Four Significant Stages in Life’s Journey
A Balanced Christian Life (CFP), 163-174, by Watchman Nee
And it came to pass, when Jehovah would take up Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for Jehovah hath sent me as far as Bethel. And Elisha said, As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel. . . . And Elijah said unto him, Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for Jehovah hath sent me to Jericho. And he said, As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they came to Jericho . . . And Elijah said unto him, Tarry here, I pray thee; for Jehovah hath sent me to the Jordan. And he said, As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on. . . . And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground. And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I am taken from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me . . . And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire, which parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. . . .He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of the Jordan. And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is Jehovah, the God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they were divided hither and thither; and Elisha went over. (2 Kings 2.1-14)
In this passage of Scripture, we find delineated for us four stages in a particular journey; it started from Gilgal, proceeded onward to Bethel, went next to Jericho, and finally crossed over the Jordan River.
At the time when Elijah was going to be taken up to heaven and when Elisha was soon to receive a double portion of the Holy Spirit, these two men of God traveled along a pathway which connected these four locations. From the physical and geographical we can derive a very important spiritual lesson here—which is, that if we wish to be raptured to heaven like Elijah or to receive the Holy Spirit as a mantle like Elisha, we must travel through these same four stages of life as are typified for us by these four places in their journey. Whether we look forward to being raptured or we expect to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, we too must commence a journey at Gilgal and travel forward until we also cross the river Jordan. Let us now see exactly what these four places can represent.
1. Gilgal (v. 1)—Dealing with the Flesh
In order to interpret correctly the meaning of Gilgal, we first must understand the principle of first mention in the Scriptures. We learn from Joshua 5.9 (the clearest earliest reference as to its meaning) that Gilgal as a place name means "rolled away." From reading verses 2 through 9 we understand that the generation of the children of Israel who initially came out of Egypt were all circumcised, but that the generation of Israelites who were afterwards born in the wilderness were not circumcised. This latter generation were now at this time entering Canaan. They would soon inherit their inheritance. Therefore the old flesh must be "rolled away"; the reproach of Egypt must be put off or removed from them, that they might have a change towards a new life; for the meaning of circumcision, as revealed to us in the New Testament, is "the putting off of the body of the flesh" (Col. 2.11).
Who truly recognizes what the flesh is? Who understands what is meant by dealing with the flesh? or the judging of the flesh? Many people deem victory over sin to be the hallmark of perfection. Yet they do not know that there is the flesh which sins! According to the Scriptures, "the flesh" is condemned by God. It is something with which God is most displeased. The flesh is everything we have through birth: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3.6).
Whatever we have by birth is of the flesh, and includes not only sin and uncleanness and corruption but also natural goodness, ability, zeal, wisdom and power. A most difficult lesson to be learned in a believer’s life is for that one to know his own flesh. The Christian must be brought through all kinds of failures and deprivations before he knows what his flesh is.
What hinders a believer’s progress the most in life and work is his flesh. He is unaware of God’s calling him to deny his entire flesh. He imagines that forsaking sins is quite enough. He is ignorant of God’s equal displeasure with his own ability, zeal and wisdom in God’s work and his own goodness and power in spiritual life. Whatever we reckon as good according to the flesh, whatever we plan and ingeniously arrange by means of the flesh is something we must deny, deliver up to death, and allow to pass through judgment according to God. The Lord has no use for the help of the flesh, neither in spiritual life nor in spiritual work.
Now Gilgal in Joshua’s time was precisely the place where the physical flesh was cut off and judged. And for the believer today, in type it is the place where the flesh must be judged by the light God gives to us. God declares that the flesh must be put off; let us agree with Him. He declares it must be circumcised; let us therefore be circumcised in heart. In our spiritual journey through life we too must start from Gilgal and deny the flesh. But please note that this does not specify the degree of one’s cutting away; it merely declares that the flesh must be judged. The current error is for people to look for zeal and good works but to overlook the denial of the flesh. Yet what is more essential for them to do is to judge the flesh as God has judged it.
According to very personal experience with the Lord, the highest expression of spiritual life is not regeneration, sanctification, perfection, victory over sin, or power. It is instead the denying of the flesh, which is both the aim and the way of spiritual life. Those who135 136 A Balanced Christian Life
have not started out from Gilgal have never really commenced their spiritual journey. Those who do not learn how to deny the flesh do not know what true spiritual life is. Such persons may be zealous in good works and may be quite happy in doing so, but they have no conception of real spiritual life.
2. Bethel (vv.2,3)—Dealing with the World
From Gilgal we have now come in our journey to Bethel. What is meant by the place name of Bethel? Again let us discover where it is first mentioned in the Bible, and thus we can decipher its meaning for us today. Please read Genesis 12.8. Bethel was the place where Abraham built an altar. An altar is for the purpose of communication with God, of offering sacrifices to God, and of being wholly given to Him.
Genesis 12.9-14 records the descending of Abraham to Egypt.There he built no altar. His communication with God was thus interrupted, and his heart of consecration was set aside. This marks the difference between Bethel and Egypt. Bethel, therefore, signifies all that is contrary to whatever Egypt stands for.
What Genesis 13.3,4 records is very meaningful: "And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at thefirst: and there Abram called on the name of Jehovah. " Abraham had had no fellowship with God while he was in Egypt. It was when he returned to the original location—which is to say, to Bethel—that he once again called on the name of the Lord. Only at spiritual Bethel will people commune with God and give themselves to Him.
Hence, whereas Gilgal speaks of our overcoming the flesh, Bethel speaks of our overcoming the world, because Egypt in Scripture represents the world. Overcoming the world is a condition for raptureand for the power of the Holy Spirit. Our lives must reach a point where the world is unable to touch our heart. How much are we in fact separated from it? Do we express through our lives that we are separated? Do our attitudes and words show that we no longer belong to this world? What about our intentions? Do we cherish some secret desire for the things of the world? Do we still surreptitiously look for the praise of men? Do we allow ourselves to suffer a great deal inwardly because of the libel of men? When we incur loss, do we feel that loss intensely? Is there any difference between our feeling towards the world and that of the people of the world themselves?
If our heart has not completely overcome the world, if the people, things and events of this world have not lost their place in us, we will not be able to arrive at our goal. A believer must pay the price in following the Lord if he expects to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be raptured. We must forsake the world and learn to commune with God at the altar of consecration. Such consecration and communion are imperative.
In Egypt there was generally no famine; yet even when it had had such, it only had its old grain for relief. In Canaan, however, there seemed to have been frequent famine. This, spiritually speaking, indicates to us that in the world there is little or no famine for the one who is not only in the world but of the world as well; but for the person who is in the way of obedience to God, there will sometimesbe famine; for by comparison there is little or no trial in the world, whereas in the way of obedience there may be much trial. Nevertheless, this is the way to power and to rapture. Yet however great is the trial, with God there is always a living way out (see 1 Cor. 10.13). Hence let us be watchful as well as faithful. If we are not watchful we will fall back into Egypt, where there is neither consecration nor communion with God. To stay in Egypt, even temporarily, is to sin for a time. How pitiful should anyone ever take up his permanent residence there. Though he may avoid trial, in Egypt there is no altar. 137 138 A Balanced Christian Life
Some people are like Abraham who did not go to Egypt all at once. He first moved towards the South, which was in the direction towards Egypt although he had not yet arrivedin Egypt. To be in the South may be described spiritually as belonging half to the world and half to God. But in the South there is also no altar—no communion with God. Bethel, on the other hand, is an absolutely separated place. It is neither the Egypt of the world nor the South of worldly compromising.
It has been estimated that between two and three million Israelites came out of Egypt, yet God had not allowed a single one of them to have an altar in Egypt. For them to serve God at all, it was necessary for them to leave Egypt and to travel three days’ journey beyond! (Ex. 8.25-27) In Egypt they might indeed have the passover because God had there delivered them from the penalty of sin which was death; but for them to come under the name of the Lord and to worship Him, they must leave Egypt.
3. Jericho (v.4)—Dealing with Satan
The clearest reference concerning the significance of Jericho is found in the book of Joshua. There we can observe the conquest of the entire city of Jericho.
"Joshua charged them with an oath at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before Jehovah, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho" (6.26). Thus Jericho means being cursed. This portion of Biblical history narrates how the children of Israel overcame their enemies for the first time in Canaan. The various peoples in Canaan, spiritually speaking, represent the evil spirits who belong to the devil. These can be likened to the spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places mentioned in Ephesians 6.12. And these are the enemies with which we believers fight today.
We need not only to overcome the flesh and the world, we must also overcome the enemy. There is only one way to overcome him: by believing in God’s word and acting accordingly. We believe that we will obtain the promised result by acting according to His word. God has spoken, and this is enough. The people living in today’s Jericho say they have the city, but we say we believe in God’s word. They say their walls reach to heaven, but we say that our God is in heaven. They say all the territory included in the city is theirs, but we say God has promised to give us every place whereon the sole of our feet shall tread (see Joshua 1.3).
Many people know only the battle between the spirit and the flesh; they do not perceive the conflict that rages between us believers and the evil spirits as described in the sixth chapter of Ephesians. The real spiritual battle is fought between us and Satan with his evil spirits. This battle is joined by all matured believers, for the children of God on earth are frequently attacked by evil spirits. Such attacks sometimes occur in the believers’ environment, sometimes in their physical bodies, sometimes in their thoughts, sometimes in their emotions, and sometimes in their spirits. Especially in this last hour the evil forces shall redouble their efforts to prevent believers from serving the Lord well by causing them to be distressed over many things. Too often believers are not aware of being attacked by evil spirits. They do not understand why everything seems to be against them, creating terrible confusion and trouble. They too often take these things as natural, not realizing that they are being supernaturally oppressed by the evil spirits.
In this last hour it is of utmost importance for believers to recognize their enemy and to know how to fight and overcome him. Even if we have overcome the flesh and the world, we will not be able to make great progress if we fail to overcome the works of the enemy. The fall of Jericho of old could not be attributed at all to human strength but to (1) the word of God and (2) the position the children of Israel took. To overcome the attack of the evil spirits, we139 140 A Balanced Christian Life
(1) must not be mindful of circumstance and feeling but believe in the word of God’s promise, thus putting the enemy to flight; and (2) must stand in the heavenly position which Christ has given to us, thereby keeping Satan and his evil spirits on the lower ground.
Without the word of God and without taking the position God has given us by faith, there can be no victory over the enemy.
4. The River Jordan (vv. 6-14)—Dealing with Death
The river Jordan points to the power of death; and hence crossing the Jordan River is overcoming death. And that is rapture.
This facet of the journey has a special relationship to the Lord Jesus, since the Lord was himself baptized in the river Jordan. His having gone down into the waters of baptism signifies death. His coming up out of the water denotes resurrection. He overcomes death through the power of resurrection. The greatest power of Satan, we know, is death itself (see 1 Cor.15.26). It is as if the Lord challenges His enemy by saying, Do whatever you can to Me (cf. Heb. 2.14). And Satan indeed does his uttermost. But God has the power of resurrection. Satan aspires to put the Lord to total death, yet the Lord has a life which cannot be touched or held by death. The Lord, as it were, goes through on dry ground! Apart from the Lord’s resurrection, there is no power which can overcome death. The life which we receive at the time of regeneration is this very resurrection life. And the power of resurrection life will sweep away all death.
Crossing the Red Sea and crossing the Jordan River are quite different in significance. Crossing the Red Sea is an event that was forced by circumstance. The children of Israel were pursued by the enemy Egyptians; they would have been slaughtered had they not crossed it. Crossing the river Jordan, however, was a voluntary and self-chosen action. Some people today refuse to cross the river Jordan; they do not seek after the power of resurrection. But Paul highly esteemed that power, and so he pursued diligently after it (Phil. 3.10-12). All God’s children have been resurrected with the Lord; nonetheless, many do not know experientially the power of the Lord’s resurrection in their lives. Therefore these do not experience victory over death.
At this time in history when rapture is near, believers must finally overcome the last enemy—which is death. We must overcome death, whether physical or mental or spiritual. The world today is full of a deathly atmosphere. On the one hand, many used by the Lord often suffer physical weakness and illness. On the other hand, the minds of many saints seem to be paralyzed; their thinking, memory and concentration are not as alert as before. Furthermore, the spirits of many believers appear to be enveloped in death; their spirits are inactive, powerless, withered, paralyzed, and unable to cope with environment. Consequently, in these days of preparing for rapture, believers must learn to cross the Jordan River—as it were, to overcome death. We must learn to resist its power in our body as well as in our circumstances. We must prove the power of resurrection in all things. We must testify more and more to the fact that our Lord has been raised from the dead and that we who are joined to Him have also been raised.
In order to receive the outpoured Spirit of Elisha and to arrive at the rapture of Elijah, we must start out from Gilgal and travel forward till we reach and pass through the river Jordan. For the Holy Spirit can only descend upon those who are full of resurrection life. Do not imagine that so long as we are regenerated we will be raptured. God cannot rapture one who is not ready. Hence before there can take place a rapture like Elijah’s we must go through the experiences of Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan River.
God tells us that we will be raptured; so let us go the way we ought to go—commencing from Gilgal and ending on the other side of Jordan. And we shall find that God is there waiting for us!