Friday, August 30
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 that was not qualified 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, August 31
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 (for “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.
Acts 28:17-31: Because he told them he was coming to see them (Romans 15:24), the Christians at Rome had had high hopes for his arrival. That was three years earlier, however, and those hopes had been lowered considerably by the rumor that Paul was languishing in prison in Caesarea (Acts 24:22).
Because the events at Caesarea the previous autumn, culminating in Paul’s appeal to a higher court at Rome, had transpired so late in the year–precariously close to the winter, when sea travel and communication were no longer undertaken–apparently no one in Rome had learned of those distant events. We do know that the Jews in Rome knew nothing about them (28:21), so they gain their first information on the matter three days after Paul’s arrival in the city.
He invites local Jewish leaders to meet at his lodging, where he is under house arrest (28:16-17). It is significant to Luke’s literary and theological purpose to record Paul’s last rejection by the Jews — the last of so many that he has recounted — in that very city which was the capital of the Gentile world, the city towards which the dynamism of this narrative has been directed. Paul is at last in the capital of the Roman Empire, the city so closely tied to his and Peter’s destinies. It is precisely here that Paul declares to the unbelieving Jews, “this salvation has been sent to the Gentiles” (28:18).
Sunday, September 1
Psalms 148: This psalm is a summons directed to all of creation to praise God, its constantly repeated exhortation being allelu, “praise ye.” In structure and imagery Psalm 148 has great affinities to the Greek form of the hymn of the three young men in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3:52–90. In calling on all creation to praise the Lord, this psalm also follows much the same sequence as the fiery furnace song in Daniel: heaven, sun, moon, stars, angels, waters above the heavens, followed by the various elements and formations on the earth, etc. A similar sequence is found in other biblical poetry, such as Job 28 and Sirach 43.
The general format for this sequence is derived, of course, from the created order in Genesis 1. Indeed, the doctrine of creation is precisely the reason given for the praise: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for He spoke, and they came to be; He gave command, and they were created. He established them forever and ever. He decreed His precept, and it will not pass away.” One may pray this psalm, then, as Genesis 1 adapted to the form of praise.
But we are not simply Jews, and this praise must be properly Christian; that is to say, it must be prayer firmly anchored in the “fullness of time,” the full Christian faith, most particularly faith in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Except for His Resurrection, after all, the whole created world is “subjected to futility,” held in “bondage of corruption” (Rom. 8:20, 21; cf. Luke 4:6). It is only in Christ that the created order is put right and set on the path to transfiguration. When, in this psalm, we summon the whole created order to praise God, we are eliciting a Spirit-given impulse that lies already at the heart of the world, “for the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19).
Such a consideration makes Psalm 148 especially appropriate for Sunday, which is at once the first day of creation and the “eighth day” of the new creation inaugurated by the Resurrection of our Lord. Truly the “Lord” being praised in each verse of this psalm is the risen Jesus, whose victory over death constitutes the final vindication of the created order itself. In short, all Christian consideration of the created world will instinctively regard it through the properly defining lens of the Resurrection.
If the whole world of spirit and matter is called upon to join in a common praise of God, this praise is concentrated in the Church, which is explicitly spoken of in the psalm’s final lines: “This is the song for all His saints, the children of Israel, the people who draw near to Him.”
In the Church creation itself finds its destiny and proper form through the Resurrection of Christ:
For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible . . . All things were created through Him and for Him . . . and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church . . . . (Col. 1:16–18).
Consequently, the more ample measure of this psalm is perhaps the “sign” of the Child-bearing Woman who appears in the heavens, for it is her forces that engage that old serpentine foe of the whole created world (Rev. 12). Should the moon, then, be admonished to acclaim the Lord? Doubtless so, for on the moon she abides who bears the Messiah. And should the sun be summoned to an outburst of blessing? Without question, for with the luster of the sun is that Lady invested. And the stars, will they be included in the heavenly song? Surely so, for the stars form the crown that garlands her brow. Prefigured and modeled on the very Mother of Jesus, she is that new Eve who appears in history as the last and the finest of all that God has made. It is her voice, finally, that fills all creation with the praise of God.
Monday, September 2
Luke 5:27-32: It is much more significant, that all three Synoptic Gospels treat the call of the tax collector (Levi/Matthew) as a centerpiece bracketed between two stories about sinners: the paralytic being forgiven his sins and Jesus having dinner with notorious sinners. Thus set between these two events, the call of the tax collector represents above all the evangelical summons to repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
The dialogue connected with the meal at his house illustrates this meaning of the tax collector’s call. Jesus, criticized for his association with sinners on this occasion, explains that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17). In thus addressing sin through the metaphor of sickness, the Lord strikes again the note recently sounded by His healing the paralytic as proof of his authority to forgive the man’s sins (2:5–12).
Furthermore, summoning sinners to repentance and salvation is not just one of the things Jesus happens to do. There is a sense in which this is the defining thing that Jesus does, the very reason He came into this world. This truth is affirmed at the meal at the tax collector’s house, where He proclaims, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32; cf. Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17). Again, it is in the context of the call of yet another tax collector, Zacchaeus, that Jesus says, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Christ can call sinners, only because He can really do something about their sins. And He can forgive their sins precisely because He has paid the price of those sins. Therefore, Jesus’ forgiveness of sins is theologically inseparable from His dying for sinners. Correct repentance, then, brings the sinner to the foot of the Cross.
In truth, this soteriological dimension of the call to repentance is implied in the Gospel stories under consideration. Both at the forgiveness of the paralytic and at the tax collector’s dinner, all three Synoptics speak of the hostile presence of Jesus’ enemies, the very men who will contrive to kill Him. They accuse Him of blasphemy on the first occasion (“This man blasphemes”—the very charge for which he will be condemned to death) and find fault with him on the second (“Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”). In both cases Jesus confronts them on this matter of His relationship to sin and to sinners.
Tuesday, September 3
Luke 5:33-39: The terms of the question point to a feature that distinguished the disciples of Jesus from the followers of John the Baptist. In due course the followers of John the Baptist were absorbed into the Christian Church, a process of which we see evidence in the New Testament itself, notably the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel according to John, and it seems likely that the final stages of this assimilation may have been contemporary with the composition of Matthew.
In his response to the question, Jesus makes it clear that the Christian freedom from fasting was a very temporary arrangement, entirely limited to the time of his earthly ministry, and we know that even prior to the end of the first century the Christian Church had already established Wednesday and Friday each week as fast days. This arrangement would distinguish the Christians from the Pharisaic Jews, who faster on Mondays and Thursdays.
Psalms 25 (Greek & Latin 26): In the measure that the voice of this psalm is the voice of innocence, it is a psalm most properly heard from the lips of Christ our Lord, who alone is truly innocent. The deepest sense of Psalm 26 is Christological.
Nonetheless, there is also a moral sense to this psalm, for we Christians too are called to live in some measure of innocence, in contrast to the world around us. Thus, St. Paul wrote to the Philippians:
Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless (amempti) and harmless, children of God without fault (amoma) in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (2:14, 15).
In this context, Christian “blamelessness” is not an abstract or general ideal. It has to do, rather, with the avoidance of antipathy and unnecessary strife within the local church. Earlier in the same chapter the Apostle had exhorted that Macedonian parish to do nothing from ambition or conceit, but always to regard the interests of others, with fellowship, affection, and mercy (2:1–4); and later he will remind two women in that church of their specific duty with respect to such things (4:2).
In Psalm 26 as well, the innocence at issue is related to one’s relationship to the Church, particularly in the context of worship:
I have loved, O Lord, the splendor of Your house, and the dwelling place of Your glory. . . . My foot stands firm in integrity; in the churches will I bless You, O Lord.
The aspired-to innocence of the Christian has chiefly to do, then, with his relationship to those with whom he worships in communion. It is to be determined by evangelical love. Thus, St. Paul prayed for another Macedonian congregation:
And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless (amemptous) in holiness before our God and Father” (1 Thess. 3:12, 13). Paul himself had given them the proper example: “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly (amemptos) we behaved ourselves among you who believe” (2:10).
Wednesday, September 4
Philippians 1:19-30: In his earlier epistles, it appears, Paul expected still to be alive on this earth when the Lord returned (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15,17). Now however, for what appears to be the first time in his letters, he refers to the possibility of his death (verse 20). Things look pretty dangerous at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32).
The doctrine most clearly taught in these verses is that of an immediate “afterlife” of the believer with Christ, and this is the source of Paul’s own comfort and strength as he faces the possible prospect of death at Ephesus. We may contrast this perspective with that of Paul’s earliest epistle, First Thessalonians (4:13-18), where the source of Christian comfort is not an immediate afterlife but rather the final resurrection.
This is not to say that in Philippians Paul is no longer concerned with the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. On the contrary, he explicitly speaks of it (1:6; 2:16; 3:20). There is no sense in which we can say that Paul, in Philippians, discards the doctrine of the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.
Here in Philippians, however, the expression “with Christ”—syn Christo (verse 23)— refers to an immediate afterlife, whereas in 1 Thessalonians 4:14,17 it had referred to the time of the final resurrection. The emphasis is on union with Christ in the here and now (verse 21; 3:7-12). The believer is already united with Christ, a truth that Paul will also stress in his next epistle, Galatians (2:20; 3:27; 4:19).
Paul’s hope for an immediate afterlife with Christ, therefore, is based on the experience of his union with Christ already in this world.
Because Christ is already his life, death will be for Paul an advantage, a step forward, a kerdos. “For Paul to live is Christ, and this is a life which by death will be set in full communion with the One who lives in him,” writes one commentator (in TDNT 9.547). There are similar sentiments throughout early Christian literature, especially in the context of martyrdom (cf. Ignatius of Antioch, Romans 5.3; 6.1-2; 7.2). In Christ Paul is possessed of a life that he cannot lose by death (cf. Romans 6:11; Colossians 3:3; John 11:23-26; Ignatius of Antioch, Ephesians 3.2; Magnesians 1.2).
Unlike the Platonic tradition, Paul does not call death a “release” or “escape,” but a “gain.”
When he wrote Philippians, then, Paul had come to the persuasion that an immediate afterlife with Christ follows the death of those who have died in Christ.
It is important, however, that we do not misinterpret this observation. Individual union with Christ after death never becomes the goal of Paul’s ultimate striving. Jesus dies to save the whole man, not just man’s soul. Until the body itself is raised in Christ, the Christian hope remains unfulfilled. Paul never wavers in this affirmation, not even in the present epistle (3:10,11,21; cf. Romans 8:11,23; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55). Death in Christ, then, is not our goal; it is only a step towards that goal, a “gain.”
Philippians 2:1-11: There were forces of disunity active in the Philippians congregation. These seem to have been based on differences of personality and temperament (cf. 4:2), rather than doctrine, but they were nonetheless disruptive and painful. Paul was especially sensitive to these Philippian problems, because he was suffering from similar difficulties, such as jealousies and rivalries, at Ephesus (1:15-17,29-30).
In the present chapter, therefore, Paul exhorts the Philippians to unity. This unity, based on “communion of the Spirit” (koinonia Pnevmatos), is expressed in “the comfort of love,” with “affection and mercy” (literally “heart and mercies”—splanchna kai oiktirmoi, words that the early Christians liked to join. See verse 1; Colossians 3:12; James 5:11). Paul is asking the Philippians to consult their experience of God in comfort, consolation, communion, and mercy, and then to live accordingly.
All the Philippians must cultivate the same set of mind (to avto phronete, have the same love (ten avten agapen), be of one soul (sympsychoi), and “think the same thing” (to hen phronountes). It has long been recognized that all four of these expressions mean the same thing. Thus, in the fourth century St. John Chrysostom commented, posakis to avto legei, “he several times says the same thing.”
Twice in the list Paul uses the verb phroneo, meaning “to think,” or perhaps better “to have in mind,” “to dwell on in thought.” The verb has as much to do with attitude and sentiment as it does with thought or reason. In this epistle uses this verb ten times (cf. also 1:7; 2:5; 3:15,19; 4:2,10), more than in any other of Paul’s epistles.
The attitude encouraged by Paul is opposed to all forms of “selfish ambition or conceit” (verse 3). The first of these words, eritheia, is perhaps better translated as “factiousness” or “party spirit.” In the first chapter Paul had used this same word to describe the problems at Ephesus (1:17), and he writes of the same evil elsewhere (Romans 2:8; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:19-20). Other early Christians warned about this evil as well (cf. James 3:14,16; Ignatius of Antioch, Philadelphians 8.2). It refers to partisan attempts to gain power and control in the Church. The presence of this word (which before Christian times is found in only one pagan Greek writer, Aristotle [Politics 5,1302b4 and 1303a14) in so much earlier Christian literature suggests that this was an ongoing problem.
The opposite of this vice is tapeinophrosyne (recognize here the root we just looked at?), which means lowliness, the internal sense of humility, personal modesty, humbling oneself (thus Jesus, in verse 8, “humbled Himself”—etapeinosen heavton).
It is instructive to note that this word is never found in pagan Greek literature. It conveys an ideal and state of mind alien to pagan culture. It is a distinctly biblical word. Indeed, the word had to be made up by the first Greek translators of the Hebrew Scriptures to express the sense of Proverbs 29:23 and Psalms 130 (131):2.
This humility means self-abnegation in the sight of God, the chief example of which is God’s Son, who emptied Himself and took the form of a servant and then humbled in obedience unto death. This is the model that Paul holds out to the Philippians (verses 5-11).
Friday, September 6
Philippians 2:12-18: Paul now returns to the theme of Christian obedience, the very theme that had prompted him to quote the hymn recorded in 5:5-11. He wants the Philippians (“Therefore”) to be obedient according to the model of Christ Himself (verse 12).
However, having just recalled that hymn about salvation, Paul’s mind is full of this latter theme as well. In just two verses (12-13), then, he goes from speaking about obedience to speaking about salvation.
In verses 12-18 we discern a ringing resemblance to the farewell discourse of Moses in Deuteronomy 31—32. In that passage, where Moses reprimanded the Chosen People for their disobedience, we note an emphasis on “rebellion” (erethismon in the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 31:27), an idea very close to Paul’s warnings against “partisanship” (eritheia; cf. 1:17; 2:3).
Moses feared for what those Israelites would do in his absence (for he was about to die), since they had been so consistently disobedient while he was present. Paul, by contrast, does not worry about what the Philippians will do in his absence (verse 12). Moses, likewise, had called the Israelites “wicked children . . . a crooked and perverse generation” (Deuteronomy 32:5), whereas Paul calls the Philippians “blameless and harmless children of God . . . in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (verse 15).
It is possible that Paul, as he waited in prison for a death that seemed perhaps imminent (1:20-23), perceived some parallel between himself and Moses as the latter awaited death east of the Jordan. Both were, it appeared, taking leave of the people they had pastured. Whereas Moses, however, was filled with misgivings about those whom he was leaving, Paul felt nothing but confidence in his Philippians.
These latter, after all, had always been obedient (verse 12), and Paul believed that obedience was an essential component of the Christian life (cf. Romans 1:5; 6:16; 16:18; 16:19,26; 2 Corinthians 7:17; 10:5-6; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). Such obedience was a quality of Christ in the accomplishing of our redemption (verse 8).
In obedience the Philippians are together to work out their salvation. The verb is plural and denotes a common effort. Clearly Paul has in mind here more than the salvation of the individual; he is concerned, rather, with the salvation of the whole congregation. This salvation is “worked out” in the Church, as the Church “works out” its problems. This is why Paul warns the Philippians against rivalries and squabbling. Those things in which salvation consists—freedom from sin and communion with God—are matters of joint and shared striving.