THE FAMILY OF ADAM AND EVE
REMEMBER LOT'S WIFE
ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA
THE FAMILY OF REBEKAH
JOCHEBED AND AMRAM
PHILIP THE EVANGELIST'S FAMILY
I thought childhood, youth, marriage, bringing up children, old age and death was all the circle of life. I never knew that God had a plan for everyone’s life—a plan for which He created every human being.
I was a pastor’s daughter. My parents were godly people. I learnt the fear of God from them. Yet I did not know the Lord myself. It was after marriage that I knew the Lord. Although I had in all earnestness made decisions twice in the meetings of two renowned preachers, yet the regenerating light and flame of the Lord had not been kindled in me. My husband had been converted during his high school days, at the age of sixteen. Since then, he exercised himself in prayer, searching of the Scriptures and obedience, to know the Lord better. He served the Lord as well as he was able, during his high school and college days, and later as a teacher. Through the sermons he preached and his careful walk with God during his college years, many young people had come to the Lord. Among them was a young woman who met the Lord and consecrated her life to His service. Her name was Miss Jemayamma. She was being used mightily of God. Mission institutions would invite her to conduct meetings for school children. The girls used to be so convicted by her message that they would confess their sins and bring stolen things and heap them up in piles. Their lives were changed.
In 1929, when we had been married two years, the Canadian Baptist Mission, where I served as a teacher, invited this lady to hold meetings for the teachers of this school and for the Bible women. My husband threw open our home for her stay during these meetings. I was at first too busy with my teaching, taking care of my baby son and running the home, but on the persuasion of a colleague, I made time to attend a meeting. I had been considered a good Christian in my church and school. But when I attended that day’s meeting, it dawned on me that I did not really know the Lord. I was so stirred in my heart that I took to prayer until the Lord gave me a new heart.
Miss Jemayamma’s life was a great inspiration and challenge to me. She remained single to serve God. When I saw her spending hours in prayer and in communion with the Lord, I found I could not do that. My family and school responsibilities claimed so much of my time. I felt I had made a very great mistake in marrying. I thought I should have remained single like her to serve the Lord. This regret bothered me so much that I took it to the Lord. He spoke to me and said, "Build a home for me." My mind came to rest in His words. I did not then understand the full implication of those words.
At this point in time, my eldest son was just a year old. I had three children after that. Together with my husband I tried to walk with the Lord. We made this the first goal of our life. As years went by, we wanted all four children to serve the Lord. We took it very seriously and made it a matter of earnest prayer. God gave us a promise saying He would save our children; "…I will save thy children" (Isaiah 49:25). We continued to pray for the fulfillment of this promise, and God saved our children—the eldest at the age of fifteen, the next at the age of thirteen, and the last two at the age of ten. The Lord gave us other promises also for the children. "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children" (Isaiah 54:13)
As time went by, Satan tried to take hold of each of my children by attacking them in many different ways, but we called on the Lord and according to His promise, He contended them that contended with us and delivered our children. The Lord gave another precious promise for our children from Isaiah 59:21—"As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever." The Lord did call all the four into His service. He gave them partners who were also keen on serving the Lord. Now all four of them, with their partners, are serving Him.
The Lord not only asked me to build a home for Him, He also enabled me to do so. Only now I understand the wisdom behind those words. I see the great significance of a family testimony. These days when families are breaking up so easily all over the world, a family testimony is proving to be a comfort and an inspiration to many. Several young couples are choosing this goal of building a home for Christ. Some are seeing success. I am happy to say that this precious victory is possible, and is God’s plan for every family.
I continue of course to watch and pray incessantly for a further extension of the promises God gave us, to encompass my grandchildren as well. "And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation" (Luke 1:50)
‘Every wise woman buildeth her home; but the foolish plucketh it down with her own hands.’ Proverb 14:1
" The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Proverbs 9:10
‘Christ is the wisdom of God.’ 1 Corinthians 1:24
God is engaged in building the homes of those who belong to Christ. "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it" (Psalm 127:1) ‘The pure in heart shall see God’ (Matthew 5:8). A woman who has Christ as the Lord of her heart will build her family by prayer and faith. She has to, however, first build herself into a holy temple of God where He may dwell. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16).
It is by no means an easy task to build a home acceptable to God where Christ can abide. To be able to do so is the foremost of all achievements on this earth. We have therefore three things to build during our lifetime:
1. Our lives in Christ,
2. A holy home to be the abode of Christ,
3. And the Kingdom of God on this earth.
God created Adam and Eve with a great purpose. He visited them constantly, unravelling His purpose as they could bear it. He instructed them as to what they should eat and what they should not. He told them that they were to have dominion over all the works of His hands. He was thus building their lives in Him. He was training them to enter into His great plans, but before their knowledge and training was complete, Eve hearkened to the voice of Satan. She was deceived by the serpent’s words. She communicated Satan’s advice to Adam.
Eve who was created to be a help meet for Adam, should have been sharing with him the words of God. But she carried to him the counsel of Satan! She ate the forbidden fruit and deliberately gave it to Adam persuading him to do the same. When God questioned them about their transgression, they should have humbly acknowledged their sin and asked for forgiveness. But they had not learnt to humble themselves. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. This was the first failure in their lives and it was a serious one. They had gone directly against the instructions of God.
Adam and Eve built their home after having disobeyed God. In process of time, they had two sons, Cain and Abel. These two were growing up. Cain was a tiller of the ground and Abel, a keeper of sheep. This family appeared to be doing well, but suddenly the collapse came. It was all in the matter of making an offering to God. Cain was moved by envy when he saw that God had respect unto his brother’s offering, while his own was rejected, and rose up against his own brother and slew him. Anger, envy and murder ravaged the first home. Cain the first-born who should have received the blessing of God, received a curse instead! It is the plan of God that the first-born should specially belong to Him, to build the Kingdom of God and be a blessing and example to the rest of the children. But Cain became a vagabond and a fugitive. The parents lost both sons at the same time. Death and sorrow entered the family. The home that Eve built was thus ruined. This was the second failure in their lives. Neither the parents nor the children could build the Kingdom of God. This family was not a blessing to anyone! It is an example of disobedience, to this day. This was the third failure in their lives.
We meet this family with two daughters engaged to be married. This home appeared to be prosperous in Sodom and Gomorrah. All seemed to be going well with them. They did not seem to lack anything. Instead of loving God with all their heart, Lot’s wife set her affection on the things of this world. She did not learn to obey the commandments of God. She did not train herself that way, neither did she teach her children to obey God. Deuteronomy 6:7 says, "And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Lot and his wife sought sons-in-law among the young men of Sodom who had no fear of God. When the time of the visitation of the angels came they found this home totally unprepared. The angels brought the warning of God, "Flee, the judgment of God is imminent." Obedience to the Word of God was quite new to Lot’s wife and her offspring. Lot had learnt a degree of obedience from Abraham, but he did not teach this obedience to his wife and children.
Lot sought out his sons-in-law to rescue them from the impending doom. They thought it was quite a joke. Lot had to give them up and to return to his house. He would at least try to rescue his wife and daughters. But the heart and life of the mother was bound up in the goods and possessions in her house in Sodom. The angels had to take hold of her and her daughters and pull them out to the city gate, for Abraham’s sake. God’s time of judgment was very close at hand. They breathed the warning, "Flee, and don’t look back." But Lot’s wife had left her heart behind. Even angels could not separate her heart from the love of the world. She turned back for one last look, and perished. She was not a spiritual companion to Lot. She became a pillar of salt, and left her daughters motherless. Her home was ruined beyond repair!
Lot was not at that spiritual level where he could lift his wife, as Abraham did. He had not trained himself to do the perfect will of God. He was content to live in the permissive will of God. Asking God to adjust to his way was the manner of Lot. He could not help his own daughters spiritually. They became incestuous girls. Lot did not have the joy of a happy home with his daughters in his old age. Neither the parents nor the children built the Kingdom of God. The family of Lot was a failure altogether in all the three main duties of life.
Here was a couple who had an opportunity to make their life a great success. They were given the privilege of seeing a group of disciples in live touch with God. These disciples had followed Jesus during His years of ministry on earth. They saw in Him the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. They had been taught of Him. They had learnt prayer. They had learnt the principle of oneness in prayer, and when they prayed as a group, they were of one mind and one soul. They so enjoyed the presence of God in their midst, that they continued ‘daily with one accord in prayer and supplication.’ Many signs and wonders were freely performed in their midst. They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread. Jesus had delivered them from the love of the world, so that no one considered their goods as their own. They sold their possessions and distributed to others as every man had need. They were filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
This company of disciples appeared very attractive to Ananias and Sapphira. So they decided to join them. They thought it was a very easy matter. They had no foundation for a spiritual life. They had not yet brought unto God the basic offering of a broken and a contrite spirit. They had no deliverance from the love of the world. They tried to imitate the disciples in selling their property. No one asked it of them. In fact that was not the place to begin. They worked out a plan to deceive Peter by appearing to have won a great victory in giving, which in fact was far from the truth. They had faith in money, lies and deceit. They could have told Peter that they had sold their property and were able to offer only a part. But, alas, they wanted Peter to believe that what they had brought was the full price of the entire property. Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, immediately discerned the falsehood. Peter asked, "Is this all the money?" Ananias affirmed it was so! "Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?" said Peter. Ananias fell down dead! Three hours later, Sapphira came with the same story. She shared the same judgment as her husband. Thus this family was destroyed. Had they been humble and earnest to learn the faith of the disciples, God would have taught them step by step, and brought them into oneness with His people, but alas, they resorted to imitation and pretension. Tragically, with subtlety and deliberate deceit in their hearts, they could not build the Kingdom of God.
Rebekah was selected for Isaac through revelation. In answer to the prayers of Abraham and Sarah, God helped Eliezer, Abraham’s trusted servant to find Rebekah. By faith Rebekah undertook the long and hazardous journey to the land where Abraham and Isaac lived.
Being thus brought together by the clear guidance of God, this family was thus built according to the will of God. There was love between husband and wife, and it was a happy home for some time. Rebekah did not have children. Isaac prayed for her and the Lord heard his prayer and opened Rebekah’s womb. Through the blessing of God, Rebekah was expecting twins. She learnt from her husband how to pray to God. She feared some abnormality in her condition and went to enquire of the Lord as to what was going to happen. She received this answer from the Lord, ‘Two nations are in your womb. One people shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’ Two sons, Esau and Jacob, were born according to the Word of the Lord.
The parents found the two boys to be naturally of two different temperaments. In his youth, Esau was not easy to be brought into the order and discipline of a spiritual home. He was a lover of sport, and mingled without restraint with the youth of the heathen around them. He determined to marry from among those people from whom Abraham had refused to take a bride for his son. Esau was so far away now from the way of faith that he married two wives, the daughters of Heth. The peace of the home was disturbed with the coming of the wives of Esau. They would not fit into Isaac’s home of faith. The daughters-in-law wearied the life their mother-in-law because they had no fear of God.
We do not know when exactly Rebekah backslid and lost her touch with God. As a mother she should have loved both sons equally, but she loved Jacob more. She did not have the faith to wait for the fulfilment of the Word God had spoken to her before the birth of her children. God had told her that the younger would be above the elder. But she trusted in her own deceitful methods to get the blessing for Jacob. She taught her son deceit and agreed to take the consequences on herself. But both mother and son shared the consequences! This was a grievous failure in her spiritual life. She did not maintain a close touch with God to the end of her days. The lesson of deceit which Jacob learnt from his mother stuck to him, and he practiced it for a long time in his life. Most of his sons inherited this deceit from Jacob.
After Jacob spoke lies to his father and impersonated Esau for the blessing, he incurred the bitter hatred of his brother. Nothing would pacify Esau. Jacob had to flee from home, to escape Esau’s sword! There was no joy in the home at this time. Instead of being a help to her husband in maintaining peace in the home, Rebekah was the cause of breaking it up! She was not a proper spiritual companion to him during this period of their lives. We do not know when Rebekah’s life ended, but we do know that Isaac lived on. He probably continued to pray for his sons. Twenty years later, God visited Jacob and passed on to him the blessing of Abraham. Subsequently the two brothers were reunited. They embraced each other in love. When Isaac finished his days earth, the two brothers came and buried their father.
Since Esau would not repent we cannot say that Isaac’s whole family built the Kingdom of God. Isaac and Jacob built the Kingdom of God and inherited the promises of God to Abraham.
"And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." Genesis 5:22,24
Enoch and Elijah were the only two men, the Bible records, who were translated to heaven without seeing death. Elijah walked close to God as a bachelor. Enoch did the same as a married man, with a wife and children. This is by no means a small achievement. Though Enoch’s wife is not mentioned in the Bible, she would have been there behind the scenes, making it possible for Enoch to maintain a close, uninterrupted walk with God in the married state. Their son Methuselah, whom they brought up, was blessed with the longest life recorded in the Bible, 969 years. Enoch’s faith was handed down to the third generation, even to his grandson Noah.
We do not have many details of Enoch’s life, but we do have Noah’s life clearly described. From Noah’s life we get an idea of the type of faith that Enoch should have had. True faith passes on to many generations. "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children" (Psalm 103:17).
"Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God." Genesis 6:9
Noah lived at a time when all flesh had corrupted itself before God. The earth was filled with violence. God saw that judgment had to come. He needed a man to warn the people and provide them a way of escape. Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord. He had subjected himself to the discipline of obeying the Word of God. He was married, and had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. He had the responsibility of bringing up these three sons in the fear of the Lord. He looked to God, and God gave him grace for this. Boys normally have to go out of the house constantly and move with others. Thus so many influences come to bear upon them. The world around was so wicked at that time, that every influence outside Noah’s home was only evil. But Noah was bent on pleasing God. His wife was no hindrance to him. I believe she should have been a positive help because if one partner pulls the wrong way, it is difficult to gain all the children. Noah and his wife succeeded with all the three sons in drawing them into the righteous ways of the Lord. All three were one with them in fearing God and obeying Him.
There came a time when three daughters-in-law were needed who would fit into this family and into God’s great plan. Surely Noah and his wife were greatly exercised about this vital step in their sons’ lives and prayed much to God. He did provide three such maidens. To human reasoning it would have sounded impossible to find girls with the fear of God in that generation, but God did provide for Noah’s family.
Noah had the responsibility of building the Kingdom of God. God could speak to Noah and give him instructions as to how exactly he was to serve his generation. Noah was to build an ark that would rise above the waters when the flood of judgment covered the earth. God gave specific instructions as to the dimensions of the ark and Noah executed the instructions perfectly. It was not an easy job because the ark took 120 years to be completed! It was a warning to the people of that time of the wrath to come and an exhortation to repent and escape the coming judgment. All his work on the ark was a preaching to the people. Thus Noah preached faithfully for 120 years.
He put all his labour in this work of God, and during this long period, he kept his sons in oneness with him. The daughters-in-law were also trained to obey God. "By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet…prepared an ark to the saving of his house" (Hebrews 11:7). Before the rain started, the ark was complete and ready for boarding. Thus Noah fulfilled God’s expectation perfectly, with respect to time as well. "In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark." No other man or woman entered the ark to save themselves. They failed to heed the warning of Noah. From this we understand what a hard generation Noah preached to. But animals and birds obeyed! Noah peopled the ark with these creatures exactly as God had instructed him. God spoke to Noah and to his sons saying, ‘I will establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you.’ Thus Noah, with his whole family, built the Kingdom of God.
When God said to Abraham, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I shall show thee," Abraham took Sarah, his wife, and departed as the Lord had spoken. Abraham obeyed God and Sarah obeyed Abraham. "Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord…" (1 Peter 3:6). The building of his family commenced with obedience to God.
It was no ordinary family Sarah had to build. God had said that through this family all the families of the earth would be blessed. To build such a home both parents needed to be growing in the Lord together, but in the beginning Sarah lagged behind Abraham in faith. We do not hear the Word of God coming to her as it did to Abraham.
Sarah had a problem to face in her life. She was barren. Since she herself did not receive promises from God, she could not overcome this problem by faith. She did not have the faith to expect the fulfilment of the promises that Abraham had received. She gave Abraham advice out of her own mind. "Take Hagar for a wife", she said. This counsel was not of God. Sarah was in a hurry to see a baby in the home. But she was only inviting trouble into the family unawares. Hagar was a servant woman. She hailed from the heathen land of Egypt. She had an Egyptian mentality. As soon as she knew she was going to have a child she became proud and despised her mistress, Sarah. The peace within the family was disturbed. Sarah blamed Abraham for this situation, though it was really her own fault. Sarah had to suffer much unpleasantness with Hagar. Hagar brought forth a son with a wild ass’s spirit. The mother and son lived in Abraham’s home for thirteen long years. Sarah had to endure this trouble. Sarah did not remain long in this state of inadequate faith. In her trouble she grew in faith. When Abraham received a new name from the Lord, who said to him, ‘Your name shall be no more Abram but your name shall be Abraham’ (Genesis 17:5), she also obtained a new name, Sarah. Her home was not fit for the visitation of angels. She did her part along with Abraham to entertain them. The angels chose to dine under a tree and she stood behind Abraham in the tent door. She wanted to catch the words God would speak. She did catch those words. Those words referred to her: ‘I will certainly return unto you according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah your wife shall have a son’ (Gen. 18:10). "Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised" (Hebrews 11:11)
According to God’s Word, Isaac was born. With the coming of Isaac, Ishmael could not give up the place of preeminence he had enjoyed until then. At this time Sarah gave counsel to Abraham to send away Hagar and her son. God said Sarah’s counsel was correct.
Sarah built a home where Isaac could grow to fulfil the purposes of God. She had now become a spiritual companion to Abraham. The parents were obedient to God and Isaac was brought up to obey his parents. In his youth he was willing to lay himself down on the altar of God to be offered up as a burnt offering unto the Lord, because God had asked this of his father. What a remarkable young man Abraham and Sarah brought up! As he lay on the altar he heard God speaking, accepting his offering and pronouncing the blessing also upon him.
Isaac learnt prayer from his parents. He learnt to go alone to pray in the days of his youth. At the age of forty, he looked to God to provide him a bride. On the eve of his wedding he was out alone "…to meditate in the field at the eventide…" (Genesis 24:63)
Sarah and Abraham were rich people with many servants and much cattle. But they did not set their affection on these things. When Abraham had to separate himself from Lot, he did not hasten to choose for himself the most well-watered lands. Abraham gave Lot the first choice. He seemed to feel that even a dry land could become fertile if God chose to bless it.
Abraham’s faith was a practical faith. He had trained three hundred and eighteen of his servants for battle. He had armour provided for them. When he received word that his nephew Lot was taken captive, he set out to rescue him. He employed good strategy and overnight overthrew a confederacy of four kings who had completely overpowered the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah together with three other kings. He brought back all the goods of Sodom, his nephew Lot and his goods, and the women also and the people. When the king of Sodom asked him to take the goods to himself, Abraham did not care for those treasures. He had a higher treasure—faith, and this he would preserve. "I have lift up my hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abraham rich" (Genesis 14:22-23). But Abraham had been taught of God to give his tithes to Him and this he hastened to do. Abraham was rich in the knowledge of God. Neither was Sarah attracted by material things. She did not pull Abraham towards the world. She grew in faith in spite of the big household she had to manage.
Abraham and Sarah passed on their freedom from the love of the world to their son, Isaac. When Isaac had to live his own life, his servants went and dug wells. Enemies would come along and claim those wells. Isaac would not strive for these possessions, but would move on and dig other wells.
Abraham’s household kept the way of the Lord. Abraham passed on his faith even to the steward of his house, Eliezer. Eliezer was a man of prayer. He had learnt how to receive guidance from God. Abraham saw that he could be entrusted with the great responsibility of finding a bride for Isaac according to the will of God. Eliezer made even the camels to kneel when he prayed to God (Genesis 24:11). The blessing of Abraham’s obedience to God was in the whole house. It was an obedient household. The parents grew in faith to the high standards of God’s expectation. All the three members of this family are mentioned among the heroes of faith in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews! Every member of this family played a part in building a testimony that faith is the Victory. Their testimony has helped to build the Kingdom of God in every age.
"And the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi… and she bare unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister." Numbers 26:59
This was a family of Levites. They lived at a time of bitter bondage under Pharaoh’s rule. Under these oppressive circumstances, when the faith of the Israelites was breaking down on every side, Amram and Jochebed helped to preserve their faith. They had eyes of faith to see that God had a special purpose for Moses and he should not be given over to death. They exercised faith to preserve their baby son. Their eldest daughter Miriam was obedient to the parents, in faithfully watching over her baby brother Moses, as he lay in the basket of bulrushes, in the brink of the waters of the river Nile. Miriam pulled together with them in their efforts of faith. At the time of God’s deliverance of Israel from the land of Egypt, God needed leaders for the people. God chose three leaders from this family. He found all the three children had faith and could be used of Him.
This family produced Moses the servant of God whose early years showed remarkable faith. He grew up in Pharaoh’s palace in an atmosphere of ungodliness. He studied with the youth of the court and was well versed in all the arts of Egypt. But he preserved his faith. The sense of values which directed his choices indicate a very high level of faith. "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches, than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward" (Hebrews 11:24-26). The vanities and pleasures of the palace meant nothing to him. His yearnings were for the people of God that they may be free and he cast his lot with them in their lowly despised state. He was a man of whom God testified that he was very meek above all the men that were upon the face of the earth. God also added that His servant Moses was faithful in all His house. He could therefore speak to him very clearly, mouth to mouth, and let him behold the similitude of the Lord. It is written of him that there was never a prophet in Israel like him whom the Lord knew face to face, and he demonstrated fearlessly the power and terror of the Lord to their captors in Egypt.
Aaron was given the part of being a partner with Moses during the struggle with Pharaoh in Egypt. He shared the travail of Moses for the deliverance of Israel from their bondage to Pharaoh. Later he was chosen to be the high priest in Israel. Priesthood was bestowed upon him and his sons for ever.
Miriam was a prophetess. She was a leader in song. She could compose songs of praise to God and lead the women in song and dance, to celebrate the victory of God.
This was no small achievement of Jochebed and Amram. They built a home in Egypt where three children could be brought up to be prophets unto God. "…and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam" (Micah 6:4). Through faith these parents built their home for God. All their three children signally built the Kingdom of God.
Hannah lived in a family of unusual circumstances. Her husband Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. Naturally Hannah was painfully conscious of this disparity and her disability. Peninnah made it a point to rub this into her. Hannah was often cast down and depressed. Her husband was a godly man who took the whole family to Shiloh regularly for the yearly sacrifice. After the sacrifice, every member of the family would be given a part of it. It was at such times that she felt her reproach most keenly, and Peninnah’s provocation was like driving a knife into her wound. At first Hannah was just a natural woman, who in times of distress would seek relief in tears. On those occasions when she felt low she would not eat. Her husband loved her and tried to comfort her as best as he could. "…am not I better to thee than ten sons?" he would say. But these words uttered in all sincerity were not adequate to alleviate the grief in her heart. But Hannah never gave up on God. She continued her yearly journey with the family to Shiloh to sacrifice unto the God of Israel.
During one such crisis in the temple, Hannah poured out her heart before God in prayer. She prayed till she got an answer from God. In her prayer her desire and God’s desire coincided. She wanted a son and God was looking for a boy whom he could train as a prophet to Israel in His temple. In her prayer her mind met the mind of God. If God gave her a son, she vowed to give him back to God. God gave her His answer through Eli, the priest. Hannah was at last comforted. God’s answer had made her glad. She did eat, and her countenance was no more sad. She worshipped with the family with a free heart and returned home. When the child Samuel was born, she continued to develop the gift of prayer she received before his birth. We do not know how much she prayed for him, but after he was weaned, when still of tender age, she took him and left him in the temple principally in the hands of God, and under the charge of Eli, the priest. A prayer of triumph poured out of her lips, and it is recorded for us in the Scriptures, to edify all generations. Hannah prayed in the Spirit. She had caught a clear glimpse of God. Her prayer showed a deep understanding of God and His ways. It is both a song and a sermon to all.
The temple was in a very sad, spiritual state at that time. The sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas were leading the people into gross sin. Hannah left her son in that very temple in the Hands of God. In was an act of great faith, indeed. She would have continued creating a hedge of prayer around him, I believe. Samuel ministered before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. The child Samuel grew before the Lord, and was in favour both with God and men. God indeed took charge of this little one whom the mother entrusted into His hands entirely.
In those dark days when the visitations of God were very rare, and people did not hear the voice of God, God visited Samuel. He heard the voice of God calling him by name. God revealed to him the coming judgment on the house of Eli and prepared the little boy for that dreadful day, so that his faith would not be shaken. Samuel inherited the spirit of prayer from his mother. Even as a child his words were prophetic. All Israel knew from Dan to Beersheba that Samuel was established to be a prophet unto the Lord. The blessing of listening to God speaking, which he received as a child, he never lost to the end of his days. His relationship with God was very intimate. God would whisper instructions into his ears, and would often speak to him. He was used of God to anoint kings and to replace king Saul when he disobeyed God. He would relay to Saul the judgment of God over his life and actions. He grew to be a great intercessor whose prayer was a shield to all Israel. "So the Philistines were subdued…and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel" (1 Sam. 7:13). He judged Israel all his life.
Hannah built her life in God and in effect she became a prophetess. She brought up her son to be available to God for His great purposes. Hannah’s life of prayer and her son Samuel’s faultless life before God are their great contributions to the Kingdom of God for all generations.
The New Testament commences with two very beautiful and ideal homes. Elisabeth and Zacharias were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of God blameless. They were a priest’s family and a praying couple.
Elisabeth was barren. They had long prayed for children and were waiting for an answer. The years rolled by, and they had long since passed the age of bearing children. All of a sudden, one day, an angel of the Lord met Zacharias in the temple as he was offering incense, the token of intercession for Israel. The angel brought him the astounding news that their prayers for a child had not gone in vain. They were indeed heard, and Elisabeth would have a son. They were to call his name John.
The prayers of those who diligently obey all the commandments of God can never go in vain. But now after the passage of so many years, Zacharias could hardly believe the message of the angel. His faith was not of that level as to believe this message at that time.
Elisabeth, however, seemed to have no difficulty in believing the message of the angel. When she had conceived and the child was in her womb, Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. Besides, her son, John, was filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb, according to the word of the angel. This was the plan of God which the angel Gabriel had revealed to Zacharias in the temple. Zacharias had further been told that the child should be kept away from wine and strong drink, for he was to be great in the sight of the Lord, and be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb. He would be an instrument of the Lord turning many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He would be the forerunner of the Messiah, preparing His path. His ministry would be in the spirit and power of Elijah, to make ready a people whom God had chosen to receive His Son.
The spiritual atmosphere in this family was very conducive to receive and strengthen Mary immediately after she had received the visitation of the angel. Elisabeth spoke many words in the Spirit as a salutation or warm greeting of welcome to Mary, as she stepped into her home. In reply to this, Mary uttered a prayer of prophetic praise to God. These words are recorded for us in Scripture and we read in them a great insight into God, His works, His ways, and His plan of salvation. Mary spent three months with this godly couple in this invigorating atmosphere of deep spiritual insights and prophetic foresight.
When John was born, the Spirit of God came upon Zacharias and he prophesied concerning Jesus and God’s visitation to Israel through Him. He saw that the promises of God to Abraham would be fulfilled in the son of Mary for whom John would prepare the way. He prophesied also of the type of ministry that John would be entrusted with. He would bring to many the knowledge of salvation by the preaching of repentance and the remission of sins. With a deep understanding of God’s plan and purpose they trained up their son. The child grew and waxed strong in spirit.
The parents, being old, would have soon departed this life, leaving John to stand on his own. John withdrew to the deserts to commune with God and to receive strength from Him for his ministry. He did not show himself to Israel until God’s time came. Like Elijah he found his sufficiency in God. He accustomed himself to the rough life in the wilderness. He subsisted on locusts and wild honey, which was all that was available there. As for his clothing it was the rough garment of camel’s skin. When the time came, he was ready to proclaim the message of God for those times. All Israel and Judah went all the way to the wilderness to hear him. It was a fiery message of exhortation to repent. He had a word for every class of people in society, showing them what repentance meant in practical terms. He did not fear or hesitate to condemn sin in the highest places, at the risk of his own life. Jesus said of him that of those born of women there was none greater than John the Baptist. He was a burning and shining light. John was a very humble man. When people were wondering if he were the Messiah, he gave them no such room for such a thought. He was not worthy to unloose the latchet of the Messiah’s shoes, he declared. He very modestly expressed his unworthiness to baptize Jesus when He came to him. He was the one who identified and pointed out Jesus to Israel as ‘the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.’ God had for him the path of a martyr. He died preparing the way of the Lord. What a man the home of Elisabeth and Zacharias produced!
Elisabeth and Zacharias built their lives in obedience to God and His commandments. All the three members of the family were filled with the Holy Spirit. They did not adopt any strenuous means of psychic stimulation or repetitive intonations or physical efforts in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Their effort consisted only in seeking to walk blamelessly before God in all His commandments. And the infilling of the Holy Spirit spontaneously followed. All three of them fitted into the glorious purposes of God and built the Kingdom of God.
God gave Mary a very clear revelation of His plan for her, after her betrothal to Joseph. An angel appeared to her and told her that she as a virgin would bear a son whose name would be ‘Jesus’. He would be great, and be called the Son of the Highest. God would give unto Him the throne of His father David. He would reign over the house of Jacob for ever and of His kingdom there would be no end. Mary needed to be strengthened to believe this incredible message. So the angel told her that her cousin Elisabeth who was barren had conceived a son in her old age. The angel concluded his message by saying, ‘For with God nothing is impossible’ (Luke 1:37).
Unless Mary had been accustomed to the experience of listening to God and obeying God, such a high plan could not have been revealed to her. She also would not have agreed to this plan of God which was certainly not something which was easy. I believe that with the Word of God came faith. Even while the angel was speaking her faith grew further and she was enabled to accept the will of God. When God speaks, faith is imparted to us.
After this stupendous revelation, she went to fellowship with her cousin, Elisabeth’s family, whom the angel had referred to. God provided for Mary, the support and strengthening of a family which was walking blamelessly before God and had recently received a similar visitation from heaven. The plan of God for Elisabeth’s son was so closely connected with the plan of God for her own Son. These two women had fellowship with God on a very high spiritual level. The Holy Spirit gave them a clear understanding of the purposes of God and this created a great oneness between them. Mary stayed three months in Elisabeth’s home and was strengthened in faith.
Meanwhile Joseph was also given a clear revelation through an angel of what had happened to Mary. It was God’s doing in fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah, that a virgin would conceive and bring forth a Son. This great prophecy and the expectation of Israel and the promise of God to Abraham was to be fulfilled in their humble home. The angel revealed the name of this divine Child—‘Jesus’. It was the same name the angel had given to Mary. Thus the revelation of Joseph and the revelation of God to Mary were correlated, confirming on another. The meaning of the name ‘Jesus’ was also explained to Joseph: ‘He would deliver His people from their sins.’ The angel further told Him what manner of Son He would be; the people would call Him ‘Immanuel’ because in Him they would see God with them. As individuals, both Mary and Joseph had built their life in God, even before their marriage. The guidance of God was very clear to them. Only those who have accustomed themselves to obeying God can receive such guidances. The revelation of the will of God for their lives will be exceeding clear. The wise men and the shepherds further confirmed the revelation of God concerning the Child. Mary preserved theses sayings in her heart, and pondered over them. This is an indication of Mary’s spiritual life. She could hold on to the Word of God in her heart and meditate on it.
The next revelation came through Simeon. He recognized the Child and prophesied concerning Him. There was a word for Mary too. The Child’s life would lead up to a sword piercing through her soul one day (Luke 2:35). Anna the prophetess also recognized the Messiah in Mary’s Baby.
Joseph was a man who walked close to God. He knew the Scriptures and so the angel was able to quote the Scripture to him. He was a man of faith who did not walk by sight but according to what God spoke to him. He readily believed the message of the angel, and accepted Mary, and protected her like a faithful guardian until the Child was born. When Baby Jesus was in danger of being slain by Herod, God told him in a dream the thoughts and plans of that brutal king. God told him also where he was to take the Child. There are many levels of obedience. Joseph was a man who would obey God immediately. He rose up by night and took the young Child, and departed into Egypt and was there until God spoke to him again to move. After some time in Egypt, God told him that the king who had sought the Child’s life was dead. Then he retraced his steps. Step by step this family walked in the will of God. In such a home, Jesus whose words and works and life were in God’s perfect will, grew up.
Mary stood close by Jesus when He was hanging on the cross of shame and terrible suffering, enduring the sword as it passed through her soul. Mary was also among those who waited in prayer in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Ghost. Thus both parents walked with God and talked with God. Their home led very wonderfully to the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.
"And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him." Matthew 4:21-22
We do not know how many children grew up in this home but we do hear of two of them, James and John. These two young men were helping their father with their nets. Fishing was their family profession. Jesus called them and they left their nets and their father, and followed Him. Zebedee did not prevent them, but let them go, even though it meant working alone without the assistance of his two able sons.
Zebedee’s wife was one who worshipped Jesus. "Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him…" (Matthew 20:20). "And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James…and the mother of Zebedee’s children" (Matthew 27:55-56). She was later to be seen among the women who followed Jesus to His death. These women ventured as close as possible to the cross, and stood there beholding the Saviour till He died. It is no wonder that such a mother was willing to allow her two sons to follow Jesus forsaking every other thing. She had no worldly ambitions for her boys. The kingdom of God was very real to her. She was not merely satisfied in seeing her sons following Jesus. She wanted them to be faithful to the end and to be seen close to Jesus, in the Kingdom to come. "Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons…desiring a certain thing of him…Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom" (Matthew 20:20-21). She knew that Jesus had the power to give spiritual and heavenly blessings to her sons.
The prayers of mothers for spiritual blessings are always answered, provided they are untainted with worldly ambitions. Jesus admitted James and John into an intimate fellowship with Himself during His ministry on earth. On the mount of transfiguration along with Peter these brothers were there, beholding that profound and heavenly scene of Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-2). As they walked close to Jesus, they grew in faith, and when Jesus performed some of His specially mighty miracles like raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, He judged their faith equal to the occasion. He took them into the chamber where the girl lay dead, and along with Peter and the parents of the girl they beheld the ‘resurrection’ of this twelve-year-old girl (Mark 5:37). Even in that dark hour in Gethsemane, Jesus took James and John to be within earshot of His prayer and to witness His travail of soul. He tried to teach them to watch with Him in a special way, during that crisis (Mark 14:33)
Zebedee’s wife had so brought up her children that they were ready to follow Jesus when His call came, leaving everything. They were also taught the Scriptures in their home. Thus we see them in Luke 9:54 citing the action of Elijah from 2 Kings 1:10. They believed and expected that great things would be done by God as in the times of Elijah.
Their mother had put into them her own spiritual desires. They were eager and ready to drink the cup that Jesus drank and be baptized with His baptism if that would bring their mother’s desire to pass. They asked for that cup and baptism, even though they did not fully know what it meant. The mother’s request was not within Jesus’ power to grant, for places in heaven were fixed by the Father. But approaching Jesus with this request to sit on eitherside of Him in Heaven triggered off this other desire in them which was in Jesus’ power to grant-- to be fully identified with Him, even to drinking of His cup. Jesus did grant it to them. They laid down their lives as martyrs, when it came time to stand up for Jesus and to be counted. Zebedee and his wife brought up their sons to be humble. When Jesus rebuked James and John for their zeal to destroy men who did not receive Him, they received His rebuke without a word. He warned them that another spirit was operating in them. They took this stricture without a word, as those used to taking correction from Jesus. James and John were called ‘sons of thunder’ because of their fiery temper. But as they followed Jesus and learnt from Him, they were so transformed that James was the first disciple to lay down his life as a martyr for the Gospel, and John was called ‘the beloved disciple’ and he leaned on Jesus’ bosom while He was on earth. We see John at the cross when Jesus was dying. Jesus could so rely on John that He entrusted His precious mother to his care. From that hour John treated Mary as his own mother and took her into his own home (John 19:25-27). Thus Zebedee’s home was considered fit to receive Mary after the death Jesus. John took in the training that Jesus gave him so perfectly that he became an apostle of love and gave us a wonderful exposition of the love of God in his epistles. He grew on in spiritual stature to see the great vision which is recorded for us in the Book of Revelation.
Thus the Zebedees built their life in God. As a family they lived for God and for the extension of His Kingdom. Their sons are examples to young people for all time. This home fulfilled the high purposes of God.
"Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip…" Acts 6:3,5
Philip was among the seven men who were chosen to be in charge of the distribution to the necessities of widows in the early Church. In those days many sold their lands and houses, and brought the money and laid it down at the disciples’ feet for proper distribution. God said that the men chosen for this work should not only be of honest report, but be full of the Holy Ghost. Moreover it was required that they had to be full of the wisdom of God also, to distribute according to the need. Philip fully met these requirements and was chosen for this ministry.
Then we see Philip fulfilling yet another role. "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did…unclean spirits…came out of many…many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city…when they believed Philip preaching…the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women." (Acts 8:5-8,12). Philip was used of God to preach the Gospel with power. The kingdom of God came right into the midst of them in Samaria as he preached Christ to them. The people with one accord gave heed to his word. They saw the Gospel in action, bringing deliverance and healing to many that were suffering. The whole city experienced the thrill of the joy of the Kingdom of God. Here we see Philip being used of God as a powerful evangelist.
Philip was not only used mightily in preaching to the multitudes, but was also used of God effectively in leading individuals to God. He walked so close to God that the angel of God could speak to him and give him clear instructions about the direction and road he was to take to meet a soul in need.
Acts 8:26 says, "And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert." He was a man of quick obedience to the voice of God and he set off, forthwith even as the angel had bidden him. There he saw a chariot carrying a man of Ethiopia. He was a man of great authority under Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. He was in charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem to worship. What was Philip now to do? He received his next instruction from God clearly, ‘Go and join the chariot.’ God can clearly guide only those who walk with Him, to souls who are in need and in whom He is already working. Philip fixed his attention on the Ethiopian’s spiritual need. He was not attracted at all by the position of power occupied by the Ethiopian minister or the treasures of Ethiopia. This man was reading the Scriptures at Isaiah, chapter 53. Philip began at the same Scripture and preached Jesus unto him. He led the man to Christ, baptized him and then Philip was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord.
"…and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy" (Acts 21:8-9). Here we meet Philip in his family. He had four daughters. All of them prophesied. Only those who are free from the love of the world can be trusted with the gift of prophecy (preaching the Word of God and directing it exactly to the need of the people). Bringing up four daughters who are free from the love of the world, is no small achievement. Philip’s wife is not mentioned here in the narrative, but I think it is very difficult to bring up four daughters like this without a mother’s example. Further, Philip was an evangelist and would have been away from the home quite a bit. Satan makes a special target of the children of those who preach the Gospel. But God also extends special grace to them. He says, "…I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children" (Isaiah 49:25). If parents have no greater joy or desire than to see their children live to love and serve God, they will find their desires fulfilled. God will afford special protection and special privileges to such parents to train their children. "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children" (Isaiah 54:13). When parents serve the Lord faithfully, walking in all the light He has given them, He will teach their children and will not allow them to go their own way.
God also makes covenants with such parents concerning their children. "As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever" (Isaiah 59:21)
God undertakes to save and teach and put His Spirit on our children. Thus God builds the homes of those that build themselves in Him and build His Kingdom.