Friday, January 3
Amos 7: Each of the next three chapters contains at least one “vision,” in which Amos perceives various dimensions of his own vocation and the divine judgment to which the Lord has summoned him to bear witness.
The first of these is a vision of locusts, one of man most threatening natural enemies (verses 1-3). In response to the intercessions of the prophet, this plague is canceled.
The second vision is the brush fire, another formidable enemy of man (verses 4-6). Once again the people are spared by God’s mercy at the intercession of Amos.
The third vision is the plumb line (verses 7-9), an instrument designed to determine “uprightness.” This tool is a metaphor for the standard of righteousness that will guide the divine judgment. Whereas the locusts and the brush fire were images of irrational destruction, the plumb line is the symbol of objective, detached assessment. Amos here does not pray. Plumb lines, like all instruments of measure, enjoy a dispassion and objectivity that are without remorse or personal feelings.
It appears that Amos has been sharing these visions with the folks gathered at the shrine of Bethel, because now the apostate priest at that shrine complains to King Jeroboam II (786-746) about the prophet’s activities and his message (verses 10-11). This priest also reprimands Amos, telling him to head back south where he came from (verse 12-13). Amos suffers the usual accusation leveled by insecure governments: conspiracy.
By way of response the prophet tells of the rural circumstances and agricultural conditions of his calling (verses 14-15), adding a few choice words about what the accusing priest might expect in the near future (verses 16-17).
Saturday, January 4
Amos 8: The prophet’s fourth vision is the basket of summer fruit (verses 1-3). The message associated with this vision, although perfectly clear to the first hearers of Amos, is a bit difficult to grasp without recourse to the original Hebrew. The summer fruit (qayis) suggests “ripeness” (haqes), the sense being “the end is nigh.” This is a reference to the imminence of “the day of the Lord.”
Greed and a worldly spirit have been the dominating sins of the people who suffer the accusations of Amos. They have kept all the proper religious and liturgical rules. They would not think of violating the prescribed days of rest, such as the weekly Sabbath and the monthly New Moon (Numbers 28:11-15; Colossians 2:16), but what good has come of it? It has simply provided them with more leisure to plot new ways of acquiring unjust gain! Their perfectly-observed religious practices have had no beneficial influence on the quality of their hearts, which are still consumed with greed and the relentless desire for wealth at the expense of the needy and the weak (verses 4-6).
Amos describes the punishment destined for these offenders (verses 7-10). In this description Amos reminds his listeners of the awful darkness they had all beheld during the total eclipse of the sun over the Holy Land on June 15, 763 B.C.
Titus 2:1-15: In the previous chapter Paul had spoken about being “sound in the faith” (hygiainosin en tei pistei-—1:13). Such “soundness” is the mark that he further inculcates in the present chapter, exhorting Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (hygiainousei didaskalioi-—verse 1), so that mature men may be “sound in faith” (hygiainantes tei pistei-—verse 2) and of “sound speech” (logon hygie-—verse 8). This “soundness” (in the Greek root of which, hygi, we recognize our English words “hygiene” and “hygienic”) is a noted theme also in the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3). Christian teaching, that is to say, should carry the marks of intellectual, moral, and emotional health. It will not recommend itself if it encourages thoughts, sentiments, and behavior that are manifestly unhealthy.
In verse 2 we observe the triad of faith, love, and patience. This conjunction, common to the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:10), is also found earlier in Paul (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).
In verse 5, as elsewhere in Paul (1 Corinthians 14:35; Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:11-14), wives are exhorted to subordinate themselves (hypotassomenas, from the verb tasso, “to set in order,” “to arrange”) to their husbands. With respect to this exhortation, the Baptist exegete E. Glenn Hinson observes: “The initiative is to be with the wife. . . . Paul did not tell husbands to subdue their wives.” Even with this sage caveat, nonetheless, it is obvious that Paul’s exhortation runs directly counter to the contemporary egalitarian impulse.
Like Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12), Titus is to set a good example (verse 7). We recall that Paul rather often referred to his own good example. Pastors and missionaries surely teach more by example than they do in any other way.
The “great God” in verse 13 is identical with the “Savior Jesus Christ,” because in the Greek text a single article covers both words, God and Savior, and the rest of the sentence speaks only of Christ. It is He whose appearance we await (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Timothy 6:14-15; 2 Timothy 4:1).
Sunday, January 5
Amos 9: The prophet’s final vision is the altar at which the Lord stands to commence the day of judgment (verses 1-6). This is apparently the altar in the shrine at Bethel. The burden of this message is that no one will escape the judgment of God, for the whole universe belongs to Him, and no one can hide from His presence.
The closing verses introduce a reassessment of the very notion of Israel as God’s “chosen” people. Chosen for what? For privilege? Hardly. For responsibility, rather, at which the people have abjectly failed. It has become obvious to Amos that if God chose Israel, it was for reasons larger than Israel, which has so thoroughly repudiated the implications of His choice. The history of all nations, in fact, is under His sway, and the history of Israel fits into the larger designs of His heart.
For that reason the destruction of Samaria is not the end of God’s interest in the world. Judah yet remains (verse 8), and God has other purposes in mind in the sometimes violent, sifting process of history (verse 9).
The Northern Kingdom was never party to an independent covenant. The house of David was, however, and the Lord will honor that covenant (verse 11). Christian readers correctly see in this proclamation the promise of the Messiah, in whom will converge all the developments of history.
Thus, the nations condemned in the opening two chapters of this book are blessed on its final page.
Titus 3:1-15: As always, Paul is solicitous for the good reputation of Christians, knowing that the fortunes of the Church’s evangelism and ministry in this world depend, in no small measure, on that reputation. Thus, in the previous chapter he urged that the conduct of Christian women be such as not to hurt God’s cause (2:5).
Now, following that same solicitude in the present chapter, he urges Christians “to be subject [hypotassesthe, the same verb as in 2:5] to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, . . . showing humility to all men” (verses 1-2; cf. verse 8). Few things, surely, would more seriously impede the cause of the Gospel than the impression that Christians are contentious, rebellious, disobedient, and unpatriotic (cf. also Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13).
The doctrine of baptismal regeneration in verse 6 (cf. also Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 5:26; Colossians 2:11-13), and the expression “renewing of the Holy Spirit,” used in conjunction with this reference to Baptism, seems to refer to the post-baptismal laying on of hands (cf. Acts 8:14-17; 19:5-6; Hebrews 6:2).
It is possible that the phrases in verses 4-7 were taken from a hymn or other liturgical prayer that Titus would recognize. This would explain Paul’s affirmation, in verse 8, that “this is a faithful saying” (cf. also 1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11).
The unrepentant “divisive man” in verse 10 is literally the “heretical man”—haeretikos anthropos; the adjective appears only here in the New Testament. Paul’s counsel that such a one be avoided after, at most, two admonitions was understood rather strictly by the early Christians (cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 1.16.3; Tertullian, De Praescriptione 16).
There were several cities named Nicopoplis, “city of victory,” in the ancient world. It is likely that the city mentioned by Paul (verse 12) was the one in Epirus, south of Dalmatia, founded by Octavian in 31 B.C. to celebrate his victory over the forces of Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium.
Monday, January 6
Matthew 3:13-17: Matthew’s account of this scene includes a brief discussion between Jesus and John, just prior to the baptism:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him (Matthew 3:13-15).
This hesitation on John’s part serves, once again, to emphasize Jesus’ superiority to John. Because this baptism was a sign of repentance, John himself sensed an incongruity in Jesus’ submission to it. Nonetheless, Jesus accepts this service at John’s hand, “to fulfill all righteousness.” Recognizing John’s baptism to come from God (Matthew 21:23-27), Jesus gives it his public endorsement. In submitting to it, the Sinless One places himself among the sinners he came to redeem.
In the story of Jesus’ baptism, the variations among the evangelists come mainly from their differing lines of interest.
In Matthew, for instance, the scene is portrayed as a theophany, a revelation given to the bystanders: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, emphasis added). Matthew very soon strengthens this emphasis by his insertion of Isaiah 9:1-2, a text about the revelation of the divine light to the nations (Matthew 4:13-16). This emphasis is related to Matthew’s theme of universal evangelization.
This baptismal revelation in Matthew is Trinitarian; the Father is revealed in the voice from heaven, the Son in the person baptized in the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit in the descending dove. In a parallel to this baptismal revelation, given at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew places a corresponding “baptismal” scene at the end of it. This one is also Trinitarian: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Jesus came voluntarily to be baptized by John, even though John’s was a baptism of repentance (Acts 19:4). Why would Jesus do this? After all, the entire witness of the New Testament declares that he was the “lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19), “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26), “the Holy One and the Just” (Acts 3:14), who “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Moreover, Jesus was conscious of being sinless, for he challenged his enemies, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46) Why, then, did the unoffending Jesus seek a baptism of repentance?
The answer to this question has to do with the very motive of the Incarnation. God’s Son, in the assumption of our humanity, took upon Himself a radical solidarity with fallen mankind. Even before his saving Passion, in which “He poured out his soul unto death,” we already find him “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). The voice from heaven signified God’s acceptance of that redemptive resolve.
And this, surely, is why Jesus approached John, seeking his baptism in order “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). It was not as a private citizen, so to speak, that Jesus came to the waters of the Jordan, but in order to present himself to the Father as the representative of the human race in this great symbolic act of repentance. Jesus thereby expressed his resolve “to be made like his brethren” (Hebrews 2:17).
Jesus declared in the baptism of repentance his determination that no distance should separate him from us.
Tuesday, January 7
Hebrews 5:11-14: These verses of Hebrews recognize a distinction well known in moral philosophy—the distinction between the milk of the beginner and the solid food of the proficient.
The Christian begins with mild teaching: doctrines easy to digest, the simple doctrines of the catechism. At the beginning of the next chapter our author gives a list of these:
The foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
There are examples of this simple catechesis in the New Testament. For instance:
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:24-26).
In this text there is elementary teaching about Christian Baptism, in the course of which it is distinguished from John’s baptism of repentance. This teaching is what Hebrews 6 refers to. Another example is found in Acts 19:1-6, about baptism and the laying-on of hands, another theme to which Hebrews refers. Such things are called “milk”; they form the Christians’ introductory food.
Both Paul and Peter mention such “milk”. Thus, we read in First Corinthians, “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able” (3:1-2). And Saint Peter wrote, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, unto salvation “ (1 Peter 2:2-3).
If Christians spend their whole lives consuming baby food, however, they will eventually grow anemic. Indeed, such spiritual anemia is not uncommon. It is not rare to find Christians who have done no serious study of the Christian faith after age 12. Such Christians are no longer infants; they are malnourished and even starving adults, whose spiritually empty bellies are swollen with famine. This is a serious but widespread pastoral problem.
St. Paul warns the Corinthians: “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).
For a Christian, a day without Bible study can be written off as a wasted day. We know that during his whole time at Ephesus, St. Paul taught Christian doctrine to his Ephesians every single day. When Paul and the other Christians were expelled from the synagogue, St. Luke tells us,
he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, discoursing daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks (Acts 19:9-10).
The great Fathers of the Church followed suit, from John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria, through Gregory Palamas, all the way to Alexandr Men. Daily instruction in the Sacred Scriptures is the long tradition of the Church, very much for reasons similar to those prompting us to eat daily meals.
Wednesday, January 8
Hebrews 6:1-12: This work, apparently a sort of sermon (logos parakleseos—13:22), was composed for a congregation in fairly dire straits. This work contains several warnings about the dangers of apostasy. To find anything comparable to this in the New Testament, we must go to the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in the Book of Revelation. Certainly we don’t find this level of warning in any of Paul’s letters to the churches, not even in the epistles to the Galatians and the Corinthians.
The author, however, adopts a tack that may appear surprising: Instead of reviewing the fundamentals of the Christian faith, he determines to take the congregation into deeper waters. He says to them, “let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (ESV). He explains what he means by referring to the earlier catechesis offered to the congregation at the time of their reception into the Christian Church.
He does this by way of reminding them of the components of that catechesis: “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” In the Acts of the Apostles we find all these subjects as matters of instruction when people were brought to the Christian faith.
Our author refers to them here just in passing, as it were, by way of reminding the congregation briefly of things they already know.
He then reminds them of the sacred mysteries by which they were received into the Christian Church. He reminds them of their enlightenment in Baptism—indeed, he actually uses this ancient expression for Baptism: “those who were once enlightened.”
Likewise, he mentions the Holy Communion, which was part of their reception into the Church: “have tasted the heavenly gift.” He speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit, conferred by the laying on of hands: “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit.” He briefly mentions the understanding of God’s Word imparted to those who join the Church: “have tasted the good word of God.” And finally, refers to all of these experiences as a foretaste of heaven: “the powers of the world to come.”
The author intentionally does not dwell on these things; it is sufficient merely to mention them. Indeed, he mentions them to support a warning against apostasy. He says that those who have experienced such abounding grace must not come short, because it is unlikely they will ever get such a chance again. In fact, he does not even use the word “unlikely.” He says “impossible”: “it is impossible . . . to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
This is a very strong warning, obviously. Indeed, some readers of Holy Scripture have taken this warning in a very literal sense, interpreting it to mean an actual theological impossibility.
I do not read the text this way. The interpretive Tradition of the Church understands this “impossibility” in an exhortative sense, indicating the author’s intention to put the fear of God in his listeners.
We recall that Jesus also used rhetorical expressions of this sort, referring to cutting off one’s hand, gouging out one’s eye, and even making oneself a eunuch. Rhetorical devices have the merit of gaining the full attention of the listener, which they certainly do.
In short, those original listeners to the Epistle to the Hebrews knew themselves to be hearing a final warning, before it is too late.
The author presses the point home: “For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” There is only one possible meaning to this warning: the author is reminding his listeners that the fires of hell remain a distinct possibility, if they do not take his admonition seriously.
One suspects that some of them were unhappy with this sort of talk; there have always been Christians who resisted being told of the possibility of eternal damnation. Yet, when there is a clear danger of apostasy, the Christian preacher has the strict moral obligation to mention the matter to those who are in that danger.
So what does our author propose? He proposes what he calls “going on to perfection,” “going on to maturity.” Rather than return to subjects they already know, he determines to take his listeners into deeper waters, to consider things they have not yet considered, to meditate on a subject of great moment: the more profound significance of the mystery of Christ.
This sermon, or logos parakleseos, accordingly, deals with the mysteries of the Incarnation, the Redemption purchased on the Cross, the exaltation of Christ to God’s right hand, and the dynamics of history.
In the face of a possible defection from the faith, our author resolves to make his listeners familiar with more profound dimensions of the faith. This is the substance of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Christians are exhorted to “show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end” (Hebrews 6:9-12). Leaving our consideration of hope to the next section of this work, two words here deserve special attention:
First, “diligence”—spoude. This word, which has the sense of earnestness and seriousness, also conveys some sense of speed and promptness. It was with spoude that Mary arose, after her encounter with the Angel Gabriel, and hastened south to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Perhaps it should be translated, in many New Testament texts, as “alacrity.”
In the present context, spoude is contrasted with sluggishness. The author of Hebrews goes on to urge “that you do not become sluggish.”
St. Paul regarded this alacrity as a proper mark of Christian leadership (Romans 12:8). The last thing the Christian people need is a sluggish leader.
Understandably, spoude often appears in the Bible’s exhortatory sections. Thus, when St Paul wrote to the Corinthians about certain problems in their congregation, he did so with spoude (2 Corinthians 7:12). And when the Corinthians received that admonition, they also exercised spoude (7:11).
This alacrity, which the New Testament clearly perceives as a proper mark of the Christian life, is often used in connection with deeds of charity and kindness. Paul wrote to the Romans about “not lagging in spoude (Romans 12:11).
Thus, too, when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the collection for the poor in Jerusalem, he used this noun three times: “But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all spoude, and in your love for us—that you abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but through spoude for others I am testing the sincerity of your love” (8:7-8). Finally, in respect to this collection, Paul wrote, “But thanks to God who has put the same spoude for you into the heart of Titus” (8:16).
Second, our text speaks of “full assurance”—plerophoria. This is one of the most important words descriptive of Christian consciousness. It appears a second time in this work: “let us draw near with a true heart in plerophoria of faith” (10:22).
The importance of this expression is suggested by the fact that it appears within the first five verses of the earliest extant work of Christian literature: “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in plerophoria polle” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). In this text we observe that this “full assurance” is related to the Holy Spirit.
This expression descriptive of Christian knowledge, plerophoria polle is contrasted with “in word only.”
That is to say, this “complete certainty” in the Holy Spirit is not described as information about but as knowledge of. It is not merely referential; it is real, not only notional. It is not merely nominal (“in word only”). It consists, not simply in discerning the meaning of the words proclaimed, but in perceiving the truth of that meaning. It is not simply an assent to what is declared, but the reality of what is perceived. Plerophoria polle is the knowledge of the truth of the gospel.
A later text in the Pauline corpus perhaps renders this meaning of “complete certainty” even clearer. In Colossians 2:2 the apostle speaks of our attaining to “all wealth of the plerophoria of the understanding, the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
About the year 95, Clement, writing to the church at Corinth, used both this noun and the passive participle of its cognate verb in a single sentence: “The apostles, having received their orders and filled with certainty [plerophorethentes] through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and entrusted with the Word of God, went forth with the certainty of the Holy Spirit [meta plerophorias pneumatos hagiou], preaching the good news that God’s Kingdom was to come” (Ad Corinthios 42.3). In this text, too, we observe that this “full assurance” is given by the Holy Spirit.
Here in Hebrews, nonetheless, “the full assurance of hope” is related to the Christian’s alacrity, his diligence unto the end.
Thursday, January 9
Hebrews 6:13-20: Christian theology insists that the true anchor is hope. This is the reason the depiction of the anchor appears everywhere in Christian art. Alone among the peoples of the Greco-Roman world, the early believers knew the origin of stability and the source of hope. In the words of this text, they “laid hold” on the hope set before them. This is why the anchor—along with the cross and the fish—is portrayed everywhere in the Christian catacombs. It symbolized the hope that held Christians in place in the midst of a tempestuous and unstable world. Near the end of the second century, Clement of Alexandria mentioned the anchor as one of the few symbols a Christian might legitimately have on a ring on his finger.
I submit that that book was also prophetic, inasmuch as the final result of Ahab’s voyage foreshadowed the dreadful terrible international tragedy known as the 20th century, when more people died of starvation and violence than in all other periods of history put together.
Acting as foils to the maniacal Captain Ahab were the three mates of the Pequod: The first mate, Starbuck, was a quiet, conservative Christian, who he relied on his faith to determine his actions and interpretations of events. The second mate, Stubb, was a sort of fatalist, persuaded that things happen as they are supposed to, so there was little that he could do about it. The third mate, Flask, avoided all such questions and simply enjoyed life, especially the excitement of hunting whales.
Near the end of this long story, there was a brief discussion between Stubb and Flask about anchors. In the course of that discussion, Stubb inquired, “I wonder, Flask, if the world in anchored anywhere; if she is, she swings with an uncommon long cable, though.” I submit that the entire history of philosophy in the 19th century consisted in various attempts to answer that question.
It is the same question I want to consider today: Is the world anchored anywhere? We will address this question under three headings.
The first is hope. In response to the query Stubb put to Flask—“I wonder if the world in anchored anywhere”—today’s epistle answers,: “This [hope] we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters behind the veil, where the forerunner has for us entered—Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Christian theology insists that the true anchor is hope. This is the reason the depiction of the anchor appears everywhere in Christian art. Alone among the peoples of the Greco-Roman world, the early believers knew the origin of stability and the source of hope. In the words of this text, they “laid hold” on the hope set before them. This is why the anchor—along with the cross and the fish—portrayed everywhere in the Christian catacombs. It symbolized the hope that held Christians in place in the midst of a tempestuous and unstable world. Near the end of the second century, Clement of Alexandria mentioned the anchor as one of the few symbols a Christian might legitimately have on ring on his finger.
Second, Hebrews describes this anchor of hope as “firm and secure”—asphale kai bebaia. The first of these adjectives, asphale—which means “firm”—is the root of our English word “asphalt.” As an adverb we find it in the first Christian sermon: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly [asphale] that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
The second adjective describing this anchor of hope is bebaia, meaning “secure.” Our author used it earlier to describe the Christian conviction: “we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence [bebaia] to the end” (3:14).
The entire efficacy of the anchor depends on the ship’s not losing contact with it. Hope cannot be hypothetical. We must be tied to it.
Third, the anchor here in Hebrews 6 is actually a kedge, an anchor used to advance the movement of a vessel and maintain its direction. This process, in fact, is called kedging. To kedge a vessel is to place the anchor at some distance from the ship and pull towards it. A kedge anchor is carried out in a suitable direction by a tender or a boat to enable the ship to be winched into a particular heading and to be held steady against a tide or obstructing current. The kedge anchor holds the vessel fast in the proper direction. Sailing ships use the kedge anchor when becalmed or drifting.
Observe in this text from Hebrews that the anchor of hope has already been carried out ahead of us. It is already “behind the veil, where the forerunner has for us entered.” Jesus is this anchor. He has already gone where we hope to go. We maintain our proper direction by pulling on Him, keeping the prow of the ship ever pointed toward Him.
Let me suggest that fervent and constant prayer is the winch we use to maintain our direction and advance our course. That by which we progress is also that by which we maintain our true course. It is the hawser by which we are joined to Christ.
Otherwise, we will lose our sense of direction; indeed, this is the danger envisaged all through Hebrews.
So let there be no slack in the line. The anchor itself is secure. All we need to do is pull on it through prayer. By constant prayer and communion with Christ we guarantee our voyage will be steadfast and secure.
Friday, January 10
Hebrews 7:1-10: One of the most obvious features of the Bible—and most noticeable to its new readers—is the presence of what are called the “begats.” We are told, for instance, that Adam begat Cain and Abel, that Joshua begat Eleazar, that Hezron begat Pheres, and so forth.
These “begats” are not just occasional parts of Holy Scripture. Not only are they sometimes lumped into lost lists, but they likewise appear to provide continuity to the Bible’s narrative structure.
Thus, the uninitiated reader, informed that the Holy Scriptures are very interesting and important, comes to Genesis 5, for instance, rather early in his pursuit of God’s Word. Here he finds his first list of begats. Unaware that this is only the first of many such parts, he plods on and manages to finish chapter 5. Interest in the story picks up for the next four chapters, which deal with Noah and the Flood, but then he arrives at Genesis 10, which is simply one, long, solid list of begats. It is arguable that many a newcomer to the Bible completely breaks down at this point, never getting past chapter 10.
It seems that many such readers, faced with this dilemma, decide to jump ahead to the New Testament, perhaps with the resolve to come back to the Old Testament at a later date. The person who takes this step, however, suddenly finds himself with the first chapter of Matthew, which commences with a list of 42 more begats. Many early efforts to read Holy Scripture simply die and are buried at that point, and the Bible is closed forever.
Fortunately, this pattern among new Bible-readers is not universal, and some brave souls do manage to survive the begats of Genesis 10. For such as these, it must come as something of a relief to arrive at Genesis 14 and discover a character who is not into a list of begats.
His name is Melchizedek, and he appears as though out of nowhere: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18). We are not told where Melchizedek came from, nor does he ever again appear in the biblical narrative; there is not a word about his death or his descendents. He shows himself just this brief moment, but in this brief moment he is described as greater than Abraham: “Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.” In the person of Abraham, even the Old Testament priesthood of Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek.
Thus, Melchizedek “without father, without mother, without begats, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.”
Melchizedek’s kingship and priesthood stand outside the begats. The very brevity of his appearance in the biblical story—which forms but an instant in the narrative, and not an element of sequence—becomes a symbol of eternity, inasmuch as eternity is an unending “now,” an instant without sequence. Our experience of eternity in this world is always an instant—a “now”—not a sequence. Thus, the “now-ness” of Melchizedek’s kingship and priesthood represents the eternal “today” of the sonship of Christ: “ You are My Son, / Today I have begotten You” (Psalm 2:7; Hebrews 5:5).