Faithful office bearers serve the true unity
By Dr. P. van Gurp

From De Bazuin, Vol. 3, No. 33, October 7, 2009, translated by J. van Laar

          “And the priests and the Levites that were in all Israel resorted to him from all places where they lived. For the Levites left their common lands and their holding and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them out from serving as priests of the LORD….  And those who had set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD, the God of their fathers.” (2 Chronicles 11: 13, 14, & 16, RSV).

This text places us in the time of the division of the kingdom under King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. He is left with only two of the twelve tribes. In contrast to this, Jeroboam had the largest portion: ten tribes.

But the temple is in Jerusalem; that is the place where the Lord has chosen to put His Name.  The service of reconciliation was established in Jerusalem.  The people of God had to go to Jerusalem to appear before His face, especially at the great feasts.  The service of reconciliation was instituted and the sacrifice of Christ was continuously foreshadowed there.

          The Church of all ages
          Knows of only one foundation;
          That is Christ, who through suffering
          Bound His people to Himself.
Jeroboam had introduced the worship of the golden calves. You know he did that because he was afraid of the loss of his subjects and their allegiance if they would go to Jerusalem with their offerings. Consequently he set up holy places so they could satisfy their religious obligations there. And Jeroboam emphatically stressed that the people could serve the Lord there in the North just the same as in Jerusalem.  This was self-willed worship.

Jeroboam had set up his own houses of worship, his own holy places, but these so called temples remained empty. There was no ark, no mercy seat and the glory of the Lord was not present above the ark.  Therefore he set up images of calves in order to show the presence of the Lord. He also honoured the high places, verse 15.

Jeroboam and his sons made it impossible for the priests and Levites to function in the priestly service for the LORD. They could not and would not participate in this self-willed worship.  Instead Jeroboam ordained priests from all walks of life who did not belong to the Levites for this service.  The Levitical priests went to Jerusalem and the Levites abandoned their pasturelands and their possessions to go to Judah and Jerusalem.

The priests and Levites were faithful to their calling.  We know that from the very beginning the tribe of Levi was consecrated to the LORD.  The history surrounding the golden calf makes that very clear.  Moses called:  “Who is for the LORD?” (Exodus 32:26).  Then the Levites, without respect of persons, carried out the judgement of the LORD.  Therefore they were appointed to carry out the service in the temple as priests and as helpers for the priests from then on.

When the land was divided the tribe of Levi did not receive a portion.  They became a separate tribe committed to the service of the temple.  It is true that this service was not full time.  The Levites also received cities and pasturelands. Thus they had a place where they and their families could live and also provide for their daily needs.

In view of this we must read in the text that they were informed that they had to leave behind their cities and their houses where they lived, taking their families, losing their pastures and wondering what to do with their livestock.  In short, what an upsetting disturbance that had come into their lives! What a sacrifice they had to make for the affairs of the Lord and His service.

The priests and Levites immediately had to make a certain choice. They did not hesitate.  Not for one moment did they go the path of sin. They also did not rationalize “that the LORD is still merciful to his wandering people and so we must also be merciful and therefore are not allowed to cut the bond with our brothers.”  No, no mention of that.  They chose, immediately and definitively.
The tribe of Levi is just the same as it was in the wilderness, “for the LORD.”   This is an example for the faithful, because others will follow after them.  “After them?”  That means that others follow the example of their leaders.  Which people were they?  They were the faithful.  They did not rationalize that the LORD waits a long time with his judgements and so therefore we also may not separate from the brotherhood, since the LORD is merciful.  No, they also made a choice.  Immediately!  A definite choice.  Even if it meant they had to leave their home where they may have lived for many generations.  They were uprooted for they had set their hearts to seek the LORD of their fathers.

That is the work of the Son of God who gathers, protects and sustains His congregation in the unity of the true faith then already.

That is a clear lesson for today.

At the time of the liberation of 1944 many have tried to disqualify this liberation as a self-willed schism.  Because, so they reasoned, the ten tribes were also not rejected by the LORD.  The LORD still sent out His prophets.  It was only centuries after the institution of the calf worship that God’s people were sent into exile.  He was therefore merciful also to His unfaithful people with their self-willed worship.

In our present situation we hear the same comments. In the Reformed Churches (liberated) there are still believers who want to live in obedience to Scripture and remain faithful to the confessions!  Surely we cannot abandon them by liberating ourselves.  Do we have to continually call them to liberation?

Now no one can deny that the LORD has sent His prophets for centuries to that unfaithful and sinful nation Israel.  He also waited with His judgement.  But the big question is does that mean that the office bearers and the church members have to continue going on the path of sin?  In other words, did the Secession (of 1834), the Doleantie (of 1886) and the Liberation (of 1944) actually happen too soon?  Doesn’t the LORD have patience that can span centuries?

The great error in this reasoning is that people do not consider the revealed will of the LORD.  Whoever uses the name of the LORD has to distance himself from all unrighteousness.  We have to leave to the LORD what He will do with His unfaithful people.  However we ourselves may never put our foot on the path of sin.  But the question remains.  Should we not also be compassionate just as the LORD was and is compassionate?  Weren’t the priests and Levites too hasty?  Should they not have waited?

The answer is that the priests, the Levites and those who followed them were compassionate.  Those from the ten tribes who had liberated themselves from the self-willed worship of God had modelled true compassion.  They expressed the true unity of the twelve tribes.

Indeed the LORD had torn the twelve tribes from each other. But the LORD had emphasized that the separation was meant to be temporary.  He had wanted to humble the house of David.  The LORD, in doing this wanted to unite all His people, the twelve tribes, in His true service.  The Lord directed this separation because He wanted to establish the unity of all His people.  However Jeroboam turned the political division into a spiritual division.  That was the great sin of Jeroboam.  That was the work of the devil.  He wanted to break apart the people of God.

But the priests and the Levites continued to seek the unity of God’s people by not continuing or participating in the self-willed worship of Jeroboam.  They did so by freeing themselves from it instead.

True unity does not occur with those who refuse to make a choice.  Those who will not make a choice do not show compassion to their erring brothers.  Compassion for unfaithful and erring brothers is not shown by those who refuse to free themselves from sin.

True compassion is practised and true unity is realized, by those who make a conscious choice for the service of the LORD.

The Lord Jesus Christ has said that everything depends on doing the will of the Father.  We are not allowed to state that things are not going well in the church but continue to practice fellowship and participate in the deformation of the church.  That is what Eli did concerning his sons.  He had said to his sons that it was not good what they did, but he did not forbid them access to the holy place. On the contrary, he also ate along with them from what they had stolen from the LORD and His sacrifices.

          But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let every one who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19).