Dear radio friends,
The passing of another year reminds us forcefully that we are creatures of time. Time is God’s workbench, on which He is preparing all men and women for eternity. Time is not some train that we are riding somewhere, somehow, by some way. Time is not simply Spaceship Earth hurtling through the galaxies, each inhabitant carving out his own niche and destiny. But time is in the hand of God, as are all men and women in the hand of God. And time is used of God to prepare all men and women for eternity. Each moment of time in some way shapes us for eternity.
That is true of all men and women—elect and reprobate, believers and unbelievers. For the unbelieving and for the impenitent, this life also relates to eternity. What one does and what happens follows one into eternity. We have the frightening words of Romans 2:5, where the apostle declares that an impenitent heart is treasuring up, storing for itself, wrath against the day of wrath. It is stockpiling wrath. But it is also true for the believing and the repentant sinner that this present time is not a waiting room, it is not a vacuum. The Word of God tells us that we are being conformed, we are being molded in time, after the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You must not think that time is unimportant, that time is something simply to burn up or to waste. But each second of time corresponds to a work of God in eternity.
The portion of Scripture to which I call your attention in this last day of the year of our Lord 2006 is found in Jeremiah 48:11. It is a portion that refers to one of the most important works of God for His children in time—the work of refining, of purifying us, through trial for glory. We read in this passage: “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.”
In the last chapters of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet foretells the judgment awaiting the wicked nations, and he includes Moab. Moab was of the same bloodline as Israel. They were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. But a spiritual enmity existed between them. Moab had never ceased to plot against God’s people. Moab outwardly had enjoyed a very prosperous history. They had been fortified and wealthy. And they had filled their coffers with the things of the earth. The text says that Moab had been at ease from her youth. They had been left alone in prosperity and they had begun to trust in their strength and in their wealth.
And using the figure of a wine maker, God tells us that Moab was not emptied from vessel to vessel, but settled down on her lees (on the dregs) and became bitter and sour-smelling and awful in taste. Left in their own prosperity for the most part and given ease, they rotted in their carnality.
But, of God’s people, it is implied that the very opposite has been the case. God had dealt with them antithetically. He had not left them at ease. They had been emptied from vessel to vessel. They had gone into captivity. And their scent and their taste had changed.
Comparing himself, then, to a master husbandman, to a wise wine maker, God says that He had been at work with His people. He had been pouring them from vessel to vessel. He had been purifying and refining them through trials in order that He might make good wine, in order that His people would not be left upon their own dregs of sin but would come forth to fill His courts of glory with a holy scent and be pleasant to His taste. God had emptied them from vessel to vessel.
So God uses time for us, to empty us from vessel to vessel. God is intent on purifying us.
A figure is being used of the process of wine making. We read that Moab has settled on his lees and has not been emptied from vessel to vessel. It is referring to the fermentation of wine, in that, from time to time, it must be emptied from one wooden vat into another. For, in the process of fermentation, a bitter substance, called “the lees” or “dregs,” a sediment, develops and drops to the bottom of the vat or clings to the side. These dregs become bitter. And if that bitter substance, if those lees, are allowed to remain in the vat, then the wine itself will take on the bitter taste and emit the unpleasant scent of those bitter dregs. That is why Jeremiah says that Moab’s taste is not changed, or it remained in him—it was not improved, and his scent had become strong and bitter.
So a wine maker will, at appointed times, pour the contents from one vessel into another, straining the liquid and putting it into a clean vat. The lees must not be left alone. And this must be repeated as the dregs and the lees develop, until the fermentation process is completed and a tasty, pleasant-smelling wine comes forth. Even then, that wine that is purified of the lees must at the end be placed into a glass vessel or it will take on the smell and the taste of the wooden vat.
The Lord is talking of a process of refining. The idea is not hard to understand. The lees are our sins, the sins of apathy and of spiritual indifference that form all around us. To be settled on our lees is to become comfortable with our sin, to become unconcerned. It really does not burn in our heart anymore that we have sinned against God. We become indifferent to God and to our neighbor.
The dregs refer to settled spiritual indifference. We become at ease, undisturbed with our besetting sins. We allow the mold of apathy to grow thick on the sides of our heart. And the result is that all of our life takes on that apathetic taste and gives off a sickening smell to God. It leaves a bitter, foul smell in God’s nostrils—a rancid taste in His mouth.
But God will not allow that in us as His children. He empties us from vessel to vessel. He upsets our lives. He sends sickness, or the sickness of a child, or the death of a child. He brings hardship, economically or socially. He gives troubles in the family. He causes us to deal with depression, widowhood, waywardness of a child. He gives what the Bible calls trials and afflictions and tribulations. Why does He do this? Because, as a wise husbandman, as a God who seeks His glory in us, He is constantly purifying us in this present time from the bitterness of sin in order to sanctify and make us holy, or, if you will, to make us taste good to Him and to be pleasant to His nostrils. God does not let you settle on your lees, but empties you from vessel to vessel, from affliction to affliction, so that the taste of sin may not remain and take over, and so that our spiritual taste may not be displeasing to His nostrils and to His mouth, but that we might be changed to the sweetness of holiness.
This is painful, and this is frightening to us. But it is necessary.
The most important work of God in time in your life is to empty you from vessel to vessel, from one to another. Looking at life from the eyes of our own flesh, we worry when the Lord sends trials and problems, sickness and death. What are we going to do, we would say, if the Lord does that?
But looking spiritually, I see that the worst thing for me is not the future testing that the Lord will send, but the worst thing for me would be that I would be left alone in my ease. That would be the worst time for me spiritually—if I would be allowed to sit down in indifference.
We constantly put up over our life before God “Do not disturb” signs. We crave our ease and do not want to be put in captivity. Over those things that really matter to us, our home, family, health, looks, we say, “Don’t upset that, Lord.” Like Moab, we want to be at our ease, we do not want to be led into captivity, we do not want to be emptied from vessel to vessel. We want fifty, sixty, no seventy thousand, at least, a year income; mental happiness; three children. We do not want to go into the vat of sickness, less income, sorrow. We say No to these things. The Lord sends adversity, and we say, “Lord, put things back the way they were before.” Or we say, “Lord, I’ve been through enough trial now. It’s enough. I don’t need to go through this again. Why must it be one thing after another, Lord?”
Beloved, it is necessary. God speaks to you. God discloses His love to you. It is necessary that God empty you from vessel to vessel. For, without that work of God’s wisdom, we would become bitter in sin. And our lives would take on a rank taste and a putrid smell.
That is true. That is true personally. David said in Psalm 30:6, that at one time he had boasted: “I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved.” But then he goes on to say, “I soon was sorely troubled, I sought Jehovah’s grace.” Had God left him alone in his spacious dream house and his prosperity, the bitter dregs of self-boasting would have made him obnoxious to God’s smell. So God hid His face, God emptied him from trial to trial, in order that He might bring forth the pleasant scent of David’s prayers and seeking of God for his strength.
Do you know about this? Do you cling to one vessel? Do you cling to your own ease? Do you cling to your own way? Do you want your life to be the way you want it? And then do you want to be left alone, that the lees of sin and indifference and mold grow over the sides of your heart? Or do you see the need for God, according to His own way and according to His own wisdom, to scrape (and that is painful!) away the mold that grows on our heart and pour our life from one vessel into another?
This is true for Christian families. Christian families need refining and polishing—though very often we fail to see the necessity of this. We teach our children that the worst thing in life is when their own way is upset. They get that, you know, from someone. They get that from us, their parents. There remains in us as Christian families much that is of the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. We begin to think that the ideal of life is the urban ideal—the no cloudy days, the more things of this life, the two-hundred thousand dollar (or four hundred, five hundred, seven hundred fifty thousand dollar) home, the cars and all the rest—this is what life is. And cancer? That does not fit. Sickness? There is no place for that. Birth defects of a child? Personal difficulties dashing our plans? We cannot see any good in that. That is just more, you say, for me to have to deal with.
Oh, beloved, it is good that time is not in our hands, or we would never arrive at the eternal shore but would be destroyed. It is good that God empties us as families from vessel to vessel. God is blessing us when He does not let us drift from the worship of God, from the need of prayer, from a holy walk of life. We need to be emptied from vessel to vessel.
This is a work of God’s grace. Notice that God says that this had not been done to Moab. God speaks this verse as an explanation of His ways because Israel had misinterpreted them. Apparently Moab, who was ever near them and who worshiped the idol and constantly plotted to have Israel destroyed, was in wealth and peace. Comparatively speaking, Moab had it made. Although they had known a few dark days, compared to Israel you would say of ancient Moab that she has been at ease from her youth, from her childhood.
Then, if you looked at Israel from her childhood to adult years, you would have to say, with Psalm 129, “Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: may Israel now say, many a time have they afflicted me from my youth.” There was nothing but affliction and trial in Israel’s history.
According to our own judgment, to be left at ease is a sign of favor. And to be constantly unsettled and turned upside down is a sign of disfavor. But God says, “You have it wrong! That’s your judgment. That’s the judgment of the human eye. But the very opposite is the truth.” For a person to be left alone, to be left at ease, to be given prosperity, is not in itself a sign of God’s favor. In Moab’s case it was leaving them to turn foul, bitter, and rancid. Moab settled in on her lees. Moab became secure in her sin. Moab became sensual in her prosperity. Moab thought that their strength was in themselves. Not only did their scent remain unchanged, but in the next verses God says that it is leading to the day when He will break them and destroy them.
A person or a family is left at their ease. They think that that in itself is a sign of God’s grace. A little girl from childhood is not emptied from vessel to vessel by the hands of her parents and through their correction—nothing is done to upset her, she is left in her selfish and vain ways? She grows up to be catty, calculating, self-serving. She enters marriage for herself. She brings forth children like herself. To be left in her ease will spoil her life. A little boy or a young man is left at his ease, careless, lazy, flippant, materialistic? He grows up to be covered with mold, spiritual fungi, and the smell of irresponsibility. A family prospers, treasures increase, and their heart forgets God, and more and more time is spent in front of the TV, more and more time is spent with all the luxuries of this world and less with the church, and there is no time for church and no time for prayer, and the world spills over into Sunday? This is no evidence of God’s grace.
But the evidence of God’s grace is to empty you from vessel to vessel. You see, grace readjusts our thinking radically. It gives us to see life for what it is. God must mold and prepare us. We need, above all things, a process of purification in this life. You need that.
Job was emptied from a richly decorated and splendid vessel of tremendous wealth and ten lovely children into a vessel so narrow that he could only sit in it by himself in misery. He lost his wealth and his children. Yet, through that, God taught him wonderful lessons. Job came out of that vessel of trial a stronger man of faith, with more understanding of God’s ways. He could never have learned those things if he had been left alone. He needed to be emptied from vessel to vessel.
This is a work of grace that is working a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Do not look at your trials, your afflictions, your hardships as the wrath of God. Do not say with Asaph, “Clean hands are worthless and pure hearts are vain.” Whatever God does to you is done in grace, child of God, that He might polish and refine and prepare you for heavenly glory. Having begotten us to be His children, the gracious, almighty God will not rest until He leads us to mansions prepared for us by Christ in glory. And He will not rest until we are prepared for that place in that mansion. If we are left alone, if we are left at our ease, if we are left in our own sinful ways and more and more and more is given to us and we settle down, this is not grace. This is awful judgment. But emptied from vessel to vessel, that is grace!
God does this because He desires good wine. He desires something pleasing to His holy taste. He desires something well pleasing to His nostrils. He is working a change in you, in your taste and in your smell. As a good wine maker, He has a purpose in what He is doing. Do you know what His purpose is? His own good pleasure. For His own name’s sake. That is why. He wishes to smell from you the scent of trust—such a trust as Job, that you say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” He wishes to taste in you the taste of humility. He wishes to smell from you the smell of obedience. He wishes to taste from you the taste of love. He wishes to rid you of the bitter taste of disobedience and pride.
So He will empty you. He will empty you from health to sickness; from marriage to widowhood; from your idea of what is right to a way that is most burdensome to you. Sometimes He will even cut away from you the love and the treasure of your heart. Then one day He will pour you into that vessel called “death.” There He will strain out all sin and all power of sin. And you will come forth most precious in His sight, to His good pleasure.
He exercises much care over you. Throughout this coming year He will exercise much care. That is why He empties you from vessel to vessel at the right time. He will disturb you at the right time. He will not allow you to become at ease with your sin.
Do not envy those who are at ease with their sins. Do not envy those who outwardly prosper. Do not envy those who have everything. Do not envy those whose life does not seem bothered with any hardship or trial. But be thankful when He disturbs your life, when He sends afflictions, when He sends something to trouble you, to trouble your conscience over your sin.
God does this in love. He does this because in this present time He is preparing everything for its eternal home. He is preparing you. Do not envy Moab and those who are left to settle in their lees in peace, the peace of a cemetery. But rejoice when your heart is emptied from vessel to vessel. It is a work of His grace. He is preparing you to be emptied at last into a vessel of pure mercy in heaven, where you shall be a sweet taste and a pleasant smell to God.
Let us pray.
Father, may the Word of God enter into our hearts and give us great courage and comfort. In Jesus’ name, Amen.