Over the years I have come to the conclusion that much of the Bible cannot simply be taken at face value. It is a library of books containing history, prophecy, mystery, romance, sometimes double meaning, perhaps even multiple levels of meaning – sometimes clear at other times unfathomable – rich in allegory and suggestion much of it is elusive to the logical mind. Certainly some of the things found in the Bible, in my experience, defy all our attempts to box and analyse them under the microscope of human reason – a real problem for those of us who like pat, clear answers. I have also discovered that we must, at some point in life, surrender to the unknowable, the uncertainty, the mystery – if we are ever to rest in the overwhelming passion of the Bible – the unsearchable love and unfathomable grace and wisdom of God.
A case in point. A few weeks ago I met Eliakim. I may have passed him on the street before – but had never been properly introduced! At the historical level he was a man who lived in the Middle East some 3000 years ago. The son of a man called Hilkiah, Eliakim was to rise and become the finance minister under King Hezekiah of Judah.
Eliakim is first introduced to us in a historical book – the book of Kings – he is clearly a historical figure – no argument there. But he is further introduced to us by Isaiah – the man often called “The Messianic Prophet”. Isaiah goes into some detail regarding the call, by God, of Eliakim, whose name means “Raised up by God” or “God will develop”. Eliakim’s father, as we have said was Hilkiah. Hilkiah means – “God is my portion”. Hold these in your mind for a moment.
Eliakim was about to replace a man called Shebnah. His name means “vigour” or “growth”. Although we do not know the full details of Shebnah’s fall from grace it is very clear that his primary motivation and vigour were directed towards self promotion and self aggrandisement. And, it was because of his arrogance and pride, that God stepped in to remove him from his position [Isa. 22:15-25].
Isaiah, the messianic prophet, surely sees in Eliakim a foreshadow of another who will be “Raised up by God” – one who will have the heart of The Father as his primary motivation. Announcing his judgement on Shebnah, God, speaking through the Messianic Prophet says this –
‘Then it shall be in that day,
That I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe
And strengthen him with your belt;
I will commit your responsibility into his hand.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
And to the house of Judah.
The key of the house of David
I will lay on his shoulder;
So he shall open, and no one shall shut;
And he shall shut, and no one shall open.
I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place,
And he will become a glorious throne to his father’s house.
Isaiah 22: 20 – 23
The story of Eliakim reveals to us the one thing valued by God above all others – especially so in leadership – to have the heart of The Father – whether that be of a nation, an organisation, a church or a family. And it is as he sees Eliakim – a man fathered and raised by one who saw God alone as his “portion” – that the seer sees the future day of The Perfect Man who could say –
“I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”
At the moment, I would suggest, we have touched on at least two levels in the story of Eliakim – the historical and the prophetic. But at yet another level God speaks to us in Eliakim today. At this moment in time the church, at least in our nation, is, to be blunt, in a mess. Christian people are confused, disheartened and many are in despair. Churches and denominations of all shades of opinion are struggling to come to terms with what some call a “post truth” world – one in which the tried and tested methods of generations no longer work. And this is true of new churches as well as traditional denominations. I personally am going through a raging storm in this regard. I shout in my despair with many others – “what is the answer?” We could analyse and discuss till the cows come home – but in reality I believe the core issue is very simple – we have lost our first priority and our first love! We desperately need to be those who will be – “A father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” [Isaiah 22]. Please take that statement at its deepest spiritual level – as I believe it is meant to understood.
You see it doesn’t matter if we have a modern expression of church – with all the latest songs, comforts and technology or a church so rooted in its heritage as to be considered orthodox in every way – if we have anything akin to the spirit of Shebnah we are lost! God will find another Eliakim to replace us – and he may be so unorthodox we might not even recognise him! The grave danger I see in many expressions of church today is that the time is near, perhaps it is even past for some, when we will hear God say, as he said to another church in history –
“I hold this against you, that you do not love as you did at first. Remember then how far you have fallen. Repent and live as you lived at first. Otherwise, if your heart remains unchanged, I shall come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
Everything we have and are is rooted in the love of The Father towards us. And it is that love we are charged to share with our world. When we loose that focus the time has come for repentance and a radical refocusing of all we do. It is a solemn warning indeed that to fail in this regard will result in a great loss both personally and corporately.