Friday, February 18
Genesis 49: Flavius Josephus tells us that Jacob lived seventeen years in Egypt (Antiquities 2.8.1). The biblical description of Jacob’s death (vv. 28–33) is remarkable for its failure to mention death! Jacob simply goes “to his people” (el-‘ammiw). Jacob had become Israel, and Israel had become a people. Hence, it was deemed inappropriate to come right out and say that Jacob had died. Jacob was Israel, and Israel still lived!
Romans 10:1-13: Like chapter nine, the present chapter begins with an expression of Paul’s sorrow over the contemporary falling away of Israel. These present verses indicate that that defection was not inevitable. In His merciful providence, God dealt with it, but He in no way caused it. On the contrary, God made easy the path to faith (verse 9).
Israel’s defection was not caused by God; it was caused by Israel. Paul still prays for the salvation of the Jews, nonetheless (verse 1; cf. 9:1-3). As Paul knows from his own experience (Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:9), they are zealous for God (verse 2). Their failure has not been in zeal, but in knowledge, epignosis, for they have been "ignorant of God’s righteousness" (verse 3). Thus, they resist the Gospel, as Paul himself had done.
"Christ is the end of the Law" (verse 4) in two senses. First, as the historical moment in which the Law lost its obligatory nature (Galatians 3:23; Ephesians 2:15; John 1:17). The new dispensation in Christ accomplishes what the Law could not. In this sense the era of the Law is over.
Second, "Christ is the end of the Law" in the sense of being its theological goal, its telos. The Law was given on Mount Sinai, only with a view to the coming of Christ, in whom it is fulfilled (3:31; 8:4; Matthew 5:17).
Whereas the Law is concerned with what man does, the Gospel is concerned with what God does. Faith is concerned, not with the Law, but with the Incarnation of God’s Son ("to bring Christ down") and His Resurrection ("to bring Christ up from the dead"). These are the things that God does. Faith is concerned, then, not with what we can do for God, but with what God has done, and promises to do, for us. In the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ (and, of course, everything in-between), God has reconciled the heights and the depths. Man is required only to believe and to confess what God has done in Christ (verse 9).
In this confession of faith we observe the primacy of the Resurrection, by which Christ put death to death (4:25). Putting there our trust, says Paul, we will be saved (verses 9,10,13—We note again the future tense for salvation). This salvation will be complete when our own bodies are raised from the dead at Christ’s return: “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (6:5).
Saturday, February 19
Genesis 50: Egyptian embalming was one of the great curiosities of the ancient world, a feature that made Egypt famous. Whereas modern techniques of embalming are designed to disguise the effects of death for only a short time, Egyptian mummification was an attempt to resist the effects of death as much as possible, an endeavor to defy permanently the decay and corruption of the body. Jacob’s embalming required forty days (vv. 1–6). By Egyptian standards, this was pretty short. Ancient Egyptian texts suggest something closer to seventy days, which is the number of mourning days indicated in verse 3.
The large retinue of Jacob’s funeral cortege (vv. 7–9) serves to stress his prestige and importance. The site of his burial (vv. 10–14) ties this story back to the earlier accounts in the patriarchal narrative. This property had been “in the family” ever since Abraham purchased it in chapter 23 as the family burial plot. Sarah, we recall, was the first to be buried there.
This later account of Joseph and his brothers (vv. 15–21) continues a theme from chapter 45. We contrast the magnanimity of Joseph with the pettiness of the pitiful brothers, who were trying to save their necks with a very thin fabrication.
Romans 10:14-21: Israel, says Paul, is without excuse. It was to Israel that the Gospel was first addressed, but they did not believe.
This assessment refers, not only to the preaching of Jesus and the first apostles, but also to Paul’s own experience. As the Acts of the Apostles describes it, Paul’s custom, on first arriving at any new city, was to take the Gospel first to the local synagogue (Acts 13:5,14; 14:1; 17:1-2,10,17; 18:4,19,26; 19:8). In a majority of the recorded instances, however, the message was rejected by most of the Jews who heard it. By and large, Paul discovered, his more receptive audiences tended to be made up of Gentile seekers who had attached themselves, in varying degrees, to the synagogue. These, together with small remnants of Jews in each city, became the first members of the Christian Churches of Cyprus, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, and so on.
The proclamation of the Gospel is the ministry of preaching, and this involves the authority of the preacher who is "sent" (verses 14-15; Acts 13:1-4). This "sending" has to do with “apostolicity,” a word derived from the Greek verb, apostello, "to send." The sending forth to preach is the commission of the Church, a commission the Apostles received from Christ (Matthew 10:5-15; 28:16-20; John 20:21). The transmission of this authority is known to Christian history as the "apostolic succession," which means "the succession of those who have been sent." It is the succession itself that transmits that authority, the singular identity of the apostolic ministry from one age to the next. The authoritative proclamation of the Gospel is derived from that historical succession, which is an essential component of the Church. All legitimate mission, therefore, is rooted in a proper succession. The Gospel authority is transmitted through the Spirit-guided handing-on of the being of the Church.
Sunday, February 20
Proverbs 1: The wise person (verse 3) will be cautious in the conducting of his life (hashkel), acquainted with the requirements of righteous living (sedeq), able to make sound judgments (mishpat), and to do what is honest (mesharim). If someone learns such things when he is young (verse 4), his wisdom will increase as he grows older (verse 5; cf. 4:18).
This instruction will be grammatical, rhetorical, and imaginary (verse 6), but its principle is moral (verse 7), and its transmission comes from parental tradition (verses 8-9). Hence, religious docility to tradition is absolutely required for its attainment.
One of the first things to be acquired in the pursuit of wisdom is the courage to resist peer pressure (verses 10-19). The clear presumption here is that a young man is surrounded by other young men equally ignorant, who, left to their own devices, will simply pool their ignorance for some common venture ill conceived. Therefore, the young man is first of all warned against the nefarious influence of his possible companions. All through this book we see an insistence on this point: Wisdom is to be learned from the past, not from one’s contemporaries.
The first chapter closes with the first discourse of Wisdom (verses 20-33), an expression formulated by the feminine plural (hokmoth), designating an abstraction. This is Wisdom as it comes from the mind of God (cf. also Proverbs 8; Sirach 1 and 8; Wisdom of Solomon 6-9). The Christology of the New Testament will show this personification to be, in fact, a Person (Luke 11:31; John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:15-20). It is Wisdom that pours forth the Spirit (verse 23; cf. John 7:37-39).
Romans 11:1-10: Paul has already suggested two considerations that qualify Israel’s rejection of the Gospel. First, the rejection was not complete, because a remnant of Israel remained faithful. Second, Israel’s defection proved to be a blessing for the Gentiles (much as Esau’s defection had proved a blessing for Jacob). The second of these considerations will receive a more ample treatment in the present chapter, as Paul subsumes it into an elaborate dialectic of history.
First, Israel’s falling away is only partial (verses 4-5), and Paul counts himself among the faithful remnant (verse 1; Philippians 3:5; Acts 13:21). Second, The falling away of Israel is only temporary. God has future plans for Israel. For the moment, however, Israel is acting in blindness (verses 7-8), which is the source of Paul’s sadness (9:1-2; 10:1). He observes that Israel’s blindness had been commented on by others before himself, such as Isaiah (verse 8) and David (verses 9-10).
That is to say, Israel’s current defection had no shortage of precedents in the past. If God remained faithful to Israel back then, He surely remains faithful to Israel now and will manifest that fidelity in days to come. The course of history will prove the Jews to be God’s elect and predestined people.
Monday, February 21
Proverbs 2: This chapter is a poem of six stanzas on the blessings of wisdom. It begins by enumerating the conditions necessary for attaining wisdom (verses 1-5).
We start to observe here (verse 1) a difference of tone or voice in Proverbs, when compared with the Bible’s prophetic literature. In the prophets the voice is vertical, so to speak; it comes “from above”: “Thus says the Lord!” In Proverbs, on the other hand, the voice is horizontal; it comes “from the past”: “Listen, my son.”
Wisdom is a gift of God, first of all (verse 6). It is religious before it is practical (verse 5), and it has to do with holiness (verse 8), which is the source of understanding (verse 9). Real wisdom abides in the heart (verse 10; cf. 4:23). Once again the young man is warned against bad companions (verses 12-15).
But now, for the first time, the young man is also warned against a certain sort of woman as well (verses 16-19). In context she is any young woman besides his wife, and he is told to avoid her. If she approaches him, she is up to no good, and he should eschew her as something lethal. Just as God’s Wisdom is personified as a lady solicitous for man’s wellbeing (1:20-23), so folly will be personified, in due course, as a loose woman who will bring a man to destruction. It is thematic in the Book of Proverbs that wisdom is not attained without the strenuous discipline of the sexual passion, of which the proper expression is found only in marriage. (The monogamous ideal portrayed in the Book of Proverbs is very strong evidence of some authorial hand other than that of Solomon!)
Romans 11:11-24: Paul introduces his metaphor of the olive tree in order to illustrate how it is that non-Jews find themselves as members the ancient plant of Israel. That is to say, how is it that "Abraham is the father of us all"?
The failure of most Jews to recognize Jesus as the Messiah is described by Paul as the lopping off of branches from the olive tree of Israel, and the entry of the Gentiles into the Christian Church he portrays as an engrafting of alien branches into the earlier stock. The tree, however, remains the same. The ancient calling of the Israelites has not been abrogated. It remains the root-work of the whole plant.
How should Christians react to this crucial development of salvation history? What should be their relationship to the Jews? Paul mentions two things, one negative and the other positive.
Negatively, Christians must not be boasters and smart alecks. They must avoid pride about their own engrafting into the ancient tree (verse 18). After all, it was by grace and faith that they were engrafted; they had done nothing to deserve it. Divine grace should be received with reverence, not with smug self-satisfaction. The Christian must not look down on the Jews or give himself airs with respect to them.
Positively, Christians should endeavor to make the Jews "jealous" (verse 14). Here is what Paul means: The first Gentiles joined the Christian Church because they were "jealous" of the blessings enjoyed by the Jews and were looking for an opportunity to share those blessings (verse 11). Now it is time for the process to work the other way. It is time for the Christians to make the Jews themselves jealous! That is to say, Christians should live in such a way that the Jews will want to share in the blessings of the life in Christ, because the life in Christ is meant to be, in fact, their own inheritance. Christ is the fulfillment of all of Israel’s deepest longings, and if Jews see Christians sharing blessings that properly belong to themselves, they too will become jealous and begin the covet the life in Christ. Everything, however, depends of the Christian to make this witness a live one!
Tuesday, February 22
Proverbs 3: Since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (1:7; Psalms 111 :10), something must be said rather early about a man’s relationship to God (verses 1-12). Because the Book of Proverbs has often been regarded as (and criticized for being) a work of selfish interest, motivated by secular concerns, it is important that we stress this matter of the fear of the Lord as wisdom’s beginning. This fear of the Lord is crucial, in fact, to the entire enterprise envisaged in Proverbs.
The fear of the Lord is that quality of mind and soul called reverence, and in biblical thought wisdom is inseparable from the cultivation of reverence. The wise man of the Bible is not an arrogant, self-made man who lives by his own lights (verse 5). The wise man is most emphatically NOT the man who “marches to the beat of a different drummer.” He does not make up the rules as he goes along and as they suit him. The wise man lives, rather, in the sight of God at all times, holding his conscience as open as possible to the divine gaze. He trusts in God with all his heart (verses 6-7,26).
This attitude of reverence determines two other things. First, it is the basis of the wise man’s stewardship over the resources that God puts into his hand (verses 9-10). Second, it directs the way a wise man meets the trials of life—namely, for his own correction and refinement of character (verses 11-12; Hebrews 12:5-6). The sufferings of life, for the man keen in the pursuit of wisdom, are pedagogical.
The second section of this chapter (verses 13-35) is part of a longer meditation (through 4:9) about the merits of wisdom. These merits are considered in detail, lest the young man become discouraged by the recent mention of suffering and trial.
In this description of wisdom’s merits, wisdom is again personified as “Wisdom” and this time more closely associated with God Himself (verses 18-20). The teaching, however, still seems more moral than metaphysical. That is to say, the abiding interest in these verses is not the structure of the universe, but the kind of behavior that places a man in accord with the structure of the universe. Nonetheless, these verses do anticipate the metaphysical considerations that will be presented in 8:27-31.
The trust in God described in verses 23-24 puts one in mind of Psalms 91 (90):1-13, which for many centuries has been the daily evening prayer of Western Christians and the daily noontime prayer of Christians in the East.
From his relationship to God, the wise man goes on to consider his social duties to his fellows (verses 27-30; cf. 11:24-26; 14:21,31; 21:13). Above all, the wise man must not be shaken in his resolve when he beholds the prosperity of the wicked (verses 31-35). Even the admission that the wicked may prosper in this world goes strongly against the philosophical current of the Book of Proverbs and touches, however lightly, the moral dilemma faced squarely in the Book of Job.
Romans 11:25-36: It has long been common to distinguish between God’s mercy and His justice, the former the source of salvation, and the latter the basis for punishment. This distinction, however, is overly simple, and consequently misleading.
In Holy Scripture the justice of God, His righteousness—dikaiosyne—is also the fount of salvation. It is not that Christ, by His passion and death, reconciled us to God’s justice. God’s justice—His righteousness—is the very cause of our redemption. He redeemed us in His righteousness. He redeemed us, furthermore, in order to manifest His righteousness by showing mercy.
The righteousness of God is not an abstract quality in God that obliges man to measure up. The righteousness of God is, rather, that activity of God that causes man to measure up. In dying on the cross, Jesus did not address Himself to God’s righteousness. On the contrary, He Himself expressed God’s righteousness. He was the expression, the very embodiment, of God’s righteousness.
Wednesday, February 23
Proverbs 4: The Book of Proverbs does not claim to contain the fullness of Israel’s wisdom tradition. It only serves as a guide, rather, and a bulwark of that tradition, the larger body of wisdom being contained and transmitted chiefly through oral delivery (verses 1-9). Consequently the Book of Proverbs is constantly indicating a larger historical context beyond its own text. (In this respect, Proverbs resembles the New Testament, another literary collection that presupposes and addresses a larger social and doctrinal context. Though that context is always present in the New Testament, it is sometimes referred to explicitly, as in 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 10:23; 15:1.)
The chief thing a man must teach his son is the Torah (verse 2; Deuteronomy 6:7). Indeed, throughout this chapter we note that the wise man speaks of Wisdom in much the same terms that Deuteronomy uses to describe the Law.
Wisdom must become a man’s bride (verses 7-13; cf. Sirach 14:20-27; 51:13-22; Wisdom of Solomon 8:2).
The theme of the “two ways” (verses 10-27) is common in our inherited pedagogy, both Jewish (Deuteronomy 30:15; Jeremiah 21:8; Sirach 15:7; the Qumran Manual of Discipline 3:13—4:26; 2 Enoch 30:15) and Christian (Matthew 7:13-14; Colossians 1:12-13; Didache 1.1—6:2; Pseudo-Barnabas 18.—21:9). Especially stressed is custody of the heart (verse 23; cf. Matthew 12:34; 15:19; 16:23).
Romans 12:1-13: Here begins the "therefore" (verse 1) section of Romans, in which Paul enunciates the practical moral and ascetical inferences to be drawn from the dogmatic premises elaborated in the first eleven chapters (compare Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 2:1, and so forth).
Although the believer has been delivered from the works of the Mosaic Law, "the curse of the Law," he has by no means been freed from the works of the Gospel. As the Sermon on the Mount repeatedly asserts, the works of the Gospel are far more demanding than the works of the Law (cf. Matthew 5:17-22,27-28,33-34,38-39,43-44, and so on). At baptism the believer assumes responsibility, and if he refuses to take that responsibility seriously he runs the risk of defection from the faith and being cut off from Christ (11:20-22).
Listed first here, among the components of this responsibility, is the duty of cultivating bodily holiness, because the body itself is the bearer of the Holy Spirit, who will in due course raise it from the dead (8:11). Paul is reviewing here the plea that he made for bodily holiness in 6:12-13,19-20. This ascetical effort he now describes in the imagery of sacrifice (cf. Philippians 4:18; 1 Peter 2:5).
This moral and ascetical effort, because it stands directly at variance with the standards, interests, and aspirations of the world, will also require an adversarial attitude toward the world. To the world the Christian must not "conform" (verse 2). The Greek word indicating worldly conformity here is syschematizesthe, in which the attentive reader will discern the root word, schema. The world, that is to say, tends to "schematize" human beings by imposing an outward pattern on them. (A fw verses later Paul will contrast the world’s outward uniformity with the great diversity among Christians.)
The believer, however, is not to adopt the "schemes" of the world. He is not to "conform" but to be "transformed," metamorphousthe, this verb indicating an inner change (meta) of form (morphe). Outward conformity is replaced by inner renewal.
Thursday, February 24
Proverbs 5: Except for consecrated celibates like the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle Paul, the godly and productive life of a man normally requires the proper governance of his home. It is the teaching of Holy Scripture, however, that a man cannot govern his home unless he can govern himself. Self-control and discipline, therefore, are among the primary requisites of a good husband and father, and these are qualities to be developed from an early age. Consequently the Book of Proverbs is emphatic on the prohibition of sexual activity outside of marriage. Sex outside of marriage is also outside of God’s will.
A man’s marriage, in fact, can be damaged long before the marriage takes place. Sex before marriage often involves exploitation and disrespect, and it always involves irresponsibility, selfishness, and rebellion. These are bad habits to learn, not qualities in a man that will make him a good husband and father.
The present chapter of Proverbs, accordingly, warns a young man against the wiles of the adventurous woman. With keen psychological perception the Sacred Text indicates that the attraction of such a woman most often has as much to do with vanity as with lust. The young man feels flattered by the woman’s attention (verse 3); it causes him to “feel good about himself,” and it is a simple fact of experience that most of us are disposed to befriend, like, and cultivate those who make us feel good about ourselves. It is one of our great and abiding weaknesses.
Hence, the young man is chiefly warned against the deceptive nature of flattery (verses 4-5). The flattering, adventurous woman has no idea where she is going, so it is very unsafe to follow her (verse 6). Indeed, a sensible man will put as much distance as possible between himself and such a woman (verse 8), for she is Big Trouble (verses 9-14).
In very figurative and flowery language, reminiscent of the Song of Solomon, the young man is exhorted to find joy in his wife (verses 15-20).
Acts 1:15-26: Before the casting of lots, the Apostles narrowed their selection to a choice between two men with identical qualifications. Matthias and Joseph Barsabas both met the technical requirements for being numbered with the original Apostles (1:21–23).
One remembered, however, that Judas Iscariot too had met those requirements. Clearly something more was needed, as their prayer acknowledged: “You, O Lord, know the hearts of all.” God could read the hearts of both men, and, for reasons best known to Himself, He preferred Matthias.
God’s preference of Matthias, nonetheless, implied no censure of the other man. Joseph Barsabas was not chosen for that particular apostolate, but there was no implied criticism of him. All through Holy Scripture, indeed, God continually chooses some individuals over others with a view to the divine purposes in history. While each of those choices necessarily implies a rejection of sorts, such rejections are not necessarily condemnations nor repudiations.
Friday, February 25
Proverbs 6: This chapter begins with four short poems that depict the qualities of folly. The first poem (verses 1-5) warns against financial irresponsibility in the form of unwise generosity towards one’s friends. Financial entanglements have spoiled many a friendship, and exhortations on this matter appear rather often in the Book of Proverbs (11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26-27).
The second poem (verses 6-11) is directed against laziness. Like Aesop, the author sends us to the animal world for moral lessons (24:30-34). The Septuagint version adds a consideration of the bee here to that of the ant.
The third poem (verses 12-15) depicts the ne’er-do-well schemer, full of plans for his own quick profit and the disadvantage of his fellow men. Avoid him, is the counsel.
The fourth poem (verses 16-19) is the first of the “numerical proverbs” in this book. These are found in all parts of the Old Testament (cf. Deuteronomy 32:30; Amos 1—2; Micah 5:4; Job 5:19; 40:5; Sirach 25:7; 26:5,19), and Proverbs will later give a series of them (30:15-31).
In verses 20-23 wisdom is described in very much the way that Deuteronomy describes the Law. Indeed, the two things are nearly identical here (cf. especially verse 23, which may remind readers of Psalms 19 and 119).
The last part of the chapter (verses 24-35) returns to the theme of the adventurous woman, who would lure the young man to an early destruction. She is more dangerous than a thief (verses 30-35). Although the earlier penalty for adultery in Israel was stoning to death (Deuteronomy 22:22), the punishment envisaged here seems to be the humiliation of a flogging (verse 33).
Matthew 17:14-21: When the man approaches Jesus (verse 14), he kneels down—gonypeton, literally “bending the knee”—before Jesus. That is to say, he assumes before Jesus the posture of prayer (contrast Mark 9:14-17). Like Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, he kneels before Jesus in prayer. This is the second time in two consecutive scenes in Matthew where kneeling is the proper posture in the presence of Jesus. In Matthew, then, the scene is one of worship and prayerful petition. And what does the man say to Jesus when he kneels down? Kyrie, eleison! — “Lord, have mercy!”
This kneeling down, or prostration, in prayer is not simply a generic act of worship. It is specified by its Christological reference. Indeed, in the former scene, the Transfiguration, the disciples fall into this posture when they hear the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as His Son. Their posture is a theophanic response (cf. Revelation 1:16-17). Here in Matthew (verse 15) the man bends the knee “towards Him.”
And in kneeling down he addresses Jesus as “Lord”–Kyrios. We should contrast this with Mark’s account, which addresses Jesus here as “Teacher”–Didaskalos. Matthew, that is to say, uses the full confessional word of the Christian faith (cf. Philippians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 12:3).