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     Ezra  1 - 3


Ezra 1

The Proclamation of Cyrus

Ezra 1 1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”

5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem. 6 And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. 7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the LORD that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8 Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9 And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 10 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 11 all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.

Ezra 2

The Exiles Return

Ezra 2 1 Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. 2 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.

The number of the men of the people of Israel: 3 the sons of Parosh, 2,172. 4 The sons of Shephatiah, 372. 5 The sons of Arah, 775. 6 The sons of Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,812. 7 The sons of Elam, 1,254. 8 The sons of Zattu, 945. 9 The sons of Zaccai, 760. 10 The sons of Bani, 642. 11 The sons of Bebai, 623. 12 The sons of Azgad, 1,222. 13 The sons of Adonikam, 666. 14 The sons of Bigvai, 2,056. 15 The sons of Adin, 454. 16 The sons of Ater, namely of Hezekiah, 98. 17 The sons of Bezai, 323. 18 The sons of Jorah, 112. 19 The sons of Hashum, 223. 20 The sons of Gibbar, 95. 21 The sons of Bethlehem, 123. 22 The men of Netophah, 56. 23 The men of Anathoth, 128. 24 The sons of Azmaveth, 42. 25 The sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743. 26 The sons of Ramah and Geba, 621. 27 The men of Michmas, 122. 28 The men of Bethel and Ai, 223. 29 The sons of Nebo, 52. 30 The sons of Magbish, 156. 31 The sons of the other Elam, 1,254. 32 The sons of Harim, 320. 33 The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 725. 34 The sons of Jericho, 345. 35 The sons of Senaah, 3,630.

36 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, 973. 37 The sons of Immer, 1,052. 38 The sons of Pashhur, 1,247. 39 The sons of Harim, 1,017.

40 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, 74. 41 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 128. 42 The sons of the gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, and the sons of Shobai, in all 139.

43 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 44 the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon, 45 the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub, 46 the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shamlai, the sons of Hanan, 47 the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, 48 the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam, 49 the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, 50 the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephisim, 51 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 52 the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 53 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 54 the sons of Neziah, and the sons of Hatipha.

55 The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda, 56 the sons of Jaalah, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 57 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, and the sons of Ami.

58 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.

59 The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer, though they could not prove their fathers’ houses or their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: 60 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, and the sons of Nekoda, 652. 61 Also, of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, and the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name). 62 These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 63 The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.

64 The whole assembly together was 42,360, 65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. 66 Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, 67 their camels were 435, and their donkeys were 6,720.

68 Some of the heads of families, when they came to the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem, made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site. 69 According to their ability they gave to the treasury of the work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priests’ garments.

70 Now the priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel in their towns.

Ezra 3

Rebuilding the Altar

Ezra 3 1 When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, burnt offerings morning and evening. 4 And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, 5 and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the LORD, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the LORD. 6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. 7 So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia..

Rebuilding the Temple

8 Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the LORD. 9 And Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together supervised the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and brothers..

10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD,.

“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

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Training Pastors in Church

By Albert Mohler 2/1/2008

     The Bible consistently affirms education as a central responsibility of God’s people. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people were reminded that the education of their own children was an essential part of their responsibility as God’s covenant people. In Israel, a father was to teach his son diligently, and to point his son toward the only true wisdom — the wisdom established in the fear of God.

     The New Testament also dignifies and elevates education to a matter of essential importance for the church. Great attention is given to the teaching office of the church — to those men who are called to the ministry of the Word. The apostle James reminds the church that those who teach the Word “will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

     In the apostle Paul’s two letters to Timothy, his young protégé in ministry, we find Paul instructing Timothy about the priority of the teaching office and of the preacher’s responsibility to be found “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Timothy is to practice and to immerse himself in the tasks and responsibilities of the ministry “so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15).

     Driven by the Bible’s emphasis on teaching the faith and by the responsibility to ground new believers in the truth and practices of the Christian life, the early church borrowed heavily from the Jewish experience in the synagogue and went on to develop catechetical models that were distinctively Christian — the earliest Christian schools.

     During this era, senior teachers, following the example of Paul teaching Timothy, taught pastors of the church. Younger men would attach themselves to older men who would nurture them in the knowledge of the Bible and the tasks of ministry. This early model of theological education was congregational — located in the church itself.

     In later centuries, pastors were taught by means of priestly orders and monastic communities. The rise of more institutionalized forms of theological education came with the emergence of the university. The development of the medieval university, organized with theology as the highest science, gave shape to the theological curriculum that is still recognizable in seminaries today.

     The Reformation was a movement largely led by university-trained men like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Both held university degrees and were very much at home in the university environment. The Lutheran reformation was based in Luther’s own university in Wittenberg. Calvin’s influence was vastly expanded through the academy for preachers he established in Geneva.

     The development of the theological seminary represents an American adaptation of the older British and European models. Even as the early American universities were established explicitly for the training of Christian ministers, secularization and specialization in the universities led to the development of schools specifically designed for the training of pastors.

     By the time America entered the twentieth century, the theological seminary was where most young ministers received their theological educations. Sadly, many of these same seminaries also allowed theological liberalism to gain a foothold, demonstrating that a seminary — just as a college or university — can quickly compromise or even repudiate the truths upon which it was established.

     All this points to the fact that a theological seminary, if it is to remain faithful, must be directly accountable to its churches. Lacking this accountability, the institution will inevitably drift toward heterodox teachings. A robust confessionalism is necessary, but the constant oversight of churches is of equal importance.

     The role of theological seminaries remains crucial for the education and training of Christian ministers. At its best, the seminary is an intentional gathering of Christian scholars who are dedicated to the preparation of ministers, committed to biblical truth, gifted in modeling and teaching the tasks of ministry, and passionate about the Gospel.

     No other educational institution exists to serve the needs of the churches in this way. In that sense, a theological seminary is as crucial to the training of ministers as the medical school is essential to the preparation of physicians.

     Nevertheless, count me as one seminary president who believes that the local church is even more important to the education of the pastor. The local church should see theological education as its own responsibility before it partners with a theological seminary for concentrated studies. The seminary can provide a depth and breadth of formal studies — all needed by the minister — but it cannot replace the local church as the context where ministry is learned most directly.

     In this day, we need to encourage more pastors to follow the example of the apostle Paul in mentoring Timothy as a young minister, preacher, and pastor. As a seminary president, I want to partner with pastors like that in order to raise up a generation of faithful pastors who will, as Paul instructed Timothy, “fulfill your ministry.”

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Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

     Albert Mohler Books |  Go to Books Page

Covenant Prosecutors

By R.C. Sproul 2/1/2008

     I don’t remember the exact words. They went something like this: “He was a thundering paradox of a man.” These words served as the opening lines of William Manchester’s classic biography of General Douglas MacArthur. In this work, MacArthur was shown as a multi-faceted man whose essence could not be crystallized by a single attribute. In like manner, the prophets of the Old Testament were men of multi-faceted and multi-dimensioned responsibilities and behavior. Some of the roles carried out by these prophets include the following: First, the prophets of Israel were agents of revelation. They did not say, “In my opinion.” Instead, they introduced their statements or oracles with “Thus saith the Lord.” Though the Old Testament prophets as agents of revelation are popularly conceived as being principally men involved in foretelling, that is, predicting future events, in reality the emphasis of their activity was involved in forthtelling. Forthtelling meant that they were declaring the Word of God to their own time and to their own generations.

     The second dimension of the role of the Old Testament prophet was that of being reformers. We must distinguish here between the work of reformation and the work of revolution. The Old Testament prophets had no desire to root up and cast down or to destroy the cultic structure of the nation. Rather, they called the people to return to orthodoxy, not to abandon their history. They called for a return to the terms of the original covenants that God had made with them, to obedience to the law that God had revealed through Moses, and, most importantly, to the practice of true worship as distinguished from all forms of idolatry and hypocrisy. They spoke boldly against formalism, externalism, and ritualism. But in their critique, they did not repudiate the formal, the external, or the ritual. Rather, it was the ism attached to these concepts that expressed the hypocrisy of Jewish worship during the prophetic era. The rituals, the externals, and the forms had been distorted by false forms of worship.

     Third, the prophet carried out the role of the covenant prosecutor. There were legal ramifications in terms of the relationship between God and His people. The structure of that relationship was the covenant, and all covenants had stipulations associated with them as well as sanctions. There was a penalty for disobedience, as well as a reward for obedience. When Israel violated the terms of her covenant, God sent his prosecuting attorneys to file suit against them, to declare his controversy with the people. We see this in Hosea’s announcement when he called the people of Israel to solemn assembly, saying that the Lord has a controversy with His people. The announcement and pursuit of this controversy by reason of law had the prophets speaking not as priestly defenders of the people, but rather as divine prosecuting attorneys pronouncing God’s judgment and wrath upon them.

     Fourth, the role of the prophet in Israel, individually and corporately, was to serve in a concrete way as the conscience of the nation. Israel was structured as a divine theocracy. There was no hard-pressed separation of church and state. When the state and the people in it wandered from the ethical structure of the nation, it was the prophet who would prick the consciences of the people and of the kings. Part of the reason the prophets lived such perilous lives was because they were called to speak boldly to the rulers of the nation, which rulers did not appreciate the intervention of the prophet. Rare was the king such as David who gave heed to the intervention of Nathan and who responded with profound repentance (2 Sam. 12:1–15). Normally, the course of the rulers was to follow the way of Ahab, to seek the very life of that prophet who dared to call him to repentance (1Kings 19:1–3). In our own culture, where we have a so-called separation of church and state, it is not the role or responsibility of the church to rule the nation. But it is the responsibility of the church to be the conscience of the nation and to call the state to repentance when the state becomes demonized and fails to serve in the cause of righteousness.

     Finally, the prophets were known as rugged individualists. There were indeed schools of professional prophets who worked together executing their trade for their own livelihood. Traditionally, these were the ones who became the false prophets of Israel. The true prophets were those who usually met with God alone in the wilderness and were given a divine summons to stand against the crowd and against the false prophets. Jeremiah, for example, felt the ignominy and the anguish of always being outnumbered by the false prophets who united in their cause against the truth boldly proclaimed by him. It was Elijah who thought that he was the only one left who had not bowed his knee to Baal. God rebuked him and reminded him that he had preserved 7,000 for Himself, who had not bowed the knee to Baal. These incidents reflect the commonplace experience of the Old Testament prophet who, time after time, was called to stand alone against a secularized nation and an immoral culture. They stood their ground for the truth of God and in many cases paid the ultimate price for it. It’s on the shoulders of the prophets of the Old Testament that the New Testament church establishes the agents of revelation — which are the apostles in the language of the new covenant. And so the foundation of the church of Christ is the foundation of the prophets and the apostles.

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Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.

     R.C. Sproul Books |  Go to Books Page

The Blessed Rich in Spirit

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 3/1/2008

     There is real poverty in the world, more than we would care to admit. Jesus, after all, told us that the poor would always be with us. But just as all Israel are not Israel, so all the poor are not truly poor. The true poor are those who on a given day face the real prospect of not being able to produce more calories than they consume. They are the truly hungry, the truly naked, the truly thirsty. They are not, on the other hand, those who buy store brand cereal, purchase their clothes at the local Goodwill store, or who can’t afford a daily sugar and bitter beans concoction from the local Starbucks.

     The faux poor are those who merely feel poor. This feeling creeps upon us when we find a gap not between how many calories we consume and how many we burn, but between the lifestyle we believe is our due and the lifestyle our production allows. Or to put it more simply, feeling poor is the result of wanting more than we have more often than wanting more than we need. It matters not whether we measure our wages in thousands or billions. What matters is the gap.

     The Christian, of course, ought never to go through this hardship. First, we are called to daily ask God for our bread. We are to ask confident that our Father will not give us a stone. We know that we have what we have not because of chance, but because our God reigns. More important still, even if we are not given sufficient calories to make it to the next day, we have been given the pearl of great price. Christians are the richest of all.

     Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount to consider the lilies of the field. We are not to be anxious about what we will eat, what we will drink, or what we will wear. The Gentiles, Jesus tells us, seek after these things. But we are called to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And all these things will be added to us. The point here isn’t that the Gentiles get all the good stuff, while we have to learn to be satisfied with abstract things like the kingdom of God. Jesus is instead expressing the answer to Augustine’s problem: “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in Thee.” Jesus is telling us to store treasure in heaven, which is the only treasure that satisfies.

     In light of this, we ought not be surprised at the depression that weighs down the world around us. They are spiritually poor, rather than poor in spirit. That is, they have nothing of value. Their accumulated stuff amounts to striving after the wind. Ecclesiastes 1:14 They miss that they deserve nothing. They miss that all that they have has been given through the common grace of God. (We simply have to find better language for this reality. It is true enough that this grace is given to all men, that He causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. It is true in turn that this grace isn’t as astonishing as the grace He gives to His elect. But it is still amazing grace. God is shockingly, not commonly, good to His enemies.) They look at the world as a random collision of time, space, and energy, and so see what they do have as an accident. They can no more give thanks for the food on their table than they can for the rain that falls. The bankruptcy of naturalism isn’t that it displaces the dignity of man, but that it destroys our ability to give thanks. Remember how Paul sums up the universal problem of the sinfulness of man: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21).

     What separates the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent isn’t that the former receive the grace of God while the latter do not. The difference is that the former have been given this grace — the ability to give thanks to God for all that He has provided. This in turn directs us toward the cure for our own spiritual depression. We do not need to have our circumstances changed. We do not need another lecture on sound thinking. What we need is to give thanks.

     This in turn is how we wage war against the seed of the serpent. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual. Is there anything more spiritual than a heart filled with gratitude to God? Is there anything more potent than joy? Is there anything greater than love? This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. As we do so we will change our souls. As we do so we will change our families. As we do so we will change our churches. As we do so we will change the world. If we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, Matthew 6:33d the good news isn’t that all these things will be added to us. The good news is that we will find the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And having found this, we have found joy at His right hand forevermore.

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     R.C. Sproul Jr. has served previously as a pastor, professor, and teacher. He is author of numerous books. Some are listed below.

     R.C. Sproul Jr. Books |  Go to Books Page

The Prophets and the West

By Dr. Gene Edward Veith 2/1/2008

     Reading the prophets can be an unsettling experience. Here we see God’s utter, absolute fury against sin. The graphic accounts of what God is going to do to His own faithless, immoral, complacent people constitute some of the scariest words in all of literature, making our horror movies seem like My Little Pony.

     And then, amidst the righteous rage, the bodies heaped up and the cities ravaged, the carnage is suddenly interrupted with sheer tender grace and spot-on predictions of what Jesus will do to make Himself the object all of this wrath. Jesus takes all of this fury onto Himself, whereas we, who deserve everything the prophets call down on sinners, receive His righteousness.

     In addition to the theological and devotional impact of the prophets, these books of the Bible played a major role in Western civilization. For Israel’s neighbors, the king was, literally, a god. In Egypt, the pharoah was thought to have descended from the sun god. For the Babylonians and Persians, the king was considered to be a deity. This was true of the Canaanites and of paganism in general, from Rome’s divinized emperors to the chieftains of tribal societies.

     For the pagans, the customs of the culture — whether the techniques of planting grain or the necessity of sacrificing one’s children — are inextricably tied up with their religious beliefs. Nature, culture, government are all divine.

     Pagan cultures resist change. New Guinea tribesmen, we say, are still in the stone age. Why don’t they change? Why wouldn’t knowledge accumulate from generation to generation? The answer has to do with their deepest religious convictions: The status quo is sacred. The cycles of life are to be repeated, like the cycles of nature, over and over again.

     When the pharoah of Egypt commanded that babies be slaughtered (Ex. 1), his people had no conceptual framework for questioning that order. When the king of Persia commanded his people to pray to no god but him — as Darius did (Dan. 6:7) — his people were unable to conceive of an objection. How can one question a god?

     The Hebrews, though, did question and defy those kings. They knew that there is only one God, who transcends nature and culture. His moral law applies even to kings. By that moral law, cultures can be judged. Cultures are not sacred. Therefore they can be changed. And when they contain evils, they must be changed.

     The Hebrew midwives knew not to kill babies, no matter what the pharaoh said. The prophet Moses stormed into the sacred presence and demanded, in the name of the true God, that he release his slaves. The prophet Daniel refused to pray to the self-deified Darius, even though that meant the lion’s den.

     The problem is that all cultures want to make themselves sacred. We would really like to have a government to be our deity. Our natural, fallen inclinations pull us in the direction of paganism.

     This certainly happened with the Hebrews. They wanted kings like the other nations had, so despite the prophet Samuel’s warnings, they got what they wanted (1 Sam. 8). A good number of those kings set themselves up as deities, changing the God-ordained worship and installing idols in the Temple itself. Hebrews emulated their pagan neighbors in other ways, to the point of sacrificing their own children.

     Enter the prophets. As channels of the word of God, they excoriated their own kings. Nor were priests, merchants, or pillars of the community shielded from prophetic denunciation. You exploit the poor. You shed innocent blood. You use false measures. You are hypocrites. God will wipe you off the face of the earth like cleaning a dirty plate. God will even use those pagan divinized kings — since He is sovereign even over them — to destroy the Holy City of Jerusalem and His own Temple that you have polluted.

     The prophets made divinized rulers and sacred cultures impossible. The early church, which also refused to worship the allegedly divine emperor, brought the Bible into the larger civilization. The words and the example of the prophets opened up a conceptual basis for a higher law above that of the government, to which the government must be held accountable.

     It became possible to criticize one’s rulers. It became obligatory to criticize one’s culture. Not only to criticize it, but to change it.

     Western civilization, unlike that of the New Guinea tribesmen, is one of change after change. We are never satisfied with the status quo. We are never satisfied with our rulers, at least for long, because we scrutinize them for their faults. We hold them to a higher law beyond the laws they pass.

     This habit of mind we owe, in large part, to the prophets. As scholars such as Herbert Schneidau and M. Stanton Evans have shown, this biblical legacy opened up a conceptual space that made political freedom possible.

     True, today’s cynics have the habit of criticism while rejecting the transcendent morality that makes criticism logically possible. They smash everything, like vandals.

     The prophets, in contrast, smashed idols and hammered the human heart until it broke with repentance. Then their words from God proclaimed the good news (Ezek. 36:25–27).

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     Dr. Gene Edward Veith is provost emeritus and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College and director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.

     Gene Edward Veith Books |  Go to Books Page

At Many Times; In Many Ways

By Keith Mathison 2/1/2008

     It is probably not an exaggeration to say that most Christians have little difficulty reading the Five Books of Moses and the Historical Books of the Old Testament. Sure, we may scratch our heads in puzzlement while reading certain sections of Leviticus, but all in all, these books do not pose too much of a problem for us. They contain a narrative, a story with a beginning and end. In these books, we are on familiar ground. The poetic books are a bit more challenging because of the way in which they are written, but we still find them somewhat familiar. Many of us, however, become completely lost when we open the prophetic books. We open these books and encounter a strange new world: apocalyptic oracles of judgment and promises of salvation, strange visions of winged angels and of flying scrolls, of fearsome beasts rising from the sea and of stars falling from the sky. How are we to understand all of this?

     In his recent work, The Christ of the Prophets (P&R, 2004), O. Palmer Robertson provides an invaluable guide to the prophetic books. He distills the fruit of a lifetime of study into one masterful volume. Robertson divides his work into fourteen chapters. The first seven answer some basic questions concerning the nature of prophecy and the prophets themselves. Chapters 8–12 examine the prophetic books within their redemptive-historical context. The final two chapters deal respectively with the role of prediction in prophecy and the ultimate fulfillment of prophecy in Christ.

     In his Introduction, Robertson explains that the writing prophets appeared at a significant time in Israel’s history. They wrote in the years leading up to, during, and following the exile. It was this event and that which was to follow that the prophets were called to explain. Robertson traces the origins of prophetism in Israel to Moses and points out his unique role in relation to all of those prophets who followed him.

     Robertson explains that the call of the prophets involved the mediation of God’s Word to God’s people. They were not to bring their own message. He also provides a helpful explanation of the criteria for distinguishing between true and false prophets. In two of the most important chapters of the book, Robertson explains how the biblical covenants and the Mosaic law are related to prophecy, showing that the prophets were sent to remind the people of their covenant obligations to the Law and to warn them of the consequences of disobedience. The prophets were covenant prosecutors, calling the people to faith and obedience.

     Having established the nature of prophecy and the calling of the prophets themselves, Robertson turns to look at the historical setting of the prophets. He notes that the contents of the prophetic books centered primarily on two events of enormous significance in Israel’s history: the exile and the restoration. In chapter 8, Robertson examines the messages of those prophets who ministered in the eighth century b.c., namely, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, and Jonah (The dating of the ministries of Joel and Obadiah are uncertain, but Robertson concludes that they were both eighth-century prophets and discusses them in this chapter). Chapter 9 is devoted to the prophets who ministered during the seventh century b.c. Here he looks at the writings of Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah.

     In chapters 10 and 11, the prophets who ministered during the exile are examined, namely, Ezekiel and Daniel. Chapter 12, then, is devoted to the ministries and writings of the prophets who prophesied after the exile: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Chapters 8–12 alone are worth the price of the book for their careful exposition of the content of these prophetic books within their redemptive-historical contexts.

     In the final chapters, Robertson turns his attention to two final questions of some importance. First, in chapter 13, he examines the nature of predictive prophecy. He observes that biblical prophecy did not primarily involve the predicting of future events; it primarily involved proclaiming God’s will. The prediction of future events is, however, one aspect of Old Testament prophecy, and Robertson helpfully categorizes the four different kinds of predictive prophecy and explains how each functions in Scripture. In chapter 14, Robertson concludes by demonstrating how the promises of restoration all find their ultimate fulfillment in the coming of Jesus Christ. If for no other reason, this alone should be incentive enough to study these books. They can be difficult, but they are God’s Word written for our instruction. For those desiring to understand them, there are few better guides than The Christ of the Prophets.

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Per Amazon, Keith A. Mathison (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary; PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is dean of the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine at Ligonier Ministries. He is editor of When Shall These Things Be: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism and associate editor of The Reformation Study Bible. He lives in Lake Mary, Florida, with his wife and children.

Keith Mathison Books:

Numbers 30

By Don Carson 5/21/2018

     A few years ago I spent some time in a certain so-called “third world” country, well known for its abject poverty. What struck me most forcibly about the culture of that country, however, was not its poverty, nor the gap between the very wealthy and the very poor — I had read up enough on these points that I was not surprised, and I had witnessed similar tragedies elsewhere — but its ubiquitous, endemic corruption.

     Here in the West, we are not well placed to wag a finger. Doubtless we have less overt bribery; doubtless we have published prices for many government services that make bribes and kickbacks a little more difficult to institutionalize; doubtless there is still enough Christian heritage that at least on paper we avow that honesty is a good thing, that a man or woman’s word should be his or her bond, that greed is evil — though very often such values are nowadays honored rather more in the breech than in reality. Even so, we are by far the most litigious nation in the world. We produce far more lawyers than engineers (the reverse of Japan). The simplest agreement nowadays must be surrounded by mounds of legalese protecting the participants. A fair bit of this stems from the fact that many individuals and companies will not keep their word, will not try to do the right thing, and will try to rip off the other party if they can get away with it. A lie is embarrassing only if you are caught. Promises and pledges become devices to get what you want, rather than commitments to truth. Solemn marriage vows are discarded on a whim, or dissolved in the heat of lust. And of course, if we easily abandon marriage covenants, business covenants, and personal covenants, it is equally easy to abandon the covenant with God.

     Telling the truth and keeping one’s promises in one domain of life spill over into other domains; conversely, infidelity in one arena commonly spills over into other arenas. So, nestled within the Mosaic covenant are these words: “This is what the LORD commands: When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said” (Num. 30:1-2). The rest of the chapter recognizes that such oaths by individuals may not be merely individual matters; there may be spousal or family entailments. So for the right ordering of the culture, God himself sets forth who, under this covenant, is permitted to ratify or set aside a pledge; that pattern says something about headship and responsibility in the family. But the fundamental issue is one of truth-telling and fidelity.

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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 |  Go to Books Page

Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 52

The Steadfast Love of God Endures
52 To The Choirmaster. A Maskil Of David, When Doeg, The Edomite, Came And Told Saul, “David Has Come To The House Of Ahimelech.”

1 Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
2 Your tongue plots destruction,
like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
3 You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
4 You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.

5 But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
6 The righteous shall see and fear,
and shall laugh at him, saying,
7 “See the man who would not make
God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
and sought refuge in his own destruction!”

ESV Study Bible

The NIV enlarges and alters the Hebrew text of v 1, which simply reads: ‘How you boast of evil, big man! The unfailing love of God is the same every day.’ The self-made man, Doeg (1 Sa. 21–22), seized his opportunity, and by being ‘economical with the truth’ and ruthless in action could boast of his own success. But as compared with the self-sufficient Doeg, David asserts that nothing will ever make God anything but on his side. The correctness of restoring the Hebrew text in v 1 is proved by vs 8, 9 which recapitulate the same topics in reverse order: the boast of evil (1) is matched by the praise of the name that is good (9); the unfailing love which continues all day (1b, Hebrew) is elaborated into the unfailing love that lasts for ever (8). The message of the psalm is, then, that God’s love is sufficient even against triumphant ruthlessness, constant through the day of pressure (1) and the same for ever (8).  New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     5. Nor was the case of deacons then different from what it had been under the apostles (chap. 3 sec. 6). For they received the daily offerings of the faithful, and the annual revenues of the Church, that they might apply them to their true uses; in other words, partly in maintaining ministers, and partly in supporting the poor; at the sight of the bishop, however, to whom they every year gave an account of their stewardship. For, although the canons uniformly make the bishop the dispenser of all the goods of the Church, this is not to be understood as if he by himself undertook that charge, but because it belonged to him to prescribe to the deacon who were to be admitted to the public alimony of the Church, and point out to what persons, and in what portions, the residue was to be distributed, and because he was entitled to see whether the deacon faithfully performed his office. Thus, in the canons which they ascribe to the apostles, it is said, "We command that the bishop have the affairs of the Church under his control. For if the souls of men, which are more precious, have been intrusted to him, much more is he entitled to have the charge of money matters, so that under his control all may be dispensed to the poor by the presbyters and deacons, that the ministration may be made reverently and with due care." And in the Council of Antioch, it was decreed (cap. 35), that bishops, who inter-meddled with the effects of the Church, without the knowledge of the presbyters and deacons, should be restrained. But there is no occasion to discuss this point farther, since it is evident, from many of the letters of Gregory, that even at that time, when the ecclesiastical ordinances were otherwise much vitiated, it was still the practice for the deacons to be, under the bishops, the stewards of the poor. It is probable that at the first subdeacons were attached to the deacons, to assist them in the management of the poor; but the distinction was gradually lost. Archdeacons began to be appointed when the extent of the revenues demanded a new and more exact method of administration, though Jerome mentions that it already existed in his day. [549] To them belonged the amount of revenues, possessions, and furniture, and the charge of the daily offerings. Hence Gregory declares to the Archdeacon Solitanus, that the blame rested with him, if any of the goods of the Church perished through his fraud or negligence. The reading of the word to the people, and exhortation to prayer, was assigned to them, and they were permitted, moreover, to give the cup in the sacred Supper; but this was done for the purpose of honouring their office, that they might perform it with greater reverence, when they were reminded by such symbols that what they discharged was not some profane stewardship, but a spiritual function dedicated to God.

6. Hence, also, we may judge what was the use, and of what nature was the distribution of ecclesiastical goods. You may everywhere find, both from the decrees of synods, and from ancient writers, that whatever the Church possessed, either in lands or in money, was the patrimony of the poor. Accordingly, the saying is ever and anon sounded in the ears of bishops and deacons, Remember that you are not handling your own property, but that destined for the necessities of the poor; if you dishonestly conceal or dilapidate it, you will be guilty of blood. Hence they are admonished to distribute them to those to whom they are due, with the greatest fear and reverence, as in the sight of God, without respect of persons. Hence, also, in Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and other like bishops, those grave obtestations in which they assert their integrity before the people. But since it is just in itself, and was sanctioned by a divine law, that those who devote their labour to the Church shall be supported at the public expense of the Church, and some presbyters in that age having consecrated their patrimony to God, had become voluntarily poor, the distribution was so made that aliment was afforded to ministers, and the poor were not neglected. Meanwhile, it was provided that the ministers themselves, who ought to be an example of frugality to others, should not have so much as might be abused for luxury or delicacy; but only what might be needful to support their wants: "For those clergy, who can be supported by their own patrimony," says Jerome, "commit sacrilege if they accept what belongs to the poor, and by such abuse eat and drink judgment to themselves."

7. At first the administration was free and voluntary, when bishops and deacons were faithful of their own accord, and when integrity of conscience and purity of life supplied the place of laws. Afterwards, when, from the cupidity and depraved desires of some, bad examples arose, canons were framed, to correct these evils, and divided the revenues of the Church into four parts, assigning one to the clergy, another to the poor, another to the repair of churches and other edifices, a fourth to the poor, whether [550] strangers or natives. For though other canons attribute this last part to the bishop, it differs in no respect from the division which I have mentioned. For they do not mean that it is his property, which he may devour alone or squander in any way he pleases, but that it may enable him to use the hospitality which Paul requires in that order (1 Tim. 3:2). This is the interpretation of Gelasius and Gregory. For the only reason which Gelasius gives why the bishop should claim anything to himself is, that he may be able to bestow it on captives and strangers. Gregory speaks still more clearly: "It is the custom of the Apostolic See," says he, "to give command to the bishop who has been ordained, to divide all the revenues into four portions--namely, one to the bishop and his household for hospitality and maintenance, another to the clergy, a third to the poor, a fourth to the repair of churches." The bishop, therefore, could not lawfully take for his own use more than was sufficient for moderate and frugal food and clothing. When any one began to wanton either in luxury or ostentation and show, he was immediately reprimanded by his colleagues, and if he obeyed not, was deprived of his honours.

8. Moreover, the sum expended on the adorning of churches was at first very trifling, and even afterwards, when the Church had become somewhat more wealthy, they in that matter observed mediocrity. Still, whatever money was then collected was reserved for the poor, when any greater necessity occurred. Thus Cyril, when a famine prevailed in the province of Jerusalem, and the want could not otherwise be supplied, took the vessels and robes and sold them for the support of the poor. In like manner, Acatius, Bishop of Amida, when a great multitude of the Persians were almost destroyed by famine, having assembled the clergy, and delivered this noble address, "Our God has no need either of chalices or salvers, for he neither eats nor drinks" (Tripart. Hist. Lib. 5 and Lib. 11 c. 16) melted down the plate, that he might be able to furnish food and obtain the means of ransoming the miserable. Jerome also, while inveighing against the excessive splendour of churches, relates that Exuperius, Bishop of Tholouse, in his day, though he carried the body of the Lord in a wicker basket, and his blood in a glass, nevertheless suffered no poor man to be hungry (Hieron. ad Nepotian). What I lately said of Acatius, Ambrose relates of himself. For when the Arians assailed him for having broken down the sacred vessels for the ransom of captives, he made this most admirable excuse: "He who sent the apostles without gold has also gathered churches without gold. The Church has gold not to keep but to distribute, and give support in necessity. What need is there of keeping what is of no benefit? Are we ignorant how much gold and silver the Assyrians carried off from the temple of the Lord? Is it not better for a priest to melt them for the support of the poor, if other means are wanting, than for a sacrilegious enemy to carry them away? Would not the Lord say, Why have you suffered so many poor to die of hunger, and you certainly had gold wherewith to minister to their support? Why have so many captives been carried away and not redeemed? Why have so many been slain by the enemy? It had been better to preserve living than metallic vessels. These charges you will not be able to answer: for what could you say? I feared lest the temple of God should want ornament. He would answer, Sacraments require not gold, and things which are not bought with gold please not by gold. The ornament of the Sacraments is the ransom of captives" (Ambros. de Offic. Lib. 2 c. 28). In a word, we see the exact truth of what he elsewhere says--viz. that whatever the Church then possessed was the revenue of the needy. Again, A bishop has nothing but what belongs to the poor (Ambros. Lib. 5 Ep. 31, 33).

9. We have now reviewed the ministerial offices of the ancient Church. For others, of which ecclesiastical writers make mention, were rather exercises and preparations than distinct offices. These holy men, that they might leave a nursery of the Church behind them, received young men, who, with the consent and authority of their parents, devoted themselves to the spiritual warfare under their guardianship and training, and so formed them from their tender years, that they might not enter on the discharge of the office as ignorant novices. All who received this training were designated by the general name of Clerks. I could wish that some more appropriate name had been given them, for this appellation had its origin in error, or at least improper feeling, since the whole church is by Peter denominated kleros (clerus), that is, the inheritance of the Lord (1 Pet. 5:3). It was in itself, however, a most sacred and salutary institution, that those who wished to devote themselves and their labour to the Church should be brought up under the charge of the bishop; so that no one should minister in the Church unless he had been previously well trained, unless he had in early life imbibed sound doctrine, unless by stricter discipline he had formed habits of gravity and severer morals, been withdrawn from ordinary business, and accustomed to spiritual cares and studies. For as tyros in the military art are trained by mock fights for true and serious warfare, so there was a rudimental training by which they were exercised in clerical duty before they were actually appointed to office. First, then, they intrusted them with the opening and shutting of the church, and called them Ostiarii. Next, they gave the name of Acolytes to those who assisted the bishop in domestic services, and constantly attended him, first, as a mark of respect; and, secondly, that no suspicion might arise. [551] Moreover, that they might gradually become known to the people, and recommend themselves to them, and at the same time might learn to stand the gaze of all, and speak before all, that they might not, when appointed presbyters, be overcome with shame when they came forward to teach, the office of reading in the desk was given them. [552] In this way they were gradually advanced, that they might prove their carefulness in separate exercises, until they were appointed subdeacons. All I mean by this is, that these were rather the rudimentary exercises of tyros than functions which were accounted among the true ministries of the Church.

     Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain

     Institutes of the Christian Religion


  • Derek Thomas
  • Derek Thomas
  • Derek Thomas

#1  Gospel & Home  Gresham College

 

#2  The Pilgrim's Progress  Gresham College

 

#3  How To Live  Gresham College

 


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     8/1/2009    Is It Just a Money Issue?

     Several years after my father’s death in 1992 I found an old shoebox among my father’s belongings. Among the various items in the shoebox, I came across a stack of letters that my father had written just prior to his death. As I began to read the first letter I quickly realized he had written them to me but that he never had the opportunity to give them to me because his cancer consumed his body more quickly than the oncologist had expected. In one of the letters, my father wrote, “Learn to live with a little less.”

     I have never forgotten that admonition, and having often wondered what made my father’s generation different from my own, I have come to the following conclusions: My father’s generation knew what it was to live with a little less. My generation always seems to “need” just a little more. My father’s generation asked this question of God, family, neighbor, and country: “How can I serve you with my time, money, and resources?” My generation asks, “How can you serve me with your time, money, and resources?” My father’s generation was a generation of honorable, principled, and hard-working men and women who felt truly blessed by God to be alive, to have the health to give of themselves to others, and to be fortunate enough to give of their time, money, and resources so that future generations could prosper. My generation is consumed with consumption. It is the generation of entitlement, instant gratification, and expediency. My generation has no understanding of what our fathers and forefathers fought for, what they sacrificed, and how much they gave of their time, money, and resources.

     This is not just an issue about money but about how we worship God as stewards of all that He has entrusted to us as we live before His face each and every day. Nevertheless, we must never forget that it is the love of money that is “a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). In his book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges, one from among my father’s generation, writes, “If money wins out in our lives, it is not God but we who lose. Ultimately, God does not need our money. If we spend it on ourselves, it is we who become spiritual paupers” (p. 169).

     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 American Red Cross was organized this day, May 21, 1881, by Clara Barton, a schoolteacher who had moved to Washington at the outbreak of the Civil War. She distributed relief supplies to wounded soldiers and, at the request of President Lincoln, aided in searching for missing men. She helped victims in Europe during the Franco-German war, working with Henri Dunant, founder of the International Red Cross. President Woodrow Wilson recognized those in this great service, stating: "Being members of the American Red Cross.. this cross which these ladies bore here today is an emblem of Christianity itself."

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams

Apart from God
every activity is merely a passing whiff
of insignificance.
--- Alfred North Whitehead
Treasures of the Transformed Life: Satisfying Your Soul's Thirst for More


Remember this. When people choose
to withdraw far from a fire,
the fire continues to give warmth,
but they grow cold.

When people choose
to withdraw far from light,
the light continues to be bright in itself
but they are in darkness.

This is also the case
when people withdraw from God.
--- Augustine
Essential Sermons: (Classroom Resource Edition) (The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century) (Works of Saint Augustine. Part III, Homilies)

The fact that God devoted an entire book of the Bible to the subject of holiness would indicate that it’s an important subject, one that we dare not ignore.
--- Warren W. Wiersbe
Be Holy (Leviticus): Becoming "Set Apart" for God (The BE Series Commentary)

Surely corruption is ingrained in our hearts, interwoven with our very natures, has sunk deep into our souls, and will never be cured but by a miracle of grace.
--- Thomas Boston
The whole works of the late Reverend and learned Mr. Thomas Boston, Minister of the Gospel at Etterick (Volume 8)

... from here, there and everywhere

The Imitation Of Christ
     Thomas A Kempis


               Book Four - An Invitation To Holy Communion

     The Thirteenth Chapter / With All Her Heart The Devout Soul Should Desire Union With Christ In The Sacrament

     The Disciple

     LET it be granted me to find You alone, O Christ, to open to You my whole heart, to enjoy You as my soul desires, to be disturbed by no one, to be moved and troubled by no creature, that You may speak to me and I to You alone, as a lover speaks to his loved one, and friend converses with friend.

     I pray for this, I desire this, that I may be completely united to You and may withdraw my heart from all created things, learning to relish the celestial and the eternal through Holy Communion and the frequent celebration of Mass.

     Ah Lord God, when shall I be completely united to You and absorbed by You, with self utterly forgotten? You in me and I in You? Grant that we may remain so together. You in truth are my Beloved, chosen from thousands, in Whom my soul is happy to dwell all the days of her life. You are in truth my pledge of peace, in Whom is the greatest peace and true rest, without Whom there is toil and sorrow and infinite misery.

     You truly are the hidden God. Your counsel is not with the wicked, and Your conversation is rather with the humble and the simple.

     O how kind is Your spirit, Lord, Who in order to show Your sweetness toward Your children, deign to feed them with the sweetest of bread, bread come down from heaven! Surely there is no other people so fortunate as to have their god near them, as You, our God, are present everywhere to the faithful, to whom You give Yourself to be eaten and enjoyed for their daily solace and the raising of their hearts to heaven.

     Indeed, what other nation is so renowned as the Christian peoples? What creature under heaven is so favored as the devout soul to whom God comes, to feed her with His glorious Flesh? O unspeakable grace! O wonderful condescension! O love beyond measure, singularly bestowed upon man!

     What return shall I make to the Lord for this love, this grace so boundless? There is nothing I can give more pleasing than to offer my heart completely to my God, uniting it closely with His. Then shall all my inner self be glad when my soul is perfectly united with God. Then will He say to me: “If you will be with Me, I will be with you.” And I will answer Him: “Deign, O Lord, to remain with me. I will gladly be with You. This is my one desire, that my heart may be united with You.”

The Imitation Of Christ

History of the Destruction of Jerusalem
     Thanks to Meir Yona

     CHAPTER 3.

     How Aristobulus Was The First That Put A Diadem About His Head; And After He Had Put His Mother And Brother To Death, Died Himself, When He Had Reigned No More Than A Year.

     1. For after the death of their father, the elder of them, Aristobulus, changed the government into a kingdom, and was the first that put a diadem upon his head, four hundred seventy and one years and three months after our people came down into this country, when they were set free from the Babylonian slavery. Now, of his brethren, he appeared to have an affection for Antigonus, who was next to him, and made him his equal; but for the rest, he bound them, and put them in prison. He also put his mother in bonds, for her contesting the government with him; for John had left her to be the governess of public affairs. He also proceeded to that degree of barbarity as to cause her to be pined to death in prison.

     2. But vengeance circumvented him in the affair of his brother Antigonus, whom he loved, and whom he made his partner in the kingdom; for he slew him by the means of the calumnies which ill men about the palace contrived against him. At first, indeed, Aristobulus would not believe their reports, partly out of the affection he had for his brother, and partly because he thought that a great part of these tales were owing to the envy of their relaters: however, as Antigonus came once in a splendid manner from the army to that festival, wherein our ancient custom is to make tabernacles for God, it happened, in those days, that Aristobulus was sick, and that, at the conclusion of the feast, Antigonus came up to it, with his armed men about him; and this when he was adorned in the finest manner possible; and that, in a great measure, to pray to God on the behalf of his brother. Now at this very time it was that these ill men came to the king, and told him in what a pompous manner the armed men came, and with what insolence Antigonus marched, and that such his insolence was too great for a private person, and that accordingly he was come with a great band of men to kill him; for that he could not endure this bare enjoyment of royal honor, when it was in his power to take the kingdom himself.

     3. Now Aristobulus, by degrees, and unwillingly, gave credit to these accusations; and accordingly he took care not to discover his suspicion openly, though he provided to be secure against any accidents; so he placed the guards of his body in a certain dark subterranean passage; for he lay sick in a place called formerly the Citadel, though afterwards its name was changed to Antonia; and he gave orders that if Antigonus came unarmed, they should let him alone; but if he came to him in his armor, they should kill him. He also sent some to let him know beforehand that he should come unarmed. But, upon this occasion, the queen very cunningly contrived the matter with those that plotted his ruin, for she persuaded those that were sent to conceal the king's message; but to tell Antigonus how his brother had heard he had got a very the suit of armor made with fine martial ornaments, in Galilee; and because his present sickness hindered him from coming and seeing all that finery, he very much desired to see him now in his armor; because, said he, in a little time thou art going away from me.

     4. As soon as Antigonus heard this, the good temper of his brother not allowing him to suspect any harm from him, he came along with his armor on, to show it to his brother; but when he was going along that dark passage which was called Strato's Tower, he was slain by the body guards, and became an eminent instance how calumny destroys all good-will and natural affection, and how none of our good affections are strong enough to resist envy perpetually.

     5. And truly anyone would be surprised at Judas upon this occasion. He was of the sect of the Essens, and had never failed or deceived men in his predictions before. Now this man saw Antigonus as he was passing along by the temple, and cried out to his acquaintance, [they were not a few who attended upon him as his scholars,] "O strange!" said he, "it is good for me to die now, since truth is dead before me, and somewhat that I have foretold hath proved false; for this Antigonus is this day alive, who ought to have died this day; and the place where he ought to be slain, according to that fatal decree, was Strato's Tower, which is at the distance of six hundred furlongs from this place; and yet four hours of this day are over already; which point of time renders the prediction impossible to be fill filled." And when the old man had said this, he was dejected in his mind, and so continued. But in a little time news came that Antigonus was slain in a subterraneous place, which was itself also called Strato's Tower, by the same name with that Cesarea which lay by the sea-side; and this ambiguity it was which caused the prophet's disorder.

     6. Hereupon Aristobulus repented of the great crime he had been guilty of, and this gave occasion to the increase of his distemper. He also grew worse and worse, and his soul was constantly disturbed at the thoughts of what he had done, till his very bowels being torn to pieces by the intolerable grief he was under, he threw up a great quantity of blood. And as one of those servants that attended him carried out that blood, he, by some supernatural providence, slipped and fell down in the very place where Antigonus had been slain; and so he spilt some of the murderer's blood upon the spots of the blood of him that had been murdered, which still appeared. Hereupon a lamentable cry arose among the spectators, as if the servant had spilled the blood on purpose in that place; and as the king heard that cry, he inquired what was the cause of it; and while nobody durst tell him, he pressed them so much the more to let him know what was the matter; so at length, when he had threatened them, and forced them to speak out, they told; whereupon he burst into tears, and groaned, and said, "So I perceive I am not like to escape the all-seeing eye of God, as to the great crimes I have committed; but the vengeance of the blood of my kinsman pursues me hastily. O thou most impudent body! how long wilt thou retain a soul that ought to die on account of that punishment it ought to suffer for a mother and a brother slain! How long shall I myself spend my blood drop by drop? let them take it all at once; and let their ghosts no longer be disappointed by a few parcels of my bowels offered to them." As soon as he had said these words, he presently died, when he had reigned no longer than a year.

          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 17:13-14
     by D.H. Stern


13     Evil will not depart from the house
of him who returns evil for good.

14     Starting a fight is like letting water through [a dike]—
better stop the quarrel before it gets worse.

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

                Divine reasonings of faith

     But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. --- Matthew 6:33.

     Immediately we look at these words of Jesus, we find them the most revolutionary statement human ears ever listened to. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” We argue in exactly the opposite way, even the most spiritually-minded of us—‘But I must live; I must make so much money; I must be clothed; I must be fed.’ The great concern of our lives is not the kingdom of God, but how we are to fit ourselves to live. Jesus reverses the order: Get rightly related to God first, maintain that as the great care of your life, and never put the concern of your care on the other things.

     “Take no thought for your life …” Our Lord points out the utter unreasonableness from His standpoint of being so anxious over the means of living. Jesus is not saying that the man who takes thought for nothing is blessed—that man is a fool. Jesus taught that a disciple has to make his relationship to God the dominating concentration of his life, and to be carefully careless about everything else in comparison to that. Jesus is saying—Don’t make the ruling factor of your life what you shall eat and what you shall drink, but be concentrated absolutely on God. Some people are careless over what they eat and drink, and they suffer for it; they are careless about what they wear, and they look as they have no business to look; they are careless about their earthly affairs, and God holds them responsible. Jesus is saying that the great care of the life is to put the relationship to God first, and everything else second.

     It is one of the severest disciplines of the Christian life to allow the Holy Spirit to bring us into harmony with the teaching of Jesus in these verses.

My Utmost for His Highest

Post Restanrte
     the Poetry of RS Thomas


               Post Restanrte

   I want you to know how it was,
   whether the Cross grinds into dust
   under men’s wheels or shines brightly
   as a monument to a new era.

   There was a church and one man
   served it, and few worshipped
   there in the raw light on the hill
   in winter, moving among the stones
   fallen about them like the ruins
   of a culture they were too weak
   to replace, too poor themselves
   to do anything but wait
   for the ending of a life
   they had not asked for.
   The priest would come
   and pull on the hoarse bell nobody
   heard, and enter that place
   of darkness, sour with the mould
   of the years. And the spider would run
   from the chalice, and the wine lie
   there for a time, cold and unwanted
   by all but he, while the candles
   guttered as the wind picked
   at the roof. And he would see
   over that bare meal his face
   staring at him from the cracked glass
   of the window, with the lips moving
   like those of an inhabitant of
   a world beyond this.
   And so back
   to the damp vestry to the book
   where he would scratch his name and the date
   he could hardly remember, Sunday
   by Sunday, while the place sank
   to its knees and the earth turned
   from season to season like the wheel
   of a great foundry to produce
   you, friend, who will know what happened.

Selected Poems, 1946-68

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Sanhedrin 105b

     D’RASH

     We can learn from Rav Naḥman's observation that, in the Jewish tradition, ḥutzpah towards God is not always seen as heresy or rebellion. On the contrary, the examples from the stories of Abraham, Moses, and Balaam show that "God's will" is often malleable. The negative things that we are certain will happen to us can often be averted. We need not say that the future is predetermined, for we can, at times, exhibit the ḥutzpah to challenge God's decree and alter it.

     We often hear the predestiny theology couched in simplistic axioms like: "If God had wanted people to fly, we would have been given wings." Human beings have the potential to fly not because God gave us wings, but simply because we have used our God-given talents to innovate and overcome the forces of gravity. This faulty line of thinking may then be stretched to read: "If God had wanted us to be healthy, we would have been created immune to illness." Judaism says that God and humans are partners in this world. It is less a matter of what God wanted for us, and more a matter that God endowed us with the power to help ourselves.

     In our day and age, medicine, science and technology have created amazing new drugs and therapies. Smallpox has been eradicated from the earth. Major illnesses have been cured, and remedies for other illnesses are being discovered every day. Does this challenge Heaven? On the contrary: It is the work of Heaven! If there seems to be any audacity towards a divinely written script, it is only in our minds.

     In the end, "God's will," "God's decree," or "fate" are really relative terms. What we think to be predetermined is actually changeable. Since God is, by definition, constant and immutable, can we then say that the evil was by divine decree? It seems more likely, from a traditional Jewish viewpoint, that we are supposed to argue with God on issues of morality, to show a certain measure of audacity towards Heaven by not accepting fate but challenging it. It is part of the divine plan that we try to change God's mind, to avert the evil decree, to tempt fate and alter it. At times, ḥutzpah towards Heaven can be effective.

     Love cancels out the dignified conduct expected of the great.

     Text / It was taught in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar: "Love cancels out the dignified conduct expected of the great. We learn this from Abraham, as it is written: 'So early next Morning, Abraham saddled his ass' [Genesis 22:3]. Hatred disrupts the normal order. We learn this from Balaam, as it says: 'When he arose in the Morning, Balaam saddled his ass' [Numbers 22:21]."

     Context / An expanded version of this teaching is also found in the Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah 55,8, where it is attributed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai, not Shimon ben Elazar. In the Midrash, a fascinating prayer of Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai concludes the text: "May one saddling come and override the other saddling! May the saddling of Abraham our father, done in order to fulfill the will of He who spoke and the world came into being, come and override the saddling done by Balaam, who was on his way to curse Israel."

     Abraham is commanded by God: "Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you" (Genesis 22:2). Despite this being the most difficult command that a parent would ever have to obey, Abraham hastens to carry it out because of his devotion to and love of God. The Rabbis note that the text says that he set out without delay early the next Morning. They also note that Abraham saddled the ass himself. This is strange, since Abraham was quite old and quite wealthy. We know he had servants (two of them accompany him on the journey). It does not seem right for a rich, elderly, important man like Abraham to do such menial tasks. Therefore, Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar taught, love (in this case, Abraham's love of God) can cause people to do things that are out of character.

     Balaam, a Midianite prophet and soothsayer, is hired by Balak, king of the Moabites, to put a curse upon the Israelites as they wander through the desert. A delegation comes to escort Balaam so he can execute the curse. "When he arose in the Morning, Balaam saddled his ass and departed with the Moabite dignitaries" (Numbers 22:21). Once again, the Rabbis note that Balaam was a very important person, and it was quite unusual for him to saddle his own animal. The explanation given is that Balaam, an enemy of the Israelites, was so full of hatred for these people that he could not wait to go out and curse them. He prepared his own ass so he could begin his mission without further delay. Hatred, like love, can make us do things that normally we just would not do.

     We cannot help but admire Rabbi Shimon's keen eye for reading and remembering stories in the Torah. He brings together two tales with significant similarities and contrasts: A great man, in the Morning, saddles his ass. But Abraham does it to carry out the will of God, while Balaam does it in an attempt to disobey God's word: "But God said to Balaam … 'You must not curse that people, for they are blessed' " (Numbers 22:12).

Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

Return Of Jesus
     Teacher's Commentary

     Then Jesus turned again to His second coming. "When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory" (v. 31).

     Christ went on to discuss the ministry of judgment He will undertake at that day. Again in the Old Testament, roots of the picture He sketched are clear. Christ looked ahead to describe a prophesied time when all the nations on the earth will be gathered before Him.

     The peoples of the world will be separated into two groups, one destined to enter the kingdom over which the Messiah will rule. The term "nations" here does not refer to national groups but to the Gentile world in contrast to "brothers of Mine." These Jewish brothers, who will have suffered in the Tribulation, will have been naked, hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, and sick. And some will have reached out to them, while others ignore them.

     This passage does not picture the time of final judgment. Instead, as the text indicates, judgment is announced for a generation of men living at Jesus' coming. The prize is not eternal life, but entrance into the kingdom that God has prepared for Gentiles as well as for believing Israel (v. 34).

     The Old Testament picture of the future is not wrong, for the promised kingdom will come when the King returns. And we can leave the details of that time to God.

     There is for us a different focus in life. You and I expect His return, and so we wholeheartedly serve Him. We minister as servants in a household which He has left with us, until He comes to take up His throne.

The Teacher's Commentary

The Last Week / Mark 11-13
     Teacher's Commentary

     As the last week of Jesus' life on earth begins, Mark brings three distinct themes into focus.

     In Mark 11 we gain insight into the mission of the Messiah. On Palm Sunday Jesus was hailed as the Promised One. He cleansed the temple, signifying His ministry of purifying religion. He cursed the fruitless fig tree, which symbolized a ritualistic Israel, and explained the power of personal faith.

     In Mark 12 we see the futility of Israel's approach to faith explained in great detail. Jesus showed us by contrast how living by faith can please God.

     In Mark 13 we have the only prophetic section in this Gospel. Jesus spoke of the end of the age. No one knows just when the events He spoke of will happen. So we are to be on guard, always attending to our assigned task as we expect Christ's imminent return.

     There are many familiar stories in these chapters of Mark's Gospel. And there is much to learn from each, as well as from the way Mark linked them to demonstrate his larger themes.

     Commentary / The scene now shifts to Judea. It was the last week of Christ's life, and Jesus now appeared in Jerusalem. This is the traditional center of Old Testament faith. But it is also the center of the corruption of that faith. In a series of incidents and confrontations Jesus demonstrated how the pure religion of the Old Testament had been corrupted, and in those confrontations helps us better understand the relationship that you and I today are to maintain with our God.

     The Messiah's Mission: Mark 11:1–26

     Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1–11). Jesus told His disciples where to obtain a colt on which He would enter Jerusalem. Mark did not refer to it, but this fulfilled Zechariah's prophecy that He who is King of Israel will enter in just this way (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus now presented Himself in Jerusalem as the promised Messiah.

     As Jesus moved slowly toward the city gate, the crowds waved branches and shouted praises. They recognized Him as Messiah: "He who comes in the name of the Lord" (Mark 11:9).

     When Jesus entered Jerusalem He went directly to the temple. He did not go to the Fortress Antonia or to Herod's palace. Secular power was not the concern of the Messiah of Israel at this time.

     Jesus' choice of the temple established immediately that His first concern was religious. The focus of Jesus' concern was the faith of Israel as a people of God, not the fate of Israel as a nation.

     Jesus "looked around at everything." After making this evaluation Jesus left. But He would return the next day.

     Cleansing the temple (Mark 11:12–26). On the way back to Jerusalem the next day Jesus saw a luxuriant-looking fig tree. But the tree had only leaves and not fruit. Jesus cursed the tree: "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." He then passed on into the city.

     Entering the temple area (its outer courts), Jesus "began driving out those who were buying and selling there." After He had overturned tables and chased out the merchants, Jesus taught, quoting the Old Testament:

     My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. --- Mark 11:17

     The religious leaders of Judah had made God's house a "den of robbers."

     The two incidents are intimately linked. The fig tree represented Israel. Often in the Old Testament the image of a vine or tree is used to represent God's people. In these images God spoke of the fruit which He expected His planting to produce. In Isaiah 5:7 we read that the fruit He desired from the house of Israel, the "garden of His delight," was justice and righteousness.

     But like the fig tree, Israel had produced no fruit! Therefore like the fig tree the nation would be cursed, and no one would "ever eat fruit from you again."

     But why the link of this incident with the temple which Jesus looked over, and where He returned to drive out merchants? Because in the Judaism of Jesus' day, as in much of Old Testament history, the temple and its ritual were assumed by the Jews to provide special standing with God. The people could do anything they wanted in the temple—even robbing the poor in its very courts by forcing them to buy "approved" animals for sacrifice at inflated prices. They trusted in ritual, unaware that God was unimpressed with great edifices and cared only for hearts tuned to love Him and one another.

     The next Morning the fig tree had withered away. Its deadness was now exposed, even as Jesus was about to expose the deadness of Israel's religion.

     Jesus told the disciples the truth. The true power of religion is not found in buildings or ritual, but in a personal relationship with God which is expressed in faith. The person who trusts God completely can move mountains! We are to pray, believing. We can be sure as we focus our trust in God that we will receive what we ask.

     But there is a horizontal aspect to faith as well as a vertical. We are to forgive anyone we have something against when we stand praying. The true religion Jesus the Messiah promotes calls for both love for God and love for our fellowmen.

The Teacher's Commentary

Israel's Futile Faith and misuse of authority
     Teacher's Commentary

     Mark had established in his first two stories about Jesus' acts in Judea a theme he then developed. How can it be that Israel's faith, rooted in God's Old Testament revelation, had become futile and empty? What was it that had distorted in practice the beauty of the faith God Himself revealed?

     Empty of authority (Mark 11:27–33). The "chief priests, the teachers of the Law, and the elders" composed the ruling council of Israel. This group had the power to judge both religious and civil matters in the Jewish community. They even claimed, and exercised, the right to expel people from the synagogue (cf. John 9:22; 12:42).

     Since these leaders of the community had never commissioned or recognized Jesus, they liked to think that He spoke without any real religious authority. This, despite the fact that the people were amazed just because Jesus did speak as a Man with authority, unlike their official leaders (cf. Mark 1:22).

     Now, after Jesus had driven the money changers from the temple, a delegation of leaders challenged Jesus. By what authority was He acting? And who gave Him authority to do what He did?

     Jesus asked them one question that exposed how empty of "authority" these so-called spiritual leaders really were. Jesus asked them whether John's baptism was from heaven or from men.

     Now, a person who has spiritual authority must derive it ultimately from God. So one who exercises authority must refer to God and God's will in making his decisions. But when these religious leaders discussed Jesus' question, they immediately referred not to God but to the people. "If we say, 'From men.…' " The text notes, "They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet."

     Ultimately, they who claimed to be the final court of spiritual appeal, answered Jesus, "We don't know."

     No religion which appeals to mere human opinion in making its determinations can have real authority or power. The faith of Israel in Jesus' day was futile because it had exchanged the authority of God and His Word for mere human opinion!

     No religion which looks to public opinion to determine its stand can ever be vital and real.

     Misuse of authority (Mark 12:1–12). Jesus then told a parable about a person who prepared the land and planted a vineyard. He rented it out to some tenant farmers, and left on a trip. But when he sent servants to collect his share, the servants were beaten and some were even killed. Finally the man sent his only son, saying, "They will respect my son."

     Instead the tenants chose to kill the heir, so "the inheritance will be ours."

     The leaders realized that Jesus had spoken the parable against them, and were even more determined to arrest Him. They had not used their authority as God's agents to serve Him at all! They had misused their authority, seeking only their own benefit. Their fathers had been willing to kill God's servants, the prophets, and now this generation was eager to kill His only Son!

     Hypocrisy (Mark 12:13–17). The fact that the religion of Israel was now marked by hypocrisy is demonstrated in the next incident.

     The Pharisees and Herodians came to try to trap Jesus. The Herodians were a political party that believed in accommodation with the Romans. To them Jesus seemed a dangerous revolutionary. Both these groups, usually opposed to each other, feared Jesus and hated Him passionately.

     When they came to Jesus their hypocrisy was made plain in multiple ways. They addressed Jesus as a "man of integrity" who teaches "the way of God in accordance with the truth." They did not believe what they were saying; they said it only to "set Jesus up" for their trap.

     They asked Jesus whether or not the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. The trap was simple. If Jesus told them to pay taxes, He would lose favor with the people who hated Rome. If Jesus told them not to pay taxes, He could be accused to the Romans, and would be executed!

     Yet this trap was itself a hypocritical one. It was shown to be even more hypocritical when Jesus had to ask them for a coin! Here these men were trying to trap Jesus and accuse Him of collaboration with the enemy, and they were the ones who were profiting financially from the Roman occupation, for they were the ones who possessed Roman money!

     Jesus avoided their trap by pointing to the portrait and inscription on the coin. These were Caesar's? Then let Caesar have what belonged to him, and give God what belongs to God.

     What is it that belongs to the Caesars of this world? Only material things: things that have no lasting value and cannot really reflect the issues of life. And what belongs to God? Our heart, our soul, our love, our obedience, our whole being.

     Let Caesar have his things, but give God your heart.

     The religion of Jesus' day was empty and meaningless because it was all hypocrisy and show. The men who led His people were not moved by a passion for God.

     Without understanding of Scripture (Mark 12:18–27). Now the Sadducees—the "liberals" of Jesus' day, who denied the resurrection and life after death, along with angels and miracles—tried to trap Jesus. They raised a hypothetical case. Here's a widow who has been married, in turn, to each of seven brothers. "At the resurrection," they asked (subtly ridiculing this doctrine in which they did not believe), "whose wife will she be?"

     Jesus' answer affirmed the authority of Scripture. Their error arose from the fact that "you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." Jesus explained that there is no marriage in heaven: the saints there, like the angels, will not wed. But as for resurrection, Jesus pinned His teaching on the tense of a verb. God said to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." God did not say, "I was" their God! Obviously then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be living when God spoke those words, even though they had died physically centuries before.

     What a tremendous confidence we can have in Scripture! Even the tenses of words are rooted in reality, and one can trust each phrase to express divine truth.

     The Sadducees, like the liberals of every age, were quick to discount the authority of the Word of God. And just because of this fault, they and their religion were "badly mistaken."

The Teacher's Commentary

The End of the Age
     Teacher's Commentary

     Without focus (Mark 12:28–37). There was another fault in the ritual religion practiced by the Jews in Jesus' day. They cluttered up their faith with hundreds of rules derived from traditional interpretations of biblical Laws. But somehow all these laws seemed just as important as all the others. Don't spit on sand on the Sabbath (because you might inadvertently "plow a furrow") was treated with the same importance as "love your neighbor."

     When one of the teachers of the Law saw that Jesus was answering well, he raised what to Him was an honest question. "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

     Jesus answered, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

     With this answer Jesus provided the focus for faith which Israel had lost. All of the laws which were so important to the Jews, all the ceremonies and rituals, must be placed in perspective by the realization that man's central duty is to love God and to love neighbors.

     The man affirmed what Jesus had said. "To love [God] with all your heart … and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:33).

     Jesus said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

     Only when the focus of our faith is squarely on loving God and our neighbor do we even approach the kingdom of our God. Israel's faith was futile because in the preoccupation of the religious with ritual and ceremony and tradition, the true heart of God's revelation of Himself in Law had been totally missed.

     The total inability of the religious leaders to understand the Scriptures or its focus is now illustrated by Jesus. The teachers of the Law say that Christ is the Son (descendant) of David. This is clearly true. But how do they explain David speaking of his descendant as "my Lord?"

     The crowd was delighted, not because they knew the answer, but because Jesus had shown up the hypocrisy and spiritual fraud of those proud men who claimed to be so much better than common men.

     Greed (Mark 10:38–44). The final condemnation drew attention to the true motives of the religious leaders of Israel. These men who loved to be treated with respect because of their superior piety actually "devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers." They were outwardly religious, but within were moved only by greed.

     Jesus and His disciples sat down to watch worshipers contribute money to the temple treasury. Some who were wealthy "threw in" large amounts. The sound of the heavy coins told everyone how much they were giving, and they threw in their offerings with force to make sure all could hear. They were outwardly religious.

     But then a widow timidly "put in" two tiny coins, almost worthless. Jesus pointed her out, and said, "This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

     What a difference. The size of the gift the rich could give might impress men. But what they gave was really nothing to them: it cost them not one moment of discomfort. It was no sacrifice at all. But the gift of the widow impressed God. She gave all.

     A religion practiced by greedy men who get their wealth by oppressing the poor is a meaningless faith, no matter how much they may "give" to God. What God wants is our love, for out of love we will be willing to give Him not a "tip," but our all.

     The End of the Age: Mark 13

     This chapter contains Mark's longest report of any connected discourse by Jesus. It closely parallels the report in Matthew 24 and 25.

     Jesus warned of terrible tragedies which will be part of human experience while He is away. Finally there will come events foretold in the Book of Daniel and by other Old Testament prophets (Mark 13:14–32). As the end nears there will be "days of distress unequaled from the beginning when God created the world, until now" (Mark 13:19).

     That day will close with "the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory" (Mark 13:26).

     Jesus concluded His predictions about the future with the statement, "This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" (Mark 13:30). Since that generation is long dead, what could Jesus have meant?

     The term translated "generation" here can mean those currently living. But it also can mean a family or national line. Jesus had begun His discourse by predicting the destruction of the temple in which the Jews took such pride. Within the lifespan of the generation then living, the temple Herod had spent 40 years beautifying and expanding was destroyed completely. It was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70 in response to yet another Jewish rebellion. The generation that had heard Jesus teach and witnessed His miracles—and had rejected the Son of God—lived to see their city razed and their temple destroyed.

     What happened to the Jewish people then? For thousands of years they were scattered throughout the world, with no homeland to call their own. And yet they survived. And they maintained their separate identity. That "generation," as represented in the Jewish people (the family and national line) "will certainly not pass away" until all the things Jesus spoke of actually take place.

     But what about those who believe in Jesus during the interim? Jesus gives His followers this warning: "Be on guard! Be alert!" No one knows when the Lord will come, so each of us must be alert and about his assigned task.

     And what, then, must we be alert for? Why, we must be alert that the very things which crept into the religion of Israel and sapped it of its vitality do not slip into the practice of our faith!

     How good it is to know that, until Jesus does return, you and I can worship Him, with others, in Spirit and in truth.

The Teacher's Commentary

The Jewish Conception of Diaspora
     Judaism in the Land of Israel

     How did Jews conceptualize the Diaspora? What sort of self-perception shaped the thinking of those who dwelled in Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, Cyrene, Ephesus, or anywhere outside Judea? The biblical reverberations of the scattering of Israel possessed a decidedly somber character, a dark cloud cast upon Jews whose memories of the homeland grew ever dimmer. The book of Leviticus had declared that divine retaliation for their sins would disperse Israelites among the nations. The anger of YHWH, so one reads in Deuteronomy, would pursue them in foreign lands where they would worship false gods and idols. Jeremiah’s pronouncements reinforced the message: the Israelites who turn their backs on YHWH will live as slaves of alien lords in alien parts, scattered among strange peoples where they will endure God’s punishment until their destruction. And Daniel warns that failure to heed divine commandments will provoke God to order the dispersal of Israel. Diaspora thus appears to emblematize enforced expulsion from the homeland, a condemnation for wickedness, with sinners languishing abroad in distant parts under the oppressive sway of hostile strangers.

     Yet dire biblical forecasts may bear little relevance to Diaspora life in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Historical reality stands in the way. Can one plausibly conceive of Jews living abroad in countless numbers over many generations mired in misery and longing for the land of their forefathers? The scenario is preposterous. A sense of displacement did not dominate Jewish consciousness in communities strewn around the Mediterranean. It is noteworthy that Jews seem to have felt no need to fashion a theory of Diaspora. Those who inhabited a world of Greek culture and Roman power did not wrestle with or agonize over the fact of dispersal. It was an integral part of their existence and a central element of their identity.

     The very term “Diaspora” is a Greek one. It rarely appears as a noun in Hellenistic Jewish authors. And it nowhere serves as a translation of galut or golah with the connotation of “exile.” In fact, the authors of the Septuagint normally rendered such terms as “colony” or a version of “colony.” In normal Greek usage the word carried no negative overtones and, in fact, Hellenic colonies generally developed fully independent existences. The founding of Jerusalem is ascribed to Moses by a Greek author who labels it a “colony” and gives it a positive meaning. Jews evidently picked up this phraseology from the Gentiles. Philo alludes to the Hebrews led out of Egypt by Moses as a “colony.” And movement in the other direction receives the same designation: the Jews of Palestine sent out colonies to places all over the Mediterranean and the Near East. The migration generated a sense of pride, not an embarrassment or a lament. Jewish intellectuals did not fill their writings with complaints about being cut off from the center and confined to a truncated, isolated, and subservient existence. One hears no agonizing rationalizations, justifications, or apologias for Diaspora. That itself is telling.

     Just how the Jews did feel about their circumstances abroad escapes direct notice. Indirect evidence has to suffice. And generalizations that encompass the Mediterranean world would be hazardous, if not downright misleading. The experience of Jewish communities in Asia Minor may have little bearing on that of the Jews in Babylon or Cyrene or Rome. The very notion of “Diaspora Judaism” suggests a uniformity that is unlikely to have existed. Circumstances differed and reactions varied. It would be an error to imagine that Jews everywhere faced a choice of either maintaining tenacious adherence to a segregated existence or assimilating fully to an alien culture. There was much room in between, and Jews doubtless ranged themselves on all parts of the spectrum. Each individual area struck its balance differently and constructed its own peculiar mixture. It was rarely a conscious or calculated process.

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     May 21

     “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” --- Genesis 25:32.

     We cannot suppress a natural sympathy with Esau in this scene between the two brothers. (Modern RS Thomas by World Scholars, Volume 1 ) He seems as much sinned against as sinning, and in comparison with the cunning, crafty Jacob, he appears the better of the two. There is nothing of the selfishness, the trickery, that make his brother appear contemptible beside him.

     Esau’s good qualities are evident—bold and frank, free and generous, impulsive and capable of magnanimity, reckless and passionate. [But] being largely a creature of impulse, he was the plaything of animal passion, ready to satisfy desire without thought of consequences. Without self-control, without spiritual insight, judging things by immediate advantage, there was not in him depth of nature out of which a really noble character could be cut. This damning lack of self-control comes out in the transaction of the birthright. Coming from the hunt hungry, he finds Jacob cooking stew of lentils and asks for it. Ungovernable appetite makes him feel as if he would die if he did not get it.

     The Bible writers speak of Esau with a certain contempt, and, with all our appreciation of his good natural qualities, we cannot help sharing in the contempt. The individual who has no self-control, who is swept away by every passion of the moment, who has no appreciation of higher and larger things, that individual is only a superior sort of animal—and not always very superior at that.

     True self-control means willingness to resign the small for the sake of the great, the present for the future, the material for the spiritual, and that is what faith makes possible. Of course, Esau did not think he was losing the great by grasping at the small. At the moment, the birthright, because it was distant, appeared insignificant. He had no patience to wait, no faith to believe in the value of the [non]material, no self-restraint to keep him from surrender to present gratification.

     [Impulsive] passion has no use for a far-off good. Temptation allures the eye, whispers in the ear, plucks by the elbow, offering satisfaction now. The birthright is a poor thing compared to the red stew.

     It is the distortion of vision that passion produces, the exaggeration of the present that temptation creates, making the small look like the great and discrediting the value of the thing lost.
---Hugh Black

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

On This Day
     Infinite Wisdom  May 21

     Isaac Watts, called the “Father of English Hymns,” wrote such classics as O God Our Help in Ages Past, Joy to the World, At the Cross, and 600 others. He was a small, odd man whose life was shaped by his father, Isaac, senior. The elder Watts was repeatedly imprisoned for his Nonconformist beliefs. On May 21, 1685 he wrote this letter to his family from prison, addressing his comments especially to 11-year-old Isaac: We must endeavor by patient waiting to submit to His will without murmuring; and not to think amiss of His chastening us, knowing that all His works are the products of infinite wisdom. Watts then gave several charges to his son:

•     Frequently read the Holy Scriptures, and that not as a task but as a delight.

•     Understand the sinful state and begin betimes to be a praying Christian, remembering that prayer is the best weapon of a saint’s defense.

•     Remember the hope of salvation founded on Jesus Christ.

•     Keep perpetually in mind that God is our Creator, and serve him with a willing mind.

•     Worship God in God’s own way, that is, according to the rules in the Gospel and not according to the inventions or traditions of men.

•     Do not entertain in your heart any popish doctrines, particularly that of praying to the saints or to the Virgin Mary or any other mere creature. Pray instead that God will give you knowledge of his truth, for it is a very dangerous time that you are like to live in.

•     Do not entertain hard thoughts of God or of his ways because his people are persecuted, for Jesus Christ himself was persecuted to death by wicked men for preaching the truth and doing good.

•     Be dutiful and obedient to all superiors—to your grandfather, both grandmothers, and in a special manner to your mother.

     Watts was soon afterward released from prison and lived to be 85. It was he who planted the music of the Gospel in his son’s heart, and who encouraged him to pursue it.

     Shout praises to the LORD, everyone on this earth.
     Be joyful and sing as you come in to worship the LORD!
     You know the LORD is God!
     He created us, and we belong to him.
     --- Psalm 100:1-3a.

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

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - May 21

     “If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” --- 1 Peter 2:3.

     If:—then, this is not a matter to be taken for granted concerning every one of the human race. “If:”—then there is a possibility and a probability that some may not have tasted that the Lord is gracious. “If:”—then this is not a general but a special mercy; and it is needful to enquire whether we know the grace of God by inward experience. There is no spiritual favour which may not be a matter for heart-searching.

     But while this should be a matter of earnest and prayerful inquiry, no one ought to be content whilst there is any such thing as an “if” about his having tasted that the Lord is gracious. A jealous and holy distrust of self may give rise to the question even in the believer’s heart, but the continuance of such a doubt would be an evil indeed. We must not rest without a desperate struggle to clasp the Saviour in the arms of faith, and say, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him.” Do not rest, O believer, till thou hast a full assurance of thine interest in Jesus. Let nothing satisfy thee till, by the infallible witness of the Holy Spirit bearing witness with thy spirit, thou art certified that thou art a child of God. Oh, trifle not here; let no “perhaps” and “peradventure” and “if” and “maybe” satisfy thy soul. Build on eternal verities, and verily build upon them. Get the sure mercies of David, and surely get them. Let thine anchor be cast into that which is within the veil, and see to it that thy soul be linked to the anchor by a cable that will not break. Advance beyond these dreary “ifs;” abide no more in the wilderness of doubts and fears; cross the Jordan of distrust, and enter the Canaan of peace, where the Canaanite still lingers, but where the land ceaseth not to flow with milk and honey.


          Evening - May 21

     “There is corn in Egypt.” --- Genesis 42:2.

     Famine pinched all the nations, and it seemed inevitable that Jacob and his family should suffer great want; but the God of providence, who never forgets the objects of electing love, had stored a granary for his people by giving the Egyptians warning of the scarcity, and leading them to treasure up the grain of the years of plenty. Little did Jacob expect deliverance from Egypt, but there was the corn in store for him. Believer, though all things are apparently against thee, rest assured that God has made a reservation on thy behalf; in the roll of thy griefs there is a saving clause. Somehow he will deliver thee, and somewhere he will provide for thee. The quarter from which thy rescue shall arise may be a very unexpected one, but help will assuredly come in thine extremity, and thou shalt magnify the name of the Lord. If men do not feed thee, ravens shall; and if earth yield not wheat, heaven shall drop with manna. Therefore be of good courage, and rest quietly in the Lord. God can make the sun rise in the west if he pleases, and make the source of distress the channel of delight. The corn in Egypt was all in the hands of the beloved Joseph; he opened or closed the granaries at will. And so the riches of providence are all in the absolute power of our Lord Jesus, who will dispense them liberally to his people. Joseph was abundantly ready to succour his own family; and Jesus is unceasing in his faithful care for his brethren. Our business is to go after the help which is provided for us: we must not sit still in despondency, but bestir ourselves. Prayer will bear us soon into the presence of our royal Brother: once before his throne we have only to ask and have: his stores are not exhausted; there is corn still: his heart is not hard, he will give the corn to us. Lord, forgive our unbelief, and this Evening constrain us to draw largely from thy fulness and receive grace for grace.

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     May 21

          BREATHE ON ME, BREATH OF GOD

     Edwin Hatch, 1835–1889

     As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you. And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21, 22)

     The good news of the Gospel relates not only to what Christ once did—His death, resurrection, ascension—but to what He presently offers: Forgiveness of sin, the reuniting of our eternal fellowship with the Creator, an advocate with the heavenly Father, and the energizing indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit.

     When a person becomes a Christian, he or she receives the Holy Spirit within. Often, however, the Holy Spirit does not have control of that life even though He resides there. The Scriptures teach that we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit if we are to live overcoming lives. This is not some emotional, mystical event. To be “filled with the Spirit of God” means in a very practical way that a believer has surrendered completely to the Lordship of Christ and sincerely desires to be directed by the Holy Spirit in order to worthily exalt Christ and be an effective representative for God. One of the most compelling evidences of a Spirit-filled life is our consistent, Christ-like daily living.

     The author of this choice text, Edwin Hatch, was an Anglican minister. He also served for a time as a professor of the classics at Trinity College in Canada. Dr. Hatch was widely known for his scholarship and lectures in early church history. Despite his scholarly attainments, Hatch was said to have possessed a faith as “simple and unaffected as a child’s.”

     This prayer to the Holy Spirit desiring a unity between our earthly will and God’s divine will first appeared in 1878 in a pamphlet titled “Between Doubt and Prayer.” The hymn in its present form appeared later in the Psalmist Hymnal, published in 1886.

     Breathe on me, Breath of God; fill me with life anew, that I may love what Thou dost love and do what Thou wouldst do.

     Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure, until with Thee I will one will—to do and to endure.

     Breathe on me, Breath of God, till I am wholly Thine, till all this earthly part of me glows with Thy fire divine.

     Breathe on me, Breath of God, so shall I never die, but live with Thee the perfect life of Thine eternity.


     For Today: John 3:5–7; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 5:5; 1 John 4:13.

     Invite the Holy Spirit to have a greater control of your life—to empower you to be an even more effective representative for God. Sing this prayer 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. XXXI. — AND here, Erasmus, I call to your remembrance your own advice. You just now advised — ‘that questions of this kind be omitted; and that, Christ crucified be rather taught, and those things which suffice unto Christian piety’ — but this, we are now seeking after and doing. What are we contending for, but that the simplicity and purity of the Christian doctrine should prevail, and that those things should be left and disregarded, which have been invented, and introduced with it, by men? But you who give this advice, do not act according to it yourself: nay you act contrary to it: you write Diatribes: you exalt the decrees of the Popes: you honour the authority of man: and you try all means to draw us aside into these strange things and contrary to the Holy Scriptures: but you consider not the things that are necessary, how that, by so doing we should corrupt the simplicity and sincerity of the Scriptures, and confound them with the added inventions of men. From which, we plainly discover, that you did not give us that advice, from your heart; and that you write nothing seriously, but take it for granted that you can, by the empty bulls of your words, turn the world as you please. Whereas you turn them no where: for you say nothing whatever but mere contradictions, in all things, and every where. So that he would be most correct, who should call you, the very Proteus himself, or Vertumnus: or should say with Christ, ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ — ‘The teacher, whose own faults his ignorance prove, has need to hide his head!’ —

     Until, therefore, you shall have proved your affirmative, we stand fast in our negative. And in the judgment, even of all that company of saints of whom you boast, or rather, of the whole world, we dare to say, and we glory in saying, that it is our duty not to admit that which is nothing, and which cannot, to a certainty, be proved what it is. And you must all be possessed of incredible presumption or of madness, to demand that to be admitted by us, for no other reason, than because you, as being many, great, and of long standing, choose to assert that, which you yourselves acknowledge to be nothing. As though it were a conduct becoming Christian teachers, to mock the miserable people, in things pertaining to godliness, with that which is nothing, as if it were a matter that essentially concerned their salvation. Where is that former acumen of the Grecian talent, which heretofore, at least covered lies under some elegant semblage of truth — it now lies in open and naked words! Where is that former dexterously laboured Latinity — it now thus deceives, and is deceived, by one most empty term!

     But thus it happens to the senseless, or the malicious readers, of books: all those things which were the infirmities of the fathers or of the saints, they make to be of the highest authority: the fault, therefore, is not in the authors, but in the readers. It is as though one relying on the holiness and the authority of St. Peter, should contend that all that St. Peter ever said was true: and should even attempt to persuade us that it was truth, when, (Matt. xvi. 22.) from the infirmity of the flesh, he advised Christ not to suffer. Or that: where he commanded Christ to depart from him out of the ship. (Luke v. 8.) And many other of those things, for which he was rebuked of Christ.

     Men of this sort are like unto them, who, for the sake of ridicule, idly say, that all things that are in the Gospel are not true. And they catch hold of that, (John viii. 48.): where the Jews say unto Christ, “Do we not say well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” Or that: “He is guilty of death.” Or that: “We found this fellow perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar.” These, do the same thing as those assertors of “Free-will,” but for a different end, and not willfully, but from blindness and ignorance; for they, so catch at that which the fathers, falling by the infirmity of the flesh, have said in favour of “Free-will,” that they even oppose it to that which the same fathers have elsewhere, in the power of the Spirit, said against “Free-will”: nay, they so urge and force it, that the better is made to give way to the worse. Hence it comes to pass, that they give authority to the worse expressions, because they fall in with their fleshly mind; and take it from the better, because they make against their fleshly mind.

     But why do we not rather select the better? For there are many such in the fathers. — To produce an example. What can be more carnally, nay, what more impiously, sacrilegiously, and blasphemously spoken, than that which Jerome is wont to say — ‘Virginity peoples heaven, and marriage, the earth.’ As though the earth, and not heaven, was intended for the patriarchs, the apostles, and Christian husbands. Or, as though heaven was designed for gentile vestal virgins, who are without Christ. And yet, these things and others of the same kind, the Sophists collect out of the fathers that they may procure unto them authority, carrying all things more by numbers than by judgment. As that disgusting carpenter of Constance did, who lately made that jewel of his, the Stable of Augeas, a present to the public, that there might be a something to cause nausea and vomit in the pious and the learned.

The Bondage of the Will   or   Christian Classics Ethereal Library

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
     W. Phillip Keller | (1920-1997)


          10 “You Anoint My Head with Oil . . .”

     In the Old Testament when it was declared that the sacrificial lambs should be without blemish, the thought uppermost in the writer’s mind was that the animal should be free of scab. In a very real and direct sense, scab is significant of contamination, of sin, of evil.

     Again as with flies, the only effective antidote is to apply linseed oil, sulfur, and other chemicals that can control this disease. In many sheep-rearing countries dips are built and the entire flock is put through the dip. Each animal is completely submerged in the solution until its entire body is soaked. The most difficult part to do is the head. The head has to be plunged under repeatedly to insure that scab there will be controlled. Some sheepmen take great care to treat the head by hand.

     Only once did my sheep become infected by scab. I had purchased a few extra ewes from another rancher to increase the flock. It so happened they had, unknown to me, a slight infection of scab that quickly began to spread through the entire healthy flock. It meant I had to purchase a huge dipping tank and install it in my corrals. At great expense, to say nothing of the time and heavy labor involved, I had to put the entire flock, one by one, through the dipping solution to clear them of the disease. It was a tremendous task and one that entailed special attention to their heads. So I know precisely what David meant when he wrote, “You anoint my head with oil.” Again it was the only antidote for scab.

     Perhaps it should be mentioned that in Palestine the old remedy for this disease was olive oil mixed with sulfur and spices. This home remedy served equally well in the case of flies that came to annoy the flocks.

     In the Christian life, most of our contamination by the world, by sin, by that which would defile and disease us spiritually comes through our minds. It is a case of mind meeting mind to transmit ideas, concepts, and attitudes that may be damaging.

     Often it is when we “get our heads together” with someone else who may not necessarily have the mind of Christ that we come away imbued with concepts that are not Christian.

     Our thoughts, our ideas, our emotions, our choices, our impulses, drives, and desires are all shaped and molded through the exposure of our minds to other people’s minds. In our modern era of mass communication, the danger of the “mass mind” grows increasingly grave. Young people in particular, whose minds are so malleable, find themselves being molded under the subtle pressures and impacts made on them by television, radio, magazines, social media, and fellow classmates, to say nothing of their parents and teachers.

     Often the mass media that are largely responsible for shaping our minds are in the control of men whose character is not Christlike, who in some cases are actually anti-Christian.

     One cannot be exposed to such contacts without coming away contaminated. The thought patterns of people are becoming increasingly abhorrent. Today we find more tendency to violence, hatred, prejudice, greed, and cynicism, and increasing disrespect for that which is noble, fine, pure, or beautiful.

     This is precisely the opposite of what Scripture teaches us. In Philippians 4:8 we are instructed emphatically in this matter: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”! Here again, the only possible, practical path to attaining such a mind free of the world’s contamination is to be conscious daily, hourly of the purging presence of God’s Holy Spirit, applying Him to my mind.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.   ESV

     There are those who seem unable to realize His control of their minds and thoughts. It is a simple matter of faith and acceptance. Just as one asks Christ to come into the life initially to assure complete control of one’s conduct, so one invites the Holy Spirit to come into one’s conscious and subconscious mind to monitor one’s thought-life. Just as by faith we believe and know and accept and thank Christ for coming into our lives, so by simple faith and confidence in the same Christ, we believe and know and accept with thanks the coming (or anointing) of His gracious Spirit upon our minds. Then having done this, we simply proceed to live and act and think as He directs us.

     The difficulty is that some of us are not in dead earnest about it. Like a stubborn sheep we will struggle, kick, and protest when the Master puts His hand upon us for this purpose. Even if it is for our own good, we still rebel and refuse to have Him help us when we need it so desperately.

     In a sense we are a stiff-necked lot, and were it not for Christ’s continuing compassion and concern for us, most of us would be beyond hope or help. Sometimes I am quite sure Christ comes to us and applies the oil of His own Spirit to our minds in spite of our own objections. Were this not so, where would most of us be? Surely every gracious thought that enters my mind had its origin in Him.

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

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