Friday, September 17

2 Corinthians 11.5-15: It appears that Paul’s humble demeanor at Corinth, where he was supported by his own labor (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:18) and the financial support received from Macedonia (verse 9; Philippians 2:25; 4:10-20), made him the object of derision among his critics (verse 7). This suggests that Paul’s critics at Corinth may have enjoyed a higher social status, even as they accepted the support of the Corinthians.

Since Paul did, in fact, accept support from other churches, it would seem that he had early sized up the spirit of the Corinthians and concluded that to accept their support would not be prudent in this case. Sometimes, after all, financial support comes with certain undisclosed obligations that will eventually render the recipient a debtor.

Paul’s language concerning his critics contains some of the harshest expressions to come from his pen.

Judges 15: To put the era of Samson into perspective, it is useful to consider him along with two other biblical characters, Samuel and Obed. According to Judges 13:1, Israel was in bondage to the Philistines for forty years, a bondage that ended at the Battle of Mizpah in 1 Samuel 7. In that chapter we learn that the Battle of Mizpah was twenty years after the Battle of Aphek, when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and briefly held it. It was right after the Battle of Aphek, we recall, that Eli died. These facts give us a basic chronology with which to work.

If Samson was born at the beginning of the Philistine enslavement, and if we put his marriage at about age twenty, then the marriage of Samson took place about the time of the Battle of Aphek and the death of Eli.

It was while Samuel was growing up, then, that Samson judged the tribe of Dan, and it was Samson’s weakening of the Philistines that prepared for Saul’s victory over them at the Battle of Mizpah in 1 Samuel 7.

Someone else born during the lifetime of Samson was Obed, the grandfather of David. Obed himself, we recall, was something of a “miracle baby,” in the sense that God used a special providence to arrange for his birth.

During the period of Samson, then, the Lord was already mightily at work to provide for Israel’s future. He did this by sending the world three special babies in rapid succession: Samson, Obed, and Samuel.

Even as Israel was on the point of death and annihilation, the Lord of history was providing three little babies to oversee its renewal and rebirth. Resurrection would come out of death and judgment. Blind Samson to blind Eli, but God sees the future.

With respect to Samson’s own decline, the present chapter encourages us to trace it through a succession of animals: from lions, to foxes, to asses.

Saturday, September 18

Judges 16: Two facts, recorded in the first three verses of this chapter, prepare for the rest of the drama, in which Samson will be forced to fight to the death.

The first concerns Samson’s strength. Samson is unwilling to press the advantage he has by reason of his superior strength. He toys with the men of Gaza, but ultimately he simply leaves them alone. He will learn that the Philistines are not an enemy to be tolerated.

The second concerns Samson’s weakness, which is his addiction to the company of women. This weakness will lead finally to his downfall.

In all the previous judges we read that So-and-so judged Israel for X number of years, and then, after his death, Israel went a-whoring after false gods. In Samson’s case, however, we are told that he judged Israel for twenty years and then he went a-whoring. That is to say, Samson has become the symbol of Israel itself.

The men of Gaza presumed that they had Samson trapped. The city gates were locked, and they could deal with him in the morning. Samson not only opened the gates, he carried them a great distance, uphill all the way, leaving Gaza open to attack.

The time of Samson’s deliverance and exploit comes at midnight, a time that may remind us of Pharaoh, Moses, Egypt, and the Exodus. There is also a parallel with the opening of the Book of Joshua, where there was also an incident involving the city gates and the residence of a whore.

Samson has become careless in his declining years. He has begun to play with danger. He no long flees evil, as God would have us do. He teases his own soul, as it were, even as he teases Delilah and the Philistines. Every time he plays around, however, there is a lurking danger. His attackers are just out of sight, concealed in the inner room. He should remember the Lord’s warning to Cain with respect to temptation, “Sin lieth at the door.” Like Cain, Samson is within the reach of danger, but he continues to act unwisely, trusting too much in himself, as though his own memory no longer contains the record of his past failures. Samson acts blindly, even before the loss of his eyes.

In his whole relationship to Delilah, Samson was playing with death. The one thing Samson never did in his life was to flee. There is a proper time to flee, however. In the hour of temptation, flight is the proper path. Samson was blind, not recognizing the presence of temptation. He treated the whole thing as a game.

In fact, however, Samson was a dead man from the hour he entered the prostitute’s house. He was already walking in blindness. Delilah “annoyed him to death,” says the Sacred Text, in a rich ironical expression. Proverbs 2 says of the adulterous woman that “her house sinks down to death, and her tracks lead to the dead.”

The free man has foolishly handed himself over to bondage. Samson will spend the rest of his miserable existence grinding the grain of a false and foreign god.

The return of Samson’s hair signifies the growth of repentance in his mind. Having lost his eyes, Samson must find a new light in his heart. This discovery will lead him to death unto self.

The Philistines never knew when to quit (verses 21-31). We must not fail to observe here the parallel between the capture of Samson and the capture of the Ark in 1 Samuel 5. In both cases, the stories describe a battle between Israel’s God and the Philistine god, Dagan. In each case Dagan is humiliated by capturing more than he can handle. In both cases his apparent victory is the condition and cause of his defeat. Dagan captures more than he can hold.

Both of these instances are types and foreshadowings of the Christian salvation, in which Death takes captive the Victim on the cross but cannot hold Him. The apparent victory of Death is the cause and condition of the overthrow of Death. Dagan and Death are the same thing.

Samson is also a type of Christ, of course. Both are sold for silver, both are betrayed with a kiss, both die with a prayer on their lips, both are mocked in their blindness: “And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, ‘Prophesy! Who is the one who struck You?’ And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him” (Luke 22:64).

Sunday, September 19

2 Corinthians 12.1-13: Paul mentions the spiritual revelations of which he has been the recipient, even in mystical rapture (verse 2). These experiences surely included the direct revelation that he received from the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8; Galatians 1:16), also recorded by St. Luke (Acts 9:4-6; 22:6-8; 26:13-18). Speaking of an especially lofty experience fourteen years earlier, Paul’s sense of reserve prompts him to shift to the grammatical third person, as though he were speaking of someone else.

These spiritual revelations strengthened Paul in the apostolic ministry (Acts 18:9-10), and he would soon receive another one (22:17-22).

The mysterious character of such revelations is conveyed by Paul’s ironic expression “unspeakable sayings” (arreta remata–verse 4). The sheer ineffability of these experiences is mirrored in the irony with which Paul speaks of them. Thus, he is unable to say whether or not he was still in his body during the occurrence. Indeed, it is almost as though they had happened to someone else, a person distinct from powerless, frail Paul (verse 5).

Judges 17: The final chapters of Judges form a sort of appendix, to show how bad things had become just prior to the rise of the monarchy. It was a period of great decline, and these stories serve to explain why Israel at last decided to want a king to rule over them. Israel’s lack of a king is mentioned five times in these five chapters.

Indeed, we perceive a decline even in the quality of the judges themselves. The list had started with the heights represented by Ehud, Deborah, and Gideon, declining gradually to the depths of Jephthah and Samson.

The present chapter begins an account of the failure of the Levites, on whose ministry the spiritual life of Israel depended so much. These were the spiritual guardians of the people. The apostate Levite introduced in this chapter was, in fact, a descendant of Moses!

We also see in this chapter the moral failure of a mother. When we began with the book with Deborah, “a mother in Israel,” we hardly expected things to end so badly.

If we compare this story with the Bible’s earlier idolatry of the Golden Calf, we see a decline from gold to silver. Even the idolatry is cheaper. Everything is declining!

The Levite described here is very typical of a certain kind of clergyman, who fails in his duties as a pastor because he finds it more profitable to become the domestic chaplain of a wealthy family. It happens all the time. We may contrast this Levite with the zealous Phineas.

Monday, September 20

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.

Tuesday, September 21

2 Corinthians 13.1-14: Throughout this letter Paul had played the theme of power made perfect in infirmity, a truth manifest in the condition and circumstances of his own life. The grasping of this truth is what prompted the Apostle, as he reflected on his ministry, to assume the extraordinary autobiographical style characteristic of this epistle.

Through this sustained experience of power made perfect in infirmity Paul learned, on his own pulses, the mystery of the Cross, and in the present reading he proclaims this mystery explicitly. The weakness in question is the weakness of Christ’s sufferings and death: “He was crucified in weakness.” The power in question is the power of Christ’s Resurrection: “He certainly lives by the power of God.” To live in Christ, therefore, is to test and live out the experience of that truth: “For although we are weak in Him, we shall certainly live with Him, with respect to you [eis hymas], by the power of God” (verse 4). When Paul will appear again before the Corinthians, he may seem weak to them, but they will experience in him the power of Christ (verse 3).

However, rather than simply wait for this godly disclosure, the Corinthians should meanwhile put themselves to the test. They should examine the evidence in their own lives to discern whether they are really believers, whether Christ is truly among them (verse 5). Paul is not anxious what other think of him; he is concerned, rather, with the spiritual health of his readers at Corinth (verse 7).

In verse 11 all the imperative verbs are in the present tense, the tense that in Greek signifies repeated or continuous action. That is to say, this is an exhortation to sustained effort with respect to moral renewal and the cultivation of the common Christian life. This is the only verse in Holy Scripture that contains the expression “the God of love.”

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.

Wednesday, September 22

Luke 9.51-56: The incident recorded in this story was perhaps the occasion when Jesus gave the two sons of Zebedee the name, “sons of thunder—Boanerges.

Luke, who describes the wrath of Zebedee’s sons against the Samaritans, also tells an ironic “second half” of the story, when he comes to the Samaritan mission in the Acts of the Apostles. After Philip baptized the Samaritans, Luke tells us, the church at Jerusalem “sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.”

Luke relished the irony of it: John had wanted fire from heaven to fall on the Samaritans. He got his wish! The church at Jerusalem sent him—when the time was right—as one of its delegates to call down on the Samaritans the true fire from heaven, the Holy Spirit.

Psalms 59 (Greek & Latin 58): The context of this psalm is that sacred Passion by which we were redeemed, and the psalm’s voice is that of Christ our Lord, the only One who could make the claim of innocence found near the beginning: “For behold, they have stalked my soul, the powerful have assaulted me. Not for any wrongdoing of mine, nor for any sin in me, O Lord. Without wrongdoing have I run, and straight have I kept my course.” Jesus said exactly the same thing to His enemies: “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46).

This innocence of Jesus appears rather frequently in the Book of Psalms, beginning as early as Psalm 7. It is one of the Christological themes shared by the Psalter and the New Testament. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Surely sinlessness, blamelessness, and innocence, as such words apply to Jesus, designate far more than a merely moral trait. Let us look again at that last text: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This is clearly a passage about the Lord’s atoning death. To say that God made Jesus “to be sin” is a very strong way of saying what John the Baptist had already proclaimed: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

God’s making Jesus “to be sin” means that He was God’s chosen “sin offering,” the sacrificial victim of the atonement. The innocence that Holy Scripture predicates of Jesus has to do with the efficacy of His redemptive suffering and death upon the Cross. His blamelessness, His freedom from blemish, is a quality of that oblation by which we have been delivered from the power of sin.

Thursday, September 22

Galatians 1.11-24: Saul, a very zealous Jew, when he recognized at last the true Messiah, received the recognition from the same God he had always worshipped. The God of Jesus was not a god different from the God worshipped by the Jews. This was the very God, Paul says, who revealed His Son.

The revelation given in Jesus was not the disclosure of a God hitherto unknown. What was new was this God’s relationship to Jesus. It was because of Jesus that Paul now knew the true reason that the Jews, when they worshipped God, habitually addressed Him as “Abinu,” “our father.” In synagogues all around the Mediterranean Basin, Jews invoked God as Elo’enu, Abinu, Malkinu—“our God, our Father, our King.”

It was this same “God and Father” who inwardly drew Paul to Jesus as His Son. Therefore, Jesus could say to Paul—as he said to Peter—“flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). Jesus enunciated the principle involved in this revelation: “No one can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him” (John 6:44).

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 Jephthah 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 for 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.

Friday, September 24

1 Chronicles 1: First Chronicles 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 descendants 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 historical 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—was 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 follow the theological traits of Chronicles, a solidly negative attitude toward the Samaritans or any marriage with non-Israelites.

The lists here in Chapter One, then, serving the theological interests of the Chronicler, were not intended to be complete. For example, Cain and all his descendants are omitted. The Chronicler refuses to admit the existence of Cain’s posterity for the same reason that he will later ignore the schismatic kings of the North—namely, why should he recall what the Lord Himself has chosen to forget? Hence, the Chronicler writes here only of those ancients who were important to the ancestry and family history of the Chosen People.