What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
2 Kings 4:31
The biblical writer uses an interesting clause to relate the child's continued state of death: "there was neither voice nor hearing." Today, we would say, "There was neither pulse nor breathing," but the Hebrew author highlights speaking and hearing as signs of life. Why?
Obviously, the Israelites knew that "the life of the flesh is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11; see Genesis 9:4), and that God "breathed into [Adam's] nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7). The writer of II Kings, then, is not giving medical or clinical proof of the child's death but commenting on the state of death. When someone is dead, they can no longer speak or hear; communication is impossible.
What makes this especially interesting is that God frequently speaks of spiritual enlightenment as "life" and spiritual darkness or degeneracy as "death." Speaking of the uncalled, Jesus tells a potential disciple, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead" (Matthew 8:22). He tells the church in Sardis, "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Revelation 3:1). Paul writes, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). In Ephesians 5:14, he says, "Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."
The child typifies the individual Christian. He is dead and can neither speak nor hear. What happens to the Christian who dies spiritually? No longer does he communicate God's way in any fashion—by deed or speech; he cannot "talk the talk" or "walk the walk"! Nor are his ears open and attentive to God's Word. As Jesus says in Matthew 13:15:
For the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them.
A biblical euphemism for death is sleep. For instance, in I Corinthians 11:30, Paul explains that many had died for taking the Passover unworthily: "For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." He uses this euphemism similarly in Acts 13:36: "For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption" (see also Daniel 12:2; I Corinthians 15:20, 51; I Thessalonians 4:14).
Because the Bible connects death and sleep so closely, it also uses the metaphor of sleep for spiritual decline. The best known example of this is the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. The lesson is that we must stay spiritually alert, especially as Christ's return nears, but Jesus prophesies that all of God's people will fall asleep on their watch! On this point, Paul advises us:
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)
In II Kings 4:31, Gehazi reports to Elisha and the Shunammite woman, "The child has not awakened." Like the individual Christian at the end time, this child is "dead"—he "sleeps" because of overlong exposure to the "fiery darts of the wicked one" (Ephesians 6:16), from which he had no protection. His only hope of revival lies in the mercy and power of God and the faithfulness of His true minister.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Elisha and the Shunammite Woman, Part II: Serving God's Children
2 Kings 4:32-35
When Elisha arrives at the Shunammite's home, the situation has not changed: The boy lies dead on the prophet's bed (II Kings 4:32). Even this fact is significant in that, though the boy is "with" the prophet and even has close contact with the prophet's possessions, it does him no good—he is still dead. How many Christians are in the church, hearing the truth every week, fellowshipping with God's people, yet remain asleep to their perilous spiritual condition?
Unlike Gehazi, Elisha throws himself into the work of reviving this child. First, he closes the door to his room, shutting everyone else out (verse 33). This kind of work is private, not public. Next, he invites God in through prayer. Elisha knows that he is only a vessel through whom God would work, so he immediately seeks the only true help for the situation. He understands that his relationship with God is the basis for any resuscitation of the boy.
These two points are appropriate spiritually as well. Awakening sleepy Christians is a private affair; it would be shameful and unloving to blare the individual church member's spiritual weakness to the world! What a horrible witness for God this would be! Paul excoriates the lawbreaking Romans: "For 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' as it is written" (Romans 2:24). It is far better for the church to reduce its public exposure during its revival until it can again represent God properly. Once God is satisfied with the church's spiritual state, He will open doors to proclaim the gospel publicly again.
It is also true that spiritual revival rests on the relationship between God and His true ministers, for the latter are the individuals through whom He works to effect the waking up of others. The preachers drive the revival! If the ministry is not close to God, they will not preach the truth, and revival will never make much headway. However, if the ministry's relationship with God is solid and growing, God will inspire them to preach His Word powerfully, and "those who have ears to hear" will listen and respond.
Notice the effort Elisha makes to heal this child. He stretches himself out on the child, eye to eye, mouth to mouth, hand to hand (II Kings 4:34), picturing total identification between the prophet and the child: They see eye to eye, speak mouth to mouth, act hand in hand. This is a metaphor for unity in understanding, teaching, and works. The ministry and the membership must be unified and work together to cause revival.
But this is still not enough. The flesh of the child warms up, but he is not yet truly alive, awake, and active. He hovers, coma-like, between death and life. Seeing this, Elisha gathers himself and plunges back into his work (verse 35). His walking "back and forth in the house" describes his efforts to restore his warmth after giving all of his to the child. Spiritually, this equates to the ministry preparing themselves for even more intensive work as they "try, try again" to effect revival. A true minister, through all the setbacks and discouragements, never gives up the fight to bring God's people "back to life."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Elisha and the Shunammite Woman, Part II: Serving God's Children
Human nature is enmity against God, and it rejects God's law (Romans 8:7). The result is continual warfare with God and between men. No one who breaks God's law as a way of life can have peace, at least not the kind of peace God gives. Jesus says in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you."
The world can produce a level of tranquility from time to time, but it is not the peace of God. When a person sins, it seems as though there is a feeling, a natural fear, that wells up. Even before the sin occurs, one invariably seeks to make sure no one else sees it happen. This does not display a mind at peace. Immediately following a sin, the fear of exposure arises, and the sinner begins justifying, at least to himself, why he has done such a thing. If caught, he justifies himself as Adam and Eve did before God.
In simple terms, God is showing us the consequences of breaking His laws. If one were at peace with God, he would have no need to hide himself. With a clear conscience, he need not lie, justifying and shifting the blame on to others. No one who breaks God's laws can have peace. However, one who loves God's law will not only keep the peace he already has but will add to it as its fruit and reward.
Psalm 119:165 promises another wonderful benefit: Nothing causes those who love God's law to stumble. "To stumble" indicates faltering along the path to the Kingdom of God or even to fall completely away from God. This provides great encouragement and assurance regarding security with God, meaning that we will not be turned aside by the difficulties along the way.
Instead of fear of exposure and a guilty conscience, we will be assured because God's Word says so, as I John 3:18-19 confirms: "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." What a confident life we can live by following God's way!
Another New Testament passage, I John 2:8-11, parallels the psalmist's thought:
Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Consider these verses in relation to the meal offering, representing the devoted keeping of the last six commandments. Hating a brother would be breaking those commandments in relation to him. It might involve murdering him, breaking the marriage bond through adultery, stealing from him, lying to or about him, or lusting after him or his possessions.
Verse 10 parallels Psalm 119:165 exactly when it says, "But he who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him." I John 5:3 defines love: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." The New Testament strongly affirms that loving one's brother is keeping God's commandments in relation to him, and this provides us strong assurance and stability along the way.
I John 2:11 then shows that the blindness of darkness envelops the eyes of one who hates his brother, that is, breaks God's commandments in relation to him. This blindness produces stumbling and fighting, and thus he has no peace.
It is particularly disturbing if the brother spoken of in these verses also happens to be one's spouse, father, or mother. Old people today stand a high chance of being shunted off into a convalescent or old-age home, if only for the convenience of the adult children. Is that honoring a parent, or is it in some way contemptuous? Are the children unwilling to make sacrifices even for those who brought them into the world? Will this course of action produce peace? Will it produce a sense of well-being in either party?
John says, "He who loves his brother abides in the light" (verse 10), implying that love produces its own illumination. Illumination is what enables a person to see in the dark. Light contrasts to the darkness, blindness, and ignorance of verse 11, which result in stumbling. Illumination indicates understanding and the ability to produce solutions to relationship problems. The difficult part is laying ourselves out in sacrifice to express love. If we fail to do this, we may never see solutions to our relationship problems.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
If we indeed allow God's light (John 8:12) to be placed within the lamp, us, and then do nothing with it, it is like hiding it in a secret place. This is true in our everyday experiences and within the church. This hiding of God's light is another form of spiritual myopia, and perhaps surprisingly, it concerns our relationships with and how we view others. If we become shortsighted in our relations with other people—seeing only what we want to see and not all that we should see—we can become judgmental and critical or patronizing and denigrating to others. In effect, we become the standard, the barometer, that only we know and by which we judge all others.
A common problem with the church today is this lack of light and focus on truly godly issues rather than trivial ones. Seeing only one's personal point of view has caused a general blindness within the church, spawning many of the current issues and problems. Too many members can focus only on their ideas and viewpoints, lacking the insight to see beyond the comfort of their own secret places. Even when the points such people espouse are true, their demeanor toward their brethren is often hostile and their efforts to overcome are lackluster or not based on godly principles.
We can also see elements of spiritual myopia in the independent mindset that many within the church embrace today. Looking exclusively inward, some see themselves as the only viable holders and/or purveyors of God's truth. Though they may attend with a larger group, they see themselves as independent thinkers or needing only themselves and God. Some have taken this independent spirit to the extreme of forsaking others in service and church attendance (Hebrews 10:25). They can even become quite comfortable in their own shortsighted way, wanting little or no interaction with any others who might not see things exactly as they do.
One interesting facet of Luke 11:33-36 is that Jesus alludes to the fact that not everything is distinctly black or white. Verse 35 implies that there are varying degrees of light: "Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness." All light we see is not at the same level of brightness, so some may see part of the truth but not its fullness. It can also suggest that each person may be "in the dark" on any given matter at any point in their relationship with God and others, while being "in the light" on other matters. Similarly, this can illustrate our relative levels of conversion as well.
Since we know that the true light comes only from God, any variance in intensity must come from how we see or not see something. While verse 34 treats the extremes of how we view things, whether optimistically or pessimistically, many of God's people are somewhere in the middle, like the Laodiceans "neither cold nor hot" (Revelation 3:15). Christ's wish is that we are one or the other!
Of course, the most obvious lesson of these verses is that we should desire Christ's light as our light, seeing and doing things as He would. When we fail in this, Satan's influence and dark ways can become our ways over time. We can totally lose the proper vision and allow his deceptions to blind us. We are all part way down this path; we all have our spiritual blind spots, seeing life and the church through unfocused eyes. Unfortunately, too many of us are not using the aids that would remedy our myopia and put us back on track.
It is God's Holy Spirit by which we are made alive and birthed from our spiritual deadness in sin. God the Father opens a person's mind by His Spirit, giving the newly called individual insight into and understanding of His Word and an awareness and appreciation of God and His purpose, the importance of Jesus Christ, and a sense of guilt regarding sin to a degree he never had before. God's Holy Spirit cleanses us from the effects of our dreadful past.
Paul writes of the unconverted in Ephesians 4:18, "Having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." That ignorance and blindness begins to be lifted by means of the new birth through God's miraculous infusion of His Holy Spirit, not by the waters of baptism.
This new creation follows the same pattern as shown in Genesis 1:2-3: "The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light', and there was light.'" In the new creation, the spiritual creation, the sinner is perceived by God as dead and in spiritual darkness, then God sends forth His Spirit to draw the sinner to Christ and into spiritual life and light (John 1:4; 6:44; 8:12), making the sinner His child. It is God, by means of His Holy Spirit, who produces the new birth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)
2 Corinthians 3:12-16
The veil Paul speaks of is the carnality of a deceived mind formed and shaped in the world's Satan-manipulated cultures. It is so antagonistic to the true God and His Word (Romans 8:7) that it fights the very approach of God to heal them through a great, freely given gift, just as the first-century Jews opposed and rejected Christ.
However, be aware that the miraculous removal of this veil of blindness by God, through the wonderful gifts of His Spirit and of a great hope, also places an obligation on us. With the blindness gone, we are granted the ability to choose between God's way and the world's way for the first time in our lives. Choosing to submit to God provides our witness of God, as well as being the means of building the character God greatly desires to create within us.
However, the effects of the self-centered way of life we have absorbed through the course of this world remain in our attitudes and characters, becoming what must be overcome. It will dog us all our converted lives as a means of testing our determination to be in God's Kingdom, as well as our love and loyalty to our God and Savior.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)
Jude continues the nautical theme begun in verse 12 by calling the false ministers "raging waves of the sea." He describes them as storms in the church, causing trouble and turbulence wherever they go. James describes the doubting person in a similar way (James 1:6-8), as wind-tossed waves, double-minded, and unstable in everything. Such people will end up causing problems. Such waves toss people into hidden rocks, or as his brother Jude puts it, hidden reefs. Naive members can become caught in the turbulence and eventually be turned from the truth.
He then describes them as "foaming up their own shame." It is quite a picturesque phrase. He alludes to the foam on the beach after a storm. The strand is littered with all kinds of driftwood and other debris a storm can dredge up. They brag about their past feats as great accomplishments, but a godly eye sees them for what they are: shameful deeds.
He also calls them "wandering stars," another nautical allusion, this time to the movement of the planets. Mariners used the fixed stars - not the planets - to guide their ships over the trackless sea. They would align themselves toward a certain star to reach their destination. These teachers are supposed to be leaders, guides for those who are not as experienced on the road of life, but as we would say, they are all over the map! They go here and there, this way and that. It is the blind leading the blind, and anyone following them will fall into a ditch (Matthew 15:14). They are unreliable guides. They give horrible advice. They are not worth even talking to about one's problems because they will lead a person astray.
Jude foretells their fate at the end of the verse: "for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." The literal translation of this is really dark: "Their fate is the utter darkness of darkness for eternity." Lights out forever! James 3:1 says that those who are teachers will receive the stricter judgment, and this is an example of it: the utter darkness of darkness forever. God takes the deception of His people personally.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
How close this is in principle to what the Pharisee says in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14)! Oblivious to his spiritual poverty, the Pharisee chooses to compare himself to humans he can see rather than the holy God to whom he supposedly prays in faith. Notice also his conceit in listing his wonderful works of tithing and fasting!
Though the Laodicean is indifferent, lackadaisical, and inconsistent in his devotion to God, his ignorance of his spiritual condition reveals a fundamental flaw that undergirds his lukewarm condition and paralyzes his spiritual life. The Laodicean says he is rich, but Christ's revelation shatters that delusion. He completely misreads his spiritual condition! He thinks he is already complete, thus he is indifferent to growing and changing. So great is his conceit that it blinds him into saying he needs nothing!
This self-deception results in inconsistency in prayer and Bible Study and nonchalance in overcoming. Why do those exercises when he has no need? His relationship to Jesus Christ is distant and insipid. Would we want to be married to a person who could take us or leave us depending upon his momentary mood? No wonder Christ reacts so severely! The Laodicean's self-perceived "wealth" is a barrier to any meaningful relationship with Him (Proverbs 18:11).
A Laodicean is poor—really and truly poor—yet all the while thinking himself to be rich. He is unwilling to jettison anything, let alone everything in a whole-hearted search for God. Undoubtedly, he has knowledge about God and thinks this is the true religion, but it is plain that he does not know God. If he did, he would not be so blind to his poverty because he could compare himself to God's holiness, and his shortcomings would be exposed. He is intelligent, but he mistakes his intelligence for true wisdom. Christ may even have given him gifts for ministering to the church in some way, but he mistakenly judges them as grace toward salvation. He is blind yet has the light of God's truth in him—remember, this is written to converted people—but the light is turning to darkness. How great that darkness must be!
To be wretched describes life when everything one owns has been destroyed or plundered by war. Here it describes the Laodicean's spiritual destitution and pitiableness before God. He is being devastated in the spiritual war against Satan, even though to all outward appearances he may look well-clothed, well-fed, and vigorous in carrying out his daily, secular responsibilities.
How careful Christians must be in this time when the world and Satan are pressing their distractions upon us as never before! We cannot allow ourselves to be deluded into negligently or carelessly cheating ourselves out of so great salvation (Hebrews 2:1-3).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Two: Poor in Spirit
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