Friday, September 10

2 Corinthians 5:1-11: At the beginning of this chapter Paul outlines a theme he will treat in more detail in Romans 8—the longing that the Holy Spirit prompts in the hearts of Christians with respect to the final glorification of their bodies (verse 5). Indeed, he speaks of this longing as a “groaning” (verses 2,4; Romans 8:23). It is death, not the body itself, which will be swallowed up in life. This longing is appropriate, because we are, even as we are weighed down by our mortality, the temples of the Holy Spirit, the guarantee and down payment of our final salvation.

Even our present union with Christ, moreover, does not eliminate the fact that in our mortal condition we are still separated from the Lord (verse 6). This is simply the difference between faith and sight (verse 7; 1 Corinthians 13:12).

This is a bold way to live. Twice Paul uses the verb “dare” (tharreo–verses 6,8), which takes up the “boldness” of the previous chapter. It is a courage given by the Holy Spirit, because few men would willingly part with their bodies to attain a better goal (Philippians 1:21-24). What is more important than either state, however, is to be pleasing to the Lord (verse 9), whether living or dying. This is what will count at the tribunal at which the value of our lives will be assessed (verse 10; Romans 2:16-26).

Meanwhile believers live by the first-fruits of immortality that abide in their mortal flesh—namely, the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling power their bodies will in the end be covered over in glory.

Standing even under the divine judgment, Paul endeavors to convince others of this truth (verse 11).

As in 3:1, Paul again fears lest his comments be understood as a self-promotion, which would be most unseemly (verse 12). He wants the Corinthians to know his heart, nonetheless, and not emulate those who judge by appearances. The Apostle is implicitly admitting here that he has not always “looked good.” Some of his experiences have been ecstatic (verse 13; 12:1-7), a point on which, it would appear, certain opponents have been critical of him. No matter, says Paul, such experiences have been God-ward. When, however, he speaks rationally, it is man-ward. Paul made the same distinction the previous year (1 Corinthians 14:2,28). It is not clear in the present text whether has Paul has been criticized for his ecstatic experiences or for his apparent lack of them. Either sense will fit the context.

Verse 14 means, “the love of God grabs us” (or “grips” us—synechei). This is the love manifest in his dying for us (Galatians 2:20). “All have died” in the sense that those who are gripped by the love of Christ will no longer live for themselves but for Him who purchased them with His blood (verse 15; Romans 5:10).

What we have in Christ is a new existence, no longer “according to the flesh.” Before his conversion Paul had known Christ “according to the flesh”—that is, not according to faith. All that, however, is now gone. Paul will not know anyone except in the faith of Christ (verse 16). The love of Christ gives the believer a new way of knowing people. Being “in Christ” is a new mode of existence (verse 17; Galatians 6:16). Paul’s vocabulary here seems borrowed from the second part of the Book of Isaiah (for example, 43:18-19; 48:5; 65:17; 66:22), which he will cite presently in 6:2 (Isaiah 49:8).

The Christian ministry is essentially a ministry of reconciliation, in which the reconciliation effected on the Cross is applied and brought to bear on the lives and hearts of human beings (verses 18-19; Galatians 1:12-16). Paul makes such an application now (verse 20).

The expression that Christ was made “sin [hamartia] for us” is open to more than one meaning (verse 21). It may mean that Christ, though not a sinner, assumed the condition of a sinner in order to represent all sinners. It may also mean that Christ became a “sin offering” (which is the meaning of hamartia as it appears in the Greek text of Leviticus 4). In either case the meaning is soteriological. By Christ’s becoming “sin,” we become “the righteousness of God.”

Saturday, September 11

Job 20: Because he was the last to speak among Job’s (alleged!) comforters, we should presume that Zophar was the youngest of those three. Whereas the Masoretic text speaks of him as a “Naamathite,” likely in reference to a site in northwestern Arabia called Jebel-el-Na‘ameh, the much older Septuagint version identifies him as “the king of the Mineans,” a tribe in southern Arabia. Zophar was, in either case, an Arab.

Rather Arabian, too, was his attitude toward Job’s problem, because Zophar’s was a God experienced in the starkness of the desert. Arabs and other ancient nomads, unlike the tillers of the soil who were their contemporaries, were not people accustomed to thinking of God in terms of agricultural cycles and seasons. Gods—to say nothing of goddesses—of fertility were not much regarded in the desert. While the nomad certainly invoked a Sky Father, that invocation normally had nothing to do with an Earth Mother, for only seldom did the desert dweller witness the rain that prompted the farmer to think of the Sky Father as a god of fertility.

Little preoccupied with earth, the religion of the Arabian nomad was not burdened with the complex and intricate rites and narratives associated with the agricultural divinities. It was, rather, a simpler religion concentrated on heaven, that vast vault overarching the trackless sands. For if the desert provided the Arabian with no constant and discernible path, heaven certainly did, because across its face moved the myriad celestial bodies in their appointed rotations and everlasting courses. The dweller in the desert would very quickly become lost unless he took his guidance from the stars above, so the religion of the desert was at once less complex and more predictable, its lines marked by a steadiness and predetermination unfamiliar to the rather undependable and often uncertain future of the farmer. And while the vastness and height of the sky proclaimed its independence from every human hope and need, the order—even the punctuality—of its regular gyrations conveyed the stable transcendence of solidly simple truths, entirely dependable because utterly unalterable. It was from the relentless desert that the mind of mankind learned the eternal and apodictic moral law.

Zophar, whose arguments are found in chapters 11 and 20 of the Book of Job, was the spokesman for that stern, demanding, moral religion learned across the sands beneath the vaulted heavens. He argued that if Job was suffering, then Job most certainly deserved to suffer: “The heavens will reveal his iniquity, / And the earth will rise up against him” (20:27). The moral structure of the universe is eternally just. Indeed, Zophar tells Job, “God exacts from you / Less than your iniquity deserves” (11:6).

Zophar, a man familiar with “the poison of cobras” and “the viper’s tongue” (20:16), regarded Job’s protestations of innocence as mere exercises in pretense:

“Do you not know this of old,
Since man was placed on earth,
That the triumphing of the wicked is short,
And the joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment?
Though his haughtiness mounts up to the heavens,
And his head reaches to the clouds,
Yet he will perish forever like his own refuse;
Those who have seen him will say, “Where is he?”
He will fly away like a dream, and not be found” (20:4–8).

Even Zophar’s abrupt rhetorical style resembles some turbaned rider from the desert, swooping down swiftly from the dunes, camel at the gallop, robes flowing in the wind, scimitar menacing and whirling aloft. Speaking of “my anxious thoughts” and “the turmoil within me” (20:2), Zophar’s is the fierce, impetuous voice of the sandstorm. Whereas Bildad and Eliphaz speculated about Job’s afflictions as a philosophical problem, Zophar will have none of this, but is even insulting to the sufferer. Job accuses Zophar of mockery (cf. 21:3, where the verb is in the singular) and the insensitivity of someone unfamiliar with personal affliction (12:4–5).

Zophar, in short, is not much given to calm, detached dialogue. Unlike Eliphaz the Temanite, he makes no appeal to his personal experience, nor, like Bildad the Shuhite, does he argue from the studies of the ancients. Zophar believes that things are what they are. The laws overarching the world are unalterable, and if Job cannot accept that fact, then he is “a man full of talk” (11:2), “an empty-headed man” (11:12), to be numbered among the “deceitful” (11:11) and “the wicked” (11:20). In the book’s structure, Zophar’s fierce impatience with Job functions as a major foil to Job’s patience.

Sunday, September 12

Job 21: Most of this chapter is Job’s examination of the considerable empirical evidence that stands against the thesis of his friends. He only argues here; he does not pray. Psychologically strengthened by his own affirmation of faith two chapters earlier, he now goes on the offensive against these mean, narrow men who have made themselves his critics.

They have contended all along that God blesses the virtuous and punishes the wicked, and that this principle of retributive justice is manifest in Job’s own fate. Oh, says Job, is this so clear?

The example elicited by Job is not the obvious villain, the wicked tyrant proposed by Eliphaz (15:20) and Zophar (20:12–14,18), because such a person cannot truly be called happy. Job proposes, rather, the simply godless man, who has no time for God nor sees why he should. Such a one is sufficiently happy with his lot in this world, so why bother about God? Does not this example indicate that goodness and good fortune are not necessarily inseparable things?

Indeed, it seems to be the case that prosperity itself may actually prompt a man to adopt godless sentiments (verses 14–15). Still, says Job, we see irreligious men enjoying God’s benefits, rather much as his three friends claim is the lot solely of God-fearing men.

Take the blessings that Eliphaz predicates of the religious man in 5:20–26. These blessings also fall to the lot of the irreligious man described by Job here in verses 8–13. Such a one receives God’s precious gifts, such as children (verse 8), homes (verse 9), possessions (verse 10), and happiness (verse 11). Truth to tell, are not these the blessings that Job himself formerly knew? But an ungodly, irreligious man may have these things as well.

And then that same may also die a painless death (verse 13). Moreover, does not death itself suggest that God is something less than discriminating in the outpouring of His benedictions? Death befalls everyone, just and unjust alike (verses 23–26). Just where, then, is all this justice that established the world?

Dr. S. M. Hutchens has summarized very well the metaphysical problem uncovered in this chapter of Job: “I believe that one of the fundamental insights of the Book of Job is that theodicy is always a losing game. God cannot be justified, by Reason, reasons, or reasoning. The only argument for God is God Himself. . . . No matter how much a man has suffered or received in his suffering, it does not qualify him to serve as God’s attorney.”

Monday, September 13

2 Corinthians 7:1-12: The quest for holiness was the reason Paul gave for not being yoked with pagans (6:16-17). The quest of holiness, however, was more general in its nature and applicable to a much greater number of concerns. Holiness, first, is something that grows. It requires cultivation and further cleansing from contaminates. It involves, moreover, both man’s spirit and his body (verse 1).

Paul then turns apologetic, pleading the sincerity of his relations to the Church at Corinth (verses 2-4). In asking that these Corinthians “make room” (choresate) for him, Paul takes up the same metaphor (and verbal root) that he used earlier, when he spoke of a narrowness of affection (stenochochoreomai–6:12). Even as he defends his behavior, he is careful not to blame the Corinthians (verse 3). Perhaps we perceive here a touch of what in recent times came to be known as “pastoral sensitivity.”

Because Paul mentions death before life, using the aorist tense for the first (synapothanein) and the present tense (syzein) for the second, it is clear that the life referred to here (verse 4) is the eternal life that follows death. Paul will be with the Corinthians in his death and in the life that ensues. His subtle expression thus means a great deal more than “in life and death.”

Paul turns next to the recent return of Titus, whom he had dispatched as his apostolic delegate to the Corinthians (verses 5-7). Paul, we remember, impatient at waiting for Titus at Troas, had procured passage over to Macedonia in search of him (2:12-13). Titus at last arrived in Macedonia from Corinth (verse 6).

Macedonia is a pretty big place. How did the two men find one another in Macedonia? I mean, how would a friend and I simply meet up “in Chicago,” to say nothing of our meeting up “in Illinois”? In this regard, we should consider here the close and constant connections between the local congregations in Macedonia—at Philippi, at Thessaloniki, at Beroea, and so forth. These active connections are likely what brought the two men together.

Titus brings Paul news of the favorable reception that met his earlier letter, the letter of tears (verses 7-8; 2:1-4), the letter that Titus had carried to Corinth. Now Paul is able to put behind him whatever misgivings he had about the wisdom of sending that letter; it accomplished effectively the purpose for which he sent it (verse 9). The Corinthians have not disappointed him (verse 10). They have appropriately dealt with the disciplinary situation mentioned earlier (verses 11-12; 2:5-11).

Tuesday, September 14

Numbers 21:4-0: The Israelites move further east and south to skirt the territory of the uncooperative Edomites. Their recent discouragement leads to the incident of the Brazen Serpent. The “fiery” (saraph, the root of the word Seraphim, by the way) serpents are so called by the effects of their bite, whether a fever or a painful inflammation.

It is curious that this incident took place near Punon (33:42), where there were large copper mines at the time (Late Bronze Age), and it is certainly worth remarking that the excavations at Lachish, to the west, uncovered a bronze image of a snake dating from exactly this period!

In due course, King Hezekiah was obliged to destroy this copper image, because the Israelites of the 8th century had started to treat it like an idol (2 Kings 18:4).

The true significance of the Brazen Serpent is explained in two later biblical passages.

The first is the Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-1:

“For when the fierce rage of beasts came upon these, they were destroyed with the biting of crooked serpents. But thy wrath endured not for ever, but they were troubled for a short time for their correction, having a sign of salvation to put them in remembrance of the commandment of thy law. For he that turned to it, was not healed by that which he saw, but by thee the Savior of all.”

The great irony of the serpent is this: The serpent was our tempter. The serpent, then, symbolizes man’s fall. God, as the “Savior of all,” assumes an image associated with sin itself. The brazen serpent, then, became a type or prophecy of the Incarnation, in which God’s Son assumed the likeness of our sinful flesh in order to redeem us. The Jews, then, in looking at the serpent in faith, were in fact, looking forward to Christ, who was symbolized in that image.
The second text is John 3:14-16:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but] have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

The expression “be lifted up,” used by our Lord in His discourse with Nicodemus, is repeated halfway through John’s Gospel, again with reference to the crucifixion: “‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (12:32–33).

In addition to being a reference to the crucifixion, the expression “lifted up” also alludes to a prophecy of God’s Suffering Servant: “Behold, My Servant will prosper; He shall be lifted up and glorified exceedingly” (Isaiah 52:13, LXX). As this text makes clear, the Lord’s lifting up refers not only to His crucifixion but also to His exaltation in glory.

Wednesday, September 15

Luke 8:16-25: In the account of the stilling of the storm, the Lord again speaks of faith. There is a striking contrast between the utter serenity of the Lord (asleep!) and the agitation of the disciples. The Lord imposes his own tranquility on the sea itself (verse 24). Dominant in this narrative is a Christology of majesty, ending with the major query of the gospel itself: “Who is this?” (verse 25) This is the very question that Peter, in the name of the Church, will answer in 9:20. Luke sees this confession as the basis of the Church (Acts 8:37; 9:20,22).

2 Corinthians 7:13—8:7: Now that the delicate and critical situation in Corinth has been settled by the mission of Titus (verses 13-16), Paul brings to the attention of the Corinthians the charitable collection of resources currently in process for the impoverished Christians in the Holy Land. The role of Titus in this collection will be crucial, as we see in chapters 8 and 9.

Paul proceeds to tell the Corinthians of the generosity of the churches of Macedonia, partly with the intent, no doubt, of encouraging a like generosity among his readers. Chief in generosity among the Macedonians, it seems, are the Philippians, who have already established the custom of sacrificial giving with respect to Paul (11:8-9; Philippians 4:15-16).

The collection had already begun at Corinth, in fact, during the previous year (8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4), and it will continue into the following year (Romans 15:25-27).

Everything about this enterprise is grace, charis (verses 1,6,7,19). It begins with the generosity of God. The Macedonian Christians are poor, after all, and Paul strains his images to express how this poverty abounded in generosity (verse 2). This generosity was spontaneous (verse 2); the Macedonians asked for the opportunity to give (verse 4). Indeed, this giving was the expression of the gift of themselves (verse 5).

Paul is sending Titus back to Corinth as the bearer of the present letter. Hence he mentions now that Titus, on his return to Corinth, will be organizing the collection in that city too (verse 6). This will be the perfecting of the good ministry that Titus had already commenced among the Corinthians.

Thursday, September 16

Luke 8:26-40: Except for the Passion narratives, it is not often that several consecutive Gospel stories are told in the identical order in all or even several of the Gospels. Indeed, apart from events that obviously belong near either the beginning or the end of Jesus’ earthly life, factual chronology seems not to have been of great concern to the four evangelists, and the differing positions and juxtapositions of individual stories within their Gospels seem determined less by a care for historical precision than by the literary and theological considerations that guided their minds.

Consequently, when we find four consecutive stories told in exactly the same order in three of the Gospels, the fact is noteworthy. Indeed, in such a case we are justified in suspecting that the sequence of the narrative was determined by very early tradition, perhaps even the historical memory established by an apostolic eyewitness.

We have such an instance in the order of the following four stories: the stilling of the storm, the driving of the demons into the pigs, the healing of the woman with the blood-flow, and the raising of Jairus’s daughter. These accounts appear in each of the three Synoptic Gospels in exactly the same sequence.

The likelihood of strict chronological precision is even stronger in the sequence of the storm scene and the episode involving the demons and the pigs. Since the latter event was remembered to have taken place in Gentile territory (Jews not being permitted to tend pigs) on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, we naturally find it preceded by a boat trip to arrive at the place. Beyond simple historical sequence, however, the two narratives are appropriately juxtaposed for two other reasons.

First, both stories are concerned with the mysterious identity of Jesus in a context symbolic of baptism. First, the marveling Apostles raise the question of Jesus’ identity in reaction to His manifest authority over the storm (Matthew 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25), and then the demons address Him as “Son of God” (Matthew 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28): “Who is this? The Son of God.” This combination of query and response, found in all three Synoptics, suggests that the demons themselves are answering the question that the Apostles have just asked: “Who?” The joining of this specific doctrinal question and this specific dogmatic answer, given at the waterside, follows the ancient interrogation of the Sacrament of Baptism (cf. Acts 8:36–37, for example), which in the ancient Church was always prefaced by an exorcism. To this very day, when someone is presented for baptism in the Orthodox Church, that person is first exorcised of demons, who are explicitly rejected, and is then asked to confess Jesus as Son of God, Savior, and Lord.

Second, the juxtaposition of these two stories suggests an imaginative analogy between the outer, physical storm on the lake and the inner, spiritual storm afflicting a tortured soul. (This suggestion is not at all affected by Matthew’s having two demoniacs here, apparently moving the second one to this scene from Mark 1:23–26. Such doublings are typical of Matthew.)

Both of these storms, the outer and the inner, have a “before and after.” Thus, of the first one we read, “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat,” and then, “the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:37, 39). Of the second storm we are told, “he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones,” and then, they “saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:5, 15). In both cases, it is the encounter with Jesus that produces the calm. In each instance, Jesus’ command is inexorable: “Even the wind and the sea obey Him” and “Send us to the swine” (4:41; 5:12).

Prior to meeting Jesus, this poor demoniac is the very type of the lost soul, his heart and mind fractured and fragmented into thousands of warring parts. (There were six thousand foot soldiers in a Roman legion, besides cavalry. Now, if six thousand demons entered into two thousand pigs, that would mean . . . well, you can do the math.) This meeting with Christ is baptismal; the demons perish in those same deluge waters from which the Church has just been delivered.

More specifically, that raging demoniac, living in Gentile territory, represented the hopeless plight of the uncovenanted Gentiles described by the Apostle Paul: “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Prior to meeting Christ in the mystery of baptism, he was day and night dwelling in tomb caves, the realm of the dead, breaking iron chains with his bare hands, crying out in despair and gashing himself in anguish; it was truly the case that “he saw Jesus from afar” (makrothenMark 5:6). Indeed, from very far, and without hope. But even to those in such a state was St. Paul able to write, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off [makran] have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

Friday, September 17

2 Corinthians 9:1-15: Paul continues, with a repetition suggesting uneasiness, to discuss the collection for the saints and the Corinthians’ participation in it. He has held up the Corinthians for emulation by the Macedonians (verse 2), just as he is currently holding up the Macedonians for the emulation of the Corinthians (8:1-5). The two cases are not equal, however. The Macedonians, with their longer track record of generosity, have actually contributed to the collection, whereas the most Paul can say about the Corinthians is that they have been “ready since last year” (cf. also 8:11 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Still, this is not a point on which Paul is entirely confident (verses 3-5). Hence he is sending Titus and two others to give further encouragement in the matter.

Even as Paul continues to write on the subject, he says it is “superfluous” (perisson) to do so. This is an expression of rhetorical irony, of course. Paul knows very well that it is far from superfluous! We are glad that he continues on the subject, because the present chapter richly develops the theme of generous giving.

First, he calls this giving a “service” (diakonia–verses 1,12,13), which places the collection in the larger context of what all believers owe to one another, the obligation to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), poverty being one of those burdens.

Second, the underlying spirit of the gift is to be generosity, a true “blessing” (evlogia–twice each in verses 5,6), and not stinginess (pleonechsia). That is to say, the collection serves more than an economic purpose; it is designed also to enrich the spirit. Ironically the collection may be called self-serving, in the sense that one sows in order to reap (verse 6). The Lord, who is never outdone in generosity, invites believers to test Him on the point (verses 7-8). The collection involves the “heart” (kardia).

Third, none of this enterprise is of purely human inspiration. It is all “grace” (charis–verses 8,14), which is why he continues to speak of “abounding” (perissevo–verses 8,9,12; 8:2,7,14 [twice]). All generosity begins with God (verse 10), who is the source of all “righteousness” (dikaiosyne–verses 9,10).

Fourth, everything leads to thanksgiving (evcharistia–verses 11,12). God’s purpose in all things is to bring forth in human beings a thankful heart.