Friday, October 5
Job 40: This chapter, unlike the two preceding, permits Job to put in a word of his own. He uses the occasion simply to confess his vileness and to state his resolve to remain silent before the Lord (verses 3–5), sentiments that will be expanded in the book’s final chapter.
Job has no plans to debate God. He will say nothing further. His earlier aspirations have really been answered, after all, because God has now spoken, and this is essentially what Job had sought. God continues, then.
As the two preceding chapters dealt with the mysteries of God’s activity in the realm of nature, the first part of this chapter turns to God’s presence in the order of conscience (verses 8–14). If Job understood next to nothing about the first, he knows even less about the second.
This revelation, too, comes min sa‘arah, “from the whirlwind” (verse 6; 38:1). Once again, as well, Job is commanded to gird up his loins like a man (verse 7; 38:3). Job is queried about who, on the evidence, is more righteous: himself or God (verse 8)? Does Job really desire a forensic setting to determine this question? Is Job capable of dealing with the myriad moral dilemmas involved in every man’s life, as God must do (verses 9–14)? In short, Job is trapped in his own subjectivity, unable to see the world from God’s perspective. There is no place where he may stand to indict the Lord.
Then, dramatically, the divine discourse goes from the realm of ethics and conscience to a consideration of two symbols of apparent chaos, both of them fearsome and incomprehensible: Behemoth and Leviathan.
Although “behemoth” is simply the plural of the Hebrew word for “beast” or “animal,” its description here seems largely to be drawn from the hippopotamus (hippos = “horse” and potamos = “river”—so “river horse”): huge, strong, invincible, even unchallenged, rightly afraid of nothing (verses 15–24). Other commentators have variously argued that the behemoth is really the crocodile, or a wild ox-buffalo, or some other kind of wild bull.
This is one of those questions that it is important not to decide. The reason for this has to do with the symbolic value of the description. The Behemoth, though portrayed with features recognized in animals already well known, represents simply “the beast.” This is the general sense that the Hebrew plural form “behemoth” has in several places in Holy Scripture (cf. Psalms 8:7; 49 :10; 73 :22; Joel 1:20; 2:22; Habakkuk 2:17).
That is to say, this Behemoth is a great deal more than any particular beast. It represents, rather, the wildness of untamed animal existence. It conveys in symbolism the truth that the world is not made according to man’s own measure. This Beast is irrational in the sense that it does not make rational choices. Yet, its behavior is not irrational, not chaotic, because it obeys the integral instincts placed in it by its Creator. It is not tame, but it is not really chaotic. In its own way, it declares the glory of God.
Saturday, October 6
Job 41: The second beast, Leviathan, is a water monster mentioned elsewhere in Holy Scripture (Psalms 74:14; Isaiah 27:1). Although it represents any sort of water monster (sharks, for instance), its description here seems to be drawn largely from the crocodile.
This latter animal obviously served as a chief model for the classical picture of the idealized fearsome dragon—the Dragon of all dragons, as it were—because of its very large mouth (resembling, in this respect, the hippopotamus), its many sharp teeth, its impregnable hide, and a tail so large and powerful that one can easily imagine it knocking down the very stars in heaven (cf. Revelation 12:4). Only a little imagination is required to think of this creature as breathing fire (verses 19–21). Leviathan, in short, makes for man a rather unsatisfactory pet (verses 4–5) and an even worse conversationalist (verse 3).
All of this goes to say that man cannot domesticate Leviathan. He is resistant to all human efforts to control him and thus remains in this world the symbol of everything in existence that is recalcitrant to man’s ability, especially his rational ability, to take it in hand.
It is worth remarking that, just as the Book of Job links email@example.comBehemoth and Leviathan in this section, we know from Herodotus and Pliny that Egyptian traditions tended to pair the hippopotamus and the crocodile as two most dangerous animals.
But there is another consideration here as well. Both Behemoth and Leviathan are God’s household pets, as it were, creatures that He cares for with gentle concern, His very playmates (compare Psalms 104 :26). God is pleased with them. Job cannot take the measure of these animals, but the Lord does.
What, then, do these considerations say to Job? Well, Job has been treading on very dangerous ground through some of this book, and it is about time that he manifest a bit more deference before things he does not understand. Behemoth and Leviathan show that the endeavor to transgress the limits of human understanding is not merely futile. There is about it a strong element of danger. A man can be devoured by it.
It is remarkable that God’s last narrative to Job resembles nothing so much as a fairy tale, or at least that darker part of a fairy tale that deals with dragons. Instead of pleading His case with Job, as Job has often requested, the Lord deals with him as with a child. Job must return to his childhood’s sense of awe and wonder, so the Lord tells him a children’s story about a couple of unimaginably dangerous dragons. These dragons, nonetheless, are only pets in the hands of God. Job is left simply with the story. It is the Lord’s final word in the argument.
Sunday, October 7
Job 42: The Trial of Job is over. This last chapter of this book contains (1) a statement of repentance by Job (verses 1–6), (2) the Lord’s reprimand of Eliphaz and his companions (verses 7–8), and (3) a final narrative section, at the end of which Job begins the second half of his life (verses 9–17). The book begins and ends, then, in narrative form.
First, one observes in Job’s repentance that he arrives at a new state of humility, not from a consideration of his own sins, but by an experience of God’s overwhelming power and glory. (Compare Peter in Luke 5:1–8.)
When God finally reveals Himself to Job, the revelation is different from anything Job either sought or expected, but clearly he is not disappointed.
All through this book, Job has been proclaiming his personal integrity, but now this consideration is not even in the picture; he has forgotten all about any alleged personal integrity. It is no longer pertinent to his relationship to God (verse 6). Job is justified by faith, not by any claims to personal integrity. All that is in the past, and Job leaves it behind.
Second, the Lord then turns and deals with the three comforters who have failed so miserably in their task. Presuming to speak for the Almighty, they have fallen woefully short of the glory of God.
Consequently, Job is appointed to be the intercessor on their behalf. Ironically, the offering God prescribes to be made on behalf of the three comforters (verse 8) is identical to that which Job had offered for his children out of fear that they might have cursed God (1:5). The Book of Job both begins and ends, then, with Job and worship and intercession. In just two verses (7–8) the Lord four times speaks of “My servant Job,” exactly as He had spoken of Job to Satan at the beginning of the book.
But Job, for his part, must bear no grudge against his friends, and he is blessed by the Lord in the very act of his praying for them (verse 10).
Ezekiel, remembering Job’s prayer more than his patience, listed him with Noah and Daniel, all three of whom he took to be men endowed with singular powers of intercession before the Most High (Ezekiel 14:14–20).
The divine reprimand of Job’s counselors also implies that their many accusations against Job were groundless. Indeed, Job had earlier warned them of God’s impending anger with them in this matter (13:7–11), and now that warning is proved accurate (verse 7). Also, ironically, whereas Job’s friends fail utterly in their efforts to comfort him throughout almost the entire book, they succeed at the end (verse 11).
Third, in the closing narrative we learn that Job lives 140 years, exactly twice the normal span of a man’s life (cf. Psalm 90:10). Each of his first seven sons and three daughters is replaced at the end of the story, and all of his original livestock is exactly doubled (Job 1:3; 42:12). St. John Chrysostom catches the sense of this final section of Job:
His sufferings were the occasion of great benefit. His substance was doubled, his reward increased, his righteousness enlarged, his crown made more lustrous, his reward more glorious. He lost his children, but he received, not those restored, but others in their place, and even those he still held in assurance unto the Resurrection (Homilies on 2 Timothy 7).
Monday, October 8
Ezra 5: By separating its Wisdom literature from its prophetic books, the Bible also hints at a distinction between the vocations of the prophet and the sage. Without exaggerating this distinction—because in principle both callings may be found in a single person—it is worth inquiring, I think, in what way the prophet and the sage are different.
Let me suggest that at least part of the difference between them is the way they handle time and the events that take place within time.
Generally speaking, the prophet must deal with time on the move—as it approaches, so to speak. His hands touch time in the present and at those points where the future promises to become present. His words are burdened with the moral imperative of the instant, the kairos, where a decision is required. Events are taking place, or at least about to take place, which require the prophet to proclaim God’s understanding of them. Normally, the mind of the prophet is seized and preoccupied by the dynamisms of the active moment.
It is different with the sage. Not usually caught up in time as it passes, the sage enjoys the leisure to reflect on time that has elapsed and to ponder things that have already come to pass. For this reason, one does not expect to find in Wisdom literature the pressing energy and sense of immediacy that are normal in the prophetic books. Although the sage may counsel some moral decision on the part of the reader, it is not customary for him to demand it with the urgency of the prophet.
As an event in biblical history that illustrates this difference, let me suggest the 18-year delay in the construction of the second temple.
When Israel’s exiles returned from Babylon in 538 B.C., they carried an official decree, issued by Cyrus himself, that their ancient temple should be rebuilt. Indeed, the materials necessary for that rebuilding were quickly procured. For various reasons, nonetheless, chiefly opposition from local folks inimical to the returning exiles, the reconstruction was delayed until 520. Five years were required to finish it, and the temple was at last completed on March 12, 515.
Now it happens that that recorded delay receives two different interpretations in Holy Scripture, one in the Book of Ezra and the other in two prophetic books: Haggai and Zechariah.
Let us start with the prophets, the two men alive and active in 520, the very ones who inspired the resumption of the project. The preoccupation of Haggai and Zechariah was immediate, determined, and of an entirely moral impulse. Those prophets blamed the prolonged delay on a lack of resolve on the part of the returning exiles, whom they accused of losing their vision. Instead of building God’s house, the returned exiles had spent nearly two decades building their own houses. They were reprimanded, therefore, for failing to seek first the kingdom of heaven. Thus, Haggai and Zechariah took charge of the “moment” and required the proper moral resolve from their countrymen. This is the sort of thing prophets do.
When we turn to the Book of Ezra, on the other hand, the outlook is completely different. Here we find the approach of the sage, the man of cultivated pondering, who sets his sights from a larger and more reflective angle. His is a perspective almost completely uninterested in an immediate moral concern. Thus, the author of Ezra utters not a word of reproach for the returning exiles with respect to the delay in the temple’s reconstruction.
He endeavors, rather, to examine that 18-year postponement from the viewpoint of divine providence. After all, the sage reflects, no more could the building of the second temple be just the execution of a decree of Cyrus than the building of the first temple was simply a project mandated by David. It was significant that both these kings died before the construction was even begun. Truly, who among kings is authorized to build a house for the Lord? The Lord will see to the building of his own house at such time as he sees fit!
Consequently, our sage perceives another correspondence in the two cases: Each construction project had to await the Lord’s command, conveyed in the prophetic word—that of Nathan in the case of David, that of Haggai and Zechariah in the case of Cyrus.
The approach to time and events in the Book of Ezra, then, is very different from that of the prophets. It is the perspective of the theological sage, who surveys with serenity what great works the wise Lord of history has caused to come about.
Tuesday, October 9
Ezra 6: In his response to the inquiry put to his court, Darius refers to the empire as “Babylon,” a name that was retained even after its conquest by the Persians.
The emperor’s letter (verses 3-12) reports on the search in the imperial archives (verse 2) and contains the earlier decree of Cyrus, authorizing the rebuilding of the temple nearly two decades earlier. These pagan documents are incorporated into the narrative here and become, thus, integral to God’s inspired Word.
In spite of Cyrus’s requirement that the temple be completed at royal expense (verses 4,8), we know that it was the Jews themselves who paid for the work and supplies (2:68).
Five years were required to finish this work, and the temple was completed on March 12, 515, which was a Sabbath day that year. It was solemnly dedicated that same spring, on Friday, April 1 (cf. 1 Esdras 7:5; Josephus, Antiquities 11.4.7 §107). There seems to have prevailed the idea, already clear in Solomon’s dedication of the first temple (cf. 1 Kings 6:1; 2 Chronicles 3:2), that such a dedication was appropriately associated with the Passover (verses 19-22). This association will prompt Christian readers, surely, to remember that in the Gospel of John Jesus is identified both as the New Temple and as the Lamb of God.
The second temple was a humble structure, as we have seen, because the circumstances of the people were humble. Whereas Solomon had offered a thousand bulls at the dedication of the first temple, these returned exiles could afford only a hundred (verse 17).
We may also note at this point that we hear no more of Zerubbabel, who is not mentioned at all in regard to the temple’s completion. One suspects that he returned to Babylon to live out his remaining years.
The chapter’s final verse refers to the Persian Empire as “Assyria,” so persistently do conquered territories tend to retain their more ancient names.
Wednesday, October 10
Ezra 7: Now we come to the ministry of the man for whom this book is named. There are two parts to this chapter. The first (verses 1-10) is a summary of Ezra’s journey, and the second (verses 11-26) the original letter of authorization for his mission.
Our treatment of this section will follow the traditional view that Ezra arrived at Jerusalem in 458, thirteen years before Nehemiah. Those historians who date his arrival thirty or even sixty years later are obliged to presume that there are mistakes in the transmission of the text, along with other hypotheses that seem improbable to me. I believe that the traditional date, 458, is the safest and most likely date for the events narrated in the present chapter. Accordingly, we are going to presume that the Artaxerxes in these texts is Artaxerxes I (465-425), not Artaxerxes II (404-358). Thus, the “seventh years of Artaxerxes” was 458. Thus, there is a lapse of 57 years between chapter 6 and chapter 7.
Ezra, raised in a priestly family in Babylon (verses 1-5), had evidently never before been to Jerusalem. We shall see him to be a resolute sort of person, the confident and forceful leader who sees things in black and white, a man little given to carefully nuanced views, a person who inspires trust because he conveys a sense of certainty. It may be reasonably argued that Ezra would not have made a good discussion leader or talk-show host.
He surely was, however, a persuasive and decisive speaker. He is called a scribe (sopher, perhaps more accurately translated as “bookman”), an expert in the law of Moses (verse 6). Indeed, there is a fairly strong tradition, which includes the scholarly Saint Jerome, that Ezra was an important editor of the Pentateuch (and author of the closing chapter of Deuteronomy, which records the death of Moses) while he was still living in Babylon.
Ezra came to Jerusalem with a retinue of clergy for the temple worship (verse 7), authorized by a letter from the emperor (verses 11-28), as well as arrangements for finances and appointments for the temple. Ezra was not the high priest, but he was of a priestly family. He was, in fact, a descendent of Seriah (verse 1), the last high priest to die at Jerusalem prior to the Captivity. His own son, Jehozadak, was deported to Babylon 120 years before Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 6:14).
It is clear from this letter of Artaxerxes that the Persian government expected Judea to be ruled according to the law of Moses (verses 25-26). An important and explicit item in that authorization exempted the temple and its clergy from royal taxation (verse 24). This should not surprise us, because we know that Darius made a similar exemption for the priests of Apollo at the temple in Magnesia.
Throughout the present chapter Ezra acts alone. In the next chapter he will be joined by other leaders, who will accompany him.
Thursday, October 11
The Epistle of Jude, 1-13: This brief epistle was written to meet a certain peril to the Christian faith brought on by immoral and heretical teachers (verse 4).
Their teaching and behavior fell under the heading “antinomian,” meaning “against the law.” That is, they manifested a moral attitude that took to an illegitimate extreme the sound principle that Christians are justified by grace, not by the works of the law. Their extreme application of that principle led to a lack of adherence to any moral law. Thus, those extremists became progressively bolder in the libertine pursuit of their own appetites and passions, all the while proclaiming the liberty of Christian justification.
It has proved impossible to identify exactly the congregation to whom Jude wrote this epistle, nor is it any easier to fix the date of the epistle with precision. The reference to the apostles in the past tense (verse 17) makes it difficult to fix the date earlier than the 60s, but it does not require us to fix it any later. Jude testifies, at so early a date, a determined doctrinal standard, “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (verse 3).
The word “delivered” indicates the authority of the Tradition (as in 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 15:13). Jude goes to some lengths to describe the punishment awaiting those who pervert that Tradition. He likens them to those who apostatized during the desert wandering (verse 5; 1 Corinthians 10:1-11; Hebrews 3:7—4:11), to the fallen angels (verse 5; Genesis 6:1-11), and to the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah (verse 7; 2 Peter 2:4-6). While all three examples indicate sexual sins, the last example indicates homosexual vice, for which these heretics are seeking the approval of other Christians. The participation of such people in the Lord’s Supper is, for Jude, particularly offensive (verse 12).
Ezra 8: We come now to what appear to be the memoirs of Ezra himself, beginning with a list of the companions who accompanied him from Babylon to Jerusalem (verses 2-14). They are listed according to twelve families, a number reminiscent of the original twelve tribes of Israel. He lists his own family first (verse 2, compared with 7:5). We observe that the total number (1151) includes only men, but we are justified in thinking that at least some women and children accompanied them, perhaps to a number equal to the men themselves.
Ezra, when he gathered this assembly together for the trip to Jerusalem, was disappointed that no Levites had joined them, so he immediately took steps to remedy that shortage (verses 15-20).
A time of prayer and fasting would prepare them for the journey (verses 21-23). The sacred vessels, destined for the service of the temple, were handed over to the priests for safekeeping (verses 24-30).
With so large a retinue, the journey to Jerusalem required a hundred days (verse 31, compared with 7:8) and was followed by a respite of three days (verse 32). This rest by the waterside puts the reader in mind of the three days Israel spent beside the Jordan prior to the entrance into the Holy Land (Joshua 3:2).
Verses 35-36 shift the account to a writer other than Ezra.
Friday, October 12
Luke 13:10-17: In this story we find “the ruler of the synagogue,” a singularly unattractive, grumpy person who objected to Jesus’ healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath.
In the midst of the spontaneous praise of God that ensued upon that gracious deed, this particular bellyacher felt it his duty to sound a warning to the congregation about liturgical proprieties: “There are six days on which men ought to work,” he declared, “therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14).
This story serves to warn us against hardness of heart. Hardness of heart can be found even in the house of God.
Quick to pass judgment on others and blinded by his own vicious, miserly spirit, this religious leader was unable to recognize the divine presence and the outpouring of grace.
Devoid of mercy, we notice, he was also without courage. Consequently, instead of confronting Jesus directly, this coward had recourse to what had always worked for him in the past—he harangued the congregation about the woman herself!
It is often said—and it is said, I think, more often than is true—that churches are full of hypocrites. Here was one occasion, however, when the Lord really did use that noun to describe someone in the place of worship. Jesus turns his not-amused attention to this so-called ruler of the synagogue: “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?”
The Lord gives here an example of the proper response to situations in which an individual apparently comes to church for the purpose of making other people in church miserable. Such folk need either to repent or stay home. Coming unrepentant to the house of God does not improve a man, but it can make everyone else utterly miserable.
Ezra 9: As the story continues, Ezra has been living in Jerusalem for four months, during which time he has been busy in a variety of pressing matters. He had conveyed a great deal of wealth to Jerusalem and had done so, in fact, without armed guard. Along the way he had recruited more Levites to augment the Levitical staff at the temple, which at this time was fifty-seven years old. The journey itself had lasted from April 8 to August 4 of the year 458 (7:9).
Therefore, the events of this chapter, four months later, occurred in late December of that year; it was a dreary rainy season (10:9), the sort of atmosphere that might depress the human spirit anyway.
This was not a good time for bad news, but bad news is just what Ezra received. He learned of a serious spiritual problem in Jerusalem, the widespread intermarriage of priests with non-Jews, a thing unthinkable among the Jews back in Babylon.
Ezra did not take the news calmly (verse 3). He prepared himself to deal with the problem, but he would not address the people about it until he had taken it up with the Lord. He made his prayer with uplifted hands at the time of the vesperal sacrifice (verse 5), at which it was usual to pray with uplifted hands (cf. Psalms 141 :2).
We should especially note in his prayer that he did not separate himself from this sin of the people, even though he himself had not committed it; the sin pertained to “us” (verses 6,7,10,13,15). Ezra was an effective intercessor, in part because of this solidarity he maintained with those for whom he prayed.