Friday, August 3

Psalm 69: Because Friday was the day “when the Bridegroom is taken away,” Chirstian piety has always tended to be more than normally attentive to the Lord’s sufferings and death on this day of the week. This is the reason why, when we come to Psalm 69 in our cyclical reading of the Psalms, it is almost always read on a Friday rather than some other day of the week. This is a psalm about the Lord’s suffering and death: “Save me, O God, for the waters have come even unto my soul. . . . I have come to the depths of the sea, and the flood has submerged me,” prays the Man of sorrows who described His approaching Passion as the baptism with which He must be baptized (cf. Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50; Rom. 6:3).

This same Sufferer goes on to pray: “Zeal for Your house has consumed me,” a verse explicitly cited in the New Testament with respect to the Lord’s purging of the temple (John 2:17). In the context this consuming of the Lord was a reference to His coming Passion; He went on to say to those who were plotting to kill Him: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In saying this, the evangelist noted, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (vv. 19, 21).

The very next line of Psalm 69 says: “The reproaches of those who reproached You have fallen on me,” a verse later cited in Romans as bearing on the sufferings of the Lord. The apostle’s lapidary and understated comment was that “even Christ did not please Himself” (15:3). In this passage St. Paul could obviously presume a common Christian understanding of Psalm 68, even in a congregation that he had not yet visited.

Still later in our psalm stands the line: “Let their dwelling be deserted, and let no one live in their tabernacles.” Even prior to the Pentecostal outpouring, the Church knew this verse for a reference to Judas Iscariot (cf. Acts 1:20), that dark and tragic figure who guided the enemies of Jesus and betrayed his Lord with a kiss.

Psalm 69 is the prayer of Him “who, in the days of His flesh . . . offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death” (Heb. 5:7). The Christian Church has ever been persuaded that Psalm 69 expresses the sentiments of that soul “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). In Psalm 69 we are given a vision into the very heart of Christ in the circumstances of His Passion: “Deliver me from those that hate me, and from the depths of the waters. Let not the flood of water submerge me, nor the depth swallow me down, nor the mouth of the pit close over me.”

This is the Christ who in dereliction sought in vain the human companionship of His closest friends during the vigil prior to His arrest: “What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Matt. 26:40). Psalm 69 speaks of this disappointment as well: “My heart waited for contempt and misery; I hoped for someone to share my sorrow, but there was no one; someone to console me, but I found none.”

According to all four Gospels, the dying Christ was offered some sort of bitter beverage, oxsos, a sour wine or vinegar, as He hung on the Cross. This is the very word used at the end of the following verse of Psalm 69: “And for my food they laid out gall, and for my drink they gave me vinegar.”

But there is another dimension to the Passion of the Lord—the resolve of His victory. Even as He was being arrested, His enemies were unable to stand upright in His presence (cf. John 18:6). This was the Christ, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). No man takes the Lord’s life from Him, for He has power to lay it down and to take it up again (cf. John 10:18). This is the Christ whom death could not hold, who descended a very conqueror into hell to loose the bonds of them that sat in darkness, and who “went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:19).

This sense of Christ’s victory also dominates the final lines of Psalm 69: “I am poor and distressed, but the salvation of Your face, O God, has upheld me. I will praise the name of God with song; and I will magnify Him with praise.”

The victory of Christ is the foundation of the Church, those described when our psalm says, “Let the poor see and rejoice. Seek God, and your soul will live. . . . For the Lord will save Zion, and the cities of Judah will be built, and they shall dwell there and hold it by inheritance, and the seed of His servants will possess it.”

Saturday, August 4

Psalm 27: The voice in this psalm is the voice of the Church, who cries out with respect to Jesus Christ: “The Lord is my illumination and my savior; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the safeguard of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

“The Lord is my illumination (photismos),” we pray, using a word that has long borne special reference to our baptism in Christ (cf. Heb. 6:4; 10:32). This is the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). It is in this context of illumination that the Lord is also called “savior” (soter), inasmuch as “there is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism” (1 Peter 3:21).

This assurance—“whom shall I fear? . . . of whom shall I be afraid?”—is that which asks: “If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:31, 33, 35). Like Romans 8, our psalm then takes several verses to revel in the powerlessness of our spiritual enemies.

Psalm 15 had asked: “Lord, who will abide in Your tabernacle, or who shall rest on Your holy mountain?” and Psalm 24 had inquired: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place?” It is the same here in Psalm 27: “A single thing have I sought of the Lord, and this will I pursue—that I may abide in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may gaze upon the gladness of the Lord, and tarry in His holy temple.” In this verse our psalm touches on the deeper longing of all prayer, the desire to live in intimacy with God, to find joy in His worship, to abide in the consolation and light of His sanctuary: “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles” (Matt. 17:4). These are metaphors for that intimate concord with God that is the quest of all our prayer.

We pray for this union with God, but we also actively follow after it, says our psalm. Closeness to the Lord is inseparable from the doing of His will, love itself involving chiefly a union of wills. Thus, union with God comes of both pure grace (“A single thing have I sought of the Lord”) and strenuous effort (“and this will I pursue”—ekzeteso). Such things as fasting, self-denial, patience, kindness, obedience to the Lord’s commandments, and the disciplined exercise of the virtues are all components of this pursuit.

In this psalm the Lord’s sanctuary is chiefly pictured as a place of refuge: “For He screened me in His tabernacle in my day of adversities; in the hidden recess of His tent did He shelter me and lift me high upon a rock.”

Then, evidently in a sequence not decided by logic, we ask in the psalm’s second part those blessings that we celebrated in the first. We ask, that is, for the grace of illumination: “To You my heart has spoken; my face has sought You out. Your face, O Lord, will I seek. Turn not away Your face from me; be not averted in anger from Your servant.”

This is the final grace of prayer, of course, to gaze upon the face of God. On the mountain Moses asked to see the face of God (cf. Ex. 33:17–23), but it was more than a thousand years later when, on yet another mountain, his petition was finally granted (cf. Matt. 17:3). For our Lord Jesus Christ is the face of God, “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3). To seek the face of God, then, it is imperative to seek it where it is definitively and forever revealed.
To Him we pray, therefore, “Be my helper, and reject me not. Do not forsake me, O God my savior.” Once again, as at the psalm’s beginning, this same expression “my savior,” the knowledge of whom is everlasting life. For Him we wait in longing hope: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”

Sunday, August 5

2 Peter 1:1-11: In the present reading Peter speaks of Jesus as “Savior,” a term more often used in the New Testament to refer to God the Father. Nonetheless, in these three chapters Peter uses the expression five times in reference to Jesus (1:1,11; 2:20; 3:2,18). In each case, except in 1:1, the use of “Savior” is joined with “Lord.” This is very rare in early Christian literature. Christians today are so accustomed to speaking of Jesus as “Lord and Savior” that they do not realize that, were it not for 2 Peter, this expression would probably never have become so standard a part of Christian vocabulary.

Verse 4 is the only place in the New Testament that describes Christians as “partakers of the divine nature” (theias koinonoi physeos), a very bold description of divine grace. However, an identical theology of grace is expressed elsewhere in the New Testament with a different vocabulary (e.g., 1 John 1:3; 3:2,9; John 15:4; 17:22-23; Romans 8:14-17, and so on).

One also observes that this sharing in the divine nature is manifest as a particular “knowledge” (epignosis and gnosis) of God in Christ (verses 3,5,6,8). This knowledge of God, which is the substance of our call (klesis), must be made “secure” (bebaia – verse 9) by the cultivation of virtue (verses 5-8) and the avoidance of sin (verse 9).

Verse 11 identifies eternal life as “the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” an idea rare in early Christian literature (cf. Ephesians 5:5), which more often refers to the “kingdom of God.” The expression here in 2 Peter forms the biblical basis for that line of the Nicene Creed that says of Jesus, “of whose kingdom there shall be no end.”

Monday, August 6

2 Peter 1:12-21: After they have been initially catechized, it is imperative that believers be repeatedly instructed in the foundations of the faith, considering its various aspects in their mutually interpretive connections (what is called the “analogy of faith” in Romans 12:6), and more profoundly reflecting on its implications in their lives.

In the Holy Scriptures this ongoing endeavor of the Christian experience is known as “reminding,” in the sense of a renewal of mind. It is also known as “remembering,” in the sense of “putting the members back together again,” seeing the diverse parts of the faith afresh, in relationship to the whole.

This repeated pedagogical exercise of “calling to mind” is not an optional extra in the Christian life. (The only recognized “graduation ceremony” from Sunday School in the Christian Church is called the Rite of Burial.) It is, rather, an essential exercise of loving God with the whole mind, and the Bible often speaks of such remembrance (cf. 2 Peter 3:1-2; John 2:22; 12:16; Jude 3,5,17; 1 Corinthians 11:2,24).

The present text represents such an exercise (verses 12,13,15), in order to bring Peter’s readers more consciously into what he calls “the present truth,” or, if you will, the truth as presence.

By way of pursuing this living remembrance, Peter narrates for them a story they must have heard many times, the account of the Lord’s Transfiguration (also told in Mark 9, Matthew 17, and Luke 9), and he does this to serve, as it were, as a final testimony to them before his death (literally exodus in verse 15). Peter himself, that is to say, conscious that he will be outlived by one or more generations of Christians, writes this text as a legacy.

This perspective is quite different from the earlier epistles preserved in the New Testament (Paul’s, for instance), all of them composed, not with a direct view to the future generations of the Church, but in order to address concrete questions of the hour. In this respect, the Second Epistle of Peter more closely resembles the four canonical gospels, which also bear the more explicit mark of “legacy.”

Monday, August 7

2 Peter 2:1-11: Like the apostle Paul taking leave of the Asian churches for the last time (Acts 20:29-30), part of Peter’s final legacy here consists in a warning against false teachers who will arise from within the congregation after his departure. These will carry on the deceptive work of the false prophets, begun in Old Testament times and frequently spoken of in Holy Writ (for example, Deuteronomy 13, Jeremiah 28).

Peter proceeds to provide biblical illustrations of this road to perdition. He cites, first of all, the fallen angels, those original tempters of our race (verse 4; Jude 6), and then goes on to speak of the destruction of sinners in the Deluge and the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. Just as God spared Noah in the former instance, He spared Lot in the latter. Peter’s picture of Noah as a “preacher of righteousness” is paralleled in his contemporary, Josephus (Antiquities 1.3.1), and in Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians a generation later (7.6). Likewise, Peter’s very positive attitude toward Lot, which contrasts somewhat with the less flattering image in Genesis 19, reflects the picture of Lot in Wisdom 10:6 (“When the ungodly perished, [Wisdom] delivered the righteous man, who fled from the fire which fell down on the five cities”) and will likewise appear again in Clement of Rome (11.1).

The false teachers, by way of contrast, are said to introduce “heresies of damnation” (haireseis apoleias — verse 1), driven by fleshly lust (verses 2,10,13,14, 18) and rebellion (verses 1,10). Peter appreciates the moral “underground” of heresy. It is not simply false and unsound teaching, but a teaching prompted by lust and sustained by rebellion. If a person “loses the faith,” he has usually lost something else first, such as chastity, or patience, or sobriety. Heresy, that is to say, is normally a cover for some deeper vice. This is one of the reasons that the Bible takes such a dim view of false teachers.

Wednesday, August 8

2 Peter 2:12-22: Of the two Old Testament accounts given of Balaam (Numbers 22-24 [cf. Joshua 24:9-10; Micah 6:5; Deuteronomy 23:3-6] and Numbers 31), only the second portrays him in a bad light, as responsible for tempting the Israelites into lust and apostasy in their encounter with the Midianites. For this sin he is killed in Israel’s war with Midian (cf. Numbers 31:8; Joshua 13:22).

Peter’s negative comments on Balaam in the present text are similar to those found in rabbinical sources and in the Jewish philosopher Philo. His foul counsel to the Midianites, whereby young Israelite men were brought to their spiritual peril, was taken by early Christian writers as symbolic of the deceptions of false teachers. One finds this perspective, not only here in Peter, but also in Jude 11 and Revelation 2:14. Balaam is the very image of the deceitful teacher, and hardly any other group is criticized more often or more severely in Holy Scripture than the false teacher. One finds this condemnation in Peter, Jude, James, Paul, and John.

In the present chapter the false teachers are singled out for deceiving the newly converted (verses 2,14,20-22), an especially vulnerable group of believers, who are not yet mature in solid doctrine. These latter, in the very fervor of their conversion, are often seduced by unreliable teachers who prey on their inexperience. In the mouths of false teachers, little distinction is made between liberty and libertinism (verse 19; 1 Peter 2:16; Romans 6:16; John 8:34), and they use the enthusiasm of the newcomer to change conversion to subversion.

Thursday, August 9

2 Peter 3:1-9: Peter begins this chapter with an oblique reference to his earlier epistle. In verse 2, read “your apostles” instead of “us apostles.” The singular significance of this verse is its juxtaposition of the New Testament apostles with the Old Testament prophets, which was an important step in recognizing the apostolic writings as inspired Holy Scripture. In 3:16, indeed, Peter does give such recognition to the letters of the apostle Paul. Both groups of men, Peter says, are being disregarded by those who scoff at the doctrine of the Lord’s return (verse 4).

Since so many of the earliest Christians were of the opinion that the Lord would return during their own lifetime, His not doing so became for some an excuse for unbelief. It was only an excuse, however, not a justification, and Peter judged such unbelief to be prompted, not by what are called “sincere intellectual difficulties,” but by the lustful desires of those who wanted an excuse for unbelief (verse 3). Later in the century, Clement of Rome would address that same problem when he wrote to the Corinthians (23.3).

That heresy, which asserted that the “integrity” of the natural order precluded its being invaded from without by divine influences, rather curiously resembled the modern ideology of Naturalism, with which contemporary apologists must contend.

Such a misinterpretation of the world, Peter wrote, is willful (verse 5); it is deliberately chosen, not on the basis of evidence, but in order to loose those who hold it from accounting to a final judgment by God. That misinterpretation was also based, Peter went on to say, on a misunderstanding of what is meant by “last times.” This designation “last” is qualitative, not quantitative. It is not concerned with “how much,” but “of what sort.” The “last times” are not quantified; their limit is not known to us, but that limit is irrelevant to their quality. The last times are always the last times, no matter how long they last. Since the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are always within the eleventh hour, and this designation means only that it is the hour before the twelfth; it can last as long as God intends it to.

Friday, August 10

2 Peter 3:10-18: Since only God knows the length of the eleventh hour, the Lord’s return will confound all human calculations of its timing. The simile of the thief in the night, for instance, must not be taken literally, because it is never nighttime everywhere at the same time, and the Bible contains no hint that the Lord will return to the earth by following the sequence of its appointed time zones!

This comparison with the thief’s nocturnal entrance was doubtless common among the early Christians (Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 3:3; 16:5). It will all happen with a “rush,” this onomatopoeia corresponding to the Greek verb rhoizedon in verse 10. Watchfulness, therefore, and a holy life are the proper responses to our true situation in this world (verse 11; Matthew 24:42-51; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). Both heaven and earth will be renewed (verse 13; Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Revelation 21:1; cf. Romans 8:19-22).

The expression “without spot and without blame” in verse 14 (aspiloi kai amometoi) contains the negative forms of the adjectives describing the false teachers in 2: 13 (spiloi kai momoi). Peter’s reference to Paul indicates his familiarity with more than one Pauline epistle and probably suggests that Paul’s letters were already being gathered into collections and copied. Peter likewise testifies to the difficulties attendant on the understanding of Paul’s message. Christian history bears a similar witness, alas, in the modern divisions that have arisen among Christians over their differing interpretations of Paul. Paul himself was aware, even then, that some Christians were distorting his thought (Romans 3:8).