Friday, November 5

2 Chronicles 14: Abijah’s death (verse 1) after three years (13:2) was premature and unexplained, but perhaps fourteen wives, twenty-two sons, and sixteen daughters (13:21) led to an overly stressful domestic life that may have taken its toll.

Abijah was succeeded by Asa, one of Judah’s longest reigning kings (911-870), whom both historians credit with doing “what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (verse 2). Flavius Josephus expanded slightly on that description: “Now Asa, the king of Jerusalem, was of an excellent character, and had a regard to God, and neither did nor designed anything but what had relation to the observation of the laws. He made a reformation of his kingdom, and cut off whatsoever was wicked therein, and purified it from every impurity” (Antiquities 8.12.1).

The Chronicler’s brief account of Asa’s religious reforms (verses 3-5) corresponds roughly to that of 1 Kings 15:7-12), but it is immediately followed by a long section not found in Kings (14:6—15:15).

During ten years of peace (verses 1,6), Asa strengthened and fortified the kingdom (verses 7-8). And none too soon, as events would prove, for about the year 900 Zerah the Cushite, as the Hebrew text calls him, invaded Judah from the south. Still, the word “million” to describe the size of Zerah’s army is a bit misleading. The expression in biblical Hebrew, a language that doesn’t have the word “million,” is “thousand thousand,” an idiomatic term meaning “lots and lots.” Apparently there were Libyans also included in his force (cf. 16:8), and clearly Asa is badly outnumbered, as he indicates in his prayer (verse 11).

The biblical text gives no indication of Asa’s winning strategy, perhaps because the Chronicler felt that such information might detract from the theological truth of the day—namely, “the Lord defeated” the invaders (verse 12). The Chronicler, true to his understanding of biblical history, will ascribe nothing in this battle to human power. Indeed, Josephus says that the battle took place while Asa was making his prayer for victory (Antiquities 8.12.2). The defeat itself was total, and the Bible revels in a description of the enemy’s flight and the taking of the spoils (verses 13-15).

It was on his return from the battlefield to Jerusalem that the king and his army encountered a prophet with a thing or two on his mind.

Saturday, November 6

Luke 20:1-8: Jesus, upon entering Jerusalem, immediately began to behave as though the place belonged to Him. Right after his triumphal entry into the city with the acclamations of the crowd, he proceeded to purge the Temple and then curse the fig tree. All of this was an exercise of “authority” (exsousia).

His enemies, who have already shown themselves nervous about these events, now approach Him in the Temple to challenge this “authority” implicitly claimed in what has happened. The reader already knows, of course, the source of Jesus’ authority, so the Gospel writers do not tell this story in order to inform the reader on this point. The story is told to show, rather, the Lord’s complete control of the situation, especially His deft discomfiting of these hypocritical enemies. We earlier considered the Lord’s reference to this hypocrisy with respect to their relations to both Himself and John the Baptist

Colossians 3:1-17: We come now to the more exhortatory second half of this epistle, characterized by the more frequent use of imperative (“Seek”—verse 1; “Set”—verse 2; “Put on”—verses 12,14; “Do”—verse 17) and optative verbs (“Let the peace of God’—verse 15; “Let the word of Christ”—verse 16).

The Christian’s new state, his being already raised with Christ, is the basis for his striving to be likewise ascended with Christ, seeking and savoring the things above (verses 1,2). These two verbs, seeking (zeteite) and savoring (phroneite), indicate the two temporal aspects of our possession of God, the “not yet” (seeking) and the “already” (savoring). As long as we are on this earth, the life in Christ involves both.

And just where, while all this is going on, is Christ to be found? “Sitting at the right hand of God,” says Paul. The Christian sense of the presence of Christ does not bring Christ to the earth again, as it were. Rather, it raises the believer up to the throne room of God (Hebrews 12:22-24; Acts 7:55-56; Revelation 5:6). The real life of the believer remains, therefore, “hidden” (verse 3).

Our present state, containing both the already and the not yet, both the seeking and the savoring, is not our final state. Indeed, our final state is not even the entrance of our souls into heaven at death. Our final state arrives, rather, when “Christ who is our life appears,” for then we too “will appear with Him in glory” (verse 4). In the Epistle to the Colossians, as in the Epistle to the Romans, full salvation is attained only when Christ returns to raise our mortal bodies from corruption.

In the mind of Paul, the believer’s dying with Christ in baptism (verse 3; 2:12) is not a passive state. It is the basis, rather, of a continual striving: “You have died . . . Therefore, put to death . . . (verse 5). That is to say, Baptism is the introduction to Christian discipline. In this respect, Paul’s teaching is identical to the following of Christ taught in the Gospels (cf. Mark 8:34-38).

In practice, this “putting to death” is directed to certain sinful dispositions and activities that Paul proceeds to list (verse 5-9). He speaks of these vicious tendencies and activities as “your members,” because each of them is identified with some part of our constitution. This metaphor is also found in Romans 6:6,19; 7:5,23 (cf. Mark 9:45-47). These things pertain to the “old man” inherited from Adam.

In contrast thereto, we are to put on the “new man” that is Christ, who is the very image (eikon) of God (verse 10; 1:15). The goal of all Christian striving is Christ’s complete takeover of our being and our destiny.

Sunday, November 7

Colossians 3.18—4.1: The home is the first place to be transformed “in the Lord” (verse 18). Indeed, the “Lord” (Kyrios) is explicitly spoken of six times in this section on the Christian home (3:18,20,23, 24 twice; 4:1), indicating that the Lordship of Jesus is to dominate all of the relationships in the home. Surely, if Jesus is not the Lord of a believer’s home, it is not likely that He will be the Lord of any other part of his life.

In this respect, we may note that in this section on the Christian home, everything is regarded under the aspect of duty, not of rights. Rights have to do with the political order. The home, however, is the true pre-political institution.

The first relationship in the home is that between husband and wife. Paul views the wife’s self-subjugation to the husband as a matter of decency, order, and propriety—“as is fitting” (aneken—3:18). Her relationship to her husband, on the other hand, is to be rendered easy by the latter’s love and gentleness toward her (verse 19). The verb Paul uses for “love” in this instance is agapan, the highest and most spiritual kind of love (cf. Ephesians 6:21-33).

From the home all bitterness is to be excluded, and the husband/father is to provide the example in this (3:19,21).

2 Chronicles 16: The latter part of Asa’s rule was not up to the mark set by his earlier days. He waxed lazy in his later years, and the present chapter describes his decline.

There is an historical problem with the present text. If we understand verse 1 strictly, the date appears to be 875. However, according to 1 Kings 16:6-8, Baasha had died ten years earlier! Some exegetes, in hopes of removing this problem, suggest that a copyist’s error has introduced a mistake into the Sacred Text. While this suggestion is possible, it is not the only solution to the problem. It may be that verse 1, in referring to the thirty-sixth year of Asa, is employing a shorthand formula to mean the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s kingdom, that is, the divided kingdom that followed the reign of Solomon. If this interpretation is correct, then the year of reference would be 986, which accords well with the sequence given in Kings. It also seems better to fit the Chronicler’s assertion that Åsa’s early reign enjoyed ten years of peace (14:1).

In Asa’s response to Baasha’s invasion we discern already his decline. Instead of going to meet his opponent in battle, as he had earlier done in the case of Zerah, Asa decided to pay someone else to assume the task. He employed money to influence international politics (verses 2-5). Thereby conceding part of the Land of Promise to a foreign power, Asa paid the Syrians to invade the territory of Baasha. Over the next couple of centuries Asa’s successors on the throne would have to deal with Syrian interference in the politics of the Holy Land.

To reprimand this sin, the Lord sent to Asa the prophetic word of Hanani (verses 7-09), the father of yet another prophet named Jehu (1 Kings 16:17). This prophetic word, found only in the Chronicler, serves to advance the latter’s sense of history—-namely, the conviction that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (verse 9).

Asa, in response, punishes the prophet, unlike his grandfather Rehoboam, who had humbled his mind before the prophetic word (12:6). Asa thus became the first king of Judah to raise his hand against the prophets.

In turn the Lord punished Asa three years later (verse 12). He lived five years more (verse 13). The great failure of Asa’s life, according to the Chronicler, came from following his disinclination to put his trust in God (verses 7,12).

Monday, November 8

Luke 20:20-26: The payment of the head tax to the Roman government was a source of resentment and occasional rebellion among the Jews, both because it was a sign of their subjection to Rome and because they disliked handling the graven image of the emperor on the coin. To this question, then, either a yes or a no answer could provide the basis for a political accusation against Jesus—or at least could gain Him new enemies. If Jesus forbade the paying of this tax, He would offend the Herodians. If He approved of it, He would further offend the Pharisees. Either way, He would give offense.

The Lord’s enemies commence with manifest flattery, evidently to put Jesus off His guard before springing their loaded question (verse 16). All three Synoptics mention this detail.

Reading their hearts and reprimanding their hypocrisy, the Lord obliges them to produce the coin in question, thereby making it clear that they all do, in fact, have the coin and do pay the tax.

That point established, He then obliges them to identify the head and name on the coin, namely, Tiberius Caesar (A.D. 14-37). Obviously, the coin belongs to the emperor, so they can continue doing what they have always done—pay the tax. Caesar minted and distributed the coin. It is his.

The concern of Jesus is not identical with that of His enemies. He is not concerned about what is owed to Caesar, but what is owed to God. This, too, must be paid, and Jesus is about to pay it. “Rendering unto God the things of God” refers to our Lord’s approaching sufferings and death. Thus, what began as a mundane political question is transformed into a theological matter of great moment, leaving them all amazed.

It is important, however, to keep this story in the context where the Gospels place it, the context of the Lord’s impending death. The question posed to Jesus is not a theoretical question. Indeed, it is not even a practical question. It is a loaded question—a question with an evil ulterior motive. It is a sword aimed at the Lord’s life.

And this is the sense in which we should understand Jesus’ response. Understood in this way, the Lord’s directive is full of irony. He tells His enemies to give back to God that which belongs to Him. And, in context, just what is that? It is Jesus Himself, whose life they will steal, and in their act of murder that which belongs to God will be rendered unto God.

Tuesday, November 9

2 Chronicles 18: After an entire chapter that had no parallels in 1 Kings, the Chronicler now gives us a chapter that comes almost entirely (except for verses 1-3) from 1 Kings 22. In fact, this is the only instance where the Chronicler simply repeats a long section from the Books of Kings. The occasion prompts us to inquire why?

The obvious reason is found in the nature of the material itself, which these two authors do not look at in the same way. For the author of Kings, this was a story about Micaiah and Ahab, whereas for the Chronicler it is, rather, a story about Micaiah and Jehoshaphat. Indeed, the Chronicler is only incidentally interested in Ahab, who is not even mentioned again after his death in verse 34 (contrast with 1 Kings 22:38-40). The Chronicler’s concern here is very different. He is interested in Jehoshaphat, not Ahab. After all, it was the King of Judah, not Ahab, who wanted to consult with Micaiah (verses 6-7), and the Chronicler inserts the account for the simple reason that it strengthens a steady motif dear to his heart—namely, the Lord’s prophetic word to the kings of Judah (cf. 12:5-6; 15:1-7; 16:7-9; 19:2-3; 20:13-17; 24:20; 25:7-9,15-16; 28:9-11; 33:10; 34:22-28). This story is one more in that thematic series.

The Chronicler is not interested in the extensive prophetic activity in the Northern Kingdom, for the simple reason that he is not interested, in se, in anything that transpired in the Northern Kingdom. Indeed, the only time he mentions a prophetic intervention of the greatest of the northern prophets, Elijah, it is in connection with a letter that that prophet wrote to a king of Judah (21:12-15).

The Chronicler’s sole interest in the present story, then, has to do with the current holder of the Davidic throne, Jehoshaphat, and this story serves the Chronicler’s purpose of introducing the latter’s dangerous coalition with the Northern Kingdom. If Asa’s great mistake was an unwise league with Syria, Jehoshaphat’s was an unwise alliance with Israel.

Because of this alliance, as we shall see during the ensuing chapters, the Davidic throne was nearly lost. The marriage of Jehoshaphat’s son to Ahab’s daughter would introduce into the Kingdom of Judah the full force of Phoenician idolatry and evil. Over the next several chapters the solemn prophetic promise made to David would be endangered as never before. During the next several generations there will be, at several given times, only a single direct male descendent of David on the face of the earth. Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram, will kill all his brothers (21:4). Then, all but one of Jehoram’s own sons will be slain (21:17). When that remaining son (22:1) is killed, there is “no one to assume power over the kingdom” (22:9). Of Jehoram’s grandsons, all will be murdered except the infant Joash (22:1-12). All of this danger and evil will flow from Jehoshaphat’s alliance with the Northern Kingdom. Better warfare, thought the Chronicler, than this sort of peace!

Wednesday, November 10

Luke 20.41-44: As His enemies, frustrated by Jesus’ answers to them hitherto, are not disposed to confront Him any further, the Lord Himself takes the initiative (verse 41). ??Jesus’ question with respect to the meaning of Psalm 110 (109) serves to introduce all Christian exegesis of that psalm. Because of Jesus’ question about this psalm, Christians learned from the words “The Lord said to my Lord” that Jesus is not only David’s descendent but also his pre-existing Lord. He is the Son, not only of David, but also of God.

Having mysteriously addressed the identity of Christ, this same line of the same psalm goes on to speak of his triumph and enthronement, with the solemn proclamation: “Sit at My right hand.” These majestic words were quoted in the first sermon of the Christian Church, that of Pentecost morning at the third hour (cf. Acts 2:34), and became the foundation of some of the most important Christological and soteriological statements of the New Testament (cf. Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2.).

In this one line of the psalm, then, Christians profess in summary form those profound doctrines at the foundation of our whole relationship to God, the eternal identity of Jesus Christ, His triumph over sin and death, and His glorification at God’s right hand: “God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, . . . who . . , when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high . . .” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

The rest of the psalm follows from that context. It goes on immediately to speak of those who oppose the triumph of Christ: “‘. . . till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”

Once again, in the writings of the New Testament these few words were quoted to lay the basis for the Christian interpretation of history and eschatology (cf. Acts 2:35f, 36 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 10:12, 13; and perhaps 1 Pet. 3:22).

In the present Lukan passage, then, Jesus is doing more than biblical exegesis. The “enemies” in the psalm are implicitly identified with those very interlocutors who have been engaged in questioning Jesus with malice and foul intent.

2 Chronicles 19: The king had now twice been warned that he has thrown in his lot with a loser. The Chronicler was not obliged to inform his readers, including ourselves, about the fate soon to befall the house of Ahab. The facts were already well known from the Books of Kings.

Meanwhile Jehoshaphat went about reforming the nation’s judicial system (verses 4-7). In this reform we observe what appears to be a pattern from Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 17:8-13. If as we suggested earlier (relative to 17:9), the teaching of the Levites was modeled on the same document later discovered in the Temple during Josiah’s time, this affinity with Deuteronomy is not surprising.

Thursday, November 11

2 Chronicles 20: The material in this chapter, which is mainly proper to the Chronicler and with scant parallel in 1 Kings (verses 21-24 being the exception), may for analysis be divided into five parts.

First, there are introductory verses that set the stage by describing the threat made to Judah by some of the local enemies to the east of the Jordan (verses 1-2). (In verse 2 it is likely that the reference to “Syria” in both the Hebrew and Greek texts should be changed to “Edom,” as the RSV does. In Hebrew the two words look much more alike than in English, and copyists often confused them. In the present case the mention of the city of Engedi, on the coast of the Dead Sea, makes “Edom” the more probable reading.

Second, the nation gathers to pray (verses 3-12). In Jehoshaphat’s intercession (verses 5-12) we observe a striking likeness to Solomon’s prayer at the consecration of the Temple (6:12-40). Indeed, the Chronicler notes that two prayers are made in exactly the same place (verse 5; 6:13; cf. 4:9). We should regard Jehoshaphat’s prayer as an extension and application of the prayer earlier made by Solomon.

This prayer especially “reminds” the Lord that the nations now threatening His Temple are the very enemies that the Lord had earlier forbidden Israel to destroy (verses 10-11; cf. Numbers 20:21; Deuteronomy 2:1,4,5,8,19). That is to say, this prayer “makes a case” for being heard!

Third, by way of response to this petition of Jehoshaphat, the Lord’s Spirit is poured out on the Levite Jahaziel for prophetic utterance (verse 13-17). His message is the kind of “liturgical prophecy” of which the Book of Revelation is full. Jehoshaphat and the nation are prophetically reminded, within the place and context of communal worship, that the Lord, who remains ever the Ruler of History, will give His people victory on the morrow. They need only show up for the battle; there will be no need to fight.

Fourth comes the fulfillment of Jehaziel’s prophetic message (verses 18-30), which takes place when the Levites march in religious procession in front of the army of Judah. Their worship in song and praise takes the place of the combat, as the enemies unaccountably turn on one another. This is apparently the Lord’s “ambush” of them. Once again, history is influenced by worship. History is not something closed off from intervention from on high, and “on high” is not closed off from prayers offered on the earth. When God’s people pray, the Lord intervenes on the earth, and new things start to happen (Revelation 8:3-6).

Fifth, there follows a summary of the importance of Jehoshaphat’s reign (verses31-34), followed by a final mention of another alliance of this king with the Northern Kingdom. This alliance too is disastrous. This final section provides the chapter’s only parallel to 1 Kings (22:42-48).

Friday, November 12

Revelation 2.1-11: Among the early Christian churches, that of Ephesus was particularly renowned for the strictness of its doctrinal purity. This was a book-burning congregation (Acts 19:19), which brooked no heresy. The apostle Paul, who had labored at Ephesus for three years, stressed the importance of doctrinal orthodoxy to all who ministered and taught there (Acts 20:29-31; 1 Timothy 1:3-7,18-20; 4:1-3; 5:17; 6:3-5,20; 2 Timothy 1:13-15; 2:14-18; 3:13; 4:2-5). In contrast to all of Paul-s other epistles, he mentioned no heresies in his Epistle to the Ephesians. Well into the second century, we know the reputation of the church at Ephesus for its doctrinal purity (cf. Ignatius of Antioch, Ephesians 6,2; 9.1; Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 1.26.3).

Here in Revelation 2 the church at Ephesus is commended for dealing with certain heretics called the Nicolaitans (verse 6), who apparently taught sexual immorality (2:14-15). The church was also obliged to deal with false apostles (verse 2), concerning whom the apostle Paul had earlier given warning to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:29; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Didache 11).

The problem at Ephesus, then, was not a lack of orthodoxy, but a lack of charity; they had forgotten their first agape (verse 4). At one time they had known fervent love (Acts 20:36-38), but now it had grown cold. John’s words to them here stand forever as a warning to those whose zeal for doctrinal purity obscures in their minds the need for true charity. Even though the Ephesian Christians are here commended for their “works,” labor,” and “patience” (verse 2; cf. exactly these three words in 1 Thessalonians 1:3), they have somehow fallen away from their “first works” (verse 5), as they have from their “first love.”

Smyrna, the modern Turkish city of Izmir, was a seaport rivaling and then surpassing Ephesus. The Book of Revelation is our earliest historical witness to the presence of a Christian church at Smyrna, but it does not indicate when or by whom the place was evangelized. The letter to this church indicates that,
unlike the situations in Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea, in Smyrna the problems faced by the church came largely from without. Thus, unlike the Ephesians (2:5), the believers at Smyrna were not told to repent. John did warn the congregation, however, that they would soon be severely tested (verse 10). How many Christians perished in that testing? It is very difficult to say, but we do know that Polycarp, who was martyred in A.D. 155, was the twelfth name on the list of martyrs at Smyrna.

Those martyrs, in any case, were promised the “crown of life,” an athletic image indicating their victory in Christ (Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 2:5; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4). The “second death” in verse 11 refers to eternal damnation (cf. 20:6.14.15; 21:8).