Friday, June 23

Mark 3.13-19: The “authority” (exsousia) that Jesus has manifested in teaching (1:22) and in driving out demons (1:27) is now shared with the Twelve (3:14-15), who are promptly named. Accounts of these Twelve are found here and in 6:7-13, and in both instances these accounts appear in proximity to sto-ries of Jesus’ blood relatives (3:21 and 6:1-6), as though to suggest that this group of disciples are to be His new family.

The selection of these Twelve may profitably be compared to Numbers 1:1-15. For example, Peter’s name, “Rock,” finds a correspondence in the names of two of Moses’ companions: Eliesur (“God is my rock”) and Surisadai (“the Almighty is my rock”). Similarly, like James and John, two of Moses companions are blood brothers. Moreover, as in the Book of Numbers, Jesus chooses these Twelve on the mountain (verse 13). We should also note that this list of the Twelve ends on the theme of the Lord’s Passion: “and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him” (verse 19).

Acts 10.34-48: Peter’s sermon covers the established time frame of the apos-tolic witness, “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, be-ginning from the baptism of John to that day, when He was taken up from us” (1:22). This was the time frame for which the apostles were eyewitnesses (10:39-41). Some years later the Gospel of Mark, which all early Christians be-lieved to embody the preaching of Peter, would cover that exact time frame. The apostle Paul, in his sermon at Pisidia, would also stick to that identical time frame (13:23-37).

Peter finishes his sermon by referring to the fulfillment of prophecy by Jesus (verse 43), a theme that Luke has been emphasizing since the day of the Lord’s resurrection (cf. Luke 24:27,45).

Peter had planned to preach at greater length — indeed, he felt he had barely begun his sermon (11:15) — but the Holy Spirit had something else in mind. While the apostle is yet speaking, there is a sudden renewal of the same char-ismatic outpouring narrated in 2:4. Indeed, that first outpouring, by introducing the diverse languages of the various nations, had foreshadowed this one, in which “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (verse 45), who are promptly baptized.

Normally, of course, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is associated with the sacramental experience of baptism and the laying on of hands (as we saw in 8:12-17). Still, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, ever blowing where He wills, sovereign even over the order of the sacraments, and subject to no human confinement. In the present instance, the Holy Spirit seems to be in a hurry and eager to remove every doubt.

Saturday, June 24

The Birth of John the Baptist: John the Baptist was a distinctly cultured man. In fact, today’s Gospel says a great deal about the roots of culture. John was a Jewish priest by inheritance and blood. His mother was from the tribe of Levi, and of his father we read that he was a priest of “the division of Abijah.” He was the heir of a great spiritual legacy, and very early in life he began to assim-ilate that inheritance.

How early? According to Luke’s Gospel he was in his sixth month of gestation. Even at that age, however, he had already assimilated enough of his religious inheritance that he leaped in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary voice and the approach of the Son of God that she carried.

That is to say, even three months before he was born, and without the slightest ability to reflect critically on his existence, he was already a believer. He al-ready had faith, a faith proportionate to his age and condition. He was in pos-session of an infant’s faith, the only kind of faith of which he was capable. This is why, eight days after his birth, he was circumcised as a member of God’s people.

In the case of John the Baptist, moreover, this faith began before he was born. His ears could already hear the prayers of his mother and father. He could al-ready listen to the hymns they sang at home and in the temple. The sounds of their voices were already giving shape to his soul. In proportion to his tiny abili-ties, his culture was already taking shape. He was already assuming his place in history.

This must be true of all the children that we raise in the Church of God. Through all five of their senses, we instruct them who they are and what they believe. We give them their faith. We hand these children their inherited cul-ture. We insert them into salvation history.

John the Baptist was also a man of character. We observe that John was never shaky about who he was. The lines of his identity were firmly in place; he had what the Greeks called “character.” He was severely tried over the course of his life, but he seems never to have had an identity crisis. He appears in the Gospels as a man of unusual self-confidence—enough self-confidence to call his whole generation to repentance! He was not afraid of the religious authorities in Judaism, and he was not the least intimidated by the political authorities that would eventually take his life.

He held his identity as a matter of memory, memory earlier than his ability to recall critically. This memory, for John, was primitive, more aboriginal than mere recollection. The man that finally placed his neck on the block for his be-heading is the same person as the child that was awakened by the voice of the Virgin Mary as he nestled in his mother’s womb. Through all the vicissitudes of his life, there was a personal continuity in John the Baptist.

Sunday, June 25

Numbers 8: This chapter of the Book of Numbers, concerned with miscellane-ous regulations about the worship, begins with the subject of ritual lamps in the sanctuary (verses 2-3; Exodus 25:31-40; Leviticus 24:2-4).

The original and primary purpose of such lamps was simple illumination in en-closed areas, such as temples, not readily open to sunlight. As these lamps, nonetheless, were actually fires burning within sacred precincts, it was inevita-ble that a sacred significance would be attached to them.

It was inevitable, because it was perfectly human. Following the hint give by Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 3.6.7), more than one reli-gious philosopher has remarked that a lamp or candle is simply the human sub-stitute for a sunrise. Consequently, such a flame would naturally assume, in the human imagination, the mystic symbolisms associated with the sun itself. There are probably few religions in the world that forego the use of sacred lamps, and the Christian religion is emphatically not among them (cf. Acts 20:8).

Nor is the religion of heaven itself. Indeed, for a correct understanding of the Old Testament’s Tabernacle, it is imperative to remember that it was crafted on the heavenly model that Moses, in mystic vision, beheld when he was on the mountain (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5; 9:23). And the heavenly sanctuary, which Moses beheld on the mountain, most certainly contained (and still con-tains!) sacred lamps (verse 4).

These heavenly lamps, moreover, were among the first things that the Apostle John looked upon when, like Moses, he was privileged to gaze into the heavenly sanctuary (Revelation 1:12; 4:5). Furthermore, the author of Hebrews (9:2) in his description of Moses Tabernacle, spoke of these lamps before anything else.

The purifying of the Levites (verses 6-14,21) is comparable to the purification of the priests in Leviticus 8, though perhaps with less note of consecration, which was reserved for the priests. Nonetheless the Levites, like the priests, took the place of Israel’s firstborn sons (verses 14,16-18).

The age limits given here for Levitical services, 25-50 (verse 24), are discrep-ant with the ages given in Numbers 4:3, a discrepancy perhaps best explained as interpreting the latter text as referent to the age for military service, as dis-tinct from sanctuary service.

Monday, June 26

The Wisdom of Solomon 19: 1 But as to the wicked, there came upon them, even unto the end, wrath without mercy. For He knew before also what they would do:
2 For when they had given them leave to depart, and had sent them away with great care, they changed their minds and pursued them.
3 For whilst they were yet mourning, and lamenting at the graves of the dead, they took up another foolish counsel: and those whom they had pressed to be gone, they began to pursue them as fugitives:
4 For a constraint, which they deserved, brought them to this end: and they lost the remembrance of those things which had happened, that their punishment might fill up what was wanting to their torments:
5 And that thy people might wonderfully pass through, but that these might find a new death.
6 For every creature according to its kind was fashioned again as from the be-ginning, obeying thy commandments, that thy children might be kept without hurt.
7 For a cloud overshadowed their camp, and where water was before, dry land appeared, and in the Red Sea a path without hinderance, and out of the great deep an emerging field:
8 Through which all the nation passed which was protected with thy hand, see-ing thy miracles and wonders.

Numbers 9: We come now to Israel’s second annual celebration of the Passover (verses 1-5), a narrative corresponding to the first such celebration in Exodus 12. These two accounts differ in two ways. First, the present account is much less detailed, the details having been given already in Exodus 12.

Second, the two accounts differ in context. Whereas the prescriptions in Exodus 12 were placed in the tension of Israel’s imminent departure from Egypt (and, indeed, they even form a break in the dynamic movement of the narrative), here the treatment is set in the more ample context of the Law received on Mount Sinai. That is to say, in Exodus 12 the Passover was centralized in its his-torical setting. Here in Numbers 9, it is colored by its inclusion in the general preoccupation with worship.

Those whose contact with dead bodies precluded their participation in the Pass-over Seder were accorded permission to celebrate that feast a month later. This concession was extended to those on a journey as well (verses 6-12).

Tuesday, June 27

Acts 12.1-19: For a proper understanding of this story of Peter’s imprison-ment, it is important to make note of the time when the event happens. Peter is delivered from prison at the Passover, the very night commemorating Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

As the angel of the Lord came through the land that night to remove Israel’s chains by slaying the first-born of Israel’s oppressors, so the delivering angel returns to strike the fetters from Peter’s hands and lead him forth from the dungeon.

And as Israel’s earlier liberation foreshadowed that Paschal Mystery whereby Jesus our Lord led all of us from our servitude to the satanic Pharaoh by rising from the dead, so we observe aspects of the Resurrection in Peter’s deliver-ance from prison.

Like the tomb of Jesus, Peter’s cell is guarded by soldiers (verses 4,6). That cell, again like the tomb of Jesus, is invaded by a radiant angelic presence, and the very command to Peter is to “arise” (anasta —verse 7).

It is no wonder that in regarding Rafael’s famous chiaroscuro depiction of this scene in the apartments in the Vatican (over the window in the Stanza of Helio-dorus), the viewer must look very closely, for his first impression is that he is looking at a traditional portrayal of the Lord’s Resurrection.

And what is the Church doing during all that night of the Passover? Praying (verses 5,12); indeed, it is our first record of a Paschal Vigil Service. Peter’s guards, alas, must share the fate of Egypt’s first-born sons (verse 19).

Numbers 10: After celebrating its second Passover there, and having received guidance by the movement of the pillar of cloud and fire, Israel prepared to leave Mount Sinai. Before making its departure, nonetheless, the Chosen People received one more directive—to fashion two silver trumpets, to be sounded whenever the whole camp was to receive specific instructions relative to its march (verses 1-2).

These two trumpets were also to be sounded for general assemblies (verse 3), as well as special meetings of the elders (verse 4). In short, all manner of direc-tions could be conveyed by the various blasts and blowing of the trumpet. These included military directions (verse 9) and liturgical use (verse 10).

The trumpeters were the priests (verse 8).

In its march, Israel began with the tribe of Judah, situated on the east side of the camp (verses 5,14), and so on.

Thus signaled to leave, Israel departed from Mount Sinai nearly a year after ar-riving there (verses 11-12). The Chosen People moved to Paran, a desert re-gion south and southeast of Kadesh, and there movement thereto (verses 13-28) generally followed the pattern outlined in Numbers 2.

Wednesday, June 28

Mark 4.13-20: The story of the sown seed is one of the very few parables of our Lord in what modern literary study calls “allegory” (that is, with a specific meaning for each narrative detail). (In the ancient theological hermeneutics of the Church, the word “allegory” meant something quite different.)

Regarding the seed as an image of the Word of God was not uncommon among the early Christians (cf. James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). Since God’s Word is what Jesus has been proclaiming all along through the Markan account, this is actual-ly a parable about the ministry of Jesus Himself. His preaching is completely frustrated among certain people because “Satan comes immediately and takes away the Word that was sown in their hearts” (4:15).

The identity of such folk, those under the dominion of Satan, is easy to detect in Mark’s gospel (cf. 3:22-30). The seed fallen on shallow ground, soil sitting thinly over a rock foundation, springs up quickly because such soil is more rap-idly heated by the sun. These conditions, however, do not permit the putting down of deep roots. Shallow people become quickly enthusiastic about God’s Word, but real growth in that Word requires sustained and prolonged discipline. In our Lord’s explanation of this part of the parable, He refers to the troubles associated with His coming sufferings, the tribulation and persecution that arise “for the Word’s sake” (4:17).

Numbers 11: It appears that some of the Israelites, having spent the previous eleven months encamped in the desert at the foot of Mount Sinai, were ready for a change of scenery when the time came to move. When, at the end of the previous chapter, they found themselves at Paran, a place arguably worse than where they had been before, these hopes were dashed. The ensuing “murmur-ing” that forced itself on the ears of both the Lord and Moses introduces the narrative in the present chapter.

This English word “murmur,” the mere pronunciation of which forces the mouth and throat to imitate the very sound of the thing, signifies a hopeless, power-less discontent that we correctly associate with the selfishness of childhood. It is an extension of a baby’s indistinct cry for the relief of its undefined needs, but in the present case it contains one further element beyond the cry of the infant. It conveys a general note of blame. The murmurer is not only complain-ing; he is implicitly blaming somebody for his discontent. Worse still, the act of murmuring does not quite find its way to explicit words, much less clear ideas. As the sound itself indicates, there is something frustratingly inarticulate about murmuring. It is extremely difficult to get a “handle” on the thing.

Thus, murmuring is the most distressing of sounds. Even God cannot endure it (verse 1), and His burning wrath, earlier experienced by the Egyptians, will soon be felt by Israel. Only the prayer of Moses, once again acting as Israel’s inter-cessor, is able to spare the Chosen People (verses 2-3).

Thursday, June 29

Numbers 12: This chapter concludes the first travel narrative in Numbers. It also continues, from the previous chapter, the theme of challenges against Is-rael’s established leadership, this time portraying Aaron and Miriam as conspira-tors against Moses.

The material breaks in half, distributing two subjects: first, the challenge of Aa-ron and Miriam (verses 1-8); second, the Lord’s response to that challenge (verses 9-16).

First, the challenge: Supported by her brother, Miriam conceives a dislike for their Ethiopian (Aithiopissa in the LXX) sister-in-law, Zipporah (Midi-an=Cushan in Habakkuk 3:7). The two of them vent their displeasure on Moses himself.

It is interesting to speculate on the source of the problem. For example, we know that Moses was very much under the counsel of Reul (or Hobab), his fa-ther-in-law and the father of Zipporah, and perhaps jealousies arose in that re-spect. Whatever the initial point of contention, however, it is clear that the grievance of Aaron and Miriam was directed at Moses.

Specifically the two began to wonder our loud whether they weren’t at least as important as Moses himself (verse 2). Aaron, after all, not Moses, was the high priest, and Miriam was a recognized prophetess (Exodus 20:15), so why should Moses have all the authority?

Moses, being a meek man (verse 3; Exodus 3:11; 4:10-13), was disposed to overlook the affront, but the Lord was not. For the pair of complainers He had a thing or two to say relative to the special position and authority of Moses as the chosen intimate of the divine counsels (verses 6-8).

We especially observe Moses’ designation as the Lord’s “servant.” The Hebrew term, ’eved, was rendered therapon in Greek and, among the early Christians, became virtually a proper term designating Moses. Our earliest example is Hebrews 3:5: “Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant [therapon]. For the early Christians, Moses remained a permanent min-ister in God’s house.

This is an important assertion of the role of Moses in the Church. He is the therapon, the servant of the temple, and from the beginning this is how Christians regarded Moses. Near the end of the first century, Clement of Rome wrote to the rebellious congregation at Corinth: “Envy brought down Dathan and Abiram alive to Hades, through the sedition which they excited against God’s servant Moses [pros ton theraponta tou Theou Mousen]” (4.12).

Quoting our text here in Numbers 12:7-8, Clement later speaks of “the blessed Moses, “a faithful servant in all his house”—ho makarios pistos therapon en holo to oiko Mouses (43.1). Clement uses this noun three other times to re-fer to Moses (51.3,5; 53.5). It refers to Moses also in Pseudo-Barnabas 14.4. Thus, we find the word used seven times in Christian literature prior to about A.D. 110, and each time it refers to Moses.

Even as the author of Hebrews contrasts Jesus and Moses, he is careful not to permit this contrast to reflect badly on Moses. He is called a “faithful minister” (pistos therapon). This expression, used also by Clement, comes directly from the LXX of Numbers 12:7.

Friday, June 30

Numbers 13: : Having advanced in the direction of the Promised Land, Israel is now ready to inspect that area and assess its prospects. Such reconnoitering is essentially a military exercise, to determine the strengths, assets, and positions of those forces that an invading army must face (verses 18-19). As in so many examples of martial reconnoitering, however, Israel’s spies returned with a great deal of information beyond that of purely military interest (verse 20). (One recalls that Alexander the Great took with him, on his vast expedition to the east, a large retinue of botanists, zoologists, cartologists, and other scien-tists, so that none of his acquired information would be lost to posterity.)

This list of the twelve spies, one from each tribe (verses 4-15), calls them nasi’im, but the word as used here does not, as in earlier chapters, mean the ruling heads of the tribes. On the contrary, these are younger, more agile men with skills specific to their purpose.

These skills did not, alas, include godly wisdom in any great measure, and be-cause of the unsound counsel given by this group, the list of their names is not exactly one of honor. The two exceptions are Joshua of Ephraim and Caleb of Judah.

Going out during the summer grape harvest (verse 20), the spies went over the desert of Zin, southwest of the Dead Sea. They traveled all the way north to the Beqa’ Valley in the region of Phoenicia (verse 21). Along that way, they came to Hebron, some twenty miles south of Jerusalem (verse22). The author refers to the construction of this ancient city in the late 18th century BC.

Part of this espionage report consisted of the impressive grapes and other fruits representative of the land’s notable fertility (verses 23-27). This part of their report was very positive.

The spies’ assessment of the military situation, nonetheless, was downright dismal. They referred to the gigantic Anakim whom history had long associated with the place and who had created considerable problems even for Egypt at an earlier period (verse 28). They also listed other peoples who would resist inva-sion (verse 29), thoroughly discouraging the Israelites from attempting it (vers-es 31-33; Deuteronomy 2:11,20; 3:11 1 Samuel 17:11).

The obvious exaggerations about the physical size of the Canaanites undoubt-edly came from the height of their walled cities, which the spies could only im-agine as having been constructed by giants. Modern archeology has shown that some of these city walls were, in fact, up to fifty feet high and fifteen feet thick, posing obstacles that would be formidable to an untrained force inexperi-enced in siege works. (The presumption that high walls mean tall inhabitants was also made by the Greeks, referring to the walls of the Cyclops.)

The only bright spot was the minority report of Caleb (verse 30).