remits the sins of all: He does not accuse and impute. Yet He can take them away only in accordance with the laws of His Divine Providence; for He said to Peter, when he asked how often he should forgive a brother sinning against him, whether seven times, That he should forgive not only seven times but until seventy times seven. (Mat 18:21,22) (If a man is to forgive another man seventy times, or continually) What then will not the Lord do who is Mercy itself?

And further about the number 7: Arcana Coelestia 433 tells us, That the number “seven” is holy, originates in the fact that the “seventh day” signifies the celestial man, the celestial church, the celestial kingdom, and, in the highest sense, the Lord Himself. Hence the number “seven,” wherever it occurs in the Word, signifies what is holy, or most sacred; and this holiness and sanctity is predicated of, or according to, the things that are being treated of. When anything most holy or sacred was to be expressed, it was said “seventy-sevenfold,” as when the Lord said that a man should forgive his brother not until seven times, but until seventy times seven (Mat. xviii. 22), by which is meant that they should forgive as many times as he sins, so that the forgiving should be without end, or should be eternal, which is holy.

There is no way that while living in this natural world with its confusion and error that we can avoid giving offenses entirely. Therefore we must be forgiving and we need to be forgiven, and that is why the next thing that comes in this sequence, this passage of the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, is the parable of The Unforgiving Servant.

Just to remind you briefly what happened: There was a man who owed the King 10 000 talents. Now for us to try to understand just how great a debt that is, Biblical reference works tell us that we should regard that number in terms of today’s money as being the entire annual budget of a small country. It is so much money for an individual as to be unimaginable. We’re not to worry about how he got into that debt in the first place, but the idea is that here is a man who owes more money than it could ever be possible for him to repay. The King calls him and he goes to the King who says “Pay me what you owe.” The man says “I cannot, I don’t have it, I can’t pay.” And the King says “All right it doesn’t matter, you’re forgiven, you don’t owe me anything.” The story goes on that immediately that man, having just been forgiven a most phenomenal, unimaginable debt, goes out and runs into a man who owes him a denarius – one day’s pay, an easy amount to pay. We’re told that this fellow who has just been forgiven a huge debt grabs the other man by the throat, flings him onto the ground and demands that he pay right now. When the man is unable to pay immediately he has him cast into debtor’s prison. The King hears of this, calls the servant back and says “As you have been unforgiving I take back what I said. You now owe me the debt.” and it says that he was sent to the torturers until he should pay every cent. The image is clear: that because of the size of his debt, to stay with the torturers until he should pay, means to eternity.

This whole lesson from the eighteenth chapter of Matthew follows a sequence and the lesson is quite clear. How can anything that anyone can owe us compare to the debt that we owe the Lord? He is willing to forgive us massive debts. The Doctrine of Regeneration says that you don’t have to correct every sin, or every evil inclination from the time you are born. You only have to start the process. It says that if you, as often as you prepare for the Holy Supper, once or twice a year, look to your sins, you repent, reform, and begin a new life, it is sufficient to put you on the road to heaven. It doesn’t say that you have to accomplish everything. Just begin the process.

The debt we owe is enormous and yet the Lord is willing to forgive if we will make the effort. However, He will forgive us only if we do one thing, only if we forgive others. All this anger, all these problems we have in the world are minor compared to the debt that we owe the Lord. And if we wish to be forgiven by Him, if we wish to enter into the spiritual world bound with things of charity and kindness (rather than anger and hatred), we must practice charity and kindness in our lives here. For the Lord Himself taught, “That which is bound on earth will be bound in Heaven.”

[Tie back to Working it out, Letting it go]

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray to the Lord for Him to “forgive our debts as we also forgive our debtors.” Remember what Peter said in our text: “Lord how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Mat. 18:21-22)

Lessons: GEN 4:1-9, MAT 18:15-22, AE 1015

(Transcribed by Gay Waters from a tape made 2 February, 1992 at Westville, South Africa)

3rd Lesson: AE 1015.

[2] Since hatred, which is to will to kill, is the opposite of love to the Lord and also of love towards the neighbor, and since these loves are what make heaven with man, it is evident that hatred, being thus opposite, is what makes hell with him.

[3] Since hatred and love are direct opposites, and since hatred in consequence constitutes hell with man, just as love constitutes heaven with him, therefore the Lord thus teaches :- Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you are thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. (Mat. v. 23-26).

To be delivered to the judge, and by the judge to the officer, and by him to be cast into prison, describes the state of the man who is in hatred after death from his having been in hatred against his brother in the world, “prison” meaning hell, and “to pay the last farthing” signifies the punishment that is called everlasting fire.