“BEHOLD, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.”
Last fall, walking along a street in Harrisburg, Pa., we came in sudden contact with one of those open-air street meetings in full sway on the curb, being addressed by a young man, a common product of our present-day so-called enlightenment, who was trying to speak from the above text, and telling his hearers that it was not inspired, and that the Lord never said any such thing. He proved it by saying that such afar off event as the birth of Christ could have been no “sign” to Ahaz, for Ahaz lived and died several hundred years before the birth of the Savior, and therefore such a sign could have had no meaning for him. How many were deceived by that young man that night, or how many were stirred to go home, get their Bibles and look it up for themselves, we cannot say, but any one who does look up and read this text can but see that the inferences drawn by the youngster were glaringly false. The “sign” of the virgin and her child was not given to King Ahaz, but to the “house of David.” Ahaz did not want any sign, and would not ask God for any, as is plainly said in verse twelve. Ahaz was perhaps the wickedest king Judah ever had, and such as he are not disposed while running riot in sin to turn to the Lord for a sign. The natural, sinful man is not hungering after anything in God’s power to give. Thus the Lord goes over the head of this wicked ruler and gives the sign unto the “house of David,” the tribe of Judah. It is fraught with significance only to those who then, and for several centuries to come, were in faith looking and hungering for his appearing. The house of David meant particularly the tribes of Judah, for after the death of Solomon the throne of David and the succession of David’s line were kept within that tribe, since ten tribes seceded from the authority of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and went off under the leadership of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, and were henceforth styled “Israel.” Judah stood firm and faithful to the kingship of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, the lawful and rightful heir to the Davidic throne. The credit of this steadfastness belongs not to Judah, for it was the word of the Lord that kept her in her place, since God had said, “And unto his [So1omon’s] son will I give one tribe, that David my servant may have a light alway before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there.” Ten under Jeroboam and one under Rehoboam make eleven, but there were twelve tribes of Israel at the first, were there not? which one have we not accounted for? It is little Benjamin. As Judah took Benjamin in his care and keeping when they went down to Egypt to bring corn, (Genesis xliii.) it would seem that Judah exercised a sort of watchcare over him ever afterward, for in the general defection under Jeroboam Benjamin is annexed to Judah under fidelity to Rehoboam: “When Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin.” There is this wonderful distinction to be kept in mind between the rival kingdoms of Israel and Judah following upon the death of Solomon and up until the going into the Babylonian captivity; that whereas the crown in Israel shifted about from one family to another, never staying in any one family for very long, the crown in Judah continued evermore in one family (David’s) ‘with but very slight interruptions. The reason of this was not that the kings of Judah were better than those of Israel, but Judah had the blessing in the cluster which Israel did not. The kings of Judah were the ancestors of Jesus, whose right it was, when he should come, to sit upon David’s throne. Thus the providence of God continually watched over the throne of Judah and kept the line of succession intact, while no such special care was exercised toward the throne of Israel, so that the crown among those ten tribes was tossed about as though it were subject to their ever-changing moods. This split between Judah and Israel lasted up until the captivity of Nebuchadnezzar. After the seventy years in Babylon, and the restoration to their own land under Cyrus, we do not read of this division being continued. It may take some such calamity as that to bring about a healing of the present divisions of Old School Baptists: an obliteration of personal and small differences by the overshadowing of some gigantic tribulation; who knows? After the coining ‘out of Babylon with Zerubbabel they were first a dependency of the Persian empire, then of the Grecian, then of the Roman, but each of these monarchies allowed the Jews the privilege of being governed by men from among themselves, and this continued down to the death of Herod, in the lifetime of Jesus, thus fulfilling Genesis xlix. 10: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh [the securely prosperous Christ] come.” Thus the sign spoken of in Isaiah vii. .14, was to the Davidic succession, and had no reference at all to wicked King Ahaz. “A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.” Had Judah still been an independent nationality at the time of Jesus’ birth Joseph would have had a clear right to sit upon the throne of David. Jesus was both legally and after the flesh descended from David. According to the genealogy which Luke gives, Mary was a descendant of Nathan, David’s son. According to Matthew, Joseph was a descendant of Solomon. To be sure, Jesus was not Joseph’s natural son, but according to Jewish law he was none the less Joseph’s legal heir, for he was the lawful son of Joseph’s lawful wife, conceived while she was legally espoused to him. Be it remembered that by Jewish law a child did not have to be a man’s natural child in order to be that one’s lawful heir. According to the law of Moses, there were cases where a man would raise up seed unto his brother, would build up his brother’s house. The Holy Ghost built up Joseph’s house. This child’s name is to be called Jesus, Jehovah-Savior, or Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” This child of virgin birth, conceived by the Holy Ghost, is not alone God, nor yet alone man, but both God and man. “The tabernacle of God is with men.” The fullness of the Godhead dwelt in him bodily. The Word made flesh. Butter and honey are the sustenance of this child, to the end that he shall know to choose the good and refuse the evil. Looking at the language literally, it might signify that Jesus was born and reared in frugality, that he led a simple life, poor and lowly. Though King of kings and Lord of lords, the luxury and dazzle, pomp and show that usually attend the courts of monarchs, were alien to him. His glory, power, and his kingdom spiritual, real and eternal, are too fine and excellent for the gross, thickened perception of natural men. But we will have to look at the butter and honey other than literally to know how they enabled him to choose the good and refuse the evil. Simply living a plain, frugal life and eating plain diet never yet taught one the difference between good and evil. It is evident that couched in this butter and honey are deeper and more wonderful things than appear on the surface. The wicked and hypocrite shall not see the rivers, the floods, the brooks of honey and butter. So, from the written word of God, we know that the honey and butter are things that the unquickened, unrepentant wicked shall never even see, let alone eat. It forms the delectable food of the righteous. “I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey : I have drunk my wine with my milk,” says the bridegroom, Jesus, the one of whom David speaks: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the ‘upright: for the end of that man is peace.” God made Jacob suck honey out of the flinty rock, and fed him with “butter of kine, and milk of sheep.” Prominently among the provisions brought to David when he pitched his camp in Gilead were butter and honey. Job says that in his youth he washed his steps with butter. Butter was the cleansing of his way. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.” This does not mean that a young man by reading the Bible and heeding it can cleanse his way. It means that one young in grace who cannot but heed the word ingrafted in his soul does cleanse his way. The entering of the Word into our lives renews our youth as the eagle’s, releases from the burden of sin and condemnation, anchoring us unto the “inheritance incorruptible” by a lively hope. “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” The entering of the Word cleanses the way of the spiritually young. The road, then, seems easy, the path firm and good. Thus wisdom unto salvation, which is the matter revealed in the “young man” by the living Word, is the “butter” that cleanses the way, washes the steps. N ow as to the “honey,” the eyes of Jonathan were enlightened when he ate of the honey from the end of the rod, and Psalms xix. says, The commandment of the Lord enlightens the eyes. As the eating of honey, so is the knowledge of wisdom unto the soul. It is good not to eat honey when one is seeking to glorify himself, lest he have to vomit it. (See Proverbs xxv.) Self aggrandizement and the knowledge Of divine wisdom will not mix any more than oil and water. This is why a truly called minister of the gospel cannot be puffed up. He must have the knowledge of wisdom in order to preach (he is not a preacher if he has it not), and this prevents his using his gift to his own ends. As sure as he tried to dose, and succeeded, he would be compelled to vomit the “honey” and lose his gift. So it seems the butter and honey are wisdom and knowledge. These were the sustenance of Immanuel. He was filled with the knowledge and wisdom of the Highest. “ Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation.” “Wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee,” said the Lord to Solomon, and so, in a figure, to Christ, the spiritual Solomon. The Preacher says, “My heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” – Eccl. i. 16. “God giveth to a man that is good in his sight [Jesus], wisdom, and knowledge.” The people, astonished at the speech of Jesus, asked, “Whence hath this man this wisdom?” Luke tells that “The child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and. the grace of God was upon him.” And further, “ Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Thus it would seem not only that Jesus was filled with knowledge and wisdom, but that there was an increase or growth in these things such as would be signified by his eating the butter and honey, since eating is a process of nature in attaining growth and development. This knowledge and wisdom were his, that he should know to choose the good and refuse ‘the evil. Not that he should know the difference between good and evil, not that he should know to tell the truth and not to lie, to love and not to hate, to think good thoughts and not bad ones. His .very divine nature made it impossible for him to sin, either in thought, imaginings or deeds. But the wisdom and knowledge given him of the Father enabled him to choose between the sheep and the goats, between the elect and the wicked, between those that were in him from the foundation of the world and those who were not. It is in this sense that the butter and honey eaten by him, the knowledge and wisdom in which he grew and increased, enabled him to make manifest and effective the covenant of election sealed by the Father from the beginning, calling out and apart from the world the church, and saving it with an everlasting salvation. When we speak of the elect as “good,” and of the nonelect as “evil,” we do not mean for a moment that there was any difference in them by nature. In Adam they are all alike wicked. But the elect had a standing in Christ before the foundation of the world that the wicked never had, and in that they were thus associated in the covenant in him, they were good in the sight of the Father for Christ’s sake. Their decreed connection and relationship with Christ eternally was all the goodness the elect had, otherwise, in Adam they were vile and corrupt as any that are never saved. He is the good Shepherd, he knew and knows his sheep, calls them by name and they follow him. There is no danger of his passing by even the least of the sheep. No need to sing, “Pass me not, O gentle Savior.” To those on his left hand, he says, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Not the slightest danger that any of the sheep will ever hear those words banishing them from the presence of God. This separation of the wheat from the chaff, of the precious from the vile, is accomplished through the knowledge and wisdom of the Highest, as it abode in the Immanuel, is because he ate “butter and honey.” Tin: last words of our text fix the date as to when this ability shall be Immanuel’s to choose the good and refuse the evil: “The land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.” At the time this sign was given unto Judah, Syria and Israel had entered into a conspiracy to get the throne away from the Davidic family. For this reason,if for no other, Judah abhorred both Syria and Israel. But before the child (Immanuel) shall know to choose the good and refuse the evil the kingdoms of both Israel and Syria shall cease. This was literally fulfilled, for both Syria and Israel lost their separate nationality and became dependencies, first of Persia, then of Greece, then of Rome. Perhaps it will be said that this was also true of Judah, and so it was, but all the time that Judah was a tributary of each of the world powers in its turn each succeeding monarch appointed his governors of Judea from the tribe of Judah. To Syria and Israel were shown no such distinction. These governors were not of the Davidic line, it is true, but they were Judeans and that was something.
Written at the request of brother A. L. Holden, of Durham, N. C.
Elder H. H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Volume 82, No. 23
December 1, 1914