Articles & Studies
The City of the Book
An Old Testament story gives us a
key insight into the battle for our mind.
For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly but powerful before God for the overthrowing of strongholds, as we overthrow reasonings and every high thing rising up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought unto the obedience of Christ.
— Second Corinthians 10:4-5
The Battle for Our Mind
In the well-known passage above from the New Testament, Paul likens our mind to a stronghold that must be overthrown so that our thoughts are brought unto the obedience of Christ.
In the Old Testament there is another passage, one which is not so well known, that gives us a picture of this warfare for our mind. In so doing it also exposes a particular hindrance to our growth as believers in Christ, namely, the damage our reading can do to us. I was first helped to see this by C.A. Coates, the great Brethren teacher (1862-1845), who writes:
A great deal of spiritual vitality is sapped by the kind of reading that Christians indulge in habitually. The springs of water come in when Kirjath-sepher is taken and its name changed.
— An Outline of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, page 70
What Do We Take In?
Coates is speaking here of how Caleb came into his inheritance in the Good Land, as recorded in Joshua 14-15.
After defeating their enemies in the Good Land, the very first city the Israelites actually possessed and dwelt in was Hebron. It was previously called “Kirjath Arba,” being named after “the great man among the Anakim” (Judges 14:15). Caleb drove out his three sons and possessed it and changed its name to “Hebron,” meaning “company” or “alliance” (Judges 15:13-14). This city signifies entering into fellowship with God, or with our fellow believers in Christ, after we experience the death of our “old man” (Rom. 6:6). It was the dwelling place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when they were in the Good Land.
From Hebron, Caleb went on to the city Coates refers to above:
Then he went up from there to the inhabitants of Debir (formerly the name of Debir was Kirjath Sepher). And Caleb said, “He who attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give Achsah my daughter as wife.” So Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it; and he gave him Achsah his daughter as wife.
— Joshua 15:15-17; cf. Judges 1:11-13
The significance here is that “Kirjath Sepher” means “City of the Book.” As we have seen, the Apostle Paul likens our mind to a stronghold. However, it is not only a stronghold; it is, in a very real sense, a “City of the Book.” That is, our mind is shaped and formed by what we read. Therefore, the outcome of the warfare for our mind will be determined to a large extent by what we spend our time reading.
And of course, today—unlike in centuries past—it is not only a matter of what we read, but of what we take in via the internet, watch on TV or at a movie, listen to on the radio or on our mobile phone, etc.; the world’s attack upon us in this age truly is intensified sevenfold!
The Upper and Lower Springs
And only after this city was taken, as Coates says, do the “springs of water” come in. In the section above we see that Othniel’s reward for taking the city was to receive Achsah as his wife. The story continues:
Now it was so, when [Achsah] came to him, that she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. So she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” So he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
— Joshua 15:18-19; cf. Judges 1:14-15
So, Achash is the one who seeks the waters. Even so, in our experience, as we turn away from the worldly things, our desire for the genuine, spiritual waters will surely increase. The upper springs here correspond to the pouring out of the Spirit from on high (Acts 2:33), and the lower springs, to the living water that flows from the depths of our innermost being (John 7:38-39). Just as Achsah sought the earthly springs from her father Caleb, surely we also should seek the heavenly springs from our Father in the heavens! (cf. Luke 11:13)
So, if we truly seek to have a spiritual mind, to be transformed, and to have the “springs of water,” we must ask ourselves, very simply, what do we spend our time reading? That is, have our reading and all of the other things we bring into our mind been fully captured by the Lord? If not, we will be contaminated by the things of the world and suffer spiritual loss.
We may feel that we are spiritual and mature enough to imbibe such things and not be influenced by them, but that is not the case. At the very least, as Coates says above, our “spiritual vitality is sapped” when we indulge ourselves in this way; that is, we will touch something of spiritual death.
We Must Be Careful!
Elsewhere Coates touches on the same theme of how damaging worldly reading can be to us, gradually turning us away from Christ:
I do not believe that any person who had known what it was to be espoused unto Christ would go in for worldliness until his mind had been corrupted by something that lessened his judgment as to what the world is. Before the outward departure the corrupting influence is at work within; the mind is being occupied and permeated with the thoughts and principles that connect themselves with man and with things here, and all this is done in such a subtle way that very often no alarm is felt in the conscience during the process….
We cannot be too careful as to the influences which we allow to act upon us. We are affected by all that we hear and by all that we read—unconsciously it may be. The damage is done before we know it; like Ephraim, we have gray hairs and know it not [Hos. 7:9; spiritually, gray hair signifies both oldness and weakness]…..
I need not say that worldly literature of all kinds has the same effect. I am quite sure that a man cannot soak his mind in a newspaper every morning, and retain freshness for Christ….The mind—the thoughts—are turned to things here, and the affections soon follow in the same direction.
— “Affection for Christ,” pages 12-13, 15-16
Andrew Murray, commenting on 1 Corinthians 2, makes the same point:
Note well that the Spirit of the world and the Wisdom of the world are one [1 Cor. 2:4-5,12]. The extent to which Christians yield themselves to the influence of the literature of the age, without fear or caution, is one of the great reasons that the Holy Spirit cannot guide them or reveal Christ in them.
— The Spirit of Christ, Day Twenty-Two, note 4
And as the Apostle Paul himself points out, the enemy will use any means—and surely this includes our worldly reading—to turn our thoughts and minds away from Christ:
For I am jealous over you with a jealousy of God; for I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your thoughts would be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity toward Christ.
Second Corinthians 11:2-3
The Lord’s Desire for Our Attention
In contrast to the world’s efforts to occupy our mind, we have the Lord’s plea with us as pictured in the Song of Songs:
My dove, in the clefts of the rock,
In the covert of the precipice,
Let me see your countenance,
Let me hear your voice;
For your voice is sweet,
And your countenance is lovely.
Catch the foxes for us,
The little foxes,
That ruin the vineyards
While our vineyards are in blossom.
— Song of Songs 2:14-15
As those who love the Lord, we must realize that our “countenance” and our “voice” are indeed so sweet to Him! He longs for us to spend time with Him in real fellowship, so that He may “see our countenance” and “hear our voice!”
On the cross Christ accomplished the great work of redemption so that we could be brought back to Him. However, He leaves to us the work of “catching the little foxes” that do so much to spoil our fellowship, and surely one of these is our being distracted by the various influences the world seeks to put into our mind.
A Place for God’s Speaking
So, “the City of the Book” must be captured. This means that our reading and all the other influences we allow to act upon our mind must, through our application of the cross of Christ, come under the authority of the Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:13).
How crucial this is for our spiritual development and service to the Lord! After Kirjath-sepher was captured its name was changed to “Debir.” This name means “Speaker,” “Sanctuary,” or “Oracle,” and is closely related to the word that is used to refer to the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary, in the temple of Solomon.
So at this point, when our reading and all the things we take into our mind are under the authority of the Spirit, our mind will no longer be shaped by the things of the world; rather, it will become a sanctuary for God’s speaking, and the things we take in will become His “oracle,” His speaking to us.
In fact, this city, which before had been occupied by a hostile race, eventually became a priestly city (Josh. 21:15). Therefore, we see in it a very good picture of the spiritual warfare that issues in our being transformed by the renewing of the mind:
And do not be fashioned according to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good
and well pleasing and perfect.
— Romans 12:2
The History of Othniel
And what of Othniel, the one who captured the city? He is surely an inspiration for us today. Although the meaning of his name is not definite, some feel it means “Lion of God” (William Smith, Easton); another translates it as “Seasonable Speaking of God” (J.B. Jackson). If we deal with ourselves so that we do not take in the things of the world, but are instead feeding on God’s word, we will become a lion for God (cf. Rev. 5:5), and one who can speak His word in the appropriate time and manner. How the church needs such ones in this time!
Moreover, the Bible makes it clear that when all Israel forsook the Lord, Othniel remained faithful to Him, and thus the Lord had a way to turn His people back to Himself. At the beginning of the book of Judges we read:
The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord which He had done for Israel….When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.
— Judges 2:7, 10
Soon after, the children of Israel “forgot the Lord their God, and served the Baal’s and Asherahs,” and thus the Lord gave them into the hand of a foreign king. When they cried out to God, the Lord raised up Othniel to deliver them, and “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” He defeated the foreign king, and thus the land had rest for 40 years (Jdg. 3:7-11).
Like the other Israelites of his generation, Othniel had not seen for himself the great works the Lord had done for Israel in the wilderness. However, he appears to have been one who was strong in faith and in the word of God—no doubt, he was blessed in this regard by coming from a very positive family within Israel—and so he remained faithful to the Lord. What a positive pattern for young believers today!
May the Lord gain many of His believers in our day to be such ones! And may we exercise ourselves unto godliness (1 Tim. 4:7) so that we are not contaminated by the world, but rather nourished by God’s word, to serve God in a living way to establish His testimony on the earth.