Friday, 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.
Saturday, 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 expressed, 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.
Sunday, 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, 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.
Monday, 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).
Tuesday, August 11
Mark 14:53-65: According to the Gospel of John (18:13), the arrested Jesus is first brought before Annas, the former high priest and father-in-law to the current high priest, Caiaphas. This Annas is a powerful figure, and the early Christians regard him as one of their most dangerous enemies (Acts 4:5). John (19:19-23) narrates an interrogation
of Jesus before Annas, and then he says, “Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest” (19:24). This Evangelist provides not a single detail of Jesus’ interrogation by Caiaphas but says that Jesus was taken directly to Pontius Pilate in the morning (19:28). In short, John records two interrogations of Jesus by the Jewish leaders, the second ending in the morning.
Luke simplifies the narrative considerably, saying the arrested Jesus was taken directly to the high priest’s presence (22:54). Nonetheless, he tells us nothing about an interrogation until the morning (22:66). The details of that inquiry (22:67-71) closely resemble the interrogation that Mark and Matthew portray as taking place during the night.
There is no reason to doubt the accuracy of these variant evangelical accounts, if we bear in mind it has always been customary to question a prisoner repeatedly, going over the same accusations many times, often with a view to wearing the prisoner down and tripping him up in his testimony. Clearly this was the procedure followed in Jesus’ case, each of the four Evangelists preserving some portion of the proceedings.
Mark and Matthew, but more especially John, tell the story of the Lord’s trial by weaving it back and forth with the scene in the outer courtyard, where Peter is also under a kind of interrogation. Jesus and Peter are both on trial, as it were, and the reader appreciates the contrast between them. In both cases there are testimonies, and in each case there is an adjuration of some kind. In both cases there is perjury.
Even before the charges against Jesus are stated, the Sanhedrin is seeking the death penalty. Indeed, Jesus’ enemies made this determination some time ago (3:6). The charge they want to sustain, if they can find witnesses for it, is blasphemy, one of their earliest accusations against Jesus (2:7). Jesus knows exactly what they are up to, and they know that he knows it. The Sanhedrin is specifically accused of suborning perjury.
It is not so easy, however, to find even false witnesses to support the charge of blasphemy. Jesus, it is said, made some remark or other about the destruction of the Temple, but there is inadequate agreement between the two witnesses brought forward to make this point. Only John (2:19-21) records the actual words of Jesus that formed the basis for this accusation.
We recall that blasphemy against the temple will later be the charge brought against Stephen (Accts 6:13-14).
By not answering these interrogations, Jesus fulfills the prophecies about the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (52:14-15).
Frustrated by Jesus’ silence, the high priest adjures Jesus directly to declare whether He is God’s Son and Messiah. The high priest is surely prompted by the parable of the vine growers to ask this question.
Jesus apparently answers positively to this question, affirming that He I the Messiah and the Son of God, but He goes on to identify Himself further by reference to another figure in prophetic literature, Daniel’s Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14). This claim, from Jesus’ own lips, is taken as evidence adequate to sustain the charge of blasphemy, a crime for which capital punishment is prescribed (Leviticus 24:16). This is the sentence Jesus will be given later, toward the morning .
The bystanders and others now repeat the beatings and ridicule, which began as soon as Jesus was arrested (Luke 22:63-65).
Wednesday, August 12
Mark 14:66-72: Unlike his attempt to walk on water (Matthew 14:28-32), Peter’s denials are chronicled in all four Gospel accounts. Essential in outline, these versions of the story differ in details, some subtle, some indicating perspectives peculiar to the individual Evangelist.
For example, only John breaks up the sequence of Peter’s denials, instead of telling them all at one time. Thus, after Peter’s first denial (19:17), John returns to Jesus’ interrogation by Annas (19:19-23). Then, when Jesus is sent to Caiaphas (19:24), John continues the story of Peter’s next two denials. In this way the structure of John’s account advances the story line in two different scenes simultaneously, giving a greater dynamism to the whole.
In Luke’s version of Peter’s denials, the author introduces the detail of Jesus turning and looking at Peter while the rooster crows. Thus, Peter receives the testimony of two senses, simultaneously calling to mind the Lord’s prophecy of his failure (22:60-62).
Mark is alone among the Evangelists in adding the detail that the rooster crowed twice (14:30,68,72). In fact, the first and second cockcrows refer to two different times during the night, the latter one coming at the break of dawn. Mark thus indicates the fairly lengthy time over which Peter’s three denials took place, the last one happening toward the morning. We have observed that John makes the same point by breaking his story into two parts.
Thursday, August 13
Psalm 105: It is common to think of the Greeks as the first people to arrive at the notion of “history,” understood as the ability to perceive and narrate a single, coherent texture of many diverse events united by patterns of cause and effect. Thus, in the very first work to be called Historiai, in the fifth century before Christ, Herodotus was able to unite into a single interpretive picture the diverse accounts of several peoples and empires on three continents, over several centuries, as they came to bear on the Persian invasion of Asia Minor and Greece. Herodotus, therefore, is commonly called the world’s first historian.
In fact, however, since at least the reign of Solomon five centuries earlier, Israel had already demonstrated an analogous ability to trace coherent, interpretive patterns uniting historical events over an even longer period of time. These discerned patterns, further elaborated by later inspired authors, eventually became the panoramic vision of biblical history.
In Greek history, as in the formal Greek science that was beginning about the same time, the perspective was what we may call secular, in the sense that the empirical data were arranged into intelligible patterns requiring no transcendent or divine explanation. Much as the modern social sciences attempt to adopt the methodology of the physical sciences, so ancient Greek historiography tended to follow certain perspectives and procedures developed for Greek physical science. In this way both Greek history and Greek science represented a break with traditional mythology, which had endeavored to interpret observable phenomena by recourse to religious explanation.
In Israel’s historiography, on the other hand, all was theology. The unifying theme was God’s governance of events through various interventions, whether by perceived phenomena (miracles, apparitions, direct speech) or by that subtle, secret influence of divine activity that we have come to call God’s providence. It was to this latter that St. Paul referred when he wrote: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
One small biblical exercise in the narrative tracing of such a pattern is Psalm 105 (Greek and Latin 104), the first of three consecutive psalms structured on detailed historical narrative. While their varying constructions show no original relationship joining them, the first two are arranged in the Psalter in such a way as to suggest an overlapping sequence. Thus, Psalm 105 begins with Abraham and ends with the Sinai covenant, while Psalm 106 begins with the Exodus and ends with the period after the Conquest.
Even the most casual reader will also note the similarities of Psalm 105 with Psalm 78 (Greek and Latin 77) with respect to historical outline. These differ from one another considerably in inspiration, however. That earlier psalm especially emphasizes the repeated infidelities of the people, whereas Psalm 105 concentrates entirely on praising God for Hi
s providential directing of Israel’s history.
Following the primitive schema preserved in Deuteronomy 26:1–9, the narrative of Psalm 104 breaks into three parts: the Patriarchs, the sojourn in Egypt, and the Exodus, all of them joined by the themes of God’s fidelity to His covenant promises and His active providence in fulfilling them.
While the whole psalm deals with God’s providence on behalf of all the people, the second section, dealing with the sojourn in Egypt, also includes what we may think of as “individual” providence. What the Bible portrays as God’s care for the history of the whole people of Israel is shown also to be at work in the life and destiny of a single man. It is the awesome story of Joseph and God’s care for him through many trials. Sold by his brothers into Egypt, falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, forsaken for twenty years, the faith of Joseph was still able to say, at the end: “God sent me before you to preserve life. . . . God sent me before you. . . . But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 45:5, 7; 50:20). Joseph’s faith in God’s providence, even as he was proved by steel and fire, is preserved also in this psalm: “[God] sent a man before them, Joseph, sold into slavery. They humbled his feet with fetters; his soul was shackled in iron. Until his word came to pass, the word of the Lord seared through him.”
Friday, August 14
Joshua 10: This chapter, in which attention is directed to the southern campaign of Joshua’s invasion, begins with an alliance formed to resist that invasion. This alliance, alarmed at the capitulation of the Gibeonites, recorded in the previous chapter, determines to attack Gibeon itself rather than Joshua’s invading force (verse 4). This procedure made military sense. If the alliance could punish the Gibeonites for their treaty with Joshua, it was reasoned, other Canaanite cities would think twice about following suit. If the attack on Gibeon proved successful, other cities would be disposed, rather, to join the coalition against Joshua.
This alliance of five Canaanite city-states, under the leadership of Jerusalem, had another reason for conquering Gibeon as a way of resistance to Joshua’s advance. In fact, this second reason rendered the control of Gibeon imperative to the resistance—namely, Gibeon’s strategic position guarding the route through the Ajalon Valley, a route that would enable Joshua to divide and isolate the southern cities. In the event, of course, after Joshua’s defeat of the alliance, his campaign pursued its remnant forces southward through that valley (verses 10-13).
Understanding the political situation throughout Canaan, Joshua resolves to make an example of the five kings involved in the alliance (verses 16-27). His ruthless tactics were extended to the citizens of Makkedah (verse 28), Libnah (verse 30), Lachish (verse 32), and elsewhere (verse 39). We may want to bear in mind that these descriptions are common in the language of battle, where they bear what we may call a “poetic sense.” That is to say, if ALL the citizens of all of these cities really did perish under Joshua’s sword, we readers of Holy Scripture will be hard pressed to explain why they continued to pose problems for Israel in the very near future.