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PAST THE POINT OF NO RETURN

By Curtis Pugh

 Poteau, Oklahoma

            To no degree whatsoever does the Bible support the idea that either the United States or Christians have replaced Israel. The promises made to Israel cannot be claimed by others. Israel was God's national earthly people. Christians are a spiritual people. Israel was God's Old Testament visible kingdom. The Lord's congregations are the executive branch of the present unseen phase of Christ's kingdom. (Christ's congregations each also have Christ-given limited judicial power in addition to each one's executive power, but none have any legislative power since Christ is to be each church's Head and Lawgiver. Thus churches are to carry out those things prescribed in the Bible. They are to “judge them that are within,” (1 Corinthians 5:12), but have no power whatsoever to make laws and rules.) Israel was blessed with land and prosperity while Christians are blessed with “...all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” (Ephesians 1:3).

            While godly-living Israel was promised prosperity, often the children of God are like Gaius. This man Gaius was a godly-living follower of Christ to whom John wrote his third letter. But he was not prosperous. Old John in his letter to him commended his godliness and personally wished for him that he might prosper financially just as he was prospering spiritually, saying, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth,” (3 John 1:2). This verse does not teach that all godly-living people will prosper. In fact it proves the very opposite! John's personal wish was that Gaius prosper in the natural realm just as he was prospering in the spiritual realm. So then, it is possible for a Christian to be prospering spiritually while lacking much in the natural or financial realm. Paul experienced poverty at times for he wrote, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need,” (Philippians 4:11-12). Paul knew what it meant to “suffer need.” The Bible evidence is against the prosperity preachers of our day! Our point is that while American Christians in many instances have prospered, what Bible evidence do we have that this will continue? If the U.S. as a nation is indeed ripe for judgment, who says that the Christian citizens of this nation shall escape suffering? There is no guarantee of that and history is replete with examples of suffering saints.      

            While we want to be clear on the difference between the place in God's plan held by Israel and that of Christianity, God's dealings with Israel have been recorded for each us. Paul wrote of the Old Testament Scriptures in Romans 15:4 saying: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” The adage is this: “The New is in the Old contained and the Old is by the New explained.” Both the Old Testament and the New are for God's children today although the Old is not to them. In the above verse, Paul said the Old Testament was “for our learning” not to us. There is a difference in something being “for” a person and something being “to” them. We may learn much about our grandfather and his dealings by his last will and testament although it was “to” our parents and did not include us, his yet unborn grandchildren – if such an illustration is helpful.

            Three times the phrase “the hope of Israel” appears in our King James Bibles. In this article we want to examine the context of the first instance of this phrase. This preacher would think that the translators should have used a capital letter so that the phrase reads, “the Hope of Israel,” but they did not. Immediately when seeing this phrase we notice the definite article is used: “the” is used, not “a” as if there was more than one Hope for Israel. There is only one such Hope. Once a professed Brother asked this preacher if there was any hope of a future for Israel outside of Christ. Seldom is my mind quick enough to give good on-the-spot answers, but I believe God enabled me to answer him wisely and correctly. My words were, “There is no hope of a future for any man outside of Christ.” And so Israel shall be brought to recognize and worship Jesus as their Messiah through suffering the terrible tribulation prophesied. Peter, speaking of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, said, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12). This is true for both Jews and Gentiles! (To my Brothers and Sisters in Christ I would say, please do not think this preacher is becoming an imitator of the Jews, a Messianic Jew or anything like that because I used the word “Anointed” in the place of Messiah or Christ. The word transliterated “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word transliterated “Messiah” and both mean the “Anointed” or the “Anointed One” - the only Deliverer and Hope of men whether Jews or Gentiles, but specifically stated to be the Hope of Israel.)

            There are lessons for us in these three usages of the phrase “the hope of Israel,” but space forbids examining more than one here. The first usage of this phrase is found in Jeremiah 14:8 where it is written: “O the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night?” A traveler passing through a strange country cared little for the people or country he traversed. Come near-nightfall he might seek hospitality in a private dwelling or an inn. Or he might turn aside, go off the road and pitch his tent so as to have a place to lodge for the night. He was, after all, just passing through as he traveled to his intended destination. His interest lay in another place, not in the country he traversed.

            Jeremiah refers to Jehovah as both “the hope of Israel” and “the savior thereof” - that is of Israel. But he portrays God as disinterested in Israel. Just as Jesus in Matthew 6:47 made as if He would pass by His disciples in the little ship, so Jeremiah pictures God as not caring about Israel. We ask, why does the prophet present God to us in this way? The context, always of greatest importance, makes clear Jeremiah's portrayal: hear it: “Thus saith the LORD unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the LORD doth not accept them; he will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sins. Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence,” (Jeremiah 14:10-12). And so God, because of the unfaithfulness of Israel, is pictured as a wayfaring man, a stranger, a pilgrim just passing through taking no fatherly interest in Israel.

            Notice in this quotation first of all God speaks of the sins of Israel. Loving to wander from God and His law, they have not refrained to do whatever pleased them. Does not God's assessment of ancient Israel bring the U.S.A. immediately to mind? Is there not a definite parallel between what Israel had done and what is going on in the U.S. at this very moment? While we make no claim to the U.S. being God's people or His land, we are mindful that God spoke specifically of the Gentile nations when He said, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God,” (Psalm 9:17). Whether Jews or Gentiles, God chastens His people (see Hebrews 12:6ff and Revelation 3:19). But God does not ignore the sins of either Jews or Gentiles. In Isaiah 60:12 we are told: “For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.”  God  holds nations and the individuals that compose them responsible for their sins.           

            The second thing of note is that the point of no return had passed. There is sometimes a point in airplane travel when more than half the fuel has been burned and because of this it is impossible to return to the plane's place of origin. It is impossible to go back regardless of what may be ahead. So our text says that God, “will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sins.” So it is that we ask the question: has the U.S. passed the point of no return? Is it possible to go back – to return to those days when at least in public God was honored? Is it possible to go back to the time when God and the Bible were honored in public schools and when prayer was offered in the name of Jesus Christ? Is it possible to go back to a time when decency in conduct, modesty in dress, cleanliness of speech, honesty in business, etc. were expected as the norm? Do the words of Scripture in Psalm 11:3, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” find proper application to the present situation in the U.S.? Have the foundations in the U.S. been so destroyed as to make useless the efforts of the righteous to restore the nation?

            Next in our text from Jeremiah chapter fourteen we note these crushing words: “Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.” They had passed the point of no return! God forbade the prophet praying for the good of Israel! Even the prayers, sacrifices, fasting – all the religious efforts of the people were in vain. Nothing would be accomplished by even sincere worshipers toward averting the judgment of God upon Israel. Has that time come for the U.S.? Should we Baptists be praying for God to bless America with good? Is praying such prayers according to His will or is it not? Can we, with biblical assurance, pray other than to ask God that His will be done? “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him,” (1 John 5:14-15). Do we pray for God's blessing upon the U.S. with confidence that we are asking according to His will? When we pray thus do we know that He hears us? And do we have assurance that “we have the petitions that we desired of him”? I trow not! Can we pray other than “Revive us again”? Can we say more than “may God have mercy upon us all”?

            And next we are told how God judges nations. “I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.” The words “consume them” speak of total and final destruction. Wars, starvation and disease: these are tools in God's hands. Is one or more of these tools in God's hand for the U.S.? We have long asked the question: “Why is the United States not mentioned in prophecy?” Other nations are mentioned, some by name. But the U.S. is not mentioned! It seems clear that these United States will play no important role in end-time events. Either she will be destroyed as a nation or reduced to such a weak, third-world status as to have no impact upon end-time events. Are you spiritually ready for this?

            Unpopular words, these! So it was in the days of Jeremiah! In fact the next words after our text are these: “Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, the prophets say unto them, Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place. Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart,” (Jeremiah 14:13-14). Let the liberals, the leftists, the Joel Osteens and the other false prophets say what they will! We live in dangerous days! We may be living in the final days of the United States. We certainly live in the days prophesied by Paul: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;   Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away,” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Dangerous days for the saints! Dangerous days for the Lord's congregations!

            Shall Christ's bride and her maidens escape the tribulation – that time of “Jacob's trouble”? This preacher is convinced that the next prophesied event is the catching away or rapture of the saints. He is convinced that the Lord's saints of this church-age will be caught away before that terrible time of tribulation that is to “...come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” (Revelation 3:10). (One commentator says “them that dwell upon the earth” should be understood as referring to their character “those who are of earth, earthy” rather than just their dwelling place.)  This preacher is also convinced that we are in that time called by our Lord “the beginning of sorrows,” (Matthew 24:8). But what Scripture do we have that equates a possible destruction of the United States with the tribulation period? The tribulation period has to do with Israel. It is as stated, the time of “Jacob's trouble,” (Jeremiah 30:7). We ask in all seriousness, could it not be that God may judge America with “the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence” prior to the tribulation period? Why do we Americans think we are safe just because Christ is going to return for His bride and her guests prior to the tribulation period? While other nations have been judged for their sins, do we have a right to think that God will withhold judgment upon America until after Christ has come back in the air? Do we not, as a nation, deserve such a judgment? It has often been repeated that “If God does not judge America He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” He judged them and our nation's sins in number and magnitude exceeed theirs! Can we think ourselves as a nation not in the same wicked condition as was Israel in the days of Jeremiah? Let us not be presumptuous. Let us not have wicked self-confidence in America's greatness either former or present.

            Rather should we not walk humbly before our God? Should we not occupy until Jesus comes or calls us home? Shall we then hear Him say “...Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord,” (Matthew 25:21). Remember Paul's words: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not,” (Galatians 6:9). And then, glory of glories, we shall be with Him who is “the Hope of Israel” and shall cast our crowns at His feet, saying “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created,” (Revelation 4:11). As the old Baptists sang, “Broken hearts, and humble walkers, These are dear in Jesus’ eyes.”  Cast off presumption! May God give us grace to be “humble walkers,” “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things,” (Philippians 3:18-19). Selah!


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