Friday, September 23
Judges 18: The Danites migrated north to get away from the Philistines (verses 1-6). These men, we must understand, were quitters, unwilling to fight for their proper inheritance. They sought and accepted the counsel of a man unqualified to give counsel. They already knew what they were supposed to do, but they wanted a “second opinion.” The Lord had said, “Go, conquer the land that I will give you,” but they wanted an easy out, after finding that the task was more difficult than they supposed. Consequently, they sought out a teacher who would tell them what they wanted to hear.
This should not surprise us, because we already know that this Levite’s own ministry has already been based on compromise and half-measures. He was not, after all, even authorized for the ministry he has undertaken. He is a false teacher, who pretends to speak for God.
The Bible is full of criticism against false teachers and false prophets. They are chiefly to be recognizes by certain traits:
First, they like to please people. They have no authority beyond their ability to please people. Their authority is based entirely on their popularity.
Second, because they want to please people, they tend to say what people expect and want them to say.
Third, if challenged they appeal to their success.
The situation was described by the Apostle Paul: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
The Danites, who had insufficient courage to fight the Philistines, are quite prepared to invade a small defenseless people, who lived in an unwalled city (verses 7-21).
The Danites, that is to say, in addition to their other shortcomings, believed in cheap grace. They wanted the blessings of the covenant without the cost of the covenant.
Just as the Danites robbed somebody else’s land, they absconded with somebody else’s gods. Indeed, they wanted only such gods as they could control. Those were gods worthy of their cowardice.
They also discovered a clergyman who was worthy of them, a quisling that would do their bidding and tell them what they wanted to hear. This nameless man was a nobody, a clerical non-entity, a hierarchical cipher. Because the price was right, he went along with them.
Man-made gods, however, tend not to be very loyal to their makers. They are disposed to take on a life of their own. They declare their independence, as it were. Micah learned this the hard way.
The city of Dan became a center of idol-worship. Jeroboam I would eventually erect there one of his two golden calves.
Saturday, September 24
Judges 19: We come now to a horror story, a nightmare. There is a growing sense of darkness, beginning with physical darkness and going to moral darkness. The unfortunate woman is thrown out into the dark, where she is gang raped all night long. After enduring unspeakable brutality, she dies at daybreak.
There is a great irony, of course, in the fact that the Levite did not want to spend the night among pagans. He wanted to sleep secure, surrounded by his fellow Israelites. He lengthened his journey for this very purpose.
We must bear in mind that this is not a story about pagans. All the characters in this account are children of the covenant.
Gibeah, however, has become as bad as Sodom. Indeed, there are striking parallels between this story and that in Genesis 19.
There is also the cruelty of the Levite himself, who abandons his wife (“concubine” in context means only a wife of inferior rank) to the cruelty of the mob. He has clearly not forgiven his wife for her infidelity. He is morally worse than she. This compromised individual is no man of God.
It is instructive that Hosea is the only prophet ever to mention this distressing incident at Gibeah, and he does so three times (5:8; 9:9; 10:9). Obviously Hosea, who also was married to an unfaithful wife, thought a great deal about this story and its potential lessons. Indeed, Hosea’s own treatment of his wife is a fruitful matter of contrast with the behavior of the Levite in this chapter.
Luke 9:1-9: When Jesus dispatched these Apostles, their ministry became an extension of his own, inasmuch as he “gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” They traveled light: “And he said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.’”
Exactly one chapter later, their number will be augmented, when Jesus “appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go (10:1).
In due course, the function and purpose of these missionaries changed, just as Jesus’ own ministry did. Originally summoned to assist the Savior in the spiritual renewal of Israel, they shared his rejection by Israel’s official leaders. Especially during the final year of this ministry, Jesus’ followers were reduced to a mere handful, a “little flock” (12:32).
Sunday, September 25
2 Corinthians 1:12—2:2: The lesson learned from his experience in Asia heightened Paul’s sense of the difference between divine grace and worldly wisdom (verse 12), a difference about which he had earlier written to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:20; 2:5). By means of the present epistle Paul’s readers will be taught this lesson also (verses 13-14). It is important that they be so, because they endure the same trials as Paul (verse 7). The sufferings endured are, in fact, “the sufferings of Christ” (verse 5).
Paul begins to correct a misunderstanding (verses 15-24). He had disappointed some of the Corinthians by failing to visit them at a time when he was expected. Indeed, he had announced plans for such a visit (1 Corinthians 16:5). In fact, he changed his plans more than once. Recently he had planned to stop for visits twice at Corinth, once going to Macedonia and once coming back (verses 15-16). Even these plans had been changed—to the chagrin of some of the folks at Corinth, who thought the Apostle a bit fickle and irresolute (verse 17).
St. Paul defends himself, insisting that these changes of travel plans did not indicate a deeper spiritual problem. In his proclamation of the Gospel to the Corinthians he was not fickle or irresolute (verse 18). His readers, therefore, should not interpret his recent behavior as a sign of irresolution.
Paul uses this occasion to teach a lesson: Steadfastness of purpose, he says, is what characterizes the word that God speaks to us in Christ. It is an enduring affirmation, indicated by the perfect tense of the verb (gegonen–verse 19). That word is the same as when Paul and his companions had first preached it among the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:11), because God’s promises are not subject to changes of plans (verse 20). They are always “Amen,” the same word that Christians speak back to God at the close of their prayers in Jesus’ name.
In fact, God has already sealed these promises in the hearts of the Corinthians at the time of their baptism (verses 21-22). This sealing is already a down payment or “earnest money” (arrabon) of their eternal inheritance (cf. 5:5; Romans 8:23).
Paul then returns to his disputed travel plans, saying that it was for the good of the Corinthians themselves that he had failed to show up when they expected him (verse 23; compare 13:2). Things were not yet right at Corinth.
Paul saw no value in returning yet again to Corinth while feeling distressed at the situation there. Such a visit, he felt, would only make things worse (2:1-2).
Monday, September 26
Judges 21: The governing motif of this chapter is rebirth for the tribe of Benjamin.
It begins with a problem: The other Israelites have taken a vow not to let their daughters marry Benjaminites. This is the problem. No one had instructed them to make that vow, and now the vow has created a serious difficulty. They had taken the vow before they offered the sacrifice of reconciliation. They had acted with a split mind, doing things that were mutually opposed. This is an example of a rash vow, of the sort that Jephthe made. Such vows often enough create bigger problems than those they were supposed to solve. Anyway, this is the problem governing the present chapter, and the Israelites themselves caused it.
The story is full of irony, of course. For example, it ends at the shrine city of Shiloh, one of the ancient words for “peace.” The scene, however, is anything but peaceful.
How do we explain all this contradiction and activity at cross-purposes? The chapter’s final verse does the best it can to provide an explanation. Namely, everybody was following his own inclination and preference. “Everybody do what you want,” though a slogan not without popular appeal in our own times, is a formula for chaos, and what we have here toward the end of Judges is a chaotic situation.
Still, the Book of Judges finishes with an act of deliverance and a new birth. Benjamin is spared. It does not disappear from history, as did Simeon and Reuben. From the tribe of Benjamin, in fact, would come, in due course, the Apostle Paul. This final chapter, then, is about God’s fidelity even in the midst of irony and chaos.
2 Corinthians 2:3-17: Instead of traveling to see the Corinthians, Paul sent them a letter—the “letter of tears”—which seems not to have survived (verse 3). Paul’s decision not to go to Corinth had at least not added further grief to those with whom he ought to share a common joy, and his letter had manifested his love and concern for the Corinthians (verse 4).
These references to their shared distress point to some troublemaker whom Paul had encountered in Corinth on a previous visit (verse 5). The Apostle here presumes his readers’ familiarity with the case, the particulars of which are, of course, unknown to us. Paul is confident that the Corinthians have adequately dealt with the problem (verse 6), inspired by his “letter of tears” and a recent visit by Titus (cf. 7:6-7).
Indeed, Paul has now become concerned for the offender, with whom the congregation had dealt somewhat severely (verses 7-8). In any case, the Corinthians have properly met the trial posed by the troublemaker (verse 9), and now it is time to move on (verses 10-1).
Paul proceeds to tell of his recent missionary trip to Troas (on the western coast of Asia, the region of ancient Troy), thus taking up the narrative broken off at the beginning of this chapter. He had hoped to meet Titus at Troas, to learn from Titus what had transpired in Corinth. Paul’s disappointment at failing to find Titus at Troas caused him, reluctantly, to abandon his ministry there and to sail over to Macedonia (verses 12-13). We readers find Paul’s distress understandable. Until he should meet Titus and learn what had transpired at Corinth, Paul would be distracted, uncertain how the congregation reacted to his “letter of tears.”
But why did Paul go over to Macedonia? This is not difficult to discover. If we think of him languishing at Troas for some days—perhaps even weeks—it would have been natural for him to sail over to Macedonia, from which, after all, Titus was expected. We should bear in mind that the currents and wind patterns between Troas and Macedonia made an eastward voyage longer and more difficult than a westward voyage. Because the Black Sea is normally colder than the Mediterranean Basin (on the average of ten degrees), the faster evaporation in the latter causes a strong southwest current to run through the Dardanelles, seriously influencing the speed of travel between Asia and Macedonia. A trip from Troas required only two days (Acts 16:11), whereas the reverse might take more than twice that long (20:6).
Paul proceeds to bless God for this fortunate outcome (verse 14), typical of the divine solicitude for man’s salvation. That is to say, in the recent difficulties at Corinth, the Lord had displayed the power of the Gospel itself (verses 15-17). For both Paul and the Corinthians the Gospel had become a matter of empirical evidence and concrete experience. God had “triumphed over” them (thriambevonti hemas–verse 14). This note touches the epistle’s major theme: God’s power made perfect in man’s weakness. Paul will speak incessantly of this “manifestation” (phaneroein—verse 14; 3:3; 4:10,11; 5:10,11 [bis]; 7:12; 11:6).
Tuesday, September 27
1 Chronicles 1: First Chronicles, when it treats the pre-monarchical part of human history, is reduced to hardly more than an outline, or even a simple name list (Chapters 1-9). By leaving out all details of human history prior to Israel’s kingship, Chronicles conveys the impression that everything that happened before David was a preparation for the divine covenant with David. Indeed, in Chronicles, all the earlier covenants (with Noah, with Abraham, and even with Moses) appear diminished by comparison.
In First Chronicles the pre-monarchical part of human history (that is, prior to the reign of David, which began about 1000 B.C.) is reduced to hardly more than an outline, in some places simply a name list (Chapters 1—9). By leaving out the details of human history prior to David’s monarchy, the Chronicler conveys the impression that everything that happened prior to David was a preparation for the covenant that God made with David. Indeed, the real covenant of the Lord is that with David. In Chronicles all the earlier covenants (with Noah, with Abraham, and even with Moses) appear diminished by comparison. If the Chronicler would not regard the founding of the Northern Kingdom—the schismatic Kingdom of Israel—with so much as an explicit mention, it was because that kingdom was founded in opposition to the Davidic covenant.
The genealogies of this first chapter are concentrated on the descendents of Abraham, who dominate the Arabian Peninsula and the western part of the Fertile Crescent (verses 27-54).
Still, the Chronicler places the history of Israel with human history. Thus, he commences with Adam, the single father of the human race, and his extensive genealogies of early man demonstrate what one historian calls “evidence of an ecumenical concern.” Israel’s history is regarded as the high point of human history. The New Testament will later extend this perspective by tracing the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38).
Somewhat in contrast to this “ecumenical interest,” however, the genealogical lists in this first chapter also reflect a concern of the Chronicler for the purity of Israel’s own bloodline. Religious leaders in post-exilic Judaism (that is, after 539 B.C.)—and no one more than Ezra himself—were very much preoccupied with this bloodline purity, out of a need to maintain the nation’s ethnic integrity. This is why we find, in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah—works following the theological traits of Chronicles—a solidly negative attitude toward the Samaritans or any marriage with non-Israelites.
Wednesday, September 28
1 Chronicles 2: Now we begin the genealogies of the “Israelites.” Indeed, we here observe, for the first time, that Chronicles habitually refers to Jacob by the name “Israel,” the name he received after his famous wrestling match at Peniel (verse 1). Whereas the name Jacob denotes that very interesting historical character to whom so many interesting things happened, the name Israel denotes more especially the patriarch of the twelve tribes, the man who gave his name to the twelve tribes.
In the genealogies of Chronicles, beginning with this chapter, we also observe that far greater prominence and elaboration are accorded the tribes of Judah and Levi, the kingly and priestly households. Taking Chronicles as a whole, Judah will get 102 verses and Levi 81 verses, whereas all the other tribes together will receive only 126 verses. For the Chronicler, writing long after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., only Judah and Levi were of immediate moment, and he was very eager to demonstrate the support of the priestly tribe for the covenanted royal house of David. Hence, this dominance of Levi and Judah in his genealogies.
This chapter also provides the Bible’s only list of the Jerahmeelites (verses 25-41), David’s “country cousins” mentioned in 1 Samuel (27:10; 30:29). As usual, the Chronicler is interested in this family solely because of its relationship to David.
This pronounced accent on the genealogy of Judah will be of even more importance to the Christian, of course, because this is the genealogy of the Incarnation itself: “For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah” (Hebrews 7:14).
Within the genealogy of Judah, special prominence is given to the ancestors of David’s father, Jesse (verses 10-12), for obvious reasons, and then to his descendents (verses 13-15). Here we learn that Jesse had seven sons, which is a problem if we recall that 1 Samuel (16:6-11) mentions eight sons of Jesse. Perhaps the rabbis were correct in their speculation that one of the eight sons, having died childless, is intentionally left out of this genealogy.
Because of Caleb’s prominence within the territory of Judah, a great deal of this chapter concerns his family (verses 18-24,42-50). There is, however, another reason given for this attention given to Caleb. It provides some background for the character of Bezaleel, who will be introduced in 2 Chronicles 1:5. This Bezaleel was of interest to the Chronicler, because he was the craftsman credited with the proper embellishment of the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:35-38). In this genealogy of Caleb, then, we see another sign of the Chronicler’s concern for all things associated with worship.
Since the word kenite means “smith,” we have in verses 50-55 the world’s first genealogy of . . . , well, “The Smith Family.”
Thursday, September 29
1 Chronicles 3: We now begin the royal line of David, which this chapter extends to at least the beginning of the fourth century before Christ. This latter fact does not necessarily prove anything about the date of the composition of Chronicles, because it is very conceivable that a later editor or copyist of Chronicles may have extended this list of the Davidic descendents. In this respect one does well to bear in mind that Chronicles was “canonized” into the Old Testament rather late in Jewish history, so that no earlier editor or copyist would have scrupled to augment the text. In fact, the ancient Greek translation (Septuagint) of this chapter extends the list all the way to about 250, exactly the period in which the Septuagint translation was being made.
The Sacred Text names the mothers of the six sons that David fathered in Hebron before the removal of his capital to Jerusalem in 993 (verses 1-4). This detail is curious, because Chronicles otherwise omits the fact that David’s reign was not recognized by the northern tribes for the first seven years (cf. 2 Samuel 5:5). This omission, in turn, is consistent with the Chronicler’s general disregard for the politics of the northern tribes.
Did the birth of these first six sons at Hebron diminish their claims to succeed David on the throne? Perhaps, but we must bear in mind that the rules for royal succession in Israel—kingship being a completely new thing for the nation—were not yet established, so there is no reason to suppose that the royal succession was expected to follow the principle of primogeniture.
The Bathshua of verse 5 is, of course, Bathsheba. (In accordance with Chronicles’ sustained effort to edify, on which we have already commented, the lady’s adultery with David is not mentioned.) The reference to three sons of Bathsheba older than Solomon is unexpected. In the light of 2 Samuel 2:24 (“Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon”—ESV) we would not have anticipated such a detail.
The passage of the royal line to Solomon and his descendents is recorded in verse 10. Through verse 16 these Davidic kings are listed up until the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587.
The exilic and post-exilic descendents of the royal household, listed here so thoroughly (verses 17-24), bear witness to the careful maintenance of records among the Jews of the sixth and fifth centuries. The Book of Ezra will further testify to this care.
The later names in this list, especially after Zerubbabel (verse 19), are difficult to reconcile with the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. The present writer is happy to leave this difficulty to the investigation of those with the interest and patience to resolve it.
Friday, September 30
1 Chronicles 4: We have already remarked that the genealogies in Chronicles are vastly more detailed for the tribes of Judah and Levi than for any of the others. The present chapter (verses 1-23) on the tribe of Judah illustrates the point.
To grasp the historical reason for this emphasis, it is sufficient to reflect that the southern kingdom, the realm of Judah, had an unbroken succession of a single dynasty (the six years of Athaliah’s usurpation being only a blip on the screen) from about 1000 to 587 before Christ. During more than four centuries, beginning in 993, it had its capital in a single city, Jerusalem. This stability and continuity of Judah contributed in no small measure to the better preservation of its historical memory through archived records.
In these respects Judah is to be contrasted with the Northern Kingdom, Israel, which was governed by a series of dynasties, some of them very short, over a period of only two centuries (922-722). Its capital, moreover, did not remain in a single place during that time. Israel’s instability and impermanence are reflected in the relative paucity of its preserved records. Sometimes, indeed, even the identity of individual Israelite kings was lost from the stories about their reigns. For example, 2 Kings 5 does not tell us the name of the Israelite king to whom the Syrian king sent Naaman in order to be cleansed of his leprosy.
In short, the final and dominating perspective of the Old Testament is that of Judah, not the Northern Kingdom. Judah’s own records, therefore, are far better preserved, Judah’s history being more immediate and proximate to the Bible’s composition. Judah, then, and not northern Israel, represents the true continuity of biblical history, and nowhere is this fact more evident than in Chronicles.
Some of the sources cited in this chapter appear to be very old, as the text itself claims (verse 22). Indeed, the expression “to this day” (verses 41,43) seems to refer, not to the time of the Chronicler, but to the period of these older sources that he is citing word-for-word. This is clear from the reference to the Amalekites, who were long gone by the time of the Chronicler.
With respect to Jabez we observe that his name involves a play on words. His mother, we read, bore him in “pain”—jozeb—so his name was derived from a switching around of letters. We also note that the prayer of Jabez, which the Lord heard, was concerned with the avoidance of future pain (verse 10).
The region of Judah contained the least fertile soil in all the Holy Land. Therefore, it does not surprise us that the tribe of Judah, where men may sometimes have felt absolutely desperate as farmers, produced so many craftsmen (verse 14), linen workers (verse 21), and potters. This last group was in the royal employ (verse 23).