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Was an Israelite who was "cut off from Israel" permanently excluded from the nation? (See for example Exodus 30.33; Leviticus 7.20.)

The expression "cut off" first occurs in this context in Genesis 17.14. There are other references to this awful and extreme punishment to be found in Leviticus 17.4,9; 19.8; 23.29-30; Numbers 9.13; and 19.13 & 20. From the passages cited, it can be seen that the phrase stands in connection with the holiness of God and indicates how seriously God regards those who disobey His commands and statutes. None of the instances where it is found appear to refer to the punishment being administered by those in authority in Israel, but to punishment by the hand of God. The cutting off from the nation would have involved no doubt cutting off from the covenant with all its privileges. This could have taken the form of a permanent punishment by way of death. In Leviticus 23.30 for example we have another similar phrase for this cutting off in the words, "destroy from among his people". This must signify the same thing and the word there rendered "destroy" seems to imply death. The nature of the punishment inflicted seems to give no hint of the offender ever being restored to the nation and the covenant blessings. It therefore appears that the punishment was permanent.

It must be remembered that this form of punishment was under law and before the day of grace began. The major lesson we learn from this is that God was inflexible in His holiness, and when it had to do with God’s holy sanctuary, uncleanness, or defilement, His law had to be obeyed. At the beginning of this present dispensation we have the sin of Ananias and Sapphira when they professed to devote the whole proceeds of the property they had sold to the Lord’s service (Acts 5.1-11). They were punished by death. God is supremely holy and has His Sovereign rights and cannot but visit any infringement of them with punishment. This solemn incident would teach us that God is no less holy in this age of grace than He was under law. He may seem now to overlook such sins, but this is due to the character of the present dispensation. Sins themselves are no less sins in His sight today.

John J Stubbs

Is it permissible for overseeing brethren to give a letter of commendation to a brother who is seeking fellowship with another assembly due only to personal differences with another brother in the assembly?

The questioner refers to overseeing brethren giving a letter of commendation. It should be borne in mind that it is the assembly that receives an individual into fellowship and, where appropriate discipline is necessary, the assembly puts away from the fellowship, "Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1 Cor 5.13), says Paul, addressing "the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor 1.2), although it is appreciated that the elders of the assembly would give a lead in such matters.

Again, it is the assembly that commends a believer to another local church, albeit the letter may be written by one of the overseers and signed by other overseeing brethren; they do so on behalf of the assembly. Thus, as to Apollos we read, "And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren (not Aquila and Priscilla) wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace" (Acts 18.27).

It is a serious matter when there are personal differences between two brethren in an assembly. Such a situation upsets the unity of the assembly and we are to endeavour "to keep the unity of the Spirit (that unity that was made once and for all at Pentecost) in the bond of peace" (Eph 4.3). The procedures to be adopted, if such differences exist, are clearly set out in Matthew 18.15-17.

When there are personal differences between two brethren, there are usually faults on both sides. It would be most unfair to the receiving assembly if one of these brethren were commended under such circumstances. The problem is not resolved as a result of the brother moving from one assembly to another.

David E West

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