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Deuteronomy 26     Psalm 117-118     Isaiah 53     Matthew 1

Deuteronomy 26

Offerings of Firstfruits and Tithes

Deuteronomy 26:1 “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. 3 And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ 4 Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God.

5 “And you shall make response before the LORD your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. 7 Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. 9 And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.

12 “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, 13 then you shall say before the LORD your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. 14 I have not eaten of the tithe while I was mourning, or removed any of it while I was unclean, or offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me. 15 Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.’

16 “This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have declared today that the LORD is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice. 18 And the LORD has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, 19 and that he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised.”

Psalm 117

The LORD’s Faithfulness Endures Forever

Psalm 117

1  Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
2  For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!

Psalm 118

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

Psalm 118

1  Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

2  Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
3  Let the house of Aaron say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
4  Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”

5  Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free.
6  The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
7  The LORD is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

8  It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
9  It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.

10  All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11  They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12  They surrounded me like bees;
they went out like a fire among thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13  I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.

14  The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
15  Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
16  the right hand of the LORD exalts,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”

17  I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18  The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.

19  Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
20  This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
21  I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22  The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23  This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24  This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25  Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!

26  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27  The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!

28  You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
29  Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53

1  Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2  For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3  He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4  Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5  But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6  All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8  By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9  And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10  Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Matthew 1

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ

Matthew 1:1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

The Birth of Jesus Christ

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

The Reformation Study Bible

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The Brief Biblical Case for the Eternal Life of the Soul

By J. Warner Wallace 7/4/2016

     What happens to our souls when our bodies die? Do souls “sleep” until the final resurrection and judgment? My Seventh-Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witness friends accept a doctrine known as “Conditional Immortality”; the notion that the soul ceases to exist after the physical death of the body. In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses call this “soul annihilation”; only those who are redeemed will have their souls recreated by God at the Second Coming of Jesus. In order to accept such a notion as someone who uses the Bible as their source of information related to the soul, people who believe in “soul sleep” must reject the following Biblical proclamations:

     Souls Are Alive With God Immediately After the Death of the Body | See Luke 23:39-43 and Ecclesiastes 12:5-7

Lk 23:39–43 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” NRSV

Ec 12:5–7 5 when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; 6 before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. NRSV

     Even though Jesus and the thief on the cross experienced physical death, Jesus told the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The word used here for “paradise” is the Greek word, “paradeisos” and it is the same word that Paul uses to describe heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. The Bible clearly describes a disembodied life; the soul does not die when the body dies. Solomon also acknowledges this reality when he describes life beyond the grave. Solomon says that while people are still mourning our absence, we are on our way to the God that created us in the first place. We are not stationary. We are not lying in the grave. We are alive and moving.

Consider 1 Samuel 28:19 Moreover the LORD will give Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines; and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.” NRSV They will be with Samuel, but Samuel is dead,

     Souls Are Functional Immediately After the Death of the Body | See Luke 16:19-31

Lk 16:19–31 19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” NRSV

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J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of:

All Sins Are Equal 2

By Michael J. Kruger 12/7/2016

     Two days ago I posted an article on the phrase, “All Sins are Equal in God’s Eyes.”  This was the latest installment in the “Taking Back Christianese” series.

     In that post, I argued that this phrase is frequently misunderstood and misused.  Paradoxically, some use the phrase to bolster the seriousness of sin (by arguing every sin is equally a big deal), while other use the phrase to downplay the seriousness of sin (by arguing that no sins are any worse than others).

     In short, I argued that while no sin is small, some sins are smaller (or larger).  Put differently, sin is serious enough that one is sufficient to separate you from God, but that does not mean all sins are equally heinous.

     After writing that article, and seeing the response that it received, I decided to poke around Twitter to see how common this belief “all sins are equal” really is. I was surprised by what I found.

     Of course, what people say on Twitter is not a scientific test of what people generally believe. But, it is illuminating nonetheless. Below are a few examples to give you a feel for how the phrase “all sins are equal” is being used in our world today.

     I encourage you to read each one. It is a stunning picture of what our world believes about sin. And here is the thing to realize: what a person believes about sin really does affect their behavior.

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     Michael J. Kruger, President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC.  For more on my background and research interests, see here. Michael J. Kruger Books
Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books
The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate
A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized
The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture's Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity
The Early Text of the New Testament

On Father’s Day, Living in Losses, and Home

By Jake Meador 6/19/2017

     There’s nothing that can prepare you to touch your father’s arm and find that it’s frozen. I should have known, of course. Doctors had told us what they were doing and said he’d be cold. But it’s one thing to know he’ll be cold. It’s another to feel it. When I think back on the time spent in the ICU with my dad in a coma recovering from a massive brain bleed, one of the most visceral memories I have is the feel of his hand.

     He had gone in for emergency brain surgery that morning to relieve the pressure on his brain caused by a massive brain bleed which had, in turn, been caused by a reaction to a clot-busting drug administered to break up life-threatening blood clots in his lungs. To help him recover, they cooled his body to 91 degrees. They said this gave him the best chance at recovering. So for three weeks we kept vigil by his bed, watching and praying for any sign that he was waking up. When we were alone, I would read to him. Sometimes I read from Scripture, sometimes from Thomas Watson’s “Divine Cordial,” and sometimes sections of books I particularly loved—the scene at the end of Return of the King when Frodo wakes up and finds the world changed, the scenes of remembrance as Sheldon comes to terms with his beloved wife’s death in A Severe Mercy.

     Mom spent the most time in his room, but his parents and sisters were there a lot as were a number of friends from church. In a weird way I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more proud of dad than when I saw the sheer number of people coming out to visit us and who asked if they could go back to see him, a request we tried to grant as often as we could. It almost began to feel to me as if my responsibility during the peak visiting hours was less to keep watch myself and more to help other people to do it—the people who loved him and weren’t sure what to do or say. I don’t even know how many times I walked the hallway between the waiting room we made our own and the doors into the ICU during those three weeks. It felt right in an odd way. If a person is going to die, they ought to be visited by so many people. They ought to mean that much to that many.

     We’re now just over 18 months out from that awful day and he has regained a lot. He’s walking with the aid of a cane. His long-term memory is excellent. He can use his right hand. His sense of humor, I can assure you, is fully intact.

     While still in the rehab hospital he sometimes would mess with my mom by pretending that something that had just come back—being able to move his leg, improved vision, etc.—had gone away again. Thus:

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     Jake Meador is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy, and son Wendell. Jake's writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play.

The Poverty of the Prosperity Gospel

By Vaneetha Rendall Risner 6/30/2015

     The book of Job has both shaken me and shaped me.

     When I first read it, I found it troubling. It didn’t seem fair. Job was a righteous man. But over the years, this story has helped forge my understanding of God and my theology of suffering. It has taught me that God himself — not anything he gives me — is my greatest treasure.

     Years ago, a colleague mentioned what he had learned from Job. I was surprised to hear that his study had yielded a markedly different conclusion than mine. In his words, “Job got everything back and more for his suffering. He was blessed with more children and more money than he ever had before. That’s what the story shows us: doing the right thing always brings blessing and prosperity.”

     While the first part was true, I disagreed with his conclusion. He was subtly echoing the message of the so-called “health, wealth, and prosperity gospel” — that God’s goal for us in this life is perfect health, total happiness, and financial gain. In this life. “We simply need to name what we want, live the right way, and then claim our victory,” it says. “That is what living for God looks like.”

     I contend that this approach is not living for God. Such thinking is idolatry. It is elevating God’s gifts above him, the giver. And that is a great assault on God’s value.

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     Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Desiring God. She blogs at danceintherain.com, although she doesn’t like rain and has no sense of rhythm. Vaneetha is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner Books

The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering

Why Were Early Christians So Brave?

By Christian Apologist (SJ Thomason) 4/13/2017

     William Lane Craig’s website includes the following comment: “Archaeology is the greatest defender of the accuracy of the Bible. Archaeologists, when in Israel, still rely on the Bible to determine the location of tell sites which reliance has proved to be remarkably accurate. Historians have long acknowledged the accuracy of place names and events recorded in the Bible despite so-called “higher criticism” and skepticism. In fact, the Bible is now a standard historical text for archaeologists in the Middle East, Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Macedonia. The great names of Archaeology, including Dr. Flinders Petrie, Dr. William Albright, Dr. J.O. Kinnaman, Ira M. Price, Professor Sayce of Oxford, and Sir William Ramsay have gone on record to say that archaeology confirms the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. Dr. William Albright, who was not a friend of Christianity and was probably the foremost authority in Middle East archaeology in his time, said this about the Bible: ‘There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament.’”

     “Sir William Ramsey, one of the greatest archaeologists of all time, spent 30 years of his life trying to disprove the New Testament, especially Luke’s writings. After much intensive research with many expecting a thorough refutation of Christianity, Ramsey concluded that Luke was one of the greatest historians of all time and became a Christian based on his archaeological findings.”

     In addition to the support from archeologists, secular historians support the historicity of the Bible. One example of a history book in which the history of early Christianity and Jesus is documented is “Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World” written by forty-five academic contributors from prestigious universities from all over the globe.

     The Historical Atlas states: “In fact, it came to pass that Jesus’ death was the foundation of Christianity as we know it. Rather than running scared, Jesus’ followers grew into thousands. This early ‘church’ ran into very strong opposition in Jerusalem and around 35CE great persecution took place there. Around this time, one of the most decisive turning points in world history occurred. The early church began to accept those who were not of Jewish origin- the Gentiles” (Wawro, 2008, page 84).

     The Historical Atlas states: “In fact, it came to pass that Jesus’ death was the foundation of Christianity as we know it. Rather than running scared, Jesus’ followers grew into thousands. This early ‘church’ ran into very strong opposition in Jerusalem and around 35CE great persecution took place there. Around this time, one of the most decisive turning points in world history occurred. The early church began to accept those who were not of Jewish origin- the Gentiles” (Wawro, 2008, page 84).

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     Author: Christian Apologist | Please visit my new blog at ChristianApologistweb.Wordpress.com. The author lives with her two sons, chief security officer/pooch, and husband who would rather be living in a houseboat near his identical twin brother. She works as a college professor, which helps to pay the mortgage. Over the past few decades, she has attempted to reconcile the logic and rationality of nature with the unexplained force of love within. World religions address the latter, yet none so perfectly and comprehensively as Christianity. By diving into the academic, literary, and church communities, she's found many answers to the complicated questions of life. Life's short, sometimes ugly, and there are no guarantees. If she were to be hit by a bus tomorrow (which might very well happen), she'll rest in peace knowing that a permanent record of her discoveries of the way, the truth, and the life exists for her family, friends, and anyone else interested. Follow on Twitter SJ Thomason@lead1225

How Did the Early Christians Influence Their Culture?

By Lenny Esposito 7/2/2015

     Christians are wondering how to deal with the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling forcing all fifty states to recognize homosexual unions as marriage. The decision was lauded by those on the left as the last word on the question. Corporations changed their social media icons to include the homosexual rainbow colors. Government agencies like the Department of Education and the White House showed their unabridged support for the decision. Many people saw themselves ostracized or compared to bigots or ISIS because of their Christian views, even from friends and family members.

     The fallout from this court case clearly shows that Christianity is now an outsider faith. For those in the West, it is a position Christians hadn't experienced since prior to Constantine's ascension in Rome. We aren't used to such a position, but we can look to the actions of those who lived in even greater peril for to understand how to hold fast to our faith and still significantly impact a pagan society.

     Learning from the Early Christians | The early church was also an outsider faith, viewed with suspicion and denounced in its first two hundred years, too. But even with life-threatening persecution, the early church not only grew, but changed minds and hearts. Christianity's critics originally condemned the faith as a dangerous superstition causing sedition. Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan in AD 112 discussing the Christian problem, reporting "whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished."

     But near the end of the century, views of Christianity began to change. Galen of Pergamon was an influential Roman physician and philosopher. He described Christianity not as a superstition, but as a philosophy. He explains:

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     Lenny Esposito is president and founder of Come Reason Ministries, a Christian apologetics organization, and author of the popular www.comereason.org Web site. He has taught apologetics and Christian worldview for over 17 years and has authored hundreds articles dealing with intellectually strenuous topics such as the existence of God, theology, philosophy, social issues and Biblical difficulties.
     Lenny is an in-demand speaker, teaching at conferences, churches, and schools across the nation. He is a contributor to the popular Apologetics Study Bible for Students and his articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Southern California Christian Times. He has debated many topics on faith and reason and the rationality of the Christian worldview; his most recent debate being against well-known atheists and author Dr. Richard Carrier on the question "Does God Exist?"
     Lenny is a pioneer in online ministry efforts when he began using the Web to reach others near its beginnings in 1995. He produces one of the top 16 apologetics podcasts according to Apologetics 315 and his site has been viewed millions of times by visitors from nearly every country in the world.
Lenny is a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and the Evangelical Theological Society.

You Can’t Serve God and Entertainment

By Phillip Holmes 6/17/2015

     You love entertainment. On-demand streaming, live television, video-sharing websites, and social media are all at your fingertips. Your ability to access entertainment swiftly and effortlessly has encroached on every aspect of your life. Research recently revealed that you’re tempted to check Facebook every thirty-one seconds.

     Are your friends boring you with dull conversation? Grab your iPhone. Is your wife annoying you? Turn on your television. Is your professor uninteresting? Sign into Facebook. Entertainment is your means of escape from the inconveniences of life into a comfortable world of fantasy. And your means of escape has made you a slave.

     Confessions of a Slave | If I’m honest, I’ve had an unbridled love for frivolous entertainment — over the years I’ve used it primarily as a means of escape. Entertainment was used to distract me from the guilt of sin, friction in relationships, or anxiety about work. It became what daily prayer and Bible reading should have been: a safe haven to retreat for rest and comfort.

     I failed to recognize that my never-ending pursuit to be entertained had turned me into a slave. My love for my new master was subtly causing contempt towards God and reticence in my duty to delight in him.

     A Tale of Two Masters | In Matthew 6:24, Jesus reveals that when we gravitate toward entertainment as a means of comfort, we’re moving further and further away from our Creator. The notion of two masters is, in fact, a fictitious tale. It’s impossible to have more than one. Jesus exposes an insightful reality: Love for one will cause hatred toward the other.

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     Phillip Holmes served as a content strategist at desiringGod.org. He’s married to Jasmine. They have a son.

The Single Person’s Search for Intimacy

By Jasmine Holmes 6/10/2017

     The other night, my best friend and I watched a show together from a thousand miles away. If I can’t fly to D.C. and she can’t come to Mississippi, at least we can fire up our laptops and enjoy Anne with an E at the same time, texting our commentary to each other throughout.

     As a child, I was always enthralled with Anne’s relationship with her best friend, Diana. The two were kindred spirits, confidants through thick and thin, always advocating for one another. I always wanted a friend like Diana, and, by God’s grace, I’ve been given several friends who fit the bill.

     I needed these friends as a single person, and I need them now as a wife.

     When I was engaged, a friend of mine pulled me aside. “You are in a love haze right now, but don’t forget your friends. You still need them.” She was right. Marriage is not a self-sufficient island of Christian community. It’s one in a network of meaningful relationships that are in the business of conforming us to the image of Christ.

     Made for Others | God made us for community.

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     Jasmine Holmes is a wife, mom, and speaker. She teaches humanities and Latin at St. Augustine Classical School. She and her husband, Phillip, have a son, and they are members of Redeemer Church in Jackson, Mississippi. She writes regularly at her website.

Deut. 26; Psalms 117 — 118; Isaiah 53; Matthew 1

By Don Carson 1/1/2018

     When I was a boy, a plaque in our home was inscribed with the words “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Apart from the change from “hath” to “has,” similar words are preserved in the NIV of Psalm 118:24.

     My father gently applied this text to his children when we whined or complained about little nothings. Was the weather too hot and sticky? “This is the day which the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Were the skies pelting rain, so we could not go out to play? “This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” What a boring day (or place, or holiday, or visit to relatives)! “This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Sometimes the words were repeated with significant emphasis: “This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

     It is not that Dad would not listen to serious complaints; it is not that Scripture does not have other things to say. But every generation of Christians has to learn that whining is an affront against God’s sovereignty and goodness.

     But the text must first be read in its context. Earlier the psalmist expresses his commitment to trust in God and not in any merely human help (Ps. 118:8-9), even though he is surrounded by foes (Ps. 118:10). Now he also discloses that his foes include “the builders” (Ps. 118:22) — people with power within Israel. These builders were quite capable of rejecting certain “stones” while they built their walls — and in this case the very stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. In the first instance this stone, this capstone, is almost certainly a reference to a Davidic king, perhaps to David himself. The men of power rejected him, but he became the capstone.

     Moreover, this result was not achieved by brilliant machination or clever manipulation. Far from it: “the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:23). In his own day Isaiah portrays people who make a lie their refuge while rejecting God’s cornerstone (Isa. 28:15-16). The ultimate instance of this pattern is found in Jesus Christ, rejected by his own creatures, yet chosen of God, the ultimate building-stone, and precious (Matt. 21:42; Rom. 9:32-33; Eph. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-8) — a “stone” disclosed in all his true worth by his resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:10-11). Whether in David’s day or in the ultimate fulfillment, this marvelous triumph by God calls forth our praise: This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps. 118:24).

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Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).

Don Carson Books:

Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 67

Make Your Face Shine upon Us
67 To The Choirmaster: With Stringed Instruments. A Psalm. A Song.

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
2 that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!

6 The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
7 God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     7. It is now easy to see under how much superstition the world has laboured in this respect for several ages. One vowed that he would be abstemious, as if abstinence from wine were in itself an acceptable service to God. Another bound himself to fast, another to abstain from flesh on certain days, which he had vainly imagined to be more holy than other days. Things much more boyish were vowed though not by boys. For it was accounted great wisdom to undertake votive pilgrimages to holy places, and sometimes to perform the journey on foot, or with the body half naked, that the greater merit might be acquired by the greater fatigue. These and similar things, for which the world has long bustled with incredible zeal, if tried by the rules which we formerly laid down, will be discovered to be not only empty and nugatory, but full of manifest impiety. Be the judgment of the flesh what it may, there is nothing which God more abhors than fictitious worship. To these are added pernicious and damnable notions, hypocrites, after performing such frivolities, thinking that they have acquired no ordinary righteousness, placing the substance of piety in external observances, and despising all others who appear less careful in regard to them.

8. It is of no use to enumerate all the separate forms. But as monastic vows are held in great veneration, because they seem to be approved by the public judgment of the Church, I will say a few words concerning them. And, first, lest any one defend the monachism of the present day on the ground of the long prescription, it is to be observed, that the ancient mode of living in monasteries was very different. The persons who retired to them were those who wished to train themselves to the greatest austerity and patience. The discipline practiced by the monks then resembled that which the Lacedemonians are said to have used under the laws of Lycurgus, and was even much more rigorous. They slept on the ground, their drink was water, their food bread, herbs, and roots, their chief luxuries oil and pulse. From more delicate food and care of the body they abstained. These things might seem hyperbolical were they not vouched by experienced eye witnesses, as Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, and Chrysostom. By such rudimentary training they prepared themselves for greater offices. For of the fact that monastic colleges were then a kind of seminaries of the ecclesiastical order, both those whom we lately named are very competent witnesses (they were all brought up in monasteries, and thence called to the episcopal office), as well as several other great and excellent men of their age. Augustine also shows that in his time the monasteries were wont to furnish the Church with clergy. For he thus addresses the monks of the island of Caprae: "We exhort you, brethren in the Lord, to keep your purpose, and persevere to the end; and if at any time our mother Church requires your labour, you will neither undertake it with eager elation, nor reject it from the blandishment of sloth, but with meek hearts obey God. You will not prefer your own ease to the necessities of the Church. Had no good men been willing to minister to her when in travail, it would have been impossible for you to be born" [608] (August. Ep. 82). He is speaking of the ministry by which believers are spiritually born again. In like manner, he says to Aurelius (Ep. 76), "It is both an occasion of lapse to them, and a most unbecoming injury to the clerical order, if the deserters of monasteries are elected to the clerical warfare, since from those who remain in the monastery our custom is to appoint to the clerical office only the better and more approved. Unless, perhaps, as the vulgar say, A bad chorister is a good symphonist, so, in like manner, it will be jestingly said of us, A bad monk is a good clergyman. There will be too much cause for grief if we stir up monks to such ruinous pride, and deem the clergy deserving of so grave an affront, seeing that sometimes a good monk scarcely makes a good clerk; he may have sufficient continence, but be deficient in necessary learning." From these passages, it appears that pious men were wont to prepare for the government of the Church by monastic discipline, that thus they might be more apt and better trained to undertake the important office: not that all attained to this object, or even aimed at it, since the great majority of monks were illiterate men. Those who were fit were selected.

9. Augustine, in two passages in particular, gives a portraiture of the form of ancient monasticism. The one is in his book, De Moribus Ecclesioe Catholicoe (On the Manners of the Catholic Church), where he maintains the holiness of that profession against the calumnies of the Manichees; the other in a treatise, entitled, De Opere Monachorum (On the Work of Monks), where he inveighs against certain degenerate monks who had begun to corrupt that institution. I will here give a summary of what he there delivers, and, as far as I can, in his own words: "Despising the allurements of this world, and congregated in common for a most chaste and most holy life, they pass their lives together, spending their time in prayer, reading, and discourse, not swollen with pride, not turbulent through petulance, not livid with envy. No one possesses anything of his own: no one is burdensome to any man. They labour with their hands in things by which the body may be fed, and the mind not withdrawn from God. The fruit of their labour they hand over to those whom they call deans. Those deans, disposing of the whole with great care, render an account to one whom they call father. These fathers, who are not only of the purest morals, but most distinguished for divine learning, and noble in all things, without any pride, consult those whom they call their sons, though the former have full authority to command, and the latter a great inclination to obey. At the close of the day they assemble each from his cell, and without having broken their fast, to hear their father, and to the number of three thousand at least (he is speaking of Egypt and the East) they assemble under each father. Then the body is refreshed, so far as suffices for safety and health, every one curbing his concupiscence so as not to be profuse in the scanty and very mean diet which is provided. Thus they not only abstain from flesh and wine for the purpose of subduing lust, but from those things which provoke the appetite of the stomach and gullet more readily, from seeming to some, as it were, more refined. In this way the desire of exquisite dainties, in which there is no flesh, is wont to be absurdly and shamefully defended. Any surplus, after necessary food (and the surplus is very great from the labour of their hands and the frugality of their meals), is carefully distributed to the needy, the more carefully that it was not procured by those who distribute. For they never act with the view of having abundance for themselves, but always act with the view of allowing no superfluity to remain with them" (August. De Mor. Eccl. Cath. c. 31). Afterwards describing their austerity, of which he had himself seen instances both at Milan and elsewhere, he says, "Meanwhile, no one is urged to austerities which he is unable to bear: no one is obliged to do what he declines, nor condemned by the others, whom he acknowledges himself too weak to imitate. For they remember how greatly charity is commended: they remember that to the pure all things are pure (Tit. 1:15). Wherefore, all their vigilance is employed, not in rejecting kinds of food as polluted, but in subduing concupiscence, and maintaining brotherly love. They remember, Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats,' &c. (1 Cor. 6:13). Many, however strong, abstain because of the weak. In many this is not the cause of action; they take pleasure in sustaining themselves on the meanest and least expensive food. Hence the very persons who in health restrain themselves, decline not in sickness to use what their health requires. Many do not drink wine, and yet do not think themselves polluted by it, for they most humanely cause it to be given to the more sickly, and to those whose health requires it; and some who foolishly refuse, they fraternally admonish, lest by vain superstition they sooner become more weak than more holy. Thus they sedulously practice piety, while they know that bodily exercise is only for a short time. Charity especially is observed: their food is adapted to charity, their speech to charity, their dress to charity, their looks to charity. They go together, and breathe only charity: they deem it as unlawful to offend charity as to offend God; if any one opposes it, he is cast out and shunned; if any one offends it, he is not permitted to remain one day" (August. De Moribus Eccl. Cath. c. 33). Since this holy man appears in these words to have exhibited the monastic life of ancient times as in a picture, I have thought it right to insert them here, though somewhat long, because I perceive that I would be considerably longer if I collected them from different writers, however compendious I might study to be.

10. Here, however, I had no intention to discuss the whole subject. I only wished to show, by the way, what kind of monks the early Church had, and what the monastic profession then was, that from the contrast sound readers might judge how great the effrontery is of those who allege antiquity in support of present monkism. Augustine, while tracing out a holy and legitimate monasticism, would keep away all rigorous exaction of those things which the word of the Lord has left free. But in the present day nothing is more rigorously exacted. For they deem it an inexpiable crime if any one deviates in the least degree from the prescribed form in colour or species of dress, in the kind of food, or in other frivolous and frigid ceremonies. Augustine strenuously contends that it is not lawful for monks to live in idleness on other men's means. (August. De Oper. Monach.) He denies that any such example was to be found in his day in a well-regulated monastery. Our monks place the principal part of their holiness in idleness. For if you take away their idleness, where will that contemplative life by which they glory that they excel all others, and make a near approach to the angels? Augustine, in fine, requires a monasticism which may be nothing else than a training and assistant to the offices of piety which are recommended to all Christians. What? When he makes charity its chief and almost its only rule, do we think he praises that combination by which a few men, bound to each other, are separated from the whole body of the Church? Nay, he wishes them to set an example to others of preserving the unity of the Church. So different is the nature of present monachism in both respects, that it would be difficult to find anything so dissimilar, not to say contrary. For our monks, not satisfied with that piety, on the study of which alone Christ enjoins his followers to be intent, imagine some new kind of piety, by aspiring to which they are more perfect than all other men.

11. If they deny this, I should like to know why they honour their own order only with the title of perfection, and deny it to all other divine callings. [609] I am not unaware of the sophistical solution that their order is not so called because it contains perfection in itself, but because it is the best of all for acquiring perfection. When they would extol themselves to the people; when they would lay a snare for rash and ignorant youth; when they would assert their privileges and exalt their own dignity to the disparagement of others, they boast that they are in a state of perfection. When they are too closely pressed to be able to defend this vain arrogance, they betake themselves to the subterfuge that they have not yet obtained perfection, but that they are in a state in which they aspire to it more than others; meanwhile, the people continue to admire as if the monastic life alone were angelic, perfect, and purified from every vice. Under this pretence they ply a most gainful traffic, while their moderation lies buried in a few volumes. [610] Who sees not that this is intolerable trifling? But let us treat with them as if they ascribed nothing more to their profession than to call it a state for acquiring perfection. Surely by giving it this name, they distinguish it by a special mark from other modes of life. And who will allow such honour to be transferred to an institution of which not one syllable is said in approbation, while all the other callings of God are deemed unworthy of the same, though not only commanded by his sacred lips, but adorned with distinguished titles? And how great the insult offered to God, when some device of man is preferred to all the modes of life which he has ordered, and by his testimony approved?

12. But let them say I calumniated them when I declared that they were not contented with the rule prescribed by God. Still, though I were silent, they more than sufficiently accuse themselves; for they plainly declare that they undertake a greater burden than Christ has imposed on his followers, since they promise that they will keep evangelical counsels regarding the love of enemies, the suppression of vindictive feelings, and abstinence from swearing, counsels to which Christians are not commonly astricted. In this what antiquity can they pretend? None of the ancients ever thought of such a thing: all with one voice proclaim that not one syllable proceeded from Christ which it is not necessary to obey. And the very things which these worthy expounders pretend that Christ only counselled they uniformly declare, without any doubt, that he expressly enjoined. But as we have shown above, that this is a most pestilential error, let it suffice here to have briefly observed that monasticism, as it now exists, founded on an idea which all pious men ought to execrate--namely, the pretence that there is some more perfect rule of life than that common rule which God has delivered to the whole Church. Whatever is built on this foundation cannot but be abominable.

13. But they produce another argument for their perfection, and deem it invincible. Our Lord said to the young man who put a question to him concerning the perfection of righteousness, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor" (Mt. 19:21). Whether they do so, I do not now dispute. Let us grant for the present that they do. They boast, then, that they have become perfect by abandoning their all. If the sum off perfection consists in this, what is the meaning of Paul's doctrine, that though a man should give all his goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, he is nothing? (1 Cor. 13:3). What kind of perfection is that which, if charity be wanting, is with the individual himself reduced to nothing? Here they must of necessity answer that it is indeed the highest, but is not the only work of perfection. But here again Paul interposes; and hesitates not to declare that charity, without any renunciation of that sort, is the "bond of perfectness" (Col. 3:14). If it is certain that there is no disagreement between the scholar and the master, and the latter clearly denies that the perfection of a man consists in renouncing all his goods, and on the other hand asserts that perfection may exist without it, we must see in what sense we should understand the words of Christ, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast." Now, there wil1 not be the least obscurity in the meaning if we consider (this ought to be attended to in all our Saviour's discourses) to whom the words are addressed (Luke 10:25). A young man asks by what works he shall enter into eternal life. Christ, as he was asked concerning works, refers him to the law. And justly; for, considered in itself, it is the way of eternal life, and its inefficacy to give eternal life is owing to our depravity. By this answer Christ declared that he did not deliver any other rule of life than that which had formerly been delivered in the law of the Lord. Thus he both bore testimony to the divine law, that it was a doctrine of perfect righteousness, and at the same time met the calumnious charge of seeming, by some new rule of life, to incite the people to revolt from the law. The young man, who was not ill-disposed, but was puffed up with vain confidence, answers that he had observed all the precepts of the law from his youth. It is absolutely certain that he was immeasurably distant from the goal which he boasted of having reached. Had his boast been true, he would have wanted nothing of absolute perfection. For it has been demonstrated above, that the law contains in it a perfect righteousness. This is even obvious from the fact, that the observance of it is called the way to eternal life. To show him how little progress he had made in that righteousness which he too boldly answered that he had fulfilled, it was right to bring before him his besetting sin. Now, while he abounded in riches, he had his heart set upon them. Therefore, because he did not feel this secret wound, it is probed by Christ--"Go," says he, "and sell that thou hast." Had he been as good a keeper of the law as he supposed, he would not have gone away sorrowful on hearing these words. For he who loves God with his whole heart, not only regards everything which wars with his love as dross, but hates it as destruction (Phil. 3:8). Therefore, when Christ orders a rich miser to leave all that he has, it is the same as if he had ordered the ambitious to renounce all his honours, the voluptuous all his luxuries, the unchaste all the instruments of his lust. Thus consciences, which are not reached by any general admonition, are to be recalled to a particular feeling of their particular sin. In vain, therefore, do they wrest that special case to a general interpretation, as if Christ had decided that the perfection of man consists in the abandonment of his goods, since he intended nothing more by the expression than to bring a youth who was out of measure satisfied with himself to feel his sore, and so understand that he was still at a great distance from that perfect obedience of the law which he falsely ascribed to himself. I admit that this passage was ill understood by some of the Fathers; [611] and hence arose an affectation of voluntary poverty, those only being thought blest who abandoned all earthly goods, and in a state of destitution devoted themselves to Christ. But I am confident that, after my exposition, no good and reasonable man will have any dubiety here as to the mind of Christ.

14. Still there was nothing with the Fathers less intended than to establish that kind of perfection which was afterwards fabricated by cowled monks, in order to rear up a species of double Christianity. For as yet the sacrilegious dogma was not broached which compares the profession of monasticism to baptism, nay, plainly asserts that it is the form of a second baptism. Who can doubt that the Fathers with their whole hearts abhorred such blasphemy? Then what need is there to demonstrate, by words, that the last quality which Augustine mentions as belonging to the ancient monks--viz. that they in all things accommodated themselves to charity--is most alien from this new profession? The thing itself declares that all who retire into monasteries withdraw from the Church. For how? Do they not separate themselves from the legitimate society of the faithful, by acquiring for themselves a special ministry and private administration of the sacraments? What is meant by destroying the communion of the Church if this is not? And to follow out the comparison with which I began, and at once close the point, what resemblance have they in this respect to the ancient monks? These, though they dwelt separately from others, had not a separate Church; they partook of the sacraments with others, they attended public meetings, and were then a part of the people. But what have those men done in erecting a private altar for themselves but broken the bond of unity? For they have excommunicated themselves from the whole body of the Church, and contemned the ordinary ministry by which the Lord has been pleased that peace and charity should be preserved among his followers. Wherefore I hold that as many monasteries as there are in the present day, so many conventicles are there of schismatics, who have disturbed ecclesiastical order, and been cut off from the legitimate society of the faithful. And that there might be no doubt as to their separation, they have given themselves the various names of factions. They have not been ashamed to glory in that which Paul so execrates, that he is unable to express his detestation too strongly. Unless, indeed, we suppose that Christ was not divided by the Corinthians, when one teacher set himself above another (1 Cor. 1:12, 13; 3:4); and that now no injury is done to Christ when, instead of Christians, we hear some called Benedictines, others Franciscans, others Dominicans, and so called, that while they affect to be distinguished from the common body of Christians, they proudly substitute these names for a religious profession.

15. The differences which I have hitherto pointed out between the ancient monks and those of our age are not in manners, but in profession. Hence let my readers remember that I have spoken of monachism rather than of monks; and marked, not the vices which cleave to a few, but vices which are inseparable from the very mode of life. In regard to manners, of what use is it to particularise and show how great the difference? This much is certain, [612] that there is no order of men more polluted by all kinds of vicious turpitude; nowhere do faction, hatred, party-spirit, and intrigue, more prevail. In a few monasteries, indeed, they live chastely, if we are to call it chastity, where lust is so far repressed as not to be openly infamous; still you will scarcely find one in ten which is not rather a brothel than a sacred abode of chastity. But how frugally they live? Just like swine wallowing in their sties. But lest they complain that I deal too unmercifully with them, I go no farther; although any one who knows the case will admit, that in the few things which I have said, I have not spoken in the spirit of an accuser. Augustine though he testifies, that the monks excelled so much in chastity, yet complains that there were many vagabonds, who, by wicked arts and impostures, extracted money from the more simple, plying a shameful traffic, by carrying about the relics of martyrs, and vending any dead man's bones for relics, bringing ignominy on their order by many similar iniquities. As he declares that he had seen none better than those who had profited in monasteries; so he laments that he had seen none worse than those who had backslidden in monasteries. What would he say were he, in the present day, to see now almost all monasteries overflowing, and in a manner bursting, with numerous deplorable vices? I say nothing but what is notorious to all; and yet this charge does not apply to all without a single exception; for, as the rule and discipline of holy living was never so well framed in monasteries as that there were not always some drones very unlike the others; so I hold that, in the present day, monks have not so completely degenerated from that holy antiquity as not to have some good men among them; but these few lie scattered up and down among a huge multitude of wicked and dishonest men, and are not only despised, but even petulantly assailed, sometimes even treated cruelly by the others, who, according to the Milesian proverb, think they ought to have no good man among them.

     Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain      Institutes of the Christian Religion

  • Lect 20 Eph 1:3-14
  • L-21 Eph 1:15-2:3
  • L-22 Eph 2:1-10

     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     4/1/2012    Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus

     The twentieth-century British pastor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “If we only spent more of our time in looking at Christ we should soon forget ourselves.” Fixing our eyes on Christ is the first step and the entire path of the Christian life. We don’t look to Christ in faith to be saved and then look to ourselves to persevere. We trust Christ alone as our Savior and look to Christ alone and follow Him as our Lord. In order to look to Christ as our Savior and Lord, we need new eyes and a new heart. We are born spiritually dead and blind in sin, with our eyes fixed on ourselves and our own glory, but God the Holy Spirit strips the inherited blindfolds from our eyes and graciously rips out our hard hearts and gives us new hearts that love Him and new eyes that see Him. Yet even as Christians who have been declared righteous by God the Father through faith in the perfect life and sacrifice of God the Son, Jesus Christ, we remain sinful this side of heaven and daily struggle against the world, our flesh, and the Devil. In our struggle against our own self-centered sin, it might seem like an obvious remedy to focus our eyes on the sin itself in our attempt to deal with it. Yet, God says otherwise.

     The author of Hebrews writes, “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1–2). As we grow in the grace and holiness of our Lord, being enabled by God’s free grace to die more and more unto sin and live unto righteousness, we’re called neither to fix our eyes on ourselves nor to fix our eyes on our own sins that entangle themselves around our ankles. We’re called to run with endurance by looking to Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. We are united to Christ and are made able and willing to turn our eyes upon Jesus — away from ourselves — so that by looking to Him, we are motivated to joyful, cross-bearing obedience as we “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him … for all patience and longsuffering with joy” (Col. 1:10–11). For when we take our eyes off our Lord and set our eyes on ourselves, the Christian life becomes not only miserable but impossible.

     Our greatest need before conversion is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our greatest need after conversion is the same gospel. We never move on from the gospel, only deeper into the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). As we continue to believe the gospel, our eyes remain centered on Christ, and if they are centered on Christ, they are centered on God Himself, who is not simply at the top of our priority list, but the fountain and center of every priority in all of life.

     click here for article source

     Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.

Ligonier     coram Deo (definition)

American Minute
     by Bill Federer

     The U.S. Constitution went into effect this day, June 21, 1788, when the ninth state ratified it. Of those who wrote the Constitution, twenty-nine were Episcopalians, nine Presbyterians, seven Congregationalists, two Lutherans, two Dutch Reformed, two Methodists, two Roman Catholics, one Quaker and one Deist - Dr. Benjamin Franklin, who stated: “We have been assured… in the Sacred Writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain’… I… believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel.”

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams

Don't question God,
for He may reply:
"If you're so anxious for answers,
come up here.
--- Author Unknown
The Joys of Yinglish

Ceremonialism rapidly develops, too often in proportion to the absence of spiritual life.
--- Alfred Edersheim
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

No one is poor who can by prayer open the storehouse of God.
--- Louis Paul Lehman
The Pastor's Ponderings

There are two atheisms of which one is a purification of the notion of God.
--- Simone Weil
The New Christianity the Rise of Modern Religious Thought and Historical Development of the Death-Of-God Theme

... from here, there and everywhere

The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism
     CHAPTER 12 / R. Shneur Zalman on
     “You Shall Love”

     The most sophisticated and complex classification of the various forms of ahavat Hashem, a kind of morphology of love, is given to us by the Hasidic master, R. Shneur Zalman (1747–1812), both in his Tanya and in various other works of his. Building on the solid foundation laid down by his predecessors, especially the (talmudic) Rishonim and the Kabbalists, R. Shneur Zalman reinforces their insight that the love of God requires a high degree of selflessness and that this love must be without any ulterior motive whatsoever (a concept that in the Western world is known by the Greek name, agape, as differentiated from philia, the love of friends for each other, and eros, sexual or erotic love). Like these earlier sages, he judges this love according to its efficacy in leading each of us to refine our character in our interpersonal relations as we strive thereby to please the Creator. R. Shneur Zalman’s major contribution to this evolving idea is his exceedingly subtle appreciation for the psychological dimensions of the Jewish religious experience (for that is essentially what ahavat Hashem is) and his sensitive categorization of the different types of love of God. (1)

(1)     What follows is largely based upon Mordechai Teitelbaum’s Ha-Rav mi-Ladi u-Mifleget Ḥabad (Warsaw: Tushiyah, 1910–13). For more on Hasidism’s conceptions of love of God, see my Religious Thought of Hasidism (in progress), chap. 4.

     As we have already learned from Maimonides and the Maharal, love and fear go hand in hand; we cannot discuss the one without the other. The Kabbalists were even more outspoken on this matter. The Zohar refers to love and fear as the “two wings” of religious experience. (2) So, for R. Shneur Zalman, true worship, avodat Hashem, is impossible without the expression of these two fundamental sentiments, for just as a bird cannot fly with only one wing, so authentic religious experience depends upon the twin attitudes of love and fear.

(2)     Tikkunei Zohar, 10: “Torah without the two wings of fear and love does not fly upwards.”

     R. Shneur Zalman’s analysis of love follows upon his analysis of fear. (Since that is not our theme here, we shall touch on the latter only insofar as it enhances our understanding of how he interprets ahavat Hashem.) R. Shneur Zalman divides fear into two categories: “Natural Fear” and “Rational Fear.” Similarly, he speaks of Natural Love and Rational (or intellectual) Love. Natural Love is also called Hidden Love—ahavah tiv’it u-mesuteret. This way of loving God emerges naturally and spontaneously from the depths of our being. In contrast, Rational Love, ahavah sikhlit, arises in response to contemplation.

     The best way to understand R. Shneur Zalman’s theory of Natural Love is to consider it in the context of a compelling question that has troubled many halakhists through the centuries: the matter of minyan ha-mitzvot, the numbering of the commandments, about which there is a considerable literature. According to a tradition recorded in the Talmud, the total number is 613. But what is the proper method to determine which of the many commandments in the Torah are to be included and which excluded? All who have written on this theme include loving God as a full commandment. But can the will and the emotions be “commanded”? Can anyone order you when and how and whom to love if you do not feel it in your heart?

     R. Shneur Zalman’s answer emerges from his understanding of how we love God. We are not commanded to impose upon ourselves an extraneous, extra-human sentiment; rather, this love for God already exists in potential form (and is thus, both “natural” and “hidden”) within our soul. The mitzvah to love God demands that we remove all obstacles and impediments that interfere with our free and open expression of that love. In other words, the religious dimension is indigenous to human beings.

     Each of us is a naturally religious being, a Homo religiosis. But this spiritual gift remains latent, undeveloped and unexpressed, unless we carefully nurture this particular “talent.”

     Although R. Shneur Zalman ascribes little value to qualities that are merely natural, including “Natural Fear,” he changes his stance when he deals with “Natural Love.” Because the love for God is so refined a quality, so utterly selfless in its genuine form, he finds special value in ahavah tiv’it u-mesuteret; indeed, in some ways he considers it superior to Rational Love, ahavah sikhlit. Whereas the former is totally non-egotistical, the latter often proves less altruistic. Pure Natural Love requires self-abnegation and self-annihilation—that is, the extinction of the ego. When we love God in this way, we empty ourselves of all wills other than the will to be with and obey our Creator, and this love therefore is “beyond the knowledge of the perceived and the understood.” The resulting bonding with God is extremely powerful: indeed, says R. Shneur Zalman, “this love is so wondrous that the soul cannot bear its apperception.” This supra-rational love may be compared to the love a child has for his father: The child has no intellectual appreciation of his father’s qualities, of his indebtedness to his father, or even of how this man came to be his father. He knows only that he loves this man and longs to be with him. Such is the nature of “Natural and Hidden Love”: every Jew possesses this love and yearning of a child for its parent as an integral and natural part of his divine soul, his special psyche.

     R. Shneur Zalman also compares ahavah tiv’it u-mesuteret to a flame: just as the flame of a candle naturally tends upward, seeking, as it were, to escape from its bondage to the wick and soar heavenward, so too the soul yearns to escape from its enslavement to the body, to return and be reabsorbed in its primal Source, even though it may in the process lose its identity and its separate existence.

     But how can this special love be regarded as “natural” when ordinary experience presents us with so many Jews who are remote from Torah and apparently lack all connection with religious feelings? R. Shneur Zalman answers that ahavah tiv’it u-mesuteret is “hidden” within all Israel—even within the most crass and vulgar, the most disobedient and rebellious, the most secular and cynical. Ahavah tiv’it u-mesuteret in the heart of the non-religious is merely “asleep” or passive; it does not reveal itself in the normal course of everyday life. But when a crisis arises in which a Jew’s faith is tested, such as religious persecution by anti-Semites, the “Hidden Love” is aroused from its slumber. At that moment, as history has taught us, even the most obtuse, insensitive, and indifferent Jew is ready to submit to martyrdom and perform kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God’s Name. It is crisis, R. Shneur Zalman teaches, that brings out the innate but latent spiritual dimension of the Jew.

     Rational Love is an altogether different expression of ahavat Hashem, for it contains an egotistical element, albeit of the most subtle and refined kind. Having concluded by means of rational insight or long contemplation that God is the eternal Source of our very existence and the repository of all that is good, we seek to identify and cleave to that divine Source. Therefore, this ahavah sikhlit in some measure reflects our self-love or self-concern. In this sense, it is inferior to ahavah tiv’it u-mesuteret. Even when we experience the Rational Love that arises from our gratitude for all that we owe to our Creator for our very life, we are caught up in a net of self-love. Such gratitude is undoubtedly a virtue, but it is nonetheless not quite as selfless and therefore not quite as noble as totally selfless Natural Love.

  The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism

History of the Destruction of Jerusalem
     Thanks to Meir Yona

     CHAPTER 24.

     The Malice Of Antipater And Doris. Alexander Is Very Uneasy On Glaphyras Account. Herod Pardons Pheroras, Whom He Suspected, And Salome Whom He Knew To Make Mischief Among Them. Herod's Eunuchs Are Tortured And Alexander Is Bound.

     1. But now the quarrel that was between them still accompanied these brethren when they parted, and the suspicions they had one of the other grew worse. Alexander and Aristobulus were much grieved that the privilege of the first-born was confirmed to Antipater; as was Antipater very angry at his brethren that they were to succeed him. But then this last being of a disposition that was mutable and politic, he knew how to hold his tongue, and used a great deal of cunning, and thereby concealed the hatred he bore to them; while the former, depending on the nobility of their births, had every thing upon their tongues which was in their minds. Many also there were who provoked them further, and many of their [seeming] friends insinuated themselves into their acquaintance, to spy out what they did. Now every thing that was said by Alexander was presently brought to Antipater, and from Antipater it was brought to Herod with additions. Nor could the young man say any thing in the simplicity of his heart, without giving offense, but what he said was still turned to calumny against him. And if he had been at any time a little free in his conversation, great imputations were forged from the smallest occasions. Antipater also was perpetually setting some to provoke him to speak, that the lies he raised of him might seem to have some foundation of truth; and if, among the many stories that were given out, but one of them could be proved true, that was supposed to imply the rest to be true also. And as to Antipater's friends, they were all either naturally so cautious in speaking, or had been so far bribed to conceal their thoughts, that nothing of these grand secrets got abroad by their means. Nor should one be mistaken if he called the life of Antipater a mystery of wickedness; for he either corrupted Alexander's acquaintance with money, or got into their favor by flatteries; by which two means he gained all his designs, and brought them to betray their master, and to steal away, and reveal what he either did or said. Thus did he act a part very cunningly in all points, and wrought himself a passage by his calumnies with the greatest shrewdness; while he put on a face as if he were a kind brother to Alexander and Aristobulus, but suborned other men to inform of what they did to Herod. And when any thing was told against Alexander, he would come in, and pretend [to be of his side], and would begin to contradict what was said; but would afterward contrive matters so privately, that the king should have an indignation at him. His general aim was this,—to lay a plot, and to make it believed that Alexander lay in wait to kill his father; for nothing afforded so great a confirmation to these calumnies as did Antipater's apologies for him.

     2. By these methods Herod was inflamed, and as much as his natural affection to the young men did every day diminish, so much did it increase towards Antipater. The courtiers also inclined to the same conduct, some of their own accord, and others by the king's injunction, as particularly did Ptolemy, the king's dearest friend, as also the king's brethren, and all his children; for Antipater was all in all; and what was the bitterest part of all to Alexander, Antipater's mother was also all in all; she was one that gave counsel against them, and was more harsh than a step-mother, and one that hated the queen's sons more than is usual to hate sons-in-law. All men did therefore already pay their respects to Antipater, in hopes of advantage; and it was the king's command which alienated every body [from the brethren], he having given this charge to his most intimate friends, that they should not come near, nor pay any regard, to Alexander, or to his friends. Herod was also become terrible, not only to his domestics about the court, but to his friends abroad; for Caesar had given such a privilege to no other king as he had given to him, which was this,—that he might fetch back any one that fled from him, even out of a city that was not under his own jurisdiction. Now the young men were not acquainted with the calumnies raised against them; for which reason they could not guard themselves against them, but fell under them; for their father did not make any public complaints against either of them; though in a little time they perceived how things were by his coldness to them, and by the great uneasiness he showed upon any thing that troubled him. Antipater had also made their uncle Pheroras to be their enemy, as well as their aunt Salome, while he was always talking with her, as with a wife, and irritating her against them. Moreover, Alexander's wife, Glaphyra, augmented this hatred against them, by deriving her nobility and genealogy [from great persons], and pretending that she was a lady superior to all others in that kingdom, as being derived by her father's side from Temenus, and by her mother's side from Darius, the son of Hystaspes. She also frequently reproached Herod's sister and wives with the ignobility of their descent; and that they were every one chosen by him for their beauty, but not for their family. Now those wives of his were not a few; it being of old permitted to the Jews to marry many wives, 39 and this king delighting in many; all which hated Alexander, on account of Glaphyra's boasting and reproaches.

     3. Nay, Aristobulus had raised a quarrel between himself and Salome, who was his mother-in-law, besides the anger he had conceived at Glaphyra's reproaches; for he perpetually upbraided his wife with the meanness of her family, and complained, that as he had married a woman of a low family, so had his brother Alexander married one of royal blood. At this Salome's daughter wept, and told it her with this addition, that Alexander threatened the mothers of his other brethren, that when he should come to the crown, he would make them weave with their maidens, and would make those brothers of his country schoolmasters; and brake this jest upon them, that they had been very carefully instructed, to fit them for such an employment. Hereupon Salome could not contain her anger, but told all to Herod; nor could her testimony be suspected, since it was against her own son-in-law There was also another calumny that ran abroad and inflamed the king's mind; for he heard that these sons of his were perpetually speaking of their mother, and, among their lamentations for her, did not abstain from cursing him; and that when he made presents of any of Mariamne's garments to his later wives, these threatened that in a little time, instead of royal garments, they would clothe theft in no better than hair-cloth.

     The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William Whiston

The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)

Proverbs 19:25
     by D.H. Stern

25     If you strike a scorner,
the simple will learn to act wisely;
if you reprove the intelligent,
he will understand what you mean.

Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                The ministry of the interior

     But ye are … a royal priesthood. ---
1 Peter 2:9.

     By what right do we become “a royal priesthood”? By the right of the Atonement. Are we prepared to leave ourselves resolutely alone and to launch out into the priestly work of prayer? The continual grubbing on the inside to see whether we are what we ought to be, generates a self-centred, morbid type of Christianity, not the robust, simple life of the child of God. Until we get into a right relationship to God, it is a case of hanging on by the skin of our teeth, and we say—‘What a wonderful victory I have got!’ There is nothing indicative of the miracle of Redemption in that. Launch out in reckless belief that the Redemption is complete, and then bother no more about yourself, but begin to do as Jesus Christ said—pray for the friend who comes to you at midnight, pray for the saints, pray for all men. Pray on the realization that you are only perfect in Christ Jesus, not on this plea—‘O Lord, I have done my best, please hear me.’

     How long is it going to take God to free us from the morbid habit of thinking about ourselves? We must get sick unto death of ourselves, until there is no longer any surprise at anything God can tell us about ourselves. We cannot touch the depths of meanness in ourselves. There is only one place where we are right, and that is in Christ Jesus. When we are there, we have to pour out for all we are worth in the ministry of the interior.

My Utmost for His Highest

Welsh History
     the Poetry of RS Thomas

                Welsh History

We were a people taut for war; the hills
  Were no harder, the thin grass
  Clothed them more warmly than the coarse
  Shirts our small bones.
  We fought, and were always in retreat,
  Like snow thawing upon the slopes
  Of Mynydd Mawr; and yet the stranger
  Never found our ultimate stand
  In the thick woods, declaiming verse
  To the sharp prompting of the harp.
Our kings died, or they were slain
  By the old treachery at the ford.
  Our bards perished, driven from the halls
  Of nobles by the thorn and bramble.
We were a people bred on legends,
  Warming our hands at the red past.
  The great were ashamed of our loose rags
  Clinging stubbornly to the proud tree
  Of blood and birth, our lean bellies
  And mud houses were a proof
  Of our ineptitude for life.
We were a people wasting ourselves
  In fruitless battles for our masters,
  In lands to which we had no claim,
  With men for whom we felt no hatred.
We were a people, and are so yet.
  When we have finished quarrelling for crumbs
  Under the table, or gnawing the bones
  Of a dead culture, we will arise
  And greet each other in a new dawn.

Collected Poems : R S Thomas

Searching For Meaning In Midrash
     Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally

     Through the book Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally and the film of the same title by Steven Spielberg, the whole world has come to learn the story of Oskar Schindler. Schindler was a German Catholic industrialist who ran a factory, manufacturing enamel kitchenware products. During the Second World War, he employed mainly Jewish workers, and in doing so, protected them from deportation and death. Eventually, he ran an armaments production plant in Brunnlitz. To staff his company, he transferred eight hundred Jewish men from the Gross Rosen concentration camp and three hundred Jewish women from Auschwitz. Due to his tireless efforts, more than one thousand Jews who otherwise would have been exterminated survived the Holocaust.

     In Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Six Million, Schindler is honored as a “Righteous Gentile.” This leads us to the question asked by Rabbis Yehudah and Neḥemiah with regard to Noah: Who exactly is worthy of the title “righteous person”? Schindler did not lead the life of a saint. He was a notorious womanizer, shamelessly keeping mistresses and openly conducting adulterous affairs. He loved the “good life,” indulging himself with the best food and liquor, partying and gambling on a regular basis. Even after the war, he squandered whatever money and jewelry he owned on selfish pleasures.

     There can be no doubt about the incredible feats he performed during the war—risking his riches and his life to save eleven hundred Jews. But what were his motivations? Was he a pious man interested in saving innocent souls from death at the hands of the Nazis? Did he save his workers so that he could benefit monetarily from their slave labor? Or was he involved merely for the thrill of trying to beat the SS in an elaborate game of power and manipulation? We will never know for certain.

     Rabbi Yehudah would probably see the similarities between an Oskar Schindler and the biblical character of Noah: both were deeply flawed individuals who lived during times of great evil. (Remember that after Noah comes out of the ark, he gets drunk, and then is involved in some dark sexual episode.) From an objective point of view, neither man could be considered a saint. Yet each, in his own way, stood out from his own time and place and went down in history with the title “righteous person.”

     Many of Schindler’s activities might make us blush, and we will never be sure of his ultimate motivations; nevertheless, his notoriety and legendary status are most definitely well deserved. This becomes clear when we realize how many of his contemporaries were among the murderers, and how many more of them were among the bystanders who said and did nothing. We tend to hold on to the bottles of wine that have turned sour when we realize that all the others have gone bad and turned into vinegar.

Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living

Jonah in His Time / Love So Amazing
     W. W. Wiersbe

     "Those who consider the Book of Jonah an allegory or a parable should note that 2 Kings 14:25 identifies Jonah as a real person, a Jewish prophet from Gath Hepher in Zebulun who ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (793–753 B.C.) . They should also note that our Lord considered Jonah a historic person and pointed to him as a type of His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 12:41; Luke 11:32).

     The reign of Jeroboam II was a time of great prosperity in Israel; the nation regained lost territory and expanded both its boundaries and influence. But it was a time of moral and spiritual decay as the nation rapidly moved away from God and into idolatry. Jonah’s contemporaries Hosea and Amos both courageously denounced the wickedness of the rulers, priests, and people. It’s worth noting that Hosea and Amos also showed God’s concern for other nations, which is one of the major themes of Jonah.

     While Jonah had a ministry to Nineveh, a leading city in Assyria, he also had a ministry to Israel through this little book. He discovered God’s compassion for those outside Israel, even those who were their enemies. God had called His people to be a blessing to the Gentiles (
Gen. 12:1–3), but, like Jonah, the Jews refused to obey. And, like Jonah, they had to be disciplined; for Assyria would conquer Israel and Babylon would take Judah into captivity. Jonah’s book magnifies the sovereignty of God as well as the love and mercy of God. Jehovah is the “God of the second chance,” even for rebellious prophets!

     A Suggested Outline of the Book of Jonah

     Key idea: Obeying God’s will brings blessings to us and to others through us; disobedience brings discipline.

Jonah 2:9

     I.     God’s patience with

1.     Jonah’s disobedience —
2.     Jonah’s indifference —
3.     Jonah’s impenitence —

     II. God’s mercy toward

1.     He hears his prayer —
2.     He disciplines him —
3.     He honors his faith —
4.     He accepts his confession —
5.     He restores his ministry —

     III.     God’s power through

1.     The gracious Lord —
2.     The obedient servant —
3.     The repentant people —
4.     The postponed judgment —

     IV.     God’s ministry to

1.     God hears him —
2.     God comforts him —
3.     God teaches him —

Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship (The BE Series Commentary)

W. E. Vine
     The Genealogies of Christ in Matthew and Luke

     Objections are raised against the differences in the genealogy of our Lord as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. There is no real inconsistency between the two, however. The genealogy in Matthew is traced through one line of descent and that in Luke through another. It is not at all improbable that the genealogy given by Luke was really Mary’s. Jesus was supposed to be, as Luke states, the son of Joseph, and so if Heli was the father of Mary, as seems likely, he would be regarded as the father of both Joseph and Mary. This genealogy traces the ancestry through Nathan to David. In Matthew the line is traced downwards through Solomon. Matthew states distinctly that “Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus” (Matt. 1:16).

     The two genealogies are consistent respectively with the special characteristic which each writer has in view in presenting the Lord Jesus. The genealogy given by Matthew is appropriate to the presentation of Christ as the King. Luke’s is appropriate to the presentation of Him as Son of man. Matthew gives His royal genealogy; Luke gives that which emphasizes His humanity.

     Then, again, there are certain omissions in the line of descent recorded by Matthew. The writer evidently has in view the division of the genealogy into three sets of fourteen generations. The center one of the three is reduced to fourteen by the purposive omission of certain details, and it is suggestive that the following are omitted, namely, Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, who were descendants of Ahab of the third and fourth generation, and Jehoiakim who committed the trespass of burning the roll of Scripture (Jer. 36:28). Matthew is marking off prophetic periods of time instead of giving all the details of a genealogical list. There are three uses of the word “generation” in Scripture: (1) to denote the production of offspring; (2) to denote a nation as to its moral character, (3) to denote a period of prophetic time. It is the last of these that Matthew apparently has in view.

The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Boxed Five Volume Set

The Dead Sea Scrolls
     Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

     A third phase in the study of the scrolls began when the entire corpus became generally available in the early 1990s, and the editorial team was greatly expanded under the leadership of Emanuel Tov. It is now possible to get a more balanced view of the entire corpus.

     Whatever their relation to “Enochic Judaism,” the scrolls testify to the pervasive authority and influence of the Mosaic Torah. They provide important evidence about the development of the biblical text. The majority of the textual witnesses are close to the Masoretic Text, but there were also other textual forms in circulation. In some cases it is difficult to decide whether a given text is a variant form of the biblical text or a deliberate adaptation of it, in the manner of “rewritten bible,” such as we find in Jubilees. The Temple Scroll reinterprets the legal traditions of Leviticus and Deuteronomy by presenting them in rewritten form as a revelation to Moses. In this way the writer’s interpretation of the biblical laws is invested with the authority of the revelation at Sinai. Some scholars have argued that the Temple Scroll was intended to replace the Torah as the definitive law for the end of days (Wacholder 1983; Wise 1990: 184). It is more likely, however, that it presupposes the authority of the biblical text and is intended as a companion piece and guide to its interpretation (Najman 1999). The scrolls also contain many examples of explicit commentary, most notably in the pesharim, which date from the first century B.C.E. and are the oldest extant formal biblical commentaries. The commentaries are primarily on prophetic texts, including Psalms, and relate them to the history of the sect and the “end of days.” Especially interesting is the so-called Pesher on Genesis (4Q252), which combines a paraphrase of the flood story with a pesher-style interpretation of the Blessing of Jacob in
Genesis 49.

     The scrolls also provide ample evidence for an extensive literature associated with biblical figures, in the manner of the Pseudepigrapha (Dimant 1994; Flint in Flint and VanderKam 1998–1999: 2:24–66). Since most of this literature is fragmentary, it is difficult to be sure of literary genre of many compositions. Related to the Enoch literature is a fragmentary Book of Giants. Possible apocalypses found at Qumran include the Visions of Amram, which describes dualistic angelic-demonic powers, the so-called Aramaic Apocalypse or Son of God text (4Q246), the New Jerusalem text (a vision in the tradition of Ezekiel 40–48), and a “four kingdoms” prophecy where the four kingdoms are symbolized by four trees (4Q552–553). There are also prophecies after the fact attributed to Daniel (4Q243–244, 245) and a similar text, 4Q390, variously identified as Pseudo-Moses or Jeremiah Apocryphon. There are Aramaic texts relating to Levi and Qahath, and an Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon. The Aramaic literature found at Qumran is not perceptibly sectarian.

     Since so many of the scrolls are dependent on biblical texts, there is a tendency to assume derivation from biblical prototypes. In some cases, this is justified. There are Targums of Leviticus and Job, and the Genesis Apocryphon and Aramaic Levi Document are obviously related to the biblical text. But this literature is not all derivative. The Prayer of Nabonidus may have been a source for the book of Daniel, but it does not depend on it, and at least some of the pseudo-Daniel literature also appears to be independent. The text sometimes known as Proto-Esther (4Q550) is related to Esther only insofar as both are tales set in the Persian court. The book of Tobit, which is included in the Apocrypha and is found at Qumran in both Hebrew and Aramaic, is another example of a narrative work that is not derived from a biblical story, although it draws on various biblical motifs. The scrolls also expand significantly our corpus of nonbiblical wisdom literature, including an extensive and important text, 4QInstruction (Goff 2007). Fragments of Ben Sira were also found. The corpus of liturgical texts is also enlarged (Nitzan 1994; Falk 1998). The sapiential and liturgical texts are in Hebrew, but in many cases they are not necessarily sectarian. The scrolls, then, support the view that Jewish literature in the late Second Temple period was quite diverse. Some of it certainly shared the halakic interests of the later rabbis, but much of it also exhibited concerns similar to those attested in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.

     The most distinctive literature found in the scrolls consists of sectarian rule books (Metso 1998). The Community Rule and Damascus Document describe a complex sectarian movement that had more than one form of community life. They exhibit important parallels with Greek voluntary associations (Weinfeld 1986), but they are conceived in terms of membership in a new covenant. These rules show extensive similarity to the descriptions of the Essenes in Philo and Josephus, with regard to admission procedures, common property, and community life. The Essenes were not the only sectarian movement to emerge in Judaism in the last centuries before the turn of the era. Rather, sectarianism was a feature of the age, and the scrolls are an important witness to the phenomenon (Baumgarten 1997).

     The movement described in the scrolls has often been called an “apocalyptic community,” with good reason (Collins 1997c). The War Scroll and the Treatise on the Two Spirits in the Community Rule are prime examples of what Seth Schwartz has called “the apocalyptic myth” (Schwartz 2001: 74–82). Yet the community does not seem to have used the literary form of apocalypse to any significant degree. In this case, the Torah of Moses was unequivocally regarded as the primary source of revelation. Moreover, the figure called the Teacher of Righteousness was revered as the authoritative interpreter, and rendered pseudonymous mediators such as Enoch or Daniel superfluous. In this respect, the sect was quite unique. It shows, however, that there was no necessary conflict between the veneration of the Torah and interest in apocalyptic revelations.

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

RE: David's Wars
     and 2 Samuel 8:1

     In the previous chapter we have seen that the empire of David not only marked an era in the development of Israel nationally, but was also the reaching of a new stage in the preparation for the advent of the Messiah; and we saw that without this the development of prophecy would have been impossible, and the people have remained unfit for the high mission to which they were called as the witnesses to the unity of God. We have in this chapter a brief summary of the wars which raised Israel from the position of a struggling and oppressed race to the possession of widespread empire. With this narrative the first history of David ends, and in the subsequent narratives many of the events referred to here are more fully detailed, and given with additional incidents. Metheg-ammah means “the bridle of the mother-city.” We learn from the parallel place
1 Chron. 18:1) that the city of Gath is meant by this phrase. Gath was at this time the metropolis of Philistia, and had reduced the other four chief towns to a state of vassalage. Thus by taking Gath, his old city of refuge (1 Sam. 27:2), David acquired also the supremacy which she had previously exercised over the whole country, and by placing a strong garrison there, as previously the Philistines had done in the towns of Israel, he kept that martial race in awe. It denotes great progress in the arts of war that David could besiege and capture a town so strong as Gath.
The Pulpit Commentary (Set of 23 Volumes)
     Two out of every three Moabite prisoners of war were put to death, chosen by an unusual method of selection, not attested elsewhere. It does not follow that all David’s prisoners of war were treated in the same fashion although David’s handling of the Edomites was even more ruthless (see 1 Kings 11:15–16). 1 Chr 18:2 omits the gruesome mass execution of the Moabite captives, while G (Greek translation: as published in Septuaginta, LXX ed. A. Rahlfs, 1935. In Daniel, G includes both OG and Th, as published in J. Ziegler’s ed., 1954.) and VG (Latin Vulgate (as published in Weber’s edition) change the ratio: half were put to death and half were spared. All this may imply that the Israelite economy was not able to absorb large numbers of slaves unless the measures taken had a deterrent value. David’s harsh treatment of the Moabites is rather unexpected since his own great grandmother is said to have been a Moabitess (cf. Ruth 4:21–22); moreover, the Moabites had been helpful to David’s parents during their enforced exile (1 Sam 23:3–4). Moab became David’s vassal state and its tribute may have consisted of sheep and wool
(as in
2 Kgs 3:4).
Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 11, 2 Samuel (anderson), 342pp

David and

     David’s action contrasted to normal. Mephibosheth had good cause to be afraid of David. There is wide precedent in Mesopotamian texts for the elimination of all rival claimants to the throne when a king comes to power (compare Baasha’s murder of Jeroboam’s family in 1 Kings 15:29). Such purges also occurred years later as a form of revenge for political opposition or rebellion attempted against previous rulers. For example, Ashurbanipal mutilated, executed and fed the bodies of his grandfather’s rivals to dogs as part of his first official acts as king of Assyria. David, however, treats Mephibosheth, the only surviving male member of the royal family, as the rightful heir to Saul’s estates. His generosity is coupled with the command to eat at David’s table. In this way Mephibosheth is treated with honor, though some have noted it also keeps him under observation should he be inclined to subversion.
     Political prisoners were seldom kept in prison cells. It was more advantageous for the king to hold them in confinement within his palace or royal city, treating them to the pleasures of the “king’s table” but always keeping a close eye on their activities. Reports in ration lists from the Babylonian and Assyrian periods provide evidence of food, clothing and oil provided to “guests” of the king. Persian courts contained political detainees as well as “allies” who were kept in the king’s presence to insure a continual flow of taxes and soldiers for the army. Thus Mephibosheth, like Jehoiachin many years later (
2 Kings 25:27–30), enjoyed the largesse of the king’s court but was not truly free.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament

Take Heart
     June 21

     Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas… who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.) --- John 6:70–71.

     We are confronted with the archtraitor himself, whose name is [for] all generations branded with infamy. (Sermons Preached in St Paul's Cathedral) For he betrayed the friend who was the very personification of love; he betrayed the cause in which the eternal interests of humanity are bound up; he betrayed the country, the kingdom of heaven, where we all aspire to dwell.

     When [Judas] was chosen, he was worthy of the choice; there was in him perhaps the making of a Saint Peter or a Saint John. Can we suppose that he alone made no sacrifices, suffered no privations, met with no reproaches during those three years in which he followed the Master? All this while, Judas was on his trial, as we are on our trial. He was not compelled by an irresistible fate to act worthily of his calling; he was free to make his election between good and evil; he rejected the good, and he chose the evil.

     [Christ’s] little company was not intended to be perfect. Otherwise it would have conveyed no lessons to us. It had its coward in Peter, its skeptic in Thomas, and it had also its traitor in Judas.

     Had he not heard [Jesus] as he denounced the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth? Amidst all distractions, through every discouragement, Judas had remained, had persevered, had listened—and yet he was a traitor.

     And hadn’t he also witnessed those works that were the very credentials of [Jesus’] messianic claims? Hadn’t he been present when those five thousand were fed on the few loaves in Galilee? Hadn’t he seen the lame walk and the dumb speak and the lepers cleansed? and yet he was a traitor.

     [Judas] had allowed one vile passion to grow unchecked in his heart. His office as treasurer of the little company had given him opportunities of indulging this passion. He had yielded and so fell.

     When people placed in positions favorable to the development of the higher self do nevertheless give rein to some vicious tendency within, the vice seems to gain strength by this very fact. It can only be indulged by resistance to the good influences about them, and resistance always gives compactness and force, always braces the capacity, whether for good or for evil.
--- J. B. Lightfoot

Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers

On This Day
     A New Heart  June 21

     John Livingstone was a preacher’s kid, born in Scotland in 1603. He continued living with his father when grown, and that caused problems. John wanted to move to France and study medicine. His father forbade him. The old man instead proposed that John marry, settle down nearby, and farm. John refused. They remained at loggerheads until the young man set aside a day to seek God’s direction for his life. He retreated to the woods and after much agony surrendered himself to preach the Gospel. His father acquiesced.

     On January 2, 1625 John Livingstone preached his first sermon in his father’s pulpit. He remained in his father’s house for over a year, carefully writing out his RS Thomas word for word. One day he was asked to preach to a crowd he had addressed just the previous day, and having written no new sermon, he jotted down a few notes and preached with greater power than he had yet experienced. He never again wrote out his RS Thomas.

     He was soon in demand, and in June of 1630 he was asked to preach at the Kirk of Shots. On Sunday night he gathered with Christian brothers and spent the night “in prayer and conference.” The next Morning he was seized by such feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness that he wondered if he could ever preach again. But that Evening, Monday night, June 21, 1630, he rose to preach from
Ezekiel 36:26,27a: I will take away your stubborn heart and give you a new heart and a desire to be faithful. You will have only pure thoughts, because I will put my Spirit in you.

     Livingstone preached for an hour and a half, experiencing “the presence of God in preaching” as at no other moment in his life. The power of the Spirit fell on the meeting, and 500 people later dated their conversion from that message.

     His mighty preaching brought both fame and friction throughout Scotland, and he was eventually banished to Holland on account of his Nonconformist views. Many Scots had already fled to Rotterdam, and Livingstone ministered there among them until his death in 1672.

     I will take away your stubborn heart and give you a new heart and a desire to be faithful. You will have only pure thoughts, because I will put my Spirit in you and make you eager to obey my laws and teachings.
Ezekiel 36:26,27.

On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - June 21

     “Thou art fairer than the children of men.” --- Psalm 45:2.

     The entire person of Jesus is but as one gem, and his life is all along but one impression of the seal. He is altogether complete; not only in his several parts, but as a gracious all-glorious whole. His character is not a mass of fair colours mixed confusedly, nor a heap of precious stones laid carelessly one upon another; he is a picture of beauty and a breastplate of glory. In him, all the “things of good repute” are in their proper places, and assist in adorning each other. Not one feature in his glorious person attracts attention at the expense of others; but he is perfectly and altogether lovely.

     Oh, Jesus! thy power, thy grace, thy justice, thy tenderness, thy truth, thy majesty, and thine immutability make up such a man, or rather such a God-man, as neither heaven nor earth hath seen elsewhere. Thy infancy, thy eternity, thy sufferings, thy triumphs, thy death, and thine immortality, are all woven in one gorgeous tapestry, without seam or rent. Thou art music without discord; thou art many, and yet not divided; thou art all things, and yet not diverse. As all the colours blend into one resplendent rainbow, so all the glories of heaven and earth meet in thee, and unite so wondrously, that there is none like thee in all things; nay, if all the virtues of the most excellent were bound in one bundle, they could not rival thee, thou mirror of all perfection. Thou hast been anointed with the holy oil of myrrh and cassia, which thy God hath reserved for thee alone; and as for thy fragrance, it is as the holy perfume, the like of which none other can ever mingle, even with the art of the apothecary; each spice is fragrant, but the compound is divine.

     “Oh, sacred symmetry! oh, rare connection
     Of many perfects, to make one perfection!
     Oh, heavenly music, where all parts do meet
     In one sweet strain, to make one perfect sweet!”

          Evening - June 21

     "The foundation of God standeth sure." --- 2 Timothy 2:19.

     The foundation upon which our faith rests is this, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” The great fact on which genuine faith relies is, that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” and that “Christ also hath suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God”; “Who himself bare our sins in his own body on the tree”; “For the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.” In one word, the great pillar of the Christian’s hope is substitution. The vicarious sacrifice of Christ for the guilty, Christ being made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, Christ offering up a true and proper expiatory and substitutionary sacrifice in the room, place, and stead of as many as the Father gave him, who are known to God by name, and are recognized in their own hearts by their trusting in Jesus—this is the cardinal fact of the Gospel. If this foundation were removed, what could we do? But it standeth firm as the throne of God. We know it; we rest on it; we rejoice in it; and our delight is to hold it, to meditate upon it, and to proclaim it, while we desire to be actuated and moved by gratitude for it in every part of our life and conversation. In these days a direct attack is made upon the doctrine of the atonement. Men cannot bear substitution. They gnash their teeth at the thought of the Lamb of God bearing the sin of man. But we, who know by experience the preciousness of this truth, will proclaim it in defiance of them confidently and unceasingly. We will neither dilute it nor change it, nor fritter it away in any shape or fashion. It shall still be Christ, a positive substitute, bearing human guilt and suffering in the stead of men. We cannot, dare not, give it up, for it is our life, and despite every controversy we feel that “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure.”

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     June 21


     Lidie H. Edmunds, 19th century

     I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)

     Saving faith is much more than a commitment to a creed, church, or a doctrinal system. It must be a commitment to a person—Jesus Christ. Doctrinal statements and creeds are important in defining and delineating truth, but they must never replace a personal relationship with “The Truth.” We can get so caught up in our creedal statements, interpretations and arguments, or church traditions that we lose the sense of simple, child-like trust in Christ and his written Word. This was the concern of the apostle Paul—“I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Again and again we must take inventory of ourselves and determine what is the real foundation of our spiritual lives and the source of our resting place—Christ or merely a creed?

     Little is known about the author of this hymn text or the source of the tune other than that it is an old Norwegian melody. The hymn in its present form first appeared in the hymnal Songs of Joy and Gladness, published in 1891. It has become increasingly popular in recent years as a testimonial hymn in church services. May it testify of your faith in God.

     My faith has found a resting place—not in device nor creed; I trust the ever living One—His wounds for me shall plead.
     Enough for me that Jesus saves—this ends my fear and doubt; a sinful soul I come to Him—He’ll never cast me out.
     My heart is leaning on the Word—the written Word of God; salvation by my Savior’s name—salvation thru His blood.
     My great Physician heals the sick; the lost He came to save; for me His precious blood He shed; for me His life He gave.
     Chorus: I need no other argument, I need no other plea; it is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.

     For Today: Job 19:25, 27; Psalm 31:19; Isaiah 32:17; John 14:6; 1 John 5:13.

     Express your love and commitment to Christ anew in simple, child-like terms. Pray that all religious veneer may be stripped away and that others may simply see His pure reflection in all of your daily activities. Sing this musical testimony as you go ---

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of the Will
     Martin Luther | (1483-1546)

     Sect. LXII. NOW observe, in what way the Diatribe handles that single passage in Ezekiel xviii. 23, “As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live.” In the first place — “if (it says) the expressions “shall turn away,” “hath done,” “hath committed,” be so often repeated in this chapter, where are they who deny that man can do any thing?” —

     Only remark, I pray, the excellent conclusion! It set out to prove the endeavour and the desire of “Free-will,” and now it proves the whole work, that all things are fulfilled by “Free-will! “Where now, I pray, are those who need grace and the Holy Spirit? For it pertly argues thus: saying, ‘Ezekiel says, “If the wicked man shall turn away, and shall do righteousness and judgment, he shall live.” Therefore, the wicked man does that immediately and can do it.’ Whereas Ezekiel is signifying, what ought to be done, but the Diatribe understands it as being done, and having been done. Thus teaching us, by a new kind of grammar, that ought to be is the same as having been, being exacted the same as being performed, and being required the same as being rendered.

     And then, that voice of the all-sweet Gospel, “I desire not the death of a sinner,” &c., it perverts thus: — “Would the righteous Lord deplore that death of His people which He Himself wrought in them? If, therefore, He wills not our death, it certainly is to be laid to the charge of our own will, if we perish. For, what can you lay to the charge of Him, who can do nothing either of good or evil?”

     It was upon this same string that Pelagius harped long ago, when he attributed to “Free-will” not a desire nor an endeavour only, but the power of doing and fulfilling all things. For as I have said before, these conclusions prove that power, if they prove any thing; so that, they make with equal, nay with more force against the Diatribe which denies that power of “Free-will,” and which attempts to establish the endeavour only, than they do, against us who deny “Free-will” altogether. — But, to say nothing of the ignorance of the Diatribe, let us speak to the subject.

     It is the Gospel voice, and the sweetest consolation to miserable sinners, where Ezekiel saith, “I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather, that he should be converted and live,” and it is in all respects like unto that of Psalm xxx. 5.; “For His wrath is but for a moment, in His willingness is life.” And that of Psalm xxxvi. 7., “How sweet is thy loving-kindness, O God.” Also, “For I am merciful,” And that of Christ, (Matt. xi. 28.) “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And also that of Exodus xx. 6, “I will shew mercy unto thousands of them that love me.”

     And what is more than half of the Holy Scripture, but mere promises of grace, by which, mercy, life, peace, and salvation, are extended from God unto men? And what else is the whole word of promise but this: — “I desire not the death of a sinner?” Is not His saying, “I am merciful,” the same as saying, I am not angry, I am unwilling to punish, I desire not your death, My will is to pardon, My will is to spare? And if there were not these divine promises standing, by which consciences, afflicted with a sense of sin and terrified at the fear of death and judgment might be raised up, what place would there be for pardon or for hope! What sinner would not sink in despair! But as “Free-will” is not proved from any of the other words of mercy, of promise, and of comfort, so neither is it from this: — “I desire not the death of a sinner,”

     But our friend Diatribe, again making no distinction between the words of the law, and the words of the promise, makes this passage of Ezekiel the voice of the law, and expounds it thus: — “I desire not the death of a sinner:” that is, I desire not that he should sin unto death, or should become a sinner guilty of death; but rather, that he should be converted from sin, if he have committed any, and thus live. For if it do not expound the passage thus, it will make nothing to its purpose. But this is utterly to destroy and take away that most sweet place of Ezekiel, “I desire not the death.” If we in our blindness will read and understand the Scriptures thus, what wonder if they be ‘obscure and ambiguous.’ Whereas God does not say, “I desire not the sin of man, but, I desire not the death of a sinner,” which manifestly shews that He is speaking of the punishment of sin, of which the sinner has a sense on account of his sin, that is, of the fear of death; and that He is raising up and comforting the sinner lying under this affliction and desperation, that He might not “break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax,” but raise him to the hope of pardon and salvation, in order that he might be further converted, that is, by the conversion unto salvation from the fear of death, and that he might live, that is, might be in peace and rejoice in a good conscience.

     And this is also to be observed, that as the voice of the law is not pronounced but upon those who neither feel nor know their sins, as Paul saith, “By the law is the knowledge of sin;” (Rom. iii. 20,) so, the word of grace does not come but unto those, who, feeling their sins, are distressed and exercised with desperation. Therefore, in all the words of the law, you will find sin to be implied while it shews what we ought to do; as on the contrary, in all the words of the promise, you will find the evil to be implied under which the sinners, or those who are raised up, labour: as here, “I desire not the death of a sinner,” clearly points out the death and the sinner, both the evil itself which is felt, and the sinner himself who feels it. But by this, ‘Love God with all thine heart,’ is shewn what good we ought to do, not what evil we feel, in order that we might know, how far we are from doing good.

The Bondage of the Will   or   Christian Classics Ethereal Library

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