Friday, April 9

1 Peter 3:1-12: In the first few verses Peter finishes his treatment of the Haustafel from the previous chapter.

He begins with the wives, whom he exhorts to be submissive to their husbands. This is to be the case, says Peter, even in those instances where the husband is an unbeliever (verse 1). (This is the situation in which a woman already married becomes a Christian. In no case may a Christian woman actually marry an unbeliever—2 Corinthians 6:15-18.) In this case, as in the case of a Christian living in civil society (2:15), Peter hopes for the good influence of the believer on the unbeliever.

Peter probably intends some of his comments here to pertain to Christian women generally, and not just to wives. This is surely the case respecting chastity and modesty (verse 3-5). His concern in this regard is similar to that of Isaiah (3:16-24), who apparently enjoyed poking fun at the way the women in the eighth century loved to preen themselves.

In spite of Abraham’s frequently unhappy home life, much of it caused by wife’s dramatic mood swings, Peter still holds out for Christian wives the example of Sarah (verse 6). This is not the only time in the New Testament where Sarah is “given a pass” (cf. Hebrews 11:11 compared with Genesis 18:12-15).

Christian husbands are to be good husbands precisely because they are Christians (verse 7). What is owed to the wife is “honor,” and this because she is “weaker.” This does not refer physical weakness generally (and certainly not to any alleged intellectual or moral weakness in women, something that only an inexperienced fool would fancy), but to a certain delicacy in the female. Peter is quietly presuming that a woman’s constitution, which is far more “complicated” than a man’s, renders her inherently more vulnerable to danger, much like the delicacy of an expensive vase. Indeed, Peter even uses the metaphor of a “vessel.” This is a dining room vessel, not a ship. Certain things of beauty and delicacy in the home are given special honor. Wives are to be treated in a similar way by Christian husbands. They are NEVER to be handled roughly, not even in thought and most certainly not in word.

The affection, respect, deference, courtesy, compassion, and tenderness necessary to life in the home is to be extended to the larger home of the Church, and thence to the rest of society (verses 8-9). This effort will be expressed in a stern control of one’s tongue (verse 10) and the steady quest to create atmospheres of peace (verse 11). Blessing must cover all things (verse 9). (I refer the reader here to the Book of Ruth, where he is counseled to count the constant blessings that its sundry characters heap on one another. Christians must pass up no opportunity to bless.)

Saturday, April 10

1 Peter 3:13-22: To be baptized into Christ is to be associated with His sufferings. As Christ was victorious over death by His Resurrection, so will be those who belong to Him. Baptism, because it unites believers with the Resurrection of Christ, is a pledge and promise of their own victory over death.

In verses 18-22 Peter speaks of Christ’s descent into hell, which took on so pronounced an emphasis in Christian faith and worship that it became an article in the Nicene Creed. Peter says that Christ “went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The relationship of Christian Baptism to the Flood and Noah’s Ark, found here explicitly for the first time, became a common trope in Christian biblical exegesis:

Righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the Deluge, that is, with his own wife, with his three sons, and with their three wives, all of them being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, whereon Christ appeared when He rose from thee dead, first in power forever. For Christ, being the firstborn of every creature, became again the head of another race regenerated by Himself through water, and faith, and wood, containing the mystery of Cross, even as Noah was saved by wood when he rode upon the waters with his family (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 138).

Just as the waters of the Deluge, by which the old iniquity was purged—after the baptism of the world, so to speak—a dove became the herald announcing to thee earth the softening of the heavenly wrath, when she had been sent away out of the Ark, and had returned carrying the olive branch, a sign that even among the pagans signifies peace, so by the selfsame law of the heavenly dispensation, there flies to the earth—that is to say, our flesh—as it emerges from the font, having put away its old sins, the dove of the Holy Spirit, bringing us the peace of God, sent forth from heaven, where is the Church, typified by the Ark (Tertullian, On Baptism 8).

Sunday, April 11

1 Peter 4:1-11: Once gain the Apostle turns to the theme of Christ’s sufferings (cf. 2:21-24; 3:18) in order to draw out the practical implications of the Cross in the life of Christians (verse 1). Considering the Passion of Christ, believers are to arm themselves (hoplisasthe with “the same way thinking” (ennoian). That is to say, they are to take the remembrance of Christ’s sufferings as the guide to their thoughts and sentiments.

The Apostle Paul taught the same thing: “Let this mind be in you (touto phroneite) which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Such a one, first of all gives up the life of sin (verses 2-4). Otherwise he betrays the Cross, which paid the price of those sins. Similarly, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:2-6).

The Apostle John was just as clear on the subject: “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” (1 John 3:6).

Since our past lives, says Peter, have been wasted with the passions and interests of men, let us spend our remaining days serving the will of God, because whoever “has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”

The life of the baptized person is turned away from the activities of yesterday. Peter spells out these activities lewdness, drinking sessions, and wild partying.

It is true that we gained friends amidst such activity in former times, but they are the very ones who will find our new way of life so puzzling and incomprehensible: “In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.” Peter takes it for granted that conversion to Christ will mean the end of some such friendships. The believer will have much less in common with his former drinking buddies. He won’t like their lewd jokes anymore, and perhaps they will no longer like him. In such situations, Peter sends us to the Cross.

Monday, April 12

1 Peter 4:12-19: Outside of the Acts of the Apostles, this section contains the only place in the New Testament where we find the word “Christian”: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed” (verse 16).

Two observations may be made in regard to Peter’s use of the term “Christian” here.

First, Peter himself had been active in the founding of the Church at Antioch, where this term was first used (Acts 11:26; Galatians 2:11). It was from Antiochian usage that he adopted the term.

Second, it is significant that this name “Christian,” first used by non-Christians to describe the new group at Antioch, tended to be used in the context of persecution, as is clearly the case here in 1 Peter (verses 14-16). This context is identical to that of the only other place where we find the word “Christian,” the trial of Paul before Agrippa (where it is also heard from the lips of a non-Christian: “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian’” (Acts 26:28).

It is useful for Christians to bear in mind, when they call themselves by this name, that original context of enmity and even persecution. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that the name was first used by those who actually hated Christians. Consequently, it should not surprise us if even today the word is used as an epithet of contempt, as is fairly often the case in the secular media and some political discourse.

At the same time, the impending judgment of God, says Peter, begins “at the house of God” (verse 17). This fact is important, because there abides the temptation for Christians to imagine that they will somehow be exempted (either by a rapture or in some other way) from God’s final judgment on history. This is emphatically not the case. The Book of Revelation, which so vividly describes the final judgment of the world, begins with His judgment of the churches (chapters 2-3).

Exodus 1: Israel’s sojourn in the land of Egypt is, for a long time, a period of prosperity: “But the children of Israel were fruitful (paru) and increased abundantly, multiplied (vayirbu) and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled (vatimmle’ ha’arets) with them.”

The vocabulary of this description makes it clear that the Israelites were following the initial Law God gave the human race: “Be fruitful and multiply (p-ru vurbu) fill the earth (v-mil’u ’eth ha’arets) and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28; cf 9.1,7). In this respect, the initial condition of the Israelites in Egypt resembled the state of Adam prior to the Fall: “Then the Lord God took the man (’eth ha’adam) and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it” (2:15).

This resemblance of the Israelites to our first parents is more than a literary parallel. The narrative structure of this book, based on the gift of the Torah, continues the account of God’s endeavor to restore humanity to its original state, in which Adam and Eve, prior to the Fall, enjoyed great prosperity, including intimacy and friendship with the Creator. As though to foreshadow that blessing, the Israelites in Egypt are described as living in the grace of God’s first command, the injunction to prosper, multiply, and fill the earth.

Tuesday, April 13

Exodus 2: The newborn Moses is placed into what most English translations call a “basket,” which his mother “daubed with asphalt and pitch,” in order to waterproof it. In the Hebrew text the noun translated as “basket” is tevah, an Egyptian loan-word. It is used here and in only one other setting in the Bible, where it designates the “ark” of Noah. That vessel, too, we recall, Noah was commanded to “calque with pitch, inside and outside” (Gen. 6:14). The word tevah is otherwise not found in Holy Scripture.

This exclusive use of an Egyptian word is very significant, because it prompts us to read the stories of Noah and Moses together. The author has in mind to tie these two accounts together in a very explicit way, so that the correspondence between them would be unmistakable. The geographical setting of the Moses story may have suggested the use of this Egyptian noun, tevah.

There stands out, in short, a clear literary parallel between the stories of old Noah near the beginning of Genesis and young Moses near the beginning of Exodus. This correspondence will be evident to those
who read the Bible in Hebrew. For example, the medieval rabbinic scholar Rashi called attention to it in his commentary on Genesis.

Unfortunately, the important literary and theological relationship between Genesis 6—9 and Exodus 2 is all but obliterated in many translations, starting even with the Septuagint and the Vulgate. On the other hand, it is one of the merits of the King James Bible that it employs the word “ark” (from the Latin arca, meaning box or chest) in both places, thus explicitly tying the two passages together.

And they certainly should be studied together, joining Moses with Noah, and the Exodus account with the narrative of the Flood. As Noah in his tevah saved the human race and the animals from utter destruction, so the baby Moses, preserved in a tiny tevah of his own, became the deliverer of the Hebrews.

Indeed, Moses’ very name, which means “drawn from the water,” is a foreshadowing of Israel’s deliverance from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea.
Moses is a kind of new Noah. In his tevah at the beginning of this story, he makes his own personal exodus, as it were, a promise of the one to come. The themes in both stories, finally, symbolize the Sacrament of Baptism, in which God’s people, even today, are “drawn from the water.”

The final scene of this section introduces another irony. Just as the midwives in the first chapter outwit Pharaoh, so his policy is thwarted by the sister and mother of Moses in this chapter. There is the added comical dimension that Moses’ mother becomes probably the only woman in history to be paid for nursing her own child! This detail continues the theme of the Hebrews outwitting the Egyptians.

Wednesday, April 18

Exodus 3: As the story begins, Moses is curious. As we have seen him do in the scenes portrayed so far, he takes the initiative; he attempts to approach the divine presence on his own!

Warned by the voice from the Bush, Moses covers his face and bares his feet, such being the proper response to the presence of holiness, particularly a “holy place.” The removal of the sandals in this context will be repeated in the case of Moses’ successor (Joshua 5:13-16) and the veiling of the face returns in the case of Elijah (1 Kings 19:13). St. Paul explains the deeper significance of the veiling of the face in 2 Corinthians 3:18—4:6.

Holiness in the Bible is not abstract; it is revealed in concrete physical experiences. Sometimes, in fact, it is described as downright dangerous. This is one of the places.

God identifies Himself here as the same God who spoke of old to the patriarchs. Indeed, it is worded in ways that evoke those earlier revelations. Thus, God said to Isaac, ““I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you” (Genesis 26:24). And to Jacob He declared, “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac . . . Behold, I am with you” (Genesis 28:13, 15). So here God tells Moses, ““I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob . . . I will certainly be with you” (vv. 6, 12).

The present commission, however, distinguishes Moses from all that went before. From time to time the patriarchs had been told to do certain things (cf. Genesis 12 and 22, for instance), but they were never, strictly speaking, given some task to which they were to devote their entire lives. Moses is the first and prototype of the man called to the exclusive service of God and ministry to God’s people. After him the Bible will describe many such calls.

We observe Moses’ reluctance to accept his arduous prophetic call. Indeed, this will become a common response of several of the prophets and other leaders at the time of their call.

In such cases it is not uncommon for the Lord to reassure His servant with the promise of remaining with him throughout the appointed task. For instance, He promises Gideon, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16). To Jeremiah He says, “Do not be afraid of their faces, because I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:8). And to Paul He declares, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent, for I am with you” (Acts 18:9-10). So, in the present text, the Lord promises Moses, ““I will certainly be with you.”

Thursday, April 15

Exodus 4: In the first part of this chapter the discussion between God and Moses goes through two stages. First, Moses is given three “signs” by which to convince the elders of Israel of the truth of his message. He complains that they will never believe him. It appears, however, that the first unbelief to be overcome is that of Moses himself. Only then will be able to convince the Israelites, and finally, the Egyptians must be convinced.

In the second stage Moses objects that he has never had “a way with words.” Truly, so; although at this point in the story he is 80 years old, the Bible records only one sentence from him prior to this time, and that one sentence had been totally ineffective (Exodus 2:13). God reminds Moses that he won’t be speaking for himself (cf. Mark 13:11). We recall that Jeremiah also used an alleged speech deficiency in attempting to escape the prophetic call (cf. Jeremiah 1:4-8).

Time has run out for Moses, but in response to his pleading, God makes the concession that the new prophet is to receive some help. For the first time we learn that Moses has an older brother. Aaron will do the talking, but Moses is not relieved of his own responsibility. Aaron will be his spokesman, but he himself will continue to be God’s spokesman.

This extended dialogue between Moses and God reveals the prophet’s ability at haggling, which is a normal part of business transactions in that part of the world. In fact, one is reminded of Abraham as someone who “drove a hard bargain” with God (cf. Genesis 18:24-32). Later on in the Exodus account, much will be said about Moses’ ability as an intercessor with God; on one occasion the people will be saved from swift destruction solely by reason of Moses’ ability to “haggle” with the Almighty.

The last plague is predicted first (verses 21-23). Several points should be made with respect to God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

First, it is improper to interpret this expression in any fashion that frees Pharaoh from the moral responsibility of hardening his own heart (cf. 8:11[15]). It is clear from the entire context God is not responsible for Pharaoh’s sin.

Second, in the several times that the text ascribes this hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to God Himself (cf. 7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8), the hardening of the heart is incorporated into the dramatic tension of the story. It is part of saying that the entire development—the growing suspense of the conflict—is being directed by God. As the Lord provides less and less excuse for Pharaoh’s hardness of heart, through the course of the plagues, God is pictured as making Pharaoh’s hard ever harder by giving him occasions for repentance. In order to resist God, Pharaoh’s heart must become progressively hardened.

Third, it is unfortunate that the context of this drama of deliverance was forgotten by many later commentators on Romans 9, who treated that passage as though it dealt with individual salvation. There are further observations on this point in the note on Exodus 9:16.

Friday, April 16

John 4.1-14: Jesus goes to the trouble to befriend this woman. When he initiates his conversation with her, it is not a casual act. Jesus intends, from the start, to take this woman on a new path, to show her a new mode of life, to introduce her to a new dimension of her own humanity. Jesus does not meet people casually. When he approaches anyone, he is serious about them. His approach always involves his commitment. Jesus never engages in small talk.

Friendship has always been a moral concept. For example, in the 10 books of Aristotle’s Ethics, two of those books are devoted to the subject of friendship. Becoming a friend to someone is a costly and complex thing to do. It requires time, patience, and discernment in order to arrive at the stage of commitment. And commitment, in turn, requires loyalty.

Exodus 5: The declaration, “Thus says the Lord” (cf. also Exodus 32:27), places Moses squarely in the prophetic tradition.

This is, in fact, the Bible’s first clear encounter of a prophet with a king, an encounter that will be repeated with the likes of Samuel and Saul, Nathan and David, Elijah and Ahab, Isaiah and Ahaz, Amos and Jeroboam II, Jeremiah and Zedekiah, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, John the Baptist and Antipas, Paul and Agrippa. It is instructive to remember that, on the sole occasion when Abraham was called a prophet, it was in connection with a local ruler in the Negev (cf. Genesis 20:1-7 Psalms 105 [1-4]:13-15).

The source of Pharaoh’s problem is that he does not “know the Lord” (verse 2). Before much longer, nonetheless, he will have ample opportunity to make the Lord’s acquaintance (Exodus 8:22; 9:29). Moses’ encounter with such a man may be compared to David’s confrontation with Goliath, who also did not “know the Lord (cf. 1 Samuel 17:45-47).

Pharaoh reacts “that same day,” taking the initiative away from Moses and Aaron, thereby making them look inept in the eyes of the Israelites (verses 4-9). “Thus says the Lord” is met by “thus says Pharaoh” (verses 10-14). Here there is a series of complaints: the overseers to the foremen, the foremen to Pharaoh, Pharaoh to the foremen, the foremen to Moses, Moses to God. Pharaoh’s tactic is to divide the people that he wants to oppress. He does not discredit Moses directly; he acts, rather, in such a way that the people themselves will turn on Moses.

The scene in verses 15-21 will be repeated many times in the next 40 years. On each occasion when things do not go well, the people will blame Moses. And when the people blame Moses, Moses will often enough blame God, as he proceeds to do now.