The Close-Girding Sin

IN HEBREWS 12:1 we read of laying aside “the sin which doth so easily beset us,” that we may “run with patience the race that is set before us.” We note that the clause “the sin which doth so easily beset us” is rendered by Moffatt, “strip off sin with its clinging folds”; by Weymouth, “the sin that so readily entangles our feet”; by the Twentieth Century, “the sin that clings about us”; and by the Diaglott, “the close-girding sin.” These renderings are all very good and express in different words the same thought.

The words “easily beset” do not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, and properly mean, according to Dr. Strong, “well standing around.” Grotius, Crellius, Kype, and others say that this implies the thought of “the sin which especially winds about us and hinders our course,” with allusion to the long Oriental garments. This would seem to mean that the runner would be careful not to be hindered with a garment that would be apt to entangle him in his efforts to win the prize. This evidently was the thought in the mind of the apostle when he wrote, “Laying aside every encumbrance, and the close-girding sin, [we] should run with patience the course marked out for us.”—Diaglott

“An Evil Heart of Unbelief”

The experiences of fleshly Israel were typical of the experiences of spiritual Israel, as the Apostle Paul notes: “But these things occurred to them typically and were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come.”—I Cor. 10:11, Diaglott

The word “unbelief” (see Hebrews 3:12) is used to qualify the word “heart,” a mode of speech that is quite common to the New Testament. An unbelieving heart was the cause of Israel’s apostasy—and the cause of their ruin may well be heeded by the Christian. The root of their evil was a lack of confidence in God, and that is what is meant by a heart of unbelief. How often we lose sight of God and forget that he is omnipotent, that the exercise of his powers is unlimited—infinite. Note the words of the psalmist: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell [the grave), behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.”—Ps. 139:7-11

Even when “darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people,” the Lord is present with his people to comfort and cheer them. Surely we can rely on these words. And how these words should instill confidence in every heart! But alas, they do not! We are apt to feel discouraged when trouble visits us. Let us examine some of the experiences of Israel and see if we can draw a lesson from them. We note the attitude of Israel with respect to God’s care for them in their experience in crossing the Red Sea:

“Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him. Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Thou in thy mercy hast led forth thy people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation. Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established.”—Exod. 15:1,2,6,11,13,17

Words could not express the thanks which they felt belonged to the mighty and loving God who had so marvelously delivered them from what they had thought was sure disaster. But now notice the change:

“And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return to Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.”—Num. 14:1-4

Why this sudden change? Why had they so soon lost confidence in God? Let us note the forerunner of this state of mind in the following narration: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I GIVE unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them.” (Num. 13:1,2) Why did they need to send spies when God had told them he would “give” them the land? Faith never sends out spies when God makes a promise. But God knew what was in their minds and hearts.

For some time they had been discontented, and the old longing for the flesh pots of Egypt was very strong. We continue to read: “And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.”—Exod. 16:1

They had been gone from Egypt one month, and already they were forgetting that God was their Leader!

“And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: and the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger. Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.”—Exod. 16:2-4

The Lord was not doing this that he might find out if they would walk in his ways, for he already knew that they were a hardhearted and rebellious people; but he was doing it for their sake, that afterwards they might see his kindness in the face of their rebellion. Now note his further kindness to them:

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God. And it came to pass that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.” (Exod. 16:11-15) Thus God heard their murmurings and satisfied their hunger.

Troubles to Make Them See

But note, they had further troubles from which God relieved them:

“And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the Lord said unto Moses, go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?”—Exod. 17:1-7

Why did they murmur and complain against God so soon after they left Egypt? It was because they lacked confidence in him. Despite his many favors on their behalf and notwithstanding his watch-care in the cloudy pillar by day and the pillar of fire by night, they still asked the question, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” But notice that it was only fifty days from the night in which they ate the passover in Egypt until the giving of the law at Sinai.

And just think what took place then! While Moses was up in the mount getting the details of the Law which God wrote with his own hand, the Israelites fell into idolatry and made a golden calf; and worshiping it, they said, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” (Exod. 32:4) They had forgotten the deliverance at the Red Sea. They had forgotten the manna, the quail, the water of Horeb; and now they were worshiping a golden calf.

There is one further lesson to which we would like to call attention before we finish with their sins against God. God destroyed the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram because they accused Moses and Aaron of assuming too much authority in their dealings with Israel. They felt that Moses was to be blamed because God had shown his favor in such a marvelous manner. Korah said, “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” (Num. 16:3) And when, later, Moses called for Dathan and Abiram they said, “Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?” (Num. 16:13) For their rebellion against God, he caused the earth to open up and swallow them alive, together with their houses, servants, and all that they possessed.

And now to go back to the sending of the spies. After they had heard the report of these spies, they became discouraged and wanted to elect a captain to lead them back to Egypt. (Num. 14:1-4) Is that not true of many who have named the name of the Lord? When their plans fail, when things are going contrary to their wishes, how often they lose courage and confidence in God and begin to feel sorry for themselves and wonder whether the course they have undertaken to pursue, the way of service and sacrifice, is justifiable or not.

But what more could we expect of a company who had doubted God’s promise to give them the land and therefore had exaggerated the difficulties confronting them in occupying it? They had nothing before their eyes but lofty walls, great cities, and mighty giants. That was all they could see. They gave no consideration to the minority report of Joshua and Caleb, but instead were ready to stone them.

Surrounding themselves, therefore, by the dark and chilling clouds of unbelief, they shut God out. God and his resources and his mighty deeds performed in their interest were forgotten. Can these infidel worshipers at Kadesh be the same ones who sang so triumphantly at the Red Sea? O friends! when we lose sight of God we walk in darkness. And that is just what Israel had done. They saw only lofty walls, great cities, and mighty giants. They had, moreover, made the mighty God they sang about at the Red Sea impotent and insignificant. Where was the God of whom they had sung, “Who is like thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exod. 15:11) Truly our God is as large as our faith. If we believe that “with God all things are possible,” then we have a God who is omnipotent.—Matt. 19:26

Confidence in God’s Promises

Faith is not in energy, and therefore the things which are seen have more power over us than the things which are not seen. Why should any of us fail to enter into the glorious relationship that belongs to us as the sons of God? Why need we stand unclean and full of fear outside the promises of God when within is righteousness and peace and security? It is this—the lack of confidence in God—unbelief. Unbelief stands in the way of God’s working in us and for us and through us. The eyes of faith are ever protected by the living God; and therefore difficulties, while seen, never appear insurmountable. But through unbelief the eyes are blinded by circumstances and so God is shut out of vision. Through faith God is considered before the difficulties and thus the victory is gained.

Have you ever thought how, in the matter of faith, many, very many of us, are more or less inclined to be dissemblers? The secret of this condition is the desire to appear what we are not, without paying the price. We love to be highly regarded by our fellow men. We desire their approval, and for that reason we are inclined to lower our standards. This has the tendency to minimize the importance of the particularity with which we should regard our calling and what it involves of fidelity to God’s Word.

In some little trial or difficulty in which we might exercise faith, we fail to measure up to the standards set before us in the Scriptures. When things do not go as we would like to have them go, we are inclined to show our disapproval in no uncertain way. We do not believe that all things are working for our good as new creatures, and so, like Israel, we are inclined to murmur and complain. Of course, we are not complaining against God, but merely against the circumstances or conditions in which we find ourselves. Nevertheless it demonstrates our lack of faith.

Let us remember that God delights in faith and fidelity to him and his Word. He desires that we have the utmost confidence in him. On the contrary, any unbelief and doubt regarding God and his plan of salvation cannot be other than displeasing to him. It would seem to be almost unforgivable for one thus enlightened to distrust the living God, who cannot lie.

If we really desire to be happy in the Lord, we must be occupied with the things of God and what would be pleasing and acceptable to him. If we are occupied with the things of self and are worrying about what we may be called upon to endure, we cannot have the rest and peace of mind that comes from the full assurance of faith. Our worries about the things of the morrow often cause us to lose the blessing God would be pleased to have us enjoy. And oftentimes the things we dreaded so much we are never called upon to endure.

Unbelief always shuts out God. Faith is not rebellious, indifferent, or careless. It knows the dangers, but it brings the living God into appropriate perspective in connection therewith. It cherishes the conviction that there is never a wall too high, never a city too great, never a giant too big for God to overcome. Think of what took place forty years after! The same big cities were there. The same high walls forbade entrance. The same mighty giants threatened their ingress into the land; but at the sound of a trumpet and the noise of a shout, those mighty walls crumbled, those terrible giants were an easy prey; for the Almighty fought for Israel. Well might they have sung another song of deliverance as they did at the Red Sea!

The Christian’s joy and peace do not rest in himself alone, nor are they entirely dependent upon circumstances or environment. Their roots and growth and abiding blessing reside in God and, when fully realized, are beyond the reach of every earthly or satanic influence.

Faith opens up avenues of experience and opportunity that are immeasurable, but unbelief shuts the door to the grace and blessing of God. Faith looks on trouble and trial as a means to a glorious end, and counts them all but light afflictions of but a moment’s duration. (II Cor. 4:17) So then, let us “take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.”—Heb. 3:12

Dawn Bible Students Association
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